Posted on Friday, October 28, 2005

Rant, Rant, Rant

I know it's no better than a cliché to say so, but I Hate Blogger. I hate trying to position photos within text, and continually losing them into the vapor. I hate that when you save a draft, it disappears from the screen until you summon it back from the Blogger crypt. I hate that Surly Girl's comments were taunting me today with having to type in lines from various eye charts in various loopy fonts, because I never, evidently, read them correctly. Now she will just have to live without my well thought-out advice about storing onions in the surviving leg of discarded pantyhose (no, really). I especially hate it when I cannot respond to a comment on MY OWN BLOG because of some innate disability seem to have when it comes to vaulting Blogger's security hurdles. I hate, hate, hate it!

So, while I'm standing here on my ranting soapbox, let's talk about spam, shall we? Yeah, I know, you've heard it all (and lived it all) before. But tell me this: Why is it that even people with obviously female names are bombarded constantly about the inadequacies of our hairlines and penises? Is it not obvious to even the most retarded spammers that lengthening my non-existent penis or overcoming my non-existent male-pattern baldness are among the least likely ways to get to my money? Are they assuming that woman are going to be on the lookout for remedies for these unfortunate conditions on behalf of the men in their lives. Have they never considered that forwarding such an e-mail to a husband along with a "Honey, maybe you should try this!" sort of note would do more to harm a romantic relationship than to enrich it? In my case, being married to a potted plant makes the length of his penis and state of his hairline the absolute least of my worries.

I did, however, get one interesting piece of spam recently. It was a rant against Bill Gates for Microsoft's use of, get this, spam! Isn't there a certain poetry in that? Using spam itself as a means to stage a protest against spam? I hadn't paid attention to the sender at first, but I was intrigued enough to note the name and discovered the biggest treat of all: I was the very person who sent it! And, while I'm certainly prone to lapse into random rants in the general direction of Bill Gates, I have no memory of authoring this particular note. Makes me wonder how many people I may have forwarded it to in my sleep. If you happened to be one of them, forgive me. I have no memory of joining the spamming ranks although, clearly, I must have. If I start spamming you with concerns over certain features of your anatomy, you're welcome to come here in person and slap me.

Posted on Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Colorado Kid

Me, I’m used to buying Stephen King novels by the pound. I usually get the first installment and then come back sometime after payday to get the final few pounds that will finish the story. He does go on. Normally, 184 pages would be barely enough room for Stephen King to clear his throat and sing a few warm-up notes, so his slim new book The Colorado Kid seems particularly spare. It came out just this week, and I read those 184 pages in one sitting.

King is predicting that readers will either love or hate this book—no middle ground. I guess I would fall into the first category, although I did suffer one minor disappointment. There’s a scene in which a character slips around the corner to a Denver Starbucks—in April of 1980. And, although it’s hard now to envision that lost era when there was still such a thing as an urban street not punctuated with multiple Starbucks stores, I know for a fact that Starbucks had not metastasized beyond Seattle at that early date. So there. One picky point for me.

But such trivial matters are not why Stephen King predicts there will be a fair number of readers who may end up hating this book. Instead, it’s because he has either broken such new and unstable ground as to make even the most steadfast reader queasy (that’s the charitable interpretation) or because he has broken the A#1 cardinal mystery writers’ rule: After developing a compelling mystery, he purposely declined to solve it. He left all those open issues embarrassingly open, all those loose ends still flapping in the coastal breeze. His recent novels frequently include the line, “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” Nevertheless, The Colorado Kid includes no satisfaction in this regard, only a celebration of the sort of unknown that may kill cats, but enriches our own lives—at least, if you really think about it.

Did you ever have the experience as a kid of looking at a mountain of prettily wrapped boxes under the Christmas tree, and realizing before the end of winter vacation that they held far more fascination for you than their contents ultimately did? The Colorado Kid is just such a present—one that you can lift and rattle and examine for clues, but one that is ultimately never opened. The paper and bows remain intact. It will always be as pretty and compelling as the December day it appeared under the tree, but at the price of never knowing, not for sure, what’s hidden within the box. Each reader will have to decide for himself if that’s a fair price to pay.

For me, I think it is. As King himself points out in his afterword, we all live with mysteries, many of which will never have solutions. If you don’t believe that contemplating these mysteries has value nevertheless, than you must believe, for example, that religion has no value. What is religion if not a speculation about what becomes of us after this life? Surely this is a mystery that none of us will have sure answers to while we live. But for my money, it’s not just the big mysteries that are worth contemplating. I have several smaller ones that I find myself returning to again and again, although I know the answers to my favorite mysteries are as extinct as the dinosaurs. That doesn’t keep me from reviewing them in the dark hours before I fall asleep. I’ll share my top three with you over the next couple of weeks.

Do you have any mysteries that you have to live with? The kind that will never be solved?

Posted on Friday, October 14, 2005


It’s been a wacky week, but I couldn’t let it slip by entirely without alerting you to the fact that we are in the rancid middle of National Squirrel Appreciation Week. This is the “festive” time during which skwerl-huggers pay homage to their skwerlian overlords, hoping that they will be viewed with favor when the nasty little rodents finally succeed in their plans to take over the world. Gives me a rash just thinking about it.

One another note, this also happens to be National School Lunch Week. Coincidence? With all the hysteria about childhood nutrition and obesity, perhaps there’s some small hope in combining the two events. After all, is it not a basic truth that skwerls – fuzz = protein? Are we not missing a cheap and abundant source of quality meat-like product for our kids in the form of squirrel-burgers? Surely if the Reagan Administration could classify ketchup as a vegetable for school lunch purposes, we can convince George Bush to support a varmint cull for the sake of the children. Come on, George. It’s for the kids.

In the meantime, Dave, probably because cricket is out of season, is playing tag instead. He tagged me this week with a meme requiring me to delve into my archives to a certain depth and pick out a specified sentence to examine for nuance and meaning. I’m aware of this tag and fully intend to comply. For me, however, this constitutes pretty high math, so I have been postponing for a couple of days. I do think it’s lovely that someone out there was creative enough to come up with a use for the overabundant blog archives of the world. Like squirrel meat, they are another under-used resource going to waste. Maybe we should have a National Archive Week? Couldn’t hurt.

Mmmm--tastes like chicken!

Posted on Sunday, October 09, 2005

America's Misspent Youth

Okay, maybe not America's, but at least my kids'. Howser has them both hooked into such a sedentary lifestyle that they cannot be budged from in front of the screen (be it a computer screen, TV screen, or video game) with a crowbar.

I had a chore to do today, and I wanted at least one of the kids to accompany me. The nature of this heinous chore? Kitties. Our next door neighbors had gone for the weekend and asked me to check in on their two kittens. They'd been confined to one room to mitigate potential cat vandalism. The neighbors just wanted us to check on them a couple of times so they wouldn't feel abandoned and alone. Was there any litter box cleaning involved? No. Any special grooming required? No--neither of the kittens nor ourselves. We weren't even asked to fill a food dish or water bowl. All I was asking my children to do was walk a few yards with me to the next house and frolic--yes, frolic--with a pair of the most adorably fuzzy kittens ever minted in this county.

But no. They refused.

So, of course, I had to take out my pretend dentures and shuffle along with my pretend cane while I gave them the standard when-I-was-your-age lecture. "We NEVER had kittens when I was your age. All we had was an old feral cat that spent time drooling out by grandpa's rubish heap. He mostly just yawned and twitched, and that was hard to do because he only had three legs and one good eye.You didn't really want to pet him because of all the flies you had to shoo away. But we loved that damn cat, 'cause we never saw any kittens where I came from. Of course, we never saw the furry old bastard after that one Christmas when there were all those lay-offs down at the mill. At least we had food on the table. Not sure what it was exactly; tasted kinda like chicken..."

I can go on like this for pretty much forever, so Herbie finally promised that when he finished his current on-screen battle, he'd go with me to play with the kittens. Grudgingly.

As is usually the case, I blame Howser.

Posted on Saturday, October 08, 2005

More on Disc Golf

Okay, for the benefit of Surly Girl, here's another picture from my local "Disc Golf" course. This is one of the "holes." I guess the idea is that you aim from afar for this contraption (it's about as tall as I am, by the way), hoping that the lengths of chain will stop your Frisbee and drop it into the basket. From here, you also "tee off" for the next hole on the course.

Mind you, since I've never actually seen anyone play this game, I'm merely speculating here. I feel like the first Eskimo to ever have to describe a camel to his fellow villagers. I wouldn't blame you at all if you can't picture it, but, really, I'm serious.

Posted on Monday, October 03, 2005

When Squirrels Attack

Our friend and neighbor Dave had a recent encounter with a "skwerlian chitterbox" in London, which reminded me of this rather important website. It's titled Scary Squirrel World. I pulled this article from it entitled "When Squirrels Attack." Let none of us be caught unprepared again!

Patriots, teaching children about skwerls is an important part of parenting. Basic instruction should begin at an early age and continue through the formative years.

Failure to do so leads to embarrassing future encounters with the drooling nutzys or worse. Therefore, we recommend warning toddlers as young as 1 to be wary of all skwerlballs.

Of course, most toddlers react intinctively to skwerls. On spying a bushytail, the avearge 1-3 year old will toddle up to it and either a) try to stomp on it, or b) pick it up and stuff it in his or her mouth.

While we applaud such innocent bravado, only a dead skwerl will tolerate this sort of behavior. The consequences to the toddler are often unpleasant.

Needless to say, pathetic skwerlhuggers will tell you that skwerls really pose no danger to young children. They argue that we are peddling paranoia to parents who already have enough to worry about.

Patriots, we can only wish for a world in which the maniacal nutzys are reformed into the lovey equivalent of baby chicks. But that dream is an illusion...

Toddler Falls Three Floors, Walks Away Barely Scratched Thu Sep 11,11:29 AM ET (Greenbelt, Md.) - It was a close-call for a one-year-old boy in Greenbelt Thursday morning. Police say shortly before 9 a.m., the toddler was looking at a squirrel when he pushed up against the screen of an open window and fell three floors landing on mulch, making for a soft landing. The boy was barely scratched according to officers. The boy was already back in the apartment when officers arrived, and seemed fine. But he was taken to Children's Hospital in Washington as a precaution. Chauncey Bowers with Prince George's Fire says the child appears to have no significant injuries. The incident happened in an apartment in the 9,100 block of Edmonston Road. Source: Yahoo News

Patriots, we can only guess at which of the many false promises of squirrel world domination the Edmonston chitterbox used to lure that toddler out the window.

However, the lesson for us is clear. We must teach our children that the bushytail horde is a menace to society.

Moreover, we must tell the youngest, those unable to defend themselves to simply stay clear of all skwerlballs unless an adult or older, responsible child is present.

As for you children out there... Perhaps your parents have fallen victim to squirrel world domination. They have become what we call pathetic skwerlhuggers. You can tell by the way they lavish more attention and better vittles on their skwerlien overlords than on you.

Unfortunately, skwerlhuggery is often chronic and irreversible. However, you can help. Confront your parents with their misguided behavior. Your pleas to turn from the skwerl-side may be the trigger that brings your folks back to reality.

Patriots, the unprovoked Edmonston incident once again exposes Tufty's hellions for the animals they really are. It also reminds us that you're never too young or too old to learn how to do the right thing when it comes to combating the slavering nutzy's.

Posted on Sunday, October 02, 2005


As if I don't have enough to worry about, this sign suddenly appeared along one of my favorite hiking trails. Damn you kids and your new-fangled flying discs! Shouldn't you be in school?!

Yeah, I've turned into an old grumpy person. It's just that I long for the days when a simple aluminum foil hat was enough to protect you from the influence of low-flying discs. Those were the days, my friends. Those were the days.

Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Flower Power

We had a change of venue for the summer staff meeting. Instead of the typical stuffy conference room, one of the managers opened up her home to the group—well, actually, she opened her yard since the house itself was too small to accommodate all of us.

Any outdoor even in this part of the world is a pretty risky proposition, even in August, because the weather can turn grumpy in nothing flat. Fortunately, the sun stuck with us throughout the afternoon. And the food, as I may have mentioned, was supreme.

Unfortunately there was one awkward moment. About midway through the agenda, I looked down to find the hostess’s cat attempting to make sweet love to my shoe—with my foot still in it. Picture PepĂ© LePew at his most insistently amorous—that’s the sort of attention that the cat was inflicting on my shoe. I tired tucking my foot under me to discourage Mr. Romance Kitty, but he jumped into my lap and attempted to retrieve the shoe from above, which, as you might imagine, was a bit of a scene. We finally had to interrupt a fascinating discussion about the finer points of library administration so that I could explain the hypnotic effect my footwear sometimes has on cats. See, this year I noticed an unusually large crop of volunteer catnip sprouting between my patio pavers. Normally, I’d pluck these seedlings out with the rest of the weeds, but since marauding neighborhood cats had decimated my usual catnip patch, I decided to let it go ahead and grow. It wasn’t long before the act of walking across the patio began to transfer the magic aroma onto my shoes. These are shoes I normally wouldn’t wear to work, but they seemed just right for a potentially muddy staff meeting. I had no idea they would become the center my manager’s cat’s borderline pornographic fantasies.

So, to end the distraction, I surrendered my shoe to the cat by taking it off and tossing it behind a bush where it and the kitty could continue their courtship in the privacy they both deserved. At the end of the meeting, when I rescued my shoe, it was still damp. Ew.

My patio has looked like hell most of the summer with weedy clumps of catnip growing everywhere. But I harvested it all today, and it’s not a bad yield for a volunteer effort. I’ll let it dry on racks in the garage for a couple of days before making the kids strip the leaves off the stems and store them in Ziploc baggies (when I made them do this chore last year, it was the first time in recorded history that they actually insisted on taking showers in the daytime). Our special “Meowie Wowie” blend has proven very popular with our cat-burdened friends. Just don’t get pulled over with a baggie of it in your car. You really don’t want to be in the position of saying, “No, really, Officer—it’s just catnip.”

This is enough 'nip to see my two cats through the winter plus most of the cats in our extended cat network.

USDA inspectors get to work grading the newly harvested crop.

Posted on Tuesday, September 27, 2005


I think the tendency toward self-flagellation for grammatical errors, both real and imagined, must be a uniquely English trait. I read a handful of blogs from England regularly and am always amused at the frequency of parenthetical apologies for splicing infinitives and dangling participles. These crop up, not only in the middle of posts, but in the comments too! And if one isn’t quick to acknowledge their own grammatical infractions with an immediate mea culpa, there’s sure to be a subsequent commenter to gleefully dissect them in full public view.
I read at least as many American blogs and can’t remember a single instance of any such apology appearing in them. The closest I’ve seen are a few writers who occasionally need to unburden the guilt that results from the gratuitous use of italics, bold type, and parentheses. These writers, however, seem to feel guilty about these trespasses not because they are somehow in error, but merely because they are an unnecessary indulgence—much the same way I feel about chocolate. The mere admission that they know these habits are somehow wrong seems to empower them to carry on committing them anyway, just like acknowledging, “I really shouldn’t have any more,” makes taking yet another Hershey Kiss from the candy dish seem reasonable.

My best theory is that Americans can maintain such a casual stance toward grammar because we speak a language that isn’t named for our country. It’s easy for us to shrug off the finer points of grammar and revert to communicating with grunted phrases such as “and stuff like that,” and “ya know what I mean?” because there’s no element of national pride in it for us. But I guess if you’re English and can’t expertly navigate the English language, you have slightly more at stake.

Then again, maybe Americans have simply played fast and loose with the language since we held certain truths to be self-evident. Who knows?

But let’s hear it for the English language. Without it, we’d be left to attempt to communicate solely through gestures. And anyone who ever drives a freeway could easily predict how that would affect international relations.

On a completely unrelated topic, I had to remind Howser tonight that, since I’ve already had all the children I intend to conceive, if I can’t rely on him for yard work and the occasional minor automotive repair, he’s really out-lived his usefulness to me. Sometimes only the blunt approach works when it comes to getting his potted ass out from in front of the computer. I think Dr. Phil would call this “Tough Love.”

Posted on Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Ghost of Republicans Past

I was driving down the road yesterday, just passing the Piranha Bar, when I saw something on the side of the road that scared the hell out of me. I glanced toward the shoulder and caught a glimpse of one of those election campaign signs that clutter up the roadsides this time of year. I can normally drive past them without even seeing them, but this one was different. It was your standard sort of red and blue cardboard rectangle decorated with white lettering, but in the split second it took me to glance at it, the name “Reagan” flashed before my eyes. And then it was gone.

WTF???? Reagan??? Isn’t he dead?

I, of course, am not the sort of person who celebrates another human being’s death—not even a Republican’s. I would never do that. But last year, when we got all that Reagan funeral footage from Washington D.C. and California, I don’t think I was the only one who felt the tiniest bit of relief that the whole Reagan era had come to an irrefutable end. For me, it was the same sort of relief you might feel at the end of a vampire movie when they FINALLY drive the stake through the rancid heart of the demon. The villagers can rest easy in the sure knowledge that the monster will never rise again.

Then, a year later, you glance at the side of the road and see a Reagan campaign sign? What is this, some sort of cheesy horror movie sequel?

And then I remembered. One of his sons lives up here. Was the junior Reagan now pursuing a political career? Did he plan to cut his teeth on local politics before launching onto the national scene? It was making me terribly jittery. Jittery enough that when I got home, I went on-line to do a bit of research. The current administration has already exhausted my patience with the concept of “Republicans: The Next Generation.” I don’t need any more of that, thank you very much.

Luckily, I discovered that the sign I had seen was for a candidate merely named after Ronald Reagan rather than spawned from him. Reagan was his given named, one that doomed him, I guess, to the pursuit of public office. Phew. That was close.

I’ve seen a few more of these signs, and can now pass by without worrying. They’ve become just another part of the scenery.

But today a different one caught my eye. This one said “Nixon.” No, it can’t be!

But doesn’t one of the Nixon brothers live up this way???

God, I hate election years.

Posted on Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Staff Meeting, The Best Restaurant In Town!

It’s staff meeting day today, so I’m off to do some laps on the treadmill in anticipation. This will be my third staff meeting since being hired, and I now know exactly what to expect: enough food and pie to make Thanksgiving dinner look like a coffee break at Weight Watchers. That’s really all that I remember from my first two meetings. Today, however, the agenda might actually be meatier than the menu because the Big Cheese (sorry, there’s just an overabundance of food imagery running through my brain at this point) just announced an organization-wide restructuring—the sort of corporate blood-letting that has most of my co-workers wailing and gnashing their teeth. Me, I’m a part time employee with four months worth of service. If my job evaporates while the pot gets stirred, I won’t be crying for too long. It’s like that song lyric—“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I don’t have much to loose here. If I were laid off I could walk away with no hard feelings and maybe do something a little more ambitious. You know, clean the house or something. Maybe even the hamster cage.

But I would miss those staff meetings. Or at least the refreshments.

I'd better go hike now. I made the mistake of eating breakfast already and need to work off some calories before meeting time.

P.S. - Phil, if you have any luck getting your mom to care for your potted plant, let me know. Maybe I can use that strategy on my ficus.

Posted on Sunday, September 18, 2005

Whatever You Do, Don't Write About Hamsters

I am in the midst of a long weekend at the moment, and, with nothing in particular planned, I’ve been spending much of my time reading my way through Blogsylvania. The emerging trend this weekend is posts that begin with a pledge to NOT write about Hurricane Katrina, because, frankly, enough already. And then these bloggers perversely go on to write another 500+ words about that very topic. I guess it’s abuse when other people flog a dead horse but a humane attempt at euthanasia when these bloggers do the same.

So I am not going to write about Hurricane Katrina. Instead, I’m going to write about hamsters!

Okay, not really. I’ve inflicted enough Hamster related nonsense on you to last a life time (or at least a couple of more weeks), so I will show rare self-restraint and NOT write about hamsters.

Now, having made the above statement, I am free to write on about hamsters. I think that’s the way this works based on my recent survey.

Luckily, I really don’t have all that much to say about hamsters at the moment. I just wanted to share one piece of trivia with you that Herb and I discovered in a library book that I forced him at gunpoint to read with me when it became tragically clear that a hamster was in our future (Herbie doesn’t read recreationally; only under extreme duress can he be persuaded to pick up a book). And that piece of trivia is this:

Did you know that, if given access to an exercise wheel, a hamster can run up to two miles a night? Seriously, two miles!

Here’s what I want to know: How can anything four inches long and built like a potato run two miles in a single night? I myself have a much broader wingspan than any hamster, and you won’t find me running any two miles—at least not voluntarily.

Just another one of the animal kingdom’s enduring mysteries….

(Illustration swiped from Jim Gordon)

Posted on Saturday, September 17, 2005

I May Not Have Approached This With the Proper Attitude

“Rainier Middle School OPEN HOUSE. Thursday, 7:00 – 8:45 pm. Please join us at 7:00 pm in the Gymnasium for a brief presentation regarding school-wide programs. At approximately 7:15 pm you will be dismissed to your child’s first period class. You will follow your child’s schedule for the evening. We will be providing you with an evening time schedule and a map of the building to assist you.”

It should be obvious that there are two main problems with the foregoing invitation. First, after adding travel time, the school is asking for a good two hours of our lives—two hours spent back in the Hell-on-Earth which is middle school. And, since this is a parent-only event, attending would require us to pay a babysitter three hours’ worth of wages or to cross our fingers and hope our children are capable of spending an evening without endangering themselves or each other. Fat chance of finding a babysitter and fatter chance that the kids won’t assault each other in our absence. Fabulous.

The second problem is perhaps the bigger affront: No where in the text of this invitation can you find the words, “Open Bar.”

Nevertheless, we strapped the kids into their straight jackets and muzzles (since a babysitter wasn’t available) and trotted off to the middle school to get a flavor of our daughter Peaches’s current life.

It’s amazing how quickly otherwise reasonable adults can revert to junior high mentality once under the roof of the local middle school. I couldn’t stop myself from making snotty, sarcastic comments just under my breath as the principal droned on and on at the assembled parents. Howser elbowed me and suggested that I should try for the teacher rather than the student perspective. Good advice, but I’ve never taught middle school, only high school. Yes, that’s right—I used to be a high school English teacher. Here we shall observe a brief moment of silence to allow anyone visiting this site from England to hang his head and shed a tear; please accept my apologies for all the damage I and my fellow Americans (especially my former students and our current president) have inflicted on your native tongue.

Do we all feel strong enough to carry on? Good. Let’s continue.

The main thing the evening did for me was to improve my attitude about my present age. I may find a few more gray hairs every day, but at least I’ll never have to go back to middle school. I feel so sorry for Peaches. I was spitting mad at the whole place in less than two hours. She’s going to have to spend the next three years of her life with those people. You’d think things would have improved since the dark epoch when Howser and I were her age, and a few things have. In fact, there was just one aspect of the school that hadn’t shown a hint of evolution over the past thirty years: the P.E. department. I especially loved their policy forcing parents to take their child to the doctor if he or she misses P.E. for more than two days. After that point, parents can’t be trusted to judge their own child too sick to participate. Parents are required to go to the time and expense to of an otherwise unnecessary medical appointment merely because the P.E. teachers don’t trust them to exercise their own judgment. It all makes me wonder if, as part of the licensing process, P.E. teachers are still required to demonstrate their own physical flexibility by inserting their heads up their asses. I suspect so.

Like the saying goes, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach P.E.”

Thank God each and every day you draw breath that you are no longer in middle school. I know I do.

(P.S. Did anyone see "Blogs of Note" tonight? It featured a site called--get The main focus of this noted blog is evidently William Shatner's southern hemisphere. And you all thought I had too much time on my hands--ha!)

Posted on Friday, September 16, 2005

Good News!

A new season of Dr. Phil has begun. Let us rejoice and be glad!

Posted on Thursday, September 15, 2005

How to be Passive Aggressive:

How does the passive aggressive male celebrate his wedding anniversary?

1) He wakes up to the sound of his wife whispering in his ear, “Happy anniversary, Darling. It’s been X wonderful years.” Without thinking, he sits bolt upright in bed and yells, “Oh shit! Is that today?!?”

2) He watches his wife give birth to his baby on the day before their anniversary. He goes to the hospital gift shop to buy a flower arrangement, selecting a free card large enough to inscribe with both events, thinking, “Cool. Two for the price of one!”

3) He watches his wife struggle to maintain a certain level of fitness and health while he allows himself to go to pot. She succeeds in losing weight and makes maintaining her success part of her daily routine. He buys her a THREE POUND box of chocolates for their wedding anniversary.

Guess which one(s) of the above stunts Howser has pulled. Go ahead. It shouldn’t be that hard…

Posted on Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hamster Suicide Hotline, May I Help You?

I should never be allowed to own hamsters. I don’t want to go into details here, but my sordid history with hamsters is a multi-part saga fraught with bloodshed and heartbreak. They should make a mini-series about it, like Roots, or maybe just a movie-of-the-week. Or an after-school special on Animal Planet. Or at least a public service announcement on PBS. Anyway, if there were an on-line registry for hamster offenders (the same as they have for sex offenders), my name would be on it. Rodents would be out picketing in front of my house. I’d have to move the whole family out of state.

What I’m trying to make clear is that I should never live under the same roof with a hamster.

So, of course, what does Herbie start bugging us about the minute that damn Hamtaro cartoon premiers? You got it. “Mom, when can I get a hamster?” (Notice the use of the presumptive sell—that’s my boy.)

“When pigs fly, my boy. When the South rises again. When you can ski down the ice-coated sides of the smoking peaks of Hell. That’s when.”

“So, September sounds good. We can make it a birthday present!”

“Let me make this perfectly clear, Herbie: there will be no—and I mean NO—hamsters in this house. Ever. Unless someday I die alone in this house, and hamsters find their way inside to gnaw on my forgotten and moldering remains, you will never see me and a hamster in this house at the same time. Never. As in Not Ever. Got it? NEVER.”

So the next day he goes to Howser and asks, “Dad, when can we get a hamster?”

“Well,” says Howser, “You’d have to have a cage first. They make some really cool hamster cages these days.”

“Could I get one of those balls that the hamster can use to roll across the floor too?”

“Let’s go on-line and see what we can find!”

This, of course, started them down a road from which there was no turning back. They looked at all sorts pet store sites and read customer reviews of the various cages that are out there. Howser, being a potted ficus tree, is a bit of a shut-in, so on-line shopping is his specialty. Together, he and Herbie mentally moved into the Hamster Dream Castle before I even knew they were discussing the subject.

The next thing you know, a cute little teddy-bear hamster named Cinnamon has taken up residence in a multi-level rodent habitat on top of Herbie’s dresser. Everyone was very excited (especially the cat), except for me.

A hamster’s heart is a tiny little doomsday clock, ticking down the moments until the hamster shuffles off his fuzzy coil and leaves some unfortunate adult all alone to handle body disposal (can one flush a hamster? Anybody?) and a grief-stricken child. That day came, predictably, on Herbie’s birthday.

While Herb was still at school, some vague feeling of dread drew me to his room to check on the hamster. I checked the lobby level of Cinnamon’s cage first. Not finding him there, I turned the cage to get a better view into the penthouse. It was then that something fell into the connecting tube from above, landing with a thud against a wad of fetid bedding that I then saw was completely clogging the tube. Face first, as it turns out. As lively as a rock.

Great. Just great.

Evidently Cinnamon, a prodigious pooper from the outset, had become dissatisfied with the bedding he’d fouled in the penthouse. Unwilling to sleep in it, he kicked it down the tube until it was thoroughly clogged. As a result, he blocked off his airflow to the enclosed penthouse, and the blockage itself sent poisonous fumes up to where he was sleeping. In other words, he managed to commit suicide by self-asphyxiation. I only hope there was no auto-erotic element involved. This was going to be hard enough to explain to Herbie without getting into fetishes.

And just how was I going to get a dead hamster dislodged from an acrylic tube before Herbie got home? Finding the tube glued into place in the cage, I took the only reasonable course of action under the circumstances: I got a wire coat-hanger and twisted it into a hook.

After opening the penthouse, I could have gone after the body from above, but, being afraid I might accidentally spear it rather than simply hook it, I elected to use the hanger to start digging out the blockage from below. As I picked away at the wood shavings, I noticed Cinnamon’s back foot twitch. On one hand, a dying hamster might be better than a dead one. Herb would have a chance to say his goodbyes. On the other, we could end up with a rodent in a persistent vegetative state and have to debate about when to discontinue life support. The day was just getting better and better.

As I got more of the shavings loosened, Cinnamon’s head jerked to one side. When I finally dislodged the clog, the hamster slid out the bottom of the tube and took in a couple of huge breaths of air. Then he opened his eyes, much as Dorothy did at the end of the Wizard of Oz, and flipped back onto his stubby little paws. After staggering a couple of drunken turns on his exercise wheel, he was back to the business of begging for pumpkin seeds.

This was several days ago, and Cinnamon is still among the living. Herbie is none the wiser. Because, as it turns out, the best part about hamsters is that one who has suffered long-term brain damage due to lack of oxygen is virtually indistinguishable from any other hamster on the planet. And if Cinnamon ever succeeds at committing suicide in the future, at least it won’t be on Herbie’s birthday.

Posted on Tuesday, September 13, 2005


My husband the ficus tree has not a single protective bone in his body (or maybe I should say stem instead of bone, but I think you get the picture). It's a good thing that I have a mother to worry about me. When I started this job, she decided I need to have a cell phone. Even though I haven't lived under her roof in more than twenty years, she still hates the thought of me driving alone in the dark of night. Mechanical problems, accidents, car jackings--these are the sorts of things she envisions when she thinks of her daughters out alone in the world. When I talk to Howser about work, all he thinks is, "I wonder when she'll stop talking so I can get back to killing aliens." I actually make him look at me and note what I'm wearing when I go for hikes (potted plants don't hike), so that he can tell the police what I was wearing if I go missing. "Whatever," he says. "It's not like you don't have more dental records than anyone else on the planet." When Mom gave me the cell phone, it didn't even occur to Howser to be embarrassed that he didn't think of it first. He just said, "Huh," and went back to his video game.

I work in two different branches of my local library. One of them is located in one of the biggest shopping malls in the state. It's a pretty new concept, libraries in shopping malls. The idea is to bring the library to the people instead of expecting the people to make trip to a stand-alone library. It's proven quite popular with the patrons, but less so with the staff. We, like all mall employees, have to park on the outer fringes of the parking lot and make our way in the dark through the riff-raff that security shoos out of the mall at closing time. It can be a little scary.

Yesterday I worked at the mall--a short shift that ended mid-afternoon. It was a bright, sunny day. The parking lot was full of birdsong and happy shoppers. I whistled as I made my way to my car, thinking about what we might have in the fridge for dinner. I pulled out of the parking lot at about 3:00 pm. At about the same time, on the opposite side of the parking lot, two men got into their car and were shot to death. The gunman was in the car with them. No one yet knows if he was acquainted with his victims or had picked their car at random and waited there for their arrival. So far, no arrests have been made.

I didn't know about the shootings until later that evening. I told Howser about the story I'd seen on the news. I'm not sure how I was expecting him to respond, but I really wasn't too surprised when all he said was, "Huh. That's cool."

Posted on Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Family Photos

We took a trip to Seattle's Pacific Science Center this weekend in honor of Herb's 8th birthday. I'll try to force this to make sense since I'm still a beginner when it comes to posting photos on Blogger.

Photo #1 is Herb with his dad (the potted plant) outside the Imax theatre.

Photo #2 is of the Dino sculptures outside.

Photo #3 is in the Butterfly House.

A good time was had by all.

Posted on Wednesday, September 07, 2005

My mom wasn’t emotional enough to give me a hug and a kiss as she dropped me off for my first day of first grade, but I didn’t mind. I felt I was lucky that she’d at least given me a ride – a luxury that I knew wouldn’t be coming again. My parents sort of thought of us as little postal workers when it came to walking to school; neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night would warrant them giving us a ride anywhere if we were healthy enough to be ambulatory.

Since I was the last of the three daughters in the family, there was very little ceremony left for my rites of passage; not that I think my older sisters had much pomp expended on them either. My mom wasn’t going to waste time on silly sentiments about her “little babies” leaving the nest for grade school. Now that I was in first grade, she had a career search to begin. After ten years staying home with children, she was ready to be out in a world of adult company and conversation. She waved, turned, and virtually flew out of Room 1, following the sweet perfume of freedom right out the double front doors of Bush Elementary School.

This was the end of the summer of ’68, the Summer of Love, at least in the rest of the world. In our house in Salem, Mom and Dad, who had started their family rather late in life, were already well past well past 40—and were therefore part of that generation of people over 30 who were not to be trusted. To their credit, we never heard them utter even a single racial epithet, but they showed no compunction about identifying hippies as a breed apart from “normal” people. On the rare occasions that we saw a longhaired psychedelic being on the streets, we girls would hoot and point as if we’d just spotted a Martian. Much to my dad’s amusement. He never knew how we grew to covet love beads and leather sandals, thinking they were probably the most exotic accessories in the world.

To say our parents kept us sheltered from the long strange trips the country took in the 1960’s would certainly be an understatement. Not only were we kept from the evil influence of the hippie generation, we were so cosseted that we never even heard of the Beatles until long after they had broken up. Under the circumstances, I have to wonder how it was that I ever heard Simon & Garfunkle singing about Mrs. Robinson, but clearly I had, because I was especially thrilled to discover that my first grade teacher was named Mrs. Robinson. I may have had absolutely no idea what the lyrics meant, but that didn’t keep me from humming them under my breath as my Mom and I exchanged our brisk farewells that first morning. I had things to do too.

Mrs. Robinson had labeled me with a nametag cut out in the shape of a teddy bear on which she had written my name in her confident, clear handwriting. I wore it proudly. As the other kids filed in clinging to their sniffling, teary mothers, I carefully organized my desk, packing away Crayolas, big round pencils, and my pulp paper tablet with the best precision I could muster at age six. I wished the rest of the moms would get themselves on their way so class could actually start. I had on a new dress (not one of the dreaded hand-me-downs from my sisters), by black patent leather shoes with ruffled white anklets, and a smile featuring a conspicuous lack of teeth. I was so ready to get my education underway!

As I waited impatiently for the moms to clear out and the class to begin, a little boy approached me. His mom had already departed too. The nametag attached to his shirt read “T-O-M-M-Y,” but, not yet having learned to read, I didn’t know what the letters said. So I asked him what his name was.

“Tommy,” he said. “What’s yours?”

“Amanda Matilda,” I answered.

“Oh. So... do you wanna fuck?”

Here was a word I had never heard before. So, having no idea what I had just been invited to do, I asked what exactly he meant.

“That’s where a boy and a girl go behind the bushes, and the boy takes off the girl’s clothes, then the girl takes off the boy’s clothes, and the boy lays on top of the girl.”

Failing to see the attraction in any of this (especially for the girl, who was evidently to be sandwiched between a gross naked boy and mud), I declined the offer. Tommy shrugged and went on his way.

I recounted this little vignette to Howser after having put Peaches to bed one night last week. He was clearly appalled. “You didn’t tell your parents?” he asked.

“God, no. I would get in trouble for saying a word like that to them. At least I thought I would at the time. Besides, it was all very conversational. I remember feeling embarrassed, but not threatened. It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

Still, I remember that little exchange more than thirty years later.

I had dropped off Peaches that morning at school for her first day of first grade. I gave her a hug and a kiss at the classroom door, but kept things brisk. I know she was thrilled to be starting her education too. I went out the door with a smile on my face, but the tears started as soon as I closed the car door behind me.

I wonder now if my mother did that too back in ’68.

* * *

Update: I wrote this little essay several years ago when Peaches started first grade. This week, I dropped her off for her first day of middle school. Dear God, where do the years go?

Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Check out my new page design—isn’t it cool! Miss Zoot did this for me, and I love it. And she did it almost instantaneously. While being pregnant. I was lucky if I was motivated enough to roll into the kitchen and eat a package of Oreos while I was pregnant. Seriously. Thank you, Miss Zoot!

Clearly I have a lot of work to do on the sidebar, so that I can get some of you lovely people up on the blogroll. I’ll be working on that over the next week; stay tuned.

Thanks, Hoss. You’re the best!

Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Herbie Does Good

Herbie called up the stairs yesterday, trying to find me. “I’m here, Herbie. In the computer room. Come on up.”

“No, Mom, you come down here. I want to talk to you.”

Okay, that’s fine. He knows that the computer room is the place where we keep his dad’s potted ass (right where dad’s fronds can reach the keyboard), and, whatever was on his mind, he evidently wanted to keep it from his dad.

“Mom,” Herb confessed in my ear, “I want to do some chores to make some money. Do you have any chores I could do?”

Do I? HA! I have enough chores to keep a platoon of second-graders busy for a week. No problem. I figured he could start with cleaning the cat box, and we’d see where we would go from there.

Herbie got right to work, but I was puzzled about why he would want to keep his desire to earn some money secret from Howser. I had to know what he was saving for. I was hoping it wasn’t something that I would have to veto (like the latest weapon he’d seen on COPS).

Herbie looked from side to side, making sure no spies were in the room before he’d tell me his goal. He finally whispered, “I want to make some money to send to those people. You know, those people that got hurt in the hurricane.”

“Herbie, that’s wonderful. I think that’s a great idea. But why wouldn’t you want to tell your dad?”

“I just thought he wouldn’t let me. That he’d think it was stupid.”

My heart just cracked and bled all over my shoes when he said that. What kind of conversations have those two been having that would cause Herbie to think that his own dad would mock him for acting on such an unselfish urge? I guess that just the sort of thing you have to expect when your son’s most significant role model is a ficus tree.

“Oh, no, Herb! Your dad wouldn’t think it’s stupid. He’d be as proud of you as I am. He’d want to know what you’re doing. Can I go tell him?”

Herb reluctantly agreed to let me tell his dad. Howser even climbed out of his pot long enough to wash his car with Herbie, enabling him to earn a few more dollars.

Today, Herbie had earned eight dollars. I told him I would match every dollar he earned, so he donated $16.00 to Northwest Medical Teams this afternoon.

I’ve never been prouder of Herbie.

Posted on Sunday, September 04, 2005

Big Happenings Next Week...

The only thing that’s making the thought of returning to school bearable for Herbie is that he has a birthday coming up that same week. I’m sure he will again be the oldest (not to mention largest and tallest) in his class. And, if last year was any indication, he’ll probably be the first to be suspended and to establish a long-term relationship with the new school principal. I learned to hate caller I.D. last year. Every time I saw that it was the school calling, I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. Either it was going to be a call about Peaches having a tickle in the back of her throat (Peaches, a fledgling hypochondriac, had a frequent flier account with the school nurse) or yet another call about Herbie and the poetically detailed death threats he would sometimes make against students and staff alike. No one ever seemed to be comforted by my assurances that he was merely speaking metaphorically on these occasions. School administrators are so damn literal. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke, that’s what I always say. (Well, actually I don’t, but this may be my year!)

So, anyway, we are trying to disregard the fact that school is about to start up again and instead concentrate on the upcoming birthday. We are Playmobil people in a big way (you know just how big if you read yesterday’s entry); they have great toys in enough themes to satisfy any child: pirates, astronauts, dinosaurs. Peaches has a collection of farm and zoo sets. Herbie has a castle populated by three-inch-high knights armed with every manner of tiny plastic weaponry and armor. These Playmobil sets occupy a lot of acreage on our living room carpet, but I try to be patient as I vacuum around them. In Herbie’s case, his Playmobil castle is about the only thing he’ll play with that doesn’t come with a video monitor and joystick. When his friend Jack comes over, they can spend actual hours mustering their competing armies and fighting battles for control of the kingdom. It can get quite violent and bloody (at least in an imaginary way), but at least they are acting out plots borne of their own twisted little-boy imaginations rather than those presented to them on some computer screen.

I ordered a big Playmobil shipment for Herbie’s upcoming birthday. It’s expensive stuff, but you have to understand that in the past, Herbie’s birthday and Christmas requests included only items that any sane parents would try to exclude from their child’s life. Bowie knives, paintball guns, bear spray—things like that. Unless it was the sort of thing that would get you arrested if you tried to take it through airport security, Herb just wasn’t interested. I’m willing to pay for over-priced Playmobil toys if I can use them to direct his energy in more constructive directions.

One of the things I ordered was a set of furniture designed for one of the Playmobil doll houses. We don’t have a doll house, but Peaches has been complaining about the lack of furniture in her farmhouse. And, although Herb would never think to complain about such a thing, I’ve been thinking the castle’s residence should be furnished too. So I’ve started to sneak in a couple of things overnight for the kids to discover in these days leading up to the birthday. Little couches and bookcases are starting to appear in rooms that had been starkly empty before. I, of course, lie about knowing where these items came from, suggesting we must have mice that are dragging these things out of their holes when they prove to be inedible. Herbie is searching our baseboards in the mad hope of finding the mice’s hide-out. Peaches, older now, gives me these appraising looks that suggest she has a good idea that I’m probably involved somehow.

I love finding ways to give my kids unexpected gifts—tucking little toys in among the old ones to be found later and wondered over. As far as I’m concerned, it beats wrapping up a gift and adding it to a pile under a Christmas tree where it will be opened and discarded before the end of the day.

One of the favorite traditions I’ve established with my kids is the Book Fairy. Instead of buying my kids books and handing them out in the car (as we often do), occasionally, the Book Fairy will leave a new book on their beds to be discovered when they wake up in the morning. Those books become immediately elevated to an enchanted level that they would never achieve if I merely presented them to the kids saying, “Here, I got this for you today.”

The Book Fairy will definitely be showing up with a delivery for Herb’s birthday next week. Maybe she’ll be able to make the whole idea of reading a bit more appealing to him—just in time for school.

Posted on Sunday, September 04, 2005

Family Photos

Here is our family portrait in Playmobil. Maybe I'll make this one into a Christmas card...

Posted on Friday, September 02, 2005


I have a confession to make: This isn’t the first time I’ve had a blog up on the web. The reason I closed down my old storefront and set up this new one is a story for another day. And as much as I hate to return to the vault at my old place, I felt like I had to pull out these couple of paragraphs that I wrote about living through Hurricane Gilbert way back in 1988.

* * *

Now let me tell you something about the process of living through a category 5 hurricane and its aftermath, something I have no business knowing—volcanoes being the main source of natural disaster lore in my part of the country—but still do. You might think that a category 5 hurricane would be equally devastating regardless of where it makes landfall. But I’m here to testify that such an event in the United States—Florida, for example—plays out in a profoundly different manner from the same events in Mexico. In Florida, you would have high-tech storm warning and tracking systems. You’d have the Red Cross setting up shelters and distributing nourishing if flavorless sandwiches. Afterward, you might have the National Guard keeping the peace, the arrival of federal disaster relief, and probably Jeb Bush buzzing overhead in a helicopter, wringing his hands and saying, “Gosh, ain’t it awful?”

If you’re a tourist in Mexico, expect a slightly different experience. Expect to put your life in the hands of your beachfront hotel’s marketing director. He’s all that’s left because every civic leader and senior hotel executive skedaddled to higher ground as soon as they were able to translate the mysterious word, “Evacuate!” that the Miami Weather Bureau kept shouting at them over the phone lines. Be prepared to be herded with about 200 of your countrymen into the hotel basement because it’s already too late to evacuate a crowd that size and the basement is the only facility big enough to hold that many people that doesn’t have windows (and, therefore the eventual probability of broken glass propelled by winds approaching 200 mph). Be prepared to remind your hotel marketing director that, considering the basement is actually below sea level, it might not be the safest choice in the very likely event that the coming hurricane will be accompanied by a record storm surge. Watch your marketing director shrug and reassure you by saying, “We will hope for the best,” as he crosses himself and takes five minutes to get right with Jesus. Afterward, if you’re still alive, you will, of course, enjoy no electricity, plumbing, or communications until after your evacuation. You will be told, day after interminable day, to stay on hotel property because the locals are looting the town and the police still haven’t returned. Then, just as you expect the Mexican government to notice the devastated jungle which used to be the Yucatan Peninsula, expect to be reminded that the next day is Mexico’s Independence Day, so, despite even their own citizens’ dire circumstances, the government will close for the holiday and remain closed until sometime next week.

* * *

I never thought in a million years that I’d see scenes so reminiscent of Mexico playing out in the United States of America. I am so deeply saddened and, yes, ashamed, that such things could so easily happen here too. At least, after we were finally evacuated, we had a far away home to return to. Even after living through Hurricane Gilbert, I can’t even imagine what all those people in Mississippi and Louisiana are going through. God help them. Certainly the government hasn’t.

Here are one "before" and two "after" pictures. Notice the change in the color of the sky and water. Notice how the top right corner of the hotel has been chewed away in the "after" version. What you can't see in that photo is that the pool is completely full of rotting vegetation, including entire palm trees. We had to take a bucket of pool water with us to the only open toilets so that we could "flush." Two days after the storm, the hotel could identify 20 or so rooms sound enough to use. We spent the rest of the week in the room we were assigned to along with three other couples. Howser and I share the bed you see me on, another couple had the adjacent bed. A third couple slept on the floor. And the other couple assigned to our room elected to continue sleeping in the ballroom (can't say as I blame them!).

(p.s.--Sorry I'm not any better at adding photos to blogger. Bear with me; I'm still just a beginner!)

Posted on Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans

You know what Dr. Phil always says: That the same sex parent is the most powerful role model in a child’s life. That’s one of the things I like about Dr. Phil—his astute grasp of the obvious. But it never hurts to be reminded of these things. In our house, Herbie is clearly following his dad down the road to potted plant perdition, but Peaches is so much like me it’s uncanny—and that might not be any better. She has become the junior partner in all my guilty pleasures. We love to sit in the dark watching marathons of America’s Most Haunted British Hotels (or whatever they call those ghost shows) on the Travel Channel. We go to trashy movies together. And ice cream parlors. So, yeah, it may be hypocritical for me to be complaining about my husband’s passivity under the circumstances, but at least we females aren’t wholly root bound yet. Not like some people whose name shall remain Howser.

This weekend I took Peaches to a see a movie called Skeleton Key. As I mentioned, we like that ghosty stuff, and this movie was adequately spooky without being bloody. And it’s hard to go wrong with Kate Hudson. Other than that, the movie didn’t have a whole lot going for it, but I mention it because it was set in Louisiana, largely in New Orleans. It was full of swamps, Spanish moss, and Hoodoo—all the atmosphere you could ever want. I hope New Orleans isn't gone forever.

Posted on Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Family Photos

Here is my husband Howser and our son. Herbie wants to grow up to be just like his dad. I was worried about their relationship when Herb was a baby. Fortunately, once he developed the hand/eye coordination to play countless hours of gratuitously violent computer games, they really started to bond! Howser has even taught Herbie how to eat chips left-handed while running a joystick with his right, and how to grunt single syllable responses if someone makes the mistake of trying to engage him in conversation during the course of an on-screen battle. I used to suggest that they expand their activities to include things like taking a walk, reading, or riding bikes. “You know,” I suggested, “something a bit more important…?”

“This is important,” my husband assured me. “It’s not like these aliens are going to kill themselves, right boy?”

“Uh,” Herb grunted in evident agreement.

Special times.

Posted on Monday, August 29, 2005

100 Reasons Why I Feel Completely Neutral About My Husband

I promise you that this isn’t going to be a blog about how much I hate my husband—two reasons: first, Christine already writes that blog, and it’s fascinating. Reading it is as irresistible as slowing down to get a good look at a car crash on the side of the interstate. You want to smugly believe that something like that could never happen to you, but there’s always that little needling voice reminding you, “There but for the grace of God.” One of these days I intend to learn how to install a blog roll on this page so you can see what I mean for yourself (sorry I’m such a beginner!). Second: I don’t hate my husband. Not even remotely. Think of your neediest, most high-maintenance house plant. Do you hate it? Of course not. It may be messy, droopy, or otherwise irritating, but certainly not to the degree of inspiring hate. It’s hard to hate something as passive as a houseplant.

On the other hand, it’s hard to love a house plant too.

My husband is a houseplant in all ways but one. A ficus tree, like my husband, is passive. My husband, unlike a ficus tree, is passive aggressive. I’ve yet to meet a passive aggressive ficus tree.

I’ve met a couple of maples with bad attitudes, but that’s another story.