More valentines for the loved and the lonely

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Busting out the big one

Not to worry; despite the title, this story will not be pornographic.

Senior year of college I was burned out. I had been working on finishing my thesis, applying to jobs for when I graduated, and just generally had had enough of school. Unfortunately, there was still one more final to study for: Modern Ireland. I was also Managing Editor of our school newspaper, and since we were in the midst of transitioning to next year’s team of editors, I had very little down time. Of course, due to the aforementioned burnout, I did not want to spend any of it studying when I could just as easily be spending it drinking and making out with my girlfriend.

The day came for the final, and I showed up with pen and blue book in hand. I don’t remember the exact essay question we were assigned, but I know that it had something to do with the establishment of religion in Ireland and how the Church of England was in conflict with Irish leaders about this. I had very little idea of what to say, but I practically had a B.A. in BS, so I started writing.

I was whizzing along, making stuff up but using lots of big words so it sounded legit, when all of the sudden it came to me. I started talking about those English folks, the establishmentarians, who wanted to impose the Church of England on the Irish as the national religion, then talked about the perspective of the Irish who opposed that—in other words, those who agreed with disestablishmentarianism. You can probably see where this is heading. I put a few more sentences together, and then dropped the bomb: antidisestablishmentarianism. This wasn’t just a hundred dollar word, this was basically a million dollar word, and I was sure it would redeem me for the rest of the garbage I was spewing forth into my essay.

Needless to say, the teacher ate it up, and I pulled off a ‘B+’. Not quite the ‘A’ I was hoping for, but probably two full letter grades higher than I would’ve gotten without my stroke of genius.

Bald, bold, or bull: a treatise on lies

I grew up a soft-spoken child, the strong silent type who settled disagreements through action rather than lengthy discourse. However, somewhere along the line I became a bit of a wordsmith, enjoying dropping large and complicated phrases to make myself sound smarter and, partially, with the hope of attracting ladies with my huge... vocabulary.

That said, I came upon a phrase I enjoyed quite a bit: bald-faced lie. I don't know why, perhaps because it suggested that only completely bald men lied. In high school, I had a friend that also liked this phrase. The problem was he said "bull-faced lie."

My world was turned upside down. Admittedly, though, a bull-faced lie was even more fun to picture than a bald-faced one.

Years pass, and I continue using "bull-faced lie" with reckless abandon. Then, just like that, someone comes along and flips my world over again. Apparently, I hadn't just been wrong since high school, I had been wrong all my life. "It's not bull-faced lie," my friend tells me. "It's bold-faced lie."

"Not bald-faced lie, either?"

"Nope," she assures me, confidently. So, of course, I believed her. I thought the entire debacle was kind of funny, so decided to write a little story about it. Then, just moments ago when I started writing this, I thought I'd Google "bald-faced lie" to see if anyone else has ever had similar linguistic trouble. And if you hadn't guessed already, my world did another somersault.

Seems I was right all along. According to WikiAnswers...
The correct term is bald-faced, and refers to a face wihout whiskers. Beards were commonly worn by businessmen in the 18th and 19th century as an attempt to mask facial expressions when making business deals. Thus a bald-faced liar was a very good liar indeed, and was able to lie without the guilt showing on his face.
...though, apparently...
It's just the last 5 yrs or so that "bold" has come into usage. It refers to typeface. It is used metaphorically in speech. In the same way that a typesetter uses bold face type to highlight specific text and set it apart, a bold face lie stands out in such a way as to not be mistaken for the truth.
"Bull-faced lie" was only found on the Urban Dictionary, as an alternative to "bold-face lie."

To put all this lying business to rest, I did the old Google search result litmus test. Here are the results.

Bull-faced lie: 1,130 results.
Bold-faced lie: 79,500 results.
Bald-faced lie: 91,400 results.

We've got a winner. The way I was first taught was the right way, and everyone around me steered me wrong. I guess the moral of the story is: I'm smarter than everyone.
This is the story about my first day volunteering at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael, CA. You can read the first part here.

After the snake cages, we make a plate of food for Marcie the possum. “She’s been getting a little chunky lately, so we’ve put her on a diet.” Marcie’s diet actually looks pretty good, besides the portion of dog food. She’s got some eggs, some grapes, some blueberries and some apple, all in equal 1/5 of a plate portions. I don’t get to actually feed her, though. “One of our volunteers startled her once by accident and Marcie bit her hand. She was wearing a leather glove, but it was still pretty deep,” Neil explains.

Finally, it’s time to dry off the thawed rodents that we pulled out of the freezer earlier. Neil dumps the hot water out of the bucket, then dumps the animals onto a towel, and we each grab them one at a time to towel off individually. I look down at the baby mouse in my hand, rubbing his belly like he’s an old friend, and can’t help but feel a little sorry for him, knowing that in the next 20 minutes he’ll be making his new home in the belly of a large owl. After all, growing up with a pet guinea pig named Hobbes and a pet hamster named Spikette, I’ve always been much more of gerbil guy than a bird dude.

On our way to the raptor enclosures, Neil and I make some small talk. “So you’re married? You’re pretty young, was that recently?” I ask. “Yeah, about a year now. I wore an orange tuxedo to the wedding.” I choke for a second, and ask, “How’d she feel about that?” Without missing a beat, he tells me, “Oh, it was her idea. She suggested that when I told her I wanted to wear the T-shirt with the tuxedo painted on it.”


We went inside the cages, and Neil turns to me with a smile and says, “Check this out.” He walks up to a small white box attached near the top of the wall, whistles, and sings, “Hey Luuuuuunaaaaa....” Then he takes a small black mouse, waves it in front of the small entrance hole, and makes a few kissing noises. Suddenly, a flash of white, and the mouse is gone. All that is left are the sounds made by a barn owl’s beak crunching into mouse bones.

“Pretty awesome, huh?” Neil laughs.

We feed the other birds, and then I wait outside the screech owl’s cage because “she’s very territorial, and she’ll try to attack you as soon as you come in if you’re not careful.” Neil heads inside to give her food, and remarks, “she’s nesting right now, but she’s infertile, so anytime she has an egg we take it and use it for an exhibit or food for the possum.” He wrestles around in her nest for a second, then comes out with an egg about half the size of a chicken’s.

We took the egg back to the animal care area, and Neil says, “I’m going to hollow this out to use for education.” I’ve never seen someone hollow out an egg before, so that was an experience itself when I saw him poke a hole in each end of the egg and start blowing as hard as he can. “It doesn’t taste too bad, actually. I’ve tried most of the stuff here: crickets, kibble... I haven’t had mouse yet, though.” I look at him for a second to see if he’s joking, and when I realize he’s not, I don’t really know what to say except to mumble something like “oh ok.”

I watch him finish blowing egg out of the shell, then he says “Alright, well I think we’re done for the day. Think you might want to come back?”

With such a great story from just one day of work, how could I not?

Farting snakes and frozen mice make for a strange morning

The first thing we do is defrost the mice. This involves pulling the Ziploc bags of frozen mice and birds out of the freezer, grabbing a couple handfuls, and tossing them in a bucket full of hot water, letting them float around and intermingle as they thaw.

It’s my first day as a volunteer at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael, CA, and I’m already using paper towels to rub the water off of dead rodents. Why do I have to dry off the mice? Apparently the birds of prey are picky and they don’t like their food wet. I can’t really blame them—I wouldn’t eat a wet mouse either.

The Effie Yeaw Nature Center is an environmental and cultural education center that houses a variety of rescue animals, from snakes to turles to owls to birds of prey. Every day there are groups of schoolchildren coming through on tour, learning about the animals and their place in nature, and coming to understand how to be better citizens of planet Earth.

That seems to be the goal, at least. What I remember taking away from my visit to the center as a small child was how awesome it was to watch a bird tear apart a mouse. Luckily, as I realized during my day volunteering, that feeling doesn’t go away.

After prepping the raptors’ food, we cleaned some of the snake cages. The first cage was missing its snake, who was out for a visit to one of the local schools. I got to clean this one, and I learned that cleaning a snake cage is no more exciting than cleaning anything else anywhere ever. The second cage needed a special treatment from the animal care specialist, Neil. So while he was cleaning, I would be picking up the 3.5 foot long king snake named Ringo and making friends.

“Are you afraid of snakes at all?” Neil asks me. “Only that ones that can kill you with one bite,” I respond casually.

I then learn that most snake bites, if in a somewhat timely manner, won’t kill you. In fact, rattlesnake bites often don’t even contain venom. They bite if they are surprised or threatened, and often just as a warning. “It’s the baby rattlesnakes you have to worry about,” Neil tells me. “They can’t control how to use their venom yet, so they get a hold and just pump everything they’ve got into you.”

Delightful. Maybe that’s why nobody coos over baby snakes like they do over baby everything else.

Apparently, Ringo is nesting right now, so Neil is fixing up her cage just the way she likes it so she’ll lay some eggs. “She’s infertile, but the eggs will make good exhibits when on display,” informs Neil. “In fact, let’s see if she’s got anything cooking.” He then proceeds to poke around her belly, squeezing here and there, until he wrinkles his nose and says “Aw, Ringo. Why would you do that?” I assume it’s some kind of fart, but Neil says it’s called “musking.” It’s a release of some kind of smelly liquid, “as a defense mechanism. They only do it when they feel threatened,” Neil assures me. Except that moments ago he told me they only bite when they feel threatened, and since this one is obviously threatened, it’s time to move on.

To be continued. Look for the next post about salamanders eating crickets, a bird ripping up a mouse and a man blowing owl egg out of its shell.

A bucket of tiny balls and one big mistake

For late April, the stifling mist and general sogginess of the weather was somewhat uncharacteristic. So naturally, when my friend Asa asked if I wanted to go to the driving range, I said “Sure!”

Past golf experiences have not exactly motivated me to take up the sport again. However, Asa turns out to be the kind of friend who, when he decides he wants to do something, he does it, no matter what anyone says. As his friend and therefore accomplice on most of those activities, I was lucky that he was also the kind of friend who can make even the most mundane activities entertaining, such as hitting a tiny ball a hundred feet or more into a vast expanse of grass.

We roll into Royal Oaks Golf Course parking lot and head into the pro shop. Since we’re just high school students, neither very serious about the game, we don’t have clubs, but Royal Oaks has a nice little deal where you give them your driver’s license and they let you test drive up to three different clubs. The idea, I think, was that if you like the club you’re using, you come back and purchase it. We never liked that idea because we didn't have $200 to throw away on a stick of titanium.

Asa would go for the drivers and the woods, most likely because he has some kind of small man syndrome, always hitting as far as possible. That’s also probably why he has such a lousy short game, but that’s neither here nor there. I enjoyed grabbing random clubs and picking them by how cool their names were. Ping was a favorite. So was Cobra. We grabbed our respective favorites—he with three of the biggest drivers he could find, me with a wedge, 7-iron and 5-wood—and headed out to the open range.

Now I’m not exactly Tom Lehman out on the grassy knolls, so I’m usually asking a few questions about the best way to use the tiny stick to hit the tiny ball more than a tiny distance. First swing: 5-wood – swing – THWACK – Plop – right in the mud, 15 feet Northeast of my current position.

“Choke up a little bit on it,” Asa tells me, then hauls off and whacks one a mile and a half. “And don’t choke this time.”

“Don’t choke up on it?”

“Choke up on the club.”

“But you just said not to.”

“No, I said don’t choke.”

“That’s what I said you said.”

Hesitation, then a long sigh, then “Man, do I hate you.” Then – WHACK – another four miles.

I did a little stretching, a few windmills to loosen up, then I did some shoulder rolls, let my head do a few circles around my neck, put the club out in front, took a wider stance, did one last little shimmy shake, and went into deep focus mode. Since it mostly just involved closing my eyes, taking a couple deep breaths, and staring fiercely at the ball then at the 400 yard sign in the distance, deep focus mode didn’t really do anything other than delay the inevitable. But what the heck, I had time to kill.

After a lot of breathing and staring, I brought the 5-wood back, paused for just a moment, and then swung it mightily forward with the strength of ten Tigers.

And boy would that ball have launched out of there if I had hit it.

“Swing and a miss, strike two,” said the older gentleman to my right.

“Yeah, I’ll get it though,” I explained to him, as though he cared or believed me.

“Oh I know you will,” he said, grinning back, a knowing spark in his eye. I could tell he was one of those guys that if you prompted him, he would go on for hours with stories about golf, or war, or sales. The kind of guy you’ve met a million times and places before, with a million different faces. The kind of guy you wouldn’t mind meeting another million times. I had started to get a bit of a confidence boost from the friendly old guy, until—

“Except you won’t, because you suck.” Then – WHACK – and Asa’s ball was gone, halfway around the world in three seconds.

“Whatever dude, I’m gonna get a good one before the day is done,” I told Asa, defiantly. “Just watch.”

I got another ball from the bucket and teed it up. “This is it. This is the one. I can feel it.” I squared up to it, took a deep breath, and swung that club like I had something to prove.

“Daaaaammmmnnn!” I heard from Asa, and if my hands weren’t still vibrating with the club, I would have been swelling with pride. As it was, I could tell something went slightly awry, because my hands have never vibrated like this, and the club suddenly felt a lot lighter. I saw, not quite to the 100 yard sign, my ball coming down for a landing. Then, shortly after, a stumpy brown thing landed with a splash in the mud, about 120 yards out.

“Oh man, you are so busted! Do you know how much those things cost?” Asa was incredulous, but still laughing hysterically. All I could do was stare at the end of my club, where instead of a 5-wood there was a splintered shaft. “That was so awesome! The club went farther than the ball. Nice hit, bro!”

Seeing as how it was a fairly expensive club borrowed from the Royal Oaks Clubhouse, I wasn’t finding this funny just yet.

In between spurts of Asa’s laughter, I’m running through options in my head. I could just jet out of there; no, they have my driver’s license. Well, I could always get a new license; no, they take a couple weeks, and I’ve got to drive myself to school every day. I could blame Asa...

That’s a possibility.

I finally just decided to be a man and tell them what happened. Luckily, the attractive clubhouse girl smiled and said that this sort of thing “happens all the time.” Somehow I doubt that, but was too happy not to have to pay for the club to realize that she might have been flirting a bit. She sent out one of the groundskeepers in a caged cart to look for the club head, but after driving around for about 20 minutes, he came back with the conclusion that it had been lost in the mud, and they’d find it eventually.

After it was resolved and I had my license back, I took a seat behind Asa and watched him hit a couple more into the clouds.

“You’re not going to hit any more?” he asked.

“Well, it’s clear that I don’t know my own strength, so for the safety of myself and those around me, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

He shook his head at me. “Please.” As always, in true Asa fashion, our mundane rainy April afternoon activity had turned into something quite a bit more exciting than it ever should have been.

Then – CRACK – and Asa’s last ball was headed out of the galaxy.

A simple pleasure dashed to the ground.

They came last Spring, just as the girls were beginning to wear their Spanish-style skirts and pastel-colored clothing, and warm weather lust began to descend on everyone. I tore open the package with zest, as though the contents were the remedy to an incurable disease I possessed.
Glorious. If one had seen my face at that moment, one would know what happiness looks like.
I kicked off my sandals and slipped my new shoes on my feet. They were snug, but that was expected. I wore them the whole rest of the day, and even though they hurt my feet incredibly, I still felt like I was walking on sunshine, and even sang the song in my head most of the rest of the day.
Life continued thus for a fortnight or two.
Then, one hazy afternoon, I was shaken violently from my reverie. Strolling down my usual Wednesday path, I happened upon a fairly well-dressed young man. We both looked each other in the eye for a moment, then I glanced down at the flash of white coming from below his ankles. I felt his glance on my feet as well.
It can’t be. He had my shoes.
The coolest shoes I’d ever seen, both because they look sweet and because I had never seen anyone with them before, and now, just one week after receiving mine, this guy had them too. I looked back at his face just as his eyes moved from my feet to my face. I saw in his eyes the same emotion that was surely in mine: sadness, anger, and surprise. We both looked away, quickened our pace, and quietly hoped that the other would leave the country and never come back.
One thing we both knew for sure: we could never be friends.

Microsoft is definitely the devil.

WARNING: The following contains some extreme nerdspeak. Proceed with caution.

I've moved steadily away from Microsoft products over the last few years because I've gotten fed up with their lack of ease, constant crashing, and general ineffectiveness at the tasks I like to accomplish. Yet, like a vindictive ex, Microsoft keeps finding ways to toy with me and make my life difficult.

Example 1
I don't do much video editing, but I've been doing a lot lately because of my Christmas present (which you can read about in another post). Having only really used iMovie to edit video before, and that came pre-installed on the Mac at work, I figured the pre-installed Windows Movie Maker would do just fine. Shyeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.

Not only is it incredibly slow (which I admit may be more my computer's fault than the program's), it freezes up every other time I use it, has very few options for titles and file types, and is just generally confusing in its layout and structure.

Example 2
Vista sucks. Mom got a new laptop, and since she knows how to check her e-mail and write something in Word and that's about it, I've been setting up her computer for her. I had heard people complain about Vista before, but I typically attribute people's complaints to the majority of people being whiny-complainy-pants and not to anything being wrong with whatever they're complaining about. However, in Vista's case, I'm joining the whiny-complainy-pants team.

Everything about it bothers me. They've changed the menus around enough to confuse, but not enough to actually add any functionality. They've created this annoying pop-up message that basically asks you anytime you do anything "Do you want to allow the program you are trying to access to run?" Yes, idiot computer, otherwise I would not have tried to access it.

I've been trying over the past months to discontinue using illegally-downloaded software such as programs that rhyme with Schmotoshop and Schmoffice, and I've been pretty successful with GIMP and Does anyone know of a free or open-source video editing software that works well? But as far as Vista is concerned, it's mom's computer so there's not much I can do other than stay the hell away. I should write an angry letter, as I am apt to do when feeling scorned, but I'll probably just take the passive-aggressive route and start using Linux instead. That Ubuntu program looks pretty suave.

What a sham.

A long while back, I signed up for this website called InboxDollars. It offered $5 free just for signing up, said that you could earn money reading e-mails and completing surveys, and basically sounded like easy money for looking at advertising. At the time I was bored and didn't have many hobbies going on besides drinking and an occasional trip somewhere to drink in another city with different people.

Granted, I figured it would be a bit tedious, but I soon found out that the e-mails I had to read paid out about 1 cent each, the surveys were 50 cents to $1, and you couldn't request a check until you'd hit $30. Still, it took very little time so I figured "what the heck."

As you can probably guess, it did not go well. I tried doing a couple of surveys, usually got about 10 minutes into them only to have an error come back to me explaining "We're sorry, but you don't fit the demographic needed for this survey." After a few times I just gave up on the surveys, but kept punching in those e-mails and racking up the pennies.

Finally, nearly a year and a half later, I've made it to $30, so when I go to cash out, here's the message I get:

Two whole months. You MUST be kidding me. What a SHAM.

So, the moral of the story is "If you think someone will actually pay you decent money to read e-mails, then I guess you're as gullible as I was." (Yeah, I know, not very impactful, but true.)

I resolve to start updating this again.

Happy New Year, folks. And happy holidays to those folks who didn't get an ecard.

I'm back in the U.S.A. It's been an incredibly smooth transition so far, especially since it's the holidays and I've been indulging myself on all the foods I've missed (sausage balls, rice krispie treats, etc.).

I haven't posted anything since I've gotten back partly because I was spending time with the fam, and partly because I've been playing with one of my Christmas presents: Diamond VC500 One Touch Video Capture Device. It's been a goal of mine for the past year or so to try to scan in the best of our old photos and upload old home videos to the web to create a living history of our family. And yes, I know, I'm a nerd. Deal with it.

I've already got a lot of our old pictures online. For example:

Now I'm working on videos. Here's a couple gems I've finished so far.

My brother's 5th birthday party with our extended family (the tiny round blond kid stumbling around is me).

Gymnastics lessons when I was 4. Yes, I did gymnastics and no, it wasn't my choice. Although I do recall they had a huge trampoline that was amazing. Something similar will be part of my dream home one day.

Hopefully everyone else is enjoying their presents as much as I am enjoying mine.
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