Thursday, January 31, 2008

Table Manners

Our family dinner time is a casualty of my and Diane's (mostly my) abnormal work schedule. At most we sit down to dinner together as a family three nights a week, and that's a stretch. And I blame any inadequacy of table manners on this disturbing yet unavoidable trend. Even so, Diane and I are doing our best to teach our girls appropriate table behavior, and to some it might seem we're fighting a losing battle.

Now I'm not sure how this happened, but our dining room set seems to have this mystical power over the girls' digestive systems. Or perhaps it's merely the relaxing nature of family dinner time that loosens their bowels. Or maybe they just like taking advantage of that hard wooden surface resting against their butt cheeks. Regardless of the reason, it seems like dinner time has become synonymous with gastrointestinal relief time. It got so bad that I finally had to make a decree: "If you girls have to fart, leave the room!" Well that backfired as well (hee hee) because even more disruptive than table-toots are two giggling girls frequently rushing into the den to make their gaseous deposits.

The other night it all came to a head and I was forced to amend my decree: "If you have to fart, don't! Just hold it in until after dinner!" That's what I do, and I don't think it's too much to ask of my girls.

We proceeded with dinner, and all was going well when Kyra tapped me on the shoulder. "Daddy, may I please be excused?" I was impressed by her manners, but was also puzzled because her plate was nearly full.

"Why? You're not done eating, are you?"

"No," she leaned in and whispered, "I have to fart."

At least she asked politely. That's half the battle.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

If I Only Had a Band...

Saw this meme posted over at Cynical Dad and it looked fun...and easy. Follow the directions to create your own fake band.
  1. The first title on this page is the name of your band.
  2. The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album. Click the "New Random Quotations" button for more.
  3. The third picture on this page will be your album cover. You then take the photo and add your band name and the album title to it, then post your picture. Please don't forget to give credit.
I think I fared pretty well. Here's my new band:

Photo by Sudoksa

Now I just need to write some material, recruit some band members, and cut 8-10 songs to fill a CD. Screw that...I'm going to bed.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What a Pain in the Neck!

Yes, I've been reading Bram Stoker's Dracula, which I'm thoroughly enjoying, but it's merely coincidence to the neck pain I've been experiencing lately. I think. I haven't noticed any puncture marks in my throat lately, besides the ones Diane put there the other night (rowr).

A couple weeks ago I wrote about my pillow dilemma, where I bought a couple of "
Super-Ultimate-Premium-Non-Allergenic-Extra-Firm pillows for $14.99" from Target. Well they turnout to be not as "Extra-Firm" as advertised, and in fact, like Dracula, they sucked. Big time. I tolerated them for a couple of weeks until I tired of waking up with neck pain that lasted throughout the day. It was time to bite the bullet.

I had a 20% off coupon to Bed, Bath & Beyond, and decided to take Muddleman's advice to check out their inventory. They have an overwhelming assortment of pillows, and after consulting an associate, I settled on a couple of $60 synthetic down side sleepers. And the greatest thing was that the associate assured me that if I wasn't satisfied with the pillow I could return it. How sweet is that?

I was pretty excited to give my new pillow a test run, and my initial impression was positive. It was firm and supportive, just what my neck needed over the course of the evening. Or so I thought. The problem with synthetic down is that it settles under the weight of my huge, brainy head. When I awoke in the middle of the night I could hardly move, with stabbing pain running from my right shoulder blade through the top of the back of my neck. It was so bad that I couldn't even sleep. Every time I'd move my neck screamed out in pain. So I packed up my $60 pillows and headed back to BB&B where I returned them with no questions asked.

Now I was back at square one. I knew that I needed the firmest pillow I could find, one that wouldn't sag under the weight of my head. This time I found a couple of therapeutic side sleepers for half the price. Whoo hoo! They're almost uncomfortably firm, but I think they will be fine once I break them in a bit. They give great support, and though my neck still hurts from sleeping on the other pillows, it's much better than it was. The next step is to replace our mattress, which we most likely will do courtesy of the government's recession-inspired economic stimulus package. God bless the USA!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

One. More. Week.

There's only one show on television that I consider "Must See TV", that show being LOST (just in case you couldn't put things together from the pic there). Season 4 begins next Thursday night and I. Am. Stoked. I can't really classify myself as a LOST fanatic, although Diane might. I just love the show. I don't spend time scouring the internet looking for clues that might solve the mystery of the island anymore, or contribute to message boards, or wear LOST merchandise. But I did get goosebumps a few weeks back when the first promos for the new season came out. I guess that at least makes me a LOST geek.

No. This makes me a LOST geek. A co-worker showed me the rapid fire promo, frame by frame...and I watched. Eagerly. And we oooed and ahhed and bristled with excitement at the perceived secrets contained within. Why was Hurley in the water? What's up with the number "6"? Whose blood was dripping on Kate? And who's in the frickin' coffin!? Next week we start getting some answers.

So here's a little LOST promo of my own. For all of you LOST uninitiated, there's a summary show next Wednesday night, 9pm/8pm Central. Watch it. It won't give you all the gory details of the show, but it will bring you up to speed enough to enjoy the 2 hour season premiere on Thursday, 8pm/7pm Central. My work here is done.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Anatomy 101

I like to think of myself as someone who can adapt easily to change (stop laughing, Hon), which is a good thing or else I'd be going stark raving mad, especially at work. I'm open for new systems, techniques, routines, etc. as long as they make sense, make the job easier, or guard against a full system blackout. The same goes for the girls' education. I'm less interested in how they learn than that they learn. I learned in a system where there was a teacher, a blackboard, and a group of desks. We sat and the teacher taught and some of us learned and some of us didn't and those that learned made fun of those that didn't. Simple as that. Any questions?

Now I'm sure that today's educational system is, by and large, fairly similar to the one that I grew up with. There are still teachers and blackboards and desks, though they all have evolved over the years. The teachers sometimes wear jeans and are accompanied by teacher's aides, the blackboards are green, and desks, at least in the girls' classes, don't face forward, but are grouped together so that students are facing each other! HERESY! All this is to say that over time, research has shown that different people learn in different ways, and today's educational system has evolved to employ new pedagogies and teaching methods in order to maximize the learning potential of each student.

I've always embraced a "learning should be fun" philosophy, and I do what I can to contribute to the girls' educational development. I'd like to say that I created this fun exercise for the purpose of expanding the girls' knowledge, but in reality it started as something more puerile. It's a little game I like to call "Do This Or I'll Kick You In The _______." It's not that difficult of a game, but I'll try to explain it to the best of my ability.

I usually begin the game with a statement like this: "Hey Kailey, pick up your toys in the family room or I'll kick you in the throat."

She'll laugh then retort, "Oh yeah, well I'll kick you in the butt!" (Their first two responses are usually "butt" or "pee pee", which are infinitely hilarious to 7 and 8 year-olds...OK, me too.)

I'll kick it up a notch as we go back and forth, with offerings such as "spleen", "esophagus", or "medulla oblongata". They'll get a puzzled look on their faces and ask "What's that?" which I take as an educational opportunity to show them the different components of their anatomy. It's pure genius in my humble opinion. The girls will be in class one day where they're discussing the pituitary gland and they'll be able to yawn and say, "Yeah, I know all about that. My Dad threatened to kick me there the other night." But sometimes my little game backfires.

The other night Kyra and I were volleying over cleaning off the table when I threatened to kick her in the "Eustachian tubes". When I explained to her that they were canals that connected her ears to her throat, she freaked. "Mommy!" she cried as she ran from the room. "Daddy said he was going to kick me in the EUSTACHIAN TUBES!"

She might not appreciate it now, but in fifteen years, when she's breezing through medical school, she'll thank me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Yeah, It's a Natural Reaction

I stopped at the mailboxes after picking the girls up from school Friday where Kailey proceeded with the mail-gathering honors of the day. When I think about it, it's amazing how many daily rituals we have, most of them bizarre. This is just another in a long list: the mail pick-up. I pull up to the mailbox; the girls bicker over whose turn it is to get the mail; the winner exits the car (usually with a smirk at the loser); I roll down my window, turn off the car, and hand the winner the keys; the winner opens the mailbox, collects the mail and hands it to me along with the keys, then bolts like a bat out of hell for the house; I start the car, throw it into drive, and gun it for home, usually passing the giggling runner, but sometimes allowing them to win (which isn't often 'cause I hate to lose) just to keep things interesting; then we all collect our stuff and tumble into the house, usually in a cloud of trash-talk ("you run like a girl"); then it's on to the afternoon ritual of play, homework, and extra-curricular activities. We'll probably continue the mail routine until either a.) the girls outgrow it, or b.) I run one of them down with the car.

As I said earlier, Kailey was the "winner", and after she handed me the mail, I handed it to Kyra because she likes to sort it. In truth, she just wants to see if any of it's for her. She immediately found a letter with her name on it along with mine. "Why is your name on my mail?" she accused as she thrust envelope back at me. I grabbed it as I glanced at Kailey who was leaving us in a trail of dust. I guess this would be a day where she'd be the winner. Damn.

I looked at the envelope and saw that it was from one of our investment management companies. "Oh, these must be our tax statements," I explained.

"What are tax statements?"

Oh boy, here we go. "Well...they're for taxes. Taxes are money that everyone has to give to the government so that the government can misuse it as they see fit (I figured she wasn't going to fully comprehend everything I was trying to explain, so I might as well give it to her straight). Whenever Mommy and I get paid for our work, some of that money goes to the government. Anytime we make money, we have to give some of it to the government."

A look of horror dissolved on Kyra's face as her eyes welled up and her bottom lip curled into full pout mode. "BUT I DON'T WANT TO GIVE MY MONEY TO THE GOVERNMENT!" she bawled. "I...I...I ONLY HAVE THIRTY-SEVEN DOLLARS!"

Welcome to my world, kiddo.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Book Meme

I've been tagged by A Musing Mom to participate in a book meme. Cool! So here we go:

1. One book that changed your life.

Jaws by Peter Benchley. Even more so than the movie, this book has made me forever skittish at the mere thought of swimming in any body of water other than a pool. What?

2. One book that you have read more than once.

Stephen King's The Stand -- probably my favorite King novel. Also the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Yes, I'm a dork. And no, I can't follow directions.

3. One book you would want on a desert island.

The obvious answer would be The Outdoor Survival Handbook (or something similar) by Raymond Mears. Duh.

4. Two books that made you laugh.

Naked, a hilarious memoir by David Sedaris covering just a portion of the outlandish moments that have comprised his life, from hitchhiking across the country to his stint at a nudist colony. And Jonathan Franzen's novel about a dysfunctional family to end all dysfunctional families, The Corrections.

5. One book that made you cry.

Final Rounds, James Dodson's story of the last trip he took with his father, a golf vacation through England and Scotland, before his father succumbed to cancer. A golfer's Field of Dreams.

6. One book you wish you'd written.

Any one, just one, book of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Series...and the money that came along with it.

7. One book you wish had never been written.


8. Two books you are currently reading.

More of David Sedaris' crazy life-antics in Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Steve Martin's autobiography Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life.

9. One book you've been meaning to read.

I'm really wanting to go back and read a bunch of the classics, and the two at the top of the heap, for reasons unknown, are Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Some of it's because I'm a freak and like to read things that scare me out of my mind, and the other is because I read Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian last year, a historical take on the legend of Vlad the Impaler or Count Dracula, and wanted to follow it up by reading the mother of all vampire books.

10. Five people that I tag.

Brandt's Randts
The Dancing Sni
Beast Mom

I can't count either.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Exercise Your Creativity Somewhere Else, Please

I've been tweaking the girls' bedtime routine lately and I thought I'd finally come across something that, for now at least, had the desired calming effect on them. I used to tell them stories about my childhood and sing them a song, but there are only so many childhood stories I can remember. And the pressure was always on because the stories had to be "funny". I'd finish a story and the girls would either be cackling with laughter, the opposite effect I'm trying to achieve at bedtime, or they'd stare at me blankly before giving me the bad news, "Dad, that wasn't funny." Then they'd whine and beg and plead for another, funnier, story. So for now, stories are out.

A few weeks ago I began writing words, one letter at a time (duh, that's how you usually write 'em), on Kailey's back. I'd write a letter and she'd guess what it was until she could decipher the message, usually in the vain of close your eyes and go to sleep or there will be hell to pay, but sweeter. One night Kailey asked me to draw a picture on her back.

"Ummm, OK. What do you want me to draw?"

"A unicorn chasing a butterfly."

She'd been thinking about that one for awhile. Now if she had asked me to draw that on paper, there would've been no frickin' way. I'd try, of course, but it would most likely elicit a response not dissimilar to my unfunny bedtime stories. But she didn't. She wanted me to draw on her back with my index finger, which is magic, by the way, and that night I created the most breathtaking unicorn and butterfly in the history of unicorns and butterflies. Rembrandt's jaw would have dropped in awe. Picasso would have shat. And Michaelangelo would have put down his brushes and walked away. It was that good. And the best part of all? It practically put her to sleep!

Each night we've been mixing it up, from back messages (not to be confused with back massages), to back drawing, to face tracing, where we, yes, trace each others' faces. Last night was face tracing night, and Kailey wanted me to go beyond the normal face trace and push the limits of my face tracing creativity. So I made her a clown. I traced all of her facial features the way I normally do, then added a big red smiley face to to match the big red nose. I gave her those high, arching eyebrows and freckles, a flowing curly pink wig, and topped it all off with a green bow tie. Voilà!

Kailey asked if she could have a turn. Who am I to turn down a good face trace. So she sat up and went to work immediately on my eyes, giving me those long, luxurious lashes that most women would kill for. She rouged my cheeks, lipsticked my lips, and for the pièce de résistance, gave me two humongous, sagging breasts followed by two tiny nipples. Then she collapsed in a fit of riotous laughter. I just grinned and shook my head.

"What? I was just being creative!"

Looks like I'm back to the drawing board on that bedtime routine.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Waste of a Perfectly Good Day

Today was a gorgeous winter day in Tucson, cloudless in the mid-60's, the very reason people flock here to winter. I experienced none of it. Instead, I spent the day experiencing the ebb and flow of the Pima County Superior Courthouse. Yes, dear readers, I finally fulfilled my civic responsibility and reported for jury duty. And, oh, what an experience it was!

At least I didn't have to report at 7:30 a.m. like the majority of my comrades. That would have double sucked. I reported at 9:00, actually closer to 9:25 because I couldn't find anywhere to park. There's always a lot of press about how Tucson needs to restore the downtown area, people bitching about how deserted it is. Well here's a tip: IT'S BECAUSE THERE'S NOWHERE TO PARK! I drove by three full parking garages before finding a hotel parking lot tucked in an alleyway. By the looks of things, many of my fellow jurors also had trouble finding parking because by the time I finally made it to the courthouse, the line to get through security stretched nearly the length of the building.

I'm not going to gripe about security because I'm glad it's there. I don't want lax security in airports, and I don't want lax security in courthouses. If anything, I'd like to see more security; dudes in full riot gear toting around M-16's, grenade launchers, bazookas, anything to make any disgruntled family members think twice about smuggling in firearms to settle a score. But that's just me.

I get through security without a hitch and head to the jury assembly room. The jury assembly room is a large room with rows upon rows of chairs and a check-in desk at the back. It is filled to capacity, standing room only, and about 110° from all the heat emanating from the mass of bodies occupying every last nook and cranny of the room. Oh, this is going to be a great day. I join another line, and in ten minutes I've checked in for my day of hell. Item #1 on the list? An orientation video! I settle in next to a support column in the middle of the room with my piping hot Starbuck's and scan the room for open chairs. There are none. I'm sweating buckets and the coffee isn't helping matters any, but there's no way in hell I'm not finishing my coffee. The day's going to be long enough as it is, and the least I can do is face it with my full daily dosage of caffeine.

The video ends and a lively Hispanic woman takes over the show from a hand-held microphone behind the check-in desk. She continues to give us information, one tidbit being the prohibition of beverages in the main assembly area. Turns out there's a jury "lounge" in a small room behind the check-in desk, so I grab my Starbuck's and abandoned my post at the post in order to conform to jury room policy. To my delight, I find an empty chair on the opposite side of the "lounge" which will be my new post for the next 45 minutes.

At 10:30, my name is called. Judge Fell, 5th floor. Crap. I grab my stuff and head to the elevators with roughly 70 other people. We then stand in the 5th floor hallway for another 45 minutes before being herded into the courtroom. The 6th Amendment gives all people accused of a crime the right to a "speedy and public trial". Now I'm not privy to all of the pre-trial activity going on behind closed doors, and I'm sure some of it is important. But what I do know is that we did a lot of standing around, staring at walls and waiting for something, anything, to happen. To me, "speedy" just didn't seem like the right adjective to capture the essence of this particular trial.

My main source of entertainment during our wait, besides David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day, was an older man carrying a large maroon Bible on top of what looked like a clipboard draped with an orange and yellow striped dish towel. I was intrigued by the dish towel. Why did he have it? What was it's purpose? Why was it so meticulously draped over the clipboard? These are questions that will plague me for the rest of my life. While the 70 of us stood facing the door of the courtroom waiting to get in, he stood at the door facing us. Again, why? No idea. He was very courteous to the court personnel as they flitted in and out of the courtroom, greeting them with a hearty "Hello!" or "Good morning!" or "Let me get the door for you!", but grew more and more visibly agitated with every minute that passed without him being in that courtroom. It was then that I decided he was sucking up to try to get on the jury. Every couple minutes he'd shuffle up to the door and peek through the crack to try to see what was taking so long. Someone's going to come flying through that door and lay that old dude out flat, I thought. Thankfully, and somewhat to my disappointment, I must confess, it didn't happen. At least his sucking up didn't get him on the jury.

The rest of the afternoon is spent in jury selection. Twenty four jurors are selected for the main pool while the rest of us are along for the ride. It is a capital murder case and the defendant is a young, clean-cut, Hispanic kid. He doesn't look like a murderer. He looks scared. The judge gives some initial instructions and then begins questioning the jurors in the main pool. I am amazed to find that nearly three fourths of the jurors have been the victims of crime: assault, auto theft, identity theft, and tons of burglaries. It kind of freaked me out.

The judge finishes his initial questioning, then turns it over to the attorneys. The lead prosecutor starts off asking specific jurors questions about medical experience/training, gun ownership, and physical conflicts. He spends a lot of time getting details on the various physical altercations of the jurors. He seems to approach this lightheartedly, often asking whether the juror "came out on top" and peppering their stories with humorous personal commentary and causing several outbreaks of laughter throughout the courtroom. I looked over at the defendant. He wasn't laughing. I don't suppose I would either if it was my life on the line.

The defense attorney takes all of two minutes in his general inquiries, leading me to believe that he, at least, has a grasp on the concept of a speedy trial. The rest of the jurors are then shuttled in and out of the courtroom for the rest of the afternoon, spending most of that time out in the hallway while the attorneys interviewed individual jurors. They finally settled on the jury at around 4:00 when we are mercifully released from our service. The highlight of my day? I read half of my book.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Smile...You're On Candid Camera!

Kailey has recently cycled back into her clothing tirades, and it's really irritating. She had been doing so well in the past few months, but all of a sudden she's gotten very picky as to what she will and won't wear. I have no idea where she gets this from (shut up, Mom...any comments from you on this subject will result in banishment from seeing your grandchildren). A couple of weeks ago it all came to a head.

She picked a pair of jeans out that she has worn a million times before and decided she didn't like them any more. Why? In Kailey's words, "It teases me!" I have come to hate these three words more than any other three word combo in the English language. The two things that it communicates is that 1.) Kailey is somehow uncomfortable in that particular garment and 2.) if you don't remove it from her body RIGHT FRICKIN' NOW, you're going to have a meltdown of Biblical proportions on your hands, and no amount of patient reasoning or attempts to talk her down is going to stop it.

Well, I still tried. "How is it teasing you?" I asked, using every last ounce of patience available to keep my cool.

"They're too tight around here," she said as she pointed to her waist.

Just as I thought. She's growing. Kid's jeans have those little elastic bands that run through the waistbands. Each end of the elastic band has a series of button holes that can be used to tighten or loosen the waistband depending on where you secure the buttons sewn on the inside of the jeans. Kailey's a skinny kid. We have to button the elastic band on roughly the seventh button hole on each side just to keep her pants from sliding off. I figured it was time to readjust her jeans so she could once again enjoy circulation to the lower half of her body.

I tried to explain this to her but she would have none of it. She wanted them off. NOW. So she threw herself onto the floor and started kicking her legs like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. And that's seriously what it's like, because I'm standing there thinking this is not my daughter, and I'm frustrated and pissed because she's acting like a two year old. So in my frustration I blurted, "Kailey, if you could only see how ridiculous you look right now..."

Light bulb.

I turned and walked into our bedroom, grabbed the video camera off of the dresser, and popped out the viewfinder. I then calmly walked back to Kailey's position on the floor. The camera caught her attention. "What are you going to do with that?"

"I'm going to show you how ridiculous you look throwing a fit over a pair of jeans."

"Is it on?"

"Not right now, but if you don't straighten up right now, I'm gonna roll."

Problem. Solved.

The threat of the camera worked several times since then, until Saturday. Kailey had two meltdowns, one over putting on her own socks, and she finally called my bluff. I had two choices: I could either record one of her tantrums or put those threats to bed forever. The thought that recording one of her tantrums could make things worse actually had crossed my mind, but since she called my bluff I felt I had no other option. So I rolled.

I so wanted to post the ensuing footage, but thought that Kailey would never forgive me. Her performance made Linda Blair in the Exorcist look like Pee Wee's Playhouse (scary in its own right). Her voice changed, she threw stuffed animals and feces (kidding), slammed her door, and proceeded to inform me of the various ways she was going to bring me bodily harm. I guess I asked for it.

Later, after she had calmed down, put on her socks, and returned to her normal, sweet self, she asked me what I was going to do with the tape. My gut response was "You Tube", but thought that she had been through the wringer enough for one day. "We're going to sit down and watch it, just you and me, because I want you to see how crazy you got over a pair of socks. Then I'll record over it and it will be gone forever."


Yeah, well, we haven't gotten around to watching that quality footage just yet. I'll forget it's there, only to discover it twenty years from now, when it will become an instrumental breakthrough in Kailey's therapy sessions as it sheds light onto just how badly I screwed her up. May as well send me the bill now.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Life at the Top

It's the anticipation before the plunge.

You've waited in line for an hour-and-a-half. You've passed the same people three hundred times as you twist and turn through the maze leading to the the cars. It's hot. You finally push through the turnstiles and are corralled into a numbered zone where you wait for the car to arrive. Moments later it zips around the corner, hisses to a stop, and releases its wind-blown passengers. The gates open and you pile into the car and lower the safety harness into position. Then you're off. The car jerks as it latches onto the chain that leads the ascent to the first breathtaking drop.

As a kid I hated it. I was horrified of roller coasters. The speed, the drops, the loop-de-loops, and, most of all, the uncertainty that the cars would actually stay on the tracks scared the crap out of me. So I didn't ride. I would wait
patiently at the exit while the rest of my family twisted through the mile-long line to ride the Screamin' Eagle, not entirely confident that they would come out alive. They always came back, and somewhere along the line as I grew older, I overcame my fear of roller coasters. In fact, I grew to love them to point that they're the only rides I want to spend time on when I go to an amusement park.

Why the hell am I talking about roller coasters? Because today is my birthday. I'm 39, and suddenly I'm that little boy ready to piss his pants at the thought of the plunge waiting on the other side of the hill. It's not here yet, but definitely inching closer and closer. I just need to remember that I like roller coasters and hope that once I'm officially over the hill, the plunge will be one hell of a ride.

Oh, and please, no applause. Just send cash.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Come Out! Come Out! Wherever You Are!

It has just recently come to my attention (through Chag at Cynical Dad) that today is National Delurker Day. Someone even created a special, though slightly twisted, little badge for the occasion. And while I'd really rather not see your privates, spectacular as they are, I'd love it if you'd come out of hiding and leave a comment. It could be anything. Say hello, tell me who you like in this weekend's playoff games, or what good books/CD's/DVD's you've read/listened to/watched lately (I'm always looking for good suggestions). Give me investment advice, reviews of your new techo gadgets that you got for Christmas, your most embarrassing moments. Anything. Please?

I'm not coming off as too desperate, am I?

The Fugitive

I had the strangest dream last night, which is par for the course for me. If I can ever remember a dream these days, it's because it's strange. Really strange.

I'm shopping in an open-air market, which is to say that it's a grocery store, only outside. There are aisles and displays and specials right out there with the trees, but at least it's blacktopped, you know, so you don't have to push your shopping cart through the dirt. The developers of this open-air market were really on their game. Well it must have been a crisp day and my throat must have been dry and croaky because as I pass an end cap display of Halls Mentholyptus cough drops, I reach down and, without picking it up, expertly insert my thumbnail at the end of the rectangular pack, rip open the packaging, and remove one cough drop, all in one fluid motion. I then pop it into my mouth and go on my merry way.

"Ahem. So you think yer gonna wanta pay for that?" comes a voice from behind me.

I turn to see who in my dream I perceive to be the store manager. In reality it is Greg Eichorn.

Greg Eichorn was a schoolmate of mine from probably Kindergarten through high school. Actually through college, though we only saw each other one time on the U of I's large campus in the four years that I was there. I haven't seen or talked to him in nearly twenty years, and here he is confronting my Halls Mentholyptus theft in my first wacky dream of 2008. Greg Eichorn is no grocery store manager. In fact, I think I heard somewhere that he's a fairly successful lawyer in Chicago. Maybe that's why he's been designated to chase me in my dream to get his Halls Mentholyptus back.

"Give me a break," I crack back. "It costs all of 5¢. Here." I shove my hand in my pocket, produce a quarter, and flip it toward him. "And you can keep the change."

Yes, I was a bit of an ass in my dream (sorry Greg). I am surprised by my dream-behavior because it is completely out of character for me. And I am equally surprised, like a quarter would even cover a pack of Halls Mentholyptus cough drops. But I didn't
need a pack of Halls Mentholyptus. I only needed one. I am amazed that I was even able to find a quarter in my pocket during my dream. Usually you can't find things in your dreams. If you need a quarter (or pants, for that matter), you spend the entirety of that dream desperately looking for it as though your very life depended on it.

Well apparently mine did because after I flipped the quarter at Greg Eichorn and turned to go, he followed me. What did I expect? Now I don't remember paying for my groceries in the dream, but I presumed that I had because they were all boxed up. Apparently in dreams the checkers don't ask you "Paper or plastic". So Greg Eichorn is chasing me over a Halls Mentholyptus, and a flipped quarter. But we're not running. Yet.

I wheel my cart of boxed groceries up the blacktop a ways until we reach the entrance of the subdivision where I grew up. I've glanced over my shoulder a couple of times and see Greg Eichorn casually following me at a comfortable distance. He might be whistling too. I remove two boxes from the cart and begin a brisk walk home. Why the hell did they have to use boxes? They're so hard to carry. Greg Eichorn, too, picks up the pace. I break into a sprint, or as much of a sprint as I can manage, carrying two boxes of groceries. Greg Eichorn follows in hot pursuit. The Halls Mentholyptus is nowhere to be found, whether sucked down or spit out, I have no idea. It is now a distant memory as I run for my life.

I arrive home with Greg Eichorn hot on my heels, only my home isn't my childhood home, but a large apartment building. I'm hauling ass up flights of stairs with Greg Eichorn right behind me. I burst through my apartment door, throw the groceries down (man, I must have really needed those groceries), and slam the door. But it's too late. Greg Eichorn is right there to keep the door from slamming shut. I push with all my might to shut it, but it's no use. Greg Eichorn is a big guy.

"Hey, I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to talk," he assures me from the other side of the door. I don't know why I'm afraid of Greg Eichorn in my dream. Greg was also a really nice guy. But dreams don't always make sense, and in this one I just know I have to get away at any cost.

I let him into the apartment, and we engage in small talk around the dining room table for a few minutes. I am careful to keep the table between him and me. He is careful to keep himself between me and the door. There is nothing between me and the window. After luring him into a false sense of security, I make a break for it, paying no attention to the fact that I just raced up, like, a hundred flights of stairs. I've caught Greg Eichorn completely by surprise. He yells, "Hey!" but I'm already gone, having thrown open the curtains and the window and hurling my body out into space.

On the outside, the apartment building has transformed into my childhood home, and I have just jumped out of my first floor bedroom window. Phew! I hit the ground running. Using the crabapple tree at the corner of the house for cover, I sprint across the front of the Hill's house next door, around the corner and across the border of their back yard. But the landscape has changed in the twenty years since I lived here. Where there was once open land between all of these houses in my neighborhood, there are now chain link fences dividing their properties. And in each of these adjacent properties lie very large, sleeping dogs. I'm screwed. I can easily scale the fences, but to do so would awaken the dogs and, at the very least, alert Greg Eichorn to my whereabouts. And at the very worst, the dogs could relieve me of my life.

I'm scared to go back the way I came because Greg Eichorn has certainly emerged from the front of my house by now and will surely head in my direction. I hunker down behind the vacant kennel and dog house in the Hill's back yard trying to hold my terror at bay. Oh why did I have to steal that stupid frickin' cough drop? And why did I have to act like a jerk and flip a quarter at Greg Eichorn, a man easily twice my size? I am an idiot and I'm cowering like a frightened little bunny rabbit in a crappy hiding place. Any second now Greg Eichorn is going to find me and after how I've behaved, he'll no longer be in the mood to talk and I will pay for that Halls Mentholyptus...


...I'm comin' home, to the place where I belong, where your love has always been enough for me...

It's 6:00 a.m. and my alarm has just gone off. I've never been more thankful to hear Chris Daughtry in all my life. I hit the snooze button and then flop back down trying to decipher the bizarre elements of my dream. Why did I steal? Why did I act like a jerk? Why was Greg Eichorn, of all people, the agent of justice? I know he's a lawyer, but I don't know in what field, and, besides that, I haven't thought about him in years. Why did I run? Very strange. Very, very strange indeed.

My alarm went off a second time and I arose to start the day. But I haven't been able to shake my dream because my behavior in it really bothers me. OK, all you dream interpreters out there, let me know what you think. I'm not guilt-ridden over stealing something, because I haven't. Maybe I'm just nervous because I have to report for my make-up jury duty service next week.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The House is Alive with the Sound of "Music"

My mom bought the girls their very first "real" guitars for Christmas, a couple of Fender Starcasters. They're gorgeous little guitars and I think I was about as excited as the girls were. Kyra probably would have been more excited to get a Hannah Montana guitar, but I was glad that my mom didn't go that route and buy her a total piece of crap for her first guitar. It wasn't too much later on that Christmas morning that the three of us assembled in the den for their first "lesson", the girls nearly bursting with excitement as visions of stardom danced in their heads. Those visions quickly evaporated as I wrestled with their inexperienced fingers to help them each form a "D" chord, where they realized that playing the guitar is a painful experience in the beginning.

"It hurts my fingers," Kyra complained.

"I know, Sweetie. Those are steel strings and they're going to hurt your fingers for awhile until you build up some callouses on your finger tips."

I finally get their fingers to stay where they need to, or close to it, and give them the green light to strum away. Pldit, pldit, pldit...not the prettiest sound in the world, but they don't care. They're making music. We "play" for nearly a half-hour until their fingers are totally raw and call it a day. We've had several lessons since then where the primary goal is to play a little bit more to build those callouses.

As a parent, I feel like one of my duties is to recognize the natural talents, dreams and passions of my girls and then to equip and encourage them to develop the skills necessary to see them come to fruition. Not in a psycho Lynn Spears kind of way, where I see the talent of my children as my meal ticket to a better life, but in a much more subtle way, where the girls are happy and fulfilled by the pursuit of their passions. If learning and playing the guitar helps in that regard, great. If not, well we gave it a shot.

My mom recognized my musical talents at an early age and did what she could to encourage their development. She tried to get me to audition for choirs and musicals and even offered to pay for piano lessons. But in my mind, I was a jock, and even though I secretly longed to be on stage and in the spotlight, I was terrified of the abuse I would get from my friends for partaking in such "sissy" activities. I politely declined her offers and to this day, my biggest regret in life has been not taking her up on those piano lessons.

Kailey and Kyra have inherited some of those natural musical talents, so I take up the mantle where my mom left off. Kyra is a natural and driven performer. She actually scares me a little bit because I think she would like nothing better than being the next Hannah Montana. Seriously. She is constantly singing karaoke and performing in the family room. It's her favorite thing to do. She could spend hours a day perfecting her craft and be perfectly happy.

Kailey lacks Kyra's drive, but is probably a little more naturally talented. Kailey could be a fantastic music writer someday. I am amazed by the emotional complexity of the songs she comes up with right off the top of her head. While many kids her age might sing about horses and rainbows, Kailey sings about things like being left out at school or just wanting to be loved. These aren't things that she personally experiences (at least I hope not), but that she's witnessed and that has impacted her enough to permeate her songs. When she's improving a song, Kailey sounds much, much older. One of my favorite things to do is to grab my guitar, play a chord progression, and have her sing an original song. Her stuff is good. Really good. Tempting-to-rip-off-and-claim-as-mine good. But I haven't...I'm not that desperate...yet.

So we'll start off with guitars and callouses and "D" chords, and we'll see where that leads us.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Those Aren't Pillows!

Every couple of months it seems like I'm buying new pillows. I'm a side-sleeper, so I need firm, fluffy pillows to support my huge, virtual planetoid head, complete with its own weather system. Actually, my head's not all that large, but it must be fairly dense (you know, with all those brains packed in there) because it flattens out those firm, fluffy pillows in a matter of weeks. Granted, I don't spend a lot of money on my pillows, usually opting for Target's $9.99 Extra Firms, so I guess I can't really expect that much out of them. I have forked out as much as $20 at Kohl's with the hope that their slightly more expensive pillows would last longer, but, sadly, they don't. I keep telling myself to bite the bullet and drop a healthy sum of cash on some more expensive, quality pillows, but I just can't. I can't shake the sneaking suspicion that spending $100 on pillows will yield the same results.

My body tells me when it's time to retire the old pillows, like I can't tell by looking at their flat, lumpy mass that they are mere shells of their former selves. Pillow wanna-be's. Maybe I'm not that smart after all. Just cheap. The first hint usually comes from my lower back, but this week it was my neck. I first noticed the pain on Monday while installing the garage door opener. Naturally, I ignored the warning signs and popped ibuprofen religiously until Wednesday night, when every movement nearly sent me through the roof and I didn't sleep a wink. On Thursday morning I made a Target run.

I've heard insanity defined as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". Well I'm not insane. I don't expect my Target pillows to be a long-term solution to my neck and back problems. I just want immediate short-term relief. I made a beeline to the pillow isle where I quickly located their Extra Firm pillows. I decided to browse a little to see if their inventory had changed since I last picked up pillows. I was surprised to find something like a Super-Ultimate-Premium-Non-Allergenic-Extra-Firm pillow for $14.99. Sold. I grabbed two and headed up to the checkout isle.

In order for the body pain modification system to work, I need two pillows (man, it sucks getting old). One, as I mentioned earlier, is for head and neck support, the other is for body support. I have to "hug" pillow #2 like Radar O'Reilly's teddy bear in order to keep my body fully on its side, not allowing me to slump over toward my stomach. If I do, I'm in for a bad day.

Well, my temporary fix worked. I've experienced two nights of peaceful slumber since Thursday night and my neck pain is subsiding. For now. Now I need to get my butt in gear and do some research on some quality pillows so I can avoid this fiasco in the future. Any suggestions?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Animal House

We've been caring for my in-law's Golden Retriever, Rex, for the past few days, and this is where I've been finding him in the mornings when I wake up...IN MY SPOT ON THE BROWN COMFY CHAIR, SHEDDING HIS FUR ALL OVER THE PLACE. Let's just forget for a moment that he's not even supposed to be on the furniture in the first place (give 'em an inch...). There are several other family room options for him to be able to defile our furniture. There's plenty of space on the couch on the other side of the room, or he could sleep on the other side of the chair, on Diane's side, who would be perfectly happy to share her side of the brown comfy chair with him. But he didn't. He chose MY SPOT because he knows that I'm the ONLY ONE in this family who gives a rat's ass about him being on the furniture. And he also knows there's not a damn thing I can do about it (look at that smug look on his face) because this is a battle that I have utterly and totally lost.

Don't get me wrong, I like animals. I love going to the zoo or petting other people's animals that get to go back home to their house when I've had my fill of patting their soft, fuzzy heads. We used to be pet owners, cat people, but our beloved kitties had this nasty little habit of pissing everywhere but their litter box. We should have owned stock in Nature's Miracle, which we bought by the barrel, hooked up to a nozzle, and hosed down what seemed like our entire house on a daily basis. Nature's Miracle was just sort of miraculous, though, as it never truly rid our home of the pleasant scent of cat piss.

When it came time to sell our home, we decided that the piss-soaked carpeting needed to be replaced. It was only after we pulled up the old carpeting that we saw the extent of the damage. Then it was bye-bye kitties. We weren't going to spend a butt-load of money on new carpeting only for our cats to soil it with their butt-loads. My in-laws were gracious enough to give the cats a chance at their house, and they were good, using their litter box, for several weeks. But when they returned to their old ways, it was off to the Humane Society where they were soon adopted by a woman who owned something like ten other cats, and obviously didn't mind the smell of cat piss.

After the kitties were gone I was amazed at how clean the place stayed, "clean" being a relative term in our house. There was no litter to clean up, no Nature's Miracle to purchase and dump liberally in every nook and corner, and, best of all, no cat hair! We went from having 400 of those tape-roller-thingies stashed around the house to none. It was awesome!

But, alas, all good things must end. The pressure of pet ownership has let up considerably since my in-laws acquired Rex. The girls are able to go over there, get their Sexy-Rexy fix, and come home. But they'd really like to have a pet of their own. The only reason we haven't become pet owners again is because Diane hasn't deemed the time as right. I'd like to believe that it's because I'm the one in control and that I've said that it'll be a cold day in hell before we ever own a pet again, but I know it isn't true. I've got a dog snoring on my side of the comfy brown chair to prove it. My beautiful wife allows me to function under the false pretense of control because she knows it makes me feel like "the man". And we both know that it's just a matter of time before we delight the girls with a pet of their own, over my deadened body. And I'll deal with the piss and the poop and the hair because their dispenser will be something that brings them happiness.

Right now the only thing that's bringing me happiness is the vacuum cleaner. It picks up hair and scares Sexy-Rex half out of his mind. Time to go wake up a dog.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

This Time It's Going to Stick...Really

I'm getting organamized for 2008, because this is going to be a freakin' fantastic year. I'm making lists and setting goals, which I tend to do every year only to find them abandoned at the bottom of a pile of unfiled paperwork six months later. I don't know what it is about making New Year's Resolutions. I enjoy the process of creating them, but hate the process of keeping them.

It's like college. I loved getting to the end of the semester when it was time to register for the next term. The challenge was to make the "perfect" schedule, which usually boiled down to no 8:00 am classes. And you could experiment a little bit...schedule all of your classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday and take Tuesday/Thursday off. Or take all morning classes and have the rest of the day to yourself, or all afternoon classes where you could sleep 'till noon. The sky was the limit and I enjoyed the challenge of filling in those blocks of time. Once the new term rolled around, however, and I had to attend those classes was a whole 'nother ball of yarn. Those classes that I had so strategically and painstakingly researched and scheduled usually lost their luster once I walked through the classroom door.

This year's going to be different, though. I can feel it in my bones.
Just that gut feeling that defies explanation. You know, the way I felt that Illinois was going to destroy USC. The way that people truly believed the Titanic was unsinkable. But this year I have a plan. And in that plan I've got goals and aspirations. I've even got frickin' categories, from health to finances to family and relationships to career. And I have subcategories for personal wellness as I look at my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. I have series' of small goals that will lead me to achieve my large ones. I have time lines and pie graphs and flow charts and electronic planners and support software. I have Microsoft Outlook.

Wow. Now that I look at this, not just this post but all these papers spread out, it's a little overwhelming. What am I thinking? I can't do all this. There's no way in hell I can keep all of these resolutions. And in trying to achieve all 167 of them, I'll end up accomplishing none. Why do I do this to myself? One of these years I'll finally grow the balls to stick to my ultimate resolution: don't waste time making resolutions! I'll start that next year.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

I'm Drinking Tonight

USC 49
Illinois 17

'Nuff said.


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