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My Chipmunk Saga

This is a true story. My office is in the basement of a converted house and it is surrounded by death traps. To be fair, they’re called window wells and nothing has actually died in them, that I know of, but it’s been close. Baby animals especially fall in there and can’t get out.

This afternoon, one of my coworkers came into my office and said there was a small chipmunk in the window well. We both work in the basement so it’s easy to see into the window wells. I never look into them, however, although she does. “It’s alive but it’s not moving much and it’s covered with flies.” Uh oh, that didn’t sound good. She thought it was a baby one. I went over and looked. It looked small, but all chipmunks are small, so I couldn’t tell if it was a baby or not. It looked dead to me and had flies on it, but she said she’d seen it moving. We figured it could have been down there for days without food or water.

picture-of-a-baby-chipmunk

I didn’t think it had much of a chance but I didn’t want a dead chipmunk in our window well and I wanted to at least try to save it. I went outside and climbed down into the window well, while she watched from inside. The little guy was definitely alive but barely. I scooped him up with a piece of bark and put him on the grass outside. He moved feebly, but couldn’t stand up. I went and got a paper plate with some water on it, although I thought he looked too weak to drink it.

So I left, not expecting him to survive, but not knowing what else to do. A little while later, my coworker came back and said, “He fell in again.”

chipmunk

Grumbling about suicidal chipmunks, I went back and looked out the window. There was a chipmunk in there but definitely not the same one. This one had lots of energy and was trying to jump up the molded ladder to get out, but he couldn’t quite make it.

The day was shaping up to be a reverse episode of Chip and Dale, Rescue Rangers, where I was the one rescuing the chipmunks. I went out and found that it had started to rain. The first chipmunk (let’s call him Chip) had crawled about three feet and was still lying on the grass, trembling and getting soaked by the rain. I picked him up with the paper plate and put him under some bushes to stay dry. Then I got a mop and angled it down into the window well so the other chipmunk (Dale) could climb up.

Now that it was raining, Chip probably had enough water, but needed food. “If only we had some nuts,” my coworker said. “I have some,” I said. I have a container of trail mix in my office to stave off mid-afternoon munchies, so I picked out some peanuts and raisins and carried them out and put them next to Chip. He got up immediately and tried to eat but his legs were shaking so hard he could barely stand. I looked down and saw that Dale was gone, so I assumed he had climbed up and brought the mop back inside.

I was just about to go home when my coworker mentioned that there was a chipmunk in the window well, yet again. I was tempted to let stupid chipmunks lie, but I went outside and looked in. Again, I couldn’t see anything. Then, as I climbed in to get a better look, I noticed that a section of siding was trembling. I lifted it up and there was Dale, hiding underneath it. Apparently, he had never climbed out, just hidden. I had a plastic garbage can and so for the next few minutes, I terrified the little guy by chasing him around the window well, trying to get him into the garbage can. I felt like a nurse running after a fleeing patient with needle, shouting, “It’s for your own good!”

Finally, Dale made a mistake and fell into the garbage can. Before he could jump out, I lifted it out of the window well and laid it on his side. A second later, he dashed out and was off to safety. He’s probably still telling his chipmunk buddies about how he evaded death at my hands.

Chip was gone, which I took for a good sign. About half the nuts and raisins were left and at first I felt this was bad, until I realized that, considering that a single peanut would make a good meal for a chipmunk, he had probably stuffed himself. So, hopefully he is off in some hole now, recuperating.

We really need to cover those window wells with nets or something.

chipmunk 2

I just want the best for you, Chip.


The Office Zebra

I love my job a lot, but it has been a hard last couple of weeks there. I never write about my job. Not directly, at least.

zebra stapler.gif

[*]

The Office ZebraTM

I sat next to the smoking wreckage of my cubicle and took a sip of coffee. No one blamed me for what happened; I knew that. I did have a lot of work on my hands; everyone knew that.

Looking back, there was no real way to avoid it, but I still had that faint feeling like I should have known.

Clearly I should have gone into studying tardigrades. At least they were tiny and nearly indestructible. But no, I had to study zebras. Zebras were definitely not tiny and, looking around at the assortment of black and white striped flesh that was strewn liberally around the remains of my cubicle, I could say with some certainty that they were not indestructible.

The reason I studied zebras was that our former CEO had been crazy about zebras, and so all the researchers went whole hog into zebras. Unfortunately, it turned out that the CEO had been literally crazy about zebras, a fact we all discovered when they hauled him off, raving about how the next president was going to be a zebra and he knew because he’d already voted for it. Suddenly, there were a lot of us with advanced degrees in zebras (including the highly dubious PhZ) looking sheepishly around, wondering how to make ourselves profitable.

“I’ve got a great idea,” my co-worker Adrian said.

“What?” I asked.

“Promise you won’t steal it.”

“I promise.”

“Zebra flight attendants,” he said proudly, like a 3-year-old showing off his indecipherable finger paint smears.

“That is literally the worst idea I have ever heard,” I said. He ran off crying.

I didn’t tell him my idea, because it was actually good. My grand idea was to make a zebra that would work in an office setting. Your average zebra has no business being anywhere near an office, so clearly this was going to involve genetic engineering and maybe something more.

One night a bottle of vodka and I laid out my plan. The Office ZebraTM was going to have a stapler for a mouth, the ability to recycle paper by eating it, and maybe a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot in its back. Honestly, I quickly ran out of ideas for what a zebra could actually do in an office. Luckily the vodka had some ideas. About halfway through the bottle, the pencil drawn diagram of the Office ZebraTM had really come to life. It had a different stamp on each of its hooves, you could pull on its tail to dispense hot coffee, and its eyes shot lasers, for some reason. The next morning, when the vodka could no longer give suggestions, I got rid of the coffee dispenser and laser eyes.

The lab started work right away. After a few focus group meetings, they decided to give the zebra a larynx and the instinctual ability to say “Good job!” at random times. It also pulled a small cart with snacks and coffee (no unfortunately placed dispenser, luckily).

“What are you working on?” Adrian asked one day.

“I’ve got something in the works,” I said coolly.

“Me too,” he said, smugly. “It’s going to blow your socks off.” He strode off, still looking back smugly at me and promptly walked into a door.

The lab really came through, I must say. Six months later, I went down there to find a zebra that not only stapled my papers and brought me snacks and coffee, but also stamped my parking ticket and brayed a rather indistinct “Good job!” at me. It was not its fault that it said it just as I was coming out of the bathroom.

The next step was that step which every R&D person dreads; field testing, or in my case, office testing. I decided to bring it to my cubicle and see how it fared. It arrived the next day and I led it proudly it through the halls as my co-workers all gaped. Adrian was nowhere to be seen, unfortunately.

I started with the stapler. I fed paper into its mouth but it just ignored it or bit the paper in half. I tried the stamps on its hooves, but they didn’t seem to work. Even the Wi-Fi wasn’t on. I went to copy room to get some scrap paper to feed it when I ran into Adrian in the hall.

“Hey, have you seen my KamikazebraTM?” he asked.

“What?”

“My KamikazebraTM. Hey, why are your eyes widening in dawning horror?” It was about then that a distant boom from the direction of my cubicle answered his question.

All zebra projects were quickly cancelled. Apparently, when no one can tell a stapler from a bomb, it’s a bad thing. Adrian got in trouble for bringing his KamikazebraTM to the office. I didn’t get in trouble, they just made me clean up what was left of my cubicle.

I wasn’t in any hurry. I took another sip of coffee, appreciating the thin silver linings. I didn’t have to check my email today. The air smelled vaguely of barbecue. Adrian had gotten in trouble.

Things would work out somehow. They always did.


Breaking Wild

I apologize that I haven’t been around much these days. The good news is that I recently got a promotion, and I’m now the interim director for the Intensive English Program at our university. The bad news is that I often have to work 10-12 hour days to get everything done. I’m optimistic that it will get better but for the moment, I hope you can be understanding.

One upside of my job is that I run the blog for our program: intensiveenglishuiu.com. We are currently having a naming contest for the blog. Email me your suggestion for a new name here and if we choose your suggestion, I will send you a piece of Upper Iowa University clothing.

And now, onto the main event…

copyright Jennifer Pendergast

copyright Jennifer Pendergast

Breaking Wild

“Taking a leak. Be back in a minute,” Jack said.

He left the assembly line, heading to the back.

He did not go to the bathroom.

Ten minutes later, he was driving out of town, taking small roads to avoid traffic cameras.

Five hours later, he stopped for gas, paid in cash taken out in small increments over months.

Twelve hours later, he hit dirt roads until even they ended, hundreds of miles from cellphone coverage.

*

A buzzer sounded. Break time. Jack headed to the breakroom, but in his mind, the campfire was crackling and overhead, millions of stars burned.

 


The Battle of New Semester

I’ve been busy lately with work so I wanted to write a post explaining why I haven’t been around as much as I would like to be this week. This is what came out of that. My wife says I’m being silly and, of course, she’s right.

(For those of you who don’t know, I teach ESL at a university.)

Destination: Inbox (Source)

Destination: Inbox (Source)

The Battle of New Semester

I knew it was coming for months before it hit. I watched it appear on the horizon like a tsunami viewed from the relative ease of a tropical island beach. Over the weeks and months I watched it get closer, with anticipation at best and at worse, resignation.

Then, on January 5, it hit.

The invasion of the new semester.

It started slow. The first wave was mostly Administrative Duties, buzzing in from above, peppering me with emails. “Re: re: re:!” went their machine guns. “FYI! FYI!” They were slow moving and I could pick them off easily enough, but as the week progressed, each progressive wave got thicker and closer together.

The 5th Division Placement Tests made an amphibious landing on Thursday and I was busy for two days putting down that threat, until finally everyone was in their place. Unfortunately, we weren’t without casualties. Our general went down with the flu and a few NCOs as well.

Of course, this was just the vanguard attack. The main invasion force came the next week and the battle settled down into the daily slog.

The Class artillery is not that bad. Every morning at 8:30, the shelling begins, with 30mm Grammar shells coming in from the right and Writing mortars whistling in from the left. You just have to endure and after a couple hours they slack off before a shorter American Culture attack in the afternoon.

Worse are the Lesson Plans. The sneaky blighters sneak up and sabotage your defenses and equipment, making you unprepared for the daily Class shelling. Sometimes I can pick them off with a few well-aimed shots but other times I spend hours hunting them down, the battles going on into the evenings and spilling over to the weekends.

It will get better though, after a few weeks. I’ll set up anti-aircraft batteries to knock down the Administrative Duties and dive-bombing emails as they appear. I’ll establish a wider perimeter to take care of lesson plans from a greater distance and the daily shelling of Classes will become routine. Things will settle down soon. Soon.

That’s teaching for you.


A Spider Web to the Face

I had a bad day today. This is my response to it.

Spider web to the face

There are a million and one opinions on almost anything you could name, but one thing most everyone can agree on is that walking suddenly and forcefully into a web of sticky filaments, filled with mummified insect carapaces (and if you are truly unlucky, the furious, eight-legged occupant) is a perfect way to start a Bad Day.

Such was the case for Francesca Guinevere Dubois IV, who went by the refreshingly plain name of Pat. Pat began the day in a comfortable, caffeine-supported middle ground of routine. She got ready for work and left the house, cutting through the idyllic little wooded area to get to the bus stop.

Whap! Something soft and clinging hit her in the face. A second later, she was clawing frantically at the spider web, trying to wipe it off her face and pull it out of her hair. Dead bugs dangled next to her earrings in filthy parody.

At least there was no spider, she thought. Her hair was messed up and her makeup smeared and she had no choice but to go back to the house and get herself back together. She had almost reached it when she felt a tickling on her neck as the spider that had been sitting quietly on her shoulder decided to look around a little more.

In the ensuing terror-induced flailing to get the uninvited passenger off her neck, Pat whacked her arm into a light pole, bruising her elbow badly. For the first time, it occurred to her that this might be the beginning of a Bad Day.

This little guy just arrived from someone's nightmare.

This little guy just arrived from someone’s nightmare.

There was no time to ice her elbow but she cleaned off her clothes and redid her hair and makeup. She did not dare go back through the woods and so had missed the bus by the time she got to the stop. Finally, 20 minutes late, she stumbled into work.

“Where have you been?” John, her supervisor, asked.

“I got a spider web in the face,” she replied.

He gave her a suspicious look. “Was the spider poisonous?”

“No.”

“So it didn’t bite you?”

“No.”

“Doesn’t seem like a good excuse then.” He walked away, looking disappointed with the world in general.

Typing was painful with her bruised elbow and Pat worked very slowly. Things did not improve when she spilled coffee on her keyboard and had to go down to maintenance and request a new one, as well as explain the whole situation several times over. She was far behind on her work when lunchtime arrived and was now thoroughly convinced that this was a Bad Day.

They were out of her favorite food at the cafeteria and a woman at her table complained about being cold (in August) and wouldn’t let them use the air conditioning. The icing on the cake came when she got back to her desk and John informed her that the director had asked to see her.

“I think it’s about your low productivity,” he said and then walked away with an expression that lamented that a phrase like “low productivity” even existed.

Pat crammed herself into the elevator with ten large men who had just gotten back from a long run. The elevator stopped at every floor until she finally got off on the 20th floor. She waited outside the director’s office for ten minutes before she was escorted in.

“Please, sit down,” he said. “So, can you guess why I called you in here?”

“Yes, I think so, sir,” Pat said. She wiped her hands on her pants and found them already damp. That was the point when she realized they were wet with the transferred sweat of one of the large men she had been squeezed up against. Suddenly and completely, the terrible, horrible Bad Day won. She broke down in tears.

The director blinked in surprise. “It’s nothing bad,” he said. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “I’m not like this usually. It’s just that this morning I took a spider web to the face.” She told him the whole story.

The director’s expression turned to shock. “And you still came in to work? You are an uncommonly strong person. I’ve seen grown men curl up in a fetal position for hours after walking into a spider web. I think you should go home for the rest of the day. Also, go get your elbow treated. You were coming to work so we’ll cover it under our health plan. Take tomorrow off too, just to be sure. Did you drive to work?”

“I took the bus.”

“Do you have a license? You do? Okay, take one of the company cars home. We just bought a Ferrari under our new Corporate Excess program. You can test it out for us.”

“Thank you so much,” was all Pat could say. She stood up and started to leave.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you the reason I called you in here,” the director said. “I wanted to let you know that you won the company charity raffle. Talk to my secretary and she’ll give you the $2000.”

As Pat drove home early in a brand-new Ferrari, $2000 in cash in her purse, she took a deep breath and smiled. It was a Good Day. She might have to go find that spider and say thank you.

Spider web


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