Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The path frickin' taken

Here's another New Zealand shot from a mountain that Kara and I accidentally climbed:

We thought this hike looked liked we'd knock it out in about two hours. Seven hours later, we stumbled back into the parking lot. I wouldn't have thought that you could have fit that many sheep and switchbacks onto one mountain. Not that the sheep slowed us down all that much. They're more like woolly, tasty speed bumps.

Anyway, we stepped in enough crap on that day to fertilize Iowa.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Kevin’s draining experience

Why do bad things make good stories? A good story better have some blood in it, or failing that, humiliation. Oh, or nudity. When a buddy is telling me a story, halfway through, I’m sizing him up, thinking, “Well, he still has all his digits. His dignity seems to be intact. This story is going to be boring.”

Keeping that in mind, allow me to regale you with a story of both humiliation and nudity, one of which was my own.

Late last fall, on a near-freezing night, my wife Kara and I stopped at a small mom-and-pop swimming pool supply store to buy a cheap replacement part. We bought the part and were on our way, except that we weren’t. Our (since-departed) jeep wouldn’t start.

I went back into the pool store and asked Kevin the Pool Guy if he would mind giving the jeep a jump start out in the parking lot. He hesitated for a moment, and I realized that he was the only one working in the store that night. But poor Kevin let his conscience get the better of him; he left the store unattended, and pulled the store’s van around to the jeep.

He brought out a tangled bunch of jumper cables. As I reached out to help him untangle them, he reached out to hand me the clips. Our hands knocked together, and I dropped my keys.

When the keys landed, they did not go “jingle, jingle.” They went, “ker-PLUNK!” And of course, when I looked down, I noticed, with great chagrin (but not as great as Kevin’s), that I was standing on a deep storm drain.

He said, “Do you have a spare set?”

I slowly shook my head. “I’ve been meaning to make some doubles.”

What a time to lie to the man. I never had any intention of making doubles. The jeep only had one ignition. Why would I need two keys?

The grate covering the storm drain had been paved over on its edges. Neither the Incredible Hulk nor Barry Bonds could have pulled it up. Kevin went back into the van and came back with a hammer and a steel chisel. He pounded away on the asphalt as I pulled on the grate. After twenty minutes or so, the grate finally loosened and came up, at which point it slipped out of my hands and dropped into the storm drain. The resulting splash hit Kevin right in the face. After wiping off the WQO (Water of Questionable Origin), Kevin had a look on his face that clearly asked: “Did God send you here as a test?”

Conveniently, there was an open storm drain right there for me to hide in. I crawled in and dug around, with just my legs hanging out into the parking lot. After a few minutes in the foot-deep water, my hands became too numb to feel if I was touching keys or broken glass.

A crowd gathered. People on smoke breaks came to watch. Pretzel vendors set up beside us. And still, nothing.

I knelt beside the storm drain and shrugged. What else could I do? Then Kevin dove into the drain, a fury of arms, water, and stinky debris. Handful after handful of rocks and leaves surfaced. Just as he started to drop a handful back into the water, I saw a glint. “Wait!” I yelled, and with a great sigh of relief, Kevin handed me my keys.

Funny thing is, the jeep still wouldn’t start. Turns out it was the spark plugs, not the battery. Actually, that part is funnier in retrospect. I don’t remember Kevin laughing at the time, though I hope he enjoyed the restaurant gift certificate that Kara and I sent him later. He really deserved for us to peel him some grapes and fan him with palm fronds, but palm trees don’t grow around here.

Oh, right, the nudity. I just told you that so you’d read to the end. In newspaper jargon, the technical term for that particular technique of teasing the reader is called “lying.” Kevin probably took a shower when he got home, though.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Two Towers, if by two you mean one

Here’s another good frickin’ pic from my buddy Rob. Does anyone know where this place is? I don’t, but if I ever have a really important pronouncement to make, I’m totally making it from the top of this thing. Pronouncements from towers carry a lot more weight.

I’m guessing that either the Pope or the witch from Hansel and Gretel lives here. Or Quasimodo. Or Rapunzel. Or the tall piece from Tetris.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

10,000 gallons of misery

If you have a thing for reaching shoulder-deep into a slough of decaying leaves and insect larva, you should definitely get yourself an above-ground pool. You could also go on the show Fear Factor, but then you’d have to get plastic surgery, prance around in a swimsuit, and eat unholy animal parts, too. Given the experience I’ve had getting the pool open this year, though, eating the terminal section of a pig’s alimentary canal doesn’t sound so bad anymore.

My wife Kara and I inherited our pool from our house’s previous owners. In a striking coincidence, they sold their house to us the summer after they built the pool under several tall maple trees. We should have sensed something was awry when we saw them high-fiving in the parking lot after we closed on the house. This is how bad pools happen to good people. They get passed around, like pink eye.

Neither Kara nor I had ever owned a pool before. Our first year here, the pool was a bog until August, when our friend Dan came to our house while we were on our honeymoon and fixed it up for us. We have no idea what shadowy art Dan used to turn the water from brown to blue, but we promptly closed the pool for the winter in late August, hoping to trap some of his magic in there for this year.

Last week, Kara and I decided that it was warm enough to take the lid off of Pandora’s Pool for the summer. The first step to opening a pool is to put lots of money into your checking account. You’ll need this to cover your purchases of chlorine and Prozac.

Then, you simply remove the tarp that is covering your pool. The only problem is that seven hundred pounds of decaying, dank leaves have been rotting on it since October. Because you can’t heft the tarp over the sidewall of the pool with all that weight on it, you will need a bucket and a strong stomach. The smell of those leaves could, as I recently heard someone turn the phrase, “knock a buzzard off a manure truck.”

You have to reach your whole body into the tarp, scoop out the putrid water and rotting leaves, attempt not to inhale any of the swarming mosquitoes, heave the bucket over the top of the pool wall and dump its contents into the neighbors’ flower garden. You must repeat this process until the tarp is light enough to heave over the wall and onto the ground, where it will stay until the fall.

I need to interject a brief story here: several months ago, a plumber who was doing some work in our basement told us about going on a house call with a buddy of his. His buddy was a septic tank pumper, also known as a “honeydipper.” The plumber and the honeydipper had to go do some work on an overflowing septic tank on a hot summer day. When the two men took the lid off the tank, the plumber had to step back from the powerful fumes. The honeydipper just stood there, inhaled deeply through his nose, smiled, and said, “Mmmmm. Smells like money.”

That story cost me $1,000, so I hope you enjoyed it.

When I came back into the house after removing the tarp, exhausted and plastered with rotting leaves, Kara employed a colorful simile to describe the way I smelled, but money isn’t what she told me I smelled like. You might expect having a pool to turn you into a Baywatch lifeguard, but in my experience, you come out much more like the Swamp Thing.

Anyway, if you’re bored this summer, feel free to come over to our house. Unless Dan gets here before you, we can go catch tadpoles in the pool.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Muy frickin’ colorful foto

Here’s another Good Frickin’ Jeff Hofer pic from Guatemala:

Seriously, National Geographic, you’re dropping the ball here. Give this mofo a job.

On a related note, I’d like to share with you some bits of an email thread that my buddies had going recently regarding Hofer’s health problems in Guatemala.

Johnny: hofer, gimmie a call dude.......i need to see how your parasite is.
Rob: Yeah hofer is it like a little pet, can you feed it and watch it
squirm around under your skin on your arm? Lets plan a trip to Rio De Janero- or some [Shatner] like that??
Johnny: I'm telling you guys........south america is where its at.
Hofer: Where did y'all get the parasite thing from? It was just alot of bacteria and fungus but after [bleeping] out my [blorp] for a few days, a [Shatner] test, and some medicine now I'm ok.
Me: Hey, How come everyone knew about Hofer's amoebas but me? I feel so left out.
Gimp: [Hofer’s Mom] told me "Jeffery got an amoeba in Guatemala". That's what I heard.
Hofer: The woman is [bleeping] crazy.
Johnny: THEY ALL ARE BRO....

Sunday, June 12, 2005

This little piggy’s missing fingers

My wife Kara and I recently decided that “we” should build a patio in the backyard. “We” is a tricky word with me and Kara. When “we” order a pizza, both of us eat half; Kara’s half is two slices, mine is six. But when “we” build a patio, some of us find ourselves alone in the backyard, wondering how the rest of us went, “Wee, Wee, Wee” all the way back to the couch.

Of course this is totally unfair to Kara, because she doesn’t have a newspaper column in which she can make passive-aggressive jokes at my expense. There’s no public forum in which she can, for instance, inform everyone, for no good reason at all, that I still have a blanky.

Besides, it’s not a blanky. Blankies are for kids. It’s just a blanket: a blanket with a big lion on it that protects you if you wrap it around your head just right, especially right after renting the movie “The Ring.” I had to watch three consecutive episodes of Three’s Company to wash that movie out my head; even so, I was scared that Krissy would crawl out of the screen, we’d have a humorous misunderstanding, and then she’d eat my face off. What is this column about again? Ah, yes, the patio.

I called a local hardware store and ordered the patio over the phone. They agreed to send enough pavers (a paver is what, in the old neighborhood, we used to call “a brick”) to build a medium-sized circular patio. Kara and I decided on a circular patio because circles look like wheels, and we both have a special affinity for wheels, because neither of us has ever been run over.

A week later, the truck came; the delivery guy used a forklift to set down two huge palettes full of pavers on my driveway; I thought two palettes already looked like too much, but then he went back for a third. Each loaded palette was the size of a Volkswagen, and contained enough bricks to build a small yacht (should you ever attempt to build a brick yacht, though, you would be well-advised to wear arm floaties on your maiden voyage).

That’s when it hit me like a ton of pavers: I’d just bought a ton of bricks. When I realized how much work this patio was going to be, I asked the delivery guy to set the third palette down on my foot. That was clearly the only way I’d get to see the Playstation2 again before Halley’s comet comes back.

Come to think of it, the guy on the phone really should have emphasized that there’s some assembly required on these things. I suppose I should have figured as much – hardly anything comes assembled. You need an allen wrench to put together a pillow from IKEA.

Before the delivery man left, he gave me a crumpled photocopy of the installation instructions:

Step 1. Buy a big rubber mallet.
Step 2. Set one paver (aka brick) in a bed of sand; wail on it with the mallet.
Step 3. Repeat Step 2 until you have a patio.

“We” followed those instructions to the best of my ability, and now have something loosely resembling a patio in our backyard, about sixty years ahead of schedule.

A related discovery I made recently is that you can do just about everything with nine non-smashed fingers that you can do with ten. Once you get down to eight, things get a little dicey. Also, if you say “patio mallets” totally out of context, it sounds like you’re talking about an Irish pub.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Driftwood in repose

Here's another New Zealand shot, from the northern end of the South Island:

Sorry if you find this image of an Ent corpse disturbing.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Et tu, Mike?

Having a baby must be like having your own little personal concierge. You just pop one out, and boom, your social calendar is full. You’re in the park, you’re going to playdates and most importantly, you have an excuse to play with toys again. I hope kids still play with Transformers. Those were the coolest. When I have a kid, I’m going straight from the hospital to the toy store. I hope I can find the Transformer that changes from a tape recorder into a big blue robot. He was awesome.

Another great thing about babies is that strollers are made with big mountain bike wheels now. Back in the day, parents with strollers had to keep to the sidewalks. Now, people have all-terrain babies. Sure, your baby girl may be cute, but is she Trail Rated?

Before last Saturday, I thought that’s what kids were all about: playdates, new toys, and off-road capability. But then I got to spend some quality time with my two cousins’ five children at a family get-together.

That day, after being exhausted from fifteen minutes of playing with the kids, I escaped to the deck to eat some grub. As I stood there, intent only on devouring a slice of pizza, a tiny blur of a person streaked out of nowhere, tripped on my (stationary!) foot, and splatted down onto the deck. I haven’t been a kid in so long, I had forgotten: children are breathtakingly uncoordinated.

When a child takes a spill, as they are prone to do, there is a Golden Second, a tiny slice of time when the child has not yet made up her mind about whether to quickly get back up, or to just lay there and shriek until…well, I don’t know until when, exactly, but I can empathize that it must be very frustrating to injure yourself when you are too young to properly command the obscenities required to make yourself feel better.

So while Emma was on the ground, deciding whether to shake it off or shriek it off, her older sister Clara pointed at me and said, “Mike tripped Emma!”

Emma slowly turned and looked up at me from the ground, with a look on her face that must have been exactly like the last look that Caesar gave Brutus.

“No, wait,” I said, “I was just standing here eating…”

The rest was drowned out by Emma screaming, “Mike tripped me!”

She got up and ran through the house, wailing, making sure everyone was aware that a child-tripper was on the loose. Watching through the sliding glass door, I saw her running up to each adult and pointing towards me, yelling, “Mike tripped me!”

How do you mount a proper defense when being slandered by a four-year-old? I’ll tell you how: you hide behind the swingset, finish your pizza, and wait for it to blow over.

Two minutes later, she came outside like nothing had happened, sat in a swing, and asked me to push her, all smiles. Just moments earlier, I was Mike the Tripper, scourge of stumbling children everywhere.

Which leads me to the big lesson I took away from that day, which is: kids are a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, but mostly they’re adorably insane.

Later that afternoon, my cousin put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Keep hanging out with us. It’s the best contraception you’ll ever find.”

Truth is, I loved every second of hanging out with my cousins’ children (with the possible exception of the seconds mentioned above). But until I can keep a bonsai tree alive for more than a few months, I think I’ll concentrate on tripping other peoples’ kids.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Tetanus shot waiting to happen

This week's Good Frickin' Picture is from my good friend Bill Mason, whom I've never met or had any correspondence with. But I'm sure he's a great guy. My buddy Chunks sent Bill's good frickin' pic my way.

If you ever invent a rocket that launches off the side of a grain silo, this is what your view would look like just before take-off.