Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sweetie's Hunk of The Week #4

Hunk of the Week 4: Taye Diggs.

You/Sweetie Know Him As:
I had to look this up, because I didn't know anything about him. Apparently he's on Gray's Anatomy and Private Practice, which means I know now that Sweetie secretly watches at least one of those shows. Busted!

I know him as: I didn't know him at all. But I see that he appeared on an episode of Punk'd. Episode 2.5. 2.5. Aren't we all glad to be rid of Ashton Kutcher?

Reason I Tell Myself Sweetie Likes Him: She secretly likes men who wear jewerly. I will go get myself a garish thumb ring today.

Actual Reason Sweetie likes him: "He's smooth."

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Reason For Liking Him: So Is Jell-O. But can you float a piece of pear in Taye Diggs? Probably not. Plus, he's got a tattoo. I deliberately picked out this picture because of that. Sweetie hates tattoos.

Maybe It's Ralph Waldo Emerson's Fault?

The Internet makes everything easier; with the Internet, it's possible not just to waste 43 hours a week trying to look up your favorite videos and then posting them into a mixtape only to find that you copied the same video over and over (again, SORRY!, and the corrected version is up!) and order toast online. With the Internet, it's easier and quicker to get Furniture for Kids without all the hassle.

Which is good, because we need to get some new Boys Bedroom Furniture for the Babies!, who are heading towards three and getting a little big for their cribs, and if there's one thing I'm consistent about, it's that I HATE furniture shopping. I hate driving all over town and having to wander through giant warehouse stores with salespeople clinging to me like so many remoras, only to find that the furniture I pick out is out of stock and will be delivered in 14 weeks.

With the Internet, though, I can shop for a Bunk Bed for the boys right from my desk, listening to Vampire Weekend and drinking coffee and wearing my Buffalo Bills' pajamas. In less time than it used to take me to get the twins into the car and back out of the driveway, I can order something like this:

And have it delivered right to my house. Plus, the furniture is supercheap. No, that's not right. It's superdupercheap; it's way less expensive than in a brick&mortar store. And if there are TWO things I'm consistent about, they are that I hate going to furniture stores, and that I love saving money. So clicking on a picture to order a bunk bed online helps me keep my consistencies from being hobgoblins of little minds. (Because they are not foolish. Make sure you know your Emerson if you're going to talk online bunk bed shopping with me.)

See how great the Internet is? Spend ten minutes shopping around online, looking at what are literally hundreds of bunk beds and kids furniture on that site, and then have it shipped for less money than you'd expected to spend. Which means I can use all that extra time I have to figure out how to work that "cut and paste" feature. Stupid computers. Stupid Youtube. It's all someone else's fault.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Mixtape 3: Space!

UPDATE: I'm sorry... I don't know why originally I cut&pasted only "Space They Cannot Touch," but I've fixed it now. I hope that didn't wreck your Friday night.

This entire mixtape was inspired by the fact that I heard the first song, "Love Astronaut" by Murder Mystery, on Pandora today, and then went and watched the video I've got here, then went and downloaded the song, and I've been listening to it more or less all afternoon. It's that good.

Plus, the guy in the video is a pretty good dancer.

Love Astronaut: Murder Mystery:

Space They Cannot Touch: Kate Miller-Heidke

Let’s Talk About Spaceships: Say Hi To Your Mom

Too Much Space To Walk Away: avocadoclub

The Bleeding Heart Show: The New Pornographers (I cheated a bit; I don’t think the song’s about space, but watch the video and you’ll see why it’s in here.)

Lost In Space: Aimee Mann

We are all made of stars: Moby (Have you read Moby's blog? It's awesome.)

Across The Universe: Fiona Apple

Adventures In Solitude: The New Pornographers (This was the song that inspired my project, Asteroids: The Movie.)

Jessica Simpson should take my advice. (So should you.)

With all the flap over Jessica Simpson recently, and whether she'd gained weight or not -- and let me say that I am firmly on the side of yes, she gained weight, but I think she needed to and looks just swell the way she does now-- one important point I think was missed and that was this:

Her clothes looked horrible.

What is it with women who aren't supermodel sized (i.e., minus-1 sized) opting to wear horrible clothing? Is there something about weighing more than 73 pounds that automatically steers women towards the "coverall" section at the Farm & Fleet store rather than to something that's stylish?

It's even more mystifying that Jessica, and other women, would wear such horrible clothes when there are such awesome clothes available for women with normal, regular figures. Just looking around at sites that sell plus size clothes, like, shows you that. Look at the picture of the dress I found for sale there; could that be any better? Probably not. Is it way better than those hiked-up jeans Jessica wore, or the "Skort"? Yes. By a mile.

In fact, browsing around the stuff there, I didn't see a single thing that wouldn't look way better on Jessica than everything else I've seen her wear recently -- and I saw a lot of stuff that looks as stylish as, if not better than, the junk they sell at places that cater to the anorexic models of the world.

Having a normal figure doesn't mean having to dress ugly, and I don't understand why women do it. It's not like they have to; the clothes at are available online, 24 hours a day. They have a size chart, and they even sell coats and blazers and outerwear.

The Ketchup Bottle As A Parenting Barometer.

Parenting is the only thing you can do in life where you have to learn on the job and you have no hope of ever getting promoted.

Well, parenting and being the president, I suppose. But the presidency, at least, ends. Parenting never ends; it just keeps on keeping on, and keeps on being constantly confounding, while it's at it.

Take as the first example the parenting I engaged in, and then Sweetie engaged in, with The Boy last night and this morning. The Boy should be used as a training course for parents; anyone thinking they've got this parenting thing down should spend a week with The Boy, after which they will realize just how far away from perfection they are, and also they will hug their own kids ferociously and keep repeating things like Thank god you're you.

The Boy seems to make it his mission in life to help develop parenting skills, like he did last night and today. Last night, he was taking out the garbage. He has to do that every Thursday night, and he finds that to be terribly horribly unjust because in his mind it creates a work imbalance between him and everyone else in the house. I would like to actually make The Boy sit down and tote up, on a ledger, what everyone else in the house does, just as I would like to explain to The Boy that watching the Houston versus Cleveland basketball game doesn't, technically, count as a chore, but I have to pick my battles.

So last night, The Boy was getting the garbage ready to go and was complaining about how everyone in the house makes his life so much harder, in this case by putting garbage into boxes and putting those boxes by the garbage can. Sweetie had gotten a package of some sort yesterday and the box for the package was by the garbage can, and had some garbage in it as well, and this was the most irritating thing The Boy had seen in his entire life, more irritating, even, than when people leave soda cans in the sink and he has to throw them away when he does the dishes.

And to give you an idea of how irritating "soda cans in the sink" is to The Boy, I'll just let you know that once, at 9:15 at night, The Boy came home from somewhere and apparently found a can in the sink, which irritated him even though the chores were done and he didn't have to do anything about it. I know it irritated him because I was upstairs in my room reading and The Boy marched in with the soda can and held it up to me and Sweetie and said:

"Who put this in the sink after I asked if people would not do that?"

To which I responded:

"Did you make a special trip upstairs carrying the can just to make a point of how people shouldn't put them in the sink?"

He looked at me and said "I've asked that people don't do that."

And I said:

"Didn't you walk right by the garbage can to come up here and show that to me?"

He left.

The garbage in the cardboard box was, by my estimate, roughly one hundred gajillion times more irritating than soda cans in the sink, if The Boy's demeanor was anything to go by. I tried to respond calmly, because "respond calmly" is my parenting style these days. I've tried lots of other things to parent the kids, all of them having about the degree of success you'd expect, success I measure by how often I find the ketchup bottle lying on its side in the refrigerator.

The ketchup that we buy is the large, generic bottle of ketchup that costs about $1.00 and is too large to fit anywhere in the door of the refrigerator except on the bottom shelf. (Ketchup has to be stored in the door of the refrigerator, by the Unwritten Refrigerator rules. If I go to someone's house, and for some reason am poking around in their refrigerator, and I see that they've stored their ketchup somewhere other than the door of the refrigerator, I think to myself: these people are weird.)

(If you think about it, poking through someone's refrigerator feels like as much of a violation as poking through their bathroom medicine cabinet, something that I actually never do because I don't want to know what people are up to and get all grossed out. But I do want to poke into their refrigerator, always. I just never get a chance to do so. And then when I do get a chance to do so, I chicken out because it feels too violating. When someone says "Oh, that's in the 'fridge, you can go get one," I try not to do it because it creeps me out. It's like they said Oh, the cheese spray is in my underwear drawer. Second from the left. Yeah, just move the thongs.")

(I don't get out a lot.)

I gauge how my parenting is going by, among other barometers, whether the ketchup bottle is in the bottom shelf and standing up, or if instead it has been violently wedged into another, smaller shelf, or even stored in the main cargo bay of the refrigerator. As a parent, I feel like I'm doing a good job if the kids are doing well in school, having good morals, not getting criminal records, and learning how to do things the "right way." The "right way" to do things is, as it applies to ketchup bottles and refrigerators, put things where they belong. The problem arises in that the bottom shelf sometimes has other things in it, things that would fit on other shelves but for some reason have been put in the bottom shelf.

If I am putting away the ketchup, and I see that the bottom shelf is full, I move something from the bottom shelf and put the ketchup where it belongs -- the shelf where it can stand, proud and tall.

However, if I were Middle, or The Boy, or previously Oldest, I would look at that and put the ketchup wherever my hand happened to fall -- cramming it into the butter section, sometimes, or resting it sideways on top of the salad dressing and mayonnaise, or in the produce drawer, whatever sprang into my mind.

To date, I have never seen the ketchup bottle put onto the bottom shelf. Sometimes, the bottom shelf of the door is empty, and the ketchup bottle is precariously balanced on the empty pickle jar that has for some reason been put back into the refrigerator, too. I used to get upset at things like that, but I have since delegated the refrigerator to Sweetie, so I pay it less attention, except to gauge how I'm doing parenting, and since all of my previous parenting efforts have obviously not worked out, now I'm on to "respond calmly," which I tried last night as The Boy went on and on about how people deliberately set out to make his life miserable and hard by putting garbage into the box by the can instead of into the can.

I said, simply "I'll try not to do that, and you should let other people know," even though I hadn't done it, and even though letting other people know meant that he'd likely march up to Middle's room and brandish the garbage box at her and say something sarcastic and dumb, and then she'd get mad and eventually it would devolve into an argument about whose car smelled worse.

Then, to try to divert The Boy, I said "Be careful outside, because it's getting slippery," which I thought was both helpful and might be appreciated, in that it was raining out and the driveway looked a little icy.

The Boy didn't respond and took the garbage out and that was largely it for the rest of the night, except for the moment later on when I tried the one of the other two parenting technique I'm currently trying out, which is "sarcasm." I combine "sarcasm" with "respond calmly" and "lectures laden with guilt," and I'm hoping this will result in the ketchup bottle being moved.

I invoked "sarcasm" when, about an hour later, I went downstairs and noted that The Boy, in coming back in, had not replaced the blanket we use to block drafts through the garage door. I looked at it and then looked at him and said

"Man, how come everybody around here just leaves this blanket laying out, making everything all harder for me even though I've told everyone over and over that they shouldn't leave the blanket all the way across the floor but should replace it?"

The Boy just watched his basketball game and shrugged.

So I said

"I mean, it's even worse than if the garbage was put in a box. Man! I wish people would make my life easier and then I might make their life easier."

The Boy shrugged again and said "Sorry" without taking his eyes off the TV. And without getting up to replace the blanket, which I replaced, but which I thought about putting in a box next to the garbage can before I realized that would hurt me, because we wouldn't have the blanket and because I'd have to listen to another of The Boy's lectures.

Then, this morning, I got to see just how my parenting was working in a more unusual manner. No, the ketchup bottle was not taped to a wall outside the house. Instead, I was working on some writing and getting ready to go to work, and Sweetie was eating breakfast when The Boy came downstairs and was going to go outside to get the newspaper (another of his jobs, and another example The Boy frequently cites to show how unbalanced the work load is in the house. I timed it once, when I went to get the paper. It takes less than 30 seconds to get the paper, which means The Boy has spent more time in the past 12 months complaining about getting the paper than he has actually spent getting the paper.)

As he was opening the door, Sweetie, noting that last night we'd had freezing rain and that the world was covered in ice said "Be careful, it's slippery out there."

The Boy responded by saying "That's what someone told me last night only it wasn't slippery at all, so I guess nobody makes any sense."

To which I said: "Fine. Don't be careful."

He was careful, though, or lucky, and got the paper back inside. (Karma, which has The Boy on speed-dial, got him later when he went to leave for school and slipped and had to go set up the garbage cans, which had slid on the ice, too.)

That was all the parenting I did this morning; I let it end with that sarcasm because I have to be careful in how I parent The Boy or he'll turn the tables on me, like he did on Wednesday. That's the second example of parenting I have for today:

Wednesday night, I had decided that I would give Sweetie a break and do the grocery shopping for her -- for reasons that will be explained in the next Rum Punch Review -- and then I decided that it wasn't much of a break if I left her home alone with four kids while I got to go listen to music and wander around. So I then decided that I'd take all the kids with me, and that I would buy them some McDonald's as an incentive to get them to come.

I can't imagine my parents ever deciding to bribe me or my brothers as an incentive to get us to do something. An "incentive" when we were kids was defined as I won't hit you with this electric cord. That was all the incentive we needed to do what we were told to do -- and to do it fast. But I am a modern parent and I rely on modern parenting tools, like hamburgers and guilt. So I told Sweetie to tell the kids what my plans were, and figured that promising a treat would make doing the chore a little less onerous.

Then, later on, Sweetie called me and said The Boy didn't want to grocery shop because he had homework to do and his back hurt.

The Boy's back hurts because he lifts weights for football without stretching. His back started hurting him two weeks ago, and I showed him how to properly stretch it out and make sure it wouldn't get hurt, and he did the stretches for a few days and reported that his back felt better.

"Just keep doing those stretches every day, then, and you'll be fine," I said.

"Why do I have to keep doing them?" he asked.

"Because it'll keep your back from getting hurt," I said.

"But my coach has me do stretches before we lift," he said.

"Were you doing those before your back hurt?" I asked him.

"Yes," he said.

I then tried to point out that obviously his coach's stretches were not helping, but in the grand tradition of our kids choosing to stick with their opinion in the face of controverting facts, he opted to believe that his coach's stretches were helping, and opted not to do my stretches.

So The Boy didn't want to grocery shop. I decided, fine, I'll show him, thereby introducing a fourth parenting technique, that of revenge, which I decided to combine with hamburgers and guilt. Then, on the way home from work, I called to let them know I was heading home and got Middle. I asked if she was ready to go shopping and she said no, she wasn't. I asked why and she said "I don't want to go."

I decided to apply revenge/guilt to her, too, and when I got home, I had them come to the kitchen table, and sit down, and I told them that I didn't want to be interrupted. I then very calmly lectured them for a few minutes on how I do favors for them all the time, and they're always asking me for money or favors or to buy a song on iTunes using my money or to let them watch basketball in my room, and that I always do that for them, and then today I ask them for a favor and wanted them to help me grocery shop so we could give their mom a little break, and I even offered to buy them dinner at McDonald's even though I didn't have to, and I could have simply ordered them to do it, but, no I was trying to be nice and hoping they would be responsible and nice in return, and that if they had just done their homework they wouldn't have any reason not to go, and that I found their excuses flimsy, and then I said that I would remember this in the future, and that in the future, they were going to ask me for a favor, and I was going to tell them no.

"I don't know when it'll be, yet," I said, "But I will tell you, NO, I'm not going to do you a favor, because I'm very very disappointed in you. I was hoping that you would be better and would for once in your lives do the right thing. Instead, you've let me down."

Having then successfully parented them by calmly dumping that whole load of guilt into their laps, I then said "Is there anything you'd like to say, now?"

And The Boy said "Only that I did my homework and was going to help you with the groceries."

After a moment, I said "Why didn't you stop me and tell me that?"

He said: " You said you didn't want to be interrupted."

I'm thinking something like "SuperSexyMan." I hope that's not taken.

Mr F and Mr Bunches have outgrown their superhero shirts that Sweetie got them a while back -- little Batman and Superman shirts that had capes attached. And I think that's a shame. I think no kid should have to go through life without being a superhero from time to time, and no kid should have to try to be a superhero with a towel tied around his neck. What kind of superhero is that? That makes a kid have to use all his imagination to pretend that his overalls and t-shirt and towel are a superhero uniform, and you know how much imagination that leaves to fight hordes of invading aliens who are about to destroy Citytown?

None. None imagination, that's how much is left. So little imagination that the best name they could come up with for the city they're super-protecting is ... Citytown? Come on!

The cure for that is to make sure the boys have good superhero costumes that fit them, and the way to get good superhero costumes for them is to buy them from some place that sells Halloween Costumes year round.

Which, of course, you can find on the Internet -- you can find EVERYTHING on the Internet these days, including probably a website that would help you figure out a better name for a fictional city than "Citytown," -- at any number of sites that sell not just kids' superhero costumes but also Sexy Halloween Costumes and other Adult Costumes.

Which could come in handy in OTHER situations. Like, say, if I wanted to pretend to be a superhero, too. A SEXY superhero.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hippopotamusses? (A Great Ranking Of Problems Addition!)

I was all excited to pull out my lunch and get down to business today, because I knew that Sweetie had put Ramen noodles in it (she did so after I expressly told her last night that "Ramen noodles are my favorite thing ever for lunch and they make me happy) and also because I had Pringles, I knew.

Then I pulled out my sandwich and my spirits just dropped. Like a stone. Or an albatross. Or a stone albatross. I'm not sure albatrosses drop. (I am certain, though, that the plural of albatross is albatrosses, even though I always think it should be albatri.)

(And why is that that it's albatrosses but it's not octopusses and hippopotamusses?)

(That's a fun sentence to say out loud. Try it.)

(Now you're in trouble at work, aren't you? Very few jobs let you just go around saying albatrosses octopusses hippopotamusses. Unless you work for Dr. Seuss' Institute of Fun-To-Pronounce Words.)

So anyway, my spirits dropped like a whole raft of hippopotamusses because Sweetie had given me peanut butter and jelly and as much as I love Sweetie and as great as she is, she is fundamentally incapable of making a good PB&J sandwich because she puts too little PB & J on it.

A good peanut-butter & jelly sandwich has about 1/4 inch of peanut butter, and a lot of jelly -- but not just randomly glopped on there. The jelly has to be placed in the center of the sandwich in a large lump, and then when the top slice of bread is placed on, the jelly is gently pressed and smoothed towards the sides so that it almost, but not quite, reaches the edge, so that you can have tons of jelly but it never gooshes out the side.

Sweetie can't find it in herself to do that. Something about her upbringing, I think. That and she doesn't like jelly.

I know -- crazy, right? How can you not like jelly?

Peanut butter, in fact, exists primarily as a means to get jelly into people without being disgusting -- it lets people eat jelly and still be respectable members of society, as they would not be if they just spooned it out of the jar. (Peanut butter, in that respect, is like the vegetable part of salad.)

So anyway, I'm adding this to the Great Ranking of Problems:

99: Spousal PB&J Incompatibility.

Prior entries:

173: Preshoveling & reshoveling snow.
502: Having to wait forever, seemingly, for Italian food to cool down.
. . .
721: Printer not holding a lot of paper at once.
5,000: Lopsided Nail Clipping.
7,399: Potato(E?)s?
. . .
15,451: Almost napping.
14,452: Worrying that there's too much peanut brittle leftover to eat before it goes bad.
22,372: Having hair which isn't quite a definable color.
22,373: Having too many songs on an iPod

I just don't ask about the toilet seats. I can't get a straight answer.

The blinds in our house stink.

They're the blinds that came with the house and I've always wanted to replace them but I've been too busy fixing the furnace, and the roof, and tearing down the shed, and trying to redo the landscaping to create a mowing-free environment, and constantly replacing vacuum cleaners and toilets seats, to get around to it.

But they're awful. They're old, crummy metal blinds that are getting tattered and bent looking and they drag me down when I see them. So it might finally be time to upgrade those and give the rooms that have blinds a whole new look -- like by putting in wooden blinds to replace the old metal dumb stupid ones.

I've always liked wooden blinds; they have a natural, kind of homey feel to them, and if you get the kind that have the taped-hangers, they seem old-fashioned, too, and make a house seem a little cozier and more inviting (as opposed to our metal blinds, which make the house feel like a government office -- and not a GOOD government office. A Paraguayan government office, maybe.)

They've got wooden blinds galore at "Wooden Blinds Direct" (there's a name that doesn't mess around!) and they come in styles ranging from venetian to, I suppose, non-venetian (actually, Roman, roller, and "vertical.") So maybe this weekend I'll mention that site to Sweetie and she if she'll authorize some expenses for blinds.

Assuming that the roof holds and the toilet seats stay put.

Quote of the Day: 14

"No going on strike in the cookie aisle."

That's what I had to tell Mr Bunches when we were grocery shopping last night. He won't sit in the cart anymore and so was alternating between walking and being carried while I did the shopping for Sweetie. In the cookie aisle, he recognized the cookies we always buy for them and sat down on the floor in front of the display, refusing to move until I opened up a package of cookies and gave him one.

Which he then shoved into his mouth in one bite -- I assume because he didn't want me to take it back -- and which he then got angry at because I reached down and broke off the parts that were outside of his mouth.

The secondary quote of the day is what I told the cashier when we handed her that package of cookies:

"We started a little bit early."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's that song about? (2)

Today's Song: O Superman (for Massenet), by Laurie Anderson.

What I Thought It Was About: You know, I don't even know where I got this song. It's just on my iTunes along with all the other songs; that's not uncommon for me as I'll put just about any song onto my iPod so long as I have room, which I almost do not anymore because I downloaded a bunch of Battlestar Galactica episodes just before the new season premiered, only to realize that they were just throwing that whole series down the garbage disposal.

The other day, I sat down to do a little writing and I clicked on O Superman (For Massenet) as the first song to listen to. I assumed the song would be about... Superman. Then I listened to it and thought okay, it's not about anything, it's techno. Then I thought it's about family. Then I thought... wait, is that airplane talk? Is this about 9/11? My final guess: it's about people wanting to avert 9/11.

Here's the song:

What it's actually about: The lyrics are mysterious: This is your Mother/...well you don't know me/ come the planes. Then there's a recitation of the US Postal Service credo. Laurie Anderson, the performance artist who created O Superman said it was about the Iran-Contra affair, but the song was released in 1981 and unless Anderson was part of Reagan's cabinet, she probably didn't know about the Iran-Contra Affair until 1986, when everyone in the world found out about it. Other people say it's about "nukes, computers, and the future," which is an odd interpretation for a song that mentions none of those. The song was a huge hit in England in 1982, rising up to number 2. The "Massenet" in the title is apparently a French composer who wrote the opera Le Cid, which had an aria in it called "O Souverain, o juge, o père," but that information is from Wikidiotpedia, so use at your own risk.

I have decided that it is a critique of American foreign policy not aimed at any one specific incident, and that Anderson ex post facto decided it was about something in particular.

I only happened across this site. Honest.

Now that spring is coming and people can get outside and start doing stuff again, don't you want to do stuff with that special someone? You know, the person you can get to join you going to the zoo, or the botanical gardens, or maybe just walk down State Street and go visit the Museum of Modern Art, followed by a quick ice cream cone while you look at the ducks by the Terrace?

What do you mean, I'm a nerd? I'm cool. And I can prove it: Sweetie married me, didn't she?

But if I was single, I still wouldn't have to worry about finding someone who shares my tastes, someone who (like Sweetie does) thinks I'm cool and would love to spend an afternoon biking around the neighborhood or hanging out with Mr F and Mr Bunches.

All I'd have to do to find someone who was perfect for me is go to passion search, a new, FREE, online dating service that makes it fast and easy to find someone right for you wherever you are.

All you have to do is go to their site and begin answering questions, questions like "Are you a guy or a girl," how old you are, how old you want someone else to be, where you live, when your birthday is, and then give them your email address and Blam-o! you're signed up for the hottest new personals and dating service there is.

And you'll want to sign up; click over there and they'll tell you right now how many members in your city there are, just waiting to meet you. (There's 575 in Madison, I see -- but I didn't sign up. I swear, Sweetie, I didn't!)

So don't waste any more time cruising the bars or hoping that your friend will set you up with that hot waitress he knows (he's not going to; he wants to date her.) Instead, go to Passion Search, the site that makes it easy (and free!) to flirt, date, and fall in love.

Question of the Day: 47

Who's the "she" in "that's all she wrote?"

Unlike usual, I actually tried to look up some information on this one. Like usual, the information that I was able to find on the Internet was completely unhelpful.

Women historically were not allowed to be writers, and had to publish under pseudonyms (for example, George Eliot, the writer largely credited with reinventing Batman, was actually Mary Todd Lincoln) and since that continues even today (J.K. Rowling, when not suing people into submission, wrote as "J.K." because people worried that boys wouldn't read books written by a women. We can see now how silly an idea that was, right? Because if boys hadn't read them, J.K. Rowling would likely have sued them, too).

Given that, it seems weird that we use she in that's all she wrote, and also, given that, it seems to me that perhaps when people start complaining about gender equity and all that, they should broaden their horizons and realize that for centuries (maybe) men have been given the short shrift in being the final word on things.

Here's another interesting fact: Since women were discouraged from writing because it was scandalous or something, when Jane Austen began writing, she got around that particular glass ceiling by publishing her work under the creative pseudonym "A Lady." How, exactly, did that help?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Part Nine: Wherein I Gloss Over How I Met The Son of The Shah Of Iran To Focus On Other Things.

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 9; click here for a table of contents.

I started thinking about 1994 when one day I was engaging in a little thought game I like to play.

I play a lot of thought games that would not necessarily be thought of as games by others

My thought games mostly involve math, because math is a good way to occupy your mind while you're jogging. Music is another good way to occupy your mind while jogging, and I do that, too, but that doesn't always keep my mind focused. It's important to keep my mind focused on things other than how awful it is to be jogging, and how difficult it is to keep going, and how hot it is, and how much I would like to quit. At times while jogging, I used to engage in mostly-math-related thought games, like the time I tried to figure out, while jogging around the track at the club, how many more laps I'd have to do if I were to run on the inside of the track versus the outside.

The track at our club is small. Twelve laps equals a mile, and the sign is careful to note that it's twelve laps around the outer track; there's three lanes, and the sign applies, apparently, only to the outermost lane. Jog on the inner lane, or, God forbid, the middle lane, and you have no idea how far you might have gone.

That began to bug me, one time, around about lap 32. How much difference could it make? I wondered. So I decided to rough it out, and did that while I jogged the remainder of the 28 laps that made up my run back then. (That was back then. Nowadays, I raise my arms in victory at lap 36 and head home.)

I decided that it didn't make much difference, at all, which lane you ran in. The outer lane, at 12 laps to a mile, meant that each lap was 440 feet. I estimated the inner loop...

... bear with me here. There's probably some kind of symbolic reason I'm doing this. Maybe. I haven't figured it out yet...

... to be about three feet in, so on a sort of rectangular track, like this one was (is; it's still there) that meant that each leg of the track was about 3 feet shorter. Which meant that if I ran one lap on the outer lane, I'd run 440 feet, while on the inner lane, one lap would take me 428 feet. Which meant that I'd need to go about 12.3 laps per mile on the inner lane, as opposed to twelve laps per mile on the outer lane. So for every three miles, I decided, I'd have to run an extra lap if I was on the inner lane to have it equal a mile. If I didn't do that, on a supposed-three-mile run, I'd go only 2.91 miles -- falling 0.09 miles short of my goal.

With that, I decided that the sign was stupid and overly technical, as most things that most people do are. If the sign did not specify the outer loop as the exact 12 laps-to-a-mile distance, what would the harm be? Some people might run on the inner loop and run a little shorter than they'd thought they might.

Here's the part that maybe is symbolic. Or something: Even though I figured that out, even though I know that in a 2 or 3 or 4 mile run, running on the inner loop doesn't make that much of a difference, I still run on the outer loop, because I like to be exact about how far I'm going. And I still get irritated when I have to cut into the other lane or cut a corner short or do something else that threatens to make my run less than the exact three miles I'm planning on running. And when that happens, I lengthen my run, by weaving in the track or by going a few steps farther in the end.

That probably means something, in the long run. That's the kind of self-examination that writing a memoir will prompt: my thinking that people were stupid for being so exact about which lane will let you run exactly a mile juxtaposed against my insistence on always trying to run the exact distance I set out to run means...

Well, I don't know what it means. I don't do so much math anymore when I run, partly because I don't run so much anymore, but also partly because I've started writing more and more these days and when I run or bike or swim, I tend to think about stories I'm writing and essays I'd like to write, and that serves the same purpose that math used to serve: it distract me from whatever it is I would rather not be thinking about.

Creativity-as-distraction is probably not a bad thing, I think, and it may be more healthy for me than the other distractions, like math-while-jogging and like the thought game that led me, one day, to begin thinking about 1994 and then decide to write down what I thought about 1994.

The thought game was one I came up with, actually, a long time ago but the first time I really paid attention to it was when I'd gotten back from a vacation to Mexico with Sweetie. We went to Mexico over my birthday one year, to Puerta Vallarta, and I spent my birthday week in 80-90 degree temperatures, walking on the beach, parasailing, drinking margaritas and bumming around Puerto Vallarta, and also misconstruing beach vendors who I thought were trying to sell us a sex slave. It was a great week.

Then I had to come back, and I had to go on with school, and I had to walk around town in ankle-deep slush and snow and study and read and be freezing cold and not drink margaritas hardly at all, and I was depressed about it.

So one day, a few days after getting back, I was walking along with my cold, wet feet through slushy junk, and I thought to myself Last week at this exact time on Monday, I was walking along a beach with Sweetie and planning on going body surfing.

Then I began thinking back a bit further, which is how I came up with At This Time, as I think of it, a thought game where I try to remember exactly what I was going at a given time and day in the past.

Like for today, I would say:

Last week at this exact time, I was meeting with another lawyer in my firm to discuss a case.

A month ago, on January 24 in the morning, I was getting Mr F and Mr Bunches from the daycare of the church and walking out to the car.

A year ago, on February 24, I'd have been at work here at the office preparing for a trial that would be postponed.

Five years ago, on February 24, we'd only lived in our current house about five months and Oldest still lived at home and the babies! weren't even close to being born.

10 years ago, on February 24, Sweetie and I were not yet engaged.

15 years ago, on February 24, I went to visit the Holocaust Museum:

And you see how that ties in, now, right? I'm clever.

I liked to play the At This Time thought game because it helped me see how far I'd come, whether I'd met my goals, or done what I thought I was going to do, to examine how I was changing or not changing. Nobody's ever really aware of all the ways they are always changing their mind or changing their life, I think. We know about the big things: we get married, we have kids, we quit smoking, we move or get a new job or have a leg amputated; those things stick out. But they're not so much consciously considered as they are just experienced, and unless we pause to think about then and now, the impact of what happened, of how our life changes, of why we are the way we are, might be missed or not fully appreciated at least.

Take just now: when I typed that in about five years ago having just moved into our current house, it took me a moment to realize that we were then still two full years away from having Mr F and Mr Bunches born. They've been like a tidal wave that swamped our life and it's hard for me to remember what life was like without them... but I try to do that, to appreciate the impact they've had on my life and to understand what kind of person I am, to see if I like the changes or if I need to make more. So when I play At This Time, I think back to 2004 and our house that was still new then and had the old blue couch we got from my brother Matt, and the coffee table that The Boy carved his name into, and the fact that the playroom was then a "study" that nobody ever studied in, and I can remember lying on the futon in that study and reading, a lot of nights, while the kids watched TV or did homework in the next room. I can remember how the room was too dim to read and how I'd make an effort to read in there because I've always wanted a study and if you're going to have a study, isn't that where you would retire after dinner to read?

Granted, I never pictured my study being a kitchen table, a rickety desk, a futon, and a pink molded plastic chair from Ikea; in my mind, my study was more book-lined walls and overstuffed chairs and one of those old-fashioned couches that nobody ever wants to sit on because they've got a wooden rail along the back so you're always clonking your head when you try to lean back... the kind of study that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had, I bet, the kind of study that anyone who's been knighted would probably have. I think once you're knighted, and have that "Sir" appellation before your name, that you almost have to have a dignified study. I bet even Sir Elton John has a dignified study, just down the hall from his Room Of Many Weird Sunglasses.

And someday I will probably have a dignified study. It won't be down the hall from my own Room Of Many Weird Sunglasses. Instead, it will be at the top of the tower that I'll have in my house, and will be reachable only by a spiral staircase and at the top of the tower will be a room filled with bookcases that come up to about waist level. They will only come up that high because the rest of the room will be windows from waist level to the ceiling. There will also be an old-fashioned telescope in the study.

Until then, I'm happy with the playroom that we have now, and I like to think about the time when the playroom wasn't a playroom but was a study, then a storage room, then was empty for a month because it flooded and we were worried about mold, and now it's the home to the Rrowr Monster and a bunch of slides. Thinking about where I've been helps me know where I am.

It was, in fact, thinking back to 1994 and how I spent the year there, that led me to remember going to visit the Holocaust Museum, and that led me to think about all the things I saw and did and felt and planned while I was in D.C., and then Morocco, and that led me to think that I should write those things down, and so I began doing that, because in my mind, I thought I was a very different person now than I am than, and I wanted to see if on paper that turned out to be true, or if in fact the differences were only slight; were the differences between 94-me and present-day me substantial? Or would it be like running on the inner versus outer loop?

Nice, right? That's writing for you. You thought I was going nowhere with all that math.

In some ways, I'm the same person now that I was back then, albeit with more things taking up my time and accordingly fewer interesting things to do than I did back then. Back in 94, I had an abundance of energy and time, energy and time that were overflowing and spilling over and driving me forward, and energy and time that were in no way devoted, whatsoever, to (a) school or (b) a career.

Instead, my energy and time were devoted to exercising, which I did back then like a maniac, and I suppose I was maniacal about it in a way; I exercised almost every day for long periods of time, but that wasn't all I did. Back then, I did the thought games that I've talked about, and I played guitar, and I wrote letters back home -- long, thought-out letter that were 8-10 pages long and meant to be entertaining -- and I kept a journal in the red notebook, the red notebook that I then kept with me through several more moves, a total of eight different moves involving two continents and across the Atlantic, until it ended up in our garage outside the apartment where Sweetie and I lived when we first got married, and one day, cleaning the garage, I came across it and I decided I'm never going to need this or want to see it again.

I threw it away.

That was in 2000, or so, and I didn't miss the red notebook at all until I decided to start writing this and wanted to go back and look at what I thought and what I did in more detail and compare that with how I remember it now. There was a lot written in that red notebook. I wrote in it every day from January through at least August, 1994, wrote lots because of that crazy abundance of energy I had, energy that had no direction, no flow, no where to head in particular so it headed everywhere in general.

Everywhere, except, as I said, work and school.

Technically, I was in Washington to do both, and looking back, my memory is that I did very little of either.

We had classes, once per week, and I remember the class I took and the paper I wrote for the class I took. I don't recall what, exactly, I learned in the class I took but I do recall the classroom (small, with gray tiled floors and wooden uncomfortable desks, down the hall and to the right when I entered the building) and I do recall the teacher, vaguely, a short guy who I want to say had a moustache and the beginnings of a combover, and I do recall that the teacher was with the foreign service of the State Department, and I specifically recall that I thought that was excellent. He would describe, from time to time, his job and how it involved traveling and living in other countries and the postings he got and the extra pay he got for dangerous country postings, and all I could think was

Yes, that's for me.

That sounded phenomenal: spend the rest of my life traveling around! Meet diplomats! Work on treaties! Shop in foreign marketplaces and learn new languages and have great stories to tell and probably also meet the president and never settle long in one place. See all the world's landmarks and visit mysterious cultures and regions. Yes. Yes. Yes. I wanted in.

I didn't want to actually study whatever it was we studied in the class, though. I just wanted to go join the foreign service and begin traveling. The class probably related to that in some way, because I recall the paper I wrote for the class, and the paper I wrote for the class was about foreign policy. It was called "Enlightened Disinterest" and was a critique of the Clinton Administration's foreign policy as I saw it.

You know, as I saw it, through the eyes of a 25-year-old who had never been anywhere, much, except now he was in Washington D.C., and who sort of skimmed through the paper but didn't read all the articles, and who mostly read science fiction books, and who spent a lot of time listening to the radio with a cassette tape set up in his stereo so that when a song came on that he liked he could quickly hit "record" and tape the song off the radio because music was expensive. It was that kind of foreign policy critique.

Yet, it had its fans, one of those fans being my then-boss, Frank.

Frank was the head of "Pinkerton Risk Assessment Services," where I did my internship. Pinkerton had just bought them out, fairly recently, when I went to work with Frank and his group, working alongside my fellow intern, Eden, a girl from San Diego who was hard-working and smart and could speak other languages and who also told stories about finding rattlesnakes on her porch in the morning when she had to go out and get the paper, thereby (a) making me look bad because I was not hard-working and had overinflated my foreign-language speaking abilities, and (b) making me no longer want to move to San Diego, because I didn't want to have to kill a rattlesnake with a hoe just to get out of my house in the morning.

Pinkerton Risk Assessment Services was a company that provided "alerts" or "reports" or something to business travelers and people at the State Department and other people who had a need to know which countries they could go to without getting their heads chopped off or rounded up at gunpoint... something that would, in the near future, happen to me...

... foreshadowing...

... the gunpoint thing, not the head-chopping-off thing, that is.

Here's my understanding of how it worked, and how they formed, and if you feel this understanding is a bit vague and sketchy, know this: It's not because 15 years has passed since I worked there and was told or taught all of this. It's that I really didn't pay attention the first time around, either.

My understanding is this... Frank and some of the other people that I worked with, including Ed and a guy who maybe was named Don so I'll call him Don, and Rene, who was a spy at one point I think, and a lot of the other old guys that worked there, had all been in something like the "Air Force Foreign Service" or some such -- basically an Air Force intelligence service; they were Air Force spies. They'd done that for a long time and had an amazing career doing just that, a career that had something or other to do with the Shah of Iran, because Frank, if I remember correctly, knew the Shah of Iran. Maybe he'd saved his life, or something. It had to be something good, and I'm positive that Frank told me what it was, but I can't remember because I didn't focus so much back then.

But I know that Frank knew the Shah of Iran because Frank introduced me to the son of the Shah of Iran one time. I had lunch with him. (On another occasion, with Frank, I had lunch at a strip club/ Thai buffet, where Frank dared me to eat a tiny little seed in the soup, a seed that to this day is the single hottest thing I've ever encountered or even known of.)

So Frank and Ed and Maybe Don and Rene had this amazing career where they traveled around the world and posed for pictures of themselves as younger guys, wearing uniforms, standing in front of things, with their arms around each other, pictures that were black and white a lot, and sepia-toned, a lot, only they were not standing in front of things like museums or fountains, they were standing in front of buildings owned by governments that they'd then toppled, toppling them the old way the US used to do things, secretly so nobody complains except the people who ran that government, and who cares about them?

Then, Frank and Ed and Maybe Don and Rene had all come back home to settle in a suburb of Washington, D.C., to spend their days reading things on the then-fledgling Internet and reading newspapers and magazines from around the world, and watching the news, and writing up these Risk Assessment Reports that they sold to people on a subscription service so that if you were going to, say, Algeria, you knew how much life insurance to take out. They'd read all this stuff and talk about it and decide how to rate the risk and then draft the report and mail them out.

That's where I come in. Shortly before I joined them, they'd gone from Business Risk Assessment Services to Pinkerton Risk Assessment Services. (I just now googled them and found that they still exist-- and I recognize the address, and I know, now, what Frank's last name was: It was "Frank Johns.")

My jobs, as I recall, included maybe stuffing envelopes, and scanning articles into the computer and then spell-checking them, and also reading Spanish-language newspapers and trying to translate the articles into something that they could use. There may have been other duties, as well, but I don't know what they would have been. I don't recall, as I sit here today, ever doing anything, really. I recall stuffing envelopes one time. I recall sitting in Frank's office smoking, because I hadn't yet followed through on my vow to quit smoking and because Frank smoked a lot; I bet it was like three packs a day, but who am I to judge? I smoked a lot, too. Mostly, I tried to kill time and hope they didn't catch on to the fact that I didn't really speak Spanish, hardly at all, even though I'd said I did. I'd sit there with El Tiempo or some such, trying to read through an article that looked important about the Mexican government, and all I could think was this:

If they were killing Americans, that would probably be on the evening news.

But I tried to take it seriously. I looked for words like muerte and Americano and struggled to determine what the articles might mean. Then I'd go smoke in Frank's office for a while.

The buyout by Pinkerton's meant a couple of things, I gathered. First, it meant that Frank was very gung-ho about his new corporate bosses. He had Pinkerton statues (he gave me one) and he had Pinkerton pictures and he knew the whole Pinkerton history about how Original Pinkerton saved Lincoln's life and got him to the inauguration and I think started the Secret Service, then. Frank told us that whole story.

The buyout also meant, I think, that they had more money, because things seemed to be going pretty good for Pinkerton Risk Assessment Services. They were installing computers, which was a big deal back then. A lot of offices didn't have computers, and it's weird to think that was only 15 years ago, that getting a computer in your office was such a big deal. The computers even had spell checkers, which was another job of mine: Scan a newspaper article into the computer and then read it to spell-check it because the scanner didn't always recognize the words and would put in the word it thought might be the proper one, so you'd be reading an article about the Mexican government, and instead of muerte it might have put in mortimer, and if you didn't catch that, then business travelers might end up dead instead of just drunk.

Other than that, I never really did much of anything at Pinkerton that could be considered work. Or even helpful. I hung out a lot, I asked questions, I helped out wherever I was asked to, and I skipped out as often as I could to go do other things, like go to museums and try to meet people. In comparison to my other fellow interns, I had either a horrible placement (if you went with what they thought) or a dream job (if you went with what I thought.)

They had jobs where they'd have to get up early, stay late, rush around, read mail, and do more. Rip, for example, was always working late and working early and going to meetings and drafting stuff and typing stuff and reading stuff and wearing ties and all. The interns who had those jobs (everyone but me, everyone including my fellow intern Eden) loved them and when I discussed (rarely) how little I had to do, they'd commiserate with me about how the placement wasn't really helping me much because it wasn't preparing me for a career at all.

How, one guy (Mike) asked me, could I ever in the future use as a stepping stone an internship where I had nothing much to do and my major task every day was finding a way to kill the time I was at the office?

How, indeed?

Punk Rock Lovin'

Okay, so it's not exactly for me, this new Punk Chat Room put up by "Punk Chat City,"because even at my most punk -- i.e., 1984 -- I was not very punk at all. Listening to Duran Duran's Arena album, having kind-of spiky hair, and wearing Docksiders without socks probably doesn't qualify as punk (but I thought it did.)

Real punks have screen names like "Maddiecherie," "DeadxRomance" and "sexyvamp12," and would probably not be caught dead listening to Duran Duran, unless they were listening to it burn, maybe. Or whatever it is punk rock lovers do to the vestiges of suburbia that they rail against.

The point is, though, that "Maddiecherie" and "sexyvamp12" don't have to worry about running into me online or dating me -- not just because I'm married (although there is that) and not just because the one time I went to a punk rock show the bartender wouldn't give me a beer because he said I was a narc, but also because they can go to Punk Chat City.

It's a free chat room/website/cam service that lets punks hook up with punks to talk, get cool haircuts that would never fly in the corporate boardroom but which look great in New York City, and talk about how they just want to see corporate America crumble (or whatever it is punk rock lovers say about corporate America.)

It's totally free, which seems to fit in with what I recall of the punk ethos, and even though it seems kind of new, it's already stocked full of other punk rockers looking for fellow punks to talk to, fellow punks like "xxdieslowlyxx," who wants you to know this about her: it's not your business to know.

Well, like I said, it's not for me. But if you're a punker, then it's for you, for sure.

Snooze Coffee (First Thoughts Feb 24 2009)

Sometimes my coffee maker has trouble waking up.

I have a coffee maker with a timer on it, and the timer is set for 5:50 so that when I come downstairs at 6:10 or so, the coffee is ready and waiting for me. But about 2 or 3 days a week, I come downstairs, and the coffee maker hasn't made all the coffee. Instead, it's made, say, a cup's worth and then quit. So I have to restart it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What a way to start the week: (First Thoughts: February 23, 2009)

This makes me sad in ways that I cannot fully comprehend:

Princess Cruise Lines has a "Department of Romance."

It's headed up by men and women who have been on "The Bachelor."

Also, Gavid MacLeod works there.

Also, because I read that page, I had to read this line:

Trista is a stay-at-home mom and designer for her eco-friendly diaper bag line.