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

More trouble on the horizon…

The 21st century is a frightening and uncertain time. It seems the unimaginable can happen in the blink of an eye and throw our lives into chaos. The world has become a playground for terrorists, street gangs, bands of Republicans and (shudder!) golf clowns.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?).

Trouble started a few otherwise unremarkable Fridays ago as I motored placidly down Highway 29 approaching the strategically unimportant Napa County Airport.

Suddenly, an oxidized red Ford Escort lurched onto the highway in front of me. Hanging from one screw was an unregistered, personalized license plate reading “HAHAHA.” In the rear window of the battered mid-1980s compact were a pair of size 29 shoes, a red fright wig and what appeared to be a mutant sunflower attached to a hose – trouble for sure.

I radioed the newspaper’s photo editor and described the southbound apparition.”Looks like a clown and it looks like he’s turning onto Highway 12 headed for S’lano County…” I reported as the Escort darted back and forth between a wine tanker and a tow truck.

Our photo editor, whose middle name is “Danger,” knew this could be a big, big problem for the county.

“Oh, maaaaaan, we don’t need that. We’ve already got a clown – and an opera company, too. Can you get the Highway Patrol to stop him before he crosses the county line, or maybe just nudge him into a ditch?” the photo editor asked, an edge of urgency in his voice.

Before I could reply, however, the battered compact had disappeared.”

I lost him, I lost him!” I wailed in despair. “I dunno where he went. The only place he coulda turned off is … Oh, no. This is bad. It looks like he pulled off at the Chardonnay Golf Club.”

The photo editor was silent for a moment, then sighed.

“A golf clown. We really don’t need one of those. He’ll squirt a few players with his big sunflower, distribute a gross of rubber golf clubs and exploding balls, then come hooting over here to wreak havoc on our courses. By their very nature, S’lano County golfers won’t notice anything different until it’s too late,” he growled unhappily.

I knew what he was talking about. There used to be a small California town called, if memory serves, Tafano, just north of Milpitas. The town had a prosperous camcrusher factory, a small tomato processing plant and, of course, a pristine golf course.

What, you’ve never heard of Tafano?

Of course you haven’t. It’s gone. The golf clowns came and all that remains are several hundred weatherworn size 29 shoes.

(This is, like, a true story. I heard it at the old Black Watch bar in Los Gatos, and anything you hear there is totally righteous.)

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this whole situation is the fact that these pie-throwing, flower-squirting troubadours of chaos are only the tip of the iceberg for Solano County’s golf courses. What invariably follows a golf clown infestation is even more horrific:

Golf mimes.

Saints preserve us…

Originally published June 26, 2005

How to know when to be terrified

A local horror film aficionado telephoned a few days ago with an alarming problem:

“I think I’ve gotten out of touch. Every time I watch a good horror flick anymore, I always seem to take a break at the worst possible time. I get up for a snack and, when I get back, the zombies have eaten all the scientists and the heroine has her clothes back on. What’s happening to me?”

Alas, this reader’s problem is not an uncommon one these days. Time was you always knew when all hell was going to break loose in a good horror movie because somebody was about to enter either the cellar or the attic of a dilapidated mansion – or the comely heroine decided, apropos of nothing, to take a shower in the cellar or attic of a dilapidated mansion.

No longer.

Today, the clues are still there but they’re a little different and you have to be on your toes to avoid missing the good parts while making a snack or bathroom run.

Now that winter is upon us – and you can only watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” so many times – here are a few tips to keep you on top of late night TV horror and the best of B movie videos.

Attics, basements and showers still play a minor role as important cues to upcoming mayhem, but you should also look for:

* “No signal.”  Anytime a frantic horror movie character gets a “no signal” or “out of service area” message on his or cell phone while trying to summon help, you know the screen is about to erupt in horror. Lots of it. If the heroine is taking a shower in a deserted motel when she gets the “no signal” message, stay glued to your seat.

* “Did you hear that?” These words are invariably spoken by an apprehensive character to skeptical companions immediately before a half dozen vampires drop down from the ceiling and suck the life out of the aforementioned skeptical companions. (Note: Hidden menace also may be aliens, mutants or thirsty Republicans).

* Flickering figure. This is one of those cues that are easy to miss because they’re quick and somewhat confusing. For example, a shadowy, flickery image may dart across the screen just as the heroine is about to take a shower in the attic of the old abandoned lumber mill. You see it, but you’re, like, distracted. Whatever you do, don’t get up for a beer now. That flickery image is sure to turn into your worst nightmare.

* Dead Nazis. Anytime dead Nazis insinuate themselves into a horror flick, the action’s about to become riveting. And messy. This is, admittedly, a pretty common-sense concept. Let’s face it, anytime dead Nazis show up anywhere, they’re trouble.

See you at the movies, amigos…

Originally published December 21, 2003

It’s not an allergy, it’s an adventure…

Every spring and summer I hear the same complaint from bewildered, red-eyed newcomers to Solano County: They’re beset with allergies the like of which they’ve never before experienced.

“I don’t know what’s happening to me,” they’ll sniffle while trying, unsuccessfully, to deal with the periodic sneezing, double vision and incessant ringing in their ears.

“I never had allergies before I moved here…”

Some sufferers complain of oak pollen while others blame ragweed and the county’s hygiene-challenged livestock.

The truth of the matter, however, is that the newcomers’ miseries are caused by none of these.

It’s an undocumented fact that S’lano County – where men are men and women sneeze in your beer – is, in and of itself, a gigantic, self-perpetuating allergen.

Oldtimers hereabouts will tell you that the problem is directly related to an ancient Suisuni Indian curse leveled by Chief Solano at Gen. Mariano “Old Red Nose” Vallejo after the chief got righteously fed up with the 19th century Mexican leader’s land-grabbing and general cussedness.  (Which might explain why Gen. Vallejo opted to spend the greater part of his time in nearby Sonoma County.)

Others say the entire situation is the result of a unique combination of factors found only in S’lano County which have turned the entire region into an international antihistamine sales leader.

Research (probably conducted, I should point out, by some researchers) shows that these factors may include:

A. Roughly 75 species of noxious weeds found only in S’lano County, none of which can be smoked without causing irreversible brain damage.

B. Large quantities of automotive paint particles periodically released into the atmosphere as the tops of overturned cars, trucks and motor homes scrape along S’lano County’s highways and byways.

C. Choking clouds of marsh dust churned up every spring by the passage of the county’s unique – and quite aggressive – variety of twin-engined mosquitoes.

D. Wheat chaff from an unexpected proliferation of mysterious rural crop circles in recent years.

E. A remarkably high concentration of animal dander from hordes of agitated Republicans and seasonal golfer infestations.

Any one of these factors, of course, could pose a serious allergy threat to many people, but the combination actually has created an allergenic atmosphere that has spread over the entire county like a gigantic, sneeze-inducing blanket.

Admittedly, this frequently results in misery for newcomers who have never been hit with such an all-encompassing wave of combined allergens before.

On the positive side, I’ve found, one eventually can get used to S’lano County’s somewhat irritating atmosphere.

Really. It only took me about 30 years…And, of course, it keeps macrobiotic yuppies from Davis from moving here in large numbers…

Originally published July 27, 2003

Get happy, get oily, get a fish…

Want to beat the baby blues? Devour a herring – or two. And keep a six-pack of anchovies on hand for emotional emergencies.

According to a recent Associated Press report, a new British study shows that the conscientious ingestion of extra oily fish – such as herring, sardines, tuna or salmon – may keep new mothers and new-mothers-to-be from getting depressed.

Oily fish may even keep new moms from becoming irritated, annoyed or excessively forlorn, although the jury is still out as to exactly how much oily fish the average woman has to consume on a daily basis to keep an even keel.

God only knows why staid British scientists one day decided to start feeding out-of-sorts pregnant women large quantities of oily fish – or how many of them were severely pummelled for their efforts – but the initial results seem to equate emotional stability with regular doses of slippery seafood.

The key seems to be the omega-3 fatty acids found in the aforementioned ocean dwellers. The more of these fatty acids a pregnant woman consumes during her third trimester, researchers found, the less likely she’s going to become depressed.

And besides, everybody loves sardines, right?

Take it from me, amigos, this is only going to be the tip of the iceberg. If yummy bits of oily fish can be used to keep grins on the faces of mothers-to-be, those same well-lubricated tidbits can probably be used to keep all of us a little more happy-go-lucky.

Why complicate your life with pharmaceuticals and spend a small fortune on pricey prescriptions when you can motivate your sorry self down to the fish market and find inner peace with herring-on-a-stick?

Of course, oily fish researchers will first have to conduct in-depth studies to determine specific dosage criteria for different sexes, ages and levels of emotional stability.

A 23-year-old mother-to-be with a slight overbite, for example, might require a considerably larger dose of oily fish than, say, a 35-year-old amusement park clown with size 24 shoes and a squirting carnation.

(Whaddya mean ‘What?’ Some of us just know these things…)

The average middle-aged Republican golfer, on the other hand, will most likely require an intravenous herring drip simply to keep him from periodically gnawing on the fenders of parked cars.

And then there’s the perennial question that’s haunted piscatorial practitioners for decades: Are three sardines too few, six anchovies too many?

This is important, because overuse of any substance can quickly turn to abuse.

A little oily fish bliss is great – even for angst-ridden Republicans – but too much happiness can lead to dangerous levels of euphoric enslavement.

Anybody who’s ever stumbled across a grinning, semi-conscious derelict lying amid a pile of discarded herring tails knows what I’m talking about…

Originally published June 8, 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

Lo, the wonders of the Rabbitnet

Since being forcibly booted into the 21st century a few months ago due to a change in newspaper beats, I’ve frequently found myself wandering the dimly lit shoulders of the information highway.

Sometimes I’m looking for an obscure appellate court ruling that would only be of interest to an attorney who specializes in Illinois pawnshop law. Other times I stumble across Japanese rabbits who balance pancakes on their heads.

pancake_bunny

And yes, even as you read this, several of my old acquaintances are undoubtedly nodding sagely and muttering, “He’s gotta be drinkin’ again. Let’s hope somebody locked up his Smith & Wesson…”.

Oh, they of little faith – because there really was a Japanese rabbit who balanced pancakes – among other objects – on his head and there’s a Web site devoted to the talented fellow with photographs documenting his every feat.

Since most of the e-mail I receive has something to do with low, low mortgage interest rates or enlarging a part of my anatomy I’m not going to discuss right now, news of this Web site was a real breath of fresh air.

The rabbit, Oolong, was born on July 28, 1994, in Hokkaido, Japan, and was the pet of Hironori Akutagawa, who faithfully recorded each of Oolong’s balancing feats (or “head performances”) and put them on the Internet to share with the world.

Unique? You betcha – and this Web site never says anything about mortgage rates or steamy college co-eds who want to get to know you better.

No, indeed. It’s about, among other things, how many film canisters Oolong could balance on his head at one time (three seems to be the record – but just for film canisters. He’s also been known to balance as many as 10 doughnut-like Japanese pastries on his head without working up a sweat).

Think about it – how many rabbits do you know who can balance even one film canister on their heads? For that matter, how many Republicans do you know who can balance even one film canister on their heads?

And Oolong was nothing if not versatile. During his remarkable career, Oolong not only balanced steamed egg cakes on his head, he deftly handled strawberry rice cakes, corks, roll cakes and Baumkucken circular cakes with equal skill.

He could manage pumpkin rice cakes with ease and thought nothing of balancing one or more “Doryaki” – the aforementioned pancake-like objects – on his head to liven up the old Web site and build international understanding of balancing rabbits everywhere.

Sadly, his owner reports, Oolong died a few weeks ago after eight years and five weeks “filled with various adventure.”

That doesn’t mean Oolong is gone, though. There are dozens of yet-unpublished photos of the talented rabbit still to be displayed on his Web site.

“Here he can live forever,” writes his owner. “Wishing he can also live in the hearts of you all, please.”

If you want to learn more about Oolong, the internationally recognized head performance rabbit, try accessing http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/pancake-bunny .

(If that doesn’t quite work, try asking someone who actually knows what he’s doing to try to find the site for you – it’ll be well worth the effort…)

Originally published March 9, 2003