On Pooping. And Snakes.

The following information may be considered… oversharing. Should I ever run for political office, I’m sure this will be used as part of a vicious smear campaign. That being said, I find it interesting that something we’ve managed to do for thousands of years has become so complicated. That something is pooping. Specifically, pooping in the woods. The modern outhouse and toilet paper (or “bathroom tissue” as it’s known so as not to offend anyone) is a relatively modern invention. In a short span of time, modern society has become horrified at the idea of dropping trou in the outdoors and letting ‘er rip. I know people that when confronted this situation will become instant poop camels and hold it in for the better part of a week to avoid exposing one’s buttocks to the breeze.

This is not me. My intestines run like the German train system. Orderly, on-time, and on a precise schedule. It’s all good unless that schedule is interrupted. If the trains get backed up, anarchy and chaos soon follow. The unhappy commuters rapidly begin to send more and more urgent messages that the trains need to get back on schedule ASAP. Trust me, we like to keep the trains running on time.

Which brings me to the woods. I’m not one of those folks opposed to pooping in the kiltwoods. It can be downright peaceful at times. There are of course the positional challenges. Leaning against a tree, lean back holding on to a tree, sitting over a log, or the traditional squat and hope your aim avoids the trousers bunched up around the ankles. There are times the Scottish kilt in the backcountry has its advantages. As fascinating as all this may be, it is not my point. My point is snakes.

If you know me, you’d know that I have an unnatural fear and adversarial relationship with snakes. This wouldn’t be a problem if I was a librarian, but unfortunately I like the outdoors. Snakes have a tendency to live in the outdoors. This is an issue. Which brings me to my latest encounter. I recently got back from a long river trip to a remote area that, coincidently, is infested with rattlesnakes. Even though snake fears kept me from getting out of the boat unless absolutely necessary, I was having a great time until midway through the trip. After unloading all the gear and getting camp ready, I sat down in my chair to enjoy an adult beverage when I heard something in the grass. A large snake slithered by, not six inches from my foot. My river mates commented that I have an impressive vertical leap for someone my age. A little girl scream may or may not have been uttered, but that detail will stay on the river.

Which brings me back to my original point. As I sat in my tent that night, refusing to come out for dinner, it dawned on me that if I wanted to keep the trains on schedule I was going to have to wander through the snake infested grass and rocks first thing in the morning. absFaced with two undesirable choices, keeping the trains on schedule or being chased by snakes, there was little sleep that night. I made the only choice a rational person would make – I went into camel mode. No coffee, no breakfast, little water. Thank god I’ve been diligent with the ab machine. The cramping became bearable after a while. Major fist-bump to the ladies if this is what the monthly visitor is like.

The fatal mistake came on the second evening of operation anhalten der Deutsche Bahn. Succumbing to hunger pangs, I ate one of those freeze-dried backpacker meals. While they may be tasty going down, they impart a certain… urgency to the train schedule. Early that next morning, with a pounding heart and clenched cheeks, I made my way into the woods to perform a ritual our ancestors have done for thousands of years. Who knew my heart rate could sustain 200 bpm for so long? Fortunately for me this story has a happy ending. Like a Christmas morning miracle there were no snakes and the trains were back on schedule. It’s rumored I may have had a skip to my step when exiting the woods.

My point? As usual, I’ve forgotten. Maybe it’s that snake chaps are a real thing. And that I own a pair. Now to figure out how to wear them with the outdoor kilt. Under or over?


[Upon opening the Well of the Souls and peering down]
Sallah: Indy, why does the floor move?
Indiana: Give me your torch.
[Indy takes the torch and drops it in]
Indiana: Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?
Sallah: Asps… very dangerous. You go first.


Neville Flynn: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
[the terrified passengers on the plane turn to Neville]
Neville Flynn: I HAVE HAD IT WITH THESE MOTHERFUCKING SNAKES ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING PLANE!

Voting Rights And Dr Laura

We recently completed a 12 hour multi-state drive to see family for the holidays.  A mostly uneventful trip. Wake up at the crack of dawn, curse that you didn’t pack the night before, drink approximately six quarts of coffee to ensure you have to stop twenty minutes up the road, start driving, turn around because you forgot something, turn around again because you can’t remember if you locked the front door, and then hit the open road.  Much of the route we take is across some of the most desolate country imaginable. Hundreds of miles without towns or the ability to get a venti no whip mochafrappalattechino (with an extra shot). Brutal.

My normal approach to this sort of drive is a two-step attempt to drive my wife insane. First, I find a semi-truck. Then I drive behind it for hours. I don’t like passing on two-lane roads and I don’t like expensive tickets so I’m happy to just set the cruise control and, well… cruise.  For my wife, god put other cars on the road simply so you’d have something to pass. What’s the point of having a gas pedal if you’re not going to pass people?  Step two of my plan to push her over the brink is my music playlist. A bizarre collection of ’70’s funk, Rage Against the Machine, reggae, electronica/techno dance tunes (the 27 minute remix), and Johnny Cash. Somewhere around hour six she’ll have developed a frightening zombie look as she announces “If you’d like to continue living you’ll pass this f*&%ing truck, and it’s time to listen to something else”.

I’m all about self-preservation, so we commence scanning the satellite radio dial for talk shows. Eventually we stumbled upon the Dr. Laura show.  I’d listened to her briefly several times in the past, but this was my first concentrated dose of the original model for Dr. Phil. I must say, it left me… frightened.  All those people calling in? It’s truly a horrible thought to realize that they are out there, walking around amongst us freely – without supervision and in the wild.

“Dr. Laura? Thank you so much for taking my call. You’re my mentor and it’s such an honor to talk to you. My question? Oh, yes… Well, see it started when my mother-in-law accused me of stealing mail out of her mailbox. I told her she was crazy and then I tried to make my husband go talk to her but he didn’t. It’s been eight months now and I’m not speaking to her ’cause I deserve an apology. My question? Oh, well, see the thing is we’re hav’n a party for my nephew who’s gett’n out of rehab and I don’t want to invite her on account of it being all awkward and all. My husband says I have to invite her. So, what should I do? Shouldn’t she apologize to me before she gets to go to the party?”

The global energy gap, fiscal cliffs, John Kerry as Secretary of State, impoverished children without iPhones – there are so many real crises in this world and this woman is worried about in-law party etiquette? It went on. Caller after caller. Imagined insults. Husbands treating wives like doormats but she really does love him. I spent all $9,000 of our savings on powerball tickets and now my wife is pissed. I have unresolved issues because my sister wouldn’t sit next to me on the bus twenty years ago.

These people are walking around amongst us, pretending to be functioning adults. Even worse – they’re voters. Ultimately these are the people who are voting on pretty complex issues that impact the economy, my pocketbook, and whether or not we’ll use federal funds to build the New Jersey Hurricane Sandy Memorial statue and Walmart tribute center.

It’s clearly time we establish some voter qualifications in this country. I propose the following simple requirements you must meet in order to receive your voter identification card:

  • You must either own property or have purchased a vehicle (of at least $5k in value) in the last five years AND be current on all payments.
  • You must have a job working a minimum of 30 hours a week, or have sufficient savings and/or retirement funds to support yourself and family.
  • Students must be paying for their own tuition or through the military.
  • You must be able to identify the number of zeros in a billion (multiple choice).
  • You must be able to identify the current vice president, speaker of the house, and senate majority leader.
  • Lawyers, people who own more than one cat, and drivers of those tiny little roller-skate looking electric cars are automatically disqualified.

Simple solutions that will get us back on the right track. Time for me to go watch Dr. Phil. I understand he has on some guy who talks to his mailbox because he believes it’s really a portal for him to speak to his brother who went missing twenty years ago.  It’s gunna be a good one!

It’s Getting Hot In Here

I’m down in Palm Springs visiting family. It’s not my first time here so I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but… it’s hot. Early May and it’s reaching the upper 90’s by afternoon. That’s degrees for my European friends. I don’t know what that it is in celsius. Somewhere around 275 I think. I never could figure out all those zeros and decimal places with the metric system. I remember the “metric unit” in grade school. There was some sort of national push in the 70’s to convert the US to metric. I think there was some sort of uprising by 4th graders at the time. Rioting in the lunch room and sit-in’s on the playground convinced the president to abandon metric. Thank god. A royal with cheese just isn’t the same thing.

Anyway, it’s hot. Not surprising since it’s the desert and life isn’t supposed to exist here. Take a gazillion gallons of water from Northern California via the Colorado river, build approximately 20,000 golf courses and viola! You have a thriving city. What’s funny about the population here (besides the wacky golf clothes) is how they treat the heat. One of two things happens. This time of year when it’s merely hot and not melting your eyeballs they all say, “oh but you should have been here last week. It was absolutely beautiful! It’s a little warm, but when that valley wind howls through and blows all the sand off the patio it’s really lovely out.” Everyone lives in a state of weather denial. Sure it’s hot now, but there’s approximately 6 days in January  and a few in February when it’s perfect.

The second state of mind happens in about a month when temps reach 115+ (2,300 in celsius). The residents seem to take it as a badge of honor. “You think this is hot? Last August it got so hot all the rubber hoses in my car melted while I was driving to the mall.” Comparing AC bills seems to be some sort of desert living status symbol. The house I’m in has not one, but three AC units. Not joking, I wear a sweater (cute v-neck!) in the house to ward off hypothermia. Walk outside and you get hit in the chest with heat that rivals an iron smelting factory. Remember to bring your jacket to the mall because the temp inside will be subarctic. It’s amazing more old folks aren’t dropping off left and right from pneumonia.

When viewed from the comfort of your living room, it truly is a gorgeous setting. The beautiful San Jacinto mountains, lush green golf courses, faux spanish/Mediterranean/San Diego architecture, acres of high-end shopping to rival Beverly Hills, all combine to make a special place. A place too hot for rattlesnakes. Given my unnatural fear of snakes, maybe I should give this area a second thought? Hmm, no. Bermuda shorts just aren’t flattering on my figure.

Mt. El Sombroso Photos

The Sierra Azul (“Blue Range”) is an open space preserve in the South Bay region of Santa Clara County. At 18,400 acres, it’s the largest preserve in the district. The area is dominated by Mt. Umunhum, a 3,486 foot peak capped by the “blue cube” the former Almaden Air Force Station. This station was part of the early warning radar network of the 1950’s. Now closed and abandoned the entire are around Umunhum is unfortunately closed to the public. Due to the closure the next best peak is Umunhum’s sister peak, Mt. El Sombroso.

The summit of Mt. El Sombroso at 2,999 feet is a 12.3 mile round trip hike. Primarily fire road, it meanders through deep forest cover for much of the hike. The last few miles of the hike you’ll earn your summit – the gradient turns steep, covered in loose shale, and most of it is spent in direct sun. Hot and tired you’re rewarded with sweeping views of San Jose and the entire South Bay basin. If you have a clear day you’ll be able to spot Mt. Hamilton across the valley.

Almaden Air Force Station

Sierra Azul Open Space

Mt. El Sombroso

Spanish Inquisition, Indigenous Peoples, And Lunch

It’s a beautiful day for a February, so a quick road trip to shake off some cabin fever seemed in order. Just a few miles down the road is one of California’s original Spanish Missions – San Juan Bautista. I’ve lived here for much of my life and never visited. Shame on me I guess. All due respect to the Spanish and the catholic church, but I don’t get the need to convert the indigenous peoples. It’s the Western/European way I guess. Besides, what’s a few cases of measles in exchange for tax paying, productive citizens? Anyway, hop in the truck and head South down highway 101 and turn off on 156 East. The hills are gloriously green and the outside temperature is a perfect sixty five degrees. Hard to believe it’s winter.

San Juan Bautista is a tiny little town of a just a few streets. The mission is clearly the only game in town and a handful of tired looking trinket and gift stores dot the main street, all trying to capitalize on the few tourists that visit. The mission was founded in 1797 and is the largest of the California missions. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Perhaps something more museum-like. They request a $4 per person donation, payable at the dusty, dark gift shop. I assumed there’d be exhibits and displays with plenty of placards and such describing life in the mission during its heyday. What was there were a handful of rooms, virtually nothing to describe the history, and just a few dusty display cases.

I know, I’m a spoiled westerner and expect info to be handed to me with minimal effort on my part. Realistically to maximize the experience you need to have a guide book of some sort to help provide info on the history of the mission. Since I didn’t research beforehand it was pretty much just an old building. I spent some time looking for the torture rooms without luck. I could have been off a few centuries on that, but really – what’s the point of forcibly converting people if you’re not going to hold the miscellaneous tribunal here and there?

Having exhausted the available history of the mission we decided the next best thing would be lunch. Nothing much seemed viable here, so we headed to beautiful downtown Hollister. Its famous motorcycle rally was the basis for the film “The Wild One” and they claim to be the “Birthplace of the American biker”. Apparently bikers don’t come out in February, even in weather this nice. Farm workers clearly are the predominate population. Not much going on in historic downtown Hollister. A few cafes, tattoo parlors, and a couple of closed art galleries. We found a cafe that served a pretty good sandwich. With food in the belly it seemed like a good time wander home.

Mission accomplished (no pun intended). Saw a California landmark before we leave the state. Didn’t expend too much energy (need to save for tomorrow’s Super Bowl festivities). Packed on a few more calories just in case we’re abducted by aliens. Oh, and took a few pictures: