When the call of the wild comes, I let it ring

I have always loved the great outdoors. It’s one of my favorite things to watch on TV. The Discovery Channel is good for that.

Somehow, when I was born, I did not receive the camping gene – or as it is known to geneticists, “Tormentus Unnecessarius.”

After all, when “the call of nature” comes beckoning in the middle of the night, isn’t it nicer to arise and confidently walk barefoot over hardwood floors, linoleum or shag carpet into a room with modern plumbing than hip-hopping through pine needles, jagged pebbles and ant hills toward a two-foot latrine?

For schlubs like me, the outdoor store – Cabela’s – has about as much appeal as the Space Needle does to an acrophobiac; an eggplant to a cannibal; a porcupine to a balloon.

It probably goes back to childhood.

Many summers ago, I recall “camping out” with my younger brothers. We’d spend most of the afternoon pitching our tent. By nightfall, we were so exhausted that we immediately climbed into our sleeping bags and drifted off.

But then, around 10 o’clock or so, we would be awakened by a sound.

A wolf? A cougar? A bear?

Or perhaps, an escaped killer? With a hook for a hand? Or two of them?

We weren’t sure what the exact threat was, but we instinctively knew what we needed to do to survive. We raced out the front flap of the tent as fast as we could and ran.

The full 15 feet – into the house.

Our parents didn’t seem surprised to see us. They were, after all, up watching television. “Way to go, guys,” said dad as we burst in the front door. “You only made it to 9:30 last time.”

Turns out the neighbor’s cat was creeping around out there. Well, it was a kitten at the time, but it already had a murderous look.

Since summer is now at hand on the greater Eastside, and some of you feel you must go camping somewhere, here are three unsolicited tips:

• Experts say the ideal location for a tent is on a slight incline, so that rainwater will drain down the hill. I say an even better location is about 20 feet from a nice motel.

• Pointing your tent toward the south or east will give you the morning sun. However, the motel suite will give you the morning newspaper and a continental breakfast.

• Be sure to place your campsite near drinking water. Or stay at the motel: Easy walking distance to a mini-bar.

Either way, happy camping.

Let’s do a study to study all those studies

Surely there are jobs out there where people are strictly hired to study – studies.

It certainly must be steady work, because it seems studies of all kinds are being created and devoured as quickly as Twinkies these days. The difference is, in the case of too many studies, it’s the brain that gets soft and fat – creating a cognitive crème-filling in the head.

You name it, there are a multitude of studies for it: education, medicine, science, culture, hypnosis and religion – not to mention studies about moles, both the kind on your back and in the yard.

And coming soon, a dermatological study of mole prevention on moles.

So did Virginia Tech really need to do yet another study? After careful study, they concluded the answer was “yes.”

The study basically proved what everyone already suspected: When you put a bunch of smart people into a room together, they come out dumber.

Volunteers with average IQ’s of 126 were put in problem-solving groups. The first problem was who would sit where. That settled, they went to work.

Before long, a pecking order emerged. (“Pecking order” is a term that comes from the chicken world (average IQ: 4) – and has to do with their hierarchy. Those lowest in the poultry pecking order are among the first to arrive at KFC.)

In the Virginia Tech study, the lower IQ folks showed a high response in the part of the brain that deals with fear – in other words, the IRS portion of the brain. The higher performers tended to drop down to the lower level – just the way Macy’s shoppers drop down to the bargain basement.

The end result? A greater collective dumbness than if just one smart person had done the problem solving alone.

This phenomenon seems abundant in everyday life. Anyone who ever went to a bachelor, office, frat or tailgate party has witnessed first-hand what sometimes happens when otherwise intelligent humans congregate.

Of course, knuckleheaded-ness is even better guaranteed when alcohol is added to the recipe. My own studies have shown that IQ points diminish in direct correlation to adult beverages consumed. It is known as the Tequila to Brain ratio.

In recent news events, exhibit A in this notion of lessened group thinking is the Secret Service prostitution scandal in Colombia. Eleven agents – collectively – came up with a alcohol-fueled boondoggle that perhaps no single agent would have thought of alone. A federal investigation is under way since training with hookers and hooch is not usually part of an agent’s job description.

Simultaneously, yet another branch of government, the G.S.A. (General Services Administration) is finding itself in V.D.D. (Very Deep Doo-doo) over an $800,000 gathering in Las Vegas. The “conference” included taxpayer monies spent on a clown show and a mindreader. (The mindreader said later he could see the brouhaha coming.)

However, in its defense, the G.S.A. did not hire any mimes.

So while, the concept of team – combined intelligences and talents – is certainly essential to efforts like baseball, theatre, relay races and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir – it’s no sure thing that group brainwork matches up all that well with individual genius.

It’s possible that if he worked within a group, rather than by himself, Shakespeare might never have turned out Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear and Othello. That is, unless the members of his group were Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear and Othello.

Then, they’d all be off to Vegas for a two-week engagement at the Mirage.

The wonders of the World’s Fair

My parents didn’t take us anywhere. Why would they? We were five brothers (no sisters) who argued, wrestled, cried, pinched and screamed – on any car trip longer than Safeway.

We owned a cramped Ford Falcon sedan – which was a slightly roomier version of a Ford Sardine Sedan.

As for me, I might have been the least welcome passenger of the group: the one who reliably got carsick before we were out of the driveway.

And yet, in the summer of 1962, we embarked on the most ambitious car trip in the history of our family: Driving from our hometown of Bend, Ore., – to the big town of Seattle – for the planet’s grandest event of all time: The Century 21 Exposition.

Our parents said the World’s Fair was a celebration of the Space Age – a majestic showcase of science, culture and mankind’s destiny. My brothers and I had no interest in any of that. There were rides!

The distance from Bend to Seattle is around 330 miles. At our dad’s average driving speed of 180 miles an hour, we figured to be there in well under two hours. But after factoring in stops for bathroom breaks, food, more bathroom breaks – and my regular disgorgements – the trip took two days.

As we approached the outskirts of Seattle, we could see the spectacular Space Needle looming on the far horizon. “Look,” said Dad. “There’s the spectacular Space Needle looming on the far horizon.” That confirmed it.

We stayed at a motel that was easy walking distance to the Fair – and the spectacular Space Needle, by now looming on the near horizon.

I can still remember standing at the foot of it, looking straight up at its awe-inspiringly majestic height – and wondering if I’d get sick on the elevator ride up. Hedging their bets, our parents kept me away from the Belgian waffles.

Some of the exhibits at the fair attempted to show what sorts of gadgets would be commonplace nowadays. Futurists said we’d all be driving around in our gyrocopters. The closest we came may have been the Yugo.

It was believed future cities would be encased in giant domes. Good thing that didn’t happen to Seattle – or it would have been blown up after just 20 years and replaced with a new, outdoor city.

Scientists were supposed to develop future foods rich in protein. Sure enough, the new 2012 Slim Jim Beef Jerky has a whopping 9.4 grams of the stuff.

As for the monorails we were all supposed to be riding on, that plan has been on hold for the past 50 years while they work the kinks out of the existing one.

Our family loved the Food Circus – with its variety of cuisines from afar. The Italian food was a particular revelation to our family. Previously, we thought Chef Boyardee was penultimate.

I remember the Bubbleator, where the famous greeting was always, “Step to the rear of the sphere” – except for the fill-in operator who was on shift the day we were there. He rearranged it to: “Step quickly into the sphere, before the door shuts on your rear.”

As our weeklong visit ended, we piled once again into our tiny sedan and headed for home. I recall looking out the rear window as the Space Needle began to disappear (on the far horizon).

At that moment, I believed I could see my own future – and whispered to myself: “Someday I am going to return and live here.”

But the vision was ambiguous, so I was unclear whether it foresaw Seattle – or Fife.

Please stop teasing

In the TV news business, it’s called a “tease.” It’s an enticement to keep watching – and a promise that it will be well worth the wait. Example: “There’s a killer creeping around Northwest neighborhoods at this hour. Could it be YOUR neighborhood? We’ll tell you tonight at 11.”

A killer? Tell me which neighborhood – NOW! But, no – you’ll have to watch the newscast. But then, when the actual newscast comes on, the teasing continues: “Coming up, details about that killer. Meanwhile, could there be a change coming in our weather? Jeff will come by to tell us.”

Or, “The Mariners made a big trade today. You won’t believe it. Especially after we tell you about it – coming up later.” That’s about the time I throw the TV remote right through the screen.

We wouldn’t tolerate any other business doing this stuff: “Welcome to Les Schwab! When will we wait on you? The answer is coming up.”

Or, “Good evening. Thanks for coming to the emergency hospital. We’ll attend to your heart attack shortly. Stick around. We’ll be back in two minutes.”

The TV news tease thing was in full swing during last week’s snowstorm deluge. Beyond the advice: “Plan ahead!” (Is there any other kind of planning beside ‘ahead’?), there were the relentless teases: “How much more snow is coming? We’ll tell you when we return.”

“What’s the best snow shovel to use? The answer may surprise you. Coming up.”

“Who does my hair? I’ll tell you after this break.”

The American Heritage dictionary defines “tease” and “teasing” as: 1. To annoy, pester, vex. 2. To make fun of; playfully mock. 3. To arouse hope, desire or curiosity without affording satisfaction.

Which definition do you think TV news has in mind?

Of all of our household appliances, why do we tolerate TV behaving in such a fashion? Who’d put up with a toaster that wouldn’t pop up the finished product until 11 p.m.?

Or a bathroom weight scale that displayed: “How much do you weigh, you may be wondering? It’s a lot more than you may think. The answer coming up later.”

Imagine if everyday people used the news tease approach:

Husband: Hey, Hon! What’s for dinner?”

Wife: “The answer may surprise you. Also, coming up, you won’t belief Bobby’s report card. Was it good? Or bad? The full details right around the corner. Stay with me.”

Husband: “I went to the dentist today. Did I get a filling– or a root canal? The surprising outcome coming up.”

Wife: “I picked up a home pregnancy test at Bartell’s today. Did it come out positive or negative? I’ll show you later.”

Husband: “And, coming up – did I get fired today? And, if I did, how are we going to get by? A special report straight ahead.”

Wife: “Whose mother called this afternoon to say she’s coming for a visit? Could it be yours – or mine? And is she planning to stay for the weekend – or a full month? You won’t believe the surprising answer!”

So enough with the teasing on TV newscasts. We promise not to shoot the messenger – as long as the messenger just gives us the $#!%&! message.

Meanwhile, will this obscure column result in a change in the way local TV news goes about its business? And will pigs fly? You won’t believe the answer in my next column!

‘Twas the night before christmas – on the Eastside

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all ‘round Bellevue.

Kids were waiting for the fat guy to come down the flue.

The stawkings were hung by the chimney with care,

(Can you spot the preceding sentence’s spelling error?)

The children were nestled with Snuggies in their beds,

While visions of Dick’s fries danced in their heads.

Plus dreams about cool stuff like Let’s Rock Elmo’s,

Transformers, Angry Birds, Barbies and Legos.

My wife in her negligee, and me in my whitey-tighties,

Were just climbing into bed, saying our “Nighty-nighties.”

When out in the yard arose such commotion and glare,

As if Justin Bieber had shown up to sing at Bel-Square.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tripped over the cat and fell on my … lower back.

Finally I saw what had interrupted our sleep,

It was St. Nick and his reindeer, all lying in a heap.

Not taking the time to bother to dress,

I ran outside in my briefs to look at the mess.

Nick looked a bit ticked, not saying a word,

He seemed to be shaken, but not seriously stirred.

The reindeer looked like eight tiny nervous wrecks,

Dasher and Dancer were dazed, and Vixen vexed.

I said, “What happened here, oh jolly St. Nick?”

He said, “Don’t stand so close, I’m rather air-sick.

But I’d feel much better if you think there’s a chance,

You could go back inside and put on some pants?”

I did what he asked and soon his nausea passed,

And then St. Nick began to explain things at last:

“We were just flying along not far from Puyallup,

When Blitzen’s right rear leg began to cramp all up.

He began to stagger, the sleigh started to roll,

And before we knew it, we were out of control.

We cart wheeled like crazy, dangerously tiltin’

We bounced off of Tacoma and almost nicked Milton,

We started whirling and twirling, losing our power.

Sailing over Lake Washington toward Meydenbauer.

I struggled in vain to bring our mad ride to a halt,

But it only resulted in a Somerset somersault.

We gave Newport Hills a pretty big shock,

Then skipped over Lake Sammamish like a big, flat rock.

We swung back toward Bellevue College,

Just missing the campus to the best of my knowledge.

Things got roughest somewhere up near Medina,

Cupid bumped his head and would up with a shina.

We came frighteningly close to an end-of-ride spill,

Doing a series of corkscrews right over Clyde Hill.

Near the 520 bridge we started going down fast,

And I hadn’t yet ordered my “Good to Go” pass.

Then we bounded for blocks, flying high and headlong,

Until plopping down here – on your mole-riddled lawn.”

By now his tale was over, and Santa was itching to leave.

“I’ve many more stops to make on this fine Christmas Eve.”

Cupid’s eye was much better – Blitzen’s cramp was all gone.

The toy bag was reloaded – it was time to move on.

Santa sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew – fast as a Boeing missile.

But they’d soon regret barreling away quite so fast.

‘As they headed straight for Tacoma’s Museum of Glass.

It’s war: man your turkeys

By this time, most east siders are well into the Thanksgiving weekend. But my memory hearkens back to one long ago, when a turkey was more than just something to enjoy at the dining table.

I grew up (at least part way) in a family with four other brothers. We five loved each other like any other group of brawling, punching savages. But one thing we all agreed on: We loved playing with our guys. Guys were any of a number of three or four inch-high plastic men – ranging from cowboys to army men. They were made out of plastic so hard, only the largest neighborhood dogs could chew them to the point of ruin.

One Thanksgiving morning, we were playing guys all over the house. Conventional household furniture, appliances and gadgets became fortresses and castles. The back of a chair was a formidable cliff. Shag carpet formed a dense underbrush. The pull cord for the drapes was a daunting climbing rope in the treacherous world of our fearless guys.

Once, my youngest brother dropped a guy into the toilet – a deep lake with steep, white, slippery walls. But when the toilet was accidentally flushed, the unfortunate plastic figure went whirlpooling off to Davy Jones – or the septic tank equivalent.

But that particular morning, our mom had just set out a 23-pound, nude turkey – ready to be stuffed, basted and roasted. But she had forgotten an ingredient for the stuffing, so she grabbed her coat and headed for the door for a quick jaunt to the grocery store. “Stay away from that turkey,” she said before departing.

That’s when the turkey suddenly became a new adventure land for our little plastic men. We walked three of them into the large rear entrance of the turkey cavern, while two enemy guys started through the smaller entrance on the other side, slipping carefully through the curtain of the Pope’s nose.

The imaginary gun battle that ensued inside the tom was spectacular. But all of a sudden, we heard the front door swing open (of the house, not the turkey.) Mom was back – and it was time for an all-guys’ retreat from out of the bird.

When Mom came into the kitchen, she shooed us out and proceeded to prepare her stuffing. Within 20 minutes the bird was packed, garnished and inside the 425 degree oven. That’s when we realized that one of our hard plastic men was unaccounted for.

“I think we left him in the cavern – I mean, turkey!” said the youngest.

My brothers and I ate nervously that night – eyes shifting back and forth – waiting for one of us – or Mom or Dad – to break a tooth on the stuffing. I privately hoped it would be Grandma who bit into the plastic man – she didn’t have as many teeth at stake.

When the meal was over, Mom suddenly produced the missing guy. “Forget anything in the cavern, boys?” she said.

We were busted. Like a wishbone.

Danger in the back seat

I was driving down Richard’s Road last week when a mini-van just in front of me suddenly whipped to the side of the road. Before the car had quite stopped, its right backdoor swung open and a small boy leapt out, ran into some tall grass and hunched over. I knew at once what was going on. After all, that small boy had once been me.

When I was kid, getting sick in the car came naturally – and certainly – especially if my parents made me sit in the back seat. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” A guy named George Santayana once said that. Unfortunately, my parents never heard him say it. I’ll bet Santayana got carsick a lot too.

Summer trips were the worst. Because we had a sedan, my parents put our baby brother in the front seat between them – and stuck me in the backseat with my three other brothers. My siblings looked forward to sitting next to me the way people in ancient Vesuvius enjoyed the volcano.

There was something Pavlovian about the backseat for me. And like Pavlov’s dog, it usually started with the drooling. I’d start feeling burpy and urpy in the driveway. If we traveled any farther than 15 miles, it was a lead pipe cinch that I’d soon be casting forth like cheap champagne shaken up good.

My mom tried giving me Dramamine, the time-honored motion sickness remedy. But the pills caught in my throat and made me gag. Next, she tried the chewing gum version, but it tasted so bad it just accelerated my incipient spew.

Dad thought about putting me in the trunk, but didn’t want me to throw-up on the spare tire. So instead he explained to me that carsickness was purely psychological. “It’s all in your head,” he would say. Unfortunately, by the time it got to my head there was only one place for it to go next – and if the old man didn’t stop the car in time, it was all on his head. Again, not remembering the past, he always seated me directly behind the driver’s seat.

The solution seemed simple to me: Put me in the front seat, between my parents, so I could see the road ahead. I never got sick up there. But, no – my

baby brother sat up front because my parents were worried that he might get car sick in the back. He might get carsick? Hey, put your money on me, Mom and Dad – the sure thing.

I remember a teacher when I was in the eighth grade asking the class: “What would be the worst thing about being the president of the United States?” Most kids in the class offered reasoned, thoughtful answers that indicated that they, unlike me, had been paying attention in class. They said things like “loss of privacy, hectic schedule, fear of assassination” and so on.

But when the teacher turned to me, I had my own answer. “The president always has to ride in the back seat.”

So a warning to parents planning to embark on family car trips this summer. If your youngster in the back seat starts getting real quiet and pale, don’t ask questions. Pull over pronto!

And if you’re the driver, never, ever wear your best shirt.

Real Estate staging

A few years ago, my wife and I were given the task of selling her parents’ home since they had moved out to enjoy the greater ease of assisted living. But Bert, my wife’s dad, wasn’t keen on the idea at first. “I don’t want to be around a bunch of old people,” he declared. He said he preferred to hang out with younger folks—around 93 years of age like himself.

But with their house empty, Bert and his wife became intent on selling—so we met with a real estate agent to get things started. The agent seemed nice enough—except for his too eager smile and sweaty upper lip. Come to think of it, the lower lip was pretty sweaty too.
The house, nice but smallish, was valued at around $250,000. Bert wanted to set the price a bit higher at, say, $1.3 million. We found a compromise and got the process underway.

“Staging” a house is very big these days in real estate circles. It’s a good way of attracting potential customers—and creating what is known as “curb appeal.” Once you’ve got the curbs looking good, it’s time to move indoors.

Most people these days have become sophisticated enough to decipher the jargon they see in real estate ads. For example, they know that “cozy” means the house is so cramped that even the family pets have to stoop over.

A “peek-a-boo view” is one you have to climb to the top of the chimney to see.
“Rustic” means dry rot has set in.
“Fixer-upper” often means that the house is actually a “tearer-downer.”

But there are also some time-honored tricks to selling a home. Experts advise people to a checklist including these suggestions:
Always make the interior of the home look clean and presentable. For example, get rid of any weeds that may be growing in your living room. Other turnoffs are bullet holes, bloodstains on the carpet—and chalk outlines of human forms on the hardwood floor.

Mow the grass regularly—both on the roof and in the yard.

A few minor problems might be overlooked, but if there is more than four or five
inches of standing water in the house, even a novice homebuyer will balk.

Remember that potential customers are often put at ease by the infusion of pleasant fragrances in the house. These comforting smells include potpourri, flowers or the wafting of fresh-baked bread. Less appealing is smoke, old eggs and feet.

But those ideas may be passé’ by now—and have gone right out the double-pane window. That’s because home sellers are discovering a more creative and even bolder staging concept. At least that’s the gist of a story I saw on TV the other day—so you know it gist must be true.

Here’s the idea: Some real estate companies have begun to hire human models and actors to augment the staging of a house. In other words, to better help house shoppers picture themselves actually living there, stand-ins are used. The actors’ jobs are pretty simple: Make the house sound, look and feel like a real household.

Such a staging plan might go like this:
You—a potential home buyer—and your real estate agent enter the house and immediately hear a woman’s voice yell loudly from a backroom: “Don’t drag your dirty shoes over the carpet! Take ‘em off! And shut that door!? Are you trying to heat the whole neighborhood?!”
Next, as you move through the family room, you might notice an older man—perhaps
Grandpa—sitting on a sofa reading the sports section of a newspaper, and shaking his head. He’s muttering something about “the #@$!!&! Mariners.”
In the far corner behind grandpa, a dog is bent over a cat litter box—intently devouring something that looks like—but is not—Almond Roca.

Then, as you pass through the kitchen, a woman (perhaps the one you heard yelling when you first entered the house) is chasing two young kids from the room—while shouting: “I don’t know why I even bother to buy food for you kids—because all you do is eat it!”

The kitchen sink is piled high with dirty dishes, apparently waiting for them to wash themselves—and there’s a cat on the counter keeping its rear end warm by sitting directly on the middle of a just-out-of-the-oven pie.

Meanwhile, an actor playing the part of Dad is sitting in the family room, holding a beer in one hand and a TV remote in the other. He may or may not be wearing pants.
OK, that’s how I would stage a home.

They say you should always go with what you know.