Monday, May 28, 2007

The Camping Trip

Some things never age. It seems like just a couple of days ago that I went up for an overnighter in the desert with some of my old fraternity brothers, when actually three years had gone by. I suggested to Brian (known here as BK) a couple of days ago that we should get the group together for another trip before the heat of the summer becomes too stifling, and a flurry of emails sprang forth, eliciting a few responses from some of the guys who may have remembered the previous trip.

Thinking about it this weekend, I decided to put together a little montage of the last trip to the desert to hopefully inspire some more participation from those that think they've got better things to do than waste time drinking beer, shooting guns and blowing up stuff.

Here's what I came up with:

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Date Night or Bust

Note: This actually happened nearly two months ago, but since I wrote it and forgot to post it, I figured it could put it up and pass it off as a current event. Well, I could have until I said that… At any rate, enjoy our calamitous date.

The moon was blue. The swallows had returned. The grunion were running. The planets had aligned (even outcast Pluto) into some sort of super-planetary arrangement where weird things are inevitable. Yes, all of these rare events add up to only one thing in this universe: It meant that Kara and I were going to go out on a date… at night… without the children… to do adult things, with adult language, surrounded by other adults. No bibs. No diapers. No sippy cups. No spelling words to each other so little ones won’t understand what we’re saying. No baths, bottles or crying, just unadulterated adultisms for a whole night. How nice.

I might even swear excessively… just because I can!

Our plans were grand: We would flee to Paris on a refurbished Concorde, dine on escargot under the glinting gaze of the Mona Lisa, stroll the moonlit skywalks of the Eiffel Tower, and conclude the evening with pastries on Les Champs-Elysees. Then maybe a gondola ride in Venice, reminiscing on the Great Wall of China, drinks down Mexico way and around the world again. Yes, grand plans, but plans are resolved to be just that: changed.

Kara hadn’t been feeling well. Something she ate, stomach bug, salmonella, tape worms, who knows, but most of her days and night have been spent in stomach-grappling agony, sleeplessly scurrying to the bathroom at all hours…basically wasting perfectly good food on a unpredictably volatile intestinal system. So Paris was out; escargot on an upset stomach is neither appealing or very healthy. Mexico will have to wait, especially since Montezuma is always on a microbial rampage in the water and that certainly wouldn’t have ended well. And the Great Wall is nixed too; basically, because I’m disgusted that the whole country is taking over the world one plastic fake vomit at a time and I’m not going to ship over any more American currency.

So, we decided to stay domestic because Kara wanted to be near flushable water… if we were going to go out at all: On the other hand, we had the babysitter scheduled for two months because she’s in such high demand, and both of us had been looking forward to going out for such a long time; it was disappointing to think that we had gone to all this trouble only to cancel at the last minute to reschedule… for who knows when, if at all?

I left it all up to Kara. If she didn’t feel good enough to go then we wouldn’t go out. I didn’t say that I wouldn’t go out, as I had been looking forward to a date for a couple of months. I said we wouldn’t go out. There was going to be a date, even if I had to take out the babysitter; someone was going to have some fun. After all, I’m paying for it.

The fateful hour dawned and Kara planned to suck it up and be a trooper; frankly, I was surprised, but then again, I think she saw there wasn’t much of an alternative. I mean, really, who wants their husband taking the babysitter out on a date?

We had a few options—dinner, movie, dinner and a movie—and we decided to keep it simple. Nothing too lavish. We stopped for dinner at Friday’s. They had just opened a month or so prior and we wanted to check it out. The d├ęcor scheme held true to other Fridays we have been to: unusual stuff hanging off of the walls in an unusual manner. The whole place seemed random, from the booth placements to the pictures, and I cringed when the guy that sold us our house bounded up on our table to say hello. He’s one of those religious zealots that believes in family, togetherness and the Almighty over the laws of mere mortal men… which is why the neighbors told us that they were happy we moved in because they were tired of the cops always being called. Apparently, he is quite used to getting his way, regardless of the opinions of his Stepford wife… and you know what they say: A wife with a black eye is one that doesn’t listen. Yet, when we visited his office (he also arranged our finances for free), it dripped of religious icons and the air was filled with music of the gospel. The neighbors replace one syllable of his name with “slime,” which turns out to be an accurate description.

Once I wiped off my hand after shaking his good bye, Kara and I enjoyed a nice dinner and good conversation. But what next? A movie? There are two megaplex theaters within a mile of each other, both playing every mainstream movie currently out, but none of them is of any interest (Winter-release movies are shockingly bad). Then again, Kara’s stomach was acting up, much to everyone’s disappointment. Let’s see, a romantic stroll down by the lakes? Nope. Sit on a bench in the park and watch the people go by? Not this time. Where to? Okay, to Target. That sounds like a good place to go on a special once-in-a-blue moon date, because we hardly ever go there. But we had a purpose: Kara needed something for her stomach otherwise this would be a very short night. As it is, the night was questionable.

After her stomach was safely lined with medicine, we decided to drive down to one of the local Indian casinos and try our luck at winning some money. First off, I won’t completely share my disdain for Indian casinos and I will try not to leech into my story how little sympathy I have for Indians on reservations in the 21st Century, but it is hard not to feel a little resentful for a group of people who have been allowed to live above the law, only regarding their own culture and heritage when it suits them. They’re profitable businessmen in Armani suits and Bulova watches who only care about making money and finding loopholes in the government, but when loopholes get closed, they become moccasin-wearing Natives twirling feathers in their fingers wondering why the government gives so little in reparations for killing their ancestors and repressing their culture. You can’t have it both ways: Be a chief or be a CEO (I know was CEO stands for, but irony in what I said aside, you know what I mean).

Either way, today’s casino-centered Indians are nothing more than hypocrites, doing today exactly what they claimed were atrocities to their people yesteryear: Give the locals firewater, greed and rob the land of its resources and native charm. Having a consumer-based, capitalistic-minded casino strips them of their rights to be referred to as Native Americans; now they’re just Americans.

At any rate, Kara wasn’t feeling any better, the slot machines made no sense (except the obviousness of converting ten dollars into 16 cents in five minutes), the smoke was pungently choking and I was disgusted by the low-class people that frequent casinos. Were we the only one without a cigarette in my mouth, a stream of swear words tumbling out of my lips, a watered-down drink in one hand and dirty money in the other?

The last straw was seeing some old Asian lady sitting in the non-smoking section, directly under a “Non-Smoking Section” sign, bright neon and flashing with an arrow, with a cigarette stuffed between her sinuous claws, arrogant that the rules don’t apply to her. That’s it.

I’ll never return.

We decided it was best for Kara’s gastro-intestinal system that we make it back to the house before a series of irreversibly bad things happen. What with the babysitter, the whole night costs a small fortune, but as they say: “A night out’s a night out.”

Next up for a little adult entertainment is May 25th, so stay tuned, as we can’t possibly have a worse time than this. Or can we?

Just When You Least Expect It…

Bad things happen when you least expect it. It seems that I’m never prepared for the bad things when they do happen, and if I were, I think I’d be constantly stuck in some rut of negativity (yes, more so, I mean), always lamenting on the bad things that could happen and finding very little time to concentrate on anything know, the good stuff. On the other hand, I think about winning the lottery all the time and all the good things that would bring. If only I bought a ticket.

Friday morning began as it usually does. Sun’s up. I’m up, though especially tired from staying up later than I probably should have; I blame Kara, for reasons best left unmentioned. Breakfast is popped in the toaster, Kara's at work, "The Backyardigans" flickers on the electronic babysitter—hey, I don’t drink coffee in the morning, so it takes me a while to greet the day, the lousy good-for-nuthin—and all three of us are splayed out on the couch in a pile. Natalie has tucked herself into the crook of my right arm, at the elbow, and Matthew found a perch high up on a pillow next to my shoulder. His head is resting on my arm and he has a strange contentedness across his face, like he is watching the show with an intensity I’ve never seen before.

Happily, I steal this moment of calm for myself, knowing that whatever has their immediate and total attention, whatever strange possession is causing this remarkable tranquility is entirely transitory, that their worlds will soon rev back up into the whirling maelstrom that is their high-energy existence. It is inevitable. I close my eyes, lulled by Pablo and Uniqua’s song about the perfect wave. I cherish the quiet times, longingly recalling those peaceful moments before the advent of children, when someone told me to enjoy it while it lasts…and I didn’t listen.

Matthew laid there, motionless, staring beyond the television, it seems, and now his sluggish lethargy is somewhat troubling. I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth (whatever that means…was is fashionable to give horses as gifts to dentists at one time?), but it didn’t make sense. At 20 minutes to eight, he should be bouncing off the walls, ready to do anything, anywhere with anyone; instead, he’s peacefully watching the TV with little more than an expression of contemplation on his face.

I thought he might fall asleep, and of course that would happen on the day that we actually have somewhere to go (dance class). Then, something happened that explained everything, and when it happened, I actually made the distinction in my mind from all the other thoughts and reactions trying to be heard above the din, that what happened was precisely the last thing I was expecting to happen.

As if someone in my brain keeps a list of all the possibilities in the world, all the occurrences that could befall my day at that very moment, and his job is to constantly update that list as new information comes in from the outside world. A leftover piece of Skylab could fall on the house and destroy the patio. That’s on the list, albeit, towards the bottom. Natalie could suddenly scream into a fit of rage for little to no reason. Yep, that’s on there too, but more toward the top. But the last thing on the list, all the way down to the very bottom, passed developing superhuman abilities, passed aliens stopping by for a beer, passed breaking up a conspiracy plot of a grandmother’s knitting circle bent on overthrowing the government, down to the very last thing my brain expected to happen at that very moment in my life: Matthew throws up.

That’s it. I didn’t see that one coming. He's not sick, and hasn't been for weeks. He didn't complain about anything. There were no weird smells coming from him, no vacant look of tormenting agony in his eyes, nothing. Not even those burping hints people get right before the big event. One second, he’s blissfully sitting there without a care in the world, probably thinking of a variety of mischievously deeds on which he will soon endeavor, and the next, blowing chunks all over the place.

It came in two sequential waves. Now, remember, that my eyes were closed, so I didn’t see the first volcanic blast, but I felt it. As most of it cleared Matthew entirely, I received the brunt of the first onslaught, and before I could open my eyes, my body translated a sudden glop of warm lumps soaking through my shirt as nothing else but partially digested banana bits, crumbling Cheerios and viscous apple juice and toast concoction. Everything he had eaten 20 minutes earlier came spuing forth.

Wave two didn’t have the same punch as the first one, and by the time it had lurched forward from his mouth, we were halfway to the kitchen sink. Then the laughing started. As I’m trying to jerk his hands out from his sleeves without coating the rest of him in the beige mess, he begins to giggle and doesn’t let up until we’re upstairs changing his clothes (and mine). He's elated! At what? Puking all over me, for what? Like the 10th time in his short life?

Then, with that inconvenience out of the way, it was business as usual. Let’s throw stuff off of the second floor because crashing sounds are fun. Let’s splash around in the toilet because Natalie forgot to shut the door. Let’s tear as much fur out from Elsa’s back as we can until she finds a place to hide. Let’s grab something of Natalie’s and then run around the house with a thief’s gaze of exhilaration streaked across our face.

Yes, business as usual, as if he never took what was inside his stomach and moved it to on top of his stomach (and mine). What gives? The rest of the day, zaniness ensued.

And then at Natalie’s dance class, Matthew decided it was a good idea to test my reflexes, just how quick is the old man since he stopped going to the gym two years ago, stopped walking the dog a year ago, and stopped lifting anything heavier than a slice of pizza six months ago?

Matthew was gleefully lounging around on a large square leather-padded bench in the parents’ room at the dance studio (picture those wide benches you sit on when art galleries become wearisome). I’m sitting on a similar bench a couple of feet across an aisle from him. He was on his stomach, a few inches from the edge, but since his arm was dangling over the side, I figured he knew the outer reaches of his limits and there was little to worry about; plus I was sick of saying, “Now Matthew, be careful,” because I’m sure he didn’t understand me. One of the other moms was sitting on the same bench as he, making faces at Matthew and getting him to give her high-fives, and I was explaining to another mom how to exploit her pregnancy to get extra days off from work, when Matthew just rolls over, right off the edge. All I heard was a hushed gasp from two separate moms sitting nearby as he plummets toward the thinly carpeted concrete floor. My stomach muscles tightened, legs ached as I bolted upright, jerked out my arms and caught him, cradled perfectly in my hands, half way to the floor. His body was straight as a board, and if I hadn’t caught him, he would have land flat on his back and head with most unpleasant results.

I received applause, one mom swore that I must have played football in college, but I didn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary. It seems that I was always rescuing the little guy from some sort of peril, be it a tumble down the stairs or an inadvertent clocking of his head on the corner of a table.

Matthew, in life, I won't always be there to catch you, and some times you're going to have to fall...but not today or tomorrow, next week or next year... probably when you stop calling me daddy and start to call me dad.

In the meantime, just stop throwing up on me, okay?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Anguish of the Insecure

I used to be able to trick myself into believing that I didn’t care what people thought about me. I’m sure a lot of people are that way on the outside, though not surprisingly fooling themselves on the insides, like me. All my life, I tried to convince my psyche, convert it really, that I was some sort of rock, standing stalwart against the people’s wrath of disapproval, disparagement and denigration, my confidence a fortress of assurance, accepting that I am not perfect, but above the par set by society.

It only takes a trip to Disneyland by yourself to wipe away most of those beliefs as I found myself awash in self-consciousness. I got there early, soon after the park opened, and found myself standing in a relatively short line to Space Mountain, by myself. I was behind a small group of three guys roughly my age and a couple behind me who were engrossed in a quiet conversation.

Perhaps it was just the day, a little murky, rather cold and closed in with the clouds hanging low in the sky, but I found myself very insecure about being alone in line. I’m not sure what came over me, but I started searching out others in my situation and I couldn’t find any. As the cars returned into the “station” to drop off and pick up passengers, I scanned for open seats, only finding a couple in the five or six cars I scanned. What was I looking for? Some downtrodden, sad looking individual wishing he had someone to share Space Mountain with? Some loner, a recluse, hermit, an outsider? Who me? There was someone, a woman sitting by herself in the third row, a giant purse in her lap, that scattered look of confusion after a whirlwind rollercoaster ride, various expressions sweeping across her face. She’s alone and looks content, almost happy. Nobody’s judging her, mocking her solidarity and she seems confident. Then the people in front of her turned around and all three shared a few words, laughing as they disembarked and crowded through the exit. Wait, a man this time, equally alone with an empty seat next to him, but the results were the same, he was the odd man out in a party of three.

Maybe that could be me, maybe I could ride Space Mountain without sharp, aching pangs of torture from the feeling that everyone who sees me thinks that I am alone for a variety of mentally-impaired reasons: no friends, no family, psycho-Disney freak whose sole purpose in his pathetic life besides trying to reach the highest level in WarCraft in his mother’s basement is to ride Space Mountain on his birthday… maybe I’m with people that can’t ride Space Mountain? Maybe my family is waiting for me at the exit so when we go back home to Missouri, I can say that I was able to do it… and then I’ll wait with the kids while my wife rides it?

At any rate, I sadly said “one” to the ride operator and she put me in Row Three, all by myself. I pushed down my lap bar and a ride operator came by to instruct me to push down the empty lap bar too, to further signify my seclusion. It wasn’t that bad, I guess. I had just as good a time as I would have if someone was next to me, but at the end, I didn’t get to look over at someone and say—like the couple in front of me—“That was a great. What do you want to ride next?”

Since I wanted to put a couple of rides under my belt that I don’t normally get to ride—what with the kids and all—I made my way over to Indiana Jones, and again, there was no wait; I walked through the queue quicker than I think I have ever done it before, so quickly, in fact, that I was walking down the lines, through the caves and around the faux excavations completely by myself. Once I caught up with the line, I was surrounded by the usual small groups, families, friends, all chatting and buzzing with the excitement of the impending attraction, but then the line split, half going one direction and half going the other. I must have picked the unpopular line because there was nobody behind me and only two people in front of me. On a ride where the cars can hold 16 people and all of the other cars around me were filled to capacity, there were only three people in my car.

To further push me to the cusps of social abandonment, the couple I shared the car with left a one-seat buffer between us, like you would at a movie theater, so I couldn’t even give strangers the impression that I was with a group of people, that there was someone in this universe who didn’t find me horrifyingly objectionable enough to sit next to.

Well, that was over and I walked around the park by myself, something I didn’t have too much of a problem with, aside from envying all of those happy people with their families who had nothing better to do on a Wednesday.

I sat on a bench on Main Street and took some pictures of some things I saw, a few great shots of the double-decker bus screwed up by stroller pushers who walked right into the frame. I put together a panorama of the stage they put together to show the premiere of the third installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, quite a grandiose production just to show a movie, as they completely took over the south tip of Tom Sawyer’s Island (soon to be called Tom Sawyer’s Pirate Lair… at least for a while) and all of the walkway in front of the river in New Orleans’s Square.

I passed up Star Tours, Matterhorn, Big Thunder Railroad, all rides that I knew I wanted to go on, because I didn’t want to wait in line by myself, where I thought all eyes would be judging me, castigating me to that of a class of social misfits, someone unpopular, impossible to befriend. After all, if he can’t even find someone to go to Disneyland with, there’s got to be a problem.

So, my friend Tris showed up and we at lunch in California Adventure and went on the Soaring Over California then back to Disneyland to see the 50th Anniversary video with Steve Martin and Donald Duck in the theater that Lincoln used to wow the audience.

I was no longer alone at Disneyland and I felt more secure… and I kick myself for betraying all the effort I put into convincing my brain that being by yourself is okay. When I was a kid, I preferred to play by myself. I reveled in the quiet time when I could develop my imagination, my inner dialogue, my own feelings on the ways of the world. I could make up my own games, my own rules and my own outcomes. And now I spend a lot of time by myself, writing, editing, screwing around on a variety of projects nobody but me is interested in, so why is it such a big deal to be lacking company in a public place?

What is further upsetting is that I was probably the only person who even remotely considered my solitude as something bad. Perhaps there was a dad straddled with three screaming kids, each trying to claw his way to a different ride, and he spied upon my isolation as a refuge, a sanctuary from the chaos and the pandemonium that is his day at the Magic Kingdom. Maybe there was a woman who was insanely tired of hearing her husband blather on incessantly about gibberish and only wished for a moment that she could find peace, quiet and a hushed calm.

Maybe being alone isn’t such a bad thing sometimes, and I should take more satisfaction in these times when nobody is trying to convince me that the 50-minute line to Dumbo isn’t that bad or when nobody is pooping in his diaper while he’s tucked under my arm.

But then again, Disneyland wasn’t designed for the single rider, the lonesome tourist trying to eek out some enjoyment while shrugging his responsibilities at home or at the office. Disneyland was made for families, poopy diapers and all.

Naw, that won’t stop me from going, and although I’m sure I’ll still be forced to struggle with those internal voices of condemnation and insecurity, each anxious voice clamoring over each other in my head to be heard, recognized and internalized, I’ll persevere, plod forward in line by myself because I enjoy the freedom of doing what I want, when I want… just at a price I guess.

And wouldn’t you know it: I could stay home all day for five solid weeks and nothing would happen, but the second I get within earshot of a boisterous crowd and blissful music, I get an important phone call. For grins, I turned in my resume for an automotive editor position, and where it asked for salary requirements, I added 65 percent onto what I currently make, thinking that they’d get to that number and round-file my resume. Sub-consciously, I probably did that for two reasons: 1) I really think that I should be making more money than I do now; and 2) If they threw out my resume, then I wouldn’t have to make any important decisions.

So, am I looking for another job? Yes and no. Yes, because I always look for new jobs, even when I am very happy with my current one. I kept a steady watch on the job search sites just in case something interesting comes up, and you never know what’s out there that you might like better—I’m still holding out for pillow tester or chair tester. And no, because I am very happy where I’m at right now. Plus, I’m interested in keeping my charming interview expertise fully sharpened just in case I need to whip them out at a moment’s notice. Plus, it is always good to keep an eye on the horizon, you never know what sort of opportunity may float by. In the long run, regardless of my salary needs, I’m in a good place right now, and I can’t see myself going back to a full-time-in-an-office job unless the offer was just plain too good to be true.

After all, who out there has a full-time job and went to Disneyland today in the middle of the workweek? (besides you, Tris.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

SuperDad to the Rescue

Okay, so I’m not really a SuperDad, that’s probably evident; even the slack-jawed yokels in the back row can see that. I do have my flaws when it comes to parenting—sure, let them play on the rocks, what bad could happen?—but never let it be said that I’m not resourceful and quick on my feet during a crisis… not to mention the fact that I possess dashing supermodel good looks and marvelous charm.

Oh, yeah and modesty too.

I took the kids to Disneyland today, flying solo. I was a little nervous at how it was all going to turn out. If you remember my last attempt ended in utter defeat because the park was no-appointment-to-the-DMV crowded, and we were lucky to get out of there with our lives. And you may recall a couple of days ago, when an attempt was aborted because Natalie was in a rotten mood and didn’t deserve such luxuries as a trip to the Magic Kingdom. Lucky for us, though, as my friend Tris said it was a zoo (and not the good kind).

We got there just before 11pm, met above-mentioned-friend Tris for lunch and then only went on four rides before leaving a little after 3pm. The four rides we did go on were a mixed lot of experiences: two good, one bad, and one ugly. The day seemed promising when the three of us were able to park the stroller in the sea of strollers and literally walk right on to It’s a Small World. That was good. As usual, we enjoyed the ride—well, I should say that the kids enjoyed it. Me, I spaced out for 14 minutes, happy to be out of the sun.

After lunch, we hit the strangely psychedelic Winnie the Pooh ride and then the Casey Jr. Train, where the wait is always horrendous: one train, seven minute ride, 20 people per train, 100 people in line… bleck! When we finally made it up to the gate, this dumb family and their three dumb kids edged their way in front of the whole line to stand by the entrance. I fumed and then realized the best revenge would be a perfectly timed flat tire as soon as the gate opened up. The kid whined, “Mom… my shoe!” as we skirted around him with glee.

Natalie insisted on sitting in one of the animal cages, so I folded up my six-foot-frame and wrinkled my spine to fit inside the small caged train car. An older mother (grandma maybe) and her daughter were already in there, so I took the opposite corner with Matthew on my knee and Natalie beside me. Then, an entire family piled in… and then they waved in more relatives so we were packed in there like it was the last Chevy headed north. Ten people in a six-by-three-foot cage, five adults and five kids, and it was all I could do to not jump out the window as soon as they shut the door. Then someone’s diaper went south, deep south…and it wasn’t Matthew’s, which made it all the worse. And when the wind was right (which it always was), it became strikingly clear that the shower of the guy across from me had broken and his deodorant had finally given up.

The ride was not over soon enough, and then off to Peter Pan, a staple of our visit to Disneyland. Matthew was getting rambunctious, and it seems that the Matty Corollary was in full effect: The longer the line, the shorter the fuse. He wasn’t angry, just sick of standing around. I don’t know how many times I said sorry to the people around us, as he grabbed someone’s leg or tried to get by them. The couple in front of us were nice—on a business trip from Juan Valdez coffee… I told them that I don’t like coffee which pretty much ended the conversation. I guess that was rather insensitive of me. “What’s that? You work for a coffee maker? Interesting. I don’t like coffee. Hello?”

After nearly 30 minutes, we get to the front of the line and hop in our boat for the ride. Everything is going smoothly… right up until everything stopped going smoothly. Actually, everything stopped going at all. Peter Pan broke down. Not only did it break down, but they turned on the lights, got on the PA and instructed us that someone will soon be with us. Natalie’s face flashed a worried look and Matthew buried his face in my chest and held on tight. I laughed to show the kids that it was still fun and that the odds of us plunging to our deaths was nearly slight. In fact, I was quite curious as to how they were going to get us down, as we were at the highest point of the ride and it was quite a long drop.

I kept kicking myself for not bringing the camera, and I told Natalie that in the 30 years I have been coming to Disneyland, this is he first time this has ever happened to me. She replied: “In the one year I’ve been coming here, this is my first too!” We played games like point out the spotlights that are purple, drum on the retaining bar, rock the boat and count to 20… and 10 minutes later, after they announced a series of strange commands, the ride restarted (with the lights on and no music) and we were whisked to the exit.

What bugged me most was not that the ride broke down, but that there wasn’t anyone at the exit to explain it to us or offer some kind of condolence for having some of the magic ripped from our impressionable minds (yeah, me too). Oh well. Instead, I made one of my typically asinine comments to the one attendant who was directing us to the exit, by saying: “I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the ride seemed different today.” She didn’t so much as crack a smile. Perhaps it wasn’t funny.

After that it was time to go. Now, mind you, Natalie went to the bathroom twice during the day, once at lunch (thanks Tris for watching Matthew while I took her) and once before we got in line for Peter Pan.

As was typical, there was traffic on the freeway home, but it was especially thick. Both kids zonked out soon after hitting the road, but about 45 minutes later, Natalie wakes up abruptly and announces: “Daddy, I have to go potty, real bad.” She starts to kick her feet up and down, and I could have put a Thighmaster between her knees and she would have had quite a workout.

“You what?”

“I have to go.”

“You can’t go,” I argued. “There’s no place to stop here!” It was true. I was at the one and only part of the whole freeway, from Disneyland to my house, where there is five miles between off-ramps and we were right in the middle of it. Not to mention traffic was stopped dead… it would have taken me a good 10 minutes to squeeze over to the shoulder, and then what? Here, Natalie, pee on the side of the road like a horse… what’s that, officer? A big ticket just for me? Thanks!

No way was that going to happen. I didn’t have any ideas.

“I’m sorry honey. If you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go… just go.” Her face twisted. The last thing she wanted to do was go to the bathroom in her pants. Heaven knows she’s done it a hundred times, but never on purpose.

I thought for a second, and then the mental powers of SuperDad—those that are able to surface from deep in the synapses of my brain—exploded forth in a great triumph of music and flashes of starry light. Eureka! I’ve got an idea! It's so brilliant it just can't fail!

All the while, Matthew’s happily sleeping, unaware of the drama that is unfolding in the next seat. I had Gnat unbuckle her seatbelt (we weren’t moving so it was safe), take off her shorts and underwear and sit on one of Matthew’s diapers. Presto, insta-potty! Then Natalie dashes all hopes of making this a truly defining moment in my parenting skills by saying, “Oh, I have to pee a lot!”

She did too, but there is something to be said about Huggies is that they really do hold an obscene amount of liquid. So, Natalie was happy that she got to relieve herself; I was relieved that Natalie was happy; and Matthew had no idea what was going on.

Oh, damn, that reminds me: I left that diaper in my truck…. excuse me for a second…

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Hot Rocks

I spent the morning today doing some volunteer work at the historical society’s museum in my old hometown, and I took the opportunity to drive up into the canyon east of Glendora and pick out some big boulders for decorations in my backyard. I’m surrounded by mountains where I live and surprisingly, I can’t find a place around here that has a multitude of available rocks with easy access. When they were clearing land for a giant outdoor mall a few years ago, I scavenged a collection of great rocks (like the one pictured above), but now that I want some more, larger ones, the regular spot is currently under a building.

Instead, I drove all the way up Little Dalton Canyon in Glendora as far as the road would take me, crossed a foot bridge and descended down next to a small brook that’s been quietly carving out the canyon for thousands of years. Until I’m actually there, I always forget the solitude of the forest and how peaceful it is. No cars, no people, no concrete, no interruptions from my cell phone or the obnoxious fog horn sound I use to announce an incoming email. Just me, standing on a rock the size of my Volkswagen, watching the water trickle by.

I wanted to stay there all day, and if it wasn’t so hot and my skin already blisteringly sunburned, I might have found a place to sit down and contemplate the meaning of life, how to get a head and how to make the most of it. Frankly, it is nearly impossible to think about escaping the rat race when you’re surrounded by them, and one way is to inhale a big chunk of the olfactory goodness that is the forest. Though, I’m not an expert of natural vegetation of the Southwest, I know what I like… the ones with the yellow flowers, those light green ones that have tiny stingy things on them…

Interesting side note is that I came across a variety of metal pipes, exposed through the ground here and there in the creek bed, and if you know anything about early Glendora history (well, since I'm currently writing a book about it, I do), these pipes were conduits for the early irrigation systems, set up by the town's early pioneers to water orchards, gardens and to drink from. Talk about taking indoor plumbing for granted; it really makes you think about how nice and convenient our lives are, no matter how much we complain about them.

Since my primary reason for being there was to abscond with some of nature’s bounty, I realized that there was no way I was going to heft 100-pound rocks up the hill to my truck (at least all the ones I liked were incredibly heavy), so I drove back down the hill a ways until I spied a small dirt road that dropped down into the creek bed again. I don’t have a four-wheel-drive, but I do have monster tires and a great deal of clearance, enough to park right near the water and right near a field of rocks, all primed for the picking.

In the end, I found about 10 good-sized rocks, big enough that I could barely pick them up, but not too big that I snap something in my spine while doing so. As I’m piling them into my truck, I’m thinking that I’m probably doing something illegal. I pictured a forest ranger or police officer, just to be mean, waiting at the top of the hill for me to load all of the rocks before he rolls up and makes me unload them… and then gives me a ticket. I told myself that I would try to convince him that I was collecting them for a geology class, but then talked myself out of it because he’d probably get too nosey. I could be an amateur geologist. I could start dropping names; after all, I met the mayor a couple of weeks before and through various connections I know quite a few people… some even get to sign city checks.

Knowing me, in the end, I’d probably do a lot of “sorry officer,” “yes, officer,” “I’ll put them back officer,” and when I came to that conclusion, I got a little irritated, not only with myself but with society. Why is it a crime to take a few rocks from a creek bed in a canyon? The whole world is made up of them, and it isn’t like the canyon is suddenly going to run out of rocks one day. "That's it! There's no more rocks in the world. Thanks to you, Ryan, we've jettisoned the last one deep into space in the vane hope that some creature from another world will intercept it and take better custody of our precious rocks than we did. Curses." Groan. The Earth will most certainly make more, so why would it be a big deal to move them from one part of the planet to another? In a thousand years, what is going to be left on my street? My house? My cars? My lawn? Me? Certainly not, but I guarantee that rock will still be sitting there... gloating.

The officer would probably make the “what if everyone did it?” argument, which is always a ridiculous line of rational. Everybody doesn’t do everything, so we’d never have to worry about it, but so what if they did? Like I said, there aren’t any environmentalist groups out there trying to get you to sign a petition to save the rocks. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one; they’re everywhere!

So I heaved a collection of colorful and interesting rocks into the back of my truck, probably about 800 pounds of them (I’d say the smallest one weighed about 50 pounds), and I sneaked back up the hill and down the canyon with my bed full of hot rocks… literally. It was, like, 95 degrees up there and these rocks had been sitting in the sun since…well, since forever. Carrying a 75-pound rock isn’t fun to begin with, especially over uneven terrain, but to have the rock be black granite, it was like carrying a frying pan to my truck. Not to mention, the rocks were grinding against my sun burnt arms the whole way.

I know, I know… crime doesn’t pay… but have you seen the price tags they slap on rocks this size? They’re expensive like they’re rare gems.

It’s a freakin’ rock!

Flight of the Natalie-Bee

Now that the sun is staying out longer and Global Warming is causing my backyard to be nice and toasty, I’ve enjoyed spending a lot more time out there. Every day after dinner (and most days before too), the family spends at least an hour running around on the grass, climbing the hill, painting with water on the patio, scrounging for treasure in the sandbox or sneaking juice boxes out of the fridge in the garage.

Such delight.

Also, lately, Natalie’s been entertaining the crowds with her interpretive dance… I’m not sure what she is dancing about, but the shows usually last a couple of minutes and takes her from one end of the yard to the other, during which we have to “pay close attention.” This is a far cry from a few months ago when she would only dance if nobody was looking. Now, she always has to wear a dress or a skirt when she dances…that’s proper dance etiquette, you know.

I’m not sure if what you are about to see is a product of her weekly dance classes or if it is a culmination of her creative mind… I think maybe a little bit of both, as I can usually spot a couple of shuffle-steps and some kind of sideways galloping maneuver, but whatever it is, she is always very proud to show off her dancing skills.

However, a lot of it is just a little girl running around the grass free from most everything adults have to worry about in life. I hope she appreciates it. Right, who am I kidding?

So, without further adieu, I present to you Little Gnat in Flight of the Natalie-bee.

Happier Feet

To begin with, I'm not a big fan of "Happy Feet"... stupid Penguins thinking they can stop stupid humans from fishing in their stupid waters, and all of that singing. My God the singing. Plus, I absolutely can't stand a movie that has a blatant message that punches you in the face repeatedly, especially one that would make Al "energy-conservationist-hypocrite" Gore sit back in his 30-gigawatt, coal-burning, fossil-fuel-powered armchair in his giant 11,000-square-foot mansion (where he uses his electricity meter as a ceiling fan) and sigh in approval that someone else was getting out the global-warming-sham message besides him.

Anyway, the other day, I was tootling the kids somewhere and in the CD player of my truck was Prince's "Kiss," (don't judge me, I like it), and if you might recall, it is the very song Mama what's-her-face sings at the beginning of the movie to attract potential mate, Elvis what's-his-face, and out of nowhere, Natalie drops this very Prince-esque "whoohoo!" in the exact spot in the song it's supposed to land, with perfect timing, duration, tone, tune and attitude. Prince barely did a better job.

So, every time Matthew roots around in the TV cabinet where we keep the DVD stash, he usually seeks out or comes across by chance the Happy Feet DVD. He'll carry it around a while, peeping "Appy Eet!" until I put in the movie...which he will watch about forty seconds of it before finding some other shiny thing that grabs his attention.

But the first time they watched it together, there was much dancing around the ottoman, as Matthew sucked up some of Natalie's dope moves (do the kids still say "dope" anymore? I'm so old). Actually, they both dance like Elaine from "Seinfeld," which resembles calisthenics more than dancing, and the frequent stops are for cheese and crackers and those little red sticks. So I nabbed a few clips, haphazardly strung them together, added a simple title, some fades, and propped the whole thing up under some boring, monotonous techno music that nicely drowns out the hacked up soundtrack to "Happy Feet." I did have to finesse it to fit with some of the breaks so there was some minimal 2am-effort involved...

Watch sparingly.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Feel the Heat

I was surprised how hot it got today, a day that feels oppressive but without humidity—which I think I would have enjoyed. Drama ensued this morning, involving a trip to Disneyland, and thanks to Natalie’s lack of participation in the festivities (read: stubborn fit of non-cooperation), I called it off, tossed her in her room. I’ve been acting coolly to her all day, withholding the perks usually associated with a regular Daddy Day. You’ll drink milk all day and like it. No, we’re not going to watch any of your shows; in fact, we’re not going to watch TV at all. No, I don’t want any of your imagination cookies, I’m reading. It is difficult to do, but I think that she needs to be impressed upon that her actions have consequences, and so far, being three years old was her only valid excuse. Today, there were no excuses for her actions, just obstinacy and unreasonableness.

Disappointed, I’ve been lavishing Matthew with attention. I know, this probably makes her bitter and resentful of the little guy, but I’m trying to teach her that a sapling will last longer in the big bad forest if it learns to bend a little.

Needless to say, Natalie’s been overcompensating all day. I know she must feel bad, because she’s offered to help me make my lunch, carry my Coke from the garage to the table, hold my hand, say she loves me (which she rarely volunteers), cuddle on the couch, follow me around the house and display extra enthusiasm for whatever I’m doing. All the while, I’m being somewhat curt and pointed in my remarks.

I didn’t realize exactly how hot it was today until Matthew and I went outside for our afternoon of frivolity in the backyard. As usual, we were both in bare feet, and I’m going to guess that during my 409 months walking around, I’ve gathered a few more layers of protective skin on the soles of my feet compared to his mere 16 months. I didn’t even notice the temperature of the cement as I strode out to uncover the sandbox, set up the umbrella and give Elsa some water. Matthew, as always, was dutifully in tow, until we rounded the corner and he stopped short to let out a shrieking wail, as his face crinkled up. He started to lift a foot, but realized that it didn’t do any good. Crap! By that time, it dawned on my what the problem was and I scooped him up and dunked his feet in Elsa’s nearby water bowl.

Hey, if anything, I'm a quick thinker.

That was a mistake, as he screeched again! Crap, crap! Elsa’s water was straight from the hose, which has been sitting in the sun all day. Crap, crap, crap! I did the only thing I could do then, and that was to blow on them and rub them with my hands, which he found to be gigglingly delightful.

I checked out his flippers thoroughly and they still retained their pasty white color so I figured no actual harm was done. He was none too happy when I whisked him inside to put on some shoes and socks, thinking he was losing out on some playtime, but realized we would soon return. He was very patient when I lathered him (head to toe) in an excessively thick layer of Baby Magic Sunblock UVA/UVB Lotion (SPF 50), and I soon expect him to look like a sand-covered crumb doughnut when he hit the sandbox.

Once back outside, curiosity got the better of me, so I consulted my infrared laser thermometer to check the temperature of the patio and sidewalk near the sandbox. I love my infrared laser thermometer. To my surprise, I recorded a high temperature of 139 degrees at 2pm, compared to 98 in the partial shade of the patio lattice and 83 degrees under the full cover. Elsa’s water was 113 degrees (I changed it again so it would be cooler for her, and she seemed little impressed), but the highest temperature I could find in the backyard was the lid on the trashcan and the black molding of the lawn mower, both topping out the scales at 165 degrees. I could only hold my finger on it for about a second before it became too painful.

All the while I’m standing there in bare feet, wondering why I don’t feel much discomfort. Of course, the longer I stand there, the easier it gets, but do I have leather for skin on the bottoms of my feet or are they so calloused from walking on hot coals during management team-building exercises during my days working for the Pharaohs that I’ve got armadillo feet?

So now Matthew is playing in the relative safety of his 106-degree sandbox surrounded the molten lava of the concrete all around him, and I’m waiting until the trees stretch their shadows over the white chairs so I can get back to my book.

The thermometer on the patio screams 97 degrees (that's never in the sun) And now I’m wearing sandals.

Nobody likes armadillo feet but other armadillos.

But I only know a couple.

By the way, what do you call an armadillo without any arms? That's right, a dillo. Gimme a break, I just made that up.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Different Kind of Anniversary

Human beings are funny when it comes to the passage of time. We love to make sure to remember it, always living in the past. Seconds, minutes, hours, months, years and so on. And we’re never too quick to point out an anniversary, a small moment when the calendar lines itself up again to a time when something began or ceased or started again. Most of the anniversaries that make up our everyday lives go unnoticed, uncelebrated and are left to drift through the space-time continuum without recognition. I tied my shoes for the first time 33 years ago, or today marks the anniversary of the first time I was able to make my tongue in the shape of a taco. Good times...but who remembers them?

I guess me, because I'm like that. I love calendars, anniversaries and dates. I spend an inordinate amount of time on those "Today in history" websites, and the information only seems to help in Jeopardy! when no one's around, of course.

To come to my point, today is the one year anniversary of beginning my blog. Nothing special to write home about, but I’ve been stuffing my thoughts, ascertains and asinine quibbles down the throats of my friends and family for 365 days now, and frankly, I’m surprised I still have friends and family left that are speaking to me after some of the things I've said. No men in white coats, thought police knocking on my door or dirty looks from strangers to validate my efforts though. That’s probably because only a handful of people actual bother to read them, and that’s fine by me, I guess. I don’t do this for recognition, just as a way to vent my frustration, share my insanity or launch my beliefs into the stratosphere, and I'd just assume that nobody is reading it anyway because then I start writing for an audience with specific expectations instead of for my own well being.

However it turned out, I sure wrote a damn lot, didn’t I? But just how much, you ask? How much have I forced you to suffer through over this first year? I’m sure my mother is quite aware, as she prints out each post and puts it in a notebook for posterity, but I was much surprised at the number of words I strung together… mostly for no reason what so ever.

In the last year, I wrote (up until this exactly apt word: procrastination), 264,255 words in 187 posts, filling 733 paragraphs that would span 726 pages of text and pictures, amounting to 1,419,258 letters and characters (For example, I hit the space bar 266,685 times). I wrote, on the average, 724 words each day for a solid year (but the average post is 1,413 words long)—which doesn’t sound all that impressive until I think about how much money I would have made if I was getting my standard freelance rate for these (at 30 cents a word, you do the math… okay, don’t. It’s 80 grand).

I guess I’m sort of glad I don't get paid for it… that’s a lot of extra cash to explain to the IRS, and you know what bastards I think they are.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy whatever zaniness I come up with for this next year.

The Mental Vacation

There was something very different about today that catapulted me into a mental vacation, a psychologial experience so few and far between. I left home and went away somewhere without having to open the front door or leave the backyard, hazard the inequities of travel or the costs therein.

The picture is my vacation spot, my backyard.

It being Sunday, my day to get up with the kids, the day started bright and early at 6:45, and Matthew and I (Natalie slept in until 8:30, lucky stiff) enjoyed breakfast together and some funny playtime. I reveled in his laughter and was awestruck by his interaction with Baby Einstein. He saw an apple, pointed at it with his usual amusement and declared: “Apple,” followed by a fit of hysterical laughter. This happened most every time he saw something he could call out by name, and then turned to me with a look on his face like, “Papa! Did you see that? Did you see that crazy lizard water that flower? And did you see the flower? Well, did you? It perked right up when he wasn’t looking! Imagine that!”

There was something unusual about today, as a series of events and conditions all converged to form a perfect pseudo-vacation day. The sun was bright and warm; the sky a sharp, deep blue--the kind of blue you don't find at home--there was a slight wind blowing in a strange different smell; I had very little to do; and what I did do were things I don’t normally get to do.

What was really great about today is that I didn't go out of my way to have a nice day. I usually don't wake up and exclaim: "Today is going to be a great day!" Most days are boring humdrum spent rueing the fact that I had to get out of bed and waiting anxiously until I can return. But today! Today was something different. I felt, dare I say it? Alive.

I started my day listening to this song, which has somehow put me in a good mood since I first heard it on Friday (even though the video is some strange Communistic montage of sorts that I can’t readily figure out).

After wrestling Kara and Natalie out of bed, I climbed back in, not because I was tired but more because it was so comfortable and I wanted to lay there in peace. The bed was warm and inviting, but I didn’t sleep. I didn't try to, just laid there, as if enjoying the relaxing experience of slowly waking up on a lazy Sunday morning.

I basically spent the rest of the day outside, something I wouldn’t normally do. The smells that filled the air today were a cross of sage, something that always reminds me of the vacations I took as a kid (so much so that I need to find some to plant in the backyard), and sweet smelling flowers, coming from somewhere, signifying the arrival of spring. The breezes burst into gusts, which made me feel as though I was somewhere else, and I took advantage of that feeling, convincing myself that I was at a resort somewhere... best of all, it didn't cost me a dime!

I got a book (Pledged by Alexandra Robbins), climbed into a chair on the grass and read while the kids cheerfully busied themselves with activities around the backyard… [Matthew always just a few feet behind his big sister all day, doing what she does, following her every move from walking on all fours like a Caribou (her idea) to climbing the big rocks to coloring suns with chalk on the patio to attempting a tremendous feat, trying to jump over the dog... much to Elsa's chagrin, he just belly-flops onto her back].

Even the chair I sat in was different, like I was on a beach chair at a hotel, because it was one I haven't spent any time it. Last week, I was showing my parents the pre-school Natalie will be attending in the Fall, and as we drove around the back, there were two white wooden chairs sitting by the trash, rather on the small side so I assumed they would be great for the kids. When I got home, I called the church to see if they were being thrown out, and they told me to come down and pick them up. After a few additional screws, the eviction and execution of this giant black widow and her equally huge egg sack (yikes!), and a coat of fresh paint, they were almost good as new.

I spent some time kicking a soccer ball around the yard with Matthew, while he emptied a sippy cup of juice. He giggled when I kicked it up the hill so it hit the wall and rolled back down to us, and when I passed it to him, he screamed “No, no, no!” at the ball, kicking it away—which is what I wanted him to do in the first place. He found it hilarious.

Kara came home from the gym and we attempted to fly a kite in the backyard, with mixed results, and then I read so more. I figured I shouldn’t waste the sun, so I took off my shirt to see how my white pasty skin would react. Since I didn’t instantly burst into flames and I didn’t hear any sizzling sounds, I figured I was okay.

I had a restaurant review to do today, a steak and rib place, so I only had a bowl of cereal to make sure there would be enough room to scarf down about $50 worth of meat (it ended up being closer to $75). I opened the windows to the bathroom to let in the breezes, and carried with it was such an unusual smell. I stood in the shower, and it was as if I was taking a shower in some different location, a strange hotel room maybe, as the room filled with a vanilla-meets-chlorine odor that I found rather interesting and oddly appealing. I cupped my hands to smell the water and all I smelled was soap, but every time I took in a breath, I was smelling vacation air.

So, why not go with it. I was a little despondent that I had to leave my little mental vacation to do the review, but I was happily able to incorporate it into my mental trip. You gotta eat, right? And it was a restaurant that I wouldn’t normally go to, with food I wouldn’t normally buy (or would want to afford… I wouldn’t have bought a $40 ribs/steak/chicken/shrimp sampler platter, followed by a rib-eye steak… followed by a country fried steak… followed by three soups. Who eats like that? That’s right, people on vacation. Me. Today.

When I came home, it was just as nice. The sun had ducked behind the trees and the backyard was awash in the long shadows of the afternoon. I resumed my book, tasted one of those new Diet Cokes with vitamins and minerals (meh…) and had the whole house to myself (Kara and the tots were at the store).

It was nice. I have two articles to write today and tomorrow, but I didn’t worry about them. I wasn’t going to worry, because I was on vacation, one of those rare ones that take your mind away but leave your body at home.

And true to form for any vacation involving the sun, I got sunburned.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Sink O’ de Mayonnaise

Ask anyone, and nobody can tell you what Cinco de Mayo is all about. It’s a Mexican holiday, but they don’t celebrate it everywhere in Mexico… and the name has a tone of importance, as if to say that Cinco de Mayo needs no explanation, unlike Arbor Day or Memorial Day, but the obviousness should resonate through you by mere mention of the date. Cinco de Mayo, like the Fourth of July. The uninformed will tell you it is sort of a Mexican Independence Day and that’s all they’ll tell you, comparing it to the Fourth of July, and the really ignorant will tell you that it is The Mexican Independence Day…the day Mexico became independent (which is actually in September). At least that’s the guise for when the sales of XX, Pacifico and Corona go through the roof this weekend.

Much like nobody really knows what St. Patrick’s Day is or Valentine’s Day… or Halloween for that matter, Cinco de Mayo is one of those obscure celebrations relegated to a day to drink beer and not ask too many questions. But why?

Is asking “why?” like asking why Mexican celebrations center around beer the same way a fraternity party centers around beer or the same way you can’t tailgate before the game without beer? Perhaps, but what bugs me is that people refuse to learn the history of an event they’re celebrating only because the excuse to imbibe during the celebration outweighs any need for an education (or the swelling of pride associated with that education).

Wouldn’t it mean more if you knew why the desire to knock down a case of beer is so strong on the fifth day of May? For a lot of people who are drunk by noon on the fifth, probably not, and since I’m not Mexican (and I don’t plan to be), I’m about as interested in Cinco De Mayo as I am in Independence Day for Paraguay (May 14), Republic Day for South Africa (May 31) and Victory over Fascism Day for the Commonwealth of Independent States (May 9).

But the funny thing about all of those other holidays is that they are actual dates that signify the end of a conflict with overpowering tyrants, whereas Cinco de Mayo marks the culmination of a failed battle to oust the French in 1862. Ironically, the French and the Mexicans were in peace talks when some French general began to pull his troops out from an area around Puebla (where New Beetles now come from). He compassionately left a host of sick troops behind to fend for themselves, which the Mexicans misunderstood to be remaining hostile combatants and treated them accordingly. What’s accordingly in a time of battle? The Mexicans lodged a complaint with the French general, who instead of apologizing for the misunderstanding and removing his troops, took it as the first step by the Mexicans to finish off his sick men. So, long story short, instead of continuing to withdraw, he decided to attack Puebla. When the fourth attack was beaten back by the determined Mexicans (and don’t be fooled by the folklore. The Mexicans weren’t a rag-tag collection of poor peasants with pitchforks and moxie. They were a well disciplined force, though small in number), Napoleon threw 29,000 men into the battle, and Puebla fell. Mexico was soon occupied by the French. Mon dui.

Much like the Alamo 30 years earlier, the Battle of Puebla became a moral victory that boosted morale and helped fortify the determination of the Mexicans to completely drive out the French… although five years later in 1867, well after the French had completely taken over the country. You’d think they’d want to celebrate that day instead, but they don’t.

What is most interesting is that Mexico isn’t really interested in celebrating Cinco de Mayo either. It was first thought of a year after the battle by the then governor of the territory, but largely forgotten and widely left uncelebrated as a cultural identity until the 1970s. It was akin to V-E Day or V-J Day, recognized by those in the know, but not a source of national pride.

In the 1960s and 70s, the most popular beer among Hispanics during that time was Coors and Budweiser, which makes sense because it was cheap and readily available in the western states where most Hispanics in this country live. However, Coors had some multi-cultural problems in hiring a racial diverse crew in its breweries (read: its managers and owners were devote racists and possibly Klansmen), so a Hispanic rights activist group enacted a boycott of Coors products until they changed their tune.

Since Coors was enjoying a large market share of the Hispanic beer drinkers and didn’t want to lose the ground they had on Budweiser, they decided to update their image and increase their sponsorship of Hispanic events. Were there Hispanic cultural events in this country especially noteworthy at the time? No, not really, but May had always been a slow month for beer sales (the insanity of Memorial Weekend hadn’t yet reached a crescendo of debauchery), so they attacked their marketing teams on the project and started backing a lesser known reason to celebrate, an relatively obscure date the Mexicans were calling Cinco de Mayo, a day that, up until then, had no acclaim to any popularity or reputation.

The rest, as they say, is beer swilling history (If you’re curious, no, it didn’t entirely solve the boycott issue for another 10 years or so, but the college kids looking for another reason to drink, well made up for it). Over the years, Cinco de Mayo reached a cult level of cultural status unsurpassed by any other day of drinking, save for St. Patrick’s Day (incidentally another day’s history lost at the bottom of bottle of beer).

If you want to see an “official” history of the holiday from what I would assume should be a credible source, take a look at this from, and how it stretches itself to insinuate that the United States should thank the Mexicans for keeping out the French during the Civil War, (Napoleon was planning on using Mexico as a base to help the Confederates)… and it gives a questionable reason that Americans should embrace Cinco de Mayo as an American holiday. In an article I read about Cinco de Mayo, it said: “In neighborhoods such as East Los Angeles, the Mission District of San Francisco, East San Jose and elsewhere throughout the Southwest, Cinco de Mayo is most accurately characterized as a day of celebration to honor a culture that fuses Mexican heritage and American life experience.”

However, I’m going to have to disagree when it comes to this fusing of Mexican heritage and American experiences. Cinco de Mayo is no more related to America than Canada’s Boxing Day or England’s Guy Fawkes Day, and it is being used as another attempt to highjack what is left of the American culture, pushing the borders of Latin America further northward. I’m sure the Mexicans didn’t want the French occupying their country as much as we wouldn’t want them in ours during that time, but if Napoleon said he was just passing through Mexico on his way to Jefferson Davis’s side, I’m sure the Mexicans, fresh from having their hats handed to them on their way out of Texas and California a few years earlier, would have let them by with an indifferent via con Dios, Frenchy. To insinuate that Americans should be grateful to the Mexicans for stopping the French 140 years ago is in the same misunderstood line of thinking that the blacks should be thankful to the Colonists for bringing them here from Africa. That’s just backward reasoning, conforming history to meet the needs of current events.

On the other hand, it is too bad Mexicans don’t celebrate The Pastry War, an entirely different conflict in the 1820s, also with the French, that attributed up to Mexico’s occupation in 1863. At least we could have creative pastries and not just a bunch of beer and drunk idiots partying for reasons most don’t even know. Educate the brain cells, amigos, before you start killing them.

On the other side, just to be obstinate, I’m going to start celebrating the Second of February. I’m going to host a party and get drunk and shoot guns in the air, making some whooping sounds while I do it… maybe wear a funny hat. Why? The Second of February signifies the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 and the glorious independence of most of the southwest, including my home state. Viva Dos de Febrero!

Now, where’s my Lone Star beer! No, wait, I’ll save that for Third of March celebrations. Remember the Alamo?…which nobody does anymore, because the day isn’t backed by a giant brewery in a political attempt to curry favor with an ailing cultural market of beer drinkers and cater to the cultural denominators that is strangling everything around it. Bitter, me? No, but that's a post for another time.

If only Texans drank less and had a reason to feel slighted by The Man.

Happy Anniversary to Us

This is one of those dual anniversaries that you rarely get to experience, where two life-changing events occurred on the same day. Fifteen years ago today, Kara and I officially started dating exclusively, which worked out nice for me because I didn’t have any other prospects that would have suggested that I wasn’t dating Kara exclusively up until then. I don’t know what her situation was, but she was it for me.

Five years later to the day—11 years ago today—appropriately at a wedding and more appropriately for us at Disneyland, I asked Kara to marry me. I was surprised she hadn’t noticed the box in my suit coat pocket and I was surprised that she didn’t question why I wanted to leave the wedding early; however, everyone at my table was behind me.

It didn’t work out exactly as I had planned. I wanted to ask for her hand in the Wine Cellar, a favorite place for us to frequent at the time, and it would have made it more memorable perhaps, but less romantic overall I guess. But, by the time we made it down there, it was after 10pm and the Wine Cellar was closed. Plan B was to ask her under the waterfalls near the South tower of the hotel. Very romantic, but they too were partially closed, so I had to settle on a place by the fence that overlooks all of the falls. If you’ve never been there, go at night so it is all lit up.

But I regret one thing: I didn’t get on my knee. I know, you’re supposed to get on bended knee when you’re asking a woman to marry you, and I didn’t. Partly because I was much more against drawing attention to myself back then (as opposed to now where making a scene is rather fun) and partly because the ground was wet and I didn’t want to get my suit wet.

As it turns out, I guess I shouldn’t have cared about the suit. But for some reason, I did; the funny thing is that I know where my wife is but I don’t have a clue what happened to that suit.

So, happy anniversary Kara.

I oftentimes wonder why you ever said yes.


The Stay-At-Home Salary Myth

I hate the women’s liberation movement. Absolutely hate it. Not to mention women that purport themselves to be feminists; they’re little more than selfish men haters. Women’s lib is nothing but a scam perpetrated on impressionable young women to teach them that men are only sperm donors and you’re nothing unless you kick off your heals, lose your pearls and join the workforce to “make something of yourself.” Not only is it filled with double standards that convince women to try and get the best of both worlds (what’s that… you want chivalry and comfortable shoes? Not possible.), but it teaches everyone that they’re on their own. There’s no need for a man when you’re a strong independent woman, and how many relationships has that ruined in the last 30 years? Staunch independence doesn’t cultivate a loving environment where sharing of responsibilities is paramount, and I guess that explains why the divorce rate is so high… way back when, women needed men to bring home the bacon (I assume it was a literal term at some point) and men needed women to raise the kids and keep his shirts free of bacon grease.

Now, thanks to horrific inflation and a stratospheric cost of living imposing a much needed double-income family, nobody really needs anybody in the same sense anymore, save for a paycheck. Thank you Gloria Steinem and all the other me-first libbers that came before you.

I just suffered through an incredulous article about the salary expectations of full-time stay-at-home moms. Here, read it for yourself. It surmised that a stay-at-home mom should earn $138,095 a year for all that she does. What a load of crap. Absolute crap, and I’m qualified to say that, partly because I am frequently full of crap, but mostly because I am a part-time stay-at-home dad… and the job is not in the realm of a six-figure salary. It’s not rocket science, you’re not changing the world and nobody’s going to consider you for a Nobel Peace Prize, so why should you expect a six-figure salary? Sexist crazy talk, that’s why.

The thing I find most offensive by the whole gimme-attitude people possess is that they refer to being a mom as a job. It’s not a job to be a parent, and if you think that it is, you shouldn’t have had children in the first place. Jobs you can quit or change. Moral responsibilities such that is parenting is not a job to be loathed and quantified, much less quit. You signed up for life and if you didn’t know that going into it, you should have kept your pants on or had less to drink that night nine months ago. The article’s premise is like suggesting that the moment you get a dog, you’re somehow a veterinarian and should be compensated accordingly.

The article proposes that there are 10 (grossly exaggerated, in my opinion) responsibilities that a stay-at-home mom undertakes that qualifies her for such an outlandish salary: housekeeper, cook, day care center teacher, laundry machine operator, van driver, facilities manager, janitor, computer operator, chief executive officer and psychologist. How are all of these positions even relevant to every mom during every single day? First off, housekeeper—the first title on the list—incorporates the other nine positions and negates the entire article, not to mention that janitor, facilities manager and housekeeper are three different ways of saying the same thing: You clean and organize the house, and if you teach the pigs you live with to pitch in and help by putting their stuff away and not leaving it lying around, the job is so much easier. Then again, do what we are trying at our house: Less crap, less to clean up!

As it is now, I can have this house clean during the commercial breaks…including bathrooms and windows.

Laundry machine operator? How bloody easy is it to do a load of laundry in this day and age? You heave the clothes in and push a button. Giving it an eight-syllable title doesn’t make it any more complicated, time consuming on important, and if you do one or two loads of laundry every day, it keeps the hampers empty… It isn’t like the old west, where you had to find a rock by the river and scrub the blood out of your husband’s shirt with a bar of lye or even in my grandmother’s day where you used one of those roller squeezer things (that’s a technical term obviously all of you laundry machine operators know to heart). You just push a button. Presto, clothes are clean.

Computer operator? How does using a computer help in the day-to-day activities of a stay-at-home mom, unless she’s an incessant blogger or has a fetish to stay in constant communication with all of her friends and family? I don’t get that one, because when I use the computer during the day, it is usually to sneak in a little personal time by reading the news or to dash off an email. I’ve never consulted the computer for answers to a parenting question and I don’t think I would have trusted it if I had one. Not to mention, I’m hounded by the little ones the moment I sit down—Natalie always wants to play games on Noggin or Playhouse Disney and Matthew loves the way the keys sound when he pounds on them.

The one that pushes the whole article over the top of believability is chief executive officer. What the hell is that doing in the list? Since when is making decisions about your kids and the house deserving of a title akin to the president of a company? The house needs to be cleaned…let’s form a fact-finding committee, draft a multi-tiered report, discuss it in a cabinet-wide meeting and consult the CEO so a decision can be fostered. The house is dirty. So clean it. The kids are hungry. Feed them. They want to play soccer…sign them up. I’m sorry, if we’re going to be sexist here—and the article is, that moms are the only ones that face these issues—the CEO is whoever actually makes the money. If he (or she or both) is pulling down the money to make the family operate with a certain degree of status quo, then he (again, or she or both) get to finalize the important decisions that affect the force of the family unit. Can we afford to go to Hawaii this year? Should we buy a new car? I know, it’s so 1955 Ward Cleaver of me, but that was the original family dynamic that made families great, and it is too bad to see it go so far to the other side. Now, everyone is expected to have an opinion…which only leads to arguments and dissidence. Lucy, you don’t get to play in the band (and I’m going to spank you if you try); Harriet, I want dinner on the table when I get home from my Elks meeting; and June, if Wally hangs out with that Haskell kid down the street again, there’s going to be heck to pay. My, times have changed: Spank your wife (no, I don’t mean in that way that she likes) and they’ll arrest you for domestic battery. And forget about trying to control your kids. They have civil liberties that might get tiptoed on. Cripes.

The only psychologist a stay-at-home mom needs is one for her own sanity, I’ll give her that one. I’m assuming the article means that she needs to be a child psychologist to handle the problems and concerns of the children, but really, how deep are kids that they need psychological counseling? Often times, in this highly medicated world we live in, the kids just need to take a couple of laps around the yard and get over it. Who cares if that boy doesn’t like you back. His loss. Who cares if you didn’t make the football team. Their loss. Forget Adderall or Focalin or whatever it is they’re stuffing down their children’s throats these days, just put down the PlayStation, go outside and pull some weeds or dig a hole. There’s your psychology.

What exactly is a day-care-center teacher anyway? An oxymoron, I say. I don’t know that my kids actually learn anything at day care that we haven’t taught them here, and I’ve never heard of a stay-at-home mom sitting the kids down for a school lesson unless they’re home schooled…and don’t get me started on those freaks. The closest thing to a day-care-center teacher would be shoving a coloring book under their nose so you can have a little peace and quiet to watch Oprah and chug down that last glass of wine for the afternoon.

Seriously, what is all the fuss? A hundred and thirty grand to do this? I wish I didn’t have to work all the time so that I could be a full-time stay-at-home dad. That way, I can walk around patting myself on the back in congratulations for doing something billions of people on this Earth all throughout time have done before without quantifying it into terms of compensation. Most important, they’ve done it without complaining because they realize that nurturing a child into adulthood is the real reward no amount of money could supplant.

You know what really makes this article a load of steaming crap? First off, a stay-at-home mom is not all of these things at the same time. She isn’t slaving over a hot stove cooking dinner while trying to sooth little Timmy’s feelings because he couldn’t color within the lines of his coloring book while washing the floor with her foot and making sure that the bills are being paid (which is a grandiose position they neglected to mention…CFO). People who say they are a multitasker are people who can’t prioritize their responsibilities and do each job thoroughly. Each of these things a stay-at-home mom is supposedly responsible for are done one at a time… so sure, she wears a lot of hats throughout the day, but she rarely wears two of them at the same time. I mean, really, who can’t drive a minivan and talk about your kids’ feelings at the same time?

And where is all of this money coming from? It’s a crock. Anyone can go from one or two hours at a minimum-wage job like laundry machine operator to another couple of hours at another minimum-wage job like van driver and it still works out that you’re just clearing the poverty line. You don’t get to add up all of he salaries from all of the jobs and roll it into one giant salary… is this why the economy is so screwed up? Is this why the dollar I make is taxed two times while I own it (once when I make it and once when I spend it)?

I’m just disgusted by the me-me-me attitude people have these days. You’re not as important as you think you are and the second you realize that, your family will be a whole lot better off.

So, to all the bleeding-heart feminists who cheered after reading the news about that stay-at-home mom in Florida who went on strike last year because she didn’t get the support she felt she deserved from her family and to all the dimwits who write their congressman, demanding that they be paid for the parenting jobs they do… just do us all a favor and shut up. You’re lucky you don’t have to have a full-time job. You’re lucky you live in a house where you get to see your kids everyday and you’re lucky that you don’t worry about having to haul them off to daycare and then suffer through the twisted irony that they’re in daycare because you have to work and that you have to work to keep them in daycare. Just shut up about $138,000. Just shut up about your laundry duties and your van driver job and the fact that you feel you are forced to deal with the feeling of your children. Just shut up about all that you do and don’t get credit for it; and please shut up that nobody appreciates you. I’m sorry it is such a chore to do the right thing.

A job well done for a stay-at-home parent doesn’t come at the end of the day or on payday. It doesn’t come with awards or merits or accolades that look good on a resume or on your mantle. You’re not going to get a promotion and nobody but your spouse is going to slap you on the back and tell you that you’re doing a bang-up job. So quit asking for it. The payoff of being a parent doesn’t come until the job is done, and if you just had a baby, don’t expect anyone to thank you for at least 25 years. So stuff your salary in your sock, get off your high horse and hope to God that your kids stay off drugs, out of jail and alive long after you’re dead and gone.

Only then will you get the pay you deserve: the pride of being a successful parent.

In the meantime, I’ve got laundry to do.

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