Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Goodbye, Productivity. Hello, Eye Strain!

My productivity dial has been cranked up higher than usual lately. I’ve been keeping my pledge to write here daily. I’ve been making renovations to my home office. I’ve been practicing baseball in the backyard with the boys, which also means staying on top of the dog poop retrieval. I’ve even had the chance to engage in family time, going out to the movies or having a nice dinner together. I’ve been in what one might call “the zone.”

All that may very well change. Curiosity hit me after completing this week’s top 5 list and I, innocently enough, conducted a Google search for Tecmo Bowl. What I discovered may be enough to distract me from all responsibilities for the next several years.

I happened to stumble upon http://www.nintendo8.com/. I have a link now posted for it along the side of the page. Before you click on it, allow me to warn you that unless you have at least three hours to spend hunched over your keyboard in the dark, save this journey for another time.

At this website, you will discover every single NES game that I ever knew to exist. This includes Super Mario Brothers 1-3, Mega Man 1-6, Castlevania, Tecmo Bowl, Blades of Steel, The Addams Family: Fester’s Quest (I know, random), Contra, Spy Hunter, Metal Gear…well, you get the picture. In fact, I am throwing down the gauntlet right now (that reminds me, I wonder if Gauntlet is on there) to see if anyone out there can scour this site and find a game for the original Nintendo Entertainment System that is not available to play.

I immediately began playing Tecmo Bowl. Suddenly, it was a Saturday morning in the late eighties and I was still in my pajamas, trying to get a few games in by myself before my older brothers woke up and wanted to play. It didn’t take long to get the hang of it again either. After a 500 plus rushing yard performance by the late, great Walter Payton, I defeated Dallas by a whopping 70-0 (or 00 as represented during touchdown highlights on the screen). I then turned to my dry erase board and scribbled down the pass code so I could continue some other time. I proceeded to play five more games, erasing the old pass code and writing down the new one each time, having every intention to stop.

Eventually, I’d had enough, but this was only because I wanted to play Blades of Steel. You’ll be happy to know that after going down 2-0 in the first period, I was able to rally (winning fight after fight I might add) and pull out a 3-2 victory. A good time was had by all, meaning just me. A few levels of Super Mario Brothers later, I noticed soreness in my back, eye fatigue and blisters on the index and middle fingers of both hands. Best night ever.

I’m looking forward to showing my sons this site. I wonder if they will think it’s cool or just laugh and roll their eyes at how excited their father is over such old looking games. The latter of the two would certainly leave less competition for computer time in order to play said games, so I think I’ll accept the eye rolling.

I must warn anyone reading this once again that this site is at once dangerous and unspeakably awesome. Perhaps I’m behind the times on noticing it and everybody else has been visiting it and playing for years. In that case, I wish somebody would have told me. Why am I always the last to know? I think of all the wasted time I’ve spent doing other things when I could have been wasting time playing old NES games.

Of course, this does leave me with a lot to do tomorrow. Immediately after dropping the boys off at school, I’ll need get the next few days chores out of the way early so that I can start a new campaign on Legend of Zelda with minimal interruption. I wonder if I still have all those self made maps somewhere.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Want To (Pretend To) Rock!

I’ve had the urge to play one of several music based video games lately. Sometimes my sons will play these games along with me but, most often, I go it alone in my basement after putting them to bed. When playing Rock Band, I usually play the guitar and sing at the same time, using my makeshift microphone stand constructed of an old music stand and duct tape. If it’s Guitar Hero, I sing along anyway since I was too cheap to upgrade to Band Hero.

Needless to say, I have a lot of fun and it’s a fantastic way to blow off some steam after a long day. However, even though there are so many volumes of each of these games and extra track packs, I find myself growing weary of the same songs. I think if I sing Radiohead’s Creep one more time, I will completely burn out the octave I use near the end to sing, “She’s running out the door” and while Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun was a popular song whose lyrics I know, it’s not exactly my favorite. Frankly, singing it sort of gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I dream of a day when every song can be downloaded for play on Rock Band or Guitar Hero. I have no doubt this is somewhere in the future of gaming. Eventually, as soon as a song is available for download on iTunes, a video game playable version of it will be created and available as well. Despite how obscure a track may be, you will be able to play several levels of difficulty of it on your faux guitar and have the words to sing along to scrolling across your screen. Someday, I will be able to rock out to The Killers’ A Dustland Fairytale and follow it with Air Supply’s Making Love Out Of Nothing At All, though you certainly wouldn’t want to be in earshot for it.

Of course this does make me wish I’d had the foresight to learn to play a cool instrument when I was a kid. Had I learned the guitar or drums, I might have had the courage to start my own band. Alas, I played the trombone in the school band. Not exactly a big demand for trombone players on today’s rock n’ roll scene.

Often, I actually find myself wishing I’d learned to play the piano. I would most surely assemble a monster band then. I’d base it upon Electric Mayhem from the Muppets and myself after Dr. Teeth.

In fact, since there have been music games released specifically for various bands (Aerosmith, Metallica, AC/DC, The Beatles) why not come out with an Electric Mayhem version of Rock Band. You would just have to add an organ. Seeing as their library of hits wasn’t very extensive, they could just cover other band’s songs and just have the Muppets displayed on screen playing along. Of course every song would have to have a raging drum solo added to its end. Then there would have to be a headset microphone to make sure that upon the song’s completion, the drummer breathed in and out heavily and did the “Ahhh ahhh ahhh” trademark Animal laugh.

Can you picture that?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Now My Wife Wants A Pet Dragon

My wife and I took my sons to the movies on Saturday. Quick side point: Why do people insist on saying movies? I have a lot of respect for those who just say, “I went to see a movie,” rather than, “I went to the movies.” How many did you see? Was it a talkie or a silent film? When I go to the library I don’t say I went to the books. Now that I’m done with my Andy Rooney shtick, let me get back to my point.

We don’t usually go to see a movie (better) on the weekends due to crowds. Likewise, we usually don’t see a movie that has just opened. Again, crowds. This time, however, we bought our tickets online and got there early enough to get a good seat for How to Train Your Dragon. Yes, we did see it in 3D.

I have two words for you: awe and some.

If you have kids of pretty much any age and enjoy action, this is it, this is the movie you want to take your kids to see. So often, there’s this fine line between a movie having a good amount of action and being too scary for little ones. Yes, there were some pretty dangerous looking dragons in it, a lot of them, in fact. However, they were drawn in such a way that made them kid-friendly without making them wimpy. Tough to do, I know, but all credit to the animators at Dreamworks for pulling this balancing act off. The expressive eyes and mannerisms made them more canine-like and less threatening.

I noticed kids of all ages sitting in the theater and only heard one cry. I have no doubt that this was not because of anything that happened on the screen but because her diaper was full or she was hungry. She was that little.

From the very beginning of the movie, you are hit with action. There’s a shot that closes in from over the ocean on the coastal town where the film is set. Immediately the first of many harrowing dragon battles begins. It was impressive. The 3D effects were used effectively without being overused. I for one tend to feel with the rush of 3D movies being released that it is difficult to keep track of what’s happening. I become overwhelmed by too much action. This movie didn’t do that. I felt I could appreciate the animation without everything jumping off the screen and distracting me.

Meanwhile, there was plenty done to promote the plot of the movie. The plot itself was nothing incredibly new, but it was well told. But even if you’re not a fan of the plot, you never had long to wait before the action began again.

Of course, there was plenty comedic relief involved, but nothing too childish, nor too adult. I told my wife that this movie is the offspring of Shrek and Avatar. Furthermore, you had the voice of Gerard Butler as the tough, gruff, overbearing Viking leader. It was like a fat, ginger-haired version of his role in 300. It’s nice to see him get back to the basics.

Anyway, while I’m not in the business of promoting movies, I do have to give credit where credit is due. Also, I know movies are expensive these days, so when you can spend that cash on something worth while, it makes all the difference. That’s why I’m passing this along. If you want to go enjoy a movie with the whole family, go see How to Train Your Dragon, whether 3D or not. You’re sure to enjoy it.

No, I don’t have some sort of cheesy rating system, but maybe I’ll work on developing one.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Weekly Features Just For The Sport Of It

Spring is in full swing (didn’t mean to rhyme there) and that puts me in the mood for outdoor sports, or sports in general. So, today’s weekly features have that kind of flare. Our top five this week is sports video games, because what better way to fulfill that urge to get outside and involved in physical activity than to sit inside and play video games.

There have been an awful lot of great sports video games over the years, so I have to mention some of the omissions. Tiger Woods (philanderer or not) Golf for the Wii is awesome, but didn’t make it. Blades of Steel on the NES was unbelievable if for no other reason than it was the first hockey game to my knowledge that involved fights, but other titles overtook it. Who was not wowed by the halftime show of Double Dribble for the NES? Alas, space ran thin. There is not a single MLB game on the list despite the many titles I’ve enjoyed. Despite these regrets, my list appears below sans these worthy titles and I’m sticking with it:

5. NBA Jam – What I have in mind here is the arcade, cabinet version of this game. The high flying dunks, the flaming basketball, the oversized heads. Awesome.

4. Madden ’10 – The Madden franchise has revolutionized video football. This installment being the most recent, I find it the most engaging and realistic even though another football game gets my emotional nod for the top spot.

3. Wii Sports – The boxing game alone on here is worth inclusion on this list

2. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out (NES) – Nothing need be said here

1. Tecmo Bowl (NES) – For as revolutionary as the Madden franchise of football games has been, Tecmo Bowl is a classic, including the soundtrack

This week’s cool-ass thing you’ll never own is a golf course. You may be able to own your own miniature golf course, but a full 18-hole real golf course, no. I would personally love to own one because I love golfing and would do it more often if it weren’t for other golfers. The pressure of proper golf etiquette is too much for me. If I could be alone on several acres of picturesque green with a sleeve of balls and my clubs, I’d be a happy man. Okay, add a few buddies and some beer, then we’re good.

This week’s sign you are a nerd is that you still remember cheat codes from games that are well over ten years old. By this, I don’t just mean the sequence of up, down, up, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, B, A, start. I mean you remember the sequence, which game it belongs to and what cheat it gives you even though you haven’t played that game in fifteen years.

This week’s nemesis is my NCAA tournament bracket selections. I picked a few upsets successfully, even had Cornell winning a few games, but I’ve blown all kinds of other picks. The most maddening part of it is that most of these picks are ones I talked myself out of.

This week’s lesson learned is that once a toothbrush falls in a toilet, it’s gone. However, you still need to fish it out. Flushing it will only make things worse.

And finally, this week’s Star Wars quote is Han Solo’s developing appraisal of Princess Leia. “Wonderful girl. Either I’m going to kill her or I’m beginning to like her.”

That’s all for this week. For those of you who did read this, my enduring thanks. Regular posts resume tomorrow.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Can We Reschedule Your Cold To Next Thursday?

Kids only get sick when you think you can coast another day or two without anything going wrong. You’re down to your last pair of socks, low on toilet paper, deprived of sleep. You’re stretching yourself thin, knowing those days off are coming and you put off chores and day to day responsibilities because you’re worn out. You plan on catching up soon and that’s when it happens.

The next thing you know, that eight unbroken hours of sleep you’d been looking forward to for the last two weeks gets broken. There’s this sad little face staring into yours as you open your eyes. You don’t remember how you woke up and at times like this it seems there may be some sort of mental link your child has with you.

Wake up, father. It’s me. Don’t be startled. I’m in your mind. I won’t tell anyone about the dream you were having if you get me a glass of water and let me climb in between you and mom for the rest of the night. Agreed?

That’s what happens if you’re lucky. Of course, it could be the unmistakable sound of barfing that wakes you up. Then you hope that it’s landing on an acceptable target or at least an expendable one, like something you can wrap into several layers of plastic bags and throw straight into the trash.

Either way, from that point on, all plans change. That pile of dishes you were putting off is going to start to smell like old milk. The garbage is not going to accept that one last wadded up paper towel you want to cram into the corner of the bag. You will run out of socks and you will find yourself wearing those old pairs of underwear that you were going to throw out but saved because, for some reason, you couldn’t escape the images in your head of some sort of underwear shortage in the future.

Sleep will seem so far away, like the Grand Canyon when you’re actually standing on the rim. You know it’s right there in front of you, but it still seems so far off and unreal. When you do manage to sink into that deep, blissful sleep, you are bound to be woken by requests for water or coughing.

Timing is everything. This is why I’m convinced that part of the evolution of bacteria and viruses has been a timed release mechanism. These diseases have developed a sense for when their host or their host’s parents are least able to combat them. That’s when they spring.

Also, the children always seem to be attacked first in a household. I don’t think this is because of conventional reasons, being at school or not having built up an immunity to different strains. I think these sicknesses are evil. I’m picturing a green gaseous cloud with a sharp-toothed grin and thick V-shaped eyebrows that meet in the middle who, though cartoonish in appearance, is still menacing. Close your eyes for a second and picture it with me.

Yes, these things have studied us and know that, even though that little one is the smallest in the house, he’s the one that has the biggest influence on everybody else’s daily activities. They watch us and see our weaknesses. Okay, picture that evil gas cloud again and now he’s looking in the window (all peeping tom and creepy) and maybe he’s even taking down notes. Maybe he even has his own covert van that he’s conducting surveillance from. Come to think of it, give him a dark mustache and have it curl on the ends while you’re at it. Anyway, it knows that if I wake up and say I have a sore throat, nobody is really going to care. That’s why it goes after the little ones first, because by the time it’s done with them, the adults are on the ropes and ready to pull their hair out.

And for some reason, this evil disease cloud guy has a real problem with me getting anything done. It’s obvious because he decides to act on days when I had some activity planned. Inevitably, the day I was planning on waking up early to get some things done around the house or finally finish a long forgotten project is the day I spend at the doctor’s office instead or walking up and down the cold medicine aisle at the drug store to find the cherry, not the grape. I think he gets a kick out of knowing I’ve been too tired to get to the store and likes watching me separate two ply toilet paper into one ply to make that final roll last a little longer.

Well, good thing I have nothing at all to do tomorrow. Tomorrow, I have cleared my entire schedule just to deal with my kids being sick. That ought to fool him.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Supply (Junk) & Demand (Praise)

Anyone out there who has purchased something on eBay has, no doubt, been a part of what I consider a strange custom. Not the buying and selling of useless items. I’m all for that. What I mean is the grade school level need for acceptance and praise that is officially referred to as “feedback”.

Whether buyer or seller, eBay itself reminds you to leave feedback about the other party involved in your transaction. They do so politely at first, with a very conspicuously placed button that appears when you sign in to your account. If you do not leave feedback in a timely manner, you begin getting e-mails reminding you to leave feedback. If it goes long enough, eventually you get condescending e-mails explaining to you the importance of feedback. Apparently, the entire eBay universe relies upon your review of the Charles In Charge collectable crystal tumbler set you just purchased. You, lowly buyer, hold the fate of a multi-million dollar corporation in the palm of your greasy, sunlight deprived hand.

eBay’s insistence upon extracting your opinion by force isn’t even the odd part to me. The company needs input, I get it. The funny thing is the messages you get from the sellers. You’ll get things like Please leave positive feedback, or I hope you will review this purchase favorably, or my personal favorite, If you review this transaction favorably, I will be sure to return the favor.

What they mean here is they will review you, as a buyer, favorably. You want to return the favor, buddy? How about free shipping on that Spider-Man lava lamp instead?

My rating as a good buyer is really of no concern to me. Is someone going to refuse to sell me something because I don’t give five stars across the board to everyone? Fine by me. Good luck finding someone else who wants a 32-ounce Chris Mullin McDonald’s cup celebrating the original Dream Team.

The way I see it, if you gave me the product and I gave you your money, that’s it. As far as buyer ratings go, there should be a checkbox. Did the buyer pay you in full for the product? Yes or no? If a buyer has yes checked every time, he’s a good buyer. What other criteria do you need here? I didn’t like this buyer because I asked him if he would be my best friend and he never responded.

This isn’t a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours situation. That’s already done when I feel compelled to give you money for crap that you want to get rid of and I want to own. That’s the mutual benefit right there. The rest is like leaning over to your friend during class president elections and saying, “If you vote for me, I’ll vote for you.” How about we just vote for ourselves then? In this case, it’s more like saying, I don’t even want to be class president. I don’t give a damn if you vote for me.

Seeing people beg for approval is just sad. Have some self respect. I think a precedent needs to be set here. In fact, I will start leaving commentary as part of my feedback. If the whole thing went fine and I got what I wanted when I wanted it, you’ll see five stars all the way. However, when you look in the comments section you’ll see: While the item arrived exactly as described, the seller requested that I leave positive feedback and seemed to try and coerce me with subtle threats into doing so. This made me feel uncomfortable and dirty. I went out and purchased a P.O. Box to have the item shipped to, just so the seller would not have my home address. You hear me, stalker? Stay away!

Beware, eBay sellers. Do not attempt to force my hand or you may not like the results.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Third Person Thursday: Exceptional - Part 1

Today's post is the first part of a story to be told in several installments. It will be continued each Thursday and concluded within three to four weeks. Please Enjoy.

James woke up to his parents arguing in whispers down the hall.

“It’s too much for him. Besides, how can you be sure he’ll be like you,” his mother said.

“He may not be exactly like me, but something’s coming. I’ve already seen the signs,” his father answered, seeming calmer than his mother.

“What signs? What have you seen?”

“You wouldn’t understand. You’re blind to them, but please trust that I’ve seen them. You know I only want the best for him.”

“It’s dangerous!”

James decided he would get no sleep if this went on too much longer, and he wanted his rest. When he woke, he would be thirteen, finally a teenager. He wanted enough energy to celebrate properly. So, he yelled, “Mom! Can I have a glass of water,” in his most pathetic, sleepy voice, but loud enough to be sure they’d hear him.

Without answering, his mother came in with a fresh glass of water. “What woke you up?” she asked, fishing to see what he’d heard.

“I don’t know,” he spared her and drank his water. “Thanks, mom.”

She kissed his forehead and left. He was asleep again within seconds.

The next thing he knew, his mother, father and younger brother were singing Happy Birthday as they stormed his bedroom. Then it was downstairs for his father’s pancakes, which he only made on special occasions. After the table was cleared, he opened the new iPod he had wanted from his parents and the new video game he’d wanted from his brother, which he knew his parents had also paid for. Soon, the morning became like any other and it was time to head to school.

Usually, his mother drove his younger brother to school while he took a bus. “I’ll drive you today,” his father insisted instead.

His father drove the most ordinary of cars. It always bothered James that his father’s vehicle of choice did not fit him. He thought a car was like a pet, it should resemble its owner. His father was a tall man with a muscular physique, a build James had yet to grow into but hoped he might someday. Yet he drove a Honda Civic. A beige one at that. James felt white or black or red would at least be bold and decisive. Beige was the color of one who couldn’t make up their mind.

He got into the passenger seat and watched his father struggle to fit behind the wheel and then adjust his mirrors. The first ten minutes were silent but for the AM radio in the background, too quiet for James to hear what the monotone voices were saying.

“I wanted to have a talk,” his father said, his gaze remaining out the windshield. “You’re a teenager now. You’re becoming a man.”

Oh, no! Not the sex talk, James thought. Couldn’t this wait a day? Couldn’t he enjoy his birthday as much as possible and endure this later?

“I know you think this is going to be about the birds and the bees, but it’s not,” his father reassured him. “But it most certainly is about growing up, and it is about changes.”

James was bored already and he knew the meat of this lecture had yet to start. He found it funny how parents told you they want to talk with you but ended up talking at you. He shifted in his seat to get comfortable.

“Every parent thinks their child is special,” his father began, “but I know you are special. Tell me, have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in at school?”

“Sometimes.”

“Tell me more,” his father said. “In what ways did you feel different from everybody else?”

“I dunno,” James shrugged, not knowing where this conversation was going. “If I do better than other people like with grades or sports, I guess.”

“People give you a hard time for doing better than them? What do you do when that happens?”

“I kind of wish I was more like everybody else. More normal.”

His father sighed and furrowed his brow. James’ response seemed to have caused him pain, like it was the worst possible thing James could have said.

“Don’t worry about normal,” he said. “Normal is easy. Normal is being overlooked and obscure. Normal people drag down the exceptional. That’s what you are. You’re not normal, you’re exceptional. Embrace that.”

“What’s wrong with being normal? You’re normal,” James said with a hint of defensiveness.

His father’s eyes met his. The pained expression was still there. “I know that’s how you see me,” he said slowly, “and I regret that in many ways. But, someday, you’ll understand that I’m more than what I’ve shown you thus far. As your father, you see certain parts of me and there are other parts that…” He sighed again. “The hardest part of all this, James, is that I know you will not understand this now. It will take time.”

He paused, sighed yet again, and put a heavy hand on James’ shoulder.

“Buddy, some people are smarter, stronger, faster or just better at things than other people without knowing exactly why. They are exceptional. The important thing is that you don’t stifle this just to fit in. It’s who you really are. People will be jealous and try to tear you down, but don’t let them. Being exceptional is nothing to be ashamed of.”

Suddenly, they were in front of the school and the car was silent again.

“So, is that it?” James asked.

“Yeah, that’s it. Just remember we had this talk and promise you’ll come talk to me if anything feels different soon, okay?”

“You or mom, right?” he added, feeling his father needed to know he trusted them.

“No, just me,” his father said, and James jumped backward slightly in surprise. “I’d really rather have you come to me. I think you’ll find I understand the changes you’re going through better.”

“Okay,” James responded and grabbed his bag. His father was being weird and he just wanted out of the car now.

“Happy birthday,” his father called after him as James exited and headed toward the school building. Then he drove away.

James barely noticed his surroundings as he walked the same path he walked every day to his locker. If that wasn’t about my body changing sexually, what the hell was that about exactly, he wondered. He drifted through the rest of his morning routine without focusing. The conversation with his father seemed so odd.

He hadn’t realized he was moving slower than usual until the bell rang, signaling he should already be in his homeroom. As James grabbed his last book from his locker and shut its door securely, the top textbook slid from the pile under his arm. As he bent suddenly to catch it, he felt his head glance lightly off his locker. After replacing the book on his stack, he looked up to see a large dent in the metal where his head had hit the locker door.

“Aw crap,” he said and touched his hand to his forehead. While it didn’t hurt now, he imagined he’d have quite a headache later.

A few hours later, when he returned to his locker prior to lunch, James noticed the dent again. Hmm, no headache, he thought. Then he said out loud, “Cheap lockers,” and went to lunch.

To Be Continued…

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Want To Be Cool? Just Act Like Me.

My efforts have met resistance. Recent developments have lead to the discovery that someone other than me has been influencing my sons’ interests. By this, I do not mean my wife. An in-house situation would prove far less complicated to thwart. This influence is from an outside source. I suspect peer pressure.

Of course, I don’t mean peer pressure in the sense that my sons are being pushed to do something irresponsible, immoral or illegal. I’ve just noticed that their friends are starting to guide their interests. Their super hero action figures have sat in the drawer for longer than I’m comfortable with. Instead, things like Pokemon and Bakugan and monster trucks are being played with because that is what their buddies like.

Star Wars, Legos and video games remain near the top of their lists currently, but it is only a matter of time before some new fad hits the shelves and they’re telling me they need it because everybody in their class has it. No doubt, it will be something lame and aggravating. It will probably involve a cartoon with a completely unnecessary narrator seeing as the fast-talking, round-mouthed characters constantly narrate their own actions. It’ll be something which, before you know it, will have its own aisle in Toys R Us or Target and my kids will be telling me the names of all the characters as I stare longingly into the next aisle at the Marvel action figures, where we used to shop together.

I need to reestablish myself as the main influence on their preferences. If I don’t take aggressive steps now, I won’t be prepared to counteract an uprising. I need to come up with a plan.

Stage one will be subliminal persuasion. When they invite friends over, I will make sure a Star Wars movie is playing on every television in the house. Return of the Jedi would probably be best. They’re still young enough to like the Ewoks. Note to self, buy several more copies of Episode VI. Also, I will find the most alluring comic book covers I own and begin leaving them throughout the house in conspicuous places. All other reading material shall be removed to an unreachably high shelf.

Stage two shall extend my reach outside our home. Any invitation to a birthday party will result in that child receiving Lego, Star Wars or Marvel merchandise. What’s that? Billy likes Bakugan? Too bad, he’s getting a seven inch stealth armor Iron Man figure. If other parents are not going to get their kids to play with this stuff, I must inject its influence into their homes myself. I suppose it is my duty, for the greater good of society.

This should lay the foundation of my movement. Stages to follow will include structured playtime. Each guest to our home will be required to select either a Star Wars or Marvel character upon their entry and they will be referred to by that name for the duration of their stay. Furthermore, they will be encouraged to act like their adopted persona. I will provide guidance upon how any specific costumed hero would act in a given situation.

Later, a toy or video game exchange program can be developed. We will loan out games we like and borrow lame ones. Then, these inferior games will just so happen to meet their demise while we are in possession of them. Oops, the dog must have gotten to it. We will then, of course, attempt to replace the item. However, because we won’t be able to find the exact same product, no doubt because its lameness has made it obsolete, we will replace it with two things. One Star Wars item and one Marvel item. You know what? There’s also this Lego set we had lying around. I’d like you to have it. Yes, that will do nicely.

Think they can nudge me out, do they? I’ll show them. Before they know it, they will all be nerds like me.

Insurrection will not be tolerated. The rebellion must be stopped.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nuh-uh! I Shot you First! Plus, I Called Time Out.

The time I would normally spend writing an entry has been occupied as I play host to several first graders and kindergarteners…kindergardians?…kindermen?…kinder-people?

While the sound of children’s laughter as they run through the house does my heart good, it doesn’t exactly create the best writing environment. It does, however, spark some hilarious conversations which I’ve had the pleasure of overhearing for the last few hours.

I was asked, “Is that Justin Bieber on your coffee mug?”

“No, buddy,” I sighed in response, my heart broken, “it’s the Beatles.”

An epic lightsaber battle resulted in one combatant having his rear end chopped off. “Now it got replaced with a robot butt and I can fart lasers,” he announced triumphantly. I actually taught them this one a few weeks ago. I’m proud of their memory retention.

Regardless of the eventual devolvement into toilet humor that every activity results in (ah, life with boys) I’m impressed with all the participants’ ability to adapt their arsenals. I wish I were still so imaginative. Major setbacks are overcome by immediately inventing a new loophole.

You chopped off my arm? Good thing my partner here just happened to bring his syringe full of new limb serum. A quick injection and I’m back in the game. Or perhaps I’ll just replace it with the giant plasma cannon I had in my bag. KABOOM! Now you’re dead, how do you like that?

Well, you may think I’m dead, but the joke is on you. That was actually just a clone and the real me was behind you. I just shot off your new arm, your other arm, both your legs, AND your robot butt. Check and mate. Tell me where the rebel base is and I might just let you live as part of my traveling freak show, stubby.

Ok, but what you don’t know is that I’m part lizard and my arms, legs and butt will grow back when you least expect it. Then, I’ll summon my teammates and we’ll ambush you during the night while you sleep. Wait, that’ll take to long. Instead, I’ll use my Jedi powers of telekinesis to levitate my lightsaber and still chop your head off.

Of course, there was a lot more name calling, accusations of cheating and threats of snitching involved, but you get the picture. These things delayed the action for only seconds before the chasing resumed. Their bodies and minds simultaneously pinballing from room to room and thought to thought.

I just had to stop writing this and go ask the group a question.

“Has anyone been murdered up here?”

“No,” they all respond in unison, like it’s the most normal thing they’ve ever been asked.

“Okay, because that’s exactly what it sounded like.”

“Nobody’s dead.”

Such nice boys, to reassure the old man.

Anyway, where was I? No, those juice boxes are for lunches. Wait, no, that wasn’t supposed to be directed at you. I wanted to tell you to clean up after your friends went…crap.

“Hold on, I’m on the phone!”

Now I’m typing what I say. Sorry.

You know what? I’m just going to stop now and get back to normal tomorrow, if I survive until then. I don't know if that was a Nerf gun or my power drill that they just walked through here with. I gotta go.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cap Wouldn't Pout, He'd Do Something Productive Like Punch A Nazi

The Avengers was always my favorite comic book as a kid. Of course, at the helm, there was always Captain America. Cap (that's what his good friends, like me, call him) has to be my absolute favorite super hero.

Now, I know that the Super Soldier program that made him the hero he is sounds suspiciously similar to steroids and human growth hormones. Admittedly these are the same things that cause me to now despise other childhood heroes of mine (despite how unlikely it is that Mark MGwire is reading this, I would like to tell him at this point to go pound sand). However, let’s remember it was a comic book written in the early forties and assume they didn’t know what they were eluding to just yet.

The reason I’ve always liked Captain America is because he was a regular guy. Ok, well he wasn’t regular, but he was a hell of a lot closer to regular than the other super heroes with their ability to fly or zap people. Science made him unusually strong and gave him a shield. The rest was his attitude and mental toughness. The things that made me love Captain America are similar to the things that make Batman the best of the DC characters. It’s like comparing an athlete with incredible talent who keeps his head level and performs under pressure to the many that blow their chances. It’s Michael Jordan compared to Kwame Brown. You now ask, MJ and who? I then answer, exactly. When a guy makes the most of a gift, regardless of how fictional he may be, it’s uplifting.

In 2006 and 2007, Marvel had their heroes engage in a Civil War. The events that unfolded did two major things. First, they got me hooked once again on comic books (it was a great series). Second, they resulted in the death of Steve Rogers, the original Captain America. While I was once again fascinated by the Marvel Universe, I was nothing less than scarred by the loss of my champion of freedom and liberty.

During the following years, I would randomly sigh, prompting my wife to ask what was bothering me. “I miss Steve,” I would say. “I can’t believe he’s gone.” She wouldn’t respond. I know! How about some comfort during my grief? Sheesh!

Anyway, when I subscribed to several comic books in the coming months, I left Captain America off my list. To put it another way, I pouted. Sure someone took over the identity of Captain America (his old sidekick Bucky Barnes, like I didn’t see that coming) but it just wasn’t the same to me. I was upset that Steve Rogers was dead and I planned on showing Marvel my displeasure by only paying for several of their other titles. I refused to subscribe to Captain America. I’d show them. Hmph!

As time went by, my grudge weakened. I’d find myself in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, flipping through the newest volume of Captain America. As it turned out, the powers that be at Marvel did a pretty good job of keeping Bucky on the straight and narrow. I imagined Steve Rogers smiling down from heaven. I knew then that Cap, the original Cap, would not have wanted me to take this out on Bucky, or myself, which is what I was doing. Soon, I subscribed to Captain America as well.

Shortly before my first issue of my new subscription came in, I was reading one of my other comics: The New Avengers. As I reached the end of the issue, I found the final frame was a full page picture of Steve Rogers himself, encouraging the Avengers not to give up.

GASP!!!

My wife thought I was choking on something form the other room and came rushing in. I tried to find the words to tell her my main man Steve was alive and ready to kick some bad guy ass once again. I’m still not sure what came out, but the tears in my eyes must have conveyed everything because she looked annoyed. I won’t get into the details here, mostly because I’m not sure I understand all the made-up science behind it myself, but I was excited and he was definitely still alive.

Even in my euphoria, there was a part of me that stung. I spent so much time holding that grudge and I didn’t realize that I had missed several issues explaining how Steve Rogers made it back to the land of the living. Instead of pouting, I could have seen it all first hand. I felt like an ass.

There is a lesson to be learned here that I feel Cap would want me to share. The lesson is: buy anything and everything that you can, because you never know what it might be worth later or what you might miss out on. Besides, spending as much money as possible helps the economy and anything you end up not wanting can be sold later on eBay.

That’s the American way!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Into This Week's Features

Sunday means it’s time to update our weekly features. Which reminds me, I need to look into recruiting some more people to help me with this blog so that using the plural in reference to myself does not seem quite so…how do you say…insane.

Now that it’s officially Spring, I’ve begun looking forward to the myriad of things that this Spring and Summer have to offer. Iron Man 2 and Mario Galaxy 2 are both due out in May, and with March already on its heals, I’m beginning to look completely past April. So, to curb my enthusiasm a bit, I’ve decided to whet my appetite by making this week’s top five the five best Mario games of all time. I’ve also decided to work from fifth to first in my description which I should have done in previous weeks. Welcome to the inner workings of my thinking process. Moving on…

At the fifth spot, we have Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story for the DS. My sons wanted this game badly and I ended up playing it all the way through. Not your typical Mario game, it plays more like an RPG, like the Pokemon games, but the fight sequences are challenging. Furthermore, it’s funny and lasts for quite a while. It reminded me of a Legend of Zelda game.

Number four goes to the latest release, New Super Mario Brothers Wii. The old two dimensional, left to right, eight world format comes back with a vengeance. It’s added to by being able to play four players at once. While at times, this proves incredibly frustrating because you will push a teammate or two off a cliff, or get pushed off yourself, it’s so much fun to play as a group.

In third place, we have Super Mario Galaxy, also for the Wii. The sprawling, three dimensional world, or worlds with planet after planet of challenges and the ever-precarious gravity makes this game a completely immersive experience.

Second place is Super Mario World for the N64. The first three dimensional title of the Mario franchise christened the N64 and made it one of my favorite game systems of all time.

But number one has to go to the original Super Mario Brothers for the NES. Despite all the bells and whistles that have been added to the Mario games since, the original 16-bit masterpiece still is the best. I’ll still take Mario in his old orange and brown garb over his new flashy red duds.

This week’s sign you are a nerd is that you have a toy of some kind (most likely an action figure) that you keep in its box on purpose. I have one, so you’re not alone. I’m only admitting to one, don’t push it.

This week’s lesson learned is not to build up anticipation regarding the first day of Spring. It just leads to disappointment. Remember, it comes immediately after the last day of winter. Chew on that.

This week’s nemesis is David Stern. No, not Daniel Stern, famed narrator of The Wonder Years and one of the burglars from Home Alone, he’s awesome. David Stern, NBA Commissioner, can eat it. He took a league with amazing potential and broke it down into match-ups. LeBron vs. Kobe is exciting, but do something to promote the team aspect of the game. After watching the Magic & Bird documentary on HBO and remembering how great those guys were, but how great they also made those around them, broke my heart. I thought of what the NBA used to mean and how the game used to be played. I hate you, Commissioner Stern.

The cool ass thing you will never own this week is your own private island. I know you have aspirations of being able to begin your own government, free from the constraints you’re currently under (who doesn’t?!) but just face it, this is never going to happen. Plus, as soon as you acquire one, I will send troops from my island to undermine and overthrow (I call that the old over under) your feeble government and usurp your throne.

Also, please notice there is a new survey regarding March Madness. I’m disappointed to see at the time of writing this, that I have not received an overwhelming vote of confidence in my bracket selections.

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading. Regular posts resume tomorrow.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

iNeed My iPhone Or iWill Die

When I initially bought my iPhone, I did so for convenience. It was supposed to give me extra free time. I was going to use the constant internet access to stay productive. I wanted to pay bills while I had down time at work, check the score of a game I was missing or even just keep up on my stalking by accessing Facebook while waiting at the doctor’s office. I wanted to fill wasted time with things that would normally take away from my free time.

My imagination provided me with visions of never having to be stumped by a question whose answer I knew had concealed itself behind a box of old baseball cards in the attic of my brain. What year was Teen Wolf Too released? Can’t remember, so let me just whip out my iPhone and check. That would be 1987 and, yes Jason Bateman did replace Michael J. Fox in the starring role. Super Mario Galaxy 2? Release date? Just a second…May 23rd. You’re welcome. I had no doubt that I would even sleep better, without waking up in the middle of the night to shout, “The Boy Who Could Fly,” as I remember which movie featured a young Fred Savage with a urine-filled squirt gun.

The iPhone has done all the things I thought it would and more. I can’t imagine life without it now. Do I have these answers at the drop of a hat? Yes. Do I use it to find directions all the time? Yes. But is it worth the price? I’m not talking about the initial cost of the phone, or the monthly fee to maintain the service. I’m talking about the time I spend playing ridiculous little games instead of doing something infinitely more productive, like eating a sandwich.

Do I really need to stop what I’m doing and play a quick game of Solitaire? Who cares? What’s one more game going to hurt, I have time. And one more…and one more…

Has anyone out there with an iPhone played Doodle Jump? The makers of the game have actually included a warning as to how addictive it is right in its title on the iTunes App Store. I saw this warning and thought, whatever (I guess my inner fourteen-year-old girl decided to speak up at that very moment) and went ahead and bought it anyway. I figured it would keep my sons distracted when I needed it some time. Quite possibly the worst decision I’ve ever made.

With the time I’ve spent trying to crack the 100,000 point mark on Doodle Jump, I could have built myself that desperately needed new garage. Or, I could have taken an extra job and made enough money to pay somebody else to build one for me. I probably could have found a job simple enough that I would have had time to sit and play Doodle Jump while I was there.

When it comes to being able to inject missing facts into conversation like I mentioned earlier, I find myself less often adding to the conversation and more often becoming hypnotized by my iPhone. No doubt, this looks extremely rude from the other person’s perspective. My wife and I will go out for the occasional breakfast and instead of conversing, we are both looking down, checking the latest news stories, or in my case, just skimming headlines so I can get around to playing Doodle Jump. Don't judge me! I’m smart too!

Anyway, a monster has been created and I’m not sure if the window of opportunity to get it back into the box has closed. Wow! Did I just mix my metaphors there or what? Let me just check my phone for a better way to say that. And I guess I could fit in a quick hand of Solitaire. Then maybe one game of Doodle Jump.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Out With The Old, In With The Cholesterol

My car gets messy. It happens with kids, I understand that. Don’t judge me, I know yours gets messy too.

I find myself cleaning the car out most often at Drive-Thrus. Notice the spelling: thru, not through. Also, despite ending in a u, I’ve added only an -s, not an -es. This goes against years of education, but I do it anyway. My inner grammar gremlin (what, you don’t have one?) is screaming at me to just make it through. However, that is what they are called. Look at the sign directing you to the little box where you talk to a voice that sounds like it’s yelling at you in another language. Not knowing what’s being said to you, you shout your food order back at the box and hope what you pick up at the window is close to your order. I’m reminded of a rat figuring out which button to push to make the cheese fall from the hole in the wall. This is what I do and I get food. I don’t know why, but it works. Anyway, the sign says, “Drive-Thru.” It’s a cultural phenomenon and I will respect its power over us despite it flying in the face of hundred of years of grammar and punctuation rules.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The reason I clean out my car at the “Drive-Thru” is convenience. They have these garbage cans with an extension on them that creates a mini garbage chute. This makes it easy to reach out your car window and drop your trash into the can. I’m sure you’ve seen these things. Have you ever seen one full? The junk builds up like a traffic jam with the entire extended chute full of ketchup-streaked burger wrappers and the occasional full diaper. The diaper, no doubt, is filled with “fully processed” fast food that, due to grease content, slid through the baby’s digestive system just a little faster than usual.

When you pull up on one of these so full it looks like it’s about to pop, you don’t keep your garbage and save it until you see another garbage located somewhere you can park and walk out to and make your deposit. No, you try and just jam what you need to get rid of between the existing garbage and the wall of the chute without touching everyone else’s waste. If you have something to throw out that is sturdy enough, you may even try to use it like a plunger and push all the garbage further in like you’re loading a musket.

The reason I brought this up is because I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Most often, when I am at a fast food Drive-Thru, the trash I’m expelling from my window is leftover rubbish from our previous fast food meal. Am I really eating that much fast food? Am I really feeding it to my kids that often?

Thinking about this, I imagine the fast food restaurants being like a scumbag date trying to get me drunk. They “freshen up” our drinks under the guise of being helpful and attentive while the priority is really just to get us to consume as much as possible.

I’m not alone here, either. Other people use these garbage cans all the time. And what are they throwing out? Old garbage they had bought from the same restaurant a day or two earlier at most. I mentioned earlier the garbage billowing out of the mini-chute. Every time I’ve seen this, it’s fast food wrappers. I’ve seen countless vehicles in front of me, with chubby arms reaching out their windows to toss yesterday’s greasy burger sack into the can while they pull their car into line to purchase more.

Of course, I could be wrong. These places sell salads too, you know. Maybe I’m being pessimistic or jaded. Perhaps my confidence in Americans’ will power and health conscious eating habits sell us all short. I think I’d be more content to think that I’m a slob who rarely cleans out his car. Thus, when I enter the Drive-Thru line, the garbage from my last visit is about a month old. That must be it.

And to think I was all worked up and disappointed in myself. All this thinking and worrying has made me hungry. I need a cheeseburger.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Erin Go Bragh Yourself

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

In the spirit of the day, I was thinking about something Irish I could write about. Allow me to print the disclaimer now that I and my family have ancestors from the Emerald Isle. What I thought of was Notre Dame.

Their team name is the Fighting Irish and their logo features a short, squat little gentleman in a green suit, balding with a beard (no mustache), his hat tipped forward on his brow, complete with shamrock and his fists raised before him as if to say, “Put up your dukes,” in a thick brogue. I’m not sure this is a leprechaun. I always used to think it was, but the more I look at it, the more I begin to think that the original artist just drew his interpretation of what he thinks someone who is Irish and fighting, or at least prepared to fight, looks like.

Should I be offended? I could be on so many levels, I suppose. The image of this little fellow is certainly not flattering. There’s the hair line, the small stature, the frown. On top of that, there’s the obvious insinuation that the Irish, as a people, are prone to fighting. This is pretty much the Irish equivalent of the Cleveland Indians’ mascot, Chief Wahoo. Why didn’t they illustrate him with a drink in one hand and a cigarette hanging from his lip? Maybe they could update the image with an I.R.A. feel to it, strapping an assault rifle to his back and fitting him with an explosive vest.

Then again, this is just the sort of thing that seems to define the Irish. Not the team logo, but the lack of offense taken at it. The acceptance of it as all in good fun. Not just that, but the absolute embracing of the imagery. I couldn’t tell you how many proud people of Irish heritage I know who have the Fighting Irish mascot featured somewhere in their home or tattooed on their person.

I traveled to Ireland years ago and was amazed that it was actually exactly the way everybody said it was. Very green and very friendly. It’s said that Irish diplomacy is the ability to tell a man to go to hell in a manner that he looks forward to the trip. On one of the many occasions we asked for directions, had we been sent down the path to hell, I’m sure it would have still been a lush green. This was a pre-children trip and my wife and I spent our final night there drinking with the locals who let us stay in the bar well after it had closed and didn’t allow us to pay for a single drink after having bought the first round.

I reckon the “Fighting” part of “Fighting Irish” is just to express that their athletes are going to put up a fight on the field. Becoming easily offended and taking the mascot to mean something it wasn’t intended to would be taking it too far. I, too, should just embrace it.

You know, the more I look at it now, the more I think it reminds me of somebody. I wonder if they modeled it after my grandfather.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Fear I Came Out Of Hyperspace Too Close To The Geek System

The middle of February saw five books stacked on my nightstand in the order I had planned to read them. Yesterday I picked up the last one and started it. This is faster than I’ve read in quite some time and, while I’m proud of that, my increased reading frequency is not the purpose of today’s post. You can see my post from February 26th for more on this. I will point out, however, that I have read this often while still keeping up to date on the six comic book subscriptions I currently receive. Yay, me! I think I surpassed the number of hours needed for the free Six Flags ticket.

My concern lies in what I’ve now chosen to read. It’s a dangerous choice. It’s a decision that I did not make lightly. The book I’m currently reading was put back on the shelf several times at Borders before I caved and finally purchased it. I’m reading the graphic novel adaptation of Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn.

I’ve made no secret of my love for Star Wars. I’ve seen all the movies more times than you could shake a Tusken Raider staff at. My sons have seen all six films multiple times. We even sat on the couch over a weekend one Winter break and watched Episodes I-VI in chronological order, including The Clone Wars cartoon feature between Episodes II and III. That said, reading a novel about the Star Wars universe outside of the movies was never something I saw myself capable of. I can’t decide if the fact that it’s a graphic novel adapted from three original novels makes it worse or better.

Either way, I feel like I’ve descended into a dark, rank dungeon of Geekdom where I swore I’d never tread. Each turned page is like a step further and further into this dangerous lair; one in which I can practically smell the rancid breath and sweat of the Orcs as they forge their battle weapons. I fear the discovery of a Beholder around every corner with such grave inevitability that I simply wonder whether it will choose to use the eye that instantly disintegrates me or the one which shall turn my flesh into stone. The farther in I go, the less likely it is I will ever emerge the same.

You see?! It’s happening already. I never used to talk like this.

I have nothing against people elaborating on the Star Wars story. I enjoyed the story, questionable plot decisions and all, but have you seen how many of these books there are? Dozens, at least. Comic books would be one thing, they go faster, but we are talking full length novels here. This is not a time commitment I can make at this point in my life.

I don’t have anything against geeks, either. I just never thought I was one. Do I like geeks and thoroughly enjoy conversations with them? Yes. Am I impressed by their ability to recreate, verbatim, a map of Middle Earth of which Tolkien himself would be proud? Sure. Can I appreciate their handy work when fabricating costumes for various comic and sci-fi conventions? Absolutely. Does their lack of self-consciousness in wearing said costumes out in public leave me a little jealous? You bet your ass it does.

All the same, while I care deeply about many geeks, I’ve never quite considered myself one. Call me a nerd and I will agree. I had good grades, took honors classes and barely dated in high school. Label me a dork and you’ll hear no protest on my part. I know far too many lines from movies, will laugh alone at my own obscure references on a regular basis, spout clich├ęs circa the Roaring 20's and consistently come up with rhymes by which to remember such things as how to spell dessert, not desert and principle, not principal. I mean no offense to my beloved geeks, but I feel, if nothing else, I have simply lacked the conviction to be considered one of your kind. I have not, up to this point, earned the title. Yet, this choice of reading material may just push me beyond that threshold.

Well, you know what I’ve decided? It doesn’t matter. I’m going to read this one book. I’ll finish it, enjoy it, I’m sure, and be done. It’ll just be this one time and I won’t pick up another Star Wars book. I’m just going to try it once and be off the stuff for good.

May Lucas forgive me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pimples Develop Our Grammar & Reasoning Skills

My seven-year-old got in the car as I picked him up from an after school activity the other day. As usual, he was a walking ball of conversation, telling me about his day, all the things he did, all the kids he wanted to invite over to play and, because he must have been hungry, why he thinks Burger King’s chicken nuggets are better than McDonald’s chicken nuggets. Despite his reasons, when he likes the kids’ meal toy at McDonald’s better, he will certainly prefer McNuggets again.

As he spoke, climbing into the passenger seat of the car and shifting and bouncing around, I noticed something on his chin. It looked like he’d suffered a cut or scrape of some kind.

“What’s on your chin, buddy?” I half interrupted him.

He knew exactly what I was talking about and without skipping a beat said, “It was a zit, but Joe showed me how to pop it.”

I laughed, took a quick look at it, and realized it looked like it had been a clean burst. No blood or ooze left behind. This Joe character apparently knows what he’s doing. Then we carried on our one sided conversation about who pretended to be Darth Vader and who pretended to be General Grievous and who developed super you-can’t-kill-me-no-matter-what-you-do powers in the middle of their epic battle.

Moments like this can get lost in the events of any given day, but can really give you insight into your child’s life. In casual conversation, I was given the type of view into my son’s day that, before too long, he will begin to take great care to hide from me. After we arrived home, I thought about this conversation, what it told me about him and what I could read into it. Some people might be a bit concerned by their first grader’s zit popping. I took encouragement from it in a few ways.

First of all, my son apparently has friends he feels he can trust. Having a medical issue (even as small as a pimple) and feeling like you can rely on a friend for advice is comforting. It seems his buddy, Joe, was looking out for him here and I can appreciate that. There are definite social skills being developed.

Second, while I wish acne on no child, it’s nice to know he is obviously not the only one developing a zit or two. I think it’s safe to assume that Joe knew what to do with this zit from experience. At least I know he won’t be singled out and ostracized as the only boy in his class with the occasional pimple.

Third, his grammar was sound. "It was a zit." By using the word was, he is acknowledging that it no longer is. The concept of time and verb tense can be tricky sometimes for one of his age, but he nailed it on this one. An understanding of cause and effect also exists here. It's the little victories.

Last, and most importantly, this shows real problem solving skills. My son was faced with a problem. Having never dealt with a pimple before, he sought advice. Upon receiving said advice, he weighed his options and, having received what he felt to be good advice from a reliable, trustworthy source, he made a decision. He then committed and didn’t look back. The zit was to be popped, and pop it he did. Done. Back to play time.

Pretty soon, my questions regarding how his day went will be answered with a barely audible, “Fine,” and zero elaboration. My further inquiries of, “What did you do today?” or, “Did you learn anything cool?” will be answered, “Nothing,” and, “Naw,” and be met with protests that I’m being too nosey or suggestions that if I was really so interested in what happens at school I should just go back myself or accusations that I’m just trying to get information that I can use against him later.

So, I try to appreciate these little talks while I still can. I let him just get everything out and enjoy it. Who cares if General Grievous was already dead by the time Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader? I’m not going to dwell on it. To tell you the truth I barely even noticed he’d had said anything about them fighting each other. I’m not that anal about details. It doesn’t bother me one bit.

I said it doesn’t! Just drop it, alright?!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

May This Week's Features Rise Up To Meet You

This week's top five is in honor of St. Patrick's Day: Top Irish Beverages.

Number one is obviously Guinness. It's delicious and nutritious. It's good for what ails you and good for your soul. It makes everyone happier and better looking. Is there anything it can't do?

Jameson's Irish Whiskey takes second place. As far as hard liquor goes, it's smooth.

Bailey's Irish Cream comes in a close third. Mixed with coffee or alone, it's a great drink. The only reason it wasn't in second place was that I don't always feel like having coffee with my alcohol and that's my favorite way to drink it.

Harp is in fourth place. The fact that you can add it to Guinness and make a Half & Half (not to be confused with a Black & Tan, which would use Bass) allows its entry into the top five.

McDonald's Shamrock Shakes are, honestly, not my favorite. Putting them in the top 5 serves two purposes. First, in our consumer culture, around spring time and St. Patrick's Day, you can't help but notice that the Shamrock Shake is back. Second, I wanted to be a smart ass.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you've uttered the words, "Whoopsie-Daisy!" If you said this instictively at any point in your life, you are a nerd.

The cool-ass thing you will never own is my soul. The guy who bought it had a fancy suit and very very dark hair. Also, I noticed his eyes were black like a shark's. I probably could have gotten more for it, but at the time what I really needed was a sub sandwich. So we traded. I ate the sandwich and he ate my soul.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch is this week's nemesis because I am now stuck under it's swirly thumb.

Our Star Wars quote is the cold, patronizing phrase the Emperor says to Luke Skywalker during Episode VI as they watch the impending star battle out the window of the second Death Star.

Last, but not least is this week's lesson. I realize now that it is not will power or any internal struggle that I face that keeps me from being healthy. It is mayonnaise. There is no way around using it. Period.

Regular posts resume tomorrow. Slainte'.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Take That Extra Hour of Sunshine & Stick Where The Sun DON'T Shine

Tonight marks Daylight Savings Time. Remember to turn your clocks forward. You’re welcome.

As a kid, I loved this time of year. Spring was in the air. The end of the school year was in sight. Everybody seemed to want to start playing outside. It was a magical time of year and then, suddenly, you’d get an extra hour of daylight. How awesome is that?

Then I got older. It happens. Prepare yourself, it’ll happen to you too. You’re welcome.

Anyway, as I got older, high school and college age, this became the weekend where I lost an hour. Suddenly a Saturday night out got cut short. As I got even older, it was about the sleep.

One day, I got to thinking. Doesn’t happen often, but this particular day, I actually did it. I thought. Exciting, right? So, I thought and I realized that not everybody participates in Daylight Savings Time. Who is to say that I must? If other people around the world don’t have to turn their clocks forward, why should I? Is this not the land of the free? People came to this country from all parts of the world for freedom. Here, they are given freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Why is it so radical that one should want freedom of time restraints?

Perhaps I have ancestors who came from Burma or Iceland. In these, the lands of my ancestors (maybe they are, who can say they aren’t, I don’t have a family tree to show you, narc) they do not participate in Daylight Savings Time. In these far away lands, people sleep peacefully and consistency is valued. Why can I not decide to live by their way of life?

You want to know why? Because if I did, I would spend half the year being the jerk who shows up late to everything. Conformity is the name of the game. You may say, this is where you are now and we use Daylight Savings Time so get in line. Oh, so do I need to speak the same language or I’ll be kicked out? Do I need to have the same religion? I see no freedom here. This is oppression. I’m being discriminated against due to my way of telling time.

You may think it’s a good idea, but what is that supposed to mean for me? Ben Franklin came up with it, huh? Ben Franklin flew a kite in a thunder storm. Is that something you want to do too? Ben Franklin also wanted the turkey to be the bird on our nation’s seal. Lame. Nobody fears a turkey swooping in from above and gouging out their eyes with razor sharp talons. Nobody looks at a turkey with awe and wonder as it soars above their heads. Turkeys do not sit high aloft in a tree with regal posture. Turkeys are saggy.

So, go ahead and follow your lame, saggy way of telling time. Be a turkey. As for me, I’m going to be an eagle. I’m following my own path. Come Monday morning, when you’re all on your way to work, I’ll have an extra hour of sleep. Who will look like the jerk then?

Friday, March 12, 2010

No, You Cannot Have Your Own Flying Poop Factory...Until You're Ten

Pets are a big responsibility. It takes dedication and compassion to care for the life of an animal. Growing up, my family had a lot of different pets. They were mostly small animals because dogs and cats caused allergy issues. We had parakeets, hamsters, fish, turtles, a rabbit, a frog and even a snake at one point. While the pets varied, one thing was consistent. If it was a pet I or my brothers wanted, we had to take care of it. My parents would help to a degree, but there had to be a significant commitment from at least one of us to get the pet in the door.

This is why my sons are not allowed to get the parakeet or hamster they have been asking for. I know who will end up taking take care of it. I have enough trouble finding a matching pair of socks so adding animal turds to my day, despite how small or tightly compacted they might be, is not something I’m prepared for.

Yes, we own a dog. The dog, however, was here before the children, and as far as its “leavings” are concerned, he makes them outside. Do I have to clean it? Of course, but at least it’s not inside my house.

Furthermore, if comparisons to the current pet are to be made, my sons want almost nothing to do with my dog. Every now and then they will play with him, but for the most part, they tell him how badly he smells or how loud he is when he barks. I’ve tried assigning them the responsibility of letting the dog in and out as needed and this is routinely ignored. He will sit by the back door barking that whiny bark that cuts off suddenly almost as if he thinks something is going to slip out if he put too much effort into it. Meanwhile, the boys sit twenty feet away, watching cartoons.

It is beginning to sound like I’m criticizing my kids. I’m not. They say wisdom is knowing your own limitations. I know that I do not want to take care of a small caged animal of any variety at this point. I also know that my sons are not quite old enough to care for an animal on their own. Thus, it is really my own shortcomings that lead me to this decision. I know that I am currently too self-centered to care for another animal.

When I think of owning another pet and what a low level of commitment I would have, all sorts of images go through my head. I can see row after row of tiny twig crosses in the backyard, marking the graves of all the hamsters who had bravely gone before Mr. Nibbles the Fifth. I can imagine falling out of a tree as I attempt to capture the parakeet I let slip out the door and then, years later, swearing that group of bird sitting on the telephone wire looks like a cross between parakeet and pigeon. These same birds would surely have it out for me and would choose my car as the first one to be decorated by their poop. I see having to explain to my boys why their last twelve fish have just been pulled from the drain by the plumber when I told them they had gone to Fishy Heaven.

“Maybe they got lost on their way.”

“Obviously, they were trying to escape. They must have been convict fish. I’ll have to have a talk with the pet store.”

“They must have been bad and this is Fishy Hell.”

See, none of those work.

I’m not the kind of guy who can change his mind about a pet and get rid of it, either. If I found some other sucker…er, nice…person to take the animal off my hands, I would totally project my own insecurities and feelings of inadequacy into the blank expression that it gave me upon my last look at it. I can’t, in good faith, subject an animal to that kind of emotional baggage. And if it were the type of animal that could be released into the wild, images of it getting scooped up by some predator as soon as it was out of my sight would haunt me. I’m fairly certain I’d be wandering through a forest preserve in my pajamas in the middle of the night, lantern in hand, sobbing as I shout, “Slithers! Slithers, come home! I take back everything! I promise three feeder goldfish a day if you’ll just come home!” The bear mauling I would then receive would only serve me right.

You see, it’s really out of concern for the well being of animals in general that I won’t let my kids get another pet. I’m a pet-related accident waiting to happen. I can’t do this to any innocent animals.

I just care so much.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Third Person Thursday, Second Installment

It is week two of Third Person Thursdays so here's another work of fiction. It's longer this week. Please enjoy:

He didn’t really hear the alarm as much as he was aware of it. It was like the call of a thousand insects in the trees all around him during summer. It began quietly, in the background then forced itself to be heard. By the time he realized it was the buzzing of the alarm clock that woke him, its volume had steadily increased past annoying and into offensive. He slapped the button on top to quiet it and sat up.

Had he been this conscious to the previous warnings from the device on his nightstand, his coming reaction would have been far more relaxed. Instead, his instinct had acted on his behalf for the past fifty-four minutes and he’d hit the snooze button without even truly awakening. He was about to notice that he was supposed to be across campus (a twenty minute walk and a route he had never found the need to run) nine minutes ago.

“Nononononononono,” the word was repeated quietly and slowly and grew in his chest as he noticed the clock’s display. Then, finally, with conviction, he shouted, “No!”

His final exam was surely under way by now. This was one he couldn’t afford to miss. His grades were fine in all his other classes, but this was the one that was killing him. His final quarter of mandatory courses, Geophysical Science was something he just couldn’t seem to get his head around. It bothered him, because anything that didn’t come naturally to him usually was arrived at with minimal effort. He had pushed himself to take an extra class this quarter because he wanted to be done with the required courses already. He was now regretting that decision. This would mean a failing grade for sure.

All this panic and regret was done within a matter of seconds and he found himself still sitting on his bed. At lightning speed, his mind began the grieving process on behalf of his grade. He started with denial and grabbed his watch off the dresser.

It’s not really that late, he thought. Clock is wrong. Everything’s fine.

Anger came when his watch face agreed with the green numbers glowing on his nightstand.

“Dammit,” he shouted then began search for a shirt. “I’ll call the professor, tell him I was sick as a dog, explain I’m a good student, apologize, maybe he’ll let me retake it.”

Bargaining.

He was aware of each step in his mind. This made him wish that it had been a psychology test. He was good at that. The time wasted on the final would have been made up for by his strong course work throughout the quarter. Why couldn’t this be one of his Psych classes? Still bargaining, he thought.

He grabbed his backpack, slipped into his shoes and froze with his hand on the doorknob. He let his shoulders slump and turned to look back at his bed. It called to him to give up and climb back in. He was screwed anyway. What was the point? Get back in the warm bed, curl up and sleep until tomorrow. Depression was tempting.

“I gotta at least try,” he said and turned the knob, already at acceptance. He leapt down the flights of stairs, landing to landing after racing though the hall. The calculations were already forming in his head. The test began at nine. He woke up at nine-oh-nine. By the time he got out the door, he estimated it was nine-fifteen. The test lasted one hour. If he ran the whole way, he would get there twice as fast as usual; ten minutes instead of twenty. That would leave him thirty-five minutes. More than half the time of the full exam. Maybe he could pull some answers out of his ass and just be lucky enough not to fail.

Slamming the main door of the dormitory lobby open and rushing out into the street, he almost ran over a few people he recognized, but didn’t know by name. “Watch out, late for test,” he yelled and they laughed after him. He was normally a pretty friendly guy and thought this version of him must have seemed odd to people. He couldn’t blame them for laughing.

As he turned the corner of a building and entered the main quad, he collided with someone, knocking them to the ground. “Sorry,” was all he called back, without even turning his head. Just keep running, he thought.

He zigged and zagged through the campus, taking any shortcut he could think of. Now, as he turned corners, people jumped out of his way and stared. Could news of his collision have traveled across campus faster than he had? He found himself jealous of rumors and wished he had their speed.

He kept running. He ran faster for longer than he ever remembered running before and he could hear nothing but his own heart pounding in his ears. As more people obviously avoided standing in his path, he began to think it was out of a respect he was generating through his focus and commitment to this run. He must really look like he had a purpose and knew where he was going.

He’d reached the doors of the building and was coming out of his runner’s high, his other senses returning, and thought he could still hear the laughter. Bounding up the stairs, he reached the lecture room door. He took one deep breath and grabbed the handle. If he had put his watch on instead of throwing it across the room during his second stage, he would have checked it to see what kind of time he had made. It wouldn’t have changed anything at this point, however, so he opened the door quickly and quietly and entered.

He felt people turn to look at him as he walked down the many steps to the front podium, where the professor stood and stared at him. He didn’t want to turn and see the looks of annoyance and pity, so he focused on the professor and grinned sheepishly.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he whispered. “If I could just get an exam and try and do as much as…”

The professor backed away across the front of the room as if he’d just been threatened.

“Sir,” he pleaded as he followed, “I know I’m so, so late and I apologize, but…”

“Son, cover yourself,” he said, with disdain.

Had he not been sweating so much from the run, it would have still taken him longer to realize what his professor meant. As luck would have it, a bead of moisture ran down the back of his thigh and he felt it go all the way to his ankle. The sensation was strange because he reasoned his jeans should have stopped it long before it got that far down his leg. His legs felt cold. A girl near the back of the lecture hall giggled.

He turned to see a mixture of reaction from the crowd of fellow students. Shock. Fear. Annoyance. Laughter. One thing was consistent, not a single person cared about the exam sitting in front of them any longer. A patronizing whistle came from somewhere in the masses.

He remembered seeing his pants on the chair next to his backpack, but had no memory of putting them on. Only his shirt.

I picked a fine week to start sleeping naked, he thought.

He sat up in bed so fast the covers were catapulted to his feet. This exposed his boxer shorts and reassured him it had all been a dream. He looked over at the clock. It read ten AM, but before he could panic, he remembered it was Saturday. He breathed a sigh of relief and got up.

Out of curiosity, he went to his desk and found the syllabus from his Geophysical Science class. Like in his dream, he wasn’t doing as well as he would like and decided to check on the exam date. He was a firm believer in dreams having purpose. He didn’t think they foretold the future, but he did think they brought to light what hid in the subconscious.

Finding the paper he was looking for, he straightened it with a pop and inspected it. Near the bottom of the page, he saw the midterm and final exam dates. This is the first I’ve heard of any midterm, he thought. He hoped he hadn’t already missed it. He checked the date. Midtern exam: Friday, March fifth 9AM. Special make up exam: Saturday, March sixth 9AM.

Today was March sixth.

“Nononononononono…”

He jumped out of bed half awake and ran into something in the dark with a loud bang.

“Oh my God,” he mumbled. “My exam! I’m so late!”

He fumbled around the room for a minute, looking for clothes and his backpack. Everything seemed out of place and he was disoriented. He tried to remember if he’d been out drinking last night.

Suddenly, he noticed the shape under the blankets on his bed rise up in the darkness. “Bad dream?” it questioned.

He began to wake up more. His surroundings started to feel familiar but he was still unsure of where he was. “Thought I was late for my final exam,” he groaned and rubbed his eyes, realizing in this darkness, with the sun yet to come up, he wasn’t late for anything.

“Well, it’s a good thing you graduated from college ten years ago,” his wife said and rolled her back to him. “Now go back to sleep. We need to get the kids to school in the morning.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Bread & Pancake Group?

Cereal is still the staple of my breakfast. Part of it is about convenience. I like pouring something into a bowl that takes no preparation and then taking a small untensil, similar in design and function to a shovel, and using it in exactly that manner to scoop the food into my mouth. Mostly, though, it’s the taste I like.

As you can guess, I’m not eating some kind of trail mix or high fiber cereal (do you remember the old Saturday Night Live commercial for Colon Blow?) or the cereal that has all sorts of benefits for my heart. I’m eating the kids’ stuff. I like Sugar Smacks and Froot Loops and what not. I like the sugary, sparkly, magical cereals.

My sons get to pick the boxes out, but, like most decisions I watch them make, I attempt to guide them towards my choice. That way, I get to enjoy the cereal under the guise that it is for the kids, not really for me. If I eat it, it’s just to help. Don’t want to waste food. Your average box of cereal only has a shelf life of seventy years, so somebody better finish it soon. Yep, that’s me, just doing my part for the environment by eating cereal. If I don’t eat it now, it’s just going to end up in a landfill, leaking preservatives into the soil.

Come to think of it, if all those preservatives preserve anything but cereal, I may end up with the lifespan of a vampire. Note to self: increase contributions to retirement fund.

This brings me to another point. Every cereal commercial shows the cereal in question as part of a “Nutritionally Balanced Breakfast.” Have you ever noticed what that includes? Pay attention next time and you’ll notice something. Glass of milk; check. Orange juice; check. Grapefruit; yuck, I mean, check. I’ll pause here. We have our dairy, our fruit, our grain from the cereal. I’m thinking there’s going to be some kind of protein next. Maybe something with peanut butter, or even a few sausage links to cover all the food groups.

No. There it is, right there next to the bowl of cereal that always seems only half full (or half empty? Did I just label myself an optimist?), an enormous stack of pancakes complete with butter on top. Every now and then, the pancakes will be toast instead, but, honestly, it’s mostly pancakes.

What exactly is the cereal bringing to the table?! If I’m eating a stack of pancakes, I’m most likely not going to feel like a bowl of cereal to go along with it. I mean, holy carbohydrates.

Anyway, while I know it’s better than eating nothing but bacon each morning, I certainly don’t eat the cereal for the nutritional benefits. This is another example, however, of products that are blatantly marketed to kids.

“Hey kids! Go tell your parents how awesome this cereal is! You heard the word nutrition, right? We said it, and if the word nutrition was said during this commercial, whatever we’re talking about must be good for you! We’re on TV! We don’t lie! Why are you still standing there? Go! You’re wasting valuable time watching this commercial while you could be stuffing this awesome cereal in your face instead! Go now! Go! Go! Nutrition! Gooooooo!!!”

I suppose I can’t complain. I let them eat the cereal that rots their tummies, play with the toys that they’ll shoot their eyes out with and smoke Camel cigarettes. What? Oh, come on, it’s a cartoon camel. That can’t be bad.

At least I can take solace in the fact that they are getting their daily recommended amount of riboflavin. These cereals are great sources of riboflavin.

Anyone know what the hell that does?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Salon - Conversation - Eye Contact + Men = Barbershop

Prior to yesterday, I had unwittingly denied my sons a fundamental experience of boyhood. The barbershop.

They’ve had plenty of haircuts. Sadly, these haircuts were done in salons. You ask if there is a difference here and, in response, I ask you where you’ve been the last fifty years. You then ask if I answer all questions with another question to which I reply that is none of your business. Let’s get back on topic.

To go to a barbershop is a completely different experience than a salon. The reason my sons went to a salon was convenience. There wasn’t a barbershop that we knew of close to home. One day they really needed haircuts and we passed a salon near the house who advertised they cut children’s hair. That was it. It became pattern. It became what we knew.

For some reason, most salons are closed on Mondays. My boys really needed haircuts, so we ended up discovering a barbershop in the neighborhood that we hadn’t noticed the first time around. It was open, we went in.

Immediately, I was met with the smell of shaving cream and talc. This took me back.

This was certainly not the barbershop I went to as a kid. There were the old design, comfortable barber chairs, but they weren’t patched with duct tape. You could smell the clean, refreshing scents without any burnt coffee or cigarette smoke. The multiple flat screen TVs were in direct contrast to the old black and white monster I remember squinting to try and watch, my barber walking over to move the antenna around, swear and then punch it several times during each haircut. There was no table covered with old Playboy magazines to keep my sons away from. The tile floor looked clean. It did not seem that if the barber spilled a cup of coffee on it and wiped it up, a far truer representation of the original color of the linoleum which had been hidden under dirt for some twenty years would emerge. The furniture all matched and featured bare metal accents, rather than looking like it was picked up that day at a garage sale. Despite it lacking all these elements from my younger years, there was a definite manliness to the whole thing that was lacking in the salon.

We were greeted by the shop’s lone occupant who was standing near a barber chair, watching sports on one of the TVs. In a salon, you would have a designated receptionist to smile and take your name and assign you a stylist. This gentleman turned and did not smile nor did he seem particularly happy or upset to see us. He simply asked two things.

“Haircuts?” And then, “Who’s first?”

This was decidedly more friendly than the suspicious, silent stare I’d receive from my barber. The way he looked at you suggested he was worried you were going try and shoplift while you were there. What there was to take, I’m not sure. Maybe one of the combs from the jar of blue liquid. Maybe the week’s worth of hair clipping from all around my feet. Perhaps a portion of the aforementioned Playboy collection. Who knows?

While my boys took turns, the barber said almost nothing to them, just instructions on how to tilt their heads. There was no asking if they liked school, liked their teachers, liked Spongebob. There was no telling them how handsome they were going to look with their new haircuts. There were quick, surgical-like movements and accuracy and, despite the mop that existed prior to sitting in the chair, a close-cut, clean head of hair was on each boy as he descended from the chair, not more than ten minutes after having sat down. Then a little talc was put on a brush and the back of their necks were attended to in proper fashion. Furthermore, when going to the counter to pay, the prices were far more reasonable than at your average salon.

This was the way I liked my haircuts. There is no need for pleasantries. This is not a social call. Men don’t get their hair cut to have fun. This is business. A silent, stoic barber, to me, recognizes and respects efficiency and results in this process. You came in for a haircut and that’s what you’re going to get. It’s going to look good and it’s going to be over fast. You can watch the TV while you’re here, but when you’re done, get out so the next guy can get in and out just as fast as you did. Such is the code.

After walking out, I knew we would be coming back here for their haircuts from this point on.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Aisle 3, In The Lazy Parent Section

I’ve slipped into a trap. I began buying Lunchables for my sons to take to school.

For any that don’t know, Oscar Mayer Lunchables are cardboard boxes about the size of your average hardcover novel, that have various cold, pre-packaged lunch items. Kids generally go nuts for these things. Why? I am not sure.

I know that if my parents had given me the separated ingredients to assemble my own cold, cheese pizza at school for lunch, I would have been pretty pissed off. Yet, my kids beg for them. We pass them in the grocery store and they say their pleases and their waaahs and their I’m-not-leaving-until-you-get-me-somes.

At first, my logic held strong. I saw these things selling for around four bucks a piece and figured I could buy half a pound of any lunchmeat for the same amount. Having two sons, buying enough for a single day would equate to lunchmeat, bread, and carrots or chips for an entire week.

After a few times through this same routine, I broke down. The boys had been particularly helpful through the store that day. I told them they could each pick one and have it for their lunch one day during the coming week, which wound up being the next day, of course. Shortly after making this fateful decision, my brain’s logic was no longer heard and my butt started calling the shots.

“Hey, dis ain’t so bad,” it said.

My butt speaks with a sort of drawn out Brooklyn accent, and has a smoker’s cough. It used to sell knock-off Rolexes on the corner and once had an audition for the role of Silvio in The Sopranos (AND got a callback). The best way to describe its voice may be to compare it to Lucille Ball in her waning years.

Anyway, whenever my butt speaks to me, I can tell he means me no good, yet I cannot seem to resist.

So, my butt says to me, “I could get used to dis,” he says. “Dis time a’ night, instead a’ makin’ dem brats lunches, yous and me can sit on da couch and spend some…quality time.” Meanwhile, my brain, with its articulate and Oxford educated British accent (I’ll spare you any more printed dialect) tries to convince me otherwise. Deep down I know my brain is right, but my ass can be awfully charming.

This is how my descent began. I started letting them pick one each week as a treat, then it became having a few on hand just in case. Now, the boys pick several out each week and usually two out of five school days see them with a lunchtime of cold make-your-own pizzas or tiny discs of lunchmeat and crackers that took no effort to package.

This has called my attention to a very well defined market. Soon, I believe, you will have grocery stores establishing “lazy parent” sections. You’ll turn down this aisle and there will be the Lunchables, the individually packaged chips, and the jars of already combined peanut butter and jelly. Hell, maybe they’ll start selling pre-made lunches in brown paper bags to take that little sting of guilt away and make us feel like we made the lunch ourselves. The names can already be printed on the bags, too, so it’ll be like finding your child a souvenir keychain or coffee mug from a gift shop.

“Gee, he really doesn’t like liverwurst, but this is the only bag left with Bobby on it. I could get him a PB&J with Robert, but he hates when I call him that more than he hates liverwurst.”

The price of convenience is not to be sneezed at. I’m trying to think of some kind of product I can sell other parents in their moments of laziness. Then I think there’s an untapped service aspect to this. Maybe professional rides to school could replace car pools. Just pay me to drive the kids and you have no societal obligation to return the favor the following week. No car pool rotation schedule to keep track of.

Nah, then I’d have to wake up earlier. Forget it.

“Now yer tawkin’. Ain’t you got any pie in dis joint?”

Quiet, you!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Weekly Features - Now Fortified With Extra Nonsense

Time to update our weekly features…

This week's top five is Power Forwards. I think this is the least appreciated position in basketball, but it’s a position that makes all the difference (it’s the only official position in the four major sports to include the word power). Defense, rebounding and fundamentals are necessary from “the 4 spot” and if you can find a power forward that can score as well, you have something special. These picks go with my feelings as much as statistics. Deal with it:

1 – Karl Malone. There were accusations of cheap shots and him being kind of a jerk to other players, but you can’t argue with his stats. "Karl with a K" is the second leading scorer of all time, behind only Kareem. He and John Stockton took the pick-and-roll to the level of an art form. He was a big body who would dominate the boards when he needed to and could score at will.

2 – Charles Barkley. “The Round Mound of Rebound” was one of my favorite players to watch of all time, not just as power forwards go. Another guy who could score at will when needed, and he played his best angry, which just seems to really fit the power forward position. Also, you’d get some great post game quotes from "Sir Charles". His recent Taco Bell commercials are probably the only reason I didn’t put him in first.

3 – Tim Duncan. Despite my wanting to stick with players from the 80s and early 90s (when the game was still great) I have to include some current players. Tim Duncan is an outstanding power forward. You want to talk fundamentals? You could probably run a clinic based entirely on game film of this guy. And multiple championships. I think of Duncan more as a center, but he’s played power forward his whole career, so he wins spot 3 on a technicality.

4 – Kevin Garnett. Easily the most versatile power forward I’ve ever seen. He can post up and hurt you just as easily as he can put the ball on the floor. He can dominate not just a game, but he’s shown the ability to put an entire team on his shoulders and carry them through a season. Remember he was with the Timberwolves.

5 – Kevin McHale. I’m saddened that McHale is this far down, because despite his ranking, he is the first guy I think of when I think power forward. He played the game in the block, where it’s meant to be. His footwork was impeccable. He won multiple championships. He has a good rep as a GM. He has really broad pointy shoulders, the likes of which can only be rivaled by Larry King.

Moving on, I must address our new features. They are pretty self-contained on the left side and don’t need much of a further explanation here, but I’ll list them just to make sure you notice they are new:

This week’s sign you are a nerd is that you remember your ACT or SAT score, precisely.

Our nemesis for the week is the modern toy packaging that leaves us wanting to smash it over our knee and then hand the kid the pieces, saying, “There, happy now?”

This week’s lesson learned is to trust your gut when it comes to children’s guts. If the kid’s turning green, get him into the bathroom or get a bucket ready. Best to assume something’s coming up.

Our new Star Wars quote for the week is a classic Darth Vader line from Episode IV.

And, last but not least, my favorite new weekly feature is a picture of a cool-ass thing you will never own. This week it is the original Boba Fett, rocket firing action figure. Kenner discontinued it because the rocket was dangerous. I guess it must have actually exploded or something. Anyway, God knows how many innocent people died at the hands of this maniacal toy, but it’s cool as hell and hardly any exist. My not-very-extensive internet research revealed more than one claim that it was valued at over $100,000. If you can afford this and would spend this much money on it, I take off my hat to you, so that I can cover my face with it to prevent you from seeing me laugh at your expense (although, surely, expense means nothing to you).

That’s all for this week. As usual, regular posts resume tomorrow. Just this quick segue into a closing line. Karl Malone (mentioned earlier, remember? Were you even reading?!) was a big fan of semi trucks. Owned tons of them. Loved driving them. Random, right?

Anyway, keep truckin’.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Drink As I Say, Not As I Drink

There are aspects of my lifestyle that have changed completely since having kids. For instance, I used to smoke cigars. Now, if I have one on a summer night after the boys are asleep, it’s the exception. I swear less often. Not that I was a sailor-mouth to begin with, but I catch and stop myself pretty regularly. When driving, I try to drive defensively, under the speed limit, and with courtesy toward other motorists. None of these were my main focus prior to purchasing the minivan.

These are all things I’m conscious of not doing in front of them. I realize that, regardless of what I say, they will look at what I actually do. I can’t continue to smoke cigars and then when they begin smoking later in life tell them not to be a jerk like me. It just doesn’t work. It would be like Paris Hilton having kids and telling them to be classy and discreet in their “personal” affairs. (Did I just write “Paris Hilton having kids.” Wow. Sorry to put that image in your mind.) I know neither of my sons will be driving a car or trying to light up a stogie any time soon. Still, they are old enough to form a solid memory of how I behaved when they were younger which they can try to mimic as they grow up.

Though I understand this, one thing leaves me struggling to lead by example: Beer. I am lost as to how to discourage them from wanting to try beer as soon as possible when they see me drink before, during and after dinner. Ok, I don’t do this every night, but often enough that if you asked them what my favorite two things to drink were, they would tell you coffee and beer. Furthermore, no matter how many times they’ve seen me open a beer, I can’t help but react to the first sip as if I finally gave birth after a 72-hour labor.

Sure, right now, I let them take a sip, provided letting the suds touch their tongue and then sending spittle spraying into my face is what you call a sip. And, of course I do it because I know they won’t like it at their age. I can remember my dad doing this and I remember thinking beer was disgusting. How could he drink that swill?

You know what else I remember? I remember my dad teaching me how to nurse a beer if I was at a party and felt like I was being pressured to drink. Then, I remember going to said party and getting plastered. Knowing how I reacted to this approach, and knowing that they have half my DNA, how can I realistically expect that they will want to try beer sooner than I’d like.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss on this issue. I used to come in quietly from those nights and, sometimes, even talk to my parents if they were still awake before going off to my spinning bed. That proved much easier to pull off than sitting through church the next morning.

I suppose I ought to check with my parents to see if I actually was pulling anything off. What looked to me like a normal conversation with a sober, responsible teenager might have looked more like a conversation with a young Jerry Lewis from their point of view (“Hello, Laaadyyyy,” pratfalls, the whole shtick). I can image one of my parents saying to the other, “He’s sauced,” and the reply being, “He made it home alive and is getting decent grades. Let it go.”

But is this what I want? Do I want to be kept in the dark? Is such behavior just part of growing up? Should their reward for being able to stay up on their studies and not being a complete screw up be to let them go out and blow off some steam every now and then and pretend that I don’t know it’s happening?

I can’t answer any of these questions. Come to think of it, the ulcer that I just developed while typing this is telling me it’s best not to try and answer them until the time comes.

I’m going to have a beer. That’ll take it off my mind.

Ooooohhhhh, yeah! That’s the good stuff!