Monday, September 22, 2008

Astern Warning

It was a beautiful evening at the lake.

Crowds of single people were walking on the beach, looking hopeful as they lived up to their personal ads.

From across the water I listened to the haunting, plaintive wail of a boater examining his fuel bill. 

The beauty of the moment overwhelmed me, such that I decided then and there to pick up milk on the way home.  And write something about boats.

Now when it comes to power boating, my only real experiences were the times I putt-putted about a large, shallow, mosquito-covered lake with my father.  Or perhaps it was a mosquito covered boat, and my father was shallow.  I can’t remember.

The engine in our fine vessel, as I recall, was one of those ancient outward motors.  Outbound?  Outdoor?  Something like that.  Outhouse motor maybe.  Anyway, it had one of those ropes with a knot in the end with which to start it.  You would wind the rope around the spindle thingy and pull with as much swearing as you could muster, and with any luck it would start. 

I learned some of my best bad words watching grown-ups attempt to start these beasts.  It was an idyllic time.

Another type of boat that can teach you swearing is a sailboat, which has spinnacles, ropes, jibes, ahoys, tilleys, witches, starboards and other stuff to play on.  They are terribly complicated and don’t go very fast, and I am quite good at setting them on fire. 

A chum and I had moored our sailboat at the dock in Vancouver after a hard, cold, wet day spent trying not to sink (known as ‘fun’ in sailing parlance).  We had been imbibing liquid anti-hypothermia medications, safe in the knowledge that since we were now tied up at the dock, nothing dangerous or stupid could happen. Ha ha!

Actually, something stupid could happen. You could put an idiot (me) in charge of refilling an alcohol stove that an idiot (me again! Hi Mom!) had never filled before. 

With the confidence born of idiocy and heavy drinking, I extinguished the stove flame briefly, then poured a bunch of fuel onto the red hot stove parts, which blew up. 

With a mighty “Crump!” my arm was aflame, as were the alcoholic vapours of my breath, my eyebrows, nose hairs, mustache, shirt, and large sections of the boat itself. 

Like a scene out of The Matrix, I leapt in slow motion for the fire extinguisher, while at the same time thrusting my flaming arm into my crotch, which I realized might be counter-productive.  By then I was committed to covering my aft, though, so I resigned myself to having not only burnt arm flesh but also crisply roasted privates.

Server: “And how would you like those done, sir?”
Me: “Rare please.” 

My mind played tricks on me and I imagined I was a crazed gunner at Pearl Harbor, leaping to action stations. I aimed my anti-aircraft fire extinguisher skywards and let fly.  My flaming eyebrows spoiled the sight picture, however, so I corrected the spray of white powder downward at the conflagration, which mercifully was extinguished. 

My friend helpfully stomped out my eyebrows and gave me a smoldering look.

Thinking nautically and being in the moment, I shouted “Damage report from all stations!”  My friend smacked me again and loudly noted that I was not, in fact, Admiral Halsey or Charlton Heston but a klutz with a smoking head and a lost damage deposit.

So as you enjoy these early days of summer, take a few moments to listen to the water rhythmically lapping at the shoreline, and the muffled whooshing sound some people make when captaining a vessel or making tea. 

And when you hear stories of large, flaming sailors shrieking like school girls and squirting fire extinguisher powder over most of the western hemisphere, remember this old mariner.

They still call me ‘Red’ you know.

Food Rules

The Food Consumption Rules Committee is pleased to issue the following for your edification. Following these rules will lead to marital harmony and personal gratification. Political candidates might also be canvassed as to where they stand on these important matters.

Lets begin with Peanut Butter and Jam rules – which are extensive. Please pay close attention.

No butter on the bread! This causes the peanut butter to slide around and is inappropriate. Toasting and then adding peanut butter is acceptable since toasting firms up the bread, thus increasing peanut butter adhesion.

Jam goes gently but firmly on top of the peanut butter with a slight mixing action allowed. Jam never goes on its own piece of bread as the increased liquidity of the condiment causes unsightly stains to soak through to the cover side of the sandwich, thus labeling you an amateur.

Peanut buttering both pieces of bread to circumvent the above is considered extravagant and wasteful and should be avoided.

Attempts at breaking up large jam lumps for more even jam distribution are to be avoided as this can cause unsightly tearing of the bread.

There is a limit of 4 large jam lumps per sandwich, or one lump per bite depending on aspect ratio of lump to bread size (mathematical formulae available).

There are no rules regarding crusts and their retention or excision. Crusts are mainly there to keep the bread inside the bread (according to my kids) and are therefore expendable.

Let’s move on to other victuals shall we?

Rules regarding the consumption of breakfast cereals are straightforward but detailed.

Dry cereal is governed by the Proportional Volume rule, which stipulates that cereal is to be patted down in the bowl prior to milk delivery so as to compare the level of cereal in your bowl with that of your siblings. This ensures equal distribution amongst members of the household and is vitally important to maintaining proper decorum during breakfast proceedings.

The Proportional Volume rule is sometimes contravened by Dad who eats enormous bowls of Honeycomb even though Mom calls him a pig for so doing. The rules committee is wisely leaving the adjudication of this controversy up to the members, who should understand that Dad’s are larger and therefore command a larger bowl.

Rude words constructed with alphabetic cereals are subject to rapid punishments, as determined by how many of the words are visible to authorities prior to consumption. Some words carry more stringent penalties than others.

Cartoon programs are allowed to blare in the background during breakfast, provided authorities can be heard yelling to get upstairs to brush your teeth and get dressed for school.

Once milk has been delivered to the cereal, all cereal is to be smunched down into the milk. Partial smunching is allowed to retain crunchiness as desired, provided all cereal is ultimately smunched.

Drinking from the bowl is allowed at home, only when the female head of household is not present. Doing so at a restaurant or other public establishment will result in a surreptitious clout upon the body of the miscreant, delivered by whatever enforcement officers are present at the time.

Consuming liquid refreshment straight from the containers is also governed by the above rules.

Care should be exercised while pouring milk onto flaked cereals. Frequently, concave flakes will re-direct the stream of milk from its downward trajectory to a more horizontal one, thus causing spillage over the side of the bowl.

Official Proclamation:

Whereas; milk poured from a great height can cause spectacular geysers when concave flakes are positioned in a certain manner and,

Whereas; household pets enjoy having milk shoot out from the sides of bowls directly into their mouths,

The Official Mom Rules Committee hereby deems that milk spilled during cereal milk geyser experiments is to be entirely cleaned up by the scientists conducting said experiments.

Further, Moms who have recently assisted with the dressing of household members in clean clothing, frown upon horizontal geysering of milk and other substances, and will issue further rules and/or punishments as deemed necessary and prudent – up to and including the possibility of only consuming cereals while naked.

That is all.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Toil in the Soil

My gardening expertise began when we originally did our landscaping. I followed our contractor around for at least ten minutes, so you can be assured I know what I’m talking about. You can still see where they placed the paddles on my chest after we got his invoice too.

First, gardening is all about dirt. Not the great, shameless gossip you get from legislative reporters – real dirt.

Soil they call it - consisting of equal parts sand, mud, Pete, rocks, sticks, Gravol, and a nutritious organic material called dumbpost or fencepost. Something like that. Soylent Green maybe.

Anyway you need lots of soil. Spread it around to a depth of several hectolitres where you want to grow things, and simply wait for the built in weeds to German Ate (I have no idea what that means either).

Turns out, you can grow almost anything in dirt, especially here in the Okanagan. That is because we are in a certain ‘zone’, zones being imaginary, laughable boundary areas that are supposed to indicate what should grow where you are. The problem is, because the maps are so tiny in the garden book, you are actually attempting to grow things from Arizona (zone 1) in the Arctic (zone 20) you moron.

For example, walk around our place and you’ll see we have Hostages, Clamatoes, Hystericals, Spyro Gyras, Chrysler Anthems (all zone 18 I believe), Irishes, HideRangers, Orcas, Doozy’s, Peonists (zone 2.5), dog poop (oops)(zone everywhere), and Purple Saliva and Sweet Pee (twilight zone/full sun zone). I don’t know what those little yellow ones are called.

The city park next to us kindly supplies us with a near limitless supply of weeds too. We have Gultch, Knapsack, Bully, Yellow Annoyance, Pansy Rageworth, Spotted Pain, Canada GooseWhistle, Angry Kneecap, City Council and many others.

So you can see there is a lot going on in a garden.

You may have guessed by now that we have a rather large yard. Our original plan was to have a lovely garden that we could admire between naps while lounging on our front porch. As such, we acquired plants that, we were told, were ‘low maintenance’.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha I cry with increasing madness in my eyes. Low maintenance indeed. Let me wipe the spittle from my mouth as I go muttering about the yard, cursing the ‘expert’ staff and all their spawn at garden nursery locations. They are all lying scum.

Children are low maintenance. Large factories are low maintenance. Huge earth moving machines are low maintenance. Gardens? I beg to differ.

Oh sure – the staff at gardening centres appear to be polite and friendly. They are in fact sadistic, evil warts. In their world, seeds always sprout, weeds never appear, water falls from the sky, and little garden faeries ruin their knees, backs and trousers pulling up the weeds that grow like, well, weeds.

And another thing. Beware of plants that are ‘Native to the Okanagan’.

I have renamed our wild rose bushes because of this. They are now called Expensive, Prickly, Enormous, Invasive, Suckering Monsters With Hideous Berry-like Things That We Actually Paid Good Money For When You Can Get Them For Free Right There Outside The Fence.

I call them Dammits for short. The flowers are nice though.

Lastly, don’t eat Oregon Grapes (hint: they are not in fact grapes - yet another bit of amusing irony foisted upon the masses by ‘garden centres’). These pseudo-grapes taste like hell and you cannot use them to make wine either. (Not good tasting wine anyway. If you like a good Sour Bitter Outhouse Armpit vintage be my guest, or attend my next home-made wine party).

Oregon Grapes do, however, make a satisfyingly messy paste the children enjoy smearing over the furniture.

Natives often used this paste to permanently dye their clothing, we discovered.

My wife is now scouring Home Depot for Oregon Grape-coloured paint to match our permanently stained, Oregon Grape-coloured furniture.

I am outside, pulling weeds.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Acne Acme

I realize this may be disgusting to talk about – but I cannot help it any longer. I need to get this off my chest. And face.

When I was growing up, it was my understanding that pimples would pester me until around age 20. Then zits would fade away and I could move into adulthood and all the attendant joys associated with it – love, marriage, baby carriage, life insurance, etc. Something like that.

I accepted this fate philosophically as a teen rite of passage. I was OK with it.

Well, here I am in advancing yet feisty middle-age, and still, every month or two, Mr. Blemish makes an appearance.

As I write this I’m being plagued by zits – two to be precise; including one of those huge monsters you can feel coming but can’t do anything about because it hasn’t ‘ripened’ yet.

This thing is going to be the size of a cupcake by early indicators – right before a big presentation in a couple of days. I get to stand in front of a large roomful of people with an oozing red crater on my face – charming.

Now don’t go telling me I need to wash my face more thoroughly, or use a cleanser or a laffah or defoliate or whatever. I wash my face in the shower every morning quite thoroughly if you must know, so if I’m doing something wrong then why don’t more zits appear more often hmmm? There – I’ve run logical rings around you already and we’ve just begun. Ha!

And by the way – men don’t wash their faces like girls each night before bed either – it is unmanly and we won’t do it. That’s what pillowcases are for – facial dirt, drool, occasionally lipstick if we’re lucky. Or experimenting. Whatever.

Some of my more poignant memories are acne related unfortunately.

I can remember to this day the morning of the first day of grade 8. I was quivering with anticipation at being able to see The School Hotties.

I had life-threatening crushes on all of them, even though our only interactions were an occasional “Hi” in the hallway. These casual greetings naturally fueled many (OK, all) of my lurid sexual fantasies and if you’ve ever been a teenage boy you’ll know what I’m talking about mmmkay?

My hormones raged. These girls were known as the Terrible Ten for some ironic reason. And, oh my were they cute. They had legs and bosoms and wonderful smiles and bosoms too. One of them even had hair down to her bottom – probably the most erotic thing I had ever seen on a real, live person.

Where was I? Ah yes – back to school, grade 8.

So I wake up, shower, stand before the mirror, and there at the tip of my nose is the most humongous boil I had ever seen outside of a horror movie.

It was an angry red pustule that could not be hidden no matter how much of my sister’s makeup I rubbed on the monster, and could not be popped - yet. I was crushed, defeated, deformed. I wanted to wear a mask or cut my nose off. I wanted to be admitted to hospital for the first semester. I considered calling in a bomb threat but my eyes were crossed from staring piteously at this Rudolph-like orb on my face.

At school I slinked down the hall and…the girls said hi to me anyway! They wouldn’t come within twenty feet of me of course – a boil is still a boil. And that sucker hung onto the end of my nose for weeks without being able to pop it.

But it was a start. I was on my way into puberty - shaken, covered in stolen makeup, but relatively unscathed.

And so all was sunshine and rainbows for the rest of my entire life.

Actually, now that I think about it, this column was supposed to be about the election. Nevermind.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Callous Remarks

This column won 2nd place in the August/September 2009 America's Funniest Humor writing contest. Yay me! Enjoy.

My bare feet were making a funny “Rrrip-Rrrip” sound as I walked across the carpet. 

Looking down, I discovered the edges of my heels resembled barnacles, and it was these crustaceans that were snagging the broadloom like Velcro™. 

Since I am a true do-it-yourselfer, I checked to see if my wife had any technology I could use to fix this problem – a potentially ticklish issue. 

For example, women have this thing they use to bend their eyelashes.  My kids and I think this lashbender device would be useful as an insect guillotine and are looking forward to using it in that role.  Don’t say anything. 

The only useful item I found in her Mysterious Female Ablution Accessories Drawer, though, was a wooden paddle with sandpaper attached to both sides. 

“I can beat that,” I thought, racing to my workshop, trying to ignore the erotic possibilities of a wooden paddle with sandpaper on both sides. 

I dove into the abrasives drawer and grabbed some commercial grade, diamond grit sandpaper. 

As professionals know, sanding is important for a fine finish and this rugged paper would get the job done in manly fashion.   

Now decision number two loomed: power or manual?  Do I get out the trusty orbital, palm, or belt sander?  Or should I just see how it goes freehand? 

A vibrating tool in any mans hand can be dangerous at the best of times.  What if my feet burst into flames?  What if I had multiple orgasms?  Heavens.

I decided I would tackle this job free-hand and see what happened.

I began to wonder: do I sand with the grain, or across it?  Do foot barnacles even have grain?  What is the price of grain anyway?  I was beginning to lose focus.

Thinking it would help to soften up the raw material, I sat on the edge of the bath, feet immersed in warm, soapy water (lavender scented if you must know), reading a magazine, feeling downright contemplative.  I was tempted to light a candle.  I almost watched Oprah.

Then came the moment of truth.  I removed foot number one from the water and placed it in the bench vise I had conveniently clamped to the side of the tub. 

Bending to my task, a dreadful rasping sound rent the air, followed by a plume of skin-bits, barnacle flakes, sweat, sawdust and talcum powder, a jar of which I spilled while vigorously assaulting my cracked and turtle-like skin.  A smell, reminiscent of lavender-scented bacon, filled the house.

Now, I have worked with pine and mahogany and oak before, but never bunion.  I felt like an artist, a post-modern Michelangelo, sculpting in a new and exciting medium – callous!

Well it worked just fine – my heels emerged silky smooth and the operation was a complete success.  Hardly any blood, only a thin layer of dust everywhere, and now I no longer leave a trail of scratches across the hardwood floor. 

Carpets no longer hamper me.  My shoes fit better.

Life and barefoot locomotion are wonderful again. 

I’m curious, though: How often will my feet need a new coat of varnish?