Torrid Spelling

I read an article on yesterday’s Yahoo! homepage that discussed the antics of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. A good portion of that article, written by a snobbish intern for sure, focused on the amount of hits that the Colonel’s name had garnered from internet users. “Eight different spellings of al-Gaddafi’s name appeared in the top ten searches of the past three hours.” Apparently Al Kadafi owns a car dealership in Dayton and "Moo-maral Cut Taffy" is a new Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor in the works. Sounds delicious.

I found it interesting that the attention of the story was taken off the world leader’s hissy-fit, which made his comedic mentor Hugo Chavez blush with pride, and refocused on how most people in America can’t even spell an Arabic name, let alone find the country of Arabic on the map. This is because there are a few people out there in the world who consider themselves the official enforcers of the English language, sworn to protect its spelling integrity to their dying breaths. You may know them as spelling Nazis, which I feel is slightly inaccurate as there are no umlauts in any English words.

As a writer, (professionally, recreationally, and secretly) many people suspect that I have this overarching drive to punish people for their misspellings, especially if they misspell “especially” or “misspell”. However, I think that you would find me somewhat admissive of others. True, I do have three different dictionaries on my desk that I occasionally use for light beach reading. However, my own history with spelling and my shortcomings in that domain are well documented. Or, at least they are now.

In sixth grade, I was selected from my class to participate in the school-wide spelling bee. One student, selected from each classroom, would participate in a massive assembly of students, teachers, and parents to vie for the title and the possibility of being sent to the regional competition. At first, I had no interest in taking part in this, but the idiocy of my fellow sixth graders, who thought “truck” began with a “C-H” and “hanger” had the number five in it, boosted me into the competition. As I met my competitors, I quickly realized that, as there were no Indian or Chinese kids in the bunch, my chances were pretty good.

I began my training by poring over volumes of dictionaries, encyclopedias (Brittanica and otherwise), and my mother’s romance novels. I then had my parents and siblings grill me on the most archaic of words. “Obsequious,” they shouted as I did sit-ups in the living room. “Could you please use it in a sentence,” I muttered through quick breaths. “The multitude of sycophantic adherents were obsequious in their placation. Now spell the whole sentence! Go!”

What I hoped to become

After several grueling weeks of study, I sat on a cold hard chair in the school’s gymnasium, confident that I would bring my family fame and fortune through my career in spelling. My name was called, the first to compete. I walked up to the microphone and received my first-round word. “Poised. The first word is ‘Poised’,” said the kindly moderator who was nearing retirement. With all the hubris of a sixth-grade Icarus, under those weak red and blue gym spotlights that would soon be the bright, burning glow of camera flashes and television lighting, I spoke into the microphone. “Poised. P-O-S-E-D. Poised.” Then with a smirk, I headed back to my seat thinking that the gasp that echoed from the audience behind me was from their own intuition about my celebrity future. “No, I’m sorry. That is incorrect.” My beeline for my chair made a sharp right turn and I walked off of the stage and into the hall where my dreams would have enough room to come collapsing down on my head.

Thirteen years later, I found myself at a secluded desk in a tall, glass-windowed office building in downtown Salt Lake where I encountered another test of my spelling credentials. I was applying for a job as an editor for the LDS church’s publications department. In order to vet their potential editors, along with an ecclesiastical inquiry into all of your past transgressions, they also needed to make sure you could correctly spell words like smorgasbord and hootenanny. I took the test on two separate occasions (as the first hired employee for the position was found to have a past addiction to Mountain Dew) and both times I can only assume that I failed miserably. You have to wonder about a job like that where the word “shew” is still entirely acceptable.

Being frustrated with the lack of editing jobs, I partnered with my friend to form our own editing business. Our ingenious idea was to create an online editing forum where students would pay us their parents’ hard earned money for a job that the spellchecker on their computer was perfectly able to perform. As part of this operation, we gave potential employees who responded to our Craigslist ad a document to test their editing prowess. I took a monumental essay that I had written for a college course and added several mistakes and misspellings for the candidates to find and correct. As I reviewed the test results against a key of the original document that I wrote, I found myself humbled by the fact that, though I had only spliced in five mistakes in one paragraph, one interviewee happened to find 32. One filled the paper with red corrections and included a commentary paragraph at the end questioning the entire thesis and scope of the paper. Someone drew a frowny face. I soon realized that there were many people out there who were much more talented and capable of editing mistakes than I would ever be. There were also more people capable of being just plain mean about it.

Now, I write magazine articles and am shocked with the simple spelling mistakes that my editor finds in my work. I also write for this blog where I am sure you have found several mistakes as one rather fervent friend did in the last post. I would like to blame it on technology. Not only does spellchecker eliminate the need for me to crack the spine of one of my three dictionaries, but it also prevents me from reading any books by making Zoo Tycoon so damn addicting. In an age of e-mails and texting, our society has become increasingly admissive of spelling that suits practicality over traditional convention. If I can abbreviate the preamble to the Constitution to fit in my 140 character Twitter status update, who is to say that I am not the master of my language? And so, rather than being a spelling Nazi, I am something much softer. I’d say more like a spelling Gaddafi. Not really willing to kill millions for their perceived wrong-doing, but still capable of throwing a tantrum in front of an international crowd. But through all the typos and slip-ups and vulgarization in our language today, as a writer and editor, I just have to remember to always stayed posed and balanced with the world I live in.

Poise counts!

Of Mice and So-Called Men: Part Two

In case the "Part Two" was not adequate warning, this is the second part to this story. Scroll on down and read the first part first if you haven't yet. While you are down there, say hi to the Bag Stranded banners on the sidebar that no one ever sees. I haven't fed them for a while.

The late days of spring and early summer in the year 2006 were difficult to say the least. We had to deal with the stress of moving into a new home, bringing a new baby into the world, keeping Miranda in this world after suffering some serious complications after giving birth, and paying for the car accident caused by me falling asleep at the wheel on my way to work at 1:00 in the morning. Simultaneous with all of these things, we had a mouse epidemic in our home that forced my wife to nurse our child in high perches and that turned me into something akin to the zombie hunters from 28 Days Later.

That loud “snap” we heard in the middle of the night was produced from one of several differently functioning traps that we used to combat the beasts. Like any good hunter, I became fanatically aware of the weapons that I used to stalk my prey and often hung them on racks to show to my houseguests. There was the baited snap trap, which proved very effective whether baited with cheese, peanut butter, or Snickers. There was the “Tomcat” brand snap traps which proved far too effective as, instead of cleaning up one limp mouse, I had to pick up the two pieces of said mouse, divided by the guillotine of mouse traps. There was the glue trap which we already were prejudiced against as they still allowed trapped mice the same mobility as a street beggar in India. For a humane alternative, there was the “No-see, no touch” traps where the mouse would crawl in to the contraption, but never crawl out, their presence indicated by a discreet dot on the outside of the trap. In retrospect, since it still killed the mouse, I suppose it was only humane for us. There were sonic emitters meant to drive the mice crazy. There were polarized crystals, used to speak to the mice in their own mousy language. We got pretty desperate by the end.

The dots and snaps became more and more present as the epidemic continued. Each day, at least three times a day, I would walk through my home armed with a flashlight, some rubber gloves, and a plastic bag checking each of the traps. This was quite a project as we had roughly forty traps set in the most elusive parts of our home. After the tenth mouse met his fate in our newly fortified homestead, we decided that we had better solve the root of the problem. We cleaned the house within an inch of its life, exposing stockpiles of dog kibble that the mice had apparently stolen from the previous owners’ canine companion. We set poison traps outside and scoured the outside of the home searching for an entry point. I sealed off every potential crevice and swore in my wrath that I would rid the home from these creatures. The problem was that I really did swear in my wrath, which Miranda did not appreciate in front of our young and impressionable newborn.

Cambo the Mouse Hunter (photo courtesy of vissago @ Flickr, not me)

After weeks of struggling with the pestilent enemy, the mice made their appearance into the gauntlet of death (formerly known as our home) less and less frequently. We went two weeks without catching any mice and eventually lowered the population of mouse traps around the floorboards. We celebrated our grueling battle as the victors and waved the flag bearing the outline of 36 mice, the total number that lost their lives at my hand. The mouse resistance had been eliminated and we were free to enjoy our home as rulers once more. However, in their wake, they left us with one last despicable act.

Coming home from work one day, I went into the basement to do some laundry when I noticed half-way down the stairs that there was a fly buzzing about my head. This was nothing too unusual, until I noticed that it flew back into the main room of the basement where it was greeted by a swarm of its winged compatriots. I saw this as some sort of divine sign and I wondered if I had neglected to let any Israelites go at some point. Eventually, the horror of what I had done donned on me. Since the basement laundry room proved to be fertile ground for trapping and killing mice, I had previously set several traps. One of those was placed on the top of the exposed framed wall to trap any mice who might be coming in through the laundry vent. Since it took a ladder to reach that specific point, it was the one trap out of the forty that I did not check thrice daily. In it, I could only imagine, lay the remains of a mouse that must have served as a warning to any other mice entering through the vent that, “Enter not, for here lie the mangled corpses of your fallen brethren.”

I fashioned a crude facemask out of several old t-shirts, triple-layered my rubber gloves, snapped on my safety goggles, grabbed a bucket and a ladder, and ventured into the laundry room. As I made my way up the ladder, my imagination drew up wild scenarios of what I would find on the top of that wall. Worse yet, because the ledge was so close to the ceiling, I wouldn’t even be able to look at the thing to know what I was grabbing. The flies encircling my ascending head provided the crescendo violin music as my heart beat faster and faster. After trying to summon the courage, I counted to three and then, with a deeply-voiced scream to conjure up my manliness, I thrust my hand onto the ledge until I felt something large and squishy attached to a wooden board. I grabbed what was left of the foul creature and flung him into the bucket on the other side of the ladder, my momentum nearly carrying me off with the decomposed rodent. And with that lumpy grayish mass that nearly doubled the size of the instrument that sealed its fate some three weeks prior, the ordeal was over.

Miranda and I like to think of ourselves as clean people, though an unexpected tour through our house might reveal dirty diapers in closet corners, Pop Tart wrappers buried between couch cushions, and scores of spiders left to die beneath overturned cups. We are happy to report to you all that the mouse problem is no longer a problem, they’re being successfully eradicated by my keen and previously unknown trapping abilities. Inside my soul brews an unhealthy contempt for mice, as evidenced by my previous experiences at Disneyland and Chuck E. Cheese’s. As terrible as those few weeks were, I reflect on them with a bit of longing. After all, hunting the mice did give me a challenge and kept me active. They allowed me to prove to my wife that I am able to protect her. Now, all I do is eat Pop Tarts on the couch and languish in my simmering bloodlust. Every so often, though, I think that I hear some scratching, ever so slightly, within the walls of our home. I grab my rubber gloves and flashlight and smile as I lean over to my polarized crystals where I whisper, “Game on Mickey. Game on.”

Sleep tight little one, for tomorrow you die.

Of Mice and So-Called Men: Part One

If you are as faithful of a reader as I would hope that you are, you will already know that this column constitutes my 50th fully composed article that I have created here at Bag Stranded. Though it may seem arbitrary, it means a lot to me that so many of you have encouraged me to continue wasting my time and yours with this blog. In honor of that, I wanted to share one of my favorite, never-told-before stories with you. It is a two-parter, so just to let you know, there will be a cliffhanger. Thanks for sticking with me for the first 50. Here's to hoping I become authentically published and paid for my writing so I will never have to do 50 more!

Three and a half years ago, Miranda and I moved into our first home that we somehow managed a pre-economy-crash mortgage company to loan us the money for, though it was clear that we would have to live to be 400 before we could pay it off. We were euphoric about our home and thrilled to begin filling it with our frivolous crap. When we first got married, we lived for a few years in a small apartment that was at one point very nice and comfortable and eventually evolved into something out of a Spike Lee film. Despite my misgivings, we moved in with Miranda’s sister and her husband while we looked for a home and some semblance of dignity. After a few months, we moved in to our own house a
nd enjoyed the wonderful, elated feeling that comes to the young homeowner.

After three weeks, my nine-month, bulgingly pregnant wife, stooped on the top of the kitchen counter in her stretched-out maternity nightgown, grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and, with fear and anger emanating from her eyeballs, brought me close to her face and shrilled out the words, “We are going to have to move!” How she managed to get on top of the counter when I had to physically push her out of bed just that morning was mystery to me. Only three things in this world would give Miranda the adrenaline to perform these Xena-like maneuvers: spiders, stray dogs, and mice. I was hoping that there was a stray dog in our bathroom.

We were the second family to live in our house on Wormwood Drive. Aside from being the name of a demon in a C.S. Lewis novel, “Wormwood” is also the name of the star that, according to the wackiest of books in the bible Revelation, will take part in plaguing the earth and its people before the Second Coming. Admittedly, we should have heeded the warning. But, we looked past the unfortunate street name and the lingering scent of brimstone that wafts through our neighborhood and signed the contract anyway. As is the case with many people, if you are not the original tenant of a certain residence, you end up inheriting some of the items that the previous tenants, intentionally or not, left behind. Well, along with a doormat and some cans of paint, we inherited something much more exciting: vermin.

It all began one evening as we came home from a night out at the movies, completely unaware that days away from the birth of our first child those excursions out of the house would become a distant memory. We were happy and proud that we had nearly everything completely unboxed and that the house was beginning to feel more like a home. We took our shoes off and began walking up the stairs to our kitchen area when Miranda saw a conspicuous black square on the middle of one of the steps. She casually asked me what it was and made her way closer to it in order to inspect it. She leaned in closer and just as she reached out her hand to pick up the object (cue crescendo violins) the square shimmied, ever so slightly.

As Miranda made her way screaming past the object and into the furthest corner of the house, cupping her hands over her mouth as her only defense, I took a closer look at the object. It had responded to my wife’s shrill screams with even greater movement and some shrills of its own. I flipped it over and discovered that it was a glue trap that had in its deathly grasp a small gray mouse and the lower two-thirds of its tiny anatomy. After disposing of it the garbage can, an unfitting end for such a brave little journey, we discovered that the trap came from underneath the stove. We had suspiciously noted the traps when moving in, but figured that they could only be a means of security in the event of a possible mouse, and not a temporary solution to a widespread problem. In our absence, this mouse had trapped himself underneath the stove and crawled across the tile and carpet with his two little feet, dragging his limp body behind him as if in a poorly-made teen mouse horror film, and toppled over the stairs, helplessly awaiting our return.

Had this tiny mouse been an isolated incident, we would have laughed it off as a sort of rite-of-passage for homeowners like us. However, after a quick late night trip to the local hardware store and a deafening “snap” heard later that night, we knew that this mouse was more than just a single event but a portent of the horror that was about to enter our lives.

"Portent means 'something that foreshadows a coming event', in case you were wondering. Now, can someone get me some damn cheese over here?"

Allergy Wiz

A while back, I wrote an article here on Bag Stranded about just how much I despised a few aspects of summer. I received requests from a few readers to expound upon my list of pet peeves of the hellish season. In a way, I would like to do that now. One of the things that I really hate about Summer is it ending. Not that I wax nostalgic for feeling akin to a pot roast in my oven of a home. But like a bounced party guest who swipes as many hors d’oeuvres as possible and eats them in spite as he leaves the house, the summer always finds a way to get one last jab at me before it makes its exit. It does this by infecting me with the dreaded late-summer allergies.

For many of you, I am sure that the approach of fall calls to mind all of the beauty of nature that fills up your senses like some sort of John Denver séance. If you are anything like me, and I pray to whatever pagan god you worship that you are not, the onslaught of autumn fills up your senses in quite a different way. The pollen grates at my eyes like buckshot into Uma Thurman’s chest. My ears are dulled by the throbbing, distant feeling resonating through my skull. My nose attempts in vain to contain the floodwaters of copious amounts of mucus. Food loses its taste. I feel nothing but remorse.

I have had to deal with allergies for most of my life. As a young boy growing up over by the railroad tracks in Ragtown, Utah, I was quite different from what you know me as today. I maintained a general sense of well being and satisfaction with the world around me, for one. I also loved to play outside during the summertime with no regard for the many dangers that would threaten me then or later in life. I would come inside after hours of intensive work on the Slip n’Slide and within hours would contract giant pustulous blisters on my shoulders the size and texture of over-ripened cantaloupe. These things were able to maintain their own pulse. The application of aloe vera simply made them angrier and prone to pulsating more rapidly. At times, I would have to feed them crickets to keep them happy.

Along with the impending prognosis of skin cancer, mother nature also decided to punish me for the damage I had done to her through such acts as putting two praying mantises in a glass jar together and awaiting the cannibalistic finale. I was to live out my days (or at least the early-spring, late-summer days) in writhing agony as my sinuses battled the tiniest of seedlings. Far from being welcoming and spacious, the Great Outdoors became more like a great harbinger of doom for me. Now, there is nothing that is scarier to me than a sprouted dandelion just ready to spread its noxious seed into my nasal cavity. I fear these things so much primarily because of two anomalies, among many others, that my body claims.

Two praying mantises, one jar.

The first is that when I sneeze, I can not stop the biological process. After the first sneeze comes the second. Then the third. With no more than 10 seconds between them, I rattle the sneezes off like incantations. It may seem trite, but I remember several instances where I filled up the bathroom garbage can with blood-soaked Kleenexes and convinced myself that I was in fact emptying all the fluid from my brain and would soon die. The only thing that willed me back to life was my refusal to have “Sneezed to death at age 14” immortalize me in an obituary. I have developed many methods for calming these spastic expulsions. The only one that has really worked, and which I still use to this day, involves plugging my nose at the bridge with just a little less force than it would take to break the bone, laying down flat on the floor, and breathing calmly through my mouth. Needless to say, this makes for kind of an odd first impression on a date or a job interview or a bank robbery hostage crisis.

The second anomaly that I bear is that (for those of you who are squeamish, you may skip to the next paragraph) when I sneeze, I always produce ample material of the mucus variety. Most people are able to give off their little sneezes as if they are blowing out a single candle on a birthday muffin, and with a petite “excuse me” they are off to their normal business. For me, if I sense that a sneeze is coming on, I not only begin to prostrate myself on the floor to stop the onslaught of a repetitive nasal attack, but I also have to quickly find a tissue, a spare t-shirt, or a fire bucket and prepare for the weaponized payload that it will surely deliver. And because my sinuses are roughly the size of barn silos, there is always quite a bit of the stuff to deal with. However, since I do not want to be too graphic (and I have saved this material for a movie script I have written aimed at Disney tweens called “Shamus McLamus and the Snot Sneezers) it will suffice me to say this: I have lost weight by sneezing. True story.

My condition was not helped by the fact that, as it is currently, while growing up one of my primary household chores was mowing the lawn. I enjoy mowing lawns, but in the same way that the albino in The Da Vinci Code kind of enjoys lashing himself with a whip. When I was younger especially, I imagined myself hosting my own show that would air on PBS Saturday mornings where I would expound all the mysteries of the artistry of lawn care; “The Lawn and Short Of It with Uncle Cameron”. I could get about half-way through my parents yard when the fits would happen and I found myself wondering how we would fill this dead time on-air. When I was older, I was commissioned to mow my aging grandfather’s pristine lawn which covered the same square footage as some counties in Texas. He watched me like I was sowing his plantation, and in the several intermissions that I had to take to return my body to stasis, he would only complain that the grass under where I had so hastily left the lawnmower was not getting enough sunlight. I’ve tried mowing the lawn with a mask, like a hired Asian landscaper who was afraid of catching a virus, but found that breathing was not a sacrifice I was willing to make in order to avoid a sneezing fit. And so, I mow and I sneeze to this day.

As I write these words, I have a tissue lodged up my nose to prevent any drainage on the newly acquired sores on the outside of my nostrils. I am also nursing a steady cough, chapped lips, and I am collecting the pollen in my eyes to create my own rakeable zen garden. My children, who are often the benefactors of my massively flawed genes, are sniffling their way through September as well. But, my situation could always be worse. I could have allergies and be a complete idiot like the man suffering in this amazingly well written story I came across. Or I could be flippant with allergies like the kid in this video who treats what I consider a serious condition as a mere challenge. Or I could be doomed like my friend who suffers from allergies so severely that he has to go to the hospital to receive weekly injections of poison into his bloodstream to counteract his allergic reactions. Even better, he once passed out while driving home from the hospital and trying to inject himself with the antidote to an overdose of the medical dose of poison. He must have killed a lot of praying mantises when he was younger. I guess I should consider myself lucky that my affliction is only seasonal and I can reserve my contempt exclusively for summer. You know, for an intangible period of time lasting roughly 4 months out of the year, Summer is a real dick. Good riddance Summer. I’ll see you next year.

At once my dream and my nightmare.