Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Trading the collar for stripes: A prophet goes to prison.

I realize I'm not going out on a limb too much here.

Undoubtedly, any rational human being would agree with my viewpoint on this subject, so I'm not too worried about being de-friended over this one.

Earlier today,Warren Jeffs, leader of a fundamentalist polygamist sect, pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing a twelve-year-old girl following a "spiritual marriage." Jeffs is the self-proclaimed prophet of a splinter group of the FLDS organization, formerly located at the "Yearning For Zion Ranch" in Eldorado, Texas. I'm not sure it was Zion he was yearning for.

I suppose pleading guilty would be ill-advised, even if fifty people witnessed your alleged transgression...oh, hang on a second...they did. This group has been in and out of the news for the past several years; their compound in Texas was raided by federal authorities, men were arrested and a massive group of children was removed while everything was sorted out.

I guess I understand why these men do what they do. Just like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Charles Manson, and L. Ron Hubbard before him, Jeffs mastered the art of manipulation through spiritual dogma and utilized it toward his own jaded ends. Those in power tend to have a smorgasbord of insatiable appetites.

But how do these guys do it? Jones originally helped people dig themselves out of poverty, Manson could play a little guitar and Koresh had a youthful, rock star appearance. I'm not sure about Hubbard. Maybe he reeled them in out by promising spiritual enlightenment and free Mud Pie Blizzards.

So what's this Jeffs guy's shtick? He's definitely no Tom Selleck. Look at him. His face says, "I'm the product of so much inbreeding, I'm my own half sister." Does he provide comfort and encouragement to his flock? Maybe, but the only followers who are comforted and encouraged are those old men who are thrilled to marry someone who hasn't reached the pre-menopausal age of twenty.

I reserve a special place in my soul for those who victimize kids, and Mr. Jeffs, you are among the worst. From what I've heard, marriages can also be arranged in prison, but they tend end right after the honeymoon. May you marry many times in your new life.

Okay, so I'm preaching to the choir. He abused minors, broke the law and will pay the price. But what about polygamist families who slide under the radar until deciding to participate in a reality show, as showcased in TLC's Sister Wives? The alpha dog in this classic looks like he could play bass in Van Halen, only all the groupies are wives and none of the music can have nasty words.

Religious beliefs aside, he's got four wives. Four.

One question: Who's crazier, his wives...or him?

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010: The Year the Vatican Found a Loophole.

Welcome to "Curtain Rod Week"—that series of days which wedges itself between the past year and the frontier that is 2011.

This is the week when we see and read all of those "year in review" features, all of those top ten, twenty and hundred lists. I usually hear the finale sometime around 11:54 on New Year's Eve, when the local rock station cranks up "Stairway to Heaven," the top song of all time for the twenty-seventh year in a row (I'm sure Led Zeppelin made a deal with Satan to achieve such lofty status). Nothing beats ushering in Baby New Year with a bustle in my hedgerow.

I'm fully aware that many don't like these lists, and I tend to agree; nothing is less objective than judging an event's significance based on opinion alone. And that's why the list I'm about to divulge is merely the jaundiced view of this writer. Take it with a grain of salt (preferably sea salt, because it's totally in right now).

My top ten happenings of 2010:

10) Full body scanners hit airports—What's the big deal? Both my parents and Jamie Lee Curtis's had to make a tough choice after our births, and finally everyone in the airport can appreciate the awesome call my parents made.

9) Chilean miners are rescued—This was an uplifting event, literally. If I could teach my kids the type of patience and endurance that those guys had, they might wait for me to go to the bathroom before opening their presents next time.

8) Florida church plans "Burn the Koran" day—That mine's empty now, right?

7) Proposition 19, for the decriminalization of marijuana, is narrowly defeated in California—If only the Hot Pocket and chocolate milk lobbyists had worked a tiny bit harder.

6) Arizona passes tough anti-immigration law—But please, the fine people of Arizona still want your tourist dollars, so come on down! Just, you know, try not to get too tan while you're there.

5) Sex scandal embroils the Vatican leadership—Apparently, a couple of guys in Pope Benedict's inner circle involved themselves in a homosexual prostitution ring. If I'm not mistaken, the Bible mentions absolutely nothing about guys being hookers. Look it up.

4) Mel Gibson's misogynistic rant against his girlfriend is caught on tape—Come on, give him a break. Maybe she reminded him of his daughter, who got home past curfew last night and forgot to fill up the Tercel.

3) Ash cloud from Iceland volcano shuts down European air travel—This is obviously an unprecedented instrument of environmental terrorism, introduced by a strong, new spoke in the axis of evil—Iceland.

2) The United States Supreme Court overturns ban on direct corporate spending on elections—Hello? Of  course corporations should get the same rights as people—big, fat, rich people who don't pay taxes. Simply add fifteen thousand Oxycontin tabs and you've got Rush Limbaugh.

1) Congress passes a health care overhaul, cracking down on insurance company abuses—Seriously? No one has the right to health insurance, especially that guy who was late delivering my paper on Christmas morning.

Let's hope 2011 greets us with a new outlook: one of sanity, justice and compassion.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Counting down to the big one.

He hadn't set the alarm; he knew that the following day would probably be a long one. After forcing himself to sleep for a few additional hours, he hopped out of bed around 10:30. As usual, he pulled the scale out from under the couch and weighed himself: 277. "Whatever," he mumbled dismissively. "I've weighed more."

His volatile stomach usually prevented him from consuming much caffeine, and because of this, he had forgotten to change the auto-brew on the coffee maker. A thick, brown liquid which had already been sitting in the pot for three hours poured into his "World's Greatest Coach" mug. "Oh, well," he thought, "I'm used to cocoa, anyway. I'll just choke it down."

All season, he'd grown accustomed to sleeping on the office couch; there was just so much to prepare for. His wife had barely seen him, but he had warned her about this time of year and she'd been a trooper. He plodded into the conference room, towering over his six of his most trusted protegés, who sat reviewing the game plan. Laptops littered the conference table.

"Hey, what's up, guys? How's everyone feeling?"

Silence filled the room. His lead coordinator spoke first. "Coach, we're tired, we're a little stressed...but let me tell you something: We are ready. The world will never forget the performance they're about to see."

"And that's why you're sitting here right now" Tears welled in the boss's eyes. "I don't need to tell you this, but even though you're the best in the business, every darn one of you is family. We've had our disagreements, our little crises, but in my opinion, we're truly on the verge of greatness. Lombardi, Wooden, Rockne—they had nothing on us. Now let's get out there and show some pride in the red and green."

"Coach," if you don't mind, "I'd like the honor of feeding Rudolph his pre-game meal." The number one elf looked up yearningly at Santa.

"I wouldn't want it any other way," Herbie. "Ho, ho, ho!"

His thunderous guffaw rattled the conference room.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What's Your McHistory?

Food for thought: What single entity weaves humankind together like no other?

Soccer? Possibly, since most of the world loves soccer. America, however, would only embrace The Beautiful Game if metal spikes encircled the field, thereby adding a death and dismemberment element to an otherwise tedious contest.

Cigarettes? Nope, but cigarettes did come in at number two.

The answer, in my humble opinion, is “The Golden Arches”—McDonald’s.

McDonald’s is like that uncle who gives you sips of his beer at your parents’ party. Mom and Dad don’t really approve of his behavior, but all the kids love him and he keeps them entertained while the adults play cards.

The other day, my wife asked me to pull out the kitchen stove because a critical holiday recipe had slipped down the crack between the range and its adjacent cabinet. I slid the appliance back with relative ease, to be greeted by nine square feet of nastiness; my best description would be “post petrified dust bunny Pergo.”

As I swept this forbidden zone, fascinating objects accumulated on the dustpan: a previously owned jawbreaker, a fully sealed, yet moldy, package of deli turkey…and hey! A dollar bill…with a weird stain. The largest object to gather in this tray of randomness was a book of McDonald’s gift certificates from 2003.

I set down the broom, fished the warped booklet out of the pile, and leafed through it in search of those critical numbers. To my delight, not even the faint, fine print on the backside listed an expiration date.


Some facts about McDonald’s:

—Happy Meals have been served since 1979. That’s an entire generation of parents whose feet developed calluses made possible only by the repeated trauma of stepping on small, plastic toys.

—One out of every eight American workers has been employed by McDonald’s, including my sister. She did receive excellent benefits, like all the floor fries she could eat and more uniform choices than Elton John.

—Antarctica is the only continent without a McDonald’s. Maybe so, but I’ll bet there are some cheeseburger wrappers blowing around.

—Ronald McDonald speaks twenty-five languages. I don’t care if he holds a doctorate in astrophysics. He’s a clown and he needs a background check.

Micky D’s loves to mix up its slogans every few years; in fact, it’s had twenty-three of them. The original phrase, from 1961, was “Look for the golden arches.” Later incarnations included:

1967—“McDonald’s is your kind of place.”

1971—“You deserve a break today.”

1985—“It’s Mac tonight.”

And my proposal for 2011—“Those five thousand cows in each Quarter Pounder can’t be wrong.”

I really don’t want to tackle the controversial history of this institution; I’ll leave that to my teenager, who has viewed “Fast Food Nation” three times and counting, and will only eat a McFlurry, preferably a large one, in a pinch. I’d rather just impartially discuss the food at this point.

McDonald’s excels at breakfast, relative to their non-morning offerings. The hotcakes and breakfast burritos are quite tasty, but once lunch and dinner fare pop onto the scene, teeth are merely optional for consuming most items.

Back in high school, I participated in a scaled down version of “Supersize Me,” eating nothing but McDonald’s for two straight days. My high school marching band embarked on an express bus trip from Seattle to Phoenix, only pulling over for that familiar red and yellow brand along the freeway. Even though we were fifteen to seventeen years old, the less robust among us exhibited signs of renal failure around Bakersfield.

After that trip, I swore I’d never visit another “Big M Steakhouse,” and I didn’t for almost a week-and-a-half. You know how those fries can call out your name.

And so, my friends, before Christmas rolls around, even if you've sworn it off, duck into a McDonald’s for old time’s sake. Everyone has a McDonald’s story, whether it’s about hanging out at one, working at one or spotting one on the horizon just in time to save you from wetting your pants.

Please share. What’s your McHistory?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why advertising is good for everyone.

Ah, Sunday morning. Time to peel back the covers, stagger out to the kitchen, brew up a strong pot of coffee, traipse through the living room and pry open the front door to be greeted by the most patient of friends—the Sunday paper.

I set the stack down on the dining room table, remove the inner ad guts and cast them aside. The meat of the day's news now lies before me like a de-veined jumbo prawn. I scan the headlines above the front fold and hastily flip to the sports section. Turning to page two, I peruse top to bottom, top to bottom.

I'm a little different than most when it comes to reading newspaper advertisements. I've worked in the ad world for twenty years, so my eye tends to wander to spots on the page most people don't notice.

Two black and white ads sit at the bottom of page three, competing yet compatible. The first promotes Gene Juarez gift cards, stating "Shine, when you give her the gift that she's been waiting for." Directly to the right of Gene is an equally sized spot for Seattle Male Medical Clinic: "We guarantee 45 minute to two-hour performance and these medications work within ten minutes."

Hello, recipe for success! First, I know most guys don't like wrapping presents, but wrap the gift card. Then take the pill. Quickly slip into your tuxedo so you look as much like Chuck Woolery as possible. Walk debonairly into the kitchen where she's busy canning herring in her bathrobe. Hand her the gift. Ask her to open the gift with a minimum of small chat and watch her face transform. She may look quite puzzled at your gesture, but trust me, she'll be ready...and so will you.

If it weren't for these types of print advertising, as understated as they are, we'd have a lot more unfulfilled people in our midst. We're busy. We want to know what's going on in the world, and we want to know why our "amp" only goes to five when it used to go to eleven. One-stop shopping is alive and well in the Sunday sports section.

Once I hit the obituaries, I'm open to just about any type of solicitation, since I know that everything I've seen has been highly effective. I'm not disappointed. It's not a huge ad; it's barely larger than a postage stamp, but the message is simple: "Complete cremation, from $597."

Thank God. I'll never forget how, when I was around ten, my great aunt asked for only a partial cremation of my great uncle, and how the urn was the size of a barrel. She was quite fond of him, so she kept him in the corner, next to her stack of People magazines that would "someday be valuable on eBay."

Since my great aunt was quite lonely and loved to cook for our family, we were compelled to visit her every Sunday. After one such visit, including a wonderful dinner of chicken broccoli casserole and cling peaches, my brother and I retired to her living room for some spirited "rough housing."

He pushed me hard in the chest, and I lost balance and tumbled into my great uncle's urn. It slowly tipped onto its side and awkwardly rolled in a semi circle on the shag carpet. The vessel was hermetically sealed, but the sounds of moving, partially cremated remains haunt me to this day. The only way I can describe it is the sound an uncleaned cat box would make if you shook it a little. My great aunt handled it well, but I could tell she resented my great uncle's undignified, impromptu stroll and the way my dad struggled to not laugh.

I digress. As I've expounded upon in the above examples, printed communications cannot and should not be rendered obsolete. Please don't allow such a valuable resource to join the ranks of the cassette tape and Blockbuster Video.

Support your local newspapers. And get the full cremation.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hey! Show some class!

 Is the human male’s instinct to protect its young as voracious as the female’s?

You decide.

Lately, I’ve been prone to exercising my own brand of paternal vigilantism, and I think it may be time to step back, calm down and possibly evaluate pharmaceutical options. 

I’ve been yelling…at children…children I don’t know.

On Tuesday night, my daughter’s high school basketball teams hosted a “quad,” where the boys’ junior varsity, girls’ junior varsity, boys’ varsity and girls’ varsity, play four games against their respective counterparts from another school. It’s an economically prudent measure for a school district that isn’t on sound fiscal footing—one trip, one bus.

My daughter’s team played the evening finale, so the opponents’ squads who had already played were seated in the bleachers, clearly identifying themselves in their matching warm-ups. Two players from the visiting boys’ team were seated apart from their teammates, in folding chairs near my daughter’s team bench and behind the basket.

One of these kids caught my attention almost immediately after the girls’ game tipped off. He did anything possible to distract the home team, standing and waving his arms during free throws, yelling at the players, even booing a referee’s call with which he disagreed. Initially, I tried to ignore the obnoxious, six-and-a-half-foot man-child, but soon, my stomach acid was churning, begging for attention like a bouncing bile puppy.

I felt myself slowly transforming from Bill Bixby into Lou Ferrigno. Sometime during the third quarter, I’m not sure when, I felt my legs lift my body out of the seated position and carry it down the steps toward the corner where the giant jester lie in wait.

“Hey!” I yelled. No response. Again, “Hey!” He looked over at me. “What are you doing?”


“Nothing? I’ve been watching you for the past three quarters. You’re harassing our players while they shoot free throws.”

“No I’m not.”

“I saw you.” And this is where I ceased being Lou Ferrigno and became Lionel Haywood, my father. “You’re sitting there, representing your school, wearing your team colors and showing no class whatsoever.”

“F&#k you,” he mumbled, looking away.

“What did you just say?” Back to Ferrigno. “I’ll tell you what. If you want to cheer for your team, that’s fine. But if I hear or see another taunt, your coach is going to hear about it. Got it?”

I felt his eyes bore into me as I turned and ascended the steps to my seat. As I resumed watching the game, we again made eye contact. “Show some class,” I mouthed to him, again channeling my father.

As I rose to leave after the game, my peripheral vision glimpsed his tall figure approaching from the left. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

“Sir.” He stood next to me but looked down at the top of my head. “I just want to apologize. I behaved badly and I’m sorry.”

“Uh, I appreciate that. Thanks.” I shook his hand, feeling surprised and relieved.

On the drive home, I pondered the evening’s happenings, and decided that, although my actions were justified, I really needed to savor these contests a little more; I should not allow these outside factors to influence my enjoyment of watching my girl play hoops.

Two nights later, in a hotly contested grudge match on the floor of the cross-town rival, my daughter shot an air ball while attempting a three-pointer.

The opposing student section launched into a familiar chant: “Airrrrballlll! Airrrrrballlll!”

Okay, I thought, now’s the time to take my own advice. Just brush it off. No big deal; they’re just kids. I glanced to my left, where two skinny ninth-graders joined in the chant.

“Hey, you guys. Show some class. That’s my kid.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anyone up for a little streaking?

We Americans love historical feats. We can’t get enough of those who dabble in the rarified air of an unprecedented accomplishment.

We love streaks.

The sports world is a prime breeding ground for records and streaks; nothing goes unmeasured, untimed, unnoticed. Cal Ripken owns Major League Baseball’s consecutive games played mark at 2,632. John Wooden’s UCLA Bruin basketball teams won an amazing 88 games in a row.

And on Monday night, another impressive run met its end: Brett Favre, quarterback of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, broke his chain of 297 consecutive starts due to a shoulder injury. Favre had been under center for the first snap of every contest since September 27, 1992—a stretch of time, which would allow a child to progress from birth all the way to high school graduation.

Playing through broken bones, torn muscles and brain trauma begs two questions about Mr. Favre: Tough? Definitely. Smart? Hmm. Let’s just look at some of his recent text messages to ascertain that one.

Since the sporting arena commands so much of America’s attention when it comes to streaks and records, I’ve listed a few numbers below which relate to other areas of endeavor. In my opinion, these figures are equally or more impressive than those accomplished playing games.

19,346—Consecutive days George W. Bush has mispronounced at least one word (i.e. “unceptable,” “ hispanically” or “subliminable”) since learning to speak at age eleven.

84—Consecutive prostitutes who have parted ways with Charlie Sheen while wearing one shoe.

273—Consecutive days someone at my workplace has finished a sentence with the words, “That would be great.” As it turned out, none of those 273 results were even that good.

842—Days since 2008 Miss Flesh Eating Bacteria, Sarah Palin, burst onto the scene, necrotizing the brains of her minions and slaughtering thousands of native Alaskan moose with her voice alone. “Todd! Bring me the baby! Now! The reporters are here! Todd!”

11—Consecutive days I was able to extract shampoo from a seemingly empty Herbal Essence bottle. Although my hair is extremely short and only requires a thimble full, I take enormous pride in this.

732,588—Number of cheddar goldfish I’ve packed into zip lock bags, while stepping on and crushing approximately six percent on the kitchen floor.

5,471—Consecutive days I’ve said to a smaller person, “If you’re not going to eat that, I’ll take it.” (This excludes days spent nursing or bottle feeding.)

So let’s celebrate life’s streaks, its untarnished runs of excellence. And while we’re at it, how about recognizing the biggest one of all:

Consecutive heartbeats.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas and our Pavlovian traditions

Most of us love traditions. These comforting rituals affirm some predictability in our sometimes chaotic, always unpredictable, lives. Some are so old, no one is really sure what they mean.

For instance, before the arrival of the Queen in the State Coach, the Yeomen of the Guard, now usually seen at the Tower of London, search the cellars beneath the Palace of Westminster as a precautionary measure. This is as a consequence of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 when Guy Fawkes and a number of other conspirators tried to blow up King James I and his parliament.

Guy Fawkes—dirty name and tradition starter.

On a far lesser scale, traditions and rituals can be more provincial. Back in my high school days, whenever our team won a football game, some of us went out to the country (a three minute drive) and tipped over a cow. For those who are offended by such behavior, take solace in the knowledge that we only tipped three cows in three years due to an abysmal football squad.

Breaking things down even further, each family possesses its own traditions. In fact, my kids manufacture new traditions every time one of the acts involves a treat at the end. My older daughter once accompanied me for a haircut, and afterward I bought her a chocolate cupcake, a really, really good cupcake with bits of cherry in the frosting. Boom—new tradition. Now, my little Pavlovian salivates instantly whenever we pass Rudy's Barbershop.

Summer acting camp = root beer floats after the Friday-night performance. Dinner at Elliott Bay Pub = ice cream afterwards at Husky Deli. Thanksgiving at Grandma's = shrimp with cocktail sauce. A trip to Safeway = a slightly illegal two-pack of saltines from the soup area.

During the holiday season, traditions thrive, and ours shift into overdrive. This morning, we visited Santa Claus at the Downtown Seattle Nordstrom store. We've done this with friends for twelve straight years, and it's gotten to the point where Santa's lap loses feeling if my daughters plant on his jolly thighs for too long. And now, when one of us says, "Looks like someone needs a nap," my wife and I aren't referring to our kids.

Afterwards, we ride the holiday carousel and have lunch at the Nordstrom Café (If you've noticed a particular corporation mentioned twice, it's possible that I work there and now is the time to stock up on cushy UGG® Australia boots for her before sheep go on the endangered species list.).

Christmas Eve is all about visiting Pike Place Market, buying fresh crab, going home and preparing crab cakes and "Oprahtatoes" for dinner, opening one present each and watching "The Polar Express." This stuff runs like such clockwork, I'm expecting one of my kids to say, "Dad, the train's sliding on the ice. It's time for you to go to the bathroom and blow your nose."

Christmas Day is spent with the kids' grandparents, where we eat dinner around 2:00, recline in, well, recliners, and watch "A Christmas Story" and a more abstract holiday movie called "A Matter of Principle." My kids can quote each movie like Rocky Horror groupies.

With all of these traditions already firmly established, I'd still be willing to begin a few new ones with the kids, like the daily remembering-to-flush-the-toilet observance or the sacrifice of the empty popsicle box still sitting in the freezer.

Please reply in the comments section with your strange or cool traditions.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Answering the call of testicular martyrdom

There are martyrs. And then, there are martyrs.

This post doesn't pertain to those kids who walk into crowded cafés wearing vests stuffed with explosives, intent on killing and maiming as many innocents as possible, including themselves. Nothing is funny about that and I have a difficult time relating to such a mindset.

I would, however, like to discuss the more mundane martyrs in our lives. I'm sure we can think of a few.

This topic presented itself after I read a piece about Matt Cassel, quarterback for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. After undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday, the team, as of today, had still not officially ruled him out of playing in Sunday's game against San Diego.

I'm not a doctor and I've never undergone an appendectomy, but I think i understand the fundamentals—a surgeon of some type slices into the human torso in a specific location, removes an inflamed, unnecessary organ and sews up the slit in the dermal matter. The resulting incision (based upon my recent encounter with back surgery) can then take up to three weeks to fully heal.

This may seem obvious, but I'll say it anyway. When your body is cut with a scalpel, you're told to take it easy until the stitches are out; you can remove the warm, fluffy dryer garments, one at a time, but not that large, soggy washer load. Oh, and one other thing: you're not really supposed to step onto a football field and allow trained assassins to launch their helmets at your surgically repaired sweetbreads.

A week ago, he was merely a really good football player. Today, he has become Matt Cassel: gridiron martyr.

On a smaller stage, martyrs exist in nearly every facet of our lives. There's the workplace martyr:
"I was throwing up all weekend, but I had to come in and finish up those things for that guy. Oh, and I used your computer because I love your mouse. And don't look in your garbage can."

We've got the family member martyr:
"Uncle Meldrick specifically asked that you be the person who changes his diaper on Christmas Eve. But don't worry, I'm your big sister and I'll do it like I always do."

And of course, the next door neighbor martyr:
"Hey, man. Here's ten pounds of plums from my tree. Well, actually they're from the ground under the tree, but hey, enjoy! And look, by no means do I expect anything in return, like an Olive Garden gift card or anything. Okay. Take care."

I haven't been able to steer clear of martyrdom, either. When my older daughter was six, I often served as a volunteer soccer referee at her games. One such contest fell on the day following my vasectomy. With the game about to start the coach looked over at me and asked if I'd mind reffing the game. I quickly analyzed the situation and decided sure, no problem. I'll just walk around and blow the whistle a few times. No big deal.

"You bet!" I replied, far too enthusiastically.

"Whoa, whoa, hang on just a minute." It was my wife, sounding that familiar voice of reason yet again. Her volume lowered a notch. "Your testicles were sliced open...yesterday. They're currently puffy and traumatized. I would think that you, of all people, would not want to jeopardize the two most precious objects in your life by running around with first graders."

I quickly re-evaluated my decision and discreetly notified the coach of my recent medical procedure. Only later that afternoon, as I reclined on the couch with a frozen bag of peas nestled against my southern hemisphere, did I realize how I very close I had gotten to becoming the unthinkable:

A testicular martyr.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas shopping for dummies

Lance slowly backed the dirty, white Subaru out of his driveway. "If I do say so myself, I've planned this whole thing perfectly," he surmised. "Christmas is still two full days away." He shifted into drive and swiveled his head forward again.

The filthy remnants of a recent road sanding encrusted the car's windshield. Lance activated the washer fluid switch in an attempt to improve his cloudy road view. "Dammit," he thought. "I was going to refill this stuff last weekend, but I guess I got too busy. And anyway, if I'd tried to make it to the auto parts store after watching both games, it probably would've been closed. Oh, and hello! She could've made the trip herself."

Lance's wife had prepared a list for him which included each person, his or her Christmas gift, where to buy it and its cost. He patted his pocket and felt the crinkling of paper against his chest, then quickly returned both hands to the wheel. The streets were still slick.

"She accuses me of being a procrastinator, but I don't see her doing this." He reached down to the passenger seat and pulled a chunk of peppermint bark from a plastic bag. "I'm definitely doing the lion's share. She can make fudge and cookies and toffee in her sleep. I know she's folding the laundry right now, but she's definitely doing it in front of the TV.

"Oh, that's right, and I have to mail these cards, too. If I pull up to that drive-by mailbox and my arm doesn't reach, I may have to step out of the car and possibly slip on the ice. Am I Mr. Flexible? Guilty, as charged. All she had to do was order, sign, address and stamp these things."

Lance mailed the cards without incident. "I could really use a cup of java. I'll just run into Safeway real quick like and grab me a little somethin' somethin' before beginning my odyssey." He slammed the door of the Subaru and walked gingerly across the parking lot.

"Hmm...let's take another look at this." He traced a gloved finger down the list. "I guess I'll swing by Toys 'R' Us, then on to Home Depot, over to Target, back to Best Buy and sure as Bob's your uncle, I am finished."

He wasn't sure why, but as he trudged into the grocery store, Lance looked sharply to his left. "I can't believe this. I am such a freakin' genius, I even amaze myself." He approached the kiosk. "No one's going to care, and this gives me plenty of time to get home for the Les Schwab Lug Nut Bowl."

Seven minutes later, Lance was through the checkout line and out the door. His gait was too enthusiastic for the icy asphalt . As he slid awkwardly into a James Brown-like splits position and slammed down onto his side, his stack of gift cards flew out of his left hand and slid thirty feet on the pavement, resting under a Ford F-150.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

What Do Our Dreams Really Mean? God Help Me.

I may regret this post, but I've got to write it. Could be therapeutic.

Sigmund Freud believed that our dreams are often manifestations of latent sexual anxiety, most frequently Oedipal in nature. Conversely, Dr. Phil submitted that our nightly venture into the fantasy world represents nothing more than sick subconscious perversions which can only be overcome by pulling ourselves up by the boot straps and getting our wives' teeth whitened.

Hopefully, neither of these theories holds water, because if so, I may need to revisit my childhood.

A lot of our dreams share commonalities: We forget to study and show up late for a final exam. We try to run, but our legs pump in slow motion. We fall off a cliff and jerk ourselves awake just before splattering on the craggy rocks below.

My dreams fall along these lines, as well. The issue, however, is that they're embellished with additional details, like a Big Mac which has too much special sauce, another slice of processed cheese and a third patty containing the meat of 3,672 more cows.

For example, I'll show up late to that final, but I'll also be naked and holding hands with a seven-foot Gumby. Or I'll fall off that cliff, but won't hit bottom because my high school football coach catches me, dressed like Mrs. Roper from Three's Company. The really interesting aspect of dreaming is that it all seems to make sense while happening. "Thanks for catching me, Coach. That's a nice springy floral print on your housecoat. See you at practice."

I've grown used to some really sick and wrong dreams, and I usually rationalize that it's my brain's way of acknowledging pent up frustrations and fears. It's a tool for releasing the pressure relief valve in my unconscious mind in order to function in the waking world. A few Republican congressmen could benefit from this mechanism, to prevent being caught with real-life hookers, wearing real-life diapers.

Well, thanks for walking through this analysis with me. I feel a lot better just getting it all out there and inviting a little dialogue. I'd really feel better if anyone who reads this could drop me a note, and relate any dreams they've had;  the weirder, the better. Thanks. Oh, and there's one more dream I wanted to share; this one happened last Tuesday.

Batman was peeing on me—the Adam West Batman.

Do you think that's a signal that I'm destined to star alongside Christian Bale as the next Robin?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A most toxic, yet intoxicating, plant

Today, I'd like to discuss my experience with a seemingly innocuous, even festive, holiday garnish. It hangs in corners of ceilings or doorways, passively beckoning those who stand under it to celebrate the season with a kiss.

Obviously, I'm speaking of mistletoe. It signifies whimsy and spontaneity, cheer and warmth, but for me, it hearkens to darker emotions, most notably—fear.

Back in May, I wrote about my inaugural attempt at dancing at an after school sock hop. I was a thirteen-year-old seventh grader at Olympic Junior High, and as I think back, this adolescent ritual more closely resembled a simian social gathering, where the genetically favorable male apes are rewarded with equally desirable partners in their rites of revelry. That first dance taught me that most girls would dance with me (except for slow dancing; only a few agreed to that). I simply needed to ask.

I concluded during my post dance analysis that I could dance passably, as long as I didn't try anything rash or Travoltian, and walking into the evening air, I felt confidant that the next experience would be much more enjoyable.

Dance number two was a more intimate, nighttime affair, held in the same multi-purpose facility at the school, but with a live band and holiday trimmings. I entered the venue solo, as usual, but feeling buoyant and sharp. My clothing choices epitomized men's style of the mid-1970s: a tan silk shirt with long, pointy collars, dark green corduroy flare legs and a freshly coiffed "butt cut" (parted in the middle, feathered on the sides, no earl lobes showing).

Due to school regulations, I removed my shiny brown platforms, and in doing so, shrunk two inches to my customary height of five feet, six inches. The crowd was still filing in with a smattering of couples already dancing to the house band, "Crossfire."

As I gazed upon the psychedelically lit gym floor, I watched an eighth grader (I think his name was Lonnie) approach a pair of dancers and hold a small sprig of vegetable matter above their heads. As if on cue, they abruptly stopped dancing, converged and lip locked with a vigor worthy of a conjugal prison visit.

They had been "mistletoed."

As the dance floor slowly filled, more couples were visited by random mistletoers. Where did these people acquire this stuff? Who knows, but that familiar, metallic taste of fear flooded my senses. Oh, my God, I thought, I can't get mistletoed. I've never kissed anyone on the mouth (except my grandma, after she'd been drinking), let alone for ten full seconds.

I still wanted to dance and talk to some girls, but what if we were descended upon by one of these evil holiday messengers? What if...hmm...what if?

I guess I'll have to try it, won't I?

The first three co-eds rejected my timid dance offers, which, although disappointing, wasn't unexpected. The fourth accepted and we danced mistletoe-free. Okay, that's cool, I rationalized. Maybe I can avoid these mistleterrorists all night. With my confidence notched up a peg, I hit the floor with another gunny-sacked beauty. As I immersed myself into the vibe of Crossfire's signature cover song, "Slow Ride" by Foghat, a shadowy figure approached from four o'clock.

It was my neighborhood friend, Jeff. He smiled a toothy smirk and hoisted a stalk of the now familiar plant between her and me. The act ensued in slow motion as we approached each other. Our heads repeatedly tilted in the same direction as we performed a jerky, yet well choreographed neck dance. I finally held my angle as she shifted hers, and what happened then is a little murky. It was warm, kind of soggy and since we both had braces, we luckily avoided a jaws of life event.

However—I had done it. I jotted a big check mark on the mental list of things to do right next to "first kiss.' At that point, it took no time to acclimate myself to the junior high version of throwing your car keys into a bowl, and by the end of the night, my mouth harbored more human bacteria than Richard Dawson's after an entire season of Family Feud.

As the evening ended, I slowly exited the building, joining a few friends for the short walk to the after-party at Pizza Hut. I felt a great sense of accomplishment, yet one thought still lingered:

When's the next dance?