Sunday, November 29, 2015

A rare and candid interview with El Niño

GW:  So Mr. Niño…

El Niño: Please. Call me "L."

GW: All right, L. We haven't met formally, but in 1998 you did ruin my best dress shoes.

L: Sorry, man. Nature of the beast.

GW: Weather forecasters insist you will be paying L.A. another visit this winter big-time. But they said that last year too.

L: Last year I got a last-minute freebie to Orlando. You got lucky. But I'm already ramping up for this year's gig.

GW: Do you intend to cause widespread flooding and mudslides?

L: "Widespread" is a such a loaded term.

GW: But you expect to live up to the hype?

L: Hey, does Noah sleep in hip-waders?

GW: Um, yes?

L: It's not like I can control it. I'm like the Hulk.

GW: Anger is a factor?

L: How would you feel if you had a giant plastic-particle trash island for a belly button?

GW: I see your point.

L: Look, you've had a four-year drought. I'm about to do you a favor.

GW: Scientists say it won't be enough to end our shortage.

L: Scientists can kiss my sweet Kiribati.

GW: They have dubbed you "El Niño," which implies a selfish, spoiled and impulsive nature. How do you feel about that?

L: I'm good.

GW: You'd say that's accurate?

L: Well, I'd prefer "random periodic warming of the equatorial Pacific," but you pick your battles.

GW: What would you like people to know about you that maybe they don't already?

L: I'm single and looking. I like smooth jazz, although whalesong makes me nuts. Doesn't it make you crazed?

GW: It does.

L: Right?

GW: It sounds like cats bungie-jumping.

L: What are cats?

GW: fish, only more aloof.

L: Like clams?

GW: Yes, like furry clams. Listen, I know you can't help yourself. I know you're just a weather effect, and you do what you do. But people are worried you're going to rip out piers and docks and wreak havoc this winter.

L: You want your lakes refilled, don't you? Your trout streams?

GW: Yes, but...

L: Your farmers want to grow those thirsty almonds?

GW: Yes.

L: You got to take the bad with the good. Buy a new umbrella. Get your roof replaced.

GW: Every roofer is booked until next summer.

L: I am good for business. You know what they say—every random periodic warming has a silver lining.

. . .

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wednesday Wa Pic - Niche market edition

 I've seen restaurant supply stores before, but this is a new one on me.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving advice

I originally published this column in November, 2008. But botulism humor never goes out of style. Enjoy and share—GW

My Thanksgiving advice column was so popular last year (judging by only one cancelled subscription, and you know who you are…mom), I felt no harm could be done by another one this year, unless you count the botulism. Below are a few of the most common questions people ask about Thanksgiving preparation, as far as I know, not having asked anybody.

Q: Which is more traditional—cornbread stuffing or giblet stuffing?

A: Traditionally, giblet, but seeing as how the dictionary defines giblets as "the edible offal of a fowl," I say we break with tradition this year before I hurl a few edibles of my own.

Q: What is offal?

A: I'll tell you what's offal. The Titans playing the Lions while people are trying to eat.

Q: Why do some people say "stuffing" while some people say "dressing"?

A: Some people are "idiots." No, really, stuffing gets its name because it is stuffed into the cavity of the bird for cooking, while dressing is something you put on a wound at a field hospital. So the latter is not as appetizing.

Q: You call this "advice"?

A: Oh no. Gosh, no.

Q: How can I accommodate my vegetarian relatives?

A: I don't believe in doing so. Look where that got us with Hitler.

Q: Are there any new trends this year, like that "tur-duck-en," where they stick the chicken inside the duck inside the turkey?

A: Yes, in order to be "cutting edge" in the arena of nested meats, this year some of the more fashionable tables will play host to the "squir-munk-oon," a squirrel stuck in a chipmunk stuck in a raccoon.

Q: Are you making that up?

A: If you have to ask, I can tell there is a career waiting for you in the manly and lucrative world of snipe hunting.

Q: Is the watching of football on Thanksgiving, with its emphasis on the symbolic conquest of terrain, kind of ironic, considering what early European settlers eventually did to the Native Americans?

A: No. The Redskins actually have a good shot this year.

Q: Where did the tradition of serving cranberry sauce come from? That stuff is foul.

A: Foul things becoming traditions are actually very common in U.S. history. Just look at war.

Q: Should I be worried about food-borne disease?

A: Yes.

Q: How worried?

A: Let me put it this way. Don't eat the dressing. It used to be on a wound.

Q: What is the secret to hosting a successful Thanksgiving party?

A: Remembering the best part of what the day truly represents, and honoring it with at least two television sets in each room.

Q: Even the bathroom?

A: Ha ha, don't get nuts on me here! One is fine.

Q: What is the best beverage to serve on this festive occasion?

A: A lot of people like that non-alcoholic sparkling cider, and I call these people "Seahawks fans." Wine is better, or, if the Cowboys are losing, beer in your lucky stein. The one with the spurs.

Q: How do they get the squirrel into the chipmunk? Isn't a chipmunk smaller?

A: You don't want to know.

In just a few days, one of our nation's oldest celebrations will be upon us. Our forefathers, who overcame great hardship, could not possibly have imagined our own travails in the 21st Century, like covering the point spread, but if they were here now, and able to speak, I know they would agree with us on one thing: those Dallas cheerleaders just never get old.

. . .

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wednesday Wa Pic - Billy Joel was right

 Some are satin, some are steel, some are silk and some are leather,

 They're the faces of the stranger, and the lamest one is Sport

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ancient furnace finally gives up the (smoky) ghost

There is a lot of charm in an old house, unless you own it.

We bought ours years ago "as is." "As is" is a real estate term meaning you are aware it is an old house, with the eventual costs that will come with that, and you hold harmless anyone involved in selling you the beast.

You get a cheaper house up front that way, but you pay on the "back end," which is a nicer way of saying "out the wazoo."

We have a vintage 1960s gas furnace in our basement, a relic which began its service back when I was still planting seeds in paper cups in kindergarten. It has heated our house reliably, if noisily, for 20 years.

Until last week.

I turned it on for the usual first-of-the-season dust-burning session where I open up all the doors and windows and hasten climate change.

The old girl heated for awhile, but when the blower should have kicked in, there was a "pop." A pop is not good. Outside a Dr. Seuss book, a pop is bad.

Even the dog turned toward the sound, as if to say, "My ancient wolf survival instincts tell me that pop right there is going to run you fifteen grand."

I called a furnace guy, who looked at the random wires running here and there from the unit and practically ran up the stairs, unwilling to touch the thing for fear of liability.

A friend recommended another guy, who was unfazed, even reattaching a loose wire and installing a new fan belt.

"The blower switch is shot," he said, "but you can hand-start it by turning the wheel, see?"

And the furnace began to blow.

"I wouldn't recommend it, though," he said. "You could lose a finger."

The next morning the house was cold. I turned on the heat. I figured I would go get a hammer and turn the wheel using its claw. I need my fingers. I like to give people the thumbs up in traffic, to congratulate their excellent driving.

Then I saw the smoke. The kitchen, which is right above the furnace, was rapidly filling with it.

I ran down to the basement and shut off the pilot light. Ran back up and opened windows and doors. Started fans.

Saving your house from a conflagration is even better than saving your fingers. And it looks like I'll be needing them to write a big check.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wednesday Wa Pic - I'd a named it something nicer myself

Reverse psychology? Or is there a stinky subculture I know nothing about?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

When it comes to installing rain barrels, I am all wet

I bought two rain barrels recently, so that I could snag me some of that sweet state rebate money. I bought them online, so I did not have a receipt, only a "thanks for your order" email, which is—let me stress this here—not a receipt.

I know this because when I mailed a copy of my email into the state, they replied, in words more polite than these but with the same gist, "We think you are trying to rip us off. We think the closest you have gotten to a rain barrel is seeing one being worn as clothes in a Yosemite Sam cartoon. Send us a receipt."

So I mailed them a copy of my credit card bill, photos of the barrel crates with my name on them in my back yard, and a letter written in a tone you used to see in colonial days, where they guy totally rips the other guy a new flintlock, but then signs it ever so politely, "your humble servant."

A week went by. Two weeks. Finally I got a terse email admitting I had probably bought rain barrels and would soon have the heck rebated out of me.

I even paid extra for two sets of downspout-to-barrel converters, not noticing, because of what these days I jokingly call my "attention to detail," that the converters were for rectangular downspouts. My downspouts are round.

I added the converters to the ceiling-high pile of similar mistakes in my garage which conveniently camouflage the Ark of the Covenant.

I was going to have to cut a hole directly into the side of my downspouts and insert a rubber rain collector piping the water to my barrels. As can be said of so many aspects of my life, I did not have the tools.

At the hardware store (where, on Halloween, it was full-on Christmas) I bought a hole dozer and, to attach it to my drill, an arbor. Got them home. Naturally, they did not fit my drill.

Truth. I had to buy an entirely new drill to water my roses. Finally, suitably armed, I showed those downspouts who was boss. I hooked up the barrels. Done.

I figure that after buying the drill stuff, the rain barrels, and the cinder blocks upon which to set them, even factoring in the rebate I still ended up in the red. But come next summer, my lawn will be sooo green.
. . .



Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday Wa Pic - Ominous Random Signs edition

There were no buckets. I guess they had all been kicked.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A little Halloween history as Daylight Saving Time ends

Another Halloween has passed and still no kids have soaped my windows. Slackers! It's not like I'M going to do it. I would rinse them, though, certainly. Squeegee them too. Kids these days couldn't find a bar of soap with a supermarket and a flashlight.

Daylight Saving Time ended this morning, which just means your kids were throwing up candy at 3 a.m. instead of 4. Your body clock is now shot for about a week, so don't fight it. Administer leftover candy corn every four hours until it's gone or it's Christmas, the latter being more likely. 

My children are older now, so the time I would have spent shining a flashlight on curbs last night trick-or-treating I spent instead watching a 20 year old video on the history of Halloween. It wasn't pretty. The 1990s production values, I mean, not the history.

It seems 3000 years ago in Ireland, the locals decided that this period of the year, transitioning from the light to the dark, meant those who had died in the past year might walk the Earth again. In order to appease them, they set out treats on the edge of town, hoping to keep them a respectable distance from the nicer retail areas. Or, as my wife said, "Stay in your grave—here's a Snickers."

To give thanks for nature's bounty, they sacrificed cattle and other animals, burned them on bonfires, and then the Druid in charge interpreted the charred entrails to predict the coming year's prospects for various individuals. Pronouncements like "Sorry, Siobhan, but this smoking cow liver says you should probably not be around knives this year" were common.

Christians, since they could not convince the pagans to give up their autumnal worship of dozens of nature gods, chose the same date to celebrate All Hallows Day. But people, as people will do, kept riffing on the holiday, so that over the centuries we ended up with British children burning effigies of a famous would-be Parliament bomber, and in the American south on Halloween, women began looking for omens of the faces of their future husbands in baked goods. 

Recently some Christians have created "Jesusween," and give out Bibles to children instead of candy. This probably does not go over big at first, but as I recall, back when I was a kid in the bathroom at 3 a.m. repenting my overindulgence, I would have been surprisingly open to salvation.

. . .