Thursday, August 31, 2006

I Need a Leaf Blower

Sure, I need a lot of things; at least I think I do anyway, but then again I always like to think that I could do without whatever it is that I need. I need a new washer, as the old one is making funny noises. On the other hand, it still fills with water, swishes around the clothes a bit and people are still able to stand next to me so it is probably working well. I guess I don’t need one then. I need a new dishwasher. This one is loud and the dishes come out sometimes with more crud on them than they went in with. However, if I do a little work before I put them in there, they come out sparkling. So, I’m assuming I really don’t need a new one right now.

Last night, just to get out of the house, I trolled the departments at Best Buy, drooling over the new flat-panel TVs that just came in, and I chatted up the appliance guy for a while, looking at what it would cost to replace all of the major appliances (stove, microwave and dishwasher: $1400. Doable, but I still wince). I didn’t include the refrigerator because ours, though about seven years old, still works without flaw (despite the occasional weird sound emanating from the recesses of its bowels).

My how things can possibly change in the course of one day.

This morning, I awoke not to an alarm clock or the splash of the morning sun cascading gently in through my bedroom window, but to Kara saying, “I think we need a new refrigerator. The freezer’s dripping.” My stomach churned. There isn’t a week that goes by where I run the contingency scenario of the day the fridge dies; I practice the eventual possibilities of the situation and I make note of the cheapest solution. In short, I dread the moment I discover that the fridge has moved on to the happy hunting ground in the sky, but not today, not today. I thought we had many frigid years left in the old gal, and I was very happy to conclude that I quite possibly left the freezer door cracked open all night (if it was dying, the fridge side would be warmer to and it wasn’t). Despite the loss of energy, I was elated.

I needed new pants, shorts specifically, as my favorite gray shorts are frayed at the hems, and most of the others I own, I’ve owned for a number of years (read: back when I was thinner). They fit, but only if I suck it up, and sometimes I worry about blowing out a seam at an inopportune moment… like bending over to pick up a penny, for instance. I neglected buying new shorts all summer. For one, I haven’t found a pair that I like; I was really holding out for ones like the gray ones. Secondly, I hate to try on clothes. I feel like I’m walking into someone’s house and rummaging through their drawers, only to slip into their bathroom and put on their clothes. I know, I’m the only one that feels that way. Oh, and usually, I hate to shop. One night the mood strikes me, I roll into Kohls, look for the shorts that were on sale (that I saw a couple of days before) and I pulled five various colors off of the shelf. I actually tried on a pair, instead of merely holding them up in front of me like so many other men in the world do. They fit, so I bought them.

Imagine my dismay and disappointment—and consider the quality of day I was about to have—when I first put on a pair of the shorts, tore off the tags, smoothed out some of the factory-applied wrinkles; realizing I had to go to the bathroom before I left for the day, I unbuttoned them, for the very first time mind you, and the button pops off right into the toilet. Kerplunk. I’m just glad they sowed an extra one on the inside of the pocket, as I would sooner use a safety pin than a “wet” button. I just let it go, and turned to look for my old gray ones.

I’ve never owned a leaf blower. At the old house, I never needed one. We only had the one big maple tree in the front that I planted and when it dumped its leaves, it seemed to do it all in one day. I just raked them up and we were good for another year. But I don’t know where all the leaves are coming from in my yard now. There are so many trees around here that we are never without leafy dunes scattering in the winds, collecting in the corners of the driveway and at the base of the walls. I get blisters sweeping them weekly. The worst place the dead leaves gather is in the planters that I’ve filled with wood chips, as they mingle in with the chips and it is impossible to eradicate them without tweezers.

My best remedy is to use the mower. I just lift it up over the planter and let the whirling blade blow out the leaves (and some of the wood chips). Simple, effective. At least it is until you hit a rock. Well, it wasn’t a rock so much as it was a small boulder. When they cleared the land a few miles from the house to build a 100 acre shopping center, they piled up all of these wonderful canyon boulders, so a dozen or so are strewn about the yard. I either didn’t notice it or did and didn’t put together that a spinning blade would stop suddenly if it came in contact with an immovable force.

And stop it did…with the sudden flare of a missile launch failure. The motor crashed to a stop. When I pulled on the ripcord to fire the engine back up to life, it jerked out of my hand, and the engine rattled with an unnerving clamor. Great, I broke the lawnmower.

I flipped it on its side to take a look at the blade. Maybe it was just out of balance. Besides a huge chunk taken out of the blade, I was able to twist off the retaining nut with my fingers. Definitely not a good sign, but the blade needed to be replace. A couple of days later—since I had to find a Sears, as it is a Craftsman—I put on the new blade and cranked it over. It rattled like an old Model T, but it ran fine… if you didn’t listen to the scraping metal sounds flurrying like a tornado on plastic wheels, and if you ignored the blustering cloud of white smoke that billowed from the exhaust when it turned over.

Oh yeah, and the blade, the new one I had just put on, fell off. Well it didn’t fall off so much as it flung itself out from underneath the mower like a boomerang and clattered across the driveway. If I was standing about six feet to the right, I might have been typing this with only five toes as it would have for sure lopped off a foot at the worst.

So, I didn’t tighten the retaining bolt enough. Okay, I’ll get a wrench this time.

Now, the grass is shorter, so it still cuts grass as it should, but I think the collision was one slap on a rock closer to an early grave for the mower. That and I leave it out in the rain from time to time.

Maybe I don’t need a leaf blower. Then I’d have to take care of it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Haircut and a Shave, Two Bits

I don’t remember my first haircut, which is probably for the best. According to the family album, I was crying (at least in the picture I was crying), and my mother can attest to this or not, but I think I was because the barber cut my ear. Nice for a lasting memory of a barbershop. That and—maybe I just created this tale out of thin air as part of the woven fabric that is my own personal egocentric legend— but I remember her using Scotch tape to seal the wound on the lobe of my ear. Maybe due to this experience and probably countless horrific hatchet jobs I've enjoyed over the years, I’ve grown to loath a visit to the barber shop, and obviously since the last time you saw me my hair wasn’t down to my knees, I do go quite regularly, maybe every six weeks or so.

It isn’t that my head gets heavy from hair, whose does? But there usually comes a time toward the end of that six week period when my hair just feels thick, hard to manage and cumbersome. It is a mental weight as my one and only example of vanity consumes most of my thoughts after I've first noticed that my hair is just too long or too thick or too much of everything. This is no more noticable than when I actually have to break out the brush for a few days and comb it…with a part even (and frankly, when I part my hair I think I look like an alter boy on his first day on the job, only poofier)… instead of just washing it, toweling it off and running my fingers through it for some excuse for style. Maybe it shows, but I don’t spend a lot of time on my hair, I never have. In fact, one time I came home from Great Clips, a ship-themed haircut place, with a bottle of hair gel and Kara laughed at me...not with me, but right at me. It wasn’t one of those “aren’t you cute wanting to make your hair look extra nice” laughs; it was more of a “you got suckered into buying hair products like a girl, laugh-at-me” laugh. She was right, I only used it a couple of times and decided that it made my hair look like an oil tanker crash site, so it eventually crusted over in the back of the drawer like that cement glue they had in grade school—the kind that could clear your sinuses with one whiff—and it didn’t make it into the box for the move to the new house.

Believe it or not, but I’m apparently a sucker for a gimmicky barbershop name, and back when I was a kid, we had a couple of doozies in my hometown: The Hair Force was one I remember fondly. I went there once, unimpressed by the lack of Air Force thematic elements in the place, as once you were inside there was nothing remarkable about it, and the walls were this ghastly peach/bisque/papaya color, you know, what the inside of skin looks like. Then there was The China Clipper, and I think I only went there because it was next to the much frequented Round Table and I could ride my bike, but it ended up being more China and less clipper ship in theme (they had a painting of a clipper ship in the window lest you forgot their origins). I don’t know if clipper ships ever went to China or not, but the two just didn’t mesh well, and I think I only got my hair cut there a couple of times. Plus, I didn't speak Chinese at the time, so explaining that my hair felt "poofy" to an old woman with scissors who nodded at me a lot was difficult to say the least. I think regardless of what I explained, she gave me the haircut a young American kid needed... in 1955 Mainland China.

Down the street and around the corner on Glendora Avenue, in the old Ralph’s shopping center (now a CVS or an auto parts place) was a man’s man barbershop. It was true to the term in every regard. It was the place you'd expect to find when you hear the word barbershop… no styling was done there. No cosmetology certificate hung on the wall, only dusty pictures of dead prize fighters, old race horses, the front page of a newspaper telling about the landing on the moon and a few pictures of very old hair styles for very old men. Hair gel was axle grease, and they had those little black combs in the blue juice. You left there smelling like Old Spice and the powder fluffed on you by the horse-tail brush, and for some reason, I always left there feeling around 60-years old. Gruff old men hung out there to watch the fight, read the paper and complain that the current president is far worse than any they can rightly remember, and they smoked, a lot. I think people could spit on the floor if they were so inclined, and the reading material of choice during your wait were business rags, Sports Illustrated and any kind of firearms magazines. The guy running the place (I don’t remember the name of it even), had a beard and looked a lot like what I would expect Black Bart to look like if he cut pirate’s hair back in the days of plunder and pillage, and when you walked in there, no bright-eyed recent cosmetology grad called you hun or gave you a warm smile; it was a curt “be with you in a minute,” a grumbling “take a seat,” and a chain-rattling “hold still or I’m going to cut your damn head off.”

Needless to say, I only went there a couple of times, as it was just too rough around the edges for my tastes; plus, I got that old-man-stubble feeling on the back of my neck.

For the most part, I visited the Haircut Store, simple, easy, quick and there were plenty of stylists on hand at any given moment. It was in the Vons shopping center next door to a pet store, turned flower store, turned water store, turned Starbucks. My dad had a choice description of the place (ask him when you see him), and he was completely right, but for an adolescent, getting your hair cut by a young 20-something with mid-drift, cleavage and wonderful perfume was the closest thing a 15-year-old could get to a lap dance, and it was far cheaper to boot. Who could blame me for enjoying a shampoo and some flighty conversation about what older women are actually like? Hell, that got me married!

Once in college, there was a haircut place on campus, and since it was closer to where I lived at the time (on campus) I frequented there for a couple of years. They served tequila shots to special guests (one of my fraternity brothers was cozy with the owner), and I guess that after a couple of those, regardless of the quality of service, every haircut looked perfect. Is that part of my scalp supposed to show? Don’t worry, another shot? Nobody told me that friends don’t let friends drink and sheer. Plus, they were usually free, the shots and the haircut, as they made enough money from the regular population so they could always cut us a break.

Now, it’s changed quite a bit for me. No tequila shots. No tip-hungry flirty girls accidentally brushing their chest up against the back of my 15-year-old neck. No gun magazines. No spitting on the floor. No relaxing shampoos. I just don’t enjoy getting a haircut anymore (I guess you saw that coming, right?). Excuse the pun, but it is all cut and dry at this new place. Get in, get out. I’m not much for idle chatter, and the place that I go now, Great Clips, I have never seen the same girl working there twice, so it’s impossible to get a rapport with anyone. My name and style particulars are in the computer so the conversation is a study in minimalist communications, and I usually try to be as vague as possible just to see what they’ll do (it’ll grow back, it always does):

Stylist (I dare call her a barber, as I think a barber is a man): Ryan, we’re ready for you. Still want a Number Two (in reference to the length of the clippers)?
Me: Yep. It’s always a little thick too.
Stylist: How much do you want off the top?
Me: Just enough so it won’t lay down, but not too much so it sticks up.
Stylist: Do you square it off in the back or is it rounded?
Me: I don’t know, I rarely look back there.
Stylist: How about your sideburns?
Me: About a half inch on the left and three-quarters on the right (which usually elicits a cheap laugh).

That’s roughly it on an average visit. The girls are like hair hookers, there for the job, cut the chitchat and worry about the tip at the end. They’re not interested in what I do for a living, and they probably can’t image it’s too much since I’m usually there on some random Thursday afternoon. I’m not interested in their lives as much as they’re not about mine, but I sometimes ask questions about their scissors, if I notice something new, and I’m always amazed at the extraordinary cost of something so simple.

My last visit was only a week ago, as I wanted to get my hair cut for Natalie’s party; it was getting a little unruly in my opinion. Nobody was there, so I was in and out in a matter of 20 minutes or so. The girl that cut my hair was especially chatty, but I didn’t mind because I didn’t have to say anything, just a few nods and “uh-hun” in the right places and she kept on about cosmetology school, how many heads she screwed up along the way, how long her first haircut took and how many times she cut herself over the years. As it turns out, if you ask the right question, they’re like a Chatty Cathy doll with a broken string. What is the question, you ask? Simple: What is cosmetology school like? That was it. I didn’t have to say anything for the whole time I was there.

But then, she threw in something that hit me like a ton of bricks. She said: “Your hairline is receding a little.” Gasp! Receding! Like the tide? Like deforestation? Like global warming? Receding? As in, going back… up… away? Good gracious, I wasn’t expecting that at all. She said it in an a-matter-of-fact sort of way, like a dentist pointing out a crooked front tooth or a doctor making light of the fact that you have a lazy eye. They’re professionals geared to give it to me straight, without the kid gloves, but to hear from a state-certified cosmetologist that I am on the forefront of a hairline recession was the blindsided punch in the face I wasn’t expecting.

Usually they just make fun of the gray hair, which I’ve grown to accept as part of my overall debonair characteristics of my appearance. Sure, I’m graying gracefully, I tell myself. I’ll look distinguished, wise. “If I tell you to cut off all of the gray hair,” I usually joke, staring down at the snow-tipped tufts of hair clumped on my apron, “I don’t think there’d be much left.” It’s funny. I get a laugh. It makes me smile. But I can’t say, “Cut only the ones that are left.” That’s not funny. I won’t get a laugh and I don’t think I’d smile about it.

The kicker to the whole experience is that I came home that day, walked into a house full of women (and Matthew, but I can’t blame him)—my mother-in-law was visiting from back East, Kara’s 13-year-old cousin who comes pre-wired for hip style and fashion right out of the box, Kara and Natalie—and nobody noticed my haircut. I paraded around for a couple of hours, even used the words “haircut” and “my hair” several times strangely out of context and not a peep out of the lot of them. So much for mattering. I give up trying to get their attention, vying for some validation that I’m not going to wake up the next morning and look like George Costanza, and I go outside to fetch the mail. My neighbor from across the street drives by in his car, glances at me before he pulls into his driveway, gets out and hollers from across the street, “Hey, you got your ears lowered, looks good.”


Well, I’d better get back to work. I was supposed to start a new project on Friday, but I’ve put it off all weekend, so another day can’t hurt. I’ve neglected a lot of my freelance work as of late. My main client has been loading up the assignments recently, and since they are the major squeaky wheel on the largest vehicle I like to call My Paycheck, they get first priority.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have a huge list of things to do; however, you can imagine that this isn’t one of them.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Nathan to the Rescue

Natalie had her big birthday party on Saturday (though today is her actual birthday), and it turned out great. Everyone who came seemed to have a fun time and all went well. My earlier lamentations were entirely unfounded, it seems, and Natalie couldn’t have been happier. Cake was cut, presents opened, pictures taken, and plenty of food was eaten (ugg… see previous post).

But it almost didn’t turn out like that.

Scheduled to begin at noon, Kara and I ran around most of the morning getting things ready. The sandwiches and vegetable platters needed to be picked up, along with the balloons and the cake. The house needed to be cleaned…and there is a thousand details that always needs to be attended to right before a party (hey, toilet paper doesn’t get in there by itself). The excitement and anticipation of the day began to take their toll on Natalie and I think she might have been getting a little nervous. She was looking forward to it, of course, as it has been the topic of most of our conversations for weeks on end, but when it came right down to it, she might have ended up being a bit overwhelmed.

Guests began to arrive right on the hour, and soon after the front room filled with partygoers, Natalie was nowhere to be found. Everyone wanted to see the girl of the hour all decked out in a beautiful pink dress with purple bows in her hair, a purple pearly necklace and a round ribbon that says “Today is My Birthday,” but she had scampered upstairs and was hiding in her bed under the covers. The party, to her, “was not happening.” Through tears, she wanted everyone to go home. Her ribbon was on the floor, next to the bows and the necklace. She didn’t want any part of it.

Yes, the excitement had finally reached a boiling point. Finally, she was able to allow herself to come downstairs, with coxing of juice and a snack. Kara made her a plate of food and she sat at her table with a disturbed and irritated look on her face, refusing the most gracious of best wishes from the guests.

I had seen this before in Natalie (not to mention I see it all the time in myself). She’s hungry, tired and a little overcooked. Like me, she doesn’t like to be the center of attention. She likes it quiet and subdued. Maybe she’s a little introverted, like me, but also, maybe she doesn’t like people lavishing attention on her. Like her father, the limelight is not for her.

I thought the day had been relegated to one of uncomfortable silences, scowls and Natalie storming off to quieter parts of the house to sulk. I figured it was a done deal, as it is hard to be the shortest person in a room full of giants, each one looking down at you, saying things you might not understand. It’s hard.

But then, the front door opened. Natalie was still sitting at her table staring down her nose at a plate full of food she didn’t want to each, brows furrowed. But then, everything changed when the front door opened. “Nathan’s here,” Kara announced, hoping for a bright spark to burst into her melancholy. Her hopes were fulfilled; Natalie’s eyes grew wide, her mouth gaped open and she gasped in that way a little girl does when she gets excited.

Nathan’s here. Nathan came to her party. All is saved.

The pint-sized partygoer bound into the room and saved the day—all smiles, hair set like a miniature Jerry Lee Lewis. “Happy Birthday, Natalie,” he cheers, his Ts nonexistent. To which Natalie gleefully responds: “Happy Birthday, Nathan,” her THs like Fs. It was the war cry of two veteran comrades. They hugged in that cute way two kids hug, not really sure where the arms go and if they hold it for one second longer, they’re both going down.

All was well again. Natalie was all smiles and the party was a party again. More guests arrived: Grant, Darby and Brooke. Even Matthew found a buddy in Jake, the son of Julie and Joe’s friends, Mike and Linda.

Since then, the house has been a shambles. Before I got sick, I cleaned the dining room and the living room of any party evidence, but the train room and the family room (the kitchen is always a nightmare) are still in tatters. Presents everywhere, and one pretty cool thing she got (from her dear old mom and dad) is a kid’s digital camera. Since she is always interested in taking pictures, we bought her a low-resolution digital camera so she can shoot whatever she wants… as it turns out, she takes a lot of pictures of her feet and the walls, but she’s getting the hang of it.

Shown on the left here is a picture of Natlie with her new camera and on the right is a picture she took with it (notice it is two angles of the exact same moment--cool). The quality isn’t that great, but hey, she’s two… wait, excuse me: My big girl is three now.

Snif. Time sure does fly.

Sick, Sick, Sick

Perhaps you’re wondering what has happened to me. The last entry was a few days ago and since then the site had been dormant. Well, faithful readers, for the past 36 hours, I have wished on myself nothing short of death, as I laid in bed sick as a dog. Apparently, when you let a ham and cheese sandwich sit out on the kitchen sink for roughly 10 hours, it is no longer considered a consumable by human standards. Long about 9pm on Saturday night, I devoured said sandwich with little regard for public safety, and three hours later, I developed a lump on solid concrete in my lower intestines that I couldn’t wedge out with all the laxatives in a retirement community.

Two hours after that, the situation was completely reversed. Then I threw up. Then I spent hours wishing for a quick and painless death, and if the house suddenly caught fire, I would have waved to my fleeing family from bed, unable… nay, unwilling to move. Bouts of sweating were following by periods of freezing cold. Back pains, stomach pains, neck pains, jiggy-leg, pins and needles, headaches, eye-aches and dry mouth. I couldn’t lay on my left side for someone reason, for when I did, knife-like pains tore up my stomach and balloons of acid scorched my esophagus.

I hate being sick.

On a good note, however; I lost eight pounds.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

What Are The Rich People Doing?

On Thursday, I played tourist for the day, saw some sights I wouldn't normally (I mean, I live here and who does these things?) and frankly I feel sorry for people that have to sightsee in this city on any given day of the week, especially during the summer. Say you’re only in town for a few days and you want to go to Disneyland… well, guess what, it’s super packed. I don't mean it's packed like a bar on New Year's Eve; It is as if someone put an ad in the paper that says they're shelling out free hundred-dollar bills to anyone who shows up…and that’s everyone it seems. You’re going to pay full price, walk elbow-to-elbow with thousands of people, wait in hours-long lines and only enjoy a couple of rides, if you’re lucky. The experience gives you new hatred for your fellow man becasue people become rude, self involved and completely absorbed in squeezing as much as possible out of their experience. What else? Oh yeah, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get whacked in the back of the ankles by a stroller driven madly by a wide-eyed Midwestern mom on a crazed dash to see the new-fangled spacey machines and them flying contraptions.


So, instead, let’s go to Hollywood and Beverly Hills and see how many Rolls Royces we can see, how many fake blondes trolling the streets with Prada bags over their arms with more plastic in their bodies than in Natalie’s toy chest (there’s a pun in there somewhere if you look hard enough) and see how many self-important narcissists with alligator shoes chatting away on their cell phones. Sounds like fun. Okay, we’ve got our assignment, so here are the caveats: You have to leave during rush hour and you have to drive on five of LA’s worst freeways before you get there, the 91, 10, 5, 405, and 101. For extra credit, drink two glasses of Diet Coke before you leave (because you stayed up too late the night before and need a little wake-up juice) and try to make it to a bathroom before the situation becomes so dire you start rummaging around in the back seats for an empty bottle. Also…also, for extra, extra credit, leave downtown Los Angeles at exactly 5pm along with thousands of other people. Discover that rush hour actually lasts for a couple of hours.

Let the fun begin. I dropped off the kids at school. It was Splash Day, which means that on this one day of the week, Natalie actually looks forward to a day at school rather than finding a way or excuse to stay home. My tour group was in the car at 10am and on our way toward a horizon scratched by the tall buildings of LA; we had high hopes that there wouldn’t be any traffic and that we’d make it there in no time. We took Kara’s Escape because it is a lot easier to zip in and out of traffic than it would be in my big truck. Plus, the fuel mileage would be horrific and the parking nearly impossible. Now that the truck is over seven feet in height, it doesn’t fit in most parking structures, which is a mainstay of downtown parking.

Kara’s mom Carol and her cousin Kailey went with me, because Carol wanted to see the Mann Chinese Theater and the famous footprints in cement and Kailey wanted nothing more than to walk the pearly streets of Rodeo Drive and see some of the world’s most famous boutiques and shops.

Since I missed the 101 (thankfully I’m sure, given the traffic we had just sat through—at least an hour and a half), we pushed on toward the 405, arguably the worst freeway in the country. It didn’t disappoint us. Once Santa Monica Blvd appeared, we decided it was time to get off and immediately find facilities, those preferably attached to a restaurant, but that wasn’t vital. We found some kind of mall on the boulevard that had a few places to eat, most importantly a Macy’s…and more important than that, a Macy’s bathroom. Once relief was found, we bought perfume, but not before testing and trying on most all of the brands they offered, from Britney Spears’ which smelled like a Southern prostitute to Paris Hilton’s which smelled like, well, it smelled like just a regular hooker (but look at the source). Luckily, Kailey didn’t go for either of those, but instead picked up some that smelled like flowers, nice.

Of course, we left the place with such various scents emanating from our pours that we not only attracted flies but our perfumes were able to kill them when they got too close.

We ate at Hustons, a nice upscale place, and half the check was dedicated to wine, naturally. Kailey ended up not liking her chicken, so the manager came over to apologize and to let us know that we wouldn’t see it on the bill; since the bill was $109.00 without the tip, I didn’t really notice if it wasn’t there or not.

First stop, Rodeo Drive, and after we took a back-and-forth jaunts on Wilshire in order to find the street, I was surprised to even find parking so easily. We walked from Jamba Juice to the Beverly Regent Wilshire Hotel and then back up the other side. The first shop we decided to stop into was Ralph Lauren, and I don’t remember the last time I felt like a second class citizen. I’m usually pretty self assured when it comes to who I am, but standing next to a $600 leather jacket and a sales lady who is looking down her nose at me, I felt just like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” when those mean women wouldn’t help her… you know, because she was wearing Paris Hilton’s perfume… I mean, because she was a hooker. But later, boy did she show them, by buying a lot of clothes from them so they enjoyed nice commission checks that week. Yeah, she sure showed them. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to come back and spend a lot of money for the happy ending. I just got to use the bathroom (hidden behind the door marked “Private” upstairs, just in case you ever need it), and retreat back onto the street in my shorts from Kohls and my shirt from Target. I took a couple of pictures, like a tourist.

There is one thing I don’t really understand about Rodeo Drive. It’s “why?” Why is it so important? Maybe I don’t understand fashion, but why do people go there and spend their money on those things? I’m not talking about the producer’s wife or the Ferrari collector who have much more money than good sense. I’m talking about the average Joe who thinks they need a pair of $800 shoes or the woman who thinks she’ll look better with a Coach handbag that looks like every other purse on the street. It’s like the piece of junk car with flashy rims. What’s the point. You still have a piece of junk car. It’s false materialism, trendy fads and a complete waste of money. Remember back to any time in your life when you spent a considerable amount of money on something that was the latest rage, a fad, and now think about where that one thing is. Is it in the back of your closet? Did you get rid of it? Did it break or rip or wear out? Or did you just get sick of it? Probably.

We saw what the rich people were doing, so we zipped over to Hollywood to see the Theater, put our feet in the footsteps of the long dead or forgotten…and see the freaks that come out of the woodwork for the tourists.

It took us an hour to get from Rodeo Drive to Hollywood Boulevard. We parked right next to the theater in some seventh level of hell parking structure that I felt if we were to go down any further into the earth we would certain start see upside-down Chinese people walking about. Anyways, we parked, and spent all of 10 minutes amongst the crowds at the Mann. I hadn’t been to Hollywood in years. Kara and I saw “The Lion King” at the El Captain and a lot hasn’t changed much. The Kodiak theater was all new, but everything else looked dilapidated, run down, dirty and smelly.

Then we sat. We sat. We sat and we sat some more. It took us two excruciating hours to get home. So, that was our day as tourists in the big city.

Oh, and we saw five Rolls Royces and untold numbers of Prada bags and alligator shoes.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pillow Talk

I couldn’t tell you the kind of pillow my dad sleeps on nowadays, but when I was growing up, as long as I remember, he rested his head every night on a oversized rock in a cotton bag, a solid lump of God knows what substance, antimatter perhaps. It made for the greatest pillow fights however, as one whack with the Sphinx’s Nose that was lodged down in there would catapult your victim back in time. My mother’s pillow, by comparison to the Rock of Gibraltar, was a waif, a pillow in every sense of the word. On top of which, it was utter useless in a fight.

I only had one pillow throughout my childhood, from the day I started using pillows until the day it disintegrated underneath my head, just one, which was great because my pillow was perfect, just the right amount of thickness and weight. I had it for nearly 15 years, I’m guessing. I took it to college, even, and I’m not sure what happened to it after that. I remember the cover ripping to shreds to expose the foam inside from years of wear and I’ll bet I just ended up throwing out because I might have started swallowing small scraps of it in my sleep.

I haven’t had a good night sleep since I got rid of it.

Since then, I’ve been searching for the perfect pillow on which to rest my head and I haven’t been able to find it. Each night, I’ve been sleeping on a pillow that is beyond description: It has four levels, one on each corner, and throughout the night, I find myself flopping the pillow from one corner to the next in search of the perfect height. Since then, I’ve been trolling the linen aisles of housewares in search of the perfect pillow. I walk down the aisle, squeezing the pillows like I’m in some sort of Charmin commercial in search of the perfect pillow.

It is an inexplicable journey, a quest that so far has been completely unfulfilled and has left me listless in bed night after night, tossing and turning. In the morning, I ache. My neck hurts, my head hurts. I hurt. What’s a guy to do?

Well, I thought, for a moment that my journey ended yesterday when I found, what I thought was the perfect pillow. I bought one, extolled its virtues to Kara a few aisles later and she returned to pick the very same product. It was thick, heavy, firm…nay, extra firm. In the store, it appeared perfect. So perfect, that when I came home, I collected up the half-dozen random pillows that collect in the various bedrooms and I carried them to the curb—trash day is tomorrow you know. I was excited about my new pillow, anticipating its opening night. That is, until I laid my head down on it just after midnight…and the torture began.

Apparently, there are three types of people in this world: those that sleep on their backs; those that sleep on their sides and those that sleep on their stomachs. Well, I’m of the latter persuasion, and my thick new pillow with ample stuffing nearly broke off my neck. How can a person sleep with their head at such an unnatural angle? It just isn’t possible, and I discovered this after hours of flipping, flopping and tossing and spinning most of the night. I stuffed my arm under it; I laid with it under my chest; I squeezed it, crunched it and twisted it, but nothing good came of it. I ended the night not using a pillow at all.

So, now I’m back to square one…and I don’t even have old lumpy to fall back on.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

“We the Jury…”

Today was my day in court, at least on the jury side of it, attempting to do my civic duty; well, more precisely, attempting to get out of having to do my civic duty. Gnat and Matty had to go to daycare early, which was disappointing for them, I’m sure, and Kara, for a change, had to suffer through the heart-wrenching of “abandoning” them to the vultures.

The summons kindly requested that I arrive at the Riverside Superior Courthouse early; it was a building they’ve dubbed, The Hall of Justice, a phrase I kept repeating in my head all day, only I’d assume this superhero announcer voice you hear at the end of old cliffhanger movies of the 30s. The Hall of Justice! Will he get out alive? Will our evil villain triumph over our brave hero? Stay tuned until next week and find out. Meanwhile, visit The Hall of Justice!

It ended up being a day of “hurry up and wait.” Get here at 7:30 and wait. Check in with the jury room and wait. We’ll pick potential jurors at 9:00, but they didn’t until 9:40…and when they did, no, no, no, you can’t report to the courtroom yet; you must wait. And, before you know it, lunch is here, and since this is a governmentally run facility, lunch lasted from 11:30 until 1:30. And then, why, if you haven’t waited enough, kindly sit down, get comfortable (well, as much as possible in taxpayer-funded furniture) and wait some more.

I arrived at The Hall of Justice around 7:15, found ample parking in one of the juror parking lots—which I later found out I wasn’t supposed to park there as it was reserved for assigned jurors, you know, the 12 Angry Men kind—I walked to The Hall of Justice and found a long line of people akin to Space Mountain. And being the good citizen that I am, I didn’t ask questions, but instead, just lined up at the end and waited.

Behind me were a few mouthy rednecks poking fun at the system, making light of how long the line is, how quickly they go through it and how efficiently they eradicate the criminals once they are culled from the herd. Surely they were jurors too. One was telling the other three how much of a great deal he could get on a set of steel bumpers for a late-model Jeep—almost a steal, he said—and the others were happily ogling the DA assistants as they sauntered their way in with their business suits and brief cases—maybe it was their brief suits and business cases. “I wish I came to court more often,” one particularly large one said with a sneer.

Soon after eight o’clock, they must have found the keys to the front door, so they started to let everyone in, but before the line began to move, a woman came out and yelled at everyone to form two lines. She was raising her voice to be heard by the large crowd, no doubt, but she would have served well at a concentration camp, because she could herd large numbers of unwilling people into two well-organized and completely parallel lines. She hollered that all of the potential jurors get in this line and all of the “people that have a court appointment” form up in this other line. She nicely skirted the issue of calling them criminals or defendants, but that’s what all of us in our safe and law-abiding jury line must have thought as we faced each other in what would have been one of the greatest Red Rover, Red Rover games ever played in the history of the world right there in the plaza of The Hall of Justice. She was insistent that some of us were in the wrong line, as apparently the shame of the guilty causes them to hid amongst us jurors…safety among the saints. She yelled: “I know that some of your are in the wrong line. If you’re going to see the judge you need to be in this line here.” This little woman with the big pipes waved her hands at the line of “those with an appointment to see the judge.”

Nobody moved lines. This is the real Hall of Justice.

One thing I did notice is that after the lines were formed and the guilty were shepherded from the flock of the honorable, it got awfully quiet in that other line. Serious. Dire. The truth of their situation, the consequences of their actions, perhaps hang heavy over their heads, the yoke of wickedness. They were on display for all of us to see, and the judging had begun. Most of which, I heard muttered from somewhere behind me, most of which won’t be coming out once they go through those doors. There’s not much to joke about after that.

So, I reached the front of the line to take my turn at the metal detector, and after emptying my pockets of all of my worldly possessions, I made it through without a beep, got upstairs and waited…along with 400 other people who were equally unsuccessful in talking their way out of this monumental waste of time.

Or is it? After a few hours of sitting there, mulling over the burden of my responsibility as a citizen of this country, the more I became interested in actually getting on a case. To say that it would be fun would make light of a person’s future and fate… but I did think it would be fun, exciting maybe.

But then time takes over, batters me around a little bit, and I’m left with a weary feeling of just wishing to get it over with. Pick me already so I can pound my fists on the desk in the deliberation room and shout “He is guilty! You idiots, why can’t you see that the Professor did it? Plum was caught in the library with the candlestick. It is clear as day!”

We waited and we waited and we waited some more. The pace of my watch betrayed the relativity of my speed. Two minutes clicked forward…and then one clicked back again. People trickled in, loafers, irresponsible ne'er-do-wells that think the world revolves around them. Tank tops, shorts, sandals…doesn’t anyone read anymore?

The jury coordinator got on the microphone to get the proceedings underway. He listed the cases before him that needed to be filled by us, the potential jurors, and by the number of people needed for the judicial meat grinder, it appeared inevitable that all of us would see the inside of a courtroom by the end of the day. But “when?” was the question poised on the lips of every soul in the room. During his various speeches, he must have repeated himself a dozen times—each time for some new lackey that slouched into the room, and during the fourth or fifth incantation of his speech, well rehearsed, well canned, I was able to insert the words that he randomly and inexplicably decided to leave out. He seemed like an unusual breed of person for courthouse work: genial, genuine, helpful and accommodating. I worked in a courthouse for three years, and of all of the people that I worked with, those four character traits were not found in any of them. The public… at least the underside of the public will do that to a person. You become callous, cold, indifferent to the various plights presented each day. Everyone’s a liar. Everyone’s trying to pull one over on you. Everyone’s a criminal before they say a single word.

He told some jokes, played off of some of the stupid questions people ask. “If I don’t get selected, do I have to go back to work?” Questions like that make me sigh in disappointment that society and intelligence has so departed company.

In this huge room filled with 400 people, I picked the wrong seat to sit in: deep inside the row, next to the wall, trapped, cramped and confined by a full house of potential jurors. One man, testing the tensile strength of his cotton t-shirt blocked all visibility in front of me, and the guy who slumped down in the seat to my left was decidedly an armrest hog. I was cornered, boxed in, with no place to rest my arms.

The coordinator began calling names for Courtroom “xx” (I’ll keep the details private…as I think I should) to form a list of 93 people, a list I was on. My original feelings of consternation about actually being picked were replaced with hope. Ninety-three people is a big pool to pick 12 from, so my odds of getting picked were actually quite low, a 13 percent chance of getting on a jury. On top of which, we were the first group picked, and from my experience with the courthouse I worked for, I knew that the selection process can only last a couple of hours at most. I’d be home on the couch with a “day off” by 11am, noon at the latest.

After calling us, he was advised by someone on the phone that we were needed at that exact moment, but that we should stick around (while everyone else got a break—after all, we had been slaving away for nearly an hour, so a break in the governmental realms was quite overdue).

The hour came and went, followed by another, both equally enactive, boring and dull. I retreated into a book to while away the time, but the goings and coming of my fellow jurors, including the loud conversation about the Viet Nam war (by two aged vets) was raging behind me. Concentration on my book was difficult indeed, plus, I was occupying one ear to listen for my courtroom to be called.

It never did.

The time for lunch arrived and the coordinator cleared out the room until 1:30pm, when we were all required to return. There were a group of lucky people whose names never appeared on any call list. I noticed, through the crowd, that one of Kara’s coworkers was selected for jury duty as well. Small world, I’m thinking, but immediately delete the trite cliché from my list, as this is a coincidence but hardly a small world. How many times have you been in a large group of people—movie theater, grocery store, marathon race—and not know a soul? Probably ten to one, but nobody walks around mumbling to themselves, “Wow, big world.” It just doesn’t happen.

Anyway, her name was lucky enough to be placed on the “leftovers” list and she was freed soon after noon. I didn’t see her go because I had left the building on a wondrous journey in search for food. In fact, I was hungry, oddly enough; Justice seems to impart my appetition for food.

I think I walked probably a mile through the historic streets of Riverside. I discovered the original courthouse, built in 1930, fully topped off with cherubs dutifully watching over the wicked and righteous alike, with its colonnades and the impracticality of judicial architecture during the depression. Market Street. Main Street. Some streets with numbers, some with citrus themes, Orange, Lime, Lemon, etc. The governmental section of the city is rich with history, a host of buildings I didn’t recognize but knew they were old and at one time important, regarded, cherrished. I passed the plaster, squat façade of a building that can be nothing else but a product of the WPA during the ABC government of the Roosevelt era… a post office, of course, and it was a comfortable site for a traveling stranger among the architecture.

I just wish I would have brought my camera.

Alas, my journey was to search for food. I walked passed a coffee shop that sold sandwiches, one of those eclectic places reminiscent of my days behind the counter of a coffee shop in Glendora, the 222, so I put that on the maybe list. Small shop sandwiches are a gamble, plus it was closest to the courthouse. Surely there is more just around the corner, a perfect place in which to dine. I passed another sandwich shop that also doubled as a bail bondsman, and there was a Mexican food place that could notarize my documents while I ate. I feel that you should stick to one thing and do it well, and if I see a bail bondsman slinging hash, that worries me. One place proudly announced “We now serve Mexican food,” which leads me to wonder what they were serving before when they decided it wasn’t working out: Venetian? Antarctican? Pak-Iraq? Okay, I’ll pass. There was a series of bars, small diners, a pizza place, but nothing said come and have lunch as much as the coffee place did.

And that’s what I did. Seven dollars later, I was munching on a ham and cheese that was equipped with a mountain of lettuce and a wonderful wedge of avocado. It was perfect, and I got to sit in the window and watch the suits walk by, happy that I am clearly free from the official white-collar workforce.

My watch must have stopped. After walking most of the catacombesque streets of downtown Riverside, eating a ham and swiss and reading most of an old issue of Popular Science—which I remembered why I used to subscribe to it—it was only just passed noon.

What to do now? I guess I could go back to the juror room and wait. I’ve been slugging this book around town, I might as well open it and give it a read. When I returned to the jury room, most of those left were old men, drifting in and out of sleep like at the rec room of the old folk’s home, just waiting for their grandkids to call.

I bought another Coke and settled in for a long afternoon.

It wasn’t until 2pm, six hours after I had first sat down, that we were rushed upstairs to our courtroom, where all 92 of us (one person vanished without warning) would come up with the best excuse as to why we shouldn’t be there. I gave it my best shot, that I was a stay-at-home dad—which is partially true—and that it would be a hardship to find suitable lodgings for them during the trial. I don’t think they would have bought it that I have some relatives in from out of town that I will be entertaining for the next two days.

Once inside the courtroom, one of the women that was ogled by the West Virginia mafia in the morning line ended up being the State representative, while on the other side was a public defender and the poor sap who was hoping to rely on the kindness of strangers. They didn’t tell us what the case was about before we tried to plead our way out the back door before the trial began, but by the looks of the guy—deep craters pocked his face, enormous smile lines suggested deviously evil grins throughout his malfeasant life, and his hair was slicked back in a thick carpet of shag that left the top of his head like the fastback of a Mustang, categorically a hairpiece. He looked worried. When we first filed in, he eyed each of us, up and down, and whispered to his public-appointed barrister.

We had all judged him the moment we laid our eyes on him. He was guilty. Maybe it was the hair, his out-of-fashion hounds tooth sport coat, the way his arms were folding defiantly in front of his chest while he eyed us. Whatever it was, I had already made up my mind, guilty, we all had, I’m sure.

I wonder what he did to have the county go out of its way to drag all of us down here, spend all day and untold amounts of money from lost wages, childcare expenses and transportation issues, to decide his fate. It must have been serious, as he didn’t work those smile lines throughout the whole process.

So, it was nearly 3:45pm by the time I left the building, and what did I gain? Despite a newly found contempt for random people and the very moronic things they do in public (there were some very specific and obvious examples that can always be found around a public building regarding the law), a palpable understanding of the strata of society I live among and a respect for what court workers must go through on a daily basis, what did I get out of the experience?

I get to come back in October… as my excuse was not leaden with enough sorrow and despair to relieve me from service forever, just merely two months.

Actually, I hope I get on a jury next time.

I still say it’ll be fun.

Sand and Surf in San Diego

The trip to the beach on Saturday pretty much solidifies my dislike of that dirty sliver of ecosystem where land meets water. For one, there’s a greasy sunlotioned sheen that’s cast over every surface…from the car, the pavement and the sky to the people, towels, coolers, flipflops, and umbrellas, and mixed with that is a healthy sprinkling of gritty sand—ever-loving sand that gets into everything—to give the world that cinnamon crumb doughnut texture.

It's a sticky humid pall that hangs over everything, reminding me of other uncomfortable things that I don't like: mold in the shower, sand in your bed at night and spilled food on your new pants.

Mostly, the beach is a test of the envelope of my personal space, I think. I'm uncomfortable there on many different levels. People are too close together, and not in that home-town-park-picnic vibe you get when there’s bluegrass playing in the bandshell and everyone is sharing this year’s crop of corn in that communal way, but this seems like a game of Risk. Set up your defenses, understand your weaknesses and always be wary of the Ukraine. For us, the Ukraine were the folks set up next to us, to which we nicely edged over with the erection of our enormous blue blot-out-the-sun beach umbrella. I think someone in the International Space Station was saying: “What’s that blue thing?” and the Ukraine lady (they were from somewhere but she didn’t say enough to get the origin)… she adds (as they’re moving out from under its blight): “Now zee kids vill be able to find us easily.”

Okay, the first thing you do after you’ve defined your territory with a blanket that will soon bury itself into the sand so much so that you’ll have to dig down at the end of the day and retrieve it, is to break out the shovel and pails and dig foxholes all around you... not little snake holes in the sand, but G.I. issue foxholes that any army under seige would be proud to call home.

I think it’s a law.

The group to our far right did that very thing. Adults… not recent adults mind you, but seasoned veterans of adulthood, the kind with graying sideburns, Cadillac keys in their pockets, well-defined love handles and thick carpet of back hair, were up to their expanding waists in a foxhole, digging with actual shovels, not the amateur plastic variety, but fresh-off-of-the-pegs-at-Home Depot mortuary-approved steel shovels. In a matter of moments, they could have buried Jimmy Hoffa standing up.

Here is an actual conversation I heard when some folks from our far left wandered into the territory of the Hole family on our right:

“Nice hole. Whatcha digging for?”

Without looking up: “Just digging.”

“You gonna build a castle?”
“Nope,” said another one. “Just digging a hole.”

“Just because,” added the first one. “Just because.”

I can understand digging a huge hole if you need the sand for a giant sand castle that you’ve been planning to dig… or if you’re digging a hole closer to the water, so the rising tide will fill the hole with water and you can sit back and watch some unsuspecting kid fall into it as he’s going out for a pass. Jason did that once…only it was a hole he had dug himself.

The weather was overcast, so I didn’t feel the need for sunblock (big mistake), even though Kara suggested it several times. However, overcast is much better than blazing sun in my book, but it wasn’t enough to keep my sunglasses on and it was too much to have them off; so I found myself toggling between having them on and off. Of course, I would drop them in the sand a couple of times (as I’m digging my required hole), and two days later, I’m still blowing sand out from between the frame and the lens.

I don’t like to get dirty if I don’t have to, especially when I’m away from home. I don’t mind it if I can merely strip down in the garage and tip-toe upstairs and take a shower—good as new—but if I know I’ve got 90 miles between here and that shower, I’m more likely to stay off of the ground… but it’s the beach, and with every movement I make I feel like I’m camping. I’m given a certain amount of space, certain pieces of equipment to use and a certain place to put everything. There’s no coffee table to put my drink on, so I’ve got to hold it. There’s no plates to eat off of, so I’m eating my sandwiches in my lap. The chips? Right from the bag. And cookies… tear them open, sprinkle a dose of sand on them and dig in. I feel like I’m eating to survive, like I’m lost in the wilderness. All the while, the legs of my chair are sinking into the sand irregularly, each one is taking a turn, making the chair lopsided in multiple ways.

The complete opposite of Littoralpathic Ryan is Beach Bum Natalie, a.k.a. Sandy Cheeks. Whereas I hate the sand, she loves it. It’s a giant sandbox for her, a big playground for her to roll around in. A year ago, while we were on Cape Cod, she didn’t like to even touch the sand, so she’d sit there playing in it while holding up her feet. Now? Head to toe, she was a Shake-n-Bake breaded chicken fillet for most of the day. I despise the frigid water; but she couldn’t wait to go back in, if not to rinse off the old sand, but to get her body wet for a crusted layer of new sand.

We dug holes together; we collected rocks together; and I had the honor of being the first to escort her to the Pacific Ocean. She had a blast playing in the water with Kara’s mom and her cousin Kailey (who were both out for a visit and for Gnat’s birthday party on Saturday), and her Aunt Julie and Uncle Joe. Matthy enjoyed himself as well, but he’s like me, everything can be fun if you ignore the parts that aren’t fun. He had a bottle and fell asleep, but not before kicking and laughing in the ocean for the first time in his life. Of course, I saw the whole thing behind the viewfinder of my video camera.

Ah, the memories we made.

Then again, after about 15 minutes of the sun, sand, surf, snacks, shovels, seagulls, sounds, and the smatterings of society, I was ready to go home. I had seen it, done it, and was waiting out my time until someone said they were tired. Someone finally said it, I think it was Kara, and we dug out the blanket that was as encrusted with sand as Natalie was, packed up our stuff, perhaps more than what we started with it seems, and made the arduous trek up to the parking lot on the bluff.


We went back up to Joe and Julie’s place. It overlooks both the racetrack and the ocean, so depending on your mood, you can lose your money at the track or yourself in the sunset. It was pretty entertaining to watch the race on the TV and be able to hear the announcer in stereo, and Natalie was especially thrilled to see the “big green tractors” pulling the “number train” (the starting gate of course) around the track, and she was more interested in the tractors than the horses.

Joe cooked up some great steaks, sausages and shrimp, and Julie, being the vegetarian, put together the salad, some homemade steak fries and the grilled portabella mushrooms. There was wine for all, a tasty Zinfandel from the Sonoma area (but then again, to me, all Zins are on the tasty side…I hate that word, tasty), and the featured cocktail of the night was some kind of vodka-based triple-sec lemon drink that neither had a name nor an origin. I think Julie was making it up, but it still was light and refreshing. Given our proximity to the racetrack, I think it was a lemony adaptation of a mint julep.

On the home front, I start jury duty in the morning, and I’m sure I’ll have nothing but wonderful things to say about the experience. This evening, I finished the last of my huge projects for one of my clients. For the first time since Christmas, I don’t have a multi-hundred-page project hanging over my head, and it feels odd, slightly unnerving, as if I suddenly lost purpose. Then I look on the “to do” board above my desk here, and I remember that I’ve got other clients patiently waiting for their stories too… and so, I get back to work.

I write my first newspaper column tomorrow. I’m no stranger to being a columnist, as I had a monthly thing at the magazine I was the editor for… and I have a bimonthly tech column for a coffee-house magazine that I just started last month, but I have never been a newspaper columnist. It has a romantic sound to it —striving for the scoop, the great break, the angle—like I should buy a fedora and put a press card in it.

We’ll see if they like my stuff. I may just return to you as a mild-mannered writer of articles and books and whatnot… this… instead of a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper.

Oh, and at the beach, of course, I got sunburned.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Persistence of Memory

After reading Kara’s blog (Check it out here) about how she thinks she isn’t as smart as she used to be (and she is, but her brain has just prioritized its focus now that she's had children), it made me think about my own intelligence and how it has always suffered at the evil whims of my ever-fleeting memory. It’s like a sponge that sucks up information and then dumps it into some sort of well that is guarded by a despotic memory-lord only allowing fragments of memories loose at a time, but only if it is requested in triplicate, filed at the office and complete with a photograph of the disputed memory in question.

To put it bluntly: I can’t remember anything. My comment in to her blog tonight is a perfect example. I was watching a restoration show on DIY about a Alfa Romeo, and granted it was on a 10:30 or 11:00 (see I don’t even remember that) and I had been “on” all day with the kids…and it was especially difficult what with Matty having the sniffles and not being able to nap well… but the commercials came on, and around the second one, I wondered why I was staying up so late when I have work to do and a bed waiting. Then I said to myself, of course, I want to finish this show. But wait. What am I even watching? I couldn’t remember for the life of me until the show came back on.

I need to go to bed.

But that’s not really an isolated experience for me. I forget things all the time and it used to be worse. I’m not going to blame Matthew and Natalie for it, because when they were born, no chemical reaction touched off a genocide of neurons on my brain. For the most part, I just lack retention. When I had a desk job as an editor of a magazine, that was my focus. I did little else with my brain but plan for future issues, deal the current one and deep-archive the previous ones. I was engrossed, and I took my work home with me not only physically almost every night, but mentally as well. Except for Fridays... I just stopped showing up on Fridays.

It was sad. Nobody noticed.

Anyway, I was always thinking of the magazine, the things I had to do, how to make it better, what I had to write, etc., but it was to the detriment of all of my other brain functions. I just couldn't focus on anything else. It's not that it wasn't important. I had just used all of my brain that day and there wasn't anything leftover to remember what to get at the store or that I left the iron on upstairs. I would forget dates, names, places, things Kara tells me (and not just the selective stuff I tell her that I forget, it would be a lot of things), things to do, where I'm going... everything.

I was a goldfish in a small bowl. "Ooo look, a treasure chest." Swim, swim, swim. "Ooo look, a treasure chest." Swim, swim, swim. "Ooo look..."

Every time it seems, I would walk into Home Depot with a mental list of things I needed to get for whatever projects I wanted to tackle that weekend and I would forget them all. Standing there in the lightbulb aisle (waiting for an idea…get it, get it?), I would scrounge my brain to remember what exactly I wanted to accomplish, and I would never bring home everything I needed.

By the time I made it to the top of the stairs in our house, I would forget why I was there and what I needed to get, and by the time I returned to the bottom, it would come to me, of course.

Several months after I got laid off from the magazine, things started to become clearer. I began to work at home. My lifestyle began to slow down. The pace was smoother, calmer and without those mental taxes nine-to-fivers seem to pay everyday: the broken copy machine, TPS Reports, your red Swingline stapler, “a case of the Mondays,” Bob auditing your performance, Mr. Lundstrom wanting you to work late on Friday, somebody playing their radio while they collate. All of these things beat memories out of you because they override your brain process.

Soon, I started to remember more and more often. I’m still couldn’t tell you what I ate yesterday for lunch or what the latest “Good Eats” show I like to watch was about this afternoon, but I’m more apt to remember the important things in life, now that I have very little else to excise my brain.

Sure, there’s always work to do, and even that is improving. Since I only do one freelance article at a time (as opposed to when I was at the magazine and I would be writing four or five articles simultaneously for any given issue), I don’t fuddled by the details, bogged down by having to remember what the contacts are, who should I speak to, what questions to ask. I remember when to use “whom” and when to use “who” and my “that” and “which” are no longer confused. Heck, I can even remember the difference between compliment and complement…well, no, that isn’t true; I always have to look it up.

Believe it or not, but I can make it to Subway and back with Kara's correct order without having to call from the counter while the sandwich "artist" (as they call themselves) waits while I confirm the order.

Furthermore, if anything is helping my memory, it’s the kids. By taking care of them, I’m forced to remember more: the caravan of crap needed just to go anywhere, the times and amounts of feedings needed to keep them off of the impoverished list and all of the myriad details that goes into this rearing process.

So, am I smarter? “You’re not smarter, Walter, you’re just a little taller.” I love that movie. Nah, I’m not any smarter than I was 10 years ago. I am wiser, but I still do the same dumb things from time to time. I think Ronnie Lane and Ronnie Wood were onto something with “Ooh La La” when they wrote (for Rod Stewart to sing): “I wish that I knew what I know now/When I was younger.”

In local news, Natalie spent some time on the naughty spot for straight-arming her brother to the ground this afternoon. I was surprised she did it, but then again, I was surprised it took her so long to do it. Matty had been invading her space for about 10 minutes, standing next to Gnat’s bed, clawing at the most special of her “guys,” the frogs. She would bark “no,” and him not grasping the language quite yet, would continue. So, she slid over next to him, placed her palm rather gently on his shoulder and pushed. He toppled like a domino, much to my relief, onto a rather large pile of Natalie’s stuffed animals, and he had that “let’s do it again” look on his face. Though he wasn’t hurt, that didn’t make it right, so Natalie got dragged out into the hallway and clunked down on the naughty spot to think about being nicer to her brother. “Friends don’t push” was the message I tried to impart. Seriously, if he was two inches taller, he would have hit the wall.

The waterworks began, and she cried, “I want to apologize now,” which has always the first step on the road to redemption and the eventual reintroduction back into society. You've got to atone for your transgressions. I let her stew there for a few minutes, as I’m discovering the older she gets the less tolerant I am of those kinds of actions. She knew that she could have hurt him, and the second after she did it, she had an "uh-oh, I'm in for it now" look on her face, as if she was surprised herself that he fell over and didn't just slide on his feet to the left. Then again, every time Natalie is next to Matthew and he starts to cry, she retreats slightly and looks at me as if to say, “I didn’t do it. You see where my hands are, right? Nowhere near him, okay? He's crying for some other reason. I didn't touch him.”

After a few minutes of quiet sobs, she was emancipated under the condition that she apologizes and promises not to do it again. Sure, they're empty--anything to earn her freedom--but at least she's learning the groundwork. She offered Matthew a hug and said that she was sorry. With her debt paid in full, she was pardoned and thrown back into the general population, albeit with another tick mark on her impressively long rap sheet of offenses.

Did justice prevail? Nah, probably not. She’ll do it again, I’m sure; Natalie, the recidivist.

Matthew, the poor little fella’ has had better days. This morning began with a double barreled snot gun shooting green ick from his nose with every sneeze, and it didn’t let up all day, just sort of drained out into a clear mustache over his mouth. I walked around the house like a bartender, making sure nobody got too rowdy, that Natalie’s juice and/or milk cup was topped off, while the towel (well, an old cloth diaper) spent the day over my shoulder at the ready to sop up anything that oozed from Matthew’s face. It seemed that now there were three orifices discharging some manner of slime at any give time of the day, and every few minutes, Old Snotful would erupt. The teething chose not to let up as well, so he drooled a bucket-load, and I didn’t find it uncommon to see his mouth connected to the floor by a long sinewy talon of shiny slobber; while the front of his shirt was drenched within the first hour of putting it on him.

Sleep wasn’t an option (for anyone, including me… of course, the damn dog slept all day, lucky), as Matthew also must have had an upset stomach. He sat on the floor, grunting and groaning for about 15 minutes only to produce what I could barely describe as peanuts. And nobody likes to work that hard for peanuts.

I think Natalie is growing out of them, as I she hasn’t taken a nap on my watch in a couple of weeks. There goes some of my afternoon peace and quiet. Grrrr.


Well, everyone’s asleep now (even Elsa). I just finished feeding Matthew his midnight, well 1:40 AM, bottle, and Natalie’s already done her creepy sleepwalking into the hall to stare at me routine. But this time, she went to the bathroom, left the light on and just went back to her own bed… which is odd for her. By herself too. Doubly odd.

Tomorrow we have a busy day at the beach, and that can only mean that I’ll be one day closer to jury duty.

I’d better dust off my “Hang ‘Em High, and Let ‘Em Fry” t-shirt. Ah, justice.

*By the way, if anyone can post a comment here explaining why I chose this particular Dali painting to illustrate today's entry will receive a fabulous prize [Art majors not eligible for fabulous prizes but can still post the comment].

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Greatest Conspiracy of Them All

As you may or may not know, I love a good conspiracy, a neatly packaged array of “what ifs” and “could bes” that smacks of governmental cover-ups, shady dealings among the higher ups, dark corners of parking garages where the nation’s highest secrets are shared in a hushed tone to a scribbling reporter and a collective eyebrow-raised doubt among the populous.

It seems they can’t pull one over on us: The Kennedy assassination, the Roswell UFO crash landing, Watergate, crop circles… and now this one that I have recently taken an interest in: The attack on the World Trade Center was a planned event, but planned not by the people you may think it was. September 11th was an inside job, executed by the government to push the psyche of the American citizens into the mind set of war. It worked at Pearl Harbor in 1941 (they knew the attack was going to happen) so why wouldn’t it work again?

Don’t believe me? Check out The September 11 Cover Up, an 80-minute production posted on Google video that, in my opinion, deftly explains—without a shadow of doubt—that the government of this country purposely destroyed the Twin Towers with explosives not airplanes, killed thousands of people, made two airplanes (and the people inside) completely disappear, stole billions of dollars in gold and then planned it out to such minute details as to keep it all under wraps…for the sole purpose of starting a war.

Here are three little teasers:

1. Who stood to the most to gain from the destruction of the World Trade Center? Larry Silverstein. On July 24th he finalized a 3.2 billion dollar lease on the buildings, of this $3.2 billion, only $14 million of it came from his own pocket. Days before September 11th, he took out a $3.55 billion-dollar insurance policy on the property, with a clause specifically covering acts of terrorism. On December 5, 2004, a jury ruled in favor of Silverstein over the insurance companies and awarded him nearly $5 billon because the attacks were considered to be two separate incidences. Up until 9/11, who was in charge of security for the World Trade Center, United Airlines and Dulles International Airport? Marvin Bush and a company then called Securacom (a company backed by a Kuwaiti-American investment firm).

Who is Marvin Bush?

George’s brother. Now why would Marvin Bush decide, just days before the attacks, to remove all of the bomb sniffing dogs from their daily patrols, and why would he cut back security shifts at that same time? Also, why would there be unexplained evacuations of specific areas of the building for the purposes of “safety drills”? It easy. You can’t plant bombs if there are people or dogs wondering around, now can you?

2. The government claims to have never found the flight recorders from either of the two flights that crashed into the towers. They claim the four recorders (two for each plane which are made from the most impervious metals known to man) completely disintegrated in the inferno. Yet, days later, the passport of Mohammed Atta al-Sayed, the supposed ring leader of the whole hijacking plot on 9/11, was found a couple of block away in the rubble of the buildings. So, a passport, made from paper, flew out of his pocket or carry-on luggage (which was obliterated), out of the plane’s wreckage, (which was supposedly awash in a conflagration nearing 3000 degrees), out of the building and conveniently laid, intact, to rest on the streets below? Uncle Sam is one lucky guy.

Oh, and INS renewed Atta’s Visa in March 2002.

3. On Flight 93, the one that supposedly crashed in Pennsylvania, a passenger by the name of Mark Bingham uses an airfone to call his mother Alice Hoglan. She answers the phone, and he says, “Mom, this is Mark Bingham.” If you were calling your mother, would you use your last name? Later in the call, after explaining the situation, he asks her several times, “You believe me, don’t you?”

In 1999, the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico (the same folks that brought you, er, the Japanese the atomic bomb) revealed their voice morphing technology. They shared a tape of Commander-in-chief of U.S. Special Operations General Carl W. Steiner’s voice saying, “Gentlemen! We have called you together to inform you that we are going to overthrow the United States government.”

It is amazing what technology can do these days? So, what happened to Bingham? Who knows, as there were no bodies found at the crash site

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-war… what I am is anti-lying, especially when I pay taxes to the people that are lying to me.

Like I said, I love a good conspiracy, and it doesn’t get any better than this. Go watch the documentary and let me know if you have any doubts. Here is a nice synopsis of all of the odd anomalies associated with the cover up: The Cover Up Synopsis.

Judge for yourself. Me? I believe.

A Day in Pictures

Here are a few shots of my beautiful children.

Natalie enjoyed running around the yard after dinner tonight, fending off Elsa (who likes to play catch with a tennis ball but only once because she never gives it back), picking apples from a potato flower plant and fixing up the neglected Rock Zoo where a “family of pillow bugs” —as Gnat calls the little armadillos of the insect world—were visiting the zoo, a collection of rocks hand-picked by Natalie and me from our extensive travels on the slope. She picked weeds for me, which is nice practice for when it becomes her actual job.

Oddly enough, she called me a silly beagle tonight. I was on the slope taking a picture of some flowers (aren’t they beautiful?) and she kept telling me to come down. After about the third time, she yelled, “Get down here right now you silly beagle… you silly Easter beagle.” What a weird thing to say, I thought, but then remembered that her latest video of choice has been an Easter-themed Peanuts movie with, yeah, you guessed it, Snoopy, the lovable beagle.

Okay, so I’m a beagle. There are worse things, I guess.

Matthew is now standing… well, standing as long as he doesn’t let go, which sometimes he does and executes a nicely crafted Nestea plunge to the ground. All he seems to want to do lately is pull himself up onto something, the couch, the ottoman, a chair, your leg, anything, as long as he isn’t crawling on the ground like a commoner. But he falls to often to be trustworthy, and I can always tell when he’s about to go down like a sack of potatoes: He starts to stand like a drunkard, legs apart, knees wobbling, hand reaching out for thin air.

This is why he doesn’t look too happy in the first picture here on the left, though I think he knows the hat makes him look girly and he threw himself on the floor in the hopes that it would disintegrate upon impact. It didn’t, to his chagrin. For bath time, more water ended up on the sink than in the tub, and the whole thing ended up becoming a big water diaper that I had to clean up after he was whisked away to a real diaper to finish his business.

Here's a flower Natalie wanted you to have.

All in all, it was a productive day, and althrough I only accomplished a few things, they were big things. Work went well. I finally finished my latest section (it ended up being nearly 300 pages long) and tomorrow I start on another one. Interesting career development: If I play my cards right and wow the editor with a couple of examples of my idea, next week you might be looking at a weekly history columnist for the Press-Enterprise ( newspaper. So, I’m hopeful, but I won’t be too broken up if they pass on the idea. I’m sure it won’t pay much, but it will be fun and easy. Write 350 words about an old photograph… I can write 350 words about anything. I mean, look at this entry. It’s called “A Day in Pictures” and the word “far” at the end of this sentence is the 565th word so far.

You’re right. It’s late. I’m yammering. I don’t have any pressing deadlines anymore today, so I’m going to bed, finally.

Seven AM comes mighty early at this house.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Oh Barney, Where Did You Go Wrong?

With a toddler, life is full of repetition, and that's what makes life happy for a toddler. Why just today she wanted to watch the same episode of “Little Bear” on three separate occasions, the delightful tale of the time Little Bear, a bipedal, raucous, vacuous brown bear, meets his soon to be good friend No Feet, an aptly named garden snake. The stories are of innocence and imagination. Natalie loves them, needless to say. Matthew? He could care less.

But Barney! But Barney, my friends, the big purple dinosaur grabs a commanding attention of all who enter the room (and those unlucky enough to be trapped in an Exersauser and can’t escape), as Barney lords over children with an unexplainable gravity, a significant magnitude that attracts unwavering attention.

Given Natalie’s proclivity to demand her entertainment in repetitive bursts, I’ve seen a Barney movie or two in my day as a parent. Let me just start off by saying that I’ve really got nothing against Barney. I know he’s cool to hate like Al Gore or Cindy Sheehan, but it’s great entertainment for a two-year old. He’s bubbly. He’s got the appeal of Grimace from the old McDonald’s characters but with the unarming voice of that preschool teacher everyone thought was a little odd but was so good with children… until you found out that he keeps them in his basement. Anyway, I half-way enjoyed watching them the first few times. Mind you, that’s the first few times, but when we end up viewing it so many times I’m about to call the producers of Cats to tell them we’ve got you beat—so much so, that the DVD looks more like a reflective Frisbee than it does a source of media—my eyes glaze over with a purple haze and I force myself to internalize groans of discontentment.

It usually keeps Natalie’s attention until it starts to skip, and I try to teach her the proper way to handle a DVD—for the most part she gets it—but sometimes she forgets and that’s why they’re pocked like the surface of the moon and don’t play very well. We only need a couple more years out of them, and since I plan on trying to keep Matthew away from Barney, and Al Gore and Cindy Sheehan for that matter, for the sole reason that I don’t think I can sit through those movies during another round of child rearing.

A little known fact about me is that I like movie mistakes. I hate to be the one that points out the foibles of others (as a magazine editor, it was one of the more loathsome tasks of my responsibilities, listening to yahoos tell me that I forgot an oomlat above the u on some German word)… anyway, so I don’t like pointing out mistakes, but it does make a bad movie all the more enjoyable to watch. Check out this site: Movie Mistakes and you’ll see what I mean.

As I’m watching Barney’s “Let’s Go to the Zoo”— a favorite tale about Barney, BJ and Baby Bop all, you guessed it, go to the zoo—after about the umpteeth time, I begin to notice a small little unsavory scene transpiring in the background. I’m not sure what they were attempting to do, the directors, I mean, because what it ends up looking like on my end is this strange little tale of unrequited love, a May-December romance and the heartbreak of a little girl and her father all at the zoo under the watchful gaze of Barney and his semi-lovable friends.

Here’s what happens as I see it, and please forgive the quality of the pictures (they're borderline incoherently dismal and dark... sorry). It was difficult to find a DVD player not connected to a TV that would play this movie and I ended up taking a picture of the screen to illustrate what was going on. I know it is dark and very blurry. It's like taking a picture of a picture and then faxing it to you, but trust me, this is a lot better than playing the whole movie for you when I see you next, right?

As the trio come bounding into the scene singing that delightfully gagging song “What will we see at the zoo?” they pass by what looks like a nice couple and their young daughter sitting on a bench waiting for the zoo to open (why else would you go to the zoo and then sit down?). Much to the little girl’s delight, Barney, in the flesh, is dancing and singing mere feet from her gleeful eyes. What we can only assume is the mother, turns to point with equal excitement.

Then, seconds later, not even waiting until the end of the song, the mother unceremoniously waves good bye to the daughter, doesn’t acknowledge the father who is sitting on the other side of the little girl, gets up and walks out of the frame. Maybe she’s going to the bathroom… maybe she’s going to get a drink or pick up the tickets at the ticket booth… and she always has a habit of waving good bye to her daughter. I know what’s going to happen, but for the sake of narrative suspense, let’s give her the benefit of doubt and say that she forgot her purse in the car and she has to run out there and get it so she can take a picture of Barney while he is still performing his number.

Yes, I’ve given it lots of thought.

The next shot the woman is gone and left behind are the little girl and the father. Given the action-packed thrill ride that is any Barney movie, especially one as enamoring as this one, the scenes move quickly and, though the song hasn’t changed or ended—apparently, according to Barney there’s a lot to see at the zoo, enough to necessitate a six-minute song about it… and this is before we’ve even stepped one foot inside yet—so, even though the song hasn’t ended, we’ve changed shots to a rose-covered walkway that leads up to the main entrance of the zoo.

What? What is this in the background? Walking behind Barney, BJ and Baby Bop, while they sing their little stuffed-animal hearts out for all of the happy children in the world, at least the English-speaking ones, what do we see but the mother strolling hand in hand with another man! They're happy and laughing and cajoling in a too familiar of a way to make it innocent.

Gasp! The first time I saw it, I was floored! What we just witnessed was a divorced couple exchanging the children in a public place, per court orders. Where better to do it but at the zoo, and she wasn’t running back to the parking lot to get her camera; she was running into the arms of another man, albeit a much older one, but there’s someone for everyone. How sad for the little girl indeed. Perhaps one of the shining moments of her young life is to see Barney face to dinoface and it is soured by the image of her dear mother, trolling her heart on the waysides of a romantic affair with another man… and right in front of dad too.

Oh the humanity! And I saw it in an innocuous Barney video, one that I would hope would provide me and my family with a wholesome experience and instead I have to observe the seedy underbelly of a broken home.

You can’t argue it, and all of the counterpoints I could rummage up seemed contrived at best. The most convincing argument I could gather up…nay, the best excuse for this, was: Oh, that’s her father and she’s enjoying the zoo with him too. Well, if that’s her father, then the little girl is his granddaughter so why wasn’t he with her too? And why were they holding hands? Okay, well maybe she wasn’t that little girl’s mother. Good point, maybe not, but then why was she sitting so close to her? The bench isn’t crowded, and I’d like to think the father has good enough sense not to crowd someone’s personal space. The simplest explanation I could eek out of this little sociological display is that a father and his daughter went to the zoo where the father saw a friend whom he hadn’t seen in years… maybe it was the little girl’s teacher and she’s got a thing for older men.

It seems convoluted and forced… and there’s too many factors to account for, too many complicated parameters to allow for.

Bitter divorce, I say.

She likes the smell of Old Spice on a man’s neck, Geritol and Metamucil on his breath and is that a coin purse in your pocket or did you take your Viagra early?

Child custody exchange, I say.

So then, I start to look for little peculiar specks of evilness peppered around in his other movies, tiny, insignificant subplots and assumptions that the directors may have thought nobody would notice… and let me tell you, you’d be surprised at what I found.

But that, my dear readers, is another story for another day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Day Deep in the Doldrums

Actually, my trusty Internet connection was down this morning, so it is a few hours later than when I originally penned this tripe:

Sorry I haven’t written in a while, a couple of days at least, but today was just one of those days I’d sooner crawl back into bed then greet it with a fake smile and that Ozzie Nelson way of seeing things. Nothing went wrong, mind you; nothing right either. It all just went.

Not that this is going to be good or anything... just a note to let you know I'm still out here.

Just a few minutes ago I turned in that big project I alluded to a week ago or so (Remember the 58 sections? Well, there ended up being 64 and it took forever).

From when the project started until now, however, it has encompassed all of my life--the entire thing--so now I think I’ve got post project depression, an empty feeling that I should be doing something because for the past two solid weeks I’ve been in a constant state of “doing something,” like that buzzing feeling you get after a rock concert, where you can still feel the vibration of the speakers throughout your body.

I’m like that. Maybe I’m burnt out (or is it burned?). Maybe the 360 pages I wrote for this one chapter (of five that I will eventually complete… of which two are already done) finally got to me. Sadly, it isn’t interesting, like I’m solving some world problem. It is 360 pages of mostly mindless repetition that is almost as confusing as it is monotonous.

Maybe it’s the lack of sleep. That’s probably it, but I did well this weekend, overall. Both Friday and Saturday night, I didn’t hit the hay until nearly 4am both times, but I got to sleep into almost noon. Well, Saturday, I was up at 9am because Kara had a meeting, but the second she was home, I was back in bed for another couple of hours. It’s been like for the past two weeks. I would actually nap in the middle of the day, just like Matthew and Natalie…but the days that I have the kids home with me, I’m not so lucky with the naps.

That’s where “Mother’s Little Helper” comes into the fray, and I must say that I'm quite addicted. The house is adequately stocked with enough two-liter bottles of Diet Coke/Diet Pepsi to host one heck of a Church Sunday Social, and every time either company offers a sale at the local grocery store, I stock up, usually getting the ones that have some kind of artificial flavoring—either lime or vanilla. The lime flavor from either brand both taste like cough syrup and I only buy it if they’re out of vanilla. Since only Pepsi offers it anymore (Coke decided they weren’t interested in the flavor game a few months back), it has my latest carbonated beverage of choice.

I can’t take a drink of a diet-soda with vanilla flavoring without remembering all of the good times I had at FenderBenders, a little 50s-style restaurant in Glendora that I used to frequent. It was kitsch, chock full of all of the things you’d expect to see in any diner in 1956, say, and I think it gave my generation the wrong impression of what the 50s looked like. Everything was red, chrome, vinyl and smelled like bubble gum… well, that’s probably pretty accurate. Anyways, the place opened in June 1988, but since I was on vacation with the folks (Wyoming, Montana, etc. that year), I didn’t first go there until July 12. What did I eat, you ask? Well, the aforementioned vanilla coke, of course, but I also had a BLT, fries and a hot fudge sundae. The whole thing cost me exactly $7.00. Don’t ask me how I know all of this… I just do, and if I told you, you’d never look at me the same way again. The last time I went there was in September 1991. It was the last time all of my high school friends were together at the same time. The following day, we all went to college and on our separate ways.

Well, that’s not to say that I didn’t have a good time at FenderBenders with my vanilla cokes, right? You’re probably asking yourself, Ryan, exactly how many times did you enjoy a vanilla coke at FenderBenders? Okay, since you asked, I’ll tell you. I went there 10 times in 1988 alone, if that gives you any kind of estimate of what sort of creature of habit I am. Oh, and if you dated me, went out on a date with me, or saw me on a date with someone else, odds are really good we were sitting in a booth at FenderBenders and I was having a vanilla coke. Those poor girls.

Seriously, I’m not going anywhere with this… and if you’re a new visitor to my site, really, rest assured that there’s usually more yuks than this. That, and I sometimes have a much better point, or at least some sort of goal to write towards.

Well, maybe tomorrow will be a better day. Of course, now that I turned in this latest chapter, tomorrow, I get start on another one. Yippee.

Jeez, go to bed and quite wasting your time reading this.

Okay, for those of you just dying to know: How did I know the exact date I first ate at FenderBenders? How did I know exactly what I ordered and exactly how much it cost? Well, as anal-retentive as you might think I am now, I was more so when I was younger, and I kept a ledger book of everything I spent all though high school, from December 30, 1987 (first purchase was the book, of course, for $5.31) up until the five burritos I bought at Taco Bell for $3.19 on February 10, 1992. It’s a lot of fun now to look though the book and remember the fun times I had, but mostly I just flip through the pages shaking my head in disbelief that I was so fastidious and peculiar.

Nerd is the word I think you may be looking for.

Not much has changed, it seems.

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