Tuesday, August 28, 2007

If You Were a Tree, What Kind Would You Be?

I was asked that a week or so ago.

And the answer: Number one: The Larch. The...Larch.

Yes, I have an answer for everything.*

The Larch. Looks coniferous, is deciduous. Who's it trying to fool?

Least favorite: the ficus. Especially braided ones. They don't grow that way, you know. Someone did that to it. Which meant that, some time ago, someone came up with the idea of doing it. How bored do you have to be to think braiding a tree would be fun? What did they try first? A pageboy on a Japanese Maple? Streaks and tips on a elm?

And they're so finicky. My mom gave me one years ago for my birthday. It started shedding leaves immediately. The next time she called me she asked me about it, so I told her about the leaves. "Are you watering it?" "Every week," I told her. "Stop watering it so much," she told me, "it doesn't like a lot of water."

So I cut down on the watering, and it still dropped leaves. "Where is it?" she asked me. "Right next to my front window," I told her. "It's getting too much sun. It doesn't like a lot of sun."

So I moved it into a corner. Dropped leaves. I moved it in the bathroom. Dropped leaves. I moved it into my bedroom. Dropped leaves. I called mom.

"You're moving it too much," she said. "It doesn't like to be moved."

Well, what a finicky piece of vegetation this thing turned out to be! Doesn't like sun. Doesn't like water. Doesn't like to be moved.

Has no problem getting its trunk done up in a French pleat, though.

For that Christmas, I gave mom braided firewood.


*Not necessarily a correct answer. Just an answer.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Oh. My. Freaking. God.

Have you seen this on YouTube yet? Miss Teen South Carolina gets a question about American education, and gives the most accurate answer beauty pageant* answer ever. I found the subtitled version, so that you can get the full effect:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe we've found our next Attorney General.


*I don't ever want to hear anyone say that these things are not beauty pageants. Not ever again. Think about it...this is the best South Carolina had to offer.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What's not to love?

It's been a busy summer for my kids.

Swimming, hiking, exploring, biking. My daughter won a 15-speed hybrid bike at camp--plus a new bike helmet. She has proudly announced to me that she now 'hardly ever falls off anymore."

My son caught 23 fish at camp last week--including an 8.5" bluegill. He won a 203-piece fishing set. It doesn't really matter that 190 of those pieces are plastic lures. He still won them

But even the busiest of kids on the busiest of summers need some down time. We watched a movie tonight. Well, I watched the movie. They didn't make it.

Sweet dreams, my babies.


Mrs. Trouble

The good Lt and his best girl are on a cruise right now. They're sailing through the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, on their way to a caribbean island Key West and the Bahamas.

You can't let a thing like a category 5 hurricane get in the way of a vacation, you know. If it got too close to the boat he would most likely dive bare-chested off the bow of the boat with a knife between his teeth, swim on out to ol' Dean and open up a can o'whup-ass on it.

That's the thing about young men and women: they're just now realizing how reality can get in the way of a good love story.

Starting next month, Trouble will be chief of security at a west Texas Air Force base, a position usually filled by a 3rd-year Captain. It's as much a testament to the depletion of the command staff as it is to his abilities that he's getting this post, but there it is.

There's very little for his girlfriend to do in west Texas. Not yet two years out of school, she's the General Manager of her own rodent-based pizza and games restaurant in Las Vegas. And whenever the higher-ups come to town for trainings, inspections, or what-have-you, they end up at her store.

So here we have two hard-charging kids with dreams and ambitions, whose careers are pulling them apart. So what do you do in a case like this?

Well, at 10:47 am this morning, I got the following text message from my son:

She said YES!


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Yo Ho Ho

...and a bottle o' rum! After all, I'm a pirate.

Although I'd rather have a beer. Or a single malt scotch. A finger's worth of calvados can be nice. Perhaps a beefy barolo. Or a nice auslese from the steep banks of the Saar. I've even slugged down shots of vodka while sniffing chornai khleb* in a dingy nightclub in a bad part of Kiev during the cold war.

I've had my share of drinks. Gotten drunk many times. Once or twice I got so drunk that I had to be carried out of the bar. But even though I've had a few God-I'm-gonna-regret-this-in-the-morning moments, I never went into the evening (or, once or twice, afternoon) with the expressed intent of getting plastered. In fact, I always viewed such instances as failures, in a way: I drank so much that I was non-functional. I drank so much I made myself sick. In essence, I poisoned myself.

This was not something that someone told me, or anything; it just made sense to me. If you get too ripped, you've gone too far. I quickly (well, relatively quickly) learned that if I started to suspect that I drank too much, it was too late: I already drank too much. I learned my limits, and tried to stay within them.

Which is probably why I was so taken aback one Friday afternoon in my senior year in college when two attractive co-eds stepped into the elevator I was riding.

"God," one of them said to the other, "I'm gonna get so shit-faced tonight."

Really. Here was a someone who was planning--looking forward, even--to do something to herself that I considered to be a failure of self-control. This wasn't to say that I hadn't heard the expression before. I had, but usually it was uttered by someone who was already well on the path to full fecal-facedness. Even though I went to a college with a reputation of being a party school, I had assumed she was an anomaly. Maybe she was, maybe she wasn't.

But one thing I'm sure of is she wouldn't be an anomaly today.

A few weeks ago while driving to work, I hear this NPR report about the dangers of your boss becoming one of your 'friends' on your Myspace or Facebook page. The expert, a columnist for the Financial Times, was going over the potential land mines of this issue, when she tossed this comment off in a very flip way:
LUCY KELLAWAY: But if you say yes, what about all those pictures of you naked and dancing on a table, drunk? Do you really want your boss to see those?
Forget the boss, I thought, why would you want anyone to see them.

Then I thought: If they didn't want anyone to see them, why would they post them on their webpage in the first place? Why would they even take the pictures?

Then I thought a deeper thought. Deeper, and sadder: They did this because they did want people to see it. They're not only not regretful of their actions, they're outright proud of them. It's a mark, a badge, a rite of passage: get completely drunk, drop all your social filters, then drop trou and dance. Bonus points if your a girl and you make out with another girl while naked on a table. Then picture it and post it for posterity.

Like it's a good thing.

I know, some of the pictures aren't posted by the partiers, but by the putative pals of the pukers. But still, it's a sign of the times. If you don't have embarrassing pictures of yourself on the net, then you ain't nobody.

All of my embarrassing pics, by the way, involve platform shoes and polyester suits in the most unnatural shade of blue ever created.

Back to the topic: drinking has gotten out of hand. All the attempts to curb teenage drinking simply drove it underground. Now the main way of teens drinking is binging on hard liquor. Which has led some people to wonder if the best way to solve this problem would be by lowering the drinking age. As the husband of an alcoholic, you might think I have an issue with this. I'm not sure I do.

According to the story:
The federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that in 2005, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, 85 percent of 20-year-old Americans reported that they had used alcohol. Two out of five said they had binged — that is, consumed five or more drinks at one time — within the previous month.
85% of 20-year-olds have drank. 40% of them binge. According to Lt. Trouble (who considers himself a cop first, an Air Force Officer second), any law that 30% of the population breaks is considered unenforcable; that is, you will most likely not be prosecuted if you break that law.

So is lowering the drinking age a good idea? I don't know. I do know that raising it really hasn't stopped the problem. Anyone else got any better ideas?

Yes, I've gotten drunk before. I've been dragged out of bars and tossed face-first into the backseat of my car. I've fallen asleep with my head in a toilet. I've driven drunk and lived to tell about it simply because I was lucky.

I've also had incredibly deep, meaningful conversations over a pitcher of beer. I've sat and watched sunsets with friends sipping Beaujolais. I've toasted newlyweds with champagne, and the dearly departed with whiskey.

Alcohol can be a social tool, or a social weapon. Kids need to be taught that.


*Black bread. The Eastern European equivalent to tequila-and-lime was a shot of vodka followed by a bite of pumpernickel. But food shortages were common in the Soviet Union, so to make the bread last longer, you sniffed your slice rather than eat it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Happy Campers

I'm childless until Sunday.

Woo-hoo! Salads every night!

A true sign of growing older, I guess, is being happy that the kids aren't around so that I can eat healthier.

I don't feed my kids a steady diet of junk food, mind you, but when the kid palattes outnumber the grownup ones by 2-to-1, it does impact one's menu choices.

They rode off to camp this morning at around 9. This is their third year at this particular camp. There's been a world of difference in my life in the past three years, but I've done my best to keep things with my kids on an even keel.

All things considered.

But it's worth noting that when you're a kid, three years is an exceeingly long time, and much changes simply because it's in the nature of kids to change.

Put it this way: To me, three years is a little bit more than six percent of my total life. For my kids, it's about 30% on average*. Thirty percent of my life ago, we were all wondering what this guy from Arkansas would do in the White House.

In 2005, my kids were like velcro. They stuck to my hips, and didn't stray far. When it came time to load them onto their buses (one for the boys, one for the girls), I spent the next half-hour dashing back and forth between the two, smiling, waving, blowing kisses, and mouthing "I love you" to those two scared, brave little faces until the buses pulled out.

Even last year, although they knew some kids, they tended to hover near me, hugging and holding my hands.

This year? Pfft. See ya, Dad. Make sure the trunks get loaded, ok?

Well. it was almost like that. Even though they met up with their friends, I couldn't just leave. I asked. No, I had to stay. A respectful distance away, of course, but still where they could see me. And while they were on the buses I made a game out of whose friends would say "Your Dad is weird" first.**

So they're gone, with far fewer smiles and waves to me, but with much happier faces over all. And that's good. Because these kids aren't really mine. They never were. They're just two bright comets that came by, and even now are arcing gracefully and inexorably away.

As it should be.

And so I have a week to myself. Well, mostly to myself.

I have a date on Thursday.

With...you know...a lady.

Stay tuned.


*Which is why, in my opinion, time seems to move faster as we get older. It seems like it takes less time to get through a year because each year is an increasingly smaller percentage of our lives.

**My daughter's, of course. Although they also laughed at me more.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Rush Job

A sad fact about popular series is that oftentimes characters get locked into place, and then their essense gets distilled, until all that's left of them is little more than a single concept. Witness Radar O'Reilly in M*A*S*H. In the movie (and even in the first few years of the TV show), Radar was a leering, lecherous, sneaky little cur, who, among other things, had very acute hearing, which allowed him to hear the choppers seconds before everyone else. He was also a virgin, and completely socially inept with women. By about season three, most of that depth had been stripped away from the character, leaving only his virginity and his prescience, effectively making him younger as the years went on, ending up with a sort of psychic idiot savant with a teddy bear at the end of his time on the show.

And here's the thing: M*A*S*H was a pretty well-written show. It just had the misfortune to be set in a time and place that was relatively short-lived. I forget the exact amount, but I believe that this show about the Korean War actually ran longer than the war for about a decade. The characters just got stuck.

Now what, you may ask, does this have to do with Rush Hour 3? Well, imagine the same amount of character distillation that happened to Radar, Hot Lips, Hawkeye, et al., applied to Detective Jack Carter (Chris Tucker) and Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan), and turned up to eleven.
Rush Hour 3 is rated PG-13, which is too bad, because most of the action and humor is perfect for the nine-to-eleven-year-old set. I should know, because there was one on each side of me. They loved it. Looooved it.

And, I'm embarrassed to admit, I enjoyed it. And I'm uncomfortable about that. Not because of the characters, which, as you may have surmised, have become, almost impossibly, even more one-dimensional than they were even in the original Rush Hour.

And not because whenever there was a choice between doing a 'set piece' or advancing the plot, the set piece was chosen (by set piece, I mean some bit of action or dialogue or interplay between the main characters that is derivative of something they've said or done before), which in all honesty was usually the right decision, because the plot of this thing is so bad it doesn't even bear mentioning. It was so bad, that barely halfway through the flick, my 9-year-old daughter leaned over and confidently predicted the good-guy double-cross shocker revelation that she knew would appear sometime in the next half-hour. I sincerely hope that Max Von Sydow enjoys his new vacation villa, or whatever else it was that he was able to get for appearing in this thing.

No, the reason I'm embarrassed over my enjoyment is because the film is just this side of being unforgiveably racist and jingoistic. An asian man is berated because he speaks French. A French cab driver is berated because he doesn't like Americans, and is forced by an American (Tucker) at gunpoint to sing the National Anthem. Yet, a few minutes later, he's driving them around again, and begging to become an American, so that he can get the chance to kill someone.

The only thing that keeps this from being completely offensive is the overall level of maturity of the film, which I would classify as freshmanic--to call it sophomoric would be to give it too much credit. You can't get any madder at these clowns for their offensiveness than you can get mad at Will Ferrell's daughter for her landlord role. Especially since much of the stuff that Jackie Chan says is just fed to him by someone off camera, and he's not even sure what it means.

Bottom line: lots of fun and funny action from two characters who will do pretty much exactly what you saw them do in the two previous movies, and not a damned thing more, with too much ignorance-based humor to wholeheartedly reccommend for even a mindless popcorn flick.

Wait 'til cable.


Friday, August 03, 2007

"You're Doing the Right Thing"

That's what the (female) bailiff told me after she escorted STBEW to the elevator.

Our preliminary hearing had just ended, and she was worried about what my ex was going to do. I don't know if the she was worried STBEW was going to hurt herself or me, and I'm guessing she didn't know either.

Let's start at the beginning:

I got to the court house seconds after the fire engines did. As I mentioned back when I was on Grand Jury, the Hall 0' Justice hasn't aged well. The recent heat wave caused some circuit to go kerbloingy-bloingy, setting off the fire alarms, and forcing everyone to leave the building just when I was supposed to enter it. So, our hearing was delayed for an hour.

By the time I got up to the hearing room, STBEW was already there. On one of the hottest days of the year, she was dressed like Stevie Nicks: A floor-length black crepe dress with a laced-up vest that may have been part of the dress. She has a 'thing' about looking nice for meetings, and this was the best she could do. She also forgot her glasses. About forty minutes of the hours' delay I spent sitting outside the hearing room with her, while we waited for the judge to show up. My lawyer was on vacation, so a junior member of the firm was going with me in this hearing, but she didn't show up until just before we walked into the room, so I couldn't even pretend to immerse myself in conversation with her. Instead I just sat and listened to her bitch about how long this was all taking.

She has no job, yet she's the one complaining about the delay.

The hearing didn't take long, but she managed to make an impression with more than her outfit. She cried about not having a lawyer. According to her, there were no lawyers available who could fit with her schedule, even though she has no job. She tried to introduce another long list of grievances against me from the marriage, even though the judge kept telling her that this wasn't what the hearing was about. And then she accused me of keeping the children away from her.

She did this all tearfully, angrily.

The judge asked why we didn't have a set schedule for visitation. I could have responded in a number of ways, but I simply said the truth: she's never asked for one. I also pointed out that she had seen them the previous weekend, took my daughter to a free concert on Thursday, and was going to be with them all day on Thursday.

I think I've been more than fair with her, although she will never admit to my being anything but mean. Right now, I'm offering her every other weekend with the kids, alternating school holidays, and a month during the summer. My only caveats are:
  1. She has a place for the kids to sleep
  2. She has food for the kids to eat
  3. She doesn't smoke in the house while the kids are there
  4. I know where they are.
These may sound reasonable, but I'm guessing they're unnatainable for her. And I think the judge knows it.

For his part, the judge promised her she'd make sure she gets a lawyer. He also gave my lawyer permission to help her with some of the preliminary stuff necessary for this.

Afterwards, my lawyer told me that it would be good for her to get a lawyer, because otherwise , nothing could get done.

As for me, I'm just sad. It's hard to watch the woman I loved be reduced to what she is now: a barely coherent, angry, defensive addict only interested in pointing out grievances and telling people who's to blame for them. I thought about how many times in the past she would get herself into situations similar to this, and how many times I would rescue her.

And that urge to rescue is strong. Watching someone in such pain is hard--harder still is the realization that she's done this to herself, and only she can get herself out of it. But as of yet, she has no desire to do so.

We have a hearing on September 13th. Hopefully by then she'll have a lawyer. I think what I will do is make the offer one last time (with the caveats), and give her a day to either accept it, otherwise it's off the table, and I'll offer a much less generous visitation.

Hopefully that will work, and I'll finally get some closure.

Until the point, somewhere down the road, when the kids decide they don't want to be with her anymore.