Saturday, June 07, 2008

Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing.

Most Saturdays, I go into the office in the morning for a while. There's a couple of reasons I do that.

It lets me get caught up on work that I didn't quite get to during the week -- which is to say, everything. Each week, I start out with a list of things I hope to accomplish. This past week, I finished the second item on the list. On Friday afternoon. At 4:30. I celebrated that accomplishment by leaving early, which lets you in on part of the reason why I never get very far on my list.

Another reason is that it shows my boss that I'm hardworking. He comes in on Saturdays a lot, too, and when he sees me there, working hard, he's impressed (I hope) with my drive and gumption. It's worked so far; I've been there 8 years now. He never thinks to ask me how come I don't get all my work done during the week, or how come I celebrate getting 1/10 of my work done by going home early, and I'm hoping it won't occur to him.

A final reason is that it gets me away from garbage cans that have rattlesnakes in them and sing.

I've been a little skittish since we began tearing down the shed in our yard and discovered that there are almost as many raccoons living on our land as their are people. Since raccoons are almost as dangerous as teenagers, and slightly more likely to be rabid, our house has seemed a littel unsafe to me lately.

I've never pretended to be an adventurer. Okay, that's not exactly true. I've pretended to be an adventurer, of course. When I was a kid, we'd pretend to be superheroes and Jedis and G.I. Joe. When I got older, I stopped "pretending" per se, but continued to act tough by, for example, going out for sports and joining the "Wilderness Club," a club where we'd go to actual wilderness and do actual wilderness-y things like rock climbing or canoeing for a week or backpacking, or canoeing up a rock with backpacks on, or whatever seemed to be tough.

I hated it. My idea of a relaxing time was and always has been reading a good book, or watching a good tv show, or reading a good book based on a good tv show. And while camping allowed lots of time to read, you only got to the reading part by stowing your Star Wars novels into a backpack, wrapped in plastic wrap next to your freeze-dried ground beef that you were supposed to mix with boiled water to reconstitute but which you would end up eating like a dry-beef candy bar because you were tired and sunburnt, and then once your incredibly heavy backpack was loaded up, you'd hike for 10 or 20 or 50 miles or however long it took to make your legs go numb, then you'd stop, put up your tent and finally get a chance to read but your books were wet because the water bottle that you'd packed to help reconstitute your beef had leaked onto them, so you had no water, dry beef, soggy books, and then the tent would collapse, or, worse, you'd get "hazed" by guys you didn't like in the first place who would give you pink belly or handcuff you to the hammock you'd fallen asleep in and then leave you there without bug spray for two hours so that you had so many mosquito bites your skin looked like it was stucco.

That actually happened. I still itch.

Eventually, I stopped kidding myself, and eventually was when I was about 28 and went on a camping trip that lasted exactly one night. We hiked, camped out, and the next day, hiked back to our car, went and took a shower, and went to the amusement parks at the Wisconsin Dells.

I did go bungee jumping on that 'camping trip,' which would be kind of adventurous except it's not at all that way when I'm the one doing it. I rode the little elevator up to the top and got hooked up to the cord and the guy walked me to the edge of the little platform. I kept my eyes resolutely ahead and closed and he said "I'm going to count to three and let go. Why don't you look down?"

"I don't want to look down," I said, adventuresomely.

"Go ahead and look down," he urged me.

"I would rather not look down," I insisted, just the way that Batman might have insisted it if Batman were a 28-year-old who was scared of heights and was also worried that he might have ticks from his recent brief camping trip.

"Just look down," the guy said one more time. If I had not been strapped to a harness on the end of a diving board that was roughly 100 miles above the ground, I would have bitten him or something.

"If I look down," I said, in a heroic manner, "Will you just let me go and get this over with?"

"Yes," he said. I looked down. The stuntman cushion thing that was supposed to "save" me in the event of an accident was postage-stamp sized. It also did not appear to be anywhere near where I would be falling, although it was hard to tell because it was so far away. I think I also had trouble seeing it because of all the major passenger jets that were flying between me and the ground.

Also, right then, the guy let go of me with no warning. I like to think that from the ground, my shrieks of terror sounded extremely manly.

So that's my background in adventuring, which is why I have no ready reactions when there are rattlesnakes in my garbage cans.

This is how it happened: I was doing The Boy's chores for him on Thursday night, because he has final exams and the NBA Finals were on. I'm no dummy. I know that on a good night homework is 117th on the list of things The Boy will do. It's number one on the list of things he'll tell me he did. This is how he'll do that: Me: Did you do your homework? The Boy: Yes. Me: Did you? The Boy: kind of. Me: What does that mean? The Boy: My teacher hates me. I'm amazed at the number of stupid child-hating people that went into teaching in our school district. By my count, every single teacher the kids have ever had has hated kids, and hated our kids especially, and also doesn't know what they're talking about. You'd think the district would weed those people out at some point, but there they are, giving kids bad grades for no reason whatsoever.

"No reason whatsoever" very frequently turns out to be "Because they did not turn in any homework in the past 4 weeks," and the past 4 weeks also happen to coincide with the NBA playoffs. So I made The Boy a deal and said I'd do his chores, cleaning up after dinner, while he studied. It takes The Boy over an hour to do his chores each night, so that gave him plenty of time to study before his game started. It takes me less than 20 minutes to do his chores, but I save time by not counting "surfing the Internet on the computer" and "watching the pregame on ESPN" as part of the chores.

The last part of the chores was to take the garbage out to the curb for pickup the next day, and I took the kitchen garbage downstairs to do that. I put the garbage bag into the least-full can, and was ready to start hauling them out when I heard a distinct rattle.

Despite my lack of adventuring background, I know exactly what a rattlesnake sounds like, because I watched the TV show "Fury" when I was a kid, and I have two memories of that show that guide me through life. "Fury" was about a kid named Joey and his black horse, and possibly his Uncle Charlie, although I may be confusing that part with My Three Sons, the other show that helped form all of my rules about life, rules like If you have triplets, make sure you do something to tell them apart because it's embarrasing to keep going back to the hospital to have them sorted out, that being the plot of one of the episodes of My Three Sons.

The two plot points I remember from Fury were these: in one episode, Joey was riding Fury and he went under a low-hanging branch and hit his eyes and was temporarily blinded. And in another, there was a rattlesnake. I've never forgotten the sound that rattlesnake made. I forgot everything else about that episode, but I remember that sound.

That's how I recognized that there was a rattlesnake in our garbage cans on Thursday night, something I was more than prepared to accept, given our other wildlife encounters. For all I knew, the rattlesnake had been living in the shed until we began tearing that apart, so it had moved into the garage.

Not remembering the Fury episode, I was at a loss for what to do. I knew that I should duck if there were low-hanging branches, and I was pretty sure I wouldn't mix up the triplets, but my life had left me unprepared for rattlesnakes in the garbage cans.

I considered, for a moment, going in and telling The Boy "Deal's off," but that would probably make me look bad at the emergency room where we'd have to tell why The Boy was taking the garbage out. So I did the only other thing I know for sure to do in an emergency: I froze.

Don't knock standing perfectly still in an emergency. I'm sure there are plenty of situations where the hero has to stand absolutely motionless to avert disaster. Like what if there are low hanging branches all around him? Stand still!

So I stood there, listening to the rattle and watching the garbage can warily. In my mind, this took hours. In reality, it probably took about 10 seconds. But I stood there for mental hours, listening to the rattle, and here is exactly what I thought as I heard the rattle:

Where is it? Can it see me? Is it in the garbage can? I should have a plan in case I see it. I should get something to block it from getting me. Will animal control come and get it? How do you find the number for animal control? Didn't that guy on the crocodile show once catch a snake? How did he do that? It sure is sad that he's dead. I liked his show. That new guy that just eats bugs and throws up is no good.

So my best plan, as time wore on, would have boiled down to "get that guy that eats bugs and throw him at the snake," but luckily the rattling stopped.

It was dead silent in our garage, and I wracked my brain to think what the stopping rattling meant. Was the snake going away? Was it about to strike? Why don't more TV shows cover this topic?! I still didn't move, until I heard something even more chilling:

Something was singing about his hands and feet.

Seriously, that freaked me out even worse at first. I thought, quite honestly I thought, that the snake was singing. "The foot bone's connected to the leg bone," I heard, and as that seeped in I realized it was not a snake, it was Learning Puppy, a little stuffed dog we'd bought for the Babies! who sings about colors and feet and things when you punch him, teaching kids that if you beat someone up enough, they'll amuse you -- which is more or less what leads to Wilderness Club participants hazing the slower, fatter kids who just want to read their Star Wars books, but that's besides the point.

I stood there in the garage, feeling my heartbeat slow down, and listening to Learning Puppy tell me what other things were connected to things, and finally got up enough courage to move the garbage bag I'd just thrown, expecting a giant Rattlesnake of Death to leap out, with a malevolent Learning Puppy riding it, and bite me to death.

Instead, I saw Learning Puppy sitting underneath a pile of cat litter that had poured out of the box that had been thrown away. It seems that we'd bought the wrong kind of cat litter, 25 pounds of the wrong kind, the kind that the delicate, sensitive paws of our cats couldn't tolerate, so we'd thrown that out and also thrown out Learning Puppy for some reason. When I'd thrown the garbage bag in there, it had tipped over the litter, which had spilled out onto a plastic tub and made the rattling sound, and when that was done spilling, the bag had settled onto Learning Puppy's foot and he'd been inspired to tell me about body parts.

Learning Puppy continued to sing quietly as I hauled the garbage cans out to the curb, softly warbling to the night about whether his ears hung down and they waggled all around. I strode manfully back into the house and manfully decided that from here on out, The Boy does his own chores.

Want a free t-shirt? Of course you do. Click there to find out how you can get one courtesy of The Best of Everything: Our Opinions Are Righter Than Yours.

Babies! Babies! Pets! Pets! wants you to submit photos of... Babies! and Pets!. Check out the photos there, and send your own to win a t-shirt!


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Making Full Use of My Potential

There are two things missing from my life right now: lids, and willpower.

I learned that I didn't have lids when I went to pack up the leftover spaghetti last night. That's when I learned that we didn't have any normal sized Tupperware, either.

Most of our "Tupperware" comes as a result of foods we buy; we buy things in plastic containers and when they're gone, we use those as storage containers; it's like the "Circle of Life" applied to lunchmeat. So we don't actually have "Tupperware" any more than the copies I make are "Xeroxes" or the tissues I don't use are "Kleenex." (I don't use "Kleenex," or any other tissue, because we've made the decision in our house to cut some corners, economically speaking, and one of the corners we cut is to not buy Kleenex or napkins when we have toilet paper and paper towels, and they fill in admirably for the other two.)

(We use the toilet paper as tissues, and the paper towels as napkins. That's how that works. I felt I should explain that before you began picturing us sitting around the dinner table each with a roll of toilet paper alongside his or her plate, and asked yourself Just how messy are these people?)

(The answer is, though, pretty messy.)

So we don't have any Tupperware. Instead, we have the leftover containers of other things we buy. That means our leftovers are not stored neatly in little see-through bins with tight-fitting lids that are stacked in an organized way in the refrigerator; they're slopped haphazardly into the container the butter came in, or the plastic box the lunchmeat was stored in, or the bin from the caramel corn that I used up putting it on my Blue Moon ice cream sundae.

Yes, I invented a Blue Moon/Caramel Corn sundae. I also invented the chocolate/banana cake sundae. I estimate that 97% of my creative power these days is directed at coming up with new things to mix into my ice cream.

The other 3% is devoted to trying to figure out what to get the Babies! to play with to keep them happy, which is why we have no Tupperware or Tupperware lids-- because I give them to the Babies! to play with whenever it's my turn to watch them.

The Babies!, Mr F and Mr Bunches, are entirely uninterested in their toys. As I sit here now, I can see in this very room where they usually play, a truck, Hokey Pokey Elmo, a small green cube that makes "ribbit" noises and has frogs on it and wiggles, a little "Baby Walkman" that plays nursery rhymes when it sings, a couple of balls and blocks and Legoes (note: they're not actually Legoes, any more than our Tupperware is Tupperware) and some more.

I know what you're thinking, now: Man, you really need to pick up. And I do. But I can't because I'm exhausted because the Babies! were in this room until they went to bed for their nap a few minutes ago, and they did not play with any of that junk which I so lovingly spread out for them. Instead, they played with: my Entertainment Weekly magazine, Sweetie's calculator, an ice cube I accidentally dropped on the floor, the whisk from the drawer, 23 little tupperware lids and containers they pulled from the drawer where we keep them, the centerpiece to our table, a chair, the decorative rocks we have to put into all of our plants to keep the cats out of them, and a baby carrot from the refrigerator which I accidentally dropped, too.

The Babies! playing with the containers would not be so bad, except that they break or lose them then, and we run out and can't buy enough new ones quickly enough; do you know how long it takes to go through a whole bin of butter?

They broke the only one we had that was large enough to hold leftover spaghetti, which was actually okay because that one was never available for use, as it was generally pressed into service to hold some tiny amount of something.

We had one, exactly one, container large enough to store, say, all the leftover spaghetti. We had tons of smaller containers that could be used to store cookies or cheese or some tomatoes or something. So, invariably, when the older kids were cleaning up after dinner, they would pull out the largest container, first, and put the smallest amount of material in there that they possibly could. If we had one atom of material leftover after supper, they would store it quickly in that largest container. I would open the refrigerator and see, there on the middle shelf, some gallons of milk and our large tupperware container, which was being used to store a single quark.

Then they'd complain that they couldn't put anything else away and ask if they should just throw it out. That's their solution to everything: Should I just throw it out? Having saved the iota of leftovers in the largest container available, they then assume that throwing things out is the best and quickest possible solution to the mess that remains. The Boy tried to talk us into buying and using paper plates and plastic forks one time so that we could just throw out our dishes. (We refused; we may not go whole hog and by those la-di-da 'napkins' but there are some lines we will not cross.)

So there I was, last night, having to clean up after spaghetti and having no containers to put the spaghetti in, because they were all broken or maybe thrown out or possibly being used as bath toys by the Babies! or had been stuffed under the couch or thrown at the cats, or whatever it is happens to things in our house. I ended up having to put all the noodles and meatballs and sauce into five different smaller containers, creating little spaghetti snack-packs, at least a couple of which didn't have lids and had to be wrapped in plastic bags and stored in the refrigerator that day, causing me to fret that the refrigerator was even more cluttered and trashy looking than usual.

I don't know why I worry about the refrigerator so much, but I do. I associate a messy refrigerator with being the kind of trashy, classless people that my parents used to frown about when we were kids and tell us we were turning into. Quit all that yelling and screaming, they'd yell and scream, do you want to end up like the ------? And they'd insert the name of the people down the street who lived in the brown-and-white house and whose son was probably in juvie for a while and who only mowed their lawn every third week or so, and didn't do any landscaping, and had old, crummy cars and ... it was hard to see what was wrong with them, but there was clearly something wrong with them, and they probably also had a messy refrigerator.

Or maybe I just took the wrong message from the lectures. I was prone to doing that, after all . Maybe those people, although classless, were not classless because they didn't landscape (although I'm pretty sure that was part of it), but classless for an entirely different reason that eluded me as a kid. I was pretty out-of-it when I was younger, and used to routinely be sitting in class when the teacher would get everyone up and we'd line up and go somewhere and everyone would know where we were headed except me. I'd follow along in my assigned alphabetical slot, and worry that I didn't have my permission slip or I was going to get a shot or I needed a juice box. We'd wind up in an assembly or getting on a bus and I'd just have no clue. I learned to fake it and hope for the best.

It was kind of an exciting way to live. Get roused from your desk and go see a filmstrip that told you about puberty; then the next time they surprised you by leaving the class, it was to go outside and look at an eclipse, or to go to the gym and here a lady sing "On the Radio" for some reason.

So I was never really clear on a whole lot as a kid, so maybe I got the wrong message from my parents and a messy refrigerator doesn't automatically mean that within a month you'll be living in a trailer park. After all, I got it wrong when Mom yelled at us about making sure we smushed up the milk cartons before throwing them away because they were taking up so much room and we kept having to empty the trash. I thought she was so concerned because we were too poor to afford more trash bags. Turns out she just didn't want to be emptying the garbage all the time and we were okay financially. Still, that was a rough period of time until I forgot all about it and went back to my comics.

But even if a messy refrigerator doesn't necessarily equate with loser-dom, it's not a good thing for me, in part because I need all the barriers I can get between me and delicious delicious snacks. As I said, I have no willpower anymore.

There was a time when I had willpower, when I could resist the siren song of leftover meatballs in the refrigerator, when I could go downstairs to get a drink of water at midnight and not grab a cookie out of the cabinet, then grab a second one for the trip upstairs, but finish it before I got back up there, resulting in my having to go back downstairs and get a third cookie and also to get the glass of water I'd originally gone down there for. That time was in my youth.

I don't know what happened. One day, I was able to make an entire batch of peanut butter cookies and not eat a single bit of the dough. Now, I find myself with a burnt tongue because I eat the Rice Krispie-bars mix right out of the pan before the marshmallows are even melted.

I call them Rice Krispie bars, but they're made with store brand "Crispy Rice Cereal." So technically they are "Crispy Rice Bars." I've said before that you know you're a financial success when you can afford to buy your furniture pre-assembled, but a better goal for me might be to get to the level where the food I'm buying doesn't go by fake names. If you ever visit and see that I'm eating "Cap'n Crunch" instead of "Kommando Krisp", you'll know I've won the lottery.

But the point is that whatever knock0ff food we've bought, I'm no longer able to avoid it. I kidded myself for a while, but I finally realized that I had no willpower in the saddest way possible, and it had nothing to do with food; instead, it had to do with a comic strip.

I was reading the Sunday paper one morning, and I got to "Blondie." I don't even know why I read "Blondie," but I do. It's never funny and I'm not 85, so it's not like I'm nostalgic or something. Still, I read it, and that morning, I read it and the beginning of the strip showed Dagwood coming home with a picture under his arm; the picture was turned away from the reader.

In the next panel, Dagwood was asking Blondie where he could hang it, and it still wasn't shown. I instantly deduced that the picture itself was the gag, and was going to move onto the third panel when I just couldn't stand it anymore. I skipped ahead to the final panel to see what the picture was.

I don't even, now, recall what the picture was; Dagwood bowling, I think, and he hung it by his bathtub. I've probably blotted it out in my mind because of the shame that I felt flooding over me, shame that burned with the heat of a thousand messy refrigerators, at having skipped ahead to the punchline of a "Blondie."

I mean, what is that? I couldn't work through 2 or 3 more panels to get to the joke? A joke that I knew, going in, would not even be funny? Would not even generate the slightest hint of a smile?

That's how I knew I no longer had even a shred of willpower. If I could not resist the... "lure" of a "Blondie" punchline, there was no hope for me in the rest of my life. From here on out, it was going to be all supersized Cokes and pants with that little patch of flexible fabric in them so that your "40-inch" waist can comfortably slide out to 42 or even 43 and nobody's the wiser, and Crocs, and reading the spoilers in movie reviews and claiming that housework is exercise and "Chicken Soup for the Golf Lover's Soul" counts as an actual book. I imagine it won't be long until I cheat at crossword puzzles and stop watching Jeopardy to switch over to Wheel of Fortune reruns and otherwise let every little thing in my life slide.

That's what having no willpower will do to you. One minute, you're a fine hunk of a man who skips dessert and jogs a couple of miles a day. The next, you're skipping ahead to the end of "Blondie" and your tongue is stuck to a wooden spoon coated with a marshmallow-and-Crispy-Rice mixture and you're letting the Babies! play with the Tupperware and you've let your refrigerator degenerate into an unholy battleground of poorly packaged foods fighting it out over the microbe of leftovers stored in the giant Tupperware containers.

I might have seen it coming, I suppose, but I was too distracted by all the things you can mix into ice cream. Like right now, we've got these Little Debbie Star Crunches, and we've also got a gallon of rainbow sherbet. I bet those would go good together.

Want a free t-shirt? Of course you do. Click there to find out how you can get one courtesy of The Best of Everything: Our Opinions Are Righter Than Yours.

The Best of Everything: Our Opinions Are Righter Than Yours!. If you want to know, or say, what's The Best, read The Best of Everything or submit your own nominee!

First it was William Shatner. Now it's Hugh Grant.

Over on my other blog, The Best of Everything, I wrote one day about how Hugh Grant is The Best Romantic Leading Man. I had a lot of reasons for that, but one I didn't mention was his style.

If you ever examine Hugh Grant's wardrobe in or out of movies, it looks classy-but-casual. It's lots of jeans and button up shirts that are carefully untucked. He throws in some slacks or a sportcoat here or there, but when he does, it never looks as though he's actually trying to dress up, even though the effect is just that: he looks a bit fancier without trying to do so.

I have the exact opposite thing going on. When I dress down, there's no mistaking it. I'm slumming. When I dress up, it's clear that I tried to dress up and I look and feel uncomfortable in my neat clothes.

So I envy Hugh Grant. I wish I could have style like him; I really do.

75x75There's a shot for me to do that. The one thing that maybe could give me that style? Dockers. I've got the chance to find out whether they would work for me, too, because of the Dockers contest that's going on right now. All you have to do to enter the Dockers contest is create a Dockers commercial...

... it doesn't have to star me, but that would be a nice thing to do...

and then enter it at the site those links go to. They've got lots of great commercials up there already, but yours -- or mine-- could be even better.

Especially if it features me. Or Hugh Grant.

Sponsored by Dockers