Life Analogies

It's All How You Look at It

Month: November 2015

The Perfect Solution to Noxious Weeds and Birds

Note: When I wrote this, the audience members I had in mind were farmers from  The Farming Forum community in UK. This is a real forum, but don’t go there just because I told you about it. I’ve already worn out the welcome for visitors outside of the agricultural profession. Sorry to have spoilt it for any other Yank that might’ve had intelligent questions to ask. Sorry also to have reinforced the stereotype that all Americans are obnoxious.

Today I was considering the fact that if I were to buy any plants from a home improvement store, I must find out the exact day when the truck would arrive or there was no point whatsoever. The fastest way to kill any plant is to put it inside a chain link enclosure with a cash register. Then, suddenly…

I had an epiphany! The perfect solution for those insidious weeds that plague you farmers out there. Forget chemicals! What you need to do is sponsor an employee of Lowe’s or Home Depot. All they need is a hose and a vest (polyester waistcoat) and yes, probably a UK cell phone provider. Stick them in the field where the weeds are the worst and tell them that black grass is your cash crop.

“All right. I’m putting you in charge of this black grass. Look here, this is black grass. What is it?”

“Black grass.”

“Very good. And what’s your job?”

“To look after it.”

“Excellent. Don’t worry about these ‘weeds’ over here. I’ll take care of those. It’s above your pay grade. All right, I’ll leave you to it then.”

In a matter of weeks, or possibly even days, your fields will be completely weed free! Yes, it’s a bit of a pain to arrange for a work visa, but just think of the thousands of pounds that you will save in chemical purchases! Yes, they’ll whinge and have a snotty attitude, but whenever you check in on them, just put in your earplugs and shrug and gesture.

What? Sorry. Can’t hear you.

 

In a similar fashion, you can use them to keep away crows.

(Or in our case, starlings! Vile vermin that cost an estimated $800 million losses in crops every year and, more importantly, coat cars with crap if anyone should be so foolish as to park their car under a tree. Thank you very much, Eugen Schieffelin. Every farmer in America falls into bed exhausted but comforted by the thought that we have every species of bird from Shakespearean plays. But I digress.)

I’m sure you can come up with some other pseudo job for these slackers to do out in the fields. Yes, yes. I know what you are thinking:

“Won’t they just stand in one place texting? That’s no better than a scarecrow.”

Yes, I thought of that as well. That’s why you will need to have this little conversation within earshot of your “farm worker.”

Friend: “Cell reception is crap out here.”

You: “No, no. Not at all. I find that if I keep moving the reception is very good.”

Friend: “Ah, so what you’re telling me is that if you keep striding up and down the perimeter of your fields you never have a dropped call?”

You: “Yes, exactly.”

Friend: “Thanks for the tip. I’ll have to remember that.”

 

Problem solved. You’re welcome. No need to send gifts or money, your undying gratitude is thanks enough.

 

*Sorry, no. This isn’t a solution for our current refugee problem. They would be too conscientious. It must be an American between the ages of seventeen to twenty-five or it won’t work at all.

Although…It could possibly work if we got some sort of exchange program. That would be a win-win situation. American gardeners would be delighted.

“Look, honey! I planted this whole row of salvias and they all survived!”

Host parents would be thrilled too.

“You know, I think our son has really turned a corner. He was telling me just the other day that he’s almost saved up enough money to move out of our basement.”

Summer Memories Back at the Home Place

The advice to authors is “write about what you know” and this excerpt does just that. This comes from a partially finished story in which I wove many of my childhood memories and some fiction together. (My life is hardly worth an autobiography and the whole point of writing fiction is to escape to an alternate reality.) My favourite cousin is one of the main characters and I am as well. I wrote this almost fifteen years ago. I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish this story. I think it would hurt too much. My plot certainly didn’t involve having him drown in ‘tsunami like waves’ that capsized his fishing boat. Let me repeat: Always wear a life jacket. One of the best things about my cousin was his sense of humour, so I hope this writing honours that. Even if the whole story never sees the light of day, I thought this portion was worth sharing.

 

*The names have been changed.

 

Across the back hay field, the distant figure of Travis appeared.  He must have been returning from the morning’s checking of mole traps.  I waved and bent back over the bushes I had been creeping about, swishing the leaves and the surrounding tall grasses carefully.

“Watcha’ looking for?”  My cousin asked as he came near.

I shrugged.

“Garter snakes, frogs…” (The possibilities were too endless to name.)

His eyebrows went up in friendly surprise and he crouched down at my level.

“You like creepy-crawlers?”  He asked curiously.

I stiffened.

“Not spiders,” I gasped with solemn intensity, suddenly realizing that eight-legged creatures could inhabit this foliage as well.  “J-just frogs and salamanders and stuff.”

(You know, my tone implied, just cute, harmless critters—nothing really scary.)

            He nodded.

“Sometimes snakes fall down inside my traps,” he told me casually, “In fact, I just pulled one out this morning.”

“You did?”

This was cried out with all the tragedy of an opportunity forever lost.

“There’ll be more next time,” he said calmly.

“Could you bring a snake back next time you find one?”  I asked eagerly.

“Sure,” he shrugged cheerfully; looking rather pleased to be able to do someone a service.

 

Two mornings later there was a cardboard box waiting for me on the kitchen table.  (Aunt Jane had left for work already, or I imagine this event alone would have caused a ruckus.) Travis sat across the table, liberally spooning out sugar and shovelling in rice-crispy cereal.  He smiled expectantly as I danced across the floor.  A perfect, black and yellow ribboned reptile coiled under one bottom flap of the box.  I plunged my hand in and lifted up the unhappily writhing fellow.  His tiny head s-curved and glared at me suspiciously.  My delighted face suddenly changed to betrayed disgust as a decidedly unpleasant odour drifted upwards.  Travis took one look at my expression and began choking on a milky mouthful.

“Better go wash your hands,” he coughed with twinkling eyes.  “Garter snakes can be kinda ornery that way.”

I smiled sheepishly and replaced my unloving pet.  Several vigorous scrubbings later, I returned and peered into the box.

“What do they eat?”  I asked, mentally building an elaborate terrarium.

“Oh, bugs and frogs, probably.”

Frogs?  I thought in despair.  Insects were one thing, but how could I sacrifice my other woodland friends to this snake?  It was more heart-wrenching than ‘Sophie’s Choice.’  I decided it was time to change the subject.

“What do moles look like?”  I asked, remembering the trap where my pet was found.

“Oh, they’re kind of a velvety-grey with little pink feet near their nose.”

“Instead of eyes?”  I tried to picture this.

“Well, I think they have eyes, they’re just real small.”

“Oh.  Could you bring one back sometime, so I could see it?”

He looked uncomfortable.

“Well, I’d still have to kill him, Jen.  Moles are bad—they dig up the garden and make holes that cows can step in and break their legs.”

“Like grey-diggers,” I said, nodding.

With all my love for God’s lesser creatures, I had often gone along with my beloved Uncle Ned to shoot grey-diggers.  The hypocrisy of this never occurred to me—nothing my revered uncle did could ever be wrong—besides these were grey-diggers.  One didn’t think of them as furry ground squirrels, these were offensive varmints that endangered the cattle.  I’d sit on the hill, holding my breath in awe as Uncle Ned picked ‘em off—when they fell it was always far enough away not to see ‘em twitching, and they didn’t scream—not like rabbits.

I loved to go along on these walks with my uncle, walking the fence and moving the cows to a new field or re-staking Gretta the goat to a new blackberry patch.  There was always some new discovery or identified species’ name passed on from Uncle Ned’s endless fount of knowledge.  My uncle called down the owls for me once, crouching down near the old snag in the dusk of evening.  There was a nest in the hollow of this dead tree, and one day he boosted me up to see.  Fluffy grey heads, like three little old grannies stared back at me with huge eyes.  I was speechless with delighted awe.

“We can’t do this again,” Uncle Ned explained.  “I don’t want to spook the mamma owl too much.”

But once was enough.

I also just liked the chance for visiting Gretta and bringing her clover or bending an out-of-reach bough to her perpetually nibbling mouth.  But I could never bring myself to enjoy looking her in the eye—those weird yellow eyes with the horizontal dash of a pupil.  Horses have the same kind of pupil, but their eyes are dark brown and it is only on the rare occasion when the light hits at just the right angle—reflecting off the plane of their iris—that one sees the dilated slit.  Besides, horses could be forgiven anything—even their unfailing habit of farting just as one was currying their rump.

I’m serious.  It’s a proven law of nature, all you have to do is just touch the brush to a horse’s hindquarters and “pfffffff…”  (Fortunately it smells mostly like hay.)  Perhaps this is some involuntary response—like the dog-scratch-leg-kick thing. I personally believe they’ve been waiting, holding it, until just the moment when your nose is strategically positioned.  But then, if a bunch of pip-squeaks starting shoving little pieces of metal into my mouth and ordering me around, I’d probably develop some passive-aggressive techniques myself.  Luckily horses are pretty dumb.

Yes, I’ve finally had to admit this, even to myself.  I still remember the day my Aunt Sue—Aunt Sue the sacred keeper of the flame of the Roy Rogers shrine—actually told me that dogs are smarter than horses.  Dogs!  Big, stupid, bounding, salivating, halitosis-breathing, poop-factories were actually smarter than horses?  She then heaped further offense by adding that pigs were smarter than either.  Pigs!  I vehemently denied this heresy, but deep down I knew that Aunt Sue must be right.  She had kept horses and dogs all her life, (though no pigs), so she should know.  My faith was deeply shaken.

As a matter of fact, there had been a time when the pig-genius would have cheered me—as a small child I had “loved piggies.”  I have a hunch that, (like all other historical childhood obsessions including Cabbage Patch Dolls, Beanie Babies, etc.) this was a largely parent-generated passion.  Several things cute and pink and oinky were amassed for each of my first six birthdays and Christmases.  I believe all this was built on the only shred of evidence of my pig preference—that as a toddler playing with my farm set I seemed to favour the green plastic pig figure.

But I soon bought into the hype, and at one point I finally wore my poor mother down to such desperation that she stopped, on the way home from the state fair in Palmer, at a farm.  She got out and marched right up, covered with humility, to knock at the door of a perfect stranger and ask these people if her daughter might look at their pigs.  I remember standing in the huge, mucky yard while their daughter held up a piglet for me to see—a perfect little pink thing—but I was too terrified by the awesome sight of the immense male hog snoozing just one flimsy wooden slat away.  My love affair was somewhat quenched after that.

Random Linguistic Notes: American vs. English

Meal Terminology

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the whole lunch, tea, dinner, supper terminology. In my family we also call the largest meal of the day ‘dinner,’ hence ‘Thanksgiving dinner,’ ‘Sunday dinner,’ etc. But for the most part this is in the evening. To label your child’s school meal ‘dinner’ seems quite dismal to me. If those foodstuffs that they glopped onto plastic trays were the grandest meal of my day, I’d have concluded that life is a dreary toil at a much younger age than I did.* This would have been especially disheartening on those dreaded days when I forgot to consult the cafeteria calendar and thus came to the horrifying realization that I should have asked Mum to pack me a lunch because it was…

Fish stick day.

Generally this realisation would descend around ten o’ clock when the stench would waft down the school corridors…

D’oh! Forehead slap!

I had no other choice than to relinquish a yellow ticket from my ration book for…that.

In a land whose seafood knows no comparison, the cafeteria factory still cranked out perfectly rectangular prisms of some unidentifiable white mush wrapped in gritty breading. How could they ruin breading, for heaven’s sakes? A wheat product deep fried. What could possibly go wrong there? And yet it did. And does, for that matter. Those fumes still drift across many a primary school campus even to this day.

It wasn’t as though these putrid fish substitutes were tossed out as a token gesture to any Catholics that might’ve gone to my school. If they had been, then there would have been the hope that the polluting odour would have abated over the weekend, rather than tortured us throughout the rest of the school week. No, fish sticks were not served on Fridays and for a good reason. Friday was pizza day. Should the hair netted ladies have ever attempted to dislodge this tradition, there would have been such mutiny that even the BBC would’ve given a passing mention of ‘The Great Uprising at Gladys Wood Elementary School.’

Now, when I say ‘pizza’ let me be clear that this is a purely euphemistic term for the rectangular, floppy things coated with a ‘tomato’ (and I use that word loosely) sauce that likely came from the same recipe as Spaghetti O’s. These were also liberally sprinkled with pepper flavoured rabbit droppings that I imagine were passed off as ‘sausage’ crumbles.

Let me also add that this was to be accompanied by chocolate milk. The one shining day of something beyond white 1%. Nowadays these little knee biters get a choice of white, chocolate, and strawberry every blasted day. (No wonder we are raising up a generation of unappreciative and entitled twits.) If fate beamed down on us especially brightly, the milk cartons would’ve just come off the trucks on that winter’s day and the milk would still have frozen chunks. Ahh…a frosty, chocolate dream.

But speaking of tinned food substitutes, (Yes, I was speaking of it. It is in the second paragraph just above. Spaghetti O’s. Pay attention.), and also continuing the debate over lunch, dinner, tea, and supper…

I must say I was quite shocked to discover that over there, you all can dump a can of Van Camp’s over a piece of toast and call it a proper meal. Really? And you think we’re classless and tasteless? You don’t get any more white trash than that. If you’re going to descend that far, then you ought to round out that ‘meal’ with a nice dish of green gelatine suspending multi-coloured marshmallows. And also possibly a three bean salad. Or at the very least, coleslaw.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking beans n’ ham, but if you are going to serve them, they must be in the triangular wedge of your paper picnic plates that are precariously balancing fried chicken in the larger and more esteemed section. Mash potatoes are in the other smaller wedge, or at least, they were supposed to be, but as you walk over to a lawn chair, much of everything slides dangerously close to the edge and drips on your shoes (or shirt, depending on your luck and girth) and coats that fresh, crispy triangle of watermelon with warm sludge. @#$!

 

West Coast Dialects of American

 

I was raised in the Pacific Northwest which is completely accent free. Anything else is a deviation from proper (albeit sometimes hick) elocution. (Rather like my house has no smell whatsoever, being a perfectly neutral non-smell, whereas most other homes—yours even—have a decided scent.) Over here, we have no accent. (By which I mean that we speak pure, unadulterated American.) Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of this fact, so I was exposed to some ‘correction’ during my school days.

I remember the first episode quite clearly that came upon me in kindergarten. My aunt had visited for the week and then flew back to Seattle so I confided in my tablemate that ‘I miss my aunt.’ As I’m sure you have ascertained by now, I did not pronounce this word as you would. Apparently my ‘friend’ (I did rethink this category later), was from another region ‘outside.’ So his reply, rather than being sympathetic, was:

“Oh, you miss your ant? What happened? Did you step on her?”

Mortified, I fell silent and slapped my paper with more of that cold, lumpy, mint scented paste and vowed to never, ever refer to my mother’s sister as an  /ă/nt. No, I now and forever will say /ah/nt, even though the rest of my family considers me affected for doing so.

Others seem to find my pronunciation of ‘route’ as affected and amusing as well. However, I remain firm that it is spoken as ‘root’ like ‘shoot.’ One only has to listen to the extended dance mix of Depeche Mode’s ‘You’re Behind the Wheel’ to know this.**

I was very lovingly corrected in my vocabulary for carbonated beverages and so still call them ‘soda’ despite having returned to the land where these are referred to as ‘pop.’

Did these snobby, Eastern ‘American’ classmates never see the Shasta commercial?

“Don’t give me that so-so-soda, that same old cola!

I wanna a rock and rolla’!

I want a POP!

I wanna…

Shasta!”

I was again mocked by an Eastern transplant. (Remember, when I say ‘Eastern’ I am referring in a blanketed generalization to anyone east of the Mississippi, be it Wisconsin, Chicago, New York, whatever. They’re all the same to me. Judgmental outsiders. With an accent.)

My best friend burst out laughing when he heard my pronunciation of an ‘ag’ word. According to him, ‘bag’ should be pronounced ‘Baa-ug.’ Or something like that. I never could quite replicate it so even to this day I tend to skirt around the whole issue by referring to grocery receptacles as ‘sacks.’ Although this alternative has its risks as well. This was brought to my attention by a colleague who was teaching in a bilingual classroom. He spoke English fluently but he did have a trace of an accent, so one day he appealed to me.

“I was trying to teach my students plural forms of nouns. Could you please tell me…what is the proper way to say the plural form of ‘sack?’  Because whenever I try to say it, to me it sounds too much like…”

I had to admit that if the word was spoken quickly and out of context, it did rather sound like…

As an aside, the aforementioned dilemma was not, in fact, brought to light with the word ‘bag’. It was an entirely different word that began with another consonant and no, I was not asking for a cigarette.

Speaking of which, if an American wishes to sponge off of someone he/she would ‘bum a cigarette’ from a smoker. Yes, yes, stop tittering like a thirteen year old. Although, it would be rather amusing if some Yank decided to be cute and mix his slang.

Ah. So what you’re saying is, you want to ___ a ___?”***

His English companion would choke and splutter.

“Good Heavens! What are you talking about?? Let me make myself clear. I have an intense need for nicotine and I was wondering if you could perhaps help me out.”

 

 

 

 

*Because it is a dreary toil, but children should have the brief illusion that it is otherwise until reality inescapably descends, at say the ripe old age of fifteen.

**English chaps singing, ‘Get your kicks, on route sixty-six.’

***Think about it.

 

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