Friday, April 17, 2009
You/Sweetie Know Him As: If you think he's cute/are a woman, you probably know him as "that guy who was in that movie that ostensibly was about an election, only really he spent a lot of time talking to his kid and meeting other women." You know, the one that was supposed to be sweet but really it was a long-winded way of telling his daughter "I never really loved your mom."
I Know Him As: The guy I secretly try to be a lot like. Let's face it: He's the kind of funny/cool that we all wanted to know in high school. Not mean-cool, like some kids were. Ryan Reynolds seems funny in a low-key way, and also like he would have been nice to everyone in high school and gotten elected class president. Also, Van Wilder, which is what I think he's like in real life.
Thing That Makes You Go Hmmmm About Him: Supposedly, he wants to play The Flash if a movie is ever made about that superhero. But The Flash was, like, the worst superhero.
Reason I Tell Myself Sweetie Likes Him: I didn't realize Sweetie liked him until she told me, so now I'm just concerned about all the other secret people Sweetie likes. Who else is lurking out there? Rod Taylor? Jazzy Jeff?
Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him: He's "funnysexy." (Pause...) Plus, his body.
Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Reason For Liking Him: I asked her that late at night as we were going to bed. That pause was long enough, almost, for me to fall asleep. So it went like this:
Me: Why do you like him?
Sweetie: He's funnysexy. [ Pause. ]
Me: (Thinking) Hmm... That's nice. Now I'll fall asleep.
Sweetie: [ends pause] Plus his body.
Me: Oh. [Lies awake all night secretly trying to suck in stomach.]
My bookshelf sits to my right. I get the right-hand (farther away from the TV) side of the bed, so I'm on the side of the bed Ray Romano warned against taking -- I, like Ray, get my weather with a big toe in it.
The little nightstand is actually Sweetie's jewelry box. Shown in this picture:
1. Diet Red Pop Soda. Because the more tenuous a food's connection to the natural world, the more I like it. "Faygo" makes a blue soda, but they don't make it in diet, so I haven't tried it yet. They do make a diet Pina Colada soda. That's livin'.
2. Spiky Fish Clock. Among the many things I collect are clocks. The spiky fish clock is one of my favorites. If you click to enlarge the photo, you'll see that the second hand is a tiny fish that circles around the spiky fish clock's mouth. The spiky fish clock served as the inspiration for one of the demons in a horror story I wrote, Temporary Anne.
3. A Stack of The Boy's DVDs that I Took From Him To Maybe Watch Someday: I have a rule against re-watching movies, since I have so many movies (and seasons of Lost) that I haven't watched. But I found these gathering dust in The Boy's room and couldn't bear the thought of him losing them or selling them for "store credit" at a DVD store (as he did with all his video games, once) so I took them in case I ever watch all the movies and TV shows that have ever existed, and then start over.
4. My guitar: I don't play much anymore because I spend my time chasing pantsless two-year-olds around and writing, but I can muster up at least four or five chords, which puts me ahead of Bono, who had only a red guitar, three chords, and the truth. Or was that Jimi Hendrix? It doesn't matter, because I also wrote the songs The Lookout Cow, Eatin' Gummi Bears, and If I Was Paul McCartney, among others. If you'd like to hear extremely lo-fi, extremely bad versions of some of those songs, click here.
But, really, Big Mouth Frog Blues is better live. Because of the facial expressions, you see.
5. Some books. These are ones I've read (Outliers) and one I bought because I read it a long time ago, then lost my copy, then found this copy for a dollar at the library and so I bought it (Magic Kingdom for Sale).
6. Some more books. These are mostly collections of comic strips -- an underappreciated art medium, if you ask me. I've got collections of Doonesbury, Bloom County, and the fancy leather-bound Calvin & Hobbes. I know most of them by heart. There's some overflow on that shelf, too, of books I've read, including Heinlein's The Number of The Beast and Hornsby's "How To Be Good," which I took back from Middle's room. Middle had to read that book as part of her 'extra homework' for getting bad grades in the second quarter. I believe she never finished it because I constantly get outfoxed on punishments.
7. Barely visible: My CDs. That's the source of the 9,000+ songs that I've got on my iPod. Those stacks of CDs (and others under the bed) serve as a backup to hard drive that backs up my laptop and my iPod.
8. More Books: These are the ones I'm waiting to read. First on the list: the begun-but-interrupted "Playing For Pizza."
9. Some stuffed animals. They're not mine-- they're Sweetie's. We've got about a hundred of them in the bedroom. The two sort-of-visible here are a Christmas-y elephant wearing a scarf, and a triceratops from Build-A-Bear. Sweetie told me early on in our relationship that she didn't get many dolls or stuffed animals when she was little, because her parents didn't have any money for things like that. She once, she says, had to use marbles for dolls -- pretending each was a person. That story makes me sad, so I periodically buy Sweetie stuffed animals for our room in hopes that it somehow makes up for her having so little when she was a kid.
Which is a downbeat way to finish up on a Friday afternoon -- so let's head out on an upbeat note with the song that I would have made my wedding song with Sweetie if it had existed then:
And those are the good days.
I've been around for forty years, forty years of jogging outside, forty years of living in Wisconsin with its icy winters (and icy spring and falls, and too-short summers, too) and for a long chunk of those forty years, I also smoked. All in all, my skin looks as though I've been using it for a driveway for a long time. And not one of those driveways that rich people have, where the only cars that ever drive on them are luxury sports cars with tires made of soft, pliable leather. No, my face/driveway is a lot more like one of those driveways you see in front of bad houses in Alabama, where there are tire ruts and there's the remnants of gravel and ... is that a possum?
That's my face.
So I am thinking about that and then I come across this add forObagi Clear, a prescription treatment for skin that improves and evens skin tone -- lightening age spots and liver spots and skin unevenness...
... which, now that I think about it, I have! My skin is totally uneven.
...and all I'd have to do is apply it in the morning and at night, as part of the "Obagi Nu-Derm System," and it'll correct photodamage -- the damage from the sun that causes fine lines and wrinkles and age spots.
Or, as I like to call it, "Driveway Face."
It can even help avoid getting Driveway Face in the first place, which would have been very helpful to know... thirty years ago.
It's physician-dispensed, so I (or you) would have to ask for it, but it's supposed to restore skin cells, especially in people 35 and older (hey, that's me!) And I get a free gift if I spend more than $60 -- so that's something, at least, to help cheer me up. I suppose I could look on the bright side: my skin won't be all wrinkly and haggard, and I'll get a gift, and, it seems, then, that there's a chance that someday soon, I'll look in the mirror and not think Yikes.
At least until I look down at my stomach.
The Septathlon: EVENT 1:
You know you're in trouble, in a basketball game, when your opponent isn't even winded but your eyes are stinging with sweat, you're breathing heavily, you're a little dizzy, and you're somewhat concerned that you can feel your pulse in your brain and that just might be the first sign of a stroke.
You know you're in trouble if that happens. You know that you're sunk if that happens... in the first minute of the game.
That's where I was at, exactly one minute into the opening round of The Septathlon, the Basketball Round. We decided, since it was The Boy's event, that I'd play him first, then Middle would play him second, each in a fifteen minute game.
So The Boy warmed up while I talked to Middle and tied and re-tied my shoe, repeatedly emptying it out, something I had to do because I couldn't find my beloved Starbury basketball shoes -- I think I might have thrown them out after accidentally stepping on a raccoon corpse in them last summer -- and so I had to wear my ordinary, every day tennis shoes, the ones I'd just worn to rake the leaves and so they were covered in muck and had twigs in them.
That is not the reason that I did not do so well, though, in basketball. The reason I did not do so well in basketball is because I stink at basketball.
I can't dribble with my left hand, for one thing, not well. And I can't shoot to save my life. I used to be able to rebound pretty well, but that was when The Boy was a lot younger, and shorter.
Now, the only thing I've got going for me against him is my intellect, which is next to useless when I'm not getting enough oxygen to my brain.
He opened the game by letting me start with the ball, and within seconds I'd taken my shot and it was 0-0 with him getting the ball. Then within seconds it was 2-0, then 4-0, and I really didn't know what was happening anymore as I tried to catch my breath.
"How much time is left?" I asked Middle, who was referreeing.
"Fourteen minutes," she said.
I spent the next fourteen minutes alternating between my two offensive moves: Dribble (right-handed only) as fast as I could towards the basket until I run into The Boy, then step back and shoot wildly at the rim, or, pretend I'm going to do that, pull up, and clank a 3-point attempt.
The Boy, meanwhile, had moves and can dribble between his legs and do something he calls a "hook-jump" shot, and is so calm about it that he can routinely refer to himself as a basketball player while doing that. "Here goes Kobe," he'd say and dribble, spin, turn, shoot, and make the shot.
I couldn't even match him at that: When I tried to think of a basketball player, the only one I could come up with was John Stackhouse.
I'd like to say I made it close, but I didn't. The closest I came was making it 12-4, and the final score finished at 22-7, as I made a 3-pointer near the end. It should have been a six-pointer, because by that time I could barely see straight and was devoting most of my energy to trying to recall what it was like when I'd been 20 and could move laterally. Also, I got a foul called in my favor and missed both shots.
Middle fared better, but not much. Middle has actual basketball background, having played on teams and such, but also hasn't played any basketball, really, since she tore her ACL in basketball tryouts a few years ago and had to have surgery. When it was 4-0, The Boy leading, I made him take a timeout to tie his shoe ("I don't need to have tied shoes," he said) and said to Middle:
"You're not playing much defense." To which she said:
"I can't. I can't shuffle with my knee, so I have to let him move around."
Middle also has the ability to dribble with both hands -- I understand that's quite important in basketball -- and to make shots. She can, for example, make a lay-up, something I've only done once in my life.
The lay-up is supposed to be easy. I've been afraid to even try a lay-up since middle school. Back then, in 6th grade, we were learning basketball. All the boys were on one side of the gym, the girls on the other. I was exactly as uncoordinated and awkward as you'd expect an overweight, comic-book-loving kid with glasses to be. We were lined up and told to do lay-ups, and when my turn came, I ran and tried to put the ball up and shot it up right over the backboard and behind the basket, with it coming down cleanly on the other side, having touched nothing on its way.
I was going to just slink back to the back of the line and spend my time thinking about comics and dreading the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, but the gym teacher, Mr. Fry, yelled: "Nice shot, Pagel. Do that again."
He then made me try another lay-up, with everybody watching. That one, too, went right over the backboard.
Middle doesn't suffer from that kind of skill, but she couldn't play defense much and was rusty from not playing in years, whereas The Boy devoted a substantial amount of his free time over the winter to playing basketball (taking time away from such unnecessary activities as homework and cleaning his room.)
The final score of Middle's game against The Boy was 20-8.
That's right: with a medical inability to play defense, Middle did better than me at defense.
Next Week's Event: Golf. Just as soon as I have a complete cardio workup.
You can do that all in one move by getting Wrigley rooftop seats from the Wrigley Field Rooftop Club. You and your guests can watch the Cubs beat up on their opponents while taking advantage of an all-inclusive package deal from the Wrigley Field Rooftop Club. You'll get great views of the game, and luxury accommodations -- check out the pictures that I've got here to see what you'll be looking at, sitting in, and seeing.
Your day begins 30 minutes before the start of the game, and includes complete food and beverage service throughout the game
You and your guests will sit in the comfort of the rooftop club, looking out onto beautiful Wrigley Field, seeing the Cubs make a march to the World Series -- it has to be this year, right?--
You can have climate controlled inside views with big TVs to see the game, or venture out into the sunlight and the extra-wide stadium seating so that you can have a beer and a hot dog and a great view of a great ball game. There's even a full espresso/cappucino bar, if you're one of those hoity-toity types.
And the food: Pizza, burgers, ice cream... beer, wine, energy drinks, all included in the price.
In fact, the only thing missing is... me. You should invite me.
"Button his shirt. He's not Bobby Vinton."
-- Sweetie, yesterday morning.
I was getting Mr Bunches ready for his day, and I'd put his white shirt with the two buttons on him, then was pulling up his overalls, when Sweetie made that comment.
So the most current cultural reference Sweetie has for guys who show their chest is this guy:
Graveside Tales is publishing a horror story anthology this fall called Harvest Hill, and it's going to include a story -- "Don't Eat My Face"-- by yours truly. (That's me.)
Graveside Tales is a premiere publisher of excellent horror stories, and I'm honored to be included in one of their books. Learn more about them and their books by clicking here. And watch for Harvest Hill in stores in fall, 2009.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
My goal in life, I should mention, is to have something to say on every topic that comes up in conversation, whether that be quantum mechanics, the race for mayor in Albuquerque, or, in this case, car repairs. And not just any old thing, either, something intelligent to say.
I fell short in this case. I was trying extremely hard to come up with something to say as he was talking about how he fixes up his cars and does his own repairs, and what I came up with is this:
That Reese Witherspoon sure bakes a mean brownie, huh?
So, um... fail. But he kept on talking and telling me how I could fix my own car if I wanted to, how it was easier than it looks and it saves money and everything, and he finishes up with:
"So whatta you drive, a BMW? That's no problem. You can get parts for that, too."
I don't actually drive a BMW, but I didn't have time to correct him because he was on to telling me how I could go online to "24/7 Parts" and get my BMW Car Parts and have them shipped and then he'd come over and show me how to do it, and all I could think about then was "If this guy comes to my house, am I going to have to buy some kind of BMW just so he doesn't figure out that I don't really own one and he'll think I was lying to him, even though he said it, and I didn't?"
Once I got out of that conversation, I took a tiny part of his advice and checked out the site -- it's actually called "24/7 Spares," and they do have a ton of spare parts and information available there, all arranged and searchable in a format that even a guy like me can figure it out, so if you were someone who actually knew about cars, then it'd be a cakewalk. And if you were someone who knew about cars, you'd probably know what "bmw car breakers" were and how to use them. I don't. But you will.
Then I went him one better: I looked up the most obscure car part I could find so that the NEXT time I run into car guy, I can one up him. And that's why I've spent the morning practicing saying "So I picked up a retooled Vauxhall Meriva breaker for my auto, and I need to drop that puppy in there this weekend."
Then, in case Mr Car Guy pursues that line, I've got my follow-up:
"You know who else bakes good brownies, I bet? Pierce Brosnan."
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Starting Tonight, I Put The Hurt On The Boy And Middle -- Metaphorically Speaking. (The Septathlon, 1)
With the ending of my library crusade, I need something else to occupy my time, and work clearly is not going to cut it.
That's why tonight, The Septathlon begins: a some-holds-barred athletic competition between me, The Boy, and Middle.
The Septathlon has its roots in the ongoing rivalry The Boy and I engage in, a rivalry that typically manifests itself in t-shirt bets, but every now and then busts out into actual physical competition. Most recently, we've been debating who is the more athletic of the two of us, and he claimed that he was, by far. So we began discussing having some sort of event to sort this out for once and for all, and finally settled on a competition where each of us would choose three events and fight it out.
Then Middle wanted in, too, so we let her in, and decided that Middle and I would each choose two events, and The Boy could choose three, with The Boy going first. We settled on tonight to begin the event.
So tonight, at about 8:30, we will do Septathlon Event 1: Basketball. I will face off against The Boy in Game One (reffed by Middle) with Middle facing the winner.
To help get me, and everyone else, fired up, I've located the single most inspirational music you'll ever hear:
Plan B was fix it myself, which, because I'm not sure what's wrong with it and because unplugging it and plugging it back in didn't seem to have any effect, morphed almost immediately into Plan C, which is park outside the garage.
All this because the right-side garage door, my garage door, stopped working. I've looked it, and I even called the manufacturer to look at it, and we're all stumped. "Call someone else," they suggested. (Thanks a lot, warranty guy!) And "Call someone else" was Plan A... so you can see where that left me.
I'm left, as a result, high and dry -- and I wish it were otherwise. I wish, for example, that I lived in Texas, because as I was googling around trying to find someone to call to fix my garage door opener, I found this San Antonio garage doors website. The people of San Antonio, who are already lucky because they live down south and it's not 37 degrees in April, also get to hire "Precision Overhead Door Of San Antonio Inc.," the best garage door place in San Antonio.
I'm all jealous because the Precision website has helpful information like how to get good referrals, what to make sure is in the contract, and there's even a way to request a phone call to set up an appointment, right there on the website.
I thought about putting in my name and number and seeing if they'd want to come on up here, but nixed that idea due to travel costs. Instead, I'm thinking maybe I'll take my door down THERE.
We'll call that Plan D.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I've been looking back at this little project and the thing that jumps out at me is how little can remember about Washington, D.C., and how unsure I am of the memories that I do have.
I wish that I'd kept the red notebook, the notebook that I kept my journal in, the one that I wrote in pretty much every single day from January through about October of 1994. I can remember, perfectly, the day I threw it out. I was going through some boxes of stuff that Sweetie and I had put into the garage of the apartment we first rented when we got married. The apartment was pretty small, and most of the space we had was occupied by hand-me-down furniture and the three older kids, plus the hamsters that I'd bought them for Christmas one year. So a bunch of stuff was kept in the garage that we'd rented as part of the apartment, the garage that we never really used to store the car in, because the garage was like 200 yards away from the entrance to our apartment, so it was inconvenient.
In the garage were my comic books, and some old short stories I'd written, and my journal from the year of traveling around, as well as some other junk, and I'd decided one day to clean some of that stuff out en route to getting something or other out of the garage. I don't recall what I was getting out, but I do recall that I came across two things that day. The first was a collection of short stories I'd written, and the second was my journal from Washington D.C. and Morocco.
I looked at both of them, and I recall, perfectly, looking at the red notebook and thinking I've got pictures, I'll never need this again. So I tossed it in the dumpster on the way in, took the short stories, and never looked back.
Until now, when I wish I could have the day-to-day thoughts that I had back then, the ups-and-downs, the things I observed and noted and thought that I no can no longer recall noting or observing or thinking.
Some of the things I did during that year jump right out at me. I can recall, for example, the day that Rip and I spent walking around on the Mall, going down by the fish market and getting some free samples of a soda and seeing the Capitol, having our picture taken for posterity by some passerby or other. I recall it, in part, because we were sitting on a bench on the National Mall and wondering what to do next, that being a rare day when I'd hung out with friends rather than by myself, and as we sat there on the bench we saw a group of people coming, at a jogging pace, up the Mall towards us. There were men on bikes, men in suits, men jogging, all looking very serious and clustered together and watching everyone around us, and in the midst of all those men moving along briskly and looking seriously, there was a guy and a woman.
The guy was then-Vice-President Al Gore. The woman, I believe, was one of his daughters.
I didn't realize it was Al Gore right away; Rip did. "That's Al Gore," he said. It's maybe my memory that Rip said it with a bit of distaste; he was a pretty conservative Republican guy. Rip just looked, but I did not. I hopped up to my feet and jogged after Al Gore, and I yelled "Mr. Vice President!" Al Gore looked in my direction and waved a hand, and I snapped a picture, and he jogged on and I trailed off before I got captured by the Secret Service or something.
I remember that day perfectly, because how often does Al Gore just go running by you, regardless of where you live? Not often -- not even in Washington D.C., where he lived. In the four months or so that I was there, he was the most famous person I happened across, and I didn't exactly interact with him.
Other famous people were not so easy to interact with or find. True, I did ride an elevator with Senator Bob Packwood, who at the time was carrying a little bit of notoriety with him for a sad sexual harassment allegation (or maybe it was proven; I don't remember.) I recognized him from news reports when he got on the elevator.
I was on that elevator because I was on my way to an actual lobbyists dinner. I was extremely excited about that dinner, because (I imagined) it meant I was moving up in importance in the world. From a guy who'd lived in the slums in Milwaukee and shopped at a discount grocers, I'd become a guy who could have lunch with the son of the former Shah of Iran, to, now, having dinner and drinks with lobbyists, people who would be having dinner and drinks while they tried to get Representatives, or even Senators, to do things.
There were going to be important people in that room, and I was going to be one of them. Kind of. I at least was invited, which meant I got to go to one of the office buildings where the congress people work, and I got to go there after hours.
That was one of the surprising things I'd learned about Washington when I first got there and began looking around: the legislators don't have their offices in the Capitol. While I'd never given it much thought before, I was still a little put out to realize that. It seemed to me like they should have their offices in the Capitol -- they should work where they vote and vote where they work, have offices with large doors made of heavy oak with brass hinges that would swing open slowly and majestically, giving glimpses into offices filled with large, outdated desks and red carpeting that seems like it would be fancy until you get in there and walk on it and realize that no, it's not fancy, it's really old and threadbare, and one of the desks should be standing atop a small patch of carpet that had been masking-taped down, but the shabbiness of the details can be ignored because the office is in the Capitol, it's in the same building where Jefferson and Washington and ... um... Henry Cabot Lodge? I don't know. I'm not a history major. The same building, let's say, where Daniel Webster dueled someone, the building where president after president had given a State of the Union...
... and eventually it comes around to Presidents, because who really remembers legislators for long? I'm a political science major, and I can probably name only a few legislators, ever, in U.S. History.
Discounting people currently in the news and people from my own state, I can name:
Bob Packwood. (I'll count him because I can, after all, name him.)
Bob Smith -- the guy Rip worked for.
John Clay. That's a name I think I just made up, but it sounds like a Senator, doesn't it? Senator John Clay, from Louisiana, introduced in 1834 a bill to fund the National Bank. If I told you that (as I just did) you'd have no reason to doubt it.
On that note, I'll also add: That one guy from Louisiana, I think his name was Breaux.
And John Kerry, and Bob Kerrey, from Nebraska. I remember the former because he ran for President, and the latter because he did, too -- and he dated Debra Winger.
Learning that the Senators and Representatives, those bastions of democracy that I'd been learning about all my life, those guys (and occasionally women) who were elected for two year terms, or first appointed by state legislatures, then directly elected, who filibustered and who had to start ever taxation bill in the House, who were prohibited from making any law respecting the free exercise of religion, who could not pass Bills of Attainder (whatever those are), learning that those men (and sometimes women) did not actually work in the House of Representatives was a letdown.
Actually meeting them was even more of a letdown. I met Herb Kohl, the then-and-still Senator from Wisconsin, while I was in Washington D.C., and I thought these things, in order: He's short. He looks confused. He doesn't look rich. I didn't hang around. I met a few representatives and they were no more impressive than bankers back home. Maybe less impressive because most of what they did and said seemed fake.
And, as it turns out, most of what they do and say is fake -- they make speeches to empty galleries, so that the speeches can be shown on the news back home. They are allowed to "insert" things into the correctional record, so that the terrible speeches they give look better on paper than they did on the floor of the empty House of Representatives -- not that anyone actually reads the Congressional Record. But it's there, a record of everything that's ever been hoped to be said on the floor of Congress. Not everything that was actually said, but everything the congresspeople and Senators wished they'd said. The Congressional Record is, essentially, at least part fiction, and not even entertaining fiction at that.
One thing that's really amazing about politicians these days, one thing I began learning back in Washington, is how small and fake and, frankly, bad at things they are. As a political science major, as someone who'd paid attention to the great leaders and institutions, as someone who back then still was being aimed at the presidency by his parents (who would miss in that aim, just as they'd miss med school, too, ending up in the outer circle of respectability at trial lawyer), I always had a healthy respect for politicians. Until I met them. Then I had a healthy... whatever the opposite of respect is.
People look at Barack Obama these days and say that he's really eloquent. He's not -- not by the standards of political eloquence that have been set in America. I watched some of Obama's speeches and was struck by how mundane they were. Y es, he's a good speaker, but political speech these days is a lot of nuts and bolts and how-to's and things: It's short on inspiration and long on details. A grocery list is almost as inspiring as a presidential address.
That's just a sign of the times, though: People don't want politicians saying stuff like "Nothing to fear but fear itself," or "A thousand points of light." If FDR had to come on the radio today after Pearl Harbor and gave his same speech, talk radio hosts and newscasters would rip into him for his lack of specifics, and people would immediately distrust him.
But those political speeches, even the mundane, humdrum, not-so-great ones, that are given by presidents on big occasions, are heads and shoulders, leaps and bounds, above the speeches and talks given by run-of-the-mill representatives and middle-of-the-pack Senators. When we watch the news, we see a 10-second (if that) snippet of the local guy or gal, or a similar-length clip from a national star, a Hillary or Feinstein or Obama.
What we don't see is 15 minutes of the junior Senator from Kansas fumbling through a speech on how the proposed 4% cut in school lunches is going to affect the school districts in Kansas by forcing them to raise property taxes, putting x number of people out of work at the nearby prison. Complete with bar graphs, and complete with 13,000 ums and hmms and yeah wells. I saw a few of those because I watched as much of Congress as I could take, and that awfulness, that inability to speak, to project, to gather thoughts, was amazing, and appalling. These are the people we pick to run our government?
Think about it, though: Have you ever seen your personal representative give a speech? Not a television commercial. A speech. Have you ever heard him or her talk other than in a commercial, or maybe on a brief interview? I bet you haven't. And you never will, because your personal representative is a terrible speaker. He or she may be a perfectly adequate organizer or business owner -- two skills that help one get elected, and getting elected is the one thing that helps one stay elected -- and it's a certain bet that he or she, in person, is very charming and likeable -- but he or she is a terrible, terrible speaker.
That's why we don't remember legislators and do remember presidents: There are 535 legislators at any given moment, and only one president -- and all of those legislators at one point (plus governors and state legislators) are thinking about becoming president, but only one of them at a time can, and only once every four years, so the competition to become president is fierce, and most of them don't make the cut. Most of them aren't personable enough, aren't good enough organizers, aren't good enough speakers, to make a credible run for president. Just as most people will never quarterback a pro football team, most people will never have a chance to become president, and we notice and remember the ones that do reach that pinnacle... because they were slightly better at their job than the other 535+ people they worked with.
Meeting legislators in person only emphasized that quality, that ordinariness, that huckster quality that I began to feel, living in Washington. Like I said, I'd always elevated legislators and government people, as the bearers of the torch that our Founding Fathers had lit, as the people responsible for keeping my constitutional protections in place. These were the men and women who would not pass ex post facto laws -- men and women in my imagination who were worthy of the honor of being involved in government.
Only, when I met them, they weren't. They didn't work in the Capitol -- they worked in bland offices across the street from the Capitol and used underground tunnels to go vote on bills and make speeches to empty rooms and mill around aimlessly while others talked. They couldn't speak to save their lives, and the ones I met were, indeed, personable, but personable the way the loan officer at the bank is personable: friendly, but wanting to get this paperwork done and move on to the next. When you shake the hand of most congressmen or Senators, that's the feeling they give off: Hi-I'm-glad-to-meet-you-now-on-to-the-next-appointment.
And they stood sadly in the elevator with an intern on his way to a lobbyist dinner, an intern who was excited to be going to that lobbyist dinner because he'd only been in Washington about a month and wasn't yet deflated and jaded by experience. I was, as I rode that elevator up to the dinner, still a couple of months away from running after Al Gore to take a picture, still a couple of months away from being shown around Antonin Scalia's office, and still months away from thinking not much of this is the way I pictured it.
But it began that night, as I rode the elevator up and it stopped to let Senator Bob Packwood on. I recognized him, as I said, and wondered what, if anything, I should say. What does one say to a disgraced, embarrassed Senator one does not know but whom one is alone on an elevator with? (Oh, the questions I could, but don't, write to advice columnists!)
I settled for nodding, and facing forward to try to keep my excitement going and also because I thought it would be rude to ask if he was, in fact, Senator Packwood, because I didn't know him, didn't have business with him, and I thought it would be apparent that I was only asking because I knew about his troubles. So I said nothing and looked at the numbers lighting up, and Senator Packwood as the elevator began to move, edged to his right, nearer the wall of the elevator, a wall I recall as having brown paneling, but it maybe didn't -- that's how I picture all elevators, as being brown-paneled. That's how unreliable memory is: I even picture the elevator at my office, where I've worked for 10 years, where I worked today, as having brown paneling, even though I'm pretty sure it doesn't.
I can't, as I sit here at home on a Tuesday night, tell you what the actual interior of the elevator in my office looks like. All I can picture in my mind if brown paneling, even though I'm 100% positive that's not what my office elevator looks like.
(Then again, I never ride the office elevator, because (a) I try to get at least a little exercise by using the stairs, and (b) I don't trust it: it jammed once and a paralegal got caught in it for an hour, and I would go insane if I was trapped on an elevator.)
Brown paneling or not, though, I can recall Senator Bob Packwood moving to his right, a little, and sagging, a little: He slumped, just a bit. He put his head down a little, and he sighed. He leaned into the wall a little, and sighed again.
Then the elevator opened and I was off to the lobbyists dinner, which was filled with lobbyists, and a couple of representatives, and a lot of interns, this being a more-or-less open event that Mike, the fellow intern who'd told me about this, had told a lot of people about. We all wanted free food and wanted to rub elbows with important people like lobbyists and congressmen and congresswomen, so we all went, and we mostly rubbed elbows with each other. It was like being at the dorm, only with fancier food and more alcohol.
I didn't talk to any of the congresspeople there. I could tell who they were because they had groups of lobbyists around them and the groups of lobbyists had groups of interns around them. Since I didn't recognize any of the congresspeople, I made no real effort to talk to them.
I did talk to a lobbyist, though, who came up and introduced himself to me. I introduced myself back and said "How'd you come to be here?"
He said "I work for the group throwing the party." I asked what group it was, and he gave me the name, which I don't remember. I asked what they did, and it had something to do with water conservation or water cleanliness. Water, for certain, was of importance to the group.
My not knowing what we were there for must have tipped him off to something, because he said "Who are you with?"
To which I said: "Oh, I came here by myself." (Clever, right? I wasn't trying to be.)
He said: "No, I mean, who do you work for?"
"Pinkerton Risk Assessment Services," I said.
"Who's that?" he asked.
I gave him a quick rundown, as much as I could. He asked if they were there on the Hill. I think he was hoping for one last gasp of relevance. I said "No, they're over in Virginia."
He walked away. Just like that. Just walked away.
In retrospect, I think that was the second time my significance in the world of Washington D.C. was pointed out to me. That one was direct -- I got that. His abruptly walking away was clear even to me: You're not important enough to talk to. I'm surprised he didn't take my beer away.
But the first putdown, of sorts, I think, came in the elevator with Senator Packwood. When he'd looked sad, when he'd leaned and sighed and let his guard down and I'd seen it all, I'd thought: Man, he must be having a terrible time of it, if it's so bad he can't keep up appearances here.
But looking back, I'm not sure that's what was going on: It might have been that he could keep appearances up -- but having found himself on the elevator with just me, he didn't bother to try to do that. I was someone who could be walked away from, someone who it wouldn't matter if he saw a Senator slouching.
I suppose that should bother me, and if I'd realized it then, it might have. It bothered me that Lobbyist Guy walked away from me, so abruptly. It didn't bother me too much, because, after all, there was free food and drink and the possibility that I'd meet someone famous any moment, but it bothered me a bit.
But it doesn't bother me now. Being insignificant back then doesn't bother me now, and why should it? Who I was back then isn't who I am now.
But even if I am insigificant now, it still doesn't bother me.
There's a line in a song by Bright Eyes. The song is At The Bottom Of Everything, and it's a terrible but great song about a woman who's on a plane that's crashing. The song tells the beginning of the story and then becomes a song that's being sung to the woman as the plane crashes. The theme of the song is that people have to live their lives to the fullest, that they must talk in every telephone... rip out all the epilogues from the books that we have read... and more like that. It's, as I said, a great and terrible song.
The end of the song has the lines:
"I'm happy just because/I found out I am really no one."
Everytime I hear that line, I get goose bumps. I've spent a lot of time in my life preparing to be someone of importance. Being told I could be President. A doctor. At least a different kind of lawyer. My parents told me I was a genius, and I believed them. I believed them and I went to Washington with the expectation that I was going to take it by storm, was going to meet famous people and have life-changing experiences and put myself on a path that at the very least was simliar to the arc of a storyline that Bill Clinton had -- meeting a president and then becoming one.
Things didn't work out that way. I didn't shake the president's hand. But I did run after the Vice President and take his picture. And I rode an elevator with a slumping Senator who didn't care if I saw him slump.
There's something to be said for learning to put the world in perspective. There's something to be said for the long, slow process of unyoking ourselves from the expectations that have been placed on us, told to us, instilled in us.
I think that's why I so blithely threw away that red notebook, that day, years ago. The person who went to Washington D.C. thought those things that he saw and noted were important. The person who came back thought they were things that could be put into a garage for years. The person who went to Washington had, like Pip, Great Expectations. The person who came back had... well, me. Eventually, the process that began when I got on that train to Washington wound me to where I am today: Not trying to live my life to become something, to prove something, to to do something... but just trying to live my life.
Beginning in Washington, I stopped trying to be someone and began being no one -- no one but me. And I'm happy just because of that.
When you vacation with kids, you learn quickly that you've got to plan out every moment of every day, and you learn even more quickly that there's never enough money. Which means throwing in as much free stuff to do as possible.
That's why when we go this year, we'll stay in Kissimmee: It's got all the criteria we look for: Close to Matt (But not too close, so we don't bug him) and a lot of free, cool stuff to do.
Like fishing. That picture at the start of this post is from the Kissimmee area, and I took one look at it and thought "I've got to try that." It looks peaceful, it looks fun... it looks free. A rod and a line and a lake and you've got entertainment for a whole afternoon or evening. (More, if we can catch an alligator.)
Throwing in that kind of free, fun stuff, leaves money to take advantage of the other great stuff to do in and around Kissimmee, great stuff like... golf. Matt and I used to golf all the time, and Middle golfs now (she's practically a professional at it), and Kissimmee has spectacular golf courses -- golf courses I can afford to golf because I'll be saving money on some of the other things.
But the main reason we might head to Florida is not just that there's some free stuff to do-- it's that we might get the whole vacation free. See, in looking things up about it, I found out that Kissimmee is giving away vacations: they've got three weekend getaways for two -- that's 3 days and 2 nights each, and they're giving away two weeklong vacations for a family of four, all of which can be entered via a drawing. They'll be giving more away on May 1 and June 1 of this year.
So the best things to do in Kissimmee are free, and the best way to get there is to have the vacation be free, too. I'm entered: Are you?
I used to, before iPods and the Internet came around, get most of my new music from the radio, and I used to collect a lot of my new music by having a cassette tape in my stereo, ready to tape. I'd sit by the stereo, reading or doing homework, and when a song came on that I thought I wanted to tape, I'd hit the button and record it.
Which I'm pretty sure was legal, and also I'm pretty sure it's way past the statute of limitations on. But that's how I got today's song, which is "Pepper" by The Butthole Surfers. That was back when radio stations existed that would occasionally play a song by a group named The Butthole Surfers, mostly on Sunday mornings when all right-thinking people were in church, not listening to the radio, so complaints to the FCC were less likely.
What I Thought It Was About: A lot of teen angst and screaming guitars and a slow, ponderous beat: I assumed it was a depressing version of Dawson's Creek, set to song. Preppies would have Dawson's Creek to mope about (Will Dawson ever get Joey? And what about Pacey's boat?) and punkers would have Mikey and Charisse to mope about (I don't mind the sun sometimes, either.)
What It's Actually About: There's actually quite a bit of debate about the meaning of the song... and I'm not counting as debate the guy who wrote " I have no idea what this song is about, but this band f-- rules." I think we all know what life has in store for that guy. Some of the debaters thought it was about "living life to the max," or living on the edge (while one thought it might be a "cutting reference" to the Dallas Cowboys. Another thinks it's saying that "Life is a giant and unstoppable force and that it's easier to be dead then to live the struggles of life. "
I come down myself this way: The song is told from the perspective of a teen or young person who is ensconced (nice word, huh?) in a group of people who are depressed, who take unnecessary risks, whose lives are generally terrible, but terrible because the kids don't understand how beautiful life can be.
The singer, though, isn't in love with dying. He/she says:
I don't mind the sun sometimes, the images it shows I can taste you on my lips and smell you in my clothes Cinnamon and sugary and softly spoken lies You never know just how to look through other people's eyes
The singer has learned, a little, how to look through the eyes of someone who has shown him a better, or brighter life. While not completely removed from the crowd he was hanging with, he's pulling away -- he doesn't mind the sun, the light, the things he can see when he looks around.
I know that's what tends to happen, because it happened to me. When I bought "Zippy," my old Ford Festiva, I got suckered into one of those extended warranty plans that covered "everything" I was told, and I paid a lot of money for it. Not long after that, Zippy developed engine trouble and I took it to the mechanic.
"It's the serpentine belt," he told me. To which I said, "What's that?"
"It's the belt that drives all your engine parts," he said.
Which made me happy, because I had an extended warranty that covered not only "everything" but things in the "drive train." So I called the dealership and asked to have the warranty cover it.
"We don't cover that," they told me, and after much wrangling about the meaning of the word "everything" and "drive train" and on and on, I ended up paying $800 to fix Zippy myself.
That was before law school, of course. Post-law school, I'd have paid nothing and sued that dealer into the dust. But not everybody has that option. So most people end up buying rip-off warranties and then complaining to lawyers about getting ripped off.
Here's an easier way to save money on car repairs: Go to GotTransmissions.com, and order the transmission you need right from them. Say your mechanic tells you they've got to to a Transmission Repair on your car 'cause your old one died. GotTransmissions.com has new, rebuilt, used, and remanufactured transmissions for all kinds of cars, and you can buy them from that site and have it shipped to your mechanic, saving you as much as 50% of the cost because you cut out the middleman.
It beats paying through the nose, it beats getting ripped off by fake warranties, and it beats hiring a lawyer. Although you should still hire a lawyer. That's always a good idea.
Time for another installment of the things you said about the things I said:
Everybody likes to get feedback on what they do, don't you agree? That's why I love it when people comment, and that's why I try to post the comments to reply to them or otherwise acknowledge them.
Sometimes, though, I worry that it's not so much what I'm saying as it is the pictures that accompany the posts. Take the comment "Anonymous" left after I posted Jensen Ackles as "Sweetie's Hunk of The Week, 8:":
thats a manip ...you need real pictures
You can see that Anonymous was moved by my thoughtful and wry commentary, can't you? Don't get me wrong, though: I love the fact that people read, and I would in no way cynically try to increase my readership by sprinkling picture of hunky guys around a post for no reason.
I also realized, in going back to find that post, that I've horribly misnumbered the "Sweetie's Hunks of the Week," so that there's a couple of 9s and a couple of 7s. I would like to be able to say that I'll correct this, but since my real math education stopped with memorizing the times tables in Mrs. Talaska's fourth grade class, you're going to have to live with it.
On to more reader comments. As I said, Anonymous' wink aside, I have no intention of pandering to the massses by simply inserting pictures of shirtless guys that women love into posts that otherwise are not about them at all. You won't, for example, catch me posting something like this picture:
Unless it was germane to the post. Say, for example, I was still feuding with the library, and I had struck on a new plan to win my battle, and that plan was to send a shirtless Jensen Ackles into the library to bargain for me. Then, without any pandering at all, I could write: My new plan is to send a shirtless Jensen Ackles, pecs glistening with sweat, and pants slightly hanging down seductively, to softly take the librarian in his arms, dip her ever so slightly, stare into her eyes with an intensity that she hadn't felt in years, and whisper to her, while brushing her lips with his, "Process a claims return." And I could then illustrate it with this:
I'm sure the librarian is just off screen in that shot, bosoms heaving and cheeks flushed with passion.
Like I said, though, you won't catch me doing that, because I don't need to. The quality of my writing clearly is what draws viewers to this blog. Just look at what Lisa Pepin said after she read my scathing criticism of people who take online friends to seriously:
I realize I should comment on the post itself, but all I can think is, "Awwwwww, adorable picture!"
Which would lead some cynical people to think Hey, forget about the shirtless hunks:
Man, that is one frisky librarian.
Anyway, some would say forget about them, just post pictures of babies and draw the readers in that way. Again, though, I focus on the substance of what I say, and I'm sure you do. That's why I know you'd rather read about why I hate pepporoni pizza than look at this:
Right? I mean, how could this:
Ever compare with, say, an ongoing rundown of Muppet-themed memories? Obviously, it can't. So you won't be getting a bunch of pictures of cute babies like this:
Because that's not what I'm all about. I stick to my creative guns and never, ever cave into the public's demands.
You can read Lisa Pepin's blog "Lost in Provence," featuring gourmet meals, excellent photos, and musings about the idiosyncracies of the French, by clicking here.