Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Tidbits

Sitting here, less than 24 hours 'til Christmas, not wrapping presents, because I can't find the tape and I refuse to even look for the scissors, because I know that somehow I'll just stumble across them somehow in the next few hours, I realize that everyone seems to have that holiday spirit (or lack thereof) stuck right there on the front part of their minds. I figured I'd ramble a bit about those seasonal traditions that I just can't seem to wrap my brain around, whether they be good ones, bad ones, or indifferent. There are a few holiday musts for some people that I personally don't understand. It's not that they're bad or wrong, it's simply that I don't get them,

1. Please Recycle. My whole life no one sent me a Christmas card. (Sure, my name got tagged onto the cards my parents were sent until well into college, but those don't count.) All that changed when my friends started getting married. All of a sudden, I'd made the list. It felt incredibly strange to me to think that some newlywed couple sat down a few weeks before the holidays and had a conversation about who was card worthy. It's even stranger to me that those people, the same people that I had not received a card from years past, now came to the decision that they should pay 32 cents to mail me a small piece of cardboard. What an unusual way to say Merry Christmas. "Have a wonderful time celebrating the birth of our Lord, here's a chimp with a Santa hat."

2. And Here in My Wallet is A Picture of... uh, Some Kid. Even stranger to me is opening a Christmas cards and finding a photograph inside. This odd development began around the time that my friends started having kids. Sure the kid is cute, and I'll even hang him or her on my fridge for a few weeks. (Here at the PlainOleHousehold, we actually have an entire side of the fridge dedicated to pictures of children that we've never actually seen in person). I totally get it for the first few years, babies are great and you want to show them off to the world, but there's got to be a stopping point. For example, my cousin. She's quite a bit older than me. We were never close. We never even lived in the same state. I believe that I've been in the same room as her less than two dozen times in my entire life, but yesterday I received a warm holiday greeting complete with a creepy picture of her two sons, aged seventeen and twenty-two, sitting in an awkward pose with a very odd looking sweaters on. Wallet size no less. Am I actually supposed to put this picture in my wallet? I know, it's the holidays, so it's the thought that counts and all that, but this is a very strange thought.

3. Oh Look Honey, There's Strangers Singing on Our Porch. Sorry, I don't get it. I'm not a big fan of Christmas music to begin with, and I really have a difficult time comprehending why most people's musical tastes change drastically in the month of December. (My sister wouldn't be caught dead listening to Bing Crosby the rest of the year, but the day after Thanksgiving he achieves some sort of god status.) Okay, if you like to sing, then I can understand the fun you might be having, but aside from the nursing homes or the kid's hospitals, I'm not certain that I've ever met anyone who truly enjoys being caroled. Get off the warm couch, open the door to the wind and cold, stand there inappropriately dressed for the weather, and smile a big fake plastic smile, all the while praying that these weirdos stop after one song. I can not imagine a more uncomfortable feeling.

4. It's the Thought That Counts A shout out to those of you in blog-land that preach the true meaning of the season. I start Christmas shopping the day after Christmas. In fact, I'm in a constant state of Christmas shopping. I search year round for the perfect gift for the people on my list. Granted it's a short list, only seven people, but I do put a lot of thought into it. I get a lot of pleasure out of watching other people open my gifts, I really do. That's my favorite part of Christmas. No, I don't spend a boatload of cash, but I do think I do a great job of finding just the right gifts. The student loan officer and the mortgage company appreciate my thriftiness, but I also think that my friends and family see the thought and care I put into things. Sometimes I wish they'd return the favor. Most of my family, and other people I talk to, seem to believe not in quality, or even quantity, but in fair market value and net worth. I overheard a few parents in the store today, trying to find a way to even out the dollar value of the children's gifts. My own mother told me the other day that she only has to but one more gift for me, because she spent more on my sister. I don't care what I get, or how much or it, just think of me. This year I will probably receive a fleece sweater that I won't wear, a fifteenth pair of pajama bottoms to put on the pile, a book that I've already read, a box of candy from my brother (who has known me for a long time and should know that I can't eat sugar), and a check from grandma. Yeah, yeah, yeah, ho, ho ho, it's the thought that counts, but sometimes there is no thought and that's the problem.

5. Secret Santa Needs to Check His List Twice Okay,I actually like the idea of secret Santas in a small office or in a large family where you can't possibly get everyone a gift, but it's gotten out of hand. It's now as if every workplace in North America feels the need to have a secret Santa gift exchange. No,we don't. I work in a school. There are forty-five teachers, ten-twelve support staff people, a handful of administrators, a staff of custodians, and I have no idea how many cafeteria workers. We had a secret Santa thing this year. Not wanting to be accused of being a Scrooge, I reluctantly signed up to participate. I drew Mrs. Hill. Who? Yeah, that's what I said, who? I had no idea who Mrs. Hill was. I didn't know what she taught. I didn't know if she taught. Heck, I didn't even know her first name. I asked three trusted friends, but none of them knew Mrs. Hill either. I would have asked more people, but what if I accidentally asked Mrs. Hill who Mrs. Hill was? What in the world was I supposed to buy this woman? I went with standard womanly things, like candles and soaps, but who knows if she'll like it? My wife's a woman and she'd throw junk like that away. Whoever drew my name must have at least known who I was (in addition to teaching, I coach the school baseball team), because I got a really nice coffee mug with a baseball team logo printed on it. It was heavy,so I figured that it was pretty expensive, but I gave it to a friend the next day, because I don't drink coffee and the logo stamped on there was the arch-rival of my favorite team.

Well, those are my Christmas pet peeves, I'm going to go toss my Christmas cards into the mailbox, maybe on the way back I'll stop at my neighbor's house and sing him a verse or two of Silent Night. Coming soon, the things I like about Christmas that most of you probably hate.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Goodbye Laffy Taffy, Hello Taro?

Throughout time, people, not any specific people mind you, but people in general, have had to deal with some pretty difficult things. You have all those instances of religious persecution, civil rights movements, wars, famine, a time or two when some poor sap was asked to lift something really really heavy and carry it up a hill or a really steep staircase. There were folks that had to fight lions in them wacky ole gladiator arenas, fellas who had to dig themselves out of avalanches, and I once knew a guy who stood in line for a KFC buffet behind a really really really fat guy.

Sure, a lot of these things don't really compare with one another, but they all have one thing in common: they are probably the most difficult thing that particular person ever had to deal with.
Me, I've never done mortal battle with any of the big cats, I've never lugged a piano up a muddy slope, and I've never ever ever never been down-wind of Louie Anderson, however, I am dealing with something especially difficult right now, something I've mentioned in passing before, but something that just seems to have grown and grown and grown and taken over my life, kinda like a two-headed tumor monster that sucks the life out of you and calls you mean names at the same time. What am I talking about? The diet.

No, not South Beach, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Cabbage Soup, Zone, Lady Zone, Chocolate, Atkins, Metabolism, Amputation, Scarsdale, One Good Meal, Chicken Soup, The Danger Zone, Grapefruit, Fruit Loop, The Highway Through the Danger Zone, Scottsdale, Carbondale, Chippendale, Chip and Dale, Juicy Fruit, Fruit Juice, or the Arthur Treachers Fish and Chips Diet... I'm on the doctor crossed off everything on my list of good food spreadsheet, slapped me on the wrist and shouted, Soup Nazi style, "No Food For You" diet.

For those of you who haven't heard, my new diet eliminates about eighty percent of what I used to eat, and I used to think I was eating healthy. For example, my usual pre-diet lunch consisted of: a mixed green salad with spinach and some other unpronounceable leaves that Bambi's pal Thumper would probably turn his nose up at, carrots, chopped almonds, dried cranberries, and a nice fat-free raspberry vinaigrette. On the side, a bottled water, an apple, and one of them fancy-mix-it-all-up-like-you're-doin'-the-Cha-cha yogurts with the hunks o' fruit and the bits o' granola.

Post doctor visit... well, I'm still allowed the leaves, the granola bits, and the water. Gone are the presumably healthy foods like carrots, apples, yogurt with fruity hunks, the cranberries, and that lovely raspberry dressing. Why? I'm sugar free now.

The good doctor informed me that my triglycerides, which was also the middle name of the lounge singing creature at Jabba the Hutt's crib in the third Star Wars movie****, were a wee bit high.

**** source - Internet

According to the doc, anything above 150 is high, above 400 is riding that highway through the danger zone Kenny Loggins style, and above 850, well, you might as well do that one foot in the grave thing.(Subsequent Internet research has led me to believe that the doctor was right and also he was wrong. Also, he may be the prince of Siam, can be seen going to the bathroom on something called a pee-cam - but only by Gold Members - and may have invented the banana seat). My triglycerides were up near 1200. So, special diet for Mike.

Apparently (also according to the web), triglycerides are not only Lauren Bacall's maiden name and the capital of Indonesia, but they're some sort of fatty fatness in your blood that makes you (in due time)a pretty good candidate for heart disease, stroke, damage to all the muckety guts, and perhaps even the Oklahoma State Senate*.

*source - the Internet

Triglycerides come from sugar. Sugar, it seems, comes from not only sugar, but things that have sugar in them, like non-sugar-free gum,candy, cakes, two for a dollar McDonald's apple pies, cookies,brownies, Fudgecicles, ice cream, Mountain Dew, ginger snaps, caramel, chocolate, Laffy Taffy, and (who'd a thunk it) Pixie Stix.

But plain ole sugar sugar isn't the only culprit here, it turns out that starchy things like corn, carrots, potatoes, pasta, bread, Cap'n Crunch, pizza crust, my dad's collared shirts, and rice somehow get magically turned into sugars by our bodies. I was hoping that perhaps I could train my body to magically turn the starches into something different, maybe Vitamin D or hundred dollar bills or super models,but the doctor seems to think that's unlikely. The Internet is non-committal, although it does believe that romping in the sunshine while waving hundred dollar bills at super models may lower triglycerides.***

*** source - Internet

Also off the menu are fruits and fruit related things like jellies and juices. Which is both good and bad, because I love fruit juice, but I finally get to tell Richard Simmons to go the hell away.

That list of food I eat on a regular basis that I gave to the doc,it's not much of a list anymore. Really, it's more of a scribbly mess with the words meat and vegetables still sitting there in the middle of a vortexy whirlwind of red pen cross-outs. Now, my dinners consist of things like steak with a side of pork chops or chicken with a side of pork chops or even pork chops with a side of pork chops, and my lunch today is a sandwich made on a multi-grain bread with the consistency and taste of a roofing shingle, sugar free peanut butter,and a pseudo strawberry preserves that is the color that can only come from something radio-active and more than just resembles tar. On the side, I have a little baggie full of root vegetable chips, yes, root vegetable chips. I didn't know what they were either, but they made the weird dude at the Trader Joe's kinda giddy. They're made from things like parsnips, beets, yams, and something called taro that may just end those water-on-Mars debates, cuz that stuff had to grow somewhere and it sure as heck wasn't Earth (the Internet seems to believe that taro is a slutty Hollywood starlet, a province in ancient Greece, and that "taro has leaves that are 1 to 2 meters long with along, erect petiole.**"

**source - Internet (probably one of the icky sites)

I found the chips when the incredibly overzealous Trader Joe's stock clerk ran around the store trying to find stuff I could eat. It was very nice of him to go through the effort, and it was above and beyond when he started opening all the bags and offering me tastes of vegetable puffs, soy and flax seed tortillas, whole grain pancakes,poofy soy crisps, and tofu bratwursts. Now at least I have some variety in my life. Next time I have a steak with a side of pork chops, I can throw some of the orange veggie poofs and a couple of the taro chips (with real beet juice) on the top for color, at least that's what the Internet told me to do.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Seven Things about PlainOleMike

This past weekend, Bee over at Bee's Musings tagged me with this seven things about yourself meme. I thought long and hard about it and came up with these interesting tid-bits about myself to share.

1. I am deathly afraid of elevators. I'm not as bad as I used to be, but I still get very nervous when the doors close and the car starts moving. Sometimes I feel sick to my stomach, but I used to get dizzy. This made life very difficult in college when I was assigned a room on the 14th floor of the dorm building. It all stems from a childhood incident in which I was stuck on an elevator all by myself.

2. I'm an English teacher, but I failed English class my senior year in high school. It was stupid - I could have passed, but I was a stubborn idiot who chose the wrong battles to fight - I didn't like the book we had to read in class, so I didn't.

3. I hate Christmas music. It drives me nuts. I can't understand how people can listen to it non-stop for an entire month before Christmas. What I really don't get is how people, who all have their own musical tastes, suddenly drop their love of rock or country or hip-hop or whatever it is you listen to, to listen to nothing but bad music that if the lyrics were about anything but Santa and baby Jesus and boys with drums they'd hate. While I'm ba-humbugging, I don't like It's a Wonderful Life either.

4. I also hate ham. I love all other pig related meats, but ham is nasty. I can not stand the taste of it. However, oddly enough, if I have leftover ham, and I fry it up in a skillet in the morning with some eggs and toast - I love it - which is doubly weird, because in any other situation I hate eggs too.

5. I have a pair of pants that I wear to work at least once a week without a button. The button fell off the first time I bought the pants, so I put it in that weird little pocket to sew it back on later. That was two years ago. The button is still in the pocket, and I still wear the pants often - I just make sure to wear them with a shirt that stays untucked. I'm either a huge slob or incredibly lazy, maybe both.

6. I have some sort of intolerance to sugar. I don't know why, but my body doesn't process excessive sugars the right way and I get terrible migraines. I have to be very careful about the amount of sugar I eat, but not just ice cream, candy, and cake - all other sugars like fruit, juice, potatoes, pasta, breads... It makes for interesting menu planning. People don't understand it, so I usually just tell them I have diabetes (because my condition is in the diabetes family), because at least they've heard of and "get" diabetes.

7. Birds are inexplicably drawn to my car. My wife, my dad, and my friends thought I was nuts when I told them this, but they've since witnessed the phenomenon. I will drive down the road and the birds that swoop around and get out of the way of everyone else... they fly right into my car. I don't try to do it, but I have hit five flying birds in the last year (three in the grill, one square on the headlight, and one on the windshield). I don't understand it, and I wish it would stop, but for some reason all suicidal birds see me as an aviary Kevorkian or something.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ouched Limagents and Dead Fried Weasels

Yesterday I was an athlete. Not yesterday in the literal sense like the day before today and the day after yesteryesterday (what the hell does yester mean, anyway? we don't use that prefix anywhere else - like not at my current place of employment, but yesterjob... I had a delicious pot pie yestermeal... yesterChristmas, I got a sack full of paprika from my yesterboss, that's why I quit my yesterjob and gotbooted from my yesterapartment for failure to pay the yesterrent...)

Yesterday in the figurative, dreamy, reminiscing, John Lennon -Yesterday love was such an easy game to play now I need a place to hide away oh I believe in yesterday - sense. Back in the day, I was an athlete. Well, I played sports anyway... I did a little of everything. Football, hockey, basketball, baseball, track, soccer...I was the lord of the monkey bars at Clow Elementary. I could climb a tree better than anyone in the 'hood. Daily participation in incredibly vigorous games of hide n' seek, and I could freeze tag like nobody's business. I was an athelete.

The problem... I was little. I was a wee lil fella. People wondered if I'd ever grow. Mom, Dad, Nana, my sister, the mail man, the neighbor's dog, the dude that cut my dad's hair, birthday party clowns, a creepy old woman down the street that always ranted about the evils of Tupperware... I began to wonder if perhaps these people didn't have anything better to wonder about... the economy, the job market, the state of affairs in the Middle East, whether or not Barbie's shoes match her purse, the ever changing zip codes, sniffing your own butt, Bryl-Cream, a better method for making balloon animals that don't resemble a snake with a nipple for a nose, or that air-tight plastic bowl that is lurking behind the bushes and peeking into your windows at night. They had to have something better to worry about.

I did. I worried, not about my size, but about how to get better. I was dedicated to every game I played. I played football even though the other kids my age could have crushed me like a frat boy smashing a beer can on his forehead. I played baseball even though my strike zone was about the size of one of those "place postage here"sections on an envelope. I played basketball even though the only uniform the coach had for me was so big on me that pulling the drawstring on the shorts as far as I could and then pinning it in place made them look remarkably similar to the skirts the little cheerleaders were wearing. I played soccer even though most of the other players could probably kick me as far as they could the ball. I played because I loved the sport, I loved the competition, and, probably, I had something to prove.

By my way of thinking, any team that I was a part of deserved my dedication and 100% effort. If the track coach asked me to run a race that I normally didn't, I dashed to the starting line and gave it all I had. If the baseball coach decided to have me play a position I didn't play, I'd watch the other team's player, pick the brains of my team mates, and do the best I could. If the football coach asked me to move from my usual spot (back-up ball) to defensive end... well, then I'd run out there, latch onto the knee of the other squad's running back, and do my damnedest to at least slow him down a bit as he dragged me across the field. If my basketball coach asked little tiny me, "Son, I know you're only 2'9" and you're wearing a pair of shorts so large it actually resembles a dress, and not in a MartinLawrence - Milton Bearle comical sort of way, in a sad, oh dear God I feel sorry for that boy and deep down inside I wonder if he's ever gonna grow kinda way, but, that said, I'd like you to run out there and play center... for the girl's ice hockey team... in Saskatoon."You know what I'd do? I'd strap on some really tiny skates, hike up my dress... uh, I mean gather up my shorts, and skate my little but to North Western Canada... simply because the coach asked me to. Not that he was a particularly inspiring coach, that's just the way it worked yesterday.

Today, also in that figurative, nowadays, sort of sense, it's not like that. I coach baseball, basketball, and track at my school, and I deal with more whiners and little babies that I do athletes. If bitching were a competitive sport, I bet I could take forty kids to the state finals this year.

These are the excuses I've heard in the past year or so. Not the excusesf or losing. I don't worry about winning and losing, all I care aboutis 100% effort, steady improvement, and a dedication to the team. These are simply the excuses why kids didn't want to run the race I'd entered them in or play the position I asked them to play.

Running too much makes my ears burn. - this kid needs a doctor or at the very least, an ointment of some sort.

I ate too many nachos and I may throw up. - I asked him if he learned his lesson. He said what lesson, that I shouldn't make him run the mile? I said run it any way. He did throw up. It was cool. His dad gave me a high five.

My toe won't stop itching. - I'm not certain what he intended me to do about it, or how it affected his ability to play second base.

Track is stupid. - And yet, she signed up for it, for the third year in a row, and went to the state finals in three events last season.

We're not going to win anyway. - The power of a positive attitude is staggering.

My dad is worried that too many at bats will ruin my golf game. He thinks I can go pro. - And I worry that if I see your dad I may haveto shove Tiger Woods up his ass.

Jake says he's better than me. - Uh, maybe you should go beat him then.

Jake jumped the fence. - Then you'll probably win this race.

There's broken glass. - Not on the field, but about thirty feet away, on the other side of the fence. Apparently the broken glass is mocking and taunting the boy.

I don't like Brad. - To be honest, neither do I, but maybe you should harness that energy and hatred into your game.

I think I may have stubbed my liver. - I never tookan anatomy class, but I'm still pretty certain that that's verydifficult to do regardless of the sport.

I don't know what direction to run. - Forward. Now get out there.

I just joined the team to be social. - Oh man, that's fantastic, I was worried that you actually thought you were good at this. What you're really missing out on is the social scene at the finish line, it's a big party down there.

I'm only here so I have something to put on my college application. -You do realize that you're eleven, right?

I don't want to run, but my mom made me join, because being on the team is cheaper than a babysitter. - Is your mom here? Hey, someone find me Tiger Woods again, would you?

I ouched my limagent (no, that's not a typo, that's what he said), so now my knee bends sideways. - This I'd really like to see.

My shorts scratch my legs when I run too fast. - Yoohoo, Tiger...could you come here for a minute?

I'm afraid the discus kids will hit me. - This would be a possibilityif the discus kids could throw 200 feet the wrong direction, but they can't, probably because they're whining about limagents, stubbed livers, and itchy shorts to their coach.

and my personal favorite of the year...

My brother's pet weasel escaped from his cage last night, snuck intomy room, and chewed through the power cord to my computer, so I didn'tsleep very well, because my room smelled like dead, fried weasel.

That's my rant. I'm done. Trust me, coaching has it's rewarding moments, especially baseball and basketball, but there are just some whacked out people in the world today. I don't know if I can handle any more of these excuses. Next year, I may give up coaching all together, find a few truly dedicated athletes, and put together a mean hide n' seek squad. Ready or not, here I come.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Meh Thanksgiving

Today, in a celebration of all thing Turkey Day, the folks over at have set up a nifty blog spot. It is my honor today to host a post written by Joe from Crotchety Old Man Yells at Cars. Joe never fails to crack me up, so take a gander at his work here and at his site. If you want my take on Thanksgiving, my post is over at Joe's site today. Isn't it crazy how we mix things up like that?

Thanksgiving was so special. My sister Lisa made a very nice centerpiece celebrating famous women in history, and, well, you know how young kids can be, it wound up in the fireplace and…oh wait, that was a Simpson’s Thanksgiving Special.

Mom put the turkey on the table and left it to set. Dad tried to sneak a piece, but Mom yelled at him from the other room to leave it alone. Dad then went to sit and wait for dinner when suddenly, the Bumpus’s dogs got in the kitchen and…oops. That was from a movie, and wasn’t even about Thanksgiving.

While I have no real special memories of Thanksgiving I do have vague recollections of a large bird surrounded by various seasonal dishes, followed by desserts. I would have to say that I could not think of any one incident that was unusual or amusing in any way. No wacky uncles asking me to pull their finger, no crazy aunts fighting over who made the best pumpkin pie.

That is not to say we didn’t have our own peculiar traditions. The first thing was that Mom got up at maybe 5 in the morning to wrestle the turkey. I have no idea why, but she liked to get a really early start. We still didn’t eat until around 3, but I guarantee you we never had raw turkey. Right around 8 or so, my sister and I got up to watch the Macy’s Parade. It ended when Santa came down the road, of course, and Santa then went to have dinner with Captain Kangaroo around 11. This was when we started to ask Mom if it was time to eat yet. After a quick yelling at, we would watch March of the Wooden Soldiers and Mighty Joe Young. Yeah, channel 11 had a killer Thanksgiving Day lineup for kids. So far, pretty normal by most standards. Don’t worry, that would change.

Of course, as with many other families, green bean casserole was on the table. This is possibly the single strangest side dish. What is weird about it? To begin with, it usually is only made for festive occasions. Ok, here is the complex recipe: dump some canned green beans in a casserole dish, cover with canned mushroom soup. At some point, sprinkle canned onion rings viola! Gourmet dining in the Crotchety household. I can see why such a difficult to prepare recipe only showed up once a year at my house. That, plus the fact that no one actually liked it may have been a contributing factor. We had it because, well, that’s what the hoi poloi ate for Thanksgiving.

And no festive Thanksgiving would be complete without Mom’s famous recipe turnips. While turnips probably taste good prepared using some method espoused by Emeril or Bobby Flay, boiled and mashed was most likely the starting point, not the finished product. Though, I will admit, mixed with mashed potatoes and gravy, then covered with ketchup made them barely edible.

The next odd part was the turkey. Turkey is normal enough, but every year, we went to Otterbein’s Turkey Farm to get a locally raised bird. It was probably double or triple the cost of a Butterball from Shop Rite, and it was known to be the best turkey around. Nothing strange about that, I guess, except, well, no one really liked turkey in our house. It was the only time my family ever bought turkey. And while we did eat turkey sandwiches until the bird was gone, that was the extent of it until the next year. No turkey soup, no turkey hash, no turkey anything.

But perhaps the single most unusual Thanksgiving tradition was the turkey dressing or stuffing. One year, many years ago, my parents had told a friend that the worst thing about turkey was the stuffing. Thanksgiving Eve, he showed up with the loads of stuff needed to prepare Dicky’s Special Dressing. No, I didn’t make the name up, though it is pretty funny in retrospect. This was before food processors, so each thing had to be minced by hand. It took hours and hours to make this. Seriously. Possibly the most interesting thing about Thanksgiving was the guy who came to make the stuffing. My old man hung out with an assortment of weird and quirky guys. There was the “My adversary did it guy.” Every possible thing that went wrong in his life was blamed on “My Adversary.” Flat tire, hole in his sock, you name it, he would explain away every single thing as being done by, well, you know. Pop’s gang included Googs, Hootch, Red, Bert, Whitey, Indian Joe, T, Deds, and Lefty. But the weirdest of all was Dicky, the stuffing guy.

Dicky was a part time musician, and his specialty was “air sax.” So, while we removed the fibrous strings from celery (swear to heaven) before mincing it, Dicky would regale us with an air sax version of “The Shadow of Your Smile.” This went on for nearly the entire 4 hours it took to make the stuffing.

But the memories of my unremarkable Thanksgivings are strong. And traditions are important to families, and our strongest memories are taste and smell. So, every year, to honor my Thanksgiving memories…who am I kidding? We go to a nice restaurant and order something we like.

P.S. My nephew won’t be able to write about his unremarkable Thanksgiving. Because his uncle Joe already asked him to

Monday, November 17, 2008

That Darwin Fella May Be Full of Crap

This weekend, I was having a nice little Saturday with my wife. We went to the Home Depot, and were considering the Bed, Bath, and Beyond if there was time. Interrupting my day, several times, was the oh so obnoxious buzz of the cell phone in my pocket. It was Tim. My friend Tim.
Tim's birthday was Sunday, and unbeknownst to me, a slew of emails had been sent out inviting the whole gang out to dinner. Since I hadn't responded to the email that I didn't receive, I was now being subjected to a full on voice mail barrage. When I checked my phone, I turned out that Nick had called, so had my sister, and Mrs. Tim, and Jeff, and Owen, but at the top of the missed calls list was Tim, with a whopping five calls in the last hour and a half.

I listened to the messages, "seven-ing" them as soon as I got the gist of what they were about, "call me, we're all going out..." But Tim's messages were worthy of noting. I don't think he ever really learned how to leave a message. He asks your voice mail questions, then he leaves pauses, as if he's giving you time to fill in your half of the conversation later.

"Hi Mike, this is Tim. What's going on today?"

Ten second pause.

"We're all getting together for dinner tonight, just seeing if you want to come with us?"

About a fifteen second pause.

"Hey, do you have Brian's phone number?"

Ten seconds of strange eerie silence.

"I've been wanting to call him. Have you talked to Stan lately?"

Fifteen second pause.

"Oh, I saw this movie the other day, "Kung Fu Panda," have you seen that one?"

Five second pause.

"It was pretty good."

Ten second pause for me to add my two Kung Fu Panda cents later.

"At least I thought so." (said as if he is defending what I might l say later on about a movie I haven't seen.)

"Well, I guess I'll talk to you again later."


"If you can't make dinner, give us a call later and maybe you want to go for ice cream or soup?"
Seriously, this is what he said. Ice cream or soup. I guess he was trying to turn the 'it's too cold for ice cream' argument before I could even use it.

We did meet up with the gang at a local restaurant, and as soon as we were seated, the topic of conversation was somehow on Tim's pants. He was very excited that he's put on a little weight. We all like to tease him, because he's a grown man, probably around 5'7" or so, but only weighs maybe 125. He seemed very happy that he was now wearing a size 33.

"So, Tim, no more ToughSkins then, huh?" Jeff asked.

"Alright, Timmy, you get to shop at the big boy store," Owen mocked.

I just sat there wondering what could have prompted the cheapest person I know to buy new pants. This is a thirty-three year old man, sitting in a restaurant, wearing a Bugs Bunny sweatshirt he wore in high school. He still has the same hand-me-down, oversized winter coat I recall him putting on for a sophomore year snowball fight. He is Johnny Frugalpants and he spent money unnecessarily? Even though I was afraid of the answer, I had to ask.

"I couldn't get my keys out of my pocket anymore," Tim responded, "The pants were too tight."

While the rest of my friends were busy laughing hysterically, that only led me to: "How exactly did you get the keys into your pocket? Did you put them in there before you put the pants on?"

Owen then suggested that to get some more mileage out of those old jeans, Tim should do the same to get the keys out, just walk across the parking lot to your car while undoing your belt, drop your pants, get the keys, pull 'em back up, and unlock the car.

We all wondered how he carries around his cell phone, which is so large it looks like he's lugging around a brick in his pocket. I do believe he has the first model of mobile phones that evolved enough to crawl out of that little bag, loose the plug into the car cigarette lighter feature, and become truly cordless.

Tim got up to go to the bathroom, and while he was gone, our food arrived. Jeff, always looking to stir up trouble, replaced the wet nap perched on the edge of Tim's plate of ribs with a sugar packet. No one thought Tim would fall for the gag, because of the weight, the shape, and the size differences, not to mention the word SUGAR written in big bold red letters across the thing.

Tim came back from the potty simply amazed that the urinals in the bathroom were a wee bit low. Now I'll admit, the plumber who installed them must have accidentally brought the plans for a fourth grade hallway or something, but I had to relieve myself, so I adapted and overcame. Jeff, who is 6'4", walked into the bathroom behind me, took one look at that kindertoilet and moved to one of the stalls. Tim, however, was flabbergasted; he could not believe the low urinals and how Jeff, being as tall as he is, didn't just give up and pee himself.

Tim: Did you see those urinals in there?

Long pause with no response.

Tim: They were so low I don't know how you could piss in there? (re-read this line, but like Tim, put extra emphasis on the word piss, spit that word out as if it were actually a mouthful of urine.Continue this manner of speech throughout).


Tim: What did you do, Jeff? How could you even piss in those things? (To get the full Tim effect, it may also help to know that the word "things" comes out in a unique Tim manner - try saying "then" and then say "thought." The TH sound is slightly different, in my world "thing" usually sounds more like the soft "thhhhh" of "thought," in Tim's it's the slightly harsher "th" of "then." I don't think - another soft th that Tim makes harsh - there's anything wrong, but it's always struck me as odd the way that word comes out.)

No response. I wanted very badly to respond with a smart ass comment like, "gravity does a pretty good job of taking the pee where ever it needs to go, just be glad the toilets weren't too high," but I learned long ago to try and not encourage Tim. Fortunately every one present understood that rule as well.

The subject was changed, but several times throughout the meal Tim tried to subtly steer it back to the height of the toilets and the problems Jeff must have had with them.

Mrs. Tim: So, Mike, do you have the baby's room all ready?

Mike: Yup, just finished painting last weekend. I'm probably gonna hang som...

Tim: I just want to know how Jeff pissed in that thing.

Later -
Owen: I think the Chicago Bulls are really gonna surprise some people this year.

Jeff: Are they gonna pop out from behind a bush and scare them?

Tim: I just want to know how Jeff pissed in that thing.

Later still -
Jeff - You know, Tim, sometimes when wet naps get really old, they dissolve into little powdery crystals. I betcha didn't know that?

Tim: (looking at Jeff as if he's speaking Swahili) I just want to know how Jeff pissed in that thing.

Even later -
PlainOleWife: Yeah, the doctor said that he's in the 60th percentile for growth and will probably be about seven pounds.
Mrs. Tim: That's what our son weighed (Yup, Tim's a daddy. With another on the way.) when he was born. He was seven pounds one ounce, but don't freak out, they loose a little weight right away. What did he loose, Tim, two ounces?

Tim: I just want to know how Jeff pissed in that thing.

This went on throughout the entire meal, interspersed with Owen, Jeff, and I asking Tim if he would be able to get various things out of his pocket: like sugar packets, wet naps, the tiny urinal, the waitress, one of those dissolving breath mint strips...

Eventually, we all finished eating and Tim went to wipe his barbecue sauce covered hands with his handi-wipe. He tore the little packet open (the sugar packet Jeff had strategically placed on the edge of his plate) and looked at it funny, expecting to see the edge of the towelette so he could pull it out of the packet. My wife started kicking me furiously to make sure I didn't miss the confuddled look on Tim's face as he tried to peek down into the packet to see what happened to his moist napkin. He looked at if kinda sideways, with his head all cocked, like he was a small dog and the sugar packet was a person talking in a high pitched voice, then he stuck his finger in it. When he pulled his finger out, covered in sugar crystals, he looked (apparently it is possible) even more confused, so (yes, he did) he stuck his finger in there again and dug around in there, to check perhaps if the wet nap was some how hidden under the sugar or in a secret compartment or something.

He honestly had no idea what had happened or what to do about it. Finally he looked up at us with a look on his face that reminded me of George W. when he couldn't open that door a few years ago.

By now, Mrs. Tim was the most embarrassed person there has ever been, Owen and PlainOleWife were laughing so hard they were crying, I was choking on a small sip of water, and Jeff, straight-faced in a brilliant manner, looked at Tim and said, "See, I told you the powderize if they get too old, you should have used it quicker."

If Darwin's survival of the fittest thing were true, Tim would have been picked off by circling hawks a long long time ago.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Estes Boys on the Back Nine

Picking up the clubs where we left off the other day, we stroll out onto the tenth tee box for the Estes House Open. Hope you have a good caddy and have been working on your short game, cuz the back nine is where the course really gets challenging.

Hole #10: We start off the second half of our round with a challenging shot requiring accuracy and loft. The tenth hole used to be the gas meter on the side of the house, but Matt missed and broke the window going into Nick's bedroom, so the hole became the hole in the window. Nick patched the hole with a small piece of cardboard,but if you hit the chunk o' box just right it flips up and the ball sneaks through. Hit the ball wrong and we've got another window pane to pay for and Nick will wake up with glass in his bed. Again. Bonus points if you manage to land the ball inside anything weird, like a shoe, a glass of water, whatever it was Nick was drinking last night before he passed out. Jeff once got three bonus points for landing his ball in a taco Nick was about to eat.

Hole #11: This hole takes patience and care, because you have to chip out of Nick's room, putt across the dining room and down the hall, and drive it out the front door towards the volleyball net. (At some point in time Jeff and his ex set a Wal-Mart volleyball net up in far corner of the front yard. We don't know why.) Hole 11, a par seven, required putting the golf ball through one of the little squares in the net. If you hit a string and make the net vibrate, minus one point. A difficult hole because of the different turfs you're working with: Nick's bed, carpet, tile, cement, and grass, also tough because of the shrubbery dividing our yard and the neighbor's.

Hole #12: If you avoided the bushes on Hole 11 you're probably set up nice for Hole 12, otherwise you're in a world of hurt, because they're seven foot tall thorny bushes, and if you bleed you loose two strokes. If you finished up safely on the volleyball court it's simple, fifty feet to the mailbox. Our mailbox was cemented into a big green bucket that served as the hole, however, you could take a risk and go for the inside of the mailbox itself for two bonus strokes.

Hole #13: Now we take a 180 and head back towards the house. Please avoid the cars in our three hundred foot long - twenty five foot wide gravel driveway and get the ball into the garage. This par three calls for putting on oily cement skills, because once in the garage, your goal is to hit the ball under the dresser in the back corner, have it hit the concrete wall back there, and shoot back out. The further you pop the ball back out the better you're set up for 14, but if you go too far you'll be stuck in the eight foot pile of trash we were to lazy to take to the curb. I suggest breath holding.

Hole #14: Another 180 and out towards the street. In fact, Hole 14 is the street. Anywhere on it, any part. If you didn't set yourself up well after 13, you may get a bad angle and your ball will wind up skipping down Estes Drive, but if you have a straight shot, you can probably bounce it off the gravel driveway, into the street, and safely into the yard across the way. With no sidewalks in our neighborhood, there are drainage ditches on both sides of the road that make for some especially nasty water hazards. If the water is under two feet deep, there is no dropping, you have to hit it out.

Hole #15: We'd usually start in the neighbor's yard across the street, but an unlucky bounce or fifty had Matt a block and a half away in a church parking lot once. The "hole" here is a pile of head sized rocks that may or may not have been some sort of house pet burial ground in the middle of our front yard. The challenge here was not to hit the pile of stones, but to have the ball land and stay in there, not easy considering the density, trajectory, and other sciency words like bounciness.

Hole #16: Avoid the trees, sneak around the front corner of the house, and drop the ball into the bed of Matt's pick-up. Surprisingly, it was Matt who designed this particular hole. He must have figured a few dings and scratches would just blend into the dumpyness of that piece of junk, there was never any damage done to the car. However, Mark learned real quick to stop parking his Camero near Matt's truck.

Hole #17: Hole seventeen was a veritable free-for-all. Experienced Estes-golfers would scatter as soon as the sixteenth hole was finished. If Mark was playing, the rest of us would hide behind his car, because the "hole" in Hole 17 was your opponents. Yes, you actually had to strike one of the other golfers with your ball. This hole was fun even though I have some scars and my right ear still isn't quite right.

Hole #18: The classic ball in the clown's mouth kinda hole. Your goal here was to get the ball onto the roof of the house, into the rain gutter, and out the downspout. The day this hole was designed was the only time any one has ever wanted to clean out their gutters. Surprisingly, we got them done quickly and only two of us fell off the roof.

So, you've just completed your first round of Estes Golf, a true gentleman's game if there ever was one. Stick around and maybe someday you'll hear about the rest of the Esteslympics. Really, they were good, competive sporting events, and as a bonus, there was a lighting of the torch for the ages.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tee Off With the Boys from Estes House

We'll call it the non-committal time. The gap between college and taking on the responsibilities of an actual adult. For some it's a minimal chunk, a week, a month, the summer, maybe only that one night of graduation day partying; for others it's a more considerable period, a few months backpacking around Europe, a year spent "trying"to find the perfect job...

For me it would have been easier to measure in decades. Okay, maybe not that extreme, but from that wonderful graduation day back in the 90's until just a few years ago, I wasn't what one would deem a rousing success, a contributing member of society, or making Mom and Pop proud, but man did we have some fun. The non-committal years, not a lot of memories I intend to share with my kids, but some good times.

I'm sure there are hundreds of stories from that time period that would make you pee your pants in a fit of giddy laughter, at the same time causing PlainOleMom to put her house for sale, relocate her life to an embarrassment free-zone, and probably cry, but the best of them all were the two years I spent living in Estes House. About a year after graduation I moved into the monstrosity, so creatively named because of it's location on Estes Drive.

Estes House was a big ole farm house on about three acres of land, where my roommates were a revolving door cast of characters that would have made the wildest fraternities cringe and slam their doors. The events that took place there would make Animal House look like a Sunday afternoon at the old folk's home. There was the kid we found passed out somehow between the floor and the carpet one morning, the anonymous kid who somehow managed to throw up on the back of his own head, and the drunk girl who threw her shirt in the garbage then yelled at us when she couldn't find it.

There was the unheated entryway into the house that quickly became a storage facility known as "the beer room." There was the time the basement stairs fell off, with about fifteen people standing on them. The night I almost brained my landlord with a baseball bat when he snuck in at 3 am to change the furnace filter. I recall the time we "shoveled" the driveway with a can of gas and an Aim & Flame. I still have the scars to show it's a bad idea to jump off the roof no matter how soft and fluffy the snow looks. The three car garage filled to the rafters with trash becausenone of us would stoop to buying garbage stickers, and the subsequent week full of pick-up truck trips to the dumpster behind theMcDonald's. There was my roommate's unusual collection of empty toilet paper tubes that decorated the bathroom, and a weird kid we called "the Catfish" who'd show up at our parties, take his shirt off, and dance all night long. And I can't forget the disaster that ensued when we decided to use the fireplace to cook Valentine's Day steaks.

Good memories, all of them, but the best days at Estes House were the sunny afternoons spent on our very own backyard eighteen hole golf course. Lack of steady employment and an unending flow of alcohol led to us creating the greatest golf course in the storied history of the gentleman's game. Our mission: a good time, a few laughs, and making every country club member in five counties cringe.

Hole #1: We'd start at the back corner of the garage, heading out towards the enormous back yard. Now, of course, we didn't have enough room to actually drive the ball with all our might, instead we chipped our way around, and hole number one was, well, not actually a hole. With the precision of a pro, we'd have to get the ball from the cornerof the garage and onto the roof of the shed about a hundred yards away. You had to play this hole just right, because if you got too close without actually making it, it became very difficult to loft the ball onto the roof. It was best to try for about seventy yards and make the "hole" on the second shot. Things became very dicey if you went over the shed. A bonus point (or negative point in golf) was given if you could sprint up to the shed and have the ball hit you on the head when it rolled off the angled roof.

Hole #2: Hole two moved us towards the middle of the yard. Starting from wherever your ball landed after the shed roof, the objective here was to hit the driver's seat of the riding lawnmower that had magically appeared back there. One of my roommate's claimed to have "found" it, but it died halfway through it's first mowing, and it's probably still laying there on it's side. Penalty strokes were added if you got the ball stuck in the engine, under the pedals, or if it went into the blades. A particularly adventurous round included us actually runningthe blades, but one unfortunate ricochet ended that. We tried to convince Jeff that the fun really starts when someone looses an eye, but he didn't buy it, and the EMTs encouraged us that that was a really bad motto.

Hole #3: For some reason there was a garden full of ceramic flowerpots in our back yard. This probably would have been nice if there were actually flowers in them, or even dirt, but nope, this was Estes House, so there was mostly trash, cigarette butts, empty beer cans, spiders, and an assortment of godknowswhat in there. The third hole was the center pot. Surrounded by about fifteen others of various sizes, it was a test of both skill and luck. The penalty for landing in the wrong pot: a competitor was allowed drive your ball as far as they could and you'd have to start over from there. However, since we weren't allowed (or were a wee bit afraid) to reach into the pots for these penelty shots, your opponent would have to smack the whole pot with the club, hoping to send the ball flying. The ball very rarely went far, and it wasn't long before the pots were just ceramic shards lying in the dirt and hole three wasn't as challenging.

Hole #4: This hole sent you back to the back end of the yard. The object here was to drive the ball about seventy yards and hit the clothes-line pole solidly enough that there was an audible click, tick, clank, or clack. Accuracy was the key to this hole and we often overshot the pole, which sent the ball rolling down a fifty foot hill, past a barbed wire fence, and into a soy bean field. We called this hole "The Pants Ripper," I think you know why, Matt and the doctor who administered the tetanus shot sure do.

Hole #5: The Y Hole, as we called it, zigged your zag all the way back across the backyard. This hole required a really good set upshot to get you ready for your objective, sending that little white ball right through the uprights of a small Y shaped tree. This field goalish hole was fairly simple, but required several strokes to play it safe. However, two bonus points were given if you made the field goal on the first stroke - the risk being that the angle from the clothesline usually made it more likely that your ball would wind up in the muck swamp that surrounded our septic tank (not easy or pleasant to get it out of there), a true test of weighing risk vs.reward.

Hole #6: I have no idea why, but there was a tire in the middle of our yard. I'm not talking about a bike tube or hollow plastic big wheel pieces, I'm talking a tire that would make the Bigfoot truck slightly jealous. Once we tried to ride inside it down that soy bean hill, but we kept falling out before any real speed was built up, so instead it became hole six. Merely landing a small ball inside a gigantic tire would have been too easy, so the goal here was to actually get it in the tire (not just inside the circle, but in the tire). Once the ball was in the inside of the tire, you had one stroke to tap the ball hard enough that it did two complete revolutions in there, but not so hard that it popped out. This became more challenging and more fun when we decided to stand the tire upright and make the ball do a roller coaster style loopty-loop in there, but then the tire fell on Nick and the MRI tech suggested we not do that anymore.

Hole #7: A trinity of oak trees made up the far corner of the yard, probably about two hundred feet from the tire. This treeangle was hole seven. The goal here, hit all three trees, if you hit it just right and got a lucky rebound, it could be done in one stroke. Hitting it hard enough for a good ricochet and missing meant climbing the fence and getting your ball from next door. That was not good considering the neighbor's yard contained the ultimate water hazard, a water filled pit that actually looked like the hippo habitat at the local zoo. There was a greenish something swimming around in there, I have no idea what, but I wouldn't have been surprised to see alligator offspring on the back of a milk carton. Three penalty strokes if you went in the water, a thousand bonus points if you wrestled the croc.

Hole #8: We were infested with squirrels. Squirrels were everywhere. Hole eight was to make a squirrel run away. Any squirrel, anywhere in the yard. The key was silence, any noise was a penalty stroke; it had to be the ball that made that little varmints scatter, each additional squirrel was a bonus point. The critters tended to congregate back towards the back of the yard, furthest away from Hole 9, so you could take a gamble on bonus points and shoot the ball way back there. Actually striking a squirrel was three bonus points, but I don't recall anyone ever accomplishing that feat. The best score on this hole was negative fourteen when Matt accidentally shattered an old bird feeder and squirrels came running for the goods like six year olds diving for butterscotch candies at a pinata beating party.

Hole #9: The front nine ended with the "Fruithole." Yeah, we realized later that it sounds like something guys in prison might wish upon a star for, but by the time we figured that out, the name had stuck. The mission here was less foreboding than the jailbreak references may imply, all you had to do was loft the ball up in the air and knock a weird piece of fruit out of the weird fruit tree in the side yard. Bonus points if you catch the weird fruit before it hits the ground. We once gave Matt's brother ten points for taking a bite of the weird fruit, but when we couldn't decided if it was weird fruit or the gallon of vodka that made him puke neon orange, we banned any future weird fruit biting.

So, there's the front nine of the greatest golf course ever created. Arnold Palmer ain't got nothin' on the boys from Estes House. Right now, we'll take a little break for a sandwich and a beer, but later this week we'll stride on out to the tenth tee-box and finish the round.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Competetive Nature of the Wal-Mart Regulars

Sundays. Relaxation. Rest. Recreation. Other words that begin with R.

Sundays. Not meant for grocery shopping. Helping Mike realize why he long ago decided to make grocery trips on weekdays or late late late late at night when only vampires, zombies, and hookers are prowling the streets. Sundays, the holy day - unless you visit the SuperWal-Mart, then it embodies all that is unholy. A Sunday afternoon atthe Super Wal-Mart is hell.

My little adventure to the local discount everything-under-the-sun emporium began with a quote from a former co-worker resonating in my head. "I'm wary of any store where you can buy lunch meat, brake fluid, and a hamster all under one roof." Why oh why wasn't I wary? I didn't need any of those things, yet there I was, pulling into theSuper Wal-Mart parking lot. Parking acreage is more like it. That lot should have it's own zip code. It should have little cartoon characters mounted on posts so you remember which time zone you parked in. It needed traffic cops.

In that lot, I encountered at least seven of my top ten pet peeves about driving. People who use the giant pedestrian crosswalk as if it's a force field and walk without looking. People who are unable to grasp the concept of a four way stop. People who sit in the parking lot aisles with their signals on waiting for a woman who hasn't moved quickly since Hoover was president to load a bomb shelter's worth of groceries into her Edsel. People who walk down the center of the aisle arm in arm, taking up the whole way, as if they're skipping down the way to see the wizard. People who zoom down the other way so they can steal a space from you. People who drive the wrong way down the aisles with the diagonal spaces so they have to do fifty-three point turns to maneuver into the space. AND - People who leave their carts in the way.

While I was readying myself to pull down an aisle, already having seen a space down there, a big ass pick-up with a bumper sticker that read "BIG ASS PICKUP," disobeyed the rules of four way stops and common courtesy, barreling through the crosswalk - nearly smashing into an elderly woman with a cart full of melons (more melons than I've ever seen one person cram into a shopping cart ever before) and sped down the aisle.

Of course, Big Ass took my spot, so my pregnant wife and I had to keep going down the way, all the way to the last space. (she always refuses when I offer to drop her off).

Luckily, I came to the store prepared with my list. I had it organized by section of the store to make the shopping experience as quick and painless as possible. The Wal-Mart Gods are laughing at that last sentence, in fact, I think one of them, Wally (the God of Brake Fluid and Hamsters) is preparing to smite me for merely suggesting such a thing.

We started off in produce. She got some onions and potatoes while I searched for an acceptable green pepper. On my way back to the cart, I took a quick side trip over to the bagged salad, juking and weaving my way through the mass of tomato squeezers and apple knuckle-thumpers. I grabbed the appropriate mixture of assorted leaves and headed back to safety.

Safety. Ha. A gigantic woman with a small child attached to her face, in a way that is much more unusual than whatever you imagine a small child attached to a gigantic woman's face might be, came barreling towards me. Her cart was making this really strange whirring noise, like she'd stuck an Oscar Gamble rookie card in the spokes to make it sound like a motorcycle.


She whirred her way closer and closer, almost on top of me. I could tell by the toddler that was crawling on her head that she was unable to see me.

I looked for an escape.

Tomato thumpers and apple squeezers had me blocked in. I thought about a nifty Jackie Chan-style jump over her move, but sadly, I just don't have the hops, so she slammed into me. She did finally realize I was there, but the look on the part of her face that I could see was pure evil. She was blaming me. Then, right then, I realized I was dealing with Big Ass Pickup Truck Lady. She had now officially reached nemesis status.

After that, PlainOleWife and I split up for the most part. We wheeled our way around, branching off in different directions to gather the necessities, periodically meeting back at the cart. Along the way, I met several interesting characters. A rough outline of my Wal-Mart excursion:

A lady with so many paper towels you'd have thought she was planning to Quicker Picker Up the Great Lakes.

Big Ass whirrrr whirrrrrrrrrr whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring her way in frontof me to get to the milk, almost crushing my toes.

A man who was buying three cans of Hormel chili and a beige toilet seat.

Whirrrr whirrrrrrrrrr whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, shoving my cart out of the way, causing me to knock into paper towel lady (who, quite frankly, frightened me in a more than your average Wal-Mart patron sort of way).

A pair of frat boys that seemed utterly fascinated by the lobsters inthe tank. They may have thought they were at the aquarium, because later I saw them intently watching the Mrs. Paul's section of the freezer case.

I can't quite get to the ground beef because someone has whirrrrwhirrrrrrrrrr whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrred directly between me and the meat case as I was reaching for cow bits.

A guy in the baking stuff aisle doing a Jerry Seinfeld style stand-up routine for his fellow cake mix perusers, "What is the deal with evaporated milk? If it's evaporated, then what's in the can?"

A small child sprinting down the breakfast aisle with a box of cereal that was so large it actually appeared at first to be a box of Cheerios with Nike's on. Seriously, the Cheerios were so big he probably could have gotten in that box as the secret prize.

Whirrrr whirrrrrrrrrr whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, no you can not have those Pop-Tarts.

A woman who was buying so many groceries that she was struggling to shove anything more into the cart. I saw her tossing rolls of toilet paper into there, only to have them roll off the mountain of rice, boxed potatoes, and hamburger buns and tumble to the floor. She did, however, still have two kids standing in the cart, buried to the waist. There was no way they were getting out of there before the checkout line. Feet circulation may have been an issue.

Whir whirrrrrr slaaaaaammmmmmmmm. My cart goes flying out of the bread aisle into a Gatorade display. I was in Big Ass's way. She apparently had a hot dog bun emergency.

I also saw the tallest woman I've ever seen. She was pulling items off the top shelves from the opposite side of the aisle, like she'd "Go Go Gadget Arms"ed or something.

Eventually, we'd completed our list and headed to the checkout. We waited patiently for the lady in front of us's groceries to make theirway down the conveyor belt, but she seemed unusually put out when I asked her to hand me the divider stick thing, as if she felt my groceries may contaminate hers. In time, though, we checked out, the cashier tossing our purchases into the whirlly bag carousal with the speed and accuracy I love in a checkout girl.

It was time to go, and no one had been horribly injured. Yet.

On ourway out the door, we found Big Ass again. She, and her boob of a husband, cut us off again, almost forcing us to run into an obese woman on a Rascal that had mis-read "In" and/or "Out" on her way into the store.

Hubbooby shot me a "ha ha" sort of look as they walked into the crosswalk without looking. I was silently hoping for a different big ass pick-up to come barrelling through and squoosh them, but no such luck. The world will have to suffer them a bit longer.

PlainOleWife and I made our way back to the car, not exactly certain which row we'd parked in, silently wishing for a "Goofy 7" sign to magically appear. With no such luck, we chose a lane and started trekking to the very end.

There it was, off in the distance, just past what should have been tram stop #5. Up ahead I could hear the unmistakable "WhirrrrWhirrrrrrrrrr Whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr" sound of Big Ass's cart, but she stopped long before we did.

I tossed the plastic bags into the trunk, let Wife into the car, and looked around for one of those cart corrals. The closest one was three quarters of the way back to the store, so off I went, wondering why in the world would they wouldn't have one way back in the boonies. I contemplated just leaving the cart to teach them a lesson, but then I'd have to kick my own self, so I made the journey.

As I started, I could hear the sound of my enemy. Just behind me, on the other side of the lane, "Whirrrr WhirrrrrrrrrrWhirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr." I couldn't help it, I wanted to get a good look at one of them. I glanced over there and it was Husboob, a look on his face like we were racin' for pinks. I actually started to imagine the Asian Howard Cosell from "Better Off Dead."

He started to speed up, "Whirr Whirrrr Whirrrrrr Whirrrr WhirrrrrrrrrrWhirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr," trying to get ahead of me. I didn't want to stoop to his level of Hubboobery, but I couldn't help it. Soon, I found myself riding the cart like a skateboard, pushing off with one foot, making every effort to stay in front. I glanced over my shoulder and realized he'd picked up ground, but the corral was insight. We were close. I gave it everything I had, jumping down off the cart and running with it. Whirrr Whirrrrrr Whirrrrrring closer, I could hear him gaining on me. Oh no, a soccer mom opening the tailgate of her mini-van, I'd have to go around. Precious seconds lost. He was ahead of me now, almost there. I kicked it into highgear, a gear I hadn't used since Tony Girardi was chasing me with most of a fence post back in seventh grade, and I started to make up the gap. Lady in his way, furiously pushing the car remote buttons hopingto hear her car beep off in the distance somewhere near Minnie 12. Hehad to cut to his right to avoid her, but she wanted to move that direction out of his way. He had to stop, and I made my move. Passing him by at the last second, I slammed my cart into the corral, turned and started to walk back to Goofyville.

I gave him one of those satisfied nods as I passed him, as if I was shouting, "Sucka!!!"

Sure, I stooped to his level. Without a doubt, I was an idiot. I don't deny that my maleness got the best of me. Yes, I too had becomea Husboob. But, at least I wasn't going home to a Big Ass. I win.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Blue Lady 2: Paranormal Boogaloo

If I search through the newspapers in the old college library a few things happen: One, I can praise God, Allah, Bill Gates, and Al Gore for giving us the Internet. Two, I can smell that really old musty basement smell that reminds me of clothes left in the washing machine too long combined with damp cat. Three, I can learn stuff.

The last time I was there, that's exactly what I did, learn, not sniff stray cats. I went there seeking answers to the mysterious blue lady that chased me into the bathroom the last Halloween. (if you haven't read her story, it's probably better if you read it first). I wanted to find some sort of explanation for what I'd seen. Rumors about the theatre building being haunted were nothing new on campus, so I figured somewhere in the stacks and stacks of brittle yellow newspaper, I'd find some sort of answer.

After weeks of using whatever free time I had to search for an explanation to the things I'd seen, eventually, in a dusty pile of college newspapers from the mid-1920's, I found what I was looking for.

The theatre building was still fairly new back then, and the town was relatively small. Surrounded by farm communities, the college and the town pretty much marked the halfway point between the middle of nowhere and Chicago. A perfect spot for a railroad stop.
Folks looking for an exciting night out on the town no longer needed to travel all the way to the big city, the railroad now gave them closer and easier place to go. Businesses started to pop up around the college, restaurants, night clubs, shops... And things really got booming for the college theatre; folks could have an evening of culture and entertainment without the long journey into Chicago.

Philler Hall became a destination for all sorts of popular acts of the time. Big bands, vaudevillians, comics, and singers. The little town had hit the big time.

One month, a real live Broadway revue made it's way to Philler Hall.Folks from all around journeyed to the college to see New York's brightest stars right there in the middle of farm country. One woman in particular was so excited to see the show that she gathered up three generations of her clan into the family truckster and headed off towards the college.
Grandma, in her Sunday best, a long beautiful dress with a high collar and lovely faux pearl buttons, sat right in the middle of the audience, blown away by the bright lights, the ornate theatre decorations, and the anticipation she'd get before the show began.Next to her, Grandpa, not a lover of the arts, but along to make the Missus happy. On both sides of them, their four sons, their wives,and their children. The whole motley brood there for the show.
The curtain rose and Grandma's heart skipped a beat. She loved the theatre, completely fascinated by the actors, the sets, the music, the costumes, every single aspect of it. Grandpa, not so much with the fascinated, he took a nap. Throughout the first act his wife kept giving him the ole elbow in the ribs; one, to keep him awake, and two,to point out specific things about the show that she was enjoying.

Grandpa kept dozing back into lullaby land and eventually one of Grandma's nudges just wouldn't wake him. She tried again, digging the pointiest part of her elbow into the soft spot below his ribcage. He didn't budge. She kicked and pinched, all of it very discreetly, but Grandpa was dead to the world. Really.

Grandma wasn't terribly surprised, her hubby was an old dude and dying is what old dudes tend to do. She was upset more than anything, upset that he dared to die in the middle of the show and ruin an evening at the theatre for her. She wasn't going to let that happen though. She leaned to her left and informed her oldest son that Grandpa had passed. He took it well, because the look in his mother's eyes told him to remain calm, stay seated, and watch the show. She leaned over Grandpa to her right, and told her youngest boy that his father was gone. One look told him to wait until intermission to do anything, to just sit there and allow the nice folks around them to enjoy the performance.

That halfway break came and Grandmas smiled and clapped and stood and made small talk with the theatre goers around her as they shuffled up the aisle to the lobby and the restrooms. Grandma sent her four daughters-in-law and all the little ones away, out to get some refreshments. The auditorium sufficiently empty, she employed her sons to lift Grandpa out of his seat and walk him up the aisle"Weekend at Bernie's" style. All the while Grandma walked in front of them, swatting her deceased husband with her purse and admonishing him about the dangers of drinking too much. "I'll never take you out in public again, you embarrass me with that drinking of yours." Her boys caught on to the ruse and began to laugh and carry on about how much good ole pop drank.

There they stood, up in the lobby, encircling Grandpa and insulting added man who'd never tasted alcohol in his life for being a drop down drunk.

Grandma refused to let a little thing like death ruin a perfectly goodnight at the theatre, for herself, her family, and everyone else there. Knowing full well that notifying the authorities would probably wind up cancelling the show, she waited until the lobby lights flashed and people made their way back into the auditorium to make her move.

Once the lobby was clear, Grandma led her sons across the room, opened what she thought was a storage closet (it was actually the ticket booth), and gently tossed her dead husband on in. They went back inside and enjoyed the rest of what turned out to be a really good show.

There was only one problem with the dead guy in the closet. The dead guy, he wasn't dead. Yet.
After the show, Grandma and the boys waited around to deal with the proper authorities. When Grandpa was dragged out of the ticket booth,a young doctor discovered that he had not in fact died in his seat watching a Broadway show, he had died inside that closet, using his fingernails to try and claw his way out in the dark. Grandpa had suffered a heart attack brought on by fear. He'd woken up in a strange dark place and freaked out.

Grandma was heartbroken. She felt that she was responsible, and every doctor's reassurance that Grandpa would have died soon anyway was no consolation. She went into a great depression, distancing herself from everyone she knew and loved. She believed that she'd killed her husband and deserved no happiness, so after a few painful, difficult years, Grandma killed took her own life, hanging herself in the attic.

Legend has it that the woman I saw that Halloween night was Grandma,peeking into the ticket window to find the lost soul of her departed love. Whether or not Grandpa's spirit was in the closet at the time,I don't know, but I sure am glad that's not the room I decided to hide in.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Plain Ole Fright

Halloween night my senior year in college was the scariest of my young life. I don't mean the shadows startled me or I couldn't sleep because the Blair Witch was in my room kinda scary, I'm talking full on pee yourself, Fred Sanford clutching his chest kind of fear.

For years, I'd been hearing haunted house stories about the theatre that I worked at. For years, I'd listened as other students recounted far-fetched, unbelievable tales of phantom encounters in the building. For years, I sat on the stage on Halloween night as Jack, the theatre manager, told his own first hand stories about the ghosts of Philler Hall. All those years I kinda straddled the line between belief and skepticism, between acceptance and "hey, get me some sciencey stuff that proves it and I'll be on board." That night, that Halloween, I got shoved right over that line into full on "Amen brother, I believe" land.

That particular show, I was in charge of sound design. All the floor microphones that sat on the stage, all the body mics that were woven into the actor's costumes, all the music, and all the sound effects, that was all on me. It's a fun job, really, but it is an awful lot of work on show days. To test all my equipment and prepare for that evening's performance, was a long process that made a whole heck of a lot of noise. To be courteous to the other tech geeks, and I guess to the actors too, I'd usually get there about four hours before showtime.

My sound board was set up at the back of the theatre's main level, kinda tucked away in the corner. Most of the sound equipment was way upstairs, so I had cabling running up through the walls, three levels up, to the sound and lighting booth. My sound system took me months of planning and rehearsal to get just right. Dozens upon dozens of cables ran from the board to the speaker box, plugged into just the right spot to get what I needed to come out of the correct speakers. This cord inserted into this outlet made the alligator sound come from just where the alligator was supposed to be. That cord split off and plugged into this series of inserts made the choo choo sound like it was moving across the theatre. So on and so on... Each plug had its place to have the sound do what we needed it to do and sound the way we wanted it to sound, almost three months of work had made my set up near perfect, in fact, I'd finally just gotten it the way I wanted it about four o'clock that morning. But, when I got there that night, opening night, a mere four hours before curtain, all those cables were no longer stuck into their perfect spots, they were pulled out and lying on the ground.

I was livid. All of the theatre lights were off, except for the little green desk lamp I had sitting on my table, but I scanned the room anyhow, searching for signs of movement of the low sound of the perpetrator breathing. Convinced it was the vacuum cleaner lady who seemed to have no respect for our equipment, I swore that I'd kick her right in the pancreas if I saw her.

Pancreas kicking or no pancreas kicking, I had to put the anger aside and get this problem fixed. I was rushed anyway, but now, there was no way I'd be done before show time. The first thing I had to do was get the plugs back in place. For most shows, that would have been easy. We'd map which cable went where and label each and every plug. Time consuming, yes, but to fix a snafu like this one would be simple. That brings up problem number two. I didn't map and I didn't label. The director had me make so many changes and add so many last minute sound cues that I'd never found the time. I'd actually planned to do it during this evening's performance. Now, well... oops.

I did the best I could, using a rough draft map from a few weeks back and a scientific guessing game that involved tugging on tiger digits. Fifteen minutes later, I was somewhat satisfied. Now I had to run up to the sound booth, three flights of stairs up, and push the power button to turn on the speakers. I don't think I've ever run up so fast in my life. Steps really should be in the Olympics.

Throwing open the door, I dashed into the booth. Once I reached the power source, I held my breath and did one of those "Oh dear God, please make this work" sort of pseudo-prayers. I reached for the button and listened. Pressing it and hearing a little click followed by a soft hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm would mean I did a good job guessing which plug went where. Any sort of pop would mean I did bad, the louder the pop the worse I did. I pushed the button.

I waited.

I waited some more.

It seemed that I could have waited all day and nothing would have happened. That wasn't one of the options though. It had to make a noise. Good noise, bad noise, there had to be a noise. Any sort of noise. There wasn't. The only thing that could mean was that the cables downstairs weren't connected.

I flew out of the booth, down the stairs, around the corner, down the next flight, through the upper lobby, down next set of steps, around the last corner, down the final flight and into the fancy schmancy lobby. I dashed across the lobby, passing the front doors and the ticket booth, burst into the theatre and towards my sound table.

Those cords, you know, the ones that were unplugged and in a mad panic I plugged them back in, threatening pancreatic violence against any cleaning ladies that happened by, they were all out again, just lying there on the carpet.

At this point I figured I had to be the victim of some sort of practical joke. I sensed Dick Clark or Ed McMahon was lurking behind the stage curtain with all my classmates, laughing hysterically at the bulging vein on my forehead that had now begun pulsing.

Grabbing the diagram from the chair where I'd left it, I began plugging everything in again in a frantic daze. I never got to the tiger's toes this time, eenie and meenie ran the show.

Sprinting up the stairs winded me, so there were no deep breaths before I hit the button this time, heck, I was lucky I was breathing at all. I said my silent prayer and pushed "power." Nothing. No click, no pop, nohmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

An angry demon had taken over my body at that point. Walls, windows, and banisters felt my wrath as I hurried back down the twisting, turning stairs, across the lobby, and into the theatre. There they were, all the cords, unplugged again.

That pulsating bulgey vein was just about doing a salsa dance by this point. Alan Funt was backstage having a coronary, dreaming how great Candid Camera ratings would be this week. The wheels were turning somewhere in the brain of a prepubescent Ashton Kutcher.

The plugging in of the cords was more of a random blind guy playing darts from a tilt a whirl kind of event this time. The trip up the steps more of a huffy puffy "I think I can" thing than a dash. The pre-button prayer more of a threat to the powers above that I just might hurl myself from the balcony. I pushed it. Held my breath. Then, there it was, a tiny little click and the sweetest hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm I ever did hear.

The trip down the stairs this time became more of a stroll. A leisurely stroll spent with me calculating exactly how much time I'd have to get done, where to cut corners, where to delegate when my idiot helper got there... Lost in thought, I'd wound my way down to the upper lobby and was halfway down the next set of steps when I noticed the big stained glass window above the stair landing was rattling like crazy. It stuck out to me, because I remembered remarking to my roommate on my way out earlier, how nice a night it was. Nearly sixty degrees, no clouds, no sign of rain, no wind. Yet, that window was vibrating like the bed in a cheap motel when you've brought a pocket full of loose change.

I took the last few steps towards the window and reached out to touch it. Ice cold. The shaking stopped though. But, now I could hear the same sound coming from the other side of the pretty much symmetrical lobby. Feeling a strange need to investigate, I climbed back up to the upper lobby, walked across, and made my way to that stained glass window. Up in the lobby, there was a rattly stereo effect going on, I could hear the glass vibrating on both sides. I reached up and touched that window too. Freezing.

I pulled my hand away and watched the fog fill back in the hand print I'd left, all the while wondering how the windows were icing over when it's sixty outside and how in the world the wind was blowing at the building from both sides.

For whatever reason, instead of continuing down the set of steps I was on, I walked back up to and across the upper lobby and started down the West staircase. Each step I took down revealed more and more of the lobby to me, and I suddenly realized the carpet was bathed in a bluish light down there.

I slowed myself, the gears in my brain working overtime to figure out where and how my friends were hiding to pull this elaborate prank on me.

I took a step down, expecting Matt or Tony or Todd to pop out and scare the living poop outta me. Nothing.

I took another step and was able to see the very bottom of three sets of double doors that led into the atrium and then outside. That was down and to my left. Down and to my right were the five sets of double doors that led into the theatre. Shadows filled the corners, but the middle of the room was more and more blue the closer I got.

I took another step and realized that the front doors, the six glass doors with brass handles that led into the atrium, they were open. Now, I'm bright enough to put two and two together and get something that at least resembles four, so that ability worked its magic right there. I remembered that those doors don't have locks, so Jack would chain them each night, wrapping loop after loop after loop of heavy metal chain through the cold metal handles, then pad locking them. Jack himself was the only one with a key to those locks, (the rest of us used the back doors) and taking off those chains was an incredibly noisy process that made garbage trucks picking up other garbage trucks and dropping them into a third set of garbage trucks seem tranquil by comparison. I wasn't gone long enough for those chains to have been removed, and even if I had been I would have heard that racket all the way upstairs, but there they weren't.

I took another step, this time, turning my back to the wall and scooting down kinda sideways. Those old fancy doors also didn't stay open on their own. We used this big ornate ashtray things to prop them open when the audience was coming in. Yet, when I looked to the right, there were the ashtrays, far from the doors that were somehow holding themselves open.

I took another step, only a few from the bottom, only feet from the lobby floor now, I could see that the blue light that was spilling into the lobby was coming either from outside or from the far end of the atrium.

I took another step and another, each one bringing me closer and closer to that entryway where I was sure Greg or Barb or Erica were going to jump out with a "boo." No one jumped, so I pushed myself forward.

Scooting myself around the seemingly magical door, for some reason I now found myself about to peek into the foyer. That room was probably six feet across to the outside doors and maybe thirty feet wide from my end to the ticket window across the way, so there wasn't anywhere for a person to hide in there, or hide a blue-ish light bulb for that matter.

My muscles pretty tense, hoping I'd catch whoever it was off guard and scare them first, I side stepped into the atrium. What I saw there changed everything.

Looking across the room, I saw very clearly the source of the mystery. It was a figure, about five or six feet high made entirely out of blue light. I froze. My brain told my legs to move it out those doors a few feet away, but they didn't listen. I just stood there, kinda transfixed. I remember almost every detail. The figure looked like a woman. She had her hair up, rolled into a bun, she had a high collared dress that buttoned up the back, she was tall, frail looking... her back was to me.

I must have gulped too loud, or maybe my stomach growled, or maybe she heard the urine as it trickled down my leg, but whatever it was, something caught her attention. She started to slowly turn towards me. I could see the lines in her face, the sadness that she carried; I could feel her empty eyes on me.

My jaw dropped, but not in one of those cartoon character AAAooooooGaaa sort of ways, more like a slow steady my mouth kept opening wider and wider and wider. I stopped breathing and my eyes got really big. I started to almost hunch over, as if I was about to fall into the fetal position. I didn't want to lie down on the ground and suck my thumb, but somehow I couldn't seem to move. My brain went through all the options, six feet to the left - door to outside, fifty feet behind you - door to theatre, five steps back - the stairs. All of those seemed like viable options, but my feet didn't like them. My feet finally decided to run, and of all the directions they could have picked, they figured running closer to blue lady was a good idea.

I took one little half step out of the atrium and into the lobby and sprinted myself closer to her. Luckily, my feet, as stupid as they appeared to be, didn't much feel like stopping to have a chat, and I zoomed right past her.

I could have chosen any of seventeen doors; ten into the theatre or six that led to the sweet ghosty-woman-free realm of outside, but no, I chose door seventeen. I ran and hid in the handicap bathroom. I don't know why.

Flying through that door without even thinking about it, I slammed it shut behind me and pushed the little button to lock it, yeah, like little push button door locks are going to stop blue people from getting in there and doing whatever it is blue people made from light do to people who are completely solid and entirely devoid of blueness.

It took a good ten seconds for me to realize where I was, but only an instant to come to the conclusion that I was the stupidest person ever. What the holy heck was I doing in the handicap bathroom? The only door I could have gone through that did not lead to a sure-fire escape route. Trying to calm myself, I mentally listed my options.

There was a window. Windows rock. I can go out the window.

No, The window was seven feet off the ground and, for some inexplicable reason, it had bars on it. I don't know who, but apparently somewhere down the line, someone was concerned that handicap people were going to leap seven feet in the air and climb out the window, so they put bars on it.

I thought for a second, pretty seriously too, about attempting to flush myself down the toilet, even going so far a checking to see if my foot would even fit in the bowl. It didn't.

Under the cabinets, no, there were none. Up into the ceiling tiles. Nope, there were none. The only way out of that room was the way I'd come in.

I made two plans. Plan A. I'd throw open the door, the lady would be no where in sight, I'd make a hard left and spring through the door into the theatre, down the aisle, and out the back door. Plan B. I'd throw open the door, the lady would be there waiting for me, and I'd lay down on the floor and cry. I hoped plan A would work.

Working up the courage, I went for it. I turned the handle, the little lock button's click and my heavy breathing the only sounds. The adrenaline coursing through me made the door like a feather; I tossed it aside and quickly scanned to lobby for any side of psycho Smurfette. No one there. I cut hard, sliding a little on the carpet, but kept my footing and charged that door. I hit it as hard as I could, already envisioning myself sprinting down the street to hide under my bed. The problem... I pushed at full force, ordering that door to open, and it only accepted pull commands.

I'd built up a considerable amount of speed and power in that seven step sprint, so when I hit the door it was like a unstoppable force vs. unmovable object death match. I lost. I found myself falling backwards, but with a nifty ninjaish maneuver right after I hit the ground, I was right back on my feet. A little dizzy, but on my feet and charging right back at the door.
Dodging theatre seats, props, and the stage curtain, I fought my way all the way out the back door. Finally, I calmed down.

I waited for the other tech people to arrive, and praying for that whole safety in numbers thing, I went back inside. I didn't tell a soul about what had happened, I just went about my business and had a fantastic show. (Somehow, when I'd gotten back inside, all my wiring was hooked up perfectly.)

At the end of the night, Jack held his little post-show hooray type pep talk. As always, the Halloween tradition, Jack invited us all to stay and tell ghost stories up on the stage. "Ha ha ha ha ha ha," I blurted out, "Oh man, have I got a... a burning desire to go home. Have fun with the stories guys,"and I left. There was nothing, not even those big heavy chains that'd magically disappeared that was going to keep me in that theatre that night.