On The Bus

It’s the first day back at school for many students. Teachers and their pupils will receive a lot of well-deserved attention today, but let’s consider the school bus drivers, who do a difficult job under stressful conditions and are surely underappreciated.

A driver of the familiar yellow bus has to be calm, alert, focused and sane when there is pandemonium on board and craziness all around. In large cities, rush hour is already toxic. Add 60 immature riders, including some who will cry and throw up, and you have an impossible situation. That’s before we consider any acts of willful misbehavior.

I never committed a climbing-over-the-seats violation and did not engage in screaming, spit wad launching, de-pantsing, tripping or lunch box stealing. Mostly I wanted to look out the window, and I had plenty of time for that once our family moved to Central Illinois and a home nine miles away from the school. Seven of those miles were traveled on a two lane rural highway across unbroken flatness, a treacherous stretch in the icy spring and whenever there was a wind, which was all the time. The bus stop was also exposed to that wind, which brings to mind some brutal winter mornings. A driver doesn’t have to do much to be a welcome sight under those conditions. Discipline problems went down in January.

For many of my middle and high school years, the bus driver was also the biology teacher. He was a good man and an excellent teacher who did the bus job for extra money. Because he spent the whole day, every day trying to get us to memorize the Parts of a Cell, he wasn’t exactly hungry for more student contact. His silences were deep and his stare was a physical force that could bounce off the overhead mirror and press a wayward child into the very back seat. That’s a useful power.

Some drivers are happy-go-lucky friendly types who try their best to make the trip non-traumatic and even empowering. My driver took it in the opposite direction. The threat of trauma was his strategic ally, and he wanted to leave a bit of doubt in our minds about what he might possibly do next. A well-placed glare and a low growl would do wonders to spark our imaginations and he knew we would picture acts of cruelty much worse than anything he could actually perform, even in those days before the introduction of cameras on board. Remember, we were driving over country roads. A body left in a ditch by a cornfield might go undiscovered for weeks, especially in Winter.

In spite of the fear, or maybe because of it, he got all of us there and back for many years with nary a problem. That’s quite an accomplishment!

School bus memories, anyone?

The Job of Rest

Happy Labor Day Weekend, Babooners!

We have arrived at a seasonal bookmark, the holiday opposite Memorial Day. In between these two three-day weekends is all the summer fun we had.
Take a moment to reflect on that. It was glorious!

New adventures are about to begin, including school, for many, on Tuesday. If there are any things you had planned to do that are left undone (if?), please do them now. Especially if they’re recreational. Relaxation is a job you must not ignore. Clearing your mind keeps you healthy, and it’s good if you can indulge yourself every once in a while. But if you’re Denny Hecker, make sure you notify the court and the trustee before you tear open another secret bag of money.

Trail Baboon started just a few days after Memorial Day, and I had planned to take a blog vacation somewhere in there but you were all so generous with your time and so engaging, I forgot. To compensate, the Baboon will take a three day weekend as well. I’ll return with a fresh post on Tuesday.

As far as a longer vacation is concerned, I am hoping to have a guest blogger week in October. If you would like to write the lead post between October 4th and October 11th, it would be a delight to turn over the controls to you. Frequent commentators and lurkers alike are cordially invited. Common sense rules apply. Please write to me at connelly.dale@gmail.com, I’ll get back to you with the details.

Right now, I’m planning to go to the State Fair, a place so inclusive and diverse, you can meet and shake hands with the person who will be our next Governor and also get a hug from a Man of Spam. Yes, they are two different people (I think).

What will you do with your long weekend?

Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

In my family we have this weird thing we do called The Money Game. We all send dollars to my eccentric Uncle S., (it’s a big family), and then he sends some back. Why? It keeps us all connected and it helps him feel important! And did I mention that Uncle S. is allowed to print money? He is! Weird, I know. But it’s smart to stay on my uncle’s good side. He’s always rolling in dough!

Recently my uncle offered to send our family some money for education and health care and all we had to do was fill out a few applications. My Uncle fancies himself an expert manager. (He’s NOT!) But he LOVES paperwork. I thought we should humor him, especially since we’ve been coming up short lately. Anyway, if he doesn’t give the money to us he’ll hand it over to someone else. He’s a crazy waster!

But my husband absolutely HATES The Money Game and said “No!” He thinks Uncle S’s spending out of control, and we shouldn’t accept his handout. Uncle S. is bloated, there’s no doubt, but he means well and he does spend a bunch on important things that the rest of the family ignores, like the poor and the sick and the destitute. And Uncle S. has people who protect us. We can call on them whenever we need them. Kind of important.

My husband is no financial genius either, I should say. We’re solvent, but it takes a lot of shifting dollars around from one pocket to another and delaying payments. Every time I have an idea for how we can get more cash, my husband says no, no, no, the problem is spending. And this has been going on for 8 years! The accountant says next year is going to be a doozy, by the way. When the topic comes up I just hear air rushing in my ears and my eyes go out of focus, but I’m pretty sure there is a day of reckoning just ahead.

I should add that all this is complicated by the fact that I’ll be getting a new husband in January. This one says he’s had enough. And get this – he refuses to admit it but I think it is his secret dream to go work for Uncle S. and be in charge of The Money Game!

I don’t think we understand each other very well. We can hardly stand to be together. He’s always in Iowa!

Dr. Babooner, what should I do?

Starved For Cash

I told Starved For Cash that it sounds like her current husband is trying to change the rules of The Money Game – a difficult and costly thing to do, especially if everyone else continues to play as normal. That said, a lot has been sacrificed by people in pursuit of their dreams. Unfortunately, those closest to them bear the brunt of these fantasies in ways the dreamer doesn’t see or can’t imagine. It seems like the only thing to do is hang on and wait for January. You say there’s a new husband on the horizon. If that’s the case, make sure you agree about finances before you start. And is there any way to stay single?

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

A Guilt Trip for the Holiday

Here’s a rather stern holiday address from our Forager-in-Chief, Bart the Bear, thumbing some thoughts our way from his cellphone in the woods. It has been translated from the original Usurs Textish.

Hello, Bart here.

Just a note to everyone coming to the woods for Labor Day weekend.

You’re on holiday, but I’m at work. Don’t forget that. I don’t get time off.
A bear’s job is survival, every single day.

I know your song and cartoon bears dance and play and eat picnic baskets, but that’s a make believe life and I can’t afford to live it. I’m real. Really real. So if you see me in the woods this weekend, give me a little room to work. Getting too close is a hazard for me and you, and in case you didn’t figure it out, I smell bad. Really, really bad. And my breath is even worse. Trust me, you don’t want to get that close.

But if you HAVE to get my picture, why don’t you at least leave me a generous tip? Yeah, a tip. I’m just like a waiter down there in the Twin Cities – working hard while you relax and have a good time. I suppose you could imagine, like some people I won’t name, that I’m pampered and overpaid. But trust me, you’d be floored if you had to live the way I do, dressed in a thick fur coat all summer, dragging my big bear butt through the thicket and getting feasted on by mosquitoes and ticks. Yeah, ticks. I got some the size of chipmunks.

So drop me a bag of Fritos, OK? Or Pudding Pops. Cold stuff is good and I can get to it before it melts if you ditch it in the hollow log and get out of the way. You’ve got plenty, we all know that.

Maybe you’re thinking you don’t want to encourage us bears to eat people food. Maybe you’re thinking by not tipping us you can keep our lives more “natural.” Well, I say, thanks to you, “natural” is no longer a possibility. A newspaper blowing through here the other day had this article that said the North Woods are “retreating” to the north and east, so with climate change I’m gonna have to think about a very expensive move. Ever hear the saying “There’s a Bear in the Weeds?” Me neither. It’s “Woods”. Always has been. That’s what we like – trees. I won’t stay on the prairie. So as long as you’re changing my world and uprooting me, why don’t you do a little something to provide for me too?

Don’t have any extra junk? I’ll also eat healthy foods. I know you get to have blueberries year-round, and blackberries too. How about it? Share the wealth. I’ll even take a bruised banana. No big deal. What else are you gonna do with that stuff? You sure can’t take it with you. And if eating your Fruit Loops rots my teeth and kills me, well, it won’t do me in much quicker than the starvation I’ll face if I have to spend my days posing for pictures with you and your kids while your exhaust makes all the trees around me die and fall over.

My main point is this – have a nice weekend and enjoy the woods. It’s a wonderful place to visit. But while you’re having a good time, don’t forget to pay the help!

Your friend and host, Bart.

We all want to help Bart AND to do it responsibly, but leaving a package of Ho-Ho’s in the dwindling forest is probably not the best way.

What’s your favorite host/hostess gift?

Hello Hurricane!

Your Weird Uncle, Hurricane Earl

I hope the newest storm manages to pass along our most populated coast without hurting anyone or destroying property, because I would like to have only fond memories of a hurricane with the quintessential hick name – Earl. I’d like to think of this as a Labor Day weekend we were forced to spend in the company of an eccentric, unpredictable but ultimately harmless goofball uncle. How can we make that happen? Alas, imagination is the only useful tool we have against the weather, and you know I have a fondness for dopey heroic poetry, so here goes …

With his one clear eye and his wavy hair
He’s a big tough muscular column of air.
You can see him for miles. He makes flags unfurl.
And the people all call him Hurricane Earl.

Earl was a youngster when he made the map.
He can blow down trees and make light poles snap.
He can shake up houses. He can break some plates.
He can cause consternation in the Eastern States.

Down in North Carolina and way up to Maine.
Folks whisper of his power and his country name.
When he sweeps on by he’ll make the ocean whirl
You’ll get soaked, Manhattan. Courtesy of Earl.

If there’s one thing you’d better not do for fun,
Don’t spit in the face of this son-of-a-gun.
He packs quite a punch. He’s not shy at all.
He’ll blow it right back at you like a cannonball.

He’s a plywood king. He sells water too.
He’ll board up your home and your business too.
Look down from space to see his jaunty swirl.
Underneath is the havoc of Hurricane Earl.

If you’re on Long Island better go inside.
If you’re on Cape Cod, find a place to hide.
Down in Washington, take a few steps back.
There’s a surge a comin’, and it’s not Iraq.

He’s a pile of wind blowing in from sea.
He’s a massive concentration of energy.
He’s the ocean’s spawn. Singular, not plural.
He’s a hurricane by the name of Earl.

The hurricane names for the next few years have already been chosen, so if you’re not on this list,your only hope of seeing your name on a chunk of extravagant weather is to attach it to something else. I think a government strapped for cash should consider selling naming rights for all the significant weather events.

Bee Careful

Here’s a seasonal safety message from Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty.

At Ease, Civilians! But don’t be TOO easy.

I’m here to remind you that this is the week before Labor Day, so there’s lots of traveling going on and picnics are happening everywhere. People are in their relaxed, summertime frame of mind. It may seem like fun to you, but from my perspective that’s a dangerous combination, especially compared to wintertime when you just assume that something bad involving extreme cold or loss of traction is going to happen to you in the next ten minutes.

Winter is harsh and difficult by nature. Summer is soft and easy. And you’ve had so much of it leading up to the last day of August, your guard could very well be down. I’m here to tell you, just like our nation’s military, you should always be trying to re-up your guard! You never know when you might have to re-deploy to respond to a new threat!

Why, you ask? What could happen?

Bees! Bees could happen to you at the end of summer. Wasps, yellow jackets, bumble bees, all creatures with pointy back ends are of great concern to me, and they should be to you as well! Some specific advice:

– Always remember to look INSIDE the open pop can before you take a great big drink out of it. Because you don’t want to have a bee in your mouth anymore than a bee wants to be in there! A human mouth is a gross, scary place to be, and if you were caught inside one, you’d panic and would do anything to get out.

– If you decide to go rolling down a grassy hill in celebration of the end of summer, be sure to conduct a careful survey of the terrain. Ground nests, once disturbed, are like those clown cars at the circus – there seems to be no end to the number of scary individuals who come pouring out. And why shouldn’t they? If a huge fleshy thing rolled over your house, you’d be upset too!

– Some people roll on the ground or jump in a lake when under attack by bees. This is NOT a good escape strategy. Rolling on the ground is what you do when you’re on fire. Jumping in the lake also works to resolve a flaming-clothes situation. But bees can find you in either of these scenarios, and will simply wait for an opportunity to inflict their portion of pain. The best approach is to run like crazy, pulling your shirt over your head to keep them away from your eyes. If you do this, the bees will get tired of chasing you, and they’ll also become helpless with laughter. But it is always a good idea to have your bee attack escape route mapped out at all times. Make sure your intended path doesn’t cross a major thoroughfare or a scenic overlook.

Even a single angry bee can set off a disastrous chain of events! The bee in the shirt of the bus driver, the bee in the hair of the horsewoman, and the bee up the pants leg of the construction worker have caused far too much havoc and heartbreak. So never, ever stop thinking about your next random encounter with our tiny, stingered citizens. Give them the space and respect they need!

Securely Yours,
Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty

This strikes close to home for me, since I was put in the hospital by a few bee stings when I was ten years old. I have been known to do a vigorous but spastic “bee dance” whenever one is nearby – an upsetting scene for everyone, bees included.

Got bees?

Nice Guesswork If You Can Get It

I have been known to construct an entire conversation between two people, playing both sides for maximum amusement. Putting words in mouths is an entertaining pastime and is easier work for an introvert than actually talking to strangers.

For this reason alone I tip my hat to the missionary who tore the knob off Clyde’s door this weekend. Clyde detailed his encounter in the comments attached to the Saturday entry, Bumper to Bumper. Say what you will about the evangelist’s theology, it does require boldness to profess your faith door to handle-less door. How does one muster the courage? Perhaps he had imagined how his conversion of Clyde would go – the greeting, the pitch, the resistance and the struggle, a key phrase uttered, a light goes on in the darkness, the opening of the floodgates, some weeping and the tearful conclusion. Maybe it does happen that way sometimes, I don’t know. But I wager when this fellow approached Clyde, he did not know Who He Was Dealing With. Still, you need an active imagination to succeed in this world. Why not use a little positive visualization and picture events unfolding in some way that benefits you? Fate will rewrite it soon enough. Sometimes you have to make stuff up and hope it’s at least partially true.

I thought of this while reading commentator Glenn Beck’s assessment of President Obama’s most deeply held religious beliefs. Beck has examined Obama’s underpinnings and finds them wanting. Since I doubt the president has time for a face-to-face, heart-to-heart theological discussion with a Fox News personality, Mr. Beck must have distilled this intensely personal information by filtering it through the heavy air of Washington D.C. at the Big Beck Rally this past Saturday. Opponents are so much simpler to defeat when you can handle their side of the conversation too. Trust me, I’m doing it to Glenn Beck right now and it’s very easy because he’s not saying a word!

In our media landscape today, whether you know what you’re talking about or not is hardly the point. The key is to get your version of the truth out there. Wrong or right, but especially if it’s amazingly, provocatively wrong, stuff takes on a life of its own.

One more instance of making things up – the head count for the Beck rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Here’s how the numbers were presented in Felicia Sonmez’s Washington Post Story:

Estimates on the size of the rally have varied widely. According to one commissioned by CBS News, 87,000 people attended the event. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R), who also spoke at the event, told a reporter afterward that she thought more than 100,000 people had attended … Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), speaking at her own event following the rally, said that no fewer than 1 million people had been in attendance.

What, nobody went for a billion? Leave it to our own Michele Bachmann to top everyone in this random number generating derby. She even beat the event’s organizer, whose method was so exact he called it somewhere between 300 thousand and 650 thousand. Perhaps he relied on the crowd estimation technique I claimed to use back when I was a reporter – count the number of legs and divide by two.

Obviously the total was a moving target, so you can choose any number that sounds good for you. Remember there’s no penalty for making stuff up.

What’s the biggest crowd you were ever in?

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