Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Texas-sized Guns

I must confess that I’ve been browsing the weekly sportsmen’s stores’ catalogs for guns. In the past two years, I’ve come to find that there are a lot of scary varmints in the countryside as evidenced by the recent skunk experience. Plus all my neighbors have guns, and I’d like to fit in.

I don’t know much about guns. My firearm experience consists of shooting BB guns at empty bottles, occasional live rodents, and certain “friends” (but that’s another story). Typically, I’m drawn to the cheapest gun with the biggest barrel. So, yes, you could probably sell me a blunderbuss. But in last weekend’s catalog, I found the perfect solution: the mini-cannon!

That’s right: you can purchase a fully operational mini-cannon styled like the classic Napoleon version from the Civil War, or the Old Ironsides model like the ones found on old ships. I scoured the ad looking for a disclaimer and thought, “This can’t be real. It can’t possibly be legal to sell a working cannon to your average Joe.” Then I remembered where I live, and realized rural Texans probably made their own cannons before these came on the market.

The ad states “fully operational” and also mentions accessories, including granular powder, round balls, and fuses. Plus they cost a whopping $250. They must be the real deal!

Since I don’t have a ship or parrot, I’m leaning toward the Napoleon version.

And since I don’t know anything about guns, this is the perfect solution. How hard is it to operate a cannon? You 1) light the fuse and 2) cover your ears. Any dummy who’s ever watched cartoons knows that. Aiming might be hard because it could take a couple of people to move it. But then again it’s not like hitting a bull’s eye with a shotgun.

I’ll be able to take on entire armies of skunks, rattlesnakes, opossums and of course deer. Plus there’s the home-protection aspect. If the click of a loaded shotgun frightens a home invader, just think what the sound of a lit fuse would do! And St. Pauli Girl could finally get the horse she’s always wanted . . . as long as she lets me use it to pull the cannon when we go on field maneuvers.

Best of all, I’ll be the envy of all my neighbors: “Well, Mike, of course that’s a mighty fine shotgun you got there. But let’s see which one of us can blow up that barn faster.” BOOM!

I could start my own demolition business. I can offer to blow up condemned buildings and bridges for a small fee (plus cannonball expenses). I’ll even dress up like General Sherman, or no, wait! Maybe Nathan Bedford Forrest, depending on where I’m at and who’s paying me.

While pulling out my credit card, I studied the ad closer. Then I looked it up online, and that’s where I saw the catch: the cannons are 12 inches long by 6 inches high. I guess that’s why it’s called a mini-cannon. But $250 for something you could fire off your desk?

That’s dumber than selling real cannons.

Oh, but wouldn’t it be great if the next time I’m forced to sit through a crappy, boring Power Point presentation at work, I could load a cannonball into my desk cannon, aim it at the screen, light the fuse, and cover my ears?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My Golf Buddy

Note: Apologies to email followers that have been spammed recently. It is beyond my control. I don't know what's going on. Hope to have it fixed very soon!

I don’t play much golf these days. Hence, my golf clubs are stored in the corner of the garage along with other useless items like batons, yard darts, hubcaps, a badminton set, and a Slip’n’ Slide. (What can two adults do with a Slip’n Slide? I’ll save that for another blog.) As I have mentioned before, we live in the country and our garage is detached, or, as we like to say, “way out back.”

I hadn’t touched my golf clubs in well over a year. They rested against the wall next to a new golf bag which, much to St. Pauli Girl’s chagrin, I hadn’t used yet. I had been too lazy to move the clubs to the new bag since I didn’t know when I would be playing again. During that time I had noticed that Booboo the dog really liked to jump into that corner and growl and scratch at stuff. However, that was pretty normal Booboo behavior.

Last week, I had to make a trip to Lubbock, as St. Pauli Girl hosted a small reunion with old girlfriends from high school. (Hmm, what can six women do with a Slip’n Slide in 100-degree heat? But I digress.) Since I would be gone for the weekend, I threw the golf clubs in the car.

On Saturday, with the temperature hovering at 104, I drove to the golf course, paid my fees, then went to the driving range. I pulled a 6-iron from my bag and noticed something odd on the grip. “Are those feathers?” I thought. I ran my hand over the grip and realized that it was animal hair, and it seemed almost glued on. I wiped the grip with my towel and pulled out the 3-wood which had hair stuck on it as well.

I dropped the club back in the bag. Surely there wasn’t a dead animal in the bottom of the bag? I took a quick mental inventory of all our pets and nope, none seemed to have gone missing lately. Judging by the color of the hair, I guessed squirrel. At first I thought I should go ask for a refund. I really didn’t want people to see fur flying every time I swung a club. But then I tried to imagine how that would sound:

“So you want a refund because there’s a dead weasel in your bag?” the clerk would ask.

“Yes. I’m traumatized.”

“Unless the weasel was struck by lightning while on the course, sorry, no refund.”

But then I started thinking rationally. My golf bag had been in the car with 100-degree heat for four days. The car should have smelled pretty rancid since my bag is not an airtight mausoleum. I convinced myself that a squirrel probably only wintered there, condo-like, and then left when spring came, leaving behind his cold-weather fur. Why, if I looked hard enough I might even find some nuts. And on the positive side, I should be happy it wasn’t a hibernating rattlesnake which might have crawled out during the drive.

Since I probably couldn’t get a refund, I went ahead and played. Every time I pulled out a new club, I had to wipe sticky brown hair from the grip. Occasionally I did notice a foul odor but I could not positively say it wafted from the golf bag. (Lubbock does smell bad on occasion.) At the end of the round, I threw the clubs in the car and didn’t think about dead rodents. And the car smelled just fine all the way home.

After I got home, I knew I would at least have to clean the fur from bottom of the bag. This would be the perfect time to transfer everything to the new golf bag. One by one, I pulled the clubs out and set them on the ground. As I bent over to empty the side pockets, I noticed a foul odor much like . . . Lubbock.

I took a flashlight and slowly pointed it down the center of the bag. I could see a big pile of fur at the bottom. Looking closer, I could just make out a little squirrel paw.

Case closed! Dead squirrel in the golf bag!

I gave the little squirrel a proper burial by throwing the entire golf bag in the trash. “He would have wanted it that way,” I said, a tear sliding down my cheek. I put the clubs in my new bag then carried the bag into the house to stow in my office closet. At least next time, I’ll only have to worry about scorpions.

Last night during happy hour St. Pauli Girl asked how my golf game in Lubbock went. “Great,” I replied. “I done bagged me a squirrel!”

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Airline Evil Eye

I hate flying, but it’s not due to fear. Flying today is like spending money to sit in a gulag for 14 hours. (Which is how long my normally 4-hour trip home actually took me recently. At least Greyhound has the decency to tell you it will take 14 hours and you’ll stop in 22 cities you don’t want to stop in, although you’ll probably sit next to a convicted felon who hasn’t showered since two weeks ago Tuesday.)

But okay, I admit, I do have some superstitions. I know the drive to the airport is statistically more dangerous than the flight. Yet I can’t quite rid myself of what I consider potential omens.

During my last trip, as I left the airport restaurant, the waitress said, “Have a safe flight.”

I looked at her closely. What did she mean by that? Once I get to the airport and go through security, it’s out of my hands; I hope she says that to every flight crew that walks by. Then I remembered I had stiffed her. I ran back and gave her $3; I didn’t want my final moments on a death-spiraling plane to go like this:

Passenger #1: What do you mean you stiffed her? Don’t you know that kind of karma can carry over to our flight?

Me: Well, I did have to ask twice for salsa. And she never refilled my water.

Passenger #2: So you’re satisfied with that giant stuffed burrito as your last meal?

Me: (Burp.)

On a normal flight, even if I haven’t witnessed any omens, I’ll usually mentally write my obituary just in case. This can be a very useful exercise at any time because it forces to you to weigh your life. After running down the pros and cons, you can then decide if a plane crash would be right for you.

While sitting at the gate, I’ll watch the pilot make his inspection as he walks around the plane outside. This usually leads to me thinking, “He sure is spending a lot of time looking up at that wing. He must see something. If the wing falls off during the flight, at least I’ll know why.” Or conversely, “Man, he sure walked around the plane really fast. I bet he missed something.” Either way, I then cross myself.

If I miss a connection due to weather delays, instead of looking for a ticket counter to change my flight, I look for TV crews that might be tracking me down because the plane I was supposed to be on crashed. Then when I don’t see the TV reporters, I start to think that I’ve been bumped to a flight that’s going to crash instead. I’ll be the sorry footnote on page 3: “if only he had gotten to his first connection on time.”

I always wonder about the pilots. Some of them don’t like to talk at all to the passengers during the flight. I assume they are either focused squarely on flying safely, or drunk, or asleep. Then there are the pilots who practically serenade you through the flight. I wonder how they react when the plane goes into a nosedive. Will they still be calm and collected? Will they be screaming? Will they still be giving us updates from the flight deck? “Well, folks on the right you can see the Grand Canyon. Look quickly because it’s approaching really, really fast.”

Several years ago I was en-route to my annual golf trip. Because of weather, my flight was canceled and I had to fly out the next day. Normally this would cause me to look over my shoulder for TV reporters; however, I got moved up to first class for the next day’s flight so I started thinking about free wine and Scotch instead. The next morning, as I sat in Seat 1A, the plane made its final approach then suddenly increased speed and veered sharply up and to the right. “I can’t believe it,” I thought, “my first time in first class, and I’m going to die. And here in first class we’ll hit the ground first!”

My next thought was, “Those golfing bastards better not continue the golf trip without me. I would not have wanted it that way. I would like a Viking funeral at the minimum and for everyone to permanently give up golf in my honor.”

The pilot then came on the intercom and said he had to abort the landing because another plane was still on the runway. So I ordered another Scotch.

The second time an incident like that happened, I was on my way to Las Vegas. We were probably no more than 200 feet off the ground when the plane picked up speed and aborted the landing. I realized what had happened even before the pilot told us. But this time I thought much more rationally: with the twenty-minute fly-around delay, is the airline going to reimburse me for those lost minutes of gambling? I very well could have hit a royal flush in that timeframe.

But then dark thoughts crept back in: how awful would it be to crash on the second landing attempt after the first abort? What are the odds?

I guess I should just stop thinking and find a good book to read while I travel. But then again, deep down I want to be the person that says as the plane goes into a tailspin toward the ocean, “Ha! I knew it! The pilot didn’t do his inspection right, I didn’t see the gas truck fuel the plane, the TSA inspector scolded me for locking my luggage, the gate agent moved me to a middle seat, the bartender gave me a vodka martini instead of gin then forgot to wish me a safe trip, the book store didn’t have change for a ten, I forgot to pack the green jacket, I left my cell phone on, and the dog didn’t eat his breakfast. With all of those omens, this was bound to happen!”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Guns Make Great Neighbors

We live between two very different neighbors:

Neighbor A: Just finished building a large work shed that includes a concrete foundation. He has several trashed Cadillacs, a lopsided pop-up camper, and assorted industrial equipment decorating his backyard. Sometimes at dusk he comes out wearing nothing but shorts and practices archery.

Neighbor B: Mild mannered, middle-aged insurance salesman. He has a swimming pool, a hot tub, and a lighted tennis court in his backyard. He mows his lawn fully dressed and hosts tennis matches two nights a week.

Recently, a situation called for the neighborly assistance of someone with a gun. Guess which neighbor came running shirtless with a shotgun in his hands?

(Hint: We live in Texas.)

Give up? The correct answer is Neighbor B, the insurance salesman. (The hint should have just made you realized that we all have guns. Well, almost all.)

But I am jumping ahead. We have noticed an excessive amount of skunk activity in the neighborhood this spring. By notice, I mean we can smell their trails after they’ve been running around the yard all night. So St. Pauli Girl went and bought a skunk trap, which is a steel box that could accommodate maybe two hamsters comfortably. Of course the trap had to be small enough so the skunk couldn’t lift its tail after it had been caught, but I had a hard time believing a skunk would even try to enter. Regardless, we were told a piece of bacon would make the trap very attractive. (It worked, at least for me.)

We set the trap and came out the next morning anxious to see what we caught. The empty trap lay on its side, bacon-less. We had been the victims of a “dine and dash.”

After that, we went several weeks without a skunk scent so we stopped worrying about it. Then one afternoon St. Pauli Girl and I were relaxing with a cold beer on the front lawn after a long day of yard work. I heard the Neighbor B’s Labradors barking up a storm. I didn’t say anything because I thought they might be eating one of our chickens, and I didn’t want to upset St. Pauli Girl.

The labs suddenly approached their fence and chased a little ball of black and white fur onto our property. I looked down to make sure it wasn’t Yogi, our black and white dog who happens to look very much like Pepe Le Pew. No, Yogi was snoozing soundly at our feet.

“Skunk!” I yelled. This woke up Yogi, so I chased him into the house so that A) he wouldn’t chase the skunk, B) the skunk wouldn’t chase him/try to mate with him, and C) he wouldn’t get shot.

We then ran toward the skunk as it skittered about before slipping out under the front gate. Another neighbor whom we’ll call Neighbor C approached and said, “There’s a skunk in your yard.”

“Yes, we know,” St. Pauli Girl said. “Should I get the skunk trap?”

“Why? Bill there’s got a gun.”

Seconds later, our shirtless insurance agent, Neighbor B, came a-runnin’ with his shotgun in hand. “He’s in your yard!” he shouted.

“What are you saying? Are you going to sue us?” I asked. (With three attorneys in the family, that’s always my first question.) “So he’s our responsibility now?”

“No, he went out the gate,” St. Pauli Girl said.

Bill and Neighbor C peered into the culvert that ran beneath our driveway next to the street.

“There he is,” Neighbor C said. “He’s hunkered down at the other end.”

Bill raced to the opposite side and pointed his gun into the culvert.

“Fire in the hole!” I yelled as the gun flashed and went boom.

“What was that for?” Bill asked, shotgun smokin’.

“I don’t know. They say that in all the war movies.”

We watched and waited but nothing happened. It was unlikely the skunk had been hit by the blind shot, and he certainly hadn’t run out. I debated whether or not to go fetch Neighbor A with his bow and arrow.

“There he goes,” Neighbor C shouted, pointing at the other end of the culvert.

Bill spun around and fired. The skunk dropped to the ground but not before lifting his tail and spraying the ground around him in one final act of vengeance. Sort of an “I’ll see you in hell!” kind of farewell, if you will.

We boxed up the carcass and gave it to the Neighbor C, the largest landowner, so he could leave it somewhere far away for the vultures. Then we stood around and chatted for a while, congratulating each other on our great collaborative hunt and kill. I felt a real bond with our neighbors that evening. But I also realized I should never wander into their backyards uninvited.

Sometimes it just takes a gun to bring people together. Or a skunk.