Archive for August, 2007

The so-called “Magic Kingdom” doesn’t seem to have what it takes for me to take notice these days. The mouse has roared, Neverland offers discount coupons, and I’m clapping for Tinkerbell, but she’s passed out drunk on the floor with phone cameras snapping away. Where did it all go wrong? The decadence of King Arthur’s court can only end in Mordred at this stage.

Yet, there is a time I remember when I lived for the Magic Kingdom and all its wonders. Perhaps the decrepitude of today is worth it for the glories of yesterday. I suppose it’s a fair trade, and I’ll always have Paris, if you want to look at it in a stoic, Humphrey Bogart kind of way. I loved Peter Pan; he was my idol. Dressed up for him on Halloween once, and I probably have every line from the record memorized for all eternity in some reptilian part of my medulla oblongata.

But today, I’m jonesin’ for a hit of one of my favorite all time movies, Escape to Witch Mountain. The movie is about as primitive as you can get by today’s standards, but imagination needs so little to take flight, I don’t care. Mild spoilers follow.

Tony and Tia live at the orphanage. They are siblings but don’t remember much about their parents, save jumbled images that come to them in dreams. The other kids don’t like them, because they’re weird. I’ll say! The two children can communicate with each other telepathically, and possess varying degrees of telekinesis (the ability to move objects with the mind) and precognition (the ability to see the future). Tia can sense the future better, while Tony can move objects better, but only when using his harmonica as a focus. Tia also has a pet black cat named “Winky” with whom she can communicate with.

One day, they save a rich, evil multi-millionaire from death in an auto accident by predicting it and warning him. He adopts them, and gives them anything a kid could want – huge playrooms with countless toys, tennis courts, horseback riding, the good life. But they can’t leave his estate, and they have to predict the stock market for him. He’s got lots of guards and attack dogs to keep them from attempting any foolish ideas.

Plot devices move forward and Tia discovers a clue that might lead them to answers about their past: A place called Witch Mountain. So using their powers, they make a break for it and become runaways looking for Witch Mountain. They experience many hardships, and find both friends and enemies along the way. Meanwhile, Mr. Evil Capitalist does his best to find and recapture his prized “assets”.

In particular, they find an old man driving around in a Winnebago camper who has become bitter at the way his life has turned out. He’s a good man who just needs to learn to let go of the past and live again, and the two kids in true mouse moral fashion, bring out his true character. He becomes their companion and helps them thereafter at great “risk” to himself.

Since it’s a mouse movie, of course the children reach their goal, and find the answer to who they are, and what they are. Happy ending? You betcha! Hey, I bought into it; I’m not going to complain.

What particularly moves me is the interaction between the old man and the children. He very closely resembles the person they need to speak with at Witch Mountain, and so it makes sense that they would form a bond with him. But I can’t help but feel that the main character of the movie is the old man, rather than Tony and Tia. Their adventure is important, and the dangers they face very real, but there’s almost a strangely divine character to them, as though their problems were of a higher order then mere human existence. Though I’m sure they operate just fine as a means for children viewers to project upon and imagine themselves as being!

The old man has no magic powers, and it is his assistance that the children need. Their predicament only allows them to travel so far, so fast. Being an adult, he is able to investigate for them in ways they could not, and take care of them in ways they haven’t learned for themselves. But it goes both ways. They provide psychic assistance when his own experience can’t meet the demands of their ordeal, and they give him a joyous sense of being alive again. He gets to protect the children he never had, and makes peace with the demons that have haunted him. The scene where Tia tells him exactly what is eating him alive is devastating, and a release. Pretty heady stuff for a kids show. But sometimes the message gets through in the most mysterious of ways. In the end, he is reconnected with himself, and is the real winner. The bad guy should count his blessings. A lesson about greed, perhaps.

I never tire of seeing it. Simple, decent length, fantastical elements, moral lessons, and a solid story that resolves itself. The mouse can keep his Mulan 8 “The Final Chapter Begins” and Cinderella 4 “In the Hood”. I got the hookup right here.

I’m old enough to remember the days of pong, and the video games that sprang up around it. Nowadays, video games are visually exciting, but as other experts in the industry have commented, gameplay has lagged behind technological mastery. Those old games looked like etch-a-sketch doodles, but crumbs, you could get some game play out of those simple ideas. They had to be fun to play, they weren’t much to look at. Games like these needed an experience that would draw you in and engage your imagination.

One game in particular was a favorite of mine, because it always seemed to be at the Howard Johnson’s restaurant my folks stopped at, and I’ve always thought submarines were really darn cool. I’m talking about Sea Wolf. You plopped in a quarter, stood on a small stand, and looked through a periscope with a firing button. You got a limited amount of time to play, though maybe that could be extended by scoring high in a round, I don’t know.

The screen was arranged so that you had three rows of ships moving on and off in both directions, along the surface of the “water”, and below them you had a random assortment of floating mines that were obstacles. You played the part of a submarine captain firing torpedoes at the ships for points. The torpedo started at the bottom of the screen and moved to the top, where it either detonated with a target or disappeared once it reached the top. You moved the periscope left and right to adjust where the torpedo fired.

Everything was in monochrome blue, and the graphics were not pong-style blocky, but reasonably recognizable as ships and mines. The sound effects included the familiar “sonar” pinging as a background soundtrack, with satisfying booms and whisking noises for the torpedoes. But the sound effect to beat was that of the annoying PT boat. The smallest ship, and the fastest, it was worth the most points if you could get it. It always announced itself with a kind of grating, high-pitched, whirring duck-call. Just enough to totally throw you off your game and leap greedily for the big bonus with a big fat miss.

The thing was, the PT Boat sound effect was the only sound effect you could hear when you were not playing the game. You’d be sitting at your table eating dinner, and the video game would make the duck-call and you couldn’t ignore it. At least, not at my age at the time. Devious, huh? That ding-dang-darn PT Boat was just daring you to take a shot at it. Go ahead; knock that battery off that shoulder. Give it your best shot, punk. Mom, dad, gimmie quarter! I have to shut up the PT Boat! Can’t you hear it?

Despite the simplicity, the game is actually pretty challenging. The mines, the mix between larger (less valuable points-wise) ships and smaller ships, and the need to time your shots combine into a really exciting game. You shoot for the easy ship, but hit the mine instead, or you go for the hard shot, and the PT Boat appears to throw you off for a fraction of a second and you miss completely. For 60 seconds of fun, its pretty basic brain stimulation, but I got a kick out of it.

I guess you could call Sea Wolf my first video game crush. Before Pac Man fever, there was Sea Wolf puppy love. That was the seventies for you.

Everywhere you look these days, it seems fashionable to be a tyrant. From high to low, oppression is raking in high dividends and mighty thrills. And think of all the excitement for the oppressed! You can’t get that kind of gut-churning fear just anywhere. It’s got to be manufactured the old fashioned way, with a boot smashing a face forever.

I can’t help but think it’s a dead end. Not, in the sense that I need to believe that evil doers eventually get their just deserts, or I want to dissuade career-minded people from raking it in, but in the sense that I wonder if there isn’t some fundamental need for tyrants that overrides rational, intelligent decision-making. Joseph Campbell talks about the need for an “enemy”, because the enemy is the instrument of your destiny. Can civilization and culture come about without them? Without the need to measure yourself against something, or someone, would you develop in the same way?

None of this intellectualizing does the dead or the currently suffering any good, of course. The outbreaks of insane aggression leading to fear and bloodshed are real, and threaten all life on this planet. The problem of what to do about it is a deeply human concern that requires a lot of attention. The problem is if you cast out your demons, you have to be careful you don’t cast out the best part of yourself at the same time. Nobody is getting out from under the shadow of human evil, so it pays to face it. And I think we’ve reached a point in our destiny where some of the issues can be approached on a human level and some questions answered.

So I look at it on the more personal, immediate level and look at who the local oppressor is. It seems like everyone I know has, to use a video game analogy, a “boss” character running the underlings that trouble them on the level they are trying to complete. As they used to say back in the day, “Who’s on the throne?” Who is the high chair bully, giving orders and having his or her needs attended to at the expense of everyone else? It’s easy to see everyone else’s shadow, how about your own? Not so easy. That tyrant has your number, and it’s time to get the boot to your face!

Who is that tyrant? What kind are they? Do you have the muah-ha-ha kind, who always gets beaten down at the end of the show of your current, personal television series? Is it more serious than that, forcing you to make drastic choices just to survive tremendous abuse? Maybe you only have a tyrant of the week, that relative you can’t stand, who comes into town for the weekend and eats you out of house and home. Or it could be the crummy person at the checkout counter giving you a hard time, a petty tyrant taking out what small gloating satisfaction they can from their backyard empire of chickens such as will have them.

The tyrant exists solely at the silent consent of others. Our evildoer will often have to enforce that consent actively, through the use of outright force, or in the case of more sophisticated societies, with deception or harassment. But comes a day, the people demand that the sacrifice, the victim, the fool pay up. The tyrant either pays with an ignoble end, the traditional favorite, or they pay with something more intangible. Something is lost to them; they die on the throne and fade away, like a withering, crumbling old thing.

Is that what the tyrant aspires to? To be the bad guy in somebody else’s movie? To be the victim at the end, or to win and die on a sack of gold, and in both cases not knowing what it is they do? Or if they do choose such a course, is that not insanity or criminal naiveté? Who but a fool would want to be king for a day? What kind of people are we, that we need a bad guy just to feel good? Or is it that we need someone to ritually re-enact our own shadows, our own lust for death and destruction? That is what the shadow of humanity’s evil is, after all, a secret wish to plunge from the highest heights to the lowest depths. And we decide, impersonally as a group, when it is time for that sacrifice to plunge into the fire pit, preferably dead, but alive draws out the suspense longer.

What’s scarier, the tyrant or the people propping him or her up on their shoulders as we make our way to the appointed place? Friends, supporters, oppressed all playing a part and secretly waiting for the time when everyone decides it’s time for the fool for a day to pay the price.

Stop the insanity! Time for the real fool to jump in and make monkeys of us all, because we’re all paying the freight on “unconscious village.”

Who’s on the throne in your life? Who put them there? They pay now so you can pay later, but we all have to pay! Abort before takeoff. Get a payment plan, and get right with yourself. Don’t expect someone else to muah-ha-ha for you. Be your own villain and bushwhack yourself. It’ll be more fun that way (what, you want to live vicariously through someone else?), and your audience will find the tragedy and/or comedy more to their liking.

Hearkening back to the old days, when I was a wee lad. There were many toys of great inventiveness that passed by my small hands. I recalled a visit to the parental units and my old closet of “potent archaeological relevance” earlier this year, where I sighted the old Strange Change Machine from days of yore. Since I’ve been pondering the effects of exposure to “ancient artifacts of alien training” on my brain’s development, I figured I ought to consider this interesting tool.

The machine is this square piece of metal, basically a heating unit, with a thin wire grille over the dark recesses of heat that emanate from the depths of who-knows-where. A hard plastic capsule with a sliding door covers the grille area, and there are three vents at the top to allow heat to escape. To the side of the capsule/grille is a small metal compactor area, like the kind used to crush cars into squares of metal, with a sliding plastic panel to seal it off and a crank that screws the compactor wall in and out.

The machine’s design suggests an infernal time machine created by some mad scientist not eating with both hands. Accompanying the machine you get a set of plastic tweezers, a plastic play-mat illustrated with a gorgeous “dinosaur era” landscape, and a number of green, pink, red and yellow plastic squares, all blazoned with the Mattel brand logo on them.

You plug in the machine, it heats up, and you pop a square into the capsule. As the square heats up, it unfolds and changes before your eyes into a monster! Cool, huh? You then take him out with your tweezers, let him cool (as he is a bit soft and very hot), and set him aside to work on the next one! Pretty soon, you’ve got a whole slew of characters for use on your play-mat, and its time to have them battle for supremacy and your amusement!

Some of the monsters included, a scorpion, a snake, a spider, a mummy, a brontosaurus, a tyrannosaurus, a winged mothman demon of some outlandish sort, and a pterodactyl. When you were done, you put them in the capsule to heat them up, and then you jammed them into the compactor, which was also hot, and gradually squished them back into a square! You plucked them out, let them cool, and had a pile of squares again!

I’m not exactly sure such a toy would pass safety standards today, since it’s really easy to leave the machine on and go watch cable and forget about it. Hey, what’s that smell? Oops, left the mummy in the compactor too long! I looked the machine up on the internets, and learned that the secret to the magic of the monsters is that they are made of a special kind of plastic, that when passed through a special chamber and bombarded with radiation, the molecules of the plastic are set into their current shape, and thus they will always try to reconfigure themselves to that shape even when squished into a hard square!

That was I as a kid, handling irradiated super-plastics and playing with high heat to make characters for my latest play-set. Was it the toys that made the adult, or did the child summon toys suitable for their own development? I wonder if natural selection favors those children who are able to acquire the right toys for their training. Is the future creating the present by manipulating the past? I start to get flashes of that old horror classic, Children of the Damned. Parents have every right to be concerned over what their child is playing with, because those toys are the symptoms of their own destiny!

What does it mean then, that so many toys with lead in them are being recalled? On the surface, it could easily be explained as despicable carelessness and reckless endangerment of the young. Is there some collective unconscious fear of the new breed of little monsters? Is the greed and unconcern for our children symptomatic of a sick desire at self-preservation against the future? Is it a mere obstacle of natural selection to be dodged, like so many things in life? Is it an experience summoned by the unconscious to test a new generation of children? Lead is not conducive to good health in reality, but in the dreamworld, lead is turned into gold. Or it could be a vital element in some great task – used in the building of a new shielding against hostile radioactive mutants, for example.

I think about Black Sabbath’s old classic, Children of the Grave, where Ozzy Osbourne sings, “Children of tomorrow live in the tears that fall today” and “Can they win the fight for peace or will they disappear?” The kids are training; their story has only just begun.

Just got through watching the first five episodes of Star Blazers again, courtesy of Netflix. Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve seen that one. The music is varied, evocative, and suitably dramatic. The rich, watercolor-like palette of colors create a dreamy, organic quality. The animation, while spotty at times, is at others breathtaking. The characters are at times caricatures, and at other times they shine with moments of humanity and triumph. The premise is solid, and the story keeps to steady movement. Nothing is allowed to stagnate, and yet the new makes sense and keeps you watching. These artists show talent and devotion, taking chances under the shadow of the clock, and it pays off. I’m impressed at how well it holds up now.

To summarize, an alien empire begins bombing Earth with “planet bombs” that cover the planet in radiation and drive everyone underground. Earth’s spacefleet has been completely defeated, and in 1 year all life on the planet will be extinguished. An ancient battleship wreck, the Yamato, has been secretly turned into a space battleship with the intention of being a “space ark”, which will take a small number of people to some other place they might be able to colonize and thus preserve humanity.

Another alien planet takes pity on Earth and sends them a message of hope: Come to their world and they will give us the “Cosmo DNA”, a means to resurrect the Earth and defeat the evil aliens. With the message are plans for a new form of space engine and an ultimate weapon – the wave motion gun. The Yamato is fitted with this new technology, and the crew’s mission is changed: They will be known as the Star Force, and they will take humanity’s last chance in a go-for-broke-gamble to reach the planet and return with the Cosmo DNA instead of fleeing to another planet.

Every episode covers a step along the way to reach the good alien planet, with the evil aliens attempting to find and destroy them, and ending with a countdown number so you know exactly how many days are left before its too late. As the story progresses, the space battleship faces all manner of obstacles, from gravitational pulls while the engines are being repaired, to hostile, matter-consuming, semi-intelligent gas monsters. There’s usually some kind of attack by the forces of the evil aliens, requiring the Star Force to use their wits and survive long enough to blow the aliens away with the wave motion gun. Meanwhile, the crew members face personal struggles, both private and public. It’s pretty mature for a kids show.

It just got me thinking about the first anime I saw as a kid, one of several manufactured for the American market – Speed Racer, and later on down the line, Marine Boy – truly a lost classic deserving of DVD release! There were other shows, like Ultraman and Johnny Socko and His Flying Robot, that were live action, but they brought over an influence from Japan that is pretty much mainstream and taken for granted today. These shows were like precious secrets you were lucky to be able to see, back in the day when TV stations were more independent and diverse, unlike the monopolies we have today. It was a blast to catch these on television and be able to talk about it with your friends on the block about “the mammoth car” or “oxygum and electric boomerangs”.

Makes me wonder what kind of secret treasures are floating around out there now, mutating the brains of youngsters and creating new fountains of creative expression that take root now, only to flower many decades down the line. The culture broth out there holds uncounted mysteries brewing who-knows-what-is-to-come. The messages of these transmissions are coming to you from the good aliens, giving you the solution and the tools, but you’ve got to do that task yourself to save the planet, be the best racecar driver/human being you can be, protect the oceans, defeat the monsters, you name it – the final task you’ve got to do yourself.

Today, the Terminators, Destructoids, and jack-bots are really gunning for small fry. Crumbs! And my super-zapper recharge ain’t got that swing. Forgot to load up on torpedoes or re-energize the shields. I may as well leave the door open for the droids looking for live-brains! Thank goodness for cloaking devices. Sometimes you need to keep a low profile to avoid being seen. And you Monty Python freakazoidals know what I’m talking about! Do not stand up when your name is called!

On the sensor arrays, my science officer, Kool Kat, informs me that you can adopt a Nauga. I’m surprised, I thought the program had been shut down by the Empire a ways back. Not quite as ferocious a breed as those 60’s versions of the Nexus-6, I imagine. But there’s no telling what a plastic-harvested anipal might get as a random power during the transfer flight through the radiation barrier. You pick up these things when you’re running silent past the Gamalons.

In other news, stocked up on supplies for the cat colony. The high end food particles must be made from quadro-triticale grain to cost so much in the way of Ducats, but I guess its for a good cause. The catazoid power hour does sweep the neighborhood free of meeses and hostile organism globules. Maintenance costs if you want to live in the rebel base. It’s a way of life and it freaks me out! Yea, baby!

Programming the food banks to have me manufacture some chili, lasagna, and BLTs in the next few days. At times like these, the crew gets nervous when the food supplies have to be made to order during the actual increase in hunger levels, and I don’t want to risk getting fleeced out there in the communal food bank kiddie pools. You just don’t know whose DNA you’re ingesting these days when you get it to go. But its all in a days work for, Duck-and-Cover Man. I just need to decipher the name of that manga I overheard this morning on the internets. You never know what kind of goodies are out there! They might save your life/sanity/soul, or even reveal a powerup. Need the Mario double-up stat!

Coming up is K’s birthday, and that means valuable cards and prizes for her. In true game show fashion, she opened a catalog, pointed at the object of her desire, and said, “this!” Whatever you say drill sergeant! “This” turned out to be a yogurt maker from a health food catalog specializing in juicers. The ordering experience was friendly, but odd. It’s in the catalog, but not available yet. You can have a confirmation number, but call back tomorrow to get it. I guess that’s to be expected from a catalog where wheatgrass juice is considered a tonic equivalent to a Potion of Healing. Might very well be, but let me be the judge of that!

Yogurt making sounds fun, so why not? Healthy, probiotic stuff! You heat up some milk, throw in some culture powder, fill the nifty containers, put on the lid, and turn on the machine. Well, okay, not quite. The instructions that came with the maker, and the ones on the label of the culture container were both wrong, and we got a bunch of milk that smelled like yogurt, but that’s it. After some research on the internet for formulas, and the use of coffee filters to filter out the whey, yes we now have yogurt. Fresh is good. Much better than store bought. But the hoops are a little more than was advertised.

My legendary pizza of doom recepie continues to gain daily in power. We ordered a pizza from Pizza King and it was way good. Me, ever the pizza master, always examine a pizza to see how it was manufactured, and wow! Secret kung fu trick discovery! They curl the pizza crust inwards to get the edge crust, so I give it a try on my next pizza training bout. Most cool. Sauce drip and overpuff of edge crust eliminated, plus new handy curl makes grasping easier for muncheroo destruction! Overall, a nicer, more appealing look of pizza, and I achieve 100% toppings containment with less handling time. The only drawback is the technique is slippery, and the edge crust cooks very hot, and becomes a little too crunchy. Clearly, there is an additional kung fu maneuver in there to be mastered, but baby steps, I tell myself, baby steps to world pizza domination.

The rum punch alchemy experiments are drawing to a close, to the satisfaction of pirates and barbarian raiders everywhere. My secret orc investors should see a nice return on their brain-bashing, party vertical initial public offering, thanks to my frankenstein efforts. I still have some finalizing to do, but the basic recipe goes like this:

A big glass punch bowl
2 Grapefruits
4 Valencia Oranges
8 ounces of Water
9 ounces of Appleton White Rum
14 ounces of Appleton Rum (The regular, amber colored stuff)
15 ounces Myer’s Dark Rum
30 ounces of fresh squeezed orange juice
64 ounces of Nature’s Promise Pomegranate Juice

I use a grater to grate the skin of the grapefruits and oranges into the bowl, then squeeze the juice in. I don’t go ape with the grating, you’re looking for the citrus tang, not necessarily volume. I leave the pomegranate juice for last, since you’re going to have to add until you get the taste you want. I usually end up having to add the whole thing anyway, and make any difference up with more orange juice. You want the tingle of the alcohol, without the bite or the flavor, so you won’t know you’ve gone too far until it’s too late.

For drinking containers, every fiesty plunderer ought to use the pirate mugs from Archee McPhee! These things are solid construction, have got character out the wazoo, and fit nicely in your hand for easy access.

The blackberry/cherry/orange rum punch was a success, but the work involved in straining the juice was a little too hard core to justify the result. I’ll tag that one for a furture development project down the line. You’ve got to be cutting edge when you’re a pirate, ahrrr!

Edit 02-04-2008:  It should be noted that the fresh squeezed orange juice is in addition to the Valencia Oranges.  You are squeezing the Valencia Oranges into the mixture for the fresh tang of citrus, but you will also be adding orange juice from a container.

This weekend marked a turning point in the evolution of the garden. K and I stopped to take stock of our progress, and made some preliminary plans for next spring’s crop. Pretty soon it’ll be time to get the autumn garden planting in, but for all practical purposes, the harvest has reached the peak. We’ve got tomatoes coming in faster than we can turn them into marinara sauce, and jalapenos galore. The bean plants refused to stop producing, despite being eaten to swiss cheese by the bugs and looking like desert shrubs. So we harvested the last set of beans and pulled them up to go into the compost bin. Crumbs! Those beans were relentless, like the Terminator.

This was the first year for this particular plot, so the soil hasn’t been really worked to my satisfaction yet. Busting the sod and working soil into the clay was back breaking work. Now that we’ve got a good layer of compost, hay and manure down, the turning of the soil for winter ought to pump things up nicely for spring. Case in point, our smaller plot from last year was taken over by the parental units, after we had done the hard work the year before, and they’ve got bountiful goodies with minimal work. It seems like getting the garden into shape, first year style, takes a certain amount of trial by fire.

So, what worked and what didn’t? Broccoli was the big loser. Attracted large numbers of pests, needed lots of water, used a lot of space – and the yield for one small crown of broccoli just didn’t even out. The beans, obviously, were the big winner by a landslide. Next year we will be more prepared for the harvest and be ready for mass freezing. And we’ll give them the pole structure they deserve, so they are easier to pick and water. Potatoes were a huge hassle with all the potato beetles and the watering. But the harvest was good. Hashbrowns and stews have been out of this world tasty with the freshest of potato goodness. Jalapenos were a winner, but next time we’ll fertilize the one plant less. Tomatoes have been the big crop this year, but we’ll cut back. Even with the marauding gopher, it’s way too much. Green peppers will continue as normal. Lettuce needs to be scaled back, way too much for our needs.

The herb garden will need some revamping. We did too much sweet, lime and cinnamon basil, and not enough of the regular basil. Cilantro needs more active management; we’ll have to watch that one closely next year. Rosemary, sage and savory were about right. We did a lot of parsley last year and it was awesome, but this year we did none, which we are regretting. Next spring, the parsley will be back on the map. The lemon verbena has been a success, but we haven’t done enough with it in potato salads and tea, so I’m thinking we’ll dry it out and save it for winter. The oregano varieties and the thyme rocked the mike. There’s just no comparison between even fresh herbs from the store and right from the ground.

We mixed the harvest plants with flowers this year – sunflowers, marigolds – and it really made the garden look fantastic. And it helped with the pollination of our harvest plants by attracting bees and butterflies. Next year, I think this is the way to go – mix and match. We didn’t do this with some of the sections of the garden and they didn’t seem to do as well. Also, we grew moss by itself, and it didn’t do so well either. I’m thinking we will plant the moss in patches under the main array of plants and see if it doesn’t help.

It was a hassle killing pests by hand, but the decision to avoid pesticides seems to have paid off. Our garden in the middle of the day is crowded with bees and yellow jackets of all kinds, ants, butterflies, ladybugs, weird bugs I can’t recognize, and birds – especially the yellow finches. I’m thinking a birdbath of some kind might be in order. Of course, the flies and mosquitoes were present, but what can you do? I saw a rabbit and some chipmunks in other people’s plots, so I’m guessing the fence is losing integrity and Mr. Gopher will have competition next year. Oh yeah, and the baby praying mantises have moved into the plot, so that’s a plus. It’s a trade off – fewer pests and contaminated goodies, or work harder but share the work with the pest-patrol and get a nice ecosystem. It’s a kick to watch a single ladybug clear an entire plant of aphids in an hour.

Hopefully, as the weather grows less humid and we get more rain, the watering duty will lessen. I swear, I should buy stock in the water company; these tomatoes are like living sponges. The payoff is coming now in droves, which does help when I think back over the summer – my head a blazing cloud of gnats and the hose trying to catch up with the ground’s rate of heat loss.

Earlier this year, I had to sell a beloved friend to the four winds. Big Blue, a 1975 Pontiac Bonneville, had finally reached the point where I was unable to properly care for him anymore. Big Blue was the second car I ever owned, but the first one I ever really drove. I’ve had my driver’s license since my senior year of high school, but I never drove until I was much older, until I’d passed my thirtieth birthday. The first car was a 1967 Chevy Malibu, called The Silverfish, but I never drove him because driving intimidated me.

I finally managed to get the driving ball rolling, and I got my hands on Big Blue. We are talking solid steel construction, with a V8 455 engine chugging out horsepower like a locomotive. Hard to get Big Blue started, but once he got going, it was hard to stop him. Driving him around, I felt I was as armored as a tank. SUVs got out of my way, and other luxury cars stayed away – with a junker like Big Blue, it must look like I had no insurance. I did, but if they thought otherwise, fine with me.

Big Blue got in two accidents, both with SUVs who were speeding, and while I was stopped at a red stoplight. Big Blue could take it from behind and laugh. The bumper, molded into the superstructure, took both hits without much ado. I had to replace the back headlights both times, but big whup – one trip to the junkyard and it was a done deal. Both SUV’s walked away with damage to the fenders. I don’t imagine they got off for 25 bucks each time.

Good Lord, the room! I could cram 7 people in my car, 4 in the back and 3 in the front if I had to. You could stretch out in the back and take a nice nap. The trunk was a gargantua of space. I carted home many an estate sale piece of furniture in the trunk, and the back seat could take medium sized shelves or bed pieces if it had to. Talk about insane; it was like Doctor Who’s Tardis. Bigger on the inside than on the outside. The family went on many an excursion with this monster, I tell you.  The perfect outing car. It was a heck of a car to park, however. Parking Big Blue was like docking the Titanic.

Most importantly, I courted K with this car. I drove the four-hour-commute-both-ways every weekend to spend time with her in this car. Big Blue earned his big daddy points getting me from point A to point B and back safely again. I owe Big Blue a debt I can never repay.

I have a new, smaller, more gas efficient car named Micro-Blue now. Big Blue was getting about 7 miles to the gallon on the open road there, and worse in traffic. I could fill him up, and have half a tank two hours later, the way things were going. This 10% ethanol nonsense was really wrecking his carburetor too. Big Blue belongs in an era of pure gasoline satisfaction, where cigarettes were mandatory and Route 66 was a test of adulthood. In the growing dark ages of energy shortage, he just can’t hack it anymore.

So it was with a heavy heart that I decided to sell him. He was stalling more and more often, and I had replaced everything except the engine at this point. I put him on Craigslist, and a demolition derby crew bought him for 100 bucks. They towed him away and I cried into my pillow. It was the end of an era.

So this weekend, I went down to the Berryville, VA county fair, to watch Big Blue in the demolition derby. I figure he’d go out how he deserved to go out – in a Viking funeral of mega-death destruction. I went with the parental units and K. They brought the camera – I hope to have pictures. And there was Big Blue, with all the windows and lights taken out. A hole drilled in his hood to let the fire department spray his engine in case he caught fire. Chains keeping his doors closed. The number 22 painted on his doors. A warrior ready to go out fighting!

The course is a field section cordoned off by concrete jersey barriers and doused with water to create a muddy track. I’m guessing it’s to cut down on dust clouds. There are tons of state troopers acting as bouncers, and a yarn rope between traffic pylons to keep the masses from getting too close. There’s a group of construction vehicles to tow/push wrecks out of the way to the “dead” field, and a dedicated group of firefighters ready to douse fires. A group of referees risk life and limb to throw flags down when drivers break the rules, such as smashing into the driver’s side door. The crowd is right up there in front, without any screens of protection, and I have to say its an awesome feeling to be down with the people watching the mayhem up close.

The cars smash into each other only a few feet from where you are standing, and pieces of rubber from wrecked tire go flying into the crowd at regular intervals. The action only lasts about 5 or 6 minutes, because the cars are soon reduced to smoking, dripping wrecks. Radiators are smashed, axles are bent at ridiculous angles and yet still operate, and trunks are distorted beyond recognition. Yet I had to admire the sometimes over-attention to safety rules and the lives of the drivers. At one point, one car was tipped over and smashed upside down by another car. The announcer was brutal with his mockery of drivers who didn’t ignore the “all stop” order.

So how did Big Blue do? Well, his turn came, and he rolled right into the lineup with the other cars. The match started, and Big Blue…stalled! Yup, Big Blue choked. If a car doesn’t stay in action for more than a certain period of time, the referees rule him out. “Number twenty-two, you’re done.”  Big Blue lasted less than 10 seconds before he choked. He got banged around a bit, but the metal chassis held really well. They dragged him off the field of battle. The driver didn’t look too happy. I felt for him. Big Blue should have owned the battlefield, he was bigger than any of the other cars, and I know his toughness. It was very disappointing.

But fear not. He gets to compete in the next qualifying heat, this week in West Virginia. I probably won’t make it, but I know he’ll bust some chops in that match! For now, Big Blue lives to drive another day.

I’ve been a big fan of the bigfoot phenomenon since I was a wee little lad in the backseat, watching out the window to see if I could catch a glimpse of that elusive creature. Missing link? Friend of Elvis and the Loch Ness Monster? Scary monster that chases you through the woods screaming? Yes I’ve got my field guide to identifying and reporting bigfoot. Movies with bigfoot in them? Check. Eaten a bigfoot burger in a northwest restaurant with a seven foot tall scale model greeting the customers? Uh, okay now I’m getting embarrassed. I won’t mention the tee-shirt.

So yes, I’m a Level 1 bigfoot hunter. And you know what we noobs at the bottom of the bigfoot searcher chain do to keep our miserable skills in practice? Yup, we do the “hunt for bigfoot”, 101 classroom style. It’s simple, really. You pretend bigfoot makes occasional pit stops in the wooded areas of your local neighborhood, because everyone knows bigfoot is sneakier than a master ninja, and he has to be pretty crafty to avoid all those higher level hunters jonesin’ to get Da Photo. You get that picture, I tell you, you’ve arrived. But I have to remember to carry a camera, doh!

Personally, I think bigfoot has hyper-dimensional powers, and has to teleport into wooded areas to recharge his batteries. So your best bet is to get him while he’s reloading the hyperdrive in his thalamus gland. Of course, there’s always the danger that you’ll run into a rogue bigfoot, one who has had enough of us humans destroying his beautiful migration corridors. Like Charleton Heston in Planet of the Apes, sometimes bigfoot loses it, and starts screaming, “It’s a mad house! It’s a MAD house!!!” You don’t want to be there when bigfoots go wild.

So, it’s a risky job, but if you want to get some experience points and move up to Level 2, you got to do it. I slap on my fatigue pants and desert storm boots – very handy for protecting you against thorns, bugs and general injury in the rough terrain. Plus they let your feet and legs breathe too! You need a walking stick to look official. A small pack with some water and snacks might not be bad either. But this is the super-duper preparation version. Sometimes I say, “let’s do this”, and step into the wilderness on a hope and a prayer. It’s only a fifty feet from the mall, anyway.

It’s also a great way to keep the young cousins occupied, and wear them out if you’ve been stuck with that wonderful family volunteerism because “everyone loves your zany adventures”. Grumble, grumble. Well, if we run into a rogue bigfoot, I can run faster than the cousins. Off into the woods! You’re looking for signs of bigfoot, because you’re only Level 1 and Level 1 hunters never find things like lairs or have encounters with bigfoot. At least, they won’t admit it, because the one thing higher level hunters hate, it’s a lucky beginner.

Signs include, but are not limited to: pieces of unidentifiable fur stuck on tree bark, patches of crushed plants, eerie sounds such as a lack of animal or bird noises (you’re getting close!), and the half eaten remains of berries or nuts. You pick up the trail, and follow it until you think you’re red hot, and big foot is about to burst out at any moment and begin chasing you. It helps if you’ve built up the paranoia in your mind, easy to do when you’re by yourself, or you act scared in front of the kids. “I hope we make it out of here guys” kind of stuff.

When the fear is so thick, you can taste the hot dog you had for lunch trying to come up for air, that’s when you flee for your life! Rogue bigfoot! Rogue bigfoot gunna get you! Aieeee! So you scramble out of the woods, and hopefully live to tell the tale of your near-fatal encounter with bigfoot. Time to pop open a soda and tally up the experience points. Think about hitting the big time, next time, and congratulate yourself on your efforts to push forward the field of bigfoot exploration.