Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kindergarten was Way Too Much Fun

So, way back in the day (around 1994 or so. Maybe '95. I was pretty young, and little kids have absolutely no sense of time. Seriously, try putting one in a small dark closet for two hours and see how long he thinks it was. Really, try it. Especially if they're the kind that cries loudly on an airplane.) I was in kindergarten. Not just any kindergarten, either; I was in public school kindergarten, which is the best kind of kindergarten, not counting all of the better ones that you actually pay for, and the ones in other countries where they actually teach the kids useful things like how to tie their own shoes.

So I was in kindergarten, and we had about twenty minutes of free time every day. I lived for that twenty minute period. I lived... for the blocks.

See, our classroom didn't have normal, tiny, puny, wooden toy blocks that most classrooms had. We had massive, manly blocks. The kind of blocks you could use to beat another child unconscious with. We had blocks that you could make into forts! Blocks that inspired the little tykes to go into architectural design and contracting! We built towers that breached the walls of heaven. Or at least went up a little higher than we could reach, and fell down with the sound of a lawsuit.

Of course, you couldn't get the blocks every day. Half of the days that side of the classroom was reserved for the other kindergarten class, and when it was our turn, you had to draw straws for it because it was the most popular toy.

By "draw straws" I mean, of course sprint to the block bin and lay on it until the other kids got tired of trying to pry you off and wandered away. Kindergarten was a brutal period of my life. It's where I got my killer instinct.

Anyway, one day I had won the right to the blocks fair and square, if you didn't count the part where I pantsed some poor fool who started out in front of me. But pantsing was allowed, as long as the teacher wasn't looking, so I got the blocks and everybody else could just suck it.

I immediately built a massive, impenetrable fort, reinforced with steel girders and the death of several workers. It was a squat, ugly thing, but it was mine, and I knew how to fix the ugliness.

The magic of interior decorating, and then exterior decorating as well!

One of the decorations I added was a medium sized dump truck. Now, one of the other kindergarteners had something of a thing for cars, and, as I was sitting in my fort, he walked up and began moving the truck back and forth. He didn't even remove it from the premises. He just did a little "vroom vroom" thing and acted like my fort was some sort of road.

Naturally, this chafed a bit. So I punched him in the face.

The next few minutes were a tad confusing. I remember being locked in a mortal struggle with him and trying to brace myself against a coat rack, but it didn't work because the coat rack had wheels, and then time out happened.

Time out lasted for a while. And then there was the talking to the parents, and the "apology" (I wasn't sorry. He was touching my dump truck.) and the "you're usually such a good kid why'd you do this" and a bunch of other stuff I'd rather not get into.

My mother took me to the grocery store that evening, and who should I meet but the very same jerk who had become intimately acquainted with my fist earlier that very day! He was hiding behind his mum.

But then, I was hiding behind mine.

They marched us over to each other, did the mom chat thing, and forced us to hug.

We were very best friends from that moment on. No, I'm not kidding.

The moral of the story is, if you don't have any friends, go out and punch somebody in the face.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More About My Mother

Look, I have about ten minutes before I have to be asleep or I am going to kill everybody on the road tomorrow in a huge fiery crash because I will be attempting to nap and drive at the same time, so what I am going to do is write as much as I can about my mother and when the ten minutes are up, I will stop, even if it is in the middle of a sentence.

My mother (like most mothers, I expect) enjoys telling embarrassing stories about me in front of people who I don't want to hear embarrassing stories about me. Naturally, I developed several different ways to combat this.

The first was the "no, mom, that was my sister, Kari. You're getting us confused again." I stopped using that one when I accidentally pulled it out on her "And then he peed all over me, while I was changing his diaper," story.

The second was "Mom, tell that story about the time I almost got mauled by a bear! That one's my favorite!" (Please note: You have already heard this story from me. My mother tells it better.) I stopped using this one when I thoughtlessly asked for it during a dinner conversation with a former zookeeper...

Who had been mauled by a bear and lost his leg.

The third was "Mom, they don't want to hear that. Tell something else, preferably about Kari."

I stopped using that one when we had a deaf person and her interpreter over for dinner.

These days, I sit back and take the embarrassment. It's just not worth the risk to stop it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fireworks In Kansas Are Twenty Six Percent More Fun

A fact which I proved using the scientific method.

So, as we have previously established, I have spent several summers in Kansas, where there are apparently no laws and anarchy rules. At least when it comes to fireworks.

I live in California, where, if you so much as snap your fingers too loud on the 4th of July, a SWAT team will materialize and stab you in the face until you are no longer a fire hazard. The laws we have on fireworks are more strict than a pile of nuns. An open flame from the summer solstice to the fall equinox is treated like the Devourer of Worlds. Basically, I didn't even realize that you could blow things up in a socially acceptable manner on Independence day until I went to Kansas, and the introduction to destruction they gave me was heart warming.

Well, to be more accurate, it was chest warming, because my shirt was on fire, but I'm getting to that.

The first summer I was in Kansas, it was too dry on the fourth to do much more than throw those dinky little poppers that crack when they hit the ground. It was depressing, especially since the family I was with had talked about the insanity that was going to happen and had shown me their "secret stash" of home made fireworks (which looked like a secret munitions dump, but I was too stupid to be worried). That night, though, a magnificent summer storm happened. It was like the sky itself objected to the lack of lights and loud noises and decided to oblige us. I have some of those lighting strikes burned in to my retina to this day, because they were so ridiculously bright, close, and beautiful. And then it poured a hot rain (another unheard of thing where I come from) for three hours, slightly flooding the yard.

I woke up on the fifth to an explosion. Not a big one, but big enough to jerk me out of a dream where I was chasing sheep and make me fall out of bed.

It was a bunk bed, and I was in the top bunk, so I wasn't going to back to sleep any time soon. I headed outside to see what had happened.

The sky was clear blue, puddles were on the ground, and the entire family of crazies were lighting things and throwing them at each other.

They had taken apart several strings of crackers, carefully separating the fuses and cutting them, so instead of a lot of bangs at once, they would light a single one and throw it.

There was no way to tell how long a fuse would burn before it went off. I had several go off in my hand less than a second after I lit it, which is why I'm typing this blog with only eight fingers, but there were a few that burned for a good five seconds after I had thrown them before going off.

There was relatively little risk when it came to getting hit with one, since most of the time they would either go off in the air before they reached you or bounce harmlessly off you and go off on the ground.

But I was good at timing. Even with a fuse that had exactly zero way to tell how long it would last, I managed to blow them up when they were close enough to feel fairly consistently.

This, naturally, annoyed my good friend.

They kept them in a bucket. You would grab a handful for ammunition, and when you ran out a cease fire was called and everybody went and got more.

I get Joey one too many times, and he grabs the bucket and tosses a match inside. I started running. He waited until they began going off, and threw them all at me.

It would have made an excellent slow motion scene, if my life was a movie. Stepping high as I sprinted away from him, the air itself exploding around me, I laughed and laughed...

When darkness fell, we began shooting off the big stuff. We shredded the sky with lights and sounds, and it was glorious. There was no patriotism. It was just the joy of stimulation.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Let me Tell You About The Time I Drove a Motorcycle Into an Electric Fence

Okay, so I know the title of the blog is plausible but (almost) entirblah blah blah etcetera hurf durf boof, so in order to make this story sound ever so slightly more believable, let me clarify a few things.

The electric fence was off.
It was a very small motorcycle.
I didn't actually die.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get to the legitimately fun stuff.

In Kansas, you are not a real person until you have done several phenomenally stupid things and have enough drunken tales to entertain a small nation. As you can probably tell, I am considered a real person in Kansas. However, I was not always this way. I used to be considered a bit of a bore, believe it or not. The moment I would open my mouth in order to tell somebody about how Popeye the Sailor Man's penchant for spinach was actually due to a missed decimal place in a study about the iron content of said vegetable (which is a true story, by the way) I would get pummeled until I stopped talking.

I'm a pretty stubborn talker, so these beatings would often last for five minutes or so, until I had finished my "fun fact."

Anyway, in an effort to either make me more interesting or kill me (I still have no idea which it was) I was taken out to the shop one day by a fellow four years younger than me and shown his "dirt bike." You may have noticed that I put quotation marks around the term "dirt bike." This is because what he was showing me was, in fact, garbage piled into the rough shape of a two wheeled deathtrap conveyance.

Let me clarify. Instead of a carburetor, this thing had a Folgers coffee can bolted to the frame. The throttle, as I would find out shortly, had two speeds (affectionately and accurately called "stop" and "go") and nothing the rider did would affect which speed the bike would decide to go at any given moment. It did have shocks, but they didn't work. The only way you wouldn't end up dead after sitting on that bike was through an act of God.

I wanted to ride it so bad. I would give anything. I would molest a moose if that is what it would take to get me on that bike and riding.

I didn't have to molest any moose. The kid looked me in the eye and said "want to drive it around?"

I said yes.

He started the thing for me (which involved kicking it in twelve very specific places, turning the handlebars at a difficult angle, and twisting my nipple) and I climbed on. He climbed on behind me, to my surprise, but before I could object, the thing decided it was time to go.

We missed the door by a good three feet, but that was okay, because the wall was pretty thin and easily repaired. I wrestled the thing out onto a nice straight road and punched it. Naturally, punching it didn't do anything, but eventually the planets aligned and the bike picked up some speed. It couldn't have been more than thirty five miles an hour or so, but it felt like we were blasting along at twelve thousand. I could hear the kid behind me shouting directions in my ear, and I tried to follow them as best as I could, but it was like trying to control a dinosaur; loud, terrifying, and chances are we would both be dead in moments.

Eventually, I guided it onto a track that may or may not have been meant for dirt bikes. I did a few laps, got a decent three inches of air, and decided I wanted to explore the countryside for a bit. Or maybe the bike decided that. I can't really remember anymore. What I do remember is hearing the words "You know there's a fence there, right?" from somewhere far behind me. I twisted around and the idiot kid had jumped off the back of the bike and was standing thirty feet back. I twisted forward and saw nothing but open prairie, just before I was clothes lined off the bike and into the dirt by a thin wire which should have sent several thousand volts of electricity through me but didn't, because, somehow, it was off.

The bike roared triumphantly and galloped off into the sunset. I got up, brushed myself off, and the very next time a party happened, I got pummeled significantly less.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Idiots and Scooters make for a Hilarious Combination

This is the story about one of the two times I broke a bone in my body.

Both of the stories are funny in their own ways, but one of them is more sad than funny, and I don't want to tell that one. Yet. Maybe if I get low on material.

Anyway, my Aunt and Uncle used to live in a pretty awesome house. My Aunt is an amazing decorator. She can have a house be spotlessly clean, and yet completely comfortable at the same time. I have never, ever seen somebody else able to pull this off. Either a house is filthy and cozy like a hibernating bear or clean and sterile like a needle.

My apartment is filthy and cozy, if you don't mind the smell. Personally, I blame the fugue on roommate, but he's been showering more often of late, so I'll have to come up with a different plausible excuse, instead of admitting the truth.

So, my Aunt and Uncle lived in a cool house. Right. They had a crawlspace that had a small stream running through it, where I used to catch crawdads. I'm pretty sure that it wasn't good for the foundation to be right over a small creek, but I wasn't a safety inspector, so whatever. They had a computer room that smelled of lemons and was always cold. They lived on a 45 degree slope.

In case you were wondering, that last part was the important bit. 45 degrees. If it were a professor, it would be a television one, with a truly stupid, impossible amount of graduations under his belt. Or a celebrity that solicits honorary degrees like most celebrities solicit sex and unspecified drugs. If it were a thermometer, it would either be extraordinarily hot or "pretty chilly," depending on where in the world the thermometer was from.

But it is neither of those things. It is a hill. A tall, steep hill.

And my Aunt and Uncle have a scooter.

Scooters are ridiculous things. Tiny wheels that can't even get the stupid thing over a bump in the driveway properly without scraping, a metal board, and a handle that comes up to your crotch if you happen to be really short. They are not designed to be fun, safe, or for any discernible purpose at all, in fact. They are, in fact, pointless kill machines that I personally believe Darwin himself invented in order to improve the human race.

As you may have guessed, I have felt the fury of an underestimated scooter.

I wore a helmet, which was a smart thing to do, stood at the top of this ridiculously tall hill, and let myself go with an abandon that emo teenagers and their razor blades would have envied.

I made it to the bottom going at approximately warp 7, smashed the brake with my back foot, and skidded for maybe twelve miles before coming to a full and complete stop. Completely unharmed.

It was awesome. So I did it again. Still made it to the bottom safely.

The third time, my brother saw me. He wanted to try.

A little more history is required here. The last time we had visited my Aunt and Uncle, my brother had broken his arm by falling off a bed.

I may or may not have pushed him.

The time before that, my sister broke her leg by falling down some stairs.

She may or may not have jumped after I dared her to.

Basically, when my Aunt and Uncle were around, I was an accidental psychopath.

So, not wanting anything bad to happen to my brother on this trip, the correct thing to do would have been to tell him no and to put the scooter away some place out of reach so he couldn't hurt himself.

Instead, I told him he totally could, but I had to come with him.

On a two foot long, three inches wide piece of metal. It was a tight squeeze.

I pushed off, and we began travelling fairly quickly. Wanting more control than I had, I reached with my back foot for the brake...

There was a person in the way. And then I realized how phenomenally screwed we were.

There was only one way to stop, and that was the ground, which was now whizzing beneath us faster than a commercial airliner equipped with Nitrous Oxide.

So there we were, travelling at a significant portion of the speed of light, with no brakes, down a hill so steep I was pretty sure we were going to leave the ground in moments. I only had one choice.

I bailed.

I hit hard and rolled, my helmet absorbing most of the impact my head would have suffered.

My brother wasn't wearing a helmet, but it was okay, because his head landed RIGHT ON MY FREAKING WRIST SNAPPING IT IN TEN BILLION PIECES.

And then he went and told mom, and I got in trouble.

Also, the doctor who set my wrist was a dirty filthy liar. Count of three my ass, you quack.

Hawaii Freaking HATES Lips. Straight Up LOATHES Them.

I have been to Hawaii twice in my life. If I ever go again, the entire time I'm there I'm going to wear a hockey mask and carry a machete. Being mistaken for a serial killer is a price I will gladly pay to protect my face from their foliage, which, innocent though most foliage be, poses more of a threat to our national security than Bin Laden, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, and your mother combined. Let me explain why.

I was no more than knee high to a midget when I had my first run in with the deadly spike flail tree of ultimate horror (probably not the scientific name, but accurate all the same.) There I was, young, idealistic, and, like most children of my age, completely unaware of the malevolent nature of trees.

Picture, if you will, a small blonde haired idiot dancing merrily through some tall grass, kicking butterflies and trying to tag his sister. Suddenly, he disappears, and when he stands up, he is spurting blood from his upper lip like some sort of macabre fountain.

From my point of view it went something like this: "La de dah *kick* la dah de dah *almost tag* la la de *trip on evil bit of long grass that intentionally wrapped itself around my ankle* *FREAKING THORN COVERED LOG HEADED TOWARD MY FACE* AAAAAAH *impact*."

A thorn went all the way through my lip. I had to wear a massive patch of gauze that made me look like the rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

On the plus side, I got my lip pierced when I was five. There's not many people that can say that.

I still have the scar. I'll show you sometime, if you'd like.

Now, a single, isolated incident does not necessarily mean that Hawaii has a vendetta against every lip on every person in the whole world, including the babies. But I'm not done with my story.

I went back to Hawaii years later. One morning, at around five oclock, my father and I had this conversation.

"Hey, Luke, want to go bike down a volcano?"

"Not right now, Dad, I'm having a nightmare."

"You're awake. How can you be having a nightmare?"

"It's a horrible nightmare, Dad. Somebody is trying to wake me up to go and bike down a volcano at five oclock in the morning, while I'm on vacation."

"Very funny. Get up. We're going to go on a bike ride, down a volcano."

"See? It's one of the worst nightmares I've ever had."

"You have until the count of three, and then I'm getting a large amount of very cold water, and you won't like what happens next."

"If I didn't have a choice in the matter, why did you even bother asking?"

"Because I'm nice, and like you to have the illusion of free will sometimes."

Anyway, we rent some bikes and drive to the top of this volcano. I'm in a sort of nether realm where I keep fading in and out of consciousness. Sometimes it's just a normal volcano, and sometimes it's mount doom, or a massive dragon spewing smoke into the atmosphere. My dad is happily chatting the whole way up, and his banal conversation forms a sort of discordant soundtrack to my delirium.

When we reach the top, we climb on the bikes and begin down.

Immediately I realize that we've made a terrible mistake. We're biking over volcanic rock that's sharp enough to make falling extremely uncomfortable, but not quite sharp enough to puncture the tires, which means I can't call off our ride down due to an equipment malfunction. That's a shame, but at least it wasn't that steep.


At first we're above the point where plants can grow, but as we make our way down, more and more foliage starts to appear. Soon, we're biking through a veritable forest, at an angle spider-man himself would have difficulty with.

Then, up ahead of me, I see my father disappear.

As it turns out, he braked a little too hard on his forward brake, rather than his rear, and ended up face planting into a tree.

Guess what kind of tree?

I had to pull the thorn out of his lip, which would have been a switch, had he pulled the thorn out of mine all of those years ago. He hadn't, but wouldn't that have been awesome? I did my "I told you so" dance when we got to the bottom.

I like to think that the tree trunk I had taken a spill on all those years ago had stood up and slowly climbed a volcano, waiting for my return. Fortunately, it missed me. This time.

And that's why, the next time I go to Hawaii, I'm taking a machete with me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Let Me Tell You About My Mother

I had a yo yo once. It was green. It was the best yo yo in the whole world. I could walk the dog, do around the world, and even (once) a rock the baby. I had paid for it with my own money, gained from doing more chores than Hercules himself, and I never wanted it to leave my sight.
Unfortunately, I did. I left it on the coffee table once. Just once. That was all she needed.
I was out of the room for perhaps three minutes. Tops. But mothers have this sense about things, and she needed some chores done.
My yo-yo got yo-knapped.
“Mother? Have you seen my yo-yo?”
“Yes dear, but you’ll never see it again unless you clean your room.”
I was angry. I was very angry. I pulled the “But it’s MINE!” card. She countered with “it’s mine, now, until your room is done.” I tried a “But my room IS clean. Except for the clothes. And the toys. And the dirt. And I guess the bed isn’t made. But it’s not THAT BAD!” This one was kind of weak, but if “Mine!” didn’t work, nothing would, and I was basically just investing against further incursions upon my property by making things difficult this time around.
So we went back and forth for a few minutes, and then I went and cleaned my room. It didn’t take long, but by the time I had finished, she had time to draw up a whole LIST of horrible things, including vacuuming.
I can’t stand vacuuming. I can’t even stay in the house while somebody ELSE is vacuuming. The sound, the smell, and the banality of it repulse me.
But it was a green yo yo, and I wanted to try another rock the cradle. So I vacuumed. And did the dishes. And wiped down the table. And picked up the dog poop. And cleaned the bathroom. And did every single chore on that list. It took me HOURS. Do you know how long hours are in kid minutes? It’s like YEARS! DECADES! MILLENIA!
But I finally finished them all, and to my mother’s satisfaction. Finally she’d have to relinquish the yo yo, and it would never leave my sight again. I would figure out a way to fit it underneath my eyelids so I could sleep without fear of getting it snatched away in the night.
But my mother had another trick up her sleeve. “Go and make me a coffee.”
“That wasn’t on the list.”
“I don’t care. Go and make me a coffee.”
“But… I did… you said I could have the yo-yo back when I finished.”
“Are you talking? Because it’s hard to talk to me when you’re in the kitchen making coffee, and I know that’s what you’re doing because if you aren’t then the yo-yo’s going into the blender.”
She was the most evil person on the planet right then. Sauron couldn’t lift a ring bearing finger to her. Stalin himself would have shaved off his beard if she had asked him to at that moment. But I was mad. She had never asked me to make coffee before, and I was determined not to if I didn’t have to, and if I did have to it would be absolutely horrible coffee. I would make the opposite of good coffee. I would make coffee so bad that Columbian bean growers would stand up in the middle of the field and go “Somebody is making extraordinarily bad coffee right now.”
It would be so bad, that they would say it in English, even if they didn’t know English. 
Or I could just use some of the cold, stale coffee still in the pot from that morning. That would work too, and get me my yo-yo faster.
I brought my mother her coffee. I hadn’t even bothered to heat it up. When I handed her the mug, the look on her face was nothing short of astonishment. “You actually made me coffee?” she asked.
“It’s what you asked for, mother.” I replied sweetly. “Can I have my yo-yo now?”
“Hold it.” she said, and dipped her finger in what was supposed to be scalding hot bean water.
“Nope.” she said. “Go. Make. Me. Coffee. I didn’t say bring me coffee. MAKE IT.”
I protested more. I threw a fit. I started to cry. I cried harder. I howled. I was inconsolable. Finally, my mother had to roll her eyes and say “I hid your yo-yo in the pot where we keep the coffee beans.”
It was such a sweet reunion. I tossed it twice, managed to sleep it once, and then accidentally gave it too much slack and it shattered against the tile floor.
I guess that’s what you get with a yo-yo from the dollar store.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Day I Met a Bear

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up, take a seat, grab a blanket and a bowl of popcorn, because I’m about to tell you about the day I met a real live bear.
And I’m not going to cheap out on you and tell you about the time I went to the zoo. No sir, no ma’am, there was nothing in between this bear and I but air. And a lake. But it wasn’t a big lake, and science has proven that bears swim better than Micheal Phelps. Freestyle, at least. They have a bit of trouble with the butterfly, and don’t even talk about the breast stroke.
Bears are terrible at the breast stroke.
Anyway! I was at Diabetes Camp, somewhere in the wilderness of…
I don’t actually remember where. All I know is we got in a car, drove for a long time, and ended up in a place where there were trees and we had to sleep outside.
Let me tell you about Diabetes Camp. I don’t have diabetes. Honestly, I don’t. It’s not one of my many faults. And yes, it is a fault. I’m not going to sugar coat it for people who do have diabetes. People with diabetes suck. Wandering around, all “my pancreas doesn’t work due to a genetic defect!” and expecting us to feel sorry for them. WELL I DON’T! Your reign ends today, diabetics! From now on, you must take a SHOT OF INSULIN EVERY TIME YOUR BLOOD SUGAR IS OUTSIDE OF THE NORM! HOW DOES THAT FEEL, HUH?
I’m kidding. Diabetics are cool. Except when you get them all together at a camp in the middle of nowhere. Then they turn into monsters. “Luke, take this saline shot so you know how it feels to be a diabetic.” “But I’m not a diabetic.” “Shut up and stick this needle in your arm for no reason!”
Or “Luke, we’re doing a talent show and you’re in it!” “What? No I’m not. When is it?” “It’s right now you’re on stage haha look they’re all laughing at you for being NORMAL!”
Actually, talent show night was kind of fun. I recited poetry badly and people clapped politely because I was a little kid who thought he was a hot shot and they didn’t have the heart to boo me off the stage.
The person who performed before me left two quarters on the ground, and the entire time I was reciting my poetry I was wondering if it would be rude to collect those. I didn’t, but the guy who came right after me did, and everybody was okay with it. Ah, missed chances. I could have had two more gumballs. Oh well.
I mentioned the sleeping outside, didn’t I? A tarp was required, because if you didn’t use a tarp, you got soaked with dew.
I think something is wrong with your camp when a tarp is required just to sleep. And yeah, some people claim that you’re not doing it RIGHT until a tarp is required to sleep, but they’re crazier than most diabetics. Besides, I was, like, eight.
I think I promised you guys something… what was it?
There was a fishing spot a little way outside the campsite. It looked like somebody had cut out a description from Huckleberry Finn and stuck it in the wilderness for me to find. The second day at camp I went to the nearest store and bought a bamboo fishing pole. The only thing I needed to make the cliche complete was a straw hat, but, unfortunately, they were sold out of those and to this day I do not own a straw hat.
My birthday is coming up, by the way. *cough cough*
So, I spent a few hours out of every day dangling this line in the water, not catching anything but that was okay because at least there weren’t any diabetics nearby, trying to stick unnecessary needles in me.
One of these days I heard something crashing around in the bushes across from my fishing spot. Expecting that they had finally found me, I put my jacket on (because it’s harder to stick a person when they’re struggling AND they have a thick jacket on) and shouted an inquiry as to the nature of the person across the pond.
What peeked out of the bushes at me was almost as bad as what I had expected.
It was a ceeeute little bear cub.
I hightailed it out of there so fast I left my bamboo rod behind, and my nonexistent straw hat spinning in the air as though it were in a Warner Brother’s cartoon.
I found the nearest adult, let him put a few saline needles in me to calm him down, and told him about the baby bear. He took off running, too.
Eventually, somebody brave was found, and they found a pickup truck, and the cub was chased away with several tons of screaming steel rolling merrily behind him, probably creating a serial camper killer in the process but successfully saving a camp full of diabetics who probably deserved devouring.
And I never went fishing again.
Except for that one time when we almost caught a Marlin the size of the Leviathan.
And that other time we almost caught a catfish that was also pretty big.
And that other time.
Okay, yeah, I’ve been fishing a few times since. But I always check the bear forecast first!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Fourth Grade Teacher was More Insane than Your Fourth Grade Teacher

I remember several things about fourth grade. I did exactly zero homework, no matter how much was assigned (because I really, really hated the things he assigned. They were called XLs and their gimmick was they were 11 by 24 inches of demonic runes, twisted with curses and beaten into the rough shape of numbers which barely formed themselves into equations, which we had to solve in order to save our souls. I said “screw it, if you want my soul that badly, you can have it,” the second week in and didn’t do another XL [or “excel.” This is what happens when mathematicians think they’re clever! This is what happens when they try to make puns like REAL PEOPLE!] for the rest of the grade. I still don’t know why I didn’t fail. Oh wait! I remember now! We’ll get to that in this story!), he loved ghost stories, and I messed up somebody’s joke once.
The joke story has to go first, because it was pretty great.
Here is how it was supposed to go:
A fellow would walk up to you and ask “Hey, what were you eating under there?”
and you would reply with “Under where?” which sounds a bit like “Underwear,” so they would then go “EEWWW GROSS YOU EAT UNDERWEAR?” and everybody would point at you and laugh as you discovered that society as a whole was worthless and irredeemable, and decided to become a super villain when you grew up.
The only reason that I am not a super villain right now (and maybe I am, you don’t know, do you?) is because the day somebody tried to pull it on me, I had sneaked (snuck?) corn nuts into class and had spent most of the class methodically dropping my pencil, reaching down to pick it up, and sneaking a few of the salty, honestly pretty disgusting snacks into my mouth underneath my desk.
So it went like this. “Hey Luke, what were you eating under there?”
“Corn nuts.”
“No… what were you eating under there?”
“I was eating corn nuts under there.”
“Under where? Wait! DANGIT!”
It was pretty funny.
Anyway. Fourth grade teacher. Loved ghosts. Our field trips weren’t to museums or water parks. He’d take us to places where ghosts had been spotted and try to get us to see them. He’d point behind us and yell “Did you guys see that?” He took us to preserved Indian villages (run by old white people). He showed us carvings and then told us that the previous time he was here the carvings were different. He took us to a magic spring that would grant immortality to our souls and then forbade us to drink the water because it might have bacteria in it. He even took us on a hike up a mountain on the hottest day of the year. When we were three quarters of the way up he set up a checkpoint to make sure that none of us were dehydrated. About half the class failed and had to wait and drink and pass out for a bit before they could go to the top. I wasn’t one of them.
He wrote a book about ghosts.
He insisted that there was a haunted elevator in the middle school nearby.
And he passed me when I did almost no work at all even a little bit in his class.
All is forgiven.

My Fifth Grade Teacher was Almost as Crazy as my Fourth Grade Teacher

That title doesn’t make a lot of sense, so let me qualify it.
My fourth grade teacher spent most of his time attempting to convince his class of ten and eleven year olds that the middle school most of them were going to (including me) was infested by the ghosts of Indians buried beneath it. Specifically the elevator.
You’ll hear more about him some other time.
Meanwhile, I’d like to talk about my fifth grade teacher, who was also crazy, but not so much and in a better way. His first name was Kerry, and I won’t tell you his last name because that’s just not a nice thing to do online. Still, a dude with the first name Kerry… Ryan is worse, obviously, but Kerry? I expect he was teased relentlessly. As in, his teachers themselves were getting in on the action. His substitute teachers would be all “Kerry? Is Kerry here today?” and he would raise his hand and they’d be all “Yes, little boy? Do you know where she is?” and he’d be all “I am Kerry.” and they’d say “Very funny. Is she here? Anybody know?”
After a while of him insisting that he was Kerry, they’d send him to the school psychiatrist, and by that point, he’d probably need it.
He was in the Air Force reserves while he was our teacher. Nobody teased him anymore.
I had so much fun in his class. I had a special seat in the middle of the classroom, perfectly situated so the transparency projector thing was directly in between his face and mine, so he couldn’t tell where I was looking or whether I was paying attention or not. I think he approved of this, honestly, because I was aweird kid. He once asked me why I was sucking on my arm. I told him it was because if I had a hickey, the vampires couldn’t get me. I remember getting a solemn nod for that one, because it made perfect sense.
Because of the thing that obscured his line of sight to my eyes, I would basically read books every single day for hours. Occasionally he’d ask me a question and I’d get it right (or, sometimes, wrong, but whenever that happened I tended to come up with elaborate explanations for why I was right. He eventually stopped correcting me.) but I never really paid much attention. Once or twice he caught me reading and made a big show about it by taking my book away, but I always had three or four spare ones tucked away in my desk or backpack. Besides, the books he caught me reading were so far beyond the reading level of the rest of the class I’m sure he felt slightly guilty denying an eleven year old the pleasures of Wodehouse when teachers find difficulty getting high schoolers to read it, much less fourth graders.
Hm. Looking back on it, he WASN’T all that crazy. In fact, now, it seems like he was a pretty cool guy. Why did I think he was crazy?
Oh! Right! The Stink Bomb Incident!
Somebody set off a stink bomb during class. Kerry stopped class immediately, declared that he would find the culprit and they would pay dearly for their transgression.
The culprit, by the way, was not me. I had never found stink bombs very funny, but that was probably because I could never get my hands on one.
Anyway, Kerry demands complete silence, reaches into his pocket, and pulls out a matchbook. The entire class naturally assumed that he was going to start lighting children on fire until one of them confessed, or perhaps do the more sensible thing, find the culprit, and then light just him on fire. Instead, he lit the match, held it up, and started walking around the perimeter of the room, staring at the flame.
It felt like a wiccan ritual, which I had just been reading about. I started to chant a curse shield under my breath, just in case.
The match burned down and Kerry shook it out, probably cursing inside his head. He turned to us and said “That should have… When a flame comes into contact with the gas… let me try again.”
He didn’t elaborate. He simply lit another match.
Now the entire class was assuming that once he got close to where the stink bomb was set off, the flame would blossom into a glorious pheonix and claw the perpetrator’s eyes from his evil head.
At least that’s what I was assuming. Everybody else was probably just hoping for an explosion. Or maybe for the flame to change color.
None of that happened. The second match burned out, and then a third, and then the smell was basically gone and whoever did it was safe. Class resumed with a minimum of grumbling, and that was from Kerry himself.
To this day I have no idea who it was. Maybe it was just the overweight fellow in the front row who had eaten a little too much Taco Bell at lunch.
One day, I’m going to go out and get a stink bomb, just so I can see what happens to a flame when it goes off. It’s been something that has bothered me for years.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ryan the Teeny Tiny Terror

My middle name is Ryan, and I always resented my parents for that. I kind of want to change it to Rook, but there wouldn’t really be much point. I thought it sounded like the sort of name you give a crazy person, and I was totally justified in thinking that. Ryans are crazy.
Seriously, if your name is Ryan, stay away from me, you’re totally insane. Guaranteed. If I ran a mental hospital, I would have a troupe of security guards secretly kidnap people named Ryan and put them all in a nice room with bouncy walls and see how long it took them to break out using their combination of devious genius and terrible insanity.
There were two Ryans in my elementary school. The first was a math savant who just happened to have a host of psychological problems. We used to make fun of him by singing the ABCs under our breath as we walked by him and watching him freak out.
Now that I think about it, if everybody around me spontaneously started whispering a children’s song, I would freak out, too.
Actually, somebody get me the number for Hollywood. If we start now, we can have this horror movie out by Halloween! Instead of another host of sequels, we can have a completely original script (c) the Ryan Corporation that itself can spawn hundreds of sequels! In the first, a man hears the ABCs whispered every moment of every day and it slowly drives him insane! In the next, it’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! And then Baa Baa Black Sheep! Oh man, those movies would be FREAKY!
Where was I? Oh yeah! Ryan the Insane but Brilliant Math Wizard. Naturally his tormentors (me included, because, as previously covered, I was a bit of a jerk. Okay, a huge jerk. Okay, a quantum jerk that somehow managed to not get shot repeatedly in the face for 20 years, and I still don’t know how.) didn’t know about his brilliance. We just assumed he was a special ed student that somehow slipped past the tests, and we put him through enough psychological torture that Geneva itself would have been perfectly fine if somebody accidentally water-boarded us in return, with a small side of car battery nipple clamps. Then I caught a glimpse of his math time trials in passing. We had one every week, and it took most kids two months to pass a single one. Ryan had never failed. Not even once.
I thought I was hot stuff because I had made it to multiplication before the rest of the class was out of subtraction, and Ryan was somewhere in the realm of calculus. In first grade.
I didn’t make fun of him after that. I didn’t DEFEND him, but I didn’t make fun of him. Like I said, I was a quantum jerk.
Enough about Ryan. Let’s talk about Ryan. This kid was incredible. I’m not sure how enough venom to make a cobra stop, look around, and say “whoah.” got into a person that small. Maybe it was something to do with the fact that his parents were getting a divorce, since one was a dwarf great white shark and the other was a midget bear and, try as they might, they just couldn’t work out the differences. He was giving sixth graders wedgies when he was still in diapers (which isn’t saying all that much. He wasn’t fully potty trained until 4th grade. Neither was I, but that’s a story for another time.) and abusing his needy girlfriends before he had even heard of puberty (again, not saying much. He failed sex ed twice.). He was short, he was mean, and I sprayed mustard all over his favorite sweatshirt.
It was an accident. I was messing around during lunch one day, and a friend of mine had a packet of mustard that neither he nor the four people nearest him could open. Thinking the packet invincible, I snatched it from the nearest fellow, laid it on the table, lifted my fist as high as it would go, and brought it down hard.
Apparently, this packet’s Achille’s heal was being punched by an idiot. It let out the most glorious spurt of mustard-blood I have ever seen.
You see, Ryan was sitting across the lunchroom/auditorium. Hitting him with mustard should not have been possible without some sort of bug in the physics engine that runs the universe, but every drop of that mustard ended up somewhere on him, without a single person between the two of us even getting a splatter. I felt one single moment of elation that I had just sprayed foodstuff on a person I didn’t like, (which is an extraordinarily cathartic act. Try it on your coworkers tomorrow!) but then I experienced the fastest turn around from elation to horror ever, before instant sober pills will be invented.
Because we locked eyes, Ryan and I, and I knew I was dead.
He cornered me later that same lunch period, pushed me up the wall, and asked my belly button why I had ruined his favorite sweatshirt. It was a rhetorical question.
I began blubbering like an overweight whale, and they have a LOT of blubber. I was sobbing so hard I could barely stutter out that it was an accident and that I didn’t mean to and something about my hand slipping, which I’m not sure why I said because my hand most certainly did not slip.
Ryan was completely speechless. I don’t think he had ever made a person cry before just by asking them a question, and he was kind of at a loss. Instead of beating me down like a dirty rug, he gave me a hug and told me it would be alright, it was fine, it wasn’t actually his favorite sweatshirt and he had a few just like it and his midget bear mother could probably get the stain out anyway.
And that’s how I got out of getting beaten down by the shortest, meanest person I have ever known. I used humiliation again.
I am like a humiliation squid. Whenever danger threatens, I just squirt it everywhere and pick up the gift cards and hugs just lying around in the aftermath.