Monday, December 25, 2006

Jack Frost’s cold shoulder

I can’t believe Christmas is almost here. It seems like just last weekend that I was out in my T-shirt mowing the yard, mainly because last weekend, I was actually out in my T-shirt mowing the yard. Last Saturday was beautiful, sunny and almost sixty degrees despite being less than a week shy of the winter solstice. Hearing a lawn mower awakened from its hibernation in the middle of December is incongruous, like seeing pictures of clothed people on the internet.

My original intent with the mower was to chop up the stubborn leaves that had refused to blow into the neighbor’s yard over the past couple of months. As I pushed the mower along, though, I noticed that the grass had actually grown taller since the beginning of November, when it was last mowed. Maybe global warming isn’t as bad as every reputable scientist in the world seems to think, but from the looks of things, Frosty’s silk hat is going to be spending the vast majority of this winter sopping up a jolly old puddle.

While I was outside mowing, my wife Kara was inside painting the bathroom. We’re trying to make our house look presentable so that we can sucker someone into buying it. I hope it sells quickly so that we can go back to being slobs. Being clean takes way too much energy. The universe wants entropy, and entropy is what I aim to give it.

As I hopped into bed on Saturday night and pulled the covers up, a wave of sickly wintergreen scent smacked me right in my olfactory epithelium. Or in both of my olfactory epitheliums, if I have two of them. Wikipedia is somewhat unclear on this point.

Kara saw the look on my face and laughed. I knew right away what she’d done: she’d busted out the Icy Hot.

“Ew, dude, did you roll around in Pepto Bismol?” I asked.

“It’s Icy Hot. It makes my muscles feel better. I’m all sore from painting today,” she said.

If you’re not familiar with Icy Hot, it’s a cream that is manufactured entirely from Pepto and wintergreen gum, then it’s enriched into an isotope that, when applied to the skin, emits odors so powerful that muscle pain suddenly drops way down on the list of things that are bothering you. If you’re sitting in the same room with someone who has just put on some Icy Hot, you can actually watch the vapors ruffling the curtains.

At least I assume that’s how it works. I’ve never tried the stuff before. I’m a lotion-phobe. Even as a kid, my parents would chase me around with suntan lotion at the beach as I ran and cried, my face turning red to match my shoulders. If I’d been one of the people in Buffalo Bill’s basement in Silence of the Lambs, the scene would have gone like this: “It rubs the lotion on its skin.”

“Oh no, it doesn’t!”

Bringing up Silence of the Lambs in the context of what honestly started out many paragraphs ago to be a discussion of the holidays may seem a little strange, but I’m not the first to make such a connection. Have you taken a good listen to the lyrics of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” lately? I just noticed this line as the song was playing on the radio a couple of days ago: “There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.” Scary ghost stories? Really? That must be a tradition my family’s been missing out on: everyone sitting around on Christmas Eve by the fire, eating cookies, as Dad tells us our favorite story, Rudolph the Vengeful Reindeer.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Getting housed

The news these days is littered with stories about the impending crash of the real estate market, which is why my wife Kara and I are going to move into a different house as soon as possible: we want to make absolutely sure that we don’t miss out on the opportunity to lose our life savings. So tomorrow, we’re going to drive one town over to meet with a seller’s real estate agent, where we’ll sign a piece of paper that says that we’re all allowed to stop lying to each other. Until you sign the paper signifying that everyone has agreed on a price, the lies just fly around from all sides like we think we’re running for office.

“We don’t want to play back-and-forth over this like a game of tennis, so here’s the lowest we can possibly go,” their agent told us recently.

“That’s refreshing,” my wife Kara replied. “We don’t want to play tennis either, so here’s the highest we can possibly go,” throwing out a much lower number and leaving us all staring into the vast void in between the two. If you had dropped a rock into that void, you could have fixed yourself a cup of hot tea before it hit bottom.

Fortunately, everybody was lying, so after several grueling sets of tennis, we finally arrived at a number with which we were all mutually unhappy.

Kara has been our chief negotiator over the past couple of weeks. I don’t have the stomach for it. She’s our Simon Cowell; I’m our Paula Abdul. This much was obvious even as we took our first walk-through of the house, when you’re supposed to pretend that you would sooner challenge a porcupine to a Greco-Roman wrestling match than live there. Even though you don’t want the real estate agent to smell enthusiasm on you, I still just can’t muster up the guts to say anything bad about a perfect stranger’s house. “Good job, house. You came out here and you did your thing. I’m proud of you,” I’d say, standing up and clapping using only my palms, seeming vaguely inebriated.

Then Kara would chime in: “Oh, this is terrible, simply dreadful. If this house was a lifeguard, a lot of people would be drowning.”

Kara’s strategy was of course the better one, so I tried to keep my mouth shut as much as possible. Besides, it’s just a house. It’s not like it’s a video game or anything, where one false move could be responsible for the destruction of entire civilizations. You need to keep these things in perspective.

So now that we’ve agreed on a price, we just have to worry about what the market’s going to do, which of course nobody can really predict. Several years ago, I was convinced that I had psychic abilities, which would certainly be useful now. Like all the great clairvoyants, my original psychic inspiration came from the old Fox show Joe Millionaire. See, I guessed on the first episode that Joe would end up with Zora, which he eventually did, thereby convincing me of my great powers, which I then used to predict that we were just bluffing about the whole Iraq thing.

So while my powers might be lacking in the realm of the consequential, I can still divine that the next reality show you watch on Fox will go like this: recap of last week, five minutes of new show, Taco Bell commercials featuring people who seem inordinately surprised that they’re full after consuming a 730-calorie burrito, ten minutes of recap of the previous five minutes of new show, GEICO commercials that are better than the show you’re watching, attractive woman’s emotional breakdown, recap of the emotional breakdown for anyone who suffered a severe head trauma in the past ten seconds but is still watching the remainder of the show, then a teaser for next week, which will be a recap of this week.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Ferret rustling

My favorite thing about this time of year is going into the basement, brushing the fuzz off of the Christmas decorations and bringing them up to the living room, where our ferret Chopper will romp through all of the plastic bags filled with fake pine things and red candles that we’ll never burn, spreading his fuzzy little holiday cheer and scratching his left cornea on a glittered ornament.

Actually, that last part is a trick he just picked up this year. I don’t suppose we’ll turn it into an annual tradition.

If we had waited to name Chopper until he was a little older, we probably would have named him Russell after his favorite thing in the world to do: rustle. I guess if we’re still thinking that the onomatopoeia thing is cool in a couple of years, we can name our first kid Buzz or Kerplunk.

But a few days ago Chopper embarked on one rustle too many, opening the ornament box with his nose and putting an eyeball, literally, onto one of the glittering globes.

When he came romping across the floor a little while later, he only had one eye open, which I attributed to him just waking up. Every time you see him, he’s just woken up. He could beat a teenage koala in a sleeping contest.

“What are you, a pirate now?” I asked him. Then I held him up towards my wife Kara. “Arrrr, matey, I be makin’ me poop deck wherever I dern well please. Yar!”

“Baby, I think his eye is bothering him,” she said, simultaneously proving her viability as a candidate for Household Pet Optometrist while knocking me out of the race altogether.

I’m a big wimp about taking our ferret to the vet. We’ve been very fortunate over his five years that he hasn’t required very many visits. The first time I took him there, it was just for a little bug bite that turned out not to need any treatment, but the vet took Chopper’s temperature anyway, which didn’t really go over very well. You should have seen his little legs churning when he realized what was going on back there. He looked like Scooby Doo when he and Shaggy see the phantom coming towards them.

Eventually, Chopper gave up, standing there on the metal table and looking up at me like, “You’re just going to stand there? Why don’t you DO something about this?”

So that trip cost us forty dollars to find out that our ferret doesn’t like to have metal things shoved up his rear end, something I’m guessing I could easily have discovered at home for free.

But this time, sitting in the waiting room, I felt relieved that a professional was going to check our little varmint out and help make him better. As I sat on the bench, a guy with a large plastic crate next to him leaned towards me and said, “I found these little black flecks all over my house. Turned out they were falling off of my cat. So I picked up one of the flecks and looked at it under a magnifying glass, and it looked like some kind of insect larva. You believe that?”

“That’s very interesting,” I said, shoving Choppy’s crate away from the infested Larval Cat so fast that the crate left burning tracks on the bench like the Delorean in Back to the Future.

It turns out that Chopper is going to be just fine. We just have to give him some eye drops for the next couple of days. Incidentally, we’ve recently found that giving eye drops to a squirming ferret is every bit as easy as painting a self-portrait on the blades of a spinning windmill.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Some good grass

This is what whole grain looks like in its natural environment:

Cute, right? That's why you should eat pork chops instead.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The state of the reunion

Last weekend, some friends and I mustered up the courage to attend our ten-year high school reunion. I still don’t exactly understand why this took any courage at all, but somehow just thinking about high school brings all the inherent social anxiety rushing right back at you, and instead of all the good times, you can suddenly only remember the time you watched your date making out with your ex-friend at the Homecoming Dance. But one good thing about getting ready to hang around with former classmates when you’re pushing thirty is that you don’t really have to worry about zits anymore, which works out nicely because you need the extra time to focus on your bald spots.

Everyone knew roughly who would be in attendance at our reunion thanks to eVite, the ubiquitous internet invitation site that lets people post whether or not they plan to attend. My favorite eVite response was from my buddy Gimp, who let everyone in our class know: “I’m coming and I’m available.” Perhaps he’d be better able to capitalize on his availability if his buddies stopped calling him Gimp. But we’ve been friends since the first grade, so at this point, I think we’re all a little embarrassed to ask what his real name is.

Another classmate made the trenchant eVite observation that “10 years ago, they didn't have eVites.” Which got me to thinking, ten years ago I’d never even been on the internet, which means I hadn’t yet received that fateful email from Bill Gates asking me to help him beta test his new email tracking program, a favor for which he was willing to reward me handsomely. I’m still living off the residual income from the first time I forwarded that email to ten friends; I just work because I like complaining and fluorescent light bulbs.

It was almost exactly ten years ago when my college roommate demonstrated the power of the internet when he pulled a folded piece of paper out of his duffel bag and taped it to the inside of his closet door. That paper was a photo printout of Jenny McCarthy, who at that moment was so enthralled with the bubbles floating around at the car wash that she apparently forgot several important pieces of clothing.

“Where did you get that?” I asked him.

“On the internet,” he said.

“They have pictures like THAT on the internet?” I asked, as Ed McMahon burst through the door to give me the giant novelty check accompanying my Most Na├»ve Question Ever award.

But as I found last Saturday night, even though much can change in ten years (most prominently the collective girth of the class of ’96), much also stays the same. Walking into that room filled with familiar faces that I hadn’t seen in a decade was so surreal that it felt like a dream, a feeling that was exacerbated by the fact that about halfway through the reunion, I realized that I’d shown up wearing only my underwear.

I also discovered that even though a picture is worth a thousand words, a baby picture normally comes accompanied by the thousand words anyway.

After we’d been there for a few minutes, Gimp tapped me on the arm and pointed across the room with his eyes.

“Dude, check out Lawrence over there,” he said. Lawrence was the first kid in our grade to have armpit hair, a fact many of us noticed while he was administering headlocks to us in front of the girls’ gym class. Lawrence brought bullying to a high art form; his armpits were his brushes and our heads were his canvas.

While I’ve been greatly anticipating letting myself get fat and bald after the reunion, it does seem to indicate some degree of justice in the universe to have seen that Lawrence, once again, has a head start on the rest of us.

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