Friday, October 29, 2010

Racism is alive and well in liberal Seattle


It's such an ugly word, with so much baggage. Some use it for political gain; some dispute its very existence. Most of all, we ignore it.

Last week at a Washington State Supreme Court meeting, the "r word" poked its head out of the sand yet again, as justices Richard Sanders and James Johnson shocked some participants when they stated that African Americans are overrepresented in the state's prison population because they commit a disproportionate number of crimes. They also disputed the view that racial discrimination plays a key role in the disparity.

Before I get all emotional about how my state's most powerful jurists feel about crime and punishment, I'd like to break things down, using some logic:

If what they're saying is fact, that would imply that African Americans are committing more crimes because either they're inherently more evil  than other ethnicities, or because they've learned that crime is more lucrative than attempting to find "legitimate" work.

If you believe the former, go ahead and log out of this blog and turn on FOX News, because Glenn Beck's coming on in a few minutes. If you lean toward the latter view, you may be right, but doesn't this shine a harsh light on our society and its disenfranchisement of a huge chunk of America?

Now let's assume that the justices' stance is merely ignorant conjecture, and in reality, the criminal justice system is unfairly stacked against African Americans. This would acknowledge that "institutional racism" is alive and kicking, and these judges don't want to cop to it.

I'm not a sociologist. I'm just a middle-aged guy who lives in the upper left corner of the country, trying to make sense of my surroundings. My city, Seattle, prides itself on its liberal politics, its open mindedness. We love to think that we're some of the most inclusive, tolerant people in the nation.

But really, things are no different than they were fifty years ago. Black people still live predominately in the lower elevation areas of south to south-central Seattle. The white folks live everywhere else, plus any areas with views of water.

We hear people like Rush Limbaugh spouting off about racism having been rendered moot sine the election of our first African American president. And, granted, we no longer see cereal boxes like this:

or restaurants like this:

But here's an indisputable fact—every position I've ever attained has been the direct result of a relationship with a friend or an acquaintance putting in a good word, dating back to my first job as a dishwasher in 1979. And you can say all you want about bootstrap-pulling and earning everything you've gotten, but isn't that just an easy way out?

If we can rationalize that we're all given an equal opportunity to succeed, that we're all viewed by our economic and legal systems as colorless and classless, then we never have to acknowledge that there's a big problem with race in America.

Maybe we can all dig a little deeper.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Dream Team Hall of Fame

Dream Team.

It's become such an overused term, such a cliché. It's used to describe any assembly of all-stars or any group of entities stacked mercilessly against its opponent.

Here's the original Dream Team, the 1992 USA Olympic basketball squad:

After witnessing the complete erosion of its advantage in the amateur arena, the US Olympic Committee decided it was time to re-assert American dominance in basketball, kind of like when your big brother switches to his dominant hand after you've beaten him at H-O-R-S-E too many times.

These guys destroyed everyone in their path on the rode to Barcelona gold in '92. It was almost embarrassing to watch Charles Barkley dunk over a 5'10" malnourished Angolan, but the Americans accomplished the task, short shorts and all.

Since then, dream teams have risen up in all areas of pop culture. The O.J. Simpson Dream Team, consisting up of superstar barristers Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey, Barry Scheck, Johnny Cochrane and Alan Dershowitz, muddled the jurors minds with so much doubt, both reasonable and not, that the glove never fit. And oh, did they acquit.

Other dream teams have emerged over time, like the formidable lineup of ABC's The View or my co-workers and I. And just the other night, Chris Bosh, Duane Wade and Lebron James debuted as the new-look, omnipotent trio of the NBA's Miami Heat.

Here's the scene last summer, when James and Bosh signed free agent contracts with the Heat, and before the ink had even dried, the organization staged a little debutante ball for the three.

Tuesday night, someone forgot to tell the Boston Celtics about the chosen three from Miami, so they went ahead and unceremoniously walloped the Heat. Hopefully, those ringers from South Beach will lose all their other games as well.

However, what I'm really here to discuss are some of the lesser known dream teams. We don't often take notice of them, but every one is a tour de force in its own right. First of all there's the male, adult contemporary, easy listening dream team of Kenny G and Michael Bolton. Witness their brilliance for yourself:

Other worthy additions to this juggernaut would have been John Tesh, Yanni or any other dude who played a solo show at Red Rocks.

Another notable triumvirate is the "I can't spell Constitution, so how am I supposed to understand it" dream team of Christine O'Donnell, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann:

If you could somehow combine all of their brains into one huge mason jar, you'd have enough room left over to fill one huge mason jar.

Not all dream teams need to be human. How about that magical grouping of hangover treatments:

Eggs benedict,

a nice bloody mary,

and relaxing on the couch with a huge bacon sandwich to watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Hits the spot, eh?

There's also the steroid dream team, made up of:

Mark McGwire,

Carrot Top, and

Madonna's arms.

And don't forget the mullet dream team of:

Billy Ray Cyrus,


and Scarlett Johansson.

So keep your eyes peeled and you'll start to notice these magical combinations. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for a maple bar, coffee and a cigarette.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

We owned the streets

October 31, 1972

Since this could be my last time trick-or-treating (I am ten, after all), I've decided to keep a journal of my activities, just in case I want to read it someday when I'm really, really old, like thirty.

5:56—Got out of the house ten minutes later than planned. I can see kids walking around already. I should have practiced putting on this football uniform I've had since second grade. I can't stuff the thigh pads in anymore and the helmet hurts my forehead. I'm hoping no one knows that the black stuff under my eyes is mascara. I look good.

6:07—Kevin was mad at me for being late to pick him up. He told me that the house with the full-sized Milky Ways would be out by the time we got there. He seemed to feel better after he punched me and called me a dumb ass.

6:22—Some older kids rode by and threw eggs at us. Kevin got hit in one of his fake sideburns and it must've hurt a lot because he called them dumb asses in a really high voice like a girl. I got hit in the helmet but you can't even tell because my ram horns are yellow like yoke.

6:47—We accidentally went to the house where the lady wears curlers and hands out raisins. I think she heard us complaining, because she told me that by the looks of me, I could use a few more fruits and vegetables. Mean. Kevin said not to worry about it and that she's a dumb ass.

7:03—I was hoping I'd run into her and I did. She's going either as Mary Tyler Moore or Carol Brady, judging by her pantsuit. She's so foxy. I tried to hold in my stomach as we walked up to her, but these pants are really tight and it's impossible.

I couldn't think of what to say, so I asked her if she got some good candy. Ugh, stupid question! Then I offered to carry her candy for her. Hello? Doubly stupid question. No one lets someone else carry their candy. Idiot!

7:34—Bad move going to that guy's house. The place wasn't even decorated. He was just watching TV with his girlfriend, and he gave us each a quarter and a weird looking brownie.

7:50—The kids on bikes rode by us again, but they must've been out of eggs, because they just called us names. I recognized one of them. He's in my sister's grade, and even though he was dressed like a skeleton, I knew him by that weird divit in his chest that he was born with.

Kevin said he can't wait to go through puberty so he can kick those dumb asses' asses.

8:17—Our pillow cases are almost full and Kevin told me my helmet is making a purple spot on my forehead that's spreading. It hurts a lot and Kevin's platform heels are making his feet ache. Who's the dumb ass now, Kevin? You are, thinking you could walk around all night as David Cassidy.

8:30—Dropped Kevin off and went home. My mom got out the makeup remover and took off my tough football player face while I sorted candy. She saw the brownie and took it. My sister is still out, so she'll probably have more candy and brag about it.

9:24—My dad said it's time for bed, and I won't complain, because I already stashed the full-sized Milky Way under my pillow. I'm going with the comfortable Six Million Dollar Man pajamas tonight, because I've eaten a lot of candy.

I think I'll miss trick-or-treating. If I can't do it anymore, I guess I'll just feel like a dumb ass.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How to annoy the public while depleting the rain forest.

I live in Seattle, Washington. Our city has the reputation for being rainy, liberal and green, both in physical environment and mentality. As I previously pointed out in this post, the Emerald City prides itself in an organic, free range lifestyle, where our kids attend class in yurts made of the finest hemp, and if the classroom accidentally catches on fire, people gather from miles around to take in the "unfortunate event."

We recycle everything—yard waste, food waste, plastic, paper—if soylent green ever becomes a morally acceptable option, Seattle will be the first city to repurpose and eat Grandma.

And because I'm a lifelong resident of this enlightened region, it drives me crazy, every year around this time, when I observe the mailman, as he drives his boot heel into our mailbox to force in every last political flier. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but for the past week, our daily mail haul has averaged at least five, full-color, collateral pieces put forth by candidates and special interest groups.

From a design perspective, I probably scrutinize this stuff way too much, but it doesn't take a trained eye to notice the cheesy photography and lame Photoshop effects. Everything is too large, and if the goal is to present the candidate's head in actual size, I suppose they've nailed that objective.

But enough ranting about basic aesthetics, let's talk about messaging. You would think that each candidate's opponent is Satan him- or  herself, and the choice is clearer than Saddam vs. Cheney (Sorry, actually that's a tough call.). The major contest in Washington state is between the incumbent, Senator Patty Murray, and lifelong, smarmy Republican naysayer, Dino Rossi. He's already run for governor, and lost, twice, and now he's attempting to unseat Senator Murray, a sixteen year veteran of the congressional trenches.

We've been receiving at least one pro-Rossi piece of tree every day. Yesterday, he sent us a letter-sized document, showing a diapered toddler rolling around in stacks of cash. The headline read, "Senator Patty Murray's Spending and the National Debt: THEY SEEM TO GROW SO FAST!" All caps always drives the point home so nicely, especially when it's also underlined and accentuated with a drop shadow. I'm tempted to mail out my own flier which simply reads, "The Graphic Designers' Association of West Seattle endorses Patty Murray," based on that lame piece of Rossi propaganda alone.

There's usually also a highly unflattering photograph of the opponent, either laughing maniacally in black and white or making some sort of face that could only have been captured in a "moment of privacy."

I won't go into the various literature pushing initiatives, referendums and bond issues, because the modus operandi is pretty much the same. They want to scare the hell out of you by any means necessary, and make you believe that voting against their idea will end the world faster than even the Mayan calendar predicts.

So now, I suppose it's time to peruse a little thing called "The Washington State Voter's Pamphlet," and afterward, my wife said she could make me some nice pants out of it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

This could quite possibly be the greatest post ever written

Huge? Historical? Awesome? Really?

I'm not sure about how things are in other societies, but my culture absolutely brims with exaggeration, overstatement and hyperbole. The bigger and the more outlandish...the more it's noticed and the better it sells.

No demographic subset epitomizes this trait more than the American teenager. I love this scene from the film, Dan In Real Life, in which Steve Carell's character, Dan, informs his adolescent daughter that her new boyfriend is not welcome on their family weekend getaway:

Murderer of love, indeed. If I had a Krispy Kreme glazed for every time my kid told me I was ruining her life, I'd have enough to do a fundraiser for her school. Our most recent encounter went something like this:

"Dad, I got a pink slip yesterday at school."


"Because I was tardy to class."

"Why were you tardy to class?

"Because I had to get a pretzel because I was starving."

"Starving? You were starving? You weren't starving."

"I was starving, Dad."

I left it at that. I hate to sound like every parent throughout history, but kids in Africa are starving. Not my kid, who hadn't eaten anything for thirty-seven minutes. And that just illustrates how pervasive this over hyped drama is and how we're all guilty of it.

Exaggeration permeates the public airwaves, especially when it comes to sports broadcasters. How often have you heard statements like:

"That could very well be the greatest amount of Gatorade ever dumped on a coach."

"Folks. Remember this day. You and I are witnessing history being made, as Lebron James has become the first player to receive a new tattoo at halftime."

If it isn't television or other mass media, our workplaces are rife with statements of excessive enthusiasm:

"If you can get me that report by two o'clock, that would be awesome." Seriously? Childbirth is awesome. A report turned in by two is maybe a step or two above acceptable.

"You look amazing today! Those boots are sensational!" This statement only works if it's Buzz Aldrin speaking to Neil Armstrong on the moon's surface.

So America, let's give it a shot and tone it down—no more super sizing our speech for maximum impact, because it's all beginning to sound phony, anyway.  I'm going to attempt to heed my own advice here, and really try to avoid word inflation, but for now, I hope your weekend is a religious experience.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Time to drop a few names

On Sunday, as I entered our family room, I was greeted by the agitated voices of people from New Jersey—cries, screams, just general confrontational noise on the television. I asked my teenager what she was watching.

"It's Jersey Shore. They talk like this all the time. Especially that guy right there. He's The Situation."

"What do you mean he's the situation?"

"I mean, that's his name: The Situation." Then she drifted back to her show, and I felt fortunate for having received any information at all. I retreated to another area of the house, fearing for my country's future.

We're all named at birth; I feel quite confident in stating that most of us are bestowed with first, middle and last names. From that point forward, however, our names lengthen, shorten and morph into endless permutations.

For example, many athletes' names have been infused with potent, intimidating nouns, like Duane "The Rock" Johnson, Roger "The Rocket" Clemens or Allen "The Answer" Iverson. I'm not sure about Johnson or Iverson, but Clemens has already become more of a space vehicle and less of a rocket. Other guys have tacked adjectives onto their names, such as "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler or "Broadway" Joe Namath. If I weren't familiar with those two guys, I might think they sang show tunes during gay bingo.

Some of us are named one thing, but are called something different. My mom's name was Margaret, but she went by "Peggy"—Irish thing. "Chuck" is always short for Charles and "Hank" can be a derivation of Henry. "Ike" is a nice nickname for Dwight, and "I like Ike" sounds a lot less ambiguous than "Dwight is wight."

There's a small subset of folks, mostly guys, who use their first initial along with their middle and last names, like F. Lee Bailey, G. Gorden Liddy or M. Night Shyamalan, or those who use their first names with their middle initials, like Michael J. Fox or Samuel L. Jackson. Why? Is M. Night Shyamalan afraid someone will confuse him with M. Dusk Shyamalan? Sorry, but it seems a little pretentious to me.

The convicted murderers have no choice. Their entire names are always used: Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, John Wayne Gacy. If you ever see a picture of your cousin Mike in the newspaper and the caption lists his entire name, you might want to call your aunt and make sure she's okay.

Lastly is a group of people whose first and last names are abbreviated, most famously Alex Rodriguez's transformation to "A-Rod." Great caution must be exercised in choosing this option for your own name, since it did not work at all well for Alan Holman, Frank Bombardi or William Shatner's brother, Isaac.

Monday, October 18, 2010

She was more than just June Cleaver

Barbara Billingsley has passed away at ninety-four. When you hear her named mentioned, you probably think of a beautiful, blond wife and mother, caressing her household with a satin touch.

She was June Cleaver.

June never descended the Cleaver staircase without first donning her legendary pearl necklace. Ms. Billingsley later recounted that she wore the famous accessory to hide a slight indentation in her throat, and just like that, an immortal image was created, worthy of a place in television lore next to Archie Bunker's chair and Arthur Fonzarelli's leather jacket.

Ward Cleaver, the patriarch of the Cleaver clan, would have been lost at sea without his able bride. As I wrote about in this post, Ward's only real tasks in life were grabbing his lunch out of June's manicured fingers as he departed for an unspoken, yet stressful job down at "the old salt mine," and returning to a five course dinner with his brood of hapless, yet lovable sons, Wally and Beaver.

"Sit down, dear. Here's the evening paper, and dinner will be served in fifteen minutes." June had everything under control. Ward's only remaining duty would be to discipline Wally for giving Lumpy a retaliatory wedgie that went awry, or scolding The Beav for using June's brassiere to raise some new tadpoles.

She'll forever occupy a squeaky clean world in shades of black, white and gray, but mostly white. I'll always think of her when I pour a glass of whole milk or see a woman gardening in her slacks. And, a lot like my own mom, she was there when her kids needed her the most, saying just the right thing.

But as indelible a mark as she's made on our lives as June Cleaver,  how many of us remember her performance in this scene from Airplane:

Versatile? yes. Classy and elegant? Definitely. Irreverent and hilarious? Absolutely, which makes me love her even more.

Rest in peace, Barbara Billingsley.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ever said something stupid? I haven't.

Have you ever said something stupid...I mean, really, really stupid?

Yeah, I haven't, either. I've never said anything like:

"You look super tired today. I mean, you look sort of like you've been working hard. I mean, mornin' to ya!"

"Remember when you used to be thin? I mean thinner. What I mean is, remember when we were younger?"

"How many months pregnant are you? Oh, I see.Well, are you thinking you might someday want children?"

"How old is your son? Oh, sorry. How old is your daughter? You know, my daughter used to be mistaken for a boy all the time, too. Not that yours is mistaken for a boy all the time. Anyway, how are you?"

I've got many more examples of idiotic statements I've never made. Thank heavens that the good Lord has blessed me with that filter which catches my moronic thoughts before they make their way into audible goodness for the recipient's lucky ears. I'm trying to decide which impulsive sputterings are more potentially damaging-those made to our spouses or those made to our co-workers.

At work, our statements, if severe enough, can be escalated to a human resources level, where everything is documented and can result in embarrassment, reprimand or even termination. The stakes are high, and we need to be ever-cognizant of what we say and to whom.

For instance, I know to which guys in the restroom I can say, "Hey, man, try to hit the urinal, mmmkay? Or else bring a tennis court squeegee with you next time," and which guys I must keep my dirty thoughts to myself. I know to whom I can say, "Come on in. I know the elevator is really crowded, but, lucky for you, I brought my special personal elevator lubricant. Put some on and squeeze right in."

At home, the consequences of our insensitive comments are eternal. My wife can cite every ignorant, mean, ridiculous or stupid remark I've ever made. She can pull it out of nowhere. "Remember right after I'd given birth to our first daughter and we drove home. Remember?" I always know what's coming at this point. "I was as fat as a cow," she continues, "and the woman next door was sunbathing in her bikini, and you just looked at her and said, "'Whoa'. Just that one word, 'whoa.'" The only reason I remember is because I'm reminded of it every year on my daughter's birthday.

Every time I blurt out an insensitive sentence, I think, "Okay, that's it. I've exhausted my arsenal. I'll never do this again, because next time, I'll wait one second, just one, and the impulse will have passed." Wrong.

But wait. Hang on just a minute. I almost forgot, I've never said anything stupid.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Backlighting for Maximum Effect, by Brett Favre

Surprise! Another professional athlete does something stupid—allegedly.

But this time it's Brett Favre, a guy who is admired, even worshiped, among football fans across our great land. Over the past eighteen years of his quarterbacking career, he has epitomized grit, character and sheer love for his trade. Sure, he's retired and un-retired more frequently than I discover new skin tags, but his boyish enthusiasm has won him legions of supporters.

And now, it appears he has additional passions.

A woman has come forward, accusing Favre of texting illicit photographs of his "team member" to her cell phone. Although this isn't illegal, it would constitute workplace harassment, since both were employees of the New York Jets at the time of the alleged incident, and the National Football League is investigating.

Let's break this down. The guy is forty-one years old. He's married and is about to become a grandfather. I wonder if, like most parents, he's discussed with his children the potential risk in posting incriminating images of themselves. Or, to spin it differently, maybe Grandpa Brett simply decided to add a "genital geneology" category in the Favre family photo archives.

If not, then why do guys do this in the first place? Do they think it's some EBay-type situation, where the item needs to be viewed prior to bidding? I'd be willing to wager that, if you ask ten women which physical attributes they find attractive in men, they would list eyes, smile, chest, shoulders or bottom. I'm nearly positive that Favre's "little quarterback" wouldn't even be in the top five.

And let's face it—Brett Favre is a wealthy man. He could arrange an entire photo shoot to portray his "flesh flanker" in the best possible light. He could arrange stylists, props, a fuzzy, Barbara Walters-type lens filter and the finest hair and makeup professionals. Unfortunately, when that portion of the anatomy is isolated and highlighted, it's like putting a pig in Prada.

Other athletes have performed dumber stunts—New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg in a crowded nightclub after his concealed weapon accidentally fired (A lot of us guys already have that problem; we don't need the gun). Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nearly killed himself riding a motorcycle with no helmet, and later engaged in his own escapade of sexual impropriety.

But Brett Favre, good old Number Four? Come on, man. Keep your player in the locker room.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This must be how a stripper feels

It happens almost every Wednesday.

Around 6:30AM, I stagger into the YMCA men's locker room after a fairly vigorous aerobic workout. I quickly peel off my soaked clothing to avoid wallowing in my own filth any further, and prepare to enter the shower. I am naked.

And then he walks in—the supply delivery guy.

As I stand there basking in my funky glow, we look at each other. He always says something like, "I'll just be a second. I just need to refill the antibacterial soap." At this point, I usually feel like we're filming the opening scene to some gay porn flick, like "Towel Snappers IV" or "Saving Ryan's Privates," and it doesn't really matter what he says to me. This man has seen my nude body more than I have.

After these experiences with Chuck (that's what his name patch says), I always feel just a slight bit better due to one fact—he was wearing a uniform.

People just don't wear uniforms like they used to. Back in the day, gas station attendants would jog out to your car, their crisp uniforms accentuated by a hat and bow tie. They would pump your gas, check your Chevron attendant was so thorough, I can remember turning my head and coughing for him. These days, someone sits behind bullet proof glass, takes your money and sells you a Baby Ruth and a pepperoni stick.

Garbage collectors, at least in my neighborhood, no longer wear uniforms, but that's fine with me. If they're willing to haul my odoriferous waste away, rain or shine, they can wear assless chaps for all I care. The same goes for bus drivers. I'm simply thankful that someone is willing to confront rush-hour traffic while a passenger two feet behind him chops up crack with a machete. If the bus drivers want to wear nothing but a boa and a change belt, good on them.

Some occupations require their workers to wear a uniform for safety reasons, like the water meter readers or mail carriers. I'm sure there are areas of rural Snohomish County where they must also identify themselves audibly: "Attention, homeowner. I am reading your meter. I don't want your meth stash. Repeat, I am not a tweaker. Thank you."

In my opinion, the most important uniform of all is the physician's white lab coat. I don't think I'd be able to relax enough for "the exam," if the guy slipped on the rubber glove while donning torn Levi's and a stained wife beater.

If that gym supply guy wore a lab coat next time, I might stand around and talk for a while.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

John Lennon would have turned seventy yesterday.

I walked through the door around 9:30 that night. Band practice had gone late, and I was glad to finally be home after a another long day during a busy senior year.

"Did you hear what happened?" My mom's face wore a grave expression.


"John Lennon died. He was shot."

When something profound happens in our lives, we take mental snapshots which allow us to easily access that memory for the rest of our lives. We remember time, place, even what we were wearing. And since yesterday would have been John Lennon's seventieth birthday, that Polaroid in my mind has surfaced again with vivid clarity.

I had just begun to explore The Beatles that fall of 1980. During a typical youth filled with exciting discoveries and subsequent journeys, this was one of the grandest. I dove in head first, decorating my locker with Beatle paraphernalia, attending a show in Seattle called "Beatlemania," where the performers looked and sounded like the Fab Four through each phase of their odyssey.

John had just released an album entitled "Double Fantasy," so the planets were aligned for my obsession with all things Beatle, past and present. I had already decided that he was my favorite; his edginess and his rebelliousness appealed to the region of my personality which never dared question authority. Sure, Paul was no slouch, but in my eyes, John represented the band's essence.

As a teenager, the news of his death hit hard, yet my adolescent brain couldn't quite grasp its permanence. "Forever" is an abstract concept to an eighteen-year-old, but the older I got, and the more I became acclimated outside my universe of instant gratification, the worse I felt about a world without John.

October 9 is his birthday, not the day of his death. We should celebrate his life and his music, his causes and even his struggles, and try not to dwell on his abrupt departure. Since he's been gone, however, I can't get past what thirty more years would have been like with John Lennon in our lives.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What makes a good rivalry? Start with scrunchies.

When I mention the word, "rivalry," what images come to mind?

Ali vs. Frazier? Yankees vs. Red Sox? Sarah Palin vs. Rational Thought?

Although all three are match-ups of considerable renown, our worlds are filled with numerous, smaller rivalries. For instance, when the guy next to you sees that your elliptical trainer is set at level ten, and then, in true Spinal Tap form, turns his up to eleven—that's a rivalry.

When your neighbor one-ups you by buying a weed whacker that he can actually ride—that's a rivalry.

When you've grown to despise a soccer team of ten-year-olds, because they show up to play your team in custom uniforms with matching gear bags, warm-ups, dog sweaters and hair scrunchies—that's a rivalry.

And last night, at West Seattle High School, I witnessed a contest featuring a heaping plate of rivalry with a side of nastiness. My daughter's team , the Chief Sealth International High School Seahawks (or CSIHSSH if you want an easy-to-say acronym), threw down the gauntlet for a little volley to the ball against their bitter adversary, the West Seattle High School Wildcats (formerly known as the "Indians," until 2001, when someone finally learned that all the Indians in West Seattle had been killed by 1893). The two teams represent the only public high schools in West Seattle, a small community separated from Seattle proper by the Duwamish Waterway.

The atmosphere in the gym was electric, as both schools' football teams were in attendance to support the volleyballers. They sat at opposite ends of the court, standing and chanting at each other, with us parents perched squarely in the middle. I'd forgotten how enthusiastic fourteen- to eighteen-year-old humans can be as I sat there in my sciatic-supporting stadium chair.

The game was intense, especially at the beginning. Girls from both teams fought for every point; I constantly recoiled at the unnatural squeaking of adolescent knee skin on wooden floor.

Here's my baby (in the tall, white socks). Well, she's really not a baby. In fact, when we stand face to face, her eyes look at my hairline, which is actually more like an upside down omega than a line.

The two teams competed really hard, making unbelievable blocks, spikes and saves. Occasionally, their "teenageness"surfaced, resulting in a ball dropping to the floor between two or three frozen players, their mouths slightly agape. The student supporters weren't much different. Most of their cheers sounded like dogs barking, and gradually trailed off as each kid became distracted by something shiny.

I love the high school sports atmosphere, especially when it's supercharged by a rivalry game. As a parent, I need to remind myself that this part of life is so fleeting.

That girl wearing Number 11 over there won't be doing this forever.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Three men, three mornings

Thirty-year-old George Matthews III jerked awake, startled by the cries of his infant son, George IV. His wife, Ashley, was already rising from her side of the bed to tend to the baby.

"Relax, I've got this one," George croaked, his aching lumbar protesting the slightest movements.

"Oh, sweetie, thank you." Ashley was back asleep within seconds.

George padded into his son's room and scooped him out of the crib. He hugged his son closely to his chest, stroking the back of his downy head. The baby relaxed instantly at the sight and smell of his father.

After young George was changed and fully engaged with a warm bottle of Enfamil, George III relaxed into a living room chair with his son perfectly perched in the crook of his forearm. The young dad scanned his Blackberry; he had made it a morning habit to read the day's headlines to his boy.

"Hmm... Obama's approval rating is at an all-time low. I hope he weathers this storm, little man."

He navigated the device to a screen the day's client visits. "I don't recognize this address and the GPS is out on the Audi. I'll just have to use Mapquest."

George IV stared at his father, as if actually pondering the statement...and burped loudly.

Thirty-year-old George Matthews, Jr. jerked awake, startled by the cries of his infant son, George III. His wife, Cheryl, was already rising from her side of the bed to tend to the baby.

"Relax, I've got this one," George croaked, his aching lumbar protesting the slightest movements.

"Thank you, sweetie." Cheryl scooted up into her familiar nursing position as her husband approached with their wailing son. The baby relaxed instantly at the sound and smell of his mother, and quickly nestled in for his breakfast.

George, Jr. settled into the bedside rocker and clicked the remote to turn on The Today Show, one of his morning routines. During a commercial break he looked down at his son, commenting on the day's top story. "Hmm... Carter's approval rating is at an all time low. I hope he weathers this storm, little man."

The elder George grabbed his weekly planner off the nightstand and scanned the day's appointments. "I don't recognize this address. I guess I'll have to check the Thomas Guide out in the Pinto. Honey, when you're done there, will you iron me a shirt, lightly starched? Oh, and can you lay out my favorite paisley tie?"

"Sure, honey."

George III stared at his father, as if actually pondering the statement...and burped loudly.

Thirty-year-old George Matthews jerked awake, startled by the cries of his infant son, George, Jr. His wife, Millie, was already rising as George rolled onto his back to clear his groggy head.

"Honey, after you get the baby, can you put on the coffee?"

"Sure, dear." Millie quickly disappeared into the hallway. "And your suit is pressed and laid out in my sewing room. I'll make you some breakfast while you shower."

George rose slowly, his aching lumbar protesting the slightest movements. He threw on his bathrobe and retrieved the newspaper from the front porch, an ingrained morning ritual. "Hmm... Truman's approval rating is at an all time low."

"What did you say, dear?" Millie yelled from the baby's room.

George ignored her question. "I hope he weathers this storm." He pulled up a chair at the kitchen table and reached for his list of appointments, prepared a day prior by his secretary. "Millie!" he barked, "I need to get going. One of these addresses is three counties over. Did you fill up the Edsel yesterday?"

"Yes, George."

From across the house, George heard the sound of his baby burping.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Food for thought

"Hey, Dad, what's for dinner?"

Such a seemingly innocuous question, yet so loaded.

My family spends an inordinate amount of time thinking, talking, complaining and ruminating about meals. If my kids aren't eating, they're discussing what and when they'll be eating next.

Part of it can be rationalized, as my fifteen-year-old daughter burns through calories like an Escalade limo devours fossil fuel. Things have progressed to the point where I'm considering the purchase of a soy bean farm/black angus ranch in Ritzville, Washington to meet her dietary requirements.

Which brings us back to the original inquiry: What's for dinner? As we parents are fully aware, the answer is black or white, right or wrong. Kids judge our dinner decisions like George W. Bush assessed the world's nations in the "war on terrah"—either you're with us or you're against us. And since school has started, our schedules have filled up considerably, leaving little room for contemplation upon returning home after a busy day.

My wife, the human embodiment of organization and efficiency, has begun planning the week's menu on Sundays. She scours the cookbooks for quick, healthy dinners—meals which don't include titles like "fish sticks," "tater tots," "hot pockets," or "toaster strudel." After she's found five recipes which seem palatable (on paper) to all family members, she jots down the ingredients and I grocery shop.

We don't consult with our children; we know them well enough already, and the less they know about meal preparations, the better. We go to great lengths to omit those two Voldemort-like words which incite fear and revulsion in our offspring—crock pot. Kids, we're not having soupy red crock pot, where having chili. That's not floating brown crock pot, it's delicious beef stroganoff.

After they discover that their supper is originating from this forbidden appliance, it's like telling them we brought home some great movies. It's just that they happen to be VHS tapes from the public library. My ten-year-old recently stated that the only acceptable crock pot dinner would be lobster.

Nothing like eating a lobster that's been slow-cooked in cream of mushroom soup all day. Talk about animal cruelty.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

State your case and walk away. State case... walk away.

"I'd like you to unload the dishwasher."

"Please put away your clothes."

"The cat needs to be fed."

The preceding three statements are examples of routine requests we parents present to our offspring on a daily basis. They seem so very mundane. How long could the fulfillment of each task take? Maybe five minutes?

The problem is this: What often begins as a monotone, verbalized afterthought to a parent, can escalate into a blood-curdling screamfest of Ali-Frazier proportions, or a well calculated play of bait and switch. You just never know. For instance:

"Lauryn (my ten-year-old, daughter), please feed Leo."

"Okay, I'll do it during the next commercial, after I found out if Bear Grylls is going to eat the dead zebra's other eye."

"That's fine." Done deal. Time to move on.

Or, it can go like this:

"Lauryn, please feed Leo."


(My thoughts are in italic) Seriously? Do I really need to spell out why the feline, by virtue of its membership in the family of carbon-based living organisms, needs nourishment to function?)
"Because he hasn't eaten since this morning, and he's starting to nibble at my Achilles tendon region like a salt lick."

"Why can't Zoe feed the cat. She never has to."

"Zoe's at volleyball practice."

"I don't care."

"Please feed Leo."


And so it goes, until threats are made, feelings are hurt, and she never finds out if the zebra's other eye is consumed by the man against the wild.

Here's an illustration of the forked road with my teenager:

"Zoe, please stop texting until you've finished your homework."

"Okay, sorry." Case closed, and we've only claimed five seconds of each other's lives.

Conversely, things could play out as follows:

"Zoe, please stop texting until you've finished your homework."


"Because you need to get your work done before you can have any free time."

"I never have free time, Dad. I'll bet you had tons of free time as a kid."

(This is where I fall into her trap, and engage her accusation) "Well, I suppose I did, but I didn't spend it texting and facebooking. I called people on our single rotary-dial phone."

"Dad, texting is extremely efficient and helps me with my typing skills. I'm just being efficient with my free time, unlike you, who had to drop what you were doing and dial that weird old phone. I could probably plan a rendezvous with three friends in the time it took you to call one person and get a busy signal. "

At that point, I'd forgotten that I was merely asking her to do her homework, and was now defending my inefficient use of leisure time in 1978. Another successful deflection by my daughter. Touché.

I think she's ready to run for public office.