Monday, January 30, 2012

Payback for the Schwinn

From the Lost October Files
I’m not sure where I stand on the concept of karma, but I believe that the last 24 hours might have been cosmic payback for convincing Kevin Jones that he was capable of jumping the culvert on his Schwinn Stingray in 1978.   

Kevin (unlike his bike) suffered no permanent damage in the attempt, which explains why I made it through the weekend without physical injury. 

It all started great.  I had been invited to be the Lead Bike in a marathon!  How cool is that?! The marathon was only a few miles from the campground where we were camping with friends on the same weekend! AND after the marathon, the soccer team I coach had a game in the same town!  It was serendipity!  What could go wrong?

So, I packed the car with camping equipment, food, kids, dogs, soccer gear, and my bike, and drove off to the waiting adventure.  

When I got to the marathon course, I found someone to show me part of the course and I decided to wing the rest of it.  I had a photocopy of the map... what could go wrong?

Next, up the river valley, our friends’ camper was exactly where they said it would be, but I decided that the camper was not theirs, and since there was no one there to set me straight, I drove around with my children on the gravel roads until the dog puked on a pillow, the carpet, the center console, the emergency brake, the seat, and me. It was well dark when my wife’s headlights illuminated us on the side of the road flicking dog vomit out of the car with a stick.   

We drove to a different campground, and along the way we passed our friends who were coming back to their trailer (which was right where it was supposed to be).  I assured my wife, children, and sick dogs that the Tahoe we passed was not our friends’ Tahoe.  

The next morning, I got up at 6 am and took my bike to the marathon starting line.  I proudly led the lead runners through the section that I was shown the evening before.  Some of the signs were stolen the night before, so the route wasn’t marked when we entered the town.  I made all the turns with my ear to the cell phone and one eye on the photocopied map.

On the second half of the course, I missed a turn, which knocked off more than a half mile.  In case you haven’t been in a marathon, this is a bad thing. Turns out, the distance is not flexible. 

I was then sent to stand at an unmarked turn on the marathon course because the flag guy had to go pick up his wife.  Unfortunately, I didn’t look very official and most everyone questioned my directions when I told them to turn toward the sewage treatment plant, then follow the arrow which was drawn on an empty liquor box with a Sharpie.   

No one came to relieve me, and I needed relief, if you know what I mean. Hours later, when the last runner (walker) gave me the stink eye for sending him to the sewage plant, I got my relief at a McDonalds and headed back to camp with my son to take down the tent and hide from the world for a few minutes before the big soccer game.  

I was following a big GMC SUV through the back streets. The GMC TooBig suddenly stopped, went into reverse, and mounted the front of my Subaru with gusto. After dismounting, the GMC TooBig’s owner apologized, gave me her insurance information and went out looking for another smaller car to attack.  

With none of the really important stuff crushed, Jay and I drove back to camp, took down the tent, packed up, and left to sit in traffic on the way to the soccer game. We got there when the game was supposed to start, but all of the players were stuck in traffic.  Eventually, kids showed up and we played on a muddy field that smelled suspiciously of manure.  My team was destroyed 0-8. 

I left the field with Jay, who now was bummed out, muddy, and smelled suspiciously of manure. We drove back into the town to meet the marathon organizers at the sponsor’s pub to find out find out how mad the runners were (and to get a much needed beer ticket).  I got a text saying they were on the way and would call when they arrived at the pub.   

After two hours of sitting in a toy store repeating the words, “No, you can’t have any more money,” I gave up.  The previous 24 hours had been painful, and I was on the verge of collapse.  

We were on the drive home, when Jay saw a Safeway and said, “Can I have Orange Chicken from the deli for diner?”  

“Food good,” I mumbled and pulled into the lot.   

The Orange Chicken was gone, but the friendly man behind the counter said he would have another batch out in 15 minutes.  Jay assured me it would be worth the wait.   

15 minutes of staring at the floor in a chilled Safeway passed, and we went back to the counter.  Jay looked at the freshly deposited Orange Chicken and declared, “That’s not what I thought it was.  Can we go somewhere else?”   

I didn’t kill him.  Instead, I said “No. Pick something out that you feel reasonably sure you can keep down.”   

With our purchases in hand, we went out to the scenic Safeway parking lot and ate dinner with the heater running.  The car smelled of warm dog vomit, dried cow manure, and Safeway burritos. 

The rest of the way home, I expected to be pulled over, or have a blowout, but we made it home without further incident and I crawled into bed happy to leave the weekend behind.

Kevin, I know you’re probably 40 years old now, and have forgotten about the culvert incident, but if you’re reading this... I’m really sorry, man. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Camping with Fire

From the Lost August Files

For older children, campgrounds are very similar to off-leash areas for dogs.   

In the off leash areas, dogs run, bark, and smell other dog’s private parts until they are muscled back into their SUVs and collapse into a slobbery lump.   

In campgrounds, kids run around, scream, and throw things at each other’s privates until they are wrestled to the picnic table and forced to eat. 

This year we all went to Daroga State Park.  I arrived first with the children, who jumped out to chase things before I got the car in “P”.  I had to carry all the gear to the walk-in campsite. I found a nice riverside campsite, containing a picnic table adorned with sand and seagull poop.   

The tent pad looked suspiciously wet (it hadn’t rained in weeks), and the grass was unusually healthy.  Ignoring the clues, I managed to get the tent spread out, and staked before the sprinklers came on.  

 Nicole and I watched the tent fill with water for a few minutes before I decided to move all of our wet stuff to an area of dead grass.  Meanwhile, the sand and bird poop on the picnic table made a lovely mosaic before dripping off on to the concrete pad. 

When the sprinklers finished watering the poop, sand, concrete, and aluminum picnic table, I poured water out of the tent and mopped up.  I left the tent doors open to air it out, which turned out to be a great idea because Daroga State Park morphs into a wind tunnel for a few hours every afternoon.  I looked for seat belts on the picnic table, while watching our gigantic tent puff up like a bouncy house in a tornado. 

Thankfully, the tent pegs held, and after the wind died down, our tent turned into a shelter for an exciting array of flying insects.  Whilst the mayflies mated on the ceiling, a colony of gnats began creating a civilization on the door screen.  Before they were able to invent irrigation and farming, some creature that looked like a dragon fly with a hormone deficiency flew in and started eating the engineering department. 

Riveting as the bug show was, I needed to take an intermission.  I went in search of a bathroom and apparently moseyed 35 years back in time.  

I found myself in a discussion about wheelbarrows with a lovely man from the 1970’s.  He had cut off jean shorts, classic Converse sneakers without socks, a tank top, large thick framed Woody Allen glasses, and a Paul Simon “Bridge Over Troubled Water” hair style, sideburns and mustache.   

I was shocked out of my 70’s trip by the fee station information board.  Campsites were $14 per night unless you needed to add the yearly park permit, dump station fee, boat ramp fee, additional vehicle fee, shower tokens, breathing fee, and scratching yourself fee.   

Eventually my wife and our friends arrived, and experienced the sprinkler show (replete with fresh seagull poop). After the designated dry time elapsed, Karl and I fired up the stove to cook up some turkey for the chili.   

The stove ignited everything in a two-foot radius with a burst of blue flame.  Luckily I didn’t have a shirt on, and the few chest hairs I once had are not really missed.  After excluding me from the “Must Take Care Of This” list, the flaming roll of paper towels came next. I chose the “Scream and Throw It” method.  Although exciting, it did not extinguish the roll, so I stomped on it.   

Despite the picture of despair I've painted, I can assure you that we had more fun moments than not, which helped counter the lack of sleep, burned food, ruptured disk in my back, sunburn, and other stuff that I’ve chosen to forget.  In fact, we have already booked our site for next summer!   

I’m taking out extra insurance.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bok Choy Bok Choy Bok Choy

My son and I beat the rush to the restaurant.  It’s a wok place… a wokery if you will. 

You get a little tiny bowl and build a Dr. Suess mound in it with vegetables, noodles and meat. Then you dump the sauces on top of the mound and hand it off to a sweaty guy with a big stick standing next to a round metal table that could catch water on fire.  After he woks it, he scrapes it off the metal table on to a plate and hands it back.   

I know it doesn’t sound appetizing, but it really is good and they have Bok Choy!  I don’t really like Bok Choy, but I love to say it, so I eat it regularly and look for excuses to fit it into conversations.   

For instance, “Last night, when I was eating Bok Choy, I developed a system for training squirrels to harvest elderberries.”   

So, Jay and I, being one of a very few people in line, took our time and created two separate masterpieces of food stuffs, then topped them off with a proprietary blend of sauces from the sauce stand.   

Once perfect, we handed them over to the sweaty guys for a searing.  While I was trying to get out of the way of the sauce stand, a family strolled up and monopolized the counter.  I realized a little too late that the smaller sweaty guy gave my perfect concoction to a short, old guy with a gray ball cap.   

I’m a short, old guy with a blue ball cap.  How could he screw that up?  

The big sweaty guy saw the handoff and yelled over to the gray hat guy who was making tracks for his table. Gray Hat Guy must have been worried about his place at the table, because he moved quickly and ignored Big Sweaty's barks.   

Big Sweaty apologized for the screw up and told me to go back, make another bowl and jump to the front of the line.  That’s just great, except there were now 300 people in line and NONE of them heard the instructions given to me.  

I went back and cut in line, grabbed a bowl and began my creation all over again.  I had to muscle in to the counter a few times to get my bowl built while 256 angry people tried to catch my shirt on fire with their stares.   

A little girl about 4 or 5 inches tall, with ESP was playing a Nintendo and decided to stand exactly where I wanted to squeeze in and take my visual abuse.  When I moved, she moved, but she maintained eye contact with the little video game.  I did a quick bob-weave and lost her when she collided with her mother’s leg.  Her mother apparently blamed me for this, and tried to edge me out of the meat section.  I saw the meat-restocker coming and used his unwritten right-of-way as an opening.  

Next, I reached over a short lady at the sauce stand and grabbed whatever I could reach.  It might have been Terriyaki or it could have been bacon grease, I was moving too quickly to get a good look.   

Finally, I got Big Sweaty’s attention and handed over the bowl.  I felt laser beams eating into the flesh of my left cheek. It was the short lady.   

I rapidly relayed my situation and recited Big Sweaty’s instructions.  For the first time in 2 minutes and 46 seconds, I felt compassion from another human being.   

To his credit, Big Sweaty indeed cooked it up pronto and handed it back. I plopped down in front of my son and looked over at the Gray Cap Guy.  He was eating like a starved coyote.  I knew it was good, but this guy was tucking in and glancing at the others in at the table as if he would stab a chop stick into them if they tried to get his goods.   

My second creation didn’t meet my strict standards (must not have been bacon grease), but it would get me by.  I considered going over to Gray Hat Guy to fish for a compliment, but that would have uncovered his dirty little secret in front of his family....  

In retrospect, it would have given me an opening to say "Bok Choy" a few times.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Crock Pot or Crack Pot

My wife bought ¼ of cow.  

I don’t know which ¼ she bought.  I don’t think I would be impressed by the answer.   

I decided it was time I learned how to use the Crock Pot.  I was assured over and over again (by various well-intentioned women) that the Crock Pot was easy.  

I do easy.  I pulled out the easy recipe that my neighbor gave me, and took an easy roast out of the easy freezer.   

The first instruction was to cut up the roast and remove the fat.  The thing was a block of ice.  I thought about breaking out the chisels and hammer, but decided that my chisels were too expensive to dull on a frozen cow, so I stuck the ice block in the fridge for a couple of days.   

When I broke it out again, there was a big puddle of blood making its way through the fridge.  

 Note to self: the butcher doesn’t use Zip Locks.   

The meat was properly ready for cutting, so I prepared the house and myself for cooking time.  I donned my apron, cranked up some AC/DC, and pulled out all the snacks in the cupboard.   

Next I got out a cutting board, and a big knife.  I pushed the meat around with my big manly knife awhile before deciding to sharpen it.  After a good sharpening, I made quick work of the cow parts, but ended up with a sink full of fat.  I'll have to see if the kids can use it for some arts and crafts project.  

The Crock Pot was on the top shelf in the pantry and I recalled that it weighed a couple hundred pounds, so I put on my ski helmet just in case it was going to give me trouble.   

In went the meat, carrots, celery, and….hmmmm. I couldn’t find the onion or potatoes.   

I called my wife, who reminded me that we already ate the potatoes.  I’m guessing the onion was a figment of my imagination.  She told me to call the neighbor.  I didn’t know that was allowed.  It’s like a “Get Out of Cooking Jail Free” card.  So I called AJ, who told me he used up his potatoes.   

Back to the fridge.  There were plenty of white things that could be replacements for the missing veggies, but I ruled out all of them on the basis that none of them were vegetables.  Then I found radishes.  Radishes are white, like potatoes and onions, AND they grow in the ground.  Win – win!   

In went the radishes. Then I added the spices as directed until I reached “pepper to taste”.  Okay, I’m NOT going to taste raw meat with pepper on it.  Why the heck would they tell you to do that?   

Lastly, I was supposed to pour a can of tomato soup on the whole thing.  In the pantry I found diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes… you get the idea.  No tomato soup.   

So, I did what any man would do - I used logic.  Tomato soup is simply two words put together: tomato (I’ve got those!) and soup (I’ve got that too!).  So I added some tomatoes, but decided, just before pouring in the Chicken Noodle, that it might clash with the radishes, so I left it out.   

As I popped on the lid of the easy Crock Pot, I looked at the final instructions on the recipe.  They called for 250 degrees for 5 hours.  There was no “250 degrees for 5 hours” button on my Crock Pot.  I checked… twice.   

I did find a button with three settings – Low, High, and Keep Warm.  I ruled out Keep Warm immediately, reasoning that raw meat which had been kept warm for 5 hours would only taste good to a coyote.  This left a coin toss for High or Low.  My nickel landed on tails... Low it is.   

Finally, for the time.  I hit the little up arrow until 5:00 showed up on the screen.  Nothing happened.  The timer didn’t start counting down. I couldn’t tell if it was on, I couldn’t find a Start button.   

I stood around for at least 2 minutes to see if I had punched in minutes instead of hours or days.  The timer changed to 4:58.  I took this as evidence that it would not cook for 5 days.  

I now have a messy kitchen, the snacks are gone, I don’t know if the food is actually cooking, and even if it does cook, I have a hunch that no one will eat it.  

 Maybe I should have put in the Chicken Noodle. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


From the Lost August Files
“It’s called ‘fishing’ not ‘catching’,” my friend reminded me.  

I was marveling at my son’s ability to throw his lure into the water over and over… with no bites… for hours at a time. 

 Watching a dead house-fly is more interesting. It seems to me that it would be more fun to replace the hook with a sparkly shiny thing that randomly explodes. 

Today, I took Jay fishing, and after two hours, he caught nothing and still didn’t want to go home. So, while Jay fished, I decided to walk down the trail, which I had spotted on the road to the lake.  

I found the trail quickly and discovered, within 100 yards, that the trail was actually a lure to trap humans in the woods… much like the type of trick that a scary movie bad guy would pull on a hiker for the purpose of killing him while screeching music plays in the background.   

The best thing to do would have been to turn around and watch Jay fling his hook at the water, so, of course, I continued walking into the thick woods of Fish Lake.   

I encountered no scary movie bad guys and there was no screeching music, but I did find Spiderwebville.  I’m not arachnophobic, but I’m also not a fan of spiders skittering across my clothes and skin looking for orifices.   

While pulling gobs of spider webs off of every square inch of my body, I took a sharp left out of Spiderwebville and ended up in Mosquito Town.   

Mosquito Town was not much better that Spiderwebville, but considerably better than Gnatland, which is the last township I visited.  During all two minutes in Gnatland, I managed to drown a number of gnats with my eyeball wetness and internal nostril moisture.   

They are still in there.  I can feel them. 

I gave up trying to dodge the webs, bugs, and bushes, and crashed back to the main road. I looked like the scary movie bad guy I was trying to avoid.  I was adorned, head to toe, with clumpy spider webs, which contained leaves, twigs, and insect skeletons. 

I removed my hat to clean it off and stood wondering how many living hitchhikers were still on my body.  I imagined a few of them were taking refuge in my underwear, but I decided dropping my pants in the road would end in a very awkward moment for me and the family toodling by in their mini-van.  Instead, I walked back to the pier leaving most of the bugs in Washington behind me. 

On the way back to the dock, I stopped by the Port-A-Potty and found out where all of the remaining insects of Washington were hanging out. I’ll take a wild guess that the majority of the population of the USA would rather relieve themselves on national TV news that lock themselves in that particular Port-A-Potty. 

With my bodily function mission aborted, I went to Jay to tell him we had to go.  I found him on the dock happily zinging a Rooster Tail into the murky water. 

As we were leaving, he picked up a dead trout floating next to the dock.  It had not rotted enough to make it unrecognizable as a trout, but it obviously wasn’t something to put on the grill. 

Jay looked around a bit, studied the fish a bit, then paused as if trying to decide if he should go through with whatever cool idea he had come up with.  A pregnant moment later, he tossed it back into the water for the next young fisherperson to pick up. 

I didn’t ask him what the alternative to tossing the fish away was.  I don’t want to know.  It’s better that way.