Manic Mondays

No major essay today. 

Rehearsal went long, had to reorganize the Tupperware drawer, had to fumble my way through learning a brand new speed cube method (don't ask) and then Calvin wanted to go play tennis and I'm a sucker for a trip to the park. 

Here's a picture of a boy on a swing.


Silly Addictions Five

There's this really terrible new game that I have found myself pretty much addicted to for the last week. It's a teeny tiny little app for your "Smart Whatever" called 2048 and the goal is simple. It's a four by four grid and a #2 starts you off. You can swipe up down, left or right, and every time you swipe another #2 pops up in a random part of the grid. Everytime a number smashes into the same number, it doubles.

Swipe a 2 into a 2 and they become a 4. A 4 into a 4 and it makes an 8. Etcetera, etcetera.

The goal is to get as high a number as you can get before the board fills up with numbers that can no longer be smashed together. Top notch if you can rock a number all the way up to 2048. 

2 to 4 to 8 to 16 to 32 to 64 to 128 to 256 to 512 to 1024 to 2048. Etcetera, etcetera.

There are zero evolutionary explanations as to why this would be so fascinating, or become such a ridiculous time suck, but, you know, whatever.

It does get me thinking about odd addictions, those things you kind of just find yourself doing and know you could be doing something else, something at least a bit more productive, but you also find yourself kinda irritated when you're forced to stop.

And I have to skip drugs, cause, well, that's cheating, and if an intervention may be required then it's really not all that funny. Unless you're an intervention junky, which, must leave your entire family hurt and confused.

Here we are, five surprisingly pleasing addictions for moderately healthy, entrepreneurial Americans in their mid to late thirties:

Staring Off Into Space:
I don't know where I go, but feel free to leave me there.

Pulling Weeds in the Vegitable Garden:
Obviously, once you get passed the "chore" factor and the idea of bat poo under your finger nails, you find yourself just pleased as punch when you can get the whole weed root and all, kinda like pulling out that one ridiculous booger and somehow you hear better out of your left ear.

Getting Up and Seeing What's in the Fridge:
You're not really hungry, and it's gonna be a long time before you have to start dinner, but it does somehow make you feel better knowing what is hanging out behind that carton of orange juice and how long you have until the sour cream expires.

Checking the Time:
Now that I have a watch, I look at it at least three or four times every fifteen minutes, yet for some strange reason, whenever someone asks me what time it is, I pretty much have no idea.

Paying Some Sort of Audilble Tribute to the Song that is Stuck in my Head:
Right now I am tapping out the beat to William Tells Overature (Lone Rancher Theme Song) with my fingers on the hand rest of the rocking chair I'm sitting in in between sentences. I could be humming it, or mouthing beat box noises to it, but the one thing I'm not doing is wondering how it got there in the first place, cause, well, that would just be silly.



Some Pig

Who remembers the words Charlotte wrote in her web?

Humble.

Terrific.

Some Pig.

Everybody remembers those. Not a single one of us hasn't seen the cartoon, and of course it's required reading if you ever wanted to get a degree in marketing. It's really the only Marketing Text book in the dewy decimal system. Charlotte's Web and Mad Men DVDs.

The moral of the story is this:

"Make a sign and you're just an ordinary spider. Stand under one and you're a goddam miracle."

Or something like that.

Anyway, Calvin's reading "Charlotte's Web" in school, but hasn't been enjoying the reading part and wants to see the movie.

Which foists upon me two major philosophical conundrums.

Why does reading in school suck so much?

and

Which version of Charlotte's Web do we Netflix?

The first one is going to require quite a bit of explaining, so we'll just skip it for now. But the second one isn't without some serious intrigue.

See, there are two very highly rated versions of Charlotte's Web. There is the 1973 cartoon musical that I grew up with (Which makes it, and almost me, over forty years old). And then there is the live action version with Dakota Fanning and a whole cast of "who is who" voice overs.

Anyone over twenty five is like "Duh, dumbass, the cartoon"

Anyone under is like "Musicals are gay"

Or something like that.

I mean the original has Debbie Reynolds and Paul Lynde.

(Debbie Reynolds, for those of you under twenty-five, is Princess Leia's mom in real life, and Paul Lynde is nearly always the center seat when you watch reruns of Hollywood Squares on the GSN)

But the updated live action version has Julia Roberts and Steve Buscemi.

If you have to ask who those two are, you are too young or too old for this blog, either way, go have a cookie.

Both rated three and a half stars. Not bad, not great.

I mean, I'm pretty sure he'd prefer the cartoon, but I'm sort of afraid that my pop culture elitism might be clouding my judgment. I certainly don't want him to watch either and think it's stupid. That might just break my heart, almost as much as it does when all but three of dead Charlotte's babies fly away.

And then there's that terrible feeling you get when you realize this time next year, Wilbur gets to watch those three die too.

Terrific.

Of course there's really only one answer:

The cartoon.

(Come on, did you really think I was going to pass up a chance to relive my childhood for the sake of school?)

Which leads us back to the first question:

Why does reading suck so much in school?

Some people might say that we read for enjoyment and not comprehension, which to me, is sorta right, but really sorta not.

Books like Charlotte's Web, get better and better the more you comprehend them. Go ahead, reread it now. There's all kinds of stuff in there that you never got back then. Reading for comprehension is not the problem.

The problem is quantifying that comprehension.

Here's how school is supposed to work:

You go, you learn things, you eat lunch, you learn more things, you go home.

But, how do we know you learned things?

Cause we tested you. If you fail the test you didn't learn. Pretty simple stuff.

ABC's, 123's, The signing of the Declaration of Independence, how to put a condom on correctly. Bing Bang Boom.

But reading tests?

Yeah, reading is really tough to test.

So back when Charlotte's Web was first on VHS, you used to read a book and then write a little synopsis about it. We called those book reports.

Those sucked, so now we have AR tests. Kind of a computer generated multiple choice test based on what happened in the book. Cool,
cause kids can read whatever they want at their own pace.

Only there's a problem.

Cause, well, there are a lot of words. And a lot of things happen. And when you're eight, you're really only going to get some of that to stick. And the things on the test might not be the things that stick and the things that stick might not be on the test.

Calvin failed a couple of AR tests recently, which is ridiculous. He was very upset about it, quite right, but not for the reasons he should be. He was mostly upset, because, get this, he wanted to read the books his older cousin read, but was told for the sake of his scores, to try easier books.

Right?

Right?

So he was embarrassed for failing his tests, and I had to talk him off the ledge.

See, let's say, Mommy and Daddy read the same book.

They both liked it and they are both good readers. But Daddy remembers the killing parts and mommy remembers the kissy parts, so they both might fail the test.

And the reason, is because the person who wrote the test, didn't read the book.

They dissected it.

And there's a difference.

Just like there is a difference between changing a spark plug and driving a car.

If you read the book and enjoyed it, then there's not a single test worth it's weight in spittle.

Especially since it rewards the kids who read fifteen Dick and Jane books and penalizes the kids who want to challenge themselves with War and Peace.

Don't make the sign, son, stand under it.

Unless you grow up in this household.

Here, Spiders rule.

And you get your lullaby's sung to you by Princess Leia's mom.



The Jackson Five

" . . . Billy Jean is not my lover, she's just a girl who says that I am the one, but the kid is not my son . . ."

Wait.

How did I get Billy Jean stuck in my head?

Wait.

It's not stuck in my head, someone is listening to Billy Jean in another room.

Wait.

Why is Calvin listening to Billy Jean? Other than the Jackson Five Christmas album, I don't think we own a single piece of Michael Jackson's music. Not because we don't think he's awesome, it's just that  whatever we did own, was on vinyl or cassette and who knows where that stuff is anymore.

Hey dude, are you listening to Michael Jackson?

Yeah.

Where did that come from?

A kid at school. Wait . . . Dad?

Uh huh?

You know who Michael Jackson is?

Of course, dude. He was one of the biggest pop stars ever.

Wait . . . Dad?

Yeah?

Is he still alive?

No dude. He died a few years ago.

Oh. How did he die?

Well, hmm, do you know what a perfectionist is?

No.

Well, a perfectionist is someone who does something over and over and over again until they get things perfect. Sometimes that's good, and they can do amazing things, but sometimes it's bad and it makes them stupid crazy.

Kay (giggle at the word stupid)

Well, he was working too hard and thought it would be a good idea to take a whole bunch of drugs to keep going and after awhile his heart just stopped.

Oh. Wait . . . Dad?

Yeah?

Did you know he could lean?

And so the questioning begins. I am sure there will come a day when I can no longer compete with Wikipedia to answer every question he's ever had about anything, but today is not that day. So as I sat there watching my son watch Michael Jackson videos on his iPod, I quickly had to come up with all the random Michael Jackson facts I could think of:

The Anti Gravity Lean:
When I first saw Smooth Criminal on MTV, (No kids, that wasn't a reality series, there was a time when MTV played music videos like YouTube only there was less commentary and more Kurt Loder), anyway, when I first saw MJ doing the anti gravity lean, I thought it was just a camera trick. Raked stage or wire rigging, whatever. But then we all saw him do it live on stage and kinda got our minds blown. Turns out, it was a special pair of shoes that could hook onto some studs that rose from the stage floor. Cool fact: Michael Jackson himself owned the patent on the design.

which takes us to . . .

The Moon Walk:
MJ's signature move, but unlike the anti gravity lean, was not actually a Michael Jackson original, but was created by legendary Broadway Director/Choreographer Bob Fosse. In my humble opinion, the Fosse version is much much much much cooler, and honestly, you can pretty much attribute all of Michael's choreography to Fosse. We can also thank Fosse for "Jazz Hands" Fun Fact: Fosse is the only person ever to win an Emmy, a Tony, and an Oscar in the same year.

and speaking of awards,

Thriller:
Setting out to create one of the best sounding records ever, Producer Quincy Jones and MJ spent 12 to 15 hours a day in the studio on retakes and over dubs, but when they got the first pressing of the album, they were horrified by the lack of fidelity (Science Fact: On a vinyl record, you start to lose fidelity when your tracks run too long) So, they had to completely recut both sides of the album in order to give them the fidelity they wanted. Thriller won 8 Grammys. Fun Fact: Quincy Jones is Rashida Jones' dad.

and while we're talking fathers,

Joseph Jackson
Kind of a dick.

and while we're on the subject of terrible,

Van Halen:
I remember being told that Van Halen was going to be playing the guitar solo on MJ's "Beat It" video. I remember being acutely excited, because for some reason it seemed uniquely cool that there was gonna be this clash between Pop and Heavy Metal (Yes kids, there was a time when Van Halen was considered Metal) I remember having my prepubescent mind blown. I have since gone back and had a listen and found it to be off-puttingly terrible. Fun Fact: GunsNRoses guitar player Slash got a lot of flack for playing on MJ's song "Black or White", but for some reason he never caught shit for his opening riff being an almost direct rip off of Melancamp's "Hurt So Good" riff.

This is clearly an incomplete list of a 40 year career, but I only got as far as "specially made shoes" before Calvin dismissed himself and went to kill unicorns with a lightsaber.

I win again, Wikipedia.

TBT- On Such A Winter's Day

I don't know why, but for some reason, I've got this hankering to see the ocean.

I've never been an ocean lover, a surfer, or a beach bum. It's too cold to swim in, and, well, sharks. I hate that feeling you get when seaweed brushes up against your calf, and I really hate it when people let their children run without a leash, and there is nothing worse than sand in your butt crack.

Well, maybe one thing worse, but I don't have one of those.

But I do love the sound.

And I do love the smell.

And I love facing out into the vast emptiness, with my feet in the wet sand and the waves rushing back out to sea.

I love holding hands with my girl and not saying much.

It's been a long time since I've been to the beach.

Okay, maybe like ten months, but for a Californian, that's like dog years.

This shot was taken many years ago on Pebble Beach. Joann and I had been looking forward to this vacation for a few months and we were just pleased as punch that we could spend a few days together down by the sea.

Although the vacation wasn't bad, it was, well, pretty much the lamest vacation we have ever taken.

First it was too cold and windy. The cottage, though pretty, was really damp. There seemed to be zero grocery stores in the area, and the beach was dog friendly.

Which, you know, is great, unless like me you have a particularly large area of personal space when it comes to unfamiliar dogs. An area of personal space that also for some reason seems to attract everything with sharp teeth and four legs in a three hundred meter radius.

But it wasn't the unleashed dogs that made the trip lame, it was the fact that we did something stupid.

We decided to play it by ear.

One of the firm truths to our relationship, at least the vacationing aspect of it, is that we are terrible when we play things by ear. We can never decide on where to go, what to do, where to eat, we can never seem to find anything as simple as a coffee shop or a movie theater.

We simply are not play it by ear people.

We know this about ourselves, and yet still we sometimes get too lazy to pre work an itinerary and think maybe this time it will be different.

We are always wrong.

Always.

We should never play it by ear.

Ever.

So next time we decide to spend some time down by the sea, we're gonna have to have a plan.

Down to which stand we're gonna get hot dogs from. And which beaches have leash laws. And a good seafood restaurant, and the closest Taco Bell. Where to have breakfast in the morning and what time Captain America is playing at the local theater.

And we shall have a good time.

And let the sea take care of the rest.

First Takes - You are Everything To No One But Me

In 1998, I decided what I really needed to do was write a musical.

Seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.

I wrote a script.

I wrote songs.

I rewrote the script.

I wrote more songs.

I rewrote the script.

I enlisted the help of friends and family.

There were hundreds of recording sessions and a plethora of read through's and then life just happened.

I never put it on stage in front of an audience.

Which is not as tragic as it sounds. If nobody ever sees any of the vanity projects I have stored on 3.5 floppy disks in the garage, I will still most likely live a good life.

Someday I may trot it out again and rework it, but who knows.

Anyway, even though the whole show may never see the light of day, there are some songs that demand they be resurrected in some way or another.

This one: "You Are Everything To No One But Me" has been floating in the back of my mind for some time because I never produced a recording of it that I was satisfied with. And at last count there are about ten different versions.

This particular version is unique because it is essentially the first, and I'm pretty sure only time, I have ever created a guitar riff. I also really enjoyed doing the background vocals for this. They lilt really good at the bridge. I've never been satisfied with any recording I've ever made ever, but most of them have their nice bits. I like the nice bits on this one.

The song is about a boy, who is in love with a girl, who doesn't love him back.

Pretty basic stuff.

The twist is that everyone else hates her guts.

So instead of the "You Are Everything To Me" love song, I get to employ a cute little turn of phrase.

I love employing cute little turns of phrase.

Anyway, on a parallel line of day dreaming, I've been helping Calvin in his pursuit to solve a Rubik's cube for the last week or so, and since I can't let him beat me until I am old and done, I too have been practicing my solution time.

It is nothing to be proud of.

My best time is just under six minutes.

So far.

But his best time is just over seven.

I win.

And it's really not THAT hard. You basically memorize a set of turns and build up each layer, and then the corners and then the middle edges. It took me about two hours to learn, but I could teach it to an eight year old in just under ten minutes.

Anyway since my average solution time is around seven minutes, and the average song is about three and a half, I thought it might be fun to shoot a single shot of me solving it and then doubling the speed, giving it this frantic look.

Kind of show off my mad skills while at the same time making fun of the fact that my skills ain't that mad.

And then I thought, what better soundtrack to a silly old man trying to solve a silly little puzzle than a song about young unrequited love?

Parallel lines crossed.

So I sat myself down with the puzzle and a camera and hit record.

Then about a two minutes in I kinda lost it and had to start over.

Then I lost it again.

And then while working on move number two (Of which there are five) I suddenly found the cube primed for move five. So it ended up pretty much solving itself in just over three minutes.

And since I'm not the kind of guy that knows what a gift horse's mouth looks like, I sorta just went with it.

So the video ended up being in real time.

And you can kinda see where I lose it right around the two minute marker after the first chorus.

Originally I wanted the video to be black and white, cause I thought the futility of trying to solve a black and white rubik's cube would be all artsy cool, but after review, it just didn't look very good, so I just played with the colors a bit to give it a saturated look.

Also, I decided to forgo the lyrics this week and just let the song do it's thing.

Anyway, enjoy, and please send along your thoughts for other ideas in the future.






A Date with Dad

Do you ever feel sorta terrible about taking your children to McDonalds?

I don't know why . . . wait . . .  that's not true, I know exactly why. You feel sorta terrible, cause you know its not the very best you could do.

That's it.

There are all kinds of nutritious and delicious meals just waiting for the both of you back in the fridge. Fruits, vegetables, lean protein.

Fiber.

And you know if your child walked up to you with a jar filled with sodium nitrate and high fructose corn syrup you would immediately take it out of his hand, throw it in the trash, and cut him up some apples.

But you're in the car about to be running a whole bunch of errands and you realize that, well, it's at least an hour passed a reasonable lunch time and the both of your are hungry, so you say something ridiculous like "Hey, what do you want for lunch?"

It's ridiculous cause you already know the answer.

McDonalds.

What other answer is there?

Dummy.

Now there are all kinds of environmental, socio-economic, and heart disease related issues why you should be boycotting McDonalds, but frankly, double quarter pounders are delicious to me. And fries are delicious to me. And Coke is delicious to me.

Also, I happen to be in the weirdly enviable position of having to figure out novel ways of getting 1400 calories a day into a child who is super active and weighs about as much as a paper clip necklace.

And really, my job as a parent is just to try raise them to be healthy, happy, and with a reasonable dislike of Nickelback and Maroon 5.

So hell yeah. McDonalds it is, son.

Now one of the more interesting traits of raising obsessive children is that their thread of conscience is nearly unbreakable.

And the theme for this week is the Rubik's Cube.

This was touched on a little bit before during Superbowl Weekend when solving the puzzle was the most important thing ever, but he's taken it up again, and this time wants not only to learn how to solve it, but how to speed solve it, and he is not going to let that go for a very long time.

I gotta figure out how to channel that energy into piano lessons.

Anyway, we walked into our local McDonalds, him not taking his eye off his cube and me trying to explain to an eight year old what an algorithm is.

Now I have two very specific rules when going to restaurants.

Number One: Tip at least 20% even if the service was terrible (especially if the service was terrible. You might just make someone's day better)

Number Two: Never ask your child what he wants when you're at the front of the line. Know ahead of time or you lose your turn. I would like to see this become law. Especially if the penalties included caning.

What do you want?

Double cheese burger is the one I like. Plain.

Fries?

Yes.

What do you want to drink?

I want to pick out my own.

What do you want?

Coke.

Kay.

All of this can occur before you even get in line. I promise you, it is greatest common courtesy ever.

The family in front of us had clearly no idea that the law I just made up had taken effect already. A mom, two boys and a guy who looked old enough to be grandpa, but just young enough to be a possible OK Cupid date going horribly wrong.

There was a lot of denim and a lot of tattoos and I probably wouldn't have even noticed them at all had it not been for the fact that none of them could decide what they wanted and everything had to be repeated three times because there seemed to be quite the language barrier between the faux southern drawl they were using and the rudimentary spanish the register girl was using.

And don't get me wrong, I only tease because there seems to be a very established "Country" community out here, which I find really odd since we're less than an hour and a half from San Francisco's Castro district.

And since I'm Californian through and through, it is far more ridiculous that I don't speak Spanish fluently than it is for our register girl to have a less than complete vocabulary in Queen's English.

I'm not being all judgee, I'm just setting the scene.

So we all waited for the "family" to finish their order.

Then it was our turn and we ordered our food.

I only had to repeat myself once.

We sat down and as the "country" girl passed us, she sorta stopped and looked at the two of us, rolled her eyes a little and walked on by.

Which, wait, what?

Wasn't I just rolling my eyes at you for backing up the line, cause really, who walks into a McDonald's not knowing exactly what they want?

But I could instantly tell what she was thinking.

You don't see a neatly quaffed man and his son, trying to solve Rubik's Cubes and discussing algorithms at your local McDonald's very often.

She was probably wondering why we weren't at Trader Joe's picking up ingredients for sushi. And the answer to that is because it wasn't Thursday.

And worst, she probably thought I was one of those weekend dads. Disneyland Dad. The "I only get to see him every other Sunday so I'm taking him to McDonalds so he'll think I'm cool." Dad.

She herself had at least two boys and no rings on her fingers, so I could only assume she knew THAT dad pretty well, and kinda hated him.

I noticed I do get that look every so often when I'm out on the town with my little guy. A father/son date is somewhat of a rarity I guess, especially in the neatly quaffed nuclear family suburbs. Either we are Ward Cleaver or Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs Kramer.

But, and I hope to be quite a pioneer myself, the "Stay at Home Dad" is really starting to gain some serious traction. A good quarter of the regular parents that line up to pick up their children are dudes. Unheard of half a generation before.

I was mulling this when I was informed by my diminutive date that we needed to get more fries because I apparently had eaten them all.

Other things we discussed were how cool it would be to participate in a Rubik's Cube Tournament and how he didn't want a happy meal because he is no longer a kid.

We finished our food, ran our errands and headed home.

Five miles from the house "Moves like Jagger" came on the radio and I immediately switched it to something else.

"Awww" said a mousey voice from the back seat.

What?

You didn't have to turn it.

What?

You didn't have to turn it.

Do you like that song?

Yeah.

Kay. Well . . .  at least you're healthy and happy.