Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Just got done Skyping with the wifey and the Sprog of Sprogs.  And the peanut gallery of relatives in the background, to boot.

That's about all the contact I've had in some time with the family.  They've gone and left me.  Hopefully not for good, but left me they have.

There was a baby shower for my 'bout-to-be-nephew.  Or is it for his mom and dad?  Dunno.  It's to benefit every and all, I guess.  So Majesty blew town with my kid for that.  And that means...

I finish dangerous and highly laborious projects here at the house.  The ones that involve machetes and live wires and acid and stuff.  I cleared out about 30 acres of dense jungle behind the house, to be used as the fort/swingset location.  That is, if I can get one in there before the jungle reclaims the land I cleared.  Cannot tell you how much this project took out of me.  I'm still tired, 3 days after.  I'm so old and decrepit.

Are You Sure Your Wife Knows About This?
I went to Le Home Depot and dropped about fifty thousand dollars on every single electrical switch in the store.  And one of those Electrocuting Yourself the Easy Way 1-2-3 books.  I have this weird GFCI code conversion thing I'm doing in Jack's erstwhile pink bathroom, and I haven't attempted to wire something like this in about 7 or 8 years.  And I'm not intelligent.  So I needed a primer, and my other books weren't cutting it.  I figured I could do worse for handing over 11 bucks.  And you know, some pride.

The guy checking me out...  no... ah... er, the dude scanning my items for purchase got about three quarters of the way through the mountain of white plastic switches, and pulls out the book.  He looks at it, scans it, and then moves on... and then mumbles, "Reading up on wiring, huh?"

I thought, "I know how it looks, Home Improvement Guru.  My annual salary worth of electrical equipment and a how-to book.  There should be a copy of my last will and testament in the basket, too."  But all I managed to drawl back was, "Well, I can do the easy stuff, but I've got this weird setup in my kid's bathroom that I need some help on."

The guy kind of nodded knowingly, like, "I'm one of the last people on earth to see this joker alive.  Hope this fool's life insurance is paid up so his kid can go to trade school!"

Cross Off Another One on the Bucket List
Oh!  And I got...  I got...

A TOOLBELT.  Yes.  I did it.  I can feel the testosterone course through me just mentioning it.  I've never had one in my entire life, because, y'know, I'm not a professional or anything.  What's the point, right?  But boys and girls, let me tell you, all machismo and Tim Allen clichés aside, this is the greatest step forward I've ever made in my homefixingupping prowess.  Ever.  It's revolutionary.  All your thingamajigs are right there at your hip, ready to help you demolish a perfectly good house.  Quick.

My belt has a HOLSTER.  Not going to lie to you, did a few quick draws with my cordless drill just for giggles.  For a rapidly aging man, I'm still pretty fast, kids.

So I've been swimming every day like a darn manatee.  I did a good long Bataan death march type run Monday.  Jumped in the pool right afterward.  I've been wiring outlets and frying every single meal with the sole and notable exception of decaf espresso with Cheerios.  I've been watching subtitled French gangster movies that Majesty probably wouldn't dig (the 2 readers of Interestive might know which ones).  I am quickly freeing myself of my domesticky shackles, bound once again for the violent freedom of being, like a dumb and happy wild animal, male.  I'm lucky I still remember how to use indoor plumbing, but even that's fading fast.

The Experiment
Speaking of food, I should horrify you with my culinary experiment while the family is away:  I've been exploring exactly how many Mexican dishes one can make from a relatively finite stock of ingredients (onion, garlic, jalapenos, serranos, queso fresco, colby cheddar, masa, 6 month old (!) tortillas - I'm absolutely serious, they're 6 months old yet miraculously pristine - cilantro, Valentina sauce, eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos, and flank steak).

It's been a complete blur of carne asada tacos, homemade corn tortillas, salsa verde, the dangerously ancient storebought tortillas (when the homemades ran out), huevos rancheros, carne asada tacos, chilaquiles, huevos con papas, salsa fresca and huevos con papas.  It's incredible.

And I miss my babies.  Terribly.  I know it doesn't sound like it from the above, but it's completely true.  Hearing The Dude's little babyish voice on the phone takes about 2 weeks off my lifespan.  Kills me.  Kills me.  And like taking the needle out of the compass, I am without direction and purpose when my one twoo wuv isn't around.

Yeah, and H.M. decided to trip down a set of stairs and sprain her ankle.  (Word on the street is that she was pushed by family members.  I don't doubt that.)  Anyway, they're sort of stuck over in Alabama for the moment.  But Jack is having a blast hanging out with his (very married and very pregnant) main squeeze, Aunt Emily.  Shameful.  And he's getting tossed in the air during pooltime by his Poppa.  And picking blueberries.  He doesn't even need me anymore, he's got fresh fruit.

But rest assured, back in Texas, this thing is only going to get stranger.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Children and Affluence

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.  --Philippians 4:8, KJV
I read very slowly.  If it's really good stuff, I roll the language around in my head and ponder and reread and get caught up in some tangential thought and return eventually to read and reread again.  It's a messy, frustrating way to do it, but it's mine.  I can (consciously) speed up but I eventually drift down to "normal" again.

And I take in books almost literally, as the books I read become part of me forever.  I think about some books almost daily, though I read them years ago.  That's one reason book selection is very, very important to me.  And maybe it should be to you.  You can't read them all.  So which ones make the list?

Not saying you have to read Kierkegaard every day; I certainly don't.  I er, actually just finished a certain aging guitarist's autobiography, come to think of it...  But by reading, are you taking the elemental stuff in, or are you giving pieces of yourself (and time) away cheaply?

Waitaminute.  I've just convinced you not to fritter away your life on schlocky dad blogs.  Forget everything I said!

Anyway, back to my point.  One book I read a good while ago made roughly this observation:

In the West, we have fewer children, and later, because we've discovered that by doing so, we increase our affluence.

If that's true, it scares the pants clean off me.  Is it?  Has our materialism and self-centeredness really gone that far?  Do people think, explicitly or otherwise, in those terms?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

And no, I'm not going to tell you which book.  Makes no difference.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The One About the Ritz-Carlton

This is proving to be the longest post of my life.  I was about 70% done with this super-gigante when Blogger decided it was terrible and long and overwrought and deleted it all.  I'm not sure whether to be irritated or relieved.  Here's hoping the few scraps left in my head are workable.

First, a brief disclaimer.  This post is not an attempt to bigtime you.  There's just no other way to convey the ridiculousness of the past week without sharing some detail.  There's a place for a vicious rant on serial namedroppers and $30,000 millionaires, but it ain't here.

Do you know the origin of the term "ritzy?"  Me neither.  But I think I'm beginning to get the idea.

They let people like me out of their shoebox punched full of holes about twice a year.  For conferences and stuff.  It's necessarily a rare thing, because everyone you meet suddenly realizes that with you here, there's absolutely zero getting done back at the office.  For all they know, at that very moment there's an Ecstasy-fueled rave going on in the big conference room.

So a week ago I emerged, wild-eyed and pasty, for a work boondoggle.  I know, big deal.  Work wonks talking in 25 cent acronyms about scary "proposed legislation" and the "current regulatory environment."  Boooooriiiing.  I get that.

But this one was in Florida.  In south Florida.  On the beach.  At the Ritz-Carlton.  White sand, coconut palms, carved travertine fountains, Bentleys, people calling you Mister, you name it.  And deep sea fishing.  DEEP SEA FISHING.  DEEPSEAFISHING.  My hair almost fell out.

And I miiiiiight have been trying to keep this quiet.  But then Majesty found out about it.  The beach?  The BEACH?  There was no way she was missing the beach, she said.

Okay, so that's one extra person.  No sweat.  We'll just keep it our little secr...

Then The Named Storm found out about it.

Suddenly, I'm taking my 2.5 year old to the Ritz.  Not that I'm afraid of traveling with Jack, he's unnaturally well behaved and tolerant of stuffy planes and turbulence and creepy TSA agents and bad airport food.

Anyway, let's just say that you should be glad the hotel is still there for you to enjoy.  You should, in fact, be glad the entire state is still there.

Ladies and gentlemen, the other half lives very, very well.

First full day, I'm trying desperately to stay awake hard at work at the morning conference.  The rest of the family is at the little terrace café thing to grab some quick breakfast before they hit the beach.  While she's fixing up their plates, Majesty looks behind her to check on Jack.  Somehow, he had gotten the spoon from the brown sugar bowl and was just chowing sugar like he was at the Super 8.  She told me her instinct was to scream, "Jack!  You can't do that at the Ritz-Carlton!"  She instead grabs the spoon from him... and pretends nothing ever happened.  That chick is the consummate professional.

And I can't believe the hotel snipers didn't get them first.  I was under the impression that proper manners were enforced by lethal means.  Hmmm.

Mr. "Yes, I Just Rocked Your Brown Sugar, What of It?" then shows up on the magnificently pristine beach.  He - no kidding here - looks around, immediately bear hugs Majesty's leg, all the while making these squealing, happy sounds.

Those two end up eating dinner at the restaurant right on the beach.  I heard afterward that they had a perfect view of the sunset... and the rainstorm that washed out my beachside dinner.  Pretty funny, though - about 50 well dressed fundies, i-bankers and yours truly crammed under three beach umbrellas in the rain.  LOTS of personal space was violated, let me just say.  I had enough Britons cuddled around me to elect a member of Parliament.

But no complaints - I stayed dry.  One half-soaked English girl next to me found out I had my wife and Baby Monster with me (she had left her husband and kiddo back home).  We talked about the concept of marital capital.  "Oh," she said, "you're doing quite well."  She didn't know the half of it.  Heh.

Anyway, nature was taking a long while to dry itself out, and one of the umbrellas mysteriously started to move, with 15 or so people still crammed under it.  Their umbrella ended up right beside H.M. and Jack's table.  Dinner for us moved indoors, and they trucked in more lobsters than I have ever seen in my entire life into our packed dining room.  Think in 55 gallon drum terms.  I plopped down by the Afghan-born New Yorker and the San Franciscan.  The slightly damp North-easterners were puzzled.  Evidently it's customary to serve Florida stone crab here, not Maine lobster.  I guess it was like the time I showed up in Boston and was served...  quesadillas.  In Southie.  I guess they had a point.  The uncouth Texan had more lobster.

So in spite of the acronyms, the conference was pretty great on my end.  I mean, when do you get to have dinner and hear a Medal of Honor recipient speak, or get to meet a U.S. Senator you saw on TV all the time when you were growing up, or haul up a reef shark?

Oh, one story.  Senators, as you'd imagine, can tell some stories.  Now, Bill Clinton anecdotes are probably my second favorite genre, right behind Reagan stories.  This (very Republican) senator met with Clinton after he'd just been elected, but before he took office.

Clinton meets him with a huge smile, wraps his arm around him, and says, "Senator, you know, no two people in Washington more alike than we are."  The lawmaker's ah, skeptical.  "Our mothers were both practical nurses, we each came from poor backgrounds, we've both done a lot with ourselves, and we both care deeply about policy."  Just laying it on as thick as you please.

The Senator eventually staggers out of the meeting, and is slapping himself on the face a few times to snap himself out of all the charm.  He goes directly to a large Republican congressional meeting and loudly exclaims, "[Insert name of Christian deity here]!!!!!  Fellas, we've never seen anything like this guy before!  I mean, it's unbelievable!"

I did play just a leeeeetle bit of hooky when the conference topics got too nerdy even for me.  I hit the beach with the family, but not before we got gelato at the little shop in the lobby.  You're catching a theme.  We didn't even want to leave the grounds.  Miss Julie, about the nicest person in the universe, hooked Jack up with JEH-WATO, specifically some DOO-CHAY DUH WEH-CHAY.  She even put sprinkles on it for The Dude.  I had the dulce de leche too, but restrained myself from asking for sprinkles.  Barely.

On Friday morning, Jack and H.M. spent probably an hour and a half just sitting in the water and jumping the waves.   Jack was obsessed with the clear jellyfish that he found all along the beach and couldn't resist touching and patting them. Majesty said she buried about 2 dozen but finally gave up since they didn't seem to hurt him.  His Super-skin is probably immune.

After I got back from disturbing the delicate marine ecosystem myself, we went down to the little aquarium at the hotel.   This was genius.  Sheer genius.  Wasn't huge, wasn't the most spectacular thing ever, but a perfect diversion for kids.  Jack's favorite part was the little turtles, which were in a big open tank so that you could touch their shells and pet them.  Or in The Named Storm's case, frighten them with your enormous, waving, oar-length toddler arms.

That night, I was absolutely destroyed from sitting on a boat in the sun all afternoon (somebody's gotta do it), so we end up crushing room service burgers while watching the Toy Story DVD we brought.  Jack sat on the little couch at the end of the bed, covered with a beach towel.  And ketchup.  I think it's one of my favorite family meal memories.  I was as locked-in on the movie as Jack was.  My oozy, medium rare, bleu cheese burger didn't last 45 seconds, people.

Oh, you want a hotel review?  Well, alright, here you go.

The Pros:
If it's free
Excellent brown sugar
Room service
The beach
Room service
The beach
Room service
The beach
The aquarium
Room service
The beach

The Cons:
If it's not free
Skunky towels.  I kid you not.
Noisy - do rich folks pay someone to sleep for them?
Travel time - takes nearly an entire day to get there
Are there any people actually left back in New Jersey?  No, seriously, are there?

Even though we took what essentially became separate trips, everyone still had a blast in what has to be the best vacation in memory.  I had forgotten how much fun it is to wander around, mouth hanging open, pointing, finally blurting out, "Gah-LEE!  Lookuh THAT!"  Majesty says she can't wait for next year.  Ditto.  When we got back home to Texas, we listed all our favorite things about the trip.

Jack's favorite?  "Going back to the room with Mommy and Daddy!"  Majesty's reaction:  "What an awesome kid!"


Monday, May 9, 2011

Like, Catching Up and Stuff

Catch up week.  I was too busy spouting off about car washes that I neglected to update anyone and everyone about much else.  Other, like, important stuff and stuff.  Okay, you got me.  I have virtually nothing in my Brown Paper Sack of Blogging today.  Sue me, dude (or dudine, as applicable).  Oh, yeah, there was the zoo last week.  But I heard about that secondhand.

Mr. Leopard, This Is Your Wake Up Call
At the zoo, H.M. tells me that Aaron's trike was a big hit because of the little bell on it.  Majesty was explaining to the sprogs that the leopard was sleeping, but you could see him if you searched for his spots.  Jack (a.k.a. "tricycle hog"), was sitting on Aaron's ride and says, "It's okay, I wake him up!  DING!!!!  *rings the trike bell*.

Today's Vocabulary Word:  Condescension
In other domestic news, Jack's started talking to Elmo like we talk to him (Jack).  Did I mention that we have an Elmo that has buttons, zippers, shoelaces, and whatnot, ostensibly to teach young'uns how to get dressed?  I think it's an elaborate plot for him to look sloppy and panhandle for change on the corner of Sesame Street and Alphabet.  But that's my problem.  Anyway, Jack talks to him in that unmistakable, benevolently condescending check-this-out-I'm-exploiting-a-teachable-moment-here parental tone, and asks him, "Elmo, do you hear that music?"  or "Do you like that music, Elmo?" or "Elmo, can you clap your hands?"

I guess it really is true.  Pretty much anyone on earth is qualified to do this parenting gig.  That stings a little bit.

"Happy Mommy Days, Mommy."
"Mommy Days" (Mother's Day 2011, in Jack parlance) went fairly well, and was a success all around.  Or else The MommyTM is too polite to tell us what she really thought.  But she usually speaks her mind - I just heard a collective gasp of disbelief out there - so we probably did okay.  That is, until next time, when we have another golden opportunity to blow it.  fritter away marital capital.  show our undying appreciation.  And stuff.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Backyard Terrorism

The new face of extremism.
The fact pattern was this:

A vivid memory I have from childhood is washing and waxing the car with Dad.  My poor little CAWH hadn't had a bath since the summer of 2009.  Really.  Majestad had a some girls' movie night to head over to on Friday.  (I get weepy just thinking about how much estrogen was in play, there.)

I took out the slide rule and Scotch-tape and squished all that together into an idea.  I declared that Jack and I would wash the car.  Wile E. Coyote, super genius, move over, dude.  See, babysitting minutes burn like a raging grassfire, ending with the benefit of a glossy car.  "Sheer geeeenius, that's what it is!"

I thought about jumping in the old faded-by-dangerous-chlorine-levels swim trunks.  Nah, I mean, there's no way I'm getting wet.  First, it's not that hot outside.  And besides, we're only going to be spraying off the car for what, 2 minutes?  Not necessary.  Jack is giggling and grinning at my abject stupidity as we walk out the door.  His brain is about to spontaneously combust when he sees the galvanized bucket stuffed with all sorts of leaky bottles and unsafe chemicals.  And then there's the ultimate prize:  the spray nozzle capping the end of the hose.  

Have I mentioned that he is absolutely obsessed with water?  And waterhoses?  And sprinklers?  Guess that's par for the course if you're 2.5ish.

I let him use the SPWAY GUN on the end of the hose to get the car wet.  About 1,200 pounds of crud and dirt fall off the car, along with a body panel or two, a llama and an old paisley loveseat cushion.  Jack's a steaming mess of giggling incoherence by this time.  Having a BLAST.  I get the thing soaped, and just at the moment when I discover that my car is, in fact, black not gray, I immediately feel a cold jet of water, right square on my butt.

The little water jihadi got me with pinpoint accuracy, and is just dying with laughter over his marksmanship.  Furious, I grab the gun and soak a stripe right across him.  He squeals, roars, and then convulses with more laughter.  I pop him again (on the rump) again for good measure.  Little turkey.

Needless to say, when the hard work started, dude bolted and let me finish it myself.  He comes by that honest.  That's probably what I get for using 35 year-old Turtle Wax.  He knew better.  Anyway, the two of us came in late (took a long time to figure out legal status of the Guatemalan family I found living in my trunk), and fried up potatoes, sausage and eggs for a dinner that would appall every woman on the planet.  Jack inhaled it.

Holy war makes you hungry, I guess.