Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Trading the collar for stripes: A prophet goes to prison.

I realize I'm not going out on a limb too much here.

Undoubtedly, any rational human being would agree with my viewpoint on this subject, so I'm not too worried about being de-friended over this one.

Earlier today,Warren Jeffs, leader of a fundamentalist polygamist sect, pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing a twelve-year-old girl following a "spiritual marriage." Jeffs is the self-proclaimed prophet of a splinter group of the FLDS organization, formerly located at the "Yearning For Zion Ranch" in Eldorado, Texas. I'm not sure it was Zion he was yearning for.

I suppose pleading guilty would be ill-advised, even if fifty people witnessed your alleged transgression...oh, hang on a second...they did. This group has been in and out of the news for the past several years; their compound in Texas was raided by federal authorities, men were arrested and a massive group of children was removed while everything was sorted out.

I guess I understand why these men do what they do. Just like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Charles Manson, and L. Ron Hubbard before him, Jeffs mastered the art of manipulation through spiritual dogma and utilized it toward his own jaded ends. Those in power tend to have a smorgasbord of insatiable appetites.

But how do these guys do it? Jones originally helped people dig themselves out of poverty, Manson could play a little guitar and Koresh had a youthful, rock star appearance. I'm not sure about Hubbard. Maybe he reeled them in out by promising spiritual enlightenment and free Mud Pie Blizzards.

So what's this Jeffs guy's shtick? He's definitely no Tom Selleck. Look at him. His face says, "I'm the product of so much inbreeding, I'm my own half sister." Does he provide comfort and encouragement to his flock? Maybe, but the only followers who are comforted and encouraged are those old men who are thrilled to marry someone who hasn't reached the pre-menopausal age of twenty.

I reserve a special place in my soul for those who victimize kids, and Mr. Jeffs, you are among the worst. From what I've heard, marriages can also be arranged in prison, but they tend end right after the honeymoon. May you marry many times in your new life.

Okay, so I'm preaching to the choir. He abused minors, broke the law and will pay the price. But what about polygamist families who slide under the radar until deciding to participate in a reality show, as showcased in TLC's Sister Wives? The alpha dog in this classic looks like he could play bass in Van Halen, only all the groupies are wives and none of the music can have nasty words.

Religious beliefs aside, he's got four wives. Four.

One question: Who's crazier, his wives...or him?

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010: The Year the Vatican Found a Loophole.

Welcome to "Curtain Rod Week"—that series of days which wedges itself between the past year and the frontier that is 2011.

This is the week when we see and read all of those "year in review" features, all of those top ten, twenty and hundred lists. I usually hear the finale sometime around 11:54 on New Year's Eve, when the local rock station cranks up "Stairway to Heaven," the top song of all time for the twenty-seventh year in a row (I'm sure Led Zeppelin made a deal with Satan to achieve such lofty status). Nothing beats ushering in Baby New Year with a bustle in my hedgerow.

I'm fully aware that many don't like these lists, and I tend to agree; nothing is less objective than judging an event's significance based on opinion alone. And that's why the list I'm about to divulge is merely the jaundiced view of this writer. Take it with a grain of salt (preferably sea salt, because it's totally in right now).

My top ten happenings of 2010:

10) Full body scanners hit airports—What's the big deal? Both my parents and Jamie Lee Curtis's had to make a tough choice after our births, and finally everyone in the airport can appreciate the awesome call my parents made.

9) Chilean miners are rescued—This was an uplifting event, literally. If I could teach my kids the type of patience and endurance that those guys had, they might wait for me to go to the bathroom before opening their presents next time.

8) Florida church plans "Burn the Koran" day—That mine's empty now, right?

7) Proposition 19, for the decriminalization of marijuana, is narrowly defeated in California—If only the Hot Pocket and chocolate milk lobbyists had worked a tiny bit harder.

6) Arizona passes tough anti-immigration law—But please, the fine people of Arizona still want your tourist dollars, so come on down! Just, you know, try not to get too tan while you're there.

5) Sex scandal embroils the Vatican leadership—Apparently, a couple of guys in Pope Benedict's inner circle involved themselves in a homosexual prostitution ring. If I'm not mistaken, the Bible mentions absolutely nothing about guys being hookers. Look it up.

4) Mel Gibson's misogynistic rant against his girlfriend is caught on tape—Come on, give him a break. Maybe she reminded him of his daughter, who got home past curfew last night and forgot to fill up the Tercel.

3) Ash cloud from Iceland volcano shuts down European air travel—This is obviously an unprecedented instrument of environmental terrorism, introduced by a strong, new spoke in the axis of evil—Iceland.

2) The United States Supreme Court overturns ban on direct corporate spending on elections—Hello? Of  course corporations should get the same rights as people—big, fat, rich people who don't pay taxes. Simply add fifteen thousand Oxycontin tabs and you've got Rush Limbaugh.

1) Congress passes a health care overhaul, cracking down on insurance company abuses—Seriously? No one has the right to health insurance, especially that guy who was late delivering my paper on Christmas morning.

Let's hope 2011 greets us with a new outlook: one of sanity, justice and compassion.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Counting down to the big one.

He hadn't set the alarm; he knew that the following day would probably be a long one. After forcing himself to sleep for a few additional hours, he hopped out of bed around 10:30. As usual, he pulled the scale out from under the couch and weighed himself: 277. "Whatever," he mumbled dismissively. "I've weighed more."

His volatile stomach usually prevented him from consuming much caffeine, and because of this, he had forgotten to change the auto-brew on the coffee maker. A thick, brown liquid which had already been sitting in the pot for three hours poured into his "World's Greatest Coach" mug. "Oh, well," he thought, "I'm used to cocoa, anyway. I'll just choke it down."

All season, he'd grown accustomed to sleeping on the office couch; there was just so much to prepare for. His wife had barely seen him, but he had warned her about this time of year and she'd been a trooper. He plodded into the conference room, towering over his six of his most trusted protegés, who sat reviewing the game plan. Laptops littered the conference table.

"Hey, what's up, guys? How's everyone feeling?"

Silence filled the room. His lead coordinator spoke first. "Coach, we're tired, we're a little stressed...but let me tell you something: We are ready. The world will never forget the performance they're about to see."

"And that's why you're sitting here right now" Tears welled in the boss's eyes. "I don't need to tell you this, but even though you're the best in the business, every darn one of you is family. We've had our disagreements, our little crises, but in my opinion, we're truly on the verge of greatness. Lombardi, Wooden, Rockne—they had nothing on us. Now let's get out there and show some pride in the red and green."

"Coach," if you don't mind, "I'd like the honor of feeding Rudolph his pre-game meal." The number one elf looked up yearningly at Santa.

"I wouldn't want it any other way," Herbie. "Ho, ho, ho!"

His thunderous guffaw rattled the conference room.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What's Your McHistory?

Food for thought: What single entity weaves humankind together like no other?

Soccer? Possibly, since most of the world loves soccer. America, however, would only embrace The Beautiful Game if metal spikes encircled the field, thereby adding a death and dismemberment element to an otherwise tedious contest.

Cigarettes? Nope, but cigarettes did come in at number two.

The answer, in my humble opinion, is “The Golden Arches”—McDonald’s.

McDonald’s is like that uncle who gives you sips of his beer at your parents’ party. Mom and Dad don’t really approve of his behavior, but all the kids love him and he keeps them entertained while the adults play cards.

The other day, my wife asked me to pull out the kitchen stove because a critical holiday recipe had slipped down the crack between the range and its adjacent cabinet. I slid the appliance back with relative ease, to be greeted by nine square feet of nastiness; my best description would be “post petrified dust bunny Pergo.”

As I swept this forbidden zone, fascinating objects accumulated on the dustpan: a previously owned jawbreaker, a fully sealed, yet moldy, package of deli turkey…and hey! A dollar bill…with a weird stain. The largest object to gather in this tray of randomness was a book of McDonald’s gift certificates from 2003.

I set down the broom, fished the warped booklet out of the pile, and leafed through it in search of those critical numbers. To my delight, not even the faint, fine print on the backside listed an expiration date.


Some facts about McDonald’s:

—Happy Meals have been served since 1979. That’s an entire generation of parents whose feet developed calluses made possible only by the repeated trauma of stepping on small, plastic toys.

—One out of every eight American workers has been employed by McDonald’s, including my sister. She did receive excellent benefits, like all the floor fries she could eat and more uniform choices than Elton John.

—Antarctica is the only continent without a McDonald’s. Maybe so, but I’ll bet there are some cheeseburger wrappers blowing around.

—Ronald McDonald speaks twenty-five languages. I don’t care if he holds a doctorate in astrophysics. He’s a clown and he needs a background check.

Micky D’s loves to mix up its slogans every few years; in fact, it’s had twenty-three of them. The original phrase, from 1961, was “Look for the golden arches.” Later incarnations included:

1967—“McDonald’s is your kind of place.”

1971—“You deserve a break today.”

1985—“It’s Mac tonight.”

And my proposal for 2011—“Those five thousand cows in each Quarter Pounder can’t be wrong.”

I really don’t want to tackle the controversial history of this institution; I’ll leave that to my teenager, who has viewed “Fast Food Nation” three times and counting, and will only eat a McFlurry, preferably a large one, in a pinch. I’d rather just impartially discuss the food at this point.

McDonald’s excels at breakfast, relative to their non-morning offerings. The hotcakes and breakfast burritos are quite tasty, but once lunch and dinner fare pop onto the scene, teeth are merely optional for consuming most items.

Back in high school, I participated in a scaled down version of “Supersize Me,” eating nothing but McDonald’s for two straight days. My high school marching band embarked on an express bus trip from Seattle to Phoenix, only pulling over for that familiar red and yellow brand along the freeway. Even though we were fifteen to seventeen years old, the less robust among us exhibited signs of renal failure around Bakersfield.

After that trip, I swore I’d never visit another “Big M Steakhouse,” and I didn’t for almost a week-and-a-half. You know how those fries can call out your name.

And so, my friends, before Christmas rolls around, even if you've sworn it off, duck into a McDonald’s for old time’s sake. Everyone has a McDonald’s story, whether it’s about hanging out at one, working at one or spotting one on the horizon just in time to save you from wetting your pants.

Please share. What’s your McHistory?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why advertising is good for everyone.

Ah, Sunday morning. Time to peel back the covers, stagger out to the kitchen, brew up a strong pot of coffee, traipse through the living room and pry open the front door to be greeted by the most patient of friends—the Sunday paper.

I set the stack down on the dining room table, remove the inner ad guts and cast them aside. The meat of the day's news now lies before me like a de-veined jumbo prawn. I scan the headlines above the front fold and hastily flip to the sports section. Turning to page two, I peruse top to bottom, top to bottom.

I'm a little different than most when it comes to reading newspaper advertisements. I've worked in the ad world for twenty years, so my eye tends to wander to spots on the page most people don't notice.

Two black and white ads sit at the bottom of page three, competing yet compatible. The first promotes Gene Juarez gift cards, stating "Shine, when you give her the gift that she's been waiting for." Directly to the right of Gene is an equally sized spot for Seattle Male Medical Clinic: "We guarantee 45 minute to two-hour performance and these medications work within ten minutes."

Hello, recipe for success! First, I know most guys don't like wrapping presents, but wrap the gift card. Then take the pill. Quickly slip into your tuxedo so you look as much like Chuck Woolery as possible. Walk debonairly into the kitchen where she's busy canning herring in her bathrobe. Hand her the gift. Ask her to open the gift with a minimum of small chat and watch her face transform. She may look quite puzzled at your gesture, but trust me, she'll be ready...and so will you.

If it weren't for these types of print advertising, as understated as they are, we'd have a lot more unfulfilled people in our midst. We're busy. We want to know what's going on in the world, and we want to know why our "amp" only goes to five when it used to go to eleven. One-stop shopping is alive and well in the Sunday sports section.

Once I hit the obituaries, I'm open to just about any type of solicitation, since I know that everything I've seen has been highly effective. I'm not disappointed. It's not a huge ad; it's barely larger than a postage stamp, but the message is simple: "Complete cremation, from $597."

Thank God. I'll never forget how, when I was around ten, my great aunt asked for only a partial cremation of my great uncle, and how the urn was the size of a barrel. She was quite fond of him, so she kept him in the corner, next to her stack of People magazines that would "someday be valuable on eBay."

Since my great aunt was quite lonely and loved to cook for our family, we were compelled to visit her every Sunday. After one such visit, including a wonderful dinner of chicken broccoli casserole and cling peaches, my brother and I retired to her living room for some spirited "rough housing."

He pushed me hard in the chest, and I lost balance and tumbled into my great uncle's urn. It slowly tipped onto its side and awkwardly rolled in a semi circle on the shag carpet. The vessel was hermetically sealed, but the sounds of moving, partially cremated remains haunt me to this day. The only way I can describe it is the sound an uncleaned cat box would make if you shook it a little. My great aunt handled it well, but I could tell she resented my great uncle's undignified, impromptu stroll and the way my dad struggled to not laugh.

I digress. As I've expounded upon in the above examples, printed communications cannot and should not be rendered obsolete. Please don't allow such a valuable resource to join the ranks of the cassette tape and Blockbuster Video.

Support your local newspapers. And get the full cremation.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hey! Show some class!

 Is the human male’s instinct to protect its young as voracious as the female’s?

You decide.

Lately, I’ve been prone to exercising my own brand of paternal vigilantism, and I think it may be time to step back, calm down and possibly evaluate pharmaceutical options. 

I’ve been yelling…at children…children I don’t know.

On Tuesday night, my daughter’s high school basketball teams hosted a “quad,” where the boys’ junior varsity, girls’ junior varsity, boys’ varsity and girls’ varsity, play four games against their respective counterparts from another school. It’s an economically prudent measure for a school district that isn’t on sound fiscal footing—one trip, one bus.

My daughter’s team played the evening finale, so the opponents’ squads who had already played were seated in the bleachers, clearly identifying themselves in their matching warm-ups. Two players from the visiting boys’ team were seated apart from their teammates, in folding chairs near my daughter’s team bench and behind the basket.

One of these kids caught my attention almost immediately after the girls’ game tipped off. He did anything possible to distract the home team, standing and waving his arms during free throws, yelling at the players, even booing a referee’s call with which he disagreed. Initially, I tried to ignore the obnoxious, six-and-a-half-foot man-child, but soon, my stomach acid was churning, begging for attention like a bouncing bile puppy.

I felt myself slowly transforming from Bill Bixby into Lou Ferrigno. Sometime during the third quarter, I’m not sure when, I felt my legs lift my body out of the seated position and carry it down the steps toward the corner where the giant jester lie in wait.

“Hey!” I yelled. No response. Again, “Hey!” He looked over at me. “What are you doing?”


“Nothing? I’ve been watching you for the past three quarters. You’re harassing our players while they shoot free throws.”

“No I’m not.”

“I saw you.” And this is where I ceased being Lou Ferrigno and became Lionel Haywood, my father. “You’re sitting there, representing your school, wearing your team colors and showing no class whatsoever.”

“F&#k you,” he mumbled, looking away.

“What did you just say?” Back to Ferrigno. “I’ll tell you what. If you want to cheer for your team, that’s fine. But if I hear or see another taunt, your coach is going to hear about it. Got it?”

I felt his eyes bore into me as I turned and ascended the steps to my seat. As I resumed watching the game, we again made eye contact. “Show some class,” I mouthed to him, again channeling my father.

As I rose to leave after the game, my peripheral vision glimpsed his tall figure approaching from the left. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

“Sir.” He stood next to me but looked down at the top of my head. “I just want to apologize. I behaved badly and I’m sorry.”

“Uh, I appreciate that. Thanks.” I shook his hand, feeling surprised and relieved.

On the drive home, I pondered the evening’s happenings, and decided that, although my actions were justified, I really needed to savor these contests a little more; I should not allow these outside factors to influence my enjoyment of watching my girl play hoops.

Two nights later, in a hotly contested grudge match on the floor of the cross-town rival, my daughter shot an air ball while attempting a three-pointer.

The opposing student section launched into a familiar chant: “Airrrrballlll! Airrrrrballlll!”

Okay, I thought, now’s the time to take my own advice. Just brush it off. No big deal; they’re just kids. I glanced to my left, where two skinny ninth-graders joined in the chant.

“Hey, you guys. Show some class. That’s my kid.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anyone up for a little streaking?

We Americans love historical feats. We can’t get enough of those who dabble in the rarified air of an unprecedented accomplishment.

We love streaks.

The sports world is a prime breeding ground for records and streaks; nothing goes unmeasured, untimed, unnoticed. Cal Ripken owns Major League Baseball’s consecutive games played mark at 2,632. John Wooden’s UCLA Bruin basketball teams won an amazing 88 games in a row.

And on Monday night, another impressive run met its end: Brett Favre, quarterback of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, broke his chain of 297 consecutive starts due to a shoulder injury. Favre had been under center for the first snap of every contest since September 27, 1992—a stretch of time, which would allow a child to progress from birth all the way to high school graduation.

Playing through broken bones, torn muscles and brain trauma begs two questions about Mr. Favre: Tough? Definitely. Smart? Hmm. Let’s just look at some of his recent text messages to ascertain that one.

Since the sporting arena commands so much of America’s attention when it comes to streaks and records, I’ve listed a few numbers below which relate to other areas of endeavor. In my opinion, these figures are equally or more impressive than those accomplished playing games.

19,346—Consecutive days George W. Bush has mispronounced at least one word (i.e. “unceptable,” “ hispanically” or “subliminable”) since learning to speak at age eleven.

84—Consecutive prostitutes who have parted ways with Charlie Sheen while wearing one shoe.

273—Consecutive days someone at my workplace has finished a sentence with the words, “That would be great.” As it turned out, none of those 273 results were even that good.

842—Days since 2008 Miss Flesh Eating Bacteria, Sarah Palin, burst onto the scene, necrotizing the brains of her minions and slaughtering thousands of native Alaskan moose with her voice alone. “Todd! Bring me the baby! Now! The reporters are here! Todd!”

11—Consecutive days I was able to extract shampoo from a seemingly empty Herbal Essence bottle. Although my hair is extremely short and only requires a thimble full, I take enormous pride in this.

732,588—Number of cheddar goldfish I’ve packed into zip lock bags, while stepping on and crushing approximately six percent on the kitchen floor.

5,471—Consecutive days I’ve said to a smaller person, “If you’re not going to eat that, I’ll take it.” (This excludes days spent nursing or bottle feeding.)

So let’s celebrate life’s streaks, its untarnished runs of excellence. And while we’re at it, how about recognizing the biggest one of all:

Consecutive heartbeats.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas and our Pavlovian traditions

Most of us love traditions. These comforting rituals affirm some predictability in our sometimes chaotic, always unpredictable, lives. Some are so old, no one is really sure what they mean.

For instance, before the arrival of the Queen in the State Coach, the Yeomen of the Guard, now usually seen at the Tower of London, search the cellars beneath the Palace of Westminster as a precautionary measure. This is as a consequence of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 when Guy Fawkes and a number of other conspirators tried to blow up King James I and his parliament.

Guy Fawkes—dirty name and tradition starter.

On a far lesser scale, traditions and rituals can be more provincial. Back in my high school days, whenever our team won a football game, some of us went out to the country (a three minute drive) and tipped over a cow. For those who are offended by such behavior, take solace in the knowledge that we only tipped three cows in three years due to an abysmal football squad.

Breaking things down even further, each family possesses its own traditions. In fact, my kids manufacture new traditions every time one of the acts involves a treat at the end. My older daughter once accompanied me for a haircut, and afterward I bought her a chocolate cupcake, a really, really good cupcake with bits of cherry in the frosting. Boom—new tradition. Now, my little Pavlovian salivates instantly whenever we pass Rudy's Barbershop.

Summer acting camp = root beer floats after the Friday-night performance. Dinner at Elliott Bay Pub = ice cream afterwards at Husky Deli. Thanksgiving at Grandma's = shrimp with cocktail sauce. A trip to Safeway = a slightly illegal two-pack of saltines from the soup area.

During the holiday season, traditions thrive, and ours shift into overdrive. This morning, we visited Santa Claus at the Downtown Seattle Nordstrom store. We've done this with friends for twelve straight years, and it's gotten to the point where Santa's lap loses feeling if my daughters plant on his jolly thighs for too long. And now, when one of us says, "Looks like someone needs a nap," my wife and I aren't referring to our kids.

Afterwards, we ride the holiday carousel and have lunch at the Nordstrom Café (If you've noticed a particular corporation mentioned twice, it's possible that I work there and now is the time to stock up on cushy UGG® Australia boots for her before sheep go on the endangered species list.).

Christmas Eve is all about visiting Pike Place Market, buying fresh crab, going home and preparing crab cakes and "Oprahtatoes" for dinner, opening one present each and watching "The Polar Express." This stuff runs like such clockwork, I'm expecting one of my kids to say, "Dad, the train's sliding on the ice. It's time for you to go to the bathroom and blow your nose."

Christmas Day is spent with the kids' grandparents, where we eat dinner around 2:00, recline in, well, recliners, and watch "A Christmas Story" and a more abstract holiday movie called "A Matter of Principle." My kids can quote each movie like Rocky Horror groupies.

With all of these traditions already firmly established, I'd still be willing to begin a few new ones with the kids, like the daily remembering-to-flush-the-toilet observance or the sacrifice of the empty popsicle box still sitting in the freezer.

Please reply in the comments section with your strange or cool traditions.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Answering the call of testicular martyrdom

There are martyrs. And then, there are martyrs.

This post doesn't pertain to those kids who walk into crowded cafés wearing vests stuffed with explosives, intent on killing and maiming as many innocents as possible, including themselves. Nothing is funny about that and I have a difficult time relating to such a mindset.

I would, however, like to discuss the more mundane martyrs in our lives. I'm sure we can think of a few.

This topic presented itself after I read a piece about Matt Cassel, quarterback for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. After undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday, the team, as of today, had still not officially ruled him out of playing in Sunday's game against San Diego.

I'm not a doctor and I've never undergone an appendectomy, but I think i understand the fundamentals—a surgeon of some type slices into the human torso in a specific location, removes an inflamed, unnecessary organ and sews up the slit in the dermal matter. The resulting incision (based upon my recent encounter with back surgery) can then take up to three weeks to fully heal.

This may seem obvious, but I'll say it anyway. When your body is cut with a scalpel, you're told to take it easy until the stitches are out; you can remove the warm, fluffy dryer garments, one at a time, but not that large, soggy washer load. Oh, and one other thing: you're not really supposed to step onto a football field and allow trained assassins to launch their helmets at your surgically repaired sweetbreads.

A week ago, he was merely a really good football player. Today, he has become Matt Cassel: gridiron martyr.

On a smaller stage, martyrs exist in nearly every facet of our lives. There's the workplace martyr:
"I was throwing up all weekend, but I had to come in and finish up those things for that guy. Oh, and I used your computer because I love your mouse. And don't look in your garbage can."

We've got the family member martyr:
"Uncle Meldrick specifically asked that you be the person who changes his diaper on Christmas Eve. But don't worry, I'm your big sister and I'll do it like I always do."

And of course, the next door neighbor martyr:
"Hey, man. Here's ten pounds of plums from my tree. Well, actually they're from the ground under the tree, but hey, enjoy! And look, by no means do I expect anything in return, like an Olive Garden gift card or anything. Okay. Take care."

I haven't been able to steer clear of martyrdom, either. When my older daughter was six, I often served as a volunteer soccer referee at her games. One such contest fell on the day following my vasectomy. With the game about to start the coach looked over at me and asked if I'd mind reffing the game. I quickly analyzed the situation and decided sure, no problem. I'll just walk around and blow the whistle a few times. No big deal.

"You bet!" I replied, far too enthusiastically.

"Whoa, whoa, hang on just a minute." It was my wife, sounding that familiar voice of reason yet again. Her volume lowered a notch. "Your testicles were sliced open...yesterday. They're currently puffy and traumatized. I would think that you, of all people, would not want to jeopardize the two most precious objects in your life by running around with first graders."

I quickly re-evaluated my decision and discreetly notified the coach of my recent medical procedure. Only later that afternoon, as I reclined on the couch with a frozen bag of peas nestled against my southern hemisphere, did I realize how I very close I had gotten to becoming the unthinkable:

A testicular martyr.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas shopping for dummies

Lance slowly backed the dirty, white Subaru out of his driveway. "If I do say so myself, I've planned this whole thing perfectly," he surmised. "Christmas is still two full days away." He shifted into drive and swiveled his head forward again.

The filthy remnants of a recent road sanding encrusted the car's windshield. Lance activated the washer fluid switch in an attempt to improve his cloudy road view. "Dammit," he thought. "I was going to refill this stuff last weekend, but I guess I got too busy. And anyway, if I'd tried to make it to the auto parts store after watching both games, it probably would've been closed. Oh, and hello! She could've made the trip herself."

Lance's wife had prepared a list for him which included each person, his or her Christmas gift, where to buy it and its cost. He patted his pocket and felt the crinkling of paper against his chest, then quickly returned both hands to the wheel. The streets were still slick.

"She accuses me of being a procrastinator, but I don't see her doing this." He reached down to the passenger seat and pulled a chunk of peppermint bark from a plastic bag. "I'm definitely doing the lion's share. She can make fudge and cookies and toffee in her sleep. I know she's folding the laundry right now, but she's definitely doing it in front of the TV.

"Oh, that's right, and I have to mail these cards, too. If I pull up to that drive-by mailbox and my arm doesn't reach, I may have to step out of the car and possibly slip on the ice. Am I Mr. Flexible? Guilty, as charged. All she had to do was order, sign, address and stamp these things."

Lance mailed the cards without incident. "I could really use a cup of java. I'll just run into Safeway real quick like and grab me a little somethin' somethin' before beginning my odyssey." He slammed the door of the Subaru and walked gingerly across the parking lot.

"Hmm...let's take another look at this." He traced a gloved finger down the list. "I guess I'll swing by Toys 'R' Us, then on to Home Depot, over to Target, back to Best Buy and sure as Bob's your uncle, I am finished."

He wasn't sure why, but as he trudged into the grocery store, Lance looked sharply to his left. "I can't believe this. I am such a freakin' genius, I even amaze myself." He approached the kiosk. "No one's going to care, and this gives me plenty of time to get home for the Les Schwab Lug Nut Bowl."

Seven minutes later, Lance was through the checkout line and out the door. His gait was too enthusiastic for the icy asphalt . As he slid awkwardly into a James Brown-like splits position and slammed down onto his side, his stack of gift cards flew out of his left hand and slid thirty feet on the pavement, resting under a Ford F-150.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

What Do Our Dreams Really Mean? God Help Me.

I may regret this post, but I've got to write it. Could be therapeutic.

Sigmund Freud believed that our dreams are often manifestations of latent sexual anxiety, most frequently Oedipal in nature. Conversely, Dr. Phil submitted that our nightly venture into the fantasy world represents nothing more than sick subconscious perversions which can only be overcome by pulling ourselves up by the boot straps and getting our wives' teeth whitened.

Hopefully, neither of these theories holds water, because if so, I may need to revisit my childhood.

A lot of our dreams share commonalities: We forget to study and show up late for a final exam. We try to run, but our legs pump in slow motion. We fall off a cliff and jerk ourselves awake just before splattering on the craggy rocks below.

My dreams fall along these lines, as well. The issue, however, is that they're embellished with additional details, like a Big Mac which has too much special sauce, another slice of processed cheese and a third patty containing the meat of 3,672 more cows.

For example, I'll show up late to that final, but I'll also be naked and holding hands with a seven-foot Gumby. Or I'll fall off that cliff, but won't hit bottom because my high school football coach catches me, dressed like Mrs. Roper from Three's Company. The really interesting aspect of dreaming is that it all seems to make sense while happening. "Thanks for catching me, Coach. That's a nice springy floral print on your housecoat. See you at practice."

I've grown used to some really sick and wrong dreams, and I usually rationalize that it's my brain's way of acknowledging pent up frustrations and fears. It's a tool for releasing the pressure relief valve in my unconscious mind in order to function in the waking world. A few Republican congressmen could benefit from this mechanism, to prevent being caught with real-life hookers, wearing real-life diapers.

Well, thanks for walking through this analysis with me. I feel a lot better just getting it all out there and inviting a little dialogue. I'd really feel better if anyone who reads this could drop me a note, and relate any dreams they've had;  the weirder, the better. Thanks. Oh, and there's one more dream I wanted to share; this one happened last Tuesday.

Batman was peeing on me—the Adam West Batman.

Do you think that's a signal that I'm destined to star alongside Christian Bale as the next Robin?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A most toxic, yet intoxicating, plant

Today, I'd like to discuss my experience with a seemingly innocuous, even festive, holiday garnish. It hangs in corners of ceilings or doorways, passively beckoning those who stand under it to celebrate the season with a kiss.

Obviously, I'm speaking of mistletoe. It signifies whimsy and spontaneity, cheer and warmth, but for me, it hearkens to darker emotions, most notably—fear.

Back in May, I wrote about my inaugural attempt at dancing at an after school sock hop. I was a thirteen-year-old seventh grader at Olympic Junior High, and as I think back, this adolescent ritual more closely resembled a simian social gathering, where the genetically favorable male apes are rewarded with equally desirable partners in their rites of revelry. That first dance taught me that most girls would dance with me (except for slow dancing; only a few agreed to that). I simply needed to ask.

I concluded during my post dance analysis that I could dance passably, as long as I didn't try anything rash or Travoltian, and walking into the evening air, I felt confidant that the next experience would be much more enjoyable.

Dance number two was a more intimate, nighttime affair, held in the same multi-purpose facility at the school, but with a live band and holiday trimmings. I entered the venue solo, as usual, but feeling buoyant and sharp. My clothing choices epitomized men's style of the mid-1970s: a tan silk shirt with long, pointy collars, dark green corduroy flare legs and a freshly coiffed "butt cut" (parted in the middle, feathered on the sides, no earl lobes showing).

Due to school regulations, I removed my shiny brown platforms, and in doing so, shrunk two inches to my customary height of five feet, six inches. The crowd was still filing in with a smattering of couples already dancing to the house band, "Crossfire."

As I gazed upon the psychedelically lit gym floor, I watched an eighth grader (I think his name was Lonnie) approach a pair of dancers and hold a small sprig of vegetable matter above their heads. As if on cue, they abruptly stopped dancing, converged and lip locked with a vigor worthy of a conjugal prison visit.

They had been "mistletoed."

As the dance floor slowly filled, more couples were visited by random mistletoers. Where did these people acquire this stuff? Who knows, but that familiar, metallic taste of fear flooded my senses. Oh, my God, I thought, I can't get mistletoed. I've never kissed anyone on the mouth (except my grandma, after she'd been drinking), let alone for ten full seconds.

I still wanted to dance and talk to some girls, but what if we were descended upon by one of these evil holiday messengers? What if...hmm...what if?

I guess I'll have to try it, won't I?

The first three co-eds rejected my timid dance offers, which, although disappointing, wasn't unexpected. The fourth accepted and we danced mistletoe-free. Okay, that's cool, I rationalized. Maybe I can avoid these mistleterrorists all night. With my confidence notched up a peg, I hit the floor with another gunny-sacked beauty. As I immersed myself into the vibe of Crossfire's signature cover song, "Slow Ride" by Foghat, a shadowy figure approached from four o'clock.

It was my neighborhood friend, Jeff. He smiled a toothy smirk and hoisted a stalk of the now familiar plant between her and me. The act ensued in slow motion as we approached each other. Our heads repeatedly tilted in the same direction as we performed a jerky, yet well choreographed neck dance. I finally held my angle as she shifted hers, and what happened then is a little murky. It was warm, kind of soggy and since we both had braces, we luckily avoided a jaws of life event.

However—I had done it. I jotted a big check mark on the mental list of things to do right next to "first kiss.' At that point, it took no time to acclimate myself to the junior high version of throwing your car keys into a bowl, and by the end of the night, my mouth harbored more human bacteria than Richard Dawson's after an entire season of Family Feud.

As the evening ended, I slowly exited the building, joining a few friends for the short walk to the after-party at Pizza Hut. I felt a great sense of accomplishment, yet one thought still lingered:

When's the next dance?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The results are in: you're all insane.

President Obama, according to, is considering delaying a Hawaiian family vacation in an attempt to work out a deal with congressional Republicans on the Bush tax cuts that expire December 31.

This must be a tough pill for the other three Obamas to swallow, but hopefully they're used to this by now. He's the President and he's got to make some tough calls at the expense of his family. He desperately wants to fulfill as many of his campaign goals as he possibly can before Congress squeals to the right faster than Starsky and Hutch in their '75 Gran Torino.

The bigger question, in my opinion, is: Why? Why has he and so many thousands of other elected officials volunteered for this lifestyle? These people are subjected to unrelenting abuse, especially from biased media pundits. Whether liberal or conservative, entire networks exist to undermine their adversaries' platforms, as well as their friendships, associations, family ties, neck ties and haircuts.

I understand the idealistic reasons for which one considers a run at elected office. Many began with a quest to unite and lead, as I did when I had children. Many of us haven't made it too far on that quest.

Some entered the political arena to tirelessly serve others, which, apparently, I've decided to do by having children.

And many who hold public office had fully armored themselves for the unrelenting second-guessing, the personality attacks and the scathing criticism. That's where we differ, since I hadn't really thought about that when I decided to have children.

After reflecting on my first exposure to elected office, I've decided that no one should be surprised about this fiery atmosphere by the time they achieve adulthood, since all the factors are already at play. A kid running for fifth grade student body president campaigns the same way a seasoned politician does. One may promise universal health care, while the other pledges chicken chimichangas every other Thursday, but supporters jump on the bandwagon with equal gusto.

Each criticizes the prior administration. In one case, for igniting an unnecessary war based on false pretenses, and in the other, for not keeping the tether balls fully inflated as promised, leading to unnecessary shoulder blade welts among the constituency.

Once elected, the honeymoon ends quickly. Each is soundly rebuked for pandering to special interests; in one case, the insurance companies or energy industry. In the other, the chess club, which is allowed to stay in a comfortable classroom while the rest of the school crams into the play shed for rainy day recess.

Before long, each is constantly on the defensive, so there's no choice but to tout unnoticed accomplishments, whether it's affordable health care for thirty million Americans or the elimination of tuna fish pizza forever.

So let's not judge our President too harshly for entering the nation's highest office with virtually no executive experience, until we find out one crucial fact:

Was Barack Obama student body president at his elementary school?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Artificial Christmas trees: What would Santa do?

Christmas season is upon us, but you don't need this old scribe to tell you something so obvious. Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, it's like a lawn mower that takes a couple of cranks, sputters two or three times and then, usually on Thanksgiving night, roars to life with more decibel fury than the 1977 Motörhead arena tour.

I witness it every Thanksgiving evening on the ride home from Grandma’s house in our sapphire blue 2003 Kia minivan. Before the take-home turkey has even cooled inside the washed out Cool Whip container, my family’s thoughts and comments have shifted to Christmas.

Naturally, mine do as well. I can't help but ponder the new set of ads I'll see, and how long it'll take to become disillusioned with the rampant consumerism in our media. I envision the following holiday campaigns:

“Cialis for the holidays. Isn't it time you got that tree up?”

“From our children in China to your children in the developed world, Merry Christmas from your friends at Wal-Mart.

“America, you ate 46 million birds on Thanksgiving. What's the big deal about a few more who died a slightly different way? Come back to us...please. Happy holidays from B.P.

This weekend, we solidified our seasonal plans. It's almost like a little board of directors meeting, deciding for whom we'll bake or buy something, when we'll we get the girls’ pictures with Santa (Sure, they're fifteen and ten years old, but traditions die hard.), and most importantly, when we'll get the tree.

Naturally, the Christmas tree is the central focus in any Yuletide setting. Your house can ooze with Christmasness, but if there's no tree in the corner, it's like...I don't know...Rush Limbaugh without a bra, or a McRib sandwich sans ground up cloven hoof. 

We've always come home with a real tree; that's all I've ever known. One of my earliest memories is venturing out with my dad into rural western Washington to legally chop down a tree along county power lines. Hopefully, yearly exposure to high tension wires isn't the reason my elbow sprouted a couple of molars and a goatee, but I grew really fond of the hunt for the perfect tree out there with my old man. That woodsy living room smell is synonymous with Christmas.

That's why today's board meeting left me reeling a little bit. The family decided to finally get a fake tree, but to pick up some seasonal greens to garnish our house and soften the blow of no more wood pitch on the carpet. We asked ourselves, what's the point of driving forty miles to a tree farm, sawing down a nicely manicured, conical evergreen, paying sixty bucks and driving back? 

None, really. We resolved to channel the time and expense toward hosting friends for a Christmas open house. Sure, there are some upfront costs, like the artificial tree and a new red reindeer sweater and pipe for the man of the house. 

And I should probably go to the dentist about my elbow.

Friday, November 26, 2010

It's all about food...except when it's all about other food.

For most of us, yesterday had a singular focus—food—preparing it, eating a whole bunch of it, discreetly spitting an accidentally-eaten giblet into our napkin, packing it up, wiping bits of it off the counter and taking it home for later. During the other 364 non-Thanksgiving days, most people occupy themselves with other interests and pursuits.

Here's the thing, however: My family discusses food incessantly. Not just on Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter or birthdays, but every single day, several times per day. Here's an example:

Fifteen-year-old Daughter, on cell phone: Hey Dad, can you come pick me up from basketball what's for dinner?

Me: Okay. I'll be there in ten minutes cheese quesadillas.

Yesterday, we drove to Auburn to have Thanksgiving dinner at my wife's mom's house. She makes a fantastic, traditional Turkey Day spread, and since Auburn is about forty-five minutes away, that was forty-three minutes for us to spend talking about food. The other two minutes were devoted to deciding how loud to play the radio. We'd barely driven five hundred yards, when the first culinary salvo was fired.

Ten-year-old daughter: Do you think grandma will have shrimp with cocktail sauce?

Me: Yes. She always does.

Ten-year-old daughter: What if she doesn't?

Me: I don't know, but I'd say that chances are greater than eighty percent that she will.

Ten-year-old daughter: Dad, I don't care about percentages. I just need to know if she's having shrimp with cocktail sauce, because I've eaten very, very little today.

Fifteen-year-old daughter: Dad, I don't ask for much (Buzzer which symbolizes gross untruth should sound here). I just ask for shrimp and cocktail sauce on Thanksgiving Day. Don't deny me that simple pleasure.

By the time we had arrived at Grandma's house, each kid had a glazed facial expression representing a singular desire. If Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and a platter of shrimp with cocktail sauce sat in the living room together, my daughters would have screamed, jumped up and down and hugged the prawns.

As my wife joined her mother in the kitchen to help with dinner, I sat and observed my two young lionesses. They sat on the couch, still wearing their coats, and attacked the appetizers.

Me: You guys, save some for the rest of us.

Ten-year-old daughter: How many?

Me: I don't know. A few.

Ten-year-old daughter: What, like two or three?

Me: No. More than that.

Ten-year-old daughter: How many?

It was futile; I was merely talking to the tops of their heads as they bowed to their plates. Time for a different tack.

Me: You guys, finish what's on your plate and stop. Otherwise, I won't share the turkey neck with you.

Fifteen-year-old daughter: Ewwww!

Ten-year-old daughter: Ewwww! Turkeys don't have necks.

Me: Of course they do. What do you think holds their heads to their bodies?

I'd already lost them. Again, all I could see were my children's light and dark brown head crowns. Their plates resembled miniature shrimp Jonestowns, tails strewn about in smears of cocktail sauce. The paper plates had already begun decomposing in their hands as my older daughter wiped her mouth and finally looked at me.

"That was so good when's dinner?"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow and Seattle: A worse couple than McCain-Palin

I wonder if the Mayan calendar or Nostradamus prophesied about snowfall in Seattle. Every time we get the white stuff here, life as we know it morphs into something out of the Book of Revelation.

Yesterday marked the forty-seventh anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, one of our nation's defining moments, yet for those of us who live in the Seattle area, we'll just wait until next year and think twice as hard about number forty-eight. Come on, it snowed.

When it snows here, people choose up sides. They're either on the squad of those who panic and leave work with the first dusting, or they join the team of those who stay too long and leave work together in their rear-wheel-drive Lebarons. If you're a member of the latter group, it doesn't matter if cars litter the roadside like Camel butts, because dammit, you know your skills and your equipment. You'll make it.

Oops, you didn't make it.

I always make the mistake of turning on the local news when it snows, maybe just to get a glimpse of the Automotive Ice Capades. Reporters love this stuff—they plant themselves with a camera crew at the base of Queen Anne or Capital Hill and tape the poor suckers as they skid one after another into the ditch or another car. At this point, the camera will pan over to the reporter in her Action22 News Parka as she analyzes the situation:

"I'm standing here at the bottom of Denny Way in downtown Seattle, where it's snowing. As you can see, it's snowing where I stand as well as at the top of the hill, where our Action22 Superzoom video camera is providing a spectacular shot of some different snow. And now, as you can see, I'm bending over to scoop up some snow with my Action22 gloves, available on our website. This snow is cold and white. Please, if you don't have to go out in this snow, don't go out in it, and if you do, please wear pants, shoes, socks, a shirt and maybe another pair of pants. Back to you, Gil."

Always riveting. Why do I watch? No idea.

Of course, I'm not going to put myself above everyone else and claim that my behavior doesn't change during a winter wonderland. I always feel the need to set out on foot in search of provisions. You'd think that if I didn't fulfull my quest and make it to Safeway for some cheese and a sixpack of IPA, I'd be faced with deciding which family member to eat first. I always feel so satisfied upon entering the supermarket, a frozen Fu Manchu of snot coating my face as I traverse the aisles. I rarely give myself pause to ponder that the grocery store is fully staffed, fully stocked and the parking lot is filled with cars. Who cares? I made it.

I am a Seattlite. I wear odd clothes when it snows. I keep them in the basement and bring them out like Halloween decorations or camping equipment. The idea is to wear the tight stuff under the loose stuff for maximum warmth (please see the above image of my daughter and wife). Some people, like two women I saw at Safeway, only wear spandex and that's only acceptable if they are crawling out of their bobsled or paying tribute to Freddie Mercury.

Another blizzard of fun in the Emerald City.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is One Less Prison a Good Thing?

Built in 1876, America's last "island prison" is destined for the scrap heap.

McNeil Island Corrections Center, located in Washington state's south Puget Sound, is closing next spring, due to state budget cuts and cost inefficiencies. Nearly fifty years after our country's most famous island fortress, Alcatraz, shut down, McNeil Island will finally lock its doors, but this time no one will be clamoring from the inside.

The facility has housed some notorious bad guys, most notably, that big man on campus, Chuck Manson. Manson served a five-year stint in the early 1960s, prior to his discovery that The Beatles needed him to stab some people for them. I might have washed their cars or walked their dogs, but I suppose Charles was just a little more of a pleaser.

Prisons have always fascinated me. I think it began at the tender age of fifteen, when a documentary aired, entitled Scared Straight, in which juvenile offenders visited Rahway State Prison in New Jersey. They sat in a room and listened as a group of inmates serving life sentences described prison life in intimate detail. The kids were screamed at, provoked and highly intimidated as they heard about what they would encounter should they continue down their delinquent paths.

Even though I was exceedingly "straight" when compared with these adolescents, I was still fascinated and terrified by this broadcast. By no means was I keen on following my "daddy" around the prison yard, my index finger hooked in his rear belt loop or being traded to a convicted arsonist for a Butterfinger and half a jar of Vaseline, but I couldn't pry my eyes away.

Ever since, I've been drawn to prison-themed TV shows and movies, like Escape From Alcatraz, Bad Boys (where Sean Penn smacks a guy with a pillow case full of coke cans), The Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke, The Longest Yard and Papillion. I even liked The Andy Griffith Show, since someone occasionally ended up in Sheriff Taylor's cage.

It's difficult to imagine actually doing hard time, which feeds my obsessive anxieties about going to prison. For instance, what if I just happened to be walking downtown wearing jeans, a blue jacket, white Adidas shoes and a George Bush mask, right when some guy happens to be robbing a daycare center in an identical outfit. See how simple it would be to be sent away?

I'm not prepared. I don't have the skills to give someone a tattoo with a Tootsie Pop stick or make a shiv out of a large Cheeto. I do use liquid soap, though, so no problem there. And call me old fashioned, but I prefer a much longer courtship before a relationship is consummated than is par for the course in the big house.

So farewell, McNeil Island Corrections Center. After 134 years, you've served the public good by housing those who owed a debt to the public. If only your walls could talk.

On second thought, it's probably better that they can't.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Batman isn't too happy about these guys.

Finally, I've got something to fall back on if my day job doesn't work out.

I can be a superhero.

Hey, it's not funny. Okay, it's kind of funny, but not if I did it.

Seattle has witnessed an influx of real-life superheroes, banded into a group know as The Rain City Superhero Movement. They're a real-life Justice League, patrolling Seattle's mean streets and attempting to foil would-be crimes and apprehend criminals, while keeping their identities secret.

They go by names like Thorn, Green Reaper, Gemini and Phoenix Jones (that last one sounds more like someone Hugh Grant picked up for a five minute date on the Sunset Strip). All of these men claim to be either former military or mixed martial artists and, although they carry pepper spray, Tasers and nightsticks, none is packing heat.

They've actually spooked a lot of the good guys, including Seattle cops, with their strange uniforms and masked faces. I think the police are still a little squeamish about people who hide their faces ever since November of 1999, when roaming bands of masked thugs trashed our friendly little Mayberry and shut down the WTO conferences. Apparently, people like Catastrophe and Thunder 88 were still at Superhero Voc/Tech or they could have lent a hand.

I suppose I applaud their efforts, but every since I saw The Gimp in Pulp Fiction, I'm a little cynical about role playing in costumes. I think it's great when little kids dress up like their favorite comic book heroes; I can remember being four or five and my dad had forgotten his lunch at home. He was a high school teacher, so I asked my mom if I could deliver it to him dressed like Superman. I ran into his classroom, cape flapping, and was scooped up by my papa to the oohs and ahhhs of the nice teenagers in his room.

But I must say, when the cuteness factor evaporates, so does a lot of the public acceptance. When it's a chubby, adult male in a Batman costume paying a visit to an emergency room because he tore his ACL while "rescuing" his wife, well, next time just keep it to the back seat of the Taurus, I mean, Batmobile.

So good luck to you guys. Sure, none of you has true super powers like Spiderman, Flash or The Green Lantern, but you do have something that most of us don't:

A little too much time on your hands.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Life after Facebook de-friending: How to pick up the pieces.

It's cool. I'm okay...really.

Yesterday, I discovered that a guy had "de-friended" me on Facebook. Instantly, I was overcome with emotion— confusion, dismay, sadness. How should I feel, since he really wasn't my pal in the first place, yet he still cared enough to become my "e-friend?"

Rejection is never easy, and I've had my share of it. I decided to rank this setback among my life's other disappointments, just to keep things in perspective. Was it worse than realizing I could never grow a really good mustache? No way. Was I more distraught than when I discovered that I'd built my gas grill backwards, and I'd need another full day to reassemble it? Yes, I was.

In the final analysis, on the disappointment scale, my de-friending landed somewhere between the Seattle Supersonics leaving for Oklahoma City and Pee Wee Herman getting busted "red handed." I realized, yet again, that it's not how we deal with success, it's how we handle the slimy bologna slap of rejection.

After eventually swallowing the bitter pill, I turned inward. Why had this happened? What could I have done differently?

I'm fully aware that my writings have polarized and offended those who:

-believe that five thousand years ago, Adam was either created in God's image (which apparently resembles Mattel's Ken doll plus naughty area), or was dropped off by aliens from the planet Xenu.

-favor affordable health care, for those who can afford it.

-don't want their children taught by anyone gay, because the teacher may either sneeze the gay onto the child or accidentally touch the kid and transfer a lighter case of bisexuality.

-are convinced that our President is Chairman Mao's love child, conceived out of wedlock with an African succubus while on vacation at the Kenyan Club Med.

-Believe that Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh more closely resemble Abraham, Martin and John than Moe, Curly and Larry.

A large number of my friends and family members ideologically lean to the right, and they know I love them unconditionally. And for the rest of you, go ahead and de-friend me. Your scorn will only fortify my resolve.

Besides, I've found these new places called chat rooms, filled with new friends who happen to be single, hot and 22 years old.

I will love again.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

1001 incorrect uses for a blow dryer.

I've been spending more time at the gym lately. It''s not because I'm training for the Iron Man or because I want an even better body than I currently have—that's impossible.

Nope, I've been hanging out at the "Y" more because my ten-year-old daughter has taken an interest in improving her health. And really, what parent wouldn't rather follow his child's lead than order her to turn off the TV, put on her pink nylon shorts and head to the gym with her grumpy, old dad.

Whatever motives people have for working out, I fully support them, because no one likes a nation whose citizens are more marbled with lard than Kobe Beef. I just wish I didn't have to watch some folks while they exercise. Maybe it's because I'm usually highly anaerobic and sweat-drenched when I'm looking at these people, or maybe I just see myself in the mirror next to them and wonder when I turned into a gray-haired old man with a throbbing forehead vein, but here are the types of people who annoy me the most at our local YMCA:

The Self-Admirers: This group is ninety percent male and lifts massive amounts of barbells, dumbbells and sports drinks. They dress in tight shirts from Old Navy, borrowed from their little brothers, which form fit their torsos while exposing massive arm loaves. I like to make faces at them in the mirror because they never look at anyone but themselves.

The Incorrect Machine Users: These gym patrons usually don't dress for working out, either. An average member of this group is an older woman with a flowered blouse, stretchy polyester pants and powder blue flats. Many machines, such as the seated chest press, include a foot lever for putting the handles in proper position for the arm workout. She ignores this and pushes the foot lever up and down approximately seven times before stopping and just sitting there for a while. Nothing quite like a toned right calf muscle.

The New Agers: These people like to flop a mat down right between the lat pull and curl machines, thereby making my left knuckle touch their downward doggie ass every time my arm achieves full extension. I would appreciate if they would practice their art somewhere others will welcome them, like the Whole Foods bulk food section.

The Malodorous Mafia: I won't go into too many specifics because you might be eating, and I realize they probably can't help it. I'll just say that there's this one guy whose body chemistry is so objectionable that if I see him, I'll turn around, get dressed, go home and play Wii croquet.

The Real Housewives of West Seattle: These are two person teams, usually youngish moms. They chit chat as they jog on their tandem treadmills, usually about whose PEPS group raises more money for breast pump awareness or whose kid is more advanced in his preschool calculus class.

After observing some or all of these personalities, my daughter and I are ready to return home where things are familiar and relaxed. It's been a good workout, so I'll just get my stuff out of the locker and we'll hit the road. What could I possibly see at this point that's any weirder than the past forty-five minutes?*

*I saw a guy in the locker room blow drying his bottom on October 18, 2010.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A salute to some unsung heroes.

"Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me."

-Commander Charles "Pete" Conrad, Mission Commander for Apollo 12, upon stepping onto the surface of the Moon.

Forty-one years ago today, November 14, 1969, Apollo 12 embarked on the second manned expedition to the lunar surface. Only four months previously, arguably the most profound human endeavor of the twentieth century materialized as Neil Armstrong remarked, "That's one small step for giant leap for mankind."

We never seem to remember or acknowledge outstanding achievements unless they are the first of their kind. I can rattle off in my sleep each astronaut on the Apollo 11 mission (Armstrong, Eugene "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins—okay, I was a space geek), but I had to look up all three names for the Apollo 12. They were Pete Conrad, Richard Gordon, Jr. and Alan Bean, pictured above.

These men were engineers, mathematicians, athletes and pilots, but most of all they were master improvisors. I wasn't aware that Apollo 12's Saturn V rocket was struck by lightening—twice—immediately after lift-off, and that the mission was nearly aborted but for the quick thinking of Bean, the Lunar Module pilot. As nearly every warning light in the cockpit flashed, he quickly switched the craft to its auxiliary fuel cells and restored telemetry to the main cells, thereby ensuring that the launch continued successfully. Scotty's got nothing on that man.

At the end of the mission, Apollo 12's objectives had been met, including a far more precise Moon landing than its predecessor had achieved, and it splashed down in the South Pacific with far less fanfare.

Apollo 12 was a little like that second or third kid who's born into the family. She doesn't get as many pictures taken of her, she wears a lot of hand-me-downs—she flies under the radar. Maybe its because I'm a third kid that I'm writing this post, paying tribute to an historic feat in its own rite, one that deserves its own place in the spotlight.

So here's to all of those people who weren't the first, but were highly inspirational nonetheless. How about Larry Doby, the the second African American Major League Baseball Player after Jackie Robinson, who had to suffer the same indignities that Robinson did, and with nowhere near the media attention and implicit support.

Our what about the Buffalo Bills, who made it to four consecutive Super Bowls? Many will remember them as the most notorious losers of the NFL Championship until we consider that the were NFC champions an amazing four years in a row.

There are so many more—the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode on Dallas, which was the second highest rated television show of all time (next to the final episode of M*A*S*H), the fact that Jack Nicklaus finished second nineteen times in major golf championships, or that Susan Lucci was passed over for a Daytime Emmy Award a record eighteen times before she finally won one. We Americans seem to be all about who gets the gold. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, "The Silver Medal just means you're the best of the losers." How about we try to shake this attitude once and for all?

And by the way, this has nothing to do with the fact that my teenager beat me in a game of H-O-R-S-E this morning.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I solemnly swear.

Warning: The following post is intended for mature audiences. Okay, actually, it's intended for immature audiences.

What is it about swearing? Forbidden, yet alluring. Crass, yet liberating. Easy, yet sometimes difficult to sculpt into a perfect delivery.

In some situations, swearing is acceptable or even expected, as in the  animated example above. Coaches, athletes, tavern stool sitters or any other manifestation of pure testosterone demands a firm grip on the profane. You can't punctuate a good fishing story without a few expletives. You're not going to win over the dudes in the locker room if you comment that the chick on the Stairmaster had "some beautiful gosh darn skin." Nope, you've got to go for broke, and preferably with a few of George Carlin's seven words.

As kids, most of us were warned against using foul language, even though we frequently heard our parents spew their vitriol, most notably while driving or immediately after a holiday with the in-laws. We knew that one day, we would also enter that forbidden land.

And therefore, cussing is one of the first vices most people adopt. It's possible, as a youngster, to pilfer a couple of smokes out of your mom's purse or top off the vodka bottle with tap water, but swearing out of parental earshot presents far fewer risks.

I'll never forget my inaugural sailing on the SS Potty Mouth. I was around eight or nine years old, playing in my room with a couple of friends. They'd already begun their foray into vulgar verbiage and were highly encouraging, so I dipped my feet into the water, tossing out a quiet F-bomb.

That's when my life changed forever, as I realized what a truly victimless crime I had committed. I swore loudly and I swore proudly. From that moment forward, I've embraced blue language more tightly than Robin hugs Batman on the way down the Bat Cave pole.

Sure, some don't swear because they prefer to be more "folksy." I'm speaking of people like Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. Defense Secretary, who used to say things like, "Jiminy Christmas, gee willikers and dad gummit! Stop whining about serving one more year in Iraq, folks!" He reminds me of my grandpa telling me to go back down to the basement and finish removing that rabid wolverine's teeth, and then we'll have some nice oatmeal.

There are also people who refuse to swear, but they're willing to come ridiculously close. Seriously, what's a "gosh" or a "freakin'" or a "darn" or a "geez," other than a nasty word in Donny Osmond clothing? Come on, either say it or don't say it. Don't be like those weird people who go swimming but won't get their hair wet.

There are a lot of colorful, versatile words out there, and they're just itching to drive your point home. Put a few in your shopping cart, load them in the trunk and bring them out when you need them. You won't be sorry for a f*(_^&g second, you g@%^&*n @$$*0)e.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's so nice when two people hit it off

King County Metro Route 54, 7:54 AM

The tires on my Ford Ranger unnaturally chafed against the curb as I straightened the steering wheel. I had found a spot on the street, and the Metro bus, the second leg of my commute downtown, approached rapidly from behind. I tumbled out of the door, snagging my bag on the gear shift and slammed the door partially closed. Oh, well, I thought, it's still locked.

The articulated coach sped by me as I lengthened my stride to a full sprint, awkwardly clutching the bag's nylon fabric, rather than its strap or handle. The bus slowed to a stop to pick up passengers half a block ahead, and just as I reached it, began to slowly pull away. I slapped at its dusty blue and yellow exterior and mumbled an oath at the faceless driver and his mother.

The vehicle again slowed and stopped at a red light approximately one hundred feet up the street—one last chance. I jogged up to the door and stood in the middle of Alaska Street, staring up at the operator, his gaze locked on a distant horizon. I knocked but he didn't respond. I knocked harder and he finally turned his mulleted head in my direction.

My arms spread in a conciliatory manner, as if to say, "Hey, man, no hard feelings about leaving me in your exhaust. Now open the door, please." My facial expression betrayed pleasantness combined with anaerobic strain from the recent eighty-yard dead sprint. No words were exchanged; it was as if I were doing a private show for the man, where I played the part of a begging mime. He looked down at me, shook his head and swiveled his cranium back to its forward facing profile.

After abruptly realizing a lost cause, my emotions rapidly morphed from desperation to frustration to seething, swirling anger. I now wanted to yank his disproportionally long hair from the back of his head and duct tape it to his forehead to even things out. Since this wasn't an option, I quickly resorted to my profanity portfolio, ready to lob at least a couple of F-bombs into his area before he could drive away. Testosterone has a way of knocking on your door without first phoning.

Rage choked me as my brain fumbled for something, anything to yell inside the bus. I looked briefly to the left and noticed a small boy glaring out the window at me, curiously assessing this crazed, would-be passenger standing in the street, gesturing and panting. Our eyes met, and I could feel my ire transition from white hot to red to a dull orange.

I looked and felt like a fool.

The light turned green and King County Metro Route 54 lumbered away as I retreated to the safer confines of the sidewalk. A minute later, my head rose to greet the sound of another 54 approaching from the distance.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How I fit my teenager for a GPS without her knowledge

This cool dad thing is starting to wear off.

My wife and I are always encouraging our fifteen-year-old daughter to invite her friends over to the house. It's nice to meet the people she hangs out with during these pivotal years, and if they're here, they're not somewhere else (obviously, but you know what I mean).

These kids hang out in large social clusters, quite similar to gorillas and elephants with expanded vocabulary, but only recently have these groups become co-ed. Crushes do exist within their ever-morphing amoeba, but very little pairing up actually occurs—fine with me.

A few weeks ago, a group of twelve boys and girls assembled at our house to eat frozen pizza, drink high fructose corn syrup and get ready for the high school's fall homecoming dance. The girl faction had gathered earlier, and were ready to go when the males arrived. As they entered, the aroma of "Pink Sugar" perfume, the latest incarnation of adolescent female essence, hung thickly in the air, melding with the slightly burnt odor of ten Red Baron combo pizzas.

Since I'd not met most of the dudes, I tried to kick things off on a cool note. You know, make sure they noticed my ear piercings, maybe try a nonconventional handshake on one or two of them.

"Hey, guys, I'm Zoe's dad." Obviously. What other middle-aged man would be plodding around the house in shorts, slippers and a torn UW hoody with no drawstrings.

I continued, "You can call me Tim." Okay, that was kind of stupid. Chances are very slight that they'll ever call me anything. But at least I haven't messed up too badly yet.

But I didn't stop there. "I won't make you call me Dr. Haywood, even though that's how most people refer to me, since I'm a neurosurgeon."

Sparse, uncomfortable teen chuckles sprinkled the room. as my daughter's glare tore into me.  "He's not a doctor. He's a graphic designer. Bye, Dad,"

Well, that sure went well, I thought. It used to be so much easier to win these kids over. A solid knock-knock joke, followed by their favorite flavor of frozen Gogurt and a Capri Sun, and I was golden. Now the only golden object was my silence.

I retreated into another room and didn't emerge until I could hear them preparing to head out for the evening. I re-entered their domain, planning on saying as little as possible, but lost my game plan at the sight of three shirtless sixteen-year-old boys. Apparently, they decided to change into their dance shirts just prior to leaving, and my living room looked like the Chippendale's Apprentice Academy.

It was easy to stick to my no-speaking strategy, since my mouth and the mouth's of the girls in the room stood agape at the display of muscles I haven't seen on my own body since the Carter administration.

The wardrobe change took all of two minutes and everyone was out the door before I realized that my daughter had entered a new realm in her dealings with the opposite sex. And next time everyone comes over, I'll be much more prepared.

I won't be there.