Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tim Magazine's Decade in Review

I think I've used "the two-thousands" the most frequently as the tagline for this past decade ("zeros" is even worse), but that term doesn't flow the way "eighties" or "nineties" does. I suppose "teens" is a slight upgrade, even though we're not really in the teens for three years.

Anyway, just a few happenings and observations from my shallow pond over the dawn of the new millennium:

1) George Bush thrust himself upon our world for eight years.
OMG. LOL. I've finally just begun relaxing that specific muscle group that used to tighten every time he spoke.

2) Digital music changed my life.
Finally, I didn't have to purchase the entire Barry Manilow CD; I only had to download...maybe, Mandy and Copacabana. Okay, I downloaded the whole CD.

3) My wife earned Bachelors and Masters degrees and currently teaches fifth grade.
All along the way, she never sat back and basked in her accomplishments; she pushed forward. It's great to see her doing what she loves.

4) My daughter's elementary school nearly closed, due to budget cuts.
This was my inaugural attempt at persuading elected officials, and only after speaking with five school board members, did I realize that they put on their Dockers one leg at time like everybody else. And just as a side note, I spotted the superintendent at the Nordstrom Rack yesterday, along with her husband. They appeared quite happy, which is nice.

5) My sister's novel was published: Also Known As Harper, by Ann Haywood Leal.
This was another life-long dream realized during the past decade by a family member. The book's target audience is fifth to seventh graders, but it's a great read for young and old alike. Also Known As Harper is available online and at most bookstores other than the adult variety.

I'd like to know other folks' favorites for the decade are, so if you feel like it, comment here or email me with your highlights and/or lowlights.

Well, I'd better go. 2010 is on call waiting.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Trevor's new job

Trevor was doubt about it.

His brand new boss was just returning from a long vacation, and Trevor harbored no misconceptions about the workload he was about to take on. He'd be logging longer hours than ever before.

"How do I look?"

"You look fabulous," she replied.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. I've told you a million times. Remember, we bought you an entirely new wardrobe for this, and we ranked each outfit. Today, you're wearing Outfit Number One."

"You're right. I do look good. But what if all the new people don't like me?"

"They'll love you. Not as much as I do, of course, but you'll be a hit there and you know it. Oh, look, here comes your ride."

Trevor still couldn't believe that this huge perquisite was part of the deal. They went outside and met the driver as he opened the door.

"Morning, sir."

"Good morning," Trevor mumbled, shivering slightly in the chilly morning air. "So, you'll actually be picking me up and dropping me off every day?"

"That's right, sir." Hop in."

Trevor glanced slowly over his shoulder. She stood three feet away, betraying a misty smile of pride.
"Don't worry, honey," she said. "You're going to love Kindergarten."

The little boy nodded slowly, turned and gingerly boarded the school bus.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My back wants to know how your neck is doing

I think I'm now "of an age."

I joined some of my oldest friends for a ten o'clock Seahawks game this morning. The three of us have known each other for around thirty years (since we were teenagers), but we haven't met up for the past couple. We decided to find the absolutely "diviest" (pronounced diy-vee-ist) bar available for a Sunday morning rendezvous with Seattle's fraternity-flag-football-league-worthy Seahawks, and we found the perfect place online. The reviews elaborated upon "strong drinks, decent food and a local clientele." Sounds perfect.

When we united, the place was closed, so we caravanned up to a casino in Tukwila, Washington. The establishment was odd; every gaming table was attended by a card dealer, yet the bar was attended by no one. We waited for about ten minutes, and finally inquired of one of the nine idle dealers as to the whereabouts of the barkeep. "He's on smoke break, " Number Three replied.
I thought, "He must be smoking a about five Camel Ultra-Longs in a row, because it's taken twenty minutes. Finally, he showed up and we got the necessary accoutrements to continue our morning,

As I mentioned, my two friends and I hadn't seen each other for a couple of years, and we possessed no agenda for our conversational subject matter. However, the chat immediately focused on each of our respective health statuses:
"I'm not sure if you knew this, but I had surgery on my back last year."
"Really? I tore my meniscus."
"I've been having neck issues."
"How's your (eighty-year-old) mom?"
"She's doing great. How's your (seventy-six-year-old) dad?"
"Never better. In fact, he's on a cruise right now. Did I tell you about this mole that's changed color?"
"No. Let me show you this thing on my..."

That went on for about an hour. In the end, though, we had thirty years of ground to cover. It's not like you merely cover the past two years; there's also material from the 70s, 80s and 90s to retouch upon. I sometimes forget how certain people share certain experiences with you, and those happenings dredge up laughter from a part of your solar plexis you forgot existed.

We finally arose to leave from the uncomfortable barstools. I'm sure, as we walked three abreast to the front door, a witness to our collective profiles could make out three steps on the evolutionary chain, from Cro-Magnon to Neanderthal to Human, as we gingerly straightened our upper bodies and bounded toward the exit.

Great to see those monkeys.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A few Christmas wishes

God rest ye merry gentlemen, and women. Here's a quick listing of people to whom I'm wishing some holiday rest, clarity and peace of mind.

1) To my family: Thanks for another year putting up with me. I'm surprised your eyes are still in their sockets from the endless rolling.

2) To the children of Barrack Obama, Tiger Woods, Jon and Kate and the balloon hoax couple: I hope things are going okay, because you didn't sign up for all of this.

3) To my co-workers: As you know, the fashion retail industry never sleeps, but it does occasionally offer free shipping.

4) To Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and others who stew inside the right-wing crock pot: May you be visited by the spirits of tolerance, reason and empathy.

5) To my brother-in-law, who is currently deployed to Iraq, and my friend, who awaits a trip to Afghanistan: Hold your heads high, but keep your heads down. You each epitomize bravery and sacrifice.

6) To my sister: I see a Newberry Award down the pike.

7) To Canada: Thanks for being the neighbor who keeps his yard mowed, and not the one with the meth lab.

8) To my brother: Even though you're a Republican, it's understandable because you hit your head on our rusty swingset when you were eight.

9) To the beer industry: I love you more today than I did when we first began our relationship.

10) To all of my Facebook friends: I wish I knew what you're doing right now. 

11) To my dad and step mom: You are living examples of love and generosity.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Love me some SuperMall

Every year, my wife and I vow to avoid it at all costs. Let's patronize local business. Let's make purchases online. Let's get gift cards. Let's stay away from the malls.

So, naturally, on Saturday, we found ourselves marching like penguins into the SuperMall of the Great Northwest, perched atop an expansive swath of formally fertile farmland in south King County, Washington. We had some loose ends to tie up for Christmas, so we broke down. How hard could it be on the Saturday before the Big Day to buy a few small gifts?

My daughters, like most kids, love shopping malls—so many bright, shiny widgets and woozles to compete for their adolescent greenback. I once asked my older daughter why she loved the mall so much.
"Because there's cool stuff."
"Like what?"
"You, know. Stuff that's cool. Oh, never mind."
I guess my frontal lobe isn't quite evolved enough to comprehend shiny things.

Actually, our purchasing went just fine until we decided to stop at a pretzel stand for a couple of plain, unsalted pretzels. It's a fairly healthy mall snack, I thought, as I scanned the massive menu.
"Could I get two plain, unsalted pretzels, please?"
The girl looked at me like I'd asked for a slice of her spleen.
"Did you mean two Plain Pizza pretzels? They're really good. It's just a Cheez-Whiz-filled pretzel, inside a pizza, inside a pretzel, all topped with pure creamery Butterish. Or there's our Meat Lover's pretzel, which is mostly pork products, all twisted up with bits of Bacos, which are cemented on with pure, creamery Butterish."
"Umm, actually I wanted just two, regular, unsalted, unButterished pretzels. Do you have those?"
"Let me check. No, I'm sorry. But you can get a Fudgy Wudgy pretzel, and whittle off the fudge."

By that time we were off to Orange Julius.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Raised on urban myths

"Hey, Dad. I'll bet if you stare at those lights long enough, you'll go blind," my nine-year-old proclaimed.

I've stopped arguing with her. It doesn't do any good, and she'll just dig in further and further.

Last night, as we drove back from an early Christmas celebration with my daughters' grandma, we passed under a large bank of landing lights leading to the runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

"Those are probably almost as bright as the sun. And you definitely will go blind staring at the sun. It doesn't take very long."

I quietly retorted to my wife, "Yeah. Just like you'll die from tetanus if you don't get that shot every time you go to the doctor, because you can never remember the last time you got a tetanus shot."

As our family continued on in silence, I pondered all of the untruths, all of the myths we're inundated with throughout our lives. It starts when we're young, and it originates from our parents:
"Don't cross your eyes like that. They'll stick."

And our peers:
"If you eat Pop Rocks and drink Coke, your stomach will explode."
"If you swallow gum, it stays in your body for seven years."

It continues on to more outlandish tales, especially during junior high and high school:
"Did you hear what Richard Gere did (please research this on your own)?"
"Be really careful if you go to Las Vegas, because people are waking up in tubs of ice without a kidney."

I believed each and every one of these at some point. Fear seems to usurp logic, and only when you really examine these do they seem completely absurd. Okay, my eyes have sort of stuck in a cross-eyed position and that Richard Gere thing—well, maybe. But how does gum magically leave your body after seven years? Through a large, time-generated pore in the epidermis? How do you wake up at all if someone rips a kidney from your torso? I'm sure some of our best criminals are accomplished surgeons.

As we rolled into the driveway, I still couldn't make up my mind on the last of the nagging legends, the one which seemed utterly plausible, yet outlandish nonetheless:

Was Mister Rogers really a Navy Seal?

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Winter Pageant: A little American pie

Some random observations from my daughter's elementary school annual Bake Sale and Winter Pageant:

1) The bake sale was a bit sketchy. One kid, who was obviously someone's little brother or sister, insisted on taking money and handing out treats, without the napkin buffer on his grubby, little paw. His brownie-encrusted face wasn't much of selling point, either.

2) Another little kid decided his goal for the evening was to stare at me. Do I have a Barney-shaped birthmark on my face or something? The first time, the little dude held a vanilla cupcake while unflinchingly scanning me for about seven minutes. He repeated this behavior two other times throughout the evening. Security?

3) When moms gathered to chat with each other, they stood face to face. Dads stood in semi-circular groups, as if a quick escape route was mandatory. They seemed to float in and out of listening to each other and scanning the room, while the mothers seemed much more engaged in their conversations.

4) Once the show ensued up on the cafeteria stage, each class possessed at least one show-off, who emoted to his parents' embarrassment, and one wallflower, who only sang while hiding behind the Washington State flag.

5) The style of the children's attire spanned the spectrum. Some kids looked like they were dressed to appear on a Trinity Broadcast Network fundraiser, and others appeared to be recovering from hernia surgery.

6) The music instructor almost jumped out of her skin trying to herd all of the singing tempos together. Her face glistened with that type of perspiration that springs from stress, not exercise.

7) My teenage daughter, seated beside me, betrayed a look of sheer boredom and pain. An hour without texting privileges is obviously similar to an hour of water boarding.

The show also had a heaping helping of cuteness, giggles and forgotten lyrics. And hey, what's a good secular holiday pageant without a few Christmas songs?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Confessions of a sports parent

And so it began.

A swarm of parents and their five-year-olds milled about at the elementary school play field on a Thursday evening in April, anxiously anticipating the outset of their kids' inaugural, organized sport—T-ball. The children mostly appeared the same, wearing their Christmas ornament-sized baseball gloves, their hats balanced askew on downy, little noggins. Most of the adults, especially the dads, looked far more intent than their offspring, and I should have known, upon spotting that one kid wearing a full Seattle Mariner uniform, that her dad was ready for some serious vicarious livin'.

That was ten years ago; ten years since my daughter and I reported for her first practice. During that time, my teenager has involved herself with (and I'm sure I'm missing a few here) thirteen basketball, two softball, three baseball, four volleyball and six soccer squads. We've tried to keep everything low key, to give her opportunities to play a sport without dedicating her life to it. I'd be willing to wager that the five-year-old in the full Mariner costume continued on into "select" or "premier" team situations, where the financial outlay and time commitment are similar to Harvard Law.

I've had to consciously attempt to not be the stereotypical sports dad, and it's really been a challenge for me to abstain from imparting wisdom from my own stellar high school athletic career upon her. Bruce Springsteen sings about an ex-jock constantly reliving his high school sports exploits in Glory Days. Well, that's me if I don't check myself or my wife doesn't shoot me an electric-cattle-prod stare. On occasion, I've had conversations with my young scholar-athlete which go something like:

Me: "Zoe, did I ever tell you about the game where I had two interceptions?"

Zoe: "Yeah."

Me (ignoring her): "Well, it was the fourth quarter and our team desperately need a turnover and..."

Zoe: "Dad. You've told me this story fifty times. What's for dinner?"

Me: "Let me just tell you, Zoe, the lesson here is that when you get knocked over, you get back up..."

She's now left the room.

I attended her first high school game last week, and my emotions bounced around the gym like a worn racquetball. I was proud. I was nervous. I became furious at the kid behind me who said the team sucked. I flashed back to all of those Saturday afternoons watching a swarm of seven-year-old chasing a ball around like a cat in a dog park.

My eyes welled up a little when Zoe stepped onto the court. It came out of nowhere, a throbbing throat lump, followed by a slightly quivering lower lip. As I watched her sprint up and down the court, an overwhelming truth emitted from her and burrowed its way into her father's oft-inflexible gray matter: she's having fun.

And that's when I finally relaxed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Falling for Christmas

As of today, the holiday season takes up a greater portion of everyday living than that huge chunk of Heath bar in a single spoon-full of Ben and Jerry's; it's Christmas full-speed-ahead.

My family and I shifted into Yuletide fifth gear yesterday. We trekked out to a tree farm east of Issaquah, Washington, along with every sixth vehicle on the freeway. Only on the second Saturday before Christmas can someone get caught in a traffic jam to a rural, King County two-lane arterial, stuck behind other urban families hoping to grasp a country Christmas somewhere other than the Waltons special on the Hallmark Channel. It's a strange tradition we have: driving 45 minutes, walking through a field, sawing off a well-manicured, adolescent fir tree, and paying $60 for the privilege.

I think the best part, however, is the conversation we had on the way out to Trinity Tree Farm. For some reason, my younger, nine-year-old daughter was locked in on Judy Garland.
She recently watched The Wizard of Oz, and was interested in the starlett's subsequent life.
"Dad, is Judy Garland still alive?"
"No, she died a long time ago."
"How did she die?"
"She overdosed on pills and alcohol."
"I don't know. She just had a troubled life."
"Did the men in her life take advantage of her?"
This was my chance to drive a moral home run over the fence, by saying something like, "Yes, so don't ever get involved with men. They're a bunch of selfish monkeys and they're nothing but trouble."
But I didn't. I think I just said, "I'm not really sure."
So at the end of the day, with the tree set up and the house festively trimmed, day one of our holiday boot camp was complete.

Enter, stage left, day two—a visit with Santa Claus. It's another tradition we've had for the past ten years. We join our friends in downtown Seattle for a visit with Saint Nick, who just so happens to reside in one of America's premier fashion retailers, also based in Seattle, whom I won't mention by name since they've employed me and provided my babies with shoes for the past eighteen years.

As we scrambled to get out of the house this morning, I hurriedly pulled our portable dishwasher into the kitchen. I was wearing some shoes that I got a screaming deal on at the previously unmentioned retailer, but they're about a half-size too big. Hence, the clown-shoe effect forced the tip of one of them under the dishwasher as it moved along the floor. I illogically kept pulling, thinking I could yank out my foot without missing a step. Wrong again.

Have you ever tripped on something, and experienced a moment where you realized that you're actually going to hit the ground, so you positioned your body to cushion the fall? That happened to me this morning. I remember thinking, "Whoa, okay, I'm okay. Nope, nope. I'm going down." Since my toe was trapped beneath the dishwasher, my only option was to land on my shoulder to avoid slamming my head. It made a huge thud, and one daughter came to see if I was okay, while the other laughed hysterically. I won't say which was which, but I know which one is going to visit me in thirty years after I break a hip.

That's how my day began, so by the time we got in to see Santa, I was ready to move on to Valentine's or Saint Patrick's Day. It didn't help that Claus was a little cranky himself, saying, "Okay, that's enough pictures, folks. We've got a four-hour wait outside. Ho, ho, ho!"

I think Santa might have closed down the casino last night.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Christmas present Hall of Fame

I've spent the past couple of lunch hours shopping for my family's Christmas gifts. I especially enjoy buying the kids' stuff, as it reminds me of the quirky, non-adult presents which only the young are interested in requesting. With that in mind, I've compiled the top ten Christmas gifts I've received (all during those formative years between Zero and Twenty):

10) Superman pajamas—I know, they're just pajamas, but I've always been a sucker for a cool logo, even at four years old.

9) A silver trumpet—My parents wrapped up an old, rusty trumpet without a case and watched me feign excitement at the sticky valves and bent bell. Then they discreetly slid the shiny, new instrument next to me after milking as much anxiety from my sixteen-year-old psyche as possible.

8) Electric football—A lot of people probably don't know what this is, but its a metal board that vibrates and moves two opposing teams around in random patterns. I loved it, and my mom spent all night painting tiny Ram and Packer uniforms on the miniature, plastic players.

7) A KISS album entitled, Love Gun— At thirteen, I wasn't yet savvy enough to know the true connotation of the title, but I'm sure my parents did, and they bought for me anyway.

6) Ten-speed bicycle— It wasn't the Schwinn Continental that I desperately desired, but it was all my parents could afford, and I learned some new words while watching my dad assemble it.

5) A Los Angeles Rams jacket— I loved that coat, especially after "accidentally" stumbling upon it in my parents' closet two weeks before Christmas.

4) Fright Factory—This was a little machine put out by Mattel, which cooks "goop" into scary, rubbery figures, like skeletons and shrunken heads. At age six, I also discovered that it could melt army men like the Wicked Witch of the West.

3) An AM/FM clock radio— At age 12 (1974), it opened up the world of album-oriented rock. Say hello to Led Zeppelin and goodbye to the Carpenters (at least for a while).

2) A Steve Martin album, entitled, Let's Get Small—I don't want to sound overly dramatic, but this record changed my life. My friends and I memorized the entire album, and from that point on, I turned my back on the knock-knock joke.

1) Pong—now there's no debate how much I'm dating myself. And I'll still take it over a Wii any day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

One kid's Christmas

Santa: Ho, ho! Hello, little boy. What's your name?

Kid: Walter

Santa: Well, Walter, how old are you?

Kid: Eight.

Santa: Walter, have you been a good boy this year?

Kid: Most of the time. I hit my sister with her Hannah Montana bobblehead back in March, and last month, I made a sock monkey out of my mom's nylons.

Santa: Anything else you want to tell me?

Kid: Umm, oh, I also learned the seven words you can't say on TV. They're sh...

Santa: Ho, ho! That's okay Walter. I'm sure you must know them. And Santa's familiar with those words himself. I've used a few of them when a reindeer or two hit me in the beard with a special present as we're speeding through the evening sky. Ho, ho!

Kid: Santa, I feel like I've been telling you all of my sins for the year. What's the difference between you and a priest?

Santa: Well, Walter, there's one major difference. If I were a priest, you wouldn't be allowed to sit on my lap like this. Ho, ho! Anyway, what would you like for Christmas this year, Walter?

Kid: Uh...nothing, really.

Santa: Nothing?

Kid: Not really. My parents give me an allowance, and I already own a Wii, a Wii Fit, an XBox, a Game Boy, a Game Cube, a Sony PlayStation, an iMac, an iPod, an iPhone, and for my last birthday, they bought me an IHOP.

Santa: Well, Walter, why did you come to see me then?

Kid: Because I love Christmas. I love the songs, I love the tree, I love the cookies...and I love you, Santa.

Santa: Walter, you're quite a young man. Why don't you stick around a little while and maybe pass on your philosophy to some of these other kids?

Kid: Okay, as long as I can just pass you notes. I don't want to play the heavy here.

Santa: You've got yourself a deal, Walter.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How the cable Grinch stole Christmas

I like the word "special." I like it even more when it's used as a noun, as in "Christmas Special." And since we're now fully absorbed into the 2009 holiday free-for-all, I've been doing a little reflecting about how the seasonal television specials have evolved over the years.

Like most of us in our forties and beyond, I was raised watching TV on the floor. It wasn't because our family room lacked furniture; on the contrary, the couch often sat unoccupied. No, the reason I flopped down onto the shag carpet was to position myself as closely as possible to the television dial. No remote, you see. So, back during TV's golden age (the 1970s), immediately after Thanksgiving, every night witnessed an encampment in front of the idiot box, with the main fare offered up by the big three networks: NBC, ABC and CBS.

I classified the holiday shows into three tiers:
Tier 1: Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. These programs required rescheduling of any other events which may have caused conflicts.
Tier 2: Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. This pair is also very solid, but if you had a dessert potluck to attend, you may choose to opt out.
Tier 3: All of the variety shows offered up by celebrities of yesteryear, such as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Andy Williams, John Denver or the Osmonds. These usually had more cheese than the log with the crackers on the kitchen counter, and I only watched them in a pinch.

Since my kids really don't observe my old TV traditions, I decided to research what the networks currently broadcast, and there is so much more goodness to be had. TV is just wonderful these days, and these gems only prove the point. Keep in mind, these are actual shows:
-Victoria's Secret Holiday Fashion Show—hmm, seems like it's too cold right now, but, whatever.
-Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July—two words: no way.
-A Boyfriend for Christmas—no comment.
-Holiday in Handcuffs—believe it or not, this is on the Disney Family Channel. Hopefully, it's not based on some kind of Manson family reunion.
-Comfort and Joy—sounds more like an adult diaper ad than a feature-length special.

I guess that's a representative sample. Please...enjoy.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Airports: such big fun

Since my previous post expounded on our experience at Mickey's Land of the Lost, I've decided to take this opportunity to analyze the "bookends" of any major vacation—air travel.

Airports and airplanes provide their own unique cultures, and to the less-experienced traveler, this strange landscape can prove to be quite stressful and disquieting. The minute I enter any airport, I can almost smell the anxiety. People lean unnaturally forward as they walk, almost willing their upper bodies to reach their destinations at the earliest possible moment. My entire family was guilty of this as we navigated the airport's highways and byways, picking up our pace to a feverish gallop. It wasn't until I gazed behind me and spotted a hazy nine-year-old pulling a pink suitcase in the distance, that I wiped the sweat from my brow and waited for my daughter to catch up.

My perspiration dried to an aspic-like consistency as we waited in the inspection line, and then cooked back up to full viscosity as we piled our earthly belongings, including shoes, into the nasty, gray tubs at the x-ray station. A friendly greeting to the blue-uniformed TSA man was met with cold indifference, and we fumbled to accumulate all of our stuff before getting trampled from behind. We found our gate, sat down and waited to be called, as my sweat again coagulated like a 7-11 burrito which had been nuked, frozen, re-nuked and placed on the counter of a lukewarm kitchen.

Once we boarded the jet, another scramble ensued, as everyone staked out an overhead bin like they were homesteading a new plot of land in the Oregon Territory. The guy in front of me hoisted something extremely awkwardly into the compartment. His face betrayed a crazed grin as he stuffed and slid and pushed his quarry into the plastic receptacle, and if I hadn't examined him more closely, he would've appeared to be shoving a small deer into the compartment ( it!).

Finally, the melee died down and the plane sailed off smoothly. I always find a sliver of humor in the pilot's voice as he introduces himself to the passengers and details the length of the trip, weather patterns, etc. I understand that he aims to convey calmness and confidence to the more anxious among us, but he usually ends up sounding like the host of All Things Considered or Morning Edition. The pilot's spiel ended, the flight attendants strolled through, handing out the requisite salty snacks, my feet and ankles swelled up like Johnsonville Brats, and we eventually landed without incident.

I won't delve into the details of the return flight, but upon arriving at our home airport, we fell in with several soldiers in the gate area. I watched them, as some studied the departure/arrival board, obviously unfamiliar with the area, and others appeared to know exactly where they were. We walked parallel with one enlisted man, and as we rounded the corner into the main concourse, there stood a five-year-old boy with a huge red, white and blue sign, which simply read, "Welcome home." A woman stood behind the boy, and her face immediately transformed as she recognized her uniformed husband. She burst into tears as three people blended into one elated mass of emotion. I'd seen reunions like this on the TV news, but nothing projects the profound sacrifice these people are making like watching it happen right in front of you. My wife and I immediately teared up, and I almost clapped, but thought better of intruding on their private moment.

At that point, all of the mundane irritations of vacation travel vaporized, and I was just glad to be home.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Try not to let "It's a small world" stick in your head all day

Time for a little decompression from the happiest place on earth (except maybe Baskin-Robbins).

I'm Disneyed out...absolutely and totally. If I hear another burly security guard wish me a "magical day," I'm going to pop a Goofy-sized blood vessel. If I spot another three-fingered, oversized, white glove wave in my direction, I'm going to smuggle in Bugs and Daffy and the Tazmanian Devil and some other Warner Bros. tough guys to perform a little extreme makeover on Donald's beak.

Okay, maybe I'm being a little bit harsh about Disney nation down in Orlando, Florida. It was great to meet up with my sister's family and experience the thrills of the Magic Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios. We arrived on probably the busiest day of the year, or Black Friday, when most of America, with the exception of the retail sector, enjoys a day to shop for consumer items, purchase the consumer items and consume those consumables.

I marveled at the acres of strollers and other wheeled devices dominating the landscape. Some magic-seekers were downright aggressive with their "Little Rascal" electric, adult scooters, carving a swathe through the throngs, blocking like four-hundred-pound NFL tackles to clear the way to some frozen banana paydirt. I also witnessed a very heavy-duty rented stroller roll up the back of a guy's heel. He wore a yellow Pluto cap and was also pushing along his young child, but the sharp Achilles Tendon pain must have impaired his judgment, as he barked out, "Son of a bit*h!" to the horror of the pilgrims to Mickey's Mecca.

My younger daughter and I split off from the older family members to check out "Mickey's Toon Town." Cool place, especially with the architecture mirroring the warped, animated look of illustrations.
We ducked into a place to check out the "Disney Character Hall of Fame," since we believed we'd see some old memorabilia and animations, you know, like a museum. We slogged through a long line, probably for about forty minutes, and then, finally, we reached the entrance, which read, "Disney Princesses."

"Sounds good," we conferred with each other. "Disney's had princesses forever, so there should be a lot of good stuff."

The doors opened, and we walked into a single room with three bays. Standing in each bay, respectively, were Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Belle. We're talking about three twenty-something women, who stood there, talked to the little kids and had their pictures taken with them (for a fee). Thoughts of a warped, Disneyfied, red light district rang through my skull against my better judgment, and my daughter and I gave each other "You've got to be kidding me" looks and ducked hastily out. "No way, Dad," she whispered to me. Seriously, the room looked like a huge, kindergartener's backpack. Forty-five minutes wasted.

I'm dwelling way too much on the glitches of this place. The rides are fabulous. Whether it's Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain or any of the other gut-wrenching thrills, we weren't disappointed. I heartily recommend central Florida as a great place to find some eighty-degree weather in late November. And just a side note about the town of Orlando—we shopped at a grocery store where the Pop Tart section was larger than the produce area. I've got pictures.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Just cover it all with gravy.

Thanksgiving is a strange phenomenon. Oh, but I do enjoy it, a lot.

It's a secular, American (and Canadian) event, so it's a bit off the world's radar. It's all about food; no cards, no gifts, no putting your screaming two-year-old on the Turkey's lap for some keepsake photos.

In my opinion, Thanksgiving's featured brown food items are absolutely the finest combination of flavors to grace grandma's dusty china. Ever since my childhood, I've only swum in a sea of Thanksgiving brownness. Turkey? Of course. Mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing? Another scoop, please. Green beans, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes? No thanks, but I'll take a roll.

Of course, opting for these foods as a child validated the phrase, "You are what you eat." As I've mentioned in previous posts, I was a bit too short for my weight, and when it came to this particular holiday, I became a little self-conscious when convening with folks I only saw once a year. I'm sure many of us remember walking into a house full of friends and relatives, who would size us up the second they laid eyes on our one-year-older stature.

My family loyally attended the yearly feast at my Aunt Lilas' house. I loved entering her warm kitchen, the aromas of all the brown food sprinting to embrace my olfactory senses. There, waiting in the living room, were my cousins, aunts, uncles, and this guy who I'll call "Rusty." He was always the first to assess my corpulence, with such phrases as "I guess you're a little on the fat side, huh?"

Rusty really had no room to talk. He was one of those guys who had to make a decision about where his pants' waistline would fall.

He had to choose between:
1) Belted, above the stomach, with most of the belly encased within the trousers' crotch area, or
2) Belted, below the gut, thereby necessitating a smaller waist area, but with the entire stomach sagging over the pants, with the shirt straining to remain tucked in.
He chose option 1).

I tried not to let Rusty's comments hurt my feelings, and it certainly didn't curb my appetite for that awesome, brown, Thanksgiving fare, except for one year. My grandpa had just had a heart attack, so my aunt decided to provide a healthier spread. The brown stuff disappeared, except for the turkey and the pumpkin tartlettes. Yes, tartlettes. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I celebrated silently the following year when the traditional stuff returned.

And the day would have been a lot less stressful had my sister and I not been required to say grace. I always knew it was coming, so after deflecting whatever comment Rusty had to serve up, I dreaded that the prayer would follow shortly thereafter. I'm sure Donny and Marie performed for their relatives all the time, but I would have preferred just telling everyone that my sister and I had already belted out, "God is great, Good is good..." on the way over in the car. In other words, we had pre-prayed.

Oh, well. Happy Thanksgiving, and embrace your inner brownness.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My heroes

Life is fragile.

I frequently lose sight of this tenet.

I sleepwalk through my mundane routines, trying to attain maximum efficiency with minimum emotional strain or effort, and often become obsessed with nagging, unimportant concerns:
- Did I leave the heat on when I left the house?
- Is my parked car going to roll down this hill because I didn't face the wheels toward the curb?
- Did I forget to wash the reds on the "cold" setting?
- I really need to mow the lawn and get the oil changed and replace that light and buy some cat food and...

And, naturally, my obsessions transfer over to my kids, especially my fourteen-year-old:
- Why can't she remember her house key?
- Can't she just once remember to restock the soda when she takes the last one?
- She has a dresser for a reason. The clothes basket is not a furniture item.
- Her bedroom light isn't a star which only gets turned off at the red dwarf stage.

Yesterday, I was liberated from such thoughts. My older daughter developed a medical issue, which seemed fairly routine initially, but then became much more of a concern when her doctor couldn't diagnose the problem and sent us to the hospital for some tests.

It was a day of worry and uncertainty, but it was only a day. Everything turned out okay.

At that juncture, I was left to ponder where parents find that strength when faced with their children's life-threatening and  -altering events. A couple of weeks ago, I drove by Children's Hospital in Seattle, and just watching cars enter and exit the facility nearly made me well up. The word, "hero," gets tossed about with impunity; it's especially overused in the athletic arena, but to me, those sick kids and their parents are heroes.

After yesterday's reality check, I resolved to not let the little stuff matter as much. For example, when the fourteen-year-old gazes up at a flock of migrating birds, and says, "Wow, there must be a lot of birds in the South. Oh, I guess there's a lot of South, too," I won't give her that "Did you really just say that?" look. When she flips a coin and says, "Dad, call it. Heads or...or...opposite of heads," I won't roll my eyes.

I'm just really glad she's okay.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Full-immersion training in the fourth grade culture

I took the day off work today to perform every parent's civic duty—I accompanied a gaggle of fourth graders on a day-long field trip to the Pacific Science Center.

I consider myself quite familiar with one particular fourth grader, but we're talking about an entire grade four culture here, a synergy not present within the confines of the home. As I entered Room 21, I immersed myself in the sensory stimuli: the smell of chalk, disinfectant and Eau de Nine-Year-old; the economy of space, with every square inch occupied by artwork or bulletin board exhibits or well-hacked computer keyboards; the chair and desk legs, which wore sound-absorbing tennis ball slippers.

As the kids got themselves organized for the day, the teacher walked over to me and explained that, since many of the students had never been to the Science Center, they believed it would be boring. She pointed out that "boring" to a nine-year-old encompasses anything they don't yet know or understand. "Now that make sense," I thought. "I think she might know a little something about this strange culture."

The teacher quickly took the attendance, and then asked the kids if they had any questions about what they'd be doing.
"Can we go to the French bakery for our next field trip?" asked someone named Katie. "Because we went there on Saturday, and it's really good."
"That's not on our schedule for this year," the instructor replied. I could have sworn her lips said, "Hah, what a ridiculous question. Hell, no," just prior to her seasoned-teacher answer.

We filed out of the room and lined up for the "chartered" school bus. I noted that a glaring trait common to this odd nine-year-old culture is an inability to keep their hands off of each other. The boys head locked, punched, slapped and rammed into each other. The girls picked each other up, hugged and put each other down.

After we boarded the bus and took our seats, the driver stood and forcefully asked for everyone's undivided attention. He laid out the basic rules—no standing up in case of sudden braking, keep your voices to a reasonable volume, pay attention to the emergency exits. And then, he spelled out the last directive as follows:
"Parents, teachers and staff, please notice that the bus is equipped with a hand-controlled air brake right here next to me. Please don't hesitate to use it if I pass out or something. Okay, let's have a good time."
Pass out or something? Or something? A dull murmur arose among the crowd of children and adults, but it didn't take long for the kid faction to notice something shiny and move on. We adults chewed on the driver's disquieting statement for a while, but eventually we too began to "have a good time."

We arrived at the Pacific Science Center uneventfully—meaning, no major medical event for our chauffeur. I was assigned a group of four girls, including my daughter, and we embarked on our own journey of discovery through an animation exhibit and an amazing art display by a man named Chris Jordan , who uses tiny, photographic imagery to create large art pieces critiquing American consumerism. The kids and I spent a lot of time scrutinizing his work, and left the exhibit feeling moved.

Over the course of the day, I gained quite an appreciation for:
-the intelligence and insight of fourth graders.
-the dedication (and insight) of teachers.
-the fact that "or something" never happened while going fifty miles per hour over the Alaskan Way Viaduct in a school bus.

And since tomorrow is Saturday, its time for a little field trip to the French bakery.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Inquiring minds

It's completely my fault. I never should have let her pick it up.
It sat harmlessly, face down on my friend's coffee table. It caught her eye—possibly the glimmery sheen of the paper stock, or maybe the colors which had been carefully calculated to grab the consumer's attention.
But she picked it up...her first tabloid magazine.
I didn't think much about it at first, but after about seven minutes, the questions began emanating from her nine-year-old mouth:
-"Dad, did you know that Jennifer Anniston is going to get back together with Brad Pitt, who only has a month to live, so she can have the baby she's desperately wanted for years?"
-"Dad, did you know that Tom Cruise is eighteen years older than Katie Holmes, but that doesn't matter, because he's reached a level of immortality through his religion that can only be found through communicating with volcanoes and contributing seven-figure sums to his 'church'?" (Okay, I made that one up.)
-"Dad, Reese Witherspoon is finally happy, and thinner than ever. Do you think she has anything to do with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups?"
-"Dad, did you know that Bill Clinton has been secretly divorced from Hillary for twelve years, and he's been living sinfully with a former Arena Football League cheerleader, who used to be an Arena Football player?" (Okay, I also fabricated this one).
My point is—she can't get enough of this stuff now, and if it's in print, it's gospel. We used to grab a pack of gum at the "impulse buy" area by the grocery checkout, but now she begs for The Star, or Us or the National Enquirer with a ferocity that betrays any embarrassment accompanying such a request.
Beach photos of Oprah? Got to see 'em. Images showing Osama bin Laden working in the men's hosiery department of the Yakima, Washington, JC Penny? What a scoop!
I've tried telling her that this stuff is all created to sell magazines, that the more unbelievable the subject matter is, the more the people love it. She merely shrugs it off with something like, "Dad, if it weren't true, why would Safeway sell it to us?"
Touché. But then again, how true is that pudding that doesn't need to be refrigerated?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sick puppies, part III

Today, a parental first: A day of nursing duty for not one, but two, sick children.
The drama began Sunday morning. As I slowly, ever so slowly, gained consciousness after about ten hours of awesome slumber, my fourteen-year-old daughter's bedroom door slammed open. An unnatural,  guttural barking noise followed, trailed closely by the din of water cascading onto the oak floors of the hallway.
Since my nine-year-old plays the role of Action News reporter for anything happening around the household, she quickly bellowed out, "(This just in!) Dad, Zoe's puking! Dad, Zoe's puking!)."
The reporter afforded me absolutely no time to reply, given the frequency of her Paul Revere-like updates. I rushed out to the hallway to witness Zoe expelling the contents of her being in terrible, shaking throes. I wasn't sure whether to approach her and gently rub her back, or provide her the space to maintain a bit of dignity. She hunched over a mere four feet from the bathroom, but it may as well have been a mile away, as this single plot of the hallway had already been established as grocery-gargling ground zero.
Lauryn stood just out of sight, around the corner, much like a gazelle gazing on with curiosity as one of the weaker herd members gets mauled by pack of hyenas.
Finally, the onslaught subsided, and she staggered over to the couch, collapsing into a heap of pale exhaustion. I felt terrible for her, as any parent would, but that didn't stop me from sprinting to the basement for the "barf bowl," a huge, stainless steel industrial bowl, which, if necessary, is capable of containing the unfortunate by-product of an entire fraternity's initiation celebration.
The remainder of Sunday went as might be expected—with the rest of us attempting to gauge Zoe's body language and breathing in order to predict future expulsions. She really didn't need our help, as she became quite attuned to the warning signs, but that didn't seem to detour us from "(insert echo) Vomit Watch, Two-Thousand Nine, nine, nine)."
And then, of course, just before bedtime, her younger sister began coughing and took on a flushed, feverish appearance. She professed to having chills and hot flashes, and rather than diagnose her with the world's youngest case of menopause, or maybe just an attention-grabbing ploy, I steered the well-used thermometer in her direction.
101-degrees later, the Tim Bed-and-Breakfast was open for business, with free saltines for kids under fifteen.
These two kids have each had both H1N1 and regular flu vaccines, but obviously, influenza wears more outfits than Barry Manilow.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I think I broke my hipster

At the risk of sounding really old and really stodgy, I need to vent a little bit about...well...stuff we say. To be more specific, as of late, I've really noticed how we adults pick up on what the kids are saying—but usually not until the kids have stopped saying it at least six months previous.

Here are a few examples of what I've heard, or overheard, people over thirty, blurting out:

1) Approximately 32-year-old woman on the bus, talking on her phone: "Dude, that sunset is hella sick."
Analysis: Why are you describing the sunset in medical terms? Well, I guess it really was a beautiful sunset, maybe even so sick it was feverish.

2) Approximately 39-year-old guy bumping into another guy on the bus: "Sorry, man. My bad."
Analysis: This is another example of grammatical evolution, where adjectives, crawling along for millenia as subordinate modifiers,  learn to stand on their own as nouns.

3) Approximately 41-year-old guy, who was bumped into by hipster mentioned in item 2) above: "It's all good."
Analysis: It's never all good. If it were, we all would have been riding unicorns instead of public  transportation.

4) Approximately 35-year-old woman, agreeing with something her seat-mate on the bus pointed out:
"I know, right?"
Analysis: Completely nonsensical. It's sort of like saying, "I agree. Asparagus?"

And we don't just ride the caboose of what the kids say, it's also how they look. Back in the early Nineties, I decided to stop getting my hair cut; not even a trim. I grew it out between July of 1992 and May of 1996. By mid-1994, I was a sensitive, ponytail-sporting, John-Lennon-glasses-wearing, Seattle grungester. Little did I know that grunge music and long hair had been dead for a couple of years, and that the kids were now waxing their mopeds with their old flannel clothing.
I still remember looking in the mirror that early May, 1996 morning, and thinking, "Snap! I look hella ridiculous. I really wish one of my filthy posse would have given me the 411 on this whack do."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another post about kids

Reasons I'm glad I have kids:

1) Because when the younger daughter witnessed a commercial for two-for-one suits at Men's Wearhouse, she said, "If it were me, I'd get one suit that fits me now, and a way bigger one for when I'm old and fat."

2) Because it gives me a reason to buy cheese goldfish, juice boxes, Pop Tarts and Harry Potter movies, and visit Santa Claus.

3) Because it's toughened me up after receiving inadvertent head butts to a certain part of my anatomy over six hundred times. What would begin as an enthusiastic hug from a toddler, ended up with that toddler gazing down at a grown man in the fetal position.

4) Because I still occasionally marvel at being called, "Dad."

5) Because prior to having children, I hadn't yet become an award winning travel agent, specializing in guilt trips.

6) Because the younger one aspires to be a bartender. And no, I did not suggest that career choice.

7) Because the older one has taught me patience, calmness and the benefits of obsessive compulsiveness in sporting endeavors.

8) Because we need someone to water the plants when my wife and I go back to St. Thomas in 2020.

9) Because my kids exposed the injustice when High School Musical III didn't beat out Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture.

10) Because I see a little bit of my mom in each of them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

At least now, I get shots in the arm instead of the other place

I'm not sure if anything showcases human nature quite like a long queue of homo sapiens on a cold, November morning. When mixed with a healthy serving of paranoia and perceived shortages, things can get interesting.
Such was the case this morning, as I fired up the Ford Ranger for the sixteen-mile trip to Katterman's Pharmacy in Seattle's Sand Point neighborhood. I've been in hot pursuit of the H1N1 vaccine for the past month, as I'm sure a lot of us have, after doing some research about this nasty invader. Apparently, having had fairly bad asthma since I was a chubby, little kid, I'm at risk of developing pneumonia if this thing seeps into me.
The county health department website displayed this particular pharmacy as having a limited number of dosages today and tomorrow, so I departed the house this morning at 6:00 to give myself plenty of time to stand in line for the store's 9:00 opening.
I arrived to discover about 100 people snaking down the sidewalk from the drugstore's entrance. It looked like people were waiting to purchase playoff tickets; there were lawn chairs, sleeping bags, tons of coffee. I joined the line behind a tall, graying man, who appeared deep in conversation with his neighbor. Only later would I find out that he talked to anyone within a four-person radius, and upon further examination, he had something which had traveled from the confines of his sinuses and lodged itself directly under his left nostril. It was like an escaped prisoner who made it to the peripheral razor wire and inexplicably stopped. From that point on, in spite of myself, I was strangely drawn to this man's nose area.
After about an hour, I wasn't able to see the end of the line, as it extended down the street and around the block. Occasionally, a newcomer would walk down our gauntlet and I could decipher a faint, "Oh, my Gawwd!" as they disappeared into the masses.
"Is this the line?" I heard one guy ask. I probably should have checked to see if he was blind before muttering, "No, actually, it's a celebration called 'Hands Across Seattle.' Want to play?"
After two hours, the line started chugging along. Another hour later, I held in my sweaty palm a time slot and receipt for the magical elixir that would battle this virulent, pork-based plague. The shot itself was rather anticlimactic, and I got out of there in about three minutes with a Band-Aid and butterscotch lolly pop. 
No riots, no arguments...just a guy who desperately needed his wife there to tell him to wipe his nose.

By the way, this is blog post number 50. Thanks for listening to my curmudgeonly ramblings.

Monday, November 9, 2009

We, we

Last night, the family and I rekindled one of our longest-standing traditions. We dined at an establishment known as The Old Spaghetti Factory, an icon in the Pacific Northwest. Before Cheesecake Factory began deforesting the old growth tree stands just to print their menus, long before Olive Garden introduced the bottomless iceberg lettuce bowl, The Old Spaghetti Factory stood proudly as the bastion of affordable, massive food quantities.
I've been a father now for almost fifteen years, which translates to 23.7 wear-and tear-adjusted years (much like wind chill makes the temperature colder than the thermometer indicates). During this period, we have visited The Old Spaghetti Factory approximately 90 times. Not only have we gone on the kids' birthdays, we've gone on their "half" birthdays as well. In addition, I've used it as an incentive for them to get along and leave for school on time. A few years back, they earned dinner there after getting out of the house in a timely manner 20 days in a row. I know, I know. Parents shouldn't use food as an incentive for good behavior. Whatever. If it worked for Pavlov, it works for me.
The family and I operate with a fine-tuned efficiency at this place,  never waffling at the last minute when faced with the final pasta decision. Last night we were thrown a little off balance by the waiter, as everything he asked us included the word, "we":
"How are we doing tonight?"
"Do we know what we want to order?"
"Do we want another Shirley Temple?"
It got really irritating after a while. This guy was really tall and masculine, but he talked like someone's grandma. Being a family of wise-guys, we all had to bite our tongues when responding to him. I really wanted to ask him when he would be available to go to the restroom with me.
Aside from that, the evening, as usual, proceeded like clockwork. Bread, salad, spaghetti, Spumoni ice cream, and out the door.
I think when we reach the century mark of eating at The Old Spaghetti Factory, we'll celebrate by going there.

Friday, November 6, 2009

One of these days, it's not even going to stop for us

I've been riding the bus to work from the stop near my house this past week. It just so happens that my fourteen-year-old catches her school bus at a location very near mine. Yesterday morning, I offered to walk with her to her stop, and we could hang out until her ride pulled up.
"Uh, that's okay, dad."
"But, you know, we haven't really seen each other much lately. This could be a nice time to catch up."
"No, really, that's all right. I just stand there and listen to my iPod, anyway."
"Okay, how about this, then." I consider myself really flexible. "How about we just hold hands quietly while you listen to your iPod?"
"Ha, ha." Then she left the house.
Alas, shut out by my daughter yet again. I navigated the lonely jaunt down to my bus stop in silence. Fortunately, Wild Kingdom, the Human Edition, ensued just a few feet from me. About five middle-school-aged boys stood waiting for their bus to show up. Actually, they weren't standing, they were trying to stomp each other's feet, forming a sort of clunky, adolescent River Dance. Naturally, nobody wore a sweatshirt, let alone a jacket—just t-shirts and jeans. These guys all had longish hair which covered about 65% of their cherubic faces. I'm fairly certain they had eyes and even eyebrows, but none were evident.
Again, my mind wandered back to the bus my sister and I used to catch in our neighborhood during junior high. The kids looked and acted like they currently do, except I don't think as many of today's thirteen-year-olds suck down a couple of Marlboros while waiting for the yellow chariot, like they did in my day. Usually, someone had a huge bag of Doritos or Barbecued Lays to share, which the smokers welcomed, since they now could mask their tobacco breath with nachoey, cheesy, tobacco breath.
Finally, we would pile into the bus, the bus driver already wary of what the next twenty minutes may hold. Some days were completely mellow the entire trip. The driver would play the Top 40 station, and I can remember some of the girls singing along with "Feelings" (I'm not kidding.).
Other days, chaos ensued. I hated riding anywhere near the back of the bus, because I had no desire to be associated with the kids who smoked or swore at the driver or yanked on the feathered haircut of an unsuspecting male victim (me). People would rise out of their seats as soon as the school was in sight and pile into the aisle. "Why?" I can remember thinking as I shoved my way into an opening. "What's the hurry? We're going to school." Nonetheless, this was a daily ritual.
As I snapped  back to the present, the yellow bus pulled up and the boys clumsily loaded themselves on. "I hope you guys don't make problems for the driver," I thought. "And somebody should've picked up that empty Doritos bag."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I approve this message

The decomposing campaign signs will choke the roadsides for another six months or so, but the fall election season, with a few new twists and the absence of some traditional rites, is finally in the books .
Oh sure, I'm sure we've all grown used to those slanted, nasty TV commercials:
-"Ed Jawngrobber is the wrong choice for your next Assistant Port Commissioner. He personally voted to raise taxes on wheelchairs, seeing-eye dogs and matches sold by orphans. He insisted on being the pitcher on his daughter's t-ball team. He enjoys hotdogs made with real puppies. And he never, ever, puts down the toilet seat." Throughout this montage, Mr. Jawngrobber is shown in grainy, black and white imagery, probably scowling at someone and not wearing a shirt.
Suddenly, the clouds part and the spotlight turns to Ed's opponent, the obvious choice:
-"Dirk Rockmeyer is who we need for Assistant Port Commissioner. As a third grader, he piloted a program for pulling elderly, disabled, World War II veterans through the snow on specially heated sleds to dialysis appointments. His finger is on the pulse of small business, as the founder of the I Can't Believe It's Dental Floss Bread Company. And... he's really, really good looking." Cut to a warm color image of Dirk and family out in the backyard playing Frisbee golf. Mr. Rockmeyer pauses, Frisbee in hand, faces the camera and says, "I'm Dirk Rockmeyer. I love you, I'll protect you, and I approved this message."
We're all used to these cheesy campaign messages, but now they're invading our phone lines with those "robo-calls." How annoying are those? The "do not call list" provided a brief respite from solicitors, but it didn't take long before our answering machines became clogged with personal messages from Michelle Obama, John McCain and the people who are afraid that eventually humans will marry shetland ponies if we don't act now.
Conversely, one of the campaign season's richest traditions, casting your ballot at your local precinct, is now extinct in Washington state; it's mail-in voting only. No more elderly volunteers putting down their bowl of chicken and rice casserole, lowering their faces to an inch above the portable table and scouring the alphabetical list. No more rushing to a stuffy, hot church basement to pull the curtain and punch the card.
If given the choice, I'd take the church basement any day over the robo-calls. I'd even welcome that wonderful, old volunteer guy spitting casserole rice on my chest after handing me my ballot and uttering, "Pick a pole booth, Tim."

Monday, November 2, 2009

That house looks promising

5:38PM, Saturday, October 31.
"Dad, can we leave now?"
"Not yet, Lauryn. It's still too light outside. In fact, here's the new rule for when to leave: If you still see the mailman driving around, it's too early."
I'm sure we all remember that feeling, that wired, ready-to-jump-out-of-your-skin excitement as you wait endlessly for your stodgy old dad to give the go-ahead.
This Halloween was no different. Lauryn and I have a tradition of trick-or-treating with some friends in their neighborhood. Our gang consists of a four-year-old boy, a nine-year-old boy, their dad, Lauryn and me.
We arrived at our friends' house fully prepared for the night. Since Lauryn's persona for the evening was that of a zombie princess, and since I've earned my makeup credentials painting faces at school carnivals, and since I drew the faces of every member of KISS  on every Pee-Chee I owned between 1975 and 1978, I felt fully qualified to be the hair and makeup boy for this character. After a quickly-applied white base, I painted on some Gene Simmons-inspired, black, spiky eyes and black lipstick. After slipping on a Gothic, scarlet gown, she looked like a groupie trying to decide between Stevie Nicks and Alice Cooper.
While waiting for dusk to fall, the other dad and I killed time with a couple of adult beverages until finally, the moment had arrived.
We methodically traversed each street, never backtracking, never sacrificing efficiency during these prime, golden hours. The four-year-old boy didn't, however, concern himself with energy conservation. He only ran or jogged. He sprinted past houses and back to them, up stairs and back down and back up. If I had that kind of stamina, I'd more closely resemble Iggy Pop than that singer in Blues Traveler.
Lauryn made a note of every living room at which she peered as the backdrop to each candy distributor.
"Dad, that house smells like old soup."
"Dad, her house was really messy."
"Dad, that guy was kind of creepy and his house smelled like hot dog water."
Living in West Seattle, there's always the chance that the kids will get something else in lieu of candy, like some salted wood chips, or a donation toward a spa visit for a needy Seattle dog. But in the end, they made a great haul. And if you ever get a chance, try the new Hershey's Pumpkin Pie Kiss—fantastic.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Wonder Years

She can't help it. At least that's what the experts say. Her cerebral cortex, the section of her brain which  perceives higher reasoning, logic and consequences, is disengaged. The clearinghouse for most brain activity originates within her hypothalamus, a primitive region which instructs the body to either fight, flee or freeze. She evaluates all information and then acts based upon how it affects her and her immediate needs. Any perceived threat causes her brain to completely shut down and posture for a fight. How old do you think this human might be? Six? Three? Eighteen months?
Nope. Fourteen.
My wife and I have been taking a weekly class at the local high school about all things teenager: their social and physical development, their emotional progression, methods for parents of coping with them and listening to them.
It's been really helpful, since the one of the first lessons taught is that your teen is your ally, not your adversary. Believe me, this is a highly underrated piece of advice. It allows me to look beyond some of her recent statements, such as:

1) Teenager: "Dad, what time is The Office on tonight?"
    Me: "Nine o'clock."
    (Ten seconds elapse)
    Teenager: "Dad, what did I just ask you?"

2) Teenager: "Dad, can I drive to the store?"
     Me: "No, you're fourteen."
     Teenager: "That's not fair."
     (I don't follow up on such statements with any sort of logical inquiry as to why it's not fair.)

3) Teenager (at school, calling me while I'm at work): "Dad, I forgot my volleyball socks. Can you bring
    them to me?"
    Me: "No, I'm at work."
    Teenager: "That's not fair. Can't you go at lunchtime?"
    Me: "No, it would take me an hour-and-a-half."
    Teenager: "That's not fair."
    Me: "You've made that clear."

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I dearly love this girl. She's smart and kind and funny. The hard part is the clashes we have in between her smart, kind, funny moments, and my struggle to keep situations from escalating. Our class instructor maintains that the best way to convey requests (orders, actually), without appearing confrontational and invoking the kid's caveman brain reflex, is to swoop in, succinctly state the information, and swoop back out. Kind of like "Whack-a-Mole." Anything to avoid a face-to-face stand-off is good, and this technique does appear to be working. Any more droning on, and I sound like Charlie Brown's teacher, and nothing gets through.
Well, time to make sure the Volleyball socks are clean.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Not raisins again!

With Halloween approaching this weekend and my family's costumes all planned out, I've been thinking a little about how we dress up for Halloween, and what it indicates about us. Oh, no, it's not just an outfit—it's a personal statement. As I rode in on the 54 this morning, my own Halloween choices over the years surfaced, and I formed a few categories:
1) The well-thought-out, personality-based costume. Most of these are created with the help of a parent (usually your mom). These are extensions of our personality traits. I have been a mouse (a rather small percentage of my psyche), a tiger (again, small percentage), hippie (large portion, worn several times), a skeleton (a manifestation of my aspirational, skinny self) and a devil (not Exorcist-level, but saturated with the brat gene nonetheless). Not to sound too much like Freud, but look around at what the kids are wearing, and it may shed some light on their ongoing struggle between id, ego and superego. And hopefully, you won't see a costume relating to the Oedipus Complex.
2) The "faddish" costume. This may work for some, but usually, too many people are wearing the same thing (please see Sarah Palin, 2008). I tried this once, dressing up as "The Fonz." It was okay, but I saw about 17 other Fonzes traipsing around my neighborhood that evening. And shortly thereafter, the guy jumped the shark, rendering himself forever passé.
3) The lame, thrown-together, last minute costume. I've only used this method as an adult, and people's reactions are as lukewarm as the effort put forth in creating the look. One year, I bought a mullet wig and wore it with a rock station t-shirt. Nobody got it. The wig didn't look enough like a mullet, and I basically resembled a bank robber. Rocker guy costume thereby aborted.
Last year, I avoided any confusion about who I was by ironing the word, "Hamburglar," onto a white t-shirt. Still lame, though.
Many adults aren't so lazy about it, especially some of my co-workers, who spend hours becoming Dale Chihuly or Richard Simmons or Ugly Betty. In my opinion, however, nothing beats that slightly clueless four-year-old whom, after you open the front door, walks right into your house in search of the candy motherload. Those kids are hilarious, especially when their faces are too hot to wear that plastic Spiderman mask any longer, and the red and blue suit has to be slit in the back to accomodate the puffy jacket.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

That's not the letter "O" on their helmets, it's a zero

Purple and gold—the two most noble colors in the spectrum. Yes, I'm a Husky, born and bred. I hail from a family of UW alumni—my brother, sister, wife and me. Whenever I mention to my wife that the Huskies are playing a crucial, must-win, do-or-die game, she'll brush it off with something like, "To you, it's important. To me, it means nothing. It's a game." So, even though she's actually a "Double Husky," with both Bachelors and Masters degrees from our fine institution, she couldn't care less about the snarling dogs of Montlake.
My brother is her polar opposite. He could view, back-to-back, Schindler's List, Terms of Endearment, Brian's Song and Love Story, and shed nary a tear. But subject him to a disappointing Husky loss and he requires a good five days to re-supply his brain's serotonin levels. Such was the case yesterday.
He and I arrived at the UW campus in high spirits. It's difficult not to be excited, arriving at a beautiful college campus on a sunny Fall afternoon, the leaves swirling around the massive, gothic structures. A pilgrimage of purple-clad supporters snaked its way through campus and down to Husky Stadium, with a smattering of green-and-yellow-adorned Oregon Duck fans infiltrating the procession. I've always felt that the object found in nature which most simulates Oregon's green is a sinus infection, and it heavily clashed with the regal purple which represents Washington.
We arrived at the stadium and found our seats just as the national anthem was being belted out by the Husky Marching Band, the opening kick-off just minutes away. The cantilevered design of Husky Stadium funnels all crowd noise directly onto the field, which can prove to be distracting and intimidating to UW opponents. As usual, the roar was deafening.
The Huskies stopped the Ducks on their first possession, forcing them to punt and giving the purple and gold faithful some rightly-deserved optimism. Without droning on about what later ensued, let's just say that was the apex our football day.
Just to give some perspective to the Oregon-Washington rivalry, it dates back to 1900, with the Huskies holding a 57-39-5 advantage. Washington dominated the series up until the 1990s, and once the tables turned, Oregon felt no compunction in running up the score on its northern rival with impunity. The games are marked by frequent scuffles, both on the field among the players, and off the field among the drunken masses of college kids. A Duck fan can feel relatively safe wearing his or her school colors to the game in Seattle, but beware the consequences of wearing purple and gold as you make your way toward Autzen Stadium for a football contest in Eugene, Oregon.
The Huskies lost yesterday, 43-19, and unfortunately, the inferiority complex deep inside a lot of Duck Nation surfaced on the way out of the stadium. I heard one guy say, "We don't even care about this game anymore. We always win." I wanted to ask him why he drove 300 miles to watch something about which he didn't care.
The day was still fun. I got to hang out with my brother and take part in a ritual that never loses its luster. And Duck fans, call me when you win a Rose Bowl.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Our top story tonight

Local news. National news. They each drive me crazy...yet I've faithfully watched each since I was old enough to comprehend that a war was going on in Vietnam. Each possesses its own brand of obnoxiousness unique to its medium. Let's begin with the local brand:

1) They love logos. Whether it's "Winter Blast 2001," or "Standoff in Tukwila," or "Fender Bender at Seventh and Olive," each report is preceded by a shiny, 3D graphic treatment, combined with an ominous soundtrack.
2) They strive to make a non-story into a dramatic event. If "Winter Blast 2001" fails to materialize, they copter up to some peak in the Yukon Territory just to display the snow accumulating in the Aqua-Netted hair of some cub reporter. Their lead statement is something like, "We're here in Skagway Alaska at the front edge of a potentially devastating Arctic blast to the Puget Sound area, a mere 1200 miles from where I stand."
3) The local news anchor is compelled to banter with the weather guy at the news desk. "Hey, Steve, I hope you deal us up some sun for the weekend...heh, heh!" Just one of these times, I wish that Steve would say, "Hey, Dennis. You know what? I don't control the weather. But you, however, do control what you're wearing from your suit coat down, which today is just a Speedo and some brown socks."
4) They don't report news. They talk about fires and puppies and drinking lots of water when it's hot outside.

On to our national coverage:
1) There's so much happening on the screen. A "crawler" along the bottom tells you news  that the person at the desk isn't saying, or maybe is. At the top left are stock prices; at the top right are astrological forecasts. I enjoy customizing my TV to display subtext for the hearing impaired just to provide maximum confusion and anxiety.
2) Experts who answer questions with questions. Often, especially on cable news shows, a so-called "senior analyst" is brought in to shed some light on a situation too complex for the viewer to comprehend. And more frequently than not, the expert leaves us even more confused. Here's an example:
News Anchor: "General Johnsssson, what do you feel should be the President's next strategic move in Afghanistan?"
General Johnsssson: "What do I feel the President should do? Should he scale down our troop levels and create a leaner and more mobile security force? Maybe. Should he use psychological tactics to win over the hearts and minds of the tribal elders? I don't know. Do I think the United States is part of Europe? No, I don't."
3) Experts who make a statement, only to completely rebuf that statement. Example:
"Yes, I think the president is making significant gains in attaining world peace. He's definitely on the right track and he has my full support. That said, I believe he's the lead horseman of the Apocolypse, and the world will soon drown in a lake of fire."

Okay, there I go again—more cynicism. Do I need to halt these negative analyses? Maybe. Will I? Probably not.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How's your day going so far?

I try, I really do, but sometimes it's difficult. Cynicism tends to run in my family, so rather than fight an uphill battle, I've decided to embrace my cynicism, at least temporarily.
I realize that certain pleasantries are essential in keeping a civilized society functional. However, I also believe that conditions have gotten to the point where I feel compelled to analyze a few of these bromides to provide myself some clarity. Here are some examples:

What bank teller says: "So how's your day going?"
What bank teller means: "I need to know your mental state, so I can decide whether or not to access the exploding dye packs."

What guy at work says: "You look tired."
What guy at work means: "You look like you slept in a tub filled with gravel."

What woman at work says: "I love your new haircut. It's so cute."
What woman at work means: "Okay, it's going to take a little while to get used to working with Kate Gosselin."

What IT person at work says, in an email: "Thanks in advance for your cooperation in implementing the new system."
What IT person at work means, in an email: "Do this. You need to do this."

What co-worker says: "Your lunch smells great. What kind of fish is that?"
What co-worker means: "The stench of that rotten sea flesh gives me unbridled nausea."

What woman at park says: "Your son is so energetic. I love it."
What woman at park means: "Your son begs for that medication they administer as step one of three, during lethal injections."

What checker at Target says: "Have a great day."
What checker at Target means: "Mmm... ten more minutes until five-dollar footlong time."

What person you run into downtown says: "We should get together sometime."
What person you run into downtown means: "I'd rather eat roadkill."

I know that people can be, and are, sincere and genuine in their statements 99.9% of the time, and I realize these musings are a bit negative. For that I apologize in advance. Have a great day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Guys don't carry girls' books anymore; it's all online

Some events roll into your life easily, like the familiar expectation of the chocolatey, Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. Others take you a bit by surprise, like discovering that your pizza has corn on it (Sorry, I just find comfort in food analogies.).
The latter event proved to be the case this past Saturday evening. I had known for quite a while that my fourteen-year-old daughter was anticipating her high school homecoming dance. I had known that four of her friends were coming over to our house to eat frozen pizza and get ready beforehand. And, I had known that my girl had never before been to a mixer with boys as old as eighteen.
What I hadn't accounted for, outside the boundaries of this intellectual information, were the emotional reactions, most notably from my daughter and me.
This wasn't a shindig where a one guy asked one girl, or vice versa; no wrist corsages, no gunny sack dresses, no parking at Inspiration Point afterward. Sounded good to me. I was certain my girl would just frolic around in her safe gaggle of buddies, maybe chatting up the occasional guy, and then retreating back into the crowd for a juice box and some goldfish.
She and her four friends all crammed into our phone booth of a bathroom, equipped with flat irons, curling irons, maybe even waffle irons for all I knew. After about an hour of changing, re-changing and re-re-changing their tight tee shirts and skinny jeans, it was finally time to go. They piled out the door and into the mini-van, leaving a cloudy, greenhouse gas cocktail of Aerogel and hormones.
I felt some apprehension, but fortunately, my alma mater was battling Arizona State on TV, and, being a guy, I was easily distracted by such a shiny thing to watch.
My daughter finally arrived home around midnight, absolutely aglow. She said, and I quote, "I had the best time. I love high school. I slow-danced with (name redacted)...twice."
"That's great," I said, "I'm really glad you had fun. It's good to hear that you love high school. And how awesome that you what?"
"I slow danced with (name redacted)."
That's when I dug really deep. Time to play it cool.
"Is he a good guy?"
"Of course, otherwise I wouldn't have danced with him. (you freakin' bonehead, Dad)."
I just let it go at that point.
"All right. I'm glad you had a good time. See you tomorrow."
I really am happy for her, and I do know that this is a natural step in the coming-of-age progression. I guess the thought of an adolescent male slow-dancing with my baby just makes me feel a little...vulnerable.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Leave this stuff to the experts

A few hypothetical scenarios you might consider in pursuit of publicity, but probably shouldn't:
1) You're an amateur scientist, recently featured on the educational series, "Wife Swap." You decide to build a cool, silver balloon, prepare it for launch, attach it to the ground in your backyard, right next to the swing set, with a couple of pieces of dental floss, and then go inside to make a hot pocket. On your way into the house, you tell your three sons, between the ages of six and six-and-a-half, not to mess with the balloon, because it would be really easy to release and super fun to fly.
This is not a good publicity stunt because it can lead to serious injury or death.
2) You're a bloated, egomaniacal, narcotic-guzzling racist, with a highly inflammatory, right-wing radio show. You're wallowing in cashy goodness (rich). Your track record is littered with divisive, bigoted opinions, and the majority of Americans despise you, especially those who aren't white and male. You think to yourself, "I should purchase an NFL football team. What harm is it if 80 percent of my employees are African-American? They'll be working for me."
This is a bad idea, because it can lead to disbelief, followed by boisterous guffawing, followed by burly security guards demonstrating how your nose can actually open a large, glass door at the league office.
3) You hate your wife, and I mean with a fiery passion. You already have twin daughters. The two of you decide, since you so direly loathe each other, that she should again ingest fertility pharmaceuticals, because, hey, what are the chances of another multiple birth? And besides, if she happens to give birth to, say...sextuplets, payday is just around the corner in the form of your own TV show. And then, just a couple of years down the road, you can bag the whole thing and hook up with your wife's plastic surgeon's daughter.
This is not a good publicity gimmick, because, even though you're furnished with a lifetime supply of Ed Hardy t-shirts, the entire world bears witness to what a complete, classless tool you are.
Keep in mind, the advice I am offering is merely a courtesy, just as that picture on the cover of grape nuts, with the strawberries, toast and juice, is merely a serving suggestion.
Please follow your heart.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Always the maven

Wow, we're halfway through October. As I rode into town this morning on Bus 54 (always a good time), I spotted a couple of student-ish types in UW sweatshirts, and realized that they are now fully immersed in their second week of fall quarter at my alma mater, the good old You of Doubleyou. And once again, the shallow pond reflected.
28 years ago this month, my dad drove me into Seattle, thereby finally emptying his nest completely. He dropped me off at McMahon Hall, a behemoth of a structure, reminiscent of gray, multi-storied Soviet utilitarian high rises. In other words, warm and inviting.
Make no mistake—I had planned for this day. I bought a shiny, new pair of "Big Macs," which were basically the lower half of a pair of overalls, at the Auburn JC Penney. Those pants were a fashion staple in South King County, and for all I knew, the rest of the western world. I slipped on my tight-ish, Auburn High Jazz Ensemble t-shirt, and felt ready for the next level. Little did I know, however, that two worlds were about to collide.
As I entered my "cluster," which was a group of four rooms that shared a common living area, most of my cluster mates already had ensconced themselves. The entire suite of rooms was occupied by UW Husky swimmers—large and lanky with stiff, neon hair. They all wore the same outfits, which were Levi's and polo shirts. "You guys look really stupid," I didn't say.
The largest dude was my roommate, Matt. Upon entering our room, I noticed that he had filled up his book shelf and part of mine with canned goods, mostly ravioli and Spaghetti-O's. I remember thinking, "Cool. This guy dresses like a dork, but he can eat Spaghetti O's anytime he wants."
I staked out an area around my desk to display some select and treasured items: a picture of my girlfriend, who was a freshman at the University of Oregon (and about whom, Matt stated, "She's cute, but I doubt it will last."), my boom box and a poster of Rush (the band, not the drug-addled gas bag).
I knew none of these guys, but they all came in to introduce themselves, and they ended up being really nice. They let me into their world after we had gotten to know each other for a few weeks, and it was refreshing how comfortable they felt blindfolding me, duct-taping me to a chair, stuffing me into the elevator and hitting the buttons for all twelve floors.
But back to day one. The oldest swimmer, Scott, asked me if I wanted to go to a swimmer's party with the rest of them. Sure, why not? I've got nothing but time. Before I knew it, I was wedged in the back of Scott's Lincoln Continental, going to who-knows-where with who-knows-whom. We pulled up to an apartment building and walked into a unit filled with college people, all wearing Levi's and polo shirts. "Geez, more dorks,"  I thought. Still rocking my jazz band shirt and Big Macs, I stood in the corner, drinking from a red, plastic cup. A kindly co-ed walked up to me and said, "Hi. So you're from Auburn?"
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
"Uh, it says so on your shirt."
"Oh, uh, yeah."
"Cool." Then she walked away.
I didn't talk to anyone else the entire evening.
A couple of days later, school began, and I finally realized that the entire campus was filled with people who didn't know how to dress themselves. Oh, well, I thought. I guess I'll have to buy some Levi's, but I'm sure these guys will eventually catch up with my fashion sensibilities.
I'm still waiting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You're not my mom!

I flicked the light on in the bathroom. The clock displayed 5:20 AM. Time to start another day with an uninspired trip to the local YMCA gym. I surveyed my features in the mirror, noticing that familiar, vertical tuft of hair that gave the appearance of either an aging, punk rooster or a swirly, grey soft serve cone.'s far too early to succomb to any sort of vanity, far too early to wax nostalgic about when my facial stubble wasn't eighty percent silverish.
I choked down a cup of coffee and dragged my carcass out to the truck for the five minute drive (because, hey, why walk to the gym when you can drive?) to the facility.
My initial glimpse into the cardio room was no different today than any other morning—a slightly overweight, bearded man on the recumbent bike appeared to be knocking on death's door. His face contorted into an agonized grin; his breathing sounded like those foot pumps you use to blow up a pool mattress.
I walked past him and mounted the eliptical trainer. Before beginning my workout, I like to survey the immediate area. Usually, only a handful of masochists occupy the gym at this hour, and it's usually older people. Most of them—well, actually, all of them, tuck their shirts in. I hope I'm as healthy as these folks should I achieve their age someday, but I'm definitely not going to tuck in my shirt. Especially into tight, bike shorts. I know they're really proud of their bodies, as they indeed should be, but in my opinion, bagginess is a virtue.
I powered through my workout, trying to eliminate any toxins ingested the previous day. Sometimes, it feels like they've coagulated to form cheese curds in my bloodstream, but I always feel better afterwards.
Upon entering the men's locker room, I often find strange, disgusting leftovers on the floor—maybe a Band-Aid® or a Q-Tip®, or something not registered with the U.S. Patent Office. For a while, I'd been discovering toe nails on the floor by my locker, and naturally, I was really grossed out, especially when I stepped on a sharp clipping with my bare foot. A few months passed, and finally one day, I was fortunate enough to confront the culprit. He was a fifty-something guy, just trimming his hooves onto the carpet and leaving the remnants there. After about five minutes of slow burning, I finally blurted out, "I hope you're going to pick those up."
"Are you talking to me?" I guess he thought he was DeNiro.
"Yeah, I'm talking to you."
"You're not my mom." Definitely not DeNiro now. More like Pee Wee Herman.
"No, I'm not your mom. But I'll bet she would want you to clean those up." Now I was regretting ever engaging this guy.
"Too bad!" he retorted. Wow, I guess he told me.
He talked to me like a little kid, but he also responded like one, as I never again came across any nail clippings on the locker room floor.
I didn't spot anything overly offensive this morning as I shuffled into the shower, dried off and got dressed.
My morning workout routine functions as a meditative process of sorts, clearing my head and preparing me for a sometimes challenging day. And as an added bonus, it affords me the opportunity to mull over such things as blogging about nail clippings.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Did you find everything you were looking for?

Each fall weekend forces a delicate balance. If left to my own devices, I would fully immerse myself in the football culture, as expanded upon in a post from August, entitled, "Hut, hut." To assuage the demands of the familial chores, I try to accomplish at least a couple of tasks before sitting down to scream at that box in the corner of the family room. Today, I volunteered to perform the weekly grocery shopping prior to kickoff. Accompanied by one of my daughters, whose name I've agreed not to mention, we allowed a solid hour-and-a-half to navigate the aisles of Safeway. Whenever we make this trip, I have to force myself to slow down, be patient, explain things and answer questions, as this girl has an inquiring mind, especially when the subjects are people and food.
Her queries constitute a large portion of these trips, and they can't be predicted:
"Dad, if you had to eat all the mayonnaise in this row or be killed, what would you do? Because I would be killed."
"Dad, I think that old lady is a hunchback. What if she needs something from the top shelf?"
"Dad, why is that boy playing with the dog toys? I thought you said boys are monkeys."
Sometimes I answer right away, and others I ignore until they're asked again.
She's now reached the point where she knows locations for various items, and hence has become a bit of a shopping ally, rather than a finely tuned, relentless, begging apparatus.
"Do you know where the baby wash is?' I asked her.
"I think it's either by the shampoo, or in the baby section by the diapers. But why don't you just ask a worker?"
That's always my last resort, because Safeway employees must get points in heaven for personally escorting you to your item of interest. An eighty-pound checker could be lugging a side of beef back to the meat department, and if you ask her where the tuna tapénade is, she'll not only walk you to it, but load you in the Safeway van and drive you to the South Tacoma Piggly Wiggly if Safeway doesn't carry it.
The daughter and I slowly and methodically covered the shopping list. My goal is always to avoid the inefficient "double-back," where one must cover a row previously trodden. We entered the checkout line, where a good shopper must squeeze as much onto the conveyor belt as possible, and then look foolish as it advances forward, leaving your items triple-stacked with an acre of smooth conveyor belt real estate directly behind them. We slapped down the plastic divider, signaling our haul's completion, and only then could we examine what Brad and Angelina are up to.
Another successful trip, with half an hour to spare before gametime.
And by the way, I'd rather try to eat all that mayonnaise.

Friday, October 9, 2009

No such thing as a free ride

King County Metro, Route 54—West Seattle to Downtown.
It's amazing to me how many people grip the metal bars. Call me a germ freak, but those posts are a primordial crock pot for the next bird flu. On the occasion that I have no choice but to hold on to one to avoid spilling into someone's lap, I attempt the highly difficult square dance maneuver, the "elbow hook," but this has also backfired. I once whipped around the pole with such acceleration, that I butted heads with an elderly man—bulls eye into a liver spot on his forehead. I felt really bad not only that I had injured him, but also that I got close enough to recognize that he smelled of hamsters.
Every morning and evening contains the potential for a memorable experience. One may witness a drug deal, a fist fight or simply a man who has decided to liberate the encumbrances of his bladder.
A few weeks ago, I overheard a young girl conversing with her mother. The little girl was observing a rather overweight woman laboring down the aisle. "Mommy, is she going to have a baby?" the little girl asked after the woman passed by. "No, sweetie, she's just a larger woman," the mother discreetly replied.
"Well, maybe she's going to have a dog or a cat, then, mommy?"
Good stuff.
The silent majority of Metro riders are the electronically disengaged masses, those who become one with their personal data devices. Headphones, Blackberries, iPhones, all melting into lines and columns of anonymity, their heads tilted downward at a forty-degree angle. I've certainly been a member of this demographic, but lately, I've found life on the bus far more interesting when actively observing my surroundings.
And then there are the drivers. On a steel horse they drive, as Bon Jovi might say. These beaten-down folks not only deal with Seattle traffic and criminally insane passengers, but they also must face the wrath of those average worker stiffs who are just late for a meeting or having a bad day. I really have no idea why anyone wants this job, but I'm glad someone does. Hats off to you, Metro operators, but next time you pass my bus stop without pulling over, I'm lodging a formal complaint.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Does this diaper bag look too much like a purse?

I've noticed that the ushering in of new generations occurs in bunches, and right now, it's happening at my workplace. Over the past year, three new babies have been born and two more are on the way in my department alone.
I would never be so presumptuous as to evaluate pregnancy and childbirth; the issue is a slope lubricated with Otter Pops, so I won't even tackle the trials and tribulations of the expectant mother. What I can offer is a perspective unique to the neophyte male—the clueless dude who lives in denial up to and through the birth of a child.
I think the first true moment of recognition occurred as my wife, who was about six months pregnant with our first daughter, and I, exited the Kia dealership parking lot in a brand new 1995 Kia sedan. We had just traded in my two-seat Honda CRX, which was the most awesome toy I had ever owned. It was like replacing your Xbox with a the Game of Life. This car was so bland and stripped down, it didn't even have intermittant windshield wipers. It alone fostered a case of carpel-tunnel syndrome from flipping that wiper arm up every fifteen seconds.
Still, my lifestyle didn't change much until the baby was actually born, and then the hammer really dropped three months after the birth, as Terri returned to her job. I was riding the initial wave of the new Family Leave Act, so I stared down the barrel of ninety days at home with a sparkly, new baby. I vividly remember Terri leaving for work that first Monday at about 7am, and thinking,"Okay, here I am with this baby, who really doesn't do much except spew things. I've got about ten hours today to figure out what to do, and then ten hours tomorrow, and the next day..."
It didn't take long to develop some routines. The mornings were basically spent feeding, wiping, sweeping, changing and washing, with a smattering of reading or banging things together. Midday was usually devoted to a particular outside destination, like the park or a mall or any other large, open, stroller-friendly area. People-watching is interesting when you're pushing a stroller, as those who smile at your little bundle are 97% female. Most males, especially within my demographic, ignored my baby as much as they ignored my beautiful, grey Kia. And I'm here to say, there's nothing cooler than loading up a diaper bag to the point where it tips over a stroller (with baby inside) in the middle of Seward Park. Picture the Flintsone's car after the waitress delivered the dinosaur ribs.
People in passing would sometimes say, "Oh, so you're being Mr. Mom today, huh?" I grew to despise that term; it seemed so dated and ignorant. "No," I wanted to say, "I'm just being a dad, and I just happen to know how to make formula and put on Desitin cream and burp a kid (which can be very rewarding).
I look back at those days, and remember how hard I tried, how frustrating it occasionally was, and how each little developmental stage is magnified when you're with a new person 24/7. I wouldn't trade those times for anything, but I would like my Honda CRX back.