Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

 
Thursday, May 20, 2004

A True Story

I slent last weekend in Massachusetts at my son's graduation ceremony from Simon's Rock College of Bard.

The Address was given by the Dean of Simon's Rock, because he was retiring.

The following is as exact a quote as I can remember:

I've listened to many a speaker at a Commencement over the last 18 years, and I've come to realize something very important.

I can't remember anything they said. (polite laughter)

At my graduation, we had a conservative gentleman, Mr. William F. Buckley, give our commencement address. As you know, Mr. Buckley has an archaic...chuckle... I mean arcane vocabulary, and after he spoke, I realized I had no idea what he had just said. (more laughter)


So much for the value of a liberal education, eh?

I made that comment sotto voce* which led to a sharp glare from a moderately attractive woman sitting in front of me, who, based on the "Dean For America" bumper sticker she plastered on the back of her folding chair when she arrived, tended toward the liberal side of the political landscape.

*For the Dean of Simon's Rock, that means "in a soft voice."

Always happy to help out, that's me!

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Oldest Profession

My daughter got a traffic ticket for speeding a couple of weeks ago, and I went to court with her today. She went before a judge who put her in a diversion program. Pay $50 bucks, don't get a ticket for 6 months, and her speeding charge would be dismissed. We were in court a grand total of 2 minutes.

The only other profession that can rake in that kind of money that quickly is prostitution.

Maybe that's why it's illegal; bureaucrats don't want the competition.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, May 03, 2004

A little absurdity to start off your week…

I was grocery shopping last weekend and my daughter had asked for some conditioner for her hair. Not just any conditioner mind you, but a certain special kind of conditioner that you leave in your hair.

So there I was, in the hair care products aisle of the Super Walmart, looking for conditioner that you leave in your hair. Naturally, this led to me actually reading the labls on some of the products to find out whether or not they were to be left in or rinsed out. And in the course of this reading, I discovered that women are strange. I know, big surprise, but I wasn't aware of the extent of their strangeness until I started reading the ingredients that go in to some of this stuff. One product in particular caught my eye because the principle ingredient was animal placenta extract.

I'll pause for a second and let that sink in.

Running through my head, I now have the indelible image of millions of American women standing in the shower rubbing raccoon afterbirth into their hair.

You know, I want my hair to look good too, but damn! There are limits, you know?

The funniest part was that the labeled declared that this product was not cruel to animals because there was no animal testing involved, which begs the question, how were the placentas collected?

There's an ugly job for you, animal placenta collector. I bet that's one that doesn't come up very often during career day at school. Can you imagine the job interview?

"So, Mr. Hailey, what are your qulifications for collecting animal placentas?"

"Well, sir, I've had a long interest in biology, and my road kill collection is the most extensive in the state, if not the country. I have it fully indexed by species, collection location, and, where possible, make and model of the vehicle involved."

"Excellent! That means you can also help us out with our new shampoo line, Gee, Your Hair Smells Like Roadkill!"

Simply amazing.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Finally, the Liberals have a Voice!

No longer do weary liberals have to suffer through an endles sea of conservatively biased news and commentary. Freed from the chains of CBS, NPR, and the New York Times, liberals now have the option of listening to radio by liberals for liberals. At long last, liberals have a place to go where they can address serious issues, and carry on deep meaningful discussions of the events that are shaking the world.

Yes, Air America is on the air! WARNING! The link is a little dicey. Apparently Al Franken is still not quite ready for prime time.

Which brings me to my question. If this is supposed to be a liberal answer to conservative talk radio, why is it staffed by comedians? The two key shows are hosted by AL Franken and Janeane Garafolo. Are we supposed to take them seriously now that their comedy careers are history, or is it all another big snide joke? Considering that they've named their network after the famous CIA operation that used a supposedly commercial airline to carry out clandestine missions, I'm guessing it's the latter.

Let's see, who would I take more seriously on the economy, Walter Williams or Al Franken?

Tough choice there.

One has a PhD in economics, and the other wrote "Stuart Saves His Family"

Call me biased, but I'm going with the PhD on this one.

But best of luck to you crazy kids.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, March 26, 2004

Jeff Foxworthy Couldn’t Make this Kind of Stuff Up!

This is an absolutely 100% true story; you can look it up on any Knoxville News website.

Yesterday morning, the Kodak branch of Citizen's National Bank was robbed by a woman who had several pipe bombs in a briefcase.

Her getaway car was...

A stolen Krispy Kreme Doughnut truck.

It's for real folks.

Now, you'd think that with their natural affinity for fried dough products, the police would be able to catch a crook in a doughnut truck, right? I mean, it's the ultimate combination of vocation and avocation; eating doughnuts and catching crooks.

Nope. It was a clean getaway. The truck was recovered near a trailer park less than a mile away.

Why does that location not surprise me in the least?

No word on whether there were any doughnuts in the truck at the time it was found, but police promptly impounded it, which may give us a clue to it's contents.

Seriously, can you imagine being a cop, sitting in your cruiser at the local speed trap, and hearing dispatch report a getaway doughnut truck?

"All units. CNB Bank on 66 was just robbed. Be on the lookout for a green and white Krispy Kreme doughnut truck. Suspects are considered armed and dangerous, as they may be on a sugar high. Use caution when appraoching because the hot frosting on those fresh doughnuts can give you a serious burn."

I can hear Foxworthy now:

"If you've ever robbed a bank, and your get-a-way car was a stolen Krispy Kreme doughnut truck, you might be a red-neck."

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I was wrong…

Kerry is not Vezzini from The Princess Bride.


austinkerry1.jpg

This image comes courtesy of Ady Hahn, the fly killa...

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Conversations I’ve Overheard

College Students

"You should really read 'The Old Man and the Sea.' It's all about fishing."

Kids

"Would you like some coffee cake?"
"No thanks, I don't like the taste of coffee."

"You traded your lunch!"
"Unh uh, I didn't"
"Yes you did; I saw you!"
"No you didn't; you weren't there when I traded!"

As the car turned left onto a road

"Are we going this way?"

Early Christmas morning

"I'll put it together. Just hand me the destructions."

One for the family

Sung a la John Denver and Country Roads "Almost heaven....creamed spinach"

Posted by Rich
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Getting in Over My Head

I never take the easy way out.

I don't know if it's confidence or arrogance, but if it says "Beginner" or "Easy" on it, I skip it. I taught myself how to knit while out at sea on a six month deployment, and where most people would start with a simple scarf or toboggan (the hat, not the sled) my first project was an Aran pattern, with cables and bobbles and multiple stitch patterns. It looked similar to this one.
Handknitsweatermain.jpg

Fortunately, the sweater turned out nicely, but there are times when my leaps into the deep end of the pool do not come out as well.

Take snow skiing, for example.

While I was in the Navy, I was stationed in Bremerton, Washington. (Oddly, the majority of my postings while in the Navy were not on a coastline. My first two years were spent in northern Illinois, central Florida, and upstate New York, none of which are known for their bustling seaports. But I digress.) Now Washington State has some of the finest snow skiing in the nation, and many of the slopes were only an hour or so from the base, so a bunch of us decided to go skiing over one weekend.
skimap.gif
I had skied before, at the fabulous Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort, except back then, it wasn't so fabulous. There was Castle Run and the leg of Bear Run leading down to the one ski lift. Not too impressive, but what was cool was that Castle Run, basically a large, moderately steep bowl, was covered in AstroTurf.

Yeah, really.

They poured millions of waxy, plastic beads over the AstroTurf, and had an underground sprinkler system that would wet the surface down, all for the purpose of letting you ski in the summer.

And it worked! Well sort of.

It was a lot slower than real snow and falling could result in a nasty rug burn, and I never saw any ski bunnies skiing in bikinis like they showed on the commercials, but it was a blast, and a cool way to learn to ski. So, armed with my summer skiing knowledge, I went to conquer the slopes at Crystal Mountain

We left early in the morning to make sure to maximize our time on the slopes. My buddy Ski was driving, and we should have known how the day was going to turn out because we hadn't gone 5 miles before we hit a patch of ice and slid off into a ditch. Someone was sending us a sign not to go further, but we were too young to pick up on a subtle hint like that. As a matter of fact, we failed to pick up on several explicit hints later on as well, but I'll get to that in a bit. We all pushed the car out of the ditch, and ragged on Ski, who had been bragging earlier about his snow driving skills since he was "...from Detroit, man!"

About 2 hours later, we got to the mountain, and everybody started putting on their ski suits or bibs.

Except me.

I skied in jeans, a flannel shirt, a sweater, and a heavy coat. Never having been what some would call svelte, I was doing a pretty fair imitation of the Michelin Man as we walked toward the lifts. But, I did have real skiing goggles on, so it was OK.

We started off together, then split up into smaller groups as we gravitated towards our own skill level. Ski and I wound up running the intermediate trails together, since he didn't have too much experience either. We had a blast, falling more than a few times, but getting better as the day went on. But as we were skiing, we kept looking up at this one spot on the mountain that looked really cool. It was shaped kind of like a bowl, and was wide open. It looked like you could ski anywhere as you worked your way down it. We even checked out the name, and it sounded safe:

Powder Bowl.

How threatening is that?

So we decided to try it.

Now, here is a map of the mountain. It's linked to a larger map for those of you with small monitors or weak eyes. Like me.

trailmap_small.jpg

Now, as you look at this map, you should see the Summit House. We spent most of the morning going up the lift to Summit House, and skiing down the intermediate trails on the right side of the ridge, but towards afternoon, we shifted over to the more difficult trails on the left side of the ridge. That's when we saw the bowl. If you look to the left and above Summit House, you see the Silver Queen Peak, at 7002' elevation. The dark blue, forbidding area beneath that peak is the Powder Bowl.

We skied down to the lodge to find out which lift to take to get there. We had to take two lifts, the first, the Forest Queen Express, took us about half the way up, and here is where we got our next warning sign. We had to ski a short distance down to the second lift that would get us to the Silver Queen Peak.

I guess at this point I should tell you how trails are rated. A green circle means your grandmother could ski it, assuming she could ski, of course. A blue square is intermediate. Challenging, but not too dangerous. A black diamond means for experts. Challenging and can be dangerous. The trail between lifts was a black diamond trail.

I fell getting between the lifts.

Now, wiser heads would have turned back at this, realizing that maybe we weren't ready to go on an advanced trail. But young men are not known for their caution, or their wisdom, and we forged on. Now, I'm not completely stupid. As we got closer to the lift, we started seeing signs.

NO EASY WAY DOWN!


TRAILS NOT PATROLLED!


TURN BACK NOW IF YOU'VE ONLY SKIED ON ASTROTURF!



But those signs didn't mean us, did they?

We got on the lift, Ski in his bibs and I in my Michelin Man costume, and went up to the peak of the Silver Queen.

Let me tell you, it was beautiful. The air was clear and you could see for miles around. Mt. Rainier dominated the skyline. Unfortunately, I couldn't enjoy the view because the managers of Crystal Mountain posted small informational signs that you could read as the lift ascended. They didn't block the view or anything, but somehow, my eye kept coming back to:


BEWARE! CLIFFS AND CORNICES AHEAD


NO EASY WAY DOWN


WATCH FOR TREES ON THE WAY DOWN!


SKI PATROL DOES NOT PATROL THESE SLOPES!


WE GOT YOUR BUTT NOW, TURF-BOY!


I didn't know what a cornice was, but it didn't sound good. And as far as I was concerned, the trees were going to have to look out for themselves, because I wasn't going to be able to spare any time for them.

We got to the top of the lift, and got off at the first aid station. Why do they put tham at the top of the mountain when you aren't going to need them until you get to the bottom?

Anyway, we skied over to the top of the bowl, and that's when it we discovered what a cornice was. The wind had scooped away all the powder from the ridge, and hollowed out a small cliff so you had to jump down about 10 feet to hit the snow.
cornice.gif
That's a cornice. Never has a vocabulary lesson come at such a high price.

Smart guys would have tucked their tails in and ridden the lift back down out of danger. But then again, smart guys wouldn't have gotten themselves into this predicament in the first place. It had become a question of honor. We started it; we were going to finish it.

We decided to take off out skis, and hike a short distance around the rim of the bowl to an area beyond the cornice. Of course, while we were hiking, three or four real skiers came up to the lip and casually jumped off, dropping the 10 feet to the snow, and easily shushing their way to the bottom of the bowl. That gave us hope that once we conquered the cornice, it would be smooth sailing to the bottom.

We put our skis on, commended our souls to our ancestors, and headed out horizontally across the bowl. Using a very shallow angle across the bowl, we were able to stay under control, and we started to gain a little confidence. It was almost as easy as it had looked from the bottom.

Then it came time to turn.

I hadn't mastered the jump turn, where you hop into the air, spin your body 180 degrees, and head back in the direction you came from, and while I knew the slope was fairly steep, I figured I could turn quickly, and keep from gaining too much speed.

Wrong again, Turf-Boy.

I felt a tremendous burst of acceleration as I started my turn and before I knew it, I was flying down the mountain at break neck speed.

Until that moment, I didn't have complete appreciation for that phrase, break-neck speed, but I assure you, I have a deep understanding of all its many meanings engraved on my very soul.

I fell.

Normally, that's the end of it. You fall; you stop; you get back up; and you're back in business. When I fell, I picked up speed. Skis, poles, gloves, and hat; they were all littered behind me on the slope as I tried desperately to slow down. Somehow, I wound up on my belly, head first, looking at one of those trees the signs warned us about. I figured out I better find out how to stop and quick, or be prepared to accept that tree as my lawfully wedded spouse, to have and to hold for as long as we both should live.

Which didn't seem to be very long at that particular moment.

I spun around onto my back and got my feet in front of me. I figured I could dig my heels in and slow down that way. What really happened is I converted a feet first slide into a head over heels barrel roll.

Oh, goody!

Actually, the roll did slow me down as the constant impacts of my head into the snow created enough drag to slow me down, and I was able to get enough traction to stop before I hit the tree.

I looked back up the slope to Ski, who was sitting down and expressing his deep concern by laughing his butt off.

Guys are like that.

Learning from my mistake, instead of turning, Ski made his way down to my position by skiing across the face of the bowl, carefully sitting down, turning over in the snow, then skiing the other way. As he made his way down to me, he collected various skiing implements and articles of clothing that the mountain had stripped from me on my way down, and when he got to me, I redressed myself, and prepared to try again.

I'm a slow learner.

I stood up, put my skis on, and hadn't even started to ski when I felt the edge of my downhill ski come out from under me. I quickly sat down to avoid another fall, but it was too late. The momentum from me sitting was enough to send me off to the races a second time. Of course, now I knew the secret of how to stop, and rammed my face into the snow to slow down.

Fortunately, I kept most of my stuff on that time, but didn't bother to put it all back on. When Ski caught up to me, I told him I had found an easier way down the bowl, and I'd wait for him at the bottom. I placed my skis and poles across my lap, straightened my legs, and tobogganed down the rest of the bowl on my butt.

No easy way down? Those Yankees had never seen me ski!

I got to the bottom of the bowl and looked up, and saw that Ski was continuing his careful, slow descent, reaching me about 10 minutes later. By then, I had my skis back on, and was ready to get back down to the lodge and a warm fire. The rest of the trip down passed without any major calamities. We even took a black diamond trail on the way. After all, we'd just conquered Powder Bowl, right?

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Season’s Greetings!

12-02-03.jpgMy daughter bought a cute little hat the other day. It looks like a standard red fuzzy elf kinda hat, except for a green coil twisting up about a foot over her head that holds a sprig of mistletoe. "Kiss Me" is written in gold sparkly stuff on the side of the hat.

As we walked through the mall, she got smiles, winks, and a kiss or two.

Being a single, happening kind of guy, I decided I would try it on and see what I got.

Two restraining orders, several slaps, and I've been barred from the mall for 6 months.

I don't need mistletoe, I need the whole dang foot...

Posted by Rich
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Friday, September 12, 2003

French fries no longer?

Remember the flap about renaming "French Fries" as "Freedom Fries" as a protest against france's opposition to the War in Iraq? We were told it was silly to make such a meaningless gesture, that it was childish in the extreme.

Except now it isn't anymore. The EU wants to trademark regional names to protect them from global exploitation. Names like Roquefort, Champagne, Bordeaux, and Rioja. Instead of calling them "french fries", we'll have to call them "potatoes sliced lengthwise twice and dipped in hot oil." Unless of course they come from France.

Roquefort dressing will have to be called "Moldy Cheese Dressing." Swiss cheese from Wisconsin will be called "hard white aromatic cheese with fermentation holes, resembling a food product from Switzerland, but not affiliated with that country in any way."

It doesn't fall trippingly from the tongue, does it?

Imagine if this silliness were to spread. Campbell's would have to rename their New England Clam Chowder to "The Clam CHowder that doesn't have tomato in it." Yankee pot roast could no longer be served in the South, and Southern Fried Chicken could no longer be enjoys north of the Mason Dixon line.

I don't even want to think about what the new names for Bologna and Vienna Sausages would be.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, August 04, 2003

Basic Research on Traffic:  An examination of Ettorre’s Observation.

Well, the vacation is over and it was great while it lasted.
beach 002.jpg

I didn't look at one newspaper, look at a newscast, or surf the web for a week. Heck, I didn't even know who won the Tour de France until Sunday afternoon (Way to go, Lance!) I admit I missed posting here, and making my daily rounds of the blogosphere, but that's about to change. It's back to the grindstone for your friend and humble narrator.

And I have to go back to work, too.

The drive down was easy since we left on a Sunday morning. Light traffic and good weather, plus children who slept most of the way, let me get from Kodak to Panama City in a cozy 9 hours. The drive back, on the other hand, reminded me why I needed a vacation in the first place. We left Friday, around 10AM and immediately, I knew this ride wasn't going to be as nice.

We hit construction on the two lane highway into Panama City.

We hit rainstorms between Panama City and Dothen, Al.

We hit the lunch rush in Dothen.

And we hit Atlanta at exactly 5:15PM. On Friday.

It wasn't pleasant, but it did provide a wonderful chance to experiment with that odd phenomena, The Slow Line, also known as Ettorre's Observation, a corellary to Murphy's Law (Anything that can go wrong will go wrong) which states:
Ettorre's Observation:
The other line moves faster.
Corollary: Don't try to change lines. The other line -- the one you were in originally -- will then move faster.


Now I'm a logical man; if Ettorre is right, then the Universe holds a persoanl grudge against me, which is a mind blowing thing to contemplate. The entire sum of all that exists is out to frustrate my commute home from vacation.

Kind of an ego boost when you think about it.

But I'm a mechanist by trade; animism makes me nervous, so I decided to run a scientific test of Etoore's Observation, making use of time otherwise wasted playing the "Punch Buggy" game.

I-40 Northbound coming out of Atlanta has 7 lanes. At 5:15 on Friday, those lanes are called (in order of descending rapidity):
  • the Merely Slow Lane
  • the Slower Lane
  • the Unbelievably Slow Lane
  • the Lane for the Velocity Challenged
  • the Agonizing Crawl Across the Desert in Search of Water Lane
  • the Molasses in Vermont in February Lane
    and
  • the Becalmed in the Doldrums of the Sargasso Sea Lane.


The tricky thing is that these lane designations change randomly. What might start out as the Merely Slow Lane may metamorph into the Unbelievably Slow Lane without apparent cause. The placement of the lane seems to be rather random as well. The slowest lane might be adjacent to the fastest, both residing in the middle of the group, or they might be on opposite ends of the highway. These observations might provide a nice problem for Chaos mathematicians to pursue, but they made my experimental design problematic. I pondered for about an hour, and finally came up with a solution. Disregarding the 12 feet of pavement I'd covered while cogitating, I estimated that I had at least 7 miles of traffic jam available for use. I determined to spend one mile in each lane and track my relative progress.

I started ina middle lane, 4th from the right, which at the time I entered it was the Slower Lane, but quickly converted into the Becalmed in the Doldrums of the Sargasso Sea Lane. I attributed this seeming confirmation of Ettorre to coincidence, and waited patiently to complete the assigned mile before changing lanes to the 6th from the left, which was moving along nicely as the Lane for the Velocity Challenged. Oddly, shortly after my arrival, it became the Molasses in Vermont in February Lane. While frustrated, at my slow progress, I was also happy that I had a data point which didn't back up Ettorre. My paranoid delusions of grandeur began to fade, until my lane slowed again, and once again became the dreaded Becalmed in the Doldrums of the Sargasso Sea Lane.

I modified my experiment a bit and began changing lines at random, trying to time my arrival to a lane which was about to become the Merely Slow Lane. Other drivers, sensing that my quest had taken on more an air of gladitorial combat than laboratory research, began to support my efforts by honking their horns, shouting, and gesturing wildly. Some even voiced their approval, albeit rather crudely, by telling me of their desire to have sex with me.

Who said no good deed goes unpunished?

Alas, I failed in my quest. Far from disproving Ettorre, my experiences on the Northbound lanes of I-40 not only confirmed his observation, but the correllary as well. However, I can take comfort in knowing that my constant lane switching shared the burden fairly amongst all the drivers in Atlanta that evening. Every lane had their turn as the slowest lane.

I'm nothing if not giving.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Ways to enjoy your lay off.

As y'all know, my buddies at WOKI are facing the specter of unemployment, something I may also be facing in the near future. As a public service for them, and anyone else who's suffered through the weakened job market, I thought I'd give us all a look at the positive side of unemployment. So, without further ado, here is my list of

Ways to Enjoy a Lay Off


  • Maintain your contacts by calling your employed friends and inviting them to play a round of golf.
    On Wednesday morning.
  • Annoy conservatives by going to the welfare office in your three piece suit.
  • Relieve the stress of unemployment by going on a "free" timeshare vacation. As soon as the sales pitch begins, inform the agent you were just laid off. Enjoy a peaceful, free vacation.
  • Use your new freedom to take up a hobby, like panhandling in the old city. You’ll meet interesting new people, and improve your job interview skills.
  • Keep physically fit by participating in sports, like competitive sleeping, or advanced aerobics class spectating. (Warning! The latter may involve actual exercise if you get caught.)
  • Use the opportunity to pursue an alternate career by finally completing that ICS course on locksmithing you started 10 years ago.
  • Show that there's no hard feelings by filing humorous complaints with OSHA, EPA, and Labor Board against your old employer. Claim you were let go for being a whistle blower. Enjoy the hilarity that ensues.
  • Show your spouse how much you appreciate their patience by taking over some of the household chores. Annoy the crap out of them by telling them how they've been doing it wrong.
  • Get involved with your kids' education. Volunteer at their school and make sure to embarrass them at every opportunity. This is easier than it sounds, because the simple fact of your presence is enough to mortify them for months.
  • Have fun with telemarketers. Engage them in long draw-out conversations. Order one of everything they're selling, with all options. Once they get to billing, suddenly remember that you're unemployed. (This option also has a socially redeeming value, since as long as the soulless vampire is tied up with you, he isn't sucking the life out of the next poor bastard on his list.)


So you see, there are plusses to being unemployed. With a little forethought, and a minimal effort on your part, there's no reason why you shouldn't enjoy this quiet interlude in your life and come out the other side rested, relaxed, and amused, while also continuing to contribute to the public good.

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The Perils of Poison Ivy

When I was a kid, poison ivy didn't bother me a bit. I remember one time our family was out on the lake, and we'd pulled into a cove to camp for the night. I found a nice spot under a bunch of trees where there was a lot of low undergrowth that made a really nice cushion under my sleeping bag. It wasn't until the next morning that I found out that the undergrowth was all poison ivy. I was sure that I would break out into the world's worst rash and sufffer the totures of the damned, but a week went by, and nothing.

I was immune! Superman of the plant kingdom; that was me. Kick your ball into the poison ivy? No problem; I'd leap right in and retrieve the ball, saving the day. Poison ivy couldn't get me.

Now I know better.

See, poison ivy is like an allergy; you have to be sensitized before it couses a reaction. It might not get you the first time, or the second, or the tenth, but eventually, it'll get ya.

Now, I get a rash if I look at the stuff.

And not just a mild rash with red skin and a small blister or two, but great big bulging blisters liberally covering the affected area of my skin. And how to describe the itch? It's like nothing else in the world. Mosquito bites aren't in the same league as this itch.

I think part of it is how sneaky that itch is. You can go for hours without even noticing it, then all of the sudden, one gentle brush of a shirt sleeve, or the soft touch of a bedsheet on the rash and it's an instant scratching frenzy.

You try to resist scratching, but it catches you off guard, and before you know it, you're ripping into flesh, trying to satisfy the chemically induced imperative to scratch till you draw blood.

And it feels so good!

Oh, sure, you try to control it; you try to be good. You start off just rubbing it.

"I'm not scratching it; I'm just rubbing it!" you tell yourself. But it's never enough. The poison is smarter than that. As you rub, it performs an unusual trick where it numbs the skin so you don't feel the rubbing while it intensifies the itch. Before long, you're 'rubbing' with enough speed and presure to wax an entire 1963 Cadillac Deville.

Fins and all.

"This isn't working," you tell yourself. "I have to scratch, but just scratch around the edges. I won't scratch the blisters." But the poison is still smarter than you are, and it moves the itch around, always where you aren't scratching. Like a skilfull inquisitor, it leads you on, tempting and tantalizing you into scratching just a little further, a little harder, and a little faster, until your will snaps, and you indulge yourself in an orgy of scratching that leaves you with tattered skin and a desire for a cigarette.

And you don't even smoke.

Now, here's an interesting fact about poison ivy that I'll bet you didn't know.

It only affects human and a few other higher primates. Now what the heck is up with that? Why would a plant evolve a defensive mechanism that only affects a few species? Particularly when the species it is defending against is a relative newcomer to the scene, evolutionarily speaking. What did we ever do to the ivy plant to deserve such special treatment? It's not like humans are any real threat to wipe out ivy. Heck, any plant that can grow on a brick wall is pretty much immune to anything we could throw at it, short of a thermonuclear holocaust, and I'm not sure that would work. If we ever do wipe ourselves out, the world will be inherited by rats, cockroaches, and poison ivy.

Oh yeah, and kudzu. But that's another story.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Big Race

Yep, they wanted us in their race. So what the heck; we signed up.

Now we needed a team name, one which would intimidate our competition, show them we were serious competitors, possibly throw a little psychologicaal advantage our way. God knows, we needed every advantage we could get.

So we pondered and cogitated while kicking back and watching a Packers game on TV.

One of the cooler things about being so far west was that football games started at 8 AM local time, which meant you could watch a full day's worth of games, and still have time for a dive that afternoon.

Anyway, we were watching the Packers because Scotty, first seat in the wa'a, was a cheesehead born and bred. During halftime, we were talking about what we should be called, floating ideas like 6 Guys and a Canoe (too dull), Kamelalawahewannawoopie (too hard to fit on a T-shirt), and The Oarsman (sounded too much like a 50's Doo-Wop group), when a commercial for Rold Gold Pretzels came on, featuring that guy from Seinfeld as the Pretzel Boy. The hockey team needed another player, and there was our hero, sitting in the stands, eating his Rold Gold pretzels.

"Hey, Pretzel Boy! Get in here, we need ya!"

Those words struck a chord in our souls, and we fell silent, considering the possibility. Could it be that we had found our name? It seemed so close, yet something was missing. We needed something else to go with it, to add the final touch. We racked our brains trying to find the final piece of our new identity, and failed miserably.

Then the game began again, and the gods smiled on us, and bestowed upon us the final piece of the puzzle.

We had our name. We would be known forever more as

Cheesehead and the Pretzel Boys.

chzboyz.jpg

As you may have noticed from the picture, we were not the epitome of athleticism, so we knew we would need lots of practice. We paddled every afternoon after work, plying the waves of the channel, learning to maintain our rhythm and stroke, strengthening our bosies and minds for the upcoming race. Scotty was our lightest team member, so we put him in the first seat. It was his job to steer wa'a to our destination. Jim was our steersman. He sat in the 6th seat, and shouted direction to Scotty in front. The rest of us were grunts, or as they say in Hawai'ian, grunts.

We paddled together, huli'd together, sweated together, and became as one, like a hand with 6 fingers. Well that would be a bit awkward wouldn't it? UNless you were Count Rugen. Hmmm...

Anyway, the day before the race, we went out and ran the course. It was a simple down and back course, covering a little over a mile. There were three lanes set up, with a marker at the beginning, and a bouy marking the turning point. We had to paddle down to our bouy, turn, and paddle back.

Simple, right?

It was during practice.

Then came the day of the race. While there were three lanes set up, there were only two boats in our heat; us, and the Island's top team, the one that went to compete in the real races in Hawai'i. Now we were realistic; we knew there was no way we could beat those guys. Some of them had been paddling canoes since they were little kids. All we wanted to do was be competitive. We positioned our canoes at the starting line, waiting for the horn to sound.

A quick blast, and we were off, paddles churning the water in sprint to get the wa'a up on plane and out of the water. Our practice had paid off, and our wa'a jumped like a goosed debutante and the race was on. Later, the other team admitted to surprise at how quickly we pulled away from the starting line, and they really started putting their backs into it. Instead of an easy win, they had a race on their hands.

The first half of the race went fairly well. We fell into our rhythm and while our lead was shortlived, we were within a couple boat lengths when we started to approach the bouy. It was then that we noticed that we were heading too far to the right, away from our bouy.

Jim yelled from his seat in the stern, "To the left, Scotty; to the left!"

"I got it!" was Scotty's calm reply, as we headed further and further out of our lane.

Jim yelled again, "Wrong bouy Scott! To the left!"

"I got it!" said Scotty, as we approached the wrong bouy.

It was only when we entered the turn that Scott saw the correct bouy and steered us to it. The other team has long since made their turn and were headed back to the finish line while we struggled to get the wa'a to the right bouy. We eventually got back on course, and finished the race dead last and disqualified.

But there's no great loss that doesn't bring some small gain. From that day on, all we had to do to get Scotty to buy a round at the club was to holler,

"To the left, Scotty, to the left!"

And he would get it.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Learning to Huli

New experiences are what make us grow. We learn more about ourselves when we push our limits, test our boundries, or make complete asses of ourselves. For example, I spent a year on a 2 mile by half mile strip of sand and coral called Johnston Island.
johnston_atoll.jpg

I was there to clean up some stray plutonium.
It wasn't a big deal. A test rocket malfunctioned and was destroyed while on the pad, which spread bits of warhead all over the island, which was a bit inconvenient for the crew performing the tests. At the time, they went around with geiger counters and shovels and buckets, and any time they found a hiot spot, they dug it up, and took it to the launch site. Once the island was cleaned, except for the 5 acre area around the launch site, they put up a fence, and carried on with business. 30 years later, somebosy decided that it would be nice to collect all the bits of warhead and get rid of it.

That's why I was there.

But that's not what I want to tell you about.

While there, I got to do some things I never did before, like learn to huli.

Now, huli sounds a lot like hula, but isn't. Hula means some pretty little thing in a grass skirt and very little else, shaking her hips at you in a mildly to strongly suggestive manner depending on the dance, beckoning to you gracefully as you stuff yourself with roast pig and poi. Huli, on the other hand, means you stand an excellent chance of drowning.

It's important to note these small differences.

One of the new experiences I tried while on JI was learning to paddle a Hawai'ian war canoe, or wa'a. You've seen them before, the canoes with outriggers on one side? You'd think that the outrigger would add stability to the thing. I know we thought that.

You'd be wrong.

We took a lesson from a Samoan, who taught us how to paddle (turn from the hips, not the shoulder), taught us the timing and how to call changeover of strokes ("Hut, hut, HO!"), and how to carry the 400 pound boat to the water.

And so we set off, 6 men and a boat, off to paddle the two miles to the next island over. Things went well for a while, and we bagan to sink into the rhythm of paddling. Now the hull of the wa'a is shaped so that once you achieve a certain speed, the boat planes out, and rides on top of the water, making paddling much easier. While this makes the canoe much faster, it also makes it less stable, which is why the outrigger or ama is there. Sadly, we never achieved that speed; instead of gliding over the water, we plowed through it.

You see, the 6 paddlers paddle on opposite sides of the wa'a alternately. OK, that's confusing. To put it another way, each paddler paddles on an opposite side of the wa'a, until they switch. Hmm. still not clear. OK, try this. Number the people in the wa'a from 1 to 6. Odd numbers paddle on one side, while even numbers paddle on the other side. This provides a good balance for the wa'a, but causes intense fatigue for the paddlers, so you have to be able to switch sides to even up the strain. In order to accomplish this without disaster, everybody has to switch at the same time. The man in the number two position calls out in time to the strokes "Hut, hut, HO!" On "HO!", each paddler lifts his paddle from the water, and shift to the opposite side of the wa'a. By moving in perfect harmony, balance is maintained and no speed is lost.

In theory.

And it worked that way several times. Of course, like I said, we were wallowing through the water instead of gliding, so we were fairly stable. But we were getting better at maintaining our rhythm, and at one point, we did plane out and began to glide through the water. Then it was time to chageover.

"Hut, hut HOLY SH..!"

It was amazing how quickly it happened. One instant we were paddling along, and the next, we were all in the water wondering what happened to our boat. It was floating beside us, upside down.

That's a huli.

We had to right the wa'a by lifting on the ama, then the lightest one of us climbed in and started bailing. Once we got enough water out, we could climb back into the wa'a, which was a bit easier said than done, since we didn't want to rehuli. Evnetually , we figured out that we had to approach from the ama side, and we all got back into the wa'a, only to discover that we;d forgotten one important factor.

Paddles.

Two of us went back into the water to recover the paddles, and then we were on our way back to the safety of the plutonium infested island. We made it back without a repeat huli, and our instructor congratulated us on our recovery. He said we did very well for first timers, and convinced us to enter the races coming up in 6 weeks.

But that's a story for another night.

Remember, a hula is a hot dance; a huli is a cold bath.

Who said blogs aren't educational?

Posted by Rich
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