Sunday, July 31, 2005

Froot duped

Of all the perfectly good reasons I’ve given myself to doubt my own sanity, here’s the thing that finally convinced me that my mind does not work correctly: Froot Loops don’t have different flavors. I could have sworn I tasted cherry in the red ones and lime or a hint of asparagus in the green ones, but they’re all the exact same thing. Apparently, if you squirt blue dye on a pork rind, a human brain will automatically make it taste like a blueberry.

I know this because a friend of a friend went to the Froot Loops factory. A tour guide showed him the spot where a zillion white Froot Loops go by on a conveyor belt, and are then diverted to separate areas, where, as the tour guide informed my friend’s friend, the colors are added to the Froot Loops.

“You mean that’s where the colors and flavors are added,” said my friend’s friend.

“No, just the colors,” said the tour guide. “There aren’t any different flavors.”

So there you have it: indisputable fourth-hand proof that what I’m telling you is true. I hate to use anonymous sources, but I’m afraid that my friend’s friend’s identity must remain a secret, because I forgot his name. Ron or something like that.

The Froot Loop flavor revelation doesn’t blow my mind as much as the first time I Googled the word “Liger,” but it’s up there. It’s also quite possible that my source is unreliable, and everything I’ve just told you is completely untrue. Should that be the case, I can only hope that Toucan Sam doesn’t follow his nose to his lawyer and slap me with a lawsoot.

Perhaps I’ve already put too much thought into this matter, but I am very interested in all things pertaining to cereal, because that’s what I eat for dinner most nights, due primarily to my wife Kara and I being afflicted with severe culinary impairment. We both have two left spatulas. Even if we did know how to cook, we’d have a hard time rousting up enough motivation to do anything about it. By the time we both get home from work, even pouring a bowl of cereal seems like an extraordinary hassle. Around our house, “gourmet” means Honey Nut instead of plain.

Kara’s favorite thing to watch while we eat our cereal is, of all things, cooking shows. To me, that’s like prisoners on death row watching the Travel Channel.

“Don’t be afraid to put too much butter on the lobster tails. You can always drip the extra into your garlic mashed potatoes like so,” chirps the TV, as my Oat-y Wheat Blossom falls off the spoon to meet my drool on the coffee table.

My favorite thing about those shows is the claim that you can prepare the featured meals in thirty minutes. I know from Kara’s personal experience that this is a highly dubious assertion; Kara has actually attempted to follow some of the recipes. She will be sautéing in three pans at once, and the clanking in the kitchen sounds like she’s smelting steel in there.

“Where’s our dill weed?” she’ll call to me.

“He’s in here ordering pizza,” I’ll reply.

I’m not being entirely truthful -- Kara has discovered that it is indeed possible to cook Thirty Minute Meals in thirty minutes, just like the show claims. The trick is to have your production assistants go grocery shopping several hours ahead of time, picking up things like tarragon pellets, papyrus chips and evaporated marjoram. When they get back, have them measure out all the ingredients, lining them up in little glass bowls in the fridge. That way, you’ll be all ready to cook when the hair and makeup people are done with you.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Going topless

**Note: I won't have internet access for a while, so here's next week's column a little early. Hold down the fort for me.**

My wife Kara and I just stared at our jeep sitting in the driveway, naked. I mean the jeep was sitting in the driveway naked, not us, though we had been stripped of some of our security.

“You definitely didn’t take the top down last night?” she asked.

“Nope. I sure didn’t,” I said.

It was a Thursday morning about a year ago, and we had just discovered that the soft top had been stolen off our jeep, which was parked right in front of our house, during the night. The year before that, at our old apartment complex, the stereo head unit had been yanked out of the dashboard, leaving a gaping hole, a tangle of hastily cut wires and my desire to reinstate Hammurabi’s Code.

Leaving a jeep with a soft top unattended overnight is like parking a giant Twinkie next to an elementary school playground, expecting it to still be there when you return. (Kids these days still eat Twinkies, don’t they? From the looks of ‘em, I’m going to guess yes.) There’s just no good way to secure a jeep, other than parking it inside a bigger car made of metal and glass, or perhaps inside a garage, but who can actually fit a car in the garage with all those old tennis balls and rusty bikes in the way?

We had been toying with the idea of selling the jeep anyway – jeeps somehow manage to combine the fuel efficiency of an Abrams tank with the carrying capacity of a newborn burro – and having the roof stolen was the last straw. We replaced the soft top and sold the jeep two weeks later.

This whole episode was just a distant, expensive memory until last week, when the detective called. They caught the guy stealing something else, and for some reason (hopefully extreme duress), he admitted to stealing our jeep top, too. The detective asked me if I wanted him to arrest the guy, which should have been the easiest question I’ve ever been asked, but then I started thinking about how maybe the guy needed our jeep top to build a crude shelter for his family, or how maybe he had to cut it into small pieces and sauté it in rainwater just to feed his children one more meal.

Just kidding. “Yes! Please, arrest him,” I said. “If you could taser him, too, that would be cool.”

The detective brought a deposition over to our house, which gave me the rare opportunity to sign an official police document other than a speeding ticket. The detective scored extra points for not reacting even the slightest bit as our ferret crawled over his shoes and into the folds of his overcoat. These guys must go through some intense anti-flinching training.

The next step now is for me and Kara to meet with the assistant district attorney, which I’m really excited about, because if there’s anything I’ve learned from watching Law and Order reruns every night for the past four years, it’s that assistant district attorneys are really, really hot. Also, different hot women rotate into the position every couple of seasons. By the time they get promoted to regular old district attorneys, though, they turn into craggy old men.

The long and short of it is that we’ll probably get the old jeep top back, which works out just perfectly for us, because we sold the jeep last year. Wait, no, that’s not perfect at all. What are we going to do with a beat-up old jeep top? I can already feel the pack rat genes my Dad gave me stirring deep in my soul, saying, “Put it in the garage. You never know when you might need it.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I can't squeeze a drop without say-so

Kara took this shot on a stroll we took in Kaikoura, New Zealand, on our honeymoon:

I originally posted something about how this picture reminds me of Waking Ned Devine and Shawshank Redemption, but I was tired and something weird came out about building boats and sewage. Not building sewage, but crawling through it.

Anyway, what I really meant to say is that Kara really needs to paint this scene, because she's a freakin' talented paintress who won't freakin' paint. And that has really not much to do with sewage at all. So paint, Woman!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Nothing to fear but the ferret itself

For the record, I was originally going to the pet store to buy fish. They had these cute green puffer fish that cruised around the tank like fat little swimming Legos. Of course, the puffers were saltwater fish, which means that, had I taken them home, they would have been dead in three minutes. That would have been a double tragedy, because not only would I have killed innocent fish, but I’m also a terrible cook. I have no idea what you’d even put on puffer fish. Saucony peppers? See, that’s not even a real kind of pepper. It’s a running shoe. Good thing I didn’t get the fish.

As I stood at the fish tank in the store, picking out which puffers I’d like to take home with me, my wife Kara wandered over to the “small animal” section of the store, where people pay good money to bring home the kinds of animals that other people pay good money for the Orkin man to remove.

Four hours later, I pushed an overflowing shopping cart out of the store, and Kara had a baby ferret curled up in the pocket of her sweater. We named him Chopper, after the junkyard dog in the best movie ever made, “Stand by Me,” though we have yet to teach him the signature trick of his namesake (if you are unfamiliar with the film, I can only offer my condolences).

Once we got back to our place, I began piecing the wire siding and plastic brackets of the dumpster-sized cage together. I looked down at my new little friend, who looked back up at me, scared and curious. His furry little weasel life was in our hands, and we were all beginning to understand that. I’d never been responsible for the life of another creature before. At that moment, I was honestly moved, and then so were his bowels.

“Hey, he just went on the carpet!” I said.

“Get his cage together! You need him in the cage to start litter training him,” Kara said, fresh from Googling “litter train ferret.”

Chopper wandered around the room, checked out every corner, then looked back at us, and fertilized the carpet again.

“He did it again!” I said. “How is that possible?”

“Hurry! We need the cage!” Kara said.

Half an hour later, as I was squeezing the last little plastic bracket onto the cage, sweat dripping from my nose, we breathed a sigh of relief. The nightmare was over. And as I went to pick up our little varmint to introduce him to his new home, he did his business on the carpet again.

“What have we done? Oh, what have we done?” I said. “Did we keep the receipt?”

That day was almost four years ago, and Chopper hasn’t been out of his cage since. That’s a joke. Occasionally, we let him have conjugal visits with squirrels in the front yard. Actually, he’s earned free run of the house. He spends most of his time with his head in people’s shoes, or rummaging through my backpack looking for granola bars.

He loves the granola bars. Ferrets are apparently carnivores in the wild, but Chopper won’t even look at meat. He wants raisins, peanut butter, and granola bars. His tastes aren’t actually all that discerning, as he also tries to eat soap, paint and feminine hygiene products, but I still respect his decision to be a vegetarian.

We didn’t realize when we bought Chopper that we were getting a hippie ferret. Once, when he got out of the house by ripping a hole in the screen door, we found him three days later in the parking lot outside of an Allman Brothers concert, selling hummus and brownies out of the back of a Volkswagen van. I’m still trying to brush the flowers out of his hair.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Hogwart's at 1116 1/4

Here's a Good Frickin' shot Hofer took on my bachelor party in New Orleans last year, somewhere between 1116 and 1116 1/2 on some street:

We weren't exactly partying at this point. More like wandering aimlessly through the French Quarter, looking for a place to eat. Don't worry -- of course we threw this girl some beads.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Some don’t like it hot

So far this summer, we’ve been having trouble keeping our house anywhere near my wife Kara’s comfort zone, which is somewhere between 73 and 73.02 degrees. In the spring, as soon as the furnace clicks, shudders and rumbles off, if Kara had her way, the air conditioning would immediately pop on. But she doesn’t have her way, mainly because we don’t have an air conditioner. In terms of cooling technology, we haven’t even moved into the last century yet, though we take our minds off the heat by spinning our favorite platters on the gramophone and reading telegraph tickers to each other.

The window unit my parents handed-us-down was just a couple of inches too wide for our windows. If the weather keeps up like this, we might just drag it out from under the workbench, run an extension cord to it out in the driveway and hug it until October.

Every time the temperature goes above ninety-five degrees, it gets tougher to steer the conversation away from central air, which I recently researched. I discovered that central air costs about the same as hiring a servant to follow you around, fanning you with ostrich feathers and feeding you filet mignon and gold nuggets for the rest of your life.

So I came up with a cheaper solution. “From now on,” I told Kara, “we’ll be a Celsius house. Look -- it’s only 35 degrees out today. Doesn’t that sound chilly?”

The temperature in the room dropped a few degrees at that suggestion, but we still didn’t really have a workable solution.

Another problem with the heat is that when we have the windows open and the lights on at night, some poor, defenseless bugs inevitably find their way into our house. I should put some moth heads on toothpicks outside of our windows to give them fair warning; Kara the Smoosher will not take such mercy on them once they’re in the house. If you’re a bug, and you see Kara coming towards you with a tissue, she is NOT coming to wipe your nose (if you have one.) If you have wings, use them.

A few nights ago, we had a moth fluttering around our bedroom and bouncing off Kara’s reading lamp. I figured he’d just go his own merry way once we turned the lights out. I’m normally a catch-and-release guy, but that requires much more work than being a smooshing guy, what with having to walk all the way to the front door to relocate bugs to the yard, so my first line of defense is to pretend that there’s nothing there, like I do with the tip cup at Starbucks.

Kara’s repeated appeals for someone to “take care” of the moth fell on ears that pretended to be deaf. So she played the sex card. No, not that sex card. This one: “Can you just be a man and kill the moth?”

I thought men were supposed to give moths suit jackets to eat, not to kill them just for landing on their wives’ foreheads. So I played a sex card of my own: “Can you just be a woman and nag me?” I’m still testing my boundaries.

“I already am! It’s not doing much good though,” she replied, pulling a tissue out of the box.

I held out a finger towards the moth, put on my most gubernatorial voice and said, “Come with me if you want to live.”

The moth didn’t take me up on the offer, and I’m not sure that he really had a chance to appreciate the extra softness that the two-ply tissue afforded him as Kara mushed him against the wall. He probably appreciated the relief from the heat, though.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Banff -- the extra f is for flava

Here's a Good Frickin' Picture my mom took of my folks' backyard. Wait, no, this is from their vacation to Banff National Park in Canada, eh?

Most people wouldn't like to see their mother's pictures on the internet, but I think this one is pretty frickin' good, ya hoser.

Also, you can check out the greatest accomplishment of my life here.


I have it on good account (from Mom) that this picture is not from Banff, but actually from Glacier National Park. I still have to call it Banff, though, because I need an excuse to say flava. Sorry aboot that.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The salmon has landed

If the back of a cereal box ever asks me to send in a detailed anecdote describing the most random event of my life, I’m pretty sure that once I finished with the cereal inside the box, I’d just throw it away and never think about it again.

But later on, I’d start thinking about what I would have sent in. Then I’d think that if I wasn’t too lazy to actually write it down, I would probably have written this, which is dang near a true story:

Before suckering Corporate America into buying my soul after I graduated college, I spent a summer working at a dude ranch Out West (which is the opposite of Back East, and perpendicular to Down South) as a kids’ counselor.

The most important thing I learned that summer is that even though children’s imaginations have no limits, they still have a tough time figuring out how to get at you through all the riot gear. I also learned that while a little love and attentiveness goes a long way, a squirt of pepper spray goes about ten feet.

For the last few weeks of the summer, the ranch was closed off to families; during that time, corporations and clubs rented it out for retreats. With no kids around to look after, I joined the wait staff in the dining hall, where I discovered my passion for carrying dirty plates from the dining room to the dishwasher.

Over one of those weeks, a group of men involved in aviation and aeronautics came to stay at the ranch. I had just read Tom Wolfe's book "The Right Stuff," and some of the near-mythical pilots described in that book were staying at the ranch that week.

Among the guests was Neil Armstrong. Yes, Neil "No, I Invented the Moonwalk" Armstrong. All week, I hovered around his table in awe, amazed at how much the first man to walk on the moon reminded me of my Dad. I had expected him to wear a space helmet to dinner, and to fling thunderbolts around the dining room.

On their last morning there, I was bussing breakfast tables as the guests said their goodbyes. It was on that fateful morning that I saw an opportunity to become a part of galactic history, and I snatched it. Reaching over several graying heads, I collected two armloads of sticky, syrupy plates and arrived in the kitchen with the grand prize: Neil Armstrong's leftover salmon. Yes, they had salmon for breakfast.

I couldn’t just throw it away. If there’s one thing my parents ingrained in me as a child, it’s that life won’t give you too many chances to surreptitiously eat an astronaut’s leftover salmon.

At this point, you might be thinking that only a mildly deranged person would actually eat a famous person’s dirty leftovers, and that a sane person would just sell them on eBay. I agree that it would have been weird to eat the leftover salmon of, say, Gene Hackman or Britney Spears. But this was Neil Frickin’ Armstrong, and salmon would be difficult to ship, anyway.

Not being one to hog all the glory, I proudly announced to the cooks and dishwashers in the kitchen, "I got astronaut fish! Who wants some?"

The clamor in the kitchen stopped for a brief moment, and everyone just stared at me. Then the clamor started again. These people obviously had no interest in being pioneers of the cosmos.

Then Dan the Cook said, “Hey, bring that over here.” Dan and I polished off the space salmon together, and we both agreed that even though it was one small fish for Dan, it was one giant leap for Dankind to eat nasty leftovers with me. Okay, his name was Steve, but that doesn’t rhyme.

I hope this story inspires you to triumph, like I did, and to never be too proud to catch strep throat from an astronaut.

Also, your cereal is the greatest.