Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I Ain’t Scared

I don't know if it's a good thing or not, but when I like something I tend to do it over and over. It makes me very predictable, but I'm okay with that, because I'm routinely doing happy things.

I love Halloween because 1) I cling to childishness, 2) I get to dress funny, and 3) it means my house if full of candy bars.

I already know how the day will go. I've prepared a schedule:
7:30am: Wake up.
9:30am: Wake up again. Late. Shit!
11:00am: Go outside to replace burned out porch light. Drop new bulb from six-foot ladder. It was the last one in the box. Go to store.
11:45am: Return from store. It's time for lunch. Discover I don't have any form of food besides pumpkins. Go back to store.
1:00pm: Carve pumpkins. Pop seeds into the oven to roast for a snack, even though they never turn out any good.
1:30pm: Set out trick-or-treat candy. Discover there are only six pieces left. Go back to store.
2:45pm: Return to discover kitchen full of smoke. Pumpkin seeds on fire. Dammit! Set billowing, charred cookie sheet outside.
3:00pm: Answer phone. It's next-door neighbor, who thinks my back door is on fire. "Didn't that happen last year too?" I tell him to shut up.
4:30pm: Try on costume. Discover I can't see out of the mask. Walk head-on into edge of open bathroom door.
5:00pm: Regain consciousness on bathroom floor. Where am I? Who am I? Look down at myself and deduce that I am Beaker from the Muppet Show.
5:30pm: It is time for kids to come trick-or-treating. It is time for shot of tequila. Tequila bottle has only three drops in it.
5:31pm: Another trip to store interrupted by doorbell. "Trick or treat!" Hand out candy. Ask kids if any of them has tequila. One does. He won't share it.
5:35pm: Swearing, rush back to store, leaving peel-out marks on the driveway. Stop to apologize to neighbor for nearly running over his six-year-old at end of driveway. Promise to replace flattened jack-o-lantern bucket.
6:00pm: Candy handing-outing now fully underway. Kids' costumes are great, near as I can tell, because knot on my forehead is giving me double-vision.
6:30pm: Another shot of tequila. Double vision cancels out. Neighbor kids complaining that I'm not scary enough. Pull off Beaker mask, revealing purple knot on head. They run screaming.
7:00pm: Find original Frankenstein movie on TV.
8:00pm: Older kids start showing up at the door. They are all football players and hobos. They all optimistically hold open pillowcases. Decide to stop answering door and keep candy for myself, because, hey—at least I dressed up.
8:10pm: Crash into bathroom door again. Not wearing mask. Vow to lay off the tequila.
8:15pm: Head to Mick's for Halloween party. Car honk reminds me to take off my Beaker mask. Discover I'm driving on the wrong side of the street. Now who's scary?

1:30am: Happy. Exhausted. Sugar-buzzed. Wide awake.

7:30am: Wake up.
9:30am: Wake up again. Late. Shit!

Is it November yet? It is? Excellent.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Auto Matic

When I was a kid I watched a TV show about a guy from about a hundred years past who was (I forget how) resurrected in modern times. There were lots of madcap moments as he tried to figure out them newfangled gadgets. Think Cave Man with better hair. Even now I often try to imagine having a passenger in my car who has never seen an automobile before. Seventy miles per hour, another car coming just as fast in the opposite direction, crash-course paths only three feet and one yellow line apart—and a dotted line at that. He'd have a heart attack. It'd be fun to hear his screams.

There is a weird "Y" intersection in my neighborhood where traffic comes right at you, then veers at the last moment to the opposing lane. It's quite unsettling if you're not used to it, but you learn to trust they'll go where they belong. My visiting California brother actually squeaked out loud as we drove through it. (Girly screams run in my family.) As usual, he presumed he was the only one smart enough to know we were about to die.

Hurtling around in a two-ton steel fist is an intricate dance. But at some point we have decided it's really not that hard, not that important. It has become an autonomic behavior, like breathing or nose picking. While driving, we catch up on phone calls while eating lunch, swap out CDs, and apply eyeliner. (And for reasons I can't figure out, we pick our nose.) Just today I was nearly run over by a man who wouldn't put his phone down long enough to operate his turn signal. An easy sacrifice for him since he was driving a huge truck, but still, my body might have gummed up his brakes or something. Part of his problem was trying to keep his phone sandwiched to his ear, for as he passed I could see he had no neck.

Driver's Ed costs about $75. But people pass over that to buy a $2000 option that tells you, in one of five selectable voices, that you are following too closely or fading off the road. Of course you can just be nagged by your spouse, but spouses cost way more, only come in one voice, and you have to bring them along. So there's that.

I know of at least two cars that park themselves, saving you the fifteen minutes of practice it takes to learn it yourself.

Buy the Mobileye AWS-4000 for only $2,200. If you drift out of your lane without signaling, you'll earn a "Lane Departure Warning." That sounds nicer than "Threat To Society Warning," doesn't it? A windshield camera looks forward for you, and a night-vision feature tells you what you're about to plow into in the dark, a very serious issue that in the past had to be dealt with by slowing down. I even like the name "Mobileye," because it implies that at least somebody is looking where you're going. Heads-up, it doesn't work in fog or ice. It tells you that it's shutting off. Probably something like, "Dude, even I can't bear to watch you drive now."

If it senses an airbag deployment, a voice says, "Perhaps it's time for you to hang up the phone."

My favorite new technology: BMW offers a steering wheel that shakes if it senses danger. It doesn't correct anything—it just tells you that even your own car is scared of you.

On my wish list is a voice alarm that points out, "Those white stripes directly under you? Crosswalk." And an alarm that warns you to look up from your McLunch long enough to notice that—yo!—the light is green.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Rain Man

Two weeks ago I wrote about my ability to make it rain. (Click here for scholarly review.) It turns out that, although it rains on me a lot, it might not be because of me. I'm kind of disappointed about that. It was fun to feel like Master of Something, even if it was being rained out.

Last time I went camping it rained, in spite of the weatherman's prediction of mild. It rained the time before that too. Last weekend's huge thunderstorm? Yep—I was camping. Forecast: slight chance of rain Saturday afternoon, slightly bigger chance Sunday afternoon. Reality: 24-hour deluge with relentless thunder, lightning and flash flooding. I felt gifted.

So I was thinking, three times in a row is more than a coincidence. But I had loaned my tent out to a friend and he got rained on too. Wait a minute... I have some training in scientific method, and I want to run some tests. Anyone want to borrow my tent?

I thought I could make it rain by playing softball too. But I learned what many people already know: it's far more likely to rain whenever you plan an event in advance which involves more then eight people. The Omaha Softball Association knows this—that's why you have to pay for your all your games in advance, even if you don't get to play them.

I think American Indians learned it too. It wasn't their Rain Dance that made it rain. It was that they put the word out ahead of time and twenty people came out to watch and see if it worked. I tested that theory. I went in my back yard under heavy gray clouds and danced around. It actually cleared up, although my neighbor Gary shot his garden hose at me.

There are a lot of variables to be considered, obviously. Maybe it really is the rain dance, and I just danced it wrong. I'm Scottish, after all—we do every kind of dance wrong. (Except of course for traditional Scottish dancing, which is limited pretty much to just hopping straight up and down. Anything more than that requires a visit to the chiropractor. Even my chiropractor is Scottish. He knows a good thing. His name is McCracken.)

It has rained for four straight days. I haven't danced at all, and if there were any outdoor parties, I wasn't invited. But wait—I just remembered, I left my tent set up in the garage to dry out! Duh. Sorry guys. It'll be sunny tomorrow.

The Omaha Softball Association bet it right. Just to cover his bases (ahem!) God rained out our first four games. Normally he'd spread those out over the season, I would think. But we weren't a team dripping in testosterone, and he probably figured we would get discouraged and end up skipping the games altogether, going instead straight for the bar, and he'd miss his chance to smite us.

Smart, that God.

Friday, October 12, 2007

All The Right Moves

Two years ago I awoke in the middle of the night to hear someone coming up the creaky stairs to my bedroom. Over time I've given house keys to quite a few people, so I thought it was wise to not grab the trusty ball bat I keep by my bed and start pummeling in the dark. If it turned out to be a friend in need who'd been kicked out of his house and needed a place to stay, a surprise beating would just make things worse.

As my surprise guest instead headed straight for my dresser drawers, I shook off my grogginess enough to yell, "What are you doing?!" In spite of my effort at manliness it came out sounding like Mr. Haney from Green Acres. But it was sufficient and he took off. I was slow to take up chase, though, as I was naked and had already scared everyone enough.

The only thing he had taken was a box perfectly suited for a diamond watch but which in fact contained cheap sticks of nag champa incense, which he unceremoniously ditched on his way out my front door.

For a month afterwards, every little bump in the night had me springing out of bed straight into a Ninja pose. I picked up my bat and actually practiced swinging it around, learning quickly my house isn't big enough for bat swinging.

I decided to get a motion detector and alarm system, and installed security lights outside. You move, you're in the spotlight.

At least, that's the theory. I get used to the lights being on. It helps for grilling, for instance. But if I'm not active enough they turn back off, and I find I have to dance around a bit to get them back on. Now I'm afraid I'm only protected from robbers who do jumping jacks.

Last night I was grilling enough chicken to feed me for a week. As I was turning over the tasty little strips, an especially good piece fell through the grate. Dangit! I clomped my tongs after it with all the grace of Edward Scissorhands, and in doing so my little cooking timer fell out of my shirt pocket into the fire too. As I frantically fished for both, a bug landed on my neck. My tolerance for bugs is pretty high, and saving a perfect chicken tidbit and burning timer was currently on my priority list. But this bug sounded like a mosquito and felt like a cicada, big enough to suck out my spinal fluid. Since I was alone, I felt it was okay to let out a little girl yelp, and commenced the slappy dance.

I had twirled and leaped and swatted halfway across the yard before the motion detector light came on.

With the eventual help of the spotlights I rescued my timer, and sacrificed the tidbit to the Fire God. A few pieces of chicken weren't yet done to my satisfaction, so I left them on, took the rest in, poured another margarita, grabbed a book and the guacamole, nibbled some, made another margarita, went upstairs to do some writing, and edited away until my motion lights lit up.

Uh-oh.

I went down to investigate. No one there. Maybe a big dog or a raccoon doing jumping jacks? I don't know, but I discovered I had left those seven pieces of chicken sitting on the grill. I expected them to be tender as meteorites, but I took a bite, and my first impression was, "Hmmm...perfectly crunchy!" My second impression was "Hot-hot-hot-hot-hot!" As I did the flappy, wave-at-your-own-cheeks maneuver and actually hissed aloud "Hot!-hot!-hot!-hot!-hot!"—bink—my motion lights clicked off.

[sigh.]

So come on over and rob me. I've left some chicken out for you, if you can find it in the dark.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fire And Rain

I have the power to make it rain. No dancing required —which is good because I'm Scottish.

All I have to do is go camping. (I swear, just typing that sentence it started pouring outside. I'm that good.)

My neighbor came over Sunday afternoon. "You sure do take good care of your camping gear." I didn't understand what he meant by that at first, but with a little prodding I realized he thought the reason I had a soaking wet campsite set up in my yard was because I was washing it.

I learned last weekend that I can even make it hail. All I have to do is say, "Looks like the rain is letting up. I bet we can make it to the car."

I'm a good fire-maker, though. "One-Match Mick" is my nickname, although no one calls me that but me. I set up a carefully planned structure and take great pride when the ensuing conflagration goes off on the first try. Perhaps that's why it always rains: God is just looking out for his property.

More than usual, the smoke from this last fire kept following me around. I recall as a kid asking my mother why the smoke was always in my face no matter where I sat. She replied sagely, "Smoke follows a beautiful woman." I still don't know what she meant by that.

But the positive side is that my entire laundry room smells so much of campfire that I've put off washing my clothes. That will change as the wonderful smoke smell wears off and the other smells ferment.

The place where I camped used to be a little town, but they all left years ago. That should have been a sign, I suppose. There are no buildings, sheds, bathrooms—in other words, no place to run to when it rains. Saturday evening I met a few fellow campers who had packed up and were leaving early. "We heard it's going to rain in the morning," they warned grimly. After they passed I wondered how, in the middle of nowhere, they got an updated forecast. I decided they probably used that age-old camper's trick: they recognized me and left.

It's a quiet campground. Nobody goes there, for the above reasons. It doesn't have rows of neatly paved and aligned parking stalls such that you can park your fat RVs flank to flank just like in your regular life at the Wal-Mart parking lot. There's no power, no water. They do have two water spigots, but neither works. It's hard for me to get used to the silence. I grew up in a house two blocks from the train tracks. For family getaways we had one of those Starcraft trailers, where the roof pops up and the sides pull out—the Jiffy Pop of campers. They say it sleeps eight, which means four, and we brought eight. My dad slept through even the most violent storms (it just occurred to me: rain while camping might be hereditary), and between his snoring and the hail cracking on the taught tin roof, nights sounded much like a lumberjack being executed by firing squad.

Last time I camped it was so quiet I could hear roaming wild dogs wailing wildly over fresh kills. It was terribly unsettling. What if they came after me? Of course I'd have to be the brave one, beat my chest and protect Woman, but I had no clue how. As I lay wide-eyed staring at the tent ceiling I rehearsed scenarios in my head, settling on one that involved two raised fistsful of dirt and me poised threateningly in my underpants. I don't know whether that would have been scary enough, as I never had to do it.

It sounds like I'm complaining about camping. I'm not. We agreed after the splendid day Saturday that even if it poured rain on Sunday the trip would be worth it. It did, and it was. Indeed, I hope to go again in the next few weeks. Heck, we could use the rain.