Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas 2011

Back in 1935, an Austrian physicist named Schrödinger devised a way to explain quantum physics and impress chicks by placing a cat inside a sealed box with a vial of poisonous gas that could break at any moment and kill the unwitting feline. The crux of this exercise was this: until one opened the box to see if Mr. Finickypants was still upright, the cat could be considered both alive and dead. (Who says physicists are boring?) This annual report from the Greene family may be considered a bit of a modern-day Schrödinger’s Cat conundrum: until you read it, you won’t know if it will please you or cause a psychotic episode. On with the fun!

Sam is now in sixth grade, and he’s quite the reader. While he has yet to tackle the likes of War and Peace or Catcher in the Rye (and who can blame him – I’ve never cracked open the former, and I’m STILL waiting for Salinger to finish the latter and make his point), he’s become a sort of “point man” on his Battle of the Books team. At one of his “battles” back in March, each time they were asked a question, the other two members of his team would immediately look to him expecting him to know the answer – kind of the same way the dumb jocks expect the Asian kid to be good at math. Nevertheless, he didn’t let them down. He also made the “Million Word Club” at school. (I’m not going to push the issue, but are they REALLY sure he actually read EVERY word in EVERY book? I know I skim – much like you’re doing right now with this Christmas letter.) Also, another year has passed in which Sam has tenaciously limited his exposure to trying new foods – deep down, I believe he’s proud of such an achievement. Whenever we go to a dinner at a relative’s home, Sam immediately disappears into another part of the house or out into the backyard in the hopes that he won’t be forced to eat something really disgusting like roast beef or mashed potatoes or ham – I’m waiting for him to learn about the Geneva Convention and/or Amnesty International and having him trot out the threat that he’s going to report us for cruel and unusual punishment. As his friend, Buddy the Elf, sticks with the four food groups of Candy, Candy Corn, Candy Canes, and Syrup, Sam’s dietary daring doesn’t go too much farther afield from that. We’re thinking about hypnotizing him and pumping him full of proteins and fiber on a weekly basis.

As the year began, we found ourselves packed into a smallish auditorium with a lot of screaming, grunting, and Spandex. No, I’m not talking about a reunion concert for an ‘80s hair band – it was a junior high school wrestling match, and Jack was in the thick of it. Just before his first match, Jack came home from school and immediately disappeared into the bathroom. If his school’s cafeteria served similar offerings to those I remember from my youth, and the bathrooms at his school resembled the ones from mine, it made perfect sense that he had a heightened sense of urgency to get into the bathroom. A few moments later, he walked up to me as I was standing in the kitchen, and he was wearing a singlet (if you don’t know what a singlet is, I’m not sure if you’d be more glad that I satisfied your curiosity by describing one or that I sufficed by saying, it’s something that’s tight in all the wrong places). Beaming with pride, Jack said to me, “Dad, take a picture of me.” Quelling a fit of laughter that was fighting to bubble up and explode from mouth, I looked at Jack and said, “You’ll thank me when you’re older if I don’t.” (And all of you will thank us that we didn’t make that our family holiday photo!) This summer, Jack started high school – and I believe most of his teachers are young enough that they probably still get carded at bars. At “Back to School” night, I swear I saw two of his teachers get dropped off by their parents. Jack has also become quite the entrepreneur by hiring himself out as a dog sitter for a number of people in our neighborhood. If you ever see a Labrador running down the street while wearing a singlet, Jack’s probably not too far behind.

When I’m not busy saving the world by texting a daily trivia question, I like going to the gym and asking the guys who are all ‘roided out and about to bench 950 lbs. if they need me to spot them. When she’s not busy finding ways to keep a delinquent Elf occupied, Erin enjoys making scale models of celebrities out of tofu and selling them on eBay. Drop us a line or come and stay with us – we would love to hear from and see you. Just leave the cat at home – it’ll be safer for him. Happy holidays!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Blown Away

It’s never a good thing when your wife or significant other (it’s one or the other) asks you to “put your hand in the fridge” – not because she’s about to slam your hand in the door or there’s an evil gnome living inside your refrigerator waiting to pull you in and suffocate you. (While it’s probable you have gnomes living in your refrigerator, I have it on good authority that they don’t have homicidal tendencies as they know the people on the outside of the refrigerator are generally the ones who are replenishing the gnomes’ supply of sticks of butter and black olives – gnomes are the reason you’re always running out of these two items.) At any rate, the true reason your being asked to “feel” the inside of the fridge is that it’s obviously not as cold as it should be.

Despite what I’ve heard about friendly gnomes (it’s just my luck I would have one of those rogue gnomes who was grumpy and on a hunger strike), I warily got off the couch, walked over to the refrigerator, opened it suddenly (the element of surprise is your friend), and felt the interior air. While it wasn’t hot enough knock me over with heat blast, the air wasn’t exactly arctic crisp either.

Since I audited “Refrigerator Maintenance 115” back in college (meaning: I intended on at least attending the lecture on how to make the ultimate popsicle but never went to class), I was never licensed to possess those gauges and thingamajigs with dials and coils all over them that help one diagnose the possible reason or reasons the fridge isn’t delivering its optimal bravura performance. So, I decided to wing it: I’m betting that’s what they teach in “Refrigerator Maintenance 116”.

Removing the grille at the base of the refrigerator in the front, I noticed that the coils were “furry” – you know, the fur of millions of dead dust bunnies. Using the vacuum cleaner hose, I cleaned off as much of the fur from the coils but noticed that I could only reach the front portion. The coils were in a horizontal-V configuration, so I couldn’t access the back portion. No worries, I’ve been working out – I can pull the refrigerator out from the wall to attack the problem from that side (and there are wheels on the fridge that make it easy enough for a three year old to move around as if it’s as light as a tricycle). Problem: after climbing back behind the refrigerator and removing a cardboard panel (yes, it’s made of cardboard, and it’s lined with a thin layer of insulation that looks like cotton candy – take my word for it, though; it tastes nothing like cotton candy), I found that a lot of “machinery” with a nasty fan blade that took umbrage to my finger being in its personal space stood between me and my successful fur eradication on the back half of the coil. A real poser!

Undeterred, I returned to the front of the fridge and pondered my options. The heart of the problem was simple: I needed something to produce sufficient “suckage” (that’s a technical term I learned from my college roommate who actually attended “RM 115”) to pull the accumulated dust off of the back coil, through the open spaces of the now-clean front portion of the coil, and gather the detritus into the vacuum hose. I’m a genius! However, my celebration was short lived. I quickly remembered that I had loaned out my one and only flux capacitor so I couldn’t rig up our vacuum cleaner to produce enough jigawatts to maintain the sufficient level of suckage – a story as old as time, of course.

The first option I then considered was squatting down and lifting the refrigerator vertically, but that clearly wasn’t going to work: I was by myself, and our dog has no opposable thumbs with which to hold the vacuum hose AND flip the “on” switch. I blame Darwin for this – this Theory of Evolution of his has some serious holes, in my opinion. Then the stroke of genius hit me: if I can’t vacuum it out, I’ll blow it out. With what, you may ask? One might think a hair dryer would be sufficient, but I didn’t want to take the chance that the power would still be too weak or the underside of the refrigerator might develop split ends without proper conditioning. Some of you probably see where I’m going with this, and you would be right: I am a genius. I went out to my garage and returned with . . . the leaf blower. In less than four seconds after strategically positioning the leaf blower and firing it up, all traces of dust bunnies were but a memory.

As my wife and son were cleaning a fine layer of what appeared to be volcanic ash from Mount St. Helens that had settled on every surface of the kitchen, I could tell they were completely blown away by my genius. In fact, I heard my wife say “unbelievable” numerous times.

Believe it or not, though, this is not the first time I’ve employed the leaf blower as a means to solve a non-leaf-related problem. One holiday season a few years back, we loaded our Christmas tree into the family minivan to haul it off to the dump. Upon my return, I found that the tree had decided to leave 95% of its needles behind in my minivan. I could have pulled out the old shop vac and spent the next two hours scouring every inch of the minivan’s interior, but I had things to do: in this case, I probably had a nap to take or a book to read. At any rate, I whipped out the leaf blower, opened every door of the minivan, and my work was done in about 30 seconds. My neighbor across the street watched me a bit quizzically, so as I turned off the leaf blower, I shouted over to him, “They laughed at Einstein, too.” I thought that summed it up; my neighbor was probably wondering “when did Einstein have time to invent the leaf blower?”

About an hour after cleaning the coils and pushing the fridge back into place, I opened it up to find the air noticeably cooler, the gnome was putting his parka back on, and all was well in the Greene house. No rest for the weary, though: I needed to run to the store for more butter and olives.