Tuesday, August 31, 2010

John Madden Said, "I Will Make A Football Game In My Image." And John Madden Saw What He Had Made And It Was Good.

I hope that, if you are reading this, you read this blog regularly. Yet I also hope that you have developed a coping strategy for dealing with a lack of new material. I say this because I picked up Madden 11 yesterday and plan on beginning my franchise as soon as I'm done writing this post.

Ever since reading about the new play calling system in Game Informer magazine, I have been intrigued. Calling plays more like a real football team? I'm all about realism when it comes to my video games but, surprisingly, not when it comes to real life. The enhanced controls I came to love in last years edition? Awesome. Playing a full game in under half an hour? Sign me the @*#! up.

I was so excited, in fact, that I broke one of my cardinal rules of sports video games. Do not buy back to back years unless your favorite team had an absolutely kick-ass year and they will be dominant on the new version. My team had a decidedly mediocre season and is not expected to fair any better this season. Maybe I'll play as the Jets.

This lead me to think that this time saving play calling system might actually lead me to playing more. Before, I would fit a game in and arrive to my scheduled event late, frustrated it took so long to play a game. Now, I may just skip my responsibilities altogether so that I can push through the regular season and get into the playoffs already. And since I've already made it to the playoffs, why not just cruise through those and get my off season work done and out of the way? Playing Madden now may be more like playing Tecmo Bowl. I'll try to complete an entire season in a single day.

I think this is an interesting conundrum and would love to write more, exploring the issue further, but I'm actually sweating in anticipation right now, so I want to get to the console before I stain the pits on this t-shirt (it's one of my favorites).

I'll be sure to post and let you know what I think of EA Sports' revolutionary new play calling system. Expect to hear from me in a few weeks when I venture out of my bedroom and am able to face sunlight again.

Monday, August 30, 2010

School Daze

Today was my sons’ first day back to school. Very exciting.

While they are entering second and first grade, respectively, one would think that the first day of a new school year would still serve up a helping of nerves. I saw a few kids with tears in their eyes and I wouldn’t have been surprised or even disappointed had either of my sons held on to mine or my wife’s legs a little while, trying to avoid facing the inevitable.

But they did just fine. They got up on time, got dressed, smiled at their friends and entered the school without hesitation.

My wife and I were able to accompany them in because our first grader had enough supplies in his backpack to embark on a months long, intensive arts and crafts expedition in the arctic. I respect a teacher who picks either markers, crayons or colored pencils and sticks with it. And if we need to send all three, do they really need two boxes of crayons? Can’t you just send a note home when the first box is running thin? Is she taking this stuff home to her own kids?

Anyway, the only one who was really stressed out on this first day in a new grade was yours truly. I don’t handle crowds well. I think it has something to do with that time as a kid when I thought I was grabbing on to my mom’s leg at the grocery store as I stared at the really fat guy and then realized that the leg I was grabbing was much too large to be my mother’s, finding out as I looked up that it belonged to some completely separate really fat guy. I can still see the sweat stains on the thighs of his slacks to this day.

So there I was, trying to hold on to my seven-year-old’s hand, pretending it was for his comfort, and get him to his room so we could help our six-year-old empty his gear into his locker, all the while bumping into the shoulders of other parents who seemed to find all this mayhem completely normal. I had to bite my lip in order to resist the two urges I had. The first was to scream. The second was to stick my very long arms out like a T and spin around, knocking down anyone unfortunate enough to be within reach, but effectively creating some space around myself.

Thankfully, my hopes to be involved in my sons’ ventures into organized, school sponsored sports remained intact as I was able to keep from doing either of those.

I did, however, nearly punt my oldest son across the hall into his new classroom in an attempt to retreat quickly back to where my wife and youngest son stood near his room. Maybe there the walls would not feel like they were closing in around me as I became trampled under the feet of a thousand PTA members. Maybe I could escape into the first grade classroom and get some air. Precious, precious air.

And then, of course, I felt like a jerk when my wife called to my eldest for the hug and kiss that I had failed to instruct him to give her. His wits still about him, he obliged and went happily to his room while I stood frozen in the rushing river of humanity about me.

I’m not sure how I made it out of the crowd, but I have an image in my head of my wife dragging me from behind by the collar and then performing CPR, my head resting on the foamy alphabet squares that line the first grade floor. There’s no other explanation for how I managed to survive.

But survive I did. Yet another first day come and gone. All the butterflies and jitters were for naught.

Now, to avoid having to go through that again, I’ll need to establish a system by which the boys will dive out of the sliding doors on the side of the minivan as it slows down to 10 mph next to the school. It’s all about the tuck and roll.


New Features, Loyal readers

A day late on this week’s features, but better late than never.

This week’s top 5 is my preseason Super Bowl picks. I personally guarantee these picks which will mean less to you the better you know me:

5 – Indianapolis Colts: While you can never count Peyton Manning out, I think the rest of his team is on the decline and the league has figured out how to play against him a little better. Still, they snuck into the 5 spot.

4 – New England Patriots: I don’t want them to win seeing as they’ve done their share for the new century already, but Tom Brady is playing with a chip on his shoulder.

3 – New Orleans Saints: I hate picking any NFL team to repeat because it’s such a difficult league to do it in, but I don’t see them losing much from last year when they won it all so I can’t bring myself to put them any lower than 3.

2 – Green Bay Packers: As much as I hate this, they look good. I will not say any more because they don’t deserve it.

1 – New York Jets: Ok, I know everybody and their grandmother’s dog are picking this team and maybe I’ve just been watching too much of HBO’s Hard Knocks, but I think these guys are on to something. I tried my best to put somebody in front of them, but my hatred for the Packers and my staunch belief that defense wins championships in any sport left me with everybody’s sexy pick on the top of the heap. Sue me.

This week’s cool-ass thing you will never own is an NFL team. The league is so popular and generates such amazingly high revenue that you couldn’t even sniff the price on the Lions right now. Of course, if you’re able to afford season tickets for decent seats at the current ticket prices you’re awfully close to buying your own team anyway. Hell, doing so might save you money.

This week’s sign you are a nerd is that you take offense to somebody calling the graphic novel you are reading a comic book. It’s got pictures and words on every page so while it’s technically a graphic novel, you can’t blame anyone for the confusion.

This week’s nemesis is my pool. While I try to squeeze two more weeks of life out of it, it tries to collect algae. Armed with chemicals, my son’s snorkel and an old toothbrush, I’ve managed to clean it out. Still, then the pool just sits and taunts me, knowing what a pain it’s going to be for me to drain it when I do decide it’s time.

This week’s lesson learned is to let your dog outside quickly if he’s whining at the back door. The older the dog is, the more likely you’ll be cleaning something off the floor if you don’t get to him soon.

This week’s equation is:

N is a novel, f represents fight scenes, d is for drawings, p is for pretentiousness, and G is graphic.

This week’s Star Wars quote pays tribute to my methods of Super Bowl picks: “Never tell me the odds.”

Hope everyone’s doing well and enjoying the new school year. Thanks for reading.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Trike To Bike In Under 48 Hours

My eldest son has done things pretty quickly for the most part. He’s not composing symphonies, writing software from scratch or doing my taxes for me. He did, however, skip crawling to go straight to walking, recognize all his letters before setting foot in school and now picks up a book and reads quietly as often as he watches television.

While there are plenty of ways he’s developed quickly and independently, there was one thing he refused to attempt. He had absolutely no interest in learning how to ride his bicycle. Part of this may be because he has one of the most bad-ass three-wheel vehicles ever invented (the Razor Rip-Rider 360 tricycle, Transformer Generation Dad recommended, see Buy Your Kids…) or it may have been nerves. Either way, his friends and his younger brother’s friends were all cruising down the block on their bikes while his sat in the garage collecting dust.

A few weeks ago, my father stepped forward with an idea of how to painlessly teach my son how to ride his bicycle. The technique seemed crazy to me and was definitely not the method my father used to teach me how to ride. He taught me and my brothers the old fashioned way: he ran along with us and let go, watching us scrape our knees day after day for a week or two until we got sick of falling and decided to figure it out. In hindsight, I’m sure he wished this new way of learning how to ride had been shown to him. He deserves all the credit in the world for passing it on to me.

Step one was very counter-intuitive. Take the training wheels off.

But don’t stop there. Take the pedals off as well. Then, lower the seat as far as it will go. If your child can have their butt on the seat and their feet on the ground at the same time, the rest is easy. If they can’t, either get them a smaller bike, wait until they get taller, or put the pedals and training wheels back on and do it the old fashioned way, you dinosaur.

Once your child can keep the bike standing upright while being on the seat, have them hold it there awhile. Then, tell them to lift both feet slightly off the ground and try to keep the bike standing. No rolling, no falling, just lifting their feet an inch or two off the ground to see if they can keep it balanced for a few seconds before it tips to one side.

You’ll see them quickly be able to increase in ability. They will be keeping the bike upright longer and longer. The other thing that will happen quickly, as it did with my seven-year-old, is that they will get bored of doing this.

That’s fine. For once, you want them to get bored of what they’re doing. Tell them to go ahead and use their feet to push the bike around. Just keep them in sight while they do this. They will naturally incorporate the balancing lesson you just practiced with them and try to balance and glide along as they push their bike. If they start to fall, they will be able to just put their feet down and stand up.

The next step is to, again (and I can’t stress this enough) keep them in sight and away from streets or avenues of traffic and sit back and watch. My process involved having my son stop while I went inside and got myself a beer. Once I was back out, beer open, sitting on my front porch, he was able to resume.

Allow this to continue, if your child will allow, for several hours. The pushing the bike, not the beer drinking. If you chose to incorporate that into your method, the beer drinking should be limited to one or two cans/bottles.

If your child enjoys this and wants to continue all day, let them, provided you don't have a hot date to get ready for. Eventually, maybe the next day, they will beg you to put the pedals back on. This part will go faster than the first few steps and before you know it, you will be the proud parent of a child who can ride a “big-boy” (or “big girl”) bike.

Congratulations. You deserve a beer. Be sure to say thank you to my dad since I can’t find the original source he received the information from right now. He deserves a beer to. Buy him one.


Friday, August 27, 2010

I Wouldn't Eat An Otter...If There Was Another Available Source Of Protein

We ate at a Chinese restaurant the other day. My sons went with old standards.

My eldest ordered the sweet and sour chicken. He eats these like McNuggets, sauce on the side, occasionally dipping a fried ball of white meat into it. Of course, this is a much better alternative than the french fries and packets of crackers that he used to eat when we went out to a restaurant. He’s come a long way. He’ll even eat red meat occasionally, which makes me very proud.

And speaking of proud red meat eaters, my youngest ordered the teriyaki beef. He’s the one who has been ordering burgers since he had teeth. He’s the one who loves steak so much already that he refers to them by cut.

“I like ribeyes, daddy, but I like filets better.”

He’s also the one who wants to try whatever is on your plate, especially if it looks like there may still be any pink or reddish juice left inside. So, when he decided he was bored with his beef and the leftovers of his brother’s chicken, he turned to the most notorious eater of red meat in our family. He sought out the person who he thought had the greatest likelihood of having a steak on his plate.

“What are you having, daddy?”

“Duck with noodles,” I smiled and encouraged him to come take a look.

He walked over to my side of the table and peered into my bowl.

“It’s very good,” I said. “It’s kind of sweet. Want to try some?”

I offered some on my fork (no I don’t use chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant for three reasons, 1 – I suck at using them, 2 – I don’t enjoy looking like an idiot, 3 – I’m used to ordering my meat so rare that I instinctively use a fork in order to stab whatever I’m eating and make sure it’s dead) and he readily tasted it. After chewing thoughtfully for a moment, concentrating like a sommelier evaluating a vintage Cabernet, he decided he liked duck.

Over the next few minutes, I picked extra pieces out of my dish and gave him his own plate which he immediately wolfed down. As my wife joked with him across the table saying, “Quack, quack! Don’t eat me! Quack, oh no!” I imagined that an actual wolf might devour an actual duck in a similar manner.

The real story here comes from the conversation between my sons in the car afterward.

“You should have tried the duck,” my youngest told his older brother. “It was so good.”

“I didn’t want to,” my eldest responded and added quietly, “Poor ducky.”

It was then that I realized what may be holding my older son back from eating more meat. Chicken being the exception because it’s relatively plain and he’s been eating since before being able to talk, he tends not to eat something when he pictures the animal it comes from. Meats with names like bacon, steak and hamburger don’t cause you to immediately picture the animal being slaughtered for your culinary enjoyment.

Duck is a little different. Nature lover that he is, we see ducks all the time while on our fishing trips. He feeds families of them with handfuls of corn and leaves the unused bread from the end of the week out for them. The thought of dining on one of the little fellows obviously bothered him.

At first, I wanted to tell him a few simple rules of life as an omnivore. First, man cannot live on vegetables alone (well, I guess plenty of people have, but that’s no way to live, at least not for any son of mine). Second, if it’s raised on a farm, it’s delicious. Third, if it walks, swims or flies and is not human or endangered, it’s food (and if it is endangered, it’s too expensive). Then I figured it would be a good time to go home and watch a few episodes of Man vs. Wild and witness Bear Grylls bite the heads off of small living creatures.

“See, son, it’s all about survival.”

Instead, I tried to do something to console him as he looked sad in the back seat.

“You know, it wasn’t one of the exact same ducks we see on the lake,” I said, technically not knowing if that were true.

My wife, figuring her quacking during the meal did nothing to help the current situation spoke up. “You eat cows and pigs and chickens all the time. It’s no big deal.”

“But I don’t care about those animals,” he said, a few tears visible in his eyes.

“Well daddy said it’s not like the ducks from the lake,” said his little brother. “Those are the cute ducks. This was an ugly kind of duck.”

And like that, the tears stopped. When we got home, we all watched Charlotte’s Web and had a good laugh. What an uplifting movie

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy Anniversary To My Beautiful Wife

He’d seen men he admired look suddenly vulnerable many times before. He watched the poor saps turn from cool, confident ladies’ men into nervous, pant leg twisting, stuttering children when faced with the moment of truth.

The first time he could remember watching it happen was between his parents. His normally stoic, nearly aloof father would sense his mother was distressed, in need of his help. He would change then from a tall proud figure to a crouching, sensitive gentleman. He went instantly from husband, father, working man to her friend and, though he was too young to understand it at the time, her lover.

He had watched his bothers court each of their respective spouses. These rough men who would fight with him growing up, holding him down and spitting in his mouth, playing football with anger and intensity through high school, one working each day with steel and iron, the other standing guard at a prison, prepared to deal with men who would do him harm at any moment given the chance. Inviting their soon-to-be-fiancĂ©s to family holidays saw them walking around the house as he had never seen them before. They were worried that every little thing was just right, wondering if she needed more punch or if she felt included in the conversation. He watched each propose to his future wife in front of the entire family with a hope and desperation in their eyes that screamed, “Please say yes.”

He had even seen this is the bars with his friends. Not when they were looking to pass the time for the night, just to have some fun, but in the situations when a girl they’d known for some time showed up. The kind of girl they’d always had feelings for. At those times, the hand that would normally lean on the bar went into the pocket. The head that would tilt and nod in suggestion would stiffen and lock in place. Replacing the look in their eyes of the predator looking to take them home at the end of the night was one of a scavenger, just hoping that the woman of interest might smile at them.

And in each of these moments, he could see their heart presented, ready to break or burst with excitement, either way never to be the same. Each time, the man put himself out there and each time it was up to the woman what his fate would be.

But as many times as he had watched it, Peter had never imagined himself going through this.

As romantic comedy touching as it was to witness those around him sacrifice their pride and place their own innards on a platter for the acceptance of another, he saw nothing of himself in the image. When Peter looked in the mirror, he saw an independent, viral man who flew by the seat of his pants. He was the Hollywood stereotype bachelor, in his own mind at least. No connections. Nothing tying him down. He allowed nothing into his life that he couldn’t immediately drop if he felt the heat around the corner. He was the loose cannon cop who didn’t play by the rules and had nothing to lose.

Peter wasn’t a cop, he was an electrician. But, he was convinced that if he were a cop, this was the kind of cop he would be. He was also convinced he would kick ass and take names, because that was the Chicago way.

Peter didn’t live in Chicago. He lived in Des Moines.

All metaphors aside, Peter’s self-image changed when he met Jane. The tough, unfeeling, no-nonsense guy who busted his friends’ balls when they fell over a girl (or broad as his Hollywood alter-ego would have surely called them) found himself the same stammering, staying in and watching a movie schmuck that he’d seen all the others turn into.

Yet even through the little things, the lunches together, the weekends on double dates instead of with the guys, the holding of her purse while she tried on that cute blouse she saw in the window, he still imagined himself ready to walk away at any time should she become too stifling.

Once, as he looked down at the pink, leathery thing he held by the straps while Jane tried on a skirt, Peter wondered if it was possible to feel his manhood stifled by her if this wasn’t doing it. He told himself he must be secure enough in his manhood to hold a purse because if she should ever stifle him, he would know it when it happened and bolt.

But bolting wasn’t on his mind when Peter found himself shopping for a ring. Nor was it on his mind when he made the subtle suggestion that they go away for a weekend together. And it definitely was not on his mind as he went repeatedly over the details of how he would propose once he had her alone, in direct contrast to the public spectacles his brothers had made when they proposed to their wives.

In fact, never during the entire weekend in the quiet little town did it occur to him that he might want to run in the other direction or that he might look anything like the men he’d seen offer themselves up to the women they loved, sacrificing their public image. Not while they went antiquing. Not while they were horseback riding. Not even as he overpaid for a “gourmet” dinner on an old rickety wooden porch at some old, supposedly famous, restaurant.

No, not until the very moment of truth did Peter see the parallel between what he was doing and what they had done. Not until he had rounded the corner on the walking path, ensured they were alone and determined that the sunset looked as beautiful as it was ever to get that evening, did Peter realize that, as he bent to one knee and took the small velvet box from his pocket, he was offering his heart to the woman standing before him with her hands already over her mouth and tears already in her eyes.

And it was at that very moment, after he had asked his question but before Jane had responded, when it came to Peter that all those other men who he had admired knew exactly what they had been getting into. None of them were blind to the consequences. They all knew that whether the answer was “yes” or “no,” they would never be the same. And not a single one of them had cared.

Peter found he didn’t care either. He felt he was more of a man than ever, just having asked Jane to marry him because he knew he was going after something that he really wanted. As he pictured their lives together in the eternity it took her to answer, he knew he loved her and would work the rest of the details out later. This had to come first.

And he had even decided all this before she said yes.

Which she did.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Please, Mr. Postman

I have the utmost respect for the position of mail carrier. Day after day (except Sundays and holidays), through rain, sleet, dark of night (I’ve never received any mail after 4 PM, but whatever) and all that jazz, the mail gets safely where it’s supposed to go.

Usually.

Of course, there are the occasional exceptions. Like when I get the mail that should have been delivered to the house a block down which has two numbers transposed with my address. But that’s no big deal. How can I complain about walking a block to deliver mail when the postal carrier has to walk miles every day doing the same thing?

Maybe because I’m not getting paid to do it.

But look at me, being so picky. I suppose I should lighten up. So the mail gets delivered accidentally to a nearby address. The person sorting obviously looked at the numbers too quickly and didn’t realize that all the rest of the mail in that pile except for the one they were dropping on top had the exact same last name.

Not looking closely would also explain the apparent disregard for the bold printed words across my protective cardboard comic book inserts that read DO NOT BEND. This must just be an honest oversight (every week) by the carrier while trying to provide with extra speedy service before that whole dark of night thing sets in. I’d hate to think that there is some sort of personal vendetta against me or my reading material that would lead my mail carrier to jam my comic books into my amply-sized mailbox folded lengthwise like a single to be tuck into a g-string.

It’s entirely possible, I reckon, that I’m the one who isn’t paying attention to the details. Maybe somewhere on the insert, after the instructions of DO NOT BEND is a finer print that reads:

unless you feel like it

…or…

unless it’s necessary to fit it in the mailbox, because setting it between the doors just looks shoddy and you, valiant and dashing mail carrier, are better than that

…or…

unless this jerk gets so many catalogs and junk mail every day that it weighs down your bag and you’ll be requiring shoulder surgery after retirement as you attempt to lug it around this godforsaken neighborhood, because that is obviously the homeowner’s fault, not the fault of any of the companies sending out the junk mail. Do you hear me? He’s ruining your retirement! Are you going to let him get away with that?!

(Note: I just checked and none of these things are written on the inserts. There goes that theory.)

Honestly, to pick up on all the details contained within the average day’s worth of mail, the sorter and deliverer would have to be really getting a good look at each item. Perhaps it’s for the best that they don’t. Perhaps I should feel lucky that I don’t have Big Brother poring over my day’s correspondence for any signs I may not be on the up and up. Maybe one day my wife will be out of town without me and in her longing to see me and hold me close she will send me a steamy post card. References to all sorts of naughty details that I don't want anybody else reading would, no doubt, be written there. I would certainly want some privacy then. Surely, then I will see the benefits in the details of my mail being glanced over by those handling it.

Of course, should that mail get delivered to the house a block down with two numbers transposed, all that privacy goes out the window and I think then I’ll be kind of pissed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Victory On A Technicality

After constructing a Lego Y-Wing (model 8037 in your catalogs) almost entirely without me (a running theme of frustration on this blog which, of course, you’ve been reading regularly) my sons had an in-depth conversation (which I was privileged enough to overhear).

(Note: My plan on this post is apparently to have the vast majority of its text contained within parentheses and quotation marks)

The set contained a minifigure Anakin Skywalker and R2-D2. As with most sets, my sons went straight to the minifigures and began having them interact with one another. My seven-year-old took control of Anakin, and my six-year-old R2-D2. And, as with most minifigure interactions controlled by my sons, the two engaged in combat.

“Anakin takes out his lightsaber,” began my oldest.

“But R2-D2 uses his little arm thing and makes it not work,” came the younger’s first counter.

“Then Anakin makes R2 levitate with the force and throws him.”

(Impressive...Most impressive)

“R2-D2 uses his jets and flies back.”

“But then Anakin uses the lightning bolts form his hands and zaps R2-D2 so he doesn’t work anymore since he’s a droid.”

(The sound of them saying “droid” does my heart good)

“No! Anakin can’t do that. Only the Emperor does that.”

(An accurate observation)

“Count Dooku can too.”

(And even more accurate observation)

“But not Anakin!”

(Touché)

“But the Emperor is Anakin’s master and he taught him how to do it, so he zaps out energy and it makes all droids and machines not work anymore.”

“Then it hurts Anakin too.”

“Nuh-uh!”

“Yeah it does. He has a robot hand, so his hand doesn’t work then, either.”

They were referring, of course to the events near the closing moments of Episode II. I was floored by their Star Wars knowledge. I had stopped what I was doing in the other room and was holding my breath in anticipation of what would happen next. I nearly began to cry tears of joy. But that had to wait as my opinion was asked for.

“Daddy,” called my seven-year-old, “When Count Dooku cuts off Anakin’s hand, do they replace it with a robot hand?”

“Yes, buddy,” I answered. “Remember he has the black glove on that hand? Then when Luke Skywalker gets his hand cut off in The Empire Strikes Back, he gets a robot hand too. They make a point of showing how he has a robot hand just like his dad, Darth Vader. Remember?”

“Oh yeah,” he said and then a long silence. “But it’s just his hand,” he then said to his little brother, so he zaps R2 anyway and just gets a new hand later.”

“Darn it,” responded my six-year-old.

(Check and mate)

“But they’re friends anyway,” my youngest said, “so they were just pretending, not really fighting.”

“Yeah,” agreed his brother.

Soon after, they were playing Wii in the basement. If only all their fights ended this amicably. We could learn a lot from minifigures.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Sprinkler Things

My sons decided to forego swimming in our pool, the pool that I spent hours setting up due to the constant begging of me to do so, and the same pool which I have spent many a day cleaning and maintaining lest it become a haven for algae, in favor of jumping through the sprinkler of the kid down the street this week. While I can certainly appreciate a good sprinkler jumping session, they seem to now favor this to time in the pool. To my credit, I have yet to say “I told you so” to my wife.

I find myself wishing I had saved time, money, effort and my backyard grass by simply setting up a sprinkler in our yard. It requires far less supervision. There are no running costs like chemicals, filter cartridges or new pool toys to incur. The percentage of potential ear infections is virtually nil.

There’s also a certain romantic quality to the sprinkler. It conjures images of a wholesome childhood spent playing outside with simple, meager items. The imagination required to continuously run through a sprinkler for several hours but have it still be entertaining is an exercise in creativity.

But I suppose this is a grass is greener on the other side thing. They’re into the sprinkler now, but if we had a sprinkler and no pool, they’d be looking to go swimming. Instead of being bitter that I spent several days of my summer maintaining a now nearly abandoned pool, I should look at the bright side. My kids are learning to have fun with less. They are developing the ability to make fun wherever they go. I guess I’m a little jealous of them and that may be causing me to think negatively.

Who cares that they complained and moaned despite my warnings that they wouldn’t use the pool as often as they insisted they would (which, of course, was every day)? What difference does it make that I strained my back and inhaled caustic fumes while preparing a pool that hasn’t seen a human in it for a week (and I pray no animals, but I’m not watching it twenty-four seven)? Why bother to think about all the money spent on equipment to keep the damn thing up and running all summer? Is it that big a deal that I’m going to have to spend even more time and energy to take it down in a few weeks? So I don’t have the slightest where I’m going to put all that stupid water. Why should I worry about it?

I should just let go. In fact, I wouldn’t mind running through the sprinkler myself. Somehow the imagery of a grown man running back and forth across his front lawn and giggling uncontrollably as the cold water hits him from underneath just seems wrong, though.

What I ought to do is head down to the pool supply store and raid their shelves of the end of season clearance items. All I need is a lounger that can support my weight and one of those floating coolers, maybe the one that looks like a fishing bobber. When the boys come running into the yard and discover me floating in all my glory with a beer in one hand and a cigar in the other, I’ll point them to the sprinkler.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Fresh Supply Of Features

I have a long list of school supplies I need to purchase for my sons this week. That got me to thinking about all the different items I had to equip myself (or have my parents equip me) with in preparation for a new school year. With the fresh batch of supplies, there always seemed to be so much potential.

This leads me to select the best school supplies ever as this week’s top five list.

5. Protractor – I don’t remember using this more than a handful of times once I got into geometry, but it was one of my favorite words to say for years.

4. Elmer’s Glue – The distinctive orange cap and all the sticky messes between my fingers bring back memories.

3. Crayons – When you speak of potential, perhaps nothing carries more than a brand new box of sharp, unused crayons.

2. Pencils – The good old #2s. It was fun sharpening them and having them ready to go. They even smelled good.

1. Compass – Going hand in hand with the protractor, it was another seldom used device during class, but I used to doodle and draw circles with it all the time on my own. Knowing I had a deadly metal spike in my pencil case at the ready was also pretty cool.

This week’s cool-ass thing you will never own is your own band. Not one you play in, but one that plays your theme song as you walk in the door from work and head to the couch. These would also be handy to get you out of long conversations as they could just start playing quietly and force you to say, “We’re out of time for now, but it was great talking to you. Come visit the show again some time.”

This week’s sign you are a nerd is that you have attended a comic or sci-fi convention. I was at my first the other day and, believe you me, there was nothing but nerds as far as the eye could see, yours truly included.

This week’s nemesis is NFL Preseason Football. Each year, I get so excited that pro football is back and get treated to this mockery of sporting events. You get to see your team’s starters for about ten minutes of play, just enough to still wonder if they’re going to suck or not this year and you spend most of the game crossing your fingers that nobody suffers a freak injury.

This week’s lesson learned is to make sure you put the recommended chemicals into your pool every day. You’re trying to swim, not stock a fishing pond.

In this week’s equation T represents a theme park, s is space in square miles, r is the number of safety regulations and t represents teeth, all resulting C which is a carnival:


And this week’s Star wars quote is: “You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander. I’m here to put you back on schedule.”

That’s all for now. Thanks again for reading.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Joining A New Con-munity

When I started writing this blog in February, it was an exercise in self-exposure. I was admitting that there was a long-suffering, stifled nerd inside of me that I was ready to let peek out. I suspected there were others that felt the same way and hoped to reach them and encourage them to let their geek-ish alter egos shine rather than keep them locked away in the dark recesses of their psyche.

At the same time, I was well aware that I was no pioneer. There existed a life path that one could journey as an adult nerd with kids. Plenty of people were on it. I just wasn’t one of them yet. I lurked in the shadows of said path, watching the nerds who bravely and proudly strode along the adult nerd trail from the brush.

From time to time, I would sample the fruits of life as a public nerd: a Star Wars marathon here, a Lego set purchased for myself there, gifts of action figures to my brothers. But I always had my true nature shielded from scrutiny by the fact that whatever I was participating in could be deflected onto my sons. I had an out.

I’m just doing this because my boys like this stuff.

To be honest, as much as I feared those who make fun of nerds pointing their fingers at me and laughing, I was just as intimidated by not being able to hang with the true nerds. I worried that should I step out from the overgrowth into the sunlight of the nerds’ path, I might not even be welcomed by the nerds traveling upon it. My lack of knowledge in the realms of Battlestar Gallactica and inability to speak fluent Klingon could be my undoing.

Despite these fears, with my wife’s urging, I found myself and my family attending my first comic con yesterday. My standard self-defense mechanism prepared, I dressed my kids in their Halloween costumes from last year: Boba & Jango Fett. If I could divert attention to the innocent youth then I would be fine.

I am at once ashamed and proud to admit that I gave the nerds of the world too little credit. Within a few short minutes, I was receiving passing compliments from complete strangers on my Mega Man t-shirt. My boys shied away from would-be high fives regarding their costumes.

The convention as a whole was a very welcoming atmosphere. It seemed everyone there was happy to just be in the presence of others who shared their interests. Nobody was excluded. All were welcome.

Instead of bring criticized by some real life version of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons because I didn’t know exactly which issue Wolverine first appeared in, the gentleman running the booth which sold loose action figures watched me and allowed me time to answer my own son’s question.

“Daddy, who is this guy?”

“That is…” I paused and could see him from the corner of my eye, prepared to lend a hand. “Titanium Man.” We then made eye contact and I received a nod that said to me, “Nice job.”

My fears had been eased. I was holding my own.

We walked about and enjoyed some other booths. I bought various items I didn’t need but had to have, like t-shirts and glass tumblers featuring Marvel characters. We unsuccessfully tried to convince my six year old to go stand next to the most realistic Boba Fett costumed man (I assume it was a man underneath) that any of us had ever seen. If it was a man, he gets extra credit for the costume because the strap running from his jet pack beneath his crotch to his belt looked awfully uncomfortable. We ran into Ghost-Busters and complimented an age accurate Hit Girl on her costume, much to her mother’s apparent joy.

And the people sitting behind each table, manning each booth were not pushy. They would very much like for you to purchase their wares. But if all you wanted to do was check them out and say, “That’s awesome,” as you picked up the bust of Zombie Spider-Man or leaned in close for a better look at the Chewbacca painting, they were pleased. As long as you could appreciate what they brought to the show, they were happy.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this was our stop at the Nerd Buttons table (I would link to their website here, but I seem to have lost the business card amongst the other paraphernalia I collected). The buttons featured quotes from classic movies and my wife frequently asked me which movie each was from. I was proud to explain in front of the booth occupants that the amp knob set at eleven was a reference to Spinal Tap. I told her “We’re on a mission from God,” was from the Blues Brothers. I then received their clarification on whether, “This is my boom stick,” was from Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness (it’s from Army of Darkness).

We even had a discussion over my Mega Man shirt (which I decided yesterday I’m going to wear out in public more often). The man behind the button manufacturing said he wanted to create a button with the iconic image of Mega Man leaping but hadn’t due to obvious copyright infringement. For those that don’t know what that looks like:


We then shared a good laugh when I told them I always made a point of hitting the boss doors in mid leap in such a way to momentarily suspend Mega Man in this pose as the screen panned right. When I looked over at my wife, I was well aware that she had no clue what I was talking about, but the smile on her face showed she enjoyed being there and watching me be a nerd with other nerds just the same.

And that was the overall feeling I left the convention with: one of acceptance. My intimidation was misplaced. I walked into my first comic con and was welcomed with open arms. There was no nerd threshold I needed to meet. Nobody ever cared to ask if I knew the slightest about the bridge layout of either the original Star Trek or The Next Generation. I enjoyed all there was to take in and everyone there enjoyed sharing it.

I decided I will not shy away from such events in the future as I have in the past. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll even wear a costume. The only challenge, at six-foot-six will be finding one in my size.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Vaca(aaaahhhhh)tion

My job gives me a decent chunk of vacation time each year. Today, I officially started one segment of it.

I am proud to say that I anticipated this event and have rigorously trained for it. I coordinated the arrival of my AT&T U-verse installation for today. I stocked up on beer. I stopped at Borders and purchased the entire Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series as well as a few other books. I have the Lego Slave 1 sitting currently on my dining room table (dinner be damned) waiting to be ripped open and assembled.

In short, I am thoroughly prepared to sit on my ass for the next two and a half weeks and allow my brain and muscles of my lower body to properly atrophy (the Lego building should keep my upper body in peak physical condition).

Not everybody would take down time so seriously. It takes a level of dedication to laziness that I just so happen to possess. I’ve fished for many years, honing my ability to sit in one spot for hours on end like a kung-fu master, meditating in their dojo.

Clear your mind.

I ought to take a moment to thank my workplace. You put me through such torturous hell each and every day that the simple opportunity to avoid you for a little longer than normal gives me incredible joy. None of this relaxation would be possible if you didn’t suck…sooooo bad. So. Bad.

But my main reason in telling you about my extended time away from my mind-numbingly terrible career is not so that you’ll feel sorry for me. I tell you this so that you can prepare yourself to check back on this blog regularly. With all the time off, my wandering mind is sure to produce some real brain movements of wisdom, which I plan to squeeze out onto this blog in steaming piles of posts. You may even see the elusive multiple-post day out of me.

So, good readers (good, intelligent, loyal readers), check back often between now and the first week of September. You never know when Transformer Generation Dad might drop some knowledge on you.

And remember, while you’re at work, waiting for the shift to end, you can turn to Transformer Generation Dad to get you through the day with the fun topics and witty observations that you have come to expect from this blog. Because I care.

Also, BECAUSE I’M NOT AT WORK!

SUCKERS!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Skate Or Die (Trying)

My wife promised our sons a reward in exchange for the first real big-boy cleaning project they had undertaken. The project itself involved removing all of the thousands of pairs of my wife’s shoes (and I guess I had a few in there too somewhere) from the front hall closet and matching them neatly where my wife and I would be able to assess which to keep and which to donate to the big metal clothing box next to the cleaners.

Since our living room floor was soon filled with a perfectly matched, well organized army or footwear, the aforementioned reward was forthcoming. My sons had decided they wanted roller-blades and my wife, being a roller-blade fan herself, was more than happy to volunteer my time to take them and pick some out that very evening.

How I was assigned this task, I’ll never know. I never tried roller-skating in my life. I ice-skated once long ago and was happy to escape with my life and a non-fractured tailbone. Roller-skating never interested me. I was fine with various other manners of physical exercise, but growing up a tall, lanky kid, I tended to shy away from activities that made me look any more like a baby giraffe taking its first steps than I already did.

But there I was in the sporting goods store. And there I was walking out with two identical sets of roller-blades. Thankfully, the skates that happened to be on sale were the most boyish looking ones with the black and red flames along the side.

Upon returning home, I set the boxes down in a very conspicuous location so that my wife would see them immediately upon her return. This was my silent, not so subtle version of a sarcastic, “Happy now?”

I fully expected that my sons would do one of two things the following morning. First, they may refuse to ever put the skates on while simultaneously refusing to allow me to take them back to the store for a refund just in case they changed their mind. Second, they might put on the skates, fall once within the first minute and then refuse to wear them ever again, effectively not allowing me to take them back to the store for a refund because all the tags and labels had been cut off already.

What actually happened is proof positive that they are half my wife, just as I will take credit for the Lego proficiency portion of their personalities.

These two little buttheads not only stood up on the skates and tried them out (in the house mind you), but continued to skate around the living room for several hours straight. Then, after a meal, they put the skates back on and skated some more. Thank God for wood floors.

The wobbly beginnings soon gave way to confident strides. The arm waving was replaced with the grabbing of nearby objects like tables or bookcases and propelling themselves across the room at high speeds.

The next day saw more of the same. While I was at work, I could hear the sounds of a roller derby rink in my basement while speaking to my wife on the phone. The kids couldn’t get enough. They were, suddenly, skating fools.

While I had opposed the decision to buy the roller-blades, I had to admit that it worked out. I told my wife that she deserved a great deal of credit as I happily watched them skate in circles around the basement. The confidence they displayed was amazing and it made me proud to watch them.

Before we knew it, the pleas came.

“When can we try it outside?”

Proud as could be, I couldn’t deny them the next stage of their development as fledgling skaters. So, I happily volunteered my wife’s time to take them to the tennis courts at the park for some outdoor practice tomorrow.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What's Kraken This Week?

Weekly feature time! This week's top five is top five useful grilling utensils...

5 - Cleaning brush - The wire brush used to scrape old charred grease and fat form your last session off the grill is good to have, but sometimes i prefer to just leave that stuff on for added flavor.
4 - Thermometer fork - Once a luxury item, these can be picked up on the cheap now and can be helpful when cooking meat on the rare end when you need to ensure the inside reached the minimum temperature to kill all bacteria. Helpful, but not completely necessary.

3 - Marinade brush - Some people simply use paintbrushes (that haven't been used for painting, genius) but the long handled ones are better, I think, so you don't roast your fingers while applying a little extra juice to your meat.

2 - Tongs - Don't grill brats without them. And if you don't grill brats, you are no longer welcome on this blog.

1 - Long-handled extra wide spatula - Perfect for flipping, removing from the grill or just peeking under your steak without flipping yet. Again, you can avoid burning yourself and excessive smoke inhalation by getting one with a long handle.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is the Kraken. The fact that it is a mythical creature who is most likely based on old seafarers' sightings of giant squids that had floated to the surface officially removes it from the list of methods you might use to seek swift, terrible vengeance upon your enemies.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that as soon as the rumor of a movie hits your ears, you produce fan art and try to pass it off as legitimate material from the production company. Gee, that Avenger's movie poster looks an awful lot like that t-shirt I have.

This week's nemesis is television remotes. You aggravate me by hiding in the most random places like between couch cushions and under entertainment storage cabinets and by never being quite fully programmable so I still have to have three remotes in order to access all the features I really want at a given time.

This week's lesson learned is to order something small for yourself when you're out with the kids at a restaurant without a kids' menu. You're going to end up finishing what they order.

This week's equation is:


Where S is the number of pairs of shoes you wife owns, c is the square footage of closet space in your home and y is the number of years your she has had access to a credit card.

This week's Star Wars quote came to mind as i tried to get my sons to do some reading and math activities in order to be ready for their return to school at the end of the month. "Mind what you have learned. Save you it can."

That's all for this week. Regular posts resume tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Appreciate The Finer Things In Death

Yesterday was Friday the 13th. If you are reading this, you survived. Congratulations.

As I thought about the significance of the unlucky date throughout the day yesterday, I found myself wondering something. It is something that I think might make for a good poll in October, but I’d like to pose it now and see if some of our loyal readers might provide feedback.

I pose the following question:

If you were being chased by a maniacal, blood-thirsty, apparently superhuman and other worldly, serial killer, would you rather the killer chased after you at a high rate of speed or if he slowly and methodically advanced on you one evil step at a time?

You know what I mean here, right? You’re not getting out alive. The person or thing that’s chasing you is going to be your eventual undoing. The issue at hand is merely how it’s going to go down.

There are the evil creatures that jump out at people and strike quickly out of nowhere. Their victims don’t see it coming and, often, are dealt a quick, relatively painless death.

Then there are the guys who let you see it coming. You scream or try to run or throw something at them, but they just start slowly walking toward you. Even if you, say, light them on fire or drop a large object on top of them, it only serves to make them stumble momentarily or have to lift the object off of themselves before they continue their pursuit. Despite their inability or unwillingness to talk, you get the distinct impression that all you did was really piss them off. And of course, like an idiot, you stood there and watched them overcome each obstacle you set before them in disbelief instead of creating distance between yourself and your undead rival.

Anyway, I’m one to appreciate the slow, lumbering monster over the villain who strikes like lightning. There’s a certain style to it. It’s like the cool kid in high school who just doesn’t care about anything.

“Go ahead and run, I don’t care. I’ll probably just catch you when you trip over a downed tree branch and hurt your ankle real badly anyway. No big deal.”

This is also the sign of a murderous stranger who takes his career seriously. Think of the focus and patience that is required to drag out the chase. This really allows the absolute terror gripping the soon to be victim to set in properly. It’s like a good marinade. You can still taste it if you just brush it on, but if you really let it soak overnight, it’s so much more satisfying. Someone who puts that much time and effort into their trade gets the nod in my book.

And all this comes at a price. There isn’t the instant gratification of lopping off a head or stabbing a breathing torso multiple times. The desired result is delayed. This has to add stress on a killer. I mean, what if the kid you picked out happens to be the one who needs to be kept around for the sequel? Sure, you’ll get another chance because whatever method they think they finally killed you with surely left an opening for you to still survive and terrorize them again, but who wants to wait that long? And what if the kid gets replaced by another kid next time? Now you spent all that time following them for nothing. It’s a big risk.

There’s also a higher likelihood to be maimed or injured as mentioned above. While the savage killer is most likely already burned, scarred or mutated beyond human recognition, further physical disfigurement only adds insult to injury. It’s not what the killer signed up for when deciding to avenge whatever cause he chose to avenge from beyond the grave. Even if the death of their mother, brother, self or pet is properly avenged, a new lot of mental anguish might be inflicted on the killer that will require further avenging. All that avenging can really add up. A lifetime full of avenging can take its toll on a body. I speak from experience on this one.

So, next time a Friday the 13th rolls around, if you just so happen to find yourself on the business end of a rusty machete, chainsaw or other piece of lawn landscaping equipment, remember the work that the impending massacre truly required. If you look close enough, you’ll see there is a level of craftsmanship on display that may make the extremely painful last few moments of your life a bit more satisfying.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Best...Compliment...Ever

One of my brothers lives far away. I mean far away. Not like hop in a car and drive for a few hours far away. More like make sure your passport is in order and learn how to ask where the nearest restroom is in another language far away.

Last week, I stopped by my parents’ house and, through the wonders of modern technology, we were able to talk in real time and see one another via video chat. I’m still blown away by the ability to do this as if I’m some octogenarian who still reluctantly uses a VCR. But aside from this dumbfounded amazement on my part, it was nice to see him.

A good deal of the conversation revolved around his little guy and my little guys waving toys in front of the webcam at each other. A puffer fish took up the entire screen at one point and there was a moment when a shark opened its massive jaws directly in front of the camera in a manner that would have had Spielberg and Cameron drooling over filming it in 3D.

I was quite impressed by the little fellow on my brother’s lap throughout our session. He showed us a Duplo Wall-E he had constructed, complete with opening door on his boxy chest. Then, he disassembled Wall-E without remorse, the cold, calculating decision of a master Lego builder who creates something and then immediately sees his creation as nothing more than the pieces necessary to make his next creation. He then immediately built an impromptu Duplo crocodile. In turn, the crocodile’s life span ended as it became a helicopter.

I was equally impressed by his raw building talent as I was his emotional detachment from what he’d just built. I told him we would all have to build together one day. I invited him to travel to our homeland where he would be granted unlimited access to his uncle and cousins’ Lego collection.

My brother has apparently explained to him that I used to build with Lego all the time and had even constructed a complete city in my basement as a kid. I’m sure he neglected to tell him how the town was destroyed from time to time, mostly by his friends when they came to the house.

“He says he wants to grow up to be like his uncle,” my brother told me, “because you still play with toys.”

I’m not sure if my brother meant to bust my balls with this comment. I don’t think he did. I think he meant it as a way to show that he talks about me. I was touched by this.

But even more than I was touched by my brother’s sentiment, I was moved by my nephew’s understanding at age four of who his uncle really is. My continuing love of Lego and for a great deal of things considered non-age-appropriate is something that I have just recently come to terms with. He was like a four-year-old Buddha, seeing things for what they are and accepting and appreciating them as such

I laughed at this at the time and we continued talking about other things. Updates on my grandmother. How work was going for everybody. What had been achieved on the most recent family fishing trip. The comment was left behind.

But days later, I still remember it and think about it. To have a four-year-old who wants to be like me because I still play with toys. Apparently, my security in admitting the fact that I still like to play on a daily basis is making waves. I’m sure my brother is doing a fantastic job of supporting his creativity and encouraging him to build and play, but if I have, in any way, influenced him to enjoy the things he loves every day as he grows up, free of any embarrassment, I will be very proud.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No, There Wasn't A Mister Purple Because Some Guy On Another Job Was Mister Purple

“What does that mean?” my six-year old asked of my shirt the other day.

He was asking about the following image I have on a t-shirt I acquired on Threadless.com:
“It’s from a movie,” I responded, wary of how much I should really share about Reservoir Dogs with him, “and in the movie, there are two guys called Mr. White and Mr. Orange.”

I paused here.

How far could I go with this one? I like to try and be as honest as possible with my sons when they ask questions. I’d rather not tell them that the sky is blue because it’s someone’s favorite color or thunder is just the angels bowling. But I definitely did not want to describe someone getting their ear cut off in any detail whatsoever.

“Is he, like, bleeding?”

Since he already figured that out and the shirt represents it with harmless crayon spray, I answered, “Yes.”

“How come?”

“Well, these guys robbed a bank, but Mr. Orange got shot while they were trying to get away and Mr. White put him in a car and was driving him to the hospital.”

“So they were bad guys?” asked my seven-year-old who was also listening to the conversation.

My first instinct pushed me to answer, “No.”

“Technically, Mr. Orange was a good guy. He was a police officer who went under cover to infiltrate this operation to pull a robbery and get away with this shipment of diamonds. The police were ready to show up quickly and arrest all the real bad guys, but when Mr. Blonde, another character who is not on daddy’s shirt, started shooting people at random, the police had to move in faster and the whole thing went bad. Then, Mr. White and Mr. Orange ran off together to try and escape since they had developed an odd friendship during the planning stages of the caper. When they tried to carjack some lady, however, she suddenly pulled a gun out from her glove box and shot Mr. Orange in the stomach. In a very powerful and crucial scene of the movie, Mr. Orange instinctively fires back, killing the woman. You see, boys, this is a situation where a man on the right side of the law is pushed to break the law in order to keep his cover and attempt to catch the criminals. It forces one to question when it goes too far. Anyway, eventually Mr. Orange confesses to Mr. White after a confrontation that leaves nearly everybody involved either dead or wounded, that he is really a police officer and, while you are never completely certain, it is heavily implied that Mr. White shoots and kills Mr. Orange, who he had previously thought to be his friend, for betraying him just as the police enter to arrest him. On a side note, while some think that Mr. Pink escaped with the shipment of diamonds, I think the sounds outside of the warehouse in the closing scene make it pretty clear Mr. Pink was either shot or apprehended by the police. So, Mr. Orange was a good guy and Mr. White was a bad guy, even though the point of the movie is to blur those distinctions.”

But that’s not what I said.

“Yes, they were bad guys,” is what came out instead.

My sons seemed completely satisfied by the fact that the crayon bleeding in the back seat of the car on my shirt was a bad guy. Being a bad guy, he obviously deserved what came to him. They moved on to a different issue.

“Was there a Mister Green?”

“No, there was an Orange, White, Pink, Blue, Brown, and Blonde.”

“Blonde?” asked my six-year-old.

“That means yellow,” answered his older brother.

“Then they should’ve just called him Mister Yellow,” he responded.

And as they went to put on their pajamas I vowed never to wear that shirt in front of them again.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Slave (1) To Lego Star Wars Or How My Sons Played Me Like A Fiddle

My sons and I made a trip to Target this evening to pick up some household items. While there, I promised them each a Lego set because I owed them one. I told them it could be something small to medium sized.

When we hit the Lego aisle, I noticed a few new Lego Star Wars sets. “Whoa,” I ever so eloquently stated, and picked up the Hoth Wampa Cave set (#8089 for those who would like to consult their catalog). I then tried to convince whichever one of my sons would bite that this was surely the set they wanted.

“It’s got a Lego Wampa, and a skeleton, and it comes with a Snowspeeder. Awesome, huh?”

But before I could even assess their interest, my eyes instantly fixed upon a box on the bottom shelf. I squealed on the inside like a school-girl. Frankly, I was so excited that I cannot guarantee that I didn’t squeal like a school girl on the outside as well.

There before me was the Lego Slave 1.

For those who are not complete dorks, the Slave 1 was the name of Boba Fett’s ship in The Empire Strikes Back. The Lego set (#8097) comes with a minifigure Boba Fett, complete with brown cape over one shoulder, and a carbonite frozen Han Solo. It also, curiously, comes with one of the other cameo bounty hunters from the film by the name of Bossk. He is shown on the box pushing the levitating, carbonite-encased Han into Slave 1 in a gross misrepresentation of the actual events of the movie. However, because a Bossk minifigure is completely bad-ass, I instantly forgave the error and began to covet the set even more.

The Wampa Hoth Cave went into the cart and my hands were on the Slave 1 set before I knew what I was doing.

“We are totally getting this,” I said in the twelve-year-old speak that I break down into when a toy gets my adrenaline all revved up.

I give my sons all the credit in the world for having figured their old man out at such young ages. They read my eyes and my actions and made a slick move.

“Are we definitely getting those?” asked my six-year-old.

“Hell yeah!” My language is also suspect during these moments.

“But I want to pick out a different Lego,” he replied, my seven-year-old chiming in with a, “Me too.”

“Don’t you guys want these sets?” I questioned, in a panic. “These are like the coolest Lego Star Wars sets ever. You have to get these.”

I looked from the boxes I had already placed in the shopping cart to my sons. The cool, stoic looks they gave me forced me to realize what they had obviously realized from the time I grabbed the first box. I wasn’t putting those two sets back on the shelf no matter what happened. This was their shot at extra Lego.

“You can get those,” said my seven-year-old and, “Yeah we want other ones,” added my six-year-old. Apparently, when scamming their father out of extra toys, they begin speaking in an alternating manner like creepy twins in old fairy tales.

“I guess I’ll put these back then,” I unconvincingly bluffed. I dared not even lift them from the cart in fear that some other savvy Lego shopper would swoop into the aisle and rob me of my glorious bounty as soon as they were returned back to the shelf and made fair game.

“Okay,” they said simultaneously and turned to look at the other sets.

I waited for them to change their minds, but they picked out two other sets and then asked if I was going to put the Star Wars sets back. Without answering, I pushed the cart from the aisle and headed to look for what we had originally come there to buy. Well played, boys. Well played indeed.

And so we left Target with a Lego set for each of my sons and two for me. I’m sure my boys were smiling and high five-ing each other mentally with subtle glances back and forth.

Let’s just see how they feel when the Slave 1 is perched out of their reach on the shelf above my desk and when they want to take it down and play with it, they are reminded that it’s mine. They think they’re so smart. Let’s see who will be laughing then.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rage, Rage Against This Week's Features

I apologize for the delay on this week’s features, but when trying to pack as much enjoyment as possible into the waning hours of my kids’ summer vacation, soetimes I’m kept away from a computer. On that note, this week’s top five is, things I need to squeeze into the last days of summer vacation:

5. Lego cabin completion – In July 26th’s post, I mentioned we would be undertaking a Lego project. It sits now on the table, about 75% built. We ran out of roof pieces and need to harvest the Lego collection in the basement to finish it off.

4. Six Flags – While we’ve gone often enough to more than pay off the cost of the season passes, my sons just gained enough courage to try one of my favorite coaster on our last visit, so I want to go back and ride it with them again.

3. BBQ – Having people over for grilled meat and beer is one of the best possible ways to tell the hot humid weather where it can stick it. And while I’m all for continuing to grill in cold weather, there’s something more special about doing it in the heat of summer, so before August is over, I need to squeeze in some more grilling.

2. A concert – I have yet to hit one this whole year, which is just wrong, so I might as well make it a summer concert. Nothing like standing in a field and listening to live music that causes you to be oblivious to the fact that your being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

1. Long weekend road trip – Whether fishing, site-seeing or water park, my sons’ school schedule will only allow for long weekend trips on days when all the schools are off and everybody is hitting the good vacation spots.

This week’s cool-ass thing you will never own is the first issue of Spider-Man. I should say, the first comic book issue that Spider-Man appeared in, which is Amazing Fantasy #15. A quick search on eBay showed this baby going for $8,000 from one seller and $44,000 from another, probably based on condition. Either way, I don’t think anyone out there is going to be spending enough money to buy a copy that was dropped in a puddle of coffee, much less a mint condition version. But we can dream, can’t we?

This week’s sign you are a nerd is your need to correct the use of the word seen. When someone tells you, “I seen it,” you are compelled to say, “Saw it. You saw it,” which you try to say politely and for the person’s own benefit, but just comes out as extremely condescending.

This week’s nemesis is my dog. Whether it be waking me up in the middle of the night because he’s afraid of the thunderstorms or pooping in the one single place in the yard that I have the most difficulty reaching (he likes the privacy that being under the trampoline affords him apparently), my little four-legged friend is getting on my nerves.

This week’s lesson learned is to tell your kids exactly what time their friends are going to be heading home and give them a few time’s-almost-up warnings. Otherwise, you’ll get the, “Awwwww, five more minutes,” plea for about fifteen minutes. This is made worse when they just started a new game of something prior to the time in question.

This week’s equation explores how beer consumption is directly related to your kids having friends over to the house:



B is amount of beer needed, measured in fluid ounces.
k is number of kids, total, in your home
v is the volume in decibels the kids are speaking at
t in the length of time, in hours that the kids are there
h is the time in hours that you have already been awake that day

Our Star Wars quote for this week is an homage to one of my favorite story-telling techniques, foreshadowing: “If the Rebels have obtained a complete technical reading of this station, it is possible, however unlikely, they might find a weakness and exploit it.”

Keep enjoying summer. It’s not over yet. As Dylan Thomas once wrote, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

(Untitled Due To Lack Of Interest Today)

Short post today.

The reason I’m writing a short post is to tell you all that I will not be writing a long post.

The reason I will not be writing a long post is because I am writing a short post, as I said above.

Jeez, pay attention.

When writing on a very damn near daily basis, finding the time to plan what’s going to be written and then sitting down, writing it, editing it and posting it can be time consuming. If you don’t force yourself to take a break, the writing becomes a chore worked in to your daily routine.

I don’t want this blog to become laundry, lawn care or pool cleaning. It would be a shame to let it become a mundane, mindless task I simply check off my list each day. So, today’s post will not be rushed and short due to lack of time, but by choice.

Furthermore, instead of spending the evening performing household maintenance duties, I have decided to focus tonight on mental health maintenance. This means reading, watching some TV, perhaps playing some video games.

I remind those other parents out there to take nights like this. If you can get away with letting all that stuff you haven’t done yet go one more day, go ahead and do it. Send your kids’ friends home early. Put your kids in bed early or make them pick an activity that will keep them quiet and occupied. Do what you would do if you were still in college on a weekday night with no papers to write and no impending tests. (Hint: beer should probably be involved here)

I now bid you adieu. I have an Xbox controller in the other room calling to me. I must obey.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Extra Ambition, Hold The Cucumbers

My wife and I are all about telling my kids they can achieve whatever they set their minds to. No goal is considered too lofty in our household. No idea or dream is snuffed out immediately as being too ridiculous. If one of my sons wants to do something badly enough that he still wants to do it when he wakes up the next morning, he is encouraged to look it up on the computer, read and learn more to see how he can make it happen.

My seven-year-old has a fantastic idea for a restaurant. The type of food served matters little in his scheme. In fact, I’m fairly certain I remember him saying it would serve everything. What matters is the method of delivery to your table.

At some point in the future, my son plans to invent a very futuristic sounding, ceiling mounted tube which will be located above each table. When your food is ready, the tube will cover the entire table and when it raises, your food will be there. He plans to call it the Choo-Choo Tube. Or maybe it’s the Chew-Chew Tube. We haven’t discussed spelling. Now remember, this idea is documented here, so don’t go trying to steal it.

My point is, I’ve spent no time whatsoever explaining to him how difficult such a feat may be. Nor have I discouraged his imagination by describing how caked with food the inside of the tube system will become and how some miniature employee will have to climb through the tubes each day to clean them, even though it’s the first random image to pop into my head.

It’s fun to see him describe the restaurant (trust me, I did no justice to the planned establishment compared to the mental portrait my son paints). I get a kick out of his plans to be a restaurateur. Seeing his drawings of the great tubes descending upon his diners makes me chuckle with pride at the detail of it all.

Yet at the same time, it’s good for a child to understand their limitations.

Sometimes, there are things your child absolutely cannot do. Some because you forbid it, others because they are physically unable.

Crossing the street without an adult is still off limits. I don’t mind crushing that particular dream of theirs.

Jumping off the roof, onto the trampoline and into the pool will not even be attempted. Their aspirations to be on Jackass can wait until I’m no longer around to witness it.

A friend of theirs has been heard to say, “I can’t eat cucumbers, ‘cause if I do, I get gas…real bad.” If that’s not knowing your limitations, I don’t know what is.

I’m good friends with a man of Mexican descent. He tells me that when he was a kid, he always looked up to police officers. He would go up to them and say hello all the time. They all seemed like large, muscular, heroic men to him. He noted they all had names like O’Grady, Callahan, McDermott and Fitzpatrick. As observant as a child as he is today, he told his mother, much to her shock (and probably amusement), “I want to be a big Irish cop when I grow up.”

He’s all grown up now. He’s not very tall. He’s still Mexican. He is, however, a cop, and a damn good one at that. And he’s not complaining. “My mom told me she couldn’t help me on the first two, but that I could do the third one if I really wanted,” he says. "That sounded fine to me."

Knowing your limitations and the limitations of others in a matter of fact way can be healthy. It helps you accept differences in others. You might be able to do something that someone else can’t do. They might be able to do something you can’t. Sometimes that’s just how it is and it doesn’t make either of you better than the other.

That’s what I’m trying to teach my sons. They may run into physical limitations, but their imagination has no limits. If they can dream it, they can at least give it a shot.

Can you build a robot to clean your room? Sure.

Can you run out into traffic? No.

Is Billy a freak because he can't eat cheese? No.

Can you cure cancer? I’ll bet you can if you want to.

Can you live a lifetime full of adventure? Absolutely, provided it doesn’t involve breaking your neck, my computer, or the neighbor’s car windows. Have at it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Third Person Thursday - Making The Cut

While he crouched in the closet of the dressing room, Steve began to question if what he was about to do was worth it.

Over the past several months, he had been fueled by rage. He tirelessly researched the methods of the Matis Indians of the Rio Galvez. He fashioned his own blowgun. He experimented on small animals to determine the right amount of toxin to place on the tip of each dart. He needed enough to knock out a human, but not enough to kill or leave any lasting effects. Many a pigeon of the greater Milwaukee area died during Steve’s training.

When he was certain he had the dosage correct, which involved mathematical formulas the likes of which he has not performed since graduating from college, he even tested it upon himself. He still carried with him a small round scab on his neck and the memory of the migraine-level headache he awoke with, but nothing more.

On top of all this preparation, Steve had to practice his aim. It started with a fixed target. this proved difficult at first. He had never considered how the deep breath he needed to take prior to firing would affect his aim. He quickly became frustrated as dart after dart stuck into the drywall on all sides of the paper target in his basement office and rarely on the bull’s eye in its center.

Yet each time he began to lose his resolve, he would open the kitchen cabinet and reach for his favorite coffee mug. On it, the Beatles were featured in a black and white, enlarged newspaper print pattern. And each time, he started to pick it up but placed it back upon the shelf. He didn’t want to hear the comments from his children, so instead, for months, painful, dragging months on end, he drank from inferior mugs that read World’s Greatest Dad, Summer Fest 1998, or Grand Ole Opry.

Eventually, this led to amazing accuracy. Steve soon became able to take out a bird thirty feet away. But this simply provided Steve with the tools to exact his revenge. What would prove more difficult was access.

Steve spent a lot of time reviewing concert venues. He decided immediately that the job would have to be done in Wisconsin. The combination of out of state plates with a man in his early forties attending a teeny-bopper concert would draw far too much attention.

But Steve had to find the right time or all his planning would be for naught. So, the Marcus Amphitheater became the place and Steve began studying its layout. He wanted to know how food came in, how garbage went out, where the tour buses would park and how the lighting would be configured.

When Steve found out a friend of a friend worked for the security firm which handled the Marcus Amphitheater concerts, he considered it a lucky break.

“I just think the security polo shirts are cool,” Steve told Al. “No big deal, but if Joe could get me one, I’d pay him for it.”

Al thought nothing of it and obliged.

It had all come together, faster than Steve had ever hoped. He had created an ID badge, knew where to enter to draw the least amount of attention which route to take through the tunnels and ramps. He would lead himself on a zigzag pattern, but he would avoid crowds and security checkpoints and arrive at a large vent which connected to the dressing room of the night’s top performer.

Steve’s planning had been meticulous and on the fateful night, his execution of the plan had gone flawlessly. He had wound through the Amphitheater, blending into the crowd at times and staying hidden from it at others. Before he knew it, he was dropping silently into the main dressing room form the overhead vent and side stepping into the closet.

So Steve was bothered by the fact that after all this time, he was suddenly filled with doubt. This rage, this thirst for revenge that had occupied his every waking moment was being questioned for what seemed like the first time.

Had he really thought this through?

What if he were caught?

Then Steve heard it. The concert began and over the speakers in the dressing room, he could hear the performance. Thousands of screaming teenagers nearly drowned it out, but Steve could still hear it.

Steve remembered the videos of the screaming teenage girls greeting John, Paul, George and Ringo at the airport. He thought of all the live recordings he had listened to over the years where you could hear that same noise. There was music, but the screaming seemed a necessary part of the melody. I Want To Hold Your Hand didn’t even seem right in Steve’s mind without the sound of screaming women accompanying it.

At the same moment, Steve noticed an odd, not unpleasant smell with him in the dressing room closet. (Sniff, sniff) It seemed familiar (Sniff, sniff) like some kind of food.

With one more long, Ssssnnnniiiiffffffff, Steve placed it. It was strawberries. Not real strawberries, but the fake kind of strawberry scent that his sisters doll had been doused with when she was a girl.

Steve grabbed the nearest shirt sleeve and held it to his face. The scent was on it. He grabbed another item of clothing and another and another, each time not knowing if he was grabbing sleeve, pant leg or scarf, and sniffed. Each time he was overpowered by girly, doll-like strawberries.

“No way,” Steve muttered quietly to himself. “No way are my kids listening to this little punk.”

And so the doubts were gone. He had thought this through. He would not be caught. His kids would respect his taste in music and wouldn't accuse him of drinking from a mug emblazoned with the face of a current teen idol. They would come to know their rock history. Those were the Beatles on that mug and his kids should thank them for being so awesome.

Steve waited. His legs felt fresh again, his eyes focused, his hands steady. He was prepared for his target to enter. He was prepared to do what he knew he must.

The finale was performed. As Steve listened over the speakers, he no longer winced and grimaced at the music. He welcomed the signs that his prey was coming to him.

And so his prey did.

The dressing room door opened and a young man entered, followed by noise, commotion, and an assistant. The woman in her mid-twenties held everyone but the man, or boy, of the hour back and closed the door forcefully with her back to it the way a child who has overstuffed their closet with clothes does.

“Great show, Justin,” she said. “I’ll give you some time alone.” With this, she fought her way back out of the dressing room and closed the door behind her.

The young man made his way to the large, cushioned chair and faced the mirrors. His back was to Steve and when ran his fingers through his mop head of hair, glitter falling from it, it sprang magically right back to where it had been.

There was the head of hair that had driven Steve to this mad quest, and Steve meant to take it.

It was time.

Opening the closet door ever so slightly, Steve let the tip of his blowgun protrude from the gap. A steady deep breath. A quick, forceful exhale.

The dart lodged in the left side of the young man’s neck just as Steve had intended. It seemed he didn’t even notice it. He just slumped in his chair and closed his eyes.

Steve rushed from the closet, made sure the door was locked and felt for a pulse.

“Good,” he whispered and recovered the scissors from his back pocket. “Sorry, kid,” he whispered in the young man’s ear as he knelt behind him, “but that haircut is reserved for the Beatles. I’m drinking out of their damned cup without my kids asking me why I have a Justin Bieber mug.”

Steve proceeded to cut every strand of hair from the young man’s head, leaving an uneven close-cropped mess behind. The he made his way back through the vent he’d entered from, shed his security shirt and walked nonchalantly to his car.

Steve drove home and slept like a baby that night. And the next morning, he drank from his Beatles mug. It was the best coffee he had ever tasted.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

To Cheat Or Not To Cheat? That Is The Question For Amoral Scumbags Everywhere.

I’ve been outraged many a time by people who do things professionally that I wish I could do.

As a little league baseball player, Mark McGwire was my hero. I attempted to trade my entire baseball card collection to my friend just to get a single McGwire rookie card. Even when the steroid scandal first broke, I held out wildly innocent, twelve-year-old hope that he wasn’t involved.

“He’s always been a big guy,” I told myself. “I mean, look at the size of his kid."












"Maybe he didn’t juice. Maybe it really was just creatine supplements.”

As we all now know, it was not just creatine supplements. Big Mac, Big Red or whatever you choose to call him (I prefer the Big Fat Faker Who Cheated Because He’s A Big Stinky Face Cheater, but I know it’s a bit long for most so I don’t think this nickname will catch on) used steroids and human growth hormone and probably a multitude of other unknown substances used for horse breeding that we don’t even know about.

But despite the fact that I have been so affected by Mark McGwire’s transgressions that my emotions over them can threaten to highjack a blog post, I do not write today to speak of Mark McGwire. I write today to speak of a man who I had never heard of prior to today: Mike Hart.

Despite not knowing him from Adam less than twenty-four hours ago, Mike Hart has cut me to the core. He has participated in an activity or sport that millions would love to be good enough at to participate in professionally. He pretended to have skill and natural ability enough to rise above the rest of the pack and be lucky enough to have a dream job. But, apparently, Mike Hart is not as skilled, able or lucky as he led any of us to believe. Mike Hart is a cheater.

The bass fisherman from Southern California was participating in the U.S. Open bass fishing tournament this past weekend on Lake Mead. Hart caught and submitted five bass for weighing. While the fish would normally be released after weighing, three of them happened to die during the process and these fish were to be filleted and their meat donated to charity. When these three fish were cut open, they were each found to contain several lead weights which Hart later admitted to inserting down the throats of the fish.

When competing professionally, or even on an amateur level, at fishing, it is weight that counts. Length of the fish may also be measured, but fatter is better than longer when it comes to bass.

So, here we have a man who gets to fish all day. He gets paid to do it. Winning this single tournament in particular lands (no fishing pun intended) the winner a $40,000 prize AND a new fishing boat. Mike Hart attempted to cheat his way into winning these prizes by weighing down his fish and got caught. The tournament officials commented that this is a process Hart could have gotten away with numerous times because such cheating is so difficult to detect due to the catch and release policy.

I am enraged by this. How long was this man able to cheat and lie his way into a dream job? A competitive nature has a very discernable place in sports, but that’s not what this is. This is just plain cheating, just as steroids is in baseball. You deny others who are trying to excel in a sport through natural means the right to perform at their highest level.

I am happy to hear that Hart has received a lifetime ban from the pro fishing circuit. However, what of the fishermen he’s beaten in the past? These people have been denied the joy and opportunity of winning because this fake crammed his fat ass into the top spot through deception. Even if you go back and take his wins away and give them to the runner up, it’s cheapened now for everybody.

You, Mike Hart, have taken a pure, fun, timeless sport and ruined it single-handedly. On behalf of Transformer Generation Dad and all its readers (yes, all seven of us), I point at you with the big old middle finger of shame and say, “Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater!”

I know that was totally anti-climactic, but it’s all I could think of, you…you…you butt face!

So there.

Monday, August 2, 2010

After You Change My Diaper, Can I Borrow The Car?

Kids always seem to develop in sudden bursts. One day they’re crawling or rolling around on the floor, the next, they’re taking steps and by the end of the day they’re climbing up your workbench to reach your power drill.

My kids have had plenty of these moments. Talking, walking and reading all emerged in bright shining moments of epiphany that snowballed quickly. The latest skill to go from a get the camera out event to second nature was swimming.

At the beginning of the summer, my sons would not put their heads under water. Within a week of setting up our pool on Fourth of July weekend, they tried it. Now, they don’t seem to hear anything I say because their heads are constantly under water as they breathe through snorkels. (And during an I told you so parental moment, I explained to them that if they had listened to me a few months ago, they could have seen coral and tropical fish instead of the blue dolphin pattern on the bottom of the pool liner.)

While this is more of a getting over your fears than a brain forming during infancy development, these things still seem to happen quickly, even as your kids get older. It makes you look back and feel like it was just yesterday that going to the bathroom for them involved standing in the corner and making a scrunchy face. Their amazing reate of progression is made more noticeable by the fact that they sometimes do things at 6 and 7 that I didn't do until I was in my mid-twenties, like picking up live bait with their bare hands.

You’re amazed at the things that they somehow learned to do without your direct supervision. A multi-syllable word gets thrown out or a baseball gets caught with minimal effort and you blink and stare in wonder.

“Is that my kid? Have I been asleep for several years? What else have I missed? Who is the president? Please tell me we’re not having Soilent Green for dinner!”

This also makes me a little more understanding of the sentiment behind why my parents still want to tell me to get a haircut or not drink even a single beer at a restaurant because I’ll be driving home in three hours. As a parent I think you focus so intently on your kids while they are babies, changing diapers, feeding, reading to them and resisting the temptation to poke the soft spot on their heads, that when they start to fend for themselves, you let your guard down a little. The next thing you know, they went and grew up behind your back, the little sneaks.

It frightens you a little because you feel like you missed something. My wife always asks my sons where their growing button is located so that she can turn it off for awhile. Personally, when my sons have these sudden big boy moments, I feel like I need to quit my job and stay home with a video camera focused on them.

But instead I usually end up drinking myself to sleep and listening to Cat's In The Cradle on a constant loop.

Don’t worry, mom, I’m not driving anywhere afterward.