It’s Time For…The Grossinator!

One of the best and finest things I’ve ever owned was a thing called the Grossinator.

My parents bought it from Spencer Gifts, the kind of store that me and my teenage hormones would enter under the pretense of wanting to purchase a black light poster while, in truth, spending yet another 20 minutes inspecting the print of Bo Derek to determine if that smudge was just a smudge or a nipple.   

As designed, a user was to press the four buttons on the right in order.  The first button produced one of about five introductory phrases, such as, “It’s time for,” “You’re like,” or “How about.”  The next two buttons provided adjectives – “a horrible,” “gross,” “smelly,” or perhaps “putrid.” And the fourth gave the object – “fart,” “barf,” or my favorite, “mmmbooger!” Put them together and you could get “It’s time for…a disgusting…putrid…mmmbooger!”  It even had a belt hook on the back, in case the owner needed to prove his immaturity while running errands around town.

This video demonstrates its function, and note that my fellow connoisseur agrees with my belief in the supremacy of “mmmbooger”:

The Grossinator’s brilliance was in its simplicity but also in its appeal to a fundamental, maybe the fundamental, part of male childishness – bodily functions or abuses that violate behavioral norms.  I can imagine a teenager thirty thousand years ago falling on his butt and tooting to the appreciative, albeit guttural, laughter of his cave-mates.  From my personal experience and observation, male evolution hasn’t progressed even one nucleic acid sequence since.

For example, I was at the playground with my son not long ago when one of his friends brought out a small foam rocket with a stand and foot pump that, when stomped on, propelled the rocket about 30 feet in the air.  After two or three “appropriate” uses, they tilted the stand at an angle, formed a line in front of it, and took turns getting popped in the groin by the rocket and flopping to the ground like a Brazilian soccer player after a phantom foul, each time funnier than the last.  After a few rounds of this, one of the moms couldn’t bear it any longer and retired the crotch rocket program.

But there is another part of the Grossinator’s appeal that I have only recently discovered, and that is the language.  The word “putrid” alone barely raised a chuckle.  Adding an introductory phrase and an object (“How about…a horrible…burp”) and I may give a few snorts.  But the best combination omitted the adjectives altogether.  “It’s time for….puke” was a winner.

In writing, I occasionally pull out “the little book,” as it is known – Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.  I do this reluctantly as I am afraid to learn how many rules I am breaking.  And one of the hardest for me to follow is Style Item #4: Write with nouns and verbs.  “It is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing its toughness and color.”

The point is not that the craft of good writing, a clever and thoughtful use of language, is a sacred act to be approached with humility.  Clearly, the Grossinator doesn’t do humility. Rather, at the risk of explaining and destroying the joke, it may explain the reaction I had to a particular statement coming from a five-dollar toy.

Some people may prefer that I say my tastes have matured.  Certainly they have changed, but I’m not ashamed to admit that they are merely different, and not a bit more refined.

Sadly, they don’t make the Grossinator anymore.  There are other toys with the same name – one you can record your own words or sounds on, and an Iphone app that plays barfing and farting sounds.  But they lack that simple and direct way of cutting straight to the, how should I say it, mmmbooger!

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1986, It Was A Very Good Year

As I sat at my desk early this morning to finish this entry, a cockroach skittered out from under the phone right at me.  I screamed and jumped back like my four year-old does when her brother sticks a green bean in her ear, knocking into the work table that holds up the piles of things I never get around to.  I would have run upstairs to get my wife to come kill it but she is out of town.  Perhaps a pounding heart, shaking fingers, and paranoid thoughts is the best frame of mind for editing this piece anyway.

I recently found an old diary and some entries in it from 1986.  I was horny, awkward, and 15.  Not so different from today (Oh my god, too much information!)  A few entries caught my attention:

July 2: I am playing the trumpet again and I am also taking lessons for the 2nd time.  I really want a beautiful woman.

July 11: We went to Six Flags today and it was pretty fun.  I am really beginning to appreciate the music of U2.

July 12: We went to the Stone Mountain laser show.  I am really getting big on U2.

July 15: I am in love with Heather Locklear.  I also got my 2nd paycheck for $234.

July 16: I watched “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” on TV tonight.  I still burn for Heather Locklear and Kathy Smith.

July 18: Me and a friend put cans in the road so cars would have to swerve.

July 19: Tonight I fell off a 12 foot high ledge and landed in the creek on my left leg.  Nothing’s broken but I got scraped bad.

Childishman’s explanation on the entries from the 18th and 19th:  Although not the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, it ranks.  Once night fell, me and my friend would drink a 2-liter bottle of Coke and went wherever the night took us.  You can see from the entry on the 19th where that place was.  Another brilliant idea we got from these moments was to crawl through the drainage tunnel underneath Interstate 285, about 100 yards, in total darkness.  But on these nights in particular, we re-filled the Coke bottle with water and placed it in the street.  When a car that was driving too fast (vigilante justice was how I rationalized this stupidity) came around the bend, the driver wouldn’t have enough time to stop before hitting the bottle and spraying water over the car.  We would watch all this happen from behind the shrubs guarding the front patio of my house.  After a few runs, we knew that we needed something more life-like so I ran inside and found the red food coloring, which we added to the bottle in hopes that the poor speeder would think they’d hit a possum or a cat.  Eventually, a driver took the bottle as opposed to leaving it on the road for our easy retrieval and re-use.  The following night, with a new and freshly emptied bottle in possession, we set our trap in a different location – the bottom of a curvy and very steep hill.  On one of the first attempts a car came when I was still in the road.  I dashed off to the side and jumped/fell over the wall into the creek below to get away – this instead of just standing on the side of the road playing stupid, something that should have been fairly easy for me to do.

By the end of the summer, I had stripped all entries that were personal and only transcribed sports scores. “Atlanta came back from halftime 20-7 to beat Tampa Bay Bucs 23-20” and “Falcons beat LA Rams 26-14 today.  Our record is 5-1 and scoring is 129-88.  NL Playoffs – Mets have 2 games, Houston as 2, AL – Boston has 2, California has 3.”  I must have felt that an adult me would really want to know all this crap.  And surprisingly, I do.

Prepare To Be Mounted – Part 2

Let me first apologize for the lack of pictures from the weekend hiking trip (see Part 1).  My digital camera, though a mere 5.7 ounces and fits in any pocket, was quickly spotted by Friend #1, determined to be an unnecessary addition to the load, and was tossed into the trunk of my car.  “That shit adds up, man,” he explained as he transferred yet more crap from his pack to mine in the parking lot of Vogel State Park.

Despite boasting that I was probably in the best shape I’d been in for 15 years, I soon realized that the equation changes when you become a human mule carrying 30 pounds of jerky at 2500 feet above the carpeted living room where you normally perform your silly hops and buttock pinches.  Not to mention the trails themselves.  Although not specifically mentioned in the trail guide, Bear Hair Gap Loop and the Coosa Backcountry Trail were apparently designed by Dutch artist M.C. Escher, i.e. no matter which direction you choose, you’ll be going up.

I also discovered that under such conditions I develop a temporary sort of Turrets syndrome (for any Turrets sufferers or sympathizers out there, I’m not making fun of the affliction, just myself, so don’t get your panties in a bunch).  Within the first 30 minutes of our ascent toward Slaughter Mountain, and the close-by but no less comforting Blood Mountain, I noticed that I would blurt out some winded nonsense like “hoooowaaaah” or “ussshhhhoooooga.”  At other moments, perhaps when I got hungry, which was about every three minutes, I’d say “BAM” as if channeling the human ewok Emeril (thanks to Anthony Bourdain for that description) and on another occasion exclaimed “manna from heaven!” when I saw a skink slither up a chilly stream that crossed the trail.

We had carefully read the warning signs about bears and shared other various assumptions we brought with us, all of which suggested that the best way to survive a black bear encounter was to fall to the ground in a fetal position, something I assured my friends came naturally to me.  But nothing could have prepared us for what we encountered.

Not far in, we heard noises behind us.  This god awful noise got louder and louder, closer and closer, until the sinking feeling in our pits gave way to recognition.  It was French.

“Shit,” I said. “Or should I say ‘merde.'”

For some reason I decided this was a good time to take a pee.  About mid-stream, Friend #2 gave me the waving hand sign, which I was pretty sure from having watched Top Gun a million times in high school meant “turn left,” which I did.  Now facing back down the trail, I saw what looked like a teenage girl bouncing along through the edge of the trees, so I had to stop and quickly zip up.

I can honestly say I had no previous animosity toward the French.  But this family of four sounded like ten.  As they passed by, the father and son started shouting “Setanta!” at each other.  “Setanta! Setanta! Setanta!”  As I now know through Google, this isn’t French at all.  For some reason, they got great enjoyment out of yelling this word, which is either the name of an Irish boy or of a European soccer channel.  Next time I go to a bibliotheque (that’s a library) in Paris, I will be sure to return the favor and shout “Seamus! Seamus!” or “ESPN! ESPN!”

We did everything we could to get away from them, but without success – we took detours, let them pass, sped up to put distance between us.  But they lingered like a fart in an elevator.  Finally we gave up, picked out a camping spot, and began setting up for the evening, and only then did they disappear.

That evening we built a fire, more because I like to burn stuff than anything else.  But it also got us talking about how different our lives were the last time we got together without a child or spouse present.  “It’s a strange thing, life,” I said trying to be profound while lying almost prostrate like a snow crab, stretching out my cramping right quad that was pulling my groin half way down to my knee.

After a sleepless night thanks to 25+ mph winds, we packed up and had to get back to civilization, meaning duty and family.  But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Well, I’d trade the French.  Jesus, those people!

Prepare To Be Mounted – Part 1

I am going hiking and camping with two friends this Saturday.  That is the plan, at least.  The three of us rarely get together anymore and the years of empty promises that “yeah, we’ll definitely do that some time” finally chapped one of them bad enough to insist that we go this weekend.

So last Thursday at 4:18 a.m., the one I’ll call Friend #1 who got all this together, sent an e-mail (something unusual in itself) entitled “hello keep sending incomplete sorry.” In this e-mail was a list of 37 items, many of which were multi-part or paragraph-long explanations of alternatives, of what he felt we should bring.  The list included:

  • locator beacon, etc.
  • Purell sanitizer
  • sunglasses
  • bear spray
  • earplugs
  • “a lil rope”
  • “I have a whistle for me and you” (meaning me and himself, Friend #1.  Not sure why Friend #2 was not allowed to have a whistle), and
  • bathing suits “for the way up” (for a mid-October hike in the North Georgia mountains)

Like pretty much everyone else raised in ITP Atlanta (inside the perimeter, which refers to Interstate 285 that encircles and protects Atlanta from the rural hordes), I have little experience hiking or camping.  This is because metro school systems limit the education of students about “the rest of Georgia” to only what is included in James Dickey’s Deliverance and the movie based on it.  This is to dissuade us from ever traveling OTP (outside the perimeter) or, god forbid, if we ever went WOTP (way outside the perimeter) we would at least know how, when commanded, to “squeal like a pig.”

In truth, the list also included necessities like tents and backpacks, socks and shoes, and lots of toilet paper, but nonetheless it seemed a bit over-enthusiastic.

In the e-mail, he also encouraged me to come over to his house to try on an arctic jacket that he wanted to sell me for $50.  The jacket would have been too large for Andre the Giant and I imagined myself tripping over the sleeves dragging along the ground and falling off the side of a mountain, so I turned him down.  Next, he showed me his own backpack that he insisted I borrow, refusing to consider my comment that I’d be fine using my son’s Spiderman backpack.  He had, in fact, already packed it for me and gave me the tour of where all the essentials from the e-mail were.

“What’s this Christmas ornament for?” I said pointing to what looked like the lost bell on Santa’s sleigh.

“That’s a bear bell,” he said, getting annoyed.

“Why do we want them to know we’re coming? Aren’t we supposed to avoid bears?”

He went right on showing me all the other special pockets and their contents – one for the bear spray, another for the headlamp that I would need in order to look for bears while getting up for late-night pee, and which I would have to wear while sleeping. etc.

On the way home I called Friend #2, hoping to get some confirmation about what to bring.  Maybe #1 was right, that we really did need all this stuff.  How the hell would I know.

“I’m not taking all that.  Just a tent that we can all sleep in, a small stove, and some socks,” he said.

Hopefully I will have an entry Part 2 after the trip.  If not, it’s been real, y’all!

This Food’s Here to Represent!

Early in our relationship my wife and I went to a family cookout where coon was served.  This made both of us uncomfortable, but my god, why?  Finding and killing a critter that rummages through the garbage, cleaning it, and roasting the shit out of it – that, I thought, is quintessential southern cooking.  But apparently, there is more to southern cooking than contracting rabies. 

Since then we’ve added two children to our family so that I could experiment with my own dinner creations.  Occasionally, my kids will love a particular meal but, of course, when I make it again a bad moon begins to rise, FEMA trailers pull in the driveway, and specialists are dispatched from the Vatican with the tools needed to perform the Rite of Exorcism.  But now I know it’s not what’s in the meal that is important, rather its presentation.   

So when I stumbled upon a 1976 series of Southern Living cookbooks I knew I’d hit the jackpot.  Though we may chastise the music and dress of our former 70s selves, they were onto something when it came to food. 

Here are a few recipes that I have resurrected and updated.  Bon Appetit!

Iwo Jima Cornish Hens – It might take you a couple of shots to get this one just right – with each hen reaching the top of Mt. Pilaf and holding up weeds from your back yard while trying to shake off the life-preserver glued to its back.  But once you do you’ll have an iconic meal that will stay with you forever.  Seriously, it will stay lodged in your colon for the rest of your life.  But at least that won’t be very long. 

 

BDSM Wild Duck – When you show this recipe to the birds you stole from the local pond, you’ll have to give them the old “Gimp” treatment from Pulp Fiction so they can’t escape.  Just tie them down with the rainbow suspenders that you refused to donate to the yard sale and you’ll have yourself a grunting good time.

 

This one is aptly named, and I’m serious, Lord Jim’s Mincemeat Plum Pudding, referring to Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim.  As in his better-known Heart of Darkness (later adapted into the movie Apocalypse Now), Conrad creates a complex psychological landscape.  Likewise, the domestic chef must manifest this meal as a metastasizing molten mountain, its true ingredients masked by a mesmerizing maze mold.  It should be served with a large jar of stale, crushed Utz pretzels, as pictured.

Roasted Ham with Doo-Doo of Rabbit – Roast the ham on a spit in the fireplace, and towards the end knock it over to give it a nice coating of ash.  After letting it sit there awhile and cool off, the kids’ fluffy pet will happily snuggle up and add its natural side-item to this family favorite.

 

Raw Egg Pie with Murdered Starfish

 

Emasculated Bulls on the Half-Shell

 

He Sleeps with Catfishes – As in the old country, loose lips will get you a mouth full of parsley and sunk to the bottom of a nearby body of water.  No need to cook here.  Just wrap up the raw catfish fillets, toss a shovel load of dirt on top while saying a few Hail Marys, and leave it on the doorstep of your loudmouthed neighbor who will surely get the message.

 

[p.s. the spawn of this idea came from a book named The Gallery of Regrettable Foods by James Lileks that I saw some years ago. You should check it out. ]

A Huge Tooth Fairy

First, know that my team (yes, there’s a team of them so that should tell you something) of dentists and hygienists rock, hard.  They’re top-drawer, top-notch, top-whatever the hell other lame cliche you can conjure, just in case some of you know who these people are.  The following is substantially true.

Just a few hours ago, I settled in to the high-backed recliner and looked out through the large windows in my usual cleaning room.  A cool and sunny morning with the moon, although 240,000 miles away, appearing quite clearly like a wad of gauze hanging over the spire of the nearby Baptist church.

“I brushed my teeth this morning before I came in,” I said in hopes of impressing my hygienist whose name I can never remember.  “Longer and harder than normal to make the cleaning easier.  And I flossed, which I can never remember until I come in. It’s kinda painful when I haven’t done it in a while,” I noted while my tongue gently probed my gums, which had swollen significantly since leaving the house.

She wheeled her chair over to the doorway, leaned around the thick walls into the next room and said to someone, “I’m gonna need more cotton rolls.  Yep, just gimme that whole box.”

As she rolled back to me she said, “you really didn’t need to do that,” and began unpacking the box, adding more of the little swabs to a pile already on the tray.

“Oh, it’s no problem.” I thought I saw her face bunch up around the sides of her mask but maybe she was just itching her nose.

“Okay, we have you down for a cleaning, and x-rays today…” she said.

“Yep, that’s me.  Easy peasy!”

“…and a cavity.  No, sorry, make that two cavities.”

Trying to play it cool after fishing my tongue out of my throat, “Oh yeah? Huh, I don’t recall that.”

“We marked three and eighteen for replacement last time.  Was no hurry so we scheduled it for this time.  They’re the old silver fillings that often need to be replaced,” she explained.

“So you’re saying it’s not my fault.  Bound to happen sooner or later? That’s what I can tell my wife?” I asked to clarify that I was on solid legal ground.

“Yes, the material used for fillings is better now.”

She proceeded with the x-rays and the cleaning, and after tying up the trash bag full of reddened cotton rolls and giving me a towlie to wipe my face, she said I needed to move to another room for the cavities, and maybe something about needing to clean up her room more before her next appointment.  “But I really need to go pee,” I said. “To the bathroom down by the elevators?  I promise I’ll be back.”  I really did need to go.  As my family knows well, my bladder is the size of a lentil.

While in the bathroom I sent a text to my wife about the turn that my appointment had taken.  Her response was immediate.: “You’ll do great…you’re a big boy.”

Once I got seated the dentist came in, looked over my chart, and swabbed some pink slime to the base of my gums inside my right cheek and said, “I think we’re going to do this one on the left, number eighteen, without Novocaine.”

“Pardon?” I said, feeling my tongue trying to retreat back behind my epiglottis.

“A Novocaine shot on that side would be more painful than just doing without,” he explained.

“Uh, but you should know I’m a huge pussy.”

“Trust me.  The shot would be worse.  On eighteen I’d need to block the nerve to your whole jaw.  If you feel any sensitivity at all, just raise your left hand and we’ll do the Novocaine, OK?”

So I practiced a few frantic waves of my hand, closed my eyes, and put my head back.

Even more surprising to me than learning that nine metal rods and a suction tube could all fit in my mouth at one time was that the unmedicated side actually hurt less than the other.  Maybe I was a big boy!

After finishing, he got up and said see you next time.  And as I got out of the chair, I saw that my hands had sweat out a crescent-shaped blob, like fat smiling lips right across my crotch.  Nope, still a huge tooth fairy.