Saturday, October 08, 2011

I expect this story to be optioned into a multimilliondollar movie franchise by the end of the day. (Quote of the Day)

"What kiss-asses."

-- Sweetie.

Both Mr F and Mr Bunches are in 4k, and Mr Bunches' teacher sends home a newsletter each week that updates people on the class and what they're doing. This week, the teacher noted that some parents were saying there should be more homework.

I second Sweetie's emotion, even though Mr Bunches' homework usually only amounts to doing things like this having to draw and/or tell a story about a stuffed animal that was sent home, as he had to do one day, when we created a stunning work of original fiction that I like to call "The Fish Story: A Memoir."

It's sort of Hemingway-esque. First, we drew a fish, as required, me handing Mr Bunches the crayons and him drawing and coloring it in. Then, I said:

"You have to tell a story about the fish. What do you want to say about the fish?"

Mr Bunches thought a second, and then said his fish story, which I helped him write down:

That says "I drew a fish," in case you were having trouble reading it. It's a true-life, coming of age tale.

Friday, October 07, 2011

You're better than PB&J. You know you are.

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of T.G.I. FRiDAY'S for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

Periodically, Sweetie will have herself something to do at night, leaving me in charge of (a) Mr F and Mr Bunches, and (b) what we eat for dinner.

What Mr F and Mr Bunches eat for dinner is easy:  Generally, some cheese puffs, milk, and chocolate chip cookies.  What I eat for dinner is more problematic, because I am not a good cook of most things, and the things I CAN cook well (frozen pizza) we don't always have.

Which means that ordinarily, if Sweetie is gone for the night, I either share in the cheese puffs, OR I have something like "peanut butter and jelly," which is all well and good, except that it's neither well nor good, in that I sometimes don't WANT to eat PB&J.

What I WANT is good food that I don't have to spend thirty hours preparing and will inevitably mess up making and end up with a gloppy, burnt mess, like the time I tried to make "Cincinnati Chili" only to end up forgetting I was making "Cincinnati Chili" and going off to play video games until the Chili nearly burnt down the apartment.

So you can see why I was so excited about the new line of T.G.I. FRiDAY’S “Entrées for One” frozen food options.  They've got nine new entrées made up of stuff that ordinarily you have to go to T.G.I. FRiDAY’S  to get, only I never get to do that on Sweetie's nights out because she hides the credit cards and Mr F doesn't like to go out to eat.

T.G.I. FRiDAY'S frozen entrees fix that problem by having actual good meals that I can make from scratch:  good meals like their grilled chicken mac & cheese, something I couldn't believe I was able to get and have at home and make for myself:

Entrées For One

Who DOESN'T love grilled chicken?  Not me. I don't not love...  Wait, that's a lot of negatives.  I love grilled chicken, and grilled chicken is one of those things that's almost impossible to make, at least for me.  But the T.G.I. FRiDAY'S frozen grilled chicken and macaroni manages to be easy to make and still be delicious.  It tastes like real restaurant food -- little chunks of grilled chicken mixed in with mac and cheese that's got like four different kinds of cheese in it, and is all creamy and not sticky (or burnt.)  It's perfect -- so good it almost tempts Mr Bunches to stray from the chocolate chip cookies.

T.G. I. FRiDAY'S just introduced all these frozen meals, and they want to hype them, and I'm more than glad to help them out, because I wholeheartedly support anything that's delicious and easy to make.  But they're doing more than just asking ME to help them out.  They're also having a "Fun Freezer contest," to see who can deck out their freezer with the most flair, and you can vote on who should win.  Voting goes until October 20th, so hurry up and vote, orver at…

And then get off your butt and go pick up some of the frozen dinners. Because you're better than PB&J.  I know I am.

Visit Sponsor's Site

That I had done (Friday's Sunday's Poem/Hot Actress)

by Aldo Kraas.

I know
You know
A safe heaven
Can be found
For you
I want to tell you
That I had done
My sea voyage
In a sailing ship
A few months


About the poem: I mentioned in this post that I had once written, and played, and recorded on the Internet for posterity, a song called If I Was Paul McCartney, so when you're done reading this you should go read that and then go listen to the song, but then I wondered whether other people themselves had written stuff about Paul McCartney, who, for some reason, is on my mind a lot this week. I've tweeted about him and mentioned him in a comment on another blog and I'm probably about two steps away from being hit with a restraining order.

Ever have one of those weeks, where you can't get your mind off of a former-moptop rock star from England?

So it's just me, then?

Anyway, I found this poem by googling poems about Paul McCartney, and I liked it, and there you go. Now you've got him on your mind, too.

About the Hot Actress: Sweetie and I were debating yesterday whether I have a skewed perception of who's hot, because I think Maggie Gyllenhaal is pretty and also like Xena: Warrior Princess, who I think looks a lot like Sweetie only Sweetie is about a foot shorter than Xena. So I pointed out that I also thought that Penny from "Happy Endings" is pretty and that I thought Jennifer Aniston is pretty, too, which is kind of a weird position to be in for a husband: arguing with your wife that you think people are pretty.

We left it at "Sweetie is kind of crazy," although I didn't tell her that's where we left it. And then today I texted her to see who should be the Hot Actress and she didn't reply in the time it took me to put this whole post up, so I went with Sofia Vergara, who was another actress I mentioned as thinking she was hot, because when you throw down the gauntlet and tell that I don't think hot people are hot, I will prove you wrong and I will mention a lot of hot people.

Which, again, kind of a weird argument to have, but I won it, so there.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Today, Middle asks a question we'd all rather not have to face. (What The H?)

It's time again to hear from Middle Daughter, who weekly sends me things to post and then I never get around to posting them. Here, she shows why you would never want to visit her apartment without galoshes.


Is this Throw up or is this Poop?

It is an innocent Tuesday evening and I have just arrived back home from a lovely day with hanging out with my mother (Sweetie) and my two little brothers (Mr. Bunches and Mr. F) and I walk in and I am greeted by none other than Stormy.

It had been raining on and off all day and so I knew that Stormy was NOT going to be in a good mood because, ironically enough, she is deathly afraid of storms. And when I say “deathly afraid” I mean “cowering in the corner yelping and crying for hours deathly afraid.”

I walk into my door and I see her in the corner, tail between her legs, and she starts yelling and crying. I thought “oh no, how long has she been crying like this? I try to console her and it seems to be working, so I go about my merry way. I take off my sweater and I change into some more comfortable clothes and then I walk into my kitchen to get a glass of water. I notice that her food dish is almost empty so I go and get her food and I add some more to her food dish because I know that if she can see the bottom of her food dish she is not a happy camper.

After I fill her food dish and get my glass of water and I head over to my living room to turn on some television. As I sit down I saw that I forgotten to turn my kitchen light off so I get up and go and turn it off.

I turned off the light and I walked out of the kitchen and started heading back into the living room as I was walking out of the room I stepped on something. It was not carpet. It was not tile. It was warm and it was wet. I looked down and I saw that it was either poop. Or it was throw up.

I didn’t move my foot and I looked at Stormy.

Stormy, is this poop or is this throw up?” I asked her.

Of course she didn’t answer but I knew that it was one or the other.

I turned on the light and saw that it was……throw up. And to my surprise I was relieved.

Come on, Norm*, keep it in your stomach!

I guess that is the price you pay for owning a cat that has a sensitive stomach.


*Note: It's not a typo. She calls her cat, whose name is Stormy, "Norm."

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The best laid plans of mice and men sometimes lead you to inadvertently find out how to classify apples. (Thinking The Lions)

I went to what I think of as "Apple Fantasy Camp" not so long ago.

Every now and then, I get the urge to volunteer for charity. The urge to volunteer, like the occasional other ideas I have, comes on me at a time when I'm feeling energetic, and upbeat, and ready to do stuff.

Which would be great, if I could right then and there do the things I feel all energetic about, but life doesn't work that way. Not my life, at least. In my life, there will be a day -- I'll say it's July 17th -- on which I feel great: I got a good night's sleep, I had no major chores to do, the brakes did not go out on my car and Sweetie made the kind of pizza I especially like. With a day like that, around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, I will be feeling like I can do anything, and, with that feeling, I will often try to actually do something.

The problem is, in this world, you can't just do things. It doesn't work that way. Take the time I decided to just take all the kids to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. That seems like the kind of thing you could just do: get into a car, drive to a place, look at things, and then drive home.

And on the day we chose to try to just do that, that's what I thought would happen: I was feeling upbeat, the kids -- at the time we had just the three older kids: Oldest Daughter, Middle Daughter, and The Boy -- were actually moving around rather than huddled under blankets watching TV, and Sweetie (who can often on the spur of the moment come up with 73 reasons why something I want to do is a "bad idea," as though "walking around at night in the backyard with Mr Bunches using my cell phone as a flashlight" could ever be considered a bad idea) for some reason was powerless to avoid my decision to suddenly put us in the car and drive all the way to Chicago without being sure (a) where the Shedd Aquarium was, really, (b) how much it cost to get into the Shedd Aquarium, or (c) whether it was even open.

It turns out that all those things don't matter: You can find anything you want to in Chicago by doing what I do, which is aiming for the Sears Tower as you come into the city and then turning left once you get there, and also, the price and hours for the Shedd Aquarium are beside the point because you need a reservation to get in.
That's what we found out after the two-and-a-half hour drive to get there: The Shedd Aquarium requires that you have a ticket to get into it, and that ticket has to be bought in advance, apparently because fish are in big demand here in the Midwest, where we make fun of Cirque Du Soleil but will plan four months in advance to look at a Chilean Sea Bass through glass.

So fish, like everything else anyone might want to do in life, have to be pre-planned, and pre-planning is the bane of my existence, along with something else I like to call "never knowing what I'm getting myself into," which is how, on a beautiful Sunday when I would rather have been in downtown Madison with the boys watching the Iron Man competitors starting out on their race and imagining that I, too, could do an Iron Man race even though the truth is that I get worn out walking to the park with the boys and that's only three blocks away, how I ended up at "Apple Fantasy Camp."

My trip to Apple Fantasy Camp had actually begun a few weeks earlier, when, in a fit of energy, I had volunteered for the local Autism Society.

I had volunteered for the Autism Society of Greater Madison because, as you know, Mr F and Mr Bunches have autism, and I thought that I should do something to help out not
only them, but future thems as well. In the past, I've tried to help out with research and funding for fighting autism through such heroic efforts as "Walking two miles while wearing a t-shirt" and "Walking a mile and half while wearing a t-shirt." In both cases, the impetus for the walk was not just to help out with fighting autism, but also because I got a t-shirt.

(Don't judge me for that. Not all of my volunteering is t-shirt motivated. In the past, when I was younger, my volunteering was resume-building motivated, as I volunteered for places like the ACLU and congressional campaigns that I thought might boost my career [although I also got a t-shirt from that congressional campaign, so, double-score.] But now I've moved on to volunteerism that isn't exclusively t-shirt oriented, such as when every year I go ring a bell for two hours to raise money for the Salvation Army, and I don't get any kind of t-shirt for that. I only get sore knees from standing for two hours, and a sore shoulder from ringing a bell for two hours, both of which do not keep me from imagining that there is a world in which I could complete an Iron Man competition.)

This year, though, I decided to "kick it up a notch" only in part because I'm not getting any younger and need to do a lot of good things to ensure that karma doesn't sweep my leg as I head into my mid-forties and that eventually I get into Heaven, and also only in part because if I'm out volunteering I'm going to actually be able to avoid doing more chores around the house, "chores around the house" being a project I started earlier in the summer when I was feeling energetic, too, but which I was now regretting having ever started.

"Chores around the house" consisted of every week doing one of those larger chores that I'd been putting off, like "cleaning out the upstairs closet" or "getting rid of all the junk that The Boy left in his room when he moved out" or "organizing the garage" or "yardwork." I'd decided, around May, that each Sunday I would do chores around the house, knocking out one of these bigger jobs each week and really getting my life (and house, and yard) in order.

Then I'd actually done one of the chores -- the upstairs closet-- and it had taken five hours on day, only partially because I'd gotten distracted looking through my old comic book collection that I found midway through, and that particular chore of cleaning the closet then spun off its own chore, in that while cleaning the closet we found (I'm not making this up) two giant tubs full of pictures, and not just pictures but art projects and photo albums and old school projects from the kids that if you just throw them away someday you're going to have a 40-year-old Oldest Daughter crying on Christmas Eve and saying "You never loved me, that's why you through away the picture of the panther I drew in ninth grade art class" which meant that after finishing the closet, I now had "organize photos" as a new project, and the list of chores around the house had not gotten any shorter, plus there was the distinct prospect that each new chore would spawn its own set of other related chores.

I wasn't, then, optimistic about ever actually getting back to doing those chores, so the opportunity to volunteer for the Autism Society came at a great moment for me, and I happily signed up to spend a couple of hours here and there helping out a good cause. True, in the back of my mind I kind of thought they would give me a t-shirt, and, true, they did not because they only give t-shirts to people who actually join the Society, and I hadn't yet joined, but that was all irrelevant when compared to the larger purposes of Avoiding Doing My Other Chores, and also Helping People Out.

The first thing that I'd volunteered for was a charity golf outing, and that had gone wonderfully: I had shown up at the golf course, met the others involved, and been assigned to largely do nothing, which is right in line with my skill set. My jobs that evening had involved "standing on the mini-golf course and making sure people didn't turn the wrong way" and "taking down a sign from the fence at the end of the night." I also moved a table, but I had help with that.

So when I showed up at "Eplegaarden" that Sunday, I didn't really mind too much that I had to volunteer that day, even though I no longer had all the verve and vim and vigor and whatnot that I'd had several weeks before when I'd responded to an email and said "Sure, I'll volunteer, sign me up for 11-1," something that was easy to do because 11 a.m. Sunday September 11 was way way off in the distance and would probably never arrive, for all I knew.

That is how I actually think, after all: If something is in the future, I can plan to do it because it's in the future. That's the flip-side to my wanting to do stuff now when I have energy: I can plan to do anything in the future, because it's not now, so I don't have to worry about whether I'll have the energy or the time to do it, and I don't have to worry about things like "Are you really going to take a couple of two-year-olds to Florida on a plane," which, if you don't bother to think about that, makes it amazingly easy to use your tax refund to sign you and your family up for a package-vacation you bought online at a discount while your wife and the older kids were out at a movie and you were babysitting the then-one-year olds: After all, the vacation itself was nearly a year away, so I could worry about things like "two year olds, especially mine, don't travel well" and "how to tell Sweetie I just blew $2,000 but at least we'll have a rental minivan out of it" later on.

I plan all kinds of things for the future, and then am dismayed when the future arrives and I'm expected to do those things. I'll say things like "Sure, that's okay that you said your family can come here for ice cream and cake to celebrate the twins' birthday the Sunday night before their birthday" because "the Sunday night before their birthday" might as well be Earth Two, for all the likelihood I place on ever seeing it, but then suddenly it's there and I'm assembling a wagon with my brother-in-law.

Long story.

So when I emailed back to the director of the Autism Society that "Sure, I'll go ahead and volunteer that Sunday," I was being sincere in wanting to volunteer and also being sincere in thinking "that Sunday" was never going to get here, but get here it did, and there I was, confronted with the fact that at 11:00 a.m. I was expected to be at an apple farm somewhere near Madison, and also confronted with the fact that it was Sunday morning and what I really wanted to do (in order) was (a) nothing, (b) nothing, plus have a second toaster-based breakfast pastry, or (c) incorporate that toaster-based breakfast pastry idea into also, take the boys downtown to watch the start of the Iron Man race.

The Iron Man race was in Madison that day, see, and I thought it would be neat to take the boys to watch a bunch of superfit people who I secretly way down deep hate with a burning passion for how healthy they are jump into Lake Monona and swim around in it for a while before they went off to run an entire marathon.

I thought we could also stop at McDonald's for lunch.

But I couldn't do any of those things because I had promised to be a good person and volunteer for the Autism Society at an apple farm, and who ever heard of such a thing, really? As I got ready to drive down there -- me in one car, Sweetie and the boys in the other, so that we could take them to the apple farm before I actually had to volunteer-- I found it actually amazing to me that apples grew on farms, let alone that apples grew on farms around where I lived.

Don't get me wrong: I know all about apple farming, in that I read The Cider House Rules and also maybe saw the movie with Sweetie. I say "maybe" because, to be honest, I get a little confused about which movies I've seen and which I haven't. In fact, more and more, I get confused about, well, everything, as evidenced by this conversation I had with Sweetie about the outfit she wore when we went to our friends' house Friday night. It was the next morning and it went like this:

Me: I really liked that outfit you wore. You looked pretty.

Sweetie: What did you like about it?

Me: [thinking for a minute]: I'm not sure. What did you wear again?

Sweetie: A tiger-striped sweater and red shirt and jeans.

Me: No, you had on a striped shirt. It was red-and-white stripes, horizontal. I liked it.

Sweetie: That's not what I wore.

So when I say I might have seen the movie version of The Cider House Rules, that's exactly what I mean, because in my life, I:

1. could have actually seen the movie but forgot that I did.

2. could have dreamed that I saw the movie and taken that as a real memory years later

3. could have intended to see the movie and eventually just assumed that since I meant to do it, it had gotten done. (See also: housework, and "stuff I'm supposed to do at my job.")

But based on for-sure reading The Cider House Rules, I know exactly how apple farms work provided that all apple farms employ Tobey Maguire and also are chock full of symbolism. I just never thought there were apple farms around where I live, but, then, I'm surprised that anything grows where I live because I live in Wisconsin, where it's winter more or less year-round except for two weeks in the summer when Wisconsin is connected directly to the surface of the sun and people drop in the streets from heat exhaustion.

So until that Sunday morning driving out to the actual apple farm... or orchard, as we apple-pros call it ... I'd never really given any thought to the fact that there might be actual apple farms/orchards around me, even though one time in fact Sweetie and I had taken the twins to an apple farm near our house to pick apples; I'd just assumed that was a tourist trap fake apple farm set up to lure in city slickers like me with the promise of a rustic fall afternoon.

But EpleGaarden, as the apple farm was called in that language that I secretly get annoyed with people for speaking because I don't like it when people act all old-worldy, was a real apple farm with real apples and a barn and a little pathway up into the orchards where people could go pick apples, for fun (and by paying money) and where they also had two goats that would walk up to the fence and look at you as you walked by, something we discovered when we got there.

We got out of the car and looked out at the scene -- a red barn, a little apple store, some people sitting around fields of things that other people would pick and put in grocery stores, where I would buy them and eventually they would go rotten sitting in my refrigerator ("The Life Cycle Of Healthy Food, by Briane Pagel") -- and I said hello to the director of the society, letting him know I was here, and early -- I like to get credit not just for doing what I say I'm going to do, but also for doing it punctually -- and then we tried to figure out just what it is you do on an apple farm when you're trying to kill time before you volunteer.

What you do, on that apple farm, if you're us, is you walk up the pathway a little to where the goats are, and you have Mr Bunches pull some grass up to feed the goats, because this apple farm hasn't provided anyone to sell us little cones of goat food the way a truly classy apple farm would. But the goats were more than happy to get the grass, because goats are stupid and didn't realize that the grass just outside the fence, held up by Mr Bunches so that the goats could stick their mouths through the fence and awkwardly eat it, was the same as the grass inside the fence.

Mr Bunches, then, was happy to feed the goats, but Mr F took issue with that and began trying to stop the goats from eating the grass, going up to them and pulling the grass from their mouths as they were chewing it, which was really remarkable in that Mr F is usually afraid of animals -- all animals, including "Scrotsby," which is what Mr Bunches used to call Middle Daughter's elderly cat (real name: Scruffy), a cat that was more of a stuffed animal than a living cat really, but that didn't matter because Mr F was afraid of Scrotsby, too. For whatever reason, Mr F was not afraid of the goats at EpleGaarden, but he was determined to not them eat the grass on this side of the fence, and kept trying to pull the grass out of the goats' mouths until we decided that was enough apple farm fun for the boys and anyway, it was almost 11 o'clock and I had to report for volunteer duty.

After a quick sweep through the shop to see what was in there -- surprise! It was apples! -- Sweetie and the boys headed out to their day of relaxation and probably french fries from McDonald's while I went off to save my soul by heading up, I imagined, the table where people could get pamphlets, or maybe the thing where the kids could try to toss wooden blocks through a hole in a board.

Surprise! again! I wasn't doing that at all. While I was waiting for all the volunteers to gather around, I'd been thinking that the worst thing they could have me do was man the face painting table because I'm not much of an artist, and I didn't want kids disappointed that the apple on their face looked more like a big bruise, or a ghost, although I figured actually I probably could paint a ghost on a kid's face, if that was required of me.

But it turns out that the worst possible job wasn't face painting at all; it was apple-ing, or whatever it is the official apple farm people call what it was that I and some other volunteers were going to do that day.

The deal, unbeknownst to me prior to volunteering at EpleGaarden that day, was that for every hour a volunteer worked, the orchard would donate $12 to the Autism Society. The deal, in return, was that volunteers, like me, would be, you know, working.

So in a matter of moments, I learned that I was not going to be painting faces or handing out brochures. I would be sorting apples.

The head of the orchard, a guy who goes by the name of Rami, although that may not be how he spells it, was told by the head of the Autism Society that me and another guy were his workers, and Rami quickly took us off to where we were told we'd be sorting apples into bags -- moving apples from a crate of apples to the bag of apples, or perhaps a nearby bin based on our judgment.

Our judgment! A couple of rank amateurs who'd been in the apple business only minutes, and who just seconds before being drafted into the apple business had been potential face painters!

The task was to take crates of apples that had been deemed number twos and sort them out. To understand what that means and stop people who, like me, snorted a little at number two from doing that, you'll have to understand how apples are classified, and so I will share with you my inside knowledge of

How Apples Are Classified:
An Essay, By Briane Pagel

Apples are classified by number. There are number 1s, and number 2s. A number 1 is a good apple, the kind of apple you would want to eat if you saw it in a store and were the kind of person who likes apples. A number 2 is any apple that's not a number 1. You would not buy a number 2 apple if you saw it in the store, unless you're the kind of person who does that sort of thing. You know, the kind of person who might go to the Humane Society to get a kitten, only then you get all softhearted and adopt that old, blind Basset Hound? We almost did that, once, when we went to the pet store to get a kitten and were briefly sidetracked by a full-grown cat named Lily that had been returned to the pet store, and we felt sorry for Lily and were going to buy her, instead, but the pet store owner told us that Lily was not good with children, and as we have a lot of children -- I'm too busy to count them all -- we didn't buy Lily after all but instead got Herman The Wonder Kitten, and look how that turned out for us. (Not very well.)

Also, number 1 apples are the kind without bruises at all and without too many blemishes on them.

So for our first job, me and this old guy had to take apples that had been pre-sorted, whole crates of number 2s, and sort them a little further by deciding which ones were sauce apples and which ones were cider apples, a sorting that was done by picking out the really small apples and putting them in a different crate while taking the rest of the only-kind-of-small number 2 apples and putting them into paper bags, the idea being that some apples were so small that you wouldn't want to waste time turning them into apple sauce because it would take effort to peel them but you wouldn't get hardly any sauce out of them. (Or so I imagined. I didn't ask Rami, as for some reason I felt embarrassed to not know anything about apples or what they were used for. I don't know why I felt I should know those things, except that something like 60% of my life was spent in school, and I'll be paying student loans for the rest of my life, so I feel like after all that money and time I should know, well, everything.)

Me and the old guy began doing that, and the old guy was really very good at it, whereas I was not really very good at it at all but I tried my hardest to be really good at it, and pretty soon we had two crates of cider apples and a bunch of bags we'd made up to put on the shelves of the apple store for people to buy and make their own apple sauce because apparently people do that even though giant jars of applesauce at the grocery store are like one dollar and also at the store you can buy applesauce flavored to taste like just about every other kind of fruit.

Then we had nothing to do for a few minutes until Rami came back and gave us even more to do.

What we had to do next was to sort apples into 1s and 2s -- crate after crate of apple that we had to go through and decide if they were 1s or 2s and treat them accordingly by putting them into this crate or that crate, or, as you'll see in a minute, a plastic bag -- and that's where we learned what a 1 or a 2 was, and also what kind of apples we were working with. The apples had an actual name that Rami told me, but I can't remember what kind they were, so let's just say that Rami told me the apples were "green apples," even though every time I hear the words green apples all I can think of is that old song:

God didn't make
no little green apples
And it don't rain
In Indianapolis
in the summertime

That's all I know of that song, which is a nice song but it kind of implies that green apples are a tool of the Devil, like fossils, so I've always been a little suspicious of green apples.

Sorting the green apples, as we're pretending Rami called them, involved using a machine, which, quite honestly, was awesome and made me love America.

The machine is not very hard to describe. It's a big conveyor belt, and you pour apples into one end of it and they then travel down the belt until they fall out one chute or another -- little apples getting pushed aside early on, bigger apples traveling farther until they get put into one of three large circular areas where they can be further sorted out. Along the conveyor belt are rollers so the apples don't get all bruise-y, and then things that look like those six-pack containers you're not supposed to use because they kill sea lions, only a whole chain of them, that carry apples of a certain diameter but let smaller apples fall through.

The machine looked like this:

That's taken from the start of the machine, and what you do is you take a big crate of apples and pour it into the start of the machine, using a special kind of lifting platform with a canvas cover on it that helps the apples not go all pouring out at once all over the place.

That was my job. Rami put me in charge of taking the crates and pouring them on there, a position of power which meant that not only was I, and I alone, charged with determining when to add another crate -- you don't want to put too many in there or the apples pile up, but too little and your workers have nothing to do and will eventually revolt -- but also I was in charge of monitoring the small-apples crates along the side to make sure they didn't overflow and I got to hit the switch on the wall that started and stopped the conveyor belt.

I'm pretty sure that Rami had sized me up and said "this is a guy who's clearly a leader" and that's why he chose me. Plus, I was on the side of the switch and at least 20 years younger than my two coworkers, the old guy and the lady with the crazy bandanna who had also volunteered but who had arrived late because she wasn't as good a volunteer as I am.

And so we began: I dumped some crates of apples, got them rolling down the chutes, and moved over to my circular area, where I decided to take my responsibilities very seriously. I eyed up those apples with a keen stare, determined that nobody was going to get saddled with a number 2 green apple in the grocery store. I pictured a housewife walking through a produce section, planning on getting some apples for the kids to use in school lunches, and heading over there, only to pick up what she assumed was a number 1 apple, only there it was: a blemish! marring the surface! She'd put the apple down and go get Twix bars and America would end up communist.

I was very big on America that day, not only because it was September 11th and there'd been a moment of silence before we began all this but also because, as I said, I was way impressed by the apple machine and the ingenuity it represented. I imagined that for years, apple workers had had to bend over crates and laboriously make these judgments themselves, sorting the apples by small, medium, and large, with everything all haphazard and slow moving, but then one day, the Eli Whitney of apples had come up with the sorting belt and from then on, America took its place as (I imagined) the number 1 apple-producing country in the world. That's the kind of effect things like the apple sorting machine have on me, especially when I'm already impressed with my own general goodness as a person, giving up a beautiful Sunday afternoon when I could have been eating a McFlurry and watching people compete in athletic endeavors to go and volunteer my time helping others.

So I worked it, and for twenty minutes or so, I was a whirling dervish of appledom: Sorting, moving crates, flicking the switch, helping others. I thought to myself "This isn't so bad. Not a bad way to spend some time."

After twenty minutes, I was exhausted. And I still had over an hour to go. I stopped thinking "This isn't so bad" and instead wondered how people do this all day long every day for a living, and decided that from here on out, my stance on immigration was going to be even more liberal, because if sneaking across our borders to do this kind of work was worth it, then how bad were their lives back home?

(I should note: I had it easy. Other volunteers who were also not assigned to face-painting were assigned to pick gourds. Did you know that gourds actually grow? I didn't, either; I just assumed that all those dried gourds got passed around from craft fair to craft fair and that they had all been produced at some point in the past, by pioneers, maybe, because pioneers did a lot of crazy things like building houses out of sod. But it turns out that gourds are grown, as I quote from the North Carolina Gourd Society's "Tips On Growing Gourds":

Gourd vines don't have to be trained. They climb as naturally as monkeys.
Good to know. The other volunteers had to go out into the fields and pick gourds off the vines on the ground, and it was hot -- mid 70s, which was no picnic inside the barn but at least we were in the shade and not crawling through gourd vines, which I assume are covered with spines because 90% of nature is covered with spines.)

The other thing going through my head, after about an hour, was "Man, apples really do have a smell." "Scent" is not something I usually associated with apples; sure, I knew that apples smelled like apples, but it's not like you smell apples, easily. Nobody ever walks into a house and says "Hey, did you just eat an apple?"

But in the apple warehouse where we were, the apples outnumbered us by a ratio of probably 1,000 -to-1, and so you could smell the apples. You could practically taste the apples, when you breathed, but by the time I came to that realization, I'm going to be honest with you: I hated the apples.

I'd been there an hour, plus, and all I'd done was see and smell and think about apples, and that time probably equaled the total amount of apple-ing I'd done in my entire life, plus I was getting a little tired and my hands were kind of sore because, let's face it, I'm not in good shape at all.

But I kept at it: sorting apples, pouring apples, deciding which apples were 2s or 1s, helping bag the smaller apples into plastic bags so that you could buy three pounds of smaller apples all at once instead of having to pick and choose them, because a deal is a deal and also I didn't want to be that guy who walked out on volunteering for autism.

Then I got a change of pace: Rami, perhaps sensing that my apple-thusiasm was flagging but still wanting to take advantage of my natural leadership qualities, asked me if I could do something else for him.

I resisted the urge to check my watch, and said "Sure, what is it?"

"You know how to use one of these?" he asked, pointing to a handcart.

"Sure," I said, because I did.

Rami looked at me. Have you ever actually had someone size you up to see if you're lying? I did, right then, and I failed.

"You sure?" he asked.

"Yes," I said, and thought of a way to prove I knew how to use a handtruck. Then I said: "My dad used to be a delivery guy for Coca Cola, and I would help him haul soda on these on the weekends when I was a kid."

That's true. It's absolutely true, and even though I hated it as a kid, I suddenly realized that all that character-building and not-watching-Saturday-morning-cartoons-this-week had paid off, in that I was able to convince a guy that I was capable of doing a job I really didn't want to do -- and the kind of job I'd specifically gone to college and then law school to avoid doing.

Rami looked at me again, and said "Well, okay," which is not a ringing endorsement of the kind of confident authority I'd hoped to be projecting, but whatever. He took me over to the cooler over by the other barn, and pointed to stacks and stacks of apples -- we'll say, again, that he called them green apples -- in the sun, and said:

"We've got to get these apples out of the sun and into the cooler." He showed me where the cooler was and pointed out where I should stack them, six crates high, and then showed me again where the apples were, and then showed me again where to stack them.

(Rami was clearly impressed by me.)

Rami then pointed out that on the hand cart, I could only stack the crates four high, and gave me further indication of his assessment of my abilities by saying this exact quote:

"So you'll have to haul them in four at a time, and then stack them six high, which means you can haul four in and then haul another four, and take two off that second load and complete the six-crate stack, then do that with the next one, too. So they're all six high. Got it?"

I assured Rami that I understood what he was driving at, and he looked at me for a second longer and then almost visibly decided that I probably couldn't do much harm here, and said "All right then," and began to walk away, but he stopped a few feet away and said "Just haul four at a time," and then left me to haul four at a time into the cooler, which was actually nice because by then it felt like it was about a hundred degrees outside and I was pretty sweaty, which I found surprising because I work out 2 or 3 times a week, but, then, maybe jogging slowly on a treadmill while watching South Park doesn't really put you into Olympic-caliber physical fitness.

I noted that the other stacks of crates in the cooler were way taller than just six, and debated whether I should try to impress Rami by going ahead and stacking the crates up as high as the professional apple-ers did, but decided against it for three reasons:

First, I thought there might be something about this particular kind of green apple that it ought not to be stacked more than six high. Improbable, but still...

Second, just lifting the crates up six high was nearly impossible for me, as I'm not what you'd call "strong," and

Third, I didn't want Rami to think that I'd actually not understood what he said when he said to stack them six high.

So I went six-high and kept doing that until I finished, even though that took me past one p.m., and I'd only formally committed to an 11-1 shift, so by the time I was done with the stacks I'd more than done my duty to Rami, and autism, and apples, and decided that I'd find the head of the society and let him know I was heading out.

Sweaty and tired, I saw Rami coming towards me, and thinking quickly, said "Well, that's it for me, Rami! Thanks!" before he could guilt me into doing more work for him, but Rami didn't even try.

"Okay, thanks for coming out," he said, and that made me kind of upset, in that I thought I'd done a pretty good job, so why wouldn't he at least try to get me to do more work? I mean, I wasn't going to, but would it kill him to at least take a shot at it?

Before I could do something stupid, like volunteer for more work just to prove to Rami that I could, I decided I'd best get going, because I'd done what I came there for, after all. And even though I paid a heavy price for my volunteering, in that I would be sore and stiff for almost two days after my Apple-venture, I felt it was worth it, because not only was it all for a good cause, but I'd also gotten out of doing any of my own work that day. Which made it win-win, unless you think about that, which I adamantly did not do. So: win-win.

This isn't a paid thing at all, but I thought it important to mention: You can find out more about the Autism Society of Greater Madison by clicking this link. And they will give you a t-shirt if you sign up!