Sunday, April 6, 2014

Forward... Wherein we Discuss Everything that is Not Backward

I wasn't always an aardvark. I was actually born in Prague under the name of Franz Kafka. Not that Franz Kafka. The other one. But then, I made the mistake of eating two smoked meat sandwiches before tucking myself into bed.

I woke up the next morning and I was an aardvark. Snout and all. And there was this irresistible craving for ants. Ant pancakes. Ant lasagna. You name it, I ate it. 

In a fit of pique, I changed my name to Al. I tried changing my name outside of the pique, but it didn't work.

I know what you’re thinking. “This guy is one wrench short of a toolbox.” But you’d be wrong, and I’m here to prove it.

It all started with the garbage…

In Search of the Limits to the Search for the Truth


I know what you're thinking, but the problem is that I've never really seen the garbage man. I put the garbage out at night and it's not there in the morning. It's as simple as that. I've even stood there at the living room window hoping to get a glimpse of him driving by, but eventually I had to let the dog out, or go to the bathroom, or make breakfast and as soon as I turned my attention to something else, I came back and the garbage was gone.

It really started to spook me.

Last week I thought I had the perfect answer. I tied a string to the garbage can and tied the other end to a little bell, which I hung in the kitchen. A few minutes later, the bell rang. I ran to the window. The garbage was still there. I went out to the street, just to see if there was a dog or other animal nearby. Nothing. As soon as I got back in, the bell rang. I ran to the window. The garbage was still there. This kept up for several hours, the bell ringing and me going to the window until, in desperation, I cut the string. The next time I looked out the window, the garbage was gone.

I got the idea that he could see me looking out the living room window. That's why he wasn't showing up. So last weekend I bought a whole bunch of electronic equipment. I set up a video camera on the roof. I hooked it up to all the electronics, which I hid in the den. I made plenty of tuna sandwiches and brought in several large bottles of pop. I didn't take my eyes off the screen the whole day. I ate plenty of sandwiches and drank a lot of pop. Nothing happened on the screen. The garbage just sat there. After the sun went down, I couldn't see any more, so I shut down the electronics. I went out to the end of the driveway to bring in the garbage.

It was gone.

I took the electronic stuff back to the store. I told them it didn't work. They gave me my money back, but they looked at me as if they didn't believe me. Maybe it was that dazed, desperate look in my eyes.

I am writing this from inside the garbage can at the end of the driveway. I am writing this with the absolute certainty that there is a garbage man, and that, sooner or later, our garbage will be taken and that I will see the face of the garbage man as I fly head first into the jaws of the trash compactor.

I know what you're thinking, but the problem is that I have never really seen the garbage dump. I know it must exist...

I'll Have Half a Dozen Donuts and a Huge Personal Crisis To Go

Needless to say, I’m happy that I escaped the garbage debacle with the only problem being that I am a few inches shorter, and, of course I had to sign a paper saying that I would not disclose the identity of our garbage man, or the location of our town dump. And I’m not allowed to get within two city blocks of a garbage bag for three years. 

Sheese. These garbage people can get really touchy. Unfortunately, the garbage is piling up in the house. 

So, one day I figured the best way to forget all of this was to go out for a nice fat sugar-bomb, otherwise known as a donut.

For those of you south of the border (or in some other part of the world), Canada's donut shops, in terms of distribution, are like Krispy Kreme on steroids. There is a donut shop on virtually every block in the busy sections of town. I remember counting three on one block right near where I used to work. But I digress...

Two days ago, I was at a donut shop near my house here in Mooburg when I discovered the mysterious side-leaning tables. Each table-and-chair unit in this shop hangs on a single post, which is bolted into the floor. Most of them are perfectly straight up, but the two I was looking at were off by about ten percent from perpendicular -- enough to give the people sitting there a noticeably slanted table.

As I munched my pastry (I was sitting across the aisle), I wondered "Why just these two tables"?

Then I thought: "Maybe it's because there's a trash bin between them." (It was that garbage obsession, coming back to bug me again.)

On top of the trash bin, there was a planter with some plastic plants. The strange thing about the bin was that it wasn't a bin at all. It had just a door, about three feet high. No swivelly cat-flap thingy where you can put your trash.

They probably put the "trash bin" in first, and had to angle the tables to avoid the bin. Stick with me. I'm going somewhere with this.

But why didn't they put the tables in before the trash bin? Or at least fix them once they noticed their mistake?

Or would they? Maybe it was meant to be like this. Then a thought hit me.

And then I really started to get scared.

Maybe they were hoping that somebody would just happen by, somebody with not a hell of a lot of stuff to do. One poor sod out of a million who would look up, and see that something was horribly, dangerously out of kilter.

You know the drill. The princess is out in the dark woods and she throws her golden ball up in the air and it falls into this deep dark pool, and this vile, warty, pustulant frog surfaces and says:

"I'll dive down and get it, but first you have to promise to be my friend and let me take you to the Senior Prom in my four-on-the-floor Candy Red Convertible with independent rear suspension."

In short, this was one of those thresholds of life. One of those wormholes in time that grabs your life by the short and curlies and changes it forever. Or one of those mysterious black holes that suck you into the far reaches of the universe. It could be Beelzebub himself. Just ten feet away from my coffee and Apple Cheese Danish.

Then again, maybe it was just a trash bin.

The problem was, I had to know. Just like in that Clint Eastwood movie. Was there one more bullet in that gun? Well was there, punk?

The other problem was, some beefy guy walked in and sat down right next to Beelzebub, throwing his jacket over the trash bin.

I looked at him. He glowered at me. I made sidewise glances with my eyes, nodding my head to the side, trying like hell to get him and his jacket to move to another table so I could open the trash bin door, see what the heck was inside, and find some semblance of inner peace.

He followed my glances, which unfortunately happened to be in the direction of the men's room door.

Probably the fact that both of us were sitting in a donut shop should have given me a clue. To this day -- and I will take this conviction to the Supreme Court and back -- I am whole-heartedly convinced that there should be a law requiring big beefy guys to wear signs on their jackets indicating the fact that they are off-duty policemen.

I am writing this bit from an eight-by-four cell inside the Metcalf Street Police Station. The cot isn't too hard. The food is tolerable. The stainless steel toilet was a definite let-down. My lawyer says that, seeing this was a first offence, I might get off with two or three months. Six, tops.

When I’m released, I'm going out for a burrito.

One Very Good Reason for Inventing An Answering Machine for the Front Door


Well (whew), I’m finally out of jail, and it wasn’t too bad an experience. I learned several things I didn’t know. Like, there’s no end of ants in your typical jail. Just put a little meat pie on the floor and stand back. 

Since I’ve been out of the slammer, I’ve kept a low profile. And stayed in the house. You can’t get into trouble if you stay in your house, right?

Unless, of course, you get an email from the "Manitoba Minister of Tourism". For those of you not familiar with the Great Manitoba Controversy, it is this: For some diabolical reason, the Government of Saskatchewan maintains a public relations office in Thunder Bay (Ontario) for the purpose of furthering the illusion that there is, in fact, a Canadian province called Manitoba.

They have even gone so far as to finagle the road system just west of Kenora so that you run into a sign that says "Welcome to Manitoba", leading the unwary traveler to assume that he is now driving in "Manitoba". In truth, he is heading north into a maze of roads and small dummy towns with suspicious sounding names, such as "Ashtray", "Doormat", "Natural Moisturizing Ingredients", and "Winnipeg".

This last "city" is, in reality a post office, a railroad station (tracks not included), a gas station, and five ramshackle houses inhabited -- during daylight hours only -- by employees of the "Manitoba Tourist Office", who drive several hours each day from Kenora to wave at tourists as they pass by and to sell them Manitoba blankets.

After several years of investigation, I have discovered that this diabolical scheme has been masterminded by an occult group composed mostly of disgruntled former members of the Flat Earth Society. You know these guys. Their mission statement is that the earth is a large flat pancake made of congealed lard resting on a giant turtle, and that the illusion (foisted on us by airline pilots and astronauts) that the world is round is caused by distortion from thick aircraft windows. This same effect makes Saskatchewan look as if it has hills.

Sorry. There's someone knocking at the door. It must be my landlady, Mrs. Smallmouthbass, coming for the rent. (Sound of walking feet.)

"Yes? ... No, I'm sorry, I don't want any...Well, you look really ridiculous in that outfit, too...And don't come back again!" (Sound of door slamming. Sound of walking feet.)

Dang! That's the third NHL hockey player this week selling Girl Scout cookies. Now where was I? Oh, yes. Manitoba.

So what could possibly be the motive for setting up this bogus Manitoba? Well, Duh.... To make Saskatchewan look good (anyone who has actually been to Saskatchewan will know what I mean). That and to work up a heightened state of apathy about the Province of Ontario, touristwise. They've even gone so far as to monitor web traffic...

Damn! There's the door again.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that it's the Nonexistent-Manitoba Blog Police, and if I open that door, the "Manitoba Minister of Tourism" will be standing there, with a huge portable wormhole ready to suck me into the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

That's what they'd like you to believe. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

(Sound of walking feet. Sound of opening door. Sound of huge portable wormhole sucking aardvark wearing a chicken suit into the furthest reaches of space.)

(What seems like an eternity of silence follows.)

(Followed by a small, balding man in a plaid suit selling parentheses.)

Nice Casket... But Does it Have Stint?


All right. Now I'm starting to get angry. I mean, I may be gullible, but I'm not stupid. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that every time I open the front door, something terrible happens. So I have resolved never to open the front door again. This may make things a bit difficult, because we don't have a back door. But no matter.

Apart from the front door thing, I must say I am shocked...shocked that no one is taking me seriously. Do you know what it's like to be laughed at unmercifully and without stint? Especially the stint part. That's the part that hurts. I would suggest that everyone take a deep breath and go out and buy up all the stint you can afford.

As for me, I'm fed up with all this hassle. I'm off to vacationland. Today, I visit a travel agency.

"I'd like to take about two weeks off -- some place where they don't have any front doors."

The travel agent looks at me sideways.

"And stint. I want plenty of stint."

After trying oh, fifteen or sixteen travel agencies, I finally find one that will talk to me, the Slumbering Acres Funeral Parlor and Travel Agency.

They have a doorless, stintful vacation package at the Thundering Bluejeans Dude Ranch. The cool thing about this dude ranch is that there are no horses. It's actually located in a 100-acre junk yard outside of Toronto. The gimmick here is that you build your own two-stage rocket and break the sound barrier with it. In addition, you get a 50 percent discount on a mahogany casket with white satin interior.

Cool!

So I'm writing this bit at the "ranch". My team has already cadged together most of the parts we'll need to build the rocket.

Day Two. We've found a cool as heck muscle horse to serve as the rocket. It's a gazillion horsepower Pratt and Whitney jet engine that apparently fell off one of the flights going out of Pearson airport last Tuesday. Just a couple of dents. We're attaching the jet to a mountain bike for a test ride, then cranking it up to 15th gear.

Outta sight, man!

No. I mean, literally, out of sight. We found the engine two days later in a suburb of Detroit. We had reports of falling bicycle parts from as far as Duluth.

Day Five. The fusilage of the launch vehicle is a 1967 Chevy Sportvan with cool red flames on the side. For software and electronics, we've gutted a 3D game called Iron Storm and a discarded GameBoy. And we're using mechanical parts from a knitting machine and several two-fisted mechanical contraptions used as models for old Japanese monster cartoons, such as UFO Epsilon, Mekanda Robo, and the Great Mazinger -- in their day, 20-storey instruments of chaos and destruction.

Day Eight. Launch Day. I've packed a good supply of bean-and-donut sandwiches and plenty of GatorAde which, co-incidentally, we're using as rocket fuel. The big surprise is that the rest of the team isn't going on the launch vehicle. That makes sense. The less weight you have, the more speed you'll work up during the launch. I may be gullible, but I'm not stupid.

OK. I'm in the rocket. Here's the countdown. 10, 9, 8 ... It's interesting, sort of, that my team members are running away...7,6,5...They seem to be laughing...4,3,2...They're getting into a plum-colored sedan and leaving in a cloud of dust...

As the rocket takes off, I notice several Ryder rental trucks pulling up. As I head off into the great black stratosphere, my last coherent view of earth is of increasingly smaller workmen dismantling the Thundering Jeans Dude Ranch and packing it away. There is a faint wisp of snickering in the air.

Launch Plus 10 Minutes. Things seem to be going reasonably well. Except that the knitting machine parts are creating an Incredibly Long Mauve Scarf that is threatening to take over the cockpit. And back in the baggage compartment, there is a huge commotion and a giant clutching hand appears. Mekanda Robo has escaped. Quickly, I check the flight manifest. There does not appear to be a parachute on board. Instead, the walls are closing in, an interesting alternative. All in all, your typical launch sequence.

Suddenly, there is a knock on the cockpit door. (Sound of footsteps. Sound of door opening. Sound of massively rushing air and rocket roaring.)

I am writing this bit about three miles above Yuma, Arizona. I broke the sound barrier a couple of miles back. I whip out my contract with the Slumbering Acres Funeral Parlor and Travel Agency. To my relief, the mahogany casket includes funeral services.

I love it when a plan comes together.

It would have been nice, however, if I could have broken the sound barrier while still in the rocket.

Let's See You Shear the Goat Again... And This Time Without the Potatohead


I won’t bore you with details about how I got home, other than the fact that my foot had been knitted into the Incredibly Long Scarf, and I unravelled back to earth. After arriving home three weeks later, you can imagine that I was more than ever determined to stay out of trouble. But you would be wrong.

It always starts with a knock on the door.

This time it was Mrs. Smallmouthbass, the landlady.

"You're their last resort," she said.

You see, there are two brothers, Mario and Lucien, who live next door. They're originally from the city of Bastia, just off the western coast of Italy. The problem was that the two brothers had to take off for a conference in Chicago.

"It's very important," she said, lowering her voice. "It's about the big bag theory."

Mario and Lucien were obviously check-out boys at the local A&P. While gone, they needed me to take care of their pet goat.

They were twin brothers. I could tell them apart because Mario had a mole on his left cheek. They seemed nice enough. We had the usual goat-on-vacation conversation. There were cans of goat food, goat treats, schedules for goat walks.

"Is there a number where I can reach you if something goes wrong?" I said.

"Don't worry," said Mario. "If something's wrong, we'll call you."

And then they were off.

For the first few days, things went well. The goat was trying to isolate a rather long string of hydrocarbons, so he spent most of his time in the laboratory.

On the third day, I got a call. It was Mario. I know it was him, because he sounded as if he had a mole on his left cheek.

"The goat needs to walk," he said. He hung up.

The next day, another call. It was the one without the mole.

"The goat needs to be milked."

I began to wonder how they knew what the goat wanted. I thought at first maybe the goat was placing long distance calls while I wasn't looking. I began to spy on the goat, never letting him out of my sight. But no, no phone calls. Just long hydrocarbons.

Suddenly, the phone rang. It was the one with the mole.

"The goat's hungry."

It was then that I began to get scared. Something very strange was going on. Somehow, across thousands of miles of rutted pavement, these two guys knew what the goat was thinking. After hours of intense pondering, I came to the only rational explanation.

Somehow, the goat was telepathically controlling their minds.

I resolved to test my theory. I sat down facing the goat, put my fingers to my temples, and hummed softly to myself in the key of E-sharp. After two hours of this, a thought struck me like lightening on a hot day in July.

The goat wanted me to give him a haircut.

It took a while, but I finally found a book on how to do it in the local library. Why I would want to give a goat a haircut in the local library I'm not quite sure. Anyway, the book said:

"How to give your goat a haircut

Things you will need:

A bird house
A tape recorder
A can of Liquid Wrench
A large economy sized bag of macaroni
Mr. Potatohead
A Phillips screwdriver
The key to an ad agency's men's room in New York City
A spaghetti strainer
A goat (optional)

Step 1: Get your goat.

Step 2: Goats invariably do not like haircuts, so you will have to distract him. So nail a birdhouse to the wall, and place a tape recorder playing bird music inside it.

Step 3: This will probably not work, since goats do not like bird music. Instead, take the can of Liquid Wrench and liberally douse the goat. Empty the large bag of macaroni on the goat. Set the oven at 350 degrees, and bake the goat for 15 minutes, or roughly the time it takes to put together one mildly creative Mr. Potatohead.

Step 4: After 15 minutes, the fumes from the Liquid Wrench will have hardened on the surface of the oven door, so take your Phillips screwdriver and pry open the door. If you live in Canada, you can use a Robertson screwdriver, which is infinitely better.

Step 5: Wash the goat off in the shower. If the macaroni gets irretrievably stuck in the drain, use the men's room at Guild, Bascomb and Bonfigli's New York office. You'll need a key. They don't trust non-creative types.

Step 6: Strain the goat through the spaghetti strainer. You'll notice that the goat reappears with a nice toney fuzz on his hide.

Step 7: If you are left-handed, skip step 4.

Step 8: If you do not have a goat, skip step 1. Proceed to Step 2."

So I started building the birdhouse. About halfway through Step 5, the phone rang. It was Mario.

"Are you giving the goat a haircut?"

I don't know why, but my left eye began blinking uncontrollably. It was still blinking when the Corsican brothers arrived home from Chicago.

I am writing this blog from a padded cell in the Harry P. Gesticulation Home for the Mentally Questionable. On Tuesdays we get ice cream. On Thursdays we paste colored macaroni on eight by eleven sheets of construction paper.

But I am not allowed to paste the macaroni on my goat.