Wilder by Far

A look at life with the Wilder family. Updated most weekends and some vacation days. You can contact me at movingnorth@gmail.com..

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"We have enough food to last for 30,000 years, but we've only got one mint left, and everyone's too polite to take it." - Holly, Red Dwarf


I was driving to work today. I’ve got a super-sneaky way that I go (it’s called a road) that is probably the only road into Houston that isn’t stuffed tighter with cars than a rehab center for former child stars. It’s a nice drive, but, given that this is the only stretch of road within 200 miles of Houston where you can actually see pavement, people drive like they’re being chased by Michael Jackson.

I was driving down the road at a respectable clip in the left lane. When I say respectable clip, I don’t mean “fast enough that the paint melts off my car due to friction,” but rather “fast enough that I could get a ticket, if I weren’t a fictional character.” I was passing cars in the right lane, so it wasn’t like I was lollygagging around, especially since I’d left my lolly and my gag at home. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a quickly approaching SUV, lights flashing from dim to bright to dim in a rapid sequence. Morse code?

I tried tapping my brakes in Morse code to find out. Funny, the driver of the car did not respond with a coded message back, but continued to drive about six inches behind the bumper of the Wildermobile. Finally, a break in traffic allowed SUV-guy (it was a guy) to pass me on the right. As he passed, he flashed the universal signal of goodwill and respect to me. I returned the favor, but, sadly he was driving nearly 120 miles per hour at that point, so I’m fairly certain he didn’t see it. That was okay – he maintained contact by swerving in front of me and tapping out a signal on his brakes.

What a wonderful guy.

I watched him drive onward in front of me, flashing his brights at anyone in the left lane (I could see it reflected off of the highway signs). When he finally exited the freeway, he was all of 200 feet (sixteen million meters) in front of me.

Likely, this individual managed to share the moment of love and kindness that we had shared with others on his trip. Perhaps he was late for a poodle waxing, or, whatever it is that makes him drive at 120 miles per hour and, in general, act like the left lane is the sole province, of, well, him.

In reality, I laughed during and after the situation. I’ve come to understand that life isn’t so much about getting there really quickly, because I was headed to work, and I really didn’t want to go. Traffic jams don’t bother me when I’m not in a hurry. And, mostly, I’m not.

Fairbanks taught me a lot about patience in traffic. First, there is no traffic in Fairbanks. Second, I learned a lesson.

I was trying to make a left turn out of the local supermarket. Supermarkets are where they keep the beer food for Pugsley. I think (memory deserts me) that was what I was getting.

I was behind a female in a minivan with four bouncing kids. She was distracted, and missed openings in traffic sufficient to drive, well, a minivan through.

My hand headed to the horn.

I stopped. I put this in perspective. This female had slowed me up twenty seconds. Twenty seconds! Was it worth it to make her life a little more difficult to assuage a very minor frustration on my part?


I followed the minivan. Not stalking, mind you. It was headed to . . . my next-door neighbor’s house.

In Fairbanks, the cloak of anonymity that is bestowed on denizens of larger cities is gone. Act like a jerk? Everybody will know it. Everybody. The loss of the anonymity leads to people being (for the most part) polite. Like herpes, the have to deal with you – again and again.

Oh, and people are polite in Fairbanks because everyone has oodles and oodles of guns.
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Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Don't ever call me that, the name is Chainsaw." - Chainsaw, Summer School


There used to be a tree between these two. No (living) trees were harmed in the making of this blog post

If there’s something that I would like on my coat of arms, I think a chainsaw would be nice. Chainsaws are (excluding that whole “Texas Massacre” thing) a really, really wholesome invention. When I run a chainsaw (normally) I’m getting firewood that turns into heat for the family, exercise to prevent an untimely heart-clogging from all that sweet, sweet meat, and also getting to rip apart something with a chain with really cool, sharp teeth, rotating at about a zillion (metric equivalent, million) rpm. A chainsaw is, really, a culmination and ultimate realization of the thirteen-year-old Boy Scout in me: massive, wanton destruction, but for a good cause. Makes me think of that old Queen song when one goes down: “Another One Bites The Dust.”

In Houston, I don’t get to do that so much. In wintertime, on the single day that it’s cold here, if I light up the junk mail that I got on that day I’ve dumped enough British thermal units into the house that I have to turn the air conditioning on. Firewood? Not really needed in Houston. I’m thinking that all the fireplaces in the houses here are a cunning ploy by local realtors to convince buyers that living in Houston isn’t (essentially) like living on the planet Mercury. So, I don’t get to use one of my favorite tools: my chainsaw.

Today, however, I got out my trusty chainsaw for a good purpose. I was cutting down a palm tree.

This wasn’t just any palm tree: this was a decapitated palm tree.

It started (I think) when lightning hit the palm tree. I think this happened because just after a bunch of electronics in our house ceased functioning all at the same time, the tree (which was in contact with the power pole coming into our house) died. It collapsed in a few weeks in a windstorm. That was okay: the power line feeding our house stopped its fall.

I pondered this. I was pretty sure that the power company would charge us bazillions to knock down the tree. The alternative was waiting for termites to go up and eat the palm tree, which wasn’t all that attractive. I came up with the idea that I could rent a manlift and pull the tree down myself.

The Mrs. had a very eloquent reply: “No.”

The Mrs. said it in a manner that indicated that, should I try to implement my (stupid) idea, that I would be better off in a room full of cannibal undead. These would not be normal cannibal undead, no. These cannibal undead would have just spent the last sixteen hours of their (lives?) in line at the DMV.

Okay, (stupid) idea cancelled. I called the power company.

Turns out it was free, since the power company doesn’t want morons (like me) in manlifts next to their powerlines. Bad publicity when the headline “Cheap Husband Fried Like A Mozzarella Stick” hits the front page.

The power company cut it down, but left 20’ of the trunk of the palm tree reaching skyward, like a cinderblock yearning to fly. As the property owner, it was my responsibility to deal with this splinter. Admittedly, it was a splinter 20’ high . . . so, I’d need a ladder, and a chainsaw.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever been 15’ up on a ladder with a running chainsaw. From that vantage point, my plan didn’t look so good. The Mrs. looked on, ready to sprint to the phone to call for medical help if my stupidity led to great bodily damage. I climbed down.

“Doesn’t look like a good idea from up there,” I told The Mrs.

“Funny, I just thought you liked climbing up ladders with a running chainsaw.” The Mrs., always so sympathetic.

I decided to risk felling the tree in the conventional manner, since I could replace a fence or our birdbath much more easily than my spleen, spine, stomach, skin, or any other body part starting with the letter “s”.

I started ripping the chainsaw into the trunk of the tree. When I fell a tree, the method I’ve always used is to cut a nice big wedge out of the tree in the direction I want it to fall. Then I cut diagonally down the back side. Although this works about 95% of the time, the other 5% is, frankly, terror inducing. There is nothing that gets adrenaline pumping like several tons of wood being accelerated by gravity at 32 feet per second² (9.81 m/s²) that focuses every muscle in your body to get the hell out of the way so you’re not pulverized the way you would be if you were between Rosie O’Donnell and a buffet of all the mayonnaise you can drink. Or eat. Or whatever it’s called when you’re guzzling straight mayo.

I finished my diagonal cut. I started pushing the trunk, to see if it moved. It did. I had no idea how the mechanical properties of the palm tree compare to say, birch, aspen, pine, the trees I think of as “real” trees. (Palm trees? Those are for Gilligan’s Island.)

Despite all of the destructive power of a chainsaw, most every tree I’ve cut down in close quarters I’ve pushed over – it seems to make sense to me that if I have to run like hell, I don’t want to have to figure out where to toss the spinning metal blades of death that is my chainsaw before I take off. Call it planning ahead.

I pushed, and heard the sounds of victory – the cellulosic tendons of the palm snapping as it swayed back and forth above me like the hammer of Thor, ready to smite me if I’d forgotten to sacrifice a calf, or whatever Thor likes sacrificed.

A final snap: the tree fell, exactly where I wanted it to go.

The Mrs. looked relieved.

And another one’s gone, another one bites the dust . . .

For The Mrs. viewpoint, go to: The Mrs. Blog.

Reality must lie somewhere in between. And, technically, my life insurance pays off as long as I didn’t intend to die.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"When I directed Star Trek V, I got a good performance out of me because I respect me so much." The One True Shatner, Futurama


The Boy shows his best photographic skills: inappropriate special effects combined with a finger over the lens and bizarre subject matter.

Passing the torch is a duty that’s important, one that I take nearly as seriously as Lindsey Lohan takes modesty. What? She posed nekkid? Dang. I guess I take it more seriously than that.

One thing I do like about Houston is that one crappy independent UHF station (TV 55) has the best possible Saturday night lineup: Star Trek®, followed by the original Battlestar Galactica©, followed by yet more Star Trek™. This allows me to pass the torch.

This is three hours of Bliss for The Boy. The Boy and I sit and watch the young, thin William Shatner struggle with emotions and struggle even more with that thing called acting (it seemed really cool when I was seven). Then we get to see multiple-mouthed singers (What evolutionary mishap led to that trait being a good idea? Having to eat multiple cheeseburgers at the same time to stave off anorexia, like Rosie O’Donnell?) sing a disco song in a laughingly bad plot interspersed with very good and emotional gritty dialogue from an aging and carbohydrate-enriched Lorne Greene.

Both, however, teach more about morality and manhood than is typically allowed in today’s society, mainly because Kirk didn’t have to care about other people’s feelings: Kirk was going to do the right thing, unless it was the evil mirror-universe Kirk, or the Kirk android, or the Kirk who had his mind transformed from one body to another or the Kirk who . . . nevermind. Starbuck? Starbuck is going to smoke cigars, flirt with girls, back up his friend, kill Cylons® and disco-dance.

The Boy sits and watches these aging space-operas, and I sit with him and watch. Both shows are as uncomplicated as Paris Hilton’s answer to a thermodynamics question (“Whoa, that’s hot”).

Regardless, The Boy and I watch.

I watched when I was a kid, too. I would ride the bus home from school, zooming through the 15 miles from the school in a stunning 45 minutes. I would get home, and since the nearest kid was ten miles away and it was likely to be below zero outside, anyway, I’d plop down and watch, wait for it . . . Star Trek©. Sadly, since there were only 79 episodes and 210 afternoons a year, I saw the same episode three times a year, every year, for years, probably amassing a total of viewing of well over a thousand hours of Star Trek®.

Obviously, I hadn’t discovered beer and girls yet.

This massive over-exposure to the Federation left me with the hideous ability to identify a Star Trek® episode, by episode title, after seeing it for an instant. This ability, as cool and ultra-hip as it may seem, still did not help me get beer and girls. (Note to readers: I’m not a convention-going, pointy-ear wearing nerd, just a regular nerd who by chance knows way too much about Star Trek™.) Admission? I admire the decisions that Kirk made, based on morality, justice, and bad scripts. I wanted my own starship, and even nearly went to the Air Force Academy. Fortunately at 16 I realized that the Air Force wouldn’t be having warp drive anytime soon and headed elsewhere.

So, I met The Mrs. (then known as “The Miss”) and fell madly (not the psycho, eat your liver madly, but the good kind) in love with her. We dated, married in a whirlwind and then had another moment of realization when I discovered her Starfleet uniform as she moved in to with me. She looked embarrassed.

“Hey, that’s cool. I always wanted to be Captain Kirk.”

“Funny,” The Mrs. responded, “I always wanted to marry Captain Kirk.”

Sadly, then, The Boy gets his love of Star Trek from both sides. He’s doomed. Unless Dr. Corbin makes an android copy of him. Then it’s anyone’s bet.
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Sunday, February 17, 2008

"I am your father, Luke. Give in to the dark side of the Force, you knob." - Doug McKenzie, Strange Brew


This is a picture I took in Canada. All Canadians are made of ice, and walk around naked, and have ice-leopards as pets. That sure didn’t show up in the tourist websites.

So, in Canada, I was actually early arriving at the hub that would take me to the rather fatalistically phrased, “final destination.” I went to my gate, and noticed an earlier flight to the place I was going that was still there. I went to the ticket counter and asked if I could get on it earlier.

“Yeah, eh. But it’ll cost $50.” Since $50 Canadian is no longer worth $1.50 US, I decided I would go get some chow and wait while reading the book I bought, attempting feebly to not get gobs of mayo on the pages.

I got in line at a place called Tim Horton’s™, which appears to be the Canadian equivalent of some science experiment gone wrong that attempted to splice the genetic material of Starbucks©, Subway™ and Krispy Kreme®. For instance, my choice of drink with the combo meal was . . . coffee. My choice of side? Whichever donut I decided to pick.

For the record, I picked the “cruller,” which Bob and Doug spoke highly of. It was good, eh.

I got back to my gate and attempted to hold coffee at the same time I read a book and ate a sandwich. Just then the gate agent scurried over, and plucked the ticket from my shirt pocket. Okay, have you ever chased a gate agent who stole your ticket without spilling your coffee? This was going to be difficult.

“Mr. Wilder, eh, we can get you on this flight. No extra charge.”

Huh? Are people in Canada empowered to reverse petty bureaucratic rules in order to create justice? I had little time to ponder this as I scurried, blazingly hot coffee in hand, to my plane.

The scenery was wonderful outside of my plane window, if you like snow-covered farmland. We got there, and I got my car.

After a few miles, I realized that the Canadians drive on the same side of the road as we in the US. Sorry aboot that.

Then, a mountie caught up with me and helpfully explained that the signs were in kilometers (kilometres?) per hour, and not miles per hour. Distances on road signs were similarly in the communist metric system. I am not a fan of the metric system, mainly because I think it places too much emphasis on humans having ten fingers. Me? I’m comfortable dividing by 12 or 5280 or whatever to get my answer. Metric takes the fun out of unit conversion.

The nice thing about metric road signs is that when the distances are in km, you REALLY feel like you’re making good progress down the road, especially when you’re speeding like a son of a gun.

Anyhow, I got to my hotel room (late) and flipped around the channels. No HBO©, but, on REGULAR TELEVISION THERE WERE NAKED PEOPLE DOING THINGS TO EACH OTHER THAT ARE STILL ILLEGAL IN KANSAS.

Wow. Eh. No wonder there was no HBO™ – you can apparently put all the nekkid people you want to on TV.

So, I finally finished my trip and got on the plane home. Every single person I had met on the trip who was from Canada was nice, polite, and helpful. I’m thinking that mostly their cops just tell people, “Okay, you were rude in the bar, eh. You can’t go back in until you apologize. You are sorry, aren’t you, eh? Good. Now take off, eh.”

I bet they don’t even have jails. They just threaten to send criminals to Detroit, and *poof* they start behaving.

When I was a kid I would get home from school and occasionally watched Leave it to Beaver. On that show, there was a guy named Eddie Haskell, who would always be nice to the Cleaver parents, but then try to convince the Beav that he should worship Satan, douse his parents in gasoline and then burn the house down while he wiped his nose with the US flag.

I wonder if the Canadians are really, really that nice, or are they all Eddie Haskell-types who, when all the tourists aren’t looking, secretly suck their souls out through some sort of insidious Canadian invention?

Hmm. Don’t know, eh. I sure would like another cruller, though.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Is there anything about Canada we need to know before we get there?" - Fez, That 70's Show


The South end of a Northbound Moose. Not a picture from Canada, but what the heck, seems to suit the mood.

As I boarded Air Canada® I had no idea what to expect. What I got was … instructions in English and some other language, which sounded sort of like someone had tried to gargle while their mouth was full of raw oysters. I later learned that this language is “French” or something, and it is more or less supposed to sound that way.

I got in, buckled up, and fell asleep before we pulled back from the gate. I think I drooled.

Anyhow, I woke up, and noticed that the person in front of me was watching the television mounted in front of him in his seat, and watching 3:10 to Yuma. “Oh, I thought, in flight movie. Eh.” Then I looked and saw that someone else was watching the front of his seat, and watching a different movie (something with dwarves, or maybe just Tom Cruise).

Huh? Had I fallen asleep and woke up in the cool future that Disney™ promised us when I was in third grade and visited Tomorrowland©?

Sadly, I had left my headphones at home. See, having had no experience visiting Canada, I had left my I-Pod™ at home, worrying that it would be seized at the border and replaced with an Eh-Pod®, or whatever the metric equivalent of an I-Pod© is.

Just then a stewardess flight attendant walked by, and told me she’d left headphones in the adjacent seat for me. What? I didn’t have to pay for them? Heck, on United™, you have to pay for air by the breath (that was intended to be a joke – I’m sorry if when they decide to actually do it) and turn off the engines and coast a lot to save fuel while the passengers stick their arms out the window and flap for their lives. Literally. Instantly awake, I simply had to try this out.

I watched Into The Wild and immediately began a longing for Alaska. When the FULLY NAKED LADY who had just jumped out of a freezing river showed up on the movie screen, I blushed and looked behind me to make sure some kid wasn’t watching. No kid. I felt guilty anyway.

Okay, MOVIES, FREE movies, RECENT free movies, UNCUT recent free movies? Wow. And the people on the flight were nicer than heck.

Maybe Canada wasn’t as evil as I thought, after all.

When we touched down, it was time for customs, which turned out to be a nice, polite person asking me why I was here in winter, eh? Satisfied with my answer, they pointed me through the door.

No searching. No guard dogs. Just a nice clerk. Huh?

I had a connecting flight out, and had a few minutes to spend, and found a fully stocked bookstore. I was looking for a particular book, and asked the clerk if they had it. “Yes, that’s in the business and economics section.” She actually went and HELPED me find it.

My mistake was, of course, buying the book. See, in the back of the book, they have a US price and a Canadian price. Back when their currency was worth a similar amount of wrapping paper, it would have been okay. But now that US money is less useful than a visit to rehab for a Hollywood starlet, it wasn’t really a good deal.

Anyhow, I went through security to get on my next flight. And didn’t take my shoes off. Huh?

Don’t the Canadians realize that shoes are inherently dangerous (or lez shouz et muy dangeroux)?

Next: Bureaucrats, Driving, Cable Surprises and, Maybe Eddie Haskell
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Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Take off, you hoser." Bob McKenzie Strange Brew


It’s just like those evil Canadians to sneak into our space station. Bet the Canadarm is on the north part. Eh.

This week I’m sorry I missed the Wednesday update. I’m sure that hundreds of millions of Americans were awaiting the latest update. So, to all of you that were rending your garments, well, I was up in Canadia Canada.

Oh, sure you say, “You’re John Wilder, the only force in society that has exposed Canada for the brooding, omnipotent, implacable, brooding (oops, used that twice) evil that it is, how in the heck did they let you in?”

A passport. Which is, really, part of the story.

My flight left Houston really early in the morning, and my boarding pass said to show up at least three hours earlier. So, that pretty much rules out drinking the night before, but, strangely Vicoden™ can still be on the menu. Anyhow, regardless, I made the calculation that if I went to sleep my opportunity to get to Canada would be roughly zero, since my alarm clock and a squadron of Soviet MiG fighters would be inadequate to get me out of bed at 4:00 AM (AM is Latin for “Ante Meridian” which translates to the English “ants cover your bellybutton and eat the lint there”).

Anyhow, my ticket said, “For INTERNATIONAL departures, arrive at least THREE hours prior to departure.” I got there then. Because the ticket said so. I walked up to the Air Canada ticket counter, and . . . was greeted by a sign that said, “Eh, we hada lotta Moosehead last night. Ticket counter opens at 5:25 AM. Eh.”

Those hosers. I was an hour early. They must be eating some back bacon and crullers. Dadgum Canadians.

I hit the couches in front of the ticket counter, and decided to take a nap. Amazingly, my brain woke me up at exactly 5:25 AM. Eh. I looked and saw that a whole bunch of people were incredibly upset that the flight to Toronto was cancelled, but mine was still on. Good to be me.

When you’ve done a lot of business travel in your life you learn what I term the Zen of Travel. The Zen of Travel has several components, the first of which is, “Never check a thing, even if it’s the body of Aunt Gertrude. She can fit in the overhead compartment.”

The second koan in the Wilder Zen of Travel is, “You’ll get there sometime. Getting mad won’t get you there sooner, but it will give the travel agents an amusing story to tell later at the bar if you get mad enough to turn red and talk about how you’re the third cousin of a congressman and you won’t be treated like that.”

Me, I got in line, got my ticket, and got the dreaded question. “Can I see your passport, eh?”

Horrors. I was scared. It was here I might get booted off the plane without ever having to get to visit the great white north, eh.

Here’s the story: The Canadian’s won’t let you get into Canada if you ever made a mistake on filling out one of those subscription cards in a magazine. Me? When I was a younger, wilder Wilder I had been arrested once, for an itsy-bitsy (and, this isn’t an Internet itsy-bitsy, but a real-life itsy-bitsy thing, that (honestly) I was innocent of) thing. Not to mention that I’d done tons, eh, of things that Canada might officially disapprove of, but I had gotten caught this one time, for this tiny thing. Eh.

They scanned my passport, looked up at me, and said, “Gate 8A.”

I responded, “Gate 8A?”

“No, eh, Gate 8. Eh.”

Those darn Canadians. Evil, I tell you.

Next: Canada, Eddy Haskell, and Beyond. Eh.
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Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Now I want to dance. I want to win. I want that trophy. So dance good." - Mia, Pulp Fiction


Waiting for results. The Boy wonders, “Will I get Mr. Congeniality?”

Finally, finally, race day arrives. The XT-14, honed to the height of engineering perfection, lubricated with a mixture of graphite, Teflon™, moon dust, and bigfoot pee is now ready to race.

The race started at a Wilder-friendly noon. I had expected that the race would start at 6:35am, since the type of people that generally run such things are of the masochistic “gotta start the day before the Sun comes up” type that you generally want to choke. They also are generally too quick and strong to choke, though. Darn healthy, quick, early risers.

When we got there the first Tiger Den was ready to race. I watch with detachment.

Then, a winner was crowned and it was time for our Tiger Den. The cars were lined up in the starting blocks, and . . .

The Boy’s car was in first coming off the line. It careened down the well-varnished wooden track and . . .

Won. And it won the second one. And it won the third one.

I looked at The Mrs. (who was cheerfully cradling a wistfully wrestling Pugsley who wanted to wrest candy from this newborn) and said, “He’s got to be thrilled.”

The Mrs. responded, “I’m sure The Boy’s just messing around. He probably doesn’t know his car is winning.”

I looked down Gasoline Alley to the finish line, where I saw The Boy. His face was contorted in a rictus of joy.

I looked at The Mrs. “He knows.”

The Boy’s car won each and every heat. As they announced his victory and handed him his first-place trophy, The Boy said, “I won IwonIwonIwonIwonIwon!”

Which led to the later discussion of how, exactly, one behaves as a good winner.

Then, The Boy was supremely irritated. “Dad, they won’t give me my car back.”

Explaining to him that’s because he’s got another race coming, the Pack Finals, where he would go against the best of the other 10 dens in a race to see which car was the fastest didn’t make much happier since he was watching everybody from his Den take their cars and race them around the table, making “vroom, vroom” noises.

We left so all the Bears, Wolves, and Webelos could finish their races, and return later for the finals.

The Boy’s car lined up, ready for the his first race and . . . finished about the middle of the pack.

Throughout the rest of his races, he never won a heat, and finally finished up at 14 out of 22 of the winners. As you can see from the graph below, looks like the folks with the very fastest time are doing a thing or two that The Boy didn’t do. After The Boy’s previous bout of ego, I’m pretty sure that not winning the entire Pack was a good thing.

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A graph of winning place versus time. You can see that The Boy's car was off by .07 seconds or so from first place. .07 seconds - why it takes longer than that for the Congress to spend a billion dollars!

That’s okay. I’m sure that there’s a rigorous scientific testing process that we can go through next year to ensure that every single variable that can be optimized is fully tested.

At least that’s what The Boy says.
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