Saturday, February 28, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

Borneo Monster?

This may be a hoax, but it's cool to think about until we find out differently.

Consensus is it's a hoax. The second photo looks the fakest. Then again, I've never seen a giant snake on the surface of a lake photographed from a helicopter, so I really wouldn't know how it's supposed to look.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Grimm Misunderstanding

This is perhaps the most unusual topic I have ever blogged about, but after my experience with my freshman English students on Friday, I felt a story coming on...

Last school year the librarians at the high school where I teach were giving away items from the library. The school had just completed a new library and the librarians wanted to stock the new library with new things. They sent an email of the things they had to give away, and among those things was a bust of the Brothers Grimm. Being a direct descendant of the Grimm brothers, I felt I had first dibs on the bust. I shot an email immediately to the librarians staking my claim (as if anyone else would be beating down their doors), then hurried to collect my treasure. I burst into the library looking around for a lovely, plaster-of-Paris bust such as the ones I've seen of Mozart or of Freud, and then a librarian pointed me in the right direction and ... whoa! There was the ugliest thing I had ever seen: a dark, muddy green-gray bust of the brothers, their two narrow heads squashed against a castle that rose in between, and all this atop a hill of barely recognizable fairy tale characters etched in the side. And as if the muddy conglomeration of figures and faces wasn't ugly enough, parts of the paint had been chipped off, so that the plaster-of-Paris showed through in several stark white spots, including one on the tip of Wilhelm's nose.

I masked my disappointment and, politely thanking the librarians, made off with this piece of crap I had been so worried might get snatched up by someone else. I now abandoned my original plans to place the bust in my home, and decided it would be more suitable in my classroom. I tried a few places, then finally settled for the top of my very tall filing cabinet. You could barely see it up there. Before I left it there, I touched up the white spots with a black marker. The black faded nicely into the plaster-of-Paris so that the spots now blended with the mud color and nobody could tell it had ever been chipped.

After a couple weeks, a teacher down the hall who is from New Orleans brought me some Mardi Gras beads, and these I draped across the bust. If it wasn't an improvement, it certainly looked no worse. One afternoon my friend Karina was visiting in my room, when I noticed her looking up toward my file cabinet. I self-consciously told her how I had acquired the bust and how ugly I knew it was, and she replied in complete sincerity, "Yeah, I was just sitting here thinking how ugly it is."

A year has passed and I haven't given much more thought to the bust. It remains atop the filing cabinet, well above the average eye-level. Friday, the subject of fairy tales came up in my first period class, and I informed my students that I was descended directly from the brothers Grimm. I then pointed to the bust and said, "That's the Grimm brothers, up there." Everyone looked, and one student asked, "Are they all in there?" The question was a puzzling one, but I could only assume she was seeing the fairy tale characters etched on the side of the monstrous hill. So I simply said, "It's a bust of their heads."

The next class was my homeroom class, and one student from my first period English class was present. He seemed bored, as always, sitting glumly with his friends, when suddenly he pointed over my head and and announced, "There are people's ashes in there!" Then he eyed me almost suspiciously. I was at a loss. Where were people's ashes? Was he pointing to the ceiling? Was that possible and where had he heard such a thing? Then it dawned on me that he was pointing to the Grimm brothers bust, and that he had assumed from the get-go that it was an urn. Trying to contain my laughter, I hastened to explain that it was simply a bust, not an urn, and then, in an attempt to cover the fact that I was laughing at his misconception, I joked that I would be rich if I possessed the ashes of the Grimm brothers.

I then realized that the student that had earlier asked "Are they all in there?" had also apparently thought the bust was an urn. And my cousin has since pointed out that her choice of the word "all" shows that the Grimm brothers meant nothing to her, that I might just as well have said, "The Brothers Smith." To her, they are just a family of several brothers whose ashes I have chosen not only to collect but to keep in my classroom.

Now that I think back to that unpleasant moment when I first laid eyes on the bust, to the day I tried to dressing them with Mardi Gras beads, to my friend's candid criticism, and now my students' misunderstanding, I now feel I have indeed acquired a treasure. No attractive, natural plaster-of-Paris bust could possibly have yielded the experiences this one has.

San Antonio Trip

Comparing my recent camping trip to this weekend's get-away, I am definitely more of a historic-hotel / dinner-at-a-nice-cafe kind of girl. I had a blast every minute of our San Antonio trip. Richie and I were actually there on assignment for the Center for Fortean Zoology (of which I am a rep.) to interview the store manager of Jackalope Joes. But we made sure to book our favorite hotel, the Menger, and take full advantage of the Riverwalk.

Everything I put in my mouth was delectable: quesadillas, a chedder-cheese jalapeno burger with the tastiest bun imaginable, and some Italian dish I could have enjoyed more of if my brother-in-law's Russian girlfriend, who was buying that meal, hadn't force-fed us all with salad and appetizers beforehand. I tried to get out of dessert, but she wouldn't take no for an answer. I obligingly took one bite, then Richie, who knows I am trying to watch my weight, offered to have the next bite if Irena would leave me alone. Odd sounding sacrifice, I know, but it truly was such. Between the food, the cocktails, and all other edibles I don't allow myself on a daily basis, I know I have come home at least a couple pounds heavier. I will not weigh myself until I have eaten carefully and worked out for a couple days.

One unexpected let-down this trip was our room at the Menger. The Menger is a lovely, historic and allegedly haunted hotel. We always stay there for, if nothing else, the possibility of some paranormal activity. At the very least, we enjoy the quaint old rooms, the opulent lobby, and the bar with its darkly polished wood and design modeled after the British House of Commons. This was the first time we have ever had a complaint. As soon as we entered our room, I was startled to find there was barely enough space for the king sized bed. Richie said he felt like he was in a cabin on a ship. You could hardly walk between the bed and the TV, and the one chair in the corner had no table. There was no coffee pot (not sure there ever is, but I'll always grumble about that), the bathroom "counter space" was a tiny glass shelf which would hold little more than a tube of toothpaste, and the hot water would scald you in an instant if you weren't careful to have the cold turned almost all the way on. The headboard, which was not connected to the bed, smacked the wall hard if you dared touch it. The only good to come of the room was the repeated tapping noise Richie heard at the chair in the middle of the night, which could indicate the presence of a ghost. I, of course, slept through it, but hearing about it kept my anticipation afloat.

At Irena's request, we took the riverboat ride on Saturday, a tour that takes you around the Riverwalk and explains various historical sites. The guide crammed us all in the boat like sardines until we were squished intimately next to and rubbing knees with perfect strangers. As it turned out, every site the guide pointed out, Richie irritably noted later, was located directly behind us, and we were not -- nor do we we ever wish to be -- among those who have the ability to rotate their heads 180 degrees. It grew tiresome and I quit listening after awhile and just enjoyed the loveliness of the trees, the bridges, and the cafes. I had the sudden thought that the Riverwalk was so perfect it was like a holodeck creation, and then I realized that perhaps Star Trek has warped my perspective of reality.

During one of our mall visits, we tried out some massage chairs -- the kind that roll up and down your back and feel good until they grind into a bone...? Well, we were among many customers trying them and reporting the results. Richie announced twice that his chair massaged the butt, and I finally asked him to quit saying that out loud. But then another customer cheerily replied that her chair had done the same, and I figured maybe I was the only person unwilling to discuss butt massages with strangers. Or perhaps this customer had been conditioned to sudden intimacy by taking the Riverboat tour.

After we agreed with some other customers on the occasional pain these chairs can inflict, one man came along to try one. Within seconds of turning it on, he looked up at his wife and said, "Is is supposed to hurt?" This sent me into laughter. At one point, a lady who had previously tried the chair asked her husband, "Has it grabbed your leg yet?" Richie chimed in sarcastically, "Has it pulled your hair yet?" By now, I was laughing uncontrollably and Richie continued with the satire: "This one just slapped me!" he announced, "A hand just came out and slapped me across the face." I could barely walk as we exited the store, I was laughing so hard at the idea of people spending 2,000 dollars on an abusive chair.

The fun continued into the night as Richie and I went to the bar for our traditional gin and tonic and met and talked forever with a delightful young couple. We talked about everything from God to drinks to rats and could not have enjoyed better company.

Last night we were awakened repeatedly by what sounded like a happy bunch of people in completely thoughtless laughter and shouting just down the hall. Their riotous time continued until we called the front desk. Security must have come because they were quiet soon after. Richie speculated humorously that they could have been ghosts, but your typical haunting does not usually involve a group of ghosts having a loud party.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip. Much better than camping.