Monthly Archives: October 2011

Why I’m Afraid of Sardines

This story is so spooOoOooky that we just had to post it on Halloweeeeen.

When I was five years old, my family moved into the house across the street from the town’s haunted mansion, probably to help me face my fear of everything. Also, because it was my grandma’s house. The move landed me in a new school where the other kids picked on me mercilessly for being too afraid to do things like jump off short fences or watch Disney’s Hercules, but I knew they whispered tales of how I was the only one who’d brave the yard of the witch. For most of my young life, that house was the only thing that kept me cool enough to avoid daily pummeling and ridicule.

Sadly, the cookie-pushing, Lawrence-Welk-marathoning, little lady passed on a few years back, and since then, her former haunt has served as the perfect spot for me and my hooligan friends to escape supervision just long enough to make a series of increasingly bad decisions. It was a fun place to hang out, except that no one could make it through the night without being haunted by the curse.

One fine dusk not too long ago, my foolhardy chums and I decided to brave the unholy dwelling in an effort to play a game of Sardines, which is hide and seek backwards. One person hides and everybody else seeks, then, when you locate the sneaky inconspicuant, you cram yourself in there with them like sardines in a can.

But before the game could begin, we had to get inside, which inevitably involved considerable spiderweb face-collision, and all too often you’d find living, poison-filled arachniterrors sinking their tiny, vengeful fangs into your vulnerable exposed bits minutes later. Having made it to the relative safety of the indoors, we did our best to ignore the flickering shadows cast by the house’s dim, failing light bulbs. Since that clearly wasn’t scary enough, half of said light bulbs had been replaced with harsh red ones over the years, turning the long, twisting halls into gateways to Satan’s darkroom. We walked apprehensively toward the living room, each floorboard creaking from termite damage. Mice skittered nervously through the walls, and honey from the massive network of beehives that extended halfway through the ceiling dripped to the floor with alien, insectoid indifference.

Basically, the minions of mother nature had agreed to temporarily set aside their differences in order to scare the living shit out of us.

But we were mature college students. To admit being unnerved by such trivialities was childish. By god, we were going to play Sardines wherever and whenever we wanted.

We decided to have two people start as hiders, ensuring that they’d be cramped and uncomfortable, forced to squeeze together in one of the mildewy nooks, crannies, basements, or closets that comprised the ghostly grandma mansion. Also, the buddy system triples your chances of surviving a wraith attack. As the sun sank below the horizon, we settled on the rules, which consisted solely of “no hiding outside.” And thus the most fateful game of Sardines I would ever play commenced.

One countdown later, there’s about six of us overturning couches, yanking open doors, and generally trashing the place, but try as we might, we simply cannot locate our friends’ slippery, fish-like bodies. I know the house inside and out, but after checking the weird bonus closet inside the bedroom closet, the secret basement behind the bookshelf, and that strange, snowy kingdom in the wardrobe, I’m befuddled. Maybe the bees had returned to exact their revenge. Blood for blood. Thorax for thorax.

Suddenly it dawns on me that perhaps our quarries have used devilishly clever wordplay to their advantage—you’re not allowed to hide outside, but we never said you couldn’t go outside. Feeling brilliant, I step out into the hazy glow of twilight, ready to prove that it’s not strength or agility that wins games, but a mastery of the English language.

But they’re not in the garage, or the tool shed, or the outhouse.

I wander back into the haunted mansion to share my abject failure…but the place is empty.

Honey drips in the silence.

I make a loop of the house. Now that they’re all together, finding them will pose no challenge for keen-eyed Russ. Nobody.

Mice skitter in the darkness.

I was gone for under two minutes. They never could’ve hidden that fast.

Boards creak in the night.

I glance into the mirror beside the candelabra and see shadows dancing in glee, a hoedown of the occult.

That was the proverbial straw that snapped the camel’s fraying psyche, so to speak. Now I’m freaking out like my gutless, terrified self, reduced to whispering reassurances. “It’s gonna be ok, Russ. You’re just playing a game.”

But what if it’s not just a game? What if my friends have been systematically hunted? I start to call out in desperation.

Then it hits me. I’m in a horror movie. The serial killer murdered everyone else while I was outside, and I’m the last one left. My viewers are yelling at the screen, “Don’t open that door! Run, damn it! For the love of God, run!”

But I don’t run. I don’t call for help. I just keep looking, whimpering like a helpless puppy trapped in a hair-raising game of Sardines.

Then I hear a cry of pain from my grandma’s bedroom, and, following the same instincts that made me try to help that crazed, frothing squirrel, leading to a bloody finger and a legion of rabies tests, I sprint up the stairs and head toward the noise. It’s coming from a closet situated behind a heavy chest. I’d already tried opening it multiple times, but it was locked.

As I reach for the handle, I can almost hear a thousand moviegoers facepalm.

I twist, sure that my never-having-been-stabbed days are about to come to a pointed end.

Apparently it was never actually locked—just warped and stuck with bee-goop.

After a couple good yanks, it swings open, and I peer inside to find—

Everyone, sighing with palpable relief, finally able to unleash their muffled pain and discomfort. They were buried in clothing and old spiky things, and had been lying on top of each other for the past half hour, an uncomfortable experience both physically and socially.

Some of them had bloody scratches, others, deeply-embedded flesh-dents. They had endured as long as they could, all in the name of freaking  me the hell out.

Hey, at least my friends are willing to make sacrifices for me, right?

Happy Halloween, everybody!

UPDATE: The 3rd episode of the new TV show Grimm features a haunted house with dripping honey!! WTF?! They totally stole that straight from my life.

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Lightning Never Strikes In The Same Pla—Ahhh! Lightning!

When I was but a wee lad, I was somehow tricked into joining the Boy Scouts.

Try to remember a happier, more innocent time. I can't either!

I think it had something to do with a free pumpkin, which is, in retrospect, well, just as compelling as it was then. I could so go for a pumpkin right now. I would carve the shit out of that thing, probably into a likeness of my favorite Game of Thrones character (may he rest in peace), and when I was done, I’d make pumpkin bread out of its sweet, sweet innards.

Oh no! Now every time I see a pumpkin I’ll think of episode nine. What have I done? Ok. Moving on. After many years of ice camping, forced marching, learning knots, forgetting knots, and sitting through brain-manglingly tedious meetings, I found myself at the National Boy Scout Jamboree. There’s a joke in there, and I’ve spent quite a while dancing around being PC in an attempt to phrase it correctly, but I’ve finally given up. Now it’s time to pawn the work off on you, with Russ’s 1st

Ludicrously Reasonable Challenge!

Take the following elements and form them into a light-hearted and negativity-free joke!

  1. The Boy Scouts of America are known for being homophobic.
  2. At the Jamboree, over 40,000 young boys spend 10 days together in cramped quarters.
  3. Jamboree is defined as “noisy merrymaking.”

Anyway, I’m in this giant camp that spans miles and miles, and supposedly we’re there to learn things, so, in the name of pretending to gain knowledge, my friend Nick and I sign up for what we’ve heard is the easiest activity: Electricity Merit Badge. We hike an hour out to this little hut that’s divided into 10 stations where some bored adults usher us in and make a halfhearted attempt to teach us something about stuff. The first and most valuable station taught us the art of positioning light switches in the most logical part of a room whilst taking into account maximum reachability and minimal effort, an important skill by anyone’s standards.

As we powered our way through the next five stations, the wind began to surge around us. The air switched speeds, whipping through the tent, tearing the canvas from the poles, and generally sparking fear in everyone. Confusingly, the rain, just a sprinkle moments before, was currently a shockingly fierce torrent pummeling the ground, and suddenly the adults in charge are generating a panic by cutting class short and conducting everyone outside. Positive that we should bolt, Nick and I impulsively decide to grab the bulb by the horns and head for home.

We start sprinting back to camp, but we’ve got a long way to go. I guess we were the last ones to get nature’s memo, because the camp is completely deserted, and by this point, every minute or two lightning strikes so close that it’s literally right there on the path with you like that annoying girl who has a crush on you who you can never quite seem to shake. You get the feeling that she’s hiding in the bushes just to watch you go by, but you can’t say anything because she kicks ass at trivia night and your team has an image to uphold at the local pub, damn it.

We finally pass a troop leader who asks us what the hell we’re doing still outside when there’s a tornado brewing and we’re this close to being blown half a drug trip from Kansas, but thankfully he’s on a mission and doesn’t have time to deal with us. Fueled by the invincibility of youth and a healthy portion of hunger, we veer out of our way to see if the snack shack is open, and hot dog, it is! Soon enough, we’re twiddling our idiot fingers underneath the overhang, waiting for burgers while a light show of death plays all around us.

We eventually get our food and resume our run, but another adult grabs us by our neckerchiefs and drags us into this little tent. It was like something out of a sci-fi apocalypse movie where the resistance sees you on the street and pulls you into a safe house then tries to recruit you. There’s hundreds of people huddled into this tiny tent which is somehow blisteringly hot, and we’re so squished that we can’t get the burgers to our mouths—a serious problem. The leader of the resistance stands up on a stool and starts this epic speech about how dangerous the world is out there, but that we’ll be safe as long as we stick together and don’t leave the tent (it’s got a lightning rod!), and the whole time I’m just looking down at my burger with salivatory sorrow as I watch it growing cold.

Nick looks at me, and  the mutual understanding of childhood friends passes between us. We nod and both make a break for it, dodging a guard and slipping out the back of the tent to freedom. Now all we have to do is run across a wide open field that’s about a quarter mile long and we’ll be back to the safety of our own camp where we’ll have both friends and playing cards, two things obviously worth risking your life for.

I remember pausing at the edge of the field, finishing the last bite of my rain-soaked burger, and wondering, for the first time, whether this idea was any sort of good, but hey, it was too late to turn back now, so Nick and I just set off into the open. As I’m running, I turn to see him panting away and realize that he’s a good six or seven inches taller than me, so if lightning’s going to hit anything, it’ll be him. I breathe a sigh of relief, which is immediately cut short by lightning striking a tree at the edge of the field.

We made it back to camp to cheers and hugs, and proceeded to play cards long into the night.

The next day, we found out that four scouts had been hit by lightning.

Don’t worry. They were all fine, but only because everyone around them knew a crapload of first aid.

Oh yeah, and remember Station 7, the one we didn’t quite make it to because of that giant lightning storm? The one that we were literally 5 minutes from completing? That’s right–it was Lightning Safety.

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My Lack of Craftsmanship Stops a Thief

When I went to college, I bought a mini-fridge. We went through a lot together, Stinky Pete and I, like the time I left Bagel Bites in him over winter break and had to carry him down three flights of stairs so I could hose out the large, circular clumps of mold that were assaulting my nostrils with their pungent death spores and, more importantly, trying to steal my friend from me.

Every summer apart from Stinky was a hardship. After I’d said a quick goodbye to my roommate and girlfriend, I’d spend the evening with my fridge, trying to sneak in just a few more hours before the inevitable. I knew how lonely he’d be, unplugged and unused, and I did my best to comfort him.

Then, one fall, I got back to school, pulled Stinky Pete out of storage, and opened him up, only to discover that all his shelves were missing!

What could have happened to them? I racked my brain, but could find no answer. Before long, the lost shelves began to haunt my every waking moment, and when I slept, I dreamt of those perfectly sculpted pieces of glass. I forgot to shower, to eat, to hope, and my life became one downward spiral of shelfless horror. Do you know how inconvenient a fridge without shelves is? Food storage quickly became nothing more than a twisted, unending game of perishable Jenga, and I was too scared to try to actually remove anything from the precarious fortress.

When you find yourself in this sort of situation, there’s only one thing to do. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never picked up a hammer before, it doesn’t matter if every time your dad tried to make you help with home projects you ran screaming, and who cares if you aren’t even aware that a hammer probably isn’t a relevant tool for constructing a glass shelf. My fridge needed me, and I couldn’t turn my back anymore.

I went to the local shelving store and asked for their finest piece of shelvery, but they didn’t really have any of that because they were a Home Depot and those places scare me, so I bought a piece of shelf-looking glass and invested in a glass cutter, which is about as safe in my hands as two putty knives in the hands of a child.

I combined the glass cutter and glass in the only way I knew how, namely in the middle of my floor and with a great deal of trepidation. Turns out you’re supposed to be pretty sure of yourself and make one clean stroke, but like a first-time headsman, it took me quite a few tries to hack my way through, which led to a lot of thin lines of glass on my floor and an edge that was as jagged as the shoreline of my love life.

I had no reasonable way to sand the death trap, so I took it outside and just rubbed it on the cement for a long time, pouring water on it as I went because I know water has something to do with erosion, and I figured erosion was like slow-paced sanding. Pieces kept chipping off and making it worse, but eventually there was a pretty long period without chipping, and I figured that was about as smooth as I’d get it, so with great ceremony, I put it in the fridge.

Flash forward: it’s 2011 and Stinky Pete has been enjoying his new shelf. We have some friends over, including this guy Nick. He’s the kind of badass who’ll punch a bear just cause “it was asking for it,” but I guess he’s not particularly shelf savvy, so when he reaches into the fridge to grab a beer, he jabs his hand right into the thing, and suddenly he’s bleeding all over the fridge and the floor and just staring at his hand in shock.

He was pretty tough about it. In fact, this was another one of those utterly emasculating moments. He just walked to my closet, grabbed a hot glue gun, and sprayed the burning stuff all over the wound, wrapped it up in duct tape, continued playing beer pong…and won. But at some point, the wound opened back up and became a mini Niagara Falls of bleediness. I’m on the verge of fainting because I hate things that remind me of Niagara Falls, but some other people who have fewer negative associations take Nick over to our neighbor’s house who’s more medically prepared and less faint-y, and while we’re all out of the apartment…

A thief sneaks in!

Since we’re a trusting, naive bunch of blokes, we’d left a brand new Macbook Pro, the Holy Grail of opportunistic temptation, sitting just inside the door. The thief promptly scoops it up and high-tails it out of there.

We’re all too busy trying to staunch my fridge’s handiwork to notice, but somehow Nick sees the guy, jumps up, and sprints outside, hurtling toward the thief like a gigantic boulder of fury. We think he’s just in the throes of a blood frenzy, but before we can even give each other accurately confused looks, he’s out of sight.

Apparently, Nick chases this guy through the entire apartment complex and out into the street. He’s gibbering like a madman and waving his bloody hand everywhere, and it’s spraying like crazy. The thief takes one look behind him and freaks the hell out, so the guy, in an attempt to save himself with a well-timed distraction, hurls the laptop through the air. Nick’s split-second-animal-instinct brain determines that saving the laptop is the highest priority and makes this epic dive for the thing, soon-to-be hand-stump stretched to its absolute limits—

And falls a couple inches short.

The laptop shattered, but it’s ok, cause Apple gave us a new one for free! All thanks to my fridge, because who knows if the thief would’ve chucked the laptop if he hadn’t been so terrified of Nick’s gruesome hand, which was only as frightening as it was because of my shelf-building skills…but then again, I guess we wouldn’t have been out of the apartment if the fridge hadn’t sliced him up, and then he wouldn’t’ve had to go the emergency room, and he wouldn’t have that hideous scar, and I wouldn’t’ve had to spend the night bleaching blood out of my carpet like a serial killer, and I wouldn’t need to keep going to therapy because I no longer feel safe in my home…

Maybe I should try to improve my craftsmanship skills.

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