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.