Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Than Just A Game

I promised to update everyone, so now I finally will.

After much rescheduling and venue searching due to weather, my seven-year-old did play his championship game last Saturday. It was a match for the ages.

They were playing against the best team in the league. My son’s team has also played very well, but the previous meetings between the two always seemed to go the other team’s way. To be honest, I was braced for disappointment. But, I’d had the opportunity and the privilege to help coach throughout the entire season and I knew that whatever the outcome may be, it had already been a very fun and rewarding summer.

So, the three inning contest began with us at bat. The first inning saw both teams exchange runs. Nerves were visible. Inning two saw our run production slow slightly while the other team kept its pace, pulling ahead by two runs. In the top of the third inning, we were only able to score two. The game was tied, but the other team would have last bats. Their best hitters were due up.

Our head coach gathered the kids around before taking the field. He told them it had been a great season. Then he asked them a simple question. “Wouldn’t you like to play a little longer?”

A rousing YES echoed from the group and they charged out to the field to take their positions.

Three outs later, not a single run had crossed the plate. The kids had done it. They had stayed alive for another inning.

To be honest, I can’t remember a baseball game that I had been more excited and interested in, and I don’t find this sad at all. Here was my son and a group of kids he had spent the last several months forming a bond with, pulling off a miracle, holding the best team in the league scoreless in the championship game with their best hitters at the plate, no less, to take things into extra innings.

During our turn at bat, the other team hunkered down defensively as well. With two outs, however, two runs scored and we were in the driver’s seat for the first time in the game. The kids came back to the bench, ready to receive their fielding assignments and with a confidence in their eyes that was electric. They had held them scoreless the last inning with the heart of their order at bat. They knew they could at least hold them to two runs or less.

And they did. With two runners on base, none having crossed the plate, our shortstop picked up a hard grounder, made the throw to first and it was over. The kids went nuts. Hats went into the air, jerseys came off and parents cheered.

But along the other baseline, kids hung their heads and cried. Yet still, they gathered themselves, raised the shoulders on their tiny frames, lined up at home plate and gave each other five.

“Good game. Good game. Good game.”

And as the other team accepted their second place trophies, our players gathered together and clapped in quiet respect for their competitors. They did the same in return as our kids accepted their trophies.

On that day, my son’s team came away victors of the game. They had played hard, rallied together and earned the win as a team. But every kid there did something far more important. Each and every one acted with class, dignity and sportsmanship. Not a single kid argued or said anything mean to a rival or teammate out of frustration. I was proud of this.

Sure, learning how to play the game is important. Yes, it’s nice to get better and win. But learning to lose gracefully and learning to accept winning with tact and compassion is something that is truly impressive.

They all acted like champions.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire(flies Being Massacred)

It has been said that the biggest influence upon a child’s behavior is the behavior of their peers. We can’t pick all of our kids’ friends for them, but this is important to keep in mind when trying to monitor their activity. There will be certain kids in your child’s life who you may need to keep an eye on.

It would be nice to try and have a set of guidelines by which to identify such individuals. There are all kinds of checklists for identifying other problems, so why not friends with undesirable personality traits.

You are in luck. Once again, I have stumbled through the dark, expansive void that is my mind and stubbed my toe on a gem of wisdom. I shall now share it with you.

Keep your kids away from any kid who purposely kills lightning bugs (or fireflies depending on your preference).

We all knew a kid growing up who did this. Maybe they just killed all bugs instinctively. Maybe they liked seeing the bioluminescent glow streaked across the sidewalk for a moment. Maybe they had a lightning bug up their nose as a baby and were traumatized by it. I am here to tell you that, regardless of the reason, these people are no good.

Think about the people or person you knew who did this. Where are they now? What have they done with themselves? How many times have they been incarcerated or appeared on the Jerry Springer Show? Trust me, you’ll start to notice a pattern.

If your child tells you that a friend of theirs kills lightning bugs, start slowly distancing them from that friend. Do your best to come up with conflicting activities during that particular kid’s free time.

Sorry, they can’t come over today because we’re making our weekly batch of Jell-O together. It’s a family tradition.

It’s a slippery slope from killing one of nature’s coolest living things to a life of crime. I mean, really, what does it say about someone that they can so carelessly destroy one of the most iconic childhood memories of all time with no remorse? This has killing spree written all over it. Today it’s lightning bugs, tomorrow it’s a bird. Next week it’ll be the neighbor’s cat and before you know it, it’s the homeless people living under the tracks.

Okay, so maybe squishing fireflies doesn’t mean the kid’s going to become a serial killer, but it certainly can’t hurt to keep an eye on this one. Everybody else gets a fork to eat their cut up hot dog with, while that one gets a spoon.

That edge is plenty sharp for you! I'm sure you'll learn how sharpen and shank somebody with it in just a few short years!

Should you choose not to follow my advice, that’s fine. Just don’t come crying to me when the little runt you let your kids invite over disappears with your wife’s jewelry and a bottle of prescription medication. A little arson might even be in order to cover his tracks, you never know.

Remember I said, “I told you so.” That way, I won’t have to repeat myself.

Weekly Features That I Couldn't Create A Clever Title For

A late update to the weekly features, so let’s get right to it.

This week’s top 5 is things I would put in my backyard if I had an infinite amount of space:

5. A Deck: my yard is one right now that would not look quite right with a deck, but I’ve always wanted one.

4. Batting Cage: it would be nice to let the boys take a few swings any time they want

3. Basketball Court: and I’m not talking a little half-court shoot around style concrete slab, but a full size court.

2. In-Ground Pool: complete with a coach house to house the people to maintain it and bring me drinks and I suppose a garden so they could grow their own food and feed themselves.

1. Fishing Pond: I would keep it stocked with pan fish and largemouth bass.

This week’s cool-ass thing you will never own is an arcade. Having numerous console games in your basement, garage or rumpus room doesn’t count. You need to have a full fledged arcade with skee-ball, bubble hockey and a cocktail table version of Pac-Man. Chuck-E-Cheese and similar locales don’t count either. You need to have a facility dedicated solely to gaming. No food. No min-golf. No bumper cars. I doubt you will own one of these because these true arcades are a dying breed…much like rumpus rooms.

This week’s sign you are a nerd is that people seemed surprised to have enjoyed their first in depth conversation with you. News flash, the reason this happens is because you come across as such a boring geek who couldn’t possibly have anything in common with someone who isn’t wearing suspenders and a retainer. When you happen to come up with a topic of interest to a normal person, they are surprised. But we nerds are a surprising bunch. When given the chance, we can appeal to the nerd inside of everyone. So, give a nerd a chance today, people. Strike up a conversation. You may be surprised to find you enjoyed it. But don’t blame me if you get spittle on your face. Those nerds can get a little excited by human contact.

This week’s nemesis is anyone who attempts to jump in line. You are not slick. Yes, I am going to say something to you, so you might as well just turn around and take it instead of glancing over your shoulder. Honest mistake, huh? Well I can see how you might think the other several hundred of us were just standing here in an obviously structured formation just for the hell of it, jerk. Now get to the back.

This week’s lesson learned is to commit at least $50 to a trip to the theme park with your kids. Even if you already have the season passes and pack a tailgate lunch, something is going to come up and you’ll end up blowing this money. Just be prepared so it doesn’t ruin your day.

And this week’s Star Wars quote is an old classic dedicated this week to my wife: “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Son Needs To Want It More Than The Next Kid

My seven-year-old son won his playoff baseball game today. Much celebrating took place in our household, involving mostly trampoline jumping and ice cream eating. It is on to the championship tomorrow.

Thus, the evening has been spent pouring over game film and analyzing hitter tendencies. Then it was time for stretching and hot tub and massage time so that his muscles are in the best shape possible for the big game.

Sorry to leave such a short post, but we needed to prepare. I'll keep you posted tomorrow. Wish us luck.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

3rd Person Thursday - Being There For Your Team

“You have got to be kidding me,” Bob groaned as he and his son emerged from the ramp into the daylight in section 226. “Down six runs already?!”

It was only the bottom of the second. Bob had been delayed leaving the house and then diverted to an expressway ramp that would add another half hour to his arrival time. He prided himself on being there for the national anthem of every game he had ever seen. Getting there so late made him feel partially responsible for his teams obvious troubles.

“Look, dad, the manager’s on the mound,” his son, Phillip pointed out.

And so he was. The starting pitcher Bob had specifically rearranged his schedule and bought tickets to see in action was getting the hook already.

“What the hell happened?” bob inquired of a random end of the aisle fan as they ascended the stairs.

“Took a line drive off the elbow with two men on,” the man said and shook his head. “After that he got rocked.”

Bob groaned and placed a hand on his son’s back as an indication to continue upward to their seats. “Row twenty-two,” he told Phillip. With the team’s star pitcher out, he hung his head and wondered which bullpen nightmare they were going to have the joy of watching implode on the mound instead.

“Uh, Dad?” Phillip said and pointed toward their seats.

There, in seats two and four of the shortened, four seat row, sat two heavy-set fans, each with a beer in their hands and a beer in their cup holders. Bob looked down at his tickets again before he said anything. Seats one and two. On the aisle. Row twenty-two. And he’d gotten these tickets from Sean in accounting who was the most straight laced guy he knew. Bob was certain they weren’t fakes.

“Excuse us fellas,” Bob said, holding up the tickets.

Both men turned and stared at him for a few seconds then turned back to the game.

“We’re one and two, guys. Just need you to move over one.”

The man sitting in seat four, the one not in question, turned to Bob and said, “There’s two seats left in the row three back.”

Bob looked a few rows higher. There were, in fact, two seats available in row twenty-five. They were in the middle of the longer row with the rest of it filled. Bob had purchased these from Sean because he knew they were aisle seats.

“I see those seats,” bob said, trying to control the amount of sarcasm he let through in his voice, “but I paid for these seats.”

The man in seat two paid them no attention. The man in four said, “C’mon, man. Really?”

“Yes,” replied Bob, “really.”

With a sigh almost as large as his gut, the man in seat lifted his girth from the blue plastic seat. As he shifted himself into seat three, pinning his associate against the wall on the other end of the row, Bob noticed seat two didn’t flip back up. He wondered to himself if it ever would after being pushed down by so much weight, even if it only was for two innings.

After taking Phillip by the arm so that he could expose himself to the displeasure of sitting next to this behemoth, Bob finally sat down and watched the new pitcher warm up. “Thanks,” he muttered to the two men, not meaning it, to which they responded with silence.

Four innings, two relief pitchers and three runs for the visiting team later, Bob was miserable. The tone was set by getting to the game late, his teams was playing the worst he’d seen all season (which was really saying something), and then he had Baby Huey sitting next to him breathing audibly and, from the smell of it, sweating profusely through his replica jersey. This was the exact opposite of what he hoped to get from a Saturday afternoon game with his son.

And it would have been another thing if Phillip seemed to be enjoying himself, but the boy took his team losing to heart. Bob’s eleven-year-old son sat with his chin in his hands most of the game, looking like he’d lost his puppy.

The single moment of excitement for the game came with a solo home run by the good guys in the bottom of the seventh. With no outs, it would have been at least a glimmer of hope that a comeback was possible.

As the ball left the bat, everyone in the stadium knew it was gone. This included Baby Huey, who shot up faster than Bob would have ever thought possible after his performance when needing to move over one seat for them earlier.

And as the fat ass stood up, his enormous thigh took his own plastic cup of beer with it. This ended up on Bob’s leg, running down to soak his sock and shoe.

“What the hell?” he would turn to Bob and say after high-fiving his fat friend and turning to see his empty plastic cup on the floor.

Bob simply stared at him. Baby Huey placed his current cup into the now empty one. After a few dramatic sighs, he sat back down.

Up to this point, Bob had been trying to stay positive. After unsuccessfully trying to burn a hole in his fat neighbor’s skull with his gaze, Bob clapped for the home run and turned to Phillip. “Let’s get a little comeback going, huh?”

A double play and caught foul ball later, his mood tanked. The glass was definitely half empty.

And there Bob sat, a lifelong baseball fan, a man who had never had a bad time at the ballpark, having what he was seriously putting in the running for his worst day ever. Maybe it was just one of those anomalies, he thought. He even used baseball metaphors of hitting streaks and bad starts to explain how things would go back to normal with the next game he attended. Sometimes you just have to accept defeat, he told himself.

He turned to look at Phillip, who was looking down at his shoes.

“Let’s go,” Bob said to his son.

“You sure?” Phillip asked, knowing his dad was one to stay to the end of every game.

“Yep,” said Bob. “We’ll get ‘em next time. Let’s at least try and beat the traffic and get something to eat.”

As he placed his hand on his son’s head, Bob looked forward to the small victory of not having to sit in his car for an hour before even exiting the parking lot. And he was awfully hungry. The nearby restaurants wouldn’t be so crowded with post-game patrons just yet.

The smile had returned to Bob’s face as he and his son made their way back down the ramp. They spoke to each other about how they at least got to see a home run. Bob asked Phillip which team he like to see play next time as promised they’d have to attend another game to make up for this one.

And as Bob started his car and asked Phillip what he was hungry for, he felt fairly positive again, just for having survived the ordeal.

Meanwhile, over the loudspeaker, the stadium’s announcer would say something Bob and Phillip would never hear:

“The winner of the Saturday Cash $5,000 drawing is the fan seated in section 226, row twenty-two, seat two! Please bring your ticket stub to guest services to find out how to collect your prize!”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Brett Favre Of Gaming

Age is a fickle master. It takes things from you before you are ready to relinquish them and leaves you with problems to fill the void. Looks fade and wrinkles appear. Memory blurs and confusion solidifies. Speed and athleticism give way to aches and pains.

All in all, life progresses and leaves us more feeble with each passing year. I often mull over the words of Bob Seger’s Like A Rock in my head: “Twenty years, now where’d they go? Twenty years. I don’t know. I sit and I wonder sometimes where they’ve gone.”

Twenty years back, when I was in my early teen years, I was a video game monster. I was unstoppable. Enemy locations were laser-burned into my memory. My lightning fast reflexes left no level boss a snowball’s chance. I was a titan of video gaming talent, a juggernaut of hand eye coordination. My thumbs moved so fast that accurate measurement proved impossible. I was a Jedi when there was a controller in my hand.

Somewhere along the way, I lost a step. Several steps.

Now I actually become frightened by some video games. A dark room in BioShock raises my heart rate higher than it’s been for a week (which just so happens to be the last time I played BioShock). I find myself running and hiding behind anything I can find in Modern Warfare 2 and hoping no enemies are adventurous explorers who might find me cowering behind the burnt out car before I gather my courage. I’ve even tried repeatedly to go to the ground and crawl beneath one in my panic like a fish bouncing of the glass wall of its tank, thinking each following attempt may prove successful.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I used to enjoy a fast paced game, wrought with challenging enemies attacking me from all sides. I relished the challenge of staying alive in the middle of a melee like a 16-bit Bruce Lee. No level was too intense.

My taste in video games these days calls for a pace I have more control over. I still enjoy killing multiple enemies, but I don’t mind having a little computer based handicap on my side. I don’t see myself attempting anything beyond the beginner stage anytime soon. Games like Splinter Cell: Conviction are along my line. I can hide in the shadows and wait out my enemy. It’s more like fishing. I wait for the action to come to me and should I feel like I’m not ready, I just remain hanging invisibly from the rafters until I am.

I can actually picture myself being a real life Sam Fisher. I would allow the poor sap on outer perimeter security detail to make several rounds past the crate I’m hiding behind just to make sure nothing about his path or accomplices changed before making my move. I could even see myself dozing off for a minute or two with my back leaning against the wall of a darkened parking garage. I would need to develop the skills of a three-toed sloth to keep my grip on the water pipe I was dangling from while catching a few z’s.

But I’ve learned to welcome this slower pace. I see it now as a sort of video game retirement status. Sure, my kids are starting to be able to kick my butt on Smash Brothers and leave me in the dust on New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but there are still plenty of games like Zelda or Professor Layton on the DS. I consider myself to be living in the retirement gaming community, taking in some shuffleboard.

Who am I kidding? I need to get off my ass, stop playing Hexic, do some thumb stretches and become determined to pass the winter stealth special mission on MW2. Look out youth of America. This old man’s coming out of retirement.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Big Summer Review

Time at a premium? Looking for some help in deciding which avenues of summer entertainment are worth your time? Not sure which movies your kids will sit through without making you want to choke yourself to death on popcorn?

I understand your plight and I want to help. Enter, Transformer Generation Dad, your favorite blog (say it’s your favorite, SAY IT!), to help you choose the right path.

Below, I review a movie, a video game and three books. Included are the pros and cons of each and suggestions on who might enjoy each product. Let’s begin, shall we?

TGD Movie Review
Toy Story 3

I entered this movie skeptical of how it might stack up against the previous two installments. I’ll have you know that it did not disappoint. I quickly felt that this may be the best of the three Toy Story movies. Let me break it down to pro and con so you see how it works.

The Pros:
The characters were at their best. The funniest scenes of this film were not spoiled by the commercials. Spanish speaking Buzz had me laughing hysterically despite expecting it. Mr. Potato Head’s need to find alternate food items to poke his parts into also proved more elaborate than what’s been seen on TV. During the numerous amazing action scenes Pixar did a great job not putting too much on the screen at one time. And, of course, there were plenty of heartwarming scenes to make you and the family turn to each other and go, “Awwwww.”

The Cons:
Pixar seems prone to a bit of dark story telling lately. There have been a few moments in movies like Up, Finding Nemo and Wall-E where things seem a bit too weighty and depressing for a child to grasp. These scenes can be sort of scary to wee people and cause a few cries of dismay to be heard in a crowded theater. Toy Story 3 has a handful of these. Nothing that will permanently scar any of your children, but you may want to be aware if you’re planning on attending with very little ones.

Who will like it?
Everybody. Unless you’re a complete cynic and curmudgeon, old fans and new fans of all ages and backgrounds will enjoy Toy Story 3.

TGD Video Game Review
Super Mario Galaxy 2

The sequel to the amazing Super Mario Galaxy brings Yoshi into the action and introduces new mushrooms that transform Mario into even more previously unseen forms.

The Pros:
This is not the same old game with new levels. You have to learn new skills. The enemies are engaging and the bosses are downright intimidating. The challenge level steps up from the previous game. Even the map and level navigation has been changed. Plus, after a certain point, you can choose to play any level as Luigi. How cool is that?

The Cons:
This game is tough enough to leave younger fans in the dust. I know it’s Mario, but there have been a handful of times where I have wanted to throw the Wii remote, nunchuck and all, through the screen. Riding Yoshi is not an easy task, but worth it once you become more familiar with his mechanics. I’m not going to even touch on the power-up mushrooms as a metaphor for drug use thing.

Who will like it?
Adults who enjoy Mario games will love this latest installment. Kids who can play the original Super Mario Galaxy and enjoy being challenged. Any youngsters who have trouble with New Super Mario Brothers Wii, might benefit from a little practice on the original Mario Galaxy first.

TGD Book Reviews
#1 – Mike & Mike’s Rules for Sports & Life

Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, the “Odd Couple” hosts of ESPN’s morning radio show have created a book together. It reads like a transcript from their show, but covers more broad ranging topics. In their daily morning shows, they are forced to deal with day to day occurrences, occasionally being able to relate them to big picture ideas. This book allows their imagination and arguments to roam free.

The Pros:
These two are funny. They don’t change that here. They amuse their readers with anecdotes and insults. Their arguments allow you to agree with one of them for several pages and immediately switch your allegiance in the next chapter. They had a commercial whose slogan was, “What makes them different makes them great.” That still describes them, but I’d like to add that while their many differences are entertaining, their similarities (their passion for sports, their ability to discuss various sides of an issue and their willingness to at least hear one another out) is what makes them great.

The Cons:
As I said above, the book reads like a transcript of their show. Each line is preceded by “Greeny” or “Golic” so you know who is talking. This can be a little frustrating. I got over it about forty pages in, but I can see how some may not like this.

Who will like it?
Guys who like sports. And girls who like sports (I’m so sexist). If you’re a fan of their radio show, you’ll love the book. If you are not inclined to enjoy sports at all, steer clear. I don’t think I needed to tell you that.

#2 & #3 – Spider-Man: Noir & Wolverine: Noir

Marvel often releases alternate universe or “What if?” versions of their popular characters. These allow readers to see what their favorite super heroes might be like had they existed in a different era or lived under different circumstances. In their Noir collection, Spider-Man and Wolverine were each placed in the Depression and depicted in a crime novel style.

The Pros:
Good characters like these keep your interest. Even though you know Spider-Man, you’re still interested to see him struggle to do the right thing. In this version, the Noir Spider-Man is more of a hardened vigilante than the average Peter Parker. It makes for a good read. Wolverine’s tale is one of being pushed to the limits of humanity closer to animal and seeing if you can return. The art in both books is unique to the characters but consistent with the genre and well done. Spider-Man’s mask, adapted from his Uncle Ben’s old military gear, is cool and menacing and probably the artistic highlight of both books.

The Cons:
Both are dark, but that should be expected. I found myself wishing they had changed a few more details about Spidey’s life. Oppositely, Wolverine seemed to depart a bit too much. I was even left in doubt about whether he was endowed with any special powers at all.

Who will like them?
Marvel comics fans who don’t need to see the same character in the same story. Not at all for kids. Dark and bloody. The more graphic panels are not for the faint of heart.


Hope this helps you figure out how to spend some free time. I’ll take this opportunity to pass on another web-site that I found helpful. I often wonder about certain PG and PG-13 movies being appropriate for my sons. This site has proven useful for explaining what is in the movie that influenced its rating and helping me know what to expect without giving away plot secrets. It is www.commonsensemedia.org and it details what you might see in movies, books and video games and what you might hear in music. It seems to just report facts and not be judgmental so helicopter parents can avoid any possible reference to alcohol or eating carbohydrates while more laid back parents like me can be prepared to come up with an innocent reason as to why the two characters went into the airplane bathroom together and came out with their clothes messy.

Now go! Watch, play, read!

Weekly Blockbuster Features

Happy belated Father’s Day to all of you out there who are lucky enough to be called Daddy. I’m a bit disappointed in myself for not dedicating a post to the joy of fatherhood on Sunday. However, I suppose that’s a big part of what I do almost daily on this blog, so I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Besides, when my wife asked me if I wanted to be able to just relax, I said I’d rather spend time with my sons and told her, “It’s called Father’s Day, not Big Fat Lazy Jerk Day.” So, here’s hoping you enjoyed the day and got to spend some quality time with your kids.

On to the delayed weekly features!

This week’s top 5 is a list of terrible summer “blockbusters”:

Number 5 – The Scorpion King
I thought this one had a lot of potential, but it sucked. I suppose this may be why Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson now sticks to kid movies.

Number 4 – Snakes on a Plane
The only reason this horrible, disgustingly awful movie is not higher on the list is because I don’t think the creators of it ever intended it to be a good movie.

Number 3 – Hollow Man
While Kevin Bacon may be our generation’s greatest and most versatile actor and Elizabeth Shue is very pretty, this movie was not good.

Number 2 – Waterworld
The downfall of Kevin Costner’s career began here. Sure, you could catch further episodes of futility in The Postman and 3,000 Mile to Graceland, but this film, sometimes called “Fishtar,” is where it all began.

Number 1 – G.I. Joe
I think I might be giving this the top slot because I so wanted it to be good and it was so bad. Snake Eyes wasn’t in it enough. They changed the story so drastically. The Baroness’s storyline was a mess. Storm Shadow looked like he was a failed hairdresser. They could only get one Wayans brother. This thing was a complete failure in my mind.

This week’s cool-ass thing you will never own is Mjolnir. Thor’s mighty hammer is out of your grasp yet again, mortal. Even the likes of Victor Von Doom could not find a way to enable his possession of it. What makes you think you can?

This week’s sign you are a nerd is the use of the title Dungeon Master. If you have ever listed this after your name, been addressed as this, insisted on being addressed as such, or even thought about being addressed as such, you are a geek.

This week’s nemesis is thunderstorms. I love watching lightning streak through the sky. Few things on this earth look as cool. But enough is enough. Maybe one or two over a summer is fine. You get too many and you have to deal with water in your basement, the frustrating physics of trying to pick up wet dog poo and roller coasters being cautiously shut down for most of the day. That’s no fun for anybody.

This week’s lesson learned is to put sunscreen on the top of your feet. Should you fail to while wearing sandals, wearing any other shoes or even socks may prove painful for the next few days.

And, this week’s Star Wars quote is the normally quick-witted Han Solo’s attempt to divert attention from the blaster fire in the detention level: “A slight weapon malfunction, but everything’s okay now. Fine. Thank you. How are you?”

Check back later today and I hope to have another post waiting.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

As Seen In My Basement

I thank you all for your patience. I'm sure there was nearly rioting in the streets. Without their daily dose of Transformer Generation Dad the populace was surely up in arms.

For whatever reason, my internet connection was down. High winds and thunderstorms swept through the area on Friday and I was just able to get things up and running. At this point I'd like to extend my thanks to the thickly accented customer service representative who put things on the right track.

The type of storms that caused me problems have been sweeping across our great nation it seems this spring. I've had to fight an ongoing battle against the water that wants to make its way into our basement. While it launched a surprise attack early on, I'm happy to say that I've beaten back the hordes of intruders thanks to Quikcrete, Mighty Putty and several Sham-Wows.

And that brings me to the point of this point. You all knew Ihad to get there eventually, didn' you?

I would like to bask in the glow of the fact that I actually used the Sham-Wow and Mighty Putty simultaneously. Billy Mays is smiling in his grave right now over my accomplishment. Of course this may be due to the fact that the rate of decay has caused his lips to whither and pull back from his teeth so that it only appears he is smiling, but I'll take it anyway.

I soaked up the water with a Sham-Wow, cycling them through every few minutes, as I applied Mighty Putty to the small crack I discovered. It was a harrowing scene and even now I feel a bit overwhelmed by the majesty of it all. But, there I was, wringing ultra absorbant towels into a bucket in between applications of super sealant apoxy that you can acctually apply to a wet surface. Amazing!

To think, without a few random purchases of some crap i saw on TV and no doubt could have lived a happy life without, I may have suffered serious water damage to my basement. Well, at least I would have had to put a lot of towels on the floor.

Either way, I'm back and posting again. Come Monday, I will be going out to purchase the Slap-Chop, a Snuggie, and those plastic bottle lids you can put on your aluminum cans to seal them.

Watching Society Crumble

I’ve attended a taping of the Jerry Springer Show. Two, in fact. I’m not telling you this because it’s something I’m proud of. I consider this a confession.

I’m ashamed of myself for contributing to this society’s obsessive need to stare at every train wreck. It disturbs me that I found the sad and pathetic lives that played out before me on stage entertaining. Each time I shouted “Jer-ry! Jer-ry!” along with the throngs of adoring fans a small part of me died.

Yet we all do this. You show me a person who claims they don’t find such trash at least slightly entertaining from time to time and I’ll show you a liar. If not a liar, then someone who is still waiting for that deposed prince from Botswana to deposit the money into their account or invites homeless people into their home for dinner and ends up wondering where their jewelry went.

I’m being insensitive, I know, so let me go off on a tangent to distract you. For some reason, when my sons see someone begging for money on the street, they don’t call the person homeless. They don’t call the person a bum or even a vagrant. Their title of choice is hobo.

“Dad, what’s that hobo’s sign say?”

This puzzles me because I thought this term was phased out several generations prior to my own birth. Perhaps they have a mental link from the afterlife with someone from the roaring twenties. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald has found a portal to the living through my children.

Anyway, I pride myself on not stopping to stare at the accident on the expressway. I do not make a point of watching Springer. I don’t know what time the baby mama drama of Maury airs every day. But I do admit that every now and then, if the show happens to be on in the waiting room I happen to be doing my waiting in, I can’t help but happen to watch and happen to shake my head as I happen to laugh.

I suppose it’s a natural human reaction. Despite knowing it’s wrong, we want to look at the obscene and the grotesque. We want to stare and point. In the case of these shows, maybe some of us just want to get perspective.

“At least I’m not that guy with no arms who was sleeping with his sister and then found out it was really his brother, who, on top of it, is cheating on him with his best friend who is really his father.”

And to be honest, it’s not like watching all this encourages people to act like scumbags. We aren’t creating a niche market. These people are already scumbags, now they’re just doing it on television.

But I’m making excuses. When it comes right down to it, the downfall of western civilization is playing out right in front of us and we can’t help but watch. Each time I feel compelled to watch a show that carries with it even the slightest potential to make me say out loud, “Oh no he di-in’t!” I’m going to pick up a book instead.

But, for those of you who cannot resist the urge, allow me to suggest to you the following hilarious websites (not that I looked them up or anything, and if I did, it was solely for research purposes) that a good friend of mine alerted me to recently after reading our post from June 14th (see: My New Favorite Word):

I think this may even become a weekly feature. I’m thinking, This Week’s Guidepost To The Death Of Western Civilization. I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lame New World - Part 4 (Conclusion)

This is the final installment of our continuing story...

Once William was out of school for the summer, the Huxley’s garage became a beehive of activity. Twenty-gallon plastic containers of solution that could fit five Lego sets each to soak overnight lined one wall. Two thick rain slickers and sets of gloves hung neatly on hooks near the door. Near the floor drain was one end of the garden hose which ran into the garage through a small hole John had drilled in the siding, concealed by the untrimmed grass. And there were drop clothes everywhere. They were positioned to be able to cover the whole operation at a moment’s notice.

Most nights the containers sat full, the glue between the cracks of each block dissolving slowly until the Lego sets were ready to disassemble the next morning. They waited until Sara was at work, of course. But every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, once it began, it was in full swing.

It started with one day a week. Only after schools hours at that. The rest of the afternoons each week saw John and William building on their own. The crawl space above the illegal factory in their garage held a town. The Huxley men had been breaking down their sets and harvesting parts to create their own city hidden among the bins of William’s old baby clothes and discarded furniture that was too old to use, but in too good of a condition to throw away.

But soon enough, demand rose. Eventually, building their own city block by block took a back seat to providing customers with underground Lego products. But that, too, was fun and John and William enjoyed donning what they had taken to calling their “lab coats” and refilling boxes that used to contain complete sets with hundreds of small pieces. They adjusted their schedules to work three days a week. And while John forced William to go play with friends on the weekends, it wasn’t what he really wanted to do, but knew it would keep from attracting his mother’s attention.

The work put John back on his feet by necessity. It was taking too long to have William drag him out there in the chair everyday. Eventually, John was taking stairs, albeit slowly, while William went out before him to prep the day’s harvest. And each time it seemed to take John a little too long to get to the garage as he sometimes needed to stop ad catch his breath, out came William to check on his father and take him by the arm.

John was proud of William. He showed dedication. He was up each morning before his mother went to work, getting a solid breakfast. He showed intuition. When they ran out of Mountain Dew, William created another mixture consisting of seltzer water, orange juice and syrup and when they first placed multiple sets in the same bin overnight and the pieces became mixed up, William thought to start placing each set in its own mesh bag.

Above all, the boy showed he was cool under pressure. When Sara asked daily about what he’d done while she was at work, he concocted stories out of thin air without skipping a beat. He made it sound like he was being helpful and spending time with his father without sounding too interested.

To top things off, Patrick Aldous had proven to be trustworthy so far. Nearly four months after having first confronted John, Patrick had yet to ask how they disassembled the sets. He had yet to ask how they procured instruction manuals. He told John that his knowing would only compromise things. The less talk of details, the better.

Patrick believed they were working toward something bigger than themselves. He gladly took over responsibility for making color copies of the manuals. He handled the contact with the customers and found new ones discreetly and easily. After orders were placed, Patrick met John once a week to collect the bounty.

John figured he had started to feel like they were performing the world a service as well. He and Patrick had decided to only charge enough to pay for the cost of the processing and new Lego sets for themselves and their own sons. John had taken to leaving small notes in each box.

“Enjoy.”

“Keep building"

"Keep the dream alive.”

“Remember when…”

Early on in the process, John and William went on the delivery rounds with Patrick. Each grown man they delivered a set to reacted in their own way. Some had tears in their eyes. Some shook the box to hear the pieces shuffling around and laughed at the memory.

But each man did one thing the same that day. Upon being introduced to John and William, each one shook their hand, looked in their eyes and said, “Thank you.” Most did so with big smiles, but the ones who kept a serious, solemn tone were the ones that truly moved John. They made him believe there was a cause being championed.

“How come he seemed so serious,” William asked John during one such stop as they sat back down in the rear seat of Patrick Aldous’ Land Rover and pulled the shoulder harnesses down, “isn’t he happy?”

“I’m sure he’s happy,” John said. “Some people just show it differently.

“You and your father just gave him back something that he had lost,” Patrick turned to William and said, “something that had been taken from him.” He then looked back and forth between John and William for a moment. “You should be very proud of what you and you dad are doing here, William.”

Prior to that moment, William had not been short on pride in his father. He was proud of him for surviving a horrific car accident. He was proud of his father for getting back onto his feet and walking again despite great physical pain. He was proud of how cool his dad was being and how he was so interested in being a part of his son’s life.

Yet William had never considered that his father was doing a service for people. He had never considered this endeavor an act of charity or his dad a great humanitarian. Not until this point. William was suddenly proud of his father on a whole new level as Mr. Aldous pulled away from one house on his way to another. His father was a hero to these men.

As John reached over and tousled William’s hair, William smiled. He felt proud of himself as well.

With things running so smoothly, it came as a complete surprise when John answered the secret phone line he had installed in the garage and heard a panicked Patrick Aldous on the other end.

“John,” Patrick nearly shouted. “Thank God you’re in the garage. Hide it all, John and get into the house. Get rid of whatever you can, but by all means, you can’t be out there when they arrive.”

John was confused and told Patrick as much. Then he turned to see the concerned look on William’s face. John covered the phone’s mouthpiece and told him, “Cover everything up and head inside right away.”

“I never should have trusted Henry Gilbert,” Patrick continued. “He’s such a pansy!”

“Pat, tell me what’s going on.”

“His wife found a bunch of loose pieces. What a douchebag! I mean, his kids are newborns, so the sets were just for him. I knew I shouldn’t have sold to him, but he’s a friend of my brothers. I mean, who can’t keep it a secret when your kids can’t even talk?”

“So what did he do?” John asked as William hurried about the garage.

“He did nothing. It’s his wife. Bitch called the police, John. What makes it worse is this happened last week and the asshat couldn’t even call me and get a heads up! I swear I’m gonna kill him when I see him.”

“What do you think the police are going to do about it?”

“They just left my house, John. I’ve got mine stashed in a floor safe that even Greg doesn’t know about. I refuse to let him see where I get them from, just so he doesn’t screw up one day, you know?”

“That’s pretty sharp,” John commented.

“Thanks,” Patrick accepted his compliment. “That’s what I mean, I can keep it quiet with a twelve year old and he can’t keep his old lady from finding it by himself?!”

“So what did the police say when they came to your house?”

“They said they had a complaint that I’d supplied illegal contraband to Henry. I said I had no idea what they were talking about and let them go through the house. They were asking questions about you, though.”

John’s heart sunk. As he watched William finish throwing the final tarp over the lab equipment, things seemed to move in slow motion. John didn’t care then about somebody coming in and taking every single Lego piece from those bins. He wasn’t worried about never being able to provide another father and son with hours of entertainment. Even the prospect of spending time in jail away from his son who he’s already lost so much time with was but a secondary concern.

John looked up to the crawl space. The city he and William had constructed was foremost on his mind. Let them take everything else, but let that stay.

John heard his name being called faintly as his head spun. He heard it over and over again.

“John! John! John!”

Finally he realized that he’d let the receiver fall from his hand to the floor. Patrick shouted his name from the earpiece.

“I’m here,” John finally said after picking it back up.

“John, I’m so sorry,but you need to be in the house, not in the garage when they arrive, do you understand?”

“I understand,” he said listlessly.

As Patrick continued, “I’m going to do everything I can. I’m going to call…” John hung up the phone and started the long, slow walk across the backyard.

William said nothing and John told him nothing. He knew William would be able to respond well, though he wished he wouldn’t have to.

They weren’t in the house five minutes before the knock came at the door. Soon enough, the men in suits who John invited in to search his home found the Millenium Falcon in William’s closet. And soon enough, John was agreeing to go into the station and answer questions. He was led to the rear seat of the police car that would drive him to the building where he would spend several hours in an interview room.

John sat there, noting that the room looked more similar to the cop drama shows than he ever would have imagined. As he did, he pictured the tears in William’s eyes as he had helped him to the car. John refused to let anyone else take his arm and support him but his son and the image of the strong, silent tears in his son’s eyes broke his heart.

“I’ll be right back,” John had told his son.

“What’s this about, dad,” William had asked for the benefit of those listening.

Just like I taught him, thought John.

When the detective that was to interrogate John entered the room, he said nothing. He just glared. He stared daggers into John with his brow furrowed beneath his close cut flattop.

“How old are you,” John asked without thinking. The man’s demeanor, posture, apparent athleticism made John feel that this man was too young to be any good at this job. He imagined grizzled veterans talking to felons like himself. Having sat in the room by himself for three hours hadn’t helped his demeanor any.

“I’ll ask the questions,” the detective growled. “How much money do you make selling those things?”

“Selling what things?”

The stare came again. “You know damn well what I’m talking about.”

John stared blankly back at him.

“Well?”

“I don’t make any money selling anything. My son had that Lego set from the time before I was in my accident. He kept it to remember me. I lost six years.”

The detective’s face became soft and concerned. He pulled up a chair and sat across from John at the table, leaning across it toward him as if he was about to try and hold John’s hands to comfort him. “I understand,” he said. “You had spent so much time away from him. And I bet your medical bills have been through the roof. Who wouldn’t try and find some sort of supplemental income to try and make ends meet?”

John leaned back in his chair in near disgust. “That has to be the fastest transition from bad cop to good cop ever,” he said. “Isn’t that technique supposed to be a two man routine?”

The flat-topped detective stood and let the chair beneath him fall to the floor. “Listen,” he shouted and pointed a finger at John, “you’re looking at a federal charge. You may as well tell the truth now. Once we notify the feds and they start questioning you, you’ll be begging to have me back.”

“I mean no disrespect,” John said, “I just…”

But before he could finish, a uniformed man who looked much more like the type of man John had expected to be interrogated by entered the room. From the clean white shirt and gold on his collar, John guessed he was this man’s supervisor.

“Detective Lundegaard, you are relieved. I’ll take it from here,” he said in a very official manner.

The detective was left to say nothing but a quiet, “Yes, sir,” as he shuffled from the room.

The new man stared at John a while. He didn’t mind as much, however. This man seemed to be trying to figure something out about John rather than kill him with his stare.

“Mister Huxley, I’m Captain McCarthy.”

“Nice to meet you, sir.”

“I am here to tell you that you are free to go.”

John didn’t know what to say. He actually looked around the room. Even he didn’t know what he was looking for, perhaps a witness or a hidden blooper camera. “Really?”

“Yes sir,” the Captain said plainly. “It would seem that the only evidence we have is an angry wife making accusations with a husband who refuses to corroborate her story and a single Lego set which we were able to confirm was produced before any of the current federal regulations were in place. So, while we will have to inventory it, it’s mere possession doesn’t violate any laws.”

“So, I can leave?” John asked, afraid to get up.

“You can,” the Captain smiled, “unless you’d like to stay.”

John stood slowly, pressing on the table to get to his feet. When the Captain offered to help, John refused.

“Is my son here by any chance?” he asked.

William was sent for and hugged his father before he helped him out of the room. “They took the Falcon, dad,” he said. “I asked them not to, but they took it.”

“It’s okay, buddy,” John said and placed his hand on William’s cheek. “It’s just a toy.”

John saw Sara waiting in the hallway. He knew he would have an awful lot of explaining to do. But, at least he was going home. John decided he would scrap the whole thing. Whatever Legos they had left would be used for their town in the upper level of the garage. No more selling sets to anyone else.

“Mister Huxley,” Captain McCarthy called after John. John stopped and turned. “A moment please,” the Captain continued and approached John. Gently and courteously, the Captain took John’s arm from William and ushered him towards his mother.

“The property your son is concerned over, regrettably, had to be inventoried," he said to John. "But there is a ninety day hold we put on all evidence that is unclaimed before we dispose of it. I might be able to direct it back to its rightful owner once those ninety days have expired."

John hoped the coded message he just heard meant the Lego Millenium Falcon would be returned eventually, but didn't want to push. Going home was all he could ask for right now.

"You see, we have a mutual friend,” the Captain explained. “Be sure to let Patrick know I said hello.” Then he winked at John.

“I certainly will.”

“I’m sure he’ll be in touch with you soon on my behalf.” And with that, the Captain waved for William to return to his father’s side and walked away.

John Huxley walked out the front door of the police station with the help of his son four hours after he had walked in. As he left, he saw Detective Lundegaard off to the left of the front door. He was standing next to a large white metal cylinder, smoking a cigarette.

As he stared at John, John turned and asked Sara, “You’re telling me there’s nothing wrong with that?”

“There most certainly is,” Sara answered. “That’s an old cigarette receptacle. Using an outdated model like that could be a fire hazard.”

The End

Monday, June 14, 2010

My New Favorite Word

I'm proud of myself today. I have invented a new word. I expect it to catch on like gangbusters (do the cool kids still say that these days, gangbusters?) and revolutionize the English language. It will save time and energy by combining several words into one. It will also provide you with the perfect adjective to describe people who you had previously been unable to adequately paint a visual picture of to your friends. Using this word will open a window to your soul through which something that was captured and locked away inside you has been released.

Without any further ado, I present to you the word in the form of the following mathematical equation:

Greasy + Sleazy + Cheesy = GREEZY

And there you have it. You now have the perfect way to describe someone who combines all three of these offensive personality traits. It could be momentarily or it could be part of their permanent make-up, but no longer will you have to choose between one of these three words to describe someone.

Perhaps this requires further explanation...and illustration.

This is Mickey Rourke as Whiplash in Iron Man 2. He is greezy. How exactly? I'm glad you asked.

His hair, skin and clothing are greasy.

The tattoos, highlights in his hair and constant exposing of his "man-jacks" are sleazy to say the least.

If you saw the movie, you noticed his character's toothpick and Russian accent. The toothpick thing is very cheesy. A Russian accent by itself is not. However, when you pronounce bird as board with an extremely heavily rolled "r" that's just plain cheesy. Come to think of it, the fact that this guy even had a pet bird was cheesy. Who does he think he is? Beretta? And if he does, that only goes further to the point that he is cheesy.

Thus, Mickey Rourke's character, Whiplash, can be accurately called GREEZY.

You want more examples you say? I thought you'd never ask.

Notice the comb over. Greasy.

Observe the leering, licking of the lips, his pose and the quote. Sleazy.

And hopefully the things that make him cheesy are already jumping out at you. I'll give you a hint. They're yellow and green. If you don't know what I'm talking about, remind me never to attend a formal occasion with you. Bowling would work, though. Let's bowl sometime.

But there are so many more examples. So many possible new uses to this new term. I doubt any of you will understand its true significance until you start using it. It'll be like the VCR or the washing machine. You never realized how much you needed this in your life until you started using it every day.



Just think, what word other than greezy could so perfectly describe the following people:



Exactly. I think I've made my point.

You're welcome, world. Use my gift to you wisely.

Wierdly Features & 2 Extra (Non-Weekly) Features

It's that time of the week. Time to change the weekly features.

The top 5 this week is wierd kids' shows that I would watch by myself:
  1. Adventure Time
  2. The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack
  3. Chowder
  4. Camp Lazlo
  5. Fanboy & Chum Chum
This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is the Stanley Cup. Even if you have been skating since emerging from the womb and you are the ultimate bad-ass on the rink, you're still only going to carry it around for 48 hours sometime during the summer after you're lucky enough to win it. You're team won't even own it, it'll be sent back. But you will own the memories.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you find, or make up, excuses to bring new stuff to inapproapriate places just to show it off. If you're bringing your iPad to the gym, your new pool cue to a pick-up basketball game or one of your kids action figures that you "happen to have left in your coat pocket" (what are the odds?) to work, you are just looking for compliments on how cool said item is.

This week's nemesis is mosquitoes. Does this really need explanation?

This week's lesson learned is to wait until the sun is on the decline and it's cooling off a bit before you decide to cut the grass on a humid day. That is, unless you like the feeling of your shirt weighing an extra thirty pounds and being stuck to your skin. In that case, knock yourself out.

This week's Star Wars quote is: "Oh, he's not dead. At least, not yet."

Normally i would have said that the Star Wars quote was the final item for the day. however, I'd like to point out two new sidebar features. First is what toy me and my kids (but mostly me) have been playing with that we recommend. Second is what video game I'm playing.

Have a good week everyone and thanks for reading. Come back soon and bring your friends.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What I Remember Versus What Happened

They say hindsight is twenty-twenty.

Quick side note: Never ask me who They are. If I’m talking about something Thomas Jefferson or Albert Einstein or the Food & Drug Administration said, I’ll mention them by name. When I just use the general They, it’s because I obviously don’t know who said it or am too lazy to figure it out.

So, hindsight is twenty-twenty. That’s what They say. Once a moment or a time period has passed, you can always look back and see your mistakes. Tings are clearer. You see which decisions were good and which were bad.

In my case, my hindsight seems to be twenty-twenty, but with corrective lenses.

What I mean by that is that I tend to remember the past and the decisions I made as being better than they actually were. If I’m pleased with the way something turned out, I tend to think to myself, “I sure am glad I decided on this,” when, in fact, I was opposed to the idea in question at the start. If I bowled regularly and kept score on my own (a mathmatical impossibility, but humor me), I would probably remember every frame as a strike by the time I returned to my seat.

I said to my wife one day, “Getting the minivan turned out to be one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. It makes traveling with the boys so convenient.” She then reminded me that I insisted we should purchase a smaller SUV and that she was the one who said we should just go with a minivan.

I protested her challenge at first. Maybe I was shocked that she dared to challenge the man of the house. Maybe the chauvinist in me assumed the husband makes all vehicle related decisions. At the time, I really believed that I had been the one with the bright, shining minivan idea. I was even proud of myself for sacrificing testosterone points for the best interests of the family.

When my wife then reminded me exactly which car I had been so interested in, the car that I had done Consumer Reports research on, the car that I was constantly printing out pictures of in different color so that she could see which one she liked best as if its purchase was already a foregone conclusion, is when I finally had to concede. I had opposed the minivan. It wasn’t until she had worn me down that I helped research which minivan was the best. I was forced to admit that she the pioneer behind the minivan investment.

Another side note: If I think a specific purchase was a good idea, you’ll know because I’ll start calling it an investment. It makes spending money on something sound so much more responsible. Like the twelve-inch Marvel Legends Icons Series masked Captain America figure I bought. It’s already selling for twice what I bought it for on eBay. Thus, it is not an immature impulse buy, it is an investment.

I had similar selective memory incidents over our new TV stand and the iPhone. I bragged to several people about how I decided it was time to have a phone that would be more useful. I spoke of how happy I was with my investment and how productive I could be while waiting in line now, no doubt to make some other sound investment. But, one day, I gave myself this credit in front of my wife.

“You wanted to get an internet phone, but a cheaper one. I said we should just go all out and get the iPhone.”

She was right. I distinctly remembered that I wanted to get an internet capable phone with an annoyingly smaller screen and buttons on it that would have frustrated me and my gigantic thumbs while trying to type anything.

“Oh, yeah,” was all I could say.

There’s no graceful way to admit that you just made yourself sound more enlightened and insightful fraudulently. Especially to the person whose idea you just took credit for. “You know all that stuff I was just saying I was so proud of myself for? I meant I was proud of her. See, sweetie? See how much credit I give you?”

The other problem is that when you take credit for things that weren’t your idea, you lose credibility. Then nobody believes you when something actually was your idea. For instance, the DVR. I agreed to the free three month trial despite vehement protests from my wife. She thought the whole thing was useless and unnecessary. After having it for about a week, she was sold. You’re welcome, honey.

I also take full credit for the refrigerator in the garage, my use of my grandfather’s old wheelchair while in a cast, and the DS’s for the boys. All of these were great ideas and definitely mine.

While I’m pointing out how awesome I am, allow me to indulge in a bad idea my wife once had that I vetoed.

Last side note: Saying I veto something sounds much more diplomatic and less stubborn than saying I refused to cooperate. Saying I put my foot down sounds bad, too. That’s why I veto.

When we set up the trampoline in the yard, we had a dilemma of how the boys would climb onto in as it was a bit high off the ground for them. I had a small trampoline that I was using for physical therapy inside. My wife suggested that we place it outside nest to the larger one. The boys could then run up to it and bounce off NBA-mascot-performing-acrobatic-slam-dunks-between-quarters-style and onto the bigger trampoline. I pictured children (ours and others that came to visit) landing in the neighbor’s yard, or ending up on the roof of the garage like they were just on an episode of Jackass. This was one of the worst ideas she had ever had in my opinion. I vetoed.

But you know what? She’s had a lot of great ideas. More than me, in fact. And I am not just saying this so that she won’t point out all the insanely stupid ideas I’ve had over the years, like the raised clubhouse I was going to build by myself that the boys could access by climbing out of their second story bedroom window.

In fact, can you just forget you read this? Talk about all time bad ideas.

Friday, June 11, 2010

When Does My Summer Vacation Start?

I have deceived myself. Somehow, I let myself believe that summer vacation would lead to more free time. Not for my kids, but for myself. I was foolish and I admit it.

True, I don’t have to worry about making sure the boys did their homework. I don’t need to prepare uniforms and lunches for the next day. I can actually sleep in a little on my days off because I don’t need to get them to school in the morning. However, none of this took up that much time in my day when you really add it up. So I don’t have more free time, I just have less responsibility.

And come to think of it, less responsibility only serves to make me lazy when I do have free time. I tend to spend my free time now either sleeping or sitting on my couch sweating. The most ambitious I seem to get is playing free cell on my iPhone.

When I had to take the kids to school on my days off, I would tend to stay up. As I explained once before, I have what my brother refers to as sleep inertia. Once I’m awake, I want to stay awake. That would result in productive days. I’d write a lot and stay up to date on my blog posts.

Now I skip several days at a time. I think the quality of my postings has suffered as well. I have a good one every few days, but I often find myself typing random thoughts frantically (like I am right now) just so I can post something without proofreading it before midnight and technically have a post for the day.

I had all these plans. With all the free time this summer, we’re going to take road trips. We’ll go to the museums and the zoo. We’ll spend days at a time fishing. maybe we’ll take in a baseball game.

I set myself up for disappointment.

While my kids get to play all day and have the kind of epic backyard adventures that are still some of the most intense times I’ve had in my life (and I don’t think that’s sad at all), I’m at work. And every minute I’m there, I’m completely aware that they are home, living it up.

Work seems to take that much longer this way. Yet there’s nothing I can do about it. Nobody is going to accept me coming in late or leaving early because, “Hey, boss, it’s summer vacation!”

I really need to become a teacher. Just for the summers off. I think I’d go running out of the school more excited than any of the students on that last day of class for the year. I’d even cheat to be the first one out the door.

“Now class, sit tight for a second or two after the bell because I think the principal was going to make an announcement.”

(RRRRRIIIIINNNNNGGGGG!!!!!)

“Suckers!”

With that, I’d be out the classroom door and running down the hall, my tie and shirt probably left on the floor behind me. Should any poor youngster cross my path, a hip check into the lockers would be in order. I’d have to pass on my urge to stand over him afterward and rub it in, though. Not because it wouldn’t be professional, but because it’s summer vacation.

When I hear talk of schools wanting to shift away from giving kids three months off in the summer, I get sick. Worse, some schools are actually doing this now. I think it’s a crime. Summer vacation is one of the most exciting times of childhood. To take that from our youth should actually be considered robbery. School administrators should be arrested and prosecuted if they even express interest in such an idea.

Although I suppose it would prepare students better for adulthood. It would get them used to doing the same crappy thing over and over every day and not looking forward to something awesome at the end of it.

But let’s give them a little extra time to learn that lesson. Viva summer vacation!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lame New World - Part 3

This is part three of our continuing story. Please check back next week for more.

William was nervous as he rolled his father’s wheelchair in through the rear door of the nearest Toys R Us. He knew they shouldn’t be there, but was excited at the same time.

I’m only twelve, he told himself. There’s no way anybody is going to be mad at me if we get caught.

William found himself thinking about how nervous he had been about getting reacquainted with his father. He thought there would be awkward moments and long silences. Instead, somehow, he had formed an immediate bond with the man he found himself pushing around in the wheelchair. The father who had disappeared for six years returned and had suddenly and unexpectedly become his best friend and hero.

It’s going to be a long walk to Kinko’s, John Huxley thought. We need to find our man fast.

“Where to now, dad?” William asked his father as they stood in the back room of the store. Aisle after aisle of boxed toys sat on their shelves around them.

“We need to find someone back here,” John answered. “First contact must be made here, not out in the main part of the store. Remember, you’re a confused kid who wants only one thing and your overbearing father is forcing you to do this.”

“Got it.”

William began pushing his father past the shelves as John called out, “Hello? Can anyone who works here help me?”

“Sir, how did you get back here?” asked a young man in a bright red polo shirt. John figured he couldn’t have been more than nineteen years old based on the acne and the retainer.

“I’m so sorry,” John said and glanced at William who started breathing heavily as if he’d just run several miles. “I made my son push me all the way here because he wants to know more about Lego. We were hoping to speak to your…um…”

“Assembly technician,” William gasped right on cue.

Just like we practiced, thought John. “Right. Assembly technician. My son is fascinated with Lego bricks you see and he was hoping to find out more about becoming one in a few years.”

The young man sighed an annoyed sigh. “Carl is on lunch right now, sir,” he said. “If you’d like to wait in the main part of the store, I could…”

The back door opened loudly from behind them and in strolled a man closer to John’s age, still eating half of a roast beef sandwich. He took his jacket off and dropped it on the chair near the door. He didn’t look at John, William or the other man.

“There’s Carl now. Carl, come over here, please!” called the teenager.

Carl stopped in his tracks and looked at the younger man. He continued chewing. At this point, John noticed the name tag on the acne faced man read MANAGER and underneath it PAUL. As Carl approached in silence, John noticed that his name tag simply read CARL.

Perfect, thought John.

“Carl, this gentleman and his son want to know more about becoming a Lego assembly technician.” It seemed as if speaking the last three words caused Paul pain. “Could you spend a few moments with them?”

Carl stared a hole in Paul’s forehead and took another bite of his sandwich before slurring through lunchmeat, “Sure.”

“Thank you so very much,” John gushed. “You have no idea how much this means to me. William, tell the nice men thank you.”

“Thank you,” wheezed William as John thought to himself the boy might be laying it on a little thick.

“Look, mister, I’ll let Carl talk to you for a few minutes, but you’re going to have to do it outside,” Paul said. Then he turned his attention back to Carl and said, “then he’s going to have to get back to work.”

“I completely understand, sir. Thank you ever so much,” John said and began to think he was laying it on a bit thick as well.

“Carl,” Paul said sternly, obviously reminding the man who was his senior that he was his superior. “Ten minutes. Then back to work.”

Carl shoved the final bite of his sandwich into his mouth, licked off his thumb and index finger and gave his boss the universal OK sign.

Paul looked at them all with disdain before turning to go. John smiled his best cheesy smile as William pushed him toward the back door with Carl in tow. Once outside, Carl closed the door behind them and turned to ask what they wanted to know. Before he could say a word, John spoke up.

“What year did you graduate high school?” he asked Carl.

“Ninety-Five,” he answered instinctively.

“Ninety-Three,” said John. “Saint Simon. How about you?”

“Kensington East.”

“Good school. Play any sports?” John fired back, not letting Carl think and pointed at the door which William instantly went and leaned up against.

“No,” Carl said and looked over at William, confused. “You?”

“We’re not here to talk about me. My son and I are here to help you.”

“Help me?” Carl asked. He was starting to look frightened.

John produced a one hundred dollar bill from his pocket and held it out to Carl. As Carl reached forward slowly to take it, John snatched it away.

“Do you even know why I’m giving that to you?” John asked.

“To help me?”

“Sure, right, to help you. But you have to help me first.”

Carl shook his head. “Mister, I…”

“Don’t Mister me. I’m only two years older than you. How much older are you than Paul back there?”

Carl sighed. “I think like thirteen years.”

“He doesn’t call you mister or sir does he?”

Carl narrowed his eyes at John and said simply, “No.”

“Now you and I remember what Lego bricks used to be like. We loved putting them together ourselves. That’s probably why you took this job and why you continue to do it despite having to take orders from some kid you’d have to buy liquor for. Am I right?”

Carl folded his arms in front of his chest and let them rest on his oversized belly. “I can’t give you the unassembled sets. They track them and everything. There’s no way I could get them out of here without logging in that they’ve been built. Should a single piece cause problems, I’d be out of a job. A job I do like, thank you very much. You’re not the first guy to try this and the answer is no.” Carl reached for the door and William continued to stand in front of it.

William felt himself tense his muscles instinctively. His plan was to keep Carl from going back inside at any cost. His father had told him they weren’t going to take no for an answer today and William was determined not to disappoint.

“I understand,” said John. “You can assemble the sets. I just want the manuals. Just copies, in fact.”

Carl stopped and looked at John suspiciously. “What good is that? How are you going to get unassembled sets?”

“None of your concern,” John answered. “I just want to borrow your manuals for an hour to make copies and return them back here to you without anyone knowing. What’s the harm in that?”

Carl played along. “I suppose a manual’s not dangerous without any pieces. Just want to see how they used to be built, right?”

“Exactly,” John smiled.

Carl looked around and then asked quietly, “How many manuals do you want for that hundred?”

“I want only one this time,” John said. “That one.”

John pointed at his son and Carl turned to look. William was holding up the cut out picture from the front of the box the yellow jet had come in. Carl found himself wondering where the kid had been keeping that piece of cardboard and how he had produced it so quickly, but his attention went back to the hundred that John still held in his hand.

“I’m paying you extra for good faith this time,” John continued. “It’s a little extra tip for helping out. The next time we come by, we can agree on a set price per manual. You’ll know which manual we’ll want because we’ll buy that set. Then we can meet at a location of your choosing and exchange cash for manual each time. Agreed?”

John held out the bill. Carl reached forward to take it slowly as if he expected John to pull it away again. After placing his fingers on it, he took it from John’s hand, shoved it quickly into the pocket of his overstretched khakis and said, “Agreed. I’ll be right back.”

And that was how John Huxley and his son William began their new hobby and how Carl Poglowski started to make side income.

John and William assembled the jet that same night and again the next night and again the night after that. They did this for a week straight. Every Wednesday, they went to the same Toys R Us and bought a new set. And every Wednesday, they met Carl at the rear of the store where they were handed the corresponding manual.

This went on for several weeks. The only change in this routine came when Carl decided it was too risky to keep letting John and William leave with the manuals. For a slightly higher fee, mostly to cover the costs, Carl explained, he could make color copies of the manuals for them.

John agreed that the trips to Kinko’s were too risky. Plus, he respected Carl for trying to streamline the process. If it put a few extra bucks in Carl’s pocket at the same time, he was willing to accept that.

So, once a week, John and William would have a new Lego set. Upon returning home each Wednesday, that set would soak overnight in a sealed bucket of acetone nail polish remover and Mountain Dew. Then it would be broken down and assembled for six consecutive nights until the next new set was acquired.

John and his son spent the days looking over the new Lego sets to come out. They planned which set would come next. Wednesdays couldn’t come often enough.

But one day, something happened. It was an accident. Completely unexpected. It placed the whole Huxley operation in jeopardy.

William’s friend, Greg Aldous, had been over to the house to play. When his father, Patrick, had arrived to pick Greg up, he and John struck up a conversation. They spoke frankly of how much things had changed over the last several years. John described what it was like to lose so much time. He got the distinct impression that Patrick felt the same way he did about recent safety regulations when he sighed and said, “I suppose we just have to accept that things will never be quite the same.”

“Amen,” said John.

The two men then heard William’s voice from behind the closed door of his bedroom where he and Greg were still at. “Dad!” William called. “Can you come in here?”

John rolled over to the bedroom door. William peeked his head out as he cracked the door open. “Sorry, Mr. Aldous, but I just wanted my dad to come in,” William said.

In hindsight, John knew he should have given what he did next more thought. He realized that his excitement over the normal conversation he had just had with a fellow adult and father left him with his guard down. Had John not been worried about being polite to Patrick Aldous, he wouldn’t have pushed the door open the rest of the way and told William, “It’s fine, just open the…” He also would have probably finished his sentence without being frozen in place by what he saw.

There, on the floor of William’s bedroom, lay the yellow jet, the subject of their first experiment, in pieces. William and Greg stood on either side of it, their eyes like saucers. And when John turned to look at Patrick, he discovered his eyes looked just as wide.

“Oh God,” John moaned as his mind scrambled to find words. “We talked about this,” he scolded William and then turned to Patrick. “That was a set we had built together before my, you know…accident. When the new regulations were passed, he hid it from his mother and just showed it to me recently. She still doesn’t even know he has it.”

Patrick nodded empathetically. “I understand,” he said. “But you boys know you’re not supposed to play with these anymore, right?”

“Yes, dad,” and, “Yes Mr. Aldous,” Greg and William said in unison.

“I don’t see any problem with this one little set,” Patrick said to John. “It’s not like anybody got hurt, and Lord knows we survived somehow.”

“Thank you,” John said sincerely.

“Now, Greg, come on, your mother has dinner waiting at home.”

Greg put his shoes on, said his thanks and went to the front door.

“You go wait by the car a second,” his father told him and then said, “It was nice talking with you, John.” Patrick then looked toward his car at Greg and quickly leaned in close to John before he could respond. “I want in,” he said.

John’s heart stopped. “I’m sorry?”

“We both know that Lego set was just released within the last year. There’s no way you and Billy built that together prior to your accident.”

John stared at him, motionless.

“I think all these safety regulations are bullshit. Our kids should be allowed to play with toys that they want to pay with. So, what I’m saying to you is: I…want…in.”

John Huxley swallowed and hoped that Patrick Aldous would prove to be as trustworthy as his first impression led him to believe.

To be continued...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Geology

Summer vacation is the perfect opportunity to continue my sons’ education. They are away from the social pressures of other children and their minds have been left pliable from all the learning they’ve done over the past nine months.

During the next three months I plan on putting them through a rigorous course of study. While their school does a great job with their math and reading skills and even introduces them to computers and art, they are severely lacking in one critical area of study.

Rock.

I have been nothing less than disturbed by their choice in music lately. Apparently the exposure they received to pop music was dramatically increased while in the presence of other kids their age. They relay to me the details of their discussions with their classmates by telling me everyone in their class like “that one song that goes…” It’s never a song I know.

When I put the radio on in the car, they used to ask me to stop when something guitar heavy came on. Now they shout “leave it on” for dance music. This has reminded me why I hate Kidz Bop.

My wife enjoys this because she, like all girls, likes to listen to dance music. So, when she turns on the radio and a hip hop song the boys recognize comes on, she smiles and turns it up. Then, while the rest of the car is bopping their heads and occasionally singing along, I’m wondering if I could survive rolling out of the car door to the asphalt below at thirty miles per hour.

“Take the wheel for a second, honey.”

When I sent them to school late last August, their favorite songs were Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls and Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. They were begging me to play Coheed & Cambria’s Welcome Home so they could stomp around the house to it. Now they’d rather hear Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber or Ke$ha. (That’s right, I spelled it with the dollar sign. Think what I may about her music, I still feel the need to write the girl’s name the asinine way she insists on spelling it. She deserves at least that much.)

This will not due. I’m giving them a week off, but reprogramming will begin first thing in the morning next Monday when they awake at seven AM to the synthesizer track from Baba O’Reilly at maximum volume. We will then debate over cereal why Happy Jack was so damn happy and I will demonstrate how the sound of the spoon against my mug as I stir my coffee sounds a great deal like the percussion from Magic Bus. After this, we will do some exercises in the basement with Rock Band 2. The most Keith Moon-like performance on Won’t Get Fooled Again will get to pick what’s for lunch.

As you can see, the first day will be quite Who intensive. I think they’re a good band to start with for my kids’ ages. You can always get their attention with Boris The Spider if they start to get bored.

Once The Who lays down a solid base for me (or maybe lays down some solid bass, get it? Ha!) I’ll progress to the Beatles, whose songs the boys immediately recognize as I sing them around the house even though the annoyance in their voices upon doing so needs to be eradicated.

There are so many bands yet so little time. Eventually we’ll get to Van Halen as I’m curious to see if they are David Lee Roth or Sammy Haggar fans. This decision ought to be a defining moment in every young boy’s life. By the time school is back in session I plan to have covered Metallica and be on Kings of Leon, The Killers and The White Stripes so that they can go in and influence their peers to be a little more hard core while still seeming contemporary.

I’m confident that their respect for rock will return in good time. I need only be patient and stay the course. And possibly break the radio in the minivan so that it’s stuck on the classic rock station and jam a Springsteen album in the CD player permanently.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Respect Your Roots, Steve

The rivalry between Apple and Microsoft is well known. Perhaps the only better known conflict is that in the Middle East.

Even though I have always been a PC owner, I will admit that Apple has some really quality products. The iPod has changed my life. The iPad seems pretty cool. My wife’s Apple seems to run smoother and freeze far less often than my PC (that’s why I’m writing this on it right now).

Microsoft is often criticized for its attempts to monopolize markets. I, for one, am frustrated every time I have to tell my computer that I don’t want Windows Media Player to be my default music player. It reminds me of a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Dave, are you aware that you don’t have Windows Media Player set as your default music player?

Yes, HAL, I know.

I could switch that over for you, Dave.

You ask me that every time I boot up, HAL. I’m running iTunes.

I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Dave. Why don’t you just let me switch it to Windows Media Player?

No, HAL, I want iTunes.

I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t hear you. I’m going to switch it to Windows Media Player. We both know it’s for the best.

It’s the little things that frustrate me about Microsoft. The constant effort to change my default settings. The fact that the little system tray at the bottom of the screen is constantly running about a dozen programs whose purpose is a complete mystery to me. The fact that if I leave my computer on for twenty-four hours, it hides all my desktop icons and becomes unresponsive, allowing me to do nothing but helplessly maneuver the mouse pointer around the screen with nothing to click on. I consider this the operating system equivalent of taking your ball and going home. These are the things that have me seriously considering switching over to a Mac whenever the time comes to buy a new desktop.

But, there is one category where I will give Microsoft the nod over Apple. Not the Flash Player debate, that’s a whole different issue. It’s something far more basic but gets my respect.

I give Bill Gates more nerd props than Steve Jobs.

You know damn well that anybody who has spent as much time as the two of them dealing with computers is a complete geek. Before there was anywhere near a million dollars in either of their pockets, there were thousands upon thousands of hours spent in solitude, more than likely in a darkened basement without any female interaction, because we all know talking to mom doesn’t count.

With this in mind, just look at the two of them. Bill Gates still looks like a geek. I imagine he had the same haircut in the seventies. He wears sweaters. He’s sort of hunched over. I would believe his glasses were military issue if he looked like he could have ever been anywhere close to the sort of physical shape needed to get into any branch of the military. He still sounds like a nerd.

Take Steve Jobs on the other hand. He’s got the rimless glasses. He does the whole non-collared shirt thing all the time. Shaves his head, yet grows facial hair. All signs of trying to hide the geek inside.

It’s shameless, really. He’s tried to deny who he is on an aesthetic level. He’s the geek who was sort of likeable until he gained a little popularity and suddenly acted like a complete douche. He’s Patrick Dempsey in Can’t Buy Me Love.

Steve, I love your products, but you suck at this. It’s not working. You don’t look cool, you just look like a geek who is trying to look cool. Give it up. Not that you need the money but if you start wearing dress shirts and khakis, maybe with the occasional Star Trek tie to spice things up a bit, I will go out and buy a Mac tomorrow.

Until then, I have to seriously consider sticking with a PC.