Friday, July 29, 2005

Who Is The Masked Rabbit?

Today, we're fortunate enough to have as our guest, the secret writer who has haunted the blogosphere with some of the more inane postings as of late. A relative newcomer to the blog world, he has made a name for himself with his hit and run humor, unapologetic flashbacks to a mis-spent youth and in a rare moment of revelation, eulogised a cat who once piddled in his slippers as fitting revenge for being locked in the bedroom during a cocktail party.

Of course, I can only be speaking of the Caustic Bunny. While his real identity is hidden behind this large hutch and his voice has been altered to sound sort of like your Uncle Murray's from Bayonne, I can assure you it is indeed, the one and only Bunnyman. We have a lot of questions.




Very much. Thank you.

Good. Let's start. Perhaps the most pressing question on everyone's mind is...


Who is Magazine Man?

What? I'm leaving.

No. Sorry, don't go. All right. Who are you?

Well, I can't actually tell you that other than to say that I try to be a force for good. But it's damn hard. Especially being small and feral the way I am. Oh, and everybody wants to pick you up because you're "cute and fuzzy." That gets old fast, believe me.

I see. So you remain a mystery. How is it you know Magazine Man?

Uh, I thought I was being interviewed?

Of course. What is the challenge of being the Caustic Bunny?


Besides lurking in the shadow of Magazine Man?

If I could see over this carrot, I'd find the door and leave. Curse you evil interviewer!

Fine then. Let's get back to you. What are your challenges?

Well, fine. As I said, for starters, I'm a rabbit. That closes a lot of doors to begin with but the physical limitations of being small, furry and having a hyperactive nose really seals the deal some times. You tend to get taken a lot less seriously. Even if everyone in the room has watched the rabbit scenes from "The Holy Grail" there's still that natural reaction to pet with impunity.

Do you have any special powers? Secret attributes?

I can be humorless on command.

Anything else?

There's the secret rabbit cave at the outskirts of town. There's the bunnymobile, I speed into the center of the decaying city to fight the criminals that do not fear the law but who cringe at the ominous sight of...


Well, of a giant bat emerging from the shadows. But as I say, I'm a bunny. That has a lot less initial impact. I lull them into false cuddliness then I...


Well, I usually call the cops on them.

I see.

Oh, I do try and spread mirth. Doesn't slow the muggings down, but what the hell, everyone feels better.

There are of course crime fighters more effective than you.

There are. I'll be the first to admit that.

The Anagrammer for instance.

Yeah he's pretty good. Did you read the papers this morning? Apparently he got into some underworld gang and turned the kingpin, I forget his name, but he came out "Hot Florid Fleshpot." How about that?

Have you ever seen the Anagrammer and Magazine Man in the same room together?

I'm afraid I can't comment on that. Now I'm really done. This interview is over and if you continue I'll leave a stream of pellets on the studio floor.

Bunnyman, thank you.

Think nothing of it.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

All My Roomates from the Amish House

Posting comments here is not a bad place to hold conversations.


The Bunny

This Old *%@($$#**!! House

A concept that is well on its way to becoming my new reality show.

Suggested by my good friend SH, unsuspecting young couples and/or newly single guys with aspirations but no practical skills buy a 1920's-something place and then spend days wondering just what in hell they were thinking?

Episode one: We find the place charming and in the right neighborhood (which is to say that John Deere tractor-themed mailboxes fronting NASCAR house flags are thankfully absent.) and bid the freaking list price because, hell, you can sleep until six thirty, walk to work and still be the first one in. Plus there's a bar two blocks away for casual Friday. Its charming and reminds you of your old place in New England with the pumpkin pine floors, built-in cabinets and tin ceilings. Trouble is you've got oak floors that just got off the plane from the Oregon Beaver festival, the built-ins will have a hard time holding your stamp collection and the ceilings inspired the original asbestos class-action lawsuits.

Episode two: We move in and the bigger pieces of furniture create their own sinkhole in the living room floor. Wonder if anyone still sells pumpkin pine flooring? Wonder if filling the basement with pumpkins will support the living room floor? Nah. Probably just fill the basement with fresh concrete and live on a slab thats twelve feet thick. At least the termites will take a while to eat that.

Episode three: Realize that Mickey Mouse and the Mouseketeer's wallpaper in what was the kid's room and should become your writing den was affixed with some sort of surgical adhesive. You'll sooner get Sandra Bullock's cocktail dress off than you will get this shit off the wall. Paper over or paint? The choice is yours. You lose 8 square feet from the room by leaving the paper up and thickening the wall.

Episode four: The major systems all go AWOL and are court-martialed down to captain systems. Now you know how to MACRS-2 cost depreciate a furnace.

Episode five: What were you thinking??? Another SH suggestion in which the current owner confronts his sellers six months later with forward questions as to their decorating choices. This week: What's a zebra stripe hot tub doing in the fucking basement anyway???
Was this place a back up set for Silence of the Lambs?

Episode six: First date at the house. If you close your eyes, the plumbing leaks sound like a forest waterfall. Romantic, huh?

That should get the pilot off the ground and we'll make the offer to Norm Abram to host the thing if he can keep a straight face and not giggle insanely for a half hour a week.

In the meantime, if I can offer a suggestion to my readers without running afoul of Sarbanes-Oxley:

Invest in drywall stock issues.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fun at the Newsroom

Ah, the Beeb.

BBC Online is one of the news services I read on a daily basis.


Perpective from another culture. Eurocentric news reporting. The occasional kernel of British irreverence.

Here's one: What follows is the actual caption for the above photo. BBC used it with a straight face.

Sweden's representative at the annual Santa Claus World Convention, being held in Copenhagen, enjoys a swim.

Now let's think about the captions that didn't make it.

Olaf Ingekvest, Sweden's representative at the annual Santa Claus World Convention fails to successfully hide a stiffy at today's swimming meet.

Sweden's representative at the annual Santa Claus World Convention, Sandor Kluugefest belts out "Isn't it Fun to be a Swede?" with his aquatic backup group at today's talent festival.

Roland Derhedlustomsongunner looks up a few old friends at the Santa Claus Any Excuse Convention.

Erik Pantsonvire ponders how his fine nation can get away with this and still claim Volvos to be superior automobiles.

And finally:Why the fuck can't we have this kind of fun in Britain???


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Still I'm Going to Miss You...

You had to know it was coming to this.

Ruby's back end shot out from under him one morning. He just kind of collapsed from the tail forward and lay there for a few moments not really sure of what was going on.
Then he sprang back as if nothing had happened and spent the next week as if nothing had happened. We still made an appointment at the vet for him.

He was taken in on a Monday. That weekend he began to get lothargic.

He was more so on the Monday. The vet commented that "neurologically, something ain't right with this cat."

Moreover he had lost almost two pounds since his last visit three weeks earlier.

He was put on meds that he hated. Fed food he ate less of every day, kept comfortable to the point of being carried from bedroom to garden, where he liked to spend the day outside.

He got slower and thinner. You could sense that he hated being picked up, hated eating and just barely endured laying around.

Medically we isolated the problem to his head. Everything else was working fine. That gave us the option of some sort of invasive cranial surgery. And that would be on an exploratory basis.

Chance of success: Minimal.

Probability of impacting quality of life: High.

Extension of life if EVERYTHING went well: Six months, tops.

We made one more vet appointment. The only creatures benefitting Ruby's being kept alive were the two footed ones who couldn't fathom the idea of life without this particular cat.

And yet we had to. It wasn't fair to him. He had a few days left and who knew what kind of pain he was in.

A good friend once asked me if I had ever felt uncontrolled rage. If I had felt so wronged that I would lash out at my perceived adversary blindly doing unchecked damage.

I told her at the time, no. Until the moment of his death. I felt a level of rage I had never felt before. I wanted to attack the world for the injustice of it all. I wanted to destroy the first thing that crossed my path. I had nothing to attack but myself.

Then it was over. We took the cat home and buried him in his favorite patch of flowers.

Helluva cat.

Over way too soon.

Life just got a whole lot less interesting.

Good bye Ruby.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Who Could Put a Name on You?

I could, for starters.

And the name was usually: "Ruby, no!"

Sometimes it was "Ruby, get down!"

Often it was "What are you thinking?"

Trouble was, he answered. You'd call him up for getting into something he wasn't supposed to be into and he'd look at you and give you a short, sharp "meow!"

I wish I knew what he was trying to communicate. I suspect it was a mixture of defiance and repentance. He could toe that line as easily as he could scramble across the top of a fence.

Things he did just for shits and giggles in his cat world:

-We lived on a busy road with a double yellow line and everything from Harleys to Semis blasting along at top speed. He usually stuck to our land or the woods behind our lot for roaming territory unless of course we were out in the yard. At that point, he would dash across the road and then dash back just to see our reaction. There were train tracks about a quarter mile behind the house. I'd hate to think of what he would have done had he known we were watching there.

-He didn't differentiate warm and cool very well. This led to a lot of brushing up against lemonade glasses in summer and him standing with two front paws in a full cup of coffee in winter. We learned to love free refills.

-He did differentiate regular cat food from specialties such as, oh, canapes fresh from the oven while guests were over. The moment the canapes were put on the counter to cool, he made kitty tracks to and through them. Don't worry, we tossed them right away.

-He picked the same night I brought home a new car and its associated new car smell to get nailed in the face by a skunk. It scared him so much, he hid for two hours before I could coax him out into a tomato juice bath. Of course, the best hiding place for a cat, as every cat knows, is under a car. Never did like driving that Ford when it rained after that.

-He chased golf balls chipped his way. Stopped when one took an errant bounce back at his nose. I stopped playing golf shortly thereafter.

-He could be unimaginably brave. He was out one night after dark. We lived in a little city neighborhood where pets sometimes got away from owners. I went out looking for him, calling his name and soon heard the unmistakeable clicking of dog toenails on pavement. Into the pool of a streetlight wanders a fairly well formed German shepherd. He stands there for a moment, looks around and then digs in and takes off. My first instinct is that he's gotten a radar lock on the cat and I've got a vet's emergency visit coming up. Until into the same pool of light steps Ruby. Chest out, tail up, chin in the air. The dog wasn't chasing, he was being chased.

-He couldn't catch a cold, prey-wise. We once had a mouse in the house for over 30 hours. He was hopeless. He could, however, open sliding screen doors to let himself and lesser-brained cats out at night. Taught me how to track domestic animals in the dark.

-He hogged the bed. He used to stuff himself into the small of your back or the bend of your knee or he'd sleep on your feet. When he was younger, he thought that feet were meant to be chased underneath covers. Bought a lot of Band-aids and Bactine during those years.

-He did not share his food with others. They however, shared their food with him. Usually under duress.

-He purred to beat the band.

-He was, in being handled, as close to a dog as any cat could get. You could pet him, gently slap his sides, scratch his belly when he was rolled on his back and rough house the way you'd expect to with a dog.

He used to jump up on the dinner table for every meal. We tried locking him in an adjoining room, he'd pound on the door and howl. We would take him down off the table, he'd jump right back up again. We finally and inadvertantly came across a solution. I had brought a nerf gun home from work (too long a story to tell here). You charged the thing up with air and fired foam darts. Once I fired a dart and hit him. From the distance separating us, the impact was roughly like a gentle poke. Didn't matter. Ruby had figured out that I could now project power from afar. Fear of being hit turned to fear of being shot at turned to fear of hearing the gun being pumped up with air turned to fear of seeing the thing in the first place. After ten years, we finally started to enjoy sit down dinners.

Ruby was also getting older. But that wasn't such a strange thing as we had two other shelter cats three and two years his senior. Together, the three of them were settling down into a comfortable life of three hots, a cot, a cuddle and a scratch. Not a bad deal. Repeated vet visits confirmed that they were all healthy and life was good.

Then life went downhill.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Good Bye Ruby Tuesday

We had two cats and lived in a pretty large apartment in north Jersey and were pretty happy there with the two cats for a time.

Then of course I got in the way and started my usual ruminations of greener pastures and wondered how long I could keep up the rat race in New York City.

I applied to grad school and got in and we decided to move to New England to go to school for a few years.

And what we did to be practical was tranquilize the cats, toss them in the back of the car and make the haul from hell up interstate 95 to drop same cats off with caring parents. This was just temporary and a chance to acclimate the cats to their new environs and to keep them out from under foot as we had boxes and wrapping paper and movers crowding the apartment.

It was going to be three weeks between the time we dropped the cats off and the move. Three weeks. Not a long time when one contemplates the age of the universe. Not even a long time when one considers how long one stays at most publishing jobs these days.

Nonetheless it was a long time and a week and a half later, like teary eyed blithering idiots we were down at the shelter looking at stray cats to adopt.

We found one.

He was a long haired marmalade cat.

He was trouble.

My wife at the time had noted that a family of feral cats had made a home in a run down out building behind our apartment. She had this strange idea of rescuing the kittens once they were weaned but keeping one little red female cat and naming her Ruby.

It never happened.

The cats moved out, "Ruby" moved with them and as anyone knows anyway, red cats are always male. Hence the name "Ruby" would be a real gender confusion issue.

So here we were at the shelter. We found the red cat, we adopted him and we brought him home. We talked about what to name him. I thought "Jack" was appropriate. She liked "Jasper". Somewhere in there we talked about the feral cats and we wound up naming him:


Everything happens for a reason, some people say. And there are times that I actually subscribe to that idea. For example, during harried and stressful times, something really funny happens to you that forces you to laugh and realize that as bad as things can get, there's always a path through the storm.

What happened with Ruby should have shown us the light of packing his furry ass back to the shelter with an earnest note reading something like "sorry, didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into."

Like teary eyed blithering idiots, we chose to ignore the obvious signs.

The first thing Ruby did after we showed him around the apartment, pointing out where the food was served and where the litter box was, was jump up on some packed boxes, ready to be moved.

He then readily forgot the introduction he had just had to the cat litter and shit all over the boxes.

This was going to be a long endurance test with a cat, wasn't it?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Judging Books

If you run over to my friend the Magazine Man's blog and look up an entry entitled "23 Skidoo" you'll find another one of those polar differences between he and I.

To wit: He hates to be underestimated.

I love it.

It's one of those things, being underestimated is, that allows you freedoms you never thought possible. Sitting off in a corner, watching the world go by, no one really paying attention to you because you're a dullard, uninteresting, stupid, incapable or otherwise.

Then, if you are not all these things, and more, you can from time to time emerge from the shadows to prove the world wrong to the slack-jawed amazement of all but the truly perceptive.

Of course, this sometimes works in reverse. I was at a job interview a few years ago, one in which farting noises did not play a part. There it was explained to me that having a good sense of humor would indirectly benefit my chances mightily. The crew I would be working with was friendly, close, co-operative and mostly, funny. It was how they got their work done so well every day despite huge obstacles and more than your share of corporate pressure. It was a great relief valve.

This was no problem. I thought I had a sense of humor. Trouble was, I was in interview mode and could not for the life of me, break out of it. Every sentence contained phrases such as "present as well as future benefits" and "streamlined workflow" and "creative potential" when they should have really just had the word "Nantucket" in them somewhere.

Long story short: the interview went well and I sold my basic competence. I got the job and it turned out to be one of the most fulfilling and fun of my career and will probably always occupy the top five spots. Never did, though, convince the interviewer that I could lighten up and fit in with the crowd.

Her comments follow:

"And I will never forget meeting "Caustic Bunny" for the first time. And he is absolutely right: I thought he was possibly the most humorless person I'd ever met. So I can be wrong sometimes."

Thank goodness she reads.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Job Interview

You start to realize you're an adult when you stop worrying about job interviews.

You also start to realize that maybe, just perhaps, you have a bank account that can make you self sustaining for at least a few months and you don't, unlike the first couple of jobs you go after, have to grasp at straws just to pay the rent. You get to hold on to some of the straws, pull away a little chaff and gnaw on a kernel of wheat every once in a while.

If you work in publishing or other media industries like I do you know what I'm talking about. Real jobs like banking, tax attorneys, auto mechanics; just take my word on this.

So this was my third serious job interview which is to say I was on the short list to get my third serious job. The first interviews were essentially exercises in prostrate grovelling and promises to sit quietly in a corner and do exactly what I was told. The second job interviews were exercises in lying about all the experience I had gained in the fifteen months I spent at my first job and how old a pro at this I really was. I still moistened carpets in abject pleading but this was usually on the first or second follow up.

A friend thought I was good enough to get the third job and suggested (emphatically) that I send my resume in. In fact, he knew the guy hiring and was ready and willing to trot my CV in personally with a recommendation. I dallied and he got insistent and I finally typed (these were the early eighties) up and sent it in with him.

Then I forgot about the whole thing for a few weeks.

We kept Fridays as a casual day at the company I was working at. That meant jeans, a flannel shirt and a natty leather jacket that particular late September end of the week. Go in, get some things done, take a quick lunch and try and be out on an early train out of the city.

The phone rang.

It was the hirer.

He wanted to see me.


"Uh, er, um." I was becoming erudite, but in fits and starts. Like your voice cracking at puberty, you could sound like an adult for hours on end, but ask Mary Jane out to the prom and the excitable boy in you sends the voice into an octave-variance universe. So it was that day as, in betweens "ums and ers" the hirer, let's call him Gene, figured out I was not ready for an interview.

"Not wearing your blue suit and red tie today?"

"Um, no, not really. It's casual Friday here and I'm just not dressed for an interview."

"That's ok. Come on down for an hour, let's talk. I won't hold it against you." He sounded like a pretty good guy so I figured I'd chance it. He was offering good money.

Took the train downtown, waited in the lobby in my natty leather jacket, then got shown in.

Gene sidestepped his office and took me into the corner sales office. It was more casual. He could sit in a comfortable chair and put examples of the company's product on a coffee table while I sat on a comfortable couch. A leather couch.

He didn't ask me to take my natty leather jacket off and I didn't volunteer to get comfortable. So I sat down and...

Leather touched leather. Treated. Not suede, but tanned leather that reaches out and hangs on to it's compatriot material with a ferocity that can only be overcome by a pronounced movement. Then leather gives up its cling to leather with a audible sound that is the closest facsimile to a human...


"Sit down."

"Thanks (fart)"

"Good to meet you." Extends hand. Hand is accepted and shook.

(fart) (fart) (fart)

"Tell me about yourself."

"Well," I lean forward (fart) I relax a bit (fart) I gesture (fart) I smile in a friendly manner (fart).

"Here are some of our books. Take a look." (fart) "Very nice, where do you print them?" (fart) "I like the design" (fart) "How much do you contract out versus single source (faaaaaaarttttt).

Apparently, questions with serious intent cause some involuntary body posturing.

At this point, I gave up. I sat back a bit and happily chatted and (farted) for the rest of the hour.

We talked money (fart). He offered me the job and more than I was asking for (fart!). He asked me to come and talk to the VP of sales the next week, just as a formality.

I would (fart).

"Don't worry, you got the job. This is just so he feels comfortable."

"Ok, thanks (fart)."

"Wear a suit though. And make sure your overcoat is cloth."


Monday, July 18, 2005

At the Car Wash Baby. Chapter three of Dial "D" for...

This is for Monica who laughed so hard when I told this in person she had to excuse herself twice. Fun is easy for good friends like you.

I've owned my share of cars over the years and probably went through models and types the way most young men do: There's the first beater that you can barely afford gas for and needs two rolls of duct tape to keep the bumper on. Then there's the step up to a used car that you DON'T buy from a neighbor, then there's the beauty, the first new car you ever owned, or rented from the bank as the case is usually.

My beater was a '71 Pontiac LeMans with a big ass V-8, a cracked frame and bald tires. It was the car equivalent of strapping a GE jet engine to a balsa wood model airplane. But it went like spit when it had to.

My first respectable car was an '82 Buick Skylark. This was one of the X-Cars that GM trotted out to save their market share asses in the early '80's. It worked until people realized, as I did, that the cars were nasty little bits of metal that had weird fuel injection systems, clunky transmissions but most of all kept most of their weight in the front of the car, leaving the back end to flap in the breeze at the hint of a serious turn. I spun that little go kart around a lot; the most innocuous being on an off ramp of route 17 in New Jersey, the most memorable being four 360's down the side of Mohonk Mountain in New Paltz, New York.

My beauty was my first new car. An '86 Volkswagen Jetta, five speed, four cylinder buzz bomb that I absolutely adored. I tried to keep the new car smell in the thing for as long as possible as well as that immaculate new car clean that usually wears off when the first nephew shows up with ice cream.

As such, I washed, waxed, buffed, polished, Armor-alled and generally pampered the hell out the car. The tires were always inflated to proper pressure, the windows were either rolled all the way up or all the way down and spotless to boot. This car was cared for. I even went so far as to not put undue stress on the thing; no A/C in stop and go traffic, no harsh accelerations and no starting the car just to go down to the corner dammit! That puts wear and tear on the engine. It never heats up properly, there's all that unburned fuel, the oil doesn't get a chance to circulate. It's just all bad.

I had issues.

More to the point, I had hang ups.

It had taken me so long to finally be able to buy a new car, I was having trouble dealing with the fact that the car, and I, were ageing.

So I kept the regimen up. No short starts of the engine blah blah blah.

I was visiting my parents and having a relatively tolerable time of it one evening when they started off on some inane subject thread that I was not interested in and was bored with. I got it into my head that the car needed washing, it having sat in a dusty garage all day. Never mind that at this point, my car washing regimen was thinning the top layer of paint.

It was off to the garage to give the girl a washing. Oh, but I'd have to pull her out onto the driveway to do it. And that meant backing her up some ten feet. And that meant -HORRORS- starting the engine.

Can't have that.

I know, I'll put her in neutral, release the hand break and let her gently roll out onto the driveway.

Problem solved.

If you ever have the time, take my advice: Take some time to look at and appreciate your surroundings. There's a lot to see. Note the full green leaves of the trees. Look at the subtle grays of rocks. Check out the gentle slopes of the earth. Look again. That gentle slope is really a slight incline which is really just a launching ramp into nature's abundance to an automobile unrestrained by braking devices.

It was the chapter on momentum that I now realized I had skipped in physics class. Having loosed all restraints on my little Volks, having given her a gentle pull on the back bumper to get her rolling, I now ever more quickly backed up away from an accelerating one ton steel behemoth.

The rate of acceleration was so great in fact that I don't recall that I even had time to give myself an honorary "Nice going shit for brains."

There are times during looming, unavoidable disasters that doing nothing is actually the best thing to do. This was one of them. Unfortunately I sprang into corrective action.

Having done nothing, the car would have rolled down the drive, brushed against the small tree and come to rest atop the low stone wall at the edge of the property. Fortunately my quick intervention -I tried to pull the emergency brake but only managed to get the door open- allowed the car to roll down the drive, catch the small tree in the now open door, open the now open door to a degree unintended by the designing engineers and finally come to rest against the earlier described low stone wall, door dangling like oversize boxers in the breeze.

I did not, however, lose that new car smell. Just that new car door.

We fixed it though, the old man and I. And surprisingly he didn't get upset. We put the thing back in the garage (drove it there), got out the tools and went to work bending hinges, doorframes and whatever else back into place.

Then Dick showed up.

Dick was the neighborhood watchdog. He was the retired guy that every block should have for crime prevention and not much more. He knew everybody's business and made sure he let the rest of the block in on all the action.

"Hey boys, whatcha' doing with the car?"

Holy shit. Might as well take out a full page newspaper ad with photos: Local moron wrecks car without even being behind the wheel

That was my headline. My old man's must have been even worse because he did something I had never seen him do before or since.

Usually when one of his buddies caught me in something stupid, Dad would chime in and elaborate on my lack of thought and foresight and sense in perfect harmony with the guy.

Not so that night. Not so with Dick. Dad looked up and said: "Dick, good to see you again. How's golf? Listen, the kid is putting some racing stripes or some other funny customize on his car. Boring. Unnecessary. Let me show you what I just bought for the back yard. You got to see this."

And with that Dad veered Dick around and out of the garage to whatever made up yard implement he could lie about. The point was, he let me deal with my mistakes and not make them, for once, a point of public ridicule.

Dick was never the wiser. The car door never again closed properly. The car now had a rattle it never lost and I got over the obsession of keeping the car in pristine condition. After all, I had a life and constantly washing the car took too much time away from refresher physics.

Specially that chapter about bodies in motion.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Today's Swipe at the News

U.S. lifts Canada mad cow ban
Thursday, July 14, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- A federal appeals court has overturned the ban Canada has had on mad cows. In a 7-2 decision, the court ruled the ban constitutional but unnecessary due to the Canadianness of the plaintiff. "We felt they were being overly cautious." said a spokesperson for the court. "I mean, just because bovine spongiform encephalitis is a worldwide malady caused by poor farming conditions and the introduction of tainted fodder into what ultimately becomes the human food chain is no reason to go off the deep end."
Canada protested the decision but, having recently mortgaged the national spine to the Nunavit territory, has agreed to abide by the court's ruling.
"Anyway, some of the afflictions of BSE are quite humorous in humans." the court continued, "Especially Canadians. Think of a room full of really shitty break dancers all wearing touques and mukluks. You try and keep your pants dry over that one."

Word Games

My friend the Magazine Man is a compulsive word gamer.

I am a compulsive lampooner.

MM once created eight different anagrams out of the name of a particuarly odious management type that was sitting in on one of our edit meetings. Camaro fluid was the funniest one I saw, One Calm IUD was his favorite as I recall.

What MM does with words, I do with reality. Here's a game I play called "Today's Swipe at the News." Rules are simple: Taking an actual news story, spoof it. You must use the headline and at least the opening sentence. The deeper into the story you get before you have to start re-arranging facts, the higher the point score. No, there's really no point score. But there is the malicious pleasure of leading your innocent reader farther and farther down the primrose path before you spring the hidden lion in the bushes upon them.

So coming right up, an interlude. The first of some weekend "Swipe at the news" stories.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Shocking. Chapter Two of Dial "D" for...

By the time I was fourteen, the wildfire episode was only raised at the dinner table when my math tests fell below a score of 80.

In other words, we talked about it. A lot. In addition to my math test scores. Oh, and I wasn't doing too well in science either. My reasoning there being I couldn't see protons, neutrons, electrons so I was having a hard time conceptualizing that they even existed, much less did things. Plus you needed a fair dollop of math skills to excel in science and, well, see exhibit one.

One of the academic interests I did have was the theatre. It was highly tangible, required a fair amount of personal insight and an abject lack of numerical gymnastics and what was more, the discipline was populated by a collection of characters that seemed like the handful of parts left over when you build any useful machine. They exist, but don't really have distinct purpose. Yet, you are loath to throw them out. You never know where one might come in handy.

How like that was I?

I fit right in with Benny, who would stuff his face with Oreo cookies and then claim he had eaten potting soil. There was David who was a class senior and was most un-senior-like in that he was also gentle and kind to us sophomore pukes. Oh, he also had a girlfriend who was well suited to David's disposition and as such, could be hung out with despite the age difference. David also had the cutest of sisters, our age. That didn't hurt in the least.

One of the more bizarre characters was my friend Patrick. Patrick was my age but seemed to have flown in from some universe I could only conceive of. He was an artist in that he was exceptionally graphically talented and had an irreverent and sometimes wiseass sense of humor. This mix sprung forth episodes like his creating an orange-flannel clad deer hunter mannequin that he tied to the hood of his sister's Subaru and had her drive through town with. He also grew his own cannabis which made him popular in other circles.

Whereas most of us would spend weekends avoiding our homework, hanging around, and watching too much TV, Patrick was up to some wilder experiments. One of them was the effect of electric current on insects.

I wanted to be kind of like Patrick in his disdain for authority, devil may care attitude and creative weirdness.

I got as far as being obnoxious and disrespectful, lazy and strange in personal appearance.

I didn't realize my limited potential at the time so I didn't have enough sense to stop and not go certain places. Electricity and bugs was one of those places.

I came into the story just in time to hear Patrick finish the tale with "...they blow up when the juice hits them."

"What blows up?"

"Bugs on the window screen, you hit them with a jolt of electricity."

"Gotta try it."

I am not a journalist in that I lack sufficient curiousity to fill in the gaps of the story. I just make assumptions. That makes for passable fiction but lousy reality and, frankly, dangerous setups.

This was one of them. The rest of the story had Patrick baring telephone wire hooked up to a hobby transformer and running low voltage through bugs. It caused them to do any number of things such as fly away or jerk awkwardly. They did not "blow up" but, as I say, I did not and still don't have any natural journalistic instinct.

The next weekend I set out to be as cool as Patrick and to re-create his experiments in insect detonation. I had to make sure I had enough power to work with so I headed off to the old man's workshop to dip into the extension cord collection.

My old man had enough extension cords to run the vacuum across town. I figured he wouldn't miss one. I figured wrong but that's a story for another day. I clipped the plug into part of the extension cord off, split the wires, bared them and neatly twisted them into a bundle. Pretty snazzy wiring skills. My old man would have been proud of me if he ignored the fact that I had just destroyed a perfectly good extension cord, assumed that I was not engaging in wanton destruction as I was and finally had the capacity to be proud of anything I did, which he did not.

I rolled the cord up under my shirt and walked softly past the den where my Mom was watching TV back to my room. I closed the door gently since we had an open door policy at home, the idea being that closed doors just led to no good behavior. At least on the part of the children. This of course would be right but, being a child I was still living on Planet Defiant.

There was an all metal screen on the window. What ho! There was also a most handy bug on the screen. This was going to be so cool. I plugged the cord in, grabbed the ends of the wire by the insulation because, electricity can be dangerous, you know. I then very gently touched, so as not to alarm the bug with a sudden motion, the ends of the cord to the all metal screen.

Whatever happened to the bug became immaterial in the two foot blue electric arc I kicked up when I short circuited the extension cord.

"Holyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuckholyfuck!" I had to get the cord unplugged. I had to keep the two wires from ever touching ever again, there now being an actual consequence to that action I had not fully counted on.

I did and rolled the cord up and hid it where it would never be found under my mattress until it was actually found two weeks later.

I did not notice the thumb sized holed I had blown out of the metal screening until the next morning. "The rain must have hit it." was not an accepted excuse.

My mom did notice the brownout I caused in the house when the wires touched but, this being the pre-cable seventies, figured it was just the twentysomething next door driving his muscle car home.

I was caught the next morning, confessed, tried and sentenced to a good talking to. Usually my folks, as punishment deprived me of something. As a result I would seek the deprived something with a vengeance and find secret ways of getting more of the something until they found out and deprived me of something else. Then the cycle began anew.

In this case, since I had almost electrocuted myself, they figured a good talking to about the power of electricity might be more prudent than taking away extension cord priviledges.

It worked. That and the fact I never wanted to see one of those miserable things again. Oh, and I took a distinct "live and let live" approach to insects that I carry with me to this day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Dial "D" for...

Since all comedy is based on tragedy, I thought I'd regale you today with a short listing of some of the funnier things that have befallen me as a result of misfortune.

They are funny now. Some are hilarious and they are so by virtue of the fact that they were born of unfortunate events precipitated by rank and raw stupidity. Namely mine.

Some folks look back at their bad decisions and shudder that they were ever so cranially challenged. Some folks, well, my old man specifically, go looking for victims to blame it on. I try and laugh at it all because I know it was all my fault and it was an apogee of synaptic misconnection and, here's the big one; I probably haven't learned my lessons yet and there's more to come. A parade of the dumb:

Episode One
Prairie Lightning

When I was about 12, I became fascinated with matches and fire. Fire good. Moreover, fire cool.

We lived in a small town that had grown up around a series of dairy farms, one of which had refused to give in to suburban development and as such sat as an island surrounded by little capes and ranches built during the postwar boom most of North America had. There was a big red barn where hay was stored and there was a foundation where the farmhouse had stood until it had burned down before anyone of us could remember. There was a huge, ten acre field that all the houses adjoined, ours being one of them. Every year, the field would be grown for fodder and twice a year it would be cut down and baled. The hay was stored in the barn and transported to another farm, this one out in the bona fide country where the farmer now actually lived and tended cattle.

It was always fun to watch the hay being cut. It was cut in mid-summer when it was dry and yellow stubble of dry grass was left on the field. Did I mention that dry grass burns? Rather well?

I combined my natural interest in dry grass with my new enthusiasm for lit matches into an entirely new hobby of dropping lit matches into dry grass. It didn't build character but it was fun.

One day I introduced this hobby to my friend Mike who was a pretty good guy with a hell of a short attention span. Mike, being a boy, took an active interest in matches and dry grass and fired off about a half dozen flares in the dry grass oh, that abutted our houses. Then, just as quickly as he had taken to dry grass and matches, he found a new passion in trying to figure out what lived in the stone wall that marked the boundary between the dry tinder of the field and the dry tinder of the 1950's ranches and capes. He tried to get me interested too and I thought that I'd give the stone wall a go. It didn't have the allure of the fiery field though and I soon returned to my first passion.

Apparently, not soon enough. And as I had warmed to it, it had developed a burning desire for me. And most everything else combustible in it's path.

Ok, think fast. Stomp out the fire with your feet, that always worked before and would have now had the fire had the decency to stay the cute little blaze it was. It was though, now, just a little more grown up. Stomping on it only lost me my shoe.

The fire department in town used water to put out fires. So would I.

Now this is probably a good time to write the prequel to the old man. You see, he was handy but only up to a point. In his lifetime he built his own garage, put a roof on a shed, wired up a guest room and put an outside faucet on the house. It worked, mostly, but everything had it's limitations that were directly reflective of his limitations. The plexiglas windows in the garage buckled and went opaque, the shed didn't have a proper cap on its peak, the guest room sometimes blacked out the rest of the house and the faucet would turn to full blast of water and then fail to shut off if you didn't twist it just so.

This was the faucet from which I sought water.

I thought rather than get a small, portable bucket that I would surely soon tire of filling and carrying and putting out the fire a little at a time, I would be the master of efficiency and fill up one great container, something like a trash barrel, and put the fire out in one fell swoop.

I will say one thing about the old man and I. We didn't ever get along but I think you can see that the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

I'll bet you didn't know how long it takes to fill a trash barrel full of water. Certainly long enough to try and figure out how to turn the faucet off "just so", such that you are not simultaneously burning the town to the ground and depriving it of it's only source of fire deterrence.

I'll bet you also didn't know just how heavy a quarter barrel full of water is. I know I didn't.

With a tenth of the city's reservoir cascading down our driveway, I got a smaller bucket and formed a bucket brigade with Mike. Two boys and and two hundred feet between water and fire make a brigade that sounds a lot like this:

"Crikey, get another bucket and hurry, it's still burning!!!!"

"The water won't turn off!!!!"

"Worry about that later!!!"

"It's still burning!!!"

I was still looking for the garden hose that was too short that I would attach to the streaming faucet and water the raspberries that were still twenty feet from the blaze with when Mike saved the day. He fell. More importantly he fell over the soaking wet doormat that lay outside our back door. It didn't take Mike long to connect a soaking wet doormat to the idea of a device with which to beat the flames down with. I connected wet back doormat to a front door mat and the Niagara Driveway Faucet and suddenly we were an extinguishing brigade again.

Amazingly, we got the fire out. It burned an area about forty feet wide and a hundred feet long. Even more amazingly, in the half hour or so it burned, no one in this pretty densely populated town noticed enough smoke, yelling or anything else to come out of their homes to check things out. This vigilance may explain why we had at least three summers of burgulary sprees that I can remember.

Moreover and still amazingly, we didn't get caught by my parents. We got the faucet off. The water bill showed up at the end of the quarter and the fun had all been forgotten. We hosed the doormats off as best we could and set them out to dry and, Dad being the outdoorsman he was, never wandered off beyond the security of that stone wall boundary.

I think the only thing I caught crap for was a dirty lost sneaker.

Oh and why the hell wasn't there anything to light advent candles with that December?? Don't we have a single match in this house????

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Comes around, goes around.

I left my old knob and tube wired home about a decade ago.

It was bittersweet. There was a host of junk that needed to be fixed that I never got around to because:

a) I didn't have the skill but never admitted it.

b) I didn't have the inclination because it was not important enough to me.

or the grand prize winner:

c) Fixing it would mean undoing about seven decades of original construction and subsequent fixes and at the end of the day it was easier and faster to patch it over than it was to undo and re-do it properly.

So it didn't get done and I went and bought a house that was less than a decade old and there wasn't anything to fix or tear out or re-do in a hurry before the whole damn thing rotted out from under you.

The windows closed. The doors didn't stick. You could wake up on a Sunday morning and stare at the ceiling without gauging how much the crack in the plaster had expanded and when was the whole thing going to come crashing down.

It was heaven.

At least I thought it was.

But every place has it's ghosts and demons and this new house wasn't any different. Sure everything worked but because somebody else had built it or put it in or designed it and your input was minimal, you cared about it a lot less. There was less of your sweat and tears and blood and invective in this place than there was the old place.

I kept a journal of my old house. All the things I built or re built. I started a journal for this house too. It basically has one entry detailing moving in.

Things change and this is no exception. Circumstances have dictated a move. I've bought a smaller house in the city. I saw it last Friday and bought it a few days later. There were other houses I looked at. New construction, capes from the fifties, ranches from the sixties, a farmhouse that was old sometime around the revolution. But I bought this new place.

It's old. It's about two years older than knob and tube palace. When I walked into the living room I saw the same ten inch clear pine kickboards the old place had and the new place couldn't equal with it's three inch boards. When I walked into the kitched, I sort of settled into the space in the middle of the floor in the middle of the room. I'll guess that if I put a handful of marbles on the floor, they'll settle in that one place too.

And when I walked into the basement, I looked up into the rafters and came face to face with an active knob and tube line.

I swear I heard that damned old house chuckle from four states away just then.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Talkin' 'bout my inspiration

Let's just stop for a moment.

Reflect, breathe deeply.

Now stub out the cigarette if you please.

That's better.

Here's a quick one. Why I got into blogging in the first place and who inspired me to do so: This is not a shameless plug for an old buddy. We hardly know each other. This is the real thing.

There's a blog out there called "Somewhere on the Masthead." It's written by a fellow called "Magazine Man." Once I have a clue, I'll link you to his site from here.

Read it. Simply put, it's some of the finest quality writing out there. Words fall from his pen the way expletives leave my lips during traffic.

Another thing worth reading: Anything by Dan Koeppel. He's a freelance writer who has appeared in NatGeo Traveler and a bunch of other pubs I can't remember.

I know him from his monthly column in Mountain Bike. Hug the Bunny it's called. And if gnarly gnashing granny gear freeform downhill spoke bendin' (I have no idea what I'm saying here) isn't your thing, don't worry. Koeppel is a writer who happens to bike, not a biker who writes. He is one of those writers able to imbue a natural interest in the subject through use of his words.

Both worth reading.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Hunger has no taste, but it is insistent.

I just got back from a week’s vacation at a spa out west.

This was not my idea.

I was taken there by my good wife who relishes that sort of place. I tolerate it and try and make the best of things but I am convinced that Spa is a contraction of some much longer European word meaning “not nearly enough to eat at dinner” or perhaps “ignore the steak joint just outside the compound at your peril.”

This may account for my good wife changing her status to ex wife. I like to say we drifted apart. She insists I got hungry.

A spa is not for sick folks per se. It is, in fact for some of the healthiest (appetite-wise anyway) among us looking for even more blessings of good health. They address this seeking of better health by a host of externally applied lotions, potions, salves, compresses, rub, ointments sprays and, when that all gives out, doses and doses of water in the form of hot tubs, pools, baths and showers.

There is precious little internal therapy, vis-à-vis an intake of nutrients in the form of tasty food.

So even though folks at spas are quite well, they insist on presenting themselves as maladied to the outside world. The spa, as most better hotels do, give you a courtesy dressing robe in your room. Unlike most better hotels however, they encourage you to wear it outside of your room, in public areas including the lobby, dining areas and even outside lawns around the compound. The entire place looks like the Friday the thirteenth asylum where Donald Pleasance concludes that Jason has let the locals go and it’s gonna’ be a long night!

My robe stayed quite discretely and properly in my closet. I’m not going to risk walking off the property and making my only allowable phone call from the Utah Home for the Mildly Unstable. Given my outlook on a lot of things, I’m not sure I could profess my innocence, no matter how hard I tried.

This wasn’t my first time at a spa. I’ve been to enough to note that spas are great places for a massage. They seem to specialize and feature massages as a prime course of therapy. I’ve had a number of massages, the best on the beach in Key West, the worst in what looked like a converted motorcycle garage in New Mexico. They are distinguished by their surroundings because, to my mind, massages are pretty much all the same. Massage in Swedish has the same meaning as the word describing Grandmother dismembering a chicken for dinner. Nice as the Key West rub down was, it got a bit tense when they tried to get my arms to permanently point to Cuba.

Massages use up a lot of oil. Oil seems to ease the natural friction the body produces when tied into a simple slip knot, the kind we all learned to tie in Boy Scouts.

I was not excepted to the oil application, adverse as I am to any external liquid that is not composed of two jiggers of fine gin and a hint of vermouth. No, I was solidly oiled, stretched, pounded and kneaded. I was then instructed to go outside and soak in one or more of the several available mineral water baths, all designed to re-nourish one’s body with essential metals and minerals not normally found in the western hemisphere.

I chose the iron laced water figuring I’d know when to get out by the rust stains on me.

That was a moment to remember; there I was, sitting under the hot, New Mexico sun, soaking in some iron-spiked pool, having just come out of an oiled massage.

I sat neck deep streaming oil into the water like a fleshy Exxon Valdez.

After a tour of the iron, calcium, mud, arsenic and cleansing pools I dried off and took a pre-dinner hike in the arroyo outside the spa’s restaurant. I eagerly anticipated dinner as I had been treated to a peek into the kitchen watching the chefs prepare, magnifiers close in hand over the main course.

An arroyo is a Spanish word that means “first place to wash out in a flash flood, you idiot.” I ran across Kate Blanchette and her husband, also walking in the streambed. I think it was her. She starred in a film that came out a year later shot in that area of the country. I can’t remember the film’s name and I’m only vaguely sure it was her. Celebrities look very different in person and she looked startlingly thin, such that I didn’t recognize her at first. Truth be told, I didn’t recognize her until she sat at the next table at dinner and my good (ex) wife pointed her out. I’d know Joey Ramone in an instant. It took me a while with her.

She still looked thin as we ate our lack of a proper main course. I shuddered in horror thinking how long she might have been staying.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Plane to Spain

A quick travelogue from this past March. Bear in mind it took six hours to drive to an airport 75 miles away in an ice storm. The idea of wearing parkas with temps in the mid fifties was causing free floating angst.

Toledo, Spain: It has to be sixty degrees here in brilliant sunshine yet the locals are still running around with down-filled parkas and scarves on.

That can mean one of only two things: Either the weather here is highly mutable and a sudden, sub-arctic ice front is approaching at breakneck speed, or everyone has been misguided and confused by Celsius. I’ve been here five days and, as to the former, now believe that the weather changes as quickly as a French waiter fills your drink order. I’ll accept celcius confusion, though.

The scale is a logical range between two polar extremes: zero being freezing and one hundred being boiling. No odd, hard to remember thirty twos, two hundred twelve’s, four hundred fifty one’s, that sort of thing, no. Just a logical scale. But it’s the in-betweenies that start to get confusing. It’s probably 17 or 19 here today. Damn comfortable! But on the scale of one to one hundred, seventeen is still pretty low on the percentile of achievable scores and hence, I think, the winter coats. Is it warm? Sure. But its only 17! If temperature were a test, we’d fail. If it were a woman, we’d be on our way to court or worse yet facing an awful angry daddy. Maybe that explains the coats. With a bunch of American perverts running around fascinated by 17 and 19 somethings, I’d cover up too. Shame on us.

I’ve been working here since Wednesday morning. It’s Saturday. As a book publisher, I’m sometimes called out to do press checks. These are the final quality control checks of work coming off the business end of a printing press. I make sure all of the color matches our submitted color proofs and that all of the little editorial mistakes we asked to be corrected were in fact.

Press checks are also a slow form of torture. They usually happen in sunspots like Versailles, Kentucky, Martinsburg West Virginia, Willard, Ohio or Taunton Massachusetts. Places where tourism basically consists of T-shirts that read, “welcome to –fill in the blank town- now go home” and visitors gladly snap them up and take the advice. The fact that this press check is in Spain is an anomaly on the order of Neil Armstrong finding a beer lounge on the moon with women.

Press checks also happen around the clock, the real torture. Most printers run 24/7 and you are subsequently on call those same hours. You have to be equally prepared to work at 8 am as you are at 4 pm as you are at nine pm as you are at 3.30 am. You get called, you work for a few hours and then you let the press finish printing what you have approved. In those intervals, you are free. In those hours, you try and grab as much sleep as you can and blot out distractions like traffic noise, hotel maids and sunlight. Usually the interval hours are no longer than six and often much shorter. Over time, working and sleeping and working and sleeping you turn into a walking zombie. Great way to make a first impression.

Throw international jet lag on top of it all and you wonder if customs will ever let you into the country again.

As I said, I’ve been here since Wednesday and today is Saturday. Whatever the hotel staff thought of me coming in wearing clothes I had slept on a plane in and with two day’s growth of beard, they now think that I am some sort of drug dealing criminal. I checked in at five pm. I was called at nine that evening. Within fifteen minutes of the call, a car pulls up; I get in, drive away and come back an hour and a half later. The whole thing repeats at two in the morning and again at ten the next day.

That’s too obvious to be a spy and too dumb to be a tourist. Gotta be a smuggler! No wonder I am deferred to and staff step aside.

What’s worse is all the calls go through the main switchboard. So the phone rings and, not only does the guy from the plant hear me at my dazed worse, so does the staff. Every time I pick up, a friendly voice announces, “Si, you have a telephone call.” Thanks; I thought you were just testing the ringers here.

For an American, Spain is a lot like other countries in Europe; Bizarro World. Not really from another planet, in fact, a lot like us in most every way but there’s always a kicker thrown in just to keep you on your toes. Like the door that looks like doors look at home, but, the key turns backwards and the handle is designed for beings with three thumbs, or so it seems.

Often, it’s the plumbing. Integrated dials with red buttons to push (in the shower?) and handles numbered between 25 and 38 (more of that damn celcius!) Twenty-five and thirty-eight what? And what's with the button? Does that eject something?

Sometimes the traffic patterns are what jump out at you, sometimes the cars themselves. Normal looking cars, but here in Bizarro World…the headlights are yellow. Wassup wid dat?? At least in Spain the steering wheels are where they are supposed to be.
Mostly it’s the plumbing though. In my experience, every country in Europe has its own idiosyncracy. English showerheads are on pivot poles and as such tend to whip around violently when turned on. Not only do you get clean, so does the rest of the phone booth sized bathroom and as a matter of fact the TV set is giving a good hosing down as well. German toilets feature a, well, shelf in the bowl whereupon…things…fall and apparently are kept there for close examination before you send them flushing off to where they should have gone in the first place. The less said about that, the better.

Spanish baths are somehow interlocked with their electrical systems and are designed to consume no more power than is absolutely necessary under the circumstances. That is to say that the room is kept dark until someone walks in, activates a motion sensor and turns the lights on.

Trouble is that one of two conditions is not being met here by the average American. Either:-we are taking entirely too long with out business, or

-we are not physically engaged enough to produce the sort of meaningful motion that keeps the interest of the motion sensor.

As a result, we piss in the dark.

It’s worse in the public restrooms.

I was in one right after a horde of French students got through gawking at the thing for being a) clean, b) functioning, c) free and d) here at all. Whatever I had to do in there wasn’t enough to keep the lights on for more than nine seconds unless I stooped to some exaggerated motion. And I mean, short of recreating the dancing waters of the Belaggio Hotel in Vegas, how exaggerated can you get? I settled for waving my hand directly above my head, fingers spread apart, in a straight line roughly bisecting my right side from my left. Just to keep the lights on.
This is fine; I come to Spain to piss like a Cockatoo.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Electric Kool Aid Acid Testing

So what if the garage door didn't open? I'll just park the car outside, next to Dad's (he still drives?) and ignore the fact that there is one garage door that runs solely on electricity and one side door to the garage that opens with a key surely lost at a picnic in 1949.

I enter the house, call out, Dad answers, everything is OK.

I'm still in deep denial.

"Shut the power off, did you?"


There are times you think things through very carefully. You consider all reasonable options, examine the character and motivations of all the players and make some assumptions and decisions about what's really going on. You generally are right about most of the things you've decided on, if not all. It's the result of the careful thinking we just don't have the time to do. You make calls on the spur of the moment in the heat of battle and hope you are right. Sometimes you are, other times you are not.

It didn't matter if you had put a gun to my head and given me three seconds: Whatever calls I made about my old man would have been as right as the one I made in the time it took to walk down the basement stairs.

That's not to say I headed right downstairs. I went upstairs to take my coat and tie off, noting that about half the house was pitched into darkness and lights were burning in the other half.

All the lights were on in the basement and Dad had basically plugged an extension cord into an existing wall outlet, nailed the cord to one of the rafters and plugged some power tools in. I hope you got a refund on tech school tuition.

He 'fessed up right away though. I thought for a moment that this was some new incarnation of Dad. Show some vulnerabilities and shortcomings, find out we still love and respect you? Nope.

"Just got started on the power source. Spent most of the afternoon ripping out all that old junk." He smiled and pointed to a trash barrel full of...yes, you guessed it: knob and tube wiring.

"The stuff I asked you to leave alone."

"Damn old-fashioned junk. Ought to be outlawed." He then turned and walked upstairs to return to his first love in life: picking individual fallen leaves up off the ground. There's a post there in and of itself and I'll explain more fully. For now though, comfort yourselves with the image of my old man walking around the yard in random patterns, bending over every now and again to pick up a fallen leaf or other piece of organic detrius.

Dad was many things and one of them was an adult-onset diabetic. Thankfully my mom was paying attention to his conditions and began to worry on days where he would get very pale, start sweating and become disoriented and confused. Mom had had her run ins with diabetes earlier in life and understood the symptoms. She would sit him down, make him rest, give him several glasses of fresh orange juice (nothing with added sugar) and made him see a doctor pronto.

He was on insulin which was to say twice a day Mom had to remind him to take the stuff. Since he was at my place and she was home, she was not around to remind him and as a result he blissfully ignored his symptoms. Being my old man, I was surprised he hadn't ransacked the house for leftover Halloween candy. Responsibility wasn't his strong suit either.

I was staring at stumps of wires still stuck in the rafters of my half dark house. Then I stared at the remnants of a perfectly workable electrical system in a trash barrel. Then I looked outside to try and figure out two things: One; when was the sun going to set and two; how do I manage to explain this one to my wife?

The answer to one was three hours which answered two. If I managed to get everything hooked back up to satisfy one, two would never have to be explained.

"Dad, get down here and start telling me what you fucking cut off of where!"


"Dad, what did you cut first?"


"The wires Dad, the freaking wires. You fucking cut off power to half the house!" The old man hated my using strong language but at this point in time, I was holding on to a utility knife and a big bad pair of pliers. I felt pretty secure.

"I don't remember."

"When did you last eat?"


"Have you had anything to drink? Orange juice?"

"Don't know where it is."

"Yes, we tend to veer far from the norm of keeping orange juice in the fridge. Here, I'll push the cat litter aside to reveal it's secret hiding place." The old man needed help. He needed to stabilize his out of control blood sugar level and needed insulin fast. I got him upstairs, got him something to drink and called my mother, telling her to bring his meds.

We got him medicated and settled down.

"Do you remember what wires you cut?"

"Not really."

That was it. Relying on his memory or rewiring by trial and error, it was pretty much the same crap shoot.

If you ever need to wire something up yourself or if you ever need to trace circuits while alone, here's a helpful tip: Get a vacuum cleaner. Plug it into the outlet you want to find the source wire of and start hooking things up. The moment you hear the vacuum cleaner fire up, you're onto something. Beats a light you plug in and race up and down stairs and beats "Honey, now?" as a system.

The amazing thing about knob and tube in my house was that it did exactly what it was designed to do seventy years ago. Namely, stop a short circuit by having the positive wire physically isolated from the negative wire. If Dad had cut through more modern wiring that relied on better insulation and stranded the hot and neutral wires together he would have blown himself across the room.

Maybe there's something to this history thing. Dad didn't think so but I've got a house strung together with more code violations than most depression-era shanty towns to show for it.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Big Help

My old man and I never did get along and we rarely agreed on anything and if we did, we'd probably disagree just to preserve the continuity of not getting along.

There are a thousand stories about me and my old man. Some deserve to be told, others do not.

Here's one that does. Dad was an electrical guy. I never figured out what kind although I asked. He was more than an electrician, less than an electrical engineer. Sort of like electric purgatory or high voltage limbo. Not enough to dissect a circuit, more than enough not to get blown across the room in some fantastic white blue arc that, while it would kill you instantly and bring grief and tragedy to your family, would certainly first be spectacular enough to make your first born go "cool!" if it ever happened.

It did not.

The story goes that I had bought my first house. A big old Dutch Colonial built in 1929 and not really seriously touched since. A couple of cosmetics but no significant surgery, and that included the electrics. The house still had knob and tube wiring, some of which had been disconnected, some of which was quite live. Knob and tube was named for the porcelain knobs the wires were suspended on and porcelain tubes wires were conducted through walls in. The insulation on the copper wire was usually woven cotton. You know, the kind that burns when temperatures soar oh, into the eighties? Haven't you seen post swim beach parties where all the women show up in delightful cotton sun frocks? Take a closer look. Note all the handy buckets of water and fire fighting sand discretely placed behind the chardonnay. Heat and cotton; nothing you want to mess with.

So wires used to be covered in cotton. Enough to keep current from contacting the human hand that touched the insulated wire, not enough to keep wires from touching and short circuiting if the cotton cover ever frayed (who would think it would do that, getting dragged around a construction site?) and the wires did their best impersonation of Mindy Ballou at the pool party in that blue sun dress number.

The solution that knob and tube came up with was to keep the wires as far apart from each other as possible to keep them from interacting in a destructive manner. Think of it, a simple technological solution that predated Ben Affleck and J-Lo by decades.

As such, wires were strung from knobs on opposite wall studs. The positive, or hot wire from one stud, the negative, or equally hot wire if you touch it wrong, from a stud some twenty four inches away. If wires were that far apart, cotton covering could fray 'till the cows came home. The wires could and would never touch and bad things could never happen. A simple, elegant solution for the shortcomings of raw materials of the day. Virtually idiot proof but, hey, here's where the old man comes in.

Dad was a fanatic for the modern. He hated anything that was more than a year old and despised the term "old fashioned." It probably frosted him that I had bought an old house but, what did I tell you about getting along? We didn't and we were both kind of ok about it. I was pretty much there for him to do the heavy lifting and move large piles of gravel around seasonally-"this winter, I think the gravel will look better, there" and he was there for me to fix things I got in over my head with. Like the basement electrics.

I was designing and building furniture then and was looking to set my workshop up in a full basement where I, unlike the old rental I had just left, would not have to lean back over a laundry sink to rip a board longer than five and a half feet. I needed a more efficient workshop and part of that was an electrical hookup independent from the overhead lighting. You don't want the table saw blowing out the lights while still spinning on a regular basis. Just take my word on this.

So it was asked of Dad to run a twenty amp circuit into the workshop, hook up a couple of outlets and, for once, make boy happy. Not hard? Right?

We did a simple overview of the project and Dad understood in principle what had to happen but latched onto the knob and tube wiring. "Look at this ridiculous stuff, what is this junk?"

"Just some old wiring Dad, the home inspector said it was no big deal."

"You should rip this old junk out."

"The inspector said just to leave it alone. Some of it is live, most has been disconnected. It's ugly, but this is the basement."

"You should rip this old junk out."

"You said that, just forget about it, ok?" Dad had a propensity to not listen. "OK?"


"So just one circuit, right here, couple of outlets."


"Just a couple of outlets."


I knew then and there I should have gone in for a more full buy in from the old man. Or at least get a more solid sense of commitment. But as it was, I also knew that if I got too insistent, he would get pissed off and the project would be over with. That was the way it was with him, a razor's edge you had to walk. Lean too far one way and you don't capture enough interest, too far the other way and he perceives your obsession and drops it because you're starting to whine about this too much.

I gave him the house keys, asked if he could do the work the next Tuesday -yes- and left it at that.

We had a long driveway. Long enough that if you hit the garage door remote just pulling off the street, the door would be fully open by the time you got to the garage.

Tuesday I pulled in, saw the old man's car, was quietly astonished that he actually showed up on the agreed upon day, and hit the garage remote.

Nothing happened.

"Aha," says I to myself, "Dad's shut off the electric so he can safely work on the new circuit."

It's amazing the lies we tell ourselves. This is the same man who rewired Christmas lights while lit (the lights, not him) and on the tree. I'll never forget that seven inch blue flame that seemed to want to bring New Year's in even before the 25th had gotten here.

In other words, Dad would no more have shut of the power for safety's sake than I would have put on fishnet panty hose and walked down 42nd street in stilettos.

That's another one you're going to have to take my word on.

Friday, July 01, 2005

And so it begins...

As perversions go, mine are pretty mild. This is one of them. On a nightly basis to pour thoughts onto paper and coerce well meaning soon to be former friends to look me up in the universe of blogs.

I've been told once too often by serious, talented editorial people that I'm funny and a good writer. I ought to put those two things together. Personally, a more significant goal would be to put me and Natalie Portman together but since she's foresaken dinner theater in my area...

Natalie just turned twenty four. I celebrated by circling Portman Square in London twenty four times for my morning run. I'd like to think that she would be touched but I have to admit she'd more likely be indifferent.

Not only that, but that was the run that stretched a tendon in my knee to the point of such pain that the next morning, getting off at Oxford Circus, I was doing my best "Elephant Man Shuffle" trying to keep up with the rest of my crew. Hey there, Hopalong!

I foreswore dinner with the group that night and decided to stay in my hotel room, venturing out for only the briefest of refreshments. The proper curative for injuries such as I've sustained is the RICE treatment. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. I applied the PUB treatment that evening. Rest, then proceed to the PUB. Once inside the PUB, order a refreshment endemic to the PUB. Enjoy said refreshments inside the PUB. At some point in time, come home from the PUB.

It's not the most enlightened sports medicine, but it cured a myriad of ailments that night.

When not on the road, I live in the country. This country's country. There's a certain freedom that comes from living in rural America. There's also a certain abject terror in that you're never quite sure what's out there. I have cats. They go outside. I go out in the evening to retrieve their furry little selves against their wishes. They have issues with that but they are still quite alive and healthy at 15 plus years. I feel that not exposing them to the wilds at night has a lot to do with it.

So I go out cat herding in the evenings. Flashlight in hand I shine the beam in passes that hope to catch the classic reflection of an animal's eyes. Cats reflect pretty well. They usually show up in a beam of light the way a Soviet Missile Sub would show up on active sonar.

PING! Holy fuck that's big!!!

More than one night has come and gone that I've caught an eye reflection in my flashlight beam, tracked it to it's source only to have my cat meow at me from behind, seemingly saying: "Uh, dipshit, you gonna pick that skunk up?"

"No. Thanks for clearing that up for me. Now, how about some nice kibble?"

And we rule the planet.

It's July now, and the fireflies are hopped up on firefly acid and are blinking on and off with a vengeance. Watching them as a group, I can only think of an audience in which a thousand flashbulbs are going off in random patterns.

As such, I'll be out on my back porch, thanking my loyal fans for their rapt adoration.

Told you my perversions were relatively mild.

Welcome aboard. Enjoy the ride.

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