3/30/05

Target can suck it.

I know some people love the place, but I swear I will never again buy anything at Target that costs over $19.95. Why $19.95, you ask? Because I have arbitrarily determined that this is the largest amount of cash that I am willing to voluntarily toss in the trash if my only other choice is being forced to deal with the crack-smoking assknobs in the Target Returns Department.

I needed a new vacuum cleaner recently, so I decided to check out Target and see what they had. A surprisingly good selection, as it turns out. The only issue was, just like any big-box store, there was no way to actually check one out. You could look at the pretty pictures on the side of the boxes though, so I started browsing. Eventually, I found an upright that claimed to be able to suck a golfball through a garden hose or some such. I bought it.

So I got the WonderSuck 2000 back home and put it together. It looked really high-tech, and I was happy, because if your vacuum cleaner doesn't look high-tech, you ain't got shit. Just ask anybody -- I am all about how cool my wife looks when she vacuums. (If she's reading this, I'm just kidding, honey. If she's not, well then I'm still lobbying for that french maid outfit.)

I plug the vac in, and switch it on. The lights dim for a second, and then all hell breaks loose. The vacuum instantly tries to eat the fringe on our oriental carpet. I barely prevent this from happening and regain some semblance of control. This beast is LOUD -- incredibly so. It sounds like someone is stress-testing a DC-10 jet engine. It was louder than my shop vac and lawnmower combined.

Underneath the jet-engine whine, there is another noise I am pretty sure you can't actually hear, but instead just feel resonating in your brain stem. It affects you at a reptilian level, evoking something like dread. I half expect a dimensional warp to open up and suck me into an alternate universe --maybe even the same place all the dirt goes when the vacuum cleaner sucks it up through the cord and into the wall. (that's what I thought happened to it when I was a kid.)

The cats and I both come close to peeing ourselves. It was obviously too loud to use for any length of time at all. I shut it down, my testicles descend, and we all heave a collective sigh of relief. This thing scares me, and must go back. Right Now.

I take it apart, pack it all back in the box, jump back in my car and drive 30 minutes back to Target. In my possession is the receipt. No problem, right? I get in line at the returns desk and wait. When it's my turn, I explain to the woman behind the counter that I just bought this vac an hour ago, and would like to return it. She immediately sees that the box is open, and says, "What's wrong with it?" "Nothing," I tell her. "It just sounds exactly like a jet engine. It's really loud. Too loud to use."

She then proceeds to pull the entire contents of the box out on to the counter and Begin The Inspection. Apparently, I don't look trustworthy, and she wants to make sure I wasn't returning a box of empty Mountain Dew cans and old porn magazines. She looks it over, and says, "We can't take this back."

I politely inquire as to why.

"It's been used. There's dust in the cup."

I said, "Well, I turned it on to try it, but it's certainly not what I would consider used. I just bought it today. A few hours ago, actually. I want my money back because, as I said, it sounds like a jet engine."

"It's been used. I can't do anything about that. It's our policy. If it's too loud, you might want to try contacting the manufacturer for a refund."

I ask her if she's kidding. She says no, and then adds, "If it was defective, I could take it back."

So I tell her (between clenched teeth) that I would be more than happy to take it back out to the parking lot and smash the shit out of it if that is what she required to issue me a refund.

"That won't work now." she says. "I've already seen it."

I wasn't sure which amazed me more -- the fact that she wasn't going to issue a refund, or the fact that breaking the vacuum in the parking lot was, until the point I mentioned it, actually an acceptable option to her.

OK, I am done with this bitch. I ask to see the manager.

The manager comes out and attempts to explain to me the arcane and mysterious rules that govern the return of vacuum cleaners to Target. I am certain that they have similar rules for all the other bullshit merchandise they sell, but this was my first experience of the joy and wonder that is the Target returns counter. By this time, I had mentally vowed it was also to be my last.

She cannot give me my money back. She cannot give me a different vacuum cleaner. She can, however, give me a new one of the SAME vacuum cleaner. I ask her what prevents me from just turning around, going to the back of the line and returning the new one. She chews on that for a while, then says, "Well, because I would know that's what you were doing, and I wouldn't allow it."

I am completely and utterly baffled by this line of reasoning.

I am also really pissed, because I have now been arguing with these two fuckwits for about 20 minutes. I decide to cut my losses, save what's left of my sanity, and take the new one. I also tell them in no uncertain terms that this whole thing is bullshit, their company is bullshit, and dealing with them has been the most pointless, aggravating and frustrating experience I've ever had in a store.

I toss it in the car, then drive about 30 miles to a different Target and return the unopened vacuum cleaner, no questions asked. It's probably a good thing they didn't look at the receipt too closely, or I'd be learning sign language right about now.

The next night, we went to Sears, tested out about 5 different vacs on real rugs with real electricity, real accessories, and real dirt. Added bonus: a knowledgable salesperson.

We ended up buying a Kenmore. Sometimes, there's something to be said for paying a little more. The extra 50 bucks I paid for the Kenmore would have been well worth it to avoid the massive amount of aggravation, wasted time and gas spent on Target and their minions of mind-numbing madness. I will remember that little lesson next time.

Newly-released DVD's, paper towels and cat food. And even if it's one of those three things, there would have to be a serious Target coupon involved before I'd think about it. Buy anything else from Target at your own risk.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

3/28/05

Time Warp in Beanie Land

I'm not sure what sort of time-warping energy field generator they have surrounding the buildings here, but somehow they manage to make the 9 hours I spend at work go by about 6 times slower than the same 9 hours at home. I am pretty sure it is powered by the life-forces of the employees. I must find this device and destroy it.

As I was trudging to my desk this morning, scoping out the locked doors behind which this device might be stashed away, I also found myself wondering, "What the hell is up with these people who have their entire cube covered in 3 layers of personal, non-work-related crap?"

A while back there was a woman here whose cube must have had 300 beanie babies in it. This person had actually added a homemade wooden shelving unit. These space-saving shelves were obviously needed, judging by the sheer amount of useless shit stacked on them.

There wasn't one inch of wall space that wasn't covered with something. Family pictures, pictures of baby zoo animals, you name it. They must have been building the photo collection of one particular kid for quite some time, because if you stacked the pictures, you could make a flip-book and watch the kid go from age 2 to age 20 right before your eyes.

To top it all off, they actually covered the cube walls with bright green, pink and gold-striped wrapping paper. Seriously, this cube looked like the inside of an effing piƱata. I could barely stand to walk past it on a Monday morning let alone spend my entire working life trapped inside this cheerful abomination. It was so over the top it made me want to vomit miniature teddy bears.

If this person ever got laid off, it would take her a solid 8-hour shift to box this shit up and haul it to her car (which I am sure has its own collection of bobbleheads and beanie babies gracing the rear deck.) I can only imagine what her house looks like.

On the flip side, there are other cubes here that are totally monastic in appearance. Other than a computer, and a calendar, and maybe a pen or two, there is nothing else. Completely blank walls. Completely clean desktop. If you walked by you would think that nobody worked there.

I have a theory on this. Either this person has achieved complete enlightenment and is living the Zen Buddhist worklife, or they think that they have one foot out the door and it'll be easier if there's no shit to box up. Maybe both. Either way, I aspire to this goal. Right now, my cube is a mess. Not so much with props and pictures, although there are a few, but mostly because of the useless piles of paper that I print out and promptly forget about.

Eventually, these stacks of paper reach immense proportions, and every three months or so I simply throw the bottom half out. At the same time, I usually weed the row of post-it notes tacked to my overhead cabinet, because 9 times out of ten, whatever is written on them is totally incomprehensible. So far that approach has worked well for me. I may try to boost my productivity and chuck the bottom two-thirds next time. We'll see how that goes.

Here's an example of one post-it note I just tossed. It says:

2260923
Lumpkin - BULIC
HR TTFEME
0662JXBV

I'm thinking it might be something Shamus wrote before he left.

===============================================

PS: OK, who has my 2002 Peter Gabriel concert DVD? I am also missing Birdy, Diggstown, and the second season of Family Guy. I have a really bad habit of loaning stuff out, and then forgetting who the hell it was that I loaned it to. I do the same thing with books and CDs. I seriously gotta start writing this crap down. Either that, or simply stop forcing my favorite movies, books and music on people. I think I am probably on my 4th or 5th copy of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," and at least my third copy of Kevin Gilbert's "Thud" CD. So if any of y'all have any of my shit, give it back, will ya?

3/25/05

Of Road Grime and Religion

I drove past a new roadside shrine on the way to work today. A cross of flowers next to about 50 feet of flattened guardrail. What the hell is up with these things? Either they've become hip in the last few years, or I just never noticed them before. It used to be just the bikers did it to commemorate where some other biker bit it. They have that whole brotherhood thing going, so I can almost see that -- but now it seems that every time there's a fatality of any sort, up goes the shrine.

I realize that someone died there, and the shrine is probably some distraught person's way of helping deal with their grief, but I find them a little bit irritating. I don't want to know nor do I really care that someone died on that spot. It's a bit gruesome, like staying at a B&B and finding out someone kicked off in the bed you're sleeping on. Maybe I don't like to be reminded of my mortality any more than I already am, and that's why they bother me. But I love old graveyards, so go figure.

Case in point: There's one about 3 miles from my house. It's been there for about two years now, and I pass it every day. It's two wooden crosses, one painted purple and one painted blue, and there's almost always fresh flowers. It's right in front of a large tree on the top side of a 'T' intersection, directly across from a stop sign.

Clearly, the driver of the vehicle was completely shitfaced and drove straight through the stop sign at a spectacularly high rate of speed instead of turning right or left. This smacks a bit of natural selection to me, and I'm not sure that if I had done something so amazingly stupid I would want it immortalized with any sort of roadside extravaganza. It does, I guess, act as a kind of message to the still living -- don't drink and drive. So there's that, but we already knew that.

This is not even taking into account the religious aspects of it, nor the fact that these shrines are sometimes erected on private property. If you own a nice piece of property and someone gets creamed in your front yard by a log truck, somehow I doubt that you'd enjoy a nice Carnation Instant Cross and some candles placed there to remind you of that fact. Plus, they've got to be a total bitch to mow around.

When you think about the religious aspects of it, it becomes even more baffling. You always hear the justification of the people who put them there. They say things like, "I can feel Steve's presence here, I really can." or "I think Joe and Tammy would want people to remember them on this spot."

My question is: Why? What the hell is wrong with Steve and Joe and Tammy? Were they completely insane? If so, then maybe I can see their position. Hunter S. Thompson once said, "Some may never live, but the crazy never die." If their goal was to gain some semblance of immortality by driving at insanely high speeds into a bridge abutment and have unknown strangers wonder just what the hell they were thinking when they did this, then I guess the shrine serves that purpose. You never forget the crazy ones.

Mostly, it makes me wonder about the person erecting the shrine in the first place. Do they even know what the deceased would want? Do they care?

You can think about it two ways: Either the person believes in an after-life, or they don't. Either way, one thing is for sure -- they are almost certainly not hanging around the side of the road freezing their semi-transparent nads off, just waiting for you to drive by and toss a few prayers and a long-stemmed rose their way. I mean, think about it -- If you were a spirit, wouldn't hovering 3 feet to the left of some dead flowers thumbtacked to a torn up telephone pole be the absolute last place on earth you'd want to be? Call me crazy.

So do me a favor, ok? If I bite dirt in a six car on I-87 at any time in the future, I would request that someone scatter my ashes off a cliff in the adirondacks. Please do not chain my translucent ass to some rusted out car parts on the side of the highway. Thanks.

3/24/05

Finally.

Things that rock:
Ordering all the parts for a brand new, fast as hell PC.

Things that suck:
Putting it together and reinstalling all the software.

Finally, I'm up and running. This is my first post from the new box. With any luck, I caught most of the funny that drained out of the old one when I opened it up.

Damn that stuff is sticky.

3/21/05

Japanese Sword-making & The Ancient Art of Stupidity

That last post got me thinking about this friend of mine who I've been backpacking with since college, and have known since 7th grade. Yesterday in the shop, I effed up something that he probably spent a week of his life working on.

He's a metal worker and I'm a woodworker, and the specific metal he chooses to work in is steel, and what he makes are swords. Japanese swords. This steel that he works in is actually steel he made. Think about that for a second. Making steel from scratch, starting with the collection of iron oxide from the shores of a lake. Let me tell you, It's not like baking cookies from scratch. It's an amazing process to watch.

Anyway, when he makes one of these swords, the sword generally needs a scabbard, which is made of wood, and that's where I come in. I take the sword and I fit a custom scabbard to it. A japanese sword is made to come apart -- there's a pin in the handle and when you pop this pin out, the handle and its components come off the blade. I won't bore you with the details, but the piece of the sword that fits like a cork into the scabbard is called a habaki.

It looks like this, and is made out of copper:



I dropped the habaki for this sword on the concrete floor of my shop, and flattened one corner of it. I was so incredibly pissed at myself. It might be salvagable, but it's pretty bad. We'll see how much time and effort my clumsiness cost him.

Anyway, as I was obsessing about this screw-up last night, I remembered what you have to do to get one of these:



1. First, drive with your sword-making friend to a weekend-long blacksmithing show in downstate NY, where he will be giving a demonstration. Do this in a black Jeep Wrangler filled to the gills with full backpacks, sleeping bags, a dozen razor-sharp blades of varying lengths, and a portable sword-smithing forge, complete with various tanks filled with various explosive gasses, lots of high pressure black hosing, and a bunch of really strange looking insulated red boxes with valves coming out of them.

2. Wear your grungiest camo clothes, because you know you will be spending 3 days breathing smoke, quenching-oil fumes and charcoal dust.

3. Make this drive at the crack of dawn, so that you can get down there pretty early.

4. As you're driving over a bridge that bisects a pristine lake, look up and notice a bald eagle flying graceful arcs over the water, lit by a beautiful sunrise.

5. Pull over quickly, grab the camera out of the back.

(Note: Everything that follows in this list are things you do not want to do)

6. Get out of the car, and run quickly to the side of an old brick gatehouse.

7. Duck under a chain with a "No Parking" sign hanging on it and stand against the rail overlooking the water.

8. Start taking lots of pictures.

9. When the cop taps you on the shoulder and tells you that you are trespassing and asks if you saw the sign, smirk a little and tell him that yes, you did see the sign, but you thought that because it was a "No Parking" sign, and not a "No Trespassing" sign, it applied to vehicles, and not to people on foot.

He will then say, "Not that sign, that one" and point to a large "No Trespassing" sign on the side of the gatehouse.

10 . When he asks for your ID, make sure you don't have any on you.

Long story short, we let the nice officer inspect our Jeep, and then waited while he ran my friend's driver's license and checked his plates. Luckily -- being good, upstanding citizens, regardless of appearances to the contrary -- we came back clean. Either that, or my friend has some contacts somewhere that I don't know about.

We then listened respectfully as the cop explained that we were seen with a jeep full of strange-looking equipment, dressed in camo and taking pictures of what turns out to be the primary drinking water resevoir for New York City.

Oops.

3/18/05

Pine Orchard: Panzer Division

I thought I smelled a little bit of spring in the air today when I left work. That's only a guess, because it had to fight its way through the cloud of cigarette smoke that was, as usual, blowing past the door to the rear parking lot. I am thinking I should take up smoking, at least at work, since they seem to get about 15 minutes of every hour off. It was the usual crowd, even including the woman I call the choo-choo train. When it's warmer outside, she does this hilarious, arm-pumping power-walk around the building, smoking the whole time. I think she figures one offsets the other. Anyway, I digress.

The smell of the almost-spring in the air reminded me of a backpacking trip I took with a buddy of mine one early April to a place called Pine Orchard. This is in the southern adirondacks, and it's named that because there's a large stand of old growth pine trees that date back to 1815. These are probably the biggest, fattest trees anywhere in NY state, and it would take 3 or 4 people linking hands to surround one. The place reminds me a bit of something you would see in Rivendell -- on the right sunny, spring day, it can seem enchanted.

I had just purchased a brand new pickup truck, and we loaded the packs in the back and headed out early one friday afternoon. We figured we'd have just enough time to get there, hike in, and set up camp before it got dark. You have to park pretty far away, since this parcel of the forest preserve is surrounded by privately owned land, and there's really not a trailhead, per se. So we drive in as far as we can which is probably about 2 miles past the last house on the road.

When we reach the private property and the beginning of the easement that leads to the trail, there is nowhere to park. The road is narrow, and there is very little shoulder, certainly not enough to pull the truck over on -- we would be covering half the road. We talk it over, and decide that maybe the best thing to do would be to drive back to that house we passed, and see if we could park in his driveway, or off to the side of his property, and then hike in.

I begin to turn the truck around, and in the middle of my K turn, I can feel that something isn't right. We are listing like a battleship that took a torpedo low in the starboard side. My truck was new, but unfortunately, it wasn't 4 wheel drive. I stick my head out the window and I can see that what looked like solid ground was actually pretty close to grass-covered quicksand, and we were already mid-hubcap. I put the truck back in reverse, and looking out the window to make sure I don't hit any trees, I give it some gas, trying to rock us free.

I instantly get a faceful of mud. The rear tires have worked themselves deeper into the thick, soupy muck, and the entire truck is now buried up to the running boards. I do my best to wipe the mud off my face, and we get out to assess the situation. Both of us sink down to mid-calf, and slog the few steps to the road, trying not to lose our boots to the suction.

We come up with this plan. My hiking buddy, a pretty big dude and strong as an ox, will get behind the truck and push, and I will attempt to drive us back on solid ground. I climb back in the cab, and he slogs around behind the truck.

It's early spring in the Adirondacks, and not much above 35 degrees, so this mud, and the truck are very cold. He puts his hands under the bumper, and I can see his face just above the bed gate. He rocks us, and on three I give it the gas, and I see his head disappear from the rear view, like a scene from Jaws. Yoink! He's gone.

I get out of the truck and run back to see what happened, forgetting that the truck is still in gear. The rear tire is spinning slowly, and is covered with a rich, light brown slurry. The thing looked indistinguishable from a pottery wheel, except that it was vertical instead of horizontal.

When I gunned the engine, he lifted. Unfortunately, the truck was heavier than he was, and this effort resulted in only one thing. The force of his lifting shoved him down and backwards, which meant that his feet had at first simply sunk further, but then had gone out from under him in the muck. He had ended up on his hands and knees, pretty much buried up to his thighs. He got up -- unhurt, but now entirely covered in wet, cold mud.

OK, this was clearly getting us nowhere horizontally, but seemed to be making the situation much worse from a vertical perspective. The running boards were now completely submerged. My brand new truck was sinking before my eyes, and I only drove it twice.

We decide we have to walk back to the house, and see if we can call a tow truck. I turn the engine off, lock the doors (hey, it was a new truck, ok?) and we start walking. Two miles later, we're standing in front of an old farmhouse, covered in mud, and we knock on the door. We can hear some shuffling movements inside, but it's taking a really long time for someone to answer.

Finally, the door opens, and there's an old, bent over farmer standing there. He looks us up and down and says, "Y'aller stuck, ain't cha?" We answer that yes, we are indeed stuck. We ask to use his phone.

"Ain't got one." he says. A pause. "Whereabouts n' how bad?" he asks. 2 miles up the road, and pretty damn bad, we tell him.

"Where was ya off to anyways?" he inquires. Pine Orchard, we say.

"E'yuh." he grunts. "Y'all wanna stay away from Pine Orchud this time'a year."

We agree, that yes, that probably would have been best.

Then he says something puzzling.

He says, "I can pull ya out. Let me go get muh tank." My friend and I glance at each other, thinking to ourselves that the guy is probably insane, reliving some WWII adventure in his mind. On the other hand, we are really, really stuck, he doesn't have a phone, and it's about a 15 mile walk to the next nearest house. Besides, up here anything is possible. We rationalize that a tank might be very useful vehicle indeed in a place like this. A decommisioned Sherman, perhaps? An old Pershing? Even a surplus Panzer would do the trick, we thought.

"That would be great," we say, informing him that we would be much obliged if he would fetch his tank and thus prevent my truck from becoming one with the earth.

Without a word, he turns back into the house, and slams the door in our faces.

We are unsure as to the correct course of action. Should we knock on the door and replay the entire scene again, like some sort of back-country Groundhog Day? What if he completely snaps and answers the door with a loaded M-1, a flack jacket and no pants?

Should we just consider it a waste of 15 minutes and start hiking toward town? We had decided to do just that when the door opened again.

He came out on the stoop with his coat on, holding a small object the size of a thermos with a plastic tube coming out of it. The tube ran up to a small, clear breathing apparatus.

An oxygen tank. In retrospect, a lot more likely than a 100 ton military vehicle.

All three of us walked over to the barn, and he indicated that we should open the barn door. Inside was the biggest, rustiest, highest Ford F-150 you've ever seen in your life. The tires on this thing were up to my armpits. We all climb in the truck, I'm in the middle, holding the tank, my friend is on the end. Right about then I realize that the old farmer smells really, really bad -- like old pee, cigarettes and rotten teeth, and I'm wishing I had a tank of my own. I motion for my friend to crack the window, and I try to take shallow breaths. I figure a few minutes of holding my breath is worth getting unstuck.

He starts the truck up, and it clearly has no muffler at all. If you've never heard an uncorked big block through the non-existent floor boards of a pickup truck, IT IS THIS FREAKING LOUD. Conversation is instantly reduced to lip reading and hand signals.

We barrel down the rutted road at about 45 mph, bouncing our heads off the roof, and we're there in no time, although we are almost completely deaf. He pulls a tow strap out of the back, and ties one end to his trailer hitch. He gives me the other end, and I climb down in the mud and hook the strap to the frame of my tiny, puny, completely pussified miniature S-1o chevy. I signal him that I am ready, and I back away. He guns the monster Ford, and the air explodes once more.

Over the sound of the engine we hear a giant sucking sound and my truck leaps sideways out of the mud. It looked exactly like some giant, invisible hand just reached down and grabbed a Tonka toy from a mud puddle.

We thank him, and ask if we can park on his property and hike in. He graciously agrees, and we jump in my truck and follow Frank the tank back to his house. My buddy and I pool our cash, and come up with 25 bucks between us. We offer it to him for helping us out. He nods, and curtly accepts. He knows he earned it, and so do we. We paid 25 bucks to avoid a 15 mile walk and a 65 dollar tow charge. That still sounds like a deal to me.

We did finally make the hike in and have a beautiful couple of spring days. We got to see the stand of trees, and we had an excellent trip, not including the truck thing.

With any luck, Spring is almost here. Y'all wanna stay away from Pine Orchud this time'a year.

I'm just sayin.

3/16/05

Fire in the Hole

I got home tonight, and as usual went down to the wood pile and grabbed some wood to start a fire in the woodstove. Normally, when I get home the house is about 60 degrees or so, because that's what the thermostat is set on when we're gone. It normally takes about 30 minutes for the living room to start warming up. So I start the fire, and go upstairs to change my clothes. About ten minutes later, I hear a weird sound coming from the woodstove -- it's sucking in way too much air, and the pipe is a little red where it joins the wall. Hmmm...No big deal, I've seen these little flue fires before -- you just close the damper, and things are back in control. I closed the damper, and walked outside to look at the top of the chimney to make sure there weren't any problems.

I swear to christ the top of the chimney looked like the torch on the statue of liberty.

This wasn't good.

The wind is blowing pretty briskly, and it's blowing the flames towards this grove of pine trees about 20 feet from the house, and I start to get concerned. I think I'm going to watch this one for a little bit, just in case. I expect that it will go out on its own relatively quickly.

I am wrong, and it starts to get worse, and by worse, I mean now it is not only in flames, but it is sparking and hissing and spitting little flaming pieces of shit down onto the roof, and into the snow next to the house.

I decide I probably need someone in a hardhat and fire-proof clothes to be aware that this is happening, so I call 411 on my cell, and ask for the number for the fire department. I figure I'll tell them I'm keeping an eye on it, and if they want to send a guy with a ladder, we can maybe put it out. I get connected, and it's a recording. I hang up and dial again, and it rolls over to what is apparently 911. Great. I really don't want to make a big deal out of this. Worse case, I can shoot a fire extinguisher up the clean-out.

I tell them it's no emergency, but I have a chimney fire in a stainless steel chimney that is on the outside of the house. By this time, it has blown itself out, and there are no longer any flames. The whole thing is still visibly red, and hissing like all get out. Small hot pieces of junk are still falling once in a while, but most of the impressive fireworks seem to be over.

I explain to them that one guy with maybe a big ladder and a fire extinguisher could do a job on it. I tell them it's mostly out, and they say, "OK, they'll be right there." About 10 minutes go by. Nothing. Another 5 minutes go by. Still nothing. Hunh. At this point I am glad my house isn't really burning, because I would be freaking out. About five minutes after that, I see a pickup truck with a flashing light on it, and it pulls in the driveway. Cool. I tell the guy that it's pretty much put itself out, and that I think I'm in good shape, but if he wants to take a look, we can make sure.

As I'm talking to him, I hear the big air horns, and at least 3 sirens. I suddenly realize this is going to get a lot bigger than both of us in about 60 seconds.

The first truck comes roaring down the street, and into the driveway. It has about 8 guys on it. 3 of these guys are wearing full facemasks, complete with oxygen tanks. Apparently, they don't get to use their equipment too often in this neck of the woods, and they were hankerin' to try it out. Another guy has a video camera, and one more has some sort of remote temperature sensing device. He is fiddling with it like it's a transistor radio and he can't find the playoff game.

I'm trying to explain that everything is fine, and they can probably all pack up and go home. They aren't really listening, since they are busy yanking ladders off the trucks and slamming them against the house, then climbing on the porch and the roof. Then the second truck shows up, and another 6 or 8 guys jump off. 5 of them head toward the front door. They are all talking to each other on their radios.

Keep in mind, these guys are about 20 feet apart, and can actually see each other, but they are still using their radios. I follow the 5 guys toward the house, and all I'm thinking is that I have to stop them before they take an axe to the front door. One guy has some silver fireproof gloves, and a big metal bucket. They all run into the living room, me right behind them, and they make a beeline for the woodstove, which is burning merrily away, minding its own business, totally unaware that the top of the chimney was on fire moments ago.

They are staring at it like a bomb squad about to defuse a nuke in downtown Manhattan.

Then silver glove guy starts prying at the door to the stove. I stop him, then hand him the special tool that opens it, and show him how to use it. Right about then the guy who was playing with the remote temperature thing ("he" turned out to be a woman, actually) brought in some blue plastic tarps and spread them all over the floor. I guess she was sick of them tracking mud all over the place too -- and if the house was going to be on the 6 o'clock news, she wanted the floors to look their best. The idea was nice, but she was a little late, so all she managed to do was cover up the mud and water.

Anyway, Mr. Fireproof gloves gets the stove open, and proceeds to start yanking burning logs out of my woodstove, and putting them in his little bucket. As you can imagine, this instantly fills up the entire room with smoke. I yank open the side door, and yell for him to dump them in the snow. He does so, and then goes back for more. After he's done with the logs, he starts taking apart the inside chimney pipe. WTF?? I can't take any more of this, so I go back outside to see whether they've decided to use the jaws of life to rip down my chimney. I look up, and the dudes on the roof are prying at the chimney cap. Luckily, it's only with a screwdriver. They get it off, and that comes sailing down, hissing into the snow.

One guy is looking straight down the chimney, and he's on the radio to the guy about 16 feet below him, who is looking straight up the chimney, via the clean-out. They decide the chimney is clean, and that it was just the crud around the cap that was burning, and they talk on the radio for a few more seconds, all the while staring at each other through about 20 feet of stainless steel pipe, then start climbing down. The ladder guy hooks my satellite dish by mistake, and I can actually sense it losing signal. I run inside, zig zag between the 6 firefighters in my living room and flip on the TV. Miraculously, it still works. Priorities, man.

Right around this time, my wife is driving home from work, and when she turns the corner, the police and fire department have the road blocked off. They tell her there's a house on fire, but "it's under control." She asks what house it is, and they give her our house number. She completely freaks, thinking our house is engulfed in flames. She tells them in no uncertain terms that if they don't let her take her car up the street to her house, she is getting out right now and running up there. They decide to let her pass, but warn her to stay back.

At this point back at the homestead, the firelady, as I took to thinking of her, wants to go upstairs and use her little remote heat sensor gun to make sure there's no fire in the walls. Keep in mind that this is a stainless steel, insulated chimney on the outside of the house. I nix that idea -- she will have to play with her cool little toy elsewhere. She points it at the woodstove, looking kind of disappointed. "215 degrees," she says sadly, to nobody in particular, and shuts the device off.

So after the trucks are packed up, and I fill out a little sheet of paper, everyone jumps onto their pumpers and ladder trucks and takes off. Home to their families, I'm sure, no doubt to regale them with stories of the inept homeowner who had no idea how he came this close to dying in a blazing inferno, like so much crispy Kurt Russell.

After they left, we clean up the mess, which was considerable. A few burn marks in the hardwood floor from Mr. Fireproof gloves, ground in ashes and bits of charcoal, plus a lot of melted snow. The whole place smells like a forest fire, thanks to them taking the wood out of the stove.

Needless to say, we skip the workout, and go straight to the gin and tonic.

I learned a couple of things today.

One, the fire company doesn't respond as quickly as I thought they would, but then again, they're volunteers, so I suppose they have to get to the station, get dressed and then head out.

Number two, they have lots of cool toys they are just dying to use.

Number three, they live for this shit. Seriously. It was like watching, well...like watching a fire drill. Parts of it were like watching a chinese fire drill, but all in all, I'm glad these guys volunteer to do this kind of thing. Cops, firemen and soldiers. I respect them all immensely, and the jobs they have chosen to do. I'm serious when I say this.

Just as long as they don't fuck up my satellite dish, we're all good.

3/15/05

Precious Moments like These

I'd just like to take this opportunity to welcome the newest small business to grace our little town:



I eavesdropped outside for a bit. Here are some of the things I overheard:

"Don't play with those bottles! Those are glass. Here -- play with these empty Coors Light cans instead."

"No, you can't watch 'Hickory Dickory Cock.' That tape is for grownups."

"Henry! Grab the dog, will you? He's humping the shit out of Skeeter's little boy again."

"Isn't there supposed to be six of these little crap machines? We better check outside."

"Did you hear something by the window? Hey! YOU!"

"He's got a fucking camera! Don't let him get away!"

That's all I had time for, but I would just like to say:

Welcome, Precious Moments Day Care. Our neighborhood will be all the richer for you being in it.

3/14/05

Mother Earth Needs a Thigh-Master

A friend of mine works at a pretty conservative, politically correct company that wouldn't get caught dead sponsoring or even acknowledging something even slightly risque. So maybe someone can explain to me why this piece of "art" has been hanging in the hallway there for the last 7 years.



That juniper could use a little trimming, is all I'm saying.

Jeez.....I think there's birds in it.

Get on that high horse

So it seems that up in Shamus's neck of the woods, they're going to start giving away heroin to anyone who wants it, up to 3 times a day, 7 days a week.

I for one, think this sucks.

I mean, how do heroin addicts rate? Heroin isn't even that hip a drug anymore, yet for some reason, these guys are getting special treatment and 3 free fixes a day from the government. I think this is highly unfair to the crack, weed and meth addicts.

On the other hand, If I were a crack user, and thinking of making the switch to H, this program would be really good incentive to stop procrastinating. I'd be thinking, "I couldn't afford heroin before, but now they're giving the shit away. How can I afford not to move up? I don't even have to go to a shitty part of town to score."

The least they could do is make it taste like Pepto Bismol or something, instead of mixing it with a 2 oz. shot of your choice.

3/11/05

On Relative Stankification

So I'm on my way to lunch yesterday, and I hit the button for the elevator. We're on the top floor, and so when the door opens, and there's people in there, they generally want to get out. That is unless they've somehow mistaken up for down, which happens more frequently than you would think possible.

This time, when the door opens, there's a lady standing there. She's not making any move to come out, so I assume she screwed up, and I get on. As soon as I do, the stench hits me like a mule kick to the nads. For some reason, the entire elevator smells like the inside of a homeless guy's sneaker. This is the second time in the space of a week I've had to deal with this feetstank on my way to lunch. I have no idea what is causing it -- probably somebody's nasty limburger-cheese-on-rye sandwich or something. Whatever it is, it reeks to high heaven. I look at her, and she's studiously avoiding eye contact. The doors close, and we're on the way down. About half way down, I say, "Jeez, do you smell that? It smells like rotten feet." Her relief was palpable. She says, "Oh my God, I'm so glad you said something. I was going to mention it, because I didn't want you to think it was me, but I thought it would be weird if I said anything."

I'm pretty sure that if I were the only one on the elevator and it smelled like that, I'd be handing every person who boarded after me a time-stamped gas spectrometer print out that proved the odor existed before I was on premises.

That really wouldn't work though, because an interesting thing I learned last night while researching stink (yeah, I researched stink, ok?) this is that there is no technology to measure the stankification level of a particular odor -- you can only measure the amount of chemicals or gas in a given volume of air. And there's not always a direct correlation between the perceived odor level and the gas level, because the stank factor is highly subjective. In other words, the pig farmer doesn't think his pigs smell as bad as his neighbor does. I'll leave that badly-worded sentence just the way it is, and let you draw your own conclusions on the relative rankness level of the pig farmer's neighbor.

That little technical foray aside, what is it about our society that makes it so embarrassing to talk about personal hygiene issues?

Assume for a moment that you stink. Also assume that you are unaware that you stink, and if given the choice, would actually prefer not to stink. Wouldn't you want someone to tell you instead of just whispering about you to someone else? Why is it so hard to pull someone aside and say, "Hey man, your deoderant stopped working" or "I'm pretty sure that ass smell is coming from you" or "That shrimp scampi you had last night? I can taste it when you talk to me."

I'm not sure what the hangup is. God knows, I've been around stinky people, and only once have I sacked up and told them they reeked. I've even been on the receiving side of this once, and to his credit, my friend (who I will call Yort to protect his identity) stepped up to the plate. Let me give you a little background. To be fair, it wasn't exactly me that was stankified, but rather my clothes.

I have 3 cats. I like the cats, but I hate the litterbox. I am constantly on my wife about keeping the litterboxes clean, and unless she runs short of litter, she does a pretty good job. I'll clean them once in a while, but one of the conditions of getting the cats was that she deals with any and all manner of things that come out of their furry little bodies. With 3 cats and 5 litterboxes, sometimes that's a tall order, because believe me, they shit like nobody's business.

So anyway, these 5 boxes are all in the basement. Unfortunately, so is our washer and dryer. Once upon a time, a folded pile of my laundry sat in the basement for about a week during the summer. During this period of seven days, my laundry was not idle -- oh no. It was greedily absorbing all of the cat pee smell that it could, storing it for a later ambush.

The ambush happened one fine work day around noon. It was sunny and nice, so I decided I would walk to the deli in the next building. I could get some sun, a nice roast beef sandwich, and a little exercise.

So needless to say, this made me perspire a little, which in turn, gave the go-signal to my clothes to initiate the ambush. I didn't notice it however, and sat down at the full lunch table, in the only available seat -- the one next to Yort. I traded the usual pleasantries with everyone, and then Yort, in his normally subtle and extremely sensitive fashion, says in a loud voice, "Dude, there's the distinct odor of cat pee about you."

I couldn't smell it, oddly enough. I was, of course, totally embarrassed by his method of delivery, but I was at the same time extremely thankful that he let me know. Luckily, I had a change of clothes in the car, and I was able to immediately get rid of the offending shirt and jeans. The underwear was still suspect, but I wasn't going commando -- not at work, anyway.

That weekend, I washed all the clothes in my closet, went to Lowe's and bought a trailer load of building materials, and framed in and sheetrocked an 8x8 foot room in the basement with a pet door and a negative pressure ventilation fan to outside. The room is sealed, and the fan sucks a small but constant amount of air in through the pet door, making sure no odors escape.

Yes, the cats now have a private bathroom that is actually bigger than ours. Yes, it cost me more money than I would have liked. But the basement no longer stinks, it's a lot more pleasant to use the treadmill, and I no longer have to sit at the end of the lunch table by myself.

I realize this post is entirely too long, but I still find myself wondering about one more thing. Invariably, there will be someone you work with who has a personal hygiene problem of immense proportions, yet somehow they are unaware. These problems are generally so out of control that the sheer agony of working with this person transcends any social niceties about ignoring the odor. You have to say something, or die. So you tell them. You explain exactly what the problem is, and how to improve it, (i.e., stop stinking) and they listen politely, and promise things will improve. You think things are solved, but you are wrong.

The person continues to actively stink.

It's inconceivable, but true. This person makes the odoriferous choice, and clearly does not seem concerned about it at all. They will still wear the same clothes all week, still comes to work with that flat, 'hit-with-a-frying-pan' spot on the back of their head from the sweaty pillow, and still have that same piece of spinach in their teeth 3 days running. I simply do not understand this.

I was informed that my clothes stunk one single time, and it was enough to spur me to action. I spent a half week's pay and 48 hours of my time building a dedicated litterbox room to make sure it never happened again.

This stankified co-worker, on the other hand, cannot put in the effort it takes to turn on the shower, step into it, and soap up more than once every two weeks, let alone actually do a load of laundry.

I don't even know how to wrap this up, except to give everyone this piece of advice: Find a friend, other than someone you live with, (eliminate environmental variables and all that) and make a stink pact. Let there be no qualms, no recriminations, no blame. Just tell it like it is. Give each other a daily look-over, dare I say a daily sniff-over, and you will save each other a lot of embarrassment (unless, of course, you get caught while performing the sniff-over.)

And remember to wash your collective asses, you stinky bastards. People have to work with you for god's sake.

3/9/05

Marketing 101 - Hick Style

So I've got this theory.

I think it might stem from my degree in advertising, but it's possible it could just be a result of the fact that I notice weird shit, since that's my thing.

I've noticed lately that the names of businesses tend to follow a particular pattern as one moves outward from a large city to the boonies. Working out from the city, business names seem to correspond to this rule of thumb:

City Center: In the city, you may have a company called ExecuGenics, with a cool logo. Now that's a neat logo and all, but from the name you have no clue what the company actually does. It could do technical training, it could be an employment recruiting company, a temp agency, or even a cryo lab that freezes executive's heads, which is the first thing that occurred to me when I saw it. From a marketing, advertising and public relations perspective, this is bad, especially if you have no brand awareness and don't, in fact, freeze heads.

10-20 miles out, you'll see something like Smith-Mahoney Associates. Here, there may or may not be a logo. You still can't tell what they do, although you can probably guess they're either an engineering firm, a law firm or an accounting/tax firm. Good for ego -- again, bad for marketing.

20-30 miles out, you start to see some common sense coming into play. The people running these businesses want to show you two things: Who they are and what they do. Strang's Automotive. Prunty's Pub. Fitzgerald's Dry Cleaning. Kugler's Adult Bookstore. Usually there's some sort of clip-art on the sign, showing a business-related picture. A car, a beer mug, the sillouette of a shirt or a naked chick. This works. It's no nonsense, the last name identifier helps differentiate them from their competition, and people driving by know exactly what they do.

30-40 miles out, the fun starts. You get just the first names, then the business description. I'm pretty sure this is just lack of imagination on the part of the business owner. The thought process probably goes something like, "My name is Nick, and I fix small engines. Hmmm, what should I call my new business? AHA! I GOT IT!" The next day, Nick's Small Engine Repair is immortalized in latex enamel block letters on a chunk of plywood and hung from a porch roof or tacked to the side of a garage. Bubba's Plowing. Steve's Signs. Amy's Antiques. Again, there's no confusion. It's simple. Elegant, even.

40-50 miles out, things change again. Now you get the first name only, and maybe a generic descriptor. You might drive by a sign that just says "Bob's Place." Now to the casual observer, this might seem stupid. You might think to yourself, "I can tell it's owned or run by someone named Bob, but "Place?" That tells me nothing. Why would I ever stop there?"

The answer is, YOU are not supposed to stop there. You are an outsider, not to be trusted. This "Place" is for locals only. Everyone who lives around there knows who Bob is, and what he sells. The sign is just a convenient reference for the mailman, and a landmark for giving directions on how to get out of town to people like you. Most of the time, the locals shorten it to just "Bob's" as in "Hey, you want to go to Bob's after work for a beer?" or "Hey, I think Bob got some new over-unders in stock if you want to swing by and check them out." or "Take a left at Bob's Place, and go straight for 5 miles. That'll put your Lexus-owning ass right back on the highway."

50+ miles out, you get the final change. The sign tells you one thing and one thing only:

What. They. Sell.

Nothing else.

No names, no ego, no bullshit. The Ultimate Bare-Bones Marketing Campaign.

BAIT

BEER

GUNS

TAXIDERMY

FOOD

Coincidentally or not, they're usually in that order.

So there's my theory. Check it out next time you're taking a long drive. Let me know if it pans out.

3/6/05

Stop! In the Name of the Law

I saw this thing about a thousand times in the space of an hour on friday:



I had to make a quick stop at the store on the way home from work, and I screwed around just long enough to put me right smack in the middle of the daily "fresh children delivered straight to your home" time slot, which I am pretty sure is actually the 7th level of Hell. It added about 30 minutes to an otherwise miserable experience, and I swear I came within a half psi of blowing a tube in my head.

Let me tell you about this fine piece of legislative bullshit that has been enacted in New York, and probably in other states as well. I won't concern myself with these other states, since I don't actually live there and so don't actually care. You bastards fry your own fish.

When I was a kid, we had a school bus stop. Let me give you the definition, since the word seems so archaic now, and these things apparently don't exist anymore. A bus stop is a designated spot where people wait for a bus to stop. A school bus stop is a designated spot where students wait for a school bus to stop. Not so hard, right? When I was a kid, we all walked to this designated spot in the morning in a big group, and we all stood there waiting for the bus in a big group, and after school we all walked home in a big group. There were fights, cigarettes, snowballs, chewing gum in hair, thermos bottles that ended up filled with a mixture of glass shards and milk -- but it was mostly harmless. If you missed your bus, you ran like hell to another street and caught the bus on the flip side. If you missed both of them, you ran home and pissed off your parents, who then had to bring you to school.

Now, thanks in small part to perverts who prey on kids, and in large part to inneffectual politicians who need to pass laws to justify their existence, coupled with a sensationalism-addicted media that makes national news out of every child who is snatched off the street by their divorced mother or father, there is no such thing as a school bus stop. The bus now stops at each and every house that has a child in it. Every single one. And the biggest pound-you-in-the-ass part of this law is that it doesn't matter how close together these houses are.

At some point Mayor Quimby got up on stage and said, "We will drop each kid off at his or her house, and there will be no exception. Remember, I'm protecting your kids, so vote for me on Tuesday."

The net result, if you happen to be the poor bastard behind the bus, is this unfortunate series of events and thought processes:

1. The stop sign flips out, the bus stops, you stop.

2. The kid or kids who live in this particular house stand up in the aisle, drop their gloves, pick them up, forget something in the seat, go back for it. You can see all this through that floor-level back window on the bus door. (Jesus kid! It's right behind you! Pick it up. That's it, now move!)

3. Finally getting their shit together, they saunter toward the front of the bus, taking their time, chatting with their little friends. (Pick up the pace for the love of god! I don't have all day!)

4. They jump down off the bus stairs, and slowly cross the street in front of you, stopping in the road to tie their shoe or adjust their backpack or hitch up their ridiculously large hiphop pants. (MOVE IT, YOU LITTLE CRAP WEASEL!! Screw with your shoe on the sidewalk, not in the road, OK??)

If they're younger, they stand 3 deep at the open door and wait for fat-mom-in-the-sweatsuit to waddle her ass out of the house to the end of the driveway. (Oh finally, here she comes. Hey, Fatass! How about getting out there a few minutes early and waiting?) Once there, she chats with the driver of the bus for a few minutes (stop talking! Just STOP TALKING NOW, you housecow), then finally grabs her rugmonkeys and walks back toward the house.

5. The bus driver waits a minute or so to make sure all the children are seated and pulls in the little folding stop sign. (Thank you God. We're moving. Is the bus empty now? Shit, I think I see a lot more feet. I can't count heads with those damn high seat backs. They should bring back the low seats and that face-high steel grab bar we had back in the day.)

6. The bus driver then pulls ahead 100 feet and stops at the next house. (You've GOT to be KIDDING me! He was just there! He moved like TEN FEET! What the FUCK??)

On the two lane country roads near my house, this will happen for no less than 5 miles. You have no way off the road, and no way past the hell bus. And you have no idea how long five miles really is until you've been breathing diesel fumes and traveling approximately .5 miles per hour for close to a half hour.

After about the 3rd or 4th house in the space of 300 feet, you want to jump out of your car, jimmy open the bus door, climb inside and yell "LISTEN UP! I've got places to go. If ANY of you little shits live on this street, STAND UP NOW and GET THE HELL OFF this bus. If you don't do this, so help me god I will drive this bus past your house at 50 mph and bounce your lazy, prepubescent asses off your driveway like so much Sunday newspaper. GOT IT?"

Oh, they know it pisses you off to sit there and wait -- don't think they don't. They see your death grip on the steering wheel, and the frustration on your face. They laugh at you and point, because they have all the time in the world. About one out of every ten times you get one of these:



I just wave back and smile, and think, "Yeah, you just wait. Fifteen years from now it'll be you sitting back here cursing at the bus and getting flipped off by 14 year olds. Except that you'll probably be driving a rusty 1999 Aztek and the only thing you'll be late for is your shift at Taco Bell."

Little bastards.

3/5/05

Wombat Rocks!

Since I help manage the e-mail system where I work, a big part of what I do revolves around stopping spam. The ones that get through are really annoying, and you learn to hate the slimy bastards who send this stuff. To prevent us from just uncorking the AR-15's and heading out to where these bastards live, (yeah, if it were only that easy...) we play a little game we call "spam-band names" to make things a little more fun.

Every time we get a spam message that has a bunch of random words at the bottom, we quickly scan the list for possible band names. The only rule is that the words have to be next to each other. Usually, we also hazard a guess as to the kind of music they would play. Here's the best of our list since we started doing this..

elastic oyster (psychedelic rock)
whiplash faze (hair metal)
corset catnip (all-girl goth band)
dustbin atheist (english punk)
cocky genie (punkish pop, ala Good Charlotte, All American Rejects, etc.)
aristotle east (jazz fusion)
deacon luck (country cross-over guy)
octillion lash (transvestites playing Queen covers)
matchbox soldier (overplayed Top 40. If it has 'Matchbox' in it, it has to be overplayed)
claw skull (death metal)
distortion dynamite (funk)
cardiac casino (swing band that plays '30s and '40s standards)
lipstick handout (all-girl rock band fronted by Courtney Love)
precambrian yardstick (jazz)
potato wad (American punk)
witchcraft wombat (opening for cannibal corpse or slipknot)
bagpipe bali (Indian bagpipes - what else?)
vicious baptist (speed metal)
medusa maxima (girl fronted techno)
monarch madmen (English '80s band)
malicious grammar (Nickelback clone)
chester cowlick (the next Garth Brooks)
sticky mushroom (Grateful Dead cover band)

If you're starting a band and use one of these, I want royalties. (Yeah, Bagpipe Bali, I'm talking to you.)

3/4/05

Coyote Ugly

I saw a pontiac Aztek on the way home today. The guy driving it looked normal, but I know he wasn't. He couldn't be. I know that because he was driving one of these. In my book, that precludes normalcy. There's a reason they used these things as the "futuristic" armored cop car in so many post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies. They are that depressing and ugly.

With the possible exception of the Hummer II, the Pontiac Aztek has to be the ugliest thing on our highways today. Every time I see someone driving one, I not only pass judgement on the car, I also pass judgement on them. I can't help it. I instantly wonder if their living room has green shag carpet and avocado and gold furniture. I cannot fathom the possibility that someone actually bought one of these things of their own free will. I personally think that everyone behind the wheel of one of these shitbricks on wheels has to be working for, or being paid off by, Pontiac.

The thing that scares me about this SUV is that it is a rolling example of everything that is wrong with upper management in corporate america. Somehow, this 2 ton abortion actually made it through the idea pitch, the design stage, the prototype stage, and the production stage without anyone at Pontiac writing a memo about how the emperor has no clothes and a boxy, flat, ugly ass. Or even worse, if the memos were written, they were ignored.

They have sold something like 11,000 of these things the first year -- a pretty small number when you're talking about a production SUV. I read that out of the gate, they estimated that they would sell something like 75,000 in the first year. I also remember that a substantial number of that 11,000 was fleet sales -- Pontiac giving companies a special deal if they bought a bunch. They could give them away, but they had to work at it.

This just had to be some three-letter executive's wet dream come to life. There is no way this thing would have ever been produced unless it was driven, nay, shoved down from the top. I suppose it's also possible that it was the result of the designer being the nephew of the CEO, or an office affair gone awry. This thing is so ugly, there is a definite possibility that it may have been the CEO himself having the affair with his nephew.

You may disagree with me, and you may even think this car/truck/SUV is the prettiest thing on the road. If you do, I can almost guarantee that you probably have a singing bass plaque on the living room wall, and a really nice candy dish on the coffee table.

If Pontiac won't stop selling these things, I think they should offer giant paper bags with windshield holes cut in them, so the rest of us don't have to look at it when it drives by.

3/3/05

Hey, Come over here and taste this.

There is a certain group of people who fascinate me. They are the people who do things for the first time. Not the first time for them, but the first time ever. The first person to fly. The first person to realize what radio waves were, and figure out a way to transmit them. The first person to break the sound barrier, or leave the atmosphere. Even the first person to figure out that if he breathed helium, he could talk like Donald Duck. (I'm just playing the odds with the "he" in that last sentence, but it's pretty much guaranteed that it was a guy.) You get the idea.

Sometimes, when I'm eating, I'll think about that. Who was the first person to eat some of the stuff we take for granted today? Mushrooms? Must have been a lot of stoned and/or dead cavemen before they finally figured out which ones to put on the salad.

Who was the first primitive fisherman who speared a lobster out of the ocean and thought to himself, "I wonder what this ugly-ass thing tastes like?" I mean, it seriously looks like it could kill you. I'm thinking that maybe in the beginning, eating something was the accepted way to get even, to show the others that you came out on top. I'm betting the guy probably pulled the lobster out of the water and got a little too close. The lobster got a major claw hold on something or other, a battle ensued, and the victor chowed down on the loser as a matter of principle. Still, without the butter and the whole cooking thing, I'm betting that lobster must have sucked ass.

I also wonder if way back when, if that first guy found something really good, he would try to keep the news to himself. Take something simple, like strawberries for instance. "Yeah, don't eat those red things. No, I'm not kidding. Those things are totally poisonous. Eating one will kill you, no shit. I'm talking foam-at-the-mouth, twitching-seizure, painful slow death. You see those little seeds on the outside? Just smelling them can make you impotent."

What about the first dude who intentionally cooked something? You gotta figure fire came first, and cooked meat shortly thereafter, unless some caveman got lucky and lightning struck a tree full of prehistoric chickens or something.

It's probably more likely that there was some sort of accident. One night in the cave, Atouk was trying to zug-zug Lana, and he kicked a rabbit carcass into the fire by mistake. Atouk, being a man, immediately assumed the rabbit was ruined, and started to toss it out of the cave entrance. Lana, being a smart and cunning lass (even though she had a major mono-brow and more chest hair than Antonio Banderas) thought she smelled something that didn't stink as bad as Atouk, took the rabbit from him, sniffed at it a couple of times, then tasted it.

The rest is history.

For a while though, I'll bet there was a whole group of jealous cavewomen who were going nuts trying to figure out why the hell Lana's rabbit always tasted a lot better than theirs. I can picture them all trying to get dinner invites to Atouk's cave to weasel out her secret. "I don't know what she does to that rabbit, but the meat just falls off the bone. Yeah, I know. Mine usually takes like two weeks in the sun for that to happen. That bitch."

Yeah, even back then you couldn't have more than one woman in a cave without some sort of cat fight happening.