Just For Fun

How Dry I’m Not

It’s fast. It’s loud. It starts at the wave of a hand and stops in an instant. It goes by names like “The Xelerator.”

This is not a sports car, a motorized skateboard, a video game, or a stomach-dropping carnival ride. It’s the latest generation of an invention that for decades now has gladdened the hearts of janitors and annoyed many of the rest of us: the public restroom electric hand dryer.

The basic idea is simple enough: dry your hands with a gust of warm air instead of a paper towel. Neater, more convenient, and maybe even cheaper. The originals have been around long enough that everyone knows the routine: Push “on” button. Rub hands together under warm air. Turn hands to dry front and back. Become impatient with how long this is taking. Wipe hands on jeans. (Preferably your own; using someone else’s is poor restroom etiquette and can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings.) Leave restroom with the dryer still running and your hands still damp.

The whole process is so last century. Hence, enter the modern super-dryer: sleeker, faster, and presumably more effective. I wouldn’t know, personally, because I’ve never been able to allow one to finish drying my hands. The old ones were merely annoying. The new ones are terrifying.

First, there’s the noise. The second you get your hands close enough to turn the dryer on, it starts to scream like a jet engine revving up for takeoff. The normal instinctive reaction is to clap your hands over your ears. This stops the screaming—well, the machine’s screaming, at least—though it leaves you somewhat wet behind the ears. On the brighter side, wiping your hands on your hair does help to dry them.

If you are brave enough to leave your hands under the dryer in spite of the noise, you encounter something even more frightening. The gust of hurricane-force warm air actually makes your skin ripple. The skin on the back of your hand slides away from the blast as if it isn’t quite attached to your flesh. It looks like something out of a third-rate horror movie: “Restroom Zombies,” maybe, or “The Creature from the Black Loo.”

If you are eight years old, you may think this is the coolest thing since Grandma accidentally stuck her fingers together with superglue. If you are a few decades older than that, you may have already noticed places where your skin seems to be getting too loose for you. Having this peculiar phenomenon dramatically called to your attention by a screaming machine full of hot air is neither flattering nor appreciated.

I have to say, though, that the new hand dryers probably do conserve a great deal of energy. Oh, not because they are so efficiently designed, or so much faster, or shut off automatically. Because, after trying them once or twice, countless numbers of us will choose one of two alternative energy-saving solutions.

One: Wash hands. Dry them on jeans. Make a wide circle around hand dryer as you leave the restroom.

Two: Don’t wash hands at all. It’s a small sacrifice, after all, to save the planet. Not to mention your hearing and your serenity.

Categories: Just For Fun, Odds and Ends | Tags: | Leave a comment

Sleeping With the Animals

I’ve never been in the habit of sleeping with members of species other than my own. True, there have been a few exceptions: the one-night experience with the snoring cat from Boise, whose name I never did catch, and the slightly longer but still clearly temporary relationship with Lucy the watchful chocolate Lab.

Otherwise, the various critters who have shared my household over the years were roommate acquaintances rather than intimate bed-sharers. The six or seven cats who came and went did most of their sleeping during daylight, lolling around the house all day and then going out at night in search of adventure elsewhere. Various other critters lived in cages in the rooms of various children, with occasional lapses. The guinea pig (Or were there two? I don’t remember—they all look alike, you know) escaped to precarious freedom inside the bathroom wall. The salamander sought sanctuary beneath a stack of towels in the linen closet, where I found its mummified corpse a few years later when we moved. The four uncomfortably large rats eventually drove their owner out of his own room with their gnawing and their odor, and in consequence they were banished to the garden shed.

But this past weekend, I found myself in a situation that got out of hand. As so often happens, it started out innocently enough. I spent a day and one night with one family of grandkids while their parents were off on a much-deserved short vacation.

The children are four, two-approaching-three, and one. Besides their sweetness, intelligence, charm, and general grandchild exceptionality, one thing that makes them so amazing is the way they go to bed. Willingly. Without fussing. When I carried the baby into her room at bedtime, she lunged toward her crib as if to say, “Finally! This grandma, who seems nice enough but is a little slow, has finally figured out that I’m sleepy.”

Once settled in, these marvelous children sleep soundly like little angels until morning. This, theoretically, means a spending-the-night grandma who is a light sleeper can do the same.

But there is the little matter of the two dogs. During the day—in between naps—one of them patrols the back yard and chases invading birds and squirrels. The other prefers to hang out indoors, but—in between naps—she has a frequent need to go outside and come back in. Opening the door for her easily adds up to a couple of hundred steps for her human minions; if she isn’t getting a commission from the FitBit people, she should be.

Given these busy schedules, it’s not surprising that the dogs go to bed as willingly as the children. This would be great for a spending-the-night grandma, except that the dogs sleep in the master bedroom. True, they have their own beds on the floor. And on this particular night, they were very well-behaved. They didn’t squabble; they didn’t bark; they didn’t jump onto the bed; they didn’t once ask to be let out.

But they did snore. In different keys. They also snuffled and snorted and coughed. Every now and then one of them—dreaming, maybe—scrabbled against the foot of the bed with its toenails. Several times one or the other either had to scratch a mighty itch or had to get up to stretch and shake itself all over. In either case, the process involved a great deal of collar rattling, loud flapping of ears and jowls, and deep sighing. One of them also sneezed periodically. The first time, half-asleep as I was, I automatically said, “Gesundheit!” Then I realized how silly that was—duh; I know perfectly well the dogs don’t speak German.

It was a long night. By morning, I was thoroughly convinced of the wisdom of my lifetime choice to limit my sleeping partners to the human variety. At least if they snore, one can poke them lovingly in the ribs and gently suggest that they roll over.

This does not mean I’m prejudiced or xenophobic. I am not a bigot. I am not a speciesist. I have a great deal of tolerance, even affection, for many members of species other than my own. It doesn’t even bother me if my children sleep with them. Just as long as I don’t have to.

Categories: Family, Just For Fun, Wild Things | Leave a comment

A Car By Any Other Name

My car—the first vehicle I ever bought brand-new—turned one year old this month. Even though I’ve put 19,000 miles on it, tolerated toddler spills and cracker crumbs in the back seat, used it to haul furniture, and driven it in mud, I still think of it as my “new car.”

So I don’t understand why Honda keeps sending me emails about their latest models. Excuse me, marketing department? That thing in my garage is not a pair of jeans or a jar of face cream. I haven’t worn it out or used it up yet. I don’t need to buy a new car this year. In case you hadn’t noticed, I did that last year. At least give me time to figure out how to operate the hands-free phone calling and get comfortable with the backup camera.

But Honda’s latest email did catch my attention. Apparently the newest redesigned version of the Accord features an “aggressive new exterior.” Excuse me, marketing department? Did you not notice the name of this car? It’s the Accord. That means “agreement” or “harmony,” as in “peace accord.” This is the vehicle some people call the “Jesus car” because of the Bible verse where Jesus and the disciples “went with one accord.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help wondering why a car named after peace and agreement needs an “aggressive” exterior. What’s next? The brand-new Oxymoron?

My own Honda is a CR-V. I presume CR-V stands for something; I have no idea what. Maybe if I actually read the owner’s manual I might find out. As far as I’m concerned it’s a Commonsense Reliable Vehicle, which certainly works for me.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe the people who market cars and I just don’t think along the same lines. Oh, I could easily come up with names for new car models. I’m just not sure the industry would welcome many of my bright ideas. Like these:

The Mammoth Jack pickup. Dependable, smart, and sturdy; it may not be stylish but will get you where you need to go and haul anything you need to take along. Features built-in social networking; you’ll get to know all your friends and neighbors better every time you help them move.

The Roller Skate sports car. It features miniscule cargo space, enough power to guarantee you that second look from the highway patrol, less legroom than airplane economy class, and a sightline level with other vehicles’ hubcaps. Warranty valid for driving on sunny days, May-Oct only. But all the neighbors watching you polish it in your driveway every week will know exactly how you got through your midlife crisis.

The Bike Helmet micro-mini car. Slightly more cargo capacity than a bicycle; not safe to drive on freeways in winds over 10 mph. But you’ll only need to fill the gas tank every other month, and you can practice three-point turnarounds inside your garage.

The St. Bernard SUV. Your best friend for winter driving; pushes through blizzards and deep snow drifts. Comes in all colors except white; the most popular is Warm Brandy.

The Nanny mini-van. Includes all basic safety features like child-proof door locks and window controls, plus starter system with built-in seatbelt-fastening verification. Backseat upholstery is stain-resistant and sound-suppressing. To insure conflict-free road trips, offers headphones with programmable age-appropriate storytelling, individual environmental controls, snack coolers and spill-wiping arms at each back seat, computerized tracking of who last got to sit by the window, automated GPS “how much farther?” answering feature, and optional but recommended anti-“he’s touching me!” barriers.

The White Elephant pseudo-military vehicle. This bulky, macho super-SUV can’t be easily parked in a conventional space (unless you have no scruples about squashing smaller cars), may not fit in your garage, and offers worse fuel economy than an RV. But everyone will certainly notice that you have it. And because it’s so expensive to buy and maintain, it’s the perfect way to impress the neighbors with your financial ineptitude.

Maybe there’s a reason why I don’t have a career in automotive marketing.

Still, I can think of one vehicle that almost everyone would want: The Transporter. Never mind what it looks like; it gets you there in an instant.

Categories: Just For Fun, Travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

What Kind of Woman Do They Think I Am?

The nice young man really didn’t mean to insult me. All I did was mention that I regularly go to a meeting on Saturday mornings. All he did was ask, “Is that your motorcycle club?”

It was obvious from his tone and his grin that he meant no offense whatsoever. He was clearly teasing, with no sarcasm intended or barbs attached. It was equally obvious that he couldn’t in his wildest dreams imagine me as an adventurous motorcycle mama.

He had no idea that his innocent words were such a blow to my self-esteem. I had not been so inadvertently insulted since the time years ago when a middle-aged man, trying to explain why some people drool over Corvettes in spite of the fact that they have no room to haul recycling or groceries, said, “You just don’t understand, Kathleen—a car like that is a chick magnet.”

What kind of person do these guys think I am?

I’m afraid they must see me as somebody who:

• Wouldn’t even think of going hiking without a water bottle, sunscreen, bug spray, and a broad-brimmed hat.
• Would much rather read about intrepid explorers than follow in their footsteps.
• Shudders at the very idea of ever getting even a teeny-tiny tattoo.
• Went on a roller coaster once in her life and still hasn’t recovered from the experience.
• Thinks bungee jumping is probably injurious to the brain cells, except that the brain cells of anyone crazy enough to try it are obviously damaged anyway.

Sigh. Well, yeah, I guess I have to admit it. I am that kind of person. Mostly.

But wait—there’s more. I’m also the kind of person who has a motorcycle endorsement on her driver’s license. Really.

Back in the early 1990’s I was persuaded by my husband to take a motorcycle safety class. He had the idea that we could putter around the back roads of the Black Hills on his two decidedly non-Harley motorcycles. I made it through the class, too. Here are the main things I learned:

• If you slow down too much going into a sedate little turn in the safety of a level parking lot, you’ll probably tip your motorcycle over.
• If you do tip your motorcycle over, and you’re a slender woman of slightly less than average height, you may not be strong enough to pick it back up.
• Acing the written test about motorcycle safety and operation doesn’t mean you’re qualified to actually drive one.

Thanks to taking that class, I was licensed by the state of South Dakota to drive a motorcycle. Thanks to everything I learned in that class, I have never ventured to drive any kind of a motorcycle on any public road. Both the state of South Dakota and I are better off because of this, even though only one of us is aware of the fact.

I never have bothered to remove the motorcycle endorsement from my license, though. You may suppose that’s because I still harbor fantasies that I might someday use it.

Nope. Never have; never will. Deep down inside, I never think of myself as the type of person who might put on something outrageous in black leather and fringe, hop on a Harley, and roar off into the sunset in search of raucous adventure.

But once in a while, it would be nice to think that other people might possibly think I could be.

Categories: Just For Fun, Odds and Ends, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

What Happens in Sturgis Stays There, Unless Somebody Tells Your Mother

The 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has probably set a new attendance record. Apparently no one knows for sure. Counting motorcycles may seem simple—just count the wheels and divide by two. But what with bikers coming and going at different times and spreading out all over the Black Hills, it isn’t that easy to come up with a crowd count. Especially since, as more and more older riders have switched to trikes, the math gets complicated.

Still, it seems appropriate that several other world records have been set during this year’s record-setting Rally. One was truly impressive: daredevil Doug Danger successfully jumped his Harley over 22 cars. Evel Knievel would have been proud—or at least envious. I just hope this doesn’t inspire any of my grandchildren to go and do likewise.

Another world record wasn’t set at the Rally, but it’s being celebrated here. The record-holder, Bobby Cleveland, has been here all week as part of a tour. People are welcome to rev the engine of his record-setting vehicle: a customized Snapper riding lawn mower that was clocked at 96.5 miles per hour on the Bonneville Salt Flats. And yes, it cuts grass, too.

In this spirit of competition, another group of Rally-goers set out to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, too. Their goal: To be the largest number of people ever photographed at once in their underwear.

Yes, apparently there is an existing world record in this category—2270 people. It happened in Salt Lake City. The organizer of the Rally attempt didn’t seem to know further details like who, when, and why. Too bad; inquiring minds would like to know. This inquiring mind, however, decided not to try to look it up. I didn’t want to deal with the kind of spam that would inevitably show up if I did an Internet search combining terms like “photo” and “world record” and “underwear.”

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your point of view, the Salt Lake City record still stands. The Rally group all seemed to have a good time, including the reporter who covered the uncovered event for the Rapid City Journal. But they barely mustered 182 people, not much of a thong—er, throng.

What caught my attention about the article was the description of one participant, a Wyoming woman in her early 40’s, who “asked not to be named for fear her mother would see it.”

I completely understand that sentiment. When you live in a sparsely-populated state like South Dakota or Wyoming, no matter where you go you’re likely to run into someone who knows your mother. Or your grandmother. Or your second grade teacher. Which means, if you’re doing something a little odd, like, oh, posing in your underwear with a bunch of other giggling bikers, someone is potentially going to tell your mother all about it. It’s a sort of pre-Internet version of Facebook, just, thankfully, without the pictures.

But in this case, there are pictures, right there in respectable newspapers for anyone to see. If I were the woman from Wyoming, I’d hope my mother wasn’t checking out Sturgis Rally photos with a magnifying glass.

Of course, if she did indulge in that kind of voyeuristic snooping, she probably wouldn’t admit it. She’d be too afraid that somebody would tell her daughter.

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Cookie’s Chuckwagon Blues

This is not exactly a sad country song, but it probably qualifies as a cowboy’s lament. With thanks (or apologies, whichever is more appropriate) to Nancy, who started it.

 

Cookie’s Chuckwagon Blues

With my chuckwagon and my old Dutch ovens,
I’ve cooked a lot of years out on the range.
But I don’t know about these modern cowboys;
Their ideas of grub is passing strange.

Tex won’t eat no more of my hot biscuits
Because his diet now is gluten-free.
He has a rice cake with his beans and bacon.
Cowboys sure ain’t like they used to be.

Slim is munching carrot sticks and celery.
“I got too fat,” he tells me with a sigh.
“Why, I can’t even see my own belt buckle,
Until I can, it’s no more apple pie.”

High cholesterol is Shorty’s problem,
So now he don’t eat butter, eggs, or lard.
He says, “Trans fat is gonna kill ya, Cookie.
Better buy some olive oil, old pard.”

“More beans,” says Joe, as he comes back for seconds,
And it reminds me of the good old days,
Until he adds, “I need to eat more fiber.”
Whatever happened to old cowboy ways?

I miss the days when me and this old wagon
Served cowboy grub as good as grub could git.
But the day some cowpoke asks for tofu burger,
That’s the day I tell the boss, “I quit!”

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Pepperoni in the Rain

If you’re having a tough day, there’s nothing like listening to sad country music to make you feel better. All your real-life troubles take on a new perspective after 15 or 10 minutes of listening to variations of, “You’re gone, and I’ll never get over it, and I’ve been here in the bar drowning my sorrows for 13 years now, but I still can’t understand why you left me.”

Then there are the times when real life just begs to be a sad country song. The other night, for example, I got a phone call from a family member while she was “delivering pizzas in the rain.”

With a line like that to start with, the rest of the song practically writes itself:

Since you left with all our money
All my luck went down the drain.
Now I’m out in my old pickup
Delivering pizzas in the rain.

My only hope is that one evening
When that phone begins to ring,
I will hear you ask me sweetly
For “a large with everything.”

With my heart as extra topping,
I will rush it to your door.
And the only tip I’ll ask for
Is to see your face once more.

Now, that’s extra cheese.

I don’t know about you, but I feel better already. Except for a slight craving for Canadian bacon and black olives.

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Words to Live By

“Favorite Quotation.” This was one of the blanks to fill in on a bio form I had to submit recently for a presentation I’m giving in a few weeks. I assumed they wanted something uplifting and meaningful, a shining little nugget of pithy advice or witty inspiration that is a touchstone in my life.

And I couldn’t think of a thing. It probably didn’t help that the program chairman needed my response by 5:00 p.m., that I’ve read and edited so many self-help books that their wise adages tend to blur together, and that my favorite poet is Ogden Nash. He certainly is quotable—here’s one of his poems:

Reflexions on Ice-Breaking
Candy
is dandy
But liquor
is quicker

However, the inspirational value of lines like this might not be fully appreciated by someone whose goal is to help a presenter seem capable and authoritative.

I finally found some adequate saying or other, sent it in, and promptly forgot about it. The next day, of course, I remembered several delightful, clever, and apt quotations that I could have used instead.

While I was on the subject, though, I started pondering some of the sayings that do influence my life. If I had been more concerned about truth-telling than pseudo-inspiration in my response, I might have cited one of the phrases (source: various semi-anonymous members of my family) that I actually use regularly. Like one of these:

“Cowgirl up.” Its better-known counterpart, “cowboy up,” means shut up, get on with it, do what needs to be done and don’t complain. “Cowgirl up” means pretty much the same thing, except you toss in a little humor while you’re at it. And wear your best red boots, except in situations where Carhartts are more appropriate.

“I just want this to be oooover!” This loud and deeply sincere bit of dramatic criticism from the back of an elementary school gym was one of the highlights of my son-in-law’s time as part of a touring children’s theatre program. My partner and I have appropriated it and find it useful in all sorts of situations. It can be muttered out of the side of one’s mouth during long-winded speeches or tedious meetings. It can be thought to oneself during dental appointments or invasive medical procedures. Said aloud with a dramatic sigh or eye-roll, it suits a variety of occasions from uphill hikes to long car trips to waiting on hold for customer service. Sometimes, the person who wasn’t quick enough to say it first gets to come back with the response my son-in-law gave from the stage: “You and me both, kid!”

Okay, I might as well admit it. When it comes to inspirational words, I’ll take a perspective-restoring chuckle over an uplifting adage any day. It’s sometimes more clever, often more useful, and always easier to remember.

Categories: Just For Fun, Living Consciously | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

You Might Have WRSS If . . .

As character defects go, WRSS is a fairly minor one. It’s also geography-related. I assume—though I have no research to back this up—that it affects pretty much the entire populations of states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin; and for Canadians it’s practically a birthright.

The full name for WRSS is Winter Related Superiority Syndrome. It is characterized by the regrettable (but understandable) tendency to feel virtuous and superior just because one happens to live in a part of the country that has severe winters.

You and I, of course, are much too stable and emotionally balanced to be affected by this trait. Or, at least, we are skilled and sneaky enough to keep it hidden. However, if you want to know whether any of your relatives or friends suffer from WRSS, here’s a diagnostic checklist:

1. Have you ever used the phrase, “Cold enough for you?” more than three times in one day? (Extra points if, when other people ask you this question, your standard answer is, “Not quite.”)

2. Do you feel a sense of pride if your home town makes national news for having the lowest temperature in the country?

3. Do you assert that shoveling snow is better exercise than yoga? (Extra points if you genuinely believe this to be true.)

4. Do you find it odd that some people don’t appreciate the beauty of words like “slush” and “thaw”?

5. Have you ever said out loud, in public, that you think insulated coveralls or long underwear are sexy?

6. Do you regard, “It took me 20 minutes to scrape off my car,” as a legitimate excuse for being late for work?

7. Have you ever practiced blowing “smoke” rings when it’s cold enough so you can see your breath?

8. Have you ever asked someone from, say, Florida, how they can stand to live in a place that doesn’t have four seasons?

9. Are you sometimes tempted to go south for the winter, but you would never actually do it because you’re afraid it would make you look like a wimp?

10. Have you ever bragged about being able to perform miracles—pointing out that, for several months of the year, it’s no big deal for you to walk on water?

And finally, here’s how to discover whether your case of WRSS is incurable: You feel acute embarrassment if you’ve made up something snarky about cold weather, only to find that the day you publish it turns out to be sunny with a high of 50 degrees.

Categories: Just For Fun | 3 Comments

“So Rudolph and Darth Vader Walk Into . . . “

“Catalog (noun): A compilation of items you have never heard of and do not need, presented in such a way as to persuade you that you can’t live without them.”

Somebody somewhere must have been selling my address, because an assortment of catalogs have shown up in the mailbox lately. I usually toss them, but the other day two of them arrived just in time to provide reading material while I waited for an appointment.

These catalogs were not selling cheap odd junk, mind you. These, aimed at a more selective and affluent market, were selling expensive odd junk. Like washable cashmere lounging pants, battery-powered nose hair trimmers, indoor flameless marshmallow roasters, and personalized bobblehead dolls created from photographs of your loved ones. Plus a Darth Vader toaster, complete with glowing eyes and the ability to brand “Star Wars” onto each slice of toast.

While each of those had its own particular appeal, two other items caught my attention.

First, the tasteless, creepy, grandchild-terrifying Christmas decoration that no household should be without: the 15-foot tall, animated, inflatable Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (only $399.95). Not only does he have an “LED-illuminated bulbous red nose,” but “A quiet electronic motor swivels his head back and forth, implying his natural curiosity, while his pert tail and ears suggest an alertness and eagerness to entertain.” In our neighborhood, that alertness could be a good idea. The real deer who frequent our yard, meeting this outsized interloper, might just decide to test their own natural curiosity and their sharp-pointed antlers against Rudolph’s chubby inflatable legs.

The second item is more utilitarian: a “Cordless Snow Shovel” for a mere $299.99. “Just push a button, and you’re off.” It’s quiet. It has a rechargeable battery. It has zero carbon emissions. (Well, if you don’t count using electricity to recharge those batteries.)

But, wait. We already have two cordless snow shovels. They don’t even need batteries, although their operators may need periodic recharging with hot chocolate. They’re quiet, if you don’t count the occasional grunting, muttering, and whining from their users. I’m not sure about the zero carbon emissions, though; the heavy breathing that accompanies their use must put quite a lot of carbon dioxide into the air.

Oh, now I get it. That’s why we only shovel two tire-width tracks up our long driveway instead of clearing off the whole thing. We’re just trying to reduce our carbon footprint.

Regretfully, I decided not to invest in either of these items. Maybe next year.

But I did think twice about the Darth Vader toaster. One person on my Christmas list, as a little boy, sat enthralled through the first Star Wars movie and, as a teenager, did an impressive Darth Vader impersonation. He just might have loved it.

Categories: Family, Just For Fun | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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