Posts Tagged ‘animals’

A look at the turkey

November 23, 2011

As part of my occasional series titled “Lives of the Dead,” today’s post will look at the turkey.

This fabled American bird takes its place at the table with the likes of Christopher Columbus, Caesar Augustus, St. Patrick and Martin Luther as subjects of a DavisW’s blog profile. Not dead as a species but with plenty of specific casualties by this time tomorrow, the turkey becomes the first to be a living topic in this space. Let’s take a brief look at its history before we examine its innards over pumpkin pie and coffee at dinner Thursday.

In a way, it’s fitting the turkey be granted this exceptional treatment. As much as his species is appreciated as both a symbol of gratitude and a meat product, there have been no individual turkeys to rise above the rest and distinguish themselves. Other animals at least have had animated anthropomorphs to speak out on their behalf — Donald Duck, Porky Pigg, Sylvester the Cat, Fernando Lamas, the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). There’s never been a single famous turkey.

It’s probably due in part to what’s come to be known in zoology circles as the “K Factor”. The K Factor is that rule which says any animal with a “K” in its name is automatically funny and disrespected. Your monkeys, your donkeys, your yaks and your kangaroos all suffer from this syndrome and can’t get anyone to take them seriously. We laugh at the poor dumb turkey even as we enjoy his succulent thighs simply because it’s fun to say anything that rhymes with “jerky” or “quirky”.

The turkey first came to the attention of an increasingly hungry Western Civilization when 16th-century Europeans exploring America encountered a bird similar to their familiar guineafowl. Since their larger poultry were imported into continental markets through Central Europe from Turkey, they thought of calling the wild Meleagris gallopavo a “Serbian” but eventually settled instead on “turkey”. (That’s why we also get the word “grease” from Greece, and the word “chili” from Chile).

The wild turkey can weigh up to 100 pounds and has a wingspan of almost six feet. They can fly for short distances, mainly when they’re being pursued by predators. Turkeys have a distinctive fleshy wattle that hangs from the underside of their beak which, when combined with their huge breasts, make them resemble actress Pamela Anderson. (You can tell the two apart because the birds have too much sense to go anywhere near Kid Rock). They also have another protuberance growing off the top of their beaks and dangling off to the side called a “snood”. Links to recipes for these appendages, including the famous Wattle Supreme and the underappreciated Stewed Snood, will follow this article.

There’s a fairly extensive fossil record of the early turkeys, starting from the Miocene Epoch over 20 million years ago. Ancient remains have been found throughout the Western Hemisphere and, when they are, inevitably the wishbone is broken in two. The Aztecs called the creature huexolotl, and it was associated with their “trickster god” Tezcatlipoca when it wasn’t being killed and eaten. (Even then, the turkey was laughed at. Aztecs would’ve told each other “that wacky huexolotl and his pal Tezcatlipoca are at it again” if they could’ve pronounced either of the words.)

It’s only been in the last century or so that turkeys became a popular form of poultry. Though it’s likely the meat was served at the first Thanksgiving attended by the Pilgrims and the Indians, that’s probably only because they kept running around the food preparation area. It was actually too expensive to become a staple at holiday meals until just recently. Before World War II, goose or beef was more likely to comprise the common holiday dinner.

When the wild turkey was domesticated, its life became both easier and harder. Today’s birds could live to be ten years old if they weren’t slaughtered at about 16 weeks. They grow up on a factory farm, bred to have magnificent white feathers to make their carcasses more appealing. The male is the tom, the female is the hen, and the baby is a poult, though they don’t spend near enough time together as a family. Mature toms are too large to “achieve natural fertilization,” as Wikipedia delicately puts it, so their semen is manually collected and hens are inseminated artificially. Neither much care for this arrangement, but what are they going to do? Break out on their own and find a nice apartment they could afford on a turkey salary?

Turkeys are popularly believed to be unintelligent. Claims are made that during a rainstorm, they’ll look up at the falling precipitation until they drown. Recent research has shown, however, that many aren’t simply stupid but instead suffer from a genetic nervous disorder known as “tetanic torticollar spasms” that causes them to look skyward. Like human parents embarrassed by the poor performance of their offspring, turkey parents can point to a disorder similar to ADHD as the reason their brats are running around like madmen, toppling lamps and unable to stay focused for more than a few moments.

The turkey is now solidly a part of American lore, especially at this time of the year. Schoolchildren trace outstretched hands to create likenesses of the animal for fall craft projects. Coworkers abandon casual conversation in the breakroom and opt instead to gobble at each other. The turkey lobby brings one lucky tom to Washington so it can receive the traditional presidential pardon, though in an attempt to be seen as moving toward the political center after recent election losses, President Obama is considering slitting its throat this year.

By Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, all we really care about is how to prepare the bird for dinner. Available in the market as either fresh or frozen, the meat typically requires several hours baking or roasting in the oven to become fully cooked. A recent trend has seen the rise of a new method, deep-frying the turkey in an outdoor vat of hot oil for 45 minutes or until the entire set-up explodes and is next seen on YouTube under the title “Butterball goes fireball.”

Ultimately, the dish is surrounded by cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, and whatever that awful casserole is that your sister-in-law keeps bringing year after year. Extended families come together to share an all-too-brief moment of togetherness before heading back to their separate lives watching televised images of Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions facing their own slaughter. Soon, the notorious “tryptophan coma” descends on the gathering like a cloud of carbon monoxide until participants awake to find themselves waiting in line for Walmart to open at 2 in the morning.

As we pause during the next 24 hours to give thanks for all the bounty we share, let’s not forget to express appreciation to the noble turkey for his contribution. If Ben Franklin had his way, the creature would be our national bird, seen all over our money and other national emblems instead of all over our shirts and tablecloths. And we’d be eating bald eagles for dinner, arguing over who gets the bald spot rather than who gets the drumstick.

I’ve had deep-fried eagle before and, trust me, it’s not something you’d want to eat.

Note: To read more about Lives of the Dead, please visit the following posts:

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/happy-columbus-day-sort-of/

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/lives-of-the-dead-augustus-father-of-august/

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2009/03/16/lives-of-the-dead-st-patrick/

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/lives-of-the-dead-martin-luther/

He’d say “Happy Thanksgiving,” but the snood keeps getting in the way
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Today’s post co-written by some gnats

October 20, 2011

We’ve been having Indian summer here in the South, which has allowed me to continue my afternoon jogs through the neighborhood wearing only shorts and a t-shirt.

Though I haven’t needed protection from the autumn chill, I do wish I had something that repelled the clouds of gnats that have emerged from a nearby tree stand. These tiny insects assemble into large mating swarms at dusk, and become so maddened by desire that they fail to notice the lumbering human who comes huffing into their midst.

Nothing like a big, sweaty fat guy barreling through your free-floating love-in to spoil a tender moment. Just as the guys have convinced the gals that they’re interested in a committed, exclusive long-term relationship — in gnat terms, about 30 seconds — the mood is ruined.

I hate to inconvenience any living creature (except perhaps those I eat) so I try to watch for these gnats and avoid them when I can. Trouble is, they’re so small as to be practically invisible to the naked eye. Unfortunately, they can still be easily detected by the other senses.

Like taste.

If you’re mouth-breathing your way through the second mile of your run, it’s not uncommon to suddenly find yourself with a maw full of small bugs. Were I halfway through a marathon, I might appreciate the protein boost. But since it’s just a short jog, I’d rather not be consuming the unintended appetizer so close to dinner.

And they don’t just get into your mouth. Some species, called “eye gnats,” are actually attracted to your eyes, feeding on the lachrymal secretions we know as tears. Others head up your nostrils, while their friends go in your ears.

I don’t know how many gnats I’ve absorbed into various head holes in the last few weeks. I bet it’s a lot. And I bet some of them are still in there.

So I must acknowledge that today, I am not working on this blog post alone. I don’t want to be so species-centric as to ignore the impressions that others involved have of this phenomenon. I think it’s only fair that the gnats have their say, and so am turning the rest of this piece over to them.

EYE GNAT: Thanks for the opportunity, Davis. A lot of people barely acknowledge our existence and, if they do, it’s only with a wave of their hand trying to disperse us from their face. We’re eager to tell our side of the story, and appreciate this chance.

You humans see us as pests, and yet we’re actually a very important part of the ecosystem. Our life isn’t much — we hatch from larva, we fly around a while, we mate, we die — but it shouldn’t be judged from the perspective of someone who has access to hundreds of cable channels. Just like other living creatures, we have good times and bad.

As my name implies, I have a thing for eyes. I love all colors and all lash lengths. I don’t care if you have poor vision or the eyes of a hawk. As long as you’re still moist enough to be secreting tears, I’m there.

What I like most about what your scientists call “lachrymal secretions” is the salt. If you’ve ever tasted your own tears, you know how flavorful they can be. We don’t have access to a lot of salt in the natural world.

My turn-offs include too much eye makeup (especially blue eye-liner, which I’m allergic to) and contact lenses. We can work our way in behind regular eyeglasses, but contacts are just too tight a fit. I had an uncle who managed to get behind one once, and he was never heard from again.

Gary, you want to talk some about ear gnats?

EAR GNAT: Sure, Hal, and thanks.

I’ll be glad to speak for those of us here in the ear, but I would like to make it clear that we’re not necessarily “ear gnats.” We just ended up here by accident.

There are many good things about the human ear. I’d have to say, though, that my favorite is the wax. While all of us get our basic nutrition from different places, there’s really only one sweet treat delightful enough to be considered a dessert in the insect world, and that’s ear wax.

You have to be careful how you approach it so you don’t get stuck. I try to remain airborne while I’m in the ear canal, then swoop down and get a little bit of wax on my legs. From there, it’s pretty easy to wipe off and eat.

I knew a guy once who did get stuck, and it was a pretty nasty affair. It wasn’t the wax that did him in, it was the host’s response to all the wiggling he did trying to get free. The human finally stuck a Q-Tip in there (even though the instructions specifically tell you not to do that) and basically crushed the gnat into the wax.

The other danger, of course, is going in too far and being unable to get back out. Once you reach a certain depth, you’re pretty much into the cranial cavity. I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled raw human brain, but it’s pretty bad. You lose your appetite completely in there and then, because there’s not a lot of oxygen, you also lose your life. Hosts hate that, because many times your corpse will decay and cause a brain infection.

There are definitely safer places to hang out. Lynn, tell us about the nose.

NOSE GNAT: Yeah, it’s fairly safe in here, Gary, but again, it’s pretty much an accident when we fly into someone’s nose.

What I like is the cozy nature of the nostril. We spend the entire four months of our lives in the Great Outdoors, so to have the chance to chill out in a virtual cathedral, even for a few seconds, is a real treat.

I like the high ceilings, and the way the hairs grow up from the bottom and down from the top, much like the stalactites and stalagmites of a cave. You can usually find a nice corner out of the airstream, and it makes a great place to grab a quick nap.

People don’t realize how little sleep we get, and it’s amazing how refreshed I’ll feel after a few minutes chilling up the nose. If you don’t move around too much, your host will never even notice you’re in there.

I guess the one big concern is with nose-pickers. You’re snoozing away, dreaming some amazing fantasy, then all of a sudden a giant fingernail scoops you up and wipes you under a desk. Once that happens, you’re trapped forever. The most you can hope for is that your children come visit your grave.

Steve, what’s going on down there in the mouth?

MOUTH GNAT: Help! Help! This guy is starting to chew! What kind of a disgusting omnivore have I gotten myself involved with?

Help! Hel–. Argh!

Let’s throw it back to Davis.

DAVIS: Thanks, Steve. And, sorry about that. Didn’t know you were in there.

I’d like to thank you four, and the thousands of your nameless cohorts who feel so compelled to fly into my face. We’ve all gained some amazing insight into what it’s like to be on the lower rungs of the animal kingdom and, I think, gained a renewed appreciation for life in all of its forms.

Now, when I see you guys hovering in the distance, I won’t be so quick to put my head down and try to bull right through you. (Not that that would work. I bet you’ve got hair gnats in the swarm too).

With cold weather in the forecast as soon as this weekend, I imagine I won’t see much of you for the rest of the season. Here’s hoping that we can get back together in the spring.

See you then. And thanks for the help with the blogging.

HAL: Don’t mention it.

GARY: Glad to help.

LYNN: No prob.

STEVE: Aaahhh! Please stop with all the talking!!

Gary, the gnat

How best to execute low-lifes?

October 3, 2011

The ascendency of Texas governor and execution hobbyist Rick Perry to the top ranks of Republican presidential candidates has re-opened the debate over capital punishment.

Unfortunately, the issue isn’t so much the propriety of a death penalty but how it is to be carried out. The Tea Partiers at a recent GOP debate cheered loudly when Perry’s record of signing 234 death warrants was mentioned, and you get the feeling these merciless supporters quibble only about how painful the execution could be.

In saner circles, the debate centers more on whether current methods used to end the lives of the condemned constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Was it “cruel” to employ now-discarded methods like hanging, beheading, crucifying and throwing-off-a-cliff? Most agree the answer is yes. Is it “unusual” in modern times to administer lethal injections that may cause pain to the executed? Sure, it’s unusual — that’s what makes it so cool.

The thirty-some states that opt to use the ultimate penalty to punish their most unruly citizens are currently wrestling with how to find the right mix of chemicals to effectively end the lives of those on Death Row. The traditional three-part cocktail had to be reconstituted when one ingredient, sodium thiopental, stopped being made by its European manufacturer.

After failed experiments in which tonic water and crushed limes were added to the cocktail, most states now go with the anesthetic pentobarbital. It knocks the patient unconscious, so that when the other drugs paralyze the victim and stop their heart, they’re in no position to complain.

To further add to the prisoner’s distress, Texas has ended the traditional last meal when several killers ruined it for everybody else by ordering huge spreads, then leaving the food untouched. Gone were the elaborate recipes that rendered previous executions almost palatable. In their place, the doomed will now have to order from the standard Department of Corrections menu. No specials, no appetizers, no “have you saved room for dessert?” queries from their server.

I thought about this unfortunate turn away from fine cuisine as I wrestled recently with an execution happening a little closer to home. My wife had discovered a couple of garden slugs near the herbs she grows on our deck railing, and decided to dispatch them with a thick coating of salt.

“You’re no better than those heartless chefs in Texas,” I complained. “The condemned want cilantro and lemongrass and turmeric flavoring their last meal, not sodium. Besides, the salt is going to damage the paint on the rail.”

Which then got me to thinking about why we use salt in the first place to kill slugs. (And the corollary question, could we execute murderers and rapists by pouring a giant box of Morton over them?)

The “slug,” the common name normally applied to any gastropod mollusca that lacks a shell, has a body that is made up mostly of water. They thrive in damp places such as tree bark, fallen logs and South Carolina. Their soft, slimy bodies are prone to desiccation, so dry weather, direct sun and salt are their natural enemies.

But why can’t they be stepped on like other common pests? Why do they require a flavoring be sprinkled on them? And might other saline condiments such as soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce work just as well?

According to my wife, a simple stomping has the unintended effect of getting slime all over the bottom of your shoe. “It’s really hard to get off,” Beth said. “And it stinks.”

Further research confirms that she’s right. Slugs produce two types of mucus, a thin and watery kind that aids in locomotion, and a thicker, stickier variety that coats the animal’s body and helps protect it from predators. When snatched up by a bird, for example, the slug can roll into a ball, toughen its hide, and hope its predator has the ball-handling skills of a Tony Romo and that it will soon be fumbled to the ground.

I also found out some other interesting facts about the slug:

  • Like their relative the snail, many slugs do have a shell but it’s inside their body. Not going to do much good there.
  • Slug breeds that do have an external shell are disappointed to discover it’s only vestigial, and thus too small to retract into for protection. These are known as “semi-slugs.”
  • Slugs undergo a 180-degree twisting of their internal organs during development. This results in an even doneness throughout the meat when cooking.
  • Their optical tentacles serve as rudimentary, light-sensing “eyes.” These can be regrown if lost, a handy alternative to the $600 I’m being asked to pay in vision coverage this year.
  • The slime trail that slugs leave behind serves several purposes: it allows them to cling to a vertical surface, and they can use it to advertise for a mate. (Using slime as a “come-on” exists in only one other species, the Newjersey bachelor).
  • Some slugs secrete slime cords to suspend themselves in mid-air during copulation, a move believed to be the inspiration for the Cirque du Soleil show, “La Magie Gastropodoea.”
  • Slugs are hermaphrodites, having both female and male reproductive organs. (No plans yet to have one of them appear on “Dancing With the Stars.”) Their corkscrewed, entangled penises must be chewed off by their mates during separation, or at least that’s what one claims will happen if the other “really loves” them.
  • Some slugs can self-amputate a portion of their tail to escape predators.
  • As agricultural pests, slugs can be controlled with iron phosphate or copper. Salting of the fields is not recommended, as it will result in decades of barren land.
  • In rural southern Italy, people swallow the garden slug Arion hortensis alive and whole as treatment for gastritis and peptic ulcers. Wikipedia understatedly describes the merit of this homeopathic remedy as “questionable.”

Several days after Beth assaulted the pair she found near her herb garden, both the death-dealing granules and the dried slug corpses had vanished from the railing, probably blown away in an early-autumn windstorm. All that remained was a white salt stain etched into the paint in the shape of a slug, like some chalk outline at a crime scene.

So while salt is now confirmed as a preferred method of execution for the slug, society is left to debate the best way to irretrievably remove our most-reviled members. Let’s kill them if we must, but let’s do it in a humane manner that respects their humanity.

And if they want escargot for their final meal, I say let ’em have it.

The common slug (unsalted)

Revisited: You can lead a cat to water…

July 31, 2011

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my responsibility to keep our three indoor cats fed. Today, I’m writing about how we keep them watered.

Obviously, I’m running out of topics.     

While watering cats might sound like a fun gardening game, it’s actually quite the real-life challenge to many pet owners. With no lips to speak of and a chronic inability to use a straw, cats rely instead on little nodules built into their tongues to capture drinking water. It’s an inefficient method that requires a prolonged lapping motion to access the same amount of liquid we humans can get in a single gulp.     

You try drinking with just your tongue nodules. It’s not easy.     

So, many cat owners face the unsettling site of their kitty standing front paws in the kitchen sink, back sides high in the air, tonguing desperately at the few drips falling out of the faucet. Conveniently forgetting that they’ve been domesticated for about 5,000 years, they’ve reverted to past primitive lives lived outdoors, where fresh-running streams provided a better-tasting source of refreshment than did stagnant pools of rainwater. They might have a dish full of liquid in the laundry room, crammed between their litter box and the noisy washing machine, but they recognize the superior ambience of the sink and do their drinking there.     

I know cats are supposed to be immaculately clean creatures, famous for spending days at a time doing nothing more than bathing themselves. Still, I’m not comfortable with their mouths slobbering all over the same spigot I use to get my water. And I know the company we’re having over for dinner is similarly uncomfortable.     

I’ve heard from friends about so-called drinking fountains for cats, so we decided to check them out. We went to the local PetSmart store to see about buying one.     

PetSmart is a wonderful pet supply franchise with locations throughout the country. It’s a big warehouse-style establishment whose most distinctive feature is that it allows customers to bring animals shopping with them. You’d have to be blind to get away with this in Sears — just as you probably have to be blind to even set foot inside a Sears — but at PetSmart all of God’s creatures are welcome, as long as they’re accompanied by a human with a credit card.     

My wife, son and I entered the store on a recent Saturday to be greeted by a live pig. (“What is this, Walmart?” my son joked). It was one of those fancy domesticated pigs owned by people so enlightened and so unique that not just any pet is good enough for them, it has to be both smarter than a dog and offer more bacon than a parakeet. Other customers gathered excitedly around the bow-bedecked swine to pet and admire him. Their dogs stood close by, drooling expectantly and wondering when the pig-pickin’ would start.     

Large signs hanging from the ceiling directed customers to individual pet categories — dogs, cats, birds, fish, etc. We headed toward the cat department, stepping around all kinds of canines at virtually every turn. Though PetSmart claims all pets are welcome, there was not a visiting cat to be seen anywhere. I’d be tempted to organize a sit-in to protest this discrimination if the store had a lunch counter and you could get cats to sit still at it. We swallowed hard to look past the blatant pro-dog, anti-cat bias, and found our way to the aisle containing what you’d normally call “tableware” (dishes, bowls, placemats, etc.) except that these would be placed on a floor in the utility room.     

There were several models of drinking fountain in three different price ranges. We read about the features of each, not really sure what was a plus and what was a minus. We’d hoped to find one that was battery-powered but all of them used electric cords. Some had reusable filters, some had visible water reservoirs, some allowed you to grow grass on the lid. We settled on the mid-range model because it promised “no assembly required” and took it home to what we anticipated would be an eager reception from Harriet, Taylor and Tom.

Well, it’s now almost three weeks later, and the Drinkwell Platinum fountain has received mixed reviews at best from its end-users. None of them had the slightest idea what the contraption was when we first set it up, so we proceeded with a makeshift training program designed to explain how fresh, flowing water would both taste good and improve their urinary tract function. Taylor, generally regarded as the brightest of the three, eventually caught on when we held his snoot near the stream and made a splashing sound with our fingers. He drinks from the fountain now about half the time. Harriet, far older and more set in her ways, never did much sink-drinking to begin with and continues to get her liquids however she’s managed all along (probably from the toilet). 

Tom is our feisty tabby, the cat most recently brought into domestication from the wild outdoors and, as by far the largest of the trio, the most intrusive in the sink. We gave him a demo similar to what Taylor received, but he didn’t seem to catch on. We gently pressed his face toward the small pond, trying to wet his lips without wetting his nose, which is no easy feat if you’ve ever studied the anatomy of the typical cat face. It could’ve been a small nuclear reactor as far as Tom was concerned — all he knew was that it made a slight hum and it was something we actually wanted him to use, so he wanted no part of it. 

I tried some more basic, remedial training. Maybe he’d get the idea by looking at the picture on the box. 

“See, Tom, here’s a cat, and here’s his tongue dipping into the water,” I pointed out. 

Tom said nothing. 

“Look, Tom, it’s a picture of the fountain just like we have in the other room, and this cat is drinking fresh, delicious water from it,” I continued. 

Still no response. 

“And if you’ll look closely at the price sticker on top of the box, you’ll see that we spent $79.99 on this device, and that’s not counting sales tax,” I persevered. 

Tom seemed temporarily intrigued, but all he really wanted to do was bite my pointing finger. Which he did. 

A thirsty and confused kitty

So we’re not sure we’re going to keep the drinking fountain after all. PetSmart promised a money-back guarantee on the purchase, and if there’s no improved participation from our cats by the weekend, we’ll probably be taking it back. Tom still prefers to get his water from the dripping faucet in the kitchen sink, and as long as he and the others are well-hydrated, I guess we’re going to have to accept that. 

But I’ll bet you anything that pig would know what to do.

Revisited Website Review: Exterminators.com

July 11, 2011

I am taking my summer vacation this week. (Not really — I’ll explain more next week). Please enjoy this “best-of” series from my Website Reviews over the next five days.

They call it “pest control,” as if managing vermin populations was somehow within man’s power. If only their influence were restrained, we could reason with and civilize the insects and rodents. Maybe if we just allow the roaches to have a legislature, they can become a more responsible segment of our society. Let’s have a town-hall meeting for the ants. How about allowing referendum initiatives to be introduced by silverfish?

I used to work in my company’s quality control department, so I know a little about “control” in this context. As a manager of inspections, I had to make sure we kept our quality under control, so that not too much of it got out there and spoiled the customers. We needed to use it up in small pieces at a time, so we didn’t run out. To control was to restrict, to limit, to preserve.

Pest control companies aren’t really interested in containing or manipulating pests. They’re in business to wipe them out, killing them in the worst possible way, with chemical weapons of mass destruction. These exterminators arrive at a home or business with singular intent. No bug or rat (nor possibly even infant or cat) will remain standing when their ethnic cleansing is through. At best, the victims will be lying on their backs, legs flailing against the sky, white bootie paws twitching spastically.

Maybe if they had proper representation, they could at least lobby for a more merciful way to die. I’m imagining row after tiny row of cross-shaped gurneys, where invertebrates are administered lethal injections only after all judicial appeals have been exhausted.

As you can tell, I don’t know much about the pest control business. I aimed to learn more in research for this week’s Website Review, at a domain called thebiggreenk.com, internet home of Killingsworth Pest Control. (Killingsworth.com was already taken by an online murder-for-hire operation).

The home page displays basic introductory information, including a picture and audio clip from owners Mike and Debbie. They both smile broadly into the camera, Mike’s arm around Debbie’s shoulders, looking much friendlier than any of the Hitler photos I recall from history, except maybe that one where he’s playing with his dog.

The copy talks about how loathsomely infected your home probably is, how their customer service is second to none, how they train their employees “not only in the science of pest control but also on the science of people.” Sort of like Josef Mengele and his heinous medical experiments on living subjects, I’m guessing. They’re also expanding into lawn care service (Mike and Debbie, not the Nazis).

The first pull-down subject addresses the core of Killingsworth’s business, termite control. We learn that over half a million American homes will suffer major damage from wood-eating pests this year alone, and that repairs will cost $1.5 billion. The K-Men will come to your home and do a ”FREE INSPECTION,” which will doubtless uncover frightening issues requiring immediate payments to the all-knowing exterminator. They realize you’re not going to know enough about the bowels of your home’s foundation to offer any resistance — they could tell you that Danny Bonaduce was living down there, partying up a storm with his termite friends, and you’d have to believe them. Fortunately, annual contracts costing only $30 a month are available

Problems with other types of pests are described in a separate section. Here we see the laundry list of creatures who could be gnawing away on your family at this very moment: millipedes, clovermites, earwigs, springtails, fleas, bed bugs. In the South, these can be active not only in the spring and summer months but also during warm days in the winter, so you might want to consider one of Killingsworth’s year-round packages. Be especially careful to watch for these beasts in obvious places like the kitchen, where they feast on your crumbs, but also in your bathroom, where plentiful moisture and odors can trigger spontaneous generation, creating creepy-crawlies that could emerge from your toilet at inopportune times.

There’s a section on mold remediation, another subject you didn’t even know existed that merits sleepless nights of anxiety once you think about it. They want to “make sure your crawlspace is as healthy as the rest of your house” using expensive installations like the E-Z Breathe Ventilation System, their new Dry-Ice Blasting technology and their “Premier Crawlspace program that offers a guaranty against future fungal growth.” I wonder if I can get a contract on my toenails.

Included under “Lawn Care” are a couple of package offers on mosquito control or, as they cutely label it, “mosKuito” control. (This recurring “K” motif reminds one of a certain organization of hate that also patrolled the South for many years). Another $30 a month gets you a nine-month deal to have your shrubs fogged and larvacide applied to standing water and gutters, so that unborn mosquitoes are also eliminated. Baby Killers!

The company has a special section on its web page devoted to mascot “Mr. K,” a Jack Russell terrier mix who has been trained to detect the scent of termites and bed bugs. Mr. K spent over 400 hours at the Florida Canine Academy which trains dogs to sniff out bombs, drugs, money and weapons as well as termites and mold. He is the founding president of the Canine Accelerant Detection Association as well as the International Termite Detector Dog Association. No, wait, that’s his trainer, Bill. Bill has appeared on several televised segments on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel, and travels on promotional tours to community events around the country, putting on demonstrations for children and sniffing their crotches. No, wait, that’s Mr. K. (I think the fumes are starting to get to me).

A pulldown called the “Learning Center” helps educate consumers on how to identify common pests they may encounter in the middle of a dark, dark night as they stumble about their filth-encrusted homes. We find out about the three types of cockroaches – their size, shape and identifying markings, their ability to fly (yes) and presence of antennae (yes), and how many kinds of bacteria, parasitic worms and human pathogens they’re capable of spreading (33, six and seven, respectively). There are also portraits of flies, beetles, moths and pillbugs with brief profiles of each. We learn that the powderpost beetle “enjoys flying” among its hobbies, and that the merchant grain beetle “likes to attack cereal, cake mixes and macaroni.” There are some supposedly reassuring facts as well, including a debunking of the myth that earwigs will “crawl into sleeping people’s ears and eat their brains at night.” For some reason, knowing that doesn’t put me at any particular ease.

Finally, I’ll cite some of the customer testimonials under the “Why Choose Killingsworth” section. Lois writes “I had a problem under my house with mice nests all under the insulation which they had pushed it all to where it was hanging down, a lot was pushed out on the ground.” Killingsworth workers were able to decipher what she was talking about and fix the problem. Vince praises the two specialists who came to his home: “I learned a great deal about insects and other varmints … (technician) Matt was in motion the entire time spraying.” Sounds like Matt may have been experiencing some side-effects from the chemicals. Darlene notes that her inspector, Phil, took time out during his visit to carry a water jug to her goats and, on perhaps the most peculiar rating scale ever, gives Phil “on a scale of one to six, he’s an 8!” She liked him at least until her goats started drinking the water.

All things considered, thebiggreenk.com is a very informative and helpful website, quick to respond and containing very few bugs (not surprisingly). I learned much about the pitfalls of home ownership and maintenance, and how my biggest investment could be gradually eaten away by unseen forces whose existence I was barely even aware of. But thanks to the Internet, I’ve learned more about how exterminators prey on our ignorance, and will soon be studying how I can get a contract to keep them away from my house.

Let me look again at that Killingsworth.com site.

Revisited: The circle of life, as formed by a snake

July 10, 2011

When I headed down the driveway for my daily run Saturday, I came across a snake. Our neighborhood is rife with suburban wildlife, though most of it isn’t of the reptilian persuasion. Squirrels and rabbits and the occasional raccoon are not uncommon, and are generally kept in check by the hawks and the SUVs. I’ve seen a few tiny snakes smushed lifeless in the road. This one, however, was relatively gargantuan, measuring at least three feet in length and as thick as my pinkie, if my pinkie had polio.  

More troubling still, I think he was alive.  

He (I assume it was male because it was obviously lost) lay on the hot concrete, hardly noticing the monstrous jogger looming above. There was no movement I could detect, yet there were no obvious squish wounds to indicate he’d been injured. He appeared to be a healthy specimen, maybe just a little tired. The midday July sun will do that to you.  

I called my family to come take a look. None of us are trained herpetologists, yet I thought we might be able to arrive at a consensus on his health as well as how cool it was to have a snake in our driveway.  

“Poke it with a stick,” encouraged my son. I know next to nothing about snake first aid, but poking with a stick has to be near the top of the triage checklist.  

I found a stick that seemed suitable. As I started the poking procedure, the snake opened his mouth. I don’t know whether he was yawning or saying “ahh” or threatening to bite me. Whatever it meant, it caused me to drop the stick and step back about two paces.  

Now he surely must’ve realized there were humans nearby as he went into his slithering act so as to impress upon us how seriously he took his snakehood. He twisted into a couple of loops and inched slightly toward the edge of the driveway. I was hoping for a hiss or two but he apparently wasn’t in the mood.  

“What do you think we should do?” I asked my wife, knowing how critical humanity is in managing the survival of every species except our own.  

“He looks like he’s okay,” Beth said. “Maybe he’s just basking in the sun.”  

Yeah, that’s right, I remember that from an old high school biology class. Reptiles are cold-blooded creatures, which means they have to get their body heat from their surroundings. Even though just down the hardtop from no less than three Hondas seemed a less-than-ideal place to bask, I was reluctant to interfere.  

“I just want to make sure we don’t back over him,” I said, more concerned about the stain he’d leave behind than in preserving the natural world. “Let’s let him be, and I’ll check him again when I get back from my run.”  

I thought a lot about the snake during the two-mile jog. Though man thinks nothing of clearing whole forests and destroying habitat after habitat, he’s suddenly stricken with concern when a deer is catapulted across the hood of his car, through the windshield and into his lap. Whether the snake was in some kind of distress or merely working on his tan was really none of our business. Mother Nature is a cruel but ultimately wise mistress, and we are foolish indeed if we think it’s our role to offer salvation to one of her straying children. If this snake were fated to die, that was his tough luck. If you’re interested in longevity, try being Zsa Zsa Gabor on your next pass through reincarnation.  

When I returned from the run, the snake was still in about the same position but now it seemed pretty obvious he wasn’t doing too well. His head was raised slightly and his mouth was still open, yet it seemed more like rigor mortis than some sort of action pose. Sadly, I retrieved the stick (I know, I know – you’re not supposed to re-use medical supplies) and resumed some light poking. There was no reaction. I ramped up my treatment to include prodding and jabbing. Still no response. It was time now for extreme measures, so I kicked at him with my shoe. Nothing.  

It was obvious he had passed.  

I broke off a smaller branch from the stick and maneuvered it under his lifeless body. I somehow found the strength to raise him from the concrete and toss the corpse into a pile of leaves under a nearby bush. Perhaps not the most reverential of ceremonies, but it was hot as hell out there and I needed to get inside for a shower and dinner. “Taps” was not to be in the cards for this sad veteran of the animal kingdom’s never-ending war to survive. He was to die an unknown soldier, though we posthumously decided to name him Frank.  

Now this is where the story gets a little creepy. I knew that the body would eventually biodegrade, providing nourishment for tinier less respectful creatures than I. I figured that would take at least several days, and could be carried out in relative privacy under the bush. It was nature’s way, and I didn’t need to interfere.  

I was curious though how that process was working out for Frank when I went for my next-day run, so I snuck a peek at the gravesite. Frank was gone.  

“Snake Jesus!” cried my son when I told him the news. “He has risen!”  

“Calm down, calm down,” I chided. “He was probably picked up by a hawk.”  

“Hawks don’t usually go for dead prey,” offered my wife helpfully. “You’re probably thinking of a vulture.”  

“We don’t have vultures in this neighborhood,” I responded a bit stiffly. “They’re not allowed, according to the zoning covenants.”  

“Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” continued Daniel, until I told him to knock it off. Save your conversion miracle until you’re a little older and meet a nice Southern Baptist girl. Maybe she’ll be from one of those snake-handling sects.  

So we’re not really sure what became of Frank. Maybe one of the local squirrels saw the opportunity to craft himself a nice leather jacket. Maybe a possum mistook him for a pasta dish.  

Or maybe he wasn’t dead after all, and had slithered back into the underbrush to resume the rewarding life of the modern serpent. Frankly, that’s what I was hoping for.  

 
This could’ve been me (right) but wasn’t. My snake wasn’t nearly that big, and I’m not bald.

Tom versus the pepper

June 27, 2011

It’s the season of bounty from our summer gardens, and if one more neighbor offers me a free peck of cucumbers, I’ll smile pleasantly, say “thank you,” and toss the whole lot in the county landfill.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the “generosity” of the contribution, though I suspect their motives are more related to retaining a small amount of space in their kitchens for things other than cucumbers, such as refrigerators, dishwashers and a narrow walkway with enough room for the film crew from “Hoarders”.

It’s more that I don’t understand the whole point of cucumbers.

As a food, they don’t seem to have very many uses. If it weren’t for pickles – and this rather tenuous connection to necessity – they’d be as obscure and pointless as Asian vegetables like nira grass, lo bok and the yummy-sounding bitter melon.

Most of the recipes I found online involve dropping the cucumber into some type of salad, shaved as thin as possible to minimize its taste. The closest I could find to something other than a salad was the Salmon and Cuke Mini Smørrebrød, a Danish concoction that uses a type of matter called “gravlax” to combine the glories of Scandinavian cuisine and the phallic fruit known to botanists as cucumis sativus (Latin for “that shit”).

I suppose you could bake, roast, boil, microwave, sauté, grill, stuff or broil the warty schlong and possibly come up with something edible. If not, at least it will have been destroyed.

My rage against the existence of the cucumber has unfortunately gotten me off-topic from what I meant to write about today. Such, I guess, are the wages of hatred.

My wife did accept a small donation of cukes along with a few other vegetables from a friend’s garden, and they sit now next to our sink. I’m not sure if we’re continuing the ripening process by leaving them there, or if we simply hope they rot quickly so we can toss them into the compost heap.

Beth does enjoy simple cucumber sandwiches, an effete treat enjoyed primarily by British nobility. I ate these once, dragged to “high tea” at Hong Kong’s posh Peninsula Hotel by a co-worker during a business trip. I didn’t really want them, but I didn’t want to upset the Communist Chinese. Beth can sometimes be almost as insistent as a totalitarian regime, but at least she won’t initiate a Cultural Revolution or Great Leap Forward if I politely refuse.

Anyway, back to the other vegetables currently on our kitchen counter. One of these is a cayenne pepper, a long, green, wrinkled veggie used primarily as a spice. It is considered a “hot pepper,” generally only edible in the smallest of quantities by the heartiest of individuals. On the Scoville scale, which measures the amount of the chemical capsaicin present in a chili pepper, the lowly jalapeno measures about 8,000 Scovilles. The cayenne, by contrast, measures 65,000 Scovilles.

As it turns out, one of our cats also thinks we have too many surplus and largely inedible foods on our counter but, unlike me, he has the temerity to do something about it. Saturday night, he launched a full-scale frontal assault on the cayenne.

Only he thought it was a snake.

Tom begins his attack on the fearsome vegetable

The rest of the family was enjoying a quiet evening in front of the TV when we suddenly heard a scuffle coming from the kitchen. There was a great thud on the floor, and we knew immediately that our muscular, aggressive tabby named Tom must have fallen to the ground. He had been pawing at the pepper from an arm’s-length distance, and had snagged a corner with his claw, causing the pepper to move. He interpreted this to be a counter-attack by the snake, and skedaddled himself away as quickly as possible.

The three of us intervened immediately, not to rescue Tom from his situation, but to be entertained by his antics. Tom spent about the first year of his life in the wild before we adopted him, and we imagined he’d encountered all kinds of snakes and other wildlife that he regarded as food. He was reverting back to his kittenhood, interested in a tasty if venomous snack.

Within moments, Tom was back on the counter, and back on the offensive. He continued his strategy of keeping his distance, using his greater reach to his advantage, much like a boxer softening up an opponent who had no arms. He jabbed. He prodded. He poked. He feinted. The snake/pepper was obviously tiring, but he had no manager to throw in the towel.

Finally, Tom landed a series of blows that did some serious damage. The veggie was deeply wounded in the midsection, tottering on the edge of the counter. Tom stood victorious over his victim, wanting to finish the match by wolfing him down, but too put-off by the scent of capsaicin to consume the now-defeated rival.

The pepper lies mortally wounded

It’s not quite the iconic photo of a young Cassius Clay dancing in triumph over the unconscious form of Sonny Liston, but Tom had achieved his victory, and was proud of his achievement.

Now if I can only get him to work on those cucumbers.

Revisited: A bug’s life, transformed

March 27, 2011

Spring has arrived and so have the bugs. Though I’ll be the first to acknowledge that all creatures in God’s wondrous creation are worthy of respect and the right to live, I think I stepped on a caterpillar when I went out to check the mail Monday afternoon.

I swear, it wasn’t on purpose. It’s just that we have a lot of trees on our property, and these furry things have suddenly appeared everywhere over the last few days. I realized at the last moment what was about to happen, and I lurched sideways in an attempt to save him, or her, or it. It was too late.

I wiped my shoe in the grass after the unfortunate incident, which hardly seemed like a fitting ceremony to honor this bug’s brief life. But I wasn’t about to dig my high school “Taps” bugle out of storage because I think it’s covered in spider webs. I didn’t want this insecticidal spree to spiral any further out of control.

It did make me pause to think, however, how we immense humans swagger through the natural world with so little thought for the beasts beneath us. We swat flies, squash roaches and eat Wendy’s hamburgers, all with complete disregard for the welfare for the lower life forms we are destroying in the process. To me, it seems about time we do a little something special for the entomological kingdom to show that we care.

There are literally trillions of these guys and gals scurrying amongst us, so it’s impossible to show my gratitude to each and every individual for whatever purpose it is they serve in the grand scheme of life. All one man can do is bring one pest into his home, give that bug a special day he will always remember, and hope that the karma and the word of mouth when he returns to the wild will allow me to live a slightly less guilty life.

“There is at least one good, honorable man among the humans,” he can report to his colleagues. “Don’t sting the chunky guy with the glasses.”

Below are some highlights from the day I tried to balance the scales in my little corner of the world.

Keeping up online

Humanity has developed some awesome technological devices to entertain and educate us, so I thought I’d share one of these with the Giant Peruvian Dinosaur Ant I brought into my house. Here, the ant gets a chance to check his email and catch up with a few friends on Facebook. You may recognize the home page from AOL on the screen behind him, but we can’t fault a creature who has barely emerged from the Mesozoic era for visiting such a primitive webite. Besides, where else could he catch a quick update on whether or not Kate Gosselin was going to be leaving “Dancing With the Stars”?

Exercise is a great stress-buster

Too often, insects encounter us via the soles of our shoes, and that rarely makes a good first impression. I thought I’d turn the tables a bit by offering to bring my new ant friend along with me on my mid-day jog, allowing him to ride along on the top of my Nikes. We had a great run in the warm air heavily scented with azaleas and dogwoods. I think he struggled to hold on at a few points in the route, but that simply meant he got a good workout as well. We smiled as we passed the playground at the daycare center, where children laughed and squealed with innocence we can barely recall. We chuckled at the passing SmartCar that would barely hold the two of us. We recoiled in horror as I accidentally inhaled a gnat. We were tired at the end of the two-mile jaunt, but it was a good kind of tired.

A well-earned supper with the family

By dinnertime, the giant ant had virtually become a full-fledged member of the household, and joined my other animal companions for their evening meal. Taylor (left) and Harriett didn’t mind at all sharing their food with their new brother. There was enough for everyone in the bountiful indoor world, where predators and prey are merely movements on the other side of a thick, protective sliding glass door. When Taylor was finished with his bowl, the ant leapt off his back, directly into the remaining Cat Chow, frolicking in the plenty that was unknown out in the yard, where he had to fight thousands of rivals for the smallest scrap of potato chip. Soon, both his abdomen and thorax were full, and a contented evening of relaxation could begin with his new family.

Bath time

As the day drew to a close, it was time to scrub away the accumulation of grime that comes with a busy schedule of fun. I wasn’t about to allow this disease-carrying vessel of filth and bacteria in my bathtub or shower so we arranged a quick dip in the toilet. He splashed merrily in the water as I tried to work a loofa into the crevices of his exoskeleton. He wanted some tub toys to play with, so I wadded up a ball of toilet paper and tossed it in. Tragically, the wad knocked him into the deep end of the bowl. His drowning was quick and mostly painless for him, and quite convenient for me, as I simply had to flush him away.

Somewhere, in a sanitary sewer deep beneath the city, he’ll whisk past millions of his insect friends, who will offer a touching final tribute to one who was briefly able to bridge two worlds.

Trying to make friends with the turtles

March 2, 2011

A few months back, I was taking a lunchtime stroll through the office park where I work. The complex is called “Silver Lake,” a much more evocative name than this collection of warehouses and small bits of office space deserves. But I guess the name “Eighteen-Wheeler Haven” wouldn’t draw as many tenants.

There actually is a “lake” near the back of the park, and I guess it could be considered “silver” as much as any body of water half-covered with algae can be called “silver”. There’s a half-hearted attempt at a fountain installed in the middle of the lake, and a few shapely boulders situated at different points along the banks. With a little imagination, however, and if you squint your eyes enough to render yourself half-blind, it’s a scenic view. Especially compared to the boxy beige-and-green prefab buildings that surround it.

As I rounded the cul-du-sac near one corner of the lake, I spotted a small box turtle walking in the road. I guess, like me, he was taking a break from his workaday routine. I needed to step away for a few minutes from the style-intense Form 10-K annual report I was proofreading, and he needed a respite from turtle duties like swimming, eating bugs and nearly being run over by a ten-ton truck.

My past experience with turtles has generally been positive. When I was a kid, I had several of those tiny ones they used to sell at Walgreen’s that came with a plastic enclosure and tiny fake palm tree. The Yertles — as I named every single one of them — always seemed to get along with me, at least until they were eaten by my dog. I’ve looked at larger turtles and tortoises in various zoos and animal parks over the years, and have always been impressed with their shells and how cool it would be if they were stuck on their backs. I’ve never consumed one in a fancy restaurant, which they should count in my favor.

With such a positive and mutually respectful relationship between us, I thought it would be a nice gesture to pick this turtle out of the dangerous roadway and return him to the grass along the lake. His shell was about the width of my palm, so it wasn’t especially hard or perilous to grasp him by the edge of the carapace, assuming I wouldn’t contract any turtle-borne diseases. As I lifted him from the asphalt, his legs flailed wildly as if to say “ahhh! I’m being kidnapped by an alien”. I walked him the few paces to safety, offering reassuring words I doubted he understood, though I hoped the calming tone of my voice might relax him somewhat. I placed him near the water’s edge, and he scurried away. I did the same, as I was late getting back from my break.

I must say, I felt pretty good about this inter-species act of goodwill. Humans are better known for raping the environment than they are for helping it out of inconvenient situations, and I was proud to put myself forward as an exception to the prevailing wisdom. I could’ve let nature take its course, and left the errant reptile to face whatever fate might have awaited him. But I had been in a pretty good mood, and decided to intervene to do what I could to save one small creature from potential squishing.

As the weather has been warming with the approach of spring, I’ve taken several more walks past the lake in recent days. I’ve noticed that many of these animals have started to emerge from the water onto small rocky outcroppings to bask in the sun. I keep looking for the guy I rescued — not so much to receive a belated thank-you as to simply say “hi” — but frankly I can’t tell one turtle from the next. I know that’s racist, but I can’t.

Rather than greeting me with a friendly wave of the paw (?), the turtles instead don’t seem to like me. I try to get close enough to enjoy the natural beauty of wild animals trying to mend their cold-blooded ways with a session of sun-bathing, but as soon as they see me, they jump off their rock into the safety of the water. It’s like they don’t even remember me.

I’ve tried approaching carefully, so as not to startle them. There’s a line of shrubbery between the parking lot and the water, and I’ve tried ducking low beneath the hedge and emerging slowly to keep from frightening them. They don’t see me at first and for a few moments, I can appreciate their leathery sheen, their graceful craning necks and their overall turtletude. Then, one of them glances off to his left, spies the intruder, sends a body-language message to the others, and they all go diving beneath the surface.

Frankly, it hurts my feelings.

So on Monday of this week, I decided I needed to remind them what a nice guy I was. It was another warm midday, and I had decided to take my Lean Cuisine spaghetti and meat sauce microwaved dinner outside for lunch. I ate most of the solids as I walked down the road toward the lake, but there was a healthy amount of tomato sauce and spiced pepper pieces left over that my fork couldn’t reach. I thought I’d offer it to the turtles.

I placed the black plastic tray on the ground not far from the nearest clump of animals, then stepped away to hide myself behind a large boulder. When I peeked over the edge of the rock to see if they noticed the offering, they sat in the same position as before. I was at least glad I hadn’t frightened them, however I had hoped to see them gathered around the edge of the tray enjoying what for them I imagined was a rare Italian feast. I don’t think it was that they weren’t interested; I just don’t think they saw it. So I whistled softly and pointed toward the dish. One of them looked in my direction, then all of them jumped off the rock and floated away.

I decided to leave the tray where it sat, just in case these or other turtles had a better appetite later in the day. I was a little torn about this, as it could be construed as littering and yet another instance of man’s disregard for the ecosphere. I’ll check back in a few days to see if it’s still there.

Hopefully, after I left, they will have come over and hauled the sumptuous banquet to a safe area under the bushes and enjoyed the closest they’ll ever come to knowing the delights of the Olive Garden. And maybe, once again, the turtles will like me.

Maybe next time I should try the teriyaki stir-fry

Fake News: Cats threaten strike

February 17, 2011

NEW YORK (Feb. 16) — A nationwide group of cats said its members would go on strike March 1 unless humans agree to add lunch to their daily roster of meals.

A labor organization known as Cats United for Lunch Time (CULT) will conduct a work slowdown which could escalate into a complete stoppage if the cats and their people can’t reach an agreement. The cat union wants a noontime serving of food to be added to the morning and evening meals so that they can eat three times a day.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that they make us skip lunch,” said Tom, 3, the tabby president of the union. “Twelve hours is just too long to wait between meals.”

A spokesman for the Human Overlords and Masters Organization said his group was opposed to the initiative. He claims it would be too much trouble for people to take off work every day at noon so they could come home and feed the cat.

“I give my cats a large enough serving that they should be nursing it throughout the day,” said HOMO president Martin Stern. “They’re not supposed to wolf the whole bowl-full down as soon as I put it out for them.”

“But those desiccated globules of tuna-scented filler are just so delicious!” Tom said. “They demand to be eaten immediately.”

Stern also rejected the idea that a sandwich could be left behind for the cats when their family heads out the door in the morning. He said most cats are repelled by mustard, so a sandwich option would be unworkable.

“C’mon,” Tom persisted. “It’s a lunch in name only anyway. It’s the same stuff we eat in the morning and in the evening.”

Tom said that if his group’s demands are not met, the work slowdown will begin at the beginning of March, with a complete stoppage to follow a week later if further negotiations fail.

“How can they have a ‘work slowdown’?” Stern asked reporters. “A, they don’t do any work anyway and, B, if they did, it’d be impossible to do it more slowly than they do it already.”

Tom said Stern’s comments reflected an insensitivity that lay at the heart of difficulties which have existed between the union and management for the past several years.

“They just don’t respect what we do,” Tom said. “It only looks natural because we work so hard at creating that illusion. Napping, bathing ourselves, basking in the sun, these are not our natural behaviors. We’d rather be hunting down squirrels but we do this lazing-about business because it entertains you.”

Tom wouldn’t describe what the slowdown would look like, however he did say a complete shutdown of his group’s operations could “cripple the entire economy within days.”

Stern said no, it wouldn’t, countering “you know, we could do without actual cats in these positions. Just about any easily domesticated groundling could do every bit as good a job.”

“Ray-eow,” answered Tom. “Sounds like you’re looking for a catfight.”

"It's absolutely ridiculous that they make us skip lunch," says Tom.