Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Wrap Artist

Just days before Christmas
Foul weather is pending
Rain into ice into snow neverending

I try to wrap presents. For hours I linger
Could tape stick to anything else but my finger?
Of all of life's mysteries, I want to know:
To save our own lives, why can't men tie a bow?

I tried to find presents creative and neat
That I'm almost done isn't any small feat
Just things here and there for a last minute run
An LED Frisbee and Daisy air gun

But what to my wondering eyes should appear?
A blizzard forthcoming! Must get in high gear!
Is everyone shopping? What is this rat race?
Is it too much to ask for, just one parking space?

A sharp elbow here, a karate chop there
And I finished my shopping, just hours to spare
I got what I went for, my mission undaunted
A Daisy air rifle, like I always wanted!

My hands wrapped around it—it felt so much bigger
Than I had imagined. I fingered the trigger
And Blam! How should I know the damn thing was loaded?!?
The dog barked, a glass broke, the lightbulb exploded

The cat screamed and leapt and clamped onto the dog
Who squealed like a pig as he spilled my eggnog
With puss on his ass he dove under the tree
Where the cat got entangled and couldn't shake free

The Christmas tree trembled, it shivered and quivered
And teetered and tottered before fate delivered
The final Ke-Bash! And before I could get her
Down came the ornaments, tinsel and glitter

We stood there agape after all of that riot
A clatter, a tinkle — and then all was quiet
The dog licked his wounds as he glared at the cat
Who pointed at me and said "That's who did that!"
Then both turned to me through the mangled-up muck
And eyed me as if to say, "Dude, WTF!?"

I only intended to give it a tryout
It ricocheted back and damn near put my eye out
But all I could think as it lodged in my tuchus
Was what if I'd got one of those toy bazookas?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Routine Maintenance

It's freezing in the room. I get out of my warm bed; the dog stays behind. He used to jump up whenever I budged, following my every step as if I had bacon for feet. By now he has figured out I'm just going to the bathroom and that I'll be back to get dressed. He knows there's no point in following me until I venture downstairs, where he'll hover on the chance that I might drop a crumb of toast.

I have become routine. He and my cats know everything I'm going to do. As I shuffle barefoot into the kitchen, my cat Spekky is already there, waiting. She knows she'll be fed a moist pâté of ground fish out of a can within the next three minutes. She begins to meow at 1 minute 30 seconds just to go along, but it doesn't change anything. The dog stands by wistfully, knowing the cat bowl is off limits. But what touches the floor is legally his.

They weave between my clumsy feet with the agility of egrets picking food from a hippo's mouth. Their choreography requires that they know exactly where I'm going to move next. They do.

People say days go by faster as you get older. I know one person who is certain that time literally is going faster, and although he says it with scientific authority, his theory still smells as if freshly pulled out of his ass.

It's more likely that as we get older we become more routine. It gets harder to distinguish one day from the next. When you're a kid, every day is unique. Your brain is an empty pan. As you age you start developing preferences, then favorites, and soon your patterns start to cement. I can barely read a newspaper if I don't start with the front page.

The last remarkable day you remember may have been months ago. "Why, it seems like 4th of July was just last week!" When days are identical, time condenses them into one.

I just had lunch with a friend, and he was off to get a new tattoo.

"Of what?" I asked.

"I don't know."

He's not new to this.  He already looks like an ad for the tattoo parlor.

"You're getting a tattoo that will last your whole life, and you haven't made up your mind yet?"

"I had some space to fill."

As tattoos go, I am a blank slate. I can't commit to anything for fear I'll change my mind about it later. Even the classic "Mama" is chancy—she could turn on me any day. Maybe she was just being nice because I was little and she felt sorry for me, and now she's just waiting until I'm old enough to hear what a pain in the ass I was.

"Each tattoo reminds me where my life was at the time I got it," he explains. "It's not the design itself that's important, but the memories it stirs up." He is a walking scrapbook of unconnected imagery: a wagon wheel, an eagle, a sheriff's badge. I don't ask.

To shake up my life I try to do something unique every day. Maybe I'll get a tattoo when I'm 90 and there's not enough time left to change my mind about it.

I cringe when people get engaged on Christmas, or have birthdays on New Year's Eve. I know I'd forget one event or the other. When I plan a celebratory occasion like an engagement or wedding, I'll look at the calendar and pick the longest stretch of time between two existing holidays, and stick the new event right in the middle. My goal: when I'm 90 years old, every day will be a unique holiday, and time will stand still.

I usually write a story for this blog every Tuesday. Today is Wednesday. Whoa, baby—look at me shake it up.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

That's Snow Biz

A blizzard was coming. I was waxing up my old sled, the red paint on its metal runners rubbed off by dry patches. My mother was looking at my thin tan jacket, the sleeves closer to my elbows than my wrists after another growth spurt. "We need to get you a new winter coat," she pronounced. I was generally oblivious, but when she pointed it out, I concurred. She sent me out into the blizzard with Dad.

This was an event. We weren't poor, but there were six of us kids and we didn't get a lot of new stuff. The snorkel-hooded parka was the latest fashion, and Dad bought me one. It had sleeves that covered my whole arm and a fur-trimmed hood that rolled out long and narrow to protect my face. I was afraid to say "Thank you," fearful that even a blink might mess up my lucky streak.

I buttoned its buttons and zipped its zippers, then walked out into the storm and stood straight.  White razors of snow cut across my tunnel vision, but I didn't feel a thing. This was what Eskimos see looking out the door of their igloos, I thought.

I was liberated. I grew up in a smallish Nebraska town. (Yes, they all are.) Planted randomly on the flat prairie like a salt shaker on a tabletop, the town took the full brunt of storms that built speed across the bald landscape as if rolling downhill. The next morning the wind stopped and the sun burned through vivid blue skies, a blinding reflection off two feet of heavy snow. The town bogged to a halt, silent as a blanket except for the whining of spinning tires.

Harold Smith had a snorkel parka too, so we grabbed shovels and headed out to rule the world. We got ten dollars for each sidewalk we shoveled. Digging out a stuck car usually got a $5 tip. It was the best money I ever made. Any money you make as a kid is a lot, because someone else is cooking for you, paying your rent and taking care of your utilities and clothing. If you make ten bucks, you get to keep all of it.

I thought shoveling snow for $10 was a goldmine. The reason I don't do it now is because I have learned that kids will do it for $10.

Playing in the snow evolved. I went from snow angels to snowballs, which took some practice because my mom knitted me mittens, and yarn attaches to snow as if it were gum. It is demeaning to hit someone with a snowball and then have to trudge over and ask for your mitten back.

I moved up to a runner sled, handed down from my brothers and for all I know from my dad before that. It was an old wooden one with a T-bar you used to steer it by warping the skinny metal runners. My friends made fun of it, richer friends who always had the latest plastic snow sled invention. But they always wanted to borrow mine after I blew past them on the hill. Because it was wood and metal, it never broke like the rich kid sleds did, and so I never got a new one. Eventually I grew far too long for the sled, but it we couldn't throw it away because it was still perfectly good. My family doesn't throw away much.

I graduated to throwing my dad's Datsun B-210 into wild spins, something I stopped doing after I bought my own car. Then I took up cross-country skiing. I tried it once in Colorado but I broke through the snow's crust and found myself waist deep, unable to move my feet. The forest was so quiet I felt as if my head was expanding. I took out a pad and pencil and wrote an entire song while I was stuck there. It's a pretty good song, but no matter how I analyze it, it has nothing to do with snow. Still, I thought it would be a hit, because nothing generates interest in a musician like being found frozen to death.

Today I went from snow forts to snow cannons. Preparing for an upcoming blizzard, I broke my little 17-year-old snowblower trying to get it prepared, and had to rush out to get a new one. Everyone else must have broken theirs an hour before I did, because the only ones left at the store were bigger and more expensive than I intended to get. it's hard to dicker with a salesman when there's a rush on snowblowers, a huge storm six hours hence and a line of impatient buyers fidgeting behind you. I swallowed hard and bought one.

It has an electric starter, but you have to plug it in to use it. It takes longer to plug it in than to pull the starter rope, but I used the electric start anyway because I paid for it. The behemoth belched to a manly purr at my finger's touch, and nearly drove through the garage door.

It has a cannon turret you adjust with a crank, rotating it like a tank barrel to avoid hitting people, or to hit them on purpose. It has two speeds just for reverse, so it can run over you fast or slow.

I couldn't wait to get my testosterone all over it. Unfortunately, it is so big that the job was over quicker than I expected. Reluctantly, I followed it back to the garage, feeling funny just loitering around blowing snow on stuff. I was cold too, and that surprised me. Usually I work up a good sweat. But I just followed this machine around, pointing it toward the real work as if I were a union boss.

Something was missing.

Something fun. Something to tie to the back of the snowblower. I had to dig around a little bit, but I found that sled.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fly Free!

Special offer for today only from my distributor, Lulu.com: order Are You Going To Eat That (just click on the blue "Buy Now" button under the book at right) and get an immediate discount equal to the shipping cost. So basically, free shipping. Enter the coupon code MAILSHIP1. Thanks, Lulu!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Boxer

Boxed wine used to be the equivalent of "cheese food product." What it lacked in edibility, it made up in volume.

There has been an ongoing evolution in wine packaging, not always for the better. For starters, they tried replacing the cork, offering a whitewash of disparate reasons:

  1. "Cork is natural. Harvesting natural things is bad for the environment."
  2. "Plastic corks are more stable and protect wine better."
  3. "Screw tops create less waste and provide a better seal."

First, cork is not a living thing. It is the byproduct of a living thing. Trees miss their cork like my bathtub misses the hair in the drain.

Plastic corks are indeed more stable: they can survive in a landfill for 20,000 years. And they make wine taste like plastic corks.

Screw tops make complete sense, except that they are inextricably linked to Boone's Farm Country Kwencher. I liked Country Kwencher just fine as a kid, but even then I was bothered by the spelling. If you are marketing to hicks, why not go all the way: Kuntry Kwencher? (Okay, I see why.) You find Boone's Farm proudly displayed in convenience stores that don't sell wine, which is an ominous give-away: although it is in a wine bottle, Boone's Farm is not wine. It is a "malt-based beverage," which is to say it is wine-flavored beer. This is the poster child of screw top bottles.

Wine connoisseurs claim they can tell by the taste of a wine the region from which the metal screw cap was mined. This distinct taste is referred to as ferroir.

Yes, corks go bad. Yes, they can spoil expensive wines. Yes, they often crumble into the bottle. Or break in half, leaving an irretrievable plug. With wine, that is the whole point. If everyone could open a wine bottle, what would be the fun of being a snob? The pageantry and fussy corkscrew are part of the fun, despite the gnawing awareness that it would be more easily accomplished using safety goggles and a cordless drill.

A cork may give clues of what's to come. You don't sniff the cork, like they do in the movies. Just look at it. Is it moldy? Is there foul gunk on the end that is nowhere near a wine color? This is not esoteric. You use the same procedure when buying a loaf of bread: if it is green or covered with fur, you put it back. You don't need to sniff it. While adopting a kitten you happen to notice that its anus is crusty and miscolored, you pick out another kitten. Perhaps this is where we get the word analogy.

Today, box wine presents tempting advantages. First, it gives you four bottles of wine for the price of, and in the space of, three. What comes out of the box tastes very much like wine. There is no cork or screw top to complain about. There is no top at all. And this brings me to my favorite part about box wine: it comes out of a spigot.

The empty package is cardboard, more recyclable than glass. But it is hard to fold flat. It is sealed together with the same inseparable glue they use now to seal a bag of chips, the kind that makes you look stupid when the entire bag explodes, leaving you holding only the intact sealed edge.

The bladder-like bag inside a box of wine is recyclable, although unsightly. They claim this collapsable bag helps wine last longer, because no air gets in while you drain it. This is a boon to those mythical people who don't drink their wine all at once.

As I remove the plastic bladder and notice how much wine is still slopping around in its wrinkly folds, my Scottish roots compel me to squeeze it out, which is about as charming a maneuver as wringing a placenta. But the result is an extra half glass of wine, which I consider my reward for bothering to recycle.

The only downside to box wine is that, like the giant 12-pack of toilet paper, it is embarrassing to buy. But once you get it home, it's wine-on-tap. And if fussy friends come over, you can always fill that decanter you never use.