Monday, May 31, 2010

In Memoriam

George Orwell once wrote, “You sleep safe in your beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do you harm.”

I think of this today as I remember those men and women of the armed forces who have done such violence, or at least stood ready to do so, so that this country might be free. In fact, many have fought in wars in foreign hostile countries while said wars were being protested back at home. They put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rights of their countrymen to object to the very actions they were taking.

What is truly remarkable is how it comes second nature to so many. To most, military service is just the right thing to do. The dangerous nature of their assignments is simply part of the job.

My grandfather served in World War II. He received two purple hearts during his years of service. Yet, he barely spoke of his experience in the theater of war. Nearly three years after his death now, even my grandmother admits that she knows little about the details of her husband’s time in Europe. She knows he spent some time as a messenger behind enemy lines and has commented that it must have suited him well because he could be awfully sneaky when he wanted to be. She tells my older brother, the history expert, that she needs to sit down with him and my grandfather’s paperwork in order to determine exactly what he did.

I had always been aware that he had been in WWII. From my earliest memories, I can recall knowing that Grandpa still had shrapnel in his leg. These facts were never kept from me. Furthermore, my grandfather was always a kind and approachable man. His time in the war was not something that was stepped around at family get-togethers. It just rarely came up. It wasn’t who he was.

There was so much else to talk about. As I said, he was kind. He wanted to know how things were going. He wanted to know about school. He wanted to know about which sports we were playing. He attended most of our sporting events. When he offered my brothers and I advice, it was done in a gentle and constructive way. It never felt critical. He even helped coach my basketball team in grammar school. My uncle still talks fondly of my grandfather’s time spent as an ump for his impromptu baseball games with the neighborhood kids. He would get home from work and go right to the ball field to help keep order and mentor the young athletes.

In my mind, my grandfather was in World War II, but he wasn’t a soldier. He was a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather to my sons, a hard working man, a Christian, a silent leader. He was always these things, but never a soldier.

This is not to say he took his service lightly. It’s just to say that his service always seemed to me like something he did because it was the right thing to do and that was that. That’s just how he was. He never asked for credit. If there was something he did that was special, you never learned of it from him. So, his time in the military seemed to fit this pattern.

I will always remember my grandmother being presented with the flag at his funeral. I remember her quietly thanking the young soldier who kneeled and presented it to her and seeing the emotion on her face. And I remember the pride I felt at that moment, perhaps the only moment in my life prior to then that my grandfather was a soldier in my mind first and foremost. The first time that I truly appreciated his having fought for our country.

There were a few words I remember my grandfather saying about his service. He once said, regarding his time in the military being over, “I figure I don’t owe them nothing, and they don’t owe me nothing.”

I’ll disagree with him here. We owe him everything. As we do to all those who have sacrificed of themselves on our behalf. All who have gone before or since. We owe you everything. Thank you for serving.

Happy Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Did I Just Hear The Weekly Features I Thought I Heard

Welcome to Transformer Generation Dad’s weekly features.

This week’s top five is things my sons didn’t know I overheard them say:

5. If you tell daddy on me, I’m just gonna say you did it.

4. I know what the worst swear word is…the C word.

3. Let’s play bar. Want some whiskey?

2. Christ be with you. Would you like butter on that?

1. Sh!t (after dying on Super Mario Bros.)

This week’s cool ass thing you’ll never own is Jack Bauer’s bag. Should you get your hands on it, he will no doubt track you down, kill you and take it back. This will probably not even take him twenty-four hours. This sounds like one of the smaller storylines that would arise in the final twenty minutes of one episode and resolved within the first five minutes of the next.

This week’s sign you are a nerd is that you listen to and sort of identify with Ben Folds. I’m not explaining this.

This week’s nemesis is Justin Bieber’s hair. My heart breaks every time one of my sons’ friends asks if a piece of Beatles’ memorabilia has anything to do with him.

This week’s lesson learned is not to read while walking through the kids’ play area. You never know what they’ve left for you to step on.

And finally, this week’s Star Wars quote is: “Ready are you? What know you of ready?”

Hope everybody has been enjoying the Memorial Day weekend. To all those military personnel out there, thank you for serving.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lame New World - Part 2

This is the second episode of our current ongoing title. The first episode was posted last Friday. Enjoy...

“How much time do we have?” John asked William. He had been sitting near the doorway to his son’s bedroom for the last twenty minutes waiting for him to return home from school.

“Two and a half hours.”

“Did you hide the nail polish remover in your room?”

William rushed past his father, into his room and produced a pink bottle from beneath his plastic covered mattress. “Just like you told me,” he smiled.

John took the nail polish remover from him and the preassembled Lego jet he’d brought home the other day and shoved them into a duffle bag. He then threw the bag on his lap and rolled his wheelchair to the back door of the house.

“Go and unlock the garage door. Then come back and help me get out there.”

William did just as he was told. After struggling a bit to get his father down the back porch stairs without spilling him onto the ground, they were alone in the garage.

John made sure the door was closed tight and locked. He looked around and out the small window like a thief. Then, finally, he tossed the duffle bag onto the bare wooden table that used to be his workbench. John paused.

“What did your mother do with all my tools?”

“Sold them,” William said.

John sighed. “I suppose she needed the money for the medical bills.”

“Plus she had to get rid of them. She didn’t have a license.”

“Unbelievable,” John muttered under his breath. He turned his attention to the bag and pulled out several items. First came the Lego jet, then the nail polish remover, then a small plastic pail, a box of cotton swabs and two sets of household cleaning gloves. They each pulled on a pair of gloves and John handed the pink bottle to William.

“I’ll hold the Lego, you pour this on it. Do it carefully.”

John held the yellow jet over the plastic pail. William held the bottle over it and began to pour. He did so very slowly.

“Okay, stop,” John instructed and dipped a cotton swab into the excess liquid in the bottom of the pail. He rubbed the moistened end against the Lego jet, focusing on the cracks between bricks.

This went on for several minutes. John stared at the jet as he scrubbed the tiny cracks. Every now and then, he would have William pour some more. Both of them leaned into their work in anticipation. Eventually, John began to try and separate the bricks.

“No good,” he said after the first try. “Pour a little more.”

They repeated this process over and over for the better part of an hour. The only communication between them was that regarding their experiment. Soon, the entire bottle of nail polish remover had been emptied over the toy. John and William looked at each other, not knowing what to do next.

“Maybe it won’t work,” William said.

“It has to,” John whispered more to himself than to his son and rubbed the swab on the bricks some more.

“Come on, baby,” he said and closed his eyes as he pulled two different parts of the jet in different directions.

When the pieces came loose from each other, William cheered. John opened his eyes and smiled. He let the whole jet fall into the puddle of remover and insisted that William give him a high five. Then, they both got back to work, scrubbing at the sides of the Lego model with enormous smiles on their faces.

They worked for a while in near silence. There was the occasional giggle as they would look up at one another. Then it was back to work.

“Um, Dad?” William said eventually.

“Yeah, buddy?”

“Mom’s gonna be home in about fifteen minutes and we’re not even halfway done. I think this is taking too long.”

John had to admit William was right. At this rate, it would take a full day’s work just to separate the pieces. John had figured they would need to be washed off after this part of the process, too. This wasn’t going quite as smoothly as he had hoped.

Plus, as he came out of his euphoric joy at having separated a few pieces, he noticed another problem. The bricks that they were able to take off took on a softer, malleable texture. It would seem that the acetone wasn’t just dissolving the super glue, but also the plastic of the bricks themselves.

“If we could dilute this, we could maybe just leave a set soaking overnight and separate it the next morning.”

“Should I get some water?” William asked.

“Do we have orange juice? Citrus would help get rid of the smell. I’m afraid your mother might notice this.”

“No, mom always has me drink soy milk in the morning.”

“Soy milk? Yuck. Are you lactose intolerant or something?”

“I don’t think so. Something about hormones.”

“What’s in that fridge,” John asked and pointed to the refrigerator where he used to keep beer and drinks in the summer months. It was behind and old dresser, but still hummed from being plugged in. Apparently, they had moved it form the old house and John wondered if they'd left it stocked. “Maybe we could use something in there.”

William slid the dresser back just enough to open the door a crack the width of his arm. He opened the door and peeked in.

“What the heck?” he said.

“What is it?” his father asked.

William squeezed his arm into the refrigerator. John watched and heard the clanging of metal as his son tried to grab hold of something within. Then, William pulled out a green aluminum can, looked down at it in his hand and said in wonder, almost gasping, “Mountain Dew.”

John thought for a minute. He thought it just might work.

“Let’s try it,” John said. “Pour one in the pail with the remover. We’ll soak it overnight and see what happens.”

But William continued to stare at the can. He rolled it in his hand and seemed amazed. “You let me try this once when I was little,” he said. He looked at the bottom of the can. “I wish it was still good. It expired four years ago.”

“Buddy, I’ll get you a whole case of Mountain Dew some other time,” John assured him.

“They don’t make it anymore, dad.”

John nodded. “I should have known that,” he said. “Just open that can and pour it in. We’ll come back to it tomorrow and see what happens.”

William combined the Mountain Dew with the nail polish remover. While the acetone smell still hung in the air, the mixture in the pail was nearly odorless.

As John set the Lego jet into the liquid, they heard a car pulling up.

“Oh crap,” William said and began to wheel his father toward the door.

“Wait, wait, wait,” John implored. “Take the gloves off. Leave them in here. She can’t know what we were doing. And make sure you turn the light off before we leave.”

William did everything his father said. He tossed the gloves onto the table, shut off the light and grabbed a hold of the handles to his father’s wheelchair. As he began to wheel him backward out the door, they heard a car door slam. William rolled his father as fast as he could across the backyard.

He heard another car door slam and pictured his mother removing her bag from the rear seat. William struggled to lift his father up step after step to the back door. Meanwhile, John attempted to help things along by pushing off the side railings.

When William reached the top step, he swung the back door of the house open and rolled his father into the kitchen. Just as he did so, he heard his mother’s keys turning the deadbolt on the front door. William’s forehead was dripping with sweat. He turned his father’s chair to the table in a natural seated position and dropped to the floor, flat on his chest.

John whispered, “What are you…” when Sara interrupted.

“I’m home,” she called as John and William heard her heels coming toward them down the hall.

As she entered the kitchen, William raised himself up off the floor with his hands and said, “Twenty-three!”

Sara looked down and smiled. “Billy, are you showing off for your father?”

“Just showing him what we do in gym now, mom,” William explained, out of breath.

“Yeah,” John said and smiled wide in appreciation of the inside joke he and his son now shared. “It’s odd not playing sports until your eighteen, but William was assuring me that he stays in pretty good shape.”

“Well get up and go wash your hands,” Sara said. “I brought home dinner.”

She held up a white plastic bag with what appeared to be Chinese food containers inside. John was excited.

By the time they were all sitting at the table, John’s excitement turned to disgust at the amount of tofu that his meal contained. He liked neither its texture nor its lack of flavor.

“Didn’t they have chicken,” he asked.

“Yes, but chicken is so expensive,” Sara answered. “With all the animal rights laws that PETA helped pass, it’s so costly to raise chickens. The same meal with tofu is less than half the cost of one with chicken. Plus it’s healthier for you.”

“And what’s with the soy milk?” he asked.

“All the hormones in the cow’s milk were determined to be dangerous,” Sara explained mater-of-factly. She had already become accustomed to John’s lack of information on the current events of the last several years.

John accepted defeat and choked his meal down with the help of some sort of fortified water that came in a glass bottle which was mandatory that you recycle.

Thinking about the Lego pieces soaking in the garage helped him cope. He couldn’t wait to see how he and William’s concoction had worked tomorrow.

It took every ounce of willpower he had, but John kept from going out to the garage before William returned home from school the next day. At one point, he was on the verge of throwing himself to the ground from his wheelchair and army crawling on his belly to check. The thought of he and William finding out together combined with the fact that his elderly neighbors would more than likely notice and call his wife at work kept him from doing so.

But, as soon as William walked in the door, off they went. John had a bag containing a strainer and a roll of paper towels already on his lap. They nearly kicked the garage door in. Once they were sure nobody was watching, they both approached the table and donned their gloves.

As John spread out a base of paper towels four layers thick, he told William, “You do the honors.”

William removed the Lego jet from the pail and set it on the towels. As it drip dried, he looked to his father. He received a single nod. So William tried to separate the wing from the body of the jet.

It came off easily.

“Yes!” John whispered.

William tried more pieces. Each piece separated from its neighbor the way they had originally been engineered to. John sat and delightedly watched his son disassemble the entire Lego jet. Every now and then, John would take a piece in his rubber gloved hand and inspect it for warping or softening. All he found was perfect Lego bricks each time.

When the entire set was broken down to its original form, John had William feed the hose into the garage and they rinsed the loose bricks in the strainer. After rinsing them thoroughly, John told William, “We’ll let them dry overnight then we’ll rebuild it tomorrow.”

“But, Dad?” William asked. “How are we going to know where the pieces go without the manual?”

John stared at his son without an answer.

“I hadn’t thought it that far through,” he said, disappointed in himself.

The two of them sat in silence for a while.

“We could just try our best from the picture on the box,” William suggested. “It’ll still be fun.”

“You’re right, it would still be fun,” John agreed. Then he smiled and laughed out loud to himself. He laughed in a way that made William know he had an idea.

“But I know how we might be able to get a hold of a manual.”

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Day Without Comics Or Video Games Is Like A Day Without Sunshine

I don’t need to tell any of you how busy one’s day can become while juggling a full time job and parenthood. Even those of you without kids have seen this. You may roll your eyes about having to hear it again, but deep down inside, you agree.

This is something I’m obviously well aware of and have come to accept. I know that my best laid plans may be hijacked by the needs of my kids. Whether it be a baseball game I forgot to write on the calendar or a school project that is far too complicated for a seven-year-old, something is bound to be waiting around the corner to spring out just when I think I have some extra free time and make me scramble around like I’ve got Icy Hot in my jock.

Prepare myself as I may for life’s little unexpected surprises, I still get a little sad when I realize I haven’t read a comic book or played a video game for several days. After one such day, I shrug and figure I’ll play the next day. Two days leaves me vowing and promising myself to get extra work done and stay up late if I have to in order to fill my desire. On day three, I’m downright irritable.

When it comes down to it, I feel like I’m denying something that makes me fundamentally me. A fish has to swim. A bird has to fly. A plant needs water and sunlight. A dog needs to sniff other dogs’ butts. A baseball player needs to scratch his crotch. Certain truths are undeniable.

If denied these things long enough, I become a shell of my true self. I am, for all intensive purposes, a zombie. Okay, minus the groaning, eating of human flesh, dirt in my suit and killer dance moves. But otherwise, very similar to a zombie, including skin tone.

I’m on an off week for Spider-Man and have already received and (of course) read my other monthly comics. This leaves little hope for any relief on the comic front. My only hope is to finish up this post as quickly as possible and attempt to navigate Sam Fisher through another level of stealth badassery in Splinter Cell Conviction.

I bid you adieu. If I don’t pop out of the shadows and snap someone’s neck very soon, I fear I will fade away.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Prepare To Eat Foam

There are plenty of toys that I encourage my sons to play with and ask for as Christmas and birthday presents so that I can play with them too. I usually make a point of stopping in the toy section at Target and talking up the items I want to get my hands on.

This method has worked pretty well so far. They have a pretty nifty Lego Star Wars collection. I can simulate Darth Vader’s raid on the Tantive IV, the battle of Endor, an X-Wing versus Tie Fighter dogfight, and any scene that took place on the Death Star. Marvel super heroes are a staple of their toy drawer. My six-year old has so many different Super Hero Squad versions of Iron Man that I…I mean HE could create his own hall of armor. I get to play the latest Mario games and Nintendo DS games under the guise that I need to help them through a few tough levels.

“Might as well start my own save file and play through the game on my own, just so I can be experienced enough to lend aide if necessary.”

As time goes on, they have also developed their own toy preferences. I have no interest in playing with their Mighty Beans or Bakugan…stuff, but it’s fine by me that some of their toys don’t interest me. I don’t discourage them from buying any toys (except girly toys, no dolls) I just steer them towards the ones I like when I can do so without pressuring them too much.

“You could get that single package of Bakugans, or you could get these three Lego sets. It’s completely up to you.”

I thought that I was at a point where the toys we shared interest in were set for good. I didn’t expect to add any more members to this exclusive club. That was before my youngest son’s class birthday party.

He received a rather large box from one of the kids and opened it to discover the Nerf N-Strike Longshot CS-6. This particular gun is taller than my son, has a sniper scope on top, a bipod stand, an extending stock, and a magazine that holds six darts. It was the most amazing Nerf gun I had ever seen. Instantly, I regretted not keeping up on the development of Nerf weaponry for all these years. The small pamphlet contained within its box only served to pique my interest even more. Images of me and my boys staging epic battles with one another across the backyard danced in my head as I saw the other impressive guns and rifles. I immediately began thinking of excuses to buy more Nerf guns for them.

Hmm…Fourth of July gifts maybe? It’s America’s birthday, we should all get presents!

Research into the catalog of Nerf N-Strike products also revealed accessories. You can buy extra 6-shot magazines, a 32-shot drum magazine, extra darts and night scopes. You can even buy a bandolier. I can see myself now wearing two crossing bandoliers full of Nerf darts.

My new summer project has become battlefield development. I need to clear the backyard of any unnecessary clutter. Yet, at the same time, I want to leave some items strewn around to use as shielding to make potential battles more strategic. I’m thinking a small fort or clubhouse ought to be built. Perhaps there should even be one in each corner of the yard with a sort of capture the flag layout in the middle. Basically, I’m going to try and make my backyard look like a paintball course. Maybe I could even get a junk car and push it into the middle of the yard.

I see a lot of potential for something to go wrong here. I don’t mean the rusted out hunk of metal I want to put in my yard. I mean my obsessive nature when it comes to this sort of thing. I’m not proud to admit that the few times I’ve gone paintballing, I have gotten way too into it. I want to have fun with my sons, but I need to be careful to draw the line at some point. I think if I can manage to keep myself off the garage roof in a gully suit, things should go smoothly. It ought to keep me out of the ER at least.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jack Bauer Has Made Me A Better American

Tonight marks the end of an era. The end of a legend. The final two hours of Jack Bauer’s white knuckle, thrill ride existence will be watched by millions. It is the series finale of 24.

For eight seasons, Jack Bauer has entertained and inspired me. Not just anyone can achieve this simultaneously, yet he has managed to pull it off week after week. You would think that by now I would have learned not to underestimate Jack Bauer. You would think there is nothing he could do that could surprise me, but that’s just what Jack want you to think and then…BAM! He slams your head into a file cabinet, makes you pee yourself and extracts the information he wants from you.

Not once have I become bored of his interrogation style. Never have I questioned his loyalty to America. If anything, Jack has only served to amp up my patriotism in the form of distrust for all foreign countries, including Canada.

Let’s be clear that I speak exclusively of Jack Bauer because Kiefer Sutherland is a whole other person. Kiefer Sutherland will go on to do something mundane and unimportant with the rest of his career. Perhaps he will begin doing voice-overs for commercials or a poorly conceived Disney movie. What’s that? He’s already done this? Well there you go. While Kiefer Sutherland wallows in side work, Jack Bauer will live forever in the hall of television bad-asses, most likely flanked by B.A. Baracus and Chuck Norris.

Let us never speak Kiefer’s name on this blog again.

Instead, let’s focus on the reason why I called you all here today. That is to say goodbye. To bid farewell to the most awesome television character since The Fonz.

No other man has commanded so much respect from so many people while also completely terrifying them. For this, I salute you Jack. I salute you and I thank you.

I also thank you for saving Senator Palmer. And for soldiering on past the death of your wife and helping protect President Palmer. And the other President Palmer who was nowhere near as cool as the first President Palmer, whose assassination you later helped bring justice for. And for protecting America from that dude who was the mummy in the Brendan Frasier movie (ok, let’s never mention Brendan Frasier again in this blog either). And for exposing Charles Logan for the rat fink he really is. And for making it through that Chinese prison.


And for having the strength to stand up to even your own father and brother. And for saving those orphaned boys in Sangala, though I wonder what the hell ever happened to any of them after reaching the U.S. I think one of them may have been driving the cab I was next to the other day. And for exposing yourself to radiation to help save millions of others. And for always being a good friend to Tony Almeda despite what he did to you. And for believing in Chloe. And for giving Renee one last moment of happiness. And for exacting revenge for her death. And for finally going off the deep end like I’ve wanted you to for so many seasons.

Thank you for it all, Jack. It’s been one memorable ride. I promise you that when the complete series is released on Blu-Ray a year or two from now, I will be all over that. When the time is right, I want my sons to know all about you.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

My Consciousness Tends To Swim Upstream

My favorite writing style is stream of consciousness. If you’ve read anything prior to today’s post, I probably didn’t need to tell you this.

I spent some time recently thinking about when I am at my most creative. I find that these times come when my eyes take in whatever is around me and my mind drifts wherever it may go.

Sometimes I try to achieve this by putting myself in a place where a lot is going on, notebook at the ready. Other times I sneak off to jot down some notes about something that just happened. Still other times I simulate this process by staring at a blank word document page and consuming beer until the random thoughts flow.

As I said to my wife the other day, “I’m at my most creative when my mind wanders around. I like to just let it roam.”

I think I like to write this way because it’s how the mind works. How often could you not remember the name of a band, movie or actor only to get off the subject and have the name spring out and surprise you like a horror movie villain ten minutes later? Then you shout it out just to have everyone look at you like you’re crazy.

“Norman Greenbaum!”

This doesn’t happen for no reason. I think that the mind instinctively wants to think randomly. Your thoughts were probably flowing too straight and accurately. Your brain then said, “This is boring, I need to shake things up a little,” and stole the answer from the tip of your tongue, where you insist it just was, and hid it behind your repressed memories, not setting it free until you’d given up and moved on to something different. Sometimes, your brain will even torment you so much as to reveal it from it’s secret location as you sleep, causing you to sit bolt upright and hope you run into the same people you were talking to earlier today so that you can read to them what you just scribbled on the back of your hand in the middle of the night. No doubt it has been eating away at them too.

My first experience with stream of consciousness in the written word came during a high school English class. We were reading The Jilting of Granny Weatherall by Katherine Anne Potter. I remember thinking to myself, “This is how I want to write,” and never looking back. Since then, I have been known to jump from political commentary to toilet humor. Wait, that’s a lie. I never write political commentary. I do, however, dabble with toilet humor. Okay, more than dabble.

The ultimate story of my thought process is a tale I tell of my senior year history class. My teacher asked what we think of when we hear the words Protestant Reformation. I smiled to myself. Noticing this, he insisted on hearing my answer, which I was reluctant to give, knowing that it was not what he was looking for. But, after he forced it out of me, I said, “Pancake breakfasts.” I explained that my drive to school every morning took me past a Protestant church whose large sign with interchangeable letters always seemed to be advertising an upcoming pancake breakfast. Though I tried to explain as best I could, it still didn’t make sense, not even to me.

But, I’ve learned to accept it. Sometimes I can use it to my advantage by getting a laugh from someone just by making them wonder how the hell my mind went to where it just did. Even though I find myself having to use words like anyway and phrases like getting back to the point, where was I, or but I digress way too often, I’m not sure I’d have it any other way.

Of course, I’ve never really thought about it as much as I have just now. It reminds me of that one story. The one with the guy who did that thing. I’m sure I’ll remember it later.

Where was I?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thirty Years Ago, We Truly Began To Live

Thirty years ago today, I was too young to remember anything that happened. Had I been more aware, I’m sure that I would have observed merriment and celebration. Thirty years ago today, Pac-Man was released and The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters. The perfect storm.

I wish now that I had been born five years sooner, just to be aware enough of my surrounding to observe the magic happen. One of the greatest, most iconic video games of all time coming out on the same date as the best of the Star Wars movies. Eating power pellets and chasing ghosts and meeting Boba Fett for the first time ever. What a day it must have been.

I’m pretty sure that if I had been more in tune with what was going on that day, I would have pooped myself. Hell, I have to check on how long I took to potty train because I may very well have actually pooped myself that day.

At any rate, I salute you, May 21st of 1980! During your twenty-four hour span, Abraham Lincoln spoke no words. No new celestial body was touched by human feet. Nobody won a Super Bowl or any other sports championship for that matter.

Nay, two things, each of far more lasting importance happened. It is a day that ought to be celebrated by nerd-dom for the rest of time. It’s not every day that you can be blessed with a brand new distraction to spend hours of unlit time playing. Nor is it every day that the best of six epic movies pisses you off with its ending, only to have you appreciate it more as time goes on.

This was truly a remarkable day in history. Google celebrated it today by making a playable Pac-Man game in its daily logo. This served to distract me for a good twenty minutes from looking up what I’d gone into my office to search for. I still don’t remember what it was I needed to find out at the time, but leave it to Pac-Man to put things in perspective. Whatever it was wasn’t as fun as chomping colorful 8-bit ghosts, so it must not have been that important.

And what can I say about The Empire Strikes Back? How great is a movie when it is the ultimate tease but you still love it? This is a film that gave us immense action. We were wowed by advancing AT-ATs and the wondrous cloud-scape of Bespin, only to have the good guys lose.

Is Lando good or bad?

Vader is Luke’s father??

Han is frozen and kidnapped???

So is Luke a Jedi yet or not????

That’s all we get to see of Boba Fett?! Who the hell is that guy???!!!

This was my first experience as a kid with a non-happy ending to a movie. How I hated this episode. Yet, in the years to come, it would grow on me. The toys I found myself playing with the most were those from Episode V. I came to appreciate the plot development and the fact that not everything will go smoothly for the good guys all the time. Plus, the giant asteroid worm that nearly ate the Millennium Falcon was cool as hell, and not nearly as random as the Ewoks.

Let me just say that if today is your thirtieth birthday, I would start playing the lottery if I were you.

Third Person Thursday (On Friday): Lame New World - Part 1

Sorry our Thursday installment is late. This was originally supposed to be a single post story, but morphed into a four part series. Thus, it took more time to adjust and format than I had originally anticipated. Please enjoy and come back the next two Thursdays to read the rest:

John Huxley’s surprise at waking up in a hospital bed was eased a bit when he saw his wife, Sara, sleeping in the chair beside his bed. When he looked around the room, trying to remember how he got there, he saw cards, letters and pictures covering the walls. When his focus came back to Sara, he couldn’t help but notice that something seemed different about her, but he wasn’t sure exactly what it was.

Nonetheless, her presence made John smile and he opened his mouth to call to her. No words came out. A second try released only a whisper so quiet no words could have been deciphered even if someone awake had been in the room.

When John lifted his arm to try and make some sort of noise that might wake his wife, it felt as if it weighed a ton. He let if fall back to the mattress and noticed then how thin it looked.

Before John could even process this new discovery a nurse entered the room and stared at him like he had an ear growing out of his forehead. He tried to speak to her with the same results as the nurse made her way to his sleeping wife. When she woke, the nurse silently pointed in John’s direction, prompting Sara to sit straight up and look at John with surprise.

John decided not to even attempt speaking again and smiled instead. When this lead to tears from Sara, he found himself wondering what he’d done to upset her.

Within a few short minutes, everything would be made clear to John Huxley. It would be explained to him that he was in a serious car accident that he had not been expected to survive. He would find out that he was taken to Minnesota for treatment once his vital signs had miraculously stabilized. This was far from his home in Toledo. Sara would explain that it was a blessing that she was there to greet him, because she only spent every other weekend with him now. He would soon understand that this was because he had been in a coma for the last six years.

It took several weeks before John could speak and before he could do such simple things like stand on his own. Walking was still quite some time off, but John was actually ahead of schedule in his recovery and his doctor cleared him to go home.

“You can get the rest of your strength back closer to home,” he said.

With this, John and Sara started driving. While their son, William had visited the hospital since John woke up, they had yet to spend real quality time together. The six-year-old boy who John had last played with was now twelve and there was a great deal of catching up to do.

“What does he like?” John asked Sara as she helped him into the passenger seat of their car.

“All kinds of things,” Sara replied and lowered a harness over John that made him feel as if he had just boarded a roller coaster. John thought to himself that his injuries must require all sorts of special modifications to the car and house.

“I want to bring him something,” John said and waited for Sara to enter the driver’s side before saying more. “We used to build with Lego together. Does he still like Lego?”

“Yes, he loves them,” Sara said excitedly and lowered the same kind of harness over herself. “He has Lego sets at home, all over his room. I think they reminded him of you all these years.”

John would have liked to lean over and kiss her then, but the harness over his shoulders restricted such movement. As Sara pulled the car away from the hospital, he decided holding her hand would have to do. He reached over and took her hand from the steering wheel, lacing his fingers between hers.

“I need to keep both hands on the wheel, dear,” Sara said suddenly and put her hand back on the wheel quickly. She nervously checked the rear view mirror.

John thought that driving probably made her nervous since his accident and shrugged it off. “I want to get him a Lego set on the way home,” he said.

“I think he’d like that.”

The drive back to Toledo was long. It was made longer by the fact that Sara refused to drive more than two hours at a time between breaks. When John hinted once that he was eager to get home and maybe she could drive a little longer one stretch, Sara told him, “Studies have shown that it isn’t safe to drive for too long. Giving your eyes some rest and stretching your legs every couple of hours will prevent fatigue and even blood clots.”

John couldn’t complain. After all, though it seemed to him he only took a short nap, he hadn’t been out of the hospital for six years. Taking a bit longer on the road, out in the fresh air seemed like a luxury he ought to enjoy.

At one point, as they drove, John noticed the other cars had the same harnesses where their seatbelts used to be.

“Honey, do all cars have these things now?” he asked, feeling the firm foam on his bright yellow shoulder harness.

“They made them mandatory about three years back.” She stared straight ahead through the windshield with tears in her eyes. “I sometimes wonder if it would have made a difference in your accident.”

Four days later, about two and a half days more than John had anticipated, they reached Toledo. They stopped at a toy store and John bought three Lego sets before they continued on to their home. It was a house John had never been in. As Sara had explained, they needed to downsize a bit to cover his medical expenses and there needed to be no stairs, a precaution he assumed his doctor had recommended.

Still, it was where he would be reunited with his family, so John was pleased to arrive there. He couldn’t wait to see his son’s room and spend some time with him.

William seemed concerned for his father as Sara rolled John into the house on his wheelchair. John noticed and wanted his son, now so much older and more mature than the boy he’d last known, to feel helpful.

“Why don’t you go and relax,” he told Sara, “and let William show me around the house.”

She agreed and went for a walk. “I ought to get a little break from all that driving.”

William proudly showed his father around the house. When the tour lead to William’s room, John noticed he had about a dozen Lego sets on the shelves on his wall. Some of them looked fairly complicated too, and John imagined his son sitting over them at his desk, building meticulously. He was proud.

“Do you remember when we used to build these together?” he asked.

“Yeah, that was so fun,” William said. “Lego sets were way better back then.”

John felt tears well in his eyes as his son said this.

“You know, I bought you some Lego sets on the way home. What do you say we open one up?”

“Sure,” William answered and rolled him into the living room.

“Here, let’s try this one.” John handed William a box with a yellow jet pictured on the outside. He felt a rush of anticipation as he watched his son open one end of the box. But his excitement turned to shock and disappointment as William pulled the jet, fully assembled, from the box.

“Thanks, dad,” William said, not surprised in the least. John thought this odd.

“What the hell?!” John exclaimed.

“I said thanks.”

“Not you,” John explained, snatching the now empty box from his son’s hands. “Why the hell is it already put together?” He lifted the box to his eyes and peered inside. “There aren’t even any instructions!”

“That’s how they come now,” said William. “They all come assembled. It’s a safety thing. They have to come that way.”

“What?! Bring me to your room.”

John was horrified to find out that every one of the Lego models on William’s shelves had come pre-assembled. Legislation had apparently been passed while John lay in his hospital bed. Stray Lego bricks were determined to pose an unnecessary hazard through either swallowing or stepping on. Now, all Lego models had to be assembled and super glued together by a licensed and trained professional.

“I did a few by myself when I was eight, but then I had to get rid of those.”

“You even had to get rid of the ones we did together, didn’t you?”

William took the look that a twelve-year-old boy will tend to take when he knows you’re asking him about something he’s done wrong.

“What are you keeping,” John asked. “Do you still have them?”

“I’m not supposed to,” William said and closed his bedroom door. Then, digging into the back of his closet, he removed an old shoebox. Upon opening the lid, he then had to remove piles of tissue paper before revealing a small Millennium Falcon which he held up to show his father proudly.

“Don’t tell mom,” William said.

“Still have the instructions?”

After William produced the small manual from the bottom of the box, the two frantically broke apart the entire toy. Then they began assembling it all over again. William was frightened that Sara might return home as they built.

“Does she have her phone on her? Call her and see where she’s at,” John suggested.

William looked at his father, astonished. “There’s no cell phones anymore. They said they were causing too many car accidents and giving people brain cancer.”

“Then we’ll just have to build it fast.”

John watched William as they assembled the Falcon together, brick by brick. There was a focus, a joy, an absolute fire in his son’s eyes. Eventually, John started just handing William the pieces he needed and let him build the rest. They finished just in time to high-five and put the finished item back where it had been hidden as they heard Sara enter the house.

“You two causing trouble in there?” She called as she opened the door to William’s room.

John laughed and tussled his son’s hair as Sara entered. “Just spending some father and son time, catching up.”

“I’m glad to see it. Billy missed you,” Sara said. “I’ll get some dinner started.”

“Why don’t we order out, hon?” John suggested. “No need for you to work harder than you need to. Take it easy.”

“That sounds good. What do you have in mind?”

“I’m dying for some fried chicken. Want to get KFC?”

“Oh dear,” Sara sighed. “I forget how many things have changed. Honey, fried chicken was causing cholesterol problems and leading to high rates of obesity in children. They got rid of fast food. There are a few of those restaurants left, but their food is all organic now.”

John stared blankly back at her. He didn’t know what to think and just said, “Maybe pizza then?”

Sara sighed again and shook her head.

“You know what? Just surprise me.” John didn’t want William to see his frustration and figured it was only food. He still had his wife and his son. Those were the important things.

As Sara walked out of the room, John asked William, “Are you playing any sports?”

“No,” William said and hung his head.

“Why not?”

“I can’t. Not until I’m eighteen.”

John sighed. “Is this a law they passed too?”

William nodded. “It was just football at first. Head injuries. Then they banned hockey. Fighting. Then people thought the balls and bats of baseball were too dangerous so they got rid of that. Then it was soccer and basketball mostly because of ankle injuries and people suing the schools and leagues. Now you can’t play any sports until you’re eighteen years old.”

“What do you do in gym class?”

“We ride stationary bikes mostly. Sometimes we get to take walks outside if it’s not too sunny out. They don’t want us getting too much sun.”

“Boy, if you were four years older, I’d have you drive me somewhere we could play some catch.”

“I’d only be sixteen, dad. You have to be twenty-one to drive.”

John laughed out loud. He was amazed. Each time he suggested something enjoyable, there was a restriction that had been put on it while he slept.

“Well maybe you could ride your bike and tow me behind,” he chuckled as he pictured the image.

“I can’t ride a bike until I have a driver’s license.”

John’s laughter stopped immediately. He stared at his son and thought how sad it was that none of this seemed ridiculously excessive to him. He looked around his room again and saw the Lego sets that William had been robbed of the pleasure of building himself. He couldn’t help but notice how devoid the room was of all the things a twelve-year-old ought to have like sports trophies, a football, a Nerf hoop over the door or a mitt sitting in the corner. John looked at the floor and took a deep breath. He decided then what he would do.

“Does your mom still use nail polish?” he asked.

“Yeah,” William answered. “That stuff smells, too. They should make that illegal.”

“I want you to get a bottle of her nail polish remover and hide it here in your room.”

William looked confused. “How come?”

John smiled and called William to come closer with his index finger. Then he whispered in the boy’s ear, “We’re going to build some more Lego when you get home from school tomorrow.”

The look of excitement on William's face was all John needed to be sure he was doing the right thing.

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Chip Off The Old Block

The world’s greatest toy has developed yet another awesome product.

I speak of Lego. And the specific product of which I speak is their new line of board games. If you haven’t seen them yet, go to the Lego link on the left side of this page and check them out. There are at least five different games currently available.

When I learned these games were in the works and to be released, I was a bit skeptical. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It seemed like an interesting idea, but I wasn’t immediately optimistic that these games would be perfect.

However, there are a select few brands which I patronize on a regular basis. These are companies which I have remained loyal to and whose new products are deemed instantly worth buying without doing research into them. They could release a new crap sandwich and I would get in line to try a bite. Nintendo, Leinenkugel's, Eddie Bauer, Bruce Springsteen and red meat are a few. Any project involving Will Ferrell used to be included on this short list, but then he did Semi-Pro. After back to back success on Step Brothers and Land of the Lost, I was willing to forgive, but now he’s doing this whole Funny Or Die thing on HBO and I want to strangle him for leading me astray. As my wife so eloquently pointed out, “If my only choices are funny or die, I’m going to have to choose die.”

Where was I?

Oh yes, Lego is on that list. If Lego were to release a live of furniture, I would sit on, sleep on, and eat off of surfaces with tiny, uncomfortable, perfectly symmetrically aligned little bumps. Thus, my youngest son received a few of the Lego board games for his recent birthday.

I was not disappointed. The games are classic yet unique. My sons are not quite in control of their jealousy over losing at a game, yet these games were fun enough that they lost and wanted to go right back to playing another round.

Building with the Legos is not necessarily a central theme to every game after initial assembly, but there still is that satisfying process to set the game up. From there, the fully built board gives you hours of fun. And some games, like Creationary (a new spin on Pictionary or charades in which people have to guess what it is you’re building with the given blocks), have building with the Legos as the entire point of the game.

The Lego dice are also a unique feature of the games. Each game includes a die that needs to be assembled. It even has multiple tiles that come with each game so that you can change the way the game is played and tailor it to your specific preferences. It would even seem that you can invent entirely new ways to play each board game if you are creative enough to do so.

So, for any of those wondering, go ahead and purchase the Lego board games for that Lego fanatic of yours. They are sure to be enjoyed by all ages.

A Journey Through Spa(ce &) Time

Although I resisted at first, my wife won a stunning victory versus my manhood several years ago. I’m not talking vasectomy. I still have the option of having another child and choose not to exercise it. I’m not talking lap dog. We have a medium sized dog who cannot fit in a purse by any stretch of the imagination.

The estrogen-eric victory of which I speak is spa time. We went to a spa together several years ago and I’m not afraid to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it. We’ve been back several times since then and I have usually been the one to push for it.

I have thus far refused to participate in a couple’s manicure or pedicure. I have disgustingly ugly feet and I prefer to keep it that way and I don’t think I’ve trimmed by fingernails with anything other than my teeth in over a decade. I also plan to keep my haircuts between me and the barber rather than go to the salon section of the spa facilities for reasons I’ve explained before (see March 9th post).

Yet my spa experience isn’t as simple as getting a massage and then waiting somewhere for my wife to finish her other services. I find comfort in the robe and sandals and mood lighting in the quiet room. Which aromatherapy scent I choose during my massage is a decision I take seriously. My taste for new age relaxation music has even grown.

There is a fine line being walked.

Still, I willingly admit that spa time is awfully relaxing. When I leave from a day or even weekend away with my wife, I feel rejuvenated. My joints ache less, my muscles are relaxed, my mind is clear. I will even recommend the experience to any manly man who is resisting his wife’s pleas to go with her.

You may think that this makes me less of a man. And you may be right. But hear me out on one point.

Being a man is an art. One of the most fundamental aspects of this craft is sitting on your ass. Men have been honing this skill since the beginning of time. Some of us spend entire careers developing new ass-sitting technology. The inventors of the recliner, the remote control and Monday Night Football, just to name a few. The list goes on. Many men work long, hard hours for years upon years just so they can save up enough money to cash in on all their ass-sitting time at once and do so uninterrupted. This is a fine tradition of manhood know fondly as retirement.

Considering the craftsmanship inherent to sitting on one’s ass, I call myself a pioneer. I am out there researching new and better ways to relax and unwind. Going to the spa is like batting practice. I’m keeping my ass-sitting skills refined so that when my retirement comes around, I’ll know how to relax with the best of them.

So consider me a traitor to the cause if you will. Ostracize me for entering the den of estrogen that is the spa. But when I have my time to sit on my ass, the way I sit down, unbutton my pants and sigh will be the envy of everyone. Just you wait and see.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Everybody Loves Drama

A quick post dedicated to you Marvel comics readers out there.

The Heroic Age is about to begin. This is what the writers at Marvel are calling the new story arc going on throughout the Marvel Universe. The good guys are going to be good guys again. Captain America is alive and no longer on the run. Thor is back in charge of Asgard. Norman Osborn is back in jail where he belongs.

All this is well and good, but it makes me realize something that, frankly, I'm ashamed to admit. I'm going to miss the drama.

I was sucked back in to comic books a few years back when all the craziness began. When the metphorical poop hit the proverbial fan. The Civil War and its madness drew me back in. The Death of Captain America made me want to know more about what was happening to my favorite heroes, having lost one (a don't know what you've got until it's gone moment).

Once I started reading comics again, I was treated to spectacular story lines like Planet Hulk (if you haven't read this series, do so immediately). I even researched backward to see the Avengers Disassembled, then reassembled and read House of M. Since then, I've been finding out people I trusted were really shape-shifting alien Skrulls and seeing the maniacal Norman Osborn placed in charge of global peace. Each new development made me go, "Whaaaaaat?!"

Now, however, it's all going to be the way it's supposed to be. No more Dark Avengers. No more criminals in positions of authority. No more watching heroes fight one another. Things are to be set straight.

I suppose that every now and then, the writers need to hit the reset button. They must look at what insane places the plot has lead them to and say, "Ok, we need to conclude this and start over fresh," and then write it into the story arc.

I understand and look forward to the Heroic Age. But, in the back of my mind, I now understand people's fascination with the Jerry Springer show just a little bit more. It's fun to watch the drama. It's like a train wreck, you can't help but look.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

To Boldly Eat What No Man Has Eaten Before

There are a lot of leftovers in my fridge currently. Most of them are recent, but there are a few older items that I noticed as I was sealing the newer ones in some variety of airtight containers and seeking shelf space for them.

I realized that these were all things that I was excited about having a larger portion of. The prospect of reliving the meal I’d enjoyed the next day had made me happy. But, then life swept me up and I found myself looking at the same entrĂ©e a few days after I had intended to reheat and eat it.

When this happens, I stare at these items with guilt weighing on my shoulders. I can’t seem to bring myself to eat the newer leftovers while the older ones still sit in reserve, waiting. Yet, I know that these foods may very well be past their prime.

This guilt at wasting food is precisely why I have developed a system for testing possibly expired food. I base this model of investigation loosely upon the scientific method. Very loosely.

Before I get into that, though, you have to realize a few guidelines. First of all, expiration dates on packaged foods are unreliable. Whenever you have a major corporation assigning a numerical value to the freshness of something, you can be sure that they erred on the side of caution. They shaved at least two or three days off the life of that cheese, just to make sure they wouldn’t get sued for food poisoning. This means lunchmeat gets at least a week before any tests need be conducted and milk gets three days past the labeled expiration date.

Also, Chinese take out gets a two weeks. I know they say they don’t use MSG anymore, but come on. In fact, the seedier looking the Chinese restaurant you got the food from, the longer it is likely to remain edible. I do believe I crossed the month threshold before with a box of chicken fried rice. I can’t remember too clearly as the few days surrounding that particular adventure are fuzzy in my memory for some reason.

With those guidelines set, you can begin your food investigation. It all starts with the smell test. If you smell something beside onions immediately opening your refrigerator, find what the smell is generating from and toss it. In fact, if you smell onions when you don’t have any onions in your fridge, follow this same guideline.

Then, of course, you need to conduct a more up close and personal smell test. Take the individual item and take a nice deep whiff, all through your nose. If you don’t wake up on your kitchen floor, it’s safe to move on to the lick test. There are two parts to this. Begin with just the tip of the tongue. If that doesn’t feel like you just touched it to a nine volt battery, move on to stage two which involved getting more than one taste region of your tongue on the food at once. I like to call it, sealing the envelope. At this point, whether or not the food is rancid should become clear. Go ahead and heat that sucker up.

However, this is where I must issue a strict warning. Be sure to clear your schedule for the next several hours. There are all kinds of sneaky bacteria that can still go undetected even through the extensive battery of tests I've designed above. If you must go somewhere, be sure you are in the vicinity of an accessible bathroom where you will feel comfortable spending a great deal of time should the need arise. I usually bring reading material. If an emergency situation should arise, take notes of what you ate and how many days old it was. Keeping a journal is useful. Then you’ll know for next time. These precautions could do wonders future of food expiration research as we know it. That’s how it’s done people. Trial and error. But, should you forget to write this handy information down, at least you’ll be building a tolerance.

I’d like to consider myself a pioneer in this field. I’ve eaten all kinds of things my wife has advised me not to or refused to eat herself. The trick is eating it while she’s out of the house or hiding it in the back of the fridge so she doesn’t detect it before you can get to it. Of course, be careful with this technique. If you forget you hid that pizza behind the beer, you could end up with a disaster on your hands. Again, the journal comes in handy here.

Before concluding this post, I became hungry. So, I heated up the chicken fingers from the other night and the left over bacon I’d cooked my wife for her Mother’s Day breakfast in bed. I even combined the two into a chicken/bacon sandwich and dipped them in the left over ranch dressing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to observe and evaluate my digestive process.

Can You See These Weekly Features From The Moon?

Welcome to our weekly features.

This week's top five is Natural Wonders I've Seen:
5. Changing Leaves: Simple, yet beautiful. Autumn is my favorite season because of this. Despite seeing it every year, the various colors never get old. It makes raking them a little less annoying.

4. Humpback Whales: There's something amazing about seeing a creature larger than the vehicle you drove to the ocean in leaping from the water. Kind of puts things in perspective.

3. The Grand Canyon: So vast and amazing that it looks like it isn't real when you're standing right on the rim of it. I know you may be thinking, "Only ranked three?" to which I say, get your own top five list if you don't like it.

2. Active Volcano: We took a helicopter ride over Kilauea in Hawaii. The lava flow was spectacular and you could feel the heat from it while hundreds of feet above it.

1. Northern Lights: Went most of my life thus far without seeing them, but when I finally did, wow. It's eerie, really. You don't think you're really seeing them at first. There's also some sentimental value I won't go into here, but this was my favorite natural wonder ever.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is a summer home on the moon. I don't even think they're even building up there right now because of the economy.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you want to rush past the regular season in your sports video game so that you can manage all the front office personnel decisions. Even in the video game world, you shy away from human contact.

This week's nemesis is teaser trailers. These things get me all worked up when there's still several months to go until the movie comes out. It's like the Christmas decoration being out before Halloween.

This week's lesson learned is that using a cliche that takes five minutes to explain is counter-productive.

And, this week's Star Wars quote is C3PO's lament after he thinks Luke, Leia, Han and Chewey have been crushed in the trash compactor. I was actually just talking about this scene with someone the other day.

That's all for now. There will be another post later today to make up for Friday's lack of material. Please check back later.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Heart Grew Three To The Eleventh Power Sizes That Day

When my eldest son was born, my wife and I poured all the love we had, or could ever imagine having, into him. Every giggle, every smile, every waking moment was spent in interaction with him, showing him we loved him. This was especially obvious before the symptoms of sleep deprivation set in.

His presence in our home made our love for one another grow and I, for one, became infinitely more patient. Waking several times each night, never sleeping longer than three hours at a time, and then wiping poop off a tiny baby butt at four in the morning were things I would have avoided at all cost prior to his arrival. Once I saw him, though, these were all things I gladly did.

Before reaching his first birthday, my wife and I learned that we were expecting another baby. We were overjoyed. The big brother conversations started with our first son. We began telling him all the things he and his brother would be to one another. He was such a mellow, laid-back baby that we were certain jealousy would not be an issue.

As the due date drew closer, however, my wife and I began to worry. Not that our first son would rebel or try to off his little brother out of competition for our affection. We began to worry about splitting the love for our family between two children. We held so much love for our first son and we were afraid we’d have to divide that love in half to give each son a portion when the new baby came. Love seemed like a quantifiable resource and we needed to be careful how we allocated it. It was as if a mathematical equation of love existed inside our hearts which would only let us generate a certain amount. Thus, we feared out oldest would get less love and the youngest would never get quite as much as the oldest had originally had. We were afraid we were going to be short-changing them both.

This all seems so silly now, but it’s one of those life lessons that someone could tell you about but that you will never truly comprehend until you’ve experienced it for yourself. Any of us with siblings have heard the line from our parents that they love us all equally and in different ways. Who really buys that at the time, though? Your parents can tell you that, but each of you ends up developing your own theories about who is their favorite. Parents having a favorite seems like an undeniable truth to the universe when you’re a kid.

I guess this was in the back of my head as the time came closer to having two diapers at a time to change. My wife and I talked about it and started to get pretty nervous. Two things happened then. First, our youngest son was born. Instantly, out love doubled. It just happened. I could feel it like I was the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It grew right inside my chest.

But the second thing to happen was really special.

Two days later, we brought the younger of our two sons home from the hospital. Our oldest was just recovering from a fever. We brought with us French fries for him, one of his favorite foods at the time, and even now. We placed the baby in the bucket (the car seat that is) on top of the dining room table and had our oldest climb up on the chair to get a good look. Immediately, he took a French fry and shoved it in his brand new brother’s face.

“Here you go, baby, here you go,” he said.

At that moment, our love (and I know I speak for my wife here as well) increased logarithmically. It was probably as close to an out of body experience as I’ve ever had. I learned that day that my sons would inspire me in ways I’d never imagined before. I new that the love I felt for the boys, for my wife, for this big round crazy world in general was not done growing. I knew I had suddenly discovered a well of love and energy that would never run out.

I joke now with my oldest son about this day. I tell him that it was the first and last time he ever shared anything with his little brother. But the truth of it is, I will always feel in his debt for pulling off that moment at just the right time to quell my fears.

Also, I now know that parents around the world who say that they love all their kids equally were not full of crap.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Third Person Thursday: Not A Bad Idea

(Setting: A row of cubicles in a fluorescent bulb lit office. Two co-workers sit back to back in one cubicle opening, typing on their respective computers.)

Hank (turning to Steve): Can’t decide what I want for lunch.

Steve (turning to Hank): How about chicken wings. There’s this new place that opened up I’ve been wanting to try.

H: That’s not a bad idea.

(Steve pauses)

S: So…what does that mean?

H: It means yes, let’s try it.

S: Okay, because you didn’t say yes at first or that it was a good idea, you just said it wasn’t a bad idea.

H: That means it’s a good idea.

S: You should just say it’s a good idea then, not that it’s not a bad idea.

H: Same thing.

S: No it’s not the same thing at all.

H: Sure it is. If it’s not a bad idea, it must be a good idea.

S: It could be a mediocre or average idea. It could even be a fair or lame idea without being a bad idea. That’s a pretty crappy way of saying something is good. That’s like me telling you that you don’t smell like a wet fart today. First of all, that’s far from saying that you smell good, second, it suggests that you usually do smell like a wet fart. To comment that my idea isn’t bad is like saying I usually have terrible ideas, but for once you’re surprised I was able to pull an idea out of my ass that wasn’t as terrible as most of my ideas usually are.

H: You’re reading into this. If I say something is not a bad idea, I mean that it’s a good idea.

S: Then you must have some commitment issues, my friend. No wonder you’ve never dated a girl for more than a month. When they ask you how they look, do you say, they don’t look awful? That’s reassuring. She wants you to say I love you and she gets an, “I don’t hate you.”

H: Take it easy!

S: You’re the one taking it easy! It’s easy to say what things aren’t.

(Steve turns, takes a pencil from his desk and turns back to Hank)

S: This pencil isn’t green. It’s also not a dog or a great white shark. How about not speaking in riddles? What am I trying to navigate my way through the booby trap infested tomb of some ancient king? If it’s good, it’s good. This pencil is yellow. It is used to write. It is made of wood.

H: You need everything spelled out for you, don’t you? Can’t solve any of your own problems. Can’t read between the lines. You want to talk about me not keeping a girlfriend, maybe that’s why Kelly left you. You take everything literally. You can’t pick up on anything that isn’t explicitly said. You must have been a real treat to try and communicate with. What a great conversationalist.

S: Well excuse me for being precise and honest. Maybe if more people communicated the way I do, there would be less confusion. I make no apologies for telling people what I really think and I’d want them to show me the same respect. No pussy footing around and telling me what they don’t think.

H: You want to know what I think? I’ll tell you what I think. I think you’re a pain in the ass. I think you rock back and forth on that stupid chair too much and the creaking noise it makes keeps me from getting my work done. And the way you type with only two fingers drives me absolute bat shit! I have never seen anyone type as slowly as you do. It’s no wonder you never have anything ready by deadline. How’s that for precise and honest?

S: Oh, so now we’re talking like one another, huh? Well let me oblige. You aren’t the worst salesman in the world. You don’t bore me to sleep when you insist on talking to me about the entire major league baseball schedule from the previous night. The loud printed ties you wear every damn day don’t blind me. I don’t think the amount of hair gel you use on a daily basis is going to give you brain cancer.

H: Kiss my ass!

S: Go to hell!

(Both men turn back to their own desks suddenly. They sit in silence for several minutes, each one looking over their shoulder at the other several times, but never simultaneously.)

S (Quietly, with his back to Hank): So do you want some chicken wings?

H: Yeah, sure.

S: Should I order a side of blue cheese?

H: I guess that couldn’t hurt.

S: I’m gonna smack you.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Have An Empty Plastic Water Bottle And I'm Not Afraid To Make You Use It

I learned a valuable lesson from the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie and the original Iron Man. That lesson is to always stay through the end credits. I actually went to see Iron Man a second time with my older brother just to see the secret scene at the end which I’d missed the first time around.

So, when I went to see Iron Man 2 (see previous post for a full review), I knew I was staying to the very end. My sons, however, didn’t realize this.

They stood up to leave and I stayed put. My excitement to see the inevitable scene after the credits was undaunted. I was certain there would be some sort of teaser for what is to come from Marvel.

But while I was glued to my seat in anticipation, my sons were insisting that we leave.

“Daddy, come ooooonnnnn!”

I tried to ignore it at first, because there was no way I was missing this. I thought if I sat with a smile on my face, they would absorb some of my positive energy. When that didn’t work, I said, “Don’t you want to see the extra scene?”

They didn’t care.

“We wanna leeeeeaaaaavvvvveeeee!”

I pondered standing and dragging out the process of gathering items. Maybe if I conceded that we would be leaving soon, they would accept the gesture. Then I thought that would just show weakness. I stayed put and stared at the screen. I was not losing this battle.

Have you ever noticed how long the end credits to a movie are? If you haven’t, I suggest you sit through them with a six and seven year old in your vicinity, whining that they want to leave. When one of them starts doing the pee-pee dance and pulling on your sleeve, it will become painfully obvious how many people it takes to produce a major motion picture. Especially one with considerable CGI. It seems every computer generated character has its own full set of credits. I think they even have personal assistants.

Still, I held fast. I waited in my seat. When the Teamsters and other assorted logos began to scroll upward form the bottom of the screen, I knew the end was in sight. I leaned forward and blocked out the two kids on the verge of tears to my immediate left. Then, the big payoff came.

This is not a spoiler.

I will not tell you what I saw. I will tell you that it was awesome. I will tell you that I gasped audibly in a crowded theater more than once and did a double fist pump into the air with a YES! not caring about how big of a nerd I was revealing myself to be. I will tell you that I had tears in my eyes just like my sons as I finally stood to leave, but that mine were tears of joy. I will strongly advise you to sit through the credits, ladies and gentlemen. You will not be disappointed.

Had both of my sons peed in their pants while I waited to see this final scene, I would have gladly apologized to the usher for their accident. He would have been puzzled, I’m sure, by the unembarrassed smile that remained on my face as I left the puddle of urine behind for him to clean. It would have been worth it.

Spending Some Quality Time With Anthony

Where have I been the last 48 hours? I’m sure this is the question you are all asking. I’m touched by your concern. I’ve been a bit busy with work and commitments related to my sons. But the things that probably put the biggest delay in my blogging over the last two days has been the time I’ve spent with my good friend, Anthony.

You may know him. His last name is Stark. Yes, now you get it, I’m certain. I went to see Iron Man 2 with my wife and kids and every unoccupied moment since has been spent thinking about it. I’ve spent a great deal of time staring out into space and annoying my wife by randomly saying, “Wasn’t it awesome when (fill in any movie scene here),” and, “It’s cool how they have Tony Stark deal with people trying to steal and abuse the technology he’s developed because that has always been a running theme in the comic book.” I know, big nerd.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, allow me to recommend it. If you were a fan of the first movie, you’ll enjoy this one just as much. While the action has been cranked up from the first installment of the adventures of the leader of Stark Industries, the plot and depth of the characters has not suffered. While I promise not to spoil anything, let me get into a few specifics.

Tony Stark’s inner turmoil was on display. It’s one of the great aspects of the character. Iron Man has always been unique in the Marvel Universe (or in comic book lore in general for that matter) because he’s a regular guy when he’s not in the suit. He possesses a great power in his intellect, yet the threat of that suit and his technology being stolen has always been of great concern. It weighs on his daily.

Robert Downey Jr. did a great job once again at capturing the intelligence yet cockiness and immaturity that has been a Stark trademark since the sixties. The Senate hearing near the film’s beginning was a perfect example of this and Downey rocked it. It was the perfect display of Tony Stark being just as dynamic a character out of the suit as in it. The story also touched on Stark’s struggle with alcohol, another running theme in the comic.

But while those behind the movie and director Jon Favreau may have done well with Stark himself, the addition of the film’s new characters was where I expected the movie to either sink or swim.

James Rhodes, Tony Stark’s long standing military buddy, was played by Don Cheadle this time around. His role included more back and forth than Terrence Howard was allowed. It was done well. It was funny and dramatic at once as he and Downey exchanged banter and arguments in the way real life friends might. Cheadle also got to put on the War Machine suit, see some real action and really kick some ass. Cheadle and War Machine were a definite positive additions to the movie.

Every good superhero movie relies on a good villain. Iron Man 2’s main antagonist was Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash. I must admit, I was a bit turned off by the many tattoos, the thick, cheesy Russian accent and constant need to have a toothpick in his mouth. I’ve never spent any time in prison, but I would think a toothpick would be frowned upon while incarcerated. These hokey bits aside, Rourke displayed Whiplash as a troubled, dark, menacing villain with a self-created axe to grind with Stark and pulled it off. He was no Joker, but he was just as formidable an opponent as Jeff Bridges’ Obidia Stane was in the first movie. Thus, I give Whiplash the thumbs up as well.

There was also the presence of Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell. A more passive villain than Whiplash, Hammer created another competitor looking to steal a bit of Stark Tech from Tony and use it for his own selfish reasons. Rockwell was annoying, but I think that’s just what he was going for. I’ll give him the nod as the weasely secondary villain.

This brings me to one of the things I was very worried about when seeing the previews of this movie: S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel. It was obvious from the trailers that both Nick Fury and Black Widow were to be featured in Iron Man 2. Samuel L. Jackson played a good Fury. You didn’t get a chance to see this in the secret scene after the end credits of the first film, but Jackson did a sound job here. He was the secretive, authoritative, all-knowing leader of a super spy organization that you would hope for. He’s also a dead ringer for the Nick Fury of Marvel’s Ultimates series (an alternate reality version of the Avengers which the recent Marvel movies seem to be borrowing heavily from).

As for Black Widow, I was very concerned about Scarlett Johansson. In my opinion, she’s not a great actress. Pretty sure I’m not alone in thinking that. I was less than excited to have her involved in the movie and with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts in the same movie I feared Johansson’s acting would seem that much stiffer. I think Favreau may have had similar fears because her need to actually act was kept as a minimum. She spoke very little and the lines she did have called for a stiff delivery. The power of her character resided in her action scenes, which were signature Natasha Romanova (though I think they lost the –a for the film). Favreau must have learned a lesson from the Transformers movies. They let Megan Fox speak way too often. Overall, they did a great job of dropping two important characters for the future of the Marvel movies into this film and I applaud that.

There were also a few Marvel references in the film which were done well. I won’t talk about them here because if you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’ll spoil things. I’ll just tell you that the movie was great. Action, suspense, good characters and sharp story telling. If you enjoyed the first Iron Man, you’ll like part 2. If you didn’t see the first, you can still enjoy this one. It leaves you satisfied, yet looking forward to future editions.

One important piece of advice: If you are a Marvel fan, stay past the end credits. You’ll thank me.

Monday, May 10, 2010

You Made The O Into An A...So What?

My mind has been on technology a lot lately. Maybe it’s because Iron Man 2 is in the back of my mind constantly. Maybe it’s because I’m fascinated by the release of the iPad. Maybe it’s because my desktop computer is becoming obsolete.

Regardless of the reason, I’ve been noticing electronics and gadgets in a different light lately. I’ll see them and think of how they were invented or what the market or world was like at the time of their release. I’ve been pondering how technological advancement seems to progress in great leaps at a time.

We live by candle light and suddenly the light bulb is developed. We communicate by letter and then the radio is invented. As we huddle around the radio, the television is developed. The computer has revolutionized so many day to day processes. The internet, cell phones and mp3 players are things that didn’t exist when I grew up but my kids will probably not be able to fathom their lives without.

These were all groundbreaking inventions, but over the decades, many tweaks and improvements have been made upon them. These adjustments are a natural part of the process of invention. Every now and then, a truly original invention springs forth from a need to improve a useful invention. However, more often, these new features to an existing product should be attributed to the genius of the original product. Let me give an example.

High definition TV. Wow. Awesome. I’m on board. It is great and the picture is clear and I love it, but it’s still television. A thousand years from now, when people look back on the invention of the television, they will just say the television was invented and might mention that it was made better over the years.

Another example is the iPad. I’ve checked it out in the store and it seems really cool and makes technology really accessible. But is it really this new invention that should blow our minds as much as it does? To me, it looks like someone got sick of typing in the wrong letters on their tiny iPhone or iPod touch screens or said, “I can’t watch a decent movie on this tiny freaking screen,” and then said, “Wait a second, we should make it bigger!”

I thought of all this last night when I was at my grandmother’s house. I was in her kitchen and noticed the space saver clock radio hanging beneath her cabinet. These things were such a big deal when they came out. They seemed so revolutionary and high tech. Basically, somebody wanted more counter space and added a couple of brackets to the top of their old clock radio. I remember people being wowed by this when I was a kid, as I was. I looked at it last night and realized how simple it was and how ridiculous all the fuss was.

I think we, meaning the human race, want to give ourselves a little too much credit for what we’ve figured out sometimes. Not every new invention is a game-changer. The iPad is just a middle step between iPod and laptop. The Blu-Ray player is just a better quality movie. The Sham-Wow is pretty absorbent, but how often are you really going to use it? The Snuggie is not going to end world hunger. We wet our pants in excitement over such crap as if we’ve cured cancer, yet we had trouble figuring out the world wasn’t flat and still can’t figure out whether or not margarine is a healthier alternative to butter. Let’s face it, sometimes we, as a species, move forward in leaps and bounds and other times we trip over our mental shoelaces.

So, the next time a product is improved, just give it a thumbs up or thumbs down. We don’t need to run around talking about how amazing it is or how we can’t live without it. At some point, we’re going to stop caring about most of the things we were once ready to kill somebody to possess. They’ll become the 8-track or the pump up gym shoe or the Wacky Wall Walker. Let time be the judge.

We should take a deep breath and resist the urge to pat ourselves on the back so often. Not every new product represents a thrusting into a new era of technology or convenience. Sometimes it’s just a slightly better version of something that already exists and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s progress too. Let’s be willing to embrace our mediocrity without trying to dress it up and tell each other it’s overachievement.