Clydesdale Rescue

It was early winter in our first year at Comstock when we first began to suspect that something was amiss. While strange thumping and animal noises were commonplace in the rear of the first floor where Aaron and Thirsty bunked down, the quality and characteristics took a noticeable turn. In addition, occasional screams could be heard from Aaron’s room late at night and the following morning he would turn up with massive u-shaped black and blue marks on his face or extremities. He attempted to explain them away as commonplace household mishaps and we took him at his word. The pervasive dung odor was attributed to Thirsty, and perhaps not unjustly.

Further suspicions arose one evening when a massive fur laden hoof crashed through the wall of Thirsty’s room and launched his weak and pale frame spinning askew into the radiator so recently christened with Schultz’s urine. He made claim that in his trip through the air he caught glimpse of a brown behemoth through the hole, but upon regaining consciousness found the far side was conveniently covered by an iconic Cheryl Tiegs poster. We disbelieved him en masse and he eventually let the matter drop.

Revelation came one glorious morning as munched old eggs for breakfast. The smell of them scrambled with the last of the vanilla extract awoke a dark seated passion in the beast. It reared up and brought down Aaron’s door with an irresistible double whammy and strode out. Knaus and I stood by helplessly as the first Clydesdale we had ever seen outside a commercial strode into the dining room and took to devouring our carefully prepared meal. Aaron came running out sheepish and apologetic, full of unfulfilled promises to replace them with fresh or more recently expired eggs.

A palaver was held between the three of us, Thirsty exempt as he took to sleeping more and more ever since the kick. The truth came out, bit by bit, through the course of careful questioning and torment. He had fallen in with a splinter group dedicated to the rescue of Clydesdale horses from all current ownership, and as with like programs for various species of dogs, warriors for the cause were expected to house and care for specimens in transition. He had thought to keep the effort secret to avoid our mocking fun, and with careful timing and the removal of several door frames had managed admirably. With precedent being set by Knaus’s far more destructive cat Malice it was impossible not to accept.

Aaron was relieved to no longer be forced to sleep beneath the ever shifting beast in close quarters, not to mention an impressive defecation schedule. His frequency of showering decreased, though not to Thirsty’s level. For the rest of us, the inconveniences began to grow but initially balanced by Aaron’s jauntier attitude. He lugged about a weighty tome titled “Astounding True Facts and Accounts of International Clydesdale’s” and quoted from it incessantly. The veracity of the claims were questioned but independent research held them true.

Did you know that if the level of Clydesdale poaching in Gabon were to reach a world wide scale, the species would be extinct by 3013?

Did you know that in 1743 a Clydesdale was appointed Prime Minister of Prussia for a period of 17 days?

The quotes were an educational experience, as was the continued presence of Francois, whom Aaron was having a challenging time finding local placement for. An inquiry from the Barksdale dog Food Company was rejected as being contrary to the spirit of the cause, as was a subsequent one from the good people at Elmer’s. An ad in the Pennysaver generated little interest, as did tacky fliers stapled cockeyed to random telephone poles. In the mean time, our lives evolved.

Did you know in 1977 a Clydesdale named Brasie May was the first of her kind to swim the English Channel?

Thirsty was the first to suffer most and as a direct result of the initial beating. The rest of us discovered early on that strategies used to keep the others from our food had little effect on Francois. Even my pizzas covered in anchovies and onion, generally sacrosanct and unmolested in the fridge, would be wantonly removed and consumed by vociferous horse even as I beat at his haunches with my balled fists. We took to taking most meals out of the home except for Thirsty. Three times a day he would cook and bring his meal out to the coffee table, and three times a day Francois would find a new way to distract him and devour the latest offering before Thirsty could react. He grew weak and shaky, but stubbornly determined not to disrupt his routine of taking meals while enjoying reruns of ‘Quincy’.

Did you know that teams of Clydesdales won 4 of the last 37 Iditarod’s?

Without warning the number of horses doubled, but the problems increased by several orders of magnitude. Another daring rescue had been made and Aaron drew the short end of the stick despite much of the membership currently supporting zero Clydesdales. Luck of the draw perhaps, perhaps. Aaron’s German obedience was ours to lament, though he now too would feel the effects as well. The state of the house, deplorable as it was to start, deteriorated quickly.

Did you know that in North Dakota, SD, Clydesdales actually achieved suffrage a full 20 years before women?

I grew enraged on a daily basis. Sitting in the chair with high arms enjoying my stories I would suddenly hear rustling about the Christmas tree I had set up in the Florida room. Each time I would spring to my feet to find the two of them attempting to ascend it for the purposes of batting about and destroying the precious glass ornaments with which I decorated it.  I had filled a spray bottle with water and vinegar and unleashed it full into their faces, but they actually seemed to like it. A full week before Christmas the tree was done, a gnarled mess leaning haphazardly against the glass doors, denuded of even a single bauble. I was despondent with a heart full of vengeance.

Did you know that Clydesdales were critical to the capture of an Enigma machine in WWII in one of the craftiest submarine capers in history?

Food became a problem. Jason’s large pasta dishes were enough to sustain one Clydesdale, but certainly not two. With each meal he would prepare, Francois and Bon Scott would set to battling over it through the living room as Thirsty cowered beside the couch. Growling and fur flying everywhere, the winner would quickly gobble as the loser would eye Thirsty with a cold gleam. I was the unfortunate witness the day Malice was cornered, stomped, and devoured and took no relish in reporting back to Knaus. Aaron, under threat of dire vengeance now had to lug 100 lb bags of Clydesdale chow back from Wilson Farms on his own. I asked him why he chose not to employ the sturdy horses in this endeavor. It was no choice he reported; putting the beasts to work was antithetical to the mission. His back grew stooped and bowed as 4 trips were required per day.

Did you know that Clydesdales, in their most natural form, are equipped with razor sharp retractable adamantium claws?

With an assured food supply, elimination occurred with a frequency beyond Aaron’s ability to keep up, especially since he now spent close to 4 hours a day going to and from the store. We took great care to avoid the steaming heaps until Aaron would come through with his shovel and dust bin, but it was not uncommon to see one indented with a sock print followed by shitty tracks disappearing into Thirsty’s door. The smell grew unbearable and the infestation of large green bottle flies was no longer confined to Thirsty’s bedroom. Female visitors, rare to begin with due to constant substitution for coffee filters for toilet paper, became a thing of the past. One night, drunk on a stash of beer they had not found and consumed yet, I opened the back door and determined that they would be outdoor horses from thence on.

Did you know that Clydesdales are the creation of Poseidon, patron god of the ocean, Budweiser beer, and ironically, the spotted Appaloosa?

Francois and Bon Scott took up temporary residence in the garage, having chased away or eaten Wrinkly Bill, the cat and previous tenant. It seemed a peaceable solution at the outset until they both went into heat at the same time keeping the neighborhood awake with intolerable whinnying at all hours of the night. To our collective dismay the pungent scent of their pheromones combined with the cacophony was enough to attract a local wild stallion that impregnated them both. Hormonal and hungry they terrorized the neighborhood. Aaron attempted to corral them with some chicken wire to no avail. Desperate, he removed the side door entirely and discovered they would roost indoors at night given the option and freedom. We rejoined the suffering of the neighborhood at large; they bearing the brunt in daylight hours and we in the evenings. Miserable all.

Did you know that Clydesdales when viewed from an oblique angel are often mistaken for woodchucks?

They grew fiercely territorial and harder to live with by the day. Thirsty, whom they already associated with meals, was assumed eaten following his sudden disappearance and Aaron’s discovery of a pair of grey underpants amidst the feces. We never really found out for sure and deflected all inquiries from relatives. Aaron grew nervous by the day as they tore into the bags of chow with unholy vengeance before he could even set them down. He lost two digits and part of his elbow in a single week. I tried to keep a locked door to prevent intrusion, but they found a way to pick the lock and I was thereafter treated to frequent intrusion, sometimes in moments most private. Efforts to find permanent situations for them were redoubled, but it was a hard sell.

Did you know that the bones of heroic Clydesdales were used in the construction of the impenetrable Castle Greyskull?

We resented the inconvenience, but in a sense we thought of them as family, secretly approving of some of the services rendered. Change was forced unexpectedly one day by Don, our landlord. Initially, he offered no objection to the great horses and even offered unique praise when learning of Thirsty’s probable fate having once identified him as trouble from the get go. Bon Scott, however, had a bad habit and a beef with Don. Coming over to mow the lawn one spring day he was surprised by a Clydesdale charging full tilt from between two houses and ramming his truck off the road. We explained the dent could be easily buffed out, but he was done; they had to go. He rang Barksdale and they salivated.

Did you know a Clydesdale was the winner of the very first episode of ‘Bowling for Dollars’ and that they were disallowed thereafter, such was the blow out?

Blackjacking Don and locking him in Thirsty’s old room was a calculated risk, but we couldn’t bear seeing their pictures on bags of kibble. With Knaus’s unusually large supply of ether we drugged them soundly and tied them to the roof of his Cutlass. Together, we drove them down to Salamanca and released them into a local pasture, ignoring the protests of the family picnicking there. We drove back in tears, but in ensuing years swelled with pride each time the news reported on the mighty herd ravaging the Southern Tier and northern Pennsylvania. Rescued from commercial labor, they do God’s work now.

Did you know this book was written, published and distributed solely by Clydesdales?

People I Hate

To those of you with soft dispositions and a warm glowing feeling toward your fellow humans no matter how annoying or despicable they may be; you will probably hate this post and me by proxy. Well, that is just fine by me and I welcome you enthusiastically into my dark little world of unencumbered distaste for certain groups of people I am forced to share this big ball of dirt with. Those of you who happen to be part of any majority, be it race, faith, gender, ethnicity, or orientation are already feeling uncomfortable with where this is going unless you identify with some ultra conservative group. Shellax, I don’t hate you for any of those reasons; only for who you chose to be.

Those of you who like to guess ahead what I am about to write are probably thinking, “Oh, mimes. I bet it’s mimes. Everyone hates mimes.” No, it’s not mimes or even clowns. Yes, everyone hates them and even Obama has been heard to say on more than one occasion, “I motherfucking hate mimes!”, but it’s not them. Frankly, I have to admire someone who goes into a profession that so clearly pisses everyone off by just existing. By the way I do understand that by mentioning Obama by name I run the risk of him stumbling across this blog while googling himself, which may make things awkward at the next State dinner I am invited to, but we can only hope he has a sense of humor about these things. By the by, I’m not going to make a list here but instead force you to slog through this entry in abject terror that your little sub group will be named.

I was driving home from a dinner theater production of The Hilarious Hillbilly Reunion or some similar nonsense at Magruders and turned to my wife and declared, “God, I really hate local actors.” I was surprised at the crisp honesty of my statement, but upon closer investigation found that it was true enough. I held a firm distaste for individuals in my local community who chose to spend their free time excitedly practicing to offend my presence with their jubilant overdramatic little productions delivered loudly and with far more pep than the material calls for while I’m trying to eat my goddam chicken. Maybe I better start at the beginning.

The idea of it all sounded appealing. A night out with the promise of a good meal while being entertained by people pretending to hillbillies. Everyone has a deep appreciation for hillbillies as we can watch their barefoot Appalachian antics and revel in the glorious presumption that we are their betters. Well, everyone but hillbillies who might be inclined to resent the portrayal had the ‘no shoes’ policy been overlooked and were allowed in. The premise was that we, mid-heeled townies, were invited to come on down to some sort of Clampett family reunion where presumably something would happen to keep us interested for a spell. I understood the less inspired of these productions relied on a Clue style murder mystery and was not disappointed.

We arrived late for logistical reasons rather than uppity ones and discovered to our dismay that we were being seated at a large table with other people we didn’t know. I understand this sort of thing is common in Europe, but this was America; hillbilly America, the most American America you get, and we hate that sort of thing. I don’t want to be forced into conversation with people I didn’t purposely come with! My wife will attest that I barely like to converse with even her at dinner functions and now I was stuck rubbing elbows with this asshole who was clearly going to bogart all the cheese. Yes, they actually had cheese and crackers out as appetizers, classy hillbillies that they were. I was already annoyed.

Scowling, I looked about the room and took note of the fact that there sure were a lot of folks milling about in overalls, oversized straw hats, big-ass boots, and even a large fellow in a dress and braids. They were interacting with the other patrons, most of whom looked uncomfortable aside from the scattered few either drunk enough to get in on the “fun” or were cut from the same cloth. So, not only was I going to be stuck talking to this douche in a suit and his elderly companions, but these idiots in costume who felt the need to bring their well practiced drama right up your ass.

“Well I do declare! It’s Cousin Cletus ya’ll right he’ah!” The big fellow in the dress managed to corner me and apparently I was Cousin Cletus. Not only had I paid to be subjected to this indignity, but it seemed I was expected to join in on the act unrehearsed. Only local actors had such balls to pick your pocket then ask for a shoe shine. I tried to mumble and look as uncomfortable as possible, but biggins there just wouldn’t let it go until I said something hillbillyish. I grumbled about getting “my grub on” and he finally flounced off to irritate someone else.

“Do you think that was really a woman?”

My wife was fooled a little easier than I. While I would have sat there happily with an expression that warned someone pissed on my shoes, but my wife and the suit insisted on exchanging introductions. We came to find out we were so lucky as to have been seated at the same table with the husband and parents of one of the cast members, assuring extra attention to be paid to our corner of the restaurant, right there in the middle of the floor. I wanted to leave, but we could think of no exit strategy that did not make us the spotlighted center of attention as we found our coats and the door. It seemed they were the sort not to hesitate to pull out a comedic version of tar and feathers.

Early in the performance they began dragging people out of their chairs and up front for varying pointless reasons in an exercise to increase the relative anxiety of those not yet chosen, but potentially already on a Lost style list. Neither of us liked where this was going, and even the suit expressed worry of public humiliation as he pounded his third pint. He made threatening hand gestures at his wife we hoped might ward them off. His success was the only good part of the evening, as it wore on with an endless supply of tired incest jokes.

Dinner finally arrived and was bullshit. The advertisement indicated authentic hillbilly fare, so we were expecting fried chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes, corn, okra and similar southern fried crap. What arrived were airline style containers with airline grade meals of lukewarm baked chicken legs, green beans, and a very boring chef salad for the center of the table with those little self serve dressing containers that invariable spill on you when ripping off the tiny lid. I was wiping my pants off when three members of the cast sat down in the three empty chairs at our table. We got the wife, the moke the wife was boning in the production, and the big fellow in the dress. They refused to break character and insisted on speaking through dinner.

Eating poor quality food while being inundated with over exaggerated hillbilly chat should be no one’s idea of a good time. Biggins yakked up a storm and then took to eating directly from the bowl of salad with his hands to demonstrate his character’s bad manners. This was disappointing as I had wanted more, but felt certain he also felt washing his hands after the restroom was also breaking character. Now add in the dynamic that suit clearly had a little jealousy thing going on with the actor fake shagging his wife. The wife also now appeared to be one of those women who hates all others of her kind, and shot eye daggers at my wife for no discernable reason other than she happened to be at the table. It was at this point and forever forward that I was determined to hate local actors for as long as I continued to draw breath. I am fairly certain one of them will eventually find this post and leave an angry comment the nature of dinner theater, how people find it “fun”, local acting and whatnot. Please do, that we may make fun and further brighten my day.

Moving on, as there are so many groups and so little time, I also want to reiterate that I hate contractors. I went on about this some in my October Surprise post, which Aaron insists on calling “October Crush” even though I have never heard anyone else ever call it that, but whatever. My specific hatred is centered on the lying, complete lack of accountability, but mainly for their squirrely little tricks. The one that makes my blood boil the most is, “In all my years I’ve never seen that before!”

Why do they insist on doing that? It always means a price increase of course and leaves you worried that your house was the byproduct of a 3 Stooges movie and left behind as a prop built by knuckleheads. Roofers are terrific for this. There are like 2 types of roof in the Western New York area, all of them comprised of some combination of 3 things – plywood, tarpaper, and shingles. Somehow the devious bastard who came before managed to apply these three basic elements in such an obscure insane configuration while still achieving the same result of keeping weather out, that my roofer was simply stunned. “Holy crap, I ain’t never seen anything like that before! Gonna take me a whole nother day. Sorry pal.”

At that point, what the hell are you going to do? If you refuse, he packs up and leaves you roofless. They never find these jaw dropping issues at the point where you aren’t completely screwed if work is stopped for even 5 minutes. “Gee pal, whatcha wanna do? That there nor’easter gonna be blowin’ in by 5. Just enough time to get cha squared away.” Motherfuckers. My wallet is considerably lighter in moments. In the future I will be sure to have a clause in the firm fixed price contract that the price is the price no matter what crazy jacked up shit they find. I have every confidence though that they will find another way to screw me, and that is why I hate contractors.

I was at the airport a few weeks ago and came to another conclusion; a brand new group of people that made me want to buy a gun. Other air travelers. I understand I was also traveling by air, but comfortable with the opinion that my non-annoying traveling skills were far superior to everyone else. Looking around me, I could not help but feel disgust and seething bitter rage at those human cattle insisting on being transported in the same venue as myself. How dare they? And if they dared, why could they not be more like me. The variety of them is endless, but I’ll expound on some of the worst.

While waiting to get on the plane I have found that people traveling together, other than unhappy couples miserable to be confined to each other’s presence and enduring silently are of the worst type. My experience has been that this breed loves to have fantastically loud conversations about some worthless topic or another that you are forced to listen to. There is no escape and the realization always dawns that they are speaking at that volume because they want you to hear. It is true, they want everyone around them to be educated on the fact that they leave management notes in the break room, or that there are no issues with the shelves coming off the assembly line, or the advice they gave some junior co-worker. Watching them, I can see them performing a peripheral peer around to see who is taking in their golden drops of wisdom and admiring them for it. When they see my red, half slit eyes glaring; they look away quickly, but don’t stop. Oh, how I hate them!

Just as bad is ‘he who must be entertained’. I am one of those travelers with no interest in single serving friendship and relish the time to enjoy a book uninterrupted except to be provided refreshment. Far too often I take my seat, open my book, and have the aforementioned idiot plop down beside me. I make it a point to never look up or over, although I am very aware that this person brought no book, iPod, or laptop and immediately begins the anxious ‘how am I going to kill these 5 hours’ look around. I don’t care for that look at all because it always means that he feels helping him pass that time is my job. After quickly pawing through the Sky Mall catalog and finding a genuine Hammacher Schlemmer home suit martinizer is too rich for his blood, the first question comes and I bristle. When younger and less jaded, I allowed myself to be pulled into these tedious conversations, but older and cagier, I have learned to avoid. I now wear earphones even if not listening to anything for the sake of making a great show of removing them, asking to have the question repeated, give a one word answer and immediately don them again. Even the most bored prick gives up after 4 or 5 iterations.

Then there are people with their damn carry-on bags. Every flight has at least one fucker who manages to sneak their giant bag on to the plane bypassing the ‘green tag’ planeside directions, then blocks the aisle at seat row 8 trying to wrestle it into the far too small overhead compartment. My only delight is seeing their face when the stewardess finally notices and confiscates it. If I’m really lucky they forgot to take out their on board entertainment and are not sitting next to me. Then there those with reasonable size bags but lacking the energy to drag them all the way to the back where they are sitting, effectively screwing the person occupying that row, who is often me. These same inconsiderate slobs then spend the first half hour of each flight poking through all the overhead bins trying to remember where they stashed it to get their M&Ms. I curse them as my feet cramp, jammed up against the laptop bag under the seat in front of me. Finally, people who are perfectly fit, not disabled or decrepit with age, who take a damn year to get their shit and get off the plane already. You know who you are and I pray next time you go to the lav you get trapped for a half hour behind the slow moving drink cart.

The last group I’m going to drone on about is troublesome because I fit very clearly within it. Yes, like all those waitress/ actresses I’d love to call myself a corporate douche/ writer, but who are we kidding. I am a corporate douche, one of a group of people I firmly hate. My actual title is not in fact, ‘corporate douche’ though I’m sure that exact wording appears somewhere in my resume. It is Program Manager, and as such I must model that perceived image with every breath.

What really pisses me off about corporate douches like me is the necessity of peppering every sentence with meaningless jargon we all recognize and no one can clearly define. “Well Roger, that sounds like an actionable plan, but is the additional step really value added? We need to grab the low hanging fruit here, think outside the box and do a risk mitigation analysis. Once we get this vetted through John, I’d say we need to do a baseline kickoff and get some six sigma analyses done. Why don’t you set up a meeting, but before Wednesday when I’ll be out of pocket.”

These are all sentences similar to or exactly like those I utter every hour of every day as do those around me at my “level”. I have no idea if ‘actionable’ is even a word, if I would know ‘value added’ if it crawled out of my ass, what makes something ‘low hanging fruit’, why we can’t use what is already inside the box and everyone understands already, if ‘mitigation’ is anything like ‘migration’, how to ‘vette’ something other than hit it with a Corvette, what six sigma is other than six sorority girls, and why I must use cutesy terms to say I’m too busy to deal with you that day. God, we are such pompous assholes!

What is even worse is when you forget and talk like that in front of your staff. It’s like swearing in front of small children; they immediately pick up on it and mimic it back to you, trying to relate to you on your level. You get it, but it’s so unappealing. You don’t have to sound like that! Go, be young, stick to the engineering technical stuff while you still can! I swear to all that is holy, if I hear ‘ODC run rate’ come out of your mouth one more time, you are getting locked in the lab for a week! Trust me, you don’t want to be like me. I asked my former boss what ‘direct cost allocations’ were and next thing I knew I was stuck in endless meetings looking at ‘return on sales’ metrics.

The only advantage of being part of a group you so actively hate is that you can finally get a little physical revenge in. Sometimes after meeting at which I subject my peers to slide after slide of charts and graphs that apparently indicate how we are doing with respect to what, I roughly push myself into my office and shut the door. All right douche, this is for explaining ‘run rate variance’ for 12 minutes! Whump! My stomach convulses with the blow and I’m down. And here is the ‘return to green’ plan you made up on the fly and is going to cause everyone extra effort and not even work! Gah! My calf muscle spasms with the kick from my right foot. In a few moments I reduce myself to a quivering pile, but the rage has calmed back down to an even simmer; enough to crawl back to my computer and generate a status report or two. Corporate douches man, you have to hate them.

Oh, and there are others, trust me, and perhaps one day I will write about them as well. So, all you truck drivers, Amish, carpet salesmen, celebrity bloggers, people who stand in your office when you are trying to eat soup for lunch, comic shop customers, Wal-mart cashiers, female assembly workers in their 50’s, breakfast eaters who make that loud smacking sound with their mouths, skinny jeans wearers, lighthouse keepers other than Lampy from ‘Pete’s Dragon’, and gamer geeks… your time is a coming too.

A Little Pissed

            I’d like to take the opportunity to share with you, my fine and constant reader who checks this blog out now once in a blue moon, one of my more harrowing work related experiences. You have been regaled to some degree about my glamorous international travel experiences from my field engineer days, so I’m going to leave off on that for now and go in another direction. I understand this is likely to leave you sniffing around about your bottom like a dog after you hide the ball, but we all understand there was little chance of that not happening anyway. Now that we are done with our customary into tête-à-tête, I can launch into the story of the PMR.

                PMR stands for program management review which consists, theoretically, of a quarterly meeting of the minds between a contractor and customer to exchange viewpoints, engage in lively discussions and reach consensus on what is going to be best for everyone. I imagine something like this has probably occurred at some point in the distant past, but I certainly have not been part of it. I’m going to be somewhat vague when it comes to company and program names, the personalities involved and whatnot because I have come to realize that the less attention received from this jaunty group of people the better.

                I started working on this particular program back in January of 2007 and even then when the first article had just been delivered there were already some articles of controversy. Actually said articles existed for years before all through development as the approach taken was new and original, something government functionaries tend to despise. Powerful detractors were in the midst from the get go attempting to spread poison and discord; Machiavellian attempts to get the project shit canned well before it reached the point of no return. We were the rebels fighting the empire of bloated government spending. I had no idea when I stepped into it.

                For those who don’t know me better, I have had a lifelong deep seated fear of having to get up and speak in front of people. Big deal, most people have that, but mine was a tad worse than most. Through my entire academic career, kindergarten through college graduation, I never once volunteered and answer or option to anything. Not once. Never raised the hand. Don’t even know what it feels like. If a teacher was determined to reduce me to a sweat covered, red faced stammering fool, all they needed to do was to call on me. Some were more sadistic than most.

                In spite of all this, I signed up for the MBA program at UB in order to further my education. I came to realize early on that presentations to the class were to be expected. Group ones as well as individual. I didn’t care to hear that at all but fortunately my competitive nature would not let me drop the program. For group projects it was easy. I was the guy who would write the whole paper so long as other people got up and did the presentation. If it was required that everyone get up there, I campaigned for and won the shortest segment. It was horrible, even though the class at large was sleepy and clearly uninterested in the trials and tribulations of the American Connector company. Eyes were far more on iPod and Crackberry’s than on me, but still, you couldn’t get me out of there fast enough. Oh, how Iittle I knew how hard it could truly be.

                The first I became aware of such things as PMRs I was one fine morning in May after I came into work. It was 5 months after I took the job and was still getting my feet wet. The phone rang and it was Mike, the business unit executive my program fell under.

“Yeah, Mike we are having the PMR over here at the other building and these guys want to talk about the support portion. Can you come on over?”

“Uh…. what? I didn’t prepare anything or anything.”

“That’s fine, that’s fine. Just print out some copies of that spreadsheet you keep and c’mon over. They just want to talk. It’ll be good. It’ll be good. But just so you know, they are a little pissed.”

                I printed out about 5 copies of my failure summary spreadsheet and made my way over to the other building. I came into the conference room where the meet and greets were still taking place. Just fucking great. The one day I didn’t think I had any meetings and came in casual in jeans and an old sweater, and now pulled into a room of about 60 people all in suits. A big believer of “dress better than the other guy in business situations”, I felt at an immediate disadvantage. Perhaps I just received at call from the wife that the sump pump was acting up again and I had to rush out. Before I could formulate the thought, Mike spied me and a flurry of introductions was made. I failed to retain a single name or title.

                I sat through the morning presentation feeling conspicuously out of place; the red dot on the cashmere sweater. I was an unknown to this group and I could tell they regarded me with suspicion. I was hoping that no one was really going to want to ask me anything and hoped for the best.

“Well, that about wraps up the production notes. Got Mike here from product support to field any questions you might have, so we’ll have him meet with anyone interested over in the side meeting room.”

                I was immediately grateful not to have to get up in front of the assemblage. I made my way into the side room and sat down at the table, my scraps of paper in front of me, ready to receive any interested parties. To my dismay about 40 people filed into the room. Additional tables were pulled over to adjoin the small one I sat at. Everyone sat down from the highest program manager on the government side to Air Force system users. All eyes turned to me expectantly; suddenly chair of a sizable meeting.

“Uh… I think we need more copies.”

                I was unable to use this as an excuse to break free as an admin suddenly appeared as if from nowhere, took one of my 5 copies and trundled off to make more. I was forced to get started with about 10 people to a copy as I stammered through the first of the issues. I immediately ran into trouble. One of the site representatives, a mid level functionary, whose team my team had been working with on a particular issue suddenly made the declaration that they were dead in the water waiting for us to get back to them with answers. The 80 eyes already on me narrowed as if to say, “Contractor slime, we know your game.” My sweating increased exponentially.

                The truth of the matter was that my team had been hounding his people mercilessly attempting to get the issues cleared. I declared I had email proof of this – proof! – but my word was disavowed. I was simply a weasel trying to slip free the stern hand of government vigilance. After the meeting, by the way, I forwarded every single one of the aforementioned emails to everyone present, but the effect was lost. “Oh sorry, I guess you were right” was the only response from this finger pointing bastard. The remainder of the meeting was similar. I turned at times to Joe, the big production program manager, but my silent entreaties to be rescued were met with silence.  At the end I slunk away with onerous action items and the credibility of a ring tailed lemur caught in a bear trap; questionable that I should even be there and assuredly screwed.

                I managed to turn thing around in the following months and fall finally came. I had established a rapport with the site users but still communicated little with the program office who actually had the power to make me miserable. Executive Mike called me into his office on fine October day.

“Yeah, the next PMR is coming up in 2 weeks and they said they want you there.”

                This was unwelcome news to say the least. This PMR was being held at the home base of the program office on the government side. Their pond in the mountains. It so happened that a large project for school was due at the same time and I attempted to utilize this as an excuse. No dice. I was coming along, hell or high water, and this time I was expected to make a formal presentation. Don’t bother coming for the production day Mike told me, just fly in for your part the following day.

                I did as I was told and flew out; arriving in the early afternoon at the same time Mike and Joe were having their asses handed to them. I arrived, but naturally my luggage did not, and yes, it contained the only suit I owned. I badgered the airlines but they refused to commit. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe never, who really knows? Oh, how I hate them. Dinner time rolled around and I finally broke down to locate a mall where I could purchase what I needed. Mike called to invite me to dinner with the rest of the crew, but I had to beg off. Too bad, he told me, important information to share, but meet for breakfast. I just purchased a suit, a shirt, new belt, new shoes, socks, and a new tie when Delta rang me up with the excellent news that my bag was sitting at the airport. I went to bed, my nerves shot already.

“Don’t worry; they’re just a little pissed.”

                Mike’s calm demeanor at breakfast did little to quell my nerves. My stomach roiled and the watery scrambled eggs didn’t help much.

“Wait, what?”

“They are a little pissed. Joe is behind on production and they really don’t like the number of field failures they have experienced, so be ready for that. Let’s see your slides. … Hm… Oh, I wouldn’t tell them that; then they would be really pissed.”

                This was really not the sort of thing I wanted to hear. There was nothing I could do to change the slides as my presentation was already loaded in the computer on base.

“Just try and talk around it. Don’t worry, Joe and I will be there.”

                We got to the meeting location and my sense of panic began to grow. About 60 people milling about, most of who had names I had forgotten. All eyes facing front where a large dais with a microphone. No podium to hide behind. Big screen behind, positioned just so that no matter where you stood, someone in the audience would be doing that head craning thing to try and look around you even though they have a paper copy in front of them. We received the agenda and I was pleased that nothing had changed. I would be going after lunch giving me enough time to look over my slides again so I wouldn’t appear too much the fool.

                The morning presentation went much faster than scheduled. I keep peering at my watch, willing the hand to move faster or for some long winded questions pop up in order to stall things just until lunch. Please God just give me until lunch!

“We seem to be ahead of schedule so why don’t we get started with Mike’s portion before we break for lunch.”

                Crap! Visibly shaking, I got up and made my way to the front. I next spent a very awkward and uncomfortable five minutes in front of everyone trying to figure out how to work the damn microphone until someone finally came up, wrestled it out of my hands and flicked it on with an expert snap of the thumb leaving me to look like the inept boob I felt like. In movies this would have been the time when the microphone would have screeched as I attempted introduction, thus breaking the tension and letting me giggle nervously. No such luck. Instead I led off with what I thought was a fairly humorous little joke, or pun if you will, that failed to garner even a chuckle.

                I looked through the faces in the crowd. Everyone from my side of the house was busy buried in their Crackberry’s, blithely typing away with their thumbs as I faced the slow death. As for the customer, a panoply of looks. Bored. Disinterested. Incredulous. Skeptical. Hostile! Angry! … Furious! I had no idea how to feel about that. No one ever looked angry as I stumbled through a presentation about how NASA stores old data. Never once did anyone look furious when I explained in great detail how soy farmers in India were using computers to check the weather. This was not good. I hadn’t even begun and I managed to not only soak through the pits of my undershirt, but the shirt itself and my coat.

                As with any public performance it always is easier once you get going and can lose focus on where you are. Not this time! Every piece of data I presented was cross examined as if by those old timey lawyers you see legal classics like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Inherit the Wind’ or ‘My Cousin Vinnie’.

“Well sir, I suppose you can tell me HOW a system that YOU report is meeting the contractually mandated mean time between failures specifications can POSSIBLY have experienced the event by which you describe? Sir that is ONE magic event!”

“Uh. What is the specification again?”

“Unacceptable!”

                They let nothing go, tearing into every disputable factoid with the zeal of a seagull on your unattended fries at Old Man River. These were the best experts the government had on twisting logic, verbal entrapment, cross examination and contractor doublespeak. At one point I somehow got pulled down a path where instead of charging them for something they would normally pay for, my company ended up agreeing to foot the bill. Joe looked up from his Crackberry just long enough to shoot me a glance and an eye roll that said, “You stepped in it good there, stupid.”

                We broke for lunch midway though so that I would be able to eat my chicken sandwich in total abject terror for the interrogation to begin again after lunch.

“Mike, I’m dying up there!”

“Nah, you’re doing fine. They’re just a little pissed and you are an easy target.”

                I felt a tiny bit better, but not really.

“What about that bit about us taking responsibility for all those repair costs. Isn’t our president going to be upset about that?

“Yeah, he’ll be pissed.”

                After lunch was more of the same, but it finally came to an end. I returned to my seat exhausted and full of strong intentions to update my resume. I made it though; the world didn’t come to an end, though once again I was saddled with dozens of onerous action items to report on at the next PMR coming round the mountain in February.

                Flash forward to now. Making travel plans to go out there again for PMR #10. This customer and I have gotten to know each other very well over the past few years and have a well defined relationship where I help them and get blamed for everything, but things are much more congenial for the most part. And yes, they are still a little pissed.

October Surprise!

            Every locale I have ever been do has a pithy homespun sounding saying regarding the local weather, “if you don’t like the weather in, I don’t know, Buttfuck MD, wait ten minutes!”. This is usually espoused by some old bastard who probably thinks he coined it. This is especially true here in Buffalo where the old Polish woman down the block, whatever block you happen to be on, will lob that old chestnut out following a, “was it you who ordered all this hot weather?” and perhaps an f-bomb or two. This isn’t Jersey, so we generally smile weakly and try to get away before being engaged in more inane conversation. Be that as it may, the saying is sometimes, or at least once, true.

            It was Thursday, October 12th 2006, and there arose some cries of surprise when a co-worker looked out the window and drew everyone’s attention to the fact that big wet flurries were coming down. I was immediately agitated by this for a number of reasons. For one, the morning had been unusually warm at the tail end of the Indian summer and I did not bring a jacket. Second, I had not yet armed my vehicle with the usual winter accoutrements meaning I’d have to clean off my windshield with my bare arm if this shit actually stuck. Finally, ever since my wife relocated here I’ve heard nothing but griping about the constant winter snowfall, that I still maintain is really contained between late December to early March, from the onset of fall until close to the 4th of July. This certainly didn’t help my case! I knew as well that my in-laws would sit back and say, “ah, typical Buffalo!” as they liked to express skepticism when calling mid August and being told that not only were we snow free, but roasting.

            I was annoyed to see it not only was sticking, but coming down harder by the time I decided to go home. As I feared I was stuck clearing the heavy fall with my arm. I made a slow way home and when coming down my street noticed that something about my property looked… off. Just not right. I couldn’t pin it down right away. Got it. I was reasonably sure I had not left the gigantic tree in the front leaning down upon the house when I left that morning! Well, this certainly wasn’t good. Not possessing a degree in architecture or anything useful, I had no idea if the weight of the humongous snow covered tree was enough to cause the house to collapse, so I decided to go in and make some phone calls, but smartly leaving my car back at the end of the driveway.

            I got a hold of Molly and suggested she might come home early from her internship and wisely left out any concerns of structural collapse. We did some calling around to see if we could find a tree guy willing to come out that day and ended up booking 4 different ones and figuring we would go with whoever came first. At the time, the whole issue seemed be really nothing more than a minor annoyance. Dave the tree guy came a couple hours later, and by that time the tree had leaned into the house even more and a few branches had broken off. The snow never abated. I took the precaution of parking both cars in the circle of the cul-de-sac where they would be mired in for several days more. Dave put my fears to rest and let me know that the house would hold up the tree nicely, and that if it did decide to uproot completely and fall, it would smash up our neighbor Wendy’s immaculately kept property. He’d come by in the morning to take it down and we decided to have an evening in.HPIM0179

            That evening, as anyone who experienced it, was surreal. We sat on the couch watching TV and listened to the gunshot cracking sounds of branches breaking and the reverberating thud as they hit the ground. We worried of the power going out, but figured it would have already if it was going to. Ha! Optimistic fools. Lightning flashed and the sky had a weird green glow to it. Molly worried of disaster but I found the whole experience kind of cool. Very apocalyptic and exciting; something different for a dreary October day. Around three o’clock in the morning we were awoken to the sound of the power going out. We went back to sleep, confident it would be back in the morning. Our 8 days of darkness had begun.

            We woke from daylight in a silent house, growing steadily chillier without the electric life that was usually breathed into it. The view out the front was almost overwhelming as we could not actually tell what we were looking at. It was an unbroken sea of snow, leaves, and wood at all angles making it impossible to get true perspective. Out the back we could at least tell that it was indeed our yard, but it as well had become a cacophony of branches and snow heaped together as if by the tirade of a mad god. There sure was going to be a lot of cleaning up to do! To our delight, we found the land line still worked and I set about making some phone calls. My first call to National Grid drained us of hope although we received nothing but lies. Our area was not expected to be back up until the following day! My mother lacked power as well, but my sister was still on the grid so we pumped her for news. Hundreds of thousands powerless! Worst natural disaster in WNY history! Abundant use of exclamation points! It was worse than we thought.View out Front Door 101306

            A few things were readily apparent. One, we had to come to terms with the fact that we would go the day and night with no power and must compensate. There was a possibility that tree Dave would not be coming by as not only was our street absolutely impassable, but Harlem road as well. No entry or exit, we were housebound as when they had that blizzard on Little House on the Prairie where Paw almost froze his ass to death on some fool errand. Third, my irritation with the fact that we had an electric stove increased exponentially. Lack of hot comfort food on a shit day is indeed a foul thing, especially after choking down a cold lox sandwich for breakfast; oily chilled fish on untoasted rolls being less appetizing when shivering than even expected. I made instant coffee with hot water from the tap and grimaced at every sip. Yard on 101306

            We spent the morning and part of the afternoon outdoors in the yard with the mistaken notion that we would have things cleaned up in no time. I with my bow saw and Maw with her loppers, we broke down and stacked an impressive 4 large branches that day accounting for a total of 0.3% of those fallen. I campaigned to buy a chainsaw when access to the open road was restored. It was foul sweaty work, rewarded with having to strip off soaked clothing in a cold house before jumping in the shower. Thankfully the hot water heater was gas powered! At lunch I remembered the grill and we dined on the first of many hamburger meals to make use of the huge amount of ground beef we had for some reason. The first was like heaven; the rest, not so much so.

            We felt completely cut off from the rest of the world. The fact that I avoid the neighbors, plus being the ‘that guy’ on the block what with my hole digging and front lawn vegetable garden, we didn’t feel the neighborhood solidarity as others seemed to be experiencing, although one kind woman gave us firewood, whom I still owe. No TV, no internet, just land line reports from Laura or the Jersey folk telling us how much worse the situation was than everyone thought. We wouldn’t hear it – the recorded message on the NaGrid line said we’d be back up tomorrow dammit, and since they never made another update, we could only assume it was gospel.

            As the day drew on the last remnants of heat left over vacated, I decided to make use of the glorious fireplace and heat the place up a bit. The one bit of fortune we had was that the nature of the problem provided as much fuel as one could shake a stick at, even if it was green wood and a good recipe for a chimney fire. Being without TV the first night was a nice experience. Molly tried to teach me how to play the piano and we finally settled into a long Boggle tournament by firelight. Little did we know that the tournament was to last the better part of a week and that I would not, even once, ever win a round despite my English background. My requests to sprinkle a few Trivial Pursuit games in the mix to liven things up were denied.

            Saturday morning came and we tried the tree service again now that it looked like the roads were finally clearing some. According to the receptionist, Tree Dave was AWOL and we may or may not see him. This was depressing and we beat the walls in anguish. We geared up for another day of darkness, cold, and expending massive amounts of energy to clear pathetically small patches of the back lawn while subsisting on tired old burgers and cold fare. Suddenly Molly called from the living room, “Something is happening! Something is happening!” A bucket truck had pulled up in front of the house. It was Dave, come through after all and accompanied by a grown up version of Scut Farkus from ‘Christmas Story’.

            Scut took to taking down our tree almost immediately and had the distinction of being the first and only decent contractor we encountered in the ensuing debacle, as well as one of the most unconventional. While Molly and I chopped away in the back, Scut swung his mighty chainsaw around, lopping tree limbs with a cigarette hanging from his lips and a beer in his free hand. Although I was fairly certain there were OSHA regulations of some sort against that kind of thing, I wasn’t about to say anything. He observed my pathetic sawing and when he took a break to go eat a sandwich and drink more beer, he loaned me his chainsaw with an admonition not to hit the dirt, without ever asking if I knew how to use it, which I did not.HPIM0254

            Later that afternoon, after clearing several more branches with Scut’s chainsaw before he had consumed enough beer to want it back, I was able to make it off the block for the first time. Armed with a clear order to bring back hot food, I ventured out. I found the Mickey D’s closest to us still powerless, as was Jubilee which is too shitty a store to carry hot food anyway. Making my way up Kensington into Williamsville, I encountered my first area where power was restored and pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot along with 100 other powerless people with a yen for a Big Mac. An hour later I returned home victorious with hot burgers and super salty fries. The taste of heaven, though I didn’t know it would be our standard fare for a full week on.House on 101506

            I’m going to decline going into the painful detail of each and every day, except to hit some highlights regarding how bad it sucked. Daytime wasn’t so bad. We had daylight, the house didn’t seem as cold, and for the most part I was trying to spend as much time at work as possible. Night time, however, blew monkey balls. We tried to spend as much time at Laura’s watching her precious TV, even though my brother-in-law usually had some tedious game on, but having to come home after made it almost not worth it. Nothing like leaving the light of civilization to turn down a dark and lifeless street resplendent with shattered corpses of the once fine trees that sold us on the street to begin with. Entering the front door, we would arm ourselves with flashlights and make our way though the frigid environs, change in the cold, and spark a fire to get just a smidgen of heat.

            The silence was broken only by the crackling of the damn fire that always needed tending, the roll of the fucking Boggle cube, and the tell tale hum of the lucky bastards peppered about the area with generators. One night when going to bed I made the galactically stupid mistake of drawing my wife’s attention to a noise in the room (she had been wearing ear plugs and took them out for this) and suggested that it might be a bug. This resulted in a protracted hunt by flashlight in a large messy room for something I had zero chance of finding. Good times, good times.

            Depression began to settle in as friends and co-workers got their power back while we continued to sit in darkness while Buffalo resumed normalcy for the most part. It began to look as if the situation were permanent, that Snyder was being consigned to a green initiative and reverting back to the… well, I guess the Victorian or maybe Edwardian age. The numbers without power dwindled from the hundreds of thousands, to tens of thousands, to simply the thousands. We began to expect to see our house alone displayed on the NaGrid website as the last pocket of Suckstobeyouville.  Then along came Dick. Wondrous Dick! Spewing with kindness Dick! Stop that; that isn’t how I mean it. Dick, a co-worker of mine, announced to me on the Wed morning after the storm that he knew of a generator we could borrow.

            I took off early from work that day and got the thing wired up. My first obstacle was that my damn drill lost its juice, so I was forced to fire up the generator and use it to charge the battery. The genny was a small model capable of putting out just a few amps and needed to be refilled every hour, but during that hour it was able to power the furnace, the sump, one lamp and the TV. Oh how sweet life was again! For the first time in a week we had both true warmth and the awesome glow of the ‘King of Queens’ big fat ass to delight us. The downside of course was that every hour I had to slog out into the rain and slush and refill the damn thing, but by the time we were ready to go to bed the house was toasty and we absorbed enough brain killing programming to lull us into complacency once again.

            Finally, late afternoon on the 8th day, I was in the downstairs bathroom getting my pee on when a miracle occurred. With a resounding thunk and chirp the house roared to life again. Lights came on; as did everything we had left on the week before. Glorious! The initial pain was over, and it was time to face the real music and deal with insurance agents and contractors. Little did we know we would be looking back on the days of darkness with true nostalgia.

            Under the reveling light of best possible kind, humming florescent, it was fairly evident that we would need to file an insurance claim and get a hold of some contractors. Our main roof was battered, the flat roof was punctured and the library beneath said flat roof was inundated with lots of moisture. Now we had planned to get the roof done anyway, but we kept that little nugget from the claims adjuster and let him think the storm was the reason it looked so old and shitty. By the way, State Farm… booya! They managed to find things to cover we didn’t even think of, and believe me, I itemized every little thing that could be linked to the storm by even the flimsiest of associations. This guy bought all that and a whole lot more! It was also the very last time I managed to gain any type of satisfaction in dealing with someone regarding this.

            First order of business was the roof. We had planned on getting it done anyway and had already contracted with the fabulous G Brothers. We went with these blokes who still humped around old timey wooden ladders because not only did they promise to do the roof, but that they could also drop in the solar tubes I bought and install an exhaust fan in the downstairs bathroom, all for only $200 more for the follow on items. A steal! They did quick work on the roof, showed up on time, and managed to raise the price after pulling the old, “Gee, I never saw anything like this before!” schtick regarding the flat roof. Like these assholes in business for 30 years could possibly be surprised by the way some other asshole slapped tar and shingles down in such a way as to warrant an extra days work. Fuckers.

            They finished the roof and immediately began badgering me for payment prior to performing the other two tasks. We withheld, but mainly because the bank was slow to release our funds. They finally showed up to do the tubes, spent an hour hemming and hawing before finally admitting they didn’t know how. The badgering began again and I badgered back about the fan. Their electrician showed up, took a quick look, pronounced the job impossible and left. They finally knocked the $200 off the final price (after raising it $300 for the flat roof) and I settled up. Since that time we have experienced 3 separate leaks in the flat roof, left dozens of messages, and have yet to see them return and honor their 10 year warranty.

            Worse was the crew we hired to do the library. The main outfit seemed to be pretty good at first. They swept in, got everything dried up, then left for several months. In the intervening time we got Slappy the carpenter and his crew of boneheads whom the main outfit contracted to do the actual repair work. Slappy was a real piece of work. Unreliable, slow, and overly reliant on scrounging what he needed from homeowners. Seriously, his first day in he asked to borrow both a hammer and a drop cloth. What kind of goddam carpenter doesn’t have a hammer? Another day I came come to find his crew found, used, broke and then hid my shop vac; another item I would think the idiot would have had. On top of it all, he had one needy schmuck working for him who drove us crazy. Every few minutes he needed something and would appear, looking sheepish, in the living room with another story. “Uh.. Mr. Wolf… I uh, cut myself. Do you have Band-Aids?” or  “Uh… Mrs. Wolf… Um.. can I  uh go to the bathroom?” It never ended with this dill hole. On top of it all, his work was shoddy. On the very last day he came in to replace the two strips of wood between the windows and used different type and color wood and didn’t understand why we had a problem.

            I got a little bit of payback on Slappy when he began harassing me for his money. He was so bold as to call me up and actually threatened to put a lien on my house if he didn’t get paid right away. My response, go ahead and try! I explain the most basic element of how contracts work with this fool who claimed to have been a contractor for decades. Basically, I didn’t have a contract with him, I had one with the drying company who subcontracted him, so really didn’t give a toss if he got paid or not. I only had to pay the drying company, who as near as I could figure, disappeared completely without ever billing me. Oh, the satisfaction of watching him slink away.

            The drying company finally came back in March, finished what they needed to do, and I settled up with them. Apparently they were also tired of Mr. Slappy and his shaggy horde of miscreants.

            The day finally came when there was just one last thing to take care of. Replacing the rug in the library, back hall, and we thought of doing the bathroom as well. We did some shopping around and considered doing the Kenny, Kenny carpet. We walked in and could not get anyone to talk to us, so we walked out and down the street to the venerable Max Pies where we were accosted by their sales douche Mike. A little more savvy in our negotiation skills by now, we wheeled and dealed, dropped a bogus quote from Kenny, and came down to a mutually agreeable price with Mike, or so we thought. Later that evening, we decided we didn’t want to do the bathroom at that time after all, so called Mike and asked for the price with the bathroom taken out and received an answer we could live with.

            Two weeks later the carpet people came on by and I had the old carpet ripped up as per the agreement to save on cost. Consummate professionals, they set to work, but sought me out after a bit. Here is what they showed me. Library, carpeted. Back hall, carpeted. Hallway between library and back hall… bare floor. Dude, they didn’t give us enough carpet to finish the job. I assumed there was an error and called up Max Pies and sought out Mike. This fine piece of work went on the defensive before I even opened my mouth. “You said you didn’t want to do the bathroom!” he whined at me, followed by a quote for $200 to finish up. I had had never done so before on a phone call, nor have I since, but I exploded.

            Ol’ Mike there was chock full of the flimsiest excuses I have heard. First it was that ‘I wanted it that way’, which didn’t hold up because what kind of frigging idiot wants two carpeted areas with a nice hall of dirty plywood connecting them? Second it was that in the carpeting world, that hall way was considered “part of the bathroom” and I should have known that. I got the installer, who was uncomfortably standing right there and asked if that was part of the fucking bathroom and got him to admit that made no sense. Finally, his excuse was that I “beat him up on price”. Don’t sell it to me for that then! I cried deliberate low balling, bad faith, breach, and every other pseudo-legal term I could think of and demanded the number for Max Pie himself. Mike blustered and desperately tried to avoid giving it to me, but I won the day.

            I called Max, who doesn’t actually exist, or whatever the owner’s name is and left a very polite, but quite blistering critique of his salesman’s business practices on his machine. He called me back shortly and arranged to give me the remainder of the carpet needed at cost with free installation. I had the pleasure of calling Mike back to make the arrangements and got to enjoy him getting very passive aggressive until I threatened to call Mr. Pie again, after which he shut up and took the arrangements.

            The install was scheduled for two weeks thence and I had to burn another vacation day to be there. Mike, in his P/A manner, managed to corn hole me one more time and sent the installer over with a close but decidedly different pattern of carpet. I immediately left another polite, yet brutal, message with Mr. Pie, whose number I kept handy. He gave me a blustering apology and offered to have the installed come any time I wanted as to not inconvenience me further. I picked Sunday evening, just to be a dick, but we did tip the fellow well. Over 6 months after the first flake fell, we were almost back to normal, you know, aside from cleaning up the wood, replanting the front lawn, repairing the light post, taking down the awnings, and several other odd jobs, many of which remain undone to this day.

Knaus and I

            Since drafting ‘Thies and I’, it became apparent to me that some of the characters found herein and such probably require similar tales to be told. Chances are that in the collected edition, the T&I story will follow this one and thus what I am writing about probably makes no sense at all, unless you are a clever enough monkey to skip about or perused the formidable table of contents. If not, I’m certain you are already confused and having made your way this far, you might as well continue, as my words, I am certain delight to you even more than fresh cherry cobbler.

            Though it is probably of little interest to the reader, I met Knaus the same way I met Psycho, at one of the Wargames meetings. He had somehow, and without my knowledge or consent, been brought in by Louis to help ‘run the day to day operations’; something I was perfectly capable of pretending to do. Although threatened by the intrusion, I discovered early on that he was mentally in the same magnitude of bizarre that I was; something that I found strangely comforting. We also found ourselves taking the same art class in sophomore year, which is where he picked up the long discarded moniker, Mouse. As each of us took to the comic book style of art, I introduced him to Collector’s Inn, pleasing Jim to no end, as Knaus always seemed to have a wallet full of cabbage every time he walked in.

            That year I also managed to create another connection by bringing Dave to the art show where Knaus and I were showing off our wares. Within 5 minutes of meeting each other the two were wrestling like dogs in heat in the parking lot. A beautiful bromance was born, and one frankly, that I sometimes became the third wheel in. This was my first and only successful attempt at integrating groups of friends from previous periods in my life with newcomers, probably because it is usually something I try to avoid.

            The first time I stayed over at the Knauses over night, I knew I had met my match in oddness. The kitchen table was covered with newspapers, atop which were a collection of batteries in various stages of disassembly. Knaus revealed that he was performing detailed dissections on them, and although I had abandoned my childhood attempts at alchemy, I resolved to put my chemist hat back on and see what forbidden substances I could take apart at home, resulting in many burns. Knaus also revealed that day his own particular brand of logic when making scrambled eggs. I witnessed him dumping in quantities of vanilla extract into the mix, and when I pressed him on why, he stated that vanilla made things taste better, end of story. It was a principle that could simply not be argued with, though I will say they were pretty sucky eggs.

            That first sleepover was also memorable as it revealed Knaus to be as daring an intrepid explorer as I was, perhaps even more so. We decided to walk over to the old Thruway Mall from his house, taking a back channel along some old abandoned rail road tracks, something Dave and I used to do ourselves. After screwing around there for a while, we headed back utilizing a “shortcut” Knaus claimed to have intimate knowledge of. Somehow we became lost in this area, readily observable by entering these coordinates (42.904482,-78.786821) into Google Maps. This delightful looking “park” area is in truth nothing of the kind; the area is actually an industrial dumping ground amidst a swamp treacherous with piles of corroding hulks of strange machinery and murky channels of slightly frozen over sludge and water filled ditches. Did I mention it was February?

            Knaus led us deep into this wasteland with was what I feel were deliberate intentions to cause me the maximum amount of discomfort possible. We scurried around the piles, snagging our jackets and flesh on the razor sharp edges of rusty metal and frequently plunged one or both legs into one of the horrendous bogs. A mixture of snow and drizzle started to come down, further obscuring our limited view and sense of direction. For several hours we wandered, forced back to the center by the presence of trains or some insurmountable obstacle. Eventually we found our way to one of the side streets and took the by ways back, ending up in Town Park on Harlem. There we were accosted by an angry gentleman we affectionately referred to as ‘Dickhead’ afterward. With our muddy disheveled appearances he mistook us for a pair of sophisticated second story men who had been doing some breaking and entering in the local area weeks prior. We managed to convince him otherwise, but he banished us from the premises anyway.

            Despite the horrendous trip through the bog of doom, I let him convince me to accompany him through the tunnel that runs beneath the Galleria mall shortly after it was built. We began the journey in the mall proper and had Jeff along in tow. We got some cheap flash lights at the Dollar Tree, the kind that you have to hold down the button to keep lit, and ventured to the start of the tunnel, resembling old timey Roman catacombs. Jeff freaked within the first few feet and pledged to meet us, if we emerged alive, around the other side. Creepy does not begin to describe it. Pitch black, sterile, with a slow creek running through. At some points you could look up through a grate and see the happy shoppers walking above in a very different world. Near the end we found a side tunnel and began to venture down. An indescribably horrific noise, however, led us to believe a cult of Satanists was looking for fresh sacrifices, so we bolted out of there post haste.

            We managed to maintain a tight friendship through high school even to the point where I hooked him up with my cousin Ann for the senior prom. He was actually supposed to return the favor hooking me up with his cousin Lin, but fate intervened and I ended up going with Ende’s girlfriend’s friend instead. Before high school ended and after we both got accepted to UB, we made arrangements to become dorm mates the following fall; a service UB was willing to provide as roommates with prior friendships were less likely to cause administrative headaches by requesting room changes mid-semester. We were assigned to Schoellkopf hall on the South Campus on the fourth floor reserved exclusively for freshmen men. Not an ideal choice by any means, but it was a start.

            Our living arrangement was an interesting one, defined by the contract we drew up on the first day that allowed for privacy with female visitors (never required) and the settling of disputes on the field of honor. The field of course turned out to be whatever manner Knaus chose to enact his insidious revenge. In order to shield myself from him better, I constructed an enormous wall from the top of my desk, almost to the ceiling that I referred to as my ‘fire hazard’ as it consisted of mostly paper. Knaus respected the wall to a minor degree, though would often tear pages out of the phone book to turn into paper airplanes and launch them over in miniature raids. Fortunately for me, he had not yet stumbled on the notion of lighting them afire just yet.

            At least once a week we would trundle down to Shirley’s O’Aces, with or without the Irish Club, and stumble back in the wee hours of the morning. It was a grand tradition that later moved to Anacone’s but always followed the same pattern of cheap beer, some sort of bar food, and a traditional playing of William Joel’s classic, ‘Only the Good Die Young’ on the juke. On the walks back we would wax into bizarre conversations, such as what we would do if we stumbled upon a patch of decapitated heads on stakes. Knaus, I recall, immediately concluded that he would take as many of them home as he could carry. Hmm… it occurs to me that this post, as well as some of the others, will probably be deposed as evidence against the defence argument that he is sweet and silent as a lamby-pie.

            As a gift that year, Knaus procured for me a small collection of mice, one male and two females. By April the collection had grown to 42 mice and stunk up the room with great aplomb and all too frequent defecation. One weekend, when we least expected it; they made a bid for freedom. I came back to the room Sunday night and immediately noticed something different. The large tank I kept them in now sported a hole where there had been none before and no mice where there had been 42 before. Looking over at my desk I bore witness to the one named ‘Stripe’ after the Gremlin’s character dive into the moldering water in my hot pot, swim across, and jump out the other side slick with putrid grease. Furious, I called Knaus’s house to get him to come help round them up, but no one picked up. By the time he returned that evening at 11, I was sweaty, disheveled and had managed to recapture 3 of the slowest; the rest defeating my best efforts with ridiculous ease.

            Knaus did manage to help me capture the rest in a comedic run about, John Hughes style, with head clonking, crashing falls, frequent collisions, and all manner of events that would indicate the mice were far cleverer than we. At the end it was Knaus and I against Stripe, the lone hold out, and we were hopelessly outgunned and maneuvered. At some point the little bastard made it into the hall and we happily bid good riddance, but he made a surprise return a millisecond before we shut the door. Finally, improbably, Knaus got the mouse and a day later the lot was taken to a pet store with the most likely final destination in a large reptile of some sort.

            Knaus at this point, and for years on forward, became the prime initiator of trips down to Alleghany to get lost, camp, or make every attempt to get injured in course of photographing wildlife and wee pretty flowers. Most of these trips simply involved a lot of hiking, though there were several traditions that had to be met each trip. One was a visit to Thunder Rocks where we would climb around and scale the impressive boulders. Second was the trip to the legendary beaver damn, the jumping off point where we all got lost that epic journey recounted in ‘How I Became a Horseman’. If this chapter precedes that, well, tough luck. Finally, no trip was complete without a stogie enjoyed usually on the trail leading down from Thunder Rocks to the stream that led to the dam. Due to our impoverished condition, these were usually Dutch Masters, but on one occasion toward the end, we enjoyed authentic Cubans.

            Despite the abuse suffered at his malicious hands, and in spite of the fact that he took to calling himself Malfeus for some reason, we decided to room together the following year rather than take chances on a devil unknown. Common adventures shared between all the roommates in that situation are recounted far too often elsewhere, so I will concentrate on a few items unique to point of this post. While it didn’t trouble us in the past, at least not me anyway, a point of contention came up regarding both my habit of snoring loudly and engaging in distracting sleep talking that made little to no sense. These things enraged Knaus and from time to time I would awaken to see him standing over me gritting his teeth in fury. At site to keep you awake at night assuredly.

On several occasions I did some sleep walking as well, always to his inconvenience. One happy night he was treated to being awakened by me piling the contents of his desk on his sleeping head as “they were about to start air brushing”. Another night I somehow found myself in the hall way, locked out, necessitating a furious pounding on the door until he unhappily let me in. His remedy was to play the same Nine Inch Nails CD on auto repeat each and every night; a condition that kept me from ever really falling asleep soundly and led to many missed classes after sleeping through them on the 5th floor of Lockwood.

Knaus also had an excellent habit of distracting me from schoolwork; something I heartily embraced. He’d look over at me from his desk, exclaim, “I have waaaay too much work to do”, then pull out the latest issue of ‘The Mask’ and commence to reading. This always resulting in me aping his behavior as Matter Eater Lad was far more engaging than BF Skinner. He also had a way of dragging me out to Anacone’s and such on nights before an early morning class. Always with the one-upmanship, if I had an important lecture, he would claim a critical final. He probably did as it was shortly after this that it was strongly suggested he change majors from aerospace engineering to something more his speed like basket weaving or photography.

Knowledge of fine and classical music was an area in which Knaus felt I was severely lacking and attempted to educate me in. Prior to knowing him, I was completely unaware of the iconic 90’s superstar band Transvision Vamp and how they rocked the air waves with such classics as Trash City. We had the opportunity to see them in concert once and to this day I contend that lead singer Wendy James was looking me dead on with the hairy eyeball, such was my magnetic presence in the crowd. I also learned of other enduring legends such as Savatage, Shriekback, and was treated often to the cat like wailings of a post-Blondie Debbie Harry. I’m sure it was musical ignorance that I often sought out knitting needles to end the agony.

When we finally all moved to Comstock, Knaus took on a more reclusive role especially once Aaron and I began our reindeer games and intimidation campaign. Still, on occasion, he would emerge from his oft locked sanctuary and announce he was on a quest for alcohol and trundle down to Anacone’s with or without anyone else in tow. Despite his apparent either shyness or unwillingness to speak in general, with a few beers in him a charismatic demagogue emerged who drew in the enfeebled masses. Often in such circumstances we would find him amidst a crowd of drooling hangers on, gulping up his every ill spoken word. If anyone thought to supply him with endless brandy the world could easily have another JFK or David Koresh, such was his inebriated cult of personality. 

In those heady days of yore he introduced us to one of my favorite summer festivals of all, Allentown. His enthusiasm for going downtown on the subway, slurping raw clams and beer, and looking at all the art we couldn’t afford was infectious! Since those days each trip back is a search to recapture the raw joy of Buffalo’s first summer festival of the season. We used to badger Knaus about entering his own photography as the camera apes down there were pulling down serious green for the same tired old shots of the Central Terminal and shit, but he was unwilling to lay down the cabbage to rent some space despite being able to command four digits a pop for abstract snaps of me eating dog food or Litter Box Jam. Even now I hope to run into him down there, but so far he has declined to compete.

As time progressed he emerged less and less unless it was to bang away on the worlds oldest word processor or not clean the cat box which had become an impressive tower of feces. Once, however, he emerged in a manner most unusual. I came home and was surprised to hear a small commotion and a female voice coming from behind Knaus’s door. As ¾ of the house, a demographic to which both Knaus and I belonged, were not currently being seen with female companionship, this stuck me odd. A bold enquiry led me to believe that Aaron and my cousin had ensconced themselves in there, apparently without Knaus’s knowledge or permission. I began to sweat at what he would do to them, or so I still contend, and when he came strolling through the side door like a thundercloud of death I gently broke the news to him in order to bear the brunt of his immediate wrath.

To my surprise he remained nonchalant about his sanctum sanctorum being so rudely violated. I could only imagine that he was saving his volcanic outburst for the soon to be damned. I threw myself in his path, but he simply stepped over me, the ashes from the cigarette dangling from his lips blinding me from making further pursuit. I managed to come up behind him just as he opened the door and prepared to bludgeon him before he could blast them with his eyes with a bolt of eldritch energy, but while I looked around for an appropriate tool, it became clear that the three of them were really in cahoots. The story, as I was led to believe, was that Knaus egged on by Aaron and Ann in their little exclusionary ka-tet, used a bed sheet tied to his handcuff ring above the bed to shimmy down the side of the house if for no other reason than to annoy me.

When the Comstock project wrapped up and Knaus moved back to his folks, much to their soul crushing dismay I’m certain, we worried he would become a fixture in our past; more of a relic than the hideous goat lamp we absconded with. In the final months we saw very little of him as he spent his time elsewhere and discouraged questions as only Knaus could. At times he would bring Malice, his familiar, along with him as they embarked on dark and mysterious deeds. Instead we were delighted to find that he now actually chose to spend more time in our vicinity, often making the long haul over to Princeton and joining us for our very frequent beer and movie nights. The newest recruits to the Whole Sick Crew, like Jenn with the tongue, Mary, Rob, Chet, and even Dave’s new interest Jennifer took a shine to him. It was the silver age of Knaus and we thought it would last forever.

When things at Princeton degenerated in the last year or so, Knaus, perhaps feeling the Discordia when mom and pops were on the outs (I’m pops by the way), kept his distance. Meetings with him became consigned to long evenings of coffee with myself, Dave and Jen or old school excursions to the forest where to my dismay, increasingly longer periods of time were being devoted to setting up complex equipment to photograph wild posies. When I broke the silence about my intended enlistment to him and Dave, I received open support, though some degree of skepticism as to my true intentions. Anyone who knows me well has difficulty pinning me as a ‘Yessir!’ style military man, except perhaps in the tradition of ‘Stripes’.

While in Basic training Knaus became my most frequent writer, a condition I was intensely grateful for. Basic was a dreary place in which I received frequent verbal comeuppances and days would pass without hint of a smile. Knaus, however, managed to coax out of me the very first laugh out loud with his long and convoluted tales of his wanderings with Dave in the land of UB looking to fulfill the Celestine prophecy. I attempted to share with the other folks, who could all use a giggle as well, but apparently I was the only one cracked enough to appreciate the mad ramblings of shellac headed penman.

Despite the distancing he displayed prior to my departure, he certainly made himself available on a near constant basis when I managed to make it home on leave. Although he had a full time job, not to mention achieving high year tenure at Work-n-Gear, he still managed to drag himself out each and every night until the wee hours. Not only that, but since I didn’t have a car at my disposal, he even drove. Fun nights of pool and beer were spent at old Anacone’s, Bullfeathers, old favorite Caputi’s, and of course our new favorite down on Franklin, the Sanctuary (or Spankuary as it was sometimes known) with its midget bar tender and gothic crowd who moved in from the now defunct Icon.

When I returned for good, Knaus came by to help move me in, although he conveniently showed up just as the very last box was removed from the truck, but had a bottle of SoCo in hand and was forgiven. I don’t recall much after that due to the illness, except that the annual Christmas exchange with Dave resumed and that a screening of our old classic ‘Eric the Viking’ was made to break in my new digs. Next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital, bored from my near death experience only to have it relieved by a considerate Knaus shipping me a hefty load of books overnight.

In the year or two after my return, Knaus was around for a time, but gradually began to slip away into the night. He was a force to be counted on when Tiffany came to visit, once again eschewing work (since I couldn’t, new in my crap ass job at GP:50) in order to entertain her during the days. He was around often in those days and I think made one last epic trip to Allentown with us. He was also instrumental in decorating my pad with his home grown bonsai trees, necessitating me to line up someone to water them every time I went out of town.

Man Down!

Bred deep in the bone of many families are great and wondrous characteristics that follow the lineage from times of old right up to the very present. In some it is a great tradition of warcraft. Other families are full of mighty hunters from times of yore. Others still have incredible mathematical understanding, able to calculate tips in their heads without even looking at the tax. My ancestors, a breed apart, were very obviously the ones accidentally knocking over the king’s horse, getting shot in the ass with arrows meant for the stag, and spilling coffee on the check so no one could figure out what they owed when the bill was passed around, much less what to leave for a tip. Yes, bound in the flesh of my family was the triple threat of fearlessness, multiple left feet, and an unlikely tendency to survive anyway in full contradiction of Darwinian scripture.

While I am murky regarding the exploits of my forefathers, given that I seem to be the first whoever thought of actually writing anything down, I know my own father had his collection of unlikely accidents. Most of his were given over to my sisters and I in the form of tales meant to amuse, and amused we were hearing of hammers falling off garages on to his head and whatnot. The most relevant for this telling, however, is the tale of the Siamese cat.

It seems that my grandmother was a great keeper of cats, and liked them how she liked her bail bondsmen, mean. On one occasion my father was walking one of the Siamese cats they had. That is correct, walking, as on a leash in the backyard. To this day I am still unsure why, but hearing of the consequences I have no real desire to ever try. In any event, as the animal nosed about doing whatever cats on leashes tend to do, a dog of unknown origin that shall never be mentioned again, darted into the yard with a cacophony of resounding barking. The cat immediately darted for the weeping willow tree in the yard, found itself strangled by my father’s leash as it hadn’t occurred to him to let go (nor would it me either), and pursued another avenue of attaining height by running straight up my father. The freaked out beast hung for dear life by his arm as he attempted to shake it off. The cat scrambled to keep hold, succeeded, and shredded the arm in the process. I believe my father had to finally whack it against the tree trunk rendering it senseless before he could go seek hundreds of stitches.

My own flirtation with danger began right on my second birthday, and strangely, I remember it happening despite the young age. I was running through my parent’s living room and managed to trip over something or another and crashed, eye first, right into the edge of my parents coffee table. I bleeding all over and being rushed to the emergency room was probably a bit of a downer for the rest of the party goers, whom I believe simply consisted of my grandfather, Paga, and my parents. This was a day of two epic firsts. The primary being my first trip to the ER with stitches, and the second, very close in importance, the start of my life long war with coffee tables. I would like to note that this was the very same coffee table Knaus body slammed me into at Princeton, breaking the leg.

My early childhood years were spent falling down a lot. Back in those golden oldie days when the TV had 4 channels, VCRs were the toys of wealthy dilettantes, and the idea of a personal computer seemed as far away as flying cars, we spent a lot of time outside, running around, collecting critters and playing with that white dog poop you never see anymore and Sarah Silverman wrote a song about. Running around was something I had a very mixed degree of success with. On one hand, I was really fast and would barrel down the sidewalk at full tilt for no apparent reason or pretending to be the Flash or something. On the other, I had no regard at all for the fact that the village had not redone the sidewalks on our tree infest street since the 50’s, and no one square was vertically flush with another. It was over these that I tripped, usually nine or ten times a day.

While such falls would probably maim an old bastard such as me now, at the time it simply meant bloodied hands and knees. It wasn’t the fall that got you, it was what came after. Usually the abrasive concrete would strip away any bandage and scabbing that had accumulated and leave a fresh open wound for which there was only one treatment. My parents alternated between the red staining iodine that had a deep and penetrating burn and the spray on Solarcane, which gave a sharp and wild stinging. The application of either was invariably worse than the fall and I eventually learned to staunch the blood flow myself with whatever was on hand, such as old Kleenex, leaves, or even dirt until it scabbed over. While dirt and snotty rags probably have the opposite effect than disinfectant, I never did have anything happen and to this day have never had a cut or wound and failed to heal up just fine with nary a bit of trouble.

While I generally like to go in some sort of chronological order with these tellings, I’m going to break convention and skip around for the purpose of saving the best story for last, thus forcing you to read every damn word in this tale, unless of course you have the crafty inclination to simply skip ahead, you cheating bastard you. So, if you want to hear the incredible story of the caterpillar fur, you best mind your p’s and q’s and plow on forward through the tedious tales of my scrapings as I have no doubt you are clever enough or possess the opposable thumbs required to move a page or two ahead before its time has come round at last.

In a nutshell, I had many stitches in my time and my father and I became well known local characters in the old Kenmore Mercy ER. One visit there was actually quite ironic. Jeff and I were mucking about Mang Park and managed to run afoul of some assholes who thought we disassembled the bike ramp they constructed out of sand. We did not, but they were in no mood to listen to our clumsy excuses. We were outnumbered and well outsized and decided to make a break for it. As I cut across the basketball court I managed to trip over something and went flying, landing in a skidding belly flop next to a pick up game. The irony is that the damage I did to both knees, hands, and face far exceeded anything I could have expected from the bullies who honestly probably would have just pushed us around a bit, if that.

On another occasion, at the same park, I had a very close call. Ronnie and I, for reasons unknown, were climbing the high fences surrounding the tennis courts. Going over the top I managed to hook my jeans on the spike and the surprise of it resulted in me dangling by one leg a good 25 feet above the hardened asphalt. I was in a full panic as my jeans began to rip and somehow managed to find purchase with my hands before I fell. We exited the perimeter through the door. Ronnie was always good for finding something dangerous to do, like climbing over the railing on the giant slide, dangling by fingertips from the seat while attempting to gain the pole and slide down it. It seemed every year some kid broke his leg on that slide doing something foolish like that, and I have no reason as to why it wasn’t me. Eventually they tore it down and replaced it with something safe and boring.

Once I got a bit older, the majority of my injuries came not so much from falls on foot, but from falls from my bike. It is not that I was really all that clumsy, but that my friends and I insisted on playing such fantastic games as bike tag. The game was played much like ordinary freeze tag was played, except on bikes and over a much larger playing field; the streets of Kenmore. Damage was equally likely to be inflicted on the chased as well as whoever was “it”. The main problem was that for ‘it’ to actually make a tag, it was almost always necessary to come crashing into the person being chased, either head on, or preferably from an angle. Knocking the other person down was a well desired goal, as was running over their leg or hand as they lay vulnerable on the pavement. On one occasion when I was it, I managed to tag Jeff without knocking him over, but he repaid my kindness by applying the brakes while I was grabbing his arm. This resulted in my flying head over the handlebars and skidding across the asphalt. Many stitches were required.

One of the more memorable injuries I suffered was to my foot, appropriately right after track practice at Crosby Field, and completely unrelated to the purpose of being there. Track almost always ended early forcing a group a young men and women to entertain themselves whilst awaiting pickup from the parental units. While it is invariably a bad idea to leave 11 and 12 year olds alone, unsupervised, in a park fraught with danger, they did so anyway despite the very real risks. Just a few weeks prior to my mishap some hairbag headbanger wandered into our little group awaiting Coach Dean and tried picking a fight with the largest of us. I remember this well as the delightful, strung out fellow asked Pete if he knew what it felt like to have his ear bitten off, and then leaned in to give a little nibble. The rest of us of course did nothing; we didn’t like Pete that much, but he apparently changed his mind when confronted with Pete’s unwashed lobe and wandered off to sit on the bleachers until Mr Dean shooed him away.

On the day in question relating to my story (because isn’t it all about that anyway?) we passed the minutes by climbing to the top of the free standing bleachers and jumping off the back. The purpose of this eludes me, but we did it nevertheless. On one such jump I managed to land square on a broken beer bottle and recall with a great lack of fondness the feeling of the shard pushing it’s way up through my sneaker, the bottom of my foot, and out through the top. While most physicians would advise leaving it in place until a trained professional could remove it, I ignored conventional wisdom and yanked the filthy thing out myself. My sneaker immediately filled up with blood and I sat on the ground feeling numb. One of the parents lived right down the street and was informed of the accident and kindly came down and helped me to their kitchen and wrapped my sopping foot in a dishtowel that I assume they threw away after.

When my father came to pick me up the other kids informed him of my location and we made yet another tedious trip to the ER where they greeted us by name and remarked how it had been several long weeks since seeing us last. There is an old saying that the cure is often worse than the injury and this was proved true that evening. The wound on the bottom of my foot had swelled to the size of a large egg and it was into this swelling that the folks doing triage stuck first a large needle full of tetanus vaccine followed by a larger needle full of Novocain. It would have been far kinder, I feel, had they reversed the order of things, but nurses, the cruel sadists of the medical community, were present and probably enjoyed forcibly holding me down as I thrashed and screamed. The Novocain had not yet taken effect, if that is what they even injected, when they began stitching me up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Again I had to be restrained by several stout men, but managed to get a solid kick into the face of the doc with the string, which he did not at all seem to appreciate. Needless to say, they ended my involvement with the sport that season.

Although I did promise to leave the tale of the caterpillar fur until last, it is my fond desire to screw those impatient bastards who skipped ahead and make them go back to see what they missed. Nothing worth reading, assuredly, but my demand for attention is only exceeded by the glory of my hairline. As I made mention in another tale, which may or may not be posted prior to this one, and probably actually follows this in the limited collectors edition of my combined writings, I had a habit of collecting all manner of creepy crawlies much to my mother’s consternation. On this particular summer’s day, my cousin’s birthday for that matter, I was out collecting as many of those yellow furry caterpillars as I could find and storing them in a dedicated penal colony in my yard until they make the transformation to more desirable moths or butterflies. Late that morning, the effort took a turn for the worse.

I found one perched half way up a neighbor’s tree and I set to trying to knock it down with a long twig. As I was doing so, tufts of the yellow fur came wafting down. One such tuft landed on my right eyelid. I blinked and it came right into my eye, burning like the seven fires of deepest hell as they pierced my cornea and lodged there firmly. I let out a mighty yelp of agony and came running home as fast as my legs would take me, all the while the horrendous burning becoming louder as I ground the substance into my ocular cavity with my stubby little fist.

Due to the extreme amount of discomfort I was communicating, my parents attempted to address the matter quickly. They first had me jump into the pool and swim underwater back and forth in attempt to flush the fur out. A noble undertaking, though make without the understanding that the fur of this breed actually consisted of tiny harpoons that once found purchase were a bitch to remove. The water did nothing but actually irritate it more due to the presence of the chlorine, which increased the burning sensation dramatically. Next my father came up with the notion to have my lay very still while he picked the hairs out with his metal tweezers, a plan my mother kyboshed due to the heightened likelihood that he would damage my eye even further. It was back to the ER!

I don’t remember much of that visit, as shortly after we arrived I was given some kind of potent narcotic. I remember the doctors peering at my eye through some big magnification thing and finally declaring I would need a bona fide eye surgeon, the type of which they declined to keep on hand. Without further ado, they bandaged up my eye, gave me a prescription for codeine and sent me packing. Although the problem was just with the right eye, I quickly found that if I kept my left eye open, it make my right eye move and thus caused massive amounts of pain. I was effectively blind!

The whole month of August blew. No running around, no swimming, no nothing fun. The day it happened was my cousin’s birthday party, which we went to, and I found how much fun it is to sit on a picnic bench while the other kids run around whooping it up. On top of that, my mother’s friend, a nurse, spent the whole time trying to cajole me to open the left eye, claiming it wouldn’t make the right one hurt and apparently disbelieving my yelps of anguish every time I tried. Gotta love nurses. Most of the time I spent sitting in the living room listening to TV. We had like 4 channels, plus HBO for some reason. That summer they played ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ every single day from sun up to sun down, or so it seemed and I listened to it so many times I could recite the dialog verbatim. After 5 weekly trips to the eye surgeon, I was finally able to open them back up again. My first order of business was to turn the caterpillar penal colony into a caterpillar death camp with a can of Raid; such is the vengeance of a 10 year old blinded up until 3 days before the school year began.

The final bit of this story I saved for a ridiculous illness I came down with as a teenager. It was the summer I went to Germany and a few weeks after Heiner, our exchange student packed it off back to Dortmund. I awoke with a terrible pain in my abdomen that just kept getting worse. Before the inevitable trip to the ER when my father got home, it cleared up on its own. A few days later I was set to go camping with the CYO group when it manifested yet again, but this time even worse. My mother finally decided to take me over to old Dr Bradley who took one look at my frenzied pacing, another at my urine sample and read a verdict of kidney stones. “Never seen ‘em in a feller so young before, but eh.” It was off to the ER again!

By the time we got there I was off my gourd with the agony. They stuck me on a cot and shot me up with something that kept me calm and immobilized, yet still feeling the pain full force. Bastards. I have no doubt it was those wretched nurses again, or perhaps that doc I kicked in the face that time with my foot, his hour of revenge come around at last. After hours of testing, x-rays and whatnot, they made the same diagnosis the old sawbones made in less than 5 minutes. They debated like old philosophers as what to do with me. Ultrasound? Surgery? How could they make this young lad feel better? The final answer was that they decided to do nothing and see what happened. They kept me overnight for observation, during which time the pain abated and disappeared, then sent me home with a little strainer to pee through.

The next few days were nervous ones; never knowing when my little friend would decide to make his jagged ass way through my urethra, shredding it up good. I was working at Denny’s at the time and every shift I waited for the pain to return or start screaming at the urinals. Fortunately I was at home the evening when the exodus took place. My urine started coming out brown, then turned red with blood and I braced myself for the worst. The pressure was strong enough to keep it moving quickly, though honestly I feel it would have been more comfortable pissing a watermelon out than that wretched lump of spiky calcium. By some miracle I managed to catch it in the little strainer so as to marvel at the thing appearing to be a large grain of sand that caused me such discomfort. I stopped my constant milk drinking immediately and never returned.

Since I’ve already told the tale of my near death experience after the Air Force, many chapters ahead of this in the ultra-rare leather bound on velum collected edition, I’ll spare a retelling. That adventure seems to have capped my medical mis-adventures, at least for the time being. I’m still young.

Does a Bear Shit in the Woods?

            A question apropos to any undertaking in which it is universally understood that questions of clarification need not be asked, yet are anyway. The readership at large I’m certain is hoping that I am going to go into the subject of bear defecation at great length, discussing the color, consistency, and perhaps even the odor. The truly hopeful may be under disillusion, though not after this sentence, that I may have born witness to such an awkward spectacle. Alas, no; this will be the last and final statement on the subject and I will have no further truck with anyone who asks me to elaborate. Instead this article, chapter or whatever the hell it is today will serve to recount some tales about my Boy Scout camping days and perhaps, time permitting, some follow on efforts.

            I already explained my first foray into the deep dark woods in my ‘Webelos’ post and I won’t bother to recount any of that, forcing you to go back and read again, unless of course you just read it recently, in which case you should be OK. Nevertheless, the experience did not deter me a twit from pursuing further outdoor adventures; something I would come to immediately regret. The summer after the Webelos trip my parents decided to treat me to a great time by sending me off to Camp Turner for a whole week, in which they would be free from my nefarious doings; a nice break for them I’m sure. We prepared for weeks; gathering supplies, planning the route down and perusing the colorful brochure that depicted a bunch of happy little assholes having fun.

            I probably would have been a happy asshole myself, had my mother not blabbed the plans to her best girlfriend on one of their marathon conversations. Before I knew what was what, her son, my oft times nemesis, Pete was also coming along for the week. I was dismayed, though a little bit happy to at least have someone whose name I knew along for the ride as I was a shade on the shy side. To make things more awkward, my mother listened to some old friend of hers who had been to this camp many years ago. This idiot revealed to her that campers used footlockers, military style, to haul and store their shit in. So, we ended up borrowing the one this fool had and lugged it home and filled it with my gear. Needless to say, we got there and I was the only one dragging around this antiquated piece of shit while everyone else had sleek modern suitcases.

            I’m sure the other campers in time would have gotten over the fact that my “luggage” matched that of a 19th century sailor, but I was not afforded that opportunity. Pete, within hours of arriving managed to piss off the whole cabin by pushing the smallest guy off some rocks and injuring him. Despite the fact that I too found this to be particularly egregious, I was nevertheless linked to him. Protesting the matter did nothing in my favor as it appeared weasely as if I was turning my back on an old “friend”. This made for a particularly long week in which we both endured muttered threats and I even had the contents of my foot locker tossed a few times. The shunning didn’t bother Pete a whit of course and he continued blindly forward as if everyone didn’t hate him, depriving me of the one soul who should have been sharing the burden of being associated to his own person!

            I managed to survive the Camp Turner experience and even though I managed to avoid all manner of swirlies, wedgies, and the dreaded rear admiral I declined to opt to return the following year as undoubtedly Pete would follow and the whole sorry mess would be repeated. I did, however, decide that if I was going to go camping in a group environment again it would one be with a group I already had an in with, and second, in a much less structured environment. Making fucking boondoggle key chains and playing color wars was a hoot and all but I was simply looking to crash around the woods in as dangerous a manner as possible. I found my outlet in the St Andrew’s Boy Scout troop, a motley group of hooligans masquerading as admirable youth.

            In the traditional sense, Scouting is about service, community, God, country and all that hoo-ha they try and sell you on. I was in it simply for the camping and stated as much, participating the bare minimum amount needed to remain part of the troop and engage in the monthly outings into the deep dark woods. I progressed through the ranks by getting the least number of merit badges required in the easiest possible categories. When I was honorably discharged a few years later I believe it made it all the way to First Class with a host of bullshit badges including Animal Husbandry (one I couldn’t possibly have fulfilled the requirement for), Cross Stitching, and Unrealized Good Intentions, which I didn’t actually have, but got covered while fulfilling Creative Storytelling. My popcorn sales were abysmal as I failed to even convince my grandmother that it was a good buy. The only meetings I showed up to were the pre-campout planning sessions and generally left well before the end to avoid the mini-classes in knot tying and sponge bathing the elderly.

            The camping trips were glorious affairs! I don’t know if I enjoyed the summer or winter versions better as each had their own flava, so I’ll begin with the summer. Summer camping simply meant tents, which rocked. Not in the good sense of head banging ecstasy but more of the feeling of banging your head on the rock beneath your sleeping bag. For some reason we always started these adventures on a Friday evening, and usually arrived just around dusk. Why we did this rather than wait until morning and make things easier was something the dads along always wondered but never did anything about. Arrival was chaos. Freed from the loving shackles of motherhood supervision we immediately began games of ‘Commando’, a ‘Capture-the-Flag’ variant with less rules. What it really was was a bunch of pubescent boys crashing through the dark woods at night trying to “pretend” hunting down and attempting to kill one another. How this never actually happened for real I’ll never understand.

            While we acted like idiots, my father and the rest of the adult supervision would try to get things organized and draft dashing bodies who came too close to the perimeter to set up tents or gather firewood. Firewood gathering was a real Br’er Rabbit tactic in which the captured Scout would generally just return to the game instead of fulfill his proscribed mission. It was usually well after midnight when things were finally in a state to eat something. The first night it was usually the classic hotdog on a stick over the fire, followed by marshmallows. S’mores were a “forget it” as some dickwad would eat all the damn chocolate well before the other pieces of the puzzle could be put together. Exhausted, we would pass out in the wee hours of the morning only to be awoken at the crack of dawn by some funny bastard singing the “it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the morning” song. Fucker.

            Saturday would be spent in a sleep deprived haze of hiking, more Commando, exploring and a little fishing or such. We were supposed to be learning things like building rope bridges, but our troop was matched well with Scouts who didn’t want to learn and leadership not very inclined to teach anyway. Wisely, we eschewed Jamborees and other events when the cracks in our veneer might be observable to other troops had we allowed them to get too close. At night we would dine on a horrendous concoction known as the “foil meal”: ground chuck, onion, carrots, and potato all wrapped up in foil and stuck in the fire. The results were a greasy mulch of undercooked beef and fat infused half cooked veggies. Adult leadership usually had something else to eat along the lines of strip steaks stored in a locking cooler.

            Winter camping was much more interesting, although indoor affairs wherein we would take up lodging in either the rustic Sikes cabin at Schoellkopf or the fabulous McCormick Lodge at Scouthaven. Given a choice between Sikes, which was analogous to Little House on the Prairie, though a little more primitive, and McCormick, a luxurious bunkhouse with electricity, cooking facilities and indoor bathrooms, I would always choose the former without question. Getting to Sikes on a cold Friday night was always a hoot and involved the immediate task of trying to dry out wood, as the already chopped shit was stored, as a rule, in an area calculated to allow it to absorb the most moisture. We would go wood gathering for wood to burn to dry it and usually settled on green wood. There is nothing like the combination of burning green wood mixed with sopping old aged wood to really fill a cabin up with the maximum amount of smoke possible. I recall that it was even difficult to see the fireplace from my bunk, a simple 4 feet away.

            The best camping of the year was the fabled Thanksgiving campout, of which I attended two. The first year it was at Sikes and Gore, the eldest Scout in the troop, set forth to prepare the annual turkey. An enormous 28 lb bird was set on a spit and manually rotated over the fire for the better part of the day. In the evening, the local rangers in charge of Schoellkopf would be invited to partake with us and provide a midnight hayride after. The smell of the bird cooking all day was magnificent! All eyes rested greedily on the succulent bird and our guests salivated in anticipating when it was taken off the spit. To our dismay the initial carve revealed that the damn thing was still frozen in the middle and not fit for consumption even by Thies’s dog! Our creative solution was to hack off big pieces and dump them in a pot of boiling water to bring then up to temperature. A delicious repast was had of watery stuffing, burned baked potatoes, disgusting boiled turkey, and the lifesaving Mountaintop apple pie.

            The rangers, despite not eating much of anything, especially after witnessing Gore rip apart raw turkey flesh with his sooty hands, and Gary stick his even filthier hand into a 5 gallon jug of bug juice to mix it, made good with the hayride anyway. The hayride, a freezing affair in late November, was made even more uncomfortable by the assholes in front who when passing under a snow laden pine branch would do the old shake down and make sure the rest of us were buried periodically by a faux blizzard. The following year the event was held at McCormick with its fancy schmancy oven and a turkey with one of them new fangled pop up thermometers. Less fun then getting shot in the ass with rock salt we all thought, having never had that particular experience anyway.

            Another great feature about the Thanksgiving campout was that it was traditionally where the new troops broken in. The year that was my first and the same trip that featured the frozen turkey, the legend of the day was that of old Johnny Schoellkopf. The first night we arrived myself and the other newbies were told of old Johnny, the black sheep son of the camp namesake family who killed a whole Scout troop, sacrificed them to Satan, and was guaranteed immortality to skulk about the camp and do so at will until the end of time. Although we were fed a line that countless troops were dispatched in such a fashion, usually ambushed on night hikes, my question regarding why everyone just didn’t go to some other campground was not answered to my satisfaction. It also didn’t seem kosher to me that immediately after this dark telling it was announced that we would be going on a night hike. I smelled a rotten banana and resolved to keep my eyes open.

            I hung towards the back of the formation and was not surprised to see one of the older Scouts, “too sick” to come along, slip out the front door of the cabin before we lost site of it. He was an extremely shitty tracker and I managed to figure out where he was most of the time being gifted with serviceable night vision. On a whim I held further and further back myself and managed to disappear into the woods after we rounded a bend. Hunkering down, I waited for our tracker to pass and began tracking him. As expected, when the troop got into the deepest woods he began with the moaning and chucking around of branches. The other younger troops got pretty panicked, especially with the older guys feigning a ‘Blair Witch’ level of terror. While “Johnny Schoellkopf” stopped to arm himself with snowballs to barrage them with, I managed to walk up right behind him and went with the classic “Boo!” His initial reaction was severe enough where it may have included some bowel voiding, though he quickly followed it with characteristic violence. By the time I extracted my inverted form from the brambly snow bank, the jig was up and we returned to the cabin.

            There was one ill conceived attempt one year to tent camp in the winter time. It was the annual ‘big brother’ team up with the Webelos where in the guise of shepherding them toward the glory of Scout-hood, we would terrorize them for the weekend and get some laughs. The laughs were on us that year my friend, as somehow the Webelos ended up in cozy cabins while the real Scouts got stuck in tents. In January. The official line was that it was planned that way, but given our well unorganized leadership I’m guessing they forgot to book us a cabin and found none were left available when someone finally figured it out.

            Good Scouts should be able to tent camp in any weather. Hell, other troops reputedly even occupied lean-to’s in the dead of winter, but it was universally acknowledged that we simply weren’t good enough Scouts for all that and would probably die if it were attempted. The tent experience almost did the trick. As usual, we set up on a Friday night, my father and I picking a prime level location in a slight depression. A light rain had begun just as we turned in. By morning things were quite wet, and we were getting water intrusion into the tent. I spent most of the day running around in the woods in the rain, becoming thoroughly sopped, all the while exhibiting a magnificent deep chest cough. By late afternoon it became apparent why all attempts to stave the water off were not working – we had pitched our digs on a big sheet of ice that was melting faster by the second. Our sleeping bags were soaked and no dry cloths were left to change in to. Evening approached and the temperature dropped. I was grateful that my father decided to call it and we packed the show up and left once it came out that the Webelos were not going to be sharing the cabin, though would let us come in to dry off for a bit.

            The magnum opus, a term that really doesn’t apply here, of my Scouting camping days was the great Northern Lights canoe trip. The Scoutmaster of my troop, Joe, worked summers as a guide and talked a bunch of us into making the bus ride up to Algonquin National Park up in land of snow and Canuks. Many preparations were made ahead of time, and once again I had an unwelcome item foisted on me through the advice of another old friend of my mothers who had been up there once 30 years prior and was plagued by skeeters. Thus I made the trek up with a giant bee keeper’s hat/ mask that the other fellows naturally found hysterical. I declined to wear it of course and kept it stuffed in the bottom of my duffel.

            The trip was memorable in that it was a first hand exposure to the glory of unspoiled nature, roughing it miles away from paved roads, and eating the Boy Scout equivalent to military MREs every day. It is not worth mentioning much further simply for the fact that nothing at all funny happened, so my exasperating descriptions of some fuck face turtle sunning itself on a log is more than I feel comfortable burdening the readership with, especially as I tend to go on forever as it is. Oh, we did have a momentary giggle when one of the guys was calling his mom in a phone booth and everyone took turns sticking their head in and muttering ‘blowjob’ into the receiver; something he didn’t appreciate as much as we did.

            Shortly after the Northern Lights voyage I ended my association with Scouting for a number of reasons. For one, I had entered high school and felt I was getting too old for that schtick and didn’t want to be one of those pathetic 18 year old Eagle Scouts. Second, a few months after the trip, Joe the Scoutmaster got charged with child molestation. He came to my parents house to disclose this and made the claim that it was pure fabrication of his jilted ex girlfriend who was using her son, who stayed up at Northern Lights with Joe all summer, as a means to get back at him. Though I had no personal evidence of any wrong doing on his part, I and most of the rest of the troop slipped quietly away, even after he resigned.

            I reentered the world of camping once I became old enough to go without supervision, though this was highly inadvisable as the other participants tended to be the likes of Knaus, Thies, Dave, Little Dave, and sometimes Jeff. In retrospect, it was far more likely that someone would get killed or worse with this group than the Scouts, but somehow we managed to straggle home each time. I can think of two voyages worth mentioning.

            The first was the epic trip up into the Adirondacks during the storied Comstock era. This trip consisted of Knaus, Thies, and some dude named Brian who Knaus knew and who we never saw or heard from after. It was a long ride up in Knaus’s van and an even longer hike up the side of the mountain, especially for me as I still did not have a frame pack and relied on my fathers old duffel bag which makes one wish for death when lugging it up a steep mountain.

            The first night there was fantastic. We set up camp and decided to try for the peak of the mountain after dinner. We managed to make it up there just as the sun was beginning to set; a glorious view of nature and all that crap. The undertaking was naturally ill conceived as none of us brought a flashlight. The trip down was danger fraught and filled with infinite risk of tumbling down the poorly defined pathway in near pitch darkness. Undeterred we bounded down at breakneck speed while Knaus entertained us with one of his frequently utilized caricatures of a pissy old man. He had us in stitches and remarkably no one needed any.

            That night I bore witness to further danger in the form of the indigenous wildlife. We had been advised, and surprisingly followed, to tie our food well up in the trees at night for fear of bears, who as it turns out, like to eat as much as they like to shit in the woods. The first night I heard noises and unzipped my tent just a squeak. There in the moonlight was a large brown bear clawing away at the base of the tree our grub was stashed in. He looked my way with a “you want some of this?” expression. I withdrew trusting the razor thin layer of nylon of my tent would be ample guard against his deciding he preferred something fresh. I declined to wake Aaron, who I was sharing the tent with, in fear that he would either attack the bear in defence of his salami sandwiches, or run screaming like a little girl into the woods with the ursine creature lumbering in pursuit, turgid and in a heat of passion.

            Another memorable trip was taken down to Rushford with Knaus, Dave and Jeff, who decided to come out again anyway despite Dave’s earlier plans to stop him with a deft throw of his hatchet. We camped out at my cousin’s property with the stated goal of having a very relaxing weekend, though Dave saw too it that this would assuredly not happen. Right before leaving for the trip, Dave finished his shift at Noco, the one across from the dirty bookstore we loved so much, and the drawer count came up short. Dave, whose work ethic rivaled that of competitive eating champion Takeru Kobayashi, worked himself into such a tizzy that the miscount would bring down the mighty Noco empire, found it impossible to relax.

            The first night there we quickly got a fire going; I was “fire guy” known for my legendary ability to ignite almost anything from kerosene soaked tinder to toilets. Dave brought with him this time a full size axe to go along with the little one strapped to his thigh with duct tape. He neglected, however, to sharpen it before leaving, and despite this found it crucial to chop as much wood as possible. While the rest of us tried to sleep restlessly, Dave spent all goddamn night thunking away at the timbers until we were sure the whole of the forest would be leveled like in that Dr Seuss yarn with the buttinsky Lorax. Lo and behold when we awoke and found that the mighty commotion he spent all night irritating us with resulted in but three sections of green log, such was the dullness of his blade and his wits.

            After spending all night chopping wood, overtired and still pinging about Noco, Dave waxed a bit weird and we finally suggested he go take a nap. In the mean time, Knaus, Jeff and I set to work trying to solve the bridge problem that plagued my cousin. Every spring the stream that ran through the property washed away whatever bridge he built over it. We, three young assholes with no concept of architecture or mechanical design, were determined that we could solve this problem of the ages. While Jeff and I took the approach of building a mighty wooden structure using fallen timber, Knaus set to work attempting to actually change the course of the stream all together and routing it away from the property by constructing a veritable fortress of a mud and stone dam using material dredged from the stream bed. Jeff and I saw merit in this and added our timber collection to the cause.

            A few hours into it, we managed to divert a small portion of the stream about 6 inches to the right. Without warning we were under attack. Small stones came flicking out from the underbrush every few seconds and splashing around us. I finally charged into the woods to find Dave, well camouflaged (or so he thought), with his little pile of armaments and taking aim at Knauses mud and water laden coif. He turned and seethed at me. “If I were a malignant hunter with a gun, you would all be dead right now.” This was apparently in defence of his pre-trip argument to procure an actual gun for this very possibility. Wisely, we knew an armed Dave was a terrifically bad idea under any circumstance. Jeff never camped with us again.