If a man is attacked by his tent in the forest, should he make a sound?

Our family loves to go camping. In fact, we make sure to get out and pitch our tent — without fail — once a year.

Traditionally, this takes place during the busy Labor Day Weekend so that as many people as possible can witness a 46-year-old man being attacked by his own tent. In my defense, I have to say our tent is very large; especially when it is laying flat on the ground.

If I hadn’t lost the step-by-step instructions that came with it, I’m sure the assembly process would be a lot easier because, as a man, I could use them to, step-by-step, blame everything on having lousy instructions. What this means is that over the Labor Day Weekend my handiwork will again be mistaken for a hot air balloon that has crash-landed into our family’s camp site.

I bought this tent 20 years ago while living in Texas. As you know, everything is bigger there — including tents — which is why I tried to find the smallest model available. This turned out to be a tent called Quick Camp, which was a handy, two-compartment structure roughly the size of a jet hanger. Despite its size, the salesman assured me that the assembly process was very simple. He said that the entire thing could be erected in less than 20 minutes with a little planning.

And he was right.

As long as the plan includes staying out of the tent.

For some reason, it collapses on me every time I go inside. I’m not talking about an inconvenient buckling of the walls; this is more like an instantaneous implosion of water-resistant nylon that required the assistance of a search and rescue team:

“Listen up! Team ‘A’ will start at the west quadrant near the mosquito netting. Team ‘B’ will take the dogs and follow the perimeter until we can —”
Woof! Woof!
“Quick — over HERE! I think someone’s moving under this giant door flap!”

In spite of these experiences, I still feel it’s important for our family to go camping together. That’s because, as a parent, I know our kids really hate it. I mean, sure — it’s pretty exciting while Dad is flopping around under 200 yards of nylon. But once that’s over, and I’ve decided that we’re all going to sleep out under the stars LIKE REAL PIONEERS! they begin to realize that everything they know about civilization has been left behind.

And by “everything,” I mean cell phones and television. In the primitive world of camping there are no Smart Phones. No X-Boxes.

There is only dirt.

And time.

And if they’re lucky, enough fire to cook a marshmallow.

Eventually, as the shock of not having their devices wears off, children enter what I feel is the most important phase of their camping experience: Realizing that we, the parents, are the key to their survival. This epiphany starts the moment I pull out the old camp stove, give it a few pumps, then light the picnic table on fire. In that instant, the only thing that matters is reaching out together as a family and finding the nearest fire extinguisher.

So, during Labor Day Weekend, if you happen to be in the neighborhood, feel free to stop by our tent.

The rescue team could probably use your help.

(You can write to Ned Hickson at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore., 97439.)

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Save water by fixing that leaky light switch

The great thing about shows like Extreme Home Makeover is that they inspire ideas on how to improve your home. The bad news is that people like me then try to implement these ideas without the benefit of a trained professional. The result is our bathroom, which currently has a commode with hot running water and a wall heater that can only be turned on by unscrewing the third bulb in our vanity mirror.

I’d like to point out it wasn’t my idea to take what had been a simple plan to increase the space in our bathroom and turn it into a major remodel. However, after one teeny mistake, my family insisted on a total makeover — which brings us to our first home improvement tip: The Importance of Bearing Walls.

You will discover that there are certain walls in your home — possibly even in the bathroom — which should not be removed because, as it turns out, portions of your home will collapse. As important as “bearing walls” are to your home’s infrastructure, they aren’t marked as such and, as a general rule, look just like other walls in your home. Which is why anyone who accidentally removes one, thereby inadvertently causing the total destruction of an otherwise functional bathroom, should be forgiven for this oversight.

So, let’s assume the worst happens, and you find yourself standing in the middle of the downstairs bathroom while surrounded by the upstairs closet. And let’s assume your family, in a show of support, still hasn’t insisted on hiring a professional. Such as a hit man.

The next step is to rebuild the bathroom — and your family’s trust — as quickly as possible. To do this, you’ll need organization and a basic knowledge of plumbing and electricity. If you don’t possess this knowledge, don’t worry! You will quickly gain it through practical experience, i.e., connecting the wrong wires and practically electrocuting yourself. Through this process of trial and error you will eventually be able to flush the commode without causing the outlets to spark.

The first step, however, is to clear the area of debris. Depending on the extent of damage to your bathroom, you may be able to do this quickly and easily by shoveling the debris directly through the floor and depositing it under the house. If a hole doesn’t exist, feel free to make one. If your spouse catches you, feel free to crawl inside and seal it up behind you.

Once the room has been cleared, it’s time to rebuild. Start with the bearing wall. Aside from its structural significance, it will symbolize the emotional healing process you are trying to foster with your family — and help avoid the need for a physical healing process should the bathroom be out of commission for more than 24 hours.

Next comes plumbing and wiring, which, I’d like to point out, should never been done at the same time. Sure, it may be faster and easier to run new wiring through an existing water line. But take it from me: If your pet occasionally drinks out of the commode, it’s not worth the risk. The same goes for any other shortcuts that could turn your morning bathroom visit into what looks like an episode of So You Think You Can Dance.

That said, I hope this advice has been helpful. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I’ll be happy to answer them as soon as I fix this leak in the light switch.

(You can write to Ned Hickson at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or visit his blog at nedhickson.wordpress.com)

Going on Safari? Always bring a chimp for back-up

We’re going on Safari! … uh, wait… No we’re not. Someone get the chimp from tech support!!

At this moment, someone at Apple is undoubtedly being rousted out of bed to address the fact that my Safari web browser suddenly crashed without warning.

This probably hasn’t happened to you. At least not since starting this paragraph. But it happens to me a lot, especially while reading the latest news on the presidential race, when I often find myself snoring face down on my keyboard.

But when I awake, there is a helpful pop-up window telling me my Safari application has unexpectedly quit, just in case I wasn’t aware of this, and was continuing to pound the space bar like a chimp trying to open a coconut.

I would never do that, of course. We have an IT department fully capable of pounding the space bar for me. Assuming “Chim-Chim” isn’t busy throwing yesterday’s lunch at someone.

Regardless, there are always three options in the pop-up window to help resolve the situation: close, reopen and report. Without getting too technical, I will explain how each of these work:

Close: After clicking on this option, your Safari window closes much the same as it did on its own, usually while in the middle of a critical banking or Fantasy Football transaction, except with the added satisfaction of having done it to yourself;

Reopen: Clicking on this will reopen your Safari window, providing you with an opportunity to blink before blankly staring at the same three helpful options again;

Report: I could be wrong, but I suspect this works much like crosswalk buttons, which are spring loaded and connected directly to …

Nothing.

Their sole purpose is to provide pedestrians with something to do until the light changes every three minutes ANYWAY, regardless of how many times they pound the button into the light pole.

Because of this suspicion, I have never actually used the report option until this morning when, in an act of desperation, I clicked on it and suddenly heard cars crashing in the crosswalk outside our office.

Ok, not really. But I was promptly given an official looking window to write in, along with an equally official send to apple button to click.

At the bottom, in small print, I was assured no personal information would be sent with the report, nor would anyone contact me a result of submitting it, thereby making it nearly impossible for someone named “P-Ram” to track me down and take my computer.

To be safe, I decided to keep Chim-Chim with me anyway.

Looking at the text window, there was limited space for my report. Being a journalist, I am used to using words usefully, and not just filling space with useless words that might otherwise be used for something useful, to wit I wrote:

Hi. I’d like to report that Safari stinks.

Satisfied that I accurately described my problem to the folks at Apple, I pressed the send button.

The response was almost immediate. The question is how long I should let Chim-Chim pound the space bar.

Loosen up with the help of bio-engineered yogurt

It’s that time again when I am faced with the difficult task of sorting through news tips sent in by readers and, after careful consideration, deciding whether to change my mailing address. Based on what I’ve received over the last several weeks, it’s clear that in the wake of events like the economic rollercoaster, the growing momentum of the presidential elections and North Korea’s recurring threat to become a nuclear power “Capable of rivaling the U.S., or at least parts of New Jersey,” there has been one subject on the minds of readers from California to Alberta, Canada. And that subject, as you’ve probably guessed, is “irregularity.”

Thanks to the many sharp-minded readers who send me the kinds of articles that the “bigger,” more “professional” news sources with “computers from this decade” and “ a staff of two or more people,” won’t cover, I have received multiple tips about an important nationwide study sponsored by the Dannon Company, which concluded residents of Orlando, Fla., are — and we’re not pointing fingers here — the most constipated Americans in the country.

In fairness, some say the study is inconclusive since, in many cases, researchers, who were stationed in fast food restaurants throughout Orlando, were chased out by security before many surveys could be completed. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that Ex-Lax is kicking itself for not conducting the study first. According to Dannon, the 50-city survey was conducted to promote its floundering Activia yogurt, which is designed to help Jamie Lee Curtis with her irregularity.

Admittedly, I’m no scientist, but I think I can explain how Activia works. Let’s say I’m visiting Orlando. Naturally, I become constipated almost immediately. Following the advice of my hotel maid, an observant woman who has noticed my toilet paper has remained sealed for the last three days, I purchase a tub of Activia yogurt and begin shoveling spoonfuls into my mouth at a rate generally reserved for super-sized meals. Nearing the completion of my yogurt, I read the side panel on my container and discover I have just consumed a product which describes itself as “specially designed to survive passage through the digestive system, arriving into the large intestine as a live bacteria culture.”

It is in this moment — while poised with a mouthful of fruit flavored, bio-engineered bacterium — I can feel Activia working to eliminate my constipation by effectively scaring the — [fecal matter] — out of me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no organic health food crusader. Truth be told, I have nightmares about the world’s tofu supply becoming self aware. The difference is that tofu’s rise to power will come naturally, based on its own merits, and after the development of what I suspect will be a large curd army.

Man’s fall from the top of the food chain will be through the process of “natural selection,” and not the result of bio-engineering gone wrong within — and I’m speaking purely in metaphoric terms — mankind’s collective large intestine. Unlike tofu proliferation, we have a choice when it comes to ingesting stool softening bacteria.

One solution? Climb a glacier.

According to a study conducted by Alaska epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin, one in three climbers who ascend the Kahiltna Glacier are stricken with diarrhea. Again, like the makers of Ex-Lax, executives at Charmin are kicking themselves.

My point is this: Solving Orlando’s constipation crisis by introducing bio-engineered yogurt, in my opinion, seems a little drastic. Especially when we could take a more “natural” approach by providing Orlandons with an ice pick and sending them up a glacier.

I tried contacting Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer about this. Unfortunately, all the lines were backed up.

(You can write to Ned Hickson at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore., 97439)