Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Idiot's Guide To 2012

Remember when we partied like it was 1999? Well, some of us did -- and I'm still trying to pay that off. Though it was my last brush with pure peer pressure, it was surely my most costly brush with peer pressure. Hell, all the computers in the world would be too stupid to figure out that 2000 comes after 1999, right? When that happened, the whole of civilization's technology would stop working, rendering the human race exponentially more dysfunctional than we already were.

But, something happened when the clock struck twelve on New Year's Eve 1999. Dick Clark was still rockin' on our concave picture tube television sets. The giant crystal ball didn't malfunction and explode into a billion pieces right there in Times Square. And guess what? We would all survive into the new millenium. Catastrophe averted.

1999 was supposed to be "the end of the world." And, it proved to be a lot of worry and not much excitement. Boooo!!! You know, someday I'd like to finish what I start. Uh, maybe the world ending is a bad place to start, or should I say finish.

For those disappointed that the world didn't come to a halt, don't worry, there's a new end of the world just around the corner. This one is based on the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012. December 21st, 2012 to be exact, so think of all the money you'll be saving on Christmas presents. What's really cool about this end of the world prediction is that the world-famous prognosticator, Nostrodamus, concurs with the Mayans -- 2012 is the new 1999.

Apparantly, Mayan prophecy is all the rage on elementary school playgrounds these days. My ten-year-old son asked me the other day if the world was going to end in 2012. I asked him where he heard that, which I find out later is not the most calming response to a question of such magnitude. Asking someone where they heard something immediately gives credence to the rumor, followed by a cause for alarm. I covered for my faux paux with a quick, "Well, I'm still waiting for the killer bees to get us."

"Killer bees?" My son started to tremble.

"Listen, the world's not coming to an end in 2012. You know how I know?"


"Because the world was supposed to come to an end in 1999 when all the computers would stop working. It didn't happen. When I was a kid, they told us World War III was coming and we'd blow ourselves up with nukes." My kid knows about nukes from his experience with Call of Duty: Black Ops. I know it's rated Mature, but it sure comes in handy for conversations like this. So who's the bad parent now?

"That never happened, right Dad."

"Right son." Sometimes he amazes me with his grasp of comlex things. Like understanding that since we were still talking the world hadn't ended. What a genius boy I begat. "And those killer bees, they never happened either. I remember being scared to death watching the news about how the killer bees would be in Ohio by 1978. We'd all be dead and the bees would take over the world. I'm still waiting. Bird flu. Waiting. Swine flu. Still waiting. Giant lizards. You know it, waiting for those too."

"Giant lizards?"

I tend to romanticize the end of the world a bit too much. "Yeah, I came up with that one on my own. Sorry."

"So, we're not going to die?"

"We should be so lucky. I mean, don't worry son, you're destined for a life of disappointment, tragedy and heartbreak. Then, when you finally have enough money to really live your life, you're body will break down and you won't be able to enjoy any of it. It's the circle of life, kiddo, the circle of life. For a moment I felt like King Mufasa talking to Simba."

"Thanks Dad." My son walked away, seemingly more confused than when we started our conversation. But, I'd rather have him confused than scared out of his wits. Mission accomplished.

As much as I don't want to believe that the end will actually happen in 2012, some of the shows on the History Channel really get you thinking. What bugs me is that Nostrodamus, great prophet that he was, is unable to tell us specifically how the world will actually end. He's narrowed it down to volcano eruptions, comets colliding with the earth, floods and the sun somehow blasting us from hundreds of millions of miles away. So, basically he's laid out every possible scenario, a virtual smorgasbord of annihilation. One thing's for sure, I'm not buying what he's selling.

A common thread that runs through the Mayan and Nostrodamus prophecies is in the concept of major change that will take place in the world. Most believe that when the sun aligns itself with the center of the Milky Way in December of 2012, there could be potential for things to happen. Crazy things. Catastrophic things. I'll go with the scientists who looks at these types of things happened in the past. These changes didn't take place all at once, they said, but over thousands and millions of years. That's my kind of prophecy, slow and steady.

After our third child, my wife has been on me to get snipped, if you know what I mean. For Dick Van Patten, eight was enough. For my family, three is more than enough. But, I've been putting this "procedure" off, stalling like a Dean Smith basketball team running the four corner offense.

Now with all the talk about 2012, I'm more convicted than ever to not have the operation.

The other day, she bothered me again to "go see the doctor."

"I can't." I needed to for her to understand that this was bigger than the both of us. "If Nostrodamus is right and the end of the world is really coming, what if I'm the only man to survive? Who will help to re-populate the world? As tough as it would be for me, it would be my duty. I can't be that selfish to contribute to the extinction of the human race."

"Trust me," my wife shot back. "No one's going to be that disappointed if they can't have sex with you. You don't see me crying any tears, do you?"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

One Roman Collar, Please

I was a strange kid. Many would argue that I'm also a strange adult -- but I'm not in the mood for arguing, so I'll just accept it as fact.

When other kids wanted to be pro athletes or firefighters or cowboys when they grew up, I yearned to be a major league baseball umpire or priest or ornithologist. Aspiring to become an umpire at thirteen meant that I gave up on my athletic dreams at an earlier age than any American-born heterosexual boy in history. The priest thing at eleven meant I had lost hope in ever landing a girlfriend that didn't require a bicycle pump. And, the desire to become an ornithologist (basically a bird scientist) at age twelve was just plain creepy. Looking back on those Sunday morning birdwatching hikes with my mother and the local chapter of the National Audobon Society, I don't know how I ever avoided an adulthood filled with frilly pink dresses, self-induced lisps and Cher worship.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I should be able to look back on those days and laugh. But all I can do is cringe. To think of all the things I missed out on in my youth. While my friends were playing baseball, I was calling balls and strikes for nine-year-olds. When other kids in my class were starting to notice girls, I was acting out a Roman Catholic mass using a Pringle potato chip as the "body of Christ." And, when others were just waking up at a friend's house after a sleepover, I was in the metroparks tracking down a Great Horned Owl or tufted titmouse or yellow-bellied sapsucker. Sheesh.

What a loser.

I'm not entirely sure how or when I turned the corner and started to act like a normal human. My father's perpetual look of disappointment probably had something to do with it. Having a brother almost three years younger and four times cooler than me could also have had an impact. Whatever it was, I came out of my trance and started to participate in "normal" activities. I played CYO football, basketball and baseball in eighth grade. I played football in high school. My voice changed. Hair started growing in normally smooth places. Girls who once sprinted away from me without looking back when I approached, slowed their survival strategy to a liesurely gallop with a quick glance back over their shoulder to make sure I wasn't gaining on them.

Things were progressing nicely. I graduated from high school. I went to college. I graduated in only six years. Got a job. Got married. Got another job. Got a house. Got a mortgage. Had some kids. Got a few more jobs. A dog. Another house. Another mortgage. A second mortgage. Another job.

And, here I am. A perfectly normal life.

Yet, when you look at all the responsibility that comes with a normal life, you have to wonder if it's all worth it. Loads of stress and things I really didn't take into account when I hung up my binoculars and "Peterson's Complete Field Guide to North American Birds."

Now I have to think about paying bills and sending three kids to college and retirement. My wife has needs too -- like fixing things around the house, yardwork and free backrubs. And the kids? Apparantly, when you sign kids up for activities, you're supposed to actually drive them to the actitity and, get this, stay for the entire thing, then drive them home afterward. So much for my "me" time.

But, I made my bed. So...

The other day my wife and I went to dinner at the classic suburban Italian chain restaurant, Macaroni Grill. It's a nice enough place, with nice enough food. About five minutes after being seated, we notice a group of five priests walking in. But they're not just walking in, they're practically skipping into the restaurant. Big smiles on their faces. Laughing. Talking kind of loud about something. Each and every one of the men in black seemingly without a care in the world.

I turn to my wife and ask, "Look at those guys. How can they be so, so, so...happy?"

"I don't know. Maybe it's the eggplant parmesan special."

"No, that's not it. You know what it is?"

"No... tell me."

"When they were younger no one told them to put the Pringles down."

"What are you talking..."

"They said to the world, 'I don't need to be normal.' And you know how that turned out for them?"


"They live on their own, someone cooks for them, someone cleans for them, they work once a week and probably watch porn all day when they're not printing out next Sunday's talk from They don't have to worry about what they're going to wear every day -- black shirt, black pants, black socks, black shoes. They don't have to tie a tie, they just stick a piece of white plastic into the top of their black shirt. That's it, they're done."

"And, talk about job security," my wife added.

"Yeah, isn't that the truth. Priests don't have to worry about resumes or headhunters or Good economy or bad, God pays them the same salary."

Part of me wanted to go over and ask them what was so funny. But I already knew.

"You know honey, I think you're right. It must be the eggplant parmesan."

My wife just smiled and said, "I'll take that backrub when we get home."

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Lamented Valentine...

One of the things I truly love about my wife and what has kept us together for almost sixteen years is our mutual disdain for superficial holidays. Early in our relationship, we made a pact to never, ever celebrate Sweetest Day -- no cards, no handshake, nothing.

Anyone with half a brain knows Sweetest Day was concocted by greeting card companies in an effort to bridge the gap between Father's Day and Christmas. Though I'm one of the few who still sends out Labor Day cards to all my family and friends, I'm not a fan of frivolously planting holidays throughout the year for monetary gain.

Today is Valentine's Day, the cash cow of the greeting card industry. It's Hallmark's hallmark day. And as a special Valentine's Day gift to each other, my wife and I decided not to celebrate. I gotta tell you, her brazen disregard for conventional romantic milestones is starting to turn me on.

I know, I know, we're such bad people. But, I don't feel bad at all. In fact I feel a whole lot better about this Valentine's Day than the previous fifteen when, at a bare-bones minimum, I was out fifty bucks for long-stemmed red roses or twenty-five for a dozen pieces of chocolate-covered fruit -- sometimes I would even do both. Holy heck that's a lot of dough to be spending on two of the least unique gifts in the history of gift giving.

Our kids are not a part of our nonconformist ways. They celebrate Valentine's Day like every other red-blooded American child -- with a box of pre-printed cards and candy hearts. Growing up I too participated in this charade. It stung to find out that not every girl in my third grade class really wanted to be my valentine. What kind of holiday does this to an innocent boy? As scarred as I still am, I'm not about to push my values and beliefs on my children. They need to feel the same pain and awkward shame that I did growing up. "Sorry son, I know the candy heart Carly gave you said you were 'Too cool', but she most likely didn't mean it."

Kids can be cruel, but they ain't nothing compared to greeting card companies. A few years back I wrote a letter to the American Greetings creative department. My letter detailed just how I felt about Valentine's Day cards. I suggested a new line of cards for the more realistic child. Instead of the traditional "Be Mine" or "My Favorite Valentine", my cards would read: "You're In My Class" and "Don't Get Too Excited, I'm Giving The Same Card To Every Kid." See how that works? No satisfaction, no disappointment. The perfect holiday message. A month later, I received a big box of blank cards from American Greetings and a note that read: "Get Well Soon."

Even if my wife and I wanted to celebrate, doing so would be difficult. That's what happens when you have kids. Between a long day of work and our children's baseball and swim practices, we probably won't even see each other until sometime around ten o'clock in the evening. At which time I'll probably take a blank card from the big American Greetings box and scribble something inside like, "Don't Get Too Excited, I'm Planning To Fall Asleep In About Five Minutes Anyway."

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Super Bowl Loser

If you're a Cleveland Browns fan, the Super Bowl would have to be considered the most irrelevant sporting event of the year. My team hasn't been to a NFL championship game since 1964, before they started calling it the Super Bowl. There have been 46 NFL championship games played since then, 44 of them Super Bowls, which started in 1967, the year of my birth.

For me, a giant helping of Frosted Flakes and milk in a large Tupperware container is a Super Bowl. Normally, I could care less about the game, which is now only three days away. But the team I hate the most, the Pittsburgh Steelers, is playing the Green Bay Packers on Sunday evening. Steelers fans are known for waving a ridiculous yellow (they'd call it gold) towel over their heads all game long. Packers fans, or Cheeseheads, are known for wearing giants wedges of cheese made from foam on their heads. Let's see. I hate Pittsburgh, but I love cheese. Cheese makes the world go round -- it's my favorite pierogi ingredient. And any person willing to wear a cheese hat in sub-zero temperatures to watch football has my undying respect. Add it all up and you can probably guess who I'll be rooting for in Super Bowl XLV.

For the past few years I've DVRd the games, but only to speed through the game action to get to the commercials. Because Super Bowl games typically end up being duds, the commercials are very often the most entertaining part of the broadcast. I've worked in the advertising industry since 1991. So, if I'm watching with my family and the commercials come on I'll usually tell my kids to shut their pie holes while "daddy goes to work." During breaks in the game I become the Roger Ebert of Super Bowl ads. I used to keep notes and record my biting commentary on cassette tapes, but then I realized how strange that was and worried that my wife might try to use that against me if we ever have a nasty custody battle. "Yes your honor, I have the tapes right here. Would you like to listen to them?" At which point the judge would reply, "No that's okay, the notebooks will suffice. Visitation denied."

I don't really know who has Super Bowl parties these days. I haven't been to one in years, which means I haven't been invited to one in years. Part of me wonders if all these parties are really happening or if it's like the phantom holiday, Sweetest Day. I've never tried to do something with any of my friends on Sweetest Day and had them answer that they couldn't because it would mess up their romantic evening plans. Whenever I ask my wife what she's getting me for Sweetest Day, she starts to laugh uncontrollably and usually lands up on the ground holding her sides.

Because we're social outcasts, we watch at home. My wife always makes a few appetizers to have while we're watching the game with the kids -- things like nachos, crab dip and chicken wings. I've even been known to crack open a cold one. An empty beer bottle is something only a true Browns fan can love. If my kids get out of hand, the game pisses me off or the appetizers don't wow me, I lay down the law Cleveland-style, with a quick bottle toss across the room. Most of the time I don't try to hit anything, I do it just to scare them a bit. I'm not a big drinker at home, so I'll sometimes open the container and dump the beer in the sink just to have an empty bottle at my disposal. Don't knock it, it's quite a deterant.

A lot of people place bets on the Super Bowl. When I was younger the only Super Bowl bet you could make was on which team would win. There would be a point spread and all, but that's as detailed as it got. Nowadays you have the ability to put money down on how long the national anthem will take to sing (by the way the over/under is one minute and fifty-two seconds by Cristina Aguilera) or which side of the ball, offense or defense, will do the Gatorade dump on the winning coach at the end of the game. Apparantly, the smart money is on the defense since the offense will most likely be running out the clock.

Who comes up with these things? And, who's betting on it? Must be the guy who says, "You know I've never won a straight up Super Bowl bet, but I've got a buddy who gave me an inside tip that Aguilera's national anthem will only last twenty-three seconds due to a wardrobe malfunction. One of her sequins will catch fire and burn her left boob, forcing her to flash the entire world while she tries to extinguish the flame. I don't know how he knows this, but he said I could take that to the bank." Me, I'm happy with a couple of Super Bowl squares, a fundraiser for my son's baseball team. It's not considered gambling if you know you're going to lose.

I know not everyone feels the way I do about the Super Bowl. But if you're lucky enough to get invited to a Super Bowl party and there happens to be an obnoxious Steelers fan in the group, don't overreact. Wait until the commercial break is over, take out your lighter, then grab his stupid Terrible Towel, jump up on the coffee table and yell out, "I'm taking bets on whether this yellow rag will burn faster than Aguilera's dress."

Come to think of it, a similar incident got me banned from the last Super Bowl party I attended. Oh well. Go Pack Go!!!