Friday, September 28, 2007

Autumn Music

The sun was shining through the window this morning, so I lay on the floor and let the sunlight bake me for a few moments. Then I announced to anyone who happened to be around that I was taking the day off. What this means, of course, is that I got to watch the kids while Wendy did her thing*. No matter. Since I was in a good mood, I wanted to hear music. "I'm going to turn on some music, Little Dove. What would you like to hear?" Here's what she said:

"Play some Autumn music."

I didn't want to display a lack of self-confidence by asking what constitutes Autumn music, so I put on a Cake album. I got wheels, of polished steel... Wendy told me in no uncertain terms that my selection wasn't Autumn music. Hmm. All I could think of was Vivaldi, and Vivaldi is rainy day music. Do The Killers remind me of yellow leaves, coonskin caps, and cider presses? How about Jimi Hendrix? So I put it to you, Dear Reader: What is Autumn music?

* Note: In this case, Wendy's "thing" happened to be vacuuming and dusting the house, but I don't like murky facts to get in the way of pure emotions.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another Word of Which I Disapprove

Rock. As in "I rocked a new sweater." Please stop saying that. One does not "rock" an article of clothing. One rocks a cradle, a boat, or a stormy love interest. The proper usage in this case is "wear." Example: "I wore a new sweater." If one wants to add a touch of flair to indicate that the article of clothing is being worn in a particularly flashy manner, the term "sport" is preferred: "Sporting a new sweater, a fedora, and a monocle, I was deemed fashionable by my colleagues."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Friday Night Lights

Last Thursday night, I'd just read the great Bill Simmons ranting about the fact that Friday Night Lights is about to be cancelled. All the fuss about this show reminded me of the buzz around Battlestar Galactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- seemingly lame television shows that are smarter than what they appear to be on the surface. Still, the word-of-mouth buzz wasn't enough to get me to watch Buffy since I watch too much television as it is. I would have kept my distance from Friday Night Lights as well, only all the Season 1 episodes are available on the web. Right here. So I thought I'd watch an episode or two online to see if it was worth renting the DVDs. And here's the thing. I couldn't stop watching the show. In three days, I watched all 22 episodes. I watched the season finale Sunday morning around 2:30 am. Not only did this make me tired all weekend, but Wendy wanted to watch the show with me because she's heard similar raves. Too late, babe. No way I could drag out 22 episodes over a month or two.

And while I'm telling you things, here's another thing. I've never liked shows about high school kids, which are all melodramatic, and I rarely like shows (or movies for that matter) about sports. Unrealistic sports shows drive me nuts. In fact, the sports scenes in Friday Night Lights aren't realistic, and they're sometimes painful. The actors are decent athletes, so you don't get ridiculous problems like Gary Cooper swinging like a sissy or Leonardo DiCaprio dribbling a basketball like a 6-year-old with an inhaler. Friday Night Lights has too many dramatic finishes, especially when you watch all the episodes in 3 days, and the editing is way off when it comes to down and distance. Fortunately, the sports scenes end quickly enough and don't do lasting damage.

So why watch the show? The actors are talented and likeable and the writing is sharp. The arguments between the coach and his wife are charming and realistic, complete with overlapping dialogue. Mrs. Coach is a dang good actress, as she shows here. But the showstopper for me is the kid named Landry. He steals every scene he's in. Like this one:

There are a couple more Landy scenes here and here.

I'm not saying the Friday Night Lights is the best show on television. That honor belongs to The Wire. But it's up there. I'm a convert. Give it a try. It starts out a little rough, but it hits its stride after a few episodes.

Friday, September 21, 2007

My Worst Moment

I was trying to think of the single worst experience of my life. It can't be a stretch of a few days or weeks, but a single bad moment. No one close to me has died, so I have to dig deeper than most people. I remember a particularly depressing walk home after being cut from the high school baseball team. And there was the time I had to throw a used condom against the wall. Those were bad, yes, but here's what I think is the single worst experience of my life.

I had recently returned from my mission, and I was sincere about my religious beliefs. Despite some growing doubts about the Mormon story, I believed in God. As I was trying to adjust to my new life as a 21-year-old Mormon, I had to deal with the awkward blend of hormones, shyness, and religious devotion. To my eternal shame, I started peeking at covers of Playboy magazine whenever I went into a convenience store, and after a few weeks I even opened a magazine and shuffled through enough pages to become twitterpated. That combination of titillation and guilt stays with me to this day whenever I look at porn, but back then both elements were much more intense -- especially the guilt of betraying my God. This may seem kind of silly now, but in 1983, pornography wasn't nearly as pervasive, especially in my sheltered world.

I used to ride past an adult bookstore in Moreno Valley every day on my way home from lifeguarding. One day, while driving my Dad's yellow pickup, I decided to stop in. I say this casually now, as if I were curious about a pawn shop, but this act of going into a porn shop put me in a state of frenzy, angels battling demons. Walking towards the door made me feel like I was simultaneously dragging someone and being dragged by someone. When I opened the door, I saw things I shouldn't have seen. Remember, my only experience with porn was looking at Playboy pictorials and trying to make sense of scrambled cable channels, so I was alarmed at the nasty display of sexual deviance. What in the hell is THAT?! Why are they . . . oh no, oh no. A man behind the counter asked if I needed any help. I looked at him and was struck by his eyes, which looked like goat eyes. Dead goat eyes. I asked him where the Playboy magazines were. The evil man scoffed.

I left the store feeling nothing but guilt and shame and dread. Never again. Never, ever again. As I climbed in the pickup cab and fumbled with keys, a man standing outside my window startled me. He knocked on the window. What should I do? Lock the door and drive away? I rolled down the window slowly and snarled in a high-pitched voice, "What do you want?" He handed me a born-again Jesus Saves pamphlet. Relieved that he wasn't going to make me squeal like a pig, I actually took the pamphlet. So that's it. Hearing the strange man tap on my window as I sat shame-faced in my pickup truck was my single worst moment.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Black in the Saddle Again

Donovan McNabb claims that black quarterbacks face more pressure and more criticism than white quarterbacks. "There's not that many African-American quarterbacks, so we have to do a little bit extra," he said. "Because the percentage of us playing this position, which people didn't want us to play ... is low, so we do a little extra."

McNabb's comments are especially interesting in the wake of the Rush Limbaugh fiasco that happened a few years ago. Limbaugh claimed that McNabb was overrated because he was black, and the liberal media wanted black quarterbacks to succeed for social good. (Ah yes, damn those liberal commie sportswriters...) This was back when McNabb was actually playing well. All sorts of people defended McNabb and blasted Limbaugh, who was forced to resign from ESPN for his comments. I'm almost tempted to hear what Limbaugh has to say now. Almost.

Are McNabb's accusations true? I think I'm well qualified to judge since I watch a lot of sports and have racist tendencies. So let's break this down.

Is there any historical precedence?

First, an anecdote. I was playing flag football in a spring tournament during the early 90s. I know you're thinking, "Flag football, pfff." But there were some excellent athletes playing in these games. There were receivers and defensive backs who played for BYU and the U of U, and there was even a guy who played pro quarterback for the Seahawks. I had never heard of him, but still -- I thought it was cool that I was trying to sack a guy who'd played in the NFL. While I was chasing him in the backfield, he overthrew one of his receivers and berated himself:

"Come on! Throw it like a white man!"

I remember thinking at the time that his attitude probably wasn't isolated. I imagined other pro players and coaches were saying the same kind of thing. Throw it like a white guy. There is no question that in previous generations, racial bias prevented lots of talented black kids from playing quarterback. The problem, according to conventional wisdom, was that black people weren't smart enough to play a position that required so much analysis. When I was young, I heard this and believed it to be true. I'm sure this attitude has contributed to the fact that no black quarterback has ever been considered among the greatest. Doug Williams is the only black quarterback to start for any of the winning Super Bowl teams, but he was good, not great. Warren Moon came the closest to being in the upper tier. He had a great college career at the University of Washington, leading his team to a Rose Bowl victory, but NFL folks didn't think he could play quarterback in the NFL so he went to Canada for a few years and lit it up, winning a whole bunch of Grey Cups, eh. When he finally played for the OIlers in the NFL, he was a top 5 quarterback. He had a similar career as Dan Fouts', playing in a high scoring offense that allowed him to rack up the stats, but his team went nowhere in the playoffs, so he didn't get as much acclaim as guys like John Elway and Joe Montana.

Why would McNabb say this now?

McNabb is feeling serious pressure that he might lose his job. One contributing factor to his insecurity is the fact that he sucks this year. In that Monday night game against the Redskins, he was awful, missing open receivers way too often. He was the main reason the offense was sputtering. Last year, the Eagles looked like they were out of the playoff picture halfway through the season. McNabb got injured, and when the backup quarterback took over, the team won a bunch of games and snuck into the playoffs. They did better with a backup quarterback than with their star quarterback. To make matters worse (for McNabb), the Eagles drafted a quarterback in the first round of the draft and cut their popular team leader on defense. McNabb grumbled publicly about both of these moves. He's insecure and shaky right now. It doesn't help that he plays in Philadelphia, which is Greek for "city of hate" (delphi=city, philos = hate). Philadelphia fans are the meanest, nastiest fans anywhere. Plus, McNabb is also struggling to recover from a serious knee injury.

"I pass for 300 yards, our team wins by seven, 'Ah, he could've made this throw, they would have scored if he did this,' " McNabb said. Yes, if only that were the complaint. The problem is, he hasn't thrown for 300 yards and he hasn't missed only one throw and his team hasn't won any games. If a veteran quarterback completes only half of his passes, can't move the offense, and fails to win, should he be above criticism because he's in Campbell's soup commercials? Maybe he'll get better, but if he doesn't he deserves the criticism.

Is he just playing the race card?

Here's my favorite race card story. When I was a lifeguard, one of the cashiers was a black woman that I couldn't stand being around. She was always complaining. Bitching. When any other cashier was around, the conversation was usually lively, but when this black woman was around, the conversation was about her various grievances. At one point, she was upset that cashiers didn't get paid as much as lifeguards. She did all the real work while we just sat around watching people swim. I pointed out that she didn't see us teaching lessons before she arrived or cleaning up after she left, nor was she taking into account that we had to pass training classes to become certified. When I pointed out the fact that she could become a lifeguard by taking a few classes, she said, "I can't swim." But she didn't say it in a shameful way. She said it as if The Powers had failed to give her the ability to swim, so The Powers had better make up for it. After that conversation, I stayed away from her as much as possible, even if it meant taking extra shifts in the chair. She was a human rain cloud. On one rare occasion when I was sitting in the front area next to her, she looked at me and said, "You don't like me because I'm black."

Was that true? At the time, I didn't think so, and if I'd had any black friends at the time, I would have mentioned them, and then I could have said that I didn't care if someone was green, purple, or black... Anyway, I thought I didn't like her because she was stupid, mean, and loud. But she may have been reacting defensively. Same with McNabb. I don't know what he and the other black quarterbacks are going through. In my view, the quarterbacks in the hot seat are McNabb, Rex Grossman (white), Joey Harrington (white), and Eli Manning (white). Black quarterbacks like David Gerrard, Jason Campbell, and Tavaris Jackson are viewed as erratic and inexperienced but promising, so they have a little more leeway. Steve McNair (black) used to be really good, but he's over-the-hill now. Vince Young (black) and Matt Leinart (white) are seen as rising stars. So what is McNabb seeing that I'm not?

Do some black quarterbacks get criticized too much because they're black?

I thought Kordell Stewart single-handedly prevented the Steelers from winning a couple of Super Bowls a few years ago. It was crazy that he wasn't replaced sooner. Same with Aaron Brooks, who was awful for years but kept getting way too many chances. Just like Joey Harrington and Rex Grossman and the Detmer brothers. Is there a black quarterback who's currently not getting a fair chance? Byron Leftwich? Michael Vick? Is Tavaris Jackson having to do more than Joey Harrington to keep his job? Is Vince Young having a rougher go than Matt Leinart? Is Duante Culpepper criticized more unfairly than Charlie Frye? I don't think so.

Can't you be a little more controversial?

OK, I like the fact that white players dominate the quarterback position. Let's suppose the NFL mirrored the NBA, and all the quarterbacks were black except for a German guy, and the only white players were linemen or backups. Would I enjoy watching the NFL as much? No, I wouldn't. I suppose I could justify this thought by saying that I identify more with white athletes than with black athletes. And in the NFL and NBA, white players are certainly a minority, so we're the underdogs now, etc. But I also recognize the racism in my attitude. And maybe this is the kind of attitude that McNabb is responding to.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wanted: SWH

While Wendy was reading a Victorian novel the other day, she told me about an interesting note that explains the purpose of a hermitage. During the eighteenth century, it became trendy for wealthy landowners to return to more primitive, natural landscapes, often applying a touch of medieval gothic. This led to mock hermitages. A hermitage is just what it sounds like -- a place where a hermit or monk lives. So a landowner would try to impress aristocrats by constructing a little building in a remote area on the grounds, kind of like a mother-in-law apartment nowadays. To make them as realistic as possible, landowners hired people to inhabit these faux hermitages as full-time hermits, under the condition that they live in monkish austerity and not cut their hair or nails. These mercenary hermits didn't always work out so well, so the landowners began using wax hermits.

Hermitages haven't really caught on here on the west coast. The closest thing I've seen to it is in a documentary called The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. It features a homeless bohemian musician who befriends wild parrots living in San Francisco. The guy camps out in a little run-down mother-in-law cottage on Telegraph Hill where he scrounges for food, makes sweetly mediocre music, and hangs out with his parrot friends. There's a great scene in which a couple who are buying the property talk about what a valuable asset this parrot guy is to the community, and they get weepy as they tell the camera that they'll let the bird guy continue to live there indefinitely because he's so cherished. It turns out that these new owners define "indefinitely" as around three months, as we learn that the guest cottage will be renovated so that it can be rented out, and the bird man needs to find a new place to live. (He solves his homelessness problem by marrying the woman making the documentary.)

I can do better than those greedy yuppies.

If the housing market in Seattle ever recovers, I could sell the current house and move out to a country estate on, say, ten acres. The main house would have a big porch, solar panels, and an indoor raquetball court, and we'd have an artesian well and a wild garden that surrounds a little cottage. Of course, we need to find someone to live in this bucolic mother-in-law apartment. The most obvious choice is my mother-in-law, but I think I'd prefer soaking myself in gasoline and doing a fire walk on hot coals. So who else? Here are some possibilities:

Minette and Andy - This could work out pretty well, but they'd probably insist on paying rent, which would throw off the arrangement. I just don't get the sense that I could control them. Besides, you really just need the one hermit.

Botched - Botched Experiment is looking for a better job. He could grow his hair out, grovel in mud, and do cancer research. Unfortunately, I think he's a little too chatty to be a hermit.

Glen - Here we go. Glen could continue to work on his dissertation while living in the cottage. If he had nothing to do but his research, he'd probably wrap it up within the next 10-12 years. Plus, I think we could find a Russian woman or two to mistreat him. It could work. Besides, Glen's used to being underpaid.

Dug - At first I didn't even consider Dug because he can be so irascible. But isn't that exactly what you need in this situation? Who wants a pleasant hermit living out in the wood shed? The problem is that despite his grouchiness, people really like Dug, so our hermitage would be a more popular hang-out spot than our home. We can't have that.

Mark - Mark is divorced, so he has enough time on his hands to be an active hermit when he isn't flying. But he doesn't sit still very well, he would leave animal carcasses on the grounds, and I think he'd have a tough time with the long fingernails.

Robert - Robert could definitely let his hair and nails grow out. This arrangement would qualify well for his ideal community in which people barter poetry for chicken feed. Plus, he's half native American, so when the boys ask a particularly difficult question, we could say something like, "I don't know -- go ask the Indian out in the back."

Unless someone has a better idea, I may just end up putting a wax hermit in the cottage.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Just Say Sometimes

Drugs. Tough subject for me. I have some friends who think I'm hopelessly provincial when it comes to drug use, and I have other friends who think I'm in Hunter S. Thompson's league because I've had a few drug experiences. They're all wrong, of course. No one understands me! (For some reason, it tickles me when people say that.) When I was first figuring out how the world works during the late 60s, I remember being alarmed by a psychedelic poster of Donovan (yes, the "British Bob Dylan"). I sincerely believed that he and the other dirty rock n' roll hippies were satanic figures trying to lure us all down to hell, and displaying a poster of Donovan was like displaying a poster of Regan in The Exorcist. Not that the Mormon culture was in any way influencing my outlook. I remember seeing the potheads ("freaks" in Nebraska, "burnouts" in Colorado, and "stoners" in Michigan), and thinking these chain-smoking losers in tattered jean jackets had already thrown away their lives. Why couldn't they just be normal and play sports, or at least cheer for people playing sports?

It took me about five years in my mid 20s to leave the church and figure out how I really felt about things like sex and drugs. Of course, this isn't something that happens overnight, at least not for me. It was similar to knocking over a Coke machine in which each push got me closer and closer. Only that's not a good comparison because there's no pain in pushing over a Coke machine. So it would be like knocking over a Coke machine that has a bunch of fish hooks connected to you on little strings, and each new push tears out different chunks of flesh. Only that's not right because physical pain is easier to bear than spiritual pain. So it's like tipping over a Coke machine that has little fishhook ghouls connected to your soul. Yes, that's it.

At the end of this period, when I was out once and for all, I went through an experimental phase that most people go through in their teenage years. It was a bizarre time full of experiences both miserable and exhilarating, and some of the most exhilarating experiences were the most miserable, and vice versa. At this point, a good writer would be more specific. All I can say in my defense is that I do in fact have many entertaining examples of this period to relate, but it falls outside the scope of this particular web log entry. Oh, but I'll get to some of them, 'cause I can feel a memoir-writing phase coming on, if you can't already tell.

At the end of this experimental phase, I'd mostly figured out what I was comfortable with and what I wasn't. Of course, it's complicated because I can be a tremendously insecure person. For example, just this last weekend, I finally admitted to myself that my favorite pizza is canadian bacon and pineapple, which is kind of like admitting that your favorite alcoholic beverage is Zima. Or, ahem, hard apple cider. While I'm still insecure about food and beverage tastes, I think I have a decent handle on drugs. I realize that I still have some of the conservative hippie-bashing tendencies, and I think drugs are a lot more dangerous and destructive than a lot of my friends do. Nevertheless, while I'm not into drugs, they can be fun on occasion. I'll get drunk every now and then, and I'll smoke pot about as often as the Summer Olympics roll around, but that's it. I think marijuana is a remarkably tame drug, much less harmful than alcohol, but for me there is too much payback. I can get paranoid, which is common for someone whose very skin offends him at times. And the day after I smoke pot, I am without fail grumpy. Still, every four years or so, it may be worth it. Or maybe not.

A few years ago B.T. (Before Twins), I made the mistake of drinking and smoking pot at the same time. For a lot of people, this is a good combination. The alcohol loosens them up, and the pot mellows them out, and all is right with the world. For me, the alcohol lowers my inhibitions, and the pot makes me insecure and paranoid, so the lowered inhibition merely causes me to cut loose and then feel anxious about it.

So I was hanging out with my wife, her sister, K., and our brother-in-law, M. I didn't know them well at the time. We're drinking and chatting and having a good time, and the subject of learning how to play music came up. Now, K. and M. are talented musicians. M. in particular is a great guitar player -- for example, whenever I've asked him to play any song, whether it's Bob Dylan or Nat King Cole or one of my lame Christian folk songs, he could do so flawlessly without sheet music, and he'd know all the words to all the verses. M. and K. sing beautifully together, so whenever M. broke out his guitar, it was like having our own personal minstrels. When I mentioned that I took piano lessons, K. was startled, because I apparently show no signs of having musical talent. She asked why I stopped taking lessons. The drunk part of me kicked in, and I didn't explain myself well.

What I meant to say was that I had no interest in playing the piano because none of the songs were interesting. Sure, I appreciate "Ode to Joy" now, but a 13-year-old kid whose idols were Johnny Unitas and Jackie Robinson just wasn't going to be into Beethoven and folk music. Above all, my tepid desire to play the piano wasn't nearly strong enough to overcome my lack of musical talent. But here's what I said instead:

"I quit piano lessons because my teacher was lousy. She didn't let me play any interesting music [hiccup], and she didn't encourage me to create my own ... music."

K. smiled to herself. When I'm sober and unbaked, I would have responded to her wan smile by either clarifying what I said or chalking it up to K. being a ruthless ball buster at times, such as during her waking hours, and letting it go at that. But as a stoned inebriate, I insisted on having her explain why she smiled like that. We then had one of those miserable approach-avoidance conversations in which we dodged the core issues out of politeness or whatever. She obviously thought I was blaming my lack of musical talent on my piano teacher (I was, but didn't mean to), and I was mad at K. for her judgmental arrogance, but all that went unsaid.

So what happened next? Nothing and a lot. Nothing, because we dropped the conversation and moved on. A lot, because I couldn't get K.'s reaction out of my head. It was the worst thing that could happen to me in that state. If I'd said something overtly stupid or if K. had merely misunderstood me, I could have dealt with it much better. But because I knew someone was calling me on my bullshit, yet there was some truth in what I was saying, I couldn't let it go. I sounded like Lady Catherine: "If I had ever learnt to play, I should have been a true proficient."

When you're stoned, you pay attention to every thought that passes through your head, even the white noise, which can be a cool thing if the discardable thoughts are pleasant or interesting. Or it can be miserable. That insignificant trifle of a conversation filled my mind. Why did I stop playing the piano? I have no desire to play the piano, that's why. Why did K. just look at M. like that? Was that a knowing glance? Did I just say that aloud? Was I talking? Oh shit, I was talking. I better explain myself. And I better explain why I'm explaining myself, and then I better explain that. Are those Doritos free?

It's not always easy living inside your own head. I promised then and there that I would never smoke pot again. Unless maybe someone thought it was a swell idea.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tickling Ivories

I play the piano. This little fact surprises some of my friends. If they happen to hear me not even hitting the same notes that Mick Jagger hits when I'm singing along to the Stones, they say either aloud or to themselves, "This guy may be a champion mountain bicyclist and all-around good guy, but he has no musical talent whatsoever." Not true! I can play three songs on the piano, and my siblings can name all of them (likely with clenched teeth): "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore," "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "Jingle Bells." I am not counting "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater" since it doesn't include any of the white keys. Ah, but here's another cool thing I can do on the piano. I can make up songs in the key of C. That's right. I can mix and match the left-hand chords from the two Christian songs I know with the proper right-hand notes and make up music. It fools people into thinking I know a lot of songs. So when I sit down at someone's piano to play, I play the song with my whole body, swaying and nodding and mouthing imaginary lyrics, occasionally closing my eyes as if delaying orgasm.

How did I learn to play the piano? Glad you asked.

It all started in Nebraska. My mother wanted all the children to learn to play, and since I derived much of my self-worth from being more obedient than my older brother (and saving more of my allowance), I complied. The teacher in Nebraska taught me to play by numbering my fingers. 1-3-4-5 ("Oh when those saints") 1-3-4-5 ("go march-ing in") 1-3-4-5-3-1-3-2 ("oh when those saints go mar- ching in"). I practiced piano enough to meet the minimum requirements of obedience, and then my family moved to Colorado.

"I hear there's a great piano teacher in the ward," my mother exclaimed. "Would you like to take piano lessons?"

Yes, and can I please have a paper route that forces me to wake up a 5:00 a.m.? Oh, and while I'm desperate for approval, is it too early prepare for my Mormon mission?

The Colorado music teacher taught me all the same crappy Christian folk songs that involve the rowing of boats and marching of saints, only she forced me to unlearn the numbering technique. "C-D-E-D-C, in that number, oh when the saints go mar...ching... in...!" I had a friend who told me that he used to take lessons from this woman. He warned me that after he quit, she ignored him in church. If he spoke to her, she refused to reply.

I was a decent piano player. I would much rather play football by myself* in the backyard than play piano. Even though I practiced hard enough to memorize the scales and play the assigned songs well enough to win gold stars from my piano teacher, my heart wasn't in it. When I had to choose between piano lessons and baseball practice, it gave me a good reason to quit without being considered a quitter. Despite this excellent excuse, my former piano teacher refused to speak to me when I saw her in church, even when I asked her a direct question**.

Why do I mention this? Well, because it fits in to what I want to write about tomorrow. Drugs.


* One of my strongest memories of Colorado is of me playing elaborate football games by myself in the back yard, complete with pre-game warmups, incomplete passes, and television timeouts, during which time I drank from an imaginary water bottle. All the other kids in my neighborhood were in school while I was off-track at a year-round school during October and November, so even if I had had any friends in the area, which I didn't, I wouldn't have been able to play with them anyway. In retrospect, i regret not having taken up masturbation earlier.

** Indisputable fact: Colorado Springs has the highest per capita ratio of assholes to non-assholes of any community in the western United States. I really, truly believe this. Think about the principal players in the South Park, Columbine, and the Jon-Benét Ramsey stories, and you have a pretty good idea of what people in Colorado Springs are like. It really surprises me that the Menendez brothers weren't from Colorado. That whole thing should have happened there.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Family Evaluation

It's that time of year again for me to objectively evaluate my family's progress. In all, we're learning and growing, but we have some room for improvement.

Max - First of all, you need to learn how to vomit better. Let's start with the stance. A typical vomiting position is similar to the prayer position (which you may be unfamiliar with as a 3-year-old atheist). Get on your knees, bend over, and hold the edges of the bucket or toilet firmly. Last week, when you vomited, you stood upright in the middle of the kitchen floor, held your hands at your sides as if you were speaking in an auditorium, and vomited. To your credit, you took steps backward as the puddle grew larger, and you complained only briefly about your socks getting wet. Still, let's work on our form, shall we? Preparation is the key; the readiness is all.

Second, it's one thing to claim you're potty trained and then, um, not be. But when you evacuate your bowels while wearing only underpants, please don't "fling" your personal detritus. Your mother is too short to clean the ceiling. If we lived in the Netherlands, this activity might be acceptable, but the United States is a clean, well-lighted place. Let's treat it as such.

Luke - Don't look at your shoes while you're running in a race. It slows you down. Also, when playing a thrilling game such as Sorry, try to contain your excitement. There is absolutely no reason to vomit when one of your pieces gets to Home.

Wendy - You need to be better at anticipating when I'm to come home for dinner. Currently, you take what I say too literally, and this causes problems. If I tell you I'll be leaving work at 5:00, you should be able to tell by the timbre of my voice whether I'll really leave at 5:00 or 5:45. Also, I noticed you've been lying around the house a lot the last couple of days. I know that you had abdominal surgery yesterday, but let's remember what Benjamin Franklin said, "He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else."

Me - I need to improve my cycling speed first and foremost. I also need to become a more responsible television viewer. I cancelled HBO, which was probably a mistake just as Flight of the Conchords was taking off. We all have our crosses to bear.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Most Enjoyable Concussion Story

Since all my lunch buddies were laid off last year, I've gotten into the bad habit of eating lunch alone in my office because -- get this -- it's "less depressing." (Yes, I'm misquoting myself.) After an 11:00 meeting, I decided to venture out and ask a co-worker if he wanted to go to lunch. This co-worker -- let's call him Thigpen -- is a huge Sonics fan and he rides his bike to work, so we have something to talk about. Thigpen was telling me a story about how his wife had a nasty fall on her bike, and she kept repeating the same questions, so I tried to tell a quick concussion story of my own. I didn't want to spend the entire 45-minute lunch telling this story, but that's what happened. Thigpen kept interrupting me with questions.

Here's how I wanted to tell the quick and dirty story:

A bunch of friends and I were playing tackle football in the park. There was a new guy named Brad that I didn't like1, so I was looking for a way to clobber him. One of my friends got to him first. Elden2 tackled him so hard that Brad's head whiplashed against the frozen ground. Brad rolled around for a few seconds, muttered something, and went into convulsions. He was literally foaming at the mouth. Elden called the ambulance3 and we all went to the hospital. When we finally were able to see Brad4, he kept asking the same three questions: "What happened? Does my wife know where I am? Where are my keys?"5

1 I didn't like Brad for two reasons. First, I was dating a widow1A with four daughters1B at the time, and he was trying to convince her to break up with me.1C Second, we were supposed to be working together on an online tutorial, and this guy refused to accept editing changes1D. I can see why poets and novelists might get protective of their text, but a technical writer?

1A She was a widow because her husband was killed in a bicycling accident. He was riding hard to meet one of his friends, and he probably had his head down since he was going about 30mph on a flat road. A bus1Ai turned left in front of him, and he crashed into the side view mirror, breaking his neck.

1Ai It was the substitute bus driver's first and only day on the job. She hadn't been through the mandatory training course. A couple days after the accident, a state representative called to tell the widow that they were willing to give her the maximum compensation allowed by the law. Since the law was created in the late 60s, and since the law didn't include a provision for inflation, the widow had to choose whether to fight that law in a conservative Utah court or take the relatively small sum of money.

1B The oldest daughter was 9 and the youngest had just turned 1. Cute kids. The widow was the provider and the deceased had been the homemaker, which was an odd arrangement in Utah County.

1C Brad was a Mormon who was married to a woman he had fallen out of love with. He couldn't divorce her because she had a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. At least that's what he told the widow. He knew that I was no longer an active Mormon1Ci, so he urged her to break up with me1Cii.

1Ci I had just abandoned Mormonism for good around this time, but I was having a difficult time figuring out how I wanted to live. It wasn't easy to separate undesirable social programming from genuine personality traits. After crashing through several awful relationships, I started dating the widow. We saw each other for a year, and I think we helped each other through parallel dark periods. The fact that I wasn't a devout Mormon was a comforting barrier to both of us for a long time, but then it became a burden -- especially when people like Brad kept pointing out the futility.

1Cii I knew that he was saying bad stuff about me to the widow, but I didn't know hard he was pushing until after the concussion incident. He had fallen in love with the widow.

1D Here's one of the editing changes I wanted Brad to make. On the first screen of the tutorial, he wrote, "Click the right arrow button to proceed and continue." I told him to delete the sentence, because if users can't figure out how to click the right arrow, perhaps they deserve to stare at that screen for a couple of hours. No? Then if you're not going to delete the whole sentence, maybe you could just say "to continue" instead of "to proceed and continue." Brad then explained to me in painful detail why "proceed" and "continue" have two different meanings in this context, and why they are both relevant and necessary. I could have strangled and choked him.

2 Elden (aka, the Fat Cyclist) is a terrible football player, but strangely effective. He runs as fast as he can, most often in the wrong direction, and he hits people as hard as he can, even if they don't have the football.

3 Dug said the rule of thumb in cases like this is that the guy who wallops the victim has to call the ambulance, but Elden seemed too shaken up. This was before cell phones, so he had to knock on someone's door and ask to call 911. We also debated who should give CPR if it came to that. I'm afraid that conversation reflected poorly on me, but in my defense, I'll emphasize that Brad had a thick beard and he was foaming at the mouth and he was a lousy writer.

4 While we were sitting in the waiting room of the ER, someone mentioned that the game was going to get out of hand anyway, so it was a good thing we had to stop. Someone else took issue, so we went outside to finish our tackle football game on the field behind the hospital. If memory serves, my team was victorious.

5 His keys were in his pocket.