“I think you work harder if you’re haunted by some
small darkness,” says John Darnielle. And if the work he’s produced is any
indication, Darnielle is one haunted man.
Across several albums with his band, The Mountain Goats,
Darnielle has written distinctive lyrics that are gloomy and full of wry humor.
Lately, his storytelling has taken a different form: novels. His latest, Universal Harvester, takes place in the
late 1990s in a small town in Iowa. Its main character, Jeremy Heldt, is still
grieving for his mother, who died six years earlier in a car accident. He’s
working as a video store clerk when he makes an unsettling discovery: Someone
has been splicing weird, dark and sometimes violent home movies into the
I dare you to tell another story from the apartment
ALRIGHT BOYS GIRLS AND EVERYONE WHO THINKS THE GENDER BINARY IS FOR SQUARES IT’S STORY TIME.
Today, we’re going to talk about the time Paul’s desire for superior firepower turned into a mini arms race that ended with me setting Eric on fire with a homemade flamethrower.
No, Matt Boomer, you sexy motherfucker, I am not kidding you. Let’s begin with some details.
So when I was at the University of Iowa, several people, including myself, bought Nerf guns for impromptu battles in the hallways when we had free time. Mostly this was all good, clean fun, except for two of the guys down the hall, my roommate, and I.
We all thought, rightfully so, that factory built Nerf guns are bullshit. They’re weak, darts are too fucking light, the barrels cause too much friction, which makes them inaccurate and slow, and you have to re-cock them after each shot. That’s some fucking bullshit right there. So we fixed it.
We bought new, higher tensile springs. We bought PVC pipe and lubricant. We put BBs in the tips of our darts, and my roommate and even put in a second spring to automatically cock the gun, essentially turning them from bolt action pieces of shit into semi-automatic friendship-ruiners.
So when I moved back to Chicago, and into the apartment, I obviously brought my Nerf guns (my roommate gave me his when we moved out), and I obviously attacked my roommates the first opportunity I had. OBVIOUSLY this led to everyone buying Nerf guns and modifying the shit out of them.
However, some of us were terrible shots, so certain measures had to be taken to make it possible for them to keep up. Brad practiced in his room every day, Josh built an extended clip for his gun, and Kyle bought the fucking Vulcan and built a 600 dart belt for it because he decided aiming is for people who can’t fire 6 darts a second (he modded it for doubled firing speed using a small car battery and replaced mechanics).
And then there was Paul.
Paul was fucking terrible. Like almost so bad it couldn’t be for real. He once tried to ambush me coming around a corner from 2 feet away and missed by a good 6-7 inches. He literally could have slapped me and he missed. Whatever moving on.
So Paul decides to solve his aim problems in the most Paul way possible: online shopping. He bought 500 foam pellets for a marshmallow gun, two dozen foam discs, and a motherfucking t-shirt cannon.
You see, Paul, much like Kyle, decided aiming was for lames. So he would pour foam pellets into the cannon until it was half full, slip in a disc to keep them from falling out, then shotgun people in the face. I was his first victim and boy let me tell you that shit is terrifying.
So Paul became the big dog in the house during Nerf battles, and the rest of us found ourselves unable to compete. So we all escalated in our own insane ways. Eric and I, the former champions, modified our guns to fire faster, Brad added an extended magazine to his gun, Kyle built a harness so that he could shoot his fucking stupid fucking bullet-storm piece of shit while moving. Josh booby-trapped various parts of our apartment. Suddenly, we were all better than Paul again, so he decided to step his game up.
He started making paper cartridges that would explode open once fired. Suddenly, he could actually fire multiple times a minute, which meant once again, he was at the top. It didn’t help that our reluctance to shoot back out of fear of getting shot was allowing him to take his time, therefore drastically improving his aim.
So we stepped up again. I smooth out the cocking mechanism on my guns, improving my firing speed even faster. Eric adds more weight to his darts, making them heavier and faster and much more painful. Kyle buys a bigger battery, newer parts, and he perfects his belts, which increases his firing speed to 12 darts a second.
So Paul steps up to take advantage of his improved aim and buys something called a Pucker Chucker which basically is a t-shirt cannon except it shoots foam pucks. This means we can’t just shoot at him from the other side of the apartment anymore, so we all step up again. I modify the rail on top to make aiming easier, Eric modifies his grip to make it more comfortable, Kyle and brad modify their barrels to make them more accurate, and Josh jumps on board the crazy train and builds a goddamn under barrel cherry bomb launcher.
And this is where shit starts to spiral out of control.
Brad starts making smoke grenades, Kyle solves his weakness against close quarters combat by using his battery to create a cattle prod to keep people back. Eric breaks the head off an old golf club to use the shaft as a weapon, I put pins in the tips of all of my darts, and Paul realizes that the Pucker Chucker can also shoot real hockey pucks after he steals my bucket of pucks from my room.
So it escalated a couple more steps but I’m going to leave them out partially out of a desire to keep moving forward and partially out of shame anywhoozle when we pull out our final contraptions and modifications that day we shifted from light-hearted fun that was a bit too far to literally combat. Josh had a sword. I don’t know where he got it from.
That battle was terrifying. Our normal fights were like an hour, two hours tops, then we would clean up, get together in the living room with some beers, and laugh about what happened. Honestly we should have known this was going to happen because when we did this after our previous fight, the laughter was less “haha remember when I shot Josh in the butthole? Classic.” and more “haha remember when I missed your face with that puck? Next time I won’t miss.”
So we somehow get into a battle again and this time things go south quickly which is bound to happen when you have a dude in a speedo swinging a sword around while rolling fireworks down the hall. It was literally chaos. There were fireworks and homemade smoke grenades and Kyle made the electrical current in his cattle prod too strong and it was too close to the muzzle of his Vulcan so every few seconds you would just see a flaming dart wiz past and I built a fucking flamethrower and I don’t know what the fuck is going on so I’m just firing it in the general direction of Josh to keep him the fuck away. At some point Brad barricades himself in his room, and so we all run back to our rooms and hide.
We do this for three days. THREE DAYS. I missed classes. We all had junk food in our rooms, and private bathrooms, so that’s what we sustained ourselves on for three fucking days. I, however, try to eat healthy, so I ran out of food almost immediately. After not eating for a day and a half, with food literally less than 50 feet from where I was hiding, I decided that I was willing to risk a trip to the kitchen.
So here’s something important about our apartment: I was the only one who knew how to cook. I had tried to teach the others, but all that had accomplished was several kitchen fires. This meant when Eric also ran out of food, he knew the only way to get a meal was to make peace with me. So he had snuck down the hall to my door, intent on asking me for help.
I did not know he was there.
So when I opened the door and saw a crouching figure in the shadows nearby, I assumed, I think justifiably, that it was the guy who had been swinging a sword at all of us the last time I saw him. So I pulled the trigger on my homemade flamethrower, only to see Eric’s horrified face illuminated by the flames for a split second before they hit his torso.
Luckily, I was using a scavenged fuel source (computer screen cleaner), so the flames were weak, but still fire is fire and fire fucking hurts. So Eric is rolling on the floor with first degree burns on his stomach and chest, and I’m freaking out because Eric is my friend and I just set him on fire, so there is now a lot of screaming coming from the hall.
Now, to lighten the mood slightly, here’s a personality test. You hear the sounds of fire, followed shortly by screaming coming from the hall outside your room. What do you do?
Do you assume the crazy sword guy has finally snapped and is going to kill you all, so you climb out the window onto the fire escape? Congratulations, you’re Brad.
Do you hear the cries of pain and grab a first aid kit before sprinting into the hall to help? Hey! You’re Kyle!
Do you hear the flames so you sprint into the kitchen to grab the fire extinguisher? You are Paul.
Do you come out into the hall to see what’s going on but also bring your sword just in case you have to stab someone? You are Josh and also mentally unstable please put your sword away.
So Kyle comes out and he and I start administering first aid and luckily through a combination of the weakness of my fuel source, how quickly I stopped the flames, and the quickness of our treatments, Eric only gets some first degree burns on his torso. Paul puts out the last of the flames, Josh decides he doesn’t want to stab anyone today, and Brad decides that the lack of screaming is a good thing and he comes inside. I spend the next hour apologizing profusely while cooking everyone dinner, and we decide that hey we should probably have some rules for our Nerf fights to prevent this from ever happening again.
So we all eat, we establish rules about modifications and ammunition, and at the end of it all, we grab some beers, head into the living room, and tell Josh he needs to get rid of the sword seriously dude where did you get that from?
This week’s feature is a throwback to fieldwork done in 2014 at the University of Iowa’s Hubbard Park, in front of the Iowa Memorial Union. On what historically an alley between Lots 1 and 8 (now the grassy lawn you know as Hubbard Park), an auger test (110–120 cm below surface) yielded a token reading, “Des Moines Hardware Club” and “State Hardware Convention Des Moines 1907.” There is a high probability that this object relates to the Corso family, who lived on Lot 1 from 1895 until at least 1922. The family worked as fruit dealers and confectioners; it would not be too unusual for this type of store to also sell hardware items. Indeed, Antony Corso’s sister (Josephine Rinella) sold fruit at Iowa City’s “Thomas’ Hardware Corner” at least during 1909 (Smith 1909). The rust on this token was removed using electrolysis - running electricity through water.
To ancient peoples of the American Southwest, a macaw’s brilliant feathers weren’t just adornments. They were status symbols and spiritual emblems — so precious, in fact, that macaws were kept in captivity and deliberately plucked of their plumage, new evidence suggests.
Macaw skeletons from three prehistoric pueblos in New Mexico bear signs of feather harvesting, according to analysis presented on 31 March at a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Vancouver, Canada. But the skeletons also hint that the macaws’ handlers went to great lengths to care for their demanding charges. “People were doing their utmost to keep them alive,” says Randee Fladeboe, an archaeologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville who analysed the macaw bones.
Archaeologists studying the ancient Native Americans called the Puebloans and nearby groups have found macaw bones and feathers dating from ad 300 to ad 1450 at sites ranging from Utah in the American Southwest to Chihuahua in Mexico. It is likely that many of these birds were imported; there is scanty evidence of macaw breeding, except at one Mexican site, and many macaws are tropical. The highly prized scarlet macaw (Ara macao), for example, lives at least 500 kilometres to the southeast.
Fladeboe examined the wing bones of 17 scarlet and military macaws (Ara militaris) from three pueblos. Fifteen of the birds had small bumps marring the upper surfaces of their wing bones.
A macaw’s flight feathers are rooted in the bone, so pulling them out can cause bleeding and infection, Fladeboe says. Multiple infections, or a combination of infection and malnutrition, lead to bumps like those on the skeletons. Macaws do sometimes yank out their own feathers, but the ancient bones show traces of multiple feather loss along their entire lengths and on both right and left wings. To Fladeboe, it seems unlikely that 15 of the 17 macaws she studied would strip themselves so methodically.
Happy May Day!
Photo [altered slightly by me]: Postcard from the 1913 May Day pageant at Iowa State College in
A synopsis of the festivities was provided in the ISC yearbook:
“Early in the morning as dawn begins to break, low, sweet strains of
music fill the air. After it is full daylight the winds and the clouds
come up, followed by a heavy storm with flashes of lightning. Soon The
Trumpet Flower awakens the flowers by a blast of her horn, and they
appear two at a time.
afternoon, the sun still shines, Columbia, who has been recently crowned
queen by Robin Hood, welcomes her cousins, peasant girls from Ireland,
Scotland, Hungary, Italy, Holland and England. Each of them does a characteristic folk dance for the entertainment of the new queen. Some
of the flower children give the Maypole dance just as the sun goes down.
"Immediately after sunset, the flowers go to bed and the queen holds an informal reception for her cousins and the friends among the flowers.”