Friday, December 05, 2008

Christmas 2008

I believe you’ll all agree it’s been an odd year, and many of you look at this letter as the full stop, the period, at the end of that sentence of insanity. Happy to help!

Speaking of it being a strange year, just recently we went to purchase our Christmas tree at Home Depot and found the outside nursery entrance closed. The guy in lumber explained this was because they were anticipating a higher theft rate this year. While our sons almost ripped Erin’s arms off to get back to the nursery because she just wasn’t running at the speed of light, I followed behind musing on this little twig of information snapped off and offered up by this loquacious lumberman: did someone really go to the trouble to research a report on Christmas tree theft – is there big money in this – or was the guy just making stuff up? (If it’s the latter, he’s my kind of guy!)

Not finding anything earth shattering, we made our way to Target to peruse their selection. Surprisingly quickly, Erin found THE ONE and we were ready. Slight snag, though, they didn’t have any twine to tie the tree to the top of our Urban Assault Vehicle – our Honda Odyssey, Hugo. This was all part of their fiendish plan to force us to purchase some rope, which we did. I found the rope held far better than the twine ever did. With twine, I always drove home very gingerly to assure the tree’s safe arrival. This year, though, I had ROPE! So, we covered the five miles between Target and home in three minutes flat. On the turn into our neighborhood, we got Hugo up on two wheels. A group of kids on skateboards and BMX bikes applauded as we passed them – one of them saluted. We pulled into our driveway with the tree still affixed to the top of the van and all the needles on the tree still intact. (Be sure to purchase a fresh tree – with one that’s too dry, the drive home turns it into a replica of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.)

Sam turned 8 this year and was baptized. We’ve learned that he has a penchant for 80s music that’s “funky and fresh”, and he’s fascinated with afros. Soccer is fast becoming his favorite sport, and he’s still in the fundamentals stage of learning the difference between a fullback and a sweeper and how to kick the ball directly into the face of your opponent – that’s coming to him quite naturally, though. Given enough time, we hope he’ll learn how to start soccer riots at the level you see in Britain. Dare to dream!

At 11, Jack’s choice for this year’s Halloween costume epitomized his two loves: creativity and building stuff. Constructing it completely out of cardboard, he was a human traffic cone. At the beginning of his summer vacation, he underwent a tonsillectomy and did fairly well in the recovery process. However, on Day 10 – the day you’re supposed to be determined “better” – he started coughing up blood and had to be rushed to the hospital to have that area re-cauterized. And then he had 10 more days of recovery. That was one riveting “What I Did Over Summer Vacation” essay!

Although another year has gone by and Erin still hasn’t realized her dream of traversing the globe in a lawn chair tied to one thousand helium balloons, she’s still feeling fulfilled through her work at school and church. A few months ago, we decided to get some of our tax money back, so Erin went to work part time at the boys’ school as an aide. She came home after her first day and said, “What a glorious scam! I just got paid today to do the same stuff I used to do when I volunteered for free!” From that point on, you know she secretly sneers at those other parents at the school who are still volunteering: “Suckers!”

As for myself, I’ve recently learned that it’s hilarious to put clothes on a dog. Seriously! I’m not talking about the whack jobs who dress up their pets and take family photos with them because they think they’re cute. Put a sweater that has a big puffy collar on a dog, and you can’t help but laugh – what’s even funnier is the look on the dog’s face because she knows on some level that she looks ridiculous and that the other dogs are going to make fun of her. Earlier this year, before discovering the hilarity of dog dressing, I left the sexy world of selling crumpled-up Kraft paper, thus giving up a life of intrigue and travel to exotic locales like Fernley, Nevada, and Beaver, Utah. Now I work for a packaging company in Arizona, so I’m home practically every night. The dog’s not altogether happy about that, I’m imagining.

If there’s six feet of snow on the ground where you are, come visit us. Here in Arizona, around Christmas time, we walk around all day in t-shirts and thongs – you can decide if I mean sandals or not.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday, 4:32 p.m., at the Greene Home

Sam: Dad, I got a yellow card today.

Dad: What happened?

Sam: I was talking.

Dad: Well, you need to work on that don’t you?

Sam: But the kid I enjoy chatting with sits in front of me. (His choice of words here was about to put me in stitches. First off, he didn’t use the word “like” – “enjoy” expresses such a wider spread of positive emotions. Then, he didn’t use “talking” or “joking around” to describe the action from which he derives such pleasure – no, he suddenly turns into a 67-year-old British spinster who, when she’s not chatting, she’s nattering around her flat.)

Dad: That’s when you need to work especially hard not to talk. You need to tell him that you both need to keep quiet.

Sam: But, dad, he’s really funny. (At that, I had exactly ten seconds to make it to the bathroom before I wet my pants.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Santa Needs a More Ergonomic Chair

With less than a million days before December 25th, Christmas was heavy on both my sons’ minds as we were driving home from Wal-Mart this evening. My younger son, Sam, asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I certainly felt put on the spot, so I had to think fast. I told them I wanted a Slip-N-Slide. Both of my boys perked up at that, and you could read their minds like a book: “Cool! That’ll be like a bonus present for me!”

Perhaps wanting to continue the wet-and-wild theme, Sam announced he was going to ask Santa for this enormous inflatable waterslide that’s about as big as our house – he saw one on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on Sunday night. Careful not to spoil any illusions he may still be holding onto, I told him that I was reasonably sure Santa would not be bringing such an item to our house this or any other year. It’s not so much the cost – I’m looking out for Santa’s logistical constraints with so many stops and such limited space in his sleigh.

A momentary silence fell over the car as the suburban landscape rushed by our windows. Sam’s not one to let such a mood remain too long, and coupling that with his constant concern for his fellow man, he felt constrained to make public those inner thoughts that were ruminating about his head at that very moment: “You know, I feel kind of sorry for Santa having to go all over the world to deliver toys.” A quick glance over at Sam revealed he was really worried about the big guy making his rounds on that one magical night each year.

At that very moment, it was as if I could see what was taking place before his mind’s eye:

The scene: a squalid jail cell with inadequate lighting and a musty smell from a dripping faucet in the corner. In walks a skinny, pugnacious stub of a man wearing a khaki uniform, a belt hanging just below his armpits, and a silver badge that says “The Man.” Santa’s sleeping fitfully in the corner of the cell on a bench that needs a good varnishing.

The Man: “Wake up, fat boy! It’s time.”

Santa’s jarred awake, his eyes are bloodshot and worry is painted on his face.

Santa: “But I don’t want to go. It’s too cold outside, the reindeer have really bad gas because someone always seems to feed them a beef log and/or a can of Slim Jims just before we take off, and my Sciatica always acts up about two hours into the trip – that beaded seat cover some of those New York cabbies use doesn’t do squat for me.”

The Man: “A deal’s a deal, chump. Every year you make the same bet with the Easter Bunny, and he always wins and gets to vacation down in Boca while you have to stay at the North Pole and fly around the world delivering toys. He hides eggs – that’s what he does, and he’s good at it. You’ll never be able to find them all in a half an hour. I don’t care if you have your elves on the lookout when he’s hiding them – that’s cheating by the way, which’ll get you on your own naughty list. What irony! Now get up, and get dressed!”

Dejected, Santa stands up and walks to the door of the cell. The Man shoves the key home and turns the lock, swinging the door open and taking a step back to size up his ward.

Santa: “Alright. But have you ever been downwind when Rudolph gets a sinus infection? How do you think he gets a red nose? Ugh! Fine, tell the elves to get everything ready. We’ll be leaving in ten minutes. But first, I need to use the john and take a Percocet.”

Looking to snap Sam out of his reverie, I turned the radio on and heard the final seconds of “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd. Which is funny because that’s exactly how Santa’s going to feel if he mixes that Percocet with a little bit of spiked eggnog.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Oprah Explained

Have you ever tried to learn a new language? Sure, you go through all the grammar lessons, verb conjugation, learning the proper gender of certain words (you think I’m kidding), syntax, etc., but when it comes to being conversational, you have to display more than a textbook grasp of the language itself – you have to learn the idioms, the catchy sayings that identify you as a native speaker. In light of that, have you ever stopped to think of all the idioms we use in the American dialect of the English language that either make no sense or cause someone learning our language for the first time to say (in their own language, of course), “With minds that work like that, how is it possible that they became a superpower? That’s embarrassing to the rest of the world!”

Here’s just a sampling:

Beat a Dead Horse: Is there some part of the country in which it’s legal to beat a live horse? Is the purpose of this saying to convey the sheer uselessness of beating a dead one because there’s a whole paddock full of naughty horses just waiting their turn to take a lickin’?

Can’t Cut the Mustard: Has there ever been a time in human history when someone has needed the help of someone else to slice through a dollop of mustard? If so, can a person REALLY fail to do that?

Dropping Like Flies: Now, I could certainly see a group adopting the saying “Buzzing Around Like Flies” or “Landing All Over my Potato Salad Like Flies”, but I have in all my time on the face of this planet never seen a fly just drop from out of the sky. Sure, if it hits a bug zapper, it’s taking a dive, but so would you if you decided to walk right into something that delivers a gajillion volts of electricity through your entire body. If you’re wont to do that, perhaps they should change the saying to “Dropping Like Phyllis (or whatever your name may be)”.

Cock and Bull Story: Think back to the last ten or twenty tall tales or outright lies you’ve heard someone tell and ask yourself one simple question: Did a single one of them involve either a rooster or a male cow, or both of them for that matter? Do either of these animals have a tendency to stretch the truth more than the rest of the animal kingdom? Perhaps that’s why Oprah doesn’t eat beef!

Going to Hell in a Handbasket: I can understand the first part of this idiom – things are going from bad to worse – but the phrase “in a handbasket” has me over a barrel (I couldn’t resist). Is there something less than dignified about being carried somewhere in a handbasket as opposed to a bucket from Home Depot? Are we to assume Little Red Riding Hood was an emissary from the Underworld because of her devilish choice of conveyance for her grandmother’s goodies?

No Room to Swing a Cat: This certainly has to have a similar origin to the whole horses-who-like-the-beatdown thing. Was it during the Industrial Revolution when there was a shortage of tape measures that some carpenter’s aide said, “Wait, I got this one. If I can swing old Fang in a circle without hitting his head on anything, we should have enough space to install an elevator right here.”

I can picture the beleaguered foreign student leaving his English class one evening and deciding to strike up a conversation with the first person he sees on the street: “I learned about a mustard cutter who failed to swing his cat in a small room. He was so upset by this that he went to beat on his horse but found it was already dead and covered by flies.” His conversational companion undoubtedly is going to give him a very strange look, which will elicit something else from the student: “If you think that’s a cocky bull story, you and your handbasket can take a trip to hell.”

As he sits in the local precinct adjacent to a diner to fill out an assault report, he’ll say to the officer, “Do I smell bacon?”

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Hillbilly Holiday

Recently, we took our kids on a cruise. We chose to go with the company whose name rhymes with Fisney. The cruise itself met and exceeded all of our expectations – except that the Coke was less than carbonated – and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has a pulse. But as I look back on our cruise experience, I can’t help but think it wasn’t quite what television and movies have portrayed cruises to be – and a lot of that is my own fault.

Hollywood usually shows the happy cruise goers ascending into a spacious jumbo jet with plush seats and leg room to rival the expanse of the Louisiana Purchase where they’re greeted by a stunning, blonde flight attendant and served filet mignon and drinks with little umbrellas in them. Instead, we crammed into a Boeing 737 with all coach seats and a guy who spent the four-hour flight eating an entire block of cheese. The woman sitting across the aisle from my wife, about halfway into the flight, reached under her seat and pulled out a Styrofoam clamshell box full of Chinese food. You do the math: four-hour flight, halfway through the flight, that’s two hours. Sure, there are enough preservatives in that stuff to keep anything “edible” until Haley’s Comet comes back around, but they do nothing for the smell.

When we arrived in Orlando, we caught the shuttle and proceeded to drive halfway back to Phoenix to retrieve our rental car. Such travels make a family hungry. So, after checking into our hotel and dumping our bags in our room, we went off in search of sustenance. One would think that being in a new city, one would seek out a local favorite featuring fare somewhat exclusive to that region and unleash one’s inner gourmand (that’s a fancy word for “chow hound”). No, we chose to unleash our inner Jethro Clampett and eat at the Cracker Barrel just up the street from our hotel. And for a hillbilly nightcap, I took the boys miniature golfing at a place with a marquee that read “Come feed our live baby gators”. I assumed they meant with your unruly children – that’s pretty good advertising.

The other thing movies and television don’t show you is the broad range of people you’ll see and meet on a cruise. And although you want to think you’re one of the beautiful people, you’re just as freaky as the rest. Despite the fact it was a family-oriented cruise, you still encountered the guy wearing a Speedo who really shouldn’t. (In all honesty, no man should wear a Speedo, but you know what I’m talking about. A friend of mine has come to call that a Spee-Don’t.) There was one woman who had enough extra skin on her back that she had cleavage coming and going. Ouch! But my particular favorite was the 60 year-old bald man wearing a t-shirt that read “Buffalo Soldier, Dreadlock Rasta” – did I mention that he was whiter than Michael Jackson? I’m sure there’s a blog out there written by one of our fellow cruisers that talks about a middle-aged man with a less-than-stellar physique who ate his weight in soft-serve chocolate ice cream covered in Hershey’s chocolate syrup – that freak would be me.

Lastly, what Hollywood fails to show you is the true disembarkation process. In the movies and on television, everyone’s dressed to the nines and the Captain and his inner circle are there to speak to every single guest to assure they had the time of their lives, that all unfulfilled dreams have been realized, that they’ve found a cure for cancer, etc. In reality, no one’s around as you waddle off the ship in the only pair of clean clothes you have left (you’re not even worried if they match) hoping that the ten pounds you gained on the eat-24-hours-a-day diet you’ve had over the last seven days aren’t going to cause the button on your shorts to pop off and hit your own child in the back of the head with a force sufficient to cause brain damage, or at the very least knock them out cold. Not that they’d notice anyway because they just loaded up on four chocolate doughnuts and two and a half pounds of bacon for breakfast. They think they’re seeing Mickey & Minnie waving goodbye to them – they’re really just carb-induced hallucinations, the things dreams are made of!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Moving the Merchandise

This past Saturday I opened my garage to pull my car out and run an errand when I saw my neighbors across the street holding a garage sale. No big deal. They do this about once every two or three months – I swear they have a warehouse full of this stuff because it always seems like they have at least one television set, a telephone, some type of hutch, and a table for sale at each one, and they’re not the same ones if you know what I mean. At any rate, in the time it took me to walk around my car and climb into the driver’s seat, I believe I saw between seven and eight vehicles pull up to my neighbors’ home and what seemed like hundreds of people come piling out of them like clowns out of a VW Bug at the circus. Of those seven or eight vehicles, I believe more than half sported bumper stickers for one or more Mexican soccer teams. Obviously, my neighbors had run an ad either on Univision or Telemundo – apparently, it’s not that expensive, and the reach those networks have is pretty vast.

By the time I had returned from my errand, all of the merchandise had moved except for the hutch. Have no fear, within another twenty minutes a woman pulled up in a station wagon and brokered some type of deal with my neighbors to take the hutch off their hands. With this extra money in hand, they could go buy more telephones and tables to be sold at a garage sale at a later date. Ah, the Circle of Life!

This year, we get to have a National Garage Sale – some of you more persnickety people out there choose to call it an Election – and move out some of the stuff that’s cluttering up our home and replace it with some other stuff we’ll invariably tire of in a matter of time. Come on, you see the similarities don’t you? Stiff, boxy accessories that just seem to be taking up space, gathering dust, and costing us far more than we should have paid in the first place – and there are the pieces of home décor, too.

Regardless of political affiliation, your choices in the National Garage Sale are all used products – some have a wobbly leg, others have a slightly scarred face, while others look pretty fresh but are rotting on the inside. In some instances, it’s a state giving up its Governor for a national position or a city surrendering one of their “greats” to run for a county or state seat. Sure, they stand there and tell you how wonderful he or she is as a leader. We never think to ask, “If they’re so nifty, why don’t you want to keep them?” Instead, we eat it up and tuck them under our collective arm and carry them to a new calling, all the while the city or state is standing there thinking, “Sucker!”
Nevertheless, vote with conviction! That’s your right and responsibility as an American citizen, for sure. (And if you’re like me, be sure to write yourself in for at least one position like Justice of the Peace – somewhere, there has to be a record showing that I got a vote.) But if you find yourself standing there at that flimsy plastic table with cardboard walls designed to be a voting booth (nothing says “Big Adult Patriotic Duty” like something that looks like a prop out of a third-grade school play), and you feel like you’re facing a moral dilemma by having to choose between candidates, just remember you can always put him or her up for sale at the next National Garage Sale. It’s one of the great constants in our universe: gravity will always keep us from floating away, water will always be wet, my mother will continue to buy the same style underwear for me at every birthday, and there’ll be another sucker willing to take the politicians off your hands the next time around.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Virtue of the Five-Second Rule

Lately, it seems like every time I turn on the television, there’s a news report about the grave concern we should all have about childhood obesity. Of course, accompanying those reports are videos of prepubescent boys and girls walking around in less-than-flattering bathing suits and ill-fitted clothing. (Wow, sounds like some old 8mm home movies I’ve seen of our family reunions!) One could take the view that all children are evil and, like vampires, they can’t see themselves in mirrors so this fashion gaffe is excusable. However, that one doesn’t wash because you see these children out in public when the sun is up (usually sitting in a food court at a mall). At this point, you want to yell back at the television reporter something in this vein: “Put childhood obesity aside for a moment, sister! What about this rash of completely moronic, if not insane, behavior displayed by these parents who allow a pudgy girl to walk out of the house wearing a bikini?”

While I’m still waiting on my online degree from Dr. Phil in psychology (three box tops from Raisin Bran and $5.95 for shipping and handling), I’m afraid I’m not qualified to touch on the reasoning/motivation behind this parental behavior. However, having been a pudgy young man at one point in my life (I’ve come full circle back to being a pudgy adult-like man) I feel I am more than qualified to explore the question of obesity. I blame the Olympics!

Before I explain, a little history lesson is in order: in 1785, Antoine Lavoisier put forth the Law of Conservation of Mass, which states “matter is neither created nor destroyed.” Not to be outdone by some Frenchy, the German physician and physicist and co-founder of thermodynamics, Julius Robert von Meyer (he later dropped the “von” because it made his business cards look too “stuffy”), put his own spin on it in 1842 with “energy can neither be created nor destroyed.” (Scientific genius aside, I’m impressed that both of these gentlemen were able to speak English with such facility and proper grammar.) And then in 1907, Al Einstein (“The Steiner” to his friends – I can’t tell you without blushing what his tenth-grade girlfriend called him) wrapped his arms around the whole thing with “the total amount of mass and energy in the universe is constant.”

With the Olympics upon us, these athletes have been losing weight and trimming down to be at their peak performance levels. Great, but where does all that mass (a kinder word for “fat”) go? Some of you smartypants out there would say it’s converted to energy and burned off. Ha! I didn’t have to go to college and major in something completely unrelated to science or physics to know that’s totally wrong! Look around you: whenever a friend or loved one loses weight, another friend or loved one gains the equal amount – it’s The Law, and you can’t break The Law. These Olympians are shedding the pounds, and that mass is descending on the waistlines and thighs of our children like Paparazi on a C-list celebrity walking out of rehab.

Why have the Olympics? The Cold War wasn’t won because of the West’s dominance in kayaking. The Cuban Missile Crisis wasn’t averted with the shotput. As far as I know, we haven’t found a cure for cancer with beach volleyball. Ironically, we sit around and watch people with freakishly perfect bodies do things that have no practical application. Take the Decathlon, for example: running incredibly fast for certain distances, jumping over obstacles, and throwing odd-shaped objects as far as you can. The only practical application I can find for that would be a life of crime.

If we really wanted to bring the Olympics down to a level of reality, we should have events like “how fast can you put a flyer for the local dentist on 200 windshields without provoking the ire of the car owner” and “escaping the boss’s notice for an entire morning, an entire afternoon, or the whole day” (that one could be broken down into heats, for sure). Other events could be “how much food can be eaten off the floor using the five-second rule” and “talking your way out of a speeding ticket.” Useful stuff, you know.

Oddly enough, the path to becoming a humor columnist never ran parallel to that of a world-class athlete. Hard to believe, I know. With that said, though, many of you may say my lack of understanding the appeal of the Olympics is rooted in my inability to master a pommel horse. That’s fair. But see how long it’ll take a pommel horse to get you to the grocery store to pick up dinner for the family.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Democracy on Aisle Ten (second try)

Not too long ago, I found myself in line at a convenience store getting ready to purchase “breakfast”, which consisted of a 32-ounce Coke and a pack of Ho-Hos. I realize my eating habits mirror those of a thirteen-year-old whose parents have left him home alone for the weekend for the first time, but what I did next would have made my parents proud. As I made the front of the line, I noticed a soldier standing a few paces back preparing to buy his breakfast – I can assure you, it was far more healthful than mine. When the clerk went to ring up my purchase, I motioned to the guy and said, “This and whatever the soldier’s having.” The young man walked up to me with his hand out and said, “Thank you, sir.” I could hardly look him in the eye – seeing a man with Ho-Hos crying is just what the terrorists want – and I said, “Thank you for our freedom!”

What makes us “Americans”? After a lot of soul searching (and a couple more Ho-Hos), I came to the conclusion that what makes the American culture so uniquely “American” has its roots in or association with the South. You go to the Northeast, and they have deep ties to Italian and Irish culture. In the Midwest, you have a lot of Polish and German influence. Latin America weaves itself solidly through the Southwest. And the West (read: California) has its origins from another planet. But the South gave us NASCAR and Elvis, Wal-Mart and Kentucky Fried Chicken – that’s America!

Do you want to know the real reason Abraham Lincoln was so adamant about not allowing the Southern states to secede? He knew that without the South, the country would have no identity – the resulting country would be known as “those ninnies who have no national identity”, or something like that.

In the wake of Sherman’s March to the Sea, the land was scorched and flattened. Popular belief is that Sherman’s plan in doing this was to assure the Confederate Army didn’t have anywhere to fall back and gain shelter and provisions. That was only a by-product of the March to the Sea. The real reason was to pave the way for Ted Turner (a northerner!) to start up CNN and open his cable superstation, TBS, bringing the world an endless supply of re-runs. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Coke’s headquarters are in Atlanta? Don’t be naïve!

Now, admittedly we have a rather kooky outlook on the rest of the world that doesn’t make a lot of sense. For example, we don’t think twice when our fellow citizens from one part of the country add an “r” to all words that end in “a” and drop the “r” at the end of other words and replace it with an “a” (example: Linder instead of Linda, Lobsta instead of Lobster), but when we hear some foreign tongues being spoken we think it all sounds like gibberish or a bunch of people who are really ticked off at each other all the time.

Also, we as Americans are very selective about what we deem as quality and how we talk about it. If something’s from France or Germany, it’s “imported”. That’s code for “classy”, which if my Latin serves me correctly is another word for “ridiculously overpriced”, or something like that. If it’s from somewhere else, we call it “offshore” and deem it as sub-standard. Using that line of reasoning, are we to assume the consumers living in those “offshore” countries are okay with buying crap?

Speaking of France and Germany, we really should be careful how we “value” their imports to us. There’s something off with both of them. Even today, the French just love Jerry Lewis – yes, he’s the same guy who has the telethon over Labor Day weekend who can’t ever seem to get his bow tie on his tuxedo clasped properly around his neck. And the Germans are absolutely ga-ga over David Hassselhoff’s music – he sings?

Another odd thing about our country is that the side that “won” the Civil War is known as the Yankees. In today’s vernacular, that means absolutely nothing because the only Yankees we know are a bunch of overpaid guys in pinstriped tights and black mascara (they say it keeps the sun’s glare down – ha!), and most of them aren’t even from this country and don’t speak English. Pass the fried chicken, the race is about to start!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Democracy on Aisle Ten

Once the Fourth of July has come and gone, will our patriotism have lessened in any way? Will our fervor, passion, and love for democracy and freedom reach a crescendo as the last firework pops in the sky and fades as the black of night descends over us in its place? Heck no! We’re happy to be Americans, warts and all, year round!

I have not travelled abroad extensively – Canada, Mexico, and Hong Kong are the three places I have visited – but I’m willing to bet we have a unique perspective of the world. That’s not to say that it’s better or worse than, say, a Belgian’s view but unique.

For example, when you watch the business portion of the evening news or read that section of the paper, you continually come across reports about “offshore” or “overseas” materials and technologies flooding the US market. You never see the reporter dancing a jig over this news; it’s always with a very stern face akin to that of someone who just wolfed down a box of prunes thinking it was a Whitman’s chocolates sampler. And when they speak of these “offshore” or “overseas” items, they’re always from a third-world country or China. Those terms are code for “inferior”.

By these news media’s standards, basically everything outside of the United States is “offshore” and/or “overseas” even if we’re connected by land. So, does that mean that the rest of the world just settles for crap? Does the guy from a Taiwanese factory that produces “offshore” lighting fixtures just go home and sit in the dark because he’s not going to be caught dead using the flop his company turns out? Does that thought ever cross our minds?

We as Americans are very selective about what we deem as quality and how we talk about it. If something’s from France or Germany, it’s “imported”. That’s code for “classy”, which if my Latin serves me correctly is another word for “ridiculously overpriced”, or something like that. Conversely, if I buy a dress shirt that’s made in Indonesia – I own my share – I’m not wont to tell people it’s made from imported cotton.

Speaking of France and Germany, we really should be careful how we “value” their imports to us. There’s something off with both of them. Even today, the French just love Jerry Lewis – yes, it’s the same guy who has the telethon over Labor Day weekend who can’t ever seem to get his bow tie on his tuxedo clasped properly around his neck. And the Germans are absolutely ga-ga over David Hassselhoff’s music, which is even worse than his acting.

The ironic thing about what makes us different is that most of those things that make the American culture so uniquely “American” have their roots in or association with the South. You go to the Northeast, and they have deep ties to Italian and Irish culture. In the Midwest, you have a lot of Polish and German influence. The Southwest is predominantly Hispanic. And the West (read: California) has its origins from another planet. But the South gave us NASCAR and Elvis, Wal-Mart and deep-fried everything.

Fortunately, David Hasselhoff was born in Baltimore, Maryland, which is north of the Mason-Dixon line, so for all intents and purposes we don’t have to claim him as part of our culture and can let the Germans have him to keep. The Belgian guy would agree.

We Don't Need Nine Lives

Our oldest son had undergone a tonsillectomy recently but had some complications and needed another surgery. This development threw a major monkey wrench into our vacation plans, but what could we do? I didn’t go to medical school, and my humor column credentials don’t necessarily qualify me to override the surgeon’s admonitions, so we ended up staying home. As a consolation prize for our son (and for my wife’s sanity), we bought the “Rock Band” game for Wii.

I would highly recommend everyone who reads this column run right out and purchase this game for their family. I don’t own stock in any of the gaming companies, and I can’t say I particularly fell in love with the game. No. My reasons for this recommendation is it’s a harmless but necessary reality check: after playing it for about two minutes, you’ll quickly realize you were never destined to be a rock star and your parents were right when they told you to go to college or trade school. Suffice it to say, my fantasy of being a drummer was crushed, and I can safely say my wife isn’t the next Nelly Furtado or Gwen Stefani. In other words, all the years of my life leading up to this moment weren’t wasted.

Listening to the radio the other day, the host of the program read a statistic that the average life span for American males is now 78 years. I didn’t think much of it until I realized that I’m going to turn 39 later this year – for all of you who don’t like to do math that requires more than taking your shoes off to count higher than ten, that’s exactly half. Rather than look at this in the classic half-empty/half-full manner, I care to look at it like a roller coaster ride.

As the great chain-driven Roller Coaster of Life chinks its way to the top of the hill, it’s nice to look around and take in the view that only such heights afford. You look around at your fellow passengers: some are peeing their pants with excitement even though nothing’s happened yet (there’s a huge metaphor in that alone, but we don’t have time), some are trying to look indifferent but you know they’d rather be giving a bath to a cat with a multiple-personalities disorder, and some have no reservations at all – they are screaming at the top of their lungs begging any deity or pagan god to deliver them from this evil.

Not me. I’ve enjoyed the ride up so far, but I’m certain my plunge through Middle Age will be an incomparable experience with the upcoming corkscrew of Paying for Braces and the double loop of College Tuition. Next will be the double humps of the Twilight Years that make you feel like you’re going to be thrown out of your seat, which produces that sensation that you’re going to involuntarily lose bladder control at any moment.

Before I know it, I’ll be climbing another hill with my hair a little mussed up, and a small dab of spittle starting to drip from the right side of my mouth. Yeah, who cares? I’m not trying to impress anyone! I crest this hill and proceed downward into a tight spiral of the Home Stretch, teeth (or dentures) rattling and my vision slightly blurred. I’ll take the last corner and know that I’m about to enter the Great Wheelhouse in the Sky. The Grim Reaper will pass his scythe to his left hand and reach out to me with his right slowly shaking his head when I try to get out on the wrong side of the car – one way only. I won’t argue but only ask if my wife has already arrived or if I can wait around for her. The ride wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Thanks, Oddballs

Quite honestly, I had some pretty bad teachers during my pre-college (that is to say “free”) educational career. In second grade, I had Mrs. Harold who, I swear, was Mr. Magoo in drag only with bigger, rounder glasses. My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Payne, would prance around the room like Lawrence Welk on lithium and then scream at the top of his lungs when he wanted our attention. It worked. Sixth grade brought Mrs. Fontaine who always wore these gigantic fake fingernails that she inadvertently flicked into Sam Haymon’s hot lunch one day. He almost ate the thing, and I don’t believe he would have noticed if Christy Schlotski hadn’t flipped out and run from the room as if a giant booger had landed on one of her puffy sweaters – Sam’s love for all things gastronomical was surpassed only by his unrequited love for Christy.

Fast forward to high school: I’m fairly certain that my Geometry teacher drank . . . a great deal. Based on having to deal with just a handful of the kids in my class alone, I can’t say I blame her, but that’s another discussion for another day. While she never showed up for school wearing her underwear on the outside of one of her three polyester pant suits (burnt orange, pastel blue, and earth brown), she displayed the classic behaviors of slurred speech (which is probably what kept her from teaching English also), mood swings, and the avoidance of bright lights. My Economics teacher’s idea of giving us proper instruction on the inner workings of the New York Stock Exchange was to show us the movie “Trading Places” from start to finish. Isn’t tenure a wonderful thing!

While we would all prefer to decry the shortcomings of tax-payer-funded institutions – especially when we’re waiting in line for two hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles – we all have to give a nod to the public school system and say, “Well done!” Despite the fact these learning experiences don’t quite live up to sitting at the feet of Socrates and Aristotle, I believe I survived and came out of “the system” prepared to face the world. Why? Because that’s REAL LIFE. These experiences, good or bad, prepare you to deal with all sorts of oddballs that come across or even completely block your path in life – and I’m not just talking about your college professors.

When your refrigerator’s ice maker stops working, or you need to replace the muffler on your 1987 Honda Civic, you go to someone who probably didn’t attend an east-coast prep school or aced the SAT’s math and verbal sections. But you can probably bet good money that they were smart enough to NOT let a public education stop them. Further, you’re not likely to see a group of men and women gathered around a table at a technical school reviewing applications and saying, “Gosh, this kid looks like he could be a promising BMW master mechanic, but either his English teacher was ineffective in teaching him the subtleties of Beowulf or he’s just not smart enough to get it. Either way, I think he’s too big a risk.” Free education has value!

The next time you’re driving down the highway behind someone who’s driving an SUV the size of a third-world country, talking on a cell phone with the attitude that he’s the center of the universe, and traveling at least fifteen miles an hour below the speed limit in the fast lane, the first thought that’s going to come to mind is, “What’s this cat’s deal? He’s driving like he owns the road!” Truth is, he probably has enough money to own it, and he probably paid way too much for his education – you can’t buy IQ!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Dim Your IQ for Takeoff

In our day-to-day lives, I believe it’s safe to say that most of us are reasonable, semi-intelligent human beings. Send us through the metal detector at the airport, however, and I believe we act as though we just underwent a temporary frontal lobotomy. In other words, from the moment we walk into the secured area of an airport until we exit at the baggage claim, we’re complete morons who blissfully go on with life as if everything’s normal. Follow me through this process.

After gathering up all of our clothing following the strip search, here’s one of the first things we hear coming over the intercom: “In the interest of aviation security, please maintain your personal property in your possession.” You find yourself thinking, “That’s good advice. I totally want to maintain aviation security.” Others around you are sporting similar nods of agreement as the disembodied voice of reason drones on and on. In the interest of “aviation security”? How about in the interest of common sense? Is there an assumption here that once we’re outside of the airport, leaving personal articles lying about willy-nilly is perfectly acceptable? So, we clutch our bags a little tighter and go wait in line to spend $78.94 on the latest issues of Time and People magazine, a pack of gum, a roll of Lifesavers, and a bottle of water. That’s smart.

In between the “aviation security” announcement and the constant intercom paging of one Michael Wisterbean to report to gate D1 immediately (for the last thirty minutes – leave the guy already!), you hear this little piece of wisdom: “If anyone unknown has asked you to carry a foreign object, please contact airport security immediately.” First of all, DUH! Secondly, why all the fancy wording? Foreign object? Seriously, do we anticipate someone approaching us and asking us to carry a Frigidaire refrigerator on the flight to Sioux Falls? On second thought, though, stocked properly, that could make for a much better selection for in-flight meals. At any rate, admit it: you’ve found yourself pausing for a brief moment to review the last few hours to MAKE SURE a stranger hasn’t asked you to carry a foreign object on your flight – and Aunt Mildred’s fruitcake doesn’t qualify.

When we finally get on the plane (which is a humongous chunk of metal far heavier than your 6-year-old self who tried and failed to fly by jumping off the roof of your house with an umbrella), we settle into our seats and dutifully listen to the flight attendant’s announcements and admonitions. Most of this stuff is pretty innocuous and seemingly unnecessary (like showing us how to buckle our seatbelts “tight and low across the hips”), but the one thing every flight attendant says that no one ever questions is, “We’re going to dim the cabin lights for takeoff.” The cockpit is sealed off, so it’s not like driving a car at night where internal lights make it hard for the driver to see outside of the car. So why dim the lights? Are the engines’ electrical needs so great that more than five or six passengers simultaneously turning on their overhead reading lights will cause a complete shutdown and make us crash? You don’t read about THAT in the safety brochure.

This “lobotomizing” of the flying general public does help explain why some people try fitting the luggage equivalent of a stuffed alligator in the overhead bin and the reason some airline pilots have been caught flying naked, but this has to stop for the simple reason that the intercom system in all major airports should be used exclusively for the paging of fictitious persons like Amanda Hugandkiss, Al Coholic, and the crowd favorite, Seymour Butz. We must return to simpler times!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ben The Jokester

One recent morning found my oldest son and me sitting at the breakfast table together and chatting about this and that. Out of the blue, he begins explaining to me the mechanics behind building a dry-ice bomb. I believe he garnered this little nugget of newfound “wisdom” from a kid at school – we seriously need to screen his friends better – and the intimacy of our conversation naturally coaxed it out of him. For an eleven-year-old boy, you can’t find a better bonding moment.

Nevertheless, as he finished his explanation of this phenomenon of fun, I pointed out that he had a couple of holes in his understanding of this matter and filled them in for him. This didn’t produce the “thanks, Dad” I was expecting; instead, he looked at me squarely with an eager look of curiosity and asked, “Dad, have you ever built a dry-ice bomb?” At the very moment the last syllable came out of his mouth, the world stopped spinning on its axis – you might have sensed it, too – and everything froze in mid air. It felt as if I was in the middle of The Matrix, and I wasn’t sure how long this was going to last. (The only other time this happened was when the last syllable came out of MY mouth when I was explaining the facts of life to my son, and what seemed like an eternity was really only a nanosecond.) So I did what any normal approaching-middle-age dad would do: I grabbed a Sharpie, drew an Abe Lincoln beard on my son, got back in my chair, and waited for time to start up again. And when it did, I screwed up my courage, looked my son right in the eye, and got up from the table without answering the question. Never lie to your children, people.

Many of you are probably wondering how old I am and when am I going to grow out of pranks. Granted, the ALLEGED dry-ice incident was over twenty years ago back in college, but the Abe Lincoln beard was recent. (I’ll admit that the beard was a bit immature, but you have to know your audience.) At any rate, I’m not that old, and I don’t believe there is an age limit. I’m willing to bet the whole thing with Benjamin Franklin with the key on the kite string had absolutely nothing to do with electricity experiments – one of his buddies was probably locked in his bedroom on the second floor of a neighboring building because they had been caught mooning the town pastor. Obviously, they didn’t adhere to the maxim of “know your audience”. I digress – but that’s probably why most of you are reading this in the first place.

In that vein, I recently changed jobs, and in the process of moving on, I needed to return some equipment including a cell phone. The company acknowledged receipt of the equipment, and about a week later I was curious if they had disconnected the service for my old cell phone. Alas, they hadn’t, and I still have the password to access the outgoing voicemail greeting. When the great gods of pranks smile upon you and hand you an opportunity like this, you don’t pass it up. As of the writing of this column, if you call my old cell number, this is what you’ll hear:

“Hi, you’ve reached the now-defunct cell phone voicemail of Grant Greene with the XYZ Corporation. While rumors that I am a member of a cult or that I joined a cabaret troop under the name of Lydia Johnson are totally untrue, I am no longer with the XYZ Corporation. If you’re calling about a matter related to the XYZ Corporation, you’re going to want to hang up and . . . actually, you’re going to want to listen to this part first and then hang up and call XXX-XXX-XXXX and ask for customer service. If you’re just now learning that I’m no longer with the XYZ Corporation, rest assured I’m not a member of a cult or traveling with a cabaret troop under the name of Lydia Johnson, but you’ll need to call me at . . .”
Whether I’m an approaching-middle-age dad or a feral teenager, some of you may find no humor at all in the idea of having a little fun with corporate America. As for myself, I have to admit to some degree of satisfaction knowing people are either laughing or scratching their heads when they call my old cell number. However, if campus security from my old college starts calling around about some dry-ice bombs twenty years ago, Grant Greene is dead and Lydia Johnson is in Brazil on an extended engagement with the cast of “Moulin Rouge”.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Spell it Out

Driving home from a long business trip the other night, my wife called to inform me that the family dog had escaped from the backyard. “Escaped” is probably too strong a word as that evokes Hollywood images of someone who was wrongly convicted fashioning a shovel out of a toothbrush and digging his way to freedom to prove his innocence by catching the real killer or a prisoner of war outsmarting the Nazis by timing the spotlight passes and making it under the wire undetected. While there may be times when our two sons may see us as evil prison wardens who punish on a whim, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t go so far as to equate us with Hitler’s minions. With that said, though, the predicament in question here was the result of a gate left open – by whom I’m not allowed to say – and a very curious dog with enough Terrier blood in her to follow a scent.

Arriving home, I immediately began walking through the neighborhood in the hopes of finding our stray, bearing her on my shoulders, and returning home to a hero’s welcome. Ha! I roamed through the neighborhood calling the dog by name in a loud but caring voice, of course. Although I was feeling a little downtrodden by the thought that I may never see our dog again, I felt an immediate wave of relief that we gave her a normal name – Lola. I couldn’t imagine myself wandering about the neighborhood in the dark of the night and calling out “Here Mrs. Finkeltoots” or “Sir Stinksalot, where are you?” I agreed right then and there that had we done something like that, I would have abandoned my search immediately and said to myself, “Well, it was a good run while it lasted. The kids can’t say we never let them have a dog.”

Although we ultimately found Lola at a friend’s house, this experience caused me to think in bigger terms.

I admit that it’s rather childish of me to feel I would have been embarrassed going around looking for a dog with a silly name; nevertheless, had I found myself calling out for Mrs. Finkletoots, and my neighbor laughed at me, I could have saved face a little bit by explaining it was a dog and the kids had named her. However, has anyone stopped to think that the Democratic Party, in the presidential nomination process, has the potential of making us the laughing stock of North America, if not the world? It’s all in the names.

Should the young, sharp politico from Chicago gain the nomination and win the general election, he’s going to spend the first two years in office interrupting every press conference with, “Okay, for the last time, I don’t care how you pronounce my name. Just make sure you spell it correctly. Now, can we discuss my economic stimulus plan?”

As an alternative, the other candidate shares the same first name with 40% of high school cheerleaders. At State dinners, she’ll be forced to make it clear in her opening comments that she and the other “Ovalettes” will not be performing a half-time show. Might I add, the German Chancellor and the French Prime Minister will both breathe a sigh of relief.
Inasmuch as the presidential election involves humans (for the most part), and only adults are allowed to vote, how do we explain this to Mrs. Canada and Señor Mexico, our neighbors?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Fun but Risky

I’ve been in a lot of crowded places in my life: Times Square on New Year’s Eve, the Hong Kong Subway at rush hour, and a Wal-Mart at 5:00 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. Each of these situations offers an opportunity to watch people and see them at their most primal. However, you haven’t really availed yourself of a truly great people-watching opportunity until you’ve mixed and jostled with the crowds at the FBR Open in Scottsdale, AZ.

As I was driving up to the golf course, my oldest son asked me what FBR stood for, and I had to tell him I wasn’t really sure. However, after no more than five minutes of being in just the parking area where a charter bus picks you up to take you over to the event, it’s obvious that FBR stands for Fake Breast Rendezvous – and I’m guessing that “Open” alludes to the plunging necklines. These women were wearing four-inch heels that certainly wouldn’t be allowed on any putting surface, and I’m fairly certain that if you asked what they thought of Aaron Baddelely’s or Rory Sabbatini’s chances in today’s field they would probably say “I’m more partial to Dolce & Gabana and Vera Wang, but I guess there’s always room for more on the runway.” There were plenty of women in attendance at today’s round, I’m sure, that could certainly take me to school on the golf course, but the ones that seemed to be in greater numbers were obviously not there to watch golf.

As many of you know, the 16th Hole is famous for being “lively”. Imagine attending an Oakland Raiders football game where the gridiron has been replaced with a 162-yard par three. Since this is not an official NFL event, there don’t seem to be as many limitations on the amount of beer the spectators are allowed to drink. Sitting among the crowd on the 16th, it was obvious that FBR stands for Full Beer Ruckus. While I was convinced that many of my fellow onlookers had started drinking at 9:00 a.m., my wife thought I was grossly underestimating them and said they probably started last night.

With the Super Bowl in town this weekend there was another group of persons in attendance at today’s round who were lost. They were wandering around aimlessly with a look on their faces that said, “This is the worst NFL Experience I have ever seen in my life!” Those who found their way into the bleachers on the 16th hole were granted a small portion of solace, though.

Although I have never attended any other PGA events, I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that there were three times as many Port-a-Potties at the FBR Open than at, say, the Masters. With as much beer flowing at this event, you have another possibility for the letters FBR: Full Bladder Release.

Friday, January 25, 2008

800-lb Ninja

Author's note: This will appear in the newspaper in a shorter version. However, for the sake of those co-workers of mine who went to the spa with me, I'm including full detail here. Holly especially might be interested.

When you think of the word “massage” your body should instantly relax, and other words like “soothing” and “restful” should come to mind. But that would be before you actually receive a massage. Once you’ve undergone one, words like “breezy”, “flab”, and “pile driver” are more likely to leap to mind. My first time was certainly an eye opener for me.

After changing into my plush robe and sitting in the “meditation room” – that’s massage talk for a place to read a magazine while making sure your legs are crossed and the robe is wrapped tightly about your body because you’re basically hanging out (no pun intended) with a bunch of strangers in the same state of undress – my masseuse calls my name and introduces herself. Berta, a slight Panamanian woman who could not have been more than 4’8” and 100 lbs. soaking wet, shows me to our massage room and explains that she will wait outside the door while I disrobe, slide myself between the sheets on the table, and lie on my stomach with my face resting on a padded horseshoe – once I place my face in the horseshoe, I am happy to learn that it didn’t appear to have ever been actually used on a horse. Here’s where the fun begins.

Berta calls to me from outside the door to assure I’m ready, and I presume she enters. The reason I presume is that I have my face firmly implanted in the padded horseshoe and can see absolutely nothing but a small spot on the tiled floor below me. (What I forgot to tell you is that the table is completely covered so you can’t see its legs – this is vitally important to the experience, as you will see.) Berta asks me which scented massage oil I would prefer. As I can see the choices don’t include “Stinking Rich” or “Smell of Victory”, I defer to her. Berta recommends lavender, and we’re off.

After sufficiently coating my neck, shoulders, and back in enough massage oil to rainproof me, Berta takes a hot stone and begins to rub it over the aforementioned body parts. I must admit that feels pretty good. However, the temperature of the rock is high enough that if she just lets it sit in one place it can cause third-degree burns, so there’s that unspoken understanding that I not complain lest she duct tape it directly above my third and fourth lumbar vertebrae and walk away. Needless to say, the wonderfully soothing quality of the heated rock moving about my back is immediately cancelled out by the knowledge that this same rock could cripple me – that wouldn’t be one of the selling points you would see on the spa’s brochure.

Next, Berta begins working on the muscles in my back – this is where the table’s legs being covered comes into play. I swear an 800-lb ninja has been secreted below the table and when given the signal, he stealthily slips out of his hiding place and climbs atop my back and begins jumping with precision on specific muscles. There is no way that little Berta has the leverage to push that hard on my back and render me completely without oxygen in my lungs. All the while, of course, I’m staring down at a spot on the ground that’s no more than a cubic foot. For all I know, a whole team of ninjas could have been hiding under that table – sort of the massage world’s equivalent to a clown car at the circus – and they all got on one guy’s shoulders to perform the Pile Driver on my back. Occasionally Berta says something to me just to preserve the illusion that we are alone in the room.

Once the ninja or ninjas go back under the table, Berta begins kneading my skin like bread dough. And as she does this, the less-than-flattering term Doughboy comes to mind. Unless you’re an underwear model and have zero-percent body fat, good Ol’ Berta’s going to find every inch of flab on your body and shamefully remind you of each and every Twinkie and Ho Ho you’ve consumed in your life.

Near the end of the massage session, Berta discreetly reconfigures the sheet lying atop my body to expose my legs, which she does one at a time by tucking the sheet under my midsection and wrapping it around and under my leg. The first leg goes just fine, but as she covers it up and repeats the process with my other leg, she’s a little overzealous and ends up giving me a major wedgie. If that’s not bad enough, in her haste to proceed with this portion of the treatment, let’s just say she comes up a little high – I can feel a cool southern breeze coming across the poop deck, if you will. At this point, I’m truly not too worried that Berta’s ogling me because (1) I don’t hear any laughter, and (2) she keeps her lunch down.

To top off the experience, Berta gives me a scalp massage with, yes you guessed it, the same hands that are covered in massage oil. So, to sum up, this is an experience that people pay for so they can be potentially burned, have the wind knocked out of them, have all their physical flaws indelibly pointed out to them, be given a wedgie, and walk out of the room with hair that looks like Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd. Wouldn’t it just be easier and cheaper to go back to high school for a day?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

In a Fix

If what I write in this column has the same effect/power as those things that come out of my mouth, the likelihood that my kids will read this by choice ranks up there with the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series or woolly mammoths roaming the Arizona desert. With that said, however, if anybody out there chooses to tell my kids what I’m writing about today, I won’t be responsible for what I do next – atomic wedgies and wet Willies come to mind, though.

Our dog Lola is dying. A few months ago, we took her to the vet to have her “fixed” (what a euphemism!) and the vet ran some type of blood panel. The results came back, and the vet told us that there may be something wrong with her liver. She then told us that other factors may have been creating a false positive so we should bring her back in a month or two for an additional test. We did, and the results came back with even more severe indications that her liver isn’t even working. To look at Lola, said the vet, you’d never know she had anything wrong with her. She’s energetic and rambunctious; she eats well and sleeps well. With the results of the second test, the vet indicated that Lola’s condition is beyond the help of medication or even surgery. (I have to say here that surgery for an animal still seems a little kooky. “Sorry, son, we couldn’t send you to college because the dog needed surgery. Sure, the surgery was a success and all, but dogs only live so long.”) Erin and I haven’t told the boys yet about this development, and since learning about this it seems like Lola’s just a ticking time bomb. The reason we haven’t told the boys is Lola may be that exception – our fingers are crossed – that defies medical reason and lives to a ripe old age of 97 dog years. It’s a baseless hope, I’ll admit, but it’s what we’re holding onto.

I have to pause here a moment and make something clear. I may have given some people the impression that I don’t like dogs. That’s just not true. I was against the idea of getting a dog because of the costs associated with dog ownership and the slim possibility of something like this very thing happening. Although I freely admit that I find surgery on dogs a little kooky, I’m not a heartless person. It’s not my inclination that a dog should be put to sleep at the first hint of problems. For the very reason that I’m not a heartless person, I didn’t want to get a dog because I didn’t want to be placed in a position of needing to decide a life-or-death question for a small, furry animal.

With that said, I must make a further admission: I love this darn dog. I love the fact her tail wags like a juiced-up metronome when you walk into the room. I love the fact she’ll jump up onto the couch and do a face plant on the side of the cushion because she misjudged the height – and then she’ll try it again without a hint of embarrassment. I love the squinty-eyed look of contentment she gets when you scratch her in just the right place. I’ll admit it: I’m a nutball.

My sister has a cat, George, whom she adores. I’m not sure why because it always seems to be lying under the bed. My mom and dad have a dog, Gus, who goes everywhere with them. In fact, my mom will take Gus through the drive-thru at Jack in The Box when it’s raining to get him a sourdough bacon cheeseburger. Again, the reason my parents find so much joy in this dog eludes me because he mostly just lies around and emits strange smells – I can’t imagine the sourdough bacon cheeseburger helps with that. Nevertheless, these animals bring some of my loved ones unequaled joy. Who am I to question that?

My heart aches for Lola as I type this. Please let her be the exception! Please! Whether she will or won’t be remains to be seen. In the meantime, hug your kids a little longer and give Fido and Mr. Kibble an extra treat now and then. It’ll make YOU smile.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Virtue of Amnesia

Thomas Wolfe once wrote a book called You Can’t Go Home Again, the title alluding to a universal truth that you can’t recover the past. (Interesting side note: the book was published after Mr. Wolfe’s death so it might just as well have been titled I Can’t Go Home Ever.) This knowledge of an irrevocable past produces in us a degree of melancholy when we think back on particular happy moments that have long since passed. However, we quickly come to our senses and realize how liberating it is that we’ll never have to relive thousands upon thousands of experiences we suffered through originally in years gone by.

I would imagine my oldest brother is pretty happy that he’ll never have to wear a corduroy suit that our mom made for him for his graduation from Junior High School. (He’s not completely blameless in this matter – he willingly went along with mom’s foray into haute couture, which is French for “one arm of the suit is slightly longer than the other”.) Locking myself – on accident, of course – in the bathroom of a Greyhound bus at the age of four isn’t something that necessarily gets me misty eyed. Neither does having my other brother sitting on my chest and pinning my arms to the ground while he would let a big loogie drip from his mouth in a spider-web-like string and dangle over my face before sucking it back up. (Sometimes he’d just spit and let it spread over my face while I couldn’t move.)

My sister Kim, I would be willing to bet, isn’t rushing to relive the moment when she was learning to drive and my two brothers, along with their host of friends, sat in the backseat and laughed like hyenas each time she cut a corner too close or applied the brakes a tad too hard. (The braking would later be immortalized by the term “Kim stop”, which we still use today, and can be re-created by violently throwing your upper torso forward and hitting your head on your hand as if it’s the dashboard or seat in front of you.) Those were good times for us (the brothers), but I’m happy not to be sitting in the back of a 1975 Chevrolet Kingswood station wagon without a seat belt and my sister behind the wheel again.

This sanity-saving knowledge of the past is further enhanced by our ability to forget odds and ends that are either emotionally crippling or, more importantly, embarrassingly incriminating. The former is usually a result of the mind protecting itself, while the latter is the result of denial – a denial that you were once immature, foolish, and even carefree. When your son or daughter comes home with a note from the principal informing you that your child has been engaging in shenanigans frowned upon by civil society (i.e. lighting a girl’s ponytail on fire with a Bunsen burner in Chemistry class or pasting a photo of the Social Studies teacher’s head on the torso of a donkey), you conveniently forget that you laughed until you nearly peed your pants when you had devised and executed a plan to mix a laxative into the brownies in the Teachers’ Lounge and then put plastic wrap over the toilets in the Teachers’ Bathroom. You have to forget about that or else the world would go to Hell in a hand basket because rather than disciplining your child you’d be comparing notes and trying to figure out how to pull a better prank and not get caught the next time.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me: no good can come from reliving the past. It’s best that we look to the future and try to forget about those uglier moments of days gone by – like acid-wash jeans, leisure suits, and the Mullet.