Monday, April 25, 2016

Would You Rather...

     Dinner time conversation comes around to Pene the other night and she says she and her friends sometimes play “Would You Rather...”
     I ask, “For example: Would you rather be buried alive in an anthill or caged with a hundred mice?”
     She smiles and says, “Yeah, but it's not usually so unpleasant. Vera asked, 'Would you rather have the power of invisibility, but you have to be naked, or the power to run super fast, but you're blind while running?' Mine was: 'Would you rather have devil horns or a forked tongue like a snake?'”
     “Would I have to stick out my tongue to smell the air like a snake, too, or could I keep it in all the time” I ask.
     “You'd have to stick it out once in awhile.”
     I think about it and say, “I feel very uncomfortable. This is stressful for me.” (She's laughing—she like to see me squirm.) “I guess the forked tongue—I could at least hide it sometimes, though either would be cool for Halloween. And I'd get rich doing the talk-show circuit.”
     I later come up with my own. It's just before bedtime and we're talking: “Would you rather be President of the United States, but you can't wear a pants or dress in public—you can wear panties, though. Or, be the Pope, but you always have to wear that tall pointy hat—even to bed?”
     She chooses the latter and says, “I also asked my friends: If everyone in the world were sick of a horrible disease and were going to die, but you could cure them but it would cost you your life, would you?
     “Sure,” I said.
     “Candace said, 'No. They're doomed anyway.' So then asked, 'Well what about this: Your wishes always come true, but each time you wish something, someone you know dies. Would you still want that power?' Trudy said, 'Yeah.' Vera asked, 'But what if that person were me?' And Trudy said, 'Too bad. I want my wishes.'”
     “Man, these are kind-of sick and disturbing,” I say. “Getting back to that running real fast thing, maybe memorizing what's ahead and going for it isn't such a great idea after all. When I was about Jaren's age, I tried riding bike with my eyes closed from the top of our driveway all the way down to the Harano's house. The first time I tried, I panicked, opened my eyes, and saw that I was half-way down the driveway, fine, and could have gone more. Next time I panicked again, opened my eyes, and realized I was half-way there and perfect—no need to have stopped. Next time I kept telling myself, 'keep going, don't panic, keep going, don't look...' Then whoa! I'm falling and see the shrubs and brush below in the gulch by the Lo's! Phoom! I get up and drag the bike back out.
     Pene's in hysterics throughout all this. “Did you get hurt?” she asks.
     “No. But I was super-ashamed. Mom later asked, 'What happened?' 'I lost control of my bike,' I said. 'Mrs. Harano called and said she saw you riding straight and slow and it looked like you went over the edge on purpose. Did you?' 'No. It was the bike. Something happened. I'm fine.' 'Do you want Dad to check it?' 'I'll do it,' I said.”
     Pene's laughing hard, just as hard as when we wathced some dumb DVD together weeks ago (which is unusual for her as she's usually so serious.) I guess it's because it's odd for her to imagine me doing something so stupid as I'm usually so sensible. Or maybe she just likes to see me suffer.
     (The most sure-fire laugh for her (and Deanne) is my getting hit, knocked, or somehow pounded in the groin. Something about me doubling over and groaning sets her off. “Oh it's so funny to see Dad in pain, huh?” I ask. Though she apologizes, she laughs even harder. I guess it's like the time Deanne got livid over getting pooped on by a pigeon and the kids and I couldn't stop laughing as she tried to dab the whitish-green cream from the shoulder of her navy blue jacket. Now that was funny seeing her so upset and hearing her say, “Stop laughing! It's not funny!” I tried to sort-of help by saying, “Yeah you guys, stop laughing! It's not funny!” but that just set them off further.
     Ah, humor in the twenty-first century: high-brow indeed.

Monday, April 18, 2016


     Contrary to countless books, shows, and movies these days that wrap things up so that everything makes sense (I picture a present neatly wrapped with ribbon and bow on top), life can be messy with all-too-many loose ends. So that when something comes to a neat and tidy close, it often feels like a pleasant surprise.
     The months leading up to present have had added tension due to a number of open items. With the resolution of some of them, that tension has eased some. Specifically:
     I, with the kids' sometimes help (I did 90+% of it) completed a wickedly difficult 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle that had way too many teeny tiny, almost indistinguishably shaped pieces of dull green and black. Braden chose it years ago from Goodwill at a cost of three dollars. It took about a year-and-a-half to finish. The box it came in had already been opened and thus at the end we discovered it had one missing piece, which we found two weeks later under the dining table rug during a thorough cleaning. It's now mounted on Pene's old science fair tri-fold display board beside that table. (I mounted it using white glue. A cookie sheet and spatula lifted sections in turn, starting from the center, while glue was spread over the waiting cardboard surface.)
     I finished reading The Lord of the Rings to Pene and was amazed by how moving it was at times for when I'd read it to Braden three years earlier, he and I were both bemused and much more detached. Perhaps it's because Pene is emotional like me. The tension kept mounting and mounting—especially in the second of the three books.
     Our office had been in transition—very unpleasant and stressful—almost half a year now and the situation is now nearly resolved to a mostly satisfactory conclusion. Some things are better than before, some are worse, but mostly things have restored to “normal.” No complaints for now.
     The mouse issue (see my prior “One Smart (or Lucky?) Mouse” essay) is settled. Deanne bought glue traps which were sold as a pair. I set them both out with peanut butter and cheese bait in a neat cranny in our carport two weeks ago. A week passed. Nothing happened. Then one of the traps disappeared. I searched for evidence of the rat escaping with the 3” x 5” cardboard trap stuck to its fur (think flypaper), but found nothing. I told Deanne, “If it can't free itself, I doubt it has long to live.” But I kept the remaining trap out just in case.
     Four days later, I came home from work and there it was, stuck by what turned out to be its tail (at first I thought it was its foot). It squeaked when it saw me and struggled to drag itself (and the trap) away under the shelves where I store scrap lumber, but didn't get far. I changed and got our landlord's old metal rake and dust bin (made from an old tin gallon shoyu (soy sauce) can cut at an angle in two, one half of which had a wood stave attached for a handle) and since the rat was hidden beneath a board by then, I hauled the trap into the dust bin with the mouse trailing behind by its tail. I then mercy-killed it (quickly) and disposed it.
     A wood nightstand that I found months ago roadside that I sanded and refinished just finishing off-gassing, so I brought it in from our carport. (The chemical odor from the polyurethane finish took months to fully dissipate.)
     I'm four-fifths through the Septuagint (the seven additional books incl. Tobit, Judith, etc. included in the Catholic bible, but excluded from the Protestant's)—my first time. I'd been curious about it and am only reading it because it was included in the bible given to Braden on his baptism (which is curious because ours is a Protestant church).
     It's been a relief, then, to have each of these items, in turn, taken care of. But guess what? I've started a new puzzlealso included in the newly finished one's boxdescribed as “Very difficult—irregular borders.” But it's only got 550 pieces, so how difficult can it be?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Busted Computer

     This one hurts. Sort-of.
     What happened was Braden, in a fit of pique, busted his laptop computer that we gave him a couple years ago over his knee while Deanne, Pene, and Jaren looked on.
     Deanne said, You broke it.
     He said, No I didn't.
     I heard something crack, she said.
     Braden opened it—it looked fine—and turned it on. The usual whir followed, but when the screen lit up, there was a shattered spider web design in an opaque white sheet that obscured all the computer desktop except for a few partially obscured words deep in the periphery (I later checked).

     Jaren and Pene said, Ahhhh...
     It had been building to this ever since I decided a few months ago that his lazing around and doing nothing productive (other than idle reading, listening to radio, and over-napping) will not suffice during weekends. He must do something more, something productive. After all, he's sixteen and should be out with friends or exercising or doing some hobby—in essence preparing for life after home.
     But nearly every time I'd confronted him to go do something, he threw a temper tantrum (resentful stares, stamped feet, hissing, growling, etc.) and even outside in the carport, continued his do-nothing defiance until I disciplined him by sending him up and down the street, which at least counted as exercise.
     This was painful for me because of course he tried to make me feel like an unreasonable jerk, whereas I saw him as giving me no choice: either leave him alone or tell him what to do and get hated on. I wasn't going to let him rot away all weekends and do nothing worthwhile since he has so much growing up to do before he turns eighteen, so I'd confronted him and tolerated his stormy antics time after time as best I could (not very well).
     I told Deanne even before the incident that this is natural and healthy for a sixteen-year-old. Christian counselors advice that even in the best adjusted families, these years are push and pull between teen and parents and there's no getting around it. It's normal and temporary and just do your best and keep the end result (healthy young adult) in sight, though it may seem impossibly far or unreachable at times.
     My friend Norm told me his son Darren (a recent college graduate now job hunting) had a mental block against (high school) employment. Every time Norm would get on him about it, he'd act up. He told me it's not worth stressing too much about it.
     So I'm supposed to just let him get away with his slovenly ways all weekends long? I asked.
     I didn't say that, he said. I said, It's not worth getting overly worked up about as it's not beneficial to either him or you or the family. Sometimes a kid just isn't ready for the next big step. It takes awhile for some. And if they're not ready, it's impossible for them to do.
     I don't get it. When I was a kid (and even to this day), I had no trouble keeping active with friends, sports, or hobbies. I gave Braden almost carte blanche—whatever he wanted as long as it's active. I gave him suggestions: wood work with scrap lumber and my tools outside. Give a classmate a call to go hang out. Exercise. Do any merit badge (we have over twenty hand-me-down merit badge pamphlets). Build models. Play my guitar. Whatever. He'd just growled resentment and to show me up, did more of the same idle reading or lying or sitting about doing nothing productive on the sly until I'd catch him and send him again up and down the street.
     Deanne said he calmed after breaking the computer.
     I doubted it, but said there is no way we are buying him a replacement.
     I later told Braden that when we gave it to him (it was a gift from my sister to me, which I didn't want), we could have kept it for ourselves and given him the old junky one in his room (that is now kaput). And don't ever forget it. And that I expect him to do all his homework with pencil and paper—the way I didno excuses.
     If he doesn't yet feel remorse, I expect he very soon will as he did virtually all his home work on his computer (and he hates to write manually).
     He has mellowed some since, but God help us through the upcoming storms...

Monday, April 4, 2016

One Smart (or Lucky?) Mouse

     A month ago, I'm doing dishes in the laundry room outside when it's still dark (I'm sick and don't want to spread germs in our main kitchen sink area, much less use the common sponge for washing) and I feel something brush against my sweatpants near the ankle, which makes my skin crawl as if with centipedes up and down all over. I turn, hear scuttling, scampering noises, and look and think I see a small light-brown blur scamper beneath the sink. But when I check there and behind the washer and dryer, I see nothing remiss. A part of me doesn't want to see, because if I do, it's sure to mean trouble. Maybe I imagined it? I somewhat try to convince myself.
     Two weeks later, I'm putting on my shoes for work outside in the carport when it's still dark and I heard scuttling noises that give me the heebie-jeebies. They seem to come from inside an unused nightstand with door and drawers propped open to air out (I bought it awhile ago at a garage sale with the intention to air out, test for lead since it's “antique”, plane down the door that won't close, and refinish), so I walk over to look inside, and see a light-brown ugly-as-heck mouse crawl out and under our lean-to tower of shelves under which I store scrap wood and tools. It's about four to five inches long excluding tail and walks with the slow, arrogant confidence of ownership. (What type of mouse is this that seeks a lighted room and a human to brush up against? The washroom opens from the carport so why did it come in when I was there? Aren't they supposed to be afraid of people?)
     That lunch break I buy a pack of two traditional mouse traps. (I had contemplated buying a glue trap, but they didn't have any and I didn't look forward to having to mercy-kill the thing with a shovel. They sold a catch-and-release trap, but I doubted it would work and didn't want to have to release it where it became someone else's problem as I wasn't about to put the flea-ridden thing in our car to drive to an uninhabited area, and within walking distance, there aren't any such places.)
     Back home I set up one of the traps baited with peanut butter and cheese on a paper bag (to guard against blood splatters) in the cabinet with the bait side against a wall as per the instructions. Cringing the following morning to look inside using a flashlight, I see the bag, but no trap or mouse. I look for signs that the trap's been dragged out (perhaps it snagged only a tail or leg?) but see none. I look in a second time for blood, but see none. On the third look, there's the trap clear on the opposite side of the cabinet, snapped shut upside down with plenty of peanut butter still in. I place it on the garage floor and leave, wondering if the mouse will take the bait in the now unset trap. 
     At work I puzzle, How did it do it? and conclude the mouse must have crawled over the trigger, which when set off, must have thrown the thing clear of the trap before the snapping mechanism came down—just a fluke. When I get home, I see the bait licked clean, meaning the mouse has been active during the day. (Aren't they nocturnal?)
     I reset the trap with identical bait outside the cabinet in a narrow gap against a wall where the trap fits nicely and invitingly, with an inch clearance on either side. 
     A day passes. Nothing happens.
     The next day, no mouse but the trap is now upside down, snapped shut, with bait still in. I set it out like before unset, hoping the mouse will take the bait and begin to feel over-confident about the trap. (Free food!) The bait disappears by evening.
    I bait and reset the trap and place it at a strategic angle to the wall, thinking this will make the trigger unlikely to throw the mouse clear. Nothing happens for a day. Next morning, no mouse—nothing happened. But then I notice that the bait is gone, licked clean and that the trap has not fired! The trigger failed!
    That afternoon as I think the mouse is laughing at me, I get smart and set up both traps (they came in a set) and construct a paper tunnel to prevent odd approaches to the traps and place one trap above the other on a small cardboard box, thinking if the first trap doesn't fire, when the mouse goes for the second one, it might step on the first trap's trigger, or when it reaches up for the second (with bait side nearby and away from the wall), it will set it off when it tries to climb up. I also mash down the peanut butter and cheese combo into the bait receptacles so that they can't be gently licked clean, they have to be dug at to be consumed. I'll get him this time! I think.
    Two days pass. Nothing happens.
    The following morning, the first trap is snapped shut with remnants of bait unconsumed, the second is unchanged. I long for a video to see how it's setting off the trigger and avoiding the snap shut? Another unsolvable life mystery? I conclude it must be getting just the tail, and that's why the traps are always in different positions after firing. I doubt the mouse is prying its entire body loose after being clamped down upon by the wire jaw, as while I was setting it once, it snapped the tip of my finger (numb for a bit) and the spring has plenty strength to cause lots of damage and won't pry loose by the strength of a puny rodent. (This isn't cartoons.)
    I reset again and place the front trap at a right angle to the back one—impossible for the trigger to interfere.
    Two days pass and the same thing happens!—first trap fired, second untriggered, both licked clean!
    I do research wondering about my initial conclusion that it's a mouse and sure enough, mice only grow to 3.5 inches. It's a rat!
    Next up, glue trap... (I'm even more creeped out knowing it's a rat.)