Why Squirrels Dart out in Front of Cars

My first short story.

OK, I admit it, it’s just a political rant.

Big Red was well respected even though he wasn’t exactly the friendly type.  Luckily, Mrs. Red and most of the younger Reds were more neighborly than dad.  What Big Red did have was an impressive talent for finding the best hiding places for his acorns and for protecting them from predators.  He also had a reputation for constantly nagging the younger generation to store as many acorns as possible during the warmer months.  Most of the young squirrels had grown tired of listening to Red’s diatribes about the importance of planning and personal responsibility.

During hoarding season, Mrs. Red’s talent was selecting and hiring the best workers for a specific job.  When folks asked the Reds if they could join their acorn storing enterprise, the Reds were always happy to include the newcomers.  Mrs. Red could tell which squirrels were clever and should focus on learning how to find the best hiding places and she knew which squirrels were better off hauling the acorns or digging and covering up.  She also knew which ones didn’t really want to work at all and she was quick to eliminate them from the process.  Pretty soon the red squirrels had put together an intricate network of acorn hoarding squirrels which efficiently collected and stored plenty of food for the workers and their families.

Bark was a different kind of squirrel.  He was an intellectual and didn’t believe in spending time on mundane efforts such as collecting and hiding acorns.  He was not greedy and he believed that no one squirrel should hoard more acorns than he needed for himself and his family.  He therefore had no respect for the vast hoarding empire built by Red and his family.  Bark’s greatest interest was in improving living conditions for the squirrels in the neighborhood.  All the squirrels loved to hear him speak because he always talked about how in the future, squirrels would live in larger more beautiful nests and winters would be much shorter and there would be plenty of good food for everyone year round.  Bark was a huge fan of dumpster food, it was better than acorns because it was free and readily available.  He loved the hamburgers, french fries, popcorn and cheese curds that the other squirrels sometimes brought for him when they came to hear him speak.

One day Bark was approached by a young female squirrel named Demi.  Demi had suffered a major tragedy early in life when her fiancé was killed by a car, leaving Demi to raise 8 baby squirrels on her own.  She was frustrated because her young children seemed to always be in trouble and she was angry at the ongoing traffic problem that they and the other neighborhood children faced every time they needed to cross the street.  Bark was a big believer in solving social issues and he was sure he could help the community find a solution for the problem of road safety.  Bark asked a good friend of his, who he knew to be the smartest squirrel in the neighborhood, what he thought of the car vs. squirrel problem.

Joe was extremely well educated and also devoted to social justice.  He had a quick answer since watching cars was a passion of his and had spent all of his time studying them.  Car studying was Joes occupation.  Joe would cross the street at various times of the day and at various speeds in various parts of town.  He was extremely proud of his ability to out run the cars and loved showing off his skills.  He became an extremely well respected street crossing expert.  I know what we have to do, Joe said.  We need to train the cars to swerve when they see us.  He had noticed that after crossing the street in front of cars over and over again, eventually, one of the cars would swerve to miss hitting him.  He offered to teach all the squirrels in the neighborhood using his innovative method of darting out in front of a car and pausing for a moment before continuing briskly across the street.  He had proven that the longer he was able to pause and make eye contact with the headlights, the more likely the car was to swerve.

Meanwhile, the red clan had started a robust economy of trading goods and services throughout the community and between neighborhoods.  There seemed to be plenty of acorns stored for winter so the excess was exchanged for nest upgrades, the highly sought after dumpster food and entertainment.  The squirrels that liked dumpster diving always found it easy to trade dumpster food for acorns that would get them through a long harsh winter if necessary.

Some of the gray squirrels were annoyed by the greed of the red hoarder squirrels and complained to Bark that while they focused their energies on the greater good of the community by sending their children to be educated by Joe and his colleagues in the intricacies of car chasing, the red squirrels spent all their time hoarding acorns, upgrading their nests and having fun.  They believed that the acorn hoarders should make their resources available to all squirrels equally, not just other hoarder squirrels.  Pretty soon a whole network of policy makers was hired to address problems of inequality and a whole system of law enforcement rose up to insure that every squirrel participated in activities that Bark believed to be in the best interest of the neighborhood.  Experts were hired to oversee every aspect of collecting acorn taxes and spending them for the greater good of the neighborhood.

Committees of gray squirrels decided that the red squirrels must be pay 1/3 of their acorns to the gray squirrels because obviously the more time the gray squirrels devoted to the greater good, the less time they had to gather acorns for themselves, and their families.  Many of the socially responsible squirrels were angry because the red squirrels continued to have plenty of time for trading and buying nice things for their nest.  It just wasn’t fair because the gray squirrels worked long hours to create policies, hire experts and enforce rules.  They focused a lot of energy on improving the car chasing educational system so that more and more squirrels could learn the car training exercises that would some day make all squirrels safe from cars.

Most of the red squirrels minimized their involvement in car training planning meetings, car training tax enforcement and car training research endeavors.  Some thought that car training was not a good idea and that the car training exercises weren’t working because it was beginning to appear as though cars were not even trainable for some strange reason.  Red squirrels rarely voiced these opinions in front of gray squirrels because it made the gray squirrels very angry.  Sometimes the red squirrels even felt guilty for not participating in car chasing activities.  They wanted to be sympathetic to the sacrifices made by the socially conscious car chasers.  Some red squirrels actually believed that car chasing was important, but that it was too expensive and too dangerous and that avoiding the streets at ground level was a much better solution to the problem.  For the most part, the red squirrels stuck to an above ground system of crossing streets.  They would jump from rooftop, to tree to cable to tree etc. instead of crossing at street level.

Many of the gray squirrels became quite bitter when they saw that even with the major car training efforts and endless studies, grants to experts and oversight committees; the car problem was not improving.  Clearly they needed to devote more resources to the problem.  Other than the chronic lack of resources for their efforts, the main reason for the slow progress was that many of the red squirrels refused to send their children to car training school or to even cross the street at ground level.  Bark decided to pass some more laws requiring all schools to teach car training.  He also insisted that the red squirrels contribute more to car training efforts in their neighborhoods.  He said that the car training schools needed to be more diverse and that every squirrel, no matter what his beliefs or abilities, needed to learn that the only true solution to the car problem was implementing the tried and true car darting method developed by Joe and other government experts.

Winter was harsh that year.  Red and Mrs. Red and all of the other squirrels who contributed to the greedy, hoarding effort all summer long found themselves reaching out to the gray squirrels.  The gray squirrels took the hand-outs but it hurt their pride to be dependent on those awful, greedy, red squirrels.  The following spring, they went to Bark and told him that they didn’t think they should have to ask the greedy people for help when they had worked just as hard for just as many hours as the red squirrels.  It wasn’t their fault that they weren’t making progress with the car training efforts.  Bark agreed and passed a law mandating that any squirrel family that had more than a 1 month supply of acorns be required to give all but what he needed in the immediate future to the government so that car chasing efforts could be increased.  Of course this meant that a whole new enforcement agency would have to be created to oversee the collections.  Bark knew this was a good idea because it would create more census taking, and tax collecting jobs and therefore stimulate the economy.

Pretty soon, the red squirrels quit hoarding acorns.  There was no point in collecting more than they could use in a few days as the rest went directly to the government.  They would gather just enough acorns for their families; then they would spend their time looking for other non-perishable food items that they could quietly hide away.  In their free time, some of the red squirrels got together to talk about how they could bring back the system of wealth and trading that had existed in the old days.  Big Red even suggested that maybe car chasing wasn’t a worthwhile endeavor and that maybe only the squirrels who believed strongly in car chasing should be required to spend their time learning the techniques or devoting resources to the infrastructure associated with supporting the whole car chasing philosophy.  Many of the red squirrels found it difficult to understand why the car chasing experiment was not seen as a failure but rather as a highly successful socially responsible experiment.  Eventually, some of the gray squirrels also came to Big Red asking for advice.  They were afraid they wouldn’t have enough acorns for the winter and they wanted to know if Red had any good ideas.

Bark was still telling his followers that they needed to spend more time building and improving the governmental car chasing infrastructure.  He found the smartest squirrels he could to find and asked them to find even better ways to make sure that all cars were well trained within the next few years.  He knew that the red squirrels would have to step up and gather more acorns to devote to all of the many governmental processes dedicated to the greater good of squirrelkind.  Bark truely could not understand why the red squirrels were gathering and storing fewer and fewer acorns in a time of such great need.

Finally, Red gathered together all the squirrels that had helped him hoard acorns over the years.  He explained that although many squirrels thought it important to spend vast resources on the car chasing projects and its massive associated governmental infrastructure, none of this had benefitted society as Bark had predicted.  Something did not seem to be working.  Red knew that many squirrels would die of starvation this winter because acorn hoarding had essentially come to a halt.  Although Red and his family had found a few substitutes that they believed would get friends and family through the winter, he was sure that many of the car chasing squirrels would not survive.  He and several of the other red squirrels and a few of the gray squirrels who saw the benefits of hoarding acorns started a campaign to convince the gray, car chasing squirrels that only 20% of the hoarded acorns could be used in the car chasing efforts.  Many squirrels in all aspects of governmental car chasing industries from the top down were horrified that the red squirrels could be so stupid and insensitive toward the plight of the squirrels who continued to risk their lives every day, bravely darting in front of cars, while the red squirrels simply created separate above ground street crossings.  They set up protests and picketed the greedy red squirrels.  They created organizations to find ways to increase the amount of acorns devoted to car chasing projects, but to no avail.  Acorns were in short supply throughout the neighborhood because hoarding activities had essentially ceased.

That winter was tough.  Many gray squirrels died of exposure and starvation.  The following spring the remaining squirrels could see that hoarding and greedy behavior was a necessary evil of society that they would learn to tolerate as long as 1/3 of all acorn collections were devoted to car chasing related activities.  The red squirrels went back to hoarding acorns, but they also diversified and hoarded other less perishable goods.  Eventually trading resumed and a strong economy was restored.  Car chasing activities resumed at a slightly slower pace than the previous year.  Of course the gray squirrels vowed to increase taxes on stored acorns once again because progress solving the car problem was still slow and they clearly needed to ramp up their car training efforts since they had not yet devoted enough resources to completely eradicate the problem.  But one day they were sure the red squirrels would cease their greedy hoarding and join their efforts to create a utopian society in which cars had learned to swerve and miss squirrels reliably every time.

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Teeth and Claws

The highlight of my recent trip to Albuquerque was the kitten maulings.  These were great fun for all.  OK, not really.  The highlight was the wonderful food.  Mom and dad made everything on my Christmas food wish list.  The company was fun too except that Al was sick most of the time.  The trip to SantaFe was wonderful!  Thank you for everything mom and dad!

Wishing everyone a much better year this year.

Vikings Clinch Defeat from Jaws of Victory

It was nice to have my sister Kitty and her friend Weeth visit this past weekend.  The highlight of the visit was supposed to be the Viking-Bronco game, but we all know how those turn out.  Weeth is a Bronco fan so at least someone was happy with the outcome.  Aldo described the game as a contest between Christian Ponder and a Pondering Christian (Tim Tebow).  Kitty and Weeth were wonderful guests, they’re neat and clean and they brought us lovely hostess gifts.  They also bought most of our meals/snacks.  Weeth enjoyed the cheese curds at our local dive-bar/hangout and Kitty tried the deep fried string beans.  We took a nice long walk from Target to the metrodome in preparation for the upcoming “walk of shame” on game day.  Apparently, all of the stress and anxiety over finding the way back was un-necessary as Kitty and Weeth had no problem at all.  We managed to find the right kind of beverages for our guests who are what Aldo describes as ‘panda’ drinkers since they tend to stick with one specific type of drink (ie watered down beer for Weeth and red wine for Kitty).  Unfortunately, our guests seemed to have a problem with the altitude (or lack thereof?!) here in Minnesota.  Seems like all that oxygen went straight to their heads making them lightweight drinkers.

Thanks for visiting!

Heaven and Hell

I’m always trying to remember the details of this joke and can never find it when I want it.

Thanks Toby

Heaven is Where:
The Police are British,
The Chefs are Italian,
The Mechanics are German,
The Lovers are French and
It’s all organized by the Swiss.

Hell is Where:
The Police are German,
The Chefs are British,
The Mechanics are French,
The Lovers are Swiss and
It’s all organized by the Italians.

Uninitiated in Alaska, Ketchikan

An Alaskan cruise is a fantastic idea for adventurous, ambitious, organized types. Of course adventurous, ambitious, organized types have fun anywhere they travel. I’d like to tell you about Alaska from the perspective of the laid back, apathetic type. You wake up in sunlight even if you happen to wake up early. You don’t need to compete with the crowds that seem desperate to leave the ship as soon as allowed for their zip-line, wildlife viewing and sea plane tours. Instead, plan on a leisurely breakfast at the buffet on the Lido deck before going ashore. Meander off the boat in Ketchikan at about 9:30 am and your first view is of a giant hill with a paved road leading up a gorgeous snow covered mountain. This will be the adventure for the day. At the top, approximately 100 yards and 30 minutes later you find a lovely state penitentiary and marvel at the view the inmates might have. You quickly rethink any idea of staying however, when it occurs to you there are probably no windows. From here all roads lead into wilderness with only a sparse few homes. By this time, you’ve worked up an appetite and a thirst and are already pondering the eating and drinking portions of your adventure. As you turn around, your eyes are drawn to a free souvenir opportunity underfoot. We will coin the term Alaskan cobblestone (otherwise known as slate fragments). It may not fit in well with your existing European cobblestone collection residing on the fireplace mantel. The squares of slate are flakier than their dense and rigid European cobblestone counterparts, but they are natural and therefore diverse and interesting and free, did I mention free.

You will find that even without aiming for adventure, your excursions will be speckled with brief moments of excitement. Your first adrenalin rush comes when you turn around to face downward and realize that the slope is much closer to 90 degrees than you had originally suspected. There is no snow or ice, but you have a twinge of regret that you are not the organized type and are therefore wearing street clogs instead of hiking or running shoes for the impending descent. Too bad about the snow, sliding down on your butt might have been a good option. You quickly realize that walking is not a realistic possibility and move to plan B which is running with your ‘brakes’ on. You lean back and bend your knees to keep your weight toward your backside in case of a fall. You grit your teeth as your smart ass brother scampers past muttering something about not being faster than the bear just faster than the slowest person in the group.

Next stop, trinket store, unless an eating and drinking establishment happens to intervene. The goal of the trinket store stops is to test the hypothesis that every store in every small town you visit has the same items for sale. This requires looking in at least 2 or 3 stores at every stop and I won’t ruin your fun by giving you the answer. Another goal is to prove that if you buy an item at one stop, the subsequent stop will have the same item for at least 10% less. The reverse is also true. If you fail to buy an item at any one stop, the item will cost 10% more at all subsequent stops. I’m not sure how the stores arrange it. Clearly they have an elaborate system for keeping track of customers and their purchases at every possible trinket store. The trinket stores are especially easy to find in Alaska. Walk off the boat and look in all directions. Mostly you see wide open spaces, gorgeous mountains, large bodies of water, trees, wildflowers and sparsely distributed homes. But in one particular direction you will see a dense collection of buildings. This is your destination. In Ketchikan your task is made even easier by a large sign stating “This way to downtown” that is posted over one of the largest stores. Once through the first store, walk quickly past the vendors offering local tours, these tours require not only money but initiative. It is now ‘beer thirty’, so the uninitiated are ready for the eating and drinking part of the excursion. The first pub is contains only a bar, a few two-person tables and a love seat with a coffee table. The bartender’s tip jar says “bartenders vacation fund”. You order your first Alaskan amber and decide that this is your provisional ‘go to’ drink while in Alaska. The uninitiated like to keep their choices simple and reproducible. For those of us without Y chromosomes, potty stops are a priority. Luckily this small pub is attached to a wine and liquor store so when you ask the salesperson where the nearest restroom is. She explains that it is out this door, up the stairs and around the corner to the left. This is overwhelmingly complicated, so you decide to finish the beer before attempting the feat. Eventually, your quest for a bathroom proves much less demanding than it sounded and leads to another wonderful window shopping adventure. You walk through the craft area and admire the quilts and such during your walk to and from. Uninitiated ‘shopping’ does not require any slowing down or stopping while viewing items for sale. We are not here to buy, but to test our hypothesis and to admire overpriced items. After assessing the atmosphere, music and eating and drinking options of a particular establishment you are ready to ‘relocate’. Stop briefly to photograph the crossing guard, but she will need assurance that you’re not going to do anything ‘weird’ with the photograph. The next stop is food. At the restaurant across the street, the smoked salmon chowder is outstanding, so on your first day you have already discovered your ‘go to’ food option. This happy coincidence will eliminate the need for any effort with regard to future food and drink decisions, a definite plus for the uninitiated.

In most tourist locations, a place that catches your eye will be the pub with the outdoor seating and view of the water/mountain/downtown area. These will be heavily populated by tourists and are always a good destination in spite of the overpriced, uninitiated menu and the overworked, underappreciated staff. Of course a total lack of food is not great when choosing a drinking establishment. The Happy Bears saloon is a must see, even though the music is a bit loud and the lady GaGa selection a bit annoying. The bartender does not seem interested in my marketing ideas for increasing liquor sales at 11 am. Food and drink stops are great opportunities for gathering tourist information. The Happy Bear bartender mentions that the divey Burger Queen across the street has wonderful food. You wander across the street, but your party is distracted by the Asylum bar next door, so you wander in and order beer until the bartender directs your attention to a better suggestion called a Fuze (foo zee). This is a long island ice tea like concoction containing watermelon chunks. Uninitiated travelers occasionally appreciate learning experiences, so you order a Skinny Girl margarita. You also agree to taste the salmon flavored vodka. You now have two new experiences under your belt that you will not have to repeat -EVER. After a brief discussion about a deadliest catch boat and the crew that occasionally stop by and another discussion about the difference between the ‘in patient’ and ‘out patient’ restrooms inside the bar, you are ready to eat. On cue, the bartender pulls out a menu for the Burger Queen next door. Turns out they will deliver your order directly to the bar, removing the need to relocate. Any kind of fish is a good option in Alaska and anything fried is a good option anywhere, but sometimes the uninitiated prefer a simple burger and fries. This is what they know after all. The good news is that the bartenders all know your ships schedule better than you do and they are ready for you to leave so they can shut the doors of the bar in order to continue their own private ‘locals only’ party where they will talk about you and your obnoxious cohorts. Your bartender, who is now drinking at the stool across from you will gently remind you when it is time to leave. You return to the boat, hopefully in time for either another meal on the Lido deck or happy hour at the Ocean bar aboard the Amsterdam. It’s been a great first port.

 

Photo:  Asylum Bar

Easy Peasy Passau

Our Grand Circle Danube Tour was specifically designed to be ‘easy peasy’ (to quote our tour guides)  for those who don’t want to walk very far or risk getting lost.  If you don’t mind walking and perhaps getting  a bit lost, you can go off the beaten path and find even more interesting sites.  With previous Rhine tours Aldo and I have had more time at each site to be somewhat adventurous.  However, as I age, my tolerance for getting lost in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language has plummeted and is rapidly approaching zero.  I am pretty much completely dependent on Aldo for getting me back to the boat.  The bad news for him is that I am a definite back-seat walker and my opinions tend to be stronger the wronger I am—rhyme intended.  The plan for the day is posted on the white board and handed out the night before in everyone’s room.  Walking into Passau was fairly easy in that we just headed away from the water and would eventually find the Christmas Market, the bad news is that the streets never seemed to continue in the direction that you are headed resulting in much zig-zagging.  I don’t remember where this photo was taken, but this particular city had amazing Christmas lights on many of the buildings.  The whole trip was fantastic, we loved the company of friends and family, enjoyed the Christmas markets immensely and saw some wonderful sites in Austria and Germany.  At the end, the river became too high to get under a low bridge and we had to take a bus to our last two cities (Regensberg and Nuremberg).  The Grand Circle folks were gracious about coming up with a very nice, easy peasy, plan B so we ended on a high note at the purportedly largest and most beautiful Christmas Market in the world in Nuremberg.

Welcome to the Wessel

The worst part of the Christmas market cruise on the Danube was sitting through the safety speech our first day on board.  Most of the info was common sense which didn’t inspire a huge amount of confidence and the cliff notes version would have been preferable given that for most passengers, the hours spent at airports and traveling that day ranged from about 12-24 hours.  Don’t slip on the ice, do not light candles in your tiny little rooms and be careful when standing on the upper deck while going under very low bridges, if you fall in, swim to shore.  We did have fun later though imitating (poorly) the Belgium accent of our head safety officer.  His word for the ship was wessel (vessel).  Later that day when I pinched Aldo for some unnecessary comment he directed at me, he quickly responded with “why so wiolent on the wessel”?  After recovering from our jet lag, we settled into a routine of sorts.  Vienna was wonderful.  We had been to the Rathaus (great name for a City Hall in my opinion), once before in the summer, but it was amazing to see it lit up for Christmas.  The snow was an added treat since previous Christmas Markets in Europe have been largely snow free.  My favorite decorations in Vienna were the heart shaped lights in a giant leafless tree, beautiful contrast.  Overall, the trip was fabulous.  Meals on the boat were wonderful and Christmas market food from crepes, to cheesey bread to potato hashbrowns/pancakes to mulled wine (gluhewein) to warm eggnog was outstanding.  Lots of wonderful sites to see and a fabulous crew on the wessel.