Aug 30, 2007

A Tale Of Two (Florida) Posts

Wow, that was very awkwardly put together, wasn't it?

Two short subjects, presented for your elucidation and entertainment.

Pookie, Render Of Souls

After we had a chance to settle into the FIL's house and get unpacked, we got to meet the dogs and then, then we had the dubious joy of meeting Pookie. Pookie is a rescue cat that the family brought home, a sweet, loving little black kitten who is now about half grown. Pookie wears a strikingly red collar with a tiny bell which made me wonder; cats with bells on their collars aren't wearing them just for the fashion statement.

I was right. The bell is a warning to anyone other than Pookie that Pookie, Devourer of Flesh is nearby.

Now, I love cats, let's just get that clear out front. I love their attitudes, love their behaviours, love that they aren't mindless attention-grubbers. I also love that you can play with them for five or ten minutes and by that point they're tired and will go lay down somewhere to nap for several hours. Pookie, Penultimate Evil Incarnate is the only cat I have ever known who can play for literally an hour or more on end. He's constantly into something; batting his toys around, attacking the dogs, leaping onto very high places so that he can leap onto things like his toys and the dogs (interchangable) and attacking people.

I noticed something interesting about the dogs, who never seemed to notice that Pookie, Canine Exterminator was grimly hanging from their necks by his teeth: they were all fat. All three were breeds that had rather heavy, curly coats and they were all wearing quite a thick layer of fat. I can only assume from this that, like walruses, the dogs wear that extra layer of padding to prevent any real and lasting damage from occurring. Either that or Pookie, Terminus Morte has already killed and eaten all the skinny dogs.

Mind you, he didn't use his claws when attacking. He'd leap onto your ankle or leg and wrap his paws around you and hang on, but not with his claws. He did, however, use his teeth. All of them. Often. I'd be sitting at the bar on a tall stool, my bare feet on the footrest, when I'd hear a tiny musical "jingle" and feel several rows of shark-like teeth enter my flesh. I'd be sitting on one of the comfortable, overstuffed chairs, my legs resting on an equally overstuffed ottoman and almost as soon as I'd hear that quiet "ding" Pookie, Lurker In Dark Places would be trying to swallow my ankle. The only time you could safely pet him was when he was eating, which meant that he was occupied more with devouring his food than with devouring warm human flesh.

The problem is, I believe, that Pookie, Spawn of Paris Hilton isn't a cat. He's a full-blown demon from one of the 666 planes of Hell which has had all the extraneous, not-so-evil bits cut off with a blowtorch, then had that core of penultimate vileness run through a dehydrator to get rid of all the excess niceness, leaving about six pounds of dried Essence Of Pure Evil, which was then mixed with strychnine, poured into a cat skin and left on a sidewalk somewhere for someone to 'rescue.'

He's a good kitty.


Fondue Unto Others

Kids, I've discovered fondue.

I know, fondue was discovered some seven thousand years ago when Vlad The Impaler, all together a rather enterprising fellow and an explorer of the culinary wilderness tossed some of his enemies into a huge pot filled with boiling oil, a little white wine, some balsamic vinegar and a few bay leaves, stuck one of the unlucky guys with a forked prod and ate him after exactly one and one half minutes at full boil. I'm talking about a more refined fondue. Fondue in a nice eating establishment. Fondue in a nice pair of slacks and a silk tie.

The in-laws took us Saturday evening to a little place called "The Melting Pot." It was in a strip mall, and from the outside it looked like nothing more than a glamorous pizza place, or maybe a rather swank Chic-Fil-A. I couldn't have been more wrong. I was right, however, in the secondary assumption that they were taking us there to get us out of the range of Pookie's teeth.

You see, I come from a place where fine dining is Johnny Corrino's serving "country Italian," which means they play Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash real loud overhead while you eat the same bread, pasta and tomatoe sauce in about thirty different variations. I wasn't ready for the idea that you'd have to have reservations to eat somewhere, and that the manager would greet you by name when you came in and do a little groveling dance around you and roll your name around his mouth a few more times like he was working on a peppermint candy as you were lead to your table.

Your tile-topped table with a huge metal heating plate set in the middle and heater controls set discreetly in the side.

Yeah, I can hear you guys snickering and elbowing each other under the monitor already. Forgive me, I'm not used to anything more exotic in an eatery than China Doll Express in the local Mall's food court.

The waitress, it seemed, was going to be with us for a while. All of us being new to Serious Fondue, we had a rather extensive lesson on how to Do It. Choices of wines. Selections of the cheese for the opening course. Selection of the broth for the main course. In-depth instruction on how long to cook raw seafood, beef, pork and chicken. A gentle but legally binding reminder that if we failed to follow said instructions the eatery was not liable for lawsuits concerning e. coli and salmonella poisoning. More instruction on what exactly was going into the little round-bellied pot, and how it should taste, smell, and sound. How we shouldn't touch the pot, how we should place the little sieve spoon so we wouldn't get burned. How not to eat the round white mint in the urinals and how not to stab ourselves in the back of the throat with the skewers when we ate.

Long story short, the four of us fondued our way through a full four course meal, including desert and coffee. We fondued breads in interesting cheese. We fondued a whole selection of fresh vegetables. We fondued steak (60-90 seconds) and pork and chicken (120 seconds) and shrimp (60 secs) and lobster (lobster!) in a boiling concoction of rare white wine and extra super virgin olive oil and spring water drawn from darkest wells deep in Siberia and expensive herbs painstakingly plucked from vertiginous mountaintops and mysterious ungents robbed from tombs deep in the Holy Land. Then we fondued fruits and tiny cakey confections in dark chocolate mixed with raspberry and Frangelico, and for the close there was Irish coffee with a dash of that Frangelico again.

Kids, I nearly died. I nearly died over the course of three hours. The servings never seemed large; a main course was set up for two, and you were lucky if you got three shrimp and two bites of lobster and three little cubes of steak, but when you eat slowly, when you savour it, when each bite is lovingly and carefully cooked and then enjoyed, oh. Oh.

I had to have a cold shower afterwards.

Me, I'm just glad I didn't have to pay for it. I made the mistake of seeing the total on the bill.

But you know? If I had it to do all over again and this time I was footing the bill, I'd do it again. With more chocolate, and lots more coffee.

Aug 28, 2007

Don't Bring Me Down

Okay kids, Grandpa Irrelephant has a belly-full of fresh-caught Scamp from the Gulf and he's got his pipe full of tobacco all lit and burning nice, and he's going to tell us a story, so everyone gather 'round.

And this is the story he told:

It was, as I recall, the summer of '07, late August. It had been hot, so hot the asphalt was bubbling, and it was decided that to keep from going mad we'd pack up and head to sunny Florida, home of rich old people and Mrs. Irrelephant's Dad. And, we thought, a seven hour car trip isn't so bad, since there'd be the two of us to share the driving, and since my job wasn't able to let me go for but a single workday we decided further that'd it be just grand to get off work a little early on Friday and leave straight after packing.

Well kids, we hit the road around 5ish since I still had to pack, but finally we were headed east southeast with our Mapquest map in hand. Actually we headed south, since the only way to get anywhere in Louisiana is to drive to Baton Rouge or New Orleans FIRST, even if you're going north, and then drive to where you want to go. Trust me on this; before Louisiana went completely underwater and everyone still stupid enough to be living in New Orleans surfed to Arkansas all the roads went through Baton Rouge first. We drove as the sun set through the furtherest parts of the boot that is Louisiana, and long into the dark we drove down to the boot's pointy tip, all the while wondering why four of the hours of our trip had to be spent on the worst roads in all of the grand United States, but we tightened our kidney belts and we gritted our teeth and we kept driving.

We drove through the little tiny bit at the bottom of Mississippi, and we drove through the heel of Alabama, on into the night. And at some point in Alabama we pulled over for drinks and a restroom break, and when I got us back on the road it was in such poor condition that I thought we had gotten on the wrong road, and it was another hour until we finally saw a dilapidated sign that said "I-10E," and we knew we were only deep in Alabama, where all the money goes...somewhere other than to highway maintenance or education. Kind of like Louisiana, only with less pine trees and better radio stations. The only thing that kept us going was the memory of that nice fellow whose Dodge Viper had broken down in the gas station parking lot. I wanted to ask him what it felt like to own a broken $50,000 penis replacement, but he looked like he might sue me.

A lot of strange things happened on that trip: I remember nearly driving into a motorcyclist who was passing alongside us because I wanted to see what sort of bike it was and I somehow managed to gently turn the steering wheel a little to the left, which drifted our rather large car into his lane. The rude little guy got all angry at me swerving so violently at him and gave me a dirty look and I even earned a shout of fear and alarm from my passenger, whom I thought was still asleep. If I had hit him it'd have been okay, though; it was only a Suzuki.

Then there was the beautiful blue-green glow of a GPS in a vehicle ahead of us that lead us on for an endless hour in that long dark time. I followed him for so long that when he accidentally swerved I did too, and I became afraid that I'd wake up several hours later parked in his driveway behind his Toyota, and I'd be forced to ask him where we were, as I had accidentally followed his GPS home. Fortunately for us he exited while I was in the opposite lane and I couldn't get across the interstate fast enough to follow him. Now I know how moths feel when they see a lightbulb.

I won't even get into how freaked out I was to see that in Florida the highway workers are out 24/7, and that if you're sleepy enough you can almost run over them even close to midnight while they labour to repair one of the millions of bridges that cross every inch of Florida. Honest--every square mile of Florida is required to have at least one concrete bridge over a body of water. Look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls.

Grandpa Irrelephant is tired now, so go look at some pictures and let me nap.


A whole bait swarm came to shore that Saturday, some in bits and pieces and some in a long stream almost a hundred and fifty feet long, moving and writhing. Playing in the bait ball seemed like a nice diversion until I realised that larger, predatory fish would be following said bait to eat it, and that I would be pretty stupid to be caught standing in the middle of the cheeseburger when the bigger teeth came along.



Some other people, however, didn't see it that way and thought it'd be fun to play with the bigger fish and the leopard sharks.

The neatest part of standing in the bait ball before the sharks came is that you could see all those thousands upon thousands of tiny brown bodies, all streaked with the most beautiful turquoise and green, and they were all swimming in the same direction all the time, and changing directions all at the same instant, so that it looked like millions of tiny things with one mind controlling them all, sort of like ultra-conservative Christians only prettier to watch. When you'd stand in the middle of them they'd swim about two feet away and you'd get a torus of beautifully clear blue-green water and the fish would start at a perfectly defined edge, as though someone had scribed a circle around you and said "No Fish Here."

Playing Charades with the seagulls on the beach was a lot of fun too. We were betting them Dorito chips that we were smarter than they were.



My guess was "City of Angels"




but it turned out that the right answer was "Rapa Nui"



Darn but those seagulls were good at Charades.

After we got tired of Charades (I think the gulls were cheating) the ladyfish out in the water finally got smart and started forcing the little bait fish into round shoals so they could swim into them from behind and trap them on the beach. The seagulls loved this as the tide would come in and leave a black shimmer on the sand comprised of thousands of almost-stranded fish, which come to find out were actually tastier than Dortios Original Recipe. Or at least that's what the seagulls told me. I still wouldn't trade them for my bag of chips.



And I'll admit this only to you guys--at one point a very small group of those bait fish got VERY smart and formed themselves into a very tight sort of shape, pointed at the front and sort of very tapered and long at the back, and they swam by me about a foot away, moving in a very fast, very determined manner indeed. And of course having watched all the others swim around and move so slowly and having watched Discovery's "Shark Week" the last ten years in a row AND Blue Planet and then seeing something large and dark and shark-shaped swim by me very fast in the Gulf I nearly peed myself in fear before I realised that it wasn't going to bite me. I also realised that since I was standing in the Gulf up to my waist it was okay if I peed myself in sheer terror, so I did.

I tell you this, though; that little group of fish had a good thing going because I was deathly certain that after this weekend getaway you guys would have to start calling me something not very clever and terribly ironic like "Lefty" or "Gimp" or "You With Only One Leg Because You Were Stupid Enough To Stand In A Bait Ball In The Gulf Of Mexico At Lunchtime."

Stay tuned for: Adventures On The USS Fish Bones

Aug 27, 2007

This Just In

Actually, I'm just in. Back in, that is from a very full trip to dreamlike, hurricane-magnetic Florida, where I have garnered more than a few stories for more than a few posts, which will be coming to you, er...soon. Not now. Still recovering from a 7 hour drive and ANOTHER traffic ticket. For those of you counting, that's two in two weeks, after several proud years of accident and ticket-free motoring.

Dear State Troopers of Iberville Parish: Parking your patrol car on the side of the road with the trunk open to hide the gumball machine on the roof and the words "State Trooper" across the trunk lid and then hiding your pork-smelling ass down by the right rear tire so as to appear like a stranded motorist so you can radar people from cover as they pass? That has got to be the shittiest, lowest trick I have ever seen a cop stoop to, and I've seen and heard of some real whoppers. I hope you're proud of yourself, because I'm betting your mother wishes she had opted for that alley abortion. And after I got that ticket? I sped the rest of the way home.


So, dear Readers, be watching this space for stories including such wonderous and diverse entertainments as --

Seagulls Reenacting The 'Angels-On-The-Beach Scene From City Of Angels
Wading Through A Bait-Ball: Arguably not Irrelephant's smartest shark-tempting moment
Pookie The Death Dealer Kitty

and

Dragging Fish Up from 230 Feet: Not As Easy As It Sounds But Dang They Sure Taste Good


Oh, and for those of you who have taken an unhealthy interest in my unhealthy interest in photographing trains, here's a photo of a train I took while heading back home.



If you actually want to SEE said train you'll have to click the photo to embiggen it, because I've found that when you spot a train headed east at 40mph across one of the thousands of miles-long bridges Florida has across all their dang water and you're headed west at 70mph and your camera is in the seat behind you locked in it's carry bag and you've got to get it out and turned on and focused and get the window rolled down and you've got a ton of road construction between you and said photo opportunity that's the best shot of five you could possibly ever manage without flinging yourself bodily out of the vehicle MacGyver-style to land darlingly on top of a pile driver.

Aug 24, 2007

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Monitor

As always, Corporate sends down daily emails to every employee that really only apply to about three people out of the multiple of thousands that now work for us. This one, upon popping into my In box set me off on such a jag that I have to share it.

Here's the important exerpt: "...FDA approves these electrodes. The vendor, Alternative Electrons, has been set up by Purchasing. The ordering..."

“Alternative Electrons.” What an excellent name for an electronics company. I can just see the commercial now:


Alternative Electrons Commerical 1A:

VOICE-OVER: "Do you have electron needs? Why settle for plain old regular electrons when you can have (EMPHASIS) Alternative Electrons!"

ESTABLISHING SHOT, SLOW PAN IN BLACK AND WHITE: a 1950's-style laboratory, five serious-faced SCIENTISTS in white short-sleeved shirts with black ties and buzz cuts wearing huge black-framed glasses stand around bubbling retorts, several make notes on clipboards. Huge banks of dull silver machinery with blinking lights and whirring tape reels and lit buttons line the walls. Complicated racks of glass vials, rubber tubing and stainless steel rods with electricity arcing between them stand on solid tables in the middle of the room.

V-O: "We here at (EMPHASIZED) Alternative Electrons (NORMAL VOICE) are always looking to advance the causes...”

EXTERIOR SHOT IN COLOUR: stock footage of massive rocket taking off in huge cloud of smoke and fire, then crashing in a fantastic fireball.

EMPHATIC V-O: “...of Science!

INTERIOR OF CROWDED ROOM: Wires run in every direction. Vacuum tubes glow, and a pale line oscillates across a round green glass monitor set in one machine. Smoke wafts through the air. SCIENTIST in white lab coat and huge magnifying lenses suspended over his eye is carefully removing what appears to be an enormous roach from a mass of wiring and tubes in the rear of a computer, using a pair of foot-long tweezers.

V-O: “Highly trained individuals labour around the clock in our ultra-sterile underground laboratories!”

WIDE ANGLE SHOT: Many lab-coated men arguing over a large cage filled with white chickens who mill about, scratching at the floor of the cage. JUMP SHOT TO CLOSE UP: SCIENTIST IN LAB COAT shoves a huge yellow-handled screwdriver into what seems to be a 1952 Studebaker engine block which has glowing yellow tubes running in and out of it and strange round flanges attached to the front.

SUBLIMINAL FLASH: “sex food woman desire” in 48 point Impact font, white on black.

V-O: "We have hundreds of highly trained men adept at putting screwdrivers into things!"

TIGHT CLOSE-UP: SCIENTIST, lab coat buttoned all the way to his neck. SCIENTIST scowls with concentration, huge black-rimmed goggles cover his eyes. Sweat drips from his forehead.

V-O: "Turning them!"

SUBLIMINAL FLASH: “buy now” in 36 point Impact font, white on black.

EXTREME CLOSE-UP of SCIENTTIST, twisting screwdriver to stopping point, then laughing maniacally, arms raised in a very Fascist meeting gesture, waving the screwdriver around.

V-O: "And adjusting them!"

SUBLIMINAL FLASH: “obey” in 60 point Impact font, white on black.

CLOSING SHOT: FAST ZOOM on the AE logo, a very stylized sphere with three electron orbits drawn around it in black, the middle composed of a sharply erratic line.

V-O: “Alternative Electrons – for all your electron needs!”

STILL SHOT ON AE MOTTO: "Alternative Electrons--Forcing You Head First Into The Future, Whether You Want To Be There Or Not!"


I can't wait to start filming.

Aug 22, 2007

On Being A White Knight

It's not easy, giving a shit. I spent most of an afternoon after work one Monday a few weeks back kneeling in the grass verge alongside a four lane highway sweating like a baker's underarms.

And no, I hadn't found Gawd.

I spent the time helping my syster, whose van had a flat tire. And not just a 'the pressure is a leetle low' flat, it was one of those phenomenal Hollywood flats where you have to pay a stunt team a coupla thousand dollars to get a really cool effect where the tire blows clean off the rim and beheads one of the evil henchmen. The tire had broken it's bead, which is to say it was entirely loose on the rim, just sort of floating there, wobbling around like a fat man's chin so I couldn't just jack the front end up and take the lug nuts off. Without tire pressure against the ground there was no way to hold the rim in place while I wrenched off the lugs without the weight of the van on the rim itself. And if you remember your basic physics, a great deal of the weight of the engine and front end were also resting on those five little lugs. Thank you Mister Newton.

Add to that the fact that the van is one of those custom conversion thingies, so it has a waterbed in the back and carpet on the walls and giant Capt. Kirk chairs up front and aluminum custom rims with this kind of crazy swoopy solid spoke style that seems to have been designed with the sole intention of making it impossible to get a proper lug wrench to bite. I ended up using the wrench that came with the van AND one of mine that had three different socket sizes and yet another one borrowed from a friend who just so happened to drive by in the vain attempt to make one get a good bite on a lug. ANY lug. No luck. In exchange for a tremendous amount of effort I ended up rounding off all the shoulders of all the nuts. Gods I hate mechanicing.

Here's a telling bit about me - Syster's husband who was lurking around the entire time suggested several dozen times that we just give up and call a tow truck and let them haul it to the tire place but no, I kept at it. I knew I could do it, given enough time. I'm stupid that way, I guess. I knew I could do it, knew it SHOULD be a five minute job, and I was not going to let it go easily. I simply don't like being beaten by inanimate objects, be they car rims or cardboard boxes or packing tape or politicians.

So, after lots of straining and cussing (cussing helps physical strength and ability, didn't you know that?) I got two loose by sheer bloodymindedness. I got two more loose by the expedient of having Sys drive the van forward a few inches to lighten the pressure on one and then backward a few inches so that the weight of the van was off the other lug. So far so good. Tons of strain, tons of grief, and four lugs off. And then the last one refused to give. It was utterly rounded off, and I think the tire installers must have welded it in place because extended feats of struggling had been thrown at it and it was not budging.

Even cussing wasn't helping any.

I tried every different way I could think of to loosen that lug. I hammered on it. I used every wrench we had several times. I changed positions, I stood on the wrench, I pulled on it, I pushed on it. I tried to tighten it more. I spit on it. I cursed at it extensively, colourfully, and without repeating myself for five minutes straight. I invoked karma, Buddha, Tolstoy and Pooh Bear. I worked on it for twenty minutes and every time I'd sit back on my heels and try the Curse Colourfully At It Technique again Sys' hubby would say "Let's quit."

And I'd try it one more time. I did that, I think, because I wanted to make Sys proud. Because I wanted to make myself proud. Because I didn't want to be beaten by a piece of inanimate metal. I did it because I knew if I stuck at it long enough I could make it work. I had to make it work. The good guy does not lose, right?

And right at the point at which I had spent forty sweating, searing, air-baked minutes kneeling in the grass alongside a four-lane highway, at the point at which every corner of that lugnut was rounded smooth off, at the point where I was reduced to repeating curse words, when every ounce of my energy had been expended in vain I tried one last time with the wrench from my truck.

And it finally gave with a horrific squeal of rust breaking loose and came off. The lug nut, not my arm.

That forty minutes of sweating and effort cost me two very large blisters, one for each hand. It also cost me a pulled muscle in my leg, a pulled muscle in my shoulder, a pair of sore feet, a pair of sore hands, and I exacerbated my tennis elbow again. I think I also managed to scrub about five years off the end of my life by making my aneurism worse, but that's okay because it'll be the five at the end, and those are always the bad ones anyway. And in the end I drove off, and she drove off on her spare toward her house, and to the tire place the next day, I learned later.

Was it worth it? I think so. Should I have given up earlier and just let someone tow it in? Probably, but I wanted it to work. Wanted to do it myself.

Wanted to be a white knight one more time.

Something Wonderous This Way Comes

Happy Birthday Ray Bradbury, and thank you for all the incredible books. Please live forever and never stop writing.

Sincerely yours,
A diehard fan

Aug 20, 2007

Poetry Friday Challenge: Girl

I've been profoundly lax here of late with my posting, and I'm sorry. I daresay I can blame it all on a girl. My daughter.

The Oregon trip wasn't bad, as far as trips go. You remember, perhaps, a few posts back about the flight. Having my daughter home again has been all the things I recall from the past 13 years: a delight, a trauma, a head-spinning mix of emotions. Being a parent, if you don't know, can be damned hairy.

She's in the seventh grade now. Used to be, I had every answer to any question she wanted to put to me. Now it is I who struggle to keep up with her. I longed to raise her to be independent, emotionally strong and outgoing, all the things I wasn't as a child. I think I performed my task too well. She told her grandmother the other day that she was "an adult" and therefore could stay alone at the house as long as she wanted. Thirteen years old, and an adult. Thirteen going on thirty, no idea of what sort of sharp teeth and claws await her as an adult, and my warnings go unheeded.

I've been seeing the growing fork between us. Time was when I would look at her and see a sort of raw blur, the proverbial lump of clay, only slowly putting forth an idea of "Self," only slowly gathering the breath to shout "I am!" Time was I'd look at her and try to see myself in her, try to see her mother, her family, and try to divine the future in her clear, untroubled expression. Now, seemingly overnight my little girl is a young woman: she deals with her period once a month, she goes to school with her head up and a sort of eagerness that I never felt about school until the last semesters of my college life. She reads voraciously like her father, is quiet and introspective like her father, but she is not like me, she is more and more like Her. She is approaching Life with a quiet, introspective fierceness that I would love to take credit for; who am I kidding? I'd love to HAVE that fierceness I see in her, but I'm set in my ways.

It is she who is taking my seat at the potter's wheel. It is she, my little girl, who is shaping the vessel that is Herself, and I can only stand by and watch her take shape, can only say a few quiet words and hope she still hears me.

Aug 17, 2007

Thirteen*

There are probably as many writer's exercises out there as there are aspiring writers, each as wildly different as the next, but I ran across this one in the preface of a Phillip K. Dick novel and I really like the idea. I have no clue how original the exercise is, I may for all I know be describing the details of something that every semi-functional writer except me does with regularity, but there you have it, the perils of not knowing everything there is to know.

The writer in question posited a job (trash compactor mechanic) and thirteen short paragraph length forays, each intended to stretch creativity in, hopefully, thirteen different directions. And so, I'm going to try it; in the immortal words of those anti-drug campaigns I'm going to Just Say “Okay, Mebbe A Little Bit, Just This Once.” And I'm going to do so right here.

In this public forum.

In front of your very eyes.

Nine* Paragraph Length Writing Exercises About Trash Compactor Repairmen

1) John glanced down at the severed stumps of his left fingers, clutched and bleeding in his right hand and knew, beyond a certainty, that the GrindzAll Mark IV's faulty on-off switch had just claimed another victim. The tinny, metallic sound of his wedding ring being ground into golden bits was only the cap on twenty years of dedicated, loyal, and above all accident-free trash compactor repairman service.

2) Jerking angrily at the stuck on-off switch of a GrindzAll Mark IV, Stewart cursed under his breath, long and creatively. If it weren't for his drug-addled wife and his daughter desperate for that liver transplant he'd never have answered the newspaper ad promising him bright new opportunities and exciting adventures as a trash compactor repairman.

3) A peculiar odor greeted Samson as he wedged his massive shoulders into the sink cabinet's too-small opening. It was a familiar stink, comprised partly of old vegetables, partly of yeasty rot; settled, he was certain, in the delicate inner mechanism of the In-Sinkerator trash compactor hanging just beyond his reach. He made one more heave of his thick arms, trying to slip them past their wooden captors and the seam on his last clean work shirt parted with a quiet zipping sound, but with that it came to him: his drunk wife had served boiled cabbage and pork loins the night she asked him for a divorce.

4) With a soft snarl and a leap the blonde closed the last few feet between her and the stunned young man. Wedging him up against the sink with the pressure of her naked thighs her hands fumbled with his buttons eagerly. The dark-haired man hefted the soft weight of her pale breasts in his work-rough palms before burying his face in her cleavage. As the blonde slid her eager, admiring hands into the waistband of his boxer shorts Johnny sighed softly in the perfumed, powdered expanse of her bosom and wondered, not for the first time, what it was about a trash compactor repairman that made women so damned hot.

5) As the last spark of life ebbed from his refrigerator-crushed body, he realised he'd never get to tell the housewife the long, funny story of how he had come to arrive in her kitchen before she got home. Over the loud humming sound in his ears a soft, querulous voice said: "Oh no. You're not my rat-fink husband, you're the trash compactor repairman..."

6) Flying through the still morning light, Phil realised that he had just violated the first rule of trash compactor repairman across the world: Always make sure the power is turned off.

7) 7/16ths SAE box-end wrench clutched in one greasy hand, the impeller housing of a Kenmore Model Seventeen trash compactor (part number MJ-1994b) clutched in the other, Mark faced off against the two lean, grey aliens he had surprised in the little utility room of his client's home. Advancing with a yell something told him it was gonna be Monday all over again.

8) Laughing hollowly at the birthday cake shaped cunningly like a trash compactor, Steve "Wild Man" Jones gazed with unabashed hunger at the razor-sharp carving knife his wife was handing him. 'Thinks this is funny does she?' he thought to himself. 'She's about to see just how funny.'

9) Sidling up to the brand-new red Ferrari Testarossa idling in the parking lot, Jim glanced down at the occupant of the driver's seat, into the wizened, scarred face of retiring Senior Trash Compactor Repairman First Class Pearlie "Studs" Weblinger. "Don't drool on my paint, ya young punk" snarled Pearlie, as he shifted the sum total of his life savings into first gear and burned an acrid, smoking double line across the parking lot.


__________________
* yeah, I know I said thirteen up top there but this post has been sitting in my draft que for about a month now, and I figured it's time to give it it's legs, so nine you get. Wanna do better? Give it a shot and let me know how it comes out!

Aug 15, 2007

You're Next! You're Next!

Kids, I'm worried. Deeply, insanely, chewing on my toenails worried.

I've been given a Pod.



No, not that kind of Pod you ninnyhammer, I mean the other kind of Pod that blanks out your brain and makes you walk around with a vacant expression. A POD.



See, my friends know I garden. It's hard NOT to know I garden, because I'm always begging people to take produce home with them when they stop by. (See, I was going to make some lewd comments about people handling my melons and pulling on my peppers but I didn't. I CAN be couth.) And so I'm sure it was using this habit of mine as cover that some dear friends of mine decided to give me a Pod.

What really worries me is that, well, to protect her former living existence I'll call her Pod Queen, had her hubby Shao bring it by the house one afternoon while I was at work. I get home that evening to find a neat little white paper baggie with PQ's girly handwriting on the front telling me to "...plant bud-side up" and that it "...makes squash-like fruit." And then a cheerful "Enjoy!" across the bottom. Foolishly I didn't expect anything out of the ordinary (henceforth to be known as Mistake Number One) but when I reached into the bag the first thing I feel is a sort of BRAIN texture, wrinkly and sort of cool to the touch. I haul the thing out (henceforth to be known as Mistake Number Two) and I see THIS.



A Pod.

Okay, so what was I to think? I mean, it looks alive! And it's way too big for a normal seed... I mean, what is it going to grow? I'm seriously afraid that my friends have become Pod People and that this is their first outward reach toward sending out thousands of Pods to turn others to their overlord's world domination push. I mean, I didn't THINK they were Communists, but you never know do you? He IS a cop, after all, and aren't they all Fascists?

So here I sit with a Pod on my kitchen table that refuses to do anything but sit there and glower at me and try to send tendrils of insinuation that I need to go plant it somewhere dark and cool like under my bed, and tomorrow morning everything will be fine! And it won't rot, either. In this damp Louisiana air everything that doesn't have a thick coat of shellac on it molds nearly instantly, so why has this thing been literally unchanged for a month now? I've taken to locking it in a fire-proof safe at night until I know more about it.

I asked Shao about it as innocently as I could, trying to get him to make some sort of fatal mistake, screw up somewhere and admit that he's planted some extra-terrestrial plant-based lifeform in my kitchen but thus far no luck on that count. I DID get him to admit that they got it from her mom, who got it "from a little old Cajun lady." Now that alone smacks of more voodoo jive and mumbo jumbo than I can possibly shake a feathered rattle at. I KNOW what those wrinkled up little Cajun women get into in the bayous and swamps of sout' Luziana, and ain't NONE of it good, che'. I'm wondering if maybe this thing is some sort of alligator's chaudron wrapped in a nutria intestine with a variety of hallucinatory herbs and some crawfish boil rubbed on it, all of which will help Papa Legba or Baron Samedi turn me into a loa so they can walk the earth and wreak all sorts of evil.

Or maybe it's just some sort of deep swamp plant that will bear some sort of evil fruit that will erase my mind when I eat it one of it's alluring fruits. Granted that doesn't sound too bad at all. Or worse, will it grow this sort of fakey-looking trumpet flower thing with giant air-brushed foam leaves that will evilly turn toward me and explode spores into my face that make my careful Vulcan emotional control go all whack and have me hanging from tree branches reciting poetry...wait, that was a Star Trek episode.



Still, can't be too safe.

People of Earth, and everyone within the sound of my voice...watch the gardens!

Aug 11, 2007

The Golden Age Of Wireless*

Just to start this off, let me say that I am not technophobic. I'm also not an uber geek. I'm just one of those middle-of-the-road guys when it comes to being able to swim in the modern waterways. I can hook up the components of a computer and troubleshoot them just a little bit, but I don't know diddly about networking and I doubt I could build one from bits and pieces. I know a lot about home theater systems and used to build my own speaker enclosures but I can't do the algebra necessary to figure out the perfect interior size.

I tell you all this to give you the frame of reference necessary to understand why I never set up the voice mail on my cellular phone. And before you start lambasting me for it, I've already heard it all from my syster, who in between gnawing on my arse and laughing at me told me that her voice mail is the first thing she sets up on any new phone she gets.

See, I bought a new cellular phone, oh, last November? I got a good price and the cheapest plan available from Cingular directly off their website (you can't buy the $59 a month plan in stores ever) and bought one of those sleek SLVR L7 phones. I got it mostly because I didn't want another flip phone. I'm bad on flip phones, you see. I'm also geek enough to admit that I bought it because mine in black looks a hell of a lot like the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I never said I was completely free of geekdom.

Well, somehow, things being what they are and me being enthralled by a new toy, I never set up my voice mailbox on my phone. And I didn't know at the time that Cingular gives you about fourteen minutes from the time you activate your phone to set up your voice mail before they shut off an "unused system feature" from your plan. It don't cost more but I guess they figured that I wasn't a True Believer and therefore didn't need voice mail as I hadn't bothered to set it up in the first three minutes of ownership.

About a month into enjoying music and the internet and making phone calls on my own personal 1:4:9** block of technology I realised that I hadn't gotten any voice mails but a lot of missed calls, and looked into setting up my vmail. Easy enough--the manual said to press and hold the "1" key until it beeped, and follow the voice prompts to set up a PIN number. And this is how it went:


IRRELEPHANT: *pressing and holding the "1" key
SLVR: *BEEPS* and display reads "Calling voicemail"
IRR: Ah, good deal.
ELECTRONIC VOICE: Voice mailbox. Please dial your ten digit voice mail box.
IRR: *puzzled but undaunted, dialing my ten digit phone number*
EV: I'm sorry, but that is not a valid mailbox number on this system. Please dial your ten digit voice mail box number.
IRR: *thinking a fat-finger dial had happened, dialing my phone number again*
EV: *In a rather snide voice* I'm sorry but that is not a valid mailbox number on this system. Apparently you're a sodding idiot. Goodbye.
SLVR: display reads "Disconnecting"
IRR: *fuming and yet strangely depressed, hanging up phone*


Now, I am one of those people who hates computers who try to fake being people, and I REALLY hate it when they're snide. So, I forgot about it.

For about a month.

Tried again. Same problem. Tried again the next month. Same result. Repeat about once a month for eight more months, whenever it comes to mind. And yes, I'm that stubborn, and mule-headed, and if there's nothing I hate more than snide computer generated voices it's not being able to figure out something painfully simple like setting up voice mail on a phone that is supposed to have an idiot-proof system.

So a few days ago I finally gave up and went online to find some help. Found the Super Idiot Proof tutorial that insisted that all I had to do was press "1" and follow the prompts. Pfui. I'd walked that road ten times at least and never found the end, so I knew that wasn't the answer. Which left me with Tech Support.

I hate Tech Support. Those people are trained to help kindergarten level users, not people with half a clue, and I hate feeling like a retard, especially to someone with an accent so thick that it sounds like they're talking through a bottle of syrup. But, I've dealt with Tech Support before. You're listening to a guy who has spent an hour and forty minutes on hold with Packard Bell (not HP but Packard Bell, back in the days when everyone from GM to Colt Firearms built computers) for a malfunctioning computer for my mother, only to hear from a recorded voice that Packard Bell was now out of business and that I was S.O.L.

So. I dialed, expecting a snide computer voice to tell me that I was important to them but my hold time from this point would be measured in days, and got...a person! Granted when he read his little spiel from his Cingular Fanatic Customer Support binder (v 1.04) and said his name (Vasupala Punjab Deevidhullighandi) I sighed deep in my tired soul and knew it was going to be a long phone call full of me saying "Excuse me?" and "What?" until one of us got aggravated enough to hang up on the other.

Seems Cingular's new mission statement is to deliver extraordinary customer service. I know this because Punjab kept asking me if he was doing so. I just kept saying "yes" because he had my account open at his brown fingertips and could do me some expensive cellular damage if I balked. So. He kept typing on his keyboard and reassuring me in that soft sing-song Hindi voice that it was no problem to get my voice mail reactivated, I kept hearing the Windows XP critical error/full stop "bloink" sound and he kept apologising for making me wait. I kept telling him it was no big deal and he kept tying and I kept listening to that strange background murmur you always hear when dealing with a whole mass of little honey-brown people talking into open-microphone headsets while standing around the Ganges River shooing flies off cows while working on fat American's cellular phone accounts.

And finally, with one more "boing" noise and the soft low of a Brahma cow he told me I was ready to go and asked yet again if my experience had been incredible, orgasmic, beyond all compare. And yes, I had to admit it was surprisingly fast and that I didn't so much mind the sound of hundreds of women with kohl-rimmed eyes and saris murmuring in my ear while the Ganges burbled and the cows ruminated in the background but that now, truly, the proof was in the pudding. I waited just long enough for him to say "What? Excuse me?" to hang up on him. Score one for the fat American.

After I hung up I pressed and held the "1" key to set up my voice mail account, fully expecting to hear that snide CG voice again, but this time she simply asked me to enter a PIN number that I'd never forget ever and to record my name and to ask politely if I wanted to record a clever, personalized message for people to hear when they miss me on the phone or if I preferred a snide computer-generated voice that was preprogrammed at the factory for me.

I was tempted to ask her if they had anything in a soft sing-song with maybe some cows in the background, but settled for a "Howdjado?" and "Leavemeamessage."

___________________
* with thanks and humble bow to the wizardry and creative genius that is Thomas Dolby.

** a little sci-fi geekery there: 1, 4 and 9 are the squares of the first three numbers which is the ratio of the dimensions of the 2001 Monolith, proof of hyper-advanced alien craftsmanship.*** You REALLY gotta read the book if you haven't.

*** and no, I have not measured my phone to verify these dimensions, I'm just going on faith that someone at Motorola has a great sense of humour.

Aug 7, 2007

American Airlines: We Love To Save Money And It Shows!

I had no idea that the quality of airline travel had taken such a dive.

Heh. Dive. Airline.

I had the dubious pleasure of flying inexpensively this summer: via American Airlines and American Eagle, the short-distance branch of AA. The factor that most affected my decision? Price. Continental, my usual choice of airline was asking twice as much as AA was for the same flight, same stops, same destination, so naturally I went cheap.

If only I knew what I was in for.

I've done this trip many times before, so I was used to having to pad around Security in my socks while my luggage is scrutinized by blank-faced women who looked to be retired Russian prison matrons. I'm accustomed to being crowbarred into seats that aren't fit for anyone over 5' 6" or 150 pounds. I'm even almost used to the monotonous drone of the safety warnings, and can find my two nearest exits in a variety of aircraft ranging from the Boeing 737-400 all the way down to the 1908 Spangler And Kotch "Spinning Jenny." I've learned that a swift, sharp blow of my forehead to a lowered seat-back tray stuns me deeply enough that a four-hour flight passes like minutes, and that most ground personnel will even be kind enough to lead me back to the proper concourse if I happen to wander out onto the jetway by accident.

I still dislike commercial airline travel.

What happened to the glory days of travel, when one wore their finery and received a high level of treatment? What happened to elegant zeppelins, their ballrooms filled with champagne-drinking couples waltzing to Strauss played by a ten piece orchestra? What happened to relaxed, unhurried paces?

Yeah, I know. iPods ate all that.

So my trip was spent as it usually is--dozing, in between people watching, trying to avoid the more grotesque specimens, the ones in sweat pants and straining t-shirts with clever sayings like "I've Got All My Teeth!" and "My Other Wife Has A Boat" and "TSA."

The flights. Gah. "Cheap" doesn't begin to describe it. I knew there'd be no in-flight movie. I knew there'd be no recorded music which I could listen to with a pair of headphones plugged into the armrest. I'd even been warned already by my reservation paperwork that a meal "would not be served" on my longest flight, but would "be available for purchase." Wow. Not only are you going to serve me soggy turkey-flavored cardboard wrapped in wax paper with mayo and a tiny plastic tumbler of the soda of your choice but now I've got to PAY for the privilege of eating crap on your plane? Nice. Five bucks for a plastic-bagged sandwich, three for a foil bag containing four greasy potatoe chips and another five if I wanted a bag to puke it all back into. They did tell me that the only thing I'd get for free would be a cup of warm tap water and a nasty look from the air steward, which I also avoided.

And this gem is a must-share: I didn't stay in Oregon much longer than necessary to get a hotel room and sleep, the finances not allowing a trip to the coast, and naturally said finances kept me from staying in a more posh location. No, it was a Day's Inn for me, and yet another cruel shock from the Land Of The Burnt Out Hippy: no bras.

Is there some law in the books that prevents women in Oregon from wearing bras? I stepped into the lobby, walked up to the counter to check in, and was faced with a rather sizeable Scandinavian woman clad head to toe in a black dress. Now ordinarily this wouldn't be a big deal but the neckline had a V-cut so low I could see that she had a Scandinavian biker motto tattooed around her navel (it was "Bjorn To Be Wild," if you're curious. I certainly wasn't.) And naturally being a big healthy corn-fed girl, she was big on top. Now, when I say "big on top" I'm not kidding, people. Her cleavage was so expansive that I had to seriously fight the urge to yell "Halloo" at it to see how many times it would echo. I was afraid to make any loud noises for fear of startling out a huge cloud of bats. I had to spend the entire check-in process staring determinedly at this lady's face because if my gaze wandered any lower I suffered the most horrendous vertigo.

It was that bad. To make matters worse, she wasn't even vaguely pretty. Life is so unfair.

Kay. I've got to pack my arse off to work. More Thrilling Tales of Airline Terror to come, including my sordid story about interacting with the TSA.

Aug 5, 2007

The Irrelephant Has Landed

And I gotta say you guys did a pretty good job of keeping me aloft. Things got a little dicey there at the last leg, but after one gate change and a forty-five minute delay I am back at Irrelephant Manor with Weerelephant, luggage and sanity (mostly) intact. Gruesome tales from the skyways coming soon.

People of Earth, and everyone within the sound of my voice: Look to this site!

Aug 3, 2007

I'm Leaving, On A Jet Plane

But I do know when I'll be back again - Monday.

Kay. Everyone knows that all that guff about principles of aerodynamics and physics and propulsion is a load of dingo's kidneys. We're all intelligent adults here, and we know that nothing holds those damned planes up except magic and the continued goodwill of everyone on the ground who cares about who is IN those blasted things.

So.

I fully expect each and every one of you to think good thoughts, light airy thoughts, thoughts of keeping that series of great metal bastards up in the air when they're supposed to be up, and safely on the ground otherwise, especially while I'm inside any of them.

And if I crash? I'll know who to blame.

See you guys Monday, Weerelephant in tow.

Aug 2, 2007

Bug

(Insert Scarface quote about "my leetle friend" here)



Before you read please see full-sized, as the post will make a heck of a lot more sense that way. Go on, I'll wait here for you.

You see, I wanted to share with you guys something from my life a few mornings ago. I have a window on my right while sitting at my desk, and pulling up the venetian blinds a few days ago I spotted this little beetle. He was about the size of the first joint of my finger, and as you can see his little bronze legs were gripping the screen tight while he waited for the sun to warm him up again.

I took a few pictures of him because, well, because I had my camera and because he was so neat looking. I mean, at a distance of a foot or more he was just a generic bug: beetle-shaped, ovalish, big wing cases, little eyes and feelers out front, the usual compliment of legs, but it was a closer look at his shell that made all the difference. He looked just like that antique maple end table that's sat in my great-aunt's parlor for the last hundred and seventy or so years. He even had those tiny blurred 'knothole' spots on his side and tiny pores dotting the seemingly smooth surface, like the pores in wood.

Teasing him gently off the screen and onto my finger wasn't a challenge, and it further rewarded me when I saw in the light that his eyes were a startling shade of slate blue. They looked like they had been made of glass, perfect ovals, with a eerie translucence and a depth that belied their tiny size.

And of course being me, I started thinking about why exactly a beetle would need to look just like a piece of finished wood. And since I couldn't think of any good reason for a beetle that big to look just like someone's antique five-door three-legged family credenza, I rationalized that somewhere out there is a master craftsman, a furniture builder of great repute who, taking a break from making a beautiful chest of drawers or a table's legs had carefully carved him out of a little bit of scrap wood lying on the floor as a diversion. And so cunningly did he carve and shape this little wooden beetle that some tiny mote of Life which was floating around his workshop looking for a window decided to take up residence in that little wooden carving, and liking what it found it took flight with gossamer wings and ash-pale body to wander the world.

Or something like that.