Saturday, April 04, 2009

Question of The Day: 55

Do you still worry about pumping the gas to an exact dollar figure when you pay with a credit card?

I had to stop to get gas today, and because the Babies! in the car, I used my debit card to pay at the pump. Despite the fact that I wasn't paying with cash, and had no reason to worry about going over or getting change back, I still did that same thing I've done all my life, slowly closing in on $10.00: $9.92. $9.95. $9.99... ah... did it.

And each time I do that, I think Why? Why not just stop at $9.97, or $10.01, or $11.37, for that matter? But I don't. It just doesn't seem right, pumping gas to some weird number.

They are baby geniuses.

I think maybe the hardest part about parenting

-- other than finding a way to keep the pants on the Babies!--

is not knowing what's "normal" or not normal. It starts with the pregnancy itself: how much weight should be gained, what should be eaten, how much should the baby kick, how much should the baby NOT kick, and so on. It drove me crazy.

Then, once the Babies! are there, it's even worse: should they be sitting up? Holding their heads up? Crawling? Standing? Walking? Running? Talking? Eating this? Not eating that?

And other parents around me are no help. I think they're just showing off. I'll say something at the park like "No, they don't talk much yet, they've got maybe 20 words, counting 'banano' as a word," and other parents say something like "Oh, well, my kid's already writing his dissertation for Harvard. He's 1. Your kid sucks."

Back when the Babies! were in daycare, there was another set of twins, and I asked one of their parents whether their babies slept through the night, 'cause ours weren't.

"Oh, sure, they sleep for 12 hours straight," the mom said. But she looked really tired, the kind of tired you get from having kids that don't sleep through the night and then having to lie about it to me.

I've learned to deal with it by going to "Parents Connect," a website where you can pick up all kinds of parenting tips and advice, and get actual posts from other actual parents, parents who don't have the same incentive to lie because they're not standing there in the room with you.

Like today, I was reading an article on "50 Ways To Take The Junk Out Of Junk Food," about a book of that name that gives tips on how to get kids to eat healthier. Since Mr F and Mr Bunches exist primarily on chocolate chip cookies, it's nice to find out that other parents have that problem, and that there's a book about it out there.

And to you other parents that I meet: I'm kidding about all of this. Mr F and Mr Bunches not only speak in complete sentences, they do so in English, Latin and Greek. All at the same time. While piloting a space shuttle. Manually.

For Want Of A Pen And Paper, The Kingdom Was Lost (I Fought The Library, 2)

I am fighting the library over their claim that I did not return two DVDs, and I intend to win. Part 1 of this is here.

No sooner did I get home yesterday than I found, sitting right on Sweetie's desk, a partially torn-DVD cover for the Baby Galileo DVD I had only just hours before emailed the library about, claiming that I had returned it.

Which puts me, I think, on the wrong side, here, morally, at least a little. But I decided how I'd handle it: I would simply take that DVD on Saturday morning, before the library opened, and drop it in the slot, before anyone knew. That would correct the problem, because then I would, in fact, have returned the DVD, just like I said in my email. Of a day earlier. But, what, is timing everything in morality?

I had, on Friday night, already, taken back a couple of CDs I borrowed, and dropped those into the after-hours slot, with Sweetie as my witness: I made her come with me and open each and make sure that the proper CD was in there and then watch while I went up to the return slot and put them in, so it was almost like I was returning it a day earlier.


Then, this morning, I loaded up Mr F and Mr Bunches to go to the library and put my plan into action. But I got a crisis of conscience on the way there, and thought what kind of example am I setting?

That, and I found, in the car, the case to another DVD that I thought I'd returned, meaning that I'd sent that one back in the wrong case.

So I decided, instead, to do the right thing, "the right thing" being return the DVD, and the DVD case, with a note telling them what was going on, and with that morally-correct position in mind, I pulled up in the parking lot and was ready to write the note when I realized that Sweetie has neither paper nor a pen in her car (which is the car I have to take with the Babies!, because it's got the car seats.)

I finally found the back of a house listing for one of the McMansions we'd wanted to price to see how rich you have to be to live near my boss, but I couldn't find a pen, and I didn't want to wait and take the Babies! into the library and try to explain the whole thing while they ran amuck.

Instead, I took the Babies! to the mall playground and spent the day not going to the library, and my page on their website says I still have an overdue DVD, and I'm onto Plan C, only I don't know what that is.

But I will win this.

There is music that's good for crawling backwards into a cupboard, and music that's not so good. That's really my point here.

I may not look like the kind of guy who can install a sink, but I am exactly that kind of guy: the kind of guy who, when the faucet to the kitchen sink inexplicably gets broken

-- "inexplicably" meaning simply "I can't figure out which kid did it, anymore than I can figure out which kid downloaded spyware onto our computer this morning while I was playing with the Babies! at the mall playground" --

But when that faucet inexplicably joins the ranks of the hundreds of vacuum cleaners and toilet seats and once a bed plus our old entertainment center, and breaks for no reason whatsoever, it didn't even phase me. I just put on the old Lisa Hannigan CD (ideal for fixin' stuff) and get out my tools, then realize that I don't have the right tools to fix a sink, my only tools being a sort of jack-knife-y thing that has a variety of wrenches and screwdrivers that flip out (it's like a Swiss Army knife only with screwdrivers), so instead I take the iPod over to the store to pick out the right tools, and a faucet, and more of the right tools, and a new sink, and then back home, where I argue with the kids about whether I should get to listen to my music while I fix the inexplicably-broken sink

-- their argument being I just listened to my music the whole time I was at the store, and my argument being if I have to crawl backwards into a cupboard, I don't want to listen to "Linkin Park" while I do it--

and then I fix the sink, and it still works, mostly, to this day, although I noticed that it's started to leak a little (inexplicably, of course). Still, I'm ready, this time: I've got my tools already, I've got a stainless steel sinks website bookmarked so that I can just point & click and wait for the sink to arrive at my doorstep, saving me the trouble of a drive to the hardware store, and I've got the iTunes set to my playlist... so I'm ready for anything.

Unless... you don't think they'd stick the vacuum in the sink, do you? 'Cause I'm not ready for that.

P.S.: If you need a sink, maybe check that website out. Whole sale prices, free shipping in the 48 states (Sorry, Hawaiians, but you live in paradise, so do you really need free shipping on top of that) and more sinks than even my kids could ever break.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Sweetie's Hunk of the Week, 8:

It's Sweetie's Hunk Of The Week: Behind The Scenes!

Yesterday, on the way home from work, I asked Sweetie who the "Hunk of the Week" would be. "You," she said. I said she couldn't pick me, and she insisted that she could. I finally said "Fine, I'll pick Ryan Reynolds," and she said "Well, he might be okay." Then, after a pause, she said: "Or Owen Wilson." About which I noted "Well, you did just watch Marley & Me, so that'd be okay."

Then, I got home from work, and noticed that the desktop picture on our computer had changed from "Christian Bale Tanning," (a picture Sweetie had put there to replace The Boy's Victoria's Secret models) and instead was Owen Wilson.

"Did you put this up before, or after, we talked?" I asked Sweetie. Out of deference to her, I'm not going to say what her answer was. So here's Sweetie's Hunk of the Week:Owen Wilson.

You/Sweetie Know Him As: The laid-back slacker guy who, in "Marley & Me," got married and had a family and turned into a decent guy (so I gather, from the ads), thereby giving women hope that the Owen Wilson's of the world could turn into decent marrying stock and probably making many women regret dumping that one guy in high school or college. Not Sweetie: She gambled right and got me. I'm her Owen Wilson.

I know him as: Actually, Owen Wilson's played that guy a lot, hasn't he? His IMDB biography proclaims him a "self-proclaimed troublemaker," and notes at least two movies where he was a loser guy who turned out to be the right guy after all (Wedding Crashers; You, Me & Dupree). He was kind of like that in Starsky & Hutch, too, if you substitute "Partnering with Starsky" for "marrying Kate Hudson." But I know Owen Wilson from way before he was secretly convincing women that the no-good-guy was husband material: In Bottle Rocket, he managed to play a small-time robber who starred in the single saddest scene, ever, in any movie, featuring a scooter and a jumpsuit. I'd have joined his team, too.

Reason I Tell Myself Sweetie Likes Him: I already said it: I'm Sweetie's Owen Wilson: a late bloomer, the kind of guy who used to wear cutoff shorts to the office and then one day turned into great husband material, the kind of guy who wears pants to the office. Clearly, Sweetie looks at Owen's characters and sees me.

Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him: "Because of his nose."

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Reason For Liking Him: Still fits. My nose is kind of crooked to. I win!

P.S.: The picture was up before I talked to her. But you didn't hear it from me.

It's a real website, I bet. Maybe.

This is what scares Sweetie about me, just a little, I think: I am capable of sitting at our dining room table, apparently calmly eating a bowl of oatmeal and seemingly reading the paper, and then bust out a comment like this actual quote:

"I bet we could simply knock out the wall between the dining room and kitchen and turn that counter into a breakfast bar. Of course, we'd have to find a new place to put the refrigerator."

See what a creative guy I am? So far, though, Sweetie has put the kibosh on the knocking out of any walls in any portion of our house, or even of moving the refrigerator. Which means that I am frustratingly trapped in a house that continues to look the exact same way, every day, and which stubbornly is NOT increasing it's resale value and stubbornly persists in not having a breakfast bar.

If we lived in Denver, at least, I could probably convince Sweetie to go with this Denver Remodeling outfit, Sugarbush Construction, LLC. They've got a lot of good tips right on their website, things like "find out how much it's going to cost," and they also point out that some remodeling projects might be a loss, overall, if you remodel and raise the price of your house too far above the average price for your neighborhood.

It's neat to find a site like that, one that just encapsulates all the information you need and provides an easy way to get in touch with the company itself. I should bookmark the page for Sweetie -- and I would, except that she already bookmarked "AbsolutelyNoKnockingThingsDown.Com."

Summer Nights (From The Cheesecake Truck To The End Of The Line, Part 2)

Just before I got married to Sweetie, I made a mixtape to take on our honeymoon road trip to New York. The other day, I found that tape and decided to tell the story of our honeymoon through the songs on that tape. This is part 2. Click here for the table of contents.

2. Summer Nights:

I met a girl, crazy for me/

Met a boy, cute as can be:

The first full day of our Honeymoon began with that most romantic of errands, a trip to the grocery store to get some snacks for the drive. Our general plan was this: Drive from Madison, Wisconsin, to Niagara Falls, and then down to New York City.

We had one week, a rental car, that mixtape, and not nearly enough money. We had plenty of love, but needed some snacks, too, because day one was to take us from Madison to exotic... Cleveland.

The car was rented by my family as part of our wedding present. Back then, Sweetie and I had just our one usual car, the car we ultimately called "Denty," a maroon Hyundai Elantra that Sweetie had bought to use as her car, and which became the family car when my own Hyundai died.

My Hyundai had been less-than-affectionately nicknamed the Annoying Mobile, a name it earned a year before, when I had driven it to a court hearing about 4 hours north of where we lived. That was back in the time when I had my own business, working as a sole practitioner lawyer. Life as a lawyer on my own, at the start of my career, meant that I would take virtually any case, anywhere, if the person promised to pay me some money. I can recall one client who called me on the phone one day and asked if I could be hired for a criminal defense matter.

"Sure," I said. I talked a bit and then quoted her an initial retainer fee of $500.

"Can I bring only $400?" she asked. Four hundred dollars was two months' rent on my tiny, windowless office. Or, put another way, four hundred dollars would buy me twenty of the orange couches that made up 1/3 of the furniture in my outer office/lobby -- the other 2/3 being a matching orange chair and a coffee table. By "matching," I mean the orange chair matched the orange couch -- but both were a shade of orange that matched exactly nothing else in the entire world. I'd picked them up at Goodwill. All the best law offices are furnished by Goodwill.

That orange couch, though, was the single best piece of furniture I have ever owned. I miss it, and wish I'd saved it. It was so comfortable.

The client who was going to bring $400 called me the next morning and asked to move the meeting back a little, and said "I've only got $250, is that okay?" I was getting little warning buzzers from the lawyer equivalent of the Spider Sense, but $250 was $250 and I had about $35 in my business account, which doubled as my only account.

"Okay," I said.

She showed up, an hour later than even the postponed meeting, and said "I've only got $150." I took the case anyway. I defended her, got the charges dismissed, and sent her bills for years and years. The total I got paid from her was $150.

Which helps explain how I ended up at a court hearing four hours north of my actual office. Yeah, 300 miles seems a long way to drive for a hearing, but I had been promised that I would get paid for that case, too. A promise of payment seemed better than doing nothing at all -- then. Now, I look back and think If I wasn't getting paid, why was I working? They don't teach you the answers to those questions in law school.

The hearing itself was interesting in only one aspect: The lawyer on the other side, in arguing to the judge, pointed out that my client could hire a "hot shot, big city lawyer from Madison." I'd never thought of myself that way -- having driven up there in my 1987 Hyundai and wearing my $7 sportcoat from the discount rack at Target. I'd won the hearing-- as befits a hot-shot, big-city lawyer from Madison, and then had gone out to start my car.

It didn't start.

I tried it a few times, and it still didn't start. I sat there for a second, and wondered what to do. Settling in to live in that town, or walking, were the first two options that sprang to mind, and neither seemed great. Neither did calling Sweetie and asking her for a ride.

I did call her, going back inside to use a payphone in the Courthouse, and having to avoid people overhearing, including my opponent, who was still lingering around there. This was the winter, and I was way up north, and as it got darker out, it started snowing, too. I had to call Sweetie on a calling card and hope that she was in.

She was in, and I explained to her what was going on, and said that I'd try to find a tow truck or mechanic or someone who could come and take a look at it, and that I'd call her back later. I then flipped through the Yellow Pages and found a mechanic who had a tow truck and he agreed to come take a look at it. When he did take a look at it, he said the battery was dead, and that it had died because of something-or-other. Those weren't his exact words, but they might as well have been; whatever it was he said was wrong, I can't remember it now and it didn't matter then, except for one thing: the thing that he said was wrong was the exact thing that I had paid $265 a few weeks before to have fixed.

(That would result in my filing a small claims lawsuit against that mechanic and getting my $265 back, one of many suits I've filed on my own behalf in my time. Never make a lawyer angry.)

He got the car started and said this: "Don't shut it off until you get home, because it may not start again."

I thanked him, paid him the $50, and then started to head out. I had to stop for gas, which I did in town, and that was nerve-wracking because I had to leave the car running while I did that, and then leave the car running while I used the payphone to call Sweetie again and tell her I'd be home in four hours, more or less, but that she should hang by the phone in case something went wrong again and I had to call her.

Then, just before I left that gas station, I bought one of those giant sodas that you can only get at convenience stores, a bucket-sized cup of diet Coke to help wash down the cigarettes I'd be smoking on the way home.

That might have been the worst decision I ever made in my life, as there were almost no stops between that city and Madison, and certainly no stops where I felt like I could just leave the car running and go in and use the restroom, the result being that I had the most uncomfortable 4-hour drive of my life and I learned exactly how long I can hold it before tears form in my eyes. I got back home and went rushing in past Sweetie hollering Hi I love you how was your day as I made it to the bathroom.

The Annoying Mobile would give up the ghost not long after that, dying on the side of the highway and, as its final act in life, teaching me that the "Check Oil" light is more than just a friendly reminder, and we would then be a one-car family, that one car being Denty, the car that got its name when a bicyclist ran into the back of it while we navigated through rush hour traffic near the campus one day.

Denty was a singularly reliable car, never dying, never using much gas, always just carrying us around, but my family had opted to rent us a car for the honeymoon, and I wasn't going to complain about that. We set out for stop one, the grocery store, in our rental car on the first day of the honeymoon, with our suitcases and wedding outfits packed carefully in the trunk of the car.

Taking groceries along on a road trip was something that I'd learned from my parents, a cost-saving measure that not only provided cheaper snacks along the way, but also gave a chance to eat meals even if you couldn't find a restaurant, and had the added benefit of, one time in South Dakota, making us all violently ill when we, as a family, learned that mayonnaise doesn't take long to go bad in the South Dakotan heat. Sweetie and I would not be packing mayo on this trip, but we did want to pick up sodas and snacks to have ready in a cooler during our drive, both to conserve funds and because, well, when I'm driving, I like to have sodas and snacks.

That's one of the pleasures of the road trip: Road trip food. There are certain things that I only eat when I'm on the road driving, things like BBQ Frito Twists, and giant 144-ounce sodas, and beef jerky. It was only a few years ago that I actually realized that they sold beef jerky in grocery stores: I'd only ever eaten it by getting it from a plastic bin at a gas station or convenience store. Then, one day, The Boy asked us to get some beef jerky for snacks at home, and I said I wasn't going to a gas station just to get snacks, and he said they had it at the grocery store, that it was right by the frozen chicken, and it turns out he was right: they sell beef jerky right in the grocery store.

That just seems wrong. Beef jerky is driving food. "Driving food" is food that can be eaten with one hand and that won't spill or leak out. Big Macs are not driving food; McDonald's Cheeseburgers are. Restaurant pizza is not driving food; cold pizza is. Beef Jerky is driving food, and it's pretty much the epitome of driving food: there's no way to spill it, plus, if you drop it on the floor, you can pretty much just brush it off and go on eating it, as the protective coating seems to be germ- and dirt-resistant.

Our driving food of choice on the honeymoon consisted mainly of soda, a variety of potato chips, and "Lunchables." I couldn't resist the Lunchables: They had miniature hot dogs and miniature cheeseburgers. Suitably stocked up, we set out for a thrilling, romantic honeymoon.

Two hours later, we were still waiting for the thrill, and romance, to set in. Whenever I think about a road trip, I think these things:

Cool music on the radio. Great scenery. Snacks. Beef jerky. Soda. The miles flying by. Skycrapers, canyons, shadows flitting across the windshield artfully and cinematically, the kind of stuff that makes up a "road trip" montage in a movie.

But the reality of a road trip, if you live in Wisconsin, is this: All roads lead through Illinois. It's virtually impossible to drive out of Wisconsin and go anywhere interesting without first going through Illinois. To the east of Wisconsin is Lake Michigan; unless your car floats, you're not leaving that way. To the north is Lake Superior: ditto. To the west is Minnesota, which is boring and cold, and through which you can only reach greater and greater depths of boring coldness: Head west out of Wisconsin and you hit, in order, Minnesota, then the Dakotas, then either Montana or Idaho, I'm not sure which, but it's really the same thing, either way, and then Washington or Oregon, which in my mind are made up entirely of forests teeming with otters and bears and streams in which salmon are constantly heading up stream.

(That being one of two things I know about salmon: they head upstream. The other thing I know about salmon is my mom used to make salmon patties.)

No, to get from Wisconsin to anywhere you'd want to go, you have to go through Illinois, and Illinois (together with most of Indiana and Ohio, which are simply Illinois but further east) is composed almost entirely of sheer boredom. I have driven a lot of places in the United States, and I can say that there is no place more boring to drive through than Illinois. I have driven through the great plains, through Kansas and Oklahoma and states that appear to be completely devoid of scenery, and even they were more interesting to drive through than Illinois. Illinois has almost nothing interesting about it. The scenery in Illinois is composed almost entirely of the kinds of fields and suburbs and small cities and trees that are so nondescript, they fail to register as scenery at all. They might as well be cardboard cutouts labeled "Tree." "House" "Off Ramp."

The trees in Illinois always seem to be caught somewhere between Winter (no leaves) and summer (too many leaves.) They don't turn colors, they're not starkly bare, they have no flowers. The houses in Illinois, in my memory, are all gray. The grass: always that blah-yellowy-color that grass is in the Midwest around April 1, the color of the end of winter.

Illinois would have absolutely nothing going for it if it weren't for Chicago, and its highway Oasis rest stops.

Chicago is worth seeing -- but not if you're trying to get through Illinois. If you're trying to go to Chicago, the city is great: it's got America's largest skyscraper and neat buildings and a lot to do and see. But if you're trying to get past Chicago, the city is awful. In our family, "Chicago" stood for more than just a large city that wasn't too far away. It stood for The Worst Traffic Anyone Can Imagine: the "Chicago Rush Hour," which even as I type it now causes me to feel a moment of dread.

As kids, we were taught a few simple lessons over and over: things like "the neighbors will look down on us if they ever hear you kids fighting like that," and "the world is full of serial killers just waiting for their chance," and "Avoid the Chicago Rush Hour." Living in Wisconsin, you'd think that latter one would not be one of the Cardinal Rules, and/or that it would not be that hard to do, but you'd be wrong about both those thinkings.

You’d be wrong because, as I said, to get anywhere interesting from Wisconsin, you have to go through Illinois, and that generally means going through, or past, or around, Chicago. So when we were kids, every family trip began at 4:30 a.m., a time that was selected as the optimal time to avoid the Chicago Rush Hour.

When I grew up, and began to question some of the rules I’d absorbed growing up, the “Chicago Rush Hour” was one of those that I began to think about. Leaving at 4:30 a.m., from where we lived, meant that we generally arrived in Chicago at about 7 a.m., if not a little after that. When I was a kid, I’d never given that much thought. I’d instead assumed that Chicago had more traffic than any other city anywhere, because when I was young and we’d drive through Chicago, I assumed that we had avoided Rush Hour, so the fact that we were in Chicago and it was wall-to-wall with cars and Dad was swearing and we weren’t moving meant that Chicago had terrible traffic all the time; I never knew, when I was a kid, that “Rush Hour” meant that time from 7 to 9 a.m., and that we’d always, always, hit Rush Hour.

Chicago, at the time of our honeymoon, still held that fear for me, and so I had wanted to start early to avoid the Chicago Rush Hour. I didn’t even want to see Chicago on our honeymoon, for fear that the entire trip would be spent sitting in Rush Hour Traffic.

On the other hand, I did want to see the Illinois Roadside Oasis rest stops. That’s the only other thing that’s worth seeing about Illinois: the Oasis rest stops that they build on overpasses above the highway. From when we were young, I’d loved the Oasis rest stops. We’d be on a road trip with our parents, me and my brothers sitting in the back of our cars fighting about whose legs were touching whose, and then we’d all get a little quiet as we saw the Oasis coming up, a bridge across the highway, and on that bridge, a series of stores and shops and restaurants – usually a junky souvenir shop, and a place to get coffee and Illinois lottery tickets, and a McDonald’s or a Burger King. It didn’t matter, though, what the shops were. It mattered that they were there, and that they were there stretched across the highway. There were no shops like that back in Hartland, Wisconsin, where we grew up: People didn’t put shops across the highway. Whenever we stopped at an Oasis for gas, me and my brothers would crowd out and browse around the souvenir shops, finding our names on a license plate or wondering what the shot glasses with the State of Illinois on them were for, before getting back into the car and settling back in for a round of Alphabet Game and demarcation of whose portion of the back seat was whose.

But as we set out, Sweetie and I, on that first day of our honeymoon, those Oasis rest stops were far away, and before we would get to them – the only enjoyable part of the trip through Illinois—we had to first go through the tedium of the beginning of any road trip.

The beginning of a road trip is sheer boredom, even on a honeymoon – tedium and a long drive through familiar roads and familiar towns and familiar billboards that you’ve seen many times before. True, this was my honeymoon, and that was exciting, but it wasn’t as though Sweetie and I were just getting to know each other. We’d been dating and then engaged for a pretty long time, and so we were comfortable and familiar with each other. The thrill of the wedding was still there, the fun of the reception and the pleasant buzz of being married… married, husband-and-wife… but that buzz wears down when you’ve got 100 miles to go before you get anywhere even remotely interesting.

We drove down I-90 towards Illinois. I had a road map marked out with our path and knew more or less what we were looking for. This was the era before cell phones and before the Internet really caught on, at least with me, and before things like “GPS” and “Mapquest” existed, so we had a road map that I’d traced out our route on, hoping that I was reading it correctly and that I’d written everything down correctly. I had scouted out a route that would take us around Chicago – no Rush hour for us – and then curve east again towards Indiana and on to Cleveland, where we had to be that night to check into our hotel.

We chatted as we drove, talking about the wedding and relatives and the kids and how nice everything was, and we put in the Honeymoon Mixtape, and the first time through started what would become a habit on that trip: When “Summer Nights” came on, we sang along with it, me taking the John Travolta parts, of course, and Sweetie doing Olivia Newton-John’s parts. That was how we passed the morning: Singing along with the tape, talking, eating Lunchables and drinking the juice boxes, and avoiding Chicago’s Rush Hour, which I did quite successfully.

Too successfully, as it turns out. We drove for several hours, and never caught a glimpse of Chicago. Or the Oasis rest stops that I knew should be on the way. Or even a glimpse of a sign pointing us towards Indiana. Along with lacking a GPS, I also lacked a compass and was trying to steer not just by the map but by judging where the sun was in the sky to tell what direction we were heading in. The map, and my logic, said we were heading East and that in fact we were only a few miles from the Illinois-Indiana border.

The sun said nothing: it was mid-afternoon by then (we’d gotten a late start, making it all the more remarkable that we missed the Chicago Rush Hour) and in mid-afternoon, in May, in the Midwest, the sun is more or less directly overhead.

Sweetie had not been paying too much attention and possibly might have slept for a while. I didn’t alert her to my concerns that perhaps Map+Logic were wrong, and that we were not heading in any direction that we actually wanted to be heading. Instead, I continued to talk and listen to the tape and secretly I began watching road signs, trying to figure out what roads or cities we were near.

That was hard, because, again, outside of Chicago, Illinois is a Blah Wasteland that appears to be devoted entirely to growing Blah Yellow Grass, and appears, too, to have no cities anywhere. It’s as though Chicago’s gravity sucked all the life and interestingness out of the rest of the state.
Eventually, though, I saw a highway marker and a city sign, and announced that it was time for a rest stop. We found a roadside rest stop and Sweetie and I each went to our respective bathrooms. I hurried, and ran back outside to break out the map and retrace where we were versus where we wanted to be.

We’d traveled about an hour or two south of Chicago, and thus an hour or two south of the part where we’d wanted to head East into Indiana. We were on a direct collision route with Kentucky, if we wanted to keep going the way we were going, which we didn’t necessarily want.

I was busy trying to trace a route with my finger along through Kentucky and then back up to Cleveland to see if I could just play this one off as “This was our route all along” when Sweetie came back out and saw me looking at the map.

“What’ s wrong?” she asked. “Are we lost?”

“No,” I told her – because we weren’t lost, not anymore. I knew where we were. “Just checking our route to see how we’re doing.” I said.

“How are we doing?” she asked.

“A little behind schedule,” I said.

Then we hopped back into the car and I began to pull out, and I mulled it over: Head on to Kentucky and hope that we eventually find Cleveland? Or head back the way we’d come and hope that Sweetie didn’t realize what was going on? Which was worse, I pondered: Beginning my marriage by almost getting lost, sort of misleading Sweetie, and then confessing that I was not so great at finding our way?

Or beginning my marriage by driving through Kentucky and hoping for the best?

Bananos Away: (I Fought The Library, 1)

I guess I thought it was over.

With the finding of The Wild DVD, I thought the library and I could go back to being friends, but I see now that it's not. I took the DVD back yesterday and got my Lensman book and another DVD for the Babies!, and then, at home, later on, I thought to myself Hey, I want to request a book from them, so I went online and logged into my account and noticed that they said I had an overdue DVD, Baby Einstein's Meet The Orchestra.

So I checked with Sweetie, and we both agreed: This one, we had returned. We knew we did because we'd checked it out about a month ago, and Mr F and Mr Bunches had loved it (animals playing orchestra instruments, and a piano, which Mr Bunches called a banano), and when we'd taken it back, we'd agreed it was too bad we had to return it.

Just to be sure, I checked, though, and it is nowhere in our house. So I am not caving in on this one. I am going to fight the library and prove that they, not I, are wrong.

Step one: I emailed the Library Director, just today, and said this:

In reviewing my account online yesterday, I noticed that there were two errors. The online account shows that two Baby Einstein' DVDs: "Meet the Orchestra" and "Baby Galileo" are overdue. However, I returned both of those. My wife was with me when I did so. Can you please correct the error?

That's right. The library director. I'm taking this right to the top.

Clouds Rule:

Chad, we will need to do a background check on you.

We had a mystery caller at our house for about a week. About 1-2 times per day, someone would call and then hang up if we answered or the machine. Caller ID showed the number, but when we'd call back we'd get no answer or machine or voicemail.

I thought maybe it was a client of mine, hoping to get me at home. But if I don't take calls at the OFFICE, why would I take calls at HOME?

The mystery was solved on Tuesday, when Middle said "It's probably Chad," without elaborating. Further questioning revealed little about Chad beyond "He's a guy" and she knows him.

We could have solved it faster if we'd used the Phone Number Hunter, an easy-to-use, handy website that lists areas codes for all regions, and also allows reverse phone lookup. I just put the "Chad" number in there and got some background information on him; if it were serious -- like, if he was "A guy" AND he wanted to date Middle, I could get even more information with just a few clicks.

I like stuff like that -- it's like pulling teeth to get information out of Middle (I know, because I've ALSO tried to pull her teeth)(unlicensed dentistry being one of my many hobbies) and whenever I can just go get information without having to go through that, I'm all for it. Plus it helps me identify people who call my cell phone and don't leave messages, and stop prank calls. The possibilities are endless.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

It would have been better to start the day with this (First Thoughts).

When I came in this morning, I had to start up my ancient computer, which takes (no kidding) 20 minutes. Then I had to restart it because of problems. While I did that, I had to take part in a conference call that ultimately was rescheduled for two months from now. Then I tried to fax a letter. Twice. And it didn't work. So I had to finish rebooting my computer and open up my email and then attach the letter, which nearly caused it to crash.

And now it's 9:44 and I've gotten nothing done, but I did find this, which is kind of helping to put me back on track.

Update: That's a "response" to this:

Which is okay but I like the Beaker better.

Update, 2: Now my browser's "Back" button isn't working. My computer is less technologically advanced than a pile of Rice Krispies.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Quote of the Day, 20

"The library isn't as good a friend as they pretend to be. I'm getting screwed."

Tonight, on the way to grocery shopping, Sweetie and I had to stop at the library to return some of the boys' DVDs and so I could pick up The Chronicles of the Lensmen, Volume 1, (which I decided I wanted to read after the Lens was nominated as The Best Superhero Gadget over on The Best of Everything).

I had my stuff all ready to check out, and I'd corraled Mr F, who'd gone in with me. That, Mr F coming in, had already caused problems, because at the last minute Mr F decided he did not want to return one of the videos and I couldn't get him to give it up, so we were going to keep that another week.

Anyway, I was ready to check out and then the guy said "Um, there's a problem." I thought the problem was a mix-up over a previous DVD I'd returned, which they said wasn't returned but I know I did, and I even had seen it on the shelf, but before I could explain that, he said that we hadn't returned "The Wild."

And I said "I thought we did," but he claimed we hadn't. He said we'd returned the case but not the DVD.

How can you fight the library? It's my word against theirs, and they've got the power, as they proved because they wouldn't let me take out my books or the new DVDs. (They at least let Mr F keep his video another week, but the guy acted like he was doing me a big favor.) Then he said if I didn't return the DVD by tomorrow, I'd owe the library $30.

Thirty bucks!

So I left the library, regretting that I'd ever decided to become a Friend of the Library and fumed about it all through grocery shopping, and then finally came to the conclusion that I couldn't win this: I couldn't prove that I'd returned the DVD and the case together, even though I knew I had. So we stopped on the way home at Best Buy, and I bought "The Wild" on DVD for $14.99, figuring at least I could go back to taking out books (because this time Sweetie absolutely refused to let me just start using her card, the way I did years ago in my last Library Feud), and I decided I'd just have to suck up the cost of the DVD and chalk it up to experience...

... which is when I said today's quote...

... and then we got home and Sweetie found the DVD sitting on her desk.

But you, unlike me, pretty much saw that ending coming from the moment you began reading this, right?

The real kicker: The movie was stupid.

I'll take bids on the Packer football, but I'll never part with the Flutie photo. NEVER!

I have only two things that could properly be considered sports collectibles: my football autographed by every member of the Superbowl-winning, Brett Favre-led Green Bay Packers, and my far-more-valuable photo of me standing in front of Doug Flutie's empty locker in Buffalo.

I bet that latter one is priceless.

But I've had my hands on some other sports memorabilia. I had an autograph from former Packer Brent Fullwood. And I got Bo Ryan and Barry Alvarez to autograph some junk for my father-in-law.

All in all, though, kind of a sad collection, given how much I love sports.

I was thinking about that tonight because I was browsing around "Authentic Sports," a site that sells... authentic sports collectibles. I browsed over there in the first place because The Boy's birthday is coming up, and if anything, he's more of a sports nut than I am, and I thought maybe getting him some autographed stuff might be kind of cool -- we checked out a store once when we were on vacation, and he seemed to like it.

This site, the Authentic Sports, seemed to be even better than a store at a mall. It's easier to find stuff, for one thing. The Boy likes football best, and they've got tons of autographed football stuff -- so much that I got lost in nostalgia browsing around. I went looking for maybe an autographed jersey and got all distracted by the classic autographs they have: Mean Joe Greene, Joe Namath, Bart Starr -- I was just clicking on all of them, until I noticed that they had a Ben Roethlisberger autographed jersey. He's The Boy's favorite, and it's on sale now-- most of their stuff is on sale.

They offer free shipping on any order over $100, and it's easy, even FUN, to click around and find all kinds of things. Now I've just got to go wake Sweetie up and explain to her why this is not only a good present, but a good INVESTMENT, too. Just like my comic books.

Blackmailing Matt, 2:

My plan to blackmail my brother Matt into posting the video of him trying to learn to surf in a mall has not yet paid off -- which means my plan to then turn that video into an ongoing series (called "Matt Does Crazy Stuff,") has also not yet paid off.

But I was serious: I'm going to continue to try to prove to him that there are worse things than having an embarrassing video of yourself on the Internet. "Worse things" in this case being a list of made-up, but possibly true facts about Matt:

Matt didn't cave in the face of Macarena-related embarrassment, claiming instead to have caught an 18-pound virtual fish... so let's try this one, the Second of the Embarrassing Facts That Might Well Be True About Matt Pagel:

2. When Matt was told that there was no word in the English language that rhymes with orange, he tried to invent one, and spent almost two weeks peppering his conversations with that word, which he insisted was an actual word. Thus, if you talked to Matt during those two weeks, you were likely to have heard him say "Yeah, I was just putting on a little blornge."

So if you know or see Matt Pagel, ask him if he's still wearing the blornge, and tell him "Post the video, Matt!"

I have never been sure of the classification of roses. For a while, I guessed "mineral."

The final phase of Operation NeverMow-- the name I've now given to my 2-year project (a 2-year project entering it's fifth or sixth year) to convert our yard into a perennial garden that never needs to be mowed (get the name now?) is the rose bushes that I've put up near the front by the mailbox: miniature roses on a couple of bushes that should eventually look really nice, or so I thought when I picked them up for $2.99 on clearance.

(Operation NeverMow is on a tight budget.)

Then I find out that rose bushes are particularly susceptible to all kinds of pests, and suddenly that $2.99 isn't looking so well spent, because I don't want to be always having to go out and spray pesticides and also we live on a hill and at the bottom of the hill, 200 yards away, is a lake, and any pesticides I spray that don't go straight to the groundwater are going to end up in the lake killing fish and boaters and waterskiiers, and I might be okay with getting rid of a few of those guys on jet skis, but is it really my place to determine that?

Oh, the moral questions involved with roses!

Moral questions I can avoid simply by getting some organic pest control, like the Safer Brand Bug Patrol, whose organic bug patrol kills over 40 insects.

The Safer® Brand Bug Patrol comes ready to spray, and it wipes out, on contact, almost any bug you can think of: beetles, whiteflies, aphids, even something called "chinch bugs," which, while I don't know what they are, they don't sound like the nice kind of bugs, like butterflies, and so I want them out of here.

But while it's lethal to bugs, it doesn't hurt the environment and can be used on lawns, trees, shrubs, and flowers. Which is good, because I'm pretty sure roses are either a shrub or a flower, so it'll work on them. I just need to hook it to the hose, spray, and it's sayonara, bugs, aloha roses.


The Sharks were 0-13: (Take Stock 1)

Take Stock is a new feature where I will talk about the things I have in a given location.

The Top Of My Dresser: This is the cleanest the top of my dresser ever is, typically. Shown here, moving roughly from left to right:

  • The Calvin & Hobbes bound collection. On top of that is a cat statue that actually belongs to Sweetie, and an old Father's Day card from Middle.
  • The softball signed by my old softball team, "The Sharks."
  • My priceless collection of LPs, including the outermost one, a double album of Duran Duran's live "Arena." Hidden in there, though, are some very old, extremely valuable Beatles' LPs, and a record by "Trip Shakespeare," as well as an extended cut of "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell.
  • Then there's the tiny drawer that holds my old glasses and videotapes from when we had a non-digital video camera, with a mirror above it. The mirror has pictures of Mr F and Mr Bunches taped to it, plus the ripped-off hand from the first "Elmo So Big" book they went through, plus a note that reminds me that if I ever reach a day where my black pants no longer fit, I'm going on a diet.
  • Also on the tiny drawer shelf: "Art," the wooden guy who for a while was a model I used back when I still was trying to teach myself to draw, and
  • "The Romance Wine Glass," which contains mementos of various dates and trips that Sweetie and I have taken in our time together.
  • Miscellaneous objects on top of the drawer include a picture of Sweetie at the Chicago Art Institute, looking at a statue, the cologne and aftershave I got for Christmas or my birthday or something, and a "Christmas Ball" from our trip to Jack In The Box when we went to Las Vegas four years ago.
  • There is a very-hard-to-see Red & Blue Buffalo Bills Beanie Baby Bear.
  • Sitting on the dresser itself: A book I borrowed from a secretary at work and then read half of before getting bored; a letter I have to take into the office and deal with, last week's Isthmus newspaper that I keep forgetting to throw out
  • And a "Mom" heart statue that also belongs to Sweetie.
  • And a picture of a stained-glass art display from the Chicago Art Institute, a picture I took before reading the sign that said I shouldn't be taking pictures of it,
  • And the New Yorker magazine I swiped from the Courthouse, and
  • A Mr. Potato Head ear.

And he won't steal your fossils.

Ever stop to think about the different challenges that face the same type of work depending on where you live?

Take plumbing. If you live in, say, Montana, your local plumber probably needs to know a lot about septic systems and how not to disturb the amazingly-valuable fossils that lie on your ranch.

But if you live in Manhattan, your plumber has to understand how your shower drain interacts with the 15,350 other showers in your high rise on 5th Avenue.

That makes it all the more difficult, and important, to find a qualified plumber -- like Anthony Mirabile, a local Whitestone plumber for Manhattanites. Anthony's site (I've linked to it there) demonstrates why he's the guy that should be called for plumbing problems in the Big Apple.

First, he doesn't bilk you -- right there on the site he says that you can probably take care of some small problems yourself; and, he recommends calling around to get some different quotes and opinions. I like that honesty, right up front.

Second, he shows that he understands the unique challenges that face a city plumber. You don't want to hire a guy that's fresh in off the Big Sky ranch; you want a guy that knows the ins and outs of city plumbing, and who's willing to tell you to shop around and compare his services before hiring him.

I don't understand office politics. What does this mean? (First Thoughts)

We have a dish washer in our office, used for a variety of non-office related dishes.

The only dish I ever have sitting around the office is my coffee cup, the one Sweetie made me. I wash that myself usually/rarely.

Yesterday, though, I had left it in the kitchen area... yes, we have a kitchen area, for some reason, including a stove... and forgotten about it while I met with clients. So this morning, I had to backtrack to remember where I'd left it, and eventually made my way to the kitchen area, where I noticed that someone had put all the dirty dishes into the dishwasher and run it.
All, that is, except my cup, which was sitting on the back of the sink.

If you like what you read here make sure you go buy "Thinking The Lions, And 117* Other Ways To Look At Life (*Give Or Take). It's a collection of some of the best essays I've written, things that are no longer available anywhere else-- including being the only place where you can read my stunning expose of scientific fraud, the essay in which I prove that Velociraptors never existed: "Velociraptors, My Butt!"

All that and more in an attractive and economical package. Click this link to check it out!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Question Of The Day: 54

Why is it that cutting the end off of a banana before eating it somehow makes that end seem inedible?

Mr Bunches likes a banana for breakfast. When I eat a banana myself, I simply peel and eat -- including the pointy end, which I just bite off.

But when Mr Bunches gets a banana, I have to slice it up, and I always, for some reason, in the past, sliced off the ends of it and then threw those away. Then, the other morning, I was about to do that, and I thought why? Why would I do that? So I ate the ends of the banana.

But I've gotta say: It felt weird. I don't know if I'll do it again.

Let's Talk About S-E-X... or let's at least go watch some videos. (But not THOSE kind of videos.)

How did you learn about sex when you were younger? My education came from the most time-honored and reliable of sources: guessing. But I didn't rely solely on that. I'm not crazy. I also got great information from (a) Cable TV, (b) other guys telling stories that were no doubt 100% accurate and (c) more guessing.

That's why I'm the fountain of knowledge I am today. And also why I'm lucky that I don't have more kids than OctoMom and/or more diseases than the CDC. It's also why I try to make sure that my own kids know that they can come to me and ask me anything that's on their mind about sex, and that I will try to answer it. I will, to be sure, answer in the most awkward way possible, probably using metaphors, but I'll at least try to answer it.

I also let the kids know about, just in case, you know, they're weirded out by talking to me about sex -- they can at least go to a reputable source of information, one that will not begin the answer by sighing and thinking "What in God's name made you think of that?" has videos on pregnancy, STDs, basic sex-ed questions, and more. They're prepared using information from actual experts (experts, I mean, who didn't get their info from the places I got my info) and they're informative without being creepy or lame, which is important because it means the kids might actually pay attention to them.

That kind of thing -- easy to watch, informative, fun videos-- might just mean that this generation of kids will know the answer to that ages-old question "What's the term for someone who believes they won't get pregnant if they jump up and down after sex?"*

*Answer: "Mom."

It's all about the lemurs. (I get paid for doing this, 4)

Yesterday, while waiting between court appearances on two different cases, I got to sit and read parts of the August 4, 2008 edition of New Yorker magazine. It was just laying around the courthouse, and so I swiped it.

It was a rare treat; I ordinarily get to read the New Yorker only when sitting in the Emergency Room, where I spend an inordinate amount of time. Even the fact that it was from 9 months ago wasn't bad, because really there's nothing time-sensitive about articles detailing how a statistician and Red Sox fan thought he saw a lemur in Boston -- the first Boston lemur sighting on record (but the second Massachusetts lemur sighting.)

It would a Supertable among regular Tables.

In our house, the presence of teenagers and two-year-olds means that Sweetie and I have always had to choose, when buying furniture, between two options:

Option 1: Buy cheap furniture so that when The Boy spills ginger ale on it and then goes to bed without even making an attempt to clean it up, we won't be out a lot of money. (And we'll get used to our couch smelling like ginger ale)


Option 2: Buy expensive furniture and then wonder whether the marks made by the toy trucks rolling over them appear to blend in with the expensive wood grain on the coffee table.

Neither of those is a great choice, but we may have another option: furniture from Lexington Furniture at Discount Quality Furniture. Lexington Furniture is sold online from Discount Quality Furniture, which means no high-pressure salespeople, no drafty warehouse stores, no time-consuming trips around town, and they've got great, great furniture.

Shopping at the site is completely easy, too - -just click around, get views of the furniture from all angles, get sales specs and information about it, and the price is right there online, so you can see if it's in your price range right away.

The one that caught my eye today is the "Central Park" dining table shown here. I like to sit at my desk in my office and imagine a dining table that doesn't have ground in Kool-Aid stains, that doesn't wobble when people walk by it -- because it's legs have not been weakened, over the years, by being repeatedly rammed with one of our many vacuum cleaners as people try (sometimes as many as fifteen times in row) to vacuum crumbs near the leg without actually lifting the table leg (only to then give up and leave the crumbs there).

A man can dream... and maybe sneak the credit card out of Sweetie's purse and surprise the whole family with a new dining table. One that's vacuum, truck, and ginger ale- resistant.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ninety Four: Part Eleven: Wherein I Compound Interest, and Try Not To Appear To Be A Waiter.

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.

My morning routine, when I was in Washington, was the same on most weekdays once I went to work for the Pinkerton Risk Assessment Services people. I found that the routine, like my quitting smoking and my ongoing efforts to lose an additional ten pounds, helped keep things feeling as though they were under control.

It's strange to think that the world seemed out of control, given how little actually happened. Many memoirs are written about important events or fascinating happenings or meeting people who are beyond interesting -- or, barring that, being beyond interesting oneself.

Nothing important happened to me in 1994, not in the sense that most people think of it. In retrospect, fifteen years later, I think lots of important things happened to me, but they are the kind of important things that are hidden inside and less noticeable than the unimportant thing that happened. I did not receive any awards. I did not cure anything, or come down with anything. I did not walk somewhere or refuse to get out of bed. I did exercise a lot on two different contingents, try out to be a talk-show host and, at one point hold a monkey on my arm. Those things maybe were the unimportant things that happened to me on the outside that led to important things happening in my mind and beliefs and attitude. But the fact remains that nothing I did in 1994 was, in terms of its impact on the world, even as significant as the person who invented the Pixy Stix. And we don't even know who that was, today. If Mr. Pixy doesn't have a memoir, why should I?

Nor were there fascinating happenings. True, there was one day where it snowed and the city shut down, but that was not really a "fascinating" happening, unless, like me, you were from Wisconsin and marveled that a city could be shut down by about two inches of snow. I remember that day pretty well, actually. It was early on in the semester, and I woke up, as I usually did, about 6 a.m. to have my pre-shower breakfast (a cigarette and a diet Coke) and then shower up and put on one of the three dress shirts that I owned, and one of the few ties I owned.

The dress shirts were a green one and a gray one, both long-sleeved button up shirts that I'd bought at the J.C. Penney Warehouse outlet before I left. My thinking was If I'm going to be working in an office, I need some business clothes. I had a few pairs of nice pants, including a couple of black pants that I had because I'd been working as an usher at a movie theater, and I needed black pants to go with the tuxedo shirt and coat that I wore at that job. But that tux shirt and coat were my only upper-body business attire, and they weren't exactly office-ready if only because they smelled like butter. And boredom. So I'd fired up the old Buick Century that I drove back then, the car with the drooping interior roof, and headed over to the J.C. Penney Outlet, on the theory that an outlet store would have the cheapest prices on clothes, and I needed cheap prices on those clothes. This trip was being financed entirely by student loans , student loans that 1.5 decades later would still be being paid, and which will have ballooned to an astronomical figure as a result of law school and an administrative error which I was entirely unable to cure and the effects of which I could not foresee. If there is a lasting result of my trip to Washington and Morocco in 1994 -- a lasting result beyond a vague sense that something important settled in me during that time, making it a year that deserved to be written about which is, probably, a sense that I have about many years in my life. And many months. And days. And hours.

And spare moments: I think those deserve to be written about, too. Driving home from the office yesterday, I was watching the water trickle down from the snow that was melting on top of my car. It had snowed the night before and in March, I don't try to clear off the snow, I just let it melt. As I drove and the snow melted, it would run down the windshield in rivulets that would tack and turn and branch out in interesting patterns that grew more and more complicated until I had to erase them with the windshield wipers, starting the pattern all over again. And I thought: this is something that should be written about, described, the clear, icy tiny streams of water, 5, 10, 20 of them coursing down my windshield in straight lines as I sit at a stoplight, like sprinters heading for the finish, but then I start up moving and the wind blows them and they begin to backtrack, to turn aside. One splits, then another. Two join up and try to push down against the wind, only to curl backup in a u-turn of melted runoff, and on the side, one streamer of water has grown 10 or 11 tiny branches, all pointing to the left, which are twitching and stirring in the wind but don't have enough water to move on as their own selves... and then clear and start over... and now I've written about that, and so you can see that in my mind, a year spent in Washington and Morocco is no more or less deserving of my (and your) time than a 15 minute commute on a Sunday afternoon when the snow is melting but spring won't get here yet.

If there is a lasting effect, as I said, of 1994 beyond the idea that the year must have meant something, it was those student loans, and part of those student loans is the two shirts that I bought at J.C. Penney's, shirts that have now been lost to history and landfills but which live on in my memory and in the interest on the $32 cost, interest that has been compounding for 15 years at 8%. I made the first payment on my student loans in November, 2008. If you assume that I paid for the shirts in that payment, for simplicity's sake, then those $32 shirts cost me ...


Well, that is a bit deflating. I had to just now go to a calculator to figure that out, which I did because I'd assumed that the number would be astronomical; I'd figured this: those shirts are going to end up costing me $13,000 or something, given how much time has passed and the mysterious way interest works. But it's $101.

Which is probably symbolic of something, but I'd hoped that it would be symbolic in the other direction, so I'm going to ignore the fact that it's almost certainly symbolic of this exercise in remembering. I simply won't draw the line between assumption that minor purchase would, fifteen years later, have incredible impact on finances and assumption that minor student trip would, fifteen years later, have incredible impact on outlook on life.

Moving on, then. The other dress shirt I had was a white dress shirt that had short-sleeves, and it was a dress shirt that I wore exactly one time in Washington, D.C. - -which means that I have, as an adult, worn a short-sleeved dress shirt exactly one time in my entire adult life.

The why of that is this: Frank, the guy who ran Pinkerton, where I interned, was a man of strong beliefs. Not all of those beliefs deserved, maybe, to be elevated to the level of belief, as opposed to quirk, but they were all held so strongly that they moved beyond quirk or personality into belief. Smoking, for instance: Smoking was a belief with Frank. It had to be, as he was the only person I ever met who could outsmoke me . I cannot recall Frank without recalling him holding a cigarette, an ashtray in front of him, and two or three packs of generic cigarettes in front of him or near him.

That's how much Frank smoked. This was 1994, before the real attacks on smoking and cigarettes began, before the tobacco lawsuits made lawyers rich for a long time and states rich for a short time and tobacco companies rich for a medium time. This was when cigarettes were relatively inexpensive, and Frank smoked so many of them that he had to buy the generic cigarettes, those cigarettes that came in the packs that had strange colors, Day-Glo colors that marked them as something that you should look at, when, in fact, looking at them meant that you'd notice that they were generics, and that is something that most people, I assume, would rather not have known about them. Buying generic food is embarrassing enough for most people -- at least, it is for my kids, who would rather starve to death than eat cereal from a bag, and who will also not eat cereal from a plastic cereal container that I pour the cereal into, because if I've poured it into that container, they suspect it must have come from a bag (or else why would I have repackaged it?) -- but buying generic cigarettes is a step below that, even. It says, about the person, that this habit of theirs is so draining that they must try to save money, destroying their fingertips and their odor and their lungs in the most economical way possible.

Despite smoking that much, Frank never had a full ashtray in front of him, so he remained one step above the elderly relatives many people had who would smoke incessantly but never seem to empty the ashtray, so that when they had to put the cigarette out they had to stop, and look down, and examine the ashtray to find a spot, near the edge, where they could stub the cigarette into nonexistence. Frank's ashtrays were not like that: they remained relatively free and ready to accept the latest cigarette.

Frank's other beliefs included that the best lunch in the area was served in a strip club about a half-block away from the offices, a strip club he took us to, once, for a lunch. 1994 was part of a time in which you could not only smoke freely in many offices -- and "freely" means copiously -- but you could also take interns to a strip club for lunch without fear of a lawsuit for creating a hostile atmosphere. I look back on that time now and think this: If I'd played my legal cards right, the settlement would probably have paid off my student loans and I'd have broken even on the whole affair.

The lunch at the strip club, which took place early on in the internship (because it was kind of cold outside, still) but not too early on, because Frank had to make sure, probably, that I was the kind of intern who could go to the strip club for lunch without making a federal case of it (sigh...), was not all that good, either. Anyone, ever, who goes to a strip club, or any establishment which is similar to a strip club, including that Strip-Club-For-Wusses, Hooters, has an excuse for why they are at that strip club, and the most common of those excuses is the food is really good there.

How is that an excuse for going there, though? The excuse is offered up as a rationale, after all. The excuse is given to justify going there in a vain attempt to explain that the person was not there to look at naked people, but there for the food. The person is saying, more or less: I didn't go to look at naked people, I just went there because the food is really good there.

But is there a shortage of restaurants at which the food is really good? Are we expected to believe that someone (Frank, in this case) walks out of his office and looks around and sees, say, five or six restaurants within walking distance, and ticks them off in his mind: Rib place: sucks. Burger joint: sucks. Italian restaurant: sucks. Chinese place: sucks. Diner: Sucks. Strip club: Excellent food, it's just too bad I'll have to eat it with two or three naked women walking around. (sigh...).

The excuse falls apart more still when one is taken there, as an intern, on the pretext that the food is really good there - - which was actually the justification offered by Frank, at the time -- and then, when there, the food is... just so-so. As I recall, it was a sandwich and fries. And not a very good sandwich.

The strippers were not very good, either, but that is probably to be expected of the kind of person whose job it is to strip for businessmen in a suburb of Washington D.C. on a weekday in February. Whatever the stripping hierarchy is, that's got to be pretty near the bottom.

Frank's other belief, the one that I absorbed and carry with me to this day, was the one that resulted in my wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt only the one time in my adult life. At one point during the internship, I wore my sport coat (the gray one I'd had for a while that I got at a discount at a used clothing store) and my white, button-up, short sleeved shirt, and my tie. Then, when I got to work and began the early part of my daily ritual (having a cigarette with Frank), I took off my sportcoat, and had this exchange, which I still recall word-for-word to this day:

Frank: Short sleeves, huh?

Me: Yeah...

Frank: My father told me something when I was a kid. He said that whenever he saw a man wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, he said to himself, "There's a man who's not successful enough to afford air-conditioning," and I've never forgotten that. Makes a person look like a waiter.

I, too, have now never forgotten that, and I still think it about people when I see them wearing a tie with a short-sleeved dress shirt. I think: that man cannot afford air-conditioning. And that he looks like a waiter. Which isn't, I suppose, a bad thing in and of itself -- my roommate in D.C., Rip, was a waiter, too, and made pretty good money doing that -- but the way Frank made it sound, it was a bad thing.

I never wore that shirt again -- instead, opting to rotate among the two dress shirts that I had with me, and varying the ties and my two sport coats and hoping for the best ("the best" being "hoping that nobody notices that I have only two outfits to wear.")

So I was wearing one of those two dress shirts the day that it snowed in Washington and closed the city down, and I went outside to look at the snow that was closing the city down and thought to myself: this? This is closing a city down? There wasn't even enough snow to wet down the tops of my shoes, not even if I tried scuffing my feet through it to do just that. But Washington, it seemed, was ill-equipped to deal with any snowfall, and so the city was shut down, leaving me with a day outside of the already-established ordinary routine, a day that I opted to use to continue to explore the city. In that case, I opted to explore the city by going to the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which was just up the road from Trinity College.

Not my photo.
I'm not capable of aerial

According to its website-- which I had to check, because I remember very few of the details, the Basilica is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, and it has "over 70 chapels and oratories."

I remember it being big -- monumentally big -- but not that big. Also, why "over 70" of something? The point of that, I suppose, is to make it sound bigger, even, than it is. "Over 70" means "somewhere between 71 and 100,000,000,000 or more," so it's possible, I guess, that the Basilica has 100,000,000,000 chapels and oratories... but the number is probably more like 71 or 72.

When I say "over 'x' number of things" I mean "I can't really be bothered to get an accurate estimate," like, say, when applicants for a position at our firm ask "How many people work here?" and I and the other lawyers in the interview shrug and try to count and then say "Over 20."

It is 24 as of today, having just counted in my head. But I may have missed a few here or there.

But others say "over 'x' number of things" to try to expand on the number to make it sound larger. If you make $20,001, and tell someone you make over $20,000, they likely will assume you make $22,000 or $23,000, not $20,001, and so you'll sound a little more important. And if I say there were "over 3" strippers at the lunch Frank took me to, you'd probably guess 5 or 6, instead of 4.

I don't remember how many strippers there were, though. There were more strippers than should ever be present at a lunch. I can tell you that.

So I went to the Basilica on the snowy day, in part because it was a tourist attraction that was nearby and I wouldn't have to use precious money going to it. Most things in Washington are free, which is great, and which is the way tourist attractions should be in our nation's capital, but it required money on the subway to get there and then, once there, money needed to be spent on refreshments and the like, too, so I was always looking to economize. My budget was already feeling constrained -- part of the reason things felt out of control, I'm sure -- by the fact that no money was coming in.

Up until that point, I'd always been, since moving out of my parent's house at least, poor. Maybe I'd been poor before we moved out of my parent's house, too, but if so, I didn't realize it. I thought for a while we were poor, when I was very young, because of a lecture my brothers and I got from my Mom on throwing out milk cartons. She'd called us into the kitchen to yell at us and held up a plastic milk jug that had been put in the garbage under the sink, uncrushed, full-sized.

"This is not how we throw away milk cartons," she said, and proceeded to smash it up and throw it away while lecturing us on how it wasted garbage bags and space. What I took from that lecture was: we are too poor to afford garbage bags.

Then, I didn't think that we were poor, really, until I began hanging out with people who I took to be richer than we were: people who had swimming pools in their yards and whose kids had cars and other luxuries. Never mind that for a long time, we had a swimming pool in our yard (an above-ground one that was eventually taken down because we were too big for it) and that we probably could have had cars given to us if we didn't insist on wrecking the cars that our parents drove, forcing them to incur ever-increasing insurance premiums and car repair bills. Ignoring all that, I'd figured we were poor, or at least poor-er.

But then I learned what poor really was in the Summer of No Money, and had lived poor since then, scrabbling by on fast-food and movie-usher wages, picking up enough money here and there to have bought my own car (the Buick Century mentioned earlier, for $1,000) and some used furniture; I still used my old twin bed from when I was a kid, with my old twin-bed mattresses from when I was a kid on the bed.

And then I learned that poor was even worse when there was not a check coming in a week or two. It's one thing to be poor but know that you'll get paid in two weeks. It's another thing to be poor and have no money coming, anytime soon.

So I was already feeling the pinch of not having a lot of money and not having any money coming in, early on that day in Washington, and that was one reason I opted to simply go to the Basilica: I wouldn't have to spend money on lunch or snacks, because I could come back to the school for lunch and dinner, and I wouldn't have to use my subway money.

The other reason was that I liked going to see churches, and I also liked going to church.

As a kid, I'd begun my student life at a Catholic grade school, a school I attended for three years, right through Ms. Wilhelmi's third grade, before transferring to public schools beginning in the fourth grade. At the Catholic school, St. Charles, I recall going to church every day, which means that if we didn't go to church every day, we sure went an awful lot .

After transferring to public schools, we still continued to go to church every Sunday for Mass, and for a while, I attended "CCD" classes after school. I didn't know what "CCD" stood for then, and I still don't now. Having looked it up just now, I can tell you it stands for the "Confraternity of Christian Doctrine," but that means nothing to me because I don't know what "Confraternity" means.

"CCD" classes were held after school or in the evenings, at St. Charles, and were attended by kids who were Catholic enough to have to go to them, but not so Catholic (or so well off) that they could attend the school itself. I don't recall a single thing about those classes beyond this: They were held in the same third grade room that I'd had for my actual third grade.

Eventually, I stopped going to CCD, and I know that I stopped going before being "confirmed," whatever that is, because when I was a teenager and hung out with my main friends Fred and Bob and Flan, they would occasionally talk about being "confirmed" and going on "retreats" and things like that, and I had no idea what they were talking about.

Religion, as a kid, presented great mysteries to me, but not the type of mysteries that religion is supposed to present. The mysteries presented to me by religion were flip sides of the same coin.

First, when I was very young, I thought everyone was a Catholic. I didn't know there were other religions, and was surprised when my next-door-neighbor friend, Paul, one day said something about going to church. I said that he didn't go to church, because I'd never seen him at our church. He'd said he was Lutheran, which was to me a made-up word and I dropped the subject until later, my mom confirmed that, yes, people were "Lutherans" and that it was a different religion than ours. My mom said the words "Lutheran" and "different religion" in such a way as to convey to me a skepticism: she didn't outright say they were going to Hell, but I understood her perfectly and never mentioned religion to Paul again.

Then, when I was older and hanging out with Fred and Bob and Flan, I was surprised to learn that they were Catholics-- by that point, I'd stopped going to church except on "special occasions" like Easter and Christmas sometimes -- and I'd assumed, without really thinking about it, that nobody was any particular religion, especially not Fred and Bob and Flan. It was difficult to picture them being "religious" to any degree, given that mostly we spent our time driving around in Bob's old 1960's white Impala and trying to drink illegally and talking about "chicks" and smoking Marlboros and Camel Lights and swearing as much as humanly possible.

Then, in college, I'd begun going to church again, on my own, more or less every week, and that had begun, too, in 1994 -- I'd started going to the church near my apartment building, and attending that more regularly than my Mom and Dad would have ever thought I might.

It was that mixture: poverty, snow, a day off, and a bit of a religious streak awakening in me, that led me to the Basilica that snowy day in Washington, and I wish that I could say that I remembered much of the Basilica, but I simply don't. When I sit here and picture it now, I picture some white stone and candles and a souvenir shop and a grand church that was very, very large-- much larger than the little church at St. Charles that I'd attended most of my life -- but beyond that, I can't picture any specifics, even though I not only visited it but also went to Mass there a few times.

And, to be a little more vague, when I picture the Basilica, I cannot be 100% sure that I'm not confusing it with St. Patrick's Cathedral, which I and Sweetie visited in New York on our honeymoon.

That's more proof of how un-memoir-able 1994 might actually be: There was no great impression created on me by my visit, during a time that I was becoming more religious (or re-becoming more religious) to the largest church in North America, no symbolic moment, no stirring of emotions in my chest. Instead, there are vaguely hazy memories of stone and candles and pews which, to be honest, are probably an amalgam of every other church I've ever been in combined with the pictures I looked at on the Internet today plus some just-plain-making-stuff up on my own.

The truth is, I don't recall the Basilica hardly at all, but I remember specifically what my morning routine was every other day. Maybe the morning routine benefitted from repetition, or maybe it's just more the kind of thing that sticks in my mind. I have no doubt that, if I'd entered the Basilica and been struck with a Saul-esque religious vision, I'd have remembered that, and maybe the Basilica, very clearly. But I didn't, and instead, I just walked around and looked and I'm sure that I kept quiet and thought a lot and enjoyed any stained glass or sculptures, and then went outside and had a cigarette, and that kind of thing doesn't make a lasting impression on me.

Not the way that, say, riding the subway every morning does, imprinting on me permanent memories of my morning commute. Each morning that I went to work at Pinkerton, each time I showed up there, began the same way: I would get up, I would shower, I would walk up the street to the Metro station and scan my card. I'd ride the Metro to the stop where I got off, generally looking at people around me and listening to my Walkman as I did so, and then get off on the escalator that I rode everyday: a steeply inclined endless ride up that as time went on I began trying to walk up, faster and faster, as a way to challenge myself and get some exercise.

At the top of the escalator, dizzy from the vertiginous ride up, I'd turn the corner to the little deli-convenience store that was right there. I'd go inside, get some diet Cokes (this was before I learned to drink coffee; I wouldn't start that for a few months), a Washington Post, and a Raisin Bran muffin. I'd sit down and read through the paper for a while, eating my muffin and drinking a diet Coke. I'd have a smoke, and then get up and take the paper and the other sodas and head up the street to the job at Pinkerton's, walking past the strip club I hadn't eaten at, yet, and into the office to begin my day with my sit-down with Frank.

That routine is so fresh in my mind I can recall this: I always sat at the second of the tables from the door to the deli, facing outwards to watch the crowd. The diet Cokes were in a cooler near the back of the store, to my right. The muffins were wrapped in plastic and kept to the right of the cash register, as I faced it.

I can almost taste the muffin-and-diet-Coke flavor, now. That was a great breakfast.

As I said, memoirs are of important events or fascinating happenings people who are beyond interesting, maybe someone else, maybe oneself.

The most fascinating happening I can recall, as I sit here, is the day the city shut down due to snow and I went to see a church I can barely remember.

I did not meet any people that could be called "fascinating" who I remember to any great degreee. The son of the Shah of Iran was, I'm sure, fascinating -- but I met him for only about an hour or so, and I have absolutely no recollection of him whatsover. None. Beyond simply meeting him, that is, and an impression, now, a decade-and-a-half later, that he was very polite and kind of cool, the way many people from the Arab world are very polite and kind of cool.

Justice Antonin Scalia was also a fascinating person, another one I spent an hour with, but to truly make this a great memoir, I would have had to spend more time with him than just that. But I didn't. I spent just the one hour with him. A fascinating hour, to be sure, but one hardly worthy of all this paper.

So if this were the kind of a memoir that people have come to expect, then I would have to be the fascinating person at the heart of it. Based solely on my morning routine, that doesn't seem likely.

But perhaps I became fascinating.