Thursday, December 15, 2011

The VCR robot

So in general I tend to start ridiculous projects thinking, "This is going to be easy." I've embarked on too many of these wild goose chases to count. I suppose you have to dream. Anyway, most of the time the ultimate goal is to teach my kids something interesting. Usually it just turns into a massive hole into which my time gets sucked. The kids wander off and I'm left tinkering with stuff I have no business doing because so many other things are waiting to be done. But I can't stop, because ... I ... am ... stupid. Here is one such example. The antiquated VCR broke, so we decided to make a robot out of it. Check out the video below. It is less of a robot and more of a mechanical aberration.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cremation: Not a bad way to be laid to rest: Part I

So, like I said last week, my father-in-law died two hours before we landed in Osaka. Someone came to the airport to get us and whisked us directly to the hospital. He still lay in the bed when we arrived. In general I can be pretty insensitive. I tend to use the excuse of being an engineer and therefore having no social graces as a cover for this. Refer to this statement as you get irritated later on.

Anyway, so when people say someone looks so peaceful in death, I usually think they're full of crap. The person who's dead looks dead, the spirit's gone and no one's home. I suppose we get attached to these bodies. It's only natural, right? But, it is so clear to me when looking at the dead that what remains is just a vehicle that I find the things we tell ourselves to be asinine. I believe the spirit moves on, leaving the broke down 1975 Gremlin of our bodies on earth. This has to be more important than anything else.

My father-in-law looked worse than most. He lost a ten year battle with liver cancer and exploited every possible course of action to prolong his life. "He looks so peaceful," the pastor said. Uh, no he didn't. Japanese custom is for the body to come home and spend one final night sleeping in their own bed. The event serves in a similar manner to a viewing at a funeral in the US. So my wife, my youngest boy and I slept upstairs that night with the body downstairs. They packed dry ice around the body's mid section (to slow decomposition, I guess). My engineering mind immediately started doing thermodynamic calculations, it wasn't pretty.

The next day we accompanied the body to the crematorium. It is rather convenient for the crematorium to be part of the city dump as will later be explained. The body was at this point in a coffin and the whole thing slid into the oven and the door locked. My wife pushed the arm button and then the activate button. You could hear the mechanism inside ramping up in response. We left and then came back an hour later.

Now, I really had no idea of what to expect at the next stage of the process. I know I have sounded calloused and cruel in the descriptions up to this point. I've done this intentionally, because, well... that is really what I think and I'm not sugar coating it. But also because it puts into stark contrast the emotions the next step   elicited in me. It was one of the most spiritually impressive moments of my life. Come back tomorrow to hear about it.

What are your thoughts about public viewings of the dead. How does it make you feel?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The International Date Line: Your Assport to Jetlag

Think the title doesn't make any sense? I don't care. I've been up 30 hours straight, flying with a six month old back from Japan. You get on the airplane at 6:00 pm then spend the next 12 hours of your life sealed in a tin can in the middle of the night. And I for one would find it easier to sleep through a stampeding herd of elephants than on one of those airplane seats.

My father-in-law died two hours before we touched down two weeks ago. We rushed to the hospital and spent some time with his body. He didn't get to see his last grandchild with his worldly eyes before he died. It still rankles me, but I think he's looking down on us, watching over our kids. Some pretty amazing things happened to us in Japan. The stories will have to wait. I'm just too damn tired. Apparently they do Christmas in Japan, but it's even more annoying than it is in the U.S. I know, it's hard to imagine.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Crack of the Bat: Part IV

This is continued from the previous post.

The next day we all went to the hospital.

“Hello, Oto-san,” my wife said, “ how are you today?”

“Good, good.” He then turned to me. “Shane, genki des ka?” How are you?

“I’m good, Oto-san,” I said in English. I know some Japanese, but not enough to converse confidently.  Despite his harsh ways, my wife’s father always treated me as though I were his son and not a son-in-law. “I have something for you.”

My wife translated and he looked at me with anticipation. I pulled a thin book from behind my back and handed it to him. He brushed some of the dirty on top away and some of the blue cover went with it.

Shigekazu froze. His breathing stopped, and except for a slight quivering of his hand, he was a statue. Then slowly he turned the pages.

“Sore wa,” this is, “sore wa,” he said. “This is my high school year book. I didn’t know we still had this,” he finished in Japanese. He turned the fragile pages like they were sheets out of a prized text. “This is me,” he pointed.

We all looked at the photo and then at my oldest son. They looked the same.

He turned more pages. “This is me,” he said. He pointed to a group of boys holding baseball gloves and bats. “I was president of the athletic club at school. This was my friend,” he pointed at a boy on the left. The pages continued to turn and he talked of his childhood in Gobo, a small fishing village, and his love of baseball.


A week ago I talked to my father-in-law on the phone. We hope when we get to Japan he’ll still be alive, but the doctor’s don’t think so. We have a new baby he’s never seen.

“Oto-san,” I said to him in broken Japanese, “I love you. Try hard. We’re coming.”

He didn’t say anything, but I could feel emotion weighing down the silence between us. I handed the phone back to my wife. She spoke for a few seconds before turning back to me.

“He said he wants to see you one last time,” she said.


As I write this I'm still in America, but I’ll have been there several days to a week when you read this. Pray for us, that all goes as well as can be expected.

This concludes the Crack of the Bat series.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Crack of the Bat: Part III

This story is continued from the previous day's post.

My wife and I sat in the kitchen of her childhood. The house around us could have fit into our garage back home. Dust blanketed everything above my mother-in-law’s reach to clean, which was a lot. At eighty four and under five feet tall, it was a wonder she kept the house tidy at all. Stacks of magazines reached from floor to ceiling in the halls and around the kitchen. Canned goods with expiration dates from twenty years ago sat under the table. Painting supplies populated random areas; piled on the chair, sitting in the refrigerator, obscuring the television. With three kids, 10 and under, it was an avalanche waiting to happen.

“What do we do?” my wife asked me.

“We roll up our sleeves and we clean,” I replied.

“There’s just so much.” She looked dazed.

Weeks of cleaning followed. We went to the dump tens of times. We had heated arguments over dilapidated furniture and moth eaten clothes that hadn’t been worn by my wife’s mother in thirty years. We accidently threw away a thousand dollars and my in-laws bank books randomly hidden in an old newspaper. And, the whole time my father-in-law was in the hospital. We made the trek daily from Iwade to the capital of Wakayama prefecture, Wakayama City. Shigekazu would be glad to see us, but tired easily of the kid’s energy. When one of them got a cold, he asked us not to come anymore, because he didn’t want to get sick. It might be understandable now as I look back, but after traveling across the world to see him, it seemed odd at the time.

I transitioned to cleaning the yard when the house started to get into shape. A jungle of roses outgrew their borders beautifully. The house had structures on either side, but to the front and back are large rice paddies. Dragon flies flitted through the new green rice blades, while frogs made a deafening chorus at night. Iwade is considered a rural community, even if the population is half a million. That is Japan for you in a nutshell.

Cicadas chirped incessantly as I approached the one thing I had dreaded since arriving. A large shed, fifteen feet by fifteen feet, sat like a demon in the back yard. When the floor had been completely covered decades ago, Shigekazu laid two-by-fours over that junk and created a new level. This had continued until the space was bulging from floor to ceiling, but the time had come to clean it.

Throwing out their bank books and money had traumatized me. I went through the storage shed as though every item might contain a treasure. It was painstaking work and disgusting, to be frank. The roof had leaked and bizarre bugs made it their home. My in-law’s nephew worked at a soap factory and so they had boxes of laundry detergent that looked centuries old, the leaking roof turning some into indistinguishable masses of gelatinous goo. Containers of moth eaten books came out of the shed, and then I found it, pure treasure; a treasure worth more than the bounty Ieyasu would have offered to unify Japan without war. It was something that might make all the work worth it; something that might give a dying man solace.

The next day we all went to the hospital.

This story is continued in tomorrow's post.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Crack of the Bat: Part II

This is continued from the previous day's post.
Years later a man probed the inside of a grand piano, center stage at an empty concert hall. There hadn’t been many days in which Shigekazu hadn’t looked back, and wished he’d nodded to the slow ball, or the slider. But, this day he hadn’t thought of baseball once.

“The piano tuning must be perfect, Shigekazu-san.” The concert violinist admonished. “This piece is like a love song between the violin and the piano, neh?” Her lithe fingers played in the air to emphasize the words.

“Of course, I’m almost finished.” Shigekazu smiled at the violinist’s analogy. His fingers glided over the strings. He didn’t use tuning forks. He didn’t use electrical devices. He tuned by what his ear told him. He felt the vibration of the sound board in his bones, through the air, as it circulated through the ground. It was why he had been called down to Wakayama for the special appearance of the national virtuoso.

After a slight tweak, Shigekazu slid free. “There. It is finished.”

“Let us see,” the violinist countered. “Hachiro, come and play with me. The concert is in less than an hour.”

A thin man deposited himself at the piano and began playing an evocative melody. The violinist retrieved her instrument and immediately fell into a trance of concentration. Her bow slid across the strings and the voices of angels filled the hall. Shigekazu listened, and consumed the performance as though it were just for him.

They finished and the women opened glistening eyes. “Arigato gozaimasu, Shigekazu-san. Arigato gozaimasu,” thank you, thank you. “It is perfect, absolutely perfect.”

“Doitashimashite,” Shigekazu replied. It would be the one thing he would remember above all others in his life. He packed up his piano tuning tools and went back to the small town of Iwade where he lived with his wife. They had no children at the time, even though they were in their mid-forties.

It was a few years later when his wife unexpectedly became pregnant with a child, a little girl. For what reason we are left to guess, but he enjoyed beer, sake’ and the bars in Osaka. He wasn’t home often and left his wife and child to often wonder when he might be home. The girl they sent to America to study at the age of fifteen. She stayed there, went to an American university and met an American boy she married. I was this boy, almost twelve years ago. A couple years after my marriage to his daughter, Shigekazu was diagnosed with liver cancer, a common ailment of people with Hepatitis C who also have a propensity for drinking. The doctors treating him exploited every possible surgery and natural remedy to extend his life. Last year he became a permanent resident at the hospital by all common measures. My wife and I took our family to Japan to see him in the heat of the 2010 summer.  It was not a vacation.

This story will be continued in tomorrow's post.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Crack of the Bat: Part I

Okay, so Elisa has asked us to open up a vein and spill blood for this blogfest, the one promoting the launch of her book, The Golden Sky. She said something about sharing a story of loss I think it was. If that’s what she wants then let’s go.

I may have already mentioned in a previous post that I am currently in Japan. My loss hasn’t happened yet, but it is imminent, like a boulder teetering on the edge of a cliff. I am in the land of the rising sun for this reason exactly. I get ahead of myself though. Let’s go back to a different time, to a different place, where a young Japanese man eats breakfast with his family.


“Shigekazu, when is your first minor league baseball game?” his mother asked and ladled a second helping of Ojiya, rice soup, into his bowl. The other three kids eyed the helping with hunger. It had always been the same. Their oldest brother, and the most successful among them, received special privileges.

“Tomorrow, Oka-san.” Shigekazu told his mother with respect. He slurped the soup, not giving the disproportionate size of his bowl a second thought.

“Will your sponsor from Yamaha Piano be there?” she continued.

“Yes, Oka-san.”

“What is your stipend again?” she rhetorically asked and eyed the other children.

“Issen yen per month.”

“Wonderful, just wonderful,” she crooned. The family finished breakfast in silence and Shigekazu headed out for the junior college.


A roar of local support funneled down onto the diamond, circled around the bases and emboldened the pitcher on the mound. Shigekazu rubbed the ball with his hands and contemplated the pitch he would throw. The batter dug his back foot in at the plate. His bat swung lazily in the strike zone, his eyes probing his adversary for any sign of predictive body language.

Shigekazu held the ball behind his back and eyed the batter. The catcher signaled for a slow ball, but Shigekazu shrugged it off. The pitcher already knew what he wanted to throw. He wouldn’t strike out the league’s best batter with guile; he would do it with flaming speed. The catcher called for a slider, and the recommendation was shrugged off again. The third base coach groaned. This kid on the mound had a mind of his own. The catcher flashed his fingers for a fast ball and Shigekazu nodded.

The human cannon went into the wind up like a coiling snake. His chorded arm twisted at an irregular angle behind his back and then catapulted forward. The ball launched from the fingers gripping the curling seam like blasting caps. The batter grinned, he had anticipated the pitch.  The bat came around and contacted the ball like a sledgehammer. The Shinto gods wailed as the energy drove the ball away from the bat and directly at the mound.

There was no time to react, Shigekazu still rocked forward in his follow through as the ball struck him in the face, on the nose. Blood splashed to the ground and the pitcher flew back as though his life had been ripped from his body. The coach ran to the mound with a bucket and propped up his star player. Blood filled the vessel from Shigekazu’s nose. His mother wailed in the stands in grief. Her son’s career as a baseball player was over. He would need a blood transfusion because of the accident. Health policies in Japan were not what they should have been during this time and he contracted Hepatitis C from the contaminated blood he received.


Come back tomorrow for the continued story.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Fatal Heart

I'm in Japan, and my business here leaves me in a foul mood.

Do you ever feel something so strongly your heart swells in your chest, your sides bulge out, choking your breath? Do you fell the hurricane twisting inside, barely contained, seeking release? It rages. It roars, the unfettered beast.  Do you lock yourself in closets, proofed against sound and then yell yourself horse when no one's around?

Sometimes, I admit, I feel like this. Not always, but sometimes. Unfortunately for you, when I do, I write stuff like the following.

This not part of the Middle Damned book, but I imagine it is the beginning of an ancillary tale to be told there.

The hate rose from his pores like the stench of garlic the day after an all-you-can-eat scampi buffet. The smell impregnated the walls, saturated the polished concrete floor, frosted the solitary mirror on the wall. He hated and woke to the reality of a frail human body, incapable of being loved. The textured ceiling swirled with dim shadows cast by the nightlight he kept in the room. His mind created faces in the contrasting light and uneven surface. They mocked him. His soul descended the last degree into his body and he smelled the sweat beaded on his brow, the urine on his pants, the feces squeezing between his buttocks and the metal dentist's chair he sat in. It was always the same after a night in the Spirit Slip. Although only tenuously tied to the physical form while on the spiritual plane, the body reacted violently to the power expended there. The well used porcelain tub in the corner would be the receptacle of the waste. A hose would wash down the chair and then he'd squeegee the remnants down a drain.

A loud bang sounded on the double-dead-bolted door to the room. "Dad, what're you doingaaa?" a girl's voice bled with an incredulous inflection, "I'm going to be late for school. Dad, I have to go in early today. Remember?" his daughter Iris called.

A juicy, sucking sound annoyed him as he peeled away from the chair and he reminded himself. It's just another day.

The ritual cleansing brought a measure of comfort even though conducted in a rush. He almost felt like he belonged in the body by the end, but not quite. He opened the metal door and faced his daughter, who must have nearly had her nose pressed against the panel when it was shut. An open mouthed scowl destroyed her usually beautiful face, and he observed her tongue fidgeting with an upper molar angrily. He couldn't help it, she made him smile. He saw his little girl, regardless of the layered goth makeup around her eyes.

"Good, morning Iris," he said cheerfully.

"Good morning? Ugh." She stomped away. "I'll be in the car."

Dent Jolman followed his daughter, but stopped in the living room. The big picture window admitted a bounty of light. That was where the demon had entered to feed off of Iris in the Spirit Slip. For the demons, windows were the only way in or out. How he had managed to leave the drapes open before going to 'bed' in the safe room was a mystery. Maybe Iris opened them during the night, but why would she do that? Either way, the oversight had nearly been fatal for both of them. The car horn blared loudly, reminding him where he was going. He left the house and brought a very grumpy Iris to school.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Boss From Hell: Part II

Continued from yesterday.

The Boss From Hell

"Don't - say - 'I'," The Boss slowly enunciated. "You haven't thought of anything. You only do what you do because I first told you to do it. I told you to model the system. I told you to run the simulation."

My mind raced to understand the social ramifications of these comments in front of the senior staff. Accusing eyes stabbed from all around. "Well... When, we," I stumbled over the word, "ran the simulation, the benefits of controlling the torque evaporated in the extra energy required to change the gear ratio."

"What do you mean 'we'?" The Boss asked.

This was bad. "You just said..."

"I didn't come to that conclusion. Did anyone here come to that conclusion?" The Boss rotated his white haired head like a vulture looking for fresh meat.

"I'm just saying that the simulation indicated the power balance is negative and-" I flubbed again.

"What did we say?" The Boss cut off my words, and shook his head as if correcting a recalcitrant child.

"When the simulation finished, the post processing algorithm indicated a negative result," I said, avoiding personal pronouns entirely.

"Then what did you do?" He baited me.

"The data yielded an interesting perspective and then you came into my office," I told him.

"Who gave you the right to draw such volatile conclusions?" his face reddened.

"The data did." I challenged.

"The data is not in control," a vein throbbed in his forehead.

"No, physics is in control," I whispered load enough for all to here.

"NO! I am in control," he yelled and struck the table with a fist.

The rest of the meeting preceded in a similar manner, and I learned I was nothing to the man. I was a tool, a dog to be slapped down if I dared bare my teeth. I elaborated on the findings, describing the data, or the keyboard ,or physics itself as if they were Greek Gods announcing truths from on high. It infuriated him, but I didn't get fired. I don't know why. I suppose he preferred no one get credit rather than share it with someone else.

The story is a fitting analogy for the vast majority of us in the American Middle Class. Sometimes I feel stuck here, like it were a prison or something. The american ideal seems to be to breach the gap and become one of the financial elite. It is ingrained in us that every american has the opportunity to do great things, if only you are willing to work hard. I still believe this is true to a certain degree. On the other hard, it is harder to do so. And yet another part of me wonders what being in such vapid company as the ultra rich would really feel like. Bankers producing no physical products, real estate speculators owning nothing but the sale, Hedge Fund Managers betting against the economy as the markets dive? It is not appealing and I have resigned myself to the inevitable, to the ranks of the Middle Damned, a vanishing breed.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Boss From Hell

So, what the hell is the Middle Damned blog? In the end it's just a lame attempt to promote a book I'm writing. And what is that book's name? Why, it's the "Middle Damned". But, at a deeper level there lurks a deeper meaning, as is true in the book as well.

My boss stalked the halls of the office, patrolling, his radar set to detect disparaging remarks. He whistled, like the preacher from Poltergeist, an off key drone strategically putting those in range on edge. At one time a brilliant engineer, his greatest asset was now the power of manipulation. Cultivated over a forty year career of dealing with government bureaucracy and greedy investment capitolists, he would get your mother to feed you to the lions on a dare.

I hadn't been with this particular division of the company long. I'd transferred from Tucson, up to Salt Lake City in order to be closer to family. Changing jogs is an adjustment, but this turned out to be something else entirely. I'd always prided myself on being honest, regardless of the risk. This attitude had worked well in my previous position, and suited my personality, but as I was learning, some people don't want to hear the truth.

My boss, The Boss, looked for the grand invention to enshrine his memory into the annals of history. The Boss searched for this one ephemeral thing, in the twilight of life. He'd already accomplished amazing things from a business perspective, but he wanted more, believed of himself better.

We worked toward developing an infinitely variable gear ratio. In essence, when given an input power this device would transform the output into any desired torque or force desired. It's a bit like saying you want to build a perpetual motion machine, but he believed. I had been tasked with developing and testing in the computer the physics of the invention.

One day the dissonant whistle approached from down the hall. The Boss walked into my office.

"What's the simulation saying today?" The Boss asked.

"That physics won't be denied," I replied enigmatically.

"How do you mean?"

"Well, you can't get something for nothing. The power required to change the gear ratio basically wipes out any advantage of varying the output torque," I tried cautiously.

The Boss turned beat red. "Bring your results to the conference room so we an peer review the results," and he walked out of the room.

It was going to be bad, the stench of ire circling in his wake told me as much. I uploaded my simulation to the company repository and headed to the conference room. It had only been a few minutes, but The Boss had already assembled every senior engineer in the building. PhDs and thirty-year-veterens inspected me with pity as I walked in. I took the only seat left, across from The Boss.

"Okay Shane, so you think there's something wrong with my idea?" The Boss began.

"Well, when I ran the simulation it-"

"Wait," The Boss interrupted, "don't say 'I'."

"Okay... I, umm, aah, don't understand what you mean."

I started to panic. The meeting felt like a witch hunt or something where someone ended up tarred and feathered at the end. Come back tomorrow to see how things turned out.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Siamese Twins

It would seem the blog war has escalated and Elisa now has a lieutenant to lob verbal bombs for her, Melynda, going under the moniker Craziness Abounds of the blog

Crazy world

 You may have noticed that Craziness Abounds has another blog where she describes how she lost 110 lbs.

How I lost 110 pounds

And of course there is Elisa's mammoth-success of a blog.

What she has failed to mention in this blog is that the 110 lbs she lost was actually her conjoined twin. And, you guessed it, her twin is Elisa. I didn't want to pull these out, but here are some little known pictures of the two of them before the operation to separate them in Taiwan.

There really is a reason why Elisa and Melynda are the butt of all the jokes.

They've preserved their looks rather well, don't you think? Is that a penis?!

My! What a long tongue Melynda has. (snicker)

Relaxing in the waiting room in Taiwan, before being separated. It was a happy-sad day.

And of course, in their youth on the farm.

I debated whether or not to put this one in. After all, everyone should be allowed to make the mistake of posing for a racy Siamese Twins calendar during their college years.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Total Prankonic Reversal: Part 3

This post concludes the Total Prankonic Reversal series.

Total Prankonic Reversal: Part 1

Total Prankonic Reversal: Part 2

I had had grand aspirations of deluding Elisa into thinking she had car problems with the two-way radio in her van. This went over like a lead balloon. I almost quit then, I almost packed it in and called off the rest. I'm glad I didn't, then I wouldn't have known I'd already pranked myself something terrible.

"Hi, mom," I said through the cell phone. "Are you ready to do this?"

"Yeah, but I'm a little nervous," she said.

"No worries. You go in, plant the radios and then give me a signal at the front picture window. I'll start making noises after that. Try and get something on your camera's video," I instructed her.

"Okay, I'll see you after it's over. Bye."


The overhead lighting glared accusingly from above the freeway as my phone rang. "Hello?" I answered.

"Hi Shane," Elisa said. "That was pretty funny."

"Yeah, you knew right away though."

"True, but I was afraid to look under the seat. But hey, I was wondering. So, the whole thing today, it was just a ruse to get the walkie-talkie into my van."

"Well, no, not exactly." I deprecated. I choked, unsure what to say.

"Anyway, that was a good one. I'll talk to you later, Okay?"


When I arrived at Elisa's house I parked down a cross street where I could see the front picture window. My mother's car had pulled into the driveway a minute before. She'd walked into the house, glancing furtively from side to side, looking guilty as hell. A couple more minutes passed and my mother, the master of subtlety, walked in front of the window and practically starting doing jumping jacks. Her hands waved through the air like she were doing the backstroke across the room. It was the most conspicuous sign I'd ever seen.

"What the heck is she doing?" I chuckled.

I decided to wait another 10 minutes to throw Elisa off the scent, but apparently mom had something else in mind. She was back and gesturing out the window in a fit of epilepsy.

"Oh great googly moogly," I groaned and dialed my mom's phone number.

"Hellooo." She answered sweetly. "Do it now. Do it now." She continued in an emphatic whisper. "Oh no, Cade's found one of the radios. Do it now!" she practically yelled.

I hung up the phone and started mooing over the radio. In the house my mom says Cade and Elisa frantically searched for the one remaining radio. The radio in my hand crackled to life, but not with my bovine serenade. Cade squealed in response to my mooing, like a pig wallowing in cow turd. The prank was over, or so I thought. I drove the half block to Elisa's house from my look out point.

Elisa stood in the driveway, her hand on a jauntily cocked hip. "I couldn't figure out what in the heck was going on. It smelled like mom was trying to prank me, but I couldn't figure out why. Mom said she was in the neighborhood and wanted to come over to visit, but then said she was half an hour away."

I smiled at our mom as she came down the entry stairs. "Yeah, she's a sly one."

Elisa turned to her, "So you didn't really come over to visit, huh?"

It was then I noticed Elisa 's eyes had that tired, red look after having just cried. It was then I realized I had just pranked myself worse than I had ever hoped to get Elisa.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Total Prankonic Reversal: Part 2

So continues the story of my failed prank execution as first described yesterday.

Total Prankonic Reversal: Part 1

All of our kids, Elisa's, Julie's and mine had been at a church sleep over the night before. Julie picked them up in the morning and Elisa and I met at her house to get our kids. This is the background on which phase one of the prank began.

"I am so excited to see your thesis." I heard Elisa gush to Julie.

"Thanks for coming." Julie said from inside the den.

I went outside and approached the van like a kid from The Outsiders. It sat unsuspecting on the road. I pulled on the door handle, locked! My mind raced. Julie's husband busied himself preparing the yard for an impending cold snap. The first fingers of winter's chilly grip had wrapped around the Wasatch Mountains a few days before.

"Rachel," I called to a fair niece of mine. 

She glided across the lawn. "What Uncle Shane."

"Go and Tell Aunt E.C., we need to move her van to fix a sprinkler."

"Why?" she questioned.

"I'll tell you later," I said with a devilish grin. I chose Rachel because she has the demeanor of an angel, no one would suspect her.

Keys in hand, I moved the van and lay below the driver side foot pedals, looking up into the guts of the steering column. I placed the radio into the mechanical bowels and tested its reception.

The receiver crackled to life. "Test 1, moo. Test 2, moo." My voice echoed softly above me. "Excellent." I whispered in conclusion.

I went back into the house and ran into a mob of cousins huddled around a video game like it harbored the universe's secrets. I passed the den and saw Elisa scrutinizing a computer screen while Julie explained some arcane detailed. Elisa's pony tail bobbed as she thoughtfully pointed at the monitor. IT was good to see them sitting together. It occurred to me that I didn't know the last time I had seen them like that, sharing some one-on-one time as sisters.

Both are beautiful women, but the differences between them are as stark as the glowing moon against a shimmering, starlit sky. Elisa is blond, while Julie is dark brunette. Julie runs a tight ship and Elisa plays it by ear. To sum it up, Julie never would have put a fake severed finger in my birthday chili! To see Elisa's post on this event click the following link.

I anxiously watched the clock. My wife labored at home preparing a birthday party for me. I really should have been there helping her, but one has to have priorities. I deliberated on my next move. It would be best to leave first and then lay it wait before whispering into Elisa's world. Elisa emerged from the mock consultation before I could act.  

"Okay, kids," I said, "let's go."

Elisa and I herded the children out the front door.

"Thanks, Julie." I told my older sister with a wink.

"Sure, no problem, Shane." Julie said, but I failed to notice the hint of uncertainty in her words.

Elisa chatted with her little boy, the one she calls the Zombie Elf in her blog. "So, do you want to be an engineer like Uncle Shane when you grow up?"

"Yup, I want to be an engineer for Halloween, too," he said. I love that boy.

I sat in my car, radio in hand, and waited. Elisa strapped her brood in and pulled around me. I surged forward, immediately behind her, too close behind. I depressed and held the send button on the radio. I should have left earlier and struck from within the shadows. It was too late now. I took a deep breath and let out a screeching like mechanical components grinding to an inoperable halt. Elisa's brakes slammed on and she pulled slowly to the curb. I parked in front of her and got out of my car.

"Van problems?" I asked innocently.

Elisa stepped from the car. "Did you do this?" she smirked. Elisa has asked me this question more than any other since the blog war began. She gets a paper cut, "Did you do this?" The Texas Rangers loose the world series, "Did you do this?" She gets lesbian love letters, "Did you do this?" Do I look like a lesbian bent on amore'? At least I hope not for my wife's sake.

Apparently Elisa thought something terrible waited under her seat, but in the end she knew it was me. Urrgh, another failure, but the jig wasn't up yet. Two more radios waited in the wings, ready to strike fear into Elisa's good-natured existence.   Check in tomorrow to see how it went and to find out how I ended up pranking myself.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Total Prankonic Reversal: Part 1

This blog war with my sister Elisa has taught me some important lessons about the nature of relationships and the fragility of humanity, especially my own. It is too easy to forget the impact an action will have on someone's feelings when focused on 'winning', an irrational notion in itself considering pranks. A couple of days ago I tried to prank Elisa. Not only was it another udder failure, I ended up pranking myself in the process. It was a complete backfire. You may ask how one accidentally pranks oneself. As Egon said, when you cross the streams, you get total prankonic reversal. When you cross the line, rational thinking is left behind. So, what are the characteristics of prankonic reversal?

Any prank has a desired emotional outcome, the primary being embarrassment, as a result of misguided fear, anger, joy, etc. Funny how deconstructing it in this way reveals pranks to be the dirty little deeds they are. Anyway, a failed prank elicits an unintended emotion, the most dangerous being sadness... And so part one of the story begins.

The Prank Premise:
I planned to secret two-way radios in Elisa's van and house. With another radio I would then create sounds, ultimately mooing, into Elisa's unsuspecting world.

Prank Facts:
Three radios eventually infiltrated Elisa's domain, one in the van and two in the house. Each was set to a different radio frequency. The forth I kept with me and could change it's frequency to communicate with the other three independently.

Prank Method:
The hardest part of this idea was getting the radios in place. I enlisted our older sister, Julie, to plant a radio in the van, and our mother to plant two radios in Elisa's house. Julie would ask Elisa for her opinion on  a Master's thesis she is writing. While Elisa reviewed the document in Julie's house, I would be outside planting the instrument in the van. Our mom would call Elisa and ask if she could visit. While there, our mother would place two radios in the house.

Nothing would go as I had planned. Check back tomorrow for how it went at Julie's house.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Motorcycle Love

Today I came home with a surprise for my wife. I came home with a motorcycle. It was given to me by a friend at work who no longer wanted it. At first I thought springing this on her would make for some good blog material. Fortunately, this isn't the case. She seems to know me well enough to take such things in stride. In the end I would guess this is what makes a marriage work, tolerating the idiotic husband when he behaves badly. That, and having something in common. I may be an engineer, but I've got a fairly broad streak of fine art running through. My wife on the other hand has a technical streak running through a majority of fine art background.

The following are some pictures we've done over the years. Each has brought us closer in one way or another.

Painting of my wife while she was pregnant with our first child. (minus the blue boxes)

Germany map painting my wife gave me on the first birthday we celebrated together.

France map painting my wife and I worked on together, but mostly my wife.

Painting I did of my father and myself.

They say opposites attract when it comes to relationships, but I don't buy it. I think it's the things you share in common that bind you together. It has something to do with being not only husband and wife, but friends at the same time. When I brought home the motorcycle, my wife wasn't happy. Indeed, she hit me several times as I teased her, but she's still talking to me and I love her all the more for it. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sometimes Pranks are Good

I suppose it must be a fairly common malady, grumpus totalitorus. Insidious and consuming, the affliction makes the infected person moody and almost intolerable to be around. It effects us all at one time or another. I had a severe bout with it this weekend in fact. In my own case the most tragic effect is that my dear wife bares the brunt of my symptoms. Despite yesterday marking the end of coaching my son's soccer team for the fall season and my wife finishing the current sub-semester at Liberty University, I rolled out of the wrong side of the bed with a resounding thud.

"Would you mind editing my final discussion forum response, Shane?" my wife asked me after lunch. I sat at my work desk in the garage.

"You need to learn to do it yourself," I said and continued hovering over the circuit board I fiddled with.

"I tried my best, but the teacher said to clean up my spelling the last time," she pleaded. My wife is from Japan and while her English is pretty good, sometimes the finer points get missed.

"Why should I? You don't appreciate it." Where this came from, I don't know.


"Sure, you say thank you, but what's the difference? You have to SHOW you appreciate somebody, not just say it." I hadn't lifted my head while I belittled her, and yes, I am an ass. It is interesting to me how you know something is bad, but you never realize how bad until you tell someone else, like now, as I tell you.

"I don't understand," she said.

"I have to do some yard work. I don't want to talk about this. I'll check your forum later." I took the weed eater and walked from the garage.

I spent a very long time manicuring the lawn, so long I started hearing Gandalf from Followship of The Ring. "A little late for trimming the verge, don't you think?"

I looked like the Jolly Green Giant by the time I finished, with weeds in my hair and blades of grass between my teeth.

At this exact moment, as I type, my wife is peeking over my shoulder and won't leave. She's making comments about this being my own personal diary. She is saying, "You shouldn't share your diary. Hey do you remember before we were married? I came home and you were reading my personal, sacred diary. Hey stop that. Quit writing what I'm saying. Shane! I'm not in this! What are you doing. Erase it."

No, I will not erase it. Now stop looking over my shoulder, or I'll use your name in here!

She's going away mumbling, "This is not romantic. Your there writing in your diary, being mean."

She has a way of knowing what gets me. Apparently this is my diary, my "womanly diary". Anyway, let's carry on. I suddenly feel a tinge of my prior grumpiness. Stay on target.

Anyway, so I went into the house and edited her forum. She's actually getting much better. Japanese is a bit odd compared to English. Japanese tends not to use personal pronouns and doesn't have plural forms of words.

Oh boy, she's back. "You should put in some information about what I'm learning at school." She's a Psychology major with an emphasis in Christian Counseling. "About how important it is to treat women with respect. You shouldn't write on the blog. No respect. You're mean. You're so mean," she says. "Stupid blog people, wasting time."

"Nobody cares what I say." I just said.

"Yeah, whatever." She now has turned to my son. "Daddy needs this, a diary. Maybe we should buy him one, with a lock and everything."

Former grumpiness, increasing.

Arrgh! So the grumpiness continued for much of the day yesterday, right up until the evening and we watched a movie as a family. We were half way through when  three slow knocks boomed throughout the house.

"Someone is at the front door. Who could it be?" my wife wondered.

"Could it be the boy next door?" my son added.

"It's kind of late." I stated. Three more ominous knocks echoed down the basement stairwell. "I'll go get it."

I reached for the door and did something udderly (utterly) stupid. I unlocked the door. I tried opening the door, but it wouldn't come open. I instantly knew someone held it closed from the outside. I reached up and tried to re-lock the dead bolt. The tension applied on the other side of the door had pulled the bolt in just enough so that it wouldn't go back into the door jamb. However, I didn't realize this at the time. All I could think was, "How are they keeping me from locking the door?" as if the boogie man had intentionally worked it out this way. For about two seconds I panicked, and then I realized the truth. My little sister Elisa and her husband Cade waited to play some prank on me from the other side of the door. They were getting me back for the prank I'd played on them the previous weekend.

Udder Prank Failure

I turned to my son who had crept next to me on pensive toes. "Don't worry," I told him, "it's just Aunt Elisa and Uncle Cade."

I pulled on the door again and this time it came open. A black apparition jumped at me from the other side and screamed, I mimicked the same scream and jumped toward the figure I knew was Cade. Elisa sprang from the shadows, video camera in hand.

"You've been Pranked!" She yelled.

I may have known it was them when I opened the door, but for those two seconds when the lock wouldn't close, they had me going.

They came in and my wife came up. We all laughed, had a nice chat and by the time they left I didn't feel grumpy anymore. I told my wife I was sorry and thanks to the prank, I feel much better. So maybe pranks aren't always bad. At least it scared the grumpiness out of me.

My wife is back, watching me type.

"I'm worried. I think you may need some therapeutic counseling." She just said. "I'd much rather you went in the garage and made a huge mess. You could use the garage for yourself. I won't complain anymore. It might be healthier than this. Publishing our private lives." I give her the smolder-look. "Stop that, I hate that cool look, like you've got the victory or something."

Don't worry. She can't resist the smolder.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Udder Prank Failure

Today the blog war with my sister at continues. This volley in the battle of words is more shocking than Paul McCartney robbing the cradle of Nancy Shevell or Tim Tebow almost resurrecting the Broncos after Orton's disastrous first half against the Chargers. It's even more shocking than Hank Williams Jr. comparing Obama to Hitler. Check out the following video and you'll know what I mean.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Harriet: To Hell and Back

I remember the day Elisa got Harriet as a gift for her eighth birthday. It was like Jacqueline Laurita of Real House Wives of New Jersey had come to live in our home. The entire family became glued to the rodent's plastic cage, avidly observing the little hamster long before reality television swept the nation. Andy Rooney from sixty minutes could have created an editorial about the suburbanites who forfieted their own lives to watch a hamster run on its wheel, eat its food and poop where it slept.

Of us all, Elisa loved Harriet most. She'd had other pets before, but a special bond existed between the small child and the furry beast. I, on the other hand, wearied of it rather quickly. As a seventeen year old brother in high school, it wouldn't do to care for such things.

"Don't kiss it," I scolded Elisa one day when I saw her giving it a big smooch on the mouth. "It's dirty!"

"She's not!" Elisa insisted. "I give Harriet a bath every day."

"It doesn't matter. Do you clean her cage every day?" I asked.

"Well, no," Elisa admitted.

"Don't you think when she goes to the bathroom it gets all over her?"

Elisa gave me the evil eye. "You don't know. You don't know anything!" she yelled and stormed away.

I almost felt bad. I'd made my sister realize something unattractive about her first true friend. It wasn't long before she forgot though, and resumed playing with the hamster. She'd go to the bathroom, or her bedroom, close the door and let Harriet run wild. I learned to be careful entiring a room, lest Harriet be turned to hamster jelly beneath my big feet. And an ample amount of jelly she would make. She'd gone from an oblong baby to a bloated ball in a few months. At the rate she was growing, the New York Giants or the Detroit Lions would be busting down our door to sign her as a nose tackle.

Then one day, catastophy struck.  Elisa had let Harrient run loose in her room, on the second floor, but forgot to close the door properly. The next thing she knew, Harrient was gone. I heard the wailing from my room, where I got ready for work.

"Harriet. Harriet. Where's Harriet?" Elisa cried. She ran in. "Shane, help. I can't find Harrient."

"I can't now, Furp," I teased her. "I've got to go to work."

As I left, I could hear my mother and Elisa calling Harriet's name through the house as if it would come running. I got to work at the local Wendy's, but couldn't get my mind off what might be going on at home. Not so much because of the hamster, but because of how scared Elisa had been.

I called home on break. "Hi mom," I said. "Did you guys find the fuzzball?"

"No, we've looked everywhere, but we can't find her."

"How's Elisa doing?" I asked cautiously.

"Oh, you know, she's devastated," my mom replied. "When are you going to get home. Maybe you can help us look?"

"I have to close tonight, so I won't be home until after midnight. But, I can tomorrow."

"If we don't find her soon, I'm afraid she'll stay lost."

"Well, I have to go, my break's almost up and I need to grab something to eat," I said.

"Okay, honey, do a good job. Bye."

I got something to eat and went back to work. The beef patties sizzled angrily on the griddle with a life of their own. I pressed each with a spatula and the squeal made me think of Harriet, caught somewhere, unable to extract herself. Where had she gone? Four orders stacked up and my supervisor shot a scathing glance my way before I realized the meat had burned and I'd have to throw on a new batch of burgers. The rest of the night proved difficult and by the time I returned home I felt like the meat had been pressing me into the grill and not the other way around.

I sat on my bed at one a.m., pulling off french fry smelling socks. I looked up. Elisa held a smurf plush toy in the doorway, tears sparkling in her eyes.

"Hey, what you doing up? Shouldn't you be in bed?" I said.

"We didn't find Harriet," Elisa said matter-of-factly.

"We'll find her. Don't worry."

Elisa walked next to me and leaned against my shoulder. "What if we don't? She'll turn into a mummy somewhere in the house and then she'll come to get me because I lost her."

"No, she'd go to heaven, Elisa. You love her and she loves you. But, don't worry, we'll find her. She's got to be somewhere, and if she's not here then maybe she's running free outside somewhere."

Tears wet my shirt. "But, it's cold outside, Shane."

"It's okay, she's okay. You taught her to be tough, right?" I asked.

"Like you taught me?" She brightened a little.

"Yeah, but did you?" I asked again.

"I sure did. She's the most deadly hamster ninja on the planet."

"Good, then you don't have to worry. We'll find her kicking some cat's butt tomorrow. Okay, Furp?"

Elisa gave me a hug and went to bed.

The next day came and even though we searched for much of the day, we found no trace. The day after that, Elisa looked more dejected than ever on the way to church.

"You think Harriet went to hamster heaven?" she asked.

"I'm sure she would," I said. Our mother turned concerned eyes from the front seat onto her youngest daughter in the back.

"I'm not so sure," Elisa said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I had a dream last night. I heard Harriet scratching, trying to get out, like she was under my bed. I woke up and checked, but she wasn't there. I think she's in Hell, because I didn't take care of her."

My mom and I shared a look. "No Elisa, she'd go to heaven, without a doubt."

Days stretched into a week and still no sign of Harriet came. We all gave up hope of ever seeing Elisa's small friend alive again. Elisa had the same dream multiple times; Harriet trapped, scratching madly to escape out of Hell. Nothing we said consoled my sister. On the best of days Elisa's imagination could conjure prismatic dragons and fairies out of bland woodwork. Now boogie men and demons seemed to be the only things she saw.

"I've decided something," she said one day after dinner.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Hell's under my bed."


"I can hear Harriet scratching to get free, under my bed." Her eyes gleamed with the knowledge.

"It's just a dream. Maybe mom should get you another hamster."

"No!" she yelled, "I don't want another. Hell's under my bed, that's all. And, it wasn't a dream, I hear it in the middle of the night, when I'm awake, the scratching." She'd taken a hold on my arm with an uncharacteristic tenacity.



We both had rooms on the second floor, and that night I listened before I slept, actually hoping to hear something, anything. Harriet was forgotten, now I worried for Elisa.

I closed at Wendy's a few nights later and got home well past first bell's hour. Autumn left little pools of chill air strewn about the floor. It was the kind of night that held all in an impregnable silence. Mom had said she'd turn on the furnace, but she must have decided to wait a day. I trudged up the stairs when the faint scritch-scratch of tiny nails eviscerating a chalk board came to my ear. At first I thought nothing of it, a fatigue induced malady. But, the sound intensified as I ascended. My slow steps turned to bounds as I  sprinted up the stairs and into Elisa's room. She knelt on her bed, eye's wide as dinner plates, holding the blankets up to her mouth.

"Do you hear it?" she stammered.

I nodded my head and crouched on the ground, half expecting to see fire and gas belch from beneath the frame. Instead, only dusty carpet lay, and the scraping we both now heard. I crawled under the bed.

"Stop, Shane! It's Hell. No!" she yelled.

Under Elisa's bed, directly below where her head would lay, a vent sat askew. I tilted my head to it and the sound came louder than ever. I backed my way out.

"Come on, Elisa. Let's go get Harriet out of Hell," I said.

"You think we can?" she asked.

"You can't keep a ninja hamster down. Come on."

I made her listen to the vent in the bathroom, the sound echoed there too. We went downstairs and listened in the kitchen. It came louder. We opened the door to the unfinished basement, a place of nightmare in the dark hour, and the sound bounced out of the stair well.

"I can't go down there." Elisa said.

"Even to save Harriet?" I asked.

She screwed her little face into an example of courage. "To save Harriet, I will."

We crept down the stairs and I flipped on the light. It was as if the scratching came from everywhere at once. The duct work rang with every sound. It stopped and Elisa gasped.

"Let's walk around," I said, but the silence suffocated my words.

We came around to the furnace and I eyed it speculatively. A curved cylinder sat at the bottom where the fan rotated inside. The two of us practically jumped through the ceiling when the sound came again.

"Shane, Hell's in the furnace," Elisa said solemnly.

"So it seems. Let's get her out."

The scratching came from the furnace fan housing, scrambling, trying to climb the circular side. We got a drill and a pair of tin snips from the garage. The running stopped as I drilled. The tin snips parted the metal and I bent a three inch flap down like a draw bridge.

"Hold out your hand," I urged Elisa.

Elisa cupped her hands at the end of the metal. The shuffling of something inside sounded.

"Call her," I prompted.

"Harriet, Harriet." Elisa said with so much hope I thought the sun might rise a few hours early.

Then from the dark square cut in the furnace, the furry features of Harriet emerged. Thin and bedraggled, with lint and dirt matting her hair, she shuffled onto Elisa's hand, out of the furnace, out of Hell.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Monkey on Her Back

My sister recently dedicated a lovely song to me. It was rather touching and I thought I ought to respond with something equally sentimental. First off, if you'd like to listen to the song you can find it here,

The hat she wore in this video really brought back memories. She's worn it since she was little. There was nowhere this little cow girl went that she didn't wear that hat. Even when she didn't conciously know her mother was a cow, she still knew.

One, Two, Three, Four, I Declare a Blog War

Anyway, I went back and found some pictures of her in this hat. I thought you might like them. I'm including a description of each so you will understnad the context in which they were taken.
A picture with her brother. Why she's picking her nose, I still don't know.
 Another picture with her brother. She seems a little upset.

Cutting loose with Melynda, Candiss and Fishducky

On safari in Africa.

Taken while conducting a lecture tour on being politcally correct in China.

Showing off her muscles.

Meeting her biological cow mother for the first time. Touching.

Sumo wrestling in Japan.

 Elisa riding Aunt Bessie at her biological cow mother family reunion.

Elisa and Grandma
Strutting her stuff at Halloween. NO, 'F' is for fabulous.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures. 

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