Monday, December 30, 2013

So How Was It?

Still a couple of days to go, but are you already living in 2014? I'd say I am.

Before we trade in the old year for a newer model, hows about we take a little stock. Let's pry open the dented door of the station wagon that is 2013, and see what kind of memories are wedged behind the seats or stuck to the floor mats.

Let's talk about 2013. How was yours?

Did you cry during the year? Did you laugh until you cried during the year? Did someone's crying make you laugh during the year? Sorry, that's enough. I cried just last week, in fact. It was an ESPN show about an eighth grade kid with Down Syndrome, who worked as the basketball team's manager. He never missed a practice, never missed a game. He cleaned up, kept the balls pumped up, swept the court; he just wanted to be around the game he loves as often as possible.

The coach decides to let him suit up for the team's final home game. That's all I'm going to say. Check it out here if you're in a place where you can whimper like a Harbaugh.

I'm not sure how many times I laughed myself to tears, but I'll go ahead and guess between seven and ten occurrences of this in 2013. Thankfully, no snorts this time around.

During 2013, did you say "I love you" to someone for the first time? I didn't, but at least I've still got 37 hours to find either Jennifer Lawrence or Richard Sherman.

How was your health in 2013? I have to ask you this because I'm old now. Any new issues with the back? The hips? The knees? Did you experience rash or unprecedented hair growth in formerly pristine skin areas?

Yeah, me neither.

Were you a good parent? And by parent, I'm including you moms and dads of feline and canine children, because seriously, owning a dog looks a little harder.

I'd give myself a C+/B- grade in the parenting department. Definitely not a spectacular fathering year, but I did let the kids watch some fantastic football games. Someday, my younger daughter will appreciate this. It's not really necessary to grade myself, since I'm evaluated on a daily basis by some tough teenage professors. Sometimes they'll grade me based on their moods, while in others,  my final grade is contingent upon their moods.

They're loud and hilarious and they rely heavily a term known as "cleanish," and boy do I ever love those fiery souls I live with. 

It was a good year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Santa Isn't Just White. I Have Proof.

“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change, you know? I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa—I just want the kids watching to know that.”

-Megyn Kelly, Fox News television host

Apparently, Ms. Kelly felt obligated to set the record straight. Her comment arose in response to a column for Slate last week by Aisha Harris, in which Harris wrote that she had always been confused as a child because the Santa in her home had brown skin like her, but the Santa in malls and on television was always white. 

If you've read my shtick before, you're probably expecting the same old formula, right? I post the ignorant quote, then spend the next three thousand characters lampooning it…

…which would be so very easy in this case, but no need to this time. A very special someone else has stepped up to ease the burden, and this someone packs some heavyweight caché.

I hung with Santa last night. I really did. That's not some euphemism to describe a random freeway rest stop encounter with a fat guy. I chatted with The Kris Kringle, legendary President and CEO of North Pole Air Freight. We always exchange a few pleasantries while my kids place their orders, something that has gone down every year since they were small enough to gum dust bunnies:

But last night was different. The moment my eyes met Saint Nick's, I could tell the chap was chapped. His cheeks weren't the usual cheery cherry, they were  more of a pissed off purple, much like the enduring facial tint of Tom Caughlin, New York Giants head coach.

Then I remembered—he was still feeling salty about Kelly's comment. The ignoramus had obviously gotten to him a little. Skipping the usual small talk, he reached into his fuzzy lapel, pulled out a note and thrust it in my direction. It smelled of mint and single malt. "I need you to share this with the world. I'm only going to say it once," he said. As my daughters propped themselves onto his lap, his mood changed instantly.

But I had a job to do, and by Dasher and Dancer, who can say no to the Godfather of Gastric Bypass? So here it is—Santa Claus' response to Megyn Kelly, word for word:

Dear Ms. Kelly:

Let me tell you, I don't watch your network, but since I assoicate with multitudes of pointy-eared goblins, many around me do. I think it was that dentist elf that brought your comments to my attention, and I felt the need to respond.

Usually I prefer to travel the high road. Do I take it personally when some kid thinks I'm Ted Bundy in tinsel?

Nah. Usually, they just want to get through the photo op fast so they can fill my ears with pleas for pink and purple plastic shit.

Here's what steams my humbow, Kelly—what gives you the right to label me as white? Does this look white to you?

Or this?

Remember, it's totally cool. Even my elves get a little separation anxiety while waiting on the roof.

I'm freaking Santa Claus. If I can manage to reverse burgle a billion houses in one night, why wouldn't I be able to change my ethnicity?  Let me tell you something, toots, nothing keeps a marriage fresh like turning into Spanish Santa after putting the reindeer to bed.

Oh, and as far as you're concerned, Fox News news fox, I could be Typhoid Leper Santa as long as you find your friends Dolcé and Gabanna under the tree in the morning. 

Why do you even care what color I am? What does it matter? Look at me now—Bam! Asian Santa:

And by the way, historical Jesus was about as white as a milk chocolate Toblerone.

Step off, Barbie. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Wife and Daughters: A Date With Macklemore.

I have to admit, I was fairly skeptical when my wife told me her plan. In fact, had I actually verbalized my feelings, I may have said something like...
"Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt." 
Even twenty years later, I've not found a human being capable of turning a phrase with the raw candor of Wayne Campbell from Aurora, Illinois. Party on, Wayne.

Yeah, so anyway, a little backstory—every female in my house is enamored with a man named Macklemore. Who is this Macklemore guy, you ask? This Rasputin who drives the mother ship like Han freaking Solo?

If you guessed it's the gritty utility infielder from that brief era of major league baseball in Seattle, that's a solid stab, but you're thinking of Mark McLemore:

This is the guy I'm talking about.

His real name is Ben Haggerty, but he's decided to adopt that hip single-name moniker, like Madonna, Pelé or Fil, the shop teacher at our local alternative middle school.

The dude is talented and I like his stuff, too, don't get me wrong. Just not to the stratospheric level it sends my wife and daughters.

Which, thanks to my long-windedness, returns me to my original point. I'm the only family member not currently at his right now.

And here's the kicker—they're together. Yes, my wife orchestrated the whole deal, so right now, those monkeys flying out of my butt feel more like winged orangutans with sandpaper capes.

I actually think it's fantastic, especially since we're experiencing an era of palpable friction between my bride and our thirteen-year-old. Anything that bonds them during this season of malice and confusion is an emotional Vicks Vaporub.

It's just a little strange that three people so unalike can find this common ground. My parents hated my music like Fox News hates black Santa Claus. The only tune we could agree on was maybe the happy birthday song, but it couldn't include any drums.

Sure, if I put an album on the top of my wish list, they'd relent and buy it, but their scowls of bewilderment as I peeled back the wrapping paper to expose Angus Young's snarling mug on Highway to Hell is carved into the thickest bark of my brain stem.

My mom's arched eyebrows and deep frown lines seemed to silently yelp, "He was such a nice boy, Lionel. He just hasn't been the same since his brother hit him in the head with the pet rock."

And then, to raise things a notch, can you imagine back in the day, actually going to a rock show with your mom? Holy shit, talk about awk to the ward. Bless her Charlie Pride-loving heart, I can just hear her now, freshly frisked and entering the smoggy arena. "Honey, I think something's burning. I'm not sure we can stay, you know, with your asthma and all. Frozen malt? My treat.

"And why do you kids only like groups named after places, like Kansas and Boston, and why would Mrs. Tull have wanted to name her son Jethro?"

I love you, Mom. Glad we acknowledged our creative differences and moved on.

But the three most important people in my life are in one spot as we speak, and although I'm sure they'll have a great time, I can guarantee my wife has probably embarrassed our younger kid at least three times.

They may not even be out of the car yet.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela: Some Thoughts from a White American Guy.

Today is a day to celebrate a man. And Nelson Mandela was just that—a man, not a messiah, not even a prophet—a guy, harboring the same flaws and fears as any of the rest of us. 

And then the similarities between him and just about every other human whose gonads live outside their bodies skew a bit. Mr. Mandela opted to forgo the helmet and lessons, skiing that dangerous ungroomed route down to the extreme end of the bell-shaped curve. 

Along with Martin Luther King, a fellow hero resolved to die for his ideals, the two never actually met. The closest they came happened in 1966. Accepting invitations to address South African university students and religious groups about the South African government's apartheid policies, Dr. King's visa application was summarily denied. Yeah, big surprise, right? In King's words, "In South Africa today, all opposition to white supremacy is condemned as communism, and in its name, due process is destroyed."

How right he was. Although King's life ended abruptly twenty years prior to the abolishment of apartheid, there was a kinship between the two. Mandela wrote in his autobiography of being inspired by Martin Luther King, and I'm inclined to think the feeling was mutual.

After King's voice was silenced in April of 1968, our own conservative leaders seized upon the opportunity to combine the civil rights movement along with the lawless, communist behavior of anarchist war protesters and drug-addled hippies with a shiny new logo—Red Scare, Part II. And Tricky Dick was tanned, rested and ready for the title of spokesmodel.

With Mandela already sentenced to life in prison and safely tucked away, National Review columnist Russell Kirk argued that "Democracy in South Africa would bring anarchy and the collapse of civilization” and the government “would be dominated by witch doctors."

And how right he was. Twenty years later, our own brand of democracy enabled Nancy Reagan's astrologer to ensure the First Couple's safe travels. Do me a favor, okay? Find that channel with the fortune teller and pledge a nice little holiday somthin' somethin' for those hard-working patriot psychics. Much obliged.

While we're on the subject of Ronald Reagan, who, ironically, was already well on his way to the type of mental decline of which he cast so many to lives of street bound homelessness, here's what old Dutch, former GE whore and monkey spooner said back in '81, after dubbing the African National Congress a terrorist organization: "Apartheid is a tribal policy more than a...racial policy."

What the hell does that mean, Ronny? Time to wrestle back the casinos from the tribes that overcooked your prime rib. But that one just north of Everett with crab legs every Tuesday night? Yeah, no apartheid for them just yet.

We've definitely made some progress. After all, here are a couple of laws not purged from the books until the '60s:

Prior to 1964 in Kentucky, the races of all candidates were to be written on the ballots. 

Before 1968, even in my lefty home of Washington state, no homeowner was allowed admission to a neighborhood if found liable of "potentially diminishing property values." Worded like a true Seattleite—full throttle passive aggressive.

But even now, The Grand Old Party, bastion of Honest Abe, Dan Quayle and reformed witches from Deleware, continues underwriting racism and subtle apartheid. Those Birthers might have gone outside for a smoke, but they're coming right back. 

In the aftermath of such a great human's death, we hail Nelson Mandela, as well we should. 

But don't, even for a blink, lie to yourself that we currently live in a "post-racial" society, because we don't. I know it's easy and makes us feel better about ourselves.

Your neighbor may be a meth dealer, but I'll bet he's white.

Monday, December 2, 2013

You'll Feel Better About Yourself After You Read This.

Hang on a second. 

Sorry about that, had to loosen up the belt a little. 

Okay, what the hell, I took it all the way off—it's been that kind of a weekend. 

What's the deal with belts, anyway? Oh sure, the man cons you into believing a belt is a useful accessory for keeping the old trou from sagging, but I submit that it's nothing more than an oppressive device whose roots can be traced to medieval dungeons. The belt is nothing more than an iron man maiden designed to punish my marbled middle.

Women seemed to have gotten the message years ago, burning not only their brassieres, but other confining devices propagated by men to keep them constricted and tamed. Girdles, curlers, high heels—even tweezers were shit -canned by a group of people fed up with a system which promotes torture in the name of fashion.

And that's why I'm about to burn my belt. I'm fed up—literally—from Thanksgiving weekend. During the past five days, I have exhibited the type of behavior that makes Caligula look like an even skinnier version of that chick who's married to Harrison Ford.

Fortunately, I've discovered there's actually a name for this culinary debauchery; I looked it up and it's called the "Nagev" diet. I know, it's sounds sort of Russian, but the term actually is "vegan" spelled backwards. It involves consuming only the bodies and byproducts of organisms which once had a face. 

It all started because I prepared Thanksgiving this year. All of it. Came up with the menu, shopped for it and cooked it all up. Fat was the common denominator. Each dish—turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes—contained at least an entire stick of butter, except the pumpkin pie, which I'm pretty sure still contained more lard than Rush Limbaugh tucks south of the elastic. 

I must have subconsciously decided that dairy products would not only stave off blandness, they would also curb any food-born hazards which may lie in wait for my bride and daughters. Ever since the e-coli scare with the under-toasted Pop Tarts, I've been a smidge paranoid.

The day went well, thankfully. Everything tasted pretty darned good, and nary a family member succumbed to the charms of our bathroom's only pottery not holding candles.

Still, everything would have been fine had I decided to eat with abandon on Thursday only. But when I rolled out of bed Friday morning, I'd barely nodded good morning to my wife and planted my swollen feet on the cold floor before pie had made me its breakfast bitch. 

From that moment on, every meal was a mini Thanksgiving. I understand I've taken a bit of journalistic license with this blog, but here's an indisputable fact: Out of the next four meals I ate, four of them were turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. By Saturday night, I'd thrown back so much sodium that I dreamed of Popsicle forests with Diet Coke waterfalls. 

My fifty-one-year-old body, after layering on a sedentary weekend of football watching, pleaded with me to purge the gelatinous globs of gluttony from its distressed bloodstream. By Sunday night, it begged me, "Dude, go to the gym. Or go for a walk. Hell, just move your toes."

Maybe I'll hold off on burning my belt for now. After all, what are the alternatives? A loosely tied rope? Nah, only Ellie Mae can pull that off. 

Suspenders? Nope, even though some guys can definitely rock that look, 

I don't think I'm one of them.

I'll see how things feel after a couple of salads.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Front Row Seats to The Jerk.

On the crowded city bus, it's that woman who puts her backpack in the seat next to her, forcing the elderly lady to stand in the aisle.

In the locker room, it's the dude who leaves his toenail clippings scattered on the floor, lying in wait to pierce the fascia of the nude and the innocent.

And in the home, it is the teenager who leaves an empty goldfish carton in the cabinet, dashing the hopes the man who gave her life and now craves the savory pleasures of cheddary goodness.

Look, I know I can be rude sometimes; we all can, right? Sure, I've taken a more than my share of tater tot casserole at the neighborhood potluck. I've even booed the Oregon football squad, a crew of scholar athletes as undeserving of my boorish tactics as they are of being labeled scholar athletes. 

But hey, I do try to keep the karma meter north of neutral, you know?

It happened again on Sunday. My wife and I, both high priests in the Cult of Katniss, ventured downtown to see Catching Fire, part two of the Hunger Games trilogy. The movies and books are thickly layered with themes, from the virtues of loyalty and compassion to the dystopian evils of unbridled power and control. Throw in a little of the Cinerama Theatre's signature chocolate popcorn, and you've guaranteed yourself a Utopian gut ache for the next two plus hours.

We arrived early. Now that I'm closer to a being a toothless centurion than a toothless newborn, my patience has shriveled right alongside the old T level.. Whenever we're late and looking for a place to park, my wife can sniff one out like a freaking bloodhound. Problems invariably arise, however. Most of her recommendations require either darting sideways across four lanes of traffic or the ability to hover and drop. 

No luck. That's a feature on the 2007 Hyundai and we've got a 2006.

Anyway, we got to the theater early and found a great spot to watch my girlfriend shoot arrows and make out with Peeta. We sat behind a railing which separated our tier from another section in front of us. Separated by a walkway, the space between held combinations of free-standing seats so wheelchair-bound folks could sit with their friends. 

A large group of people came in and sat dead center, just in front of a pair of the handicapped seats. Two from the group, a middle-aged couple, noticed the pair of special chairs behind them, climbed over the railing and nestled right on in. 

One of their friends turned around. "You guys, I think those are for handicapped people."

"Oh well," said the guy. He looked at his wife. "You had surgery a while back, so we're good."

"Did you see that?" said my wife. "Come on. What if someone needs to sit there?"

It didn't take long to find out. About five minutes later, another middle-aged couple entered the theater, the woman wearing a surgical boot and hobbling on crutches. Her partner walked over and, nodding toward his wife, politely asked the couple if they'd mind letting them use the seats, since she needed a place to put her crutches and spread out a little.

"No, we need these, " replied the man I'll go ahead and call Ass Bastard. "My wife just had surgery." 

My wife and I looked at each other. Since we had nothing better to do, we'd been watching Mrs. Ass Bastard get up a couple of times, once returning with popcorn. Meanwhile, the other couple sat in single chairs, about ten feet apart from each other. The infirm woman's fury was palpable as she attempted to penetrate the Ass Bastard force field with her laser stares, but to no avail.

Many around us noticed the spectacle. A few patrons even photographed the Bastards, ostensibly to humiliate them via social media. 

The room darkened and the movie started, but I could tell my wife was still slow burning about the jerks in the handicapped seats. All it took to distract my monkey brain was Jennifer Lawrence's awesome three-story face beamed across the Cinerama big screen. 

Two hours later, the credits rolling, I noticed my wife wasn't making any packing-up-type gestures. "Hey, let's go," I said, wanting to beat the crowd to the restroom because I'm old and ridiculous.

"I'll meet you in the lobby," she replied.


I expected to find her waiting for me downstairs, but she wasn't around. My phone buzzed. "Hey," she said. I'm in the bathroom. I had to say something to those people, so meet me by the door."

"Shit. What did you say?" I asked. 

"Just meet me by the door."

My wife is a highly moral individual, plus she's Italian. It's a lethal combination when she witnesses injustice. I've seen her do everything from buying coffee and sandwiches for panhandlers to offering a hotel room for to a homeless woman and her daughter. I should have known that was why she hung back.

She finally appeared and we scurried out of the lobby like a couple of Denny's dine and dashers. 

"What'd you say to them?" I asked, as we walked into the chilly afternoon.

"I just leaned over, looked at each of them and said, "You should both be ashamed of yourselves."

"Oh, that's not too bad. Did they say anything?" 

"Well," she said, "I heard the guy say 'Excuse me?' but I was already walking away…to the bathroom."

"Why? Did you think he was going to punch you or something?"

"I just didn't want to get caught next to them when the crowd backed up in the lobby," she said. "Talk about awkward. I made my point."

Indeed. It's always a slippery slope to accuse someone of being a deadbeat. We can all be a little too quick to judge whether someone's disabilities warrant special treatment or not. 

But when you get a front row seat to that kind of behavior, you have to either speak up or have a spouse who does it for both of you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Confessions of a Child Born of Camelot.

I was alive when it happened, fifteen months old, actually. 

What did that toddler do on the day the president was assassinated? No idea. Don't remember anything. I'm gonna guess there were lots of hushed phone calls and crying behind closed doors while I watched Tennessee Tuxedo sitting cross-legged on one of those braided throw rugs. 

Here's the only thing that rings a bell about that era:

I remember the haircut because I had to stand still while my mom shellacked my JFKut with Aquanet.

Okay, time to fess up. I just felt like putting myself next to Jack. Long lost Kennedy spawn in red suspenders? You decide.

Years later, my mom would tell me how she, along with the rest of the neighborhood, town and planet cocooned itself in a blue blanket of grief for months. All of those images—Walter Cronkite dabbing his eyes, John John saluting, Jackie's pink pill box—still raw in the nation's consciousness in 1969, when I first learned of that November day six years prior.

My first grade class sat at the feet of the librarian, her Marlborro baritone reaching even the cheap seats. On her lap balanced a stack books about JFK and the assassination. Did any of the pages she poked out at us display—how shall I delicately phrase this—head pizza?

I'm afraid I can't say no.

In the ensuing months, my fellow seven-year-olds and I absorbed with curiosity the tragic streak of Kennedy current events: Teddy was still hunkered in Hyannis Port after Chappaquiddick; Bobby had been shot just a year before.

Peggy—my mom—love, love, loved the Kennedys. As soon as I'd shown just a crumb of interest, she downloaded me with the whole story. It was like I'd just thrown a hanging curve right into her wheelhouse. My brother Tom was also obsessed, but mostly with the Zapruder film. He would watch it frame by frame, analyzing bullet angles at points of bodily impact. For years he was a conspiracy theorist, but I believe he's back to the single gunman.

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, Tom just wanted you to know that prison went well, and if anyone's looking for the best eye tattoo artist west of Walla Walla, he's your guy. 

Even after I'd grown, I couldn’t escape the Kennedy spell. My wife was a devout JohnJohnist. Oh, man, did she like that guy and his shirtless badness. He seemed like a cool guy, though, you know?

I know he had a few skeletons, but they were mostly trivial exvertebrates. Everyone talks about where they were when they heard about his dad, but I'll bet you remember where you were when you heard John, Jr. was missing. That one hurt and it lingers with me a little, like John Lennon.

Fifty years it's been. Fifty years since the plug was pulled on Camelot. 

At least someone plugged it back in in time for the Beatles.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hollywood Makes Noah's Ark: The Original Love Boat.

It's really too bad this movie isn't coming out in time to battle that annual bloodbath, the war on Christmas. Some really huge oars could come in super handy in spanking back the secular happy holiday heathens. Better late than never, I suppose.

The official trailer of "Noah" was released Thursday. Here, have a look see:

Could Hollywood have picked a more rugged, yet virtuous, yet foxy slab of fillet manyon to portray the six-hundred-year-old dry land seafarer than Russell Crowe?

No way. The guy barely looks 480, which apparently back then was the new 350. Plus, the dude had three kids after age 500, and this is way prior to the nurturing palm of four-hour pharma.

And Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah? Brilliant. In this flick, he wields his evil freely; no need to slurp his human sweetbreads and Chianti through this oppressive apparatus:

According to Genesis, Chapter 5, here's how the whole thing started:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

Until I read this, I hadn't realized that God actually experienced buyer's remorse twice. The first time, Adam and Eve had barely exchanged phone numbers before she screwed everything up with what became known in Eden as "The Dangling Nectarine Affair." I know, right? Freaking women. I could be sipping a mojito, naked by the pool, if it weren't for that ditzy skirt.

Leave it to a man, Noah, to cut our losses and gain a smidge of political capital with the big guy. If it weren't for this righteous bro, we wouldn't have been allowed to continue our suffering for millennia to come. Please find a time in your busy day to thank our man, Noah.

Will the mega studios tackle any other of antiquity's historical events? I hope so. They've already nailed The Ten Commandments, employing every aspiring Caucasian actor in the process while perfecting the art of spray bottle bronzing. For Hollywood's followup, Chuck Heston, after being offered the role of John the Baptist, told director Goerge Stevens, "Goddammit, George! I'm freaking Moses! If I'm not cast as JC, this script better be the greatest f*cking story ever told." 

The rest is history, except for the "f" word. The Greatest Story Ever Told, released in 1965, was nominated for five Oscars, propelled to greatness by Pat Boone's riveting performance as a celestial being at Jesus' tomb. Just call him angel…of the hairpiece, angel.

A dark side exists, however, to these Hollywood sagas of real men executing God's blueprints. Naturally, anytime these amoral liberals get their fingers in the money pie, they'll pursue the booty at all costs. We, as the pious messengers of the word, must remain ever vigilant in rejecting the snake oil of blasphemy.

I hold aloft the robust souls who risked public scorn to speak out against the popular Harry Potter series as blasphemous drivel. What an abomination it is to pollute our children with stories of other children who selflessly defend their families and friends against the dark lord.

It's a twisted message they send, and I truly hope Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson enjoy the worldly goods they've accumulated on this big blue marble, since they don't allow carry-ons on Hell Airways.

What's that you say? Emma Watson is also in Noah's Ark, playing the role of Noah's adopted daughter Ila?

God bless her. She's obviously repented.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

He Spent Twenty Years Doing What?

I don't say this enough, but I'm a lucky guy.

And while I'm not really sure how the planets aligned this way, I've got two brothers-in-law who have spent so much time in the military, they're qualified to use the term "retired" after their names and ranks.

I'm the squishy meatball center of this brother-in-law hoagie, so it boggles my rapidly wilting grey matter that these two dudes didn't wash out of basic training like I probably would have. They didn't put in a tough couple of years or even a decade dodging things that go boom in the night.

Nope. These guys each served twenty. Are you kidding? Sure, I've selflessly sacrificed twenty years of my life to the fashion industry, but the only RPGs I've survived have been Ridiculously Passé Gauchos.

A while back, I talked about my wife's brother Dean, who'd just retired from the United States Air Force. This time, I'd like to relate the story of another man I've had the honor to know, one who spent his career submerged in a steel tube with so many other men, they needed a government contract with the folks at Astroglide Personal Lubricant just to pass each other in the hallway.

To claim that Andy Leal, who retired from the U.S. Navy as a nuclear submarine engineer with the rank of Lieutenant Commander, is a classic American success story, sounds cliché and dramatic—

—and true.

His parents grew up in Lajes, Terceira, a village in the Azores. Just to give you an idea of where the Azores are, here's a little visual aid.

The Azores are considered part of Portugal, but I think they may actually be closer to Gary freaking Indiana. Holy shit, I'm guessing Domino's out there guarantees thirty days or less.

Only four years of public schooling were offered on Andy's parents' island. If further education was desired, the family had to pay to send their children to one of the two towns on the island. Most families, including the Leals', were far too poor to pay for private schooling, so their children ceased their education after fourth grade, the boys moving to the farms and the girls learning virtually every other skill to make a home self-sufficient.

After his parents grew to adulthood and began dating, an opportunity arose for Andy's father to emigrate to America. I'll let Andy explain the rest. My questions are italicized.

How long did your parents live in the United States before you were born?

My father came over a couple of years before they married. He found a job sweeping floors in a lumber mill in southern Washington. He worked his way into the production lines and earned enough to buy a home, return to the Azores and marry my mother. I was born less than a year after they moved to the U.S.

Did they suggest you join the military or was it something you came up with on your own?

It was something I came up with on my own after hearing about how expensive college was and how the G.I Bill could help. My father had just spent a period of time unemployed after the lumber industry collapsed and his mill closed. I figured that our family could not afford college. Loans scared me, as my father was very passionate when it came to debt. He paid off his mortgage in three years!

Why submarines? I don't think I've ever seen a movie about submarines that ended well.

The recruiter and others convinced me that the submarine force was a smaller and more tight-knit community than the surface force. When I had the option to switch to surface at Officer Candidate School, I stuck with submarines. Looking back, it was definitely a great choice. You really feel part of a team when you are with the crew.

I can imagine that with that many crew members, at least one would snap and need restraining. What happened in these instances?

Yes, this happens. I recall one crew member that had to be sent home after just a few days underway because he could not take it. He tried to cope for a while, but was put over the edge when he heard an exercise torpedo go by under the hull.

In Puerto Rico, we offered civilians a tour of the submarine. As with most tours, some people refuse to go down the ladder into the vessel. One woman started down the ladder and about half way down, she completely locked up and would not let go. It took three of us to pry her hands off and carry her out.

What was the longest amount of time you spent submerged?

I think the longest period without a port call was over sixty days.

That's incredible! Okay, I'm going to ask you the same question I asked Dean. Did you ever experience an "Oh shit, I'm gonna die!" moment, or something where you were unsure how things would turn out?

Unfortunately, the moments are more frequent than most submariners want to admit.

While cruising around at test depth, the announcement of “flooding!” on the emergency communications circuit simply took my breath away. It was a few seconds of complete fear, then a follow-up announcement stated that it was an awareness drill that was designed not to seem like a drill.

Some of those things are simply part of doing business under the ocean.

I'm glad that's how you looked at it. I would've needed a quart of vodka and some big boy Huggies. 

I know you were stationed on active duty in Connecticut on September 11, 2001. What did that imply for the U.S. submarine fleet and what were your orders?

We were underway and transiting to start a war game. We came to periscope depth in the early afternoon. Because we do not regularly have communications when we are deep, we had no idea what had happened. As soon as we raised the communications mast, we received the news. At first, we thought that our exercise DEFCON messages had started early, but then we realized that this was real.

We stayed at periscope depth and stood by for orders. We were close enough to the coast where we could tune into the AM radio stations from New York City. This gave us the info that we could not get from military radio circuits.

Meanwhile, we planned for war. As a submarine, our only real limit is food, so we determined how much food we had on board and how long we could stay out before needing more. Everything else was about making sure we were ready to shoot when needed. 

A significant challenge immediately after the attack was handling the emotions of crew members. Some had family in New York and Washington D.C. and others knew that their families were visiting these places. Obviously, getting word back to us was slow while dealing with the military implications of the attack.

On the lighter side, I know that throughout all those years, you saw some strange things through the periscope. 

Looking out of the periscope can be very boring when you are out in the middle of the ocean. However, there are always interesting things floating out there. 

Like a dead cow. It was bloated and disgusting, while incredibly interesting at the same time. Did it float down a river or was it pushed off a ship? Standing birds are always suspicious. After all, they are standing on something! 

Okay, last question: You received many accolades throughout your career. Did you receive a medal for being married to my sister for two decades?

I should have…

Thanks, Andy. Have a peaceful Veterans Day.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Brace Yourself.

She was giddy, yet fretful."What if there's a huge yellow stripe after they take them off?"

I didn't reply; a non-answer is often the best answer. I craned my neck around and backed our rusted Kia onto the oil-stained asphalt, our faithful family steed again summoned to perform the lord's work—this time, a trip to the orthodontist to remove my thirteen-year-old's braces.

"Who's the first person you're going to show your awesome new teeth to?" I asked as she reflexively punched the knob for the station that only plays Katy Perry, Gaga and people who sound exactly like Katy Perry and Gaga.

Eyes fixed on the road, I nonetheless felt the singe of her scorn on my platinum cheek chaff. She sighed deeply. "Dad, I won't need to show anyone. Everyone will be like, 'Let me see your teeth.' It's going to be so awkward."

"You've got to be pretty excited though."

"I guess." Same sigh.

She pried down the visor and grimaced into the mirror. "My gums are so uneven."

"What do you mean uneven? Like sort of wavy or something?" I knew asking two consecutive questions was dangerous and risked ridicule.

"Uh, Dad, no. No, please, not wavy. Ugh. Just like, you know, like…uh, never mind." She cranked the radio to erase our conversation. MileyRihannaKatyGaga shrieked out a tune I know so well I could karaoke that thing in American Sign Language. 

I shut my yap for the rest of the trip; so much for making conversation with my adult she-puppy. I couldn't help but feel excited for her. I mean, come on, getting your braces off is one of the most exciting rites of passage for an eighth grader. I'd put it right there between a new KISS album and a good bumpy bus ride. 

According to the Delta Dental website, studies have estimated that anywhere from fifty to seventy percent of American kids will wear braces between the ages of six and eighteen. That's a whole lot of cranial torque across this great land of ours. And judging by my daughter's experience, the technology hasn't changed all that much since the days when my teeth were laid with more railroad than the Tacoma tide flats.

Here's what things looked like prior to all that steel and rebar. 

While the top two-thirds of my head resembles a young and chubby John Davidson, the lower section looks like a freaking mouth tsunami blew through. For God's sake, I'm surprised I still have a functioning uvula after exposing it to unimpeded wind gusts. Good thing I didn't know anyone in South King County who hunted beavers for their ivory.

After four yanked teeth, some gum surgery and two years spent peering up at the ropey veins of my orthodontist's straining biceps, things finally closed up enough to re-hydrate my leathery sockets. 

Here's my "after" shot.

I think I love me.

An hour and a half after disappearing into the examining room, my girl emerged with her brand new smile and a gift bag brimming with heretofore forbidden sweets. Immediately curling a stick of gum into her mouth, she looked at me. "Come on, Dad. I want to make it back for fourth period."

"What's your hurry?" I asked. "You said it would be awkward."

"Ugh, Dad…please." I heard the blare of the radio before the click of her seatbelt. "Let's just go." 

She's a beauty.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Number One Loser Should Travel Well.

It is better to travel well than to arrive.   -The Buddha

I think if I were an Olympic athlete, I would rather come in last than win the silver. You know, you win the gold, you feel good. You win the bronze, you think, well, at least I got something. But you win that silver, that’s like congratulations, you almost won. Of all the losers, you came in first of that group.

You’re the number one loser.   -Jerry Seinfeld

It's so easy for we who inhabit American skin to be torn between those two philosophies, yes? 

On the one hand, we Yanks are all about winning. From Mormon Bar, California (I love the internet) to Shin Pond, Maine, we share a barbarous thirst for victory. 

And no, ties aren't acceptable either. Ties are either for parents trying to judge living room talent shows…or the French. We want a freaking winner and we'll go to extra innings or overtime or playoffs or Final Jeopardy to settle the joint. It's actually possible for a National Football League contest to end in a draw, but mostly because it's highly unlikely that enough players would remain unconcussed and of sound spleen after seventy-five minutes of gridiron butchery to determine a victor.

Sweet brother of Eli, that's why I loves me some football.

Anyway, that's not my point. For the past few days, I mean years, I mean decades, I've really struggled with the notion of goal setting. Have I achieved some lofty milestones? Hey, does the Pope have a girl's name?

I've won the neighborhood moss and dandelion growing competition five years running.

After exhaustive research, I discovered I'm the only member of my extended family to barf lime Jell-O.

In 1985, I ordered Domino's twenty-one times in one calendar month, a Lake City Way record which may outlast Joe DiMaggio's consecutive game hitting streak. 

The thing is, those are all inadvertent accomplishments, not the culmination of specific goals. The Minnesota Vikings have appeared in four Super Bowls as their conference's champions, yet haven't won the big one. The Buffalo Bills reached four consecutive Super Bowls and fell short each time. In the non-sporting realm, Robert Redford has never won an acting Oscar and Colby totally should have won Survivor, Season Two. Would any of these folks be considered failures for approaching greatness yet stopping one rung shy of the pinnacle?

Yeah, they would, based on the way our culture judges champions. 

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Over the past six months, I've received no less than forty-four rejections from literary agents concerning my middle grade novel, and I'm starting to think maybe I'm approaching this whole book thing from the wrong perspective. I lecture myself quietly and constantly. It's about the joy of storytelling, the buzz that can only be obtained by putting pen to paper and scribbling so feverishly that I can't get it all down fast enough. When it's flowing, there are not agents or editors.

Don't get me wrong; I'd love to get this thing published. I think it's a solid book, one that could appeal to adults and kids alike. 

But I suspect my ego has been occupying the driver's seat of this Hummer, slamming its fist down on the horn and screaming bloody oaths at every vehicle blocking its way to the publishing house. I could choose jealousy and resentment. I could continue to cultivate my festering scorn by barking at a moon bathed in the reflections of those who have "succeeded," and further fertilize my field with the manure of grumpy old men.

I could definitely stick with the Seinfeld silver medal approach. 

Or I could just stop worrying and keep writing. 

Let's go with option number two.

Monday, October 21, 2013

I'm an Accidental Fashionista.

A few mornings ago, my thirteen-year-old daughter emerged from her room, prepared as usual for the discerning fashion eyes of her eighth grade peers.

"Mom," she asked, "should I wear my red Vans with this dress or my short black boots?"

The voice came from the bathroom where my wife stood crop dusting her hair with Monsanto-inspired abandon. "I'm not sure, honey. Go ask your dad."

You heard that correctly. Our house, while inhabited by three females, has dubbed the lone male, also known as me, as fashion consultant to all things feminine.

I'm pretty much the same age as those rugged-looking dudes in the commercials, the middle-aged guys who can pull a truck out of the mud with a couple of horses or fix a printing press with their bare hands…you know what I'm talking about? They've got it all, except for a little problem below the Mason-Dixon. 

But here's the thing: I doubt those ads would sell any blue pills if the Marlboro man stood by his wife's closet, pointing out which infinity scarf looks better with that cashmere sweater. 

Like I do.

I work in the fashion industry. I have for twenty-two years, designing advertising for a well-known apparel and shoe retailer. Most dad-types occupying my demographic pigeon hole are about as interested in women's clothing trends as the Tea Party is interested in Burger Kings without drive-throughs. 

Am I fashionable personally? Sure...compared to Tom Hanks in Castaway or maybe Rush Limbaugh without the benefit of a push-up bra.

Hells no, I'm not fashionable. If I could wear basketball shorts and a t-shirt every day for the rest of my life, including weddings, funerals and dinners with Michelle and Barack, I freaking would. I'm currently lobbying for my gravestone to be inscribed, "Here lies Tim. He thought elastic was fantastic and sweatst were the best."

But after two full decades wading through terra-pixels of women's skirts, jackets, tops, pants and shoes, it's become part of my genetic makeup, similar to the Cheeto-tinted face of John Boehner. 

I recently reached a new low. I caught myself using the word "pair" as a verb, as in "Why don't you just pair that sweater dress with some tall boots? No, no, leggings are fine. They're just a conduit between the boots and the dress." Shit, what a dork. I had to watch an hour of football to purge myself of that metro-sexual stench.

Occasionally, I'll discover myself talking about clothes with two or three of my wife's friends. The husbands never hang around to glean any information about the latest UGG color, as well they shouldn't. I usually join them later, timidly entering their presence, my aura still reeking of chunky chain jewelry.

Every once in a while, I'll demonstrate cutting-edge stylishness in spite of myself. That tiger design is currently sold on my company's website for sixty dollars. But as you can see, my wolf shirt puts it to shame, and at a fraction of the cost.

Don’t' get me wrong; I'm not ashamed of the trajectory my career has assumed. I just, you know, don't want to talk about it anymore.

How about those Seahawks?

Monday, October 14, 2013

We Wear Uniforms, Not Outfits.

If you are tuning in today to possibly read about something that matters, well, you may be out of luck. In fact, you might assign more importance to future posts featuring my 3D prostate growth chart or the top five best mammals to make into jerky. Yes, today the pond can't get much shallower without becoming simply a moist algae bloom.

This piece concerns irrational loathing. I won't go so far as to use the "h" word, since I know how damaging it can be, especially after having it used against me by my own children hundreds of times. Should I be upset at the frequency with which the little urchins screamed "I hate you!"usually for nothing more than suggesting they brush their teeth sometime before Easter? Probably not, but I still find it difficult to lob "H bombs" at anyone besides the Jerry Sanduskys and Ariel Castros of the world.

Have you ever despised someone or something with one hundred percent potency? I'm talking all Yang and no Yin, not ninety-five percent acrimonious and five percent compassionate. I'm talking about perfect, black malice with not a ropy vein of lukewarm empathy.

I've only felt this churn of enmity a few times during my five decades above ground: 

When a guy smashed into my daughter while she was stopped at a red light and then took off, I visualized acts of violence using nothing more than a wood rasp and three Bic lighters. 

I had a boss a few years back who held a graduate degree from the Ann Coulter School of Motivational Speaking and Public Humiliation. After having prepared a presentation for several days, I entered her office and placed a stack of my drawings on the conference table. Several of my co-workers sat quietly watching her. She closed her eyes and said, "I will not open my eyes until you tell me that this is sophisticated."

Rivulets of smart-ass responses dripped though my brain and then toward my oral cavity: Actually, no, it's not sophisticated. I went with a toothless Appalachian theme in honor of your mom. I held back and replied, "Uh, yeah, I think so."

She continued, squinting."Because if it isn't sophisticated, you're going to have to put on your big boy pants and start over again—you're aware of that."

I wanted nothing more than the ability to cause her bowels to spontaneously evacuate. 

Geez, I'm getting myself all worked up now. Anyway, I haven't felt those levels of vitriol with much frequency, thank the lord. But I did feel it again on Saturday when the number-two-ranked Oregon Ducks rolled into Seattle to play my Washington Huskies. The gridiron rivalry dates back to 1900.

How do I feel about the Ducks? Let's just say that if the U of O were my ear, I'd grab a steak knife and go all Van Gogh on that thing. 

After years spent wallowing in mediocrity, Oregon's athletic program was infused with over $230 million by Phil Knight, founder and chairman of Nike, Inc. and an Oregon alumnus. His uncomfortably narrow, overpriced shoes and gaudy apparel translated into lavish collegiate facilities in Eugene and sweltering sweatshops abroad. Here's Phil, performing a convincing imitation of a western buffoon in Ted Bundy clothes.

The Ducks football machine spares no expense, donning a different uniform for every opponent. Here are some of Oregon's notable football fashion statements:

I have to admire their designers. It's got to be tough to find colors that compliment the distinct hue of kidney malfunction. 

Maybe I'm just jealous because the Huskies used to own the Ducks and now haven't beaten them for ten years. The frustration spilled over at Husky Stadium on Saturday. Two chubby U of O fans continued standing and dancing amid a sea of downtrodden UW supporters, taunting the crowd even after Oregon had sealed the victory. The guy next to me, very mild-mannered for the entire contest, suddenly screamed out, "Sit down, fuckhead!"

The crowd erupted in laughter. The guy sat down. The Huskies lost.

I hate the Ducks. Oops. Oh well.

Monday, October 7, 2013

No other way to say it—this is bullshit.

I would like to make a prediction. This may happen in five years, maybe ten, maybe never.

Anyone who's ever queued up at a grocery store checkout line, whether for just a pack of chipotle e-smokes or lugging a cart filled with enough stuff to get the Ingalls' covered wagon from De Smet to Walnut Grove, has passed that densely stocked tabloid section. It's usually wedged somewhere between the Five Hour Energy and last chance Super Size Kit Kats.

Leading the pack is the bastion of bastardization, The National Enquirer, but always trailing in close pursuit are pubs like The Globe, Weekly World News and OK! Oh, but things are hardly okay in the tabloid universe. With the consistency of an A-Rod fib, these rags spell out doom and divine intervention in equal helpings. Here are a few headlines I wouldn't be surprised to see next time I hit Safeway:

Miley and Billy Ray secretly wed. In legal ceremony, happy couple proud to call Tennessee their home.

Woman finds hair clump in her calzone and discovers the face and beard of Jesus. Crowds flock from all corners of Tennessee.

On visit to Tennessee, Bill Clinton discovers second penis inside his nose. Can't stop blowing it.

Anyway, back to my prediction. I submit that, before too long, video screens will accompany the printed pages along checkout row. Sensational headlines will beckon us to their broadcasts and websites.

And anything goes. Saturday night, I got another whiff of the bitter stench of tabloid journalism. I don't know about you, but I find local news insufferable—the ridiculous banter between the flirty weather guy and the sexy anchor in her shellacked hair and one-piece Nancy Reagan clown dress, stepping all over each other's weak jokes, then chuckling anemically before snapping into "serious mode." Time to talk about some more car wrecks.

I try my best to avoid local news, but sometimes it's just a wrong-place-wrong-time type situation, and such was the case Saturday. As the concluding credits rolled up on a college football game, the pulsing headline titled, "Only on KIRO 7," filled the screen. The broadcast led with the horrific assault of a security guard in Seattle's Westlake park back in July. Instantly plastered in high def were the name and a Facebook image of a thirteen-year-old boy identified by the guard as one of the youths who beat him to unconsciousness as he attempted to prevent the group from stealing a backpack. Not until he'd recovered three months later was the guard able to label the boy as one of his assailants, someone he'd seen on numerous occasions hanging out in the park.

But it didn't end there. The story cut to a reporter standing on the front porch of the alleged perpetrator's mother's apartment. She quickly shut the door without comment, yet she wasn't swift enough to avoid her image being beamed across western Washington. Apparently, KIRO 7 takes no prisoners. If it bleeds, it leads.

I think we've all grown fairly callous regarding "infotainment," the new face of broadcast journalism. We're used to the rapes and murders and fires that dominate our headlines. 

This is different. While Seattle's online newspaper, The Post-Intelligencer, chose to run the same story with the same facts, they also opted against naming or picturing the accused boy. Of course, KIRO could have also done that, but that wasn't quite enough red meat for a ratings-starved station that consistently finishes last among Seattle's three predominate news channels. KIRO chose to put a face to the story, to erect a lightning rod to absorb our fear and prejudice. 

Look at this kid. He's thirteen, but he looks about nine. It sounds like he's going down the wrong path, and if he did what they say he did, he needs to be punished. 

But that's not the point. It's one thing for a television station to prematurely condemn an adult, but a child? Would KIRO do the same if a white kid were involved, or would they be wary of the legal ramifications brought forth by a family with more substantial resources? I think we all know the answer to that. 

To KIRO's credit, the headline projects a rare bit of insight:

"Only on KIRO 7."

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Veteran's Tale

What were you doing in early 1990? What's that? You weren't born yet? Then go Snap Chat or Tweet or something while I talk to the grown-ups. 

Sorry, you can stay. I'm just envious and longing for those days spent backpacking through Europe with three pairs of socks and a perm that even the French thought was repulsively greasy. I have slides.

But while my new bride and I argued our way from Lucerne to Lyon and all points betwixt, my brother-in-law, Dean Ainardi, began his own journey. He joined the United States Air Force. 

On Friday, Dean formally retired after a twenty-three year career. The ceremony, held at Joint Base Lewis/McChord for family and friends, was emotional and funny, touching, sad and inspirational as hell. Sharply dressed men and women, some in camouflage, others in full dress uniform, packed the room, outnumbering civilians perhaps two to one.

Every fresh-faced airman I came across greeted me as "sir." Although it would have made a lot more sense for me to address them with such deference, such is the underlying theme of service in this setting.

Dean is one of those guys who downplays everything, and I know he would have done the same thing had I not asked him some very specific questions about his stint in the military. I really wanted to know more of his story. As is common with so many veterans, it's the story of a remarkable person who considers himself anything but remarkable. 

My questions are italicized and Dean's answers follow.

You enlisted in the military at age 25, a little older than when most people join. What made you to decide that was the direction you wanted to go?

After my dad died (in 1987), I was kind of drifting from job to job and pretty unhappy with the jobs/my life as a whole. After I met Tammy and I knew that I was going to ask her to marry me, I knew I needed to find a career, not just a job. I tried the college thing (before I met Tammy) and knew that was not going to work for me (Apparently they actually want you to attend the classes, turn in assignments AND take the finals.). I was looking at jobs and everybody wanted school or experience, I had neither and I somehow wandered into a recruiter’s office. “The rest is history.”

How did Tammy react when you said you were thinking of joining?

Well since I have the Ainardi gene, I was an idiot and did not tell or discuss this with Tammy. The night I asked her to marry me, I also informed her that I had joined (not was going to join…had joined) the Air Force and would be leaving in six months. She was “a bit” shocked and overwhelmed but still said yes. In retrospect if I had it to do all over again I mayyyyy have involved her in that decision.

In your first assignment back in 1990, you were sent to the Philippines to work as an apprentice mechanic. You ended up helping to evacuate five thousand people prior to a volcanic eruption. Did you experience any second thoughts (or third or fourth) about having signed up?

No, not really—the actual evacuation part did just the opposite. It was an eye-opener to what the military could actually accomplish. For the first time in my life after Dad died I felt like I was actually accomplishing something. I realized that I was part of something way bigger than just a job. I also realized how much your supervisors relied on you to know your job. 

It taught me that you have to be able to think on your feet and make decisions on the spot. I was very low rank and the decisions I made were very low level but at the time it really opened my eyes to what the military was all about. Of course on a personal level, I was separated from Tammy the first year and a half of my marriage so on that level yes I thought, “WTF did I do,” but what I learned about myself and the confidence I gained in myself far outweighed the separation downside.

During your experience deployed to war zones and dangerous areas, did you ever have an "Oh shit, I’m gonna die!" moment, and if so, where did it take place?

The first one was in the Philippines. My boss and I were in charge of keeping the roads from Clark to Subic Bay Naval Station (where everybody was evacuating to) clear, using a huge vehicle wrecker.  We were staying in an open-bay barracks. I was sleeping on the top bunk when an earthquake hit, which was common during the eruption. We were getting five to ten a day but this one was a big one.
I woke up just in time to see the ceiling cracking and starting to fall in on me. We luckily hauled ass out of there about two minutes before the roof came down on the bed I was sleeping in. Needless to say, we slept in our wrecker the rest of the time we were there.

In Iraq, I had many of them, but if you ask most people that have been in that type of situation, the first is usually the one you remember. For me that is true also. It was my first time over there and I had been there a couple days. This was before anyone had figured out how effective the predator drones were for base security, so the bad guys had basically free rein to shoot mortars over the fences any time they wanted. 

I was walking between our shops when we got attacked. I was stuck in the open with no bunkers close.  The mortars started exploding around me and I was fu@#ed.  I was too far away to run for shelter, there was no good cover, so I hit the ground and covered up best I could.

The mortars all missed, but that was my first real “oh shit” moment in Iraq. Like I said, the first one is the one that freaks you out a bit then after that it just kind of becomes your “new reality” and you just deal with it.  That was probably the most scared I have ever been in my life.    

Yeah, I think a lot of people assume that the Air Force is a “behind the lines” military branch, where you work on distant bases out of harm’s way, and obviously that’s not true at all.

Over two plus decades of service, you are retiring with the rank of Senior Master Sergeant, a title comprising only two percent of all enlisted personnel. You’ve supervised and trained thousands of mechanics, a lot of them fresh out of high school. What's the biggest blunder you've seen someone make around one of your vehicles?

Well, when you get young airmen arriving at a base, they are scared to death. They always do stupid shit, so I could go on for days with this. But one of the funniest AF blunders happened at Aviano Air Force Base in Italy.We got a new kid right out of tech school and when I told him to pull a vehicle in for some type of repair, he said he did not know how to drive. 

The guy was from New York, had ridden subways and buses all his life and had never driven. Sure as hell, we figured out that he came into basic where you march or are bussed everywhere so no need to drive.

We researched the qualifications for our job, and nowhere does it say you have to have a driver’s license. We ended up having to do what we could to teach him in Italy, but we had to send the guy back to the US to go to a driving school and get a driver’s license.  

We've all heard of “Desert Shield” and "Desert Storm," which you served in. But you also participated in "Operation Desert Fox." What was that all about? Sounds kind of Vegas.

Honestly Tim, I could not tell you. Every thing we do is some type of campaign. Each one has a different name with a specific set of objectives.  Once that campaign objective is completed it is closed, and in theory, we go home because it’s done.  In reality, they create another campaign with another name and we stay there and keep doing the same thing. More than likely, as with everything in the military, it has more to do with funding than anything else.    

Last question. Somehow you've managed to maintain a highly positive family situation throughout all the moves and absences. Your kids, now 17 and 21, have lived in Delaware, Italy and Tacoma, Washington twice and Louisiana, and they’ve grown into such great people. How did you and Tammy make it work?

We drink a lot. All kidding aside, I have no idea why we are/were successful and why many military families aren’t. We (military) are no different than mainstream society. We deal with all the same issue as the “outside,” and I don’t think our divorce rates (as with most social issues) are much different than the mainstream society.

Honestly, this is more of a question for Tammy. One thing that most people don’t realize is the pressures put on the spouses and family members. I move from place to place and go from my job at one base and I go to the next base and do the exact same job. The spouses and family members do not get those luxuries. They have to “reinvent” their lives every time we move with new schools, new jobs, new friends…

But to try to answer this;  Tammy and I have really enjoyed the military.We bitch and complain all the time about the bad stuff but we also know that we got some great stuff from the military. All military families suffer and give up a lot as far as “normal” American families but we also get a lot in return. How many normal families get to move from place to place and experience different life experiences and cultures? How many normal families get to spend over 11 years in Europe and travel all over the place and get paid to do it? Not many that we know of. 

We have understood this from the beginning of our marriage, and we made sure the kids understood that, yes, this is tough, but look at all the good things we get being in the military. We don’t dwell on the bad. 

Thanks, Dean. We're glad you're home.

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Not Like She's Leaving Forever, Right?

Rain splattered the windshield as our dented minivan, one hubcap shy since 2012, sloshed north up I-5. First day of Fall, indeed.

"You better slow down." I could feel my wife's eyes. "There are always speed traps here." 

"I know." I said (which I always say, even when I don't know). "It's kind of funny that eighteen years ago, this was the same stretch of freeway where we sped back to Seattle in the middle of the night. It was the one time I actually wanted to get pulled over." 

I can't confirm this fact empirically, but I'd say most men harbor a secret desire to roll down the window and say, "Sorry about going eighty-five, officer. You see, my wife's in labor...really? I can follow you all the way into Seattle? Yeah, this Kia can definitely keep up with your Crown Vic. Great, yeah, go ahead and flash the blues and I'll pull out."

And now my wife, our firstborn daughter and I were headed back to the northwest corner of Washington, our destination twenty minutes away from where my wife's water broke that April night in 1995. She wasn't due until May, but like a dawn belly flop into chilly Lake Holyshit, our little pot roast had apparently decided she'd been basting long enough, and still eighty miles from the hospital, the carrots and potatoes were ready.

During the silent moments of the two-hour drive to her new home, I worked myself to the brink of tears a couple of times. I focused on anything else—the tightening band around my bladder and kidneys brought about by the huge coffee I'd just finished, an optimal intermittent setting for the windshield wipers—because the only thing more unsettling than seeing the driver next to you texting is seeing the driver next to you blubbering like Jimmy Swaggart.  

This trip up to the college stirred up emotions that weren't unfamiliar: 

That morning she started daycare after my paternity leave ended, I felt like Joan Crawford, only with the guilt and without the expensive face cream. It felt terrible leaving my daughter with these people who knew nothing about her. Would they let her beat on a stool with a spatula while listening to Nevermind? Probably not, which made them incompetent and untrustworthy childcare providers. 

When my wife and I dropped her off that first day of kindergarten, we peeked into the classroom with its tiny desks and tiny chairs and tiny humans.The boys were shaggy little mop tops or perfectly parted with product. The girls wore so many shades of pink and purple, it looked like an undulating Barbie aisle at Target. On the way out, most parents avoided eye contact o keep the throat lumps from exploding into salt water bombs.  

Dropping her off at college was different though. It was joyous. Nervous at first to meet her new roommate, her happiness kept seeping its way into my leathery carcass. I understand that the future promises a few teary phone calls, maybe some "I just can't do this" moments, but yesterday was a triumph for all of us. We parents can be hard on ourselves. I'll often look at the undesirable traits my daughters exhibit and blame myself, but I'm going to try not to do that anymore. 

My daughter has earned the right to own her quirkiness; her tool box still needs a few crucial items, but it belongs to her.

It's probably going to hit me at strange times. She and I have bonded over sports since she was old enough to bat a tennis ball with her dimpled little fist. We always watched football together on Sundays, bantering incessantly and covering scads of non-football topics. I always looked forward to it. 

We liked talking about Harry and Ron, Hermione and Snape. And Katniss, of course.

One of our family's favorite dinners is French Dips. Saturday at the grocery store, I swooned slightly as I stood holding the plastic tongs, realizing we only needed three French rolls.

I won't hear the sounds—heavy, lanky footsteps trudging around the house, pulling milk out of the fridge and dumping a million goldfish into a plastic bowl, always a few scattering on the floor. Her toothbrush won't be pounding the sink too hard and spraying water onto the mirror. 

Okay, I know she's two hours north and not locked up in a penitentiary or shipped off to a war zone. But there's something primal, something ancient, about a child leaving her parents, and I haven't sorted it out yet at all.

I guess there's some time now to do that.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hollywood's Land of MIsfit Toys.

Remember Chuck, the older brother on Happy Days? You don't? That's probably because he only appeared in a handful of Season One episodes and then vaporized into the hazy post-high school brother who never was. Chuck didn't even show his toe-headed self on subsequent Happy Days holiday specials where everyone comes home. He must have gotten himself messed up with drugs or was sent to Nam or something.

Television casting is an ever-morphing amoeba; always has been. 

How about when Partridge Family drummer Chris, a dark complected, brown-haired lad transformed into yellowy blond Chris for Season Two? Why did it even matter? Those kids didn't play the instruments anyway, and if anyone screamed to be replaced, it was the little one,Tracy, whose jerky tambourine demonstrated the musical prowess of a young Linda McCartney.

Here are a couple shots from the pilot episode of Leave it to Beaver. If your facial recognition skills seemed to have failed you, fear not. The original Ward Cleaver was some guy named Casey Adams. The first Wally was a kid by the name of Paul Sullivan. Wow, Pete Best has nothin' on those poor sods, getting replaced by Hugh Beaumont and Tony Dow after one episode. That must have been rough for those guys, sitting on the sidelines while The Beav and Company rocketed to pop icon status for the next half century.

When we welcomed The Brady Bunch into our homes that fall of 1969, it didn't take long at all for Robert Reed and Florence Henderson to light up our tubes with raw sexual energy. Those two appeared born to play Mike and Carol Brady, especially when they were in their pajama-clad foxiest. 

But did you know that Joyce Bulifant from the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Gene Hackman had originally been penciled in to play the very Brady parents? I'll admit, Gene Hackman might have turned a few heads with his puka shell necklace and manfro, but not nearly to the level of Robert Reed, especially back lit in the soft sunsets of Waikiki.

Yet even America's favorite white family had a nosy neighbor named Nielson to spar with, especially when Bobby and Cindy grew up enough to start looking like Rob and Candy. Enter Oliver, the newest, cutest ratings magnet to stuff his Dorothy Hamill bowl cut into the Brady split level.

Not sure Oliver helped steady the foundering comedy; he may have actually tainted its fragile chemistry.

During my prime TV watching years, a couple of shows experienced fairly sizable cast turnover. After Three's Company captured lightning in a bottle with Jack, Chrissie, Janet and Mr. Roper, the show's potency leeched into the slog when Suzaane Somers was swapped with Jinelee Harrison and Mr. Roper was succeeded by Mr. Farley, played by Don Knotts. 

But when Farrah Fawcett turned in her badge and bikini to Charlie after a contract dispute, that hit home. I was fifteen years old and had just been given my brother's old TV when he went to college. It was one of those big console sets, black and white, and it was mine. I guess you could say that Tuesday nights were my "date night" with Charlie's Angels. Jill, Sabrina and Kelly materialized in my room at eight o'clock and filled my musty teenage lair with their silky presence for the next forty-two minutes. 

It always seemed to go so fast, and yet somehow, I had plenty of time.

I don't pay much attention to many TV shows now, especially network stuff. An obvious example of current day high-profile actor replacement is the whole Two-and-a-Half Men situation, where Ashton Kutcher surfaced in the wake of Charlie Sheen's toxic jetsam. I've heard the show's not as good now. 

This one is my favorite. In 1968, Chirstina Crawford, daughter of faded Hollywood starlet Joan Crawford, had been playing the role of 28-year-old Joan Borman Kane on the daytime soap, The Secret Storm. While recovering from surgery, Christina's role was filled by her wonderfully versatile mommy dearest, John Crawford. 

Here's a typical example of the elder Crawfords's ability to take the audience by the hair and flog it with the wire coat hanger of thespianic genius. Let's face it—she looked every bit the part of a 28-year-old—who'd been smoking and drinking nonstop for the past fifty years. Masterful.

Regrettably, there are two other categories that come to mind. The first is the list of actors and actresses who died during filming and hence necessitated quick and tasteful decisions by network creative staff, people like Corey Monteith in Glee, John Ritter in 8 Simple Rules and Phil Hartman of Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. All so sad.

And lastly a group exists which is best illustrated by the Bewitched, Darrin Stephens tag team of Dick York and Dick Sargent. No one even seemed to care that Darrin was played by a different guy. It was kind of like when your roommate comes home with a twelve pack of Bud Light and you really wanted Coors Light but it's cool because at least your roomy bought the right cigarettes.