July 31, 2009

The Weeklies #95

The Weekly Beer. Red Hook ESB

The Weekly Viral Ad. Aspray Body Deodorant

The Weekly Viral Video. This is all kinds of awesome and very well might make your day.

The Weekly Read. John Sandford can do no wrong. I'm convinced. I don't know of too many authors who have such a steady, voluminous, and consistently good output of novels. Heat Lightning - the second in Sandford's Virgil Flowers series - is no exception. You don't need me rehashing the plot for you. Suffice it to say that it's just a damn fine book. If you haven't yet discovered Sandford, what are you waiting for?

The Weekly Time Waster. Push.

The Weekly Dose of Political Heroism. This, from Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander - "Even though Judge Sotomayor's political and judicial philosophy may be different than mine, especially regarding Second Amendments rights, I will vote to confirm her because she is well qualified by experience, temperament, character and intellect to serve. In the same way, it is my hope that my vote now not only will help to confirm a well-qualified nominee but will help to return the Senate to the practice, only recently lost, of inquiring diligently into qualifications of a nominee and then accepting that elections have consequences, one of which is to confer upon the president the constitutional right to nominate justices." Word, man. Word.

The Weekly Great Merged Company Names. Winhoo, to signify the recent partnership between Microsoft and Yahoo.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Rodell Vereen was just trying to let off a little steam. Unfortunately, the South Carolinian chose to do so by, well, doing the horizontal mambo with a horse. He was busted by the horse's owner who thought Vereen looked a little familiar. Turns out he was the same guy who'd been busted last year. For screwing another of her horses.

The Weekly Hypothetical. The most fun you can have without getting arrested or losing your life is _______________. Fill in the blank.

Posted by Chris at 6:48 AM | Comments (22)

July 30, 2009

Vroom Vroom

When I was a kid, I had subscriptions to Car and Driver and Road and Track. I had posters of sports cars adorning the walls of my room and owned encyclopedias packed with every make and model of car that was ever rolled off a production line. Yet some strange set of coincidences combined to prevent me from becoming a car guy as an adult. I went with music instead. As a result, I drive a VW that I bought used and is now paid off. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be driving it until the doors fall off and even then I hear duct tape and plastic sheeting work miracles. I know rudimentary things about cars but looking under the hood is something best left to people who aren't me. People who wear grease-stained overalls, have dirty fingernails and call everyone Mac.

Of course none of that stopped me from getting more than a little excited when GM - or, more specifically, the really cool people who handle their PR - decided they wanted to give me a car to drive for a couple days. It wasn't just any car. It was, instead, a 2010 Camaro. And Camaro is apparently Latin for rocket with seat belts and a killer sound system.

camaro1.sm.jpg

I'll spare you the technical details primarily because I don't know them and making them up would probably just make me sound stupid. The Camaro is big and fast and handles like a dream. A really good dream. It also has more buttons and dials than you can shake a stick at. I have no idea what half of them do but they look cool. And the sound system rocks. I turned it up so loud that...well...I might not need that vasectomy anymore. Speaking of kids, in case you're curious, two car seats do manage to fit into the backseat. It's snug but the kids didn't mind. Mia told me that she enjoyed riding in the race car, loved going fast on really big roads (we took it up to a whopping 50 mph) and I should really get one because she liked it better than my usual car. My kid is smart.

Honestly, the most interesting part of the whole extended test drive were the reactions I got. The car attracted a lot of stares. And more than a few virtual high-fives. Quite a few thumb's up. I know there are more than a few pictures of the car floating around because I spotted at least two people snapping them with their cameraphones. I got a few interesting looks as well. They were thinking one of three things.

- Wow, cool car!
- Huh, he looks a little young to have a midlife crisis.
- So sad. Small penis.

American cars are not known for being exciting. It's been a long while since I've owned one myself, something I'm mildly ashamed of. Did the Camaro change my mind? No, not really. It's a great car and a hell of a lot of fun to drive but it's one exciting car in a long line of boring products. Would I buy one? If I listen to Mia I should. But I'd accumulate speeding tickets at an alarming rate and I'm pretty sure I'd wrap it around a tree. As hard as it is for me to admit, I think I'm more of a VW kinda guy. But a boy can dream, right?

Do you drive American? Why or why not, and what would change your mind?

A brief and probably unnecessary disclaimer. I have a blog. I get free stuff. But for what it's worth there were no post-for-car deals made. I'm posting because I want to. That said, there's definitely a benefit from being on the internetwebosphere.

Posted by Chris at 6:39 AM | Comments (42)

July 29, 2009

Dr. Feelgood, 20 Years On

On Saturday night for some inexplicable reason my wife and I were sitting around watching a Motley Crue concert on VH-1.

Beth: You know, this is kinda sad.
Me: On a lot of levels. But why specifically?
Beth: Because, look at the crowd. There are inexplicably a lot of totally hot women and a lot of totally looser-ish guys.
Me: Yeah?
Beth: It's got to be frustrating for them being surround by all that hotness and knowing that they're never going to take any of it home.
Me: Yeah. That would be frustrating. Maybe they're just hot Crue-loving women who like looser-ish guys.
Beth: No. Look at that guy.
Me: Point taken.

And a few minutes later because we were for some unknown reason still watching...

Beth: That guy looks scary.
Me: Who, the guitarist?
Beth: Yeah, whatever his name is...
Me: That's. Uh. What the hell is his name?
Beth: Don't ask me.
Me: Let's see. Tommy Lee on drums, Vince Neal singing, and Nikki Sixx playing bass.
Beth: You had one more than I had. Which is pretty good for me.
Me: That is pretty good. But what the fuck is that guy's name?
Beth: Sounds like a job for Wikipedia.
Me: I hate to give up that easily.
Beth: It's not like anyone's going to think less of you. I mean, you already got three of them so I'm pretty sure you're already a dork.
Me: True.
...Wikipedia is searched...
Me: Mick Mars! Fucking Mick Mars!
Beth: Great. If you say so.
Me: Christ, do you know how old Mick Mars is? 61! Sixty-fucking-one.
Beth: What's wrong with that? The Rolling Stones are still doing it and they're, like, 80.
Me: Yeah, but they're the Rolling Stones. They're not exactly playing metal. Or getting lapdances from strippers while soloing.
Beth: Okay. You've got a point.

I was as big a fan of hair metal as the next guy. Okay, I was a bigger fan than the next guy because the next guy probably doesn't have a basement full of it. That's beside the point. The actual point? These guys were once cool. Now they're just old.

Earlier in the evening, I'd caught a ZZ Top performance, Wikipediad them and learned they were 61 and grandfathers. Then Beth told me she'd seen Phil Collins and he was bald and fat. So it occurred to me that all my heroes are getting old. I suppose this has something to do with the fact that I'm getting old. It then occurred to me that some of the people I'd once thought of as heroes are no longer heroes, not because they tossed midgets or banged hookers but because I have changed. I'd rather have dinner with Nick Hornby than jam with, I don't know, INXS (though I never really liked them anyway but I'm too embarrassed to cop to liking Wham and Wham never did anything close to jamming). I'd still like to sit down and have a long conversation with Peter Gabriel but Aaron Sorkin trumps Gene Roddenberry these days.

If my 20 year-old self saw my 36 year-old self, he'd think I was so uncool. But he'd dig my extensive hair metal collection and think my wife is pretty hot.

Who are and were your heroes? How have they changed?

Posted by Chris at 6:53 AM | Comments (31)

July 28, 2009

How I Avoided A Hernia But Got A Headache

Mia got a multitude of things for her birthday. In fact, Walt Disney owes me a from-the-grave reacharound since I believe it was us, the Cactus-Fish family, who ensured that his evil empire ended up in the black this fiscal year. But the most anticipated gift doesn't wear a crown, own a wand or get hitched at age 16 (which, Disney, uh, seriously?). We bought Mia (and, of course Owen) a ginormous backyard playground. It is beautiful. It has a fort with a lookout tower, swings, a climbing wall, a slide and even a picnic table the kids can sit and eat at when they've exhausted themselves.

Unfortunately, as we've learned, the playground is decidedly less fun sitting in the four 200 pound boxes it came in.

We bought it a few weeks ago and for several reasons, we hired contractors to pick it up, deliver it and assemble it. These reasons are simple:

  • Eight hundred pounds of playground will not fit in my wife's SUV or my VW.
  • I do not want a hernia.
  • We have two kids and, therefore, approximately 37 seconds of free time each day. It would, therefore, take approximately 68 years to properly assemble said playground. Mia and Owen would be much less interested at ages 72 and 70, respectively, and I personally have no wish to die with a hammer in my hands, my final words being I'm missing one fucking nail.
  • Speaking of words, both Beth and I agreed that we'd be fine passing up this perfectly good opportunity to expand our children's vocabulary. Normally, vocabulary expansion is a well thought-of opportunity in my house. But the words I'd have exclaimed assembling this thing would get my daughter kicked out of preschool. The conversation would go something like this:

    Teacher: Mr. Cactus, your daughter called another student a dick-nostril. I'm afraid that's unacceptable.
    Me: Don't be such a dick-nostril.


I am, in short, happy to part with my hard-earned cash to avoid the unpleasantries typically associated with major backyard construction. Or, rather, I would be if the asshats we're paying to put the damn thing together weren't such pussies.

I am convinced that our contractors hail from Oz, specifically wherever the Wicked Witch of the West came from. It's the only way I can explain their aversion to rain. I suspect they melt when exposed to water. They've been scheduled to come four times. They canceled the first three due to a very small chance of rain mentioned in the days' forecasts. The rain, of course, never materialized. Instead, they were nice and cool and sunny. The fourth time they showed only to work for four hours and flee after a tiny sprinkling. They pledged to return not in a day or two but a week. Which is why there is literally a ton of building materials scattered across my lawn being not very conducive to play and, at the same time, killing my grass.

Contractors, you are officially on-notice. You have until the end of the week to finish. Or your asses are fired. We've been nice to you because we want our kids to have a safe place to play. But, guys, man up, get your shit together and if you have to get wet, well, deal with it.

I'm giving them until the end of the week, then firing them if they're not done. Is that fair?

Posted by Chris at 6:33 AM | Comments (29)

July 27, 2009

Eclipsed

Last week I was worried about all that stuff I've discovered I'm forgetting. This week I'm concerned about the stuff I never knew.

You might think, by reading, that I'm a reasonably bright guy but you'd be mistaken and would prove that you haven't clued into the fact that I have an elaborate computer program into which I type five or six very choppy, broken sentences and the eloquent posts you read daily emerge. That last sentence, in fact, was, in its raw form before being input into said computer program:

Me no write good. Computer poop out pretty words.

Behold the miracle of technology.

Unlike me, I believe my kids are smart. So smart, in fact, that I'm worried both of them are going to leave me in the dust brainwise, well, soon. This concern is based in part on two things.

Thing One - Owen's Mad Vocabulary. Owen can talk which is pretty standard for a kid his age. But Owen is speaking in strings of words, may of which are two and three syllable words. Which is somewhat less standard. I would not be overly surprised to return home this afternoon, after a long day at work, to have Shakespeare's sonnets quoted to me whilst wearing Edwardian dress. Because he's also a fan of dressing up though usually in Mia's princess costumes.

Thing Two - Big Bang. Mia seems to be more interested in astrophysics than she is princesses. We now have in our house books about molecules and atoms and gravity as well as space travel, the planets and the big bang. Mia even delivered a long musical number the other afternoon about the aforementioned big bang. It was hilarious and scarily technically correct. We have spent evenings on YouTube watching shuttle launches and seeing the first men hop on the moon. This kid? She's incredible.

These kids are going to reach a point at which point they're too smart for me. And that point very well might be Thursday. And, because I'm not very bright with respect to some things, Beth and I have already divided up elementary through high school curricula and decided which of the two of us is best able to address them.

Beth:
Math (including basic elementary math through algebra, geometry and trig)
Science (life sciences, geology, biology and physics)
World and American history
Social studies and civics
Health and safety
Performing and visual arts
Sociology
Psychology
Spanish
English

Chris:
Music (though not if I have to read music)
Computer science

You see my concern?

Posted by Chris at 6:45 AM | Comments (18)

Haiku For Monday #277

You'd think by haiku
two seventy-seven I'd
have just said 'fuck it'.

Posted by Chris at 6:44 AM | Comments (2)

July 24, 2009

The Weeklies #94

The Weekly Beer. Long Hammer India Pale Ale.

The Weekly Lawsuit. Gregory McKenna has a beef with Apple (and a number of others). He claims in an extensive complaint that Apple has conspired with the mob to allow the mob to broadcast death threats via iPod. I think McKenna needs some meds.

The Weekly Spice. Cumin. I don't know why.

The Weekly Time Waster. Circle The Cat. (Thanks Pocklock!)

The Weekly Read. Every year or so, I get brave and stupid and try another Dean Koontz. They usually disappoint me. Because they usually suck. I know he writes decent books. I just never pick them. Anyway, I got brave and stupid again and read Relentless. And I was pleasantly surprised. Kinda. Relentless makes it clear that Koontz can write and that he has a decent sense of humor. Among the two-dimensional characters and seemingly out of place messages about faith, were some funny lines and some good writing. The story was compelling when it wasn't veering into silly implausibility. Unfortunately, the resolution of the story was all left to such silly implausibility which left a sour taste in my mouth. At least this time I didn't finish a Koontz novel and want to find him to beat him over the head with it. Or myself.

The Weekly Music. A buddy talked me into buying Our Lady Peace's first album when it came out. I don't mind saying that it kinda rocked. I've been picking up each album as they're released ever since. In my mind, their pinnacle was Happiness Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch. After that, they released the sub-standard Gravity which felt plastic, geared for radio play. Their latest - Healthy In Paranoid Times - was spectacular. So, Burn Burn had a lot to live up to. And for the most part, it succeeded. There's a bit less of an edge to Burn Burn but, as with previous albums, OLP's hooks are grand and grab you, sucking you into the music. These are intelligent, foot-stomping anthems written by a killer band. They might not be their best tracks, but they're better than most. You should give them a spin.

The Weekly Viral Video. The Eternal Moonwalk.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. We're doomed! Usually you hear someone say that and you start picturing fire-breathing monsters attacking downtown Tokyo. But this is far, far worse. Amy Winehouse - she of the drunken crack smoking - is releasing her own line of perfume. Too. Many. Jokes.

The Weekly Picture.

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The Weekly Hypothetical. If you had one moment in your life you could do over, what would that moment be?

Posted by Chris at 6:49 AM | Comments (29)

July 23, 2009

I Wish I Could Remember What I Was Going To Title This Post

A couple of weeks ago, I had a little memory problem. See, I either work out of my regular office - in which case parking is free - or I work in Monkeytown which requires me to park in an uber-expensive, cash-only garage. I'm always paranoid that one day I'm going to totally forget cash and because of the dearth of ATMs anywhere close I'll be reduced to begging or blowing the parking attendant to get my car out of the garage. And that's not a scenario I think I'd be overly fond of.

Back to a couple of weeks ago.

A few Mondays ago, I had to be in Monkeytown bright and early. The previous Sunday night, I realized that I didn't have any cash handy. I made a mental note to stop at a cash machine first thing Monday morning. But the more and more I thought about it, I realized that I couldn't remember my ATM PIN. I went through every combination I could come up with and none of it was clicking mentally. And the harder and harder I tried, the more elusive the number became.

So I got in my car, hit a local ATM, fed my card into the little slot and tried. I was annoyed after two minutes of unsuccessful tries. I was mildly frustrated after five minutes. I began to seriously question my sanity after seven or eight minutes. And I was just flat pissed after 10. (I was also surprised it let me try for 10 minutes without eating my card.) But then I got it. Somehow, I managed to happen on the right combination and sequence of numbers and the machine gave up cold hard cash.

But then I thought about the whole event and I actually got a little worried.

I maintain that I am smart, insightful and never forget a thing. But that last bit is bullshit. I forget a lot of stuff. Whenever I have to answer a question about my annual salary, for instance, I have to call Beth. I often don't recall how old I am. I have to do the subtraction then account for the fact that my birthday actually hits in the last month of the year. I feel, sometimes, like I've forgotten more than I remember - names of people from high school, stuff I learned in college, details about my first job. Maybe that's why I haul a camera everywhere I go. It's possible that forgetting some things is preferable to remembering everything. Take Jill Price, for instance. Dubbed The Woman Who Can't Forget, Price recalls everything - even the most minute and obscure detail - of her life since the age of 14.

So, maybe forgetting is a mixed blessing. But it seems like it's happening a lot to me lately. Though I haven't truly embarrassed myself - like forgetting to wear pants to work or calling my boss by the wrong name - it's really annoying.

Am I the only one? Do you forget a lot or do you have a pretty good memory? Would you want the ability to remember everything?

Posted by Chris at 6:30 AM | Comments (38)

July 22, 2009

Four

Dear Mia,

You are four years old today. I find this fact mind-blowing. One day when you're older you'll understand just how mind-blowing that is. Just how quickly time begins to fly. Especially if you have children.

Four years ago you came into the world covered in goo, screaming, with jet black hair popping out of your head as though it was making a mad dash to escape gravity. You were a contortionist, bent in half. The second you were put down on the table, your legs shot up over your head like you were attempting a back flip. We had to swaddle you to keep them down.

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While the doctors and nurses saw to your mom, I wheeled you out into the waiting room to meet your grandparents. I introduced you and they heard your name for the very first time. And that's all I could say for fear of bawling. And then the nurses came to take you away, to weigh and measure, to bathe, to wash that jet black air.

The last four years have transformed you from a baby in my arms to a little girl who, frankly, isn't all that little. Your legs are long and tan. Your arms can encircle my neck, holding me tight. Your hair is wondrously long. Your toothy smile is intensely happy. Your gaze is more worldly than ever, wiser, more knowing. And your smirk is scarily mischievous.

You and I have long, intense conversations about everything from space travel to princesses. You continually astound me with the things you know, the things you understand. You and I have afternoons in which we don't talk to each other but, instead, sing. Opera-style. You tell stories and harness the massive imagination you've accumulated. You love music, and books, and your brother though only as long as he's not climbing on your bed or trying to play with your stuff. And above all, you are fun, you are happy, and you are kind. You do little things that continually reinforce this. Like tackling your brother so you can lavish him with kisses. Or throwing your arms around me when I walk in the back door and whispering into my ear that you love me.

I will love you until the end of time. I will support you in all that you do. I will be there when you need me and try to give you the space to be you when you don't. I will always kiss your boo-boos. I will always wipe away your tears. I will always cuddle with you in the middle of the night when you've had a scary dream. I will always catch you in the pool, read books to you, and make sure there are no monsters in your closet. I will always sing opera-style with you when you need to. Even when you're 33.

I love you Bean.

Daddy.

Posted by Chris at 7:08 AM | Comments (37)

July 21, 2009

Mia's Children (Or, I Bet You Didn't Know I'm A Grandfather)

I don't recall having an imaginary friend when I was a kid. I'm sure I did. A lot of kids do. A recent study in Great Britain revealed that one in five kids have imaginary friends. Compared to US research, that seems to be a little conservative. According to another study out of NYU, nearly 65% of kids between the ages of three and nine have imaginary friends. The same study attributes growth in imagination and social skills to these invisible buddies.

Anyway, I don't remember if I had one or not. I always talked out loud to myself so maybe I became my own imaginary friend. Which sounds very Kafka of me. I do know, however, that Mia has many. However, they're not her friends. They're her children.

It started a year ago. Dinner was on the table and we were attempting to herd Mia and Owen to the table. We were more successful with Owen because he was, back then, more portable. Mia stalled and told us she had forgotten something. She returned, empty handed, claiming that her children were in tow. She sat them down and we all ate together. Neither Beth nor I knew we had seating for that many.

The details on Mia's children are sketchy at best. But here's what we've been able to pick up:

  • The majority of Mia's kids are girls.
  • Mia has somewhere between three and 357 children. It's been particularly difficult to figure out exactly how many children we're talking about since the numbers and names change constantly, depending on the situation.
  • The kids' ages range from newborn to 12.
  • The imaginary kids are oddly named, since Mia usually starts riffing on a particular word and goes to town. For example, the other day, we were discussing her children whilst eating pizza. When pressed on their names, she disclosed that the children were named Schmitza, Palizza, Enditza, and Deetza. Apparently, Mia's kids are Italian. More frequently, they sound Eastern European or Southeast Asian.
  • New additions arrive frequently. The gestation period for imaginary newborns is approximately 27 hours.

I love the fact that Mia's imagination is so incredibly vast that she's populated her world not only with friends but imaginary people she feels responsible for. I realize that it's most likely largely a reaction to us bringing Owen into the world, that she wants to impose the same sort of control over something that we impose over her and her brother, and that she, too, wants in on the fun of parenting. But I admire her imagination and I hope beyond anything that she never loses it.

Did you have any imaginary friends growing up? Do you have any now?

Posted by Chris at 6:15 AM | Comments (37)

July 20, 2009

Bean Party

This weekend, Beth and I staged and somehow managed to pull of Mia's fourth birthday party. And, before you say it, I know - four? How the hell did that happen? Anyway, this year we decided to follow the same plan that proved successful last year. It was, mainly, this - whip up some food, pray for good weather, throw some toys in the backyard and turn the kids loose. And you know what? It worked.

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View the entire set.

No one got hurt. No one was rushed to the emergency room. There was no screaming (in pain, at least). There were no accidents. And the weather was spectacular. The bubble machines fired bubbles into the blue sky at full blast and the breeze kept the kids cool whilst they ran around in circles burning off their sugar highs in anticipation of the next cupcake.

At the end of the day, the birthday girl, her brother and her mom and dad were wiped out. "Mom," she said to Beth before falling soundly asleep in her bed adorned with new princess sheets, "that was the best day ever." We didn't want to argue with her. I mean, while it was good and all it didn't hold a candle to the day she was born, to the day she came into our world. A party seemed like the least we could do.

Posted by Chris at 6:36 AM | Comments (20)

Haiku For Monday #276

It's early but I
have a decision to make.
Beer or coffee? Tough.

Posted by Chris at 6:35 AM | Comments (2)

July 17, 2009

The Weeklies #93

The Weekly Quote. "Owen, your ear is not a trashcan!"

The Weekly Beer. Any. All.

The Weekly Downer. I have another patented Big Work Thing which will pretty much run me ragged for another two weeks. Then I'm planning a day off.

The Weekly Read. Jonathan Tropper is like an American Nick Hornby, with, you know, less soccer and music. But Tropper has this amazing knack for developing characters you know almost instantly and love and putting them into quirky situations. His latest, This Is Where I Leave You is no exception and it might also be among Tropper's second-best book, The Book Of Joe taking the top spot. This Is Where I Leave You finds Tropper taking the best of his previous books and rolling them into one unique, rewarding novel. I'm always bummed when I finish one of Tropper's novels, not because they aren't good but because I know it'll be a year or two before I get my hands on a new one.

The Weekly Stupid Name Change That's Never Going To Stick. Apparently Chicago's landmark Sears Tower has just been renamed Willis Tower. Whatchyou talkin' about, Willis Tower?

The Weekly Time Waster. We all scream for Screamball.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Proving just how out of touch government sometimes is, the State Department was asked why they're not deploying the Firefox web browser throughout the agency. The answer? It's too expensive. Uh, guys...Firefox is free.

The Weekly Not-Really-Hypothetical. Just out of curiosity, are you a morning or a night person? Or both?

Posted by Chris at 6:53 AM | Comments (36)

July 16, 2009

Caution: Falling Books (Or, How John Sandford and Dougls Coupland Conspired To Kill Me In My Sleep)

Because I'm all about mixing thing up, I'll start with a question instead of ending with one (though I reserve the right to repeat it later on) - what's your favorite book?

Picking a favorite book is tough for me. It's like asking who would you rather cuddle with - Beth, Mia or Owen? only books are pointy and when I accidentally fell asleep cuddling one the other night I had a line on my face half the morning. It's tough because I read a lot, ever since my dad handed me a pile of old science fiction novels that smelled like attic and told me I should check them out. My early reading years were littered with novels by Arthur Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Turns out I wasn't a huge fan of Clarke but I devoured everything the other two read.

And now, I just love books. Of all kinds. I have a sick amount of books I've not yet read. I even had a pile of unread books on my bedside stand so huge I had to move it for fear that it would collapse and crush me to death in my sleep.

I'm somewhat infamous for asking questions of you without ever answering them myself. So, here I go, answering my own question. Here are my top 10:

  • Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card). Before Card went off the rails into the Land of Rampant Homophobia, he was a damn fine author. Ender remains one of my all time favorites.
  • Hyperion (Dan Simmons). Simmons can write anything - historical fiction, science fiction, horror - and write it well. This, his first real foray into sci-fi remains one of my most treasured reads.
  • The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell). I dare anyone to read this book and not be amazed.
  • The Memory of Running (Ron McLarty). One man, one bicycle. No, it isn't a disgusting viral internet video.
  • The Rabbit Factory (Marshall Karp). Look, it's a great book because Marshall pulls off this amazing feat of coming up with a compelling murder mystery with a great sense of humor, excellent well-developed characters, and heart. I don't know of anyone else who's pulled that off. Of course I'm also biased because Marshall happens to be a friend. And a damn good guy.
  • The Book Of Joe (Jonathan Tropper). There are books that make you want to stand up and run around your neighborhood screaming about their awesomeness. This is one of those books.
  • If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (Jon McGregor). Woven from brief snippets of lives, this is a beautifully written novel unlike most other novels written. It is elegant and scary and sad and wonderfully written.
  • The Ha-Ha (Dave King). If a novel's going to tug at my heart strings, it's going to have to do it naturally, not by some cold calculation by the author but by a compelling story with compelling situations and compelling characters. King managed that brilliantly in a story with characters I will not soon forget.
  • What Is The What (Dave Eggers). The power of this novel is unlike anything I'd previously read. Knowing it's a true story makes it that much more brilliant and horrifying.
  • The Bridge (Iain Banks). So hallucinatory and dreamlike, you can't help but be fully immersed in the fever-dream Banks creates.
Your turn - what are some of your absolute favorites?
Posted by Chris at 6:30 AM | Comments (45)

July 15, 2009

Progression

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Mia at the beach, three years in a row.
Posted by Chris at 8:52 PM | Comments (13)

When The Suburbs Get Scared

On Monday night, deep in the heart of Fairfax County, Virginia - a large, affluent community just outside the nation's capital - the Board of Supervisors heard about plans to expand a school. The discussion was - or should have been - centered around rezoning the area, giving the school a bit more room to sprawl. But it wasn't that easy. Especially since it's an Islamic school. And, as a result, the zoning issue has blossomed into a full-scale investigation of the curriculum, the students, the criminal affairs of its alumni.

I get the concern, I really do. The institution is a little (not a lot - I'd never heard of it before and I've lived here for 20 years) notorious. Notorious because there have been long standing allegations of teaching conservative and some would say intolerant Islamic teachings. Notorious because a few former students were arrested in a half-baked plan to assassinate a former president. Notorious because another alumni boarded a plane with a knife.

I'm happy leaving well enough alone as I'm loathe to get myself all worked up. But the interviews with school opponents that I've been hearing have absolutely astounded me. One even stated that the school should not exist because it is not - I'm quoting here - "a Christianity-based learning institution." I call bullshit.

I attended a private school when I was young. It encouraged a perverted version of faith in a perverted god that I still don't understand to this day. A god who preferred white people. A god who needed cash. And while there are many good Christian institutions across the country there are bad ones, like my old school, teaching intolerance, racism, materialism. And yet I've never heard a public outcry to shut them down.

I get why people are concerned. It wasn't a bunch of blond-haired, blue-eyed American boys who hijacked planes on 9/11. But it was a couple home-grown American kids who killed 13 people and injured 21 at Columbine. It wasn't an apple pie-baking grandmother who tried to bring down a plane with explosives hidden in shoes. But it was an 88 year-old World War II veteran who shot and killed a guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, having left a note in his car stating: Obama does what Jew owners tell him to do. Jews captured America's money. Jews control the mass media. The First Amendment is abrogated -- henceforth.

I'm not saying that Christians or the religion they believe in is bad. Nor am I saying that those who subscribe to religion as an institution are bad. What I'm saying, instead, is that people who subscribe to one religion are no more evil than those who believe in the tenets of another. There are, quite simply, enough bad people to go around, regardless of faith. And those bad people don't - and shouldn't - define a faith.

So, while I'm sure we all believe in the freedom of speech, do you believe in the freedom of education? Where's the line between education and free-speech? And is there a double-standard for non-Christian faiths?

Posted by Chris at 6:28 AM | Comments (35)

July 14, 2009

Hot Six

Happy blogiversary to me.
Happy blogiversary to me.
Happy blogiversary, Rude Cactus.
Happy blogiversary to me.

That's right - it's about this time of year that I celebrate my blogiversary. And frankly whenever the blogiversary rolls around, I'm somewhat astounded that I'm still doing this. This year marks the sixth year in the life of Rude Cactus (the blog, not me...otherwise I'd have some pretty damn impressive writing skills for my young age). And I figured I'd last no more than six weeks as a blogger. Turns out I can occasionally follow through on something.

My initial attempts at writing are horrifying. I like to think that I've gotten better, that in another six years I'm not going to look back on something I wrote last week and cringe. But we'll see.

Thank you all for reading and making it a great six years. Thanks for your comments, your thoughts, and your friendship.

Questions:
- Why do you read my site?
- What keeps you coming back?
- What would you like to see more of? Less of?

Posted by Chris at 6:26 AM | Comments (74)

July 13, 2009

The Second Time Around

Mia is nothing if not a motor-mouth who seemingly grasps any concept easily despite asking why every three and a half seconds. She is vastly independent and were it not for the world opposing her in the form of things just out of her reach, I'm sure she'd be happy to leave her parents in the dust, find the car keys, and head into the world without us. Luckily she's still short.

Her brother is not far behind her.

Owen can talk. Granted, you have to pay attention and make a lot of allowances. He's fascinated with animals and the noises they make. He has a fondness for milk he's not reluctant to express. His favorite word is probably no which doesn't bode well, though half the time he actually means yes. This is something of a problem but we're working past it. He has figured out the phone and occasionally calls China. He is obsessed with getting the batteries out of the remote control. He climbs on everything, necessitating the wide use of bungie cords throughout our house, mainly to keep furniture from being climbed upon and Owen from swinging off the ceiling fans. He loves dogs, cars, sneezing, and his penis, not necessarily in that order. He's figured out how to give kisses and doles them out constantly much to the chagrin of his sister who is most often the recipient.

My point? Mia did all these things (except for the penis thing, of course) but as a parent, you forget the little little things. In fact, watching Owen grow up and develop has make me realize just how many things about Mia's early life I've forgotten.

I want to invent some sort of life recorder. Like, it'll capture thoughts, sounds, sights, memories, everything as you encounter them. Then ten, twenty, fifty years down the road you can go back to that precise moment and see it, feel it, experience it, just as it played out before. That way you'll never forget your daughter's reaction when you shoveled gazpacho into her mouth for the first time or the feel of the slobber running down your cheek when your son gave you his very first kiss. Or the time your daughter tackled your son in order to thoroughly kiss him while she wore a bicycle helmet. No, wait, you've got that on film.


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Posted by Chris at 6:27 AM | Comments (13)

Haiku For Monday #275

Evil, thy name is
Monday. You wicked, rotten,
damn dirty week day.

Posted by Chris at 6:26 AM | Comments (1)

July 10, 2009

The Weeklies #92

The Weekly Force To Be Reckoned With. Post-vacation reality.

The Weekly Beer. Dominion Dortmunder Lager.

The Weekly Plan For Better Living. I want to move to the beach. Okay, okay, so I realize I couldn't exactly just hang out at the beach and eat snowcones everyday if I was living there. I'd have to get a real job. Or three. Because houses at the beach? Expensive. The shack we passed everyday on our walk to the beach listed for $1 million. Okay, maybe this isn't the greatest plan ever.

The Weekly Read. I pretty much gave up on serial killer novels - especially series about them - when Thomas Harris forced Hannibal Lecter to jump the shark. Of course, Harris isn't that good a writer so I shouldn't have let him scar me so. I got the chance to read advance copies of Chelsea Cain's first two novels Sweetheart and Heart Sick last year. They were both excellent. Disturbing, well-written, captivating. So I jumped at the chance to get my hands on an early copy of Evil At Heart. The verdict? Pretty damn awesome. It's maybe not as strong as the first two novels but Cain deftly continues the story without abusing it. I'll admit to being just as eager for the fourth novel as I was for the second and third.

The Weekly Pictures. There are bunch of them from the beach! Take a look.

The Weekly Time Waster. Rabbit Wants Cake!

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Frankly, anyone who sleeps with Hugh Hefner is deserving of a healthy dose of schadenfreude. But a woman who claims to be the reincarnation of Venus Demilo and calls herself the biggest hat in the world who claims that Hefner was a member of an organization of pedophiles and is, in turn, suing Hef for $3 billion is even more deserving. If you want crazy, check out the full complaint.

The Weekly Hypothetical. Would you rather be a fish or a bird? Why?

Posted by Chris at 6:32 AM | Comments (29)

July 9, 2009

Less Than Thrilled

One day in 1982, my dad came home from work with a large square brown paper bag. He walked towards the stereo, turned it on, pulled an LP from the bag and placed it on the turntable. It was Michael Jackson's Thriller. It was the first album I ever considered my own.

I liked it. I didn't think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread but then sliced bread didn't have an endless string of hit singles so what do I know? But that speaks to the mixed emotions I have about Michael Jackson. I never really understood the hype.

I don't want to speak ill of the dead but to me, Michael Jackson was no genius. He was a talented guy who could write a catchy song and dance like no one had really danced before. More than anything, he was tragic. He came from a dysfunctional family, was thrust into the limelight way too early in life with absolutely no coping mechanisms, and, as a result, developed into a bizarre individual with some fairly unhealthy interests. If he was genuine in his convictions and motivations, he was truly done a disservice. If he wasn't, he was a freak. Regardless, after his torrent of hits dried up, his private life overshadowed his musical one, he became a caricature of himself, and he - not his music - became the story. He - his marriages, his plastic surgery, his infatuation with boys, his homes - became the entertainment.

Ladies and gentlemen, the age of the sideshow carny freaks is not dead. They've merely changed venues. Now they grace the pages of US Weekly and People or appear daily on TMZ or Egotastic. Their names are Jacko, Jon and Kate, Brangelina.

What was your take on Michael Jackson? Troubled genius? Freak? Or both?

Posted by Chris at 6:35 AM | Comments (40)

July 8, 2009

Cat, Out of Bag

To many, it might seem nightmarish to stay in a beach house for a solid week with one's family. But that's exactly the position in which we found ourselves last week. For the second year in a row. Beth and the kids, my parents, Beth's parents, Beth's brother, his wife and their daughter as well as her parents. A full house to be sure but it was nice to so many people I care about in one place. Even if they occasionally drive me batshit crazy.

But throughout the past week - through observations and conversations - one thing became crystal clear. Irrefutable. Cat? Out of bag. The jig? Up. Beans? Spilled. As it turns out, our blogs are our family's worst kept secrets. And by that I mean that everyone knows about them.

I'm not surprised, shocked or in any way disappointed. But that doesn't necessarily stop me from feeling as though I'm walking around the local grocery store and suddenly discover that I'm not wearing any pants. Indecent exposure on aisle three, anyone? But I'm okay with that. (Metaphorically. I still plan on wearing pants while shopping.)

Will this less-than-stunning turn of events change anything? No. I mean, I'm not planning on doing anything radical like cleaning up my language (fuck no, that's bullshit). They know I have a half-decent vocabulary. They also know that despite my big talk I have no pathological fascination with midgets (though I do think they're somehow hatching a plan for world domination but I haven't yet been able to suss out the details). Though I don't often talk about sex, they know Beth and I have it, as Mia and Owen are stunning examples of our proficiency in the sack. I only occasionally talk about them directly. I might say that my mom's a little crazy (and I mean that in a good way and will stick to that statement) or that my dad seems allergic to retirement (and he's a good, motivated guy doing what he loves so I'll stick with that statement, too, and support whatever it is he wants to do the way he supports me). But my family knows I love them, they know who I am, and I'm not going to change what I do here any more than I'm going to change the laws of gravity. Though I'm working on those.

If anything, I guess I feel a little relieved. No more secrets. And maybe just maybe they'll get glimpses of the lives of their kids and grand kids they might not otherwise have gotten.

Okay, come on everybody. Don't be shy. Say hi to my folks.

Posted by Chris at 6:00 AM | Comments (44)

July 7, 2009

The Spammer In Chief

I get kind of a lot of spam. I have a few email accounts, all with different purposes, and websites I host with those various addresses so I guess I'm a pretty bug target. I haven't dumped my span for a little while and I'm up to 17,628 messages. Why not dump them? Because I love reading them. The subject lines, anyway.

The latest trend in spam seems to be obscuring the message with spaces and extra letters. Like Zhungry girl gets fu cking dog co ck in taut aassp. Sure can't crack that code. Then there are the ones that only vaguely make sense. Support Your Darling Night Experience or Boost Your Sweet Bedtimes. Interesting euphemisms. And then there are those that are just plain nonsensical. Brooklyn Gives Andy Head. Andy must have added some inchez to his co ckz if it takes an entire borough to service him. There are also the totally unappealing. Hugest Asses! I mean, I admire their straightforwardness but I was just at the beach. I saw the hugest asses covered by the smallest bikinis. I think I'm set for a while. Some just play on the most basic of human emotions. Call me, I'm in danger or Make a call I'm in trouble.

There exists no moral ambiguity around the deletion of spam such as these. After I've gotten a few good laughs. But I kepe getting messages that exist in some sort of spam purgatory, if you will. Email from President Obama.

Technically, its not spam. When Obama was campaigning, I signed up to be on his mailing list. I ordered stuff from his website. I made donations. I asked to be included in his database. But now that he's won - and doing a fine job without necessitating the sale of t-shirts of soliciting donations from little old me - I'm pretty tuned out to his email. But I feel bad just deleting the messages. I mean, should you really delete unread email from the President of the United States? Something doesn't feel quite right about that. Like not drinking beer on the Fourth of July or peeing on the flag.

I have a few options:

A. Delete, don't feel guilty.
B. Delete and feel guilty about it because, good god, it's email from the President.
C. Read it.
D. Ignore it. Hope it goes away.

What would you do?

Posted by Chris at 6:53 AM | Comments (26)

July 6, 2009

The Numbers: The Beach Edition

Hey, look, a keyboard. It's been a while but I think I still remember what these buttons with letters on them do. Yep, look at that - a sentence. I'm a little rusty since we just recently got back from spending a week at the beach during which I posted very little. Sorry about that but the sand and snowcones were calling. Anyway, I've got a couple more days off and I'm trying to ease back into reality - one in which you can't wear flip-flops everywhere, you have to drive a car to get places, and shirts aren't optional - as slowly and painlessly as possible so as not to sprain myself when the alarm goes off at 5:00 on Wednesday morning and reality bitchslaps me across the face. It's in that spirit of half-assing it that I give you a brief summary of the trip in the most effortless way possible.

Days at the beach: 7
People staying at the beach house: 13
Bathrooms at the beach house: 3
Awkward bathroom moments: 7
Hours spent on the beach: 30
Orifices filled with sand: All of 'em
Tubs of french fries consumed: 3
Gallons of lemonade totaled: 4
Snowcones eaten: 7
Pieces of pizza consumed: 7
Beers drunk: 16
Date nights: 2
Kids puked: 1
Children discovered to be susceptible to motion sickness: 1
Pictures taken: 300
Pictures edited: 0
Books read: 2
Newspapers read: 0
Newscasts watched: 0
Hours of work performed: 0
Trips to Funland*: 5
Rides ridden at Funland: All
Stuffed animals won at Funland: 42
Exhausted children: 2
Worn out parents: 2
Days until next beach trip: 357
Blessings counted: 84,396

So, what did I miss while I was gone? What are your numbers for the week?


* Funland is Rehoboth Beach's equivalent of Disney World populated by retro carnival rides and games.

Posted by Chris at 7:39 AM | Comments (15)

Haiku For Monday #274

I have two days to
prepare for reality.
Wish me lots of luck.

Posted by Chris at 7:38 AM | Comments (3)

July 2, 2009

Schedule For The Day*

7:00 AM: Up, awake, coffee
8:00 AM: Pack for the beach
9:00 AM: Beach!
11:00 AM: Pizza and french fry time
12:00 PM: Snowcones! **
1:00 PM: Back to the beach house for naps (Owen) and "quiet time" (Mia)
2:00 PM: Funland!
5:00 PM: Beach house/changing/head to dinner
6:00 PM: Dinner
7:00 PM: Boardwalk for an after-dinner treat
8:00 PM: Bed for the kids
11:00 PM: Bed for the parents

I could get used to this. But sadly, it won't last much longer.

* And by day, I mean everyday.
** My goal for this beach trip is one or more snowcones every day. So far, so good.

Posted by Chris at 2:05 PM | Comments (11)


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