Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hallowinners.

Tonight, we participated in the annual ghoulish ritual of distributing glucose, sucrose, and fructose to a disguised cohort of munchkins and preadolescents (and a few candy-grubbing high schoolers and one parent with a bag of his own!). As the evening progressed, the wife and I made multiple observations, each of which I considered transforming into a standalone blog entry. Instead, I have pooled them together for one uber-Halloween post. Enjoy.

Bwa ha ha ha!

*****************

Our neighbor’s grandchild was clearly new to this whole trick-or-treating business. At the tender age of four, she was costumed as a pretty, pretty princess: dress, tiara, pumpkin-shaped candy receiving container. When she arrived, her grandparents started her off with some seed candy from their stash. After some cautious hesitation on her part, her parents finally convinced her that it was time to branch out to other houses in the neighborhood. Ours was a natural first hit.

She took a few steps toward our house and froze in her tracks. My wife stood poised at the end of our sidewalk, smiling and Kit Kat bar in hand. Princess would not move. Her parents grabbed her hand and pulled her toward my wife. Her eyes filled with tears. “No,” she cried, resisting her urging parents.

“Walk up to her and say, ‘Trick or treat,’” her mother coaxed.

“No, she can’t have my candy,” the girl replied.

My wife, a little confused, replied, “I don’t want to take candy from you. I want to give candy to you.”

These words had a miraculous shyness-curing effect. Without further ado, Princess rushed to my wife and said the magic words, and my wife dropped the Kit Kat bar into her pumpkin basket.

The girl (newly enthused about her evening’s prospects) bounded ahead of her parents to the next doorstep. “Trick or treat!!!” she shouted.

As she sprinted down the street from one house to the next, the wife and I had a good chuckle at her na├»ve misunderstanding of the night’s proceedings. She had thought that the costume-clad kids were supposed to give their candy to the adults lining the streets...

...which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I would be supportive of a pilot trial of Reverse Halloween (call it Treat-or-Trick), whereby children march up and down the streets handing out candy (or cheeseburgers or money or McDonald’s Monopoly game pieces) to the adults in the neighborhood.

*****************

Watson, our pride and joy, suffers from an irrational fear of large men and small children. Nonetheless, we tortured him this evening by keeping him outside with us as parades of small children, sometimes accompanied by large men, passed by our front door, occasionally pausing for us to drop treats into their treat receptacles.

We’ve learned that Watson experiences an irrational and overriding affinity for terrifying masks, even when mounted on the heads of large men and small children. Turns out that if you are a large man or small child evoking great fear in the loins of our humble non-hypoallergenic faux labradoodle, all you need to do to win his affection is don a Frankenstein or blood-stained hockey mask.

*****************

One young man arrived at our doorstep, appearing uncostumed to my untrained eye. As a matter of principle, I feel it is incumbent upon me as a perpetuator of the Halloween tradition, to, at the very least, challenge those who presume to take my candy without going to the effort to amuse or horrify me with their get-up.

Me to kid: Where’s your costume?

Kid to me (pointing to his gold chain): Can’t you see my bling?

Me to kid: Of course. Have some candy.

*****************

Most of the kids who stopped by tonight were reasonably polite, initiating the exchange with a cordial “Trick or treat”. My wife or I would continue the pleasantries by commenting on their costumes or the weather or the rising price of crude. We'd then proceed to drop one or two (if I was the distributor) or three or four (if my wife was the distributor) pieces of candy in the child’s bag or basket or pillowcase or hollow leg. This would be followed by a (sometimes parent-induced) whiny “thank you” (the apparent whininess of the departing youngster may in fact be an artifact of the Doppler effect).

We encountered the occasional youth with an oversized sense of entitlement. One such charming and mature prepubescent Halloweener arrived at our doorstep and demanded that my wife “Put it in! Put it in!” My wife, taken aback by his demeanor, paused, and engaged the boy in a stare down. He, of course, had no times for such silly games. “Hurry!” he shouted. After some thought, my wife reluctantly complied (we didn’t want wake up tomorrow to find our cars decorated with toilet paper or worse), but she only gave him one piece of candy.

*****************

Finally, as the soon-to-be-sugar-comatose came and went, we saw some truly fun and impressive costumes. I considered taking pictures of my favorite costumes and posting them to this blog, when I realized that that the taking and online distribution of pictures of other people’s children would in fact be illegal and downright creepy.

Thus, what follows is a description of three of my four favorite costumes from tonight.

The biohazard scientist costume, of course, resonated quite profoundly with my own tragically clumsy scientific leanings. The child sported green hair and a lab coat mottled with bright, fluorescent green biohazardous waste stains. Just another day on the job for an average Joe such as myself.

Next, the seven (or so)-year-old dressed as a birthday party table—a clever variation on the birthday gift box costume. The waddling boy was encumbered by a giant cardboard box that was shorter than him by about a head-and-a-half. The box was decorated with birthday plates and napkins and a birthday cake, and the boy expended considerable energy traipsing from one house to the next (let alone around the block). He earned his candy.

I also appreciated the angel who had lost her wings. Her father walked immediately behind her, holding the detached wings to her back, flapping them occasionally.

As for my favorite costume… this one I can post online. I paid for it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Trick-or-Treat. Fall. Repeat.

The year was 1986; the date was October 31. The event: the annual door-to-door candy-grubbing festivities commonly known as trick-or-treating.

I had mentally prepared for this day for weeks, strategically mapping out the shortest possible routes from each house to the next (forget sidewalks—it would be much faster to dash through front lawns). This was not my first time out. Indeed, at the ripe old age of six (going on seven), I knew what Halloween was all about; it was a microcosm for epicurean western materialism: grab all you can, ‘cuz you just live once.

This particular year I was charged with inducting a new member into the cult: my three-year-old brother. I was sporting an Ohio State University football uniform and helmet. Little Bro wore a brand new full-body Big Bird costume.

In the days leading up to Halloween, I had been enthusiastic about showing Little Bro the ropes. “Listen,” I would explain, “the most important thing is that we get to as many houses as we can. If Dad wants to take a picture of us, we have to pose as fast as we can so we get back to trick-or-treating.” Unfortunately, my teachings were received about as well as the involuntary math tutoring I had repeatedly subjected him to throughout his early childhood.

When the big night arrived, I was juiced, like the men whose uniform I donned before a big game. If someone had been there to lead me, I would have gladly done the run-in-place-as-fast-as-you-can-then-fall-to-your-face-then-jump-back-up football player drills to improve my chances of rapid treat acquisition. I was to be a chocolate hoarding juggernaut sprinting through the neighborhood; tragically, Little Bro was to be my Achilles heel. Despite all I had taught him about maximizing our candy potential, he seemed to completely miss the point of the evening. He was the quintessential lollygagger.

This was the routine repeated over and over throughout the evening: I would ring the doorbell. The door would open and, in unison, my brother and I would chant, “Trick or treat.” We would then extend our arms (I would take extra care to hold my candy receptacle in its most open, accessible conformation). The attending sweets distributor would make an obligatory comment: “My, my, what do we have here? A football player and Big Bird.” Edible items (usually cavity-causing, but occasionally, and less desirably, fruit or small amounts of coinage—popcorn balls were of intermediate desirability) were dropped into our bags. As soon as I heard the new treat hit the bottom of my container, I was running to the next house. “Little Bro, come on!” I would importune to the straggler struggling to keep up behind me. My parents (walking alongside us on the sidewalk) would command us thank the candy giver, and I would shout my gratitude over my shoulder as I sped to the next doorstep.

On this Halloween, stress hormones coursing through my veins, I grew increasingly impatient with Little Bro. Not only could he not keep up with me when he was on his feet, but he fell en route to each and every house throughout the entire evening. “Little Bro, come on. HURRY UP!” I knew that our time was limited, that this was a once-a-year two-hour free-for-all. I just wanted Little Bro to understand this and get his head into the game. The first few times he fell face-first to the ground, I’d stop dead in my tracks, race back to him, semi-cheerfully help him up, and recommence my dash to the next stop. My enthusiasm for helping him get up off the ground waned as the evening progressed. “Uggggghhhh,” I shouted once, watching the sands (or Skittles) of time slip through my fingers.

The promise of exceeding previously held candy accumulation records was not to be fulfilled this Allhallows Eve. Indeed, the dream of having enough candy to maintain a sugar high that lasted till next year’s neighborhood foray was transformed into the nightmare of having to sacrifice caloric volume for brotherly love and assistance. More time was spent waiting for Big Bird to catch up with me (I wasn’t allowed to ring a doorbell until he was by my side) or helping him off the grass. He probably fell 50 times, and this may well be an underestimation.

At the end of the night, as I was counting and sorting my less than satisfying stash of sweets, my parents made a startling discovery. The pant legs of the Big Bird costume they had purchased for Little Bro had been linked at the ankles by the plastic connector string (the kind used to attach tags to clothing items). They had never snipped it. Three-year-old Little Bro had effectively been ankle-cuffed through the whole ordeal: he had never been able to step farther than half a foot-length. His shrunken stride explained the unimaginable quantity of spills he had suffered in our (my) quest for untold confectionary accretion.

This finding made our unsatisfactory returns no more acceptable in my eyes, but it did elicit hope that next year would be better.




(image accessed from wikipedia.com)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Practice makes perfect

Two anecdotes about two beginners in two different fields.

1. A medical doctor recently joined our laboratory. He is a skilled physician but is still cutting his teeth at the lab bench. He recently learned how to perform a western blot, a basic biochemical technique used to detect specific proteins within a cellular extract.

This is an artist's rendition of what a good western blot looks like.


This is what the good doctor's first western blot looked like.



We had gotten off-topic during our most recent lab meeting, somehow discussing the myriad complications and maladies that can arise with human health and during childbirth. My ever-wise advisor (click here or here) commented, "It's a miracle a baby ever comes out normal."

The young doctor replied, "That's how I feel about western blotting. Childbirth is nothing."




2. We had lunch today at CiCi's pizza buffet where a new pizza chef was being trained.

I watched as the novice removed a pizza from the conveyor oven and attempted to divide it into eight proportional slices. He failed at this task, and this is roughly what his pie looked like.

The manager, displeased with his protege's poor sense of symmetry, took a deep breath and explained (as though this wasn't the first time he'd said it), "You need to visualize the center of the pizza." He paused to demonstrate, carefully cutting eight pieces in a sample pizza. Proud of his perfectly divided circle, the manager added, "This is an art form."

The neophyte retorted, under his breath, "Mine is an abstract pizza."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Culture shock

This weekend, the NFL is sending two teams to the United Kingdom for a regular season match-up: the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants.

In a recent interview about his upcoming trip across the pond, Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder had this to say:
I couldn't find London on a map if they didn't have the names of the countries. I swear to God. I don't know what nothing is. I know Italy looks like a boot. I learned that. I know London Fletcher. We did a football camp together. So I know him. That's the closest thing I know to London. He's black, so I'm sure he's not from London. I'm sure that's a coincidental name.
When reminded that his teammate, receiver Marvin Allen is from London, Crowder replied,

He's from London? I don't want to say he didn't look the part because that's a stereotype, but he didn't look the part. I heard him talk, and I thought he had a recorder and was just mouthing.
Crowder also reportedly asked for a translator for his trip. It’s clear his partial education at the University of Florida has only gotten him so far. I’m happy that he finally gets this chance to study abroad.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thank you, Jacoby Ellsbury

I don't know how you arranged such an amazing deal, but thanks to your stolen base in the bottom of the fourth inning during Game 2 of the World Series, all Americans get a free Taco Bell taco on October 30.

You've only been playing in the big leagues since September, and your stolen base tonight, while not ultimately leading to a run, has earned every American a 77-cent value. If each citizen collects their delicious soft or crunchy taco, Taco Bell will have given away over $231 million in lettuce, beef, and cheese.

Brothers and sisters, let us not be ungracious recipients of this gift the Red Sox rookie, in conjunction with Taco Bell Corp., has bestowed upon us. Rather, let us unite with one appetite as we consume our 300,000,000 tacos next Tuesday afternoon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Open wide

I found myself this morning in an unsettling position: in the dentist’s chair for routine dental work (or at least would-be routine if I visited the dentist with any regularity): a general cleaning and a filling replacement.

Mouth agape, gums numb, I lay there vulnerable, staring up into the eyes of my dentist and his assistant. Alternating between drill and pick, the dentist dug in, maintaining a basal level of small talk with his assistant (I wonder if they have the same rehearsed conversation over every patient) while tinkering with my pearly (or, more accurately, coffee-stained) whites.

Midway through the filling, I detected a hint of frustration from my dentist. To his assistant, as if I were so overpowered by the local injection of novocaine that I was oblivious to his words, he said, “He has a large tongue.”

I had never before heard the size of my tongue (or anyone’s other than Chaim Witz's) so described.

“You have a large tongue,” he repeated, this time to me.

“Mmmm,” I replied, unable to articulate much more than that.

To his assistant: “Please hold his tongue back.”

Fiddle, scrape, drill.

Under his breath: “Man, that tongue is big.”

Fiddle, scrape, drill.

Again, to his assistant, “I said, please hold his tongue back. It’s flopped over onto his tooth.”

I tired to help by keeping my tongue to the left of my mouth, but it was difficult to maintain any control over my numbed oral organ, perhaps due to its sheer magnitude.

I’ve always known I had a big mouth; now I’ve got the tongue to fill it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The prestigious burrito

I recently visited Yale University. You may have heard of it. It's quite a prestigious school, really, sometimes called "the Grove City College of the Ivy League".

I walked the grounds and was awestruck by the mystique of the campus... the old buildings, the secret societies, the really smart people.... and I was hungry. In front of me, at the edge of campus, outside of what appeared to be a trendy coffee shop was a street burrito vendor. Involuntarily, I shelled out $5.50 for a juicy, drippy, stuffed chicken burrito.

I continued my tour of the elite campus, munching on my burrito as if it were an ice cream cone, chicken juices dripping onto my shoes. It didn't dawn on me until I took my last bite that people had been staring at the wide-eyed open-mouthed guy with the oversized burrito traversing the hallowed Yale walkways. I wiped the last bit of cheese from the corner of my mouth when I realized that Yalies don't walk around chomping on burritos; they sipped lattes.

I was the country mouse visiting the big city for the first time. Yale majors on delicacy and sophistication. I'm a burrito noshing juggernaut.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The cutest con artist ever

I find myself once again blogging live from the Pittsburgh International Airport. I have spent the previous hour waiting patiently at my departure terminal, checking my email and the news over an airport McDonald’s breakfast. As per usual, I took extra care to order breakfast items that are accompanied by Monopoly game pieces. I peeled the game pieces from my food and set them carefully on the chair next to me. (To read about our other adventures in McDonald’s Monopoly, click here or here or here).

As I ate and surfed the web, a little girl, approximately 1-2 years old by my best estimation, began to walk around the boarding area, surveying the crowd for individuals with McDonald’s game pieces. She too had eaten at McDonald’s this morning with her father and had 4 pieces in her little hands.

She found two other McDonald’s Monopoly players and initiated a game of switcharoo, amusing herself to no end by picking up one person’s game pieces and delivering them to another in the boarding area. This went on for 20 minutes or so. I watched in horror as this miniature monster unknowingly tampered with my chances of winning big. On the inside I was piping mad, but on the outside, I participated joyfully, oohing and ahhing at the cute little princess waltzing around the airport. I did not want to be the bitter grown-up who refused to entertain the whimsy of small children for a miniscule chance at a major payday (which I feel is, of course, in all actuality, my birthright).

As the game progressed, the little girl’s father grew impatient with her, and he beckoned her, speaking in a foreign language. The girl was unresponsive to her father and continued to trade the extraordinarily low odds of each Monopoly player with the others.

Finally, when the girl, whose name I finally gathered to be Hannah, would not cease flirting with would-be passengers of US Airways 6651, her father stood up, marched over to her, took her hand in his and circulated around the boarding area, collecting all of the game pieces from the passengers with whom Hannah had cavorted. He then proceeded to slide the game pieces into his pocket, apologizing, in broken English, for the disturbance his daughter had caused.

It was at this moment that I realized I had been conned. This father and daughter duo had just scammed everyone at Gate B38 out of their game pieces! I bet they’re not even on my flight. When my aircraft begins to board, they’ll probably slip over to another gate and repeat the whole charade.

I’m onto them. It is unconscionable for a grown man to employ his own daughter in such an unethical (yet brilliant) scheme.

I wonder if they need a third partner.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dear Susie...

This blog entry is inspired by a blog entry I inspired at Velvet Sacks.

I thought she was the one.

I really liked the fourth grade. Fourth grade was when I got my first pouch (don’t call it a fanny pack!). Fourth grade was when I met the Eds: Edwin and Edward. And, fourth grade was when I first laid eyes on her. She. Was. Beautiful.

I knew I had to make her my girl. Problem was: I was the kid who thought the pouch around his waist was really cool (I mean, it was cool—where else could I store my hip shades and my pencils and baseball cards). Let me put it mildly: even at the ripe young age of 10, I was undoubtedly of the nerd persuasion… and she most certainly was not.

Day after day, I did all I could to muster the courage to talk to her. Day after day, I would approach her, look into her eyes and chicken out. Day after day, I walked past her without having said a single word, shoulders slumped in defeat.

One night I decided I’d had enough of my cowardice. I would be a man of action. I would write a letter—not just any letter, no—a love letter.

Perhaps most smitten fourth graders moved to draft such an epistle would have gathered some paper and a writing implement (pencil, marker, crayon?). I, however, went straight for my father’s electric typewriter.

I flipped up the paper guide and inserted a blank piece of white paper behind the roller. I rolled the paper into place and, looking both ways to ensure no one was watching, composed what was sure to become my magnum opus. The words poured forth, almost too fast for my then undersized digits. What follows is my best recollection of the content of the composition.

For the sake of maintaining anonymity, let’s call her Susie.

Dear Susie,

You are the most beautiful girl that I have ever seen. Your eyes sparkle like the stars. When you smile, I feel like I am in the clouds. I feel happy whenever I see your face or hear your voice. I like you so much. Would you like to be my girlfriend?

Love,

I got this far, and, for the first time since I had begun typing, was at a loss for words. How should I sign my name? First name only? First and last name? I clammed up and began to sweat. What was I doing? Could I really reveal my innermost sentiments? What if she laughed at me? What if she showed the letter to her friends and they all laughed at me?

I wrestled with how to conclude, when my mother walked into the room and asked me what I was typing. She probably assumed I was writing a story, as I would sometimes do on my father’s typewriter.

I hurriedly concluded:

Love,

Your secret admirer

Yes, I see the inconsistency. In the body of the letter, I asked Susie to be my girlfriend, yet I evaded self-revelation. I know: she couldn’t accept my offer if she wanted to. But, don’t worry—I was never in any danger of having missed my big chance for failing to identify myself.

I flipped up the paper guide and slid the paper out of the machine and promptly folded it into fourths and placed it in my pouch.

The next day at school, I waited for my opportunity. All day, I was a sweaty preadolescent shell of my normal self. Every few minutes, I would discreetly unzip my pouch and feel for the note just to make sure it was still there. At day's end, I still had not given her my letter.

Finally, my opportunity arrived. Our end-of-the-day routine was to put our chairs upside down on top of our desks so that the janitors could sweep the floor; we’d then line up for the bus. At the appropriate time, I promptly flipped my chair onto my desk and loitered a safe distance behind Susie’s desk. As she placed her chair on her desk and began walking for the line by the door, I followed closely behind, slipping the note between her desk and chair. My plan was for her to arrive at school the next day and find the note first thing in the morning.

The package placed, I headed straight for the line, feeling at once emboldened and terrified. My inner self-talk went a little something like this: “I did it! What have I just done?!” How I would wait an entire day to see her reaction I did not know. I hadn’t yet thought of a follow-up plan. I guess I would have to gauge her reaction. If she seemed intrigued, I’d reveal myself. If not, then—

Suddenly, Susie realized she had left something in her desk. She stepped out of line and sprinted to her desk. She reached in to grab her New Kids on the Block jumbo display pin when something caught her eye—a corner of white paper between her chair and desk.

She pulled it out and began to read it. I watched but tried not to look like I was watching, my heart pounding somewhere in the range of 300-400 beats per minute. I felt like I might pass out. She finished the letter. I tried to make out the expression on her face. Was it flattery? Was it excitement? No. It was definitely not flattery or excitement. Her reaction was most surprising. Susie instantly burst into tears, somehow seriously disturbed by the notion that a classmate of hers had a crush on her.

“What’s wrong, Susie?” my teacher asked.

“Th-this,” she said thrusting the note in front of her.

My teacher took the note from her hand. She read it and instantly looked at me. It was not difficult for her to guess who the secret admirer was who had written—nay, typed—this love letter. I had transitioned from subtle observation to outright gawking at the disaster unfolding before my very eyes.

Sweat was pouring down my face (it wasn’t the first or last time in my life I had sweat so profusely in response to stress). I knew that this relationship was over.

I never spoke another word to Susie. To be honest, I’m not sure if I ever did speak a word to her before the incident. This, however, definitely ended things between us. My crush lingered in painful suspended animation for the duration of the school year. It took summer vacation to fully recover.

I knew I had to get tough. This would merely be the first in a long line of rejections and misadventures I would have to endure until I found the one. The real one.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Inquiring minds want to know

Today, Republican Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani fielded the following question, asked by a child in the audience:

"If (there's) something living on another planet and it's bad and it comes over here, what would you do?"

As is all too common with the would-be Commanders-in-Chief, America's mayor skirted the question.

"We'll be prepared for that, yes we will," Rudy responded. "We'll be prepared for anything that happens," he added, deftly avoiding actually answering the innocently asked question. The young man did not ask "Will we be prepared?" but rather "What would you do?"

After dodging the question, the former New York City chief executive continued to patronize the young man by comparing him to Steven Spielberg. Stuttering and stammering, Rudy changed the subject; he asked the boy whether he wanted to be a scientist or a science-fiction writer. (The boy's response: Neither. He aspires to be a sculptor).

Mr. Giuliani, if you or your advisors are reading my blog (who are we kidding, we know you check the Land of Yajeev daily), I invite you to here respond directly to this concerned citizen's sincere question: "What would you do?" Please, leave your reply in the comments section of this post.

I would also like to present an open invitation to all presidential hopefuls, be they Republican, Democrat, Independent, Third Party, or Fourth Party, to answer this same question. Hopefully my posing this question will spark a lively online debate by the contenders here at the Land of Yajeev. I can think of no better forum for candidates to address this important issue of national and global security.

My fellow Americans, we deserve to know how the leader of the free world would handle this illegal alien crisis.

To see Rudy fail to answer the question, click here.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Another Advisorism

I attended a seminar with my advisor, where he ran into an old friend.

Old Friend: I saw you yesterday, but you ignored me.

Advisor (offended): I didn't ignore you. (Pause) I just didn't say hi.

Friday, October 12, 2007

American Graffiti

I recently represented my graduate program at a career fair sponsored by a private Christian college.

Like any modern public restroom, the interior of the men's room bore the marks of small-time vandals.

However, as with this school's curriculum, the distinction between secular and sacred was hard to discern in this sacrosanct chamber.

On the wall were scrawled a smiley face, a scripture reference ("Psalm 19"), and "PTL" (shorthand for the religious idiom "Praise the Lord") with a cross drawn in place of the "T".

What ever happened to the separation of church and stall?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I just want to commend Glen Davis

I occasionally use my blog to bring my readers the best of the blogosphere.

Today, an excerpt from the blog of NBA rookie Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who is in Europe with his teammates, the Boston Celtics. He recently visited the Sistine Chapel.

Glen Davis:
The Vatican was beautiful. I wish you could see it. Michelangelo is a, first of all, talented man. But he’s also crazy, because there’s no way I would take six years painting a ceiling that’s at least 30 or 40 feet high in the air. But I guess you do what you’ve got to do, and I just want to commend Michelangelo. But I heard the man was crazy, though he’s definitely a beautiful artist.
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Today, I added Glen's quote to Wikipedia's entry on The Sistine Chapel. We'll see if my contribution stands the test of time.



11/5/07 UPDATE: I've just checked the Sistene Chapel wikipedia link, and Mr. Davis's quote has been removed. Tragic. Some people just can't appreciate genius when they see it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Messiah Complex

My babysitter, Martha, had some pretty unusual beliefs. She believed in making chocolate milk in a jar, not in a glass. She believed Full House to be a funnier show than Mr. Belvedere (come now!). She believed in reincarnation (if I didn’t behave, she’d warn, I’d come back as a pig or a cockroach). She believed in communing with the dead. And, she believed she was Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, returning to the world to share a message of redemption and judgment.

I had no reason not to take her at word. In fact, I took her words quite seriously, often asking her questions about her f/Father and about how I might arrange a next-life return as a rich-and-famous movie star. At the age of 10, it did not strike me as particularly unusual that Martha was Christ reincarnate; I just felt lucky to be babysat by the daughterson of God.

I believed Martha to be omniscient, which is, of course, a prerequisite for being God or the direct offspring thereof. Case in point. As is not uncommon with children, when I was just a wee buckaroo, I had a strong aversion for bathtaking. Perhaps unlike other children, it was not the time or effort that I disliked; it was, rather, the total and prolonged immersion that I did not care for. Thus, I developed (and taught—to my brother) a procedure I cleverly coined the “fake bath”.

This is the protocol one would follow to take a “fake bath”.
  1. Enter bathroom and securely close door.
  2. Pour bath.
  3. Turn water off.
  4. Remove clothing.
  5. Don pajamas.
  6. Pace back and forth in bathroom.
  7. Every third or fourth lap, audibly stir water to mimic sound of frolicking in bathtub.
  8. Sprinkle clothes and hair with bath water to mimic not-fully-dry look.
  9. Soak wash cloth in bathwater.
  10. Carefully dampen towel (this is tricky and crucial—not too damp and not too dry).
  11. Allow 15-20 minutes to elapse.
  12. Drain water.
  13. 5 minutes after tub has completed draining, emerge from bathroom.
The “fake bath” was not a cheap gimmick. It took as much effort and concentration as a non-fake (so-called "real") bath. But, I convinced myself, it was worth the cost.

I was halfway through a “fake bath” (pacing and occasionally stirring the bathwater) when Marthagod knocked on the bathroom door.

“Are you in the bath?” She knew I was not.

“Yes.”

“I need to come in and get something out of the closet.”

“No, you can’t. I’m naked,” I lied.

“I worked in the nursing home. I’ve seen hundreds of old men naked.”

“But I’m not an old man.”

“Never mind that. I’m coming in.”

“No, Martha!” But it was too late.

The door slid open, and I was in my pajamas--not in the bathtub as I had advertised. I did what occurred naturally: I fell to the ground, prostrate before Martha, like a sinner before an angry God. I had been exposed as the “fake bath” taker I was. I was face-down and ashamed. “Get up,” she commanded. I did as I was told. She undressed me, and I stood before her a limp noodle of a preteen. Then she bathed me.

I recently retold this story to my parents, and my mother claims to have suspected my “fake baths”. She says I often emerged from the bathtub smelling no better than going in, though she was not sure if it was due to inefficient cleansing or the complete absence of cleansing. My mother, while praiseworthy on multiple counts, was not, like Martha (it seemed), omniscient. (Were I ever to revive the practice of "fake bathing", I would include an additional, new step: deodorant.)

One spring morning, however, the jig was up. Martha was driving my brother and me to school when a careless motorist swerved in front of our car, nearly causing an accident. Martha lost her temper and committed a grave offense: she swore. My brother and I looked at each other. We both knew what this meant: A perfect being would not swear (we’d get our mouths washed with soap if we as much as uttered half of what she had blurted. This lady, while clearly possessing incredible powers of wisdom and knowledge, was not perfect. God, we were taught, was perfect. Therefore, Martha, was not Christ II.

An adult in our situation (having the existence of his or her deity disproved) might have experienced crushing disillusionment. My brother and I, however, felt great pride. “Busted!” said the look in his eyes. “We totally got her,” I thought. “She is so not Jesus.”

I recall these days with a sort of bizarre nostalgia, and I wonder who was in fact crazier: Martha, the self-declared comeback Jesus kid or my parents for hiring and maintaining her as our babysitter after it became clear that she believed herself divine. My parents may not be totally at fault: she did come highly recommended—both by her previous employers and by her Father (or so she told us). Perhaps my folks gave in to the idea that she was in fact Messiah, Jr.: who better to entrust your children to than Martha, the son of God?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Park Place(s)

Yesterday afternoon, we had a million-dollar scare.

The wife and I were chilling in the backyard with Watson and a neighbor and her dog when the conversation naturally turned to Monopoly at McDonald’s. Our neighbor rattled off the list of properties she needed before she could win big, and, surprise of surprises, we require the same game pieces. Neither party (my wife and myself nor our neighbor) had the rare piece the other was looking for.

Finally, my wife mentioned, “We have Park Place.” Our neighbor nearly jumped six feet in the air. “I have Boardwalk!” she shouted.

I was dubious. This would mean that, jointly, we possessed the million-dollar combination. “Are you sure?”

“Positive. I’m going home right now to get it.”

“Let’s make an agreement,” I preempted. “If together we have both properties, we share the million dollar prize.” I nearly recommended dividing the purse into three equal shares: one for our neighbor, one for my wife, and one for me. “We split it, fifty-fifty. Deal?”

“I’ll be right back.”

“OK, but fifty-fifty,” I repeated, “right?”

“Definitely.”

She left. While she was away, I dashed to the computer to access the information superhighway to see which was the rare game piece: Park Place (which we have) or Boardwalk (which our neighbor claimed to have). It was Boardwalk, and my wife and I immediately agreed not to advertise to our neighbor that she had the putative needle in the haystack.

I contemplated the chances that our neighbor actually had the winning game piece. They were not high. I estimated the likelihood to be somewhere in the range of one tenth of one percent… one out of a thousand or so: terrible odds, to be sure, but way better than the chances of driving to McDonald’s and procuring the winning piece myself, which the official site tells me are roughly 1 in 184,698,474. In the course of a neighborly visit, then, my odds of winning big money (no whammy, no whammy!) improved nearly 200,000-fold. Those are pretty good terrible odds, if you ask me.

I also learned that McDonald’s pays its million-dollar prizes out as annuities over the course of 20 years… that would be $50,000 a year divided by two…. $25,000 per interested party… before taxes… not a terrible income supplement.

Our hearts were palpitating as we counted our chickens, against better wisdom, imagining what nice things we could do with a few extra G’s. We had let the fantasy sweep over us when she returned, head down. “I was wrong. I thought I had Boardwalk, but actually I needed Boardwalk.”

“Honest mistake. That’s ok,” I lied. As far as I was concerned, she had just diminished my chances of a major payday the same 200,000-fold by which she had improved them not 10 minutes earlier.

“We’ll win it yet,” I added unconvincingly.

“Buh duh duh duh duuuuh,” I remind myself with the McDonald’s jingle, “I’m loving it.”

I’ll love it even more when this time next year mine will the boy-next-door's friendly face appearing on the McDonald’s bags and other paraphernalia with a bubble above his head voicing the following: “I was a student, and I won a million dollars from McDonald's. You can, too!”

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Out, out, darn spots!

I was taking Watson out for one last time when I reached into my pocket with my leash-free hand and felt something sticky coating my cell phone and inhaler. I initially assumed I had neglectfully stuffed some half-eaten now-melted confection into my pocket; top on my list of suspects was a caramel Reese’s peanut butter cup (though I rarely leave such a treat half-eaten).

When I pulled the cell phone from my pocket, I could see by the dim glow of our neighbor’s porch light what had happened.

“Hurry up, Watson. We have to get inside.” He sniffed interminably until he found the perfect spot. Finally, he did his business and we returned to the house.

I emptied the contents of my pocket onto the kitchen counter. My fear had been confirmed. While I appreciate and recommend their water filtration systems, I cannot in good faith vouch for the (gratis) writing implements proffered by Millipore. The free pen I had received from the bioscience supplies vendor had exploded (or at least leaked vigorously) in my pocket.

“Honey, there’s been an incident,” I reported to my wife.

“Well, at least you’ll have something to blog about," she quipped when I showed her my cell phone.

“Ha ha,” I replied sarcastically, a little offended by her presumption. "Not every mishap is a blog opportunity for me," I paused. " I am not going to blog this." She turned to talk to her mother; I darted for the camera just in case I had a change of heart.

Here are the unabridged contents of my pocket:


The keen observer will note ink-stained coins, doggy waste pickup bag, inhaler, Chick Fil A coupon, and cell phone.






My mother-in-law scoped out the mess and suggested I use a pocket protector. Thank you, pocket protection expert mother-in-law, but pocket protectors are for nerds, and I am decidedly not a-- er, nevermind. Point taken. Thanks for the recommendation.

I commenced the cleanup effort with my cell phone.

I scrubbed vigorously and have this to show for it.






I even tried a little bit of this stuff, which does a bang-up job with spaghetti sauce stains on dress trousers but is not so effective, as it turns out, with massive ink stains on cell phones.




When I commenced the cell phone cleaning effort, my phone looked like this. The teeth marks, if you can see them, are from an earlier encounter with Watson (he had attacked the phone after he'd gotten to the remote controls but before he devoured our W2's--a blog for another day).

After 20 minutes of concerted phone-scrubbing effort ("If you keep rubbing it, will a genie come out?" my mother-in-law queried), my cell phone looked like this.



My heroic efforts were to no avail. "Now you won't have to buy a colored faceplate for your phone," one of my two observers/hecklers noted.

Fortunately (I guess), my phone is still in working order, so a new phone purchase is not on the horizon.

This phone will not die.

I next turned my attention to my inhaler. After the minimal progress with the phone, I wiped the excess globs of ink from the medication canister and left it at that.




The coinage could be salvaged.








As for the doggy waste pickup bags and Chick Fil A coupon, I decided to leave well enough alone. These items had lived long, full lives, and it was time for them to retire with dignity.




My pants are another story. This is my pocket. The free Millipore pen (or my fidgeting with it) may have caused irreparable damage.








I concede: my wife was correct in her insinuation of perceived blogworthiness. When an "incident" befalls me, my initial thought is not, "Gee, how can I resolve this incident," but rather, "Gee, how can I blog this incident."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

I'll show them!

My readers will no doubt be aware by now of my accident proneness. It seems to me that my coordinational ineptitude has increased with age.

Occasionally, I honestly speculate that I suffer from the early stages of some degenerative and ultimately debilitating neuromuscular condition that results now in my amplified clumsiness and will ultimately culminate in my inability to function on a day-to-day basis.

My friends laugh at me when I suggest such a notion.

Ha! We’ll see who has the last laugh when I’m 35 and confined to a wheel chair.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Just Visiting

If you read my previous post, you know just how jazzed I am about the Monopoly game at McDonald's.

Among the game pieces my wife and I enthusiastically peeled from our healthy dinner items last night was a free breakfast sandwich. I intended to use that coupon this morning.

At 5:00am, I pulled into the McDonald's drive-thru.

""Welcome to McDonald's. Can I help you?"

"Yes, I have a coupon for a free breakfast sandwich I'd like to redeem. I'll have an Egg McMuffin and--"

"We don't accept coupons."

"No, it's a Monopoly game piece."

"Sir, we no longer accept any coupons. Can I take your order?"

"But I got this here yesterday!"

"We no longer accept any coupons."

"Since when?"

"Since today."

"Why?"

"New rules."

"What!?"

"Can I take your order?"

Irked and bemused, I ordered an Egg McMuffin, hash brown, and a large coffee and pulled up to the window. The drive-thru attendant asked for some amount of money. I wasn't paying attention to the sum and handed the young man my credit card. After some time, he returned my card with my breakfast. I pulled forward and checked my order before I hit the road. There was no Egg McMuffin in my bag or on my receipt.

I put my car in park and walked into the restaurant.

"Can I help you?"

"Yes, I was just in the drive-thru. I ordered an Egg McMuffin and never received it."

"No you didn't."

"Yes, I did. I wanted to redeem my free breakfast sandwich coupon."

"We don't accept coupons."

"Yes, we've had this conversation already."

"I'd like an Egg McMuffin."

"But you didn't order one."

"OK. I'm ordering it now."

"We don't accept coupons."

"I know." Pause. Deep breath. "I would now like to place an order and pay for an Egg McMuffin."

The McD's employee stood in place, confused. The manager stepped in and completed my order. After a five-minute wait, she handed me an Egg McMuffin. I extended my credit card.

"No, sir. This one's on the house."

Free breakfast sandwich. And I still have my (now apparently worthless) free breakfast sandwich game piece.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Do not pass, go!

I love this time of year. The air is cool and crisp. The leaves are beginning to turn. Halloween decorations are appearing.

It can all mean just one thing: Monopoly is back at McDonald's.

Today, October 2, is the day that I willingly give in to the hype, allowing myself to be swept away by the marketing juggernaut that is the McDonald's advertising machine. Today is the day that I make the annual affirmation: This is going to be the year. I can feel it in my bones.

And I put my money where my mouth is. This morning, after having reheated (and being mildly repulsed by) day-old coffee, I decided to ditch the normal morning routine and head to the local drive-thru.

"Welcome to McDonald's. Can I help you?"

"Um, yes, what comes with a Monopoly game piece?"

"Sir, I just got here. I don't know. The game started today, and I don't have a list."

"Could you find out for me."

Pause. "OK." Long pause. "Hash browns."

"Great. I'll have two. And a large coffee."

"That'll be four dollars and..."

I was at the window before she could tell me the total price. I traded money for a chance to win money. As soon as my breakfast was in the car, I ravenously peeled the game piece stickers from the hash browns and began sticking them onto the free game board. Pennsylvania Railroad. Baltic Avenue. States Avenue. Marvin Gardens. OK. No big win yet. But these things take time.

Throughout the day, I'd consult my game board, strategizing, planning. If I could get Ventnor and Atlantic Avenues, we'd have earned $25,000. Or, if I could just collect B & O, Reading, and Short Line Railroads, I'll be set for a quick $100 (which would just about cover our month-long Monopoly investment).

When my wife called and asked what I'd like to do for dinner, I blurted out: "Monopoly. I mean, McDonald's."

On the way home, I pulled into the same drive-thru. The conversation began in much the same manner as our morning exchange.

"Welcome to McDonald's. Can I help you?"

"Um, yes, what comes with a Monopoly game piece?"

She rattled off a longer list of items that brought the promise of big winnings. I ordered exclusively from that list.

I could barely wait to come home. I whipped the car into our parking spot and scurried to the door, arms full of game pieces and their attached beverages and food items. We sat down to eat, but before I dug into the Big Mac (which I don't particularly care for beyond the context of the hype and hope of large-scale financial windfalls), I spread out our game board. Together, my wife and I peeled the game pieces and affixed them to their cognate positions on the game board.

"What do you have?" I asked her.

"Pennsylvania Railroad," she replied.

The long-forgotten sensation of disappointment in duplicate game pieces washed over me, dampening my enthusiasm.

"Already have it. What else you got?"

"Um, Baltic Avenue."

"Great. Got that one already, too."

And so it goes. With each new game piece revealed, the likelihood of collecting novel game pieces diminishes. We incrementally fill our game board, a single conspicuous unattained hard-to-find property in each set. Every now and again, McDonald's throws us a bone: 10% off at Foot Locker or a free ring tone or breakfast sandwich.

Anyone who's played Monopoly with me knows that I will stop at nothing until I win, just as I evaded paying rent to my wife when I landed on her property (with a hotel) while she was in the restroom (she never called "time out" or asked another player to be a surrogate guardian of her properties). Of course, she won that night. I came in second. Our guests came in third and fourth. Not that I'm keeping track.

I am not deluding myself: I know the odds are against me. That's just how I like it. I am the underdog. It will make the victory all the more glorious when small-time kid hits it big.

I haven't won yet. But, it's only been one day. It's not a sprint, but rather, like any respectable game of Monopoly, a marathon. And this thing goes until October 29 (or while supplies last).