Friday, April 27, 2007

The Slurpee Defense

I am certainly not the smartest guy in the room. On occasion, I am the smart aleck in the room, but that’s a whole other topic. At any rate, in my time here on this planet I have come to learn a number of things that help me to know that the world is in balance, if only precariously. These little things are the constants in life that we can count on like gravity keeps us from floating up in the air and water is wet. Without them, we feel a certain uneasiness. Let me share them with you:

1. Asparagus will make your pee stink. Try as you might to dilute it with large quantities of alcohol or a cherry slurpee, that little green vegetable’s odiferous power will not be masked. You might as well just stop trying and move on.
2. If a man has a mustache – no other facial hair – it’s a 98.72% likelihood that he’s a cop or a firefighter . . . or it’s Tom Selleck reprising his role in Magnum P.I. Little known fact: Adolf Hitler went to his college career advisor to ask about how he could become a police officer and found that the waiting list was three years long, but there were immediate openings in the dictator department.
3. When you walk into a men’s public restroom, four out of the five seats in the stalls will be peed on – the one that’s not was last used by a married man but is most likely left in the “up” position. And three of the other four were most likely used by married men, too, who have been wed less than five years.
4. You will never become a millionaire, lose seventy-five pounds, or grow your hair back as a result of something you heard about through junk mail.
5. Regardless of your college major and the subsequent career field you pursue, the things you learn in your Political Science 202 class will only come in handy when watching or competing on Jeopardy.

I defy you to prove these universal constants wrong. Sure, you’ll come back and say things like, “I rather enjoy the effect asparagus has on my bodily fluids” and “Hall of Fame pitcher Rollie Fingers had a handlebar mustache, and he was never in law enforcement or public safety.” First off, on the asparagus issue, eeeewwww! (Please don’t invite me over to your home for Sunday dinner.) As for Mr. Fingers and others of his mustachioed ilk, they comprise the other 1.28% - I have statistics to back me up. What have you got?

As is true with all scientific truths, there will be exceptions that don’t so much as disprove but amuse or confuse. For example, you may be watching one of the upcoming presidential debates and one of the candidates will make sense. Or, you’ll be standing outside and the sun will be shining without a cloud in the sky, and you’ll suddenly feel rain drops falling. I can’t explain that one – nor can I explain how a candidate would make sense.

My recommendation is that you take comfort in these simple truths that I have outlined. Lay your head on your pillow at night and dream sweetly of a world that makes sense in its own weird way. And if in those dreams you suddenly find yourself on Jeopardy competing against Tom Selleck and Adolf Hitler, rest assured they won’t know Plato’s Theory of Forms either.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Breeding Contempt

We spend our early years fighting to stay awake for fear we’re going to miss something and the rest of our lives looking for ways to get us to bed earlier to avoid as much as possible. So, the inability to sleep for an adult goes against all sense and reason. Sure, there are those moments in time when we have important deadlines to meet, serious agendas to ponder, and the ongoing plot twists/cliffhangers of Desperate Housewives or Lost that will occasionally keep us awake at night. However, just lying there in bed with nothing to do but stare at the ceiling is frustrating.

I had a recent bout of insomnia and went to see my doctor. He asked me the usual questions: Do you drink a lot of caffeine before bed? Are you worried about something? Are you going to bed at the same time every night? Will you be paying in cash today? Ultimately, he gave me a prescription for a sleep aid and told me it was something to help turn my mind off – apparently sleep aids aren’t designed to put you to sleep but enable you to put yourself in a mental state on par with most politicians. I thought the lack of concentration I was experiencing from sleepless nights had already gotten me to that point.

Nevertheless, while in my weakened state, which my sons could sense like coyotes sniffing out a wounded rabbit, they came to me begging for a dog. Although I was able to withstand their pleadings, my lovely wife caved. She didn’t necessarily get to the point of ultimately saying they could have a dog, but she told them that we would start exploring our options. The irony of this – as if you don’t already see it – is such a statement is the human equivalent of rolling over!

We went to the local pet store in the mall – first mistake, I know – to check out the different breeds and their personalities. And that’s the problem: we’re talking breeds, as in PURE breeds. They wanted $2500 for a Chihuahua and $3600 for a Corgi! For that kind of pound-for-pound price point, I’m hoping to get something that I can ride and run errands. In fact, a single Chihuahua cost more than what my wife and I paid for our first cars COMBINED! And we didn’t have to worry about our cars chewing on the furniture or needing to be potty trained (although my wife’s first car had a master cylinder that leaked like an excited puppy’s bladder).

What happened to the days when dogs were allowed to roam the countryside without a leash and seek out romantic interludes of their own choosing? In the ensuing months you would see a little boy or girl in front of the grocery store with a box that said “Puppees 4 sale”, and they would cost twenty bucks apiece. For some reason, though, society has deemed “free love” for dogs as inhumane – looks like the 60’s were just a big, fat waste of time for our canine friends. Aren’t we going backward as a society by handpicking dogs’ mates and making them selectively breed? Oh yeah, that sure has worked out well for British royalty!

Quite honestly, I don’t believe I have the strength to fight society on this one. I’m afraid I might take a sleep aid and wake up shaved and neutered. At least I’d still have a political career ahead of me!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

An Ounce of Education

Just this week, a dear friend of the family passed away, and now arrangements are being made for his funeral and burial. My wife is helping organize and provide a luncheon for the family members after the funeral, and she’s been told to expect about 150 people. So, my wife and I took off to the local warehouse store to buy more shredded beef than you could pack in a small army’s collective colon – I’m guessing, of course.

In preparation for our shopping trip, my wife had determined the average portion sizes and such so we could be sure no one was left wanting. It all seemed so simple. However, as we’re standing in the shredded beef aisle, blocking all possible passage with our yacht-sized shopping cart, we find that it’s now important that we muster together our math skills to figure out the proper quantities. We must have spent twenty minutes alternately staring at each other and scratching our heads completely dumbfounded. Come on, we both graduated from college with four-year degrees, and we’re having trouble converting the number of ounces into pounds? Sadly, yes. All of the classes we were required to take on, say, the migratory patterns of three-toed sloths and the symbolism contained in The Iliad didn’t quite help.

A casual observer would have thought we were NASA engineers and the shelves before us were complicated charts and graphs detailing the pros and cons of re-entry with a disabled flux capacitor on the troubled spacecraft. “Houston, we have a problem. We’re morons!” At some point in our less-than-rocket-science moment, one of the clerks asked us if he could help. We, of course, declined. But for all we knew, he could have been Stephen Hawking in a really good disguise – we’ll never know now, will we? At long last we made the necessary computations and agreed we had the right quantities – but not without the help of the calculator function and web browser on my cell phone. Sad!

As you sit and reflect on this, some of you may ask, “Why on God’s green earth are you serving shredded beef at a funeral?” Fair question, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? I will tell you, though, that I had made some menu suggestions to my wife that were summarily vetoed: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (voted down for fear that we couldn’t pick a universally accepted flavor of jelly); pizza (voted down for fear that the dairy aspect of the cheese my cause “phlegminess”, which can’t be a good thing for people who have been weeping); and chicken nuggets (she just stared at me, no reason given). Oddly enough, I just listed the three main staples of my youngest son’s diet.

After lugging the ingredients we purchased into the house, I am confident we bought enough – my hernia will second that. As I sit and write this, my stumbling through a couple of simple math equations in the warehouse store is probably causing my pride to hurt slightly more than any discomfort in my back. Although I’m tempted to write a letter to my university asking for a partial refund – I won’t ask for it all back because I did meet my wife at their fine establishment – I’ll put that off for another day. Obviously, other things are more important right now. We’ll miss you, Frank!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Next Stop: Winnemuca!

You might as well know it up front: this is a story about my dad. Sure, everyone has a story about their dad that they like to tell at cocktail parties and casual business functions. I’ve come to learn that this is one of the basic duties as a father: to provide your offspring with some form of comic relief. This is not to say that all fathers are stand-up comedians – I had a scoutmaster once who was a father of four with no sense of humor at all – and we don’t need to be. In the normal course of our days, we unwittingly provide our children with little chestnuts that will be shared later at our expense. That’s life!

At any rate, my story begins backwards: two days ago I visited a company that sells and ships everything from big-screen TVs on down to watch batteries – and most often they’re all shipped in the same cardboard box. As I was watching the young man place an order of products into one of these said boxes, I saw a parade of odd-sized items being rearranged and jostled to fit together into a confined space, and that’s when I thought of my dad.

Every family vacation involved the family car. Over the years, the vehicle was a Chevrolet Kingswood (station wagon), a Volkswagen bus, a Dodge Dart, and a Ford Granada. Now, the first two had a roof rack, so when it came time for my dad to perform the packing chore, this was a piece of cake. There were times when I believe my dad used enough rope to summit Everest – twice – to tie it all down, and he would occasionally tense up when passing under overpasses that Semis had no problem navigating. However, the Dart and the Granada presented my father with a challenge – and it was one I believe he secretly relished. We would get all of the suitcases and travel paraphernalia out to my dad at 3:30 a.m. (One would think that a vacation was about rest, and getting up that early would contradict that notion. In my house, it was all about making good time from point A to point B. Our “scenic” stops were gas station bathrooms in places like Winnemuca, Nevada.) Once everything was delivered out to dad standing before the trunk of the family car, we would stop and watch to see if he could get it all in there. At this point, you did not dare talk, and offering to help was like asking Michelangelo if you could take a couple of whacks with the chisel on David. My older brother wanted to start a pool the night before one of these ordeals to bet on not only whether dad could fit it all in but in how much time. Mom put a kibosh on that one, declaring it would give us bad luck on the journey – looking back, I just think mom knew that she’d lose her shirt. In my eighteen or so years of traveling with the family, dad never failed us. Everything always fit. There was something Zen-like in his approach to this.

Now, in some instances we would seriously pray that nothing would go wrong with the car, not because of our fear of having to face the elements across the desert but because the only spot dad could fit the toolbox was at the very back of the trunk. Forget about a flat tire – the spare was, of course, buried beneath it all.

I’m completely at a loss as to what my sons will find eccentric or humorously odd about their old man. But while I contemplate that, I think I’ll go eat a Miracle Whip sandwich.