Saturday, February 07, 2009

Sweetie's Hunk of the Week, #1

Hunk of the Week #1: Simon Baker.

You/Sweetie know him as:
The guy on "The Mentalist," the show that totally doesn't rip off "Psych" at all, and which in turn is not totally ripped off by that new show which has that one guy who can tell when you're lying.

I know him as: That guy who's on the crime show, "Simon Mr.-Hunky-British-Guy."

Reason I Tell Myself Is Why Sweetie Likes Him: She's probably just thinking That man brought a lot of depth to his role in "Land of the Dead." Who didn't feel bad for Riley when he learned that he was living in a Land... of the Dead!

Reason Sweetie Says She Actually Likes Him:
"He's got hair you can run fingers through."

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Reason For Liking Him: In order to run fingers through my hair, you would need to time travel back to 1989.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Ninety-Four, Part Eight: Wherein I Use The Phrase "Moustachey Karateness."

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. This is part 8; click here for a table of contents.

I didn't get to explore much that first full day in Washington. The city was too new, too weird, too exciting to do more than simply walk around and take pictures of everything that
I could, and try to figure out what everything was all about. Being in a new city is kind of like listening to an album for the first time; nothing sinks in. All the songs blend together and you can't really pick out the ones you like or don't like on the first listen, except for maybe the song that made you buy the album in the first place. It's not until you listen to the whole album a few times through that you can distinguish between songs and maybe start to like a couple of the other tracks, too.

So I had, on the first day, not much sink in at all. Instead, I just went around trying to see things. And trying to figure out who I was walking around with and what they did and how important they were, or were not. I had assumed that in Washington, I would regularly be running into the President, or various people I'd seen on the news like Senators and congresspeople, or the Secretary of Defense, or someone. I'd assumed that, especially, because I figured I'd be working at the State Department or the White House or perhaps the Supreme Court. Those seemed like good fits for me and also seemed like the natural place for a college junior whose work experience, to that point, consisted of a factory job, attendant at a gas station, and a lot of fast food restaurant work.

I did have a political job prior to going to Washington. Two political jobs, actually.

I had gotten hired by some sort of political action committee (I don't now remember the group's name) that had posted signs around town on kiosks and telephone poles that they were looking for canvassers. I didn't know what a "canvasser" was and I didn't realize, then, that the best companies typically do not post their job openings on telephone poles. What I did realize, at the time I applied for the job, was that I was vaguely interested in politics, and also that I had very little money. This was before the First Day of No Money, but it was pretty close to that Day, and I was desperate.

Not desperate enough for that job, though. It turned out that what we were supposed to do was go door-to-door and try to raise money for some cause or other, whatever cause it was they were espousing, and you can tell how much I believed in it by the fact that I no longer remember even the vaguest details about the cause, beyond the fact that it was a pretty out-there sort of cause.

I was, back then, pretty conservative, except when I was liberal, and I was mostly liberal when I was shamed into it. I was not as conservative as my brother Matt, who around that time had proposed a novel "tax the poor" plan that went like this:

The poor people are the ones that use all the resources, right? They get the welfare and they get the food stamps and they ... here, Matt had petered out trying to recall what other resources the poor get, but he'd continued, saying... they get the other government benefits. And we pay for those in taxes. That's where our tax money goes. So what we should do is instead, tax the poor, tax them on their benefits and then we wouldn't have to pay taxes, only the poor would, and they wouldn't mind paying them because they get the benefit of them.

Matt proposed that plan while we were at a football game at County Stadium in Milwaukee, and I didn't argue the merits, or lack thereof, with him because I was not only trying to keep warm but I was also more interested watching the game and not fighting with Matt, who had drunk at least three beers before coming up with that plan (and maybe more.0

I wasn't that conservative, but I was pretty conservative, at the time, having been for a while a staunch Republican, a stance that continued up until I was embarrassed into voting for Bill Clinton in 1992. I'd been embarrassed into voting for Bill Clinton by my coworkers at the University of Wisconsin Extension Center (UWEX) job I had.

The UWEX job was one I'd gotten through the "work-study" program of student aid, a program I didn't understand then and I don't understand now. I'm not sure what "work-study" is meant to be; I've always thought of it as jobs they give to students that pay a slightly higher wage than other jobs, and also maybe help prepare the student for a career more than other jobs might. But I'm not sure about that. I just know I could get a work-study job and that the UWEX job was one of the work-study jobs I got.

I also don't know, really, what I did for UWEX. I know what I didn't do, and what I didn't do was organize file cards.

I worked in the registration office for the UWEX, and as far as I could tell, what we registered people for were things like "continuing education" classes and seminars. People would come in or call us and we'd get information and a credit card payment and fill out a card, and that was about it. It was the single least-demanding job I've ever had. It was a complete sinecure and I loved it. I'd still do it, if there were work-study jobs available for 40-year-olds and if I could support my family on $7.50 per hour.

In between registering people, and checking people in, my main job was to go through these old files and cards and things and, I don't know, organize them. I know, now, 16 years later or so, that I was to do something with the cards, and I know, now, 16 years later, that I never did a single thing with those cards. I can still picture them, perfectly: Sitting in little cardboard filing-cabinet drawer-shaped boxes, set out by alphabet, on the metal shelves just to the left of the windows where people would come up to register and the left of the desk I would sit at when not standing at the window. The cards are probably still there, unless some work-study student who followed me was dumb/industrious enough to organize them or do whatever was supposed to be done with them.

I don't even know what the cards were.

Instead of organizing the cards, when I was not registering people, I did other things. Those other things were (a) make mix tapes on the dual-cassette boom box I was allowed to bring to work, (b) listen to talk radio shows and call in to argue with them, (c) read, (d) eat pineapple pizza and argue about Barney with my boss, and (e) secretly think "Rob" was a tool.

Some of those need explanation. "Rob" was another guy that worked in the office. He was an actual adult, full-time employee of the UWEX who, as far as I knew, did less than I did, even. I don't have any clue, now, what anybody did in that office. I don't think they did anything. Ever. I'm sure that part of it was because I was such a horrible employee, but I don't recall meetings, or assignments, or seeing anybody in the office go somewhere or come from somewhere or produce anything or critique anything. They must have done something, I tell myself, because it was an branch of the University of Wisconsin, but if they did something, then I never was able to deduce what it was.

"Rob" was a tool because, well, he was. He had a moustache, and who, in 1992, had a moustache? Especially a moustache like Rob had, one of those that is a little too bushy and a little too long down the edges of the mouth, like he was constantly on the verge of growing a Fu Manchu but his wife wouldn't let him.

I assumed then, and and I assume now, that "Rob" had an estranged-but-not-divorced wife. He struck me as the kind of guy whose wife would leave him for someone else but would not actually divorce him, and he would be living in a two-room apartment and she would come by to yell at him and demand he give her money, and he would but he would try to insist that they go to marriage counseling, and she would say she'd think about it, and tell him that he needs to trim his moustache, and then she'd leave and he would go to karate practice.

Of those assumptions, the karate practice part is true for sure: "Rob" did karate. He let everyone know he did karate, and I kept my mouth shut about how dumb I thought people who did karate were. There is something very sad/funny about nearly-middle-aged guys with moustaches putting on bathrobes and going to a storefront in a strip mall where they will spend the night punching towards each other and yelling things like Yes Sensei! Karate was never cool, but it was never less cool than when "Rob" talked about it.

Plus, I think "Rob" had hair plugs.

In between sitting around mentally making fun of Rob and wondering why he wouldn't just divorce his hypothetical estranged wife, I also argued about Barney and called talk radio shows, both of which were spurred on by my boss, David. He was the guy who first introduced me to pineapple on pizza. The high point of the week at the UWEX was always ordering pizza, which we did a lot, and David would get pineapple on his pizza, a topping I was skeptical of right up until I tried it and realized it was delicious. So it's not like I never got anything out of that job.

David had a thing about "Barney," the television show. I believe he had some young kids who watched "Barney" and he hated it. We had a little TV in the office, a black-and-white five inch TV that was the height of technology then, a radio-sized box with an antenna and a radio-and-TV tuner that could get broadcast channels and was portable, and I thought it was great. This was years and years before I'd be able to carry around a library of movies and TV shows on my iPod, of course, and thus years and years before I'd never be far away from watching Pineapple Express or Lost, the development of the video iPod being a major reason why I don't read as much as I used to back then.

Periodically, in between eating pineapple pizza, David would put on the TV and show me the "Barney" TV show and rant about how terrible it was, how inane, how... whatever it was. I don't know why he did this. It wasn't like I'd ever expressed a pro-Barney stance. I tried not to express anything in the office, because talking drew attention and if I drew attention to myself they might eventually notice that they were paying me $7.50 an hour to listen to the radio and read. But I listened and watched "Barney" and agreed with David that it was an inane show, and then tried to change the subject to something that I wanted to talk about, figuring that if I had to talk I might as well talk about something interesting.

What worked was to put on talk radio, because that made David more nuts than even "Barney" could. Milwaukee has a radio station, WISN, that featured "conservative talk," and I used to listen to that in those days. I could listen to it back then because, as I said, I was a little conservative, and also because that was before something in my personality switched on, or off, or otherwise changed, and I began to dislike people who expressed views I agreed with.

I don't know when that happened, exactly, but it did, and more and more I find myself alienated even from people who agree with me. I began to hear something smug, and annoying, in the voices of those who in better days I might have nodded along with and said, right, right.

It started with conservatives, who, lets face it, are a little smug and overbearing anyway. I began to notice that, and to be annoyed by it. Maybe it's because conservatives got too conservative, or too powerful, a combination of irritation that rose up because they were somehow finding conservative justifications for anything and everything, being in favor of smaller government but also in favor of invading countries for no reason and torturing people to get information and, eventually, investing trillions of government dollars into business at the same time as they were becoming opposed to, seemingly, everything: no gay marriage, tougher divorce laws, no abortion rights, no birth control, no sex education, no taxes, no spending, no limits on spending, no limits on taxes... it just kept piling up. Somewhere along those lines, somewhere between 1992 and 2009, I began to be irritated by conservatives merely by their existence, the way that Diablo Cody and Tina Fey irritate me simply by having physical presences. I'd be listening to talk radio and the host would say something that, philosophically, I agreed with, and yet my impulse was to at the same time shout no and look for a way to vote the exact opposite, because the way he or she was saying it annoyed me.

Not that liberals were better; they irritated me, too. But I digress. In Milwaukee, in 1992, the talk airwaves were dominated by conservatives and also by a guy whose show was called "That Jay" something-or-other, his last name, but I can't remember it, now. That Jay and the conservatives irritated David worse than a million Barneys ever could have. So I'd play the radio and get David all riled up.

"Call that guy," he'd tell me, "And argue with him." So I'd do that, calling up from the office phone and waiting on hold, at which point David and "Rob" and...

... and I should point something out here. I'm not putting "Rob" in quotes because it's a fake name. Rob was his real name. I'm putting it on quotes-- "Rob"-- because putting it in quotes emphasizes how ridiculous "Rob" seemed to me in his moustachey karateness...

David and "Rob" and the others would go into the other office and listen to me argue with the radio host about whatever it was I was arguing with him about. Once, my argument was so ill-conceived that the host actually called me a moron on the air. He said I was a moron and my argument was moronic. David was pretty pleased with me that day.

(That was not the only time one of my arguments would ever be publicly insulted. Once, in a trial, I made an argument in front of a federal judge who then told me that it was the dumbest argument he'd ever heard in all of his years on the bench. Then he overruled my objection. After the trial, when everyone including my client had left the courtroom, the judge was clearing something off his desk and I was packing up my papers. With nobody present but the two of us, he said I thought you did a fine job trying this case, Mr. Pagel. Just to be clear, that was off the record and in private. The dumbest argument comment? Preserved for a lifetime in the transcript.)

I had other duties at the UWEX, too, like being shamed into voting for Bill Clinton in 1992, when we were talking politics one day and everyone was talking about who they were going to vote for, and everyone in the room said they were voting for Bill Clinton. Then the girl that worked there, what's-her-name, said "Who are you voting for?" to me. I hesitated, and David said "You're not voting for Bush, are you?"

I'd been going to vote for Bush, right up until that moment, when I wanted to keep David and "Rob" and what's-her-name happy and not get into anything that might ultimately make me stop recording songs off the radio while I was at work, and so I instantly changed my mind and said "No, I'm voting for Clinton." Then, a few months later, when I went to vote, I was still going to vote for Bush, but before I could mark for him, I remembered that exchange, and I didn't want to be a liar. It seemed more important to me to tell the truth than to vote for the person I really wanted to vote for. So I voted for Clinton, simply so that the next day I could say, without lying, "Yeah, I voted for Clinton" when they asked -- which they would, I knew, and did -- and then could go on happily eating pineapple pizza and never ever doing anything resembling work.

That job got even easier in the summer, when there was little to do and I was out of school so I had more time to work, and I began working not just in the registration office but also working to register people into the classes when they came at night. If there was ever a job that was the exact opposite of work, the summer nights signing people in was it. I'd go to the building where classes were held, and set up a desk and sign-in sheet. Around twenty minutes before the class or seminar or whatever began, there would be a few people, never more than about 10, coming in and needing to sign in and be told what room the class or seminar or whatever was in. I'd give them a pen, watch them sign, say "Room 210," point them to the elevator, and that was it.

I'd then sit there until 6 or 7 or 8 when the class ended, shut off the lights, and go home.

In between, for two or three or four hours, my time was entirely my own. I wasn't a security guard, I wasn't a janitor. I have no idea why I was there, period. I don't know why they couldn't have me, or someone, put up signs showing them to the room and then have a clipboard for signing up in the room. I thought of that option the very first night I did that part of the job. But I wasn't about to suggest it and give up the greatest job I ever had. Instead, I spent most of the summer working at that "job," and in between the 10 minutes of work, I did whatever I wanted, which included

-- jumping rope in one of the empty classrooms, as a workout, for up to 45 minutes. (This was when I was in the process of losing weight, as opposed to what I do now, which is gain weight.) I did that usually about 2-3 nights per week.

-- Reading the great works of literature that I'd never actually read in my high school or college classes. I read Moby Dick and Anna Karenina, each in about a week. I found them both even more boring than I'd imagined they'd be. I can't understand why they're considered classics and something like John Irving's Until I Find You isn't. I rather read John Irving any day. If teachers wanted kids to be into reading, they'd push a lot less boring drivel like Moby Dick and Anna Karenina, and push a lot more John Irving. Anna Karenina, in particular, was stultifying. That book could've been about 98% shorter, and it didn't gain anything by length. I did like some of the phrases, though. I kept a piece of paper on it on which I wrote my favorite lines from the book; the process of finding memorable lines in Anna Karenina, though, was kind of like the process of finding gold by looking for fillings in a mountain of teeth. Also, I later lost that paper. I still have the copy of Anna Karenina but I don't have the quotes, so overall, I'd say I got absolutely nothing out of reading Anna Karenina.

-- And I tried to invent my own comic strip. It was called Marooned, and it featured a guy who was shipwrecked on a desert island with just a palm tree, and a supporting cast of a fish, a seagull, and a crab. Drawing a comic strip is a lot harder than you'd think, especially if you can't draw.

That was how I whiled away the summer, and the fact that I liked it so much lets you know what I didn't like the first political job I had, the canvasser job, because I had to go around and talk to people and convince them of stuff and achieve results, and there was pretty much nothing I liked about that. Getting dropped off into a south Milwaukee neighborhood to go door-to-door and try to convince people to spay their pets or something, and to convince them to give me money, was not how I wanted to spend my time, especially when my upbringing had taught me that most people were serial killers, so I really didn't want to be invited into anyone's house. Had anyone whose door I knocked on actually said sure, come in, I'd've run like hell. Nobody did, though, probably because I didn't particularly try. I just bummed around most of the only day I worked for them, smoking and looking around and trying not to do any actual canvassing. Then I got a ride back to the office, where we listened to a pep talk for the next day given by someone wearing glasses with too-thick frames, standing amidst mismatched plastic chairs, and I never went back.

My other political job was not much more taxing but paid less. I got a job as the sole volunteer for a congressional campaign run by a guy named Rob Day. Rob was running as a Republican, in Milwaukee County, which meant that Rob had no chance of winning. To give you an idea of how unlikely it was that a Republican would run for office in Milwaukee County in the '90s, let alone win, let me relate this to you:

In 1996, I went to work for the Office of the Governor's Legal Counsel here in Wisconsin as an intern while in law school. (My trend with political jobs continued, as at this job, too, I did very little and had no real idea what it was the Office did.) Our governor then was a Republican, and the Governor's Legal Counsel himself interviewed me and asked about my resume. This was how that went:

Legal Counsel: Who's this Rob Day you worked for in Milwaukee? A Democrat?

Me: No, no, he was a Republican.

Legal Counsel: In Milwaukee?

Me: Yes. He ran in the primary and was defeated.

... Time passes in the interview as other subjects are dealt with. Ten minutes or so later, Legal Counsel picks up the resume again, frowns:

Legal Counsel: He was actually a Democrat, this Day guy, right?

Me: Sigh.

I really did sigh, too. I tried to disguise it. In fairness, the Legal Counsel was a little thrown off by the fact that I claimed to be a conservative but had also interned at the ACLU for a while.

My job with Rob Day For Congress prepared me for my eventual political internship in ninety-four thusly: It gave me absolutely no responsibility, and involved walking a lot. I was one of three campaign workers, four if you count Rob, who I met once or twice. The other two were actual paid employees of the campaign. I didn't mind that they were paid, much, because I figured my route up the ladder was pretty short, what with being third in command already and all. The other two were a guy who I think was named "Kurt" and a girl whose name I can't remember and who I think Kurt really liked and who didn't like Kurt back. Thinking back, I can't help but wonder if Rob's campaign was doomed because it was run by a guy who was using it to try to get dates, and who had made the mistake of hiring a volunteer who really didn't want to do anything and was just using this to pad his resume.

I did campaign, though, following the rules I was given, which were: get people to sign the petition to put his name on the ballot, and if they ask about Rob's positions, give them this pamphlet and do not discuss the positions. I think Kurt was aware that in any conversation I was liable to shift my political beliefs abruptly based on whether or not doing so would protect me from ridicule/get me pineapple pizza. (I've since become aware that wanting pineapple pizza is not, in fact, a principle.) Kurt may also have been aware that I wasn't really willing to do anything to actually learn what Rob's positions on issues were, and might have been a little worried about me freelancing it.

If my political positions sound a bit shifty back then, that's because they were, in a sense. Nobody really believes anything when they're under 25. How could they? You don't know anything when you're under 25. It's ridiculous, really, that we expect people to graduate high school and then start their lives, one way or the other, beginning families and time in the service, and college, all without ever having experienced anything, ever. High school isn't experience. High school is a soap opera in which 98% of the people are extras. Even college isn't experience. College is just high school with less forced intergroup interaction and more free time. Under 25, people will believe any old thing you tell them: you can't get pregnant this way. Communism works. Your vote counts. Kids -- and anyone under 25 is essentially a kid-- are gullible because they've not lived long enough to be jaded.

If you're under 25 and reading this, or if you're over 25 and reading this and remembering when you were under 25, and are thinking that's not true. I'm not/wasn't gullible and/or I had principles, then all I have to say is: no, you didn't. You think you do, but you don't. You have beliefs that you absorbed through osmosis or picked up for all the wrong reasons. You have religious beliefs or political beliefs that you've come by because everyone in your social group -- parents, teachers, kids -- have soaked them into you, and then you form your opinions based on what the cool kids say, or on how much you want to irritate your parents, or on how much you liked that one teacher who always called you Pags in the hallway. It's not until you've lived and lived and lived that your beliefs begin to be based on more than that. At 40, I'm still not sure I'm there. If I was, I wouldn't occasionally find myself agreeing with The Boy's political arguments.

All of those experiences: reading Anna Karenina, jumping rope, getting people to sign petitions without giving away what the candidate's positions were, hoping that Kurt would ask that girl out and she'd turn him down and he'd fire her and I'd get promoted, all of it, adequately prepared me for my internship in Washington, an internship I'd learned I'd gotten when I got back to my dorm room that night after my expedition to the Old Post Office and the areas around it. There was a note to see someone about my job.

They'd found me one. It wasn't with the President, or the U.S. Supreme Court, or even with a Senator or Congressman. It wasn't in a cabinet department or US Agency or with the Foreign Service.

Instead, beginning the next day, I would ride the Metro every day to a station where I would get to ride up the second-longest escalator in the Metro area -- one that is seriously long, so long and tall and steep that it gave me vertigo sometimes - - then walk a block to go into this building:

where I would meet Dave, and Eden, and Frank, and Rene, and Ed, and a bunch of other people, and spend the next few months trying to figure out what they did. And how I could avoid doing any work for them, too.

I wouldn't, in that, be entirely successful. The company I would be interning at, working with Dave and Frank and the rest of them, was called "Pinkerton Risk Assessment Services." I eventually sort of figured out what it was they did, and I eventually sort of, too, did a little work for them.

Question of the Day: 43

Have you noticed that straw wrappers are tighter these days?

I have. It used to be that you'd go get a straw, and the wrapper around it gave the straw a little room to move around, spread its wings. Now, though, you pick up a straw and that paper is practically melded to it, and you have to tear the end of the wrapper off and then try to pull the paper down, only you end up trying to tap the straw on the table but hit it too hard, and as a result gets a tiny little tear in the straw that you won't notice until you try to drink your Diet Dr. Pepper through it and get air bubbles, after which you'll try to remember if "air bubbles sucked into your stomach" is the same as the scuba diving problem "the bends," and what you're supposed to do when you get "the bends."

Then you'll realize, too, that Ranger Rick magazine never really told you that information, as a kid, either.

Also: Just before I posted this, I did a search to see if I could get that picture up there, and I found this trick, which I am now dying to try out. Why are there no straws in this law office!

Also-er: the picture is of a machine called a "straw flexer and wrapper."

Question of the Day, 42, here.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

I'll dipthong you: Quote of the Day: 10

"You know what a 'dipthong' is, besides what I'm wearing?"
-- The Boy, last night.

That quote is why it's both gratifying and horrifying to help the kids with their homework. Because even when I might know what they're talking about, they'll go and say something that's hilarious and disturbing.

Also, I didn't know what a dipthong was. Or a solecism. Or the ecliptic, when Middle asked for help with astronomy. I guessed, in order: words with mixed consonant sounds, wise sayings, and the path the moon takes across the sky.

The answers were: a gliding monosyllabic speech sound, a nonstandard usage, and the path the SUN takes through the sky.

On the other hand, I was very successful at watching "Spongebob Squarepants" with Mr F and Mr Bunches. Water seeks its own level, I guess.

Read Quote of the Day 9 here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Question of the Day: 42

Is this any way to start a day?

My question of the day was going to be "Is it really possible that The Boy can distinguish between different brands of Ranch salad dressing," but that is a question that will now have to wait -- and likely will have to wait for "scientific" proof -- because I had to deal with what I can only assume were vague accusations of malpractice or fraud, coming at me from Oldest.

Almost as soon as I got into work today, Oldest called me and complained that, and I quote: "everyone I know is getting more back than me in taxes even though I earned more than them and paid more in taxes than them."

I did Oldest's taxes for her this year. I did them on Sunday before the Super Bowl, with her sitting there reading me the numbers. We did them using the same program I always use, and that program has never been wrong, for me or anyone I know. Oldest is supposed to get back nearly $600. Now, here she was complaining about that and suggesting that I had maybe screwed up in some way. You know, screwed up typing into the computer the numbers that she read me. I'm not sure how she figured I could screw that up. Maybe she thought I hit, instead of "enter," the "miscalculate" key. (Frankly, I don't know why my computer even has that key.)

When I asked who, exactly, was everyone, she said her boyfriend, Jeff, who did his own taxes and said he's getting more back in a tax refund than her.

I tried, briefly, to explain this to Oldest: If you make more money, you pay more in taxes. "Do you get that?" I asked her.

," she said, and then immediately added "So how come he gets more back than me even though he had less taken out of his checks?" I tried, again, to explain the whole higher income = higher taxes, and also to explain that Oldest had opted to have relatively little taken out of her taxes, but she kept protesting that Jeff was getting more back than her.

Finally, I tried this: "Did you see his tax returns?" I asked. She said, no, she hadn't. "Do you know if he claimed he paid rent? Do you know if his math is right? Do you know if he's even telling you the truth about how much he's getting back in taxes?"

"No," she said, to each of those.

I pointed out this: "You always do this," I said. "You always jump to conclusions based on something someone told you without even seeing any proof. You've done that all your life. Some friend of yours says something and you assume that's correct and just assume that what I tell you is wrong, even though I've got things like evidence or the law on my side." I continued: "Why would you assume that Jeff is getting more money back and that that's unfair, when you don't know for sure how much he made, how much he had taken out, how much he claimed on his tax forms, or even exactly how much he's getting back?"

To which Oldest replied:

"It's just not fair that he's getting more back than me."

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

My Enemies List, 6:

1. People who honk their horn.
2. Pepperoni pizza.
3. The 2008 Detroit Lions.
4. The guy who programmed my cell phone camera, etc. etc....
5. The Guy Whose House I'm Stalking.

6. Water's natural tendency to expand when it freezes.

This entry is a bit of a compromise.

I can't hate water, what with being 70% water and what with water being a necessary component of life and all that. But water would have earned my enmity, because when it gets cold, it snows and ices, and then that snow and ice coats the road, and then it gets slightly warmer than 32 degrees, and the snow and ice melts, seeping underneath the tar, and then it gets cold all over again, causing all that water to refreeze... and expand... which then pushes the cracks in the road up higher so that when I'm going over them, the bumps in the road cause my iPod to move around just slightly, which in in turn causes the little radio transmitter to come slightly out of the attachment, which then causes a burst of static to interrupt my singing along with "Pencil Thin Moustache" by Jimmy Buffett.

So because I should hate water for that but can't, I've instead opted to hate one specific property of water.

Quote of the Day: 9

-- Window sticker on truck I had to follow for a mile today on the way into work.

I don't know if, technically, this is a quote. But I had to stare at it for a mile. It was one of those clear window stickers, in the back of a pickup truck. It had a drawing of a buck chasing a doe above the tagline, and because my cell phone camera couldn't capture the sticker, I have created an artist's rendering of the sticker, which I then took a picture of:Startlingly lifelike, isn't it?

The thing is, the more I looked at it, the more I didn't get it. Is it deer porn? Is it a hunter's inside joke that hunters, rather than tramping through the grouse marshes, are actually out getting women? Or that they're more interested in women than hunting? Or that this particular hunter was more interested in bagging a doe (so to speak?) than a buck? What's up with the "N"? Shouldn't it be Chasin' Tail? Or would that be too obvious, when the artist was clearly going for subtlety here. Or did the creator actually mean to talk about two different things, "Chase" and "Tail?" Maybe those are the two things that hunters like?

I just kept rolling those questions around in my mind, all the way to work. Rolling them around, and sketching things on my notepad.

I make the most of my commute.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Ninety-Four, Part Seven: Wherein I Embody Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.

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. Click here for the table of contents.

I set out the next day, my first full day in Washington, to explore the city. I don't, so many years later, remember all of what I saw that first day -- the day when, if I remember correctly, everyone else was heading off to their internships to become part of the work of Washington. I do remember, though, two feelings: one, excitement, and two, disorientation.

The photo album where I keep the pictures of that year, my year in Washington and Morocco and then the few months afterward when I first began living my life as the person that I had become through these experiences, has a map of the world on it. I picked out the album before I actually went on the trip -- picking it out because it just felt like travel. Which makes sense. It is, after all, a map.

Back then, I, too, felt like travel. From the moment I'd decided as a lark to just travel off to Washington, to go to Morocco, I wanted, suddenly, to move, to go places, to see things, to do things, to experience new things. To try life outside of the narrow confines of the existence I had.

I didn't know, even, that I had been narrowly confined. I didn't know, even, that any narrow confinement was entirely of my own doing. I just knew, suddenly, that I could travel and I wanted to travel and I needed to travel, I needed to get outside of the life I'd been living and try something else on. The feeling, looking back now, is one of having been put in a box and never knowing I was inside the box until suddenly I was let out of the box and I could turn around and say Hey, I was in a box.

Inside the front cover of my photo album is a comic strip that I cut out a while after putting all the photos into the album. If the map on the front cover symbolized my excitement at getting to go someplace, the comic strip on the inside symbolized one of the conclusions I came to at the end of those trips.

But just one of the conclusions. Travel isn't inherently stupid. It isn't inherently smart. Like the rest of life, travel is what you make of it.

I like to sometimes look at maps and trace my route from one destination to another, looking at where I am on a map and then to where I was on a map, to get an idea of the route that I took and how far it actually is from where I was to where I am. That's a habit I got into when I went to Washington.

(It would have been difficult to get into that habit earlier than that, since I'd never gone very many places prior to going to Washington, and since I'd never gone anywhere by myself prior to Washington. Traveling with family or friends doesn't leave quite the same feeling of having traveled, maybe because bringing family or friends along brings so much more of home with me.)

But I didn't begin tracing routes on a map simply because I went to Washington and I didn't begin it as some sort of intellectual enterprise. I began, in Washington, tracing routes on a map because I had to figure out where in the city I was and where I needed to go, and I did that by looking at the Metro map:

Just looking at that now actually made me sad and excited, at the same time. The way airports do. I get excited and sad in airports, too. Excited because when I'm in an airport, something exciting is going to happen. I'm either going someplace or coming from someplace or at the least picking up someone or dropping off someone who is going to or coming from someplace. Excited, too, because once I enter an airport, the rules of society are off.

Let me explain that last one: It's not as though once I enter an airport, I can just shed my pants. I mean that once I'm in an airport, there is nothing else I should be doing other than traveling. At least not when I'm not traveling for business. Traveling for business is not the same thing as traveling, and I try to avoid traveling for business at all costs. Business, work, wrecks everything about traveling. How can I enjoy a trip, say, to the Wisconsin peninsula, an enjoyable drive that takes me past scenic terrain and through Green Bay and along the North Woods, when at the end of that trip I've got to depose somebody?

It is possible to enjoy that trip, but it takes a lot of music and it also takes stopping at a little cheese store that I drove by four times when working on that case; on the fourth time, I finally decided You know what? I'm gonna stop. And I did, and I bought souvenirs. Which made the trip more enjoyable because it made it less like work.

Traveling for enjoyment is different than traveling for business, and different than regular life, too. During regular life, there's always something else you could, and probably should be doing. Say you're at the office. Should you really be reading comic strips on the Internet and blogging about the time you went to Washington? Or should you be, I don't know, working?

It doesn't stop at home, either. Lying around on my bed on a Sunday afternoon trying to read a bit of the book I've been working on, there are a million billion things I could be doing. I could be putting away my laundry organizing my dresser working a little more on my novel doing the dishes getting snacks ready for the Superbowl that night calling my mom back calling my dad back folding the laundry organizing the photos on the computer mopping the floor where I spilt Red Pop just now...

... see? It never stops. If you look around you right now, I bet you can name twenty different things in the room where your sitting that you should be doing, things that you'd rather not do but at some point you'll have to.

Traveling eliminates those things.

Enter an airport, and there's nothing else you should be doing. Once you're at the gate and you've put your shoes back on and made a comment to your wife about the ridiculous nature of the "protections" that we put into place to make us feel safer, shuffling through airports with no shoes or belts like mental hospital patients, once you've done that, airports and traveling present the only down time you will ever experience.

Want to read your book? Go ahead: There's nothing else you should be doing. There's nothing else you could be doing. When I'm sitting in an airport, it doesn't matter that the car needs to be cleaned, it doesn't matter that I need to return that book to the library, it doesn't matter that there are Cinnamon Toast Crunches being ground into our living room carpet. I'm in an airport, and All Those Things That Need Doing are not in an airport. The freedom is even greater on the airplane, when you can't even make a phone call. Getting on a plane on the way to Florida is the only time I ever was able to get off the phone with my Dad without feeling guilty, because everybody knows that if you make a phone call on a plane, it'll crash. Even Dad doesn't want to continue a conversation at that price.

The Metro map embodies that same kind of excitement for me, and it's hard to explain why. But I would love a poster of the Metro Map, or a t-shirt of the Metro Map. I loved the Metro.

The Metro is how people get around in D.C., and it's how I always have wanted to get around ever since then. It was, is, far and away my favorite way of traveling, above car and bus and train and plane. I would like Madison to get a Metro. (And a Chunnel, under Lake Mendota, but that's only tangentially related to the Metro.)

I loved the Metro even before I figured out how to use it, which took some time. There was a Metro station right near the school. It could be reached by bus, or it could be reached by walking. I opted to walk to the Metro station, carrying my camera and backpack with me, and figure out how to get someplace to see things I wanted to see. I'd never ridden a subway before, so I was very excited, and got even more excited when I actually saw the Metro.

The Metro in Washington is what the future used to look like before it arrived and didn't look like the future at all but just looked like our lives, instead.

The Metro is all clean stone and recessed lights and smooth edges and walkways and tunnels and rounded-off sides. It's quiet and quick and polite. And it is clean. It's clean because the Metro police do not brook anything that might mess it up. I treated myself at one point on the way home from "work" to a large cookie, which I bought outside the Metro and then was eating as I waited for my train. A Metro policeman came up and tapped me on the shoulder and told me that I was not allowed to eat in the Metro. I had to wrap up the cookie and carry it in my pocket until I got off at the college stop and could eat it while I walked to the dorms. I even liked that, though. I liked being told I was violating the Metro's clean, polite, futuristic-retro rules.

To ride the Metro, I had to get a metro card. I would get lots of Metro cards while I was there. The one shown here is the last one I ever used in Washington -- I left with $3.65 of Metro riding still available to me.

I was unduly excited to get that Metro card, so unduly excited that I did not, at that point, give much thought to the expense of traveling around by Metro, and plunked down $20 to get my Metro card.

I didn't have a job, or any source of income beyond the student loans I'd taken out and my savings, but I didn't think about that at all. I just thought I want to ride the Metro.

Riding the Metro is the first instance of why my first full day in Washington was marked by excitement and disorientation. There I was, in the greatest city in America, and I was going to hop on the Metro that took all the other important people to and from their important jobs. Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Congresspeople, Secret Service agents, lobbyists, all working in and around Washington and all (in my imagination) riding the Metro to and from work. Just like me. I was a part of them. An unemployed, no-internship, backpack-toting student part of them, but a part of them nonetheless. I brandished my very first Metro card with pride, and studied the map to decide where I would go first.

Despite the length of time studying that map, that day and on all other days after that, I have no idea what Washington D.C. is actually like, geographically. That's because of the Metro. That map itself doesn't actually show the city or anything that can be related to the city. It looks a lot more like Slim Goodbody than it does a place to live. That's one reason that I don't really know how the city is laid out.

The other reason I have no idea how the city is laid out is because I traveled so often by Metro. When I wanted to go someplace in Washington, I walked up to the Metro station near the college, and got on the train, and then got onto other trains, if I had to, and then got off where I was going. All of that was largely done underground; the Metro in Washington travels mostly underground. To go anywhere on the Metro, I would go underground, and then would travel around, and then come back above ground where I needed to be. Sitting on the train, listening to my walkman, watching the smooth, rounded, futuristic walls flash by, I had no idea if we were going up, or down, or sideways, no idea whether we were traveling north or south or east or west. I knew I was moving. I just didn't know which direction. I had become a living example of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.

About a month into living in Washington, it was warm enough for me to go out for a jog. I jogged a lot in ninety-four. Part of jogging so much was that I was trying to lose that 10 pounds I'd told Laurie I would lose. The other part was simply that I'd gotten in shape the year before and was not going to get out of shape. Plus, I think I was a little addicted to running, and especially to running farther. All that year, I kept running farther and farther, each time I ran. I got up to 17 miles at a time, running two or three times a week, and each time going 12 to 17 miles. I did that while smoking two packs of cigarettes a day and living primarily on diet Coke (and, later, black coffee and goat.) I jogged everywhere, and jogged in circles, a lot. I jogged, once, around the National Mall about 8 times. It's really something, jogging from the U.S. Capitol past the Washington Monument, around in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and back. It's even more really something to do that 8 times.

Anyway, on the particular occasion when I first went jogging outside in Washington, I set out in a random direction. I didn't really know what was around the school at all and so I just headed off in a straight line, listening to one of the mix tapes I'd brought with me. After about 10 minutes or so, I realized that I was near the U.S. Capitol and National Mall -- and I was shocked. I'd been, at that point, to the Capitol probably two or three times, and the Mall, but I'd never realized it was only about a mile from my dorm room. As I jogged that day, I tried to superimpose the route I ran onto the only schematic of Washington I knew, the Metro map. (I failed.)

I know now, and eventually learned then, that everything in Washington is close to everything else. Washington was, for a while, a square that was 10 miles on a side. It's not that, anymore, although I was told it was back when I was there. When I lived in Washington, the one firm geographical fact I always believed was that it was a perfect square, 10 miles on a side, 100 square miles of land and water holding every important thing about America inside it. As it turns out, though, that was false and had, in fact, been false since about 1846. When I was there, then, Washington was actually only 68 square miles of land and water, making everything even closer together. I'd never gathered that from my early travels around on the Metro, and even after it got nice enough for me to get out and walk around the city (something I did only rarely because I loved the Metro so much) the geography of the city never sunk into my mind. As I sit here today, Washington is not so much a city as it is an isolated set of outposts and experiences: here, the Capitol. There, Arlington Cemetery. Over by that spot, the Jefferson Memorial. Scattered throughout like jimmies on a Sunday are the Smithsonian Museums and also Gettysburg, which I realize is actually located in Pennsylvania but which for purposes of my memory is now a part of the District of Columbia.

That first day exploring, confronted with the Metro and with the entire panoply of Washington experiences and buildings and history and politics and sights, I began with the Post Office.

One of the things I've long wondered about cities is this: how do people live in them? I've lived in what I consider to be big cities, including Milwaukee, and Washington. Well, just those two, now that I think of it. Those are the only two big cities I've ever lived in. And I don't know how people really live in a big city because I've never really lived in a big city.

When I lived in Milwaukee, I was a student, at least part of the time, and I was poor. So I didn't so much live in the city as simply go through my life there. I didn't have a car a lot of the time, and I didn't have money, and I got most of my meals through my job at Subway, and my social life was spent mostly going to cheap bars and drinking, or working. I never really did the things that make up at least part of an ordinary life for most people. I never grocery shopped, much. I didn't go visit friends or go to parks or whatever it is that people do when they're not working or reading in their tiny L-shaped apartments. In Milwaukee, when I did have money for groceries and felt like buying them -- something I did only rarely before I went to Washington -- I had two options. One was to walk up to 35th street, where there was a grocery store that sold some of the most disgusting groceries I could imagine. The store was mainly stocked with what I assumed to be the groceries that other grocery stores had gotten rid of. I would walk through the produce section and shudder. The canned goods were dented and dusty. The meat was gray, and it wasn't just the lighting. The area around 35th and Wisconsin in Milwaukee -- then and now -- was not an area that high-end retailers wanted to get into. It wasn't an area that low end retailers wanted to get into. It was an area where they sold gray meat, an area where it was not all that surprising, in retrospect, to wake up one morning and find out that the police were hauling body after body out of a serial killer's apartment -- and the serial killer lived within a mile of your own apartment.

The serial killer was Jeffrey Dahmer. I found out that Jeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer and lived within a mile of me thusly: I was in my apartment one day reading most of the day. That was what I did back then: I read, almost all the time. I would read three or four books a week. Without money and with only a few friends, and with a television that had trouble getting in the three or four channels that existed then, there wasn't much else for me to do.

While doing that, a friend called me up and asked if I'd heard. Heard what? I asked. They're hauling bodies out of an apartment near you. There's a serial killer who put bodies into barrels and they're just finding them out now. And it's right near you. The friend could not emphasize enough that the serial killer was right near me.

I told the friend very funny and got off the phone and killed some more time reading until it was time to go to job number two at the movie theater. Walking to the theater to spend a night ushering people and tearing tickets and scooping popcorn, I stopped to buy that day's Milwaukee Journal. The front page was covered with the news of Jeffrey Dahmer's arrest and the discovery of what he'd been doing all those months in an apartment that was within a mile of mine.

When I got home that night, there was a message from my mom on my answering machine, telling me to call her immediately. I did. You have to move, she told me. When I asked why, she said because they'd found a serial killer in my neighborhood.

Yeah, but now he's arrested, I pointed out.

I think, though, to this day, that Mom is secretly a little proud of the fact that she'd been right all along -- that there were serial killers just around the corner.

The other option I had for grocery shopping in Milwaukee was the discount food outlet that was right behind my building. This was a "grocery store" in the loosest sense of the word. It was kind of like a warehouse-shopping club, but the warehouse was a building that appeared boarded up and could only be entered by a nondescript looking door. I don't even think the place had a name, and I'm pretty sure that the food was all hijacked or stolen or something. They mostly sold restaurant-sized cans of various things like cranberries. I didn't shop there, often, either, other than to go get what I presumed to be stolen diet sodas.

That kind of life equipped me just fine for living in Washington, D.C., a city nobody actually seems to live in. There are no grocery stores in Washington, no mid-market restaurants, no regular places that fill up other cities. Everything's hidden and miniature and combined with other things. Years later, when Sweetie and I went there on vacation, we nearly starved to death because on vacation we like to eat at restaurants, usually lower-end restaurants like fast food places and buffets and Denny's, and there are pretty much none of those in Washington. The closest place we could find was a McDonald's about a mile from the hotel we stayed in.

Washington is a hard place to survive if you are used to surviving in the real world. If your world has existed primarily of sub shops, theaters, classes, and reading, then you'll do just fine, and I did just fine, even that first day, when I decided my first stop would be Pennsylvania Avenue. I chose that because even I knew that Pennsylvania Avenue was where the White House was located, and I figured the best possible place to start sightseeing was on the street where I'd see the White House.

Before seeing the White House, though, I ended up at the "Old Post Office Pavilion," which claims to be "ranked as one of Washington's top eight attractions." I read that on the "Old Post Office" website just now, and I recall reading it back then when I arrived there. Now, as then, my response is this: No way.

One of the top 8 attractions? Which of these would it be above: the White House, the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, the Air & Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Memorial, or the U.S. Supreme Court? Those are 8 just off the top of my head, 8 that I can recall without much effort, just sitting here typing. The Old Post Office is above at least one of those? It has to be, to be in the top 8, doesn't it? Ahead of those and others.

The Old Post Office is not just an old post office, though it is that. To get an idea of the glamour and glory of the Old Post Office, read this history from the website:

1899–The eve of a new era in the nation's capital. The original Old Post Office embodied the modern spirit that was sweeping the country. Today, its vitality and innovative architecture continue to thrive. Washington's first skyscraper, its steel and granite frame stands an impressive twelve stories tall. Built to house both the U.S. Post Office and the D.C. Post Office, it was the largest and tallest government building in the city. The Old Post Office was the first government building to have its own electric power plant, with engines to drive over 3,900 lights. With the new century came new ideas. Only 15 years after its completion, The Old Post Office was considered dated and plans for its demolition were undertaken. Fortunately, the Depression era delayed these plans. By the time they were reconsidered in the 1960s, a new appreciation for Washington's classic architectural monuments had taken hold. The D.C. Preservation League, with the help of Nancy Hanks, head of the National Endowment for the Arts, spearheaded the preservation movement. Thanks to such forward-thinking people, we can stroll through The Old Post Office Pavilion and experience both its glorious past and fun-filled present.

If you read that carefully, you'll see that the most exciting things about the Old Post Office, the things that the historians felt you must know about the Old Post Office, are these facts: (1) it's old. (2) it was going to be demolished but they forgot about it for a while.

The "fun-filled present" of the Old Post Office was embodied, in ninety-four, by the ability to go up to the top of its 12-story tower and take pictures out of it. They have safety wires across all the windows, so it looks like this when you take a picture:

Those aren't bars, and they're not window grates. I never determined what they really are, or how safe they might be. I did determine that they kept me from taking a good picture of Washington through them.

Not that I took many good pictures of Washington. I took a ton of pictures -- a phenomenal number, especially when you consider that this was in 1994, and there were no digital cameras back then, so each photo was precious. It wasn't like today, when people can indiscriminately snap pictures of anything that catches their eye and that image is preserved for ever and ever, regardless of how interesting or not it might be:

Back then, pictures were precious. Film was expensive, and nobody got to see the picture before it was developed, which might be days or weeks later. In my case, I took all of these photos in Washington, and then kept the film, undeveloped, until I got back from Morocco later that year. So it wasn't until months after the fact that I was able to look at a photo and think things like Now, what is that again? and/or Is it possible I might have wanted to focus a bit, or at least hold the camera level?

That's why, in this series, the photos do not appear in any particular order. Or, to be more accurate, they appear in one particular order, and that order is the order in which they appear in my photo album, which is almost, but not quite, chronological order, a chronological order that is interrupted to group photos together by subject matter or by lack of identifiable subject matter, and sometimes to group photos together by using the time-honored this photo fits on this page method.

(The images in this series are almost all photos that I actually took. In this post, for example, the only image that isn't originally mine is the Metro Map. I would have taken a picture of the Metro Map, but pictures were precious, as I've said, and also, it's emblazoned in my memory permanently. My neurons are probably shaped, at this point, exactly like the Metro Map.)

(The photos that accompany this entry show you how I grouped them, too. They're from pages 4-6 of the photo album, and are, in the order in which they appear, (1) my last Metro card [which isn't a photo; I've got the actual card], (2) something I don't know, (3) Me, Carlos, Rip and a bald guy hanging out somewhere in front of someone's car, (4) I think the Lincoln Memorial, (5) view from the Old Post Office, (6) my foot at the grocery store Saturday, and (7) probably the statue outside of Union Station.

The other excitement of the Old Post Office came from the fact that it is a mall. And a food court. Mostly, it appeared to be a food court. There were shops, candy shops and t-shirt shops and souvenir shops and clothing stores. Almost every store seemed to sell really cheap t-shirts, t-shirts that were about $2.50 each. And lots of stores sold ties, too. They even sold ties on the street; it's the only city I've ever seen where you can stop and buy a very nice tie for $10 from a guy with a cart full of ties on the street. (One theory that I was told for this is that if people spill on or stain their tie, they can buy a new one to wear all day and not be embarrassed. I guess it's reassuring that the people running our country have a plan in place for what to do if they can't control their soup spoon.)

But the main purpose of the Old Post Office seemed to be for use as a giant lunchroom. When I was there, in ninety-four, the bottom floor was filled with table after table after table, mostly empty. There weren't that many restaurants in the place, and I couldn't imagine why they needed so many places to sit. I still can't; I don't recall ever seeing the Old Post Office full of people, eating or not.

The Old Post Office, then, served as a suitably mystifying entry point into Washington D.C. sightseeing, giving me everything I needed to know about getting around the city, everything I needed to know being:

First, everything in Washington D.C. is either tucked into something else, or outside the city. Restaurants and shops are in train stations. Museums are part of other monuments. Monuments are part of parks. Even parts of other states -- Gettysburg, and Virginia among them-- seem to get folded into Washington, as I'd learn when I finally did get an internship, and found out that I'd be working in Washington D.C. by going to Virginia.

Second, everything in Washington, D.C. is historical. You can't shake a stick without hitting a placque or a story or the Vice President jogging by with his secret service detail. It's not just likely that you'll get on an elevator in a Senate office building one day and realize that the person on the elevator is Senator Bob Packwood. It's inevitable. (I'd use that to my advantage when I set about to begin meeting important people through the not-at-all-insane method of writing to them and asking them to meet.)

Third, I still never really knew where I was, no matter how often I got out around the city. I was constantly amazed and constantly lost.

And, fourth, you're never very far from a cookie store in Washington. There was even one at the Old Post Office.

Question of the Day: 41.

Do you think she's lying?

Sweetie and I were having one of our very intellectual/philosophical/weighty conversations on Friday night while we took the Babies! for a drive after swimming (and didn't stalk that guy's house for a change.) The topic was this: Sweetie said that most men like bodies more than faces, and then proved it by asking me whether I'd rather date Jennifer Lopez's body with Roseanne Barr's face, or vice versa. (I chose the good body/bad face combo.)

I asked her what she claimed to look for in men, and she said "personality." Now, I have never seen her look through her magazines, or sit in a movie theater, or wait for Apollo's towel to slip again on Battlestar Galactica, and say "Boy, he's sure got a hot personality." So I was skeptical. Then I was even more skeptical when she said she wants someone with a sense of humor, like Conan O' Brien. I asked her if she'd date:

Conan O'Brien's personality in John Goodman's body? She said yes.

Conan O'Brien's personality in Peter Griffin's body? She said yes.

Conan O' Brien's personality in Jaime Pressley's body only it's still a guy, it just happens to look like Jaime Pressley? She said yes.

But I think she's lying. If only I could prove it...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

I Read The News Today Oh Boy (For January 31, 2009)

I know. I said I was going to do this on Wednesdays. But it's a blogger's prerogative to change his mind. So here's

I Read The News Today Oh Boy
for January 31, 2009:

7:15 a.m.: Saturdays are new music day -- so they begin with my downloading all the new songs off Fingertips, Muruch, Music For Kids Who Can't Read Good, and I'm Waking Up To...

This week is a jackpot... I've found a site that includes folk covers of pop songs. Folk cover of "Baby Got Back," anyone? No? How about Dolly Parton doing "Stairway to Heaven?"

8:15 a.m. Mr F is pantless for the second time today. Pantless and jumping. It will be necessary for me to restore order before Sweetie gets home from the health club. [SPOILER ALERT! I didn't.]

8:40 a.m.: The Boy has made it from his room to the couch. That's where he will sit while I get the Babies! ready for our day of errands, and that's where he will sit while Mr F decides that he wants to throw toilet paper around the bathroom while I shower. That's where he will still be sitting when we leave at 9:50 a.m. I was tempted to check his pulse.

9:30 a.m. Mr F, Mr Bunches, and I are on a quest to get some new kitchen chairs and to pick up the stuff for our taxes, as well as snacks for tomorrow's Superbowl. First stop: Furniture stores on the bad side of town.

There never seem to be furniture stores on the good side of town, do there? At least not furniture stores I can afford to shop at. We stopped at one of those, to check for the clearance furniture. The clearance furniture cost more than most of the things in my house... combined.

9:45 a.m. Mr F has gotten one shoe off so far. This is outside the fancy furniture store, which had no affordable kitchen chairs. They did have, though, giant statues of giraffes, and I was sorely tempted. Sorely. What kept me from getting the giant statue was not imagining what Sweetie would say, but instead the fact that she'd sent me out with only two checks, and if I used one on a giraffe statue, I was coming home without either snacks or tax software.

Still, our house looks a little empty without a giant giraffe statue.

10:15 a.m.: Lots of cities have a financial district, or restaurant district, or arts district. Madison has a "prosthetic limbs and billiards district."

10:45 a.m.: Success! Two kitchen chairs, with cushions, to replace the boys' high chairs, which are falling apart and permanently encrusted with fossilized macaroni and cheese despite our best efforts. And, bonus, an old rolltop desk-thing for Sweetie. There is very little Sweetie loves more than organizing her papers. In order, her loves are:
1. Her kids.
2. Stormy Jet Risotto (her cat.)
3. Organizing her papers.
4. Me.
5. Stormy Jet Risotto (she ranks two spots on this list.)

11:00 a.m.: En route to McDonald's for a playing-and-french-fries break, we are passed by a truck full of cows, which I only notice because I take a break from singing along with Dolly Parton's version of "Shine," (really!) and turn to my left and see a cow staring at me from about two feet away. I couldn't get the camera out quickly enough.

11:10 a.m.: I had to wake Mr Bunches up to get him inside the McDonald's. But once inside, he ignores the food and tries to play with the older kids, who do not know they are playing with him. He runs after them, and then runs away when they run towards him, trying to get them to chase him. They persist in not actually playing with him despite his best efforts. It's actually heartbreaking.

11:11 a.m.: He's not eating. He's playing with the lid to the milk bottle.

11:15 a.m.: This is actually pretty brave for Mr F, who detests the tunnels. He wouldn't go farther than this, which meant that I couldn't climb inside and show Mr Bunches how to climb up the stairs to go down the slide, because you never know when the McDonald's playland is filled with kidnapping serial killers and I'm not taking any chances. Each and every parent in that room felt the cold stare of my suspicion.

Then I felt the cold stare of their suspicion when shortly after I took this picture, Mr F jumped down, ran over to another table, and stole two french fries from them. I have become the parent that other parents will talk about and secretly feel superior to.

11:21 a.m.: Mr Bunches walked over to this thing, which is a giant ball of light bulbs on top of a pole, and has panels below it that seem to require someone to touch them to light up the bulbs. Then he pulled me over to it to try to work it. I couldn't get it to work, either, and a mom sitting near it smirked at me...

... but I notice she didn't try to work it, either.

12:25 p.m.: We leave McDonald's at about 11:50, and go to Best Buy to get the tax software. I decide we will go home before going to get snacks for the Superbowl. Then I decide we will drive by the Sonic Restaurant that has, magnificently, opened up not two miles from our house, just to see how crowded it is. It's too crowded to get into. It's been open a week and it's always too crowded to get into. I hate people.

1:15 p.m.: The boys are in bed for their nap, and it's tax time. Come on, big money, big money. Lots of refunds.

Two hours later, the results are in.

We owe $512.

I hate the government. I thought Obama was going to make things better.

4:15 p.m.: Yeah, I know how you feel, Mr Bunches.

4:35 p.m.: Maybe I could have written off the new desk? Sweetie at least was cheered up by that.

5:05 p.m.: Time to run and get the snacks for the Superbowl party. It's back into the car, this time with Sweetie. First, we stop for gas.

Hey, look at that, an italian deli. I should go eat there sometime.

5:20 p.m.: Sweetie and Mr Bunches make their way into the grocery store. I'm lagging behind because I tried to grab Mr F's hand, and he slipped it out of his jacket sleeve and tried to get away.

5:25 p.m.: Mr Bunches won't ride in the cart, so I carry him through the store. First stop... hummus? Our list of snacks, as determined by the kids:

Pizza rolls, hummus, beef jerky, nacho chips, snak-ens, orange juice, sushi.

Because nothing says "Super Bowl" like hummus and sushi.

5:40 p.m.: Mr F's fee and mine. The nice thing about being 40? You no longer have to care what footwear you use to go to the store. Those are Croc slippers.

I still, though, refuse to go to the store in pajama pants. I saw a guy do that at the mall. That's carrying it too far... but it would be awfully comfortable.

6:10 p.m.: Dinner. time. It's Sweetie's barbecue, and some potato chips!

Or, if you are Sweetie, it's barbecue without the bread or the chips, and with a banana.

7:10 p.m.: Middle is home from work, and has unloaded her pocketful of Skittles. When I ask why she has a pocketful of Skittles, she says "So I can eat them."

She puts them on the counter. While I'm cleaning up, I ask what she wants done with them. "Throw them away," she says, which is the answer the kids have for everything. The Boy once was packing up casserole, and we didn't have a big enough dish for all the leftovers to fit in one. "Should I just throw it all away?" he asked. He seemed mystified when I suggested simply using two containers. He then seemed irked when I said that "throwing it away" wasn't the answer to everything. I put the Skittles in our jar, even though I'm not about to eat something that spent the day in Middle's pocket.

8:05 p.m.: Snack time! A hard night of Rrowr monster and Tackle Game and Indian-Chase and jumping has wound down to chocolate chip cookies and milk.

8:20 p.m.: Mr Bunches discovers my camera. I have about 50 more like this.

8:55 p.m.: The Babies! are in bed, and it's time for a thrilling Saturday night of... lying in bed with Stormy Jet Risotto while watching The Best Superbowl Commercials. The highlight, for me, is counting how many times Daisy Fuentes says she's in Tampa Bay. I wonder why nobody told her the name of the city she was broadcasting from?

9:10 p.m.: I think I'm ready to fall asleep -- but I made it through the commercials and through an episode of Monk and through a half of a repeat of Battlestar Galactica, staying up way later than Sweetie, who's out just after the end of the Commercials show, leaving me nobody to debate the question of whether "Talking Stain" deserved to finish higher than third.

See how I spent January 27 here.