Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Such Sweet, Sometimes Sickening, Summer Songs.

As of today, we’re forty-two percent into our summer. And in my opinion, until August 3 when we step onto the sun splashed summit, plant a couple of prayer flags and begin the darkening descent toward autumn, it's an opportune time to soak it all in. 

It's the sights, it's the smells—nothing permeates our senses like summer:

Jumping through the sprinkler and skidding along the soaked brown grass. 

Blowing the wrapper off a popsicle, your anxious tongue gluing itself to the icy crust.

The aromas of coconut sun screen and salty air filling the car as you troll for a parking spot at the beach.

But more than anything else, it’s the music. Nothing yanks me by the scruff and hurls me into the Dr. Emmett’s DeLorean faster than an old summer tune. 

The other day I popped on the old classic rock station while piloting our gangrenous Kia through West Seattle’s narrow thoroughfares. The song playing was “Beautiful Girls” by Van Halen, and for the next three minutes, only muscle memory and an urgent bladder navigated the car homeward, since my mind had taken a sharp left at 1978.

I found myself on the shores of Lake Tapps, a man-made reservoir in the shadow of Mount Rainier, fed by its silty glacier water. Go ahead and hold up your thumb and forefinger. Yep, I'd say it was about that cold. 

On one of my many lazy days spent there during that summer of Van Halen, my friend Corey and I found ourselves living an actual beer commercial. As we floated on inner tubes out in the middle of the lake, two girls slowly approached, paddling a raft. Gesturing to a cooler, on of them asked if we wanted to share a twelve-pack of Rainier and drift around a little. 

Why, yes. As a matter of fact, we would. 

Corey always had a way about him. How can I put it? Let’s just say the pizza guy tended to show up on the porch even when Corey didn’t order anything.

Even though summer pop songs elicit powerful nostalgia, not all of these emotions are positive. One night during 1976 while playing Kick the Can with the neighbor kids, I felt the urge to relieve myself. Knowing that my parents wouldn't let me go back out if I went in the house, I opted to use an alternate organic source. 

Okay, I peed into a shrub. The song I remember pulsing through my head, just before a kid named Howard shoved me into my own filth midstream, was “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” by Elton John and Kiki Dee.

I retreated to my house, ashamed and itchy, forever tying the essence of juniper berries and urine to two smartly dressed Brits.

“Shout,” a 1985 summer release by Tears for Fears, also dredges up some early-Twenties angst. I know I’ve droned on a lot about my ex-girlfriend, but dating her during college was like registering for  an extra twelve-credit class in “I-can’t-believe-how-much-I-hate-you-but-sure-I’ll-be-right-over-with-some-wine-and-cheese-nips-ociology.

If you remember the Tears for Fears video, the guy is standing on the edge of a cliff, singing and looking pissed. Okay, that was exactly how I felt, except I don't remember singing or having the other three guys in the band lip syncing at my ten-o’clock. 

Speaking of old MTV videos, they always seemed to have a hard time figuring out what to do with the drummer. The three other guys could stand out in the field with their acoustic guitars, but the drummer had to either bob his head and look cool or play a saw or something. Poor guy.

Anyway, that’s enough of my long-winded stories. Here are a few other summer pop tunes that have throttled a pressure point or two in my central nervous system since I started listening to the radio around 1973.  Is there some cheesiness? Absolutely, but we can’t always control when songs and events become permanently intertwined, right? The list goes until 1992, when CDs and digital music usurped a lot of my FM radio listening:

1973—“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”—Elton John
1974—“Seasons in the Sun”—Terry Jacks
1975—“Fame”—David Bowie
1976—“Afternoon Delight”—Starland Vocal Band
1977—“Telephone Line”—Electric Light Orchestra
1978—“Just What I Needed”—The Cars
1979—“My Sharona”—The Knack
1980—“Sailing”—Christopher Cross
1981—“Tom Sawyer”—Rush
1982—“Stone in Love”—Journey
1983—“Safety Dance”—Men Without Hats
1984—“Sister Christian”—Night Ranger
1985—“Don’t You (Forget About Me)”—Simple Minds
1986—“Your Wildest Dreams”—Moody Blues
1988—“Sweet Child o’ Mine”—Guns-n-Roses
1989—“Angel Eyes”—Jeff Healy
1990—“Janie’s Got a Gun”—Aerosmith
1991—“More Than Words”—Extreme
1992—“Hunger Strike”—Temple of the Dog

I’d love to hear your choices and maybe a few words to describe the back story.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Oreos for Breakfast.

Summer Vacation Blitz 2014 is in the books, and all that’s left are a bug-streaked windshield, one bottle of warm IPA and a lazy attitude.

After our four-day junket to San Diego, we joined seven other family members down in Manzanita Oregon. It’s about twenty minutes south of Cannon Beach, that legendary hamlet where a buck will still buy a scoop of ice cream, but if you want a dish or cone with it, you’ll need to toss in a five spot.

Just to give you an idea of the situation in our rental house, picture the setting of Dan in Real Life, where a large extended family gathers in a picturesque locale. That’s exactly how this was, except we didn’t have a talent show or morning aerobics and my brother didn’t punch me in the face this time.

But other than that it was crazily similar. 

Oh, yeah, and I’m not a widower and my teenage daughter didn’t accuse me of being a murderer of love, but everything else was exactly the same.

I don’t want to give you the verbal equivalent of your Aunt Melba’s Little Big Horn slide show, so I just thought I’d share a few of the lessons I’ve gleaned from shacking up with family for a whole calendar week. In the workplace these are known as “learnings, “takeaways” or “knowledge soak,” if you happen to work at Microsoft. Maybe you’ve gathered some of the same findings:

1) I eat too much. For God’s sake, when else but vacation do I slither out of bed and grab a couple of Oreos on the way to the cinnamon rolls? Throughout the week, I singlehandedly transformed a five-pound jar of Red Vines into a smudgy husk coated in Red Dust Number Forty.

2) I sleep a lot, but not well. You know how it is—the bed feels a little off and the covers have a slight skeeviness, like that coating your fingers accumulate while browsing through the jeans rack at Goodwill. The room was painted a shade of blue made famous by cadaver genitals, and smelled slightly of kelp and pork roast.

3) I drink too much. Beer-Thirty arrived early most days, and on others, even earlier. Consequently, please see Takeaway #2.

4) Hiking is fun—but I’m not good at it. A 1400-foot vertical climb means there’s a good chance I’ll be tripping over up to thirty exposed tree roots. Not to disappoint, on the way back down, I rolled my ankle and ate trail. I currently have a bruise on my outer butt that resembles a chubby Mother Mary with one eye.

5) Family vacations keep improving as the kids get older. Let’s face it—it kind of sucks to travel with little children, especially when your idea of a vacation doesn’t include getting up at 6:30 to play Candyland, a game you could despise just as much without the nice ocean view. Nowadays, those girls of mine sleep more than house cats on Ambien.

6) It’s great to hang out with my dad, brother, sister and all the in-laws I know my older brother was disappointed that I didn’t want to share a bunk bed like the old days, but the dude’s bladder isn’t exactly the elastic parcel of youth it once was. I told him I’d be willing to try if he’s willing to invite a thousand daily Kegels into his life.

7) Nothing beats laughing so much that your gut aches for seven straight days. There’s a washboard stomach somewhere under there from nonstop guffawing. 

Trust me, because after last week, I’m not lifting my shirt in public for a while.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

If You Go, Don't Forget Your Louis Valentins.

Family vacations can be a lot like watching a last-place baseball team: You come home sunburned and pissed off, wondering why you spent all that time and money on such selfish bastards.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

So simple. My wife, ever the brains of the organization, proposed letting our older daughter have the house to herself while her younger sister brought a friend with us down to San Diego over the July Fourth weekend.

It was the magic of addition by subtraction, like segregating an oxidizing agent from a reducing compound to stave off explosive polymerization.

Sorry, I just started watching Breaking Bad again. 

Sure, there were a few Griswoldian hitches in our get-along. My first couple of forays behind the wheel of our sporty Kia Soul proved a little dicey, but that’s what happens when a high performance motor car is piloted by a dude in flip flops who constantly has to pee a little. 

Did I drive over a few curbs? Sure. Did my ham-footed braking illicit a smattering of spirited “JC Tim!"s from my lovely bride after exerting forced flexion on her delicate neck tissue? Maybe.

But on the whole, this was our best trip in a long time. I won’t bore you with my watered down Rick Stevesishness, but I will say this: check out San Diego. It’s a beautiful, manageable place to spend a few days. And as if there aren’t a Brazilian other reasons to visit, everything takes about twenty minutes to reach. Whether it’s Pacific Beach, Mission Bay, Coronado or Balboa Park, your inner thighs will be chaffing from the salty beach air faster than you can say fish taco.

And speaking of Balboa Park, it’s ground zero for Dr. Suess enthusiasts. Theodore Geisel, having lived in La Jolla for nearly fifty years, surely drew inspiration for his illustrations strolling through and around this locale. Here's what I mean:

I couldn't believe it! I half expected the Lorax to peek his head around the trunk and scream at us for supporting Monsanto. Many of us will line up to see where Mozart was born or where Hemingway drank, but no waiting is necessary to catch the splendor of my personal Mecca, the Suessian forest at Balboa Park.

Of course, traveling and living in close quarters with a couple of fourteen-year-old girls poses its own challenges. They were often so occupied with posting photos of themselves in San Diego that they spent about forty percent of the time actually being in San Diego as the adults did. Oh well, at least they supplied a few verbal gems:

Teenaager: “Dad, these sunglasses were only $10. They’re Louis Valentin. I got a great deal.”

Me: “Are you thinking of Louis Vuitton?"

Teenager: “Whatever."

Teenager: “Dad, this place is too small. Can we just stay in a hotel?”

Me: “No.”

Teenager: “Whatever."

Teenager: “Dad, I want to go to college in San Diego.”

Me: “Okay. How will you pay for it?”

Teenager: “Dad, Stop it.”

I did.

We returned refreshed and, let’s just say, slightly secretly sandy. Our older daughter picked us up at the airport and returned us to a house that was nearly as cleanish as she’s ever cleaned it.

And next time we’re thinking about trying the whole San Diego thing with no kids. I'm confident our delicate family chemistry will survive intact.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Few Words About the Mispronunciationism Epidemic.

“Dad, you’re such a hypocrite.”

My younger daughter hurls that knuckleball at me quite a bit. Ever since she learned it back in sixth grade, it’s her go-to accusation. The other day she called me out again, this time for mispronouncing words.

“You’re always correcting people’s words, but you don’t say words right all the time.” 

Most mature parents, like my wife, would just let a provocative statement from their hormone-soaked adolescent vaporize harmlessly through an ozone crack. 

Not this petty simpleton. “I don’t say any words wrong,” I said. “Name one.” Bam, take that, teenager.

“You say ‘girl SCOUT' cookies. It’s supposed to be ‘GIRL scout' cookies.”

She had no idea how on top of my game I felt. “That’s not mispronunciation, that’s just putting the accent on a different word.” 

“Whatever. You’re still a hypocrite.”

Curses. I had nothing. My only recourse would have been to initiate the feared “am-not, are-too” exchange, and I probably would have if my bride weren’t within easy earshot.

Hypocrite or not, I’m not a fan of mispronunciation. I blame my mom. Whenever I’d butcher a word or not know its definition, she made me look it up in our twelve-pound dictionary sitting next to the phone.

Ever since then, my hackles have saluted at the sound of a misspoken word. The George W. Bush years proved to be the most prolific reign of lexiconic butchery since Archie Bunker told Edith that “you can’t squeeze blood out of a tulip.” 

Our Yale- and Harvard-educated Commander-in-Chief, the man who held the keys to America’s doomsday arsenal, couldn’t pronounce “nuclear.” During a 2004 presidential debate with John Kerry, Bush said, “I hear there’s rumors on the Internets that we’re going to have a draft.”

Even Cheney must have made disapproving buzzard noises when he heard that.

I won’t drone on about our ex-Prez who paints puppy pictures. It’s like calling your old girlfriend and asking for that VHS copy of “Purple Rain” that she never gave back. What’s the point?

But as long as we eat our sherbert acrossed from the libary after supposably prespiring about our prostrate, we must abide these wordroids. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Expecially—I have a good friend who’s mispronounced “especially” since I’ve known him, but what am I gonna do—stop him mid-sentence or wait for a more opportune moment to humiliate him? Nah. There’s already a glut of dickishness on our big blue marble.

Disorientated—Frequently spoken by those who actually are disorientated.

Irregardless—Actually, simply add two letters to the beginning, and “unirregardless” returns to meaning what it should.

Expresso—Yes, I’ve heard this from actual Seattle natives. This should be added to our citizenship test right after the dog CPR section.

Sometimes, however, it can get personal. A few years ago at a company meeting, my group was recognized for working on a successful campaign. The speaker read our names from a slide and I could tell she was a mispronouncer after messing up two of the first five names. 

I still felt safe. The worst I’ve ever been called is “Hayward,” even though my name is phonetically the easiest word to pronounce in the English language. Seriously, I’ve heard that “Haywood” was one of the first caveman last names, since it can be grunted.

She reached my name on the list—Sherry Jones, Mark Johnson, Tim Hayway…”

Hayway? What the hell? This woman was a freaking vice president and she couldn’t pronounce a word that even my cat accidentally says a couple of times a week?

Spontaneous barks of laughter erupted from random spots throughout the room. Everyone in my vicinity shoved me and choked back fits of laughter.

That was five years ago. Just take a guess at what I’m still called around the old water cooler.

Besides that.