Saturday, July 31, 2010

Silent Lucidity

I haven’t written anything since I returned from vacation.  There has just been too many things to do, taekwondo, laundry, summer camp for the boys, and reading, categorizing and responding to the 1,495 work emails in my inbox that I received during my hiatus.  After a busy week, things are starting to slow down and return to their normal rhythm.  I spent the morning doing much needed lawn care and my wife packed up the boys for a week long visit to my in-laws.  The boys were shipped out by 1 PM today and it left the house eerily silent.  When the baby took at a nap at 3, my wife and I both passed out on different sofas for an hour.  That sort of thing is not normally possible in our house.

Today is also our eleventh wedding anniversary.  We headed down to Fells Point in Baltimore for some dinner.  We selected Meli to have dinner.  I don’t get out much, and when I do, I usually opt for a place where you order standing up and carry your food away in paper containers, but that does not mean that I don’t like fine dining.  I love the opportunity to try new foods, especially when they are prepared by professional chefs.  My wife and I had planned to arrive early before the place got too crowded, before the baby got too hungry and possibly have a peaceful meal with some fine food and light conversation.

The plan did not go as expected.  We ran into heavy traffic caused by a bad accident on the way to Baltimore.  That put us forty minutes behind schedule.  Securing parking is never easy in downtown B-more, but luckily nice restaurants like Meli offer valet parking.  We hustled out the car with only the baby and a diaper bag.  Once inside the restaurant, the impeccably dressed maître d’ informed us that they did not have highchairs.  Um, what?  Do you have booster seats?  No.  I almost expected him to say, “we don’t serve your kind here.”  The über-convenient fold up booster seat was at home and I watched the van drive away containing the stroller.  My wife and I conferred for a few seconds.  We can handle this.  We have three kids, we have been through every child rearing situation there is.  We agreed that we could just hold the baby.  Let the fine dining begin. 

We were shown to our seats and we sat pondering the menu.  The baby sat on a cushioned bench in between my wife and a wall.  She could see above the table and was sitting rather still, but every few minutes squealed or whined as babies often do to let you know they are still there and they want your attention.  Apparently the other diners in the restaurant have never seen nor heard a child before and offered us a few dirty looks.  I had my back to the rest of the dining room, so I missed most of them.  My wife, on the other hand, took the full brunt of the other patrons’ disapproving stares.  While the other diners may or may not have seen a baby before, albeit an especially well behaved baby that acted with a level of decorum well beyond her fourteen months of age sitting unassisted better than her older brothers would have, eating bread and fruit snacks, I know that they have never borne witness to one of my wife’s scowls.   

In our nineteen year relationship and eleven year marriage, I have found happiness and love.  In every relationship, especially after such a long time, you learn the mannerisms, likes and dislikes, and traits of your partner.  I love everything about my wife.  In these past nineteen years, I have learned how to tell when she is happy or sad or angry, and I have also learned to fear one thing, the Look.  There are few things on the planet that bear such malevolence and threat of violence as one of my wife’s Looks.  I have had the displeasure of being on the receiving end of the Look a few times.  I will show you the scars over drinks sometime if you are interested in such horror stories, just like Quint telling his tale of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.  With this one look, you immediately understand that your ass is grass and that my wife is starting the lawn mower.  You hear the rolling thunder of an approaching storm, you smell the brimstone of Hell’s fires, and you see your death, slow and painful, mirrored in her eyes.

I didn’t even have to look up from the menu to realize that the Look was ready to be unleashed.  The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I felt the heat on my shoulder as it passed over, directed at some middle-aged woman who couldn’t keep her bobble head pointed in the right direction.  There is no defusing the situation once the Look has been summoned, the trigger has been pulled, just hope you are not looking down the barrel.  Luckily for them, they quickly paid their check and vacated the restaurant before my wife tore their still beating hearts from their chests and ordered the kitchen pan-sear and serve them on a bed of lettuce.

The rest of the meal went quickly and without incident.  I think the staff realized that this was a less than optimal situation as much as my wife and I wanted to just eat and run.  Aside from the bad atmosphere caused by the other patrons and the lack of child-friendliness of the restaurant, the meal was excellent.  I order the Duo of Duck and my wife ordered the Tuna Burger with sweet potato fries.  For dessert, we opted for Pitango Gelato around the corner.  I had apricot sorbet and Bourbon vanilla gelato.

Overall, we had a good time.  Nothing is ever easy when you have a small child, but being a parent for eight years, you learn how to deal with anything that comes your way.  My wife is the expert and I just help out when she needs an extra set of hands.  What you don’t expect is when other people can’t deal with having a small human being around, especially a public place like a restaurant.

Meli’s rating:

  • Taste: 5 – The braised duck confit and the duck bread pudding were outstanding.
  • Prep Time: 4 – the food arrived very quickly, again, this could have been because they wanted us out quickly.
  • Health: 3 – not exactly sure, but seriously, who cares when it tastes that good.
  • Cost: 2 – Two entrees and no drinks were $60.
  • Kid Friendliness: 0 – If I had included negative numbers in my rating plan, this would definitely have gotten one.  Aside from not having a highchair or booster seat, they didn’t even have a kid’s menu.  If you are going here, don’t bring the kids.
  • Overall: 2.8

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Edge of the World

I’m back!  It was a relaxing vacation, as relaxing as it could be with three children under 8 years old, including a one year old.  We spent four days at the beach, soaking up the sun, swimming in the ocean and the pools, and having fun on the boardwalk.  The kids had a blast doing what they love to do, swim, stay up late, play games, and acquire junk which to them equates to treasure.  I was almost completely unplugged the entire time.  I had my Droid of course, but I used it for finding places to eat and amusements.  I have to admit I did have to spend some time on my brother-in-law’s laptop, trying to solve some issues with his iTunes.  For the record, I am not an Apple hater, I own an iPod, my son has an iPod Touch and my wife has a Mac, but I am not their biggest fan either.  And the hour I spent dealing with iTunes just heightened my distaste.  I never solved the problem, I don’t even think I got close, but I tried.

Other than seeing my wife and kids have a good time on vacation, the highlight for me is always the ocean.  I know this will sound cliché, but I am enthralled by the ocean.  I could sit for hours doing nothing but watching the waves come rolling into the shore.  I don’t need a book, an iPod, or a fishing rod, I just need to be there.  The crash, the roar and the hiss of each wave is like music to me.  The endless reach of the water out into the horizon makes me feel like I am standing at the edge of the world, and the rhythmic pulse of each wave is the world’s heartbeat.  I would stand in the surf and let each wave pound into me, feeling the pull of the current and feel so insignificant, so tiny compared to the power of the ocean, yet never felt so much alive than at that time. 

Wherever we went and whatever we did, I always tried to be in a position where I could see the water or hear the water lapping up against the side of a boat or pier.  We had a chance to get out on a boat during our trip and it was amazing how such a short time out on the water could make me feel so at peace.  The gentle roll of the deck and a southerly wind erased all stress and worry.  It’s hard to even write about it because I lack the words and the memory of it, I just “existed” there.  Even now, I think a small part of me is still there.  I hope to hold on to that feeling until I can return to the water again.

Thanks to my in-laws for providing such a great escape.  I enjoyed myself immensely, and I know my wife and kids did too.  Thank you again! 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cooler But Still Complaining

The thermometer on my desk reads 76.6° and 30% humidity.  There is an eerie silence about the house.  There are no running fans or portable air conditioners.  There are no shocking temperature changes when you walk from room to room.  The fifteen days of living in Satan’s ass crack are over.  Yesterday the new A/C and furnace were installed.  It took the guys almost nine hours to get the job done but when they were finished it was bliss.  The new system is silent, inside and out, but you can feel the effects throughout the house. 

I have said before that my world is in complete balance, I cannot have the good without the bad.  While karma was tallying up all of the benefit from the new heating and cooling system, it decided to give me a wonderful sinus and ear infection.  How else would I start my first real vacation since Christmas?  So along with a bathing suit and beach chairs, I am packing a box of tissues and antibiotics for our trip to the beach.  I moped around the house today, packing up all of the portable A/C units and getting stuff together for our trip to the beach, stopping every few minutes to sneeze ten times and blow my nose another ten times.  I am considering going the Lord Valdemort route and having my entire nose and sinuses removed.  I really don’t need or want them anymore.

Yesterday, I really didn’t have much to do except sit around, blow my nose several hundred times, and wait for the guys to finish working around the house, so I caught up on some TV viewing.  I have been reading about the new SyFy series, Haven, for a few weeks now, but I haven’t watched any of the episodes.  Yesterday, I got a chance to see both episodes.  The series is based on Stephen King’s story, The Colorado Kid, and takes place in, where else, a small town in Maine named Haven.  Haven looks like the typical New England coastal town with pine trees and lobsters, but there are some weird things that are happening.  I won’t go into detail or divulge any spoilers, but overall the two shows that I have seen have been enough for me to want to see more.  The acting is pretty good, with the dialog being more on the humorous side.  The special effects are cheesy, but I can deal with that. 

I also got to catch up on some movies that have been sitting around since the A/C broke.  My wife and I watched Shutter Island the other night.  It was very good.  I had not had a chance to read the book yet so the story was very surprising.  I am finishing Inglourious Basterds tonight, so far it has been amazing.

I don’t know if I will write anything while at the beach, I think I want to be computer-free for a few days.  Talk to you when I return.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

Chatty Kathies, Gadflies, Chatterboxes, Klingons, Stalkers.  You know what they are.  They are those people that stop by your desk everyday, IM you, call you, email you, and just won’t leave you alone and have no legitimate reason for being there other than to shoot the shit.  It doesn’t matter what you are doing, what time of the day it is, all of a sudden this person appears.  They ask you innocuous questions, “How’s your day going?”, “How’s the family?”, etc.  They start telling you about their day, their kids/pets/house plants/bed sores, and you didn’t even ask.  If you don’t know one, then you might be one.  There is nothing harmful in that, there is nothing bad about chatting with a friend.  But when it happens every day and begins to occupy the time that you have reserved for something else (like work), then it becomes an issue.  What do you do?

I have run into this situation several times in my personal and professional life.  Sometimes if you ignore the person long enough, they will go away.  But if they don’t get the hint, you have to take more extreme measures.  I did a little research on the topic when I was confronted with a particularly bad situation a few years ago.  At the time, there was a person from a different development team at work who would come over and plop right down at my desk every day and strike up a 45 minute conversation.  In the first two weeks, I learned more about his personal life than anyone who was not his spouse, doctor or clergyman should know.  I didn’t want to ruin my work relationship with this person and I didn’t want to cause any issues, so at first I just smiled and listened.  But then it started to interfere with my work and I found out later that it was also effecting this person’s performance, and it had to be dealt with. 

I can’t find the websites that I originally referred to on the subject, but I have found plenty more that say the same thing.  I found one that has some “professional” tips for resolving the problem.  Many of the experts will tell you to be direct, but gentle.  I started out by telling the person they only had 10 minutes talk and then I had to get back to work.  When 10 minutes were up, I would end the conversation and resume working.  When that was established, I moved on to “scheduling” time to talk with the person, by saying things like “I can’t talk now, but if you come back at 2, I can give you 10 minutes.”  When that sunk in, I began giving the person things to do, like “Hey while you are here, I need you to do this.”  That pretty much took care of that.  The person eventually stopped by once every few days and only stayed for a few minutes.  We were still friends.  All of these suggestions are great and I can attest that they do work.  But what is the fun in that? 

In today’s digital, work-from-home age, the interruptions are a little different, but they still have the same impact.  People can’t come and waste your time by stopping at your desk unless they physically come to your house, which has happened.  But that doesn’t mean people can’t reach out to you through instant messengers, email or even the phone.  It’s now not a problem of physical presence, but one of the ever-flashing IM window, or the cluttered inbox, or, gods forbid, the ringing of the phone. 

A friend of mine at work, we will call her “Ren” to protect her identity, told me a few weeks ago about klingon that she currently has, we will refer to the klingon as “Stimpy”.  Everyday Stimpy IM’s Ren, asks about her family, her baby, etc. and the two have never even met in person!  Worse than that, they only had a few brief conversations a few years ago while working on a project.  What one person took for a work conversation, the other took a life-long bond of friendship.  Now Stimpy won’t stop talking.  And it’s not the daily contact that is the issue, it’s that the questions are personal, referring to Ren’s baby as “her little niece”, asking about her life, and such.  It sounds like Stimpy could show up at her front door one day and ask to spend a few days with her while she is in town!  What do you do?

The first attempts at ignoring the gadfly failed miserably.  Soon Ren was greeted with replies in IM of “Why is my friend not responding, is something wrong?”  Blocking her in IM causes Stimpy to send emails of “I see you are offline, is everything ok?”  My advice – have fun with it.  Here are my suggestions.

Reversal Method:  Start asking her about her family, her husband, etc. but don’t stop there, get really personal.  Ask her what her man looks like, respond with “yum he sounds delicious.”  Ask if he is a top performer - wink wink and go from there.

Flood Gate Method: Don’t just respond, attack!  Launch a denial of service campaign against her.  Stay up late, get up early, don’t stop chatting all day long.  When you can’t be around, ask someone to log into your IM account for you and have them carry on the campaign. 

Disturbing Method: “How’s my little niece?”  “What, oh the baby, yeah, haven’t seen her all day.  I wonder if her water bowl is full.”  Or “OMG that kid is driving me NUTZ! Sometimes I could just smother her with a pillow.  haha j/k ;(”  Stop short of a criminal investigation.

Gross Method: “BRB gotta go, got the runs today.”  And then follow it up 15 minutes later with “Phew!  You better be glad you are not around here!  That smell could gag a maggot!  I mean, can I get a courtesy flush?  Boo-ya!”

Even Grosser Method:  “Stimpy, this is weird, but do you ever get that not-so-fresh feeling?”  Feel free to elaborate in detail about your least fresh day.

Captain Oveur Method: “Have you ever been in a cockpit before?  Have you ever seen a grown man naked?  Stimpy…have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”

Grosser still method: “Eeewww, there are short hairs all over my keyboard!  I wonder how they got here, they don’t taste like nose hairs.”

Henry's Chat Method:  Respond with only obscure movie quotes and music lyrics.  “How’s your day?” Response - “Is this to be an empathy test?  Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response?  Fluctuation of the pupil.  Involuntary dilation of the iris.” (Blade Runner)  Or for “How’s my little niece?”  Response - “She's like thirteen years old, and if you even look at her funny, I'm gonna stick an umbrella up your ass and open it.” (Last Boy Scout)  Or “What’s up?”  Response - “Now is the time, for me to rise to my feet, wipe your spit from my face, wipe these tears from my eyes!” (Hatebreed – I Will Be Heard)

Institutionalized Method: “Stimpy, do you hear them?  The voices?  Some people can’t hear them, but I can.  Sometimes they ask me to do things for them.  Sometimes they ask me to do bad things.  Very bad things.  Shush, shush, don’t say anything, don’t you hear them.  They are like butterflies in my head, so soft, like wisps of smoke.  They get angry when I don’t do what they say.  They make me hurt myself. DON’T YOU HEAR THEM?”

Old Spice Method: I won’t go there, I think they covered that one enough.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Is It Safe To Go Back Into The Water?

Today marks one week since our central air shit the bed.  Or as I like to think of it, “Day 7 in Satan’s Butt Crack” with only eight more to go.  We had some rain this afternoon which help cool it down a bit, but only for a few hours.  I have the boys home with me this week, so they have the TV constantly running heating up the basement.  They will play nicely together for a few hours and I won’t even know they are there.  And then they start to bicker and then fight and then I have to lock them in separate closets.  They started to mellow out around 4 PM, and wanted to watch a movie, my 6 YO picked out Jaws.  I vetoed that choice until I could have a chance to sit down and watch it with them.

It was an odd choice of movie for them, especially from the 6 YO.  They know that it is my favorite movie, but they have never seen it.  It was interesting coincidence because July 20th marks the 35th anniversary of the movie’s release.  There are so many great things about Jaws, the dialog, the perfect soundtrack, cinematography, and I think it would only be fitting to celebrate its 35th birthday by introducing it to my kids.  So tonight we sat down and began watching it together.  I had to constantly remind them that it was make-believe and that real sharks are not like this.  I had to tell a few (great) white lies and tell them that there are no sharks where we will be going next week.

We only made it up to the part where Chief Brody and Hooper go out and find the abandoned boat before it was time for them to head up to bed.  They haven’t even gotten to see the shark yet.  They didn’t seem scared at all.  It will be interesting if they want to continue watching it after they see the shark for the first time.  I doubt that will happen.  Kids today seem so jaded to violence.

I was doing a little light reading after everyone was asleep and I saw an blog post about the release of “The Shark is Still Working,” a documentary on the making and impact of Jaws.  I have been waiting for this to come out for several years and it is finally here.  So far there is no news of when it will be shown around here or if it will go straight to video after all of the planned screenings.  Either way, I want to see this.

I will let you know how the rest of the movie turns out for the kids when we finish it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Haulin’ Ice and Talkin’ Moons

I’m exhausted, I don’t know how I am still able to function right now.  My wife along with a few others from the labs on her floor hosted picnic at a local state park today.  My job was to play sherpa, loading, unloading, loading and unloading the truck.  During the first unloading, Lucille tried to smash my 6 YO’s head into the pavement by catching his shorts on the tailgate as he jumped down and up-ending him (and she has been behaving so well lately).  He was fine, and ended up ripping his shorts to shreds and only suffered a small scratch on his leg.   

I am not complaining about my role today, I actually enjoyed the work.  The temperature over the past few weeks has limited my outdoor time, since there is nothing to mow or trim.  Today gave me the opportunity to stretch my legs a little and I get bored and cranky when I don’t have something to occupy my time.  I don’t know many people from my wife’s work, and I am not the mingling type, so I stuck to the sidelines, helped serve the food and tried to keep myself busy.

I learned another weird fact about myself while the party was going on around me, I don’t like to relinquish control.  I know I have a heightened need for order, but this went beyond my normal bounds.  I had this weird feeling that I needed to take control of the setup, cooking and cleanup.  I don’t think anyone minded, everyone was there to have a good time.  And I had a good time, trying to allow everyone else a chance to unwind.  Cleaning up trash as soon as it hit the tables, reorganizing the coolers so they performed at optimum thermodynamic capacity, sorting the buns*, and standing ready at the grill in case my wife’s boss needed anything.  I hope I didn’t step on anyone’s toes.

The shirt I was wearing caught the attention of two young girls, both looked about my sons’ ages, who were the daughters of one of my wife’s coworkers.  Since most of my wardrobe consists of t-shirts and most of those shirts have been purchased from shirts.woot!, it’s typical that I get at least one comment when I wear one.  Today, I chose the “I hope you brought a lot of baggies” tee because it is one of my favorites and it is a light color so I didn’t bake in the sun. 

One of the girls approached me and asked what my shirt meant.  I asked her if she knew the names of the planets on my shirt.  She knew Earth, but didn’t recognize Saturn.  I explained that if each natural satellite was like a little puppy, then Saturn would have a really hard time controlling all 62 of hers, while Earth only had Luna.  I think I told her that only 49 of Saturn’s moons had names, but now that I think about it, 52 of them are named.  I explained that since Saturn was so large, she attracted a lot of moons around her, while tiny Earth only has one.  Her and her sister listened and asked questions while I talked about the planets and moons and then she surprised me by saying that the Earth should not have a moon that is so big.  I agreed and told her that based on the size of Earth, she has no right having a moon that large.  In fact, Luna is the fifth largest moon in the solar system and it is still a mystery why Earth has attracted such a large natural satellite.  I love when children get interested in science, even when it is from a silly t-shirt.

As the eating and talking wrapped up, we loaded everything back into the cars.  Everyone headed to the beach that was adjacent to the pavilion we were in.  By the time we finished, my wife and I were exhausted and the beach was packed.  I also didn’t feel comfortable with leaving the truck unattended, while the bed was filled with all of the party gear, i.e. pack and play, coolers, chairs, food, etc.  So we headed home, much to my sons’ disappointment.  We promised a trip to the pool after we unloaded everything at home. 

My sons, our neighbor’s daughter and I headed to the pool for a few hours after everything was unpacked and put away.  The water was warm and very relaxing and we arrived at the perfect time, just as everyone was heading home for the day.  We swam for an hour and a half and then enjoyed an ice cream while we dried off.  Today was a good day.

* The whole situation with the buns was driving me crazy.  They were placed out on the table in a heap of bags, hot dog buns mixing with the hamburger buns, white and whole grain and potato buns all together in a mish-mash.  I attempted several times to sort them appropriately, but I was not getting any respect for the sense of order this situation required.  Alphabetically seemed most fitting: hamburger + potato, hamburger + white, etc. but I thought this might work better: long + potato, long + white,…,round + whole grain, since not everyone was eating a “hamburger” and some were having veggie or turkey burgers.  And the opening of a new bag while there were still buns of the same type in an already opened bag!  I don’t know how many times I had to step in and consolidate.  I was even considering putting the buns away and only doling them out upon request, but there were so many other things that needed my attention.  Damn biologists!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Do – Dah – Dippity!

You may have seen this a few times already.  I know that I have seen it at least five times since last night.  It’s the new Kia commercial featuring life-sized hamsters driving the new Kia Soul.  It wasn’t the hamsters that I found interesting, it was that the commercial featured “The Choice is Yours” by Black Sheep.

As soon as it came on, I started rapping along with the hamsters, much to the amazement of my two boys.  They looked at me the same way they always do when I start acting strange.  My 6 YO had an inquisitive expression on his face, like he didn’t understand what I have become and what happened to the man that used to be his father and the 8 YO had a look of inner turmoil, like he was debating internally whether to run upstairs and tell mom that I am going crazy or just crazy along with me.  They are used to me singing along with heavy metal songs or quoting movies before the actors even say the words, but this caught them off guard.  It was too late last night to prove to them that I knew what this song was, so I waited until today to bring it up on the iPod for them.

But the Kia commercial did more than just prove to my sons that I listen to musicians other than Slipknot and Faith No More, it brought on the urge to listen to some old school rap.  I cycled through the “Rap” playlist on my iPod as we drove around performing errands today.  It brought back a lot of memories hearing A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” - “rrrooaww rrrooaww like a dungeon dragon, change your little drawers cuz your pants are saggin’” and Das EFX’s “Mic Checka” - “I miggedy-make the wonder twins deactivate.” 

With every new song that came on, I did two things, first play the song in fast forward in my head to make sure there were no objectionable lyrics that would further taint the minds of my two impressionable children and second try to recall when this particular song was popular and what I would have been doing around that time.  A lot of it was from the late 80s and early 90s when rap and hip-hop was becoming mainstream in suburbia.  I began to remember spending summers at a friend’s house, swimming in his pool, listening to Rob Base and Slick Rick.  And cruisin’ on High St. in Pottstown in a buddy’s white Dodge Shadow blasting 2 Live Crew and NWA with so much bass the windows would rattle.  And the high school graduation parties with Arrested Development’s “Tennessee” and “Mr. Wendal”.  And how could I forget seeing House of Pain, Body Count and Public Enemy perform live at Penn State.  Ice-T and Chuck D were both taking shots at how white people dance all night long.  Chuck D said at one point, “Y’all too white, if you can’t dance, at least jump in time to the beat.”

I was still into rock and metal back then, but most of my friends were not.  So I listened to hip-hop when I was around them and metal when I was by myself.  It wasn’t until 1991 when Anthrax released the Attack of the Killer B’s album, that I got to bring a little of my world into theirs.  Anthrax partnered up with Public Enemy to do a geared up version of Public Enemy’s “Bring tha Noise”, ala Aerosmith/Run-DMC and “Walk this Way” from five years earlier.  “Bring tha Noise” and Anthrax’s “I’m the Man” got me into a lot of trouble one day when I was senior in high school.  It was a senior cut day which happened to land me and four of my friends at my house at 9 AM.  We started by kicking my dad’s half keg of beer and then moved on to whatever else we could find.  Those two songs were the theme music for all of the events of that day.  At one point I remember sliding down the steps from the second floor to the first on my stomach and then vacuuming up someone’s puke.  There were a few other events that I don’t want to mention in a public forum for fear of any statute of limitations that have not yet expired.  I don’t think my elderly neighbors, at least the ones that were home to witness it, spoke to me for a few years after that.

I don’t know how long my trip down memory lane will last, I am not even halfway through my collection of Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, LL and others.  If you have any favs from that era, let me know I will add them to my mix.  For now it will be “back on the scene, crispy and clean, you can try, but then why, cause you can’t intervene.”

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cuckoo for Caca

Caca: (n) excrement, poop, crap.  Random crap to be more specific.  Woot! Bag of Crap to be even more specific.   During the June 24th Woot!Off, I was drawn to my browser by the warbling alarm of my Wootalizer.  What could it be?  Another product has sold out?  No, it was not.  It was the ever elusive Bag of Random Crap!  I gazed at the “I want one!” button and it peered back into my soul like the burning gaze of Sauron.  I saw in its single golden eye the same fear that would take the heart of me.  A day may come when my internet connection fails, when I forsake my friends and break all bonds of fellowship and not click that button, but it was not this day.  An hour of woes and shattered shields and “Page loading” messages, when the servers of Woot! come crashing down!  But it was not this day!  This day I clicked… and waited… and entered my CVV code… and waited…! (you get the picture)  By all that you hold dear on this good Internets, I bid you Buy It!, Men (and Women) of the Woot!

So anyway, I got one.  This is my fifth bag of crap.  I received an email last week, informing me that it would be arriving on Tuesday, July 6th.  Bolstered by the hopes and dreams that I would get something like this, I imagined truck loads and truck loads of goodies being delivered to my front porch.  What I didn’t expect was that it would arrive three days early on Saturday.  My 8 YO met Dan The Mailman at the end of the driveway and Dan The Mailman delivered unto him a cardboard box with Woot! printed on the side.  My wife groaned.  My boys, a much happier lot when I buy stuff, exclaimed, “Wudyaget? Wudyaget?”

We didn’t even wait to take it inside.  Wielding my utility knife as if it were Andúril itself, we opened the box right in garage.  Packing materials flew as we tore into the box to see what mysterious contents it would yield.  Finally our treasures were visible, they were… you guessed it…crap.

6 YO: “I want the monkey!”

8 YO: “I want the case!”

The contents of my Woot! Bag of Crap were:

I don’t know what drives me to try to purchase the bag of crap every time it appears.  It may be that I want to land one of those sweet deals, like a Wii or Blu-ray player.  It could also be that I hope for something I would actually use.  I know it has something to do with proving to my wife that it isn’t just flushing $8 down the toilet.  But mostly I think it is playing the game.  Trying to get one is hard, there can be no hesitation, there can be no network latency.  You have to click as soon as it pops up or you have no chance.  Even then, your chances are still slim.  If you have to sign in or dig through your wallet for you credit card CVV code, don’t waste your time, they are already sold out.  Out of the five that I have purchased, only two have been during a Woot!Off or appeared at 1 AM ET with no warning.  For the other three, I expected them, because Woot! has posted them Christmas morning for the last four years.

While we are on the subject of crap, A/C is still broken and I am still sweating my arse off.  It reached a sweltering 92 in my living room and arms-sticking-to-my-desk 88 in the basement.  It is much cooler now, thanks to my father-in-law, who made a trip down from Pennsylvania with two additional air conditioners in tow.  One was another portable A/C unit that found a home in the baby’s room and the other, a window unit, which quickly got installed in the dinning room window so as not to be visible from the street.  My wife informed me that window units are illegal according to our Gestapo Home Association.  Home owners have been known to disappear in the middle of the night when such an egregious crime against taste has been perpetrated in our hood.  Tomorrow I will set about camouflaging it with shrubbery and flowers to avoid being “taken in for aesthetic rehabilitation.”

I also got to sign away my first born’s college fund in order to pay for the new unit that will be installed sometime in early December (just kidding, on July 20th).  Fortunately for him, I worked out a deal with the installers where they are going to leave the old unit in the garage.  My 8 YO can turn the skills he learns while rebuilding the broken A/C and furnace into a future in HVAC maintenance and repair.  There is obviously good money in this trade.  And he will get to exact his revenge on some poor sucker later in life and strip him of his child’s chance at a college education.  Just kidding, just kidding.  Dan the A/C Man, if you are reading this, I mean no disrespect.  Please feel free to clean your boots with the tears I shed while begging at your feet for an earlier install date. (just kidding, I didn’t really cry, you see, the sweat got in my eyes and they started to water and well, yeah sure it looked like crying, and the wailing and moaning was just cuz it stung like a bitch, well, think what you want)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Naked in Front of the Computer

Did you ever have one of those days where Karma walks up to you, smiles daintily and delivers a front snap kick to your groin?  I have a tendency to believe that the universe constantly seeks to find an equilibrium, that there is a balance, like the Force, that everything eventually comes to no net gain or loss.  When something good happens, something equally bad must take place to restore that balance. 

My weekend was awesome, kicked off with the Faith No More concert and then a great, fun-filled Fourth of July.   We started off our Independence Day with our neighbors’ annual breakfast picnic.  We then headed to the pool for a few hours of relaxation.  We ate a quick dinner at home and packed up for the parade.  We snagged good seats under a tree and the kids got a place right on the curb.  We stopped by home to drop my wife and daughter off and the boys and I went to the fireworks.

We found a great spot to watch the fireworks last year, the parking lot and sports fields of the middle school.  It is only a few blocks from the house and offers a perfect view of the show.  I planned to arrive early to secure the same position this year.  We were in luck and got to park the truck so we could sit in the back and the fireworks would be right in front of us.

The kids ran around in the field with flashlights and sparklers and then hopped into the bed of the truck as soon as the show started.  As soon as the show ended, we were about to fold up the chairs and head home, but the field in front of us exploded into light and sound.  Someone had prepared their own fireworks display right at the edge of the field.  About 800 feet in front of us, someone had set up several mortars, Roman candles, and rockets.  The display was almost as good as the one the town put on and lasted almost 30 minutes.  They even had a grand finale prepared.  Someone had taken a lot of time and money to put everything together.  The boys were amazed, they had never been that close to the fireworks before.  The secondary show elicited an even greater round of cheers and applause than “real” display.

We spent Monday lounging around the house, recovering from our long weekend.  Overall the weekend was a great success.  But the universe wasn’t pleased.  All of that good has to be offset by something bad, right?  Monday night, as the kids prepared for bed, everyone was commenting on how hot it was upstairs.  This is normal for our house, the upstairs is always hotter than the rest of the house, so we didn’t think anything of it. 

After everyone was asleep, I snuck downstairs to the basement and caught up on a few things.  By the time I was finished reading through the 100 emails I had gotten over the weekend, I was dripping with sweat.  The basement is always five to ten degrees colder than the rest of the house and I knew something was wrong.  I stopped by the thermostat on the way upstairs to bed and saw that while it was set to 77, the temperature in the living room was 88.  I could hear the blower running in the basement, but the air coming out of the vents wasn’t any cooler than the ambient air.  I ventured outside with a flashlight to examine the outside unit.  The fan was not running and I caught the smell of the magic blue smoke which meant something electrical was cooking.  I informed my wife that the A/C was dead and we started opening windows to attempt to reduce the temperature.  It didn’t help much. 

I spent the majority of today rushing around calling local companies and giving them the grand tour of heating and air conditioning system.  The current system is over 14 years old and has been patched and repaired several times since we have lived here.  During the last repair, which was only about 6 months ago, we were told it didn’t have much time left in it.  The options were to attempt to fix it again or replace the entire thing.  With a repair, there were no guarantees that it would last, especially with how hot it has been the past few days and the stress of running all day and night.  So we decided to replace it.  The first guy said he could have a new unit installed in two to three weeks with a lofty price tag.  Hmmm, umm, no.  My wife got a recommendation from a friend and that guy arrived an hour later.  He gave me the same prognosis, but offered to replace it by Thursday!  I am still waiting on his official quote which I should have tomorrow morning, but his ballpark estimate was much lower than the first guy.

While I was not on the phone or walking people around the house, I was searching for all of the pieces to a portable A/C unit that my father-in-law had given us a few years ago.  This little wheeled unit could be put in any room and had a flexible exhaust pipe that could attached to and vented out a window.  I found all of the pieces except for one, the piece that secured the exhaust hose to the window.  I scoured the entire house, literally top to bottom.  I was searched the attics (house and garage), the basement, every closet, every cabinet.  I did this at least three times before admitting defeat.  I was heading out to the garage to attempt to fabricate something when I decided I would try looking for it one more time.  I eventually found the piece hidden under a stack of remnant carpet pieces, a solar powered water fountain, a space heater, two rifles, and a set of grapevine reindeer all stuffed under the basement steps.

So what’s the big deal?  Millions of people around the world don’t have the luxury of central air conditioning.  Why am I such a wuss?  Well, I think my wife and I could deal with it, not happily, but we could deal.  I know the boys would be fine, they don’t seem to mind the heat at all.  But we are worried about the baby and the dog.  One year olds don’t have the ability to regulate their temperatures as well as adults and she is used to be in air conditioning all day long.  The dog is 11, weighs 90 pounds and is covered in a thick coat of hair. He did not enjoy today at all.  He paced around all day trying to find a cool spot to lay down.  Even when I had the portable A/C unit set up and running in the bedroom, he didn’t want to lay up there.  I took a cold wet towel and rubbed down his belly and under his armpits(?) a few times, which he seemed to enjoy.

On top of all of this, the boys had their annual doctor’s checkup, summer camp, Taekwondo, and I had a PTA budget meeting from 6 PM until 8:30 PM.  So I am sitting here exhausted and sweating in front of the computer.  Of course I am not naked, this office chair is leather and I don’t think that would be comfortable at all.

Monday, July 5, 2010

King For A Day

And Fan for a lifetime.  Saturday was my big night in Philadelphia, I got to see Faith No More for the first time in over a decade.  The show was PHENOMENAL!  It was everything I had hoped for and more.  We had good seats, we could see and hear everything perfectly.  Mike Patton was the same as always, his vocal range never ceases to impress me.  He was able to do amazing covers of Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited” and the Jackson Five’s “Ben” and still growl the likes of “Caffeine” and “Surprise! You’re Dead!”.  The musical highlight of the night for me was my favorite, “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.” 

The music wasn’t the only thing I came to see.  Patton, as usual, is just as fun to watch as he is to listen to.  Patton promised that he would “slow dance” with one of the fans before the night was over.  He delivered during “Ben”, when he singled out an extra large fan in the front row and climbed onto his shoulders.  He had the guy carry him throughout the entire song across the front of the stage while he sang. 

Patton didn’t stop there.  During “Just a Man,” he jumped onto one of the rope ladders leading up to the stage lights and proceeded to climb his way to the top.  Judging by the way two stage hands ran across the stage, this was not a planned event.  Patton shoved the mic into his mouth as he climbed and still continued to sing.  He finished from the top of the ladder and after noticing that there was nowhere else to go, said “Kinda got myself into trouble, didn’t I?”  The rest of the band just stared up at him and played “Edge of the World” in striptease fashion as he climbed back down.

The band came out for an encore of three songs, ending with “Digging the Grave.”  It was sad when it was over.  I may never again get to see them perform together again.

I learned a few technical details from the show.  The first is that neither the Flip Mino nor the Motorola Droid are good for long distance video.  The second is that I suck as a camera man.  It didn’t matter, I got to see it live.  Here are a couple of my crappy videos from the show:

You can see the rest of my videos here.  Or if you want to see better ones, you can check out the New Faith No More blog.

Thanks to Mark for coming with me!  I am anxious to see how your iPhone videos turned out.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Take This Bottle

Today, I had my first alcoholic drink in over six months.  In fact, I had two!  And the first came only five minutes past noon!  After the past several weeks/months, I felt like I needed a little something extra during lunch today, to ease the pain.  I don’t think it improved my work load any or will make me work any faster, but it sure felt nice and cold going down.  Today was one of those rare occasions when I actually got to leave the house and have lunch with adults.  I met a few of my fellow work-from-home coworkers at a local restaurant.  We try to meet at least once per month, but it always ends up being once every two or three months.  I arrived before everyone else and got to sit in a quiet room off the main dining room waiting for everyone to arrive.  There was no one else in the room, there were no TVs on, no computers, no email or instant messages, and no kids.  I felt it was only appropriate to celebrate this blessed moment of silence with a cold beer.

I decided to quit drinking when I was 19 years old.  I can assure you while I was still two years under the legal drinking age, I had many gallons under my belt at that point, and they was just what I could remember.  I did not quit entirely, but just stopped doing the “binge” drinking that was very prevalent with my peers.  At the time, I understood the effects of alcohol and when I drank, I drank with one purpose in mind, to get drunk.  I never saw a point in drinking to be sociable, or for the taste, or for any other reason than to get to that point where my mind stopped functioning coherently and go completely past it.  I had fun, I got in trouble, had more fun.  But by age 19, I decided that I didn’t like the “me” that I became when I drank too much.  I didn’t like not having control over what I did or said (I have a big mouth when I am sober, and it gets even bigger and louder when I have had a few).  I also noticed a big flaw in my head that would allow me to quickly become addicted to this type of thing.  So I quit.

Over the next 16 years, I have had times when I wanted to celebrate and allowed myself to cut loose.  But after those occasions, I went back to my “Coca-Cola drinking, sit on the sidelines and watch the other drunk fools” lifestyle.  About once or twice a year, I will have a beer or two, but I don’t allow myself anymore than that.  I don’t condemn anyone that drinks (only when it does harm or can potentially harm someone else), it doesn’t bother me when other people drink around me.  I am not trying to preach or get up on a soapbox.  It can be fine for other people, I just know it is not for me. 

In fact, I like being the only sober person at a party, you won’t believe the crazy shit I have talked people into doing, portraying the little devil on their shoulder.  I once talked a friend of mine into letting me draw a version of the da Vinci’s Last Supper on his back in permanent Sharpie marker.  When I was finished, it went from shoulder to shoulder, from the hairline on his neck to his waistline.  Don’t ask me why the Last Supper, I think it had something to do with the conversation at the time.  But I can tell you the next morning he was really pissed, but also impressed by my artistic rendering using only red, black and green markers.

So on this extended holiday weekend, drink responsibly and have a great weekend.  I doubt I will post anything tomorrow, since I will be in Philly for the Faith No More concert.  But I will try to have some pics and possibly some video for you when I return.  Sunday, we will head out to the annual Independence Day Parade and Fireworks.