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Archive for the ‘Story Time’ Category

Restroom Rebels and Vagisil Vagaries

Multitasking: You're doing it wrong.

Multitasking: You’re doing it wrong.

Have you ever noticed the unspoken covenant that we as a society have about using the restroom? Adults, normal in almost every way imaginable, will pretend not to notice when someone they’re with goes into a private room and empties their bowels. We’ve agreed to develop a  blind spot in our collective consciousness when it comes to this event.

Now there are no doubt perfectly sound reasons for this. I’m sure our mental self-image as enlightened, intelligent souls doesn’t mesh well with the base act of evacuating yesterday’s Taco Bell. And given those two incompatible mental images, we just junk the one that is less pleasing.  But for me, understanding the underlying rationale doesn’t strip away any of the wonder.

We’re all pretending that nobody poops.

Given that, I really have a tough time understanding people who talk on their cell phone while using the restroom. They’re breaking the social contract by mixing outside world stuff with the Porcelain Chamber of Secrets.  You have to ask yourself, do they really believe that the person on the other end of the line doesn’t know what’s going on? Or are they just restroom rebels  who do not care?

These folks irk me, which is why I normally consider it my sacred duty to power-flush the toilet five or six times in a row when I hear someone on the phone. (Oh sure, it’s crude and shallow, but so is most everything else to do with a restroom.) But once in awhile  what you overhear makes the entire invasion of that sacred realm worthwhile:

Honey, I swear to God, I didn’t move it. I mean, why on Earth would I take your Vagisil? Maybe your mother took it when she was cleaning.

I heard that lovely bit while I was washing my hands. It left me with a lot of questions, but it’s probably for the best that I didn’t get any of them answered. After all, there are only so many taboos one can break in a public restroom before the whole thing gets weird.

Grandparent’s Day

Our lunch. No color correction applied. Those tots really are orange.

Our lunch. No color correction applied. Those tots are orange.

Angie and I took the day off yesterday and headed to our oldest grandson’s school for their annual “Grandparent’s Day” celebration. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Grandparent’s Day is a special time when student’s grandparents are invited into the school to spend time with the kids, eat lunch, and then divest themselves of their life savings at the Scholastic Book Fair, which by happy, pre-planned coincidence, just happens to always take place on the same day.

If you never had this event at your school, or if your therapy sessions have been so successful that you’ve completely blotted out your own childhood, then please allow me to set the scene. Elementary schools are like regular schools, except someone didn’t read the label and put a dry-clean only building in the dryer. So everything is shrunk and inexplicably yellow in color. There are lots of cheerful posters up preaching various gospels of thought about problem solving and rules. Everybody and everything is clearly labelled. The children are led in group recitations of homework, or things written on the board. And once a day, for no clear reason, everyone goes outside and runs around screaming at the top of their lungs while the teachers blow whistles and point a lot.

If you’re looking for the shorthand version of all that, then just picture a cult populated by miniature sociopaths. Congratulations, you’re home.

Angie and I managed to show up to this year’s shindig five minutes late. (Somebody replaced the downtown section of I-75 with a parking lot and forgot to tell us.) Because of our tardy arrival, there was no one posted to point us in the direction of our grandson Dalton’s classroom. Instead, Angie dove into the office while I stood alone in a hallway full of children trying my damnedest to not look like someone their parent’s warned them about.

Once Angie returned with a room number, we dashed directly down the wrong hall, where we were able to confirm that the hallway signage was correct, and the room was in fact not there. Having reassured ourselves of that, we spotted a teacher and asked for directions to the room we were looking for. That conversation went something like this:

Angie: “Could you please tell us where room 106 is? We’re running a bit late.”

Teacher: “Room 106? That’s Mrs. Pond’s classroom!”

Angie: “Yes, that’s right. We’re looking for our grandson’s class. His teacher is Mrs. Pond.”

Teacher: “She’s in room 106.”

Angie: “Right… 106?”

Teacher: “Right.”

Jaime (whispering): “Lord, whatever I’ve done to deserve this, I’m so very sorry.”

Several minutes later, having forded several streams and lost young Sally to Dysentery¹,  we arrived at Dalton’s classroom. It was everything I like to see in a modern classroom. Colorful, well-lit, lots of technology available, and not a student in site. While that pleased me to no end, Angie insisted that the entire experience would be infinitely better if we were actually in the same room as Dalton. So we headed out into the wilds again.

By this time, Angie was more than a bit concerned that Dalton would be in full-on panic mode that we hadn’t come. Visions of tears, broken dreams, and college rejection letters tumbled through her head. And that’s why, when we finally stumbled across Dalton already eating lunch in the cafeteria, his greeting to us was so much more meaningful: “Oh, hi.”

Having located young Dalton, we were immediately descended upon by his teacher, the one and only Mrs. Pond. She introduced herself, praised Dalton, and then did us a solid by assisting us with cutting in the lunch line. The photo above is my tray from said line. I received that Technicolor wonder of modern chemistry for the low, low price of $3.50.

After some solid research time, and conferring with several universities, I was able to confirm with Dalton that the Tater Tots were in fact supposed to be orange. It seems they are Sweet Potato-Tots. Based on taste alone, I would have ventured a guess closer to something in the wood paste family. Having gamely tried all the foods present, I pressed Dalton for details on whether they were being punished for something. He assured me that this was not punishment, but something he called “lunch.” I remain skeptical.

The Book Fair, a.k.a. The Grandparent Trap

The Book Fair, a.k.a. The Grandparent Trap

Following lunch, Dalton led us over to the book fair. The Scholastic Book Fair hasn’t changed much from when I was a kid. Rolling metal carts full of the literary equivalent of those sugar-packed kids breakfast cereals. Lots of speciality erasures and bookmarks with corny catch phrases. A variety of novelty pointers that will have a half-life of 5 minutes or less once they hit a classroom. Prices that would make an upscale jewelry house blush.

In an Internet age, where instant comparison shopping is the norm, the Scholastic Book Fair lives in some kind of time bubble that makes them immune from the Amazon.com’s of the world. After all, you can’t very well look at your grandkid in front of all the other kids and tell him he can’t get something there. Grandparent peer pressure, what a concept.

And to add insult to injury, Dalton’s parents have taught him to be a thoughtful, caring child. That tactical blunder meant that I had to buy books for his brother and sister as well, so that they wouldn’t feel left out. I swear, where do parents come up with these crazy ideas?

In the end, we were at Dalton’s school for about an hour. We got lost twice, ate something that may or may not have been food, and bought $15 worth of books for about $50. But we showed up, and at no point did we forget which kid was ours, or what his name was. If that’s not a grandparenting win, I just don’t know what is.

¹ – An Oregon Trail joke. Either you get it, or you don’t.


Testicles in the Wind

Warning: Don't look down!

Warning: Don’t look down!

From time to time, I’ve been getting my blog on about my efforts to lose some weight. One of the most important things that I have learned along the way is that most of weight loss comes down to diet, not exercise. That’s not to say that exercise isn’t necessary or useful, but the lion’s share of my weight loss has come down to paying a bit more attention to what goes in my mouth.  (Feel free to make your own jokes here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

In the past, I’ve approached weight loss with a very heavy emphasis on exercise. At one point in our past, Angie and I joined a gym in a failed attempt to battle the bulge.  For me, it was mostly an endless nightmare of sweat, elliptical machines, and near limb-loss at the hands of various pieces of overly complicated exercise equipment. But I did learn one very important lesson:

If I never see another old, naked, fat man blow drying his crotch, I’ll be OK.

I don’t know what possesses a man to blow dry his nether region. I’ve toyed with theories as varied as sacred grooming rituals, childhood trauma related to severe jock itch, or a colossal misinterpretation of the written directions that come with hair dryers. Whatever the cause, I have to wonder why they all kept doing it in front of me. And without wanting to sound overly judgemental, why on God’s green Earth were they all so…   portly?

At any given, time there were between 5 and 35 people working out at the same time I was.  Of those, the great majority looked so fit that I would have not have been at all surprised to find out they worked out at a second gym just to look that good at our gym. Statistically speaking, sooner or later I should have walked into the locker room to find a Hercules wafting heated air at his secondary beard. But it never happened. They were always chubby, old, and disturbingly naked.

For awhile I thought it might have something to do with balding. Most offenders were chrome-dome types, and I thought that maybe they just missed the thrill-filled exhilaration that comes with blow drying. I was even concerned that my hair loss might one day lead me down the same path. But then I saw what can only be described as an aging, overweight Sasquatch performing his own rendition of “no wet ball left behind”. Theory, and retinas, blown.

But as odd as the blow drying down under is, I’m willing to overlook it. What I can’t overlook is the plethora of old, fat, naked guys strutting about. Being a man of girth myself, I’ve always tried to do my part to screen the world from my “vast expanses”. It seems only polite. But these fellows never seemed to be aware of the spectacle they were creating.

And believe me, it was a spectacle. Because they weren’t just strutting about, sans clothes or towel. No, that would have been bad enough. Just to up the ante a bit, they often found reasons to bend over. It’s as if once they were naked, they became extremely obsessed with getting a good, close-up look at their toes. Or perhaps they were all tile floor and grout enthusiasts. Regardless, at least once a week, I’d find myself in a locker room full of old, fat, naked men alternatively blow drying their waistlines and bending over to do various questionable tasks.

I can’t be certain, but I imagine that is what a ballet in hell looks like.

Losing to the Victory Garden

Sweet, delicious propaganda!

Sweet, delicious propaganda!

On Saturdays, my morning routine involves a healthy dose of PBS. I am up by 7:00 am most of the time, but don’t actually begin my Think TV buffet until 9:00. (Tuning in earlier than 9:00 will leave you adrift in back to back to back quilting shows. Danger Will Robinson! Danger!)

Starting at 9:00, we have This Old House, where people who live in houses nicer than mine walk  around and cheerfully complain about this or that, and then just as cheerfully remodel the shit out of it. I watch and take mental notes should I ever be in a position to spend a quarter of a million dollars to renovate my home.

Next up is The New Yankee Workshop, where Norm Abrams of “This Old House” fame walks us through crafting wood into art. Norm, the flannel packing inspiration for Al Boreland on “Home Improvement”, makes even the most complicated of wood-crafting projects look easy. I watch this show with the sure knowledge that if I were ever foolish enough to attempt any of these projects, I’d lose three fingers and an eye. And that would just be while shopping for wood. God only knows what I’d lose if I started up one of the saws in my Dad’s wood shop.

After that comes American Woodshop, with a host who has all of Norm’s mad skills, and none of his smooth patter. I normally grab a shower while this is on. But it has to be a quick shower, because my terrible secret is on next. And if I miss it, I’ll be in a foul mood all week.

My name is Jaime, and I watch The Victory Garden.

I can’t even begin to explain why I watch this show. I don’t garden. I don’t have any real inclination to garden. When I pass a garden on my way to work, I don’t slow down and gawk. I don’t grow plants for ornamental purposes. I don’t landscape. In fact, the only plant I ever had for any significant period of time was an Aloe plant named George. And frankly, I think the only reason he lasted so long was that he required watering every week or two, which is about how often I remembered to do it.

To the untrained eye, I am about as far out of the target audience for this show as is humanly conceivable. And yet I watch. Obsessively.

I think I’m fascinated that any person could know this much about plants. I am ceaselessly amazed that one of the hosts will be walking around a garden they’re visiting and identify plants by not only their common name, but also by their Latin name. And just to show how Garden Gangster they are, they usually use the Latin name first, and then throw in the common name as an afterthought.¹ I sit in front of my TV, jaw agape, and take it all in.

A few years ago I was watching a segment that dealt with creating a lovely little loose stone mosaic in the back yard. They were creating it so that they would have a visually appealing, fireproof area to sit their fire pit on. In what can only be called a suicidal loss of reason and judgment, I thought, “Hey, I can do that.”

And so I did.

I went outside, dug a huge hole in my yard and built a very nice round, stone area for our iron fire pit to sit on. I used slabs of granite we had saved when we replaced an old sidewalk, and extra gravel we had from when we gravelled our parking area. I even built a fire when I finished and sat beside it enjoying my handiwork.

But while the results were actually surprisingly good, It was a very, very worrying experience. In hindsight, I believe that they brainwashed me into becoming a gardener. First they lured me in with the occasional interesting segment. Then they had me watching whole episodes. Finally, they convinced me to duplicate a project I saw on the show. Had I not moved to an apartment, it was probably only a matter of time before I surrendered to the madness and began wearing big floppy hats and clapping my hands excitedly when I saw someone gardening with the Three Sisters.²

For now, I’m relatively safe. I live in an apartment, and thus my exposure to gardening opportunities are limited. But there is always the chance of relapse. So should you see me out in public, pointing at trees and casually using their Latin names, take note of the moment. Use it as a warning to others. Let my tragic tale of gardening fascination serve as a wake up call to America.

The Victory Garden is just plain dangerous.

¹ – Should the phrase “Garden Gangster” become a thing, I’d like everyone to remember they read it here first.

² – The Three Sisters is a gardening technique where you use a combination of corn, beans, and squash together. The corn-stalk, aside from growing corn, also offers a tall pole for the bean vine to climb as it grows. The squash, with its broad leaves, covers the ground and keeps out weeds while sealing in moisture. Now, for the love of all things holy, why do I know this?

My Precious…


Someone else who understands the
value of a really important ring.

Do you ever wonder how you’d handle an extreme situation? Will you panic? Will you stay cool, calm and collected? Will you be the hero, or just another schmuck? Will you, in fact, stick your hand into a bowl of your own urine to retrieve your wedding ring?

My wedding ring has always been a little loose. In fact, my first full day being married I lost it for twenty minutes when it flew off my hand while I was shampooing my hair. (After more than one complete panic attack, I found it lodged in the folds of my towel.) Generally speaking, this isn’t really an issue. But if I get cold, then my ring gets really loose. Then it feels like I’m trying to keep a hula-hoop on my hand.

It was a bit chilly recently, and I was in the bathroom making a quick pit stop. When I heard the clink-sploosh sound mid-stream, I knew what had happened without even looking. My ring had pulled a Houdini and escaped my finger for decidedly more damp and urine-rich environments.

Now I like to think myself a smooth and worldly character, up to any challenge. But when faced with my ring at the bottom of a soiled toilet bowl, all I could think was, “That’s not good.”

Apparently my inner-monologue is the king of the understatement.

To my ever-diminishing credit, I never once considered not retrieving the ring. (Though I may have had a fleeting thought of trying to hold the ring in place with a stick while flushing the toilet clean repeatedly.)

When you sit back and Monday morning quarterback the situation, you can come up with hundreds of solutions that don’t involve sticking your hand into that self-made quagmire of ick. But in the moment, I was convinced that if I so much as took a step away from the toilet, my ring would slide out of site and then I’d really be up a creek without a plunger.

So, like a mindless Gollum leaping after his precious, I took a deep breath and plunged wrist deep into the toilet. Mentally, I was splitting my time between reminding myself that human urine is sterile and being thankful that I hadn’t had to take a dump. And while it seemed an eternity, I had my ring back in my grasp in an agonizing 3 or 4 seconds.

What followed was a flush, followed by about 5 minutes of the most intense hand washing that a sink has ever seen. 15 gallons of hot water and half a bottle of hand soap later, my ring was back in place on my finger.

I only tell you this in case you happen upon me in a public restroom, hands balled tightly into fists and held to the sky whilst I urinate. No need to be concerned that I’m urinating angry, or that I’m experiencing some sort of seizure.

Nope, just playing it safe. Some of those public restrooms can get mighty cold.

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