12/10/12

Pearl Slaghoople Designs

At some point this year, I am pretty sure I have been abducted by aliens.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's been happening annually for about ten years now, and I think they've become emboldened by the fact that I've never said anything about it.  Well, consider your streak over alien bitches, because I'm speaking up this year.  

The reason I say this is because every year it seems like Christmas and the seasons in general just spin by faster and faster and the only rational explanation is that I've been asleep or missing for part of the year.  So this shit ends now.

All the probings aside, I tend to miss absent friends and family more around this time of year. I'm sure I'm not alone in that feeling, but it does make me think back on childhood Christmases past when my mom and grandparents were still alive, and the whole family would gather on Christmas eve and Christmas day to celebrate.  

My mother was always good for a gag gift or two, from "The Elves" most of the time, but sometimes just from her.  Recently, my wife was digging around in a drawer upstairs and found one of my mom's gifts to her when we first got married.

It was a small jewelry box, and when my wife opened it, she saw this note:


Because the image of my mother wearing the contents of this box still makes me laugh to this day, I decided to post pictures of what was inside.  

First, please to enjoy this exquisite piece of modern-art inspired jewelry:


In case it's not entirely clear, this is, in fact, a ring.  It's made from wire and some toxic death-toy called "FormaFilm." You were supposed to bend the wire into flower shapes and dip them in different colored liquid plastic to make delicate, beautiful petals.  Or, as another option, you could simply twist the shit out of the wire until it was an unrecognizable mess, dip it in the goop and call it "making Mom a ring for Christmas."  It's pretty obvious which road I took.   My wife modeled it for me and it's really amazing just how subtle and tasteful it is. 

Also in the box were these fine designer earrings made entirely of rocks and discarded nipple clamps:


As you may have guessed, I was heavily into rock tumbling when I was a kid.  Even now I can hear the horrible, soul-crunching noise of the rocks tumbling in the plastic container.  It sounded like a Megadeth bass solo being played on a broken banjo.  Now picture that solo going on for a month straight, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the only break of blessed silence occurring when I had to shut off the tumbler in order to empty the can out and prepare to start it up again with a finer grit abrasive.  I'm really surprised my parents didn't go batshit insane listening to that thing.  That reminds me, I have to pick up one of those tumbling kits for my nephew.    

I distinctly remember that the first pair of earrings I made were roughly three times this size, and my father told me that "they might be a little too big." In reality what he was probably thinking was that my mother's neck wouldn't be strong enough to hold them up.  (He actually knew what he was talking about, because he had a very similar-looking pair of cufflinks that could have been used as a lethal weapon.)   I took his advice and made a smaller pair, even though it killed me because the smaller stones weren't as cool looking.  Even so, these are no light-weights.  In fact, if my mother wore these earrings every day for a year as she claimed, she'd probably have looked like this.*   My money is on her removing them the second we left for school.

So all you moms out there, enjoy the Christmas jewelry you're sure to get, and make sure you save it for when your kid is all grown up so that he can mindblast pictures of it to his live 3D headspace stream or whatever it is that will replace the current social media options 30 years from now. 

p.s. -  I'm always available for  one-on-one jewelry design consulting if you want me to create something that really accentuates your personal style and sense of Flintstone fashion. 

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One more thing before I forget:  Normally I'm not a huge country music fan and I don't like many female vocalists, but that being said, I happen to love the voices of Maria Mckee, Patty Griffin and Neko Case.  I'm going to go ahead and add Hannah Bethel to that list.  She's a young, up-and-coming artist managed by my buddy down in Nashville.   Check her out if you get a chance.



*except whiter.


11/26/12

Cuteness Overload.

I saw this in the Wireless catalog the other day and thought it was so cute:



No, actually I'm lying. In fact, it chilled my soul and continues to haunt my dreams.  I'm hoping that by sharing this with you, I can somehow dilute the horror evenly among my readers so I don't have to bear it alone.  That said, I have a few observations I'd like to talk to you about.

Let's start with this one. Super-realistic?  If you are sculpting a DEMON SQUIRREL PRINCE then yes, yes it is.  And damn right I would have killed it if I could.  I would have unloaded a full mag right into its head the minute I laid eyes on that fucking thing, even though it probably wouldn't have done any good.  

Maybe it's just me, but "perfectly cute and kitschy" is not how I would describe this.  I would go so far as to say it is evil and horrifying.  I picture it walking up to my sliding glass door and knocking slowly with its bony claw until it hypnotizes me into letting it come in.  

Also, I am pretty sure acorns are not what this unholy abomination is hoarding.  I would bet money that it hoards nothing but tasty, tasty souls.  Last but not least -- A customer favorite?  Really?  WTF kind of depraved customers does Wireless have, anyway?  Dear god, just look at this face:


Is that not the exact opposite of cute and kitschy?  It knows things about you.  It knows about that bag of birdseed you keep under your mattress.  It knows what you like to do with those walnuts late at night when nobody is watching.  

It comes down off the wall at night, claws its way up the skirt of your bed, sits on your chest and watches you sleep.  So sleep tight. 


Come.  Take my hand. 

[edit - Hey, just to take your mind off the horror and get into the holiday spirit, let me tell you about this sale my wife has going on.  If you go to her etsy shop and buy a hat, scarf, fingerless gloves or headband, and put "All Hail the Demon Squirrel Prince" in your order, she'll take off $5.00 per item and give you free shipping to boot.  No, she doesn't know about this yet. But when she gets her first order that says, "All Hail the Demon Squirrel Prince," I think she'll know where to go for answers.]

11/23/12

Lawyers don't surf.

After Star Market, I moved on to something cleaner and less demanding.   I traded sour milk and rat feces for gasoline, oil, and washer fluid, which was a definite step up.  I worked for a full-service gas station, back when those still existed in New York, and even though it was hell on earth in the summer and 20 below zero in the winter, and we had to wear white uniforms with green pinstripes on the pants, it wasn't all bad.  I was 16 years old, I had a new driver's license, an old Impala that sucked down gas like Lindsay Lohan sucks down -- wait for it -- booze, and no plan other than filling up that 36 gallon gas tank as many times as I could that summer. The Impala got about eight miles per gallon, so sticking to that plan was a pretty easy thing to do.  

On the nice days, it was a cake walk, but toward the middle of July you really had to work for your money.  When it's 102 degrees outside and you are standing on black, sun-blasted pavement breathing hot exhaust fumes from a half-dozen cars and trucks, and your boss insists that you keep your top shirt button buttoned at all times, it's hard to not take the easy way out and just die standing up.

Let me tell you what sucks the most about working in a full-serve station.  It makes sense when you think about it, but when you're filling out that application on a beautiful afternoon in late May, it's the farthest thing from your mind.  It's simply this:

The worse the weather is, the busier you are.

At the time, most gas stations had pumps that were in the open with no covered roofing.  And trust me -- nobody wants to save three cents a gallon by getting out of their car in the pouring rain, sleet, snow, high winds or hail to pump their own gas.  In an indirect way, that's what almost got me fired.  To express it in a completely incorrect mathematical manner because I really, really suck at math, the equation in my mind looks something like this:

(bad weather + recurring asshole) x (short straw/had-it-up-to-here) = potential bad decision

Mike and I were in the hut wishing away customers.  The hut was nothing more than a glass door and a plate glass window tacked onto the front of a 16x16 foot white cinderblock building.  The building was just big enough to hold a front room with a desk and a couple of chairs, a tiny break room behind that, a footlocker-sized concrete safe with a money slit on top,  and a bathroom accessible through another door in the back.

It was Wednesday night, and it had been pouring rain for five hours and it didn't look like it was going to let up any time soon.  Mike and I were sitting on hard plastic chairs, our ankle-length yellow slickers unbuttoned, water dripping into pools beneath our seats.  Mike got up for the third time in as many minutes and ran a squeegee across the window to wipe away the condensation so we could see what was going on.  We knew we'd hear the bell if anyone pulled up and ran over the air hose, but it was nice to see ahead of time whether you're up against an 18-wheeler with a 100 gallon diesel tank on either side, or a Volkswagen bug driven by a guy sticking two dollar bills out of his window.  This was also important because if it turned out to be a single car, you alternated, but if two or more pulled up, you both had to go out.

Like every other job working with the public, we learned pretty quickly who the pain-in-the-ass customers were.  There are the ones that won't pay $10.03 if they told you to pump ten bucks, or the ones who changed their minds and decided to pay with a credit card after you'd already given them the cash price discount. And of course, there were the drive-offs, and while generally not recurring, those came out of your pay.

And then there was the guy we called Peener O'Tool.  The peener in the beemer.  Or simply, Peener.  He was all of these things and more.  Because not only did he show up every time the weather sucked,  but he got off on making you wait on him hand and foot.  So he would sit there in his BMW with his window rolled down half way and he'd basically mock you to your face and there wasn't anything you could do about it.  He was one of those guys who, if you told him he had a nice car, would say "I know" instead of "Thanks."

He showed up every Wednesday, like clockwork, rain or shine. He didn't abuse you as much when it was nice out -- I guess there wasn't as much fun in that.  Even so, he wasn't going to pump his own gas no matter what the weather was like.  He might get his suit dirty, or wrinkle his silk tie.  The other thing that pissed me off about this guy is that he would always drive in the exit and end up on the wrong side of the pumps, so his car was facing in the opposite direction from the other 99% of people who weren't obnoxious idiots.  I assume he did this because the gas cap was on the passenger side, and he was too lazy to loop around and come in from the entrance.

The week before, he had pulled up in a rainstorm, and I got the short straw since it was my turn.  I walked out to the pumps and he rolled down his window and said, "Super unleaded. Fill it." and rolled up the window again.  Of course he pulled up a little too far just to make it more difficult for me.  I tapped on the window and asked him if he could move back a little, but he ignored me.  I sighed, stretched the hose to its limits, and started the pump.  He always used his credit card, so I ran back to the hut to get the credit card machine and the little 4x6 clipboard and pen.  There was no swiping a card at the pump during the late 70's.  This was a metal slider thing and a hunk of carbon paper that you slipped the card under to take an imprint.  Stone knives and bearskins.  You couldn't get any of it wet, so you had to hold it under your slicker.  By the time I got back, his tank was full, so I put the credit card machine on top of the pump while I put the hose away.  It was really coming down hard now.  The water was splashing underneath my slicker and the lower half of my uniform was soaked to my knees.  He rolled down the window and I handed him the credit slip on the little clipboard, along with a pen.  He signed it, took his card and returned the clipboard without a word.  I turned and was about to jog back to the hut when he called me through the slitted window.  I looked back and he smirked at me.  "Check the oil," he said.

We weren't allowed to say no, so I had to do it.  The Hess motto was "The customer is always right, especially when they're obnoxious idiots," and we had to follow that motto just as closely as we had to follow the button-up-and-die dress code from hell.  I think he was hoping I'd walk to the front of the car and fumble around a bit looking for the hood release, but I had been working there long enough to know the hood release on those cars was inside.  I nodded, and said, "Can you pop the hood for me, sir?" God, even now, the fact that I called him sir pisses me off.

He waited until I was leaning under the hood then he gave the horn a tap, for the sole purpose of scaring the shit out of me.  I'm sure he thought it was hilarious.  I checked the oil, which was fine, as we both knew it would be, and brought over the dip stick for him to inspect.  He made a show of looking it over, then nodded.  I ran back around to the front of the car and replaced the dip stick, then slammed the hood.  I walked back and said, "Anything else I can help you with?"  Of course there was.  He said, "Sucks to be you today.  Check my tire pressure, will you?"  I gritted my teeth, and ran back to the hut to get the pressure gauge.

Mike had been watching all this through the window and when I walked in, he said, "Sorry, man. He got me a couple weeks ago if it's any consolation."

"It's not," I said. "What an asshole.  Can you believe he wants me to check his tire pressure now?"

"I believe it," Mike said. "He's the only person who's ever made me clean their friggin' windows during a thunderstorm.  I'm about ready to put diesel in his tank next time he comes in."

That didn't seem like such a bad idea to me, either.  I ran back to the car, sneakers squishing, and squatted down next to the first tire as I unscrewed the cap and tested it.  It was fine.  Five minutes later, I had confirmed that they were all fine, as I'm sure he undoubtedly had known. I wasn't giving him any more chances, so I just gave him the "OK" sign and ran for the hut.  It wasn't the sign I wanted to give him, believe me.

He left, and I wished him into a pole.  I'm not entirely sure, but I think he may have been the first person to be listed in my manifesto who didn't actually know my name.  A few hours later, I saw something that gave me an idea.  An evil, horrible, wonderful idea.  Assuming he didn't drive into a pole in the meantime, of course.

The station was small, and only had four pumps on two islands, two spigots on each side of the pump.  Back then, you couldn't pick which type of gas you wanted by pushing a blinking button. If you wanted Super unleaded, you had to pull up to the blue pump, either on the inside, near the hut, or the outside, next to the street.   I shared my plan with Mike and he said he was in.  Now we just had to wait for another rainy Wednesday.

A few weeks later, it happened.  It had rained all day, and it showed no intention of stopping.  It was a Wednesday, and we were both on the schedule.  After the day shift left and it was just me and Mike,  we immediately bagged the inside Super pump.  We had these little yellow bags with "Sorry, Out of Order" printed on them, and if there was a problem, you'd just close the pump until it could be fixed.

We waited, for the first time actually hoping that Peener would show up to make our lives miserable.  He didn't disappoint.  At 6:30 on the button he pulled up to the inside pump,  saw it was out of order,  backed it up and pulled in on the other side.  He didn't even attempt to turn around, which meant his filler cap was on the wrong side.  I think he just wanted something else to bitch about since that meant I had to drape the hose across the trunk of his BMW.  I looked at Mike and he looked at me.  "I'll take this one," I said.  He just grinned as I donned my yellow slicker and pulled my hood up around my face. "Good luck," he said.

I walked up to the BMW's window, and Peener nodded at me.  He brought the window half-way down and said, "Fill it up.  And check the oil and the tires, since it's so nice out today."

I very carefully draped the hose across his trunk, put the nozzle in the tank and locked it while I checked the oil and tires.  I had the pressure gauge and the credit card machine all ready to go, so I didn't have to leave and I could keep watch.  I confess that I didn't really check the tire pressure. I just squatted down next to the car for a while at each corner, all the while scanning on-coming traffic.  Finally, I saw what I needed.  I had hoped for a pickup truck or even a delivery truck, but I hit the mother lode.  An 18 wheeler at the light about a quarter mile away.  I had to time it perfectly.

The outside of the pump was only a few feet from the right lane of Central Avenue, and whenever we had a thunderstorm or simply a downpour, it resulted in a gigantic and very deep puddle directly across from the outside pump.  There was a depression there that would fill up with water and it was at least four inches deep and 20 feet long.  You had to be very aware of passing trucks or you had a good chance of getting soaked.  All of us had learned the hard way and this is what I had been waiting for.  Most cars tended to at least try to avoid the small lake created by the rain, but if there were cars in the inside lane, the bigger trucks had no choice but to barrel through.  

I showed him the dipstick, then stuffed it back in the engine and slammed the hood.  I walked up to his window and took his credit card, keeping my eye on the approaching semi. Halfway. Probably doing about 25 or 30 mph. Shifting. Belting smoke from the twin stacks. The speed limit was 40, but most people did more than that.  I could hear the truck changing gears as it picked up speed.  I ran his card, but instead of clipping the card and the slip to the little clipboard, I just rested the card on top.  Holding the credit card machine under one arm, I reached out to hand him the clipboard and pen.  Because I'm clumsy and clearly no good at my job, I tipped the clipboard and the credit card slid off and fell on the ground next to the car.  "I'm sorry!" I said, making a show of backing away and scanning the ground under the car and not finding his card.  "Jesus Christ!" he said, then opened his door and leaned out of the car a little bit to see if he could spot his errant card.

It was a beautiful thing, and I can still picture it now.  It was like the final scene of Point Break, when Patrick Swayze is on the beach in Australia during the 50-year storm and he heads out into the surf for the final time as Keanu Reeves stands on the beach and gives another oscar-worthy performance.

"Wait, there it is!" I said, pointing directly under his door.  At the same time, I turned my back to the road and braced myself as the 18-wheeler barreled by and a six-foot-tall wall of dirty brown street water rose up and then crashed down on the open car door and unprotected back of Peener and his expensive suit.  When the truck had passed,  I looked past the dripping hood of my slicker and just stared at the destruction.  Peener looked like he had been hit with a fire hose.  Water was dripping from his hair, the steering wheel, his chin, you name it.  He had gravel on his shoulders.  He looked up at me in confusion as if he had no idea what had just happened.  I bent down and scooped up the small rectangle of green and white plastic.

"Here's your card," I said, holding it out between two fingers. "Sorry about that."

He was furious, and even though he wanted to blame me, he really couldn't.  I was just the idiot who dropped his card on the ground.  He's the one who opened the door.  I finally got him to sign the slip, then I went back inside.  Mike was rolling on the floor laughing so hard he could barely breathe.  After Peener drove away, we immediately pulled the bag off the pump and then replayed the event over and over for the rest of our shift.

He complained to the company, of course.  Hess owed him a new suit, they were going to pay for detailing his car if it was the last thing they did, the town was going to hear from him about that pothole, blah, blah, blah.  Typical blowhard stuff, from what I heard.  The thing that almost got us fired was the fact that we had placed the "out of order" bag on the pump when they weren't actually out of order.  That's a big no-no for some reason that has to do with gallon readings per pump or something, and Peener had actually thought to mention the out of order pump.  Steve, our boss, put two and two together.  He knew about the puddle just like the rest of us did.  He was actually pretty cool about it though, and pulled us into the back room and gave us a speech.

"Don't do any shit like that again, or I'll have to fire you.  I know that guy is a dick, and I know you did it on purpose.  He made me check his tires in the rain, too, but dealing with his crap is part of the job. It's what you get paid to do, and if you can't take it, then you're free to find another job.  Are we cool?"

We were cool.  Both Mike and I worked that season until the snow flew, then we put in our notice.  It was probably a good thing too, because everything went self-service the following spring, and the station closed shortly thereafter.  If there's any justice in the world, Peener still has ditch water in his ears to go with the gravel in his douchebag soul.

I only hope he remembers the day he caught his first tube.

p.s. - Locals rule.


11/10/12

Say hello to my little friend.

Things have been a little crazy at work lately and there's been an increase in the FUD factor that's got me a little geared up.  Needless to say, I've been thinking about my job history.  I rarely if ever write about work, because way back when I started blogging, one of the first sites I ever read was Dooce, and the lesson stuck with me.

Long story short, I am going to have to learn an insane amount of tech in a very short amount of time, and even though I'm pretty sure I can do it,  there's always a little voice in the back of my brain saying, "What if you can't learn it fast enough?"  Anyway, this got me thinking about how it felt to get my first "real" job and the fear and exhiliration that goes along with that phone call or letter that says, "Hey, you got the job!  So when can you start?"

If you've been hanging around here for very long, you probably read the story of my first "non-corporate" jobs, here and here.  As I mention in that second post,  every company I've ever worked for (with the exception of my current place of employment) has gone out of business.  In all cases except one, I managed to jump ship before the torpedo hit.  I think I finally broke that streak though, since I'm 99.99% positive that my current employer has the ability to counteract my company-killing mojo, because I've been with them for an insane number of years.  I presume that means I like them and they like me, but sometimes I find it hard to believe that so much time has passed.

I've worked in a lot of pits over the years, and this post could be amusing or it could be boring as hell. I'm not sure yet.  If it just straight out sucks, I won't push the publish button and you'll never see this.  (Or maybe you will see it, and it will still suck -- only I won't know it until you tell me.  Guess we'll see.)  This will also be a multi-parter, one job per post, just to make it more painful for everyone.

Onward!

Job One:  When You Wish Upon A Star

My parents were firm believers in teaching us the value of money. When we were kids, we got a small allowance, but we worked for it.  In fact, just yesterday I went over to visit my dad and he had a "to-do" list for me. I laughed and told him it was just like old times, except he wasn't waking me up at 9 am on Saturday morning by pulling the covers off me and hauling me out of bed by my right foot.

My first job was as a stockboy for a rinky-dink corner grocery store called Star Market.  My buddy The Slug worked there, and he thought he might be able to get me in.  I still remember asking my mother if I could fill out an application.  I was 15 years old, and she had to sign a special form so I could apply for the job.  I could only work a limited number of hours a week because of my age.  I never really thought about what a pain in the ass that first job was for my parents. I couldn't drive, which meant they had to drop me off, pick me up, take me to the bank, and keep track of my schedule, all to teach me about this thing called responsibility.  I'm not sure I really understood that lesson at the time, but I did get some extra money out of the deal, and to my parents' credit, they didn't make me save it for college or make me pay rent.

Star Market was a family affair run by three brothers and their father, who was the boss.  The brothers were older than us, probably between 18 and 25, and the younger two used the stockboys as their personal slaves.  Any crappy job they didn't want to do fell to us.  Cleaning the sour, curdled milk that had leaked inside the dairy case? That was us.  Cleaning the bathroom?  Definitely us.  Just to sweeten the pot -- so to speak -- they thought it was funny to make us do it right after one of them had blown out the previous night's chicken wings and beer.  Mopping up spills in the aisles? Also us. You haven't lived until you've tried to clean a busted bottle of olive oil off of a gritty linoleum floor using a 30-year-old mop that smells like cheese.  Two of brothers worked in the deli, and the other one worked stocking the "fresh" produce and doing other things that generally involved finding the best ways to goof off.

For his part, their old man would sit behind the plexiglass walls in the corner office loft that overlooked the cashier lines and chain smoke cigarettes, talk on the phone and pound on his adding machine.  The oldest son was the butcher. He was also a scary-ass Dexter-lookin' mofo who watched you like a hawk and never smiled unless he was chopping meat with a cleaver.  There were a couple of gum-chewing cashiers and an ancient white-haired guy who I think may have been another partner/owner or maybe just the resident dirty old man.  I'm not really sure what he did, but he hung around a lot in the back room drinking stale coffee, getting handsy with the cashiers, and smoking.  I remember one time we were rearranging the stock in the back room and he said to me, "Hand me that box of manhole covers, will ya?" I looked at him in confusion, because I had no idea what he was talking about. Then he pointed to the case of Kotex behind me, exhaled a huge cloud of rancid smoke in my general direction and said, "It's a joke, boy."  Even though I didn't really get it right away, I laughed nervously, then passed him the box.   What can I say? I was slow then, and I'm slow now.

The Slug and I usually worked the closing shift.  We'd get dropped off by the school bus, and then have to go inside and put our stock boy jackets on.  Unfortunately for us, the jackets were communal, and they didn't have enough of them to go around. They always stunk like the worst B.O. you could imagine.  The day-shift guys would wear them when they were outside in the heat unloading the trucks, and then after their shift they'd hang them up soaking with sweat, and we'd come in and have to put those disgusting things on.  The only way you could stand it was by convincing yourself it was a bowl of french onion soup you were smelling instead of your own reeking jacket.  I used to take my own shirt off and wear the jacket with nothing underneath because I couldn't stand the way it made my clothes stink. It was bad enough that people thought you had B.O., but even worse if you brought it home on your own clothes.

The closing shift was actually a pretty good deal, because everyone went home except for the father, one cashier and us.  The only bad part was that we didn't get dinner unless we paid for it.  If you ate before six pm, Dexter would make you a sandwich when you were on break, but he'd weigh each slice of meat and cheese and charge you the going rate. He'd wrap your food in paper, tape it up and write the price on with a grease pencil.  We'd have to take it to the front cashier and pay for it before walking back to the stock room to eat it.  When you make $2.65 an hour, you eat a lot of olive loaf.  If you wanted fresh bread, or mustard or mayo, that was extra, too.  Otherwise you got the shelf-expired bread, because that was free, and you ate it dry.

So we learned to um… supplement our diet.  For instance, do you know fast you can stand in the bathroom and suck down a yogurt without using any utensils?  Approximately 4.2 seconds.  About the same amount of time it takes the toilet to flush and cover up your slurping noises.  The best free meals were when you were working the deli, though.  After you were on the meat slicer for a while, you got pretty good at judging weights.  If some old crank ordered a pound of roast beef, you'd estimate a pound and then pop off an extra slice or two.  If they didn't want to pay for the extra ounce, you could set that slice aside, then a few minutes later do the same thing with the American cheese.  Eventually, you had the makings of a nice little snack.  You'd just have to make sure you downed it before the old man saw you, otherwise he'd make you put it back in the cooler and add it to someone else's order.

Yes, technically it was stealing, and yes, stealing is wrong.  But even today, nothing tastes quite as good as a slice of roast beef and a slice of cheese rolled up and eaten while standing in front of the refrigerator.  Besides, that was nothing compared to the larceny going on all around us. The youngest brother used to prop open the back door and hand cases of beer outside to his buddies and then threaten to kill us if we  told anyone.  I think he probably would have done it, too. He looked a little like Charles Manson.

Here's a tip for you.  Never buy ground beef.  Ever.  Unless you make it yourself or watch it being made.  Why?  Because you never know what's in it, that's why.  They used to make us do some things that are probably illegal and also probably the basis of my germophobia.  When the ground beef out on the floor was close to expiring, they'd put it on sale to unload it.  But once the 'sell by' date passed, they made us take the old, greying beef and put it through the grinder again, mixing it in with new ground beef.  Then they'd put the mix on sale.  Tell me that's not disgusting.

They also had a bit of a rodent problem.  There was a vacant lot next door, completely overgrown with weeds, and the dumpsters were out on the loading dock, overlooking the lot.  The entire thing was infested with rats.  If you tossed a rock out into the middle, the weeds would ripple like the water in a pond as the rats ran in every direction.  There was a pellet gun in the back room, and sometimes the brothers would take turns standing out on the loading dock and shooting any rats that tried to get to the dumpsters.

They had some in the store, too, because we'd sometimes see chewed stuff in the produce aisle.  For whatever reason, they couldn't seem to catch them.  Traps didn't work, poison was untouched…I guess when you have an entire produce aisle to snack on, those little hard d-Con peanut-flavored pellets aren't so appetizing.

After you worked there for a few months, you got to know your regular customers, which could be a good thing or a bad thing -- mostly bad.  You had the "head-cheese lady" and "crazy boloney" and any number of other shoppers you learned to avoid if at all possible.  One night when I was working the deli and The Slug was stocking shelves and doing price changes,  I looked up and saw "shaved-ham" shuffling down the produce aisle to the deli counter.  When she finally got to me, she ordered up her usual: three pounds of shaved ham.  If you don't know what that is, let me explain.  It's basically the biggest pain in the ass order you could possibly get.  You had to set the slicer on its thinnest setting, so it just barely touches the ham, and then stand there for a solid 20 minutes moving the damned thing back and forth while microscopic bits of ham dropped on to the paper.  There was no such thing as an automatic slicer at the time, or if there was, we didn't have one.  You could actually break a sweat doing this.

Right before the shaved-ham lady turned away, I happened to look down the produce aisle and see a giant rat waddle nonchalantly from one side of the aisle to the other, then disappear.  The coolers had doors underneath, and the excess produce was stored down there. Underneath the doors, there were removable kick panels that allowed access to the wiring and refrigeration, and the rat had found an opening between the panels.  I  kept my cool and continued slicing.  Rats in the produce aisle are not generally good for business.  Just then, The Slug came around the corner with the pricing cart.*

"Hey Slug!" I said, "C'mere! Hurry!"  He came around the deli counter. "What's up?" he asked, then saw what I was doing.

"Oh man," he said, "I'm glad you got her this time.  She was just here a couple of days ago.  I seriously  have no idea what the hell she does with all that ham."

"Forget the ham," I told him, continuing to slice. "I just saw the freakin' rat!  He ran from one side of the produce aisle to the other.  I think he's still underneath it."

"No way!" he said. "Where?"

I nodded to the produce aisle where the shaved-ham lady had stopped, her back to the produce as she examined a jar of pickles or something on the opposite side. "Right there,  kind of where shaved-ham is standing." I said.  I looked down to gauge how much ham I had piled up, when The Slug whispered, "Holy shit!" I looked back up and he was pointing down the aisle at the shaved-ham lady.

Directly next to her cart, literally between her feet, a fat brown rat was settled back on his haunches eating a grape, and she had no idea.  She was completely engrossed in her label reading -- and there was a rat between her legs.

"What should we do?" I asked. "If she sees that thing she's gonna flip out. And she'll definitely never shop here again."

The Slug paused for a second, weighing the pros and cons of this.  "On the plus side, we'd never have to shave that fucking ham again," he said.  Since I could barely feel my shoulder at the moment, I didn't argue.  But then he reconsidered and said, "OK, maybe I can distract her.  You keep slicing, and we'll get her the hell out of here.  With any luck, the rat will run before she sees it."

The Slug walked back to his pricing cart and steered it down the produce aisle.  When he was about 20 feet away from the shaved-ham lady, he reached over and knocked a few cans off the pricing cart onto the floor.  Startled, she looked up at him, and the plan worked perfectly.  When the cans hit the floor, the rat spooked and ran down the aisle behind her and back into the kick panel.  The Slug made a show of picking up the cans, and then stayed in the aisle making noise with his cart, hoping that it would keep the rat from popping out again.

A few minutes later, as I was wrapping up the three pounds of pasty meat for her, the boss came over and asked The Slug what the hell he was doing, since he was in the wrong aisle and his price changes weren't done yet.  In a low voice, the Slug explained what happened, and the old man left and came back with a packing tape gun.

After the shaved-ham lady left the store,  the boss had The Slug tape over all the openings in the kick panel, just to get us through the rest of the night rat-free.  Then at the end of the night, he called us over to the office and handed us an extra five bucks. I guess at that point, with the new Price Chopper opening up not too far down the street, he figured every customer was worth their weight in gold and we had saved one of his regulars for him.  It didn't help in the long run, since they went out of business eventually anyway, but by that time both The Slug and I had moved on.

I never got a rat-bonus before or since, but hey, you never know.  The building I work in is kind of old.  It could happen.

*I may not be young.  I say this because at the time, the pricing cart consisted of a shopping cart with a board on top.  You were armed with a clipboard, a rubber stamp with rotating numbers on it, a purple ink pad, a roll of paper towels and an aerosol can of Lysol.  If an item changed price, either because it went up, or was on sale, you'd have to take all the cans off the shelf,  line them up on the board, spray the Lysol on top then quickly wipe the old purple price away with the paper towels. For some reason, Lysol was the solvent of choice.  Then when the cans were clean, you'd re-stamp them with the new price.  It was a real skill to stamp them so the purple price was legible, and do it fast enough to finish everything on time.  I was really good at it, and it's a skill I've used many times since. Oh wait, no, that's a lie. It's come in handy exactly zero times since then.  On the plus side,  you actually knew what stuff cost.  


10/23/12

I'm all plugged up.

Last night I decided to sit in the hot tub for a bit and relax, and when I came back inside and dried off, I heard the thing nobody wants to hear right before they are about to get into a nice soft bed:  My wife, yelling from the basement.   "Are you up there?  Something's wrong with the washing machine.  There's water all over the basement floor!"

I muttered an obscenity under my breath and grudgingly donned my underwear and my boots and headed downstairs.  (What? It's a good look for me.)  It didn't take a genius to see that my wife's suspicions were correct -- The ancient washing machine sitting in the corner had decided to expel 20 gallons of water directly outside of itself, one gallon for every year it has been resentfully doing our bidding.  I'd call it a piece of shit, but any appliance that can go 20-plus years with only some routine maintenance probably doesn't owe me anything. The bad thing was,  I had no idea which washer-orifice it had come from, since the clothes had spun dry and weren't telling any tales.

That meant that not only did I have to fix the washer, I had to make another damned mess to see exactly what it was that I had to fix.  The first thing I did was look down into the drain pipe from the top.  It's just an open hunk of pipe with a trap about six inches down, then it runs about 20 feet down a 1.5" pipe to the sewer pipe.  The only thing is, it's directly behind the washing machine and flat against the wall, so it's not exactly easy to look down into.  Picture me in my tighty-whities, squatting on the top of the washing machine like Spiderman with my face mashed up against a dirty basement wall, holding a flashlight, looking down into an empty pipe.  On second thought, don't picture that. I don't even want to picture that, and I was there.  My relaxing hot tub soak was nothing but a distant memory.

No water in the pipe, so I figured that was a good sign.  I transferred the clothes into the dryer and started an empty cycle.  About five years ago, something had gone wrong with the sensor that determined how full the drum was, and the water just continued to pour over the side.  That was fun. Luckily we were home and heard the splashing noises, so there wasn't a ton of damage.  It was a pretty easy fix, too.

Since the spin cycle had finished, I figured that wasn't the issue this time.  My guess was that something was up with the part of the cycle where it pumped the water out of the drum.   I sat there for five minutes watching it fill up, and holy crap, five minutes is a long-ass time.  This thing put the watched pot to shame.  I just wanted to go to bed, but instead I stood there in my underwear and boots watching this giant Kenmore shitbucket fill up with ice-cold well water.

Once it was full, I manually spun the dial (that's how old this thing is. It has clicky dials) to the little * symbol that someone over at Kenmore who is probably dead by now thought would be a good representation of "Spin."  It's a top-loading washer, so there's a little safety pin on the door that goes into a hole on the top of the washer itself and determines whether it's open or closed.  Presumably, this is so it won't spin up with the top open and take your arm off or something.  So this obviously means that you have to jam something into the hole to make it work with the top up.  I jammed the pinky of my right hand into the hole, and pulled the dial out with my left to engage the spin cycle.  Immediately, the pipe behind the washer started spraying high-pressure, freezing cold water all over my half-naked self, and I knew instantly what the problem was; the drain pipe was somehow plugged.

Now that I was soaking wet and sure it wasn't the washing machine itself that had shit the bed, I dried my face, arms and legs, and went upstairs and got ready for bed.  I figured I'd diagnose the pipe today after work.  I went up to the bedroom and told my wife, "Well, best case, it's a plugged up drain pipe.  Worst case, the septic system isn't draining properly and there's nowhere for the water to go, so it's backing up into the basement."

I fell asleep, and dreamed of chocolate water.

Fast forward to this afternoon.  I've been thinking about this all day.  I have a washing machine full of water, and two other hoses that drain into this same open-topped pipe -- the dehumidifier pump and the water-softener backwash.  So I have to fix this today.  It's 3:01 pm, and I have to make this quick because I want to finish a chair in the shop.

I have a drain snake, so I decided to try it.  The only problem is, it won't go past the trap.  Then I notice that there's a little nut on the bottom of the trap to drain it -- it's maybe three-quarters of an inch wide, if that. So I take that nut off, and shove the drain snake in.  The snake has this little screw auger on the end so you can sort of chew through the hair blobs and then extract them.  I ran it all the way down to  where it met the sewer pipe, and I feel nothing.  I can't feel a clog, I don't hear anything out of the ordinary, just this drain snake rattling around in an empty pipe.  So I pull the snake back.  Right when it was about to come out of the hole, I see this big clump of hair on the end of the auger.  Hey! Success!  I must have snagged the hair clog.  I grab onto it and pull. I can't really get a grip on it, because it's pretty slimy, and this thing isn't budging.  It has to be big.  For a second, I think it's maybe a hunk of material, like panty hose or something, but it looks like washer lint, hair, some slimy crap…typical drain clog stuff.

I grab the auger and screwed it back into the hairball, and I'm really hauling on it.  Finally a piece of it tears loose and a bunch of nasty water hits me in the face, and the auger hits the floor. I pick up the hunk of hair ball, and there's this stuff that looks like a Twizzler or some kind of flexible plastic mixed in with it.  I poke at it a little, and suddenly I realize that what I'm holding in my palm is a piece of meat.  I drop the meat, and immediately start thinking about the water I was doused in a second ago.  Meat water.

Guts.  I was poking at guts.  I can feel the bacteria climbing up my arm already.  I grab a towel and wipe my hands, and I get back to work.  I can't get the mouse or whatever it is to come out.  I try poking it from the top with a broken aluminum arrow, pulling it from the bottom with the auger, but I'm having zero luck. It just keeps moving back into the pipe.  I can't really make myself dig into it with the auger after I realized what it was, so I'm trying to figure out another option. I figure that maybe I can pull it out of the top.  I have to see what position it's in to do that, so I climb back up on the washing machine with my flashlight and look down into the pipe.

And there is a fucking EYE looking back at me.  And this eye belongs to something that is definitely not coming out of a 3/4" hole. Not without being blended first, anyway.  It's huge.  And it doesn't belong to any mouse.

At this point, I am done.  I have no idea what this horrible THING is inside my drain pipe.  I go get my saw, and I cut off the last eighteen inches of pipe, trap included, and I bring the entire thing out to the back yard.  I knock it on the ground a few times, and finally, with a sound like "THOOMP!" something shoots out.  I look at it, and for a second I think it's a rat.  Then I see that it has a furry tail, so it can't be.  I poke at it with a stick and I'm pretty sure it's a partially decomposed chipmunk.*  (If you really, really need to see it, it's right here.)   They can't be happy with just eating my wife's Lily bulbs -- they have to go after the washing machine too.  Little bastards.

I tossed the carcass into the woods, cleaned the pipe under the hose faucet, and went back inside to finish fixing the drain pipe.  Luckily, I had a spare connector and some PVC cement.

I had the pipe completely repaired in about five minutes and life was good again, except for the mental scarring.  I went upstairs and practically bathed myself in the kitchen sink.  In retrospect I probably should have just taken a 30 minute shower under scalding water. I think I can still feel microscopic pieces of chipmunk meat on me.

I was thinking about it later, and it occurred to me that the only way into this pipe was from the septic tank side.  I couldn't even imagine how horrible this chipmunk's trip had been.  It was like Andy Dufresne breaking out of Shawshank, only with more fabric softener and less success.  He crawled through a leach field, a tank full of excrement, six feet of 4" pipe, and twenty feet of 1.5" pipe  that dead-ended at my washing machine trap, where he probably died trying to turn around. Then he was hooked with an auger and partially pulled through a hole smaller than his  head.  What a way to go.

Also, I think I am going to skip dinner tonight.  Anyone want to join me?

*Someone more knowledgeable than I am about dead rodents said this is more likely a baby squirrel. What he was doing in the septic system is anyone's guess.


10/13/12

Two in the Bush.

Once upon a time, I had a bird named Casey.  He was a Senegal and he was awesome.  He went everywhere with me, riding on my shoulder, or on the steering wheel of my car.  He'd lay upside down in the palm of my hand and he loved having his head scratched.  He could even talk a little bit.  His major talent?  He could poop on command.  That's how awesome he was.  I'd just say, "Poop, Casey!"  and he would practically kill himself trying to squeeze one out.  That's a little tip for you, if you ever decide to get a smaller bird as a pet.  A big bird, like an African Grey or a Macaw, has an butthole that's about a foot away from you when they're perched on your shoulder, so you can walk down the street with them and not have to worry.  With a little bird, you'd better teach them to poop on command, otherwise you will find the back of your shirt covered in bird shit.

One day, I was working on my car stereo, and something spooked Casey and he flew into the car window and gave himself a bloody nose.  I rushed him to the vet, and the vet said he probably had a concussion. He recovered, but something had happened to him, and he was never the same. He was scared of everyone, and he hated me.  He went from being my best buddy to me not being able to even get near him.  It broke my heart, but I finally had to give him to a breeder.

When we moved into our current house, I thought about getting another one. I looked around, found a reputable breeder and got a Pionus Maximillani, also known by the less glamorous name of Scaly Headed Parrot.  I named him Stinky, and he was a pretty good bird, but he was never quite as amazing as Casey.  He got his name because, well… he stunk. It turns out it's just something about the breed.  Casey smelled like Peanuts, and Stinky smelled like burnt ass.  He also hated my wife passionately.  Every time she came near his cage, he'd squawk at her, and he tried to bite her any chance he got.

When my mom's friend called us up and asked us if we'd be interested in adopting another bird, my wife jumped at the chance.  She had big plans -- this was going to be her bird.  Basically, I think she just wanted a bird that didn't hate her guts.  So we went and met this little bird named Bailey, who was a green-cheeked conure.  Bailey was a sweet bird who absolutely loved my mom's friend, but hated her husband.  As a result, he was making her get rid of the bird.  We took Bailey and his cage home, and my wife began working to earn his trust.

Bailey turned out to be a duplicitous little bastard. Once we were out of his comfort zone, I couldn't even stick my hand inside the cage without being bitten almost immediately.  My wife, however, could pick him up with no problem at all.  Until, that is, he decided he'd had enough, and then he would bite her, too.   The first time it happened, she was petting him and she brought him up close to her face while she was talking to him, and before she could even react, he  lunged at her, latched onto her upper lip and wouldn't let go.  She was flailing around screaming, "GEB HIMB OFF! GEB HIMB OFF!  and the bird was just hanging off her lip like a multi-colored rat trap. I grabbed him and was trying to get him to let go, but at the same time, trying not to hurt either one of them.  Nor did I want to turn his wrath in my direction, which is what happened anyway.  He decided he wanted a piece of me instead, and I ended up with a hole in my finger and my wife had a nice fat lip for a few days.

She was serious about taming this bird though.  A couple of nights later, I saw just how committed she was to this endeavor.  I got home from work and walked into the living room.  My wife was sitting on the couch in her pajamas, and Bailey was sitting calmly on her shoulder.  The first thing I noticed was that the TV was really loud.  The second thing I noticed was that my wife was wearing big, puffy ear muffs.  Earlier that day, she apparently had gained a cauliflower ear to go with her fat lip.  I started to worry people would think I was beating her up.

This went on for a while.  It got to the point where my wife was wearing ear muffs, a face mask, a scarf and oven mitts whenever she handled the bird.  Half the time I wasn't sure if she was going on an arctic expedition or getting ready to rob a bank with Julia Childs.

In addition to Bailey being a moody little bastard, he was also extremely loud.  He had a pretty annoying screech, and Stinky had started to pick up on it.  When they were both in full swing, it was enough to make you lose your mind.  Eventually, when we couldn't take it anymore, we decided Bailey had to go. But where?  We didn't know.  We didn't want to just give him away to some random person.  We had taken him, so we sort of felt obligated to find him a good home.

My wife came home from work one day, and said, "I think my mother might want to take Bailey."   I had some reservations about that, but I thought it might work.  In retrospect, it was probably the worst decision we could have made.  If you've been around here long, you know my MIL is a little crazy -- but we thought at least that way, we could keep tabs on how he was doing.  So we agreed that my in-laws should come up to the house and meet Bailey, who, ironically, was actually doing pretty well by then, other than the screeching.  We both could handle him pretty easily, and while I still wasn't his favorite, about 80% of the time I could manage to come away from an interaction with little or no blood loss.   We took a deep breath, invited them up for dinner, and hoped for the best.   We had amassed a large list of "Things That You Should Not Do Or You Will End Up Bloody" and as long as we could keep them from doing any of those things, we figured we were home free.  We could dump the bird and he would be someone else's problem.

Bailey was on his best behavior.  I mean, he really turned on the charm.  His performance was so good, we started having second thoughts about giving him away.  Her mom was able to get him to perch on her finger, he was enjoying having his neck scratched, and everything was going great.  We hoped she wouldn't ruin it by inadvertently doing something on The List, and she didn't.

My father-in-law was sitting on the couch minding his own business and watching TV.  He didn't really have much use for a bird, but he figured if his wife wanted a bird, she could get a bird. He didn't really give a shit one way or the other.  Since she was in the kitchen feeding Bailey sunflower seeds and consequently not bothering him while he watched the game, he was OK with it.  My wife and I glanced at each other, and watched as she fed him the seeds.  When she started talking baby talk to him, we knew the hook was set.

"Chuck, do you want to meet Bailey?" she yelled into the other room.  He was non-committal, but she was going to introduce them anyway.   Rather than hand him the bird outright, she instead just set him down on the back of the couch, figuring that way they could ease into getting to know each other.  And that's exactly what happened.  Bailey walked slowly across the back of the couch and eased gently into this fragile new relationship by biting into my father-in-law's ear like it was a hunk of beef jerky.

My father-in-law, to his credit, didn't flip out -- he just sort of froze up and let us come to his rescue.  After removing the bird from the side of his head, my wife and I looked at each other, our hopes of relocation crushed before our eyes. We figured that was it.  Bailey had blown his nice-bird cover and now we were stuck with him.

Much to our surprise, after the bleeding stopped, they decided to take him home anyway.  To this day, I have no idea why. They packed him and his cage into the car at the end of the night, and blessed silence was finally ours.

We got periodic updates and made the occasional visit, and it looked like Bailey was doing fine.  He lived there for another three months or so before my wife called me at work with the bad news.

I picked up the phone, and before I could say hello, my wife said, "Hey, it's me.  My mother just called. She thinks Bailey is dead.  I might have to ride over there."

"Oh, man," I said. "What happened?"

"I'm not sure. She said when she came downstairs this morning, the bird was on the bottom of the cage lying on his back with his feet sticking straight up in the air.   Does that sound crazy to you?  Can birds actually die like that?"

"Definitely, especially if they're cartoon birds," I replied.  "Did his eyes turn into black X's?  Because that usually happens too."

She wasn't amused.  "She wants me to come over right now."

"What the hell does she want you to do?" I asked. "Give it mouth to mouth?"

"I have no idea," my wife said, "She said she doesn't know what to do with him and she wants me to come over and help her take care of it."

"OK, let me know what happens," I said, and we hung up.

About two hours later, my phone rang again.

"Hello?"

"You have to come over here as soon as you can," she said.

"Why? What's the matter?" I asked, a little alarmed by the tone of her voice.

"Bailey is up in a tree and he won't come down."

"What?  I thought he was dead," I said, confused. "How the hell did he get up into a tree?"

"It's a long story, just come over after work."

I left work and drove over to the inlaws' house, not sure what to expect.  The first thing I saw was my wife's car, and parked right behind it, her grandmother's car.   This was turning into a family affair.   I parked in the street and walked around to the back of the house, and all three of them were standing there staring up into a tree. I shielded my eyes from the sun and scanned the tree, and saw Bailey sitting on a branch about 50 feet off the ground.

My wife saw me walking toward them, and she met me halfway.  "Unbelievable," she said under her breath. "Wait until you hear this."

She turned me around and we walked to the side of the house to talk in private.

"What the hell happened?" I asked.

"I still can't believe it.  I got to the house, and asked her to see the bird.  She said I couldn't, because she had put him in a shoebox and buried him already.  At first I was pissed because she made me drive all the way over here for nothing,  but she still seemed pretty upset.  I asked her why she buried him before I got here, and she said she couldn't stand to look at a dead bird anymore."

"Yeah, right," I said. "What did she do? Just let him go because she didn't want him anymore?"

"That's what I figured too, since she was acting so weird about it.  So I asked her to show me where she buried him and she did.  Right when I was thinking that maybe it really did die,  I heard squawking coming from the ground."

"Are you shitting me?" I asked. "She buried him alive?"

"I swear, I had to dig him up!  He was screaming bloody murder.  All the while, she was swearing up and down that he was dead when she put him in the box.  She said she had no idea how this could have happened.  When I opened the box to see if he was OK, he took off and flew around the back yard a couple of times and then perched in that tree.  He's been up there since I called you."

I was more than a little pissed.  We walked back to the tree, and I looked up at Bailey.  He looked down at me.  I called up to him, "Hey, Bailey!  Come on down!  Come on, buddy!"  He called down to me, "Fuck that. That crazy bitch buried me alive."

OK, so he didn't really say that, but I could tell he was thinking it.

I said to my wife, "Take everyone inside. Make some coffee or something.  I'll get him down."

I had no idea how I was going to get him down.  At first I didn't want to climb the tree -- one, because I was wearing a suit and tie, and two, because I figured he'd just fly away and I'd be chasing him all over the neighborhood.  She was supposed to have kept his wings clipped, but apparently had neglected to do so.  I called him a few more times, and he dropped a few branches and was now only about 20 feet up.  I eventually realized he wasn't going to go anywhere.  I thought maybe if I climbed the tree, I could coax him to jump on my arm or bite my ear or something, so I did.  I got as high as the branch he was perched on, but the branch was too thin for me to crawl out to where he was.  I could reach out and almost get my hands on him, but every time I did, he'd lunge at my hand and try to bite it, then move further out onto the branch.

After about an hour of being perched in a tree wearing my dress clothes,  I gave up and climbed back down.  It was starting to get dark, and we were still at a Mexican standoff of sorts.  I was  done trying to physically coax him out of the tree - he was going to have to do it on his own, or he was going to stay there all night.  I had a feeling that if it came to that, he probably wouldn't make it.  It was autumn, and getting pretty chilly after the sun went down.  I called to him a few more times and had my wife bring out his cage, thinking that if he saw something he recognized, he might come down for it.

I was just about to quit for the night, when I called him one last time, expecting nothing.  I'm not sure why, but this time instead of ignoring me, he just flew down out of the tree and landed on my shoulder, easy as can be.  I picked him up and put him back in his cage.

I brought him back inside, and my mother-in-law was stumbling all over herself to thank me, but I was still pretty upset.  I had no idea how this had gone down, but I had a sneaking suspicion.  Bailey was a loud bird, and all I can say is I'm glad my wife had been a quiet baby.  We told her we were taking the bird with us, and we'd find a home for him somewhere else.  There was no way we were going to leave him there after that.

We did eventually find a home for him, and even though I don't know much about where he went or the people that adopted him, my gut feeling is that they probably never buried him alive, which is a definite plus in my book.

Most likely his too, come to think of it.

9/29/12

I AM KING OF THE CHIPMUNKS.

So this happened on our last camping trip:



Yeah, I know. I probably have some sort of hantavirus coursing through my bloodstream now, diligently working its way into my brain.  But chipmunks are notoriously cute, and I had nothing but time and peanuts.  And man, was she a little whore for the peanuts.   We named her Raihbys, because Rabies was just too conventional. Why not make her spell her name every day for the rest of her life, right?   

At first I shelled the peanuts for her, and handed them to her one by one.  She was a bit tentative, reaching out slowly taking the peanut gently, and it was really cute.  After about an hour she was like "GIMME MY PEANUTS, BITCH!" and she'd jump around on my lap and nudge my hand and if I didn't let go of the peanut fast enough she'd yank it right out of my fingers.  Finally I just started opening my palm flat with a pile of peanuts on it, and she'd jump up on my hand and stuff her face until the pile was gone.  

Initially she didn't really know what to do with unshelled peanuts. She quickly figured out she could break them open, take the peanuts from inside and stuff them in her pouch, but that turned out to be a lot of work, and it apparently took too much time. 

Eventually, she dispensed with opening them up at all and just pounded them like a porn star, shoving one in each pouch and a third in the mouth.  Then she'd hop away into the woods, and a few minutes later we'd hear her coming back and we'd do it all over again. 






We made her promise to tell her cousins to lay off our garden, too, but I'm pretty sure she was too high on peanuts to understand what the hell we were talking about.

In other news, the first one is mostly done:


Still needs to be sanded, painted and oiled… and then I only have three more to go.  I tried to convince my wife to just get folding chairs for the other three spots.  I told her we could go for sort of a shabby chic look, but she wasn't buying it.

Edit:  Chair above with the finish applied:




9/10/12

Loving you is easy 'cause you're beautiful.


As I mentioned in my previous post, last weekend we drove to Maine with some friends. Vidna drove, I rode shotgun, and the wimmin folk sat in the back.  We always called that "Italian style" in my family.  In this case though, they actually like to sit back there because then they can talk about girl stuff that Does Not Pertain to Us.  Because I was riding shotgun, the unwritten rules of the road stated that I was in charge of the music.

Let me tell you about the music on this trip.  It was glorious.   Last summer, we somehow got Minnie Riperton's song "Loving You" stuck in our heads, and it killed us all weekend.  It was like having a rash you couldn't get rid of.  We were all constantly walking around singing the "lalalalala" part, which, if you've never heard the song, is really, really annoying.  And it never failed -- just when I had finally succeeded in removing it from my skull by performing a mini-exorcism that consisted of simultaneously screaming the lyrics to "You Shook Me All Night Long" by AC/DC and repeatedly punching myself in the thigh as hard as I could, someone in our group would walk past me and go "lalalalala" under their breath and Minnie would be back like the persistent and malevolent demon that she truly is.  My only solace was that the person who did that to me generally did it to themselves too, because that song is truly evil and its brain-burrowing knows no bounds.

So for this trip, my plan was to gather up a bunch of hits from every year of the 70's, and force everyone in the car to listen to it.  Right around 1974, Minnie popped up, and we all sang the song right up to the point where she has sex with a dolphin. (yes, the link is safe for work.)

Luckily, that song is not the one that got stuck in our heads this year.  That dubious honor would go to a gem from 1970 called "I Hear You Knocking" by Dave Edmunds.  None of us knew the actual verses, so we were just going around singing the chorus over and over.  It was infuriating. And also hilarious.  If you're ever planning a trip to Maine and you want to inflict some 70's pain/pleasure on your passengers, here's my play list.

Last year it was just the four of us, but this year we had an extra passenger:

Come get some.

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you.  We had Action Jesus along for the ride.  Added bonus: he recited the entire Lord's prayer - loudly, and at inopportune times.  I'm still trying to figure out exactly who he looks like.  

The first thing I wondered was if he was anatomically correct, because that's just the way my 12-year-old mind works.  It turns out he has a permanent diaper.   I thought that was marginally better than the blank crotch of G.I. Joe, and it ties in pretty well with the whole rough-woven robe thing he has going on.

One thing I did not know about Jesus before this trip -- he could kick your ass from here to Kingdom Come. The dude is seriously ripped:


There's no two ways about it -- I have to buckle down and work out more.  I know it's not really fair to compare myself to Jesus, especially since he probably just raised his arms unto the heavens and commanded, "Let there be Six Pack Abs" and it was so, but at least now I have a goal to aspire to.

If anyone overheard any of our conversations, they probably thought we were complete holy rollers.

"Jesus will make the clouds go away."
"Maybe Jesus can find us a parking spot."
"I think we should bring Jesus to the beach with us."
"We won't need to see the wine list.  We have Jesus and water, we're set."
"Jesus failed us, which is why we had to drink that shitty Burger King coffee. Blame him, not me."

OK, maybe not that last one.  That coffee was the work of the devil.  Pay attention, because I'm going to share with you a little tip about beaches in Maine on Labor Day Weekend.  As you may know, they are crowded, and there are lots and lots of children and families all sitting practically on top of each other to be near the bathrooms and concession stands.  I imagine it's that way all summer.  Now, if you are like us and you don't particularly like screaming children and getting hit with the warm overspray of aerosol coconut oil from the leather-tanned lady basting her jerky-like thighs not five feet upwind from you, you can  just keep walking down the beach.  That's all you have to do.  Just walk.

Eventually, you will notice something.  First, the brightly colored toys disappear, along with the screaming children. Then it suddenly dawns on you that more and more people around you are in shape.  You have arrived at your destination, and you can spread your towels and set up your chairs.

You are now officially on the gay section of the beach.  It's not an official section or anything, and where it starts can vary from day to day.  It's simple, really.  Just keep walking until things get gay, then stop.  And let me tell you this: it's totally awesome.  Very few kids, polite people, no crowds… Nothing at all like it would be portrayed on television.*  Really, other than maybe seeing a little more cock than you normally might on any given day, you can't go wrong.


-------------------------------------

*This might annoy  (both?)  my gay readers, or maybe it won't -- I'm not really sure.  I'm certainly not trivializing the struggle for gay rights or anything, but while I was writing this, I think I may have finally figured out what I don't like about the way gay people are sometimes portrayed on TV.  

I think the producers are still trying to go for the shock value; trying to see what they can get away with during prime time.  So instead of treating it like it's no big deal, a non-event, they have to shove it in your face and (just like everything else) try to make it seem like they are being edgy and pushing the envelope.  Because of this, I have discovered something about myself.   

I apparently don't enjoy unexpected man-on-man action.  For some reason, having that sprung on me in a manipulative manner irritates me.  

Here's a half-assed analogy.  I don't particularly like sports. I don't watch sports on TV, and sports in general holds no interest for me at all.  I don't mind one bit if you happen to like sports, and I don't care if you play them -- that's all fine, you can do what you want.  But if I'm sitting at my house watching Army of Darkness and drinking a scotch and you suddenly change the channel to the final inning of the world series just to elicit a reaction from me, you can bet your lunch money that I'm not going to want to watch it,  no matter how exciting it may be to those involved.  I just don't give a shit about the world series.  And you messed up my movie. 

That's the same feeling I got the other day when I was watching The LA Complex (Don't judge me. I miss Kaylee) and, in the space of 10 seconds, a badass gangsta rapper went from pushing around some kid to making out with him on the floor.  It annoyed me.  I mean, don't get me wrong -- after that, it turned into a decent character arc, and the continuing story of the rapper dealing with his suppressed sexuality is pretty good, but when I felt like I was initially manipulated into reacting a certain way about it,  it pissed me off.   





9/5/12

I ain't dead (yet.)

Wow.  I really need to crack a window in this place and let in some fresh air. I've been gone so long there's an inch of dust on everything.  I've actually been getting email asking if I'm OK.  So the answer to that question is yes, I'm fine.  Thanks for asking, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  So what have I been doing?

Lots of this:






Some of this:













A bit of this:


And a bunch of other happy horseshit that comes with being a homeowner.   Sometimes I really miss my apartment.   

Just got back from a trip to Ogunquit, Maine with some friends, and I am currently working on a few posts that I hope to have up shortly.  No promises though. September is my vacation month, and I have to finish these damned chairs before they finish me.

Here's a pretty moonlight picture from the right coast:




7/31/12

Blood from a stone.

We had a blood drive at work the other day, and so I like to get out of work for a little while do my good deed for the month and donate.  The last time they came around, I had a bit of a cold so I had to skip it, but this time I was in pretty good shape.  

They're always after me because of my type O blood.  I get phone calls, and follow-ups, and reminder e-mails about how many lives I'm going to save…sometimes it's more of a guilt-trip than those abused animal commercials on TV.  OK, nothing is worse than those, but you get the idea.  I usually feel really guilty when they call, so I sign up to bleed into a bag and adopt a greyhound or something.   

The day I was supposed to donate, I did something incredibly stupid.  Well,  the stupidity happened the night before, and then just continued on to the next day.  I had driven the convertible to work the previous day and when I got home, the garage door had been locked so I parked and went inside, figuring I'd put the car away later.  Not so much.  Instead,  I forgot the car was out there, top down, and it rained all night.  Really hard.  Buckets.  Then the next morning I just left in the Honda and didn't even notice the other car sitting out there in the driveway making pathetic sloshing sounds.  To be fair, it was still pretty dark when I left, but when my wife called me at work and told me the entire thing was a giant puddle of water, I wasn't real happy with myself.   Also, it was supposed to rain all day again.  My wife can't drive a stick, and didn't have the keys, so all she could do before she left for work was throw a tarp over it.  As a result, I decided to head home at lunch time and at least mop up what I could and get the car inside before the coming storms made it worse.  

This is really just a long way of saying that I showed up for the blood thing unannounced at around 10:30 instead of at my scheduled time of 12:45.  I figured if they had that much of a chub for my Type O, they'd take it when I offered it, and they did.  The only drawback was that I was really hungry, since I normally grab something to eat around 5:30 on my way to work and then eat lunch around 11:30 at the latest.  

They were after me to do the "double red-cell" thing too, which I guess means they filter your blood through a machine that extracts the red blood cells and pumps the plasma back in, but I'm not down with that. Something about having my blood outside my body like it's standing on the corner looking for a job, and then having it pumped back in skeeves me out a little.  It's too much like science fiction.  At least if I'm just donating whole blood, I can lie there and pretend like it's 1453 and the barber-surgeon is just taking a little off the top. 

I was antsy, so the whole prep thing was killing me.  First they made me read the booklet (which looked like it had been handled by a classroom of first-graders after their snack break) and then I had to get tested for anemia and answer a questionnaire about how many men I've screwed (none), how many needles I've shared (none) and whether or not I had been out of the country or in juvie for more than 72 hours.  I'm not sure what happens there at hour #70, but I'm glad I never have to find out.  Then they made me answer the same questions again, only this time on a computer screen. The whole thing was maddeningly repetitive and proceeded at a snail's pace, mostly because I showed up unannounced.  They were nice about it, even though I probably screwed up their schedule a little bit.  They say they take walk-ins but I'm not sure they actually like to.

They finally hooked me up, and luckily the 12-year-old girl who put the needle in my arm was pretty good at it, and I dropped a pint in a little over six minutes, which I think was a new record for me. Apparently even my blood was in a hurry to get the hell out of there.  As she was disconnecting me from the apparatus, she hit me in the eye with an errant hose or something and got really embarrassed.  I told her it was fine,  but it would be pretty unlucky of me to lose a perfectly good eye while giving blood.  She left me there for a bit, and then came back and asked me how I was feeling.  "Pretty good, except for the eye," I said.  I'm not sure she appreciated my humor.

Since I hadn't eaten, I was a little light-headed afterwards, so I sat down and drank a bottle of water and ate some ass-raisins.  I'm not sure where they got them from, but they were the worst, most juicy raisins I ever ate.  It's like they weren't quite done being grapes.  I only chose them because of their sugar content, but after eating half the bag I switched to a pretzel, which was non-juicy. Then I packed up my shit and headed for the car.  I got home just in time to pull the car in the garage before it started coming down hard.  

After I got home I emptied my pockets and found the little info sheet they give you with all the "after donating" tips on it.  This paragraph made me laugh:

"Injury may result from dizziness or fainting after donation.  If you developed a cut as a result of a fall, you may want to request evaluation for stitches, especially if the injury is on your face.  Serious head injuries are uncommon after donation but may require immediate medical attention." 

So basically they're saying, "Hey, thanks for your blood.  Oh, by the way, if you fall and cut your face wide open, you probably should get it sewed up."  That's really good information to know.  

Other weird stuff I stumbled on this week:

Why is this a real thing?  Are people that concerned about their child's "unique astrological chart" that this hot crazy lady can actually make a living off of them?  Whenever I see something like this I always think, "I wonder if they really believe that shit, or if they just saw an opportunity to rip off gullible people?" Then I got a little sad because I realized I would probably respect her more if she was knowingly ripping people off.  That's pretty cynical. But then again, I'm a Gemini and therefore I can see both sides of the issue.

The other thing that made me laugh today was this:



Fifth Third Bank.  The curious bank.  What crack-smoking ad agency came up with that tagline?  Not sure about you guys, but I really don't want my bank to be curious about me.


"Can I help you, Mr. Virgil? 
"How do you know my name?  Who told you my name? I NEVER SAID MY NAME!"
"Don't be upset.  We're just curious about you.  So… are you wearing the boxer briefs today or going commando?"
"TOO CURIOUS! TOO CURIOUS!"


I don't want phone calls at home asking me how I'm feeling and if I need anything and how my garden is doing.  In fact, I want them to stay out of my life unless I specifically ask them to provide me with a banking service and I contact them to get it.  The last thing I want is some teller at Fifth Third asking me inane questions about my personal life when all I really want her to do is read the note and start stuffing the money in the sack.

p.s. - does anyone know why the EFF the spacing is all off on this blogger editor?  Looks fine in the editing window, but all sorts of weird spacing when it's published.