Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Filler Material

Thanksgiving is fun for me because no one has figured out how to sell it. There are no Thanksgiving carols to endure, no only-sixty-shopping-days-til-Thanksgiving, not even Thanksgiving cards to keep track of. Essentially, family and friends just gather to cook a bird, circle around it and pick at it until it is a shell of bare bones. It's a caveman holiday.

Preparation of the first American Thanksgiving for ninety-one Indians and fifty-six settlers fell to four women and two teenage girls —the rest of the women died the prior winter —so not much has changed there.

There are many legends from the Thanksgiving feast. Chief Massasoit's brother Quadequina disappeared into the woods during dinner and returned with a bowl of popcorn, which amazed the settlers. It didn't take much to amaze them, apparently. Maybe that is why they were called "settlers."

It was also the first American use of the wishbone, a good-luck contest brought by the Europeans. I didn't know until today that the wishbone ceremony is the origin of our phrase "lucky break," or that the bone was originally considered lucky because pagans thought it looked like spread legs.

Other feasts of fame: King Darius plied his guests with smoked camel hump, a Persian favorite. Americans don't eat camel hump, I suppose because we never figured out how to make fast food out of it. "Honey, want me to pick up dinner? I'm right by the Hump 'n' Go."

The Bible doesn't mention it, but Jewish tradition implies that it is very likely Jesus and his Apostles sang at the Last Supper. Stuck in my head is Da Vinci's famous image of the meal, everyone all scowly and accusatory. I have to reinvent to imagine them all singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

In the 1600s the Earl of Carlisle concocted meals so visually beautiful that guests could not bring themselves to eat, but gazed upon the food/art until it inevitably went cold. According to my history book, so extravagant were his meals that he was dubbed "The English Heliogabalus." I can't wait to use that nickname on somebody. "Dude—you are, like, the Omaha Heliogabalus!"

I have been told there is actually a Feast of The Circumcision. I'm too afraid to look it up so I can't tell you what is traditionally served. I can only guess it's something like pork rinds or curly fries.

I almost forgot! The outcome of the wishbone contest presented at the original American Thanksgiving? The Indians got the short end of the stick.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

That Blows

I thought my neighbor's house was on fire. Yellow smoke twisted up in a violent, angry spiral. My heart sank, imagining these poor people homeless on Thanksgiving. I imagined the irony: it was probably their holiday cooking that started the blaze.

But no fire. I got closer and saw three fat guys with leaf blowers in the front yard, triangulating their screaming bazookas, trying to herd terrified leaves into a submissive pile. They were raising so much dust they could barely see each other, and their beady eyes were twisted shut like little sphincters against the raging dust.

It was a small yard. I could have raked it by hand in ten minutes. But nothing says IM Professional like a shrieking, 30-pound, two-cycle motor strapped to your back, pumping your nose full of exhaust and spitting unburned gas and oil on your shirt.

There is an unwritten rule in my neighborhood: no one can fire up his leaf blower until there is a moment of peace and quiet. Even the bagpipe guy has moved inside. You would think if anyone could stand the shrillness of a leaf-blower, it would be him.

I should shut up. I don't rake much by hand either. I mow up my leaves and dump the mealy results into my garden. Judging by their reaction, worms consider this mix to be our equivalent of German chocolate cake. Worms cannot smile or wave, so when they hear my footsteps coming they just poke their greasy bodies out of the dirt, beckon me closer and point to where the party is. I deliver. Whump.

I passed another neighbor who actually had a leaf vacuum. It sucked, in every sense. She had a dead look on her face as she erased a knee-high pile of leaves. Two young children watched silently from a safe distance. My hope was that she was cleaning up for the second time after their jump-fest into the original pile, but I could tell from their nice clean jackets that these kids had a substandard education.

But how long since I jumped in a pile of leaves? I couldn't remember, and felt a little hypocritical. And that was when I came upon it: a pile of leaves easily six feet high. Its sculptor was still standing there, marveling at his work, his rake still in gloved hand. It was mountainous, magnificent, begging to be destroyed.

I pulled over, and prepared to introduce myself.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


My kitchen lightswitch was making crackly noises. Sort of like a bowl of Rice Krispies, if anyone even knows what they sound like anymore. Maybe they don't even sound the same —I haven't heard them in decades. I'm getting lost already and I haven't finished my first paragraph. Anyway, if you imagine a little mouse wadding up a little piece of paper, that's the sound. Electricians refer to that as not good.

I pulled out the switch, checked for signs of impending immolation, and replaced it with a new one. It's not a hard job, really, but it's the kind of job that makes a man feel manly. It feels good. I kept looking for excuses to turn the light on or off. "Gotta save electricity!" [click.] "Just passing through!" [click...click.]

I do that all the time. If I replace a faucet washer, I'll wash my hands twenty times that day just to enjoy watching it working properly. I bought an antique Colibri lighter at an estate sale, and spent hours cleaning it up and figuring out how to make it work again. I don't smoke, but I began seeing everything in terms of flammability. Saturday I replaced my doorbell, and after about fifty test rings I went back inside to find my cat looking like it had swallowed a static ball. The doorbell once was commonly associated with a girlfriend and her dog, and for my cats the link has stuck in quite literal Pavlovian fashion.

Yesterday I fixed my car horn.

I know it's not nice to honk at everything. That's probably how it got messed up in the first place. I had been making a conscious effort to only honk when a honk was really needed. But it was killing me.

American car horns are impressive. They sound like harbingers of death, which they usually are. My truck is a Nissan, and its Japanese horn sounds more like it is sticking out its tongue. Nyeah!

Just last weekend I had two close calls involving twenty-year-old girls cutting across three lanes of traffic to veer into a parking space while talking on a cell phone. I bang bang bang on that horn pad, hoping to startle her and the person she's talking to, but the horn fails me until about a half block later, which just makes me look like a whiner.

All pent up full of unexpressed honks, I took the steering wheel pad apart, cleaned the guts and bent all the switch contacts closer together. Now it's hairtrigger hot, baby. All I have to do is furrow my brow: Beeeep! I'm driving down the road sounding like a one-man wedding procession.

I was going to take off a little early today to fix my jackhammer. That should be interesting.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Now That's Scary

Halloween isn't just a holiday, it's a bloody knife stuck in the back of autumn. Once it passes, things die off fast.

It's only a week later, but I feel winter lurking behind every miserable tree. The kids in my neighborhood were pretty good about dressing up this year, and all were very polite, probably because I stopped answering the door at 8pm, when the older kids began rising from the dead. But now it's all over and forgotten, except for my pot belly sponsored by Hershey's, and my annual costume rant.

That's me, in the photo. Is it really all that hard to figure out who I am? Three out of four kids asked, "Who are you supposed to be?" One mom explained, "He's from the Simpsons." Lady, have you not learned anything from your four hours a night in front of the television?

My record for scaring kids into a dead run is five, set three years ago. This year I scored three. That record year, I was costumed as a seven-foot-tall, bloody, flesh-eating zombie. This year I was dressed Beaker from The Muppet Show.

Okay, so maybe I'm not brilliant at costumes. I looked it up: Beaker has not been seen on TV by any kid under fifteen. I don't want to know what kids today would recognize, because they day I design my costume to impress five-year-olds is they day I'll hand you my brain on a plate.

I've forgiven you all for not getting my Jackson Pollock costume two years ago, because I realize he's not on TV, what with being dead since 1956. My Rorschach Inkblot costume was a dud too, except for the fight it started between one guy who thought I was a spider and another who thought I was his mother.

A few Halloweens ago, when I opened the door in full bloody zombie regalia, Little Jack froze. "Go on," his mom coaxed, "It's only Michael. Don't be scared."

"I'm not scared," he replied as he backed away into the shadows. "I just think I have enough candy."

This year Jack knocked bravely at my door, and when I opened it as Beaker he paused in disbelief, having psyched himself up to face me, then said derisively, "Why did you have to be . . . this?"

Okay, kid, have it your way. Picture me as Hannah Montana. Is that scary enough?