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

...so 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...
...plus, 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...