Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I’ve never had appendicitis, but I did have tonsillitis a number of times, at least up until my folks finally had them removed. Itis, itis, itis. An inflammation. A sore swelling.

This is the story of a sore swelling of a set of roommates…in a fun sort of way.

In the fall of 1984, I wasn’t exactly inexperienced in the realm of roommates. I’d had two during my days in Bible College in Williamstown, West Virginia. (That’s another story, or series of stories.) However, I’d just become engaged to the girl who is now the wife who puts up with me, and Sheridan, the campus minister at my church felt I should have a bit more understanding of what it meant to live responsibly with someone other than my mom or dad. As a result, for about three months I moved in with a couple of guys in the campus/young pro ministry.

Three very interesting months.

There were three of us in the little, two-bedroom bungalow on west Abbott Street. Walter had the front bedroom to himself, and I had to share the back bedroom with Tom. I moved my folding, hide-away bed into the northwest corner, and Tom had his twin in the northeast corner. There was one bathroom and an extra shower in the basement. It was a cool little place to live; close to campus and a pleasant neighborhood…despite the occasional drunken party down the street.

The stories began on my first night in my new pad. At bedtime, I crawled into my bed just a few minutes after Tom jumped into his and he was asleep by the time my head hit my pillow. About twenty minutes after falling asleep, I learned that Tom can be very animated in his slumber.

I was shocked awake by:

“WHAT IS THIS MESS?” shouted Tom!

“Huh? What?” I said.

“What is that?” he asked.

“What is what?”

“It’s right over my bed!” he explained.

“What is?”

“That’s okay. It’s over your bed now.”

And then, Tom was back to snoozing. Sometime later, the adrenaline finally drained from my system and I went back to sleep too. The next day, when I asked him about it, he said he was seeing some sort of light that was just dangling there in mid-air over his bed. Then he said it floated over to my bed and then was gone.

Just a bit creepy.

You never really knew what any given night was going to hold. One night Tom took me on a tour of his office. Of course, only he could see it.

One other interesting night, he woke me with an urgent whispering request:

“Mike. Mike. Hey Mike.” He said in a hushed tone.

Groggily, I replied: “Uhhhh, yeah. What’s the matter?”

“Quick! Turn on the light!”

“Why? What’s wrong?” I asked.

“There’s a snake in the room!”

I was no dummy, so I answered with: “Ummm, you turn on the light.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?” I replied.

“It’s riiiight by my side.” He stammered.

So, I carefully crawled out of bed and made my way across the bedroom to the light switch and flipped on the bright ceiling light. Looking over to Tom, I watched as he reached across his body with his left hand and jerked the blanket off.

Nothing there.

“Whew! I guess I was dreaming.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Back to bed I went, again waiting for the adrenaline to drain from my system.

Now, I don’t want you to think that Tom was the only creative entertainment in the house. Walter made his own special mark on my psyche. He was a cool guy, and I say that with deep affection. I also say that with some sadness because he passed away this last fall. He was a friend. He was sharp. He was smart. He was professional. He had a spiritual mind.

He also had one key bad habit.

I preferred the stand up shower in the basement. That was Tom’s choice too. However, Walter preferred the bathtub in the main bath on the main floor. His bad habit revolved around that bathtub. He would wake up and turn on the hot water to fill the tub, and then lay back down to snooze while it filled. A fine plan most of the time. One day, though, he fell completely back to sleep.

The tub filled. The tub overflowed. Gratefully, he caught it quickly, before it got too bad. Also gratefully, his brother owns a carpet care company in Muncie, and he recruited him to come by and suck up the water.

Ultimately though, there was the special day in December. A day of disaster. A day when Walter struck fear in the hearts of Tom and Mike.

It was a nice day. Sunny. Cool, but not cold. A Saturday. A day off. A day to play.

About noon, Walter did two things simultaneously that interacted to create one near disaster and one real, albeit minor disaster.

First, he liked to deep fry french fries, so he put a pot of cooking oil on a flame on the stove, and he covered the oil with a lid. Secondly, he was planning to take a bath, so he turned on the water to fill the tub. While he was in the bathroom turning on the water, the oil on the stove boiled over and began to flame on the stove. Tom, Walter, and I converged on the kitchen to deal with the tiny fire that was threatening to become a big fire. None of us were clear on what to do. I knew we shouldn’t use water and that we needed to smother it, but I wasn’t sure what to use. I suggested flour, so we threw flour on it. Nope still burning. More flour. Apparently the wrong choice. Still burning. Getting desperate, I took a deep breath and blew it on the flame as hard as I could.

I blew it out!

What a relief! We were standing around the kitchen laughing at our own ineptness. What idiots we were. Hahahahahaha! Tom heard something down the back stairs. He trotted down a few steps to look in the basement.

“Walter!!!!!! The baaatthhhroooom!”

“Oh, no!” cried Walter as he sprung down the hall.

The tub had overflowed while we were putting out the fire. This time the water had completely soaked the floor, then had drained down the air ducts into the furnace. Water was all over the bathroom floor, the hallway floor, and the basement floor.

Time for Walter’s brother Carl to come to the rescue again. It was so convenient that day to have Kizer’s Carpet Care a simple call away.  http://kizercarpetcare.com/home.nxg
Now, if those two things weren’t enough, my friend Walter was not done that day. The messes were cleared up, and later that night Walter was entertaining a couple visiting from out of town. They came over to our place while Tom and I were away. It was a cool evening, and Walter thought it would be great to build a fire in the little fireplace in our living room.

Of course, a fire in the fireplace works better AFTER you open the flue.

He lit the fire. The smoke started to billow. He said they fled the house, and he kept crawling back in and using the poker to try to open the vent several times before he finally succeeded. Thankfully, he was finally successful, and a serious house fire was averted for the second time that day.

The smoke cleared out…and, so did I a few days later. It was safer back home with my folks. Great stories. I don’t know if I really learned anything that ultimately helped in my marriage, but I do enjoy the memories. I guess I did learn three or four things: Showers are safer than tubs, don’t put a lid on hot oil, use baking soda on stove fires, and make sure you open the flue BEFORE you light the fire.

This story is written in a spirit of fondness for both of my friends, Tom and Walter. Especially, I want to dedicate this post to the memory of my friend Walter Kizer. He will be missed by both his family and his friends.

You can run the tub all you want now, my friend.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Muncie Boyhood-Erector Sets & Mousetraps

Toys. Every boy needs his toys. That fact hasn’t changed in….well,…ever. It also doesn’t change as a boy becomes a man, but that’s a different discussion.

In a previous post, I discussed my boyhood Christmas experiences and some of the toys I was excited to receive on Christmas morning. I got the popgun. I got the drum set. I got the Hot Wheels racetrack. I even got a cool Tinker Toy set with its little, round wooden sticks and wooden wheels and stuff. Stick this stick in that hole in that wheel and connect that doo-dad to that thing-a-ma-gig and you can make your very own….

Weird doo-dad thingy.

I had fun with it. It was creatively interesting. However, I wanted a couple of things my cousins had. It always seemed that my cousins had the cool stuff and I had the….creatively interesting stuff. You know how that goes. Childhood envy.

They had a set of Lincoln Logs. I mean WOW. You could build your very own log cabin or log castle or any other kind of log stuff. How cool is that?

I never got one. I never got one and I’m still resenting my parents for that deficiency to this day. So if you are a parent and you’re debating as to whether or not you should get your little boy a Lincoln Log set….DO IT! Buy it. I promise the little guy will love you forever. And, if you don’t, you may one day end up explaining your poor parenting choices on some TV talk show.

My cousins also got an Erector Set. Oh, man!!! That thing even put the Lincoln Logs to shame! Not only could you build all kinds of interesting gadgets, but you could make them crank and turn and buzz and, and, and be all mechanical and stuff. Coolness upon coolness!

I did finally get one of those. It was Christmas, sometime early in my high school years before my nerdiness began to wear off some. (My nerdiness never completely wore off….just look at me now.) I was still into science fiction and monsters, and not yet fully engrossed into girls. I couldn’t believe it! Finally! I could build a,... a,... a….well, I didn’t have a clue what to build with it. It was just a box of little metal plates, strips, screws, nuts, rods, wheels, and other assorted mechanical things.

I had no idea what to make with this stuff. After all, I was a TV and book nerd into werewolves and Klingons, not a mechanically inclined nerd. I fidgeted with the pieces and mocked up various ridiculous contraptions without making anything memorable for a few weeks, and eventually the set began to lose its appeal. It was in danger of becoming just another one my interesting collection of items that I used to think was cool because someone else had it first.

Then, an interesting opportunity arose…or, should I say scurried up?

I was sitting in my family’s basement one night, probably avoiding the cigarette smoke clogging the air upstairs, and looking at the hodgepodge of odd items that my dad stored on the shelves between his workbench and the cabinet where he kept his good tools. I can’t really remember anything that was there anymore. It was just an assortment of various things that weren’t all that useful anymore, but they were kept around just in case they might come in handy again someday. (Come to think of it, I have a similar assortment of stuff sitting out on some shelves in my garage right now. Hmmm.) Anyway, I was sitting there looking at the stuff when a little mouse scurried out from behind one of the various items, darted back and forth, and looked at me like I was somehow invading his personal space.

Now, I thought this was sort of exciting. Here was a wild animal living in my folks’ house, right under our noses, and I got to watch him in his natural habitat. It was as if Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom had come to my basement. So, I just sat there and watched him do his thing, which of course included pooping all over the shelving. I watched him and he watched me.

I told my mom about it.

Telling a woman about mice in her basement, which is also connected to her kitchen and her bedroom, is almost always going to spur a reaction. Soon, we were talking D-Con and mousetraps. That’s when it occurred to me.

I could build a mousetrap with my Erector Set!

I finally had a purpose for my mechanical junk set!

So, I did. I built a better mousetrap. (Look at the picture for the basic design. I don’t mind sharing.) I created a little rectangular box with a trapdoor on one end. I tied fishing line to the top of the door and strung it over a wheel on the back and through one of the holes in the back panel. Then I tied a piece of dog food to the fishing line inside the box for bait.  Tension on the line kept the door open.  Finally, I set it up on the shelf to see what would happen.

Sometime in the night, along came Mr. Mouse. He crawled into the box to the dog food and nibbled away until the fishing line was released. The door dropped. He was trapped.

I found him the next morning. I was so excited! My trap had worked. Awesome!

The thing was that I didn’t have time to do anything with him. I had to leave for school, so I figured I’d deal with it when I got home in the afternoon. I left him there for the day.

I’d never really considered what I was going to do with him if I caught him. I mean, if you use one of those spring traps, the mouse is normally dead when you find him and you throw it in the garbage. However, with my little invention, he’s sitting inside the box just staring at you through all those little Erector Set holes. As I thought about it during the day, I sort of decided I’d be humane and take him out in the alley behind our house and release him. Maybe he’d end up in a neighbor’s house, but at least he’d have a chance at life.

Morning became afternoon, and finally I was released from that scholastic trap called Southside High School, so I came home to deal with my mouse issue. I came in the backdoor, trundled down the stairs, and found my dad piddling with stuff down there.

He looked at me and began to cuss.

Apparently, he had come downstairs and looked in my trap also. He saw the mouse. He decided he’d take care of the little furry vermin himself, so he reached out and grabbed the little metal box, lifted it up, and discovered that I hadn’t considered far enough ahead in my design to put a bottom panel on the trap…as he watched the mouse dart off behind the cabinets.


I fixed that problem that night. The bottom panel was installed.

I’ve got to say, that little trap worked better than any other mousetrap I’ve ever seen. We caught mouse after mouse after mouse. We had a pretty good infestation before we’d discovered them, but my little Erector Set trap did the trick.

My dad nixed my plan for the humane catch and release. He would have none of me simply releasing them into the wilds of South Hackley Street, so they all met their demise. Mostly, I caught them and he killed them, but I did kill a few of my own.

There were too key lessons I learned from my Erector Set mousetrap experience:

1. Always put a bottom in your mousetrap. (Is there a moral there?)
2. Mice are dirty, nasty animals.

I had to throw away the Erector Set pieces out of which I had made the trap. They were nasty and disgusting, corroded from contact with the mice. Eventually, the rest of the set followed because I never created anything else useful from that kit.

Finally, if you have any mice issues, feel free to utilize my design. It is very effective…if you don’t mind doing the killing yourself.

Until next time......