Friday, September 28, 2012

Falafels!

The summer between my sophomore and junior years of college was pretty anomalous. I took a job working for the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, which came to my attention when I looked through the classified section of the newspaper (ah, quaint old 1994) and early on in the A’s came to a square labeled “Activist”. The job entailed going door-to-door in various communities, distributing information about environmental legislation and soliciting charitable donations. I was only tolerably OK at it (due to my inherent aptitude for taking “no” for an answer) but I stuck with it all summer.

I’ve had four kinds of jobs in my life. Retail jobs, white-collar computer jobs, construction jobs, and the NJPIRG gig. The first three are easy to encapsulate and explain to people, because most people have also either worked those kind of jobs or at least possess a passing familiarity with them. Far fewer people have “canvasser” anywhere on their resume. So that’s part of the oddness of that summer. But the job kind of took over my whole life that summer. The workdays started later, and ended much later, than more normal jobs. And the people who were drawn to working there were mostly of a certain type, fairly different in a lot of respects from my usual crowd. Yet those co-workers were the people I spent most of my downtime socializing with that summer as well, because we were all on the same schedule. I didn’t really stay in contact with any of those folks, and yeah that was 18 years ago but I pretty much lost touch within a semester of being back at school. It was intense while it lasted, though.

I hate to traffic in stereotypes, but the people who worked at NJPIRG were for the most part all variations on the standard 90’s flower children template. Politically far left, easy-going slackers, most of whom enjoyed recreational substance experimentation (ahem). I had grown up in a slightly-to-the-conservative-side blue collar town and gone on to a college full of stressed out Type A overachievers, which means most of my high school friends couldn’t care less about tree-hugging, and my college friends who did care were more likely to study environmental engineering or pre-law or something than actually chain themselves to a tree. I never witnessed any of the NJPIRG gang engaging in any radical protest, but they at least seemed capable of doing so at the drop of a rasta hat.

Another widely shared NJPIRG trait was vegetarianism, both for its bleeding-heart empathy and environmental impact. I dabbled with vegetarianism in college myself, which I found easy on the one hand because I had a meal plan and the meatless options were as easy to procure as anything else, but difficult on the other hand because I freaking love steak, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, pepperoni pizza, &c. &c. But I still found it interesting to spend so much time with people really committed to the lifestyle, and who had settled into it to the point where they could joke about how they gained weight at first when they subsisted entirely off grilled cheese sandwiches and peanut butter, but now had a better handle on their diet. And it was a late night in the summer of ’94, hanging out with vegetarians with a serious case of the munchies, that I was first introduced to the falafel, which might just be the most savory cruelty-free foodstuff in the history of mankind. Not quite enough in and of itself to make me contemplate lifelong vegetarianism, but man, pretty close.

I’ve been thinking about those crazy hippified former cohorts of mine of late, or at least their falafel-scarfin’ ways, because there is a new Middle Eastern restaurant in the works along the same block as my current gig’s office building, which will supposedly include falafels among its offerings. The first day I saw the Coming Soon signs in the windows of the place, I was intrigued. When I’m looking to grab a quick lunch outside the office, I usually get a burger or a slice of pizza because those joints are right downstairs, and it would be nice to have falafel as an equally convenient option to throw in the mix. The signs promised the restaurant would be open this summer, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months (because that is what qualifies with me for excitement: semi-exotic lunch possibilities). Unfortunately, the last day of summer came and went last week, and the new restaurant is not yet operational. Really, from what I can see through the uncovered edges of the windows, it’s not even close, just bare cement walls. Amusingly (or depressingly, depending on how you want to look at it) there is another restaurant space just a couple doors down which houses a California Tortilla, and it started being constructed after the Middle Eastern place put its signs up, yet it looks like the California Tortilla could very well be ready for customers this coming Monday. But there’s a Chipotle catty-corner to it, so it’s a really inessential addition to the lunchscape around here, whereas falafels would be … falafels! But they have been indefinitely delayed.

Oh, what does it all mean? Is the exotic forever doomed to be trumped by the mediocre mainstream? Is the past actually condemned to not repeat itself? Are we barreling towards a double-dip recession which will be littered with unfinished projects that seemed like good ideas when things were getting better until they got much worse again? I don’t know, man, I just want some deep-fried chick peas in a pita, come on.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Off the lot

When my wife was pregnant with the little guy, she was driving a Mini Cooper and I owned a Volkswagen Jetta. She absolutely adored her sporty little car, and I was pretty fond of my ride as well (notwithstanding its problematic electrical system which was always causing trouble that could only be fixed at the dealership, or the fact that it was burning oil at a truly noxious rate near the end of it) but changes were on the way. The Mini went first, before the little guy was born, because there was no way an infant car seat could fit (safely or otherwise) in the semi-existent backseat. The Jetta had room for a car seat and in fact contained one for a few months, but when the little guy was about four months old my car finally gave up the ghost. My wife’s family-oriented upgrade was to a Honda Accord, while I got a Mazda with almost no options. We thought we were pretty well set, even when the little girl was born and each of us got a second car seat in our respective back rows. The Honda is just roomy enough for the four of us when we need to make a family excursion, and more than good for my wife and the kids; my car is primarily relegated to taking me back and forth to the train station, plus the occasional weekend errand.

Now we have Baby number three on the way and it has become inescapably clear that we are not as settled in the automotive department as we previously believed. Three kids under five years old, which is what we’re headed towards in March, means three kids in car seats. There’s an outside possibility that the oldest of the three could be ready for a booster seat by then, based on weight/height/age(/fudging), but we’re not counting on that. Instead, we’re trying to figure out what kind of large, three-row seating vehicle to incorporate into our fleet of two. (No figuring needed on which car we’ll get rid of: mine, by unanimous assent. After which I’ll take the Honda and my wife, home with all the kids far more often than me with the new work configurations, will have the family bus.)

As you long-time readers are no doubt sick of hearing by now, I really dislike SUV’s on principle, and by “dislike” I mean “with a deep and visceral fist-clenching, teeth-grinding loathing”. On the other hand, I’m really much less antagonistically inclined towards minivans. I learned how to drive on a Dodge Caravan and have some residual fond feelings originating from various adolescent memories. My wife, however, more or less regards minivans with the same kind of revulsion that I reserve for SUVs. Her reasons are different, but the end result is the same. And she nods and smiles and pats my head when I rant about SUVs, but does not feel the same way herself. Of course good, strong, healthy relationships can accommodate these kinds of splits in car preferences (or AL East teams or whathaveyou) in theory but we were really, really enjoying the fact that it was all theoretical and our little family of four fit just fine in a mid-sized sedan. But so much for that. We now need to make one of those adult compromises where there is no middle ground and one person has to just suck it up and deal with something they really don’t want.

So we have about 24 weeks to figure out if we are going to be a one-sedan, one-minivan family or a one-sedan, one-SUV family once our newest bundle of joy arrives (or, ideally, shortly before said arrival). I foresee some test drives in our future. When the transaction finally goes down I will duly report on it. Right now, I honestly believe it could go either way. Or maybe a third kind of personal family vehicle will be invented and released just in time for Christmas! You never know!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What’s in a name? (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

There are times when I watch a movie that’s up for discussion by the 1001 Movies Blog Club, where I feel like the main thing I’ve accomplished is crossing off one more title on the impossibly long master list (which, incidentally, is about to get longer, as I actually use an unexpurgated version of the master list which includes every movie ever listed in every edition of the book, despite new movies being added and old movies being dropped each year. The master list is currently 1089 movies long, and the 2012 edition comes out next week, at which point I will go from having seen 16.3% of all the movies to 16.1%. So there’s that.) Which is not a roundabout way of saying that a movie is bad, but rather that some movies are very famous and very good, and I’ve been aware of them for years and even know most of their major talking points, and when I finally view the movie for myself I don’t necessarily glean any new information or find something resonant about it, I simply expand the circle of films I can legitimately claim to have under my belt by one. This can make it difficult to assemble a blog post, when I can’t find a hooky, unique perspective to bring to bear on the film in question. So forgive me if this all seems a stretch or goes astray (but when I woke up this morning coulda sworn it was Judgment Day awwww yeah seewhatIdidthere*).

So, Dr. Strangelove is undeniably a classic. I’m not really that into Kubrick (though admittedly I’m thin in my overall exposure there) nor am I a huge Peter Sellers fan (though that’s probably mainly a function of the Pink Panther movies doing absolutely nothing for me) but what can I say, sometimes an unlikely combination of elements generates greatness. Dr. Strangelove has been called an all-time great comedy, and it did in fact make me laugh. It’s been called the ultimate Cold War satire, and it does in fact score many points on its target. I think that accomplishment is all the more impressive for the subject matter; it’s a little easier to satirize things like professional sports or beauty pageant culture, because those things are ridiculous at face value. Mutually Assured Destruction is the most hellish and nightmarish concept we’ve managed to come up with as a race (so far!) and perhaps not something one would be naturally inclined to laugh at. Thus, I have to tip my hat for the audacity as well as the ultimate success in making nuclear apocalypse pretty hilarious. Though I suspect getting a young George C. Scott to mug like a maniac for the camera could go a long way toward making just about anything at least 50% more amusing.

Here’s an interesting aspect of watching movies the way that I often do, i.e. in 45 to 50 minute segments while commuting on the train. With a 90-ish minute movie like Dr. Strangelove, it ends up getting broken pretty neatly in half. So it became immediately apparent to me that the Dr. Strangelove character does not even appear on-screen until just after the midpoint of the film. My undying inner English major (who, it must be said, was known in his heyday to struggle mightily to come up with hooky, unique perspectives for papers the night before they were due) felt compelled to try to understand this. The movie could ostensibly have any title Kubrick cared to choose (despite being based on a novel called Red Alert), so why give the top billing to a character who shows up in the back half and doesn’t do or say as much as many of the other cast members? The Last Flight of Major Kong has a nice ring to it, I think.

The character of Dr. Strangelove was actually invented for the movie, which further underlines that he must have some essential significance to be the namesake of the whole film. I’m speculating wildly here (as I’m wont to do) but I think that it may very well have something to do with grappling with the question of how humanity could possibly have arrived at the nuclear d├ętente in the first place. Because it is fundamentally absurd, not only that we devised the means to wipe out all life on earth many times over, but spent the vast amounts of money and manhours necessary to make those theoretical devisings into real, physical weapons arsenals. It’s not surprising that the morbid idea of megadeath-dealing bombs and extinction-level doomsday devices would occur to somebody (if not everybody, in the broadest terms) but for the vast majority of people that’s the kind of idea one backs away from rather than doggedly pursuing. Or not, as the character of Dr. Strangelove demonstrates. He’s the embodiment of scientific curiosity unrestrained by conscience or compassion, concerned only with whether or not something is feasible, and not whether or not testing the feasibility would cross a line that should remain inviolate. He is immune to “should”, devoid of compassion but consumed with passion for unlocking mysteries of the universe (a "strange love" indeed - oh yes, I went there). And it only takes a bare handful of men like that to set events in motion which could have consequences that might wipe out billions. They may seem minor and sidelined, but the danger is terrifyingly real.

Comedy, folks! Well, pitch black comedy at any rate. You can laugh or you can cry. Maybe both.

(* What I did there was quote the lyrics of 1999 by Prince, which is a paradoxically upbeat 80’s pop song about the end of the world, and hence thematically connected to Dr. Strangelove. Just in case you were wondering.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Swinging for the fences

So how insane was the baseball last week? Usually this time of year the vast majority of the pennant races are starting to look like foregone conclusions and football rumble-stumble-bumbles in and steals all of the national pastime’s thunder, but this year the referee lockout is threatening to make the NFL unwatchable and, meanwhile, almost everything in baseball is up for grabs. (Except for the Washington Nationals’ division, which is still deeply weird.)

Specifically, from my household’s point of view, the AL East was hypnotically compelling, despite (if not because of) the fact that nothing was changing in the standings. The Yankees had a one game lead over the Orioles. The Yankees held that one game lead for six days. They did so while winning every single one of their games, as the O’s countered by winning every single one of their games. And plenty of those games on both sides were in extra innings, or involved comebacks (in some cases both!), and walk-off home runs, and all I could do was try to explain to my wife that the very concept of the Magic Number is kind of moot when it’s exactly equal to the number of games remaining on the schedule for the regular season. My wife, meanwhile, steadfastly refuses to admit that the O’s are essentially bound for the post-season and all we’re trying to determine now is seeding. (Well and also who has to play the one-game Wild Card play-in game, which I readily grant is not insignificant.) In an effort to stave off the jinx, my wife will not countenance any interpretation of any scores or current standings as anything other than proof that the O’s season is over. I think the best case scenario is that when the playoffs start, she’ll be pleasantly surprised that the O’s are taking part.

Worst case scenario, when the playoffs start her head will a’splode.

But speaking of going over the fence, allow me to go over the current situation with … our new fence! I am somewhat relieved to report that our backyard is safely enclosed once again, and we still have two dogs (both in the sense that, although there were some running away incidents, they were always eventually returned, and also that during the months they were spending way more time indoors than usual, neither one was kicked to death). We used to have a six-foot picket fence separating the front yard from the back and our back yard from the neighbors’, and then a lower split-rail fence along the back of the property and up to the stairs of the deck; now it’s just the pickets all the way around, including a new gate between the front and back yard replacing the old and crooked one, which is pretty sweet. Of course the fence consists of nakedly wooden posts and slats, so for the past few weekends I’ve been endeavoring to get it all stained and weatherproofed and whatnot. It’s just a lot of surface to cover, with lots of corners that can’t just be rollered in quick sweeps. So despite how liberating it is to not have to worry about drop cloths or masking tape and just blithely let the excess stain splatter where it will, the project has consumed most of two Saturdays and one Sunday, and I’m only a half or maybe two-thirds of the way done.

And that’s only measuring against the work I’ll actually be able to do. My neighbor (who was technically the one who had the fence separating our yards replaced, though my new fence and his look virtually identical) stopped by the other day as I was working on the gate section, and he jokingly asked me if I was going to keep going and stain his section of the fence too. Truth be told I would have no problem doing that whatsoever, because that way all the fencing around my yard would look the same, but before I could answer one way or the other my neighbor said “Just kidding, actually the guys who installed mine said it had just been pressure-treated and needs time to dry, so don’t stain it until next year.”

Well, dang.

So I’m going to have a two-tone fence for six months or so, it would seem. As I said, I still have a little ways to go to finish the sections I had installed (and, for the record, nobody told me one way or the other when to stain or not stain my fence, so I’m hoping that I’m not shooting myself in the foot here, but we shall see!) and I’m determined to at least get those segments evened out. Honestly it was a bit of a stressful summer on a fundamental, unresolvable level because I just had this constant, nagging feeling that we needed to get the fence in but it just wasn’t getting done, for a variety of reasons, most if not all of which were out of my hands. But I do, inevitably, feel responsible for the physical well-being of the house, the lawn, the property in general because I’m the Man of the House, so I felt like I should have been taking more action. This led, after a second storm knocked the end of a very large branch into our yard while leaving it still semi-attached to the tree, to me attacking said giant branch myself after work one evening with a firewood maul and a woodworking handsaw to get one more obstacle to the fence installation out of the damn way. This was probably a pretty dumb thing to do (compounded by using recklessly wrong tools for the job) but I just couldn’t abide doing nothing anymore. And now, I have something very much within my power to do, however tedious it is getting stain into every joint and side slat of the new fence, so I am going to do it, no matter how many weekends it consumes.

And if we get some freakish early October blizzard before I can finish the job, I’ll shovel out the fence and run an extension cord out to a crockpot to keep the can of stain thawed, I suppose.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Grinding, halting

Quick addendum to my overlong list of gripes about three-season days around this time of year: the Big Gray’s air conditioning is still turned on, and in a building this size there really isn’t a fine degree of climate control, or even an attempt at same. Certain moments, when the sun is just past its zenith and the wind is just right, do get rather warmish in late September in Virginia, and thus, the A/C runs and runs and runs. Eventually they will switch over to running the heat non-stop, but as of now the building systems are in cooling mode. I came close to losing circulation in my fingers this morning.

Also, I still have three computer towers under my desk, and only one of them is hooked up and working. No progress whatsoever, nor signs thereof, on the delayed installation of an actual secure port to which my classified computer might someday be connected. My new, upgraded unclassified computer, on the other hand? Despite the fact that I was asked in advance what if any non-standard software I needed installed (a non-insignificant question, since I’m the only developer around here) AND the fact that I promptly answered said inquiry with a thorough inventory of licenses that would have to be transferred to the new machine, when the day came for a team of IT desktop support folks to rove through the office setting up everyone else’s new computers … I was approached by someone on behalf of the office manager, asking if I needed any special software licenses. I said yes I do, I e-mailed that info in already. The rep said, well don’t let them switch your computers yet because we haven’t got your lecenses sorted right now. Also could you re-send that info again? So (with a heavy sigh) I did, and that was a week or so ago? I lose track.

But the good news is I do have a few different projects keeping me busy these days, which is nice for the end-of-quarter please-justify-why-we-pay-you-to-be-here reports that are due soon. And as I mentioned last week, we had our next option year exercised on the contract, so at least things are stable. They are in fact stable as shackles, like the one apparently joining me for life to the garbage-y old computer I type this on, but I suppose things could always be worse.

Also we are having a chili cook-off in the office tomorrow. Cheap lunch consisting of a panoply of interpretations of one of my favorite foods? I think I can punch the clock here at least one more day.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Five Things I Dislike About the Current Change of Seasons

I can narrow it down, but I have a hard time definitively claiming either Fall or Summer as my favorite season. Baseball properly belongs to summer, although the playoffs are rightfully situated in October, along with full-throated football season. October is also bookended by my birthday and Halloween, hugely celebratory days in my childhood from which I still derive a lot of enjoyment as an adult. But I have just as many bright happy memories of Fourth of July (usually at my grandparents’ beach house with the extended family). I was always the kind of nerd who did get a certain shameful thrill from going back to school in the fall, though that tended to fade from one semester to the next until I was overjoyed by the onset of summer vacation. I love cookouts, but I also love tailgating. Summer Ales and Oktoberfest. Blockbuster popcorn movies and season premieres of my favorite series. Pool parties and Thanksgiving. I could go on, but I assume I’ve made my subjective point that it’s a tough call.

Which may or may not have anything to do with the fact that the temporal/liminal space where summer transitions into fall is one of my least favorite times of year. (This, in turn, may or may not have quite a lot to do with the utter dearth of posts for the past couple of weeks. There are other factors at play as well. If things get back to normal next week I will catch you guys up.) So, with the equinox looming tomorrow, I feel the compulsion to share at least a handful of the reasons (aka white-people-first-world-whinypants problems I KNOW) why the changeover makes me unreasonably (or unseasonably?) cranky.

1. Three-season days. On the one hand, I have to admit this is getting better, in the sense that I am less subject to the whims of wildly fluctuating temperatures on a given day. Long-time readers may remember the days where riding the bus was a critical component of my daily commute, and queuing for the bus was a make-or-break sub-component of that, and I spent a lot of time exposed to the elements. Thus the annoying dilemma of either wearing a jacket in the morning that is unnecessary and cumbersome in the afternoon, or being comfortable late in the day after getting off to a miserable, shivering start. But as I say, being able to hop out of my car in the VRE parking garage when I hear the bells of the railroad gate and quickly get onto my choice of seats on the train means I’ve yet to get any of my jackets out for their first use. But the phenomenon still leads off this list because now it extends to the kids, who are both old enough to go to daycare in the chilly morning and have recess outside during the warmest part of the day. Getting the kids dressed for daycare in the summer was relatively non-taxing: shorts and t-shirt for little guy, dress and bloomers for little girl, boom. Three-season days complicate things. I should quickly point out that my wife gets the kids ready for daycare 99.9% of the time and so far this year I have had to deal with this exactly once (I dressed the little guy in jeans and a polo shirt in the morning but fretted later he’d get too hot in the afternoon). But there’s also the whole mental gear-shifting of looking for the kids’ jackets at school when I pick them up in the afternoon, especially tricky if my wife and I forgot to compare notes on the phone earlier about whether she had put them in jackets to begin with.

2. Low-slanted sunlight. Of course the weather is variable because of the changes in the relative angle of the sun. The days are getting shorter, but then again as soon as the summer solstice comes and goes they are constantly getting shorter. (People who incorrectly assert that fall is when the days start getting shorter do not appear on this list, but they might be a close #6.) It’s just more noticeable to me around this time of year in that the sun is not fully, brightly up in the sky when I leave the house, and yes that is bound to have a negative impact on my mood as it calls to mind the approach of winter and the endings of things in general and all that maudlin introspective stuff. But, more specifically bothersome, is the fact that if it’s dark when I leave the house, there’s no reason for me to put my sunglasses on while I drive to the train station. And then I forget my sunglasses in the car. And then in the afternoon when I walk back down to the station or ride in a seat facing the stupid, stupid sun, it’s right in my eyes. It’s also at a killer angle for getting in the little girl’s eyes when I drive her home from daycare, which makes her scream, so that’s fun.

3. Respiratory distress. Hey speaking of the kids and fun and the approach of winter and daycare concerns and all that, let us not forget that cold and flu season kicks off right around now, too. Daycare is always a great big germ incubator, plus there’s always a handful of kids who are either starting for the first time in the fall or coming back from extended family vacations, so the herd immunity gets severely strained by the influx. (You’re goldurn right I think of toddlers and pre-schoolers in livestock terms.) Both of the kids have been sick recently with a nasty bug; we (arguably) lucked out that the little guy fell ill on Sunday, was basically recovered on Monday (my wife’s day off) and able to go back to daycare thereafter, but the little girl got feverish Monday and couldn’t go to daycare Tuesday or Wednesday. I stayed home on Tuesday, but at this point I have virtually no accrued leave at work because I just blew every hour I had saved up on our week at the beach. Fortunately grandma was able to lend a hand to get us through Wednesday, and the little girl was back at daycare yesterday. But, oy.

And in addition to the sneezes, sniffles, snorkings and whatnot which tend to afflict the kids fast and furious (and then bring down my wife and/or myself as collateral damage more often than not) there’s the crazy pollen and mold and dust endemic to the break of autumn, which have my allergies going a bit mad. Blurgh.

4. Yardwork. I don’t really mind mowing the lawn, and sometimes I even enjoy it, but I highly dislike raking leaves, so that’s one match-up where summer beats fall virtually no-contest, and yet more fodder for being bummed about the former giving way to the latter. But there’s a bigger sense of let-down, too, as the vegetation on my little slice of property cycles into the next season. I had some hopes for keeping the grass green and relatively well-weeded this summer, and things started out promisingly in the spring, but … not so much. It seems like there’s just as many bare spots and yellow thatches out in front of my house today as there were last September, and the only thing I can do is say “Well, shoot, guess I’ll try again … in six or eight months.”

5. The perfect storm of workplace chaos. It’s just about the end of the government’s Fiscal Year and of course for a contractor like myself that is especially significant. A lot of this month has been consumed with the last-minute efforts to get the next option year on our contract activated – which finally happened, as we all expected it would, although it was still a great relief to get it officially confirmed. Then came the mad dash to get everyone’s badges renewed in the system, and now each of us has to trek over to the Pentagon to get new badges physically created in their security office. (I will probably head over there today.) Meanwhile my computer credentials, which expire every three years, needed to be renewed this month too, and although I did everything I thought was necessary to get this done well ahead of time (to the point where at one point I got a very snide e-mail reply back from a bureaucrat cog essentially implying that I had no business even asking about getting the computer credentials renewed before the next contract year option had been duly exercised, even though we both knew it would be and I was just asking for information for planning purposes anyway, grrr) I still got caught yesterday with something undone post-expiration and lost a couple hours of the workday getting it all sorted out. Still feeling lucky to have a job, and the job that I have at that! But it does grind my gears now and then.

Well, I feel better having gotten all that off my chest, which can only help with any and all efforts to get things back on a regularly posting schedule again next week. I may check in with something slight and random over the weekend, but will make a concerted effort to have something substantial for Monday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Children’s Hospital?

I recently tore through the first couple of seasons of Children’s Hospital on DVD, which I feel like I should acknowledge somehow. But despite enjoying it immensely and planning to work my way through the rest of the series eventually, I find that I don’t have a ton of meaningful things to say about the show. It’s right up my alley, because I enjoy well-done over-the-top satire and parody, and because the subject matter – medical dramas and their tropes – is something I’m reasonably familiar with, too. I used to watch a lot of ER back in the day. And Scrubs, too, which admittedly is a sitcom with its own inherent ridiculousness, but had moments where it took itself seriously enough to be a worthy target for lampooning (not to mention the fact that I quickly recognized they were actually filming Children’s Hospital at the same hospital where Scrubs was set).

The show did what it was supposed to do, which is make me laugh, and there’s not much more depth to plumb beyond that. This is especially true because a couple of seasons of Children’s Hospital really doesn’t comprise that much material. It started out as a web series and has since graduated (for lack of a better word) to airing as part of Adult Swim. Season One consists of about ten episodes which are each five minutes long, and the significantly more expansive Season Two is a dozen episodes, each eleven minutes long. Feel free to rein in any feelings of being impressed at my newfound ability to find time to watch tons of tv. I’m just focusing on shorter shows.

At any rate, I might as well venture into some of the peripheries while we’re all here:

- I watched all these mini-episodes on my own, which means my poor wife has been subjected to me frequently quoting and referencing them lately, utterly devoid of context. Somehow she has not felt the urge to murder me as a result (or, at least, has not succumbed to it. Yet!)

- Adult Swim was, of course, my boon latenight companion when the little guy was just an infant who slept all right in someone’s arms but not at all when laid down in a crib. I would take a shift starting around midnight sitting on the couch downstairs in our old townhouse with the little guy, while my wife got a couple uninterrupted hours sleep upstairs, and I would watch Robot Chicken and other such oddities. Clearly I am trying to catch up on Children’s Hospital in anticipation of the newest newborn due to arrive in the spring, so that I can be up-to-speed for that round of latenight basic cable marathons.

- Also I’m trying to tear through stuff in case we have to cancel Netflix when our third child is born, because seriously, these little entertainment conveniences are only going to get harder and harder to justify.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Obviously, plans change

The Plan For Yesterday:

- Take my wife to the doctor in the morning - Visit my wife’s school employer and show the kids where mommy teaches now - Take the little guy to the doctor right before lunch - Get a fair amount of stuff done around the house between lunch and dinner - The usual kids’ bedtime routine - While my wife uses the home PC to get ready for teaching class the next day, settle on the couch in front of Monday Night Football and use our tiny netbook to post a quick update on the blog, announcing that the early morning doctor’s appointment went well and (surprise!) my wife and I are expecting our third child next March.

The Actual Way Yesterday Went Down:

- Well, we made it to the hospital for the ultrasound, more or less on time, and as alluded to above the news was all good and made the completion of the first trimester as official as it could possibly be. - But we were running a little late and the doctor took forever between performing the ultrasound and going over the test results with us (bright blessings beyond counting on the kind nurse who at one point leaned into the consultation room where we had been parked for our interminable wait and said “the doctor will be right with you, but …” – thumbs up “… it’s good news.” Clearly she has been working in antenatal diagnostics long enough to know THAT’S ALL WE FREAKING WANTED TO HEAR CUZ WE’RE ON PINS AND NEEDLES OVER HERE PEOPLE. Ahem. Anyway, finally met with the doctor, got duly congratulated, but didn’t have time after that to swing by mw wife’s campus, unfortunately. - So we headed back home, I dropped off my wife and the little girl at the house, and the little guy and I proceeded to the pediatrician’s. His check-up was routine, everything fine on that front as well, and then he got three vaccination booster shots which were quite painful. He screamed, but he recovered reasonably well. Fortunately we were prepared for this; the little guy’s grandparents had arrived at his birthday party a week earlier with a superabundance of wrapped gifts which we still haven’t finished doling out, so one of those got to be his reward for braving the needles and was in fact waiting for him in the car. - Between lunch and dinner, I finally re-hung the curtains which had been marked by our male cat, and immediately dry-cleaned, back in the spring. The reason they were never put back up after the cleaning was because we weren’t entirely sure if the cat wouldn’t just befoul them all over again. But over the past few months we seem to have established good patterns of letting him outside when he wants to go out (which is the vast majority of the time) so it seemed safe to re-introduce the drapes. Plus it appears as though the weather is breaking and it’s nice to have extra insulation against the sliding glass doors, so that works out. It does not take terribly long to hang curtains, yet somehow that and a couple loads of laundry was all I managed to get done. This may or may not be due to some serious (and justifiable) crankiness on the part of the kid with the three band-aids on his legs. - We survived dinnertime and bathtime. - And phone calls were made and football was watched and laundry got folded but I did not have the mental fortitude for bloggery. So here we are, a day late but (truer and truer all the time) within the convential parameters of how things tend to go around here.

So! Expecting, again! I am well aware that most of the regular readers here have already been made aware of this particular development through more conventional means, and if you are not part of that subset it may very well be that you had already suspected something was up thanks to various hints I couldn’t help but drop recently. But I still have to make a declaration, clearing the way to commence posting about my wife’s pregnancy, my own semi-coherent thoughts on the perils and possibilities of parenting three small children at once, and all the various permutations on Everything Is About To Change Again.

The thing that sticks out to me (in present context, mainly) is that I will clearly have to re-work the whole blogonyms schema once again. I had some fun (and also stressed out over and lost embarrassing amounts of time on) coming up with random codenames for my wife and son for a while there, and then lazily slid into the much simpler “my wife” and “the little guy” right around the time we added “the little girl” to the mix. But early next year we’re either going to have two little guys or two little girls, so just to keep everything straight I’ll have to go back to specific nomenclature. And in order to avoid onerous amounts of intracranial processing power, I will probably come up with a single, suitably absurd blog-nickname for each of the offspring and use those consistently. So stay tuned for all that.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Scanner Sunday - Catalogs, Part 3

Looking back over the archives, it seems that I haven't done a catalog-themed installment of Scanner Sunday since about October of 2010. And I also see that somewhere in the vicinity of June of '11 I posted about ordering a new computer and scanner for the house and how, surely, the return of Scanner Sundays was therefore right around the corner. Thus, one fifteen-month corner later, here we are! Consider this a make-up post for Friday, when I had every intention of writing up a little something about the little guy's birthday party but got distracted by a couple of things. First my wife called me in the morning as she was trying to get the kids ready for school because the little guy was behaving abominably, and I needed to talk some sense into him. This did not dispose me well to writing about how four days earlier (at his party), and also three days earlier (on his actual birthday), we were spoiling him rotten and telling him he could have anything he wanted. I might have calmed down a bit more by midday, but then my buddy Clutch e-mailed me with a last-minute lunch invite, and ... the whole day kinda got away from me after that.

But let's return to the little guy's birthday nonetheless, shall we? Pretty much all of his gifts from his mother and me were expansions of his robust Cars (Mostly Lightning McQueen and Mater) collection. At this point he's not interested in the few straggling Professor Z's and Rod Torque Redlines still on the clearance shelves of Target from the release of Cars 2 over a year ago. (It's weird to think he/we may at some point be living in a world where toy departments do not have huge Cars aisles because that's no longer a current thing, but that's a meditation for a whole 'nother post.) So it falls on me to scour Amazon and eBay looking for the specific alternate paintjob vehicles the little guy does want. Admittedly, this is no big hardship for me and in fact appeals to the relentlessly obsessive collector in my heart and soul (which I am slowly but surely imprinting on my son, as well, but again, whole 'nother post).

So the little guy was very happy with the toys we wrapped up for him (as one would hope, since he'd been specifically and unsubtly pining for them for months) but one of those toys (I'm honestly not even sure which one) came via Amazon through a third-party seller, which has apparently put me on a mailing list for their catalog. And they actually specialize in collectibles for adult geeks, i.e. the stuff that looks like toys but is fairly expensive and stupidly fragile and intended merely to sit on a shelf and be admired. Which, again, I totally get. But, as a bonus - hey, new dorktastic catalog to scan stuff in from!

And there was absolutely no way I could resist highlighting this beaut:

So, I must confess, I haven't managed to find time to go see The Dark Knight Rises yet. But I was aware that there is a fairly pivotal scene that happens at a football game. I also knew that for location shooting purposes, Pittsburgh was the real-world stand-in for Gotham City in Nolan's flick. But I didn't know all of that would end up yielding this: an action figure of Hines Ward wearing a Gotham Rogues uniform.

You can see how, for my household, this would kind of be a must-have.

With my wife being a huge Steelers superfan (and me adopting them as my AFC team of choice, at least) and Hines Ward being one of the most identifiable and lovable members of that squad (my grandmother, bless her kooky old heart, bonded a bit with my wife after Hines Ward appeared on Dancing With the Stars, where he won grandma over completely) and me being a comics fan ... come on. Also, I know I've mentioned before how I really need a Batman-as-a-pirate poster as a transitional piece between my pirate-themed bar in the basement and the dorkatorium behind it. I may not have mentioned that there's a bit of a sports shrine cattycorner to both the pirate bar and the dorkatorium, where we have a bookcase with all of our Giants and Yankees and Steelers and Orioles and Penguins memorabilia. Rogues Ward makes for another nice bit of crossover decor, you have to admit. I'm definitely not getting rid of that catalog yet.

But speaking of the Steelers, they open their season tonight but right now I'm missing the kickoffs of the early games! Time to go immerse myself in NFL!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Double Deuce and Triple Goose

It’s never fun to watch your team lose, and it’s especially demoralizing to watch them lose to a division rival … or to watch them lose a close game that could easily have gone the other way … or to watch them lose on opening day … with the whole rest of the country watching as well … when they’re supposed to be defending their Super Bowl title and nurturing hopes of a repeat … I could go on. But let’s just say that the universe served me up a big steaming helping of “ha-ha, you stayed up for this!” last night, plus seconds, with the Giants’ defeat at the hands of the Cowboys. And let’s further hope that this does not mark the beginning of any kind of “and it was all downhill from there” slide, either.

Of course now that the NFL season is upon us, it is Pick’Em Pool time again as well, but with last night’s dishearteninhg results I am left holding the triple goose (egg, that is): .000 in my predictions. I know I’m in good company, since New York was favored and there are a ton of other G-Men fans in the pool. And I know it’s statistically unlikely I will still be sitting at .000 once a full 16 games have hit the record books as of Monday night. But yeesh, off to a bad start.

Thankfully the Yankees won last night, stopping a stomach-churning skid and reclaiming sole possession of first place in the AL East (for now!) due to the O’s loss in Toronto. You may have noticed that I haven’t talked about the friendly O’s/Yanks rivalry between my wife and myself lately, and that is due to one simple factor: it is getting way too intense. By which I mean way too intense inside our respective heads (places where my beautiful bride and I both spend inordinate amounts of time as it is), so much so that neither of us dares to let it out all that much. We’re keeping the peace in the house so far, largely by speaking of the standings as little as possible. We had joked earlier in the summer about how it would be beyond cool and in fact totally mandatory for us to go to an ALDS or ALCS game between the Yankees and Orioles at Camden Yards if such a scenario came to pass, and weirdly enough that is looking more and more like an actual thing that could conceivably happen. Before the Yankees started fading down the stretch, I hadn’t even considered a third mathematical possibility, but here it is now: the Rays could make a surge and win the pennant, and the Yankees and O’s could wind up as the double wildcard, and face each other in a one-game win-or-go-home playoff. And, cue both of our heads a’sploding!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: the final BAL/NYY series of the season, four games in Charm City, starts tonight, with approximately equal chances of not much net change as a wholly different landscape heading into the final weeks before October. And then, just a few hours after that series finale, it’s the Steelers’ season opener on Sunday Night Football. Blood pressure spikes notwithstanding, I really can’t deny it: I love this time of year. And so does my wife, another one of those common bonds that keeps us together, rivalries and all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Series, Not Completed

Last week I was talking about the fact that I was not exactly plowing through paperbacks at the beach, but I did not mention the title of the book in question which I was at least able to get about halfway through. That would be Tilting the Balance, which is the second book of four in a series called Worldwar by Harry Turtledove.

I stumbled onto In the Balance, the first Worldwar book, just before going to the beach back in 2010, and I predicted (correctly) it would make for some quality beach reading. It’s an alternate history saga in which reptilian alien warriors, a vanguard of an empire which has already conquered and colonized planets beyond its homeworld, arrive on Earth in the midst of World War II, throwing the geopolitics of the era into total disarray as the respective armies around the globe stop fighting each other and start fighting the Lizards. It’s fun, but it’s not exactly as featherlight as its somewhat silly premise might appear. Turtledove is a meticulous historical researcher, and every speculation is based on a foundation of plausibility. There’s also no shying away from the recurring themes that war is a brutal slog where misery far outweighs glory, and civilians are just as likely to have their lives lost, or at least profoundly altered, simply by being caught in or near the crossfire.

I think I was drawn to the series as beach reading specifically for two reasons: partly because I love alternate history and science fiction, but also partly because it reminds me of my grandpa, who was a World War II veteran and who enjoyed historical fiction and military/spy novels and the like. I probably spent more time with my grandpa at the beach than anywhere else growing up, so it’s comforting to have a reminder of him, however tangential, as I continue beach-going in my adulthood.

At this rate I should finish the whole series and find out if humanity reclaims Earth from the invaders some time just before Labor Day, 2016. I will let you all know how it all turns out!

Somewhat funnily, back at the beginning of this year when I was planning out my great re-read agenda, I expected to complete the entire Dark Tower saga in the spring and early summer, and then to return to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (aka A Game of Thrones and its sequels) in the middle and late summer. This seemed like a fantastic plan at the time because the paperback edition of the fifth, most recent installment of the series was scheduled to be released in August, and thus I would re-read the first four in preparation for finally tackling book five, possibly while at the beach, as A Dance with Dragons would unequivocally qualify as proper beach reading. Obviously, this did not happen, due to twin complications. First, I still have yet to finish the Dark Tower re-read, as I have faced some difficulty finding copies of the sixth and seventh books of that series (mine remain at large). Second, and arguably more relevant, they delayed the paperback publication of Dance with Dragons. I can only presume this is because the hardcover is still selling strong, thanks to the first two seasons of Game of Thrones on HBO proving so popular and the audience being desperate to find out as much as they can about what’s going to happen next. Amazon informs me that they’re now going to release it in March of next year, and that’s not an entirely terrible guess for when I’ll have finished re-reading the first four volumes, either.

At that point, the race will be on: will Martin publish the concluding sixth and seventh volumes of Song of Ice and Fire before or after I finally polish off Worldwar? Will Song of Ice and Fire undergo enough creep and bloat to require an eighth or ninth volume, delaying the ending that much more? At least Worldwar is totally done, its finale published in 1996. Small favors and all that.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Unbelabored

I have to admit, one of the nice things about working within the federal infrastructure is that everyone takes off for the Labor Day holiday. Thus I derive the benefits of a shorter four-day workweek this week, without having to pay for it by spending any time today catching up on all the unanswered messages and other business initiated by people who were on the clock on Monday. I work for a government agency that mostly interfaces with other government agencies, so nothing was moving on either side yesterday. Plus, Friday was pretty low-stress as well, since a fair number of people gave themselves a four-day weekend by taking leave on Friday. Plus-plus, the boss-of-bosses gave everyone an additional 59 minutes off as a headstart on the holiday weekend, plus-plus-plus despite the fact that I rolled in at 7:45 on Friday and figured I’d work until 2:46, my immediate supervisor was roaming the cube farm around 2:00 and exhorting everyone to “Go home, go home, go home!” which is not something I am inclined to argue against.

So, yes, a nice little respite which was entirely welcome even in the context of readjusting to workaday doings post-vacation. Of course Labor Day weekend itself was given over almost entirely to getting ready for and then pulling off the little guy’s party for his birthday. Today’s the actual DOB, but Labor Day was the best time to get some friends and family together, and I will return to the subject later in the week at greater length, but to hit the highlights: the party was a success, much fun was had and there were no permanent injuries resulting from physical altercations (amongst the children or the grown-ups) nor any evidence of emotional trauma. We lucked out on the weather, too. Today the little guy got to bring cupcakes with him to school, and has requested “hot dogs, cut up, on hamburger buns” for birthday dinner and so that is what we will be dining on this evening. Then it’s just a matter of getting him to come back down to earth a bit after 48 solid hours of having his every whim catered to, more or less. Should be a fun week.

But getting back to the work stuff (since the blog post subjects are necessarily all screwy given the holiday interruption of programming) – I had mentioned last Monday that there was a new computer sitting on my desk when I returned from the beach, and I wasn’t sure exactly what it was for and what was happening in terms of my overall GFE set-up. One week later and things are somewhat clearer, and the news is mostly excellent: the computer in question was in fact my workstation for doing classified work, and has been situated beneath my desk by a certified positioning professional. Unfortunately it has not yet been connected to the secure network, because there is no such connection point at my desk. They came in and wired the office for secure network hook-ups ages ago, and somehow skipped over my cubicle. So I still need to trudge downstairs to the airless bunker to perform those job duties for now, and “now” will last as long as it takes to get the network hardware guys to come back and correct the oversight. (I am, as you may imagine, not holding my breath.) Normally all of this would be cause to say “I wish instead it had been a new non-classified computer to replace the piece of garbage I contend with for the vast majority of my work, because at least that would be something” but, funny enough, today I was presented with exactly that, as well! So there are three towers sitting under my desk at the moment: the one I’m using, another non-secure box which is supposed to be swapped in sometime on Wednesday or Thursday, and a secure box which has nothing to physically hook up to yet with resolution of that discrepancy TBD. Still, things are looking up!