Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Up Yours, Bob

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by.
Then my blasted GPS quit.
It took hours to find my way back to the other road
Where there was a chance I could hitch a ride
Out of this sodding wood.

Top O' The World, Ma!

So, The Stevieling graduated high school.

Not sure what happened. One minute she was walking around the house in bib-jeans with a pink and white cloth baseball-style cap turned backwards on her head and a stick pretzel clutched in one hand for all the world like a munchkin Oscar Madison, the next she was filing into a too-warm hall to spend an interminable time listening to people give incomprehensible speeches (Life Lesson kids; when the metaphor takes longer to convey than the plain language message it seeks to obscure, consider just saying what you mean and getting the hell off stage1).

As she walked up to take her diploma (frame2), I couldn't help wondering why my four year old was wearing that oversized gown and standing in that line. I had to stop myself from getting up to go and fetch her out of the Big Kid line and found I was rehearsing reasons a four year old might understand as to why she couldn't take part yet.

And so a party was planned.

Mrs Stevie decided that the Church Gym would, once again, serve handily as a great place for a post-school knees-up, and the parents of one of The Stevieling's friends, upon finding out we had a hall, asked if they could wed their celebration to ours. Turns out The Friend's dad is a chef and he offered to provide the food for the evening. We considered this for about a second and a half before taking his arm off at the elbow.

And thus, a joint party was planned.

On the Wednesday before the party I had to take a day off work3 to deal with a green card issue. I was to be biometricized it seems. For all my other green card pix I was ensuited, but being as how I was within four weeks of advancing geezerhood I decided to wear a nice Hawaiian shirt. I did, however, make a concession to propriety and had a haircut, after which I wandered into Al Sands Toy Soldiers & Whatnot.

Now I used to buy my hobby supplies from Al, but he gradually reduced his stock of stuff I care about by the expedient of arguing bitterly with the suppliers over this or that. I try and give him a little of my money on occasion, because he is a local business and I, for reasons I cannot work out, have a sort of thing about supporting such institutions when I can4.

Anyway, Al leapt up at my appearance and yelled "I have a new line - Airsoft Guns!" His smile was alligator-like and his eyes bugged out alarmingly in his zeal.

"Wossa Nairsoft Gun?" I responded, ruining his moment of triumph.

"BB gun that looks like the real thing! Just look at this Glock!" He waved the safely bubble-wrapped weapon of individual destruction at me.

"Glocks look like that? I thought they were black. That thing is transparent. And I don't remember any gun that has a big orange ring around the shooty-end" I said, dubiously.

"Well, if they didn't do that you could get shot by a cop under the mistaken but understandable impression you were waving a Glock around" he responded, peering into the works of the weapon, which were clearly visible through the transparent casing.

"Nice exposition" I counter-responded. "Naw, I'm not interested in that sort of thing."

"I've got a French assault rifle" he wheedled.

I sucked my teeth and said "Nope. Not interested"

Al played his trump card: "I've got a Thompson over there, in the back of the shop.'

"Ooh, where? Lessee" I masterfully evaded. "How much?"

"Hunnert bux, give or take." He had come up behind me and was not where I expected him to be, but hovering about six inches from my back in vulture-like anticipation.

"Argh! Don't do that! No, not interested. It's got the straight mag. Plus, you know, it's see-through" I said as I attempted to regain control of my heart-rate.

"I have that model with a drum magazine for the same price" he purred.

"You bastard! No. Nonono. If I bring a machine gun home the missus'll kill me and jump on my body until it comes to bits. I haven't got time for your nonsense anyway. I have to get biometricized." And with that I vaulted over Al as he made to low-tackle me and ran for the door.

And I got biometricized, which meant I had my fingerprints taken again and my photo taken again. The only difference between the biometric nonsense and the non-biometric nonsense was that they no longer needed the picture to show my right ear5 but insisted I take off my glasses because it seems the computers that will form the first line of defense vs the terrorist masses and which are the underpinning of this bio-nonsense cannot work out what my face looks like with them on6.

So that's all right then.

On the day of the party I drove out to collect my dry-cleaning and stopped off at Al Sands House O' Odd-Looking Gunz and bought the damn Thompson c/w Drum Mag. Yes it was see-through with a bright orange muzzle. Yes it cost two limbs. Yes it was a 1941 model rather than a 1920s one (no forward pistol-grip, other stuff too nerdy to mention). No, I have no idea what made me do it. To this day I cannot explain the urge, which was irresistible. I mean, I've never owned a BB gun, and never wanted to.

I drove home, assembled it, put the battery on charge and had a think. One thing was obvious: this must be kept from the knowledge of Mrs Stevie at all costs, at least until I had a decent story worked out as to why we needed a Transparent Fake Machine Gun C/W Orange Muzzle. I decided the perfect place to hide it was in the middle of the bed in the front bedroom.

Then it was off to help set up, disguise the gym as a not-gym and so on.

When I got there the decorating was in full swing, with big poster-sized displays of photographs of The Stevieling and her friend, one display per ex-student. I found Mrs Stevie fretting.

"What's up?" I asked

"They have baby pictures. We don't have any baby pictures!" she wailed.

"We have hundreds of baby pictures" I said, 'just not here. So go home and get some." I was feeling in manly pro-active mode, what with now owning a fake weapon of mass-inconvenience. Amazing what a little faux fire-power does for the old juices.

Decorating went on until we were all fed up to the back teeth with it. The friend put up a collection of his oil paintings, using duct tape to stick them to the walls. This meant that unless an adult went around periodically pushing hard on the frames, a cascade of art would happen about three times an hour. Tables had balloons. The food was unbelievably magnificent in both quality and quantity, and the kids whole family showed up to act as kitchen staff. I thought I was going to be washing up, but they had it covered. The guests would be eating off plates that looked like real china with real cutlery (thanks to Mrs Stevie) and one of the friend's neighbors made a huge cake as a gift for the graduates.

I went home to get changed just before things got started, and discovered a crimp in my brilliant hide-the-machine-gun plan: The baby pictures were stored in the front bedroom and Mrs Stevie had clearly been in there and seen everything!

I did The Bonehead Dance and used some class three Words of Power, then went and took the battery off charge, loaded the gun and had a few test shots in the garden, which proved a calming thing to do. Returning to the hall I found the party just beginning and everyone seemed in good spirits.

Around 8 pm or so, our best man, Jeff the Kung-Fu Accountant, accosted me and I told him about how I'd bought the machine gun, hidden it in a foolproof place only to have fate intervene and urinate down my back.

Jeff commiserated, all the while pretending to roar with laughter, then informed me that things were about to get orders of magnitude worse and pointed over my shoulder, his face almost bright red and wringing wet from the tears he was crying (obviously in sympathy of my future fate at the hands of the Vile Harridan who was bearing down on us).

I needed a brilliant plan. My mind whirled, a cascade of psychedelic creativity as a thousand options were individually selected, run in simulation to conclusion and rejected on the grounds that death by strangulation was not an option here. Only one plan would offer a chance, a mere chance of survival. It was a long shot, but I was out of options. Turning to face her I adopted my best contrite expression.

"Sorry about the machine gun" I said.

Mrs Stevie screwed up her face. "What machine gun?" she demanded.

Jeff tried to distract her by collapsing to the floor in fits of simulated hysterical laughter while I showed the world The Bonehead Dance again. That daft woman had not even seen the thing! She'd walked right by it and it hadn't registered in her brain! On the one hand, I had pulled off a brilliant camouflage in plain sight ploy. On the other I had ruined it with premature and unnecessary confession! Damn and blast!

It was about then that the Pastor of the church hove into view and spotted the balloons. These were a problem he said. We shouldn't have them in this hall he said. Every time people have balloons in here, they break loose and get caught in the ceiling fans and it costs a fortune to get them untangled, he said.

Mrs Stevie assured him that the balloons were nailed down good, and somehow got him to stop obsessing about them getting into the fans, and the party continued with the kids performing some sort of group epileptic fit on the dance floor to music that sounded like a recording of a Mardi-Gras parade played backwards and the adults alternately eating and complaining that there was no alcohol (Church, remember?) or that their hearing aids had been blown out by the fiendish Sonic Cannon being fired at them from across the dance floor. Fortunately my eardrums quit around 9 pm so I didn't have to hear any of it.

And a good time was had by all.

It was during the post-party clean-up that disaster struck. Around 1 am I was getting punchy and a balloon got away from me, floating up to the ceiling. It was dead noticeable.

Mrs Stevie stamped her foot in rage. "Now what are we going to do, idiot! Pastor can not come in here and see that tomorrow!" She went on in this vein for some time, and when she paused for breath I spoke.

"I think I can get that down" I said, peering at it speculatively.

"How?" she demanded, 4/5ths anger the rest suspicion.

"Well, I have a machine gun" I said.

Convincing Replica Thompson SMG

"Gogeddit!" she snarled, so I did.

Carefully assessing the target with my experienced marksman eyes, I selected single-shot mode and removed the safety catch. With a quick check to see what would get hit by ricochets, I put two shots into the balloon, only to hear them rattle to the floor.

"I don't think this will work after all. The BBs are bouncing off the mylar" I said, with regret.

"Keep shooting, idiot!" she snarled.

Rarely do I get such carte-blanche permission once Mrs Stevie has assessed whatever it is I plan on doing. A few, a very few occasions in which reasonable actions got out of hand and, for example, burned the finish off her grandfather's table in a sheet of flame7, or dropped a tree on her new car8, or killed a vast swath of the front lawn9, have over-sensitized her to the possibility of sub-optimal outcomes and thus most times a blanket ban on such activity is pronounced "before anything bad happens".

Thus it was I needed no further goading to action. My manly juices started flowing in earnest as I selected Full Auto mode and with the traditional cry of "Top O' The World, Ma!" I put about two hundred rounds into that blasted helium-filled terrorist. A large flap tore in the face of the balloon but it still stayed buoyant. I poured on more lead10 and eventually it began to descend, slowly.

It was then that The Stevieling came in. "Dad! What are you doing?" she cried.

"I'm firing a machine gun in church. What does it look like I'm doing?" I said, pausing to give the drum spring a few cranks11.

"You can't do that! Mom'll kill you" she said. It's remarkable how like their mothers girl children can sound post-puberty.

"Relax! Mom said I had to do this. Would you like a turn?" I answered, and was gratified to see her face light up. My genes are not completely recessive, then.

And so it was that that balloon was machine-gunned until it no longer looked like a balloon. A check showed it had trapped about two hundred BBs inside it. Truth be told I think The Stevieling was right when she opined it was the weight of them that finally brought the thing down.

Best party ever.

  1. And for Azathoth's sake try and understand that listening to Robert Frost get lost in a wood is only interesting and pithy the first time you hear it
  2. For some arcane reason the actual diploma was sent through the mail weeks later. All she got that day was a book-like mount for the thing
  3. Which again, was a tortuous decision that consumed about half a jiffy
  4. I am regarded variously as an eccentric or an idiot by the younger people whom I meet as a by-product of my hobby. I try to point out that saving four bux by buying something from Amazindeal Dot Com just moves the owner of the hobby store we are standing in that much closer to shutting up shop, but they don't understand. They cannot process the chain of cause and effect, and are incapable of acting in their own long-term interests. The Internet Generation. We has one
  5. A bizarre requirement of Green Card pix of Yore
  6. It is a mark of my growing maturity that I didn't "innocently" ponder out loud what would happen if I shaved my beard, or carved it into a new shape. I wish politicians wouldn't use Star Trek episodes as the basis of their yardstick on how great technology will be in a given situation. What a dangerous waste of money this whole biometrics scam is. Now a well-educated terrorist can steal your passport or whatever from a distance without ever seeing the damned thing because it will blurt out its innermost secrets (like your fingerprints, photo and bio-history) to any properly formatted radio request. And lest you think this is American Nonsense At Its Best, I was biometricized for my British passport years ago.
  7. The Mamod Live-Steam Traction Engine Fiasco
  8. The Foolproof Maple Pruning Method Debacle
  9. The Maladjusted Lawn Fertilizer Spreader Screw-Up
  10. i.e. Plastic. This thing fires 6mm plastic BBs rather than .45 caliber bullets like the original
  11. The magazine on the original Thompson was spring-fed, and the firer needed to wind it up before spraying lead everywhere. The BB version requires the key be turned to keep the supply of BBs in the vertical feed constant. You get about thirty shots before you run dry