Sunday, February 28, 2010

Girl Scout Cookies: Try them for breakfast

It's that time of year. Time to ignore the fact that you could purchase three boxes from the Keebler Elf for the price of one box from a member of the Girl Scouts of America.

The cookies are packaged quite cleverly, especially the Thin Mints. Once you open a row, the cellophane literally disintegrates; you can't just twist the plastic back up like you can with a roll of Ritz Crackers. So naturally, you're compelled to eat far more than you had initially planned, sometimes the entire row. It's actually deliciously easy. Try to pop one whole cookie into your mouth. I'll bet you can.

My nine-year-old daughter is now part of the legion of cherubic, guilt-inducing, green-clad sprites who invade our lives every February and March. She accompanied me into my employer's office about a month ago, to solicit orders for her "pre-sale." All she really had to do was walk around the floor for an hour, wearing her scout sash over her purple piece sign t-shirt, her red velvet capri pants and her imitation UGG boots. This is her A-list outfit—the one she wears to close a deal.

The girl didn't even speak; she needed to merely ask one simple question:
"How many boxes would you like?"

And provide a few rudimentary answers:
"They're four dollars a box...Yeah, I know it's a lot, but it's for a good cause."
"Samoas are my favorite. But they're all really good...sure, you can buy one box of each."
"Yeah, I think my dad's really obnoxious, too. But can you buy some anyway?"

She sold 84 boxes in an hour. Amway should be so easy.

The other phase of the sale, which we performed yesterday, was the "site sale" activity, where you set up a cookie table at the entrance to a grocery store. This is a bit more challenging, but the cute factor really proves to be the sharpest arrow in the girl scout quiver. The scouts must adhere to some basic rules, such as not soliciting people to buy until they leave the store. We developed a technique which we felt led to increased sales, but didn't break this tenet.

The girls simply smiled, established eye contact with each customer who entered the store and said, "Hi." Occasionally, someone, usually a kind, older woman, would walk right over and purchase from us. Or, they'd remember us and buy on the way out. It's a great study in human nature, because once face-to-face acknowledgment occurs, the sale is all but done. Either that, or the person offers up some warm encouragement.

Some individuals go to extremes to avoid any eye contact whatsoever. We witnessed people listening to iPods and talking on phones at the same time, while others craned their necks painfully hard in the opposite direction of our table. I've never seen so many people so interested in Duraflame logs on their way out of a grocery store.

It's not lost on me that I live in Seattle, the passive aggressive, fake-nice capital of Earth. Yet we experienced so much literal kindness. Some people couldn't eat sugar, so they donated a box; one lady donated five. Another woman handed us a twenty and said, "Just spend it where you see fit." That actually came at a great time, since I needed some Saturday night beer money (I'm kidding, for all you know).

The only improvement I might suggest for next year, is a special Seattle area, vegan thin mint, delivered in smart cars by free range bakers.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The fine line between hero and goat

Heroes have been frequent subjects in my writings. Today, I'd like to hang a "U" turn.

Let's talk about "goats." 

I would define a goat as someone who commits an act, intentional or otherwise, which profoundly affects that person's reputation, whether fair or unfair, for the remainder of their lives.

First, let's back up a bit. I've got a rather strange, pathological habit, which I inherited from my mom, of reading the obituaries, probably three days a week. I find it interesting to learn about ordinary folks like myself—how many kids they've left behind, what they did during their lives, what their interests were.

This morning, I came across an article in the New York Times about a man named Kermit Tyler, who recently passed away at the age of 96. Mr. Tyler rendezvoused with fate on the morning of December 7, 1941, as he served as the senior army officer on duty for the aircraft tracking center at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Two privates watching the radar screen reported picking up a large group of approaching planes and informed Lieutenant Tyler. Tyler, who was performing his duties for only the second day at the tracking center,  possessed little knowledge of radar and mistook the large blip for a squadron of American B-17s. He famously advised them, "Don't worry about it."

This large swarm of aircraft was actually the first wave of Japanese bombers and fighters, on their way to wreak havoc on the American naval base and subsequently plunging the United States into World War II.

Many factors contributed to the lapse in America's defenses that day, but Lieutenant Tyler's name emerged as synonymous with our country's historical unpreparedness, and although he continued on to an illustrious and decorated career in the Air Force, he was forever haunted by this singular event.

How unfair I thought, that history judges people so harshly. So many more examples came to mind after reading this piece, of others who received the "goat" brand, none with the severity of Mr. Tyler, but all highly stigmatized nonetheless:

-There are the politicians. Who can forget Howard Dean, the guy who watched his front runner status as the Democratic presidential candidate fly out the window on the tails of a crazed-cowboy, testosterone-laden, screaming frenzy? Or John Edwards and Gary Hart, who self-administered their own goat horns and blew their presidential aspirations due to their colossal, libido-governing deficiencies?

-There are the sports figures. Just name a major league baseball star who played during the 1990s, and I'll show you a goat who looks more like a centaur from all of the human growth hormone injections. How about the Dutch speedskating coach, whose ill-fated advice cost his protégé both an Olympic gold medal and a world record?

And then there's Bill Buckner.

Here's the thing—we've all been goats and we'll probably be them again. What I wouldn't give to go back in time and not ask the woman at my wife's work Christmas party, "So when are you due?"
She wasn't pregnant.

The difference is that most of us can wallow in relative obscurity over our gaffes, while a select few are forever judged in the worldwide court of public opinion. Some deserve it, some don't, but either way, the burden's got to be heavy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The throw up lowdown

It's not fun. In fact, that's an understatement. It's gross, disgusting, sickening and traumatic. However distasteful it may be, though, we're all united through our common experiences with it; everyone's got a story about how it happened to them in the worst possible situation or in front of the worst possible person.

I'm talking about...vomiting.

We've got more names for it than almost any other bodily function: hurling, yakking, gargling groceries, throwing food, spitting yams, chumming, barfing, ralphing, backfeeding—I'll stop there. It's not that we don't like to talk about it; we sort of do, but only under the correct circumstances. We don't bring it up at Grandma's dinner table. We don't mention it to our brand new girlfriend—"Wow, when I threw up last week, that gift just kept on giving. I blew my nose the next day and found a piece of carrot." Nope, not a good time to go there.

But when we're with friends or others with whom we feel comfortable, the stories line up like the barf bus just arrived for story time. Today at work, for instance, three of my colleagues each had a couple of yam yarns to spin, with a few to spare. The common denominator for each story was that moment of realization we all experience when we know it's going to happen...the dizziness, the nausea, the cold, clammy skin and increased salivary build-up. That singular moment in time when we think, "I need to find the porcelain."

Of course, witnessing our kids throw up is no laughing matter. No parent enjoys watching his or her child in such discomfort. And, as every parent knows, the first strike from a small child is never into the proper receptacle. It's on the bed, in the car, on the carpet; I actually was thrown up upon by my younger daughter as my older daughter pulled out one of her teeth and simultaneously bled on me. As a general rule, it's never a terrible idea to wear rubber clothing around children under five.

My own parents frequently made the colossal error of plying me with Pepto Bismol in an effort to fend off an attack of technicolor yawning, but the opposite result usually occurred, where a frothy, pink bouquet merely supplemented the toxic cocktail. Or, they would bring out the "just in case" barf bowl, which only surfaced in this situation and primed your pump like a Pavlovian experiment.

The actual act of cookie tossing is quite a marvel of the human body. According to James Hallenback, MD, vomiting protects us from ingesting toxic substances, an evolutionary advantage. "The brain has a variety of receptors that test for potential toxins. Stimulation of these receptors triggers nausea and vomiting, preferably in time to limit further ingestion of poison." He goes on to state that many animal species do not have the ability to vomit, such as rodents.

Well, rodents seem to be getting by just fine.

I'm sure we'd all like to think that our throwing up days are behind us. In a Seinfeld episode, Jerry became distraught when his twenty-year, no-throw-up streak ended after eating a black and white cookie. But let's be realistic, here. It's going to happen again. And we're going to tell our friends.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is yours a job, a career or a calling?

Every so often, I like to ask my kids what they want to be when they grow up. I never know if I'll receive the same answer as I did a day, a week or a year ago. My nine-year-old daughter's most recent career choice is to become either a lawyer or a bartender. Why not both? I wondered. She can offer discounted legal services and dollar well drinks during happy hour.

As flippant as this sounds, however, how long did it really take some of us to decide on a career, let alone when we would actually be "grown up?" It seemed so much simpler back in our fathers' eras of working for G.E. or G.M. or 3M or IBM for 35 years, and retiring with a shiny, gold watch and even shinier pension. I'm sure it wasn't all that simple nor easy, but the word "loyalty" did hold a larger status among employers.

Today's youth don't seem to possess the luxury of feeling things out during those first two years of college, and then declaring a solid major and plowing full-steam-ahead toward a corporate executive position upon graduation. It seems that presently, kids' career paths begin in high school, with running start programs or international baccalaureate pursuits, and let's not even delve into the sporting arena, with AAU teams, personal trainers and traveling all-star teams encouraging specialization at a young age.

Even when I attended college almost thirty years ago, my peers and I were faced with choosing between a well-rounded, liberal arts education and vocational training, otherwise known as a business degree. It was during the full-blown glory of the Reagan years, and the young Republicans bloomed at the University of Washington campus like azaleas at the Masters. An individual had to be extremely cautious walking the halls of the business school, or his or her eyes risked being gashed out by some guy's pink, vampire-like IZOD collar.

The word "vicious" is probably a little strong to describe the atmosphere within my chosen major of accounting, but I'll also say we didn't all join hands with a big, purple dinosaur, either. One of my fondest memories was looking over at my adjacent classmate as he spied the numerals "2.5" across the top of my mid-term exam. With a satisfied smirk, he looked at me and simply stated, "Bummer." I came hauntingly close to removing my penny loafer and pile driving it into his mouth, the penny hurling from the shoe tongue and lodging against his uvula.

A common behavior among my fellow accounting pledges was to occasionally wear business suits to class. This indicated only one thing—that you had an interview that day with a big firm, like Price Waterhouse or Deloitte & Touche, and didn't have time to change before the big meeting. Color me bitter and/or jealous, as I never had the good fortune of wearing a suit to class, but, many years later,  I took a slight bit of pleasure when the largest accounting firm in the world, Arthur Andersen, imploded in a blaze of humiliation along with Enron, its partner in crime. Take that, you cream-of-the-crop scholars. Bummer.

Okay, time to pull the cord and jump off the vindictive bus. Honestly, I'll never regret the education and five-year accounting career I embarked upon following my graduation from the U.W. I don't think my subsequent twenty-year stint as a graphic designer could've been possible any other way, and I learned some valuable lessons about the difference between the words "job" and "career," as well as the difference between the words "career" and "calling."

Here's to all of us discovering our calling.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Anatomy of a blogger: break it down

Over my past 92 posts to Reflections of a shallow pond, I've deciphered a few patterns in the topics I expound upon. The reason I started writing this manifesto in the first place was to document the escapades of my family, especially the kids. How often do we parents hear, "Oh, you need to write that down. If you don't, you'll forget about the time your daughter made a twelve-room castle out of cardboard and duct tape, or how the other daughter longed to drink a 'crappuccino'?"

I didn't expect to burst at the seams with ideas, to be giddy about writing this life log, but it's really turned into a fun outlet. And even though I had no pre-meditated format, the themes can be narrowed down to:

1) Family and kids.
2) Recollections of my youth.
3) Stories of everyday experiences.
4) Opinions about social issues and pop culture.

I think we all reach a time in our lives when our concept of the future begins to narrow and the past bursts wide open. I feel like I've been driving through the industrial area of my life and stumbled upon a massive warehouse, containing pallets of experiences and anecdotes. And here's the best part—someone just taught me how to drive the forklift.

I'm 47 years old. When I hear myself talk, I hear the voice of a twenty-year-old, warming up in the on-deck circle for life. Then I gaze upon my gray-whiskered face in the mirror, and wonder, "Why is the Quaker Oats guy staring back at me?" I'll see a picture of a criminal or celebrity in the newspaper and think, "He's got to be at least ten years older than I am." As it turns out he's three years younger.

I'm not feeling sorry for myself here. Oh, no. In fact, it's quite the opposite. This blog has been a cathartic, personal journey. It has illuminated the true richness of life. Thanks for listening.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fashion and the Winter Olympiad

I work in the fashion industry. However, I'm not a role model, nor a maven of fashion; my fabric of choice is elastic; my shoe of choice is the Converse Arch-Be-Gone (also known as the Chuck Taylor).

Nevertheless, I keep a watchful eye on clothing trends and styles, and I couldn't help but notice two fashion worlds colliding this week, as the the 21st Winter Olympiad opened in Vancouver, BC and New York Fashion Week burst onto the scene in the Big Apple.

I'll leave the New York stuff to the experts, but I do want to share a few nuggets of observation regarding the styles worn by the world's snow and ice athletes 140 miles to the north of my home here in Seattle. I've broken these outfits down to the following categories:

1) The skiers and lugers (Actually, they're called "sliders," not "lugers," probably because "lugers" sounds a little too much like "losers."). These people look the coolest of all, with brightly colored, superhero, super tight suits and sleek, streamline helmets. I would totally dress like this if I were twenty pounds lighter and buff, except I'd probably wear some baggy shorts to hide my "Baryshnikov."

2) The speed skaters. Also very cool looking, except they wear snug, one-piece outfits, with a head covering that makes them look like baby harp seals with forty-inch thighs.

3) The curlers. I love these people because they look like they just fixed your copy machine and didn't change before the competition. I could have sworn I saw a Hostess Berry Pie sticking out of a guy's Dockers' pocket as he bent over, sweeping. I'm completely behind athletes who represent "Herb Everyman," and I could just picture one of them walking over to me at work, cell phone clipped to his belt, saying, "Mornin', the name's Bob. I went ahead and re-stocked your toner and fuser oil. If you need anything else, call me and I'll get back to you as soon as possible, even if I happen to be curlin'."

4) The snowboarders. These are the dudes, the guys and girls who care much more about the look than any type of aerodynamic advantage. They wear jeans. Jeans in the snow. Remember what it was like when you wore jeans to play in the snow for an afternoon? You'd finally burst through your front door, shivering uncontrollably because your pants were wet, frozen and crusty. Your mom would gaze at you, shaking her head. "I told you to wear your snow pants. Now let's get you into a hot bathtub."

5) The figure skaters. Let's just say this is what happens when someone has a Bedazzler and too much time on his hands.

There are other fashion realms of the winter athlete, I'm sure, but I think I've touched upon the main categories. And since it's not practical for someone like me, who spends the day in a cubicle, to wear any of the above clothing choices, I've decided to pursue either a Bruce Jenner or Dorothy Hamill hair style. No difference, really.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Judge not, lest yeast be judged

Any time my family and I embark on a little road trip, as we did this past long weekend, we encounter a period of re-acquainting ourselves with each other. As is the case with most families, our separate lives behave like free radical particles, loosely orbiting a nucleus, otherwise known as our brick rambler.

But this weekend, the chickens came home to roost as we piled into the awesome, sporty and dirty 2003 Kia minivan for a little weekend junket to our time-share condo in Port Townsend, Washington. It's a trip we've made scores of times in the past, but each trip is a bit lighter—no more portable high chairs, strollers, playpens, bibs or baby monitors—than the time before. It's also more contentious each time, as my older daughter struggles mightily with those in her presence. She's at that age where the worst day with a friend beats the best day with a parent. I've been meaning to tell her how much I appreciate her willingness to go out to dinner and watch cable TV. Please remind me to do that.

Since my wife can actually balance 17 plates in the air at once, while I can hold one with two hands at the same time, she utilized the three-hour drive to grade papers and instruct the girls to write thank you notes for their Valentine's Day money from the grandparents and aunt (By the way, when did kids start receiving greenbacks for VDay?).

They whipped out the notes in record time, so Terri decided to give them a once-over. Lauryn, our nine-year-old, simply wrote "Thanks, Love You," three times. Zoe, the fourteen year-old, expressed herself a bit further, writing, "Thanks for the money. I'm going to use it to buy food."

Hmmm. I guess that's a good way to get more money next time. Just play the old hunger card.

We arrived and settled into the small condo outside Port Townsend, and it didn't take the kids long to find the trashiest shows on the telly. The Real Housewives of New Jersey, as much as I hate to admit it, has unseated The Bachelor as the absolute king of swill. I decided, after viewing a mere three, one-hour episodes, that this show was invading our brain synapses like LCD methamphetamine. Then we saw previews for other "Real Housewife" shows from New York and Orange County, and Lauryn wondered out loud if Real Housewives of Montana would contain as much venom.

After dinner, Terri and I decided to leave the girls to the trappings of the television, while we headed into town for a screening of Crazy Heart.

"Hey, Zoe, want to wrestle after they leave?" inquired Lauryn.

"Okay, but I have to pluck my eyebrows first." Zoe has a knack for being both twenty-four and four at the same time.

Terri and I left without further comment.

We arrived at the small movie house in downtown Port Townsend, a Victorian burgh brimming with bohemian charm, if not full-blown hippie. I love the place, and I'm certain there's a Woodstock groupie itching to burst out of me, but some of the traits of the inhabitants of this hamlet are even a little over-the-top for this old, tie-dyed soul.

I must have seen at least four grey-haired "skullets," or bald men with ponytails. In addition as we walked through the concession area of the theater, we noticed a jar at the condiment table that appeared to be Parmesan cheese. Upon further examination, however, we discovered that the stuff was yeast. Yes, yeast. Yeast to sprinkle on your popcorn. Gross. That's like putting wheat on your rice.

At that point, I told myself, "Stop being so judgmental. You preach to your kids about jumping to conclusions regarding people you don't know, and here you are, doing just that."

Then I saw the dog with dreadlocks.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Workplace annoyance: sound redundant?

Every once in a while, we read an article or see a news report which, after exhaustive research, reveals conclusions we've known all along. Such was the case in a piece put out by Reuters and picked up by

1,836 people were surveyed and asked what conditions they found most irritating in the workplace, as well as which work jargon they found most annoying. Rather than simply listing the results in a two-dimensional grid, I'm going to spin a little work yarn; just a little story about Mr.-Average-Office-Worker-Guy, shlepping himself to his place of employment at AnywhereCo, Inc. See how many obnoxious phrases and annoying work conditions you can find:

Parv sprinted the block-and-a-half from where the bus had dumped him off, panting heavily as he plowed through the revolving door to the high-rise building. He could feel the sweat dripping down his back and congealing just above his belt line.

As he stepped off the elevator onto the sixteenth floor, a gust of frigid, manufactured air blasted his face and torso, freeze-drying the perspiration onto his body like a salty magic shell. Parv loped quickly toward his cubicle, and passed an easel displaying the company health fair. The sign offered free flu shots to those employees willing to have their body fat measured for an instructional video. "Fat chance," Parv chuckled.

He slammed his backpack down onto his desk and turned on his PC for a quick email check. The familiar, little message rectangle appeared on the screen. "Server down. Please contact technical support." Parv didn't hate his computer; he just disliked it with a fiery passion.

He stopped off at the kitchen to stash his lunch bag and opened the communal refrigerator. Three levels of the receptacle had been crammed with old brown bags and still older, browner Tupperware. The sole area remaining to place a lunch was coated with and ancient layer of puddled Grape Crush; it's stickiness strong enough to bond the heat tiles on the space shuttle Endeavor.

Time to urgently pursue one last detour. The four cups of Taster's Choice Parv had brewed himself back at his apartment had caught up with him and were now threatening to submerge his distressed bladder. As he finished up his duties at the urinal, the adjacent stall door burst open. The figure moved with great stealth; Parv could only discern that it was a male, clutching a sports section, wearing a blue suit and brown Cole Haan wingtips. Parv's peripheral vision followed the figure, first out of the stall door and then...out of the restroom.

"Oh, come on!" churned Parv. "Just humor me and wash your @#$%ing hands already!"

And now, time for another informative and helpful meeting. Continuing down the hallway another thirty feet and turning left at Conference Room 16C, Parv was welcomed by the gloomy stares of his co-workers. Taff, by far the most talkative of his workmates, zeroed in on Parv as he nestled himself into a spot at the conference table.
"Hey, Parvster," chided Taff. "Hope you're ready for a big week, and you're not just gonna throw pies in the dark again."
"What?" Parv bellowed.

The conference room door suddenly swung open and there he stood, the boss, ten minutes late, opting not to sit among the others, but rather, lording over everyone.
"Okay, people. Listen up. We're just here to touch base and make sure a few items are on our radar. I really hope each of you has arrived with his or her A-game this week, because we really need to get our ducks in a row. Now let's get to work."

Parv had no idea what his manager was talking about, but did he ever?

Oh, well. Time to return to his cubicle to see what's going on with Perez Hilton.

And for those who are interested, here's the list:

The survey found the Top 10 office annoyances were:
  • Grumpy or moody colleagues (37 percent)
  • Slow computers (36)
  • Small talk/gossip in the office (19)
  • The use of office jargon or management-speak (18)
  • People speaking loudly on the phone (18)
  • Too much health and safety in the work place (16)
  • Poor toilet etiquette (16)
  • People not turning up for meetings on time or at all (16)
  • People not tidying up after themselves in the kitchen (15)
  • Too cold/cold air conditioning (15)
The most annoying jargon:
  • Thinking outside the box (21 percent)
  • Let's touch base (20)
  • Blue sky thinking (19)
  • Blamestorming (16) (sitting down and working out whose fault something is)
  • Drill down to a more granular level (15) (Look into something in more detail)
  • Let's not throw pies in the dark (15) (we need a plan rather than a haphazard approach)
  • I've got that on my radar (13)
  • Push the envelope (12)
  • Bring your A-game (11) (Be ready to do something to best of ability)
  • Get all your ducks in a row (11)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Bachelor gets my vote for worst show ever

Yesterday afternoon, as I sat next to my nine-year-old daughter,  I looked over and asked her, "Lauryn, who do you look up to?"

"I don't know. Why are you asking me that?"
"I'm just curious as to who kids look up to these days."
"Umm, well, you, I guess." That was nice to hear, if not completely heartfelt.
"Thanks, Laur. But I'm just wondering, of the people you see on TV or read about, whom do you admire?"
"I like Beyoncé. And Miley Cyrus."
"Would you say those are your heroes?" I tried to ask this without betraying any irony in my voice.
"Not really," she replied. "They're more like idols...oh! I know. The rescuers who pulled the people in Haiti out of the rubble and helped them. Those are heroes."

That was a refreshing statement to hear from my daughter. At least she can discern between true courage and true celebrity.

It seems harder and harder for our kids to make these distinctions. My older daughter has grown up witnessing a new class of American pseudo-icons—the reality television stars. One of her favorite shows is The Bachelor, where a large gaggle of Barbie look-alikes vie for the affections of one Ken look-alike. The premise is for him to find his soul mate within a few episodes, sponsored by Pepsi. The guy is portrayed as the man every parent wants his or her daughter to marry—handsome, smart, sensitive and, above all, wealthy. Call me old and cynical, but this is one of the worst television shows, let alone reality shows, I've ever laid eyes upon. The bachelor is forced to eliminate one candidate every show in "the rose ceremony," thereby sending her packing in tears with just a memory of what might have been.

The remaining contestants survive another week. I guess we have to assume that they're all equally in love with Joe All-American; this is prime time "love light," not "let's-start-out-as-friends-then-date-for-a-while-then-see-where-things-go-over-the-next-couple-of-years" love.

I doubt that either party to this faux-courtship series would qualify as a hero to my other daughter, the fourteen-year-old, but just the fact that she enjoys the show is a little disturbing to me. If I might climb into my Ward Cleaver "When I Was A Boy" Wayback Machine, my heroes were usually athletes or astronauts. In fact, I knew the name of each Apollo explorer, as well as the mission at hand, whether it was orbiting Earth, the moon or the big one—landing on the lunar surface. Neil Armstrong was the king of cool, and I would have easily chosen him over Joe Namath or David Cassidy to show up as a surprise guest to my ninth birthday party.

I'm thinking about instituting a moratorium on reality shows in our house. Either that, or for every reality show my daughters watch, they have to read an article about someone who has actually contributed to society, rather than someone who simply indulges the viewing public's 21st century voyeurism.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The lurking menace in American cinema

I love movies. Who doesn't?

It doesn't matter the genre—comedy, drama, suspense, mystery, even the infamous "chick flick." Come on, guys, tell me you didn't well up a little when Richard Gere whisked Deborah Winger out of her dead-end factory job and into her dream life in An Officer and a Gentleman?

Okay, that's a bad example. Richard Gere makes me break out in weird places. How about, then, in Jerry Maguire, when Tom Cruise laid himself bare and confessed to Renee Zellweger, "You complete me"? Sorry, another bad example. Doctor Evil did it better, and Tom Cruise is Satan's spawn.

Anyway, I'm sure that we men have enjoyed an estrogen-laced movie or two over the years; I just can't think of one now. One other genre I really enjoy is the foreign film. The challenge when viewing a non-English-language movie is following the action while reading the subtitles. And forget about eating something off a plate during this activity. You could conceivably miss the line of the movie as you stab a forkfull of Swanson's Hungry Man Salisbury Steak into your face.

I've always admired whomever it is that translates foreign dialogue into English, and is able to capture the nuances of each language to portray the spirit of the film's dialogue. This is a skill that can't be overrated. Imagine if a less adept translator attempted to interpret some of the more famous American movie lines for subtitles in another language.

For instance, in the movie, Dirty Dancing, the line, "No one puts Baby in a corner" runs the risk of morphing into "There isn't an individual person who places an infant at the perpendicular union of two walls." See what I mean? This is a valuable service.

How about when Clint Eastwood's character, Dirty Harry, blurts out the famous "Go ahead. Make my day," as he burrows his 44 Magnum into the face of a bad guy? There's always the risk that the subtitle in, say Swedish, would be, "Please proceed to construct my hours of sunlight." You see what I'm saying? All of these profound lines compromised into oblivion. "I can't quit you," from Brokeback Mountain could somehow land on, "I find myself unable to resign my membership in you."

One phrase I can think of that probably wouldn't be butchered is Leonardo Dicaprio's proclamation in Titanic, "I'm king of the world!" Pretty straight forward, but stupid in any language.

I'm sure we can think of a plethora of other screenplay moments which could suffer in translation, but let's just hope someone watching a feature film in, maybe, Indonesia, doesn't see the buff, shirtless, secret agent proclaim:

"Adhesive, James Adhesive."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Gays in the military: what are you afraid of?

I'm feeling a bit ticked off today.

I realize my blog is usually chock full of sarcastic musings about life's everyday issues, and I really try to keep things airy and light. I also attempt to not post every day, as no one really cares to hear my views on a daily basis.

But over the past couple of days, an issue has really struck a chord with me. It all started after I began following the latest developments in the debate over repealing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. With all due respect to our southern states, I posted on my Facebook status the following:

"It's still illegal to be gay in the military. When did our Congress decide they're still living in 1955 Alabama?"

Naturally, I expected this statement to ignite some reaction among my Facebook friends, but I rather enjoy stimulating some actual thought, rather than telling someone what kind of Starbucks cookie I'm planning to eat at 3:00. I wasn't disappointed.

I received a few "So-and-so likes this" posts and comments of support from my fellow progressives. Then, I was notified of a comment made by an acquaintance of mine who had spent a lengthy stint as an Army officer. Here's what he said:

"Wow. Spend a few years in the military and then tell me your opinion." He followed it up with, "Honestly, only those who have been there, whether homosexual or heterosexual, can discuss this intelligently."

Now my dander was up. He was telling me I can't express a valid opinion on this subject without having worn the uniform. I may have never served in the military, but has he ever been gay? Maybe he'd also like to segregate the troops by race, and put those soldiers in the most dangerous situations, like the Tuskegee Airmen and Japanese-American units faced during World War II. Surely, no civilian, liberal blowhard like myself is qualified to speak out against institutionalized bigotry.

I harbor nothing but absolute respect and appreciation for those who serve our country and have sacrificed so much. And I hold those gay members of our armed forces in even higher esteem, because they risk even more, with the ever-present threat of being "outed" and thereby discharged.

He ended his post by stating that his "problem is with anyone who hasn't served, but who is trying to impose their personal belief on an organization of which they know far too little about."

So, I guess my question to him is this:

What are you really afraid of?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Superbowl Sunday: Greedy players, greedier owners, and seven-layer dip

As many of us are well aware, Sunday marks America's unofficial sports holiday, a national daylong fest of gluttony and television watching (two of my preferred activities any time of the year).

Most refer to it as Superbowl Sunday. Others may dub it "National I-really-have-to-pee-but-I-can't-leave-the-room-because-the-commercials-are-better-than-the-game" Day, or "Why-don't-I-just-forget-about-the-chips-and-eat-the-dip-with-a-spoon" Day. But, for whatever moniker we may opt, it's a great excuse to gather with friends and family and waste an entire Sunday in the name of huge men hurling their bodies at each other in pursuit of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Among all this warm and fuzzy revelry, however, a storm of labor unrest is a brewin' in the National Football League. The league's collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the 2010-11 season, and both the players' union and the owners are sparring over a new pact. In 2008, the league grossed approximately $6 billion in operating revenue, of which the players' union received and divvied up approximately 60%. Sounds pretty good to me.

The owners are now proposing an 18% reduction in revenue share for the players. They claim that since their group assumes 100% of the cost, they should not be compelled to forfeit 60% of the proceeds. The players' union, while pointing out that they are not only the workers, but also the product, are pushing for a five-year extension to the existing agreement. Management, in the words of famed broadcaster Keith Jackson, have barked out, "Whoa, Nelly!"

I've got quite a problem with both sides in this matter; we're talking about billionaires using their leverage against millionaires. America has a checkered history visa vie labor/management relations—we were industrialized through the exploitation of slaves, immigrants and children. The unions have made massive strides in defining fair wages and labor law, and many of our ancestors were harmed in this struggle. In addition, a new sector of our population, known as the middle class, emerged as a direct result of organized labor.

Are we comparing apples to apples when it comes to this battle of entertainment industry giants versus coal miners in Kentucky? I think not, so here's my solution for owners and players alike:

Unless you want to completely alienate that guy from Pittsburgh, who paints his face, straps on his foam finger and spends his living wages on eight dollar beers at the stadium, just extend your existing agreement. It's like when that favorite pair of pleated, gabardine slacks develops a hole in its crotch, you march right down to Penney's and buy a new pair just like it.

Come on, owners and players. It's not broken. Don't try to fix it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Grammies make me feel like Grampy

My family and I are suckers for a good awards show—Golden Globes, Oscars, or People's Processed Cheese Awards, it doesn't matter, we're there. So last night, it was hardly a shocker to find us in front of the idiot cube, cradling a little cherry pie a la mode in our laps, firing up the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards.

As the show began, a list of the evening's presenters and performers scrolled down the screen. My wife and I recognized, roughly, thirty percent of the names, while our daughters gazed upon the offering, exclaiming "Yes! Taylor Swift!" or "Justin Bieber! I love him!"

My kids seemed to know the words to every song mentioned or performed, other than the country variety. Jamie Foxx, who apparently has added the title of hip hop artist to his résumé, took the stage and launched into some, at least to me, indecipherable rhymes, working the crowd into a frenzy. I glanced to my right, where my fourteen-year-old daughter sat, rapping along with every word. More and more performers joined Foxx on stage, adding to the din, and soon, I couldn't make out a single word. It was the audible equivalent of one of my dad's Thursday night crock pot casseroles. My teenager didn't miss a beat; I won't say she sang along, because it really wasn't a song, but she talked along effortlessly and enthusiastically.

I thought to myself, "When I was a teenager, did I know all the words to every song performed and awarded at the Grammies?" The answer was as simple as rubbing that genie bottle known as "The Google." I accessed a list Grammy Award winners for the 1977 show, way back when I was a spry buck of fourteen years. Here are some highlights:

Record of the Year—"Hotel California," by The Eagles
Album of the Year—"Rumours," by Fleetwood Mac
Song of the Year—"You Light Up My Life," by Debbie Boone
Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus—"How Deep Is Your Love," by The Bee Gees
Best Rhythm and Blues Song—"You Make Me Feel Like Dancing," by Leo Sayer
Best Country Song—"Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," by Crystal Gayle

Okay, that's just a sampling. And at first I thought I had googled the wrong list; this one looks more like the White, Middle-Aged Adult Easy Listening Awards. Leo Sayer actually received best R & B song? Wow. I was expecting to see some Stevie Wonder, or maybe Earth, Wind and Fire.  And come on, how does Pat Boone's kid score a Grammy, with ABBA in their prime?

Overall, a bit disappointing, but after examining each and every award-winning pop song from 1977, I came to one inescapable conclusion:

I knew the words.