Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rules, Like Thumbs, Were Meant to be Broken

Following a fairly recent conversation with coworkers regarding microwaves, microwaveable entities, and the science and technological oddities of all things microwave (50+ hour weeks had killed the part of our brains devoted to object permanence, leaving us unable to converse on anything not directly within vision), it came about that when you put aluminum foil in the microwave, it shoots blue sparks. Being familiar with the effects of metal in the microwave from an unfortunate office incident a couple years back involving a knish, an errant mustard packet, flames, and about 10,000 iterations of the word "shit", this wasn't news to me, but when I asked how everyone else's experiences had come to pass, it turns out that not one but two people had made their discoveries by actively placing foil in a microwave and hitting "Start". Now, growing up in the country with little supervision, I'm no stranger to doing stupid shit "just cause"--like you've never wondered what an electric fence feels like--but there were certain hard and fast rules that were never to be broken, ever, not out of respect for authority figures, but because we had been imbued with such fear for what would happen if they were to be broken that life as we know it would come to an end.

Don’t eat wild berries
I lived in the woods, so while this doesn’t make most people’s top ten list, this was a pretty sound bit of advice for the old madre to pass along, although I suspect she was more worried about the potential for tooth stain than poisoning. I don’t know what it was, but for some reason, every friggin berry I encountered on my forest explorations looked irresistible. I have no explanation for it, I read Babar, was well-fed, and was given free reign over a houseful of unhealthy and hence delicious junk foods--mounds of Mounds, heaps of Peeps, Storeos* of Oreos—but every single berry I encountered sang its own little siren song, and I have no idea why. I’d like to think it was a manifestation of a primal urge to procure my own food and thus sustain life, but honestly, I think it’s just ‘cause they were pretty colors. In retrospect, I’m a little amazed I grew up to be, you know, alive.

*Storeo: a full or more than adequate amount or supply

Don’t open the refrigerator door without knowing what you want
Blah blah waste of electricity aside, between the yelling and the torture--they didn’t actually use the Spanish Boot, they just kept it in the corner as a reminder that they could if so inclined--if you were to convert the amount of energy expended by my parents in getting me to shut the fridge thatmuchquicker into viable energy, there is no way that the efficiency balances out. I’ve decided that when the time comes to raise children of my own, I’ll make them sign a contract stating that they may leave the refrigerator door open for any amount of time, as long as they slip me twenty bucks upon reaching the financial stability of adulthood.**
**I’m also assuming that by the time I reproduce, we’ll have found a cheap, renewable fuel source, and 20n (where n=number of kids) will turn me a pretty sweet little profit.
Don’t run with scissors
Actually, I don’t really know my parents’ stance on running with scissors. I don’t even see how the circumstance in which an adult would be required to make a ruling on this would even come up. What six-year old needs to get anywhere with such a sense of urgency that they’re required to run, let alone the sort of situation that requires cutting devices? I think the bigger issue at hand here is time management. If we’re going to come up with arbitrary societal rules involving sharp objects, I think we should be devoting more energies to more fatal combinations of things like “Glass is not a baking ingredient” or “Don’t put knives in your mouth.”

Don’t swallow chewing gum
This was not a rule in my household, but seemed to be a pretty central tenet upon which all of my friends’ and friends’ parents’ entire concept of anatomy and science was built, in that the piece of gum that you spend hours chewing must never, ever be allowed to pass beyond the golden gate of your epiglottis, as it would automatically turn evil, and you would die in a manner that no one has any evidence or record of. To this day, I consider it a dealbreaker if a man still believes that he will fall ill should he swallow gum, as to me it’s indicative of the sort of tenuous grasp on rational thought that leads one to be afraid of monsters under the bed. Some day, I’ll meet a guy who considers swallowing gum a dealbreaker, and we’ll have the least exciting breakup ever.
Don’t go home with strangers
Honestly, this really only needs to be said once, and even that’s pushing it. Who the hell (under the age of 18) goes home with a complete stranger, when given the option? I’d like to think there’s some sort of Darwinism in effect here, as kids that stupid really aren’t helping the gene pool. Though strangely, I feel a little less animosity towards children that go home with strangers offering candy, as at least there’s some sort of validity to the transaction, depending on the candy. Still, I feel like you could probably save some time by just laying out a general “Don’t be a fucking idiot” maxim to the kiddies, and this’d be covered.
Don’t get Them wet, or feed them after midnight
This was my pet, Gizmo. Cute little thing, got him in the back of an old thrift shop from some Chinese Guy when they ran out of my usual supply of jade buddhas. Dude didn't speak much English, but he kept repeating, over and over again, "Don't feed him after midnight. And never get him wet." And he seemed really serious about it, too, so serious, in fact, that I never did either. Except once, and he ate my dad. Just kidding, they don't make Chinese people in Northern NY.

Friday, April 20, 2007

It's a Five O'Clock World

Checking into the barren wasteland that is my inbox this week, I found this notice for next Thursday’s “Bring Your Child to Work Day”, which apparently exists outside of heartwarming Reader’s Digest fiction.

I’m not sure my company could have come up with a less accurate approximation of what my day actually entails. Assuming that the whole point of “Bring Your Child to Work Day” is to provide a gentle indoctrination into the working world, to show your offspring the value of being a breadwinner and a hard day’s work in the hopes of them following suit, I can understand why they feel the need to blatantly lie to the kids, as the phrase “in accordance with Sarbanes-Oxley” doesn’t have the same merry ring to it as “ride along in the cop car” or “take a tour of the spaceship”, but if your kid honestly believes that you come to work every day to play with Legos, well, I’d rather not have them in the work force anyway. And even if that is the case, doesn’t that make you out to be kind of a dick? Hey kids, each morning, mommy and daddy desert you at school to bury your nose in books and long division while they go off to the office to face paint and watch cartoons.

Since the top employers in the area I grew up in were a correctional facility and a mental institution, they didn’t really encourage “Bring Your Child to Work Day”, but since we were kind of strapped for cash in the early years, I would often find myself tagging along to my father’s jobs, coloring book in tow (he worked in the emergency room of the local hospital by day, and the medical clinic by Thursday-Friday night). Having spent a childhood surrounded by medical textbooks and horror movies, I had no problem with the fact that my dinner was often brought to me by someone covered in blood, and I suspect I’ve acquired antibodies for diseases that would make your local slaughterhouse owner gag, but looking back, I do wonder what it was like to sit in an ER, anxiously waiting for news of your loved one, as a happy little girl munched on peanut butter crackers and asked you if you want to play a word game. As for the clinic, well, not a lot of children are given access to their teachers’ medical charts, and it’s every bit as satisfying as it sounds.

Did you wash your hands before dinner?

Now, having spent an entire lifetime not getting knocked up, and doing a damn good job of it, I don’t see why I’m being punished like this. Not only do I have to sit at my desk and pretend to be impressed by people’s ability to procreate all day—each spawn’s “final, framed masterpiece” equally more impressive than the last, I’m sure—but I have to put in a full day’s work while some chick from Accounting gets to watch a friggin’ magic show because her condom broke in high school. The only thing that’s going to get me through the day (besides drinking heavily at lunch and my 12:30 appointment to “Steal Kids’ Food”) is the hope that someone will have thought it a good idea to bring not one but two rugrats to work, so I’ll get to witness a VP of something bullshit his way through a daylong contest of “Daddy, whose _____ is better?”.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Games (Other, More Physically Fit) People Play

I'm a sports person. I'm not diehard, I don't collect articles of clothing worn by athletes, I can't look at a program and go all John Nash on the stats, and I still hope for a Leisure question when I'm going for the green pie piece in Trivial Pursuit, but sometimes I'm sick of being responsible for my own happiness and I want that weight to rest on someone else's shoulders for a few hours. Also, I like to drink and gamble. My motives are pure.

I'll take twenty on the white guy.

As a teenager, I chose the Buffalo Bills as my team, right before they made it to their third Super Bowl, against the Cowboys. Clad in a starter jacket that displaced roughly four times the volume of my own body , I sat at my best friend's house, on a rug made out of something her dad had killed, eating chips and (I believe) pure sugar cubes, learning what it truly means to have a man break your heart, and earn millions doing it. I also learned why one never should spend their Christmas money on a commemorative t-shirt before the actual event, because if your team loses, it will only serve as a painful and unfashionable reminder of your loss, and because it is made of some indesctructible 1990s polymer and will somehow remain in your dresser forever, so that when you return home for Xmas and need a tshirt to work out in, you'll be forced to dress exactly as you did in 1993.

I stayed with the Bills through the next year, recreating the same scenario at my best friend's house the next January, only a little more aware of Frank Reich's ass...ets as a respectable backup QB. This ended much the same way as it had the last time, and I was taught a lifelong lesson in why you don't go back to someone who broke your heart the first time around; I believe this also planted the seeds for what now might be termed "a clinically unhealthy hatred for all things Texas".

Also makes an excellent burger.

Sick of justifying why I continued to like a team that had brought me so very much pain, I took a break from the sport for several years, rejoining at the advent of fantasy leagues, where I could distribute my expectations and minimize the risk of crushing blows- the mutual fund of sports. Though I toy with other sports, my main fantasy squeeze has long been football- I find the draft offers just the right mix of knowledge and hunches in the earlier rounds, and reliance on dirty-sounding names in the later, less-informed rounds (God Bless You, Neil Rackers, for years of juvenile joy). I've played with the same guys for years now, and even though I wouldn't know to spit on half of them if I passed them in the street, we've remained a pretty constant group. There have been a few wild cards that cycle in and out (I always get the league in custody battles), and when a new person enters, usually the coworker of a friend's cousin or someone else with similarly solid credentials, the first thing we need to know is what niche they'll corner in the shittalking market. With an Asian Guy, Italian Guy, Black Guy, Irish Guy, Girl, Canadian Guy, and Once Highlighted His Hair in 1998 and Has Been Called Gay Ever Since Guy, my league is a veritable small world of slurs after all, so it's often a stretch to find new material; when we got some fresh blood a few years back and discovered that he had a young daughter, I could practically see saliva dripping onto keyboards across the country, such was the breadth of new (and highly incrimimating) jokes opened up to us.

Racker? I hardly even know her.

Now, as my fantasy baseball team begins what looks to be a looonnnng season of pooch-screwing and general fuckuppery, my hockey team enters the playoffs wiping the blood of the rest of the league from its mouth. I've been here before, and I just don't know how much of my soul to invest in a city that has essentially shoved me down the stairs then told me it loves me so many times before, especially considering how long-term the commitment is. It looks good going in, but two months is a long time to vest yourself in something without the guarantee of eggs in the morning. If we win, I get to lord it over the other three hockey fans in the city, but if we lose, well, back-to-back viewings of Miracle can only do so much healin'.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Butterfly in the Sky

I'm a reader. I read things. Papers, magazines, books- hell, I know the active ingredient in most toiletries found within typical range of the bathroom sink (least fun Kings category ever, btw). I read at lunch, I read on the subway, I read in bars, I read before bed. I fall asleep reading every night and wake up covered in words and pictures of celebrities like I'm made of paper-mache. When I meet other readers, we immediately launch into a furious, Amazon-like flurry of recommendations and comparisons. Some people think it's pretentious to call yourself a reader, but it's hard for an activity to be pretentious when hobos can do it just as well.

I wish I could read my blanket.

On the rare occasions that the mother would take me out to dinner in one of my hometown's many variations on the "Affable Blue Collar Local Deep Fries Things and Can Install Your Snow Tires, Too" eating establishments, it was an unspoken rule that we both would bring books, so that we might order, then immediately commence our respective reading, lest there be any actual exchange of emotion or conversation. Given that my parents and I have spent at least 80% of our time together reading in silence, I'm amazed at the number of horrifying discussions we've managed to cram into the remaining 20% (7%-Revelations of life truths at a premature age, 3%- Passing along of false information, 2%- Graphic discussions of family health issues, 3%- Ordering at drivethrough windows, 5%-Ongoing lifelong dialogue about why The Naked Gun is/is not funny), and grateful to the majesty of reading for sparing me what I can only assume would have been an additional 3-4 years of my parents repeatedly demanding I mow the lawn for lack of anything else to say. When your child's favorite thing to do is read, there's not a lot of threats you can use against them to force them to do your bidding; grounding/revoking TV and friend privileges just provides more reading time, and society had fortunately started to frown upon beatings by the late 80s. In retrospect, I didn't take advantage of this nearly as much as I should have.

Seemed as though a picture of a book should appear somewhere.

Recently, I've taken to listening to audiobooks during my lengthy walks. My family are all huge book-on-tape fans; at Thanksgiving you can seek refuge from the barrage of questions regarding the state of your uterus in what you believed to be an empty room, then shit yourself when you find 2-3 people sitting in the dark staring off into space like zombies, headphones in ears. Every single car trip I took with my parents between the ages of 4-17 was accompanied not by public radio shows or family singalongs, but books-on-tape, cruelly interspersed with my father's only other album, Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits, giving me the coveted teenage skills of knowing all the words to both"Solitary Man" and the first chapter of Tom Clancy's "Patriot Games". I'm digging my latest download from audible.com, but it's very easy to get lost in the story as you walk along, and when I suddenly start grinning at a particularly delightful turn-of-phrase, I imagine it's unnerving to others walking in the opposite direction. I used to work out to comedy albums, and there is no stranger look one can receive than when he/she suddenly bursts out laughing on the elliptical because an unseen George Carlin has said "fuck" creatively.

Now I read that critics are denouncing the Book-It program, the grade school reward system wherein if you read five books a month, you get a free Personal Pan pizza from Pizza Hut. I took part in this program back when a Personal Pan really was a meal, and not a palm-sized apertif meant to keep your mouth busy chewing on something while you wait for them to squeeze your gordita into existence at the attached Taco Bell Express (perhaps that's just me), and never has a Pavlovian loop been more solidly formed. If I read a book, I got pizza. Now people claim that the program promotes the consumption of junk food, and that some children read easier books to get points, and are more motivated by the prize than the reading itself, to which I say "No shit."

Ironically, a sentence fragment.

Free pizza was (and is) the most motivating factor in a redblooded human's life. Never mind the fact that all of my food was free back then, thanks to the love of my parents/federal law, and that pizza was probably the only food I ever ate with the main ingredient not ending in "xenyol-9". If I read a book, I got pizza. Sure, it's a little sad that at the age of seven, I had yet to fully appreciate the beauty of the written word and the insitution of literature as reward in itself, but out of all of the things you could have gotten me to do for free pizza- treason or renouncement of God among them- reading seems pretty harmless. I had classmates that to this day would not have ever read five books in their life had there not been pepperoni at the end of the reading rainbow. We were in the second grade, and at that age, kids do shit for the payoff. It's not dirty, it's a lifetime theme--I don't sit at a desk all day, pretending to work out of a deep-rooted devotion to mankind, and though I don't remember why I agreed to toilet training, I can pretty much guarantee it wasn't out of an adherence to societal norms--and there's no reason to pretend otherwise.