Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Crunch Time

When I was in high school I bought an MG. it was only $500, because its owner had driven it into a pole so hard that the bumper touched itself on the other side. The smash cost me $1000 to fix. It wasn't a bad deal. I drove it for four years until I sold it to buy a wedding ring.

The first crash I was invited to join was when three high school classmates ran a red light, and I T-boned them on my motorcycle. As was my custom, I was speeding, which might have been good because I jumped right before the impact and flew over the whole mess. Time went in slow motion, so I had plenty of time to see six pie-eyes through the windshield as I went by. That one cost me $600, because they lied to their dads about the red light. I didn't get screwed again until, as I said, I sold that MG.

Five years later I changed lanes in my windowless Chevy van while a guy was trying to pass me. Everyone passed my van, so I should have expected him, but I didn't. I dinged his fender. His fender dinged me for $300.

Although plenty of people have taken little potshots at my cars since then, I was never around, so I didn't know who to shoot. Twenty-five years have passed without me being in an accident, which is unfair given how I drive. I once went from downtown to my house at 70mph. I hit all the lights, and nothing else.

Like everything else over the years, crashes have changed.

I borrowed my girlfriend's shiny new silver truck to pick up a few groceries, and as I was leaving I accidentally backed into a light pole that was wisely planted in a fat, barrel-shaped concrete base. I was going 2 miles per hour, which is slow even for going backwards. It is a high-tech vehicle, with airbags in the front for head-ons and airbags on the sides for T-bones. It doesn't have an airbag on the back for stupid.

It made a terrible crunch, so I figured I cracked the plastic cover over the spare tire. Although it costs them $3 to manufacture, I knew it would cost me $250 to replace. I didn't even bother to look until I got home. It's only a bumper, and bumpers are designed to bump. When I did look, it appeared that the pole my MG once hit had come back for revenge. I think her truck is made out of fine china.

I didn't know where to take it for repair. Luckily, I don't know anybody in the business. I asked a friend, "You've had body work done, right? Who did you use?" She looked down at her sweater and back at me, her mouth agape. "No," I added quickly, "your son's car—remember?" So I guess I got two answers.

But it doesn't matter where you go anymore. They all charge pretty much the same. They type into a computer what damage is done and how well you're dressed, and it prints a bill. Body shops used to be gritty affairs, but the one I went to had a waiting room clean as a dentist's, with the same magazines and the same drill noises.

A bumper only has one job to do. It is supposed to let you bump things. These days bumpers are ugly but resilient, with pistons and springs and bendy stuff, and a plastic cover to make it all presentable. I had hoped to replace only the crinkled facade, which I figured these days would cost $1000. Ironically, the part was only $250. I saw it in the middle of the estimate, which was $3118.

For future protection, they recommended that I add on the optional $200 mattress, which they rope onto the back of the car. I'll sleep better knowing it's there. They smiled and waved as I left, knowing they had made another boat payment. I drove over the curb because I was afraid to back up again.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mouse Poop

We were hiking a remote trail in Iowa’s Loess Hills when we discovered something curious. Little white droppings, about the size of dog poop, dotted the trail nearly every twenty feet or so. Of course I picked one up.

Light as cotton candy, it appeared to be made of compressed fur which was nearly white. I gingerly picked up a second one. A third had tiny little bones in it.

Owl pellets, I guessed. But why only on the trail? Owls don’t hike.

All my sisters are geniuses. One is a special nerdist in all things outdoors. I asked her: Are there other animals that poop little furry, thumb-sized ex-rodents? And why was the hair almost always ash-white?

Her response:
Okey dokey, hmmm...let's examine the facts.
Owls tend to ralph over the edge of the branch they are sitting on, and pellets come from the uppy end of the owl and not the downy end. They are lovely, dry papery cocoons of fur and bone about the length of a thumb. Baby owls have smaller, marshmallow size pellets with whatever fragments of creature the mom owl rammed down their throat. As they get older, you can see the bones evolve from little mousy heads and toes to broken squirrel femurs and the partial skulls of very small children with buck teeth. Well, maybe they're rabbits, but we don't seem to have as many kids in the neighborhood as we used to, so I'm suspicious.

So what scatalagous treasure do YOU have? Since the evidence was on a trail, I'm guessing fox or coyote. They have territories with trails they follow habitually and while they're looking up into the trees trying to avoid owl vomit, some poop falls out their nether end. Around here, the coyote scat has a lot of either deer hair from scavenging carcasses or snowshoe hare hair, so they seem white. Older poop also appears white from the calcium, I'm guessing, not quite digested from the bones. I suppose it could also be powdered sugar, I'm not a wildlife expert.

The little bones are certainly fascinating. Last night I came across a partially dissolved owl pellet from the family of horned owls we had here last year and there was a perfect little mouse skull with all its microscopic teeth intact, packed gently in the dry fluff of intestinally compressed rabbit down. I have a bowl of owl pellets in my glass bookcase. Saving them for a special occasion, I suppose.

Are you enjoying the freedom of life after bar? I want you to be happy dearie, you're my favorite, after all.

Hmmm. I didn't pick at the poop too much, because I don't remember the last time I had a tetanus shot. Although we found a few bone bits, tiny and probably broken, I imaginethey had been chewed, so the fox theory makes sense. The hair could have been deer, or any of the rodents that hide in those ominous cliffside holes. I’m always afraid something will pop out at me. A fox probably ate one just on principle.

Owls don't really chew, no fault of their own that they don't have teeth, thank Heaven, so I would expect more complete skeletons, tails, toenails, and shirt buttons. Now that I have more information I want to go back and pick at more poop.

During a morel-hunting hike I came home with: 0 morels; 5 ticks; and 1 complete rabbit skull, it's bones fragile and tissue-thin. I bleached it and set it in the sun until it was white. I hung it on my kitchen wall. I hope it makes me king of the rabbits. I'd pet ’em and love ’em and squeeze ’em and—uh oh.

My girlfriend has no morels, coyotes, owls nor cats, so she has mice instead. She tried to be tolerant and generous, but due to lots of springtime mouse-panky, their numbers grew. It seems all forms of traps and poisons are stomach-churning, worse for mice even—so I wrote my sister again for advice.

She replied:

I LOVE mousies. However, when they start filling your oven with dog food copped out of the doggie dish in the dark of the night, it's time for disciplinary action.

Sticky traps are perverted versions of La Brea tar pits for mice. Horrible and traumatizing (at least to me).

I found some interesting little live traps that work on the principles of greed and balance. Mousie goes in and when he reaches that little blob of peanut caviar in the back, the assembly tilts and the door flops down. Works pretty darned good. Open the door and the mousie shoots out like a bottle rocket. Startling the first time, especially if you point it at your face. Wear safety glasses. 

However, I ended up laying awake at night waiting for that “click,” not wanting the little critter to linger in that claustrophobic environment for even a few minutes. Once I had a mousie trapped all night and when I dumped him out, he was soaking wet with the moisture escaping both ends. Also, if your mice are chubby from all the dog food, they may not fit. I had dainty little deer mice; I'm not sure some of those mongo Omaha honkers could even get their heads in.

Traps have to be set right at the edge of walls or cabinets, not in the middle of the room where you might catch a cat. Cats will sue your ass.

Peanut butter is the absolute best catching food, bar none. It's so sticky that by the time they've licked their chops and swallowed it, they're so exhausted they stagger into the tripping mechanism. Watch out for the Salmonella peanut butter, it might kill them.

Once you catch a mouse, empty its pockets. They carry maps. Doesn't matter how many times I've dumped one of those little dudes outside, they find their way back to my silverware drawer by the next day.

Okay. Anyone have an owl I can borrow?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

In Your Dreams

I awoke to what sounded like a nice dinner party: happy laughter, flirty conversation. My girlfriend has the most engaging, infectious laugh, and I wondered uncomfortably who she was laughing with.

I felt like I was eavesdropping, the way you feel when someone is talking baldly into their cell phone right next to your head. You’d like to give them some privacy if only you could figure out how. You can't very well dig a hole in the sidewalk and put your head in it. This psychological discordance is the basis for why we want to snatch the phone out of their hands and stomp it.

Her laugh came easily, her hands were animated. Clearly, she was having a lovely time, and clearly, she was dreaming. I dearly wanted to hear he chuckle, “Oh, Michael, you’re so clever,” and was sure at any moment I would hear her say, “Ha-ha-ha—oh, Bob…”

Like looking into a Kleenex, where you know there's nothing good to see but you peek anyway, I listened. I did not hear my name or anyone else’s. Indeed, although her words were quite clear, I strained to recognize a single one of them. Perhaps she was enjoying a bistro lunch with Pierre. Or maybe dreams are coded to protect the dreamer.

Mercifully, it was over quickly. Check, please!

Why should I care? It’s her dream, after all, and she’s entitled to wander to all kinds of experiences, as long as she boils herself afterwards. Thankfully, God alone is witness to the weird stuff that goes on in my head at night, and I don’t choose any of it. I definitely don’t choose the terror of being locked deep in an Italian church basement, surrounded by gargoyles night after night. Maybe it’s a nightmare for my girlfriend to have wine at a sidewalk cafe with Pierre in Paris.

It’s just as well I can’t choose my dreams, because I’d stick to the same five or so, and enjoy them over and over, much like Omaha radio. At least now I have to get up and run occasionally.

Feeling bad about how I answered the following question, I posed it to my friends: Who would you rather be: The good boyfriend a woman chooses to keep and trust and love? Or the bad boy she dumped as unworthy, but whom she secretly has dreams about? All hands shot up unanimously before I even finished the question: “Bad!” Male or female, every person but one answered the same way, and the one holdout was lying. We’d rather be the name in the dream than the guy in the bed.

A friend of mine was watching a romantic movie with her husband, and they watched the woman writhe in ecstasy as a love scene played out on the screen in front of them. “I look like that to you,” he asked tentatively, “don’t I?”

“Yeah you do,” she replied. “When I close my eyes.”