Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pictures Or It Didn't Happen

That used to be a thing. Someone would share something they did or witnessed, and then someone else would say, "Pictures or it didn't happen." Basically, calling the story-teller out as a liar. It was a dick move.

Since I don't have photos to illustrate any of this, here's a bunch of stuff that didn't happen over the past couple months. You know, if you're a dick.
  • I ordered a small dish of ice cream for myself for the first time ever.1
  • My son learned how to play checkers, chess, Stratego, Sorry!, Catan Junior, and Battleship. He's 5, so he doesn't yet understand the strategy for the first three games, but if you're playing him in any of the others, watch out.2
  • The imaginary superhero my son named after himself and told stories about for over a year was killed off by his new imaginary superhero.
  • My brother-in-law wore a dress on stage. Again. (He's not an actor, a cross-dresser, or transgender. He's just a guy who is far too willing to follow scripts I write.)
  • A squirrel drowned in our pool. It's a small inflatable pool, and the squirrel should have easily stood on its hind paws and clawed its way out. Since it didn't, this was obviously a hit by the Squirrel Mafia.
  • My son and nephew gained new amazing abilities. They could see a road from the top of a mountain using their far-away vision, the backside of a building from the front using their see-everything vision, and who was behind a door using their x-ray vision. Denise had to keep telling them to stop using that last one in the restrooms.
  • On my birthday, I took the day off from work for the first time in ten years. I didn't replace a toilet ring like last year's birthday, but I thought about it.
  • I replaced a toilet ring.3
  • Over the span of one month, we found 3-4 dozen dead bees in our sunroom (and a few in our kitchen). They each succumbed in a different spot, showed no signs of cat attack, and only twice did we see one alive. These were obviously hits by the Squirrel Mafia.4
  • Oh yeah, and I took a bunch of pictures.

1 In my defense, the shop's "small" is larger than most places' larges. Their "large" can feed a family of 4 for a week. (Yeah, I still regret not going with the large.)
2 Especially in Battleship. He cheats.
3 Also its innards. Or, if you'd prefer, the toilet's reproductive organs. (Because, you know, those parts are how it reproduces the same flush every time.)
4 Don't even try to say it was the Bee Mafia. Everyone knows there's no such thing. Here in New England, the WASPs have the power.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Best of the Best

In 1st grade, my best friend was a kid named Dave. Halfway through the year, his family moved to another town. I visited once, and never saw him again.

In 3rd grade, my best friend was a kid named Matt. Halfway through the year, his family moved to another town. I visited once, and never saw him again.

After that, I gave up on having a best friend.

Eventually I ventured into adulthood, where best friends weren't as big a deal, probably because of Facebook. I had close friends, good friends, high school & college friends, and volleyball friends, but I stuck to the decision I made when I was 8. No besties.1

And then I met Denise. I've never called her my best friend. Honestly, I've never really considered her to be my best friend, because my brain had wiped the very concept from my perception decades earlier, but yeah, that's what she is.

There are plenty of people who love to tell the world "I married my best friend," but I've never cared much for that sentiment. It's too sappy for my taste. Maybe I'm still jaded from my youth, or maybe I simply don't like sap.2

Nevertheless, today being what it is, I'm going to go ahead and say it. Six years ago today, I married my—no, no, I can't do it. Too damned sappy. Need to boil it down.

Six years ago today, I married the love of my life.

And they lived happily ever after.

There, much better. Sap free, and with a fairy tale ending.

But wait: There's more! For the low, low price of reading the last two footnotes, you can also learn more about my former best friends Matt3 and Dave.4


1 Also, no Super Friends. Marketing teams in the 70s sure made some odd name choices.
2 Not till it's been boiled down into sweet, sweet syrup. Before that, it's just a bitter, sticky residue I can't wash off easily and makes me feel unclean.
3 I never saw Matt again, but 20 years later my dad saw him semi-regularly. Same Masonic lodge.
4 I never saw Dave again, but 20 years later Denise saw him semi-regularly. She dated his older brother.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Real-Life Locked Room Mystery

A couple weeks ago, I decide to take the day off to bring my son and his cousin to the aquarium. But as I try to transition the boys from pajamas to clothes after their breakfast, my son steps into the hallway and closes the door on us.

His bedroom door has a lock on it, facing the hallway. We have no idea why. The previous owners had no children, so as best we can figure they enjoyed locking their house guests in at night.

Anyway, it turns out my son hasn't actually locked the door. But as I usher him back into his room, I stupidly tell him not to play with the lock.

I say stupidly, because—well, if you've known any 5-year-old boys, you can guess what happens next. That's right: My son immediately stops playing with the lock and comes into his room to get dressed.

Then my nephew steps into the hallway, turns the lock, and comes back into the room, closing the door behind him.

So yeah, that happened.

Denise had left for work 10 minutes earlier, so there's no one in the house to let us out. My phone is downstairs. The lock's "safety" mechanism — as I'd already discovered weeks earlier with the bathroom door — cannot be popped with a paper clip or wire hanger; it needs to be turned with a tiny screwdriver. A tiny screwdriver I don't have in my son's bedroom. Nor is there anything I can use to remove the hinges.

But. But! It isn't all bad. It's beautiful out, and my son's room faces the front of the house. Joggers pass by every day. Dog walkers, too. At least two families had walked or biked their kids to school the previous morning. And best of all, our neighbors across the street have a small dog, who they let out into the front yard several times a day. Despite our large front yard, certainly I'd be able to get someone's attention, and we'd be rescued in no time.

A half hour in, my nephew hits my son in the nose with a plastic toy. The crying distracts me long enough for the morning's lone jogger to pass the house before I see him.

No kids walk to school that day. No dog walkers. Plenty of vehicles drive by, but all have the windows rolled up or the music too loud to hear me.

After an hour, the boys are deliberately doing things to annoy each other. My back and shoulders ache from leaning out the second-story window waiting to flag someone down. I start to contemplate tying bed sheets together. Problem is, all I have to work with is the single set on the bed, plus a bunch of little kid clothes. Perhaps the material can hold my weight, but my knot-tying ability is highly suspect. No, our situation is not yet dire enough. Maybe when one of them needs to use the potty.

The neighbor on the corner walks to the end of his driveway to get the paper. I yell to him, but we've never met, so I don't know his name. He looks toward our yard, but for some reason doesn't think to look up, through the branches, to where I'm waving frantically from the second floor window. After a second (at most), he shrugs and heads back inside, ignoring my screams beseeching him not to go.

At ninety minutes it feels like it's been four hours. Being stuck in a room with warring boys will do that to you (even if, technically, half of you is outside the window). My son is bored and only wants to go to the aquarium. My nephew, on the other hand, is loving every minute of it. He feels we're having a grand adventure.

A man in a small white sedan drives by, driver-side window open. I call out, "Hi! Hello! Can you help us?!" and barely manage to catch his eye. He slows to a stop in front of the next house down, then puts his car in reverse. He listens to my story with a healthy amount of skepticism, but the kids' faces at the window are enough to convince him I'm not just some nut hanging out of a second-story window.

Okay, maybe he's not fully convinced, but he does agree to enter a stranger's house by the back door (which I'd luckily left unlocked after letting the dog out earlier), get trailed all the way through the house and up the stairs by a dog barking menacingly ("she's loud but friendly," I tell him), and release us back into the wild.

The man (henceforth to be known as "Mike, the Reluctant Savior") then wisely makes his own escape as fast as he can. (Pro tip: Don't stick around after saving a guy trapped in a room in his own house.) Yet before he's even reached the door, my son is sitting by the first-floor closet, getting his shoes on. So we can go to the aquarium right away.

Which is pretty much what we do.

... right after I remember to run back upstairs and close the window. We were moments away from losing a cat.


Epilogue

The lock is now on the inside of the room, where it belongs. Actually, it doesn't belong on the door at all in my opinion, but we haven't yet had the chance to do it in with a sledgehammer buy a new knob.

The kids loved the aquarium. My son would still be there feeding the rays, if he had his way.

Also, he now plays with locks far too often.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Four-Donut Day

Ladies and gentlemen, I am an addict.

From my post's title, you may infer the object of my obsession is donuts.1 Or perhaps you think it's sweets in general.2

But in fact, my craving isn't for a specific category of food. Or rather, it is, but not in the way you think.3

What I'm addicted to is free food. At work.

The free food thing started in college. If an event promised pizza, for instance, I'd hover near the entrance like a vulture, watching for its delivery with an eagle eye, and pounce the moment my prey arrived.4

Note: These were $5 Domino's cheese pizzas. Hardly gourmet fare. What mattered was it was free.

After I entered the workforce, I continued to be among the first comers whenever free food was offered. Eventually I lost that urgency, but somewhere along the way it got replaced by something else. Something worse.

Repeat visits.

Co-workers would bring in a dozen donuts or other pastries for the team, and leave them near (or sometimes on) my desk. They figured putting them within my view made it less likely there'd be any left to bring home at the end of the day.5

Sane people, normal people, might eat one pastry in the morning. Weaker-willed folk might return that afternoon for a second. Me? I'd eat two in the morning, one in the afternoon, plus another for lunch. So yeah, I have no willpower. Yet, I have never consumed more than four donuts in one day.

Thus, the name.

It may have started with donuts, but now this behavior extends to any spread laid out in the common areas. It could be bagels or pizza, cake or fruit salad, pita and/or hummus. Maybe leftover sandwiches from a lunchtime meeting. Or every sample at that Asian culture fair thing a couple weeks back.6

I don't only do this at work — they have those samples at grocery stores and artisan shops, and I usually eat more than my fill at friends' parties7 — but work's where I have the most opportunity. If there's food for the taking, I grab some on the way by. Then again. And again. Until I've had four, I can't stop myself.

Okay, that's a lie. I could stop myself if I wanted to. But why would I want to?

After all, it's free.


1 You'd be wrong.
2 Wrong again.
3 Wow, you're bad at this.
4 This might surprise you, but I'm bad at metaphor. And simile. Also, lacrosse.
5 They figured right. They're better at this than you.
6 At least I think they were promoting Asian culture. I was too busy scarfing all the available deliciousness to pay full attention. But I kind of remember there being maps.
7 I'm also available for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Winners of the Science Haiku Contest!

It took a week, but I have now judged all the entries to my haiku contest scientifically. By which I mean I studied them under a microscope, heated them to a boil, compared them against a control group of other haiku, and then threw out the results due to bias.

Thanks to everyone who entered! All your haiku (except the one my dad wrote) were such monumental creations that it was tough to pick the winners. So, in the end I let a nicotine-addicted monkey do that for me.

I shall now unveil my findings, soon to be sent off to a scientific journal. Probably the one I keep in the bookcase in my office. (But hey, if you haven't done so already, make sure to check out all the electrifying entries.)

Not Entirely Honorable Mention
My brother-in-law, Tom, may know a thing or two about nuclear energy, but I believe we may disagree on how many syllables it has.

Ernesto P. Santiago had a lovely haiku... that had nothing to do with science. Alas, including a living creature does not make it biology.

And as for Emilia's? She was clearly pandering.

Honorable Mention

I'd accuse Marian Allen of pandering as well, but I'm not sure she knows I have a cat named Schrödinger.
My tuna is gone
And yet it is not eaten.
Damn Schrodinger's cat!

My 5-year-old nephew, Solomon, outdid his mom's 5 entries. (Note: There's not one shred of scientific proof that I have a completely legitimate bias against her poetry.)
Mars: a hot planet
Because of all its red sand
So says Solomon.

Rena's entry recalls one of my fondest memories of high school chemistry (although ours was done with cesium).
Sodium metal
Is serene in glycerin.
Explodes with water

And Sam Cook nearly took a prize with this one, mostly because of all the big words.
The phenomenon
of quantum entanglement
questions everything


First Place - Humorous

Instead, Sam won with this one. Getting popular culture, "science," and one team's 107 years of futility all into 17 syllables? Well done, sir.
Back to the Future
was wrong about time travel.
The Cubs never win.


First Place - Traditional

Keith A. Simmonds not only got some great prose into this entry, but it was also one of the few in which each line could be read as a separate phrase (as traditional haiku do), rather than breaking up a longer phrase to fit the 5-7-5 scheme. That combo netted him the win.
The ozone layer…
a furnace of desires
sears the heart of man


And that will bring my 7th annual haiku contest to a close. Sam and Keith, if you'll please write me at theothernate@yahoo.com, I can send the Amazon gift cards your way.

Thanks again to everyone who entered, shared, and/or re-tweeted this contest! Let's do it all again next year!

One piece of advice
For future haiku contests:
Wear safety goggles.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Haiku Contest: Science!

*** The contest has ended. View the winners. ***

Congratulations! You’ve unearthed my 7th annual haiku contest!

We've previously performed experiments on ninja, pirates, robots, space, the ocean, and heroes & villains. But now it's time to document the natural world properly: in the form of science haiku!

Here’s how you do it:
Write seventeen syllables.
Eureka! You’re done.

Simply follow standard haiku structure (5 syllables, then 7, then 5 again) and make it have something to do with science. However you interpret the theme is entirely up to you.

To enter, write your haiku in the comments section below. Two or three lucky winners will receive $25 million in gold bullion $25 Amazon gift cards.

I will be selecting the best haiku in each of two categories:
  • Humorous/Creative
  • Traditional (i.e. eloquent, evocative, etc.)
In addition, I may also reward a third entry. I won’t know for sure until I’ve completed my findings.

The deadline to submit a haiku is this Saturday, May 7 at 5:00pm (Eastern Time). Official "rules" are below.


Official "Rules":
  1. To enter, post science-themed haiku in the comments section below. Multiple submissions are allowed, but if you submit more than five (5) entries, you'll have introduced too many elements and they will become unstable. Thus, excess entries will be disposed of safely and efficiently.
  2. Standard haiku rules apply. To qualify, each entry must be a three-line poem, the first line containing exactly 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the third line 5 syllables. If you miscount, your results will not be repeatable. And since I won’t be able to repeat it, your entry will not win.
  3. The contest is open until Saturday, May 7, 2016 at 5:00pm, Eastern Time. If your entry arrives after the deadline, I will assume you’ve failed in your attempt to bend time. Failed experiments are not yet ready for public consumption and will be rendered invalid.
  4. Entries must be in English. (i.e. Using Japanese kanji will not help you win for best traditional haiku.) If, after careful examination, I cannot understand your entry, I will deem it purely theoretical and remove it from consideration.
  5. Anonymous entries will not win. In the sciences, attaching your name gives something credibility. If you can’t grasp the gravity of this, your entries will be unceremoniously dropped.
  6. Prizes will be awarded in each of two (2) categories: Humorous/Creative and Traditional. A third prize may be awarded depending on how I react to certain variables.
    • First place winners will each receive a $25 Amazon gift card.
    • An indeterminate number of Honorable Mentions will receive both mention and honor. Not necessarily in that order.
  7. I will act as sole judge, and select the winning haiku based on the aforementioned criteria, as well as other criteria I make up as I go along. All decisions are final, and will not be changed under any circumstances. Unless you can give me some sort of superpower. Though they may evolve.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Streaking Writer

Last week, I worked on my novel seven straight days. This may not seem overly impressive — especially considering I wrote a blog post every day in January — but believe me, it is.

The reason is quite simple: I'd never done it before.

Yep, even when I first started writing it years ago during NaNoWriMo,1 and worked on it almost every day for that first month, I never managed seven straight.

Four days? Sure. Five? Piece of cake.2 But the full week has always eluded me.

One factor has been my refusal to begin writing if I have less than an hour to spare. I used to think I couldn't get into a real rhythm otherwise, so anything less would be a waste.

Then last week happened. I only did a full hour two of the days, and on two others I barely wrote for fifteen minutes. Yet each day I made progress in the story, and that sense of accomplishment kept me feeling great throughout the week.

I admit I didn't make much progress, however. Those seven days netted me a scant half a chapter. Then again, it is the final chapter, so perhaps I can cut myself some slack. It takes time to figure out how to tie everything up and complete all the character arcs without it feeling forced.

Besides, you know what they say about slow and steady.3

So I'll keep plugging away. I don't know if I'll go another seven straight anytime soon, but since I'm no longer waiting for that hour-long block of time, I will be writing more often.

And from that, only good things can happen.4


1 If I told you exactly how long ago I started the novel, with you knowing it's not yet finished, you'd be embarrassed for me. And I don't want that. See, I'm doing this for you.
2 That's right, my reward for writing five straight days is a slice of cake. A huge slice of cake. The ensuing sugar hangover renders me pretty much useless on day six.
3 You get last picked at dodge ball.
4 Unless you're one of my characters. Mwahahahaha!