Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Long Path to Glory

So a few weeks ago, My Fair Lady and I purchased a large wooden play structure from Costco for Max. The idea was to put it together the weekend of Halloween because of two factors: a) That’s when it was supposed to arrive; b) That’s also when Brother G would have a free weekend to swing by and help out.

Considering the magnitude of this project, I wanted (and MFL agreed) to keep this a family affair. No friends, no offshoot relatives—strictly immediate family. It meant something special to me that my brother and I (along with my wife and possibly my dad) would build a play fort for my son. The thought just warmed my heart. So we placed the order in early October, and kicked back to wait. Here’s what happened:

1) The order shipped later that same week and was delivered the following Monday, which resulted in us having 500lbs. of play equipment and wood beams sitting on a palette in our garage. As such, the garage would be rendered useless to us until we got the structure built. Not to worry though because the forecast for the coming weekend was perfect.

2) That Wednesday, I got hit with a massive sinus infection. Massive. I’ve a veteran of these, regrettably, so I know when I’m going to be good and thoroughly worked over and when I’m going to just complain for a few days before getting over it. This was the former, big time. Woke up Saturday morning and promptly threw up. A lot. While MFL was downtown at the Komen Walk For The Cure, naturally. I’d told her the night before that I’d be fine the next day and would be able to handle Max with no issues. Whoops. Called my parents whispering for help since I could barely function. I managed to hold on until my dad showed up, at which point I went back to bed until MFL showed up. No work was done this entire weekend.

3) The next week, MFL and I actually opened the boxes and investigated our purchase. To say that I’ve put together a large number of items ranging from computers to furniture to everything else is putting it gently. I was immediately grateful that despite the intimidating 40+ pages of instructions, everything was neatly organized as it should be. The parts were clearly labeled, and the nuts and bolts were efficiently categorized. May a thousand blessings fall onto the house of the people who make this product. Buy something from IKEA and follow those instructions. Go on, I dare you.

4) That following weekend saw an extensive rain delay. So I got to look my two-year-old in the eyes and say, “No play structure for you.” At which point he climbed all over the boxes and acted like he was king of the mountain before filling his diaper with pure awesome and taking a nap.

5) The next weekend, Brother G was available… which was Halloween weekend as originally planned. The details of which are below:

Question: “How many adults does it take to put together a child’s play structure?”

Answer: “As many as you can find.”

We busted out the play structure once Brother G arrived on site, and began the assembly. Were I to list the sheer volume of wood beams, planks, parts, and screws for this beast, you’d laugh and shake your head in wonder. Yes, there really were that many parts. I spent the better part of the day fondly recalling how I grew up with nothing more than a stick.

Brother G lent a hand for the majority of the day and it made all the difference. Having someone hold up the beams while I worked on assembly was time-consuming enough. Then throw in an excited two-year-old running around and playing with daddy’s power tools and you’ll begin to realize why it took three adults to put the base frame together.

Things were wobbly at first. It was not uncommon to hear some variation of “Holy crap, is the whole thing gonna lean like that?” followed shortly after by “Max put that down!” The only thing this circus was missing was a clown car.

I’m mostly kidding about this. The whole enterprise went relatively smooth. Despite the beams leaning this way and that through much of the morning, primarily because they weren’t attached to one another, we managed to get the core assembly done post haste. As we connected the beams to one another, the overall stability increased. Shocking! But the real pain came due to the hex bolts that attached the beams to one another and the wood screws for the flooring. The bolts were huge and while we lacked a hex head for my power drill, we figured out that by screwing them in by hand followed by hammering them the rest of the way through, they held steady.

The same could not be said for the wood screws, which took on the form of Nemesis before the day was out. Only one drill bit was provided which by itself wasn’t much of an issue. But when the drill could only push the screw in about a quarter of an inch into the beams/planks/etc., then we had to improvise to get them the rest of the way in. This involved me putting the drill bit into the head of the wood screw, then using a wrench to twist it all the way in. It was highly aggravating and something that slowed us down considerably.

I looked at the planks for the floor of the fort, all of which required four screws per board, and started crying in anticipation of it. I wisely opted to leave that for another day. Ditto the rock wall which had 10 planks that each required four wood screws.

It bears repeating that the manual for the structure clocks in at north of 40 pages. By the time Brother G left at 3 p.m., I think we were on step 14. It may not sound like a heck of a lot was accomplished, but that’s untrue. It isn’t a complicated project on the whole, but it is a tedious one with a lot of little parts that have to be mixed and matched in just the correct order to ensure the structure doesn’t collapse while a bunch of kiddos are jumping on top of it.

Once we had the frame up and relatively stable on the deck, Brother G and I carried it to the yard and set it down where My Fair Lady and I reasoned would be the safest place.

MFL: “It doesn’t look level.”

Yours Truly: "Of course it doesn’t. That’s because our house sits near the top of a slight hill so the southwest corner of the yard slopes at an angle more so than the rest of the yard. Duh. Why the heck would it look level there?"

But the entire back half of the yard, frankly, slopes down at an angle so we weren’t going to be much better off anywhere else. So we did what any normal person would do under these circumstances: We stood around and speculated on ways to level the thing.

“Can we elevate it with shims?”

“How about we dig a hole and put it in there?”

“Should we start over? It’s still leaning.”

I love armchair quarterbacking. LOVE. IT.

Around that time, Brother G had to make like a banana and split, thus leaving My Fair Lady and I to race the sun by ourselves. During Max’s nap, we sifted through the dozens of boards to find the floor for the fort as well as the parts for the rock wall. Apparently kiddie forts come with small rock walls these days. Again, I had a stick. Max will grow up with a rock wall and touch screen technology.

Damn you, Star Trek!!! Why couldn’t your tech have been available when I was a young ‘un?!?!

Around the time Max woke up, we hit the instructions for building and attaching the ladder. We laid it out, drilled the holes properly, and hooked it onto the structure with nary a hitch. But My Fair Lady made the excellent call to swap the location of the ladder and the slide. In the manual, the slide was on the left and the ladder on the right. She correctly pointed out that these could be flipped without any problem, and then Max would be able to use the slide without ending up in the fire pit.

This is what’s known as a good thing.

Once the slide was set up and Max was able to climb the stairs and slide back down again, all while shouting “weeeee” mind you, we looked at the ebbing sunlight and called it a day.

The next day was effectively shot due to a request for our presence at another kid’s birthday party. Lots of food and cake were consumed, but there’s no need for further details. Why? Because this picture pretty much sums it up:

The following Saturday, my dad came over bright and early. We were determined to finish this beast by the end of the day. He brought tools with him as well so we were set. Max, My Fair Lady, and Yours Truly set out to put that sucker together. Since I’d skipped a few steps (such as the rock wall boards) we opted to look at those once we’d figured out how to level the beast.

YT: Dad, what do you think?

Dad: Well, how ‘bout we use some of that slate over there and some of those brinks and level it out that way?

YT: /facepalm

One of the things none of us had tried up to that point was sitting right there – rows of thick slate that we pulled out of our firepit. So we lugged several of those over to the base, lined them up, and voila! The fort was mostly level. Then it was on to work. But first I brought dad up to speed on what we’d accomplished thus far. He did, however, have a few questions.

Dad: So these wood screws are the real killer?

YT: Yup.

Dad: How’d you get ‘em in?

YT: Hand screwed them in with this wrench.

Dad: There’s gotta be an easier way. We’ll get to that.

Then we set out putting things up. Actually, we started pulling beams and planks and such out and getting things lined up. Dad’s drill wasn’t strong enough so he took off for a bit to go pick up a new one along with a hex head tool. While he was gone, My Fair Lady and I collected wood like good little gatherers and figured out what piece went where and what the next few steps would be.

Once Dad showed back up he pulled out the new drill, slapped in a battery, and picked up one of the wood screws. He fiddled with his drill for a second then lined it up against the wood. ZZZZZZZZZ! The screw went in all the way on the first try.

YT: What the hell did you do?

Dad: Cranked up the torque on the drill.

YT: How did you do that?

Dad: See these numbers on the drill? Just shift the arrow until it matches the torque you want.

I immediately picked up my drill and saw the arrow pointing at 1. I flew into a Hulk rage, stomping my feet in impotent fury. I’ve had this drill for three years and performed dozens of home repair/construction projects. Never once did it occur to me that torque was a factor. I naively believed that the drill simply drilled screws into objects and that it would just work. Any encountered problems would be on the part of the object being screwed (snicker). Imagine my shock that I could have saved myself a hell of a lot of time previously by twisting a dial on the drill I’ve owned FOR THREE FREAKING YEARS!!! The arrow was staring at me THE WHOLE TIME!!!

I didn’t just blow a fuse. I took out the entire grid. It was so complete that Nakatomi Tower went down again.

After I recovered and could see again, it was time to get back to work. After our discovery, slapping the boards on the rock wall and the flooring on the base of the fort took, like, 20 minutes total.


Sorry. Better now. Once the flooring was done, we started prep work for the swing beam, better known as “that heavy sumbitch in the corner.” We dragged that out along with the legs and the assorted parts. But then, good news hit—lunchtime! We set our tools down, slapped Max in the car seat, and headed out. By this point, it was down to the three men-folk as My Fair Lady had to abscond to a wedding luncheon for Diva. She dined at The Mansion. We ate at Snuffers.

For the record, we won.

After setting Max up, we placed our order and talked while watching college football on the fore and aft TVs. Max flirted with all the waitresses (I swear this kid is going to be a player when he grows up) and we waited for our food. When it finally arrived, the three of us dug in. Dad was surprised that Max was munching away on his hot dog (which is a heck of a lot of food for a regular person, by the way) and being as content as can be. Max never wanted to get down and run around, nor did he squeal too loudly or anything of the sort. He was there to hang out and eat a hot dog with his peeps.

That’s my boy.

Once we finished lunch, we headed over to Home Depot to swap out Dad’s new drill. In short, it wouldn’t close around the head of any drill bit. Weird, I know. The torque wheel twisted just fine but the interior locking mechanism refused to budge. While Dad consulted with a guy who knew a guy, I showed Max a forklift that was in the process of moving numerous palettes around. I love the light in my son’s eyes when he watches how things work. It doesn’t matter if it’s large or small things—it thrills me that he wants to know how the world works.

The guy who knew a guy ultimately concluded that yup, the drill wasn’t working. He pulled out a second one, slapped in the freshly charged batteries from dad’s original drill, then tried the locking mechanism which worked exactly as it should. We buttoned up and headed out. On the way out the door, I saw a second guy who knew a guy examine the original drill for a moment before proceeding to repeatedly slam it on the counter. BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM! Keep after it fella, that’ll make it work.

On the way home (and this is a five minute drive, by the way) Max cratered in the back. He was snoring by the time we pulled up, so I carried him inside and laid him in his crib. It’s tough work for a little man and he needed his sleep. Back to work for the menfolk!

Our next assignment was properly laying out the swing beam legs for assembly. Again, this is where torque came in handy because there were no pre-drilled holes and a lot of large hex screws that needed to go into the legs. These were thick beams, too, only slightly more so than “that heavy sumbitch in the corner.” We knocked in the holes, got everything drilled, and properly aligned the beams. Right around the time this assembly was complete, My Fair Lady returned to bear witness to our handiwork.

We set it aside for a moment before tackling the mounting on the fort itself. At that point, it was simply a matter of putting the right screws in the correct place then setting the primary beam on the fort. Once that was hook to the fort, we maneuvered the legs into position, attached them, and had a standing fort that only required a few more bells and whistles. In short, the hard part was done. To wrap things up, I quickly threw together the top portion of the fort. Once that was done (little more than a board here and there) we installed the protective canopy and called it a day.

Max came out around this point, and appraised the situation. “Wow! What’s this?” That’s his favorite line when it comes to expressing shock and amazement. He says it at the funniest times too, but more often than not it’s reserved for moments that truly grab his attention. Hearing him say that always puts a smile on my face, and that afternoon it was ear-to-ear, baby.

It was the best day I’ve had in a long time. We’re talking years. My Fair Lady and I have been through a hell of a ringer the past few years and every time it seems like we have a chance to get ahead, we’re beaten down despite our best efforts. The stress surrounding our lives since 2008 alone has been enough to give me white hairs (oh yes, they have come) but days like this make it all go away. My dad and I have a pretty strong bond despite such disparate interests in life. That’s normal to me. But it felt great to have him and Brother G help put together the fort for my son. Three generations joined together to build a play structure for the newest member of the family, and such an event is one I’ll cherish to the end of my days.

I hope when I’ve traded places with my father, that I get to help do something similar for my grandson/daughter. Thank you to my dad and brother for helping out on this. I means the world to me and will someday to little Max. In the meantime, he’s wanting to go back out and ride the slide again.

Gaming Thoughts

I freely confess to being a 30-something gamer. I sit up late at night on the weekends (not as much during the week anymore) and play video games. I love it, I write about them at Gaming, and I would have a hard time in my life without them as an outlet for fun. But as with anything, gaming can be taken to the extreme.

The videos I recently found are a collective speed run of the PS3 game Demons Souls. The run clocks in at 54 minutes which is, frankly, insane. In the game, the player literally sprints past every enemy they can to reach a far off goal, die, and respawn back at the start. From there, they turn right and head off in a different direction to do the exact same thing. It culminates with them taking out a boss, moving on to the next level, and repeating.

Why in the hell I would watch 54 minutes of that escapes me, but, based on the comments at the site, there are people out there who get a kick from stuff like this. They are free to know themselves out. I’d heard good things about the game, but after watching the speedrun through the first level my interest dropped to zero.

I’m done with the “flip the switch” mentality which afflicted every game from the mid-90s through the early 2000’s. I’m not saying the medium has evolved to the next level, at least not entirely. Heck, I just completed “Dead Space” which can be summed up in a single word: fetch. How is that different than going to Place X to flip Switch Y?

Currently, I’m plowing through a second (technically fourth or fifth) run of “Dead Rising 2” because it’s just too much fun. Once you’ve increased your level to the point where you’re on an even playing field with the bad guys, then the fun factor skyrockets. It’s unfortunate that said playing field is only marginally level once you hit the mid to high 20s (out of a possible 50 experience levels), but no one ever said the learning curve wasn’t steep.

The catch is I’d never try a speedrun of this, let alone film it, let alone film it then post it to the internet as a means by which I can be judged as awesome. In a nice little twist, I’m writing this and posting it on an internet blog which no one reads because I only update it once every blue halfmoon.

Speaking of Dead Rising 2, I can’t recommend it enough. Fans of horror and zombie horror games in particular will get a huge gas out of it, despite the ridiculously steep learning curve. For example, a critical dodge move (which can and will save your life more than once) isn’t unlocked until players hit level 18. You can read my GT review here.

I will continue though by saying its way more fun the higher your level. Your character Chuck is stronger, more agile, quicker, can carry more stuff, and is capable of taking more damage from the zillions of zombies and psychopaths. But being able to rescue every survivor and kill every psycho while ensuring your little daughters’ safety feels… great. It feels awesome to be able to play savior in a zombie apocalypse without the silly photography mechanics from the first game. Even though the story remains idiotic (this is Capcom we’re talking about), it is 19 different kinds of fun. Duct taping a sledgehammer to a fire ax results in a ton of zombie killing fury.

While this is sucking up my nights, Just Cause 2 just sits there staring at me. I have so many settlements left to free from a dictator I already killed. Wait. Why should I play this any more? Because the game can be summed up by this phrase: I bet I can base jump off that.

Usually this equates to me high-jacking a car, driving into town, blowing stuff up, being pursued by military police until a helicopter shows up which I then high-jack and use to get to the top of a building that I proceed to base jump off of. In short, this is also one of my games of the year for the sheer amount of fun.

If you haven’t played either game, get thee hence to the store and pick them up. Hours upon hours of fun await.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


NOTE: The following was written about a month ago, so set your clocks back and it'll be accurate timing wise.

Max has been picking up a number of associations lately which impresses the hell out of me. I don’t recall what age my parents said I spoke this clearly, but I’m certain that he’s more adept at it than I was. As we left the other morning for my parents’ house, he watched me lock the front door and said, “Keys… lock.” We walked out to the car and heard an airplane flying over. He looked up and said, “plane… look.” He also pointed to the street and said, “Mommy… work.”

Most of his friends aren’t this advanced, and I’m certain it’s because we don’t raise him via television. We play with him, we talk to him, compliment him when he gets things correct, and continuously interact with him. I’m not saying the other parents don’t do the same, but my observations lead me to believe that we do it more than they do.

In short, he’s a gem but we worked hard to mold him into one. Let it never be said that parenting was easy because it most certainly is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.


We’re gearing up this weekend to put a play structure together for Max. The story on how this goes will constitute its own post as some point in the near future depending on how successful we are. Thus far, we received it two weeks ago, it’s been sitting on a palette in our garage since then, and we haven’t had time for one reason or another to get to it until now. Add to that our actions this past weekend to shrink our fire pit and this could prove interesting.

As our budget is severely constrained at the moment, this will be the last large scale project for 2010. That’s not to say there won’t be more starting next year, but once this is completed we’re out for the remainder. Outside of the normal holidays, the next big event is Diva’s wedding in December. Following that is staying here for Christmas this year—something we’re immensely looking forward to. After the nightmare that was Christmas 2009, anything would be an improvement.

But the thought of waking up in our own house on Christmas morning and watching Max open his presents makes me feel all warm and gooey inside. I’m going to hold onto that feeling this weekend as I’m hammering and nailing the crap out of his play structure, and continue to tell myself that it’s all part of being a parent.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Wish We Had 22 Just Like Him

Every Thursday, Max goes to our church for school. It’s less “school as education” and more “school as Mom gets the kid out of the house for six hours once a week,” but he genuinely enjoys it. Apparently, the two teachers love having him there as was made crystal clear in our first parent-teacher conference (call). I was going to be at work during the call, but My Fair Lady wanted my help in developing a list of queries regarding his performance.
Me: “Do you really think all that is necessary? Can’t you just ask how he’s doing and let her talk?”

MFL: “No! We have to go over his specific performance indicators to ensure he’s appropriately tracking for his age.”


Me: “What the hell does that even mean? Is he a car? Does this mean if he gets unruly we can trade him in for a newer model before he hits 13?”

*ignoring me

MFL: “Things like, is he passive? How does he respond if the other kids take his toys away from him? How well does he eat?”
So we came up with a list that included the above along with a few other questions. To be fair, I managed to get through it with a straight face. But referring to children in tones similar to Best Buy employees hocking flatscreens unnerves me. I want to make sure that Max is having fun and not stabbing the other kids with sharp objects. I’m less anxious to ensure he’s tracking along a pre-defined matrix for societal norms.

I’m in marketing. I deal with the esoteric enough at work. I don’t need any more of it in my home life if I can help it.

So My Fair Lady gets on the conference call and the tone was set right from the start by the teacher.
Teacher: “I don’t even know why we’re having this call. Max is perfect. I wish we had 22 just like him.”
Our son, for the record. Not yours.

The teacher explained that he’s very well behaved, he listens, minds them both, talks a lot but not too much, and plays well with others. At which point, she switched tracks and went on a lengthy screed about what the other kids do that piss her off.
“Max is the only one who sits there at the table and eats his lunch. The. Only. One. All the rest take their food and walk around. They’re making a mess of the new carpet! It’s a nightmare trying to corral everyone. And Max just sits there eating. He watches everyone walk around but doesn’t try to get down with the rest of them. And naptime? Oh my God! The others run around and we have to coax them into laying down. Max? We say nap time and he goes and lies down on his mat, grabs his blankie, and is all ready to go.”
Game. Set. Match. My Fair Lady and Yours Truly are officially better parents than 44 other people. I may not be a raging success in a whole host of areas, but in the one instance that directly affects the future I’ve scored perfect marks. Booyah.

The teacher then went on another tangent, the gist of which was that it all comes down to the parents and why don’t they take responsibility for this or that and how lax discipline at home results in a nightmare for teachers at school.

This is true. It drives us crazy when parents allow their kids to run wild at restaurants, or sit in the middle of the floor while the parents blissfully drink wine and talk as though they’re back in college with their buddies. If that’s how you’re going to treat your kids, then you’re better off getting a dog.

Has it been a beating getting to this point? Absolutely. There were days when neither of us knew if we’d get through it. Max is still in that “Terrible Two” phase where he’ll throw tantrums if he doesn’t get his way. But you want to know what’s nice? We’ve managed to train him enough so that is never seen out in public.

If he doesn’t get his way in a store, then that’s too bad. He accepts it and moves on. He’ll go nuts in the house when it’s just the three of us, but that’s fine. He knows we love him and that he can absolutely push his boundaries as much as he wants because regardless of whether or not we break out the Taser and shock collar, we’ll merrily read him three books every night before he goes to bed.

We love him dearly, but there are limits. We’re flexible on things and have reached a nice compromise with him. For example, instead of simply telling him that every drawer in the kitchen is off limits, we tell him that all but two drawers are not “Max Drawers.”

Those other drawers are filled with tuperware which he loves getting into a throwing all over the floor. It’s a pain to clean up, but I’d rather him do that than reach into the knife drawer and start throwing those. Apparently the cumulative effect is a dream child at school.

It’s so nice to have a great report. Once he gets to high school, I’m going to dig up this old post and compare it against his current status. We’ll see if the two mesh, or if Yours Truly is going to want a do-over.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Now Playing: Red Dead Redemption

I get a lot of flack on Gaming Trend because I don’t bow before the alter of Rockstar. Here’s why—I believe they create great worlds that are fluid and alive, but absolutely do the bare minimum of quality assurance. I believe they know how to tell a basic story but have no talent for heightening dramatic tension. I believe they create unique characters and hire the perfect voice actors for them, but then let them ramble on long past the point of no return.

Yet their games routinely score in the mid to high 90’s or higher. I find myself baffled by the reviews because I play the same games as everyone else but clearly don’t believe that a game should automatically start at 90 just because it is an open world where you can go anywhere and do anything. I’m literally left feeling like the last sane man on the planet screaming at the birds over head because no one else will listen.

So here I am, screaming at the vastness of the Internet via my blog in a sort of narcissistic rage. So let’s get on with it,

Red Dead Redemption is an open world game set in the Wild West. Rockstar does score major points right off the bat by setting it in the early 1900s. The Model T has been invented, telegraph lines are everywhere, and civilization is encroaching on what’s left of the untamed frontier. John Marsten, a former outlaw, is forced by the U.S. government (the precursor to the FBI) to hunt down and eliminate the surviving members of his former gang. An unspoken question that hangs over everything is this: Will Marsten be allowed to roam free after all is said and done?

It’s a great setup, but one that immediately goes south. The villains are seldom seen, despite being talked about almost non-stop, and as such their threat is diminished right from the start. Even the head bad guy, Bill, barely registers when he finally shows up. The game instead keeps the focus on Marsten and his interactions with everyone across the plains. So right off the bat, the only driving force is the need for Marsten to expound at great length on virtually everything. And no, you can’t skip the conversations that happen while en route to a goal.

I’m from the school of thought of show don’t tell. Call it the film geek side of me, but that’s what happens in the best of films. They make do with a limited amount of exposition then show you the rest. The best video games deal with a limited amount of exposition then let you experience the rest. They don’t rattle on and on endlessly before giving you a short gun fight or a wagon race.

I referred on the GT forums to this game as a self-indulgent bullshit fest because that’s exactly what it is—a game so chockablock with words that you could choke Shakespeare on the script. I appreciate good writing, and there are several lines that soar, but writing that doesn’t know when to shut the hell up and get out of the way of the action is wasted effort.

Now, that being said, I genuinely like the world Rockstar created. I’m a huge fan of Westerns, and to say they nailed the exact look and feel of the Old West is doing a disservice. They managed to get the accuracy down to the dirt, the tumbleweeds, and the types of trees. Exploring this vast, untamed land is so much fun its ridiculous. You have a massive world to explore, and while there isn’t a whole lot going on out on the prairie, you can still find things to do. Collect plants, hunt down escaped bounties, and more. It’s all right at your fingertips and it is genuinely wonderful.

But then you want to move the plot forward, or encounter subplots, and another Rockstar-ism kicks in—the fact that everyone in the world around you is absolutely insane. I’ve yet to play a Rockstar game where there was a sane, or at least not deeply flawed, tertiary character whom you interact with. For example, one of the first subplots involves people going missing in the hills. When you finally track down the villain responsible, the guy turns out to be a cannibal.

Really? That’s the best you got, Rockstar? It couldn’t be a group of rogue Comanche or Confederates forcibly recruiting for Civil War 2? It has to be a damn cannibal? Or how about the guy who wants flowers for his wife? You know, the skeleton in the chair?

And so on.

You see what I mean? When you can do things all by yourself, the game is great. But the second you do a story or side mission-related adventure, the game goes to hell due to the sheer stupidity of what you’re experiencing. It’s a long game if you do absolutely everything (and as of this writing I’m at 98.5% complete and am going for the 100% completion achievement for no reason other than I made it this far so why not hit it big?) but the story isn’t worth the effort. Playing in the game world IS worth your effort though, so I found myself in a bit of a pickle.

I lambaste the game because so much is worthy of scorn, but the world itself is so brilliantly executed that there is a ton of fun to be had despite the flaws, bugs, glitches, and general nitpicks. I’m all in favor of chasing down wild animals, but do I need a cougar leaping out of nowhere to kill me? Nope. How about discovering buried treasure only to not be able to open the chest because I haven’t found the map in the previous chest leading me to the one I was standing over?

And so on.

Unless Rockstar makes another Western, I’m done with them. I swore off them with GTAIV, but then they hit me in the sweet spot with a Western. Never again. Until the next Western.

But I’m still puzzled by the accolades. Their games are worth noting in the mid to low 80s at best. I guess since I’m not a fan of KoolAid, I’ll remain in the dark.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Now Playing: From Paris With Love

There is absolutely no reason in the world why you won’t fall head over heels in love with the ludicrous nature of “From Paris With Love.” It’s loud, obnoxious, ridiculous, offensive, sexist, and it wears all that as a badge of honor. Hell, it wears all that as a bandoleer strung across the chest of a man who’ll beat you to death before grabbing a burger and fries. I laughed start to finish at what can only be described as sheer lunacy.

The film kicks off with a clerk at the U.S. embassy in Paris (Jonathan Rhys-Myers doing a genuinely horrible American accent) performing routine surveillance duties for his boss and for some unknown superior on the phone. He lives happily with his drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend in a nifty little apartment, and all is well. Yet he yearns for a more action-packed lifestyle. As though living in Paris with a brunette as hot as his girlfriend isn’t enough.

Such are the silly travails of action stars.

His world is flipped upside down when he’s called in the middle of the night and told to pick up his new partner, Charlie Waxler, at the airport. Wax, as he’s called, has been detained by customs which presents a problem for the Powers That Be. We then meet Wax, played with full-throttle gusto by John Travolta. Channeling his over-the-top terrorist from Face/Off, Travolta hurls expletives almost as fast as he shoots bad guys. But who are the villains, you ask? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film that asks you to accept on blind faith that everyone the lead actor shoots/blows up/otherwise annihilates is a de facto enemy of the state. Initially, he’s in Paris for an acceptable reason, but that reason quickly begins to change in roughly five minute intervals. By the mid-point, I couldn’t care less what the villains did to deserve Wax’s wrath. I gave myself over to the gleeful energy of the bloodbath because of the wanton abandon. There are only two sides in “From Paris With Love,” Wax’s side and everyone else.

The film rests on the rapport between Rhys-Myers and Travolta and to their credit they both shine. Travolta has performed this role for over a decade so he’s got it down to a science. He takes crazy to a whole different level here, though, and what kept me laughing is how fast Wax adapts to every environment. I laughed the hardest at his response to the man who offers him tea, but equally funny is Rhys-Meyers spending 30 minutes holding a vase filled with cocaine. The two leads have completely unique energies as performers and they genuinely connect here.

This film also manages a neat trick though with the twist you know is coming right from the start. Every film like this has one, but the way they introduce it is a shocker. It would have been nice to have a stronger conclusion, but I’ll run with the coda the film makers gave us. It doesn’t wrap everything up in a tidy bow, but that’s sort of the point. Just kick back and hang on for a wild, hilarious, blood-soaked and highly profane ride.

“From Paris With Love” is 90 minutes of gleeful stupidity and I highly recommend it.

Pre-Pre School

A number of weeks ago, My Fair Lady and I joined a church by the house. It was less about a more convenient avenue by which to praise God™ than it was being granted access to the Mother’s Day Out program. While My Fair Lady remains at the house, she needed at least one day a week where she could get things done without having to also watch him.

Day 2 was today. Today was also the first full day which included the kids utilizing their nap mats. So how did things go?

Apparently they went great. Max was all ready to go when they left the house, complete with putting his bag on his shoulder and marching out to the car. Then he freaked out when they walked into the church, and was very upset about being left behind. Which, of course, kicked off My Fair Lady’s waterworks once she’d left the building. So she called back to find out how he was.

Three minutes later he was off and playing with the other kids, the toys, and whatever else he could find. Typical.

What cracked My Fair Lady up was when she showed up after lunch to pick him up. The way their schedule works is the morning is devoted to play time, arts, outside, etc. Then they have lunch, followed by nap time. The parents usually pick them up after the nap so the kids are raring to go. But not Max.

Oh no. Not him.

The little man was still sound asleep when My Fair Lady came a callin’. All the other kids had already been picked up or were running around in the room laughing and having a great time. But in the corner lay Max, snoring a thousand z’s. What can I say? The little man loves his sleep.

Fortunately for us, he only slept for about an hour before she had to wake him up. He came to pretty quickly, but was awake throughout the rest of the afternoon. Based on his activity for the day, I know the exact time he’s going to sleep which means we’ll have more of our night than normal. Which is both sad and awesome. It’s sad because I don’t get to spend as much time with him once I get home from work, but awesome in that I don’t have to spend as much time with him once I get home from work.

When he reads this in the future, he’s going to come slap me for saying as much. But here’s the kicker—even extremely involved dads like Yours Truly sometimes don’t want to mess with being a parent after a long day at the office. It’s great on the weekend, but towards the end of the week I just want to eat and go to sleep.

Yes, I’m getting old. I expect to shoo the other kids off my lawn any day now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reversal of Roles

Yes it's been forever since I blogged and believe it or not I'm actually crafting a post that explains it. But in the meantime, here's a Max story:

Max’s bedtime window is between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. each night. We try to hew as closely as possible to this, with allowances for periodic deviations. One such happened the other night, but the reason for it was because Max put us to sleep in his room before going into ours and watching football.

My Fair Lady was sitting in the far corner, comfortably ensconced in Max’ beanbag chair. I sat next to the door which let Max walk up my chest and face to get to the lightswitch. We were talking back and forth while Max played between us. Then a light must have gone off in his head because he did the following:

1) Climbed up my chest/face and turned off the light.
2) Closed the door from the outside thereby leaving us on the floor in the dark.
3) Giggled as he ran off down the hall.

I opened the door and peaked my head out. When I didn’t see him, I crawled all the way out of the room. He was sitting on the bench in front of our bed watching the football game and casually swinging his feet to and fro. He spotted me, laughed out loud, hopped down, and ran at me.

He grabbed me by the throat, pushed me back into the room, and put me back up against the wall. He climbed my chest/face, turned on the light, ran over to mommy, and gave her a big kiss. Then he ran back to me, climbed my chest/face again, turned off the light, shut the door, etc. He was laughing hysterically the whole time he performed this routine.

I find it increasingly difficult to put an end to his fun. He’s almost two, and just seeing such blissful joy on his face as he plays with us is a reminder of why I got into this business to begin with. I hope he’s still a great kid when he’s a teenager and every decision we make is ipso facto repression. But the memories he’s creating for us right here right now are worth all the pain that (may) come our way. He’s a great, sweet child who genuinely enjoys just living. It’s hard to argue with that level of enthusiasm.

Oh, and he’s started reading to his bear. For the record, he has more than a few stuffed animals, but the one he’s bonded with is the oldest among the lot. It’s one from My Fair Lady’s childhood, and he never gave it much attention until recently. We always read to him before bed time, and about a week ago he sat on my lap and refused to listen to any more Dr. Seuss. I closed the book, then he pointed at the bear. I picked it up and sat it right next to him on my lap. Max nuzzled in to both of us and I started again.

We made it all the way through our nightly triple header. One little Max head and one little Bear head were intently focused on the books in question. When I put the little man down, I sat the bear in the crib next to him. I checked in on Max about an hour later and found him sound asleep on the bear’s legs.

It’s memories like these that make everything worth it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


It's official: We have a water baby.

I know I haven't blogged in forever, and I could rehash the employment drama engulfing my family for the last several months but I'm not going to. Suffice to say My Fair Lady and I both are unemployed, hopefully that will change this week or next (or the next, etc.) and we're both looking for work.

But in the afternoons, we've started taking Max to the pool. And lo, the joy unleashed upon yon baby's face revealed great depths of sheer bliss. Verily.

The area where we live has a giant rec center with an outdoor pool that closely resembles a water park. There are massive slides, a big kiddie area with water spouts everywhere, and an adult pool that's only about 3.5 feet deep. Also, the place is never packed except possibly on the weekends. In short, it's perfect.

Max has discovered Heaven.

He gets excited at the house when we ask him if he wants to go to the pool. From the minute we get there, he just stares at the water, chomping at the bit. We initially take him to the kiddie area and when he gets there, he immediately sits down in the water. He gets wet, splashes a bit, then heads for the water spouts. He thinks it's hilarious when they blast him in the face. He runs and runs and runs around splashing in the water, all the while wearing an ear-to-ear grin.

But today he did something new in the adult pool.

When you first get in, to your left are two smaller areas where people can sit on a ledge next to some other spouts. Max enjoys walking around these edges since the water only comes up to his mid-chest there. We've been trying the last few times to get him to jump to us, but he hasn't. Until today. And after he did it once, it was on.

My Fair Lady or I would float in front of him and say, "Come on. Jump to me!" He'd then walk off the ledge and splash in our arms as we caught him. Then he wanted to splash into the water by himself. Fortunately, there are life jackets aplenty there and he's firmly secured into one. Watching him close his eyes and step off into the water was hilarious, as was his reaction later when he yanked the sunglasses off my face and threw them to the bottom. Oh, was that a fun game.

Max has a squealing cackle when he gets infinitely excited, and he was cackling at full volume with this game. He thought it was the greatest thing ever to pull my glasses off, drop them to the bottom, watch me retrieve them, and then we'd start over. This went on and on, even after I added a twist. He'd drop my glasses, and I'd drop him and let him bounce in the water while I got the glasses back. He'd bob, splash, and get dunked in the split second I was under. I'd pick him up, he's be smiling ear to ear again as water ran down his face.

In short, it was a great, great time. We're doing this every afternoon too, which makes putting him to sleep that much easier. He usually craters at night anyway, but this ensures it. Plus, it gets us out of the house, into the sun, and exercising while staying cool. It's a win-win for America.

Now if only the job I'm waiting for will be mine....

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tales of the Max

The following is no particular order since I've been AWOL forever. I keep saying I'll try and blog more frequently, yet I never do. Maybe someday...

Time will show how negligent I was in my role as herald for my children, especially in their early years. But by way of penance, I hereby present a list of things Max has done in the past few months. He’s not talking yet, nor is he running despite his best efforts. This list is hardly comprehensive. It is, however, a matter of record now that he can eventually look back on and laugh at.

Or sue me in court for, depending on the path his life eventually takes.

Feeding Max is a bit of a chore. He’s 16-months-old (at the time of this posting) which means getting him to sit still and focus on eating is more of an effort than one might think. He’s also become a bit of a foodie, due in no small part to My Fair Lady’s relentless efforts to expose him to as much variety as possible. He pops green beans and peas like they were candy, knocks back meatloaf with nary a complaint, and devours pork loin, gourmet pizza, and more.

He also has a love for Eggos, all types of fruit, and several ounces of milk each meal. This is probably why we get so frustrated when he doesn’t want to eat. He eats so well so much of the time that when he doesn’t, we immediately think something’s wrong or that he’s just being difficult for the sake of being difficult. It takes some reminding that a) he’s smaller than us and can’t eat as much, and b) sometimes people just don’t feel like eating. So why should he be any different?


Max recently discovered climbing. Shortly thereafter he discovered dancing. Guess what? He likes to climb on top of our coffee table (handmade out of oak by My Fair Lady’s grandfather in the 1920s) and dance. A baby dance is hilarious because it bears an eerie resemblance to Elaine’s dance on “Seinfeld,” best described as “a full body dry heave set to music.” One of his signature moves is to hold on to something then stick his right leg out behind him. He doesn’t do anything else, just sticks that leg out. I keep waiting for him to at least bounce it up and down, but it just stays stuck out.

Naturally, my family decided to continue warping him. We discovered at the July 4th parade that he’s a fan of the Beach Boys, and whenever that hits the rotation at Casa de Skim, sure enough he starts jiving. My mother fired up “The Blues Brothers” soundtrack while she was babysitting him one day, and he never stopped moving. This was followed by me firing up the actual movie and hitting all the musical sequences. He went nuts for James Brown’s number in the church, and it is a showstopper without doubt. The extended cut of the film doesn’t work on the whole (a subject for another post) but the longer musical numbers means more time for baby dancing.

My Fair Lady, a hardcore band geek and music nerd, plays all sorts of tunes for him, then taps the beat on his arm so he can start to understand it. He kind of gets it, but we’re not expecting Mozart given his age. But I did tear up a little knowing I was getting to show “The Blues Brothers” to my son, and can’t wait to show the full thing to him eventually.

When he’s old enough to not shout out, “I hate Illinois Nazi’s!” on the playground that is.


Speaking of which, we’re working on language skills. My Fair Lady was so paranoid about Max’s inability to speak or properly identify items when he was 12 months old, it drove me crazy.

Me: “He’s just discovered he can take his socks off! What more do you want?”
MFL: “I want him to say my name, bitch!”

Funny enough, he has come close with that by saying “Mommom” when he looks at her. His other word thus far is “buh buh” for “bye bye.” He waves when you leave, and Friday he said “buh buh” as I left for work. That high managed to carry me all the way to the office.


“Monsters, Inc” was already a funny movie, but it’s become downright hilarious due to Max. The little girl in it, Boo, is exactly what we’re going through and we can see how the animators had to have drawn on their own experiences as parents. We haven’t led him down the hall with a trail of Cherrios, but that night he did walk down the hall to his bedroom wearing a little plastic fireman’s hat. He fiddled with it the entire length of the hall, and we followed behind him snickering. This was subsequent to an earlier incident when he opted to use a giant stainless steel mixing bowl as a helmet. We called him Private Maxwell and asked him to report for duty. He then tipped over from the weight and cackled.

Good stuff.


Max has started to imitate me and it’s both hilarious and deeply touching. Here are two instances from this weekend alone:

My Fair Lady and I have a tendency to not clean out our refrigerators as frequently as we should. That’s not saying our kitchen is filth-ridden by any means. If anything, our kitchen is pretty damn clean 95% of the time. But the spare fridge we have in the back is where we tend to put things, then forget about them for a while. Such was the case with a plate of lettuce and tomatoes from a cook-out we had a few weeks back.

Sunday morning while My Fair Lady was at church, I decided to get rid of that plate. So I toss the stuff in a bag and set it on the counter. I turn around, and it’s leaked down the counter and onto the floor. No worries. I throw it into another bag, a much thicker one, then use some paper towels on the spill. Dried it right up, then reached for the Fantastic. Max walks up beside me then starts playing with the paper towel holder. I think he’s messing with it just to mess with it so I keep trying to get him to stop. Finally, I threw in the towel (so to speak) and just focused on cleaning up the mess.

He manages to rip off a paper towel, drops the towel on the spot where I’m cleaning, and proceeds to move the towel back and forth exactly like daddy was doing. I felt a little tear forming in one eye.

Later that afternoon, we came inside after an extended period in the yard and I noticed a large spider on the floor. I asked My Fair Lady to bring me my shoe, and after a couple of slams the spider was very dead. I handed my shoe back to her, went into the kitchen to get a paper towel, and began my return journey. While I was en route to the scene of the homicide, Max walked back into the kitchen, picked up my shoe, walked to where the spider’s remains were, then dropped the shoe on the body. He then picked up the shoe, and dropped it on the spider again. Just to finish the job.

I frankly love that he’s emulating me. I get the whole father-son dynamic now. I didn’t at first, beyond the inherent joy males feel when they have a son, but I understand it now. When he’s riding on my shoulders and laughing and squealing with glee, or when he imitates my actions in terms of pest control because he wants to help and be just like me, my heart soars.


He was having difficulty going to sleep tonight, and he'd turned on his mobile. I let him be for a while, then when it sounded like he still wasn't going to sleep, I left the office to go check on him. Outside his room I could hear the mobile going full blast when we normally keep it on the lowest setting. I walk in and the room is pitch black. Fortunately, I can see in the dark. Quite well in fact, thank you for asking.

Max is standing at the edge of his bed as far from his mobile as he can. He looks at me with this expressions of, "I done broke it WTFLOLOMGBBQ!" He was trying to get away from it since he'd been messing with it and cranked the volume to full while successfully turning off the lighting. So for all he knew, this sound system was turning his crib into an kiddie-version of a Van Halen concert and he couldn't turn it down from an 11.

I reset it, then he plopped down and changed expressions again. This one said, "Here we go again." So I picked him up and held him. Immediately he laid his head on my shoulder and snuggled in to get comfortable. I sat down in our rocker, then slid down to turn my chest into as flat a surface as possible. After about five minutes of gentle rocking and rubbing his back, he was snoring.

Who's his daddy?


Parenthood is an absolute beat-down physically and emotionally, but I get now why people go through it. I hope in the end my son (and the new No. 2) will be extremely happy and intelligent people. If we do our jobs correctly as parents, the benefits are significant beyond anything we can imagine. That wasn’t something I understood when we started.

But I get it now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Christmas 2009

Christmas Eve, 2009. My Fair Lady, Max, and I have finished loading up the car. Our plan is to drive that day out to Lubbock, TX, from Dallas and be there in a few hours. Under perfect driving conditions, it normally takes me about six hours and change to drive there, and about five on the way back. If you’re unfamiliar with the terrain, here’s a quickie synopsis:

Lubbock essentially sits on a plateau south of the Texas Panhandle. Once you start heading in that direction, you’re going uphill. The two primary routes to take are I-20 (way the hell south of our house) out into West Texas, then turn north on State Route 84 (I think). This takes you straight into town. The catch along this part is Ranger Hill, which has a steep (around 35%) grade that makes climbing it virtually impossible in bad weather. The other route, the one we opted for, was to take State Highway 380 west then join onto State Highway 114 which, more or less, winds through every small town in that part of the state before depositing you on the furthest end of Lubbock. The benefit is you’re gradually going uphill the whole way so you don’t really notice.

For those of you who may have missed the weather report, a freaking blizzard of unimaginable size and fury happened to be blowing through Lubbock at that point and was headed east. So take a wild guess what happened?

All those of you who said, “Mitch forgot to look at the map on,” go ahead and award yourselves a cookie.

My Fair Lady assured me it was little more than a strong snowstorm and, while we would see snow en route, it shouldn’t be that bad. No worries all around. So we loaded up in the car and took off.

The drive itself wasn’t too bad for a while. Once we were on 380, we cruised right into Bridgeport which is where I figured we’d encounter the first flurries and I was right on the money. As the flurries steadily increased, we began noticing the cars heading east were increasingly covered with more and more and more snow. Being the ignorant yokels we were that day, we figured it wasn’t that big a deal. Heck, My Fair Lady was excited at the prospect of snow.

About an hour later, it started dawning on us that we may have made a mistake. The roads were starting to become treacherous, the snow was thickening, and the cars in front of us began slowing down. I honestly don’t recall the exact moment we realized how hard we were screwed, but I think it was the first of several realizations that I physically could not see the road.

It bears mentioning that I have 20/15 vision, which is remarkable considering several family members wear glasses. I will too, eventually, but the further out that day is the happier I am. We started to slow down to a crawl as the snow grew thicker and thicker. It was sticking to the ground and after another hour of this, it was sticking to the road. Combine that with sleet and you can guess how screwed up the roads had become. We looked at one another and mentally we both regretted leaving the house.

A little while later, I saw a dark shape straddling the middle of the road. We were down to about 20 miles per hour at this point, hazard lights flashing, and silent prayers were being mouthed. As we drew closer, we saw it was a truck that managed to barely steer out of the way before we passed him. Further down the road, we were forced to come to a stop behind a convoy of equally stopped vehicles.

Anyone who has ever driven through white-out conditions in a blizzard knows you have to keep going. It sucks the life right out of you, but the chances of getting through it are better if you keep moving. It proved to be fortuitous that we stopped for a moment, though, because the wipers were freezing up. I leaped out of the car, and immediately was sliced and diced by sleet hurled at me by 60 mph winds. In 20-degree weather. What fun.

I pried the ice off the wipers, then saw some trucks driving past us. I got back in the car, tested the wipers, then followed the new convoy past the old convoy. We inched forward little by little for the better part of four more hours.

You read that right.

In the meantime, it bears mentioning the conditions on the road. We’d long since passed the point where we were driving on a sheet of ice covered by inches of snow. Several cars were stopped on the side of the road, or were in ditches. One more thing to know about west Texas is how much of it is farmland. The majority of west Texas is as flat as a board so we’d drive past acres of open land that was covered in sheets of snow. Throw in high winds and the road, and everything else in front of us, would sometimes just vanish. We’d see far enough in front of us to know we weren’t going to hit anyone, then the wind would blow and POOF! Road, vehicles, everything in front of us was gone. Just… gone.

Eventually we made it to the small town of Seymour and pulled over into a gas station. By this time, we were pale, physically drained, and starving. The Enclave still had half a tank of gas, which was awesome, but we figured it would be best to have a full one. The snow had begun to taper off by this point, so the three of us ran inside and huddled for a little bit. Minute by minute the snow faded, until it stopped altogether.

When we looked east, all we could see were the blackest clouds covering the horizon. Had we actually looked at the online weather map, there is exactly zero chance we would be in that spot. We went ahead and loaded up on snacks and gasoline, then My Fair Lady took the wheel giving me a rest. She pulled out and we took off, slowly but surely.

For a bulk of the drive, we were on ice and snow but at some point, and I honestly couldn’t tell you where we were, the roads cleared up. No ice or snow anywhere on the roads, but plenty on the sides. My Fair Lady floored it and we probably picked up almost two hours worth of time during this stretch. It felt great to be moving again, because by this point we weren’t racing the weather.

We were racing the sun.

The second the sun dips below the horizon in west Texas, the temperature plummets. Being as bone dry as it is, we knew that whatever was on the ground was going to refreeze instantly and that would stretch this nightmare commute even longer. A few towns away from Lubbock, we ran into some serious ice on the roads and were forced to slow down again. Fortunately, My Fair Lady has experience driving in this sort of weather (hilariously ironic when you consider the N00b, i.e. Yours Truly, drove through the blizzard), so the rest of the trip went smoothly. Slow, but smooth.

To his eternal credit, Max was a dream the entire trip considering he was strapped into his car seat for nine hours. As we rounded the last bend and pulled off onto the road leading to the in-laws’ house, he started to lose it. He fussed for about 10 minutes and then we pulled in and were able to get out of that damn car. Seriously, I know of no child who would have been happy the entirety of that trip.

We went in and were greeted warmly. All we wanted to do was sleep because we were beyond exhausted. Everyone ate, we put Max to sleep, we visited for a while, then My Fair Lady and I cratered around 10:30 p.m. All was well.

Until 1:30 a.m. when Max woke up coughing.

We tried to calm him down, but he just kept coughing. We picked him up out of the crib, and brought him to bed with us to try and prop him up. This worked for about 10 minutes. Then he threw up all over us. Then he did it again. Any thought of sleeping was banished instantly. There’s a particular panic button every parent has. It’s behind glass that reads, “Only break in case of emergency.” The second your child starts vomiting, regardless of circumstance, that glass is shattered and the button is pressed.

Helloooooooooooooo adrenaline rush!

My Fair Lady held him while he just sat still with the most forlorn look on his face. I raced into the bathroom, swooped up towels, and ran back to the bed. I wiped him down, stripped the comforter off, and put a towel in front of him just in time for him to hurl all over it. The wiping down continued, and all Max could do was sit there with the most forlorn look on his face as his body expunged everything he had ever eaten in his short life.

Eventually he passed out. We cleaned up as best we could, then both of laid on the bed to keep watch. Bear in mind this is a small freaking bed so with three people on it, “crammed” would be a subtle yet accurate description. Max woke up and threw up again roughly an hour later. He’d cough for a bit, then start hurling, then cough again, then pass out. All we could do was hold him and hope for daybreak. It seriously became one of those times where you literally find yourself praying for the night to be over.

Please God, let the sun come up. Now would be great.

After another hour or so of this, we gave him some water. He promptly threw that up. So I dipped my fingers in the water and let him suck on the moisture. We did this off and on until around 5 a.m. or so when My Fair Lady finally called the overnight nurse’s line to ask what the hell we should do. We’d agreed beforehand that unless we saw blood that we weren’t going to call her in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. We could, and did, manage just fine.

When My Fair Lady finally spoke to the nurse, it turned out we were one of several people to call her describing the exact same symptoms. Apparently, there was a bug going around that turns you inside out for a few hours, then stops. Fabulous.

Eventually, the sun peaked over the horizon. My Fair Lady staggered out to the family room to brief the in-laws. Max and I laid down on the floor on some pillows and literally blacked out. An hour or so later, My Fair Lady peaked in on us and Max and I were sound asleep on a makeshift pallet. It would be cute if any of us were coherent.

She woke us up and we padded out to the living room for Christmas morning. It was so sad watching little Max. He’d be sucking his thumb, holding onto his blanket, walking a few steps then laying down. Didn’t matter where he was. He’d just lay down on the floor and rest for a moment. The two of us were right there with him. You know you’re completely done when you expect to fall over at any given moment and hope you at least hit the floor.

We opened presents and had a generally pleasant morning. My father-in-law was gracious enough to run to the store that morning and pick up some Pedialite, which is essentially Baby Gatorade. The nurse said if he drinks some of it and keeps it down then he’ll be fine. So we gave him a little bit at a time, and he of course screamed when we took it away from him. Considering how thirsty he was, I couldn’t blame him. Were I in his shoes, I’d have stabbed anyone in the face who dared try to take my drink away from me.

We kept watch over Max throughout the day and to his credit, he was very subdued. He obviously felt like hell, but he never cried about it beyond when we’d take his drink away. We obviously didn’t want him throwing it back up so the morning became an exercise in gradually reintroducing liquid to his system. It was difficult but necessary and he managed to pull through it. At some point, I may have taken a nap as well. I honestly don’t remember much from the day other than it eventually was over. I was able to feed Max a bottle of formula and put him down. We thought he should be able to take that since he hadn’t thrown up since that morning.

Around 1:30 a.m. Max threw up again in his crib. Whoopee!!!!

That damn button was pushed again. I immediately picked him up and took him into the bathroom. Plopped him down in the tub, turned on the heating lamp, and stripped him out of his pajamas. He looked up at me and gave me a ghost of a smile. It was both sweet and heartbreaking because all I wanted to do was comfort him and make this bug stop its rampage. I smiled back at him, told him everything would be okay, then got to work.

I wiped him down and wrapped a towel around him to help keep him warm. I looked around for his diaper supplies, then realized they were in the family room. On the other side of the house. I swooped him up in my arms and he was swallowed by the towel. A little baby face poked out of this massive towel and looked at me quizzically. I moved as fast as possible to the family room, and located the supplies. Wishing I had two more arms, and a team of surgeons on standby, I managed to pack his changing supplies into my pockets and on him. He’s such a good helper.

We made it back to the bedroom where I changed his diaper then put him into fresh pajamas. This whole time he just looked at me and occasionally smiled. Even that, I think, was exerting energy he didn’t have but it was one of those lights moments that puncture a never ending darkness. I propped him up in bed with me, and then watched him until he went back to sleep. Which was about five minutes later.

I blacked out at some point. Later, My Fair Lady came to check on us and I snapped awake. I rapidly briefed her on the situation. She then wound up sleeping with us as well, and soon I found myself literally on the edge of the bed in the most cramped position I could imagine. There was literally no way to get remotely comfortable. At all. I’ve been told the bed is a queen, but if that’s so then they must have measured a small-ass Queen. One person can sleep comfortably on it. Two? Not so much. Certainly not two and a half.

Every time Max would cough, I’d snap awake and tilt him forward so he wouldn’t choke. Then he’d go back to sleep and I’d tried to work the cramps out of my back and spleen. Somehow that happened. Not sure how, but the pain was real. So are the flashbacks.
You can imagine how much sleep we got that night.

The next day, we went to get family portraits made, followed by me helping Lone Star clean the ice and snow off the drive way. Because what’s needed after a few days like that was some serious physical labor. I’d never shoveled snow before in my life, and I hope this remains the lone instance. I actually measured a sheet of ice we pried up from under the snow bank, and it was two inches thick. And it was covered by over a foot of snow. All this was just in the driveway. It took us a few hours, but we managed to clear it up and it did feel good to do something productive.

As opposed to doing what I really wanted which was laying on the floor wishing I was back home in my bed sleeping.

The good news was that the extensive snow allowed My Fair Lady to put Max on her old sled, which Lone Star then pulled over the banks. Max didn’t quite know what to make of the snow considering that was his first time to really experience it. Eventually, he’ll dig it but this time he just looked at it, then back at us wondering why we were smiling at him.

Fast forward to Saturday night ‘round 6:30 p.m. That was the moment when My Fair Lady said, “I don’t feel so hot.”

Take a wild guess where this is going.

She heads to the bathroom, and about 30 seconds later we hear her regurgitating with gusto. I was hoping wasn’t next. Those hopes vanished about 10 minutes later when I started feeling a little off. You know when you’re body is literally out of sync and that your immediate future is going to be filled with a lot of pain and bodily fluids? I knew it on the spot, and planned accordingly. By my reckoning, I had another 15 minutes before the freight train hit me so I quickly spoke with the in-laws.

My Fair Lady and I were essentially screwed for the night. Please take care of feeding Max and make sure he eats what little food he can. Ensure that he stays hydrated. Also, if you could please call a plumber that night to take care of the clogged toilet on the guest side of the house, we’d cover half the bill.

Forgot to mention that gem. Three toilets in the house. One in the master, one in the guest area, one by the kitchen. Two of those were guaranteed to be occupied off and on for the next six hours so the sooner all three were functional, regardless of cost, the better. Father-in-law picked up the phone to call the plumber right as my 15 minutes were up. I headed to the master bath where about 30 seconds later the freight train struck.

The best description I’ve come up with in the weeks since the incident is to imagine all of your insides twisted up like when you ring out a wet towel or t-shirt. Then ring out the water on both ends at the same time. I don’t know what this bug was, but it was the most violent, vicious little animal I’ve encountered in years. Everything I’d had for the day was blasted out of me with the force of a fire hose.

I could take it. I knew My Fair Lady could as well. I was amazed that Max was able to as well. I cannot understate the amount of pain this thing inflicted, and to know that he was able to handle it without being a blubbering mess amazed me. Trust me, the desire to have someone step into the bathroom and kill me was very real. After this round of fun, I cleaned up and rejoined the family. My Fair Lady was back at the table and as soon as I sat down, she was up like a shot and back in the bathroom.

This is pretty much how it went for the rest of the evening. By this point, the plumber was there so we had him walking across the roof and in and out of the house as well. Max started crying then because he still felt wrung out, and he could tell that both of his parents were screwed as well and neither of us could feed him or comfort him.

So let’s review:

1) Max is sitting there crying his head off because he wants his parents to comfort him and we can’t.
2) Some unknown plumber is trying to fix a clog.
3) My Fair Lady and I are constantly hurling in the two remaining bathrooms.
4) All of this at the in-laws in Lubbock which was under several feet of snow and ice.
5) Following a day that was spent entirely on the road in a blizzard and icy conditions.
6) Which was followed by a night of Max puking on us as we tried to make sure he lived until the morning guaranteeing that none of us had really slept for close to 72 hours.

Merry Christmas.

It stopped long enough for me to bathe Max and put him down. I may have thrown him into the crib. Doubtful, but that night was sort of a blur. Once he was down, I had to sprint to the bathroom again. I think it all finally stopped around midnight or so, but I can’t say for sure. It was around then. Doesn’t matter. It stopped long enough for me to black out in the room with Max while My Fair Lady cratered in the other guest room.

The following day was fortunately vomit-free. Max’s appetite started to return. He is a trooper if nothing else. I think I had some soup around 3 p.m. and maybe some toast that night. Not entirely sure. I vaguely recall the rest of our trip, and what’s there involves me laying on the couch or the floor babbling incoherently while Max played with his toys.

Originally, I was slated to drive home Sunday morning. Considering the festivities Saturday night, that plan was shot. So I spent another day in Lubbock resting up. Monday morning, I was ready to go. My Fair Lady would follow on Tuesday with Max. All of us pretty much wanted to be home right then, but this was the plan and we were going to make good on it. She gave me the night to sleep in the other guest room while she watched over Max, and I crashed. A bomb or three could have gone off right outside the door and I never would have moved. As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

Max apparently started coughing Sunday night and kept waking up, so My Fair Lady wound up quasi-sleeping with him again. He’d toss, turn, cough, and so forth yet never threw up. So she was exhausted again.

I loaded up the car in the morning, then made like a banana and split. Had the roads been 100% I think I would have broken the sound barrier fleeing the city. Fortunately, there was only one small town that still had ice on the ground. Everything else was fine. I made it back in about five hours flat, which was great. I intended to do laundry and straighten up the house when I got back, yet I wound up pretty much zoning out for a few hours. I think it was later that night before the wheels started actually turning in my head again.

Tuesday afternoon I went to Love Field to pick up the family. Seeing My Fair Lady walking up the way was… interesting. In one hand was more stuff than I figured anyone was capable of carrying. With the other she was pushing Max’s stroller. They both smiled at me with weary eyes that spoke volumes. I could tell they were glad to be home, which My Fair Lady confirmed the second we hugged.

Then we went to baggage claim and the waiting game began.

My Fair Lady was the last one off the plane due to having to carry so much stuff single-handedly so in theory her bags should have already been on the carousel. Such thinking would be incorrect. We waited for close to another hour before the bags finally started showing up, during which time Max passed out and it started snowing outside.

Oh, there were flashbacks aplenty.

We finally picked up the bags, and booked it to the car. Threw the bags in the back, tossed Max into his carseat, and gunned it out of the garage. I got us home as fast as possible considering the weather, but the drive was surprisingly smooth. When we walked in, all three of us pretty much collapsed.

Fingers crossed that Christmas 2010 is a merry one.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Coming Storm

I'm working on the Christmas post but once I blew past three pages I realized it may take a bit longer. Just got to the real exciting part and I'm only getting to the violent part.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why I Wish I Spoke Spanish

I keep getting spam phone calls on my cell that are pre-recorded in Spanish. It would help to speak the language so I know before I hang up whether or not they’re at least trying to warn me of impending doom. Or that I won a cruise.

Basically the same thing in my book.

2009 in a Nutshell

January 5 --> Laid off.

January 7 --> My Fair Lady gets contract job with Fortune 500 firm as their real estate attorney. Promised the job once they were ready to take things permanent.

Mid-February --> I get a part-time gig with a former co-worker with plans to revolutionize the medical industry via new software. Brilliant ideas, determined nature, effectively keeping things small and slow while money is tight, and I’m listened to when I make suggestions regarding things I understand implicitly. I learn first-hand how screwed up the medical industry actually is.

Mid-July --> Money for this firm vanishes and I’m left with insurance for the family but no income. Not the best trade off in the world, but I’ll take it. Begin tail spin into depression.

Mid-August --> We receive word that Fortune 500 is planning to hire attorney at some point in the fall. We get our hopes up as our bank account dries up. The work My Fair Lady was supposed to receive for a while has all but vanished. We assume it’s piling up on her desk at her future office, but uncertainty continues to cloud the air.

Mid-September --> I’ve been actively job hunting for several weeks. We’re continuing to watch our finances dry up and have no idea how we’ll pay our mortgage come October. We begin to have conversations about whether or not to sell the house. Future grows bleaker by the moment.

Mid-September Part 2 --> My Fair Lady’s work begins to flow again. Disaster is averted but just barely. I’ve taken a personal vow to go a full month without eating $.99 Mac & Cheese again.

Mid-September Part 3 --> I submit an application to a recruiter I’ve been submitting applications to for over a year with no results. The position is for a copywriter. I don’t expect to hear anything back but we need to get out of the house since we’ve spent the last two weeks sitting on the floor staring at one another for entertainment. We leave and go walk around an outdoor mall for some air. I get a call from the recruiter saying they want me to come in and interview for a position they have with one of their clients. We’re thrilled, even more so when 20 minutes later I get a second call from another firm that wants me to come interview.

Mid-September Part 4 --> I interview with the recruiter and they have a different position in mind for me than the one I applied for. They want me to have a phoner with their client the following Monday. I agree, we set it up, and I leave. Later that week I have a lengthy interview with Prospective Employer #2 and it goes really well. I’m flying high. The following Monday, I have a great interview with Prospective Employer #1 on the phone and we seemed to click. Fingers are crossed.

Mid-September Part 5 --> Next day I get the phone call in the afternoon that I landed the gig I interviewed for on the phone. It’s a long-term contract so who knows how long it’ll run. But I have it for a really solid salary, and I get to be a writer for a big name real estate/financial firm. Booyah.

September/October --> I start at firm, immediately click with crew, and begin doing what I want to do – write professionally at a big firm in the marketing department. Some of it is boring, some of it repetitive, some of it I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. I love every second of it though and the people are great. My Fair Lady continues to get strung along by Fortune 500 though.

November --> Holiday rush insanity starts, magnified by Max’s 1st birthday party. This starts what we anticipate will be six weeks of non-stop crazy due to his birthday followed by Thanksgiving followed by Christmas followed by New Year’s. We’re expecting not all of this will go smoothly. Holy crap, will that prove to be an understatement.

December --> Month goes by like a flash. My Fair Lady goes into the office routinely and lands tons of work. Still not feeling the love from her co-workers, but the extra cash will help us get through the year in fine fashion. I’m also contacted by an old co-worker who wants me to help his new firm out on the side with some marketing and IT work. We’ll meet after the New Year to discuss more in-depth but things sound very promising as well as continuous. My actual work continues to go well. Been so busy lately that I haven’t posted squat on Gaming Trend in over a month. Will get back into that in 2010. Christmas hits, and it was such an Epic Fail on so many previously undiscovered levels that it deserves, and will receive, its own post. Hint: Spending Christmas Day wishing you were dead is not the most festive way to observe the holiday. We eventually make it through the other side and New Year’s is uneventful. We hope for good things in the new year.

Was 2009 a traumatic year? Yes. I pretty much stopped writing here and at GT because to do so at both while literally pondering how to pay our mortgage struck me as silly. Why spend time on a hobby when I’m not making any money at it and have no prospects for doing so? Why not spend that time looking for an actual job to help pay the bills?

So, has 2010 started better? You bet your assets. There was a silver lining throughout 2009 in watching Max grow for his first year. Simply put, it was amazing. We saw all of his firsts together (rolling over, sitting up, walking, et al.) and we fully recognize how rare it is nowadays for both parents to be able to see those. Here’s hoping this year goes smoother than last, but it’s starting off well.

Now on to that Christmas post...

I'm the Un-Sharer

I’m not the biggest sharer in the world, especially when it comes to private (i.e. family) matters. I’m just not. I am, however, a big believer in the phrase “write what you know” which I’ve always taken to mean “utilize stories and personalities around you to enhance the reality of what you write.” Its fine to drop in a name or a personality quirk into a story based on whatever genre you choose, but when it comes to actually telling real stories about real people I find myself in a quandary.

My primary frustrations with it are how damn opinionated everyone in my family is. I don’t mind that on the whole, but when you blog about it the results are immediate. I’ve been called by family members griping about how they’re portrayed, and I’ve been griped at regarding my lack of coverage in certain areas. Then when I turn to those areas and exaggerate a detail or so for comic effect, the only effect I get is a comment saying, “You make me sound like an ass!”

After a while, you just lose interest in being hassled. Even later, you stop caring altogether and just enjoy the moments as they happen without feeling the need to report them to the world. Factor in the economic calamity of the past year and throw in a dash of “holy crap an Office Max exploded all over my desk” and you can physically feel the impetus to write about your personal life on the web dwindle little by little every day.

So here are my words of wisdom to kick of 2010: Screw that.

This goes to all of you (family included) who may gripe and complain enough for me to censor myself. This goes out to myself especially to get off my ass, shut the hell up, and chronicle the goings-on in my world so that my son will one day have a record of what happened when he was growing up. I’ve only retained certain memories of my own childhood, not all of them welcome, and it would be neat to be able to look back 20 years hence to compare where I was as a child to where I ended up as an adult. I think my children may enjoy that.

If not, then at least I have material for their wedding toasts.

If you have a problem with what I have to say, tough. Get your own blog and bitch at me from afar. That’s what the Internet was invented for, after all. In the meantime, I’m going to get back into this and stay in this come hell or high water. I’ll confess it helps that the high water of last year appears, for now at least, to be receding a bit. It’s enough to breathe at least and I’ll take it. So get ready for some sharing because 2010 is going to be a better year on the whole for me, my family, and even you.

But not you in the back. You had your chance and we’re done.