Monday, December 20, 2010

Wooden Christmas Ornaments

I don't know that I'd say I grew up poor. I had plenty to eat, and I had clothes on my back. They were new clothes. I didn't need shoes. I had toys (not as many as I would have liked, but what child ever does?)

But I remember Mom making Christmas ornaments. She would have liked the fancy glass ones (and we had more than a few of those, handed down from previous generations), but she did not buy new ornaments often. More often, she made them.

She got real creative in the Christmas of '68. She wasn't working, and Dad was bringing home the bacon as a newly minted High School Counselor, a job that never pays as much as you'd want it to for the work it involves.

I think that might have been the Christmas that the Shotgun Shell Angels appeared.

Dad was an avid hunter, back in the day. Liked to hunt dove and quail; I have many fond memories of roasted little game birds, hordes of them, like tiny chickens, complete with little drumsticks. Dad did a lot of shooting. Mom did, too. And one Christmas, she brought home the spent shells... added pipe cleaner wings... little styrofoam heads and little wigs (I have no idea what she used for their hair)... and made Shotgun Shell Angels. Still have one of them.

Christmas of '69, though, I remember. We didn't have money for much of anything. My sister had been born that year, and with a five year old and a toddler to raise, Dad's check did not go as far as it might have. So that year, Mom bought this little craft kit thing... with a little rack of paints and punch-out wooden ornament shapes and stencils, and she set up at the kitchen table, and began to make that year's ornaments.

Naturally, I wanted to help. So she let me paint Santa. I was not then the painter I would someday become, and I made kind of a mess of it... well, I was only five. She went over and fixed a lot of my mistakes, but you can see where I wasn't all that good at staying in the lines.

I remember painting the Christmas tree, too. Spent most of the night doing that, because after Santa, I was utterly determined NOT to screw up, and to get all those ornaments PERFECTLY ROUND, and INSIDE THE LINES, goddammit!

Mom did the birds, and the rest of the wooden ornaments. They were stenciled on both sides, identical.

They look so Seventies, now...

But those were our new ornaments, back then. And when they were dry, we hung them on the tree with all solemnity. I liked 'em. They were colorful, and I didn't have to be anywhere NEAR as careful with them as I did with Gramma's antique handmade glass whatchadiggers...

And now, I am middle aged. These ornaments are among the few that remain that Mom made. Mom died in '94, and after a year of hanging on to nearly everything she'd ever touched, he went through a purging process... preparatory to moving out of their house... and my sister and I wound up with a lot of this stuff.

And traditionally, every year, we trim the tree at Castle Bedlam and ooh-and-ah as we remember the stories behind various ornaments. And every year, I talk about these wooden ornaments, and my family rolls their eyes because they've heard this one a million times...

...and this year, as I looked at Seventies birds and Santa, I flashed back across forty years and for a brief moment, I was five years old again, sitting at the great, massive wooden kitchen table, dabbing and painting while Mom sat and bounced my sister on her knee and gave useful advice, in between working on birds and angels.

Merry Christmas, Mom. We still miss you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Weenies and Hotdogs and Boyfriends, Oh My!

It's a penis thing, really. Women just don't get it. Not only are women physically different from men, there's a substantial psychological difference from men, as well.

Penises are the very root of manhood, so to speak... mighty, yet vulnerable... seductive, yet faintly ridiculous. You hear a lot about "phallic imagery", but how much do you hear about "vaginal imagery?" Ancient Athens, the pillar of civilization, was decorated with little statues of Hermes and his erect penis... located on street corners for good luck. Men are obsessed with their dicks, for the most part. I try not to be so predictable about it, but I'm a guy, too.

One of the worst things I ever saw happen to a guy was in high school, when a friend of mine participated in the vandalizing of a Sonic-Drive-In. He made the mistake of peeing into the little speaker you order your food through. The electrical arc traveled up the stream and practically fried the poor guy's tallywhacker. He said it was like being kicked in the nuts while plugging your dick into a power socket. What was worse... he told us the next day at school... his dick didn't seem to work any more.

He was scared. I didn't blame him. To have your dick suddenly cease to function at age 16 is like ... like... shit, I don't know. A disaster, certainly. The next day he reported it still didn't work, despite hours of priming with Penthouse magazines. He could pee through it... but that was about it.

Day three: still nothing. He was badly frightened... his brother had theorized that he'd shorted out some important nerves, or something. Would it ever work again? He was debating going to the doctor, even if it meant admitting who'd vandalized the Sonic...

Day four: He came to school laughing, his heart had wings again. Life was good again. Apparently, the poor thing was just traumatized, that's all. He reported no less than four successful launchings the previous night, with and without photographic assistance. All was well... but it was a lesson none of us ever forgot...

...but I digress. My own experience with the sacredness of the penis came when I lived with Tiny Alice. Alice had just broken up with her boyfriend and was in the usual "men are pigs" phase that seems to go after that.

She had two dogs, a little yappy thing that looked like a mop with feet... and a small bulldog-looking animal.

It wasn't EXACTLY a bulldog... I don't remember what it was. Its name was Corky, and it may have been the stupidest vertebrate I've ever encountered. It was rabidly affectionate, energetic as a mongoose on speed, and had a tongue bigger than my entire head. When you entered the door it would tear through the house, run directly towards you, run UP your body, and lick you two or three times on the face before gravity took over and it fell back to the floor. If you fell down, ghod help you -- before you could scramble back to your feet, you'd be sopping with dog spit.

Corky, like I said, was not a smart dog. Tiny Alice never completely succeeded in housebreaking it... all Corky ever quite managed to learn was that you should NEVER let a human CATCH you taking a shit. If you saw Corky crapping somewhere and Corky spotted you, Corky would rip into Tiny Alice's bedroom and hide under the bed. If you tried to get the dog out, the dog would bite the hell out of you.

I tried to play "fetch" with Corky once. I tossed a tennis ball into the kitchen. Corky rip-assed after the ball, caught up with the ball, snapped up the ball in his mouth, tried to stop, skitterskitterskitter on the tile, trying desperately to hit the brakes.... POW, headfirst into the refrigerator... stagger back into the living room, drop the ball at my feet... We did this four or five times before I realized that the dog was too stupid to NOT do this...

...but like I said, Tiny Alice had broken up with her boyfriend, which I thought was a good thing... the guy was a shitheel. She was heartbroken for a while, but she got over it. One day, I came home and found her playing a game with Corky... a game we might well call "bite the weenie". It involved holding a frankfurter about three feet off the floor, and holding it more or less parallel to the floor... and wiggling it. If Corky would leap up and bite the weenie in half, he got to eat the weenie.

...does anyone see where this is going?

I shooda. I'd just gotten out of the shower. Alice was at work, so I'd left the bathroom door open, to let out the steam. I'd been thinking interesting thoughts while in the shower... I don't remember what about, but I do remember having a serious erection as I got out and dried myself off.

About then, I noticed Corky. Corky was sitting in the doorway, studying me. Specifically, Corky was studying my dick. Corky cocked his head, quizzically... gazed for a second...

...and then leaped.

The penis is made of spongy tissue, fortunately; I understand some bulldogs can crush bone with their jaws. Believe it. I screamed, danced around, hit the dog, yanked my dick, and finally spun around, hoping the dog would be shaken off by the centrifugal force or something. I don't pretend I was rational at this point; there was a dog trying to bite my dick in half, y'know.

At this point, the door opened, and Tiny Alice walked in.

She saw her naked hairy roommate screaming and jumping up and down and spinning in circles with a dog clamped on his dick.

Naturally, her first thought was for the dog's safety. She promptly attacked me.

We called her Tiny Alice for a reason, though -- she was maybe five feet and eighty pounds, dripping wet. It wasn't until I heard her screaming "DON'T HURT MY DOG!!!" in my ear that I realized she was on my back, one arm locked around my throat. I hadn't noticed her. Of course, I was kind of distracted...

I ignored her and kept jumping up and down and whacking the dog. She reciprocated by trying to choke me, but she couldn't quite get her arm all the way around my neck. She tried biting me, but I was much too interested in the other creature biting me for this to have much effect. Finally, she was reduced to yelling in my ear, which was about as painful... and as effective... as the other forms of assault she'd tried.

This whole thing probably went on for two or three minutes.

Finally, Corky realized that this weenie just wasn't gonna give as easily as the Oscar Meyer ones had, and let go. With the clamp gone, my erection instantly deflated. I cradled my poor dick in my hands, afraid to look at it. I was quite certain the dog's teeth had perforated it like a machinegun barrel, and I'd have to finger it like a piccolo if I ever wanted to pee straight again...

... but when I looked at it... it was okay. The dog's teeth hadn't penetrated.

Tiny Alice, who was still on my back, looked over my shoulder with some interest.

I carefully examined it. There were some bruises where the teeth had been. I carefully examined the underside. It seemed OK there, too... and I squeezed it experimentally.

A drop of blood oozed out of the end.

I lost my fucking mind.

I went after the dog, fully intending to tear it apart like a fried chicken. The dog, not being THAT stupid, promptly fled under Alice's bed. I went under the bed after the dog. The dog bit me. I leaped to my feet, grabbed the bed, and tossed it across the room. The dog promptly ran into the living room and shot under the couch. I ran after it, grabbed the couch, and tossed it into the kitchen. The dog looked at me, horrified, and ran into the bathroom, where all the furniture was attached to the floor and I couldn't possibly pick it up...

...and it was already in there before it realized that there was nothing to hide under in there.

I had the dog cornered in the bathtub when I paused due to the splitting pain in my head.

Alice was still on my back and had been screaming in my ear the whole time. She'd finally resorted to trying to rip it off with her teeth, Mike-Tyson-style. Ironically, she wound up drawing more blood than the dog did.

I did not kill the dog.

My dick was sore for a day or two, but never lost function. It still works fine, by the way.

I did get EVEN with the dog... but that's a tale for another time...
Well, perhaps… but eventually, I did get around to writing it down. I present it now for your approval.

Awright, awright. Not that I'm particularly proud of this, you understand. The reason I don't spread this story as much as the other one is because it's frankly not as funny, and it involves cruelty to animals. Some people just get ALL bent out of shape about cruelty to animals, and I can understand this.

On the other hand, I'm also a believer in just desserts.

A while later -- a LOT later -- I was having a garage sale. My friend Bobo (short for borborygmi -- look it up) came over to keep me company, and Tiny Alice went to work. This meant Corky was outside on a leash, tied to a tree.

Corky was never successfully housebroken, you see. After I stepped in a warm, fresh pile of dogshit one night, barefoot, en route to go pee, I laid down the law with Alice -- unless you are home and awake to supervise that goddamn dog, it will either be in your room or outside, and I don't care which. While she was at work, Corky was tied to a tree in the front yard.

When tied to a tree, Corky would invariably begin frantically running around the tree until he'd wound the leash to about an inch long. He would then whimper piteously until someone came and picked him up and unwound him. He would then stay loose for about fifteen minutes until he had wound himself cheek-to-bark with the tree again. It was the damndest thing. You couldn't even lure him in the other direction with a doggy treat. You had to pick his ass up and CARRY him counterclockwise around the goddamn tree.

... the stupidest vertebrate creature I have ever met. Maybe not even vertebrate. I understand you can teach a flatworm to navigate a maze. I couldn't even teach Corky not to knock himself stupid on the kitchen cabinets when chasing a tennis ball...

Around noon, Bobo ordered a pizza. It was pepperoni, with jalapenos. He loved jalapenos, which may have helped account for his nickname*. I like them too, but not on pizza, scrambled eggs, or fruit salad -- strictly Mexican food, thank you. I picked the peppers off my half, and joined him in decimating the pizza.

Corky wasn't happy. He wanted the customers at the garage sale to pet him, but he acted so maniacal, no one wanted to get too close. He would happily have gone over to them, but his lead was only an inch long... so he stood there, straining at it, going buggeyed, whimpering, and looking demented. On top of that, he wanted some of the pizza.

"Serve him right if we gave him some," I said. I wasn't real happy, either. I'd paid for half the pizza, and Bobo had ordered it without consulting me, and despite the fact that I'd cleaned the peppers off my half, it still tasted of jalapenos.

Bobo grinned. Bobo understood where I was coming from. When I'd told Bobo what the dog had done to me, he offered to steal the dog and run over it with his truck for me, if I wanted.

I thought about it, but I wasn't quite THAT cruel.

Not quite.

I grinned back at him.

He took one of the leftover slices and peeled the cheese off the top. He collected the peppers I'd scraped off my half, and wrapped them in the ball of cheese. He then squeezed the ball to fuse it solid, and tossed it to the dog.

Corky caught it before it hit the ground, and scarfled it noisily, going choff, choff, choff... choff....... chofff..........................YIPEYIPEYIPEYIPEYIPE!!!!!

Sure enough, he'd swallowed it before his tongue had successfully communicated its agony to whatever he used for a brain.

We sat and watched the dog go apeshit for a while. It was after twelve noon, and business was dead, and I was considering knocking off for the day. Finally, I couldn't stand it, and went in to get the dog a bowl of water. I handed Bobo the bowl, and began taking down the tables and taking in the old clothes.

A few minutes later, I realized the dog was still going YIPEYIPEYIPEYIPE, but with a kind of strangled note in its voice. I stopped and looked outside. Bobo had put the bowl of water down about three inches out of reach, and the dog was about to decapitate itself, trying to get at the bowl.

I frowned at Bobo. Bobo grinned back at me. I told Bobo to give the dog the friggin' water already. Bobo looked at me, then at the dog. Bobo then took the remaining jalapeno peppers out of the box... a good fistful... and held them directly over the bowl... and squeeeeeeezed, hard.

Several large, fat drops of pepper oil oozed between his fingers and fell into the bowl, spreading across the surface of the water. He then dropped the whole pulverized mess into the bowl, and nudged it close to the dog with his toe.

The dog slammed its head into the bowl and began slurpslurpslurping water out in huge tonguefuls... slurpslurpslurp...slurp.........slurp..................YIPEYIPYIPEYIPEYIPEYIPE!!!!

I finished bringing the stuff in, and put the tables away. The dog frantically rolled, jammed its nose into the dirt, did backflips, and looked like its head and butt were trying to escape from its body... ANYTHING to be rid of the horrible caustic burning feeling that was coursing up and down its throat.

It occurred to me that with a dog's sense of smell, its sense of taste was probably a lot sharper, too. Corky was quite likely in real agony.

I thought about my dick for a minute. I'd been in agony, too, you know. In more ways than one.

Feeling about three inches tall, I went and got another bowl, and put milk in this one. Water's not much good for killing pepper burn, because the burn is caused by an oil. Water and oil won't mix, and the oils stay in the crevices in your tongue. Milk will not only get into those crevices, it neutralizes the oil. Try it sometime, with a jalapeno pepper, a glass of ice water, and a glass of milk, and you'll see what I mean. Anyway, I took the bowl of milk out and gave it to the dog.

Corky was still frantically jerking about, almost seeming like he was about FIVE dogs. He stopped and looked at the bowl of milk, lunged toward it -- and stopped at the last minute. He looked at it, whimpering. His eyes were red as stoplights. Foam dripped from his mouth and nose. He looked at me.

God damn, I thought, NOW the fucking dog finally learns something. I grabbed Corky by the head and jammed his face into the milk.

At first, he reacted like you would if I jammed your face into a bowl of molten lava... and then, realizing it wasn't hot... and then, realizing it MADE THE PAIN GO AWAY, Corky annihilated the milk in about four gulps.

He licked his face, in that way bulldogs have of washing their entire face with one sweep of a tongue the size of my whole hand. He looked at me, his little doggy face filled with worship. Papa Doc had made the burning pain go away. It never occurred to the dog that Papa Doc had put it there to begin with.

I felt about TWO inches tall, and went into the house.

Bobo gave me hell about feeling sorry for a dog that had almost bitten my dick off for hours after that...

*Bobo's nickname was "Borborygmi." Look it up.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


We looked forward to trying Black's Barbecue in Lockhart. But if you were in severe back pain, would you go to Kowboy Chiropractic?

Lockhart again. Nothing says "Texas Gothic" like having some gargoyles perched on your awning.

In Texas, we like to kill things and mount them on our walls. I understand that we used to like to do this to black and brown people, too, until the civil rights era kind of made this sort of non-PC.

Black's Barbecue, with instructions for how to manage the Cafeteria Maze.

Every good barbecue joint requires at least one jackalope.

An antique store in Lockhart. Couldn't resist this picture.

Summer barbecue. I'm gonna miss this, when school starts...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On the telephone

Land line rung this morning. We hardly ever use it any more except to have something to put down on forms in order to avoid giving out our cell numbers.

So the machine gets it. Another machine begins to talk to our machine. It explains that it has a wonderful opportunity for us, yadda yadda. It wants to sell us something wonderful, no doubt, and will, if we will only call it back at thus-and-such a number. Beep!

So... either there are companies out there dumb enough to think they can replace actual telemarketers with machines, and this will somehow WORK...

...or there are customers out there dumb enough to call back a RECORDING in order to buy some damn thing that isn't even specified in the call!

Neither option fills me with hope.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Esprit d'Escalier

I sat and licked my ice cream cone, and listened to the crazy old man talk about roaches.

We'd stopped by this ice cream cone stand, right? We'd heard they had great homemade ice cream. They did, too. It was delicious. But the elderly couple had stopped around the same time, and while his wife was getting ice cream, this old guy had decided I was his friend, and was going to tell me about his roach problem, apropos of nothing, whether I wanted to hear it or not.

I don't get it. When I strike up conversations with strangers, I can think of better things to talk about than vermin, filth, or genital warts. But for this old codger, there was nothing in the world more compelling than his roach problem. Mom raised me to be respectful to the elderly... no matter HOW full of shit they may be... and so Becca and I sat and ate our ice cream and listened to the old man rant and rave about roaches.

His wife came back with the ice cream, and immediately looked dismayed. She said nothing, but her facial expression said, "Oh, no. He's on about the roaches again, and he's trapped some poor bystander, and now this man and his wife think I'm married to an Alzheimer's case."

The old man developed a spooky glint in his eye. "But THEN," he said, "I realized where they was COMIN' from."

The woman said "Oh, dear, please, no--" She knew what was coming, and was already dying of embarrassment.

"They was comin' from the SHITTER!" he cried, fairly loudly, his voice filled with triumph. "Comin' out of the SHITTER, they was! Them roaches was gettin' in through the SHITTER!" His eyes durn near glowed with lunatic glee. I wasn't sure if he was pleased he'd outsmarted the roaches, or if he was just thrilled that he'd said the word "shitter" three times in less than three seconds. His wife shriveled behind him. Too late...

"That reminds me," I said. It was the first time I'd spoken since the old man had begun talking. "Are you familiar with the Japanese giant hornet?"

The old man stopped cold, and looked confused. I continued onward. "Big suckers. We're talking hornets the size of your thumb. They build nests the size of Volkswagens. Hostile, too. They kill about twenty Japanese folks each year -- if you get too close to the nest, they swarm you."

The old man sat there with a "durr?" look on his face. Plainly, this wasn't in his script. Feeling pleased with myself, I pressed onward. "What's even worse, their poison is corrosive. First they sting you, then they SPRAY you with the stuff. Not only does it burn your skin, but it's got a pheremone in it that tells all the OTHER wasps that you're an enemy, and should be stung to death immediately. They'll chase you for hundreds of yards once you got THAT shit on you."

The light of lunacy died in the old man's eyes, slowly replaced by the steady gleam of confused lucidity. "Um," he said, raising a hand, preparatory to speaking. I didn't want him to speak. I kept going.

"And if giant monster wasps who spray flesh-melting poison isn't bad enough," I said, "they're really bad for beekeepers. See, they attack beehives. I saw a video once, only three wasps, fighting THOUSANDS of bees, right there at the hive. The bees can't touch them. Their stings won't go through the wasps' shells. THREE WASPS just killed every single bee in the hive, bit 'em in half one at a time, then when they were all dead, crawled right in there and ate the queen and all the baby bees..."

"Um, now, hold on, just WAIT a minute!" said the old man, by now quite bumfuzzled. "What does THIS have to do with anything? I was talkin' about ROACHES!"

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said as sincerely as I could. "Did I mess up? I was under the impression we were having some sort of non-sequitur contest with the topic "insects." Did I not use enough profanity? I wasn't real clear on the rules..."

This story was true, all the way up until I began talking about the hornets. For that matter, the stuff about the hornets is true, too -- it just didn't occur to me to say anything about them at the time. I wish I had... "Esprit D'Escalier," means "Spirit of the staircase." It means "stuff you wish you'd said at the right time, but didn't think of until you were already on your way out."

I like that there's a word for that.

But to my dear wife and anyone who really cares about me: if, when I am old, I begin pouncing on complete strangers and begin talking to them about roaches or bowel movements or anything, just shoot me. Seriously. The part of me that is still lucid would thank you for it...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Evel Knievel

Ergh. Too wide. Try clicking it!
Evel Knievel - A History
Via: Motorcycle Insurance

Monday, July 5, 2010

Playground Slide

Once, years ago, at a county fair, I saw a big inflatable slide shaped like the Titanic. You know, the ship, the one that's famous largely for sinking? The one where hundreds of people met their icy watery doom?

Yeah, that's right. There was a playground slide shaped like it. It tilted at an angle, the bow already underwater, as if it were sinking into the fairgrounds. Children climbed up into it and slid down their decks, much like the screaming victims of the original disaster slid to their deaths as the mighty ship heaved and went under.

It creeped me out. It was like an inflatable bouncy castle shaped like the Twin Towers, complete with vinyl flames and a rubber airplane sticking out of one side.

I thought that Titanic Slide was the most disturbing children's attraction I would ever see on any playground.

I was wrong.

They'll Get You In Your Dreams

I had the strangest dream last night.

In the dream, someone was very angry with me, and was suing me. I found out about it when the process server served me the summons, and I went to go ask what the problem was.

My angry friend, whom I will call Joe Doe, because I don't remember his name in the dream and because he doesn't correspond to any real person I know, detailed the event in question. I don't remember exactly what it was, because it was a dream, you know. But I remember... that I had dreamed that I had DONE this thing, whatever it was.

"But ... it was a dream, Joe," I said. "You can't hold me accountable for something that happened in a DREAM!"

"The hell I can't!" he cried. "I've got a lawyer and I'm going to sue your ass off! You won't have a pot to piss in when I'm done with you!"

"How the hell are you going to sue me for something that happened in a DREAM?"

"Simple!" he cried, triumphantly. "I'm going to sue you in THIS dream! Dream event, dream court, dream judge, dream jury! Your ass is MINE!"

That was the point in the dream at which I realized I was dreaming. I ceased to be afraid. I have learned that things in dreams simply go away when you wake up, no consequences. If he wanted to sue me, peachy. At this point, to avoid boring the reader, I will fast forward to the lawsuit and trial. It had occurred to me simply to not show up, but I was curious as to what would happen, and one shouldn't ignore a legal summons, you know.

Luckily, I dreamed myself up an attorney, so I really didn't have much to do except sit there and watch the show while my dream lawyer did all the talking.

I do remember that I went so far as to wear shorts, sandals and a Hawaiian shirt (my usual casual attire), as I dislike suits, and what were they going to DO? It was a DREAM! So naturally, no one noticed, and the proceedings began on schedule.

My attorney called for dismissal of the case on the grounds that the whole thing had happened in a dream.

His attorney objected, stating that the events had happened, and that the dream state was irrelevant, and that his client was entitled to a settlement.

My attorney countered that the events had happened in a PREVIOUS dream, occurring the Thursday night before the CURRENT dream, and therefore any lawsuit TONIGHT was invalid.

His attorney countered that there was no statute of limitations on dreams.

The judge agreed with him. "Proceed," he said.

At this point, it became like a real court case... that is to say, non-dramatic, lots of yammering, and rather dull. I will spare you the details I remember, which isn't many, because I wasn't really paying attention. I was wondering exactly what I HAD dreamed on Thursday. Did I dream I did something to Joe Doe? Or was I dreaming, in THIS dream, that I had dreamed I had done something to Joe Doe during a dream I had last Thursday night? Had I actually had the dream in question at all? Or was I simply DREAMING that I had had a certain dream? It was dreadfully confusing. I do remember that at some point during the trial, Joe's attorney had vanished and Joe was making his arguments himself. My lawyer would object occasionally. Sometimes he'd be overruled, sometimes not.

Towards the end of the trial, though, Joe began having a problem with the judge's attitude. "Your honor, at the risk of causing contempt, I notice that you seem less than interested in the case at hand. Is there a problem?"

"What's the point?" said the judge. "First of all, the events in question happened in a dream. Secondly, this dream has been going on for a while. Sooner or later, the defendant is going to wake up, rendering these proceedings moot."

"Your HONOR!" shouted Joe, angrily. "First of all, you yourself have agreed to the validity of these proceedings! Secondly, if it is proven that the events occurred as I claim that they did, I am entitled to a settlement, by LAW!"

"Again, what's the point?" said the bored judge. "He's going to wake up long before you can make it to the bank and cash the check. And even if he doesn't, I am quite certain that your dream check will make no impact whatseover on his accounts and properties in the real world. Furthermore, I can see by the look on the defendant's face that he knows this, which completely renders any punishment element in these proceedings pointless. I move for a recess."

"OBJECTION, your honor!" Joe screamed in outrage. He paused, and then hit a thunderous realization! "Your honor, I MUST DEMAND THAT YOU RECUSE YOURSELF!"

The judge glanced up sharply, surprised. "What? On what grounds?"

"This is HIS DREAM, your honor!" cried Joe. "Therefore, as a resident of his dream, YOU ARE HIS CREATION, and therefore INHERENTLY BIASED TOWARDS THE DEFENDANT! You cannot possibly render any kind of fair verdict! I demand that you recuse yourself from this case!"

The judge grabbed the gavel angrily, pointed at Joe, and.... stopped cold. His features registered confusion. Joe actually had a point. WAS he unconsciously biased? The judge looked at me, nervously.

I didn't know what to tell him. I thought about objecting on the grounds that I wasn't sure if I'd dreamed I'd wronged Joe in some way, or that I had dreamed in THIS dream that I had wronged Joe, and therefore the incident in question was totally screwed up...

And then I woke up. I was not afraid, or anxious, but I sure was confused.

Plainly, I need to quit watching "Law And Order" reruns before I go to bed...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Are Raccoons Part Of The Food Chain?

This is one of the few stories I’ve included here that I actually remember
EXACTLY when I wrote it. It’s off a letter to Chaosia, written when we were
dating, and I included the date on the letter… 3/29/93.

It happened at work. It was somewhere between one and two A.M., and I'd
called for relief. It was late, and I wanted a smoke break. When my position
was filled, I stepped outside the side door and lit up.

Raccoons are cute, but irritating; furry, bumbling little critters leading the
good life out of the dumpsters across from the cafeteria. They've learned that
plastic bags left on dorm porches often contain good things to eat, left over
from the meal trays brought out for the disciplinary cases. I understand that
some urban coons, when captured and given medical checks, have
developed some rather human medical problems: high blood pressure,
clogged arteries, and even a few cases of diabetes.

Here's my point:
Raccoons have an ugly sense of humor, and at night, when I go from one
building to another, I stay clear of the thickets and the main treeline; get too
close and an unseen 'coon may well decide to make a noise like Godzilla
getting kneed in the crotch, just to watch you jump.

I stood and smoked and watched a good-sized buck eat the lawn; for some
reason, the grounds out where I work are infested with deer; a night hardly
goes by where I don't see several, and when I have to go up the hill to do the
Xeroxing, I practically have to kick 'em out of the way... they're durn near
tame, too. When you walk towards them, they look at you as if to ask "I beg
your pardon? Can I help you?" in a persnickety tone of voice.

This particular one apparently felt safe enough fifty feet from me, but kept
giving me suspicious looks. It was a beautiful, serene moment, which
apparently bothered the 'coon hiding somewhere in the trees -- or perhaps
the little fellow was just having a personal problem. At any rate, he cut loose
with a shriek that would have done any horror movie actress proud.

The deer and I jumped a total of about ten feet in the air; the deer, apparently
having decided that I was the source of the offending sound, landed running,
pointed dead away from me. I laughed, partly because of the humor of the
situation, and partly to discharge the tension of having had the crap startled
out of me.

The deer had almost made it to the treeline when the 'coon did it again.
Perhaps he didn't like the buck charging at him. If so, it worked; the buck
jumped again, spun in midair, and landed running again ... this time pointed
right at my face.

It took me a few seconds to absorb the situation; by this time, the deer had
cut the distance to about forty feet and closing, and had lowered his head.
Bucks have antlers, you know, and rather pointy ones at that, and they can
move real fast when they wanna.

For a second, I was merely nonplussed --"Wait just a minute there, Mr. Deer, you've obviously forgotten our respective positions in the food chain," -- when it hit me: if I didn't do
something, I was going to wind up like a cocktail shrimp on a fork.

Absurdly, the first thing that ran through my mind was the Basic Procedures
; unfortunately, the chapter on "Personnel Safety: Policies And
Procedures For Physical Holds, Take-Downs, Seclusions, and Disciplinary
Procedures" didn't have word one on pissed-off creatures of the forest, as far
as I could remember. It did occur to me that deer look real pretty when they

Shit! What would Davy Crockett do in this situation?

Well, he probably wouldn't step inside and close the door, but I did.

The deer rammed it going full-tilt, making a sound not unlike a sack of dirty
laundry and bowling balls dropped onto a wood floor from a height.

Then silence.

It then occurred to me that I wasn't yet out of the woods, so to speak. What
was I supposed to do now? If I opened the door, he could be waiting outside,
and I could just see myself calling the Center Supervisory Office to report an
enraged ungulate roaming the halls.

On the other hand, I could just lock the door and do nothing, but the morning relief staff might be alarmed to arrive to find an unconscious or dead deer lying outside the door, and I'd be
responsible for explaining ... and either way, I'd end up as the butt of endless Bambi jokes from the C.S.O.

Then I noticed: I still had a lit cigarette in my hand. That clinched it: I had to
at least open the door a crack and get rid of the thing; the smoke alarms out
there are so sensitive they'll go off if you even lose your temper.

I leaned down and popped out the door brace; it'd keep the door from
opening more than a few inches, no matter what. Then I cracked the door,
flicked the butt out, and peeked.

The buck was several yards from the door, staggering unsteadily away. From
off and beyond the treeline, I heard a chittering sound that very much
resembled raucous raccoon laughter.

My memory buzzed and spat out a fragment of narration from Marlin Perkins' old Wild Kingdom TV show: "Man is, by far, the most dangerous animal in the forest."

Mentally, I added a footnote: don't bet on it.

Recipes: 3

Chicken every Sunday ... turkey on Thanksgiving ... wishing on a wishbone
... squabbling for the drumstick. If one or more of these isn't a part of your
family tradition, you must have grown up somewhere else!

-- from Betty Crocker's Cookbook, 1969 edition, distributed free w/purchase of a major appliance from Sears.

Did you know that some of the wild turkeys the Pilgrims hunted for the first
Thanksgiving were between fifty and sixty pounds? That amazed me when I
read it; I didn't think North America had edible fowl that big south of
Sesame Street. Even the domesticated kind you buy at the grocery can get up
to thirty pounds. This is why, in late November and early December, so
many meals across this great land are made up of a local dish called "holiday
leftovers", whose main ingredient is turkey.

My friend Troll thought about that, and he wondered why nobody ever
cooked turkey except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Troll liked turkey
just fine, and he suspected that between himself and his two roommates,
twenty bucks would buy enough turkey to feed everyone for a couple of
weeks -- but not long enough for everyone to get sick of it.

I was one of those roommates, and listened to him wax eloquent about it. Troll's
girlfriend Bubbles happened to be in the room, and advised against it; her
mom had made turkey every Thanksgiving for years, and she had seen it to
be a humongous undertaking.

The Troll disagreed. "It's not that big a thing," he said, "if the Pilgrims could
do it without Teflon and microwaves. Your mom just thinks it's a big thing
because she has to cook, serve, and clean up after two dozen people every
November." With that, Troll promptly went out and bought a turkey. I don't
remember what season it was, but it was definitely not the holidays -- I'm
fairly sure it was, in fact, midsummer or so. Still, the stores had turkeys for

When he got home with the bird, he promptly yelled for me. "How do we
cook it?" he asked.

"Um," I replied. "How much does it weigh?"

Troll grinned. "Thirty pounds."

I stared at him for a minute. "Thirty pounds?"

"Biggest one I could find," he grinned. "Hey, I'm hungry!"

"Jesus Christ in a Bunny Suit... not too hungry, I hope," I said. "A turkey
takes a long time to cook -- especially a big one."

Troll's face fell. "How long?"

"For a family-size bird, about three, four hours," I said. "This one looks
more like a baby ostrich. You're looking at, like, five or six hours in the

Troll frowned. "Well, fine. We'll do it tomorrow, then."

"Suits me," I said.

The next morning, Troll asked over breakfast how soon I thought we should
start the turkey. "Do you have a roasting pan?" I responded.

Troll looked at me funny. "Roasting pan?"

"You know," I said. "It's a big sort of bathtub-shaped pot you put the turkey
in, about four or five inches deep--"

"Can't we just, like, wrap it in foil or something?"

"Not unless you want to start a fire," I said, pointing at the bird. "Rodan,
here, is full of ice and bird fat. Roasting him is going to make him sweat it
all out, big-time. Unless you feel like putting out the fire, throwing the
turkey away, and cleaning the oven, you want a roasting pan."

Troll responded with his favorite four-letter word, got his hat, and stormed
out the door. He returned a while later with a disposable aluminum turkey
pan and a folding roasting rack. "Will this do?" he growled.

"Did you check it for holes?" I asked. His eyes bugged a little; before he
could say anything, I said, "Put it under the faucet and run a few inches of
water in it. If it doesn't drip, it'll work." A gallon or so of water later, we
found that the pan was unperforated. Smiling again, Troll went and got the
turkey out of the fridge, to put it in the pan.

"Wait a minute," I said. "No way is that thing thawed yet."

"Huh?" said Troll. "It's been sitting in the fridge since yesterday afternoon!"

"Yeah, but that's a lot of bird. I'd leave it in the fridge another day or so."

"Dammit, Doc, if you'd just said something, I'd have left it in the sink--"

"--and given us all salmonella poisoning," I finished. "Better to let it thaw in
the fridge."

Troll scowled, then cooled. "All right," he said. "We'll cook it tomorrow."
He then glanced up at me and said, "We will cook it tomorrow, right? No
more thawing, no more pans, no Sacred Turkey Dance, or anything?"

"Not a reason in the world we can't have that bird for supper tomorrow," I

The next day, I made the mistake of asking if Troll had a meat thermometer.
Fortunately, I was able to tell him that we didn't exactly need to have one
before he caught me.

When he'd cooled off, we set up the roasting rack in the pan, set the turkey
on it, fired up the oven, stuck it in, and settled down to wait.

"How long?" Troll asked.

"Between seven and eight hours."

"Wow," he said, lighting a cigarette. "Is there anything we need to do
between now and then?"

"Well," I said, "You'll need to baste it."

"Baste?" he said, mystified.

"Every half hour or so, you open the oven door, dish up some of the juice in
the pan, and pour it back over and around the turkey. Keeps the meat juicy.
Ever had turkey that was too dry?"

"Oh, okay," he said, puffing on his cigarette. "Sounds like a plan. What do
you say we make an event of it?"


"Well, there's you, me, and Bobo. I can call Bubbles over, and Crazy Jane,
and ..."

Before long, the place was full of people. Well, not full -- no more than
seven, I'm sure. Still, we were all there, and before long Bobo broke out the
cards, and soon the Thanksgiving In July was in full swing. At length, I
retired to my room to study.

Until the smoke alarm went off.

I jumped; until then, I wasn't even aware that we had a smoke alarm. All
three of us were smokers, and between Bobo's cigars and the pipe I
sometimes smoked, the place had often been sort of opium-den'ish. Or at
least I thought so until I opened the bedroom door.

I couldn't see anything! It was as if someone had built a wall right outside
my bedroom door -- a wall covered with dirty gray cotton. The only thing
missing was a subtitle reading LONDON 1898. I could still hear the thin
electronic squeal of the smoke alarm, though. In the distance, I saw
movement, and heard a woman shout.

"Hey!" I yelled, my voice a little shaky. "Is the house on fire, or did Troll do
something weird with the turkey?"

From off in the distance, I heard the oven door clang open, followed by
Troll's favorite four-letter word. I took this as a sign of relative safety, and
strolled into the foggy evening. From the living room, I heard Bobo call my

"Yeah?" I replied.

"Doc! Dammit! I'm getting the front door! Dammit! Troll's putting out the
bird! Dammit! You get the $*#&$%@ smoke alarm an' make it shut up!"

I tried, and collided with one of our guests. Together, we followed the sound
to its source. Working together, we managed to climb up, yank the thing off
the wall, fail to figure out how to turn it off or yank the battery, and finally,
we beat it to death with a baseball bat and a golf club. As we did so, the air
cleared, which helped us to see the thing as we took turns whacking it.

And, at the end, the turkey remained edible. It turned out Troll had gotten
tired of basting it, and in order to save time, he'd pulled the bird out,
removed the roasting rack, and set the turkey down directly in the pan,
partially immersed in its own juices. "That way," he thought, "it'll baste
itself while we play cards."

I explained to him while we ate that this should have made turkey soup, not
roast turkey -- and what started the fire?

"No fire," he said with his mouth full. Swallowing, he continued, "I
accidentally poked a little bitty hole in the pan when I put the turkey back in
it. It started a slow drip going, and when the puddle reached the heating
element in the bottom of the oven, it started to burn. No fire, just lots of

"Incidentally saving the turkey from a soggy grave," I added.

"Nice smoky flavor, too," chuckled Bobo. "I have to admit, this is pretty
good. What did you stuff it with?"

"Huh?" said Troll.

"What did you make the stuffing with?" I rephrased.

"Huh?" said Troll.

"The stuffing, dipstick, the stuffing!" laughed Bobo. "What-did-you-stuff-the-
"Oh," said Troll. "I didn't have to stuff it. It wasn't empty."

A dead turkey (Chaosia showed me how some of these birds come with
little disposable meat thermometers where the red button pops up when it's
done; these are nice if you don't have a meat thermometer. Make sure the
bird is light enough to handle fairly easily and small enough to fit in your

A meat thermometer (not essential, but really, really handy)

A good-sized roasting pan, at least two inches deep, and more like four
inches. The disposable aluminum kind are nice for cleanup, but be warned
that they perforate pretty easily, which makes cleanup a lot more difficult,
depending on where and when you perforate...


Vegetable oil

Turkey baking bag (available in the same part of the store where you buy
boiling bags and sandwich bags)

Roasting rack (optional)

Required for stuffing:
2 8-oz. cans smoked oysters
3/4 cup minced onion
1-1/2 cups chopped celery
1 cup butter/margarine
8 cups soft bread cubes (or just run bread thru a cheese grater 'til you
have enough)
2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. crushed sage leaves
1 tsp. thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 box Stove Top Poultry stuffing (just get this and the oysters if you're
busy enough already)

Make the stuffing. If you're doing it the hard way, just fry the onions and
celery in the butter until tender; stir in half the bread. When the bread
absorbs all the butter, toss everything into a big bowl and add everything

you're going to do it that way; I usually serve the stuffing on the side.
Take a couple of days to thaw the bird in the refrigerator if it's frozen; if
it's fresh, you'll want to cook him immediately. If there's a lot of fat hanging
loose, you'll want to trim it off.

Now comes the part Troll didn't do -- cut the thong binding the
drumsticks together and go prospecting inside the bird, making sure your
arm and hand are clean. Somewhere in there, you'll find the neck and giblets
(giblets are probably in a plastic bag these days). Rinse turkey, inside and
out. Note that if you don't do this, the bird will still be edible, but you're
probably up for a weird surprise when you carve it.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare baking bag as per directions
included with them. It's a good idea to throw a couple tablespoons of flour
in; it'll absorb excess moisture and prevent the bag from bursting if any air
pockets develop. If you're using a meat thermometer, plant it so the tip
should be in the thickest part of the breast or thigh muscle.

Rub the turkey with vegetable oil to prevent sticking; rub the inside with
salt, if you want (I have no idea why one should do this, but I've heard that
some folks swear by it). If you're going to stuff the bird, do it now.

Carefully maneuver Gobbles into his new home and seal the bag with the
ties included with the bag. NEVER use ordinary ties; the metal wire will
heat up and melt itself off the bag, and the paper wrapping is apt to catch
fire. Make sure none of the bag hangs over the edge of the pan, and try to see
that none of the bag is directly exposed to the heating elements at the bottom
of the oven. Cut six half-inch slits in the top of the bag, and put the bird in to

If you're not using a bag, you can do all this in the roasting pan. Make
sure you have a rack or something to keep the bird off the floor of the pan by
at least an inch. When the bird starts to get golden, throw a tent of aluminum
foil over him to keep him from getting too dark. Baste every half hour or so
with a ladle or giant-eyedropper-turkey-baster-lesbian-inseminator thingy.

Note that you won't need to baste it if you use a bag. Cooking times are as
follows for the bagged turkey:

12-16 lbs 2 to 2-1/2 hours
16-20 lbs 2-1/2 to 3 hours
20-25 lbs 3 to 3-1/2 hours
... and for the unbagged turkey...
12-16 lbs 3 to 3-1/2 hours
16-20 lbs 5-1/2 to 6-1/2
20-25 lbs 6-1/2 to 7 hours

The temperature on the thermometer should read about 180 degrees. Add
about a half hour to your times if the bird is stuffed. If he's stuffed, and the
point of the thermometer is in the stuffing, it should read around 160-165 or
so when it's done.

If you don't have a thermometer, test the meat about a half hour before
the chart above says it should be ready by pinching a drumstick; the meat
should be very soft.

When he's done, take him out of the oven and let him sit for fifteen
minutes or so. If the bag sticks, gently work it loose before removing the
bag. Note that the bag is not intended to be reusable. Note also that it's a
good idea to get the stuffing out of the turkey before you put it away for
leftovers -- it'll go bad before the turkey does, which is why I serve it on the

Bon appetit!

When Furniture Attacks

It was the Eighties. It was that weird, in-between time right after the chaos
and insanity of the Seventies, and we didn't know exactly what we were
supposed to do. We really liked the idea of being Hippies, but we couldn't
because Reagan was president, but Just Say No and AIDS hadn't been
invented yet, so you still COULD be a hippie if you really wanted to, so I
decided to go out and try it...

I lived alone at the time, until Hannah showed up on my stoop.

Basically, Hannah had shown up on my stoop because she was pregnant, and
had realized that her boyfriend was a pig, and that once that baby was born,
she was stuck with him and nowhere else to go.

So she showed up at my place and asked if I could put her up for awhile
until she got on her feet again. I wasn't a pig. If I agreed to feed and house
her, I would do so, and she knew that. She offered to clean house and do
laundry, and even get a job, if she could find someone who would hire a 22-
year-old woman who was eight months pregnant.

Aw, what the hell, I never liked doing my own dishes anyway.
The sleeping arrangements became a hassle right away. She took the couch,
and I slept in the bed. My bed. My twin-sized mattress-and-box-spring
combo with no frame, to be precise. I'm not huge, but I'm not small, either,
and I have wide shoulders, and the idea of supporting myself and one other
and sleeping on the couch did NOT appeal.

Three days later, I happened to wander into the living room at four in the
morning, and discovered that she had been building a nest on the floor; the
couch's angle and support were TOTALLY wrong for a pregnant woman,
and she was waking up in the middle of the night in dreadful pain. She
would then get up, build a nest on the floor, and sleep on that; it meant she
would wake up in pain again a couple hours later, but at least the pain would
be somewhere else. She would then move back onto the couch for a couple
hours. Back and forth, all night.

So I let her have the bed. That night, I discovered that that particular couch
was not really well suited to a good night's sleep to a non-pregnant male
person, either – I‘d fished it out of a dumpster during the Magic Time
between semesters, when dorms and apartments are clearing out, and one
can obtain plenty free furniture if one isn‘t too choosy… and I hadn‘t been.
It was a fine couch for parking and watching TV, but not for a decent night‘s
sleep. we wound up sharing the bed. This led to some interesting
permutations. We could both sleep in the bed; neither of us was that huge --
but on Night One, I woke up in the middle of the night with her butt firmly
lodged in my crotch. My crotch, of course, had no problem with this, and in
fact was fully active and approving of the situation. I lay there for what
seemed like HOURS, thinking about dead puppies and train wrecks, hoping
that my crotch would shut up and sit down before she woke up...

...and the following night, she reported that she woke up in the middle of the
night with her butt firmly lodged in my crotch, and my hand around her right
breast. She lay there for what seemed like HOURS, wondering if she was
about to be raped or something, until she realized I was gently snoring in
her ear. I'd simply rolled over and draped my arm around her, that was all. I
was out cold.

The morning after that, I learned about morning sickness, and why one
should never get in the way of a pregnant woman, first thing in the morning.

I was very glad SHE agreed to do the laundry...

We were reasonable, mature, and forgiving people. By the end of the week,
we were still able to live together in one bed... but we agreed that a bigger
bed would be good.

So I went out and bought a waterbed.
There was a place in San Antonio that was selling king-sized waterbeds for
$100, which was a fantastic deal even back in 1984. There didn't seem to be
anything wrong with it, and the salesman swore that the boxed model was
identical to the display model in every way, except that mine wouldn't come
with sheets and blankets.

You know, putting together a waterbed is really a major construction
project... you have to put together this big giant wood pedestal thing... and
then you have to put together this big giant wood open-topped box thing that
sits on TOP of the pedestal... and THEN you put this gigaaaantic clear blue
baggie in the open-topped box, right? And then you run the garden hose in
the window, hook it up... and watch it go.

Watching it go can take quite some time. It took HOURS for that thing to fill
up. It finally did, though, and I had myself a really huge king-sized

The first thing Hannah and I did was to do like the couple in the TV
commercials, where they get on either side of the bed and fling themselves
into the bed, right?

We discovered this isn't the brightest idea in the world; this particular
waterbed wasn't waveless, and it promptly flung us upward again,
continuing along our previous vector, and we plowed into each other in
midair directly over the middle of the bed.

It was painful, but it was an excellent demonstration of Newtonian physics,

I also learned about the aphrodisiac effects of waterbeds on women.
Water beds take some getting used to. I learned that you can build up a
FEROCIOUS rhythm on a waterbed, because everything you do, the bed
does back at you a half-beat later... which makes STOPPING kind of an
interesting experience, too. If you've never done this kind of thing, I highly
recommend it.

It had its down side, though. I spent my first several nights on the thing
suddenly waking up and grabbing the bed, because I'd try to roll over in my
sleep, feel the bed MOVE under me, and wake up in a panic...

Now here's the thing: the room wasn't big enough to put the bed in the
middle of it. I'd had to put the bed in the corner to have any space at all
along the rear wall. This meant that only ONE of us could have an outside
edge to the bed, right?

Remember what I said about morning sickness? HANNAH got the outside
edge, and more power to her. This had led to a hysterical situation earlier
that week when she'd woken, felt that familiar "whoopsy" feeling, and tried
to get out of bed and go to the bathroom... only to realize that it is extremely
difficult for a very pregnant woman to get out of a waterbed in a hurry.

Think about it...

I'd heard the ruckus from the kitchen, and came in to see what was wrong,
and witnessed the spectacle of a pregnant woman frantically trying to get the
bed to stop moving long enough to grab the bumper bar on the edge and
lever herself out of the bed. She wasn't doing a very good job.

Hell, I didn't know she was sick. I laughed. This led her to begin roundly
cursing me while she attempted to wrestle the bed into submission, which
just made the whole thing funnier. I stepped forward to help, and she took a
swing at me, which made the bed go off and wobbling again, which made
her lose her grip on the bumper bar...

She was so mad at me she forgot to be sick.

I should have taken this as an omen of things to come.

It happened a week or ten days or so after we'd began sleeping in the thing...
and it began with my usual 4 a.m. bathroom stop. Upon returning to the
bedroom, I moved to the foot of the bed to get in, right? Wasn't going
to climb over Hannah, after all. This had become routine to the point where
she didn't even wake up when the bed moved when I got back in.

I put my foot on the footboard, and stepped up...

...and the footboard came off with a loud PONK noise.

...and my foot shot out from under me, and I went face down into the

Hannah woke up and went, "Huh--"

...and without the footboard there, there was nothing holding the mattress in
the big open-topped box. Furthermore, there was something heavy on the
end where the box was open. Me.

...and in just under two seconds, a half ton of giant blue vinyl water balloon
abruptly rolled over me like The Blob.

I had been on one end of the mattress. Hannah had been on the other. She
hadn't moved. The mattress had simply relocated, with her on it. Instead of
being up near the end, she was now in the exact middle. So was I, for that
matter... I think.

It had been so sudden, I wasn't even sure where the edge of the mattress was.
I didn't know where ANYTHING was, except the floor, the mattress, and
my girlfriend's butt (it was resting on one of my knees).

About then, it occurred to me that my face was covered with vinyl, and
weighted down with a half ton of water. I couldn't breathe.

I lifted my arm to push the waterbed upward, to get some space between the
plastic, and my face. Oh, wait, no I didn't. I couldn't lift a half ton of water. I
laid there very much like a gingerbread man under a ziplock baggie full of

Except, of course, the gingerbread man doesn't need to breathe. It occurred
to me that this could quickly become a problem...

I felt Hannah get off my knee, and struggle off the waterbed. I needed to tell
her to roll the bed off me so I could breathe. How was I going to do that? I
pondered that for a second or so...

...and then, fresh air. She'd realized the same thing I had, and tried. She
couldn't budge the mattress any more than I could, but had managed to jam
her arm under the thing, trying to find me, and had opened an air channel.

"DON'T TAKE YOUR ARM OUT!" I said, calmly and patiently.

"I'm gonna call the fire department!!!" she shrieked.


"I'm gonna call the fire department!"


"I'm gonna call -- why not?"

"Because in the time it takes you to get through on 911," I said, "I'm not
going to be able to get any air. By the time you finally get through, you
might as well be calling a funeral home."


"Just keep your arm where it is, so I can breathe. I can get out from under

"The HELL you can! You can't lift all that!"

"Don't have to," I grunted, wiggling slightly towards her. She promptly
poked me in the eye with a fingernail.

It took me an hour and forty minutes to flex, press, wiggle, flex, press,
wiggle, lather, rinse and repeat my way out from under that half-ton
deathtrap... an inch at a time... until finally, I had enough of me out from
under the thing to just pull free. Thank ghod for hardwood floors; I might
not have survived that much rug burn.

I spent the first half hour of that time arguing with Hannah, who VERY
BADLY wanted to call the fire department.

I finally convinced her that I would certainly suffocate in the time it took her
to get 911 on the horn, and she finally shut up and let me do it myself. A
good thing she was kind of panicky; it never occurred to her that the phone
was cordless... and back then, I still had a fair supply of macho to deal
with... and I was TERRIFIED at the idea of ANYONE ever finding out I'd
almost been killed by my own bed..., I'm quite sure that at some point, it would occur to her that she
couldn't greet firemen at the front door while stark naked... and I was quite
sure I'd suffocate before she could manage to get DRESSED to let them in...

Road Testing

Recently, I had cause to remember an incident from my childhood. Well,
adolescence, anyway. I would have been around fifteen or sixteen, and got
into an argument with my friends about the maximum possible speed of a
grocery cart. After several hours (and consumption of considerable beer), we
concluded that the only way to find out for certain was to test the hypothesis.

This led to several of us pushing each other around in grocery carts in the
parking lot of the local grocery store at 1 a.m. After a half hour or so of this,
we concluded that drunk people couldn't really push grocery carts fast
enough to really challenge the chassis. An external power source was

We got hold of fifty feet of rope and tied a grocery cart to the back of
Loopy's pickup for towing. The first field test showed that grocery carts will
easily flip at under fifteen miles an hour or so when they hit a bump.

This set off another argument. Lightnin' concluded that grocery carts simply
weren't meant to go very fast, whereas Candy argued that a laden grocery
cart would be far more stable. This, of course, meant that someone would
have to ride in the thing in order to test the new theory.

Lightnin', of course, felt that Candy should have the honor, whereas Loopy
was more than willing to do it himself. I wasn't that drunk, and declined. It
was Weeble (who wobbled, but didn't fall down) that noticed the big stack of
bags of fertilizer outside the grocery store. Surely, there was a safer way of
weighing down a grocery cart...?

We promptly loaded 150 pounds, three bags, into the cart (there was again
some argument as to precisely how much should be used) and hit the

Oddly enough, grocery carts handle remarkably well at high speeds. They
aren't aerodynamic, but their metal mesh construction minimizes wind
resistance and effects. Unfortunately, their extremely low wheelbase and
lack of shock absorption more than makes up for this; we increased speed in
increments of five miles an hour, and the cart totally lost it at 45 mph.

We also learned that fifty-pound bags of fertilizer all but vaporize when they
hit pavement at 45 mph. Everyone looked at Loopy, who shrugged. The
grocery cart was completely intact, though, although its plastic handle cover
had shattered at some point.

Loopy and Weeble felt that the point had been made, and that more beer
should be obtained. Candy, Lightnin', and I, though, agreed that one road
test did not a theory make. The test should be repeated at least twice more,
preferably with a couple of different carts to change the variables, and the
results observed and recorded.

We compromised, and went back for more carts and fertilizer after obtaining
another case of beer.

We must have destroyed thirty bags of fertilizer, and we rendered at least
one shopping cart completely FUBAR. We learned that the redline velocity
for a shopping cart carrying 150 lbs. of dead weight is around 40-45 mph,
though; the fastest we ever got one going was 50 mph, and they ALWAYS
ate it as soon as they hit any kind of bump or crack in the road at that speed.
Testing was facilitated by Loopy's obsession with getting one up to the
highway speed limit before it flipped. We never did, but not for lack of

The experiment ended shortly before dawn. We still had beer left, and were
more than willing to keep going, but it was then that, during the last road
test, Loopy slammed on the brakes at 40 mph to avoid hitting a skunk.

The cart, on the other hand, had no brakes. It hit the tailgate going 40 and
flipped totally over the top of the pickup. One of the bags of fertilizer flew
out and slapped Candy to the back of the cab, knocking him cold (although
we weren't sure he was conscious before the fertilizer landed on him; he had
had quite a bit to drink, and was something of a lightweight). One of the
other bags hit the hood and exploded, covering the windshield with dirt.
The third didn't quite land on the skunk. It would have been better for
Loopy's truck if it had, though. Startled skunks aren't good company.

We pulled over to assess the damage and tend the wounded. Candy was all
right, although he had to spit out a mouthful of fertilizer to tell us so. No one
else was hurt. The back of the cab was dented where Candy's head had hit it.
The front of the hood was dented where the fertilizer had hit it. The whole
truck was redolent of the skunk's opinion. The skunk was fine, by the way;
I'd seen him jump, spin, spray, and run like hell (almost all simultaneously)
when the bag of fertilizer exploded next to him.

The shopping cart looked like an art collaboration between Picasso and M.C.

Loopy was madder than hell about his truck. The dents didn't bother him; he
considered them badges of honor -- but the stench of skunk irritated him no
end. "I shooda just ran the fucker down," he growled. Lightnin' consoled him
with the fact that the skunk was covered with fertilizer, and therefore
probably felt much the same way; after all, that skunk wasn't going to be
very popular with the other skunks, smelling of cowshit, now, was he?
...and after we peeled Loopy off of Lightnin', we decided that the experiment
was at an end. It was almost dawn, after all.

...and now, I am old, and I go no more drunkenly roving into the night,
which is probably a good thing. This stunt wouldn't work these days;
grocery stores and department stores have video cameras staring at the
parking lot all night, and certainly someone would have thought to check
them after noticing the near-disappearance of a huge pile of fertilizer bags...
and if that hadn't tipped them off, the badly bent shopping cart would have.

Sure, we took it back. We were good boys.

...and sure, some of you are staring in horror at this testament... thinking
about your own teenage boys, or the fact that they can get up to such
devilment... but it also occurs to me that while we did get up to this kind of
devilment and worse, none of us ever shot up a school... is there a
connection, y'think?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cat Crimes!

This is Noob.

Noob is the newest kitty. She is also the smallest. She is, naturally, the youngest. And she is also... a cat criminal.

I did not know Noob was a criminal until Becca pointed it out. It makes sense. It involved dust, and Becca invariably notices dust, dirt, grime, and so forth several days before I do.
It was in the kitchen. Becca pointed out the dusty spot under the cupboard, next to the cold water crock. "That rotten cat has been jumping up onto the pantry shelf," said Becca.
"What?" I said.

"Take a look," she said. "See the dusty little kitty footyprints?"
"Yes," I said, once she had pointed them out. "Noob," she said. "Noob is jumping up onto the counter, and then from there onto the top of the pantry. She tracks around up there in all the drywall dust and spackle, and then leaves dusty little kitty prints when she jumps back down."
I glanced up at the top of the pantry. I glanced at the floor. Certainly a cat could jump onto the counter -- we'd had to keep sharp eyes to break Speedbump of that habit -- but onto the top of the pantry? "And it couldn't have been Speedbump?"
My dear one looked at me like I was an idiot. "Dear, Speedbump must weigh fifty pounds, and while he has been known to bring down white-tailed deer on occasion, I really don't think he could make it up there. And Bunny's much too old. She's getting to the point where we have to put a footstool down so she can get up on the couch."
"But that high?"
"Maybe she's jumping up onto the cupboard, and from there to the pantry. But look at those footprints!"
I looked at the footprints. Sure enough, they were facing away from the wall -- a sign that the jumper was leaping DOWN, not up. And the powdery dust sure'nuff looked like gypsum... I've hung enough drywall to know.
Who'd have thought I was married to a detective? You'd think all those Agatha Christies would have tipped me off...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Cost of Duty

I believe I was twelve or thirteen when I first heard about Agent Orange.

For those of you who don't know, Agent Orange was a defoliant used in Vietnam, to denude the jungles the Viet Cong were hiding in, so we could bomb them more efficiently. It had side effects on humans, though, including a variety of cancers, skin diseases, and birth defects.

I heard about the stuff on 60 Minutes, in an interesting article in which the government spokesman waffled wonderfully. As I followed the story through TV news and newspapers over several years, the government first denied using Agent Orange, then agreed they'd used it, but never on US servicemen, and then maybe some of our guys had got soaked, but the stuff was perfectly safe, and then maybe it wasn't perfectly safe, but only a few soldiers had shown any... oh, hell, okay, FINE, we'll recompense all the damn soldiers who got sick because we dumped poison on them, FINE, are you HAPPY now?

And the process only took the better part of a decade. A decade, in which a great many American citizens suffered horribly due to their service for their country, and their government flat out refused to own up, come clean, and deal fair... until enough people began screaming about it, and enough politicians were made uncomfortable, and enough pressure was applied.

Given as I was already a child during the Watergate mess and the Vietnam War... a time in which it became very clear that our leaders were not good people and did not have the best interests of the nation or the American people at heart... this had a hell of an effect on me. It pretty much destroyed any interest I ever had in serving in the military. Fighting the enemy is one thing; fighting your own government when you get back is just flat out more than I ever wanted to deal with.

This brings me to the story of one Gary Pfeider, an American soldier back from Iraq. He's back because a sniper shot him. He survived. And now, the military is garnishing his pay for the cost of the equipment he lost as a result of GETTING SHOT BY ENEMY SOLDIERS! To wit, $3,175 American dollars, to cover the cost of his canteen, clothing, grenades, and other stuff he so carelessly lost while lying in his own blood and being evacked to safety.

Oh, yeah, that sum includes the interest on the principal, apparently beginning at the moment he hit the dirt. Given that mentality, I'm surprised the military isn't billing him for the helicopter ride to safety.

What the fuck is up with this? Did we do this in 'Nam? Korea? WWII? When did we start billing our casualties for losing their web belts in combat? I should also point out this isn't the first story of this sort I've heard. I seem to remember one in particular where they even billed a DEAD guy for losing his rifle while he was, you know, getting killed.

You know, we heard a lot about how we couldn't recruit enough soldiers during the Bush administration to cover all our warfare needs. There just weren't enough people willing to give it all up and go fight in the Middle East because Saddam Hussein or someone or other did something or other that may or may not have had anything to do with 9/11.

Future politicians: I am here to tell you that as long as fucked up situations like this continue to occur, the SMART kids are going to stay the hell away from the military as a career option...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Facebook no more

I nuked my Facebook account. It wasn't easy. They do their durnedest to make sure you can't simply DELETE the thing. Even after I finally went on Google, found a tutorial for how to find the DELETE setting, and deleted it, they made it clear that if I logged back in -- even by accident -- anytime in the next two weeks, they'd automatically reactivate my account.

I expect a web site to try to make a little money. I can even appreciate it when they try to make money off ME. But anyone who's going to make it so easy for any and every one to access my information, while making it nearly impossible for me to restrict it with any convenience, is basically appealing to my paranoia: these are people who want to broadcast me. Oh, yeah, and that clause in their Terms Of Service that basically says they own anything I write, post, or put up on their site? E-yeah.

So I quit.

Today I found out that Zynga, the outfit that makes all the games on Facebook, is launching their own site for games and social networking... after Facebook tried to strong-arm them into signing some kind of contract that seems to have been a lot like their Terms of Service.

When Zynga balked, Facebook began shutting down aspects of the games, and threatened to shut down the games themselves.

If it's good enough for Zynga, it's good enough for me. Let it not be said that I had to have a corporate web site to define me.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The villain in the Teacher's Lounge

Y'ever see that movie, Dangerous Minds? It's a good movie. It's about this teacher and how she takes these hopeless dead-end teens and convinces them to be good students and learn and better themselves.
There's lots of movies like this. Whole genre. A Super Teacher takes a bunch of hopeless losers, some of whom are violent and evil, and turns 'em into Good Students. Some of them are quite good. Some are classics -- Blackboard Jungle, anyone? To Sir, With Love?
There are so many of these movies, they have their own set of stock characters. The Inept But Well Meaning Teacher Down The Hall, the "Realistic" Principal Who's Lost Sight Of Educational Ethics, the Evil Unrepentant Punk Who Doesn't Straighten Out In The End... and my personal favorite, the Villain In The Teacher's Lounge.

Oh, yes, the Villain. He is a teacher, usually male, but not always. He invariably has many more years experience than our hero. He is a cynic, somewhat tired, but still more than able to keep doing his job. But that's all he's doing... his job.

You see, he has come to realize the TRUTH about teaching. We find this out during a scene in the teacher's lounge, in which our protagonist is railing about how hard teaching is, and how is one supposed to give these kids hope, make them believe in themselves, invest in themselves and their future?

And the Villain? He smiles and says, "You can't. You've been lied to. It is not possible for this job to be what you believe it is."

Our protagonist looks up, shocked. At this point, a debate begins. The protagonist, being noble and heroic, holds forth that EVERY child can be a winner. The Villain smiles sadly and says that the Protagonist is not being realistic. You can't save them all. You can only do what you can do, and if you push yourself too hard and too far, you'll burn out and not be able to do ANYTHING for ANY of them. Our protagonist rejects this heresy. Dammit, there has to be SOME way to SOMEHOW make this work... and sure enough, by the end of the movie, our hero is successful. All the kids rally in support. Hope is alive. The Villain has been proven wrong.

I do not know if it is because of movies like this... or because of politicians... or because teachers are supposed to be strange magical beings.... but people seem to believe this crap.

I see a lot of stereotypes about teaching; you can't escape them in education. Teachers are magic. Teachers rearrange children's worlds. Teachers are people who failed in their career fields, and now they teach instead of playing pro football or writing novels or being college professors. Teachers mostly just want to screw their hardbodied young proteges. Teachers are called to this profession by their saintliness and willingness to sacrifice their lifetimes in the interests of the Youth of Tomorrow.

Like I said, crap.

I have known many teachers. A few were the scum of the earth. A few were truly saintly people. But most of them were no better or worse than most folks -- just better educated, and just as likely to gripe and bitch and be snarlish during standardized testing week. But the public luuuuvs those stereotypes, and they won't let them go, and the politicians luuuuv to ride the teachers into office by "fixing education," and the stereotypes are most handy for that. And so sometimes I actually encounter this crap coming out of people who should know better.

Like teachers, for example.

The trope that set me off? "A REAL teacher wouldn't give up on ANY child, no matter WHAT the circumstances."

Ooooh, I felt like letting someone have it, right then. But I did not. Because I am a professional. More than that, I am a professional whose main focus lies on keeping one's temper and being patient. Admittedly, I was hired to do this with STUDENTS, not idiot adults who should know better... but, hey, that's education.

So let's kick the tropes around:

A REAL teacher wouldn't give up on ANY child, no matter WHAT the circumstances!

Every child can learn.

Every child has a right to an education.

A teacher should be a learner, and should take training and classes every year to stay current.

The school's job is not only to teach, but to socialize.

Schools must keep the kids safe.

We don't need more money for education -- we need more education for our money!

If schools are not doing well, this can be fixed by cutting their funding.

If schools are not doing well, this can be fixed by firing all the teachers and administrators.

These are just some of the major beliefs about education, and there is some truth in each of them. To regard them as absolutes, though -- as so many folks seem to -- is a towering mistake. I've tried explaining this before, only to be poo-poohed, and placed in the same bracket with the Villain in the Teacher's Lounge: "What kind of teacher are you, to have so little faith, so little hope, so little motivation? Do you have some kind of an attitude problem?"

A REAL teacher wouldn't give up on ANY child, no matter WHAT the circumstances! Crap. A REAL teacher picks his battles, and takes care of herself, because if she burns out or goes crazy trying to accomplish the improbable, this benefits no one.

Every child can learn. This is true. But not every child wants to, and some children will resist learning, and some will fight like hell for their right to ignorance, and of these, some will have parents who don't give a fart in a high wind, and some have parents who will actively assist the children in counteracting their education. I see it every year. Rotsa ruck, there, Mr. Chips.

Every child has a right to an education. Whether they want it or need it or use it or not. In other countries and other cultures, if you aren't doing jack with your education, they kick you the fuck out and let the educators concentrate on the ones who can and will. Meanwhile, our politicians measure our numbers against the Japanese (who do exactly this) and proclaim "something is wrong with education! Elect me, so I can fix it!" And the cycle begins anew. We can't do what the Japanese do, of course. It ain't democratic. We have to force ALL our kids to be rocket scientists. Or try, anyway.

A teacher should be a learner, and should take training and classes every year to stay current. At their own expense, it seems. And while I'm out learning all the newest trends in education, who's gonna teach my damn classes?

The school's job is not only to teach, but to socialize. And if parents were truly held accountable for this, the school could do their end quite effectively.

Schools must keep the kids safe. I agree with this, mostly. However, schools are not jails, nor are they bunkers. Their job is to educate kids. The more extra jobs we stick in there, the less effective the education part will be. Where does the accountability begin and end? Keep 'em safe from what? Each other? Pedophile teachers? Random loonies on the streets?

We don't need more money for education -- we need more education for our money! Whenever I hear some kind of cockeyed politician buzzphrase like this, I think, "Education's too important to be left in the hands of politicians."

If schools are not doing well, this can be fixed by cutting their funding. Y'know what? You can't punish an organization. You can't. You can punish individuals, but an organization will simply disintegrate into its components if you hit it too hard. You'd think the recent financial institution disasters would have taught the politicians this. And yet they seem to think that if you treat an institution like a person, it will react like a person. I can treat my hamster like a rocket scientist, but I don't think it'll be taking over the world anytime soon. When has any expensive situation ever benefited from having money taken away from it? And how has this improved anything?

If schools are not doing well, this can be fixed by firing all the teachers and administrators. See above -- if you fire all the personnel, they will run out and find new jobs, and then you will have a whole new school with all new people... who are brand new and will take a year or two to get the ball rolling... and may not be any better than the old ones... particularly when the problem wasn't the teachers or administrators to begin with! Empty headed thinking from politicians, again. ALL PROBLEMS DO NOT HAVE SIMPLE SOLUTIONS, ASSHEADS! Except, of course, if you are selling a product or running for office.

Let's try some different tropes:

"If you were a real doctor, none of your patients would die. Real doctors never give up. From now on, when your patients die, you will not be paid for your work on those particular patients. If more than a certain number of your patients die, your hospital will be shut down while the state fires all the doctors and nurses and replaces them with new ones."

"If you were a real soldier, none of your enemies would survive, and all your battles would be victories, because real soldiers never give up. From now on, if you lose a battle, you will not be paid -- oh, wait, soldiers already get the crappiest pay there is. From now on, if you lose a battle, you will not be permitted to leave the service or go home until that battle has been refought and won properly."

"If you were a real cop, all criminals would be arrested, jailed, tried, convicted, and imprisoned, because real cops never give up, never make mistakes, and always find the one piece of evidence that will put the crook away. From now on, failure to arrest all criminals and solve all crimes will result in cutting of your pay. Further failure will result in the firing of all law enforcement in the area, and their replacement with new cops who don't know the area, the people, the local hangouts, or much of anything, because this will improve things."

"If you were a real politician, all social problems would be solved, and there would be no crime. Real leaders always solve all problems with simple answers. From now on, any crime or social problems in your bailiwick will result in loss of tax revenue, requiring you to do more with less as penance. Continued failure will result in your impeachment and replacement by a politician from the other political party."

Does it sound like crap to you? Then why are we inflicting it on the teachers?

On a completely unrelated note, you know what happens when you go on Google Images to get pictures by using words like "teachers?" get an AMAZING amount of porn! I wonder if this is part of the problem?