1. Oh Sure!

    SURE!  Spirit Halloween Stores have no problem, no problem whatsoever, mocking all of Christianity by offering this offensive to me – and now you! – “Jesus” costume!

    Oh, but merely ask them if they carry a costume of the central figure of another major religion – one recently in the news and perhaps a bit controversial – and everyone gets nervous!

    Well, that’s fine! Forget it, Spirit Halloween Stores! Just forget it!

    Your hypocrisy, your misguided political-correctness and your abject cowardice just lost you a customer!

    I’ll make my own goddamn Sun Myung Moon costume!

    First – let’s see here – well, it looks like it’s off to Burger King for me!

    Posted by on October 12, 2012, 2:17 PM.

  2. Nine Times Out Of Ten…

    …the emergency is averted by just getting here in time.

    But, hoo boy, that tenth instance…!

    I don’t care what you do for a living! Unless you’re stationed on the other end of this phone, you’re not allowed to complain about your job.

    Posted by on , 12:32 PM.

  3. Okay, Now What?

    Posted by on October 11, 2012, 12:00 PM.

  4. Wanna Buy A Duck?

    Mattel was going to go with “I’m Solemn Solomon, the Forlorn, Morose, Despondent Duck Who Looks Like He’s About To Burst Into Tears At Any Second,” but that didn’t test well in focus groups.

    Posted by on , 1:54 AM.

  5. Remember How I Mentioned The Twelve Temporary Halloween Stores in My Neighborhood?

    My mistake! I meant thirteen.

    Here’s one, in the old abandoned Circuit City place:

    And here’s a shot of the side of that same building:

    Note that I have circled something in the distance, in the left of the photo.

    It is – of course! -

    another Halloween store! And we’re not talking two competing temporary Halloween stores! They’re both Spirit Halloween stores!

    In the same shopping center! A few hundred yards apart!

    So if you forget something for your costume at the first store, and don’t want to drive (or, God forbid, walk) all the way back there, you can just go to the second store!

    God bless America!

    Posted by on October 7, 2012, 10:40 AM.

  6. So I Was In One Of The Twelve Temporary Halloween Stores In My Neighborhood…

    …and talk about flashbacks! It was like I was in Virginia again!

    Only the ones back there are much bigger.

    Posted by on October 5, 2012, 1:10 AM.

  7. Mask Task!

    Halloween’s a few weeks away!  It’s an election year!  Your costume choices are clear!

    So who are you going to go as?


    Really.  I…see.

    Just curious, though: By dressing as him for Halloween, will you be making fun of him…? Or supporting him…?

    No, no, wait!  Don’t answer that!  This isn’t a political blog! It’s none of my – none of anyone’s! – business!

    But I just think it’s kind of interesting you’d automatically go for the white guy.

    No, look, it’s totally cool. It’s all in fun, white? I mean – it’s all in fun, right?

    Nothing wrong about choosing the white guy. Picking the white guy over the black guy doesn’t make you “racist!” C’mon! We’re all sophisticated people here! You want to go as Romney, go as Romney! Have some fun with it!

    Hey, no big deal. Just because apparently you refuse to buy the other mask. Because the mask of the black guy isn’t good enough for you…!

    No, no, go for it – get the white mask! I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve put on a white mask.

    …What?  Really!  You’ve changed your mind! And decided to go as Obama! Interesting!

    Hey, whatever, it’s your decision. Doesn’t matter to me who you go as. It’s Halloween – a time for having fun, right?

    Anyway, let’s get you that Obama mask.

    Go ahead. Pick one out.

    We’re all very interested to see which one you choose.

    Posted by on October 3, 2012, 1:42 AM.

  8. A Fond Farewell to Hill, Virginia!

    AS WE WRAP UP our extended travelogue of beautiful Hill, Virginia, I am reminded of what a pal once told me he said upon being cornered at the office by a co-worker and her 3-inch wad of vacation photos.

    “Show me your ten best pictures.”

    That way he was polite, he didn’t offend…but he made it clear he wasn’t going to sit through ninety-four pictures of the parking lot shuttle approach to the ticket booth at Santa’s Workshop in Cascade, Colorado, either.

    So here’s the best of the rest – no more delightfully anachronistic packages design or disturbingly arachnidistic wildlife – just a small sampling of good ol’ fashioned vacation photos.

    …Hey, get back here!

    Here’s a shot of the back room of a junk store in a creaky old three story house. This place was pretty amazing. I could have spent my entire trip perusing its various and sundry wares but the storekeeper and, eh, my driver had gotten into a heated political discussion that threatened to erupt into something involving either us getting riddled with buckshot or, worse, me being intentionally overcharged for that vintage linen Tichnor Bros. postcard I found.

    Speaking of buckshot…

    Back at the ol’ homestead, we relaxed ’round back with some honest-to-goodness moonshine (true!) when my host, eh, Janko we’ll call him, spotted a woodchuck in the pasture below. Such creatures, while undeniably cuddly to the naked eye, are a danger down on the farm: they dig holes big enough for a horse to put a hoof in and break a leg – and then you’ve got to wait on them hand and foot for weeks!

    Woodchuck sighted, Janko headed inside, lay his rifle on the window sill and took aim. (Look carefully at the edge of the house.) Don’t worry, PETA freaks, the little bastard scampered back into the woods before he got off a shot. And that’s the true story that only my, what, six readers will ever know.

    I’m showing everyone else this photo and telling them it was just another day in the 160+ year-old Parsnips / McCoy Feud.

    Speaking of shocking backwoods surprises (it would have been, for the woodchuck, if he’d stayed around another minute)…

    It’s nearly ten miles of long, long rural hilly road from my Hill, Virginia lodgings to the business center of town – your Walmart, your Lowes, your Peebles and so on. In-between? Pretty much nothing but idyllic farm country, populated by peaceful gladefolk and their God-fearing cows. …Except for one tiny convenience store a mere quarter mile from the inn, and very recently opened, right next door, this place:

    To find a dollar store here of all places had me laughing out loud in a most delighted fashion. Ha Ha ha, I laughed, delightedly. I was further enchanted to hear it being advertised on the crazy talk radio station the innkeeper forced me to listen to six hours each day. (I need to start reading the fine print on these Groupons.)

    So of course I had to drop by. What was even more awesome was that the store is owned and operated by  Sam Drucker!

    Naw, I’m kidding.  But that would be cool, right?

    For the record, it was run by a very nice lady.

    Speaking of a very nice lady…

    …there was this lady.

    One day I went into town to sample some of the region’s famous, down-home, country-style, free-range, cornfed Wi-Fi. And what better place to try it than Wendy’s? As you know, I’m a big fan of Wendy’s. And as much as Los Angeles is a disgusting toilet where most of its quick-serve (industry term) restaurants are staffed by hopeless morons, LA Wendy’s are always a cut above the rest. Still, it struck me that this sort of plaque, just inside the door of the Hill, Virginia Wendy’s, is something you’d just never see in Los Angeles. It is therefore quite charming and deserved to be recognized photographically.

    Dorothy, you were like a grandmother to me, and I never met you.

    Speaking of Wi-Fi, and by extension, checking one’s email at Wendy’s,  a pal wrote, in part, “Oh my God they have candy corn Oreos!!! I am now officially living on these things!!! Breakfast, lunch and dinner!!! Do yourself a favor and buy a few cases today!!!!!!!”

    I don’t have the email handy, so he either wrote exactly that…or implied that he was mortified like any normal person would be. (I can’t remember which it was.) Not being normal myself, I was intrigued. Walmart is in the same shopping center as Wendy’s so I headed right over. Once inside, I visited their Oreo aisle.

    Nothing! Two hundred forty-seven different varieties of Oreos, but none flavored or colored like candy corn. Clearly they don’t exist and I had been the victim of a clever prank. Nice one, friend. I worked through the disappointment, humiliation, pain and ensuing depression by buying, and consuming forty-three bags of these things instead.

    Speaking of disappointment, the chief cook and bottle-washer at Field View Tavern closed the local watering hole for the day and took the whole family to the national historic landmark, Natural Bridge, despite insisting it might be a big let-down. Here’s me and the wife & kids:

    Oh, wait, no no no – my mistake! That’s just the image on the attraction’s webpage.

    Ha! Like I would ever allow a child, much less two, to clamber all over me. And I wish my wife were that attractive! (Don’t worry – like the rest of my family and close personal friends, she never reads my blog!)

    Anyway, our hostess, Katarina we’ll call her, sure, emphasized on the way there that Natural Bridge might be rather anticlimactic. That it could be potentially underwhelming. “Don’t get your hopes up, brother,” she cautioned me. “This ain’t the Tillamook Cheese Factory Tour!”

    Indeed, I was disappointed. I was hoping for some tacky overblown tourist trap to snap photos of to mock later on my blog, and it turns out that the damn natural bridge was spectacular!

    Look! Look!

    The only solace I have in you seeing this now is that you really can’t appreciate the goddamn scope and majesty of this thing from a mere photo. It’s a lot bigger in person. And the snack bar didn’t sell cheese curds.

    Speaking of cheese…

    All that viewing (and oohing) Natural Bridge helped us build up a healthy appetite. Lunch was at a 50s-themed diner, where I probably had a cheeseburger. (Ugh, these segues – they seem like a good idea at the beginning…)

    Anyway, outside the diner was this happy fellow.

    Like you, when I think of the 1950s and diners, I think of the 1933 film, King Kong. (Although sometimes think of the stunning 1976 remake.) I shouldn’t bother even mentioning the 2005 version, as this thing looks like it’s been here much longer than that.

    I asked my Hill, Virginia Bed & Breakfast innkeeper, Janko, to stand below the legs so that you might see the monster’s enormous scale. To no one’s surprise, he used this opportunity to make a most inappropriate gesture and the resulting photo is, alas, unpublishable.

    Speaking of unpredictable hairy creatures…

    …meet Country Whiskers, who of course is the cousin of beloved and oft-referenced Mr. Whiskers. Much like Mr. Whiskers, Country Whiskers runs into elaborate shots I’ve spent hours setting up and ruins them just as I press the shutter on my expensive blogging camera. In this case I was trying to photograph my shoe, when suddenly the cat darted in, rubbed his cat head-pheremones all over them, and then was off  again, just as quick as you please, to hunt field mice, a local delicacy. For cats.

    …Oh, what the hell – you love him, I love him – here’s another pic of ol’ Country!

    Hey, this is nothing! I’ve got one where I’ve picked ‘im up and he’s got his nose buried in my armpit. (Sorry, saving that one for this year’s Christmas card.)

    Speaking of whiskers, horses have whiskers too, prickly whiskers on their chins (just like Nana Parsnips, actually). Anyway, one day we went to a horse show!

    People in the country love horse shows because it’s their first chance to see what the horsamotive industry has planned for next year. We had a fine time looking at some of the 2013 models, including the new Hershrolet Equusnox.

    Seen here is the LX model – anti-deerfly tail-swatter (not seen) comes standard!

    Of course we saw a lot of amazing concept horses as well, some with crazy features – in-saddle GPS, self-hitching autorider technology, glucose boosters which propel the rider from zero to gallop in 3.8 seconds with just the push of a sugar cube into the horse’s mouth. Who knows if and when any of these things will ever be available to the general public, but it’s fun to see them.

    We weren’t supposed to take pictures of any of the concept horses, but I managed to snap one quick shot when we were leaving:

    The engineers had a great time with this one: They’ve managed to make an invisible* horse. First they created a skin made of tiny glass beads only 50 microns wide that doesn’t absorb light but rather lets light waves wrap around the horse itself. That got expensive real quick so they just ended up painting stripes on the damn thing and having it stand in tall grass.
    *to predators

    Speaking of tall grass, which is a plant, let’s talk tobacco which is also a plant. When you drive through the glades of Hill, Virginia, you’re going to see a lot of these things:

    Now here’s some history for you: These are tobacco shacks.

    They were used to dry tobacco, which used to be the area’s main crop. But they’re mostly abandoned because in the 1970s, the Government bought out most of the tobacco farmers in the area; that is to say, they paid them enormous amounts of money to no longer grow tobacco, making every single resident of Hill, Virginia filthy rich! Even the town drunk could buy and sell you a hundred times over, you better believe it.

    So guess what: An overreaching, over-spending government trying to change the behavior of its citizens didn’t start with the current administration! I’m as surprised as you are! Also, there will be no further discussion because as I have said before, this is not a political blog!

    Anyway, these tobacco shacks – dotting the landscape as they do – are wonderfully bucolic and slightly spooky; and like you, I presume every single one of them is haunted.

    What’s that?  ‘Wrap it up’…? You mean I’m over ten photos already…? But I’ve got like eighty more to go! I didn’t even get to the damn cows!

    My producer is telling me we’re running long, and we need to finish here.

    Where was I?  …Tobacco shacks…all probably haunted, scary…ah yes!

    Speaking of things that are scary…

    When traveling, I always try to book the seat farthest back in the plane – er, when I’m not flying first class, that is. Anyway, on one flight, from Roanoke to Chicago, I had about the last four rows to myself. (The, eh, family, they flew home ahead of me. Sure.)

    Since I had my expensive blogging camera with me and there was no one around me to bother, why not take some shots for that elaborate photo library I’m creating in hopes of building my fortune? (Forget buying gold! Licensing fees for generic photos for online use is where the real money is!)

    So there I am sitting in the back of the plane, snapping photos of stuff like this:

    Eventually, the flight attendant came up to me and asked me why I was taking photos of the inside of the plane.

    “Um, I have this blog, see…?”

    It never occurred to me – naturally angry-looking white male that I am, with that severe crewcut I for some reason insist on, traveling alone, on September 10th yet – that taking pictures from the back of the plane might somehow might raise a red flag.

    Surprisingly, TSA didn’t meet me as I deplaned.

    Frankly, I’m a little disappointed. Imagine the spike in traffic to this site if that had happened!

    Posted by on September 22, 2012, 7:25 PM.

  9. Mutual of Roanoke’s Wild Kingdom! Of Spiders!

    YESTERDAY, friends, I promised you a little something. Or rather, a bunch of big, hairy, evil, deadly somethings, plural. And today…? Well, today I deliver.

    Because as I find out again and again, over and over, on each trip there…

    Now understand this: I saw a good deal many more than I photographed. But after a while, you become desensitized to the horror. You go numb. You’re in a constant state of shock. Your fingers are trembling too much to work the knobs and dials on your blogging camera.

    That or you’re running for your goddamn life.

    Look at this monster. And I pray to God you’re not eating.

    On my screen the damn thing is life size, and I have a big screen. Oh, some will claim it’s a harmless orb weaver – a common garden spider that keeps down the pest population. I ask you: If this is the good guy, what in holy hell must the “pests” be like?! And did you get a good look at those pedipalps?!

    Next up – and I warn you, it just gets worse – is this eight-legged spawn of Satan:

    Again – on my computer – about life size. Consider yourself lucky if you’re looking at this on a smartphone. The body alone was the size of a big ripe cherry tomato, which was ironic because he and his extended family were living…

    …in a large garden of cherry tomato plants. And among my chores while visiting was to pick cherry tomatoes for the salad for dinner! (The website said “charming bed and breakfast;” it was more of a socialist granola-y hippy commune. Everyone had to do their  share of the work all while singing folk songs about Obama. On the plus side, clothing was optional.)

    Anyway, let’s go in for a closeup of that particular behemoth.

    As you can see, it’s a little out of focus. My hands were shaking. Yours would be too.

    Like I said, I had to reach in there and pluck off cherry tomatoes roughly the same size and shape as these spider’s abdomens, or as they’re scientifically known, bloated venom sacs. Thank God I finally got that cataract surgery last year or I probably wouldn’t be coming home with all eleven of my fingers intact.

    Onward! We need to get through this, gang. We’ll be stronger people for it if we do. Yeah, keep telling yourself that.

    Check out this obscene colossus of hair and legs:

    I honestly don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing that moments later, a huge wasp appeared, attacked and stung it, and began dragging its lethargic, paralyzed body into a hole. (True!) Because that brings up the issue of the other entomological wildlife in Virginia, this veritable statewide Jurassic Park for insects. But more on that later.

    Have a look at this unholy beast:

    Disgusting. And not merely because he still hasn’t redeemed that Groupon to have his webhole bleached.

    I’m pretty sure this is the same bastard from the second picture in this photographic essay (industry term). There were easily dozens of this particular repulsive and horrifying variety all over. Some were just easier to photograph than others. And might I, once again, point out those pedipalps? This vile creature could bench press a freaking cicada.

    I alluded to other heinous bugs. These leaping hellions, for instance:

    Is it just me or does the one on top, with its abhorrent insectoid features, somehow manage to look indignant at being photographed? (But, hell, if such glares were enough to detract me from snapping pictures of hideous creatures furiously engaged in an unholy act, my Tumblr page of fat, bearded men in their sixties in the bushes at San Onofre wouldn’t be getting so many hits, right?)

    Where was I? Ah yes – walk across the lawn and these foul creatures fly up all around you in enormous numbers. I, and now you, can’t help but to find it amusing that in such a God-fearing part of the country, these locusts are busy procreating in anticipation for when the Creator orders up a new plague. (As though the never-ending profusion of stinkbugs He’s already sent wasn’t enough!)

    Speaking of Him, what in God’s name is this abomination?

    Don’t bother answering. No one knows. Apparently I’ve discovered a new species of freaky, disgusting bug with a tail nearly the length of its reptilian body that we must assume is razor sharp, stronger than steel, and can puncture flesh and bone to deliver a deadly toxin – for which there is no antidote – directly to the heart. I shall name it Musca colubrus daemonus ted parsnippus, or Ted’s Demon Serpent Fly. Why don’t one of you get started on the Wikipedia page for it for me?

    Virginia doesn’t just have gigantic spiders, locusts and stinkbugs by the truckload and Ted’s Demon Serpent Flies™, oh heavens no, that would never be enough. Jesus. It also has those coronary-causing house centipedes.

    From US Department of Agriculture Chief Entomologist Charles Lester Marlatt’s 1902 masterwork “Circular #48 – The House Centipede”:

    Now you know why I stopped wearing women’s clothes.

    And don’t even get me started on the horrifying monster locally known as the “bell hornet” or as it should be known, the “Hell Hornet.” And I’m capitalizing it to show it respect.

    Once again – on my computer screen…? Life-size, folks. Life-freakin’-size!

    Now I’ll say this: It’s unclear exactly what type of evil, stinging monster bedevils the good glade-people of Hill, Virginia because “bell hornet” is indeed a regional name for this winged horror – the few references to “bell hornet” I can find online seem to be from folks in this part of the state (which is kind of refreshing, right – that local colloquialisms still exist, right?). The above photo is actually of a European hornet, from a European website, taken in the proud country of Europe.

    But everything I’ve read about these malevolent European giants dovetail (hornet-tail?) with what I was told as well as witnessed firsthand in Virginia – they’re enormous, they destroy apples right on the tree, their sting burns for days, they are active at night and attracted to light – and the ones I saw looked just like this!

    The relaxing tranquility we were enjoying one evening at local hotspot Field View Tavern was shattered by the sudden and house-shaking pounding on a sliding patio door – a bell hornet looking for fresh victims. Disaster was thankfully averted before the glass gave out only when one of the proprietors managed to scare it off with a crossbow. But they knew the hornet would be back. Hopefully, they’ll again be ready for it.

    I think we’ve cleansed our palate enough. Back to the spiders.

    The lion’s share – or lion spider’s share, if such a spider exists, and I think at this point we can all presume it does exist and lives in Virginia – the lion spider’s share of enormous Virginia spiders will of course be found in the state’s copious fields and meadows, where they don’t bother building dainty little frou-frou webs but rather actively stalk their prey – insects, field mice, voles, woodchucks, livestock and, yes, in the cases where ranchers have developed a tenuous but symbiotic relationship with the ferocious arachnids,  the occasional trespasser.

    Don’t believe me? Well, then just try to step into that yonder meadow there.

    I reckon you won’t make it past the barbed wire.

    Posted by on September 13, 2012, 11:18 AM.

  10. Of Spinnehunds and Stinkbugs!

    AS YOU KNOW, each fall the Parsnips head to the glades of Hill, Virginia for a few days of horrifying spider-peeping. We usually go in October to witness the herds of magnificent, nightmare-inducing Daddy-Long-Legs descending from the mountains for the coming winter. But Courtney is on a stupid field hockey team and has stupid field hockey games almost every weekend next month and so apparently now we’re supposed to rearrange our entire vacation schedule around the “needs” of our children. (This is exactly why I haven’t encouraged Jacob to join anything at school – I’m not making that mistake twice!)

    So we missed out on the Daddies (thanks, Courtney), but by going early, we were there for the tail-end of their now summer-long Stinkbug Festival!

    It started off just a few years ago as “Stinkbug Days” but as this adorably pungent and hardy invasive species has multiplied exponentially and adapted to Virginia’s climate, it was decided to extend the event all season long.

    Look! Look!  Way off in the distance, beyond that cluster of trees, you can see the festival’s famous stinkbug-shaped blimp!

    The blimp takes folks up over the thick, black clouds of swarming stinkbugs to get a “stinkbug’s-eye view” of all the damage this mischievous little fellow has done to the local soybean crop, decimating the area’s economy. Adorable!

    We followed the airship to the fairgrounds where we enjoyed stinkbug tea (actually just iced tea a few stinkbugs fell into), stinkbug chili-cheese fries (regular chili-cheese fries a handful of stinkbugs clumsily dive-bombed onto), stinkbug funnel cakes (apparently they got into the batter), and a local delicacy -  fresh, raw stinkbugs (technically, a couple just flew into Jacob’s mouth when he yawned).

    What a wonderful time! Even getting stranded at the top of the Ferris wheel for three hours in the scorching sun and steaming humidity – after a mega-cluster of stinkbugs, attracted by the heat of the engine that powers the ride, crawled into the motor and irreparably burned it out – couldn’t dampen our spirits!

    Ah, memories to last a lifetime. (Nearly a week later and Courtney’s still pulling the little marmorated guys out of her hair.) But as delightfully malodorous the stinkbugs were, we were in town for the gross and enormous spiders.

    Brother, we weren’t disappointed!

    First thing you want to do when heading out on a Virginia spider safari is you want to rent a spinnehund from a local doggery. Don’t be fooled! Its small size belies its fierceness and bravery.

    These animals have been specially bred to fearlessly run into Virginia’s vicious field spider burrows and roust them out. They’re quick, too – much faster than the spiders they go after – and this breed has, over generations, developed a tolerance for Virginia field spider venom, should an angry arachnid manage to get its disgusting, hairy pedipalps on him. What would instantly kill you or me only temporarily stuns the small but brave spinnehund.

    This particular breed has been developed to also wrangle the more aggressive Virginia road spider. His coat helps him to blend into the pavement so the eight-legged bastard cannot see him as easily. Can you find our rent-a-dog in the photo above? Oh, look carefully, he’s there!

    With our trusty spinnehund packed neatly away in my napsack (A misnomer, really – there’s no napping with gigantic and deadly Virginia spiders around every corner. In fact, once you come face-to-pedipalps with one of these ferocious and bloodthirsty creatures, you’ll likely never sleep again) we were ready to see some spiders! Big, nasty, disgusting spiders! And hoo boy, we did!

    Tomorrow: Spider gallery!  Oh yes – there will be pedipalps!

    Posted by on September 12, 2012, 12:03 PM.

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