Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Slugs in the house

Slugs are coming into the house at night. I don't know where they get in—the slug-hole, maybe. It's the hole in the downhill side of the baseboard, where the water's supposed to run out if the apartment fills up with water.

I don't know why they come into the house. Maybe they've got a simple slug robot program.

Here's the simple slug robot program:

Step one: go forward.

Step two: if you can't go forward, back up two inches and turn to the right ten degrees. Go to step one.

So slugs bump into things a lot, if you can say something moving that slowly bumps at all. It's sort of a slow-motion thing.

A slug wreck is a terrible thing to watch. You can see it coming. Even the slug sees it coming. Says, very slug-slowly, "Oh, noooooooo!" The front end of the slug touches the wall. Back end keeps moving. Slow, slow, creeping. Front end of the slug stretches out like a puddle. Wider and wider over the course of five minutes. Ends up as a splatter on the wall. You watched it happen. It took five minutes, and you couldn't do anything about it. It's the same way God watches car wrecks.

You might think it's no big deal that slugs are coming into the house. Annoying, but not exactly dangerous. You'd be wrong.

Pat fell asleep one night with the window open. In the big orange wing chair. Beer half-finished in his hand, resting on the armrest. Woke up in the morning with his hair in his eyes. Reached up to brush it aside, and it felt as if his head had been covered in snot. Sticky, silvery on his fingers, flaking to powder.

The smell of beer had brought it—a six-inch banana slug from the patio. It muscled its way through the screen. Crawled up the chair, slowly, slowly. Over the top of Pat's head. Did a little circle with its back-and-fill slug robot program. Slorched its way down his arm, up and over the edge of the beer glass. Guzzled beer till it was too fat to fit in the glass, then died, head down in that last little bit of beer you're supposed to leave for the fairies so they don't snatch away your children and leave changelings in their place.

Pat tipped the glass over the sink, but the slug stuck. He tapped the rim down on the counter. Still nothing. Tried running a butter knife around the slug's body. It was working wonderfully, making a slurping sound, till he got to a place where the slug skin had dried against the side of the glass. He pushed too hard, broke the skin, and the slug popped. Splattered beer foam and slug guts straight up out of the glass. Straight up into Pat's face. It stung his eyes. And the analgesic property of the slug slime (try licking one if you don't believe me) froze his eyelids open for a week. He had to sleep open-eyed, and he dreamed about nothing but the second-hand on his bedside clock going around and around and around.

So slugs coming into the house are nothing to laugh at.

You can't seal it up. They tried. Ran a line of caulk all the way around the base of the building. Painted it with beer to attract the slugs, salt to dissolve them as they tried to cross over. The slugs used the dead bodies of their companions as bridges. Crawled over them as they hissed and bubbled with the salt. Drank all the beer on the way into the house, so it wasn't just slugs, but drunk slugs.

I got up in the morning. Staggered barefoot toward the coffee machine.

I stepped on something. Cold, wet. A little bit of resistance, then something burst. Colder and wetter. I looked down. There was a spray of slime across the kitchen floor, fanning out the way ketchup does when you stamp on one of those little ketchup packages.

And on my foot, slug skin. Slug guts—whatever kind they've got. There was a short trip to the bathroom while I scraped off the bits, sat on the edge of the bathtub and washed the bottoms of both feet, just to make sure.

Out in the living room there was a zigzag trail. A shining, meandering path you could only see if you stood where the light hit it at the right angle. The drunken slugs had stumble-slimed their way all over the floor.

They were all heaped up in a corner, singing slug songs in high, peeping voices. Sentimental ballads. "I met my love on a lettuce leaf." "When the dew is on the slime." That kind of thing.

I scooped them all up in the dustpan. Eighty-sixed the drunken slugs into the toilet. A meaner person would have poured salt in there from the blue can with the little girl and the umbrella on the label. I just pulled the handle. The slugs went around and around, down the porcelain vortex. There was a sound like "glup." No more slugs.

Next time someone peed in there, the toilet wouldn't flush. Did that thing where the water in the bowl goes up and up, and you stand, looking helpless, thinking, Please don't rise over the rim! Please don't rise over the rim!

I called the Roto-Rooter guy.

"Is it slugs?" he asked.

"Well, um…"

"It's slugs, isn't it?"

I looked at my toes. "Yes."

"Don't suppose you salted 'em first," said the Roto-Rooter man.

"Well, no. I thought it would be cruel."

"Yeah," he said. "Not like flushing them down the crapper. Well, I've got to go out to the van for my slug bit."

The slugs are still getting into the house at night. I put a bowl of beer out for them. Chuck them out the door in the morning. They weave off toward the next-door neighbor's tulips, humming to themselves. If you look at just the right angle, you can see meandering trails of silver on the sidewalk.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Crap. Today I'm going to write about crap. 'Cause we're surrounded by it. Inundated. There's the Cornucopia of Crap, the Cornucopria, I guess it would be. Curved horn with a river of garbage pouring out of it, fish heads and eggshells, coffee grounds and banana strings, the ones you have to peel off the banana after the peel is gone.

People come by with buckets, scoop up the bounty, and take it home to watch on their DVRs. That's where most of the crap goes, right? TV. There's a collection system by the Cornucopria, collects it all in a pipeline, funnels it to Fox headquarters and other places like that. Then it's piped directly into your house through a fiber-optic cable. You turn on the switch, and you've got a hundred channels of crap to choose from.

You kids don't know how lucky you have it. When I was a kid we only had three channels of crap to choose from. There would have been more, but our house was up against the foothills, and the signals from Golden didn't get to us. Or some of them. That's where the towers are for the Denver stations. Tall things on Lookout Mountain above Golden, with red, winking eyes at the top. Golden's where the Coors brewery is, so there's all manner of different kinds of crap emanating from there.

It all went off around midnight, too. They'd play the Star-Spangled Banner, show some jets flying around and some flags waving in the breeze, then there'd be a test pattern and a long beep—maybe 440 hertz? I don't know—for the rest of the night.

The test pattern was all mysterious symbols. Stripes and radiating lines. Triangles with an all-seeing Masonic Eye of Providence in the middle. Just starting out. When you looked away it would blink, but could never catch it in the act. Thing is, it was really watching you.

Here's how it worked. It all goes back to Golden, home of Coors beer, the Colorado School of Mines, and NORAD—that's the North American Air Defense Command. Under the mountain there, a bomb-proof complex mounted on giant springs from hundreds of old Chevies. From the towers on top of the mountain, Cheyenne Mountain, where there's a zoo full of mutant giraffes and things, baboons with a strict patriarchy and a resource base of booze and chicks—we'll get to that later—from the top of the mountain NORAD sent out that test-pattern signal with the All-Seeing Eye of Providence, watching, even when you turned off the TV. Ever notice how the picture shrank down to a little dot when you turned it off? The eye was still there. Then the dot got so small you couldn't see it, but still it was there, watching your living room all night.

Ever notice how the test pattern looked like a combination of a radiation symbol and a target? That was NORAD, too. A big message saying, "Hey, Ivan! Aim 'er right here. See if you can land one in the living room. We're ready for you."

But we were talking about crap. It's years later here. They've mothballed NORAD due to a lack of Rooskies, along with satellites that beam the crap down your chimney from directly overhead. Keeps you occupied. You're watching ads with fashionable people buying, well, crap from crappy stores like Target. You're watching shows like America's Biggest Idiot, where a houseful of contestants vie for the title of, as it says, America's Biggest Idiot.

Here's the secret. I can't tell you where I found out. At the end of the show they reveal that America's Biggest Idiot is… you! Because you watched the thing for three whole months to find out.

There are others. Who Wants to be a Baboon? for instance. Where twelve hapless contestants are thrown in the middle of a troop of mutant baboons at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. They vie for the post of Top Baboon, with all the booze and chicks that come with the position. Nice work if you can get it, but you have to wear a big, red, strap-on ass, or the other baboons don't give you any respect. It's not fair or unfair. It's just biology.

At any rate, all of this stuff coming out of your TV keeps you distracted while the other guys pick your pocket and drive off with your car.

You look at the TV and say, "You call those idiots? I could be a bigger idiot than that! How come I'm not on this show?"

Then you can't find your wallet or your car keys. Meanwhile, they stop a red-assed Chacma baboon trying to buy Coors beer at the 7-11 with your credit card.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I was sure there were no hummingbirds here. Eric said, yes, there are hummingbirds.

I still thought no. We hung up a feeder, just to see. No hummingbirds. Never saw them. Kept looking at the feeder every once in a while. Still full. Still full.

I went out to empty it about a month ago. Thought, That sugar water's going to grow mold. Grow toxic bacteria, and if a hummingbird happens to take a sip, he's going to fall right out of the air, stone dead on the bricks. Stuck point first into a crack, quivering like an arrow.

They have tiny little livers, hummingbirds. That's why you're not supposed to use that red-dyed hummingbird food. It kills them, just like the bacteria in the feeder. So you think you're being nice to them, but instead they're piling up in a heap over there behind the bushes.

Anyway, I went to empty the feeder, and it turns out it wasn't full of clear sugar water, it was full of clear air. The hummingbirds had guzzled it all in secret, when we weren't looking. So it's full again, and I see them all the time. Little fat things. They hover back a few inches, looking around for cats or something, then zip in to swallow about quart of sugar water in ten seconts, then zip back out again to check for cats.

Any cats? Nope. Zip! Glug-glug-glug. Zip! How about now? Any cats?

Any other hummingbirds? That's what they're really after. They fight like demons, zipping around, fierce. But tiny. You laugh, and it's all funny till one of them pokes you right in the eye. Hummingbirds are sharp. Fast. Dangerous. Poison-tipped, especially after they've been drinking out of a feeder full of toxic bacteria.

You wonder what note they make with those wings. Is it like the fluorescent lights, 60 cycles of out-of-tune B-flat? Could you train them to hum in chords? The bass hummingbird would keep falling down because its wings weren't beating fast enough. Once again to be stuck beak-first into the ground, and you'd have to pull it out.

You also wonder, Do they ever drink so much that they can't fly? Like those puffins up in Alaska that eat so much fish they can't take off. I saw them, with their little round bellies bouncing off the water. You figure most of them would get eaten by seals and orcas. A bonus, because they're already stuffed.

So then I learned this—it's amazing the things you learn. Vampire bats get a jet-assisted takeoff by peeing. It's because they suck so much blood out of a cow that they can't take off. It's a lot for the bat, not so much for the cow. They only way they can lighten up enough to take off is to pee. You don't want to be standing in the takeoff path.

Look at that—I start off with hummingbirds and end up with peeing vampire bats. That's the way of all this writing, right into the gutter, with all the bat pee and discarded hummingbird beaks.

See, you can eat them roasted, the little hummingbirds, if you really want to. Hold them by their beaks like hors d'oeuvres on toothpicks. Not much meat on a hummingbird, though. Just a mouthful of little gleaming green feathers.

Not like a puffin, but I imagine those are mostly beaks and oil. Seals eat them, but seals eat all kinds of things you wouldn't touch.