Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It Gets Everywhere!

Long ago, in a galaxy far far away (Hey that has a ring to it...I should remember that and use it in a screenplay I am working on about adventures in space...second thought, nah...that would never be a money maker.  But I digress, right out of the gate today...Hang on readers, I have no idea where this is leading)

As I began saying, a long time ago, when our kids were still pretty young, Sylvia's brother gave us a very generous gift.  He had decided that a trip for two to the spa and mud baths in Calistoga, CA would be a wonderful idea.  Sylvia was on cloud nine...I was appreciative of the thought.  Let's face it.  I am a guy.  I have a motorcycle. I like to shoot guns and pool.  I make band aids out of paper towels and electrical tape. I eat meat and potatoes.  And I'll eat bacon anytime, including when it is covered in chocolate.  A trip to the spa is purely for Sylvia's benefit.  I get that.  I also understand that if I always lean toward the manly side of things then Sylvia would not be a happy camper, and neither would the kids, so I try to have balance especially if it could be funny.  A trip to the spa just oozed with the possibility of "funny."  I should also say that I have been known to put on Minnie Mouse ears, complete with attached blond wig and 'Princess' sewn into the front to be funny, just so you don't think I am descended directly from cavemen.

It took us a long time to finally use those gift certificates, my fault.  We even had to call and ask them to extend the year's expiration date so we could squeeze it in.  Then we figured it would be easier, since the kids were so young, to bring Sylvia's mom and dad along and get them a hotel room so they could watch the kids while Sylvia and I sat side by side, holding hands in our separate mud baths.  Candles lit, a glass of champagne in our hands.  Sylvia would have cucumber slices on her eyes and I would be asking for extra cucumber on my roast beef sandwich, with a side of corn chips.  It would be very romantic.  Sylvia would love it and that was good enough for me.

When the time got closer for us to go I started talking about it at work following the usual, "What are you doing this weekend?" questions.  Being an elementary school teacher, I work with primarily women and my reply of, "Sylvia and I are going to a spa/mud bath weekend." was met with several exclamations of glee and more than one, "Lucky Sylvia!"  I thought, "This is going to be fun."...until I talked to my friend Lauretta.  Apparently she had recently done this trip and it was fresh in her mind. 

She was telling me that there were no side by side, husband and wife mud baths.  There were side by side facilities so that the men all got their treatments together and likewise the women.  But wait!  Calistoga is overpopulated with these spa places!  Surely she hadn't gone to the same one we were going to!  No such luck.  But surely they had separate places for couples!  Bzzzt.  Wrong.  Crap!  Oh well, Sylvia would still be happy with the pampering.  I'm a team player.  Let's go.

Then Lauretta explained what to expect.  She said, trying to ease my worries, that it wasn't that bad.  She said that the worst part was showering afterward because, "mud gets everywhere."  LALALALA I can't hear you!  Happy place happy place!!

Now I am going to try a little experiment with all of you...DON'T THINK ABOUT ELEPHANTS!  What are you thinking about?  Elephants!  Of course.  I was clearly uncomfortable thinking about a)showering communally, and b)trying to get mud off that had "gotten everywhere."  Lauretta had cut herself short while describing the whole experience but not before she said, "But don't think about me.  Ha Ha!"

The weekend came, the kids were safe with Sylvia's parents, I resigned myself to my fate, and we signed in to be spa'd.  I kissed Sylvia goodbye in the lobby and they brought me to a room that was covered in tile.  There were several holes in the ground overflowing with hot thick brown smelly mud.  They explained that first, you shower so the mud remains clean. (don't try to understand, it only gives you a headache) Then you walk over to the sunken tub of mud and wiggle in.  (No cannonballs!)  You have to wiggle because the mud doesn't want you to go all the way in because it doesn't want to "go everywhere" but eventually I got in and got myself covered. 

The attendants came over and asked, "How are you?"
"Umm, I am sitting in a giant tub of mud."
"How does it feel?"
"Like I'm sitting in a giant tub of mud."
"Ok.  We've set a timer and we'll be back.  Just relax."

I would like to say that, in the time I sat in the tub of mud, I finally got it.  I could feel the stress and pressures of life flowing from my recently widened pores into the volcanic mud and peat.  I would like to say that.  But all I kept thinking was, "I'm sitting in a tub of mud.  I hope Sylvia is having fun."  Secretly, back in the dark recesses of my mind, I thought that a mud bath was just a prank that women played on their husbands and they never actually go into mud themselves.  They just all sit around and watch their husbands on closed circuit TV.  They giggle as we do everything the attendants say, "Watch watch!  He's gonna really get into the mud!"  And then they all laugh!  My theory is that women concoct this plan during their group trips to the bathroom. 

And then, when all of the women got tired of watching me sit in mud, and listening to me sing my, "I'm sitting in mud" improvised song, they sent in an attendant to say that the timer had gone off and I should shower.  I'm going to try to keep you from getting an image of me washing off mud that had "gotten everywhere" by saying, "Don't think about Lauretta!"

When I was all clean and walked out in my little white robe they explained that I would be going to the sauna next.  Now, to me, a sauna just sounds like an afternoon in the deep south, in the summer, wearing a tuxedo.  I vote pass!  When I explained that a hot humid place is what people go on vacation to get away from they took me to the hot tub.  Ok, hot tub I can understand.  It would be better if Sylvia was there, with maybe a glass of wine, and a roast beef sandwich, but I can deal with water.  I got in and then they forgot about me.  I sat, and sat, and sat.  Then I sat, and sat some more.  The place was clearing out.  I was the last guy in the place when finally someone came over and said, "Are you done in the hot tub yet?"
"Ummm, you tell me.  I'm just waiting for someone to tell me what to do next."
"Oh, Ok.  Go ahead and get out and we'll give you your massage.  You are the last person here and we didn't know you would stay in so long."

I've never been a massage person.  Just didn't seem like something that I would appreciate.  And then we went to Jamaica on our honeymoon.  The resort we stayed at gave each of us a complimentary half hour massage with our package.  Sylvia and I were side by side, the beach just footsteps away, and we each drifted off into our own little world of bliss as the petite island beauties used their magical hands to relax us. I even slipped into sleep.  That is not what happened at Attila's House of Torture and Mud Ridicule.  I suspect the ad this establishment placed, while looking for massage terrorists (I mean therapists), read something like this:
Wanted: Sadist  (If you are actually "wanted", that's ok)   Former linebackers, frustrated full contact extreme fighters, and enforcers for the mob welcome.  Must weigh more than 290 pounds and be able to balance on one elbow in the middle of someone's back. Rage issues and desire to inflict pain a plus.  If interested send resume, a picture of your brass knuckles, and a 500 word essay about the joy you feel by having people pay you to torture them.
I went into the massage area expecting to be greeted by a petite girl and met a petite gorilla who would be home with his lady gorilla except some guy stayed too long in the hot tub and now he had to stay late.  And his wife would need to start bench pressing 300 pound weights all by herself.  The next twenty minutes involved, grunts, groans, snaps, crackles, pops, and eventually defeated whimpers.  And as Forrest Gump would say, "That's all I'm gonna say bout that."

They allowed me to retrieve my clothes and walk out to meet my wife.  Turns out, she was already in the hotel room.  She looked refreshed, she was energized, and it looked like she had recently had cucumber slices on her eyes.  She wanted to go out to dinner.  I wanted to report a mugging.  People have told me, since, that I was given a "deep tissue" massage and that I could have asked for a relaxation massage.  What do I know.  Like I said, I am not a massage guy.  Live and learn.

I spent the next two days walking around in pain and I felt like I had been beaten up.  The only things that kept me from being completely upset about the whole experience were, that I didn't pay a cent for any of it, and Sylvia thoroughly enjoyed herself.  But fair warning.  If we EVER get a gift certificate for two spa and mud bath treatments in the future...Sylvia is going twice!

Monday, June 27, 2011

I Crack Myself Up

Sylvia, my lovely and supportive wife (in case you are reading my blog for the first time), could conservatively spend a third of her day telling people, "Don't laugh.  It only encourages him."  Luckily, she doesn't, so people are "encouraging" me a large part of my day.  It doesn't take much.  I do appreciate the occasional guffaw, chortles are good, but I can get by with an occasional upturned side of the mouth from a teenage girl who is too cool to admit that I can be kinda funny.  I love when I get comments here on the blog site but honestly, especially lately, the comments have dried up a bit and I have discovered that it is ok.  Why?  Because apparently, I crack myself up!

I am that annoying guy who will laugh at his own jokes even when other people are wondering if I should be committed.  (that happens a lot)  I should wear my pretend blue tooth everywhere so people think I am talking to someone else.  I once offered the suggestion that if you were wearing your earpiece and someone said something stupid you could shout, "You are so full of crap!" and get away with it by shaking your head and pointing at your bluetooth.  It seems that people are on their phones a lot near me.  But I digress...

I was at a gathering with some old friends the other day and I was talking about how I am loving writing in the blogs and, most importantly, people are telling me that I am "kinda funny" so I keep doing it.  A little while after that, another friend came over and said, "Jeff, you are so funny!"  (I paid him his five dollars)  Then he said, "Some people think like this."  And he held his hand up like he was going to pat a six year old on the head.  "Some people think like this."  And he raised his hand like he was showing the six year old that he had had it up to here!  And then he said, "Jeff thinks like this."  And he swooped his hand around until it looked like he was hugging an invisible ostrich.  Everybody laughed, I did the inside version of the happy dance, and Sylvia said, "Don't laugh it only encourages him." (not really)  All of this just echoes what my teachers have been telling my mom for years.  My mom came home from a parent teacher conference and said that the teacher told her, "Jeff's brain just doesn't work the same way as other kids."  She took that, and portrayed it to me, as a compliment, and the rest is history.

I think my sense of humor is rubbing off on my kids though.  Yesterday, on our way to church, Kristiana let me use her chapstick.  "It'll make you smell like vanilla." she warned.  "No problem.  I like vanilla."  Then Jake said, "Wouldn't it be funny if Mr. Babyak came up to you and said, Mmm, vanilla."  I just about drove into a parked car, laughing.  After church, as we walked out, sure enough, Mr. Babyak walked over and said, "Mmm, vanilla."  Obviously, Jake got the message to Mr. B that he could make me crack up if he just said those two words.  He did.  I did.  I love my family and the people I hang out with.  Is it any wonder that I continue to have things to write about!

I really hope that it isn't sounding that I am conceited or overconfident or full of self esteem.  Let me let you in on a little secret...people who try to make others laugh are hiding the fact that they have low self esteem...shh...Don't tell.  In most areas I feel unsure, shy, awkward, etc...  If I can make you smile then I know I at least am not annoying you with boring details about the average air speed velocity of an unladen swallow.  (see, I am doing it again!  Monty Python in the house!) Get me behind a keyboard and I come alive and most importantly, I can go back and re-write something stupid that I have written, before I put it out there for everyone to see.  Apple core, underwear, rubber band, fiddle faddle, fishnet tattoo and Tigger too....  See, you don't know it but I had written a string of nonsense words and phrases and then I will remember to delete them before I send this to the web!  It's a perfect system...unless I forget.  No, I won't forget.

I suppose I should be feeling the pressure involved in trying to be funny while having people expect me to be funny.  Maybe I am just not smart enough to know that it should be hard.  The way I see it is that I have been given a gift and I want to use it as much as possible.  It makes me happy.  And if it makes you happy then I have done my job.  I really appreciate all of the people who have come up to me to say that they are enjoying reading my writing.  I have to admit that I am continually shocked by the diverse group of people who track me down to say they read my blog.  In one week I had a teenager and a sexagenarian tell me, through family members, that I was the "funniest person on the planet".  No pressure there!  Not saying I disagree (see there, I have to pretend to be confident.  It's funnier that way.) but it does make me stop and think about what the heck I am going to write. 

I just wanted to say thank you for all the "encouragement" that you all have shown me.  Now if you would kindly tell your local newspaper, book publisher, or web millionaire that I am ready to write for them (for a different kind of "encouragement" wink wink) I would really appreciate it.  Thanks again.

Friday, June 24, 2011

To Friska

I remember like it was yesterday the day we brought her home. Sylvia was driving and Friska, our brand new, hand fed, orphaned little calico kitten, was sitting on a blanket on my lap. She was a little nervous about the ride and I thought it was cute the way she kept clawing her way up my shirt and poking her little claws into my chest. And then I could barely see. Turns out I am allergic to cats and each little pinprick of her tiny claws was sending a signal to my nose and eyes, "Make it feel like radioactive sand has been placed in his eyes...and his nose should begin running profusely!" Sylvia and I made it to our newly purchased town home just in time for me to put down the kitty and run for eye drops. After much experimentation, and even exploring whether or not I could get allergy shots, we determined that I could tolerate one cat in the house as long as I limited contact with my face and eliminated contact with her tiny little claws. In true kitten fashion, Friska would regularly claw her way across my chest and sleep on my pillow while we were in bed.

It was our first house together and Friska was the first inhabitant who had never lived anywhere else. Her mom had been killed and our friend Tammy, a vet tech, had taken in the kittens to hand feed until they were old enough to adopt. I was never much of a cat guy but we went to see the kittens. I told Sylvia that "we would see" knowing full well that we were not going to walk away from this un-kittened. Introvert that I am, I fell in love with the little orange, black and white loner who was not terribly impressed with the two people who were holding interviews for the position of 'cat' and sat contently over to the side while all the other kittens fervently vied for the position.  Once the decision was made and we made the arrangements to bring her home, much like an introvert does when they get to know someone, she came out of her shell. She was unstoppable! We decided to that she was so frisky we would call her that...and then decided against it since we didn't want to name her after cat chow.  Friska it was.

She had energy to spare and she loved tearing around the house in something that I would call "The Rips!" I could toy with her and get her to chase me all over the place and then she would just kick into high gear! She would run and run, at top speed, all over the house. It was wildly entertaining. She would play. She would pounce. She would zoom! She would skid on the linoleum in the kitchen and then fly upstairs like she was a little orange and black blur from a cartoon, only to turn right around and coming flying downstairs again to prance and play with me. I remember once, when she was in full speed mode, she had skidded all around the kitchen and made the upstairs run. She came down at mach two and made another lap around the Sylvia's feet as she was cooking dinner. In my head I could hear the cartoon sound effect of the coyote building up speed to chase the roadrunner as Friska terrorized the house. She decided to have another run at the stairs, rounded the corner around the love seat, and WHAM, misjudged the height of the stair by about four inches. Headfirst, dead stop. Shaken but not deterred she lumbered upstairs in true, "I meant to do that" kitty cat fashion.

As part of our adoption agreement Tammy had said that she would come over to our townhouse to give her all of her newborn kitten shots. The last shot she received was significant. The doorbell rang and when I opened the door to Tammy she saw Friska sitting on the floor in the living room. She walked over, held her still, and unceremoniously (in true vet tech 'I do this all the time' fashion) gave Friska her final shot. There was no, "good kitty" or "this won't hurt a bit sweety." Just grab, poke, release. It was very efficient but we didn't see the kitty for three days after that. Following that, any time the doorbell rang the cat was gone! When Tammy came over Friska would hiss! It was because of that incident, and how she would hide from strangers, that we had large groups of friends and family who would not believe that we even had a cat. We tease Tammy that she had "broken" our cat.

Friska didn't always have it so easy. We had decided that she would be an inside cat but we would let her explore the outside world of our patio when we were there. We would take her outside to walk around and laugh as she would alternately, awkwardly, lift two opposing feet at a time while she discovered grass for the first time. It got so she would wait at the door until we would let her go outside. She would wait at the screen door and meow. We would take her out for a while until she decided to come back in. It was a good system. Then one day I came back from the store. I walked inside and the screen door automatically shut behind me. It was a cold day so I flung our extremely solid and heavy front door shut. "Mmmph" When it closed I thought, "the front door doesn't usually say, Mmmph" and decided to find out what was going on. Unbeknownst to me, Friska had decided to take her position at the screen when I walked in. I had swung the door shut and trapped her in the space between the doors. She decided, after that, that she would be a completely indoor cat.

Waiting for Kristiana to be born, Friska would lie next to Sylvia and knead her pregnant belly with her paws. She seemed completely aware that something big was going on and she wanted to participate. And then we did the unthinkable. We brought home a screaming colicky baby from the hospital. The volume in the house had multiplied by a factor of at least 3 and Friska resigned herself to her new lot in life, to take up residence under our bed. She had clawed a tiny hole in the black fabric that covered the bottom of our box spring and would climb inside. If we didn't see her for a while, we would look under the bed and see her in her personal little hammock. When Jacob was born we had already settled into a routine and, since he wasn't colicky, she decided that he was a little more tolerable than Kristiana. A determination that would last for years.

When we moved into our new house, and adopted Fudge the wonder dog, Friska adopted our bedroom as her haven. There were two walk in closets to hide in. There was new bedroom furniture that had a space that created a cat apartment. Her food and water were in the bathroom along with her litter box. What more did she need! The only time we saw her was when we went to bed. It had become a routine. Sylvia would go to bed a little earlier than me and Friska would hop up and lie next to her. If we burned a little of the midnight oil Friska would come to the doorway and complain, "Meow! Meow!" as if to say, "Hey! It's bedtime you know. Come give me some lovin!" She definitely had her tastes and would sleep only on Sylvia's side of the bed unless Sylvia was away for some reason, and then I would be the tolerable substitute. I cannot even tell you how many times I would roll over and be staring at the 'unattractive' end of the kitty while she said, "Good morning" to Sylvia.

It is amazing how many times that cat annoyed me. When I would put on a jacket from the bottom rod of the closet and wonder why I was sneezing with watery eyes, only to discover that Friska had adopted it as a new rubbing place and there was a thick layer of unseen fur around the waistline. There was the time that we came home from an extended vacation to discover that she and the house sitter didn't get along and had used Jacob's room as her litterbox for a month. I grumbled at her as we determined that I would need to remove the carpet and refinish the hardwood floors! When I would get ready in the dark and step on a wet hairball while wearing socks, "Friska!" We would also tease her and say, "Why can't you keep that dog away from your food!" whenever Fudge would sneak back and clean out her food dish. But it always came back to, there's no use getting mad at a cat for being a cat. 

As the kids got older and more and more wedding anniversaries rolled by Sylvia and I would look wistfully at Friska and wonder aloud, "How long are you going to be with us, Good kitty?" We knew that cats are not immortal but we were always happy that she just kept plugging along. Then, a couple of months ago, Friska started having some odd behaviors. She would come out of our bedroom and explore the house. "Dad!" Jacob called one night, "come here."  Friska had come to his room and climbed up onto his bed. I attributed it to the fact that Jake had just gotten over pneumonia and she just wanted to check on him.  Then she started coming to the kitchen, down our lengthy, long unexplored hallway, and drink out of Fudge's water bowl. With Fudge right there! She was moving a little slower these days and it had been a decade since she had run around just for the heck of it. The doctor had us start to feed her a new food that was good for her kidneys. We started to see the writing on the wall.

We were discussing altering our vacation plans to allow Sylvia to stay home to care for her while I took the kids away. We didn't want someone else to have to take care of her if she needed some special medical attention. And then, a few days ago, Sylvia picked her up and noticed that she had lost weight. We weighed her and found out that she had lost three of her typical eight pounds. She was slowing down and we could feel her bones through her sleek, race car like body. She continued to come all over the house and in typical stoic cat fashion never complained once. She spent more and more time just sleeping on the floor of the shower. We called Tammy and she told us that it was probably the beginning of the end. We called our vet, made an appointment, and yesterday afternoon she had another car ride. This time I was driving and Friska was laying on a blanket on Sylvia's lap. She was weak and didn't try to climb up on Sylvia like she did on me when we brought her home the first time. 

In the exam room we all broke down when the doctor informed us that not only had her kidneys stopped working, her liver had failed too. The doctor explained that her frail little body was not able to go on and she was in a lot of pain but was refusing to show it, trying to hang on for us. We were faced with the hardest decision that we have ever made. There, at the doctor's office, at 2:20 P.M. we decided that we would give her the gift of being free from pain. We all said goodbye and she looked at each of us in turn while we stroked her frail, exhausted body. We all wept as the doctor told us that she was gone.

We drove home in silence and, in the house, kept bumping into reminders of this sweet little kitty. I knocked down her favorite stuffed pink panther toy from when she was a kitten. I hadn't seen it in months. Her food and water dish, untouched, still sit on the bathroom floor. We tried to busy ourselves with watching TV and making dinner.  We all sat just going through the motions of completing our day when Sylvia decided to go to bed early. She called my name and I walked back to our bedroom to see that Fudge had, for the first time ever, jumped onto our bed and taken residence in Friska's spot. Yeah boy, we really miss her too!

Good Bye Friska, Good Kitty!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Case of the Exploding Cucumis

I love a good mystery.  I do not like to be scared, but if you have some clues and a problem to solve, I'm your man.  I was a big fan of Encyclopedia Brown books when I was a young reader.  Encyclopedia Brown was a kid detective whose dad was a policeman in their little town.  Dad would bring home the really tough cases for his son to solve over dinner and "he would always solve them before dessert."  While Dad was describing it to his son, the reader, me, would follow along and try to figure it out with him.  Then, when he figured it out the story would end with Encyclopedia saying something like, "I know who dismembered that family...and you should too you bumbling oaf of a Keystone Cop!"  (Ok, so it was never a murder and he was always respectful...can't a guy have a little fun?)  Following the announcement that Encyclopedia had figured it out the story would end with a question..."Do you know who stole the elephant?"  And then the faithful reader, after formulating their guesses, would turn to the back of the book, find the title of the story, and see if you picked up enough clues to know whodunit.  Maybe that is why my favorite TV show is MONK.  I miss that show.  But I digress...

Well dear readers, I have a mystery for you today.  But I am not going to make you guess.  I'll just tell you.  I will also include the answer in this post and not make you go to the end of the internet to find it.  Come to think of it, I see no similarity between what I am going to tell you and Encyclopedia Brown at all.  If you would like to print out this blog you may use it as a "get right to the point" coupon for future use.  Stop laughing, it could happen.

Our mystery begins in the northernmost kitchen of Garrett Manor...my boyhood home.  We wintered at the manor and I have many fond memories in that place.  Well, actually, we springed, summered, and falled at the manor...and the northernmost kitchen was also the southernmost, if you catch my drift.  (Aren't you sad you didn't use your get to the point coupon today?  Our kitchen was at the front of the house and our living room made an "L" so you could not see into it from certain places.  Our house had also been plagued by a few creepy little things.  We were the home to every stray swarm of bees in Fremont.  It wasn't like we had a huge tree or anything that they would attach themselves to.  They would go into bushes, the ground, a pile of firewood, a cardboard box...we had bees around quite a lot.  A swarm had even made its home in the eave of our house right off of the kitchen window and over time had gotten into the walls and  would occasionally work themselves into the house by squeezing behind the electrical plate cover.  (I hate bees)  We also had the plague of the modern household, roof rats.  They had luckily remained out of the living spaces but did manage to find things in the garage to gnaw on.  (I hate bees...rats startle me when they scurry out from behind things but I hate bees)  The final creepy little thing we had was a cruel babysitter.  She used to "entertain" us while our parents were away by telling us ghost stories...about our own house! 

Skip ahead to a typical summer Saturday morning and me doing my usual activity, watching Abbot and Costello meet the Mummy on channel 44.  It had all the criteria I needed.  It was funny.  It had something to be solved.  And, it showed me pictures out of a glowing box.  I was content.  And then, from the kitchen, came this otherworldly sound.  It sounded like nothing I had ever heard before.  I just heard it once though.  I probably imagined it.  I had been told that I had a vivid imagination.  Go figure.  No problem.  Ha ha ha...Costello, you are so funny!  Then I heard it again!  This time there was no mistaking it.  Something was happening in the kitchen. 

I got up, turned the knob on the TV to turn the volume down (yes, I am that old) and froze in my tracks.  I couldn't see into the kitchen and nobody else was home...or out at this wing of the mansion.  And here I was, a youngster who didn't like the creatures that were already in the house and afraid of the creatures that my vivid imagination, aided by our babysitter, had conjured up.  What to do, what to do.  The sound continued in the kitchen and was happening more frequently now.  It's hard to describe but if you took a water balloon and filled it too full with grape jelly and then let it out a little at a time, that might come close.  It was definitely wet, it was definitely real, and it was definitely in our kitchen.  I, of course, did not go charging in to see what it was.  The mystery could have lasted about 8 seconds from the time that I turned off the volume to solving but my hesitance decided to drag it out a while.  I imagined the bees finally getting organized and oozing through the switch plate in droves waiting until they had enough inside to make that giant floating arrow that would point at me before they attacked.  (I watched a lot of cartoons too)  I thought it might be a rat, sickened by the poison that we had put out and in the final throes of a horrible death on the floor.  I thought about any number of creatures that, according to our sadistic babysitter, had inhabited our house without our knowledge for years. 

And then the sound slowed down.  It didn't stop but it was definitely slowing.  I gathered all of my courage, I inched toward the doorway, I peeked around...and nothing.  I could see nothing.  Now I was on the case.  Nothing was there to harm me.  Nothing was there to jump out at me.  No floating, buzzing arrows  Not even a floating, buzzing question mark.  Now I gotta know.  I walked toward the corner and heard it again.  I started moving things off of the counter and finally came to the culprit.  It wasn't what I expected at all. 


Sorry, couldn't resist.  When I pulled away the two or three things that hid the noisemaker I saw something that I had never seen before.  There, in the corner, on the counter, was a forgotten cantaloupe, or cucumis melo (latin).  Apparently if you forget a cantaloupe, on the counter, for longer than its shelf life, in the summer, it will ferment on the inside and eventually start to push its pulpy fruit and seeds  out of what I like to call the bellybutton of the melon.  It does this for quite some time and it makes the most peculiar sound when it is doing it.  I was so glad to find out that the house was not haunted, but to this day I cannot eat anything that has melon in it.  Enjoy your fruit salads this summer!

Friday, June 17, 2011


Since I have started writing a second blog it has been pretty obvious to me where I would write each blog post.  When I feel like writing a fake news story that no one would believe, it goes into Jeff's Gnus.  When I write about something that actually happened, it goes here.  Today I am torn.  I have something to write about that is 100% true, but I am fairly certain that a lot of people will think I am making it up.

I was teaching a special education class quite a few years ago and thought that the way to have a child's self esteem get a boost was to teach them a new skill and then move on until they got to grade level work.  I have never been in the camp that believed everyone deserves to feel good about themselves for merely converting oxygen into carbon dioxide.  If you are being mean to others, you should feel badly.  That does not, however, mean that I am not willing to work with you to help you stop being mean to others. 

At our school we had assemblies where groups or individuals would come and entertain and inform the students along the lines of personal responsibility and self-esteem.  Some were better than others at being informative or entertaining but one in particular was my least favorite in both respects.  I am not going to mention his name for two reasons.  One, because personal tastes vary and who am I to impugn someone's reputation by calling him out.  And two, what if his wife is the publisher of a newspaper who is very seriously thinking about letting me write my little column for them...for actual money! 

It was a feel good assembly and the entire school was in the auditorium.  The speaker/singer was up on the stage doing his best/worst corny jokes that seemed to be aimed at the teachers who were, I suppose, then going to get the students motivated.  In theory.  He had a motivational speech all set and he broke off the speaking portion to move into each next song...which were, conveniently, on sale at the back of the room.  He had several hand motions and body movements for the students to do during his songs and I do not know how to say this politely...He was bombing.  The movements were too convoluted for the younger kids and he didn't have enough of a rapport with the older kids for them to do it, so...El Stinko.  Then he did the old fallback move of elementary school performers.  He said, "If you don't know how to do it...look at your teachers."  Problem was, Human Version of Fozzie the Bear, that none of the teachers were doing it.  I guess he thought he could make someone do his silly little antics, or at least he was going to try. 

Now, I am a team player.  I have held gigantic snakes.  I have dressed in ridiculous costumes...as a female!  I dressed as Ryan Seacrest and hosted our school's version of American Idol.  I tried to high-kick a bowl off of my toe up to my head...a few days after a 'V'ery personal operation!  I have even allowed the 6th grade winner of a contest to smack me in the face with a pie!  I am no stranger to acting a fool for the good of the school.  But in this particular instance I was with the students.  He hadn't built up a rapport with me either and I hadn't payed enough attention to know any of the hand movements.  I was a statue and I just wanted it to be over.

Then, mercifully, the song ended and he announced that he had only one more.  I clapped.  (I couldn't help myself)  But before he was going to play his last song..."and it looks like all of my CD's are still available at the back of the room teachers"... he wanted to leave us with this final thought.  My only regret is that I didn't get it on tape.

"Boys and girls.  You are all wonderful.  You are all individuals and you should be proud of all your differences.  No one should tell you what to do and if they do try to tell you what to do...just ignore them and be your own person!  If your friend is doing something that you don't want to do.  Don't do it!  I cannot say it enough.  Be your own person!  Don't be a follower!  Don't just do what someone tells you to do!"
  And I swear I am not making up what he said next.  "Now follow me and do what I do!"

And he began to sing his song while trying to get everyone to do his hand motions.  Well he must have had some sort of mystical power that I didn't know about because the entire auditorium was taking him at his word and no one was being a follower.  Five hundred and fifty terra cotta students from the BorRing Dynasty.  I was never so proud of my students!  When we got back to the classroom (minus a CD...which would have been available at the back) I praised the heck out of my compliant/non compliant students!  I think they handled it very well!

Monday, June 13, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

There are times in your life that disappear into the over-cooked chowder pot of experiences where the details mesh and blend into statements like, "I've done that before, but don't ask me any specifics."  There are also events in your life that are so crisp and clear in your memory it's like you can smell the over-chlorinated pool of an over-crowded campground whenever your memory is jogged.  Today, I smell the pool.

I was lucky enough to have the childhood of many kids' dreams.  Like many kids, I didn't fully appreciate that at the time but it is coming to me.  One of the things that made my childhood special was that my parents, along with another family, bought a camper to share.  If campers were allowed this classification it would have been called "a hoopty."  It smelled funny, it creaked and groaned (when it stood still), it was held together with copious amounts of duct tape (literally), and it was a magic carpet that took our family to some of my most vivid memories.  It slept 5, exactly.  And that meant one person on the floor.  Heaven help you if you were the person at the back of the camper and woke up needing to go to the bathroom at the front.  On the floor, you learned rather quickly how to sleep pressed over to one side.  And I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self to never complain about anything in that wonderful vehicle (except for the 'Night of a Million Mosquitoes' in West Memphis...nobody should be required to live through that).

As we traveled from state to state on my dad's generous amount of vacation time, we kids had two criteria for where we would pull into camp.  "Do they have pinball machines?" (yes, I am that old), and "Do they have a pool?"  An answer of "no and no" rarely swayed the decision to keep looking, but we had to ask.  On this occasion the answer was blessedly, yes!

In thinking about this campsite I cannot remember where we were but from all the clues I have I would guess that it was somewhere in Arizona near the Grand Canyon.  It was hot.  No, I mean it was thirty eight feet from the sun hot!  It was packed.  That rarely happened except near the larger tourist destinations.  And it was like an oasis where everyone gathered at the watering hole.  I had never seen this many people in a swimming pool before.  It was like a movie in two respects, the sheer overwhelming crowd and the fact that I saw something happen in slow motion. 

I had been trained by my ever-helpful mom to keep an eye on things.  If you see a kid at the fair who is walking slowly, looking from side to side, and on the verge of tears...try to find his mom.  If someone on a field trip looked like they didn't have anything to eat for lunch...give them some of yours.  If someone in a crowded pool appears to be having trouble swimming or even staying above water...well, we never got to that lesson.  Too bad, because that was what was playing out in front of me. 

I was in the water with what seemed like a hundred people and I saw a little boy slapping the top of the water and looking as if he didn't want his mommy as much as he wanted air.  I was about twenty five feet from this poor kid who, according to every after-school-special on water safety I had ever seen, was about to drown.  I looked around.  There were at least eight people more qualified than me (otherwise known as adults) within arm's reach of this boy and to my horror and surprise, nobody was doing anything.  I don't know if they didn't notice or didn't think he was in trouble but for them, life was just going on as normal.  I thought about calling out, "Hey! Is that kid in trouble?!"  But I didn't think anyone would have heard me because of the sheer number of people, along with the fact that I was a kid and was used to not being heard by random grown-ups. 

I decided to act!  I grabbed that red torpedo shaped thing!  Put the rope around my well muscled and tanned neck and hairy chest!  Pamela Anderson gave me a kiss on the cheek for good luck!  I dove in...oh wait, that was a TV show...about fifteen years in the future.

What I did do was scoot my moderately overweight and white t-shirted body over to the boy.  It wasn't easy.  I had to move around a great number of people.  It was like trying to get through a crowd of people to the front row of a parade.  I was just tall enough to tip-toe hop above the water level and I finally made it over to the still struggling kid.  It felt like, and reading about it feels like I'm sure, it took ten minutes for all of this to occur.  In reality, it couldn't have been more than twenty or thirty seconds.  When I finally got there my plan... hah! I had no plan... was to say, "Are you ok?"  In the back of my mind I was thinking that this kid may just be really animated and I am going to feel stupid when he just swims away, doing the breast stroke.  But I wanted to be sure.  What really happened was, I got close to him and reached out to tap him. 

When he felt my hand...let me pause here to say that I have seen some fast things in my life.  I saw Gene Wilder, through movie magic, out-draw everyone in Blazing Saddles.  I have seen a rocket car go speeding down the drag strip at the now extinct Baylands Raceway and blast through the hay bales at the end.  Just yesterday I watched my son's very hungry snake grab a mouse before I could even say, "How is he going to..."  When this boy felt my hand he crawled up my arm and wrapped his arms around my neck, and his legs around my body faster than any of those.  I had my own version of the alien that jumped out of the egg and grabbed that guy's face (again, from the future).  He was locked on.  I understood perfectly why 'they' say, "Don't grab onto someone who is drowning.  They will take you with them."  Luckily I could still hop stand to stay about the water.  He was breathing heavily.  He was wild eyed.  He was about half my age.  He was about a quarter my size.  And unlike me and my turn red...peel...turn red again skin, he looked as darkly tanned as anyone I had ever seen.  He looked like he spent every waking moment in the water.  Today just wasn't his day.

I hop stepped him over to the side of the pool, and when we got there he released his death grip on my neck and grabbed the side to lift himself out.  He gave me a look that was kind of like 'thank you' but he never said a word.  He disappeared into a crowd, arms hanging down but bent away from his body as if he had just been splashed by mud and didn't want to get it on himself.  And I never saw him again.

Over the years I have thought that I should have told his mom what had just happened.  I was sure he would tell.  I've thought.  I should have made sure he was ok.  At the time I figured that he was running in the opposite direction of the pool so he was safe from the water.  In times when I have been down on myself for not having accomplished as much as I would have liked by that point in my life, I have even thought that it didn't really happen, it's just a phantom memory.  No way.  If I had any artistic ability at all I could paint a picture of this little tanned boy and the panicked look on his face.  It is as real to me as any other life changing event, and I was just reminded of it this morning.  I have never written about this and I don't talk about it much.  I didn't even tell my parents that it had happened. 

I have often wondered what happened to that little guy.  He was just small enough to forget it as he got older but just big enough to remember it forever.  If you are that kid, from the crowded pool way back when, and you want to shake my hand and say, "thanks" I will gladly accept, and call it even.  I hope you have had a great life.  Until then, I will be over here watching my own kids as they play in the pool.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Welcome To The Zoo

Today is Jake's birthday and I like to begin birthday blogs with something about the celebrant.  Today, the first thing that comes to mind is that Jake will have to feed a mouse to his brand new Ball Python.  Yes, we are the proud household of a constricting snake.

It started out where Jake wanted several snakes, an emu, a horse, an alligator, an albino tiger, a rampaging Rhinoceros, and several other things that have more teeth than I am comfortable with.  It seems a good compromise that he should be able to get a snake.  So there you go.  It may be a coincidence but I haven't seen my mother in law in our house since the snake moved in.  I'll have to give her a call.  I also haven't seen the cat, but that's another story.  KIDDING! 

Allow me to break down the ever growing list of animals that now call our house home.  We have a snake, a bird, a rabbit, a dog, a cat, and more fish than I can count.  The list has been much longer than this throughout our lives here, and let's just say that if I was a character in a Steven King novel, I would be worried about going into the back yard, past all the tiny little headstones, at night.

The snake actually started happening several years ago.  A colleague of Sylvia's gave Jake a gift card to go toward a snake.  The next year she gave another.  Jake has been saving for a long time and he finally felt like he had enough...and then the sale hit.  Fifty percent off and then a coupon for fifty percent off of that!  And then fifty dollars off of the snake habitat starter kit.  "We'd be stupid not to buy the snake!"  (That was an actual quote from Sylvia...she's on board with the whole thing)  So Jake gathered up all of his cards, cash, and a bucket full of change and we went to the store.  And came home with a python. 

I cannot say that it is cute but it is definitely friendly.  No seriously!  If you would like to come over I am sure I could talk Jake into letting it give you a kiss.  I like how the reality and responsibility of being a pet owner occurred to Jake just a few minutes after he got the enclosure set up.  Sylvia and I were in the living room and we heard Jake yell, "HEY! IT POOPED!  GROSS!"  Heh, heh, welcome to the real world pal and Happy Birthday! 

I cannot say that Kristiana is impressed with the snake at all!  The acquisition happened while she was away at a church meeting.  When she came home, let's just say, she was less than pleased.  Mom and I tried to explain that we had been looking at snakes in the pet store, with her, for years and just what exactly did she think was going to happen.  She said, "I didn't think you would really let him get one!"  Oh well, she is warming up to our cold-blooded addition and she might not want me to tell you this but I'll say that I am not the only one in the family who knows that a snake "kiss" tickles.

Kristiana is more of the fluffy cuddly cute and definitely not lethal variety of pets.  She enjoys pets that hop, swim, or purr.  She does not fully appreciate slither and hiss just yet.  She much rather would take a pet for a walk than try to keep it from going down into the cushions on the couch.  In fact, the last time we bought fish to add to our aquarium Kristiana grabbed the little plastic bag and took the fish out for a walk around the block.  Is it any wonder that I have more than enough material to write in the blog.

Speaking of writing in a blog...I have started a new one.  I know, I know, you are already hooked on this one why would I use my prose to take even more of your time?  Well blame my co-worker Josh.  Every day he would say, "Did you read the Onion?" and then give me a crazy headline from that paper.  Well I don't really have time to read it but crazy headlines come to me all the time.  So I started writing them down.  Sort of an homage to The Onion.  (Who knows, maybe they will tell me that I am so talented that they want me to write for them...for pay!  And then I could call myself a writer!  Or maybe they will sue me for copying their style.)  Anyway, the new blog is at http://jeffsgnus.blogspot.com/ pronounced Jeff's 'News' but that didn't look right so it is 'Gnus'.  I am having fun writing it but so far I only have one follower.  Thanks Beth!  Take a look and let me know what you think.  Just know that all of my gnus stories are 100% accurate.  Yeah right!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ahead of Schedule? Darnit!

I am ahead of schedule for the first time this year!  I have an end of the year checklist for my classroom.    Materials sorted and put away.  CD's burned for the parents with all the kids' pictures on them.  Homework graded and returned.  Report cards written.  Comments made.  Keys turned in.  Well, I have none of those things done.  But I am happy to announce that I have decided to get an early start on my final end-of-the-year ritual this year.  I am getting sick.

According to many, many experts (that I am far too lazy to look up) teachers are prone to getting sick during their vacations.  I am a teacher, Hippo Fatso,  I usually get sick when all the kiddos leave for the summer.  (will someone please remind me to look up whether the hippo line is that smartypants term that always makes TV lawyers seem so smart before I publish this.  It kinda looks a little mean.  I'd hate to look like a fool.)  I'm not sure why my body has decided to get a jump start this year but it is making my final week of school seem very bleak. 

I know that I am getting sick when it starts to smell like I am outside on a windy, dusty day.  I also know that I am getting sick when I crave orange juice.  When those two things happen together...I have about three days before I should start buying stock in Kleenex.  This year, that should put me smack dab in the middle of the last day of school.  hooray

Well that's it.  Very short today.  I have a long way to go and a short time to get there...Hey, I should have Jerry Reed sing a song about that.  What do you think about the nickname 'Bandit?'

Also, I have started a Facebook page for the blog.  I am not sure what I get to do with it but if you wanted to click over and "like" it, that would give my ego a boost.  Given my current state of health, it MAY JUST SAVE MY LIFE!!!  but no pressure.  Here's the link.

  Do I Really Live In This Sitcom

I will talk to you again when my students have gone for the summer.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Par...Tay!! (Six Year Old Style)

It was Lucy's birthday yesterday.  She was six, not six hundred, but I always get those two confused.  I like teaching kindergarten because when I tell them that I, too, am six because 'I am in kindergarten' they say, "NO!  You are the teacher.  You are sixteen!"  Yup, I am the sixteen year old with gray hair. 

It was a fairly typical day for this year, which meant that I was ready for a nap at about eleven, and I decided to have the parent-provided cupcake party for Lucy at the very end of the day.  I was testing for report cards (with the help of my awesome wife and daughter) and I didn't want thirty little five and six year olds running around like hyperactive hummingbirds on sugar highs.  We made it to the end of the day and parents started to come get their kids.  It can get a little chaotic but I always want to match each kid face with parent face just so I can sleep at night (or afternoon depending on the day).  It gets a little more crazy when a parent wants to talk to me.  It's a little manic when there are two who want to talk to you.  It gets downright silly when a parent brings his daughter a large bouquet of balloons for her sixth birthday.  Yesterday was that day.

All the kids had been picked up and I was able to talk to a parent about something that had happened with her son Mike in class.  I noticed that when she came up to my door she had a little gift bag but she didn't hand it to me.  (Drat!  I was really hoping that the 'DROID Charge' would be the teacher appreciation gift of the season.)  Alas.  (Oh well, Father's day is coming.  hint hint kids)  Cupcake and Balloon Dad took all of her things, shook my hand, and walked to their car. 

Sylvia and Kristiana left so their whole day wasn't spent taking care of me (even though Father's day is coming up).  I talked to the two parents, one at a time, and then shut my door to finally eat my lunch.  About fifteen minutes into my leftovers, the classroom phone rang.  "Jeff, there is a parent in the office who would like to talk to you.  Apparently Lucy's dad took a gift bag that wasn't for her." 

"I'll be right there."

In the office mom talked to me in hushed tones.  She told me that as she was talking to me she put down the gift bag.  She had brought it for a teacher who worked with her other son because she had announced her retirement.  In the confusion of parents, kids, balloons, extra cupcakes, and gift bags her son Mike had started a chain of events based on assumptions.  In his five year old mind he had connected the dots perfectly!  There is a girl who passed out cupcakes and juice.  There was a dad who brought balloons.  It looked like someone had set off an explosive charge in a tub of frosting.  Mike's no dummy.  Lucy had a birthday.  Then he thought, mom brought a gift bag.  I know what happens with those.  This isn't my first rodeo (well maybe it was his first rodeo but he had several birthdays under his belt)  He took the initiative...he handed the gift bag to Lucy's dad.  And Dad, thinking that someone had brought his daughter a gift, accepted the bag.  And then everyone left.

Mike's mom without their gift bag.  Lucy's dad with an extra.  And me with an uncomfortable phone call to make.  I'm not too much for confrontation.  Not even silly circumstances and misunderstandings confrontation.  And I would much rather talk to people face to face than on the telephone so imagine my discomfort as I was elected to call and explain that a present that was given to him for his daughter was actually for someone else and would he kindly, heh heh, return it.  Please.  Thank you.

In all of this I wish I could have been there in the car when Lucy's dad reached into the gift bag and wondered why on Earth someone would give a bottle of champagne to his little girl on her sixth birthday!  I love my job!

That's right.  I broke my own rule!  I wrote about something that happened at school...yesterday!  I'll let you in on my criteria for writing about current classroom events, lest you think I have lost my moral compass. (and please...don't make me say 'lest' again)  First, the parents involved are very nice.  Second, nobody involved meant any harm in any way.  Third, I laughed my tuckus off.  Fourth, Lucy's dad may write a blog and I want to beat him to the punch.  And most importantly, neither of the parents have mentioned that they are lawyers.  I did not, however, use their real names...just in case.