Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Night Mower

Just as the last blip of the sun flashed beyond the horizon, I think it will be a good time to take my dog, Myers, for a walk.

"Wanna go on a walk?" I ask. This question elicits high-pitched whines and back leg springs that thrust his two front paws forward into my groin.
"OOF!" I wince and snap harshly at him, "GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF!" He chills for a brief second or two.

"One of these days he'll get old, and I'll miss this," I tell myself. "Hold still."

I put the leash around his neck and then let the bounciness continue. He doesn't miss a beat, except for the beat I force him to miss trying to fetter him to my wrist.

Out the door we go, and if I was about 200 lbs lighter it might be a sight to behold. I would be flapping in the wind like a kite behind a little brown dachshund. But me being me and all other things the same, his little efforts to pull me along are as gentle as Kermit the Frog dragging Jabba the Hut. Yet I let the fool dog think his strength is immeasurable and allow myself to be yanked along the twilit road. It's a nice Wednesday evening in October.

Dusk falls and night looms in the distance. I like walking at night. There's something about knowing you could leer into people's windows from the sidewalk to see what they are watching on TV. This guy's watching Entertainment Tonight. That families watching the news. This woman's knitting while her husband is watching pre-game college football. Such a pleasant neighborhood and I'm such a Peeping-Tom.

Off in the distance I hear somebody using the waning moments of light to mow his lawn. I look at the sky and judge that he had about ten minutes before he starts to look ridiculous. The mowing becomes louder the further I walk, and I realize I'm gonna walk right by his house at the same time that Myers will probably be ready to do his business. Then terror strikes as one final realization hits. I don't have a little plastic baggie.

As I get closer to the night mower, I notice that he's got a good thirty minutes to go before he's finished. He's a medium-sized man, largely unnoticeable in any other situation but getting all my attention tonight. He pushes his loud rumbling mower in silence while wearing a ragged T-shirt with a large emblem on the front and some oil-stained shorts. Evidently a hard working man. I feel for him because he probably had a huge honey-do list, and there wasn't enough time in the day to get done what he wanted to get done, so he squeezes every last bit of light into those grassy lanes he was carefully trying to mow.

Up until this time Myers was all over the road and in front yards sniffing like a bloodhound. I calmly reign him in so that he won't get on the night mowers yard silently begging him not to place his squatting rear any where near this man's yard. You just never know how people are going to react when they see a little wiener-dog all over their freshly mowed yard. Some are okay with it, but I've been yelled out before. With Myers securely by my side wondering why I was suddenly being so rigid with him, I look up at the night mower as I pass. I was planning on giving him a nod as I walked by, but when our eyes meet he looks back down very quickly, and we pass like two ships in the night, one of them with a loud rumbling engine room below deck scaring fish for miles around and the other being pulled by a rambunctious little Vienna sausage.

I think the encounter is over and walk on. However, thanks to the audio phenomenon of the Doppler Effect I notice out of the corner of my ear that he has stopped pushing his mower. I turn around, keeping my pace, and he's just standing there with the engine roaring and the blades turning. He's standing by the edge of his drive way just staring at me. Or at least I think he's staring. It's too dark to tell for sure. I keep walking holding the leash tight. Myers is oblivious to the interesting development.

The night mower's property is right at a bend in the road so I round the corner and give him one more look to see what he's up too and he's still standing there, either looking at me or stuck in some lawn-mowing trance. Lawn-mowing trances are a rare occurance, but not entirely inexplicable. I'm not going to explain it right now, but I will say that I have experienced it with a weed-wacker. It's a unique bonding experience that only occurs with lawn equipment. It has something to do with rhythm and power indexes, but like I said I'm not going into it right now.

"Interesting," I say to myself as I try to sneak another look. It's too late though, I'd rounded the corner and the night mower was out my line of sight. The Doppler Effect isn't helpful either so I pass it off as nothing, thankful that Myers wasn't overcome by his digestive influences. Now it wouldn't make much of a difference. His bowels were free to unleash themselves.

The street lights wake up all bright and bushy-tailed. A bunch of meaningless drivel flows around in my brain for the next couple of minutes, and I soak in the waning moments of light. The sound of the rumbling mower is lost in the distance. I give Myers some slack, and he's off like a bloodhound again.
Suddenly, Out of the corner of my ear I hear someone faintly yelling. I stop underneath the incandescent shine of the street light directly above me and turn around. I shade my eyes from the beam over my head, and Myers looks up at me.

"What the...?" I utter.

It's the night mower yelling at me from the corner of his property at the bend in the road. He's shaking his hand in the air, or is that a fist. It better not be a fist; I'm bigger than he is. "What in the world?" I hear myself say.

He keeps yelling.

I yell back, "Say, again!" I feel my pockets to see if I've dropped my phone or wallet or something, knowingly giving the yelling man the benefit of the doubt. The houses in the neighborhood rest calmly in the darkness to either side of me and my dog as I stand in a orangish pool of light peering at somebody several hundred feet away trying to get my attention.

I notice something. I'm getting slightly appalled. Only slightly because of the absurdity and possible misinterpretation of my situation. After much delibertation between my rational and irrational self, I come to the conclusion that I should walk towards the yelling night mower, mainly because he's still yelling. I turn my impatient dog around and walk towards the man aware of my growing anger and hope for confrontation. Myers walks with me.

I guess I look small from far away, because as soon I start walking towards him, the man disappears around the corner. It takes me a good minute or so to get back to where the man was and as soon as I round the corner there he is calmly pushing his mower with his back toward me only a few feet away. I turn around looking for a Candid Camera van or an audience hiding behind a tree or something. I stand there glaring at him allowing the ferocity within me to attain full power. It had become obvious to me that I hadn't dropped my phone.

Now here is a dilemna. I think to myself, "How do I get his attention?" as if he doesn't know I'm there. I could see him "non-chalantly" looking over his shoulder like he was curious about the weather behind him. My anger grows as I'm being ignored, and I ponder all my options. I decide to stare.

I stare blankly at the night mower for a few seconds, thinking about what I should do and wait for him to turn around and recognize me. He never turns around. I have a feeling if I stay there forever he would have been pushing his mower away from me, forever. I didn't feel like standing around forever so I go back to walking my little bloodhound.

The whole rest of the walk, I was looking over my shoulder to see if he was yelling somewhere behind me. Nothing.

"Crazy old man," I say to myself.

I finally get back to my house. And no sooner than I shut the door behind me and take Myers's leash off, I hear the doorbell ring. Myers starts yapping as if he was Godzilla. I jump, or rather vault to the closest wall looking at the door. Someone on the other side knocks with impatience. I jump again but this time towards the door, sick of being startled. The thought occurs to me that it could be a friend or even some boy peddling stuff for a school fund raiser. I'm a sucker for those amatuer business men because I was a door to door salesman once. I usually end up buying a candle, some peanut brittle, or some dog biscuits. Then another thought occurs to me, and I open the door.

The door creaks that inevitable creak and our eyes meet for the second time through the dirty glass of my storm door. This time he does not look away. The night mower has found my house. The suddenness of the anger that wells up inside me is a tell-tale sign of how scared I really am. The anger was just a front. His eyes are red, and the sweat is dripping from his brow. He doesn't look happy. He is wearing the same scruffy clothes, loose t-shirt with an emblem of an eagle on the front and some oil-stained shorts. His shoes and socks are covered with grass stains. Myers yaps turn into growls as the man outside and I stare at each other through the glass. A small movement of his hand catches my eye. He is reaching for the storm door handle.

When I see his hand moving for the door handle, I wish for a castle moat to suddenly drop between us, but it does not. There is only this one thin pane of glass between this unpredictable character and me. A couple things go through my head. First, "I bet he didn't finish cutting the grass," then, "I better lock this door before this freak comes into my house." I reach for the lock, and fortunately, get there before him. He freezes with his hand in mid air, as if he had hoped I would lock the door before he could open it, like he didn't want to do something he was about to do. The frozen hand freaks me out, and I suddenly realize I had two more doors and ten windows in my house.

However, it was more important to me to keep this head job in my sight than try to scramble around the house locking doors and windows. We both just stand there. My dog was going crazy now, barking like he was rabid, but that's just what I wanted. I begin wishing I had taught him to "sick" people. You know like the dogs do in the movies. Hey, for all I know it's not something I probably have to teach him. Maybe he is ready to "sick" that little night mower. But then again maybe he'll scamper to a fire hydrant and mark his territory. I continue to stare at him and he switches his gaze back and forth from me to the dog.

Just when I was about to start barking myself he says, "You stole my flowers."

"What flowers?" I am still locked on his eyes.

"You stole them, and I want 'em back."

"Go get yourself some new flowers, buddy. You want me to call the cops?"

He quickly reaches for his back pocket, and I have no idea what to expect. A gun, a knife, a photo of his missing flowers, who knows? I slam the front door and race for the back door. I lock it and race for the side door. I am few feet away from the side door when I see it fling open. He rushes in, eyes wide with some kind of wildness in them. I freeze when I see the long blade in his hand. It actually looks like a rusty old lawn mower blade, no handle or anything just a thin metal bar with sharp edges on the side.

I wish I can think of something, like how to fight him, or where I keep my gun, or which knife to grab out of the kitchen drawer, but I don't. All I can think is, "Who carry's around a lawnmower blade? This guy is nuts." Myers is still barking. I know he's no match for a lawnmower blade so I try to reach down and pick him up. Crazy, lawnmower-blade man sees his chance and lunges. I see him launch, and I launch myself, only not towards him, to the side, picking up Myers in one move....

As I dodge to the right the night mower lunges with his knife and misses me by a few inches. I set Myers down and am close enough to the intruder that I can grab his arm but not before he gets a few slices into my forearm. We wrestle for a bit with our limbs flailing about like ballroom dancers in a cage fight.

I hear Myers whimper as the man takes a swipe at him. He twitches sharply to the right reaching for his leg and yells "Stop that!" He looks down at his leg and I see my chance.

My adrenaline shoots through the roof with that little stunt and I overpower him. He falls backwards and bumps his head on the coffee table behind him knocking him unconscious. I feel for a pulse, and it is still strong.

Trying to catch my breath I tell Myers, "I guess he'll live." He growls favoring one of his legs. I go for the phone in the kitchen and dial 911. I tell the operator everything and she asks me if he is still there.

"Yes, He's unconscious though..." I say as I turn to look at him. "....He's gone…" I say something hysterical after that because all the operator can talk about is getting me to calm down. "He was here a few seconds ago, he couldn't have gotten far." I drop the phone in the pool of blood left by the gaping wounds in my arm and run outside. No one.

"That's okay, I know where he lives." I start running as fast as I can to catch him before he gets to his house, leaving Myers in the backyard to tend to his wounds... It is dark so I can't see much except for what the street lights illuminate.

I finally get to the night mower's house. "I guess you forgot I knew where you lived, Lawnmower Man," I say to myself as I walk up the front steps imagining a comic book frame of me avenging my poor dog. I examine the house for a few seconds until I am sure it is the same house. It is on the corner, same front porch, same shutters. Yep this is it. I knock on the door.

A generously-proportioned old lady answers the door. "Yes?" she says as she smiles warily at me.

I must be scaring her. I'm sure my eyes are wide with adrenaline, my fists clenched ready to clock the one answering the door. I am stunned by this innocent old lady.

"Can I help you?" She says.

"Um…Yes, is your husband home?"

"He doesn't live here anymore."

I step back. "Who was it that cut your grass earlier this evening?

"What do you mean?" She asks.

"Who cut your grass," I say with a twinge of frustration. I use my bloody arm and point as I say it again. As I point I look at the front yard lit by a bright street lamp. The grass is practically up to my waist. Obviously, I think this extremely odd or I've found the wrong house. I take a step back and look at the house again. This has to be the house.

I stand there on the front porch like a bafoon and tell her about the man in my house and almost being killed and everything, and she does what any grandmother would do and invites me to sit down while she tries to take care of my wounds. I oblige and take a seat on a nice chair in the living room, careful not to get any blood on anything, all the while trying to figure out what's going on and where Lawnmower Man may be hiding. She says something about finding some cotton swabs and some peroxide and is off down the hall.

I observe my surroundings. A nice place, a bit musty with useless trinkets lying around, but nice. A little too pink for my taste, though. There are a few bookshelves and a mantle with some candles on it. In the corner is an upright piano with a few pictures on it. Something catches my eye in the pictures so I get up to take a closer look.

There he is, the night mower in the pictures! The old lady comes around the corner carrying a whole mess of things that look like lawn tools. "What's that, what have you got? Who's this man?" I urgently ask pointing to the pictures and inching backward.

"That's my husband."

"What? Where is he now? I thought you said he didn't live here anymore. This is the man! This is the man!"

"That can't be sir," She says with resilience. "My husband died." Something fills her voice, but it wasn't sorrow. "Exactly, ten years ago, today."

I shake my head in disbelief. No, this can't be. I pinch myself. I slowly back out of the living room into the foyer knocking over a few useless trinkets as I bump into the front door, my eye on the old woman the entire time. I feet for the handle, open it and bolt for my house, hoping to find my dog safe and sound somewhere.

My dog is chewing on a chew toy in the back yard. He is so into his chew toy he almost doesn't notice me. When he finally sees me walking up the driveway he jumps up leaving his chew toy to greet me. I warily pet him peering into the darkness for anything out of the ordinary. Once the introductions are complete he brings his chew toy over to me. It is a rather large bone. Just as I am getting ready to throw the unusually large bone, something caught my attention in the flower bed. There is a big pile of dirt and the flowers are all uprooted. Must be where Myers buries his toys. I walk over to it and notice he had buried a few other bones there. "How many bones have you buried here," I joke. I start digging. Wait a second... Before I new it a police car pulls up in my drive way at the same time I was uncovering the skeletal remains of a human being.

"Are you okay, sir? We got a 911 emergency call from this location." The policeman walks up and sees what I just discovered and immediately pulls a gun on me and tells me to get down on the ground.

He cuffs me and sits me in his cruiser with a towel to finish cleaning up my bleeding arm. A few other cops get there, and I watch from the police car as my house becomes a crime scene. After a few hours of waiting and wondering if they will ever take me in, I notice that nosey neighbors are pouring out of their houses.

A dozen more cop cars arrive and the cop that cuffed me comes back and asks me a few questions about who I am, but his last question seemed funny to me. He asks me if I know who was buried in my flower bed.

Just as I was getting ready to say, "No," I see a patrol car drive by with the generously-proportioned old woman in the backseat, her angry red eyes staring at me from the window of the police car.

Then it dawns on me. It's the Night Mower!

"Is it her husband buried in my flower bed?" I ask.

"Sure is," he says confidently. "She killed her husband ten years ago but we were never able to pin it on her because we couldn't find the body. Thanks to your dog we found him. The icing on the cake is that he was buried with the murder weapon...a rusty old lawnmower blade."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Text Message Shorthand and It's Effect on the Thumb and the English Language

I don't know if you noticed or not, but the Polar Bear Periodical has been seriously lacking in blog contributions during the month of September and October. Finding time in a day that only has 24 hours is extremely hard for a polar bear that requires, food, hibernation, and a thought provoking daily contribution to social networking. So in the interest of saving time and avoiding any real responsibilities in my life, I've decided to take a closer look into shorthand, specifically in regards to thumb-thumpin' chain texters.

Seeing as how the thumb is the ugly fat guy of all the fingers, it seems fitting that it would be the reason that we've come up with txt msg shorthand. Mr. Thumb has been living a life of social rejection ever since humans stopped climbing trees and holding hammers. No more thumb-sucking; that will give you bucked teeth. No more thumbing for a ride; that could give you some guy with bucked teeth that kills you. No more thumb-wrestling and certainly no more twiddling of the thumbs. Just about the only things left for a digitally and socially outcast thumb to do is to turn your music up and to send quick text messages. The other sexy fingers could dance on the keyboards of our lives, touch-typin' through news feeds, email's and digital diaries like Doogie Howser M.D. But the low-slung thumb digit says, "Use me, Use me. Quit letting me dangle here in the tiny fob pocket of your skinny jeans. I'm filled with texterity, I want to be textually active. I promise I won't give you texter's remorse, just good ole fashioned textertainment."

We'll we've been in such a hurry to send our text message we have not realized what it's been doing to our English language. LMAO, LOL, BRB... Text message shorthand reigns in the cellular airwaves and summons the peasants of sentence structure to bow before it's emoticon throne. As our thumbs have gained prominence in "shorthand legislation" the language rules have evolved quicker than Cortisol into belly fat.

Apparently, a mobile phone service in Britain has given text message shorthand a big boost in language development by saying that is useful in learning classic literature. Classic literature? "How dare you?!" says the writer. "Un-freakin'-believable. First, electric wheelchairs for the elderly, and now this? What is this nation coming to." Believe it or not, Dot Mobile is attempting to translate classic works of literature into abbreviated SMS text messages. "Romeo, Romeo, Wher4 RT Thou Romeo!"
They have researched this avenue of ad campaigning immensely and even have an English professor in their corner named John Sutherland, who says that it could act as a useful memory aid for students who want to learn the classics by helping them "filet out the important elements in a plot." Take a look at some of these traumatizing translations.

Hamlet's famous soliloquy, "To be or not to be, that is the question," becomes "2b? Nt2b? ???"
John Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost, begins, "devl kikd outa hevn coz jelus of jesus&strts war." (The devil is kicked out of heaven because he is jealous of Jesus and starts a war.)
The ending to Jane Eyre — "MadwyfSetsFyr2Haus." (Mad wife sets fire to house.)
Jane Austen's description of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice becomes "fit&loadd" (handsome and wealthy).

BTW, As you may have imagined there are naysayers. Author and political commentator Oliver Kamm reminds us that classic literature is more than just plot. "What you lose with text messaging in literature is what makes literature what it is — the imagery, the irony the nuance." He considers this project "a travesty."

A project like this will obviously have to be headed up by the thumb. You can't very well use text message shorthand without the thumb. The long sexy fingers won't stoop to type out such crap. Therefore news of this travesty have thumbs everywhere registering for concealed weapons permits or jumping from 15th floor apartment windows.

Here's my thought. Text message shorthand, has it's uses but it isn't to teach classic literature. It does save time and actually exercises that puzzle solving part of our brain. Who needs crossword puzzles when we have, "WDYMBT". I for one do not stand by a classic work of literature being thumbed out on a tiny keyboard somewhere in the back alleys of Liverpool, but I do appreciate a little time saving note or two when things are crazy so I don't have to deal with the menial task of actually talking to someone on the phone. What a bore!

One bright note in the midst of all this text purgatory is Autocorrect. Autocorrect? Yes, Autocorrect. As well as provide hours of entertainment on the internet, reading embarrassing textersations, Autocorrect is also doing a lot to bring us out of the dark ages of text message shorthand. It will actually complete words for us (whether we want it to or not) turning a letter or two into a possible suggestion for what you want to say. It's a writer's dream! Genius! Unfortunately, the autocorrect dictionary includes some text message shorthand which kind of defeats the purpose, but it's a step in the right direction.

We live in an age where fast and tiny nanotechnology keep us moving like kids without Ritalin. As a result we cut things short only reading half of the email or yearly Christmas card update and responding with such brevity that God can't even figure out what we mean. Stop it. Take a moment in your crazy life to soak in a few extra words a day. Perhaps consider a punctuation mark or two in your text message to help clarify. It might take an extra few seconds out of your day but you and the English language will be better off for it. So thank you for reading this blog in it's entirety and feel free to leave a comment with some ridiculous text message short hand.