Friday, August 26, 2005

Generation: Nerd

Some people will try to tell you that nuclear proliferation is the most pressing issue of our time. True, somebody should probably start working on that. But I submit that we have an even more immediate problem: the first generation of fathers and sons fighting over the video game controller is almost upon us.

I know that we have this problem because my buddy recently lent me a video game, promising that it would bring me months of entertainment. I beat it in two days, but that’s not the point. The point is that we’re twenty-seven years old, and we’re still lending each other video games. The point is also that I just bragged about how long it took me to beat one of them. Every morning, I have to consciously place my hair over my bald spots, and yet only days ago I exterminated all the Metroid organisms on Planet Zebes. This is not right.

People my age, especially (and by especially I mean entirely) male people, are not giving up the video games. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the controllers will have to be pried from our warm, sweaty hands.

I suppose a benefit of our nerdiness is that we must have the best collective hand-eye coordination of any generation in the history of the planet. Most of us have twenty years of experience ignoring our own lives so that we could keep Space Invaders at bay, rescue princesses from turtle-like creatures and leave the fresh air outside for everyone else to breathe. We are a selfless bunch. If only we could develop a feasible alternative to an oil-based economy with a 17-button combination move, ending with a roundhouse kick that makes our opponent’s head explode, we’d really be getting somewhere.

Unfortunately, our hard-earned skills might soon be wasted. My friends are already starting to have children. Someday in the not-distant-enough future, those children are going to want the controller. The problem is upon us whether we choose to face it or not.

If you stop and listen, you can almost hear the impasse sneaking up on us, like a small Mario, before he bonks his head on a question mark, finds a mushroom and doubles in size. Should we continue to stand idly by, it’s only a matter of time before the problem finds a glowing daisy, at which point it will be too late, as the problem will then be able to shoot fireballs at us. For those readers who are unfamiliar with Super Mario Brothers, let me reframe the analogy: the problem is a cute little puppy right now. If we don’t act soon, the puppy may develop the ability to shoot fireballs at us.

We need to get our best people working on this. People like Buzz Aldrin and Cal Ripken, Jr. I don’t exactly know what they could do to help, but they sure seem like good guys.

The fact remains that fathers aren’t supposed to want to play video games in the first place. They’re supposed to pick up the controller for a moment, get smeared by their offspring and be the object of derision until they go back outside to mulch.
I recently had a vision: it's ten years from now, and I'm sitting on my hover-couch, playing "Grand Theft Auto: Neptune" on my PlayStation17. In wanders a little boy, looking just like a small version of me. I have a sense that I love this child; I want to protect him from the world while making sure he is prepared for everything it has in store for him.

The boy reaches for the controller with his little hands, and says, "Can I have a turn, Daddy?"

He looks at me expectantly with those eyes that are so much like my own, those little eyes that I love so much.

"Shouldn’t you be mowing the lawn?" I reply.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Just one of those dings

On a rare and magical day last year, my wife Kara got angry, and it wasn’t at me. Oh, it was so beautiful. We had taken three steps away from her black Honda Civic in a small parking lot, when Kara heard the sound of metal hitting metal behind her. She turned and walked back to the passenger side door, where she found a fresh, white and rather cavernous ding.

“Excuse me,” she said to the man who had just gotten into his white pickup truck beside her, “but I think you just put a dent in my door.”

Without leaning over to survey the damage, the man replied, “Oh, I didn’t do that.”

Kara straightened her back. A tumbleweed blew across the parking lot. Somewhere, a harmonica abruptly stopped playing. A wooden clock tower struck high noon. Bystanders hustled indoors.

Kara’s gaze was so intense that I wondered if she was accidentally giving this guy free LASIK surgery. I’d never seen her give that look to anyone else; I thought it was a special look she reserved just for me. For a brief moment, I wondered if I should get jealous.

“There’s a fresh white paint chip on my door. I heard you do it,” she said.

He replied, “Oh, no, I couldn’t have done it. I’m always very careful.”

“Well, you weren’t careful this time,” Kara said.

The man professed his innocence again while putting his truck into reverse. Kara tensed up, and for a second there, I thought she was going to Bo Duke through the guy’s window and beat a confession out of him.

Unfortunately, this happened in real life, which means that, like most real-life stories, the ending is lame. The confrontation ended with Kara doing all she realistically could, which was to put her hands on her hips and pointedly memorize the guy’s license plate (I DING U) as he backed out of his parking spot.

You might be wondering what exactly I was doing during all this commotion. Of course, I had every intention of stepping in to defend the purity of my wife’s car’s passenger side door, but my shoe was untied. By the time I got the double-knot just the way I like it, the guy was already halfway across the parking lot, obviously afraid of what I might do to him after I rectified my footwear issues.

Kara spent the next hour with enough steam coming out of her ears to power a medium-sized municipality through a blistering heat wave. The whole episode, though, was recently put into perspective for us. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that some perspective recently fell out of the sky.

A guy who works with a friend of mine is a Corvette lover. He likes the old-style pointier Corvettes, not the newer ones that are more rounded. After searching around, he found the perfect red ’95 Corvette, a mere three-hour drive from his house. He bought the Corvette and picked it up, driving it back and parking it in his driveway, right next to his blue ’92 Corvette, which he had already sold. The buyer was coming to pick it up on Wednesday. Both of the Corvettes were parked next to his wife’s Cadillac, three in a row.

On that Tuesday night, some college kids had a party down the street. One of the kids had too much to drink, and attempted to drive home by himself. While this kid was too impaired to actually steer the vehicle, his acceleration skills remained completely undiminished. He launched off an embankment, hurtled fifteen feet through the air and landed on all three of the cars in the driveway, instantaneously making them all convertibles.

A short while later, the fire department used a thermal camera to find the kid hiding in the woods nearby, unhurt (yet). If the kid had seen the movie Predator, he’d have known that smearing mud all over your body makes it impossible for aliens and/or firemen to find you that way.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Bring me Solo and the Wookie

Here's one of my favorite frickin' shots of my Dad and me. This one's from my folks' visit to the dude ranch in Wyoming, where I got to play cowboy for a summer:

I bet these kids were cute -- before Jabba the Hutt had them frozen in carbonite.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Won’t you ignore my neighbor?

Sometimes, when I’m not too busy wondering whether or not Pat Sajak wears a toupee, I wonder about my neighbors. Specifically, I wonder if they notice me dumping dirty ferret litter over on their side of the fence in the middle of the night. If they do notice, not only would I be embarrassed that they know I sneak around the backyard at night with a bucket of animal waste, but I’d be sad that my ninja suit was a total waste of money.

I wouldn’t know if they notice or not; I know very little about my neighbors, other than what they look like when they’re waving. I don’t even know what some of their kids’ names are, but we all know each others’ waves very well. You could bring all of my neighbors outside, put empty potato sacks over their heads, and I’d be able easily identify each of them just by their waves, and also by which house they’re standing in front of.

While my wife Kara and I were away on vacation recently, a couple of our neighbors down the street pulled together to have a yard sale. It worked out fine that we weren’t there to join them for the big sale; we still need a couple decades to amass enough rusted-out snow blowers and folding chairs that don’t fold to properly participate in something like that.

Some people think that you have to get to yard sales early to get the good stuff. I’ve found, and my neighbors just confirmed, that the best deals actually come two days later, when the leftovers are set beside the trash can. As I write this, I’m sitting on a stray chair that Kara and I saved from being euthanized. You really can get some not totally destroyed furniture that way. But still, I’m sorry that we weren’t there when everyone was out in their yards; it would have been nice to have the opportunity to get to know them a little better, even the ones whose bumper stickers I don’t agree with.

I have a long history of not knowing much about my neighbors. About seven years ago, I was moving into my first apartment, looking at the long line of doorknobs poking into the hallway, and thinking, “This will be fun to get to know all of these people.” I don’t know to this day whether anybody actually lived behind any of those doorknobs; the only indication I ever got that other life forms existed in that building was the vague aroma of Ramen noodles that drifted down the hall.

In the several apartments I’ve lived in since then, the only time I ever really heard from any of my neighbors was when they were coming and going from their cars, or when they were on the other side of the wall partaking in adult activities, such as lawn bowling, playing bingo or watching On Golden Pond with the volume cranked up.

Living in a house and having neighbors brings about a whole new set of issues that I’ve never had to deal with before. I worry that when I’m mowing the lawn near our property line, if I accidentally mow a little strip of their property, they’ll think I’m trying to annex their yard to mine. Also, if I don’t mow close enough to the property line, will they think I’m trying to gradually trick them into mowing my lawn? I don’t really know them well enough to judge these things.

It seems like I knew my neighbors so much better when I was a kid. When we were visiting my parents recently, Mom referenced the people a couple of houses down.

“You mean the Fischers?” I asked.

Mom replied, “Son, the Fischers haven’t lived there in twenty years. And stop picking your nose.”

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Here's a frickin' shot I took on a stroll through the woods near the Mohonk Mountain House:

Whatever you ask this tree, it seems to reply: "Y." So go ahead and ask it if you're a big stud, or if you're prettier than your sister. You'll probably like the answer. It's like a Magic 8 Ball, except its outlook is never hazy.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The column that wasn’t

I’m really sorry, but there won’t be a “Just humor me” column this week. My wife Kara and I just got back from vacationing in Michigan (where else?), where I had every intention of writing a column, but, honestly, I just never got around to it.

I truly intended to write one -- I even stuck my laptop in my book bag and brought it in the car, figuring that I could get a good start on the column on the way to Mackinac Island, which is a good fourteen-hour drive from our house. We decided to drive because, not only did we hear the open road calling our names, promising to whisk us away on grand adventures, but also because all of the flights we could have taken were priced as if the Beatles were playing a reunion concert on board, serving pâté de foie gras with puréed Dead-Sea-Scroll-and-almond truffles after the show.

I know that the airlines are having a tough time right now, but they can’t expect me and Kara to pull them out of bankruptcy all by ourselves. Maybe if they started giving us the whole can of soda, instead of just the plastic cup, we’d consider it. Until then, no deal.

My point is that, because we were driving all that way, I thought I could write the column when Kara’s turn to drive came around. As it turns out, though, the idea of Kara’s turn to drive, like Neverland, exists only because I believe in it. Like world peace and solar-powered cars, Kara’s turn to drive always seems just out of reach; somehow it inevitably manages to slip away, further into the future and the passenger’s seat, eating nacho cheese Combos.

While I didn’t get a chance to write anything on the way up to Mackinac, if James Patterson spent as much time writing last week as I spent driving, he probably wrote three novels.

All that time behind the wheel gave me ample opportunity to think about everything, like the direction I was taking with my life, all the chances I’d missed and the chances I’d taken, but mostly I just thought about how our bike rack looked as though it was going to wrench itself off of the trunk and skitter under an eighteen-wheeler at any moment.

A related discovery I made recently is that there is a direct relationship between how badly you attach a bike rack to your car and how much room the closest tailgater will give you. For the first few hours of the trip, before we pulled over and tightened the straps on the bike rack, we had a full mile of open road behind us. After tightening them, the tailgaters felt safe enough to cruise along behind us at such a distance that it would have taken an electron microscope to tell that our cars were two separate entities. We pulled over and loosened the straps again.

The last time I did the drive up to Mackinac, it was with three of my high school buddies. I noticed some differences between that drive and the one I just did with Kara. For one thing, Kara and I never felt compelled to pull off the road in the middle of the night to rearrange the letters on a sign from “WELCOME TO MCDONALDS” to “COWMEEL MAD COLD SNOT”. I’m sure that if we had, though, we could have come up with something better. Also, with Kara in the car, requests to have my neck rubbed resulted in a rubbed neck instead of a bruised arm.

I hope all this blathering made you forget that there’s not a column here.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Picture of a good frickin' painting

I bought Kara a few watercolor lessons for her birthday a couple years back, and here's the first painting she busted out:

The FIRST frickin' one. But she doesn't paint anymore. To me, that seems as much of a shame as if Lance Armstrong quit biking to take watercolor lessons, and discovered that he had a natural talent at painting, but then quit taking the lessons because it's just a bunch of old ladies in there. I guess it wouldn't be as sad if Kara won the Tour de France just once, but I'm not holding my breath anymore.