Friday, February 29, 2008

The Big Dumb Smile

Since my daughter was born 2½ years ago, countless imaginary people have asked me for advice on becoming a father.

Gather around, young fellas.

Now, if you think you would like to plant your seed inside a lady, you need to know what to expect.

Are you truly ready to sacrifice nearly all your sleep, free time, and peace of mind for another human being – someone who cries incessantly, feeds at inconvenient times, and depends on you for every basic need?

No doubt about it, getting your wife through pregnancy can be very hard. Fortunately, it only lasts nine months. Once the baby's born, the mother takes over and does everything, and your duties are reduced to feeling guilty and left out.

It's not that we fathers don't try, generally speaking. We're just fabulously incompetent.

For example, when my daughter was just a few weeks old, I started trying to feed her with a bottle. My wife had pumped about 117 gallons of breast milk, which did not look to me like a very pleasant way to spend an evening.

Anyway, the baby rejected both me and the bottle. I tried everything -- holding the bottle at various angles, squirting the milk at her mouth from across the room, and whatnot -- and I eventually gave up after two or three laborious attempts.

Now maybe plenty of fathers out there have managed to feed their babies. But I guarantee they've screwed up any number of other things:

“Did you remember to pack the baby toys?”

“Uh, you put her diaper on backwards.”

“What are you doing? Those clothes don't even match! Didn't you see the outfit I laid out?”

“UGH! The baby's clothes don't match either!”

Now, please don't misinterpret this as some big effort on my part to portray my wife as a nag. Nothing could be further from the truth; in reality, portraying my wife as a nag takes no effort whatsoever.

Ha ha! No, seriously: in addition to having a great sense of humor about herself, my wife has very high standards when it comes to parenting. If there is one area in which I would want someone to have high standards, it would be parenting.

And the truth is, she has been exceptionally patient with my inability to notice subtle things, such as when the baby is or is not, technically speaking, rancid, and therefore in need of a new diaper. As a result, I am three thousand times a more capable parent than if I were married to some pushover.

As a result of this self-confidence, I am able to relax and enjoy my healthy, well-nurtured super-genius of a child. At the moment she is pounding mercilessly on a toy piano and singing what seems to be the second verse of “Deck the Halls” over and over and over again.

You might think this would give me a headache, but in reality, it gives me a face-ache.

A guy who helped us put up new sheet rock in our house called it the “Big Dumb Smile.” I'll never forget how he described coming home from work and flopping down on the couch to watch his kids play, and then noticing a raw, burning pain in his cheeks that made him realize he had been smiling uncontrollably for about 15 minutes.

So there's a perfect euphemism for being a dad:

Wearing The Big Dumb Smile.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Apathy: It's What's For Dinner

Have I got a treat for you!

This column was printed with an experimental new technology: space-age ink that scans your brain and transforms itself into sentences and paragraphs that reflect your interests and beliefs!

Now you'll never have to wonder if there's anything good in the newspaper! Everything you read will be interesting, and you won't have to waste any time thinking about things you don't want to think about.

I'll start with something unpleasant and inconsequential. Watch how fast this column adjusts for your reading pleasure:

Diseased cattle frequently make their way into our food supply, according to recent press reports following the recall of 143 million pounds of beef.

Bah. Americans eat beef all the time, and no one is dying. Take Roger Clemens, for example. Roger Clemens eats beef four meals a day. Roger Clemens took steroids, so we should all spend several hours a day pressuring Congress to think mean things about him.

Roger Clemens is a cheating little twerp.

The beef recall came after the Humane Society of America released undercover footage of apparently routine cattle mistreatment -- cows laying in manure, too sick to move, were electrocuted, kicked, and dragged to slaughter.

This is against USDA regulations, because the workers did not first drill holes in the animals' skulls to let out evil spirits.

Speaking of evil spirits... George Clooney is now single and looking for a middle-aged housewife.

Sick cattle laying in beds of feces are more likely to carry E-Coli or mad cow disease, increasing the risk that the next burger you eat could cause your flesh to start peeling away from your skeleton.

Sex. You're interested in sex, right? Would you like to improve your sex life? Confidence is the key! You are already very desirable and talented in the bedroom. You are THE Man and/or Woman.

Sex! Sex! Sex!

USDA personnel told the Associated Press they don't have enough inspectors to properly ensure the safety of the food supply – further evidence that we Americans don't put our resources where they really matter.

Jacoby Ellsbury will take over as the Red Sox center fielder/pretty boy this year, but not until they trade Coco Crisp for a draft pick... or perhaps a used Etch-a-Sketch.

Curt Schilling should have surgery on his shoulder and on whatever part of the brain houses his ego. The guy has absolutely no perspective.

Do you buy organic or “all natural” food products that don't have artificial hormones or cancer-causing chemicals in them? Of course not. You're no dummy. You figure the cheaper stuff must be safe, or else the grocery store wouldn't be allowed to sell it... right?

Sex! Even More Sex!

While we drive SUVs and dress our overweight or hyperactive kids in expensive sneakers and name-brand clothes, and keep them occupied with high-definition TVs and the latest video games, we pat ourselves on the back for saving $15 on our grocery bill by getting cheap processed snacks and chemically engineered, sodium-drenched convenience meals.

If there was more demand for natural or organic products, maybe the food industry would --

(Oops! Darned technology! Obviously, my invention isn't working quite right. Too much of the original column seeping in. Just needs a quick adjustment.... there. Let's try again.)

As I was saying: the beef recall is nothing to worry about. Probably just an aberration, certainly not a reflection on the mainstream food supply.

We can trust the corporations and the government to protect our food. Let the USDA struggle to fill job openings while we spend billions in Iraq to keep America safe.

You deserve that tax rebate. Go buy yourself something pretty.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Orwell Grave Spin Detected by Satellite

Gentlemen, quick: do you know where your prostate is?

If your prostate is missing, or if you didn't know where it was in the first place, you might have been glad to read recent news reports announcing that it can now be tracked by GPS satellite.

But wait a minute.

Does it bother you that every slight movement of one of your cherished reproductive organs could be observed from outer space by Lord-knows-who?

Well, you don't have to worry, because it turns out these news reports were 100% FALSE.

Or maybe that's what the government would like you to believe.

The Associated Press and the Seattle Post-Intelligence apparently botched a press release from a local cancer institute, which originally described a new device using technology that is similar to GPS.

In reality, the “positioning transponders” surgically embedded into the prostate transmit signals to your physician during radiation therapy to allow for precise aim.

This way, “The radiation dose stays on target and less of it reaches surrounding healthy [sacred] tissue,” states the press release.

Okay, so it starts out harmless enough (except for the impact on your health insurance premiums). But can't you see where this is going? I envision a day when the government uses “transponders” to keep track of our locations and our physiological responses (drooling, pulse quickening, arousal) to certain stimuli (the potato chip aisle).

This could become an outrageously powerful marketing tool, or it could help the wrong kind of bureaucrats find out what tends to, uh, move my prostate, so to speak.

You have no idea how many other new technologies could threaten our personal liberties.

For example, have you heard about the new sports car called the “sQuba” that can drive under water, like the Lotus in the James Bond flick “The Spy Who Loved Me?”

The sQuba, near as I can tell from its promotional video on YouTube, is not outfitted with any weapons, but comes with all the zip, tight handling, and maneuverability of a hot air balloon in a giant vat of oatmeal.

Still, the car emits no exhaust, meaning the government may some day force us all to to commute in these things.

Another disturbing new device, called the “Mosquito Alarm,” drives away children and teenagers by emitting an annoying, high-pitched sound that only they can hear.

Did you know young people have tiny hairs in their ears that are sensitive to certain frequencies? These hairs die off around age 25, along with one's taste in music and desire to rebel against authority.

These “alarms” have sprung up all over Britain, as a way for merchants to keep skateboarders and other undesirables from clustering around their shops and creating an intimidating aura of youthful exuberance that would be bad for business.

Civil rights groups point out that the alarm discriminates against all children, even babies, and even those who don't have insidious delinquent intent. Such a device aimed at a certain race or gender would probably never be marketed.

One activist asked the Times of London, “What type of society uses a low-level sonic weapon on its children?”

A society that wants to lose its kids in shopping malls, of course.

Fortunately, you can buy a homing device for your child for $50. You should probably run out and get one; Uncle Sam's already got his.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Whoohoo! We're Gonna Be Rich!

Looking forward to your new rebate from George Bush's Amazing Economic Stimulus Package (patent pending)?

As of this writing, Congress just finished a frenetic orgy of amending and voting and finally passed the bill. They hope to have rebate checks in the mail in time for the recession, or for the next undefeated season by an NFL team, whichever comes second.

But before you run out to Circuit City and spray another thousand bucks onto your credit card balance, make sure you're not in one of the five categories of people who probably won't see any serious coin:

1. Seniors
2. Geezers
3. Those who remember Eisenhower
4. Those who should remember Eisenhower, but can't
5. Future generations of Americans.

The bill was designed to give a $600 to $1200 rebate to taxpayers who make less than $150,000 a year.

Bush left old people out of the original proposal. His explanation: “I don't know about you, but every senior citizen I've ever met is a billionaire.”

Other conservatives simply wanted to avoid packing the bill with “extraneous” rebate hand-outs to those who don't even pay taxes (any more).

That's right, you so-called “Greatest Generation.” You may have sacrificed loved ones, limbs, and sanity to set the rest of us up for prosperity... but what have you done for us lately?

Besides, let us not forget the true purpose of this bill is not to throw money at fringe populations so we can temporarily not feel so guilty for ignoring them. Nor is it to massage the electorate into warm and fuzzy feelings about incumbents mere months before a major election.

No, the true purpose of this bill is to stimulate the economy.

We all know our elders cannot be trusted to do this. They would irresponsibly put the money in savings, either for retirement living expenses or for a grandchild's college fund.

Those few who would want to spend it probably don't have time, and would end up taking their newfound riches to the grave.

It is critical that we put this money into the hands of the young as soon as possible so they can blow it immediately on electronics and energy drinks.

Congress spun its wheels for a while. Senate leaders initially wanted to add money for the wrinkly and the disabled vets, but they couldn't get enough votes. Meanwhile, others wanted to raise the income cap, add heating assistance, extend unemployment benefits, or give the rebate exclusively to members of Congress.

Eventually, they rammed through a version that was pretty much what the President wanted, only with a token 300 bucks tacked on for each of our geriatric friends and mutilated soldiers.

I'm sure they will appreciate that money. It will go a long way toward paying for one of those little plastic bottles that contain prescriptions.

I guess they're lucky to get anything, since a consistent pack of conservatives believes the rebate is a rotten idea to begin with.

"It amounts to flying a plane full of cash over the country,” said Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), as quoted to the AFP news agency. “It will force us to charge at least 200 billion dollars to the federal credit card, and there is no guarantee it will actually work."

He thinks we should instead "stimulate he economy through job creation and economic investment."

How naïve. Obviously this would not accomplish anything.

Not in time for the election, at least.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Tournament Curse

No event – not even a snowmobile driven onto a bonfire – brings Mainers together like Tourney Week. Or, as it's called in my house, The Ritual of Paralyzing Shame.

(I'll explain momentarily).

Nowhere else in the world can you find thousands of people willing to travel for hours through snowdrifts to eat neon pink hot dogs and watch pasty, pimply teenagers get even more sweaty.

Dozens more watch on public television, but that can't compare with the purity of the live experience:

Feel the energy of the crowd as everyone anticipates the opening tip, rises in unison, and huddles together for warmth!

Hear the adrenaline-pumping songs by the pep band, the same ones played by every pep band in North America for the last 15 years!

Peer around the 350-pound gentleman in front of you who occasionally interrupts his clever heckling of the officials (“get a pair of glasses, ref!”) to offer valuable strategic advice to his team (“Shoot it! C'mon, SHOOT IT!”), starting as soon as they bring the ball past mid-court!

Yes, the tournament always supplies bountiful memories, most of which not even the most expensive new-age hypnosis can scrub away.

February, 1994. My sophomore year. We were big underdogs, facing the number one seed in the first round, and we had every reason to be nervous. But I had complete confidence that my team would rise to the occasion and bury me so far down the bench that the sound of the buzzer would take eight minutes to reach my ears.

Since it was not really my game, I could relax.

Or so I thought.

Then I followed my team onto the floor to a thunderous ovation (state law requires tournament ovations to be thunderous). The six-thousand people who greeted us for warm-ups caught me off guard, as did the extra TV lighting, the pre-game fireworks display, and the news helicopter hovering above center court.

Complicating matters was the fact that Bapst had marched undefeated to the state championship the previous year, thanks largely to 6'11” senior Ken Rassi, who averaged 112 points and 42 rebounds per game while opposing players bounced off him like cartoon characters.

So expectations were high, even though Rassi had moved on to San Jose State, and the Crusaders' roster was now full of guys like me, a mutated praying mantis in sport goggles.

To make a long story short, my first task in warm-ups was to catch a pass from Mark Baxter, an aggressive, muscular senior who led our team in points, rebounds, assists, and dates.

Baxter was a little fired up, so he rocketed the ball in my direction at 400 mph. Needless to say, it went through my mantis hands, and our warm-up drill for the next five minutes consisted of everyone waiting for Napoleon Dynamite to fish the ball out of a crowd of cheerleaders.

At least the fans offered some support (“SHOOT IT!”).

Since that day, Bapst has not won another title. I initiated a cursed on my alma mater.

So next time you take in a tournament game, help your team by sending some anti-cursing thoughts toward the kid on the end of the bench.

Be sure to allow plenty of time for them to get there.