Friday, April 30, 2010

It's not just another Friday

It's just another Friday.

She comes into their bedroom at six-thirty.

Dad, it's Friday.

Yep. He yawns.

Are we doing our routine?

Uh, huh.

He gets up and showers quickly.

She gets dressed and brushes her hair and teeth.

Remember, Dad? This is the day of the week when I wear my comfy clothes. Are you done with your coffee?

Yep. Let's go.

On the three-minute trip to Safeway, they talk about karma and friends.

They walk through the sliding doors, and she takes in the aroma of flowers and produce.

Dad, I love that smell.

She leads him to the bakery, where she chooses a blueberry muffin, and then gets an orange juice (with added calcium).

Dad, this is pretty healthy, right?

I guess so.

They shuffle through the checkout area; no bag necessary.

Both Dad and daughter sit on the same side of a booth in the deli area and eat and watch and talk.

Dad, can you open my orange juice? Thanks. This muffin is really fresh, she says, unaware of a fluffy, blue crumb dangling from her mouth's corner.

Dad, thanks for bringing me here, she says, as she wraps her right arm around his midsection on the way out of Safeway.

It's not just another Friday.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Some advice for my teenage driver

My daughter just turned fifteen, but for the past six months, the predominant request emanating from her mouth (other than "What's for dinner?") is "Can I drive?"

Our response, naturally, has been a consistent, "No, you don't have your permit yet." Well, now she's about to get one, so let the games begin. I've been mulling over any type of driving advice I could give her, as gleaned from my thirty-one years of operating a motor vehicle. Naturally, she'll have to become physically proficient at driving an automobile, but this list is more about mental preparedness and the utilization of common driving sense, which I'm fairly sure most teenagers don't have a handle on just yet.

Here's what I came up with. Zoe, listen closely.

1) We all know about how dangerous it is to text or talk on a cell phone while driving. What isn't really discussed is eating. Never eat a large burger or burrito while negotiating a vehicle. Your car will travel at least 500 feet while peeling back the foil wrapper on a Mondo from Taco Del Mar or a Zippy Burger, and it's very difficult to take in the brilliance of a tangy chipotle sauce while driving with your knees.

2) Try not to drive to work in the morning—take the bus. I understand that this can be inconvenient, and crowded public transportation can smell like the sleeping quarters on The Deadliest Catch, but morning and evening commutes are when drivers are stressed and on their worst behavior.

3) If a car's turn signal stays on for over a mile, they're probably not going to turn. Chances are that they've cranked up Iron Maiden so high that they can't hear the doink, doinking of the signal.

4) Beware drivers who cut you off abruptly. Usually, it's because they've finally spotted an Arby's, they need to exit, and can only get there from your lane. Back off immediately or you'll be eating their brake lights.

5) People who tailgate you are passive-aggressively reprimanding you for not moving at what they consider to be the appropriate speed.  These are some of the drivers whom I've fantasized about—in evil ways. My devious plots have included tapping into their radios and yelling at them in the voice of their dead grandmother or using my mental powers to render certain muscles in their body "uncontrollable," if you understand what I'm saying.

6) As the great George Carlin once said, "Anyone driving faster than us is a 'maniac,' and anyone driving slower than us is an 'idiot.'" When encountering one of these types, rather than churning with hot, piercing anger, my advice is to go out of your way to establish eye contact. This is a technique for acknowledging each other's humanity. Remember, that slow driver may be someone's great uncle who defended your freedom in the trenches of Gallipoli during World War I.

7) If you decide to use the tool of last resort, the "Digit of No Return," make sure you don't know the person you're flipping off. I've done this. It's bad.

I guess that's about it for now. We'll practice this weekend out on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Who are the true rock-n-roll immortals?

Yesterday morning, my daughters and I were sharing a rare moment of leisure together, and the subject somehow drifted to Elvis.

"Dad, I heard he died on the toilet," offered my ten-year-old.

"Didn't he eat a lot of bacon? Like really a lot of bacon?" queried the fifteen-year-old. I wanted to ask her if she had a problem with people who eat a lot of bacon, because, you know, I'll blend bacon into a smoothie.

I found it interesting that my daughters each had her own impression of the King of Rock-n-Roll, but not the one most of us older folks have. He was a true pioneer—someone who inspired artists for generations, yet he represented nothing more than a bloated caricature to them.

So many other musicians fall into that category; people who define a genre, yet receive no credit for influencing the music our kids love. For every Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Jonas Brother or Miley Cyrus, there's a CĂ©line Dion, Michael Bolton, Donny Osmond or Debbie Gibson who isn't getting his or her due. Hang on a second...I almost forgot. I can't stand any of them. In fact, if I was forced to either listen to Michael Bolton sing or eat fiberglass insulation to survive, let's just say I'd have an energy-efficient lower intestine.

My co-workers and I have a long-running discussion regarding which rock artists have remained fresh and relevant for two or more generations. This wouldn't include those who still perform on the casino circuit, but haven't had any new material since the mullet was called the "bi-level," like Def Leppard, Journey, Kansas, Foreigner, Pat Benetar or Tom Jones.

Nor does the list recognize those who revolutionized music, but weren't around long enough to span two generations or more, or simply didn't evolve much, such as Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Janis Joplin, the Ramones, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Chuck Berry and The Cure.

From my middle-aged, white guy perspective, here is my ever-changing docket of rock-n-roll immortals: The Beatles, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Tom Waits, U2, REM, Prince, Madonna, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Stevie Nicks, Sting, Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, Beck, Pink Floyd, Eddie Vedder, The Beastie Boys, Bruce Springsteen and Metallica.

And I'm open for suggestions...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Running barefoot, but not because he's being chased by someone mad at him

Today, I'd like to delve into a subculture of sorts, a section of the general population which I've always considered just a little bit, well, different.

I know scads of runners, so I'll try to tread lightly here.

In this morning's Seattle Times, the front page featured a piece about a man named Ted McDonald. Mr. McDonald is 45 and an avid runner, with the body of an eighteen-year-old. And get this: He runs in bare feet—on all types of terrain, and in all kinds of weather.

He theorizes that humans are meant to run barefoot, and that today's high-tech running shoes are actually harmful to our knees, hips and backs. His utilizes a gait of quicker, smaller steps and plants on his outer-middle foot, rather than the heel. McDonald believes that wearing heavily padded shoes is the equivalent of donning a back brace every day for added support—it's better just to build up the muscles as a natural, bodily reinforcement.

Like I stated previously, the guy is in stellar shape, so who am I to judge? He'll probably outlive me, yet I wonder how many tetanus shots he's been forced to receive after stepping on rusty nails, glass, sharp rocks, decomposing squirrels, etc.

Mr. McDonald's story reminded me of other runners I've known or seen over the years. My dad was a marathon runner, with thirteen of the 26-mile endurance races, including Boston, under his belt. He recently stopped running due to back issues, which I know was an extremely difficult decision. Long ago, the act of running with his group had transcended from merely a form of exercise into a social activity, if not solid and enduring passion.

On his refrigerator, he keeps a magnetic picture of him and two of his running friends, posing after a race. They're all wearing huge, sweaty grins on their faces, with one of the guys displaying a huge, splotchy, wet stain in the crotch area of his spandex shorts. To this day, my dad maintains that it's a sweat stain, but I've never seen anyone sweat that much "down there." I think the guy just didn't care about finding a "temporary relief facility."

And that's my point—runners are just a little bit "off." What's up with those super short, Seventies-style shorts, which expose even the thigh-level tan lines from their swim suits? Why do they have to jog in place while waiting for lights to change? Don't those snot drops bother them as they quiver on the tips of their noses? Does that guy really need to run in the snow? Does the same guy really have to take his shirt off? Well, I suppose I would if I were him, if I weren't afraid of scaring dogs and small children with my bare torso.

My sister and wife also run, but I'm pretty sure I never will. I like to ride my bike and go to the gym, and that's good enough. Runners, keep buying your fancy Nike or Asics or New Balance shoes, or just run barefoot. I really don't care.

Just share the road with us cyclists.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

User error and the English language

In honor of my mom's birthday, which was yesterday, I'd like to perform a little exploration of the spoken word. As talented and versatile as she was, Peggy Haywood was all about the English language. She constantly corrected my verbal sentence structure, in a nice way, and inspired me to be ever-vigilant in the quest for grammatical correctness.

With my mom in mind, today I'm celebrating some interpretations of our language which stick in my craw; a mish-mash of words and phrases which really bother me. Some examples:

1) Mispronounced words—
Joey was supposably going to bring the pizza rolls.

As long as I'm your president, I'll smoke out anyone with nucular capabilities.

I love any kind of pork rinds, expecially from the pig's ankles.

Irregardless of odor, I want this couch from the roadside.

Huffing airplane glue makes me really disorientated.

This sherbert tastes like my grandma's, with real meat in the bottom.

2) Nonsensical phrases—
A statement is made, then the following statement completely negates the first one:
Sarah Palin is a charismatic politician who has invigorated the Republican base. That being said, she has the intelligence of a toenail clipping and needs to disappear in a cloud of snow machine spray.

A statement which begins well, but renders itself ridiculous:
That quarterback's pass went at least sixty yards in the air.

Redundant statements:
He's a close, personal friend (which is basically saying, "He's a friend, friend friend.").

Phrases which contain one incorrect word:
We really need to flush out the gene-mutating issues in this corn seed.

For all intensive purposes, she's both my aunt and my grandpa.

I'll stop here, because we all make grammatical errors, and no one is above a mistake or two. A while back, I was engaged in a serious discussion with my brother about Haiti. Rather than referring to the inhabitants as the indigenous Haitian people, I used the word androgynous.

End of conversation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's not as easy as riding a bike

One of my favorite fringe benefits of having children is the unpredictability of an average day—especially if that day falls on the weekend.

My wife decided we should embark on a family outing on Sunday. The four of us have very few common denominators, but one of them is our ability to ride bicycles. Since we all possess varying skill levels, my role is that of the "just-call-me-Lance-because-that's-how-awesome-I-look-in-logo-covered-spandex" alpha bike dog. The rest of the family falls in somewhere within the amateur ranks.

Any type of day trip with children, regardless of their ages, requires extensive contingency planning. I knew we shouldn't have gotten rid of the diaper bag, because by the time we'd packed sandwiches, goldfish, protein bars, gallons of water, sunscreen and various other essentials, we nearly had to exclude one of the kids in order to haul all of the supplies.

We drove south from Seattle for about forty minutes, arriving at the Interurban bike trail, a long, flat, paved path, which bisects the Green River Valley of south King County, Washington. This area of western Washington is formerly lush farmland once populated by strawberries, lettuce, daffodils and pumpkins, but which is currently occupied by beautiful, boxy warehouses. Nothing screams nature's majesty like a row of concrete loading docks.

We parked at a trailhead in Auburn and unloaded four bikes. Zoe, my fourteen-year-old, was accompanied by her "bestie," Maddy. The girls surveyed our surroundings and Zoe glanced over at me, a concerned look betraying her teenage-induced glaziness.

"Dad, what if people think Maddy and I are from Auburn? That would be awkward."

Then I did something I do frequently—I asked her a question when I really should have ignored her. "What do you mean?"

"Well, they'll all be looking at us and think we'll be new kids at the school on Monday."

"First of all," I rebutted, "this may come as a surprise, but no one's looking at you." I wish Galileo were still around to debunk the teenage myth that the universe orbits around a teen's ever-so-slowly developing gray matter. "And secondly, your mom and I are both from here, so you're an honorary citizen of Auburn. Your paperwork would be all in order." That was an attempt at a joke.

Blank stare. "Well, at least my butt looks good in these shorts." She'd moved on long ago.

The two older girls hopped on their bikes and rode off ahead of Lauryn, Terri and me. Once the three of us were underway, we stopped roughly every hundred yards so Lauryn could re-hydrate. After about a mile, we'd gone through our entire water supply, and our condition seemed quite dire to my ten-year-old. "Dad, I'm so thirsty. It's like I'm in the desert and I haven't had a drink in days."

"Lauryn, you just finished your water ten seconds ago."

"I know, but that water just teased me."

Luckily, we didn't need a divining rod to detect some liquid refreshment about one hundred yards up the path at a teriyaki mini-mart. I rode ahead, proud that I was fulfilling my role as provider. While Lauryn sat and replenished her water stores, I squirreled around on my awesome mountain bike to kill some time. As I circled back, I turned a bit too sharply and went down—hard, on both wrists. I skinned both knees. It hurt a lot. It seems like when you're a kid, this happens all the time, and you recover in seconds, but when someone my age takes a spill, the injury lingers forever. I'm planning on this.

We eventually established a rhythm and rode about seven miles. When we returned to our vehicle, the teenagers were reclining in the truck bed, sunning themselves. "Maddy, we're going to be so tan at school tomorrow." Zoe glowed with delight about her newfound bronze potential. "Do you think people will think we went to California for the weekend?"

I love that girl. And so does everyone else in the universe.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A middle-aged man's guide to social protocol

Following are a few things guys my age do, which seem okay at the time, but actually make us look stupid:

1) Using terms that we think make us sound cool, but the kids stopped saying them years ago. Here's a composite sentence, containing as many of these terms as I can include:
"Really?  I know, right? Dude, I feel you. I totally get that, and it's hella filthy, but the 411 is that I'm not on it 24/7, dog." I've used each of these colloquial expressions at one time or another.

2) Wearing football jerseys or other authentic team apparel around town. We see Lebron James or Drew Brees looking awesome in this stuff and then we notice it hanging up at Foot Locker. We spend eighty dollars, tote it home, put it on and wear it to the grocery store once. Not flattering on a short, white, middle-aged, narrow-shouldered papa. A subset of this category is long, white basketball shorts.

3) Driving with the windows down, playing classic rock really loud.

4) Not waiting for your wife to return home to help you move the TV.

5) Supersizing it, double-stuffing it, adding extra cheese, bacon or ranch dressing or starting off things with an appetizer.  This was my Thursday night.

6) Sprinting.

7) Watching National Lampoon's Vacation with your ten-year-old, because you forgot about the scene where they visited cousin Eddie.

8) And finally, this suggestion comes from the aforementioned ten-year-old:
Taking off your shirt.

These are merely suggestions. Results may vary, depending on how things went for you as the oldest guy at the all-ages, Euro mix beats club last night.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Most popular names over 40 years: a personal tale

Last night, as on every Thursday evening, my girls' soccer team, the Blue Fire, participated in a tune-up for Saturday's game. I listened to myself barking out each girl's name at one time or another:

"Lily, don't hold onto the ball for so long."
"Good hustle, Camas."
"Emma, pass the ball."
"Ginsy, you need to get back on defense."
"Claire, nice save."

I noticed how some of the kids have classic, Anglo-Saxon names, while others seem a bit newfangled. This, in turn, caused some curiosity about which names have been superseded and which have remained steady from the year I was born, 1962, to the year most of my soccer team came into being, 2000. And just as a little exercise in self-amusement, I wondered if I have known someone with each name, and if so, what was our relationship. So here goes.

Most popular girls' names for the year 2000:
1) Emily—My 14-year-old daughter alone has about four friends named Emily. I identify them in sort of a Native American-inspired way (i.e. Emily Red Hair).
2) Hannah— another kid on my soccer team, and also the last name of one of the creators of the Flintstones and Jetsons. No wonder it's popular with parents my age.
3) Madison—I love this name. It's cute and versatile. These kids can go by Maddie, Addie. Sonny, Mad, Ad, Diso or M'son. I also know a couple of them.
4) Ashley—I've known a few of these, but I tend to get them confused with Brittanys, Hayleys and Kayleighhghs.
5) Sarah—a biblical stalwart of a name. This one's not going away. It could be your newborn, your aunt or your great-great-great grandmother who came from Germany in a covered wagon.

And now, the most popular girls' names for my birth year, 1962:
1) Mary—I had a crush on a Mary during my junior high days. We all know the most famous Mary of all time (JC's mom), but what was her last name? Probably something like Jordan or Redwine.
2) Susan—I also had a crush on a Susan. Actually, it was a Sue. And my wife's best friend is a Susan. Actually, Susie. Come on, you guys, your parents named you Susan, so be Susan..starting today.
3) Karen—I also had crush on a Karen. Karen, if you're reading this, when we went camping with our church youth group, I wasn't thinking very Lutheran thoughts.
4) Maria—I also had a crush on a Maria. I was four so I punched her in the arm.
5) Lisa—I also had a crush on a Lisa. She was in band. I was in band. We were so hot together.

Other popular girls' names I can remember from my youth are Theresa, Stacy, Cheryl, Kathy, Janet, Lori and Michelle.

I also had crushes on them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Color me weird

Is it a habit or an obsession? Is it an obsession or a superstition? My life is filled with gray areas between these three behavioral disorders.

Am I avoiding that crack in the sidewalk because that's what I do every day, or am I really afraid of breaking my mother's back? It would be nice to use the excuse that I don't want to get the heel of my pump stuck in there. Plus, it would simply be fun to own some pumps. I digress.

Do I really think wearing the same 1979 Styx concert t-shirt and sitting on the same part of the couch to watch the game will help my team win again? Should I avoid lima beans today because my horoscope instructed this, or because I have an obsessive aversion to their God-awfulness? Should I be concerned that I forgot my lucky bus pass? Wait, I think that's different.

I decided to gauge my obsessive/compulsive/superstitiousness yesterday morning, just to see how freaky-strange my behavior truly is. Here's a timeline:

6:42—showered. The shower routine is a strange one. Either I robotically de-contaminate myself in exactly the same sequence of soaping and rinsing, or I stare blankly at the corner of the stall, like that kid at the end of the Blair Witch Project.

6:53—got dressed, in the same order as every morning since I wore Underoos: underwear, right sock, left sock, jeans, shirt, right shoe, left shoe. I once read in a novel about Afghanistan that many people consider it bad luck to put on your left shoe first, so I'm even more conscious of shoe-donning order.

7:00—poured cereal, filling the bowl two-thirds to the top, then pouring milk for a count of two. I must read something while eating cereal; anything will do. I read the bottom of a Kleenex box once. Check it out, there's writing down there.

7:07—took an assortment of pills, including vitamins C, D, a multivitamin, fish oil and a Claritin, washing them all down with black coffee and gagging slightly. I'm not sure why I feel compelled to swallow them all at once, but I do derive a twisted sense of pride from this ritual, and I suppose it could be a useful skill if I ever go to prison.

7:15—left the house and got into my truck. Before starting the engine, I always pull up my socks. Why? I think it goes back to the 70s, when showing any calf above your tube socks was a Class C Felony.

I'll stop here, since I've probably conveyed the true predictability of my behavior, as it occurs over a 33-minute interval on any given morning. Is this my way of coping with an unpredictable world? Maybe. Is it because my mother's Irish heritage passed along a large dose of superstition? Maybe.

But whatever the reason, I need to go now because it's 8:38, and I don't want to miss my peeing time slot.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dry land canoeing with the Girl Scouts

Nothing beats a sunny Sunday morning with one of my theory.

Yesterday morning, we rose early for and excursion to Girl Scout Camp River Ranch, located in beautiful Carnation, Washington, for a three-hour seminar on canoeing. Each member of Lauyn's troop is required to organize an outing, and since Lauryn loves canoeing, this seemed like a great option. Also, being my 110 percent male self and hence not privy to the ways of GS of A, this trip provided me with a rare glimpse into the Girl Scout culture.

Lauryn was a bit disappointed because only two other girls from her troop had signed up for canoeing, but any sense of letdown was trumped by excitement as we crested the hill, which revealed a calm, sparkling lake, patrolled by Canadian geese and a bald eagle. We approached the staging area, signed in and gathered on benches for an introductory chat with the facilitator. Approximately fifteen other Girl Scouts accumulated along with their moms; our troop was the only one chaperoned by dads.

It became apparent early on that one of the mothers would be asserting herself as the alpha mom. She strode from parent to parent, loudly commenting on whatever came to mind. "Oh, I see some Mr. Moms are here. Looks like we've got three Man Scouts. Ha, ha, ha." I politely chuckled along, while sizing her up in her bright orange, nylon pants, hiking boots, dangly earrings and proudly graying, long ponytail. At this point I made my first decision of the day—I wouldn't be liking "Orange Pants," as she would henceforth be known. Even if she offered me a sip of her herbal tea, I wasn't willing to stomach her obnoxiousness.

Our instructor stepped forward. "Hi, everyone," she stated morosely. My name is Gold, and behind me is my assistant, Turtle. I'm really excited to be here this morning." I barely heard this, because she said it in nearly a whisper. "We're going to have a lot of fun, but you can't have fun unless you are safe, so we're going to first discuss canoe safety."

Without further ado, parents and children lined up to be fitted for their PFDs, or personal flotation devices. I thought, "Cool, we're gearing up to get out on the water. Won't be long now." Wrong. We had merely put on life vests as an added garment for learning another two hours worth of information.

I'm pretty sure that Gold was new to this job, since she seemed to be jumping around, subject-wise. "Who can tell me the signs of hypothermia?" She hadn't yet explained the definition of hypothermia to these nine- and ten-year-olds, but we were leaping right to the symptoms.

"When your temperature gets down to 42 degrees," said one of the girls, rather confidently. This kid turned out to be that one child in every group who tries to answer every question, and then volunteers additional information. She explained later why she could no longer wear rubber rain boots, because the chafing had resulted in scarring, which we all were allowed to examine.

I glanced over at Orange Pants, who had become disinterested and was doing yoga poses.

"Hypothermia is a condition which can lead to death," Gold unenthusiastically stated. The girls, still snuggly wedged into their PFDs, appeared quite alarmed. "Your lips turn blue...umm...your arms and legs lose all feeling, you get very die. Okay, now we're going to break into two groups and do some fun skits about hypothermia."

"Are you serious?" I wondered. "We just want to paddle around on this smooth, little pond, and you're asking us to perform Deliverance II?"

After Orange Pants had assumed the creative lead with our little thespians, and was satisfied with their level of preparation, our group performed a skit about surviving in open water, with a rather confused brilliance. By now, I think everyone had adjusted to the tightness of his or her PFD, breathing shallowly and not moving too fast or too far.

After two full hours, after learning every part of the canoe, from the gunwales to the breast plates to the thwarts, we were finally ready to get out on the lake, assuming none of the kids was paralyzed either from their life vests or fear of an untimely, frozen death. Just as we were ready to hoist the canoes into the water, Orange Pants verbalized a thought.

"Can we take a little break and let the kids have a granola bar before we begin?"

I wanted to scream at her something like, "Are you freaking kidding me, Orange Pants? We've done nothing but sit here for two hours, we're finally ready to get our blood re-circulating, and you want to stuff these kids with granola? That's like eating a corndog so you don't run out of energy on the Ferris Wheel.

So, ten minutes and fifteen unnecessary Quaker Oats bars later, we finally mounted our canoes. And let me tell you...that twenty minutes out on the water was the most fun Lauryn and I had experienced for the past three hours.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Golden slumber fills my mind

Riddle me this:

Everyone craves it, yet we often refuse it. We love it, yet we're never aware when we're doing it. Teenagers deny themselves of it, yet they need it the most.

What is it? Ahhh...blissful slumber.

It's one of the great equalizers in the animal universe. No matter how much more highly evolved we humans consider ourselves, we still must lie prone every night, joining ranks with the meerkats and the platypuses and the dung beetles. We laugh at our pets when they appear to be stalking prey in their sleep, but we're incapable of remembering that last night, we sat up in bed, looked at our spouse and exclaimed, "Let me see that cucumber. It's missing a sock...."

I've been thinking about sleep lately because people have been falling asleep around me a little more than usual. Work meetings, especially right after lunch, seem to have also been attended by the Sandman as of late. While sitting at a meeting this morning, I noticed a woman down the table, swallowing yawns like a boa constrictor swallows a rat—the expanded throat, the unnaturally closed mouth. Before long, it appeared that she was really into the meeting, because she nodded at everything.

We've all been there. We're so sleepy, we decide to stop fighting it and just close our eyes for ten seconds. We come to our senses, often with a spastic jerk and look around to see if anyone noticed, and depending on the length of the meeting, this behavior can repeat itself with greater frequency than a Geico commercial.

At home, nodding off is completely acceptable and welcome while seated, watching television in a comfortable chair. No pressure exists to stay awake, so let's just go right ahead and doze off. My only personal barrier to a truly restful nap in the upright position is that an abundance of saliva accumulates in my mouth. Once the spittle level reaches critical mass, I inhale a big string of spit, which causes a mild drowning experience, similar to a leaky toilet. Fits of choking and coughing ensue, thereby aborting any opportunity to sleep through the third quarter and awaken to catch the Seahawks or Huskies for the final period.

One other roadblock in the quest for rest exists for me, and I'm sure others, while sleeping in bed. Have you ever awoken in the middle of the night, only to notice that one of your arms is wedged freakishly under your torso like a murder victim, and the blood circulation in that arm has ceased to exist for the past hour? I always feel just a little bit panicked when I can't feel one of my appendages, and there's always a slight risk of snapping my arm in half while attempting to flop over like a trout. Once the feeling returns, I often discover another drool pool, this time on a formerly numb part of my frontal shoulder.

On those rare mornings where I'm allowed to sleep as long as I want and wake naturally, I love to just lie there for about an hour, slowly gaining consciousness and pondering any dreams which have recently concluded. If the story involved something like, say, getting screamed at by a 30-foot-tall Cyndi Lauper who shot me with maple syrup blow darts, and then my teeth fell out, which made me have to get back together with an old psycho girlfriend...then it's time to get up.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Baseball in Seattle: Give us a hug

I'll preface these comments by noting that some may be offended by my cynicism.

One activity exists in our great, vast land which has become widely accepted as America's pastime. Its tradition is as rich a meandering family tree, and its heritage spans two-thirds of our nation's history. I'm speaking of baseball.

I love the game. I love its pastoral setting, its relaxed pace, its appeal to young and old, male and female. I grew up playing the game, staining my jeans on the outfield grass, grinding the infield dust between my molars, getting drilled in the elbow by an eleven-year-old's errant pitch. Baseball is a kids' game.

Which is why Major League Baseball, an assembly of the world's elite players, play the game with the same exuberance and joy that they did as children. Certainly, they've developed their bodies to gargantuan proportions and traded in their Double Bubble for massive wads of Beechnut or Red Man. When they win, they roll around on the ground in a muscly mass; when they're mad, they throw tantrums and helmets and dirt.

They're constantly expectorating. At the end of every game, each side's dugout has the appearance of a daycare around four o'clock, after the kids have had all the Gatorade and sunflower seeds they can consume. The floor is a slick mixture of tobacco juice, seed shells and paper cups.

The players never seem comfortable. They're constantly adjusting their hats, their lucky neck chains, their jerseys, and of course, their protective cups. Those things seem to slide around so much that these guys must be constantly checking to make sure their naughty bits haven't just shriveled up and fallen off from all that human growth hormone. But, hey that's baseball. We take the good with the illegal.

I live in Seattle. We have our own Major League team here, the Mariners, but things are different. Since the franchise's inception in 1977 (back when the players didn't need to check their cups because their pants were tighter than Batman's), I've maintained a steady loyalty. Nobody around these parts cared much about the team, especially since they played the summertime games inside a gloomy dome.

Everything changed in 1995, when the Mariners, against all odds, defeated the New York Yankees to reach the American League Championship Series. A new breed of Seattle baseball fan was born during that season, a fan who didn't care as much about the team winning as they did feeling good about the guys who played. Over the ensuing years, and with the construction of a sparkling new ballpark, these folks seemed more concerned with having every Ichiro bobblehead given away at the gate. Once inside, they cheered louder for the dancing grounds crew or the digital hydroplane races on the big screen than for an inning-ending double play.

Here in Seattle, its all about feeling good. Rather than adopting slogans like "Go to Hell, Angels," they go with "You've gotta love these guys." A few years ago, a large group of fans attempted to enter the park with "Yankees Suck" signs. They were politely confiscated by smiling ushers. Few fans heckle opposing players at Safeco Field; it just wouldn't be polite. Since I work in the fashion industry, I thought it might be witty to shout, "Hey, A-Rod, that black lace camisole shows through your pinstripes!" I'll be taking that one off my list.

Seattle's a great place to live, with lots of entertainment options, and I'm tired of attending hug fests. I want a World Series.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Did Joan Collins watch CHIPs? Probably.

Over this past Easter weekend, a couple of occurrences threw my almost-50-year-old tukus into the wayback machine (And just as a side-note, my nine-year-old daughter told me, "Dad, you have the legs of a teenager, but your body looks super old.").

Actor John Forsythe passed away Thursday at the age of 92. Most of us remember him for his role as the sleazy oil tycoon, Blake Carrington, in the series, Dynasty, from 1981 until 1989. Dynasty was one of many highly successful nighttime soap operas which followed the exploits of the rich, famous and underhanded in their quests for even greater wealth and power. 1980s prime time television thrived on these dramas, which also included Dallas, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing. The scripts were...well... scripted, and didn't employ any sort of real-life dialogue. But then again, that was the point—no one cared to watch a "real-life" situation.

We wanted fantasy, which is why shows like Fantasy Island, Love Boat and The Six Million Dollar Man were so popular. We thirsted for Vaudevillian variety formats, and hence programs like The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The Carol Burnett Show, Tony Orlando and Dawn and The Donny and Marie Show exploded onto the scene during the 1970s and 80s.

Naturally, cop shows have thrived throughout television history, but today's offerings seem to be more about initials, like CSI, SVU, and NCIS. They project onto our screens like music videos, with deep, brooding blue shadows and beautiful, scowling, well dressed detectives. Shock value is a major ingredient, and no investigation is complete without the corpse of a splayed out ex-stripper on the autopsy table for all to examine.

Police dramas didn't formerly portray all of that realism. TJ Hooker, played by one of my favorites, William Shatner, was more interested in writing some babe a speeding ticket and then collecting the fine in his bachelor pad. The two guys on CHIPs wore their motorcycle cop pants so tight that Eric Estrada could've steered his bike and used his radar gun at the same time, if you know what I mean.

Something else I saw this weekend made me even more nostalgic then any of the aforementioned formats. My family and I have been bellying up to the Life series on the Discovery Channel every Sunday night. These shows are spectacular; each episode devotes itself to a different classification of wildlife, from birds to cats to fish to reptiles. It's narrated by Oprah Winfrey, and spans the globe to document some of the most breathtaking natural environments and animal behaviors.

Watching this series, I could only hearken back to another Sunday night nature show during the 1960s and 70s, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, hosted by a kindly, grandfatherly man named Marlin Perkins. Mr. Perkins opened each program in his studio, pointing to a globe and describing the adventure we were about to witness. At this point, we were whisked off to the location, usually somewhere in Africa, as Marlin and his assistant, Jim, traversed a dusty savanna in a jeep as several bushmen jogged alongside. I'm still not sure why they weren't allowed to ride in the jeep as well. We'd usually cut ahead in time, as Jim wrestled some sort of large reptile in a muddy swamp, while Marlin assessed and described the situation from the safety of the jeep. Eventually, Jim would shoot the beast with a tranquilizer dart, the bushmen would load it onto the vehicle and they would drive off to...somewhere else. Then Marlin would try to talk our parents into purchasing Mutual of Omaha insurance. Come on, Jim had it and look how he spent his time.

Wild Kingdom didn't possess all of the majestic cinematography that today's shows on the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet so vividly do, but it gave us suburban kids a look at regions of the earth  outside of the Seattle/Tacoma/Tukwila region.

We still may not have known where Botswana was on a map, but we could successfully load and fire a tranquilizer rifle.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

We all know this guy

How often has this happened to you:

You're doing some yard work or washing your car. The guy a couple houses down is about to get into his car, but he notices you and shouts out, "Come on down and do mine when you're done. Heh, heh!"

I've decided that this type of faux-witty small talk occurs more often than we think. It's a form of communication where neither party is any better or worse afterward. No new information is conveyed, and it's usually a guy delivering it. It often concludes with a self-satisfied laugh, a "Heh, heh!" We rarely have the opportunity to say anything in return, since the guy usually walks away or gets into his car or yells out his window while driving by.

Here are some other examples:

1) The guy in the elevator at work—"Stayin' outa trouble? How goes the battle? What's the scuttlebutt in your department? I heard Marge is doinkin' Ray. You workin' hard or hardly workin? Heh, heh!"

2) The guy who walks up from behind you while you're talking to someone else—"Don't listen to this guy. He's a serial bullshitter. Heh, heh! Hey, man. What's up? Give me a buzz. Dont' be a stranger."

3) The weather complainer. This can happen almost anywhere—"Dude, what's with this weather? Is this Seattle or Fairbanks? You bring this with you when you left the house this morning? Heh, heh!"

4) The guy who approaches you and your wife. This could also happen anywhere—(Addressing your wife) "Hey, gorgeous. I see you brought your Dad. Heh, heh! Don't listen to this guy. He's wanted in four states for boring people to death. How you guys doing?"

Usually these guys are people you are acquainted with, but don't know very well. And after they've said their piece and disappeared, you look over at your friend or spouse and say, "He just talked to us for five minutes but didn't say anything." Sometimes we see them coming in time and can duck behind something or act busy.

Wow. I hope I'm not that guy.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I've got some tough news

I'm not really sure how to say this, so I'll just say it. Since most of my closest friends read this blog, I felt that this forum would be the most efficient way to deliver this news.

My family and I have been pretty uneasy living in Seattle for the past twenty years, especially after September 11. We feel that urban centers pose far more risk than living in suburban, or even rural, settings, and furthermore, our two kids have always felt more comfortable in the wide open spaces. They've always expressed a desire for playing outside, for owning pets bigger than just cats and dogs.

We've reached a point in our lives where mobility is more realistic for us; Terri, who is now able to teach any upper elementary grade, and I, who can easily telecommute, are employable anywhere in the United States. Our family has discussed this issue for hours on end, tears have been shed, and ultimately, a difficult decision has been made.

In two weeks, we will move to Bismarck, North Dakota.

If you are one of my co-workers, this is probably the first you've heard of this, and I'm thankful that you're hearing it from me. You've surely noticed that I'm not in the office today. I delivered my notice this morning, and my manager responded favorably, probably more favorably than I had hoped. You guys know how I feel about you. I love you.

To my friends and extended family, life will go on. In fact, the kids and I got a really good deal on stationery at Staples yesterday, so expect lots of good old-fashioned cards and letters.

We're moving to the state where my mother was born, and the residents are wonderful, salt-of-the-earth German Russians, a very resilient folk indeed. We can only hope to become like them. To prepare, we've purchased every season of Little House on the Prairie, Terri has learned how to make hard tack biscuits and I have mastered the fiddle.

I won't say goodbye, because it's too painful. I'll just say, see you in a really, really, long time.


Author's note: The preceding message is an April Fool, and if you believe it, I've got some old Bush/Cheney bumper stickers to sell you for really cheap. In addition, no offense is intended to the residents of North Dakota, or any other state with a population of less than 1000.