Saturday, June 27, 2009

(Awesome Covers Of Already Awesome Songs, 4)

With little ado, here's Leaving On A Jet Plane, by Chantal Kreviazuk.

And I've got nothing much to add to that, other than (a) I first heard this song when Sweetie and I bought the soundtrack in Buffalo, New York, on our honeymoon, and so (b) I associate it with our honeymoon even though it's sad and our honeymoon was not, and (c) I wish I knew what instrument she plays in the middle of that song because I'd like to learn how to play it.

Just come on down to the 54... (3 Good Things 9)

As I see the long, hot, wonderful Saturday sprawled before me, it's easy to be happy -- but that's not keeping me from reflecting on the 3 Good Things from Friday:

1. Heart of Glass coming on my iPod on the way to work, followed immediately by Le Freak by Chic.

2. Seeing a hawk swoop down and pick up a snake and fly away. Nature rules!

3. The "Murdock discussion" with Sweetie and The Boy in the morning, as we debated which people in movies and TV shows had been named Murdock -- because The Boy felt that in every space movie there's a character named "Murdock." (My guess: One member of The A-Team was named Murdock, but I'm not sure 'cause I never watched it.)

A rare bit of actual thinking from me. (Back to nonsense later.)

With the collapse of capitalism-- or so it seems-- most people are now changing their attitudes towards government and regulations. For years and years it was "Let's let businesses police themselves and the free market will sort it out." Then, it turned out that the free market was not so great at sorting things out... and so now people are saying things like "Government needs to crack down on everything. We need to regulate all businesses... even that guy who plays the piccolo on the street corner for dimes tossed into a cop. We need a Federal Bureau of Him."

But that's not the answer, either. The real answer is to use something that's short in America today: Some moderation and wisdom. Luckily, I've got a plethora of both. Here's what we need to do: let the free market regulate itself, and use government to even the playing field.

That sounds simple, and it is. We simply let businesses be in business, and we use regulation to outlaw only those things that are or should be verboten -- like fraudulent transactions, false advertising, cigarettes, and the like. Then, we also have the government require information -- REAL information, not the fake truth in lending stuff that doesn't tell you anything. Government can require that businesses not use deceptive packaging, that they tell you in plain english what chemicals are in the things you're using, and whether you're going to be able to actually pay that mortgage. It can require that promises (like we'll refinance you in 6 months) be put in writing.

Most businesses are, in fact, honestly run, or want to be. The pressures of competition can cause some to cut corners, and when that happens, the industry itself will want to be the first to police itself, both to reassure itself and its customers that it's business is honest. This article from Generational Equity has an excellent set of tips on how to do things like that. Only where self-policing doesn't protect free competition and fair competition should the government step into regulate.

In short, we don't need a "Deparment of That Guy," or anarchy -- but a wise mixture of both.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I can throw down rhymes with the best of them. (Sweetie's Hunk of the Week 21)

Sweetie's newest Hunk of the Week is Will Smith!

You/Sweetie Know Him As: Mr. Fourth-of-July At the Movies. According to film statistics I just made up but which sound accurate, Will Smith has the top 15 highest-grossing Fourth-of-July-released movies ever, including "Independence Day," "Men In Black," "Hitch," "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "Dora The Explorer vs. Predator."

I know him as:
Thanks to that short-circuit in my brain ("that's what makes me special!"), I can't hear Will Smith without immediately wanting to rap: "Okay... here's the situation. My parents went away on a week's vacation/and/they left the keys to the brand new Porsche. Would they mind? Hmmm... well, of course not." Then I break dance.

Thing That Makes You Go Hmmmm About Him: Most people have forgotten that Will Smith declared this period of 1,000 years from 2000-2,999 the "Willienium." And almost nobody remembers Will2K anymore. Looking back, it all seems so silly now, doesn't it? Our fears that on 1/1/00, our computers would all suddenly come alive and get all jiggy wit it?

Also, if you try to go to "The Official Wil Smith Website,", you'll be redirected to Will's Facebook page, which will give you a link to go to "The Official Will Smith Website,", and if you click that link, you'll get a warning that you're leaving Facebook, and if you click okay to that, you... are immediately taken back to Facebook.

So maybe there was something to that whole Will2k thing after all. That, or they just changed the Matrix again.

The Reason I Tell Myself Sweetie Likes Him: Because nobody... nobody... brought more emotion to the most famous movie line of our generation: "I was supposed to be at a barbecue!" Yeah! Will! Smack that alien! (Sweetie totally hates aliens.)

Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him: He's "cool."

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Actual Reason For Liking Him: You know what else is cool? Sitting around in your pajamas and Crocs making jokes about Will Smith. That's cool, too. Right? What if I wear my Crocs & PJs but I also rap? "Okay... here's the situation..."

How was I to know that name was already taken?

Here are three words you never want to hear, see, or even smell: self-employment tax.

When I first began my own business, way back in the way olden days (before 2002), I had no idea that those three words could be strung together that way. Nor did I know that stringing together those three words would cost me a ton of money.

See, I was self-employed back then, and self-employed people still have to do all the things regular employees do, as well as all the things regular employers do, and one of those things is "Pay Social Security."

When you work for someone else, they pay social security, and so do you-- you both pay about 7.65% of your wages. Every hundred bucks your employer gives you, he or she takes $7.65 out of your pocket and $7.65 out of his own pocket and sends it to the IRS.

When you're self-employed, it's all one pocket, though, and if you don't know about it in advance, you get his with a 15.3% tax on April 15-- above and beyond income taxes.

That's what happened to me, and it put me behind the eight ball the very first year I was in business; I began doing my first "business tax returns" and thought "What is self-employment tax?" Then I thought "How am I ever going to come up with that money?"

Long story short, that's what happened to both the first two kids we had and my right pinky finger. That IRS doesn't mess around!

Ha! Just kidding. Mostly. What happened was a little worse: I had to set up payment plans and pay penalties and interest and it took years to get out from under it.

Years that I wasted, because I didn't know that Tax Relief was only a click away, and I could have had some professional help instead of stubbornly trying to do everything on my own. has tax specialists and attorneys who work in this area (unlike me -- I was a family law attorney at the time) and they can help with all kinds of problems, ranging from audits to tax payments, and they can even, in some cases, help stop already-taken IRS actions while they work out your case.

So I COULD have called them to help me with my self-employment tax problems, instead of taking the option I did take (changing my identity, temporarily, to "Fernando Valenzuela.") And they give free consultations, so it wouldn't have cost me anything to find out about what they could do.

Taxes are confusing and complicated -- but important. And if something's gone wrong, call someone who has the knowledge to help, like the people at

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rhode Island is the key to free baked goods. (3 Good Things 8)

Thursday, June 25 was a banner day for Good Things, but I limited it to just three to focus on as I try to make Friday a great day, too:

1. We had corn dogs for dinner, and Sweetie had set out honey to dip them in.

2. I got home from work early enough, and dinner was done early enough, and everything was cleaned up early enough, to take the Babies! to the Splash Park and the regular park for an hour last night.

3. I won an entire box of free bagels simply by stumping a talk-radio host -- he wanted listeners to name states that had never had a political sex scandal, and I said Rhode Island. Rhode Island= free bagels. Sweet.

T-shirts: The Fountain of All Wisdom and Authority, and yet they still have little to do with this topic. (Take a Book For Charity, 15)

Okay, so I won't pretend I'm not a little disappointed. The first auction of a Take a Book didn't go so well, in that nobody actually bid on the book. Now, that doesn't just mean that I didn't sell a book -- it means that Mateo and McHale Shaw didn't get any help paying off their medical bills.

But you know how the old saying goes: If at first you don't succeed, make a few vaguely-guilt-inducing comments and then pick yourself up off the spilt milk and put your head right back into the rose-colored, silver-lined clouds.

Seriously. I've got a t-shirt that says that, I think. Unless Sweetie threw it away.

But I'm going to follow my maybe-t-shirt's advice and keep going, and I'm going to keep going with big news: Dave Eggers has agreed to sign a copy of Eclipse for us to auction off.

So what I'm gonna do is this: I'm going to send him the same copy -- the Murder Mystery (aka The Greatest Rock Band In The History of Ever) autographed-copy-- and have him sign that one, too, so when I put it up for auction again, it'll be twice as valuable.

That's the Dave Eggers Multiplicant, you know. Math teachers know it well: Dave Eggers = Twice your previous value.

So if you... um... missed... your chance to bid on the book and help some kids, don't worry -- you'll get another one, as soon as I can mail this book to Dave Eggers (author of fabulous books and runner or owner or dictator of McSweeney's, as well) and have him sign it.

Oh, and just as Murder Mystery became The Greatest Rock Band In The History of Ever, Dave Eggers, for agreeing to help out, has now earned the title The Greatest Author In The History of Ever.

And before you ask, of course I have the authority to bestow that title. It says so on another -shirt I have. Unless Sweetie threw that one away, too.

Click here to visit Murder Mystery's Myspace

Click here to visit Dave Egger's McSweeney's.

Click here for a listing of all of Dave Egger's books.


Take a Book For Charity is my program in which I am asking that various organizations do something neat with my book, Eclipse, and then send it to me to auction off, with all the proceeds of that auction going to McHale and Mateo Shaw.

Want to take part? If you've got an idea for something interesting to take my book to, and want a donated copy for charity, email me at thetroublewithroy[at] Put "I'd like to take a book for charity" in the subject line.

And, the promotion I was offering if you just want to buy my book is still open: the first 50 people to send me a picture of them holding Eclipse get an awesome t-shirt, free!

For more information about the Shaw Twins, go here

To read up on the blog their parents keep and find out how to help more directly, go to "Caring Bridge" and type "Mateoandmchaleshaw" into the "Visit a Caring Bridge Site.'

And, as always, send your contributions to the Shaws to:

Mateo and McHale Shaw Irrevocable SNT
C/O Kohler Credit Union
850 Woodlake Road

Kohler, WI 53044

Also: If you are a library, community organization, or other charitable group and want a free copy of my book, email me at that address and I'll send you one. Put "Free Copy of Book" in the subject line.

Please tell me you get the reference in this!

The news shows are all abuzz with stories about people who have lost their jobs and decided to go into something else now... and most of those stories are about people opting to become bartenders and/or DJs. Did I miss something? Has our economy shifted to the point where in the near future our lives will all more or less mimic Brian Flanagan's? Will there be an endless supply of Jordan Mooneys?

I think, while those stories are appealing and all (Hey, look, he's making lemonade from lemons... literally! And remixing them! Get it!) they're also unlikely. I think that people intending to support their family on the wages earned by most bartenders are probably just another economic crash waiting to happen.

If I lost my job, or needed to make a switch to another industry, I'd move into heavy equipment. Heavy construction jobs are always needed -- even in the worst of the recession, there were still roads being maintained, government buildings going up, and other necessities.

At Associated Training Services' crane operation school, a person can learn to operate a Heavy Crane, or GPS Heavy Equipment, or even get a commercial driver's license. These jobs start, entry-level, at $12 or more per hour, and can go as high as $30 per hour.

But Associated Training Services doesn't just have you go to school (at one of their 10 locations nationwide) and then turn you loose. They know you're going there to get a job, and so they have job placement services available after you finish school, to make sure your education doesn't go to waste.

People, in good or bad times, need things shipped around the country, and they need buildings to store those things in, and they need roads to travel on to get those things places. That means people will always need heavy equipment operators -- and now might be the perfect time to get into school to learn it, before all those would-be bartenders and DJs realize their mistakes.

The show "Ropened" me in. (Look, if you don't like puns, you and I will never get along.) (3 Good Things 7)

When was the last time you drank from the hose in your backyard? Yeah, I thought so. Here's my 3 Good Things from yesterday -- Wednesday, June 24 -- to keep me in a good mood today.

1. The cold, crisp feeling of water from a garden hose -- Mr F was drinking from it and then I decided that I'd try it, too. I didn't regret it.

2. We got the two full sets of 50-States quarters that were sent by my Granduncle as a present.

3. At the health club, the TV was tuned to an interesting channel, for a change, allowing me to kind of exercise while I mostly watched Monster Quest on the History Channel -- which in turn allowed me to learn about the "ropen" of New Guinea, so I'm ahead of everyone else who doesn't know that there are pterodactyls living in New Guinea.

Yes, all right, I blame the Babies! for everything. (At least the stuff I don't blame on The Boy.)

Our two-year-olds, the Babies!, like to work on the computer, just like Daddy. That has necessitated me learning what a backup sql express database is, and here's why:

The Babies! will watch me doing all the various 'puting that I do (usually downloading songs and/or reading Wonderella) and then they try to do it. The problem with what would otherwise be a cute little image of Mr F or Mr Bunches trying to 'pute like Daddy is that they delete stuff.

I don't know how, but they do. They've deleted songs off our iTunes, they've deleted homework the older kids had there, and they once deleted about 50 pages of a book I was writing.

It doesn't even help to close those programs or minimize them -- I left the computer alone the other day and went into the kitchen to get some coffee, but I had all programs shut down, so it was just the screen saver. And yet, when I came back out to the desk, Mr F had not only gotten up on the chair to play with the computer, he'd opened up Word.

Keep in mind that many times, I can't get programs to open on our computer.

So it's necessary for us to back things up, and since everything in our house is within reach of the Babies! (they've learned to climb) I have decided to begin to back things up on the one place they can't climb to: The Internet. That's when I became acquainted with things like "SQL" and

Thanks to, I don't need to know what all that SQL stuff is about; I just need to know that they'll allow me up to 1,000 Gigabytes of information during a 15-day free trial of their service. (1,000 Gigs ought to cover about 1/10 of the pictures of cats we have stored on our computer, thanks to Middle).

Ebackitup allows anyone up to a mid-sized business to back up information using features like open file backup and MS Exchange backup - -and they do it remotely and offsite, so that no matter WHAT the Babies! try to do, my information is safe - -the Babies! would have to get to Los Angeles to wreak havoc on (not that I'm saying they can't do that; it'll just take them some time.)

Their files are safe and secure, too, which means I might be able to convince my boss at work to use this service for our work backup needs, too -- then no computer failure or other problem would interfere with the valuable legal work we do. even offers, on their site, links to what good backup practices are -- you might think you know how to back up your files, with tips you might not have thought of, and they've even got pictures of their facilities to prove how good they are.

You may not have Babies! around your house or office, but you almost certainly have a need to back up your files -- and now you can do that for 15 days, free, to see how you like it.

Our online backup solutions for home and business have features like MS Exchange backup, SQL backup and open file backup. Remote, offsite backup is made easy with

Critical data (like Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, My Documents, Financial Files, Retail Point of Sale Software and other Office files) can be backed up easily with Be sure to ask us about our advanced features.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Paperboy, Part 1 (Jobs vs. Life, 1)

Life is what happens when you're not working.
-- Me.

I like to believe that quote is true. It's one of the catchy little quotes I've come up with in my life, and this particular quote happens to be one that also encapsulates my essence, that essence being: I am a terrible employee/worker.

What else could you say about someone whose motto is "Life is what happens when you're not working," other than that the person who believes that is a terrible employee/worker? It tells you where I place work in the general scheme of things... and in case that's not explicit enough, I will set it out this way:

Work is less important than everything else that happens to me.

And, let's face it: You all feel the same way, too. We all feel the way I do, even if you don't admit it. I could put it to the test, if I had $300,000,000. If I had $300,000,000, I could give it to you and then see what you do a day, a month, or a year after you got that $300,000,000. I'd be willing to bet that you would not be at an office, wearing a tie (or a skirt, or a skirt and tie, depending on your preferences) and looking out your window longingly and thinking to yourself Life is what happens when you're not working, and also wishing that you could, instead of being at work, be walking along a path through a little forest, holding your two-year-old's hand in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other, and taking the time to point out interesting things:

"That's a tree," you want to be saying. "And that's a stream. I wonder if there's fish in there." And you'd know that your two-year-old probably wasn't getting the whole gist of what you would be saying, but it wouldn't matter because that's not the important part, anyway; the important part is the part about just being walking through the woods, with ice cream, etc.

Also, the important thing is to keep in mind that the other two-year-old you have would be involved, as well, but he's the more crazy/independent one and he would probably be running ahead, so that in between pointing out interesting things to the first two-year-old, you'd be also telling the other two-year-old to slow down and wait up, making your conversation be more like this:

"That's a tree... Mr Bunches, wait up! And that's a stream. Mr Bunches, put that down. Don't you put it in your mouth. Hey, stay on the path! No don't go in the stream! Get back here ! I wonder if there's fish in there. Let's not tell Mommy about this, and we'll just hope you dry off before we get home."

That's what we'd all rather be doing, and if I had $300,000,000 to give to you, you'd probably opt to do something like that instead of whatever it is you're supposed to be doing right now but you're not doing because you're reading this, instead. Except that if I had $300,000,000, I wouldn't give it to you. I'd keep it, because if I gave it to you, you'd get to take that walk in the forest and I'd still be here in my office with the sun shining outside but me inside.

But even though I've clearly got my Work/Life rankings in order, I still end up spending an inordinate amount of time at work. And I've done that since I was about 12 years old, when I first began working. I've had a job for 3/4 of my life, and my job, whatever it may be at a time, takes up anywhere from an hour or two a day to 10 hours a day -- at present, taking 9 or 10 hours a day, and most of the time spilling over onto the weekends or, like last week, interrupting a day of vacation with an emergency phone call.

Anything that takes up that amount of time must have some benefits, I began thinking. It must have done something for me, other than to simply allow me to do other things. I must have gotten something out of it (other than pay). Maybe I learned something? Maybe I grew as a person? Maybe I got valuable skills that paid off by pushing me on to bigger and better things?

I don't know.

I don't know because I'm still sitting here, in my office, with bright sun outside and me inside listening to talk radio and not working (like I said: terrible employee/worker. I wasn't kidding) and it doesn't seem to me, as I'm sitting here, that I'm getting a whole lot out of work other than the ability to have a life outside of work. If it wasn't for my job, I'd have no money. If I had no money, I'd have no house, no clothes, no books, no ability to buy that ice cream cone. I suppose I could still go for a walk in the woods, because that's free, but it would be a decidedly different walk if I was naked, starving and homeless while I did it.

Although even then Mr Bunches would probably get into that stream.

I sat down and listed all of the jobs I could remember having, as I sit here today. These are those jobs:

Chenequa Country Club.
Burger King
Marty’s Pizza
JCPenney’s Madison
That factory in Hartland
That public interest group fundraising thing
Coffee Trader
That restaurant where I worked just the one morning as a waiter with the drunk guy who irritated me.
Marcus Theaters
Marcus Theaters Washington D.C.
UWEX (?)
Registration office at UW (?)
Tenant Resource Center
Department of Revenue
Law Clerk
Self-employed Lawyer.
Lawyer at a law firm.

I've left off of that list volunteer jobs and internships and the like (those are in part explored elsewhere anyway). As I look over the list, I feel as though I'm missing some jobs -- as incredible as that may seem -- but I can't think of any others, not right now. Maybe it's all that sunshine outside that's distracting me.

The list alone doesn't give me any hints as to what I've gotten out of them, this collection of tasks that has taken up nearly 1/3 of my life, this list of things that I've done when I'd rather have been doing something else entirely.

And maybe I haven't gotten anything out of them, other than the ability to do other things when I'm not doing those jobs.

I've decided, then, to explore those jobs, in order -- and do so under the nom de timekiller "Jobs vs. Life," of which this is the first entry. (Don't get this confused with Cheesecake Truck or Ninety-Four, though.) I'll track through everything I can remember about each job I've had, in order, and see maybe whether that job ever gave me anything lasting, or any benefit beyond simply some pocket money, or if it was, as I suspect each of them was, just something that took time away from the rest of my life.

So let's begin with Paperboy.

There are no paperboys anymore. I don't think that anywhere in the world there is still a neighborhood where kids ride bikes or pull wagons around and drop papers off at people's houses, where 10 year olds walk up to people's houses weekly or monthly and ask them to pay for the previous week's papers. I might have been among the last generation of those people, because in my lifetime, I've seen paperboys become "Paper Guys," or "Paper Carriers," guys -- mostly guys -- driving older cars or jeeps around, early in the morning, cars stocked with 200 or 300 papers.

These paper carriers are not paper boys; they are, to my mind, mostly surly people who don't want to be up that early and who are doing this either as an adjunct to some other job, or because they can't qualify for any other job. They're guys -- mostly guys -- who fell into a job that was created by a confluence of forces ranging from serial killers to corporations.

Serial killers, or at least the idea of serial killers, began the demise of the paperboy, and corporations finished them off; both of those were helped by people's lives being so busy, as they put work ahead of life and focused more and more on careers and less and less on lives.

Here's what happened, and I'm absolutely correct about this, too. People stopped liking afternoon papers. Afternoon papers fell out of favor because people didn't have time to read them anymore. That didn't happen because of the Internet or the Kindle or the iPod or the other usual suspects blamed for killing off newspapers. It happened because more and more people were going to work: Moms were going to work, Dads were going to work longer, and as a result, people weren't home as early in the afternoons and didn't have as much time in the evenings to read papers.

So they didn't want afternoon papers anymore. They didn't want big thick newspapers full of news stories and features and comics, newspapers like the Milwaukee Journal, which I delivered in the afternoon beginning when I was 10.

The Milwaukee Journal, which was an afternoon paper, was a big paper. I still remember the Wednesday edition, which hurt my shoulder as I lugged it around the paper route we had in Hartridge -- a subdivision of tiny Hartland, Wisconsin, and exactly the kind of place where you would expect to find paperboys.

Reading that kind of big paper, with its numerous sections and comics and thick stories, required a lot of time -- time that the moms and dads back then had, because they worked 9-5 (or 8-5, or 8-6) and then came home and ate dinner and did yardwork and relaxed in front of the big TV that sat directly on the floor and got three, maybe four, channels.

Over time, though, people stopped wanting to read the evening paper. They didn't want news that was, by that time, nearly a day old and they didn't want to spend their evenings reading that old news. They were getting home later, and had bigger yards and bigger houses and there were VCRs and cable television providing other entertainment options, and so the papers slowly stopped publishing the afternoon papers, preferring to print morning editions that had fresher news.

Those morning editions were smaller and had fewer features and the articles were shorter, all designed so that people could read them quickly over breakfast or on the bus or train or helicopter or whatever it was people took to work. Those morning editions also had to be delivered by 5 or 6 a.m. (our paper, which I no longer read at all, arrives earlier than 4:30 a.m.), which pushed paper boys out of the market. Parents were not going to let their 10-year-olds or 12-year-olds get up at 4:30 in the morning to ride around a pitch-black neighborhood full of serial killers all to deliver a paper and earn $30 a week.

Those serial killers, or the idea of serial killers, helped push paperboys out, too. Everyone knows how this part of the story goes: when I was younger... blah blah blah, but it's true: when I was younger, things were different. We roamed around Hartridge with relative impunity, and it was a pretty big subdivision to roam around. We would ride our bikes to one of two or three parks, or around to friends' houses. We played late at night across four or five or six yards. We trick-or-treated at night and without parental supervision, going through the whole subdivision for hours. We went into the field -- traveling through "The Canyon" and to "The Pine Tree" and "Kill Hill" (we were not creative in the naming-features department, except for that latter title.)

And we did all that without our parents ever really knowing where, exactly, we were.

Picture that nowadays. If you are a parent of a kid in the 5-15 age range, picture telling them "Go play somewhere that's within, say, 1-2 miles of our house, and be back by dinner." When they start to tell you where they'll be, tell them "No, no, that's fine. Just stay within the vaguely-defined confines of our share of this municipality, and keep in mind that I don't care if you're going to walk through an actual swamp."

Then, if you're brave enough to do that, do this: Go tell your neighbors what you did. Lean over the fence, or walk up their driveway, and say "I haven't seen my 12-year-old in 2 hours, but I'm not worried."

You may want to call your lawyer before you do that. Nobody would do that nowadays. We wouldn't do that because of the certainty, the absolutely positively 100% certainty that those kids would be killed as soon as they got out of our sight.

My mom pioneered that belief, that serial killers are waiting just around the corner, and I believe that she spread it, possibly through psychic Mom powers, so I'm sorry for wrecking it for all the other kids. If it helps, when our own older kids were younger, we would let them wander, at times, around the neighborhood while we were at work, a practice we stopped when we began feeling guilty about exposing them to them multiple serial killers who were no doubt lurking at the Bergmann's pharmacy candy counter near our apartment.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have been a kid in New York City, or to raise kids nowadays in New York City. Since the only thing that is more unsafe than a suburban street is an urban street, I wonder whether my mom would have been as lax as she was, back then, and I wonder if I would have ever been lax with my own kids. Probably not. Everytime I'm in a big city (and by "big" I mean the size of Milwaukee or larger) I'm on constant guard for pickpockets, armed robbers, rioters, crooked policemen, members of the El Rukn gang, and, of course, serial killers. If I have kids with me, I double my alerts and lock the doors while we're still miles outside of the city.

My mom has long known-- not believed, but known -- that just around the corner or behind the bush or outside of the house are serialkillingrapistmurderers. She must not have always believed they were so close, or she would never have let us leave the house; I'm pretty sure that when we were kids, the serial killers had not yet made it to our subdivision, progressing only as far as town.

"Town" was Hartland, the village proper, and it consisted of a couple of streets of "downtown" and then, a little further on, across the highway, a rudimentary strip mall (at that time, when I was a kid, the strip mall had a Red Owl grocery store, a Drews department store, some pharmacy, a florist, and usually 2-3 empty stores) and an A&W restaurant. We knew town was bad because we weren't allowed to go into town very often, and almost never unsupervised. And, in town, there were places that were worse than others -- we could go into town (a bike ride of about 1 1/2 miles) to go to the Jackson's Department store candy counter, but we were not to hang around the Suburpia Sub Shop, because the guys that ran it (we were told) were dirtballs.

While town was mostly forbidden, no place in our subdivision outside of town was, and we were free to roam around it, at least for a while, and during that while I had the paper route that I would share first with Bill, then with Matt. We were the last of the kids to have a paper route in Hartland, as I said, and that's because, in part, the serial killers made it to the subdivisions and the smaller side streets and trick-or-treating had to end, kids had to have GPS trackers and parents had to put kids in daycare instead of leaving them home alone most days (as we were, as younger kids and then teens) and life became, in parents' minds, more unsafe than ever,to the point where, if I take the Babies! to the park and someone smiles at them, I pull them to me protectively and we huddle together until the potential serial killer decides to move on. Mom didn't raise any suckers.

Corporations finally killed off the paper boy, mostly because they wanted to get paid. When I was a paper boy, we had to "collect" once a week -- we would deliver papers all week and then go door-to-door, usually on Friday, to collect. Some customers were monthly, and some were weekly, but only a few were "prepaid," meaning only a few had actually paid the newspaper company in advance.

As I've learned in so many other jobs, including the ones where I was my own boss, it's never a good idea to get paid after you've given up the product. That's why grocery stores don't tell you to come back with your money the next day, and mechanics won't let you take your car until you give them cash. (Our mechanic won't, at least -- and he should give us a break, at least, because we mostly don't go even a week without taking one or the other car in there.)

Most customers, to be sure, were good customers. We'd go ring their bell and tell them how much they owed, and they'd pay us the $1 or $2 or whatever they owed. Sometimes they would tip us, which was nice -- never a lot, but anything is better than nothing. But there were the troublesome customers, the "monthly" payers who didn't answer their doorbell and didn't have the money on them when they did and promised to "get you next time, kid."

One of those that I remember was the guy who lived in the white house on the corner at the end of our street. His house was a duplex. One door-- his-- opened onto our street, and the other door (the lower) opened onto the other road, the road that made the corner. The house itself was nothing much: not very rundown or very kept up, either, which set it apart from the more meticulously landscaped houses in our subdivision. That, and the house was a duplex, which itself was something of a warning bell for the other people (like my parents) in the neighborhood. Duplexes implied renters, and renters was synonymous with undesirables.

This duplex, too, had gravel driveways for each resident. That, too, was frowned upon. A bare lawn, a duplex, gravel driveways: these people were trouble.

It wasn't that they didn't make some effort. One year, a row of tiny pine trees appeared in the front yard, each about 6 inches tall, about two feet apart. That was the sum total of landscaping in that yard. I don't know who did it -- a renter or landlord -- or what their motivation was, but it failed to impress my mom and dad.

"Those will never survive," they declared. "They probably bought them at some discount place."

It should have been no surprise to me that these people were not good at paying for their newspaper. I can recall the guy of the house (in my memory, he had a girlfriend or wife, somewhere, but I don't have any picture of her) answering the door, with a moustache and long hair and shirtless.

The shirtlessness, too, was a bad sign. People in our subdivision didn't go shirtless and certainly didn't answer the door shirtless. They might, as my dad did too often, sit around on Saturday mornings in their socks, underwear, and a t-shirt going over their checkbook, but they were by God fully clothed when they answered the door or otherwise went outside. My dad would wear slacks and a polo shirt to spray weeds in the yard.

The shirtless white house guy almost never paid. "I'll getcha next time, buddy," he'd tell me. Or "I don't got my wallet," or, simply, "I can't do it right now." We'd have to periodically stop delivering his paper until he paid up, and only when he did so, when we got money and could put a little check mark in the box next to his name in the little "book" of cards with each person's name and address on it, would we re-start the paper and go through the whole thing again.

Corporations don't like that -- they wised up at some point and decided that relying on the abilities of a 13-year-old to wrangle money out of a shirtless moustache guy is not a great business plan, and they realized, too, that all those thirteen-year-olds were eating into their profits: Why pay a bunch of kids to fail to collect our money, the news organizations must have said, when we can charge in advance and hire surly men to drop the papers off in the morning?

And so serial killers and corporations and people, in general, ended paper boy as an occupation.

But that hadn't happened, yet, when I was 12 -- when my dad said to me that I could start helping my older brother, Bill, on his paper route and start earning money doing that.

I told you, many of these would involve pizza. (3 Good Things 6)

Yesterday, Sweetie was pleased (I think) to have made the 3 Good Things list from the day before.

"I never make your Good Things list," she said. But what I've pointed out to Sweetie over and over is that she's a
permanent fixture on the Good Things list. I didn't think I needed to put anything specific on there because Sweetie is always one of the Good Things that happens to me every day.

In addition to Sweetie, yesterday's 3 Good Things were:

1. The electrician was able to fix the kitchen light that hasn't worked since I tried to fix it, almost two years ago.

2. Oldest took us out to buy me my Father's Day ice cream -- her present to me. (I got a "cookie dough Blizzard.")

3. Pizza for dinner!

Read the previous 3 Good Things here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

If the sea is any draw for you (3 Good Things 5)

How do I stay cool in the summer? You know what they say: It's not the heat, it's the 3 Good Things from yesterday that keep me optimistic about today:

Mr F giggling as we drove over speed bumps while taking the boys for an (air-conditioned) ride.
2. A really great discussion with Sweetie about where most people meet their spouses. (I say work; she says college.)
3. The song "I Don't Know" coming on my iPod randomly on the way to work and again on the way home:

The Spider Was A Little Bigger Than The One Pictured Here (I Get Paid For Doing This, 6)

Most of the time, this "I Get Paid" segment focuses on just how easy my job is, but I don't want you to get the wrong idea. Sometimes my job is both difficult and life-threatening, as it was today.

I had to drive to Milwaukee for a court hearing, and I opted to use that drive to return some phone calls on the way.

So there I was, talking on the phone with a client about possible ways to address a property situation of his, and also cruising along the highway at 70 miles per hour, when I saw it...

A spider.

Dangling down right in front of me, above the steering wheel, legs a-flailing and fangs glistening with poison. (Note: I could not see the fangs, but they were there.)

And yet: My client was still on the phone and we were at a critical part of the conversation, a part of the conversation involving "easements."

What would you have done? Probably panicked and driven your car off the road into a rocky canyon that was there for specifically that purpose. But you are not me.

I did not panic. Instead, I kept giving advice to the client while I tried to prop the phone up by my ear so that I could free up a hand and grab some paper off my legal pad and squish the spider --

--which was inching ever lower towards me, probably ready to bite me and kill me instantaneously--

Only... I couldn't prop the phone up because it is, for some reason, rectangular and tiny. So instead, I switched the phone to my left hand and continued talking about easements and adverse possession, and then leaned forward--

-- putting my face even closer to the deadly spider that was only inches above my steering wheel now--

-- so that I could bravely steer with my elbow while my right hand grasped around for some paper from that aforementioned legal pad... which was not within my reach.

And then: The spider started crawling back up its web, trying to get away so that it could jump out later and bite my eye.

Thinking quickly, and still steering with my elbow, I fumbled in the interseat compartment and got a paper towel I'd luckily saved from this morning's pocket breakfast. As I discussed easements by prescription with my client, I leaned forward and squished the spider before it could get away behind the visor, and then calmly changed lanes and got the car headed towards the exit I needed.

Then, on the way home, I listened to music and held my arm out like an airplane wing.

I only hope I don't run into that "Bride" from the Kill Bill movies. But she left Tokyo, didn't she?

Like most of you, I spend 99% of my time planning what I'm going to do when I win the lottery. (Note to fate: I said "when, not "if.") And number one on my list is travel around the world.

I always figured that I'd begin, when I do that, with Japan. Japan seems so fascinating to me -- so foreign and glamourous and busy and full of weird things like square watermelons and superfast trains and ninjas. (They have ninjas in Japan, right? They'd better, by the time I get there) And robots. Don't forget that. The robots are important.

I always, though, figured that I'd have to win the lottery to see Tokyo and the rest of Japan. Win the lottery or become a famous and rich writer like David Sedaris, I suppose - - because I'd always heard that Japan is superexpensive (those robots growing square watermelons don't come cheap, I suppose.)

Then I found out today about the Accor Hotels City Super Sale, and I clicked on over there out of curiousity/a desire to not actually do any REAL work today, and found that I could book a room in this hotel:

For $125 per day in US Dollars.

$125 a day.

Consider this: I just paid $130 to stay in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for a night. I could stay in Tokyo for less than it costs to go to Oshkosh.

And the Mercure says that it's just a short walk from there to the Ginza shopping, to a Kabuki theater and the fish markets.

So I could go to Tokyo -- exotic, futuristic, Blade-Runner-without-all-the-rain-and-death Tokyo -- and see square watermelons and robots and the streets of Tokyo and experience one of the oldest and most foreign cultures (and brush up on my Japanese, which I haven't spoken since college) and even see the Asakusa Kannon Temple -- with its 10-foot-tall, 220 pound paper lantern -- all for only $125 per night.

And it gets even better: the Accor website promises up to 60% discounts for booking online -- if I were to book online between June 23 and June 29, and then travel in July, August, or September, 2009, I could knock 60% off some of my travels.

It's like winning the lottery, almost -- I could start my around the world trip and have it be less expensive than I ever imagined.

I am proud to say that when I went abroad, I made it home without even starting a single civil war.

If there is one thing I'm wholly in favor of, it's study abroad programs for high school students and college students.

After all, I studied abroad, and I learned many valuable things, things like "If you don't want to get grossed out, don't ask what, exactly, you're eating," and "When people say the water is safe, they're lying."

If I hadn't been so busy learning those things, and also reinforcing the stereotype of the Dumb, Loud, American, I would also have learned things about other cultures by immersing myself in them, and learned languages fluently by speaking them constantly just to get around, and become a better-rounded, more open-minded person -- that's the kind of thing study abroad programs do. For people who are not me.

And now, anyone can study abroad for a semester or a year -- they just have to sign up for a program through Carpe Diem, a site I found while checking out my legal options for shipping The Boy away for a while. (Don't tell Sweetie! It's a surprise for her.)

Carpe Diem sends kids on study abroad programs for 3 months to a year, in places like Central America, Australia, India, South America, and Africa. But they don't just put students into that country and turn them loose -- these are programs designed to help kids study, and help kids actually learn about a country. Carpe Diem (which has been operating, with its partners, since 1978) strives to keep kids safe but also put them into the actual country. So your kids don't go to Cancun or some resort town. They travel to the remote areas of host countries outside of tourist traps, balancing trips to those sites with more "Americanized" areas in the country.

The program says that it believes that "self-awareness, like a muscle, grows best if you can alternatively expand and contract." So they let students learn gradually -- and apply that learning without becoming overwhelmed.

They even help offer financial aid - not only can you get regular student loans for this, but you can also get some help and scholarships through Carpe Diem itself.

Studying abroad will improve and broaden any student's education. It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to submerge a young mind into a totally new culture and expose him or her to wonderful and exotic languages, customs, people, and countries. It will enrich anyone's life, and if you are a high school senior or college student, or know one, you should check this out.

Just remember: they're lying about the water.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Who knew a two-year-old would be such a good choreographer? (3 Good Things 4)

Back to work after vacation, but I can keep a positive attitude because of the 3 Good Things from yesterday:

Coconut Cream Pie Milkshake at lunch.
2. Got time to read nearly 100 pages of the Lensman book -- and it was a good installment, too.
3. I got to be part of Mr Bunches' dance routine that he does to the Snow White DVD trailer song. Quite an honor.

Read yesterday's 3 Good Things here.

Kansas is just a concept (Sunday's Poem, 22)

Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet

by Tony Hoagland

At this height, Kansas
is just a concept,
a checkerboard design of wheat and corn

no larger than the foldout section
of my neighbor's travel magazine.
At this stage of the journey

I would estimate the distance
between myself and my own feelings
is roughly the same as the mileage

from Seattle to New York,
so I can lean back into the upholstered interval
between Muzak and lunch,

a little bored, a little old and strange.
I remember, as a dreamy
backyard kind of kid,

tilting up my head to watch
those planes engrave the sky
in lines so steady and so straight

they implied the enormous concentration
of good men,
but now my eyes flicker

from the in-flight movie
to the stewardess's pantyline,
then back into my book,

where men throw harpoons at something
much bigger and probably
better than themselves,

wanting to kill it,
wanting to see great clouds of blood erupt
to prove that they exist.

Imagine being born and growing up,
rushing through the world for sixty years
at unimaginable speeds.

Imagine a century like a room so large,
a corridor so long
you could travel for a lifetime

and never find the door,
until you had forgotten
that such a thing as doors exist.

Better to be on board the Pequod,
with a mad one-legged captain
living for revenge.

Better to feel the salt wind
spitting in your face,
to hold your sharpened weapon high,

to see the glisten
of the beast beneath the waves.
What a relief it would be

to hear someone in the crew
cry out like a gull,
Oh Captain, Captain! Where are we going now?


I picked this poem based on the title alone, at first, doing so because one of the main reasons I love flying is that it represents absolute freedom to read. Every other time in your life that you choose to just sit and read a book, there are are 10,000 other things you could be doing: yardwork, housework, work-work...but on a plane, you are free to do...nothing. Nothing but read.

Then, when I read the poem, I liked how it captured the moment of reading on the plane, and expanded it to something else, to the daydreaming that occurs on a plane linked to the daydreaming that occurs as a child and the dreaming that occurs when reading, and contrasted that all with the reality of life. In the end, I think the poem stands for the concept that it is the things that occur in our dreams and imaginations that are far better than the things we experience in real life.

The best way to unwind? Getting sprayed in the face with some ice-cold water. (3 Good Things 3)

As I prepare to celebrate Father's Day in style (meaning: hamburgers and napping) here's the 3 Good Things that happened to me yesterday:

1. The contract for the publication of my short horror story, Don't Eat My Face came via email. I have a contract! From a publisher!

2. My Entertainment Weekly had not one, but two albums in it that I added to my Must Buy list.

3. Hosefight with Mr F in the backyard from 7:30 to 8 p.m.

Read the previous 3 Good Things here.

Mr F and Mr Bunches can be kind of tough on the things they touch -- they've broken toys, chairs... and me.

As the owner... I mean father... of two small boys, two small boys who like to go to bed with markers and milk and snacks and dirty shoes that they insist on wearing to bed, I am familiar with the need to have a lot of Baby Bedding.

But the fact that we buy our Baby Bedding Sets in bulk doesn't mean we don't want quality stuff to put on their beds. We need a lot, but we don't want them sleeping on burlap.

That's why I'm going to open an account at They've got a lot of high-quality bedding supplies in boys, girls, and unisex -- ranging from dragonflies and sailboats to simple patterns that'll go with any room. They're all 100% cotton and soft enough for babies, but durable enough for my Babies!

It's not just sheets, either -- they'll sell you a whole 12 piece set, so you'll have sheets and blankets and pillowcases and crankshafts or whatever it is that completes the bedding set, and the prices are low enough that I can not only afford to buy them, but I can afford to buy them and then let the Babies! sleep on them. In their shoes. With their markers. While eating their hocolate chip cookies. (What's that? No, honey, I don't know how they got those in bed.)