Monday, February 10, 2014

The Fix

My wife, Taela, is amazing. She is great at everything she does because she has the rare ability to focus on things she has passion for. She's an amazing musician, an exemplary nurse and a wonderful wife and mother.

She also has the ability to make big, life-altering decisions at just the right time. Without her instinct and drive we wouldn't have reaped the benefits of buying our first house when we did nor would we have locked in a historically low interest rate when we most recently refinanced our current home. But most of all Taela has known when it's time for us to make-a somebabies!

I was always one of those people that thought there was going to be some moment in time when everything would be perfectly ripe for adding to our family. I was going to be successful and have a great job making tons of money. We were going to be living in our dream home...that kind of thing. But Taela knows more about life than I do. And people kept telling me what everyone else in the world already knew...namely that there is no perfect time to have kids. Kids are additional human lives brought into your family for which you have ultimate, constant and enormous responsibility.

So first we had Caleb. Anyone who knows us knows how amazing he is. Then we had Tenley. Equally amazing! Then there was this period of a few years in which I was (I thought) completely satisfied by the general size of my fatherhood. But people would ask me all the time if we were going to have a third and the answer I gave would always sound like this: “I think we are set, but my wife has this biological need to have a third. Her work has her delivering babies all the time so I don't think that need is going to go away.” She would say either we had to have a third or I needed to “get fixed” because being in between was too much for her.

And so along came Micah. That kid is fantastic. She was TOTALLY right. He's the funniest little booger and our house wouldn't be complete without him.

And then it was time to “get fixed”. Here's the thing...I didn't even know I was broken! The only thing I knew about getting a vasectomy was how pitiful my cat was in the aftermath of having him neutered. And that was pathetic. He rolled off my bed and dragged himself after me any time I left the room. But he didn't have the strength to do anything but squeak. I certainly didn't want that to be my fate.

Well, fortunately for me it turned out that getting a vasectomy and being castrated are two (slightly) different things. The doctor explained that he would be going into something he called my “scrotum” (a word with which I was unfamiliar) and he would be cutting and tying off my “vas” (which, he corrected me, is not the same as a “vag”). After thevas is severed my sperm would no longer be able to do something called “fertilize eggs” which apparently has literally absolutely nothing to do with Scotts Turfbuilder or store-bought chicken products sold by the dozen.

My instructions for the procedure were as follows:
  1. Shave everything you can reach “down there”
  2. Wear tighty whities

So apparently I'm supposed to be en vogue and out of fashion all at the same time!

My wife drove me and the kids to the doctor's office. The family waited in the...drumroll...waiting room while the procedure was performed. In my head it was going to go like this: a pretty nurse was going to “prepare the area” and compliment what she saw. The doctor was going to numb me up, then badda bing! badda boom!..five minutes later I'm sitting in the car with a bag of frozen peas in my lap. Instead it went like this:

I was told to get naked and lay on a table. An unattractive nurse very clinically sterilized my bag of goods and failed even one time to mention anything about how nice they looked even as she was poking my nads through a hole in a sterile cloth. The doctor then entered and we immediately began talking about golf. He was very good looking and he was a better golfer than me AND his junk wasn't laying out in the open for both of us to look at so I felt at a distinct disadvantage. Talk about not being in a position of power. For just a moment I considered the idea of trying to get aroused just to get the upper hand, but quickly decided he would probably take that as a compliment which would only further humiliate me.

The doctor was very good about letting me know what each step would entail. First he was going to numb up the right side. He stuck a needle in somewhere and I felt some uncomfortable pressure before the blissful numbness. The numb was delightful. I then began studying the ceiling. I looked for shapes in the texture. I listened for sounds outside the room. I considered what it would be like to have an out of body experience because, quite frankly, anywhere was better than here. I felt him go in through his freshly cut sac hole. I felt tugging and pulling. He said something about how my skin was nice and easy to incise. We then uncomfortably laughed about how old men have thick scrodes. He said I was going to smell something. It was going to be my burning flesh. It was a pretty gnarly smell, but hey...unlike where I'm writing this right now this was no day at the beach. I could deal with a little barbequed Keith smell. And then it was done! No big deal...well...halfway done.

Time for the left side. Needle poke: numb. “Can you feel this?” No. “How about this?” Nope. “ we go.” Home freeeeeeeeeeOOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!

Me: “It hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts” It was odd because I was looking right at this guy and I swear that, visually speaking, he wasn't turning the screws on a vise with my left testicle about ready to pop inside it. But that's exactly how it felt! “Hold on...I'll numb it more.” It took precisely 11 hours and 47 minutes for him to administer the additional anesthetic...or so it seemed to me. It was probably more like 30 seconds but it was an eternity that I have never forgotten.

After that he continued about his work and the pain was, mercifully, gone. But as he worked I felt strange. I felt the same as I did the time I gave blood. I know what you're're thinking “like a wuss?” Yes...kind of. But also like I was going to pass out. That was a huge shot of adrenaline for a naked guy who just had his tube tied. He said he'd keep an eye on me and I wouldn't be the first guy to pass out on him during this procedure (are you sure you're doing it right???). Tug tug, pull pull, sizzle sizzle, sew sew...

After it was complete he gave me a few minutes to compose myself. Then he had me stand up and slowly put my underwear on (not provocative-like, but careful so as not to blow a gasket). I had brought boxer-briefs (because I didn't want the hot nurse to say something like “1982 called and they want their panties back”). The doctor looked at me like I'm an idiot (I feel like I type that a lot) and says these underwear won't provide as much “support” as the tighty whities. As he said “support” he cupped his hand under my balls and lifted them up...apparently because I was such an idiot as to not know what “support” means. Then he went and grabbed a huge wad of gauze...I'm talking 30, 40 pads of it (which has to be about $1,500 worth when itemized on an ER bill) and shoved it all under my dangles. I must have looked exactly like one of those ballet dancers (come know they stuff).

The doctor then gave me a sealable container and told me to “fill” it in a few weeks after I had sufficiently “flushed out my system”. I was to bring back my pearly treasure for them to examine.

Then he walked me out to the waiting room and presented me, like announcing the happy couple at a wedding, to my family. And there I stood...bruised but not broken. Sad but not dead. Manly but not really.

They asked me how I was. “A bit woozy but fine.” They were proud of me and sympathetic. We got into the elevator and went down to the first floor. I took about 10 steps down the hallway toward the exit and said to Taela “I can't make it to the car. I need to sit down or I'm going to pass out.” We found a chair in the hall and I sat in it. I breathed in deeply. You know the old ladies that volunteer at the hospital and just sit up front and welcome you but they don't really know enough to answer your questions? That lady was sitting at a desk right next to us. She was probably 90. Taela asked what she could do. I said I wanted to get down on the floor because if I fainted I was going to fall there anyway. So I slowly got down and laid on my back on the floor of the hospital. The old lady at the desk began laughing. “Huh huh ha ha ha ha ha! don't look very good! Ha ha ha ha!” Well at least I don't look 90.

I almost passed out, recovered. After 5 minutes or so I stood up and we walked out the door only to stop 20 feet short of the waiting car (where the kids were already buckled in). I had to sit down against a concrete pillar. Another 5 minutes and Taela was helping me into the passenger seat to return me home...a mere shadow of the man who had left so boldly on this adventure not 90 minutes before.

And then, for the rest of the weekend, peas on my crotch and sports on TV.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Progressive, Flo, and the Snapshot Discount

“That’s a buncha bullcrap” is the only thing you can really say about Flo. So you’re telling me that this actress who was relegated to the phone systems closet in Mad Men has somehow “made it” because she is now in some hypnotic white room staged as a woman we all want to punch in the face? If I hadn’t been with Progressive for the past 15 years I would boycott them based on their ad campaign alone.
Ever heard of the “Snapshot Discount®”? Of course you have. That’s because you heard it from That’s a Buncha Bullcrap Flo. What That’s a Buncha Bullcrap Flo is trying to get you to do is put a small device into your car that will allow Progessive to track you 24 hours a day for 6 months. Now THAT’S A BUNCHA BULLCRAP!

Initially we tried the Snapshot Discount® because we drive our SUV pretty infrequently and they offer up to a 30% discount with it. We ordered it and followed the instructions by putting the device into the OBD-II slot under the driver’s side of the dashboard. This is the slot that DEQ uses to test your emissions and the mechanic uses to charge you $100 to “diagnose” your Check Engine Light. It’s basically a USB port to your car’s computer system.
So we put the device in and started driving very carefully. VERY CAREFULLY. Because we soon found out that there were a few things Progressive was looking to ding us on:

1)      Number of trips
2)      Mileage
3)      Driving during DANGER hours
and finally…
4)       Hard Braking Incidents (Now That’s a Buncha Bullcrap!)

Hard braking incidents, as defined by Progressive, are times during which your vehicle is decelerating by at least 7 miles per hour per second. Think about that. How long does it take you to go from 22 mph to 15 mph? No idea, right? That’s why THAT’S A BUNCHA BULLCRAP!
We actually did very well with the SUV. We ended up getting an initial discount of the full 30%. You get that after 30 days. Then they tell you to leave that damn device in your car until the end of the 6 month policy! Now THAT’s a buncha bullcrap.

So we left the device in for months. Every time you drive the damn thing you drive in fear. You think about it constantly. You worry. You fret. You joke about it listening to your conversations but you end up believing it so you have phony confersations with your spouse about how safe you are (while you’re flipping the bird at a 90 year old woman who just cut you off…hypothetically). So after having this little demon in our car for nearly half a year I finally received an email from That’s a Buncha Bullcrap Flo to return the device. We had earned a (I guess) permanent discount of 28%. Shwew!
Well, you know I bought a Prius. What I might not have mentioned was that while I’m getting amazing gas mileage I actually have to pay a higher insurance premium than the Subaru it replaced. Why? I don’t know. It doesn’t make much sense other than Prius drivers are typically the worst drivers on the planet. What is it about environmentalism that makes people such a bad fit for soceity? The point is that we ended up putting the device in the Prius and then checking the log on the website daily. That’s a Buncha Bullcrap! I was getting hard braking incidents on top of hard braking incidents. And they added a really nice new feature to the Snapshot®…it beeped at me when I had an “incident”. Except that it didn’t beep every time! So now I’m thinking I had two incidents in a week when really I had 7! NOW THAT’S A BUNCHA BULLCRAP!!!!

By the end of the Snapshot® trial I had lost 6 pounds, 3 years off my life and was rewarded with a 2% discount. Thanks for nothing, That’s a Buncha Bullcrap Flo, thanks for nothing.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Fountains - 01 Pilot

The following is my first attempt at a serial. Later I will hopefully add many installments and introduce many characters. All of it is true and occurred at my first place of employment. I hope it's as entertaining now as it was nearly 20 years ago when most of happened...

She was older than me. Quite a bit older.
I was 15 and it was my first day joining the wonderful American workforce. I had gangled my way down the long corridor to the employee lounge where the time clock was bolted to a wall and punched in. For the first time in my life I was on the clock and something about that felt powerful. Every moment I spent that first evening in my short-sleeved light blue striped shirt and navy shorts felt like a million bucks...that's because it was a million bucks, or at least it would have been after 200,000 hours. Now it's illegal to pay a $5 wage in Oregon, or anywhere in the US for that matter, but on that day in that place when I was 15 and she was much older than me it was empowering and wonderful and I felt alive.

Her name was Francis...but let me back up a bit here...

Adam McKenzie was one of my best friends in middle school and high school. He was one of those guys that was good at everything. He ALWAYS made straight A's. He was tall and good looking. He was a solid athlete. He came from an amazing family. And he was the first of my friends to get an actual, real life, paying job. You see, his brother was a food server and was able to put in a good word with Rosalie who hired Adam in a snap. When you're paying $5/hour and you find a good employee, you take his word when he recommends another person eager to serve.

Despite being in the same grade Adam was a year older than me, so it was natural for him to find employment first. And it was after he was hired that I began to notice something different about him. It seemed that every time he wanted to do something such as “eat lunch” or “go to the movies” he could. Why? Because he had these strange little green rectangles in his wallet that he told me were called “money” and he could actually trade these slips of paper for pretty much anything he wanted if he had enough of them.

Well, the style in the early 90's didn't include any tailed coats, but I'm here to tell you that didn't stop me from instantly riding Adam McKenzie's coattails right to his boss for an interview. Now what was it I was saying about Adam? Oh right, he was good at everything and, fortunately for me, that included being a model employee. So like his brother before him, his word to Rosalie was as good as gold for the beneficiary and in this particular instance that beneficiary was me.

After filling out my very first application, having my very first interview and completing my very first W-2 I was ready to make my very first taxable income. I nervously walked my skinny legs into the kitchen that first day, worried to death because Adam wasn't working that shift. I was told to ask for Toby.

“I'm Toby. Put on a hairnet,” said a small, mid-20's, possibly recovering drug addict, certainly living in a trailer, GIRL. (Years later I would have a similar situation come up on my first day working at Oswego Lake Country Club...the day I sought out my now very good male friend Jade to issue me my uniform). The thing about Toby was that if life hadn't aged her so prematurely she probably would have been pretty.

Wait...did she say “hairnet”?

So Toby was the Assistant Dining Room Manager, or perhaps The Assistant to the Dining Room Manager or maybe she was the Dining Room Manager who was the understudy to the Kitchen Manager. In any case, Toby quickly showed me how to line up cups and fill them with the correct beverages. Then it was time to hit the floor.

You see, there were two sides to the food service business. There was the back of the house (the kitchen) where the food was prepared. And there was the front of the house (the dining room) where it was my job to put a smiling face on the establishment. After being learning some menial tasks in the back of the house, it was time to walk through that understated doorway from the heat of the industrial kitchen onto The Floor where the real action took place.

And that's when I met her. “Francis, this is Keith” said Toby rather loudly. “What?”. “This is KEITH!”. “What?” “KEITH!” Me: “Yes, I'm KEITH!” Francis: “Oh, Keith...rhymes with teeth.” I laughed. “Don't laugh, now I'm serious. Now I will never forget your name.” And, by God, from that day for the next 5 years that 90 year old woman, Francis, never did forget my name. I told you she was older than me.

And thus began my adventures working at The Fountains at Town Center Village. I was about to find out just how much fun assisted living could be.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It's what's on the inside (of the tortilla) that counts

A few years ago I found a small monthly tear-off calendar at work and put it on my desk. On it I taped this picture:

Each time I ate a burrito I would mark it on the calendar. I called it my Burrito Calendar. I love burritos.

In light of this I have decided to bring you my Top 5 Burritos in Portland list. There are many, many possible criteria for a list like this, but I have simplified the process. I have simply ranked these stuffed tortillas of goodness in the order of how much happiness they give me while I am eating them. So, without further ado, because prior to this statement there was so much ado, I give you...drum roll...the list.

Trivia: "Burrito" is Spanish for "little donkey". Also, "Boca Raton" in Boca Raton, Spanish for "Rat Mouth".

Honorable Mention: King Burrito
Ingredients: Unknown

Listen, I have never been to King Burrito. I don’t even know where it is. But one time I attended a networking luncheon put on the Portland Business Alliance and everyone had to go around the room and tell their name and where they worked. I stood up and said “I’m Keith, I work at such and such and, sadly, I’m a huge Chicago Cubs fan which means I’m basically a loser all the time.” You probably think that has nothing to do with King Burrito. Well, it kind of doesn’t and you’re a know-it-all. Pipe down and let me explain. The next time I had to give my name, rank and serial number I was at a South Portland Business Alliance meeting and when it came to me I said “I’m Keith, I work at such and such and I LOVE to eat burritos. I’ve eaten 34 of them this year (this was in March).” After that people came up to me and told me all sorts of things about burritos. A recurring theme was a food cart called King Burrito. If that young, eager Farmers insurance agent is this worked up about a burrito served out of a wagon then I’m all in and you, King Burrito, have just narrowly missed my top 5.
Note: See, I told you I've never been there. I just checked the website and it turns out it's not a cart at all, it's a hole in the wall taqueria!

Ingredients: Carnitas
White or Brown Rice
Black Beans, but the Pinto Beans w/ Bacon are equally good
Corn Salsa
A little Sour Cream
A TON of Cheese

I know, I know…I’m choosing a huge corporation with a major ownership stake by McDonald’s as my #5 burrito. So what, you hoity toity snobby food critic? It’s freaking delicious and it’s big enough to make me full. The employees are great because, as corporate (as opposed to franchised) employees they have to do pretty much anything you say. They are friendly and helpful and, hey, owner Jim isn’t breathing down their neck about food portions like Jen does over at every Subway shop in the Milwaukie/Clackamas area.

At Chipotle you are basically on an assembly line of delicious tortilla stuffings. The key here is you can never have too much cheese, so you order like this: “Put on a ton of cheese. Just when you think you’ve put on too much add one more handful.” It has taken years to perfect this request because they are trained to put on small sprinkles thereby making you ask for more countless times like the girl giving free haircuts at the beauty school who is too scared to cut anything off. BUT…they HAVE to give you as much as you want despite however many fingerfuls it takes. Tell them to keep going until you say “stop” and you’re golden…or white, since the cheese is an amazing blend that looks the color of a Wisconsin girl in winter.

Ingredients: Refried Beans
A Chile Relleno

I know I know…you’ve been to Muchas Gracias and you love the Oregon Burrito. Good for you. Go write your own blog. As for me, I too have had the Oregon Burrito and it’s decent. I happen to think the potatoes take away from the flavor instead of soaking up the flavor, but maybe I caught the OB on a bad day. Here’s my take on burritos: if you can put a relleno in the middle of it, it’s good. I first encountered this in a crappy hole in the wall down in LA with my dad, stepmom and sister. My dad took us to the most likely place to get shot in the entire city so we could have some authentic LA Mexican food. People don’t smile in that place…that is until I bit into my chile relleno burrito! Then I was smiling and I think my obvious lack of gold teeth targeted me as an outsider.

That said, I brought that mentality back to Oregon with me. So, screw you Oregon Burrito, I’ll take the Mexican Burrito. Oh…you can’t find the above item on the menu at Muchas Gracias, you have to ask for it special. Just say “Give me the KeenKeith special”. They will look at you like either a) they don’t speak English well enough to know what you’re saying or b) you’re an idiot. After you get past that embarrassment you simply say “can you squirt some of your lardy lard lardy beans onto a tortilla, smother it in cheese then add a relleno?” They will say “yes, that will be $4” and you’ll be the fattest, happiest person on the block.

Ingredients: Seasoned Ground Beef

Thought I was kidding, didn’t you? Well I’m not. They cook up the meat with all this crazy crap in it that doesn’t seem to go together at all, then they serve it to you in this yellow wax paper as if to say “no, we really are Latino”. I have yet to meet anyone who loves this burrito the way I do. It’s tied for number one for me and I struggled with this because it’s on an equal plane with my numbers 1b and 1a.

So you get this burrito, you unwrap it and wad up the yellow wax paper and set that aside. You then grab the green sauce and just drench the tortilla with it and dig in with a fork and knife. No regrets…no regrets.

Ingedients: Chile Relleno
Refried Beans

The above is a description of the Super Burrito. Running a close second is the Chile Relleno Burrito which is just as wonderful as the dangerous Los Angeles burrito my dad risked all our lives for. Honestly, the only way you can do wrong with Super Torta is by not going there. They have tongue on the menu which in and of itself makes it an authentic experience. You can also buy rock candy out of their quarter machine. Rock candy? Yes, rock candy. I have always assumed that's because there's so much poverty in Mexico that people have to eat rocks there.

Interior: Shredded Beef
Sweet Rice
Refried Beans
Exterior: Cheese
Sour Cream
Sweet Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

“What?!?!!!??!! Salad Dressing? Grosssssssssss!” Shaaaaaaadup. It’s awesome. So this is another assembly line burrito. They have a location in Clackamas in the Home Depot parking lot on 82nd. They are opening a new west side location, I think it will be in Beaverton.

So the shredded beef is amazing. It tastes like Yankee Pot Roast…which is weird because Yankees are Northeast and this place is definitely shooting for Southwest. I don’t care about that. What I care about is how mouth wateringly good the meat is. How sweet and soft the rice is…and most importantly how tangy delicious that salad dressing is. It’s literally the best salad dressing I’ve ever tasted and I don’t even bother with the salad anymore. I could drink that stuff straight from the container. Instead I have them soak the burrito with it.

The Latino workers look at me like I’m nuts when I ask for the salad dressing, but the white guy knows us and doesn’t even ask. He doesn’t eat his burrito that way, but he can identify with our American urge to smother everything with sweetness. The only think that would make this place better is if I could find a way to actually bathe in the sweet vinaigrette. I’m sure it would make my skin soft, smooth and scrumptious.

Well, I hope you're able to visit all of the above fine establishments. Also, visit this place just north of SE 92nd and Foster.
I have never been there but the following is a list of reasons you should patronize this establishment, which also happen to be reasons I will soon be trying it out:
1. The interior walls are bright green which makes it light up like lime sherbet at night.
2. Check out the police car. Ever gone to a crappy restaurant with police officers eating there?
3. Note the nutty yellow bird on the's practically screaming "I'm delicious!"
4. Some dude apparently likes to mess with his bicycle in the alley.
5. Look at orange shirt guy. Any Mexican food place in a neighborhood where you have to constantly be looking over your shoulder MUST have great food. I'll bet they even serve tongue.

If you have yet to develop your burrito pallet I suggest you get on that right away. The burrito craze has grown so wildly that there is a section on Weidler over near Lloyd Center that has a Muchas Gracias, a Chipotle, a Taco Bell and a Q'Doba Mexican Grill within a half block of each other.

Oh, disclaimer: burritos will make you fart.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Fresh Prince of Happy Valley

Every day I grow more disgusted with our culture's idol worship of celebrities. For whatever reason we are fascinated by the people we know most about...because every piece of their love life and career moves are published in gossip rags. We have blurred the line between entertainment and reality to such a degree that people no longer want to know where one ends and the other begins.

As celebrities grow to accept their own importance and the roles they play in the sad lives of their adoring fans, many come to the conclusion that they need to write a book about their adventures. Never mind that most of their life has been an open book pasted on the pages of countless magazines. Never mind that they're not good writers so someone else will actually pen the “autobiography”. There is a demand, so it must be done. If you have someone else write it, they will buy it.

Well, I have a suggestion. In an age of soundbites and the brevity of a time in history when we have moved from telephone conversations to texting instead, I believe that we need a new format for biographies. Anyone writing an autobiography should adhere to a new set of rules. If your life is worth writing about, someone who actually knows how to write will take care of that after you're dead. If you're looking to write a book about yourself while you're still living then I believe you have a duty to your readers to keep within the confines of the new autobiography. The format is called ABoBA which stands for “Auto Biography of Bel Air”.

The rules of ABoBA are simple. You must write the highlights of your life story into the context of the theme song for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Go ahead and listen just in case you haven't had this song stuck in your head for the past decade and a half. After that you you can find my first shot at an ABoBA. When you've finished reading mine please write one for yourself and post it in the comment section below.

Remember, I'm the one who told you that Spider Yelling would sweep the nation (it did even better than that by going international). Soon everyone will be writing ABoBAs of their own. We should probably start the #ABoBA now as well. Remember, much like all good resumes fit on one page, all good life stories fit the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song!

ABoBA by KeenKeith
This is a story all about how
I grew up and life turned out.
I'd like to take a moment, no time to dilly dalley
I'll tell you how I came to rule a small castle in Happy Valley.

In the SouthEast Portland suburbs, born and raised!
Milwaukie was where I spent most of my days.
Chillin' out playin' Backyard baseball like a fool.
Shootin' some b-ball at Hector Campbell School.
When some skater guys, they were up to no good
Started making trouble in my neighborhood.
Got shot with one little beebee, my Momma freaked out!
She said, “We're calling the police man to take them down”.

Applied to several colleges, and chose one that was near.
Met a girl who's fresh and the future's lookin' clear.
If anything I could see no if, buts or maybe's
So I ringed up her finger and we had ourselves three babies.

I pulled outta waiting tables, then campaigns into insurance.
Caleb, Tenley, Micah help me keep up my endurance.
Wrote an early 90's rap song now it's time for the final tally.
I can sit on my throne as a king in Happy Valley. it's your turn. Post yours below.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

An Open Letter to Red Box

Dear Red Box,

I am forever glad to have met your acquaintance. You probably didn't notice me, but I certainly remember the first time I saw you. You were so new and so different. Like the video game console in The Last Starfighter, you seem to have been dropped into the dirtiest, crappiest place in our society (McDonald's) yet you had a magnetism stronger than my ability to resist.

I approached you, or you pulled me near...I'm not sure which. I touched your screen. I scrolled through your movies. It was foreign and strange and I didn't exactly know what to expect or how to react to your ease of use. Eventually I found a movie I was interested in watching. That was when you said those two sweet little words. “One dollar” you whispered in my ear. One dollar? Are you out of your mind? Of course not. You don't have a mind. You're a box that happens to be painted red. And you are wonderful.

You see, oh dear Red (pause for dramatic effect) Box, I had long ago terminated my relationship with Blockbuster and Hollywood. The thoughts of the local independent movie rental shops were but a fleeting memory. Even having mentioned these, your competitors from times past, should imply that my grooming in movie rental selection was borne of stores with open floor space and racks upon racks of films categorized as “Drama” or “Comedy” or “Horror” or, along the much coveted exterior wall, “New Releases”. My habit was shared universally with all of America. I would enter the store, turn left, find the wall 'o new releases and browse the up to year-old releases that I had pored over probably just a few nights before. Much like the common “so many channels and nothing on” I would search through the endless alphabetized boxes looking for that gold nugget I had somehow missed each and every other time I had combed this same spot.

And I remember the last time I ever walked into a movie rental store. It was a Hollywood near my house. I was looking for “The Nativity”. Hollywood had it for rent. The cost was $4.99 for a five night rental. This was a full two dollars per night higher than my previous rental which had been a couple of years prior. The clerk was kind enough to point out that I could purchase the DVD for the same price from the used movie bin. Really? I can rent it or buy it for the same price? Have you considered adjusting your pricing model to compete with this spaceship from the future called The Red Box? “No,” she assured me. She had it on good authority that you, The Red Box, were nothing but a mere fad and that your financials were suffering. You were but a fleeting mistress and would fade into oblivion akin to the LaserDisk. As I said, that was the final time I set foot in a movie rental store. As far as I know that rotund and brawny gal died in the great Hollywood implosion of a few years ago clinging to the idea that I somehow wanted to spend $5 to borrow a movie for a few nights.

So, Red Box, you win. I have a Netflix account and it's great, but it can't satisfy my completely. We watch the occasional streamed movie that the rating matrix swears we will judge 4.5 stars out of 5. But when we are itching to see a new release we drive up to the local Albertsons (thank you for not limiting yourself to the golden arches!) where there are not one, but two kiosks. For impromptu movie night, you are always there for me. And your ease of access is amazing. Your app allows me to choose and reserve a movie from my phone! I know you care for me as I do you because you hold the movie for me personally. All I have to do is swipe my credit card? All love comes with a price. $1.20? What's twenty cents between friends? I need you Red Box...I need you.

All that said, I have a grievance to air. You see, I used to feel special. I felt chosen. I was “in the know” because of our relationship. But do you know who now knows you and utilizes your comforts? Everyone. Oh, and also Everyone's brother. Am I greedy? Am I jealous? Do I fear being lost amongst the crowd of your admirers? Hardly. You think too highly of yourself. Don't forget that you are nothing but a large red container filled with usually disappointing “entertainment” created by large corporations whose political agendas typically clash with my moral compass.

My problem, dear box, is that when you make yourself available to the masses you invite the lowest common denominator to frequent your services. What I ask for is a clear instruction manual on a flashing, brightly lit marquee above each kiosk. And I ask for severe consequences struck upon those who choose to disregard these rules.

Rule #1
No one under the age of 16 is allowed to browse movies without an adult present. Multiple times I have stood in line behind 12 year old girls who browse their way through each and every movie. In the old brick and mortar stores this would have been perfectly acceptable. It wouldn't have bothered anyone because we could simply walk around her and search through the wall of entertainment at out own paces. However, considering the necessity of your screen, oh Red (pause for dramatic effect) Box, I am completely paralyzed by the indecision of the adolescent dingbat standing between me and your glory. What's more is that this girl, no matter how many times it happens or which little girl it is, HAS NO CREDIT CARD! Why? Why is it, you ask, that she is standing here reading the description of Men in Black III? Seriously? Men in Black III???? Here's a description: The unwatchable threequel to a marginal movie made before you were born regarding ridiculous aliens and subpar dialogue. Has anyone, in the history of Earth, ever...EVER read the full description of Men in Black III? Yes. The girl in front of me at Kiosk B. And why was she there alone? Because her father has become so annoyed by her insistence on inserting the word “like” into each sentence three times that he couldn't stand grocery shopping with her. So he walked in, sent his offspring to annoy The Red Box and checked off the list his wife made him in peaceful solitude. Shame on you Crappy Father. Shame on you.

Rule #2
Where there are two kiosks, there is one line. I don't care that some people have reservations on one box and one on another. People can sort that out from the front of the line. What I'm saying is this: if I arrive first, Billy don't get togo in front of me simply because Billy be standing to my right. There is one line or there will be martial law. Perhaps the rule should be “if you feel like you're getting away with something then you shouldn't be doing it.”

Rule #3
You can read no more than 3 descriptions in one visit. Here's the deal...if you're looking to watch a movie how much do you want to know about it anyway? In life there used to be a thing called a “pleasant surprise”. I fear that with today's 24 hour news cycle we feel the need to process so much surface level information that we have lost that splendid satisfaction from having been blind-sided by a good story. The description, or what used to be the back of the box, tells you nothing about the quality of the acting, the dialogue, the tells you a brief synopsis of the story which isn't going to tell you if you'll enjoy it anyway. Do you think the back of the box on Sideways will make you want to follow the romantic journey of a down on his luck wine enthusiast as he rediscovers his spirit in a tale of frolicking in the beauty of the California wine country? Come on.

Rule #4
If you spend more than 3 minutes on your turn you are required by law to rent something. The penalty for breaking this law is death.

And now, fair Red Box, I bid you adieu. If you will kindly implement the above rules if use immediately I will remain your most obedient and loyal servant. Thank you for finding a business model that allows me minimal contact with humans as we continue to evolve into a society with our eyes glued to screens instead of one anothers'.

Your affectionately,


PS – The Dark Knight Rises was really good.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Youth Soccer (or Get out of the way, my girl's better than you)

The following story is true. Names (and, to a degree, pictures) have been changed to protect me from being identified by the participants as a real prick who can’t deal with their kids.
My daughter plays soccer. She is six years old and loves playing the game. Last year was her first year playing on a team and she was fantastic. On average she scored 3 goals per game and made as many as 6 in one game. It was a lot of fun to watch.
This year my daughter is playing on a completely different team. Unfortunately this team has 8 kids on it that actually want to play all the time. Because they play 4 on 4, only half the team can play at any given time. The coach has decided the best way to divide up playing time is to come up with two teams of four and play them in alternating quarters. The teams are not always the same.

Awesome Girl (my daughter) 
Awesome Girl

Other Girl (not my daughter, the only other girl on the team, once wore a tank top that looked exactly like a wife-beater ribbed sleeveless t-shirt to practice

Other Girl

 Little Dude (little islander kid who goes to my daughter’s school and has a hilarious little sister)

Little Dude

Blondie (little blonde kid who can play well but has a short attention span and tends to cry easily)
Beaker (skinny little guy who is a little slower to develop than the rest of the players, the coach’s kid called him a stupid idiot at the first practice)

Coach’s Kid (good player, not what you might call sensitive to the feelings of others)

Coach's Kid

Big Kid (he’s as big as my 8 year old, faster than any other kid in the league and has some real soccer skills)
Big Kid

Wrong Way (close friends with Big Kid, whines when Big Kid has the ball and doesn’t pass to him, doesn’t know which goal is which, kicks the ball out of bounds more often than in bounds, yells at other kids when they are in the right)
Wrong Way

So, as I said the team is split into equal halves each game. Tonight Awesome Girl was put on a team with Beaker, Big Kid and Wrong Way. The only consistency so far with team selection is that Coach’s Kid and Big Kid have never been on the same team and Big Kid is always on the same team with Wrong Way. The truth is that most parents don’t want their kid playing at the same time as Big Kid because he’s so good. He has actually started passing recently, but he’s so much better and faster than the other kids that it’s hard for any of the rest of them to touch the ball when he’s in there. The exception is that Wrong Way’s parents always want he and Big Kid together because they’re friends. Their families are close  and there seems to be some kind of family agreement that Big Kid will pass to Wrong Way whenever he can.
Well, now think of this from my perspective tonight. Big Kid has an agreement to pass the ball to Wrong Way. When he’s unable to, he’s so fast that he’s dominating the ball anyway. Poor Beaker doesn’t really stand a chance out there and my little Awesome Girl is kind of lost in the mix trying to get to the ball, but being constantly out-raced to it by Big Kid.

Understand that we only get one game per week and it’s 40 minutes long. This means that I have exactly 20 minutes per week to watch Awesome Girl in action. The first thing that goes wrong tonight is when Beaker is taking a goal kick. This is when you stand by your own goal and pass to a teammate. Well, Wrong Way decided he would make a hard charge at Beaker right as he was kicking the ball, presumably because he was jealous Beaker got to kick it. He was succesful in his aggressive charge at his teammate and had the ball bounce right off his leg and into the other team’s goal. Wrong Way jumped up and down and looked over to his enormous mom. “I made it!” Well, Wrong Way has been instructed about a thousand times which way he’s supposed to be going, but he doesn’t care. A goal is a goal, no matter which end of the field it’s on. His mom tries to tell him that his goal doesn’t count, but he doesn’t get it. Because he doesn’t listen…ever. If I were coach I would tell him it’s not that the goal doesn’t count, it’s that you’ve just hurt your team and scored for your opponent. But I’m not the coach and that’s certianly for the best.
Well, after that Wrong Way’s parents decided to correct the problem by telling him to stand by the other goal. Which he did. Literally. He stood in the middle of the other goal like a goal keeper (there are no goalies at this age level). He was standing in the way of the goal so if any of his teammates were going to score he could stop the ball, turn and try to kick it in for his own glory. Imagine a waiter standing up against the bar to take drink order only to then turn and ask the bartender for the drink simply so he can steal the tips. Same thing. Oh, and the goals they use are about 4 feet wide, so he’s taking up most of the goal. It’s not like it’s a regulation size goal and it would be easy to score around him.
So the first quarter ends and Awesome Girl has played pretty hard, but hasn’t had the chance to score yet. She really wants to score because she hasn’t at all this year (mostly because of the way this team is set up). She is used to scoring every game but the parents think it’s cute when she comes close because she’s a girl. They don’t understand that she actually is a good soccer player. A few nights a week she has me set up obstacle course drills for her to navigate with her soccer ball. She runs these courses for upwards of an hour nonstop getting better and better. She’s talented, but she also works hard at it. I’m not just being a dad here, she’s actually a good player with skills that the other kids don’t have because she practices her butt off.

The last quarter begins and I have told Awesome Girl it’s her time to take that ball on her own and score no matter what. The first thing that happens is she has a shot at a breakaway at midfield. Well, she had a shot at a breakaway. It ended when Wrong Way jumped in front of her, bent over and picked up the ball right from in front of her foot. Thanks Wrong Way…it would be nice if your parents would tell you not to do that. I yell “No Wrong Way! What are you doing?!!??!?!?”
The next thing that happened was Awesome Girl came in from the side and was about to take a shot at a wide open goal. She was DEFINITELY going to score. That’s when Wrong Way came out of nowhere and stole the ball from her kicking it the wrong way back up the field. The ball came bounding back and Awesome Girl kicked it toward the goal, but there was Wrong Way standing right in the middle like a goal keeper and he succesfully took another goal away from my daughter. It was driving me INSANE!

Then Awesome Girl had yet another chance. I had just yelled “Get the ball and take it in yourself! Don’t let your teammate steal it from you! Score!” She did exactly that. She took it from the other team, dribbled in from the side, turned a tough angle shot into a more makeable one and kicked it hard at the middle of the goal. Problem was, there was Wrong Way standing there in the middle of the goal…like a goalie. And again he succesfully blocked the goal like he was Hope Solo in the World Cup.
Almost immediately the whistle blew and the game was over.
Maybe it was the caffeine in the Excedrin I took before the game. Maybe it was the smoke in the air from the forest fires. Maybe it was a paternal instinct to want the best for my daughter. But I can’t take this anymore! I’m losing my mind! I get to watch my amazing daughter play for 20 minutes of game action per week and without fail there is one single kid out there crapping all over her glory. I just want to shake his huge mother. Just shake her and ask her why she keeps allowing this to happen. Why? WHY? I want to shake the coach and shame him into making his own kid play with Big Kid and Wrong Way. I want to scream and yell at Wrong Way until I am the first person he has ever obeyed in his entire 6 years on this planet.
But instead I will continue to do what I always do…make comments under my breath on the sideline making the other parents think (realize) I’m a jerk. Listen, all I want is for my daughter to taste the success she derserves. Your kid doesn’t work for it. Your kid doesn’t give a crap. Your kid doesn’t even know what success is. He doesn’t know which way he’s going. He doesn’t care about anything except kicking the ball. It doesn’t matter which direction. It doesn’t matter if it’s in bounds or out of bounds. He doesn’t know the difference and you haven’t taken the time to teach him the difference. Please just tell him to get out of the way. Please!?!?!??!!?
Who knew being a parent was going to mean having to deal with other people’s kids? Bleh!