Saturday, December 20, 2008

Question of the Day, 11:

TRUE OR FALSE: If you make a bag of microwave popcorn, and then sprinkle Lucky Charms over the top of the bowl and mix it all up, the resulting combination (which I call "Lucky Corn") is delicious?

Answer: True.

Try it yourself and see.

You got yourself into debt, but they can help you get out.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

They Are Made of Marshmallows, Dad: 68 down, 9,157 to go.

I finally was able to put up Giant Rudolph, The Drunken Reindeer, and Pete the Patriotic (And Now Christmas-Y) Parrot up last night, joined this year by the newest addition to our yard decorations, the Snowman.

The Snowman was a gift to Sweetie from my dad, who followed the rules of giving that my family always follows: Learn one fact about a person, then apply that fact to all gifts. That is, once you know one thing about someone, make sure every gift you give that person relates in some way, no matter how tangential, to that fact. That rule is why my family decided that I liked monkeys: I had a "Curious George" T-shirt that I'd bought because when I was a kid I had liked "Curious George" and had a stuffed "Curious George." Because my family saw me wearing that shirt -- exactly one time-- they decided I liked monkeys, and so I was given, over the years, a stuffed monkey, and a monkey lamp, and three ceramic monkeys that had goofy faces.

Sweetie collects "S'mores," those little statues/Christmas ornaments that are like snowmen made out of marshmallows. Because my dad saw that we had a rack of those little ornaments, he decided Sweetie likes snowmen, and so for her birthday she got an outdoor snowman decoration, plus a package of hot chocolates with mugs shaped like snowmen.

I made a deal with her, because I love yard decorations. I swapped her the Snowman in exchange for a birthday-present-to-be-named later, so now she gets her choice of my birthday presents when they come in.

I hope she likes monkeys.

Song 68: Angels We Have Heard On High, by The Brian Setzer Orchestra.

Down... to go: All the songs on my iPod, used to counterpoint all the things that I think. Song 67 here.

Read the first installment of Ninety-Four: my recounting of the year that made me what I am today, by clicking here.

I know I'd like it.

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Ninety-Four: Part one-- Saying Goodbye To Machiavelli The Hamster.

Everyone has one year in their life that has a greater impact on them than any other year. Mine was 1994. Once a week, I'll recap that year, beginning today.

In January, 1994, I packed up everything I owned and went off from Milwaukee to Washington D.C.

I don't think anyone had believed that I was actually going to Washington D.C. until I went. Going to Washington, D.C. -- going anywhere -- was not something that was done in our family and circle of friends.

Sure, my cousin Joey had gone off to school in Arizona, or Washington state, or somewhere. And, yes, a few friends had gone to school out of state, too. But in our family, the accepted practice was to talk about the things we were going to do, and then not do them. So my announcing that I was going to go to Washington D.C. for a few months, and then to Morocco for a few months after that, was in keeping with our family's longstanding tradition of saying things like that. It's a tradition that continues to this day in some portions of the family, such as when Oldest constantly announces that she is, in fact, going to nursing school, and then does not actually go, or Dad constantly threatening to move to Arkansas where the property taxes are lower and it's not so cold.

And my brother Bill has made a virtual career out of virtual jobs he was virtually going to have. In between the few jobs that he has had, Bill has often and loudly announced that he was going to start a company, or had started a company, or was actually right at that very moment engaging in business without us even knowing it. These business ventures sometimes produced tangible results, like the mountain of cheesecakes that Bill's first wife had to bake when Bill discovered that she baked excellent cheesecakes, and then decided that he would go into business selling the excellent cheesecakes she baked, which required that she bake a massive amount of cheesecakes. I don't know what happened to them, but Bill is not today the Cheesecake King of Milwaukee, or even anywhere in the Cheesecake Royalty Line of Succession, so there had to have been some flaw in the business plan. My guess is that the "flaw" was that people are reluctant to buy cheesecakes, even excellent cheesecakes, if those cheesecakes are being sold out of the back of a car from which Tom Cochrane's "Life is a Highway" is blasting, and that was Bill's marketing plan.

Bill's businesses also resulted, among the outcomes I am aware of, in a closetful of unground coffeebeans (for mail order coffee) and a few lawsuits. I don't believe he's started any businesses in a while, but everytime I hear about someone selling something weird on eBay, I hold my breath.

Bill did at least try to do some of the things he said he was going to, which was more than could generally be said for our family. Very few people in my family managed to break away from the tradition of saying we were going to do something and then not doing it. I was always a little different, and I like to think I was a groundbreaker as one of the first people in my immediate family to have that follow-through, to say that I was going to do something and then actually do it, the kind of groundbreaker who could set the stage, eventually, for my sister to up and move to California on the spur of the moment to become a teacher.

I am, by the way, very impressed by that move, but it's a move that my Mom will never forgive. My sister is still living in California, years later, but Mom has never given up on her dream of forcing my sister to move home. She is constantly hatching plans to get my sister to move back home, and interpreting the news in ways that will support her schemes. When I mentioned to her that Sweetie's dad, who is a teacher in California, said that it's very difficult to get a job as a teacher there, Mom replied "Maybe Katie will have to move back home and work as a teacher here." I am, I like to think, a little responsible for Katie having the gumption to pack her things in a U-Haul and drive that U-Haul through the Rocky Mountains, and that inspiration all began when I decided to go to Washington, D.C.

I decided to go to D.C. and then to Morocco the way I make most of my major decisions: On the spur of the moment, and because I was lost. I was lost, and about to make those decisions, in the fall of 1993, when I was walking through the building in which I believed my advisor's office was located at my college. It was not located in the building that I was in, but I hadn't realized that right away and I wandered through the hallways looking for her office so that she could do the three things that she did for me throughout my undergraduate years. Those three things were (1) help me choose my classes, (2) tell me to take Astronomy 101 as my science credit, and (3) discourage me about my future goals.

She was very good at part 1, tried hard at number 3, and was not so good at task number 2. From the first time I met with her until the last semester, when I finally gave in, we'd meet each semester for her to help me pick my classes and for her to tell me that I wouldn't achieve my goals, and she always suggested that I take Astronomy as my science credit that semester. Each time she suggested it, I rejected it. I don't even know why; it just didn't sound that good to me, and it did sound hard. So instead, I took things like "Environmental Dynamics," and "Anthropology 101" and some sort of geography class that I only vaguely recall, all classes which fulfilled my science credits while not actually teaching me science at all.

The single thing I remember from all the science classes that I took as an undergraduate, the sole fact that I can recall, is this: My anthropology professor insisted on saying "Neander-Tall," instead of pronouncing it "Neander-Thall."

I don't even care if she was correct. She probably was. But it annoyed me each and every time she said it because I assumed that she did it to sound pretentious. Who ever heard of a silent "h?" So to this day, I remember only that she pronounced it that way. I don't know the correct way to pronounce the word, I don't know anything else about Neanderthals, I just know that's how she pronounced it and because of that, I make a point of saying "Neanderthal" with a "th" sound. Out of spite. Or class envy. Or boredom. I don't even know why I do it anymore, and it's not like I get that many chances to pronounce the word, anyway. But if given a chance, I will say Neanderthal. Try me.

I did, my senior year, after 1994, cave in and take astronomy, and it turned out that I loved it, loved it so much that I briefly considered switching majors from "political" science to "actual science" and becoming an astronomer. I didn't, though, because doing that would have extended my college career even longer, and I'd already been going a long time, and also because I didn't want to give my advisor the satisfaction. We had a love-hate relationship that was best exemplified by this exchange, when I told her I was applying to law school:

Her: What law school do you want to go to?

Me: The University of Wisconsin.

Her: You won't get in. Don't even try.

When I asked her for advice on how I could get in, she advised me to apply to other schools, instead, and suggested one down south that I'm pretty sure wasn't even accredited.

But in the fall of 1993 our relationship had not yet devolved to that level and I was looking for her office. I could not remember which building it was in from the last time I'd seen her nearly eight months before. I wandered around the hall of the building I wrongly believed her office to be in, passing a bulletin board crowded with posters and fliers and photocopies, the kind of billboard that ordinarily I would not even try to read because it was so full of papers that my eyes would just kind of glance off of it, unable to get a foothold on anything on the bulletin board and so I'd ignore it and move on, but there was a larger poster in the corner that said something about foreign study programs which managed to catch my eye. I stopped and read it, in part to kill time because I wasn't all that excited about going to see my advisor, anyway. The poster had a listing of various foreign study programs and what they cost and how long they lasted. As I read it, I suddenly and out of the blue developed a desire, a longing, to go to a foreign country.

At that point in my life, my travels had been limited to a few vacations with my family: Tennessee, Maine, Florida, Virginia, and South Dakota. While those vacations had left me with a breadth of experience in American culture-- culture ranging from "knowing what Wall Drug is" to "knowing the correct way to pronounce Mackinac Island*", I was lacking in experience with foreign countries, and suddenly my life in my tiny L-shaped efficiency apartment with my jobs at the movie theater and sub shop seemed boring and commonplace.

The poster had exotic cities and countries listed: London, Paris, I think Moscow, maybe Tokyo, each of which sounded exciting and promising. And each had prices listed after them, and each of those prices was high.

But down at the bottom of the list was "Rabat, Morocco," with a note that the program was only two months, and a price of only $2,000. So I took the application and sat down and filled it out because I suddenly wanted to go to a foreign country and Rabat, Morocco, was the only foreign country I could afford to go to.

I wasn't exactly sure, then, where Morocco even was, despite being in my second year as a college student majoring in political science, a field of study which, while I wasn't entirely sure what it was about -- whenever people asked me what "political science" was I would shrug and say "it's about politics" -- I was pretty sure that a "political science" major meant I should know where the countries of the world were. But maybe not. Maybe that's for cartographers to know. I'm still not, to be honest, entirely sure what it is that political science majors are supposed to know. But I knew then, as I read that poster, that I wanted to go to a foreign country, and I knew I could afford to go only to Morocco.

So Morocco is was. I was confident that once I got into the program, I'd learn where the country was. I took the application out of the little box there, filled it out, and went to the office down the hall where I was supposed to hand it in. While waiting to do that, I noticed that there was also a program to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., attending classes and working for some government office or other group in our nation's capital. So I took an application for that and filled it out, too, and handed them both in.

Then I wandered back outside and eventually found my advisor's actual office and forgot, more or less, about both of the applications, until I got letters telling me that I'd been approved or selected or whatever the process was, for both, which is when I began telling my family "I'm going to Washington, D.C. And Morocco."

To which they would inevitably reply: "Great." Or "Nice." Or "That's good."

At Thanksgiving, I told my relatives "I'm going to D.C. next semester, and then Morocco."

"How nice for you," they would say, and go back to talking about whatever it was they talked about.

At Christmas, my brothers were trying to make plans for January. "I won't be here," I told them. "I'm going to Washington, D.C. And then Morocco."

"Okay," they'd say.

Shortly after Christmas, I asked Matt if I could store a few things at his house beginning in January. "Why?" he asked.

"Because I'm going to D.C., and then Morocco," I said.

He okayed it, but I know he didn't believe me, because when the day came for him to go drop me off at the train station in Milwaukee, he met me outside my apartment. As we loaded a couple of things into his car -- my suitcases and a large cardboard box that would be shipped to Washington, D.C., and also the hamster cage that had my hamster, "Machiavelli," in it for him to take back home with him ("Machiavelli the Hamster" would not keep his name long; he would be renamed "Hammy The Hamster" by my nephew Nick)-- Matt said to me, amidst the loading, "I can't believe you're actually going."

But I was, and I did. He drove me to the train station, where I picked up my suitcase, waved goodbye to him and to Machiavelli, and got onto the train that would take me to Washington D.C.

Oh, and: *It's pronounced "Mack-In-Naw."

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Question of the Day, 10:

If one person can't sleep in the middle of the night and the other person IS asleep in the room, who should get to decide if the television is on and who should get to decide which channel to watch?

Because giving that power to the wrong person means that one person ends up lying awake in bed listening to his spiky-pink-fish clock click away, and wondering whether that episode of '3rd Rock From The Sun' was as funny as it looked in the first minute or so.

Also, underneath the dress shirt, I have on my "Nacho Libre" t-shirt.

I was getting ready to go to the office the other day, and I stopped to review my outfit. Nice shoes, nice pants, nice sportcoat, dignified dress shirt and tie... and my NFL leather briefcase and orange puffy winter coat. Lookin' good, I told myself. Lookin' good.

Also, lookin' a little ... underdignified. That's what I've decided. I mean, I'm nearing forty and I'm a lawyer, and while I listen to The White Stripes and can still rock out with the best of them, at least until 9 p.m. when I watch the early news because I like to go to bed by ten, I also have an image to project. People come to me with their problems, and pay me money to make their problems go away, and I don't think they want to see me coming in to try their case with my NFL briefcase and my puffy orange coat.

That's why I've decided to get a good men's cashmere coat. Specifically, that's why I've decided to get this:

That's a cashmere overcoat, the "Brisbane," from Sanyo. I think it looks both dignified and kind of cool; it's not the kind of overcoat that my dad or (God forbid) my grandpa would wear. It's the kind of overcoat that says "You can trust me. I'm a grown-up. And, yes, that's the White Stripes playing in the background in my office."

It's not just the looks that sold me, either. These coats from Sanyo have something called "Breath Thermo technology." I'm no clothing engineer, but they promise to keep me warm in the winter, which is an absolute necessity when living in Winterland... I mean "Wisconsin." If I'm going to replace the orange puffy coat, it has to be with something warm, and the Brisbane is promised to be warm.

So when you see me striding confidently to court next time, I'll be doing so in my nice shoes, my nice pants, my nice sportcoat, my dignified dress shirt and tie... and my new cashmere Brisbane overcoat from Sanyo.

And, also, my NFL leather briefcase. I'm not giving up everything.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Santa & The Aliens: 67 down, 9,158 to go.

Song 67 manages to combine everything that I spend most of my time thinking about this time of year, those things being Christmas, and cool music, and also spaceships and aliens. Song 67 is Carol of The Bells by Mannheim Steamroller, and it has the distinction of being the only Christmas carol which I can say is both beautiful and the song the mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind would have played over its loudspeakers if that movie were a Christmas special.

And shouldn't there have been a Close Encounters of the Third Kind Christmas movie, in which the aliens learned from Richard Dreyfuss about the legend of Santa Claus, and then learned that Santa doesn't exist, so they come back to Earth and use their technology to actually bring a gift to every man, woman and child on Earth, in order to promote peace and brotherhood? It could have Richard Dreyfuss in a Santa outfit standing on that white deck/walkway and waving. It could be called Close Encounters of a Christmas Kind.

Down... to go: It's a countdown of all the songs on my iPod. Be grateful; I could have simply listed breakfast cereals I like. Song 66 here.

russian bride

I never had moon boots, by the way.

When I was a kid, the only choices of boots that we had were either Moon Boots, or those clunky black fireman's boots with the metal buckles that always bent and then the boots were kind of useless. Those were our options.

What I didn't know was that the world of boots included boots that could do more than simply slip off your foot while you walked to school. I know that know, because I've been browsing around over at CopShoes. CopShoes has more boots than I could ever imagine had been created.

Now, these aren't your typical boots for typical people who have to go out and shovel their driveway and don't want wet feet. Sure, you guys (and I) could wear them for that, but these are boots that are meant for real men with real man jobs. These are SWAT tactical boots, and boots with names like "Blackhawk Mens Warrior Coyote Tan Desert Ops Assault Boots."

My boots don't have names like that. My boots don't have a name at ALL, let alone the "Warrior Assault Boot."

CopShoes especially has great Wellco Boots, boots that are made for use in high-pressure, tactical situations: Navy Flight Deck boots, temperate weather tactical boots, jungle boots with rubber souls, and even lightweight tactical boots. Whatever situation a man (or woman) might find himself (or herself) in, CopShoes has a boot for it-- and a good Wellco boot, at that.

CopShoes will even help pick out the right boot, and answer any questions, so if you're thinking "I'd like to give that boot as a gift, but I'm not sure it's right for this person," CopShoes has excellent customer service on call to answer your questions from 8:30 to 5 (CST) Mondays through Fridays.

Protect the feet of the people who are protecting you -- get them some great Wellco boots at Copshoes.

Question of the Day: 9

How many half-used bottled of "Thousand Island Salad Dressing" is too many to have in a refrigerator?

Because to make room in the 'fridge, I threw out last night four half-used bottles of "Thousand Island," which left two still sitting in the refrigerator. And, I believe, one unopened bottle of "Thousand Island" in the cupboard.

Bonus Fact: The "special sauce" on a Big Mac is just Thousand Island dressing.

Have you read "Rebellious Youth Without Girlfriends?"

Make out:

Apparently, the bar for Christmas miracles has been set a lot lower in my house.

One of the things I like best about shopping for Christmas is getting "stocking stuffers," those little, inexpensive presents that can be wrapped separately as a fun little thing, or actually put into a stocking for someone on Christmas morning.

Like this year, I'm getting Middle and Sweetie and Oldest some nail polish as an extra little gift -- and, guys, listen up: You don't have to venture into that frightening make-up zone in the department stores to buy nail polish, because you can get it online through "Hello Gorgeous!"

"Hello Gorgeous!" is this site I found that sells things like OPI nail polish and nail accessories, like balms and nail files and... whatever it is that needs to be done to nails besides cut them occasionally, I guess. I don't know, because I'm a guy and all I do to my nails is cut them too short and chew on them.

But Sweetie and Middle and Oldest like doing their nails, and I like getting them presents, so it's nice to be able to go online and just order them things like this:
Neat picture, right? That is "Creative Nails" nail polish, which comes in "bold colors," and can even come in glitter and things like that (Middle, being 17, will probably appreciate that.) All the "Creative Nails" are discounted from $7 to much less, so I can order them and save money on them, too, and get some brightly-colored little things to add in as presents.

The girls get bold-colored nails, I get credit for being thoughtful, and nobody has to walk past those perfume spritzers to get what they want. Plus, I can then give the girls the website address where I got these things, and they can start buying off of there, too -- so in the future, I won't need to go with them to the mall and spend a whole day bumming around while they shop. It's like a Christmas Miracle.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Enemies List: 2

My Enemies List:

1. People who honk their horn.
2. Pepperoni Pizza.

The Boy claims he likes pepperoni pizza. He does not. I know this for a fact (and I've proven it.) But he persists in claiming he likes it. So then, a week or two ago, we got take-out pizza. Or, as the British apparently say, "takeaway" pizza. I like it better that way. So we got takeaway pizza, some sausage, one pepperoni. The next day, the leftover pizza available for breakfast was only pepperoni, because The Boy ate only sausage pizza for dinner leaving me to very grudgingly have pepperoni pizza for my Pocket Breakfast.

I can't put The Boy on my enemies list -- not officially, anyway -- so pepperoni pizza gets the number 2 slot.

Rachel's not sure where she came from or what she's supposed to do, unless she really is trying to take over the world with a little help from her Octopus, a Valkyrie, and her lover Brigitte. Read Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World!

Rebellious Youth Without Girlfriends.

I wish I was more of a fun kind of guy, the kind of guy who could and would do things that are "fun" without at the same time doing things that are "guaranteed to result in a sprained ankle."

We all know those "fun" guys. They're around when we're growing up, and they have names which can be shortened into fun names, like the "fun" guys did when I was young, like "Rupe," which was short for "Rupenthal." "Rupe" when I was younger was part of my brother Matt's group of friends, a group that I joined sort of by default and sort of by virtue of the fact that I was living back at home at 19 and most of my friends had gone on to do other things: Bob and Fred had gone into the army. Eric had gone off to college, and, we heard/probably made up later, freaked out on acid and wandered off somewhere to join a cult, and Pat was also living at home but was going to school.

Eric was the smartest of our group in high school. Eric was smarter than me, which my parents didn't and don't like to hear, but it's true. Both Eric and I were naturally smart, the kind of naturally smart guys who can naturally get an A on their paper on the play MacBeth without ever actually reading the play, something that I thought would never, ever, come back to haunt me -- how can not reading MacBeth ever become a liability?-- but then it did come back to haunt me, because Sweetie was reading a headline the other day about Governor Blagojevich's troubles, and it referred to Mrs. Blagojevich as "Lady MacBeth."

"What did Lady MacBeth do?" asked Sweetie, who seems not to have taken a British Literature course that she then had to fake her way through because British Lit is really boring and hard to read. Sweetie knew that I had taken British Lit because I fall back on it all the time in my effort to continue to give the kids mixed messages: I alternate between telling them that they need to study hard and get good grades and that the studying hard is what leads, directly, to good grades, and then I tell them, later, about the time I got a 108 -- out of 100, earning 8 extra credit points -- on a paper about The Canterbury Tales, and I hadn't even read The Canterbury Tales.

My exact answer to Sweetie's question was this: "She helped MacBeth do something. I think there were witches involved. Or maybe she did something to MacBeth."

Sweetie's exact answer was "Oh." She sounded a little letdown, so I added, to bolster my claims:

"I'm pretty sure there were witches."

Eric would have known whether there were witches, and what Lady MacBeth did to later be compared to a 21st-century political wife. Eric was the kind of teenager who was more prone to spending his weekends home reading and doing homework and doing whatever else it was he did, while Bob and Pat and Fred and I drove around in Bob's old white Impala, trying to get people to buy us beer and hoping that we could find girls who would not mind that we were the kind of dorks who acted cool but who also made up, during study hall, a claim that we were part of a revolutionary organization named "Rebellious Youth Without Phones," an organization devoted to proving that Ulysses S. Grant was the best president ever, and to also having Riboflavin declared the national food additive.

We fostered those goals by once telling the Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher that we thought Ulysses S. Grant was the best president ever, which made him actually sputter, and by writing "R.Y.W.P." on blackboards in empty classrooms.


It's amazing to me that I was not voted the prom king.

Eric did not take part in that kind of tomfoolery; Eric was only nominally part of our group and did not hang out much with us on the weekends, because he was busy having a future which would not be dominated, as some of ours are, by blogging when he should be paying attention during a seminar. Eric was the least-fun, and accordingly most successful, of our group. However, Eric paid a terrible price for missing out on what we thought of as "fun" during high school, because when he went to college, possibly at Michigan State, Eric snapped from the pressure of being so smart and studious and good all the time, and he did acid and he wandered away from campus and nobody heard from him again.

Or at least that's what the story was. That story made the rounds between graduation and the 10-year reunion, people who knew Eric telling others how Eric had lost it, telling the story as proof that, yeah, we'd spent a lot of time at the teen bar ("Jellybeans") and even more time sitting in my basement drinking beer we got my older brother to buy and talking about what we'd be doing if we were at the teen bar... but at least we had gotten our wild oats out and had not gone off the deep end. Our parents may have frowned in dismay when we told them that we were not going back to the UW after winter break and may have frowned even harder in dismay when we got a job working on an assembly line that spring, but did they want to be Eric's parents, wondering where their formerly-brilliant, now drug-addled psychotic kid was?

I actually think that rather than wandering the Earth in a deranged stupor, Eric ended up being a veterinarian at Ohio State University. Six of one, half dozen of the other.

It was because I made those choices: don't read MacBeth, do hang out in a 1968 Impala, don't go back to school, do work a drill press next to Carlos, a guy who would regularly get stoned before work, so stoned that he once drilled his hand and didn't notice-- because I made those choices I got adopted into Matt's group of friends as the people I would hang out with for the next few years, until I finally got back to school because assembly lines and gas stations aren't all that fun to work at for a few months, let alone for an entire lifetime.

And it was when I joined Matt's group of friends that I got to hang around my first "fun" guy, the kind of guy I imagine Chris Farley was -- crazy and funny and able to do anything. Matt's group had one of those ("Rupe", as I said) and had it's own Eric, called "Andy" in Matt's group. Andy was everything that Eric was to our group, smart and funny and hard-workiing, but Andy had two other things going for him: he was also athletic, and he looked like he should be on the cover of a teen magazine. Andy actually stayed with our family for a while when his own family had troubles, and my sister Katie used to go look at him with her friends. "Come on," she'd tell her friends, "Let's go look at Andy." And they would, a bunch of 11 year old girls standing in the doorway watching Andy drink gallons of orange juice right from the jug while watching TV with his shirt off.

With all that going for him, you just knew Andy was going to end up worse than Eric, and he did: So far as legend has it, Andy too wandered away from college in a drug-induced state, and I think he also killed a guy. (Our group was not very creative with the horrible endings that befell those who seemed destined for success. We might have, in fact, been better if we'd read MacBeth. Then, along with drugs and wandering, witches could have been involved.)

I'd always thought of myself as a fun guy -- as the fun guy of our group, in fact. But as part of Matt's group, I learned what a real fun guy is, or was, at the time. Real fun guys can do anything they want. Real fun guys can be at a pool party, and can be standing on the deck of the pool, and can come up behind two hot girls in bikinis, and can grab both of them and go "Let's go, ladies," and pick them up and jump into the pool carrying them, at the end of which, the girls will bob to the surface, wet and giggling and laughing and splashing, and will say things like "Oh, Rupe!" and he will laugh his hearty, real-fun-guy laugh, and splash back, and later on he'll totally make out with one of them.

Guys like me cannot do that. A guy like me who tried something like that would slip before grabbing the girl and twist his ankle. Or he would grab the girl and twist her ankle. Or her top would come off and he'd get charged with sexual assault. Or she would fall into the water, hit her head, inhale water, have to be revived, and it would all end up with the ambulance taking her away and the rest of the people at the party looking at me and saying "What were you thinking?" And there would totally be no making out.

So for the couple of years that I hung out with Matt's group in between college and more college, I watched the fun guys, like Rupe, do the fun things, and I always thought to myself, I wonder how you get to be the fun guy? What is it that separates the Rupes from me, that allows them to chase a girl through the house and tickle her and not have her step on a beer bottle and break it and slice through their foot, so that what was supposed to be fun ends up as stitches? How is it that some people can leap up and crash down on the volleyball net, bringing it to the ground and the game to a halt, and yet everyone laughs and thinks it's funny, whereas if I tried that, I'd get "What were you thinking?"

I know what it is that separates me from the Andys and Erics, after all: they did their homework. They did not, when told to read Slaughterhouse-Five, skip reading that so they could instead read the Crisis on Infinite Earths comic series, the result of which is that they would guess wrong on the quiz on Monday and end up having to read even more when they got home that night. Andys and Erics always knew what happened to Billy Pilgrim in the cave and never got themselves into trouble by forging notes to get themselves out of physics class, as I did, but it wasn't really my fault.

I had to forge notes to get out of physics class because I didn't like going to physics class. It was first hour in my senior year, and it was boring. Physics itself isn't boring; physics itself is exciting. Physics class, in my high school, was boring, though. It was taught by Mrs. Kaiser, and Mrs. Kaiser did not have an exciting cell in her body. Physics helps explain why curveballs curve, why black holes are black, why those spaceships in Independence Day would have torn the Earth apart before they even got close to Washington D.C.

But physics in Mrs. Kaiser's classroom was this: Hold a ruler up, then drop it and see how fast you can catch it. That was an actual experiment we did. I remember it to this day. I don't know what it was supposed to teach, but whatever it was supposed to teach, it didn't work, unless what it was supposed to teach was how to hate physics, in which case it worked brilliantly. So I skipped out of physics every so often, something I could do because Mom at the time was working third shift, so she didn't get home until 8:30 a.m., and Dad left at 6 a.m. I even had a brilliant ploy: I faked up a note that excused me from class because I had to go pick up my Mom from her job as a third-shift nurse, and signed it with a reasonable facsimile of my mom's name.

How that genius scheme fell apart occurred thusly: Mom, one day, actually did need to be picked up from work, and I did have to miss physics, and she did write me a note, which I stupidly turned in to the office as my excuse. A few hours later, I had to go talk to the Principal about that, and he showed me the notes I had written, and the note my mom had written, and said to me that he wanted me to admit that I had faked the note my mom had written. As evidence, he used the other five notes or so that I'd written and signed, and showed me how the signatures on those notes all matched, while the signature on the note from that day was clearly different.

He seemed proud of himself, so I didn't make things worse by correcting him. I falsely confessed to forging the note that day and got a day's detention. That was actually kind of a cool thing, in my book. I only got detention two, maybe three times in my whole high school career, and detention was something that was cool to get, as we'd all learned from The Breakfast Club.

The other time I got detention was when Fred and Bob and I decided one day to just up and leave and go driving around in Bob's Impala. We decided to walk out the main entrance to the high school, a decision that seems dumb until you consider this: We didn't see any teachers watching the doors. So we walked out, and Mr. Brill, who was the track coach and who taught a class on the History of the United States in the 1960s, and who taught, so far as I knew, nothing else, and whose class focused primarily on (a) giving the dirtball kids who smoked and worked on cars a History credit and (b) playing The Who's "Baba O'Riley", Mr. Brill stopped us and asked if we had a pass, at which point we did a version of Who's On First ...

Me: [to Fred] I thought you had the pass.

Fred: [to Bob] I thought you had the pass.

Bob: [to me] I thought you...

... until Mr. Brill stopped us and gave us detention. And made us go back in.

That, and the riboflavin thing, constituted the "fun," "wacky" part of my high school career, forming the basis for my personality now, today, as a guy who's not one of those "fun" guys.

"Fun" guys don't stop being fun guys just because they get out of high school, after all. They're still "fun" even when they're thirty or forty or fifty. They can exist in law school, where they can give long hugs to my girlfriend (Sweetie, before we married) and pick her up off the ground when they do so, and do that without their own girlfriends getting jealous and without throwing out Sweetie's back the way I inevitably would if I tried to do that -- not that I would try to give a long hug to someone else. But if I tried to give Sweetie a long, lifting-up hug, it would have to be followed up with a long, helping-out trip to the chiropractor because I'd crack her vertebrae.

I know I would, because even little fun things that I try to do go awry. Like the other day, when I got home from work and wanted to surprise Mr F at the door. Each day, when I get home, Mr F and Mr Bunches hear the big garage door opening, and they get excited. Then, when I get out of the car, I start calling "Hello," and calling out their names, and they come rushing to the door, where they wait until I turn the handle and then they open it.

So the other day, I got out of the car, and I said "Hello!" and got to the door more quickly as I called their names. I was going to open it a little, and then when I saw them, throw it open more quickly and surprise them. That was my plan, and you'll note that it included checking before I threw the door open, because I didn't want to hit them with the door.

So I got up to the door, and I opened it a crack, and I peered in and didn't see them standing there, so I yelled "Hello!" and threw the door open, but it didn't throw and it didn't open. Instead, it went two inches, made a big thunk! and stopped dead.

So I did what anyone would do in that situation: I pushed it harder and got another thunk!, at which point I peered in and saw Sweetie standing there, doubled over, holding her head.

"What are you doing?" I asked. I don't pick up on things all that quickly.

"You hit me in the head," she said.

I eventually sorted out that she'd gone to open the door for me, because Mr F and Mr Bunches were busy in the playroom knocking over the slide. Just before I'd thrown the door open, she'd bent down to move the blanket that was blocking the drafts from under the door, at which point I had thrown open the door, hitting her in the head. Twice.

She didn't blame me-- for long-- and she's okay. But things could have been so different, if I was a "fun" guy. If I was a "fun" guy, I'd have yelled "Hello!" and the door would have swung open and Sweetie would have maybe tripped and fallen onto the couch, gently, while giggling, and I'd have come in, and she'd have laughed, and I'd have laughed, and maybe shotgunned a beer.

And then we'd have totally made out.

Also, an Ebel Chronograph is more fun to unwrap than a "power of attorney" form is.

I was going to get my Dad, for Christmas, the wonderful gift of "estate planning," hiring a lawyer to do his will and things like that. I even asked him if he'd like that, and he didn't say no, so that was the plan. Then I talked to the lawyer I was going to hire, and he pointed out that my Dad didn't need an estate plan, that a few simple forms would take care of everything, leaving me with a dilemma:

Do I get those forms and give them to Dad and claim that was my present, and end up getting some kind of horrible karma? Or do I give my Dad something else?

I've hit on something else. I'm not messing up Christmas or my karma. The something else I've hit on is an ebel chronograph from The Watchery.

The Watchery is the best place to get a watch, and I can say that with confidence because it's the only place I know that not only sells great watches like the Ebel Beluga , but it also sells those watches, and other luxury watches, at up to 75% off.

This is the watch I've picked out for Dad:

The Ebel 1911 Men's Chronograph watch, which is marked down 75% right now, saving me nearly $4,000 on that watch -- it's less expensive than hiring a lawyer, but he doesn't have to know that.

I picked that one because it's the kind of thing Dad would like: Solid, not flashy, traditional, and very well-made. But they've got all kinds of great men's and women's watches by Ebel there on the site, watches made by a company that's been making watches since 1911 and knows, after all this time (get it? It's a pun!) how to make a great watch.

And, I can order it now and they'll guarantee it gets here by Christmas Eve -- just in time. (Can't resist it.)

Maybe you've got the same dilemma: Maybe you planned to get someone a great gift like "hiring them a lawyer," but it fell through. Or maybe you're a last minute shopper. Or maybe you just want to get a gift that the person will use every day. Regardless of which category you fall into, isn't it TIME to check out The Watchery?

Sorry. I like puns.

An infinite amount of luck: 66 down, 9,159 to go.

This morning, I got into my car and started it up and turned on the radio and heard, just beginning, song 66, which is The Underdog, by Spoon. Since I love this song (it's on my rarely-used "Upbeat" playlist of songs that always make me feel happy), I thought to myself what luck! How awesome is that, to get in and hear a song you love just beginning on the radio?

But then I worried that I may only get a certain amount of luck in my lifetime, and that I'd just used up some of that luck on this, getting a song to play just as I get into the car, and what if the amount of luck I get in a lifetime was just barely enough to win the lottery and move to Hawaii, and now I was just under the threshold of that amount of luck?

And then I further used up some luck by winning tickets to The Nutcracker on the way to work. And also in not crashing as I called the radio station to win those tickets.

So I may not be going to Hawaii, but I am going to see The Nutcracker. And I got to listen to The Underdog. Which I have on my iPod anyway.

I hope I'm wrong about the luck. I hope that there's an infinite amount of luck available.

Down... to go: I may have an infinite amount of luck, but I have 9,225 songs on my iPod and together we'll get through them all. Song 65 here.

They don't even sting like you'd think. And they feel velvety.

When we first decided,last year, to take the kids to Florida, we let them choose which of the theme parks we would go to, and to be honest, I was surprised that they picked Sea World. With all the other theme parks that in Orlando, I wondered why they'd take what appeared to be the one that least appealed to them.

I was wrong. Sea World totally appealed to them. There were excellent rides, rollercoasters and water rides that they loved. There were, too, more things to do than in many theme parks. Sea World had their shark tank aquarium, where you can walk through a tunnel while around you and above you swim what seem like hundreds of sharks. They had the Sting Ray bay, where I got to feel a real sting ray and see more of them swimming around than ever. There were manatees and dolphins and shows and of course killer whales doing tricks.

There was even stuff for the little kids to do -- a playland with all kinds of contraptions to climb on and slide around.

In the end, I liked Sea World even more than the kids did, and they liked it a lot. If I had any regrets at all, it's that I bought the tickets at the door, which meant I spent a ton of money and paid full price like a sucker. Had I known then that I could get discount sea world tickets through Orlando Fun Tickets, the day would have been perfect, because we would have spent our time at an awesome theme park with one-of-a-kind attractions, and we would have done so for a lot less than full price.

In fact, Orlando Fun Tickets would have saved us enough for me to buy even more souvenirs than I did -- plus, they've got a special limited time offer right now giving a FREE second day if you buy your tickets, so we could have paid less than we did and gone twice as much as we did.

Twice as much sting ray petting and souvenirs and roller-coaster riding, for way less money... and I could have seen those sharks again, too.

Question of the Day: 9.

When someone asks you what one food you would pick if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, would it be cheating to say "Ramen Noodles" if in your head you are secretly planning to take ALL of the varieties of Ramen noodles, so that technically it's one food but many flavors, and, if you can do that and it's not cheating, then why would you say "Ramen Noodles" instead of "Pizza," because if it's the category of food, not the flavor of food, then "Pizza" would be a better choice, wouldn't it?

It's not HOW you meet, it's WHO.

I don't see what people have against using the Internet to meet people. Is it really so much worse than the alternatives? Picture sitting around with your family and someone says "So how did you two meet?" Based on how most people meet, you'd have to say "Well, a bar." Or "a party." Or "We were set up by someone who knew we were both single?"

What makes any of those ways better than the Internet? You use the Internet to find all kinds of things, so why not a friend or soulmate?

One reason not to in the past was that, let's face it, the Internet is a virtual den of iniquity. Even the most innocent searches turn up more smut and porn than you'd imagine, and dating sites are filled with the kind of people you wouldn't want to meet anywhere.

But the Christian Chat Rooms at Christian Chat City aren't like that. With your free membership, you can start meeting and chatting with Christians today -- with your webcam, even. Using Christian Chat City, you'll be able to meet people who share your values and goals and morals. So someone asking how you met won't matter so much -- because they'll be too impressed with WHO you met.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Question of the Day: 8.

Is melon more manly than peach?

Sweetie picked up lip balm yesterday, some kind of multipack that she then distributed among the family. She gave me "melon," and when I asked why, she said "I gave you the most masculine one." So I asked which one The Boy got, and she said "Peach."

I used it today, and my coffee tastes melon-y.

Not in the holiday spirit yet? Read "Merry Guckmas" and you will be!

funny t shirts

clipix pictures


Welcome a new reader!

I'm trying to be more conscientious about recognizing the people who read my things. I write because I love to write, and without people reading and liking what I write, I'd have nothing else to do but spend time with my family. And they don't want that, so by reading my stuff, you help them, too. If you read anything I write and want some recognition (or links, or write-ups, or just to be said hello to), let me know.

Today, I'm recognizing Lavern Gueco, who is a fan of mine on Digg -- helping let others know about what I'm writing. Lavern lives in the Phillipines and judging by the articles he's dugg, has excellent taste. I'm gratified that he likes some of my stuff, too.

Check out Lavern's Digg profile here, and say hi to him!

That last part seems a bit of a non sequitur.

It turns out that cable news shows can lead to helpful information -- provided that you listen to the Cable News Show and then go to the Internet to get the actual information you need.

This morning, the news woke me with the warning that Microsoft Internet Explorer is vulnerable to yet another hack -- probably a hack that was created by Apple to divert attention from their own recent news that, yeah, Mac users, you have viruses too, but that's beside the point.

What is NOT beside the point is this: You probably have a bunch of junk in your registry and need to clean up your registry.

Which is gonna be tough, given that you don't know what a registry is or how to clean it, right? Luckily for you, you are reading this post, so you can find information on what a registry is, as well as what might be the best registry cleaners out there. gives you both of those critical pieces of information, explaining what a registry is (you need to know that) and then rating and reviewing the best registry cleaners so that you can avoid the slowing, malicious effects of bad software and speed up your computer, while avoiding hacks and phishes and identity theft.

So, in summary: Cable news is okay, this blog is very good, and should be on your bookmarks. Also, egg nog is tasty.

65 down, 9,160 to go.

There are really only two things that can be said about song 65:

(1) It has an Eleven Spot at about 4:20.
(2) It is very difficult to sing this song when you have a mouthful of Cherry Pop Tart.

Down... to go: Giving you tips on singing with your mouth full since 1832. Song 64 here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Merry Guckmas!

Christmas season hit full swing this weekend at our house, with activities both traditional (the putting up of the tree), nontraditional (the throwing of the "L") and the newly-traditional.

In the "newly traditional" category of holiday fun (?) I can now include the Annual Lights Going Out And Decision To Just Keep Our Eyes Higher Up On The Tree. When something happens twice in a row, it is either phenomenal bad luck or a tradition. I consider it a tradition, since I am trying to to keep my life in perspective by reminding myself that what I usually consider to be phenomenal bad luck, like the lights going out on my Christmas tree, would not be considered bad luck in 98% of the world, where "phenomenal bad luck" would be less likely to mean "now I have to crawl under the tree and unplug some plugs and then plug them back in," and would be more likely to mean "an alligator just ate Grandpa."

So it has become a tradition that at some unknown point after putting up the tree, the lights will go out unexpectedly, plunging me into darkness and making me stop doing what I'm doing (this year, it was looking up Mannheim Steamroller Christmas CDs online) and start doing what I'd rather not be doing, which is moving the gates away from Fort Christmas and crawling under the tree to "fix" things the only way I know how to fix them: unplugging and plugging in the lights a few times.

When that did not work, I then went to Plan B, which was "unplug the lights, find the next lowest plug, and plug that into the extension cord." That worked; all the lights except the now-disconnected strand went back on and the tree began glowing with all of the peace and love and hastily-assembled nature of the holidays at our house, leaving us free to look at the tree and enjoy it if we do not look at the lowest set of branches which are now unlit, and leaving me to also briefly wonder if it was possible, since this exact same thing happened last year, if it was possible that I'd taken the defective strand of lights last year and had not thrown them away, but instead had put them in the box with the others, and also if it was possible that I'd not only done that but I'd also put the defective lights on first, just as I had last year.

All of which is possible, given the quality of the lighting and electrical work in our house. After all, I wasn't able to assemble all of the Christmas decorations. Our outdoor decorations -- Giant Rudolph, The Drunken Reindeer, and Pete The Patriotic (And Now Christmas-y) Parrot -- have not been put up yet because each time I tried to put them up, something came up that distracted me.

The thing that distracted me on Saturday, which was Christmas Decoratin' Day, was the Poop Emergency that took valuable time out from putting up the tree and diverted me to less-fun activities like "removing everything from Mr F's bed, including Mr F, to wash and sanitize it." We had to do that because of the Poop Emergency, which Sweetie discovered and which was therefore her fault even though I had to clean it up.

It was about 1:30 in the afternoon, and I was 1/3 of the way through the tree, hitching branches and layering lights on while I watched "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." Sweetie had gone upstairs to do something. She was "taking a break," from whatever else it had been that she was doing. I heard her calling me from upstairs and asked what she needed and she said "Mr F has taken off his pants and pooped all over everything."

I am a clearheaded thinker. I immediately and clearheadedly proceeded with my three-step emergency plan, which is (a) pause the DVD so that I don't miss the part where Clark goes sledding, (b) head upstairs and (c) mentally blame Sweetie for this because if she had not gone into their room to check on them, we would not have known about the Poop Emergency. Which may not sound fair, given that we would have discovered it eventually, "eventually" being when we went to get the Babies! up at four p.m., but if we'd waited until four p.m. to discover it, then there would have been no risk that I would miss the Clark-sledding part, and also I would have been able to put up the entire tree without taking a break to lift a disgustingly-coated Mr F out of his crib -- carefully, at arm's length-- to begin the process of sanitizing his room.

Mr F had a Poop Emergency because he likes to take his pants off, and the results of that emergency was that roughly 80% of his crib, and 80% of him, were untouchable. I lifted him out of his crib and said "What is going on here?"

"Guck," he told me, which constitutes the only time that Mr F's main word, guck, actually answered the question or contributed meaningfully to the conversation. There are commercials on TV right now in which a mom follows her kid around with one of those annoying cards where you can record a greeting, trying to get the kid to say the greeting for her. Which really makes the card the least thoughtful thing you can give someone for Christmas, doesn't it? Those cards cost, I bet, about $5.00 each, and then you have to record the person's voice on it, and mail it, so it's $5.00 plus some time and effort, the end result of which is to send this message: I am obligated to spend some money and time on you, but I do not want to spend money on something you really want, so I got you this card. The "personal greeting" portion of that card ought to say this: Here is my voice. You could hear my voice if I just called you on the phone, but I am not going to do that. I am giving you the gift of the sound of me.

I feel the same way about those cards that play a snippet of music for the person when they open it up. It's like giving someone a mixtape, only there's no mix, and they only get a portion of the sound. If a mixtape says I have all these emotions about you that are best captured by these 22 songs in this order, then the audiocard says I feel part of an emotion about you, best expressed as a snippet of a Ramones song.

I may feel that way, I guess, because I know, deep down inside, that no message would ever be communicated by the Babies!, so my family could not possibly get a cute card which opens to a cheery Babies! style greeting. Mr F and Mr Bunches steadfastly refuse to be cute in any kind of commemorative way. When they were younger, at about one year old, Mr Bunches craved attention in weird ways. He would, for example, try to steal attention from Mr F like this: Mr F would cough, or spit up, or do something else that would arouse concern, and we would say "Are you all right?"

Mr F never responded to that. But Mr Bunches did. He would respond to us asking after Mr F's health by twisting his head sideways, crossing his eyes, and sticking out his tongue while making choking noises -- trying to get us to ask him if he was all right. He would do that three, four, five, ten times in a row... until the camera appeared, at which point he'd stop.

Mr Bunches plays the piano, too. He will walk up and hit keys and sing, saying "Yeah!" in different keys and tones. I've tried at least fifteen times to get that on video, to no avail. Last week when I came home early they were bouncing on the couch, up and down and smiling and laughing, in a video-perfect way that would be ideal for recording and then sending to Disney executives with a note on it telling them where to send my twenty million dollars. They did that for about five minutes, so I got up and left the room and came back with my camera, hidden behind my back, and they were still jumping. I pulled the camera out, and they stopped, in unison.

So I would never be able to get Mr F or Mr Bunches to talk into the card and send it to my relatives as cheap-out method of "giving" them a "present," and even if I could, the Babies! don't bother talking yet, at least not using our words. They've got their words, and they're sticking with them, so they'd never say "Merry Christmas" into a card. Mr Bunches says "No," a lot -- often enough that it's pretty clear he doesn't know what "No" means. Try to pick him up from climbing into Fort Christmas and he'll holler "Nononononono" and you'll think "Oh, he knows what that means." Then offer him a cookie and he'll take that while saying "Nonononono," and eating the cookie. It's a malleable word.

As is Mr F's word, "Guck," which is what he told me when I took time out from building Fort Christmas to clean up the Poop Emergency. "Guck!" he said to me as I picked him out, and "Guck!" he told me when I put him back in the now-sterilized crib, and "Guck!" he said to me later that night when we showed him and Mr Bunches Fort Christmas. If I could get him to talk into a card, I'd just be wishing people a Merry Guckmas.

Fort Christmas is what I call our tree this year. The Babies! are in the phase where they like throwing things and running -- a phase that has stretched from when they were first able to throw and run -- and we did not want them to run into or throw the Christmas tree, so we hit on the very Christmas-y idea of putting a fence around the tree. That beat the alternative, which was to suspend the tree from the ceiling, and which I very seriously considered not because it would be safe but, to be honest, because that would be kind of cool, wouldn't it? A tree that hangs from the ceiling and rotates slowly? The only things that kept me from hanging the tree from the ceiling, from decorating the tree and then attaching a rope to it and hauling it up off the ground to levitate, victoriously and Christmas-ily, above the living room, the only things were (a) I could not figure out how to plug in the lights if I did that, and (b) I could not figure out how to keep Sweetie from noticing that I'd hung the tree from the ceiling.

So, next year, maybe. Until then, we have Fort Christmas, the fence around the tree, but no other Christmas decorations. We do not have indoor knickknacks like a Nativity Scene or snowmen or angels, due to the aformentioned throwing/running phase; the only knickknack we tried to set up so far was Cookie Monster, a statute that sings "I'll have a Blue Christmas without me cookie" in a horrifying voice, and Cookie Monster has already been thrown enough times that his singing is becoming disturbingly erratic; and, we don't have outdoor decorations because I haven't been able to put up the yard decorations due to distractions, like the Poop Emergency and like the need to get a new extension cord.

We need a new extension cord because the old one has a giant gash in it, a gash I put in it when I was briefly attempting to use the hand saw to cut down parts of the Old Shed this last summer, and a gash I didn't recall until yesterday, when I was going to set up Giant Rudolph, The Drunken Reindeer, and Pete The Patriotic (And Now Christmas-y) Parrot and grabbed the extension cord and saw the gash in it, and considered, for a moment, whether it was likely, or only kind of likely that if I just the extension cord anyway, something bad would happen, and also whether it was likely or only kind of likely that Sweetie would find out. That's how I gauge what are good ideas and what are bad ideas: I imagine what the result would be of the idea's worst outcome, like if we were to be standing outside the smoldering remnants of our house the next day and Sweetie says "How could this have happened?" and I would have to worry that a fireman would say "It happened because someone plugged all these inflatable yard decorations into an extension cord that really was just a bunch of exposed wiring, and then that someone for some reason put all that exposed wiring into snow, which is water, after all, and which conducts electricity perfectly."

Then I also considered whether I would get sued if someone touched our yard and was electrocuted, and that would be far, far worse, I assumed, for neighbor relations than simply not raking my leaves. People will put up with a lot from neighbors, the way my neighbors have put up with my yard and with that dead tree that I didn't cut down for a long time because I figured it was cheaper if the tree simply fell than if I had it cut down (it did eventually fall, and it was cheaper). But they won't put up with electrifying your whole yard. I assume.

I decided that it would be better to go the next day to get an extension cord, which I did, at about five o'clock, from the World's Most Depressing Mall, where I also had to go to get a gift card for a coworker -- she specifically requested the store -- so I took the Babies! with me to the World's Most Depressing Mall to get the coworker a gift card from the fabric store (again: she requested it.) And we were going to get an extension cord, too, but then I got distracted by the idea, and then the reality, that the Babies! could play in the mall, so I let them do that, and that's when we had the Nontraditional Throwing of the L.

The World's Most Depressing Mall is a mall here in Madison that has, maybe, three stores in it, and one of those stores is the "Department of Motor Vehicles Express Center." If a measure of how good a mall is can be had by determining how many cookie stores it has, a measure of how bad a mall is can be done by determining how many of its spaces are taken up by nonstores. One mall that I used to live across from had a social security office and a public library in it. That's a bad mall. The World's Most Depressing Mall is not much better: there's a fabric store, and a shoe store, and a baby-furniture store that's always closed, and the TJ Maxx Store where Sweetie was once taken in by a sign that promised a comforter was only $19, and then when they charged her $39 she was too embarrassed to say she didn't want it anymore or to ask why that comforter was in the $19 bin--

-- what keeps people like Sweetie and I from getting rich, really, is that we are too embarrassed about money to insist, when we pick out a comforter from the $19 bin, that either we pay $19 for that comforter, or that we don't buy the comforter. Instead, we just pay the $39 and then complain about it--

-- and then there's a pizza place and the Department of Motor Vehicles, and I think a store that sells rocks, and not much else.

What kind of a lure is the Department of Motor Vehicles for a mall? I always thought the point of malls was to band a bunch of stores together so that when you had to go to one, like when you just had to get an Orange Julius, you'd see all these other stores and shop there, too. But the mixture of shops at the World's Most Depressing Mall seems designed to drive people away. Who in the history of the world has ever thought: I need some fabric, and to renew my driver's license. It's too bad I can't combine those into one trip.

Beyond the bad stores, there's also the fact that the mall is in between two actual good malls so that you would never go to the World's Most Depressing Mall unless you absolutely had to, and beyond that there's also the fact that almost nobody absolutely has to go to the World's Most Depressing Mall so that it's almost always completely deserted, which it was Sunday night when I went to the fabric store to get the requested gift card.

As we were walking out of the fabric store, the Babies! in the stroller, they were getting restless and wanted to walk around. Letting them out of the stroller to walk around a mall is a terrible idea. It's an idea that I give in to all the time, anyway, because I give in to all of their demands, but it's a terrible idea, especially because Sweetie was at home so I was on my own with two two-year-olds who were restless.

But the World's Most Depressing Mall was empty. Aside from me, I bet there were only ten other people in there, two of whom were mall walkers doing laps. I had twin two-year-olds in an indoor, tiled, clean, enclosed space that was, for all intents and purposes, empty. So I let them out, and they began running, which in a real mall would be danger because real malls are filled with child molesters and teenagers, but in this mall was no problem at all because there was nobody here except mall walkers, and I was pretty sure if they tried to abduct the Babies! I could catch them as they tried to mall walk away.

So Mr F and Mr Bunches went tearing down the mall to do what they like best, which is run and throw things and also to bang on windows and doors because those make good echo-ing sounds when you hit them really hard. I mostly let them do that, at least when nobody else was around. I did that parenting thing that I bet everyone else does, too, which is this: Let your kids do whatever they want to do when nobody is looking and then when somebody comes along, act like you care.

So Mr F and Mr Bunches would be pounding and hitting the glass on the front of the fabric store, and I'd just be watching them, and then the Mall Walkers would come around on a lap, and I'd say "Now, boys, don't hit the store. That's naughty," and stop them until the Mall Walkers left and then it was right back to whatever they wanted to do. I like to think of that as Focused Parenting.

I also let them throw the L around, because they like the sound the L makes, especially on tile and when it echoes. The "L" is one of the six remaining magnetic letters in the alphabet that was on our refrigerator, letters that stick to the 'fridge and then can be put into this little device that would sing a song about the letter. The song went:

L goes LLLL.
L goes LLLL.
Every letter makes a sound
And L goes LLLL.

If you put say, "G" into the device, it was more complicated:

G goes Gee.
G goes Guh.
Every letter makes a sound.
And G goes Gee.
And Guh.

Which made the song technically incorrect: Every letter doesn't make just "a" sound; some letters make more than one sound. They should have sung Every letter makes at least one sound or Every letter makes some sounds when the letter is one, like G, that makes more than one. But it's all academic now, because the device no longer works since it was not built to withstand being thrown repeatedly, and because we only have six letters left on the refrigerator. The rest have been taken into the bathtub, or lost on car trips, or are under the stove, where they have stuck themselves to the bottom of the stove and so could only be removed from under there if I was willing to pull the stove out and tilt it forward and peel the letters off, which I am not willing to do because I think doing that would wreck the stove and so I'm willing to risk having magnetic food to avoid ruining the stove.

The "L" came with us to the mall and was in the stroller, so I let the Babies! take it out and throw it down the mall, listening to it clink and clack and echo, and I even took the L and threw it for them so that it would bounce and make bigger clinking and clacking, which they loved so much that it drove them into bigger fits of pounding on the fabric store window, and also made them happy enough to talk.

"Nononononono," Mr Bunches would holler as he ran to get the L and have me throw it again.

"Guck," Mr F would tell me as he tried to get the L from Mr Bunches so that he could give it to me to throw again.

That was how we whiled away nearly an hour yesterday afternoon: throwing the L around the deserted World's Most Depressing Mall, after which I had to reluctantly conclude that we would not have time to get the extension cord to put up the inflatable decorations, a decision that left me with no more chores to do that day. I got the Babies! back into the car, flush with the excitement of having run around a mall. It was the highlight of their weekend. They'd paid little attention to Fort Christmas, they'd beaten up Cookie Monster, they'd been nonplussed by our drive to look at Christmas lights Friday and Saturday night, but here they were on Sunday evening, sparkle-eyed and apple-cheeked and breathless with the kind of excitement that only comes 'round once a year.

Once a year, that is, unless I find myself needing some fabric and to renew my driver's license.