Our greatest father-and-son moment: the Sooner Schooner game

For every good moment I can remember of my father, I can remember many bad ones. A mechanical, electrical, and electronic wizard, he obtained a master’s in a subject to which his bachelor’s degree did not pertain. With honors. While working full time and coming to all my Little League games. When I joined the Cub Scouts, he volunteered as Cubmaster.

How he could go from that to religious fanaticism and domestic violence, I am not sure I will ever understand, but he died in my twenties within two weeks of the attempt to reboot our relationship. In any case, most of what I learned from him was negative, as in “never be that kind of man.” We only had a few truly great moments, and at halftime Saturday, my alma mater celebrated one of them. (It was all we had to celebrate, as we lost to Cal. But we didn’t lose as badly as Oregon did to Utah. Even during our anniversary dinner, I had Deb keep checking the score. Just the look on her face was golden, especially when she would burst out laughing.)

On New Year’s Day 1985, I was home from UW for the holidays. When in school, I honestly didn’t care that much about football, and with all the foolhardiness of youth, I took the Huskies’ success for granted. I did respect the players as fellow students, because Don James ensured that they behaved themselves. In my first year as an RA, I had a tailback, a tackle, and a defensive tackle living in the cluster right next to me. Some of the nicest ‘dents I had, and that year, I had very many. I had trouble with men’s basketball players, and the men’s crew, but never football players. One of the quarterbacks, whom I knew from a Willis class (non-UW folks: to understand this, google ‘Willis Konick’, and believe me when I tell you that nothing you read is exaggerated), had a sister living in my floor’s elevator cluster. Paul Sicuro was bright, personable, and was destined to start under center for the Huskies in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1985. He is now an oncologist, and I suspect a very good one.

Now, the old man loved college football. His viewpoints on it were dogmatic and Big 8-biased, but he watched it all day every Saturday in fall. My mother still hates even the mention of the sport. I didn’t watch very often, but here we had a rare convergence of his ideas and mine. You see, my father was a Jayhawk who also liked Nebraska, and he hated Oklahoma Sooners football like I hate Oregon D*cks football. I’m fond of saying that if the University of Pyongyang showed up to play Oregon, I’d be out there holding up a big picture of the Dear Leader, chanting communist slogans in Korean. Well, if there were a school titled the New York Atheist University Fighting Evolutionists, and they showed up to play the Sooners, my father would have been out there waving a copy of Origin of Species. Knowing him, he would have been drawing vocal and unflattering inferences with regard to the covered wagon opposition and the lower rungs of the evolutionary ladder.

I have enough friends from Oklahoma not to feel quite as strongly about this as my father, but I certainly didn’t mind it. For my part, I was a Husky of Kansan origin, and this was the Orange Bowl, and it was obvious which team I would support. Our interests and opinions were aligned if not identical, a rare arrangement indeed.

The game didn’t begin too well for my Dawgs. Switzer had a good football team in Norman, with stud defenders like Tony Casillas and Brian Bosworth (who failed in the pros but was a force of nature in college ball). My man Sicuro didn’t have his best game. Three quarters in, with the score tied, Oklahoma lined up for a chip shot field goal to take the lead. Their kicker made it, but the referees called the play back for illegal procedure. Another try, right, but surely a 27-yarder isn’t much harder than a 22-yarder? Might even be easier, depending on the location of the ball between the hash marks? Then as now, no Division I-A kicker considers 30 yards or less to be a distance issue.

Ah, but…you see, the Oklahoma mascot is a Conestoga wagon maintained by a pep group, drawn by impressive horses and titled the ‘Sooner Schooner.’ Having not seen the penalty flag, the drivers brought it onto the field to celebrate. It got stuck in mud in front of the UW bench in a gesture that surely wasn’t meant as a deliberate middle finger, but looked like one to an observer. My father and I watched in disbelieving, unrestrained hilarity: did the Okies really just bring their covered wagon onto the football field in the Orange Bowl? Yes, they had.

Being killjoys, the officials didn’t think it was very funny. They tacked unsportsmanlike conduct onto the Sooners, and the former chip shot was now a 42-yarder. For longer field goals, a kicker will generally go for lower trajectory in search of distance. Oklahoma lined up to kick again, and Husky safety Tim Peoples blocked this attempt. My dad and I came unglued again. He was actually in tears of laughter, face the color of a brand new breast cancer ribbon, emitting his peculiar rutting-rhino laugh. (Imagine Arnold Horschack with real lungs.) It was hard to credit the TV evidence. Looking back, I still have a hard time believing it. I’m reading a retrospective news article from an authoritative source, and it’s still hard to believe what I saw.

The Huskies went on to win that game with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, as father and son broke out in periodic snickers, chuckles, giggles, and guffaws.

As I approach the age at which he died, I guess it’s natural to reflect on my father and compare. Too often, I think of the face frozen in ruddy and violent fury, the indifference he showed as I spiraled down to a very dark time in life, the oppressive religious fanaticism, and how much more I hated the man every time I saw the way he treated my mother (and us). Now and then, I think of one of the good moments. This was one.

Cosby allegations: breaking it down

The ‘Lancer doesn’t seek out too many polarizing social issues, but I think we’re about due for some societal self-honesty on this one. After watching a show in which about a dozen of the victims spoke their pieces, let’s make this simple.

First: some fifty women have come forward, telling tales similar enough to reveal a consistent drugging and assault modus operandi, distinct enough not to be copycat. Their messages are consistent and credible: it happened decades ago, no one would have believed me, I had no power. Okay. While I think we all agree two rapes are worse than one, and fifty are worse than forty-nine, the largest gap is between zero and one. One true account would be enough to render someone guilty, in moral fact if not in legal prosecution. Thus: you either believe that all fifty-plus stories are fabrications–not just most, but every last one–or you believe that at least one rape occurred, which would render the rapist a…well, a rapist. All of the stories I’ve heard sounded quite credible, whereas the notion that all of them are fabricated beggars believability. And even one would be quite bad enough, because one is far worse than zero. Zero is the only acceptable number of rapes.

Second: why is it hard for us to swallow? I’ll tell you why. Because Bill Cosby was very comforting and congenial to white America. I can’t speak for black America, but for us, the natural reaction was like that toward Shoeless Joe Jackson: “say it ain’t so!” We don’t want it to be true. Much shatters under its impact. It causes discomfort, plus embarrassment at a sense of having been sold a bill of goods. I put it to you this way: whatever discomfort it causes me, or any non-victim, pales before the discomfort suffered by a single victim. My discomfort is trivial. It wasn’t my trust that was shattered in person. It wasn’t my body that suffered violation. It wasn’t my psyche that spent decades trying to come to terms with sexual assault. Our system is criticized, and fairly, for kissing up to the victimizer and doing too little for the victim. I’m not going to play into that. Yes, the accusations have wrecked a once-adored legacy. They have not wrecked his personal fortune. Whatever discomfort he has suffered, which is far more than anything I have, likewise pales in comparison to that of a single victim. I’m going to reserve my compassion for the victims, and my respect for their choices to speak out.

Third: an accusation of sexual assault is a heinous thing. If false, well, I do not have the letters JD after my name, but I have a strong suspicion that an uttered false accusation falls into the category of ‘slander.’ If written, I believe it is called ‘libel.’ Either way, it might give rise to those words ‘irreparably damaged,’ involving such remedy as the law might allow. All right, suppose one is libeled, or slandered, or both. Suppose one also has unlimited wealth. If it were me, and the accusation were groundless calumny, and I could afford to buy justice, I’d sure as hell go to justice Costco and get a flatcart. I’d sue every last accuser for $10 plus a public retraction and apology, just to make the point that it wasn’t about crushing the accuser beyond the legal fees s/he incurred. (It would also seem to be far easier, goes the evil side of my mind, to persuade a jury to award that, and easier to collect than a large sum of money the individual did not have and I didn’t need.) With that much money, one could do such things. If the accusation were truly false, who would not seek one’s own vindicating day in court? My logic, again uninformed by study of the law but reasonably well informed by an understanding of tactical thought and dirty tricks, goes like this: the only reason I don’t go to court in that case is if I’m terrified of what would go on the record, and if I have some sense that the truth stated in open court would be the one thing I could do to make my situation worse. Better to depend upon the sound-bite attention span of the public, and wait for the media to order the public to care about fresher and more lurid stories.

That seems to have occurred.

One can add many arguments, and people already have, beginning with the one about what a false accuser would have to gain from exposing herself to all the public inquiry when the incidents in question are surely beyond the statutes of limitations. Many such arguments are valid, but none are needed. Based upon the foregoing alone, it makes no sense to disbelieve the women, the victims–the ones about whom we should care most. And if we believe them, they must be our priority. They deserve the support of honest men and women, but men in particular, because the number of male rapists dwarfs the number of female rapists. And if honest men want that to improve, we need to take our stand. It begins by choosing to believe victims’ statements, where our reason deems them credible. Anyone who doesn’t think that’s an important service to victims is welcome to find a victim and ask him or her if being believed (or disbelieved) makes a difference. You won’t have to ask two.

I’m not writing this for my friends who are survivors, because my viewpoint is no news to them. I’m writing this for people I may not know, who have never told a soul, who live with the pain in psychological jails they constructed to get them through life. They most need the support. And if the event didn’t actually happen, no one would build such a psychological jail and live within it. The descriptions of the impact ring true with those I have heard from others. The only reasonable conclusion is to believe them.

I’m not going to feel guilty for laughing at good comedy in the past, but I’ll just have to accept that good comedy doesn’t necessarily imply good character, nor does an acclaimed family sitcom.

I’m not laughing anymore.

I want to write pharmaceutical commercials

I do. Here’s my audition:

(Milfy actress watching little girls’ soccer practice) “In spite of regular exercise, a strict cruelty-free vegan diet of roots and bark, and the monthly superfruit output of two small South American countries, I kept putting on weight. I tried all the fad diets: Atkins, Paleo, Cretaceous, South Beach, North Beach; nothing helped. So, out of the blue, I asked my doctor about Addabitaflab.

“I’m still gaining weight, but at least I went the proper pharmaceutical route to putting on the pork. My doctor also got some green fees at Duckhook Lake, so it worked out for him too. And my husband is not only no longer using the word ‘dumpling’ with regard to me, but he’s starting to think about Addabitaflab himself.”

(Girl scores goal, actress and both teams come unglued)

(Deep neutral-accented voice at the cokey pace of Vanessa from Big Brother) “TalktoyourdoctorbeforestartingAddabitaflab. Womenwhoarepregnantormaybecomepregnant mustnevergetwithintwentyyardsofAddabitaflab. Possiblesideeffectsinclude depressionanxietyconstipationdiarrheanauseaheartattack strokecancerlupusrockymountainspottedfeverandchillblains. IfyouaretakingAddabitaflab and findyourselfwantingtoblowupaRiteAid, discontinueAddabitaflabimmediatelyandconsultyourphysician.”

Now I’ll just sit back and wait for Madison Avenue. Don’t jostle, please; it’s unbecoming. Please do not block the sidewalk or bug my neighbors. On second thought, you can bug one of them, but I’ll let you figure out which one by experimentation.

Print magazines: hunting down and alienating the remaining customer base

In these days of declining print subscription, you’d think that the print magazine business model would do its level best to make its remaining customers stick around. Wouldn’t you?

It’s stuff like this that makes me say to people: “When you are looking at organizations you think are surely more sophisticated and know things you don’t, and assuming you must be missing something because they could not possibly be this stupid, guess what. They could. They are. It’s not you. They are stupid.”

At last count, I take Mother Jones (a hellraiser mag that drew me in with its first subscription pitch, which used naughty words and seemed as independent as it got), mental_floss, PC Gamer, Smithsonian, Consumer Reports, Strategy & Tactics, and Modern War. Until recently, I took The Week. I also get the UW alumni magazines for free, but since they’re free, they don’t really count here. I’ll keep MoJo, CR, S&T, and MW. The rest, I’m done with.

Of course, all the mags hope that you will do all business through their websites, so most of them make their phone numbers kind of hard to find. They send out numerous resubscription and gift subscription offers, often in deceptive envelopes (“IMPORTANT INFORMATION ENCLOSED”, OR “IMMEDIATE PAYMENT DUE”), and one thing I notice is that they keep getting better at munging the printed date of your subscription’s expiration. On top of that, the issue date is typically a month and a half in the future. It all seems calculated to make you think your subscription is about to expire, when it probably isn’t. They’ll start shelling you with offers months before expiration, to the point where you forget whether you’ve actually renewed. There’s a good chance, if you weren’t paying too much attention, that they will get you to double-renew. That happened with The Week, and it annoyed me.

Rarely will the renewal pitch entertain you. While MAD went way downhill as the old guard retired, it had a great renewal pitch. “When you subscribed to MAD, you proved you had bad taste. Now it’s time to show that you don’t learn from your mistakes!” Mostly it’s false urgency, a lot of self-gratification, and firm assurances that the rate will never be lower. None of it rings as anything but Standard Marketing Crap.

If you plan to renew by credit card, get a fine point pen. It’ll take one to write all sixteen numbers in that tiny space. And if you renew saying Bill Me Later, some will get very grouchy when their bill arrives two days after your billpaying day, and they simply have to wait a month. Recently I tried writing to one Leslie Guarnieri, listed as the consumer marketing director at m_f, who had just sent me my ‘third notice’ (when I wasn’t even sure there’d been a renewal, and definitely hadn’t seen a first or second notice) worded in collection agency tones. I decided that if Ms. Guarnieri could allow her name to be signed to threats, she could take time to discuss them, so I attempted to call and speak with her. Not that I imagined I’d be able to; it was just a necessary prelude to a letter. m_f is supposed to be a brainy magazine, so I figured they could not be that stupid.

They are. By the way, Leslie’s name is on the notices for another mag I get. I forget which one, but since I’m not renewing that one either, I do not care. Anyway, I decided it was time to rattle Leslie’s cage a bit. Even looked her up to make sure I got the salutation right:


July 27, 2015

Ms. Leslie Guarnieri, Consumer Marketing Director, mental_floss Magazine

8051 Mayfield Rd, Chesterland, OH 44026

Re: threatening notice

Dear Ms. Guarnieri:

Please see the attached ‘3rd Notice’ threatening to discontinue my subscription. Since your name is ‘signed’ to it, with no evidence of falsification, I take it as coming from you.

I attempted to phone you, to discuss why you would send me a third notice when I had received neither a second nor a first notice, but the representative I spoke with could or would not assist me. I find that very bad business. You shouldn’t allow threats to be sent out under your name unless you’re willing to face the music for mistakes.

Many magazines send out subscription offers that imply that one’s subscription is nearly over, when in fact it remains good for another year and a half. For this reason, one cannot even take the leap of faith to assume that the USPS, by incredible coincidence, managed to misplace the first two notices. What is certain: I did not simply ignore a clearly labeled first or second invoice in proper form. I did not obtain a gleaming credit rating by being the deadbeat that a ‘3rd Notice’ implies, and I resent the notice’s implication.

That said, let’s put the cards on the table. Right now, I stand offended, and inclined to simply write ‘cancel’ on the ‘3rd Notice.’ I like the magazine, but it presents the pretense of higher intellect, with which this entire handling is inconsistent. Also, lately, I’m not so sure I’d miss the magazine. The paid print magazines can ill afford to lose subscribers from the dwindling number of literate Americans who still want to read a paper magazine, so it’s up to you to determine if or how it’s worthwhile to make this up to me.

According to your letter, by August 17 this all becomes moot. Too bad. If I’d received a normal invoice, I’d have paid without delay or complaint. I dug through my records and can’t even find where I sent in a resubscription request, but surely you would not just send invoices without first determining whether a client intended to renew. That would be unthinkably dishonest in a reputable business, so I am sure that did not occur. Thus, I take on faith that you have evidence on file that I ordered a renewal in the first place, and that the action has slipped my mind over a few months.

Your move.

J.K. Kelley


You don’t suppose I’ve heard back, do you?

The print magazine industry will not rest until it has hunted down every vestige of good business and kicked its ass, tracked down every remaining customer and invented some way to alienate him or her.

I’m done with it, for the most part. I don’t like it, but they worked at it, and hard work does pay off.

Grandma Kelley

Today, were she still with us, my paternal grandmother Clara Caroline would be celebrating her 113th birthday. She always said “Ah was born in nahn-teen two.” She spoke with the gentle drawl of the rural Flint Hills, her homeland.

I am very fond of Grandma Kelley’s memory, because she seems to have been the good gal among a number of bad people, and because she was pretty fond of me. Her only grandson, and first grandchild…well, I’d have had to be pretty awful to disappoint her.

My grandmother came from a typical, large, religiously grim Kansas German farming family. She spoke only German until she was seven. Clara grew into a somewhat awkward young lady, tall for her age. There is every reason to believe her father was abusive, and that at least some adult male in that family was molesting the girls, though I have never known either for sure. My family isn’t very forthright about past closet skeletons, on either side, nor has it ever been.

She married very late for her era, I believe in her early thirties, to a man who turned out to have a violent temper. I don’t know how abusive he was to her and my father, the only issue of the marriage, but I have trustworthy evidence that he (a hardscrabble laboring man) was brutal to horses he worked with. Based upon my father’s behavior as a husband and father, I’m betting that’s where he learned to be so dogmatic, emotionally abusive, and violent. In any case, my grandfather died when my father was about fifteen, and my grandmother became a widow. She never remarried. One suspects that she’d had enough of that type of life. She worked at cleaning and other laboring tasks, helped get my father through college, and was elated when I came along in her early sixties.

She often watched her grandchildren, and we enjoyed visiting her. After we moved to Colorado, then Washington, we saw less of her for a time, but when I was in junior high school, she came out to live with us. Grandma was in her seventies, and a bit forgetful. My mother would get frustrated with her, but I could understand that, because it’s not easy for any woman to have her mother-in-law living in the house. Even so, my mother saw that she was taken care of, and Grandma often took the senior citizens’ bus to town, where she could hang out with her peers. She had in effect a one-bedroom apartment in our enormous house, with a refrigerator and hot plate, and managed her own basic affairs.

During that time, I took as my duty to be the voice of the real world: a loud but loving teenage boy. I’d bang on her door, too loudly, and when invited in: “Howdy, Granny! How’s your day! Not those soap operas again, good lord!” I’d give her a big hug, visit with her a bit, and then see if somehow any interesting food items had materialized in her pantry since yesterday’s raid. They rarely had. In hindsight, I was very obnoxious and failed to show suitable deference, but I was one thing she got nowhere else. I was authentic in all things. Authentically opinionated, authentically selfish, but always authentically loving. I especially enjoyed when the senior citizens’ bus would drop her off with a couple of bags of groceries. The driver, a very kind fellow, would always offer to carry them in for her. I was having none of it. And on some level I knew that she was enjoying having her burly grandson insist that if her groceries were going to be carried, he’d be doing the carrying, where it would give her face before her peers.

Whenever I went back to college from vacation, she wept.

What she never really knew was that the chain was going to break here. I looked at my father’s behavior and swore to myself never to have a home that was emotionally or physically abusive. I also swore to kick his ass some day. Kept both commitments.

My grandmother’s hobby was quilting, and my word, did she quilt. Many of them came to me, artworks in cross-stitch. None of them were the fluffy batting duvet type; Grandma’s quilts were made of multiple bedsheets, and felt like sheet lead conforming to the body. I remember when Deb moved in with me and we were opening boxes after a move, and she opened a box of quilts.

“What the hell are these?” My wife doesn’t use her inside voice when she is animated.

“They are quilts, dear. You know what quilts are?”

“Of course I know what they are! These are beautiful! What the hell are they doing in a box?”

“Well, I wasn’t using them, so…”

“You dork! People pay hundreds of dollars for quilts that aren’t as good as these! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I never thought of it. I mean, doesn’t everyone have quilts? I thought all grandmothers were biologically compelled to quilt.”

“NO! They aren’t! Take these to the washing machine, they smell like mothballs. We’re going to put them on our bed!”

“Good idea, dear. They are good quilts.”

At that point, I think, my future wife realized there was nothing useful to say to such a slow-witted fiancé, who would have to be guided carefully through life lest his clearly impaired judgment of value lead him to commit further errors.

We are still using the quilts. When the stager for our Boise house, whose job it is to tell homeowners that their decor sucks, took a look around the master bedroom, her eyes fell upon my grandma’s state flowers quilt. “That stays,” she said. “That makes this whole room feel homey.”

Yes, ma’am. Reckon so.

My grandmother passed away on December 9, 1988. I was two years out of college. While I suspect she was very bright, and I know for sure she was quite creative else how did all those quilts happen, I knew her as a very quiet, simple, loving, unobtrusively religious Kansas German farm woman. And she would pardon my numerous shortcomings, because every day, I stopped by to sit with her a bit and hug her and tell her I loved her.

Such is grandmotherhood.

She would have loved Deb, but she would love best that her grandson and his bride, in a home of peace and kindness, take their rest at night covered in the artworks she assembled with those veiny, calcium-deposited hands, ignoring her increasing arthritic pain to create functional beauty.

I miss her. She was a great lady.

Cleaning eave-troughs at two in the morning

Years ago, I learned the fine art and essential wisdom of clean eave-troughs (some of you call them gutters) from my grandfather. Grandpa farmed and ranched in Kansas for a good percentage of his life, in some fashion or another. Every time I came back for a visit–always understood to be a working visit, in which I would assist him with whatever project came to hand–one of my first jobs would be to clean the eave-troughs. Always on the farmhouse, a sprawling limestone building that has to be 4000 ft² or more with a Shakey’s roof shape that means eave-troughs 360º, and often on two of the three enormous stone barns. (The third lost a roof long ago, I believe to a tornado, and thus no longer needed my assistance.)

Eave-troughs have been part of my life all through adulthood, even before I was a homeowner. The only ex-girlfriend I make an effort to stay in touch with, on my first visit, I had volunteered to tackle her house’s eave-troughs. This was in Seattle, and it poured that day. Of course, she made protestations that I didn’t really need to do it. Of course, being a young male, I was going to do it hell or high water. The metaphor never fit quite so well. It was a Midwestern thing; she was an Oklahoma native, I was a Kansas man, and she knew that I had to do it for my own sense of rugged pride and promises kept. Some would say I was an idiot. Others would understand, and think it meritorious to keep a commitment and assist a nice lady. It sparked a relationship with the nice lady, one that would teach me a great deal about good ways to help my future wife when I met her.

One day, should we ever make it to Hawai’i, my beautiful bride has many reasons to thank this lady. And being the class act that she is, my wife will do so.

Thus, in Kennewick, I took one look at our first home’s ludicrous eave-troughs and ordered them replaced. Unfortunately, I hired a professional contractor, who promptly sent out a disgruntled employee on the verge of quitting his job. He didn’t even screw the corner pieces together. The foreman treated me like a liar on the phone, at least until he finally came out under legal threat. That was my first experience with contractors, and it gave me an idea of what to expect from there on out.

Never needed them much in Boise, but when we moved back to the wet side, one of my first surveys of the home I’d just bought was of the eave-trough situation. (Yes. I signed on a house I had only seen in pictures. My wife had chosen it, and in married life, it’s one thing to talk a good game about trust and respect; quite another to lay those cards on the table and gamble six figures. If you refuse to trust your spouse with a major decision, it’s my opinion that you’ve got a problem.) They looked rock solid, but filthy, so I borrowed a ladder from a neighbor and cleaned them out. Thought I’d taken care of the problem for the near future.

Then it didn’t rain in Portland for two months. I dawdled buying a ladder, mostly out of a silly reluctance to cough up money that I knew without doubt I would need to spend before long. This very day, so happens, I broke down and bought one. Good thing.

Friday night was windy, and a lot of pine needles had come down. This evening, Portland began to return to its normal weather pattern: steady intermittent rain. Since I had cleaned the eave-troughs earlier, I remained serene.

Around 1:45 AM, I was taking my ease in the library, reading a library book (not one of mine), contemplating going to bed. I heard a mighty pouring sound. Exactly as tradition requires, I swore before getting up to survey the situation. At the midpoint, the eave-trough was blocked enough to overflow. I could see enough needles sticking up in the cloudy moonlight to grasp the problem.

I said some more bad words, then went in to wake Deb up. Nothing would freak her out like awakening to the splucking sound of wads of eave-trough crud hitting the patio outside her window; better to wake her now and explain than to scare the hell out of her. (That, and I didn’t want her coming out with her Gurkha knife to investigate me. Deb is Alaskan, and more prone to handle her business than to call 911 and cower.) Bless her, she offered to help, but that wasn’t needed. No reason for both of our lives to be unpleasant.

So: jacket (where the hell did we put it?), tuque, shoes, brand new ladder, eave-trough tool I’d bought, flashlight, and out I go. Of course, the clog is where the hot tub will not permit me to put the ladder, so I will need the reach of the tool. It’s pouring, I’m up on the ladder in my summer attire plus jacket and tuque, and every time I grab a spiny handful of muddy pine needles, I slosh about a pint of water onto myself. In the dark, not so enjoyable, but the nice thing about getting wet is that once you are soaked, you can’t get any more soaked. I used the tool to drag a clog of needles toward me, dug them out, threw them wherever, and repeated until one section was clear. Then I moved the ladder and repeated, working my way toward the downspout. It was clogtacular. It wouldn’t be worth writing about if it’d been daylight, but 2:00 AM in the rain is not when most of us experience a sudden impulse to set up a ladder and begin eave-trough maintenance.

The only sound sweeter than free-flowing water into the storm drains was the pouring of Laphroaig into my favorite whisky glass. One drop of tap water, as is traditional, and a return to my calm reading. Then I decided you folks would find most amusing the image of a fat balding middle-aged guy up on a ladder in the rain at 2 AM being uncomfortable, and decided to write while I rewarded myself with a snort of single-malt.

Good night, folks.

J.K. 3, Flies 1

Even if it was an own goal.

For some reason, and in some way, flies are getting into our house. I hate flies. The aperture, wherever it is, must be very small, because there are enormous fat blowflies out of doors, but only the dinky ones inside. Those, of course, are harder to kill.

Most of the conventional weapons aren’t very good. The standard flyswatter gets gross, and can’t be swung against some surfaces. We have one of those electric badminton racket swatters, which is all but pointless. I bought some fly traps that are supposed to drown the little scumbags, and all I’m getting for my trouble is the rotting-corpse bouquet of the attractant. Charming.

(This is as good a time as any to remind all writers that it’s never okay to write “the sickly sweet stench of death.” There is nothing sweet about it. Go find a dead deer, inhale until you get the full decompository pleasure, and tell me how sweet it is. I’ll wait. Every writer who uses that description drops in my estimation.)

My favorite anti-fly weapon is good reflexes combined with a short towel. You know, the kind everyone has some of, but that are useless for everything else. Double up the towel, swing it randomly at the fly to tire it out, wait until it lands in a place where it’s safe to hit, and swooomp. Wall, ceiling, mirror, some windows, cabinet, all okay. Even if you whiff, you’ll agitate it, it’ll have to rest again, and eventually you’ll destroy the little vermin.

Or yourself.

Since the motion is from the elbow, a couple times I’ve felt a version of the pain I used to get from throwing too many sliders (or one screwball). Other than that, I’m mostly delivering the damage. Until today.

One of them was in our guest bathroom, and my swooomplust kicked into gear. You little bastard, you do not leave this room alive, I thought, taking a few swipes at the fly to get him worked up. (Call me a fly chauvinist pig, but I have a hard time seeing flies as female.) True to form, he soon alit on the mirror above the sink. He was in my sight picture.


I felt a sudden pain, as if punched in the lower stomach. Well, and another pain one further down. I missed the fly, but got myself a direct hit in the groin. Men don’t need an explanation of this. For women: the deep, sudden testicular ache is bad enough, but worse is the immediate pain in the guts. I didn’t even hit myself terribly hard, and it was almost enough to double me over. If I’d swung much harder, I’d have thrown up (that’s the next level). To envision the pain, imagine the worst gas pain you’ve ever had. Same feeling, same general region. It takes a couple of minutes to fade.

(This would seem to support the conventional wisdom that a good self-defense strategy involves a kinetic energy blow to the nuts. I don’t want to support that, because I believe it’s wrong. The problem with going for those is that you have to hit just right, and if you do not, you deliver your adversary a powerful adrenaline rush without harming him. Nope, I’m a believer in knee hunting as a self-defense mechanism. Impair the attacker’s mobility, and you now control the range of engagement. Plus, if someone is attacking you, breaking his knee sideways will cause him enormous pain, and since he’s attacking you, he deserves enormous pain.)

This was the first time in years I’d taken a direct hit there, and man, I’d forgotten how debilitating that was. So I guess that has to count as a score for the flies, even if it eventually cost that one his life.

Stupid flies.


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