Dropping like a rock for fun

I mentioned skydiving vs. amusement park rides in my previous post. I know my previous two posts weren't really funny -- they were more the result of too little sleep and too much bad food. Hopefully you'll find this one moderately amusing.

I went skydiving last year with a buddy of mine, just to say we did it. It was pretty surreal. First, the whole jumping community has a total surfer/deadhead vibe I didn’t expect. There was lots of dirty feet, hacky sack games, shell necklaces, and long shorts (or short pants, I'm not really sure which.) It was a little unnerving to trust your life to what seemed like, to all available sensory input, a stoner with no shoes, no shirt and a complete set of whiteboy dreads. But the guy I jumped with wasn't so bad. He was pretty laid back, but a bit older, like most of his weed smoking was behind him. He had jumped over 16,000 times. That’s a lot of times to get it right.

We had scheduled it way in advance, and it wasn't a great day. It was hot, humid and cloudy, and we were waiting for the weather to clear up so we didn't have to shoot the holes. Shooting the holes means that instead of jumping out of the plane over the landing zone, you jump out where there is a hole in the clouds big enough to drop through, and then you try to coast yourself back to the landing zone after the chute opens. There were many stories about not making it all the way back. My instructor landed on top of Home Depot once. My buddy’s instructor landed in a cemetery the week before. (That went over real well with all the first-time jumpers like us.)

First, they gave us our "training" which consisted of jumping off a crate that was about 3 feet high. As long as we landed on both feet, and managed not to break one or both ankles, we passed. Then they made us lie down on the same crate and arch our backs. Once we had mastered that, we were good to go. All told, our training was over in about 13 minutes.

Our training done, all that remained was the wait. We sat there from about 9 am until about 3 or so, waiting for the clouds to burn off. The entire time we were thinking it wasn't going to happen. We spent some time checking out the planes. They had an open cockpit two-seater bi-plane that you could go up in for about a hundred bucks more. They take you up, then flip the plane over and you just fall out. I didn't think I was quite ready for that one.

Finally, after a rain shower, the weather breaks, and we jump on this plane. The scariest part of the entire thing was the flight up. The plane pulls up to where we're waiting, and the entire side of the plane is just…..open. Like they removed the left half of the fuselage. Inside, you’re sitting on a steel bench, with no seatbelt. Down the runway we go, and before you know it, we're climbing pretty steeply. Keep in mind that at this point, none of us trainees actually have a chute on. The pilot makes one mistake reaching for his bong, and you’re out the door like a cigarette butt flicked from a car window. It’s so loud you can’t even hear each other talk.

I’m a little nervous at this point, what with the ability to slide out the door at any given moment. I am watching my altimeter climb up slowly. When it reaches 8,000 feet, I look across the aisle at my instructor’s altimeter, and his says 6000 feet.

Hmmmm. Should I be concerned, I wonder? I look at my altimeter again. Mine now says 9,000 feet. I look at my instructors wrist. 6,000 feet and holding. I realize that I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm pretty sure at this point all the altimeters on the plane should probably be reading the same altitude. I make up my mind to bring this little discrepancy to my instructor's attention.

I motion to him, point at my wrist, then point at his and yell, “WHY DOES MINE SAY WE’RE AT 9,000 feet AND YOURS SAYS WE’RE AT 6?” He taps on his altimeter, and the needle jumps up to 9000. He yells back, “MINE STICKS A LITTLE BIT.” I must have looked worried because he added, “IT DOESN”T STICK ON THE WAY DOWN – AT LEAST IT HASN'T YET.” That didn’t really put my mind at ease.

So there was this Korean couple, a husband and wife, and they weren’t new to this sport. They had the matching jumpsuits, matching helmets, small, fast aerobatic chutes...they didn’t smile or say a word the entire day. Hardcore. Then right before they linked legs and jumped out of the plane together, he leans over, shakes my hand and yells, “GOOD RUCK!!” It was pretty damn funny. After they left the plane at 11k, we reached 13.5, which was the altitude that would give us a full minute of freefall before we had to pull the chute.

My instuctor motions me over to his side, which was the side with the open wall. That was a scary walk. I am literally 2 feet away from an 8x12 hole in the side of a plane. I sit down on the edge of the metal bench in front of him, and he clips us together. He yanks the straps tight, I get tugged backwards between his legs, and he leans forward and yells in my ear, “Who’s yer daddy?” Next thing I know, we’re standing at the open door, with the wind screaming by us. We count to three, push off, flip over once then we’re falling at 120mph. The sound of the plane is instantly gone, and all you can hear is the wind.

We reach terminal velocity (really, really bad name for that, btw) and suddenly it’s like we’re flying. My video guy is flying back and forth in front of us, holding the camera. The only indication you have that you are falling is the wind, and the little needle on your altimeter. We do some spins, and check out the scenery. I'm constantly looking at my wrist because I'm still not trusting my instructor's altimeter.

Right at 5,000 feet, I grab the ripcord and yank it. About two seconds later, the chute pops, and my crotch goes from 120mph to 10mph in the space of a second. My shoulders get yanked backwards, and there’s something in my throat that I think I used to piss with.

After that, you’re floating and you can readjust a bit, and kind of sit on top of the harness. Then you just enjoy the ride. It's totally silent, one of the most peaceful feelings I've ever had. Good stuff, and a perfect landing.

If you ever get the urge to do something like this, head to freefall adventures. The surfer vibe notwithstanding, they have the best planes, the best instructors and the best record. Ask for Mark and Jason. Mark was the instructor and Jason was the video guy. They both did a phenomenal job.


LotusFear 2005: The Lost Episodes Volume III

During this conference, I almost always got to the meeting hall before everyone else. I generally sit in the back, and try to find a plug for the laptop, since I can type way faster than I can write, and I find it convenient to type my notes. As a result, I have a great view of the back of everyone's head as they come in and sit down. I've noticed that most geek hairstyles fall into a few major groups.

Reverse Velocity:

This guy looks like he has a fan blowing at him from behind. His hair goes horizontally, from rear to front. It culminates in gelled spikes that point forward. I'm sure it's supposed to look hip, but I think it makes these guys look like japanese cartoon characters.

The Flippy Thang:

This is the guy with the front flip. I think this was the cool college look a few years back. Now it’s kinda morphed into the new hip IT guy look. Used to be an IT guy would be indistinguishable from a homeless guy, but no more. The difference is this haircut.

Dead Head:

This guy, also known as the bald hippie, has taken to letting his neck hair grow to the middle of his back. Once it's long enough, he puts it into a pony tail. I'm not sure if it's just compensation for going bald, but it's not fooling anybody.

Mr. Clean:

This would be the shaven head dude. Invariably, the shaven head dude has a goatee. He doesn't even have to turn around. You just know it's there. I think signing a goatee contract is a prerequisite for getting the shave. He has to report back to the barber who shaved him two weeks after the shave to verify that the goatee exists. If it doesn't, I think there's a prison term of some sort.

Birds of a Feather Nest:

The dirty tangled mess guy looks like he hasn't washed his hair all week. This hairstyle is almost always accompanied by the smell of ass. The big fat german guy sitting near me on the bus the other day had this hairstyle.

Wooly Bear:

This guy sports the head catepillar -- this one wraps around the head level with the top of the ears. They seem like they should just go for the total shave, but I think they aren't allowed to because they can't pull off the goatee. Speaking of pulling off the goatee, John shaved his off this morning and nobody noticed. He looked thirty three, now he looks 12.

Combo with Everything:

Yeah. These guys got it alllllll goin' on...

I was gonna do one for the women too, but other than the 3 or 4 hot chicks I saw, they all pretty much had variations of the above.


LotusFear 2005: The Lost Episodes Volume II

I am going on a shitload of roller coasters this week. Last night we got to ride the Universal Hulk coaster in the front car. That was pretty sweet. We figured that way nobody could puke on us, but then someone pointed out that with all the loops involved, if we timed it right we could probably puke on ourselves. I didn't even go on the doctor doom ride, because all it does is drop you from a hundred feet. I have to say that after jumping out of a plane last year, the “we drop you fast” rides aren't what they used to be. Compared to 13,500, a couple of stories doesn't seem like much.

Tonight we also ate at a place that serves those disgusting smoked turkey legs. The entire restaurant smelled like a bad combination of hotdogs, beer and vomit. Basically, it smelled like college.

My ex-boss, one of our crew this week, is the slowest eater I've ever seen. Anywhere. I've seen food decompose at a faster rate than he eats. I have no idea when his last hot meal was, because it almost has to be cold by the time he's halfway through. He managed to gnaw on a smoked turkey leg for about 40 minutes last night at dinner.

That got me thinking of an invention for slow eaters. My laptop is old, and the battery gets hotter than hell even when it's on standby. It can stay hot for hours. I was thinking that a dedicated dinner plate warmer for slow eaters could incorporate some sort of rechargeable lithium ion base that would function as a portable warmer. You could just charge it up, carry it with you, and when your meal came, you would just place the plastic or china plate on the warmer, and you're good to go. It would stay warm for the duration. What do you think?


LotusFear 2005: The Lost Episodes Volume One

I discovered about 3 days into this conference that the "what smells like ass?" question I was asking myself every day was actually a game we were all playing, even though it took us almost a week to compare notes and realize it.

Somehow, I managed to get a cold today. Must have had something to do with being packed into conference rooms with seven thousand other people, of which approximately 1/3 seemed to be sick with some cold or another.

I don't think geeks know they're supposed to cover their mouths when they sneeze. I am pretty sure I felt saliva hit my neck at least 3 times. I'm hoping it was saliva. I didn't really have the nerve to look. Sometimes it was worse than sneezes and coughs. In a previous post, I mentioned my bad luck with planes, trains, and buses. Well, I can now add bathroom stalls to that list. This morning, I was sitting in a stall, minding my own business, when the stall door next to me bangs open, and I suddenly see knees, not feet. “Uh oh,” I think to myself. “This can’t be good.” The guy makes a sound like someone just punched him in the stomach, and instantly starts blowing his breakfast. I never left a stall so fast in my life. I was probably the one that smelled like ass today.

Actually, this morning the first thing that smelled like ass was the huge german guy sitting behind me on the bus. He had to be 6' 5" and around 350 pounds. I think he’s got some creases he needs a hand with reaching. The second thing today that smelled like ass are these little white flowers in the garden between the Dolphin and Swan, the two buildings that host the majority of the conference sessions. They look like baby’s breath, but they can't be. If a baby’s breath smells like this, people wouldn't want to kiss them all the time.

What is it with flowers that smell like shit, anyway? Isn't that some sort of false advertising? Aren’t flowers supposed to smell nice? My wife has a pretty extensive garden around the house, and she gets a lot of her flowers from a wayside gardens catalog. Last year, she planted a huge batch of some sort of exotic daisies right in front of our porch. For something like 3 weeks after they bloomed, I checked my shoes every time I walked by them. I could not figure out what it was that smelled like dog shit. Finally, I leaned over to sniff these daisies, and couldn’t believe it. We’ve called them crap daisies ever since. I think there should be a line in the catalog next to the picture of these blooming yellow and white flowers that says “Warning: these flowers smell like a fresh pile of dog shit. Do not plant near house.” But then I guess they wouldn’t sell as many.


My Ass is killing me.

My ass is killing me. Before you jump to any conclusions, let me elaborate. I’m at a conference this week in Orlando. I know, that additional information doesn’t really eliminate anything that may be going through your mind, but bear with me for a few seconds and let me tell you what’s going on.

I like to think I’m in decent shape, and I have a body fat percentage somewhere in the neighborhood of 14-16% on any given day. After only a single day of sitting on my ass at this conference, I can tell you that my ass has maybe 1% of this, tops. I’m pretty sure that there are ass bones poking through the skin back there. I have 4 more days of this to go. Seriously, I may have to stand for the rest of this thing.

How did I get here, you ask? Let me start at the beginning, because so far it’s been a long strange trip.

Have you ever flown Southwest Airlines from Albany to Orlando? If you haven’t, and you don’t enjoy the olfactory nuances of the people who make up Middle Class America on Vacation, I suggest that you avoid it at all costs. The flight is invariably loaded with children and their parents, who are usually pretty stressed even before their kid starts gacking into the diaper bag.

The night before I had to leave, we had some bad weather, so I figured I would get there a little early just to be safe. In fact, I got there so early that I was able to catch the earlier flight, which was just boarding when I arrived. The only good thing about Southwest is that they are generally pretty flexible. The woman behind the counter was really supposed to charge me an extra 150 bucks to switch my flight, but she just winked and pushed me on. I got some daggers from the people who had been standing there since the sun came up, but it got me to Orlando 3 hours earlier, so I wasn't too upset.

The seating is always a free-for-all on Southwest. Basically, it’s first come first serve, and if you’re last in line you generally end up in the seat right next to the bathroom door, sniffing fumes for the entire flight. I got lucky, because I’ve learned that the pitch they give you before you board is pure bullshit. In Albany, they have this fancy ramp that means you can load passengers from both the front and the rear of the plane. They make a big deal about this, and tell you that it’s faster if you go to the rear, so of course everyone does it. The thing they don’t tell you is that Orlando airport doesn’t have one of those fancy dual-loading rigs, so if you’re in the back of the plane you will die of old age waiting for everyone else to leave the plane first. So don’t fall for it.

I have bad luck on planes. I either get stuck next to somebody with bad breath who wants to talk, or a farter, or someone else with some random personal hygiene issue or annoying habit that they are somehow unaware of. I am a magnet for these types of people.

I board the plane, and start looking for prospective seats. There’s an attractive, well-groomed blonde girl reading a book on the aisle seat, so I figure I’ll grab the window seat in that row, and if all went well, we’d have an extra seat between us for elbow-room. I squeeze by her, she nods and smiles, and goes back to her book. I sit down and start to get comfortable. They had almost finished boarding the plane, so I figure we are good to go. Just then, an older couple in their 60’s gets on and starts looking for seats. The guy is a bear, the woman short and fat, with a round face, a gigantic ass and no neck. They can’t find two seats together. She spies a middle seat about 5 rows up from where I’m sitting, and the person on the end gets up and lets her sit down. The big guy looks around, and sees our elbow room seat, and heads for it. He asks the girl on the end if anyone is sitting there, and she leans over, looks real close at it, looks up and says, “Nope.” I snicker a little, and she gets up to let him in. He plops down between us, totally eclipsing the arm rest on both sides, and takes off his coat. No idea why the hell he didn’t take off his coat before he sat, but that’s what he did.

The BO hits me in the face like a Stinky Iron Fist. This was not just ordinary BO. This was, I am pretty sure, an actual sentient creature, separate from him, but in some sort of symbiotic relationship with his armpits. I base my sentience theory on the speed and accuracy with which it moved. The second he took off his coat, it immediately jumped off him, quickly surrounded my olfactory senses, and beat them into submission with an efficiency and purpose I’ve never seen in lower animals.

I cannot believe the reek that’s coming off this guy. Thinking quickly, I turn to him and ask him if he and his wife would like to sit together. The guy says “Naw, we been married 47 years, we don’t have nuthin’ to talk about anyway.” I ask him if he’s sure, because I don’t mind moving, and he says, “Well, mebbe I better ask.” So he yells up the aisle to Claudette, “YOU WANNA SIT HERE? THIS GUY SAYS HE’LL MOVE.” Claudette must need to replace the batteries in her hearing aid, because she can't hear him. After the third time of yelling back “WHUT?” Claudette lets loose with a hearty “SHORE! I’LL SIT WIT CHA!”

The gods of Southwest have smiled upon me this day. The blonde girl puts it all together and gives me a dirty look.

Much to the annoyance of the flight attendant with the foundation tan that ends at her chin-line, we play musical chairs again. The blonde girl gets up, Mr. Smellyman gets up, I get up, the lady next to Mrs. Smellyman gets up, Mrs. Smellyman herself gets up, and we’re all trying to maneuver past each other in an aisle that is about half the width of Mrs. Smellyman’s ample ass. After much squeezing and compressing, I finally sit down in my new seat. I’m now between a 90-year-old lady who is obviously scared shitless, and a bubbly mom who is sitting on the aisle because her one kid is across the aisle, and her other kid and her husband are behind us. The young mom is pleasant, and hey, bonus, she doesn’t stink. She says that the old lady is nervous and doesn’t fly much. I look over at her. The old lady’s eyes are closed, and she looks like she praying under her breath. She smells slightly musty, like a basement, but it’s a step up, so I work with it. I put on some tunes*, close my eyes and pretend I’m back in high school listening to my stereo in my old basement bedroom.

We take off without incident, and when the plane levels out, the perky mom unbelts her smallest child, and sits him on her lap. I try to sleep.

The exact second I start to drift off – and I mean the exact second -- I am being smashed in the side of the face with something pointy, and simultaneously kicked in the back. I sincerely believe the child behind me and the child next to me shared some sort of previously arranged secret go-code, because they had synchronized their attack like a diaper-wearing special forces team. Turns out what I got hit in the head with was aptly named “Spikey.” Apparently, Spikey is the endearingly accurate name of this particular plastic dinosaur with – you guessed it – spikes coming out of its back and head.

Just an observation: I don’t know if it’s just a stunning lack of originality, or just a type of practicality that they eventually outgrow, but kids always want to name their toys and pets descriptively. (I remember my friend wanting to name his new pet rabbit “Sucky” because it seemed like all he did was drink on that water bottle thing, but his mother nixed that one pretty quick. When he got the second rabbit, he probably should have named him “Humpy,” because all he did was hump the shit out of the first rabbit every twenty minutes, and then fall on his side and go to sleep until it was time for another humping session. Interestingly, they were both male rabbits. Thinking about it now, they were in a kind of rabbit prison, and the black rabbit made the white one his bitch from day one. If the white one was trying to eat, the black one would jump on his back and start humping until the white one gave up and/or ran away. Then the black one would eat his food. I never did see any cigarettes change hands, but Humpy "ran away” shortly thereafter…)

So back to the plane. While the perky mom was apologizing, and after I got Spikey off the floor, I also managed to glance back at good old Dad, and he was pretty quick on the uptake. He nodded, mouthed “sorry” and I didn’t get kicked again the whole trip, although Spikey and I had a few subsequent rematches. Turns out the kid wasn’t trying to bash my skull in – well, not initially, anyway. He wanted to give me Spikey, but I wasn’t paying attention to him, so that’s when the whacking started. It wasn’t so much “I’m going to kill you with this dinosaur” as it was “Take this thing, dammit, I’m tired of holding it.”

So that’s how I arrived in Orlando at 4pm Sunday.

Now back to my ass and the conference it is attending, which is the topic that started this rambling mess.

Besides learning so much your brain completely shuts down two days in, the things you do most at this conference are, in order:


The food at the opening night party is usually bad. They make a token effort to put something healthy down, but they don’t go overboard because they know that 9 out ten of the geeks here for this conference eat Krispy Kremes for breakfast, burgers and fries for lunch, and wings and beer for dinner. So you may get a few healthy options, but they are barely options. Sunday night they had philly cheesesteak sandwiches, corn dogs, (who the fuck eats corndogs??) pizza, roast pork and salad. They knew the salad was going to sit there, so they didn’t even spring for the romaine. Oh yeah. And all the cheap beer and wine you can drink in 3 hours.

Picture this: It’s 34 degrees outside. There are approximately 7000 attendees. The food is mostly all outside, on tables stacked with hot trays with little sterno cans underneath that are supposed to keep everything warm. They don't work so well when it's that cold out. There are a few heated tents with tables inside. About 20 seconds after the food lines open, the tents are solid blocks of teeming geek humanity.

You really have to see this party to believe it. Running around at this party are, in no particular order: Really Ugly Gypsies, (I said they were palm readers, but John said they were nutsack readers. He didn’t expound on his theory, but I’m guessing that nutsack readers have to be ugly, so as to not skew the results.) an indian and a cowboy, both on 3 ft tall stilts, A Bootsy Collins look alike, complete with a glittery 5 piece funk band, 3 dancing girls covered in blinking LEDs (clearly not nutsack readers) a breakdancer who, as far as I could tell, had no bones in his body at all, and a whole lot of really, really loud, really, really bad disco music. In a situation like that there is only one thing to do: Drink heavily until it all seems normal. So generally, that’s what everyone does.

Out of the list I mentioned earlier, there are a few things on it that I don’t do well. Most things on the list, actually. I don’t drink well – I get pretty wasted on about 4 or 5 glasses of wine. After that I start to do stupid things like try to dance and I am, when it comes to my dancing skills, really really white. I don’t sit well because, as I’ve explained, I have no ass fat. I can’t eat well because the shit they serve here kills my stomach.

Speaking of the bad food, today for the afternoon snack, they had hot pretzels. Not bad, right? Relatively healthy, you’re thinking. Me too. Then I got closer, and realized the horror. Someone up the ladder must have found out that they were planning on serving something that wouldn’t kill you, because these hot pretzels were unique. I can almost picture the phone call:

“Pretzels? Hot pretzels? Who’s responsible for this? Get them on the phone RIGHT NOW.”

[A slight pause, while someone goes to round up Johnson….]

“Johnson? I heard you’re serving pretzels. Aren’t those healthy? Yeah, you know, healthy. Good for you. Well, maybe not exactly good, but not too bad, right? That’s not acceptable. Why? Well, because they’re not going to eat them, that’s why. You don’t know these people. There could be riots. Well, what can you do for me? Yeah….yeah, that sounds good. OK, go ahead. Yeah, that’ll do it. And Johnson? Don’t let it happen again.”

I’m guessing here, but apparently Johnson said, “How about this? I’ll fill every inch of their warm insides with gooey cream cheese until they're bursting at the seams, and then put butter, sugar and cinnamon on top.”

I’m telling you, I got through about half of one of these giant leaking monstrosities, and I thought I was going to puke right there in the hallway. It wanted to stop my heart, I could tell. I threw it out and it literally stuck to the side of the can. It finally fell in, but I swear I saw it moving for a second, like it was trying to crawl back out and follow me to my next session. That was 6 hours ago, and I think the half I ate is still alive.

Speaking of my next session, it starts in exactly 7 hours.

Time for bed. More to follow. Seacrest Out.

*(Marillion: Marbles – highly recommended)


Public Service Announcement

I am going to be deadly serious for a second. Restrooms are no laughing matter.

OK, on with the fun.

Have you all seen the movie Trainspotting? Good. That gives you a frame of reference for the restrooms at my last place of employment.

Let's start with a little background.

We had been around a while, but the software industry wasn't what it used to be, and things started going downhill, at least as far as personal space is concerned. The cubes got smaller, the many floors of people were consolidated into 2, and generally the belt started tightening all around. The rugs were vacuumed less often, the trash emptied less often, and -- here's the one I want to speak to you about -- the bathrooms were cleaned less often.

Combine this with having way too many men on this floor for one bathroom to support, and you can see this train wreck happening in slow motion.

First, it smelled like a pet store in there. And not a PetSmart, either. We're talking an independent pet store in a low-rent strip mall. A quick glance around while you're visiting the bathroom in question will tell you why -- for some reason, and this is based purely on anecdotal evidence I have gathered over the last 5 years - a large number of the men in this building piss using no hands at all. I can name two that I have personally witnessed doing this. I simply don't understand it. Here you have something in front of you that is squirting a liquid most people would rather not be covered in, and yet you choose to ignore it, and say, oh, I don't know, put your hands on your hips like you are the Master of All That You Survey. I mean, you're going to have to get it out and put it back, so why the hell do you let go of it in between? It makes no sense.

Secondly, I've never worked any place where you had to wait to take a piss. All the stalls and both urinals were full from 12:30 to 2 pm everyday. You felt like you were at a rock club between sets. If there were some cigarette butts and empty beer bottles on the counter, you'd be looking around for the condom machine. (An interesting aside: In PA, it seems like every bar has a vending machine that sells condoms in one slot, and aspirin in the other. No headache for you tonight, missy.)

Walk with me.

You see that rather large pool of pee in front of the both urinals? Yes, the one you're standing in. That's there because most of the male population of this building are not, shall we say, "in shape." In fact, most of them have probably not seen their junk without a mirror in 10 years. Combine this with their affinity for going with the questionable "look Ma, no-hands" technique, and it's really not surprising that it smells like a monkey house.

Here's something else. There's two urinals, right next to each other, and no "privacy wall" between them. That means a couple of things:

1) If you are shy, forget about it. These things are CLOSE. Put it this way: There is the definite potential for arm-hair contact. If the other guy's cell phone rang, you might actually answer it by mistake. Suffer from stage fright? Just know you will not be peeing in this building in this lifetime, unless you piss in a coffee cup at your cube and surreptitiously transfer it to a toilet or a potted plant at a later date. (That's a story for another time.)

2) Secondly - and this is by far the more serious of the two issues - If you get next to Mr. Manboobs Nohands, you have a pretty good shot at getting pissed on.

Here's a little quiz:

You are standing at a urinal, minding your own business. The guy standing next to you finishes pissing, then shakes his dick like it's a bottle of italian salad dressing. You look down just in time to see some pee splatter on your shoe. Is the correct response to:

(a) Do nothing. Pretend you didn't just get pissed on, turn, wash your hands, and leave.
(b) Turn and politely say, "You might want to work on that shake. It's a little exuberant*."
(c) Yell "Jesus Christ! You just shook PISS on me!" What the FUCK?"

Well, it turns out that choice (c), the only one I personally have any experience with, is probably not the correct answer. If there is ever a next time, and I'm hoping like hell there won't be, I'll try one of the other answers and get back to you.

And here's some little bathroom tips for all y'all:

1. Wash your hands. People notice. If you don't, don't act all surprised when suddenly nobody will shake your hand. And use soap for christsakes. Don't do one of those wave-the-hand-in-the- general-direction-of-the-water type moves and call it a day.

2. Don't talk to me when I'm pissing.

3. Don't talk to me from a stall just because you recognized me through that little door crack.

4. Basically, don't talk to me at all - until and unless we are both at least 25 feet from any bathroom door.

Note to the cleaning lady: Stop following me around. I'm tired of yelling, "Yes, someone's in here!"

*ex·u·ber·ant ( P ) (g-zbr-nt) adj.
1. Full of unrestrained enthusiasm or joy.
2. Lavish; extravagant.
3. Extreme in degree, size, or extent.


R2-D2 and Me

It was 14 degrees below zero at my house this morning. Well, technically, outside my house.

The radio was saying 23 below zero if you count the "wind chill," but there was no wind, so I'm not sure what the ruling is on that. Inside, it was a balmy 51 degrees. It was 51 because it got so goddamned cold last night, my woodstove burned itself out in only 6 hours trying to warm the first floor enough to keep the cats alive. At 4:30 am, when I walked downstairs, it was stone cold, like it had never had a fire in it. I hate this kind of weather. Especially on a work day.

After I turned up the heat and got the fire going again, I showered, dressed, and decided that while I was waiting for the coffee to brew, I would go out and start my car so it would have a chance to warm up. I have a Nissan Sentra that I bought new in 2002, and it just turned 70K. That two hour drive every day eats up cars. I like this car for the most part -- it has never left me stranded anywhere, and it was pretty cheap. It's got enough power to get out of its own way, handles nicely, and it can carry a couple of backpacks and a canoe with no problem.

In the cold, however, it has a few idiosyncrasies. About half the time, the driver's side door doesn't like to open if it's below 32 degrees. Oh, the handle moves up and down, but that's just to annoy you. There's no resistance behind it, so you usually end up slipping right off the damn thing. After you're done tearing your fingernails off your hand, it takes a little pounding on the door frame to crack the nut. Once you're in, then it won't close. You slam the door, it bounces off the frame, and your arm goes numb to the elbow, like you took a swing at a bridge abutment with an aluminum baseball bat. If you poke at the latch, it'll work again, but you feel pretty stupid at the gas station when everyone turns to look at you because your door just bounced off the pump.

Also, there's this clicking noise in the dashboard that it had since it was new. Again, only when the temp is below 40 or so. I had it back to the dealer about 3 times, and after the third time I just fixed it myself. Jammed a folded hunk of paper plate between the dash and the driver's-side roof brace. When that doesn't work, I turn the stereo up. You'd be amazed what kind of car problems a good Zeppelin tune can fix.

So anyway, I run outside to start my car. My hair, which is still wet, instantly starts to freeze. Damn, it's cold! I get in, slam the door (it actually opens and closes on the first try) and jam the key in the ignition and turn it. The car grinds for second like it's not going to start, then catches. But something isn't right. It sounds terrible, like that noise garbage trucks make when they crush stuff. There's this high pitched whining sound, like the engine has no oil in it, which I guess makes a certain amount of sense. It's so damn cold the oil is most likely solidified in the pan, and chunks of it are probably being chipped off by the crankshaft.

As soon as the car starts, my radar detector goes batshit. It sounds like R2D2, which is the closest thing I can think of to describe the sound it makes when it supposedly detects laser activity. It's blasting the "I see lasers" noise over and over -- I look around carefully, don't actually see any lasers, so I assume the cold is fucking with it. I pull it off the windshield, and I've got it cupped in my hands like some sort of wounded bird -- I'm blowing on it, trying to thaw it out -- it's running through its entire litany of beeping sounds. About the same time I stick it in my armpit to warm it up, I realize that it's probably time to get a new radar detector. I got this one (a Cobra) with a 30 dollar amazon.com gift certificate, so I'm sure the quality is right up there.

I don't know why I've kept it this long. It has no sensitivity at all. If it senses a cop's radar anywhere in the general vicinity, it goes off right about the time he starts writing me the ticket. Thinking about it, it's not so much a radar detector as it is a ticket detector, because if I'm speeding, and this thing goes off, the only way I'm not getting a ticket is if the cop is too lazy to chase me down. The other thing that pisses me off about this detector is that the sound for X-band is about 4 million times louder than the sound for Ka-Band, and every supermarket door, security system and traffic signal sensor emits X band....which means this thing is pretty much beeping at me non-stop. Like I said, time for a new one.

So, I'm sitting in the car freezing my ass off. I finally give up on the radar detector, and yank the cord. I crank the heat, jump out and slam the door. This time, it decides not to close, and thunks off the frame. I try to slam it again, start to lose my balance on the icy driveway, and grab onto the door. Big mistake.

I don't wash my car in the winter. If you live in the great northeast, you know what wonderful stuff road salt is. I'm pretty sure my car is actually a little bigger right now than it is in the summer, because the road salt has started to form a crunchy shell around the entire vehicle. There's a quarter-inch-thick coating of white shit over everything. Predictably, I am now covered head to toe in road salt. So back in the house to change my pants and grab a different coat.

After the coffee is done, I grab a cup and head out the door. Of course, it's so cold out that my car isn't even close to being warmed up, but I figure it'll warm up before I hit the highway. By the way, have you ever driven on the highway with studded snow tires? Conversation is almost impossible. Right around 40 miles an hour, this hum starts. It starts in your ears, but pretty soon it's in your teeth, then it's burrowing directly into your brain stem.

I've found the only thing that drives it out is some incessant X-band beeping, combined with The Immigrant Song.

Tommorrow is supposed to be just as cold. I can't wait.


Holy crap, the Squattersons moved out!

Here's a story about my old neighborhood. We lived there about 8 years ago. We liked it because it was a beautiful area, and we were looking for some land that wouldn't put us in the poor house. We ended up building a nice cape cod on a ten acre wooded lot. The only problem with this town is that because it's in the boonies, it consists of a strange mix of one-hundred-year-old farm houses, new construction and an odd assortment of ex-hunting camps and trailers. The trailers are grandfathered in, and the new minimum lot size is 3 acres, so when they're gone, they're gone.

OK, back we go....picture the wavy dream lines you see on a TV sitcom when someone is dreaming or there's a flashback.

On the corner of my street, about 500 yards from my house, there is a trailer, or 'mobile home' if you want to get fancy, and next to it, a small hunting camp. When we first moved here, there was an elderly couple living in the trailer, and they tended to their lawn as if they lived in a mansion. They owned the small hunting camp next door as well. This was literally the size of a shed, a 12x12 building with a screened-in porch attached. Also immaculate. About 6 or 7 years ago, the old couple died, and the trailer and camp sat vacant for about a year. Then one day, we noticed that someone new had moved into the trailer.

The first thing to appear was the concrete deer lawn ornament. This was no ordinary deer, however. This one was special. His legs had corroded off down to the rebar, and part of his face was missing. The whole thing was the color of rotted lettuce. I have no idea where it came from, or why the fuck this guy would want this monstrosity in his front yard, but there it was: Some sort of undead zombie deer, no doubt to be fixed up with a trowel and a bag of quickcrete at some point in the distant future. We shook our heads, and didn't think too much more about it.

The second week, we noticed that there was some major roofing work going on. Could this be a second story? No, this was something even better. This was some sort of roof-raising endeavor -- more headroom perhaps. The people didn't look particularly tall, but who am I to say what the desirable amount of headroom in a sheetmetal trailer is? One thing I am sure of -- the man was no general contractor. The construction materials of choice: Aluminum flashing, wooden pallets, hammer, nails, and a 5 gallon bucket of roofing tar. So now this trailer had begun to look like something out of the bayou, except that it wasn't on stilts, and it wasn't 1600 miles away. About a week after that, the wooden front stairs disappeared, and a new mudroom went up. He must have scored some log siding somewhere, because that's what this thing is made of. Log siding, tar paper and an old screen door. All fastened to the side of the trailer with what looked like metal strapping. Nothing says "Welcome to my Home" like a log and tar paper mudroom and a stunning set of cinderblock stairs.

It was about then that we started to refer to these wonderful neighbors as the Scummersons. My wife and I would get home from work every day, and the first topic of conversation was always the new additions at the Scummerson Estate.

"Hey, did you see the Scummersons have a new wading pool? The water is completely green."

"Yeah, the dog was sitting in it licking himself when I went by." or

"Hey, did you notice that the Scummersons have 6 tractor tires piled up in their front yard?"

"Yeah, he was trying to use three of them as a base for his mailbox when I drove past."

This continued for about three months. Piles of shit would appear, then make their way to the back or side of the trailer.... while in the front yard there was always something new and wondrous. The topper was the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary. This was a bathtub virgin of immense proportions. You've seen these in the country, I'm sure. A cast iron bathtub cut in half and stood up on end, with a statue of the Virgin Mary inside. Well, apparently Jimbob Scummerson didn't have an acetylene torch buried in his vast piles of shit, because instead of cutting it in half, this genius digs a gigantic fucking hole, and buries half of the tub. Just watching this moron try to lever this 400lb cast iron behemoth into the hole was enough to give me a hernia. This was sometime in late October, and apparently that was the week for winterizing, because the next day we drove past, we noticed that the Virgin Mary was wrapped in heavy black plastic and tied up with rope. It was a disturbing image that will never leave my mind. It was like the final scene in some sort of satanic low-budget snuff film. She was in tip-top shape come spring though, so in retrospect, maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. I would have gone with the transparent plastic, so as to not burn in hell, but that's just me.

Around the same time, we started to notice that there was some activity at the hunting cabin. A few large propane tanks went in, and a 1971 Ford F-15o appeared. This truck, as far as I could tell, was completely made of rust. The rear quarter panels looked like they had the consistency of soda crackers. The passenger side window was busted out, and it had been replaced by a black hefty bag and some duct tape. The next day I noticed the window had been "fixed" -- apparently it's tough to see through a black hefty bag. The solution, in case this ever comes up in your life, is to cut a rectangular hole in the hefty bag, and tape in the lid from a McDonald's salad. Just so you know.

The hunting camp inhabitants were fast outpacing the Scummersons in the sheer amount of shit that was collecting outside on the lawn. What's the first thing you do when you move into a new place? Right! Get lawn furniture. True to form, the week after the truck appeared, the lawn furniture showed up. A table and a couple of benches. But this was no ordinary lawn furniture, oh no. The "table" was an empty wooden cable spool, and the "benches" were actually bench seats -- ripped out of a mid-70's Ford van. Maroon vinyl bench seats that looked like they had been chewed on by beavers. Lest you think I'm kidding:

This is pure, unsweetened reality. You can't make this shit up.

We had to have our deck inspected before winter that year, and we mentioned this place to the building inspector. He said he wasn't even sure that the people who were living there actually owned the property, or if they just moved in when nobody was looking. We promptly christened them the Squattersons.

A little while later, the Squattersons got a dog. Some sort of bulldog/bull terrier mix. A BIG dog, that would practically throttle itself trying to get to you if you walked by, and not because he wanted to be petted. On one hand, you were petrified, because you could almost see the thought balloon over this dog's head - you know, the one with the picture of you with your intestines outside your body. On the other hand, you felt bad for him, because this dog was chained outside all day, sitting in either a mud puddle, or a dust bowl, depending on the weather that week. The guy must have worked nights, because we would never see any activity during the day. The only change, other than the shifting shit piles, was the row of empty 40 ouncers in paper bags that would appear on the cable spool. You could tell what day of the week it was by the number of empties. 2 for monday, 4 for tuesday, 6 for wednesday, etc. By Sunday, there was no real estate left on the spool. We were pretty sure that there was no indoor plumbing in this place either, and that they were shitting in the creek behind the house. Nobody downstream ever complained, so I can't prove it.

It became a game, kind of like the "Where's Waldo" of crap. Instead of trying to find a goofy guy with glasses and a striped shirt, you were trying to ID the newest piece of shit they had hauled home. One fine day, the dog had a new run. There was a cable stretched between a tree and the shack itself, and the dog was tied to this cable. Underneath the run, where the mud puddle/dust bowl usually was, there was now a dented pickup truck cap with busted out windows. This was the new "doghouse." On the hot or wet days, you would see the dog's rope going inside one of the windows. On the nice days, he would sit on top, nestled in a pit bull-shaped dent. You would be amazed at how fast this dog could belly crawl out one of the windows to get to you. If you so much as glanced toward the shack when you were walking by, he would come shooting out of there like a downed pilot being ejected from his fighter plane.

I told you he was a night person, right? Well, he must have had Sunday night off that week, because right around 11:30pm, we hear the lawn tractor start up.

OK. This douchebag is mowing his lawn at 11:30 pm.

In the dark.

I jump in the car, and drive past the place to have a look. He's holding a flashlight in one hand, and a beer in the other. It's hard to see, but I'm fairly sure he's steering with his feet.

You remember what his lawn looked like right? You couldn't mow this thing at high noon in July without running over 17 things, any one of which would either kill you or someone walking by. So I drive home, and tell my wife what I witnessed. As I'm talking, we hear this amazingly loud noise that sounds like someone threw a case of empty beer bottles into a giant blender. The motor makes a sound like a car bumper being tossed into a good-sized wood chipper, runs up to about 9,000 rpm, and stops dead. The silence is deafening. About 30 seconds later, we hear hear another bottle break, a door slam, then nothing.

The next day, when I leave for work, I see there's a stump at the edge of the property with some newly hacked gashes in its side, and a ceramic flower pot in about a million pieces. There's broken glass and chopped up brown paper bag everywhere, and in my mind I put it all together. It was a Sunday after all, and windy the night before, so the 40 ounce empties were hard to avoid. The tractor is on its side down in the gully next to the house, half in the stream and half out of it. I am pretty sure it's still there.

Here's the rest of the crap list, in order of appearance: 4 rusty bicycles with no front tires, A lawn tractor, with no seat (presumably a parts tractor for the one that was now embedded in the stream bottom) a universal home gym (important to stay in shape when you're drinking all that quality malt liquor) a rowboat with a hole in it, a gas grill with no front window, and what can only be some sort of burned up furnace. This was bad. So bad, it was hard to believe unless you've seen it. So bad, the guy in the beautiful old farmhouse across the street actually put up what we refer to as "the Great Wall of Greenfield." It is a 10-foot high wooden fence that runs the entire length of his property on his side of the road, which completely blocks his view of the combined Scummerson and Squatterson estates. I keep expecting to see guard towers and razor wire, or at least some broken bottles embedded across the top.

Today, Oh Most Glorious of Days, everything was gone. Gone. Completely. The only thing left is the shack. All the useless crap, all the debris, the trash, the filth, the dog and his fancy house, the universal gym -- even the 'No Trespassing' sign -- all of it, gone. It was like one of those movies where the hero goes back with the police to the cocaine processing lab, and it's turned into a meat-packing factory or something. I have no idea what happened to them. I don't know if they are doing 5 to 10 for armed robbery, or if they just went to Florida for the winter, or if they got on the bad side of Hector "the shiv" Rodriguez, but they are gone.

It is truly a wonderful day in the neighborhood. One down, one to go. I think that sometime in the last couple of years, the Scummersons had/stole a kid. Either that, or they started collecting 2-wheeled Big Wheels and 3-wheeled Cozy Coupes. I've never actually seen the kid, except for one time when I thought nobody was home and I swear I saw him peek over the top of the screen door. It was probably my imagination. I hope so. He looked to be about 3 years old. Maybe that's old enough to be home by yourself, who am I to say? If the kid makes it to 4 I'll be amazed, although he made it through the first three years, so he's a scrapper. Wish him luck. If I wasn't imagining things, I figure at least someone besides the dog will be using that green-water wading pool this summer.


Ok, here we go...

Let's start with the title of this Blog.

I spend two hours a day in my car coming and going to work. Some people think it's completely insane, and in fact I mostly agree with them. There are two things that are currently saving my sanity - 1) I am allowed to have a fairly early shift, which means I miss most of the rush hour traffic in both directions, and 2) I have a little convertible that makes the drive almost bearable for about 4 months out of the year. If there is one thing I hate, it is sitting in my car, sitting in traffic. I would rather be going 75 miles per hour in the wrong direction than 15 miles per hour in the right one. I would have to quit if they ever changed my hours here. Seriously, If I had to drive in rush hour traffic every day, I would be forced to climb a cell phone tower and start shooting, beginning with the assknob in front of me on the way here this morning. He was going 40 in the fast lane, apparently paralyzed in fear by the cop who had someone stopped on the other side of the highway. I don't know if it's just that he was hypnotized by the flashing lights, or if he actually thinks the cop is going sprint across the 3 lanes of traffic, do some sort of olympic-quality pommel horse hand plant off the median divider and land on his hood, but he slows down to a crawl which almost causes me to accordion the ass end of his piece of shit car. I always wonder about these people going the exact speed limit. I figure either they've got a dead body in the trunk, or they're on their 4th DUI and trying like hell not to lose their license. Either way, I try not to fuck with them. I just go around, and if I glance over and see that it's an old lady instead of a twitchy addict on the edge, I lay on the horn and flip her off. Yeah, I'm brave that way.

OK, back to this 15 minute lunch thing. Given that I already spend two hours a day in my car, the edict that came down last year from management that we must work at least a 9 hour day was not received well by me, nor by anyone else I know who happens to work here. The thing is, if there's a big project with a short deadline, we'll all work our collective asses off no matter how many hours it takes to get it done. But if things are slow, let us go the hell home. Anyway, this announcement resulted in two things for me -- first, I quit the gym here in the building. I used to work out at lunch. My hour-long lunch, that I took without pay. I was here 9 hours a day - actually worked 8 of 'em, and stayed healthy for the other one. Now, in order to continue to work out, I'd have to be here 10 hours. That, plus 2 hours in the car, and you see where I'm coming from. My decision to quit saved me $27.50 a month too -- and the gym sucked ass anyway. Plus, there was this one guy who smelled so bad I used to have to time my workouts around avoiding him.

The second result of this policy is that I now eat lunch at my desk everyday. For 15 minutes, or as long as it takes me to inhale whatever it is I'm eating. Sometimes I browse the net, but now...well now there's this. Here's my logic: If I can get out of here at roughly the same time I did before, it doesn't seem as if I took a 10% pay cut. It's rationalization at its best, but it keeps me away from the grassy knoll.

So anyway, there's the inspiration for this blog. That, and reading Scott's blog made me realize that I have a lot of shit to complain about, so be prepared....that's all for now.