Tag Archives: Disney

I Am a Nature God!

For the record, all of these animal encounters are 100% true.

Do you ever step outside, only to get the feeling that mother nature has it out for you, and, like the villain of a bad mystery novel, is bent on exacting only the most unexpected forms of revenge? I once felt that way. Every journey into the great outdoors was an offensive into a hostile environment filled with petal-covered trebuchets launching pollen spores at my sinuses.

I’ve collapsed from heat stroke and hypothermia, battled off armies of ticks, and nearly been struck by lightning. Cats have scratched me, birds have pooped on me, and skunks have sprayed me. Bees of both the common and bumble variety have pumped their poison into my flesh, and every time I go to Sea World I get the distinct impression that the fish are leering at me.

I began to fear nature at a very young age when some decidedly unpatriotic Raccoons laid waste to my green plastic army men. I used to love arranging those guys into epic battles between imagined nations. But one night I left my troops in a particularly dramatic tableau, and when I woke up, I found that neither The United States of Awesome nor Soviet Russ were any match for the great nation of Raccoon.

As time passed and I grew up, Nature began to raise the stakes. Every summer, unable to resist the water’s clarion call, I’d venture  into the  sea, only to be stung by literally hundreds of Jellyfish, apparently hell-bent on irritating my calves.

But one jellyfish is ruler of them all: The Portuguese Man of War. It’s a massive array of blue tentacles, topped with a purple, nightmarish Mohawk, and filled with enough deadly venom to kill a small yak. I’d never given the creature much thought, but one day, when I was snorkeling through the pristine Hawaiian waters, I suddenly found my neck wrapped in tentacles.

I flailed about, managing to informatively sputter “I am inside a jellyfish!” Driven, undoubtedly, by anti-poison instincts, I tore at the tentacles with my bare hands, ripping through them as if they were mere strands of gelatinous creature-parts, then high-tailed it for shore. The rest of the day was spent icing down the huge red welt trails that made it look as if I’d befallen some mishap whilst enjoying a bit of sadomasochism.

The attacks didn’t stop as I grew older. On a visit to Alcatraz, I was repeatedly dive-bombed by a fury-gull, either because I’d inadvertently gotten too close to her nest or because she was a prisoner reincarnate, displeased that I was desecrating the jail grounds of her past life. On a canoeing trip down the Colorado river, I got 48 mosquito bites in a single night, despite being covered in head-to-toe netting and repeatedly coating myself in noxious waves of bug repellant. My best friend only got 2, neither of which was on his eyelid. And once, during a solar eclipse, Fire Ants swarmed me, perhaps incensed that I had blotted out their god.

And just last spring, at the opening of X-Men: First Class, I was bitten by a black widow. I didn’t find out that that was the creature responsible until the week after, however. I only felt a tingling on my unguarded toe, and when I tried to scratch it, (unknowingly angering the spider that had made my foot his new residence), I found myself in excruciating pain. In the name of cinema, I did my best to ignore it.

But by the next morning, my foot had swollen to twice its normal size, I had the poison shakes, and my temperature was a healthy 103. I had to cancel my second ever Vegas trip, and since the movie was on a Friday afternoon, I couldn’t go to a doctor until Monday.

In the end, I concluded I’d been bitten during the wrong superhero movie. If it had starred Peter Parker instead of Beast, maybe I would’ve ended up with the ability to stick to walls instead of having giant blue feet.

But back to the list.

A Squirrel bit me while I was feeding it, prompting my mom to hysterically demand I be tested for rabies, Kookaburras are always laughing at me, and once a Coyote stole an entire pie from me on a camping trip!

For years, I was sure that nature had it out for me, that no matter what I did, the creatures of the world would conspire with clicks, chirps, and roars to rain down on me as many bites and stings as possible.

But I had it all wrong, you see. Nature doesn’t hate me. It loves me!


You may think it’s just the leftover venom coursing through my veins talking, but for the first time I’m finally seeing things clearly. Pollen wants to party in my sinuses. The sun wants to caress me the only ray it knows how, and the raccoons thought they were defending me from an enemy army. It all makes so much sense!

If you were a skunk and all you had to offer was your spray, would you not gladly give it up to prove your devotion? Would not the bees break off their stingers in my skin, an insectoid sacrifice in honor of their lord? The Man of War was giving me a tentacle-y hug, and Mosquitoes merely think they’re following doctrine when they drink my blood. I bet they even go home and eat wafers afterward.

I was so focused on the hurts nature had enacted upon me that I forgot the joy of it all. I forgot the time that Blue Jay landed in my hand and chattered away happily as though life were a Disney film. I forgot the feeling of catching a wave beside a playful Dolphin, of petting a Cat curled happily on my lap, and of hiking through the woods, light sprinkling the forest floor with half-obscured rays that shine through the dancing leaves of the trees.

For every horrific encounter, there’s the time I was surrounded by a kaleidoscope of Monarch Butterflies passing through on their annual migration, or the night I swam in the Red Tide,  the trails of my strokes aglow with surreal blue light.

Why else would a Guinea pig have made a pilgrimage to my house, if not to choose me as a master? Why else would a South African Turaco appear in my neighborhood, if not to delight us with its exotic songs? Why else, on that rainy night when I took shelter beneath the arches of a church, did hundreds of bats encircle me, wings glinting in the moonlight?

Like the rain god from So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, I am forever cursed with the unwavering love of the creatures of the world, and no matter how much I try to deny the truth, I will never be able to rebuke their devotional bites and stings.

So I might as well embrace it. Next time I see a bear, I think I’ll go say hi.


Filed under Stories

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.


Filed under Stories