Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.


#161 In which our hero bores you with advertising stuff.

Wow, it’s Friday already. It’s been a busy week. I’m one of nine writers on staff at the agency, but this week I’ve been one of only two who are here all week. Everyone else has been either gone all week on vacation, or in and out of conferences, radio production or other stuff that takes them away from the office.

However, I haven’t been as slammed with overflow work than I thought I would be (maybe the other writer is, I dunno) but I have been busy with… stuff. It’s funny, I haven’t actually been doing a lot of writing this week, but I have been doing a lot of thinking. And a lot of going to meetings… good Lord, the meetings.

I’m currently involved in a couple of RFPs (“RFP” stands for “request for proposal). It generally goes down like this: a company has a new marketing/advertising goal. It may be rolling out a new product or launching a new website or doing something different for their distributors… anything, really. And while most bigger companies have already hired their own advertising agencies (i.e., the “agency of record”) they often go to them to launch the new thing… but not always. Sometime they go outside to find a new agency. This is extremely common in the advertising world, and it’s not the “if you can’t do it then we’re just find someone who can!” slap in the face to their agency of record that it might appear. Sometimes the agency or record just doesn’t have the resources to pull off a 100+ market distributor program or whatever. So they find an agency that’s strong in the area that their agency of record may be weak.

My agency does a lot of that kind of stuff. We’re actually not the agency of record for most of our clients. And if you think about it, it makes sense. Take a gigantic company like Procter & Gamble. They make hundreds of consumer products like laundry soap (Tide, Cheer), shampoo (Head & Shoulders, Pantene) toothpaste (Crest, Gleem) pet food (Iams, Eukanuba) and just a ton of other stuff.

They make billions and billions in sales every year. In the advertising world they are sometimes referred to as “Procter & God.” They’re big. So it would be a pretty tall order for ONE agency to handle all their advertising. My agency actually doesn’t do any work with P&G that I’m aware of. Anyway.

So you have a company that’s looking for help in attaining some new goal, so they put out a Request for Proposal (RFP). This is basically a document that says, “here’s what we want to do, here’s the goals we want to hit, come back and tell us how your agency would do it.” A bunch of agencies scramble to respond with the most impressive RFP response the company picks one, and suddenly you’re in business together.

This is a good way to land some new business, but more importantly, it’s a foot in the door. If the company likes the job you do with X, then maybe next year they let you try Y and Z. Play your cards right and suddenly you don’t just have a new project, you have a new client who’s pushing you lots of work (and, of course, paying you lots of money).

But the problem with RFPs is that you generally aren’t as familiar with the client, so there’s a lot of second-guessing about what they want to see. And a lot of RFPs are frustratingly vague; the company says “we don’t want to hinder your creativity with example of what we’ve done before, we want you to have a fresh perspective,” etc., etc.

This results in a lot of meetings with people sitting around saying, “um, how about this?”

It also involves a lot of thinking. It’s funny… thinking takes a lot more time than writing, for me at least. The great thing is that you have a blank slate and you can do anything you want. The sucky thing is that you have a blank slate and you can do anything you want.

So this week has been one big black hole of meetings and trying to figure out how best to respond to these RFPs. And, of course, they have to be realistic. We can promise to paint the client’s logo on the side of the space shuttle if they don’t have the budget to do it.

Boy, that’s probably more than you wanted to know, huh?

In happier news, Lily’s lip is once again little girl sized. I’m amazed at how quickly it healed. Monday it was huge and ugly (“my lip is dripping,” says Lily) and by Tuesday it was mostly back to normal.

I wonder what adventures next week holds?


#160 In which our hero cleans up blood.

The shoulder of my favorite jacket is soaked with blood. My 2-year-old daughter’s blood.

Last night the whole family was taking a walk around the block, as we are wont to do. Since Lily is a big fan of both the computer and the TV, we try to get her out into the fresh air as much as we can. And with winter coming, the days of easy walks around the neighborhood are almost over for the season.

These walks are rather ponderous affairs, since Macey is at the point where she can walk on her own, and usually wants to walk on her own, but she doesn’t do it very quickly. We generally drag the stroller along and she splits her time between riding and walking. And naturally, when Macey gets out, Lily wants to get in. Neither of the girls enjoy riding on my shoulders for more than a couple minutes, so that leaves us with a long, delay-ridden walk. Which is fine, it’s not like we’re in a rush to get home so The Scientist and I can go clubbing.

So last night, at about the 60% mark of the walk, both girls were out of the stroller. Lily was lagging behind picking up rocks and what-not, Macey was with her mama, pushing the empty stroller. Lily had her hands in the pockets of pants, and said to me, “Daddy, can you put your hands in your pockets?” Of course I did. And it was just about then that Lily tripped on the sidewalk and did a serious face-plant on the pavement. Since her hands were in her pockets she couldn’t catch herself, and my hands were in my pockets, too, so I couldn’t have caught her even if I was quick enough.

I saw the whole thing. I’m not sure if it was the sound of face hitting concrete or seeing the fall, but I knew it was a bad thing. I immediately picked her up, and after a moment of shock, she started to cry. I was holding her on my shoulder, and was a little afraid to look at the damage. The Scientist was right there, and clearly was thinking the same thing as me when she said, “She’s not okay.”

We lifted her head and her mouth was covered in blood. She had rested her chin on her hand, and it was covered in blood, too. The Scientist gingerly opened her mouth and poked at her teeth which, miraculously, were all still seated in her gums. One was a little loose, but given that sickening fall, I was happy that we didn’t have to pick them up off the sidewalk.

And while we were assaying her mouth, that’s when Macey decided to wonder into the street.

We’re horrible parents in that while fretting over our 2-year-old, we completely forgot about our 1-year-old. The Scientist suddenly realized that she was gone, and grabbed her while she was about two feet off the curb. And, of course, a car was coming down the street.

We hustled everyone home, taking a shortcut through our backdoor neighbor’s yard. Lily was a real champ. She was crying, of course, but not the hysterical sobbing that would have been completely warranted.

So I guess this is the really hard part of being a parent. When your little girl is crying and saying “It hurts! It hurts!” and there’s nothing you can do about it. It was terrible.

We cleaned her up and dosed her with Children’s Tylenol. She stretched out on the couch with her mother, and we put ice on her lip, which has already swollen up as big as my thumb. She got lots of kisses, got to watch whatever movie she wanted (Wallace and Gromit, an excellent choice) and had her daddy feed her ice cream.

That night was tough. Her lip was too swollen to let her suck her pacifier, but she seemed to manage. She whimpered and cried softly, which just broke my heart. I went in and got into bed with her, which helped a lot.

I hadn’t planned on sending the night in my daughter’s bed, but it wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as you might think. It’s only a single mattresses, but Lily doesn’t take up much room. Every so often she’s reach out with her foot, as if to assure herself that I was still there. She seemed to sleep really well, all things considered.

Right now she’s at home with her mama. The Scientist took the day off from work. When I called a half hour ago they were sitting in bed watching cartoons. I suspect it will be a day of snuggling and soft foods. Ice cream may come into the picture more than once. Which is as it should be.

I feel guilty, even though I know it was just a dumb accident. I feel like I should have said, “Lily, don’t walk with your hands in your pockets!” That if I had, we could have avoided all this. But she looked so cute with her hands jammed into her little jeans, like a happy teenager in miniature. And while we try hard not to hover, and to let our kids experience the world on their own… it seems like I should have been there to catch her. But I wasn’t.

And I know I won’t be there to catch her in the future, either. I want to protect her from all her falls, and I know the physical scrapes and cuts will be nothing compared to the emotional ones. There will come the time that I won’t be able to scoop her up in my arms and make it all better, and the knowing is like an awful weight.

But both her blood and her tears have already dried, I know she’ll be okay. I just hope it’s a long, long time until I see my little girl bleed again.

UPDATE: The damage as of 10 this morning:

The Scientist just emailed me this photo to show me how much more Lily's lip has swollen. You have to click on the photo to get the full size to really appreciate how bad it is. Ugh, it's just terrible.


I completely forgot that last night, while my child was bravely facing what had to be considerable mouth pain, I took that opportunity to blatantly lie to her face. The Scientist and I were trying to decide if this warranted medical intervention, and I casually asked, “Do you think we need to take her in to the doctor?”

Lily immediately latched onto that, saying “Yes! I need to go to the doctor!” Lately she has wanted to go to the doctor quite a bit, or else she becomes the doctor herself and makes me go to see her. I’m sure even her 2-year-old brain got the “doctor makes the pain go away” message, and she was all for it. But we weren’t going to go right at the moment, so I told Lily, “Honey, I’ll call the doctor and see what he says.” So I play-acted getting out my cell and made some noises with the buttons and walked away like I was talking on the phone. Then I came back and give her the doctor’s “advice,” which was to keep ice on it, take some more Children’s Tylenol and see how it looked in the morning. Lily seemed satisfied with this, but I felt a little bit like a dick for deceiving my child in her time of pain.

I guess I hope that’s the biggest lie I ever tell her. But I’m pretty sure it won’t be.


#159 In which our hero discusses being a horse widower.

Recently, The Scientist mentioned me in her blog, regarding my feelings toward her having a horse. She also had someone leave a comment which said, in part:
I'm also curious to know how Craig handles being a "horse husband". Mine had issues with it the last time I was seriously competing...but maybe this time will be better...who knows. Does he have any tips on how to convince my Wonderful Husband that this is a good thing??

How do you convince your husband that it’s a good thing? You don’t. Because it isn’t.

My wife is maintaining an affair with another male, and has been for about 13 years -- considerably longer than she’s had a relationship with me. The only consolation is that this other guy had his testicles physically removed years ago, so I’m one up on him in that regard. She spends lots of money on this other guy, and makes special arrangements to see him during the week. In fact, one of the first considerations that came up when we were talking about marriage is that she still be allowed to see him. She doesn’t even have the decency to keep her affair secret from me… she gives me all the grisly details over the diner table. Every. Night. I thought I could deal with it (matter of fact I met this other guy, and he seemed decent enough, other than his big scary teeth) but lately it’s really worn me down. He doesn’t give my wife any enjoyment any more; all he does is cost us a great deal of money and make my wife cry. If he retired tomorrow and moved away to a small condo in Palm Springs I would not be upset. I would, in fact, welcome the change.

But seriously, is that how I really feel? Yes, it is how I really feel.

Honestly, it’s terrifically hard sometimes. But I’m lucky in that my horse-woman wife loves me and our kids more than she loves horses… I suspect that a lot of husbands/children of horse-women aren’t so fortunate. Because I’ve been to horse shows, and them dames is crazy.

So, as a public service to men who are married or otherwise involved with a woman who owns a horse, I present the following:

The 5 Stages of Horse Widowers

“This isn’t going to last. She’ll give up on all this horse nonsense soon.”

Don’t count on it. Once a woman gets riding in her blood, it’s there to stay. Like Leukemia. Acting like your wife/girlfriend isn’t getting into something that’s going to cost a whole lot of time and money only sets you up for the next step.

“What the hell? Do you really need to go out to the barn every night?”

This is a tough one. You’re angry that you never see your loved one any more, but you realize that she’s doing something she loves, and you don’t want to be a big dick about it. You have your own hobbies. I mean, how would you feel if she suddenly said, “I don’t want you going golfing on Friday!” Don’t fall into this line of thinking. Because you’re right to be angry. Your hobby doesn’t involve you driving and hour or more every single day out to BFE to ride for several more hours. Then again, maybe it does; in which case you have no room to bitch. But if you find yourself eating more and more TV dinners and seeing less and less of your loved one, you’ll probably be tempted to move on to:

“Come on… just skip riding tonight, we’ll go out to see a movie!”

Good luck. The hard truth is that you can offer up the most tempting things: diner, dancing, theater, concerts… and they still fall short of the joy your woman gets from riding her horse. If you try upping the ante with, say, a romantic weekend getaway to the beach, you’re only going to hurt yourself when she doubles up the following week to make up for the time she missed with her horse. When it finally hits you that there just isn't anything you can do for her that trumps her furry four-legged lover, you’re going to hit rock bottom and get a bad case of:

“This sucks.”

It’s hard to deal when your suavest moves can’t compete with a good canter. This is the breaking point for a lot of relationships, if they even get this far. You end up either a mopey mess or picking fights with your significant other. In the end, it all boils down to this: either you decide to cut your losses and get the hell out, or you go in the other direction:

“Explain to me again what’s the difference between a martingale and a snaffle?”

If you’re lucky, you might have a little horse-lover gene in yourself, allowing you entry into the horse world. But, if you’re like the rest of us, you just accept that your wife is part of a passionate community that you don’t really understand, and never will. Ideally you both will be able to set a balance between time at home and time at the barn. Since, once again, the horse thing isn’t going away, this is the only long-term solution to the “problem.”

Of course, acceptance doesn’t mean that you won’t have to deal with any of the other steps ever again… take it from me, if something unexpected happens and the vet bills start to get into four digits, you’re going to re-explore denial and anger again. And again.

But it’s worth it. Even if it doesn’t always show, she loves you more than she loves her horse. But just, so don’t push too hard.


#158 In which our hero digs that old time religion.

Does this guy look familiar?

If you went to school at Ohio State (or several other colleges in the region, apparently) in the late 80s/early 90s, he will. This is Jed Smock, otherwise known as “Brother Jed.”

I haven’t thought about this guy for probably 10 years, and I’m not sure what triggered my memory of him this morning. Maybe NPR was running a story on religion. Maybe someone is trying to tell me to get back to church.

Anyway, Brother Jed was a fixture at Ohio State. He would set up camp on the Oval, the big central grassy area on campus, and start preaching. But he wouldn’t just preach, he would verbally attack passing students. His was a ministry of confrontation, and that’s what made it entertaining.

He would regularly address male students as “fornicators” and female students as “sluts.” Naturally, this would anger people, who would stop and get into shouting matches with the good Brother. Other students would sit down and form a wide circle around him, watching the free entertainment or just taking in the sun.

At the time, I just thought he was a kook. A rumbled, greasy-haired man who shouted out odd slogans, got into arguments with strangers and assured us that we were all going to hell. He was joined by his wife, who was even more extreme in her preaching. She would lurch around the circle, more chanting her ministry that speaking, and would punctuate every lesson with her assurance that if we didn’t all turn away from the face of evil and accept Jesus into our hearts that we would end up in “a lake... of FIIIIIIRE!” Honestly, she was my favorite, and I would join in with everyone else and shout “lake of FIRE!” along with the crazy-lady. There was also a handful of other revolving faces in the ministry, none of which came across as maintaining all their facilities.

Here’s a short movie of Jed in a quiet moment.

It was nothing more than a strange modern-day freakshow to me then, but now I see it for what it really was: smart marketing. If Jed and his cronies just set up shop somewhere and politely tried to spread the Good Word, he would mostly be ignored. He would certainly be ignored by those he would label “heathens,” drawing attention only from those who were already interested in religion.

Don’t get me wrong, this guy was resolutely on the fringe; I don’t imagine that any mainstream church would open their doors and let him take the pulpit to shout out to the congregation that they were fornicators and harlots. His message was that you need to lead a “traditional” life, which included marriage, church and children. And women needed to stay in the kitchen, like God intended.

Not surprisingly this ran against the sensibilities of most people studying there, and Jed, of course, knew this. I really wonder how he measured success… by the size of the crowd that gathered around him? By the number of people who stopped to engage him? By seeing the same faces in the crowd again and again?

But then… there were rumors that some students would seek him out as he was closing down for the day, and Jed would invite them back to his home for dinner, discussion and prayer. The story went that once you had him one-on-one, Jed was a very thoughtful, caring man; not at all the bombastic demagogue that he portrayed on campus. Some students seemed to have a real relationship with Jed, quick to jump to his defense in the face of a particularly abusive opponent.

Eventually the show got old, and I lost interest. But Jed would expect this, I think. His ministry wasn’t designed for the long term, it was only to incite interest at the moment (and boy, did it ever do that) and get generally ambivalent students to stop and listen. I stopped, I listened, then I moved on.

If you would have told me at the time that, 12 years later, I would be a member of a church (even though my attendance has been spotty, at best) and had plans to bring up my children in the church… I would have thought you as crazy as Jed. But here I am.

Not that I think Brother Jed and his outrageous performances brought me to this point, just the opposite, I should think. It was the calm, seeming level-headedness of the people in our church who attracted us.

But I have to say, The Scientist and I would make more of an effort to attend if there was a chance that our pastor would start singling out people in the pews, calling them “whores” and telling us that we were all heading for a lake... of FIIIIIIRE!


#157 In which our hero considers the past.

There once was a time, long, long ago, when I had never been fired from a job. Leaving every job I’d ever had, from lowly busboy to the dreamed-of copywriter position, had been a matter of me saying, “hey boss, I have to put in my two-week notice.” Every job had led to another job, one that was more satisfying, paid better, and really advanced my career.

But that era ended in short order when I moved to Cleveland.

When I was first laid off it was a real shock. It started an ugly spiral of jobs that were less and less satisfying, paid worse and didn’t end up lasting anyway. I was pretty much at the lowest point of my career, working for a sleazy direct mailer when I got the call from the agency I’m working at right now. Now, I’m not big on touchy-feely-what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger-motivational-BS, but I can honestly say that I’m a better copywriter now for all the shitty jobs/situations I’ve had to endure in the last few years.

Which may not be saying much, because when I first moved up to Cleveland, I was a real asshole.

At work, I mean. The Scientist can chime in to say if I was one at home too (I don’t think I was) but at work I was put-near unbearable.

Here’s the thing: advertising people tend to be kinda arrogant to start. I think it comes from the fact that our jobs require us to be experts in, well, nearly everything. We often have to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers (“Okay, I’m an 80-year-old grandmother, what features would be important to me in a deodorant?”) and master a great deal of information in a short amount of time (“I’ve reviewed your advertising from the last 40 years, and here’s why it hasn’t worked”) so sometimes we think we know everything. And man, I was the poster child for that at my first real agency.

If the client (or worse, the account executive) dared to question my concept, they were clearly a clueless idiot. How could you NOT see the beauty, passion and utter brilliance of my copy?! If I wasn’t dismissing you out of hand, I was arguing with you, disdaining to dumb down my ideas enough so that your miniscule brain could comprehend them.

Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I was pretty full of myself.

Fortunately, nothing brings you back to earth faster than losing your job and not being able to find another. I’ve often wondered if it was my bad attitude that haunted me, preventing me from securing jobs I was clearly qualified for. Having some seriously lean times made me appreciate my work much more than I ever had before.

And finally, I came to the realization that it’s really easy to spend other people’s money. The client clearly needs to run a heavy rotation of 60-second TV spots… who cares if he really has the budget to afford it? This isn’t about the client or his money, this is about serving the hungry gods of advertising! Or so it used to go. Now I get it. You’re paying the check, so you get to call the shots. I may not agree with them, and sometimes I may think they are completely off-target… but it’s your money. All I can do is suggest what I think is best. The guy holding the money gets final say.

And honestly, since I’ve adopted this attitude, my stress level at work has gone waay down. Once I accepted that I will NEVER have the final say, no matter how much I rant and rave, life became much easier. I do advertising… no-one’s life is on the line, no-one will die based on my decisions. It’s TV commercials, radio spots, print ads… fun stuff. It is fun. And it’s not worth developing an ulcer over.

I’ve been thinking about this today because yesterday and this morning I felt some of my old asshole ways creeping back. We’re in the middle of this project, and one of the things I had to do was propose names for a new product the client has developed. I thought I had some good names, but the account guy (and then the client) picked a name that I think is terrible. Not only is it not fitting for the product, it isn’t going to make any sense to the customer. I expect a whole lot more “huh?” than “Holy crap! I have to have this!” I argued my point, gave my reasons… and felt my temperature start to raise. How the hell is it that this guy cannot see how stupid this name is? How it doesn’t even work? Am I the only one in the room that understands the folly of this course of action?!

So I’ve taken a step back. The client likes the name. That’s all there is to it. My job is to now shine this turd until it gleams.



The Scientist and I have talked about having a third child. I don’t expect that it will really happen, unless there’s some drastic change in our current situation. Like winning the lottery. We really can’t afford a third child, and neither of us have a car that would fit three car seats, meaning we’d have to consider the dreaded minivan.

But my wife wants another baby, and occasionally she’ll say something like, “wouldn’t you like to have a son?” To which I find myself oddly indifferent. I mean, yeah, sure, it would be great to have a son, but it’s great to have two daughters. If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I would be disappointed if I never had a boy, I probably would have said yes. But now that I have two wonderful children, I don’t care that they are both girls.

But I digress. What I really wanted to write about is how much I hate Parents magazine.

Like all new parents, we subscribed to this bloated thing, hoping it would give us the insight to successful parenting we assumed we were missing. And it does have interesting articles sometimes, and loads of cute baby pictures, of course. But I quickly lost interest in the magazine, mostly because it’s clear that the editorial staff thinks all men are assholes. I once read an article about how important it was to read to your kids, how it helps them develop and how it helps you bond. Since I read to Lily every night as part of our bedtime ritual, it was nice to hears… until I literally got to the last sentence of the article, which read, “And remember, fathers can read to the kids, too!” Which elicited a big, Hey, fuck you Parents magazine!

So The Scientist hands me the most recent copy of the magazine, opened to a story. “You should read this,” she says.

The story is about a young couple, not unlike us, who have two children (but they have two boys). Once when the kids are at Camp Grandma the parents sneak off and have sex in their minivan in the park (I know, classy). And, of course, she gets pregnant. What follows is a he said/she said article that gives both their points of view.

And, not surprisingly, the guys point of view is that he doesn’t want to have another kid. He says:
Our kids were just at the point where they were sleeping through the night. I didn’t want to deal with midnight feedings, no sex, changing diapers, sleep-walking through the day, and did I mention no sex?

He pressures his wife to have an abortion (even though Parents never uses the “A” word) and tells her that he’ll have no part of the pregnancy. He doesn’t go to the birthing classes, he won’t help his wife and he basically ignores the fact that she’s pregnant. In her section, the wife talks about how difficult it was, how stressful it was around the house with her husband being openly hostile about the impending birth, and so on.

But! Of course, once the baby is born the husband sees his beautiful little daughter for the first time and his heart melts and he loves her. The article concludes with how close father and daughter are now, and how happy he is to have her in his life. And the wife is so pleased that he came around and everyone got a happy ending.

To which I say: Are you fucking kidding me?

This is just the kind of story that Parents loves: one in which the asshole father -- because, clearly, all fathers are shitheads who can hardly be expected to put down their beer and get off the couch to prevent their kid from eating poison, let alone change a diaper -- finally comes around in the end and realizes how important children really are, cue syrupy music and hummingbirds.

This crap burns me to no end. First of all, THIS particular father really IS an asshole, and shame on him for bringing the rest of us dads down. He has to mouth off in the first paragraph about how he doesn’t want another child because it ruins his sex life… I mean, Jesus, dude. Are you really so dim that you don’t see how stupid and selfish that makes you sound? Sure, we all might feel that way, but maybe don’t list it as your #1 reason for trying to browbeat your wife into an abortion she doesn’t want, huh?

Here’s the thing: the second that guy put his unprotected dick in his wife, that was him saying, “hey, y’know what, I’m okay with you getting pregnant.” Because that’s how you get pregnant. Lord, what a turd.

So I take this awful magazine and throw it across the room back at The Scientist. She says, “Why’d you throw that?” and I say, “Why’d you make me read that piece of shit?”

And she doesn’t know why, really. Mostly because we were just talking about a third child, and this story is about an unexpected third child. I know she wasn’t trying to say that I was an asshole like the guy in the story (clearly I’m an entirely different kind of asshole) but I’ll still a little insulted by it.

But I’m mostly insulted by the stupid misandry this magazine continues to exhibit. Instead of Parents, it really should be titled “Amazingly Flawless Moms And The Unbearable Neanderthals They Are Forced To Endure” magazine.

At least you’d know what you’re buying.


#156 In which our hero meets his neighbors.

Last Saturday we had a block party. It was very nice, I got to meet many of my neighbors that I hadn’t before, including people from a couple streets over. More importantly, since this was a name tag sort of thing and I’m terrible at remembering names, I was able to finally put a name to some of the faces I see nearly every day. These are people who introduced themselves to me two years ago, and I promptly forgot their names. And there’s just not a good way to come back to your neighbor 15 months later and say, “sorry, what was your name again?”

So there was a fair amount of me saying, “Oh, hi… Paula! How have you been, Paula?” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one doing it. I had an interesting conversation with a guy down the street (actually, the husband of the woman who got this whole thing rolling. The same woman who is super nice and introduced herself to me only to have me completely blank out on who the hell she was when I ran into her in the supermarket. Twice.) and we came to the conclusion that not knowing your neighbors is just a sign of the times we live in. I believe that. Honestly, if it wasn’t for us taking the girls for walks around the neighborhood and having them play with some of the neighbor kids of similar ages, we wouldn’t have met a fraction of the people we have. And we’ve only met a fraction of the people who live on the street.

I grew up in a tiny town in Ohio. We lived on a cul-de-sac (even though I wouldn’t know that word until decades later) and literally knew everyone on the street. It was only about a dozen families, but we still knew each other and smiled and waved. Some of the families got together and drank beer or played cards or gossiped. I supposed that’s the whole small town vibe, but I liked it. I’ve been trying to capture that feeling just about everywhere I’ve lived ever since moving away from home.

But, the problem is that I’m terrible at it. I have no talent for small talk, and I’m not a sports fan… sports being the default topic when strangers have nothing else to talk about. So I’ve always been the “welcome to the neighborhood!” guy who is nice on the first day, then kinda ignores you for then on. Not because I’m not friendly, but because I’m hyper aware that I have nothing of interest to talk to you about, and that I’m a stammering idiot in situations like that. And forget it any time I’ve been single… I was just trying to be nice, but I think it came across as trying to get into your pants (if you’re a woman) or your girlfriend/wife’s pants (if you’re a guy). And most of the time, that was probably true.

Anyway, it was nice to have a big meet and greet. And it was well attended, there were probably 30 families there. We closed off the street, put up tables, everyone brought snacks and Pa gave people rides in the hay wagon. Well, not the last thing, but it did have a very small town feeling.

Lots of the people there are in the same boat as The Scientist and I… this is the first “real” house after the starter house, have small children, two career families… it felt very comfortable. I hope we do it again.

Who knows? I might even remember people’s names next time.


#155 In which our hero talks about food.

The Scientist heard about a trend that is “sweeping the nation!” and got a little excited about it. Basically, it’s cook-it-yourself dinners. Which doesn’t sound very exciting, especially since every dinner is cook-it-yourself for me, except on those few occasions that we go out. But here’s the deal: you go to a special cooking center where all the ingredients are already prepared for you and you just supply the labor. The idea is that for two hours worth of work you walk away with two weeks worth of meals.

Now, I worked for years in commercial kitchens, so this wasn’t going to be an exotic experience for me. And I know that even though the country is currently obsessed with celebrity cooks, and shows like 30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray and ever the hated Emeril Lagasse make cooking seem like a wonderful lark, I know the truth: cooking for a living sucks. You are by definition in an extremely hot, greasy environment with other employees who are mostly semi-literate at best. Well, that last bit was maybe only my experience; I didn’t exactly work at any 4-star restaurants.

Anyway, I was game to try it, if for no other reason that my wife and I could avoid asking “what’s for dinner tonight” for a couple of weeks. See, I love cooking, but I hate planning to cook. I’d like nothing more if The Scientist sat down and planned out the week’s menu, leaving it to me to shop and cook. We actually did this for a short period, and it worked out great. Problem is, at The Scientist’s new job, she doesn’t have the time to surf for recipes and make menus like she used to. Thus the endless questioning of “what’s for dinner?” And if it wasn’t for the girls, the answer might often be “Ramen,” but we do try to feed the girls good food.

Thus The Scientist found an outfit called “Simply Done Dinners” and signed me up. For $200 we were to get 12 meals of our choice from the monthly menu. We avoided anything that we thought one of us (that is to say, she) wouldn’t eat, including a jerk chicken recipe and a peppercorn tenderloin.

I should mention that I wasn’t that excited about this thing, really. Like I said, I’ve been in commercial kitchens before, so that’s wasn’t going to be a thrill. And I wasn’t entirely sure that I couldn’t assemble a menu myself for 200 bucks or less that would have been just as good. But, as I am not into the menu planning thing, I figured why not? If the math didn’t work out in our favor, I’m sure it would be reasonably close, especially considering that most meals are last minute affairs that don’t benefit from any sort of economies of scale anyway.

But, honestly? I was looking forward to showing off in the kitchen. I figured the class would be full of harried moms and maybe an incompetent man or two. I’ve always enjoyed the looks I get when I tell people that I do all the cooking at home* and I like to do my part to shatter the “idiot husband in the kitchen” stereotype which is perpetuated mostly, I am sad to say, by my own industry. So it would be fun to show off my knife skills and stand there smirking, my own dish being done and looking exquisite in the chaffing dish, while others struggle with the correct amount of paprika. And cooking is fun, so I figured it might be a light, enjoyable evening. With wine.

But, come Friday morning, I got an urgent email from the owner asking me to call him about my appointment on Saturday. Turns out there is some emergency on Saturday and they’ve had to cancel the class (of which I was the only one). The options were to reschedule for another night or allow them to prepare the food and I could just pick it up (this is usually a more expensive option, but they were going to give it to me at the same price). So I opted to just pick it up.

The place is about an hour away, and naturally I get a little lost finding it. But I get there eventually. The place is simply a big storefront with about a dozen work stations. Each work station is a big cutting board with a cooler well of what fancy-pants chefs would call “mis en place” which is just stainless steel containers full of ingredients that have already been peeled, chopped and otherwise prepared so you only have to assemble the dishes. There’s no ovens of burners, and the owner explains to me that there’s no real cooking down on site, it’s all raw ingredients.

This is disappointing to me, of course. If everything is already prepared, then there’s no show-off opportunities; and even if there was, I was the only one scheduled in the class anyway. I could show off to myself in my own kitchen and not have to drive an hour to get there. Plus, part of the motivation was meals we could quickly prepare… but if it’s all raw food, then we still have to spend an hour or two cooking it.

But, it’s all about the eating, so I’m keeping an open mind. That is, until I tasted the food.

The Scientist is finicky about some foods, and doesn’t like anything that is even slightly spicy like, say, black pepper. And onions and peppers upset her stomach. So I went though the menu and took note of anything that had ingredients that might upset her stomach and/or she just wouldn’t like. I told the guy on the phone and he told me no problem, we want the food to be to your liking, blah, blah, blah.

So the first night we eat a tilapia with rice dish. The fish is decent, but the rice is chock full of red peppers. Red peppers that were not listed in the online ingredient list. Next night was cheese ravioli in an alfredo sauce. The sauce, once again, was full of red peppers. So now we have two giant pans of fish and ravioli that The Scientist won’t eat, and I wasn’t crazy about (the ravioli was too heavy for my tastes; frankly, I like my own alfredo sauce much better).

Of course, if I had been there in person like I was supposed to, I just wouldn’t have added anything that The Scientist wouldn’t eat.

Now we have all this damn food that we need to get rid of. Most likely The Scientist will give it to a co-worker. Which is fine, but I can’t help feeling that we just shit away $20 a pop.

So what have we learned? Well, the jury is still out… maybe the rest of the food will be delicious. But I can’t help but think that our $200 would have been better spent on buying our own ingredients and locking me in the kitchen for a weekend to just cook. Ingredients that would not have included red peppers.

* When I say “all the cooking” I mean most of the cooking. The majority. But not all. Oh no! The Scientist does occasionally cook, and I like her cooking, especially her tuna noodle casserole, which I find delicious. Okay, honey? Can you stop giving me the evil eye now?


#154 In which our hero talks about death.

This post won’t be about Steve Irwin’s death, okay? Jesus, suddenly I’m a pariah because I dared poke fun at St. Irwin. Moving on.

Did I mention that our cat died? This was something like eight months ago. Reading Mrs. Kennedy’s post this morning reminded me that I had wanted to write about it and (I think) never did.

Sylvester was 13 years old when he died. The Scientist found him at the barn, where a couple of barnhands were taking care of a little yellow furball, who they named Sylvia. The first time The Scientist picked up this kitten she informed the girls that Sylvia was actually a Sylvester. I don’t remember why, but she eventually brought him home to share the house with some other cats and an uncoordinated Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy named Tucker.

Sylvester never took any crap off of Tucker, even when the dog grew up and outweighed the cat by a hundred pounds. But they didn’t just tolerate each other, I think they truly loved each other. That silly cat would wait by the door and complain when the dog was outside. And Tucker never failed to give Sylvester a big wet drive-by licking when he moved through the room.

Sylvester’s health had been in decline for years. Not that you’d know it to look at him… he was such a fat cat to start with that when he lost a lot of weight he just looked normal sized. But he eventually got way too thin. We have a great cat vet (seriously, all she sees are cats -- who knew there would be such a specialized field?) who helped prolong his life and his quality of life considerably. The Scientist and I administered sub-q fluids a couple of times a week, and eventually, near the end, every day. Sylvester put on some weight, and stopped throwing up all over the house. When Tucker died it seemed like Sylvester was rather mopey, and I have no doubt that he simply missed his dog.

Sylvester’s health really started to go downhill, to the point where even the sub-q fluids weren’t doing any good. Matter of fact, he started to retain water, which apparently is a sign that the end is near. We consulted with our vet, and she confirmed our fears: it really was time to end his suffering.

And this is the part where Fussy’s post hits home. Lily was a little more than two at the time, and we just weren’t sure how she would react. The entire family went to the vet’s office. Macey, of course, was far too young to even begin to know what was going on. But Lily understood that the kitty was “sick,” and that “he needs to go to the doctor.”

When we left with an empty cat carrier, Lily asked about Sylvester and we really didn’t know what to say. And honestly, we pussied out and didn’t really say anything. I think we told her that kitty needed to stay at the doctor’s office of a little bit. We wanted to see if she would remember the cat, and if we needed to have the big talk about death and all that.

As it turns out, Lily was too young to really understand. She rapidly forgot about Sylvester, and The Scientist and I didn’t feel the need to push a death talk on her if she wasn’t looking for answers. I’ve shown Lily photos of Tucker and Sylvester a few times and asked if she knows who these animals are, and she doesn’t.

We still have one cat left, Ash, and for a week or so after putting Sylvester to sleep Lily would point at Ash and say, “him misses hims friend.” Which never failed to make me a little weepy.

That makes two occasions we’ve missed the circle of life talk due to the girls being too young. I’m certainly not looking forward to discussing Ash’s death, since Lily at least will be old enough to understand that something is amiss when the kitty suddenly goes missing.

So, we’ll let Lily bask in the immortality of her loved ones for a little bit longer. Because it’s not built to last.



By now you’ve heard that “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin was stabbed through the heart by a stingray.

Can you stand it?

When I saw the headline Steve ‘Crocodile Hunter’ Irwin Dies appear in my Yahoo! news alert, I said to myself, “let it be eaten by crocodiles, please let it be eaten by crocodiles” but no… it’s even better! Stabbed through the heart by a fucking stingray!

I feel bad for his wife and for his kids, especially his youngest, who is only two and will never know his father. But when he’s swapping stories in the Dead Dad Club, it’s going to be hard to top “stabbed through the heart by a stingray.”

Which, by the way, is my new default answer for when things get shitty. “Well, at least I didn’t get stabbed through the heart by a stingray.”


Just a reminder, Katie Couric takes over as sole news anchor of the CBS Evening News tonight. Tune in and watch the downfall.

I have ranted about Miss Couric before, so I won’t repeat myself.

I’m more excited about this than I ever was for Who Wants to be a Superhero? ! This is going to be reality TV at it’s best. And to all those who think that Katie will do just fine, and there’s nothing to worry about… the CBS marketing department doesn’t agree with you.

By digitally taking 20 pounds (which seems like a generous assessment, if you ask me) off her photo, CBS has made it clear that Katie’s presence behind the news desk isn’t all about journalistic ability and credibility… it’s about ratings and looking good on camera.

I predict that her first time out is going to be a confused mixture of grim-faced news reads and inappropriate smiles… The Today Show has plenty of serious segments, but Katie’s going to be at a loss with such an unrelenting string of serious stories. And America isn’t going to like it when their de facto “sweetheart” doesn’t get to laugh and giggle like they’re used to.

Once again, my prediction: within six months something will change with the newscast, most likely the addition of an older, serious male co-anchor.

I hear Bryant Gumbel is looking for work.



My reactions to the Sci Fi Channel’s “Who Wants to be a Superhero?” episodes 6.

With sadness I bid Who Wants to be a Superhero adieu. It has been a strange, short ride, and Stan “The Man” Lee has once again demonstrated that he stopped being relevant to the comic book world about 30 years ago. Oh Stan, you loveably crazy old kook!

The show started with a montage of everything that’s happened to the finalists, Feedback and Fat Momma, up to this point. All the challenges have been silly and lighthearted, and for all the ballyhoo about “testing the integrity” of the heroes, Stan’s decisions about who got eliminated certainly seemed arbitrary. This was especially apparent with Fat Momma, who never really excelled in any of the challenges, and flat-out dropped the ball on some. When she just walked through the last challenge (the one in which my fav, Majority Victory, was eliminated) her I-don’t-really-seem-to-give-a-shit-edness was really glaring. Stan dismissed this in his loving voice over, saying that at times Fat Momma “seemed to lose her way.” Where the final results scripted from the get-go? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you that they were.

Feedback’s montage again showed just how serious the guy is about this competition. Like, a little scarily unhinged serious. The tearful “Spiderman helped me become an adult” may actually be heartfelt, but good Lord it is creepy. I don’t think he’s putting on an act, I think he really is that big of a geek.

The first challenge: not really a challenge at all, but an opportunity for the finalists to go to a mini “stunt school.” It actually looked very cool. I thought the fake fighting was really telling, it’s amazing how some clever editing and sound effects can completely change what you think you’re seeing.

The trampoline/flying through the air stuff looked like fun, and the true inner geek in Feedback could hardly contain himself. His wide-eye looks of wonderment were a little unnerving. The Scientist put it best when she said that his enthusiasm was just embarrassing. It’s good to be excited about what you’re doing, but holy crap, this guy looked like he had just been handed a golden ticket.

And once again, Fat Momma fails the challenge. She outright refused to try any of the aerial stunts… I have to wonder that if before the attack dog challenge she had said, “y’know what, I just don’t think I want to do this. I’ll take a pass” Stan would have been so forgiving. Oh Fat Momma, don’t worry, the rules don’t apply to you!

The final “challenge” : sit down and chat with Stan. Once again, Stan can’t be bothered to make an appearance in the flesh, remaining behind the Big Brother screen. Which is totally awesome. Maybe Stan doesn’t appear because he’s only a floating head in a jar? Hmm…

When asked, Feedback reveals that Stan himself is his personal hero. From anyone else, I’d think this is blatant ass-kissery, but from this geek, I believe it. He once again brings up his dead father, which just brings everyone down. Feedback says everything Stan wants to hear… being a hero isn’t about acrobatics or fighting prowess, it’s about your true inner person, blah-ba-blah-dee-da. Again, I think he’s 100% sincere about everything he says. Crazy Stan Lee has finally found a kindred spirit.

Fat Momma is less inspiring. She’s had a good time on the show, learned a lot about being a hero… but it just doesn’t hit the same hot buttons as Feedback.

For the big final reveal they go to Universal Citywalk where they are greeted by literally dozens of people who happen to be passing by. They didn’t do this elimination on the roof of the lair like all the others, obviously because if Feedback didn’t win he’d immediately throw himself over the edge.

Stan appears on the jumbotron and introduces the finalists to the already bored crowd. What follows is a stunningly dumb video of the heroes “fighting crime.” Fat Momma is shown eating a donut to activate her powers…

Ugh. I still cannot for an instant get past the concept that Fat Momma has to eat a donut for her powers to kick in… she’s clearly a cartoon, and why Stan has kept her around for so long is mystifying. Oh, right, that’s what the script said to do. Anyway.

She is greenscreened in over a cityscape where she is shown fighting… Chickenman. Which isn’t a fucking “chicken man” at all… it’s an actual baby chick greenscreened over he same cityscape. I sat jaw agape at the pure insipidness of what I was seeing. Stunningly stupid.

Feedback’s moment on the big screen is better, he’s again totally into the hero act and it translates well to the big screen. And it’s a good thing it does because…

Stan comes back and makes the announcement that surprises no-one: Feedback is the winner. The producers cleverly edit out the sound of Feedback ejaculating in his pants as he whoops it up. He is joined by his wife, who is surprising attractive for being married to such a giant geek. As I write this I look at the picture of my own beautiful wife and silently thank God for occasionally throwing us geeks a bone.

Feedback shouts, “I’m a SUPERHERO!” at the top of his lungs while the crowd disperses to find an elephant ear vendor. Decrepit old Stan Lee finally makes an appearance in the flesh and shakes his young protégé’s hand, finally making Feedback’s every dream a reality.

As it ends, I can’t tear my eyes away from Feedback’s wife. She seems like a normal person, and I really have to wonder what her real take is on all this. I’m sure she supports her man and all… but I keep thinking of what MY wife would think. I’m sure the next time Feedback’s wife (Mrs. Feedback? Spouse of Feedback?) is at the beauty salon, it will go something like this:
“Oh, yes, right, that was my husband who won that reality show. Yes, he’s a superhero now. Heh, yeah, he’s super all right. I’m very, uh, very proud of his, um, accomplishments. Oh yes, he got to keep the suit all right… yeah, actually, he never takes it off. Wears it to bed. Um-hmm… but that’s okay, because he’s a real winner. Stan Lee stopped taking his calls… our friends are a little annoyed that he’ll only answer to ‘Feedback’ now… our children are mortified… but, it’s great! Being married to a superhero, is just, um, just great.”

What started as a kinda-cool, kinda-geeky in-crowd thing pretty much ended up an embarrassment for everyone involved. Doesn’t that mean I won’t try out if they do a season two?

Fuck, no! I want to be a superhero, too! Excelsior!