Monthly Archives: July 2011

Ghost Machine

There is only one thing more annoying than walking into a room where everybody is staring mindlessly at the television, and that is walking into a room where nobody is staring mindlessly at the television. What I mean to say, rather, is that there is nothing more annoying than walking into a room where the mindless television is on, but no one is watching it. This happens at my house with disturbing frequency, especially around one o’clock in the morning, after everyone (living) has gone to bed. (I say living because the only explanation I can come up with for this phenomenon is that there’s a ghost in my house with really bad taste in television. Really, really bad taste. Home shopping network bad. Lifetime movie-of-the-week bad. Oprah bad.)

How we got stuck with a Jerry Springer-loving ghost, I have no idea, although I will say that the fact that our house has existed for at least a hundred years might have something to do with it. After all, it’s not likely that every resident for the last century limited their viewing to Masterpiece Theatre and the Nature Channel—although, if you asked most (living) people what they watch, that’s all they’ll ever admit to. (It’s amazing that shows like “Bride Wars” and “Toddlers in Tiaras” get renewed year after year, because to hear people talk about them you would think that the only way anyone even knows of their existence is because they flipped past them once while trying to find that special on spotted lemurs. Apparently, all of the Nielsen houses are filled with ghosts as well.)

But, to give our ghost the benefit of the doubt, maybe he was one of those select, elite few who really did watch nothing but “educational television” his whole life. Maybe, before he died, he was the type of person who kept a copy of the PBS guide right next to his favorite TV chair. (My grandfather did.) Maybe it was only after his death that his taste for trashy TV became so dominant. In fact, maybe that’s how it is for everyone—maybe, no matter what your taste was like in the corporeal world, in the afterlife you become a Twihard.

This would explain why all of the early morning TV-watching ghosts I have ever encountered, in all of the houses I have ever lived in, have all watched such dreck: it’s just part of being a ghost, like wearing sheets and saying “Boo!”. It’s almost as if after you lose your corporeal self, you also lose your mental gag reflex. I don’t know: all I know is that never, not even once, have I walked in on a television playing to a room of none and seen anything on the screen that didn’t make me want to hold one hand over my eyes, another over my nose, and the other two over my ears. Wait, that’s too many hands. Anyway, you get the point.

Of course, I suppose it is possible that it was some human who was responsible for leaving the TV tuned to the especially awful channels—that is was the living people in my house who did it, and not the ghost. To tell you the truth, though, I’d rather think it was a ghost. I’d rather think my house was the victim of some malevolent inhabitation than think that anyone I either married or gave birth to is capable of watching more than ten seconds of “The Bachelorette.”

And so, I think I’ll just stick with my ghost theory. After all, it’s much easier to forgive someone that doesn’t exist anymore. Now if I could only get the ghost to stop leaving potato chip crumbs in the couch, I’d be all set.

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Here’s what gives me nightmares: picture a high security lab, somewhere deep inside the bowels of the earth. Inside a sealed box in a clean room sits an open jar of the last known surviving sample of the deadliest virus in existence. A cute young scientist with pink hair reaches her hands into the protective rubber sleeves, and then slowly picks up the lid—once this lid is securely tightened, the sample will be disposed of, and humanity will finally be safe from this virulent scourge. There is a slight rasp as the lid is screwed on the jar, and the other scientists behind her let out their collective breath in relief.

“Open the door,” one says to the girl with the fuchsia hair; obligingly she hops up and swings open the heavy door between the clean room and the control room. As she does, one of the rubber gloves knocks against the jar of the deadly virus, which topples over. The lid, only loosely secured, springs off, letting the virus into the air.

Twenty eight days later, and we’re all zombies.

Yeah, that’s the thought that keeps me up at night. Why? Because, in my vision, the technician is always Clementine. And, as anyone who knows Clementine can tell you, she has never, ever successfully put a lid back on anything. Ever.

Reach for a bottle of sparkling water in my house and the first thing you notice is that the lid is only perched lightly—jauntily, really—on top of the neck. The second thing you notice, of course, is that the sparkling water has lost its sparkle.

The same can be said of gallons of milk, jars of pickles, tubs of cream cheese—anything, in fact, that has a lid. The worst part is that she’s actually doing better: she used to throw the lids on the floor after she opened something, like a bridegroom with a bottle of tequila at his bachelor party. Now at least she gets them in the right area, even if she hasn’t actually mastered the art of actually putting them all the way on.

Unfortunately, though, I think that’s as far as she will ever go, because, according to her, she truly is tightening the lid. The fact that there is salsa running out the fridge door after she puts it away is just a coincidence: she certainly tightened it all the way. Yes, she is positive about that.

Which brings me back to my zombie nightmare.

I’m sure you’re thinking, well, why would someone with lid issues end up working in a clean lab in the first place? But really, isn’t that the way these things always work out? Doesn’t the kid who could never master the fine art of toast-making end up being the one who goes to culinary school? And doesn’t the kid who always callously stepped over their bleeding siblings to grab the remote end up going into medicine?

And so, following that logic, it only makes sense that Clementine will one day seek out a job that will involve her successfully putting the lids back onto jars every single time, because, in her whole life, that is the thing she is worst at. So, like the future doctor and chef, it’s kind of inevitable.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, however, while it’s true that an unsuccessful chef or doctor also has the power to kill us, they can only kill us in small numbers. Clementine the Scientist, however, will have the potential to take us all out someday. The way I see it, we have about twenty years to save ourselves: twenty years to convince her to change her ways, and finally learn how to tighten a lid, or it will be the end of life as we know it.

Actually, this might be a good time to take up smoking.

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Sugar Sugar

I’ve always been kind of leery of the argument that sugar makes kids hyperactive. Maybe it’s just the word itself: hyperactive. As if there’s one level of activity that is acceptable, and all other levels are either above or below that. (Speaking of below, why don’t we have a word for underactive kids—something like hypoactive? We could even pronounce it hippoactive, to better describe what the kids are going to look like after they spend an entire summer parked on the couch.) But back to the word we already have. Back to hyperactive.

Someone asked me once, watching Clyde vibrate from one part of our house to another, if I thought he had ADD. I looked at him, moving so fast he was almost a blur, and then I looked at his sister, Clementine, who had been sitting in the same spot reading a book for the previous two hours, and I said, “ADD? No, I think he just has a bad case of B-O-Y.” (Not that his sister was being hypoactive, mind you. She was just conserving her energy so that the next time Clyde’s peregrinations sent him within her sphere she would be able to reach out and smack him upside the head.)

I feel the same way about people who assume a link between out-of-control kids and sugar. When I see kids spinning in place at a birthday party or county fair, I don’t immediately assume that it was the fruit punch or the cotton candy that put them in that state. Instead, I think that maybe that’s just what they’re like—or at least what they’re like when they’re at a birthday party or fair. In other words, maybe it wasn’t the cake and ice cream that made them bounce off of the walls, but the fact that Spiderman showed up at the party—with a pony. And maybe it wasn’t the Sno-Cones and churros that caused them to act like they had been fast-forwarded at the fair, but rather the fourteenth trip around the Tilt-a-Whirl that did it.

That has always been my theory, at least. And it’s a good theory. A sound theory. One that I always believed would hold up under the most rigorous scientific scrutiny. Which is why, recently, when I was given the opportunity to put it to the test, I did. In other words, I let Clyde keep the entire bag of fundips he came home with the other day—all twenty-eight of them—all in the interest of scientific inquiry. (For those of you not up on all your candies, a fundip is a packet of sugar you eat with a candy stick. In other words, sugar dipped in sugar.)

I’ll admit I had some misgivings: looking askance at Clyde’s bag full of sugar and dye, suddenly I knew how Columbus must’ve felt sailing towards the end of the known world. It’s one thing to have a theory; quite another to test it. And yet, as a true believer in the scientific method, test it I did, that very evening at Movies on the Square. And then, vindication: as I watched Clyde vibrate from one end of Heritage Square to the other with a pack of his equally-hyper friends, I thought to myself, “Well, at least he’s no crazier than any of those other kids—the ones with responsible parents—I mean the control group.” And I kept on thinking that, all through the movie and halfway home, when, curious, I asked Clyde exactly how many fundips he had consumed that evening.

“I dunno,” he said. “I decided to share the bag with everyone else.” And then he shot off on his bike at something approaching the speed of light. And I was able to test out yet another one of my pet theories: the less his friends’ parents know, the better—at least for me.

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So Many Glasses

Question: how many glasses of water does it take for the average child to stay hydrated on a hot summer’s day? One? Four? Infinity minus one?

The truth is, no one really knows the answer to that question, because no one has yet managed to build a cabinet big enough to hold more glasses than one child can use on a typical summer’s day. So all we really know so far is how long it takes the average child to pull out and use the last glass, which, depending on the size of your cabinet, can be anywhere from five minutes to two hours. (Five minutes being the number for an average-sized cabinet, like mine, while two hours would be the time it takes them to empty out a cabinet the size of a Prius.)

You’d think that this would be a good thing: after all, Flagstaff is the second driest city in America, so it’s probably for the best that the children of Flagstaff have taken responsibility for keeping themselves hydrated. You’d think that, wouldn’t you? But, of course, you’d be wrong. Because while the children of Flagstaff are taking the glasses, and filling those glasses, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are actually drinking the water from those glasses.

Here’s a typical scenario: a child walks into kitchen, gets a glass of water, fills it to the top and either takes one sip and sets it down or wanders away, takes one sip, and then sets it down. Five minutes later, the same child comes back into kitchen, gets another glass, fills it with water, and then repeats the process. This continues until all of the drinking glasses are dispersed throughout the house.

Once there are no more clean glasses to use, the child will then pick up a “used” glass—one that is full of water—dump that water into the sink, rinse the glass out with approximately three more gallons of water, fill it up again, take one sip, and then set it down. Another child (or sometimes even the same child) will then come along, pick up the full glass, and repeat this process. Over, and over, and over again.

There are two things about this that bother me. One, of course, is the waste of water: I swear I can her the water table drop a foot every time a child goes into the kitchen. But the other thing is the unspoken suggestion that, apparently we are raising the worst generation of pessimists since the Great Depression. I mean, think about it: why are all these kids so suspicious of their fellow man? Why do they feel that they cannot leave a glass of water unattended for five minutes without something nasty happening to it? Because, you know, the glass is only sitting on a counter (or table, or bookshelf, or dresser) in my house. It’s not like it’s in some dark corner of a sketchy rave in the warehouse district of Detroit, presided over by a guy named “Lucky.”. And it’s not like there’s some guy waiting in my bathroom with a bathtub full of ice, cooling his heels until the knockout drops take effect before he can start removing kidneys.

Of course, maybe they’re not afraid of some random guy slipping them a roofie; maybe what they’re really afraid of the house itself. Maybe they’re afraid that some sort of unintentional and unnoticed filth will slipped into their unattended drink. But that’s just ridiculous, because the only way a glass of water could become contaminated just by being exposed to the air in my house would be if my house were filthy, a complete sty, a fetid pit filled with the stench of . . .hey.

On second thought, maybe I’ll just get a fresh glass from the dishwasher my own self.

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