Tuesday, November 30, 2010

American Girl dolls

I have the good fortune of a) being married and b) having a daughter. These are indeed wonderful blessings. These blessings create opportunity for me to learn about worlds completely foreign to me.

Before my marriage, American Girl dolls came to my consciousness but twice: once in New York, when I worked around the corner from their store and saw many excited young girls with their excited mother and poor father in line to enter the store; and once when my younger sister received Samantha for Christmas and, as a duty-bound older brother, I teased her about it.

Since my marriage, I have had the good fortune of learning more about this beacon of American life. I can proudly say that I myself have actually physically entered American Girl Place, on more than one occasion, and in more than one city.

I can tell you that, although Kirsten was one of the original three American Girl dolls, she is now "in the vault" and cannot be purchased willy nilly, no matter how badly you want to. I can also tell you that, in addition to the "vault" policy, the American Girl people have introduced a doll of the year feature. All of this is driven primarily by their love of children and in no way motivated by profit.

I am told by a most reliable source1 that I will, at some point in the future, with absolute certainty, buy an American Girl doll for my daughter. I can tell you that when I purchase said doll, I will be charged not $20, or $30, or even $50. No, no, I will be fleeced for somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 freakin' bones.

Finally, it is with great pride that I can finally claim to have seen a full length feature film about an American Girl doll. Last night, our family watched the Samantha film, with all its cinematic glory and B-list actors. I can also tell you that, after my daughter lost interest and my wife went to the kitchen to drink hot chocolate, I actually sat on the couch, alone, by my own free will and choice, to SEE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.2

At times like this, I am proud to be an American.

1. My wife.
2. Samantha's orphan friends were adopted into her family, phew. In my defence, I was trying to avoid doing my homework.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

crazy people

One of the more depressing things about modern society is its insistence on allowing perfectly insane people to walk free in the streets. Even worse is that it's becoming increasingly difficult to peg who exactly is insane in this fast-paced modern world of ours.

With that in mind, I would like to assist you, the reader, in determining whether or not any individual in close proximity is completely bonkers.

Without further ado, the ever-expanding list1 of ways in which craziness might manifest itself:

One easy obvious warning signal that someone is crazy is the fact that they talk to strangers. Now this might seem fairly innocuous to the casual observer, but please note where the crazy person is talking to strangers. Note that this crazy person, a female, is currently talking to strangers on the tube, wherein no talking is meant to take place, given the abject hellish misery of the place. Now note that this girl is holding a broom, and attempting to sweep your feet. Now note that this girl is holding a broom, sweeping your feet, and talking to the man opposite you, soliciting a song from him.

Now, this situation appears to be cut-and-dried, given the first injunction against speaking, but wait for it to develop further, and you'll realize that the man opposite you is also committably insane, as he accepts her offer, takes the broom, insists it is a microphone, claims he can't find any buttons on said microphone, and begins singing a Welsh hymn at the top of his lungs into said broomophone, while said girl claps and dances next to him.

There are few moments in my life I would want on tape more than that confluence of crazies I found on Thursday night, and it is to my everlasting shame that I neglected to record it.

Speaking of not speaking to people, another way you can peg yourself as crazy is to harass the poor American at the building's front desk, who is deliriously trying to get the clerk to send a fax to the United States so he is able to actually live in a place, and you can insist he come out with you and your friends, and continue that insistence louder and louder, eventually resorting to trying to convince said American (his statal origin previously ascertained), that you can "do polygamy!"

Not only is this possibly the most insulting thing ever spoken by a stranger to said American, BUT YOU ARE FREAKING CRAZY AND DRUNK AND GET AWAY FROM ME YOU WACK JOB.

This naturally brings up the subject of fax machines in general. If you are using one, you are nuts. Wacko. Insane. Deranged.

Rule: if you insist on your clients using a technology that was superseded by something a) cheaper, b) faster, c) less expensive, and d) easier 40 YEARS AGO, you are certifiably psychotic.

For example, how many people do you see still insisting on reading books? Oh. Wait.

Speaking of outdated technology, you are also a raving lunatic if you insist on using your Blackberry to check emails in the gym locker room. Let's say you just happened to get the locker right next to the dude with personal space issues, and let's say you just happen to be using that locker when he returns from his workout.2 One way in which you could convince him of your insanity is to insist on standing next to him while he changes, thumbing through your emails.

Dude.

Dude.

Dude.

It takes you all of five minutes to change and get outside. What, I pray, I plead, could possibly be so important that it cannot wait five minutes for a response? What? Seriously, what? It takes more than five minutes to have a thermonuclear war. There is nothing on God's green earth that is so important that you need to respond while I am naked next to you. The experience is unpleasant as it is, so could you please stop being crazy and get out of there as soon as possible just like every other normal person in the gym?

And once you get outside of the gym, if you still insist on using that Blackberry, something I've noticed that is cool is to speedwalk past someone, then stop and block their path as you check email. Make them walk around you. Then speedwalk again and pass them. Then stop and check email and make them walk past you. This is in no way the most annoying behavior on the planet, and in no way indicates you are a lunatic.

And why are you you using a Blackberry anyway? Dude, 1999 called and it wants its technology back. Do you want to upgrade to a Motorola RAZR while you're at it? Maybe I can find you a nice phonograph to go along with your historical technology collection.

Lastly, and I only mention this because I've been listening to it for a half hour, but if you're in the construction business, one thing I've found that makes me want to kill myself is automatic fans that turn on when you hit the light switch, then stay interminably on after you turn it off. Normally sadistic builders only install those sorts of things in bathrooms, but maybe you could put one in the kitchen as well. THE KITCHEN. Why does my kitchen sound like a wind tunnel? I couldn't tell you. It doesn't make sense.3 This is one of the definitions of insanity.

And a quick note for you sane people: when you're in a position that might force you to deal with crazies, remember to look at the ground, mumble responses to any question they ask you, and whatever you do, whatever you do, no, seriously, WHATEVER YOU DO FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD IN THIS WORLD, do not make eye contact under any condition.4

1. I herein reserve the right to add to this list as conditions arise.
2. It doesn't matter what gym I use, what locker I choose, or what hemisphere I'm in. No matter what, every time I come in from working out, there's at least one dude using a locker immediately next to mine.
3. In the flat's defense, however, it's super sweet otherwise. A great temporary residence in Londontowne.
4. I feel obligated to here mention that I consider myself just as crazy as the best of them. I just hide it better.

Friday, November 26, 2010

moving (part deux)

Moving is one of the most rewarding things a young man with the world at his fingertips can do.1

As not all of you, including the author, are young men, why don't you take a few tips from an old pro?

First of all, you need to time your moves to take advantage of the best climates. To take a random example, you could, for instance, spend your summer in a sunny paradise, then, instead of remaining in said sunny paradise for the duration of "winter",2 you could decide to move to the functional equivalent of the north pole, where it has taken you somewhere near 96 hours to see the faintest hint of what could be called "blue" in the sky. Because this is the exact opposite of what sensible people do. Because this doesn't freeze your miserable tail every morning when you attempt to waddle into work, you could do this for two winters in a row. But, no worries, you'll at least see the sun every time you get on a plane.3

Secondly, moving often also allows you to choose the correct landlords. Let's say you're tired of landlords that open a secret door into your house and enter whenever they please. Let's say you're done with the whole "I'll just leave their mail out on my counter because they'll eventually snoop their way into it and take it, saving me the trip to their flat" routine. Let's say you're sick of landlords that attempt to kill you by piping carbon monoxide into your living arrangements. Moving often allows you to be violated in so many strange and different ways, beyond being turned into a porn star/harassment victim by a government agency. It would be a shame if you were to finally find a reasonable landlord in a beautiful house in said sunny paradise and live there for a reasonable amount of time.

Another great thing about moving is the chance you get to learn about new places. Specifically, what taxes you need to pay in new places. In England, to take another random example, they force you to pay what they call council tax. It's sort of like property tax, except it's fun! And by fun, I mean you have to pay it even if you're renting. Think of it as a tax on not being homeless. Now, we in the United States typically tax things we want to discourage, like cigarettes, booze, income, and starting companies, but the brits tax people for not living on the street, because this makes sense. Heaven forbid you get out of that wicked cold, because you're gonna be taxed ONE HUNDRED freaking pounds a month for it. Come on, people, isn't this the land of Robin Hood? What happened to the whole giving to the poor bit?

1. And by rewarding, I mean tear-jerkingly expensive. There's nothing quite like being asked to fork over four thousand dollars to move into an apartment that causes you to lose sleep and rant on a blog about it.
2. The old joke my buddy Greg tells is that, during the winter, Palo Alto can hit temperatures of negative ten degrees! This typically shocks people, until he informs them that his baseline is 60.
3. And I'm so not kidding. I finally saw a wisp of blue sky yesterday, and today I actually saw something that was being lit by the sun. Baby steps. This reminds me of my buddy down in Argentina, who, after a week of solid rain, swore he would be going home the next day if the sun didn't come out. We woke up to find not a cloud in the sky. This experience taught me the tender lesson that God loves other people, because every time I say that sort of thing it just rains harder.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving

Today is a day for giving thanks.

I am thankful this is not the year I forgot to take the giblets and neck out of the turkey prior to cooking. I suppose the turkey makers are too lazy to throw out the neck and giblets themselves, so they make us poor souls do it for them. Incidentally, this caused the turkey to cook to less than safe temperatures. Fortunately, no one got sick.

Speaking of sick, I am thankful this it not the year that half the family got food poisoning because the stuffing inside the turkey was not done properly. I am solidly in the "do not stuff anything intended to be eaten inside the cavity of a cold, dead fowl" camp.

I am also thankful that this is not the year we had eight people to our tiny one bedroom apartment. Said invitees included two missionaries, an LDS lad with his non-LDS girlfriend, and a tattoo artist. It was actually quite fun, but rather crowded.

I am thankful this is not the year that I have to drive to Plymouth crammed in the back seat of a friend of my brother, listening to make-you-feel-uncomfortable music, only to end up eating a turkey dinner at a restaurant that cost way more than it was worth and most likely could have been had in Boston without the drive. Alas, there is only one Plymouth rock (and it is tiny).

Finally, I am thankful my current employer does not give us the day after Thanksgiving off because it really character building to work on days when nearly the entire American population is at home asleep (or shopping on Black Friday).

Monday, November 22, 2010

moving

Well folks, today's post finds me somewhere in Finsbury, Greater London, listening to random people hack up lungs as they wake up. Somehow, I thought that moving across the world would get me away from listening to the morning coughing of my neighbors, but they obviously figured out where I was staying and followed me along.

I'm in London, of course, because I love moving.1 Moving is one of my favorite things in life. When else do you get the chance to try to sleep in a chair the size of a grapefruit next to a man roughly the size of a hungry hippopotamus?2 I'm pretty sure, given his stature, there was not a moment during that eight hour flight wherein we were not touching. This was, of course, utterly delightful. Though I don't really blame him for the fact that just by virtue of his sitting next to me, he occupied the entire arm rest without nary an effort on his part. The battle was lost before it began.

I also love moving because it's fun to try to walk in airports occupied solely by individuals moving at a rates somewhere south of lumbering rhinoceroses. If I weren't a lazy man, and hadn't woken up at two, three, three thirty, three forty, etc., trying to overcome jet lag, I would draw a little graph on how the average speed approaches zero as you increase the number of people walking down Chicago O'Hare's terminal C.

Along those lines, let me provide some of O'Hare's terminal walkers some advice: walk into me. Please ignore my walking trajectory, thereby forcing me to meander through the terminal like a drunken butterfly.

When walking in a group, perhaps you could line up side by side and occupy all space in the universe to prevent my passage, or force me to squeeze by in the most uncomfortable game of red rover ever played. Maybe you could stare at me as I brush by, just to enhance the effect. And I'm sorry I have a backpack and a laptop bag. You just might pack heavy too if you were moving across the world.

Though these experiences may strike the uninitiated as uncomfortable, they pale in comparison to the hell that a walker3 is subjected to when followed by an individual pulling a rolly suitcase. I don't think I can adequately describe the fear that strikes my heart to hear the "brrrrrrrr-clickity clack! clickety clack! brrrrrrrr" as a rolly suitcase follows me.

Which brings me to my last neurosis: Iceland, next time I'm flying just south of you, please don't send turbulence my way. I'm a nice dude. There's no reason to go banging up the plane like that, so that every five minutes the seatbelt light comes on, the plane starts a-shakin', and the rolls of fat from el hippo next door start jiggling onto my personal space again.4

Anyways, I've got to run to work. I apologize for the delay on this post, and promise that I actually have material that is considered "funny" for upcoming posts. At least, material that I consider "funny".

1. Can I take this moment I describe my hatred for the motivational aphorism, "a long journey begins with a single step"? Like, seriously? That's not even accurate. How about, "a long journey begins with paying through the nose for a U-Haul trailer that's actually way too small for your belongings, and then you realizing that and asking the poor dude at U-Haul to hook up another trailer instead and getting him to be all nice about it and stuff, but yet silently hate you for your spatial incompetence".
2. To be clear: using food imagery to describe my personal space while using hungry hippo imagery to describe my neighbor was completely intentional.
3. I once insulted a co-worker for using the word walker to describe her child. I include this here solely to enhance my hypocrite credentials.
4. I'm starting to feel guilty for repeatedly bringing up the poor man's size, so let me just state that I have nothing against his size, and everything against the airline industry for making us bedfellows during transatlantic trips.

Monday, November 15, 2010

oil changes

Monitoring the oil level in your car is important. Neglecting to pay attention to something so mundane could lead to your being stranded on the median of a remote Utah canyon highway, gesticulating wildly to distant hikers to beg them to help you push your car to the side of the road.1

Though I know I've said this before, I would like to, once again, ensure all marriageable women are assured of the hypotheticalness of all of my examples. I would also like to take a moment to pause and sob in my room.

Okay.

It's important to get your oil changed, lest you end up emotionally scarred for life. You can do this activity yourself, which implies lying on oil-covered ground, grunting and pulling to remove a bolt, covering yourself and nearby small animals in oil, all for the low cost of a floor jack, a few wrenches, the oil, and an hour of your Saturday (approx. $223),2 or you can go to a nearby Jiffy Lube and have them change it for you, which implies being told you need to change fluid X because it is color Y (approx. $223).

I went through their hallowed halls just yesterday, and the conversation went a little something like this:

Dude: Oh man, it looks like you're at sixty one thousand miles, which is a huge service time for your car.
Me: (Having heard this every time I bring in any car to get the oil changed) oooookay...
Dude: Yeah (bringing up a large colorful screen with pretty boxes and arrows), it looks like you're due for [big long string of words] and [another big long string of words] and [something involving ducks and pentagrams].
Me: I like ducks...
Dude: Most importantly, your automated transmission transfer gearing mechanical fluid needs to be changed.
Me: But I just bought this car four months ago!
Dude: Yeah, the dealers never perform any service on these cars before selling them.

This, of course, puts me in the unenviable position of choosing to put my faith in a car dealership or an oil change shop, which I imagine is something akin to being forced to choose between death by elephants or death by monkeys.3

Dude: (Sensing my skepticism, but smelling money) Let me go check your car.

At this point he retreated into the bowels of the shop, to what I can only assume is the bring-your-child-to-work-today playroom, because when he returned, he had a piece of paper with splotches suspiciously similar to what my nephews produce when painting watercolor.

I'm not going to repeat the rest of the conversation, as it does not cast me in the finest of lights, but suffice it to say that he convinced me that one of the splotches was pink, and the other splotch was black, which splotches represented the ideal color for liquid X, and the actual color of liquid X as it existed in my car.

Now, I could, of course, see that those were different colors, so of course I was willing to pay one hundred and twenty dollars to make those colors look the same. I can't even imagine the horrors that could occur if I did't ensure the matching of the coloring.

In related news, I am feeling extra suckerish today.

1. Just kidding! It wasn't that remote.
2. I started changing my oil years ago after getting infuriated at paying $35, which, as it turns out, is probably about six cents more than my average oil change cost, factoring in the purchase price of the jack and whatnot. Coincidentally, that experience was the inspiration behind one of the very first posts on the Complete Guide to Everything. I apologize to any and all who read the early posts; quality control was severely lacking.
3. This is an old expression I invented during a conversation with my roommates in college; as I recall, I was being asked with whom I would prefer to spend time. The characters in the analogy are in no way representative of the physical appearance of said individuals; they were just the first animals I could think of. This is exhibit A in my attempt to convince the world I am not, in fact, obsessed with ducks.

Friday, November 5, 2010

skiing

Like most of you, I am eagerly anticipating the ski season. And by "ski season" I mean "ski day". And by "ski day" I mean "those four hours I manage to ski before losing my appendages to frostbite".

Season becomes day for me because, in a fit of snowversion in my youth, I moved to the great state of Ski Resorts are Three Hundred Miles and Sixteen Hours of Traffic Away.1

But that's okay, because I make an annual pilgrimage to the home state to enjoy those precious things in life like food, sleep uninterrupted by yappy dogs, and nephews who are too young to refer to me as the creepy uncle.

This allows me to take a day to head up the canyon and hang out with the Utahns who stayed in the motherland and now own homes, have wives, are world-class skiers, etc. Since waking up before eight o'clock over the holidays would be heresy, on that blessed day, I normally stumble out of bed right around the time my die-hard skier family is packing their lunch.

For reasons I have yet to understand, the typical skier's lunch consists of a peanut butter and jam sandwich, which normally ends up as squished peanut butter and jam mush. Add to that an orange, which defies peeling when your fingers are at 0 Kelvin, and you have the dynamic midday duo.

After packing lunch, one must gather together one's ski gear. Said gear is typically acquired with the savings one earns from living in a state that does not have one of the highest income and sales taxes in the known universe. If one does not have access to said tax rates, one merely wears one's childhood gear, which brings immediate and assured teasing, as one's snow pants, though fitting when purchased, now approximate spandex in appearance.

Next, my siblings then decide which of their bazillions of skis they'll be taking for today's adventure, with different ski flavors based on temperature, snow depth, and color. I personally get to dig through a few moldy socks and find the same skis I've had for ten years stuck in a drawer somewhere in the toy room, next to my sister's old barbie collection.

After reaching the slopes, there is usually a period of ten minutes reserved wherein I get to huddle on the ground in the fetal position and whine about how my supple skin hasn't felt the sting of negative temperatures since my last Utah safari. Then, God willing, I put on my skis,2 and I get to watch as my siblings approximate the speed of sound down the hill, all while I'm trying to get my pole strap on through my sissy mitten.

I have a long history of skiing. Like most young Utahns, I attended ski lessons with my own mother.3 And by "most", I mean "one". And by "lessons" I mean "one of the more traumatic experiences of my young life wherein I was forced to do the snowplow down a mild slope in Sugarhouse Park with a group of middle-aged women".

Oh, and for the record, the kids at Junior High don't think much of a dude who learns to ski with his mom. Let's just get that out there.

With such a serendipitous start, who could predict naught but success for me in my skiing adventures?

In all honesty though, I'm contemplating retiring to the slopes of Utah in some future ski season, and, between ski runs, living in a van down by the river.

No, really.

1. One thing I have yet to understand is the number of people out here who claim to be hard core skiers. New rule: if you're not on the slopes every week, you are not hard core.
2. I still cannot speak about this experience without blushing, but let me counsel the younger generation, that, when they are returning from long stays outside the country, to ensure that their mother has not purchased identical skis, and, if she has, to not assume that the (short) skis you picked up are yours, and that you magically "grew". And should you make this mistake, young skier, please, please, please at least try on the skis before you make it to the top of the tram. I beg. Please. You will never, to your dying day, live this down among your family. And the fact that your brother and sister are capable of skiing three thousand two hundred and forty vertical feet on one ski to compensate for your stupidity will only add to the emasculation. Also, if you ever speak to me about this I will hurt you.
3. She had been left behind in ski adventures throughout her married life, and since that was coming to an end, she figured she wanted to see what everyone was enjoying all of those years. Very admirable.