Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mailman Snowball Fight

I had a snowball fight with my mailman, and the Feds tried to make it out to be more than it was. Anyone with a bit of sense could tell you that a snowball is not a deadly weapon if the packing is lousy. Truthfully, the packing wasn't all that great, but it was good enough to make a decent snowball worthy of throwing a respectable distance.

My mailman, Jerome Cramsey, parks his mail truck near my house while doing his rounds on the block. Jerome is the talkative sort who has a definite opinion on everything and is not afraid to air his often myopic view of the world. Usually, I listen to him while backing away, hoping the ever-growing chasm between us will end the one-sided conversation. But on that fateful snowy day, I challenged his boastful tirade regarding his guacamole recipe. One thing led to another and the culinary argument took on a life of its own, resulting in a turbulent exchange of snowballs. Jerome panicked, dropped his bag and made a run for his mail truck. I threw one at his truck, too, but that never came up in the report. Naturally, I figured he'd be able to defend himself. To say the least, it was disquieting to discover that my mailman throws like a chihuahua.

No amount of apologizing did any good. The US. Postal Service wouldn't deliver mail to my door for two weeks (I'm now on a probationary period), and when I went to the post office to pick up my mail, the lady at the counter referred to me as the "Snowball Terrorist on Kildare." And the official-looking declaration, addressed to me as the "assailant," stated I couldn't get within fifty feet of an on-duty mailman. Truly, they underestimated my throwing ability because, the next day, I hurled a snowball at Jerome's truck (while he was in the back, sorting mail) from a good 100 feet and hit it square on the side. It made a loud thunk, but I ducked behind a tree so he couldn't see me and cause more damage to my already precarious postal reputation.

After two weeks of no delivery and Jerome walking quickly past my house every day (while shooting nervous glances at my door), I was called in to meet with the Postmaster. The meeting went very well. He seems like a reasonable fellow who might be suspicious of mail carrier Cramsey's penchant for exaggeration. He called this a fascinating case and is entertaining my suggestion of a full-scale guacamole contest to settle the dispute. He also agreed that any sensible judge would concur that cheddar cheese does not belong in guacamole.

In the meantime, my postal probation indicates I can now communicate with any uniformed mail carrier as long as I don't upset their delicate sensibilities. I'm relieved to have put this feud behind me and can look forward to many long years of home delivery as well as conversing with the men and women in uniform who serve and deliver.

I'm going to test the boundaries of my new found freedom and not only strike up a cheery conversation with Jerome, but offer him some chips and a refreshing beverage. Let's hope this is an ice-breaker and the beginning of a new relationship. I'm also hoping he rethinks his know-it-all attitude about cheese, which I plan to bring up on numerous occasions until he sees things my way.

Rumor of the episode has spread wildly across town, resulting in a flurry of mail addressed to me as "The Snowball Terrorist." I'm hoping this subsides as it has the potential to dredge up bad memories for the somewhat jittery Jerome.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Zodiac Do-Over

The new dates for astrological signs have shaken the fundamental precepts of the star-creed community. The most restrained among them are calling this a "discommodious upset." According to astronomers, the whole astrological deal was established five thousand years ago and, through the years, the heavens have shifted. Fellows with access to expensive telescopes have re-established the dates based on the current alignment of the planets and assigned everyone new astrological signs, and added a new one to boot. Now there are thirteen signs: the old ones, plus the ancient sneeze-inspired Ophiuchus.

It's heartbreaking for people to discover they have been living an astrological lie. My lovely wife, the former Aquarius, the most heralded of the astrological signs, has been sashaying around the house for years, humming the Fifth Dimension song, "The Age of Aquarius," wrongly believing that an accident of birth made her, and others in the same time slot, members of an exalted league. And now that she's a common Capricorn, she locks herself in the bathroom and refuses to come out for hours at a time. My makeshift policy is to let her stew in there. Quite frankly, listening to "The Age of Aquarius" every day for thirty years was beginning to wear on me.

Gaylene Pelky, the neighborhood astrologer, has a sign on her door that says "closed for re-thinking." I called her nephew, and he said the astrological discombobulation upset Gaylene greatly, resulting in a three-day crying-jag and salty accusations directed towards the night sky. She is recovering at her New Mexico retreat, a hut made entirely of recycled wine bottles, the contents of which she reportedly consumed herself. The property is surrounded with a variety of brightly colored bowling ball bushes (bowling balls perched on top of rusty lengths of re-bar), in honor of Gaylene's favorite pastime.

Never one to be left behind, I'm good to go with this new trend, and am delighted to be a Gemini (formerly a Cancer, the sea-floor roaming crab). This is a great relief to me, as I have always felt a little out of place with my former moniker, and besides, it was not very flattering to be under the astrological spell of a bottom-feeding crustacean. Honestly, since this revelation, I feel ten pounds lighter and have already noticed a slight skip to my step. Some say I'm decidedly more effervescent.

At her nephew's urging I called to check on Gaylene at her New Mexico bottle-hut:

--Me: Hi Gaylene. Are you alright?
--Gaylene: My whole world is upside down.
--Me: People still care about you.
--Gaylene: Every piece of advice I've ever given is wrong.
--Me: You didn't know. What's the worst that could happen?
--Gaylene: Well, you for instance. According to the new calculations, you and your wife are totally incompatible. That happy marriage of yours is destined for doom.
--Me: Really?
--Gaylene: It's called synastry; I've studied this for years. And you are not the only ones living in marital delusion destined for the toilet.
--Me: But I'm supposed to be laid-back, loyal, and domestic, like the family dog, every woman's dream.
--Gaylene: Not anymore, buster. You're a Gemini now, a woman's worst nightmare. You're quirky, restless, fidgety, and unpredictable.
--Me: Yes, but things have been going along so well.
--Gaylene: That was the past. Hang on tight because the shit is destined to hit the fan around your place.
--Me: Well, my wife did lock herself in the bathroom.
--Gaylene: That's only the beginning.
(some brief sobbing)
--Gaylene: I can't make a living any more.
--Me: Yes you can. Think of all the people who will need to update their bumper stickers, key chains, and medallions with their new astrological signs. This is a golden opportunity.
--Gaylene: You think so?
--Me: If I were you, I'd get back to your shop and begin ordering merchandise. The fates have handed you a gift.
--Gaylene: I never thought of that. I'll start ordering first thing in the morning.
--Me: I'll be your first customer when you return.
--Gaylene: Really sorry about your marriage.
--Me: Make sure you stock up on Capricorn stuff; a generous gift, such as a tasteful key chain, could pave the way to an intoxicating sense of connubial bliss.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Go Cat Go !

Every winter, the Iditarod dominates the pet networks with detailed news coverage of an assemblage of championship dogsled teams. It's always, "Dogs do this, dogs do that," but never a mention of other pets. Cats for instance. Imagine how cats must feel while catching glimpses of a bunch of network-heraldic dogs barking their way to glory across the ever-larger television screens in North American living rooms.

Dogs are fun and loyal, but my feeling is that they may, in fact, be over-rated in this event. At the very least, it's time to give the feline world a chance at the much-coveted Iditarod trophy. After all, this is a new world, a world of equal opportunity, and there's no reason a team of qualified cats shouldn't be allowed to compete. So I put a call in to the Iditarod headquarters in Wasilla, Alaska, with the subtle intent of not taking "no" for an answer:

--Gwen: Iditarod headquarters, Gwen Crilly speaking.
--Me: Hello, Ms Crilly. Id like an application to enter my sled-cat team in the Iditarod.
--Gwen: Sure, I'll be happy to send one out to you.
--Me: Is there an entrance fee?
--Gwen: Yes, there is a fee.
--Me: Is it based on the number of cats?
--Gwen: Cats?
--Me: Yes, is the entrance fee based on how many cats are on the team.
--Gwen: This is a "dog only" event.
--Me: Isn't that pet discrimination?
--Gwen: This has always been for dogs only. It's a tradition.
--Me: Oh, like "White Only" drinking fountains in the 1950's. That was a tradition, too. But as a society, we've moved beyond that backward concept.
--Gwen: Don't make me laugh.
--Me: Those dogs won't be laughing when they get passed by a team of highly trained sled-cats.
--Gwen: Is this Eldon?
--Me: No, this is Dale from Illinois, home of the Expeditious Sled-Cat team, and we're ready to compete.
(An uncomfortably long pause).
--Me: Is there a limit to how many cats per sled?
--Gwen: Same as dogs, I suppose, twelve to sixteen.
--Me: That hardly seems fair, given the size difference between the two animals.
--Gwen: That's the rules; take it or leave it.
--Me: OK, I'll hire a little person to man the sled. That'll cut down on the weight.
--Gwen: Can I have someone call you back?
--Me: What for, so the dogs can surrender now before the race has even begun? The cats want to race for this trophy, fair and square.
--Gwen: This is a little out of the ordinary.
--Me: I'll tell you what this is: it's big, and it will turn the dog world upside down. The Expeditious Sled-Cats will beat those dogs at their own game.
--Gwen: Just so you know, there is a urine test required for the musher as well as every animal.
--Me: Are you suggesting that my cats have a drinking problem?
--Gwen: This is Eldon, isn't it?
--Me: I'll be waiting for the application. Just tell those dogs to be ready.

A line in the sand has been drawn and I've begun working with some head-strong, but energetic house cats. So far it has not been easy. It seems that cats are very independent and have difficulty running in the same direction at the same time. Whenever I yell "mush!" they each run under a different piece of furniture, tangling the harnesses something terrible. It's really havoc. Last night, it took over an hour to untangle the twisted mess.

So I'm working on coordinating the somewhat self-centered efforts of the cats. As I've tried explaining to their furry selves, this is a team, and there's no "I" in team. Fortunately, help arrived with an idea from Sue "Wizzy" Zirwizzy, the woman who crocheted the cat harnesses. She's going to run ahead of the team while dragging a feathered chew toy. This should get those sled-cats cooperating in unison. I've checked the rules; there's no rule against running ahead of the pack while training, unless the participant barks loudly; that's not recommended. And I've already mentioned to Wizzy that she shouldn't be offended when I yell, "mush." She knows I'm not yelling at her, just the cats.

The cats have been bulking up on Kibbles and Bits (a potential sponsor if all goes as planned), and a few seem to look forward to the training sessions, or are at least enthusiastic about the team's dietary plan. I'm strict about one thing: there is no sleeping on the couch during training. That is the rule. We're working on bonding; our rallying cry is "Go Cat Go!" which, hopefully, will endear the team to the often-overlooked beatnik community.

We've already chosen our lead cat, the ever-panicky Miss Pickles. She's afraid of everything, and with all those dogs giving chase, she'll guide our team lickety-split to Nome. Come March, the Expeditious Sled-Cats will be at the starting gate in Anchorage, ready to make history by crossing the finish line before those headline-grabbing dogs. To quote our team's motivational songstress, Karen Carpenter, "We've only just begun."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Forgot My Mittens

Craig Kitzmiller is my dentist, and he has a very well-rounded selection of magazines in his waiting room, everything from genuine medical journals to The Smithsonian to gossip magazines. There's something for everybody. Sometimes I go there just to read, even when I don't have an appointment, as was the case the other day. There was this magazine article in one of the more learned magazines, about how people in northern climes don't get enough vitamin D, especially during the winter. Apparently, the human body makes its own vitamin D when the skin is exposed to direct sunlight. I don't know how this happens, but according to people who actually paid attention in science class, it does.

The winter blues was beginning to get the best of me; I was feeling a little sluggish and decided that perhaps a little sunlight would be a perfect mid-winter pick-me-up. Then I got to thinking that the more skin exposed to the sun, the more vitamin D would be produced. I didn't need a magazine article for that; I figured it out on my own. Like many enthusiastic innovators, I'm always thinking of ways to improve upon a theory.

At first I began by removing only my shirt. Then I heard some applause and a friendly toot of the horn from some passers by. That did it. I'm not a performer by any stretch of the imagination, but the simple approval by the clapping of hands and an uplifting toot was a lure that must drive every singer, actor, or juggler to exalt their craft to illustrious heights.

Inspired by the very human desire for affirmation (as well as scientific practicality), I decided to let the sun do its work on almost every available portion of my body; "au naturel," as the shameless French like to call it. A few strategically placed handfuls of snow kept the episode within the legal boundaries of exposure. After all, this was science, not some hoochie show. Sure, it was chilly at first, but after a while, my thoughts turned to my hungry vitamin D engines, basking in the glory of unexpected productivity. Their mid-winter awakening surely heartened their spirits, as I hope it did for the few people who offered their encouraging toots. When enough vitamin D had been manufactured (I'm not sure how long this takes, but I think the numbing of extremities is the indicator) I returned to the safety of the indoors.

Anyone who tries this invigorating winter exercise in a climate similar to Chicago's, should be warned: don't do what I did and forget your mittens. That was something I overlooked, and now feel somewhat embarrassed for not using better judgment. No I often say to myself, "What the heck was I thinking."

Sunday, January 2, 2011


We had an earthquake at 4am. The epicenter was in Kokomo, Indiana but could be felt in Illinois. It was 3.8 on the Richter scale, not big by most standards but you never can tell about these things. I woke up on the floor, buried under a pile of National Geographic magazines. Fortunately, this gave me something to read until help arrived. I was a little thirsty, but figured I'd better not move. The paramedics said the quake wasn't strong enough to throw me out of bed and tried to minimize the event and didn't bother to offer me any oxygen. But I think it's better to be safe than sorry, and it was a lot more than just the stack of magazines they pulled off of me. While I was waiting, I removed at least a dozen others and threw them under the bed (they were Playboys and I didn't want the paramedics distracted during their rescue operations).

I didn't appreciate the comment made by one of the paramedics who said maybe I was dreaming that I was chasing a squirrel. That was very unprofessional. Really, I'm suspicious that my wife may have shoved me out of bed during one of her well-known water-skiing with Brad Pitt dreams, but I played it cool and didn't say anything. I didn't want some social service agency to get involved like the time she waxed the floors without telling me, causing me to fall and injure my wrist. My well-intended statement at the emergency room was, "She never cleans anything, ask anybody." That came back to haunt me.

This time I was lucky to have escaped with only a sarcastic comment from the paramedic who rolled his eyes when his partner called him a hero and mentioned that the whole incident should be inscribed on a commemorative plaque, suitable for display at the firehouse. It makes a person wonder if perhaps the paramedic training should be scrutinized and revamped, as they didn't even bring sandwiches or a soothing beverage. And there was no mention of a "brave little soldier" award, traditionally given to rescue victims who don't complain. Also, it's my feeling that bursts of raucous laughter from the rescue team should be reserved for private moments, away from the scene of the disaster.

One thing for sure, heroes don't mock you in the middle of a rescue. Next time, I'm calling the Singing Gondolier Pizza delivery guy, someone who knows when to clam up while working for a tip and, quite possibly, offer an enchanting Venetian melody while departing.