Friday, December 29, 2006

Team One To The Rescue

This hasn't happened in years. Back when the Rat Cruiser prowled the streets, it was as common as worms on the sidewalk after a summer rain. The year was 1987. The place, my parents' driveway. I had three 1971 Chevy Monte Carlos stacked bumper to bumper in the drive, filling the distance between house and garage. My baby, the Rat Cruiser, was undergoing an extreme makeover, borrowing parts from the other two like Frankenstein's donors. Its previous owner was restoring a 1966 Impala, and this was his winter beater. The right side was mashed and crinkled from spinning into snowbanks, tires were bald and uneven, brakes and exhaust were shot. I bought it for $250 and lovingly attempted to restore it to its former muscular glory. The 350 4-barrel was strong, it had a smooth ride, and I could picture it with chrome wheels and midnight metallic blue gleaming in the velvet moonlight. It had one persistent problem I could never solve. The gas tank would only accept two gallons. Period. Try as I might, I could not fill the car up to save my life. This required carefully planned excursions, with lots of stops along the way for another sip of gas. Naturally, as a teenage boy with other things on his mind, I ran out of gas frequently. Twenty-seven times, to be precise. In one summer. This did not impress the ladies, but it didn't make much difference in my life, because neither did I. The few dates I did manage to trick into riding with me soon learned the value of comfortable shoes. Just this week it all came flooding back to me. I hung up the phone, thinking, "Phewf. I made it across the border." I was on a company road trip from Michigan to Ohio. I was holding out for the lower prices (lower taxes) of Ohio gas. Since I pay my own way and get reimbursed later at a flat mileage fee, it's a real incentive to pay attention to costs. I passed the border and first exit triumphantly. The little yellow warning light had come on miles ago, but I was heading south. That's downhill on any map, so I was sure I could make it to Maumee and the favorite oasis I visit every time I pass through. My trusty Jeep sputtered. It hesitated. Just past the on ramp from the first exit, it gave up the ghost. Being trained in the fine art of nursing dying cars, I shifted into neutral and smoothly moved to the shoulder. Traffic began passing me as I continued a long, generous coast. When the speedometer hit 25, I bumped the ignition, expecting to get a few fumes' worth of energy. Nothing. The Jeep rolled to a stop on the soft, rainsoaked shoulder exactly between exits and directly under a viaduct. Well, this was a fine kettle of fish. I had a crew of knuckle dragging gorillas waiting for me on a construction site, and I had already left two hours too late. Well, no sense fussing over it. The sun was shining, and it couldn't have been below 45 degrees. I traded my brown office shoes for my gleaming white sneakers (a Christmas gift with less than a half mile on them) and set out to find gas. I was in the center of civilization, so there must be a station close by. I scrambled up the embankment to the road above, only to find a fence between the highway and the overpass. I tried the other side. An opening presented itself, a washout below the fence. It would have been comfortable for a badger or aardvark, but I found it to be a bit snug. My knees and toes showed signs of crawling in a foxhole, but I was on a mission. I scanned east and west, and headed toward what looked like a settlement. I walked past apartment buildings, houses, a bum talking to traffic, and teenage vacationers, only to find that the town center had drug and liquor dealers but no gasoline. I turned south and trekked through muddy vale and ditch. Nothing. I crossed the freeway again, walking toward a promising row of flagpoles. Another townhouse development. Finally, I decided I best return to my car and call AAA. The overpass I was standing on had a different fence system. There were no convenient washouts. The grade dropped steeply from the bridge abutments. My only option was to climb over the chain link fence, hoping against a broken ankle or alert policeman. I slid down the concrete wall to the fence, picked a soft grassy area to land on, and hefted my fat ass over the top. I had a brief flashback of 4th grade, when the prinicpal had to extract me from my very fence-entangled pants after recess. In full view of my classmates. I quickly put it out of mind and wriggled over; only one shin got bloodied in the crossing. I reached my lifeless Jeep minutes later, and dialed the number on the card. I entered my 16-digit membership number. Three times. I spoke with an operator who learned classical English from a teacher who has never been here. As I was giving my precise location again, a white truck with flashing yellow lights passed, pulled over, and backed to my position. "Hold on," I said to the stammering foreigner. A bald man with a fluorescent yellow suit slid from the driver's seat. "What's the problem?" he asked. I explained that I ran myself out of gas trying to make it to the next exit. "I can help," he said, untying one of a row of red gas cans. As he poured two gallons into my parched car, he reassured me that this happens all the time and the State of Ohio has a fleet of trucks on the road for just such an emergency. He refused payment, nodded, and drove off like the lone ranger. Only he didn't say "Hi ho, Silver," or anything like that. Thank you, State of Ohio.

A Keeper

This is for the current Wordsmiths challenge. The introduction and picture were provided by wordsmith Tiff (thanks a lot, I went through a lot of virtual paper on this). My ending to the story is below the photo. I value your comments, please tell me what you think! And, I want to read YOUR story so get writing. All the stories entered will be linked at Wordsmiths soon - go! Read! ======================================= A loud rapping at the door awoke me from a deep dreamy sleep. It was early, too early to be awake, and certainly too early to be out in the streets pounding on doors. I thought that there must be some emergency in town and ran to the door to find out whatever news there was from whoever was there. Much to my surprise, there was no-one at the door ready to identify themselves and their message, and yet a package with my name on it had been left at the door. It was a most curious circumstance, and yet I saw no real harm in it, because secret gift giving was the hallmark of the holiday season. I myself had delivered many a gift in that manner over the years. The package was heavier than it should have been from its size, and once I had it indoors I eagerly opened it to find out what it was and who had sent it. Alas, there was no identification of the giver, and more's the pity because what was inside was a most remarkable carved wood box, worked with figures of animals and dragons all over, in a magnificent shade of red. Whoever sent it to me must have been a prankster, though, because I could see no way into the box, no clasp or lock announced itself, no hinge or platen presented itself as a means to the inside. I was locked out, and most frustrated by this unfortunate turn of events.

I found this note with the box, kept in a steamer trunk in my grandmother’s attic for generations. A faraway look crossed her face when I asked her about it. She smiled, blinked back a tear, and folded my hands over it. “I’ve had a long and happy life, I want you to have it.” That’s all she would say. Months after she died, I brought the box downtown to my friend, Charlie. He owned a crowded little pawn shop, which held far more than should have been possible in a tiny storefront. He was a five-foot man with a ten-foot personality; he could easily throttle an entire gang using a yardstick and golf ball. We had lunch together several times over the years, and he spoke perfect English. Whenever he was in his store, however, he adopted a hilarious accent, spouting Confucius’ teachings whenever asked the price of an item. He said it was good for business. He peered through round spectacles at the intricate scrollwork. “Ohhhh, this bling you good ruck!” he burbled. “This velly good thing to have around,” as he pressed it into my hands. I turned it over, smiling. “But, what is it? It doesn’t open and has been in a trunk for decades. Is it worth anything?” His expression hardened. He solemnly hefted the trinket. “Yes, it is worth something. What is it worth to YOU, is the question.” “Uh, I dunno,” I stammered. “Maybe a collector would get more out of it than I would. Make an offer, if, if you want it.” “Two thousand dollars,” he said with uncharacteristic shortness as the till slammed open. He grabbed a stack of twenties and waved me out. I thanked him, but he shook his head sadly, not taking his eyes off the box. The doorbells tinkled as I turned down the street, happy to have the money but uneasy about Charlie’s behavior. I walked along the deserted road, oblivious to the chill in the air and the thick silence afforded by a blanket of snow in this sleepy season. Glancing up, I locked eyes with the panicking driver, a young girl in a white knit hat. Her frantic steering did nothing to change her course. I sidestepped as her car jumped the curb, crossed the sidewalk, and slammed into a coffee shop. Heavy icicles fell from the canopy. I watched the wagon swing around to pin me against the wall. Vertebrae and bricks ground together, fanbelts snapped, steam escaped with a teakettle whistle, echoing, cascading, drowning in the thrushing of blood in my eardrums. The car shifted, dropping me to the fluid-soaked sidewalk. It was a long way to fall. The contents of my pockets fluttered into doorways, over festooned lampposts, down storm drains. Cold concrete pressed against my cheek and warm blood met my lips. Charlie stood over me, hot tears stinging my forehead. He covered me with his old cardigan. I faded, hearing him sob, “You should have kept box, my friend.”

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Humans 1 - Bees 0

This little nugget was sent to me by friend Matt. Click Here to watch the hilarity unfold. This is a photo-intensive site, not for the slow-of-connection. Oh, also, there's a bit of language. Viewer discretion advised.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Odds & Ends

Well, that was weird. It was nice, having several days off in a row, but it balled up my routine and it's hard to stay oriented. Not that I'm complaining, mind you - whining is for pansies - but I'm actually looking forward to regular life. Weird, huh? ============================ The coolest thing happened the other day, as a result of my little copycat iPod meme thing. One of the members of Thermal And A Quarter saw it and wrote this (it was in the Blogger comments, invisible to the HaloScan world):

Beej said... Wow... nice to see Paper Puli showing up in the oddest ways! I must tell the band about this.
That was pretty flippin' sweet, in my book. I signed up for their newsletter forthwith, because I like a band that likes fans. Their Website. I recommend 'em, and judging by most of the music collections I've been snooping out in your profiles, you'll like them too. Especially if you like your music with intelligence and a sense of humor. I hope they make it to the US in 2007, because I'll be there. I don't get to freaking India very often to see a show. ============================ Since I am, as I said, a copycat, I'll post this recipe here for your recipe reading enjoyment. The last few years we've done a 'soup bar' at the big family shindig. Each of the 6 Mini-Family-Units (MFU's) brings a vat of stew or soup, and Grandma provides the bread, condiments, and salads. We try to outdo each other every year, and it turns out to be worthy of overstuffing. But it's soup, which has been proven to be good for you. It's easier to get bloated if you don't feel too guilty about it. This stuff was highly tasty and worth the effort, and went well with the white chili and beef goulash that were also present. Feel free to pare down the recipe - this makes 36 cups and will last you a while. Pureed Winter Squash Soup 4 Acorn squash (about 8# total) 2-3 Butternut squash (Not summer, I was wrong - about 8# total) 3/4 cup butter 1/4 cup brown sugar Salt Preheat oven to 350. Cut squash in half, discarding seeds. Place on baking sheets, skin side down. In the cavity of each squash half, place 1 TBSP butter and 1 TSP brown sugar. Season with salt. Roast until tender, approximately 1 hour. 1 Lb carrots, peeled and cut into thirds 2 large onions, sliced 1/2 cup olive oil Salt & pepper Place carrots and onion slices on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and brown, approximately 45 minutes. 22 cups chicken stock or canned broth 2 TSP ground ginger 1 TSP cinnamon 1 TSP ground mace Salt & Pepper Scoop squash pulp from skins and place in large stockpot. Add roasted carrots and onions. Stir in chicken stock or canned broth, ginger, cinnamon, and mace. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper. Puree in batches. Transfer to large bowl and stir thoroughly to harmonize batches. Freeze in freezer bags, press out excess air. Defrost in refrigerator. Heat in saucepan or microwave safe dish.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Not The Loot Report

Another Christmas come and gone. Well, nearly gone. There's still the cleanup. I kinda like the idea I heard a few weeks ago from a certain Scrooge about 'The Man With The Really Clean Living Room..." The kidlets made out like bandits (again). It was a stroke of genius to get Boy a season pass at the local ski resort. Especially considering there has been no snow whatsoever in 3 weeks, and the temperatures have been too high for snowmaking (yes, people actually make snow. On purpose). Girl got pretty much everything she asked for, and so did I for that matter. They each got sweet digital cameras, and I expect to see unflattering pics of myself on their blogs soon. I got a guitar tuner, clothes, wallet, and a joke book. The cat got into the cheesecake and promptly yakked on the new shirt I was planning to wear today; other than that, it was smooth sailing. I got Mrs. Spiffy an exercise ball. Now, this may strike some of you as eminently unwise, but I did my research, yo. I saw how popular it was at the Office Party, and she even hinted I should steal it for her. Plus, I cleverly hid it in the back of my Jeep with my emergency winter supplies, knowing it's her nature to snoop (I once gave her a CD wrapped in a dishwasher box - the one gift she didn't guess that year). Sure enough, she found it, said she liked it and was even looking forward to receiving it. This morning, on our way to yet another Family Gathering, I mentioned my increasing interest in working out, and asked if I could borrow her exercise ball (I held my tongue and did NOT point out that only one hour ago, it was MY exercise ball). She raised her eyebrows and said, "No offense, but isn't there a weight limit on that thing?" Well, she DID call 'no offense.' Now pass me that cookie. =================================== There was some excitement in the neighborhood today. My sister was hosting the festivities. She lives on the border country, between the decent and scary parts of town: Right across the street from a very scenic psychiatric hospital, and down the block from the county jail. We looked out the front window and noticed an overflowing handful of police cars in front of the house, crawling back and forth with lights a-flashing. My brother in law went outside to see what was the matter. He noticed his neighbor's garage door had been kicked open, and waved Officer Friendly toward the scene. Apparently, a bad guy was being transported to jail and figured out a way to jump out of a moving cruiser. He passed by my unlocked car, keys dangling from the ignition, and was hiding under a car in the neighbor's garage. The fuzz converged in the driveway. Guns and 12-pound flashlights were drawn on the poor guy as he was dragged from under the car by his dreadlocks. My brother in law earned a hearty handshake and a "Thank you, fine citizen!" for his snitching good deed. How was YOUR Christmas?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Life On Shuffle

Yay! We made it through the longest night, and daytime is on its way back. Soon there will be kids playing outside until after 10 PM, cookouts and parties on patios, and disease-carrying mosquitoes to contend with. But at this moment, it's still dark. Probably will be for a few more hours. Since I got nothin' for you this morning except a picture of a guy with his giant rabbit (real photo, real bunny), here's a little something I stole from Mopey Chick. We’ve never even met, and I’m stealing her stuff. Well, I like the idea, therefore it’s mine, I keep it now. Besides, she stole it too, so that makes it OK.

Here are the rules: Set your iPod on shuffle and report the songs - in the order they appear - as answers to the questions below. No cheating. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++ How am I feeling today? Let It Roll - Train Will I get far in life? Strange Days – Prong & Ray Manzarek

How do my friends see me? The Happy Song – Delirious

Where will I get Married? Reverend Girl – Verve Pipe What is my best friend’s theme song? Anthem – Moby

What is the story of my life? Englishman In New York – Sting (strange, I’m neither)

What is/was high school like? Paper Puli – Thermal And A Quarter How can I get ahead in life? Shinbone Alley/ Hard To Exist – Spin Doctors

What is the best thing about me? Mephistopheles’ Return – Trans Siberian Orchestra

How is today going to be? Leave Me Alone – Natalie Imbruglia

What is in store for this weekend? Revival Town – Delirious

What song describes my parents? So Near – Sam Lane

To describe my grandparents? Damaged – Plumb

How is my life going? Message In A Bottle – Police

What song will they play at my funeral? Sleepless – Soul Coughing How does the world see me? Life Without You – Stevie Ray Vaughan Will I have a Happy Life? Trogdor – Strong Bad (burninating the villages, Trogdor comes in the night!)

What do my friends really think of me? Come On - Radford Do people secretly lust after me? Inertia Creeps – Massive Attack (don’t know if ‘creeps’ is a noun or verb here)

How can I make myself happy? How Great Is Your Love – Mercy Me What should I do with my life? Persistence of Memory – Afro Celt Sound System Will I ever have children? Eireann – Afro Celt Sound System What is some good advice for me? Big Mistake – Natalie Imbruglia How Will I be Remembered? I Think I’m Paranoid - Garbage

What do I think my current theme song is? What Is Eternal – Trans Siberian Orchestra What does everyone else think my current theme song is? Fool To Think – Dave Matthews Band

What type of men/women do you like? When I Grow Up - Garbage What Does Your Man/Woman love about you? The White Stuff – Weird Al Yankovic What Song do you secretly love? New World – Bjork & Massive Attack What do you want to do tomorrow? Darkness – Rage Against the Machine

Thursday, December 21, 2006

But You Told Me To

Yesterday was a rough one for my young nephew. I'll call him Alfred. His teacher had had it. She was fuming over the condition of the room. Apparently, 25 hyperstimulated squirrel monkeys were just too much for her, and the classroom needed some attention. She stood in front, hands on her hips, and hissed through clenched teeth, "This room is a pigsty. I, am leaving for 15 minutes. You, will clean it up. When I return, this room had better sparkle." With that, she marched out of the room, apparently to have a nervous smoke and a nip off the hip flask. Obediently, the kids set out to make things right. They put away books and toys, cleaned the white board, tidied up all their desks, and hung up coats and hats. One even found some Windex and was going to work on the big wall of windows. From 4 feet and below, those windows were fingerprint-free. Now, little Alfred has a limited grasp of clean. He's perfectly content to sit for hours on his knees playing Legos or video games, in a room littered with weeks' worth of laundry and dead guinea pigs. At least, that's how it would be if it were up to him. Fortunately, our state has a health department and his mom has a healthy fear of it. What Alfred does have is a very literal mind. He found an industrial size jar of glitter. He remembered the Teacher's words. He could certainly make the room sparkle. As the other kids continued with their chores, he went around the room like a little wingless Tinkerbell, adding sparkle to every surface. Windowsills, ventilators, coatracks, bookshelves, and the Teacher's desk all received a generous sprinkling of fairy dust. He sat back, very pleased with the overall effect. Unfortunately, this did not earn him the praise he expected. In fact, she was even more furious than before, and made him desparkle the room after class. There's no pleasing some people.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Breaking Things

Last night, I was enjoying the warm glow after a nice meal and some incredibly kind comments, and decided to start the Christmas Cooking. I was alone in the kitchen. Boy and a couple of his cousins were downstairs playing, and Mrs. Spiffy took Girl shopping. Again. We've been part of a food group in the past, and it was so much fun I'm starting another one after Holiday Season gets folded up and put away for the year. The groups combine cooking, friends, and giving all at once, and the food is really good. So, for Christmas this year we're giving away some frozen family-size meals. The recipe calls for 20 pounds of potatoes, peeled and sliced. This doesn't happen in just 5 minutes, so I figured it was time to get started. I hauled out my big, shiny knife and reached into the cabinet for the giant stock pot. I started to lift it out, and felt a strange resistance. There was a startling sound like an icy snowball hitting the cabinet, with deep, tinkling overtones. "Huh. That's interesting," was all I could think. One of our fancy crystal serving dishes had somehow gotten wedged between the pot and a shelf, and exploded vigorously when I tried to move it. Well, no sense crying over spilled glass, so I began the cleanup. That's when I felt an unfamiliar weight on my wrist. I looked down and found a small water-balloon sized glob of blood growing on my arm. I wasn't sure if it was the oozing or spurting type of bleeding I should panic over, so I just held it under running water for a while, waiting to see if I would pass out. I didn't , so I got a band-aid and went back to work. This morning, I came out to my trusty Jeep for the kid-drop, and found all the glass surfaces covered in thick frost. It reminded me of a time in my youth, when the neighbor lady across the street was faced with the same problem. Mrs. D was one of those neighbors everybody knows - you couldn't not know her. She had a piercing, high-pressure voice that she used every night to scream her brood home for dinner. We would hear the list of kids' names and the menu, at high volume, every night around 6. It was a morning where your nose hairs crystallize before you even close the door behind you, and she was obviously running late. I could tell by all the new swear words I was learning while I scraped the windows of our car. She started her van, fussing and grumbling in sharp syllables, and slammed the storm door on the way back into her house. She came stomping back out a minute later, carrying a steaming bucket. She flung it across her windshield triumphantly, apparently thinking she would instantly dissolve the frost. Instead, she got an abrupt lesson in the thermal properties of laminated glass. I heard the crack echo through the streets; it sounded like lightning striking a hollow tree. I watched her mouth drop open. I watched her ball up her fists and crouch, and I watched her throw a classic cartoon stomping-fit - arms flailing up and down, jumping in circles with her knees around her chin, hairpins spinning around her face - and a thick, loud river of new cursing combinations. That's one of my favorite childhood memories.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Peeves as Pets

I'm not much of a whiner. Oh, sure, I know HOW to whine, and can do it convincingly. But it's not a favorite pastime. I generally enjoy my life and cheerfully accept the little trials that come along. My philosophy on life is, "If you don't like something, change it." That sounds glib and oversimple, but we're all adults, right? As Frederick Douglass said, "The limits of tyrants are prescribed by those whom they oppress." So, if I don't like something, it's my job to do what it takes to make it right. Which is why, at my house, you would always - ALWAYS, I say - find dishes and homework cheerfully done, and everything in its place. All that said, I wish there were something I could do about four-way stop signs. It seems nobody on the road today knows how to work those daggone things. They're driver IQ tests, and most drivers fail miserably. I can picture all of my one-time classmates, and their reactions to pop quizzes. The pet, who looks forward to it. "I know this one!! Call on me!!" The stoner, who shrugs and giggles at everything. The clueless kid who is surprised that he's expected to know something, and approaches with nervous, shifty trepidation. Whenever there is a traffic light out in the city, the helpful traffic guy on the radio says, "Just be sure to treat that intersection like a four-way stop." I wind up growling at the radio, "How 'bout if you include instructions, mo-ron?!" Just this morning on my way to drop the kids off at school, four of us arrived at the intersection. At the same time. It's generally accepted that whoever gets there first gets to lead. But this was one of those times where we all sat there politely. And continued to sit. Well, I know the law, kiddies, and it's the person on the RIGHT who goes first. So I was waiting for her (it was dark, but I still know it was a her) to go. Bob and Tom went to commercial. "Screw it," I thought, and started my turn. So did she. We stopped with a tiny screech in the middle of the intersection, each waiting for the other to go. The other two cars were having none of this, and didn't budge. I flashed my lights, signaling my bad, I'll wait. She sat there, blank as a fart. I put it in reverse and edged back to my spot. However, someone else had taken my spot, leaving my nose dangerously out in harm's way. She finally stomped on it (the gas, not my nose), shrieking around the corner while waving a finger or two in my direction. I wish there were some kind of lighted signal people could come up with, to tell drivers when it's their turn to go.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's Not Here

My post isn't here. It's at Tracy Lynn's (Evil Genius). I'm one of her minions, building for her a giant Christmassy pyramid of guest posts. Besides, I posted over the weekend, so I'm whupped. I think I'll prop my feet up and relax a while.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Just Filler

This Saturday I took another wog. This time I brought the boy and the dog, because you can jog like an idiot in a group and less people notice. However, both boy and dog are natural runners, and would frequently leave me wheezing in their frozen dust. The boy, he got his varsity letter in rowing last year. As a freshman. The dog, as Bruce Springsteen would say, was born to run. I was born to loaf, but there aren't many anthems about that. ============ About today's title. If you want to see some REAL writing, the kind that spills over you more naturally than warm beer from a leaky metaphor, check this out. She calls it 'Just Filler' and spun it out in, oh, 12 minutes. I'm not quitting my day job. Ever. =========== Do you have someone in your life that makes new discoveries every day? It's amazing to see childlike wonder and excitement over the littlest commonplace things. Each evening, without fail, we'll be in the family cruiser going to or fro. My house is out of town, so every activity includes drive time. I'll be at the controls, piloting us smoothly through the jackass-flecked roadways, the kidlets and/ or their friends will be in the back kidletting, and Mrs. Spiffy will be in her place to my right. At some point after dusk, she will look up and notice that there are other cars on the road. This is unacceptable, and she lets me know by simultaneously clutching her side window, grabbing for my steering hand, and shrieking, "LookouAAAARRHHH!" This used to be unnerving. In fact, it's a miracle there isn't a tree-shaped dent in my bumper because of these little alerts. It's one of those things you get used to, if it happens enough. The proper response, I've found, is to hand over her eyeglasses. She's had them for over a year. They're always in the little drawer over the ashtray. She puts them on, and I brace myself. It's hard to plug one's ears invisibly, but there are techniques one can use. "Wowww!! I can see! Did you know these things help me see better? They're not that strong but still... Wow!" Every. damn. day. ============= On great uncling and wisdom, Kenju suggested that I try to pass on the Family Knowledge to the new bambino. That's a tall order, especially when the babymama is a moron. Don't get me wrong, I love her dearly and always will, but I've met smarter sand fleas. I shall do my best. All the great uncles in my life were large, old, mysterious men who smelled faintly of hay. And manure, but mostly hay. The Old Spice didn't do much to cover either. They would show up in their well-rounded Sunday Overalls to family reunions at Christmas and Mother's Day, and talk to my dad as if they knew him. I had to ask nearly every year what their names were. Sturdy, old-world names like Gus, Yogi, Gerritt, and Sid. They would eye me suspiciously for a moment, and go back to work on their plates of green bean casserole and chicken while my cousins and I ran around the place. I never got much wisdom from them, and it's too bad. I hear they were good men.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

It's What We Do

I warned you this might happen. You came back anyway, so you get to hear about more Christmas traditions. Maybe tomorrow will come with something compelling and funny, but this is what you get today. It's about the decorating, and this little tradition happens in 3 phases. The first is Mrs. Spiffy telling me it's time to decorate, at which I grunt, shrug, and put it off. There's always next weekend. Invariably, next weekend brings a blizzard. So, after bundling up in a ridiculous amount of layers and spending an hour finding my gloves, I haul out the buckets of lights and a ladder to festoon as much of the house as I feel like. One year every corner, edge, and ridge had lights. That was an ordeal I didn't want to repeat, so I haven't. Now, it stops at the front porch and a little candy cane, and a couple little trees get splashed with light. It looks pitifully weak next to the high-wattage neighbors, but I'm just not that gung-ho. And, I think I've convinced the kidlets that Inflatables will never grace our lawn. In fact, I think they're joining me in my fantasy of sneaking out in my blackest outfit on some dark night to wreak murder and destruction on all the Frosties, Grinches, and Sno-Globes in the land. Phase 2 involves finding, unpacking, and setting up the Pre-Lit Tree. The finding takes the longest, even though it's always in the same closet under the stairs. It's just way in the back, and it's our annual night of Finding Other Things that were stuffed in said closet over the past year. "Oh, THAT's where my favorite _____ went!" The tree gets set up and adjusted, then it's time for relaxing. Phase 3 may happen the next day or the next week, depending on how high on the feel-like-it meter we all are. Phase 3 cannot happen unless a) all of us are present b) all decoration boxes have been found c) we have time to 'do it right' and d) we are all in a Good Mood. Having all those planets align is a tall order, but amazingly, it's happened every year - even the bad years. We each grab a favorite ornament, count, "1, 2, 3, GO!" And the decorate-o-rama is on. The boxes are emptied in about 3 minutes, and the tree is filled with the same nostalgic ornaments as last year. Many are handmade, most are well worn, a few are downright tacky. Then, depending on whose turn it is, a kidlet puts the old tinsel-and-lights star atop the tree. They're far too big for me to hoist them up like the olden days, but still too short to reach. So I bend the tree sideways and they ceremoniously jam it on the wiry treetop. All the lights go out, and Dad gets to plug in the tree while we croak out the words of the nearest Christmas carol we can remember. Somewhere over the next day or so, snowscapes with lit houses, skating lovers, daredevil skiers, and maybe a train magically appear. It's out of my league for patience or ability, but it always looks nice. ================================ NEWS FLASH NEWS FLASH NEWS FLASH Last night my eldest niece gave birth to a baby boy. I'm a Great Uncle. Heh.

Christmas Traditions

I've noticed that everywhere I go lately, people are talking about their Christmas traditions. Understandable, seeing how it's Christmastime. And people are basically copycats. Since it's the Thing To Do, here's one of my Holiday Traditions. Way back in March of 1990, the new Mrs. Spiffy and I moved into our first apartment. Every move since then has been right around Christmas. In a blizzard. There was the First House, a sturdy little brick number on a hill, which was a handyman special all the way. We bought it in August, but it took until December to get it livable. The folks before us bragged about how they never had trash service in the 3 years they lived there. "This carpet's still good, just needs a little steam cleaning," he told me. They maintained a path from the front door, through the living room, weaving down the hallway to the bedrooms. Everywhere else in the place was stacked to the ceiling with pizza boxes, last year's wrapping paper, eggshells, and other assorted whatnot. We had to ask how many windows were in one bedroom, because we honestly couldn't see across it. One room featured a small mountain of bunny shit. In the middle of the carpeted floor. So, we remodeled the kitchen and bath, recarpeted, scrubbed and painted every square inch before moving in. The aroma of the previous family subsided after the new furnace was installed, and we could finally spend a night there. We set up and decorated the tree before unloading the U-Haul, while the first kidlet slept in the living room. The next move was much simpler, because we were going to a bigger house. It took a few years to collect enough junk to fill it up. That Christmas was one of the easy ones. The only adventure was when the gutter filled up with ice and the entire roof edge ripped free, dropping 2 stories onto the driveway. Amazingly, no snotty neighbor kids were crushed. By far the most memorable move was the one from the Big House to the 2-bedroom apartment. Naturally, it was Christmas Week. And a blizzard was in full force. This wasn't the natural progression we had imagined - you're supposed to move Upward, right? Well, Circumstances intervened and we had to downsize. Substantially. We recruited some muscle from our church youth group, and they were eager and happy to help. We had 2 big Ryder truckloads of crap to move, and our friends were committed to Getting It Done - and fast. They emptied the first load into the driveway, and a few of us went back for the rest. As I pulled into the drive with the 2nd load, I noticed something was missing. Or rather, not missing. Every single item from the first load was still in the drive, and the kids were inside enjoying pizza and some teevee. It continued to snow in earnest while we unloaded the 2nd truck into the drive. Then they left. As has been mentioned, we had a Big Houseful of stuff, and tried to squeeze it all into the space of a phone booth. Too cheap (see: broke) to rent a storage unit, we decided to tarp the stuff in the drive and bring it in as we found room. The next day, we came out to find 2 feet of fresh snow on top of our precious Stuff. Strangely, we don't have many photos from that Christmas. And, most of that Stuff found its way to Goodwill or the dump. The next move brought us into a spacious new house in the pseudo-country, with lots of roof edges and corners to decorate with lights. If ever I felt like it. Tune in next time, I may foist more of my Traditions upon you. Or maybe not, you never know around here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Do Not Take Before Bed

Today's post was going to be about the day my other sister learned that All Men Have Hairy Butts. However, a malfunctioning hypothalamus has hijacked my thoughts. The night started out well enough, and our good friend Marisol came over for ravioli and sparkling conversation. After she left, I decided to retire for the evening, as I often do. I pulled on my Fashion Jammies (sweat pants and oversized sweater) and snuggled in. It was a dark and stormy night. The December wind whipped rain and naked branches against the siding a mere 4" from my head. It sounded like the time we camped on the beach in Florida, the wind coming and crashing in waves. It would have been almost soothing, but it had a distinct Halloween creepiness to it. Around 1:55 AM, my feet were freezing cold, and I began to shiver a little. I pulled myself into a ball under the thick duvet, and tried to sleep again. Not happening. The shiver returned, persisted, worsened. I flung the covers off and headed upstairs to bump the thermostat to a more balmy 68 degrees, but as soon as I stood, my shoulder began to twitch. Earnestly. A shuddering, cascading tremor crossed my back, like a rhinoceros trying to shake off the desert flies. By the time I made it to the stairs, the Earthquake Pills had taken full effect. My muscles were rippling impressively (if you're impressed by a lurching, chattering, retarded rhino). This was not an ideal time to try to pee. It was like the Power Rinse cycle at the new car wash, with widdle whipping about to and fro, hither and yon, and kicking up quite a lot of frothy turbulence in the bowl. I returned to bed and tried again. The shivering subsided, only to be replaced by an inferno. As my eyeballs gently soft-boiled, I tossed and turned, shed my sweatshirt, put it back on, launched the cat off the bed (an accident, honest), and perspired profusely. Around 3:55, I shuffled cautiously to the bathroom for another drink and some Headache Medicine. I downed a full glass of water, refilled it, and realized that now was the time for the water softener to recharge. Did you know salt water makes you thirstier? Which brings me here, to work. Sleep deprived, feverish, and wishing I had brought a change of clothes. I keep waiting for the delirium to kick in to make this all worth it. Have a nice day.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What My Teeth Taste Like

I stumbled out of the Procrastinators' Guild meeting late last night. It was Flying Monkey night, and we were mixing Mike's Hard Lemonade with Jim Beam. I don't remember how it tasted, but I think a good time was had by all. This morning, I awoke with my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I mean, it was stuck good. I tried to peel it off, but it felt like a hedgehog was being ripped from my palate. I padded to the bathroom, sleep bubbles still popping around my head, and took a sip of water. That seemed to help, and I snuggled back in until the next snooze alarm fired (the best sleep of the night is in those 9-minute chunks). I awoke again, and this time I experienced a distinct chalky presence in my mouth, which wasn't there when I lay down. I took an inventory, and came up blank. It occurred to me: this must be tooth powder. I've been a gnasher ever since I learned to pay bills. My dentist has tried to outfit me with a variety of contraptions to keep my enamel intact, but none have been tolerable. I'd rather settle for pre-chewed food in my old age than spend the night with a drool-producing wad of chewy plastic. My Great Grandpa got his teeth kicked out by a mule when he was 15, and made it all the way to 88 without a problem. I figure I've more than doubled my toothlife; compared to him, I'm making out like a bandit. Today I'm trying to take it easy on my teeth. Nothing but soft, clear water and a nice, cushy sammich for lunch. Well, chips are a necessity. One must have the RDA of the Crunchy food group. And I may chew up some cracked ice from tonight's bourbon. But that doesn't count, because I only chew ice when I drink.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Thank You, Evil Genius!

I can't thank Tracy Lynn enough for her painstaking research in helping me get HaloScan to work on this site. Unfortunately, all the old comments have *poof* disappeared. I'll try to figure out how to re-stick them, because by golly, this is much more fun with your words than without!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Of Angry Knees and Stabbing Pain

I believe you should take inspiration wherever you find it. This weekend I engaged in my very own “I Don’t Ever Want To Look Like That Guy” program. I know, it’s not a very catchy mission title, but it’ll do for now. Suggestions welcome. I may never be able to do a frog kick or have an ass like the Chinese woman at the Y, but hopefully, with luck and determination, I won’t look like That Guy. Sunday morning I drove to Chicago to pick up my brother & sister in law, who just returned from San Diego. They had spent a week helping their Marine son settle in to his new assignment after a hitch on Okinawa. Their trip was immensely cheaper by stopping in Chicago rather than direct to Grand Rapids, so out of the goodness of my heart (shut up, you who know me) I awoke at 2AM to make the 3-hour drive. I heard all about how oppressively 80 degrees and sunny it is in other parts of this great country, and gained a new appreciation for the snow of my hometown. On the way back, we enjoyed a King's breakfast of sausage & grease, with croissants, eggs, & cheese, with a side of potatoes & grease. It was damn tasty, but several miles later I noticed my gut had expanded. Today’s the day I decided to pick up jogging. It’s one of those activities I don’t normally do, because I hate it. Mushrooms, I simply dislike. Telemarketers annoy me. Jogging, I hate. It’s almost on par with Inflatable Christmas Decorations. I have friends who are so into running, both of their vehicles' vanity plates proudly display their perverse love of the sport. The whole fam damily is chronicled in the halls of their home, with action shots from the Boston Marathon and so on. Not me. Historically, I’ve only run when a fire breathing coach and a herd of my pimple-farming peers were chasing me, or when faced with a pack of ravenous dingoes. And I can tell you exactly how many times that has happened. I bundled up in my most fashionable exercise getup (sweat pants and a hoodie), leashed the dog, and set out into the wild. It’s exactly 1 mile around the circle. Soon my enormous Dutch feet were slapping the slush, soaking poor Grace with salty spray. I don’t know what you may have heard about men with big feet, but it’s true. They sure can kick up some slush. Thankfully, there were big patches of road covered with slick, packed snow. Good excuse to walk part way. Or most of the way, I wasn't counting, but I certainly didn't want to slip and fall in my highly-reactive-to-gravity state. Since it’s colder than a you-know-what’s you-know-what, I tied a kerchief around my face, cowboy style, to prevent my uvula from crystallizing. My legs now hate me, my right butt cheek is unresponsive, my spine has been driven another ½” into my skull, and I’m sure the neighbors were disturbed by the sight of a flabby Cowboy Unabomber. It’ll all be worth it if my photo never appears on the internet.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Let's Broaden Our Minds

Today I'll be absent from my usual haunts, and it makes me sad. My robot will keep you company. I have to go join the army of angry contractors who haven't yet strangled, run over, stabbed, or tossed from the roof the Owner's Inspector. He likes to fancy himself an expert on whatever it is you're doing, then watch you do it, then make you redo it. Yes, he is paid by the hour. I'm joining the verklempt bandwagon, which was built and push-started by Tiff herself. The existence of this little shred of a thread is enough to quiver my lip over the warmth and generosity of folks I'm finding 'round here. Working on a few little writing projects, and oh will it ever be fun! Tracy Lynn, the Evil Genius, is hosting a 12 Days of Christmas thingamadeal, starting 12/12. All the cool kids will be there.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Let It Snow

I love trains. Normally, they fascinate me. Except for when they stand between me and where I'd like to be. This morning, as I tooled along the country road to work in the dark (another joyous feature of Winter in Michigan), I joined the stack of cars waiting for a train. No big deal, they usually zip along pretty quickly at that crossing. As I drew closer, however, I realized the train was stopped. This might be a while. No problem, Heywood Banks was on the radio singing about Big Butter Jesus on I-75 in Ohio. I learned the words to the chorus and sang along. The reflective tape on the locomotives started to move. Yay! Then they stopped. Then they went the other direction a few feet, and stopped again. It dawned on me: This guy is rocking it to get unstuck from a snow bank. No effing way. I love my Jeep. It's been locked into 4WD since the day after Thanksgiving (except when I took the kids out for donuts in the parking lot), and boy I've needed it. =============================== Ok, I caved in to peer pressure (again) and signed up for Firefox. So far it's, "Omg! Where have you been all my life, and why didn't I find you sooner?!?" I have a friend like that. I still can't get HaloScan to stick to my brand new site. All the cool kids have it. Maybe it's the beta-ness of it all. Anyone know how to get under the hood and fix my hyper-drive here? =============================== I came to work this morning in the aforementioned dark, as I often do. A couple of us early risers enjoy getting a few things done before the phones start ringing and pesky coworkers start their pesking. When that happens, SOP is to turn on only half of the fluorescent mood lighting; it may save energy, but it's more about atmosphere. Well, when the masses start trickling in, some gung-ho morning-type cube-dwelling hyphenated-person will inevitably jam on the high beams and shout, "Good morning!" at the top of his Neanderthal lungs. Normally, I'm cheerful and friendly to all. Today, he earned an inarticulate growl. He came over, slapped me on the back, and said, "I didn't know you were nocturnal!" This led to a discussion. If you're right handed, but can write with your left as well, that's ambidextrous. If you eat veggies, but also meat, you're omnivorous. Well, what if you're up at night AND during the day? C'mon, one of you purveyors of carnal word knowledge must know. The comments button was just MADE for you.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Office Party

Inspired by a discussion some days ago on Wordnerd's site (pops). My company is growing. Well, morphing and growing. I've only been here 2 years, and I'm already becoming one of the old-timers. The VP that hired me has been sacked. We've hired and fired and lost designers left and right, we've opened 2 new locations, and closed down a design center. That said, our Christmas party hasn't been the same thing twice, and this was my third one with this outfit. Now, I've worked for lots of employers over the years (I'm not a job-hopper, I'm just very flexible), and have experienced many different Christmas traditions. One would take the crew and their dates to a nice dinner and then bowling. We'd all rent fungicidal shoes, pour the beer, and bowl for our bonus. Yes, your Christmas bonus would depend on how well you scored. There was a difference of several hundred dollars between first and last place. At least scores were handicapped so if you suck this year, you get an advantage next year. But, it was an incentive not to drink too much. Smart boss, that guy. Another would give an overwrought, high-falutin', back slapping, long enough to let your glass run dry and your chicken run cold, self congratulating speech during dinner. All 12 of us were supposed to be in worsipful awe of the good fortune we found to work for this guy (he later appeared in a local news investigation for stealing customers' money). This year they rented a hotel conference room and had it catered. Open bar, top shelf stuff. And a table along one wall, end to end, just STACKED with wrapped presents. Everyone got a number on the way in, and since I had a sneaking suspicion of what was coming, I traded numbers with anyone who would. "I got a 13, what'd you get?" Eventually, I wound up with 57. Someone counted noses, and found there were 60 of us. I surreptitiously pumped my fist in the air and hissed, "Yessss!" After dinner and several gallons of liquor were served, our HR chief slurred the rules over the non-functioning PA system. "You go, see, in order. Your number... (hic) Everyone has a number. You take it, and when I call it, you go get a present. At the table. You unwrap it, and hold it up to shee. For everyone to shee. Then you go shit down. Then, whoever goes next can get a new present, off'n the table. Or steal yours. Okay. Who's nummer one?" Everyone got to open or steal something. There were boxes of chocolate with scratch-off lottery tickets, smelly candles, little tool kits, and home knick-knacks. None of that stuff got 'stolen'. But then there were gift packs of Irish Cream Liqueoor, a case of Corona, a fancy pants desk lamp, and bottle of Grey Goose vodka with a tall, blue martini glass. That stuff got stolen multiple times, to the cheering and groaning of the whole room. The most popular item? A No-Burst Exercise Ball. One middle-aged executive wife stamped on the floor and almost threw a fit right there when a young office assistant swiped it. "Look at my fat ass! Why does a skinnybutt, 18 year old... GIRL need that?!?" I thought she was going to start sobbing and getting snot in her martini over it. Good times. I scored an MP3 player, which I was happy to keep. Our IT guy went after me, and when he saw it was an off-brand with only 512MB, he shrugged and went for the outdoor thermometer with birds on it. Toward midnight, the boss closed the bar and said if we wanted to keep partying, the lounge was still open with a live band. Half of us shuffled down the hall and hung out in the smoky haze. My good friend Bill talked the band into letting him & me sit in with them (we've been in bands together for years, he's a phenomenal drummer and I play bass). Between the initial conversation and mid 3rd set when they invited us up, Bill consumed about 230% of his capacity for vodka. We got through Some Kind of Wonderful without a hitch, but when they started Walk This Way, I knew things were going awry. First of all, Bill was pausing between measures to keep himself on the seat. Second, I'd never played the song before. No problem, the crowd was about as sloppy as the rest of us. Bill wound up riding home with us. That was interesting enough for its own story.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Milkbones and Butter

What in the well-packed hell do I know about blogging? I imagine I should share some kind of history. In the old-man wheeze that says, "Why, when I was yer age, we din't HAVE teh interwebs! We had to hand carry our letters to the Post Office up to town every day. Barefoot. Uphill. Both ways. And without indoor plumbing, mind you!" Well, I'm not quite that old. But this month's Wordsmiths challenge reminded me of one of my most vivid childhood memories. My youngest sister, whom I'll call Dorene (probably not her real name), was always fairly easy to get along with. She loved slamming doors and being wherever I was. One summer day, my friend Steve and I decided to hone our sales skills on young Dorene. "Mmm, these Milk Bones are good! You should try one!" "Oh yeah, look how ol' Woolfur eats 'em up! If HE likes them, they have to be good!" We, being 10 years old and devious, laid it on thick. She, being 6 years old and gullible, bit one in half and crunched it up like an Oreo. We watched like the judges in the Pepsi Challenge, waiting for her final answer. Her eyebrows creased. She looked up at the ceiling. "Needs something," she said. Then she popped the other half in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. We followed her into the kitchen, still carrying the Economy Size Box, while she rummaged through the fridge. She triumphantly produced a tub of Land-O-Lakes and held it before her. "Let me try another one!" She grabbed an unbroken Milk Bone from the box and scraped a healthy dose of butter onto it, leaving a comet trail of red crumbs in the tub. "MMff, these are good!" She scarfed down 3 more before we incredulously ran and hid them from her. I didn't know what could go wrong, but I knew dog food can't be all that good for people, and I certainly didn't want to be saddled with the guilt of her death, or (even worse) her future digestive problems. I secretly tried one little bonelet to see if she was onto something, and got exactly what I expected: a mouthful of greasy, dogfood flavored mystery crunch. Eventually she grew out of her craving for Milk Bones. Until one day, when we were both teenagers. Gilligan's Island was on the Family TV, and I was in my normal perch on the corner of the couch. Dorene stepped into the doorway from the kitchen to watch with a snack. In one hand, she had a sleeve of saltines. In the other, a fresh tub of butter. The crackers were merely a vehicle for transporting Land-O-Lakes into her gullet, each half-saltine dwarfed by a glistening glob of yellow goo. I quit watching the TV, fascinated by this culinary train wreck. "What?" and a shrug was the extent of our conversation. Someday I'll tell you about my other sister.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

A Toy Story

“Let us out!” I had to obey when the buckets called. It was like termites skritching in the woodwork of my brain. I absently dumped 12 gallons of brightly colored Legos on the Astroturf of the front porch and waited for the inspiration. “Better start wide. We’ll be huge.” “Okay, what color?” “Use us all. No chunk left behind.” “This is going to look like barf. But, you’re the boss.” Clear, pointy claws grew from stubby brown and green toes. I mashed plastic blocks together like a Rubik’s Cube master, twisting and sticking pieces at a furious pace. “Excuse me, you forgot something.” I snorted, “Sorry, mom wouldn’t appreciate it. Besides, I’m not building you a girlfriend.” As shoulders flowed into a bristling neck, the raw materials began to dwindle. “You don’t need ears. You’ve always been able to hear without anyway. How about black bushy eyebrows, and horns?” “Make sure you have enough yellow for teeth! And a spiky nose, too.” “Pickins are getting slim. There’s only enough yellow singles for fangs.” “Check the register. You left dozens of us down the grate, you know. Back when you drooled more.” “Yeah! I forgot about those! That’s where my long, skinny ones went.” I gathered up the stragglers from among the dust bunnies and raced back to the porch. “Whoa! Did you… grow?” “Pshhhfft. Don’t be silly. Now let’s have the fangs.” I completed the dental work and stood back to see what gravity was doing to my creation. A three foot tall mutant Godzilla stood before me, its plastic grimace fixed in mismatched colors. As I stared, an eyebrow fell off. It clearly tried to snarl at me. “Knock it off. I put you together, I can take you apart.” “Not so fast.” The voice had changed. Instead of coming from everywhere in the corners of my brain, this was a growling, localized and very grumpy voice right behind my forehead. My feet began to retreat into the living room, but I commanded them to stay put. After all, it’s only Legos. I put on a show of confident nonchalance, and eventually turned to walk away. “Yeowlp! JEEZ, I wish you wouldn’t sneak like that.” “What, it’s my house too. Whatcha doing?” “Nothing. I just built a monster. Go stand next to him, he looks hungry.” My sister ignored this. “Why is it slouching?” “It’s stalking you. Feed it some of those saltines and butter, its joints need grease.” “Whatever, moron.” I found myself starkly alone with Spiky again. “Let me just grab this eyebrow and…” I faked him out. He leaned at me while I fled into the living room and dropped the lone piece into the carpet. It wouldn’t be long. “Dammit! If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, take care of your Legos! My dad lurched barefoot onto the porch, upended Spiky into an empty bucket, and angrily put it under the basement stairs. “There! You’re grounded from those until you can be responsible.” “Phewf.”

History in the Yawning

Thanks to the generosity and excess of time on Tiff's hands, I now have a home on the interwebs. As it's been said, there is an apparent shortage of opinions on the net. I intend to throw mine into the gaping maw occasionally. At this momentous moment, my only advice is this: Whatever you see here, don't get used to it. At any rate, my first 'real' post is a Wordsmiths entry (another first). Thank you, Tiff!