Bag Stranded Reread: Summertime, and the Living is Not Easy

Well, it is Friday, and unfortunately, I have had to deal with more than my fair share of crap today. So, I will not be able to finish my weekly post. But, never fear, a new post will be up on Monday and it will be disgustingly delicious. Trust me. In the meantime, to celebrate the return of ABC's Wipeout as well as the return of the hellish summer heat, here is a Bag Stranded Reread of a blog that I posted last summer. Hopefully it will hold you over through the weekend.

Enjoy, and feel free to leave new fresh comments too! That means you, Mom.

My Father, the Snake Assassin

I’ve been mowing the lawn at my parents' house as my father’s health has, for the moment, taken a turn for the worse. As he is the owner of the much famed and much accursed Smith work ethic, it has obviously been difficult for him to allow me to do the yard work in which he truly prides himself. Of course, it was never too difficult several years ago when I lived under his roof. At that time, yard work served as my daily meal ticket. Not only was I responsible for mowing the lawn once a week, but I also had to weed the garden, water the flowers, and tend to the no less than 80 rose bushes planted around the house. Forget my chores and I would receive the common lecture rating my existence as equal to those of the beloved flowers. “How would you like to sit in the sun without water for a week?” I often considered this as a viable option of getting out of my yard work chores, especially as I sat there, hose in hand, for hours in the blistering Utah summers, like a slightly more depressed Belgian statue.

But, far from being a taskmaster, my father was an instructor who taught me both the value of a well-kept yard and several important life lessons along the way. Landscaping lessons like how to fertilize rose bushes in the spring or the proper way to edge a lawn were combined with the valuable life skills of killing grasshoppers with fingernail polish remover and exploding tomato worms with a well-placed firecracker. There were also times that we threw around a football in the backyard or had batting practice with fallen apples. But the greatest sport, and one of the greatest lessons my father ever taught me, was the fine art of Olympic Snake Throwing.

Otherwise known as “OST”, “Slithery Shot-put”, or “The Beautiful Game”, Olympic Snake Throwing combined the thrill of competition with the thrill of cultish snake handling—something that many other sports would do well to incorporate. The game is played spontaneously upon finding a snake in the yard on any one of the many occasions when we were outside doing yard work. My parents lived behind a field that had a small irrigation canal running right next to their property line. This made for an ideal breeding ground for snakes and our backyard made for the proving ground for young snakes to do battle against the legendary human giants of my father and I.

The first rule of Olympic Snake Throwing is that you don’t talk about Olympic Snake Throwing. The second rule is that you always wear gloves. The object of the game is to hurl the found snakes from our backyard into the field behind our house. Points are awarded based on distance and bounce as well as style and overall technical composition of the program. The reason for the second rule is that the captured snake will take to urinating and defecating on its captor as a last line of defense, which interestingly enough is how I got kicked off of the junior high wrestling team.

In interest of full disclosure, I should point out that these were garter snakes, though I can see how this story would be much more interesting with rattlesnakes or pythons. There was no real danger of becoming a dead fellow with these snakes. Garter snakes are so named because in ancient times they were removed from a new bride’s upper thigh and cast into a crowd of drunken Neanderthals. But a snake is a snake, and snakes are pretty damn scary. Sure, we occasionally felt bad about our sport, especially when PETA drenched our family car in fake snake blood (it was actually just pig’s blood). But we felt that we were doing the world a favor by disposing of these menacing pests. We fancied ourselves the St. Patricks of Magna, Utah; only instead of drowning the snakes in an Irish sea, we hucked them into a rocky field for sport.

"You just pick 'em up and huck 'em." -The Beloved St. Patrick

I had many memorable moments playing Scottie Pippen to my father’s Michael Jordan. It always took me a great deal of courage to pick the snakes up myself, so I first learned how to do it by watching my father’s technique. On my first try, I ran toward the field, screaming like a girl as the snake writhed in my gloved hand, and threw the beast slightly less far than I needed to. It did not clear the chain link fence and was instead impaled on the top wires. After receiving the thumbs down from my frowning mother who peered through the kitchen window, my father took a shovel and flicked the pierced snake off of the fence and then, promptly, ended his misery. Yes, this was a blood sport, but that didn’t mean we were without mercy.

I also had one of my first lessons in sexual education when I threw what I thought to be an extra long garter snake into the field. The entire incident happened in slow motion and I swear that I heard a Verdi opera in the background. The two snakes flipped through the air, their entanglement in the throes of love being so rudely interrupted, until their unholy union was broken and each landed in separate spots of the craggy field. "Dad, what was that?" I inquired. "Ask your mother," came the loving response. The years went by and the snakes were hurled into the fields by the dozens. We knew that if any of them survived the catapult, they would think twice before entering Smith property again. That was, of course, until the snake uprising.

The year of the rebellion, the snakes began entering our house. We would find them in the pantry, under our couches, and hiding behind our toilets. We did not know how, but they came into our house through any hole they could find and they terrorized our family. This, of course, was unprecedented. We had never gone into the field hunting for them, yet they were brash enough to attack us where we lived. I burned through several pairs of gloves and my father blew out his rotator cuff in our efforts to push back the invaders. Wherever we turned, the snakes threw themselves under our lawn mower blades, wound themselves around the aptly named serpentine belts of our car, and conducted air raids by jumping out at us from the trees. Eventually, peace came to the land and we saw fewer snakes in the ensuing years. At first, their absence was welcome. But eventually, we would come to miss the gruesome sport and long for the days of the epic battle between snake and man, and prepubescent boy.

As I mowed my ailing father’s lawn I just happened to run into a very old friend. I nearly stepped on a medium-sized garter snake as it slithered onto the field of battle. Having my bloodlust atrophy somewhat with age, I was prone to let him go and continue to mow the lawn. That was until I turned the corner and saw the serpent eyeing me, daring me on to reignite past tradition. I turned off the engine and the snake took off, hiding in the long, untrimmed grass. I ran to the shed and rummaged through it without finding any gloves. I knew I would have to turn to what my father always called “Plan B”. I grabbed the shovel from the dusty spot it occupied on the side of the shed and bent down low, inspecting the grass blades for any sign of movement. After a few minutes, I tracked it to below the border of the pear tree. After kicking around, it made its way out and then promptly met its end after several blows of my shovel. After standing there like King Leonidas with Spartan sword in hand, I offered the deceased a respectful bow before burying his pieces in the fertile soil of the tree. “It is finished,” I said under my breath with adrenaline still coursing through the veins of my clenched fist. “The battle is mine.”

After finishing my mowing job, I hurried into the house to tell my father about the experience. Even while obviously suffering from his chronic and debilitating illness, and even with my mother berating me for once more killing another of God’s creatures, I could still see the feeling of pride well up in his eyes. Though I may have thought I was suffering under his tutelage when I was younger or dismissed his instruction as unnecessary, it is now clear that my father taught me more than I could have ever asked for. Aside from murdering reptiles, he taught me, by example, how to love and protect your family, how to know and push past your limits, how to give thanks and love to other, non-snake creatures, and how to be a good husband, father, and man. I can only hope to be able to teach my son half of what my wonderful father has taught me over the years, though my own son’s affinity towards snakes might prevent him from enjoying their execution when he is old enough. I will always be indebted to my dad. And even though advanced age and illness might prevent him from competing in future Olympic Snake Throwing competition, there will always be fireworks and tomato worms.

Try and tell me that you don't want to just blow this thing up.

Jar Jar Mitzvah

Once a month, Miranda and I get together with two other similarly-aged couples for a rousing game night. For people our age who are burdened with the duties of parentage and struggling in middle/lower/perceived management, it is our last bastion of freedom. Our games range from the party variety (Loaded Questions) to the nerdy variety (Settlers of Catan) to the nerds of the party variety (Guitar Hero, Burt Bacharach Edition).

During these games we often find out rather privileged information about each other. Often this information comes unsolicited and is difficult to forget, no matter how hard we try. But one of the most shocking admissions came one night when I found out that one of these friends had never experienced what we, and most of the rest of humanity, consider a crucial action signifying entry into manhood, even though most of us had all basically done it as boys.

“I’ve never seen any of the Star Wars movies,” he said with a shame that was as thick as the morning fog on Endor.

With the exception of my dear wife, who thinks that she “saw that one Star Wars with the cute little teddy bear people,” we were all dumbfounded. This man’s wife, who had been told about this condition beforehand, shook her head in shame and embarrassment that it was now well-known that she had to take a serious step down when exchanging marriage vows.

We vowed at that moment that we would redeem his dignity and manhood by having a Star Wars marathon where he would be indoctrinated in the world and ways of Star Wars in one sitting. We were ready to suggest that he be strapped into a wicker-back chair with his eyelids taped open à la A Clockwork Orange, but he had never seen that movie either. But he was ready to embark on the venture under his own free will. So we set the date and anxiously awaited our voyage to a galaxy far, far away.

In telling other people about our plans, it was remarkable how similar the reactions were. First, nobody could believe that there was yet someone alive who had never seen any of the Star Wars movies before. Then, when people considered our planned marathon, it was as if every person we talked to had considered such a thing before. But like telling off your boss, biking across the state, or eating every item off of the Denny’s breakfast menu in one sitting, it was something that you only thought about but never actually set out to accomplish.

After the gasps subsided, the inevitable first question was, “So, what order are you going to watch them in.” It was a valid question, seeing as how George Lucas started the franchise with episode IV because the world was not ready for one Jar Jar Binks. Of course, we watched them in chronological order by release date, something that every inquirer seemed to agree with, having personally made that decision in their minds years ago. It was as if they asked what prayer we would utter on our pilgrimage to the Wailing Wall, knowing they would obviously choose the Prayer of Sorrow. “Next year in Naboo,” they said under their breath. “Next year in Naboo.”

Star Wars has always played an intricate part in my life. Of course I am far from the biggest Star Wars fanatic. I might not know the serial code on Boba Fett’s blaster, but I have also seriously considered purchasing a tauntaun sleeping bag. One of my earliest memories is of watching A New Hope on TV when I was about three years old. Just as C-3PO and R2-D2 traversed the unforgiving desert sands of Tatooine, the plastic tube I had in my ear to prevent infection worked its way out into my fingers, ensuring that I would have to go through another medical procedure to put one back in. Even at three years old, I envied the life of an android. A few years later, I was able to go to Disneyland for the inaugural year of Star Tours, back when Michael Jackson was involved for some reason. Even after that, I roughly played with Star Wars figures with no regard for their future value. All I knew is that my Banthas belonged in the mud pit in the backyard.

I thought they smelled bad on the outside.

I watched and rewatched all of the available episodes during my childhood and adolescence. The playground rumors that episodes I through III were going to be made in the near future were set aside along with the rumors that MC Hammer was a Mormon, Jose Canseco injected liquefied Smarties before every game, and a banking crisis would cripple the US economy in 20 years. Eventually though, the rumors were confirmed, to much weeping for joy that my generation would live to see the long-awaited prophesy fulfilled.

Of course, as a prelude to his prequels, George Lucas revolutionized the industry by re-releasing, for the fourth time, episodes IV, V, and VI in the theaters. Only this time they were über-digitally enhanced with ÜberHX Technology™. Each movie also had some wholly unnecessary and terribly fake-looking additions, like plastic surgery on a 55-year-old woman that had once been the beauty that brought thousands of young, nerdy boys into manhood. But, I still went to see these re-releases for the first show on opening day. One of the proudest moments of achievement in my scholastic career was walking out of a particularly boring pre-calculus class, with a parental letter granting me full indemnity, in order to go see The Empire Strikes Back. It is good to know that I had parents that knew the priorities of a worthwhile education in the force.

Eventually the prequels came out. When I saw Episode I in the theaters, the sheer excitement of the throngs of Star Wars faithful was infectious. The news broadcast stories of people dressed in full Wookie regalia who had been waiting in line at their local movie theater for weeks. Sitting in the theater on opening day, when the frightening Star Wars logo burst onto the screen to the sound of John Williams sneezing, the response of the audience, cheering and screaming, was orgasmic. By the time the outdated blue credits sputtered onto the screen, we were all filled with shame and regret and the desperate need to take a shower. As anticlimactic as the junior miss episodes of Star Wars were, true fans like me still accepted them as a necessary part of the franchise, if only for the intrinsic hotness of Natalie Portman.

My friends and I sat in front of a gigantic television set for the now-much-hyped marathon. We cozied up on our separate couches and let the Doritos and caffeinated beverages flow. In many ways, it was what I had always imagined the life of an adult to be when I was a child. And yet, I never felt so childish as I did sitting there on a Saturday morning and accomplishing none of the actual responsibilities that I had in my life. But by seeing all of the movies in succession, it was as if my experience was heightened. I felt the frozen snot of an upside-down Luke on Hoth. I shed a little tear at the quickening of Yoda. I gave a slight fist pump when boy Anakin won the pod race. I moaned “Nooooo!!!” along with Vader a few minutes before the end of our experiment. We watched roughly 14 hours of film when all was said and done. My friend walked away from it a man, albeit a now nerdier man than ever. And I walked away with a greater connection to one of the greatest stories ever told.

My son, who just turned four, has recently discovered Star Wars for himself and is now able to identify in the most obscure of characters. Though he was somewhat upset that he did not receive the Princess Leia figure for his birthday, the battle-ready Yoda and clone fighter were enough to appease him for the time being. I look forward now, after my recent re-education, to being able to raise him up in the ways of Star Wars. I sense that the force is strong with this one—the force to become unreasonably obsessed with a series of movies. I will take him as my young padawan and together we will take on the mission of the Jedi; to protect the universe from evil and tyranny. Or at least build forts with the couch cushions and use paper towel rolls as our light sabers over the weekend. There will always be responsibilities waiting, but sometimes, you just need to go down to Tosche station to pick up some power converters.

The valentine cards my son will be giving out his first year of school.

A Memorial Memorial Day: the not-so-triumphant return of Bag Stranded

The morning of Memorial Day I woke up, as usual, with my youngest child just in time to catch the last re-airing of the previous night’s Sports Center, before anyone was willing to wake up and comment on sports all over again. I was exhausted from the preparations that I undertook with my oldest child having what we lovingly refer to as a puking spell the night previous. Luckily, the spew only flew twice before going to bed, though I had readied myself for an all-night hourly vomit session. So I had a hard time going to bed and I didn’t stay there for too long. To top things off, Miranda was feeling under the weather as well. I had been looking forward to a meaty BBQ and Miracle-Whip-based-pasta-salad fest with the extended family, but I was sadly coming to the realization that it might not happen.

The stress hormones that are released in my body when I have to play the caretaker to my ailing family is a great way to reevaluate all of the things that are going wrong in my life. 5:00 in the morning is a good time for that as well. And so I mulled over my plans for the future, and inevitably, my hopeless and lately lacking devotion to this blog was one of the first things that came to my mind.

So, the fact that I have not been “active” on this blog lately is something that has been weighing heavily on my mind. My lack of writing has not been from a lack of will, but rather a lack of time. Well, let’s call it a lack of will to spend time doing it when I could just as easily spend that time catching up on TV Land reruns of Barney Miller’s 7th season (or the “Golden Season” as it is known in some circles). I love Bag Stranded, even if you might not. I hate the idea of blogging, but I love the experience of writing and there is no better subject to write about than my less than worthwhile existence. Though it takes work, I actually like sharing information with you that you never really wanted to know in the first place, but which might be kind of amusing at some point.

I have never been very good at keeping the lofty goals I set for myself. For examples, please refer to January 2nd of every year of my entire life. But as I sat watching Hannah Storm and her misshapen body dictate something about how LeBron James’ love of gyros might mean a move to the Greek leagues next year, I realized that it might be time for me to change my ways. Along with drinking less carbonation, abstaining from compulsively eating processed cheese slices, and finally learning how to speak Arabic, I realized that I should devote more time to my little blog and its little, so very little, group of fans. Being the terrible goal-setter that I am, I prayed for a sign to know if making these resolutions was something that would be sustained by a higher power.

Then it appeared.

Opening the blinds and looking into my backyard, a peacock the size of a Dodge Stratus was preening itself beneath the Japanese elm. It was mind-numbingly glorious. How it appeared in my backyard was a mystery, but I was convinced that this giant peacock was sent to me as a cherubic sign that my goals were, in fact, approved by deity.

Later in the morning, while the wife and children watched fully-protected behind the sliding-glass door, I went out to feed the peacock bird seed, sliced carrots, and Frosted Cheerios. I cautiously approached it and it cautiously eyed me. It’s neck turned to try and see me at all angles and it’s crest dangled from the top of its head like some type of tassel from a Lebanese belly dancer. Meanwhile, my wife and children waited in anticipation for the bird to do something like put its tail feathers on full display or savagely eviscerate me with its beak. I whispered in a way so that my family could not see how crazy their husband and father had become. “Thanks for coming. I’ll try to do better with my life.” The peacock faced me directly, stared into my eyes, and opened its mouth to reveal its gravelly, purple pointed tongue. However, rather than a James Earl Jones-esque voice bestowing divine wisdom on my behalf, the peacock emitted a little gagging sound and dropped from its mouth a partially digested carrot slice.

It flew away, or pounced, or whatever peacocks do just a short time later. I don’t think that I have the ability to be an interpreter of signs, so I guess that the backyard peacock is as good of a sign as any. And, one of the easiest goals that I can set for myself and one of the most rewarding to keep (arguably ahead of moderating my cheese slice intake) would be to write a Bag Stranded article once a week. And that is exactly what I am going to do. So, to my loyal fans: thanks for sticking with me through this latest rough patch. For any new readers: sorry if I don’t live up to the hype that got you here. Please be sure to check back here into Bag Stranded every Friday where I will post a new article about some other embarrassing facet of my life. It can and it will be done, so sayeth the peacock.

The feathered oracle.