Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Something Different at Disneyland

Well, we didn’t expect it to be so crowded today, what with the impending rain and the fact that it is Monday. Don’t you people work? Of course not; you go to Disneyland. I’ve never seen so many strollers in one place before, like a convention for the American Stroller Pushers Society. I was bobbing and weaving and it was all I could do to dodge endlessly sequential wrecks, and it seemed that I was always going against the flow of traffic no matter which way I was headed.

And I’ve discovered that there are some people in this world that heartedly deserve a set of stroller wheels to the ankles. I mean, who is callous and selfish enough to stop suddenly in the middle of the street to check out the map? Unless you’re wearing a “I’m a jerk and I make sudden and unexpected stops” sign on your butt, try pulling over out of the way so you don't bottleneck the whole street. Are people that self-absorbed? I hope the bruise on your Achilles tendon is a gentle reminder that, at Disneyland, there always someone behind you. Without question.

Today, since it was so crowded, we set out to do some of the things that don’t involve waiting in line. Now, granted, we failed at most every turn, as we lingered in the bowels of claustrophobia while waiting in the cramped 20-inch-wide line for 40 minutes for the Storybook ride and we languished in three switchbacks to sit on the boat in It’s a Small World… where I just completely checked out. I have been on that ride so many times that the two things I absolutely love—the yak on the plaid mountain and the fat hippo with the glowing eyes—didn’t even register with me, and the next thing I knew, we were back outside again and the ride was over.

Long lines were everywhere, and our old mentality of cutting our loses and returning on a less busy day were coming back to us. As both Kara and I wanted to leave the moment we arrived, and although we vowed that we could skip dropping a good portion of a $50 bill on food that hasn’t yet been fully exorcised of its demons, instead we did just the opposite: Spent $63.33 on shoe leather, dried dough, flaccid wedges of potatoes and a withered clump of lettuce, not to mention convention-style chocolate cake to top it all off. And anyone who has ever eaten at a convention hall knows what I’m talking about, the dry crusty chocolate cake they make for 10,000 people, the kind that tastes like chocolate-flavored bread. Yeah, that.

At any rate, just how we ended with such a hit on my AmEx card is quite a journey.

Long about 2:30, my stomach reminded that part of my brain that controls my temper that it had been sucking the nutrition out of a hastily eaten cupcake since nine o’clock that morning and it finally run out and was looking for something new. My brain responded to the request by threatening to shut down the portion that controls tact and decorum if it didn’t get the stomach fed…not to mention, for every moment that went by without food, my impending crankiness was further adding to my lengthy list of things I hated: those stupid Bluetooth cell phones people wear on their ear all the time even when they’re not talking to anyone; long lines for short rides; double-wide strollers; handicap people who don’t act handicapped; that red flower;

Then, everyone got crabby and we decided that eating a late lunch/early dinner was in order. We had just walked all the way over from Critter Country after riding on the ever-craptacular Winnie the Pooh ride and we were standing next to the Mexican place in Frontier Land, so for the sake of convenience, I saw it as a good idea to eat there. Last time we did, I enjoyed it. It was filling and it didn’t taste half bad, proving that even Disneyland can’t screw up beans and rice. However, Kara wanted a hamburger from Hungry Bear, but acquiesced and agreed to settle on a burrito instead. Natalie didn’t want to eat at all, and frankly, I didn’t care as long as I began eating before I tore off someone’s head and started gnawing on that.

Now, I’ve known my dear wife for many, many years. She doesn’t have to say a word to me and I know what she is thinking, as she has been blessed with a bevy of expressions that tell me more about how she feels than any of her words could ever. As we were standing at the counter waiting to order her burrito, tray in hand, Kara had a look of disappointment. No, let’s call it a look of disgust, really, as she just oozed a sudden loathing for burritos. I groaned, put back the try and we left for the long return to Critter Country to dine in high style at the Hungry Bear.

At that point, I didn’t care where we ate, or what it was we ate, I just wanted to eat. But wouldn’t you know it? Once we had trekked all the way across half the park to the Hungry Bear, it was closed. Kara bought me a churro as a consolation prize, which is nothing but a stretched-out wet cinnamon doughnut, but sugar makes the rage go away.

A while later, we found ourselves across the “street” at California Adventure, plying the boardwalk in search of food. At the onset, Kara had suggested that we dine with the characters at Ariel’s Grotto, a themed restaurant where Ariel and the other princesses visit your table, pose for pictures and talk to you while you eat. Most of my poor judgment involving food is a result of a lack of it, and this proved to be no exception. We went in and inquired about any openings (it is always crowded and the last time we made a plea for a table, they were booked for the day), but today, they had an opening.

Now, for a word of advice: If the host asks you, “Do you know how our menu system works?” it is a good time to abandon all hope of eating a frugal meal. Each plate was $20.99 for adults and $13.99 for children 3 to 10-years old (I guess if you’re 11, in the eyes of Disneyland, you should be tried as an adult), but for kids under 3, it is free… so we had that going for us.

Quite surprised with myself, I agreed without question, just wanting some sort of food regardless of the price, but murmured to Kara as we walked down the stairs to the restaurant, “What did we get ourselves into?” I had felt like I had just purchased a car and paid too much and there was nothing I could do about it but drive off into the sunset and rue the day the bill comes. And rue I did.

The hostess paraded us through the restaurant to a booth in the very back, not just the back, but the back corner, set off from the other booths by the kitchen door, where our view consisted of an empty table, the bright setting sun and nothing else. Meanwhile, there is jocular activity going on in the center of restaurant, well out of view. Someone is announcing the arrival of a random family as the meal’s host and they are reading a proclamation about something and we can’t see a damn thing. Now, remember, I’m paying $20.99 for this… for just me, not to mention the cost for the rest of the brood, and all the while Natalie’s craning her neck to get a better view of what was going on and the setting sun was in her eyes. Cripes!

Granted, I’m still remarkably hungry, nay, famished, and I’m getting a little pissed off at all this. Why would anyone build a booth in the very back corner of this freakin’ place and then expect people to be able to see out of it. It’s called “Ariel’s Grotto” and that’s not lost on me, but every both doesn’t have to be a mini grotto all to itself, does it? This isn’t a romantic restaurant where I would like some privacy with my date. I’m paying good money to look at princesses.

Then, insult to injury, some server sets down one of those big round trays full of dirty dishes on a fold-up stand in front of our table, blocking part of our view of the empty table in front of us and replacing it with dirty dishes, someone else’s dishes, someone else’s half-eaten food. Is that what my hamburger’s going to look like when I don’t want to finish it either? Furthermore, our booth was situated, apparently, behind the spot where servers stand when they’re assessing their tables. You know that corner in every restaurant where waiters and waitresses congregate, peer out over the restaurant and decide whether or not they’re going to “forget” to bring you an extra napkin or a side of ranch dressing to dip your sweat-socks fries into for a speckling of flavor… well, behind that spot was our table and a further good percentage of our view was blocked by Burly Waiter Number Two.

All this for $63.33.

I had had enough. I told Kara that we’ll wait and ask the waitress if we can move to the empty table in front of us, a table that won’t have the sun in our face and will afford a great view of the rest of the room. I sat there for a while, waiting for her to come back and chewing on bread and steaming. I’ve come to a point in my life where I’m not going to sit around and complain about something and not do anything about it. Why should I settle for compromise, especially when I’m paying handsomely for it? What was I doing sitting there? “We’re not waiting for the waitress. We’re moving.” I announced and began picking up our stuff.

Just then, she came back, and I told her, “We’re going to move to that table there,” I said, pointing to the open one.

“Did you request it?” she asked, somewhat put out.

Request it? Request it? If I want eat off the floor, I sure as hell will. Request nothing. “No.”

“Well, I check with the host.” Which she did, and after she left, I told Kara, “Did she think I was asking permission.”

Then I began to prepare scenarios for both situations upon her return. 1) She comes back, says it’s okay and we move, graciously thanking her; or 2) She comes back, explains that a move would violate restaurant policy… and I get irate, demand to see the manager and threaten to leave while making a scene (yes, I was that hungry). Fists on tables, raised voices, those sorts of things.

Lucky for all parties involved, we moved and had a great view of the whole place (picture above). They sat another family at our old booth (you can see it in the picture behind Ariel below), I was tempted to do one of those, “Psst, hey buddy, don’t sit there. Over here’s better,” but then I remembered the first rule of Disneyland: “Every man for himself.”

The parade of regrettable foods emerges from the kitchen, each course worse than the one that preceded it. The kids’ food topped the list as the poorest of affairs. Remember that Natalie’s plate cost me $13.99, but guess what it consisted of: About a 1/3 of a box of Macs&Cheese, one boiled hot dog cut to look like an octopus and a handful of Goldfish sprinkled throughout. Street value of her entire meal (including the three carrots, three pieces of celery, caramel drizzled apple slices and a cup of milk): $2.14; net profit for Disney, roughly $11.00. Nice going Walt.

But really, what made it all worthwhile—and this is where Disney really gets me—what washed down the soggy fries and the tepidly arid shank of cow leather was seeing the delight in Natalie’s eyes as she got to meet, in person, all of the princesses she has grown to love and admire, especially Ariel, The Little Mermaid, her heroine.

To Ariel, Natalie told her that her name was Natalie when she was asked, but after that, for the other princesses, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, and Jasmine, she started to announce that her name was “Ariel.” The first thing they would ask Natalie was, “What’s your name?” and each time, she answered “Ariel.” They didn’t think anything of it, of course, but I find it funny that she told Ariel her real name instead of saying her name was Ariel too, as if she thought, you don’t lie to The Little Mermaid, not your idol. She’ll see right through you.

Each princess stopped by our table for a brief chat, some small talk: how are you doing, I’m glad you came, it was nice meeting you, would you like to take a picture, what is your name, you’re so cute, etc., and it wasn’t until we met Cinderella, did she reveal a little more about herself.

Both of the kids were given shiny paper crowns, similar to the ones you used to get a Burger King for your birthday (and I had to ask for them… another checkmark), and Matthew didn’t want anything to do with it, of course, yanking it off every time Kara put it on his head. So it ended up on the floor, and when Cinderella sauntered up between Matthew and Natalie, she noticed that his crown was on the floor, saying something to the effect of: “My, little one, you seemed to have dropped your crown.”

Then she bent over to pick it up. And wouldn’t you know it, but her blue dress falls wide open and I’m staring down her top, face to face with Cinderella’s flaming red bra that seemed to only be doing half the job. My, Cinderella, what do you have planned for after the ball? It was quite unexpected, and it felt as though I had seen a nun’s habit blow up in the wind. We're talking about sacred ground here, only tread upon by Prince Charming…but then again, she was just a woman dressed up like Cinderella who likes to wear skimpy underwear to work.

So, for $63.33, I got four plates of crappy food and quite a eyeful of Cinderella; now how many of you can say that?

After that, we went back to Disneyland as it seemed that a lot of the crowds had dispersed, so we were able to go on a few more rides. All day, I had been trying to convince Natalie to go on The Haunted Mansion to see some “ghosties” but each time, I was shot down because she wanted to go on her “favorite ride,” which seemed to always be the next ride she wanted to go on. While we were waiting for the Casey Jr. Train, she wanted me to pick her up. She begged, held onto my hands and jumped up and down… so I traded her, I’d pick her up and carry her if she’d go on Haunted Mansion with me. Surprisingly, she said yes.

Of course, she loved it and claimed she wasn’t scared one bit, but when the lights went out in the elevator and everybody screams at the guy hanging from the ceiling, she grabbed onto me pretty tight.


That was it. We ended the day with a nighttime Jungle Cruise ride (much better than during the day) and walked back to our amazing awesome parking spot.

Three minutes later, both kids were dead asleep, and we made it home in record time.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

“Wanna Buy a Duck?”

Matthew is involved in a little love-hate relationship with another little girl at Natalie’s dance class. It’s totally cute, and the fact that only a couple of the other mothers have even noticed it makes it all the more like a soap opera that only I get to enjoy. The class meets every Friday morning, about eight little girls all Natalie’s age, for tap and some muscularly-uncoordinated ballet of some sort. There’s lots of aimless running around and piercing shrieks of delight. It’s cute seeing a half-dozen little girls in pink tights (Natalie wears purple, naturally) and pony tails flutter about the dance room, but the rules of the dance instructor are strict and unforgiving. Most important, no crying in the studio room, even if it’s not your fault that another little girl smacked you in the head for no reason at all… you get in as much trouble for crying as you will for hitting.

Those two girls didn’t come back after, what we parents in the dance class call, “the incident.” But we try not to speak of it.

Back to the soap opera: There’s another little girl Matthew’s age…let’s call her Jessica—not to protect her 16-month-old identity, but only because I can’t remember her name right now. Jessica is a little sister of one of the dancers, and she’s a regular, always coming along with her mom to the class. Since we’ve been going to dance class for over a year (I started Natalie with a Mommy&Me class…yes, I know I’m clearly a daddy, the only one there as it turned out), we’ve watched Matthew and Jessica grow up from just newborns to walking toddlers, and it would be foolish to say that they haven’t noticed each other. After all, they’re the only two toddling around who are directly in each other’s line of sight.

At first, they were enamored with each other, as all babies are with other babies. I think they have a tough time believing that their plight is not a singularity, and when another baby comes along, to them, it’s like being in space and running across another astronaut. “Hey, I’m not alone!” Jessica and Matthew would point at each other, and when he was really small, she peer over the baby carrier and try to poke his eyes or steal his bottle.

Good times were soon to change.

About a month ago, I couldn’t tell you who had it first, who picked it up first or who started playing with it first, but one of them had a small rubber duck, exactly like the kind you would find in a bathtub, yellow with an orange bill. Not an especially attractive duck and it didn’t squeak, so I’m not sure what the fuss was all about. But for some reason, there was an equal attraction to this rubber duck, even though there are buckets full of toys in the play area, and they both wanted to play with it. I suppose if one threw it down and ignored it for the rest of the class time, the other wouldn’t have found it so intriguing, but one toddler’s possessions is another’s envy.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume Matthew was up to his old tricks of climbing on everything and hobbling around the dressing rooms, making faces and blowfishes in the mirrors… and Jessica was the one who discovered the magic of the duck. Once the yellow rubber caught his eye, Matthew too wanted the duck. He can be kind of a bully, and after a short foot chase (remember, toddlers, short legs), he got it, just took it away from her. Jessica, of course, burst into tears and looked to her mom to rectify the situation, as if to say, “That baby has my duck and I demand that it be returned.” Given to polite convictions, her mother wasn’t about to tear the duck out of Matthew’s hands. That was my job.

I couldn’t have cared less who had the duck and I would have let him keep it if it were not for six set of parental eyes judging me nearby. Begrudgingly, I took it from Matthew and explained, fruitlessly, that it wasn’t his duck and that Jessica was playing with it. As if he understood. All he saw was that his prized possession, the very purpose his soul was placed on this earth: to take, hold and care for that rubber duck, was in jeopardy, dire jeopardy. As I gave back the duck to Jessica, Matthew burst into tears.

Then it was on.

The two chased each other around the viewing room of the dance studio. One would get the duck, by means usually nefarious and sly, and the other would fall into pursuit, protesting the injustice vehemently all the while. This went on the whole hour of dance class. And once all the girls piled out of the room and recoupled up with their rightful parent, all was forgotten. The duck lay neglected again on the floor, forgotten.

Until the following week. But Jessica had the jump on us. She was smart enough to convince her mother to get their early, so she could find and grip onto that rubber duck like there was no tomorrow. Matthew took an interest again, but it seemed that his heart just wasn’t into it anymore. There were rings and ponies and a little red fire truck that squeaked when he pushed it, much more important fish to fry than to conduct a war over a duck.

You would think that this is where the story would end, that the duck found its rightful owner and all was happily ever after, especially Jessica who ended up winning the battle and the forever prized yellow rubber duck. But it wasn’t to be.

After that week, I didn’t see the duck again. Nobody had it and I couldn’t find it in the toy boxes… I wanted to stir up some trouble by anonymously placing it in the middle of the floor to see if either of them noticed (don’t judge me, I get bored listening to the endless babble of stay-at-home über moms). Matthew, good natured as he is, was unfazed by the loss of the duck and went along as merry as could be, as he always is. He would greet Jessica in the way toddlers do when they see another person their age: They’d stare at each other for a few moments and usually Jessica would turn away.

Lately, she’s been avoiding Matthew, never staying within a few feet of him and always putting out her hand at him if he gets too close, as if to say, “Back off buddy. You had your chance to be my friend, but you blew it.” She flashes him dirty looks too. It’s cute in that she is trying to be mean but she’s just not sure how to do it yet, and it’s funny because she’s the only one of the two who remembers the duck. Matthew doesn’t notice. He doesn’t care. Typical son of mine, oblivious to emotional world around him… just always looking for something to climb on.

But you know what they say: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…over a duck.”

Incidentally, the first person to tell me who penned the famous Depression-era comedy catch-phrase, "Wanna Buy a Duck?" wins a fabulous prize. Hint, if you say Joe Penner, you're wrong.

Yes the prize is a duck.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Rain on Me

I live in the wrong state; well, maybe the wrong climate, as I always rejoice when I hear the weatherman call for rain. Lots of rain. It is so long between storms in Southern California that I wish I lived in the Northwest where there’s more rain than sun, at least some kind of change in the seasons. I look forward to a new storm and I get pleasure from sitting in my office or on the couch in the front room looking out the window at the world around me getting wet.

I love it when it rains. There's emotion in rain, a sense of passion; it’s more heart felt to see two beguiled lovers embrace in the rain than it is to see them kiss in the sparkling sunshine. That’s not romantic...not that I'm romantic, mind you. Quite not. Melancholy, sadness, depressing wretchedness, all the things that writers love to see, come out in the rain, and that's what I like. “Call me Ishmael… it’s a beautiful sunny day on the high seas, let’s go find that whale.” That just doesn’t work to set any kind of dire mood. You meet your fears in the rain, your fatal flaws, your desperate desires, the ones that drive you to the edge of madness.

That’s why I love it when it rains.

Maybe I just love it when there’s any kind of weather that doesn’t involve oppressive heat and eternal sunshine, the dusty buildup of a dirty city. We live in one long hot summer and rarely ever get to experience a change in the scenery that rain offers. Leaves don’t turn colors here. I don’t know what it’s like to drive in the snow. I do know, however, the subtle dance with the east- and west-facing windows of the house to keep it cool during a heat wave without having to shovel money into a hungry air conditioner. That I learned the first month after I started having to pay the bills in my own house.

The worse it rains, the more delighted I become. Maybe it’s my secret enticement with chaos and the lure of calamity. I read recently about a rainstorm that flooded the streets of my hometown in 1969. It poured down 32 inches of rain in 45 days. How exciting that must have been… unless you were in one of the houses that were completely destroyed by tumultuous walls of mud that cascaded down from the mountains. The story made it into the October 1969 National Geographic if you ever come across a copy. I’ve got three.

Today it rained, but I didn’t entirely get to enjoy it because it didn’t start pouring down until after dark. The sun was spotty and unreliable but it broke through most of the clouds today. One good thing about rain at night is the aluminum patio we have in the backyard, and when it rains, it sounds like we live in a tin shack. But the sound goes a little deeper than that for me. My grandparents lived in a mobile home and the entire thing was built like a Coke can and every time it rained, the whole house reverberated from the continued drumming. It doesn’t make for a relaxing sound, naturally, but every time I heard the rain on our patio, I think of my grandparents and how much I miss them.

One bright spot to my otherwise unproductive day (I have seven articles due this week and next and I can’t seem to concentrate on doing much of anything—mental road blocks are keeping my creativity at bay): Natalie seems to be my friend again. She earned some time in her room this morning (for yelling at me for sitting in her spot on the couch—thank you Archie), but afterwards I had a talk with her while she was playing a computer game and she was actually sorry that her temper is so short with me. She promised to be more patient and understanding in the future, and it was nice to hear.

It was a productive talk, and I did most of the listening, which is rare. She usually clams up when she has to discuss how she feels about anything, but today she was quite candid in telling me that she will use an indoor voice when something upsets her and instead of yelling, she’ll calming tell me what is wrong.

Later we went outside in the rain to check the mail. I knew there wouldn’t be any because I had already retrieved it earlier this afternoon, but after Natalie and Kara went to the movies today, they bought an umbrella for her. For some reason, Gnat’s been drawn to umbrellas. I don’t know what the allure is but she finally got to have one of her very own, with Dora on it of course; and she spent some time on pins and needles, staring out the window to see the first hint of rain drops in order to unveil the new umbrella and take it for a spin in the sprinkles.

She announced that it was indeed finally raining and that she had felt some drops in the hallway, even, which was odd, but I still got up to check for leaks in the ceiling… which seemed more odd to do now that I think of it.

Anyway we checked the mail and there wasn’t any, but she was content with the journey. I taught her how to open the umbrella and close it and how to shake off the rain before you bring it in the house. I explained the superstition that it is bad luck to open it in the house, and she was happy to put her "baby" umbrella next to the "daddy" umbrella in the closet. It was one of those Norman Rockwell moments that would make untold masses of people throng to buy the "Saturday Evening Post."

It’s supposed to rain next Wednesday.

I’m already looking forward to it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Natalie’s Wrath

It seems that, as of late, I have been on the wrong side of Natalie’s personality, as her patience with me has been thin for a couple of weeks. Mostly, I try to ignore the outbursts, but it has been difficult.

Three recent cases in point.

One: A few days ago, Kara was gone and it was just the kids and I. Matthew had drifted off into a nap and Natalie had interest in watching a movie in our bed. I took that to mean that she was tired and wanted a nap. As we were headed in there, I started straightening up a bit—one of my ever growing pet peeves is the toy sprawl syndrome, where numerous toys magically fall from the sky and are discovered in equally numerous places around the house. Our bedroom has become one of the last vestiges of this toy depository, so I gathered up a bunch of things—a Dora cash register, several play dishes, a variety of noisy toys of Matthews and a few stuffed animals of Natalie’s. As I returned these things to their rightful places, Natalie started to protest, especially when I tossed the mound of stuff animals into her room. When that happened, she lost it and started to scream at me. She quickly snatched them all up and slung them back on the bed, telling me that I don’t know what I’m doing and that I should go somewhere else. One of her favorite phrases is, “If you don’t stop (enter whatever it is that I’m currently doing), then I’m going to take you and throw you in the trash.” And she’s serious too.

So, off to her room, where she spent some alone time to think about not being so mean to Daddy and instead nicely explain that certain stuffed animals belong in certain pre-described places. I’m reasonable, I assure you.

Two: The night before last, Natalie and I were sitting on the couch watching TV before Kara came downstairs from putting Matthew to sleep for the night. She always watches a show and has a snack before bedtime. We had finished watching “Little Bear” (which I despise) and she requested that I put in the episode of “The Little Mermaid” that she saw on TV earlier in the day with Mommy. “Did she tape it?” I asked, and Natalie said, “Yes Daddy,” in that way that means, “Of course she did, you silly, silly man.” So I checked the list of movies on the DVR and there were only two “Little Mermaids,” one called “Stormy” where Ariel brings home a while seahorse that King Triton forbids that she rides (also included in that episode is my most favorite of all melodramatic lines. Ariel to her father: “You want to tie me down just like Stormy,” and she swims off in a huff. Classic) and the second one is one of the first ones we taped, about Little Mermaid finding a bracelet and coming face to face with the flow monster—don’t ask.

So, I calmly explain to her that we can’t watch the one from that morning because Mommy didn’t tape it. I tried to make Kara to be the bad guy but she didn’t take the bait. Natalie insisted that we did and I could tell that she was going to get angry, so I showed her the list of taped movies on the TV… no “Little Mermaid” from that morning. I don’t know whether she didn’t like being told that she was wrong or if she was really tired that night or if she just likes to be disagreeable with me, but she lost it. She actually told me to “get in your truck and find another family to live with.” She said she doesn’t like me anymore, but had the gall to ask me to get her something to drink.

I sent her upstairs, expressing how disappointed I was in how she was acting. I don’t think she seemed too fazed.

Three: I don’t exactly remember the situation, but it was trivial. She told me to “go away and don’t ever come back,” and I made the mistake of saying that I was going to take Mommy with me if I were to leave. I’ve never seen her cry so much in such a short period of time, and after that it was sobbing and whimpering while she tried to put together a puzzle on the dining room table, lamenting how much she wanted Mommy to come home. After about 20 minutes of listening to that, I told her that if she didn’t stop, she was going to go to her room. Two minutes later, I summarily escorted her to her room.

Even after being pardoned a half-hour later, she wouldn’t come out until Kara came home.

Now, as a father, what am I supposed to do? Ignore her when she goes on an emotional rampage? That’s easy for you to say, but when I have to listen to her say mean things, it rather hurts my feelings. Sure, she’s three and probably doesn’t really understand that the things she says actually does hurt my feelings. But they do.

Kara’s solution is to spend more time with her, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense. If the lions at the zoo don’t like you, hanging around their cage more isn’t going win you any points. What Kara suggested was to jump in the cage and take Natalie out somewhere special.

Truth be told, Natalie’s never had a soft spot in her heart for me, not even from the beginning. If we all jumped out of an airplane and I had the only parachute, she’d still cling to Kara the whole way down. In fact, every time Kara would leave, she’d stand at the door and cry for her to come back, and when she wouldn’t, Natalie would turn and look at me as if I was cheap plastic consolation prize she got at the county fair. She doesn’t do that anymore, but it was hard for the first 18 months of her life. Ask her who her favorite parent is and she’ll answer “Mommy” even before you finish the question… even if I’m standing there with a box full of princess-mermaid-butterfly dresses and appropriate accessories, all in purple… and lathered in cinnamon roll icing. No dice. Hands down, Kara will win every time.

So, as the black sheep in my own family, what am I to do? Take her out and do something special, Kara says. Go to lunch with her, just the two of you. Not really sure what that is supposed to solve, I agreed and asked Natalie if she would like to go to lunch with me today.

She said no, she’s busy. She’s going over to Nathan’s house to play. I told her that wasn’t until later in the afternoon and we could go to lunch earlier. Nope.

I didn’t want to do this, but I felt like I had no other choice. It was the last place I wanted to spend my money, but… “How about we go to Old McDonald’s?” (a.k.a. McDonald’s) Her eyes widened and she said, “Yes Daddy, I’d love to go.”

So it was a date. That night, she asked me to read her a couple of stories before bedtime, something she never does.

This morning Natalie was in her room with Mommy helping her get ready, and I was in mine doing the same. It felt as though I were getting ready to go to one of those father-daughter dances they sometimes have in grade school. Natalie dressed up for the occasion, wearing a purple sparkly dress, her Cinderella slippers and a matching tiara.

I wore jeans and a t-shirt and even then felt underdressed, for McDonald’s.

Though the place was crowded with high school kids and it was loud, we found a small table by the window. I made sure to commandeer a flower in a vase from one of the other tables for us (Natalie was worried we wouldn’t get a table with a flower) and we enjoyed our lunch. Me, suffering through the guilt of giving my money to a faceless evil corporation whose drive is to addict as many small children to their food as possible, and Natalie chewed her Chicken McNuggets and watched all the people go by. She didn’t say much, but the room was loud.

I got her the customary ice cream and we came home.

The little experiment must have worked, because after I told her that “Wow, Wow Wubbzy” was my favorite cartoon on television—and it is, have you seen the crap that’s on TV nowadays?—she cuddled up to me and we watched it together.

So, perhaps Kara was right. Maybe I’m not spending as much time with Natalie as I should. Maybe I need to devote more time with her, as her lashing out may be her way of telling me this. She’s only three.

Gee, I can’t wait until she’s 14. Too much time… not enough. Don’t do anything at all. Just sit there and agree with whatever she says. Of course, you know me and that will never happen. Good times to come. Good times.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Highs of Lowes

In the bottom drawer of a file cabinet in the back of my mind is a folder I like to refer to from time to time, every once in a while when I get a creative penchant; therein the file hides a collection of home improvement projects that I have every good intention of tackling… when I have the time, when I have the money, when I have the nerve. I’d like to build a railing for the front porch but I don’t ever seem to have the time. I’d like to scale back the slope in the backyard and put up a retaining wall, but I never seem to have the disposable income; and I’d like to pull down the wall that separates the living room from an unused downstairs bedroom but I can’t seem to find the nerve.

I have good intentions, and above else, I have good plans. A while back, I measured out the details of the living room and subtracted the difference of the wall to make space for the super living room. My deep-seated architectural desires were indeed satisfied by drafting the plans on the computer so I could refer to them when I think that I’m ready to question whether that wall is load-bearing or not. The plans are drawn up for the porch railing, but I’m missing the building code that dictates the distance between the balusters; once that is established, I’m ready to start cutting wood. As for the planned wall in the backyard, well, I just need a crew to dig out the 70-foot long, four-foot high slope of nicely packed dirt otherwise known as nature’s concrete. From what I’ve read and seen on television, the actual building of the wall is the easy part.

It makes sense that I often find myself at either Home Depot or Lowes from time to time, and each home improvement store serves its own purpose for me: Home Depot is dark, a little dingy, God-awfully orange and not especially clean. It’s always hot and stuffy, even in the winter, and I can never get anyone to answer a reasonable question or offer any kind of service (with scant exceptions). Lowes, on the other hand, is brightly lit, clean and well organized. The signs are clear and I can always find everything I need without any help(even though I hate the fact that the signs are bilingual, my latest pet peeve). I go to Home Depot because it is closer to my house, and since any project I attempt comes with it a requisite of several visits, I like to get in and get home without inordinate amounts of driving across town. I visit Lowes when I’ve got some time to walk about and think, refer to that project folder in my mental file cabinet and discuss with myself the options and obstacles associated with each task. And maybe pick up some new ideas.

Such a trip had been a long time coming when the doors to Lowes slid open and a cool gust of conditioned air greeted me a couple of days ago, when I had more free time than good sense… plus I just needed to lose myself in a man’s place for a while. I had no business being there, as I had no plans on buying anything… at least there was nothing I needed.

I find great satisfaction strolling through home improvement stores. I stopped at the barbeque section first, checking out the latest in stainless steel units, pricing a new set of utensils—should I get an expensive higher quality four piece or a less expensive six piece?—and I looked at the various colors of covers and admired the fancy medical-looking marinade injectors. Sweet.

The next aisle had hammocks, and I have always wanted a hammock, picturing myself lounging in the backyard after a morning of yard work, reading a book and watching the clouds drift across a Southern California afternoon. They’re pricy, as it turns out, and I needed to research the virtues of cotton over nylon, and meanwhile I’d better plant a couple of trees. I looked up and the patio furniture caught my attention, as it usually does. I’m always shopping for patio furniture it seems, and though I have seen a few sets that will fit the bill, nothing has made me want to commit. I sat in a few of the chairs and then moved on.

I have a lawn mower; it’s only a few years old, but I didn’t take very good care of it back when we had a two-car garage. It was relegated to the backyard and sometimes it would sit uncovered, in the rain. When the little engine does roar to life, it exhales a giant flume of white smoke… and it sounds terrible, like I’m mowing the yard with a metal box full of marbles.

The new mowers are so clean and shining—all red and black—with tall rear wheels, enlarged bags and fresh controls. Powered by Honda. Powered by Briggs & Stratton. John Deere, Troy-Bilt… mini tractors for city folk wishing for farm life. I don’t think I could justify a riding mower in my yard, but the cup holders and that big headlight (for night mowing) is alluring.

I always skip the major appliance section, and not because I don’t like looking (I enjoyed shopping for the Big Three that we bought a few months back and I liked comparing water heaters last summer), but because the section is manned by enthusiastic sales folks who cherish their commissions and I don’t like to be approached when I’m not really looking… plus, saying that I’m “just looking” is a lie. That implies intention to buy.

Anyway, the real point of going to Lowes at all—if I had to nail down a reason—was to look into some shelving options for the garage, so I walked up and down the storage section for a while, a couple of laps was enough. I like storage items, boxes and crates, cubbies and shelves, as they give my obsession for order and arrangement a tangible quality and I can justify my mania a little. “I can’t be so weird if they make products that keep everything in its proper place.”

I like the tile aisle, because it rhymes and because I’ve got detailed plans to redo the downstairs bathroom to somewhat of a seaside motif and I’m slightly undecided on tile pattern or color. I like the variety of tiles, the colors, the textures, and I like that you can touch them all, see the styles together and picture the displays in my bathroom. Same goes for the kitchen remodeling displays, but to a lesser degree. I don’t dream of a redone fancy kitchen, but it would be nice to have granite countertops… so I sometimes find my way into that section (avoiding the commission earners that troll the faux kitchens) so I can feel the granite.

Always, one of the last stops on my Lowes tour is the lumber section, and for me, walking down the aisle is like opening the door of a coffee house and having that blast of coffee bean smell envelop your senses. Blindfolded, I could turn the corner into the lumber section, take a deep breath and swear I was in a forest standing on pine needles and hearing birds swoop through the air. Then I feel a little guilty: The trees have been cut down and sliced up for general consumption like carrots at Thanksgiving, and it’s like visiting a morgue and commenting on the scent of someone’s perfume. Sure, you smell enticing but you’re dead. Red Oak, Fir, Cedar, White Pine, Poplar, Redwood. It all smells so great and natural, even though I know a significant percentage of the odor is chromated copper arsenate, a common lumber preservative. Diagonal grain, spiral grain, straight grain…Select grade, common grade, first grade… four, six, eight-by-twos… some massive 18-foot planks, and railroad ties. I pondered near the planks of ponderosa pines what I could do with a few railroad ties; I like the rustic realism, and I could even see where they spiked down the rails, and it make for a great bucolic border to a flower bed, no doubt.

On the way out, I usually circle through the tool section, as there is nothing that evokes a larger spark of creativity more than a glimmering line of wrenches, or the many grains of sand paper, the clean tan leather pouches of the tool belts and the unused saw blades radiant from a light coat of oil.

I skirt the checkout counters empty handed and head for the bright sunlight of the parking lot. I’m relaxed, a little better focused, more in tune with my goals.

All that from a store.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

More of the Magic Kingdom

Yes, I know what you’re all thinking: “Enough already. We get it. You go to Disneyland a lot. You guys are a bunch of freaks.” Sure, fine, you may be right, but this round of Disneyland passes is nothing compared to how we used to be.

Picture our average weekend, Kara and I, long before we had kids or lived in this town or even had our current jobs, and even long before California Adventure, when that land was still a parking lot: We’d arrive at Disneyland around noon, maybe later (why wake up early when we didn’t have to?), walk around for a little while, sit and watch the people go by, realize it was too crowded for us and then leave. We’d take the Monorail over to the Disneyland Hotel (before Downtown Disney, before Paradise Pier was officially in the fold and before streets were moved—Magic Way was Cerritos and Disney Ave was West)… we’d go to the Disneyland Hotel, walk around in the off-the-beaten-trail quietness of the buildings, still ripe with the quaintness of the 70s décor, and then put our name in at Stromboli’s Restaurant (back before it became the more marketable Goofy’s Kitchen). Then we’d visit the gazebo, where Kara and I were married, just northwest of the Cactus Cooler Lounge and various gift shops (Doesn’t sound familiar? That’s okay, they’re no longer there. All the shops, by our best guess, is where ESPN Zone now stands and the gazebo was just behind it, where there is now a paved street of some sort). After dinner of Fettuccini Alfredo for me—and Kara always got the seafood pasta—but the bread and the tomato basil spread made the trip worth it, we go over to the waterfalls (which are still there) and watch the lights play off of the water… it’s where I proposed to Kara, and then we’d end up at the wine cellar, a smallish wine bar underneath what used to be known as Granville’s Steak House (now Hook’s Pointe).

Early favorites for us was Fess Parker’s 1997 Gewürztraminer—we’d always have a glass—a great wine and a wonderful year… and as it turned out, 1998 wasn’t as good, and but then again, maybe the 97 was fortified with sentimentality and probably tasted exactly like the 98. But it just wasn’t the same. The Wine Cellar only had six tables, and if you got there early enough, you could get one of the two barstool-height tables in front of the bar (which we usually did), and we’d spend the evening chatting with Zoe, Cheri or Lori—they gave us the candelabra for our wedding that now sits in the dining room.

That was 10 years ago.

My how much has changed.

We haven’t been to the wine cellar in years, and we only know that it is still there because we walked by it a few months back. I doubt the Zoe, Cheri or Lori still work there and it probably wouldn’t feel the same if we were to return. Nobody would yell “Norm” when we walked in, that’s for sure.

Disneyland these days is all about Fantasyland, as that is where we spend most of our time. Natalie’s new favorite is Peter Pan, which we’ve rolled into our repertoire on our visit last Wednesday afternoon. It was the perfect time to go. The weatherman forecasted rain, which meant that it wouldn’t rain at all, but just enough people were scared off to decimate the park’s attendance.

We’ve also discovered a new trick to our visit: Parking. Beautiful parking. The crowded parking structure, with its low ceilings, long lines for the elevator and how easily we lose our cars… for us, is a thing of the past. Thanks to the modest lift and big tires on my truck, they have been ushering us to the oversized parking, and it is like settling into a big cushiony overstuffed chair as we park in spaces plotted out for buses and motor homes. Clearance in the parking structure is 7’6”, while the top of my antenna is 7’4”, which means I’ve got plenty of clearance to the roof of the cab (nearly eight inches). In fact, I’ve only heard the antenna scrape the ceiling once while parking there… while I’m inside my truck stupidly ducking my head like an idiot and driving single-digit speeds, just waiting to wedge my truck between the floor and ceiling. So, we park in Chip and Dale, the oversized parking, walk 20 yards and jump right on the tram. Sweet!

We went over to Tom Sawyer's Island this time, taking the ferry, for the first time, for me, in probably 15 years, and it was lucky that we did. That was the last day it will be known as Tom Sawyer's Island. I guess they're converting it to Jack Sparrow's Island, or some such movie-related marketing ploy to get more visitors. Without going into detail about it's demise into the annals of the history books, check here for more about it (scroll down a bit). However, I cracked open my skull in one of those damn caves, as I was watching not to clunk Matty's head into the walls and wasn't watching out for my own. It was nice to walk around, but Natalie kept asking, "Can we go back to Disneyland now?" which we did... but not before bouncing on the barrel bridge or the suspension bridge just one last time.

We took the kids on Pirates of the Caribbean for the first time, which was nice, except for the fact that they’ve messed with the ride again. In addition to the bleeding hearts who thought it sexist that the men are chasing the women, so they added plates of food in the women’s arms (which is just silly if you think about it), they’ve put Jack Sparrow (a.k.a. Johnny Depp) into the ride as well. He turns up in a couple of unlikely places and several of the characters’ voices have been redubbed to include him in the ride. One of my favorite parts—at the end, where the two guys are pushing the giant chest of treasure draped in a pirate flag up the hill—now has Jack sitting there, smugly saying something or rather.

Well, the point here is that the kids went on the ride, their first time. Natalie didn’t want to go on it, something about not wanting to see pirates, or maybe she just wasn’t interested. At first, we were going to respect her wishes and not force her to go, but when there wasn’t a single soul in line, we changed our tune. Instead of asking her, we just told her it would be fun and that she’d have to trust us. Big gamble, but it paid off: Natalie loved it. Matthew, on the other hand… his reaction was what I expected: cute, albeit terrifying for him, but cute nonetheless. He was very interested in the Tia Dalma’s swamp, what with the fireflies and the quiet banjo music playing a slow-tempo “Oh! Susanna.” Then, all eyes were on the talking skull and crossbones as he issued his dire warning… “But keep a weather eye open mates, and hold on tight. With both hands, if you please. Thar be squalls ahead, and Davy Jones waiting for them that don't obey.”

Poor little Matthew, never knew what hit him. While he was keeping a weathered eye on old salty, the bottom of the boat dropped out from under him and down we plunged into the roaring waterfalls. He whipped around in my arms and buried his face in my chest, all the while pulling my shirt around him. Then the second dip into the grotto came and he just held on.

In the blue light, he caught site of his mother and quickly leaped from my lap to Kara’s, where he simply rode it out until it was over. I, on the other hand, enjoyed showing Natalie that there is such a song as “A Pirate’s Life for Me,” which I had been singing all day to her giggles, telling me, “Silly Daddy.”

Thank you, X Atencio, wherever you are. (okay, you’re right, odd reference, look here. You folks should know this stuff)

The park was closing and everyone was ready to head for home. It was a great day… the whole thing cost us negative money. How so? Disney owed me $11 for a parking overcharge, which I collected three months late, and we only spent a few dollars of it.

Good day was had by all… yes, even Matthew. Hey, he didn’t totally hate it.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Curmudgeons Unite: 100 Things I Hate

They say that hate is a strong word. I don’t know. Maybe it is, but I can think of a lot of other words that carry more weight, harbor more emotion and are behind more motives. I’m not going to argue it either way (consider the word “love,” nowadays a mostly meaningless four-letter word people use to get what they want…see 15 and 49), but what I will submit to you is a list of 100 things that really twists me into a frenzy, the random sort of things that makes me weep for the future of this world and some of which makes me weep for little old me today.

Maybe you do some of the things on this list; if you do, I don’t want to know about it, because you’re probably already skating on thin ice with me as it is and I wouldn’t want another excuse to cross your name off of my Christmas list.

Remember, nobody likes everybody or everything all the time. Some days you just want to punch the first person in the nose who greets you with a cheery smile and a trite little cliché phrase about what a wonderful day it really is. I hate mornings and those that love them…but I digress.

Without further ado, my 100 most hated things (in no particular order):

1. I hate it when non-Italian people kiss their finger tips in that Italian way and say, bellissimo, especially when I know damn well that it’s the only Italian word they know. It usually involves food that mostly isn’t Italian.

2. I hate the word “enjoy,” especially if it is used in the imperative form, telling me to enjoy something by merely using the word enjoy as a single-word sentence. A waiter places a plate of food in front of me and bows away. “Enjoy,” he breathes, as if what I am about to eat is the culmination of all that is good and holy in this world and he was the one that brought it to me.

3. I hate that clothes shrink when I wash them. It isn’t as though I’m getting fatter, but when I find a shirt that I think I look good in and it’s comfortable, I know that it has a shelf life maybe 20 to 25 cycles through the washing machine before an XL becomes merely a L.

4. I hate the bandwagon. You know what I mean, people who support a football team merely because they are nearing the Super Bowl, or those that get involved in a cause because it is suddenly the cool thing to do. Be independent; the flavor of the month, the fad of the week, the cool thing to do today will always end and you’ll have nothing.

5. I hate a politician’s smile. I don’t even like looking a picture of a politician smiling. It doesn’t matter who the politician is or what the circumstances are. What do they have to smile about? If they’re smiling, it means they’re not doing their job, as they should be knee deep in the trenches taking one for the little guy, who, by the way, rarely smiles if you’ll notice. Plus, a politician’s smile is usually fake and I can spot that a mile away, that tell-tale shine of Vaseline coating their teeth.

6. I hate bumper stickers. All they do is force me to either try and figure out what sort of menial cause the idiot in front of me believes in or they offer me too much information into their lives. I don’t care what you think of democrats or the current situation with global warming. I don’t like to see any form of “honk if you…” sticker, because if I honk at them, they’re evidently going to flip me off. But I especially don’t care that your kid is among the best in his school.

7. I hate celebrity editions of game shows, like when they trot out other game show hosts to play "Jeopardy!" for charity or "Wheel of Fortune." Not only are the celebrities complete idiots and the questions disturbingly simple, but the whole thing ends up feeling like a cornier version of Hollywood Squares.

8. I hate people who litter, regardless of the circumstance or the size of the trash. Find a trash can you lazy jerk.

9. I hate people who drive slower than me and people who drive faster than me. George Carlin says it best: “People who drive slower than me are morons and people who drive faster than me are maniacs.”

10. I hate people who fall in love with a modern song and have no idea that it is a cover from a much better version first recorded long before they were born. Same thing goes for movies.

11. I hate people who write letters to serial killers in prison and ultimately fall in love with them to the point that they desire to be married. Desperation and a captured audience aren’t grounds for matrimony.

12. I hate rattles, squeaks, rustling plastic bags or any barely noticeable repetitious noise while I’m driving. It’s like someone drumming their fingers or tapping their foot.

13. I hate Ebonics. Speak English or don’t speak English. I don’t care either way, but I don’t do both at the same time. Furthermore, something that doesn’t really exist in that legitimate way shouldn’t be capitalized; it’s a social-economic dialect, not a language.

14. I hate sensationalism in the news for the sake of shock value. “Storm Watch 2007” is a good example, as if we’re all on pins and needles because it’s going to sprinkle a little.

15. I hate gold diggers, men or women, anyone who marries someone three times their age and then has to bite their cheek until they cry just so they look sad when they put the guy in the ground so they can cash his big check at the bank.

16. I hate people who talk during the movie. It’s a given, but also under this blanket lies people who eat too loud, put their foot on the back of my chair, laugh excessively (some can’t help it—they’re idiots—but I still hate them for it), slurp the last bit of soda through their straw, stand in the aisle while the movie is playing and leave their trash on the floor when the movie’s over.

17. I hate it when people use foreign phrases to say hello or good bye to me because they’re trying to be cute or creative or clever. Ciao is probably the worst offender, followed closely by hola and aloha.

18. I hate people that don’t say “excuse me” when they bump into me. This one is a double, as I hate it when people bump into me because they’re too self-righteous to allow space for another person, but I hate them twice as much when they don’t acknowledge the contact. Say excuse me even when it isn’t your fault. This is society. Keep it polite and quit thinking everything is a personal attack against you. You’re not that important.

20. I hate paper cuts. You least expect them and they hurt forever. The one saving grace is that you can squeeze the cut together and make it look like a mouth talking. It’s funny, but it still hurts.

21. I hate sore losers, those that are so devoted to the game that the very thought actually not winning for once in their lives is so horrifying, so outside the realms of possibility, that when they do lose it is the end of the world as they know it and they have to take it out on the next person they see, showing and telling all that they deserved to win regardless of the fact that they didn’t have what it took to cross the finish line first. Then comes the conspiracy talk: “He cheated.” “The ref’s an idiot.” “My hamstring is sore today.” Anything, as long as they don’t have to admit they’re not the best player in the world.

22. I hate drunk people when I’m sober. They’re usually stupid, loud, obnoxious and belligerent. Conversely, I hate sober people when I’m drunk; they’re so judgmental.

23. I hate celebrity gossip and the industry that has developed around it. Why is it important who is dating who, how long it has been between husband number three and husband number four and what kind of expensive accessories they’re buying to go with their impossibly-priced potato-bag dress. I don’t care what famous people do, don’t do, should do, have done, will do, have been doing, should have been doing, and are going to do. Fame and fortune lately have been wasted on those that don’t deserve it. What happened to the glamour of Hollywood? All I see is a freak show.

24. I hate stubbing the same toe twice. I always seem to stub my toe in pairs, and if the first time it didn’t hurt enough, the second time it surely will do the trick.

25. I hate screaming children… more than that is that I hate the parents that don’t do anything about them, whether they’re in the mall, a store, walking down the street or in some public place or even thousands of miles away from me on TV. Screaming babies, fine, they don’t know any better… but we should start fining those parents that allow their kids to carry on like infants.

26. I hate people that stand too close to me in line. Nothing is more irritating than to have my personal space invaded, especially when I’m stuck in a long line. I don’t want to turn around and come face to face with some guy who feels that his sphere of personal space should be limited to approximately two and a half inches. If I can hear you lick your lips, you’re too close.

27. I hate the inequality of the law, whether it is some celebrity who gets caught driving drunk and only gets a fine and a few hours of community service or the murderer who repents his sins because he found Jesus and is born again! They always fail to mention that he found Jesus just a few minutes after the cops found him. I also hate temporary insanity as an excuse; just because you’re partially imbalanced for a brief moment in time, that doesn’t change the fact that you committed the crime. I hate the guy who gets away with it. Conversely, I love vigilante justice, as it is usually brutal, precise and quick.

28. I hate the beach. It’s dirty, smelly, polluted and filled with people that should really reconsider wearing a two-piece in public, especially when the bikini bottom keeps getting lost in the folds.

29. I hate tattoos, specifically the ones on the lower back. I have never even seen my lower back, so who are those tattoos for? I think the people that see them from the proper point of view aren’t the ones you need to impress by your commitment to a symbol, artistic character or ornate and meaningless pictogram.

30. I hate children who know that they are being cute in the same way that I hate it when people know they’re good looking. For kids it is an innocent conceit, but for adults it is an annoying and blatant smugness that borders on arrogance.

31. I hate the fact that the receipts from Best Buy are so long. I’ve never read all that’s on them, so I don’t have any idea why a receipt for a single ink cartridge needs to be three feet long. Seems like a lot of unnecessary paper wasted just to prove that I bought some ink for my printer (which now costs more than the printer did…and I hate that bit of irony too).

32. I hate people who find it funny on dry days to scuff their feet on the carpet so they can shock me. I don’t mind the shocks; I just think that it’s juvenile to be that annoying.

33. I hate people who play the race card. Being a white 33-year-old male, I don’t get to do it, so I don’t think anyone else should either. In this day and age, being a different color only matters to those that are a different color. The rest of us could give a damn. This isn’t 1962 Mississippi anymore.

34. I hate low-rise jeans. They’re usually worn by women who don’t own mirrors, at least honest mirrors that show the lobes of flesh hanging over the sides of their pants.

35. I hate when people don’t own up to their own responsibility. If you’ve done something wrong, don’t hide it, because someone will find out about it.

36. I hate flipping through a magazine only to be “fast-forwarded” by the subscription inserts (a.k.a. blow-in cards). It makes it nearly impossible to thumb through a magazine if you’re looking for a particular article.

37. I hate it when people are proud of the fact that they are overweight by saying: “Fat is beautiful.” No, it’s unhealthy. In this case, your soul is beautiful. Your personality is beautiful and your character is beautiful. But being unhealthy and not taking care of yourself is not necessarily beautiful.

38. I hate people who are overly passionate about a cause, whatever it may be. They’re usually an A-type person whose whole life has become this particular cause, like those that chain themselves to trees or risk their lives to stop an oil tanker on the high seas.

39. I hate the words “whimsical,” “dot” and “dollop.” I’m not even sure why but every time I hear them, I cringe in disgust.

40. I hate it when people dog-ear a book in lieu of using a bookmark. So, you’re going to forever damage a book because you’re too lazy to find a bookmark? Nice going.

41. I hate emoticons and Internet-inspired text messaging (sometimes called text speak) that lack most vowels and proper sentence structure and grammar (i.e. “no mater how yu labl it, if yu wer born pre-internet era, odds ar yu dont undrstnd it”). If you speak and write like an idiot, people are going to assume you are one.

42. I hate people who talk on their cell phone while they’re buying something at a store. Like that call is so important you can’t hang up for a few minutes while you pay for your purchase.

43. I hate how society has inflated young people’s sense of entitlement. They haven’t earned anything, yet demand everything to be given to them without working for it.

44. I hate it when I don’t notice that my zipper is down, especially after realizing that I last went to the bathroom before I left the house, then I went to the bank, the store, Target, Kara’s school, work, the gas station and a shoe store. I saw roughly 312 people and none of them either noticed or had the guts to tell me that my zipper was gravitationally challenged. Always tell someone when their fly is down; they’ll thank you.

45. I hate yielding on the freeway, not that it is especially difficult or taxing, but only because most people don’t know how to be gracious and instead will drag race the oncoming car for the space. Dovetail folks, dovetail. One from the left, one from the right. Don’t be a jerk and speed up so someone can’t get in front of you. This isn’t the Daytona 500, it’s the 91, traffic will suck just the same with one more car in front of you than it will without.

46. I hate grown men on small bicycles, and I don’t mean those that are riding them for recreation or fitness; I mean those that use them for transportation because they either don’t have a car or don’t have a license. Get your life together.

47. I hate adults that run to their parents for help when the situation gets rough. I don’t mean turning to them for advice, but instead turning to them for money, a hand out, etc. Be self-reliant.

48. I hate people that beg in vain for something there is no way ever they’ll get, a promotion, a special deal, no speeding ticket. For God’s sake, have some self-respect.

49. I hate women who use sexuality to get what they want. Yeah, I know, it works wonderfully nine times out of ten, but I hate it because it isn’t fair. A naked woman streaking through Denny’s, get the camera. A naked man, get the cops.

50. I hate listening to the stories told by the contestants on Jeopardy! just after the first break, during the interview period with Alex. They so painfully and uncomfortably lack interest. Sometimes they try to tell a funny story that ends up sounding sad, like the tales told by the lonely nerdy type who lives with a lot of cats. You have one thing to say to millions of at-home viewers and that’s what you picked?!? The most interesting thing that has ever happened to you is that you mistranslated a menu and ended up with escargot instead of a Caesar salad. That’s what you want to share?

51. I hate listening to interviews given by pro-sports athletes. Sure, they’re great players because they play the game well; don’t let them speak, as it only proves that they spent more time in the gym than in class. What role models.

52. I hate it when I see an old car get wrecked in a movie. It makes for a great scene when the car chase blows through an antique car, but I can only see a classic car being senselessly destroyed for no other reason but a half-second on film. What, you couldn’t find a late-model Ford Taurus to destroy so you settled on a 1962 Plymouth Belvedere?

53. I hate it when I lose something, like a jacket or a book, etc. It rarely happens, as I am usually very protective of my belongings, but sometimes I leave something somewhere and it gets lost. It leaves me with such an empty feeling.

54. I hate laws based on safety. Car seats, seat belts, helmets, and warning labels. Darwin wanted the weaker members of the species to die for the sake and strength of the community, and I don’t like it that the government tells me how to behave. Safety laws are for idiots who don’t care about self preservation. I call it cleaning out the gene pool.

55. I hate it when my car unexpectedly breaks down. I lose all trust and faith in its loyalty.

56. I hate buying something and having it break after the first time (or open the box to a broken item). It’s known as the Walmart Effect, because of the fact that they are so bent on cost-cutting that they disregard getting their products from companies that have good quality control.

57. I hate it when my food mixes together on the plate. Since I like to eat one thing at a time—for example, I eat the whole hamburger and then the fries, never both of them at the same time—I don’t want to taste all of the foods in all of the bites. Mashed potatoes and Jell-O usually don’t make for good bedfellows.

58. I hate the Lifetime Network. Every movie is the same: A woman is cheated on by her husband and she either: A) seeks revenge and kills him which is somehow justified by the end of the movie; or B) runs away and has a crazy adventure that ends in the love of a perfect man; or C) spirals into a self-destructive quagmire until she is rescued by an unlikely woman who experienced the same thing. Ugh, I get it, men suck.

59. I hate seeing a woman’s thong poking out the top of her pants, regardless of the situation. It’s not sexy, as all I picture is an uncomfortable piece of spandex crammed up the crack of someone’s butt, and I just want to hook my thumb under and give it a smart snap. Don’t ya know your underwear’s showing?

60. I hate warning labels; they’re for idiots… no, wait, they’re for the idiot that the idiots call an idiot. Don’t play with plastic bags. Always have adult supervision. Not intended to be used as a flotation device. Not a toy. Small parts may be swallowed.

61. I hate it when my fingers wrinkle up in water, and I hate when my skin gets dry an itchy during dry weather.

62. I hate the first scuff on a new pair of shoes.

63. I hate it when grass makes the back of my legs itch. I also hate it when the grass seems dry when you feel it with your hand, but ends up wet, leaving a giant wet spot on the back of your pants.

64. I hate seeing someone wearing sandals and socks. This is one that I know I shouldn’t hate, but for some reason, it is akin to someone not using a machine correctly because they don’t want to bother reading the directions. In the Life Manual, it clearly states that you’re not supposed to wear sandals and socks at the same time. You look stupid… or foreign.

65. I hate it when someone offers an opinion on a topic they know nothing about. For example: Summers in Greenland are brutal. Cows cause more greenhouse gases than all the cars in the world. Have you ever been to Greenland, and have you measured the flatulence of cows lately?

66. I hate it when people are late. What I hate worse is when I’m late, which is rare, but I still hate it. It causes much grief and anxiety. Hands down the worst is that I hate it when someone doesn’t show up at all.

67. I hate waking up in the middle of the night for no good reason and then not being able to go back to sleep for a couple of hours. Worse than that is waking up the next morning exhausted. If my body knew it was going to be so tired the following day, why didn’t it go to sleep the night before?

68. I hate how governmental policy is a series of knee-jerk actions usually hyped after the incident occurred that spurred on the policy to begin with. Full-blown terrorist alerts that turn out to be an absent-minded person’s laptop left on a park bench come to mind.

69. I hate women comics. They’re not funny, and I can’t think of any that are.

70. I hate it when you visit a person’s house and their dog does nothing but sniff your crotch. Sure, once or twice is to be expected. He’s saying hello. But there comes a time when you go from just saying hello to going to third base with a dog. Enough is enough, and I just know everyone around you is thinking that you were smuggling fish in your pants and forgot to take a shower. You resort to saying, “He’s just smelling my dog,” when you know you don’t even have one.

71. I hate fancy hand greetings: knuckle bumps, high fives, those “right on!” hand clasps, and Spartan-like forearm grips. Just shake my hand like a human being and stop trying to be unique.

72. I hate showboating, especially on game shows, but mostly anywhere. Stop jumping around and pumping the sky with your “I’m Number One” finger. The question you answered right was easy, so quit thinking you’re a genius because you know Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio were both married to Marilyn Monroe. Related to this is my hatred for those that concoct elaborate end zone dances. You look like a turkey in heat.

73. I hate it when the elastic on my socks fails. I’m usually out somewhere where I can’t do anything about it but repeatedly pull them back up, knowing they’ll just fall down again. And I hate not knowing what causes SEF (Sudden Elastic Failure) or how I can fight it.

74. I hate running out of dip before I run out of chips.

75. I hate the fact that I can never properly spell February, as it is one of those words that isn’t spelled how it’s sounds. That first R throws me every time. Same thing with restaurant, and I always use an S in hence instead of a C. Idiocy…I can spell that word.

76. I hate people that use trite quotes from tough guy movies, anything from Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger. For example: “Do you feel lucky, punk?” and “I came here to kick ass and chew bubblegum…and I’m all out of bubblegum.” They’re usually out of context and by no means have the same impact as they did in the film… plus, they’re so overused that they just sound silly.

77. I hate getting whacked in the back of the ankles with a stroller or a shopping cart, but that’s pretty much a universal subject of hate. But specifically, I hate double-wide strollers; they’re 12-feet across and take up the whole sidewalk, aisle…everything. Do your kids really need to be side-by-side?

78. I hate being preached to and I hate talking with overly zealous religious types. Everything is God… “Well, after Jebediah found his car keys, we got right down on our knees and prayed to God Almighty for showing us the light. Halleluiah!” Having strong ties to your religion is great, but not everyone shares your level of faith, so respect my spiritual space and don’t try to convert me.

79. I hate hearing a parent yell at their children in public. It’s disrespectful to the human race, so please have some decency and threaten to beat your kids to pulps in private.

80. I hate it when my shoes squeak on certain kinds of floors, like tile or marble. It’s not that the sound bothers me, it’s more of that I feel everyone’s looking at me, and if nerds make sounds, they’re shoe squeaks.

81. I hate kids on skateboards and the mentality associated therein. They’re slackers and loafers, all of them, and riding a skateboard is just one step shy of being a good-for-nothing punk. “Skateboarding is not a crime.” Yes, it’s a disease, a mental disorder that kills brain cells and impairs good judgment.

82. I hate the fact that when I’m putting on my shoes and socks I have to put on my right sock, then my left, then my left shoe and then my right, and if I, by accident, pick up my right shoe first, I’ll put it down and get the left one. If not…and this is the neurotic part I hate most… if not, if I put on my shoes out of this order I’ve somehow developed, I’m absolutely positive something bad will happen that day. 9/11, that was my fault.

83. I hate graffiti, of any kind, mostly because it is absolutely meaningless. It’s like dogs marking their territory, but I think if graffiti said something that everyone could understand, I’d be okay with it as a form of free speech. Paradoxically, I love seeing the scribblings of older generations, probably because they are in English and they make sense. Check out Independence Rock in Wyoming, and I’d like to see the graffiti inside the Pyramids in Egypt.

84. I hate missing out on things, movie previews, parties, money making opportunities. During all the years in school, from Kindergarten through 12th Grade, I missed less than 10 days, half of which was during my senior year (we could write our own excuse notes).

85. I hate throwing up. Again, that’s pretty universally hated, but specifically, I hate those five seconds right before I throw up, that short moment from when you’re confident your next move will be vomiting until you actually empty out your stomach.

86. I hate flip-flops. More so, I hate the sound they make (from which they’ve earned their namesake), as it sounds like people shuffling their feet. I could never wear them because of that sound, and the fact that I don’t like things jammed between my toes. On top of which, I hate people that scuff their feet. Pick up your damn feet. What it really boils down to, I guess, is that I hate feet in general. They’re all gnarled and calloused, and I have never met anyone who has beautiful feet. I don’t think that person exists.

87. I hate meetings. When I worked in an office, we’d have nothing but meetings every week and I hated them all. I hate going to them, I hate calling them, I hate talking during them, and I hate the results that come from them. Remember this, if there is a problem in the office and your boss is having a meeting about it, it is because he doesn’t know what to do.

88. I hate little toy dogs that have become all the rage lately. Well, I guess I shouldn’t hate the dogs; it’s not their fault they’re tiny and annoyingly jittery. I hate those that own them and treat them as a fashion accessory, like a tiny furry bracelet that vibrates with nerves at the slightest provocation… and poops.

89. I hate hypocrisy, especially when it is found in two places: religion and politics. Politician A pushes a bill through Congress that makes drunk driving in a school zone a felony and then gets arrested for, you guessed it, driving drunk while in a school zone, or Religious Person A condemns any form of adultery as the greatest sin in the eyes of God, but then gets caught in compromising situations with Jessica Hahn.

90. I hate helicopter parents, and how they feel it is their job to constantly run interference for their children by making sure that they don’t have to atone for their mistakes, especially after the kid has left for college. Let them run their own lives, and if they don’t learn how to do it by now, they’ll never be able to do it later.

91. I hate the comic strip “Cathy.” Every time I read it, I just want to scream at her to shut up and seek help for her blatant mental disorder. We get it, you’re neurotic. It’s not funny anymore. It’s a serious problem. And yes, you’re fat—Cathy Guisewite draws you that way—quit harping on it.

92. I hate disorders. It seems that everyone’s got a disorder these days, and they’re used as an excuse for a wide variety of problems. A guy drinks too much… he has a drinking disorder. A girl doesn’t eat enough…she’s got an eating disorder. Someone has to turn the light switch on and off three times before they leave a room… they’ve got an obsessive-compulsive disorder. What ever happened to just plain old crazy people? Now we have to label everyone from Crazy Type A to Crazy Type Z, and then we must treat them with kid gloves. I say, get over it and get on with your life.

93. I hate it when people tell me what to do. It sounds stubborn because it probably is, but I have always been an independent decision maker, and usually the kind of people that insist on offering unsolicited advice have very little invested into the outcome and nothing particular to lose if they’re wrong.

94. I hate stepping in gum, only because it makes me hate the lazy person who dumped it there in the first place. See Number 8. I hate people that smack the lips while chewing above said gum, and I hate it when they pop it, not when they blow the big bubbles, mind you, but when they blow tiny ones in their mouth and then snap them. I hate people that chew with their mouth open… or those that talk with their mouth full.

95. I hate that some restaurants automatically add an 18 percent gratuity to the check of parties over a certain number of people. I think the policy is haughty and arrogant, and usually the service isn’t that good to deserve an automatic tipping.

96. I hate rolling up to a stop light next to some jerk who thinks that the whole world wants to hear his crappy music. Usually, the bass is so loud that parts of his car are rattling, and of course, the windows are down and it is at that particular part of the song where it is nothing but a sustained drum line.

97. I hate packaging, especially when it comes to toys. It is usually three times the size of the toy and I always feel so guilty throwing it out, such a waste. Remember jewel cases for CDs when they first came out? They were twice the size of the CD because they had to fit in the shelves made for records. Well, they were a waste too, and I hated that then.

98. I hate children entertainers (clowns included). They’re overly animated human cartoons who have yet to grow up. Plus, every one I see seems a little creepy, slightly on the McMartin Preschool side of things.

99. I hate people that cut in line, like they’re too good to wait behind the rest of us. Whether it’s for the bathroom, to get on the freeway or at Disneyland, cutting in line is the best way to show disrespect to the most people in the quickest time.

100. I hate long lists.

I know, that’s a lot of hatred coming from just one person—almost disturbing, isn’t it? But we’re all full of it. Everyone has a list similar to this, a collection of things they despise, and I’m not, for a second, going to consider myself the first one to hate with such impunity or on such a large scale. The only difference between you and me is that I wrote it down.

In spite of this, I will leave you with one thing I love: I absolutely love to complain.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Big Spender

For most of my adult life, there has been very little that I didn’t buy for myself if I wanted it; if I had the money (and sometimes, if I only had plastic), I would get it, from a nice dinner at a nice restaurant to a gadget of any kind. I wouldn’t say that I was a chronic spender, because I hate to shop, and that is mostly due to the fact that I despise the shopping process, that subservient uncomfortable experience that makes me loath the visit: Most shops geared for us regular folk are peopled by those that really don’t care for their jobs (now if you care about your job as a sales associate at Bullocks, don’t write and tell me about it; you’re the exception), and dealing with these people are one of my least favorite experiences. I play a game that I like to call, “Don’t Say Anything,” where I see if I can make a purchase without actually saying a single word, without having any type of interaction with the guy behind the counter. I usually win, as I’m rarely asked if I “found everything I was looking for” or if I am “having a good day.” They don’t care. They don’t say thank you at the end, they don’t tell me to have a nice day, and they don’t even give me a smile on my way out the door. They don’t care. I’m certain of it. My existence equates to maybe 30 seconds of their day, a transaction, a few buttons on the register, and I don’t think they really want to interact with me on any kind of level. It would be nice though, and rarely I come across an individual who seems to genuinely want to share a moment with me.

All of these unhappy feelings have left me with a most pleasant January, as this was our official family “Unshopping” month, redeeming our bank accounts after a sound scalding during Christmastime. Since I don’t consider what I do as “shopping” I instead like to call it the Month I Don’t Spend Any Money. As it turned out, the results were liberating and very much an eye opener to how I have been living all these years.

For starters, let’s give credit where credit is due, well, partially. Kara found the source of this idea on a blog somewhere out there and decided to give it a try, and since it went along with my main New Year’s resolution of not spending any money, I decided to give it a try as well. How hard could it be. Just don’t buy anything.

Here’s how I ended up: A few days after New Year’s, Kara, the kids and I went to Ontario Mills and ate a horrific lunch at the Rain Forest Café, where we spent more time looking at the decorations and animatronics than we did at the food they sneaked onto our table (and yes, “sneaked” is the past tense of sneak—it looks weird, I know, but it’s right). So, that was roughly 40 bucks, but the whole purpose of the trip was to buy some furniture for Natalie’s new doll house, and there went another 35 or so…but the reason it was so imperative to buy the furniture is because they’re discontinuing the line of toys and we needed to furnish the rooms before they stopped selling them.

After that, I didn’t buy anything that I didn’t need. Actually, I didn’t even buy the things that I thought I needed, and as it turned out, I didn’t need those even things. I needed a wall calendar, but since the one I currently have goes to February, I didn’t buy its replacement until yesterday, and I even turned down buying books…at a discount.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I didn’t spend money in January. I bought gas, I paid bills, we bought food and shoes for the kids. On the 10th, I went to San Diego and visited the aircraft carrier USS Midway and then went to a nice lunch at an expensive Italian place (my wine was more than my pasta). Last week, I went to lunch with a former coworker, and although it was only $15, it was a welcomed expense because I met with an editor and garnered about $1500 in article contracts for this month, a nice 100 to 1 investment. Technically, that doesn’t count.

As far as I can think of, that’s all the money I spent for the whole month, roughly $100, and I couldn’t be more proud. In addition, I learned something. I didn’t need all of that extra stuff that has been cluttering my life lately, the knick-knacks and gadgets that seemingly make life easier, or so they say.

Did I need another book? I’ve got 1400 of them in my office, and would another make me any smarter? Probably not, considering I have only read about a tenth of what I have as it is. Do I need another Matchbox (I randomly collect Volkswagen Matchbox cars when I see them)? I’ve got a couple of boxes of them in my office closet and not having another one wouldn’t make much of a difference. Did I need to buy Natalie a useless trinket that I knew she would love? No, I didn’t; her life isn’t that much less extraordinary without whatever it was, and just because it is purple, that doesn’t mean that she needs it. I can’t buy her love… at least not until she turns 16.

Where does that leave me now that it is February and now that my goal has been achieved? I’m not sure, but if I went back to my old ways, I think that I would be wasting all of the effort that I went through last month. I’ve proved that there is little I need, and I’ve also discovered that the useless things I bought before didn’t make me any happier (as it turns out, I’m a fairly happy guy).

Yes, I’m a different person, from a consumer point of view. I’ve reevaluated my spending habits, refocused my priorities and made critical decisions about how I want to live. I’m tired of the clutter. I’m tired of stepping over toys that were the flavor of the day… for only one day and are currently neglected in the middle of the floor. I’m tired of looking at my bank account at the end of the month, wondering where it all went.

I enjoyed saving money. I enjoyed passing on the temptation to buy stuff that I now realize I didn’t need. I don’t need a new pair of shoes. I don’t need a book. I don’t need to eat out. I don’t need to buy useless stuff for the kids.

So, how did I celebrate my new found financial freedom? Yeah, that’s right, I saw two Matchbox VWs at Target…and I bought them.

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