Friday, June 30, 2006

A Crack About Coppertone

I avoid the sun. It has never been good to me, as I go directly from pale, pallbearer white to a lobster dressed up as a redneck for Halloween, mostly because I never prepare myself for a cancer-causing skin burn. Usually, when I'm working outside, I'll wear a big straw hat and I’m usually wearing a t-shirt, so I get a farmer’s tan, and I stupidly never wear sunblock (you ever had sunblock sweat into your eyes while you’re working in the yard? Not fun). So, I’ve been charred upon several occasions, one particularly unfortunate experience was in the summer of 1990, a few days before my Senior year began, Mark Lee, his younger brother and I went to the beach. Since I’m not one to contract some skin disease by swimming in the pollution and runoff that is the Pacific Ocean in the greater LA area, I avoided the water… add to this that I don’t much care for the sand either. Come to think of it, it was quite boring and I’m not even sure why I went. Mark and his brother spent the whole time in the water, as is normal on a beach trip, and I was by myself. Knowing my disgust of the ocean, I brought a book. A half-hour later, I was dead asleep, on my back. Three or four hours later, they returned, woke me up and we went home.

You never know the severity of a burn until you get home and take a shower. Sure, you think you’re a little pink, but there’s nothing more eye-opening than scalding water on a sunburned body, and then a sandpaper lined terrycloth towel to dry off with. But then, I was so sunburned, the water didn’t really need to be toweled off of me, and I think I was so scorched that the water evaporated before it even reached my back. I got out of the shower just as dry as I went in.

The truly funny part… what, a smoldering sunburned person isn’t funny? Well, the funny part is the haircut I got a couple of days later. As if my life wasn’t bad enough, I didn’t know that you expose a white ring around your entire head when you get a hair cut after a severe sunburn. It was a chalky white halo. Added to this, I went to a barber shop that must be in the lobby of a beautician’s school, as out of the turnstile with her diploma in hand was a mangling hatch-wielding lawnmower repairman who possessed the depth perception of a one-eyed pirate with hooks for hands and the ability to brandish a pair of scissors like one would a hedge trimmer on the back forty.

I think, when school started, my friends used the term “Mon Chi Chi” if you know what that is, and I didn’t, but I got the idea. My hair was round, the same length on the sides as it was on the top, like a hair wiffle ball, and about an inch long, too short to lay down and too long to look intentional. So, I looked like an angry lobster with a fuzzy cut-pile carpet hair cut. Sadly, there are no surviving pictures. It took three weeks to grow out and about the same amount of time for my entire face to complete peel off.

The whole ordeal could have been avoided if I had applied a healthy coat of sunblock, you know, the kind made by the fine people at Schering-Plough HealthCare, otherwise known as Coppertone, the innovator in skin protection.

In 1944, pharmacist Benjamin Green invented a potion that helped sun worshipers to tan quicker and safer. You see, back in the day, it was uncouth to be tan; it meant you toil in the fields and that you were poor. Soon, being tan meant you were rich and had a lifestyle around the pools in the Hamptons. Then someone decided a tan person was a healthy person, but the pill-peddler turned lotion-potion pusher Green’s newly founded company didn’t make a dime on his product until the following year when he met Joyce Ballantyne Brand. Who’s that? See for yourself, a delightful story about an undersexed old lady:

Much to my surprise, the old Coppertone logo, really an icon of advertising and a subject of so much parody, from “Family Guy” to “Rolling Stone,” has been changed, not updated like Disney Winnie the Pooh from A.A. Milne’s “classic” Winnie the Pooh, but changed to acquiesce to the kowtowing supporters of some kind of modern drive toward a more PC world, a place where we can only bow to one another so as we don’t offend them. Mexicans are Hispanics, stewardesses are flight attendants, blacks are African Americans, janitors are custodial artisans, whites are Caucasians (I’m not from the Caucuses, so why am I Caucasian… I should be European American), and my dog isn’t a dog, she’s a Canine-American, thank you very much. We are entering an environment that doesn’t allow people to make their own choices but one that makes moralistic decisions for us, as if we lack the comprehension to decide right from wrong.

What am I getting at? Look at the two images below (sorry for the lack of quality in the modern Coppertone logo, as it appears as though they are slowly trying to get ride of it so I couldn’t find a better version). The image on the left is the original design, drawn by Joyce Ballentyne Brand after a picture taken of her three-year-old daughter Cheri. Really folks, don’t make me reiterate the article, just read through to the link above. I’ll wait.

Okay, you’re back.

The image on the right is the modern version of Coppertone’s iconic logo. Notice something different? Yep, they redrew her so the dog isn’t exposing as much of her backside as in Brand’s original drawing. The logo has been on billboards, commercials, newspapers, magazines and millions of bottles of sun tan lotion for 60 years and suddenly the sight of a drawing of a little girl’s rear end is too much of an obscene shock for us, as a society, to handle? I’m dumbfounded. Have you been down the suntan lotion aisle lately? The Coppertone girl is the most innocent looking one of them all.

Where have we evolved as a community that the image of a toddler’s bum is labeled as offensive, suggestive or moralistically damaging when we can turn on the TV on any given day during football season and see some beer-bellied porker who’s just painted his gut blue and it’s is hanging halfway down to his knees… and that’s not offensive? You see more of him than I’m comfortable with, sure, but all I see is a fat idiot with a blue stomach. It certainly solidifies my heterosexuality.

But that’s the difference… and yet it is a similarity, something the marketing lackeys at Coppertone can’t see: The similarity is that the fat guy as well as the Coppertone girl aren’t perceived in a sexual nature by normal upright citizens of moral good standing. But the difference is that we are sooner than later catering everything about our world to the lowest common denominator. If someone might find it sexual in nature, then it is the fault of the image and not that of the viewer and it must be corrected. It is the same defense rapists use when they say “she deserved it because of the way she dresses.” And how about all of this anti-religion in government? So, two percent of the world thinks that there’s no place for religion on our money, yet they’ll still spend it when they get it.

Back to the topic: I am a little put out by the use of sex in advertising in general, as it makes the product look tawdry, as if it can’t stand on its own merit and it has to tease our testosterone by dangling a woman undulating on a car in front of a hamburger. By covering up Coppertone girl, what are we protecting ourselves from? Are there roving bands of pedophiles drooling over bottles of suntan lotion? And, if so, won’t they just move on to Little Debbie cakes or St. Pauli Girl beer? Why should we change for them? What we need to do is listen to the majority of the people and their wishes and stop curtsying to special-interest groups and squeaky wheels that want to distort society to their liking.

But really, c’mon, the Coppertone girl? What I take issue with here is the progressive prudishness that is being forced on our society, and I think we are creating a world where sexuality, masculinity, femininity and the sensuality we share with people of the opposite sex will soon be labeled as distasteful, they’ll be banished from public and all of popular culture. Yet, crap on MTV will still invade our homes, distort our youth’s idea of who they are and create a twisted reality of what sex and love is all about. Hypocritical, you say? No, and here’s why. One word: Taste. The Coppertone ad is done tastefully with tact and creativity. Skanky girls in mini skirts and thongs rooting through guys’ underwear drawers to decide which one she will date is less than decent, at the most. If that’s where society is headed, cancel my satellite service, stop my mail and ship me into the woods like Thoreau to take stock in what I believe in and how I feel about the world around me.

That felt good. Since I’ve been so busy with work lately (I had a half-dozen articles due last week and I’m happy to say that I got them all done) that I haven’t had the energy or the mental capacity to entertain a rant in a while. For this I have all of the people at Coppertone to thank who feel their logo breaks some sort of new moral code the rest of us don’t agree upon. What’s next? Dutch Boy has to take his finger out of the dyke?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Nudist Colony

Maybe it’s the weather. It has been stiflingly hot and unusually humid (nearly 60 percent) So, perhaps the 100-degree heat is the problem too, but there hasn’t been a day recently that Natalie hasn’t suddenly and randomly ended up completely naked at some part during the day. It’s not like there’s any plan for it, she just does it when the mood strikes. Some times, after she goes to the bathroom, she forgets (or neglects) to put back on her underwear, and that’s usually where it starts. From there, I’ll find a sock here, a shoe there, maybe a pair of pants on the stairs or a shirt in the hallway, and then I’ll walk into my office and she’ll be sitting at the computer, as God created her, playing a game on Noggin or Playhouse Disney. “I’m working, Daddy.” Yes, yes you are, now let’s put on some underwear at least. “No,” and she’ll run off and hide, giggling all the way.

The other day, I was filling her big plastic alligator pool for an afternoon of swimming and splashing (see Kara’s blog for pictures), and Natalie joined me in the backyard to watch the water flow into the pool. She was excited to go swimming in the pool like she’s done many times so far this summer, and I look down… she had stripped off all her clothes and was running around the yard like a hippy, laughing and jumping as the sun reflected off her white bum. She seems to enjoy being nude; maybe she is enjoying a sense of freedom associated with going au natural or maybe she knows it bothers me.

Yesterday, I was in my office working (yes, I know, shocker!), and she runs into the room, bam, she’s completely naked. The funny part is that she strikes a pose, like she’s on some kind of anti-fashion catwalk. She turns to the side, puts her hand on her hip, looks over her shoulder and pushes out her butt, and the part that had me rolling was, as she did that, she annouces, “Heyyy heyyyyyyy” (The included picture is similar to the pose she assumes, but obviously, she’s wearing a dress this time).

So, I don’t know what to do, but when you come visit the house one day, and all of the sudden a little toddler runs through the room as naked as a jaybird laughing something about “hey hey hey, look at me, I’m a nudie bum,” just pretend you didn’t see it. No, we’re not starting a commune and no we’re not naturalists or hippies. We’re just regular folk raising a seemingly clothes optional child. I dearly hope it’s a phase. I mean, really, we've spent a lot of money on her clothes and I'd hate to see them go to waste. To be punny, I'd like to see them go to waist! Har, har.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Haunted House

You can learn a lot by accidentally opening a piece of mail not addressed to you. Now that I’m seeing certain events in this new perspective, it explains a lot about what happened, and how it happened the first couple of days after we moved into this new house. I’m convinced it is haunted. Now, don’t get me wrong, the jury’s still out on whether or not ghosts do or do not exist; part of me wishes that they do, but with the same token, I wish they’d hold a press conference about their existence. I mean, really, c’mon. You’re a ghost and you have unfinished business here with the living? Well, make yourself known, and not just to the crazy people either. Do your research. Find a credible person to talk to. Call Barbara Walters or Peter Jennings and tell them your story. Oh wait… sorry, Peter Jennings, you need call Barbara Walters and tell her your story and quit freaking people out. Better yet, there are people looking for you right now.

As a kid I had always wanted a poltergeist, even after seeing the movie. I just thought it would be neat to freak out houseguest by having stuff moving about the room during their stay. But why can’t they be nice? Why aren’t ghosts helpful like Casper? I could really use some help around here some times, and it would be nice to have someone get me a drink from the fridge who could go through walls. Some times, there’s just too many stairs.

Wait, so any way, I’m convinced the house is haunted, not by some spirit seeking his revenge or help into the after life, but by the laziest ghost in the Underworld. Seriously, what kind of world do we inhabit where phantoms are allowed to be lethargic? Frankly, it makes me glad to be alive.

So, the story starts the first night we moved into this house. After a hot sunny day of moving furniture, it was nice to finally settle into bed. There’s a palpable mix of euphoria and eeriness hovering over the bed that night. The boxes piled up in various corners of the rooms cast odd shadows on the walls, and there’s a strange, creepy feeling throughout the house, like I just don’t belong within it’s walls. It’s dark, pitch black. I don’t know where anything is. And everything is so deathly quiet, I expected tombstones to sprout up from the floors at any moment.

Suddenly, from downstairs, Elsa begins to bark ferociously, as if her mortal enemy has suddenly appeared before her eyes and she is trying everything to get outside for the confrontation. Springing from the bed I glance bleary-eyed out the window at the moon-drenched yard below, and a black shadow springs to life on the grass, bounding towards the wall in successively higher and higher leaps until it almost appears airborne. As if it abruptly sensed my presence, it took flight over the wall into my neighbor’s yard, and my eyes followed where it should have landed on the other side, but I didn’t see it return to the earth. I scanned the wall for any signs, but it had vanished into thin air.

By then, Elsa was quiet, perhaps awestruck at the unidentified visitor’s movements. Sleeping after that was nearly impossible. My heart raced, and I watched the yard through the window for a long time, half hoping that whatever it was would return, but half hoping it wouldn’t.

Then, it began to rain, unexpectedly, a downpour which lasted for all of 10 minutes. The following morning there was a dead bird on the patio in our backyard and the dirt around the side of the wall had been disturbed. Was it a warning sign? Was it a message from the world’s beyond this one that we are not welcome in this house?

Perhaps it wasn’t, I reasoned, ever being the logical one, but my thoughts and common sense were time and time again challenged as I started to notice other strange things occurring. For example, things will go missing for no reason. Books, papers, mail and toys disappear. Natalie used to have six little frogs. Now there’s only two. Doors will slam shut upstairs when the whole family is in the living room, downstairs. Elsa, whom I have decided can see the spirits of the dead and undead as they walk unseen by human eyes into and out of this world, would bark at something for no reason, looking up into the center of the room as if she was looking up at someone. Outside, she visits one corner of the yard, sniffs around repeatedly as if something had just been there.

The largest clue didn’t arrive until this afternoon. In the mail today, we were delivered a thick letter from a law office, and since we had just filed a living trust, I assumed it had something to do with that, so I opened it without looking at the addressee. Inside, the envelope contained settlement papers of a tragic event that happened nearly five years ago; I quickly surmised that I had opened a letter that wasn’t addressed to me, but the news I learned was too disturbing to repackage back in the envelope before reading. It appears as though the wife a previous owner of this house was murdered while at her job in downtown L.A.

Doing some investigating, I went out to the gas meter where the Gas Company has a habit of writing your name on the meter when the service is changed from owner to owner. Next to my name, the last name of the murdered woman was written on the meter with a reading of 0000. They were the original owners of the house, so it would make sense that she has an emotional attachment to the house that may transcend space and time, the fabric of mortality and the long-reaching grasp of the “other side.”

It all seems to make sense now, and the realization gave me quite a chill. The apparition floating over the wall in the middle of our first night here. The sudden rain shower. Elsa barking. Toys missing. Noises. Creeks. The dead bird. It all is coming together: The woman has returned to take possession of her house.

But she really isn’t trying very hard. Maybe she’s new at the job and not really experienced at extricating the living, but where’s the rattling chains in the attic? Where’s the scratches on the walls or the knives flying through the air? No deep, evil sounding voice of the damned has even once said, “Get Out!” I would have expected, at the very least, a moan or two in the middle of the night. I mean, everything that happened is easily explainable. The black shadow that jumped over the wall could have been a dog. The walls are quite low and I’m surprised that Elsa didn’t figure out that she could jump them too. The rain show was a result of the suddenly cooling of a humid day. It rained two nights ago and we had 100-degree weather. The dead bird? Bird’s die, and that one happened to be flying over our patio at the time he suffered a heart attack and went down. I’m sure all birds don’t die conveniently on the ground. Elsa barking at the ceiling in various rooms? What can I say? She’s an idiot, and I’m surprised she doesn’t drown when she takes a drink and forgets to pull her head out of her bowl.

So, maybe the house isn’t haunted. It was only built in 1998, and that doesn’t seem like a long enough time for word to get around the Necropolis that we are worthy of a good haunt.

In all seriousness, it is a terrible tragedy that someone can be murdered in this day and age of social “enlightenment,” and the ones that need to roam the wastelands of purgatory in the rotting skins of their undead bodies are the people that make this a scary and unsafe world. Of course, raising children in it is what’s really haunting me.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ugh, Too Much Wine and Not Enough Good Sense

You know you’ve had too much to drink when you’re taking extremely close-up pictures of bugs on a stucco wall because you think the contrast looks too cool to merely make a mental note of it. It must be documented, repeatedly, but you think you’re taking nothing but out-of-focus pictures and that your camera might need repair until you realize you’re the one out of focus. The remedy is another glass of wine.

You know you’ve had too much to drink when it is two in the morning, you’re by yourself on the couch and you are overjoyed to discover that you’ve stumbled upon a “Three’s Company” marathon on Nick at Nite.

You know you’ve had too much to drink when the very thought of opening your eyes the next morning sends the chill—only a cold sweat could bring—wafting across your brow, and you begin the ritual of swearing off the liquor if only you would suddenly feel better, just 10 percent better, you bargain. No avail, the piper wants his money and you’ve got to pay.

You know you’ve had too much to drink when your mouth tastes and feels like you stuffed it with that cotton plug you find in a medicine bottle, a taste no glass of warm water on your nightstand can eradicate. Your tongue is a thick, dry, dead piece of meat awkwardly filling your mouth, and each one of your teeth have their own frequency of vibration, sending shock waves to the base of your brain, the part that condemns you, geometrically, for each glass of wine you had the night before.

The bed whirled. Black spots, big ones, swirled with the ceiling fan, and the very thought of thinking hurt my head, like a stake through my eyes. Closing them didn’t help, it was still there, and oily feeling on your face from sweat, alcohol, meat and dirt gave my whole body a slick feel, slimy like grease. Morning belches with remnants of steak and spicy sausages adds to the nausea; throwing up would always improve things, you always feel better after you throw up, but I could never allow myself to go through with it. Even though I know I’d feel better by removing, at least, some of the toxins, I fight down the stomach convulsions, as my esophagus burns. A shower would be a good idea, a great way to re-hydrate via osmosis, but the weight of my giant head was too much to hold up, so I bee-lined back to bed to try to sleep it off. I left the shower on even. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to make it standing up much long, and it was the floor or the bed.

It didn’t take Natalie long to find me and begin to play her favorite morning “wake-up” game: Jump on daddy’s tummy. Ugh.

It always seems like a good idea, at the time, to open another bottle of wine, even though you have to clear away a forest of empty ones to make room for the fresh bottle. What is it? Who cares, it’s red and I can pour it without spilling it. Where’s it from? Who knows? Everybody have some. Here, here, here, here. Everybody got some? Great. To your health.

To your health. What an ironic statement, especially since I could feel my brain tearing away from the inside of my skull, undoubtedly shrinking from dehydration and stupidity.

Whose health was I drinking to? Certainly not mine.

I ate two steaks, large ones, about the size of my outstretched hand, more meat than any one person should eat in a single sitting I’m sure. Added to that, I devoured a sausage link; I’d say a good eight inches worth, and let’s not forget some tuna and chicken, all barbequed to perfection on the grill by yours truly. There was a pile of rice doused in thousand island dressing (don’t wrinkle your nose, it’s good), and I actually had some leafy greens in the form of a salad; funny thing, when I did, I actually diluted myself into thinking I was having a halfway healthy meal for once, instead of my usual processed horse-hooves and chicken-beaks cylinders of “meat” and mustard.

Accompanying all of that was the wine, of course, and I think there might have been five bottles involved, maybe more, and there was only three of us doing most of the imbibing, Julie, Joe and me. Carol and Kara had some, but I’m sure I took full responsibility to make sure my glass was never empty for long… and that happened about seven or eight times, maybe more. Who counts? I wasn’t driving. I had no plans later. Who keeps track when there’s always another open bottle somewhere in the house? I was over served. My own impeccable hospitality came back to bite me.

All I know, is that it has been years since I felt that poorly in the morning after a party, and the guilt of being a responsible person who can’t seem to lift his head from the pillow is a harsh thing to endure, especially since Kara had no compassion for my plight. Can’t blame her; it’s not like I was genuinely ill. I had, as she so sweetly put it several times throughout the morning, done this to myself. I was useless. The house could have burned down around me, and I’m sure there was still so much alcohol in my system that I would have gone up like a torch (as I had only stopped drinking six hours before I woke up). And I wouldn’t have cared enough to lift a finger to save my own sweaty skin.

I broke my own rules. I drank wine and wine only and a lot of wine. I didn’t offset each glass of wine with a glass of water. I didn’t take two aspirin and a big glass of orange juice right before I went to bed. I didn’t even eat a lot of bread. As a result, it was hangover goodness for breakfast, as the very thought of cold flaccid pancakes smothered in syrup sent my gag reflex reeling.

Am I the kind of person to promise “Never again!” as I’m resting my cheek on the side of the toilet praying to God to smite me from the planet, or at least sever my head from the rest of my body for detox purposes? Of course not. That’s just silly. I’m a realist, always have been. I see it like it is and I think I tell it like it is. I like a cold beer upon occasion. I enjoy wine on any occasion, and no matter how sick something makes you, you’ll be back for more if it is something you enjoy. Fettucini alfredo from Spaghetti Eddies use to make me bowel-bustingly ill each and every time I ate it, but I still ordered it every time we dined there. Glutton for punishment? No, but I felt that each time I ate it, that would be the time it wouldn’t affect me, but after 10 or 12 times of spending too much time in the bathroom in the wee hours in the morning, I decided that my GI track is allergic to something in the dish. How about the In-N-Out headaches I get from eating Double-Doubles? Certainly won’t stop me from eating them. You see what I mean.

Is there a lesson here? Nah, not a good one anyway. I guess, if abstinence is the best form of safe sex than the best way to avoid a hangover is to not drink in the first place. Well, in both cases, what’s the fun in that?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Workweek, Weekend, Whatever

It’s hot, smoldering, sizzling hot, the kind of heat that flashes images in my mind of NYC fire escapes draped with sweltering, dripping wet people avoiding the stuffy air inside their apartments, and that always reminds me that I would enjoy sleeping outside on nights like this, which, in turn, I then picture the older couple with the dog that lived in the upper apartment across the courtyard in “Rear Window,” and, of course, it goes without saying that I then reminisce of my grandparents’ giant sleigh bed they used to sleep in on summer nights like this… on the back patio. This is how my mind works, one track, straight out of town and it rarely circles back.

I think Summer made the decision tonight that it was tired of just being a daytime season like Spring and it wanted a little of the nighttime action Winter gets each year (well, not around here anyway, as Summer is a year-round resident). It’s one in the morning and 82 degrees, and I just now finished giving Matty his midnight bottle; rocking back and forth on the chair in his room while I fed him provided a much appreciated breeze on my face, it’s that stifling, and I feel bad for my brother and his newborn, as their house lacks a/c.

I’ve got the radio on in my office, which is somewhat relaxing, and it seems cooler when there’s music, as if to say that if the radio works, it can’t be that hot. The window’s open, fan’s on, I’m in as little clothes as legally allowed, and the night air outside is filled with crickets and the occasional June Bug smacking into the screen. I actually reached my workload goal for the day, surprise, surprise, so I thought I’d waste a little of everyone’s life by updating my site; note the various changes, including a Simpson’s quote generator to the left and the mild changes in the quotes above that.

Sadly, it took me 14 hours of the day to get here, aside from an hour break for dinner and some horseplay with Gnat in the “train room” (if you’ve been to my house, you know what that is), but other than that, I’ve been uncharacteristically productive, slowly scratching off items on the editorial “to do” list that’s been looming over me like the ecstatic weight of happy news at a funeral; you want to tell someone, anyone, but everyone’s crying, at least until the will’s been read.

I thought I would be up nearly all night easily, as I’ve got quite a load of work still ahead of me, so I started to heavily caffeinate myself early in the day in preparations for burning the midnight oil, and I’m working on the tail end of a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke right now. So, I’m not tired, but I should be; my caffeine high is complemented by the occasional blood-curdling screams emanated from the bedroom next to my office, from Kara’s mom, who talks in her sleep. It makes my heart leap from my chest sometimes, but when I realize that nobody’s being murdered, it’s funny and I’ll have to remember what she says to rib her about it over breakfast tomorrow morning.

So, I’ve got that semi-permanent caramel taste permeating my mouth, and my teeth are buzzing like a neon sign, but that’s probably just the acid quietly eating its way through the enamel on my pearly whites; right now my father is muttering to himself what he always says to me when I consider harming my teeth: “You’d better take good care of those, we spent a lot of money on them.” Meaning the braces of my early teenage years. But in my 33 years chattering away with my remaining 26 teeth (I lost two to make room for the above said braces and two wisdom teeth), only one of them has succumbed to a cavity, and as a kid, I would store them in a bowl of sugar for days as I plowed my way through a box of Twinkies, a gallon or two of Coke and/or other confectionaries that would make my dentist tear up his ADA credentials at the hopelessness of America’s dental future. I think that they might go the way of my metabolism; one day, they’ll just give up and fall out with very few warning signs. Maybe some cracking sounds, like breaking ice, and I’ll be gumming those Twinkies.

Thanks to a coincidental watershed of deadlines that all converge on each other Monday afternoon, I’m giving up my weekend for dead, but then again, what is a weekend to a guy who punches the clock at home and can make any given Tuesday into a Saturday? It’s a psychological ruse of the calendar, something we learned to cherish at a young age in school, when Friday meant school was over and Sunday meant you’d better get your homework done before bed. Same thing goes for the working stiffs, the nine-to-fivers, but there’s no summer to look forward to, so each day, each week, and each month blends into another so smoothly we should just abandon the regular calendar in lieu of a “working man’s” calendar: We could cram all 104 days of Saturdays and Sundays into three solid months of pools, beer, barbeques, and lawn mowers and then languish the rest of the 261 consecutive, continuous, uninterrupted days making a living. Imagine the production when you have nothing to look forward to but another day of work.

Okay, put down your torches and pitchforks, it’ll never happen.

Yesterday, you may remember, I was longing for something a little more exciting to talk about than Matthew finally pushing out his first tooth, and although that is pretty cool to watch my son develop, it doesn’t exactly make for good and riveting reading (or writing for that matter). As promising as the day began, it quickly bottomed out in a quagmire of mediocrity, as the 86,400 seconds droned by with little comment and nothing noteworthy. I guess I expected too much, but catastrophe loomed high on the horizon when my shower suddenly turned cold. Exciting. The pilot light puffed out! Exhilarations ensued. I had to Macgyver a holder that would reach a match into the bottom of the water heater, and without directions, I guessed the procedure to relight it. It was anticlimactic, however, as it really was quite straightforward. Nothing blew up and I didn’t need to scramble for the fire extinguisher or remember to stop, drop and roll.

The shot included in today’s smattering of disjointed and random stream of consciousness is what it looks like to be a fly on the wall in my office. Hey, don’t make fun of the pants pal; they’re warm and comfortable (you can see that it was cold and rainy when this picture was taken way back in February) and they were a gift from my wife for Christmas. As unflattering for me as this picture is, this is how I look on a good day, unshaven, disheveled and drearily disillusioned by the disorganization of a typical day as a work-at-home writer. Believe it or not, I’m living my dream, and if I could get a novel published (hell, if I could find the time to even write one of the dozen excellent ideas I have) I would have to come up with a completely new set of dreams as I would have achieved them all. If only I were rich with actual money and not just with the satisfaction of my current lifestyle.

Then again, if this image of me slouching away in my office smacks of a Bonnie Tyler song, I can assure you that this, right here, is where all the good men have gone, and, trust me, I am the hero she’s singing about: I change diapers, cook dinner, wipe drool from my baby’s chin, play with the dog, wash bottles, do yard work, fix cars, load the dishwasher and do all the laundry. Yes, I’m larger than life, Bonnie, fresh from the fight.

Gnat’s quote of the day: (Referring to one of her toys) “It’s not for you, old man.”

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Today's the Day Before Tomorrow

Nothing happened today. No changes in my routine. No alterations in the usual course of my day to report. Blah, bland, featureless, ordinary, plain, bleck. I’ve got so much going on this week and weekend, that there doesn’t seem time to inspire myself into the usual one-sided conversation about nothing, my Seinfeld of blogs. It isn't as though I'm trying to come up with something here; I got nothing, literally.

It was hot. I was inside all day, chained to my computer, attempting to churn out a half-dozen stories that, on any normal day, I could crank out with one hand tied behind my keyboard. Instead, I stared blankly at a white screen, dazed by the moths flying around the lone light bulb in the corner of my mind. It flickered throughout the afternoon as I suffered through a bout of writer’s block, an unusual malady for even me… even here, I’ve got nothing to say. Everyone I needed to talk to was either out of the office or not taking calls. I ate hot dogs for lunch. I dropped a lung blowing up a new inflatable pool shaped like a frog for Natalie. We had dinner at Wahoos, a perennial favorite of the family, and then enjoyed a trip to the bookstore, which yielded booty for the bookshelves, a book about pirates. Arg, matey. Nothing fun happened.

Nothing exciting. Nothing changed. Gnat did a host of cute things, but that’s par for the course, and if I listed all of those here, I’d have no time to spend with her as I’d be dictating every conversation here. Matty was all smiles and giggles, which again, is just like yesterday. That’s how I awoke this morning. Kara laid him down in bed next to me, and I cracked an eye open to a huge toothless grin and bed-shaking giggles. Crazy kid.

Okay, yeah, I got something: Matthew cut his first tooth today, a snaggly little white island peeking up from the smooth ocean of pink gums. It bugged him for most of the day, I think, and Kara wouldn’t try whiskey. I would, but that wouldn’t help his tooth much. Sure help mine though. That’s it. How boring for you and creatively empty for me. Sorry to disappoint if you were in the mood for something fun or entertaining. Face it, the yellow brick road even needs repairing from time to time and the Horse of a Different Color just wants to stay the same sometimes. So, today will be known as the day before tomorrow and nothing more.

I hope something exciting happens tomorrow or I get a good idea. Mosquitoes are swarming around the stagnant waters of my creative energies, and even stories that I know will generate a couple grand are stuck in perdition. Perhaps tomorrow, I’ll overcome the block and get on with my life.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Day of Arrivals

12:01am: No baby yet
I really shouldn’t title this with the constriction that it will encompass any single one day. Looking at my watch, this “day of arrivals” began technically yesterday when I woke up at 7:45, but the hands on my watch are both pointing straight up…which means it is one in the morning; my waterproof watch is broken, and there’s no way of setting it after I lopped off the set dial on the side while trying to drain the water out of it (I have more trouble with watches than anyone I know…thank God I don’t have to make the trains run on time). If I want to get even more technical, I could say that we are still under the realms of a single day, as I woke up only 18 hours ago and I haven’t yet surpassed a 24-hour period. I guess I shouldn’t complain, yet, as my woes are only beginning since I don’t see sleep in my near future. I’m sure I will roll over the day before my head returns to a pillow any time soon. Plus, who can sleep in a hospital waiting room where an unusually loud clock is ticking off the seconds of the day like a tisking school marm? I’ll explain:

It seems that today became a day of visiting places of arrivals: I started the morning with a trip to the airport to pick up Carol, Kara’s mother, for a week-long visit from Massachusetts, and I’m going to end the day (well, I’ll probably start well into the next day) welcoming the arrival of my nephew, Alex. Believe it or not, the arrivals didn’t stop there, as the Post Office, FedEx and UPS all three darkened my doorstep with packages within 15 minutes of each other, more arrivals. Now, if only my winning lottery ticket would arrive I’d be set.

2:12am (time adjusted for the broken watch): No baby yet
Kara’s mom flew into Long Beach Airport through JetBlue, and her arrival time was smack dab in the middle of morning rush hour, east-bound, toward Metropolis where the cubical-hardened office jockeys eek out their days, so I had to enjoy the sight of slow-moving cars operated by dim-witted drivers on an especially ugly freeway under overcast skies for longer than any one person should be allowed. If you’ve ever driven in any inclement weather (in Southern California, someone spitting off of the overpass is considered inclement weather), you’ll know that sunshine seems to power intelligence. Without it, the parts of people’s brains that control rationality and accountability inexplicably turn off, and they possess dullard qualities in all of their actions, predominately their driving skills suffer.

I like the airline, and flying with them has always been a treat (well, I use that term liberally; they’re a treat as much as it is a treat to eat a frozen Twinkie wrapped in cheese), as they seem to be the last remaining bastion of customer-service-related air carriers that don’t need your first born as a down payment for a flight to Omaha via three other layovers (half of your deposit will be returned when you reach your destination). I don’t have a lot of experience to share with you on the topic of air travel, as it is a loathsome way to go anywhere, but it seems as though the seats on JetBlue are wider, the planes newer and they lull you into a sense of complacency by offering each seat with its own personal television. One channel even has a map with a little airplane icon to show you where you are in relation to where you were and where you want to be.

4:06am: No baby yet
In the past 12 months, I’ve been on three flights, and two of which reminded me of how cattle feel when they’re trucked to market: round em up, pack em in, cart em off, toss some grains in their laps and cross our fingers that no one falls out. On one, I was cajoled into buying a five-dollar sandwich with the expectation that it would be both nutritious and satisfying. It was neither, but what it turned out to be was a wish sandwich: two pieces of bread and you wish you had some meat. Sourdough even, and that’s the bubble gum of the bread family. The third flight, of course, was JetBlue, and I have nothing but nice things to say about them (they found Bubby, if you remember).

Cast your mind back a few months, perhaps it was a year or so, to when that JetBlue plane’s forward gear was stuck sideways, and most ever expert in the free world predicted a horrifying crash that would make for great dinner-time television? The news covered the spectacle for endless hours, and I’ll bet I saw the actual landing at least 25 times that day—the producers of each agency secretly, perhaps openly, wishing for the most dire of results to boost ratings (and plane crashes are much watched news)—and imagine you’re on that flight, watching live news coverage about an event that you’re directly involved in, wondering, like the anchors, what the outcome will be? If that indeed was your last moments, you get to watch the news teams fall over each other to broadcast it, each making their own predictions.

Another rant that could easily tangent from this point is the effects the bloodlusting news shows have on current society and the needless fear mongering they constantly subject us to, but I won’t. I’ll spare that for another time (make a mental note).

6:43am: No baby yet
To stay on topic (for once), I like Long Beach Airport because it typifies what I believe air travel was like in the 60s and 70s, because I don’t think the facilities have been updated since the Ford administration, aside from the bevy of security measures. That means that there’s now a guy in a blue rent-a-cop uniform watching to make sure people don’t cross the big red line that says “Don’t Cross Here” where there used to be a rack of newspaper vendors. The airport is as low tech I think an airport is allowed to be in this day and age, as it lacks the security I normally associate with a post 9/11 airport. Maybe the FAA doesn’t know any planes still land there and they think the runway is dotted with little houses by now, ploughed under in the interests of manifest destiny.

The architecture is dated: cinder block walls with those see-through block patterns are placed around the top course and there’s open air everywhere. It is relaxing, breathable and non-claustrophobic, but I think that of most of the 70s. The only inside parts of the whole airport is where the ticket agents are and the large empty room where they corral the cattle for transport. You board the plane from the outside, which always seems to have a nostalgic air to it, as if you’re really going on a plane because you can see it and hear it. It’s exciting, unlike filing down the gangplank of a regular jetway, merely going from one big room into a long skinny one without really seeing any transition. The only evidence that you’re really getting on a plane is that there’s the pilot standing by the cockpit with his prod, just waiting for one of us heifers to try and jump the fence.

Despite the ridiculous traffic, the terrible cloud storm I had to traverse and the obstacles of mountainous ineptitude, I arrived at the airport early, about 10 minutes worth, which was compounded by the tardiness of the plane by nearly 20 minutes. So I walked around the tiny terminal and people watched.

8:34am: No baby yet
It’s funny this time of year at an airport. The place was lousy with puppy-eyed girls, high school juniors no doubt, peering longingly up into the eyes of their recently graduated boyfriends as they trounce off to college orientation seminars in far flung regions of the country while they have to spend another year in high school, lost, lonely, awash in depression and heartache. Once gone from the innocence and safety of their relationships, most of those boys will never see their hometown in the same way again and the experience will certainly cast a new light on the opposite sex (college girls like to do what!?! Why I never knew of such things!). I’d be willing to wager that only a handful of the nearly dozen couples I saw swooning over each other (and I half expected to see a porter glance at his watch and announce “all aboard!”) have any idea of what’s in store for their relationships, as most will end in utter tragedy. The girls might look back on that heartfelt passionate moment as she said good bye to her first love as a time in their lives when they believed in lost causes and that long-distance relationships actually do work if you love someone enough just because they didn’t know any better. That’s when you know you’ve grown to adulthood, when you see the younger version of yourself as foolish, idealistic, surreal.

The rest was the typical business people with crisp suits soon to be wrinkled in the tight confines of the cattle cars and regular folks going to and from various parts of the world via Long Beach. There was a notable exception. A mother and father accompanied their son to the boarding gate. They were young, I’d say no older than 40, and both fairly attractive. He was decked out in a suit, but you could tell that he didn’t have to go into the office today (he looked relaxed, for one, and it was after nine), and she looked like they had to pry her away from the dressing room at Nordstrom’s; the kid was nearly driving age, and he was headed off to some kind of summer experience, a camp for scouts or an intern position at a water slide park or maybe he was just going to grandma’s house for a couple of weeks. I don’t know. He kissed his mother and gave his dad a hug (in such an elevated society, why can’t we kiss our fathers in public yet?) and bounded through the gates to the planes. It was right then, I saw something strange that told me the kid hadn’t been away from home by himself, ever. The dad peered around the corner of the gate and gave a “he’ll be fine” nod to the mother, and then the mother had one of those “let's go home” grins, and then she planted one on him. It wasn’t the kind of kiss you do in public either. Being only about 10 feet away from the whole thing, I looked away, I was that embarrassed at the scene. When I glanced back, they were on their way back to the parking lot, hand in hand, walking quickly.

10:34am: No baby yet
Like I said, there’s a certain excitement to be found at the airport: People energized and nervous about leaving for somewhere new or those relieved and thankful that they’re finally home…and there are those that are just happy their son is out of the house for a few days so she doesn’t have to worry that she might have left her bra on the chandelier in the morning.

Sorry that this one is a long one, but as you might be able to surmise, I’ve got nothing but time on my hands right now. I’m sequestered in the waiting room at the hospital, traditionally a depressingly glum place to wait anxious news of a loved one (and/or a new little one) and this place doesn’t disappoint, as I think it was decorated in part by the Hulk and the Grinch. The chairs are green. The floor is green. The walls are green. I’m feeling green, and I’m not 100 percent why I wrestled myself out of bed two hours ago and drove the 30 miles up here when she is only three millimeters dilated. I think got here too early, and while everyone else is still sound asleep, I’m bleary eyed. Why am I always early, and why do I have such anxieties when I’m late? Do I have a fear that I will miss out of something, that the tables at the restaurant will be taken or the party will be fun and I’ll miss it? If I’m supposed to be there at 6pm, I get there at 5:50. I’m that guy that comes to a wedding and helps set out the chairs, makes sure there’s just the right ratio of punch to cheap sparkling cider and I tell the girl wrapping tulle around the pews that she’s doing a bang-up job. Everyone thinks I work there, and I usually can give directions to the bathrooms.

12:24pm: No baby yet
But here I sit. This hospital is quiet. A baby cries off in the distance, and every now and again, a rhythmic beeping will keep perfect time with the clock (and then stop suddenly). Occasionally someone wanders by and looks in at me, but I think I’m the only person in the building that either doesn’t work here or doesn’t need to be here. But I’m well organized: I’ve got a DVD player with a half-dozen movies, prepared for the long haul. I brought my laptop for well-characterized and quite inane ramblings you’re so used to, and my camera to make a memory or two. My shoes are off like I own the place (that’s right) and I’m settled in for the night, awaiting the arrival of my nephew, signifying that I’m officially an uncle.

2:26pm: No baby yet
The nurse said that it would be another hour until Alex’s arrival, and I don’t think I can make it, seeing as though she was probably being optimistic. Everyone’s here. I’m spent, and I’ve still got a 40 minute drive back to my house. If I want to even function through the rest of the week, not to mention tomorrow’s meetings and deadlines, then I’ve got to go home and sleep. It’s been over 30 hours since I last slept, and I feel like someone drove a Mack truck in one eye and out the other. I don’t see the baby coming within the next couple of hours, and I can’t wait any longer.

I’m going home.

3:00pm: Baby came
Doesn’t that just figure.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

“You Can Take the Car Out of the Junkyard…”

Since it is Saturday and I don’t normally post anything on the weekend (unless it is really important), I figured I would post some old stories that never made it into any publication. This one is a special treat, because not only is it a fun story about a nice day spent in the limelight of a movie set, but it is also the very last editorial I wrote for VWTrends magazine, just a few days before they laid me off, shelved the magazine and stopped printing it way back in December 2004. So, this editorial was never printed, as it was scheduled to go into the April 2005 issue along with a bunch of other stuff I wasted my time putting together.

In addition, if you watch the latest Herbie movie, “Full Throttle,” you can see me for a split second (upper right hand corner of the above picture). On second thought, don’t bother watching it; here’s a screen grab of the scene, and here’s the editorial.

I’m not a Herbie fanatic. They’re out there, but I’m not one of them. When I was a kid, there was a movie-car-storage lot near my house that had a Herbie in it, and I would stop by to peer over the fence at its painted-on rust and flattened tires. It was obviously from “Herbie Goes Bananas,” and one day I was saddened to see that it was gone—I can only hope to a collection, but the odds weren’t good.

As far as the movies, I enjoy the original 1969 “The Love Bug” movie with Dean Jones, and the three sequels are entertaining, but that’s about as far as I go with it. There’s one thing I never liked about any of the movies: Dean Jones, Ken Berry, Don Knotts…everyone who “owned” Herbie at one point (with the exception of Buddy Hackett and maybe Helen Hayes) treated it like an ordinary car and never a friend, a member of the family or even a pet. If my Volkswagen started to communicate with me and was able to drive by itself, I would certainly reconsider my relationship with it. Miss an oil change or slam the door the wrong way and Herbie turns into Christine.

At any rate, I think we have Herbie to thank for a lot of enthusiasm in our hobby, so when Randy Carlson called me to see if I wanted to watch some of the filming of the latest Herbie movie, “Full Throttle,” I jumped at the chance to witness movie magic. Since Randy and were responsible for providing Disney with the 30-odd ’63-era Beetles they needed for the movie, he had a backstage pass to be on the set.

We drove out to Hansen Dam Park (north of L.A.) during the first week of production, and they had a section of the park set up to look like a typical show area with sponsors’ booths, show cars and tables of products. There were several Herbies parked around the set, from a junkyard Herbie (photo at right) to one that emotes facial expressions.

Randy and I wandered around a little, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, as the press (that’s me, folks) typically isn’t invited to movie locations. About 50 feet away Lindsey Lohen and Matt Dillon were under a tent surrounded by make-up artists, producers and cameras. In fact, around us were about 100 people, and we blended into the crowd, watching along with everyone else.

The makeup people scurried away, and the cameras, booms and lights swung into position. The director yells, “Quiet on the set…background…action!” Suddenly, everyone around us started milling around. Through the crowd, we saw that the cameras were facing us and we were on a live set of a major motion picture purely by accident. Randy looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Do we dare?” he asked. “Why not?” I responded, and we started to follow the crowd.

I don’t know what scene they were filming, but all I could hear was Dillon say, “You can take the car out of the junkyard but you can’t take the junkyard out of the car.” I know, what a corny cliché, but the part that was extra sickening was that Dillon kept screwing up the line. He just couldn’t get it right. They’d yell “cut” and we’d all have to start over again. We did that about 15 times, and at the end of the last take before lunch, I felt that I could have nailed the line like Laurence Olivier.

As the morning wore on and Dillon wore out that line, Randy and I became old pros at extra work. We had a route that took us within a few feet of Dillon, Lohen and the cameras, and we even worked out a routine with the Auto Meter guy who was passing out catalogs to “show goers.” When you’re watching the movie, watch for the infamous line and then look for Randy and me (I’m wearing a red shirt). I hope I’m not mouthing the line.

So, the shooting of the whole movie is finished, and there’s 30-some Herbies left over, some destined for the crusher, some disassembled and some still perfect. Since Randy helped provide the cars, he was given first crack at the leftovers, and what ended up at Randy’s shop was the large moving van stuffed with a wide variety of Herbie parts, from NASCAR-stickered fenders and hoods to wheels, doors and even a fake fiberglass 36-horse engine half.

Like I said, I’m not a Herbie fanatic, but I am a Herbie fan, and when I had the opportunity to buy a piece of movie memorabilia, I couldn’t pass it up. Owning a piece of an actual movie is extra special for me, not only because it is a Volkswagen, but because I witnessed the making of the movie first-hand. It’s not the Maltese Falcon or Darth Vader’s light saber, but it isn’t everyday we get a chance to own a piece of memorabilia that helps to share our hobby with the world. If you want your own piece, you’d better act now…as there are only so many parts left. See Randy today at

That was it. I only had room for about 700 words so I had to make it concise. Interesting read, and it was pretty cool to be on the set of a movie, but if you really want to know all about it, ask my brother, Jason. For a while there, he was making a living at being a professional extra, from “Seabiscuit” to “The Italian Job,” he was in a lot of movies.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Some "After" Shots

It occurred to me late this evening that I neglected to include a couple of after shots of the yard and all of the back-breaking work I did the other day. By the time I resurfaced from my heat stroke/dehydration/malnutrition, it was already too dark to take the shots.

Taken out of context, the yard doesn’t look like much has changed, but it is the details, always the details. Note: The trees are straightened and pruned, the gravel level, a small walkway added, the concrete curbs down, the bark filled and a complete trimming of all the shrubs. Some parts of the grass are still yellowed (thanks Elsa), but that was the whole reason I started this project in the first place so they will be fixed as soon as Elsa is trained to use her area effectively. Also, I culled out some of the rocks from the front yard, those that were hidden by bushes, etc., and put them in the planters as a nice touch. As well, I commandeered the solar lights from another area of the yard, and it looks nice at night.

Now I’m in the market for some old, rusted farm equipment like a plow or a wagon wheel of some sort (it will go along nicely with my smudge pot) to dress up Elsa’s rather stark looking gravel area. I’m sure she’d appreciate it, and anything I can do to make her area look more inviting, I’m willing to try; it’s like putting a fuzzy cover on a toilet seat, I guess. At the nursery, they had for sale a seven-foot gorilla made of welded-together metal; and it looked fun and funky, but the idea is to get her to want to go in there instead of it being fiercely protected by some mammoth rusting beast she would cower from. Plus, it was a cool grand, and I’d be willing to bet I could get a real monkey for that kind of money. Of course, feeding it would be a problem, and then I would have to make an area for it, and I don’t know the last time you’ve been around gorillas, but I understand that they like to fling that stuff…and I don’t know what kind of lawn art makes a gorilla comfortable enough to refrain from the flinging. Perhaps a metal giraffe (the nursery had one), but a real one would be cheaper probably, and then I’d have to make another area for it, and I hear they poop a lot—which is why they have such long legs I guess—and this would turn into an endless cycle of smaller and smaller areas for animals that some people would start to call me Noah and my house would look more and more like a boat. And I just don’t want to go down that road, er, river… or flooded Earth, whatever. Let’s just stick to the dog…well, not literally. Sigh. You know what I mean. One dog, one area.

Excuse the tangent there; it’s late, I’m punchy, but I am looking for the farm equipment, just not the gorilla, et al.

For the continuing saga of the backyard, I’ve been garnering estimates for the block retaining wall to give us another 10 feet or so of back yard space (equaling nearly 800 extra square feet of actual yard), and I didn’t think it would be so expensive to stack a bunch of bricks on top of each other. Natalie loves to stack blocks, and she doesn’t charge me a small fortune to do it either, so I should contract her for the job.

I need a 72-foot-long retaining wall three- to four-feet high to replace a gentle, if not useless, slope that's there. It's ugly, lousy with ants and nothing grows there but weeds. Seventy-two feet only equals about 250 bricks, some concrete and some mortar. The first estimate was eight grand and the second one I got was nearly eleven. Perhaps in front of my house is a sign that says rich white guy who is as dumb as he is rich, but the only thing true about that sign is that I’m white (maybe the dumb part too sometimes); well, sunburned slightly and I ain’t so dumb. Wonder if I can get a redneck-who-went-to-college sign; I’ll bet estimates would be lower.

I know for a fact that the bricks run around four dollars each, so that’s a $1000 of the estimate…leaving $10K worth of labor!?! I think I’ll do it myself, as I think I’m worth more than ten thousand dollars, according to my insurance company anyway. Plus, how hard can it be? You stack up a few bricks with mortar, make sure they’re straight. After all, I went to college. Add a little rebar for support and put in some drainage holes. And I have a degree. I think I can figure it out, and obviously I don’t seem to mind doing the labor (sometimes it is a refreshing change to shovel dirt instead of sit at a computer, but in the long run, I’m glad for the lamb skin hanging in my office). What I do mind is digging out the 72 feet of the slope. That’s sheer mindless muscle-mushing grunt work best left to the professions. I did that at the old house, and it took me two days to do eight feet; I ended up hiring out the rest of it.

Then again, that guy brought his whole family to the job, and picture a little girl no older than Natalie walking around your backyard with a pick-axe over her shoulder and your homeowner’s insurance policy tucked away in the file cabinet in your office upstairs will start to shudder violently. Maybe he was hoping she would impale herself on the thing and then I’d be the one out there digging the dirt and he’d be inside my house, er…his house, with the air on drinking lemonade.

Yes, I think I’ll build the wall myself. I’ve got skills… I think. Next up: How much will it cost me to hire someone to fix what I screwed up (it’s a life-long theme). Stay tuned.

* The above picture is of Natalie and Elsa immensely enjoying their big backyard this evening, but more importantly, it illustrates what a smudge pot is, in case you didn’t know. They were used in the citrus groves to warm the trees during a frost. I guess they burned great-for-the-environment oil which belched out black smoke and kept off the chill; and just think, when I was a citrus worker, we used to have to cuddle with the trees all night. Ah, modern conveniences.

If you’re aching to see one in its natural environment, go here: If not, don’t, as it is just an old, poorly pixelled shot of a line of smudge pots near some orange trees.

Also, your sharp eye may have noticed a new friend in Natalie’s hand. That, my dear reader, is Surprise Bear, the newest addition to the flock we found at Target. I don’t know where the name came from, but that’s what Natalie called it. Her (all of Natalie’s stuffed animals are female)… her welcome mat was abruptly ripped out from under her paws a couple of hours ago when Natalie, quite tired and cranky from the day’s activities, announced that Surprise Bear needed to go home, and she was summarily booted from her bed. She's back in bed with Natalie again but Suprise Bear is facing the wall. It must be tough to be one of Natalie's guys.

Matthew’s Half Birthday

The little guy’s six months old today, so happy half birthday to him. Since blowing off work is one of my personal pastimes, today became family outing day (I had great intentions), but we had to have the bad before the good, as today was also Matthew’s six-month checkup at the doctor’s office. It was all giggles and smiles before the two needles jabbed him in legs, and then I think he felt somewhat betrayed by our good nature. I suggested that he “walk it off” and all was well again (He quickly fell asleep once we were back in the truck). Back in the doctor’s office, poor Natalie didn’t even get the opportunity to make a break for it, as she was unwittingly shanghaied into a booster shot while we were there. We decided not to tell her about her booster shot until the nurse produced the weapon. She saw it, noticed that Matthew was off of the table, albeit crying, but done, and put two and two together. At first it was a look of denial, but soon reality sunk in. Enter the waterworks, well before the needle went into her arm, a last minute choice by the nurse. She clutched her arm and had that look like she would never trust us again.

They gave her a sticker and a sucker (for getting suckered into a sticking) and with hugs from mommy, things were better. She wanted to go to the restaurant that mommy and daddy go to (which could be anywhere), but we knew it meant Chili’s. Good times were had by all, including Matthew… after all, it is his half birthday.

Then we did the customary trip to Target, and Natalie found the pinkest, purpliest aisle to go down. Kara looked at me and said, “She’s becoming quite a little girl now,” because her favorite aisle used to be the toys, now it’s the Barbies and the dress up aisle. She’s growing up.

Right now, it is nearly 10:00 and Matthew is still awake, refusing to go to sleep. He is so full of energy, just squirming around on the floor, kicking his feet and waving his arms. And the laughing and talking. He has his own language of cries, yelps, coos and chirps, accompanied by big open-mouthed smiles and wide eyes. Such a happy baby, three hours after he should have been fast asleep. He can now get up on his knees and elbows, and Kara caught him peeking over the railing of the crib; I had to lower the mattress spring to corral him in there.

I guess he just wanted to make the most of his big day, well, big half day.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Together Again

It took a while, longer than I’d hoped, of course, but finally, after several years of work, trouble, effort, planning and logistical mazes of difficulty, all three of my cars are finally together, running and driving. Side by side they now sit, each awaiting their turn on the road (too bad there wasn’t three of me), but I’m lacking current registration and insurance on one of them. Despite of this, you don’t understand how delighted I was to bring home the 67 Beetle today (named Sally because of its color, which is like the dress of Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally), start it and drive into the garage under its own power. It was like turning to the last page of the best book ever written.

Natalie and I spent about a hour washing it, and she was such a big help, putting soap all over the fenders and making sure I rinsed off everything, especially the tires. Washing it is something I hadn’t done to the car in a couple of years. It had a nice thick layer of dirt on the paint, countless smears of oil and grease on the cream colored upholstery and dust all over the insides.

The engine is new and it sounds great, with a rumble that only a Volkswagen can produce, and the tires and wheels are also just as new. In fact, the whole car, since I refurbished it in 2001 (I restored the Super, refurbished Sally), only has about 1100 miles on it, and the vast majority of those miles were towed instead of driven. Since the last engine never ran right, thanks to the turbo kit on it, so I never drove it. Imagine sitting in traffic having to keep one foot on the gas or it will die, one foot on the brake or I’ll smash into the car in front of me and one foot on the clutch to keep it out of gear when stopped… that’s a lot of feet. It just wasn’t fun to drive, so I didn’t.

The Single Cab (which still doesn’t have a name) never could start properly, ever since I brought it home. I bought in October 2004 and didn’t start really driving it until about two months ago. Before that, it was an albatross that darkened my doorstep, and I threatened to sell it several times, as there comes a point when you just run out of options. You try everything you can think of to fix it and it still wouldn’t start.

Thanks to Rafael Gutierrez, I am finally able to drive it. He pulled out all of the wiring from the starter to the ignition and rewired it for me, and now it drives and runs perfectly without any complaints. All for a case of beer. I like those kinds of bills.

The Super Beetle (which is named Betty…though I thought I was naming her after Davy Crockett’s musket, Betsy) runs great now to, despite an occasional fuel issue. Sometimes I smell a fuel leak while I’m driving it, and it sometimes stalls, but I think that is because I know I’ve got a small block in the lines or the carburetor jets. It’s an easy fix, but finding the time to sort it out isn’t high on my list of things to do. The rest of the car is immaculate, a complete ground-up restoration, as every nut, bolt and fastener is chromed, nickel-plated, painted, powder coated or ceramic coated. I’m really proud of the way it turned out, and I’m especially proud of the fact that I did most of the work on it (aside from paint and the interior).

So that’s it. I’m happy to see them all together, Sally, Betty and whatsitsname. But, as happy as I am, there’s always another chapter to the story, as there is always something to do to each of them. Sally needs her backup lights returned to her bumper. Betty needs her fuel problem sorted out and some air in her tires. The Single Cab, on the other hand, needs a lot. It runs and drives great thanks to the new transmission and new brakes, but it needs a paint job, a new interior and all of the literally hundred of dents knocked out of the bed and the drop gates. That’s a lot of work for anyone, and I don’t have the time to do it nor do I want to pay the expense, so I think I’ll grind off the old lettering and give it a coat of white primer which will, at least, clean it up a little.

I’ll keep you posted on what develops, of course, if you care. I do, and since you’re somewhat a captive audience and I hold the floor, I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

How to Ruin Your Truck and Your Back at the Same Time

I’m no stranger to near misses with the use of my truck, and if you were reading Kara’s post recently she made a reference to Natalie remembering the time that I broke my watch, so I’ll start with that story. It was a warm winter day, and I was taking Natalie to daycare, a time when we used a private service instead of the mainstream institute we house them in today. Natalie was nearly five months old, so I don’t see how she remembers anything about what happened, but I think she may have picked up the story during one of my retellings and made it part of her memory. It’s the day I nearly crashed my truck into two other cars, and the funny thing is that I owned all three cars involved in the near miss.

Natalie is in her car seat in the back of the truck (no, not in the back of the truck, the backseat of the truck…it’s a four-door), and I pull the truck out of the driveway to head out to daycare and then to work (back when I was an office schlep). Suddenly, for no reason I could understand, Natalie starts to cry, scream really, and it took me by such surprise, as if ghosts had her by the soul, that I pulled the truck back into the driveway to see what was the matter. I throw open the door, jump out and slam the door shut, headed for the back door and Natalie, who had stopped screaming by then. Well, in my haste, I neglected to put the truck in park. The driveway of our old house slopes slightly downward toward the garage, where parked inside were my two Volkswagens, one freshly restored at the time and lacking any dents of any kind, and the other well on its way to being finished. Since the backdoor of the truck was coming closer to me than it should have, I knew something was amiss. The truck was rolling, driving actually, toward eminent doom and peril for all involved.

In one of my few moments in my life where I possessed the speed of Superman and the agility of Batman, I sprung into action, nearly tearing the door off of its hinges to jump in and stomp on the brake pedal. And in doing so, my watchband caught the latch of the door and tore it off of my wrist. I never did find all of the pieces. It was close, so the price of a watch far outweighed the cost of a new garage door, the front of my truck and the two cars inside of the garage. There’s in the nick of time and then there’s a fraction of a nick of time. The truck stopped with a screech not inches from the garage door, not millimeters, but just gently kissing the handle of the garage door. Phew! It was really close. Needless to say, I spent the day wondering where my luck would take me (nowhere as it turned out).

So, I did the same thing yesterday when I noticed that I left my clippers on the brick wall in front of the house. This time it was in reverse and headed for a trailer parked across the street. It wouldn’t have ended well for my insurance company (and my premiums), but I executed a perfect pirouette which landed me back in the seat and my foot right on the pedal. Lucked out again.

I have been particularly hard on that truck, and it has taken it all with that “Ford Tough” attitude you see on the commercials… you know the one where the truck bursts through a snow bank that would tear the front end off of any truck in reality or it shows them doing doughnuts in a mud bog, something I’m always on the lookout for as I want to pack so much mud on my rotors that the front end is thrown completely out of alignment on the drive home.

Today, it was Phase Two of the backyard landscaping plans I developed (there’s five or six phases until completion), and this phase had me laying down a week-blocking tarp in Elsa’s side yard and adding to it a thick layer of gravel. Seems simple enough. A trip to the a local nursery that sells material such as what I wanted, and they filled up the bed of the truck with one yard of pea gravel. Now, what’s a yard of gravel, you ask? According to, a yard of gravel weights about 2500 pounds. Wow! I had no idea. It didn’t seem that much until I watched the skip loader pour the scoop of gravel into the back of my truck, and I as more and more poured in, the truck sank further and further down on its wheels until the leaf springs were nearly flat. It doesn't look like much from this angle, but there isn't much room between the bumper and the ground.

The drive home was squirrelly, like the back tires were on skis, and when I drove out of the nursery, the trailer hitch dragged on the ground. I had to adjust the mirror to see any cars behind me. The weight limit for the bed of a Ford F150 is 800 pounds, so I guess I exceeded it three-fold.

The stupid part is that I did it twice. After shoveling out the first load, I needed another. It took me nearly five hours of solid work, aside from the frequent breaks, the bottles of water and Gatorade (four each)… and, of course, Mother Nature would think it wise to make today a 94-degree day. Thanks!

I have one old shovel, one old wheel barrel with a flat tire and a not-as-young-as-I-think-I-am worker, who committed himself to the project by filling is primary conveyance with over a ton of gravel… all for a dog.

It took 26 wheel barrel trips to get all of that gravel into the back yard, and after unloaded five thousand pounds, as it turns out, I was fairly tired (and I think if I had known that it was two-and-a-half tons of gravel, I wouldn’t have done it). Each wheel barrel, according to the numbers, weighed 192 pounds each, and each of the shovel fulls—it takes 15, on average, to fill the wheel barrel, I counted a few to get an estimate—weighed 12 pounds each. I’m tired just writing it, but it wasn't the weight of each load so much as it was the repitition of it all. I had to dig the shovel into the pile, turn it around and dump it into the wheel barrel...only 390 times.

As well, it never occurred to me to stop for lunch, and I was so focused on getting it done that I didn’t know how hungry I was (and I didn’t remember that I didn’t eat dinner the night before either) so I was also starving so much that I felt sick to my stomach and my head, and the rest of my body was just plain sore. After it was done, after I swept out the truck, hosed off the rubber mat and the bed, swept up the hundreds of little gravel pieces that fell onto the street and driveway, hosed down the street, spread all of the gravel around in the yard and smoothed it out, laid down the stepping stones, tried to clean up a spilled load in the grass (and then gave up), I laid down on the grass myself.

It was at this time that Natalie wanted to play, as she always wants to do after dinner, and before.

“Daddy, let’s go fishing.”

Okay, I’m going to fish laying down.

“Daddy, let’s take a trip to the market!” Okay, I can relocate to the concrete near the trash cans (conveniently near the “market”) and lay down.

“Daddy, let’s play chase me around the yard!”

Uh, no. Daddy’s tired. I’m going to take off my boots and see if my feet are still there.

“Daddy, let’s look at the rock zoo!” Okay, I’ll lay over there and look at a collection of rocks we found scattered on the hill.

“Daddy, I’m going to jump on you!”

Oooppphhhffff, too late. Okay, let’s play one of Grandpa’s favorite games we played after he worked in the yard all day. Let’s play check for cracks in our eyelids. It’s fun.

“What’s a eyelid?” [lately, she’s been asking what something is when she well knows what it is]

Luckily I was rescued by Kara, so I could take a shower (which I did sitting down), lay down in bed, lay down on the couch, and it wasn’t until after I regrettably ate three bean burritos—which took me so long that they were stone cold again by the time I made it to the last one, and it doesn’t help that eating those burritos cold is like eating the rear end of a rhinoceros (yeah, I cleaned that up a little)—that I started to feel better. Now I just feel a little hung over, but the three burritos will do that to you.

Now my back hurts, and guess what I found when I went outside tonight to drag the trashcans to the curb? Elsa pooped! That’s right… on the grass. She hasn’t gone near the gravel since I finished with it. Damn dog…doesn’t appreciate nothing from nobody [that’s to be said with a Brooklyn accent, of course. I don’t know why, it just should]

Next time, I plan to hire out the work… wait, there won’t be a next time. I’m done with that project, which means I’m off to another. What’s next, you ask with bated breath (does a fish have baited breath?). The next project is to add a railings and banisters to the porch. It has always looked naked to me…the porch I mean.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Father’s Fears

If you don’t know me, you won’t know this, but I’m a worrier. Come to think about it, even if you know me very well, you still may not know this, but I am a teeth-mashing, hand-wringing, heart-racing and sweaty-palmed worrier. I’m anxious. I fret. I lose sleep. I agonize and I'm concerned. Most frustrating is that I’m constantly considering the worst-case scenario, like I’m some kind of self-programmed and -appointed FEMA waiting for a catastrophe to happen. This stems from having children, I think, because before I became a card-carrying father, I was once a carefree, happy-go-lucky and relaxed individual with very little care for the future. I am this person no more now that I’m a father, but this character trait’s residual effects are still evident in my current laid-back façade; the relaxed man I used to be is quite dead. Replacing him is vexed, troubled, upset confused little man who jumps at the shadows of history while cowering under the weight of the future. You still see a harmonious man, but beneath that thin fascia of tranquility lies torment, the likes of which could power any hurricane to a torrid fever pitch. This boiling over of my subconscious is rooted in my two children, a boy and a girl, both whom will, no doubt, present a bubbling caldron of challenges unique to each child, based, I’m sure, on what they are rather than who they are. Do you smell a double standard brewing?

As it turns out, I believe in the double standard that exists between men and women, especially those evident in children: Boys are tougher, girls more sensitive. Boys play with toy guns, and girls play with toy dolls. Boys get dirty and girls stay clean. When boys turn 16, they get a beater car that will neither drive very fast nor very well (perfect, no racing or long journeys); when a girl turns 16, she gets a newer car that won’t break down or have a big backseat. As a father of a girl, this is vital.

As this is where the double standard really comes into play. When the boy gets caught making out with the preacher’s daughter in the balcony of the chapel, “atta-boys” and shoulder chucks all around—at least when his mother’s not looking—which usually means this will happen in the garage where we’re building some father-son concoction that will get us dirty, maybe learn something about things that will eventually explode, and importantly, keep us away from the women folk in the finer parts of the house.

When the girl gets caught making out with the preacher’s son in the balcony of the chapel, she gets a stern eyebrow raising and a warning that this sort of activity is not befitting a young lady of her stature and upbringing. Glaring over the top of the Sunday morning paper, she’ll get a firm lecture on the importance of purity, chastity and self-respect. Not fair you say? Childhood isn’t fair. Parenting, as it turns out, isn’t fair. The very equalizer, Life itself, isn’t fair; everything doesn’t wrap itself up in a half-hour sitcom and the bad guy doesn’t get what’s coming to him in the end. Double standard? Sure it is, and there is a reason why it is a double standard and has been for probably thousands of years. It’s called reproduction, and who holds the key to this activity, something men will do and say anything to get a chance to pick the lock? That’s right, the women. Hence, the double standard I’m sure will be inflicted on Natalie (and Matthew) as soon as the slightest situation arises, and therein lies my worries and fears.

Since Matthew was born, I haven’t had the slightest inkling of a worry for him as I project him through the years of his young life under my care. He’s a boy, he’ll be fine. His car will break down on some deserted road and he’ll have to walk home. He’ll probably get in at least one fight in his life. A girl will break his heart for the first time. He’ll get turned down at a school dance. He’ll lose a race or a meet or a match or his favorite jacket. For him, I picture myself using the terms “suck it up,” “walk it off,” “be a man about it,” and my Dad’s favorite: “Dem’s the breaks” (If you know the origins of this phrase, you’d know I didn’t misspell it). He’ll know how to change a tire, how to siphon gas, how not to stand too close to a pile of black powder when you toss on the match, how to sharpen a knife. He’ll own a backpack for camping, a bike for going off of jumps with, and he’ll have several scars on his knees from sliding into home (and one from sharpening his knife the wrong way…the first time). Odds are good he’ll be able to go to a party that Natalie won’t. He’ll probably be able to stay out later, and there will be special circumstances that will be applied to him and not her.

This might not seem fair or you might be saying to yourself, “yeah right,” but I’ll bet if you have children of your own, you know that there are some double standards that have been instigated over the years as they were growing up. There became a point in my life, I don’t know when it happened or how old I was, when my mother stopped being the parent of influence and my father took over. Perhaps it was at that moment when the advice I sought was geared toward man-related things like when is the right time to kiss a girl on a date, what to do when you park on a hill, or how to tie a tie. Maybe it is here when the double standard that I am thinking of will really kick in, as Natalie surely won’t come to me with women-related problems and I don’t know what to say to her if she does… walk it off, take a knee? That won’t fly, therefore I think I will react by tightening the reigns, especially when it comes to the black arts of women’s problems, where the unknown is feared and must be controlled. I’m sure Kara will do most of parenting for Natalie when she reaches a similar age I was when the “parent of influence” switched roles from my mother to my father. She’ll have questions, needs, ideas and emotions that I’m not equipped to handle, or even begin to fathom.

A week ago, Kara took the kids to the park, a different one not near our house, and she came back with a story about Natalie’s experience that struck in me the kind of fear I will never have with Matthew. Apparently Natalie met another little girl at the park, which she said to Kara: “There’s a pretty girl to play with,” but that little girl, who was older than Natalie, didn’t want anything to do with her, even though Gnat followed her around the playground for most of the afternoon, trying to make friends and not fully understanding that the girl didn’t want her around. At the end of the day, as they were leaving, Natalie said to Kara, sadly, “My nice girl is not nice.” As a parent, I wanted nothing more than to throttle that little girl until she succumbed to the charms and magic that I see in Natalie. You will love my daughter like none other and she will be your best friend as long as you occupy space in this world. I won’t have it any other way, and that is a typical response to this attitude, as I felt genuine pain for Natalie’s feelings, like she is a fragile little piece of clay still baking into an impressionable form in the oven.

Controlling these fears as Natalie’s father is my desire to protect her against everything and anything that comes her way, no matter how small or insignificant. Like The Catcher in the Rye, I just want to make sure she doesn’t run off of the cliff, as I see the smallest malady becoming a crashing blow on her psyche, forever altering her from the cute little girl she is into the sordid, sarcastic, pessimist I developed into later in my life. I want her to be innocent from this world’s evils, free from the afflictions that rob children of their youth and blind to life’s problems that adults are forced to deal with.

But the double standard here, something I can’t quite explain, is that all of this changes for Matthew. Getting hurt is a part of life. Feeling heartbreak or loss or failure is growing up in this world, and I’m fine with it, as he’s a boy; he’ll walk it off or take it like a man, and that doesn’t bother me. He’s a boy, and he’s going to someday be a man, and men are tempered, hardened and sculpted by failure, hardship and pain. The bad things in life are what makes a man a man. Writing these openly sexist comments makes me cringe, and I’m sure many of you will feel the same way, but I’m not going to change how I feel. I’m not sexist with society—good for women executives and hooray for women in politics (boo for women in the military however)—but when it comes to my children: Natalie will not play soldier and Matthew will not play Barbie dress up.

The point here is that I don’t worry about Matthew in the same way I worry about Natalie. I don’t fear for his safety, his future choices, his well being because I understand him as a fellow male. I will know what he is thinking as he grows because I thought the same thoughts and felt the same feelings. I will appreciate his point of view because there’s probably nothing in his life that I haven’t felt before. Puberty, girls, staying up all night to see if you can do it, cars that break down, shaving, proper hygiene, the right thing to do, the fact that your world revolves around the fort you just built in the backyard and that you need to stay out just 10 more minutes after the streetlights come on. I know what that’s like and there will probably not be anything he will tell me that will come to a shock (provided I raise him right). I know nothing of periods, PMS, makeup, giggling sleepovers, ponies, tea parties, or expensive pants that just have to go with certain kinds of shoes that all the other girls are wearing. Boys will wear jeans, Monday through Friday, and they’ll get a new pair when they wear a hole through the knee in the old one.

I want to protect Natalie because I think I have a natural affinity to look after the things I think can’t do so on their own. The sexism in me is convinced that little girls are delicate and need to be shielded from the malevolence of life, that they can’t leave me and go out in the real world because they won’t be able to do without me watching over them, making sure that nothing will hurt them and that nobody will disregard them in even the slightest way.

Is there any reason for this attitude, these fears and my constant worries? I can’t answer that, as I don’t know what the world has in store for Natalie as well as Matthew, but I do know this: There are more crimes against women than men in this world, and there are predators feeding off of youth that justice never seems to appropriately reach in today’s court systems. That’s just a sickening fact of life, something neither child shouldn’t have to know (any child), but it is a force that compels me to shield my children as long as I possibly can. But how can a parent defend against such cruelty, such wickedness? Sometimes we can’t and we trust in fate and luck. We can only teach our children to do the right thing, to make a conscious effort to realize the consequences of their actions and to do the best make the right decisions every step of the way. The parent in me knows that this is our only true defense, but the daddy in me doesn’t want Natalie to have to make the right decisions; I want to make them for her. I don’t want her to get hurt, to know pain, to have fears, regrets, heartbreak, anything that will fade the innocent smile from her face.

That is my turmoil, as a father, but the real torture is that I have to steel myself to the time in her life when I have to let her go, as each and every day she will drift farther and farther away from me. Not so for Matthew. Matthew’s supposed to grow up, become a man after his father and start a family of his own, and I expect him to do so according to the virtues and values that I teach him, and this is where the Double Standard gets capital letters: Natalie will always be my little girl, three feet tall and knowing nothing but the love of her daddy, and I never want that to change, not for anything.

I’ve lamented about this before, but daddies are replaced by dads, then fathers, then pops, then a phone call every once in a while after they move a way and raise a family of their own. That’s the real fear I have for Natalie, not that she’ll be successful, as I have no doubt about that: Her stock in life will constantly rise, and I hope that when I’m 60 and she’s 30, I’ll laugh at myself for ever having a single worry about her at all.

But for now, Natalie and Matthew have me to look after them the best that I know how, and double standards or not, I will try to be fair, considerate of their feelings and reasonable in my fathering. If only it will be as easy to do as it is to say. Time will tell.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The 26 Questions Nobody’s Ever Asked

Okay, now this is a complete and utter waste of time, even by my standards, which is pretty low in the gutter of time wasting, especially for a professional procrastinator such as myself. I mean, really, I’ve got much more important things to do this weekend but entertain myself with dumb questions; why, just on Friday I landed three more assignments that will net me around twenty-five hundred ducats in tax-free income (if you’re reading this and you represent the good and gracious folks at our much appreciated IRS bureau, of course I plan to add them to my Schedule C tax form next April… so put down the audit and step away from my 1040). The problem with me—well, one of the many problems with me—is that I can’t seem to let go of something once I get an idea, once something gets in my head; it consumes me, and it seems that the more stupid and outlandish the idea, the more time I spend trying to bring it to fruition.

Case in point: A couple of weeks ago, I laid awake in bed around three in the morning thinking about the relationship between numbers, their products and the sums of those products from 1 through 10, and I got so involved with thinking about it that I had to get up out of bed, get a piece of paper and try to see if I could solve it. What I was looking for was a mathematical pattern that related all of the multiples of each number to one another. Did you know, that when you multiply 9 by 4 it equals 36? Well, 3 plus 6 (the numbers used in 36) equal 9, and it is this way for each number multiplied by 9: the sums of the individual numbers of the product equal 9. It’s a grade school trick that isn’t that spectacular, but I wanted to see if it worked on other numbers as well. I discovered that it it does to a degree, but the pattern is less obvious. For example, 6 x 1 equals 6 and the sum of 6 and 0 is six. 6 x 2 equals 12 and the sum of 1 and 2 is 3. 6 x 3 equals 18 and the sum of 1 and 8 equals 9. This pattern, 6, 3, 9 repeats itself three times for each set of products through 10. While working through the numbers, 1 through 10, I found that each number has its own pattern: 5 equals: 5, 1, 6, 2, 7, 3, 8, 4, 9 and 5. That doesn’t seem like much of a pattern until you really look at it to discover that ever other number is one more than the two numbers before it.

So, now you understand my madness sometimes. But now, to the point: These are 26 stupid questions I thought up over the course of the last couple of weeks or so that nobody on the face of this planet or any other has ever uttered before, and really this is just an exercise to show the diversity of the language, that the 26 letters we’ve whittled down to using over the last 10,000 years or so have a surprising range of possibilities. If you only wanted to make four-letter words (and a lot of people do), you can use the 26 letters to build exactly 456,976 possible words, including zxuk and kofr, among others. For comparison’s sake, most people have a vocabulary of only 50,000 words or so, and the vast majority of them are five- to six-letter words.

Fresh from reading John Man’s Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the World, I put together a little exercise that caught my attention one night while I crafted together a sentence using alliteration, one of my favorite poetic tools.

In respect to our forbearers who decided that we needed 26 letters (representing a confusing array of around 70 sounds), I decided to base my 26 questions on the letters of the alphabet, one for each letter—but you saw that coming, right?—and do you have any idea how hard it is to remember a silly question over the course of two weeks, not to mention 26 of them. Of course, I made it that much more difficult with the attempt at alliteration where possible (articles and prepositions excluded, of course).

Don't worry, you're not alone: sometimes even I think there's something wrong with me.

A: Are the anxious ants anticipating the annual anniversary of Arbor Day?
B: Would a billion bites of barbecued beef basted in bricks of boullion better block your bowels?
C: Which combination of critters create consummate collection of crafty confiscators, a clique of cats or cluster of crabs?
D: Can the darkest doorknob in the drawer draw the dreariest dividend at the dump?
E: If every elf in England enjoys escorting enchanting empresses, what else entertains elves?
F: Should five formerly fat friends favor food flavored in fired-up fragrances for free or for a fee?
G: How is Gordon’s garrulous great-grandpa going to greet the gerent of the georgic guild?
H: Hindered by heavy hula hoops and hefty halos, how high can Henrietta the hamster hop?
I: Is Isabelle incredibly inconsiderate or impetuous in incidences that indicate an impropriety?
J: Can Janice judiciously justify the jingling junk on her journey?
K: Should kings kick kiwis to kaisers while kangaroos keep kerchief-clad koalas in kennels?
L: How did lazy Larry Linttrap lose the lease on his last lucky laundromat?
M: How many meandering mothers in the March marathon magnanimously matriculated most masterfully?
N: Would Neanderthal nobility not notice a number of nice nick-knacks neatly nickel-plated by a neighborly nurse?
O: Can the outspoken Order of the Ostentatious Orangutans organize an outing to the overwrought orphanage?
P: Can a pirate with a peg leg perform a perfect pirouette?
Q: How quickly can a quixotic queen quietly quadruple her quantity of quant quail in a quarter-hour?
R: Will the ruinous rain rupture the ramparts of Randy’s rumpus room or will they run to remote ruts in the real estate?
S: Should salient salivating salamanders skip social soirees to slurp slushy soups?
T: Is the telltale time to traverse a toll by train a travesty or a testament to talent?
U: Will understanding the uncompromising Ubangi ultimatum undermine our ultimate undertaking of unbuttoning the unusual umbrellas?
V: Is vying for the violins of virtuosos a vacuous vocation or a very virtuous venture?
W: Why won’t wallabies walk to work while their wives winter in Wales?
X: Does Xavier’s xylophone exhibit xenophobic xylographs next to the Xerox?
Y: Did yonder young yes-men yawn on Yom Kippur yesterday while yearning to yield to Yiddishism?
Z: Is a zesty zero the zenith of Zen for a zany zookeeper on a ziggurat in a zigzagging zephyr?

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