Jadiasuvs threaten California highways

I was motoring peacefully down Interstate 80 with my old ’60s sidekick Sapper not too long ago when a king-sized sport utility vehicle lumbered onto the freeway in front of us, slowed to 45 mph, drifted back to the road shoulder, sped up to about 70 and then shot back to the center divider before stabilizing itself between two lanes and drifting east like an overburdened Lithuanian freighter.

“What’s wrong with that guy?” I muttered.

“It’s jadiasuv, bro, jadiasuv. Been goin’ on for years and it ain’t gettin’ any better, either,” Sapper declared, enthusiastically gnawing on a large slab of beef jerky.

Sapper, I should point out, isn’t always easy to understand.

Forever lost in Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentified herbs near Bolinas in 1968, his communications can sometimes be on the cryptic side.

“Jaddasoov?” I asked.

“Na, bro – ‘jadiasuv.’  It’s one o’ them words you make up out of letters from other words that mean something. You know, an acrimoniouszym.  It stands for ‘Just Another Doofus In An SUV.’ What we just saw was a jadiasuv.”

The phenomenon, he continued, has been around for more than a decade, “ever since SUVs got popular with dot-com yuppies with more money than brains…”

Suddenly, he continued, the roads were filled with motor vehicles the size of aircraft carriers driven by pointy-headed little folks whose previously most challenging automobile had probably been a 3-year-old Toyota Camry.

“They buy a lot of Eddie Bauer shirts, too – the scratchy wool lumberjack kind, ya know?” Sapper added.

Uh-huh.

Many, he intoned ominously, are suspected of being golfers.

“Real rugged outdoor types, Pebble Beach pioneers. Ya know they’re diamonds in the rough because they’ve got, like, heated passenger seats and dual climate controls…”

Sapper was getting somewhat agitated, evidenced by the fact that he had abandoned his beef jerky and was gnawing industriously on his shoulder harness.

The rest of the conversation was a little hard to follow, but Sapper did point out all the danger signs of being in close proximity to a jadiasuv.  I’ll share then with you because it’s way better than climbing up on a broken chair to try, unsuccessfully, to fix the clunky newsroom clock again today…

* You’re in the presence of a jadiasuv if the vehicle next to you on the interstate is roughly the same size as your neighbor’s duplex.

* You’re in the presence of a jadiasuv if the vehicle next to you is so next to you that it’s two feet into your lane (reach out and tap on the window to let the alleged motorist know that you’re there).

* You’ve encountered a jadiasuv in heavy snow or rain if all you can see of the vehicle is its stationary basketball court-sized roof because the driver thought engaging his four-wheel drive would allow him to drive through 12-foot deep floodwaters or through an 18-foot snow drift.

* You’re behind a jadiasuv if it’s doing 35 mph in the fast lane of the freeway.

* You’re in front of a jadiasuv if it’s tailgating you at 80 mph in the slow lane of the freeway.

Happy motoring, amigos…

Originally published November 9, 2003

Personal defense anyone can afford

I try, whenever possible, to ignore ringing telephones after midnight. Good news does, after all, sleep in until noon, right?

On the other hand, it’s hard to disregard a large piece of black plastic that continues to jangle insistently about 5 inches from one’s left ear.

I was wrestling with just such a dilemma about 3 a.m. one morning last week when curiosity – and lack of sleep – finally conquered my resolve. I foolishly picked up the phone.

“Wake up, bro, and greet the dawn of personal defense in the 21st century!”

The message seemed rather cryptic but the voice was unmistakable. My old ’60s sidekick, Sapper, was calling from his dockside crash pad in Oregon.

Forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentifiable herbs near Bolinas in 1968, Sapper seldom calls before midnight. His best ideas seem to hit him between 1 and 4 a.m. and that’s when he calls old friends to communicate his latest plan to stock the Great Lakes with ravenous piranhas as a feisty new game fish.

Last week’s call was no different. Sapper had found a safe and inexpensive way for average citizens to effectively arm themselves against thugs, serial killers and, er, rampaging Republicans, without having to resort to deadly force.

“Garbage!” he crowed triumphantly.

“Mmmph?” I responded.

“It’s simple, bro – I got the idea down by that Dumpster where I found my cell phone,” Sapper related. “Until now, if you wanted an ice cube’s chance in hell of survivin’ on America’s mean streets, you had to carry Mace or a .45 or a stun gun or a big ol’ spike-studded railroad tie to protect yourself.”

Uh-huh…

“But those are bulky and expensive, and sooner or later some cop is going to ask you ‘zactly what you think yer doin’ walkin’ around with a Stinger missile slung over your shoulder,” Sapper continued. “If you’re packin’ my lightweight, 21st-century personal defense bag of scientifically formulated garbage, though, thugs won’t get within 20 feet of you an’ the cops will keep their distance, too.”

The basic personal defense garbage device, he explained, consists of a small, 5-gallon kitchen trash bag “equipped with a quick-release handle and prestressed seams for rapid deployment and maximum dispersal capability” filled with a specially selected assortment of highly aromatic refuse.

“Think about it, bro. A lot of street punks will risk a face full o’ pepper spray or even a knife, but nobody wants to get smacked one upside the head with a sack full o’ fishheads and old coffee grounds and rancid salad dressing,” Sapper explained. “Throw in a couple of my brother’s old sweat socks an’ a rotten grapefruit an’ you’re slicker than a hoop snake in a hailstorm. You’ll own the streets.”

The garbage-based personal defense weapons, he added, have a long shelf life – in fact, the longer the better – and can be easily carried by most adults.

“I’m thinking of pricing ’em at about 25 bucks apiece – maybe five bucks more if you want extra anchovies or maggots,” Sapper added. “So can I put you down for four or five? They could save you life, bro.”

So, I thought, could an unlisted phone number…

Originally published March 30, 2003

Dumpster phones: Threat or menace?

A day seldom goes by that some curious soul doesn’t buttonhole me and ask “Hey, how’s your old buddy Sapper? I love that guy, man – what’s he up to?”

I usually have some kind of answer, since my old ’60s sidekick calls regularly from the pay phone outside the bait shop in Coos Bay to tell me exactly what he’s been up to – endlessly and in great detail.

Forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentified herbs near Bolinas in 1968, Sapper usually gets chatty about 3 a.m. and begins calling acquaintances from Barstow to Boston to let everybody know how his pet scorpion got stuck in the waffle maker. Or why George W. Bush’s middle initial proves he’s a renegade Belgian pole vaulter on the run from Interpol.

Unfortunately, Sapper entered 21st-century communications three weeks ago when he abandoned the bourbon-marinated pay phone outside the bait shop for a state-of-the-art cell phone he found in a nearby Dumpster.

Dumpster phones – don’t ya just love ’em?

Now the phone rings at 3 o’clock in the morning and I’m treated to 30 seconds of free-range Oregon static followed by “How-dee, bo! Whad-ya ‘ink o’ my nuuuuh shell phode? Pret-ty snarp, hah?”

Then there are some bird calls and stuff.

Try as I might, I can’t convince Sapper that a cell phone found in a Dumpster beside a bait shop might not be the most effective form of Oregon-to-California communication.

(Not that he can actually hear me when I try to convince him of this.)

Sapper, you see, is an incorrigible optimist. His glass is never half-empty, it’s always half-full. The Dumpster phone, he’s told me, has got to be the find of the century. He’s never seen one like it, so it’s got to be unique – probably an ultra-high-tech cell phone developed by a secret government agency and then abandoned when relentless Albanian spies began to close in on the old bait shop.

“Why else would it be there?” he asked quite reasonably over the sound of someone strangling a weasel.

So what’s Sapper been up to?

Well, judging by his last communication, it has something to do with eating nautical hardware en route to a place called Sam Damenagego…

“Wake up, ya knucklehead, I’m on my way over Fushtopfffff to Wizzzjester Bay to get a bloke I fussed up. Ate the hatch covers and muzzled the scuppers. Got a non sequitur, too. We’re ready to sail, buddha boy!”

(Buddha boy?)

Sapper, it seemed, was on his way to board a sailing craft to go somewhere. Or not.

“I’m shrewing down as far as San Damenagego an’ I’ll pro bono back round the Quart of October. If we stop in Sank Frankisko, I’ll call you an’ we’ll get a clutter.”

Uh-huh.

“Hakkadah-hakkadah, OK?”

Sure, why not?

This whole scenario might fit nicely into one of those vaguely amusing Sprint PCS phone commercials, but somehow I kind of doubt that Sprint has a lot of competition from the Oregon Dumpster phone industry.

As far as finding out exactly what Sapper’s been up to, I guess we’ll all have to wait until the Quart of October…

Originally published September 22, 2002

A taste treat in every bite

My old ’60s sidekick, Sapper, has adopted a new persona – that of a reclusive Oregon leftover gourmet.

Or perhaps that’s gourmet of leftovers…

I mean, he’s left over, but so is most of the food he consumes.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?)

The phone was ringing insistently a few afternoons ago and, since telemarketers usually wait until I’m eating dinner and Sapper invariably calls between midnight and 4 a.m., I felt reasonably safe in answering the infernal device.

Bad move.

Sapper, forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentified herbs in Bolinas in 1968, had thrown me a telephonic curve ball and had uncharacteristically rung during daylight hours.

“Had to call you, bro. I’ve got a recipe that’ll make Marie Callender look like John Madden. We’ll revolutionize leftovers. Kids’ll love us. Housewives will worship us. We’ll open franchises an’ get fat as a couple o’ Corpus Christi cowboys on a pork binge…”

I could have hung up, but the mental picture of me and Sapper as fat as a couple of Corpus Christi cowboys on a pork binge was just too intriguing to let go.

“I discovered it while I was cleanin’ out the ‘fridge in the van. There was like some old leftover macaroni and cheese and some old leftover mayonnaise and those lil’ bitty smoked sausage things and a dead trout I kinda forgot about,” Sapper continued on breathlessly. “I tossed the trout, but I put the rest of it together for what I’m gonna call ‘The Ultimate Oregon Cold Maraconi and Cheese Sandwich Dee-light.’ That way we can copyright the dee-light part when this taste sensation sweeps the nation.”

Sapper then proceeded to give me his secret recipe for leftover macaroni sandwich success. It’s really not bad – it just sounds that way. And if any of you think I’m going to suffer through this alone, you’re crazy.

Here’s Sapper’s latest recipe for success. Enjoy.

Ultimate Oregon Cold Macaroni and Cheese Sandwich Dee-light

8 lil’ cocktail sausages, chopped

1 box extra orange macaroni and cheese (anything from the local Dollar Tree or smashed food store will do)

1/4 large onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon. garlic powder

1 tablespoon mayonnaise or reasonable facsimile

1 splash of reddish hot sauce

2 slices of sourdough bread

Prepare macaroni and cheese as per label instructions (the ones on the box…)

Stir in onion, sausage and garlic powder.

Let sit in refrigerator or in cold climate for 2 to 3 days.

After macaroni has become sufficiently left over, take two slices of sourdough bread and slather with mayonnaise-like compound. Spoon large globs of cold macaroni and cheese onto bread, splash with reddish hot sauce and combine two pieces of sourdough bread to make a sandwich. Serve cold.

* To make two sandwiches, double this recipe.

Bon appetit, amigos, and don’t say I never did you any favors…

Originally published May 12, 2002

Everybody’s gonna want to see this…

Over the years I’ve learned that there are only two people from whom one can reasonably expect a phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning. One of them is the coroner. The other is my old ’60s sidekick, Sapper.

Forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentified herbs near Bolinas in 1968, Sapper wakes up bright and early at about 1:30 a.m. every morning and energetically begins telephoning acquaintances at random to let them know he’s rarin’ to go.

Once you’ve listened to one of Sapper’s endless schemes to better the world, improve the environment or mitigate his German shepherd’s body odor, a call from the coroner clearly seems like the lesser of two evils.

Last Thursday was no exception. I knew I shouldn’t pick up the bedside telephone when it began ringing at 3:30 a.m., but I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

“Wake up, bro! How’s things down there in the great smog karma basin? Probably lousy – but you already knew that, right? Choking down there with the teemin’ hordes an’ the gridlock an’ rats an’ stuff…” Sapper began cheerily from the shadowy depths of his Eugene, Ore., crash pad.

Sure, I could have dropped the phone, but I was hooked. I had to know where Sapper’s train of thought was headed after the smog and karma and rats and stuff.

“Not that things are much better around here ever since Ken Kesey up and died on us. The ol’ Merry Prankster’s gone and the whole damned town’s been flatlined ever since. We’ve gotta do something soon or we’ll all turn into lawn furniture or something…” he mused.

Fortunately, Sapper had a solution for the community’s doldrums in the wake of the famed counter-culture author’s untimely demise.

Unfortunately, I stayed on the phone to listen to it.

“I think I can save the sorry spirit of Eugene, bro, but I’ll need your help and we’ll have to act fast.”

Uh-oh…

“It came to me while I was havin’ some dental surgery yesterday. Ya see, my gums are gonna be bleedin’ for a few days an’ I got a big bottle of Demerol to fight the pain and existential angst and stuff,” Sapper continued. “On the way back from the drug store, I bought a couple of those, like, jester hats – you know, with the little bells? An’ right then I knew we could save the town.”

Bleeding gums, Demerol, little bells?

“Catch the first flight up here, we’ll gobble a mess of the Demerol, put on the jester hats and take to the streets. It’ll be great. I can, like, spit blood through my teeth and say ‘Bwaaaaah!’ to scare the Republicans an’ you can stumble around all goofy-like and fall over stuff and say ‘Hee-hee-hee!’ like you used to,” Sapper enthused. “We’ll go to the golf course, we’ll go to the Moose Lodge, we’ll go to bowling alley an’ we’ll have a hot time in the ol’ town tonight, buddy boy. Ol’ Ken’ll be up there in the cosmos cheerin’ us on – so go get that plane ticket!”

As hard as it may be to believe, I’ve decided to postpone my trip to the hinterlands of central Oregon until Sapper recovers at least part of his equilibrium. On a more positive note, though, I’ve learned many valuable lessons from his call. For example, I’m now fairly certain why my dentist never prescribes Demerol for a toothache…

Originally published February 10, 2002

Hey, howsabout some deep-fried spaghetti

Funny how just a few words can send your thoughts tumbling back through the years, vividly recalling events better consigned to the dusty, shadowed corners of your blissfully foggy memory.

Only last week I was relaxing with a particularly pungent cigar and half-heartedly listening to a Davis radio station when the broadcasters assaulted my senses with a promotional message that jokingly suggested all freshmen entering the University of California system be required to complete a cooking course before graduating.

Wonderful.

I knew the radio spot was nothing more than a carefully orchestrated bit of fun. I should have been able to shrug, puff and continue vegetating. Perhaps a little loafing, or even some serious laying about, would have been in order. It was, after all, my day off and I was entitled to remain in a benign state of suspended animation.

But the radio announcer had distinctly pronounced “cooking” and “university” in the same sentence.

So much for blissful semi-consciousness.

Suddenly I was catapulted back in time to a place called San Jose State and a world of small, dark kitchen-like places where food products were hopelessly transformed into globs of matter best suitable for paving state prison exercise yards.

If you were one of those young, hopelessly optimistic people who embarked upon your college career not knowing the difference between a cauliflower and a colander, I’m sure you understand exactly what I’m talking about.

It was a very, very dangerous time.

I recall one desperate college chum who, in a moment of insatiable hunger, tried to heat some tuna. In the can. Without opening it. The stove burner, of course, was set on high because my classmate was in a hurry.

The memory of that kitchen still haunts me…

Another student of my acquaintance decided to prepare spaghetti one dark, dismal afternoon during finals. He said fixing spaghetti was easy because he’d seen his mom prepare it. He knew he had to place the pasta in some kind of hot liquid. He opted for very hot vegetable oil.

Yes, there’s nothing like a big pot o’ deep-fried spaghetti. At least until it catches fire…

Then there was McBig Mac Stew.

This particular recipe was created by a rowdy group of counter-culture collegians who lived in a Victorian hovel a short distance from campus. Since none of them really knew how to cook, it was considerably easier – and much safer – to let McDonald’s do it for them. And since they never had any disposable income, it was thriftier to peruse the Dumpster behind the popular fast-food eatery.

Remember, this was the late ’60s, so they viewed liberating discarded hamburgers from a Dumpster as a kind of political statement.

Once they had the slightly-past-their-prime Big Macs back in their kitchen, they’d cut them into quarters, dump them into a pot with a cup of cheap white wine and a can of mushroom soup and let the mixture simmer for an hour or two.

This was usually a fairly safe meal unless my old ’60s sidekick, Sapper, showed up and decided to slip some of his secret herbs and spices into the mixture.

I have to admit, whatever Sapper dumped into the stew seemed to improve the flavor, but it could play hell with your short-term memory…

Originally published September 23, 2001

Parents, teachers and fourth-grade intrigue

You may have noticed a recent article in the newspaper about how best to survive a parent-teacher conference. You know the drill – show up, remain calm, plan ahead, keep an open mind…

Unfortunately, these well-intentioned articles all too frequently are aimed at the people who are going to be least affected by the outcome of an after-school chat – the parents.

After all, parents are simply going to be advised of the problem if a student’s pet horned toad keeps getting loose in Mrs. McKenna’s fourth-grade classroom. The roaming reptile’s young owner, however, is the one who’s likely to lose custody of his scaly, pop-eyed pal.

If, during a parent conference, a teacher decides more homework is in order, it’s the student, not the parent, who’s going to be laboring under the burden of all the extra work.

Let’s face it, if anybody needs help getting through (or around) parent-teacher conferences, it’s the reluctant subjects of those conferences.

I still remember the terror with which my schoolmates and I anticipated parent-teacher conferences.

Throughout elementary school, I ran with a trio of ne’er-do-wells collectively known as the King boys. We made an honest effort to behave during school – sometimes for 15 or 20 minutes at a time – but our good intentions usually unraveled.

We never carried guns or blew up the science lab, but in those innocent days spitwads, contraband bubble gum and unauthorized yo-yos were considered felony offenses. And parent conferences meant all of our sins were about to be dredged up and our good intentions forgotten.

Although we had no helpful newspaper articles to guide us, we did develop several desperate strategies we hoped would get us safely past parent-teacher conferences.

One marginally effective technique was simply trading parent-teacher conference slips with each other. Thus the eldest King boy would have one of his parents go to youngest’s classroom and I would misguide my parents to the middle King boy’s teacher and he would send one of his parents to my classroom.

I think this almost worked once, but since we were all about two years apart, our parents eventually caught onto the fact that the 12-year-old King brother probably shouldn’t still be in the third grade. My parents were also perplexed by the fact that my alleged teacher kept calling me Larry.

It also became apparent that no matter how deftly we switched parents and conference appointments, most of us were usually in trouble for something and no amount of juggling was going to save us.

I was in trouble for pitching a wet, malodorous sponge across the classroom one afternoon, but Larry was already in hot water for pretending to be a space invader by placing a wastebasket over his head and terrorizing all the second-graders. And Reb, the eldest King brother, was facing disciplinary action for graffiti unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Only the youngest King brother, affectionately known as Goose, was relatively free from sin.

Being young geniuses, we decided we could probably send all of our parents to Goose’s parent-teacher conference and somehow escape unscathed.

Did it work?

If you have to ask, it’s probably about time for your next parent-teacher conference – and pay attention this time…

Originally published April 1, 2001