December 17, 2009

A new box

So I'm in the middle of my lunch yesterday, and I get a call from my mother.  The conversation lasted all of about ten seconds.  She called to say, simply,

"35 years ago today, right this minute."

Granted, we would talk again later, but that was her message at the time.

So yeah, yesterday was my 35th birthday.  I'm now 35 years old. And at 35, you get a new box.

You are now, "35 or older."  35-plus, even.  I'm a plus now.

It seems like only yesterday, I was one of the chosen ones, the sought-after.  I was in that highly desired group, males between the ages of 18 and 34.  But no longer.

Now I'm a marketing outcast.  I'm not hip or interesting.  Spike TV no longer gives a crap whether or not I watch their programs.

From an advertising standpoint, I no longer exist.

I'm overreacting, you say?  Making a mountain out of a molehill?  Maybe, but let's find out.

Go to google, and type in "males age 18-34." The first ten hits are all about advertising.  In fact, the first link is to a conference; a conference whose entire purpose is to talk about marketing to males in that age range.  In fact, the only non-advertising link in the first twenty hits?  The UFC home page.

Now, let's look at the other age group, shall we? "males age 35 and older"

First hit?  An link: How to Date Young Women.  In fact, nine of the top twenty hits are on the subject of dating (both straight and gay).  In the remainder, four are discussions of the male biological clock.  Not a peep about advertising, marketing, or targeting that demographic (well, I guess you could say there's some targeting going on, but that's a whole different post).  These are my people now.

Look, I'm not actually all that bothered about turning 35, just like I wasn't all that jarred by turning 30 (although 31 was a little strange).  It's just odd to note that, simply by virtue of turning one year older, and entire industry seems to have lost interest in my opinion.  They're more or less the same as they were on Monday, but they're just no longer suitable for measurement.  Just feels a little strange is all.

But everything will be all right.  I'm not going to start yelling at people to get off my lawn (at least, no more than usual).  I had a great birthday with a whole weekend of celebration to go along with it.  Now I can wind down a little, maybe watch some TV.

Maybe I'll even turn on Spike, just for old time's sake.

November 11, 2009

A different kind of holiday

I have never been in the military.

For most of my life, I'd have told you that I wasn't cut out for it, mostly owing to a general tendency to question authority, and a distaste for because-I-said so.  Because really, I'm a smart-ass, and from what I can tell that doesn't get you terribly far in those circles.  And while I believe now that I would be a good officer, maybe even a natural leader, the simple truth is that I can't say for certain how I would respond in the white-hot crucible that is live combat, making those split-second decisions that quite literally are a matter of life and death.  But then, I don't suppose any of us really can, until we find ourselves there.  For better or worse, I have never had to find out.  I have the luxury of speculation because there are people out there who made the conscious decision to put themselves in harm's way in my stead.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by current and former military, throughout both my social and professional circles.  Two people I have written about before; many others I could mention given enough space and time.  Cousins, friends, current and former co-workers, with one cousin and one close friend's significant other currently "overseas."  I am fortunate for two reasons: one, because virtually every one of these people are a credit to the armed forces and to our country, for what they have done but more for the people they are; and two, and perhaps more importantly, every one of them has come home.

The convention for greetings on holidays is more or less always, "Happy [holiday name here]."  That's fine in general, but I have some difficulty with it on Veterans' Day, mostly because while we are celebrating the men and women currently serving in uniform, we are also paying our respects to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of their country.  So in that regard, "happy" seems a bit misplaced, if you ask me.

Instead, I will simply offer a Grateful Veterans' Day to all, current, former, retired, whatever.  If you or someone you know and/or love is in active service, or supporting someone who is, I would just like to say thanks, and I hope that you or they remain safe and get home soon.  Whether or not we remember to say it often (or often enough), we appreciate all that you do for all of us.

No politics, just respect: I support the troops..

October 28, 2009

Pet Peeves: Courtesy Uncommon

Let me just put this out there : if you're walking through a door and you let it swing closed behind you without so much as a glance over your shoulder to see if anyone is there?  You're an asshole (and I don't care if you're a man or a woman, btw). 

It really is that simple.  Unlike so many other areas of our lives that are filled with nuance and shades of gray, this is delightfully, blissfully clear: Asshole, or Not Asshole.  No latitude, no margin for error, no wiggle room.  No extra thought or analysis required.

I was originally going to elaborate on this, maybe even rant a little.  But you know what?  Not necessary; the moral of the story is plain and obvious:

Pay attention.  Don't be an asshole*.

* I recognize that this advice/philosophy is applicable in a wide range of situations and aspects of life, but I prefer to keep my expectations reasonable (i.e. low).  It's all about choosing your battles, people.

October 8, 2009

It's the little things, really

I think that the ability to effectively wrap something in plastic is a skill, and a skill worth recognizing. It's like wrapping presents, but harder. Saran, Cling, what have you, it's downright impressive when it's done correctly, as I discovered this evening in yet another object lesson in humility.

The Girl brought home a macaroon with dinner the other night, and as you might expect from a take-out place, it was wrapped for safe keeping and to preserve freshness. We didn't eat it that night, and I set it aside without much thought. It's a wrapped-up cookie, the very definition of mundane.

Then, tonight, we decided to sample it, and damn if it didn't take me a solid five minutes to unwrap the stupid thing. It was sealed up like it was going out on the space shuttle. Less Reynold's than Rubik's, but without the shortcut option of moving little stickers around. We could count the pores on King Tut's face if he'd been mummified half as well as this cookie.

You know how most of the time you can find that one seam to start with, and then unravel the rest? Yeah, not this time. Turned it over, looked for edges, a seam, and found exactly bupkis.

And as an adult, with a technical degree no less, you only get about fifteen seconds of poking at something like this before you start to feel like a bit of a schmuck. Which I did. For five more minutes. Or at least, what felt like that long in schmuck-time (which is a longer measurement than conventional time; it's longer than that last minute before your metro train arrives, but not quite as long as the last minute you're stuck on that same train next to the guy with the really bad B.O. Point is, it drags). Ever been angry at a baked good? I have, now.

At least I was until I tasted it. It was very good, fluffier than your average macaroon if that makes any sense. Not too sticky, and not overpoweringly cocounutty. But while we enjoyed it, we didn't eat all of it tonight, deciding to save the rest for later.

I say that plastic-wrapping is a skill, because it is a skill that I, quite clearly, do not have. you would recognize both of these things were I to show you the before/after sequence. Like P90X in reverse. I'm not sure a reasonable person would buy a cookie I wrapped, no matter how good it looked; it's safe to assume there is no impending launch of a career on the bake sale circuit, that's all I'm saying.

Look, I know this probably seems a bit silly, me going on about something like this. But I would argue that it's worth highlighting, to one extent or another, even the small things that people do well. Granted, in this case it's a little begrudging, but it's respect nonetheless. We all come in contact with people who do some of those small things really well, and in the end doing those things well makes life a little better, doesn't it? So when you see it, acknowledge it. Maybe even celebrate it a little.

And if you want to buy them a cookie? I know a place to get a pretty good macaroon. I promise it won't go stale.

August 24, 2009

I know it's not the only reason...

I had a physical last week for the first time in over a decade. Everything looks fine, although my cholesterol is a touch high. Not very, just a little over 100. Nothing to be alarmed about, but reading that over the weekend reminded me of a conversation I had a few months ago. It was at work, at the end of a couple hours of meetings with my client and a vendor.

It seems you can't get more than three adult men in a room for longer than about half an hour before someone starts talking about their cholesterol. In this case, the subject was brought up by my client, who had just been to the doctor and come home with one of those little blister-packs of Lipitor or whatever, and was doing that low-level lament that most of us go through when faced with involuntary lifestyle changes. I had little to say, since at the time it had been ten years or so since I'd had a checkup, and it wasn't something I was keenly interested in as it was. Anyway, this discussion was the first time I had heard that the goal was to get one's cholesterol down to, or below, 100.

According to the vendor rep, the trouble with this theory is that 100 is a very tough number to get to. His point was that it's difficult to expect an adult to maintain that level of cholesterol, considering the cholesterol level of a newborn is somewhere around 70.

It was then, after having nothing to say for most of the discussion, that I was finally able to contribute.

"Which is why," I said, "we don't eat babies."

August 9, 2009

Kind of amazing

Most people, when they hear the name Bobby McFerrin, immediately think of one song, one song that many of those same people are thoroughly sick of (and they have been since about six months after that song came out). For many people, that's about all they know of him. They may have heard about something or other that he did with Yo-Yo Ma, but there was never a video on MTV or a special somewhere or a radio single, so chances are it slid past relatively unnoticed. And that's unfortunate, because the man is brilliant.

I've had the pleasure of seeing him in concert one time, several years ago, and it was spectacular. At this point, I see him less as a musician than as a musical philosopher, as you can see in this clip from the World Science Forum. It is remarkable.

(In case you have trouble hearing it, his comment at the beginning is something like, "Talk about expectations...")

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

How cool is that?

July 29, 2009

Plinky and the Brian: Pleasant Surpise

Today's Plinky prompt:

What city were you surprised to like?

The truth is that while there are a lot of places I haven't been, I have been to some interesting places. My answer to this question has a lot less to do with the city than it does with the circumstances surrounding my visit.

The short answer: Cairo. The longer answer is, well, the rest of this post, isn't it?

I started the job prior to the one I have now on August 29, 2001. About my third day or so there, one of my coworkers came up to me and said, "Listen: don't tell anyone because it's not official yet, but it looks like we might be going to Egypt in early October."

At the time he told me, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. But you can imagine that about a week and a half later, my thinking was a little bit different. It was more along the lines of, "You want me to go where, now?" and "Oh, hell no." Or something to that effect.

Now, for reasons not directly related to 9/11, the trip got postponed for a couple of months, resulting in one of the busiest Thanksgiving weekends of my life: I had Thanksgiving dinner, moved from one house to another, more or less dropped all my stuff in a pile, packed and left for two weeks overseas. All in the span of about three days. It was a little hectic, to say the least.

But even a couple of months later, there was quite a bit of trepidation about the trip. Remember: at that point, people weren't even flying between states in this country, let alone over there. And while I have a different perspective on it now, at the time I lumped Egypt into the category of the Middle East, which was not a place Americans were generally all that thrilled about heading. The people I traveled with joked about getting Canadian flags to sew onto our bags. We joked. Kind of.

But off we went, and everything was fine. Better than fine, actually. Cairo is pretty amazing, and we had a great visit. The pictures alone are worth having been there. I have a bunch of stories, many of which deserve (and may get) their own posts, but here are some highlights:

- The next time you get frustrated in DC traffic, just be glad you're not in Cairo. There are something on the order of 20 million people there (at least, that's what I was told; I've never bothered to fact-check), and it seems like they're all driving around at the same time. We landed at Cairo airport just after midnight, and as far as the traffic was concerned, it might as well have been rush hour. It was shocking. And there are no rules that I can determine, instead bumper advantage rules the day. Oh, and you might have to share the road with a donkey cart or two. With all of that, though, I never saw a single accident happen, and only one or two fender-benders after the fact. And despite the volume, things move fairly swiftly (or more swiftly than you'd expect, which is to say at all). But more than once we had to fold the mirrors in on the van to get through a very tight spot.

- We arrived during Ramadan, which was fascinating. All kinds of decorations covered the city, and we were fortunate enough to be invited to the iftar (fast-breaking dinner) at the office where our project took place. Really, really interesting on a host of levels. Plus, awesome food, which always helps. Bizarre lasting image from the evening: large, round Arabic men wearing fezzes, dancing around each other like it was a club. As strange as that may sound, there's no way what you're picturing is as weirdly comical as what actually happened. Trust me, I was there (with neither fez nor dancing, just so we're clear).

- Our hotel was on the Nile River, and you could see the Pyramids from my balcony. You can see the Pyramids from just about everywhere in Cairo, seeing has how Giza is a little closer to Cairo than Baltimore is to DC.

- We got rained on while we were there. This is not something that happens often. We asked one of our clients how often it rained, and he said, "I think it rained three times last year." So we witnessed (and felt) what could have been roughly 30% of Cairo's annual rainfall during our trip.

- I may or may not have eaten camel. I say that not to be cryptic, but because I'm not completely sure. But I think so. And it wasn't very good. Suffice it to say that during Ramadan in an Islamic country, the options for lunch are not what I would describe as plentiful and/or varied.

- Speaking of lunch, we did make an obligatory visit to McDonalds (which is not where the might-or-might-not-have-been-camel experience took place, just for the record). As much as they say that McDonalds is the same all over ther world, it's not the same in Egypt. But you can get McFalafel there, which I find amusing and kind of soul-hurting all at the same time. But what was amazing was the block that the McD's was on; it was a city block of nothing but American franchises. You had McD's, Hardee's, Radio Shack, and.... wait for it....

Little Ceasar's pizza. Because apparently, nobody in Egypt teaches history, either. I mean, seriously: if you're going to import Western junk food, fine. Just have some national pride, and I don't know, pick a company not named for someone who conquered your country. Papa John never ruled an empire; that's all I'm saying. One of my biggest regrets is not getting a picture of the place*. I got the Radio Shack but not Little Ceasar's. Next time I'm there, though...

- We got at least one apology about 9/11, from a cab driver, while we were over there.

- It was really sobering to see just how hard a country like Egypt was hit by the aftermath of the 9/11. Egypt has no oil, and its economy is very dependent on tourism. Well, while we were there, we saw virtually no tourists. The point was made very clear one night when we went to a local restaurant for dinner. It was a nice place, definitely at the higher end of the spectrum; one of the places on the list of Places To Eat you find one travel websites, etc. Had a great dinner, then went over to the bar and got into a conversation with the manager there. At some point we ended up talking about 9/11 (because how could you not?), and he pulled out his reservation book and opened it up, to give us an idea of the impact 9/11 had on a place like Cairo. He opened the book up to July/August, and every page, no kidding, was completely full. Huge parties, 60 or so people, several to a page, crowded the reservations. He then flipped ahead to November, and again all the pages were completely full of huge parties. The difference: virtually every one had been crossed out, canceled.

- Everyone should go to Cairo just to see the Khan al-Khalili, which I believe is the oldest marketplace in the world. It's beautiful, once you get past the overly-aggressive shopkeepers. But I will tell you another time about Magdi, who is reason enough to go there all by himself. But we went, and we haggled. Because that's what you do.

- We spent about 3 hours on horseback, riding around the Pyramids. And yes, it was exaclty as cool as it sounds. We had found a cab driver that we liked, so we held onto his number and called him whenever we needed something. Turned out he knew some guys who ran a stable in Giza, so he took us over there and got us fixed up with horses and a guide. It was truly amazing, and humbling, to be among that kind of history (and scale; the things are every bit as big as they look and then some), and the horse thing was just a great way to go about it. Much better than camel, I think, for long periods. Less spitting, and the jerking forward and back. Mostly, though, the spitting.

As I said, I have more stories, but I'll save them for another time. In the end, I'm glad I went, and was fortunate enough to make a second trip about six months later. I'd go back in a heartbeat, and I recommend it to anyone who's thinking about going.

And I have the number for a great cab driver, if you need it.

* Longtime readers of Arjewtino might find that story familiar, as it was the subject of a comment and photo-post on his blog a while back.

July 22, 2009

A Memorable Memorial

So it's been a family-oriented couple of weekends. This past weekend was a cousin's wedding on my Dad's side (very nice time, although getting there might be the subject of a different, far less positive post), and the weekend before was back up in Dagny's Land of Milk and Honey for the memorial service/party/gathering for Gramps.

It's one of those things where I feel like I should try to describe it, try to capture just a bit of the experience, while at the same time being at an almost total loss how to go about it. A simple recounting of details seems wholly insufficient, but we'll see how it goes.

It was simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking to be there. So many good stories, great memories shared, counterbalanced against the fact that it was going to be the next to last time I would probably ever set foot in that house. Lots of people who I was thrilled to see, but I would have just as soon had a completely different reason for us to get together. I could think of about a thousand that I would have preferred, with one more guest at the table. But such as it was, and has been throughout, it all went pretty much ideally. Under the circumstances.

I realize it might seem a little strange, to have a memorial service (I will continue to call it that, for lack of a better term; it wasn't a service per se, seeing as how there was no church and no religious aspect to it at all; but I'm not about to call it a party, so there we are) more than a month after his passing, but Mom and Dad wanted to give the various cousins a chance to make some travel arrangements, rather than all trying to rush down immediately. They wanted to be able to plan an opportunity for a small but significant number of people to get together, share stories, and celebrate the man that was my grandfather. And we did, and as people said during and afterwards, it was very him.

It was a very simple thing, held at the clubhouse in the community in which he lived, but there were some wonderful Gramps touches: his favorite local restaurant catered the event, my parents put together a few photo-boards of pictures from a wide variety of aspects of Gramps' life, and we had people who were both relatives and friends who knew him in different ways and on different levels. One amusing irony about it was that, while many of the friends from the community had known him nearly 25 years, they really only knew him as he was when he moved out of Brooklyn after my grandmother passed away, so there was this whole other aspect to him that they never knew (or at least, never experienced). So here I was, telling people who were 50-plus years my senior things they'd never heard about a man they'd known for almost as long as I've been alive. A little surreal, for all of us. But that was part of Mom's point: let people see and hear things that they may not have known, that helped make up who he was.

We had a little under 50 people there, in total, and it ended up being just about half and half family and friends. The food was great, and the conversation better. There were people there that I'd never met, or at least hadn't seen since Gramps' surprise 75th birthday party (at which I taught a room full of senior citizens the Electric Slide, but that's a whole different post), and cousins that I don't see nearly often enough. Plus one or two old family friends with whom I got to catch up after many, many years. I guess it's as close to the Irish wake you'd kind of expect, minus the large volumes of whiskey: mostly smiles and laughter. A tear or two, sure, but mostly good memories to share with good people.

The story sharing was the best, if perhaps the most difficult, part of the whole thing. Mom had asked people to, when they felt the inspiration, to share a story or memory about Gramps. It wasn't organized, just as people sat and talked amongst themselves, someone would get up and address the group with whatever they'd come up with.

From the beginning, before Mom even mentioned this part of the plan, I kind of expected that I'd end up saying something. It was quite a surprise, though, when mom specifically asked me to read the post I'd written about his passing, since it's more or less exactly the kind of thing she was looking for. I agreed, but we also agreed that something like that would probably not be good to open with, belonging more towards the end. My brother actually found a paper he'd written about Gramps back in 3rd grade, which along with every card we'd ever sent him, he had kept in the guest room of his house. So he read (paraphrased, more like) that as his memory, which kind of got the ball rolling. But it also sort of set the pattern, inasmuch as he got about thirty seconds in before having to pause and re-compose; something that would happen a few times throughout. I'll not get into all the stories, but suffice it to say that they were all funny and warm, much like the man himself.

And I pretty much went last. It was fitting, I guess, but I will say that it made for a much more difficult read than I had expected. I was convinced that after having written it and read it over, that I'd be able to make it pretty much all the way through. I made it about three lines in before my voice caught the first time. The first of several. I only actually stopped once, but I will admit that there are a couple of parts that I can't be sure that anyone heard clearly. But all in all, people seemed to appreciate it, and I was told more than once that I had done well. So I'll take it. Actually, my favorite part was the bit about the answering machine, because as I read the quote of his message, virtually every head in the room was nodding along and laughing. Everybody got it. That was pretty awesome.

I didn't read the whole thing, though. Knowing that I was going to be telling stories in front of a room full of people, I wanted to make sure that the stories I was telling were actually true. Turns out that a couple, which I had believed for a number of years, weren't. At least, not entirely. It was a really interesting conversation with my dad. As he said, it was the reality I was living in, and as such my parents didn't see a need to correct me, but there were some things that I just had wrong. So I didn't tell those parts (or I corrected them: the desks I mentioned? Gramps did those himself. I did tell that one. And he did quit drinking, but not for exactly the reason I had thought. I left that out entirely).

In the end, it was an entirely fitting tribute, and I have a hard time imagining a better way to have spent that time. And now, I make one more trip up there to pick up a few things, and pretty soon the house goes on the market. But it's all right. It was never really about the house; it was about the memories, about the stories.

And I've got plenty of those right here. A few more now than I used to.

July 9, 2009

The Darndest Things: Language Paranoia

As I've mentioned, many of my friends are now with kid (or with multiple kids), and those kids are the subject of some pretty funny stories, more often than not by virtue of the things that come out of untrained mouths. This is probably my second-favorite, of which I was reminded by Lisa's post about watching her mouth.

My friend and former coworker S and her husband have two boys (and now a cute little baby girl, congrats to them), the older of whom was in the early stages of stringing sentences together. As such, they were trying very hard to monitor their language, for fear of the kid picking up some unfortunate habits (which he did, at one point absorbing both the pronunciation and use of "Dammit," much to the amused chagrin of his parents as they saw the child bump his head against his crib and let fly with a diminutive "Dammit!"). But small slips aside, they had done very well.

Or so they thought.

Fast forward a bit to a family trip out and about, with the whole crew sitting at a traffic light. Husband is driving, S riding shotgun, kids strapped in in the back seat. All normal, until the older child's voice cuts through the silence.

"Mommy," he says, "that's a dumbfuck!"

S just about passes out, as you can imagine.

She looks at husband, agog. Husband looks at her, same. And exchange follows, mostly whisper-shouted,

"Did you...?"
"I didn't!"
"Well I certainly didn't...!"
"Well then where the...?!?"

For about ten very long seconds. All the while S is borderline frantic trying to figure out where on Earth their child had heard that kind of language.

Fortunately for her (and her sanity), the source of the problem becomes clear, and she gently corrects her little boy.

"No, no, honey, it's pronounced Dump. Truck."

And then she could breathe again.

June 23, 2009

Further adventures in word choice

So by now you've no doubt heard about this. Let me just say that I hope that any of you who travel the Red Line are all right, as are your friends and family. I'm an Orange Line guy myself, so I heard about it after I got home.

But it's national news. 7 dead, scores injured. Large-scale activities by rescue personnel, using heavy equipment to move through the wreckage. The true scope of the damage still undetermined, not to mention the unanswered question of how this happened in the first place.

And on my way in this morning, the sagacious disembodied voice of the Metro system suggested that I might be delayed in my travels this morning due to a "disturbance" on the Red Line.

A disturbance. That was the exact word.

For the record: I'm a rational adult. I can handle the maddeningly vague language in most cases. I can grin and bear the grotesque distortion they've made of the word "momentarily" and the condescension of thanking me for my patience while I'm stuck in an underground tunnel between stations. I can even grit my teeth as the Metro Lady switches to her mean voice and sternly tells me, sans "please" mind you, to STAND CLEAR OF THE DOORS. Because clearly, in a packed afternoon metro train on a 90-degree day, I need to be barked at by a fucking Tandy 1000 on wheels.

But "disturbance"? Are you kidding me? Seven people died, and you can't even scare up the decency to call it an accident? As if there's anyone riding the train at this point who doesn't know about it, especially since just about every single person who lives near the greater DC metro system got a call yesterday from some friend or relative to see if they're okay?

Of all the ridiculous bullshit. Just when you think that WMATA, whose manager apparently won some kind of award recently (I would imagine, or at least hope, that it was for Understating Euphemism of the Year, but I doubt they're that self-aware), can't show any less regard for the people who keep them in business, they set the bar so very, aggravatingly much lower.

I'm pissed. I'm disgusted.

I am, dare I say it, "disturbed."

Fuck you, Metro. Or, in a translation worthy of your PR people:

Thank you for your service.

June 18, 2009

We kinda got a mall...

I may be the last person on Earth to have seen this by now (or at least, the last one in the DC metro area), but in the event that you haven't yet, you have to watch this. Like, right now.


And while we're at it, a little something new from the man himself:

Because really? It's more fun than working.

June 16, 2009

On relative difficulty

Japanese has three distinct levels of formality, the use of which depends on the relationship between the speaker and his or her counterpart. Talking to your boss? High formality, high respect. Your kids? Different level of formality. Your peers get the third. The concern over this distinction, and the embarassment associated with the use of the wrong level in a given situation, led to the creation of a totally neutral approach to answering the phone, just to help avoid the loss of face that would occur if you answered the phone expecting your boss and got your worst enemy instead. This aspect of Japanese is often referenced when I hear people say that it is among the hardest languages to learn.

Then consider that these conversations are taking place in English, a language in which telling someone "fat chance," and then saying their chances are slim, means exactly the same thing.

Still think Japanese is harder? Fat/slim chance.

June 5, 2009

Plinky and the Brian: Worst Job

Part of the reason for my hiatus, and for the infrequent posting in general, is that I sometimes find it a little difficult to come up with a topic. Rant-fodder, if you will. I do not and will not keep this as a diary-blog (because really, I understand that nobody really cares what I do on a daily basis. Hell, I barely care), so something has to catch me a certain way in order to get the proverbial wheels turning.

Enter, which I discovered kind of randomly in my web wanderings. Plinky is a site which basically asks questions daily, and lets people post answers on their site. In what i hope will become a regular thing here, I will pick the ones I find most interesting and answer them here.

Today's Prompt:

What's the least fun you've ever had at a place specifically tailored for fun?

The worst time I've ever had at a place intended for fun, hands down, is Chuck E Cheese. And it wasn't just one time, it was over and over and over again. There was a perfectly good reason for that, though:

I worked there.

See, I have been working either full or part time ever since I was fifteen. Never worked proper fast food, but I've done just about everything else: retail, restaurant, the works. But the summer between sophomore and junior year of high school was the Summer of Chuck.

I distinguish this job from a restaurant job for the simple reason that I didn't wait tables. No way. Not there. I knew better than that. I figured I'd play it safe and make pizzas. Safe. I wouldn't have to deal with the hordes of children. Or so I thought.

The truth us that working in that place was perfectly fine for the vast majority of the time I spent there. It was one of those jobs where you had long stretches of boredom punctuated by the frantic rush of mealtime, when the birthday parties would all show up at once. But Even so, we had a pretty decent group back there, and managed to keep ourselves entertained in those down times. All of that was just fine, and I even enjoyed most of it. There was only one thing, albeit one very significant thing, that made it the worst job I've ever had. And if you've read this far, and you've ever been in one of those places, you know exactly what that one thing is.

So the answer to the question you're silently asking (or not, maybe you talk to your monitor; I'm not here to judge) is yes, yes I did. And the answer to the question that follows is that it was both more and less awful than you think it would be. But on average, it sucked about as much as you'd expect.

They conveniently forgot to mention this little detail during the interview.

The first problem is the suit itself. It's heavy; all told it's probably an extra 10-15lbs of plastic and polyesther fur. It's tremendously awkward, considering the one-size-fits-Sasquatch gloves and boots and the instant conversion from a low-30s waistline to something closer to the low 100s. And worst of all, the kind of forward visibility that should come with sunglasses and a cane. You can't see directly ahead; you can only see upwards and downwards at about a 45-degree angle, up through the eyes and down through the tiny mouth hole (peripheral vision is for losers). It is in this ridiculous contraption that you are sent out into what could best be described as the world's largest low-altitude mosh pit to bring Birthday Cheer to some lucky kid. Have fun with that.

And then there are the kids. Oh, the kids. Chuck E. Cheese uses the tag line that their restaurants are Where A Kid Can Be A Kid, but that is somewhat inaccurate. What it should be called, really, is Where You Hyperkinetic Offspring Can Be Someone Else's Problem.

Indignities abound in this environment (the actual wearing of the suit notwithstanding), from the inability to see down in front of you well enough to tell if you're about to or in the process of running a kid over, to the random punches or kicks you get from some overly rambunctions little bas- er, tot, to my personal favorite: being told by one of these darling little angels that you couldn't possibly be the real Chucky, because the real Chucky is up there, pointing towards the stage, where the herky-jerky animatronic band is bobble-heading its way through awful song after awful song (unlike this, which is suprisingly well done). And through it all, you can't talk. Or Swear. Or howl in pain, as the case may be. And certainly not wring the neck of the kid who just leapt into the air and came down with the nose of your mask in his grubby little hands, causing the top of the thing to carve a groove into your skull. And then asked for a hug.

It's no surprise that they sell beer there. But honestly, they're giving it to the wrong people. Give it to the staff, the ones who really need it.

Start with the guy in the rat suit; trust me, he could use one.

May 26, 2009

It's not ridicule, it's ridicu-lay

Note to the McDonalds people:

Adding a French flair and pronunciation to an otherwise base-level product offering is not going to add class/panache/cachet to your brand. It makes you look like morons who fail to understand your place in the market.

Nobody who works over there has ever shopped at Target, apparently.

Oh, right, sorry: Tar-jay.

May 19, 2009

Sad, but not tragic

There's no tragedy here.

This is what my father said to me when he called this morning to tell me that, late last night, my grandfather passed away. I mean, he said a lot of things, but that's what does (and probably always will) stick out.

I know that sounds like a strange thing to say to someone under those circumstances, but it made sense to me. And all in all, he's right: it's certainly sad, but nothing about the man or his passing is or was tragic. Far from it. Nearly everything about both went more or less as well as anyone could have expected or hoped.

I've written before about my family, although all of those stories have been about the Italian side. Much of the same sentiment applies my Irish family as well, both in terms of my affection for the people and the running theme of longevity as well. Gramps was 92 years old at the time of his passing, and he packed those years full, believe me.

There would be too much to tell, and too many stories left out, to try and biography the man; but here are some things that will always come to mind when I think about my grandfather:

- His voice. Gramps had a great voice, and he used it well. The perfect mix of gravel and Brooklyn, and the man could tell a story. I have tried on occasion to mimic it, but I can't get close. Even his recording on the answering machine is guaranteed to make you smile.

- His relationship (or lack thereof) with technology. He never owned a computer, wrote many letters by hand, and was over 80 by the time he got a cell phone. Not that he ever bothered learning to use it, mind you. My mom programmed the two numbers he would need into the thing and showed him how to get to them, and that's about it. I'm not even certain he used the voice mail. He didn't' like his answering machine, either, and said so in the recorded message. "Sorry I missed your call, and I hate to make you talk to one of these stupid machines, but I do want to get your call, so leave me a message and I'll call you back." In the Brooklyn voice. Priceless.

- From the "You're Only As Old As You Feel" Department: he took flying lessons, and very nearly if not completed the requirements for his pilot's license. In his seventies.

- When we were kids, my brother and I used to jockey for who got to pour his beer at dinner. Partly, I think, because of the fizzing bubbles, and partly because, well, it was our grandfather.

- Hard candy. He always kept a supply of mixed hard candy with him, at home and when he traveled. Think Brach's butterscotches, sour balls, starlight mints, caramels, you name it. If you had a hankering for a Werther's Original, this was the man to see.

- My desk. He and my father built a pair of desks, one for me and one for my brother. They're easily 20 years old now, and more solidly built than anything you're likely to find at IKEA.

- Eating Italian food in France. When I was in college, my cousin spent some time studying in Aix en Provence in France. Gramps took my mother and I over there for a week, to see her and to do some sightseeing. We had exactly one French meal that trip, our first. See, Gramps, being an Irishman, was very much a meat-and-starch kind of guy, and the French menu had too little of either (mostly the starch) to satisfy him. So from about our second day on, we ate mostly Italian food. In France. He did enjoy the tea, though.

- Traveling. Gramps was a customer of Cunard cruise lines for something on the order of 70 years, going back to when he would go see his family in Ireland as a kid, and continuing right up to the end. For as long as I've been aware of it, he has made multiple trips back to Ireland every year, for the longest time taking the QE2 over and British Airways back. Plus the occasional cruise to Alaska, or the Med, or the maiden voyage of the QM2 (he preferred the QE2, if you're curious). And he did all of his reservations by phone and mail, so he got to the point where he basically had friends at the various travel companies who he would call and talk to when he was planning a trip. And I do mean right to the end; he was over in Ireland as recently as about six months ago. He took me over there in 2004, to see the family estate and meet some of the Irish cousins. The picture at the top of the post is from that trip, from the original house on the land, in front of the fireplace where he spent a lot of time when he was young.

What was funny about that trip (or rather, among the funny things about that trip) was the circumstances under which I made it. My mother said to me, earlier that year, that if I was interested in seeing the family land with Gramps, then I should get to it, because he was 88 and slowing down, and would likely stop making those trips by the end of that year. So I went. And then he continued his trips for another five years. So much for predictions.

- Grad school. Gramps put me through grad school. That wasn't the intention when we started, but that's basically how it ended up. So there will always be a little tribute to him hanging on my wall.

All of this doesn't even touch on his service in the Army or for the state of New York, or any number of other things about him worth telling. Like I said, it was a full 92 years. Oh yeah, and he and my grandmother raised my mom, too, which I personally think turned out pretty darn well, myself. Perhaps the most vivid thing about the man, to me, was how he physically embodied the proverbial twinkle in the eye. Always ready with a grin and a wink, always happy to see you, that was my Gramps.

Not that everything went perfectly; we lost my grandmother to cancer when I was about 10, and he lost another partner to cancer years later. But on balance he had it pretty good, and so did we for having him around.

When his time came, I understand that it was relatively quick and painless, and my mother was there with him through the end. And now he gets to be with his wife and sister, and countless other people I'm sure he's glad to catch up with over a cup of tea.

Yes, we're sad to see him go, and yes, he'll be missed. But no, there's no tragedy here; just a large group of people who got to know and love a great man for a long time.

But I will miss talking to that stupid machine, if only just a little.

April 14, 2009

The darndest things

There have been a host of new babies and new pregnancies among my friends over the past several months, both online and off. It's all very exciting (if a bit strange for me, to suddenly have parents where my friends used to be), and I'm thrilled for all of them. If you spend enough time talking to people about kids, particularly their kids, you will hear some funny stories. Some, naturally, are funnier than others. This is quite possibly my all-time favorite, which I heard from my friend M, at lunch, the day this took place.

M has two boys, 6 and 5, and what was a then-undelivered baby on the way (who has since greeted the world healthy and happy, I'm pleased to say). One morning, M, Older Kid (OK), and Younger Kid (YK) were getting ready to head out to school and work, and were running a little late. OK asked if he could buy breakfast at school that day, which suited M fine on account of the lateness, so she said sure. YK asked if he could buy lunch at school that day as well. M replied that with what she was paying for tuition for YK, his breakfast would be waiting for him when he arrived (or it damn well better be). At which point YK inquired as to what the Unborn Kid (UK) would be eating for breakfast.

M: UK will eat what Mommy eats, of course.
YK: How will he do that?
OK turns to explain to his younger brother.
OK: There's a hose. It goes from Mommy's belly button to UK's belly button. That's how UK eats.
YK looks down, puzzled.
YK: I don't have a hose.
M (Laughing): Of course you don't, silly. You eat with your mouth. And when UK comes out, he'll eat with his mouth.

And then it happens:
YK: How does UK come out?

To me, this would be one of those parental nightmares - it's way early in the morning, you're already late getting out of the house, and your 5-year-old just asked you where babies come from. There's not enough coffee in Seattle to prepare you to deal with that. But there you are.

But then, in a way that only a 6-year-old mind can conceive, OK steps in with a glove-save that would make Grant Fuhr tear up just a little. He turns to his little brother and says,with great excitement:

The doctors have magic!

March 19, 2009

Not exactly

I went into the bathroom yesterday and noticed a roll of toilet paper on the floor, unraveled as though it had spent some quality time with a frolicking kitten. This wouldn't be significant except for two things:

1. I don't own a cat
2. I was at the office.

I am continually amazed (although not necessarily surprised) by the degree to which adults, working professionals with degrees and credentials and salaries and responsibilities, will behave at work (and in some cases, in the greater public) in a manner that they would not tolerate in their houses, or from their children. They will forthrightly go home and explain to their kids that they, the parents, are not the janitorial staff, while having left a day's worth of dirty lunch dishes in the sink, or food in the refrigerator for a month, or every single light in the office on when they leave, as if that's clearly the reasonable and appropriate thing to do.

There is actually a sign in the restroom reminding people to flush the toilet.

I so dearly wish I was making that up, but it's true.

It's amazing, but sadly not all that surprising.

March 2, 2009

Pet Peeves, Snow Day Edition

An open letters to drivers,

On snowy days like this one, I ask you to remember one thing: When you clean off your car, please, for the love of sweet baby Jeebus, fluffy kittens everywhere, and the starving children in your favorite third-world country, clean off your car.

All of it. Really.

See, I get awfully tired of watching (and worse yet, driving behind) all of these lazy jackasses who can't seem to figure out that their car, and the snow-retaining surfaces contained therein, extend beyond their front and rear windshields.

I understand that this may come as a shock to some, but it's true. If you find that notion confusing, read the sentence over a couple of times and let the concept sink in.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that you're thinking far enough ahead to clean your windshields. That kind of foresight is certainly commendable, and I recognize the magnitude of the problems that would come from not getting that far. But I'm baffled at the sight of grown adults, who have presumably been through snowfalls before, piloting what can best be described as large, white armadillos down the onramp to a major roadway. Like we don't all know how that's going to end.

Unless you're in your first winter of licensed driving, there is absolutely no excuse for this. I can't count the number of times I've had to dodge the flying lunch tray of snow coming off of the sedan in front of me, at 65 miles per hour or so, just because Mr. Myopic up there couldn't take the extra five minutes to clear off the roof of his car.

And SUVs. Don't even get me started on SUVs. Listen, it's kind of like when you get a dog - you wanted it, you clean up after it. I don't care how short you are or whether you easily reach the roof; find a way to clear the damn thing. The laws of physics are unkind enough the rolling rectangle that is your SUV in the first place, and even moreso to the flat sheet of snow and ice that you have chosen to leave there for the rest of us to deal with at highway speeds. So get a stepladder or something and take care of it like the responsible adult you would have us believe you are (because the SUV is, after all, just so much safer than other cars on the road; but that's a whole different rant).

Case in point: driving on the beltway this afternoon (which was spooky, considering that at 4:30 in the afternoon I saw all of four cars on the inner loop that weren't salt trucks), here was this joker driving an entry-model Lexus who didn't even bother to so much as brush his rear windshield, which meant that there was a three-inch thick layer of snow gradually sliding down the back of his car, just waiting to jump into traffic behind him. You could practically see it moving, just watching him in traffic (for the record, I was a passenger, so I could watch without creating my own set of problems).

Tool. Douche. Jerkoff. At least make an effort, for crying out loud. Wave a broom somewhere in the vicinity of the window. Sneeze on it. Something. Anything. Pretend like you're paying attention, if only to suggest you might, you know, actually use your rear view mirror at some point.

I know. Beltway drivers. But I digress.

When I first started driving, my older brother gave me a single piece of advice that more or less summed up his take on the rules of the road, as it were. It's not as eloquent as the Golden Rule, it's not a commandment, just a simple, four-word motto that I try to stick to on the road, and just about everywhere else.

Don't be an asshole.

You should give it a try. You can start by cleaning off your car.

All of it.

March 1, 2009

All I'm saying is...

I swung by the grocery store this afternoon, just to pick up some milk.

And the parking lot looked like Tysons Corner on December 23rd. Needless to say, I didn't stick around.

Seriously, people? I know there's snow in the forecast, and it may even be a lot of snow. But let's be real, here: it's Northern Virginia. We're in the South, and it's effing March. Do you really think you're going to get snowed in? In March? In Virginia?

At some point, you figure people would learn. But no, there they were, no doubt loading up on bread and water, getting ready for the long haul.

Both days of it, before it goes up over 40 and melts everything by the weekend.

But hey, at least you'll have plenty of bread.

February 18, 2009


In my defense, it's not the longest break I've taken.

Which is to say that yes, I have slacked for more than four months before. The difference was that I was in grad school then, and I was pretty much just an unmitigated slacker this time.

It was a busy fall, with job stuff and life stuff going on; all of it good but busy just the same. And when you spend your workday parked in front of a computer, it's tough sometimes to muster up the motivation to park in front of the computer in your leisure time (and yet, I manage to watch plenty of TV. I'll have to figure that out). Couple that with a general lack of inspiration, and you get a long hiatus.

But I started thinking about it around New Year's; not a resolution, per se, but more of recognizing something I'd like to be doing. Doing more, doing better, just doing. I figured that, while I was at it, I'd make a couple of changes to the blog. After all, if the title means anything (other than being a somewhat lame play on words) it should be all about improvement, evolution, etc. So I started working on that.

Which kicked off no less than a full week of fighting with Blogger and their template system, but that's a rant for another time. I'll not get into it here, lest the swearing begin in earnest. The good news is, I won. Finally. And so here we are.

Along with the new look is one other change: people who've been here before (if there are any of you left) may notice that I have changed my blog handle. There's a part of me that figures, once you've put your blog on your Facebook page, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to try and stay all anonymous on the blog. Plus, I have never once in my life said, "Hi, I'm WiB, nice to meet you." Never. Tried something like it once, but it felt silly, like it wasn't me. Besides, it doesn't seem all that risky to put my incredibly-generic first name out there, so here it is.

Hi, I'm Brian, nice to meet you.*

Much better.

So this is the new place; hope you like it. I'm not entirely finished with the changes, but I have a good start here, I think. My goal is going to be no less than weekly posting, and we'll see where it goes from there. Stay tuned.

Er, again, I guess.

* It's not related, exactly, but I have to give a nod to Lexa over at Culinary Couture for getting there a little ahead of me. And for being generally kickass.
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