Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Lure of Bug Sex, Of Course.

This is a story that begins many years ago.  My girlfriend-now-wife and I lived in Belmont, MA circa 2001 in a two-family house with an outdated kitchen.  We quickly discovered that we shared our apartment with the moths also known as "pantry pests."  

It didn't help that my wife had seen a news segment on pantry pests not long before we moved in. Upon realizing what we had, she explained to me (with terror in her eyes) what we were dealing with.

The moths find their way into bread and cereals, lay little eggs which hatch, giving birth to little worms that eventually turn into winged 'nasties' that eventually fly around our kitchen.  The moths can get around cabinets, boxes, bags, and into and out of the food.  In fact, the eggs may have been in the food before we even brought it home from the store.

How did we fix our immediate infestation?  The lure of bug sex, of course.  Traps designed to capture the pests are laced with moth pheromones.  


According to the advertisement, the pheromones attract the pests who then fly into the trap and stick to it's glue-covered sides.  When we bought a package of the traps and opened them nonchalantly in the kitchen, we were swarmed by a dozen pantry pests within minutes!  They came crawling out of whatever cabinet, box, and container in which they were hibernating with high hopes of bug intercourse.  Despite having other pests flying about looking for sex, they were still more interested in the promise of better sex in that contraption.  One by one, they stuck to the glue.  How stupid they must have felt, lying there aroused and surrounded by available moths yet hopelessly stuck to a wall covered in adhesive and synthetic hormones.

What if this worked on humans? A cop car could simply pull up to a house where a criminal was believed to be hiding.  The officer could open a package containing human pheromones and watch the thug come running out of his house and into the cruiser where they would stick to glue-covered seats.  Of course the whole neighborhood might show up and citations would most likely be given for public indecency.  

We left the traps out overnight and were pleased to find more pests caught in the trap. The problem was solved for the time being.  However, we occasionally saw a pest fly about and we would promptly get out the pheromones. "

We began to take preventative measures by keeping cereals and bread in Tupperware containers.  When pests continued to appear from our cabinets, we moved these items to the refrigerator.  Eventually we bought a new house and moved 50 miles away.  They surely won't find us there, we thought.  And we were right.  However, we continued to keep our flour-based foods in the refrigerator.  After several months, I suggested to my wife that we remove the cereals and snacks from the fridge.  

"No. What is more air tight than a fridge? We don't want the nasties to come back, ok?" 

"Ok."

Since then, our bread-like foods and grains have only tripled thanks to hungry little kids.  Unfortunately our new house did not have a walk-in "cold room", but rather a kitchen cubby hole that was designed to fit only the smallest fridge on the market.  The current inventory includes:
  • Seven boxes of cereal including a village-sized (as in it takes a village to eat it before it expires) Honeycomb box.  It's big enough to create the illusion of a solar eclipse when placed too close to the kitchen windows.
  • Four open bags of pretzels: thin fat-free, minis, pretzel sticks, and peanut butter sandwich pretzels.
  • One open bag of Veggie Booty.
  • Two open bags of Goldfish.
  • Two partial loaves of bread.
  • One open bag of Chex mix.
  • Two open bags of cookies.
  • One open bag of sugar.
  • One open bag of flour.
  • One partially eaten Apple Cake.
Add to that everything else that normal families keep in their refrigerator, and you have a fridge that is always full.  Getting anything out, typically results in a Kellogg's Avalanche.  The light bulb is useless given the amount of items on the top shelf.

Because salt looks like sugar and is white and granular like flour, we keep it in the fridge also.  As my neighbor mentioned while pointing and laughing at it's fridge door location, salt is a preservative.  That's should be enough to explain how far we haven't come.

It didn't help that a couple weeks ago, we accidentally ordered too much milk.  We order some of our groceries online so when it arrived one Saturday morning, we had to make it fit.  Stop for a moment and re-read the inventory above.  Add normal people fridge foods. Now add 8 gallons of milk. 

This scene wouldn't normally frustrate me.  I would usually just have a beer and laugh it off.  However, I can't reach the beer past the milk and cereals.  In fact, I can't even see the beer thanks to a useless light bulb and a solar eclipse that occurs every time I try to move the Honeycombs out of the way.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Washing Machine Karma


Washing machines and I have never really had good relations.  This past weekend, our troubled relationship took yet another turn (or spin, depending on which party you ask).  

I should first provide some background.  The machine we bought a couple years ago (which I will refer to as the "old" machine), has had three major issues which led us to purchase the "new" machine discussed at the end of this post.  

The first problem with the old machine is that we bought a device that has been well trained in the art of sock digestion.   We first discovered the machine's over-eating sock problem when a service technician produced 4 mismatched toddler socks, one child-sized washcloth, a Swiss army knife, and 37 cents in coins.   This was causing the washer constipation and subsequent system backup, passive aggressive behavior (repeatedly blinking a nonsense code, E-21), and refusal to cooperate.  

The second time the machine started behaving this way, I resisted my Inner Engineer and called the service hotline so as not to void our warranty.  However, I couldn't help but contemplate the true meaning of 'E-21.'  The user manual wasn't helpful and only recommended that I call for a highly trained washer technician.  Two weeks, a dozen rolls of quarters, and a few trips to the laundromat later, the technician produced six toddler socks, a rock from the garden, and an unidentified pink plastic object.  

The third time, my Inner Engineer lost his patience.  Thankfully, the warranty had expired.  I quickly removed the lower front panel, disconnected the drain pipe, and freed more objects.  These included five toddler socks, eight quarters, and large pieces of plastic which once contained rolls of quarters.  I have since realized that a mesh bag, sold at most stores, should be used for small articles of clothing when using a front-loading washer.  After I extracted the items, I spent hours and hours trying to replace the drain pipe with it's impossible tension clamp.  I now know why they invented adjustable clamps and am convinced that tension clamps are only sold to highly trained washer technicians.  But, what really bothered me about this particular trip to the washer's belly is what I discovered taped to the inside of the lower front panel; a service manual with E-21 and other codes explained in great detail.  When I bought the machine, I apparently forgot to ask for the manual that comes taped to the outside of the machine.

The second major issue is that our clothes sometimes come out smelly.  As this is a washing machine, there is nothing funny about that.  Try going into a 9am Monday morning meeting smelling like mold and tell me how much you laughed.

The third major issue with the old machine is that it tried to eat a sock with it's fancy front-loading door.  The sock, pinned firmly in the closed door, tried so hard to free itself that it stretched out the rubber gasket around the door.  This resulted in a less-than-perfect seal and a path of least resistance for dirty water.  The gasket stretched out and the machine's lip now had a tongue that drools.  We have tried duct tape, a folded wash cloth, and denial.  This has resulted in glue problems, a moldy wash cloth, and a wet floor respectively.  In the end, we chose the moldy wash cloth which still delivers a small amount of water to a collection device (a strategically placed upside-down tin trivial pursuit lid).

So after only a couple years with the old machine, we bought a new one.  It arrived last Friday. When purchasing the machine at the store, my Inner Engineer asked for the manual that gets taped to the outside of the machine and opted against the connector hoses.  My first request was ignored, while the second was not.  I first connected the supply hoses and was immediately pleased with how well it was going.  I had visions of problem-free washing ahead.  The dream was over when I realized that the drain hose was too short.  It was unable to extend over the dryer and up a few feet to the house's drain pipe.  I couldn't swap it with the dryer, because the dryer's power cord would then be too short.  I have ordered a longer drain hose and expect it to arrive this week.  In the meantime, we are using the old machine.

Therefore, I have finally decided that I have the worst Washing Machine Karma.  This has led me to think about my karma and consider ways in which good karma in one area of my life might balance with bad karma in another area.  For example, I have very Good Parking Karma.  I first discovered this when I met my wife who lived in the North End of Boston which, with it's narrow streets, has notoriously few parking options.  I almost always found a great spot.  This was often true anytime I drive into the city or around a full parking lot.  Good parking spots make themselves available to me.

But, I wondered what would happen if I were trying to park a washing machine in the city?  Would my bad washer karma result in hours of pushing my washer around downtown looking for somewhere to park it?  Once I did park it, would I have to remove the lower front panel looking for change to feed the parking meter?

Or would my good parker karma prevail and uncover parking spots whenever I wheeled my washer into the city?  Would my washer attract generous folks on their way to the laundromat while armed with rolls of quarters?  If I were to bring a long extension cord, my washer might even work to pay it's own parking meter.  However, I would hang a sign that read: "BYOB: Bring Your Own (mesh) Bag!"



Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Belushi and Akroyd's Kids Would Be Proud

My son (age 3 and 6/12ths) is obsessed with letters, which some of my readers might recall from a previous story.  So, I wasn't surprised when I picked him up the other night and he was cheerily singing the letter 'w'.

"w w w!"

"w w w!"

"w w w!"

He sang this over and over again, three w's in rapid succession until we pulled in the driveway when I asked, "why do you like w so much today?"

He smiled and responded, "pbskids."  

There was a brief pause and then he smiled again and said, "dot org!"

It then occurred to me that he's been watching too much television lately.  At least the "tell your parents about this" advertising is working well.  

When we unloaded the car and got settled in the house, he was still singing his new song.   But, he was now singing the blues. Literally.

With harmonica in hand, the song went like this:

"w w w"
(harmonica riff)
"pbskids"
(harmonica riff)
"dot"
(harmonica riff)
(harmonica riff)
"org..."
(harmonica riff)
(harmonica riff)
(harmonica riff)

He then spiraled out of control into the livingroom while playing the harmonica wildly.

Singing the blues for public television.  Even kids are sensitive to the impact of the economic downturn on non-profits.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Things That Go Oink in the Night


We have a couple LED flashlight key chains whose sole purposes are to keep the kids entertained on occasion.  For example, when the 300+ toys in their playroom aren't enough, a $1 key chain can do the trick.  One is a pig and another is a frog.  They each emit a twice repeated animal sound and shine a bright blue LED light.  The pig's light is emitted through it's nostrils and the frog's through it's mouth.

We keep our pigchain and frogchain in a kitchen drawer where we also keep silverware. We  sometimes place our children's toys near sharp objects.  This works for us because the toys divert their attention away from the hazardous utensils.  I'll admit that it doesn't always work; the strategy is flawed.

A couple weeks ago, the button on the pigchain got stuck which resulted in a continuous oink. The robotic "oink oinks" were repeated at a rate of one per second.

Oink oink

Oink oink

Oink oink

As any father and loving husband would, I tried for an unreasonable amount of time to un-stick the button.  My efforts were to no avail.  Therefore, I did the next best thing.  I simply placed the pork next to a fork and closed the drawer.  

By now, the kids had already forgotten about the pig.  But, my wife and I were haunted by the quiet and muffled sound of the pig in the kitchen drawer.

Oink oink

Oink oink

Oink oink

"Are you just going to leave it in there?" asked my wife.

"He'll stop oinking eventually," I replied morbidly.

Later that evening as we cleaned up the kitchen, we could still hear him whenever we approached the silverware drawer.  As I headed towards the stairs for the night, I was greeted as I am every night by my son's talking number puzzle.  It seems that toys are talking to me constantly and without reason.  This particular puzzle usually speaks when the lights go on or off.  On this particular night, lights out prompted a "Nine" which I remember vividly for it was also the time on the clock.  The talking puzzle tends to get personal with a loud "Zero" when I'm feeling overly critical of myself.

The next morning, the search for a spoon to stir my coffee also reminded me of our dying pigchain.  He was still oinking, but much quieter now and most likely feeling defeated.  I was sad, but needed coffee and moved on.

Since then, the pig has been quietly laying in the drawer.  That is, until yesterday when my son rediscovered him.  And to our amazement, his little fingers brought the pig back to life!  In reality, the "little pig that could" had a bit more oink left after all.  The kids were pleased for another 10 minutes until the oink was gone once more.  Back in the drawer, the pig was forgotten again.

This morning, I pressed the pig's button one last time to discover that the pig had lost his oink forever. 

RIP Pigchain.
We'll miss you.
At least until the coffee is done brewing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Invicipimple

I recently went to the dermatologist.  My primary reason for making the appointment was for a small cyst on my chin.  The cyst originally pretended to be a pimple, but decided to stick around for the holidays.  Even after a few weeks of denial, I was convinced that it was an invincible pimple and occasionally tried without success to eliminate the zit.  I have since named it "The Invincipimple," despite it's new diagnosis.

When I arrived at the doctor's office, the waiting room was filled with the sounds of the Beatles.  The track playing, "Twist and Shout", was a coincidental reminder of what happened when I discovered that the Invincipimple wasn't a pimple after all. When I literally took things into my own hands, it hurt so much that jumped up and down while howling for forgiveness by the Gods of Personal Hygiene.

The receptionist asked me to complete a registration form.  I was disappointed that there wasn't a question about skin size, because I had already calculated my SFOS (Square Feet of Skin) just in case.  Instead, I got stuck on a couple real questions in the Insurance section of the document.

Subscriber: ______________
Relationship to Subscriber: ______________

I am the subscriber to my health insurance and hence answered the first question with my full name, but the second question really forced me to ponder the question.  What is my relationship with myself?  At first, I decided that the space allotment for this question was clearly not enough.  Where do I start?  Overall, my relationship with myself is quite positive.  I can be very self-conscious and overly critical of myself. I know myself very well, better than when I first met myself (which is way before I can remember).  I am my best friend. I love myself but love other people more.  Sometimes I get annoyed with myself, but it only makes it worse when I can't get a break from myself.  I once tried to take a vacation without myself, but I was hurt and went along anyways after I apologized to me.  So, my relationship with myself is pretty good. But that's not really what they want to know...

Subscriber: Tyler James Aldredge.
Relationship to Subscriber: Self.

'Self' rhymes with 'Elf', but I digress.  'Tis the season.

After completing the registration form, I looked around the full waiting room.  A man and a woman had struck up a conversation earlier and had by now reached the flirtation stage of the discussion.  The Beatles, now singing "Do You Want to Know A Secret?", prompted me to wonder when these two would come clean (so-to-speak).  At some point in their relationship, they would have the discussion.

"So....why were you at the dermatologist?"

"I dunno. Why were you there?"

I wondered if this would happen on the first date? Second date? Or would they wait until, well, skin was the topic at hand?

The Beatles continued to sing.

"Listen,
Do you want to know a secret?
Do you promise not to tell?, whoa oh, oh."

I decided to keep quiet.  So did my Self.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Got a Spare Shadow?

The local YMCA has a gymnastics class for toddlers called "Me and My Shadow."  This morning while at the YMCA to register my son for the class, I resisted the urge to suggest that as adults we should set a good example and rename the class "My Shadow and I."  Instead I asked a more practical question. 

"Should my son bring his own shadow or will the teacher provide one?"  

Saturday, December 13, 2008

L Forever in Eternity

WBZ in Boston was reporting on the recent death of Bettie Page a 1950s centerfold. The newscaster finished the segment about her life's accomplishments (the ones she did with clothes on) by saying "She even had her own website." May she and her URL rest in peace.

When I finally leave this earth and WBZ is reporting on my achievements as an acclaimed humor writer, I hope they finish with a similar statement: "He even had his own blog." In fact, please put it on my headstone.

Tyler James
Beloved husband, father, son, brother, colleague, acquaintance, neighbor, 
and 
jerk that wrote silly things about me sometimes.

He will always be in our hearts and constantly on our mind.

He even had his own blog.

May he LOL forever in eternity. Well, not really OL but L.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Collection

To The Management of the Natick Collection:

Please accept this letter of apology. During your advertising campaign last summer, I unjustifiably ridiculed your decision to rename the Natick Mall. After your first plan to name the mall simply "Natick", you chose an even more laughable title with "The Natick Collection." According to a local news brief, use of the word Collection to attract upscale stores, sophisticated shoppers, and oblivious tourists is popular in getaway destinations such as Bellevue, WA and Troy, MI.  With this, I considered my research on absurdity to be complete.

I scoffed at your suggestion that this name would be more appropriate for the upscale stores. A collection? It sounds like something that might collect dust, no?  Besides, it's the Natick Mall. It will always be the Natick Mall.  You may have built a new fancy wing with a glass ceiling providing sunlight for your new fancy shoppers, but the "old section" (as it is now called) is still windowless and so 1990s.  Feuds between eternal enemies, mall rats and mall walkers, may flare up as they struggle to claim new turf (albeit marble instead of linoleum) in the new expansion wing.  That is, if they dare venture into the sunlight.  

However, I must give you the benefit of the doubt.  If I were filthy rich thanks to oblivious tourists and image-conscious shoppers, I might actually buy or create enough malls to call it a Collection too.  This leads me to wonder if I would get together with my mall-collector friends and trade?  

Hey, let's flip malls!   We'll each toss a mall towards the wall and he or she whose mall lands closest, keeps both malls!  Or we can make it easier and I'll trade you my Natick Collection for your Troy Collection AND your Bellevue Collection.  And I'll just GIVE you my "Starta Collection" trademark. My lawyer said it wasn't a liability. Or did he say asset? Aw heck, who cares. It's yours. That's what best mall-collector friends do!

I laughed even harder the first time I went to the Collection. I discovered that it had actually gone upscale as intended and attracted a few customers that will at least pretend to shop at those high-end stores. They even turned their noses up at my kids who were joyfully playing on your upscale couches.  The venue's new image even gave the security guard reason to be a snob, lecturing the kids about how not to touch the water fountain or make fun of his career choice.  

We did venture into one of your new stores.  The very serious staff at the chocolate store, which has since closed, were far from family-friendly.  As we stood in line pondering what $6 piece of $1 chocolate we would split four-ways, our kids started to explore the empty store.  They were in fact, extremely well-behaved in that moment.  As my daughter approached a comfy chair, the manager ran interference and explained that he didn't want a mess on his furniture.  He must have seen my son try to write his name with jam-covered fingers on the leather couch near the Concierge.  Is there really a concierge at the mall? I digress.  We left annoyed and disappointed that we didn't get to taste rich people chocolate.  However, it all worked out in the end because we needed the $6 for the valet tip.

You must be wondering when the apology part of this letter will appear.  A recent news story explained that you are filing for bankruptcy.  Therefore, I sincerely apologize for lampooning the name that you selected for your beloved mall.  The Collection was not a silly name after all.  In the end, it was actually quite forward-looking.  

Sincerely,
A Mall Rat from Framingham

Monday, December 8, 2008

Air Mommy

Yesterday, my kids were behaving so well at the grocery store that my wife and I decided to give them each a balloon.  While paying for the ingredients for our Potato Leek Soup, my wife made a joke about double-bagging the Leeks just in case....well you know.  Although she couldn't evoke a laugh out of the cashier, who probably thought they were mutant scallions, my Inner Humorist was pleased. 

While looking around to see if the joke was overheard, my son accidentally let go of his balloon.  Just as I turned, I noticed my wife leaping high into the air with arms outstretched in an attempt to catch it.  This quick-thinking mommy got major air.  I suspect that she put one foot on the bottom rack of the grocery cart and got more traction on the candy rack on her way up.  Or did she? 

Unfortunately, the balloon had different plans and floated to the rafters.  As my wife consoled our son, the cashier ordered another balloon (less helium this time).  All in a day's fun.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Accidental Pirate - Part 1

This is the only piece of fiction (so far) on the blog.  It's the first part of a short story.  I'm posting with the hope that feedback (good/bad/all) will point me towards the end of the story or away from fiction.

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

This has gone too far, I thought.

My car and I were idling in the high school parking lot a few blocks from home. My thighs were sticking to my jeans, and my jeans to the car seat. The sweat on my forehead was serving a dual function as coolant and calming agent. My heart and mind were still racing wildly as if trying to out-pace each other.

I wondered how long I had been sitting there. The large lot was empty and I was parked firmly in the middle and facing the school gymnasium. From this angle, I would see them coming from any angle.

My brain was reprocessing the events leading up to today. When I was 10 years old, my family and I had a summer outing to a nearby water amusement park. We were ambushed by a band of pirates soon after we arrived. Granted, they attacked us with balloons and songs, but I was clearly effected by the incident for I suffered from pirate-phobia ever since that day.

A few months ago, my wife suggested that we plan an Alaskan cruise and recommended that I get therapy for my phobia which would otherwise prevent me from enjoying the trip. My mind had already started imagining icicle-wielding bandits hiding in the glaciers. Last week, after several weeks dissecting my phobia, my therapist discussed exposure therapy as a possible way to overcome my fears. We created a hierarchy of pirate attributes that triggered my anxiety. From least to most provoking, the list looked like this:

Peg Leg

Hook

Walking the Plank

A Talking Parrot on the Shoulder

Eye Patch

Pirate's Outfit

Pirate Language

Ambush and Surprise

It was a complete surprise when I arrived at her office and she was wearing a cheap Halloween hook on her hand and a contraption that gave her the appearance of being peg-legged. Although I knew that it was irrational, I immediately tensed up and experienced the early signs of a panic attack. We slowly worked through my aversion to the pirate garb. By the end of the session, we had discussed the unlikelihood that I would ever encounter a one-hooked, peg-legged person again. Once I was calm again, she had me walk the plank. The plank was actually a cinder block wall along the office driveway. I didn't actually walk off the plank and I was relieved to know that she couldn't actually find a real plank.

I unclenched my fist damp with anxiety, revealing the note that I had received only moments ago. when delivered to my door by a courier.

Or was it hours ago?

With one eye closed in disbelief, I read the note again.

"Wear it all day."

I crumpled the note again, lowered the window, and threw it as far as I could.

I could wear it all day, but the pirate's eye patch was still in the delivery box in the garden. The container didn't have a return address. But, yesterday's events had made me cautious. I had carefully pulled out the note, read it's horrible message, and launched the box into the marigolds. As my tires squealed on the driveway as I reversed into the street, I caught a glimpse of the black eye wear which had been partially ejected from the package.

The trees that surrounded the parking lot provided a sense of security. However, the longer I sat in my car the more the parking lot felt like an ocean with yellow lines in a perfect yet broken pattern of waves that seemed to bring the trees closer. The pine trees, with their tall masts and broad leafy sails, were floating towards me.

It was 3:00 in the afternoon and I was getting ready for my job as the evening supervisor at the clinical testing lab at the hospital when the package had arrived.

To Be Continued

Friday, December 5, 2008

I Slow Down for Rear Ending

I was driving behind a car that had a bumper sticker that said "I Slow Down for TailGaters."

The car's rear bumber had a lot of multi-colored scratches and dents that were clearly from collisions.   The car was otherwise in perfect shape.  

As this driver was surely one of the best, I didn't hesitate to drive behind them along the river road.  I was about 30 feet behind them when they unexpectedly slammed on their brakes.  Naturally, the gap closed and I was upon them quickly.  They then sped up until the gap was even bigger than before.  This happened five more times.  

So, I conclude that the driver of this car wants to make a tailgater of each of us.  In fact, I have only once been an unintentional tailgater and you just read the story.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Make an EZ-Pass at Me

If you are still searching for the perfect gift for your loved one this holiday season, look no further. The Massachusetts Turnpike is selling $30 and $50 gift certificates to FastLane. These will also work on the EZ-Pass and more obscure FlashDrive toll plazas too.  They can also be used towards other Turnpike gift items such as:

*Turnpike T-Shirts including ones that read "Make an EZ-Pass at Me and I'll Transpond Positively" or "It's Been a Long Strange Trip"

*Bumper stickers such as "I Brake (A Lot) for the Mass Pike" and (in small font) "If You Can Read This, You're on the Mass Pike"

*Official Turnpike Travel Pillows and Blankets (just in case)

Besides, electronics are out.  Tolls are in.  Friends don't let friends pay tolls with cash, especially when they can be idling hands-free in the adjacent lane.  The days of chucking coins into a tiny basket with one-eye closed as you barrel through a narrow toll booth are gone. Instead of digging around for change under floor mats, spend your time people watching or reading the toll plaza sponsorship ads such as "These once-living and now carbon-monoxide infused flowers were donated by Scrub-and-ScrubSomeMore Car Wash."

To my friends who were initially planning to pay off my heating bill for Christmas:

Please instead pay my tolls with this wonderful gift idea. I'll think of you each morning as I inch through the toll plaza. The green light that normally mocks my 1 mph crawl towards work will instead remind me of your thoughtfulness. How could I possibly engage in road rage where 15 toll lanes become three when your holiday generosity has made my trip possible.

I thought paying a loved one's bills was the ultimate gift until I discovered the EZ-Gift. In fact, I purchased $30 turnpike gift cards for each of you this year. Unfortunately, I will need to borrow them back to pay the Turnpike Authority for the $25 bounced check fees. I would have made a deposit at the bank sooner, but I haven't been travelling much since I burned through the Mobil Gas Gift Cards you gave me last year (didn't you see the gas prices last summer??). I expect that you will be upset about this, but you will have $5 remaining on your FastLane account. Please come visit me on Exit 13 and we can discuss.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Squarely in a Diamond

I'm at crossroads. A decision point. On a flow diagram, I would be squarely in the middle of a diamond if that's possible.

I hope to write everyday, but finding the time is difficult. My blog started as a template for my creative writing. I found that I enjoy writing about everyday events in story form. However, this had always prevented me from sharing it because I only wanted to produce "completed" pieces. However, in finding humor all around me, I can't help but want to simply write about it and not worry about completeness. I worry that I write more casually, fewer stories will result. Will it still be good? It's still unclear.

But, I am often told by my better half that I am too extreme in my decision making process. Why does it have to be one or the other? She makes a great point. I can try to do both and see where it leads. Perhaps these two seemingly different styles will merge into one.

I have also wondered if my blog would be more interesting if I posted photographs of some things that make me laugh out loud each day. Please give me feedback here. With that, here are a few.

Tonight when I got home from work, I found the following Globe magazine and Tweeter circular together, just as shown. 60% off everything at Tweeter is a dream come true, but what more can a nun wish for than a discounted subwoofer?

Even Puppy was too tired to eat all of his dinner and pretzel snacks.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

List from a List

My wife and I make the kids' lunch each night for the next day. Typically, we start by making a list that outlines the meals. The list is divided by "Morning", "Lunch", and "Afternoon." From there, the menu unfolds.

Tonight, after my wife made most of the lunch without me, I was handed a smaller list on a separate paper that read:
Hummus
Pancakes with Jam
Macaroni and Cheese

I was now working with a list from a list. Apparently, I need simplification so as to minimize the number of questions. So, before she left the room I asked:

"Hummus for each of them? Separate containers? How much? The new stuff with the chopped garlic on top or the smooth kind?"

"How much jam? Strawberry or Rasberry? How many pancakes? As mini sandwiches or free agents? In baggies or tupperware?"

"Kraft or Annie's? Macaroni, Pokemon, or Bunnies?"

Swing Out Sister

There are probably many writers that are dedicated to chronicling bad driving behavior, so I don't intentionally intend to join them. However, living and working near Boston provides an endless supply of bad driving stories. I have done a little searching online to determine if anyone has created a Who's Who by characterizing the various breeds of drivers. A Google search on this topic yielded results that included a lot of psychology-related journal articles and theses, accident liability law documents, and golf club analysis commentaries.

Therefore, I conclude that a book describing the people that evoke the road rage in each of us is in my future. In the meantime, I will describe one driving phenotype demonstrated by someone I drive with often: my wife.

While driving home from the mall yesterday, I noticed a car in front of us swing their car to the right just before turning left. At the top of the bad driver classification hierarchy, one of the first divisions is between "intentional" and "oblivious." The "Swing Out Sister" behavior is in the latter category. This maddens me, because it makes absolutely no sense why you would need to do this. I actually have a theory (perhaps detailed in one of the aforementioned journal articles) that sometimes drivers just mimic other drivers. Unless the turn is an acute angle (read: "hard right" or "hard left") or you are attempting to pass the lead car in Indianapolis, you don't need to steer your car in one direction to cut hard in another. This act is dangerous, especially for those of us that typically try to pass you on the swing side.

While complaining about this in the car, my wife confessed that she is one of those drivers. For once, a wish had come true. I could barely contain myself when I realized that I had a rare opportunity to talk to one of "them" and to finally get an explanation. When prompted, she claimed that she didn't know why she did it. Mimicking behavior, I thought.

After more questioning, she admitted that she swings out left to turn right because she doesn't want to cross the yellow line. Don't want to cross the yellow line? While turning left? From the right side of the road? In a 2-ton vehicle for which you are legally permitted to drive? On the road? I can't even make sense of this.

I'm at a loss for words in the moment. But my book, to be published soon, will have all names removed.

More is Better....

....which is why I will be writing more soon. There is so much humor in my life, but my time limitations are definitely not funny.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Toddler Coordinator

This morning, my family and I had an appointment to tour a local daycare facility. We are actively searching for an alternative childcare center for my daughter. As an alternative to the home-based family daycare where she currently attends, we decided to examine a larger center with the full support of "Corporate" and a wide range of germs to choose from on a daily basis.

I was quite impressed by the ample parking. This is certainly only one of many benefits to being located at an industrial park in a building that was most likely a lead paint plant at one time. The other advantage is that teachers could take them for a stroll through the BJ's parking lot or past the plastic recycling center. Look kids! That's where your bottles will go if you misbehave.

We went inside and were greeted by "the administration." We were greeted by several administrative assistants before the most experienced, 24 year old Jenny, introduced herself as the "Toddler Coordinator." She toured us through a few toddler rooms where the teachers were disheveled and the kids looked miserable. As we asked how the teachers handled sick children, we watched as toddler after toddler had their noses wiped. There was one room where the kids noses were running like fountains, but only because the teacher was cleaning up the leaky faucet on her own face.

Our guide discussed how they use a variety of methods to creatively develop the children's interpersonal and language skills. She explained how they use stuffed animals to represent different emotions so that the children would have another way to articulate how they are feeling. As she started to explain how Sid the Snake represented Sad, she got frustrated when she couldn't find the fluffy critter to demonstrate her point. When I suggested that perhaps Sid was Sad because he was Stolen, she got more frustrated. Sensing her anxiety and hoping to evoke a smile instead, I suggested that she look for Fred the Frustrated Fox. She didn't laugh but instead ushered us out of the room.

The rooms and hallways were a mess. The classrooms and offices were cluttered. One room served dual purposes as a staff office and a children's reading room. The most organized part of that particular room was the inside of the vending machine stocked with snacks for staff members. But the desks around it were full of unorganized papers and office supplies. As long as the Skittles and Cheetos are lined up for perfect viewing and selection, who needs to find this week's preschool curriculum? Where's that list of kids that are allergic to peanuts? It's here somewhere....Oh never mind. Do you have a quarter I can borrow for that Snickers bar in Row H3?

When we looked at the ghost town that was the outdoor playground, I noticed a variety of toys half buried in wood chips and soon to be forgotten for the winter. In several months, children will look outside to see what Spring has sprung and be disappointed to find Fisher Price toys emerging from the melting snow. Parents all over town will be explaining why their yards don't grow toys. Perhaps this is where many of those same parents will invoke their right to also explain that money doesn't grow on trees.

We left quite disappointed and wondered if we will ever be satisfied with the childcare options. At the particular center that we chose to visit today, we were able to confirm that "Corporate" doesn't (we hope) really know what's going on at Germ Fest 2008. We will need to keep looking. In the meantime, I have updated my resume to reflect my part-time responsibilities as "Toddler Coordinator" and "Fred the Frustrated Fox" which are apparently synonyms.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Purple Cat Stickers

During my lunch break today, I walked across the street to the MIT bookstore. Any place with MIT students and the books they read should approximate the center of the intellectual universe. Today's experience casted doubt on this assumption.

With a specific item in mind, I wandered the aisles on the ground floor before my search led me to the basement level. When I couldn't find it there either, I approached the cashier, a disheveled college-aged male staring at his hands until he noticed me.

"Do you sell stickers? For kids?" I asked.

The young man laughed and promptly produced a sheet of stickers from behind the counter. The sheet had purple cats on it. "They're free. It's a promotion."

I wasn't sure how to respond appropriately. "Are you advertising that you have a large surplus of purple cats for sale?"

"Nope. Just a large surplus of purple cat stickers. We're trying to get rid of them."

"So, you are promoting them by giving them away?"

"Yep. Pretty creative marketing strategy, huh?"

I was losing patience.

"I'm looking for letter stickers."

"Do you mean stamps?"

"No, not that kind of letter. The alphabet. They're a reward for potty training."

He stared at me blankly without saying anything.

"For my son," I explained, attempting to refocus him. "He's potty training and it's an incentive that works for him."

Illustrating size with exaggerated hand gestures, he asked "Do you want small letter stickers? Or large ones?"

"I want purple cat sized ones."

"I'm sorry, but we don't sell letter stickers."

"Then why did you ask me what size?"

"I dunno. Just curious."

I rode the elevator back up to the ground floor. As I neared the exit, I discovered a gift section that I didn't notice earlier. I quickly found refrigerator magnets with the alphabet. They stick. They have letters on them. Sold.

I paid for the magnets at the nearest register. I was happy to have an interaction with a different customer service representative. By choice, we barely spoke and I was on my way in a few moments.

When I got home this evening, my wife asked me about the sticker hunt.

"No luck with the alphabet stickers. Only magnets," I declared as I tossed the bag onto the kitchen island.

She peeked inside and smiled.

"You bought purple cat stickers?"

Realizing that the cashier must have tossed them into the bag with the receipt, I could do nothing but tell the truth.

"It was a promotion."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Leaf Catching

I have been spending a lot of time lately removing leaves from my yard. One can't help but fantasize about improved methods for leaf removal. I use an old fashioned technique called raking. My neighbors don't realize how far behind my technology is, because they can barely see me through the enormous cloud of leaves they create with their leaf blowers. Nor can they hear the crinkling and crunching sounds of dead leaves between the fingers of my rake over their powerful tornado-makers.

When I'm not thinking about hand blisters or how much I underestimated the number of bags needed, I consider better ways to clean up the yard. The mind-numbing sound of gas-powered leaf blowers typically drives my thoughts towards the opposite end of the spectrum of eco-friendliness.

A couple years ago, I received a quote for $500 to receive a "Fall Yard Cleanup" from a local landscaping company. It occurred to me that, at 50 cents per biodegradable leaf bag, I could buy 1000 of them for the same price. With a 1000 leaf bags in hand, I would simply open them all up and stand them next to each other in the yard. I would have enough to cover every inch of the would-be leaf-covered areas of they yard. The leaves would simply fall into the bags. Once all of the leaves have fallen, I would close up the bags and take them to the city dump. Which reminds me; do you have a truck large enough to hold 1000 leaf bags that I can borrow? For your troubles, I'll give you an equal number of empty leaf bags.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Frozen Pets and Whirled Peas

I saw three things yesterday that I found very humorous.

First, I saw a very funny bumper sticker that said "Visualize Whirled Peas." Very clever.

Second, I saw a truck promoting their service: "Fresh Frozen Pet Food Delivery." I wondered if the kids will someday ask for a Frozen Pet? If so, I know how to get fresh food.

Finally, an all-service laundry facility adorned a sign that read:

Cleaner
Tailor

It had never occurred to me that a tailor's personal hygiene was worth advertising.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

PoCO

My wife wants to start a movement in Framingham. And it's not the kind of movement the town desperately needs to reduce the number of Brazilian nail salons in the downtown area. Instead, she wants to promote a "Positive Costume Only" (PoCO) Halloween in which only happy and friendly costumes are worn by the children of the town. The acronym is by no means intended to minimize the magnitude of this initiative's potential impact.

This interest of hers was prompted by the frightened response by our children as they walked by the Halloween store at the mall. She hurried the kids past the zombies and goblins at the same pace I typically rush past the occasional Spencer's gift store. Or past the frequent "Can I ask you a question?" from beauty product kiosk vendors to whom I always respond with finality, "You just did."

Over dinner the other night, she explained that kids should not wear scary costumes. I asked her for an example of a more positive yet interesting costume. She promptly responded, "A Rubik's Cube." I now felt obligated to explain that one of the reasons that masks were historically worn at Halloween festivals was to scare away evil spirits. This was typically done at Harvest time, or in modern days, before eating candy harvested from strangers in costumes.

I explained that the Rubik's cube wasn't scary enough. But, then I hesitated. I realized that when I was of trick-or-treating age, I would have been terrified of a Rubik's cube. Especially, if the puzzle were to surprise ambush me in a cul-de-sac, screaming "Solve Me! Solve Me!" I definitely would have run home.

Therefore, I have successfully defeated the PoCO Halloween with at least one example of how a seemingly positive costume is always a disguise for something more evil and sometimes unexplainable. With a renewed excitement for the holiday, I will be making new costumes for my kids. Watch out residents of Framingham, because this year on All Hallow's Eve, you will meet Ms. Calculus and Mr. Driver That Always Blocks Intersections.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Time

I need more of it. I have about 10 posts in draft mode. More soon...

Monday, October 13, 2008

WE GO!

At the San Francisco airport, they make it relatively easy to find the van shuttles that will take you almost anywhere in the city for $17. However I suspect that if I looked at a terminal map, it would show the shuttle pickup location just beyond the airport property. It's not that they don't want you to leave the airport, but rather they don't want to be associated with any ill circumstance that might result from a ride on one of these shuttles-from-hell.

I was the second person to sign my life away, which meant that I had to climb to the far back into the last row of three. Unfortunately, the middle row was three seats wide preventing proper access to the third row. I believe now that somewhere at a Ford plant in the midwest where they make these people-movers, there is a job opening.

"Someone must have put a three-seater in the two-seater pile when I wasn't looking," he must have said at his exit interview.

I climbed under an extended seat belt safely securing an invisible passenger in the first row. I tumbled over the second row of seats into the back. As I straightened myself out and started searching for my seat belt in the middle seat, another passenger hurled himself into our row. Once settled, the three of us looked at each other with disgust and fear for the unknown.

With eight of us packed into every available seat, the driver climbed in and started the engine. While the van idled, we all sat there quietly for a minute. The driver stared straight ahead, perhaps considering how he might kill us and steal our frequent flyer miles as part of his plan to start a new life. My new best friends and I nervously looked at each other, searching for an explanation as to why we were still there. One passenger spoke up, his voice cracking.

"I don't think anyone else is coming." His observation was returned with silence.

A couple minutes later and without warning the driver yelled, "WE GO!" He must have slammed his foot on the gas pedal, because we sped out of the parking lane faster than you could say "Refund Please."

With the grace and speed of an Andretti, our chauffeur cut off a dozen other drivers including another van from his own company. I hope this comes up at his annual performance review, as in the following: "The employee does not work well with others. In fact, he tries to kill them on the highway." I also wondered if shuttle drivers ever respond anonymously to a "How's my driving?" bumper sticker when it's in response to a coworker. It might be a competitive field after all.

Now in the passing lane with open road ahead of us, it was somewhat smooth sailing at 80mph. As we all sat there speechless and facing forward, I felt like one of those Fisher Price Little People. If I were to raise my arms straight out to my sides and put a frog in my pocket, I could have completed the imitation. The wheels on the bus go round and round.

Besides the simple-minded fellow in the front row chuckling at the text message alert he received on his phone to inform him that his flight had just landed, my co-passengers were non-verbal. Unwilling to die lonely, I chose to make friends with the woman to my right. She was staring out the window, perhaps praying for her safety.

"Are you from San Francisco?" I asked cheerily.

"No," my new friend said deeply, finishing the conversation without looking at me.

The man to my right was now sleeping through all of this. I decided to focus more on what was happening outside the van. I marveled at the houses on the Peninsula that were built on the sides of very large hills. It just doesn't seem like a great place to live. The views might be great, but is it really worth it to risk sliding down the mountain and onto the highway?

We entered San Francisco and the driver stopped every 5 minutes to unload each passenger at their final destination. As we entered one low income neighborhood, my chipper friend reconsidered our rocky start and said in a heavy Russian accent, "This city looks like a slum."

"This does look like a bad part, but it truly is a beautiful city. I've been here once before," I said to the back of her head.

A few minutes later she concluded, "It doesn't look like the slum; it is the slum."

Still staring out the window, she then confessed, "This is my stop." The vehicle came to a halt and I moved aside so that she could roll over the seats in front of us and out the van door.

On the road again, I was the only victim remaining. As we sped up and down the 'Frisco hills, I wondered if the weight of all the other passengers had previously prevented us from tipping over. This concerned me as I bumped up and down in my seat with every trolley track we crossed.

At one intersection, we drove through a red light cutting off traffic to cross three lanes to make a left. This might have been more successful had we not tried to accomplish this in less than 10 feet.

Finally, we pulled into my hotel driveway nearly hitting the unsuspecting valet. As the driver pulled my luggage from the back of the van the valet walked by and with sarcasm said, "Nice driving."

As always, I experienced tip fear (the fear of confrontation that might result from not tipping enough or at all). I gave him $17 per standard rate and another $5 for getting me there alive after all. With a wave and a "thank you," he was on his way back to the airport to do it all again.

When the hotel offered a Lincoln Town Car for the return trip to the airport, I didn't hesitate to make a reservation. In fact, I think I said out loud and very enthusiastically, "WE GO!"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Twitch Came First?

If you have seen me in the past few days, you may have noticed that my lower left eyelid is twitching. You were probably too polite to draw attention to it for fear of embarrasing me. Thank you. In fact, you will most likely deny it even after reading this. No really, you're too kind.

The muscle spasm is not continuous, but it is uncontrollable and occurs frequently throughout the day. It's making me quite irritable actually. It is embarrassing to be at the beach or town common and talking to someone when my eyelid suddenly decides to do the jig. These scenarios require very quick thinking.

Do I draw attention to it and hope that we can move past it with a polite laugh? This option might highlight the facial fandango that perhaps they hadn't noticed yet and hopefully never will.

Or do I ignore the twitch and distract the would-be gawker with another part of my body? I could just stamp my foot very loudly and exuberantly. This might work, but feels like a lose-lose situation.

Instead I would choose the safest option and blink both of my eyes repeatedly, commenting on how great my friend looks. "So great that I can't believe my eyes!" This attention deflection will only seem awkward for the minute or two it takes to wrap up the now doomed conversation.

I am also irritated by my eyelid's antics because it's uncomfortable. It feels droopy yet quivers as it unsuccessfully attempts to hold itself in place. (By the way, it's probably helpful in times like these that I no longer believe that the eyelid's primary responsibility is to prevent my eyeball from falling out when I'm tired. This surely would cause more anxiety). The quivering is rapid and chaotic, unlike normal eyelid behavior. I'm certain that we all experience a little muscle spasm occasionally, but it rarely lasts more than a minute. Imagine watching an entire news program contemplating the meaning of 'Eyewitness' as your face flips out.

This recent experience with my left eye reminds me of my late and beloved cat, Hoolie. My wife and I would laugh and joke when she was mad, because she would appear to be really agitated and repeatedly blink her left eye. This was typically followed by an unwarranted attack on my shoe, The Swiffer, or another cat. She was normally a sweet and gentle 25 pound Maine Coon cat, but once the blinking started it was all over. It was rarely obvious what had this cool kitty all worked up and what led to the eye blinking, but we laughed anyways (inappropriate).

These memories of my cat have definitely made me feel guilty about the teasing. So, please don't judge me too quickly. I always apologized and worked collaboratively with her to identify a likely source of frustration and explore other possible and safer outcomes. This approach was often unsuccessful and only resulted in more eye blinking and 'catattacks'.

But more than the feelings of guilt, these memories have made me realize that perhaps it was a muscle spasm that resulted in Hoolie's irritation and not the converse. I also now wonder if the blinking of her left eye was an attempt to conceal a twitching eyelid. I probably would have noticed had she not been stamping her paw so loudly and exuberantly.

Kicks

I just learned from my son that the singular version of the cereal Kix is a kick, as in "can I have a kick in my mouth daddy?"

Friday, September 26, 2008

Razors Cut

I have been very busy and disappointed that I don't have more time to write. I have so many stories to share, but not enough time to put them in words. But, I'm trying! I always have at least six posts in the draft stages. So, please keep checking in. If you are new to my blog, please read some of my older posts.

In the meantime....

Razors Cut

Razor USA issued a recall for approximately 100,000 scooters this week. The reason? These particular Razors cut. This is not necessarily funny, because there have apparently been a dozen reports of injuries by Razor riders. Apparently, the vehicle has sharp edges that may result in lacerations. Some of those injured required surgery due to damaged Achilles tendons.

Speaking of the Achilles, is this what Razor's competitors were hoping for? Razors that cut? Isn't this what Razor engineers undoubtedly asked by executives to avoid? There certainly must have been a big sign in the lunchroom that said "We cannot, we repeat cannot, live up to our name. Do not design or manufacture parts that may cause Razor sharp cuts. Bodily injury is bad for the company image. And it's too late to change our company name to Really Dull Blade."

Since you are asking me, I will agree that the company's name is unfortunate in light of these recalls. I do not ride a scooter, but the name just seems terribly misplaced. I can only guess that the Razor name is intended to conjure up an image of a scooter cutting through the air or through traffic. However, I think that if scooters were designed to do anything but scoot they would have received a better name from the start. That said, I always thought that 'Skedaddle' was a more appropriate name.

Scooters scoot. Razors cut.

We ride scooters. We cut with razors.

I didn't get up in the morning and remove stubble with a scooter before jumping on my razor to cut through traffic on my way to work.

Anyways, you get my point. Of course there was a recall. These three and four wheel motorized skateboards were bound to injure someone with successful branding like that.

If Razor USA wants to regain their footing in the scooter market, I recommend that they change their corporate name to Skedaddle. I gaurantee that they will never get customers reporting that their Achilles heel was skedaddled on their scooter while cutting through traffic.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Business End of Canine Crime Fighting

Sometime during my childhood, between burning leaves with a magnifying glass and failing a quantum physics course in college, I decided that I wanted to be a scientist. I knew that someday my work in the genetics field would have application and relevance to the common suburbanite. For this reason, I was thrilled to hear the news that the field's work on canine genetics has finally paid off in a way that makes me proud. Recent developments clearly demonstrate the potential effect of this work on my daily life.

What kind of effect? Let me explain. In at least one city in Israel, DNA testing is being used to match dog poop with it's 'source'. Fines will be applied to any dog owner whose dog's feces are found on the ground in public areas. This is truly a small victory for the field of genetic testing.

Dog owners in that particular city are required to have their dogs' cheeks' swabbed by a city-appointed veterinarian. I would love to see a dog cheek swabbing event, but that will have to wait until the poop review comes to my town.

Canine landmines found around town that violate city ordinances will also be tested. Hopefully, there is a match and the dogowner receives a ticket with a fine in the mail.

This is brilliant! I plan to write a letter to my town government in Framingham and ask that they seriously consider this approach. I have polled my non-dogowner neighbors and they unanimously agree and have promised to cheer louder than official town laughter and town official laughter when I presnt this at the next town meeting.

But, I am not only determined to eliminate one particular Dalmation from fertilizing my yard. This dog tracking technique also has benefits for crime fighting. For example, let's imagine that my house was burglarized. I already don't like where this is going, so please stop imagining that now. Instead, let's pretend that my neighbor's house was robbed. He wasn't home and there aren't any known witnesses. However, a diligent CSI discovers Dalmation dog feces in my front yard.

Were the Dalmation's poop databased and analyzed for estimated time of "delivery", they might have themselves a witness. By the way, please don't be surprised if "poop databasing" is a household phrase someday because my work in the genetics field will have that kind of impact, I promise.

If the dog happened to do his business during or close to the time of the burglary, the police could ask the dogowner if they saw anything suspicious. The perfect scenario would be one in which the dogowner explained that he did see something suspicious, which is why he did not see the crime scene evidence planted by his best friend. Regardless of the outcome, you would have a complete "chain of custody" as follows:

Burglar --> Neighbor's House --> My House --> Feces --> Dog --> Dog owner (Witness)

A town that adopts "poop databasing" will not only help crime fighting but their efforts might also result in crime prevention. Would-be criminals would literally have to watch their step and beware of dogs everywhere. I hesitate to state the obvious, but sneakers can also be swabbed providing an additional opportunity for complete traceability in the chain.

Finally, I will recommend that the town not give up too easily on the dog owner traceability method and it's range of potential benefits. If the system is implemented and feces in my yard does not match a local dog or crime, I will politely ask at the next town committee meeting: "Can you please do a cheek swab on old man Rogers three doors down?"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Accidental Pirate

I'm working on a short story...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Accurate Traffic

I have been listening to a lot of NPR lately. However, this morning I was bored with a story about art made from garbage and turned on a music station. I will admit, the button didn't respond at first for it had been awhile since I chose to listen to music on my drive. It was background noise more than anything as my mind was on the day ahead.

However, my brain did tune in long enough to hear one particular phrase designed to fill the airways where the broadcaster had nothing else to say. There was repeated use of the phrase "Precision Traffic" to refer to their update on the Boston area roadways.

Precision Traffic. They have decided to call it by this name, because there is one statement that they can say with repeatability and reproducibility: "There is traffic."

The Precision Traffic team does their best with the helicopters and speed-dialing "alert listeners," but I'm often surprised at the accident that was not reported or the one that I never saw. There is traffic, but it will be very different by the time I get there. There is always traffic, hence the precision statement and the overly confident voice-over artist.

As a scientist and engineer, I reserve the right to briefly explain the difference between precision and accuracy without getting harassed by friends or strangers or strange friends. Actually, I'll make everyone happy and simply cut and paste an explanation from Wikipedia instead.

"Accuracy is the degree of closeness of a measured or calculated quantity to its actual (true) value. Accuracy is closely related to precision, also called reproducibility or repeatability, the degree to which further measurements or calculations show the same or similar results." Got that? Good.

Therefore, I want Accurate Traffic. I want someone to tell me exactly where and when things will get better or worse for me. Perhaps this is selfish and unrealistic. But if a radio station really wants to boost it's ratings, they should listen to this particular customer. Traffic reports should sound like this:

"Accurate Traffic on the 3's!

Tyler from Framingham - you left WAY too late. Now, you will have to sit behind a huge line at the toll plaza with a thousand other sleepyheads that couldn't get it together on time. Had you gotten up earlier, you would have also missed the four car accident that is about to happen in about 5 minutes and approximately 10 cars in front of you. If you drive a lot faster, you might miss it! But, there's a sweet spot that you don't want to be in! Your zipper's down, you have Cheerios stuck to your elbow, and there are two pacifiers in your pocket. Good luck explaining to your boss why you're late for your annual performance review, slacker. Another Accurate Traffic update in 10 minutes!"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pinching Coffee Cups

In my house, a cafe-bought cup of coffee is an important unit of monetary measure. It is used as a way to describe the cost of something else or how much was saved.

For example, we recently considered cancelling the newspaper. We realized that this was costing us the equivalent of 7 cups of coffee per month. However, the savings at the grocery store that would result from coupons retrieved from the paper should equal or exceed that for it to be a justified expense. For example, last week alone I cut coupons worth at least 20 cups of coffee. I had to eat a lot of cereal and frozen dinners this week to cash in on those savings.

Gas prices these days, huh? The recent increase and subsequent fall of gasoline prices is killing me. From a cup and half up to two cups and back down again is not good for the blood pressure. Now that the gas prices are down again, I'm driving more. To the coffeeshop.

There's a line in our budget that converts savings to coffee cups. This makes it significantly easier to find coffee cups each month. More specifically, I recently cut out all personal hygiene products. You won't complain too much when that latte is on me, will you?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Got Broccoli?

10 easy steps to making Broccoli Milk

1. Boil 3 broccoli crowns for 60 minutes until water is green.
2. Place a strainer over a large pot.
3. Pour the broccoli and green water into the strainer, collecting the green water in the pot and the broccoli in the strainer.
4. Eat the green mush that was once broccoli.
5. Resist the temptation to ask yourself why you are doing this or why I wrote this. The answers will leave you feeling empty despite the aforementioned snacking on green mush.
6. Return the pot with green broccoli water to the stove and turn to High heat.
7. Boil until all water has evaporated, leaving green broccoli film on the bottom of the pot.
8. Remove from heat.
9. Pour 1 quart of whole milk into the pot, and stir to re-suspend broccoli film.
10. Pour into several glasses and chill.

Broccoli milk.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sharing the "Yay"

All parents know that teaching a child to share is an essential part of parenthood. It's in the job description, listed right between organizing fun playdates and establishing a laundry process designed to rival any major hotel chain. Sharing is a skill that is properly honed on the playground, at the daycare, and at home.

Sharing with others is a skill that children will apply throughout their lifetime.

Fortunately, most of us mature with age and compromise does not always result in a tantrum. Although sharing can at times still be difficult, we learn to control our emotions. But, let's imagine for a moment that we don't develop self-control. That last donut in the lunchroom could result in a midlife meldown by hungry colleagues. The good seats at a work seminar could be the cause of a major crying fit by managers and employees alike.

My home is not immune to the challenges in teaching kids to share with each other. Naturally, my son had a difficult time adjusting to the arrival of his baby sister. But, the easiest way for him to manage this was to simply ignore her. This lasted only several weeks until he most likely realized that we didn't get her at the library with the Bob the Builder DVDs nor would she be returned in the dropbox. Sharing then became much more difficult, as sibling rivalry should. Naturally, toys are one of the first objects that children must learn to share.

My wife and I have learned to apply Standard Operating Procedures to our family's sharing protocol. When a toddler scuffle erupts over a toy, we calmly explain that the toys are to be shared and they are expected to take turns with the toy that is most coveted in that particular moment. This interaction occurs often, because typically my daughter wants anything that my son possesses at any given time. Therefore, the following conversation can be heard often in our house.

Cian: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH. No baby Shea!"

Me: "What happened?"

Cian: "I want the Compeetateeter. Baby Shea has daddy's phone," clinging to a toy computer and pointing at my previously lost cell phone.

Me: "We share our toys. Shea, play with my phone for another minute. Cian, you have another minute with the computer before you give it to your sister."

Cian and Shea in unison: "Ok."

This works almost always. However, recently the concept of sharing has reached a new level. A few months ago, Shea started to dance to music with her brother. Cian felt that dancing was not to be shared and promptly said so. "My dancing, Shea!" Although we briefly discuss how the dancing is to be shared, Shea (not surprisingly) becomes less interested in her dance partner and finds a new activity. She still dances with her brother, but only when he's in the mood to share.

Last weekend, we entered completely new territory with regards to sharing protocol. As a family, we have a ritual of saying "Yay!" when we are driving and pull into the driveway upon returning home. On this particular occasion after the celebratory cheer, Cian firmly stated:

"No, Baby Shea. My Yay!"

My wife and I looked at each other, uncertain of how things could have evolved this far. My daughter copies and my son copyrights. The conversation could have gone like this:

Me: "What happened?"

Cian: "I want the Yay. Baby Shea has Hooray," clinging to the Yay and pointing at my previously lost Hooray.

Me: "We share our cheers. Shea, play with my Hooray for another minute. Cian, you have another minute with the Yay before you give it to your sister."

Cian and Shea in unison: "Ok."

Cian: "Yay!"
Shea:"Hooray!"
Me: "Sweet."

But, instead we had a brief discussion about it before we all shared the "Yay."

Hooray!

Chop. Chop.

Three women in their golden years tied themselves to a crab apple tree earlier this week in Shrewsbury, MA. The fiery old women were protesting a plan at their housing facility that involved the removal of said tree. The women held onto a yellow rope that wrapped loosely through each of their hands and the would-be paper. I fully support their cause, for unnecessary removal of any living creature is worth fighting against. Especially, when the tree is being removed to make room for a dumpster.

On the nightly news, the women confidently stated their intentions. They will stay tied to the tree through breakfast, lunch, and dinner (which starts at 4:00). They will only leave the tree to sleep.

I am surprised that this even made the news. I am not supporting the removal of the tree but if I were a city authority that did, I would plan my day like this:

Morning: Sharpen chainsaw blades.
Early Afternoon: Respond to questions to the media.
Late Afternoon: Say goodnight to three nice ladies.
Evening: Chop. Chop.

But, instead I will make a proposal to these wildlife warriors. Instead, attach yourselves to the dumpster. Also, make bold statements about preserving the natural environment of trash receptacles and the imbalance that may occur if the dumpster is moved. That would be news.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dear General Motors

Dear General Motors,

I highly recommend that you fire the advertising firm assigned to your Chevrolet brand. Granted, over the years they have produced memorable jingles. A Google search informed me that you had great success in the 1950s with a radio song called "See the USA in Your Chevrolet" sung as a duet on a musical variety show. This was last century so I would like to instead draw attention to a personal favorite from more recent years, "Have you driven a Chevy-y-y-y lately?" In the spirit of full disclosure, I regretfully admit that when this commercial was popular I bought a Ford instead. Sorry.

Despite your ad team's continued success at branding through radio advertisements, I am disappointed in their recent oversight displayed in a commercial for your new electric car, the Chevy Volt. It begins with an announcer saying "Ok, Listen." This request is followed by an extended moment of silence. The first time I heard the commercial, I didn't realize that it was silence and thought that I was missing something. However, the second time I listened to the commercial I followed your suggestion and listened to the silence and confirmed that it was in fact silence.

The announcer then returns to say, "That, my friend, is the sound of the future." This is where disappointment sets in. A proper Internet search would have revealed that silence is not the sound of the future. The future will be noisy and you need to know this now. A legislative committee in CA is currently working on recommendations for how to make hybrid and electric cars noisier so as to be heard by the blind. A noble cause indeed, but with potentially interesting results. For more information and very objective commentary, please see my recent post on this topic: http://cafuffle.blogspot.com/2008/08/noisy-cars.html.

Once you have fired your advertising team, please consider re-hiring some of your recently laid-off engineers from one your SUV divisions to make your new electric cars noisier. I recommend an external speaker system that produces a gass-guzzling sound. Guzzling certainly does make a sound, right? The law enforcement officials hired to enforce this new legislation will not be suspicious, I'm sure. For this project, I recommend someone from your Suburban line. However if your budgets require something with less development costs, you could try baseball cards in the wheel spokes. That, my friend, is the sound of the future.

Sincerely,
Disappointed in Framingham

Work gets in the way

I have a few posts in the works, but none ready to publish yet. Probably tonight or tomorrow...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Breathing Right

Every night before bed, I don a Breathe-Right strip. These adhesive plastic pieces are also described by my alphabet-obsessed son as I's, as in "Daddy, you have an 'I' on your nose." These brilliant inventions are designed to open your nasal passages by sticking to the skin on one's nose while simultaneously working to return to it's steady-state two-dimensional flatness. This results in an unnatural stretching of the personal breathing apparatus. While the physics of this interaction are enough to throw one's nighttime chi out of alignment, it works wonders for the sleeping nose.

I'm sure that you have seen the commercials. My favorite advertisement is the one in which the inventor of these midnight miracles discusses the history of the strips. He shows earlier attempts at nasal aperture enlargement, including a tubular-shaped implement of torture that looks like a piece of the Ted Williams Tunnel. Designed to go inside the nostrils, the side effects surely must have included unexpected glimpses of the brain by anyone standing within a few feet.

This product is sold in two sizes: Small/Medium and Large. Technically, that's three sizes but apparently the small noses simply need to adapt. However, I learned that this is not easily done when I accidentally purchased the Large strips. If they were any larger, I would have started hearing better too.

The product is also sold in two colors: Clear and Tan. The tan strips are skin-colored so that one isn't too embarrassed when they happen to run into someone while they're sleeping. The clear ones are made from different materials and designed for sensitive skin. I once made the wrong decision with regards to color too. I balked at the idea that I had sensitive skin, until I nearly ripped my nose off of my face with the tan ones. After a few days, I was checking the adhesive side for parts of me. Although my search and rescue efforts always came up empty, my nose was starting to bleed a little. It was time to donate the tan ones to someone with leather skin and purchase the clear ones.

There are a couple possible reasons for why I need these devices to sleep better. I will now frustrate at least half of my readers by explaining that the first reason is unknown. In fact, I can only speculate that I may have been born with a deviated septum or smaller-than-average nostrils. Growing up as a child, I was a mouth breather. My parents and teachers would ask me to close my mouth and breathe through my nose so as not to catch flies. While this sounded like a perfectly great idea to anyone listening, I simply could not do it without feeling like I was slowly suffocating. Therefore, I breathed with my mouth open and perfected my bug dodging skills.

There is another possible reason, one that I am not proud of, for why Breathe-Right strips make their way to my shopping cart each week. I have always enjoyed making people laugh and until recently, I could not do this with words alone. Therefore, a few neighborhood kids could barely contain their laughter when I proved to them that I could make myself sneeze by hitting myself squarely and forcefully on the bridge of the nose. Unfortunately this performance, along with telling classmates that colored paper had flavor, did not make me more popular or smarter. In fact, I'm sure that a sore nose and a belly full of rainbow-colored construction paper did exactly the opposite.

But for the purpose of keeping my reputation as an intellectual, we will agree that I was born with a physical limitation that requires me to implement the 'I'. Now, there are few things that bother my wife more than the following statement spoken early one recent morning: "I lost the Breathe-Right strip." I'm not sure if she's worried about the adhesive or what the adhesive took with it, but she feels that it's a personal hygiene item that should be properly inventoried at all times. To be honest, I was also concerned that the strip had disappeared without warning. I looked on the pillow, under the pillow, on the sheets, under the sheets, on the floor, under the bed, on the wall, on the end table, on the wall again, and on the alarm clock. The strip was nowhere to be found. I ran to the mirror to confirm that the strip had not attached itself to some other part of my face or upper body. Check.

A couple days passed, and even with the help of a 3 year old alphabet detective and a very determined spouse, we were unable to find the strip until this morning. While in the produce section at the grocery store, I sensed my foot sticking to my sandal. Unable to ignore it, I leaned against the apple display and reached into my shoe to discover the strip stuck to the bottom of my foot. With fingers pinching it tightly, so as not to let it escape again, I walked briskly to the men's room where I promptly flushed it goodbye.

After washing my hands, I returned to shopping in the vegetable section. A few moments later, it occurred to me that perhaps the strip was not mine after all. Although this was a disgusting thought, I dismissed it and called my wife.

"I found the strip," I said.

"So did I," she replied.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pink Invasion

"Dude. They're pink." My friend interrupted me after several minutes of my own audible speculation that perhaps my khaki pants appeared to have a light red hue as the result of poor lighting or even my aging eyes. He was right - they were pink. Yet, I continued.

"You only think they are pink because I have biased y-" He interrupted again.

"Dude. Pink." In this case, Dude meant "Shut up while I'm being honest with you" and pink meant "pink." I trusted that my friend, a chemistry professor, knew his colors.

Earlier that day, I ran out of the apartment in my usual flurry of alarm-ignoring, coffee-making, email-reading, cat-feeding, coffee-drinking, bagel-eating, shower-singing, clothes-rummaging, teeth-brushing activity. I skipped down two flights of stairs and into the morning sunlight as I started my ten minute walk to the subway.

Given the speed at which I got ready for work that morning, I wasn't convinced that I had dressed properly for work. A quick self-examination revealed a red button-down shirt, khakis with slightly frayed pant legs and perma-crease from countless meetings with an iron, not-quite-khaki-enough brown socks, and scuffed up Timberlands. I stopped at the street corner.

Are my khakis pink?

They're pink. Or I am overdue for an eye exam? Or is the sunlight reflecting off of my red shirt, creating a pink illusion?

It's an illusion. A pink specter. On my pants.

Ten minutes later as I sat on the subway car, I started obsessing again. I called my girlfriend at the time.

"Did you wash my pants when you were visiting?" I asked.

"Yes, I hope you don't mind," she said cautiously.

I didn't mind, yet. "Did you wash it with anything red?"

"Maybe. After the first wash, it doesn't matter anyways," she said confidently.

"It matters."

"It does?" she queried, now in a tone less confident.

"Yep."

It was about 20 minutes later that I realized how much it mattered as I listened to my friend plainly state "Dude. Pink." It was a phrase that I said to myself all day as I worked in the lab, gave tours of the Center, and walked around the college campus where I worked.

I didn't realize how pertinent this experience was until many years later when the same girlfriend (now my wife) and I had our second child, a daughter. Her birth marked the beginning of an era that I fondly call "The Pink Invasion." Who knew there was enough pink dyes and fabrics in the world to make so many pink onesies, bonnets, and dollies?

Never again will I wear pink khakis, which is why there are now three laundry categories in my house: Whites, Colors, and Pinks. Occasionally, I will unload the washing machine to discover that a pink sock or red shirt had been smuggled in with the khakis. Fortunately, this has never again resulted in an unexpected khaki color transformation.

Please don't get me wrong: I do not mind the color pink and I do not color-discriminate. It's the ambush that causes me anxiety. I feel strongly that I should be able to grab a pair of pants from my dresser drawer and be confident that they are the same color that they were yesterday. But what I fear more than any surprise color change in my wardrobe is the sincerity yet finality of one particular phrase: "Dude. Pink."

Double Quantity

The microwave at work has a button labeled "Double Quantity". I can confirm that it doesn't work. In fact not only was my sandwich the same size after pressing it a few times, but it nearly caught on fire.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Clover

This morning, I was accosted by an over-caffeinated Starbucks employee.

"Want to try coffee in high def'?"

"High def'?" I asked.

"Not deaf, as in not hearing," she replied with a giggle.

"Thanks for the clarification."

"It's the best coffee you will ever taste. And it's a single cup brew, so it's extremely hot. Please try it."

I held the small dixie cup, half full of scalding hot coffee from "The Clover." After a few minutes, I tried it. It was good coffee, that's for sure. Is it worth the extra dollar or so? Definitely not. Granted, I didn't take the time to lighten and sweeten as I typically do with my coffee. Therefore, I will probably try it again and most likely pay for it with a gift card.

In the meantime, I will pay less for my version of "basic" coffee while I wait for the HD version to come down in price. Hopefully that will happen before I start to see commercials warning the general public that "basic" coffee will soon be unavailable. Perhaps it will show a countdown in days, minutes, and seconds along with a doomsday picture of cafe patrons looking puzzled as the contents of their coffee cups unexpectedly disappear. "Don't be caught without high def."