Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Honor of Lt. Frank Drebin

A good sense of humor involves being able to laugh at yourself. That means both making fun of your own faults and mistakes as well as appreciating your own jokes. After all, if you don’t make yourself laugh, how can you expect to make anyone else laugh?

Another important aspect of comedy is timing. You need to wait for just the right time to drop that punch line. A single word can change from deathly serious to outrageously funny based solely upon when it is said.

And the holy trinity of comedic tools, in my opinion is delivery. Everybody knows somebody who can tell the same damn joke they just heard five minutes ago but make it ten times funnier just by the way they tell it. Writers for comedy shows have really funny ideas, yet they need people called actors to pull the joke off. You have to package it properly.

One of my favorite delivery styles of all time is the deadpan. The contradictory nature of a person saying something ridiculous in a serious voice and then not flinching to smile in the slightest always gets me. It’s the reason why I like Will Ferrell so much.

When you talk about masters of the deadpan delivery, one name stands out. There is one man who, over the last several decades, has been the definition of deadpan. That man is Leslie Nielsen. We lost that man Sunday and the comedy world owes him a debt of gratitude.

Mr. Nielsen could deliver a silly phrase with a straight face better than anyone I had the privilege of watching in my lifetime. Regardless of how off the wall the events around him were, he always played it straight. Part of me always wondered if he were part Vulcan and perhaps unable to feel emotion or find anything humorous. I find it difficult to find any other reasonable explanation why he didn’t crack up laughing in the middle of his line like Jimmy Fallon on a Saturday Night Live skit.

So, fare thee well, oh sultan of the straight line, you duke of deadpan. You used to be a serious dramatic actor and then saw the humor in using that in a comedy career. Surely, you will be missed.

That would be me setting him up to respond from the heavens:

“I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Exceptional: Book 2 - Part 6

I know it's been a while, but, yes, this story is still active. Since I've left you wanting a new chapter for so long, you can follow this link to the previous chapters. Enjoy.

James jogged in the cold. His breath turned to wisps of cloud before his face and he ran through them. He would be at Dr. Caine’s creepy, over-sized warehouse within a few minutes.

He just assumed Dr. Caine would be there. In his mind, the doctor had nothing else to do with his time. The old man even lived there as far as James was concerned.

James hoped he would be there. He didn’t find Dr. Caine to be the most ideal candidate for a heart to heart conversation, but he filled the only truly important criterion. He knew who James really was. He knew he was different.

James really needed somebody to freak out in front of. He needed somebody to talk to. It didn’t matter what James got in return as long as he was able to release. He was prepared to let the old man spout off about anything he wanted to after he got what he needed off his chest. He just needed an ear.

As he drew closer to his destination, James felt himself feeling calmer already. A touch of hopefulness grew inside of him. Perhaps he wasn’t settling for the only person around. Maybe this was exactly what he needed to do. He had been leery about opening up to the doctor simply because of his age. His father trusted him. He even knew his grandfather. Even Dave thought James could benefit from the relationship. According to his extensive comic book research, Dr. Caine could be just the kind of mentor James needed, an educated man of science without confusing family tie to James who could provide sound advice and guidance. Perhaps fate was leading him to seek Dr. Caine’s help, James thought. This might be the push he needed to get to know the doctor better.

James’ cell phone rang. He fished it out from his pocket just as he turned the corner and could see the large grey building where Dr. Caine conducted business.

CALL FROM…DAVE, read the screen.

“Now he calls,” James said gruffly. He hit ignore and shoved the phone back where he had found it.

(Beep beep)

There came the voicemail from Dave that James would not check. He didn’t even take the phone out this time. He merely pushed the button along its side that kept him from being bothered by any repeating notifications of the message from the friend he was ignoring.

James hopped the black iron fence surrounding the facility and had nearly reached the building. He found himself confused about where to enter. James hadn’t noticed how many different doors there were on his previous visits.

(Bee-da-beep)

“Really?!” James said aloud as he promptly ignored the text message Dave was now sending him.

Which door was it? It hadn’t been an overhead door. James thought he remembered it being grey…or maybe green?

(Bee-da-beep)

James resisted the urge to remove his phone from his pocket and throw it as far as he could as he ignored another text from Dave. That door had to be around here somewhere.

(Bee-da-beep)

When the third text message came through, James stopped where he stood and took out his phone. Instead of checking a single message, he turned it off and dropped it back into his pocket.

“There,” he said to himself, frustration beginning to get the best of him. “Now where is that damn door?”

James began to run around the building to check if the door he was looking for might be on the opposite side. He felt like he was about to scream.

“And why does it stink so bad around here?”

Whoever was at the front door seemed to want it answered immediately. First the bell rang multiple times the way it does when an overzealous trick-or-treater arrives. Then there was knocking. The ringing and knocking alternated a few times, each becoming more aggressive. As James’ mother descended the staircase calling, “Just a minute,” wondering if someone was dying on her front porch, the knocking and ringing had interwoven into one big commotion.

She checked the peephole first and, seeing it was no threat, swung the door open as the bell still rang.

“David,” she shouted, both concerned and scolding in a this-better-be-good tone. “My word! What’s the matter?”

Dave stood at James’ front door, out of breath, his jacket open and with a stack of comic books tucked haphazardly under his arm. He cleared his throat and tried to compose himself as if he were trying to convince James’ mother that the frantic pounding had all been in her head.

“Ahem…um, yes, I was just, um…good evening Mrs. Barton. Is James home?”

“He left,” she said suspiciously as she eyed the boy. “You are going to freeze the way you’re dressed. Does your mother know you’re out like that?”

Dave ignored her concern and asked about James. “Is he due back soon?”

“I’m not sure. I think so. Should I tell him to call you?”

“No, no, that’s not good,” Dave muttered more to himself than anyone and shuffled back and forth on his feet. “Do you know where he went? Did he say anything? Was he upset?”

“He said he was going for a run,” James’ mother said. “He’s spent the last few days in his room so I was happy he was getting out. He didn’t seem upset.” She was growing more concerned about Dave’s behavior. She had never seen him like this before. “Why don’t you come inside and wait for him?”

“Noooooooo,” Dave dragged out his answer as he thought of what to do. “That’s okay, I’m just going to go now and if you see James some time soon, please ask him to call me.” Dave bit his lip and looked to the ground, then he turned down the walk and left, muttering to himself the entire time, “Where would he go?”

“David,” James’ mother called after him. “Where are you going?”

“Where?” Dave repeated while his mind was somewhere far away. “Where? Nowhere, I’m just…”

He stopped and turned to look at James’ mother, his eyes suddenly wide open. “Where!” He shouted. “Ware! Thank you Mrs. Barton. See you later!” Then he ran off down the street.

He turned the corner and was out of sight. James’ mother stood outside in the cold on her front porch and contemplated calling Dave’s mother. “Dear Lord, please don’t let him be on drugs,” she said aloud.

Meanwhile, Dave ran down the street, his open jacket blowing behind him like a cape. He knew where he was going to try and find James. Dave was headed for the old industrial complex on third street. He needed to find James soon.

“Ware. Ware…house,” Dave said and produced his cell phone. “C’mon, pick up.”

Dave slowed down and stared at the screen on his phone in disbelief when it went to voicemail faster than it should have. “He’s giving me the silent treatment. How dare he give me the silent treatment. I’m giving him the silent treatment.”

(Beep)

It was time to leave a message and Dave rushed the phone back to his ear.

“James,” he said loudly, “I don’t know where you are right now, but I hope it’s not with that doctor. Listen to me, James. You can’t trust him. He’s up to no good. You’re going to think I’m crazy, but you have to trust me. I should have seen it before but I wanted him to be good. I wanted him to be good so bad. He’s not good though James, he’s evil. Stay away from him. Call me when you get this.”

He hung up the phone, tucked it in his jacket pocket and continued on his way. Seconds later, the phone was back out. Dave began texting.

EMERGENCY (SEND)

CALL ME ASAP (SEND)

DONT TRUST DOCTOR = BAD GUY (SEND)

HEY JERK (SEND)

CALL ME ALREADY (SEND)

Dave was already out of breath but continued running as fast as he could.

“Not good,” he wheezed.

James swung the enormous iron door open. He thought momentarily that it seemed lighter than it ought to be before he reminded himself that he was stronger than he ought to be.

“Doctor Caine?” he called into the darkness.

He let his eyes adjust from the sun and eventually saw a dim light in the distance. It was at the other end of the building. It seemed like it was blocks away from where James stood.

Fumbling through the dark, James kicked at least a few unknown objects, nearly causing him to trip and fall on his face each time. On more than one occasion, he swore he heard something scurry off.

“Doctor Caine,” he called again into the distance. “It’s me, James. Are you here?”

James continued to advance slowly toward the far off light. After what felt like several minutes of walking, continually calling out to the doctor, James could finally see that the glow came from the lamp over the doctor’s lab table. It was the same table where James had watched him label blood samples. The light was on but the old man was nowhere to be seen.

“Doctor Caine,” James called again, softer this time.

He suddenly doubted his decision to seek out Dr. Caine. He felt that even if he had found him there, he would have surely been too busy to worry about the problems of a teenager who wasn’t even his relative. Besides, the warehouse stunk. James felt silly and humiliated. He wanted nothing more than to leave and was about to turn and go.

“James?” came a voice from behind. “James, is that you?”

James turned around to see Doctor Caine adjusting his glasses and wiping his hands vigorously with a rag.

“Doctor, I guess I didn’t see you there.”

“Yes my boy, I keep it awfully dark in here. Not worth the cost of lighting an entire building that is mostly unused. My apologies.” He walked closer to James than James felt comfortable with and smiled a yellow, long-toothed smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit here today?”

James found the doctor’s scent particularly overwhelming. The coffee and cheese on his breath. Blue cheese. And onions. James wondered what the man’s diet consisted of exactly.

And then there was the smell of the blood. The doctor was always working with blood. Blood of James’ relatives dating back generations. It didn’t seem right to James that anyone would be that interested in blood, or that content in spending so much time handling it, whether they had an extensive medical background or not.

“I just…I, uh, was…I mean, I wanted to talk to somebody,” James stammered. “I’ve been having a kind of rough time lately and I just needed somebody to…talk to. Somebody who understands that I’m different and could, you know, maybe give me some advice.” He turned his eyes to the floor in embarrassment. “I don’t know.”

While James spoke, the odors swirled around him. The blood and the doctor’s breath intertwined with one another. It made James think he would probably never be able to drink coffee without thinking he could taste blood. And there was another scent, beneath the others, but definitely there. Like every other scent James seemed to notice, it was familiar, yet foreign. He didn’t know what it was but felt he should.

“I have no problem talking,” Dr. Caine said and slid a chair toward James. “Please sit, my boy,” he suggested and James did so. “But, James, I fear I could hardly be a substitute for any amount of guidance your father might be able to offer. Is it something you feel you cannot speak with him about for some reason?” Dr. Caine made his way to his lab table.

“He’s not around,” James said.

Without hesitating, Dr. Caine continued sorting through items from his table and asked, “Is that so? Where has he gone?”

“I don’t know,” James shrugged. “On some business trip. I’m not even sure my mom knows where he is. It was a last minute thing and…well, now he’s not here and I screwed some stuff up and he’s not here to help and I really wish he was.”

The doctor turned from his table with a facemask in his hand. It was the kind of mask James had seen on doctor television shows. The kind the patient wears as they lie on the table during surgery.

“Calm yourself,” the doctor said. “I can see you are upset. Let me attach this to an oxygen tank and you can take a few deep breaths. It will help to clear your mind. Then we can talk some more.”

“Okay,” James agreed, desperate for something, anything that might help.

Dr. Caine walked behind where James sat in the chair. James heard the dinging of metal on metal.

“So tell me,” the doctor spoke from behind him, “did your mother seem distressed that you father had gone on this trip. You said it was a rather sudden turn of events, did you not?”

“She didn’t seem worried,” James said, trying his best to answer. He was distracted by that one smell. It caused him to turn his head from side to side now and then. It pawed at his face like a house pet that demanded attention. “I mean, I can’t remember the last time he went on a trip for work, but she seemed to think it was totally normal, so I didn’t really think twice about it.”

“Well it’s encouraging to know that she isn’t concerned. Now put this over your nose and mouth.”

As Dr. Caine helped James place the mask on his face, the odors became blocked. That alone was a relief to James. His thoughts became clearer almost instantly.

“Now I want you to start taking deep breaths as I release the valve,” the doctor instructed.

James obeyed. As he took a deep breath and another, his head cleared. The scents were gone. He could remember them, but they were no longer assaulting his nostrils, keeping him from thinking straight. As James heard the hissing sound and felt the rush of the gas on his face, he took another deep breath and felt a memory coming back to him regarding what the new scent he couldn’t quite place was. It was right there on the fringe of his memory like he could almost reach out and grab it.

“Good. Good. Keep breathing now, my boy. Just a bit longer.”

James took another deep breath and could feel the gas flow into his lungs.

His father. The scent was his father. It was the scent James had smelled before on the few times that they took runs together long enough to cause him to break out in a sweat. James took another deep breath, satisfied that he had finally placed what it was he had been smelling.

By the time James thought to question why he could smell his father’s sweat so clearly in the warehouse, his head had already gone fuzzy. The nitrous had taken effect and he collapsed off of the chair and onto the cement floor. The last thing James remembered seeing was the doctor opening a door in the floor. Then he blacked out.

Bargain on this Week's Features

The long weekend has come to an end and I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving. But now we have business to attend to. It’s time to update our weekly features.

This week’s top five list is the top five things to avoid at your job’s holiday party:

5. Alcohol – When the ever-lasting puke stain on the carpet in your office is pointed out, don’t let everyone stare at you.

4. Mistletoe – This becomes even more important to avoid if you failed to heed my advice and avoid number 5. You’d be amazed how many people have cameras ready to go.

3. Impressions – I know you have your boss’s voice, mannerisms and even his clich├ęd catch phrases down pat, but this is not the forum. It sucks when you perform a hilariously belittling impression of your boss and are met with awkward stares because he was standing right behind you the whole time.

2. Copy machines – We all know what happens here. Stay away! Should you need further motivation, remember that somebody else has more than likely pulled the same prank already. When you put your bare ass on that copier it’s like putting your bare ass up against the bare asses of everyone else that has pressed their bare ass against that copier.

1. Attendance – Above all, avoiding attending the party at all will prevent you from hearing unwanted gossip and rumor and potentially embarrassing yourself. Coming up with a previous engagement is the way to go.

This week’s cool-ass thing you will never own is a Harrier Jet. This time of year in particular it would be convenient. You can avoid long commutes in poor weather by soaring over the rest of the traffic. Parking is a breeze when you can drop straight down into the spot or just land on a rooftop. You can also use the hover and strafe technique to take out would be competitors trying to snatch up your holiday bargains.

This week’s sign you are a nerd is that the words Star Trek appear on your Christmas list. Is there some sort of aspect of the show that hasn’t been covered by now? How many new products can there be for a show that hasn’t produced a new episode of any kind in over five years? Star Trek is competing with Seinfeld to be the Tupac of television shows.

This week’s nemesis is ice. You never realize how much moisture was on the ground overnight until you’re fishtailing on your way to work the next morning. No coffee for me, thanks, I had an adrenaline shot on the way in.

This week’s lesson learned is to wake up earlier on cold days. I seem to have no consistent method by which to predict how much ice (this week’s nemesis) might appear on my windshield. Plus, the more time you give the heating system or your heated seats to warm up, the more pleasant you’ll be to everyone for the rest of the day.

This week’s equation is:

The time in days (t) you need to commit to shopping this holiday season can be found by starting with the number of people on your list (n) and subtracting from that the number of those people who would be perfectly happy receiving a gift card (c). This result should then be multiplied by the average pop culture awareness level of the same people (p, expressed as a value of 1-10, ten being the most aware) and your personal obsession with finding the best deal on whatever you are shopping for (s, expressed as a value of 0-5, five being the most anal). This product should be divided by the average age in years of the people on your list (y). Finally, add to this the number of list members who are thirteen years of age or younger.

Finally, this week’s Star Wars quote came to me as I was thinking of the sudden temperature drop. “Artoo says that the chances of survival are 725 to 1. Actually, Artoo has been known to make mistakes…from time to time…oh dear.”

Enjoy the beginnings of the holiday season. December will be here in a few short days. And remember to practice your elbow strikes, it’ll help in the middle of a sales rack.

Thanks as always for reading.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

If Lego is Wrong, I Don't Wanna Be Right

Every now and then an event occurs that shakes your faith in something you previously believed to be unquestionable. You find out the truth about Santa or the Easter Bunny. The x-ray glasses finally come in the mail. Your son beats you at Blades of Steel.

It’s like a punch in the gut. You become disillusioned and everything you once counted on has a shadow of doubt cast upon it. You begin to question who you are. I received one such philosophical slap in the face recently.

My household operates under a few absolute principles. You must support your family. Education is important. Hard work will lead to rewards. Do the right thing even though it is rarely the easy thing. You will find the Lego piece you are looking for if you just keep looking.

This is how it has always been. Every Lego set I have assembled since I was a kid has left me looking for a piece at some point. Yet every time I started to convince myself that the piece was missing from the set, through some error on the part of the packaging facility, there it was. It always turned up. I’ve preached this mantra to my sons as they become more immersed in the world of Lego. Don’t get frustrated, it’s in there, you just aren’t seeing it. It’s been a valuable lesson in patience and keeping one’s cool under pressure.

My wife picked up a sizable Lego set with my boys the other day. They had done well on their report cards and were going to be off all week for the holiday, so she thought she’d pick up a set we could all contribute to over a few days. The Shuttle Adventure set (model #10213 in your at home catalog for those who wish to follow along) slowly took shape over the course of the week on our dining room table.

Three days into the 1,204 piece project, with the minifigures being built first by my sons (one male and one female astronaut I might add…well done, Lego), we ran into a hurdle. There were white pieces aplenty and a flat one by eight was giving me an awful time about being found. I was able to locate a number of one by six pieces, but not a single one by eight.

“No need to worry,” I told myself, “it’ll turn up. It always turns up.”

In the meantime, I retrieved a piece matching the size we needed from the extensive brick surplus that my childhood obsession with Lego has afforded us. I didn’t want to hold up the build and figured that when we completed the set, the one by eight would be staring at me and I would replace the spare piece we used with its exact duplicate.

By the time we finished, I had nearly forgotten all about this. I handed the nearly empty bucket containing only the few extra pieces that the Lego Company leaves in with any set (usually the smallest of the pieces) to my son so he could toss them in with our extras in the basement as per out normal protocol. Only casually did I glance into the bottom on the bin and notice a thin white piece larger than the average spare.

“Ah, there’s the missing one by eight,” I said as I picked it up and turned it over in my fingers, my insecurities consoled as usual by Lego.

But my keen observational skills, even set on casual, couldn’t help but notice the long, thin, white piece in my hand, while thin and white, was not quite as long as it ought to be. Imagine my surprise when I realized I was holding a one by six piece, not the one by eight I expected.

Could it be? Had Lego failed me? Had a brick actually been mistakenly replaced by another? As much as I tried to blame myself, I couldn’t deny the box had been packed incorrectly. Regardless of how slight the difference between the bricks in question, a mistake was made.

I now fear the worst. Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourself for Armageddon. Nothing is certain from this day forward. Hug your children and tell them you love them. Venture outside if you dare, but beware of flying pigs and the freezing over of Hell. All that exists may begin crumbling around us at any moment. If Lego can make a mistake with their packaging, I’m afraid nothing may be as it seems. Have you seen Inception?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Christmas. Is. Go!

Okay, it’s time. You can start preparing for Christmas now without the fear of incurring my wrath. I know you’ve been waiting for my blessing, so now you have it.

The lady down the block who does her best Martha Stewart impression year after year is so afraid of me that she waited until I was gone for the day yesterday. Ten she put her Christmas decorations up in the dark of night. While I was tempted to go knock on her door during Thanksgiving’s twenty-third hour and call her our on it, I decided to let it slide. ‘Tis the season, after all.

Since you have the all clear, you may as well make the most of it. Put the tree in the window. Start playing that Nat King Cole Christmas album (the man had such a velvety smooth voice that it’s a shame his Christmas carols are only appropriate for one twelfth of the calendar year). Buy a puppy for the kids and keep it in a box in your closet for the next month (don’t forget to make holes in the lid). Punch someone in the face over a Justin Bieber doll or a Kung Zhu pet. Let the spirit of the season fill your heart.

The pressure will be on to give that perfect gift. Those of you with kids will have to somehow decipher which toys your children will actually enjoy and which ones they are asking for simply because of the constant brainwashing they have been subjected to via commercials during their cartoons. It is a long and arduous journey that lies ahead of you this holiday season. One wrong purchase could knock you from the precipice of world’s greatest (fill in parent/guardian title here) and propel you downward to the depths of uncaring, old, out of touch fuddy-duddy.

Fear not! In the spirit of giving, I will be giving to all of you the gift of my insight and knowledge of the awesome. I’ll be shelling out some advice you didn’t ask for regarding where you can go to get some supremely spectacular holiday gifts. I shall be working on a Transformer Generation Dad approved gift list to be featured on this very blog very soon (aren’t you so very excited?). However, I’m releasing none of this information to the public until I have already purchased the items I need. All’s fair in love, war and Christmas shopping.

Yes, Christmas time is here. Time for joy and time for spending money beyond your limits such that you have to count on that income tax rebate check in the spring to recover. It’s the most wonderful shopping spree of the year. Merry Christmas to all and to all some good luck. You’re going to need it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Thoughts Mushier Than the Mashed Potatoes I'm Planning on Stuffing Myself With

Today is not just a day to stuff yourself. It is not just a day when you need to keep your eyes shielded from potential burst buttons shooting across the living room. It is not merely a day to lie around and watch terrible football teams get destroyed by decent football teams while barely conscious as you slip into a food coma.

Today is more than that. It is, after all, Thanksgiving Day, which, is you translate into Japanese, then into ancient Greek and then back into English, loosely translates to “a day to be appreciative and pay homage for that which you should be humbly thankful.” Again, that’s a loose translation.

Today is the day to stop and think about all the things that you are thankful for, even the things that normally drive you crazy. I, for one, Have plenty of things that usually annoy me that I realize I ought to be thankful for.

I am thankful for my job. It allows me to support my family and put food on the table when so many people are out of work.

I am thankful for my dog even though he just recently decided to start pooping on the sidewalk in my gangway instead of in the grass in the backyard. He’s always there for companionship and to eat the scraps of food that fall to the floor during dinner because my sons can’t seem to eat over their plates. That really saves my back.

And of course, there are the things that you take for granted day to day. Thanksgiving is a time to remember the simple pleasures in life and renew your appreciation for them. In my life, these include coffee, Lego bricks, the original Star Wars Trilogy, comic books, video games, air conditioning, high definition television, the state of Minnesota, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, red meat and the loyal readers of this blog, just to name a few.

But above all, today is a day to give thanks for the people in your life who make each day bearable. It’s a day to appreciate those whom you turn to for comfort and support when all of the above listed things don’t seem like the gifts they truly are. It’s a day to spend with family and friends, to surround yourself with those you love and with those who you know love you no matter what.

I’m thankful for all my family, my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles for providing me guidance and encouragement. I’m thankful to my brothers for being role models and mentors. I’m thankful to my friends for being better at keeping in touch than me and for always making it seem like I just saw them yesterday no matter how much time has passed between meetings.

Most of all, I’m thankful for the fellow inhabitants of my house. My sons provide me with laughter, love and constant entertainment. Even on the days when they are driving me crazy, they are two of my best friends in the entire world and I can’t imagine life without them and not just because I wouldn’t have an excuse for spending so much time in the toy aisle of the department store.

I’m thankful for my wife. Not least of all, I’m thankful for the fact that she provided me with such beautiful kids. I’m thankful for what an outstanding mother she has been from their time in the womb up to and through today and for the privilege of watching her do it the whole time. I’m thankful for the fact that our sons look more like her. I’m thankful for all the support and love she has provided me with over the years. She is a best friend, a mother to my children, a wife, a lover, a dancing partner, an editor, an audience, an intellectual, a shoulder to cry on, someone who makes me feel needed and more all rolled into one sexy package.

While I could get by without coffee or steak or Lego (okay, maybe not Lego, but all that other stuff), I can’t imagine a day without my family. I don’t want to picture life without my wife and my awesome sons. Today, I am thankful tat I don’t have to.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oh, That's Deconstruction, Clementine

I woke up this morning to my seven-year-old informing me that his little brother was crying. Once my cobwebbed brain processed this information, I could hear my six-year-old crying downstairs.

What I heard was not a cry of agony from taking a Nerf sword to the side of his melon or a distance miscalculation when jumping between couches. Instead I heard a soft sobbing. It was the sound of heartbreak.

“Why is he crying?” I asked.

“He’s crying about the song, Clementine.”

There came footsteps up the stairs and the sobbing drew closer. My seven-year-old ever so compassionately rolled his eyes, exited and was replaced in my bedroom doorway by his younger brother.

“Daddy. His daughter is lost forever,” he said sadly and began sobbing uncontrollably.

You see, my sons have a small wooden harp. It comes with about a dozen songs printed on paper inserts that slide between the wooden body of the harp and its strings. You can pluck the strings in the order printed on the inserts and play a song. Included on the inserts are the lyrics.

They’ve played with this harp from time to time over the last few years. It would seem that my youngest son’s recently acquired ability to read allowed him to finally read the lyrics to “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine,” which he had previously only known to him as the song Huckleberry Hound always sings. And this caused him to be distressed at the loss of Clementine.

He climbed into our bed and cried and I tried to think of a way to console him.

“I know, it’s a sad song, isn’t it? But it’s just a song, buddy. There wasn’t really a Clementine.”

He continued to sob.

“Does it make you afraid of being lost?”

He shook his head and still cried. “It’s just sad,” he said.

He had a point. It was sad. But, sad songs had their place in the world and sometimes you need to listen to sad songs. And no matter how much somebody consoles you and tells you not to be sad, you just have to take some time and let it and, eventually, get past it. So, I just held him for a little while and let him cry.

He lay there with my wife and I, lamenting the short, sweet life of Clementine and his crying finally subsided. I was proud of him for seeking out comfort and dealing with his sorrow. But I was proud of him for something else, too and I wanted to let him know about it.

“Hey, buddy,” I said as he climbed off of our bed and started t walk away. “I’m proud of you for reading the words to the song and figuring out what they meant. That’s called reading comprehension.”

I received a blank, can-I-go-now stare in return.

“You read a song, which is just like a poem. So what you just did was read and interpret a poem. I’m actually really impressed.”

He turned and left without a word and I suspect he might have rolled his eyes the same way his older brother had earlier as he walked out. Meanwhile, I put my hands behind my head and took a deep, satisfied breath, knowing that my boy’s literary skills were developing. Today he’s analyzing poetry, tomorrow he’ll be employing literary devices like the metaphor, onomatopoeia and in medias res into his own writing.

They grow up so fast.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Nerd That Rocks the Cradle

The eternal conflict between nature and nurture could be witnessed in my home the other day. We played host to my two-month-old niece who has been having some acid reflux problems (poor kid, poor adorable kid) while my sister-in-law attended a social function.

Six years removed from daily infant interaction apparently makes you rustier than either my wife or I anticipated. Now clear on the other side of diaper changing, goo-goo-ing and excessive sleep deprivation, we overestimated our ability to fall right back into our previous expertise in caring for and entertaining babies.

We found ourselves with a very cute baby on our hands who was very upset. Her diaper was changed, she had a dose of “gripe water” and was being walked and simultaneously bounced. She expressed her continuing displeasure very clearly yet there was still over an hour between us and her next scheduled feeding. Stretching out the meal times is apparently an important technique when trying to provide babies with acid reflux some kind of relief. As mere temporary caretakers, we figured we could absorb the brunt of our tiny loved one’s anger for a short time to try and help her parents in the long run.

Even though the child is adorable enough to reduce the most proper adults to blubbering fools (Where’s the pretty girl? Where is she? There she is! A-boo-boo-boo-boo-ppppbbbbhhhhttttt!) the constant sound of her crying was breaking both our hearts and minds. It was time to get creative.

My wife and sons (her proud, adoring older cousins) played peek-a-boo and made silly noises. We played a song that always used to calm my sons when they were infants (Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing for those taking notes at home). I even cooked up some bacon, because who doesn’t like the smell of bacon? None of this worked, though it should be noted that a crying baby has no effect on the deliciousness of bacon, which made me feel better.

We don’t have toys geared toward infants around the house anymore. The boys play now with action figures and Lego bricks, read a lot, ride bikes and jump on the trampoline. None of this was baby appropriate (or safe). And my little adorably uncomfortable niece was too young to play video games.

POP! Fizzzzzzzz…

That was the flash and fizzle sound of my brain hatching a ridiculous idea. She wasn’t old enough to play video games because infants don’t have hand eye coordination at that age. Anyone who doubts this should just watch a baby poke itself in the eye a few times. She could, however, watch video games.

I told my wife I had an idea. I could tell that she was obviously feeling sorry for our baby niece and desperate to comfort her, because she didn’t respond with a suspicious, “What kind of idea?” and allowed me to take the little one from her and bring her to our room.

Once there, I fired up the Xbox and started the factory-installed game, Hexic. With the volume up and my niece held at eye level with the screen, the crying suddenly ceased. The multi-colored hexagons, spinning, disappearing and dropping before her eyes, held her captivated. Not only did we hold out the hour until her next feeding, but we were able to extend her wait for an extra twenty minutes or so as she stared at the glory that is video gaming for over an hour.

Transformer Generation Dad, for the win!

When my wife took possession and began feeding her some formula, I took a moment to reflect. My sister-in-law and her husband are not people I would classify as nerds. They don’t talk about video games and I’ve never heard either of them use a Star Wars metaphor in conversation. So was it just the bright colors that interested their daughter or could the nerd gene be present in her? Was there a recessive nerd trait from past generations that made it into her somehow? Could it be that the synapses in the geek lobe of her developing brain were clamoring for some sort of stimulation?

I can’t be certain, but I do know she was receptive. I also know that, whether it be an inborn nerd tendency (nature) or a reaction to newly introduced stimuli (nurture), it is my responsibility to ensure that this potential geeky side of her is allowed to develop.

From now on, when we babysit, her crafty old uncle will devise schemes by which to expose her to the finer things of geekdom. We’ll continue with Hexic in the early months. Then we’ll move on to reading books together. I’ll set aside The Very Hungry Caterpillar and read Spider-Man or Captain America instead. Neil Gaiman published a children’s book entitled The Wolves in the Walls. That may find its way onto our bookshelf. Eventually, we’ll start watching the Star Wars films while she’s over, starting with Episode IV, of course (my niece brings a whole new meaning to A New Hope).

I must at least provide her with the option of expressing that side of her personality, should it truly exist. A nerd is a terrible thing to waste.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Give Thanks For Weekly Features

The week of Thanksgiving is upon us. It's no coincidence that TGD could stand for Transformer Generation Dad or Thanks Giving Day (or Dinner). It is one of my favorite holidays.

Each year, I have a full day. I eat, drink, watch football, eat, drink, eat, eat, watch some more football and then eat. Plus, my sons have an extremely short school week so I get spend extra time with them. I am truly thankful for all of this. I am also thankful for all of you loyal readers and I plan to reward you now by updating our weekly features.

Our top five is Thanksgiving side dishes:

5. Corn - I'm not one to worry about vegetables on the year's greatest day of eating, but you gotta have some corn, whether it be on the cob or in your mashed potatoes. It's so versatile.

4. Sweet Potatoes - Mashed with a little butter and brown sugar. Delicious. Plus they add a little color to your plate.

3. Stuffing - To this day, I have no clue what all the ingredients are, but it's good and that's all that matters.

2. Mashed Potatoes - My grandmother happens to make the world's best and they will take up approximately 33% of my plate.

1. Gravy - Yes, due to the volume used, I am considering it a side dish on its own. You can put it on turkey, stuffing, potatoes or drink it straight. Is there anything it can't do?

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is a flying car. Not because they don't exist either, because they do. Sure, it's no Back to the Future 2 Delorean, but if you have 350 large burning a hole in your pocket and you want an extremely ugly car you will never use, just follow this link.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that one of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions is pointing out to your relatives that, while turkey contains L-tryptophan, an amino acid which is known to induce drowsiness, it doesn't contain enough to make you drowsy on its own and the post-meal lethargy everyone is experiencing is more likely a result of overeating. You just have to use science to point out what fat asses we are, don't you. It's no wonder Uncle Hal always leaves early.

This week's nemesis is the Detroit Lions. I remember watching them play on Thanksgiving maybe once in my lifetime in a relevant game. They suck so bad every year, yet they get the guaranteed Thanksgiving game. Why?

This week's lesson learned is that you can save time raking leaves from your front lawn if the neighbor downwind of you hasn't raked their leaves yet. Just let them blow over and leave it for them to clean up.

This week's equation is designed to help you prepare for the inevitable weight gain after Thanksgiving dinner. W is the weight you will gain, m is the total mass of food on your plate, s is the number of servings you take, v is the number of servings of digestion aiding vegetables you consume a d is the number of different desserts you can't help but sample.


Finally, this week's Star Wars quote is from C3PO: "Thank the maker!"

Thank you again for reading. Next time, bring your friends. Everybody's welcome here at Transformer Generation Dad's table.