Stupid Prizes

When one prevails in a contest, they sometimes receive a prize. These vary a bit depending on the type of competition a gold medal, a trophy, or a cardboard cutout of Barney, the purple dinosaur embossed with “you tried.”  But not as widely appreciated is the phenomenon of “stupid prizes” these are awarded to random players of what might best be described as “stupid games.” This is described in the axiomatic phrase “play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”
To most people, these stupid games are easily avoided, although everyone ends up playing from time to time. Children, in particular, teenagers are particularly vulnerable to stupid games, indeed many of the stories I tell are based on this. Stupid games usually involve speed, gravity, sex, and of course poor decisions. My personal best took place while skiing. I set out at breakneck speed down a long and enjoyable trail failing to remember that it took a sharp 90-degree turn about halfway down to avoid a rather substantial plunge on to a frozen creek.  Predictably I was unable to make the turn and shot off into space, falling in a graceful arc spoiled only by my Yosemite Sam style cursing that echoed off the valley walls as I fell. Fortunately, my descent was arrested by a rather large and disagreeable spruce tree which give me a good thrashing before unceremoniously deposited me into a snowbank. 
There was also an incident where myself and my friend the mysterious Double Dee were discovered to be parked by the river in his Dad’s BMW with a half rack of beer, two girls and being 15, no driver’s licenses.  At that place and time Lower Education was more valued, and instead of jail we polished my families sheet metal warehouse, cleaned Double Dee’s pool and performed much yeard work for the parents of the two young ladies who never had anything to do with us again.
Years later, I would find this useful when a new soldier assigned to me proved resistant to all forms of instruction, I determined that he badly needed some lower education and began the introductory course. This is ordinarily unnecessary as this is taught in basic training, but as the saying goes, results may vary. Sadly he proved a poor study, and I eventually ran out of menial tasks assigned to him. But as any Non-commissioned officer or parent knows; if you run out of jobs, you just invent more, and he soon found himself cleaning the chain-link fence surrounding our motor pool with a rag and a bottle of brass polish. My First Sgt. was initially disapproving but reconsidered after I explained that the depth and variety of his sins, which ranged from failing to do basic personal tasks like bathing, keeping his room clean and uniform squared away to the grievous sin of keeping the squad late because he talked back to the armorer when turning in his weapon. I considered myself to have a pretty sharp tongue, but nothing can please a disgruntled armorer, and suddenly our weapons needed “more work”.   
After this, I added graduate level stupidity to his course list. This included removing rocks from a rock garden, washing them and turning them over so that their bottom side might enjoy the sunshine, a couple of days later it would turn out that the rocks wanted to go home. After performing these lessons in his off-duty hours for a couple of weeks, I found that his memory, listening skills, and attention to detail were much improved.
Despite the military being a bastion of lower education, the most exquisite example I ever saw was visited on a deserving but technically innocent party. It was the summer of 1995, and my friend and roommate Joe Parke and I had decided that for our final year of college we would no longer reside in the dorms. This decision produced great relief in our friend Steve Newell, our dorm director. Unfortunately, we found that most of the suitable apartments in the area had already been reserved for the next fall. The remaining lodgings were either outrageously expensive or squalid. I should point out after a hitch in the army my definition of squalor was somewhat elastic, but we were delivered from our predicament by a mutual acquaintance who knew of a small house for rent.
While there was no apparent issue, the arrangement seemed too good to be true. Our prospective landlord was a small dumpy fellow named Dwight, who bore an astonishing resemblance to Barney Rubble, and as a bonus, the house he was renting was located on the grounds of a former Air Force missile site. The combination of an entire home to ourselves, and such an exciting setting proved tempting, and a deal was struck.
The property encompassed a large square about a half-mile on a side surrounded by a double row of chain-link fences. The launch facility itself was from the late 1950s and was essentially a substantial concrete underground garage with what had once been a sliding concrete and steel roof. A nuclear-tipped Atlas missile would have laid on its side until it was raised, fueled and dispatched to increase the supply of good communists. The facility had been decommissioned in the 1960s with the advent of better missiles and purchased by Dwight’s father, and the family had rented space in it as storage ever since. The large doors in the roof had long ago ceased to function, but an enormous concrete loading door could be opened manually by turning a handle, this was the usual method of entry for large items that needed storing.   It could also be entered through a roof hatch leading to a long, long ladder.
Our first few weeks and the place went well enough, but gradually we began to discover why such accommodations had not been taken. Dwight was an unbearable human being. He was unpleasant to speak to, uncomfortable to be around and his hygiene was questionable even by the standards of college males. Dwight would lurk in various shadowed spaces around the property and watch us. At first, we found this somewhat humorous, as he was obviously an amateur at concealment. But after a couple of times, this became infuriating rather than funny. One evening we returned home with a couple of female friends to find him poorly concealed halfway up a pine tree in our front yard. Because of this both of our friends decided they preferred to leave immediately and seldom agreed to return because of “that horrible little troll.” Only their insistence that they be taken home at once kept Joe from firing up the chainsaw and felling that particular tree.  He even entered the home when we were asleep despite landlord-tenant rules to the contrary. Apparently, he felt that he could enter the house whenever he pleased. Fortunately for him, his prehistoric silhouette was easily recognizable, and I was so confused at his presence I forgot to shoot him. Later we would much regret having missed such an opportunity.
To add injury to insult Dwight was an alcoholic and a mean drunk at that. Many evenings he would stand on his porch and yell across the intervening space at us at all hours of the day or night. I even returned from work one evening when Joe was out of town to discover him standing on the lawn in front of our place, screaming for us to turn down our music. The empty and silent house paid him no notice.
We had much experience dealing with unpleasant roommates but were little baffled about what to do when the object of our displeasure was our landlord. As we had signed a year-long lease, we couldn’t just leave without losing a substantial deposit so we would have to figure out a way to adjust Dwight’s attitude. After a vigorous discussion, we reluctantly eliminated murder as a solution and instead decided to murder his sanity.
We began by purchasing a sound effects disc containing various animal noises such as lions, elephants, and different species of monkey. We would wait until we were reasonably sure Dwight had gone to bed or passed out and then activate a battery-powered CD player we had concealed on the property. This provided considerable amusement for a time as he searched high and low for the source of the strange calls, even questioning several neighbors who already believed him insane.
We also took to closing the main gate around the property, this was a massive rolling gate that required a person to get out of their vehicle and push it open or closed. This was much easier for us than it was for the troll, so we amused ourselves watching him struggle with the gate for a time before he insisted that we stop. We also noticed where he kept flashlights in the Missile Bay. And we had great fun leaving them turned on to deplete their batteries.
But the coup de grace came in early June, we were already preparing to move, Joe would be attending graduate school the next year and would be moving to an apartment in town. And in spite of Dwights efforts, I had acquired a girlfriend and would be sharing an apartment with her. We became a little melancholy as the last few weeks drifted away, we had been roommates for most of the last few years and had successfully fended off adulthood, but we both knew times were changing. But then on the most beautiful of June afternoons, Joe walked in the front door sat down and put on his headphones. A smile of complete bliss on his face. The afternoon proved very quiet and despite the unexpected arrival of his ex-wife, Dwight did not put in a single appearance. This happy time came to an abrupt end when he burst through our front door his equally unpleasant ex-wife in hot pursuit, a cloud of accusations and curse words swirling about them.
It took about five minutes to make any sense of what they were saying, the Troll had apparently accused his ex of attempting to murder him, by trapping him in the missile bay. His former wife, not at all offended at the suggestion she might kill him, seemed angry that he thought she would fail in such an attempt. It appears that he had descended into the bay via the roof hatch to check a sump pump and been unpleasantly surprised to find only one barely functional flashlight. After a few moments when he had proceeded about halfway across the bay, he heard the ominous sound of the heavy metal hatch crashing shut behind him. He backtracked and ascended the ladder only to find the exit barred from the outside. At this point, his flashlight gave out. After some time spent feeling his way around in the dark, he found the main entrance denied to him as well because the hand crank used to open the large doors was strangely absent. Eventually, his ex for some inexpiable reason decided to go looking for him and opened the roof hatch, and Dwight came boiling out like a hobo gene out of a magic dumpster. It took a hilarious half-hour to expel the couple after which Joe collapsed into a paroxysm of laughter, and I realized what had happened. I also know for a fact that even after twenty-five years he still has the crank handle.


Bear Eggs

Much stock is placed in what is deceptively called “higher education.” While there is value in technical education, I found that the best education dose does not occur in class. I am particularly fortunate that I was not only able to partake in but to undertake what amounted to graduate studies in lower education.
My studies began when I was six and saw something I didn’t recognize in the grocery store. It was a brown object covered in scraggly brown fibers. When I asked my dad what it was, he replied: “It’s a bear egg, would you like one?” I agreed, and my first lesson had begun. According to my mother, I spent the rest of the day squatting on the thing waiting for it to hatch, not realizing I was incubating a coconut. Only when I began to build a nest of blankets so I could sleep with it did my dad admit his joke. He claimed then as he would on all such occasions, that he was delivering lessons on critical thinking. He seemed to derive great joy from critical thinking and instructed his children at every opportunity.
Another lesson was administered a year or so after I tried to hatch the coconut. I had seen a documentary on the monster known as Bigfoot and decided that the area must be infested with them. This was not wholly unreasonable, Our apple orchard lay in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains, and if you walked straight out our back door, you could continue for 80 or 90 miles before encountering any sign of humanity. Compounding matters my father was acquainted with a gentleman who had taken a now-famous film of Bigfoot. Coming from this background, I accepted the television program uncritically and spent the night in mortal terror. After waking the family several times, I was allowed into my parent’s bed, where I eventually fell asleep. The next day we awoke to two or 3 inches of snow, and like most kids my age, I headed out to play. I spent most of the morning building a large and elaborate snowman, abandoning the project only when lured inside for lunch. My brother, who had returned from college for winter break exchanged a meaningful glance with my dad. After lunch, I went back out to discover that my snowman’s head had been removed and placed at its feet. A long trail of human-like footprints in the snow emerged from the Orchard proceeded to the window of my bedroom as if someone or something was looking inside, and then to the decapitated snowman where the maker of the tracks had apparently performed a rain dance before returning to the trees. I don’t recall much else besides fleeing for the house. I’m willing to bet money no one got any sleep that night either.
As I grew older, the lessons became more sophisticated. My parents entertained frequently and possessed a reasonably well-stocked liquor cabinet. When I was about 17, I was left alone for three days while they attended a function out of town. Despite promises to the contrary, I invited some of my friends over and free of supervision, we decided to sample some of my parents stock. Not only did my parents foresee this possibility, but they also prepared a trap. Later they revealed that they had saved old bottles for this occasion, and shortly before their departure these were filled with various noxious substances including vinegar, salt water, and cod liver oil. And placed in the front of the cabinet. As a result, we regarded anything mildly alcoholic with deep suspicion.
About a year later, as I struggled with a heavy schedule of extracurricular activities, schoolwork, and a part-time job, my father decided I needed a lesson time management. On a typical day I would leave for school about 7 AM and after a semester or so I had gotten my wake-up routine down to a science, taking precisely 15 minutes to dress, eat and hit the road. My dad, who kept farmers hours would usually head out to wherever he went during the day about 6:45 AM and would catch me returning from the bathroom and wish me a “good morning.” If I was running behind, this was modified slightly to “good morning, you’re going to be late.” One morning he passes by my door and says, “it's 7:05, you’re late!” I wake with a start, glanced at my alarm clock, and sure enough, it’s 7:05. Bedsheets went north, and I went south as I sprang into panicked action. I dressed quickly, dashed out the door and roared off to school, which as it happens is closed on Saturday.
Years would pass and much to my surprise, I found that I had children of my own. Unlike me, they are not terribly gullible. My seven-year-old daughter refused to be taken in by my claim that “ground beef” was so named because it was found on the ground. Likewise, her little brother, merely glared at me when I suggested that the ice cream he was eating was called “eyes cream” and consisted of puréed eyeballs. In retrospect, knowing the boy as I do now, I suppose it’s possible that he didn’t care one way or the other.
I did have one minor success; we owned a rather gruesome garden gnome that for reasons unknown to the children, would change position, traveling a few feet each night. Eventually, my son noting that it was creeping up on his bedroom window, launched a preemptive attack smashed it “accidentally” with a shovel.
But my favorite example occurred when a friend and I then aged 16 or so, borrowed my dad’s car a considerable quantity of beer and the twin teenage daughters of a neighbor. We drove to a location famous for dealings of this sort which possessed a beautiful view, looking out over the city. The evening was proceeding promisingly when what appeared to be a large tan shirt knocked on the driver’s window. Occupying the shirt was the muscled torso of deputy sheriff Thomas Wentz, who also happened to be the brother of our high school guidance counselor.
In that place and time, lower education was held in considerably more esteem than now so rather than arresting us as would be the case today. Deputy Wentz took the beer and followed us as we took the girls home and explained to their father the circumstances of the evening. He very kindly, I thought, allowed us to live although this could have merely been due to the presence of the deputy. We then repeated this process for my friend’s parents, and then we finally took the car home to my dad.
Our sentence was to spend the entire summer polishing the aluminum warehouse where we kept the tractors and other machinery we used on the Orchard. Once the warehouse was shiny enough for my dad, we spent the remainder of the summer doing yard work for the other parents involved. Neither of the girls would ever have anything to do with us again although we did get to spend some additional time with them in school that fall when our guidance counselor enrolled us in an alcohol abuse course.


Home on the range

Mr. Krieg, the Vice Principal of Poverty Valley High School was an unhappy man. Today he was unhappy about a car in the main hallway of the High school administration building, specifically, a snazzy little Fiat convertible belonging to Mr. Hope the Science Teacher. The vehicle had suffered a mechanical issue the day before, and Mr. Hope had left it overnight either intending to recover it the following day or hoping someone would steal it thus ridding him of a Fiat. The car, apparently reluctant to spend the night outside, was found in the main hallway the next morning. Somehow it had not only managed to move without a working carburetor but had opened the doors and removed the centerpiece called an “astragal” by those who attended door college and managed to replace it once inside.  To add insult to injury, the pin holding the astragal in place had been damaged in to process, and the car was trapped until Mr. Modeous, a pyromaniac employed by the school district as a welder could be summoned with a cutting torch.
As was standard practice whenever anything unusual occurred on campus myself, Joe Park and the mysterious Double Dee were summoned to Mr. Krieg’s office for questioning. Rather than the usual harangue, he simply stared at us through steepled fingers as if his mind was elsewhere, looking back I suspect he was mentally cataloging places to hide three bodies that were within convenient driving distance. The man had issues, perhaps the dual burdens of work and overprotecting his teenage daughter had taken their toll on his nerves.
Once released due to lack of evidence, we decided that poor Mr. Krieg, a widower needed company. His daughter Jenny, a classmate of ours revealed her father had a fondness for dogs, in fact, their pet of many years a Poodle named Lucky, had recently run out of luck and succeeded in intercepting an apple truck.  Deducing that the loss of the inaptly named canine was the cause of his depression, we located a suitable replacement companion, a stray of indeterminate breed and exuberant disposition that had somehow become locked in a local salvage yard.  The damaged front door worked in our favor, needing a replacement part to be restored to full function and we placed h Mr. Krieg's new best friend in his office before he arrived the next morning. Unfortunately, the dog's excitement exceeded Mr. Krieg’s by a considerable margin, and the dog was returned to his previous employer.
About a week later, we greeted him as we passed in the hallway. He followed after us gibbering some nonsense about "truancy" insisting that we return to class even though we had obviously just left. His behavior became so disconcerting that we felt compelled to humor him. Something had to be done, but we couldn't think of anything suitable until Joe recalled Mr. Krieg’s love of golf. It was a shame we decided that he had to pay those expensive fees at the country club when his country home possessed a spacious yard, so we decided that we would install a custom driving range and putting green so that he could save money and perhaps afford some counseling. Some later unkindly suggested we were tormenting Mr. Krieg, in our defense, I note that we completed the project without recompense and carried out our activities at night to better surprise him with our gift, knowing that all true charity is anonymous.  Unfortunately, he was not the only one who ended up being surprised.
The first surprise was that golf balls cost upward of five dollars a dozen at the local sporting goods store. Premium varieties were also available, apparently driven on the hoof all the way from Scotland, we abandoned store-bought golf balls and sought to adopt feral ones. Golf balls we discovered, are dangerous in the wild, but through careful study, we determined that the yellow "driving range" species was the most easily captured. This presented difficulties of its own as they were a protected species inhabiting an enclosed reserve. If approached during daylight hours they would defend themselves, leaping high into the air before diving down with considerable force in a manner, not unlike artillery fire. To make matters worse, they were protected by a game warden who would appear from nowhere and force the release of any we had managed to capture. This resistance forced us to hunt after dark when they were asleep.
Things proceeded remarkably well, and we made two successful sorties on successive Saturday nights, each time adopting dozens of the beasts, But we still felt that without further specimens Mr. Krieg would be insufficiently surprised. Complicating matters Mr. Krieg seemed more mindful of our movements, possibly because of the ongoing interest occurring between Double Dee and Mr. Krieg’s daughter. Alarmingly, DD began to lose interest in the project and strangely spoke endlessly about Jenny's cat. Joe and I thought this odd as we all knew full well the Krieg’s had no cat, but I digress.   With the project in jeopardy, we plotted one last expedition in the hopes finishing quickly.
The final expedition followed the same pattern as the others. We wore whatever dark clothing was available and parked DD’s beastly old Datsun truck in an orchard nearby. We jumped a split rail fence and headed to our first target the open "green" area. We wanted to make the balls feel at home in their new habitat, so we collected several of those silly flags with the numbers on them to better simulate their natural habitat. With these in hand, we made our way to the driving range and began the task of sneaking up on the balls one by one and stuffing them into our pockets. Joe, having displayed more forethought than most of us, had brought a large plastic garbage bag and was working his way along methodically stuffing balls into his bag when the expedition came to an abrupt end.
In retrospect, we realized that striking three Saturday's in a row was perhaps a bit predictable. This realization came with the simultaneous activation of the numerous powerful floodlights that illuminated the driving range. One moment we were going about our task, and the next, I had a distinct impression that an atomic bomb had gone off. I looked up to see the silhouettes of my compatriots, silhouetted against a background of blinding light. I recall hearing someone yell and Joe later told me that it was the game warden telling us to freeze as he jacked a shell into his 12 gauge shotgun.  Taking direction was not our strong suit, and we bolted like cockroaches.  
DD and I being closest to the perimeter, made our escape, vaulting the fence and fleeing into the orchard. We had just made the tree line when we heard the unmistakable blast of the shotgun. I looked over my shoulder and saw Joe flung bodily over the fence to slam into the ground and lie still. My next surprise was that I was neither dismayed or angered by the apparent demise of my friend.  Instead, DD and I found this to be intensely motivational, and we sped toward the truck and relative safety at record speed.
I don't know how Joe got the idea that we abandoned him, a slander that he persists with to this day. The game warden had used rock salt rather than a standard shotgun load, and Joe managed to regain his feet and limp away, chasing the fading red light of DD’s one functional taillight. Knowing that pursuit was inevitable, he fled into a residential area and made his escape aided by the confusion that a limping, 6’6 creature dressed entirely in black produced as it crossed various backyards. The presence of the screaming man a golf cart, waving a shotgun and screaming that “those rotten kids took my balls!” did nothing to calm the neighbors and was reported to the sheriff as an armed man pursuing a sasquatch. None realized it at the time, but it would not be the first time he would be mistaken for such. Deputies converged on the area and unsurprisingly chose to focus on the enraged man waving the shotgun, allowing Joe to limp away into the night.
We had just reached DD’s house when Joe called from a pay phone demanding rescue, We were ecstatic at Joe’s escape despite the vile slander that we had left him for dead. He was still pouting the next evening and declined to accompany us when we installed the golf course in Mr. Krieg’s yard, Claiming that he was too busy trying to explain his perforated appearance to his parents.


Stupid Wears a Uniform

We teach children not to form opinions based on appearance. But, during our sophomore year of college, my roommate and I discovered this is not always the case. Stupidity isn’t always on the surface, but sometimes it wears a uniform.
The trouble began as such things usually do with a poor decision. My roommate, Joe, decided to take a drama class.  He had been given an alternative by his advisor something along the lines of “Introduction to beekeeping” After careful consideration he selected Drama.
He had bounded into our dorm room bursting with enthusiasm after his first class. To my displeasure, this interrupted the biology discussion I was having with our neighbor Thea Beaver. “I’m a monster!” he shouted plopping onto my bunk next to the surprised Thea, who was launched into the air. Landing on her feet, she shot him a poisonous glare and muttered “tell me something I don’t know,” before stalking out of the room. His enthusiasm was such that he continued to gush away even as he batted away my furious attempts to get my fingers around his throat.
“Shutup and listen!” he demanded, “this is the chance of a lifetime.” The drama class he explained, was to stage a production of Beowulf, and he as the most monstrous student available would play the role of Grendel
Unimpressed I rummaged under my bunk for a boot or another blunt object while explaining that the “drama” was supposed to remain in class, but he was irrepressible. It turned out that his role wasn't what generated his enthusiasm, it was the costume he would wear, and it was a thing of beauty. It resembled an ape suit and after some alterations by the indentured theater majors inhabiting the costume shop covered every inch of Joe’s 6 foot 4 frame with black fur. The eyes, large purplish lenses, reflected light in the manner of mirrored sunglasses. The hands and feet bore six-inch yellow, plastic talons. My mind boggled at the applications of such a costume. Such a work of art was meant to be appreciated, not left to rot in the costume shop. The question was how to best share it with the world.
After some consideration over beverages, we decided that the costumes public debut would take place that Friday.  It was our theory that because the play wouldn’t open for weeks that publicly displaying the costume would help generate enthusiasm for the production.  Despite this, it seemed unlikely that the drama department would simply let Joe borrow the costume. So assuming forgiveness would be easier to obtain than permission we resolved to conduct our own promotional event.  It also occurred to us that walking around campus between classes with what looked like a road-killed Sasquatch might attract premature attention, so Joe would remain after class on Friday and hide in the Drama Department’s costume shop. When everyone had left, he would conceal the costume in a duffle bag and return to our dorm looking no more like a Sasquatch than usual. 
We selected our targets with considerable care. The freshman dormitory, populated by the youngest and most gullible students and a sorority, where there would doubtless be much revelry on a Friday. We would, of course, return the costume the following Monday.
 Rather than cross the campus in costume, I would drive Joe’s wretched old truck. This four-wheeled abomination was known as Jesus, probably because every time he boarded the, the wretched machine, he was praying it would start and on applying the brake that it would stop. We would proceed to an isolated area where Joe would don his costume. Joe would then lie flat in the bed and dismount on reaching the target area.
The operation started well enough. Joe retrieved the costume, and Insertion at our first target, the freshman dorm went as planned, by which I mean I parked up the block, and Joe hopped out. He ran silently up the walk and entered the building via a side door.  I heard a few squeals of surprise but then total silence. After what seemed like an eternity I heard laughter, lots of it.  After another eternity Joe strolled out the front door, his monster mask under an arm.
“Sup,” he said casually.
“where the heck” I began. 
“Candy and Amber from Drama where there,” he broke in, “They blew my cover.” 
“What took you so long?” I demanded.
“Candy and Amber, duh.” He replied.
“Oh just get in.” I snapped, wondering if this “chance of a lifetime” was simply an elaborate plot to waste a perfectly good Friday evening.
The parking lot we had chosen for our next landing zone was reserved for the visiting alumni, and we retreated up the street. Joe exiting the vehicle somewhat from the target than planned. He would now have to cross all of Greek row to reach the first target the “I Phelta Thigh” sorority. At first, all went well, Joe was invisible on the unlighted sidewalk. But heads turned, and people pointed as the monster emerged into the streetlights on Greek row. Reactions were for the most part as predicted. There was some light to moderate screeching which disturbingly, began to draw a crowd. Several burly members of the football team began following the monster up the street. Seeing he was being hunted Joe broke into a run, the crowd now containing several dozen people followed. A police car, either called to the scene or deducing correctly that a large group of students meant trouble pulled up, and its occupants gaped as the beast vaulted the hood of their patrol car.
Beginning to tire, Joe entered an alley and fled back toward campus entering the first open building he came to. The Fieldhouse, where a ladies basketball tournament was underway. Basketball fans scattered as he dashed through the lobby assuming incorrectly that men's locker room would be unoccupied. Flinging the door open and bounding inside he found the visiting ladies team.
According to Joe, bedlam erupted the moment he entered. Pelted by shoes, cans of deodorant and, at least, one folding chair he let out a mighty bellow and swiped menacingly with his fake claws. Frightened, the girls fled and Joe dashed out on their heels only to find that exit led onto the basketball court. Several hundred spectators watched in confusion as the visiting team, half-naked and panicked, poured onto the court with beast-Joe hot on their heels.
Both team mascots and their respective squads of cheerleaders had been warming up the crowd before the game. They paused in disbelief as the monster emerged onto the court. Seeing the state of the visiting team, they charged to confront Joe at close range.
The scene that followed was one of the strangest in the history of college sports.  The battle between the costumed Joe and two unknown students dressed as a Panther and a Cowboy (Our own Donner State survivor) was featured on regional if not national television.  
Meanwhile, I had seen him enter the alley and parked on the street. From there I joined the tail of the pursuing mob. The mob which stopped, and began milling about when it reached the fieldhouse. I entered without issue the ticket taker having abandoned their post. Judging from the scattered bits of foam and faux fur he had defeated the mascots in hand-to-hand combat but was still under attack from two teams worth of cheerleaders who had been providing the mascots with indirect fire support. I shouted for him to run and he fled the court amid a hail of basketballs.
Returning to the lobby, I shouted "He's headed back toward Greek row!" and led at least part of the mob away. After traveling a block or two, I collected Joe's truck and headed back towards our dorm. It was not difficult to follow Joe’s path. Everyone I encountered was gesturing wildly and pointing uphill toward the dorms. Further along, I could see a group of people moving erratically as if chasing something. Exhausted and sweltering in the costume he could no longer evade his pursuers, and he turned at bay, dispersing them by rolling a mobile espresso cart downhill at them. Eventually, he found sanctuary in the apartment of our dorm director, Steve Newell, Steve had exited via his sliding patio door to see what the commotion was, and nearly suffered an infarction when he returned to find the monster collapsed in his recliner.
That evening, there was talk of little else on campus. McGuire’s pub was awash in alcohol-fueled rhetoric about the identity of the creature it seemed that every young man and a generous portion of the girls would love to bag themselves a Bigfoot. The remainder were seemingly convinced that the beast was merely some idiot in a suit who should be suspended in front of the administration building in a large cage as a warning to others. Joe found the later opinion rather more disturbing than the former.
The whole thing ended with a whimper rather than a bang, we returned the suit to the drama department early on Monday morning. Finding no one present, we propped up the outfit as best we could at the reception desk where later it arrested several of a secretaries vital functions when she arrived for work.


The Terminatrix

     For those seeking a lower education, the military is an excellent place to start. To be clear, I’m not talking West Point or even college ROTC I mean old fashioned Basic training, Boot Camp or whatever your service calls it is the equal of a baccalaureate degree in  “reality studies.” Professors in this program are Drill Sergeants, and I had the misfortune to study under the Lower Education equivalent of a Rhodes Scholar. A Drill so menacing that they had become known as “the Terminator,” the bane of all trainees on Logan Heights, the former training center at Fort Bliss Texas. 
Our own Drills found the Terminator story hilarious and would regale us with tales of their cruelty. The exception to this was the Senior Drill whom I will call SFC Smith. He would sigh and roll his eyes at the mention of the Terminator, and mysteriously this only seemed to encourage the other drills. Occasionally we would spot an unfamiliar Drill snorting and stamping their way along in search of someone to disapprove of, “Is that the Terminator?” We would ask, but the answer was always no.
I made it most of the way through basic without encountering the Terminator. But my luck ran out a week or so before graduation. We were almost done, and I felt secure enough to risk a minor transgression, taking a shower after lights out. I later surmised that The Terminator apparently had duty that evening and for some reason was passing by our company area and heard the water on after 2100 and materialized in the latrine suddenly as if by evil magic. The only thing missing was a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning. She was the smallest person I ever encountered in uniform, about 100 pounds of anger wrapped in the pelt of some unfortunate woman. If a male had entered the female showers, it would’ve been a career-ending scandal. But the rules didn’t seem to apply to the Terminator no, The Terminatrix.
I jumped several feet in the air followed by a crazy scrambling dance to keep from falling on the tiled floor of the shower. My towel was beyond my reach so not knowing what else to do; I went to parade rest, Feet shoulder width apart and hands behind my back.  She regarded me with a fishy stare as if examining a new species of parasite and in a very bored voice said: “drop” so I dropped and began awkwardly cranking out pushups in the confined space. She reached over and turned the water all the way to cold, and after glaring at me for what seemed like a year, she turned on her heel and vanished, surprisingly without a puff of sulfurous smoke. Eventually, a buddy came in to see if I had been eaten and revealed that she had gone. According to him she entered the building, ignored the private on fire guard and proceeded directly to the latrine, then departed without speaking.
Following my first encounter with the Terminatrix, she seemed to be all everywhere. We speculated that she might be twins or triplets due to multiple sightings at the same time throughout the training center. We would occasionally find traces of her handy work, an exhausted private dragging themselves back to their unit by their lips one day. A bewildered PFC clinging to one of the few trees proclaiming to any who questioned: “I am a koala bear!” But graduation soon arrived, and I forgot about the Terminatrix.
After graduation, we were marched to a new barracks infested by new Drill Seargents that would be our home through Advanced Training. Having a bit more free time now We were allowed to walk short distances without adult supervision and could patronize the Shopette, a military version of a convenience store. On one such visit, a buddy and I emerged from the store to find a platoon of females leaving a nearby mess hall. We went to parade rest as was the custom and waited for them to pass, but their drill sergeant called a halt in front of us. She had the formation right face and rounded on us. It was, of course, the Terminatrix.
As she described in detail our many faults, I noted that she was either unaware of breath mints, or that they didn’t come in a flavor she found pleasing.  She glared balefully at us with her patented fishy stare as if trying to decide if she was going to kill us or throw us back. While we waited under her malevolent gaze, I noticed the female trainees in her platoon had a frightened air about them; like rabbits freezing in the presence of a bobcat. Seeming to reach a decision she barked “Private Fuchs, front, and center!” One of her rabbit women left formation and hopped to the front. “Tell me Fuchs; she spat which one of these creatures caused you to break military bearing?”
“The tall one, Drill Sgt,” she barked back, indicating my friend. (Who never let me forget.)
Realizing the formation was blocking traffic, she had them fall out to the shopette’s gravel parking area and announced that because the hapless Fuchs missed male companionship so badly that she had dared to turn her head and look at something other than the soldier in front of her that we would have a foursome. She then stomped back over to us and announced that although she had not observed us doing anything wrong we “were indisputably guilty of something that required correction.”
 She announced that push-ups were the missionary position, flutter kicks were cowgirl and sit-ups were doggy style. She then smoked the absolute hell holy out of poor Fuchs and us,” calling out changes of position every time we showed signs of collapse. After an eternity, she formed up her platoon, allowed Fuchs to stagger back into ranks, and announced to her platoon: “There are about nine miles of dick on this post, and you won’t see a single inch!” She motioned to the platoon guide, and off they marched.
We staggered back to our barracks streaming with sweat, our meager purchases clutched weakly in our limp arms. One of our current Drills simply asked how “Drill Sgt Smith” was. When we responded that no, it wasn't him, we had had him for basic. He began laughing, Sergeant First Class Smith and Staff Sergeant Smith were a married couple, and SSG Smith was one of the few female drills at that post due to the recent opening of some specialties to females and felt compelled to outdo her husband in every respect.
I never saw the Terminatrix again but anyone who attended training at Logan Heights that long ago summer remembers.

Authors note: Another version of this story appeared on the website American Grit. I, Dan Hillman, am the original author. Unlike most of my stories which use a bit of exaggeration all I’ve changed are names for the sake of anonymity and omitted the endless amount of push-up done and the behest of The Terminatrix.


What I've learned

A brief compilation of amusing things people have learned the hard way. As they say on Television, don’t try these at home.

Things I learned in the Army.
·       I am not to teach German children to sing “Eskimo Nell.”
·       I am not to drink food coloring, before a urinalysis.
·       The following items do not exist Blinker Fluid, winter tire air, and chemlight batteries.
·       Radar beams, flight line and grid squares exist, but I’m not to task new soldiers with their retrieval.
·       The tuna and noodles MRE is not authorized for use as a personal lubricant.

Things I learned from my children.
·       A ceiling fan can hit barbie a long way.
·       Window glass won’t stop ballistic barbies.
·       When toilet flushes and junior says "Uh-oh," it's too late.
·       Marbles in the gas tank make a LOT of noise.
·       Check the oven before you turn it on SERIOUSLY.

Things I learned from my Parents.
·       Religion: You better pray that comes out.
·       Logic: Because I said so.
·       Stamina: If the broccoli doesn’t taste good now you can sit there until it does.
·       Humor: If the mower cuts off your toes, don't run to me.
·       Thrift: A teenager’s wardrobe can be fully stocked at bag sales at the local thrift store.  
·       Modesty: Because of thrift I dress like a blind hobo.

Things I learned shopping.
·       I am not to randomly put items in people’s carts.
·       I am not to alter the direction of the escalators.
·       I am not to lay a trail of tomato juice on the floor leading to the women’s restroom.
·       I am not to enter a fitting room and yell for toilet paper.
·       I am not to switch the men’s and women’s signs on the restroom.

Things I learned at Disneyland.
·       Pocahontas says “going native” doesn’t mean what I think.
·       I’m not allowed to ask Minnie Mouse to gargle my balls.       (Curiously this is $10 less at Disneyland than in Tijuana.)
·       Eeyore is neither getting nailed in the ass nor trying to get some tail.
·       “Buzz and Woody” Belong to Andy, not his mother.
·       Frontier land doesn’t have a brothel, and I should shut up about it.

Things I learned from my wife.

  • If the thought of anything makes me giggle, I am to assume that I am not allowed to do it.
·       That it is better to seek forgiveness than permission no longer applies to me.
·       Marriage is about compromise.  I didn’t want a dog, and she did, so we compromised.  Please meet my new dog, Max.
·       The spoons won't get clean if they are spooning each other.
·       If my wife ever hired a detective to follow me, it would be to get pictures of me not using the coupons she gave me.


Night of the Mew

Recently we performed one of those random acts of kindness some people are always bragging about; we took in a stray cat. He’d been haunting our neighborhood for some time, and our two-year-old son would excitedly point and repeat "mew, mew" when he stopped by to cage a meal, so we dubbed him Mew, a few days later Mew formally adopted us when I opened the front door without checking for infiltrators. He made himself at home not knowing that there was still an obstacle to his permanent employment, our dogs Abigail, a medium-sized mixed breed of regal bearing but indeterminate parentage and Max an old Australian Shepard mix who happily divided his retirement between sleeping and farting. Fortunately, the dogs were undergoing their semiannual trip to the groomer and happened to be out of the house at that particular moment.
The cat was bundled off to the veterinarian to be “fixed” although I doubt Mew realized he was broken. When we retrieved him, the vet informed us that he was something called a Flame Point Siamese, which we later speculated is a subspecies of honeybadger. On his return, Mew was exiled to the spare bedroom, ironically for his protection as he had yet to meet the dogs. He slept peacefully for a day or so recovering from his surgery; the dogs, unaware of the intruder, suspected nothing.
On the third morning, Mew decided that the accommodations had become confining and resolved to escape. His opportunity came the next time I attempted to leave the bedroom after a care and feeding session.  Mew saw his chance and kicked on the warp drive employed by cats seeking passage through a guarded door. Unfortunately, his escape route led to the hallway where he found himself separated from the dog Abigail only by my frantically descending leg. At this point, I discovered that Mew wasn’t a stray cat, but rather an unusually short and hairy ninja. As a side note, I wish to inform the Yakuza that his disguise was perfect and I apologize profusely for having him neutered.
Immediately detecting the dog, Mew sprang to the attack, deploying claws to scale the intervening terrain (me) and launching an airborne assault on the unsuspecting Abigail, who was caught unaware and set to panicked flight. Mew paused for a moment, analyzing the situation and liking the odds set off in pursuit.  The dog terrified and thoroughly confused kept looking back over her shoulder trying to bark as well as determine the nature of her pursuer. Not liking what she saw, she executed a 90° evasive turn into the kitchen, withdrawing from battle but colliding with Heidi, my wife, knocking her down amid a cascade of the lemonade she had been pouring. Now even more frightened and confused Abigail paused to administer a proper trampling and fled into the living room.
Mew failed to negotiate the turn into the kitchen and continued down the hallway with me in pursuit. Mew continued headlong down the hall emerging on the opposite side of the living room where he encountered our older dog Max, sleeping peacefully on his cushion. I can only imagine what went through his head when he opened his sleepy eyes and saw the cat bearing down on him hissing like a cobra.  Max let out a mighty WOOF! And struggled arthritically to his feet. At that moment Abagail entered the room from the kitchen moving at highway speed colliding with Max just as the cat sprang.
A scene of much violence and general mayhem ensued as Mew first attempted to defeat his foes in hand to hand combat but then mounted Abigail’s back perhaps thinking he could ride her to freedom. Abigail disliking this turn of events bucked and spun rodeo-fashion about the room trying to dislodge the hitchhiker.  I’m not entirely sure what happened to Max during the melee leading to some concern that he had been torn to shreds. Complicating matters, the vengeful and lemon scented Heidi, dripping with wrath and lemonade adding blistering profanity to the cacophony of yelps, barks, screeches and yowls that accompanied the battle.
The day was saved only by my joining the battle inadequately armed with a cushion snagged as I passed the couch. Swinging this weaponized upholstery, I managed to disrupt the struggle enough for Abigail to flee back into the kitchen and through a closed screen door leading to the relative safety of the backyard. Once the field was clear of enemies, Mew returned to his usual loving self.
After the battle, we returned a somewhat incredulous Mew to his bedroom prison; apparently, he was under the impression that he had won possession of the house and its staff through trial by combat. Max turned up outside leading us to wonder how he managed to exit the house, some black material found on his supposedly clean feet led to speculation he had gone up the chimney. Abigail was unwilling to reenter the house and had to be escorted by Heidi or myself. 
The day after the battle, Mew received a transfer to the home of my cat-loving sister who counts her cats using a formula based on the number of cats per square foot. The final toll turned out to be about $500 worth of veterinary bills covering numerous scratches bites and perforations to the dogs. While Heidi and I escaped with only light to moderate shredding.  The screen door had to be replaced Thankfully the children were elsewhere in the house but heard enough cursing to expand their vocabulary to that of a Marine Corps drill instructor.