Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The results are in: you're all insane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was Barack Obama student body president at his elementary school?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Artificial Christmas trees: What would Santa do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: Yes. She always does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten-year-old daughter: How many?

Me: I don't know. A few.

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

Me: No. More than that.

Ten-year-old daughter: How many?

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

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

Fifteen-year-old daughter: Ewwww!

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

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

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

"That was so good when's dinner?"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow and Seattle: A worse couple than McCain-Palin

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

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

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

Oops, you didn't make it.

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

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

Always riveting. Why do I watch? No idea.

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

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

Another blizzard of fun in the Emerald City.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is One Less Prison a Good Thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Batman isn't too happy about these guys.

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

I can be a superhero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little too much time on your hands.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will love again.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

1001 incorrect uses for a blow dryer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A salute to some unsung heroes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

I solemnly swear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's so nice when two people hit it off

King County Metro Route 54, 7:54 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

I looked and felt like a fool.

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

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How I fit my teenager for a GPS without her knowledge

This cool dad thing is starting to wear off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I won't be there.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mr. Manners has a few words for Mr. Moss

I have to admit, I'm feeling old today.

Most days, when I hear the sound of my voice, I picture a guy who's maybe thirty-one years old, 160 pounds...and then I look in the mirror.

But today, that's not the reason I'm feeling old. It has to do with something I heard about the other day, which reinforced my belief that our young folks are quickly losing their grasp on manners, politeness and basic human decency.

Randy Moss, a thirty-three-year-old, All-Pro wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, was released this week following a public tirade during a team meal. Every Friday, the team receives a free catered lunch in the locker room, and apparently, Mr. Moss wasn't pleased with the fare. According to one of the food servers, Moss approached the buffet line and immediately began screaming, "I wouldn't feed this (expletive) to my (expletive) dog," and stormed away.

The rest of his Viking teammates stood dumbstruck and embarrassed at the boorish display and many apologized to the caterers. Moss was jettisoned from the team three days later.

I'm not going to generalize about an entire generation due to the behavior of one out-of-touch diva who catches a football for a living. But tell me if you haven't noticed an erosion in basic etiquette in the past twenty to thirty years.

As parents, we continually badger our kids to say "please" and "thank you," especially to those outside the immediate family. And I know how much it embarrasses my ten-year-old daughter when I hand one of her friends a grilled cheese sandwich (sharp cheddar only, no crust) with tomato soup (made with milk, not water), allowing roughly ten seconds to receive the "thank you." After that, I won't hesitate to tell her she's welcome. Ungrateful little...

My kids are still working on saying "excuse me," in the appropriate situations and eating with their mouths at least seventy percent closed, but the pleases and thank yous are finally part of their vernacular.

Why have manners evaporated? Well, I've got a theory, and it starts with anonymity. We text, we email, we comment online under dumb pseudonyms like "Reflections of a Shallow Pond," and human contact is lacking. When we're driving and someone cuts us off, we don't hesitate to honk and maybe flip them off. But imagine walking down the sidewalk and someone walks right in front of us, forcing us to alter our path. Are we going to scream at them and gesture in a threatening manner? Maybe if it's Rush Limbaugh or Alex Rodriguez, but otherwise, I doubt it.

It's because we're human, we can see that they're also human and neither of us is insulated by metal, a high rate of speed and anonymity.

It's time for me to take my own advice. It's so easy to email someone, especially at work, when Ive got a problem with them, but so difficult to confront them face-to-face. I consider it sport to cut someone off in traffic as retaliation for their bad driving, but I need to try to see their face so the urge passes.

And even though I don't want to, I really have to be nicer to clowns.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I'm not being critical. It's just that you're sort of ugly.

It's no secret that we live in a highly competitive market economy. Every day, there's a war waged for our time, our attention and most of all, our hard-earned cash. And in order to gauge or satisfaction, to maintain that precarious grasp on our business, our feedback is constantly solicited:

"Your call is important to us. Please hold and the next available operator attend to your every whim...all the way from somewhere in India."

"How's my driving? Call 1-800-123-4567 and we'll make sure our driver is notified...all the way from somewhere in India."

At home the other day, I'm not sure how, but I noticed that the bottom of the Kleenex box even listed a customer service number and website for consumer grievances. It's comforting to know that I've got an advocate in the absorbent paper product genre.

This critical world we inhabit, where actions and behaviors are scrutinized, dissected and even mocked, has created a highly cynical culture. Satisfaction may be guaranteed, but it's never really attained:

"Excuse me, I asked for the McRib with chipotle sweat and sour, not regular sweet and sour sauce. I hereby demand a complimentary supersize."

"Honey, stop booing the quarterback. He's on our team."
"Hey, I'm entitled to voice my displeasure. This is America."
"Okay, Dear. But he is only ten...and he's your son."

Living within this supercharged critical atmosphere, we all end up on the receiving end from time to time. I could really stand some improvement when it comes to being criticized. In fact, just yesterday, some guy read another of my "top ten" posts. Granted, it wasn't one of my better ramblings, and here's what he said:
"Really? I can't believe I actually wasted time reading this 10 List." 

Did I take the high road and simply brush of a rant from some random ignoramus? Of course I didn't. I replied:
"Thanks for the valuable feedback. Let's see what you've got." 

The maturity, composure and tact arrows have never filled my quiver. I swear, if my skin were any thinner, I'd resemble something served for dim sum. Some anonymous dude slams something I wrote, and I react like he gave me a wedgie which led to bleeding and scarring.

How are some people able to withstand certain jobs—the umpires, the Presidents of the United States, the drive through workers—and stand tall in the face of sheer nastiness and personal insult?

I completely understand why millions of Americans oppose Mr. Obama's progressive agendas and philosophies. I even accept that people are irked by his personal style and demeanor. But come on—displaying his likeness on a huge sign, resembling Hitler or a monkey? That's vaulting over the line from criticism to hatred and vitriol. It contributes nothing to political dialogue or debate, and portrays the demonstrator as nothing but a cretin.

Let's try and check ourselves, just a little bit, next time, and I'll include myself in this reprimand. I'm going to work on not correcting my co-workers mispronunciations (like "sherbert"), not getting irritated when the bus is five minutes late and not getting irked that my Jamba Juice wasn't filled to the top of the cup.

It's going to be very difficult to keep my mouth shut, however, if my wife doesn't improve the way she irons my underwear.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ten reasons why I'm glad tomorrow is election day

10) I get one last opportunity to watch Wolf Blitzer's hairdo against the undulating backdrop of CNN's red and blue touch screen election predictor. It gives my cat grand mall seizures, but it's well worth it.

9) Tea Party candidates can finally stop being so freaking ignorant about civics and learn about government the same way I did—by watching the complete Schoolhouse Rock collection on DVD.

8) I don't have to watch any more obnoxious political ads during football games. From now on, it's back to beer, car and Cialis commercials. And speaking of Cialis, what's up with those twin bathtubs? One of you is going to have to eventually get out of your small, single tub without slipping, and into the other small, single tub, just like Fred and Wilma did when they wanted a little Yabba Dabba Doo.

7) The Tea Party Candidates can return to their wives and children. In Utah, that means one candidate per every four wives and sixteen children.

6) In Washington state, all of those Dino Rossi signs will again be put away for another four years.

5) The Tea Party candidates, including their champion, Sarah Palin, will put forth a colossal effort to become more inclusive. Ms. Palin was recently heard telling Sean Hannity, "If the Devil also wears Prada, then by golly, we've got somethin' in common."

4) Meg Whitman can finally let those people out of her mini-storage unit and get someone to clean her silver tea service.

3) The Tea Party candidates can explain to their voters why their ballots were voided: You're only supposed to fill in the dots, not connect them.

2) Christine O'Donnell can finally move back to her sorority, ditch those stuffy fundraisers and go to the homecoming kegger with her hot new boyfriend. He's a Sigma Nu!

1) Each and every member of the Tea Party can finally stop blaming the President for their morbid obesity, skyrocketing triglycerides and their daughter's boyfriend's meth habit.