Whatever you do, do NOT open the freezer–you’ll be sorry.

I have an announcement.

No, no!  No.  No, I’m not pregnant, perish the thought.  (shudder)  Though baby pictures are a part of this post.  Wait, come back!  These aren’t baby pictures as you’ve ever seen them.  Ever.

No, it’s better than that.

My announcement:

I have fallen madly, wildly, and very shallowly in love.  Ah l’amour.

Shallowly, because I know it won’t last.  It can’t last.  The object of my affection is fickle and callous and strings me along by every once in while doing something so beautiful that I keep coming back for more.

It’s all very unhealthy and twisted.

Literally twisted.

I’ll explain.

So…the other day I took a picture of my crazy marine neighbor’s roses.  Roses are pretty…I have a camera…I took the shot.  I saved it onto the computer and wondered what I’d ever do with it.  Probably delete it in a few days.

And then it happened.  Out of the blue, without any preparation, I happened to stumble across this:

“In Photoshop Elements

Open the image

Crop to a square

Filter-Distort-Polar Coordinate, click on Polar to Rectangular-Okay

Image-Rotate-180

Filter-Distort-Polar Coordinates, click on Rectangular to Polar-Okay”

Yeah, I know.  That doesn’t mean much to you, but I opened my hated Photoshop Elements and followed the instructions.  I fully expected that Elements would be its usually soulless self and delete all the pictures on my hard drive just to see me cry.

Here’s the flower picture straight out of camera:

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AND HERE’S THE PICTURE AFTER I DID THE ABOVE STUFF!  YES, I’M SHOUTING!!!

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It worked!  It really worked!

And now you see why I’m in love.

Elements does this to me a lot.  I can go months begging for cooperation while it blows raspberries at me and then it’ll go off and do something so amazingly perfect that I’m drawn back in.

And here’s the part where the literal twisting of the picture in Elements mixed with my own twisted sense of humor and pictures of babies all comes together.  Here’s the story.

There I was, back in May, at church.  (Church!)  In the church atrium is a little kitchen with a refrigerator.  I opened the freezer, and there, carefully placed on the top rack of the freezer was an ice cube tray filled with tiny naked frozen babies.  Wha….??

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I recoiled in horror and next thing I knew I was being chased through dark hallways by people chanting, “Tiny naked frozen babies, tiny naked frozen babies…”  When I finally came to on the floor of the kitchen, I was informed that the tiny naked frozen babies were for some sort of baby shower game.

Ah, well, that all makes perfect sense.  Baby showers have their own element of the bizarre, so why not tiny naked frozen babies?  I took a picture.

And finally, after all these months, I have the proper medium to bring these deliciously disturbing pictures of the tiny naked frozen babies to the general public.

First attempt:

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Second attempt, with a slightly different crop:

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Perfect!

You do know that I’ll be doing this to pretty much every picture I take for the next few months.  I’m hoping I get a few cool shots today.  At 4:00 I’m heading to a Thanksgiving in June celebration.  Wouldn’t a big ol’ turkey  look amazing swirled in a glass ball?  Yes.  Yes, it would.

And now I have to go and glaze some carrots for Thanksgiving dinner.

Gobble, gobble, gobble.

Woman vs Ant

We have new pets: ants.

Usually our pet ants are feral ants that come in through cracks around the kitchen window.  This causes Darling Husband to launch into his yearly prepared speech entitled, “Don’t leave any food on the kitchen counters.”   Oh, and heaven help us if the ants are found in the playroom which is where Boy10 likes to eat yogurt in the morning.  If there are ants in the playroom the yearly prepared speech becomes the yearly prepared rant,  “No food in the play room! I mean it!”  (Anybody want a peanut?)

But our new ants are not feral ants.  There are pet mail order ants from Russia.  My friend, Pam, bought Boy10 an ant farm for Christmas but we had to wait for the weather to warm up to get our mail order ants.

Our ant farm is an Uncle Milton ant farm with NASA engineered green space gel.  Really—it has NASA engineered green space gel.  A number of years ago scientists wanted to study the effects of zero gravity on ants so they sent a regular sand ant farm up into space.  All of the astronauts were pretty excited about the ant farm and said they’d always wanted one when they were a kid, but their moms wouldn’t let them keep bugs in the house.  The astronauts promised and promised the scientists that they’d feed and walk the ants every day.  But, of course, they didn’t.

All the ants died, the astronauts had to come back down to earth, and the scientists had to figure out how to send ants into space without having to rely on unreliable astronauts.  So they invented green space gel for the next batch of space-bound ants.  The ants can both tunnel in this special NASA engineered green space gel as well as eat and drink it.

Only…they don’t.

It started off well enough.  The ants arrived in the mail and, as instructed, we put the tube of ants in the fridge (not freezer) for 15 minutes to slow them down.  They’re harvester ants and are easily excitable and will bite you if they feel threatened.  And they always feel threatened.  But if you put them in the fridge they get so depressed at the cold that they’ll just lie there like little lumps when you pour them into the ant farm.

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We dumped the depressed ants in the farm and after an hour or so, they thawed and began merrily digging tunnels.  All was going well.

But two days later, they stopped digging.  They clumped together in a creepy ant-ball and wouldn’t do anything.  I left them that way for a couple of days thinking they might be tired from all their work and were taking an extended nap, but it was starting to get pretty depressing, for me and the ants.  I’m thinking, “Why did they have to be mail order ants from Russia?  They’re always getting depressed.”

I thought they needed a pick-me-up, so I doused a cotton ball with some vodka and popped it into the ant farm.  Ok, ok.  It wasn’t really vodka.  It was water, because maybe they weren’t smart enough to eat their NASA engineered green space gel and were getting thirsty.  I also gave them a bit of an orange.

They ran to the orange and ate it and then they all clumped together on top of the wet cotton ball and refused to move.

I gave them more food and water.

Too much water.  Some of the water had dribbled into their tunnels and the floors of the tunnels had a little layer of water.  Just enough that the ants couldn’t go in there without getting their feet wet.  I considered boots, but not at 6 feet per ant.  But what was even worse, was that the wet gel became very soft.  If I tilted the ant farm, the gel would smoosh to the side.  There was no way the ants could tunnel in it.  It would be like trying to tunnel in pudding.  In fact, there was one smothered ant in a collapsed bit of the ruined NASA engineered green space gel.  The boys were a bit disturbed by the whole thing and so was I.

Something had to be done.  We headed to a store to buy a new ant farm.  But there were problems.  First, it couldn’t be a gel farm obviously.  It would have be a sand farm.  Second, how would we transfer the ants from one farm to the other?  See how the ant farm is big and round?  The opening at the top is as big and round as the entire farm.  You pop off the lid like a manhole cover.

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This picture was within half an hour of getting the ants while they were still thawing.

The sand ant farms had teeny-tiny skinny rectangular openings.  There was no way I could pick up 20 alarmed, snarling harvester ants and push them into a teeny-tiny skinny rectangular opening.  They’d just leap away and bite my arm.

In the end, we didn’t buy a new farm.  I decided to move the ants into some sort of big round-mouthed jar, clean out the gel, refill it with dirt, and then dump the ants back in.

It started off well enough.  I put the ant farm and an empty jar in the bathtub, to contain any escapees.  I used tweezers to pick up the cotton ball with the clump of ants on it and, bracing myself with horrified shrieking sounds, I quickly dropped the cotton ball into the jar.

Why the shrieking?  Because it was horrifying.  Holding a soggy cotton ball covered with a clump of angry red ants is creepy.  It just is.  One of them tried to run up the tweezers and fling itself onto me and rip out my throat.

And, much to my great dismay, I didn’t get all the ants.  As soon as I had opened the lid, the ants got all excited and started dashing around the farm.  So while I got a bunch of the slower ones who were still on the cotton ball, there were still a good half of them dashing about the farm.  And now they were fighting mad.

From their point of view, their brother ants had just been abducted, most likely by aliens.  I witnessed a few today-we-celebrate-our-independence-day speeches and determined come-back-with-your-shield-or-on-it instructions from the ants to each other as they prepared for death in their mighty battle against the alien.

Unbeknownst to the ants, I was most certainly more afraid of them than they were of me.  While I had absolutely no intention of biting them, they were sharpening their fangs in preparation to bite me.  Not a fair fight at all.

Darling Husband came in to see what all the hullabaloo was about and I told him I had no idea what to do with the ants that were running around inside the farm.

Without a lot of fanfare, Darling Husband picked up the ant farm and carefully, so as not to let the gel pour out, tapped the ant farm against the jar until all of the angry ants had been tumbled into the jar.

I scooped the gel out of the farm and put in some dirt.  We dumped all the ants back into the farm and they quite merrily set about making tunnels again.  It’s been about two weeks since then and the ants are still busily tunneling in their dirt farm.

Moral of the story:  take care of your pets.  If only those astronauts had fed and walked their ants no one would have had to invent that goofy NASA engineered green space gel that doesn’t work and I wouldn’t have had to wrangle with angry ants or write blogs about it.

The Catalog Fairies Deliver a Gift

You remember my invisible friends, right?  They’re the people who post on an online homeschooling forum where I spend gobs of time.

If you don’t know what a forum is it’s a website where you can post email-type messages and people will respond to your messages.  It’s a way to share information or ask questions.

Every now and then one of my invisible friends will giddily post that her Rainbow Resource curriculum catalog arrived in the mail.  They’ll write things like, “Gonna brew a pot of coffee, crack open some Nutella,  and read the catalog for a while.” And I think to myself, “Homeschool dweeb!”  Because seriously?  A catalog?   Get a life, homeschoolers!

Today, and I have no idea why or how, I received one of these Rainbow Resource catalogs in the mail.

My friend Traci stopped by.  I saw her pull up and headed to the front door to let her in.  As I got to the door I heard some grunting and shuffling sounds on the other side.  I opened the door and almost got squashed by a humongous tome that came crashing to the floor at my feet.  When the dust settled, I could barely see Traci over the top of the gargantuan book.  She had to stoop to catch her breath before she said, “They just dropped this off so I brought it in to you.”  I pulled her into the house over the mountainous book blocking the door and made her lie down on the couch and drink some cool lemonade to recover from all the exertion.

Apparently, the Rainbow Resource truck was in my neighborhood dropping off the catalogs.  I caught the tail end of the truck as it turned a corner when I peeked out the door past The Catalog.  There were big, sweaty, muscled men in the truck—the kind of guys who are piano movers or World’s Strongest Man competitors.  Maybe when those guys retire, they become Rainbow Resource catalog deliverers  And here I thought all the rattling in the house was from the construction around the corner (really, it’s been rattling all morning).  But all along it was the catalog truck with its tons of catalogs rumbling through the neighborhood.

I stared at the book, wondering how I would move it so I could shut the door.  It was wrapped with sturdy plastic bands, so that it couldn’t flap open and smother the delivery guys in the folds of its pages.  Images of the Book of Monsters from Harry Potter danced through my head.  I put on some sturdy shoes.

Here.  I’ll let you see it:

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And lest you think that they pad the catalog with a lot of empty space on each page:

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All one thousand, four hundred-ten pages are as packed as this one.

As soon as I’m done here, I’m gonna brew a pot of tea, because coffee is yuck, tell all my invisible friends that my catalog arrived and spend the rest of the evening reading it.  I have a niggling fear that I won’t get through the catalog until Boy8 has graduated, but I won’t let that stop me.

A quick flip through of some things I could buy:

Liquid Frisket

Dissection specimens, includes: earthworm, grasshopper, freshwater clam, perch & double-injected fetal pig.

Politically Incorrect Guides…to Capitalism, to Socialism, to the Constitution, etc.

Budget Game (Ooo.  I want to play the Budget game.  I love budgets.)

Piano for Quitters

A Craftsman House

Homeschool, Spanish Inquisition Style

Boy10 went to Karate Day Camp this week.

Whose idea was it to give the kids karate lessons anyway?  That was probably the dumbest parenting decision we’ve ever made.   The benefit of children being smaller than you is that you can fling them around and pin them down and tickle them.

But now, because of dumb old karate, they can defend themselves.  Now when I try to tickle them all I get for my trouble is a poke in the kneecap.

Pennsylvania homeschool laws state that we have to teach our kids physiology, which is:

phys·i·ol·o·gy

/ˌfizēˈäləjē/

  1. The branch of biology that deals with the normal functions of living organisms and their parts.
  2. The way in which a living organism or bodily part functions.

As part of my end of year portfolio I’m going to include a video of the kids demonstrating their knowledge of physiology.  They could show exactly how body parts function when you bend back a person’s finger or poke your fingertips between their ribs.  Karate teaches physiology, Spanish Inquisition style.  Did you know it takes the same amount of pressure to snap a person’s finger as it takes to snap a carrot in half?  I’m sure that knowing how much pressure it takes to snap a person’s finger is not what they meant when they wrote “must learn physiology” into homeschool law.

Or maybe it was.  I’ve told you before that they close the schools on the first day of hunting season and I personally know children who have driven tractors to school on Drive Your Tractor to School Day.

Back to karate camp.

Boy8 didn’t want to go to karate camp so I took him to visit with a new friend while Boy10 was at camp.

And oh, the stress.

Friend8’s mom invited me to stay while the boys played since we don’t know each other.  The problem? Friend8’s mom is sweet.  Truly sweet.  Not fake out your coworkers sweet to aggravate Mike, but a genuinely gentle soul.  And, oh, the pressure!  Boy8 really likes her son and I didn’t want her pegging me as a Bad Influence, so we had to be on our best behavior.  It was rough, people.  I was afraid that at any moment I’d temporarily lose control and bark out a disgusting snot joke and that would be the end of the friendship.  I was exhausted by the time I got home and had to lie down and play Candy Crush on the ipad.

And what made it worse was that Friend8’s mom is clean.  Noooo!  Not both sweet and clean.  Her sweetness compounded with her cleanliness was Stressing Me Out.  I’m going to show you why but if you are easily frightened you should stop reading now and most certainly do not scroll down to the picture.

You’ve seen blog posts in the past making fun of my dust, but you’ve never, and I mean you’ve never, seen dust like this.  This is dust to make one’s mother proud. This is the sort of dust that is so thick you can pick it up with chopsticks and put into glass cases to show as a Wonder of the World in the local traveling circus.

The other day I moved a long row of books that have been on top of a bookcase for a number of years, well above my eye level.  I don’t dust anything above my eye level so the dust has been accumulating, as dust does.

But this dust was different.  This went well beyond your normal dust accumulation into something spectacular.  There comes a tipping point when the sheer volume of dust brings a tear to your eye, and not just because of all the pollen.

Here it is:

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On that first The Magic of Oz book, you can see that there’s something stamped on the pages but it fades away into the murky depths of the dust and you can’t make out all the words.

Here’s another part of the stack at different angle with different lighting.  It’s slightly blurry.  It’s hard to focus on dust.

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So, there I was in my new friend’s house and it’s spotless.  Just neat as a pin.  And she apologized for the mess.  Why do neat as a pin people always apologize for the mess when there is none?  Neat people have super laser vision, because I never see all the dirt they see.  All I could think about was my lovely dust and how proud I am of it and how sorry I was for her that she didn’t have a dust collection like I do.

And no, I didn’t keep the dust.  I took the books outside and used the leaf blower to clean them off.

Parents Fight at Soccerpalooza

The following is written by Guest Blogger, Jeff Moffatt.

SOCCERPALOOZA

Last weekend I attended the 2013 Antietam Cup youth soccer tournament, which I like to call Soccerpalooza.  Over two days, kids aged 9 to 19 who were spread across 5 age brackets played a total of almost 150 soccer games.  That amounted to about 24 total hours of chasing white balls across neatly cut grass.  Wait, that’s golf.  What I mean to say is, that amounted to about 24 total hours of kids chasing soccer balls; referees randomly blowing whistles; and parents yelling at their kids, the referees, and each other.

Of course, each team had a brightly colored uniform to distinguish itself from every other team’s brightly colored uniforms.  The only other way to see this many different colors jumbled together in one place is if a bomb went off in a Sherwin-Williams store.  My own son’s team wore nuclear green, a hue so piercingly bright that you risked retina damage by staring at it too long.  Perhaps that was the coach’s strategy – blind the opposition.

In the midst of these prizmatic athletic endeavors, I happened to observe a classic bad-sports-parent moment.  We hear about out-of-control sports parents from time to time, but they always seem to live in far off places like Peoria or Sacramento.  Well, not any more.

I was watching a match between under-16 teams from Littlesville, Pennsylvania and Biglertown, Pennsylvania (town names changed to protect the guilty).  The weather was sunny and hot, so I sat by a group of Littlesville fans under the shade of a tree on a small rise near the field.  At the edge of the field was a line of parents and fans, mostly seated in folding lawn chairs.  There were a few fans standing, including one woman who was shading herself with a large umbrella.  She was a Biglertown fan and, as it happened, she stood mainly between the Littlesville fans and the field with her umbrella blocking the view from under the tree.  She had chosen a spot near midfield, so it appeared to me that her goal was to find a prime vantage point from which to watch all of the action.

The Littlesville fans, who very much wanted to remain in the shade, thought umbrella woman’s conduct was a rude affront to their right to view the match from the shady spot where they had chosen to sit.  Part way through the first half, one of them went to her, tugged on the edge of the umbrella, and brusquely asked her to put it down.  Before I go further, I need to explain that the Littlesville fans in question were all Caucasian and the Biglertown fans in question were all Hispanic.  I mention that only because Littlesville man spoke to umbrella woman in that loud halting tone people use when they think the listener can’t understand.  Whether umbrella woman understood or not, she ignored him and left her umbrella up.

The game proceeded through the first half and into the second with Biglertown dominating the action despite a valiant effort from an overmatched Littlesville squad.  The Littlesville fans under the tree, however, were largely ignoring the game they ostensibly wanted to see.  Instead, they were focused on the Biglertown woman and her umbrella.  They muttered amongst themselves about her rude behavior, and they carefully analyzed U.S. immigration policy.  Umbrella woman appeared not to hear and instead closely followed the game.  Frequently, she either cheered for her child or yelled at the referee.  I can’t be sure which because she was speaking Spanish.

During the second half, the Littlesville fans had had enough.  The same man marched down to umbrella woman, tugged on the umbrella, and began berating her for blocking peoples’ views.  This got the attention of several other Biglertown fans, including an Hispanic woman who said, in perfectly good English, “maybe if you asked nicely she would do what you ask.”  (That reminded me of the scene in A Few Good Men when Jack Nicholson answers Tom Cruise’s request for a copy of a transfer order by saying, “Of course you can have the transfer order, Danny, but you have to ask me nicely.”)  It also drew the attention of an Hispanic man, possibly umbrella woman’s husband, who gallantly came and stood next to her, and another Hispanic man who looked like he could play linebacker for most college football teams.

Unfortunately, Littlesville man was beyond asking nicely.  As he confronted umbrella woman and the surrounding group of Biglertown fans confronted him, another male Littlesville fan, who was still standing in the shade, began yelling challenges at the Biglertown fans.  This man had forearms as big as my thighs and was, overall, the size of a polar bear.  If you had put him in front of the soccer goal, there may not have been enough room for the ball to pass by into the net.  He happened to be standing next to his daughter, who was maybe five years old.  Anyway, polar bear man, who had not been involved up to this point except to suggest immigration policy changes, focused his attention on the linebacker from Biglertown and shouted, with all the logic his meathead brain could probably muster, “why are you talking, you got no part in this” and then, “you wanna go, big boy, come on let’s go.”  This witty repartee was not an invitation to leave, of course, but rather to fight.

By this point none of these people had seen at least the last five minutes of the action on the field.  The head of INS could’ve taken over as referee and none of them would’ve noticed.  Thankfully, reason or perhaps fear of a headline in the Gettysburg Times newspaper (“Parents Fight at Soccerpalooza”) prevailed.  There was no fight, but neither was there an actual resolution.  Umbrella woman went back to watching the game with her umbrella up thereby obstructing the view of the Littlesville fans who continued to grumble and critique immigration policy under the shade of the tree.

Why am I sharing this tale?  To point out that with a modicum of thought a simple compromise could’ve been reached.  What if Littlesville man had gone to umbrella woman with his chair in hand and, in a calm, friendly and gracious tone, said, “Hi, my name is Joe.  It’s really hot, isn’t it?  I can understand why you’re using an umbrella today.  It’s the same reason I’m sitting under that tree.  The thing is, your umbrella makes it hard for me to see the field.  I’d like to offer you my chair.  If you wouldn’t mind sitting, then your umbrella would be lower and we could all see the field and all be in the shade.”  As an alternative, she could’ve just stood in the shade cast by polar bear man.

I have no idea whether umbrella woman would’ve accepted the chair, of course.  Maybe she was trying to block the Littlesville fans’ views after all.  Maybe there was bad blood dating back to a 2012 under-14 match.  Maybe umbrella woman supports current U.S. immigration policy.  Who knows?  The point is that this irrational dispute over an umbrella – not a blown call or controversial play in the soccer game, mind you, but an umbrella – nearly led to fisticuffs.  Soccerpalooza indeed!

But Daddy, there’s an alligator in the stream!

Sooooo….this is my friend, John.

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As you can tell from the picture, John is an excellent storyteller.  And no, he doesn’t read The Blog, so he’ll never know I posted this goofy picture.  Nobody tell him!

I took this picture of John at a party last Saturday.  Obviously, he’s in the middle of telling a story.  John is the sort of storyteller who will act out his stories.  If there’s an angry part of the story he’ll frown angrily.  If there’s a funny part he’ll pause to laugh.  If it’s sad he’ll shake his head and look down.  No, he won’t cry.  He’s a Marine.

This is Shelley, John’s wife.

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She’s 39 ½ years old and I’ve known her since she was 6.  This picture was taken at the moment when we all yelled, “Surprise!” for her 40th birthday party.  We wanted to be sure she’d be surprised so we had the party 6 months before her birthday.  She was pretty surprised!

Shelley also is an excellent storyteller.  But when Shelley tells a story, she stays deadpan.  Her stories will have you falling off your chair in helpless laughter, but she’ll keep a straight face through the whole telling.  How can she tell such hilarious stories with a straight face?  It’s a gift.

At the party I overheard John telling one of Shelley’s Birth Stories.  Men usually recoil in horror when a gaggle of women start the Telling of the Birth Stories.  But this story had a lot of drama with John in a leading role so he tells it whenever he has a fresh audience.  It involved an incompetent ambulance service, an airlift via helicopter, a total blood transfusion, and an army of doctors booking it up and down the hallway drenched in Shelley’s blood.

Let me amend that bit about Marines not crying.  They do cry, sometimes.  When he originally told me the story a couple of years ago he admitted to some tears.   He had to stay outside of Shelley’s hospital room during the drama and for a few minutes he was sure his wife was dead.  There was a lot of blood on those doctors.

John always ends the tale with the thrilling $250,000 bill that wasn’t covered by insurance because the hospital didn’t get preauthorization and how he told them, “I’m not paying this bill!” just like the old commercial: “I’m not going to pay a lot for this muffler!”

Wait.  Wait, wait, wait.  That commercial was from 1986?  I swear, that commercial was from 2010, I’m sure of it.  1986?  No…it’s just not possible…

John’s current stories involved the turkey family that lived in their backyard, the bear family that passed through a few times, the solitary cougar stalking in the hills around their house, and the alligator in the stream where the neighborhood kids play.

The alligator escaped from a local zoo.  Apparently, the first to spot him was a small child playing in the stream.  He said, “Daddy!  Look at the alligator!”  His dad murmured, “Billy, don’t make things up.”  “But Daddy!  There’s an alligator in the stream!”

The dad looked up to see a 6 foot alligator waddling through the stream.  SNAP!

The third time the alligator escaped (by making a ramp out of dirt and climbing over the fence), someone “took care” of the problem.  There are a lot of hunters up in the foothills of Pennsylvania.

A lot of hunters.

‘Gator hunters.

—————

At the party I terrorized all of the guests by taking their portraits.

Here are Shelley’s kids.  Isn’t my new lens pretty amazing?  These pictures turned out so nice that I’m having them printed and giving them to Shelley as a little gift.  I haven’t talked to Shelley in about a year and she has no idea that I’m a budding photographer.  I think she’ll be happily surprised with these.

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A Good Laugh and a Good Fight

You know when I said in the last post that no one walks up to me and says, “And you’re not sweet at all”?  That’s not entirely true.

See, I used to work with Mike.

I loved working with Mike.  I judge how much I like someone by how much they make me laugh.  Mike could make me laugh until I couldn’t breathe.

One time we went on a three week business trip to New Jersey.  We each drove our own car.  I drove my car, Mike drove his car, and Emily drove her car.  Emily?  Yes.  Mike lived in Baltimore but his girlfriend, Emily, lived in New York, so they met in New Jersey for a few days.

The drive to New Jersey was the worst drive I’ve ever driven.  The details would take an entire blog, so let’s just say that I got completely and thoroughly lost.  All I remember is driving on Route 1-9 in the dark, in the pouring rain and passing the same huge neon Budweiser sign over and over and over and over.  After stopping at a few gas stations where no one spoke a word of English and passing a number of scary looking gangs on corners, I finally made it to the hotel where I collapsed.

In the lobby I recognized Emily from pictures and we chatted for a few minutes and she told me that she, too, got completely and thoroughly lost and kept passing the huge neon Budweiser sign over and over and over.  I called Mike to warn him to be sure he didn’t miss the turn.  Because if he missed the turn and saw the huge neon Budweiser sign, that meant he’d be stuck in an endless loop passing that huge neon Budweiser sign for a good hour.

Of course he didn’t believe us women drivers and said, “I’ll be fine.  I don’t get lost.”  Uh huh.  Sure, Mike.

Obviously, Mike missed the turn, got completely and thoroughly lost and had the pleasure of viewing the huge neon Budweiser sign over and over and over.

The next day, we carpooled to the office and saw some poor Indian man driving on Route 1-9 with a map crumpled in his hand and a hopeless frown on his face.  Mike went into a routine right on the spot, in the worst Indian accent ever, of the thoughts of the Indian man as he passed the Budweiser sign over and over and over.  It’s probably the funniest comedy routine I’ve ever heard.  I’m sure a few brain cells died that day from lack of oxygen.  I could not inhale.  Could not.

But we also used to fight.  A lot.  I mean, we fought so much in our shared office that the person in the next office over had to bang on the walls to get us to stop screaming at each other.  Kinda like throwing a tin can at howling cats.

Our first fight was on that same New Jersey business trip.

Mike and I had looked over the hotels on the recommended list provided by our company.  Mike wanted to stay in the most expensive hotel on the list at the company’s expense, just because we could.  Another coworker had taken the same trip and stayed in a cheaper hotel.  She told me about walking through a charming little town with flowers in all the yards and eating at quaint restaurants with delicious food.

If the cheaper hotel was so good, can you just imagine the expensive hotel?

Turns out the only reason the hotel we picked was more expensive is because it was closer to the airport.  It was right on the side of some sort of freeway in the middle of an industrial park.   Thousands of cars screamed by at 70 mph on their way to sightsee the Budweiser sign.  The entire hotel was surrounded by a chain link fence with barbed wire at the top.  To exit the hotel, you had to swipe your room card so that the gate thing (like at a toll booth) would rise and the spikes would lower into the cement.

Yes, you read that right.  Spikes, to puncture your tires, had to lower into the ground in order for you to leave the hotel.

What sort of hotel is surrounded by barbed wire, gates, and spikes in the ground?  I didn’t feel particularly safe.

A couple of days into the trip Mike and I were on lunchbreak at the office.  As we waited for the elevator, I told Mike I was thinking of transferring to a new hotel.  Mike didn’t want to move.  It’s all a bit of a blur and I don’t know how it happened, but somehow or other everything spiraled out of control and by the time we reached the first floor, we were in a flat out brawl.  There was yelling and spit flying and hands gesticulating.  The elevator was packed and the other occupants of the elevator were pressed against the walls in horrified disbelief.

Right at the end, Mike sneered out, “You know what?  You’re just like X.”  Oooooo.   X is a coworker that he knew I couldn’t stand.  Could Not Stand.  And he knew it.  That was fighting dirty.  I was so furious that I’m pretty sure Mike would  be dead right now except that the door opened and he got away.

The thing with Mike is that he’s the only person where we’ve both been absolutely furious at each other, but never offended.  We could argue and yell and tell each other how amazingly stupid the other person was being, but we would actually resolve the issue that way.  One or the other of us would realize, “Oh no!  S/he’s right!  I am being amazingly stupid!” and we would fix the problem, stop the argument, and walk away friends.

And I’ll tell you, it felt great to be able to tell someone exactly what I thought of them without hurting their feelings.  Maybe the rest of you do that all the time, but I’ve never been able to.  People’s feelings get hurt pretty much any time I try it, so I’m careful.

Now maybe you’re thinking, “Oh, they were attracted to each other.”  Nope.  There’s no way to convince you otherwise if you think that’s the case, but we weren’t.  Mike was like my cousin.  I was the goody-two-shoes cousin and he was the smoking behind the 7-11 cousin who would meet for summer vacation at the lake and have the Best Summer Vacations Ever.  But once vacation was over and we went back to our real lives we’d have nothing in common and would never have run in the same circles.

Outside of work we had nothing in common.  Nothing.  But while we were thrown together in that office with a job to do, it was magical.

All this is leading up to Mike’s pronouncement that, “and you’re not sweet at all!”

All our coworkers thought I was sweet.  Don’t know why.  I don’t particularly try to be sweet.  I don’t consider myself sweet.  But they thought I was.

Only Mike knew the truth.  In the middle of one of our milder arguments (I’m pretty sure I was winning that one), Mike looked at me with irritated frustration and said, “You know, everyone thinks you’re so sweet.  And you’re not sweet at all!”

From time to time, someone would pop their head in our office and ask me a question.  I’d answer it, and (I’m not kidding this happened over and over) the person would then say, “Oh, thank you!  That’s so helpful!  You’re so sweet!”

It was all I could do to keep a straight face when they said that.  Man, I should have won some sort of acting award for my performance.  The sweet smile, the blinky eyelashes.  I’d hear Mike in his corner exhaling a pained sigh.

When the office door would close, I’d give Mike the cheekiest grin I could.  Didn’t need to say a word.  He’d glare at me, shake his head, and go back to work.  Sometimes he’d say, “And the worst part of it is that if I try to tell anyone you’re not sweet, they’ll think I’m being a jerk.  No one will ever believe the truth.”

And that’s exactly what made it so much fun.

Here are some pictures of Mike.  We used to write newsletters for our company and we’d put badly photoshopped pictures of ourselves in the newsletter.  Here’s Mike as an ape in Planet of the Apes.

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And as a musketeer:

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