Will the curse be lifted?

A new year is nearly upon us and, like hopeful folks from Barstow to Brattleboro, those of us here at the newspaper are hoping for better times, lost weight and the unexpected arrival of fat wads of cash from unlikely sources.

Perhaps most of all, however, many of us here hope the new year will somehow lift the mysterious curse of Harper & Row’s ‘Complete Field Guide to North American Wildlife.’

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?)

Our cavernous newsroom library contains many volumes of quaint and curious lore – five or six 2001 Almanacs, a 1997 Humboldt County phone book and ‘The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern War,’ among others.

One of our most frequently sought-after volumes, however, is the aforementioned Harper & Row’s ‘Complete Field Guide to North American Wildlife.’ Notice I said “sought after,” not “utilized.”

For reasons perhaps best explored by dedicated students of the supernatural, this bright red reference volume disappears each time it’s needed to answer a tough question from one of our readers.

It’s always quite visible whenever one strolls by the library shelves in search of the 1997 Humboldt County phone book, but disappears the moment a reader calls to ask if the monkey-face eel is a native species or if the walleye surfperch is good for sushi.

Let’s face it, we live in a county where wildlife is far from extinct. We receive a lot of calls from people who just moved here from Silicon Valley, who want to know what kind of snake is coiled around the base of their birdbath:

“It’s got, like, two eyes and some spots that are kind of brownish-grayish and it hisses if you tug on its tail. Is that a good snake or a bad snake?”

When you’re a grizzled veteran of life in S’lano County, the first response that springs to mind is “Just keep yanking on its tail – you’ll find out,” but we try to curb our sarcasm when we receive such inquiries and put the caller on hold until we can check our Harper & Row’s ‘Complete Field Guide to North American Wildlife.’

Some of those callers are probably still on hold, because the moment one of us goes to get the elusive wildlife guide it seems to bleep itself right into another dimension. And it always reappears within two days. And always in the same place, right next to Herb Caen’s ‘Guide to San Francisco.’

We have many theories as to what’s happening, including otherworldly manipulation by the late Herb Caen, miffed over having his guide to San Francisco being placed next to a guide to pygmy nuthatches and longjaw mudsuckers.

Our online editor, who is rarely seen outside the dim confines of his cave-like office, blames the phenomena on “Wormholes! Bwahaha! Wormholes!”

Others theorize that the book is simply cursed, or the plaything of poltergeists.

Perhaps with the coming new year, we’ll find a solution to this somewhat nettlesome problem. Until we do, though, it would probably be best for readers to direct their questions about the giant spotted whiptail or marbled murrelet to the reference desk at the public library.

Really. I wouldn’t kid you on this, amigos…

Originally published December 31, 2006

The best gift ever…

It’s never easy to predict what will prove to be the most popular Christmas gift for any given holiday season.

Whoever would have imagined that Cabbage Patch Kids would be the hottest thing since refried beans con queso? Or that Tickle Me Elmo would capture the nation’s imagination in a way that the talking George Bush action figure never would?

Picking the gift that will pick the pockets of holiday shoppers from Barstow to Brattleboro has never been easy, but this year I’ve got a bona fide front-runner that can’t – and won’t – be ignored.

Say “Merry Christmas!” to the life-sized, electronic chimpanzee head.


In a retail world grown weary of radio-controlled Humvees and ho-hum Bratz dolls, the severed chimpanzee head is like a breath of fresh air at a Republican fundraiser.

Recently advertised by Wal-Mart, the life-sized chimp head is touted as “multi-sensored, highly communicative and fully interactive with four distinct moods…”

Four distinct moods? Hell, half the people I work with here in the newsroom don’t have four distinct moods.

And it comes with a remote, so you can interact with your remarkably lifelike chimp head from across the room.

Best of all, it’s only $139.97.

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

Oh, sure, it might seem a little expensive at first glance, but remember what we’re talking about here – a life-sized, interactive chimpanzee head with four distinct moods.

And, if you buy in bulk, you can pretty much wrap up all your Christmas shopping with one triumphant march through the chimp department at Wal-Mart.

For example, if you have 10 people on your holiday gift list, you can get each of them a lovable chimp head this Christmas and take care of the whole bunch for less than $1,500.

Overall, not a bad deal.

After all, if you’re a typical resident of S’lano County, you probably spent more than that on gin and Vienna sausages last month.

Your friends and relatives may quickly forget the oversized candy canes and jingle bell socks you normally hand out at this time of year, but they’ll never forget opening up a colorfully wrapped Christmas present and discovering a lifelike severed chimp’s head inside.

(Really. I wouldn’t kid you on this.)

And life-sized chimp heads are so versatile. You might want to keep your own chimpanzee head on the living room mantel, on your desk at work or, perhaps, impressively riding shotgun in your Hyundai.

Having a jolly Christmas dinner with the family? Slyly bring your life-sized electronic chimpanzee head to the table on a covered platter, then lift the lid with a dramatic flourish.

You can bet you’ll be the envy of the celebration.

Remember to shop early, amigos – these chimp champs are sure to sell faster than you can say bonobo.

Originally published December 3, 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