Thursday, May 31, 2007

If The Animals Could Talk to Me

In an earlier post I commented on how I normally get along with animals. There have been a few exceptions though.

Just before I worked at Compucentre I filled in for a friend who had a newspaper route. It was an easy route, just a few streets side by side. No problem.

On the route was one house with a high wooden fence and and unusually high door. I gave it almost no thought. I walked up to the house and put the newspaper in the mailbox. I was standing less than three feet from the fence when a deep, demonic voice from behind the fence said, "Roo."

After I climbed off the wall trellis I took a few steps away from the fence and decided to try being friendly. I said, "Hi doggie!" with my 'harmless' voice. The dog ignored my attempt at diplomacy and decided to investigate. It jumped up until its head was above the fence line, barked, then fell back down. I thought it was over, but no. The dog kept jumping. Over and over again. Jump - "Roo" - Fall, Jump - "Roo" - Fall, Jump - "Roo" - Fall.

I watched for a while, amused. Then it turned into something really bizarre. A second dog appeared and began doing the same thing, only it jumped as the first dog fell. It turned into a left, right, left, right, left, right, "Roo!", "Roo?", "Roo!", "Roo?".

A lady from across the street came out of her house, laughing. She told me the dogs did that all the time and entertained everyone on the block. I stood and watched a little while longer. It was amazing.

I asked, "Do they have a trampoline in there?" She said no, they're just huge and can jump really high.

I eventually met the family who lived there and was introduced to the dogs. They were a pair of very friendly doberman-rottweiler siblings. They were bigger than my car.

I'm glad they were friendly.
Next Story: If Animals Could Talk It Would Be Scary

Previous Story: The Password is 'IMARETARD'

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Password is 'IMARETARD'

My very first 'real' payroll job (not counting newspaper delivery or door-to-door surveys) was working at Compucentre in the Eaton Centre as a Sales Associate. Basically my job was to dress well, greet customers and pretend that I understood what they were asking me. Then I directed them to someone who actually understood. Nice and simple.

Keep in mind, this was way back in 1990. The 386 was the hot PC with the new blazing fast 486's on the way at a spectacular 33 MHz! Word Perfect for DOS 4.01 was the number one word processing software. The biggest hard drive we sold was 20 Megabytes and it cost more than I made in three months. We're talking the Dark Ages of computer history.

So this guy comes in. All attitude, no brains. Typical customer. Thank God the manager was present and was the one to greet this winner. "Yeah this piece of **** software you sold me doesn't work!" he exclaimed, throwing the package down on the counter like a piece of spoiled meat. The manager calmly asked the gentleman what was wrong with the software. "It won't ******* run!", screamed Mr. Personality.

The manager took the disks over to his computer and suggested that they try it out so he could see exactly what was wrong. Customer Number One calmed down a bit and said that was s good idea. The manager got the software started and was stopped when the program asked for a password.

He stepped aside and asked Mr. Happy to please enter his password to access the program. The guy said, "I don't have a password, this is what I was talking about, it won't run!" The manager thought for a minute and asked, "Tell me what happened the first time you ran the program, did it start?" The guy said yes and explained that it had started fine the first time but wouldn't start again after that.

The manager explained that in order for it to have worked the first time, the customer would have had to enter a password first. He asked the customer if he had entered a password. He said, "I don't know I just pressed keys until it started." The manager asked if he had any idea what keys he'd pressed and the brilliant customer explained that he'd typed in something obscene, thinking it wouldn't matter and he could come up with a real password later. The manager asked what he'd typed. The guy couldn't remember.

So they sat there, trying every obscene word or phrase the guy could think of. Nothing worked. Eventually the manager told the customer that we couldn't refund his money if he'd failed to follow the instructions when using the software and that there was no way to reset the software once a password had been entered. The guy threw a fit. The manager handed the package back to him and said, "Have a nice day, sir."

We waited until he'd left the store before we started laughing. The manager didn't laugh. He said, "I'm not giving the guy a refund just because he's a ******* retard."

Ahh, the good old days.
Next Story: If the Animals Could Talk to Me

Previous Story: The Only Banana Peel in the Entire Valley

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Only Banana Peel in the Entire Valley

...continued from yesterday's story
The Only Patch of Ice in the Entire Parking Lot

At least I know where I got it from. We laughed at my dad, but fate still had a few good cards up her sleeve. I should have known better.

When I worked for UPS, a group of us took driver training so we could work as fill-in drivers and make extra money. Part of the training required that we attend a course that was held in Toronto, at the UPS hub near the Humber Valley. When we got there, every main parking lot was full, so we were told to park in an auxiliary lot on the other side of the valley and walk over.

It was a surprisingly long walk and we were late, so we were really moving. We'd worked from 3 am to 8 am, then driven to Toronto, so we were tired and somewhat giddy. All we needed to burst into hysterical laughter was one good joke or one good pratfall.

Enter Karma.

I was hustling up the hill between two of my work mates when someone noticed mud. "Careful of the mud!" was shouted. We picked our way carefully up to the crest of the hill, avoiding the muddy path. As I got to the top, the earth fell away from under my feet.

Even the best drunken Ukrainian folk dancer could not have performed the flailing back flip I pulled off. I made Bruce Campbell's back flip in Evil Dead 2 look amateurish. I actually rotated one and a half turns, then twisted so my backside would take the brunt of the hit.

Incredibly, my landing was soft. It was soft because my butt impacted a small puddle of mud, just the right size for my rear end to fit into snugly. I landed with my ass wedged into a muddy hole and my legs sticking up over my head.

My colleagues lost it. "Hey," I said, "could someone help me out here." They laughed harder. "Come on guys." Hoots and hollers ensued. "My ass is getting really wet." They collapsed. One of them pointed at the ground nearby and in between sobbing gaps and giggles asked, "Didn't you see the banana?"

The look on my face must have been priceless because it set off a whole new round of helpless laughter. Everyone was laughing so hard, no one had the strength to pull me up. I pried myself out of the hole and checked out my pants. They were soaked through, a brown circle on the ass of my jeans, my underwear soaked through.

I looked down and saw that indeed, there was a banana peel. I had managed to step on the only banana peel in the entire Humber Valley that just happened to be next to a mud puddle that just happened to be the size of my rear end. I accepted my fate and continued walking stoically towards the building.

As we were leaving the accident site, I picked up the banana peel and threw it far away from the puddle. "There," I thought, "now no one else will suffer my fate."

Oh, what a sad silly boob I was.

I got through the course, including the road training, despite my brown, wet pants. We finished up the day and, utterly exhuasted, headed back towards the car. Somebody told me to watch out for the mud puddle and the giggling started again. When we got to the hole, it had dried and formed a perfect impression of my jean covered ass. CSI could have used it as evidence. Everyone started howling. I tromped off down the hill miserably.

That's when I stepped on the banana peel again.

I ended up on my face, my nose full of bulrushes, my butt over my head and my legs flailing in the air. I scrambled to my feet, looked down and saw the offending banana peel, exactly where it had landed when I'd thrown it.

I was stunned. "You gotta be ****ing kidding me." I said.

My colleagues lost it completely. I have never heard anyone laugh so hard in my life. I shook my head and walked away.

Exit Karma.
Next Story: The Password is 'IMARETARD'

Previous Story: The Only Patch of Ice in the Entire Parking Lot

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Only Patch of Ice in the Entire Parking Lot

My father has a singular talent. If there's only one of something, he can find it, but only if he's not looking for it. Like the only dead end on a circular island road. Like the only cop for two hundred miles at the precise moment you need the cops to be not looking. Like the only banana peel next to a mud puddle in the entire Humber Valley. (Actually that last one was me, I'll tell you about it tomorrow.)

So one winter James and I went shopping with my dad. He needed to stop at Radio Shack to pick up some part for one of his bizarre projects. He told us to wait in the car.

What you need to know is that it was cold, but there was no snow. It hadn't snowed or rained in days. The ground was completely dry. There should have been no ice. If anyone but my father had been walking across the parking lot at that moment, there wouldn't have been any ice. My father's presence bent the laws of probability and the possibility of ice suddenly became fact.

He trundled towards the store, his mind on the item he was looking for. He didn't know there was ice until he'd already stepped on it.

If you've ever seen a drunken Ukrainian folk dancer imitating traditional Russian dancing while on a cruise ship in the North Sea during a terrible storm, you have some idea of what my father looked like at that moment.

Both legs went airborne. Both arms windmilled in opposite directions. He twisted, he turned, he flew into the air with all the grace of a cow thrown by a transport truck impact. He had time to yell, which made us look up and see his danse macabre, which culminated in a tremendous face-plant right there in the middle of the Radio Shack parking lot.

He lay there for a moment while we laughed at his expense. We knew he was fine when he said, "Whoa crap!" and started brushing bits of ashphalt off his cheeks. So of course, we laughed harder.

But as I've said before, Karma is one mean-spirited bitch.

To be continued...
Next Story: The Only Banana Peel in the Entire Valley

Previous Story: Golf - With My Mom

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Golf - With My Mom

Yesterday's Post reminded me about golfing with my mom when I was in high school. My guidance counsellor got me into this summer program where we got to learn something 'for fun'. For reasons beyond my ken, I chose to take 'Photography' and 'Golf & Archery'.

That's right I chose 'Stand in a dark closet with dangerous chemicals' and 'Swing metal clubs & Shoot arrows while trying not to kill anyone'. Why someone didn't call a doctor and put me on suicide watch I will never know.

The photography part turned out OK. Only a few of my pictures came out though. Turns out I can use a camera, I just can't develop film without starting a fire. I had no idea developer fumes were flammable. Anyway nobody got hurt and they didn't press charges so a good time was had by all.

The archery part turned out to be horribly boring. Our arrows had no points. What's the point of an arrow with no point? Wait, what the hell did I just say? Oh, never mind. They made us shoot pointless arrows into soft foam targets. Where's the fun in that? How can you have adventure without danger?

The real highlight of the summer courses was the golf. After two weeks of intensive training I thought I was Tiger Woods. I actually looked up the schedule for the Canadian Open. I wanted to play some golf. But first I had to find someone who would golf with me. Nobody was interested, so for my first real golf game I had to go with my mom.

Stop laughing, dammit.

We decided to try nine holes at Satellite Golf out in Stoney Creek. Satellite Golf was (and still is) the cheapest golf course and driving range in the entire Golden Horseshoe. I think a small bucket of balls for the range is a dollar, and if you don't have a driver, they'll lend you a beat up club with yellow paint all over it so you won't steal it. The club girl however is staggeringly hot, so the place is always busy, all season long. Go figure.

Our first game went so slowly we had to keep letting people play through while we searched the rough for our balls. I lost at least six balls in the lake. I lost one ball in a tree. It went up, but it never came down. I guess gravity was off getting a beer from the hot club girl.

The last two holes though were the most exciting. On the eighth hole I drove my shot so hard it went over the fence and reached the highway. It bounced down the road, where it hit a gravel truck and began ricocheting between the vehicles. It stayed in the air for at least half a minute, until it got caught in the grill of a gasoline truck and was lost from sight.

I thought I wouldn't be able to top that, but I was wrong. On the last hole, less than a hundred yards from the pin, I again used too much club and overshot. The ball sailed neatly over the green, across the fence into the parking lot and went through the Satellite Golf sign. It's not my fault the wood was rotten. I don't see why they got so upset. If the sign says Satellite Goof now, so what?

Next Story: The Only Patch of Ice in the Entire Parking Lot

Previous Story: Window Cleaning Again - Now With More Golf

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Window Cleaning Again, Now With More Golf

Two years ago, George asked me to help him with a house job. He doesn't normally take house jobs so I was curious. This house backed onto a river, so the architect had cleverly filled the entire rear wall of the house with windows. The slope of the land made using scaffolding or ladders virtually impossible, so we had to disassemble the windows from the inside of the house, bring them in to the kitchen and clean them there. Very time consuming.

We finally got the hard part done and went around to all the fixed windows we'd left for last. One section was the laundry room. George was cleaning the inside of the laundry room windows and I was cleaning the outside. I began cleaning the window behind the clothes dryer when I noticed a bee in front of my face.

I stood still, figuring he'd eventually wander off if I didn't bother him. Then I saw a second bee. Great. I slowly looked down. The dryer vent between my legs was swarming with bees. I guess they'd been hiding inside the vent and when I got too close they'd come out to see if I posed a threat. Maybe they thought I was a bear.

I moved backwards very slowly, careful to make only smooth, gentle motions. George looked at me through the window like I was nuts. He came outside and asked me what was wrong. I said, "Bees." George turned green and fled. "Forget those windows, we're not doing anything where there's bees." he said.

Dealing with bug carcasses, bird excrement, spiders, webs, egg sacs, mud, dust, dirt, cement, paint, mortar, glue, gum, spit, vomit, urine, ketchup, eggs, and blood is bad enough. Dealing with bees is not in my contract. You have to draw the line somewhere.

So George and I went for coffee while doing the infamous Mohawk Ford Upper Showroom job this week. (Turns out George uses a fifteen foot stepladder and takes a half size extension pole up with him to reach the glass. Clever.) While we were sitting there he mentioned golf and we started telling each other golf stories.

One time George played golf with Bob, Liana's grandfather (who I've mentioned in earlier posts) and they had a grand time. They were shooting uphill on one hole and they both shot their balls over the hill and off the fairway into the rough. They climbed the hill and George got to the top first. He started laughing. He laughed so hard he fell down and Bob though he was nuts. "What's the matter with you George?" George replied, "Bob, if you can find your ball I'll give you ten dollars." Bob raised an eyebrow. He got to the top of the hill and looked.

Just beyond the edge of the rough were thousands of golf balls. They'd shot their balls onto the back end of the driving range.
Next Story: Golf - With My Mom

Previous Story: Window Cleaning With George - Episode One

Friday, May 25, 2007

Window Cleaning With George - Episode One

I missed posting on Wednesday because I was helping my friend George do a major window cleaning job. Bobcat built a new facility in Stoney Creek and George got the contract to do the post-construction cleaning. Post-construction window cleaning is the hardest and most time consuming kind of window job, because the windows are covered in spatters of cement, mortar, drywall mud, paint etc. You have to literally scrape the windows inch by inch with a razor blade and then wash them at least twice to get them clean. You also have to detail the window frames, which are usually covered in glue and caulking as well.

Why would anyone ever want to do a post-construction initial window cleaning job? Because you charge at least three times the normal rate to do it. Moolah!

I started working with George years ago because he wanted to go on vacation and didn't have anyone to run the business for him. His son had gotten married and moved away and couldn't help him any more. So I volunteered. I spent a month learning the basics and then George took off to England for a month, his first vacation in a long time. He left me a detailed list of which jobs to do on which days, along with billing and collection paperwork. He left nothing to chance, every step was laid out for me. As Scotty said in Star Trek III, "A Chimpanzee and two trainees could run her."

Everything was fine until Wednesday. On the list was "Mohawk Ford - Showroom Outside" followed by the address. Clear enough. The showroom at Mohawk Ford is two stories high. Twenty feet of plate glass surrounds three sides of the showroom. There is a bottom section of glass and a top section of glass. George and I hadn't done the top section of glass when we were together and the list didn't specify so I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to do it or not. I brilliantly decided that it would be better to err on the side of caution and go ahead and do the top section.

My regular readers and friends will know that I am not a ladder person. I have since learned how to use ladders safely, but back then I had no idea what I was doing. The problem was this: How to reach the upper plates of glass? There were cars parked three feet away from the showroom so using a full-sized ladder was out because the cars made the angle bad. The stepladder I had was too short. I decided to use the 15-foot aluminum ladder.

This was a tremendous mistake. The only way I could get close enough to reach the upper plates was to gently rest the top of the ladder against the glass. It was a nightmare. I had to reach way off the ladder and pray the whole time that the glass wouldn't break. It was a vastly stupid thing to do. But I got it done, somehow.

Afterwards I asked George's daughter to ask him about it when he called her form England. She relayed the message, "Don't do the upper glass!" I was relieved. When George got back and found out what I'd done he was shocked. To this day he still shudders in horror when he remembers it.

Last year, George wanted a Wednesday off so he asked me to do his rounds. On the list was "Mohawk Ford - Showroom Outside". Next to the line was a small piece of folded paper taped to the page that said, "Open this." It folded out into a very long banner that read, in big bold letters, "DO THE LOWER GLASS ONLY. DO NOT DO THE UPPER GLASS."

That George, what a kidder.
Next Story: Window Cleaning Again - Now With More Golf

Previous Story: Commmunication - The Keep Two a Shabby Family Live

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Communication - The Keep Two a Shabby Family Live

Or the key to a happy family life, depending on how you look at it.

Just now Dad asked me to close the vents downstairs so we can try our brand new central air conditioning. I was sure I heard him say, "Use your tongue!" But what he'd actually said was, "Use your thumbs", but he pronounces "thumbs" like "tum", hence the confusion. Those of you who are wondering what the hell thumbs have to do with closing vents, are just beginning to appreciate the layers of confusion that exist in our home. See, it's like The Davinci Code, first you have figure what language it is, then you have to unscramble it, then you have to decide what was really being said.

My life is a second rate imitation of a Dan Brown novel combined with a perpetual Laurel and Hardy episode. Maybe a little Backdraft too, for the fire parts.

Suffice it to say, my Dad could reduce Dr. Robert Langdon to tears with a single sentence. You remember the party game where one person whispers something into someones ear and it goes around until "James likes to eat ice cream in bed" becomes "Kill the Pope, spend the money and Fred lost his underwear"? High comedy. My father can do that magically, without the big chain of inebriated teenagers adding extra flavour to the message.

One time he asked me, "Jewansome nood-lee schnitzel-puss?". I don't know what's scarier, that he called me "Schnitzel-puss" or that I understood EXACTLY what he'd meant.

Just now he asked me to check if the compressor was working. Our new air conditioner is so far not working. YAY. And Dad just spent ten minutes trying to explain to me where the new air conditioning cutoff switch is. I'm going downstairs...

Grand. The air is definitely not working. It's now 26 degrees in here and climbing. Dad's going to call the furnace guy.

I'm sure he'll tell them, "Gift barn art marks not jerking hot!"

Somehow, they'll figure it out.
Next Story: Window Cleaning With George - Episode One

Previous Story: Barbecue Tips For the Insane

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Barbecue Tips For the Insane

In keeping with the flavour of yesterday's post, I'm now going to tell one of my favorite barbecue stories ever. Surprisingly, this one isn't a family story, this one happened to my old neighbor, Mr. Topazoglu, whose son we tried to kill repeatedly when we were kids.

One time Greg and I played with his Space Lego's for so long that we ended up with a bad case of cabin fever and had to go outside and blow off some steam. So we were whipping a ball or a stick or a rotary saw blade or something at each other, when the garage door opened.

Mr. Topazoglu emerged with an armload of barbecue paraphernalia. He wandered over to the barbecue and the first thing he did was turn on the gas. He checked to make sure the propane was flowing by sticking his head in the barbecue and taking a deep breath. Then he closed the lid and looked for the lighter.

Apparently he'd forgotten to bring it with him, so he wandered back into the garage to get it. Of course, he left the gas on while he searched. After several minutes of rattling and griping, he still hadn't found it so he went back in the house to look for it some more.

Greg and I crossed the street and stood on the neighbour's property, at a safe distance from his house, our dangerous game forgotten. Mr. Topazoglu came back out, lighter in hand, grinning madly. We sat down and covered our ears. We readied ourselves to watch Greg's dad die.

He opened the barbecue lid and coughed. Why he didn't pass out, we'll never know. He bent down, got the lighter into the little hole and pressed the button. Nothing happened. He got up, stuck his face in the barbecue and took another deep breath. Satisfied that the gas was still flowing, he crouched down below the barbecue and stuck the lighter in again.

It was the act of crouching down below the barbecue that saved his life. Because he'd opened the lid, the propane and air had finally mixed to the point of flammability and were just waiting for a spark. Mr. Topazoglu gleefully supplied the need flame.

There was a terrible ghastly noise.

A giant ball of flame erupted over the barbecue, ending in a huge mushroom cloud. After the cloud dissipated, Mr. Topazoglu stood up, held his hand over the now lit barbecue and smiled. "Ah very good!", he exclaimed.

We had burgers that night. They were indeed, "very good."
Next Story: Communication - The Keep Two a Shabbly Family Live

Previous Story: My Dad Could Mess Up 'Shake 'n Bake'

Monday, May 21, 2007

My Dad Could Mess Up 'Shake 'n Bake'

And he frequently does. I have seen my father ruin a perfectly good sandwich, screw up scrambled eggs and destroy a bagel while trying to get it into the toaster. What he does to meat loaf defies explication and is inexcusable. His superpower, the ability to ruin food just by being near it, would be forgivable if he stayed out of the kitchen. Unfortunately it's his favorite place in the whole world. Guess what his one and only hobby is.

Yeah, he cooks.

Last month I wrote about how much I love playing Golf despite the fact that I'm a really bad golfer. So I understand. What I don't understand is where he gets his crazy ideas from.

Like the time I caught him cutting up green peppers and bakers chocolate to put in the Chili Con Carne. I don't care if it works for Martha Stewart, it's doesn't work when dad tries it. Or the time the 'Shake 'n Bake' just wouldn't stick to the chicken pieces so he laid them in the baking dish and poured the crumbs over the top. Or the time he redecorated the kitchen while boiling a cabbage.

I walk in to find a huge uncovered pot on the stove, with a large uncut cabbage sitting in it. The pot had been full of several cans of V-8 juice, but he'd been boiling it so long the liquid had reduced and turned into a sludgy red sauce. Where had the excess liquid gone? It had evaporated... onto the ceiling. The kitchen was covered in a thin patina of tomato goop. Everything in the house smelled of boiled cabbage, including my freshly dry-cleaned suit. Brilliant.

Mom used to be a good cook, but she's been hanging around my dad too long and you know what they say about bad association. A few winters ago she decided she was going to have roasted chestnuts. So I went out and got her a big bag of fresh chestnuts. She arranged them on a baking sheet, got the oven fired up and put them in to roast. Then she sat down with a book and completely forgot about them.

When tendrils of smoke started sneaking out from the stove door, she remembered. She jumped up, opened the stove door and pulled the tray of fiery hot chestnuts out. With her bare hands. She screamed and dropped the sheet. Hitting the ground was too much for the already overstressed chestnuts, they exploded on impact. Chestnut meat shot everywhere.

We managed to clean up some of it, but when mom's housekeeper arrived, she asked her to please clean the ceiling fan in the kitchen. The girl looked up at the fan and gasped. The ceiling fan was dotted with stuck bits of exploded chestnut. I have no idea how she managed to get it clean, but she did.

Someday I'm going to come home and find out that my parents have burned the house down... while eating ice cream.
Previous Story: More Squirrel Madness - Indoor Rodent Sports

Sunday, May 20, 2007

More Squirrel Madness - Indoor Rodent Sports

Yesterday I wrote about how squirrels aren't stupid, they're just thrill seekers. Sometimes they take their love for extreme sports too far.

Once, when I worked at the Hospital, the daytime parking lot attendant went on vacation. I volunteered to fill in for her, if only to get a nice chunk of steady days and get off rotating shifts. It was the lot at the farthest end of the hospital property on Poplar avenue, with lots of trees and very little traffic. It was a no-brainer. Except for the squirrels.

The lady who worked the booth kept a large bag of whole peanuts inside, on top of the computer. She entertained herself by throwing out one peanut at a time and watching several dozen hungry squirrels fight for it. There was this one squirrel who used to win most of the time. He was very large and grey, with scars on his face and belly and he was missing half his tail.

I was sitting in the booth, ignoring the squirrels demands, when along came Mr. Grey, the street fighter. He stood on the curb opposite the booth and glared at me. Apparently I was too stupid to realize that the peanuts in the booth belonged to him and he was going to make sure I knew it. He ran up to the booth and chattered at me. I ignored him, just to see what would happen.

He was miffed. He jumped up onto the ledge outside the window and bitched at me for a few minutes. I was enjoying it so much, I decided to continue ignoring him to see what else he would try. I know now that you should never underestimate a squirrel who wants your nuts. Ignoring him was a bad mistake.

Keep in mind it's a tiny booth, only enough room for one person sitting down or two skinny people standing up. Mr. Grey was at my left hand, less than six inches from my arm, alternately screeching at me then looking a the bag of peanuts on top of the computer. Eventually hunger overrode his fear.

He jumped. He leaped inside the booth, flew over the computer and dropped into the bag of nuts. I was alarmed. He jammed a few nuts into his cheeks and sprung out of the bag. He landed on the computer. He started sliding down the cover and freaking out. Just before the snarling ball of angry claws landed in my lap, he performed a perfect side-leap and flug himself out the window.

Into the path of an oncoming car.

He managed to avoid getting run over but some of his nuts weren't so lucky. After the car passed he came back and scraped up what was left, chattering indignantly. Tough little guy.

I made sure to leave some peanuts out for him every day after that.
Next Story: My Dad Could Mess Up 'Shake 'n Bake'

Previous Story: Squirrels Aren't Stupid, They're Just Thrill Seekers

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Squirrels Are Not Stupid, They're Just Thrill Seekers

Dad is not a fan of the neighborhood squirrels. We have a giant maple tree in our front yard. Half the wildlife on our block lives in our tree. One of the squirrels who lives in the tree is into extreme sports.

'Flingy' starts his run at the far end of the roof. When we hear little claws galloping overhead, one of us goes to the living room window, because we know what's coming. He hurls himself off the end of the roof towards the big tree, arms and legs spread wide, chattering in terror. He usually makes it to the thin top branch, which bends halfway to the ground under the impact from his weight. Sometimes he misses the top branch and hits one of the less forgiving lower branches. But he's never fallen the ground, yet. Crazy little guy.

'Schwartz' is my father's nemesis. He's black (hence the name) he's huge and he has no fear whatsoever. One time, Dad decided to get rid of Schwartz using one of those humane walk-in traps, filled with nuts and peanut butter. Irresistible for a squirrel. Mom called us to the window to come see. The squirrel was standing on it's hind legs, pressed against the side of the trap, it's little arm stuck through the mesh, reaching for the goodies. He completely avoided the trap door and reached for the prize through the side. Clever little guy.

Once, Dad came home, got out of the car, and there was Schwartz, standing on the edge of the roof. Dad snarled at the squirrel, but he didn't run away. The little creep actually yelled at Dad and shook his little fists at him. I have never seen anything like it. This half-pound furball was actually taunting my very large, squirrel-hating father. That guy had guts.

Dad kept trying though. We finally trapped all the squirrels and took them far away to a park with lots of trees and plenty of food. Everything was quiet. Until spring came and a new squirrel family moved in. 'Flingy' was one of them. You just can't win.

P.S. I have another squirrel story, I'll post it tomorrow.
Next Story: More Squirrel Madness - Indoor Rodent Sports

Previous Story: They Called Me Ink Mouth

Friday, May 18, 2007

They Called Me "Ink Mouth"

By Grade Six, I had developed a pretty severe fixation. I liked putting school supplies in my mouth.

Pencils were my favorite. I would slowly bite the yellow off the pencil until the whole thing was a mass of exposed wood, full of teeth marks. When I couldn't find a pencil, a pen was a great substitute. I used to love how a Bic pen lid would get all hot if you chewed on it. Then there were the rulers. I chewed the end off so many rulers back then, like some kind of crazy beaver.

By now it should be clear to you that, back then, I wasn't quite right in the head.

In grade six I also started losing my eyesight. One of my teachers, Mr. Reimann, noticed right away that I had problems paying attention, so he moved me to the front of the class. One day he asked to answer a question he'd written on the board and when I got it completely wrong, he didn't react the way I expected. He said nothing to me, but he called my parents and told them he suspected I'd need glasses. Smart guy.

Mr. Reimann was also responsible for my nickname from grades six to eight. One time he asked a question and for some crazy reason I was actually paying attention and knew the answer, so I put up my hand. He pointed at me and said, "Yes, Ink Mouth?" I answered the question and he said, "You're right! Now go to the bathroom, look in the mirror and then clean yourself up." Turns out the Bic pen I'd been enjoying had burst and I hadn't noticed. My lips and chin were stained blue. Everyone had a good laugh at my expense and the name stuck.

I was the king of detention in grade six too. Mr. Reimann handed out detentions like candy. My mind was on another planet most of the time back then (how is that different from now?) and I got caught daydreaming several times a day.

The highlight of that year came during the last month of school. It was the end of the day, the bell rang and we all started getting up to leave. Mr. Reimann said, "Where do you think you're going, Ink Mouth?" I pulled my head out of the clouds long enough to answer coherently. I told him I didn't have a detention that day and was going home. He went over to the detention list and checked. "I'm certain you have a detention. You have to. You always have a detention." He went through the list very carefully and discovered that I was right.

"Everyone!", he shouted. "Stop, don't leave. Fuhringer here really doesn't have a detention!" There was a stunned silence. "I think we should give him a round of applause." The class happily clapped and cheered. It was great.

When I got home, my mother said, "You're home early." I just smiled.
Next Story: Squirrels Aren't Stupid. They're Just Thrill Seekers

Previous Story: That's Not How We Use Our Crayons

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

That's Not How We Use Our Crayons

I've been dreading this one but it's time.

Now, when a kid acts up in school they prescribe Ritalin or send him for counselling. When I was a kid, acting up got me The Strap. I wish I were kidding. I really do.

Grade Three was the worst grade ever. My teacher was Mrs. Jewel, a bitter, exhausted old woman years past retirement age. She was one of those rare people who genuinely did not like children. With my wild imagination, four-second attention span and big fat mouth I was her worst nightmare.

One time we were given crayons, paper and an assignment. Mrs. Jewel told us to take the first letter of our name and draw a picture of something using that letter. The first letter of my name is "T". I decided to be clever and draw a Tractor with a muddy Tire. Nice and simple.

The tractor was pretty awful, I've never been much of a visual artist. The tire however was awesome. First I drew the outline of a big, exaggerated tire. Then I sat there for a while, trying to figure out how to get mud on the tire. Going outside and collecting mud was out. I didn't have enough brown crayon for the amount of mud I wanted to draw.

I held two crayons in my hand, which sparked a memory. I had seen a drawing somewhere of two crayons taped together, used to make a cool design. I thought about it and reasoned that if two crayons were cool, all the crayons would be the pinnacle of coolness. The result would be an awful mess, much like mud. Perfect!

I grabbed my crayons and started stuffing them in my fist. I got as many as I could hold, at least a dozen different colours, all packed together like cord wood. I got the points down on paper and began muddying the tire. It was great. It looked like crap but I was delighted. I mashed and whirled my crayon-laden fist over the page until the tire was obscured. It was heaven.

Something made me look up. Mrs. Jewel was standing there watching me. I smiled, completely oblivious to her displeasure. She grabbed my hand and took the crayons away. She looked down at me and in a voice reserved for Doctors who have to tell parents their child is dead, said, "That's not how we use our crayons."

I tried to explain but she didn't want to hear it. She looked at my drawing. "What's the first letter of your name?", she asked. "T?", I replied. She pointed at the picture. "Where's the 'T'?" I pointed at the tractor and said, "Right there! See? It's a T-ractor. With a muddy T-ire. I used 'T' twice! Isn't that great?"

She looked at me like I was retarded and said, "You were supposed to use the letter 'T' in your drawing. The shape of the letter 'T'. Your drawing is all wrong. There's no 'T' in it." I was upset. "Yes there is, there are two 'T''s in it. Look!" Her eyes narrowed. "Get out of my class. Go to Mr. Quinn's office, NOW."

I went to Mr. Quinn's office. What choice did I have? I was eight years old. Mr. Quinn was not happy to see me. "Do you know why Mrs. Jewel sent you to my office?", he asked. "No?", I replied. "What do you mean 'No'? Are you being smart with me?". I said, "No, I don't know why I'm here."

Mr. Quinn actually turned purple. I got the strap. It was unpleasant.

When grade four started, Mr. Quinn wasn't there anymore and I never got the strap again. I also found out that Mrs. Jewel had been killed in a car accident over the summer. It was the first time in my life I felt relieved upon hearing that someone had died. When I realized how wrong that was I cried like a baby.

But I was still relieved. And I never got the strap again.
Next Story: They Called Me "Ink Mouth"

Previous Story: I've Got a Rip in My Pants Again

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I've Got a Rip in My Pants Again

Over the weekend, a rip developed in my jeans, turning them into Peek-a-boo Pants. Now I have a dilemma. Do I fix them and be modest or do I leave them as is and be cool. (Get it? "Cool"? Oh, never mind.)

My regular readers can probably guess how dangerous I am with a sharp object in my hand, like a needle or a pair of scissors. To say that I am bad when it comes to sewing is like saying that Uwe Boll is bad when it comes to film making. It doesn't convey the full sense of the badness. Whole flavours of awful are missing from that statement.

So when we were forced to sew something in mandatory "Home Economics" class, I chose to make pyjama bottoms. I figured no one would ever see me wearing them, so no matter how badly they turned out, I'd look OK. I chose flannel as my fabric. Off-white flannel with purple and rose striping. (God I was dumb when I was a teenager.)

They say you should measure twice and cut once. I measured fifteen times and cut twice. Fortunately I'd thought to buy lots of extra fabric. I followed the pattern and worked painstakingly for days and days. Finally my tailoring masterpiece was complete. I tried them on.

They actually fit, but one leg was somehow shorter than the other. I took them off and measured them. Both legs were exactly the same length. I put them back on. One leg was shorter. Great, I'd created Twilight Zone pyjamas. And they got really hot and itchy at night.

Years later I remembered those pyjamas fondly while repairing a rip in my suit pants. I had learned much by then and was actually capable of invisible mending. I slowly fixed my pants and the seam was as close to perfect as I'd ever done. I was so proud of myself. I turned the pants over to see how the seam looked from the outside. Actually, they wouldn't turn over. Something was wrong.

I had sewn my pants to my pants.

To clarify: I had sewn my suit pants to the jeans I was wearing, while I'd stiched away with them in my lap.

And you wonder why I'm reluctant to fix the new rip in my jeans?
Next Story: That's Not How We Use Our Crayons

Previous Story: Adventures in Cuba - The Bus Driver From Hell

Monday, May 14, 2007

This Just In - Found 20 light years away: the New Earth

Quote - "It's got the same climate as Earth, plus water and gravity. A newly discovered planet is the most stunning evidence that life - just like us - might be out there.

Above a calm, dark ocean, a huge, bloated red sun rises in the sky - a full ten times the size of our Sun as seen from Earth. Small waves lap at a sandy shore and on the beach, something stirs..."

Found 20 light years away: the New Earth

The article is sensational and speculative, but if you ignore the hype, the actual data itself is really cool. A planet in the "Goldilocks Zone", with temperatures between zero and 40c (32-102f)?

Next News: Popular Fiction Hits the Technorati Top 100,000

Previous News: Popular Fiction Hits 100 Visitors

Adventures in Cuba - The Bus Driver from Hell

Imagine a man with no fear of death. A man with no natural sense of self-preservation. A man who truly does not care whether he lives or dies.

Now imagine that man is your bus driver.

Dad, Grandpa and I took a side trip while in Cuba once. A bus trip from our resort to the historic city of Santiago de Cuba. The highlight of the trip was The Castillio del Morro.

We clambered into the 1950's Russian-made rusted-out bear trap. It was painted blood red. It sounded like a tank with asthma. Amazingly though it had very comfortable seats and the air conditioning worked. We were so happy to get out of the heat, we didn't care what the bus looked like.

The bus driver however would have frightened Stephen King. He looked deceptively harmless. He was short, brown and dark haired, wearing a breezy white shirt and shorts. We called him Pedro. I don't think that was his name but he didn't seem to mind. He didn't seem to mind anything. Including physics, traffic laws or respect for life.

The first clue that we'd entered the Twilight Zone was his smile. Think Hannibal Lecter meets Barney. He caressed the steering wheel as if it were a knife blade. He hit the accelerator with all his strength and we took off like the Space Shuttle. For the first mile, he didn't look out the windshield. He looked back at us, his victims and grinned.

Pedro drove the bus like a Formula One car. Every turn was taken at maximum speed. Every pedestrian, bicycle or animal was irrelevant. He never used the horn, yet somehow people seemed to know we were coming and got off the road. At one point we had to cross a narrow bridge and Pedro played chicken with the oncoming traffic. Cars drove backwards on the bridge to get out of his way.

After a dozen near-misses, we stopped counting and resigned ourselves to the fact that our driver was insane. It was actually enjoyable after that, kind of like a rollercoaster. We treated it like a thrill ride and threw our hands into the air when he went over a bump or screamed whenever he took a hard turn. Pedro never stopped grinning the entire time.

Finally we got to The Castillio del Morro and poured out of the bus. We were so happy. We went up to the entrance of the Castle, ready for our tour. There was a large sign in front of the door, and we asked the tour guide what it meant.

It said, "Castle closed for lunch."

It's been there for over four hundred years and the moment we show up, it's closed. Brilliant planning. We had to make a decision. We could wait for the Castle to re-open or we could get back on the bus.

We chose to wait. Pedro just grinned.
Next Story: I've Got a Rip in My Pants Again

Previous Story: Pillar of Fire - It Runs in the Family

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Pillar of Fire - It Runs in the Family

Fire. It can save your life or it can kill you. But it will always entertain. Recently I wrote three stories about my experiences with fire. A 'Fire Trilogy' of sorts:

It's Not On My Resume But I Am a Skilled Pyromaniac
Nothings Wrong, I'm Just Watering The Patio
The Conclusion of the Fire Trilogy (For Now)

The story isn't over though. There's a prequel, one that explains how I became Darth... what? Oh wrong trilogy, sorry.

When Dad was telling his Hungarian funeral stories a few weeks back, he talked about some of the outrageous things he got into as a kid. He lived in Hungary between the end of WWII and the Hungarian Revolution in '56. Life in Hungary during those years was scary and dangerous. Also, they didn't have X-Box and Collectible Card games hadn't been invented yet, so they had to (gasp) play outside and use their imaginations.

Unfortunately, being surrounded by war, their imaginations ran to, well... war. One of their favorite pastimes was hunting for abandoned munitions. Artillery shells were their favorite. They would bang the shell casings together to loosen them (It's a miracle I was ever born) then unscrew them and remove the detonators. Apparently the detonators are tremendous fun when ignited. They also collected the gunpowder from the shells and carried it around in their pockets or made their own makeshift fireworks with them.

One time they hit the jackpot. They found an abandoned Russian ammunition dump hidden in the side of a hill under a camouflage tarp. They collected bags and bags of gunpowder, as much as they all could carry. But someones dad showed up and freaked out. You know how unreasonable parents can be when kid's are just trying to have fun. He wasn't afraid for their lives because of the gunpowder though. He was afraid of what the Russian soldiers would do if they found a bunch of kids carrying gunpowder.

So he told them to collect up what they'd found and take it out back into a field behind the town. They stacked bags and bags of gunpowder together in a huge pile. Once they'd moved all the gunpowder, he told them to go away while he destroyed it. He decided the best way to get rid of half a ton of gunpowder quickly was to burn it. He lit a match and threw it in the pile.

Dad, while telling the story said, "Da pillar of fire da Israelites had leaving Egypt was a veak bonfire compared to da pillar of fire from that gunpowder." Mr. Brilliants plan to discreetly dispose of the stuff resulted in a beacon of flame that could be seen three towns away. The Russian soldiers noticed. Everyone noticed. It was glorious.

After I heard that story, I didn't feel bad about my own experiments with fire anymore. Now I know who I got my pyromaniac leanings from. My Dad, the firebug.

P.S. Guess what dad became when he grew up? A Combustion Technician. Go figure.

Next Story: Adventures in Cuba - The Bus Driver From Hell

Previous Story: Everybody Wants to be Famous

Friday, May 11, 2007

Everybody Wants to be Famous

Everybody wants their fifteen minutes of fame. Even my Dad. Yesterday he said to me, "Hey, you want a joke for your blog?". I was alarmed. Dad's sense of humour can be somewhat unrefined.

To illustrate: We were watching "House". It was the episode where House mercilessly plays practical jokes on Wilson. At the end of the episode, House's cane breaks and he falls to the floor. Wilson says, "I guess someone filed halfway through your cane while you were sleeping." and walks away. My Dad laughed for at least fifteen minutes over that. It was funny, but a crippled guy falling down because someone cut his cane shouldn't have inspired that much laughter. OK, fine. It was really funny.

So Dad told me this joke:

A Bureaucrat is driving through the country when he comes across a Farmer with some sheep. He stops and talks with the Farmer. "Nice sheep." he says. "Yep" replies the Farmer. The Bureaucrat challenges the farmer to a bet. "I'll bet you I can guess the exact number of sheep you have. If I can, you have to give me one." The Farmer thinks about it for a minute, then says, "Deal."

The Bureaucrat says, "Eighty-seven."

The Farmer is stunned. "Wow," he says, "that's exactly right, Mister. How'd you do that?" The Bureaucrat smiles and says, "In my line of work, you know how to find out these things. The Bureaucrat looks through the flock, picks up a sheep and carries it to his car.

The Farmer says, "Mister, will you give me a chance to win my sheep back?" The Bureaucrat says, "Sure!" The Farmer challenges him to a bet. "If I can guess what you do for a living, I get my sheep back plus one hundred dollars." The Bureaucrat thinks about it for a minute, then says, "Deal."

The Farmer says, "You're a Bureaucrat."

The Bureaucrat is stunned. "Wow," he says, "that's exactly right. How did you know?"

The Farmer replies, "Well, first put down my dog and then I'll explain."

Next Story: Pillar of Fire - It Runs in the Family

Previous Story: The Top Five Fuhringer Family Fishing Trip Disasters

Popular Fiction Hits 100 Visitors

On Thursday, 'Popular Fiction' was read by 100 unique visitors. This was a new record.

I'd like to thank Darren Rowse of Problogger for running the 'Top Five Group Writing Project', for which I wrote the story, The Top Five Fuhringer Family Fishing Trip Disasters. This project attracted several new visitors and I look forward to participating in future projects.

I'd like to thank Bill Harris of Dubious Quality for his positive comments about 'Popular Fiction' and the link, which will hopefully also attract new visitors.

Finally I'd like to thank you, the readers for regularly visiting 'Popular Fiction' and inviting new readers. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Thanks and Enjoy!
Next News: Found 20 Light Years Away: The New Earth

Previous News: Videos of Water Flash Freezing

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Top Five Fuhringer Family Fishing Trip Disasters

Our family loves to fish. Maybe it's because there are 250,000 lakes and 100,000 kilometers of rivers in Ontario, where we live. Maybe it's because fishing is a great excuse to sit in a boat drinking beer and eating artery-clogging sandwiches. Whatever the reason, every male member of the Fuhringer family goes fishing at every available opportunity.

My cousin Leilani nearly tore the family apart when she held her wedding on the opening day of pickerel season. My cousin Karl stayed right to the end of the reception Saturday night in Hamilton and was standing in hip waders in the Moira river in Belleville before dawn on Sunday.

I think they're all nuts. To prove it, I will now share with you the "The Top Five Fuhringer Family Fishing Trip Disasters". After reviewing the evidence, you will understand why no one in my family should ever go fishing again.

5) The One That Got Away

I'm not talking about the fish we lost when dad threw the fish stringer back in the water before remembering to attach the stringer to the boat. I'm not even talking about the fish we lost the time the stringer got caught in the propeller (it was spectacularly messy). I'm talking about the classic fishing story about the 'big one', the one that was almost caught but got away. "It was THIS big!" That story.

I hold the dubious honour of having lost "The Best Pickerel Ever(Tm)".

I was standing on the edge of the Moira River in Belleville during the height of the pickerel run. There were fisherman EVERYWHERE. We were shoulder to shoulder from the dam all the way to the mouth of the river. Most of the guys there that day were serious sport fisherman. I was the guy who least wanted to be there. So of course, I got a bite from Jaws.

I have never seen a fishing line run out so fast. Everyone on the banks lowered their lines and reeled in out of respect when they saw my line snap tight over the river. Karl ran down the river in hip waders calling out instructions. When I locked the reel, the fish pulled me so hard I actually slid along the rocks at the river's edge. The guys on the bridge started shouting and pointing. When I started reeling in, my rod bent over from tip to handle. The fish turned and darted upstream, creating slack. I reeled for all I was worth. The line got higher and higher in the water.

A fish the size of a sofa broke the surface, flashing in the sunlight. Everyone stared in awed silence. Forget Jaws, I'd hooked Moby Dick.

The fish changed direction so fast I didn't have time to unlock my reel. The line went tight, then snapped like it was thread. A huge groan went up from the fishermen. One really old French guy said, "Dat dere were da biggest Pickerel I ever seen in my whole lifes dat one eh? Mon Dieu!"

My family never forgave me for losing it. I haven't been invited fishing again since.

4) Boat 1, Dad 0

Loading a small fishing boat is not rocket science. All you have to do is balance the boat. One time Dad was loading the boat, while standing in it. The boat was still tied to the dock. There was no danger. There were no obvious threats. No one knows exactly why he started to panic, but we do know it involved saving the lunch cooler. The boat tipped slightly to the left. Dad compensated, so it tipped to the right. He compensated again, it tipped even farther to the left. Then to the right. This went on until Dad lost control of the boat, which flung him bodily out into the water.

The boat settled. Dad came up sputtering. A little kid who'd watched the entire debacle from the dock looked down and asked him, "What are you doing down there?"

We were sure the kid was going to die.

3) Even the Fish Couldn't Stand the Smell

One time on a trip to Lake Temagami, my cousin James, my Dad and I were joined by our friend Dan. Dan is lactose intolerant and suffers from heinously bad gas. Dan's food supply that week consisted of one case of Diet Coke, one box of Melba Toast and a very large chub of dry salami. We listed to Weird Al Yankovic on the car stereo while Dan happily filled his intestines with chemical warfare agents, until dad had had enough of "Dis crazy Yugoslavian and his crazy music!" and switched to a good German station playing waltzes and polkas.

We got to the cabin on the lake and settled in for the night. We had no idea what was coming. We were lying in our beds when Dan started farting. "It stinks like da Devil's rectum in here!" my Dad said, sending us into fits of giggles and starting Dan on a new round of lethal flatulence. We settled down and figured that was the end of it.

We were wrong. A few minutes later he started passing gas in earnest. It just kept coming and coming. And it smelled hideous. Dad said, "Are you dying? Do we need to take you to da hospital?" This triggered more laughter and even more gas.

Everything settled down and it got quiet, the kind of quiet you can only get when you're on a lake in the wilderness. We relaxed. Dan suddenly shattered the tranquil night with a staccato barrage that went on longer than a German Opera. James and I lost it. Every time we thought it was finally over he'd come up with more.

Dad had had enough. He shouted, "Stop da farting! Stop it now. No farting, no laughing, we have to get up early in da morning for fishing. NO MORE FARTING! STOP LAUGHING."

The trip was ruined. Dad was miserable. I don't think we caught a thing the whole trip.

2) Water Snakes and Waterfalls

My mom has a serious, full-blown phobia of snakes. So of course, the last time she went fishing with us on The French River, we encountered a water snake.

Dad had this brilliant idea that there would be more fish above the waterfall, so we maneuvered the boat to the start of the rapids and dropped anchor. It was a great spot, until a curious water snake decided to visit our boat and check out what we'd brought for lunch. Mom panicked and started screaming and flailing an oar to keep it at bay. Dad pulled up the anchor. We began moving with the current. Dad couldn't get the engine started. The current got faster. The snake followed us down the river, staying just out of reach of Mom's oar.

Eventually Dad got the engine started and the snake realized he wasn't welcome so he swam off. We never did end up going over the falls, but it got dicey for a few minutes.

Mom hasn't been fishing since.

1) "I got shot."

My dad can end any conversation about fishing with this story. It trumps all other fishing stories. It's also not funny but I have to include it on this list because disasters just don't get worse than this one.

My Dad was born in Hungary during WWII. He managed to not get shot, despite the war. He escaped from behind the Iron Curtain in 1956 and managed to not get shot, despite the revolution, the Russians, etc. So it seems odd that when the bullets finally caught up with Dad, it was while he was fishing in New Brunswick.

Dad and his buddies had a limited grasp of conservation law when he first came to Canada, so to him it was nothing to illegally fish for salmon out of season. They caught a ton of fish, so they stopped for lunch. They sat together against a large tree, eating sandwiches and drinking beer.

That's when the two off-season deer hunters shot them. All three of them got hit. Dad ended up with two holes in one leg and three in the other.

(Recently, when Dad had his knee surgery the surgeon said, "Hey, you know you have a bullet in your leg? They left it in since it's right on the nerve and it's not causing him any problems.)

When they realized what they'd done, the two mighty hunters did the responsible thing. They ran, right into the arms of a ranger. They confessed and Dad and his buddies were transported to a local hospital for treatment. Since nobody died and everyone was technically guilty of a crime, no charges were laid.

My father survived the war only to be shot by morons while fishing. If that's not a clear sign to stay away from the water, I don't know what is.
Next Story: Everbody Wants to be Famous

Previous Story: Things That Go "Bonk, Smash, Ouch!" In the Night

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Things That Go "Bonk, Smash, Ouch!" in the Night

Spending the night at someone else's house is a classic setup for a comedy of errors.

My mother stayed at a friend's apartment while the friend was away on vacation. The most recent victim of the Scarborough Rapist had been attacked on the walkway right outside the apartment. Things were a little tense so my mom's friend kept a Louisville Slugger under her bed. The police warned single women to be vigilant.

So mom locked the windows and doors and went to bed. But something woke her up. She thought she'd heard music but wasn't sure if it was real or just a dream. So she shook herself awake and listened. After a few moments, the piano in the living room played a single note.

Mom grabbed the Louisville Slugger. The piano then played a single minor chord. Mom was certain that a psychotic killer had broken in and was playing the piano before he murdered her. She wasn't going down without a fight. She moved silently down the hallway, bat ready.

A discordant mishmash of demented noise erupted from the piano as mom made her final dash into the living room. A single green eye above the piano keys stared at her through the darkness. "Hey You", her friends one-eyed cat stood on the keys, playing a creepy dirge as he walked up and down the piano.

Hey You only had one eye, one ear and his mouth didn't close properly because of an injury he'd experienced as a kitten. He'd crawled up into the engine block of a car for warmth and someone had started the car. Despite the vet's protests, my mom's friend nursed the little monster back to health and he lived.

He didn't know he looked horrible. He was a very friendly and affectionate cat, always sneaking up and rubbing his gross half up against your leg or your cheek. His meows finished with a creepy trailing snort-whistle that usually sent people into fits of giggles when they heard him coming. And he liked to play the piano at night.

But my favorite story about staying overnight at someone else's house involved my dad. My parents and aunts and uncles and cousins all spent the night once at my grandparent's house. It was crowded and noisy and much wine was consumed. The adults staggered off to bed upstairs while the kids slept on the main floor.

Of course we talked and goofed around instead of sleeping, so we were awake when we heard my dad's distinctive lumbering walk overhead as he headed for the bathroom. Many minutes passed. Then we heard my mom go to the bathroom. We found out later she went to the bathroom to wake dad up, because he'd fallen asleep sitting on the can. So she goes back to bed and dad finishes up and suddenly we hear a loud thud. We froze.

A few seconds later there was a tremendous smashing noise. It turned out that dad, in his wine-induced fatigue, had forgotten he was not at home, so he turned right coming out of the bathroom instead of left. At my grandparent's house, the only thing to the right of the bathroom was a window and a huge flight of stairs, going down. My dad missed the stairs by a few inches, thanks to the four-inch post holding up the railing. that was the first noise. Then he fell on the floor in the hallway. That was the second noise.

According to mom, who had to revive him, dad had knocked himself unconcious when he hit the post. It probably saved his life though, since if he'd missed the post, he'd have fallen right down the long wooden stairway.

The next morning, everyone but my dad sat at breakfast, talking about the incident. Finally dad came downstairs and sat at the table. Everyone fell silent. "What?", he asked. My mother told him to go look in the mirror. He had a four inch stripe running down his head and face, in the shape of the post.

He had no idea how it got there.

Next Story: The Top Five Fuhringer Family Fishing Trip Disasters

Previous Story: Electricity is Dangerous - Shocking Details Follow

Monday, May 7, 2007

Electricity is Dangerous - Shocking Details Follow

My first experience with electrocution happened when I was just a little kid. We were at an animal park, maybe Marineland or African Lion Safari. I loved the animals and wanted to be as close to them as possible. Especially the dangerous ones.

The lion enclosure was just too awesome for a little guy like me. I was shaking with excitement. I wanted to get closer so I put my tiny hand through the fence. There was a second fence further in and I grabbed it.

Then I started to cry because I thought my dad had hit me in the head. Dad insisted he hadn't touched me and when I explained what I'd been doing my parents started laughing. Yeah, my first electrocution and they laughed at me. High comedy.

When I was older, I had to do an assignment for school, which meant dragging out and setting up the electric typewriter. I maneuvered the ninety pound behemoth onto the top of my metal desk. Love those 80's metal desks, perfect conductors of electricity.

I climbed onto the the desk and reached for the only nearby plug, which was behind the metal back of the desk. I had to twist the cord to get it in the socket but it just wouldn't go all the way in. So I forced it.

My finger slipped and jammed between the tines on the plug. I distinctly remember biting my tongue and smashing against the wall as the electricity had a field day with all that metal, through the agency of my index finger.

But the best electrocution story goes to a dog. Liana's grandfather had a neighbor who had "The Perfect Lawn(Tm)". A local dog decided it was the most wonderfully groomed toilet he'd ever seen. The owner screamed at the dog, then screamed at it's owner, but every day the dog came back and made a deposit on his golf green.

The owner decided he'd fix the problem permanently. He got an extension cord, stripped it and attached it to a horseshoe. He put the horseshoe in the grass near the dog's favorite peeing spot. Then he watered the grass, plugged in the cord, and waited.

The dog came by as usual, positioned himself, lifted his leg and let out a stream. Liana's grandfather said, "That dog fired into the air like he'd been kicked by the Devil! You better believe he never went on that grass again, boy." Mean, but effective.

I'm glad I've never been electrocuted via a pee stream. (Fingers crossed.) I'd better stay away from the neighbour's grass.
Next Story: Things That Go "Bonk, Smash, Ouch!" in the Night

Yesterday's Story: If I Could Talk to the Animals

Sunday, May 6, 2007

If I Could Talk to the Animals

Actually I do talk to the animals, but they generally ignore me. Unless I'm holding a bag of Cheetos, then I'm their new best friend.

I've met some fascinating creatures including snakes, stingrays, moose and polar bears. I also met a sea urchin, but that was unpleasant. Oh yeah, I met some bats once too. Ironically, the wild animals and I usually get along. It's the domestic animals that give me grief.

Like the dog that treated me to the most disturbing physical sensation I have ever experienced. One time while delivering pizza the customer's young golden retriever decided it wanted something I'd eaten recently and stuck its entire tongue in my mouth and down my throat. Imagine swallowing hot bristly baloney coated in syrup. Or don't imagine it, it was awfully gross. Silly dog.

Then there were the cows. I love cows, they are as friendly and affectionate as dogs. Recently I went out to Liana's dads place and saw his cows. They were all inside that day, but they came over to see me. The bull came first, sniffed me, then reared back in panic. The cows were upset by this and took off. Yay stampede. Then I remembered that I own a dog and his scent was on my pants. Not just any dog mind you, an English Bull Terrier. Yeah, the one dog cattle are most afraid of. So I go marching up to them smelling like their mortal enemy and I was surprised when they panicked. Brilliant.

But it's the birds that really make me mad. How can anything be that cheerful at 4:45 am? Why do they choose my window ledge for their concert hall? One time when they were tuning up I actually got out of bed, opened my window and glared at them. They looked at me as if to say, "What? We're practising here." and refused to vacate the ledge. I don't know how, but they seem to know that I'm harmless. They won't even cross the fence line of our psychotic neighbour, but they'll line up on my bedroom window ledge.

As I was typing that last paragraph, my psychotic neigbour's dog Monty made a suicidal dash for freedom and ran towards the street. My neighbour just screamed right under my window. Poor quivering, spastic little Monty. Some day he'll be truly free and our neighbour will have to scream about something else.

On the bright side, all the noisy birds just took off. Go neighbour!
Next Story: Electrity is Dangerous - Shocking Details Follow

Previous Story: They Don't Call it the Chemistry "Final" for Nothing

Saturday, May 5, 2007

They Don't Call it the Chemistry "Final" for Nothing

Before I move on from the subject of high school (see yesterday's story) I want to tell you about the time I almost killed my entire class during the chemistry final exam.

The chemistry final involved actual lab experiments, set up at stations around the exam room. We had to complete experiments and then go back to our desks and write them up. Nice and simple. I finished the exam twenty minutes early but no matter how much I begged, Ms. Festing would not let me leave. I'm pretty sure she regretted that decision later.

I went looking for something to do. I found an empty beaker. I felt compelled to fill it. Under the guise of 'double-checking' my exam results, I went from station to station, collecting some of each chemical used in the experiments. The beaker began to fill up. Various chemicals went into it, whatever appealed to me. Eventually I had a large beaker full of powders and crystals. Red, white, yellow, blue, green, you name it, it was in there.

I stirred it all up until the mixture was evenly distributed. I waited. Nothing happened. I thought about it for a while and realized a catalyst would be needed. Fire would have been my first choice, but there was no way I could have turned on a Bunsen burner without drawing the attention of Ms. Festing. I was forced to go with my second choice.

Good old dihydrogen monoxide, a.k.a "water".

I went to the sink, pretending to be cleaning up and set my big beaker of chemicals under the tap. I didn't know what it was going to do, but I was confident it would do something. I filled the rest of the beaker with water and stirred it with my pen. The chemicals mixed and the magic began. I kept stirring vigorously for a few seconds until I noticed my pen felt somewhat lighter. The part of my pen that had been immersed in the mixture was gone. It had either melted off or been dissolved away.

Cool! (I took a few steps back just in case though.) The mixture started to darken. It rapidly turned black and then started expanding. A black cloud rose from the beaker. It smelled terrible. Then things went from bad to worse. I think what drew Ms. Festing was the sound of the beaker cracking. She burst into action. Exhaust fans were turned on, students were told to evacuate the room, it was great.

Finally the reaction stopped, leaving a cracked beaker covered inside and out with blackened goop. Ms. Festing came at me and demanded a list of everything I'd put in the beaker. We went from station to station. I explained while she jotted down notes. About halfway around the room she looked at the list and her face turned green and red at the same time.

"You idiot!" she shouted, "You have no idea what you just made, do you?" I shook my head.

"Try nerve gas." she said. "Really?" I asked, smiling.

I shouldn't have smiled.
Next Story: If I Could Talk to the Animals

Previous Story: The Conclusion of the Fire Trilogy (For Now)

Your First Month as a Blogger

Whatever your reasons for starting a blog, there will be some obstacles. What issues will you have to face during your first month? How can you overcome them?

My blog, 'Popular Fiction' is one month old. I will share what I've learned in the past thirty days to help answer those questions.

Part 1: Approach

The first thing you need to do is relax. Excitement about your new blog is natural but it won't help you as much as calm determination and focus will. I spammed my friends and family the moment my blog was up and running. "Look, I'm on the Internet!" People will tolerate shameless self-promotion ONCE, if they are your friends. After that they will just ignore you.

As a blogger, the last thing you want is to be ignored. You want traffic. Traffic is Queen. Traffic is important if your blog is commercial, but also important even if your blog is for fun. This brings us to your first headache.

Tip: Check out Content May Be King But Traffic is Queen by Mitchell Harper.

You will hear advice on submitting your blog to major search engines and to blog directories and getting the word out. You have to do these things if you want traffic. What no one tells you is that for the first month, the major search engines will ignore you, blog directories will bury you and the many of people you announce your blog to will forget about you.

Stay calm and focused. If you lay a solid foundation your blog will attract traffic, but it takes time. Eventually all the work you do in promoting your blog will pay off, you just have to be patient.

But how do you build a solid foundation?

Part 2: Content

Content is King. Without good content, your blog is just a web page with fancy headings, bad colours and irrelevant AdSense ads. Content is the lifeblood of your blog.

The first thing to decide is not 'What should your content be?' That's secondary. Your first concern should be, 'How often will you post?' If you don't post often enough, the search engines will crawl your blog less often and people will stop checking to see if you've posted something. If you post too often, you will burn out and lose your joy as a blogger.

Whatever you decide, set up a schedule that will enable you to meet your posting goals. I post every day. I post one humour article each day, one author review each week and one feature article a month.

Tip: Check out How Often Should a Blogger Post? by Darren Rowse.

How do I keep up? I have a schedule and I stick to it. I also do something important. I prepare a few posts in advance. When I have some spare time I write three or four extra posts and save them as drafts for those days when I need to post something but the furnace repairmen are here, along with the city inspector and the guys from the gas company, my dog just attacked the water heater guy, the police are on their way and my lawyer isn't returning my calls.

So you're relaxed, determined and focused. You've mercilessly promoted your blog and you're patiently waiting for traffic. You have a good schedule and you've got some extra material stashed away for emergency days. Your blog is brimming with content. What now?

Part 3: Navigation

You caught Bigfoot in your backyard eating raspberries and you've got pictures to prove it. Millions of visitors flock to your blog to see the pictures. They spend about ten seconds reading your content looking for a link to the pictures. They don't find a link, so they leave. Didn't they see the previous posts link you painstakingly set up in your sidebar? Didn't they read every word in the post you gave your heart to? No, they didn't. They didn't finish reading your post and they didn't even notice you had a sidebar.

If your readers can't find what they want immediately they will leave. When this happened to me I was disappointed. My reports showed people reading half a story then moving on, or just flipping through a few pages quickly and then leaving. I asked people about certain posts I was proud of and even my DAILY readers weren't aware of them.

In Jakob Nielsen's article The Top Ten Design Mistakes, one of the things he talks about is weak navigation. People need to be able to find your important posts. The calendar or posts archive isn't good enough. You need to put links right in your main content. If people can find it, they'll read it. If they can't, they'll leave.

If you approach your first month as a blogger with calm determination, focus and patience, you will enjoy the learning process a lot more. If you provide good content on a regular basis, traffic will flow to your blog in time. If you make the extra effort to develop fast navigation, with links to other posts right inside your content, people will find what they're looking for and stay a while.

It will be be fun and interesting. You'll want to stick with it. Your first month as a blogger will be a good experience, and you'll remember it fondly.

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Friday, May 4, 2007

The Conclusion of the Fire Trilogy (For Now)

I'm going to talk about fire one more time.

In high school, I got to make fire as part of the curriculum. I loved high school. Especially science class. There was one time during the chemistry exam where I nearly killed everyone, but that's another story for another time. (Maybe tomorrow?)

In Grade 10 Advanced Science, we had the coolest lab assignment ever. We had to set up a working system for fractional distillation of crude oil. One of the steps we had to complete was to fraction crude oil into gasoline. By distilling it, with heat from a Bunsen burner flame.

Let's be clear: Crude oil in liquid and gas form, gasoline and open natural gas flame. Thank you Mr. Watson, the Best Science Teacher Ever (Tm).

Apparently thousands of students have done the same experiment without incident. It used a closed tube system so the flammable materials were never exposed to oxygen or open flame. It was perfectly safe until I came along.

Mr. Watson checked my apparatus very carefully. Then, knowing me as he did, he checked it again. Everything was set. We lit our Bunsen burners and the fun began. From each table came sounds of excitement as gasoline began appearing in the condenser tube. Mine was filling up quickly. Everything went smoothly.

Until the stopper in my collection tube cracked.

Had I been sane, I would have immediately turned off my burner and grabbed the fire extinguisher. Instead I stood, watching gleefully as the gasoline leaked onto the outside of the tube. Mr. Watson must have seen the beatific expression on my face as the beads of gasoline dripped towards the open flame, because he was already moving with the fire extinguisher.

The apparatus lit up like the Fourth of July. I was so enthralled, I barely noticed him screaming at me to turn off the gas. The flames got into the tube and through the crack in the stopper, which popped off like a champagne cork. Oxygen got in.

A pillar of fire ascended from my table towards the heavens, my arms open wide, face beaming with joy at the holy offering I had made. Then Mr. Watson hit the fire extinguisher, ending my religious experience. He was furious. The class was furious. I thought they were going to lynch me.

Next Story: They Don't Call it the Chemistry "Final" For Nothing

Previous Story: Nothing's Wrong, I'm Just Watering The Patio

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Nothing's Wrong, I'm Just Watering The Patio

My dubious love affair with fire wasn't over. (See yesterday's post.)

I was out on the patio, tying to get rid of the ants. They had holes everywhere between the stones. No matter what we did, no matter what poison or traps we used, they kept coming back. So I experimented with different chemicals to see if anything we had in the shed would kill them.

Nothing worked. I tried Windex, fertilizer, antifreeze and more but nothing stopped them. They were the toughest ants ever. Eventually our patio became a chemical soup and probably a hazmat clean-up team's worst nightmare. But I wasn't finished. There was one bottle left in the shed that I hadn't tried. Lighter fluid.

The ants hated it. They didn't die outright, but I discovered that if I spread out a line of the stuff, they wouldn't cross it. It gave me an idea. I started working in a pattern from one end of the patio to the other, painstakingly laying down lines. Eventually the entire patio became a chessboard, marked out in lines of lighter fluid.

But I wasn't finished. I reasoned that if they hated the stuff that much, and I poured in on their mounds, they wouldn't come out ever again and they'd starve. Brilliant! So I worked the grid, squirting a shot of fluid into every single hole I could find. I got to one of the last holes and the bottle sputtered and went dry. I had used the entire bottle of lighter fluid.

I looked down upon my masterpiece. It was glorious, but it reeked. Only then did it occur to me that my mother, with her supernatural sense of smell might figure out what I had done. Only then did I stop to consider how I would clean up the mess. I was alarmed. But, it didn't take me long to come up with a solution.

I decided to burn it off.

I got the matches, stood at one corner of the grid and carefully touched the flame against the nearest ant mound, as a test. It lit up nicely, burning for quite a while and then getting smaller and smaller. But it didn't go out. The flame just got really small. I was intrigued. I leaned down for a closer look.

A few feet in front of me, another soaked ant hole burst into flame. Cool! I thought. Then I noticed another, then another. Soon there were half a dozen ant holes with little jets of flame coming out of them. Awesome! Then one of the flames reached out and touched the grid.

There was a deep woofing sound as the entire patio went up in flames. It was beautiful. It was glorious. It was going to get me killed. If not by the fire, then by my parent's wrath. I grabbed the garden hose, turned on the water and prepared to kill my masterpiece.

My mother chose that moment to call me from the kitchen window. "What's going on out there?" she asked. "Why are you using the hose?". I panicked. I replied, "Nothings wrong, I'm just watering the patio." There was a very long pause. "Do I need to come out there?" she asked. "NO!" I screamed, "I'm uh... cleaning it as a surprise for you, stay inside till I'm done." There was a very long pause. "Uh huh." she said.

I hosed like a madman. I used the water pressure to put of the flames and sweep all the fluid, chemicals and burnt weeds into the soil under the peonies. (The flowers didn't do so well that season.) As it dried, I meticulously detailed the cracks then swept the patio clean.

It took me a minute to realize that the ants were gone. Success! We didn't see another ant for the rest of the year. I was thrilled.

The following spring, they came back.

Next Story: The Conclusion of the Fire Trilogy (For Now)

Previous Story: It's Not On My Resume, But I Am a Skilled Pyromaniac

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

It's Not On My Resume, But I Am a Skilled Pyromaniac

Everybody has a secret skill. It's not something you put on your resume, and only your family and friends know about, maybe. My friend Paul used to hide all the candles, matches, lighters, scissors, knives and razors before I went over to his apartment to hang out. Paul is wise.

My secret skill? I start fires.

When I was young, I had a toy car, a little red hatchback with a door that actually opened, revealing it's cargo space. One day while my parents were out, I decided to fill that space with match heads. Mom had fancy wooden matches, which I painstakingly cut the heads off with a steak knife. I usually had a short attention span as a child but on that occasion I stayed focused long enough to pack the entire box of match heads inside the car.

The quiet, practical part of my mind, which never got a lot of attention back then, managed to convince the rest of me that we were doing something that might be dangerous. So I gave the situation some thought and came up with the perfect solution. I would set the car off in the bathroom sink. That way, when it went badly, I could turn on the water and put out the fire.

I put the car in the sink, above the drain and sat there wondering how I was going to light it without getting burned. I abandoned such clever ideas as throwing a lit match at it or making a paper fuse, since previous experiments had shown those methods were unreliable. I came up with a new plan, one guaranteed to work.

I sprayed the car with hairspray. Then I unscrewed the cap and poured liquid hairspray from the car, up the sink to the counter. I had my 'fuse'. Everything was ready for the big action scene. I rationalized what I was doing as though I were shooting a stunt scene from a movie. The fact that I had no camera was irrelevant. I was the camera.

I opened a new box of matches and lit one. The moment of truth arrived.

The hairspray worked. The car was quickly engulfed in blue flames, but the match heads inside the car didn't go off. I waited. The hairspray flames began to die. I was disappointed. I had to do something.

I reached in with a matchstick and opened the car's back door.

A fireball the size of a watermelon erupted, singeing my eyebrows. I screamed like a girl. I couldn't reach the tap without getting burned so I threw a towel over the sink. The flames continued, but I was able to get the tap turned on. The sink began to fill so I took the towel away.

The car floated, still on fire. It rose higher and higher with the water level. In desperation I used the towel to push the car under the water and drown it. Finally the fire went out.

The car and the towel were ruined. The sink, counter and mirror were covered in black soot. Knowing I would be killed if my parents found the bathroom this way, I got the cleaning supplies out and started scrubbing. My parents came home to the cleanest, most sparkling bathroom they have ever seen.

Disgusted, I decided, "Next time I am so doing this OUTSIDE."

Tomorrow: "Nothings Wrong, I'm Just Watering the Patio"
Next Story: Nothing's Wrong, I'm Just Watering The Patio

Previous Story: I Thought I Had The Radiation Sickness

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

I Thought I Had The Radiation Sickness

In novels, authors are criticized if they use coincidence too often. Some believe it should be avoided altogether. In fiction, coincidence seems unrealistic and contrived. Yet in real life they do happen. Often in unbelievable ways.

My favorite kind of coincidence centers around a single topic. It's been years since you've even thought about the subject, or maybe you've just learned about it for the first time, and coincidentally that topic comes up two or three times in the same day, for unrelated reasons.

Last Tuesday I took dad to the hospital for a test. As I was getting ready to go out, I grabbed my comb and fixed my hair. When I was done, I noticed the comb was full of hair. I was alarmed. But the hair wasn't mine. Apparently my mother had borrowed my comb to brush away her loose hairs. Her hair is the same colour so it took me a second to figure it out. I asked her, "Did you use my comb again?" She said nothing. I said, "For a minute there I thought I had the radiation sickness, ha ha."

She didn't laugh.

I took dad for his test and afterward he suggested that we go for lunch. We went to the Mandarin Buffet. We were on our second plates when dad, between mouthfuls of breaded shrimp, loudly blurts out, "It's a good ting nobody in here has a Geiger counter 'cause I'd set it off for sure, ha ha!"

I was alarmed. I wondered if there had been a nuclear accident nearby that everyone knew about but me. I asked, "Why? Are you radioactive?" He replied, "Oh, sure!"

I blinked. I waited.

He explained that the test he'd had at the hospital was some kind of cardiac radio nucleotide test. They had injected him with radioactive materials and then measured how brightly his heart glowed, or something like that. My dad, the walking radiation source. Terrific.

On the way home from lunch, we stopped at the library to drop off some books. The last book in the pile on the checkout counter caught my eye. It was "Havoc" by Jack DuBrul. I looked at it and was alarmed.

It had the symbol for radiation on the cover.
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Previous Story: Hot Coffee at Twenty Below