Rat-faced squirrel makes a comeback

There’s something gratifying about discovering that a species heretofore thought to be extinct for, say, 11 million years, is actually still hanging around.

If nothing else, it gives hope to the Republican Party.

(Sorry. This has nothing to do with politics, but I couldn’t resist and I’m easily distracted…).

The latest extinct species to make a comeback is none other that the seldom- seen, rat-faced squirrel of Laos.

According to the Associated Press, the whiskery rodent – once mistakenly nicknamed the Laotian rock rat – is actually part of a family of animals similar to tree shrews thought to have disappeared roughly 11 million years ago.

Scientists were overjoyed to find that the discovery heralded not a new species, but a really cool, really old species known as Diatomyidae. And although researchers have yet to capture a example of the prehistoric rat-faced squirrel alive, they’ve found plenty of dead ones in Laos, where hunters bag them for sale to meat markets.

Meat markets? Rat-faced-squirrel-on-a-stick, perhaps…

Best of all, Associated Press reports, nobody knows if these reclusive rodents are an endangered species or not.

And that means, amigos, they’re up for grabs until some tree-hugger decides they should be protected.

Does an 11-million-year-old species really need protection? I think not. They can obviously take care of themselves. And if they can take care of themselves in the Laotian jungle, they ought to do great right here in the good old U.S. of A.

Think about it – all we need to do is import a couple of healthy breeding pairs and America can have a new non-native species to liven up the continental United States.

This could be bigger than Sea Monkeys, fellow future importers of rat-faced rodents, and a helluva lot more profitable for everyone.

Remember all those LA fashion models who were striding around Hollywood a decade or so ago sporting cute little chameleon lizards as jewelry?

That was sooooo ’90s.

Ditto for morons who went staggering about with screeching cockatoos perched on their shoulders.

No, it’s the 21st century, amigos, and the discerning American pet fancier needs to find a new companion with which to make a statement.

The less affluent among us may be able to make do with a cuddly Norwegian wharf rat poking out of our jacket pockets, but those with a little disposable cash are sure to want a prehistoric rat-faced squirrel among their coterie of hairy traveling companions.

Super models will treasure them, jewelers will cash in on little diamond-studded leashes and kids will love ’em.

Rat-faced squirrels – they’re cute, they’re cuddly, they’re 11 million years old and, when you get tired of them, there’s always the aforementioned rat-faced-squirrel-on-a-stick.

Get ’em before they’re extinct again…

Originally published April 2, 2006

Adventure, intrigue and Dumpster diving

Dumpsters – don’t ya just love ’em?

A reader recently wrote to inform me that rummaging through neighborhood trash is much, much more than a pastime for inquisitive children with time – and possibly old coffee grounds – on their hands.

There is, in fact, a nationwide fraternity of Master Dumpster Divers who have taken sidewalk scavenging to a new level.

They’ve even got their own Web site, and it’s definitely worth a look. Diving through Dumpsterworld.com online is almost as exciting as leaping into the real thing out behind your favorite strip mall.

At this Web site you’ll find Dumpster-diving tips as well as tantalizing lists of startling Dumpster discoveries, links to preferred dive sites and a forum wherein seasoned Dumpster divers can reminisce about their triumphs.

This is so much cooler than some boring old National Geographic story about diving for lost Spanish treasure ships in the Sargasso Sea…

For novices, there’s a forum site that will enable less experienced divers to identify hard-to-classify Dumpster finds.

Have you found a sousaphone or an antique Hungarian fire extinguisher? Chances are, a helpful soul at Dumpsterworld.com will have the answer for you. They might even offer to buy it…

There’s also a place on the site where successful divers can proudly post photos of their greatest finds or, perhaps, their favorite local Dumpsters.

And if you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of any Dumpster divers in your community, Dumpsterworld.com can help through its friendly get-acquainted forum: “Meet up with fellow DDer’s and dive with them in your town!”

Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that, amigos…

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this site is the “Dumpster Diving Finds” section. Readers will quickly learn that there’s more to Dumpsters than moldy stir-fry and beady-eyed rodents who could use a bath.

Five-star Master of the Dumpster Jeff, for example, recently wrote of retrieving a dozen old fishing poles (which he plans to donate to a local Cub Scout pack), two log-splitting wedges and a small load of copper pipe suitable for making wind chimes.

(Add those two log-splitting wedges to the copper pipe and you’ve got one helluva wind chime…).These items, however, represent but a minor score for the enterprising Jeff. An earlier Dumpster diving adventure netted him a 12-volt car vacuum, a bagful of brand new cabinet knobs, a compass keychain, garden hose repair parts, a dozen white roses, a big bouquet of lilies and two vases.

This is a whole lot cooler than my long-ago college days when we used to raid the Dumpster behind McDonald’s to collect recently discarded burgers for our signature culinary creation, “Big Mac Stroganoff.”

Although the ambience is crummy, the legality’s questionable and the hours are decidedly irregular, it’s clear that these parking lot entrepreneurs have discovered their own retail rubbish paradise.

Remember the motto: “Dive like no one’s watching!”

Originally published January 16, 2006

Sink your fangs into this…

There’s hope for everyone who was left feeling empty and aimless as the bitingly popular “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series wrapped up its final season last spring.

The newest unauthorized guide to the series, “The Girl’s Got Bite,” is now available for hardcore Slayer fans from Berkeley to Brattleboro and it’s more fun than rolling skulls off a log.

girls got bite

Written by Kathleen Tracy, this exhaustively researched volume catalogs 131 episodes of the eerie series from its humble beginnings in 1997 to its next-to-last season in 2002, providing crucial details about the life and times of Buffy Summers, a typical high school girl – and later college student – destined to stand alone against voracious vampires and their ilk in a quaint little California town called Sunnydale, which was, unfortunately, built over a Hellmouth. (You’re following all of this, right?)

“The Girl’s Got Bite” (2003, St. Martin’s Press, New York, N.Y., $14.95, 342 Pages) is, however, much more than a ho-hum catalog of dusty old television scripts.

Tracy’s unauthorized encyclopedia of Buffy lore includes cast lists, analyses of puzzling plots and detailed backgrounders on everything from little-known demons to appropriate vampire-slaying accouterments.

Can you slay a hellhound with a hunga munga? Not likely, but it helps if you’re a diminutive blonde high school girl who spends most of her spare time patrolling the local cemetery in search of wayward bloodsuckers.

“The Girl’s Got Bite” gives Buffy fans – and would-be Buffy fans – everything they need to fill in unfortunate gaps in their knowledge of Slayer lore.

For example, let’s just say that you’re enjoying a Bloody Mary at your favorite after-sundown thirst emporium when some loudmouth interrupts your beverage consumption with “Hey, betcha don’t know what happened on the ‘Inca Mummy Girl’ episode, Mr. Know-It-All.”

If you’ve studied “The Girl’s Got Bite,” you’ll be able to smoothly reply, “Oh, you mean the one in which a mystical seal is broken, letting a 500-year-old mummified Incan princess return to life as a toothsome 16-year-old who stays alive by sucking the life out of everyone who crosses her path? Is that, perhaps, the episode you’re referring to?”

Most likely, that loudmouth will slither right back into the shadows, thoroughly cowed by your commanding knowledge of Buffy’s complex world.

It’s important to remember that, although Buffy originally was destined to slay nothing more than vampires, the TV series added a score of otherworldly evildoers who had to be exterminated to save the world from perpetual darkness.

“The Girl’s Got Bite” will enable you to keep all these terrifying troublemakers in the proper order so you’ll never become the target of rude laughter if you somehow manage to confuse Eyghon with Mynhegon, or Drusilla with Dracula.

And if you had to ask “Who?” about any of the aforementioned characters, you really, really need “The Girl’s Got Bite.”

Pick it up before you’re branded hopelessly ignorant or find yourself dangerously uninformed when confronted by chaos demons.

Originally published September 28, 2003

Hamburger hackers: Threat or menace?

We’re all painfully aware of the phenomenon collectively known as computer hackers, those beady-eyed troublemakers who flood our e-mail with gibberish and pass viruses around faster than Typhoid Mary.

And we have, for the most part, gotten rather used to having them around.

They’re just part of life in the 21st century, much like $2-a-gallon gasoline and aerosol-powered cheese dispensers.

On a recent trip to the bucolic beer-brewing community of Fairfield, however, I encountered an even more frightening brand of urban menace – the hamburger hacker.

Trouble started at the end of a long day as I pointed my car to the drive-through lane of a nondescript fast-food restaurant and eased my way up to the speaker box to order a pair of cheeseburgers and a diet soda (OK, OK, call me a health nut…).

Although I’d seen the driver in front of me shake his fists at the speaker box and then leave in a rather precipitate manner, I was unable to detect anything out of the ordinary until I tried to place my order.

I was greeted by a mellifluous female voice, but as I began my two-cheeseburger order, the voice changed to that of a New York cabdriver who’d been gargling with roofing tacks.

“Two cheeseburgers? Whazzat – TWO cheeseburgers?! You some kinda pig?! Whaddya tryin’ to pull, TWO cheeseburgers?!”

The first voice returned a moment later and asked gently “Uh, could you try that again?”

Before I could speak, the growling cabbie was back.”Hey, getcha hands outta the food! Whaddya think yer doin’?! Yer makin’ a mess! Ya wanna keep this job, quit playin’ wit’ yer food, got it?!”

Somebody was playing with the food? How amusing…

Undaunted, I tried to make my order again and successfully reached the young woman to whom I’d originally spoken.

When she tried to tell me the cost of my gourmet selection, however, Mr. Raspy was back on the air.

“Fergit it, pal. Yer money’s no good here. We don’t like yer kind, so just giddoutta heah and giddoutta heah right now – G’wan!”

It took me awhile to figure out what was happening – I admit I’m no razor brain – but it soon became obvious.

Somebody nearby was using a transmitter to hack into the drive-through’s broadcasting system and wreak hamburger havoc.

Needless to say, I was somewhat taken aback.

And I got off easy because I eventually got my meal.

Think, however, what could have happened. I could have mistakenly gotten a (shudder!) salad.

Or three roasted chickens, a 12-pack of Oly and a rocket-propelled grenade.

Anything can happen to your meal once hamburger hackers take over the drive-through airwaves.

You might get onion rings or you might get bunion plasters.

If your hamburger hacker is a heavy breather with a little imagination, you also might just get slapped silly by the cashier when you finally reach her window (and have to pay for it, too).

Computer hackers are a problem to be sure, but hamburger hackers can ruin your whole day and most of your lunch…

Originally published September 21, 2003

Republicans blamed for recall

There’s been a lot of unwarranted whining lately about the effort to recall Gov. Gray “I Am Not A Weasel” Davis as being nothing more than another shoddy Republican conspiracy to take over the Golden State.

Poppycock.And, I might add, harrrrrumph…

Although a Republican was instrumental in getting the petition drive under way, the entire Republican brain trust (all eight of them) could not have gotten the recall on the ballot had it not been for the consistently bizarre efforts of one Democrat who steadfastly gave voters reason after reason for a gubernatorial recall:Gov. Gray Davis.

The easily annoyed people of the state of California were more than ready to bounce Gov. Davis long before the state’s canny Republicans climbed off their golf carts and jumped onto the bandwagon.

If anyone engineered the recall, it was Gray Davis himself, bombarding the voters with a virtual hailstorm of questionable campaign funding sources, goofy budgetary decisions, energy crises and a whomping big state deficit.

Although virtually any Republican politician could have done the same in the blink of an eye, only card-carrying Democrat Gray Davis managed to turn the whole mess into an enthusiastic statewide recall of none other than himself.

Gov. Davis couldn’t have done a better job of demolishing his own political credibility if he’d spent his afternoons running naked up and down Capitol Mall blowing on a trumpet.

(Which, when you think about it, probably wouldn’t have raised all that many eyebrows. This is, after all, California.)

Before you start accusing me of being some kind of Republican apologist who just fell off the pork barrel, you should be aware of the fact that I’ve been a registered Democrat for longer than I can remember – which is a pretty damned long time, although I can’t recall exactly how long…

To be fair, some savvy Republican politicos actually cautioned voters about the possible drawbacks of a gubernatorial recall.

“Let’s not be hasty,” they advised.

“This could set a dangerous precedent,” they warned.

“Consequences must be considered,” they cautioned.

Many Democratic politicians said the same thing.

The key word here, of course, is “politicians.”

These guys weren’t urging us to be careful out of legitimate concern for our well-being – they were simply running scared.

The people of the state of California, breaking free of benevolent political guidance from the good ol’ boys, were taking the electoral process back into their own hands.

What a concept – particularly frightening to those who’ve been happily heaping their plates from the public trough for decades.

Who knows where this ill-advised recall action may lead?

These upstart voters actually may begin demanding (shudder!) accountability from their elected officials.

Yes, this may be an unnerving experience for dyed-in-the-wool politicians, but don’t blame it all on the Republicans. They’re just along for the ride…

Originally published September 14, 2003

Exaggeration? Perish the thought!

As hard as it may be to believe, my normally level-headed ex-wife recently accused me of exaggerating in this very conservative, fact-filled column.

She not only accused me of gross exaggeration but of wholesale embellishment as well.

I’m sure readers are just as shocked as I am by this obviously unfounded accusation.

Trouble started two weeks ago as my ex-wife and I motored back from a vacation trip to the strategically unimportant coastal community of Arcata.

Traveling east along Highway 299 near the Trinity River, I spotted the exit for Big French Creek.

“Big French,” I mused, “Now there’s a remarkable bit of Northern California history that very few people are aware of these days…”

“Stop right there. Don’t even think about starting one of your goofy stories,” my former spouse said firmly.

“Even if you really knew anything about Big French Creek, it would be so exaggerated that it would bear no resemblance to reality,” she explained sweetly.

“But it’s a truly remarkable story,” I continued, undeterred.

“Oldtimers will tell you…”

“Great, blame it on the oldtimers.”

“Oldtimers will tell you that Big French was a local hero, a 325-pound Parisian chef d’ cuisine who fled political upheaval in his homeland to find his fortune in California,” I explained.

“Nobody knew his real name, so…”

“Of course not,” my ex-wife muttered.

“So everybody just called him ‘Big French.’

He originally immigrated to French Camp near Stockton, but found the prevailing political climate there almost as hostile as in France itself.

So he continued north until he settled west of Del Loma, whipping up culinary delights for lumber camps that had previously subsisted on hardtack, sawdust, hardtack made with sawdust and foul-smelling liquor made from discarded turnips,” I recounted.

Meals prepared by Big French were treasured by lumberjacks, gold miners, highwaymen and goat herders from Whiskeytown to Burnt Ranch and beyond, I continued.

“Big French became the region’s number one celebrity. There were Big French hoedowns, Big French festivals, Big French Road, Big French Creek and Big French Flat. Unfortunately, this put the region’s former top celebrity – Big Foot – in the shadows. And the big bipedal hairball didn’t like that one bit.”

One night, Big Foot had had enough and he lumbered over to Big French’s cook shack to have it out.

“Oldtimers will tell you…”

“Oh, please…”

“Oldtimers will tell you that it was a long and hard-fought battle, but when the dust and confectioner’s sugar cleared, Big French was nowhere to be seen,” I explained patiently.

“Today, of course, Big Foot and his offspring remain the region’s most popular personalities, celebrated from Garberville to Happy Camp.

All that remains of Big French, though, is that lonely little road sign.”

My ex-wife was having none of it.

“See what I mean? The next thing you’ll do is put your mythical hero Big French in that goofy newspaper column of yours. You’re incorrigible!”

Big French in a newspaper column? Certainement, mon petit lapin…

Originally published September 7, 2003

 

Giving it the old college try …

There seems to be a whole lot of attempted criminality going on in Solano County’s shadowy underworld these days.

It’s truly remarkable how many attempted felonies continue to crop up in Solano County’s criminal justice system on a day-to-day basis.

Every 10th case in Superior Court seems to involve some poor stooge endeavoring to pull off a crime without actually succeeding, but still managing to get caught in the process.

Attempted crimes in California (and especially in Solano County, it would seem) are defined under Penal Code Section 664, which precedes the Penal Code violation which was attempted when listed in a criminal complaint, court calendar or one’s personal best scorecard.

(You’re following all of this, right?)

Thus, a murder under Penal Code Section 187 which didn’t turn out quite as fatally as the perpetrator would have liked, would be charged as an attempted murder, or 664/187.

Simple, eh?

For example, you finally get fed up with your loudmouth neighbor Jocko one hot, annoying afternoon and you open up on him with your trusty assault rifle while he’s rototilling his rhubarb patch.

Jocko escapes your homicidal rampage and you, Mr. Grumpy, wind up in the slammer charged with attempted murder.

As an attempted felony, this is pretty straightforward stuff.

What’s been puzzling me lately, however, are some of the other attempted criminal charges that are turning up in court every few days.

Not long ago I came across a hapless fellow charged with attempting to make criminal threats.
How, exactly, do you not quite succeed in making a full blown threat and then actually get caught for attempting to do so?

Did this guy run out of quarters at the pay phone?

Was he tongue-tied, repeatedly calling his would-be victim and then stumbling all over his blood-curdling threats?

(“Hey, you! Yeah, I’m talkin’ to YOU. Why, when I get my hands on you, I’m gonna, eh, uh, I mean, you’d better make yourself scarce, pal, cause I’m gonna, uhhhhhhh, well, you just better watch it, fella – ya know what I’m sayin’?!…”)

Or maybe our fumble-fingered felon simply dialed the wrong number and rang up, say, the Benicia police chief instead of his no-account brother-in-law.

Almost as puzzling is a recurring charge of attempting to receive stolen property.

This has got to be downright embarrassing to any self-respecting trafficker in goods of dubious provenance.

What did this guy do, lunge for a hot CD player and stumble head first into a nearby police car? Or accidentally take possession of some property that wasn’t, in fact, stolen?

This is, sadly enough, the kind of charge that automatically earns you the nickname “Doofus” on your future cellblock.

And then there was the case of attempted indecent exposure.

I don’t really want to speculate about this one too much, but how difficult can it be to operate an overcoat?

You can bet dedicated flashers from Slab Fork to South Wenatchee are rolling their eyes over that one…

Originally published August 10, 2003