Monday, May 28, 2007

School’s out forever

I have some bad news for video game zombies everywhere: your brain-eating days are numbered. I just finished grad school, and I’ll have nothing better to do with my evenings than to shoot you repeatedly, hopefully in the head, as that helps to conserve ammo.

After three-and-a-half years of whining, griping and sometimes even studying, I finally managed to earn an MBA (Master of the Bulldoodoo Arts) degree in my “spare time,” which I put in quotes because the only time that’s really spare is the time you spend with your wife when she’s making you watch America’s Next Top Model.

Taking classes after work is a great way to earn an education without having to live on a college student’s diet of Ramen noodles and Milwaukee’s Best. Still, if someone came up to me and said, “You have two choices: you can either earn another degree after work or you can swallow and pass this regulation billiard ball right here,” I’d probably have to take a vacation day to weigh my options, and possibly to start practicing on golf balls.

I once complained about how grad school was sucking the marrow out of my life to a friend of mine who has two kids. He looked at me without the slightest hint of sympathy.

“You may think you don’t have free time. You might sit around all day saying to yourself ‘Gee, I don’t have any extra time at all.’ Well, let me tell you something, Bucko. If you don’t have kids, you have an astronomical amount of free time. You have free time you don’t even know you have yet.”

Maybe that’s true. But now that I’m done with school, I’ll definitely have more time to try to find something worth grubbing other than grades. Or I might even find time to venture out to the backyard to try to turn our above-ground swamp back into a pool again. For the record, we didn’t even want a pool. It just came with the house, like the plastic cup of cole slaw that comes with your deli sandwich. Even though taking care of a pool, especially one parked under seventeen enormous maple trees, can be a chore, I’m really looking forward to relaxing and skimming the pool without worrying about term papers and final exams. There’s a certain Zen-like simplicity to skimming a pool, but you wouldn’t want to make a career out of it. That’s why there are no cabana men.

But I’m really looking forward to rekindling a relationship with a certain hot little number that’s been patiently waiting for my time ever since I started taking classes. That’s right, my PlayStation2. When you get wrapped up in working and taking classes, it’s easy to lose track of what’s really important in life: saving the world from mutant plagues that turn entire towns into zombies who must have their heads blown off for the good of mankind.

If you thought I was going to mention something about spending more time with my wife, I’d love to, but she still has two classes left to take this summer to finish her own grad degree. The best I can do for her is to shut the door while I’m watching all three Lord of the Rings movies in one gluttonous stretch. I’d love to feel sorry for her, but I started school almost two years before she did, and now she’s only a couple of months from being done, too. She almost lapped me.

Regardless, this summer is just about here, and I, at least, will have loads of free time with which to enjoy it. Summer and free time: those are two things that just go together, like bacon and egg n’ cheese.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

The fog of fake war

When we left our hero (okay, it was only me) last week, he was searching his old gym bag desperately for his jock strap from high school in preparation for getting pelted mightily with paintballs at a bachelor party over the coming weekend. That event has happily passed, and I’m relieved to report that all the parts that were intact before last weekend continue to be intact today, as far as I’ve inventoried.

I almost bailed on the trip, mostly because Carrie Underwood came very close to convincing me that I was too old to go shooting twenty-five year olds out in the woods. If your car comes equipped with a device that can receive oscillating electromagnetic fields and convert them into sound, you may have heard one of Carrie’s songs seventeen times a day, no matter which frequency of radiated waves you chose to receive. This is because Carrie has released what it known as a crossover hit. The success of crossover hits are measured in units called “Shanias,” and Carrie’s song “Before He Cheats” stretches at least three Shanias long.

It seems rather unfair that songs from other genres can’t cross over to country radio. Keith Urban may escape from the country station and crawl all over the dial, but Kanye West still won’t get any playtime on Big Belt Buckle 98.1. Country radio only has an exit door, not an entrance, and country music listeners will often tell you that exit doors are only to be used for exiting.

Whenever I hear Carrie singing, “I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive, carved my name into his leather seats. I took a Louisville slugger to both head lights, slashed a hole in all four tires, and maybe next time he'll think before he cheats,” all I can think is, “Is his insurance going to cover all that? I mean, if he has comprehensive, the glass on the headlights should definitely be covered, depending on his deductible.”

After realizing that I was having these thoughts, I almost canceled out on the paintball trip for fear that it was too late for me -- time to just give up, buy a velvet robe and subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. But I decided to go ahead and gun it anyway. Once you’re in the real world, you don’t too often get a chance to do things that scare you, at least not things that don’t involve PowerPoint presentations, so I cowboyed up and joined the group last Saturday for our faux shootout.

I give myself some credit for being brave enough to leave my old cup in the car, figuring that paintball technology has probably progressed to the point where the bullets just feel like soapy bubbles popping on your skin anyway.

“I bet you’re so pumped up that you don’t even feel it,” I told myself as we waited in line for our guns and camouflage jumpsuits.

That’s when one of the groom-to-be’s buddies turned to me and said, “Last time I did this, I got nailed right in the crotch.”

“Seriously?” I asked, the color draining from my face.

“Oh, yeah. Somebody zinged one right in there,” he said, proceeding to recount the incident in graphic detail. As soon as the words “swelled up like a grapefruit” came out of his mouth, my feet began running back to the car, totally independent of any direction from my brain, which was still trying to understand how a comparison to that section of the produce aisle could possibly be warranted.

Bringing that cup with me was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Wearing the cup, a facemask and a camouflage suit, I felt invincible, like Achilles with a prosthetic foot. At least until the first paintball careened off my skull, leaving a goose egg that Jack would have climbed a beanstalk to steal.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Like inward singing, but better

Dudes, I just had this revolutionary new idea. What if you took some pictures of your pet and put them ON THE INTERNET??? Did I just blow your mind? I haven't quite worked out the kinks, but when this catches on, it might look something like this:

Or perhaps this:

Or maybe even this:

Someday, the technology may advance to the point where we can post pictures of something other than ferrets playing in guitar cases, at which point I'll stop collecting royalties. Until that day, please send me a nickel for every ferret-in-guitar-case picture you put on the internet.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Primping for the Paint Ball

If you’re anything like me, when you think bachelor party, you think Allentown, PA. This weekend, I’m heading just outside of Allentown to join a bunch of guys I’ve never met before for my future brother-in-law’s bachelor party. Actually, I’m a little unclear on the rules of whether we are going to be brothers-in-law or not, but we both chose the same family from which to plunder our brides, so that should count for something.

It was with great trepidation that I accepted the invitation to join this party, mostly because the main event will be a full day of shooting each other with paintballs. I usually make it a policy to avoid putting myself in situations in which projectiles will be enthusiastically fired in my direction, but it didn’t seem right to duck this one. Kris and I are going to be family soon, so if I can donate my rear end to the cause of family togetherness by having caps popped in it all day, that’s a price I’m willing to pay. Besides, never having paintballed probably makes me less of an American citizen; paintballing is as American as apple pie and racist mascots.

The first time I ever heard of paintball was in ninth grade, when my buddy Joe sat next to me in biology class on Monday morning. He was covered in welts that were big enough to have served Cornish hens upon.

“Dude, what happened to you? You look like you lost a fight with a tennis ball machine,” I said.

“I went paintballing this weekend,” he said. “Check out these bruises here. It was so much fun. You should try it.”

“That’s very tempting. Maybe I’ll try it in fifteen years or so,” I replied. It looks like my time has expired.

The package deal for a day of paintball includes 1,000 paint balls per person. That’s enough ammo to give Charlton Heston pause. I would have thought twenty or so paintballs would have been more than enough for the day. Is 1,000 really necessary? I guess it’s fine if they want to give me 1,000 paintballs, but I really worry that they’re going to give that many to everyone else, too. I just don’t see how this day is going to end any other way than with all of us limping out of the woods looking like something that Jackson Pollock did.

Dad always said that you don’t learn anything until you get out of your comfort zone, and facing the possibility of getting shot in the crotch with a paint-filled marble is definitely not anywhere near my comfort zone, so I’m really looking forward to all the learning to be done this weekend. I assume the educational topics will revolve around field first aid and different techniques for surrendering.

A quick trip to the paintball field’s Web site dispelled the notion that whimpy participants, should there hypothetically be any, could just hide behind trees or bury themselves in leaf piles while listening to podcasts until it was all over, if that’s what they were planning on doing, which I wouldn’t know. The setup there is alarmingly elaborate, with fake Wild West towns and huge plywood castles. Nobody said anything about storming castles. They better not supply the castle folk with cauldrons of burning paint.

Anyway, it’s good to get outside to do something different from your normal routine, even if that something different is going to leave you covered in bruises, possibly the kind with a yellow tinge. From personal experience, I can say that the most important question you can ask when you’re preparing to do something that makes you a little uneasy is this: Where did I put that old cup I used to use for Karate?

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Totally selling out

When my wife Kara and I first decided to put our house on the market, a co-worker warned me how little fun this process was going to be for us. Having the misfortune to have listed about two weeks after the real estate boom ended, his house sat on the market for longer than it takes some people to earn college degrees. Back in the days when buyers roamed the suburbs in thunderous herds, you could order an ice cream cone and sell your house before it melted. These days, in the time it takes to unload a home, a Twinkie could very well rot.

A distinction must be drawn between selling a house, which sounds like it surely must be heaps of fun, and attempting to sell a house, which ranks somewhere on the fun scale between fender benders and farming accidents. Before we listed our house, we didn’t even own a mop. Now we go through mop heads like they’re U.S. attorneys. Our vacuum hasn’t seen this much action since the Great Ferret Litter Spill of ’04.

We’ve spent most of our recent weekends making the house look pretty for people we’ll most likely never hear from again. Like spurned lovers, we sit by the phone, waiting for the call that doesn’t come, wondering what we should have done differently. Actually, most modern-day spurned lovers probably sit by the computer, waiting for the wink that doesn’t come, but the effect is largely the same; anguish is technology independent.

“Dude, I left my underwear on the magazine rack in the bathroom,” I confessed after our last appointment. “I didn’t realize it until after the people had already come through.”

Despite one’s best intentions, even with hours of preparation and careful double-checking of every room, it can be very tough to bring rogue underpants under control.

“I’d love to know if anyone has ever decided not to buy a house because of underwear in the bathroom,” Kara said.

But who knows? It’s impossible to know what combination of factors comes together to drive buyers to make the most important decisions of their lives. Home buyers are like horses – you never know what’s going to spook them. Underwear in the bathroom is a flash bulb going off. Most horses will act like they don’t even notice, but some might freak out and gallop for the exit.

As frustrating as the process can be, with all of its ups, downs and inherent stress, it’s still not that bad of a gig. It just takes a while to find the right person, somebody who agrees to move in, spruce up your house, fix all the things that break and pay you for the privilege. All you have to do is leave and never come back. That’s a tough deal to beat.

For the past few days, we’ve been working on the house while Kara has been dealing with a terrible cold. Being the good husband that I am, I bring her chicken soup in a squeeze bottle so she doesn’t have to put down the mop.

Getting a cold when you’re an adult isn’t any fun because you’re already allowed to eat candy whenever you want. When you’re a kid, getting sick means you can munch on Luden’s cherry cough drops all day long, which don’t do squat for your cough, but your teacher can’t take them from you. Incidentally, we just discovered that Sudafed is more difficult to purchase than most firearms.

“We have to keep it behind the counter now,” the pharmacist said as he looked Kara’s driver’s license over, entering her information into the computer. “People were using it for other purposes.”

I remembered the story I’d heard a little while back on NPR. “Oh, you can make crystal meth with it,” I said. It wasn’t really necessary to point that out, but I wanted the pharmacist to think I was hip.

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