Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Neighbor Riley Talks to Outer Space

At first glance, my friend Riley seems normal. He lives in a normal neighborhood. His wife and two children seem normal enough. But if you spend more than fifteen minutes with him, you would notice something wasn't quite right.

One day I asked to borrow his weedeater. He grimaced so strongly I reached for my cell phone to call 911. But after a pause, though his grimace never quite left, he said, "Look, my weedeater isn't really a weedeater."

"But I saw you using it to eat weeds last week."

"That was a cover."

"Cover for what?"

"Can I trust you?" His eyes darted to his garage and back at me.  

"I'm pretty sure I can handle a basic weedeater."

"That's what I'm telling you." He leaned closer to me and raised a finger to make his point. He whispered, "My weedeater is more than what it seems. Can I trust you to not say anything to anyone?"

"About your weedeater?"

"Listen, my weedeater is really an antenna so I can talk to the space station."

"An antenna?"

"Right. I hook it up to my tool box."

"You're kidding."

"No, really. I'm dead serious." He poked me in the gut with his finger.

"I think there are only Russians up there now," I said.

"Trotski bulloski monotrilutski."

"What's that?"


"That was Russian?"

"Don't tell anyone."

"Does this mean I can't use your weedeater?"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Some Research is Stinky

I strive for accuracy, even when writing fiction. Research is as essential as water is to mud.

Sometimes research doesn't work out.

I wrote a children's novel about a young boy's encounter with fairies. To make sure I got it right, I purchased a book online-My Life as a Fairy. The postage stamp size book was too small to read. I couldn't turn the tiny little pages with my mortal person fingers. 

I placed an ad in the local paper asking for anyone who had seen or talked with a fairy to come forward for an interview. I received three responses.

The first was a woman who wore a long dress and seemed to glide when she walked. She didn't make a sound walking across a wooden floor. I'm not sure her feet touched the ground. Maybe she wore roller skates. She has conversations with fairies in her fairy garden every night. She invited me to spend the night with her drinking the fairy juice she makes in her basement and talking to the fairies. I graciously declined.

The second interview was with a big man, probably three hundred pounds. His arms were hairy and hair stuck out the top of the undershirt he wore.  Colorful tattoes were plastered over his body. He had a soft, tiny angelic voice.

He claimed fairies had saved his life when he crashed his motorcycle into a tree. The little ones had come with their little wash clothes and bandages and magic medicines and had healed him. The medicine changed his voice into a fairy voice. With tears in his eyes, he said in his tiny angry voice that shortly afterwards he was asked to leave the Hellion Bikers Club.

The last interview was with a young woman who had been a fairy in a previous life. In fact, she was the queen fairy. I think this may have been true because she was bossy. She kept telling me where to sit which  annoyed the other patrons of the coffee shop. "Sit, over there, no..."    

My latest attempt at research came from my book Address Unknown. The protagonist in Address Unknown creates an experiment for a science fair that causes havoc due to its smell. I needed to know whether or not his experiment really would cause such a stench. So I duplicated it in my back yard.

I placed leftovers from meals in small plastic containers like those for individual servings of yogurt. Then I poured in milk to fill each one and sealed them. I trembled at the potential for stink inside each of these innocent looking vessels. Then I placed them in the sun to bake and rot and ferment.

Ten days later I peeled off the first lid. The stench hit me like a bolt of electricity. I dropped the container and took rapid steps backwards. My eyes burned and I held my breath. I tried breathing by sipping air in through little openings I made with my lips. 

With stinging eyes and scorched lungs, I trembled from excitement at opening the other five. I wrapped a wet towel around my face and held my breath. I reached for the second, keeping it at arms length. I ripped off the lid. The putrid smell penetrated the towel, my clothes, my pores. I fought the urge to run far, far away. I was elated.

I pulled off the third lid and thought surely I will die.

I continued taking little short whimpy breathes. Each breath was as painful as pulling a tooth. I forced myself to sip in the stinky air. Ouch...ouch...ouch

Quickly, without thinking, I yanked off the three remaining lids. I didn't know you could see smell. A yellow, ugly, wavy cloud rose and spread through the neighborhood. 

Dog lovers know that dogs love foul smells and will roll, squirming with delight, on a dead rotted fish if they should be so lucky to come upon one.

Every dog within a three block radius lifted his muzzle to the heavens and howled. It was reported later that all dogs in the smell zone flopped on his back and wriggled in ecstacy. 

I couldn't see out of my red swollon eyes and I had been weakened by the lack of life-sustaining air. I felt my way to the back door and quickly slipped into my house and into good air. 

A few minutes later a white van pulled up. Two men in astronaut suits and holding some kind of smell meter walked slowly to my back yard-the meter pointing their way. I watched them pick up each container with three foot tongs and place them in hi-tech impervious urns. They drove off with never a word to me. 

I was proud and filled with my own scientific prowess. I had triumphed.

Some day, I feel sure, the neighbors will speak to me again.    

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Loving Cats Too Much

I have a neighbor who loves cats. Too much. She brings strays home and turns them loose on the neighborhood. For some reason they gravitate to my yard. I don't know why. Hope it's not the fish pond.

I felt sorry for them once and put out a saucer of milk. It was soy milk...with vanilla and multi-vitamins added. Cats, especially hungry cats, shouldn't be particular. A white liquid with the word "milk" in its name in a saucer should be good enough. They never touched it.

My deck has become their Playboy Mansion. I can't tell if their night howling is from ecstasy or pain. Maybe it's just me--I never can tell. After the third litter had been born in my yard and cat urine overpowered the honeysuckle, I decided the time had come to close them down.

I have some control of my back yard because it has a fence around it and I have some experience in making animals do what I want. The fence was an attempt to keep two black labradors and one brown cocker spaniel from destroying the neighborhood. This attempt turned out to be a challenge of the human intellect versus animal drive and passion. Drive and passion won. I hoped this time would be different.

I knew their two favorite places to enter the yard were from under the fence. I carefully blocked both openings and, after several failed attempts was successful in closing off their entryways.

I came home one night and squealed to a stop in the driveway as a cat was having his way with a feline in the spot where I park. He was built like a boxcar and was not about to stop. He glared at the car daring it to come any closer. He won. I retreated to the house whispering mia culpas for the interruption.

Yesterday I noticed a hole had been ripped into the fence at a different place.

Human intellect versus animal passion--passion wins every time.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Six Universal Laws of Vacationing with Grandchildren

I recently spent a week with three grandchildren ages two, four and six. Some of what I observed happened so frequently and consistently, I believe they must demonstrate basic truths of spending time with small children. I share them with you in the hope that you will benefit from my experience.

UL #1: Do not plan on sleeping in. Young children wake up fully wound up and ready to go. They do not need an alarm clock, wake-up call, or reason to get up early. Good luck with finding the time to brush your teeth and using the bathroom. If you're looking for a place to rent to vacation with small grandchildren, your first question should be, "Do the bathrooms have locks?"

UL #2: You cannot, under any circumstances, buy enough food. So you went to the store and bought enough food for a small city. Tomorrow you will need something else--not just anything else--something of unnatural importance, something you cannot be without, like air. The second question you should ask, "Is there a large grocery store nearby that is well stocked?"

UL #3: There are never enough adults. We had three adults and three children. The adults were hopelessly outnumbered. For one-half of a day we had five adults--that was a little better. No matter how many adults, the following will still happen: the two year old will disappear, he will climb somewhere the adults consider dangerous, he will run naked. The older children will crave your attention at the same time, will crave something to eat, drink, do, or watch. There will be moments when none of the adults will know where they are or what they are doing.  

UL #4: Grandmothers are indispensable. Grandfathers are fairly useless unless given a specific task by the aformentioned grandmother. Suggestion--if you're a grandfather without a wife--borrow, rent, kidnap, somehow find one to take along. Out of respect to other grandfathers out there, this may be my own personal law. You might have that innate ability to know what needs to be done and how to do it. I am missing that gene.

UL #5: PBS Kids is the best baby sitter when you need a few minutes to prepare a meal or take a break. All of the PBS Kids shows have a calming effect and teach things like words and numbers. I suspect PBS Kids has some kind of tricky thingamabob that sends out hypnotic rays from your TV screen to hypnotize kids six and under. I don't care. The peace it brings is better than a glass of wine. Two glasses of wine.

UL #6: A vacation with grandchildren is never as bad as Rules 1-5 make it sound. We played together, the two year old fell asleep in my arms, I held the four year old in my lap as we talked, and had some enlightening conversations with the six year old. I will cherish that week for a long time. And now I am wiser for next year. Of course they will be a year older and I'm sure will have a few new things to teach me.