Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Important Science Lesson

What did we learn from the CRU e-mail leak and the less-than-flattering "inside baseball" look at the way that climate scientists talk to each other and about their peers?

We learned that scientists are not Vulcans. Rather than being passionless, logic-driven, rational creatures, scientists are very much like anybody else: driven to fits of pique, paranoia, close-mindedness, mean-spiritedness, and just generally being jerks.

It is important that everyone let that sink in, particularly you non-scientists out there. Most particularly you non-scientists who are journalists or public policy makers. The scientist you speak to may, in fact, be pushing an emotional agenda that has little or nothing to do with the issues at hand.

You can understand scientists by remembering that there are two Thrilling Life Moments for scientists.

Thrilling Life Moment #1 is to discover the way that something works that nobody else ever figured out before!

I've been fortunate enough to experience this on a few occasions, and let me tell you: it's better than booze, better than drugs, and better than sex. It's the ultimate ego gratification. You have figured out how to explain some phenomenon that nobody else ever could. And the more people that tried and failed, the bigger the high is.

The best part is when you roll out your controversial theory and your peers reject it, but then you spool out data, and proof, and challenge them to refute it, and when they can't they have to admit that you were right.

This is particularly satisfying when the peers who at first doubt you are people that you revile. And, since we're not Vulcans, scientists revile as many people as anybody else. Since familiarity breeds contempt, the most numerous group of people that we scorn is other scientists.

Which brings us to the Thrilling Life Moment #2 for scientists: the moment when you prove some moronic jackass wrong.

Yeah, you read that right: some moronic jackass. He might wear a lab coat, and he might have a PHD, but if he makes some pseudo-scientific claim that you can prove wrong, he's a moronic jackass.

The rules of the scientific method are well established, but they are essentially the rules of dominance and submission. I make a claim, and I back it up. If you test it and find it correct, you must submit to my interpretation. If you prove me wrong, I must withdraw my assertion and submit to your rebuttal.

It's all a question of who rolls over for whom.

So we should not be surprised that, when given the chance, climate scientists seized the opportunity to do both things at the same time when they were aided and abetted by an ignorant and partisan press.

These scientists were allowed to make sweeping claims without any verification at all (Moment #1) and summarily dismiss their critics as a group of cranks and morons (Moment #2).

As their egos grew, so too did their hubris: it was not enough to forecast warming, it had to be severe warming. Then dangerous warming. And finally apocalyptic, cataclysmic, the-end-of-humanity warming.

All the while they got to engage in a festival of masturbatory self-congratulation while shutting out any dissenting voices, because not agreeing with them became a sign of mental illness.

Rather than recognizing their models for what they were, they were uncritically accepted by the press and by politicians, neither of whom were capable of analyzing their work with anything approaching competence. And these moronic jackasses themselves were allowed to set the terms of debate, which they of course set to be as favorable to them as possible.

So in short, the arrogant led the blind, while the child yelling "the emperor has no clothes" was sent to the insane asylum.

This is not a good state of affairs. And it comes about because the public perception of scientists as Vulcan-like robots incapable of human greed and venality is spectacularly wrong and willfully ignorant of the basic fact that scientists, like everybody else, have emotions and do stupid things and often think only of their own self-interest.

Of course the scientists at CRU didn't want to share their data or their models. Nobody likes to be the "moronic jackass" in Thrilling Life Moment #2.

But science is absolutely not advanced by wallowing in our own human insecurities and failings. It's only advanced when we take the risk of being that moronic jackass by trying for our own Thrilling Life Moment #1.

No matter how afraid we are to do so.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


You can probably guess how my morning went:

1) Wake kids up at seven
2) Drop kids off at seven ten with woman who will take them to school at seven fifty
3) Go to airport
4) Begin pestering desk personnel about whether or not the plane has landed
5) Get thrown out of airport
6) Put on wig and glass and re-enter airport
7) Begin pestering desk personnel about whether or not the plane has landed
8) Get thrown out of airport again
9) Draw fake mustache a la Mets manager Bobby Valentine, begin pestering personnel
10) Get beaten by police
11) Put on dress
12) Sneak into airport but this time leave the desk people alone

And who should come strolling out of the arrival doors but my very own Wifey, looking like she's been put through a washing machine. Curiously, her pants were open and slipping down as she vainly tried to keep them up with one hand while she fumbled with her luggage with the other hand and balanced a purse between the two.

However, I was immediately aroused and overjoyed to see that she had the exact same thing on her mind that I had on mine: getting re-acquanted after our long absence.

"So, sexy, bathroom or parking lot?" I asked.

In response she tried to roll the luggage cart over me and swore at me like a drunken sailor.

"Long trip, huh?"

"I'm never traveling alone again," she said. "Ever."

Being a good husband, I patted her affectionately and then led the way to the car as she struggled with cart, purse, and pants. "What's up with your pants? Going for the gangster look this season?"

"What do you think happened, ass-wipe?"

I shrugged. "You changed your mind about joining the mile-high club?"

"No," she said. "And why aren't you pushing this cart?"

So I took over the cart so she could hold her pants up, which was really a shame, because at least two skycaps had tucked a euro in her panties. Unfortunately, since euros are coins, they just rolled right on through to, uh, warmer climes, if you will.

Lucky coins.

"I was running through Atlanta trying to catch the damn plane, but they hadn't announced final boarding, and I had to pee, so I stopped at a bathroom right next to the gate."

This, if you didn't know, is big news, since Wifey only pees twice a day. "Wow!" I said. "You deigned to use a public bathroom?"

"So I'm sitting there, and all of the sudden you know what I heard?"

Suddenly the story took an interesting turn. "People humping? A congresswoman soliciting for gay sex? The sound of silence?"

"I heard the final boarding call for my flight."

"My story was much more interesting," I said.

"Well, I start hurrying, and my damn zipper breaks as I'm trying to get my pants on. So I had to go on a nine-hour flight with my pants unzipped with only male flight attendants leering at me the whole time."

"That's terrible!" I gave her a big hug. "If only I'd been there."

"Why? Do you carry spare pants for me?"

"No, but I could have taken advantage of the easy access to make it a sexy flight."

She punched me again, but you know what?

I'd missed it.

So I took Wifey home, propositioned her every way I knew how (flower, liquor, candy, etc) but ended up having to go to work frustrated, if you know what I mean and I think that you do.

But you know what? IT'S OVER!

It's official: I have survived this horrible ordeal. During the last ten days, though, I've learned quite a lot. I thought I'd share some of the more pertinent things with you:

1) Wifey is an exorcist, as no ghosts or goblins ever wander the house when she's there. When she's gone? It's like the freaking Haunted Mansion hosted by Michael Myers.

2) You can go through six towels drying the floor if you take a shower with the curtain open instead of closed. But if you shower with the curtain closed, the likelihood that you'll be stabbed to death by a psycho is significantly higher, which is why I shower with the curtain open when Wifey's not around.

3) Airport security in Europe is really lax about guys with fake mustaches in dresses loitering around the return area.

4) The Eurotrash men are not lax about this and will hit on said woman with wild abandon.

5) For best results when your wife is unhappy with where you live, send her on a miserable trip somewhere else. Becuase for the first time in our five years here, she said to me that she was glad to be back and not be in the US any more. So if I can just schedule one disastrous trip every six months I should be in business, right?

6) Haggis is awful. It makes you feel like your getting a colonoscopy with a microscope made from an elephant's foot.

7) If you shriek like a little girl when you find a balloon head in your bed, you can count on one of your children putting a balloon head in your lunchbox the next morning.

8) Neither one of them will fess up to the crime, though.

9) Wifey is sleeping with the mailman. How else can you explain that we got no mail all week while she was gone, yet on Monday morning there were several letters, packages, and a box of chocolates with no address on it waiting in our mailbox when we got home? They joke's on her, though: I put ex-lax in the chocolates.

10) To most children the threat of zombie attack is far less serious than someone having pee'd on the bathroom floor. In this, children are wiser than adults.

11) When Wifey comes home after a long absence and finds the living room full of plates, dirty clothes, and the sad remains of a shattered catapult, she will look at you and say "I don't even want to know what the hell you've been doing, so don't even try to explain."

12) The girl, being an affectionate little tyke, sometimes leaves candy for her parents when they come back from long trips so that she and them can share it that night. On a related note, four ex-lax cancels out the villanous impact of haggis-related intestinal backup.

I think that's pretty much it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ten Down, ONE to Go

Sunday dawned clear and cold, and I knew exactly two things: I was now 24 hours away from having Wifey back, and somebody was breathing on the back of my neck at 7:00 in the morning.

I quickly came to the only logical conclusion (some kind of Freddy Kreuger/Jason Voorhees Frankenstein hybrid thing come to eat my flesh and steal my soul) and karate chopped behind me without looking.

"OW! What did you do that for?"

It was the girl.

"Sorry, honey," I said. "But what in heaven's name were doing behind me breathing on me?"

Her eyes brimmed with tears as she looked at me. "Waiting for you to get up."

Oh, great, now one of them is gonna go weepy. "What's the matter?" I asked.

"What if mommy never makes it home because she misses her airplane and we have to live without her forever?"

"Well, she'd be happy," I said. "Because she doesn't like it here. And I'd probably marry a new wife, perhaps in her twenties, and have a bunch more kids who I'd like better than you two, and your life would become like some sort of nightmarish fairy tale only without the hope of having a fairy godmother come rescue you."

Note: such satirical wit is largely lost on fragile nine-year-olds at seven in the morning. Or at least, judging from the 20 minute crying jag she went on it is.

Once I'd finally gotten her somewhat settled I had the difficulty of peeling her off of me long enough to go to the bathroom, shower, and shave. Each time she sat right outside the door, blocking it, and forced me to speak to her every few seconds so that she could verify that I was, indeed, still here.

And you know how I said that haggis enters your stomach like a ton of bricks falling off a skyscraper? It leaves as easily as a drunk at an open bar, and having to respond to questions every ten seconds doesn't help you build up the head of steam that you need to finally expiate the problem.

Stupid Scots.

So we went downstairs and had breakfast, and then got cleaned up and dressed for church. We had to leave early, since I had stuff to do there, and there was much scurrying around collecting our stuff as the girl peppered me with questions and grabbed ahold of my leg and generally kept me close at hand at all times.

When we jumped in the car I threw it into gear and was ready to tear off up the driveway when I glanced in the mirror.

"Where's your brother?" I asked.

The girl looked next to herself, then at me. "I don't know. I haven't seen him all morning."

I replayed the entire morning in my head: get up, get pestered by girl, try to make my body a haggis-free zone, drink a cup of swill that passes for coffee, get dressed…

Oh shit! I never got the boy up!

So I ran inside, saying a string of dirty words as the girl chased after me yelling "Daddy! Don't go!"

Upstairs, in the boy's bed, he's completely comatose, laying in bed in his underwear.
"Get up!" I yelled. "We've gotta go! Now! Come on!"

"You leave him alone!" the girl shouts. "It's not his fault!"

"Dad, I'll get up in a minute," he groans and turns over.

I dragged him out of bed (no mean feat, since he's in the top of a bunkbed) and get him dressed. The whole time he's complaining up a storm about how he doesn't want to get up and the girl is clinging to my leg like some kind of demented pekignese and I'm trying not to dissolve into copious swearing.

"Come on! Let's go!"

"I've gotta go to the bathroom!" he says. "Just wait a minute!"

Time stops as he goes into the bathroom. I hear the jeopardy music in my ears as he's in there with the door closed with absolutely no sound.

"Oh, great," he finally says.

"What's the matter?"

"I have a problem!"

"No toilet paper? Need a book? Do you have diarrhea? What is it?"

"Somebody pee'd all over the floor again," he said. "And this time they pee'd all over my pants, too!"

I really should have gone back to bed at this point.

Much later in the day we made it home from church. The girl had a birthday party to go to, but she announced the moment we walked into the house that she didn't want to go to it.

"Why not?" I asked. "You'll have fun."

"Because you'll not be there," she said. "And I miss mommy. Can I please stay home?"

"No, you need to go," I said.

"Yeah," the boy said. "Beat it so dad and I can have some quality time together."

"Well can I take the cell phone and call you every few minutes?"

"You lost it," I pointed out.

"I didn't lose yours," she said. "Can I take it instead?"

"Yeah, that's a great idea. Then you can lose both of them."

I finally convinced her to leave, and so she did, with another parent taking her to the party (it would be my job, in three hours, to pick her up).

"Do you really want to spend quality time together?" I asked the boy.

"Nah, I just wanted her to go away," he said. "I'm gonna go play DS."

So what did I do?

Like a good husband, in preparation for Wifey's return, I vacuumed the floor, put some fresh flowers on the table, set out the children's "welcome home" cards that I'd had them make, set up the Skype webcam that she'd been asking about for the last six months, cleaned the dishes, washed the laundry, and downloaded copious amounts of porn.

Hey, I said "good" husband, not "great" husband.

Finally the time came to collect the girl, so I loaded the boy into the car and headed into the city.

I think it's great that people have parties for their children at their house. If you can stand it, it's much more practical than renting something. And I endeavor to make sure that my child goes to other parties, and doesn't just go to her own, because people who throw birthday parties for their own children but who don't make sure their children attend parties are assholes who are just in it to take presents from everybody else and deserve to get butt rot.

Having said that, people who live at the intersection of eight tiny little cobblestone one-way roads in the middle of an old city that was laid out by a syphilitic sociopath which is impossible to reach and takes about six sanity points just to navigate to should probably pick a different venue for their party.
Getting there was pure, unadulterated hell.

When I arrived to collect the girl (and her best friend, since the best friend's mom had dropped them off) I discovered that they'd had their faces painted and that they had made a "balloon family."

Every real parent hates balloons. Not only do they choke babies and animals (but never the animals you want to choke, like the cat that keeps getting into the garbage can and pooping on the front step), but children inevitably leave them scattered all over the house, forget about them, and then come looking for them the minute after you pop the balloon and throw it away.

That's when they don't pop it in their face and recoil in terror and start acting like they've had to amputate their own arm with a rusty hacksaw.

So in our house we have a simple rule: if I can find the balloon, I can pop it and throw it away and nobody has the right to complain.

So the nine balloon head people family were coming out to the car with us, and when I asked the girl whose they were she pointed to her friend and said "hers."

Whew! Crisis averted.

When I dropped the other girl off, though, suddenly the story changed: only one of the balloon people left my car, and the others went home with me.

Stupid birthday party.
When we got inside, I reminded the girl of the rule: if I find 'em, I'll pop 'em. She scurried upstairs to hide them.

Now it was time for dinner. I checked the list (and hoped that tomorrow the spell would be broken) and found that we were supposed to have…OUT.

Oh, joyous OUT! That means we can eat anything we want!

Only, it's raining and cold and I don't want to walk down to the square and get something and I certainly don't want to hassle with getting everyone dressed and going out somewhere.

So I offered this deal to the children: if they'd eat in tonight, then when mommy got back we'd strongarm her into going out to eat with us this week.

The boy quickly agreed, but the girl put up more of a fight, arguing that we couldn't violate the list, that she really wanted to go out, and all sorts of other nonsense. But ultimately I prevailed.

"So what do you want?" I asked.

"McDonald's," the boy said.

"You can't have that, that would be out."

"But I'll eat it in," he said.

"Well, pick again."

"First you desert me this morning, and now you won't even get me what I want for dinner. I'm glad mommy's coming back tomorrow."

"Me too," I said. "What do you want?"

"Peanut butter," he said.

"And you?" I asked the girl.

"Just a bowl of carrots," she said. "I had too much candy at the party."

And for me, you ask? A six-pack of beer about two minutes after they went to bed, plus copious amounts of porn.

Much, much latter I staggered into my room to go to bed. I had kept the lights to a minimum since they were in bed, and all I could think about was how the next morning I got to go collect Wifey at the airport.

I jerked aside the covers and THERE WAS A SEVERED HEAD IN MY BED!

I let out a blood-curdling shriek and jumped back. It was clear: the spirits of the house had finally made their move, and soon I would die!

I'm not ashamed to admit that, like the poor SOB in the Godfather, the sight of a head in my bead left me incapable of controlling my bodily functions.

The children came running, of course, woken from their slumber by my frantic cries.

"What? What?" they yelled. All I could do was point.

"That's where that is!" the girl said. "I knew I lost one, but I couldn't remember where." And she plucked her lost balloon family member out of my bed.


"Geez, dad, it's not a big deal," the boy said. "I found two in my bed."

"I wanted them to be comfortable!" she pouted. "Mommy would have understood!" And she ran off crying.

"Go to your room!" I yelled.

I collapsed into bed. I don't know what happened to the boy, and I don't want to know. All I remember after that is that I uttered a slurred prayer as I drifted off to sleep:

"Oh dear God, if for some reason my wife can't make it back tomorrow, please let me die in my sleep. Amen!"

Ten down, one to go.

Football, Math, and Cowards

So everybody and his grandmother is piling on Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 from the Patriot's own 28. It's the "safe" attack in sports talk right now, like when you want to make fun of Mike Tyson for being a cannibal or Al Davis for being a rotting mummy.

Only, the people criticizing Belichick are wrong. They're not only wrong, they're airing their math ignorance as proof of the righteousness of their cause.

Typical is Peter King, who as always is not afraid to slavishly follow where the pack has led him. He compares it to Grady Little's call in the MLB playoffs to leave in Pedro Martinez and says it indelibly blots Belichick's resume.

Firstly, let's explore King's math: he puts the odds of the Patriots making the 1st down "at 60, 65 percent." Then he says in the very next sentence that "the odds of Manning going 72 yards to score a touchdown in less than two minutes…that's maybe 35 percent."

Um, dumbass? 65 plus 35 is a hundred. So the outcome of the two propositions is exactly equal. Even if we accept the lower value of 60, our precision is so poor that it seems like these are pretty similar propositions.
And this is before we begin considering what can go wrong on a punt: blocked punt, return for TD, long return, illegal block in the back, etc. It's true that the receiver could fumble it, but more punts go badly for the punting team than go well. So there's a significant (even if minor) element of risk for the Patriots by punting.

Putting that side, though, consider this: if the Patriots make the play, they win. So the chance of the Patriots winning on offense is 65%. If they punt, and the Colts have a 35% chance to score, then the chance of the Patriots winning on defense is 65%

As proof, King enters into the ledger the Colt's previous seven drives, of which two were touchdowns, two were interceptions, and three were punts. So the Colts had scored on 28.6% of their previous seven possessions. If that trend continued, then we could concede that the Patriots had a slight edge to win on defense (71.4%) over offense.

But football, as King surely knows, is a game of momentum. And teams that are on a comeback are dangerous in the 4th quarter, when the defense begins to flag. In the fourth quarter, the Colts had scored twice and had an interception. That's a whopping 66% chance to score. If that is the real metric to watch, then the Patriots definitely should go for it: they have a 65% chance to win on offense and a 34% chance to win on defense.

And the math from the seven possessions is certainly not accurate, as we know that Indy will not punt in this situation. So we have 7 possessions, but we must ask ourselves: what would have happened on the three punts? Well, if they would have scored a TD one time out of those three, then the chances that they'll score now are 3/7, or 43%. So the Patriots have a 60-65% chance to win on offense, and a 57% chance to win on defense.

The team with the ball gets to decide what happens; the defense can only react to what the offense does. Belichick knows this. He has a 65% chance to seize a win, or a 65% (or less) chance to hope that Indy does not seize the win. So he chooses to go for it himself.

It's a courageous play, not an arrogant play. Those who are excoriating him now are cowards, who would rather kick the ball away and hope that the other team either screws up or doesn't score, secure in the knowledge that if they do score, then you can fall back on "well, that's why Manning will be in the Hall of Fame one day."

Screw that! Belichick went to seize the win, Manning be damned, and his team didn't come up with two yards. Sometimes life is like that. We were all so excited about Brady and Moss both being healthy, and we've been drooling over their record-setting offense that blew the doors off opponents two years ago.

Where did that energy from pundits go? Did they forget that this is the Patriot's strength? Why should the Pats meekly kick off and "hope for the best"? When did this become a quintessential American value?

Fools, cowards, and morons are criticizing Belichick. Others, more mature and inclined to understand strategy, should appreciate a logical move made to control your own destiny that, as is sometimes the case, didn't quite work out.

One last word on King's cowardly illogic: he compares Belichick to Grady Little because Little is hated in New England and his name despised for costing them the World Series. But you know what?

It's King and his ilk who would advise going the Grady Little route, not Belichick. A tired defense has yielded two quick scores to a resurgent offense that is undefeated, so King wants to roll the dice and fall back on it for "one last try" and "make Manning earn it." Meanwhile, Belichick would rather go with own offense, which was having a great day, and play for the win, now, and keep control in his own hands.

It's the difference between controlling your destiny and "hoping for the best", which is essentially what King advises that they should have done.

And is what Little did when he left Pedro Martinez in one pitch too long.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nine Down, Two to Go

I stare into the abyss, my soul a smoking ruin of what I thought it once was. I have transgressed every boundary, indulged in fiendish taboo, and done things which will haunt me the rest of my days. Truly, I have no need to search out any longer the heart of darkness, for it beats within my breast and fills me with revulsion.

I had thought myself a man, but now must confront the terrible reality that I am little more than a frothing beast.

The day started inauspiciously when the boy awoke me at 7 AM. On a Saturday morning. I mean, really, isn't there a cartoon or a gun or something to distract him somewhere?

"Daddy, I have something important to tell you," he said. "Wake up."

"Is there a fire?"

"No, but-"

"Is it wild animals?"

"No, but-"

"Is it a zombie attack?"

"No, but-"

"Then go back to bed or go play or something. Daddy's tired."

"Daddy, listen to me. It's more important than all those things."

Now, that got my attention. More important than a zombie attack? Really? So I pulled myself into that region of semi-consciousness where you hope to be able to flop right back to sleep, but you can still carry on a conversation without snoring through the important parts.

"Daddy, I wanted to warn you that somebody pee'd all over the floor in the bathroom."

Okay, let's review: it's seven in the morning and only one person is out of bed, the seven-year-old boy. The other child is a girl. The floor was dry when I left the bathroom last night.

Can even Columbo crack this crime?

"Can you clean it up?"

"I think so."

"Good. Go do that."

So he left, and somehow I managed to go back to sleep for a little while longer. When I woke up, I of course went to the bathroom, hoping that the conversation had all been just in my imagination.

Sadly it was true.

You know what was just my imagination, though? The idea that the boy would do a half-decent job of cleaning piss off the bathroom floor.

Wifey bitches about this all the time, but I pretty much play it off. I mean, good aim comes with time. You can't just command a little guy to shoot straight, particularly in the morning.

I'll be damned if I didn't think about putting him in diapers, though, as I stood there with piddle soaking through my socks.

After I'd cleaned the bathroom it was time for us to have breakfast. Only, supplies were running low. Which is to say that supplies are out. Apparently Wifey left us food only for seven days. That, or somebody had several breakfasts in one sitting. Personally I suspect that the family member who gets out of bed far earlier than everyone else has been having two breakfasts.

After breakfast it was time for us to go to the electronics store, the happiest place on Earth. As a bribe, I told the kids that on the way home we'd pick up McDonald's, and their attitudes went from sulky to smiling in 0.2 seconds. See how easy that was? I got to go to the electronics store, and they never had to know that I'm totally out of anything to feed them.


I won't brag about my trip to the electronics store other than to say that it was everything I'd hoped it would be, and more. If you really want to start a store that will lure in men, you'd have bikini babes strutting around on high heels with a bar in the corner and row after row of cheap electronics while all of the giant flatscreen TV's played video highlights of the previous week's touchdowns, home runs, and injuries.

So you can take that in your feminism pipe and smoke it.

At McDonald's, I ordered the M. I don't know if you guys have this in the US, but if you do, I highly suggest that begin consuming them in large quantites before health nuts ruin this like they did the caramel milkshake. It is the best McDonald's sandwich I have ever eaten, and it almost ruined my marriage once.

We were at McDonald's a few years ago, and they were doing a survey of women to see how they liked the M. So they gave one to Wifey, and she tried it, and she didn't like it. So she rated it poorly, even after I'd tasted it and gone into heaven and punched my own daughter to keep her away from it and eaten the entire free sample that Wifey had received.

She rated it poorly! Now really, outside of the bedroom I hask Wifey to do anything for me. Is it so hard for her to lie on a survey to McDonald's in order to get them to come out with the greatest sandwich ever? They didn't release the M for years after that, and the whole time I was mad and I let her know about it.

She'd say "can you hand me that, please?"

And I'd say "I would, except you torpedoed the greatest sandwich ever invented, you bitter old harpy. Your palate is as refined as a hobo who's been subsisting on shoe leather and dog vomit."

Not coincidentally, I rarely got laid during this period, too. But finally McDonald's released the M and our marriage was saved.

What was I writing about again? Oh, yeah, lunch.

So after lunch (which was awesome. I'm salivating just thinking about it) we went out to test-fire the catapult. I had a variety of objects to throw, from a bowling pin to a toy car to a tennis ball. I'd worked quite a bit on the basket and the pivot, and all was in readiness. We drove out to the school's football field so we could test its accuracy under a variety of circumstances, from using the bungee cords to hand-firing it.

We set it up. The kids fell silent. I decided that for the first test-fire I'd hand-fire it, since in my preliminary preparation the bungee cords seemed kind of wussy, and I wanted the first shot to be impressive.

I slammed down on the counterweight, and POW!

My catapult exploded in my face. Shards of PVC rained over me. The children laughed like drunken hyenas.

I'd broken my catapult. I could have cried.

Now, feminist theorists will tell you that a man's attachment to weapons and guns is a method of overcompensation because he has a below-average endowment, but I can assure you that this is not the case. I am still hung like a donkey on Viagra. I even checked my pants later to make sure, becuase I did get showered with PVC, and everybody knows that's a chemical name that means Penilius Varicosilius Chemicilium which is latin for "Dangerous Chemical Substance that Probably Cuases Erectile Dysfunction."

Nevertheless, and all Freudian significance aside, I have a broken catapult.

I spent a few hours back at home on the couch, in a daze, mourning my broken catapult. It really wasn't fair. All I wanted was to be able to launch rotted fruit at the retirement community across the way, where they often come out on their balconies in see-through too-small bathrobes and nothing else. Is there something wrong with that?


But I couldn't fix it, because the children simply wouldn't hear of going to the hardware store and the electronics store on the same day. Stupid wiener kids.

Eventually they started agitating for dinner, which is what kids will do, which is why the Donner party ate them first. So I went to the cupboard and, like Mother Hubbard before me, found it bare. So I searched and I searched and I searched and I found two things: some hot dogs (in a jar, like those aborted baby pigs you see pickled in science class) and a can of haggis.

We're not Scottish. Why in heaven's name do we have haggis? I vaguely remember trying some at a store once; did I actually buy a can? Was I mentally ill at the time?

I checked the ingredients, trying to work up the courage to eat it. Here's what it said: "Sheep Lungs, 45%. Sheep intestines, stomach, other parts: 25%. Some filler."

What the hell do you use as filler for a mix of lungs, intestines, and stomach?

So I looked over at the jar of hot dogs, which was written in Dutch, which meant that it contained "zeilieberstregensgkreeftdravenklaspfaffer."

For all I know, that's their word for "stuff so disgusting that Scottish people wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole."

"Hey kids," I asked. "Hot dogs or haggis?"

"Famine," the girl said.

"Hot dogs," the boy said.

So I fed them hot dogs, and I had haggis. I mean, how bad could it be?

Well, when it was ready it looked like somebody'd taken maggots and seaweed and mixed them up with some really old sausage. And you know what? I've developed the theory that the smell of a sheep's breath isn't because of it's mouth, it's because of it's lungs.

Then you eat it, and you discover that its appearance and malodor is only the beginning of haggis' charm. It tastes awful. And it lands in your stomach gently, like a cloud.

Well, a cloud of bricks falling off of a skyscraper.

It's hours later and I'm still tasting it. No wonder William Wallace didn't mind being disemboweled. It's probably the only way to get haggis out of your system.

Wifey can't come back soon enough. I was just pondering that when I got a phone call from her just after I put the children to bed. She was distraught.

"I missed my plane this morning!" she said in a panic. "I swear to God, the way this trip's going I'll never make it back East in time to catch my plane back tomorrow."

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" I said. "You listen to me and you listen to me good! You catch a plane, or a bus, or a car, or a fast mule, or whatever and you get your ass to the airport and you get your ass on a plane and you get your ass back here! I have had enough of this!"

There was a long pause, and she finally says "Jesus, what did you eat? I can smell it over the phone."

Nine down, two to go.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Eight Down, Three to Go

I think even the most casual of my blog readers would know that I'm all about safety. That's why when Wifey left last Friday, I gave her cell phone to the girl with strict instructions: if she became concerned or nervous, or found herself waiting for me with her brother at school, she could call me.

I gave her the standard lecture about having a cell phone: it's not a toy, no playing with it, no bragging about it, no losing it, no using it to crack nuts, and all that jazz.

From that day to this, she's not used it at all, not even when I showed up fifteen minutes late to pick her up. I was very proud of her; after all, it's hard to resist temptation, and I know that having the phone made her feel like a big girl.

It drove her brother nuts that I gave her the phone. He confronted me about it one morning, in fact.

"Dad, how come you gave her the phone? Is it because you like her more than me? Is it because you think she's smarter than I am? Is it because you think I'm dumb? Is that it?"

"No, it's because I don't feel comfortable giving mommy's cell phone to somebody who can't always remember to put on pants in the morning."

"That's not true and you know it!"

"Son, you're not wearing pants right now."

He looked down (he wasn't wearing undies, either), then looked back up at me, and said in the most serious fashion possible "Good point, daddy. Never mind."

And then he went back upstairs to finish dressing.

So this morning, on the way to drop them off, I had to flap my gums. "I guess this is your last day carrying mommy's cell phone, huh?"

"No, I still get it Monday."

"Mommy comes back Monday morning, so I'll just give her back her cell phone," I said. "So this is your last day. Enjoy it, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess so," she says, wistfully looking into her backpack.

She waited ten whole minutes to call me.

I was on my way to work, driving about twice the speed limit, when the phone rings.

"Yeah?" I say.

"Daddy, I just wanted to make sure that you were going to come pick me up this afternoon after school. You're gonna come pick me up after school, right?"

"Of course!" HONK! "The phone's not a toy!"

And I hung up.

When I got to work, I immediately lept into action and started goofing off and reading sports news and stuff. I was deep into Peter King's riveting inside into gun control (read: moronic bloviation) when my cell phone rang again.


"What is it now?"

"I wanted to get a water and I asked the teacher and she said I could go to the water fountain at the end of the hall but it doesn't work so I was going to go to the other water fountain but it's not in the hall and I'm not sure if it's okay. Do you think it's okay?"

Sigh. "Yes, but I don't really think this is something you should call me about. The phone's not a toy, honey!"

"Sorry, daddy."

I suppose you can guess what came next: in between my other, more pressing work, I had to mediate three fights, RSVP a birthday party, calm her anxiety about dying someday, and assure her that I would indeed come pick her up.

I eventually just turned my phone off.

When pickup time came, I was standing out in front of the school talking to some of the mothers when the girl came bounding up to me.

"Give me the phone!" I said.

"Oh, that. Well, see, I kind of lost it. You stopped answering it, and I put it down, and I can't remember where."

At least it's not a camera phone full of naughty pictures or something, I suppose.

I was ready to go, but the boy's teacher caught up to me and asked me if I'd be willing to come help the class with their unit on simple machines. She'd asked me because I'm an engineer and Wifey had told her I might be willing to come do a demonstration with the kids.

Damn her!

I was not exactly thrilled about this until the teacher made her proposal to me: "I thought it might be nice for the children to build a catapult."

"Oh, well, why didn't you say so?" I responded. "Of course I'll help. Can I use some hot oil and burning pitch? Can we declare war on the middle school?"

She laughed. "Of course!"

I'm not sure she realized I was serious.

I suddenly realized the fortuitous position I was in: Wifey was away, I had license from the school to build and fire a catapult with a group of second graders, and the bank card was burning a hole in my pocket.

"Come on, kids, we're going to the hardware store!"

As we prepared to leave, the girl had one last little bit of information to share with me.

"You know there's a dance tonight, right?"

"I know." I also knew that the girl had two different boys currently pursuing her, and that if I had to go to an elementary school dance with the boy the likelihood that I'd get to knock out a rough model for my catapult was pretty slim.

But good parenting (and the knowledge that the girl would complain bitterly to Wifey, who was already mad at me) made me ask the all-important question.

"Do you wanna go?"

"Well, not particularly," she said. "But I guess I can go."

"But do you want to go?"

"I want to go," the boy said.

She shrugs at me. "If you want me to go, I guess I can go."

"I want to go," the boy said.

"It's not your dance," I told him. "Honey, tell me what you want to do."

"I don't want to go," she said. "But everybody else is going, so I guess I'll go. But I don't really want to. But if you want me to, I'll go. So I guess I'll go."

"I want to go," the boy said.

"Listen to me," I told her. "I don't care. It's your dance. You wanna go, we'll go. You wanna stay home, we'll stay home. It's totally your call."

"Then we'll go," the boy says.

"Shut up, boy."

"I guess, you know, if you think I should go-"


"I want to stay home," she says.

Whew! I got to look like a caring, considerate father and not go to the dance. I mean, it just doesn't get any better than that.

But for the record? I didn't want to go, and now I love my daughter more than this morning and I'm definitely getting her something good for Christmas.

We went to gymnastics, as always, where the boy sprained his foot and the girl almost got in a fistfight with this kid that won't leave her alone. He doesn't speak any English, and I told her he probably spoke fist, so she should explain things to him that way, but she's reluctant because the school teaches non-violent resolution to problems;

It's like Ghandi U or something. I'm a skeptic of the approach, personally. Some people just need need punching.

After that was over, though, it was on to the second-best store in the whole world (next to the electronics store): the hardware store!

I'm getting giddy just remembering it.

You know what the best part about going to a hardware store in a foreign country is? You can not only find tools that you didn't know you needed, but you can buy the foreign version of tools that you already have!

I had decided to knock out my proof of concept catapult in PVC pipe. It's cheap, sturdy, and easy to work. So I rounded up everything I needed, resisted to urge to buy several new saws, drills, workbenches, and whatnot, and sped home as quickly as possible to start building my catapult.

Of course, the stupid wiener kids started whining about how the had to eat. I unthawed a pizza and fed it to them, which they of course hated since they're perverse about such things, and as punishment I sent them to bed.

Two hours later, I had…my catapult!

And tomorrow I'm gonna fire it. I'll probably start on something simple like a tennis ball, and then work up to complicated stuff like plants or cats or whatever I can lay my hands on.

All I know is that tomorrow will be a glorious day: catapult firing and a trip to the electronics store!

Wifey should leave more often!

Eight down, three to go!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Seven Down, Four to Go

The children saved my life this morning.

No, really! Typically I leave the house around 7:30, but owing to Wifey's prolonged vacation in hell, I have to wait until 7:55 to leave. Today, I had to wait tons of time in a traffic jam on the interstate on the way to work, only to come by the smoking remains of a five-car collision between a giant SUV, a semi, a truck hauling lumber, and two smears of metal with eight wheels and a blood-spatter finish all over them.

It had happened at the exact time that I would have been driving through there if it hadn't been for me dropping off the children.

Now for the bad news: I started to worry that the specter of death would begin haunting me, just like it does with good-looking twenty-year-olds in one of the innumerable Final Destination movies.

Hey, don't laugh: I have a lot in common with those people. I'm attractive, I cheated death, and I have no acting ability. If I got naked in public and had low sexual standards I'd be taking out a "Grisly Death" life insurance policy even as we speak.

However, as an office worker with a career, I long ago had my soul crushed, so I figure that any spindling or mutilation is pretty much redundant and I have nothing to fear from the Grim Reaper.

Plus, if he can't pick off a bunch of dumbassed teenagers I have nothing to fear, right?

At work I decided not to go swim at the pool during lunch (which I usually do), mostly because I'm lazy. But also because I once saw this movie where a guy handcuffed a woman to the exit ladder and her head was like two inches below the water level and she drowned and I didn't want that to happen to me today.

I don't mind cheating death once, but twice is pushing my luck.

Speaking of cheating death, I decided to call Wifey this afternoon to see how her day yesterday went. That, and I wanted to check in on my cello, which for me was the only real purpose of this trip.

Among my many talents, I am a cellist. And I own a very valuable and expensive cello. I mean, it's not a Stradivarius or anything, but it's a nice instrument. And as part of our complex negotiations two months ago, I told her it was time to reunite me with my beloved cello. She, perhaps hallucinating or simply out of her mind, agreed to do this for me.

So I ordered a nice new hard-sided case for it and a new set of strings, and I gave her a six-page note on how to adequately pack, transfer, handle, and care for my cello during the three days that it is in her care. Because I love my cello, and it's very old, and I've been with it longer than her or the children.

To quote Groundskeeper Willie, were it not a violation of God's law, I'd marry it.

The joke, as always, is on her: it's a big heavy slab of wood festooned with metal that's as tall as she is in its case that she'll have to drag through the airport. Haw-haw! There's a reason that I never brought it back with me. I mean, I love it, but it's freaking unwieldy.

When she finally answered, her first question put me off guard a little bit: "Do you know what time it is?"

"Four thirty!" I said.

(This is a running joke in our marriage. Years ago when we moved from Tennessee to Virginia, we had an eight and a half hour car drive through mountains where you couldn't get any radio reception. We each had to drive our own car. We only had one tape between us, that stupid Spin Doctors tape with Jimmy Olson's Blues on it, and the second song started with the line "What time is it? Four thirty!" One of us would have the tape and listen to it until it drove us nuts, then we'd take a rest stop and exchange it.

When we finally reached our destination, she pulled out the tape and did donuts on it in her car until its atoms came apart, then told me never to mention the group or the song again. So I, of course, always answer the question "what time is it?" with "Four thirty!" It's cute!)

So she groans at me. "You moron. It's five in the morning here!"

"Oh," I said. "So I guess you're free to talk, then?"

"What do you want?"

"I just wanted to check on my baby," I said.

"Aww, that's sweet. I guess I'm fine except for you calling me at five in the morning."

"No, not you, my cello. How's my cello?" After an icy silence, I began to fear the connection had become damaged. "Hello? Are you still there? How's my valuable and expensive cello? Speak up, you lazy Sherpa."

"I'm sorry, I thought you might be worried about me."

"You?" I couldn't believe how selfish she was being. Doesn't she realize it's been five years without my cello? "I've got insurance on you. How's my cello?"

And I said the last part in that super-slow-mo voice that you use with idiots who don't happen to be savants that you have tired of. This was perhaps not the best motivational ploy I could have engaged.

"Fine. You want to know how your glorified violin is?" She knows I hate violins, so she just said that to be spiteful. "I'll tell you how it is: it's gonna cost you fifteen hundred bucks to bring it over there."

"WHAT? THAT'S AN OUTRAGE! You can't blackmail me, you, you, you," I was stalling here, because you never want to call your wife a name that she'll remember when you're getting amorous and her teeth are near your sensitive bits. So some names are right out, mostly those starting with "C" or "B". So I chose a fairly safe one.

"You scurrilous blackmailing she-panther!" See, there's nothing bad in there at all. "Besides, even if I pay you fifteen hundred bucks, it'll go into our joint bank account, so you'll gain nothing."

She sighed. "First of all, moron, I manage all the bank accounts, so if I wanted fifteen hundred bucks blackmail money I'd just transfer it from the account you know about to one of the accounts you don't even realize we have. And second of all, the money is because the airline requires that you buy a seat for the cello. It'll sit next to me on the flight back."

"But I don't want it to sit next to you," I said. "I want it to go in the cargo hold."

"They won't put it in the cargo hold," she said. "It has to ride in the plane."

"But they put dogs in the cargo hold," I said.

"It's not a dog." And she said it in that voice that you use to warn a child that the oven is hot.

"We'll see about this!" I fumed. "I'm gonna call the airline and give them a piece of my mind!"

So I called the airline, and after thirty-two minutes scrolling through various options (why the list isn't "press one for reservations, press two for questions about carrying large musical instruments" I have no idea) and got ahold of some lady.

"Hey, lady," I said. "I want to fly my cello on a transatlantic flight, but the man says I have to buy a seat for it."

"Yes, that's right," she said. "You have to purchase a seat for it."

"But I don't want it to sit up front. I want to put it in the cargo hold."

"We don't put large musical instruments into the cargo hold," she explained. "They have to have a seat."

"But you put dogs in the cargo hold," I said.

"Sir, a cello is not a dog."

"But it doesn't bark or vomit or die in the heat or anything, and yet you make it ride up front. This is, like, reverse racism. What would Rosa Parks say?"

"Sir, I don't think this is the same at all."

"It's exactly the same! First you make dogs sit under the plane, but a cello can't? It's not fair!"

"Can I help you with anything else today?"

"Yeah," I said. "If the plane gets delayed does the cello get a meal voucher? Does it get its own hotel room if it gets bumped overnight?"

"Sir, it would stay in the hotel room with you."


And with that the line went dead. There's something bad wrong with the connections today, I swear.

So I called Wifey back.

"What?" she said. "I was getting back to sleep."

"I wouldn't want to interrupt your dreams of naked David Hasselhoff," I said.

"What did you want?"

"Well, I wanted to tell you that thanks to your cock-up, they know that it's a cello and they absolutely insist that it rides in a seat."

"And what should I have done?"

I explained this like you explain how to turn on a light switch to a two-year-old. "The next time you have to travel with my cello, you wheel it up to the gate and tell them that it's a corpse. Then they'll certainly put it under the plane, because nobody wants to sit next to your dead uncle Duffy."

"Oh, yeah, that'll work."

"Well, not now that you've blabbed it's a cello. You're probably on a watch list. You'll have to ship it with the rest of the stuff."

"That reminds me," she said. "The car you rented me is too small. I can barely fit that giant case you ordered inside."

"Just drive it from on top of the roof like Mr. Bean," I said. "You're always bragging about what a good driver you are and-hello? Hello?"

The line went dead, but when I called back the operator told me it was busy. Weird.

So then I went and picked up the kids, and announced the good news. "We're going to the electronics store!"

"Gee, dad, I'd love to, but I can't," the girl said. "I've got too much homework."

"Me too," said the boy. "We've gotta go straight home."

I knew they were spending too much time with their mother! How dare they stiff me on the electronics store again! I mean, I only had three things I wanted to do while Wifey was gone: sleep on my back (which makes me snore), go without shaving for one day, and go to the electronics store.

Only I can't sleep on my back, because I discovered that I snore so much that I wake myself up. I went without shaving yesterday, but it itched too much and I had to go shave in the middle of the day. All I have left to declare my independence is the electronics store! I mean, it’s not like I'm going to buy anything, because Wifey would kill me. I just want to look!

"All right," I hissed. "But tomorrow we will go to the electronics store, because you'll have no excuses!"

"I'm going to be sick tomorrow," the boy said.

"Me too," the girl said.

Stupid kids.

When we got home the menu said "leftovers." Even though they'd stiffed me on the whole electronics store deal, I figured that I'd try to give them a break and make them a meal that they love which qualified as leftovers.

"Hey, the menu says leftovers, but what do you two think about scrambled eggs?" I asked.

"No thank you," they said. "We don't want to tempt fate."

"Are you sure you know how to make those?" the boy asked.

"They're eggs in a skillet!" I said. "I can make them in my sleep."

"Like your snoring?"

"Just shut up," I said.

"We're supposed to have leftovers, dad," the girl pleaded. "Just make some leftovers."

"Look, here's the egg carton. Only seven eggs are in here, out of a dozen. So there's only seven eggs left over!" I winked at her. "See? Leftovers?"

"I'm getting the fire extinguisher anyways," she said. "Just to be safe."

So I put on the skillet and tossed in some eggs. Then, to be fancy, I decided to throw in grated cheese (because cheese, like freedom, is better in abundance) as well as some cut up salami.

Now, I could have gotten out a whole new cutting board. We have twelve of them. But I figured that the cutting board already next to the stove, that I'd used that morning to slice strawberries on, was good enough. So I turned it over (to the clean side) and started slicing away at the ham.

All was well.

"Hey, that's nice," I said as the scent of strawberry vanilla filled the air. "Who lit a candle?"

I looked at the children. The girl's mouth worked but no sound came out. She only pointed in horror at me.

The boy, though, suddenly seized initiative. "FIRE!" he yelled. Snatching the extinguisher out of his sister's hands, he turned it on me and let rip with a torrent of white foamy chemical retardant.
Damn boy scouts and their safety courses. Who thought it was a good idea to teach a seven-year-old to use a fire extinguisher?

Briefly, before I was turned into a yeti, I saw that the cutting board had contacted the rear burner and began to melt. A small wisp of smoke had smouldered from the mildly deformed board.

Then everything went white.

When finally I could see again, all I knew was that the stove, the eggs, the clean dishes in the dish drainer, and me were all coated with whatever they put in flamethrowers. I hope the rumor about masturbating elephants isn't true.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm saving your life!" the boy yelled at me. "You should thank me!"

I hurled the cutting board into the sink. Other than looking like a Dali-inspired cutting board, it's actually no worse for the wear. I put the eggs aside for the moment and wondered if the chemical was harmful to eat. Then I pulled out a rag and started wiping down the stovetop to get the chemical off.

Fun fact: did you know that an electric eye left on with fire retardant chemical on it is still really, really hot? Yeah, it'll burn your hand and make you yell all sorts of words like "son of a piss!" and "gosh darn cocksucking mother ball licking criminy gobsoccers" because you're trying to hold in all the swearwords but still some leak out and your children stand there in teary-eyed horror as you hop around like an idiot.

So finally I get the whole mess cleaned up and my hand bandaged, and we're sitting around our peanut butter sandwiches and the girl looks at her brother and she says:

"I told you he didn't know how to make them."

Sigh. If they hadn't saved my life earlier, I'd murder them in their sleep.

Seven down, four to go.

[UPDATE: I realized this morning that I never went back and verified the name of the group and the album, so it appeared as XXXXX in the original post. It was the Spin Doctors, and I've corrected that now. Sadly, the anecdote is completely true.]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Six Down, Five to Go

I am so screwed when Wifey gets back. And not in the good "she spent days strolling through erotic lingerie boutiques looking for things to please her adoring husband" way, but in the bad "I made the travel plans which have turned her life into a living hell" way.

I am so screwed.

The day started promisingly enough as I rolled over and realized that my cold had finally been vanquished. Hallelujah!

Ah, the Chinese. Is there anything they can't do? They've given us 9% GDP, one and a half billion people, and Charlie Chan. I think they may be the greatest civilization ever.

Well, except America, but that goes without saying.

I finally dragged my sorry butt out of bed around 9 AM and found the children amusing themselves quietly downstairs. It's Armistice Day here, see, so I don't have work and they don't have school.

And in honor of Armistice Day, angry spouses should forgive their husbands and let bygones be bygones instead of planning another Krystallnacht focused amost exclusively on their spouse's scrotum. Right, sweetie?

What's more, I had decided to tackle a problem which has crept up and is threatening to destroy our marriage: the plugged back gutter. It's about twenty feet up off the ground, but located beneath the copiously foliaged tree of death, which means that when we get heavy rains in the fall it overflows directly onto the skylight that is just above the spot on the couch where Wifey likes to sit. And of course, this makes the skylight leak.

But I had already decided that this week, to surprise Wifey, I would resolve the problem so that when she came back she could sit on the couch without using an umbrella. So even though it was heavily windy and forty degrees outside and my day off and slightly spitting rain, I cleaned the gutter, and the problem is solved!

Or to be more accurate, I paid the two polish laborers a hundred euros to clean the gutter in the back. There were three of them, but one guy lost his footing on the ladder and plummeted to a grisly death. I didn't mind, though, because it saved me fifty euros and reminded me that every moment is precious, and we need to savor it instead of throwing it away foolishly cleaning gutters and vacuuming.

So there's definitely no way I'm going to touch that front light now.

After that the children and I cleaned up a little downstairs, and did some laundry, and then made a healthy lunch.

Okay, we played Wii in our pajamas and then had a toilet-paper race. If you've never had one, here's how you do it: each of you holds a roll of toilet paper over the commode, and lets a trail of paper down into the water. Then you flush the toilet. Whoever's roll dispenses the most paper into the toilet, wins.

We played for best out of three but had to call the race on account of pluggage.

After that we figured we needed to get some exercise, so we went bicycle riding. The best place to do this is up at the children's school, so we went up there and had great fun riding around the vastly forested lawns that make up their school.

At one point the boy had to pee, but since the school was closed we had to pee the way God intended: behind a tree.

So I decided to try as well, you know, as a father-son bonding thing. I joined him behind the tree as he's just finishing up.

"You have to go too, dad?"

"Yup," I said as I unzipped. "Gotta wrestle a champ."

He turns and walks around on the other side, and I hear him greet somebody.

"Hi!" He says.

"Why hello!" says a voice I vaguely recognize. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm peeing," he says.

"Oh," the other person says.

"But daddy's not peeing," he says. "He took his pants off so he could wrestle with a champion. I'm just waiting here as a lookout until he's done, but it usually takes him a long time."

I quickly finish up and come around the tree, hoping to explain that I'm not some horrible pervert, and you know who he's with? Yes, his teacher, who has evidently come to "catch up on some paperwork." Or at least that's what she mumbled as she hurried away.

I can't wait for the parent-teacher conferences, assuming I'm allowed within 250 yards of the school by that time.

As we relaxed back in our warm, toasty house, talking about discretion, I got a call from Wifey.

She was not pleased.

"I spent two hours on the runway in Chicago," she said. "Do you realize I've almost spent more time sitting in planes on the runway than in the air during this trip?"

"That's a fascinating fact," I replied. "Did you know that Andrew Jackson once fired almost his entire cabinet because their wives wouldn't accept his friend's wife socially? And then, during the nullification crisis-"

"I'm going to nullify you!" she said. "You planned this debacle! It's supposed to snow here tomorrow!"

Wifey hates snow. In fact, like most Southerners, Wifey hates any weather where you don't sweat profusely sitting still in the shade. I like it a bit cold, so I'm sorry to miss the snow.

"The car you rented me is a piece of shit," she said. "I just found out I can't ship all the stuff I wanted to, and do you know what else?"

"No, what?" I said.

"What's in your pocket?"

"What are you, some kind of reverse Bilbo Baggins?"

I could hear her teeth grind on the other end. "What's. In. Your. Pocket?"

"You sound more like Gollum," I joked.


So I reached in my pocket and pulled out my keys. "My keys."

"Your keys to what?"

"Hmm, let's see," I said. "Key to the house, key to the safe-deposit box, key to the PO box, key to the storage locker, key to the garage, key to my desk at work, and the key that I don't know what it goes to."

"Do you know what you never gave me?"

Thinking back to college, I finally realized what she was so mad about. "Chlamydia? Listen, we've been over this and over this. It was a false positive. It happens sometimes. I did not give you a VD! You never had one single symptom! That girl was just my lab partner, nothing more!"


There was a brief delay for a few moments with only feral snarling on the other side of the line and, I swear, the sound of someone foaming at the mouth in rage. I think she must have been attacked by a rabid animal.

"Well that's no big deal," I said. "Just go buy another lock and then ask the nice man at the storage locker to cut our lock off for you."

"You do know that I'm going to make you pay for this trip, right?"

"What? Now listen here, missy, you wanted this. It was on your list! If anybody should get paid, it's me!"

Now sometimes, as a spouse, you have to know when to truncate your sentences. If I'd stopped there, I might have more than five days to live. As it turns out, though, I went on, and here is what I said:

"I think when you get back you should drop to your knees and give me twenty, if you know what I mean, because I'm such an awesome husband that I'm taking care of your horrid spawn back here in terror mansion while you're laughing and flirting your way across the friendly skies!"

Just then the connection went dead. Hopefully she didn't hear that last part, or if she did, I can blame it on a crossed wire or something.

But if she did hear it, I'm right royally screwed.

The worst part was that the children got pissy with me for calling them horrid spawn. So as revenge I made them do their homework. For two blessed hours one worked on handwriting and reading while the other did math, and I meanwhile watched World's Deadliest Catch on TV.

And you know what? Those guys have a pretty good job. I'm thinking of joining them, oh, maybe next Tuesday when they go back out.

At the very least I'm wearing a cup to the airport next Monday.

Six down, five to go.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Five down, six to go

Today, I vowed that regardless of what came to pass, there would be one goal at which I would surely succeed, regardless of cost or consequence: I would at long last cast off this thrice-damned cold, nasal drip and all.

Having made this vow, though, I was unsure of how to go about doing it. I'd tried everything I could thing of: medicine, rest, getting other people sick, liquor, porn, and eating random plants in the hope that one of them contained some unknown cure for the common cold, like you see at 2 AM on those infomercials about the rain forest.

Until now no luck.

I roused the children with cursing and threats, but they ignored me. It's like they've finally hipped to the fact that mommy's not here, and the second-in-command guy isn't worth getting all hot and bothered about. I'm like a cross between Sgt. Carter and Col. Klink, only less menacing than either.

Plus there's no sweet-voiced Gomer to help me make it through these rough patches. I did get to listen to ten minutes of recorder practice, though, which I didn't so much hear as felt through my eye teeth.

Somehow we got up, dressed, and out the door. As always the boy looked like he was packed to ascend K-2, and I swear the girl was wearing her mother's clothing and jewelry, but who was I to argue? I figured they knew what they were doing.

As I sat at work, staring out the window and wondering if the fall from my office to the ground would be fatal (probably not, I finally decided) the answer came to me: Chinese food.

How could I have forgotten the healing power of Chinese food?

You know how when you order the spiciest thing on the menu, then lard it with hot sauce, your eyes water and your sinuses clear up and you feel like somebody set off a chemical fire in your brain?

THAT's what I needed!

However, I couldn't just go to the Chinese restaurant by myself. More accurately I could, but I didn't want to. So I needed to trick some people into going with me so I wouldn't look like some sick lunatic trying to infect everyone with swine flu. Fortunately I knew just how to do this.

I went by the office of our resident health nut, who goes swimming every day and normally never eats out. But I knew the sure-fire way to get him to go with me. "Do you remember that award that I submitted our project for?" I said.

"Yes," he said. "Why?"

"I heard a rumor that we might win," I said. "This calls for a celebration!"

"Yeah!" he said. "Rumors are never wrong!"

Then he proposed we invite the other guy on the project, which I wasn't going to do, mostly because this guy eats so slowly that I once got run over by a glacier waiting for him to finish dessert.

You know how in some countries monkeys come and steal food right off your plate if you're not fast enough? This guy once lost an entrée to a sloth. He's so slow that his glass goes dry from evaporation. It takes him so long-

I think you get the point.

By all rights I did need to invite him, though, because he did do something like half the work on the project. The health nut did the other half. What did I do, you ask?

I submitted it for the award, that's what. Those entry forms aren't going to fill themselves out!

Well, I invited the guy, and long story short he came and his girlfriend came too (no, I don't know why, but there you go). I ordered spicy beef and egg rolls, and when it came I took out that super-hot sauce that they keep in the little jar with the decorative spoon that they don't expect you to use (or only expect you to use a dot of) and just slathered the egg rolls with that stuff, the table gradually growing silent.

"Are you sure you want to do that?" Mr. Healthy asked.

"It's the only way," I said. "Tell my wife I loved her."

Then I bit into it, and let me tell you, it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius!


Now, I know what some of you are thinking: what kind of idiot would show such blatant disregard for hygiene, sanity, and his own body?

To which I can only respond in the immortal words of Dr. Peter Venkman: back off, man, I'm a scientist.

I will admit that the first few seconds were fairly difficult, when it felt like I'd swallowed a radioactive squirrel who had an alien exploding out of it. However, I passed the first test: I didn't vomit.

My eyes watered.

My throat seized.

And, for the first time in days, I sucked air in through both nostrils.


Let me tell you, after that the rest of the day was going to be a breeze. I was ready to take on the world and do whatever the day brought me. Filled with a new attitude of confidence and health that I hadn't had in days, I charged back to the office to attack the work that awaited me.

Specifically, two hours later, I attacked the bathroom when my bowels began hitting EJECT and I started to think that perhaps breathing was overrated.

Beggars in a potty emergency can't be choosy, so I had to go to the "ecological" bathroom near my office. This thing was designed by hippies who hate all human life, specifically those who go to the bathroom. The little cubicles are hermetically sealed, and when you press the button, the lights stay on for about thirty seconds. Then they go off, and you have to wait fifteen seconds to press the button for them to come on.

Unless, of course, the system is feeling perverse and the lights don't come back on and you have to wind up an unpleasant trip to the can using your cell phone as the only source of illumination.

Not, you know, that that's ever happened to me.

Finally I picked the kids up from school, and I offered them a special treat: a trip to an electronics store! I told them they could each pick something out.

See, I love electronics stores, because they're full of all sorts of stuff I don't know how to use but which look cool and run on electricity, like webcams and computer games and stuff. It makes me feel smarter just being in their presence.

Usually I have to go with Wifey, who ruins the whole thing with her "what would you do with that " and "that's too expensive" and "you already have one of those". I mean, really, what's the good of having a career and sucking up to the boss if you can't blow your paycheck on gaudy electronics?

But without Wifey (and with the bank card) I could buy all sorts of things!

Alas, it was not to be. The children, rotten little SOB's that they are, didn't want to go! And you know how it is trying to drool over gigantic televisions when they're whining and carrying on and trying to sword fight with the digital display cameras and the manager's all like "can you please control your children" and then you get thrown out and they ask you not to come back.

Not, you know, that that's ever happened to me.

So instead we went home. But as vengeance, I stopped and got Pizza Hut pizza on the way home. It's not on the pre-approved food list, but I don't care: they deserve the vengeance of the curse for thwarting my desire to look at electronics!


At home I also forced them to watch Godzilla vs Monster Zero, a classic of the genre and featuring the Godzilla victory dance. Perhaps the only one which tops this one is the all-time great Godzilla vs Megalon, even though Megalon is most useless monster ever. But it's still awesome because of Gigan and the classic line, "he's reprogrammed himself to grow!"

Sorry, that was a tangent. But I do love me some Godzilla, and I'm working hard to instill this important value in my children. Because it's important that they, like the founding fathers, appreciate that giant radioactive creatures can play an important role in society.

Plus they should understand the dangers that radioactivity can cause when in the wrong hands, leading to mutated animals, giant ants, and fire-breathing lizards. Only responsible democracies and hard-core tyrannies that want to threaten their neighbors should be allowed nuclear materials.

Unfortunately, the astronauts had barely reached Planet X when I had to make another trip to the bathroom to get over Emperor Zhao's Revenge (or whatever it was I had). On the upside my breathing was perfect. On the down side, you're never exactly pining away to smell intestinal distress.

After the movie the children amused themselves playing video games, and entered into a discussion about which Pokemon their parents resembled most.

"Mommy is definitely a Blissy, because they love their young and take such great care of them and are really nice and spread eternal happiness." The girl rhapsodized.

"Yeah," the boy said. "And daddy is a Fartachu that spews horrible gas and everybody hates!"

"Hey!" I protested.

"That's not right," the girl said. "That's called a Grimer."

"Go to bed!" I commanded.

My stomach is gurgling, and it makes me miss my cold already.

Five down, six to go.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Four down, 7 to go

Do you know what the difference between mommies and daddies is?

It's that mommies use a variety of psychological weapons (from guilt to threatening to the intricate bonds of love) to help make their children into fully functional adults. It takes many years, it's very tricky business, and it requires the mother to give a lot of her time and emotional resources to do.

It looks really hard.

Daddies, on the other hand, just use daddy magic. You can solve any problem with daddy magic, quickly and easily. There's a reason that Santa Claus is a man, you know. No woman could whisk up a chimney by touching her nose, to say nothing of jiggling her tummy like a bowlful of jelly.

Here's an example: say you're cooking and a piece of eggshell ends up in the mix. What do you do?

Well, if you're a mommy, you get a spoon and you laboriously work with the eggs to fish out the offending piece of shell. It takes time, and effort, and you end up with one more thing to wash.

But with the power of daddy magic, you know that you can leave the eggshell in. Why? Because it's all healthy, baby! The only real reason to not put the whole egg in is because the shell touched the chicken's butt and you don't want it in your food. Otherwise eggshell is practically health food! And with the power of daddy magic and a hot oven and nobody watching you, that eggshell can stay right in the mix.

Problem solved!

This morning I awoke practically suffused with daddy magic. And I needed it, too, because the children were playing their favorite game: "I'll answer a question not meant for me."

After I got up and showered, I got the children out of bed and told them to get dressed. Amidst much grumbling and fumbling, they rolled out of their beds like zombies arising from the grave.

"Don't forget to brush your hair!" I yelled at the girl.

"Dad, I don't have any hair!" yelled the boy.

"I meant your sister!" I said.

"I'm in the bathroom!" she yells at me.

"Well, do it when you get out!" I yell back.

"I'm not in the bathroom!" the boy yells to me.

And on, and on, and on, until I'm dreaming of sticking their bodies in a crawl space and running off to Monaco. Not that I'd ever do such a thing.

Mostly because our rented house is crawlspace-free, and I'll be darned if I'm going to put one in and increase the property value for the landlord (see a related discussion of the hot water heater).

Also, the cost of living in Monaco is way too high. Now Sweden, that's an ideal relocation spot, except for the crappy weather and all the Swedes. Oh, and the language, which sounds just like the Swedish chef. Orgis-borgis humby-bumby!

So I finally got them up, dressed, and fed, which was no mean feat. Being a proactive father, I'd already made their lunches for today, so all I had to do was get them to put all their school stuff together so we could leave. Think of it like preparing your spell components before you go into combat.

(That's geek-talk, by the way, so be thankful if you don't understand it)

The girl finished packing her backpack with homework, lunch, and swim bag, and had a nice, neat, slim, trim, pack.

Meanwhile the boy is hopping up and down on his backpack like something out of a 50's cartoon trying to jam all his crap in there, and it's swelling up, and when he finally gets it closed it's swollen and the zippers are straining like fat Jared's from Subway's pants.

"Does your backpack always look like that?" I ask.

"Oh, yeah, don't worry," he says. "It's not a problem."

I have my doubts. I think Wifey would have mentioned if his backpack looked like a tick stuck on an artery. But you know what? He could lift it, so by the power of daddy magic, I declare this problem solved!

But I swear I don't know what he took to school today that he should have left home. And further, I don't want to know. So by the power of daddy magic, I declare this not my problem!

See how powerful daddy magic is? From using Hold Person to freeze a child to Power Word Kill on spiders to Bibgy's Offensive Fart, daddies have got all the power in a family thanks to the might of daddy magic.

Finally we head for the door and as she passes, the girl's hair takes a snap at me, and I look down on her head and I see a nest ready to harbor the entire Christmas song: three calling birds, four French hens, and a partridge in a pear tree.

"Did you brush your hair like I asked?"

The boy stamps furiously and yells "FOR THE MILLIONTH TIME, I DON'T HAVE HAIR!"

With an ego like that, the boy will go far. Perhaps even the presidency someday.

"Of course I did," the girl said in her best condescending voice.

For a brief moment, the psychic specter of Wifey appeared in the room, staring down on us gravely and shaking her head. Wherever she was, she was having an out-of-body experience and telling me, in her best Jor-El way, that this was not the way that things were meant to be.

But you know what? Using the power of daddy magic, I dispelled the specter and declared this not a problem!

"Okay," I shrugged. "Whatever."

I'm telling you, I'm at least a tenth-level dad.

(That's more geek talk, by the way)

So I loaded them into the car and we were off to drop them at the house of the nice lady who is taking them to school while Wifey is away.

In the backseat, I hear one of them whisper to the other one "He's a lot easier than mommy. He didn't even make me put on socks!"

You know what? I engaged my daddy magic to cast cone of silence around myself, and after that just didn't pay any more attention.

Once I'd dropped them off, it was off to work. And you know what I found out?

Daddy magic has its limits. See, I was thrilled because instead of drinking lukewarm roach feces as coffee today at home, I could drink from the coffee machine at work. It's got all kinds of choices: coffee, expresso, mocaccino, the works! Only today it was broken, for the first time ever. Do you know why?

It was out of water.

Now, really, I live in a country where it rains 300 days a year. There was water in the water fountain, the toilets, and the parking lot. Why wasn't there any water in the coffee machine?

I don't know, but it made me want to take the day off. So in protest I fiddled around on the Internet all day and didn't get anything accomplished.

(Technically, this is very similar to what I normally do, but never mind about that)

Sometime during the day I got an angry e-mail about one of the children not wearing socks in cold weather, but I used the powerful daddy magic spell Forward to send it on to Wifey so she could worry about it next week.

Unfortunately, my mini-vacation from the children ended, and it was time to go pick the savage little monsters up. We came home and, the specter of Mommy hanging over us like a cloud of doom, obediently checked the schedule for what we were supposed to eat: chicken nuggets.

Now, when Wifey left (about six weeks ago, if I reckon correctly) I remember her nattering something about how she didn't have time to get us chicken nuggets and I'd have to go buy them.

Like that's going to happen. I don't even know where the grocery store is. The only store I know the location of is the flammable stuff store, where you can buy gas, firewood, hard liquor, and porn. It's within walking distance of the house, which is good, because often I like to stroll over there and partake of one or more of those items before coming home.

Given that, we needed to go off-list. I informed the children of this eventuality.

"I'm not hungry," the girl said. "I'll go without."

"I want some more tuna casserole," the boy said. "But I'm going to wait over here near the exit while you make it in case there's trouble."

So we compromised: leftover casserole for me and the boy, cold hot dogs for the girl. Hey, don't laugh, it was a major coup: both children got something that they loved. I promised them that I'd use my daddy magic to keep the terrible curse of mommy at bay and get us through dinner without any problems at all.

As we ate, peacefully, the boy looked at me, and he said (and I swear I am not making this up):

"You know what, daddy? When you're gone, and mommy's here, things are hard. But when mommy's gone, and you're here, things are easy. And when you're both here, things are kind of medium."

My heart swelled with pride. This, from the boy who once told me he couldn't wait until I died and mommy married a new, better daddy. This from the boy who once told mommy he wished he were bigger so he could beat me up. This from the boy who comes into my room, checks to see if I'm breathing, and says "darn" when I am.

I'm his favorite parent! Let's hear it for the awesome power of daddy magic! I think I've gained at least two levels thanks to Wifey's trip! I must be up to Sorcerer by now!

(Please pardon the excessive geekiness of the preceding sentence)

But of course I needed to hear it in full, so probed for the ultimate payoff, the phrase that I could use to gloat and demean Wifey for the rest of our marriage together:

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"It means he likes you better than mom," the girl said.

"No it doesn't!" he said. "It means that since he doesn't know any of the rules or how to do anything we can get away with whatever we want! I haven't changed my underwear in days and days and days."

And with that he dumped milk all over my plate trying to do a fist-bump with me.

Little SOB! I showed him who was boss: he spent the rest of the night practicing doing his handwriting while I harangued him about his poor attitude. His lettering ended up fairly smeared with his tears.

I swear, where do they get this attitude? I'm all about respect and treating other people justly. I never do or say bad things! Kids these days. It's the TV, that's what it is, all right.

Finally, utterly humiliated, I sent the children to bed, ignoring the bickering and trail of toothpaste in the hallway to come upstairs and type out this summary of my day before crawling off to bed for another horrifying night here in Death House.

I feel drained, as if I've lost several experience levels from the chill touch of the Specter of Wifey, reaching out to punish me for not eating the chicken nuggets like I was supposed to or some other obscure violation of some rule that I never even knew existed, like how children are supposed to wear socks or something.

I'll tell you this much: if she thinks I'm going to water her plants she's fooling herself, that's for darn sure. Even so, I think I'll check the list to see if there's anything I need to pick up on my way home tomorrow.

You know, just in case.

Four down, seven to go.