Friday, January 28, 2011

Michelle, think. What does growling lead to in nature?

This post is brought to you by my little sister, Michelle Berry. She is almost as goofy as I am. She wanted to share a story so others could learn from her misfortune. Pay attention. This is valuable stuff. Some minor editing and cartoons were done by me, but she gets credit for the story.

I wanted to tell you about one of my life lessons. This story is full of foreshadowing, but, as I was in the midst of it, I couldn't see those glaring clues.

A couple months ago I went to a nice Christmas Boutique with my mom. There was a cute little boy there who growled at me. Those of you who know two year old little boys also know that they love to play the growling game.

What is the growling game? Are some of you unaware of this great toddler invention? Well, it is when an adult (me) and a child battle our growling prowess back and forth until the loser forfeits. Either the little boy gets bored and goes away or I get annoyed that a two year old is beating me and I storm off. In fact, my favorite past time with my nephew, Wubzilla, is the growling game.

Is it cruel of little Wubzilla's parents to nick name him that? Perhaps, but you would understand if you saw him. He is a blond haired blue eyed sumo wrestler in a two year old's body. He even does the legs shoulder width apart stomping thing that sumo's do. His parents call it his happy dance.

However this story is not about Wubzilla, but this little boy at the Boutique. There were huge clue's that the growling game was not such a good idea with this little boy. I ignored those clues, but will point them out to you as I go. Hindsight and all. Do not make my mistake!

1st. Clue: We were at a fancy Boutique where the ladies were dressed in designer clothing, wearing fancy jewelry and bedazzled purses. This boy was wearing a diaper. That's it. No socks, no shoes, nothing but a very distressed looking diaper.

2nd. Clue: This little boy was no pleasantly plump Wubz. He was a lean mean growling machine. I'm even tempted to say he was Rambo's illegitimate love child.

3rd Clue: When it was Rambo babies turn he added a very aggressive scratching/clawing motion to accentuate his growling.

So, after a few minutes of the growling game, Rambo boy charges toward me.

I, still oblivious to the danger, think "Aww, how cute he wants to give me a hug." He did hug me for about two seconds.

Then he proceeded to bite my right butt cheek HARD!

Maybe I should have noticed the evil glint in his eyes, but I am naive and paid the price with perfect little kid teeth marks on my right cheek and a bruise that lasted a week.

So, life lesson learned. DO NOT play the growling game with strange little boys!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Fruit Room and Dread are Synonyms

My grandparents lived through the depression. This era forever altered their perception of what had value. During the depression, if you could reuse something, you did. You saved what little you had. I count myself lucky to not have lived through those tough years. As difficult as we now view the current economic times, they pale when placed next to building a house out of railroad ties and scrimping for the bare necessities.

Saving everything becomes more of a problem once you have more to save. You would think treasures would be found hidden in the depths of their house, but, for the most part, the things we discovered buried in the recesses of my grandparent's house were strange, frightening, or downright gross.

Don't get me wrong. I loved my grandparents. I loved to visit them. I loved their weird half bird half dog creature, Tina. She will appear in later posts. Their backyard was magical, filled with raspberries, tall grass, sour apples, and mysterious dark corners.

As I've gotten older, I do begrudge them a little that their hording blocked off access to the top floor. I barely knew it existed. Yes, I saw the windows and I have a dim memory of stairs, but those stairs dissappeared. I imagined there must have been some secret passageway to that area that I stumbled upon when I was younger. The upstairs lived in my mind as the domain of elves and gnomes, where unicorns fought dragons on lush fields of grass. The dusty old rooms I found later on as we pulled the stacks of boxes down nearly made me cry.

I had thought the door next to the bathroom was a closet, filled with stacks of paper plates, old raincoats, twisted wire hangers, broken toys. The stairs so blanketed with the ever so important objects that even the memory of them fell away to myth. Now, I think it would have been nice to use guest bedrooms and extra bathroom that lay above, rather than sleep in the freezing front room on the floor or curled up in the warmer TV room.

I remember the appalled looks on my grandparents faces when I tried to throw things away that they deemed worthy of safeguarding. I remember the weevils in the cereal boxes that came from the basement, sporting pictures of athletes I had never heard of. I remember the ramen that must have come from Ancient Mesopotamia with flavors that no one remembers mushroom and locust (the locust may be an exaggeration).

If the upstairs lived as some heavenly elf filled kingdom of light in my mind, the basement embodied the opposite. The darkness in the basement felt alive, tangible. I would hop the last steps on the way down and sprint up them in terror. Unfinished and uncarpeted, those steps breathed malice from the void beneath them. I felt certain that something lived there and would pull the unsuspecting boy or girl in to devour them. This may have been something my older brothers said to me or just my overactive imagination. I do not recall.

At the bottom of the stairs sat an unfinished basement full of stacks of this and that. We explored it during the day and avoided it at night. The basement also held the fruit room, a dank, dark, windowless room full of fifty years of food storage. One lone light bulb illuminated the depths, but you had to enter the room in the dark, walking through cobwebs to get to the light. As kids we would dare each other to stay in the room alone and in the dark for as long as possible. I don't think I ever made it past five or six seconds.

Then my grandparents passed away. We had to clean out the house. This included the unknown upstairs, the shed that had dissolved in on itself, and the fruit room.

We did some of the easier rooms first, finding marvels like twelve bags full of the rings that come off milk jugs when you open them. I do not know why they saved those. I could think of no use for them, even with my crazy imagination. My little brother and I were volunteered to start on the fruit room.

We put on masks, gloves, protective clothing and stepped into the nightmare of old bottles, rat droppings, half eaten boxes of cereal (from the inside out), and who knows what other toxic substances.

At first we looked at bottles and tried to guess what was in them. Tomatoes were easy. The acidity ate through the lids and the liquid crawled out, gave way to mold, and eventually dried out.
It reminded me of things I'd seen on Alien and later on Dreamcatcher.

I picked up another jar and looked at it for several minutes, trying to deduce what the grey blobs inside might have been.

I think they were peaches once upon a time.

I picked up another and, for the life of me, I could not figure them out. I stared and stared at the swollen bubbles inside. Brown bulbous things floating in brackish liquid. What had bubbles slightly smaller than marbles? What could this possibly be? I nearly dropped the bottle when I put it together.

"Holy crap! They're raspberries!" I yelled to my brother. "I may never eat raspberries again." I still have issues with canned fruit.

My brother and I carefully pulled each bottle and gingerly placed it in the dumpster. After about an hour of moving bottles of unknown substance, we started to care less how we placed them, throwing the bottles in and watching them shatter and splatter everywhere. Goo fell on our clothes and our masks, but we were too numb and too beyond revolted to care. We morfed into robots. Enter fruit room, pick up disgusting thing, cary disgusting thing out, throw it in dumpster, watch as it splatters us in filth, go back to fruit room, repeat process. Grey green liquid leaked out of the bottom of the dumpster and crawled off to the garage where it could breed nightmares or whatever ancient fruit decay breeds. We didn't care.

Another surprise waited for us in the fruit room, a chest freezer full of meat. The freezer had lost power sometime in the last four decades. Do you know what happens to meat in a sealed container for forty years? neither. I don't want to know, but I imagine it turns into some kind of meat pudding and then grows bacteria. The bacteria then continues to grow unaffected by the outside world until they evolve into super intelligent and intensely foul smelling single celled beings. They build their tiny rocket ships, wage wars, live, love, and die in the microcosm of the meat goo in the chest freezer as the rest of the world goes by unaware.

We pulled the freezer out and started to push it up the stairs out of the basement, somewhat happy in our productivity.
My strong, older brother took the bottom and pushed as we maneuvered it up the steps. It was heavy and we were tired. What happened next will live in infamy for all time. Someone slipped and the freezer rocked back. My brother's hand slid up the slick surface and popped the lid open as he leaned forward to put his shoulder against the freezer. This placed his head right there, right in the middle of all the microscopic breeding and meat goo.

I imagine the gas cloud. I don't remember seeing it, but what else would come out of the freezer? Not a splash of cool fresh air and daisies. I can tell you that much. My brother choked out a scream and let go of the freezer. The lid popped shut, but, with no one pushing, it slid down the steps and took out the sliding door.

We took a break and cleaned up the glass as my poor brother dry heaved away in a corner. We then used an entire roll of duct tape on the freezer lid and finished the job.

I used to argue with my brother that my job that day was worse. I moved thousands of bottled nastiness out to the dumpster, brown and grey goop splattering on my clothes. I dug through hantavirus infected piles of grains, cereal, flour, and who knows what else. I am permanently altered by the experience.

Now, I tend to agree with him that he got the worst of it. I spent hours in filth and he spent only a couple seconds with his head in the meat freezer, but imagine what that might have been like as the intelligent bacteria launched their biological weapons at the intruder and then marched to war through his nostrils.

I'm not sure what the meat bacteria may have done to him. I've watched and waited. He survived, thankfully. He has yet to develop super powers though...unless the ability to clutter, blow a straw wrapper at me every time we eat out, or screech like a banshee when he hiccups are his lame super powers. I also keep constant vigil in case the bacteria took over his brain and are now intent on claiming the planet as their own. So far, world domination does not seem to be on the menu...but I keep my eyes open.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The best camping trip, ever!

This is going to be a long one, but I've made a lot of pictures to go along with it. So, it should be just as awesome as you all have come to expect...maybe even more so.

After I had lived in Salt Lake for a little while, some friends and my brother decided we should go camping. We piled a bunch of food and stuff in our cars and took off. Everyone designated me as lead car even though I still didn't know the wilderness areas very well. We took off up a canyon with high hopes of finding the perfect spot.

I grew up in St George, Utah. St George is one of those little towns where if you drive up a canyon you will run into some dirt roads. Follow a dirt road and you will find another smaller dirt road. Follow that dirt road and next thing you know you have stumbled across a beautiful camp spot with a stunning view of the valley below, usually in less than twenty or thirty minutes of driving. This had happened for me a thousand times.

Salt Lake is not like St George. We drove for a good twenty minutes. Nothing. I expected this. I thought it would take us a little longer to get away from civilization and find a nice road to nowhere. Twenty minutes later and still nothing.

My older brother was sitting next to me, giving out great suggestions. "Maybe that's a dirt road...nope. Are we there yet? We've got to find something soon." Then he squeaked.

My brother had the hiccups. I was already annoyed at being the leader when I didn't know where I was going and frustrated at our lack of success. This sound made me angry.

What you must understand is my brother doesn't make sweet little hiccup sounds. Imagine something more annoying and then times that by three hundred. Seriously, if you take a dolphin...
 ...and mate it with a pterodactyl...
 ...the crime against nature love child's screams would be somewhat less annoying than my brother's hiccups.

...which continued for the next hour and a half. I tried to get him to stop.

Me: "Rawr! Did that scare you?"
Bother: "A little, but...screeeeeech uuurp!"
Me: "Drink some water!"
Brother: "I'm thirsty, not dirty. EEEEEeeeeeerp skaaaaaw!"
Me: "Try some Dr Pepper then."
Brother: "Glug glug. Sreeee....eeeeeeeeeep!"
Me: "Hold your breath."
Brother: "Gasp.............scruuuuuuummmeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeech!"

I eventually gave up trying to get him to stop. The hiccups were relentless, my ears violated with every eeep and skreeep. I turned up the radio. Did not help. I rolled down the windows. Nope. I started to loath the sound and loath my brother for making the sound. He would stop just long enough to give me hope and then erupt again in the tormenting noise.

I finally reached the limit. I stopped the car. My friends pulled up next to me as I was about to murder my older brother. I didn't care that he was bigger or stronger. It had been nearly two hours of his screeeching and I would take it no longer. He had to die.

About that time, he finally stopped and the insanity bled away from me to something just above detest. It was almost dark now and we were running out of time. We came across a reservoir a few minutes later. I don't like designated camp spots much, but we decided it was a good idea at this point. We paid the fee, pulled into a spot, and started dinner.

Dinner went surprisingly well. We made some quick dutch oven food in the dark, good food. We ate in the dark by lantern light, happily joking about the adventure up till then. We laid out a tarp and threw our sleeping bags on it, looking forward to some rest and stargazing.

That's when it started to rain. We dragged a tarp over us and huddled together. It would have looked something like this:

My friend, Jyro, is in the middle. We were getting comfortable, warming up in our sleeping bags, when Jyro suddenly cried out.

I sleep with a flashlight in my bag with case you gotta pee. I pulled out the light and handed it to Jyro.
That was a mistake, a big mistake. He flashed it around and found a skunk. Skunks are not a big deal. I will have several posts later as to why skunks do not bother me. They freaked Jyro out though. He sat up and spent the next hour frantically keeping track of the skunk's movements.

We tried to calm him down. It did not work.

It seemed like forever, but he finally calmed down enough to let us sleep.

Once Jyro fell asleep, I was able to relax and let myself drift slowly to....WHAT THE CRAP?! A horrible sound came from a ditch not far from where we were sleeping. It was deep and low, vibrating with creepiness. My friend, Adam, and I bolted awake.
I turned to Adam.

I had gathered twigs from that ditch earlier. There had been nothing but dry sage brush. This is more or less what happened next:

We slept after a while. I kept waiting for the sound to repeat, but it never did. We checked the ditch in the morning and found nothing. We may never know what woke Adam and I. We may not want to know. All I do know for sure is this was one of the best camping trips ever.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Yes, wax is a grease!

When I was in high school I had a lot of candles in my room. There are many reasons for this:
1- Guys can be stinky. Candles remove/mask the stink.
2- Girls like candles. I liked girls. So, my teenage brain told me the more candles I had, the more the girls would like me. Made sense.
3- I have a strange obsession with light. I love flashlights, glow sticks, candles, matches, lighters, fire in general, and Christmas lights.
4- Fire is fun. Camp fires, bonfires, grills, fire pits, ghost stories, smores, dutch oven potatoes, and new year's burnathons. Candles are like little tiny memories of good times.

I had a little tea light that swallowed the wick. I figured, if I could melt the candle I could dig the wick out. A lot of work for a tea light, I know. I was a teen and bored.

I put the tea light directly on the burner of my stove and turned it on low. I'm not dumb enough to turn it on high. It worked like a charm.

A couple minutes later I could see the wick and I stuck a toothpick in bring it back to the surface. As I bumped the edge a little wax dribbled out and touched the burner. This lit the candle...not the wick I was digging out, but the wax.
It wasn't that bad, just a small flame. I watched it go for a minute or two, hoping it would just snuff itself out.

It did not go out. So, then I had to have the following conversation with myself:

Me: Hmmm. That's not good.

Brain: No kidding. You are an idiot sometimes.

Me: Really? You thought this was a good idea three minutes ago.

Brain: I changed my mind.

Me: Isn't that redundant? Can't you just say, "I changed."

Brain: Ooooh. Now who's clever? What ya going to do about the fire?

Me: Fire? Its not much bigger than a candle flame. Maybe I can blow it out.

Brain: And blow melted wax all over the burner? Yeah. That's a good idea. Why don't you move it outside first?

Me: Move it? You want me to carry liquid fire through the house to the backyard? You are stupid.

Brain: Yeah. That idea sucks. Pour some water on it.

Me: Is wax a grease? You aren't supposed to pour water on a grease fire, right? That's a thing, right?

Brain: I think so. But you can't put flour on it without dumping flour on the hot burner too.

Me: Crap.

Brain: I know! Let's do a quick test...just a drop of water.

So I grabbed a mug and put a few drops of water in it and carefully held it over the flame to let just one drop fall.
It seemed like a good idea. Just one drop. If water was bad, one drop should just spit and fizzle and be done. I didn't dump a bucket or anything. I was being smart. And, yes, I wore purple flannel.

The bible speaks now and again about a "pillar of fire." Before this experience, I had no way of imagining what that might truly look like. The water droplet hit molten wax and erupted. If you want to know what God's wrath looks like, it is similar to this:

Fire shot straight up in a cylinder of death and rolled across the ceiling before disappearing just as suddenly. Here it is again, magnified so you can see the terror in my eyes:

So it is clear...wax is a grease. DO NOT PUT WATER ON IT!! EVER! I put a metal lid on the tea light and it went out.

UPDATE: I am adding an actual picture of myself for those out there who didn't believe me about the purple flannel or believed, but could not grasp the awesomeness of that visual. It also includes my good friend, Adam, who is the main source of the awesomeness in the photo.
My wife also thinks I should change the spikey hair of my cartoons to match the longer hair of the photo. Sorry, not gonna happen. I'm a slacker. Don't believe me? I'm wearing flannel.
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