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.