Monday, February 23, 2009

New Neighbor

Adam? Hey, Adam? Can you come grab me that apple?

6:10 Monday morning. I go outside to feed my guest cat, and find a thick, colorful scarf rolled in a tight tube, coiled up outside my back door.'s not a scarf. And I'm going to be very late to work.

This is a corn snake. They are not native to this area; in fact, my friend says when corn snakes are not masquerading as pets, they are to be found slithering through the warm and wet climates of the southeast.

I have no idea how this guy got here or why he chose my back step to curl up on, but there he was at 6:10 this morning, lethargic, far too cold, possibly dying. Several desperate calls to Animal Control (which helpfully opens at 7:10 am, so don't plan on any animal emergencies before that) yield zero results. Finally, as the snake begins to move either away or up into the siding of my building, I break down and call 9-1-1.

At this point, I have no idea if the snake is dangerous. He has made some half-assed strikes in my direction, even temporarily trapping me outside my back door. While he is moving slowly, I have no doubt he could go faster if motivated, like, to grab a chunk of my calf.

The 9-1-1 operator is one of several heroes I will find today. She tries Animal Control--no luck. She says she'll keep looking and call me back.

A few minutes later, my phone rings. It's hero number two, a guy who calls himself Sasquatch. He identifies the snake from my description, and assures me (if "assures" is the right word here) that the snake's bite isn't venemous. Note he doesn't say that the snake won't bite, just that the bite won't kill me. He does urge me to bring the snake inside if at all possible. It's too cold, we don't know how long the snake's been out, he has a long drive from Woodinville in morning rush traffic.

I call on heroes three and four: Andrew and Wendy. Wendy, who lives upstairs, is down in a flash. Moments later, Andrew arrives from his home a mile away. He has gloves. I feel like such an idiot--gloves hadn't actually occured to me. I may not be the first person you want to contact if you're having a crisis. I'm just sayin'.

My cats have been closed in the bedroom for most of this drama, as I'm concerned for their safety. The entertainment value of watching Beebs deal with a giant snake just wasn't worth risking her maybe getting hurt. I might get a fake snake, though, just so I won't miss out...

Andrew picks up the snake and muscles it into an empty kitty litter container that I have for no reason I can think of other than that I haven't taken it out to the recycle bin yet. We put the snake in, and I carve a very small hole in the lid. We put the coffee pot on top to provide a little warmth and set the bin near my heater. Andrew and Wendy return to their separate Fortresses of Solitude, and I'm waiting for Sasquatch to show up at my door.

Sasquatch is only slightly less exotic than the animal he's here to claim. Built on the Santa Claus model of burly and bearded, he is clearly extremely fond of snakes and extremely knowledgeable about their care. The snake is no worse for his time outside, Sasquatch tells me, and he'll be fine. I heave so many sighs of relief, I start to hyperventilate. Sasquatch bundles the warmer and much-friskier critter into a pillow case (why is it always a pillow case?), gets back in the truck and drives off into a happy ending.

I'm still looking for the animal's owner, so if anyone in Seattle, particularly in the area of Beacon Hill, finds themselves a corn snake short, leave me a comment. Meanwhile, I have to go do something about that cappebara that just showed up on my back step.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I'm sorry--you're too stupid to eat this.

I bought a hot-air popcorn popper last weekend. I bought it partly because it fits in with my ongoing effort to save calories and partly because my catsitter seemed so disappointed when I told him I ditched the crappy old one that didn't so much pop popcorn as fling unpopped, sizzling-hot 'granny' missiles around the kitchen. This one's for you, Buck.

This morning, I made a bowl of popcorn. Hey, I had a day off, and popcorn is technically in the 'cereal' family. I completely obviated the machine's calorie-saving function by melting a tablespoon of butter in the little tray on top and dousing the popcorn with it, but to complete my whole "it's a breakfast food" thing, I ate it with a glass of milk. It was delicious--quick, tasty, nutritionally neutral rather than actively bad for me, and simple.

Simple. I've been making popcorn on the stovetop at least once a week for nearly my entire adult life and several of the years before it. I love popcorn. I am a purist, however; strictly oil or butter and liberal cloudings of salt. None of your yeast flakes, bacon salt or garlic salt for me, thanks all the same. And Kettle Korn? Well, if it were real popcorn, they'd spell it right. Popping a bowl of popcorn presents no real challenge for me, even when I do the DIY version. It's not like assembling a German-chocolate cake, for example. And yet...

My new popper, a machine which ostensibly makes this relatively simple task even simpler, came with instructions. There are nine steps to making popcorn in this hot-air popper. The President could launch missles to take out half of Eastern Europe in fewer steps. Ok, before we consult the surprisingly long and detailed how-to manual, let's see if we can even come up with nine steps:

1. Fill little tray on top of popper with unpopped popcorn kernels.
2. Pour the unpopped kernels into the popper proper.
3. Plug the machine in.
4. Wait.
5. Unplug the machine.
6. Eat.

Personally, I'm thinking even six is stretching it. But since Orville Redenbacher clearly has no desire for his popcorn fans to end up gracing the Darwin Awards list, I'll see what I can do to make these directions even simpler and more idiot-proof. Additions in red:

1. Set the popping machine upright on a flat surface. Not a road, more like a kitchen counter.
2. Fill little tray on top of popper with unpopped popcorn kernels.
3. Pour the unpopped popcorn into the popper proper. You should probably take the lid off first.
4. Plug the machine in to an outlet in the wall.
5. Point the popcorn descent ramp at a bowl sufficient in size for all the popped kernels. They will be bigger when they come out than they were on the way in. Prepare for that.
6. Step back. Do not immerse the machine in water at this point. Or any point, really.
7. Wait until all the kernels (or at least all that are going to) pop.
8. Unplug the machine. With your hands. Not your teeth.
9. Eat the popcorn. Breathe normally between bites.

You'd be astonished how closely this resembles the actual instructions. Here are the parts they felt worthy to be bolded:

Do not place salt, butter, margarine, shortening, or microwave popcorn in the popping chamber. ("Shortening"?! Did they forget "lard"? And don't get me started on the extra comma. Positive note: I love that my $2o popper has "chambers.")

Caution: Do not leave unit unattended while popping. Presumably it's OK to back away slowly when it's just sitting there. But never smile at it, or it'll lunge for your throat.

At step seven, which details how to unplug the machine after use (and which comes with a disclaimer footnote blaming unpopped kernels on the quality of the popcorn), there's this gem: "Carefully remove the cover--use hot pads--and pour the remaining popcorn into the bowl, then place the cover back on the unit." Why the bolding here? Are they afraid that hot-air popper neophytes might place the cover in the toilet, for example, or throw it out, figuring they had to use a new one each time like a coffee filter?

And the one that makes me laugh out loud is this wonder at step nine: "Wash the butter melter if it was used to melt butter." Dear god. This is possibly the most cynical statement regarding human intelligence I've ever seen. First, we must tell people to clean dirty things, and second, it's called a "butter melter." It doesn't actually do anything! It's a plastic tray that gets hot, and if you happen to have put butter in it, then the butter will probably melt. You could equally call it a spare change tray, if that's what you planned to use it for, or a hamster thermal spa.

The tragedy of all this is, of course, the poor shmuck with half of the Great American Novel at home in his or her drawer, currently condemned to thinking out all the infinite ways the Great American Idiot could possibly screw up a simple batch of popcorn and how to talk him out of it. As my boyfriend's darling daughter says, "If there weren't a need, there wouldn't be instructions."

In giant letters on the first page of my "manual," it says "SAVE THESE INSTRUCTIONS." Oh, I plan to.