Sunday, July 29, 2007

Worse homes and gardens

If you’re ever feeling like nobody’s paying attention to you, that in the whole wide world nobody is noticing you at all, you should probably consider going furniture shopping. You’ll get more attention than a World Series streaker. In fact, you’ll get so much attention that the kid in your elementary school who jumped out the first-floor window during reading class to play on the log climber will seem, in comparison, to have been completely ignored.

My wife Kara and I realized recently that we were living in a house furnished exclusively with hand-me-downs, last-minute dumpster rescues and foldable camping amenities that were never meant to be used in non-s’more settings. The only furniture we’ve ever purchased ourselves has been assembled either with an Allen wrench or the thwacking heel of Kara’s shoe. Our big black couch, the one that spent many a happy decade in my parents’ basement, has become less of couch and more of a big fluffy Habitrail for our ferret. Chopper has dug so many holes in the couch that when the cushions are removed and his head is poking out, the scene looks so much like real-life whack-a-mole that you have to resist the urge to bonk him over the head with a giant stuffed mallet.

Given the state of our furniture collection, Kara and I decided to take our first expedition to a non-Allen-wrench-based furniture store, where we were greeted at the door by Martin the Salesguy in the same way Calvin used to get greeted by Hobbes. After we dusted ourselves off, we quickly learned that salespeople do not at all attach themselves to you like leeches, as you can remove a leech with forceps. And even if you do manage to briefly shake your pursuer, you can’t shake the feeling that they are peering at you through a keyhole in a nearby armoire.

I don’t really mean to give the salespeople a hard time. They do provide the service of offering helpful observations that you, as a furniture layperson, would be unqualified to make. “That’s a couch right there,” they might say. Or, “That’s a table.” Without their help, you might accidentally stuff your dishes into an ottoman or unbutton your pants and sprawl out on a china hutch.

On subsequent trips, Kara and I experimented with different techniques to avoid being assigned a salesperson when we entered the store. If you somehow manage to sneak past the initial greeting by juking and then quickly making a hard turn, you can see out of your peripheral vision that a salesperson has deployed from the mother ship and is beginning to slowly but deliberately orbit you. No matter how quickly you move, they know all the angles to cut off your escape routes. Capture is inevitable.

We have thought about trying to enter the store through the air conditioning ducts, which in the movies are always big enough to crawl around in, but in real life would probably only be useful as a mode of transportation if you happened to be, say, a garter snake. Kara will take issue here with the term “garter snake,” as she prefers to call them “gardener snakes.” You can tell a garter snake from a gardener snake by the latter’s distinctive markings, which include floppy straw hats and tiny little wheelbarrows.

But even if you could crawl through the ductwork and drop down into the back corner of the pitch-black storeroom, as soon as you flipped on the light switch, you’d immediately be tackled by Martin, who would sit on your chest, shake your hand and say, “Welcome to Preymoor and Shenanigan’s! I’m your new best friend. Has anyone told you about our Sizzling Hot 57th Day of Summer Sale?”

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Not the brightest bulb

When replacing traditional, power-gulping light bulbs with environmentally friendly coiled fluorescent bulbs, the treehugger must move stealthily, being careful not to attract the attention of nearby spousal units. These units do not like having their natural habitats disturbed, and can be quite menacing when surprised with changes to their environment. If a spousal unit finds itself cornered by unfamiliar coiled objects, it is likely to react in unpredictable and potentially violent ways. In extreme cases, the treehugger may find itself exiting a spousal encounter with compromised reproductive capabilities.

The treehugger must therefore exercise extraordinary caution while engaging in activities related to bulb substitution, temporarily ceasing normal treehuggerish activities that could attract unwanted attention, such as munching on granola or mashing up homemade hummus to sell in jam band concert parking lots. Using a towel to dampen the sound of bulb removal helps the treehugger to remain undetected at its most vulnerable, as nowhere is the likelihood of physical harm greater than when the treehugger is caught bulb-handed.

Actually, the transition to coiled fluorescent bulbs has gone fairly smoothly in our household. My wife Kara doesn’t really care one way or the other, and two bucks is a small price to pay for the reward that being environmentally responsible ultimately bestows: a smug sense of superiority. And who can really put a price on that, anyway? I haven’t been this proud of myself since that time we played Taboo with a bunch of our friends and Kara didn’t know what the word flaccid meant.

Whatever their buzzy and cold shortcomings may be, fluorescent bulbs are perfect for those of us who revere laziness above all else. They last so long that if my buddy Josh had put one of those bulbs into a lamp when he started college, he could have still been using the same bulb when he graduated seven years later with his four-year degree.

These days, changing light bulbs is about the only way I can keep myself entertained, seeing as we don’t have phone, cable or internet at our new place yet. It’s like being stuck on Gilligan’s Island, except Kara didn’t pack any sequined dresses and nobody here knows how to make a ham radio out of coconuts and fishing line. Earlier today, we actually dusted off the phonebook and used a cell phone to call the local theater for movie times instead of just looking it up online. It was so quaint, like drinking Ovaltine and riding in a horse-drawn buggy to a milkman convention.

I keep firing up my computer, thinking that I’ll be able to find some entertainment there. A computer with no internet is every bit as entertaining as an Etch-a-Sketch with the knobs torn off. Your options are pretty much limited to opening up Excel spreadsheets or discovering that you’re still not smart enough to beat Minesweeper on expert. Or you can play sadistic solitaire games that make you click the “I’m a complete loser” button before they’ll let you close the program. Later in life, if I ever need my self-esteem taken down a peg, it’s good to know that I’ll always have FreeCell there waiting for me.

Another hobby I’ve developed in the absence of modern communications technology is punching the thermostat up when Kara’s not looking. I’ve found that our air conditioner is much more cost effective when the number on the thermostat is higher than the temperature outside. Kara seems to have developed a similar thermostat-related hobby, whereby she attempts to discover what happens to our marital relations at absolute zero. These hobbies should keep us fairly entertained through the rest of the summer. Then in the fall, we’ll trade arrows on the thermostat and start all over again.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

What would you do if I sang in tune?

“Feel my foot,” my wife Kara said to me recently, sticking her bare foot in my face. I felt the same hesitation I used to have when directed by a college buddy to “smell this.”

“Right there,” she said, pointing to a spot on the ball of her foot.

Remembering my few short years of marital training, I gave the appropriate response: “Whatever you tell me, Drill Sergeant,” and dutifully felt her foot.

“Oh, it just feels like a little callus,” I said.

“I know! I need a pedicure,” she replied. You may not know this, but some people think of pedicures as a necessity.

“Wait, you want to get rid of it? Calluses are good things. They’re like nature’s shoes,” I said.

I’ve always wanted more calluses on my feet. People who can walk barefoot across gravel driveways without even looking down deserve a special level of respect. Whenever I attempt to do something like that, I look like I’m performing an interpretive dance.

“I don’t want nature’s shoes,” Kara said. “I want pretty feet.”

We’ve both been putting our feet through quite a workout lately. Last weekend, we moved into a different house, an event that should make those who do not personally know me even happier than usual, as they weren’t called upon for the ultimate sacrifice. I felt terrible watching our friends suffering in the July heat, staggering across the front yard with oak dressers precariously swaying between them, zig-zagging so much that it was difficult to get out of their way without nearly spilling my lemonade.

Before a big move, your brain stops functioning normally. You look around at everything and think, “I don’t have that much stuff. This is going to be a snap.” But once you start lugging that stuff out the door, you realize that your possessions have been independently procreating. The only things snapping on moving days are nerves, and possibly ligaments.

The good thing about moving is that you discover some cool things you didn’t even know you had. After digging around in one of our closets, I turned to Kara and said, “Hey, since when do we have a surfboard? Did you used to surf? It even has a little stand so you can put it on display.’

“Baby, that’s an ironing board,” she said.

“Oh. That’s way less cool,” I said, tossing it back into the closet.

It’s completely unfair that our friends had to give up a weekend day to lug our stuff from one house to another, but the world is not a fair place, as evidenced by the availability of DVDs for TV shows like “Full House” and “Martin,” when “The Wonder Years,” one of the best TV shows ever created, has no DVD set and is only occasionally available on cable channels that spend the rest of their programming time running hour-long commercials for hair-loss treatments.

“Wonder Years” is one of the few entertainment experiences from childhood that withstands the test of time. The shows are still as good now as they were when I was thirteen. Time has not been so kind to the Karate Kid. As an adult, you realize that perhaps the crane kick move only really works when the bad kid runs directly into your foot with his face.

One weekend night in college, I made three of my friends watch “The Dark Crystal,” as I remembered it being the greatest movie from my childhood.

“It has these awesome live-action rabbit things that the little puppets ride around on,” I told them. Two hours later, I was the only conscious person in the room, kept awake only by my burning sense of shame. It was like an episode of Sesame Street where you didn’t learn anything other than how to forever lose your vote at Blockbuster.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Time to move on

If you’ve noticed an increase in the number of thirty year-olds diving into your bushes and hiding under your front porch recently, please don’t be alarmed. It’s only happening because I’ve started asking my friends if they’d be willing to help me move in a couple of weeks. Now that word has started getting around, I’m more likely to bump into Jimmy Hoffa giving Elvis a piggyback ride than I am to have one of my buddies return a phone call. I’m getting the impression that my friends would rather spend my moving weekend hanging out with the tuberculosis guy.

When you’re younger, it’s easy to find people to help you move. Buy a couple of pizzas and a case of beer (preferably the kind of beer that says “premium” somewhere on the can or has “Best” right there in the name so you know that your eight dollars is buying twenty-four cans of a top-notch product), and people will flock to help you. They will do this because beer and pizza is more than fair compensation for their assistance when your first credenza is still ten years off and the largest item you own is a tie-dyed wall tapestry of Che Guevara. When all your earthly possessions fit into five Yaffa blocks, the world is your mover.

But as you get older, some of your Swedish particle-board furniture becomes replaced with furniture that your parents carved from an oak tree in 1972 for their first house, furniture made of wood so heavy that its atoms deserve a new square on the periodic table, perhaps called slippeddiskium.

The unfortunate thing is that the collective increase in the weight of your furniture is met with a corresponding decrease in the health of your friends’ backs. Even at just twenty-nine years old, I’m getting the distinct feeling that the window of using friends to conduct a cheap move is closing rapidly. It’s only a matter of time before a proposition for help with moving will elicit excuses that include the phrase “enlarged prostate.”

I’m particularly dreading moving our guest bed, which is a hand-me-down (of course) from a family friend. The bed is European queen size. You might not know this, but Europeans apparently sew their box springs and mattresses into one enormous rectangle. I’m guessing that they do this so that, if you prefer, you can drop these mattresses on anyone who might be thinking about storming your castle. In any event, I have no idea how Europeans manage to move these huge mattresses around using only Vespa scooters. They must just keep sewing Vespas together until they have an SUV.

The scariest thing about the impending move actually has nothing to do with oak furniture, gargantuan mattresses and slipped disks. We’ve had six months to sell our first house, and while we’ve come heartbreakingly close to unloading it on multiple occasions, we’re soon to be the proud, accidental owners of a weekend house. An empty, sad little weekend house that still needs to have its lawn mowed. At least, for once, our first house has a decent chance of remaining clean for two days straight.

But the good news is that since we’re going to have two houses soon, I’m pretty sure that means we’ll automatically be inducted into high society any moment now. We’ll be real estate moguls, running seminars in shopping malls and getting into fights with Rosie O’ Donnell for no reason. It’s just a matter of time before we start making friends with people who wear yellow sweaters tied jauntily about their shoulders. I’ve never had a friend named Muffy before, so that should be cool. As soon as we officially own two houses, I’m going straight to the store to buy oversized sunglasses and a Chihuahua for my purse.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

No independence to declare

The Fourth of July seems a fitting time to reflect upon one’s own independence, or lack thereof. This summer, my wife Kara and I are coming up on our third wedding anniversary, and so far we have avoided our ultimate fear: becoming the couple that sits at the table next to you in the restaurant for an hour, wordlessly staring at the table as if it had the next Harry Potter book written on it.

“Did you notice the couple that just left? They didn’t say a word to each other the whole time they were here,” I said to Kara last weekend.

“There was a couple sitting there?” she asked.

“Yeah. It looked like they ran out of things to talk about in 1982,” I said.

Kara and I are ever on the alert not to let that happen to us. It’s easy to get so comfortable with each other that you forget to jabber on about nothing. Also, after being married for even a short while, you build up so many common experiences that it’s easy to run out of good stories. If you want to talk about something that the other person wasn’t already there for, you’re pretty much left with whatever you did in the bathroom that morning, and Kara doesn’t have the same appreciation for those stories that my college roommates did.

In the time I’ve been married, I’ve become completely dependent on Kara for some things without even realizing it. When she disappears into dressing rooms for periods of time that allow for the evolution of new species of sea turtle, it is impossible for me to do anything productive in the men’s section while she’s gone. I have completely lost the ability to make decisions on how to clothe myself. There must have been a brief period between the times when my mom and my wife picked my clothes out for me, but I apparently learned nothing from it.

Many of my friends have more independence than they’d like. Twenty-nine is the age when life starts to resemble a middle school dodgeball game, and everyone gets just a little bit worried that they’re going to be the last ones picked.

My buddies seem to be grappling with the difficult notion of figuring out how to know when they’ve met The One. I remember a formative discussion I had with my dad on this topic when I was teenager.

“Dad, how do you know who you’re supposed to marry?” I asked him.

“Son, that’s the easiest question you’ve ever asked me. It’s whoever your girlfriend is when you’re twenty-five,” he said.

Of course he didn’t really say that. Besides being terrible advice, back when Dad was growing up, people got married when they were thirteen. They needed to reproduce quickly so they’d have more help pulling the plows and fending off Viking attacks.

Last weekend, my buddy went out on a date with a thirty-six year-old woman, an age that seems perfectly within the ballpark of acceptability for people our age, if perhaps approaching the warning track. A few short years ago, that age would have automatically triggered a barrage of Stifler’s Mom jokes, but as we get older and dates become mate interviews, age differences matter less and less. This happens because all old people look the same.

The bulk of my friends who remain fish in the sea are trying to use the internet for actual constructive purposes. Apparently, when you get bored with stealing music, you can use the internet to meet people. There are plenty of normal people out there, too, not just perverts and Dateline NBC reporters.

Once you do meet the right person, I’ve learned with Kara that the most important thing you can do to maintain domestic tranquility, other than fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect, is to make sure you don’t leave any hair stuck in your bar of soap.

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