Sunday, September 30, 2012

Learning Tweenglish: An Adult Primer.

Remember back in the day, when a friend ventured to Europe for a semester or two, and returned speaking French with the fluidity of a Muppet chef or rattling off German with greater proficiency than Colonel Wilhelm Klink?

I didn't quite reach those aptitudal levels yesterday, but I came close to becoming fluent in a highly unorthodox tongue:

I'll call it Tweenglish.

You see, I was around them a lot, far more than I'd planned. What began as a double-header afternoon of soccer team pictures followed by a game, morphed into full immersion in a chunky pre-adolescent stew. I was the fresh slice from a crusty artisan loaf who'd been dipped into the broth and forgotten, only to bloat into an unrecognizable softball of brown swamp gunk.

My daughter's U-13 soccer team, the Mustangs, made quick work of their team picture this year. Gone are the days of herding them into a line and trying to achieve a decent pose prior to someone biting the top of someone else's head.  In this, the era of Instafacebookagramterist, these girls know how to pose for pictures.

Feeling spry after downing a venti dark roast and conversing with similarly perked-up parents, I retreated to our minivan for a short trip to the ferry dock to support my little Mia Hamm and her teammates at a game on Puget Sound's Vashon Island.

I waited in the captain's chair, wondering what was taking my young Brandi Chastain so long to get in the car and hoping it wasn't another sports bra incident. Before I could say "stop using 1999 Women's World cup references," she'd arranged for six other kids to ride with us to the ferry dock, across the water and to the soccer pitch for our one o'clock contest against Vashon's finest.

Hastily computing, I calculated that my daughter had set us up to spend the next three hours with six tween-age girls, a total of eightween hours, in the tight quarters of my sapphire blue Kia. One by one, parents approached my driver's side window, greasing my palm with ferry money and paying their respects, like a reception line prior to a lethal injection.

"Apparently, Bridgette is riding with you," said one father. "Thanks a lot. You're a brave man. I guess we'll just see you at the game."

"Will you?" I thought. "Or will you be joining Bloody Mary thanks to your newly freed-up schedule?"

Once everyone was off each other's laps and belted in, we embarked for the ferry. I resolved to become a fly on the wall since any of my seemingly witty parental input made me feel more like a fly on the windshield. The kids were very polite to me, yet when they spoke of their own parents, they railed at the lack of respect and understanding displayed by their caregivers:

Girl 1: "My mom made me peanut butter and jelly with honey. I'm so tired of healthy food all the time."

Girl 2: "All my mom packed me was two turkey sandwiches and some chips and an apple and some grapes and some string cheese and three granola bars. How's that supposed to last me all day?"

Girl 3: "My parents are so boring. They don't even watch TV."

Once on the ferry, I sat in the car and listened to sports radio while the kids bounded up to the passenger deck for the fifteen-minute trip to the island. The brief silence tasted sweeter than any PBJ&H sandwich, but before I could say "Justin Beiber," the six of them were embedded back in the van and we were ascending the Isle of Vash (That's an example of Tweenglish—abbreviations galore.).

For those unfamiliar with this rural island west of Seattle, Vashon is a highly organic community: we observed several locals walking the streets barefoot on their way to the farmers' market. It's an area that prides itself on independence and nonconformity.

So, yeah, the kids in the van couldn't really relate. While riding through the small hamlet, I heard the following comments:

Girl 1: "You guys. Seriously, there isn't a mall here. And I so love malls."
Girl 3: "Is there a Target?"
Girl 1: "No, but there's a Subway over there."
Girl 2: "I love malls. I love how they smell."
Girl 5: "I so love to smell malls."

Girl 6: "Oh, my God. I swear I just saw a guy killing a cow with a knife. Just stabbing it, like you'd stab a person in a movie!"
Girl 2: "Eww, Oh, my God."
Girl 1: "Oh, my God, eww."
Girl 4: "Oh, my God. Cows are disgusting."

Girl 3: "This place is so boring. Look at that guy going into the quilting place. I would be so embarrassed if that was my dad or my grandpa."
Girl 6: "Oh, my God. I could never live here."
Girl 5: "Oh, my God. I'd be so bored if I had to quilt for fun."
Girl 4: "People quilt? Oh, my God. I thought you just buy quilts."

That was about, oh, I don't know, three minutes worth of our little journey right there. It was like listening live to Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, Tween Edition, sponsored by Kia.

These kids are experiencing the same thing we all went through during those tumultuous pubescent years; it truly is a jagged pothole in everyone's road. And from time to time, I'd notice, lying dormant yet occasionally bubbling to the surface along with all the insecurity and giggly giddiness were the personalities of six caring, thoughtful and highly humorous human beings.

And that's what kept me from leaving them on the island that day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby.

Ouch.

For the past three weeks, these poor guys have been bloodied. They've been battered and bludgeoned. They've been abused more than a dog whose tag is etched, "Property of the Romney Family. If found, please hose off and return."

The National Football League Referees Association has been on strike for the first three weeks of the NFL season, holding out for the guaranteed pensions that team owners would like to eliminate in favor of a defined contribution, or 401k, plan.

While I won't delve to deeply into the muck of this labor dispute, it is curious that the lords of a nine billion dollar industry have chosen to embed their diamond spurs over $3.3 million. According to my calculations, that's approximately bullshit point four five seven percent of the league's annual revenue.

And because these millionaires and billionaires can't seem to defibrillate their own blackened hearts, a motley assortment of replacements have  crawled up through the cracks, wearing black hats and white knickers, to officiate America's premier spectator sport.

In the words of Homer Simpson, "Those refs sure did suck last night! They just plain sucked. I've seen refs suck before, but they were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked."

Or something like that.

As recently as Monday night, my Seattle Seahawks benefited from a grossly botched ruling on the game's last play to defeat the storied Green Bay Packers. Although the Packers were justified in their outrage, there's something unappealing about huge dudes who resemble superheroes whining like my kids when they're told to go back and wipe a little better.

Bad call aside, I enjoyed watching the disciples of St. Vincent de Lombardi suck on a sour grapcicle.

And what did we expect? Our lives are crammed with experiences involving impostors and charlatans, imitations and pretenders, especially when we're kids.

I remember entering my third grade classroom one morning and there stood a strange lady scrawling "Mrs. Priqué" on the blackboard? Once we were all seated, her fakey teacher voice boomed for the first time: "Good morning, class. Mrs. Henderson was feeling under the weather this morning, so I'll be filling in today. My last name is pronounced 'Prick-ay.' No other pronunciations are acceptable, ladies and gentlemen. If you happen to mispronounce my name, you'll be corrected and given a warning. If you do it again, you'll be sent to the office."

I was a fairly well-behaved kid, but as we know, all bets are off when the sub shows up. I considered it a great opportunity to channel Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, and since I'd been given one free pass, it was time to stir up a good laugh from my fellow nine-year-olds. I raised my hand.

"Yes...let's see...Tim, do you have a question?"

"Can I go to the bathroom, Mrs. Prick?"

The class erupted. Miss Prique wrote down my name on the board and probably still hates me.

Kids have to deal with other below-par choices, too. Since they don't have the means to select their own food, they're constantly bombarded with inferior substitutes for the good stuff:

"No, it's not an Oreo, it's a Hydrox. But they taste the same."

No they don't.

"No, it's not Heinz ketchup, it's Hunts 'Catsup'. But it tastes the same."

No it doesn't. And I know you added water to it, Grandma. For God's sake, this isn't the Depression anymore.

And why was it that a company called Dolly Madison made the exact same stuff that Hostess made, only much worse tasting? Plus, they only advertised during Charlie Brown specials. I took the bait once, but after barely choking down a Zinger, I returned on bended knee to my steady girlfriend, the Ding Dong.

So let's be patient with these guys, eh? Everyone knows they're not as good as the real thing, but what replacement is? We'll keep watching because that's just what we do.

Just ask Leno.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hell Is So 2001.

“Religion has convinced people that there's an invisible man...living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn't want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer, and suffer, and burn, and scream, until the end of time. 

"But he loves you.”

-George Carlin

Time for the heathens to weigh in.

I'm fed up with religion; actually, let me rephrase that—I'm fed up with religions.

This may offend a few of you, including some of my friends and Platinum-Club-level family members, but what the hell.

Good heavens, did I just say "hell?"

This morning, CNN.com, in one of its Sunday-paper-inspired cover features, posed the query, "Should we abandon the idea of hell?"

Hunh, what do you think? Sounds great to me. By abandoning the idea of hell, does that just make it go  away? Sure, we'd run the risk of allowing Hitler and Bundy to pack up and move north for eternity, but if I knew heaven was a given, I'd be okay with the occasional awkward sighting of Jeffrey Dahmer at the St. Peter's Gate Mall Hickory Farms.

In the piece written by Frank Schaeffer, New York Times bestselling author of the book "Crazy for God," Schaeffer posits that hell has been fabricated by man as the ultimate fruit of revenge, yet ironically, the stress we create through our nurturing of resentment and vengeance contributes far more to our own demise than our enemies' downfall.

So, yeah, seams like doing away with hell might lead to a few less evenings sucking down equal parts Ben & Jerry's Heath Bar Crunch and Smirnoff''s Liquid Stress-Be-Gone.

I probably would've stayed blissfully mute on this subject if the column weren't followed up by the opinion of a man for whom I feel such vitriol, I'd be willing to keep hell open past closing time so he could attend the afterparty.

His name is Mark Driscoll, and he's the founding pastor of a cash cow here in Seattle known as Mars Hill Church. It's a rapidly growing enterprise in the western United States, whose business model involves attracting youngish followers with hip technology and informal, stubbly-faced Sunday brunch-time services.

Yet if someone were to ask me which post-apocalyptic baked good most closely resembles Driscoll's message, I'd say it's probably a  a poo-filled Twinkie. Beneath the fluffy goodness that pulls people into his church lies a dogma which preaches the evils of gay rights, women in leadership roles, and...

yoga. I'm not kidding. He believes yoga is evil. And not just hot yoga.

I've written about this guy before. So when I again read the blatherings of some dude who uses religion as a way to control people while enjoying an aristocratic lifestyle, it's pretty hard not to call bullshit on everything which lies under his bigtop of douchebaggery.

How materially different is America's Christian right from those Muslim folks across the water who consider a North Face vest both a fashion statement and a highly explosive trip to paradise, where everyone on eHarmony is a high school sophomore girl with freshly waxed calves?

Each religion lays claim to the truth in all caps, and any infidels will pay dearly, like really a lot, like hangnails that never heal and everything smells like your old dorm's stairwell.

Why do we live this way? I understand the opportunism of those who seek to exploit and the need for their followers to find comfort and reason in a highly unreasonable and unfair world. But do we really have to elevate things to this level, to tell each other, "Look, dude, I love your food, especially that yogurt-based stuff served with lamb and pita bread, so I really need to get the recipe from you before you die and spend eternity getting your intestines pulled out with plastic salad tongs."

I'm ready for hell to die. Are you?

Monday, September 17, 2012

An Act of Faith.

September, 1987

The tires of our U-Haul brushed against the curb as my roommate, Dave, and I pulled up to our new home, a duplex in Seattle's Central District. We walked up the porch steps, opened the door and gazed at the narrow stairway which led to our top-floor unit.

"This is going to suck," one of us muttered.

After pulling up the cargo hatch to discover a freshly decapitated philodendron, I craned my neck to see a strange figure approaching and stopping next to our truck's ramp. Tall and lean, he clasped his hands together as if praying. He wore a loosely fitting beige tunic and pants, a skull cap and sandals. A long, black beard flecked with grey nearly concealed his sun-leathered skin.

"I help you, please." He looked up at us, his wide grin revealing the absence of two teeth.

Dave and I glared at each other skeptically as most sheltered white men in their twenties might do when faced with a stranger's generosity, especially one who looked so out of place to us.

The man rested his open hand over his sternum and gently bowed. "Raheem," he offered. We hopped down from the truck and introduced ourselves, extending our hands. He shook them robustly and repeated, "I help you."

"Okay, yeah, sure. Thank you," I said.

Within seconds, Raheem was hefting a heavy box of books down the ramp and up the stairs. He continued carrying the heaviest objects—he even tried to haul a couch by himself— and easily equaled Dave and my output combined. An hour later, the cargo area sat empty, all our possessions stacked in our new place. Only then did Raheem stop.

I brought down a six-pack of Pepsi and offered one to Raheem, his knees propped up high where he sat on the curb resting.

"No no please." He waved his hand and a drop of sweat rolled off his nose. Dave and I popped open our soda and sat down next to the benevolent stranger. We asked him a series of questions, but an embarrassed grin washed across his face. He didn't understand.

Raheem reached his long fingers into a breast pocket and removed a folded piece of paper, He unfolded it and handed it to me:

Hello,

My name is Raheem. My family and I came to the United States from Afghanistan after our village was bombed by the Soviets. Our home was destroyed and two of my children were killed.

I formerly worked in food services at the Kabul Airport, where I became acquainted by an American pilot. After hearing of my family's misfortunes, he offered to sponsor my family as refugees in America.

I am currently enrolled in English and catering classes at South Seattle Community College.

God bless you.


"Wow," I said, immediately knowing Raheem wouldn't know the meaning of such a word. I handed him back his information sheet and he smiled, tucking safely back in his pocket.

Raheem stood and shook our hands again "Goodbye."

Still stunned by this man's gesture, we watched him amble slowly away, not a shred of urgency in his gait. A large oval of sweat darkened the back of his beige tunic.

"Thank you!" we yelled. "Good luck!"

He turned and faced us, clasping his hands and bowing as he had done an hour before. As Raheem retreated down the street and disappeared, Dave and I shook our heads and looked at each other, wondering if we'd see this man again.

We did. Three months later, on a chilly December evening, the doorbell rang. Not used to drop-in guests, I opened the front door tentatively, peaking around in case imminent danger required any kind of hasty maneuver.

Raheem stood on the porch in the cold, wearing the same clothes I'd seen him in before, smiling the same incredible gap-toothed smile. In front of him, he balanced a fully decorated Christmas tree—ornaments, lights, tinsel, even a stand to hold it. "Meddy Cdismuss!" he laughed. His strong arm held it out to me and I invited him in, pulling his offering awkwardly through the doorway.

Unbelievable.

In light of all the ugliness that's been happening, I just wanted to relate my personal account of a man I encountered twenty-five years ago, a man who endured unspeakable hardships, yet one whose goodness will forever live in my heart.

They're not all terrorists.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Enchanting Kiss of My First Girfriend.

"So, what's the deal, man? Did you kiss her yet?"

"Yeah, of course I did," I lied.

"Where?"

I lied again. "You know...over there...behind the portables."

"When?"

"Um, like...last Wednesday...maybe before that." Lie number three.

"Decent. Good deal, bud."


It was the autumn of 1976, I was fourteen years old and she was my first girlfriend.

Everything happened so quickly. I saw her at a high school football game or in the hallway or something and told my friend Jeff that I thought she was cute. Actually, I probably said something like, "See that girl over there? Her name's Stacy (not her real name). She's such a fox."

Before I could say "bubbling hormones," word had gotten back to me that yes, Stacy liked me, too. Angela, a girl in my social studies class, had reached back and grabbed the PeeChee off my desk and returned it with the words, "Tim + Stacy = Luv4Ever" scrawled right between the three white dudes running track, the two white dudes playing football and the one white girl playing tennis.

As Angela slid it across my desk, she whispered, "She'd totally go with you."

"Go with me where?"

"Ha, you're so funny. Here's her phone number. She wants you to call her tonight." Angela turned back around and started playing with her hair.

But I wasn't joking. I hadn't spoken a word to this girl and now we were going together. And I had to call her—tonight.

In those days, "couples" enjoyed a status that soloists did not. In the parfait that was junior high society, securing a girlfriend meant rising from the chunky, lifeless depths of the Jello-O parfait to the wispy clouds of full-fat Cool Whip which laid claim to the top stratum and enjoyed a panoramic view of its world.

Couples were invited to skate parties and special cafeteria tables. They held hands and walked through the pungent straw-covered mud of the Fall fair, eating corndogs and slurping down cotton candy with a faint FFA show pig aftertaste.

I liked that idea. But Lord have mercy, this boy was terrified.

When I called her later that evening from our lone phone which offered slightly less privacy than O.J.'s Bronco, I had to censor each statement to align with the protocol of both this strange girl and my mom, who pretended to be watching All in the Family.

From the moment Stacy's and my arranged marriage ensued, I became fully incapacitated. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. Before each nightly call, I would examine myself in the bathroom mirror to ensure that my hair was nicely parted and feathered. Come on, now, you have to look good on the phone, right?

After a week spent adapting to a humming bird's heart rate and splotches of stomach acid which leaked out of my ears and onto the pillow each night, I resolved to up the stakes.

I would kiss Stacy, goddamn it.

My friends had been pestering me into further detail of our couplings, and I was weary of constant fabrications. So I planned.

I would do it when she walked me to a pre-season basketball meeting after school, which fortunately was to be held in one of the portables, nestled on a semi-private area of the school's periphery.

Had I kissed a girl before? Absolutely. But this was different because she was my girlfriend—we were an item—this had to be passionate.

I'd seen some of the other, more experienced boyfriend/girlfriend combos kissing before they parted ways and it was no Ward Cleaver peck on the cheek. This was full-on, twenty-second Hollywood-style tonsil tango.

And I was scared shitless.

Nonetheless, I was determined to freaking kiss Stacy by the freaking portable before the freaking pre-season basketball meeting. I felt warning signs of cardiac arrest as we slowly made our way toward Coach Hofeditz's classroom—clamminess, dry mouth, a heart which now simply heaved like a huge giblet stewing in a crockpot of adrenaline gravy—but I slogged on.

Ironically, I chose a moment when we were actually speaking to each other to make my move. Most of our conversations were sparse, but this one was actually gathering steam when I cut it off like scissors to a skin tag.

My head lunged at hers, similar to JFK's head after the second gunshot, clumsily jerking and angling. Her alarm apparent, I nevertheless smothered her mouth with mine like a honey badger to a mound of termites.

No other body parts touched except our mouths. I eventually disengaged with an unnatural glitch slurp sound, trailed by a string of ropey saliva which eventually severed and slapped against my chin.

We separated and spoke a few words to each other, none of which I remember since our bodies had each entered a protective state of shock. I slunk into the portable, dazed and highly traumatized, yet finally cognizant of the legal term, "temporary insanity."

She broke up with me the next day, so I threw away the PeeChee.

Stacy, wherever you are, I have but one wish. Years later, on your wedding day, when you married the man of your dreams, my greatest desire is that the minister did not lean forward and announce to your new husband:

"You may hug your bride."

Monday, September 10, 2012

I Guess We Know What They Don't Want.

What are your core beliefs?

I know that's a pretty loaded question. Most of us have sort of a "belief pyramid," where our really intense convictions are firmly ingrained up top where the stonework can't get tagged with graffiti or some teenage boy's spent Copenhagen wad.

And then down near the ground, we've got beliefs which, while solid, can be subject to change, such as:

Sure, I definitely believe Farrah was the sexiest of Charlie's Angels, but if Jaclyn Smith had nestled up to a fifteen-year-old Tim on a rainy Saturday morning in 1977, he would not have ejected her from the premises for soiling his already crusty sheets with stale saltine crumbs.

While I firmly believe that Budweiser tastes only marginally better than one of my great uncle's asparagus-laced urine samples, I would not turn one down as a last grasp at pain management while attending a block watch party or one of Seattle's many dog funerals.

I believe that the music industry has hit rock bottom and I find today's artists slightly less appealing than my great aunt's pickled asparagus. Nevertheless, if someone waved free VIP tickets to a Beyoncé show, I'd squeal like a gerbil and immediately hop onto eBay for a good deal on an old gently owned mesh half shirt.

But wouldn't you agree that on certain issues, we just don't waver. We're pretty set in our core beliefs about religion, our children's education and of course...our politics.

Since I'm politically further to the left than Vladimir Lenin and George Clooney in the carpool lane, I thought I'd just take the temperature of the other side—those uptight, humorless, sexually repressed, hopelessly perverted folks whom I oppose with blurry eyed rancor.

No, not the cast of Jersey Shore. I'm referring to the Republicans.

Prior to gathering for their big drunk in Tampa a couple of weeks ago, a blue ribbon GOP committee hammered out the official 2012 Republican Party Platform. I'm not really sure what inspired these stuffy whities to bake up the most fascist hot dish since Mussolini tried his hand at Frito casserole, but boy, did they do Betty Crocker proud.

Here are a few of the core beliefs they submitted, tenets which the committee has advanced as non-negotiable stances of the Grand Old Party:

A Human Life Amendment, which bans abortion in all cases, including rape or incest. Leading the committee was Virginia's governor, Bob McDowell. I can understand why he opposed the whole incest thing. It would make him feel obligated to ask his mom/aunt and dad/uncle some pretty tough questions.

A salute to mandatory ultrasounds as prerequisites to abortions. A salute? That's weird in itself. They're basically saying, "Your punitive and unnecessarily invasive probe is wicked awesome!"

I wonder if they'd salute my idea, which would require men who want vasectomies to first be probed with a tapered tether ball pole. Probably not.

No legal recognition of same-sex couples. Does that mean it's okay to illegally recognize them, like while driving without a seat belt or shooting off bottle rockets?

No new taxes, except for war. Who can afford schools when, according to Mitt Romney, you're in a death struggle to keep up with the Soviet war machine? For all we know, at this moment they're developing a weapon which can take out every drive-through bay in America. Imagine actually walking into a fast food joint?

I understand, it's hard to think the unthinkable.

So, Republican friends, this question is for you: I know you don't necessarily subscribe to any or all of your party's platform.

But your guy does. Does he have your vote?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It's Her Last First Day of School.

At 7:31 this morning, she bounded out of her room and grabbed her backpack.

"Bye, Dad."

"Bye. Have a good day."

"Thanks. You, too."

She strode out of the door, her footsteps heavy and confident.

My daughter is a high school senior—and today is her last first day of school.

After she left, I sat at the dining room table and stared at the back of the door. It's the same doorway that she, her mom and I nervously exited on a similarly sun-drenched morning twelve years ago.

No stone lay unturned that day, no detail ignored. Dresses were laid out, a specific breakfast and lunch had been requested and prepared. A box for her lunch and a box for her pencils, a water bottle which nestled snugly into the webbing of her brand new backpack from Target.

The knees on her fresh white tights wouldn't stay smooth and unstained for long; her sparkly black maryjanes would soon meet the scuffing reality of the asphalt playground. She looked perfect.

Today it was a t-shirt and jeans. This morning it wasn't a Blues Clues backpack, just a blue one.

She still looked perfect.

Why didn't I hug her this morning like I did just before her kindergarten teacher kindly ushered us out of the classroom that morning in 2000?

I really wish I had.

Back then, the milestones had hit in such rapid succession—that morning in the summer of 1995 when I made a goofy face and she cackled for the first time. Her laugh was like a drug and I didn't care about conjuring up that same ridiculous face in the grocery store or the doctor's office or in the middle of a wedding.

Her beautiful little laugh trumped all.

During the spring of 1998, the sound of pee hitting water ushered in another understated, yet highly welcome, era. While neither her mother nor I believed it likely that she'd be wearing pull-ups to kindergarten, we also knew it was a domain over which she wielded absolute power.

And oh, did that girl like calling the shots.

She posed for her first team portrait in 1999—kneeling in the front row for a squad called the Yankees. Forty-one team photographs later, nothing matches the sight of her slapping that first ball off the tee and gleefully sprinting to third base instead of first.

And then it was time to start school.

After dropping her off that first morning, her mother and I walked silently back to the car. I knew she was on the verge of tears and any conversation would have released the floodgates.

It's funny. Today feels exactly the same.