Thursday, February 24, 2005

Special Ed

The snow beneath me was red.

It wasn’t supposed to be – a fact that my throbbing nose told me was no longer relevant. Crimson droplets of blood flowed in a steady march downward from my left nostril. Usually, this would be cause for immediate action – a bit of ice, perhaps a swab of cotton stuffed slightly up the nose. Unfortunately (and if I were to be honest; humiliatingly), immediate action of a different type was required.

A circle of howling adolescents weaved loosely around me in a sloppy version of the center ring of a circus. I was the ringmaster, I thought wryly. I had called the thunder and with it had come the lightning. Across from me, tongue protruding lazily, was my opponent. Only moments ago, he played the role of unsuspecting antelope to my predatory lion. How swiftly that had changed with the rap of his knuckles upon the bridge of my nose. Who’s the antelope now, bitch?

The crowd, to include several people I considered good friends, was frenzied. The sight of blood made them giddy, or perhaps it had been the surprising change of events. They sensed it too, of course, the momentous occasion. I could hear it in their voices, as I struggled to clear the cobwebs from my brain.

“Over here! Over hear! Mike’s fighting with Eddy!”

“Eddie popped him in the nose! He’s bleeding! He’s bleeding!”

“Go Eddie, kick his ass!”

I looked warily at my mark. His bulging eyes stared back at me. Where moments before I saw fear, there was now something that approached joy. This was all new to him. The people, they chanted his name. Never before had my quarry been revered by the masses – this was his moment.

Edward ‘Special Ed’ Grimly was a special needs child.

Not slightly impaired. Not unusually dense. I’m talking full blown, ride-the-short-bus retarded. He was, in fact, so slow that the school staff had to place his picture on the boys’ bathroom door to lure him into the correct location. His educational needs were taken care of by a separate faculty, and for the most part (with the exception of Physical Ed and lunch) he was isolated from the general population.

This was a good thing, as adolescent boys in particular take great joy in tormenting any and all that vary from the cookie-cutter mold of conformity.

Today was to be no different.

Why did I pick this fight, you may ask? To be honest, I was asking myself the same question. It seemed so straightforward, at the time. The organizational chart that defines the pecking order of our school dictated that, in order for me to move upward I had to either defeat someone in battle, or sexually conquer one of our female classmates. The second option being satisfactorily terrifying enough that I figured the surest way to ascend the popularity tree was through physical might. As I am not what one may call ‘imposing’, it was vital to pick an opponent that I could effectively beat into submission, while ensuring a minimum level of danger to my face – which was my best feature.

Clearly I had not chosen well.

Special Ed descended upon me, fists flying like the pistons in an early model Mustang.

“Who was this madman?” I asked silently, while flopping into fetal position and whimpering as quietly as I could. This was the same guy that, four out of five days, couldn’t walk down the hallway without falling over himself. He carries a teddy bear in school, for god’s sake! I’m getting my ass kicked by a teddy bear-toting simpleton!

The worst part of this wasn’t the physical pain. I could see the crowd, during the brief moments when Special Ed would briefly pause to open another can of whoop ass. The looks on their faces told a story I didn’t want to hear. I was finished at this school. In my overzealousness I had miscalculated. This was much worse than simply losing a fight, or even being turned down by the lead cheerleader. This was popularity suicide.

Finally - mercifully! – it was over. Eddy tired out, a champ having expended his all. He stood tall, screeching at me as spittle sprang from his mouth like a geyser.

“I’m not wee-tarted! I’m special!”

His words rained down upon my bruised and battered ego. Other taunts could be heard from the mob, but I tuned out. I was unwilling to go to the dark places those mocking words would take me. Gingerly, I picked myself off the frozen tundra. I wiped what I could of the congealing blood from my face, and slowly walked away, the crowd giving way to me as if I were Moses parting the Red Sea. “Except Moses would have owned Special Ed.” I thought darkly to myself.

Later, as I walked home, I took mental stock of my injuries. Other than the swollen nose, I didn’t seem to be in too bad of shape. In his fury, many of Ed’s most powerful blows had missed their mark. Plus, I had turtle-ed up so effectively that I hadn’t left much for him to hit. My back would feel it in the morning.

“Mike…Mike.. wait up!” a voice cried in the distance.

Todd hurriedly scampered across the road to where I was slouching.

“Dude, did you really get your ass kicked by Special Ed?” he asked, still breathless from the jaunt.

Not trusting my voice, I simply shrugged my shoulders and turned quickly away.

“That’s hilarious, man. The whole school is talking about it. I’ve never seen Ed so happy. He actually did a little shadow boxing prior to getting on the bus this afternoon. He ended up in a snow bank – it was great.”

“Sounds wonderful.” I mumbled. It just gets better. I got whomped by a kid that can’t box the air without falling down.

“Dude, don’t let it bother you. It was unlucky – that’s all. Maybe you could get him in a rematch. Or challenge him to a spelling bee.”

Tired of the mocking, I reached my street and waived a solitary finger at Todd.

My life sucks.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Bibbs 2.0

I had a cat when I was little.

We were tight; Bibbs and I, the stuff ABC After-School special were made of. Being an only child, he was like a brother to me – albeit a brother that constantly pooped in the geraniums.

But who doesn’t have a family member that’s done that?

For hours on end, we would play kitty hide-and-seek – a game which required me to withhold food from Bibbs until he was hungry enough to search me out whilst I shook the can of Pounce in a tantalizing manner. Good times.

We grew up together – went through the angst-filled years of adolescence as a pair. We even struggled with the same painful demons. I’ll never forget the tearful family intervention upon finding an ounce of Peruvian catnip stuffed under his favorite scratching post.

To this day, I can envision ‘geriatric’ Bibbs, hobbling to the doorway of our home to see me off to the military – paw raised in a furry salute. Excuse me a moment while I tremble with emotion. Is it misty in here? You bet.

The military was like was a rebirth for me. Structure and order were given to a life that was until then – aimless. It’s not surprising that I missed the warning signs in my calls home to Dad. But I do remember the final call.

“Hey Dad, how are thing’s back home?” I asked.

“Fine, fine… all is well here.” He replied.

“How’s Bibbs doing? Put him on the phone, will ya? I want to tell him about all the rodents here in the barracks, he’ll love it.”

“Umm… Bibbs isn’t feeling well. There’s been an accident with the Oriental rug, a bit of pee if you must know. He’s heavily sedated right now.”

“Sedated?” I queried.

“Well not so much sedated as dead. Yes, dead would be a way of putting it. He’s dead, so to speak.”

“Umm, ok. Just tell him I’ll call lat….er, He’s what??? Dead? He’s dead, you say? What the hell?”

My various platoon mates were looking at me a bit oddly. Luckily my Drill Sergeant wasn’t around; he wasn’t a fan of emotional outbursts.

“Michael, Bibbs was a very old cat. It was his time – there was nothing I could do about it.” My father placidly stated.

“H-h-how did he die?”

“He died peacefully, in his sleep.”

“In his sleep? Naturally?” a wave of relief washed over me, at least this sounded dignified.

“Well, more of a chemical-induced sleep – to be precise. It was very lovely. The doctor said he didn’t feel a thing once the kitty gas mask was placed on his snout. Getting it on was a struggle, boy, let me tell you… he was a fighter, that Bibbs. I still have the scratch marks.”

“Chemical induced? You let Dr. Kevorkian euthanize my cat? With a gas mask?”

I don’t remember much more. I woke up in the infirmary – apparently I had blacked out from the stress. The nurse mentioned that I had been mumbling the words to the Meow Mix commercial while I slept – Bibbs favorite song.

There’s a point to this post, and as soon as I remember what it is, I’ll get to it.

Ah yes. The point is I loved that cat. To this day, I’ve never had another animal be his equal. When perusing the local paper today I came upon an article about a man who had his deceased cat cloned, for the reasonable price of $50,000 USD.

Fifty thousand dollars? A mere pittance to be reunited with the cat of all cats, a veritable Prince of Purr-sia, if you will. The only problem is we’ve long since moved from my childhood home where he was buried. Nonetheless, I will let nothing get in my way of securing some choice Bibbs DNA for the replica process. Bibbs 2.0 – coming to a litter box near you.

Tonight, I dig for you, old friend. Let old bones be free!

Your Pal Mike Responds - Question #7

This is the seventh post in a series that started here. Questions are still being accepted, feel free to ask one yourself.

So I was lying in bed yesterday with an ice pack on my face, thinking about ice. I had just finished having oral surgery (no, surprisingly, not to have my foot removed), so I was swollen and grumpy and medicated. And cold. Man, was my face cold, which got me thinking about ice. I'm hoping you can help.

It's fairly common knowledge that the vast majority of the size of an iceberg is located below the water line. So let's say that your regular household ice maker makes ice that has roughly the same composition as your basic iceberg. Plunk a chunk of ice into a glass of water and you'll notice that only the thinnest slice of the cube is poking its icy little mast above the waterline. Here's my question: Is this ice cube and its relative position to the water line in my glass a general representation of how an iceberg of the same composition would "float" in the ocean? (For the purposes of this question, please assume that I like to drink really salty water.)

Titanic question Jim!

Your Pal Mike responds:

Water is one of the few substances that is less dense in solid form than in it's liquid state.

The density of water follows a curve, from 50° C to 4° C it gets heavier, until at 4° C it reaches a maximum density of 1 gram per cm3. When water gets colder than 4° C it begins to get lighter, reaching 0.9998425 grams per cm3 at 0° C.

In more understandable terms, an example:

If you were to take a 2 liter bottle of refrigerated water and weigh it (taking the weight of the bottle out of the equation, of course) it would weigh 2 kilograms. Were you to freeze that same bottle and weigh it again, it would weigh 2 grams less.

Add to this the salinity of seawater, which will make the water heavier (salty ocean water weighs 1.025 grams per cm3), and you have all the makings of a cool movie about a luxury liner that runs smack into an iceberg.

So the answer to your question is ‘Yes’. The ice cube in your water is a direct parallel to an iceberg in the ocean, except that the iceberg will actually be a bit more buoyant, due to the increased density of salt water.

BTW – this property of water is what allows you out-of-work professional hockey players to skate around on the frozen pond in your back yard. Were ice to be heavier than water, ponds would freeze from the bottom up – not very useful for the future Wayne Gretzkys’ of the world.