The last Photo Blog Wednesday of 2008 brings more scenes of Winter, as we look ahead to sunnier times in 2009. I have some thoughts about this past year and the new one that I'll most likely delve into tomorrow. Certainly, not getting spooked and scampering into a thicket while hiking through desolate sections of places like Caumsett should be on my list of goals...
Is anyone familiar with the Chapelle spoof of rapper Lil Jon that pokes fun at the limited vocabulary in his videos? I was only able to find audio of one of those sketches, but this should give you a pretty good idea:
In the same spirit, I've decided to tackle various items using the “What? YEAH! Okay!” approach. I think we'll all find this a much more efficient way for me to convey my thoughts...
About a decade ago, my then-girlfriend's young cousin soundly and repeatedly trounced me at Mario Kart 64. Competitive person that I am, I spent most of the night having rematches that I never won, until it was time for him to go to bed and me to leave, at which point I realized I'd been neglecting my girlfriend. At a holiday gathering at my cousin's house this weekend, between dinner and dessert he had his kids demonstrate their new Wii Sports game. My uncle suggested his grandkids let me try, at which point the 7-year-old boy schooled me in bowling with like 7 strikes in a row and a final score of 259. I bowled a 137, which only proved how well those remote controls translate real life motion. His older sister then destroyed me in a tennis match, and finally I won a game of golf against the boy, in which we were both overpar but he was three strokes worse. Next year, I think I should challenge the wee ones to a drinking contest instead.
The holidays just keep coming, but so do PHANTASMIC LINKS:
(1) There are only ten levels to Finding Santa, but I got frustrated on level 8. Patience, a fast internet connection, and perhaps muting the music are key to beating this one...
(4) All I need is some beef-scented body spray, and my women problems will be over. Actually, the women it attracts might be more than I'm looking for, so I might be trading famine for flood... H.T.: J-No.
I've always admired series like the original Star Wars® trilogy. It's very rare for sequels to live up to and support the original motion picture they spun off from. Most agree that the trilogy is the best format, a solid beginning, middle, and end to a story. The Lord of the Rings is probably the most epic of these, staying faithful to source material that was already in a convenient trilogy format, with extended DVD versions that include even more from the books. Sometimes, a series gets things very, very right. Other times, a change in cast or director or studio can lead to crushed expectations and hopes. The Chronicles of Narnia was one of my favorite series of books growing up, and I might have been skeptical about the feasibility of adapting all seven and holding the public's interest. But Harry Potter has set a precedent, managing to turn into an annual phenomenon, and if all goes according to plan, those seven books will result in eight feature films with the same cast, save for the sad exception of the late Richard Harris.
Trivial to some, it's very important to me that every saga has a definitive and proper conclusion. I hope the Narnia series can find new financial backing. I'm sad that authors like Robert Jordan and Frank Herbert didn't live to write conclusions to their respective series. I'm concerned about any new trilogy or series that might begin just before the end of my life. I want to see how it all ends.
I always think about George Costanzalearning to leave on a high note. It's ironic since Seinfeld itself may have run one or two seasons too long. Maybe it's not terrible that Angel was canceled after five seasons, as well as the soon-to-be over Stargate: Atlantis. Would Firefly have been as dear to its fans if it got more than one season? ShouldFamily Guy have been resurrected? Most series are milked and diluted to the point that they're unrecognizable. The Star Wars® prequels weren't terrible, but the original trilogy was definitely better. I personally liked the Matrix trilogy, though most think they should have stopped after their first and strongest feature. In the end, I guess the sagas that aren't seen through properly or at all make us appreciate the Star Wars®, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Back to the Future series even more.
It was one of those gray, boring days, a day between a holiday and a weekend packed full of plans with friends and family and hopefully more friends. Stir crazy after 48 hours in his house, he set out on a journey with his camera and tripod to an unknown destination.
At times, the clouds teased him with a bright hint of parting, only to grow denser. As the pavement disappeared beneath his wheels, he knew he’d have to choose a location soon, and at an intersection made his decision. He broke left, navigating a long narrow road, crossing water, and ending up at a state park he’d visited several times in the past. Surely with some snow on the ground, he might find variations on old sights if not new ones entirely.
The guard at the booth waved him through; there’s no admission fee in the Winter. Finding a parking spot, he loaded his batteries, slung his tripod over his shoulder, and set about walking off two days of eating and not moving. He found patches of ice, shattered old greenhouses, and various tracks in the snow. Venturing in to sections of the park he’d never visited before, he encountered some new structures and some strange rope arrangements between several trees.
At the base of a hill, he had two options. He could double back on a known trail, on venture further on what might have been a dried river bed, possibly not even part of the same property. Reminding himself that adventure awaits when he did the opposite of his instinct to stay within familiar territory, he pushed onward. What were those yelps and howls in the distance? Coyotes? Dogs? Demon hounds? The sound was surely traveling a great distance through the bare trees and snow, and he would not give in to irrational fear.
He found an open field, and tracks from horseback riders. He made his way across the clearing, where the top half of a jogger had floated by over some shrubs. Surely there was a trail beyond. A hawk or a falcon screeched overhead, vanishing into the treetops before he could get a good shot. The howling was louder, and he was heading toward it, but he had no choice if he was going to reach the path he’d seen the jogger on.
The “path” turned out to be nothing more than more snow and grass surrounding an empty horse enclosure. Signs warned him that the fence was electrified. To his right were some buildings, from which that howling was loudest. He made his way to the left, which was the general direction of the parking lot, however many miles away that might now be. He reached one corner of the enclosure, and was about to turn and walk toward what looked like a road at the opposite corner, when the barking in the distance became more frantic. He imagined hunting dogs set loose to rip a trespasser to shreds. He saw more deer tracks in the snow, leading into a thicket. The shortest distance between two points remained a straight line, and he didn’t want to wait for the hounds to cover the distance between them. Like a frightened deer, he ducked and dove into the thorns.
Halfway up the hill, his hat was torn from his head. He turned to grab it, wrapping himself in spiky vines. Catching his breath, he realized two things: nothing was chasing him, and there was no clear path in any direction. The sun was setting, and this fool was completely and utterly surrounded by a thicket. Freeing his hat, he knew he had to continue up the hill. He looked for places where the vines had the least coverage, crouching and pushing through with his tripod. Occasionally he’d get cut through his jeans, or entangled, but eventually he saw a clearing at the top of the hill. He emerged through the last, most stubborn vines with the sharpest thorns, to freedom. He staggered across the field to his car and drove home to wash his clothes and treat his cuts.
Folks, there’s no situation, real or imaginary, in which panic won’t make things much, much worse.
- Discovering that the DVDs I'd ordered for my parents had arrived at 5:30 PM on Christmas Eve, and I somehow missed the parcel hanging dead center from the door in the front of our house and left it out there overnight.
- My father purchasing new hooks for the Christmas ornaments because he couldn't remember where he packed the hooks away from last year. They're “somewhere” in our basement.
- Unwrapping a box of Rogaine. Trying to tell me something, Ma?
- Asking my dad what he was doing sitting in front of the television watching the Yule Log: “I don't know; your mother put this on!”
- Getting my dad Sands of Iwo Jima, which was a movie he actually wanted, as opposed to last year when I bought him Letters from Iwo Jima by mistake. I make a lot of mistakes where movies from my folks' generation are concerned.
- Hearing my mom yelling at her brother on the phone to turn his phone right side up so she could hear him.
- Finally having time to watch Kabluey, a quirky indy sleeper that was among the 22 DVDs B13 has loaned me over the course of the year. It was the strange tale of a loser who moves in with his sister-in-law to help take care of his nephews while his brother is fighting in Iraq, and ends up with a part-time job as a bizarre pharmaceutical mascot. I'd like to see writer/director/lead actor Scott Prendergast make more movies.
- Taking a nap and dreaming I was at work. So not right.
- So much pasta and chicken! So much hot apple pie and fudge ripple ice cream! So much for the gym!
- The way our little tree sparkles:
- Our cat finding a warm spot on the stove nestled between the dishes of pasta and chicken.
- The thin layer of snow that still coated everything even after rain and warmer temperatures, enough to be beautiful without being a messy obstacle. I'm actually glad I was wrong about my White Christmas prediction, although it's more likely that I shifted probability by making that prediction in the first place. I need to learn how to control that ability of mine. Let's see...I predict that I'll buy a house and get a girlfriend in 2009!
Everyone has different holiday traditions. In my family these include waiting until the last minute to decorate, and bickering over the best way to set up a tree. After a few years of cutting trees down from our own yard, my parents finally got a better idea. They didn't go as far as an artificial tree, since that would somehow be a blasphemous representation of a co-opted pagan symbol. No, instead my mom transplanted a tree to a giant pot which we keep in the yard during the year, alive and thriving, and lug in the living room for a few weeks during the Christmas season.
Don't ask me how, but my dad somehow lugged the thing inside on Tuesday while my mom wasn't looking and I was at the office. I took off for Christmas Eve, so I was able to help get the thing on to its platform. “Lift...LIFT!!!” yelled my dad as I struggled, mentally telling myself to lift with my knees. I got the thing up, he got the red and green fabric and plastic covering on the platform, and I lowered it in place. Oh, there may have been some more yelling in between there, a point where I was told to “yell a little louder so the neighbors can hear”, and definitely some spillage when I lifted it because the soil had soaked up a lot of moisture from the rain and snow these past few days. But in the end, we got the thing set up and strung with lights.
We opted to go to a 7 PM mass rather than midnight, which is well beyond an elderly couple's bedtime. I was the first one dressed and in the car this year, simultaneously avoiding the tradition of the “Why do you like to be late all the time?” fight while warming up the vehicle. It had been raining all day, and I dropped them as close to the door as I could before finding a parking spot. I shivered in the rain, wishing I'd worn a jacket over my suit while imagining how I'd look as a Frank Miller drawing. The church wasn't as packed as it usually is on holidays, although there were a few new faces, including a young blonde in a tight short skirt that kept tugging my eyes away from the altar.
The priest gave a great sermon, talking about how back in his homeland in Africa there are trees that intertwine and grow tall with the assistance of other trees. He reminded us that no man is an island, and that we all grow as a community, supporting one another. The pastor came out at the end to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and remind newcomers that they are welcome all year round. When I stepped outside, I was pleased to discover the rain had stopped. There were a few icy patches, but I didn't fall as I had while walking up a hill to the post office earlier in the day.
It's easy to get stressed out this time of year. I was in a panic on Tuesday with all the stuff I had to get done for work by next week, but there's only so much one person can do. I had concerns about waiting until Wednesday to start wrapping, yet I got most of it done in under two hours. Even the annual family bickering was a lot tamer, only one outburst while I struggled to lift the tree. It's the miracle of the season when we forget all the stuff that drives us crazy, even the season itself, and battle the humbug feeling. I hope everyone has a happy and safe Christmas, or any other holiday you might be celebrating! And remember, there's only 364 shopping days until the next one....
It snows! Then it rains ice! Then it melts! Then it freezes! Then it melts and freezes again! We’re only a few days into Winter, and I’m already looking forward to Spring. At least I can rationalize shoveling snow over the weekend as exercise that makes up for skipping the gym to work late Tuesday night before a six day weekend. This Photo Blog Wednesday depicts the aftermath of a messy Winter weekend:
I definitely need to wear my ski mask if I'm still going to walk on my lunch break, because my hat was not enough on Monday. I can't believe how much the temperature has dipped. Anything that started to melt on Sunday froze into icy sheets, and I'm starting to wonder if Iceman's powers are out of control again, like the time he froze all of Central Park after getting boosted by Loki. Sorry, I am a huge geek with way too much stuff like that apparently permanently etched into the wrinkles of my brain. The brain is a funny thing, and I think the cold is getting to mine. Even the brain surgeons in Subway surprised me. Oh, it wasn't that the woman behind the counter asked me if I wanted my Subway Melt, from their Toasted menu, toasted; I'm used to that question by now. No, this time she put only the cheese in the sandwich before putting it in the toaster oven for 30 seconds, and then she added the meat. So the cheese, which really wasn't all that melted, was only melted into the bread. The town where I work needs a damn Quiznos already.
I digress into barely lucid stream-of-consciousness ramblings. It's best I dispense with the prose until my brain thaws out, and focus on a list instead. In my travels across the vast reaches of the internet, I came across a collection of 236 movies. I'm not sure how this list was compiled, and I'm sure there are infinite variations. It's not the first list I've tackled, nor the second, and I doubt it will be my last. Rather than position them as must see films, however, this particular exercise posits that if one has seen more than 85 films, one has no life. I need only glance back at that obscure comic book reference I made in the preceding paragraph to ascertain that, but I do love movies and this seems like a good way to thaw my thoughts:
As high a number as 183 is, according to my Netflix records I've seen and rated 2,075 DVDs. Though that includes television series, it still indicates a much higher film count overall. Maybe my brain isn't as frozen as I thought; maybe it's just melting from staring at screens all the time...
Be careful what you wish for? For years I've wished my parents would just stay in the house and let me shovel the snow. My dad's been walking around with a heart condition for the past 15 years and my mom has had asthma nearly her whole life. Much to my surprise, I finally got my wish when a snowstorm dumped a good six inches on our area on Friday. I got home from work early due to the inclement weather, and found that both parents had stayed inside.
I awoke on Saturday morning expecting to find my dad out there, but with his healing shoulder still hooked up to a Wound Vac, he was just sitting by the window of our living room with the device plugged in to an electrical outlet. He told me to just clear a path for the mail carrier and open up our driveway, since another storm was on its way. I cleared a path from our side door around to the mail box at the front of the house, then our front sidewalk as well as both sets of steps leading to the mailbox. A plow came by as I was opening the driveway and blocked me in. However, the next time he came around the block, he actually slowed down, adjusted his settings, and pushed all the chunks of snow aside to clear the opening of the driveway. I waved back in thanks as he rolled on, and I was able to get my car over the snow that remained in our driveway and get to the bank and post office before they closed. When I got home, I had no traction to get up the driveway, and had to get out and shovel the side of the driveway I park on. I left the other half alone since my parents didn't need their cars yet, and later I drove us all to mass.
On Sunday, I awoke to freezing rain, and I finished the driveway before it all froze solid. The sections packed down from driving over them were the most solid and heaviest to lift. Somehow, I got the whole thing done, a first on my own. I relaxed with a movie and some hot cocoa, and when I went to sit up I felt how stiff my back was. I'm still glad my parents finally let me take care of it, and I can't complain too much since my cousin has his own house as well as my uncle's to shovel, but I'm still a little sore. In appreciation, my mom made cheese omelets on Saturday and pancakes on Sunday, which made my efforts twice as worthwhile. I may have even made up for missing gym two days this week. Nevertheless, though it has only just begun, I'll be glad when Winter is over. Let's all find somewhere warm and check out this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:
(1) Sonny 2 is my latest RPG obsession, and when I wasn't hauling snow I was inside making my way through the first 3 levels of this awesome sequel.
(4) I can't believe this guy named his kid “Adolf Hitler”. When asked to comment, he said it was his wife's idea and that he was “just following orders”. I kid, but seriously, what is wrong with people? H.T.: J-No.
(5) I could scale a cliff this fast but I don't wanna. H.T.: Darrell, who bet me 10 bucks I couldn't climb a cliff in under 5 minutes and will probably learn my secret identity if I actually mail it to him...
(6) I don't see what the big deal was with this SNL sketch. They've definitely done worse(and better). H.T.: B13.
A few days ago, professional web cartoonist Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content fame pondered what, as an atheist, he would someday tell his children should the question of life after death arise:
”Like, I wouldn't want to make up a bunch of stuff about an afterlife or use some religion's version of things, since I don't believe in that myself, but I also wouldn't want to completely horrify my kid by being all ‘oh there is just nothing. You cease to be aware and that is it.' I know that concept freaked me out nearly as bad as the concept of hell when I was little. I guess ‘make up something comforting' is the lesser of the two evils, but still...”
It's a solid question that's been rattling around in my brain for the past couple of days. As a Catholic, I've been raised with a fairly solid notion of my spirit's two options once I use up my physical form. Nonexistence is terrifying on several levels. In the grand scheme of the universe, it seems like a cosmic joke that any single consciousness only gets an average of 80-100 years of being. That's nothing, a drop in the bucket. A select few do great things with their time on Earth, contribute serious scientific, medical, historical, musical, or other accomplishments for which they are remembered long after they are gone. Most of us are lucky if we touch our family and a few friends let alone the world. Existence is pointless if this is all there is.
I've had friends of varying beliefs and lack of beliefs. I can accept people who don't share my beliefs, and though we might disagree, I can understand their point of view, even debate it if I'm in the mood. Most days, it seems like it's easier to be friends with people if things like politics or religion aren't among our topics of discussion. Our pastor touched on this compartmentalizing of religion in his sermon this weekend, about how we sometimes put God in a box, leave Him in church where it's safe and live our lives without His presence, visiting Him for one hour each week before putting Him away again. As a child, I admit that there was a certain phase of paranoia when I thought about this omniscient entity who was always watching each and every one of us every second of the day. I get annoyed when people start up conversations at urinals. The idea of an ever-present God was more terrifying than comforting. I think this as well as the stigma the secular world places on “religious nuts” may be among the reasons for the practice our priest was describing.
Still, God sees the good we do as well as the evil, and I was raised to believe in a forgiving God. A parent may get angry, but ignoring the parent makes the problem worse; asking for forgiveness is the way to go. In the grand scheme of things, the notion of a creator is a lot more comforting than the notion of randomness. Our universe, and the genetic complexities behind life itself, has far too much order to it. If my religious beliefs are wrong, then someone else's are right. Every effect has a cause, and every cause is an effect of another cause, and so on. Everything has to trace back to something.
So what do atheists tell their children? Jacques reluctantly leaned toward “make up something comforting”, but to me that's kind of a Santa Claus approach to faith, that God is just something you tell children about to comfort them or make them behave, a fairy tale they'll outgrow as adults. Are the millions of adults embracing various religions nothing more than deluded children who need to grow up? I suppose you could make a good case for Tom Cruise... Seriously though, is telling your children that they'll see Grandma again in heaven the same as telling them the family dog you had put to sleep was actually taken to live at a farm out in the country? That seems kind of cruel.
When I watchedWaking Life, one of the many discussions in the film that sparked my neurons involved a woman musing that she was not in fact living her life, but that she was a memory being relived by an old woman on her deathbed looking back. Are the dreams in the last few seconds of our lives, as long as they might seem, our only true experience of an afterlife? Even if that were true, who would want to go through a life in which death was “goodbye forever” instead of “see you later”? I'm not sure how anyone rationalizes that attitude. Is the fact that you won't know you no longer exist because you are no longer aware comforting? In the decades we exist, we would matter to our contemporaries, but mean nothing within centuries.
Through our experiences, we all reach a point where we must decide for ourselves what we believe or want to believe, no matter what we were told as children. It can be very challenging for parents. I see kids talking in church, playing with toys, scribbling on bulletins, and generally squirming in their seats and misbehaving just as I did when I was their age. I know the challenges parents face in getting kids to go to church and show respect. But Jacques' quandary raises an issue I'd never thought about before. I've encountered atheists who reached that point because of a bad experience with religion. Faith can be a good thing but it can also be twisted in the wrong hands, and we've all seen it used to rationalize some horrible acts. Regardless of which deity's name these acts are perpetrated in, they remain the acts of human beings. Unfortunately, the fallibility of man sometimes causes people to lose faith in an entire religion. I've seen the path that leads people to lose their beliefs, but never thought about those who didn't have any to begin with. What does an atheist tell a child? A lie? Their idea of the truth? Or perhaps nothing, which they believe is the final destination for us all...
Our office was pretty quiet on Friday morning, with a lot of people calling in “sick” after our holiday party the night before. It didn't help that a bad snowstorm was expected, and while I furiously worked to get some things handed in that were due the day before, many people were leaving early. I trudged through the blizzard at lunch to get some food, and by the time I got back found that most joyous of e-mails, the early closing announcement. It was a good thing I got everything done in the morning. Soon, I was on the roads, not fully plowed and not at all sanded, skidding every time I stepped on the brakes or exceeded 25 MPH. It was a pleasant and unusual musical journey though as I listened to a copy of an Apocalyptica CD that a friend had made for me. Apparently, this is a group of cellists who cover Metallica songs. Who knew something as awesome as ”Cello Metal” existed? I'm reading that Apocalyptica covers more than Metallica, though the particular album I listened to contained only Metallica songs. It was surreal to hear them in classical tones, and it was like hearing them again for the first time. I was almost glad it took me an hour to skid home.
Music can guide us through many of life's journeys, whether driving in a car or celebrating with friends. We associate songs with various memories, and sometimes a song can take us on a journey without leaving the house. I found a pretty interesting musical journey over at Antick Musings. A series of questions were posed, to be answered by randomly shuffling one's iTunes. Let's see, with sarcastic commentary, where my songs take me:
6) WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU? ”My Name is Lenny” (The Simpsons) I've been called a LOT of things in my life, and this random answer will probably get the conspiracy theorists out there into a frenzy.
9) WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND? ”Turn the Page” (Bob Seger) I've never really been a “best friend” type of guy, though I have had some really good friends. I think iTunes is saying, “next question” here.
27) IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE? ”We Die Young” (Alice in Chains) I think we'd absolutely all bring back those who left too soon if we could.
28) WHAT HURTS RIGHT NOW? ”Outside” (Staind with Fred Durst) This could refer to my agoraphobic leanings or the fact that it's currently snowing and freezing outside, which could be physically painful.
29) WHAT WILL YOU POST THIS AS? ”Turn the Radio Up” (Eric Carmen) I actually found this first, and cheated by toggling through my songs until I hit an appropriate title, so I could name my file before saving. (Of course, I now find out that the actual name of the song was “Make Me Lose Control”.) If only I had followed the rules of the meme to the letter, the actual name of this post would have been ”Love Shack”, which probably would have been good too...
I generally love the tradition of the annual company holiday party. I've been almost every guy imaginable, from the quiet guy hugging the walls to the uninhibited guy on the dance floor who's had one too many and is letting his coworkers see a side of him they really don't need to see. I've been to parties where I've had a lot of friends to hang out with, and to ones where no one I knew very well attended and rather than mingle I wandered in circles for two hours. Ultimately, I've found a good balance of conversing with people I know, making small talk with new people, and watching other people of varying degrees of ability on the dance floor. Plus, it’s a great excuse to suit up.
Around this time last year, it seems my routine was the same. One night after work I did some last minute shopping, and the following evening I attended the company party. I had only been with the company a few months, and really only knew one person well, a friend from my previous job. We carpooled and couldn't stay for the whole thing, because he didn't want to leave his wife stuck home alone for too long with their new mastiff. One year later, with the dog better trained and easier to control, he was able to stay out a bit longer. The nice thing this year is that I knew my new coworkers a lot better, and there were several people who'd joined the company from my old job.
The party started at 4 PM, which meant a nice short day, although a stack of corrections that landed on my desk after lunch nearly delayed me before I noticed everyone was leaving and nothing could really be done until the next day anyway. Adding a tie and a jacket to the day's attire, I headed over to my friend's house, not far from the office, and on to the country club where the party was being held. Rather than deal with valets, we just parked in the neighborhood as most people were doing. As we walked up the driveway, the head valet came running up screaming, “WHERE DID YOU PEOPLE PARK? YOU CAN'T PARK IN THE STREETS!” Now, there were no no-parking signs on any of the roads in this neighborhood, and mine was hardly the only car out there. We continued on as the guy started yelling at some of the other kids to get out in the street and stop people. I suppose the place might get some complaints from the neighborhood, but we gambled (successfully) that without a sign there would be no towing or ticketing of the 20 or 30 vehicles out there.
We were each allotted two tickets for the bar the day prior, and I cashed mine in right away for a Corona. I'm used to bartenders just sticking a lime in the neck of a bottle and handing it to me, but this woman poured it into a wine glass that was slightly too small to hold the full contents of the bottle. She slid the bottle over, and I assumed I was to take it along with the glass, to refill when there was room, but she held the glass back. “No no; drink that,” she advised. Since there was a line behind me, I had no choice but to gulp down the contents of the bottle.
As we stood around in a circle talking, someone peripherally said hello to my friend. I glanced over my shoulder and nodded, rejoining a conversation with some lady friends, only to register a few seconds later that it was the CEO. I quickly caught myself and fully acknowledged him, shaking his hand and wishing him happy holidays as I made room for him to join our circle. He made some small talk and joked a bit about being sober when it was time for him to address the room, then moved on to mingle with more of his employees. I remember back at my old company, I once joked loudly in a McDonald's about coming in to work late, to the horror of my friends who would later point out that the CEO of that company was having lunch with his girlfriend in the next booth. I really need to be conscious of who's around me, especially people in authority.
It was getting hard to hear as the DJ increased his volume, but I managed to maintain several conversations. I grabbed some food, and soon the CEO stepped up for his speech and the annual raffle. Despite a bad economy that will only be more challenging in 2009, we still managed a profit this year. The raffle was slightly more complicated than last year. Once 10 people's names were randomly chosen from a box, they were given wrapped gifts and the option to keep those, or trade them in for a mystery prize. The ones who gambled ended up with 37 inch flatscreen TVs, although the others still had some sweet electronics in the packages they opted to keep, from cameras to MP3 players to GPS systems and more. There was then a bit of dancing, and one lady looked so much like Meredith from The Office that I was dying. Also, “Mexican Bob”, the hispanic version of my friend Bob that I always see at the gym and almost accidentally greet because they have the same ponytail, appeared to be one of the waiters. It may have been yet another doppelganger, but I think it was the same dude.
Another of my friends from my old company told me she was going to help some other ladies with a trivia competition. There wasn't a trivia competition as far as I knew, but there was a dance competition. She looked pretty surprised when her team was called out on the dance floor. I really regretted that none of us brought cameras. The dance competition, broken down into about 12 teams of 3, was hilarious at first but went on a little too long. Finally they narrowed it down, via applause, the the two best women's teams and men's teams, and settled it with a relay race using very small tricycles, like what clowns use on tightropes. The men had a wardrobe advantage, as the women in heels and skirts couldn't really pedal and had to sort of run while pushing the things. Free dancing resumed once more as the dessert tables were set up. The lines for cookies, cannoli, fresh fruit, mousse and more were longer than the bar lines, so I decided to trade in my second ticket for a second Corona. I made the mistake of going back to the same bartender, and she produced a bottle that said ”Land Shark”. I had never heard of it, and might have overcome my tendency to avoid new things had she not mirrored my expression of a confusion. If a bartender doesn't recognize something, it's not a great sign. “Maybe he has one?” she asked tentatively, gesturing to the next bartender. I wasn't going to get on another line, and opted for a Coors Light instead. To her credit, she at least poured it into a larger glass this time.
Bad wedding music or not, there were definitely some women on the dance floor that could move. Unfortunately, I soon found myself stuck in a conversation with a drunken close-talker who kept blocking my view. I noticed the dessert line was smaller, and excused myself and another friend to get some tea and snacks. She and I found a table, inadvertently leaving my other friend alone with the close talker. By the time we got back, the close-talker was spitting his dismay that my friend had never seen the stage version of Rent. “Sounds like he was into you,” I teased as we finally departed.
Overall, it was a pretty fun evening, a well organized affair with a great bunch of people. I enjoyed the food and dessert as well as the jokes, and I even managed to score a ticket someone wasn't using and get a third beer, this time a Corona from a different bartender. The DJ played some good music, as well as some eye-rollers, but even the stuff that didn't fit my taste resulted in 50-somethings trying Disco pointing and other hilarious moves. I can't believe I've already been with the company long enough to enjoy two of these parties, and I'm already looking forward to the third, while trying not to think about the stack of work I left on my desk for another day that will arrive all too soon.
From time to time I learn things and, for the sake of an acronym, I share these “facts” in a little feature I like to call Things I've Learned Thursday:
* The best time to do your Christmas shopping seems to be late on a Wednesday night. I took my time leaving work, hit the gym for an hour, and got to the mall around 7 PM. The place wasn't empty, but it was no more crowded than it is during a normal time of year.
* Online shopping of course trumps physically driving to and walking through a store, but I often don't know what I want to get a person until I see it on a shelf and think he or she could use whatever I've spotted. When I have something specific in mind that can't be easily located in a store, the internet is great. My dad wanted to buy my mom Heidi, while she was hoping to get him Sands of Iwo Jima. Oddly enough, neither was to be found on the shelves of a Target, but when I got home it took me less than 10 minutes to locate and order both from Best Buy, with a guarantee that I'll have both movies delivered by or before Christmas. I'm just glad I bought them a DVD player last year; they both told me they were looking for “tapes”. I don't even know how to begin to explain that there's something called Blu-Ray that will soon make DVD as obsolete as VHS. At least the players are backwards compatible for now.
* Boys are easier to shop for than girls, especially as they get older. I asked my mom what my cousin's kids would like. The 7-year-old boy is into Transformers, while the 9-year-old girl is into basketball and violin. Those who know me will understand why it was especially easy to shop for the boy, since I liked Transformers when I was a kid and, let's be honest, for the last 25 years. I almost got him the best gift ever, when I spotted a 25th anniversary reissue of the original Optimus Prime toy from 1984, complete with a DVD of the original animated series and a reprint of issue #1 of the Marvel comic. Even though I own the entire series on DVD, and the original #1 issue, I never had the original figure, only the later plastic Powermaster version of the character. It went into my wagon without question, as I decided to live vicariously through this kid. As I passed one of the store's convenient price scanners, I decided to check how much this great item was. $69.99 was slightly more than I wanted to spend, and I ended up getting him two smaller robots that were $10 apiece. At his age, he wouldn't appreciate the historical significance of the reissued mold anyway. He'd probably want to take it out of the box and actually play with the thing.
As for the girl, I figured I'd just find some doll in a basketball uniform or with a violin. I was sadly mistaken and spent nearly an hour uncomfortably walking through aisles of girls' toys while parents nervously called for their children to stay close. I couldn't believe there were entire aisles dedicated to Hannah Montana and High School Musical 3. If she's into the violin, I wasn't sure the blatant marketing of microphones or guitars that only played songs promoting those franchises would have appealed to her. Some of the HSM3 dolls were labeled as “School Spirit” versions of the characters, wearing cutoff t-shirts and sweatpants with their school logo. They had plenty of sluts, but no basketball players or violinists. Another aisle promoted a third franchise I'd never heard of, but something about the unnaturally bright-eyed teens on the boxes of these Camp Rock items told me I'd hate it as much as the other two. Was it too much to expect that I'd find a sporty Barbie? Ultimately, I ended up getting her an actual small pink basketball, a reversible headband offering a black or pink side, and so there'd be some fun toy, little figurines of a cat and a bird. I spent two hours shopping for just my parents and these kids, but at least one hour was spent shopping for the girl because I didn't know what I was doing. It's possible she would have liked some of the things that repulsed me, but I couldn't put myself in that mindset. It's so much easier to buy toys that I would have (or still) liked.
* I have no idea why I didn't know this, but John Walsh, host of America's Most Wanted, does what he does because his little boy was murdered back in 1981! This comes up now because, after all these years, they have finally named his killer. It doesn't bring Walsh's son back, and the killer died of liver failure in a prison cell over a decade ago, but hopefully it brings the family some closure. Most importantly, Walsh has channeled his grief and anger into something positive, and has probably saved a lot of lives with the criminals his show helps catch.
* There's a time to wait for other people to handle their responsibilities, and a time to take care of things oneself in order to make deadlines. The trick is recognizing when action and initiative are required and justified. If you act to soon, you may train others to relax and let you pick up the slack. If you wait too long, you may find yourself scrambling to catch up and thinking about all the time you wasted when you had downtime while you were waiting. Hypothetically speaking, of course....
* The pizza man isn't a waiter, lady. If you sit down and wait to be served, he's just going to put it on a tray next to the register and give me my slices, because I stayed on line and waited there with my money.
* I think drink tickets for office holiday parties are actually a good idea. Some people grumble that we only get two drinks, but it ensures that people will be safe driving home. More importantly, it minimizes people getting drunk and doing embarrassing dances, or worse. My old company had the best holiday parties of any place I ever worked, and they had completely open bars. Some people went too far, and years later we still share the stories and reminisce. It's one thing to get drunk and act stupid with your friends, but quite another to do so in front of your bosses and other people you have a professional relationship with. It makes for some awkward Friday mornings the day after the party.
* As for me, even when I'm out with my friends I try to pace myself and not have more than two or three beers, since at some point I'll need to drive my car home from a train station. More importantly, there have been occasions in my wilder years in which stronger stuff like vodka has led me to literally play in traffic, and divulge my most closely-guarded secrets. Even pacing myself, my judgment might be softened, if not impaired. The last time I had two beers, I thought it was a fine idea at 11 PM to help a friend who'd had a bit more than two beers call Rey, on vacation with his family at the time, and ask him a random and obscure question about Star Trek: The Next Generation. I think the ultimate lesson in all of this is that, of all the people who should drink in moderation or not at all, geeks really need to be careful. We all think we're going to have this moment of “cool” like the kid in Can't Hardly Wait who sings Paradise City at the party, but in real life alcohol just enhances our geekiness, even or especially if we normally conceal it.
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MCF is a mild-mannered
artist from the suburbs.
His knowledge of obscure
comic book characters
is more powerful than Gladiator
of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard on
an ego-trip. Able to leap topics
in a single sentence faster than
a speeder-bike on the moon of
Endor, MCF has never written
about himself in the third person
and now dreads the day he
utters aloud the fateful phrase,
"MCF is gettin' upset!"