Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Milestones all around

One thing I neglected to mention yesterday in assessing the vacation as a whole was the fact that the one-year anniversary of this here blog came in went, unheralded, while I was decamped. There no immediately obvious non-awkward ways to shoehorn in such an acknowledgement, and really, it’s not like I’ve been blogging for 365 uninterrupted days or anything remotely so remarkable. Still, considering I started the blog to see how long I would stick with it, the fact that I’ve more or less kept at it as a going thing from one August to another is worthy of at least a mention, right?

Funny enough, I took a glance back at the post that went up one year ago today and saw that it mainly concerned two evergreen topics hereabouts: the little guy’s ongoing development from baby-lump to personhood, and ethnic takeout food. Afghan kabobs, specifically in the latter case, which as circumstance would have it was exactly what we had for dinner on the night we returned home from vacation, since provisions were low in our household, as were energy levels for actually putting together a homemade meal.

So, menu-wise, I unashamedly admit we are very much a “stick-with-what-works” family. It’s fairly cool, though, to see this whole blog experiment bearing fruit in serving as an online historical record of sorts. As the little guy rapidly approaches his second birthday, I have trouble on my own remembering where he was a year ago, which (if my younger self is to be believed) was somewhere approximate to “intelligent pet with potential.” It’s mind-boggling how much of that potential has been realized in twelve months. When I brought home the kabobs this past Sunday evening, the little guy sat in a chair at the dinner table and we fixed him a plate of chick peas and rice and pre-cut chicken and pre-torn naan bread and gave him a big-person spoon and a big-person fork and he went to town feeding himself. He offered running commentary (“I’m eating beans!” “I want more bread!” “You’re all done!” – that last one when I had fairly rapidly cleaned my plate, something I seriously need to start modulating lest I set too bad an example for my child’s nascent table manners) and kindly informed us when he was finished. It’s like having a really short, moody and moochy roommate.

Of course oddball roommates often justify themselves with hilariousness, and our little guy is no exception. The laffs come now when he makes inexplicable pronouncements. We’ve gotten used to his stock phrases and requests, the observations he reliably makes when being read the same book for the hundredth time, but every once in a while he’ll come up with something out of left field. Like when my wife reads him a book about a kitten chasing bees and butterflies and my son admonishes very gravely, “We don’t eat bees.” Clearly this is something he was genuinely worried we might do if he didn’t expressly forbid it. But how did such a scenario even occur to him? We haven’t yet reached the point where “Why did you say that?” elicits a well-considered response from him, so we may in fact never know.

A possible nightmarish conclusion
Slightly more difficult to work around is the fact that the little guy still has a few kinks to work out in the system. When he’s in his carseat in the back, and my wife is safely seatbelted into the passenger seat, and I am likewise in the driver’s seat, and we are all hurtling up Interstate 95 at speed, and the little guy keeps repeating over and over again “I want THAT one I want THAT one I WANT THAT ONE” and ostensibly pointing at … something … somewhere … in the pile of roadtrip debris that has accumulated in the back half of the family car over the course of a week, it’s frustrating for everyone. The proper corrective to this situation would be to ask the little guy to be more specific, but we’re pretty sure that he doesn’t fully grasp the concept. My wife indulged in a bit of vaudevillian repartee for a while (“Which one, honey?” “THAT one!” “Which one?” “THAT ONE!” &c.) and then fell back on something we say pretty frequently to the little guy: “Use your words!” Of course, we generally employ that strategy when he’s backsliding into grunts, so I can only imagine what was going through his mind at that conversational gambit. I suspect it was along the lines of “Mother, surely you will concede that ‘I’, ‘want’, ‘that’, and ‘one’ are all distinct and comprehensible English words, and as such your demand for word-usage seems unbearably obtuse!” Or, you know, something to that effect.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Fungenda

Back when I was in college there was a joke floating around amongst my circle of friends to the effect that students of our alma mater (ourselves included) were incapable of having laid-back, unplanned fun, and that even the most seemingly everything-will-just-kind-of-take-care-of-itself scenarios would be approached with meticulously researched checklists of elements necessary for ensuring a good time had by all. Like most of the self-deprecating humor we indulged in back then, it was funny because it was absurd and it was also funny because it was true.
So now that I am returned from vacation, I look back on the week my family just spent at the beach and try to take stock of the experience and find myself comparing what actually happened to a mental inventory I wasn’t necessarily consciously aware I was carrying around in my skull. Old habits die hard. I am both bemused and pleased to report that I think by any measure the vacation should be classified as a success:

- I wanted to do some reading at the beach, and I read one novel and one trade paperback of comics, both begun after arriving and consumed cover-to-cover before departing.
- I wanted to watch at least one movie, and I did, on a lazy afternoon when both my wife and son were napping and I had the opportunity to throw a Netflix disc in the DVD player.
- I wanted to catch some serious rays, and I got in at least a little bit of lizard time more or less every day. More importantly, I managed this without getting seriously sunburnt, which never used to happen when I was a kid but seems harder to avoid now. Quite possibly this means I am finally learning the new proper approach to sun-worship to take now that I am no longer an outdoor-playing child but a Big Gray-enshrouded cubicle denizen.
- I wanted to eat well with no regard for any concerns except those of purest hedonism, and this item might be the one with the most emphatic checkmarks beside it. Every day included three big meals, as well as happy-hour snacking and post-dinner dessert more often than not. Steaks of both cow and swordfish origin were consumed, as were lobster tails and shrimp and pizza and cold sesame noodles and, by me in their entirety, a full box of Reese’s Puffs cereal and a whole package of Cookies-n-Cream Pop Tarts.
- Mostly I just wanted to spend some relaxing and enjoyable time with my family, and that may be something hard to quantify but I feel certain that I managed it.

Of course my ambitions on the various pop culture fronts outstripped my actual accomplishments. In a fit of incredible optimism (no doubt engendered at least in part by the fact that it had been years since the last time I got to spend a week at the beach) I had actually packed all the Netflix movies in the house and several other DVDs I’m currently borrowing or have been meaning to re-watch, and I brought three novels of equal beach-read-worthiness, and toted my laptop along with vague notions of blogging vacation dispatches or just doodling on some fiction ideas I’ve been having and obviously, since I’ve already delineated what I did do, most of those things fall into the didn’t-do column. But really, that’s all right. I was never bored, because entertainment was always at hand, and I never let myself feel overwhelmed by how much I could be doing but wasn’t doing. I just vacationed.

Overthinking mind, overthought pleasures
And as far as my concerns about what a vacation really amounts to when it involves a two-year-old, the only post-trip conclusion I have drawn is that it simply makes the days go by faster. Which only stands to reason, I suppose, given the way that a two-year-old’s life is structured (our two-year-old’s, at least). We would get up in the morning around 6:30 and have a leisurely breakfast, then transition to readying for beach time by changing into swimsuits and judiciously applying sunscreen to ourselves (the little guy usually being fairly cooperative in this endeavor), then hit the beach by about 10 and stay for as long as the little guy cared to (generally no more than an hour) and then pack up and head back to the house in time for lunch, followed by two or three hours of nap, followed by an hour or so at the house’s pool or just hanging around indoors, followed by happy hour and dinner prep and the toddler-dinner-bedtime routine, and sometimes the grown-ups would eat with the little guy and sometimes not until after he went to bed. Then, with full bellies and fifteen hours of up-time, 9:30 looked like a pretty good time to think about heading to bed, and 10:30 looked like the absolute terminus of consciousness by any rational measure. We made time for a latenight dip in the pool here and a moonlit walk to the beach there (which was envisioned as a moonlit walk ON the beach until we got there and realized that, if we venture far from the entrance stairs in the dark, we might never find our way back – next time we’ll bring glowsticks to hang off the railing of “our” stairs) but for the most part the nights were as low-key as they come, coming to a close quickly and making way for a whole new day in the same mold as the last. And seven days can fly by in that fashion.

But that’s not a bad thing, considering. A week minding a two-year-old where every day seemed to pass ever-so-slowly would probably be a far sight worse. The little guy really was very good, even for the five or six hours each way he had to be strapped into his car seat. While we were at our actual destination, though, he was in heaven. He loved the pool and he loved the ocean. He loved asking me to build sand castles that he could proceed to stomp to oblivion. He loved flying a kite one afternoon, going to the aquarium to see otters and turtles and seahorses and sharks one morning. He loved seeing his grandparents every day for a week. He loved playing with new-to-him secondhand toys and reading new-to-him secondhand books. (In point of fact, he loved the Golden Book truncated version of Lady and the Tramp so much and demanded so many readings that by the end of the week he had it half-memorized and could accurately finish every sentence if I began it for him.) And, superfluous as it may seem to say it, I love watching him loving stuff.

So, nothing extremely earth-shattering. I’m pretty well sold now on this new idea of family vacations with my family in which I am one of the parents rather than one of the kids, despite my earlier trepidations. But, really, it was probably a foregone conclusion that I’d get there.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Keeping on our toes

Last night we had dinner at a friend’s house along with several other couples and their kids, including one family visiting from California and thus occasioning the get-together in the first place. The weeknight scheduling resulted from everyone’s varying degrees of weekend overscheduling, and I have to say that I feel as though we – my own personal nuclear family, the three of us – have really turned a corner, or crested a hill, or some other orienteering metaphor, because we used to completely rule out weeknight get-togethers as altogether impossible. The little guy had to eat at a certain time, and have a bath at a certain time, and go through the whole bedtime ritual after that, and those times were early evening, almost immediately post-work, which left no time for socializing before or during, and then of course once he’s sleeping we’re pretty well tied to the house in which the crib resides. (We’re still getting the hang of the babysitter thing. We’re not averse to it by any means, but we are bad about lining them up and they are hard to find on short notice.) Nowadays, though, the little guy is pretty flexible (which in large but not all-consuming part means his parents have become more flexible) and can eat on the run, skip a bath, start getting ready for bed an hour or two later than usual once in a while, and neither melt down completely en route nor fail to fall asleep after being laid down because being off scheduled has mucked everything up.

I should really start carrying a pillow everywhere I go.
Which was especially comforting last night because we had concocted a fairly elaborate transportation strategy for getting through the evening. Since Thursday is one of my wife’s regular days off, she would be heading to the dinner party from home, and I would be coming from work, in the opposite direction, the seemingly obvious end result would be that we would arrive in separate cars. But that always seems silly once it’s time to leave the party, and we’re both headed from the same place to the same place. Plus, the location of the dinner party was not really along the line of my normal commute, which meant I would either drive to work and then drive a different route home-by-way-of-party (but I am extremely averse to driving to work for various reasons) or I would drive to the end of the commuter lines and take the train in like usual, then take the train back to my car and take my car, at rush hour, in an essentially backtracking direction to the get-together. So my wife and I came up with what seemed to us like a superior idea: I would drive to the bus stop in our town in the morning, hop on the bus to the Pentagon, take the shuttle from the Pentagon to my office, survive the workday, then take the Metro to a completely different bus, which is basically the exact same commute I used to undertake every day before we moved in December, including taking the bus to the big Park and Ride center which happens to be in the same town where our friends were hosting dinner. My wife would then pick me up at the Park and Ride, little guy in tow, and we could arrive and leave the get-together in one car. Once we got back to our town, we would just make a quick stop along the way for me to pick up my car. I don’t know if that necessarily qualifies as elegant, but I’d argue it was more attractive than all the other options, at least.

And it all worked out fine until, of course (as I’m sure you’ve seen coming), we were making our way home after dinner, sleepy and well-sated on pizza and ice cream and pie, and I proceeded to drive all the way through town to our house and my wife popped the garage door opener and we beheld two empty spots within and I realized we had forgotten to pick up my car, gah gah gah gah. Even I should have seen that one coming, because we’ve done variations on the whole “commute in, meet my wife somewhere after work, and pick up my car on the way home” thing several times before and the track record for actually remembering the part where we detour over to my car is about 50/50. And maybe as recently as two or three months ago, this would have been doubly full of tooth-gnashing woe, because having no choice but to backtrack to the bypassed parking lot for my vehicle would necessitate further delaying the bedding-down of our fussy little (non-)sleeper.

Except, really, he’s not that fussy anymore and it’s finally sinking in. The little guy was a trooper last night, and didn’t complain or try to escape his carseat once on the way home, even when our house was in sight and we pulled a cul-de-sac U-turn. When we finally got home, he transitioned to sleep mode without even minor drama. Will wonders never cease. It’s a big relief, which of course is just another way of saying that it frees up some mental space for other concerns, like worrying about whether absentmindedness is an inheritable trait.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I have about twenty minutes left here at work today, a day which turned out to be insanely busy, with things coming at me from multiple directions almost non-stop. It never rains but it pours, round here.

I have one more day of work left this week, but it’s going to be more like a half day since I’m pretty well ahead on hours this pay period. It’s also Friday and I don’t have to wear a tie. So it almost doesn’t count as work at all.

Then I have one day, Saturday, to accomplish all the laundering and packing and shopping and various other bits and bobs of planning necessary to embark on weeklong trip to the beach. Of course I have to do this while solo-wrangling the little guy, as his mother has to work that day, but I’m fairly optimistic that he won’t be too terribly, destructively opposed to my efforts. (And if he is, I’ll concentrate all my efforts into the naptime and post-bedtime windows of opportunity.)

And then, finally, I’ll really truly be on vacation, because the getting there counts, too. And if the checklist I have to work my way down between now and then seems like a particularly non-epic subject for a post, rest assured that I’m doing so because it’s pretty much ALL I CAN THINK ABOUT RIGHT NOW.

The break, as they say, will be much-needed.

Parting thoughts tomorrow! (Maybe!)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Training wheels

This week my supervisor asked a bunch of us to complete some online training by Friday, so I’ve been working my way through it a little bit each day. It’s desiccant-dry stuff, but it also happens to be, you know, basically the whole upshot of the work that the agency I’m contracted to focuses on. So, after a year or more of being on this contract, absorbing that kind of info makes me feel a bit more in-the-loop. (Which is still not enough to make the material interesting, per se, but ah well.)

To once more use my metaphor of choice, it’s as if the DoD agency where I work is involved in producing widgets in location A and shipping them via magic truck to location B. I don’t know how the widgets get made or what they do or what happens to them after they arrive at their destination, and I don’t really have to know any of that, because I’m just a mechanic for the magic truck. As long as the magic truck is working, I don’t really have much to do, but if the magic truck breaks down, I have to fix it as fast as possible. And if someone decides the widget-shipping process would be well-served by changing the way the magic tuck works in some way, I make the modifications. I have no problem with this state of affairs.

But apparently someone way up above me thinks everyone should at least be trained on the widget basics, and thus I find myself watching long, exhaustively detailed training slideshows with minimally competent voiceover narration, and then taking online multiple-choice quizzes to make sure I’ve absorbed the minimum required amount of comprehension. The quiz aspect is actually unforgiving to the point of being a little bit nerve-wracking. Each quiz is only five questions, which means you can only get one question wrong before failing the whole thing. And the questions aren’t really gimmes, I was somewhat shocked to discover when I took the first one. I have taken corporate training evaluations in the past where it’s like “If you suspect someone in the company is committing malfeasance, whom should you notify? A) Batman B) Santa Claus C) Perez Hilton D) Your supervisor and/or HR representative.” (And yes, I have somehow managed to get those questions right and not just automatically answer “Batman!”) But the quizzes this week have actually required careful reading and recollection and honestly all of it has produced a twinge of anxiety that reminds me of the worst aspects of school. There is a reason, after all, why I drifted steadily away from the sciences with their “exams” and more towards the humanities with their “read this book and then write something tangentially inspired by it”.

In any case, that’s all fairly mundane stuff, and although it falls under this here blog’s purview as a collection of stuff that’s happening in my life currently, I’m also bringing it up because one exceptional slide in the training program actually made me laugh. In a quietly muted, professional way of course, but still.

I shouldn’t divulge too many state secrets if I can help it, but since I’ve already admitted to working for the DoD you can imagine that some of the agency’s work involves military equipment like vehicles and weapons systems. Most of the slides, referring to these types of equipment in aggregate, would illustrate the concept with collages of photographs. But one slide was trying to pictographically get across the idea of moving equipment around – whatever that equipment might be. So how did they represent the nebulous idea of various kinds of equipment? With a hilarious composite, of course. I can’t even imagine how many man-hours went into this, but some graphic designer somewhere amused himself by creating a clip art image that resembles nothing seen in the real world, ever: a soldier riding in a tank turret on top of a boat hull with jeep wheels mounted on the front and tank treads on the back, fighter jet wings and engines sticking out of the sides, helicopter rotor blades coming out the top, gigantic missile racks flanking the turret, and a random satellite dish sprouting out of the bow.

My little guy’s birthday is coming up, and if some toy company somewhere actually made a boat-jeep-tank-jet-copter-missile-launcher I would of course buy it for him in a heartbeat, even if I had to hide it for six years because all the fidgety little accessories are only safety-rated for ages 8+. But as far as I know, such a thing is too radical for even the madmen behind GIJoe’s arsenal to ever mass-produce. So I have to tip my hat to the person who so successfully encapsulated the idea of “military vehicles and weapon systems (ALL)” into a never-before-conceived-of single picture, because if I had been tasked with it, I probably would have just recycled this:

Fortunately they DID make a toy out of this, and all I need to do is track one down on eBay.
Mainly because a single eyeball on things automatically makes them at least 33% more awesome. But props to the mystery graphic designer behind the training materials for not shamelessly ripping off Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and instead creating something brand new and amusing. Never let it be said that people contractually obligated to produce bland, utilitarian training materials for the government have no sense of humor.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


There’s an approach to child-rearing which my wife and I both seem to have instinctually gravitated towards. Actually I say “instinctively” but in her case it may be simply because she internalized various bits of child psychology in her undergraduate studies, and in my case it may simply be second-hand observation put into first-hand practice, but regardless, the fact remains that we never really discussed this (as opposed to the many, many discussions about things like “crying it out at bedtime” or “what constitutes eating enough” or “how counterproductive is raising one’s voice” and the like) and yet here we are, both more or less doing it the same way. And what it is, is this: we have always tried to engage the little guy in conversations, since long before he was even capable of forming a single quasi-recognizable word. Of course in those days my wife and I would end up holding up both sides of the conversation, but the principle at play apparently felt right to both of us: establish the form and the substance will follow. If you never speak to a child until the child tries its own first conversational gambit on you, you will be waiting for quite a while. (Also, running the risk of referring to your child as “it”.) On the other hand if you engage in the trappings of a (relatively) sophisticated kind of banter from the get-go, you may very well be surprised at how quickly the child catches up.

And I was, in fact, pleasantly surprised when this happened just yesterday. The little guy has gotten pretty good at talking but by and large the conversations in which he tends to participate the most are the ones that focus on things, real physical things that are present immediately before us in the here and now, like cars and trains and dogs and granola bars. Which is not surprising in the least, of course, since he is the very definition of a little two-legged id who lives entirely in the now. Unless, perhaps, the true definition of living in the now involves somehow overcoming the human experience of tending to dwell on either the past or the future, because the little guy doesn’t have a shred of that to overcome … or so I thought. Because, according to our guiding principle, my wife and I will consistently offer him opportunities to talk about other ideas, but these are often met with repeated “uh?” noises, as if the little guy knows it’s his turn to speak but isn’t quite sure what sound he’s supposed to make if it’s not expressing one of his wants or naming something in our hand or on the page in a book. If my wife takes the little guy to the pool for a swimming lesson and then later tried to get him to tell me how it was, the only way he can relate something so abstract as what went down in another place and time, outside the house hours earlier in what might as well be another galaxy long long ago, is if Mom provides the words and he simply repeats them.

Again, or so I thought. Yesterday my wife took the little guy to the county fair, which is a pretty big deal in the county where we now keep our primary residence. If our progeny follows in his parents’ footsteps at all he’ll have a 50% chance of being crazy about the rides on the midway and a 200% chance of being crazy about the abominations against sensible eating which are manifest in fair foods, but he’s still a bit young for all that reckless self-endangerment. Livestock, on the other hand, are endlessly fascinating, so most of their time at the fairgrounds consisted of hanging out at the petting zoo. And when I got home from work yesterday evening, my wife recounted their day and left plenty of spaces for the little guy to add to the conversation. As usual, it started with some prompting, my wife asking “Did we see a baby cow?” and the little guy affirming that was the case. Then my wife asked “What else did we see?” And I was waiting for the little guy to say “uh?” because it’s still difficult for him to comprehend that something in the memory part of the brain rather than the current-field-of-vision part of the brain can be the answer …

And the little guy said “Sheep!”

So … milestone? As usual there are so many layers of abstraction here, with me being delighted by the apparent evidence that the little guy has just maybe had an inevitable-yet-significant breakthrough in terms of how he thinks and how he communicates and how he thinks about communicating, that the word “overthinking” scarcely seems to do justice. But I, very unambiguously, thought it was pretty cool.

A little something for everyone.
Also, the county fair petting zoo had a zebu, which is an exotic subspecies of cattle from Asia. That made her dang day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Droning it in

I very seriously considered and came quite close to posting something back on Thursday that would have gone a little something like this, in its entirety:

One of the major differences between my current job as a government contractor and my old job as part of the tech team for a start-up internet company is that, at the old job, if someone asked “Would it be possible to [XYZ]?” it meant they were trying to be polite and not purposefully and onerously dump assignments on me which were physically impossible, but also that they had something that needed doing and they were trying to use the classic sales technique of getting me to start answering questions with “yes” before moving in for the kill with something like “Well let’s go ahead and do that. Can you get it done by Friday?” And therefore more often than not I would answer those questions with “Yes, it’s possible and when would you like that?” and I would get started on it immediately and people would more or less appreciate it when I finished it, especially if I finished early than expected and/or delivered more than the bare minimum necessary to meet the requirements. Whereas at my current job, when someone asks me “Would it be possible to [XYZ]?” it literally means exactly that and nothing more. It means the person inquiring is in the first footprint of the tortoise tracks that might actually lead toward doing something somewhere down the road, but all they want to do now, in total, is get a yes-or-no question to the “Can it be done at all?” question. And if my honest answer would be “I don’t rightly know, although I assume it probably is possible” and the only way I can determine the definitive yes-or-no-ness is to start poking around and, you know, seeing if I can actually do the thing, then by the time I have an answer the thing itself is no longer theoretical, it’s actually done. But what might in other contexts be considered a positive display of initiative is really, REALLY frowned on in government contractors.

Ran into a flagrant reminder of these differences again today. Sigh.

But seriously that final “Sigh” would have been an attempt at whimsying up what was really some serious institutional malaise and I couldn’t quite bring myself to pull the trigger. And then, as it happened, Friday was almost a complete reversal again as various people came to me with actual tasks rather than hypotheticals and I felt significantly better about my place as a tiny gear in the big machine, though I was a little too busy to blog about it.

In any case, the weekend seems to have purged most if not all of that week-derailing peevishness. Or maybe it’s simply the excitement of knowing we are leaving on vacation in six days. Still not sure if I’m going to try to keep up with the blogging from the beach or just make up for lost time in spectacular fashion upon my return, so I guess I’ll be keeping all of you in suspense until then as well.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sports, movies, and other diversions

I swear up and down that I don’t believe in jinxes, but it seems to me like every time I get it into my head to wrap a post (or even half a post) around an idea like “look how well the Yankees are doing!” they proceed to hit the skids. Dropping the last game of four to the Sox isn’t terribly surprising, unlike Mariano Rivera turning in a sub-average performance in extra innings to cough one up to the Rangers, but even that’s not completely unheard of. Still, maybe I should just lay off baseball until the E number is in single digits.

And I’ll turn my attention to football a little bit early! As it happened, my wife was listening to ESPN Radio yesterday morning, which was a doubly-glum experience as the sports pundits were predicting the final standings for each division and had both my wife’s beloved Steelers and my beloved Giants finishing closer to the bottom than the top (and in four-team divisions, that means either second-to-last or last). You might think that kind of vexation on top of the tribulations afoot within the American League East would really put a damper on my day, but eh, not so much. Three reasons why:

1. My expectations are higher for the Yankees than the Giants. Between their astronomical payroll and the fact that they have had a few home-grown future Hall of Famers for the past decade and a half, the Yankees are supposed to be contenders for the pennant (if not the world championship) every single year. The Giants go much more up and down. Sometimes they win the division, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they sneak into the playoffs and get bounced in the first round. Sometimes they make it to the Superbowl and get manhandled by the Ravens, and sometimes they upset the heretofore-perfect Pats. With the Giants, I take what I can get.
2. Pre-season predictions may be unpleasant to listen to when they are unflattering towards your team of choice, but they are really meaningless. Believing in them is a lot like believing in, oh I don’t know … jinxes? Ahem.
3. Questions of arguably misplaced faith in the team gave me a good impetus to finally watch my Netflixed copy of Big Fan.

Hey, remember Netflix? Remember how I said I was going to watch at least (on average) one Netflix movie per month, or cancel my membership? I was doing really well through April but then I just lost all ability to carve out an hour and half at a go. But last night I gave myself permission to ignore any and all housework or other domestic projects and, once I got the little guy to bed, kick back on the couch in front of a DVD and see how far I could get into a flick before my wife got home from work (which turned out to be basically all the way through, astonishingly enough).

Big Fan is a humble independent film which most people have never heard of, but it’s a dark slightly comedic character study that stars Patton Oswalt as a New York Giants super-fan and was written by a longtime writer/editor for The Onion and that is a pretty good introduction to a wide cross-section of my own personal interests. Beyond that, it’s not really a movie I would go out of my way to recommend to anyone who didn’t share those particular interests. I enjoyed it, but as long as something isn’t incompetently constructed or insultingly stupid, I tend to enjoy most entertainments, so that’s faint praise.

Right off the bat, the movie hit one of my soft spots, which is nostalgia for growing up in New Jersey. Oswalt’s character, Paul, lives in Staten Island but the Giants, of course, play their home games at the Meadowlands in NJ, and the whole greater NYC area has its tribal territorial boundaries but there’s a lot of bleedthrough which creates a greater sense of place and the suburban neighborhoods of Staten Island aren’t that different from where I grew up. (In point of fact, I maintain that when people who aren’t from the northeast think of “stereotypical New Jersey” what they are in fact envisioning is Staten Island, including the accent, but that is a rant for another day. Or entire week.) It’s difficult to put it into words – maybe it’s just after Jersey Shore being so prominent in the collective consciousness it was nice to see the old stomping grounds in the colors and beats of football season’s autumn-to-winter stretch. And any movie that has a scene of people eating New York style pizza is just gratuitously pushing my buttons, come on.

Mostly the movie presents Paul as a weird, sad little guy who has a weird, sad little life. And when his life becomes more complicated than he’s used to (more complicated than he is really prepared to deal with) his reactions are increasingly weirder and sadder. He works as a booth attendant in a parking garage, he lives with his mom, and the best moments in his life are when the Giants are winning or when he gets on the air on a local sports radio call-in show. Oswalt does a great job connecting the scenes where he’s writing out what he wants to say on the radio, scenes where he’s on hold and practicing exactly how he’s going to inflect each word, and scenes where he finally gets on-air and plays it off like these streams of carefully chosen verbal constructions are coming off the top of his head. It’s almost a disservice having Oswalt play the character because his delivery elevates the material, which is of course cliché-ridden borderline drivel, despite the fact that paul’s best friend Sal always listens to the call-in show and tells Paul his calls are poetry. There’s a great moment where the camera is looking over Paul’s shoulder as he writes an impassioned defense of his favorite player (currently in some legal trouble) and falls back on innocent until proved guilty and a little thing called the Constitution. But he spells it “Constitusion” which pretty much sums it up.

There’s some good tailgating in East Rutherford scenes, which actually threw me off a bit for a couple of reasons. Paul’s favorite player, whose unflattering actions are pretty crucial to the plot, is of course a fictional creation named Quantrell Bishop. In the world of the movie, Bishop is not just Paul’s favorite but massively popular, so not only does Paul have a Bishop jersey (he actually has 2, one in home colors and the other white for road games, which is another nice touch) but lots of people in the tailgating scene do, too. Which honestly pulled me out of the movie a bit, since I started to wonder how much of the budget went to ordering custom jerseys, and whether they got them from NFL.com or an unlicensed merchant …

Two, maybe three people reading will get this joke.
The other distracting thing about the tailgating was that I know, having grown up a Giants fan in NJ, that it is incredibly hard to get tickets to Giants home games. People bequeath season tickets in their wills. People bequeath PLACES ON THE WAITING LIST for season tickets in their wills. So through the whole first parking lot montage I was wondering how a couple of minimum-wage schlubs like Paul and Sal could possibly afford Giants tickets. The answer, of course, is that they don’t: they drive from Staten Island to the Meadowlands, tailgate with the crowd, then sit in the parking lot and watch the game on a portable tv. Rimshot.

Anyway, Paul has his arc where he hits rock bottom and ludicrously takes up arms to oppose the slings and arrows and all that, and then there’s a coda which shows that he hasn’t really learned anything, all of which is kind of beside the point because it’s all just an excuse to contrast how really passionate individuals who wrap themselves up completely in geeking out about something are universally misunderstood by everyone around them who isn’t a geek of a similar stripe. Except maybe for the “misunderstood” part, because there are scenes where Paul’s family wonder when he’s going to get a real job or find a nice girl and settle down, and there are scenes of Paul on his own living his life, but the scenes of Paul on his own do absolutely nothing to disprove any of the assumptions his family has. There’s an absolutely cringe-tastic exchange between Paul and his mom at one point where she says he never dates and he insists that he does and she scoffs that he must consider himself to be dating his hand and then she proceeds to go on and on about the circumstantial evidence that marks Paul as a heavy (and untidy) masturbator. The audience never sees Paul interact with any women outside of his family and employees at a bar, and there are not one but two scenes in which, yup look at that, Paul is about to rub one out (or trying to, and failing, because his problems are getting so bad even that small pleasure is out of reach). So not so misunderstood? Paul’s own family think he’s kind of pathetic, and the whole movie shines the spotlight on how pathetic he really is. Even if he is really good at being the kind of person who roots for the Giants and lives and dies by their wins and losses and is something of an audience favorite on a call-in show, ultimately those things are presented in the movie as pretty shallow and silly and unimportant.

But at the same time it is a movie! 91 minutes of artifice! The audience is only allowed to see what the author is determined to show them! Paul is derided by those who should know him best (with the exception of ever-faithful Sal) and the audience is given evidence which does nothing to contradict that. But the story condenses weeks, maybe months, into an hour and a half of scenes. It’s a character study, which implies that by the end we will know everything that it is necessary to know about the main character. And that may be true as far as a fictional character goes. But in real life, you’d have to do some serious editing-down to get across weeks of a person’s life in an hour and a half, and any argument can be proven if you very selectively cherry-pick your data.

Isn’t that really one of the big stumbling blocks of modern life? We get little microbursts of information on a subject and we think that grants us a deep understanding. We judge things, especially people, on first impressions or the single most outstanding and outrageous things known about them, which is almost never the complete story, and we tell ourselves that the person who cut us off in traffic is a worthless human being who deserves to die in a fiery wreck. (Well, I tell myself that anyway, I admit.)

I’m probably giving Big Fan a little too much credit for trying to be consciousness-expanding; futility of speculating on authorial intent aside, I think the message of the movie is probably more along the lines of “delusion never dies” than “judge not lest you yourself be judged”. Still, it’s something to ponder, the next time an unflattering portrayal of a character-type in a movie makes you say “I totally know somebody just like that!” Because there’s always more to people than what you have time to observe, and more than would likely fit on a DVD.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All Roads Lead To Blurg

The traffic on 66 during the rush hours is as constant as the tides, a wobble of variation here and there but basically something you can depend on as an article of faith. That being said, I do wonder sometimes what exact caprice governs whether or not the congestion and delays on that particular stretch of commuter hell merits a mention during the drivetime radio traffic updates (or, for that matter, the lighted VDOT highway signs indicating DELAYS). Some days the stentorian voice emanating from my car speakers sees fit to mention that 66 is slow approaching Route 50, and some days it goes without saying, even though from my vantage point behind the steering wheel one day on the road looks much like the other.

Every once in a while, though, there’s a report of something more than speed decreases due to volume (or, as I always suspect, general ineptitude) – this of course would be the eternally sought-after “splick” I have referred to in the past. It’s no mystery at all why a disabled vehicle would earn a mention, but those kind of specific details in the traffic reports are present only in the minority of cases.
So, despite having become as inured to the whole 66 crapfest as I can reasonably be expected to be, I suppose, I still very nearly threw the car into a Hazzard County-style U-turn and headed back home when I heard the traffic on the radio this morning, just as I was approaching the on-ramp for 66.

Oh if only ...
First the announcer reported a slowdown on 66 East due to an accident at the Nutley Street exit, blocking the right lane. Of course, this is my exit to get to the Metro. Had the accident been further East, I might have hoped that I would be off the highway before the worst effects in the zone of approach manifested themselves. Further West, and I could at least look forward to the zippy boost in the tail-end of my trip once the bottleneck past the crash opened up. But right at my exit? Oy.

Immediately after delivering that cheery nugget, the announcer further identified delays on Metro’s Blue and Orange lines due to track equipment failure somewhere around Stadium-Armory. Fortunately Stadium-Armory is pretty far away from both my starting and ending stations on the rail leg of my commute, but still, delays on the Orange line tend to be pervasive. And on the same day as a major 66 incident? What are the odds? (OK, with Metro, the odds of something bad happening are always better than average just as a baseline.)

Instead of doing anything rash, I resigned myself to being later for work than I would normally like. And of course it turned out not to be as bad as all that. They must have cleared the accident from the highway by the time I got to my exit, so that was actually a case of the ultra-rare “phantom splick”. The Metro train took its time showing up at the platform, while people continued to flow unabated into the station, so that when we finally boarded every seat was filled (usually at that first stop the train gets about half-full) and the aisles got progressively more crowded down the line. That made climbing over people to get off the train a little annoying, but at least I didn’t leave behind an umbrella this time.

Of course the reason I wasn’t carrying an umbrella was because it’s going to be high-90’s and rain-free today, for approximately the eighty-seventh time this summer (note: guesstimates may include a wide margin of error), but I’ll let it go before one rant turns into another.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Root, root, root for whoever's on

So how about those sports franchises, both local and non-local? We managed to secure for ourselves a relatively low-key stay-at-home weekend, and as a result watched a lot of televised baseball. For once, this was not because the Yankees and O’s were playing each other but because the Yankees were being broadcast in our market (which in turn was more or less directly because they were playing the Red Sox) and also because the games were conveniently staggered schedule-wise. On Saturday the Yankees played on Fox at 4, and then the O’s were on MASN at 7; on Sunday the O’s were on MASN at 1 and the Yanks were the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game at 8. Good times.

And of course we can all stand to learn lessons in remaining gracious in defeat but those were all some fun games to catch. The Yankees won on both Saturday and Sunday, and the O’s won on Sunday as well, though they lost on Saturday – but still, that was their lone defeat in the six-game-old Buck Showalter Era so my wife is once again legitimately enthused about our national pastime and her team’s doings therein. She has a self-diagnosed case of Showalteritis, which is apparently not as unpleasant as it may sound.

Really as far as the whole graciousness thing goes, I am a hopeless case anyway. I love watching New York victories, especially when the Bronx Bombers go deep and put up ridiculous run totals, preferably while the pitching staff is punishingly dominant (though that element’s been harder to come by this season). I have to admit, though, when it comes to playing Boston, all those things are still great but what really emerges as the most gratifying scenario is when things go horribly wrong for the Sox, like when New York takes an early lead by scoring on a wild fielding error (which of course did in fact happen last night). That fills me with a certain bitter, fiendish delight.

This would be 'graciously piling on' I suppose
One of the many awesome things about baseball, to my mind, is that its peaks are exciting as hell but the flat plains of very little on-field action in between allow for lots of other pleasant, concurrent lazy activities, whether it’s talking to someone else about the game or talking about something totally unrelated or listening to the tv announcers prattling on about whatever insane thing pops into their heads during the broadcast. (OK, so “activities” really boils down to “talking”, basically.) At any rate, the ESPN announcers were talking at one point about stances in the batter’s box for all-time home run leaders through the years, and my wife and I in turn were marveling at how baseball seems to contain an endless supply of dissectible subtleties just like that. Truthfully, I never stop learning new things about the sport, and this is a decade after I started really obsessively following the game with the help of teh interwebs, to boot. (My wife loves to rib me about how enamored I’ve become of analyzing the impact of pitch count on closely contested games, to the point where if we are watching a broadcast where they don’t flash the pitchcount on-screen often enough, I will fire up the laptop and pull up the same game on MLB Gameday so I can follow the pitch-by-pitch totals.)

So another new thing learned this weekend has to do with the Quality Start. It is slightly mortifying to admit this, but I had always thought that was a purely subjective thing, and when announcers would say “Oh, Joe Blow hasn’t had a quality start since June” I thought it just meant maybe he got chased early here, got shelled in a really bad inning there, gave up too many walks another time, whatever. It’s right there in the name – clearly there’s nothing quantitative about a qualitative judgment call, even though baseball is of course a game of numbers. What constitutes a quality start could be totally arbitrary, or at the very least relative to a pitcher’s normal talent and performance levels, right?

Well … no, obviously, or I wouldn’t be going down this particular trail. What set me off was (unsurprisingly) the Showalteritis epidemic, with the O’s announcers talking about how the starting rotation had turned in five quality starts in a row, which Baltimore (again, according to the announcers) hadn’t managed since some time in 2008. For whatever reason, that was the first time I had heard quality starts referred to in such an analytical, pinpoint-the-trend kind of way and it suddenly dawned on me that there must be an actual definition of this term somewhere. Going at least six innings while surrendering three earned runs or fewer – I know you were dying to know (if you didn’t know already).

So to sum up baseball is fun and educational. And if you disagree, there’s only about fifty more games to go this season, so hang in there, because I will be droning on about football pick’em pools exclusively soon enough.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Saturday Grab Bag Weirdness

I have this weird persistent cough that I feel like I've had for about a month. That might be annoyance-induced time-dilation, but it's certainly been a matter of weeks. On the one hand it's weird for me because I don't usually get sick and never for very long, unless you count allergies, but this doesn't feel like allergies, which usually assault my sinuses directly. It's also weird because - in total and complete seriousness - it appears to be work-related. The cough will go away over weekends but always comes back on Monday and hangs around until Friday. I don't know if there's a fresh batch of Legionnaire's Disease in the HVAC system in the Big Gray, or - and again this is going to sound like a comedy bit but I'm totally serious - it could be one of my new officemates has introduced a miasma to our workspace (via cigarette smoke or perfume or who-knows-what) which irritates the hell out of my alvioli. Because the persistent cough seems to have started right around the time my two new colleagues showed up.

Best inherently disgusting mascot EVAR
So, surreally enough, I'm on the verge of going to my supervisor and asking if I can maybe have my desk transferred because I can't stop coughing and I suspect the cause is environmental. The main thing holding me back is that the IT logistics of moving computers are so nightmarish in this agency. In the mean time I am mainlining generic Rite-Aid brand Mucinex, which contains botha cough suppressant and an expactorant. This strikes me as the pharmacological equivalent of putting a humidifier and a dehumidifier in the same room and letting them duke it out. Weird.


My wife recently took to the notion that I should have a smartphone of some kind. I demurred, and she more or less dropped it, but the whole thing struck me as somewhat odd because I am very accustomed to pining for certain material possessions and not others. I will always want a beefy, lightning-fast high-end laptop, but probably will never buy myself one because they are a bit too pricey to justify. Smartphones, on the other hand, are less pricey in absolute dollars, but arguably equally pricey in relative terms for their particular device-landscape, but I have no desire to own one at all. I'm perfectly content with my current touchscreen phone that flips open to a full keyboard (even though some of my buddies have referred to it as a "girl phone" which I totally missed the gender-normative memo on). I think in large part my wife just wanted to do something nice for me and suggested making room in the budget for me to splurge on a gadget and assumed I would jump at the chance tog et a smartphone, which was a reasonable assumption since most people would, but just turned out to not quite have the desired effect because I am weird.

I said my wife more or less dropped it, by which I mean she didn't press the issue but every once in a while she will point out when we find ourselves in a situation where a smartphone would come in handy. Such as when we were driving to my brother's house in terra incognito New York, and saw multiple roadside restuarants advertising that their menus included "spiedies" which ... what? Like, is that a local thing? It was just the kind of curiousity-tickler that a person with a smartphone would be able to answer immediately, in the car, while the rest of us must needs wait until a proper internet-connected computer presented itself. At which point one might very well have forgotten to remember to look it up.

But I remembered! Apparently it's a kind of marinated meat kabob served on the skewer but also on Italian bread, and you pull the wooden skewer out and then eat it like a sandwich. Mostly confined to Broome County, NY. So there you go.


Finally a weird bit of blog-keeping ... I had wanted to do a quick follow-up to my Everything Is Different Now post, but the Saturday on which I might have grab-bagged it was the Saturday of my brother's wedding, so I'm finally getting around to it now (long past the point where anyone remembers or cares, but ah well). The main thing was just to give another example of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with new eyes, specifically the episode where Cordelia drags her to a frat party at the local college (despite Cordy and Buff still being in high school) and someone slips Buffy a roofie. The implication there of course is that your average girl could be overpowered by a couple of fratties (and summarily chained up in the basement and sacrificed to a snake-demon) but the Slayer could kick an entire chapterhouse full of ass, unless she gets drugged. The other implication being frat guys are date-raping dicks and college is kind of scary. And the first time I saw that episode I rolled with it and mostly got nostalgic for campus life and weekend benders and whatnot. The more recent viewing, on the other hand, had my wife and I looking at each other during the scenes where a drunken 16-year-old Buffy is staggering around the frat house and saying to each other "Will somebody please help that poor girl! She needs to be taken home!" Again, we know full well the episode ends with Buffy triumphant and meatheads duly punished, but still that instinctual urge to Be The Responsible Parent will not be silenced. My wife and I hope to have more kids beyond the little guy, but if we end up with a little gal ... hoo boy, I really don't know how I will survive letting her out of the house past age eleven or so.

The second follow-up relates to my reference in that original post (which you may recall was actually about the movie Independence Day) to Adam Baldwin as a young-up-and-comer in 1996. My brother-in-law quite rightly pointed out to me that Adam Baldwin previously played Animal Mother in Full Metal Jacket, which is a movie from ... 1987. Clearly this only serves to underscore how eerily ageless Adam Baldwin is as his career currently spans twenty-three years. But I wanted to give credit where credit is due in regards to my brother-in-laws knowledge of the Baldwin filmography.

Friday, August 6, 2010

"TGIF, my friend"

The quote in the title of this post comes from the parting words spoken to me today by my seatmate on the Metro this morning. It is still stuck in my craw, fourteen hours later, because ... how odd. Not odd that someone on the Metro would say something vaguely convivial to a stranger (although that certainly is anomalously rare) but really just an odd variation on the standard "have a good one", no?

I kind of get some of the underlying logic, I think, in that my seatmate was getting off the train and wanted to say something to me to the effect of "have a nice weekend" but clearly he couldn't say that under the circumstances because it was Friday morning, obviously we were both headed in to our respective jobs for one more day and the weekend had not yet properly begun; "have a nice weekend" is what you say when you leave at the end of the day on Friday. (Indeed, I said as much to my officemates when I left this afternoon.) So, ok, my fellow Metro rider backed it up a bit and referenced it being Friday, but ... TGIF? Thank God it's Friday? That's not really interchangeable with "have a good one." It's interchangeable with answers to the question "how's it going?" which is not the same thing, except that they all fall under the heading of "banal niceties" I suppose.

Well, it was a strange day anyway, since for the first time in a long time I wasn't making up missed time at the end of the week and I could leave a couple hours early, which I did. Then I spent a couple hours at home just tending to little personal projects before picking up the little guy from daycare, about an hour or so ahead of the usual schedule. A few minutes ago I was looking for a book I had set aside earlier and found it on the couch, with a box of spaghetti on top of it, which the little guy had taken out of the pantry and moved to the living room, because of course why wouldn't he? And then I realized I hadn't blogged yet today. So here I am just under the wire. More weirdness tomorrow!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Books, binding

I forgot last week (but remembered today, since Mondays and Thursdays are my ride-the-bus-and-seriously-catch-up-on-reading days) to mention the third ball in my literary juggling act, where I’m currently in Beach Books on a Bus mode (ball one) but also trying to save some choice beach books for the actual beach vacation coming up in a little over two weeks (ball two). Completing the trifecta is my tendency to pick up books which I want to read but I consider too serious, weighty or scholarly to qualify for BBB or the OBX. So not only am I overthinking the divvying up of the light and outdoor-friendly reading I have on hand and the acquisition of more to last me through summer’s end, but I’m also actively acquiring volumes which specifically need to be set aside until a later date.

And maybe the existence of those class 3 books was already implied, but I just wanted to take a moment to highlight my obsessive attention to everything-in-its-place (oh THAT’s where the little guy gets it!) and note that I am, as of this summer, 14 years out of college.


I'm not a big fan of Pink Floyd but even I have to give it up for The Wall.
Yes, 14 years out of college (which means in a mere three years I will have been out of school longer than I was ever in, including kindergarten) and yet September is always the Back To School month in my mind. No, this is not a backhanded introduction to a twelve-part series of blog posts on What Each Month Means To Me (because honestly quite a few tend to blend together, I’m looking at you, Marprilay) but the persistence of what September signifies to me is remarkable. And to the point at hand, that means not only do I tend to go for the frothiest, genre-ghettotastic-est books possible during the hot-n-hazy days and deliberately hoard other books for the autumn and winter, but it really means that when September comes I specifically enjoy the feeling of abruptly shifting into a completely different book-consumption gear altogether. It’s not enough to go from sword-and-sorcery larks in August to a contemplative modern novel or a spot of pop science after Labor Day. I crave something that feels like homework, a neglected Western Canon Classic or something gruelingly po-mo. So there’s not simply beach books and non-beach books in the Dewey Decimal System of my mind, but beach books for the commute and beach books for the real beach and non-beach books for any old time and non-beach books specifically to ameliorate my wistful longings for academia at the approach of the equinox.

Seriously, I should have majored in something a little simpler, like tax accounting.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Nerfening

OK, you got me, “nerfening” isn’t really a word, I just kind of like the sound of it. “Nerfing”, on the other hand, is a word, or at the very least a piece of argot used by video gamers. It refers to changing the way that elements of a video game behave, ostensibly in the interest of eliminating a too-easily exploited unfairness. Video games spend years and years in development, and the programmers and testers inevitably fall into certain patterns in the way they look at things and expect the end product will always be used in a way that more or less conforms to their vision. (As a programmer and tester myself, albeit not of video games, I’ve certainly fallen prey to this mindset myself.) Then the game is released into the world and players suddenly start doing unanticipated things which the programmers never had intended, and certainly would have expressly forbidden, if they had had the foresight to even predict the very possibility. But barring time travel, the only recourse the programmers have is to release a patch to the existing game, or an entirely new version of the game, and in that revision the offending code gets changed to bring things back in line with the original vision, which is almost universally to create a fair, challenging virtual experience. Of course, some people don’t like fair challenges; some people like cheat codes and one-sided slaughters, and they really like finding an advantageous loophole in a game’s internal mechanics which allows the player to be more powerful than their opponents. “Nerfing” thus is usually spoken of in sour-grapey tone; the speaker was having so much fun smashing things with a real wooden bat, and now has been given a foam bat in its place, which means the bashing is more work, less effective, and less satisfying.

I first heard the term in reference to the video game StarCraft, when a friend of mine explained that a certain aspect of the game had already been nerfed out of the original PC version by the time I got around to playing it on the Nintendo64. (I could go into detail about the exact example to which I am referring, but that would probably run a thousand words and I think I’ll just spare everyone that all the same.) So this is actually timely, ruminating on this particular brand-name-turned-verb, because a long-awaited sequel to StarCraft was just released last week and I have to admit, the temptation to run out and buy it is strong. Sure, I have Netflix movies that have been sitting around the house since March, unwatched, and I never did finish Guitar Hero: Metallica, and there’s a million other demands on my time and “demands” on my leisuretime, but man, I love me some StarCraft.

Yeah I pretty much always play Protoss because OF COURSE I DO.
I also was thinking about nerfing lately in a somewhat more abstract way, thanks to the ongoing development of my little guy’s verbal abilities. He has recently stormed right into the mimicry phase and while that absolutely includes aping certain actions (mostly mine, which I lay 100% at the feet of developmentally normal gender-identification-with-father-figure and not at all on my quotidian actions being remotely interesting) it also means he repeats pretty nearly every word that comes out of my wife’s mouth or my own. I think I’ve mentioned before that neither my wife nor myself is a stranger to profanity and we know we need to clean up our language around a parroting toddler, but lately we’ve been realizing that a lot of non-four-letter words coming out of our mouths sound harsher than we’d like when repeated verbatim by a high-pitched voice originating somewhere nearer to the floor.

Our pets, for example, are sources of both joy and frustration, and when they are underfoot they tend to get a lot of haranguing that usually leads off with something like “Stupid dog!” Normally I wouldn’t think twice about that, but when the little guy toddles along chanting “Stupid DOG stupid DOG stupid DOG” over and over it forces me to think about it three or four or sixty-eight times. So I find myself holding back a bit, softening my self-expression somewhat around the edges. Nerfing my words, as it were. And I know that on balance that’s a good thing, but I still can’t help but feel a little sour-grapey about it.

Still, at least it’s still at the point where my innocent little child repeats an unkind word here or there and I’m the one who realizes it and chooses to do something about it. I know that not too far down the road is the point at which an unkind word will slip out of my mouth and my own child will admonish me for breaking the same rules of decorum we’ve managed to inculcate him with. But that’s a trippy feedback-loop for another day.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Halting progress

Yesterday I had an all-too-appropriate and utterly undesirable “welcome back” to the greater Northern Virginia Sprawl, in the form of total traffic cock-ups in both directions, heading to work in the morning and coming home in the evening. The impact was (ever so slightly) lessened by the fact that I was riding the bus and could to a certain extent distract myself by plowing through my latest beach book, but overall a certain cognitive dissonance undeniably asserted itself. Part of my brain kept thinking “Did everyone forget how to drive over the long weekend?” and other parts of my brain had to remind the first part that my Little Bro’s nuptials were not, in fact, a national holiday and there had been no long weekend for the overwhelming majority of my fellow commuters. So no excuse, then, really.

The morning delays were the result of an accident that shut down the HOV lane on 66, one which involved injuries serious enough to summon multiple fire engines and ambulances to the scene. I’m hoping there were no fatalities, but I did see one serious injury being immobilized on a stretcher. Accidents happen and there’s a reason they’re not called “on-purposes” but as the bus crept past the vehicles involved and I observed the various instances of violently reconfigured car shapes I was hard pressed to come up with any sequence of events that could have led to those shape and size impacts in those places except the following: somebody merged into the HOV lane without checking over their shoulder, and the person in their blindspot rammed the driver’s side door at an oblique angle. Which, I mean, COME ON, people.

The commute home was, from the moment the bus left the Pentagon parking lot, like driving through proverbial molasses, and for no discernable reason whatsoever. This incenses me even more than presumably negligent driving, and with no target upon which to vent my bile, to boot. There is a made-up word my wife and I have adopted in our travels along the highways and byways of the Eastern seaboard, and that word is “splick”. Splick is “that which the inexplicable lacks” and almost always is utilized exclusively in traffic-delay contexts. If the line of cars on the interstate slows to a crawl, eventually passes some construction or a disabled truck or a state trooper holding a speed gun or whathaveyou, however illegitimate the reasoning in people’s heads that caused them to slam on the brakes, at least there was the splick. Once you get past the splick, traffic immediately gets back to cruising speed. On the other hand, sometimes there simply is no splick, and that is the worst.

See, but I think that means we should all SPEED UP.
Today was better (so far, at least) for whatever that’s worth. Of course it’s all relative. As in, I spent a good chunk of the wedding weekend fielding the usual catching-up questions from my relatives, including “where are you working now?” and “where are you living now?” and “so how is the commute?” And I elaborated at various lengths in my answers to the first two but pretty uniformly dispatched with the third one with “Terrible!” every single time.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Edited to fit your screen

My aunt, my father’s younger-by-nearly-a-decade sister, got married when I was in the eighth grade, and her wedding was the first one which I attended and was old enough to be aware of. (I had previously been at the wedding of my mother’s younger brother, but I was a gleefully oblivious toddler at the time.) Apparently the first thirteen or so years of my life were fairly devoid of formal occasions, because the whole celebration, wedding ceremony and reception combined, more or less blew me away, and when I got back to school the following Monday I could not wait to tell my friends all about it. And I did, in painfully exhaustive detail. Honestly, I still remember a few snatches of detail from my aunt’s wedding day some twenty-three years later, but I remember much more vividly how I started regaling my friends with the play-by-play as soon as I got off the bus in the morning, and put a pin in the story when the homeroom bell rang, and resumed the story at the cafeteria table during lunch, and put a pin in it AGAIN, and finally ran down the last of my recollections some time after school.

I also vividly remember a growing sense of horror as the day went along and I realized that my story wasn’t really going anywhere and didn’t really have a point and probably wasn’t going to have a payoff and definitely wasn’t going to have the kind of payoff that would remotely justify the fact that I had been monopolizing everyone’s attention all day. At the time, the whole big major family event had seemed so grandiose and important down to every last detail, but I knew with ever-more-sickening surety as my recap went on and on and ON that I was failing, somehow, to capture that or convey it to my friends.

And in its own way that’s a pretty formative experience in my life because it was a gut-wrenching lesson learned. My friends, to be fair, didn’t give me that hard a time about it, so it’s not their brutal scorn or an apoplectic story-squelching outburst I remember. As in most cases, the rueful regret begins and ends inside my overactive mind. Still, it’s a set of lessons I’m glad that I’ve learned: to respect people’s time and attention when they give it to you; to recognize that a laundry list of things that happened, however outside-the-norm they may have been for you at the time, does not constitute an engaging anecdote fit for others’ consumption; to figure out if you even have a point when you start talking and then either get to it if you do or shut up if you don’t. I meet people now and then (present office-mate included) who apparently have never learned these lessons and I know that once upon a time, our positions were reversed.

I don't create these products, folks, I just find 'em on Google Images
All of which I will allow to stand in the place of an epic blow-by-blow account of the previous weekend in which my brother and sister-in-law formally celebrated the marriage which had been legally officiated at the beginning of the year. Were there a few travel mishaps on our nation’s interstate highway system? Indeed. Was the experience of gathering with pretty damn near my entire extended family a bittersweet combination of pleasant reunions and more than a few passive-aggressively induced guilt trips about how long it’s been since I’ve seen or talked to some of them? But of course. Did the little guy break the heart of everyone he came in contact with through sheer cuteness? Clearly the world would have gone mad if the answer were anything other than “yes”.

Of course all of the above is my perspective on things and the weekend really was not about me, so rest assured that I asked both bride and groom repeatedly if they were having fun and were happy and received nothing but grinning confirmations of those states in return, so I’d have to call the event a success in every way that matters. And there may be a few moments of exceptional notability which I will refer to in days to come but right now I’m still in the post-party haze where it’s hard to separate anything out from the overall swirl. For now I’m simply content to note that we drove what seemed like about 500 miles each way, we had a good time in between, and now we’re back and none the worse for wear.