Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You probably shouldn't read this if you're under forty.

September...we hardly knew ye, and now you're a soon-to-be hologram of a summer left behind. Every fall, as school begins and the mornings grow a little crispier, I tend to wax about autumns past.... and nothing harkens to autumns past more than music.

This morning, as I listened to my pseudo-stodgy, adult contemporary radio station, I heard my teenager in the adjoining bedroom, singing and bopping along to every tune that sprang onto the airwaves of her teenage contemporary, a.k.a. hip hop, station.

I thought, When did I lose my passion for top forty radio? When did I pull out my tent and drive stakes into the pop music campground?  

I'll tell you when—when the seventies ended and I outgrew the demographic. So, rather than fight the tide, I've decided to revisit some of my favorite music from the Seventies.

Cheesy? Sure, some these songs are, but I love all of them. People sometimes criticize this era for its lack of variety, its emphasis on guitar rock and disco. But you be the judge.

And since we're saying goodbye to September, let's say hello to "September," by Earth, Wind and Fire:

In my opinion, E, W &; F defines 1970s-style R&B. K? And since we're on the subject of groundbreakers, here's one of the decade's definitive pop songs:

After the Jackson Five, it seemed like everyone wanted to throw their bell-bottomed leg onto the cool wagon, and here's the Brady Bunch's attempt:

I still wish my mom had agreed to buy me one of those fringy leather jackets like Greg had. It wouldn't have matched my horn-rimmed glasses very well, but whatever.

I'm not quite ready to leave the pop category yet, since I haven't mentioned the world's most popular group at the time:

Do I love these Swedish seductresses? Guilty. I also love the women in the group.

Time to move on to another genre, defined by a band which continues to be universally loved. I remember hearing this song shortly after getting my first FM radio:

No one will ever match Freddie.

This next tune can induce puberty in a TV tray, it's so chock full of teen angst. To me, it's the poster child for power ballads:

Excuse me for a second. I need to pop a couple of Sucrets after listening to that guy.

Even though I wasn't much of a disco aficionado, I can't leave out the kings of bearded, Australian camel toe beats:

I'm sure lots of run-down, 1970s-era neighborhoods had roving bands of skinny thugs with their white jackets slung over their shoulders.

The times were a-changin', even though we weren't quite ready for these guys yet:

It's funny how tame they look now.

Here's one of my favorite melodies from the emerging new wave movement which set the stage for the next decade:

And last but not least, we've got my favorite example of the arena rock we loved so dearly. I swear if I had David Lee Roth's stomach, I'd wear this outfit to work tomorrow:

Viva la 1970s!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ten reasons why I've decided to join the Tea Party

10) Our country is filled with too many educated people already. We don't need our tax dollars paying for more kids getting their heads filled with complicated words I can't understand. I'm also tired of replacing those red rubber recess balls that get kicked onto the roof.

9) America's infrastructure is fine. The roads are in great condition, and my Hummer doesn't know the difference between a pothole and a poodle.

8) I love going to the Tea Party rallies. After looking around me, I feel really thin—even when I wear my fanny pack.

7) The government needs to stay away from our businesses, our guns and our homes... except if someone is gay. In that case, we need to make sure nothing perverted or anti-Christian is going on in there. I'll volunteer to go check things out.

6) I'm tired of eating six-dollar burritos, made by illegal aliens. I want to eat fifteen-dollar burritos, assembled by real Americans.

5) America needs true patriots now more than it ever has during the five thousand years since God created America and plunked Adam and Eve down somewhere in western Pennsylvania.

4) I want to ride Sarah Palin all the way to the White House. I didn't mean it that way.

3) I finally understand what socialism is. It's where the government redistributes my hard-earned wages to slackers like my grandma. And let me tell you, it turns my stomach.

2) I refuse to support a President who wasn't born on American soil. He was born in Hawaii.

1) I'm white, my position of privilege feels threatened, and I need someone to blame.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jack LaLanne: The Original Fitness Guru

Happy birthday to an American original.

Yesterday, Jack LaLanne turned ninety-six years old. Before Jane Fonda and her extremely warm legs, before abs of steel, aluminum or jello, and long before Richard Simmons had you sweating to the oldies while hiding a box of Milk Duds in his afro—there was Jack LaLanne.

As a child, he recalled a strong addiction to processed foods and sugar, but then became infatuated with weight training and nutrition after listening to a lecture about the evils of junk food. Mr. LaLanne obtained a chiropractic degree and opened his first health and fitness facility in 1936, emphasizing weight training for men and women alike—quite unconventional for that era.

His gyms grew in popularity and multiplied throughout the San Francisco Bay area, leading to a local television fitness show in 1951. Soon, LaLanne's program attained national prominence, and introduced America's housewives to the benefits of exercise without leaving the home. His most common prop was the common household chair, and when combined with the body's own leverage, a good workout could be had by any willing participant.

Here's a brief clip from Jack's television heyday:

As you can see, he was a pioneer with some of his attitudes, but quite old school with others.

One of my earliest memories is hanging out in my grandma's living room, watching her watching him. His workouts definitely exerted her, as small beadlets of perspiration accumulated upon her forehead, her matching polyester top and pants sealing in the heat like the cellophane coating on a strip of fruit leather.

I always knew the show was about to end when the organ kicked in and he launched into his pseudo-operatic voice, singing a blessing while his pecs twitched to the back beat.

This was also the signal for Grandma to finally make me a little lunch. Her glow had usually dried down to a dull matte finish by the time she placed the saltines next to my bowl of Campbell's bean with bacon or chicken and stars. And if I were lucky, she'd let me eat lunch on a TV tray while watching Dark Shadows or The Newlywed Game.

I loved those afternoons at Grandma's house. She had a number of mad grandma skills, like getting a tissue under my nose before my sneeze had even concluded. After several years of marveling at her sneeze response prowess, I finally discovered that she scooped tissues directly out of her bra. "That's how she does it," I remember thinking. "She must keep so many Kleenex in there that she buys her bras a cup size larger. What a sacrifice."

Okay, I started out talking about Jack LaLanne, and now I've changed the subject to my grandma's bras. This is wrong and I'm sorry.

Anyway, happy birthday, Jack. You've got more testosterone in the tips of your fingers than I have in my whole body.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Katy Perry's got nothing on some of these old shows

There goes that Katy Perry, shaking things up again.

If you haven't already heard, she taped an appearance for Sesame Street with our red buddy, Elmo, wearing a bustier and singing a kid-friendly version of her hit, "Hot N Cold." Rather than describing it, here's an actual image:
Apparently, the show was slated to air this fall, but was nixed when a few thousand parents voiced their displeasure after viewing a leaked version on the YouTubes.

I doubt that Elmo objected, however. Keep in mind, he's really a puppet, and the puppet's mouth is operated by a human hand, which resides mere inches Ms. Perry's green-bedecked cleavage. Sunny day, indeed.

I'm not sure what the big deal is. Kids have been bombarded with disturbing imagery on their televisions for years. I did a little research, and I think you'll agree that Katy is quite tame when contrasted with some of the children's shows which aired across our fine land during the 1950s, '60s and '70s. You be the judge.

We all know this guy. I can't look at him any longer, because he freaks me out. I pray for the child in this photograph every night, right after I pray for mass-produced jet packs before I die.

This disturbing image is of Flippo the Clown, who terrorized young people in Columbus, Ohio. Holy sweet mother, enough clowns already.

These two are Duane Elliot and Floppy. If you're trying to look sexy for all the moms, you lose a bit of street cred with the dog puppet.

Grandpa Happy? I just can't imagine saying to my kids, "If you don't stop fighting each other with spatulas, it's no Grandpa Happy for either of you."

Wow. I never realized it was possible to film a children's show from a prison.

Romper Room was definitely ahead of its time in reaching kids on a personal level regarding the evils of drugs.

I'm sure Mr. Goober was funny enough, as long as you weren't eating anything while watching him and his sidekick, Nosie, The Green Oyster.

This is "Iowanna-Pow-Wow" and "Trader Milt Boyd." I have a lot of concerns about this pairing, especially if they're somehow related.

Hopefully, kids already knew they were special, and they didn't need some guy who thought he was Merv Griffin telling them that from the set of the Sonny and Cher show.

You can't just put on a hat and think that we'll ignore the fact that you look like that creepy guy at the end of the bar.

I can't end this post hating on every kids' show, because there were so many good ones. I watched a non-creepy clown named J.P. Patches, whose program was shown twice daily on KIRO TV in Seattle. It aired from 1957 until 1981, and I'm sure I viewed every episode from 1962 onward. He's a local icon, probably much like some of the above characters with whom I'm not familiar, so please don't take offense if one of them is super nice and visited you when you got your tonsils out.

Here's to you, J.P. Now, please call the folks at Sesame Street and tell them to lighten up.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Can I get something started for you?

"Good evening, sir. Welcome to Applebottom's. My name is Misti and I'll be your food and fun facilitator tonight."

"Well, hello, Miss Misti. Go ahead and call me Hank, or just keep calling me sir, because I am more than willing to be your knight in shining armor."

"Yes, well, Sir Hank, would you care to start out with something to drink? Perhaps one of our signature Applebotinis with a twist of cinnamon?"

"Darlin', I am already twisted enough. Mm mm. Why don't you just bring me an Amstel Light and sit your little Applebottom down right here next to Sir Hanky Panky."

"Sir, this is hardly appropriate behavior for a restaurant setting. Please contain yourself. Now, how about an appetizer? Maybe something like our Leaning Tower of Onion Rings. It's a four-star customer fave!"

"Misti, you bring me those onion rings and I'll provide the tower for a little ring toss, if you know what I mean, sweet cheeks."

"I'm not sure I do...but I'll take that as a yes. Have you decided on a main course? Our special tonight is sizzling beef fajitas, with your choice of flour or corn tortillas. Just look at this beautiful photograph of it on my specially laminated vest."

"Honey, I'm looking right through that beautiful vest of yours to a main course I'm much more interested in. Now, how about it, doll? Just back it on up over here and I'll definitely order up something!"

"Oh, Hank baby, here I come!"

"Wait a minute, you're not supposed to say that! Remember, this time you're supposed to be a clueless, but sweet, waitress, and I'm the boorish, obnoxious customer."

"I know, honey, but you're just so hot, I just couldn't hold back any longer. Maybe we should try the policewoman writing the speeding ticket for the confused foreigner or the Russian soldier barging in on the peasant girl."

"We've already done those, baby. Let's try the other idea we had. Okay, ready? Knock knock! Pizza delivery for the newly widowed socialite!"

"Do come in..."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Just remember: Someday they'll be taking care of us

They're so young. They're so thin. They're so...not smart.

I drove my fifteen-year-old daughter to school this morning. As we travelled up the narrow corridor known as 35th Avenue, one of West Seattle's main thoroughfares, I steered gently around a young cyclist. He pedaled a too-small bike, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans on this fifty-degree morning, while wearing headphones and no helmet.

"Hey, it's Justin," blurted my daughter as we came even with the wobbly rider. "He goes to my school."

"Is he smart?" I asked rhetorically.

"Yeah, I think so."

"Okay, let me change your answer," I snapped back. "He's not smart. I can count four stupid things he's doing right now. He's wearing a t-shirt in the cold weather, he's not wearing a helmet, he's listening to music and he's riding on a really narrow, busy street. Justin is stupid. Stupid Justin."

"Geez, Dad, calm down."

"Sorry, I just see these kids, and they're your age, and they make me crazy. Most of you guys are learning how to operate cars. Maybe your friend Justin needs to learn how to safely ride a bike before he can even think about driving."

"Dad, get angry much?"

"Okay, I'm done."

We picked up Zoe's friend and continued on to the high school. I don't normally converge on her academic facility at this time of morning, when all the inmates are gathered outside or entering the building.

I stopped at a crosswalk in front of the school to let a group of kids pass. They performed this task admirably, with the exception of one young man who stopped three steps into the street, after realizing he hadn't finished his cigarette yet, and couldn't bring it onto school grounds. He stayed there, blocking my way, until his frontal lobe finally engaged and sent him retreating to his original curbside locale.

We proceeded through the crosswalk as I watched him suck down the last fumes of his smoke. I found it ironic how he wore expensive basketball shoes, basketball shorts and a Jordan t-shirt, yet he'd probably struggle to sprint the length of a hoop court.

Small gaggles of kids assembled in the drop-off area, where I stopped the van to let the girls off. One young woman split off from her group and approached our car to meet my passengers, her hands clutching a two-liter bottle of Grape Crush and large bag of Lays Potato Chips.

Hmm.. well, they may not be bright, but teenagers are definitely tough. If I ate that for breakfast, I'd need the defibrillator paddles.

Tomorrow, she's taking the school bus.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Take responsibility, America!

It's just three words—three simple words:

"I screwed up."

This basic, trisyllabic utterance has rendered itself rarer than quiet time at Dr. Phil's house.

Last Thursday, 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush, returned his award after the NCAA determined that Bush and his family had accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from two sports agents and ruled him ineligible for his tenure as a collegiate football player.

Upon returning the trophy, Bush stated that his gesture was "not an admission of guilt. It's me showing respect to the Hesiman Trophy itself and to the people who came before me and the people coming after."

Not an admission of guilt? Give me a break, Reggie. Then why did you return the freakin' thing? Not enough room next to all your T-Ball trophies? Just say those magic words: I screwed up.

Unfortunately, Bush's behavior is merely a symbol of our current culture of blame, deflection and misdirection. We all do it, and we start young. My kids are often so averse to fessing up that situations get far worse for them in the long run. They'll hear me ask them such questions as:

"Which one of you knows how that strawberry jam got on the cat?"


"I realize that, technically, the toilet paper roll isn't completely bare since a third of a square is glued on permanently, but I'm not willing to introduce cardboard to that sensitive region of my person. So tell, me, who witnessed the end of the roll?"

At that point, they either stare blankly like dairy cows, or blame each other.

I'm definitely not immune to avoiding responsibility. There have certainly been times when I've given up on a paper jam at work or feigned righteous indignation when one of my wife's white shirts emerged a nice sunset pink from the dryer. But overall, I've found that owning up to my misdeeds is the first step toward putting the event in the rear view mirror.

So why can't Sarah Palin just admit that "refudiate" isn't a word? Why didn't Bill Clinton merely say, "Yes, I inhaled. Of course I inhaled. Otherwise, it's like chewing up your Quarter Pounder and spitting it onto the plastic tray. What a waste." Why did John Edwards take the Michael Jackson approach by saying, "The kid is not my son (actually, daughter)?"

And why the hell did Alex Rodriguez claim that he had no idea that he was taking steroids during the 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons? We're talking about a world-class athlete who closely monitors every substance that enters his body. The guy probably eats only the hand-massaged left breast portion of the free-range chicken in his organic cobb salad.

Come on, people—let's own up to our mistakes. Let's clear our guilty consciouses and purge ourselves of those blame shifting demons and say the following loudly and proudly:

"Okay, I did it. I'm the one who ate all the pork rinds."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Interview

The youthful administrative assistant approached Panos as he relaxed in the smooth, brown leather chair. She smiled and paused briefly.

"Mr. Wexley will see you now. Please follow me."

Panos rose to his feet, grabbed his ornamental briefcase and strode half a step behind the attractive woman. She opened the door to the sun-splashed corner office and retreated back to her desk.

"Panos, Jarvis Wexley. It's a pleasure to meet you." Wexley sprung up from behind his sizable oak desk, his hand extended. "Have a seat, please."

"Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Wexley."

"Call me Jarvis. Being called 'Mr. Wexley' makes me feel like I'm talking to my proctologist. Heh, heh!"

Panos forced a chuckle and sat down, unbuttoning his suit jacket.

"I've taken the liberty of reading through your résumé. Very impressive, indeed. But you do realize we've interviewed literally hundreds of people for this position, and we we're still not done."

"Oh, yes, sir," replied Panos. "Par for the course."

"So, let's get started. It says here that you got a finance degree and your first position was with Monsanto. What did you take away from that experience?"

"Well, sir, I suppose my biggest lesson was that an elected official's opinion can be modified far more easily than corn seed, but both lead to vast financial reward for the stockholder."

"I see. And then you accepted a position with Arthur Andersen. And your largest client was a company called Enron. Tell me about that."

Panos was ready for this one. "Sir, have you ever had an itch on your back that you couldn't reach? Arthur Andersen and Enron each had itches, and they discovered that if they embraced each other, their itches could be simultaneously scratched. A lot of people became very wealthy from our relationship, and I got out of there before some people made some mistakes."

"And then you came on board at Halliburton?"

"Correct. I learned that, when it comes to the government, 'no-bid' equals 'no lid'."

Panos attempted to gauge Wexley's response, but the interviewer merely stared blankly across the desk.

"From there," continued Wexley, "Goldman Sachs enlisted your services. What can you tell me about your experience there?"

"Let me put it this way." Panos stared out the window, taking in the view from the 46th floor. "When your job his hiding the proverbial razor blade in the financial caramel apple, eventually someone's tonsils are going to be slashed, so I bailed out of that situation..."

"Okay, you know what? Just stop right there. I think I've heard enough." Wexley rose again from behind his desk and approached the still-sitting Panos, whose mood had instantly darkened.

"I think we've found our man. Congratulations, Panos, and welcome to British Petroleum."

Panos stood and faced Wexley, thrusting his hand out to seal the deal.

Wexley ignored the gesture and engulfed Panos in an aggressive hug.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'll admit it: size matters

Last week, I sat down to catch a bit of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament. It had been a while since I'd watched professional men's tennis, and even with the benefit of high definition, the ball was really tough to follow. The combination of equipment, speed and strength has created a sport where the server has an overwhelming advantage.

Thirty years ago, the game was far slower; the rackets were small and wooden, much like Tom Cruise. In this earlier photograph of me, you can see how much I had to strain to get some velocity on the ball.

Thank God for the muscle control of youth. Otherwise, tennis white would not have been a good color that day.

Now, I still grimace when hitting a tough shot, but that's only because I'm looking down at my filthy ridiculous biceps:

Naturally, tennis equipment isn't the only area of technological advancement throughout my life. There are so many others.

In the old days, children's car seats had no restraining devices; they were simply hooked over the front seat right next to the driver:

These seats were born out of practicality. Our moms needed someone nearby to hand them smokes while driving. Since we weren't belted in, I recall my mother wedging a small, portable ironing board between the dash and my still-forming sternum.

Here's a portable music device from the 1960s. It's not an iPod or even a Walkman. It's a transistor radio:
You were usually lucky to clearly tune in two stations, and one was the farm report. The other was the oldies station, which back then, was newies.

Portable phones have certainly evolved. Here's a model from 1982 (the phone, not the guy):

And here's how far cellular technology has advanced:

Rumor has it that prolonged exposure to cellular signals can muck up a man's naughty bits. Hopefully, the 1982 guy had sired all the children he needed before strapping that behemoth to his holster.

Pet clothing is a phenomenon that wasn't around back in the black and white days:

You don't need to dress your dogs all fancy-like right before they head down to the local school to keep those "new" kids from coming in.

Don't forget about the food category. Look at this guy. It's like he has no idea how he can possibly eat this entire yo-yo-sized burger:

Nowadays, that burger would be part of the McDonald's "Infant Meal."

This dude seems to be saying, "Uh, hello, I ordered the meal, so where are my fries and 64-ounce Diet Coke?"

Some foods haven't changed, but their packaging certainly has. Here's an old Cap'n Crunch box:

The cap'n seems fairly straight-edge and benign.

But what happened here? He looks like he's totally jonesing to get to happy hour with Sugar Bear the minute the photo shoot wraps:

A few items are indeed smaller than they were forty years ago, most notably computers, the ozone layer, automobiles, and, of course...


 Someone hand her that big burger.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Recess: It's a jungle (jim) out there.

School's back in session—with all the trimmings.

This time of year is one of nostalgia, of remembering the smells and sights of returning for another year. Upon arriving for that first day of, say, third or fourth or fifth grade, I can remember my order of necessary data requirements being something like:

1) Who will be my teacher?
2) Who will be in my class? (I really hope she is in my class, but I'd really like to avoid him, because he always flicks me in the ear and slaps my stomach with a math book.)
3) When is recess? I really want to try out these new Converse, since my mom spent eighteen fifty on them and my dad told me, "They'd better make you faster for eighteen bucks."

Once recess did roll around, I realized that nothing much had changed. The same kids did the same things. Oh, look—that group of girls still spins around the bar in their dresses, so I'll go ahead and watch that for a while.

Hey, there's that group of guys that always plays Star Trek. Last year, whenever we chose the characters, Spock was always chosen first, and then Captain Kirk. I never understood why the first officer would be preferred over the captain until I watched this scene:

I guess we know who's really in control of the Star Ship Enterprise.

I'm not going to walk past that group of guys over there, because they're going to ask me to smoke with them after school, including inhaling.

Aww, there she is. I wonder if she notices my new glasses. I'll just casually walk by her and glance her way as the sun glints off these decent new frames. Okay, she didn't see me. That's beat (author's note: "beat" is a 1970s-era, south King County word, meaning undesirable or bad.).

I guess all that's really left out here is to get into the soccer game. Looks like they're choosing up sides over there, and I hate lining up to get picked by other kids. You learn exactly where you stack up in this jungle pecking order, and I've got a feeling I'll be perceived as a hobbled Wildebeest.

Wheww, there's the bell. Time to line up to go back inside. Let's see...I've only got to go through this exercise two more times today and then three times for the next 179 days. That's only 539 more times.

I miss summer vacation.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

September 11, 2001—a journal entry

It's been nine years... unbelievable.

During the summer of 2001, I began writing a journal, just to document my family's lives at a time when the brood was still quite young. I'd always been told, "You need to write this stuff down or you'll forget it." The kids were constantly doing and saying cute and crazy things, so every couple of days, beginning in August, I jotted my thoughts down on a yellow legal pad. 

A few days ago, I dug the pad out of a pile of papers on the lower shelf of the bookcase and sat down with it. My writing style was a bit choppier and less edited, but it's nonetheless a record of that slice of time. 

Tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and here's what was going through the mind of a 39-year-old husband and father to six-year-old and sixteen-month-old daughters, on September 12, 2001:

It's been an incredible last couple of days. Yesterday started out great. The weather was beautiful, Terri and I had the day off and I was just done dropping Zoe off at school on my way to the gym. I switched on the radio and seemed to have tuned in during some sort of special report. By the time I arrived at the gym approximately ten minutes later, the story had unfolded: four jetliners had been hijacked. Two flew Kamikaze-style into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and the fourth crash outside of Pittsburgh. The reporter emphasized that the Twin Towers were completely gone—toppled.

As I drove, I looked at other drivers, most of whom had the same zombie-like expressions on their faces as I'm sure I had. At the gym, every TV showed footage of the WTC disaster. It looked like the special effect ending of some Tom Clancy movie starring Bruce Willis. The second jet seemed to have been swallowed whole by the enormous building, only to transform both entities into a separate, flaming monster. It was beyond words, as I'm sure these words can't describe the event in any way.

As I sit here, it's still sinking in. I think this is the most profound event that has occurred during my lifetime. Nothing will ever be the same again. It's almost as if the last particle of innocence has evaporated from the planet. If people are willing to resort to this kind of  barbarism, how can our borders pretend to protect us?

Right now, I really don't think our government knows what to do. It's all set to fight a war against a big, visible enemy with planes and tanks and guns. How are they going to fight faceless terrorists without a country? Time will tell.

Indeed, time will tell.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I'm sick of Republicans.

Writing a blog can be feast or famine.

Sometimes, ideas gush to the surface like geoducks on the first day of clam season; others, the barren desert that is my cranial cavity swirls with the tumbleweeds of cluelessness.

Today began as the latter. I awoke, thinking, okay, I guess that's it—I'm tapped out. I've squeezed the final drop of blood from my literary turnip; I've eaten the last cookie from the bag of "Thoughts Ahoy." Yet alas, no sooner had I arrived at my local gym and mounted the elliptical trainer, than I was inspired yet again.

NBC's Today Show was playing on my personal screen, the one meant to distract me from my perilously anaerobic physical condition. The topic for the opening fifteen minutes of the show was the state of the American economy and the general public's disapproval with President Obama's stewardship during its current downturn. The polls and pundits expounded about how the planets are aligning for a landslide Republican congressional takeover in November.

I'm an American. I love this place and I try not to take it for granted. But come on, folks, we can be so damned fickle. I realize we live in an age of instant gratification, where a pizza joint which serves cardboard covered in tomato sauce and cheese prospers, simply because it can answer our craving in thirty minutes or less. We want

People, how long has the President been in office? I'll answer that—twenty months. Twenty months ago, Barrack Obama and a Democratically controlled Congress inherited the worst fiscal and financial crisis since the Great Depression. We stared down the barrel of a massive federal deficit, a healthcare crisis in which thirty million Americans were uninsured and two unpopular wars.

Oh yeah, we also had a bait-switch scam known as Wall Street. I'm not going to paint one party as Dudley Doright and the other as Snidely Whiplash, here, but let's look at the deregulation fiasco as one of the major culprits to our economic demise. Ronald Reagan began the groundswell of laissez faire economic policy through a litany of legislation, wiping out many of the safeguards put in place after the stock market crash of 1929. The savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s merely foreshadowed a new era of highly leveraged, risky behavior by our formerly stodgy financial institutions.

Republican presidents and congresses established policies which resulted in the two largest financial scandals since the 1930s—the aforementioned "junk bond" fiasco and the "sub-prime" crisis, which began with the Republican controlled Congress in 1998.

Our current President has sought to stimulate our economy through numerous measures including the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (or TARP), aimed at eliminating "toxic" assets from our financial markets. He has pushed through an economic stimulus package, which, according to Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, is short of what is truly needed to get us back on our feet, yet has staved off another full-blown Depression.

With a crumbling national infrastructure and nearly ten percent unemployment, the prevailing Republican talking point is the same ol' same ol': cut taxes and count on the old "trickle down" theory to create new jobs out of increased corporate profits. Right. Corporations are not benevolent organizations. Profits trickle across to shareholders, not down to employees.

After World War II, our federal government instituted the G.I. Bill to pay for veterans' higher education. The result was a thriving American middle class which enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, yet which has eroded with each passing decade. We need to stop being so very short-sighted and let these new programs take effect. Public works, healthcare and education can and will work if fully funded, but it seems that America's new Tea Party movement brands as socialism the same type movement that the greatest generation employed sixty years ago. Ironic.

The Republican party learned an important lesson from their matriarch, Nancy Reagan—just say no. No to improved infrastructure. No to healthcare for all. No to campaign finance reform. I'm willing to listen to any new proposals from the right, but all I've heard is warmed over retreads of George W. Bush's failed efforts. In other words, a whole lot of nothing.

It's time for America to wait more than thirty minutes for its pizza.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

You and Mom did that? Ewww!

This weekend, my parenting cup runneth over.

My wife and her friend embarked on their annual pilgrimage to George, Washington for the traditional Labor Day noodling fest known as the Dave Matthews Band. I'm sorry if I offend anyone with this assessment, but in my opinion, the guy sounds like he's been stung by hornets and his throat is nearly swollen shut from anaphylactic shock. The musicians around him, though highly competent, seem to all be soloing at the same time, and the result is like when all of the finger paints get mixed together to form a brownish slop. But enough, already. I've previously railed against him in this post, so I'll pull off my hating cap.

The kids and I usually don't try to accomplish much, if anything, when their mom is away; we like to watch movies, eat out and other things mildly lazy.

Sometimes, however, watching a movie can unexpectedly open a can of worms, and such was the case yesterday. We watched one of our favorite movies, Baby Mama, starring Tina Fey and Amy Pohler. The film is centered around a woman who discovers, a bit later in her life, that she desperately yearns for a child. She enlists the services of an agency, which hooks her up with a surrogate mother, Amy Pohler's character.

The kids and I have watched this film before, but yesterday, my ten-year-old daughter decided to delve into the biological aspect of surrogate parenthood. One question led to the next, and eventually, she orated the mother of all inquiries: "Dad, you did that to Mom? Ewwww! That's really nasty. Did you like it?"

What was I supposed to say to that? I decided to take the high road. "Umm, I don't really remember."

My wife, being a teacher of kids this age, could have effectively diffused the situation with just the right response. She wasn't in attendance last night. And I should have just shut up right then, but naturally, I didn't.

"Look, no one wants to imagine their parents doing this, but just think of it this way: out of all the millions of sperm, the two of you were the strongest swimmers. You should be proud of your amazing athletic ability."

Now it was time for the fifteen-year-old to weigh in. "Dad, be quiet."


We watched the rest of the movie, talking and laughing frequently, but avoiding certain subjects. It was better that way.

Even though the movie is a comedy, it made me really appreciate how fortunate we are to have created a family the easy way. It really hit home with the following scene, a surrogacy support group led by Sigourney Weaver's character, Chaffee Bicknell:

I can't wait for my wife to come home.

Friday, September 3, 2010

America's favorite game show

Hey, everyone! I'm your host, Chip Bickerson, and welcome to America's favorite game of male insecurity and cliché, "Locker Room Lingo Lab." Today, we've got a locker room stocked with pudgy white guys between the ages of forty and fifty, whose athletic days are a fuzzy speck in the rear view mirror of their lives. 

They're currently lounging in the men's locker room of their suburban gym, recovering from an intense, albeit sluggish, game of basketball. Okay, without further ado, let's meet our players:

Contestant Number One is a cost accountant from White Center, Washington. He loves Peter Frampton, any clothing with elastic and Bud Light with Lime, please welcome Herb Green (applause).

Contestant Number Two is a used Pontiac salesman from Fife, Washington. He's been married a handful of times, and has finally decided that his ideal woman has four wheels and is named "Red Trans Am," give it up for Chuck Jowler (applause).

And last but not least, Contestant Number Three hails from Gorst, Washington. He enjoys "Three's Company" reruns and the leg and thigh bucket at KFC, give a hardy hello to Quinn Carpo (applause).

Okay, men, you all have been briefed on the rules: The three of you must engage in a conversation. No awkward silences trying not to stare at each other's "nether regions." The first player to utter five statements not concerning injuries, work, sports, glory days of old or heterosexual prowess will be the winner of today's contest and will return next week to face two new challengers. Remember, correct responses will be followed by a bell (dinging noise), and incorrect statements will result in this noise (buzzer sounds). Let's begin. Go ahead, guys.

Herb: Oh, my back! (buzzer sounds)

Chuck: Wow, that was quite a game. (buzzer sounds)

Quinn: Yeah. (bell dings)

Herb: I'll tell you guys, I'm not that all-conference point guard I was back in '78, but I can still hold my own out there. (buzzer sounds)

Chuck: Hey, Quinnster, help me peel off this back brace. Ahh, thanks, much better. (An awkward silences ensues as the Herb and Quinn try not to stare at Chuck's breasts). Looks like I've lost a few pounds, guys. Should make things even easier for me to sell some Grand Ams and Fieros to the classy single ladies. (buzzer sounds)

Quinn: Yeah. (bell dings)

Chuck: I hope I stop sweating before I get to the car. I just bought some new sheepskin seat covers for the Firebird. Those bastards at work are so jealous of my sweet ride that they laugh at me. (buzzer sounds)

Herb: Chuck, they're making fun of you because you look like a human midlife crisis driving that thing. You look like Jordan in a baseball uniform. (buzzer sounds)

Quinn: Yeah. (bell dings)

Herb: I'm sure you guys must've noticed my stats today: ten points, eight rebounds and six assists. I haven't pulled that off since February 18, 1977 against Kent Meridian High. If either of you are interested, I've got the newspaper clipping in my briefcase. (buzzer sounds)

Quinn: I am. (bell dings)

Chuck: Hey, do you guys think I should have this looked at? (awkward silence as the two men examine a mole on Herb's upper buttock.

Herb and Quinn, together: Yeah. (bell dings)

Quinn, it looks like that last statement put you over the top. Congratulations! Thanks for watching, everyone, and we'll see you next week as Quinn takes on two new challengers on..."Locker Room Lingo Lab."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Your karma called while you were in the shower.

karma (kahr-muh)-noun—action, seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation.

How many of us live our lives thinking, at least subconsciously, that some cosmic scoreboard exists, tallying both our good deeds and bad and meting out rewards and paybacks, that the universe maintains balance through a circular fluidity of cause and effect?

I hear crickets chirping. Oh, well, maybe I'm in the minority.

I'm a resolute believer in karma. When one of my kids points out an injustice, using that time-worn complaint, "It's not fair," I've begun playing the karma card with them. "You know, what?" I'll say, "You're absolutely right. It isn't fair that the bully punched you at recess and nothing happened to her. You should just feel sorry for her, though. She's probably has a rough time of things at home."

Naturally, I should stop right there, but I don't. I'll usually continue with something like, "Let's just hope that when the teacher asks her to pass out math homework tomorrow, she gets a bloody paper cut under her nose. It'll be her karma, honey."

We want to hope that the culprit gets his or hers, even if we're not there to witness it. And I usually wonder, when something unfortunate happens to me, is it a karmic payback? For example:

I barely missed the bus this morning. Is that because I took a little extra time to pack the last Ding Dong in my lunch?

I stubbed my toe really hard on the bed post. Is it because yesterday morning, I didn't give up my bus seat to the blind, one-legged nun?

Damn it. I'm standing in the shower and there's no shampoo. Is it because I didn't get more shampoo?

After forty-eight years of experiencing the yin and yang of karma, I've finally compiled a basic list of behaviors I won't exhibit at the risk of being billy clubbed and pepper sprayed by the karma police:

I will never use the "sick kid" excuse to get out of any type of commitment—that's playing with fire.

I won't do anything mean to an old person, no matter how cantankerous or incompetent they are. I realize this is common sense, but I once honked at a terrible driver who turned out to be an elderly woman. I'm not saying my intestinal distress that afternoon was a direct result, but...

I won't keep that extra dollar that the cashier incorrectly doled out as change. It could result in the purchase of the first package of Trident gum containing Mad Cow Disease.

I won't drop and break that jar of spaghetti sauce at Safeway and walk away without notifying a store employee. Well, unless it's the Super Chunky Mushroom Ragu, in which case I'll dip a little piece of sourdough in it, carefully avoiding glass shards, and then tell someone.

Whether you believe in the whole "what comes around, goes around" theory or not, it's not a terrible way to keep our dark side in check. So go ahead and mail me that twenty-dollar bill you found on the sidewalk yesterday.

I'm pretty sure it's mine.