October 31, 2013

Big Bam Boom

I grew up in Texas, a place noted for its cowboys, giant belt buckles, rangers, below-average presidents and wildlife. The house I grew up in was an average sized colonial. You know, dining room and formal living room in the front with a kitchen and family room towards the back. My parents' master bedroom was also on the first floor. Out back we had a nice sized yard with a pool, a must for any Texan unless you wanted to turn into jerky in the summer.

My room was upstairs, on the opposite side of the house as my parents' room. It was a sweet deal since that meant I got to play music pretty loud all night long without ever really bothering them. At least they never admitted to being bothered. My room was the only room in the house with deep, dark blue carpet. (I have no idea why this was.) At some point - maybe around age 10 - the red, white and blue striped wallpaper had been removed but I can't recall what it was replaced with. My bed was pushed up against one of the two windows so I could look outside and see all the neighborhood goings on. And I watched everything in the neighborhood.

Late one night I was lying in bed half asleep, listening to Hall & Oates (Big Bam Boom to be exact - remember, this was the mid-80s and I was all cutting edge with John, Daryl, parachute pants and beret) and I heard an odd, random beat, something that didn't quite keep time with the music. I dismissed it and briefly fell asleep but by the time the cassette flipped over and Going Thru The Motions started, something wasn't right. The banging - echoing and coming from the hallway and, seemingly, above - got more distinct. I was pretty sure the attic was attacking.

(My deepest and darkest fear around that time was the attic, more specifically the air conditioning and furnace units in the attic. If I drew a schematic of the house in my head, I knew the menacing machinery was directly above my room and from it radiated aluminum vents, one of which occasionally caught a reflection of light through the grate in my room since it was placed not in the ceiling but high on the wall above my door.)

The banging eventually subsided, the threat seemed gone and I unpaused the tape and let the glory of mid-80s male duo-driven pop fill the silences.

And picked up a screwdriver.

Look, I'll never know why I did what I did but you can't Monday-morning quarterback a 12 year old (well, you can but it would be incredibly frustrating). I closed the door to my room completely, scooted a chair against the wall and climbed up with the screwdriver. I removed one screw, then the other and felt gravity pull the grate ever so slightly while a dusting of wallboard whitened my forearms. I pulled the grate out, stepped up on my tip-toes and gazed inside the vent. And there, returning my gaze with a red gaze of their own were four dozen baby snakes. Copperheads, I later learned.

Oddly they didn't immediately retreat but charged towards the opening regardless of the person - me - in their path. I lost my footing, fell off the chair and the chair itself toppled over behind me. The snakes poured - that's the only word that feels right - from the vent and landed around me. Furiously, I tried to open the door realizing that the chair had toppled in front of it. Somehow I opened it and charged down the stairs taking only one more glance down the upstairs hallway seeing that the snakes were slithering behind me.

I woke my parents up with a frantic "get out!" and that's precisely what we did. The middle of the night, the Houston suburbs, one nice suburban house, front door standing open, one family standing in the street wondering what to do next. Except very quickly we were joined by the people across the street. They, too, were frantic. Then the Lewiskis' - across the street, one house over - appeared in their nightclothes. The old couple next door soon emerged. We all stared at each other, our gazes only occasionally returning to our houses.

But soon that changed and we all found ourselves watching snakes emerge from our houses. They streamed out of our front doors, down the sidewalks until they surrounded us. Then they did something amazing. In a coordinated fashion they looped around each other as if every motion was pre-planned. And it was. Because in the road all of us saw snakes arranged in letters that said: Happy Halloween!

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October 29, 2013

The Little Voice

This new job finds me working deep in the heart of Monkeytown. The only problem with that is I don't really live all that close to the gooey center of our nation's capital. It requires something of a commute. Which, in turn, forces me to be quite the early riser because the gridlock on the roads around here is second only to the gridlock in congress. And of course that triggers all kinds of nasty things like alarm clocks that go off in the dark, excessive amounts of coffee and communicating primarily by sneer. But, hey, we all have our crosses.

I went to bed at 9:00 last night. See, night before last, a little voice told me to stay up and enjoy the remains of the weekend. Like an idiot I listened to that little voice and while what he said had merit, it was not very bright. I woke up exhausted yesterday morning and only got more exhausted as the day went by. That's why I was asleep before either of my children.

Sometimes that little voice has a lot of insightful, wise things to say. Sometimes it lies.

Excuse me. I need more coffee.

Posted by Chris at 7:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 28, 2013

Monkeytown, U.S.A.

I must really love Monkeytown*. During the last week, I've been downtown exactly six of those seven days...including yesterday. Yes, the kids wanted to go to DC yesterday and that's exactly what we did. Even though I commuted downtown every day last week.

But I don't mind because DC is truly one of the most wonderful cities I know of.

We hit the Air & Space museum, walked through the National Gallery and poked our heads into the American Indian Museum. There was some complaining, sure, but I feel like the kids have some appreciation for where we live.

Yes, it's a town where homeless guys selling roses on the street corner are actually sponsored (really, they have signs with the prices that have ads on them from local companies), it's a town where you sometimes get yelled at by dudes who randomly scream while sleeping on park benches, and it's a place where you can find a Starbucks on every single street corner. But it's a pretty important place. And it's home.

* Reminder, this is what the kids started calling Washington, DC years ago. And it stuck.

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Haiku For Monday #469

Wish the snooze button
could be used to delay the
day, not the alarm.

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October 25, 2013

The Weeklies #270

The Weekly Word. Snollygoster. Definition? A clever, unscrupulous person.

The Weekly Drink. Coffee.

The Weekly TV Addiction. The Good Wife. Damn good show and great subject for a brand new TV addiction.

The Weekly Snack Annoyance. Trail mix manufactures must be getting paid off by the raisin manufacturers. Way too many raisins in trail mix.

The Weekly Read. I love Lee Child and his Jack Reacher novels. Child is just as dependable as his hero, Reacher, and A Wanted Man was no exception. While hitching to Virginia, the nomad-like Reacher finds himself trapped with some bad dudes. What he uncovers is sinister and mysterious...and a hell of a ride. It's not literature but it's damn entertaining.

The Weekly Article Of Clothing I Wish Would Disappear. Ties.

The Weekly Music. I prepared myself to dislike Pearl Jam's Lightning Bolt. Despite the fact that I love Pearl Jam and have since the release of their debut Ten, I was dismayed by the reviews which seemed to indicate it was another attempt at a modern punk album. Not my favorite face of Pearl Jam. But Lightning Bolt isn't modern punk. It's a brilliant, well-crafted, stripped-bare album chock full of good songwriting and addictive hooks. No, this isn't Ten or even Yield. But it's good. And it's hard to blame a band that refuses to stand still.

The Weekly Question. Will Congress pay for the shutdown in the upcoming election? Or will we forget about this...like always?

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October 24, 2013

Furlough Fat

I'm not a big guy. I'm Tom Cruise-like. You know, without the crazy couch jumping and scientology and big-budget action flicks. I'm about five foot eight and weigh 155 pounds.

Until the furlough.

I didn't get taller or shorter. Just wider. See, I had a lot of sitting around time. I read a lot of books and went out to a lot of lunches with Beth. And while Beth diligently exercised, I took the bike out occasionally but mostly just moved from my morning chair to my afternoon chair.

I've got a good five pounds to take off before the holidays...then I can put it all back on only to take it off again.

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October 22, 2013

TV On The Radio

If you asked any third grader what they wanted on their iPod, you'd probably get the usual cast of characters - Taylor Swift, One Direction, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Britney Spears, Katy Perry. The list goes on...and on. Mia's iPod is absolutely no different. But in the evenings, before going to sleep, Mia's listening tastes become very, very different. After 8:00, the pop is abandoned. In favor of classic radio.

Mia is an absolute sucker for radio programs dating back to the 30s, 40s and 50s. You know, the stuff that was on before most people had TVs in their living rooms, or before TVs even existed.

Mia's iPod is crammed full of everything from pulp mysteries to superheroes to science fiction classics. The Shadow, The Whistler, X Minus 1, Dimension X, Superman, Rocky Jordan, Planet Man are all represented. She knows the openings to all the shows (Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!), can give you biographies of all the major characters and has plenty of questions about hypnotic superpowers, 1930s terminology, and the lives of Martians.

My daughter's a geek. It's a trait we're encouraging.

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October 21, 2013

Great Falls

One of my favorite places in the world is Great Falls Park. Luckily we just so happen to live about 15 minutes from it. I'd venture to guess that most folks who live in the area have never been. And who'd think that such a vast, incredible park would be hidden in plain sight in the Washington area?

We went to the park again this weekend, taking the kids on a six mile hike exploring parts of the Potomac River we hadn't ever seen. We climbed rocks, saw snakes, ate ice cream and just enjoyed the beautiful day.

It's back to the real world today but its nice to know that a place like this exists so close to home.

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Haiku For Monday #468

Holy crap. Early.
O'dark thirty and I need
coffee. Posthaste. Stat!

Posted by Chris at 7:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 18, 2013

The Weeklies #269: The Awesomeness Edition

Congress finally came to its senses and, in the wee hours of the morning, the President signed a piece of paper that allowed me to go back to work. So yesterday I did. I made a triumphant return to a job I'd held for precisely six days before getting furloughed for 16 days. Those six days took on a dream-like quality after a while. And while I read lots of books, saw lots of movies, drank lots of beer and developed a rather annoying facial skin thing that I just saw a doctor about this morning (TMI?), the awesomest thing about those 16 days was my wife and kids.

See, each of those 16 days I woke up with my wife (though, a lot of the time I slept in), got the kids out of bed, helped get them dressed and fed and put them on the bus. And then, between the hours of 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM, Beth and I had all the time in the world. We went to movies in the middle of the day, watched TV in the afternoon, took walks, volunteered at the kids' school, volunteered at a food bank, mowed the lawn, went out to lunch and cleaned out our basement. At 4:00 I got the kids off the bus and we did homework, played Wii, rocked out in the basement and generally hung out.

It was awesome.

I'm glad to be back at work but I missed putting my kids on the bus yesterday morning. I missed going to a movie with my wife. I missed hearing all about the kids' school day in stream-of-consiousness like narrative as soon as they hopped off the bus. I know that I'll look back at these 16 days and cherish them.

That doesn't excuse what a bunch of egotistical congress-people did. It's abhorrent and wrong. But, you know...silver linings.

Posted by Chris at 9:59 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 16, 2013

Snip Snip

I've mentioned this a handful of times over the last couple of weeks so it won't be any surprise but I thought it was worth mentioning again. After threatening to do it for years, we finally cancelled cable.

I've had a couple conversations about this and I tend to get the same stare I get when I tell people I'm a vegetarian. Some folks understand, sure, but the vast majority of them look at me like they didn't know such a thing was possible. Oddly, my logic for both decisions is, at least initially, very similar.

Them: So, you don't [EAT MEAT, HAVE CABLE]?
Me: Nope. Haven't for [YEARS, DAYS].
Them: How do you get by without it?
Me: Um, well, I honestly don't miss it.
Them: Really? Don't you ever get a craving for [A NICE JUICY STEAK, ON DEMAND PORN]?
Them: That's amazing. Do you feel better?
Me: Yeah, a little.
Them: But why?
Me: Well [A DECADE AGO, A FEW MONTHS BACK] my wife and I realized we never [ATE MEAT, WATCHED CABLE] so we figured, why bother anymore.
Them: You know we're talking about [MEAT, CABLE] here, right?

Do we miss it? Not at all. We have tons of devices capable of streaming a while library of content into our home. The only thing we sacrificed is the brainless channel surfing and continuous stream of stuff we only half payed attention to. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But since we only have so much time we might as well watch something we're interested in.

Do you have cable? Do you stream? What are you watching?

* There are other uses for the internet but I can't recall any on such short notice.

Posted by Chris at 7:41 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

October 15, 2013

What I've Done Since Friday

I've been busy since we last talked on Friday, courtesy of both a long weekend and protracted government shut-down. What was I up to?

I went to my first weekday morning movie in a very long time. Captain Philips, by the way. Freaking incredible. Though Beth and I totally brought down the average age in the place by at least 20 years.

Took a nature walk around a lake. It finally stopped raining so we took the kids on a forced march around a local lake. They complained until we found geese to feed.

Watched Brave with the kids for the second time. It's not as bad as I'd remembered. Certainly not the best Pixar movie but far from terrible.

Crafted 30 feet of paper chain. For some reason we decorated the house for Columbus Day. It would have been more appropriate to find a native population and give them smallpox but we were all out of both natives and communicable diseases.

Began a new television addiction - The Good Wife. I think I mentioned that we cancelled our cable subscription. As a result we're on the lookout for more streaming television goodness. Based on the pilot episode, we'll definitely be checking out The Good Wife.

Went on a wonderfully romantic getaway with Beth, stayed in a great hotel and ate a wonderful meal in a fancy restaurant. We celebrated our 14th anniversary by taking about 20 hours out of our weekend to ourselves. I booked a nice hotel room and a swanky restaurant in DC. Despite the rain, we walked around the city, found a great dive bar, had a wonderful meal and slept in.

Read two books. If you follow my hot Goodreads action you'll notice that I've been reading a lot. Thanks Congress!

Collaborated with Mia to cook a wonderful meal. Mia found a cache of cookbooks the other day and wanted to pick a menu for dinner. She did and last night she and I cooked for the four of us. The menus? Sweet pea soup and something called Confetti Pasta which was pretty darn good.

So, that's what I've been up to. And thanks to the shutdown, Beth and I are headed to another mid-morning weekday movie.

Posted by Chris at 8:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 11, 2013

The Weeklies #268

The Weekly Number. 14

The Weekly Sign of Political Incompetence. The Shutdowning Week Two.

The Weekly Music. Multi-instrumentalist, singer and composed Devin Townsend is a mad man, a brilliant twisted genius I'd heard of for a long time but never actually heard. Curiosity got the best of me a few weeks back and I picked up his albums Addicted and Epicloud without having any idea what I was getting myself into. From the first notes of each I was wowed by their heaviness but once I got past that it was amazing to hear the complexity and craftsmanship of the music. Think of Nine Inch Nails crossed with Queen and Radiohead and while you're doing that, throw in a killer female vocalist and a gospel choir for good measure. That's Devin Townshend. Sound weird? It is. But also very, very excellent.

The Weekly Awesomeness In The Face Of Stupidity. Earlier this week, Chris Cox of South Carolina decided that despite the political standoff and government shutdown, something needed to be done about the Lincoln Memorial, especially the landscaping. So he bought a lawnmower and a leaf blower and took it upon himself to mow the grounds surrounding the memorial. Why? “I figured out that I could play a . . . valuable role as a janitor, if you will. So I started cleaning up the overflowing trash cans. I bought a blower and I’ve been blowing all of the trails, and today I cut the grass out here. I didn’t find it a nuisance to be here, I found it my duty to be here.”

The Weekly Read. Remember last week when I mentioned reading Robert Crais' The Monkey's Raincoat? I liked the first in the Elvis Cole series so much that I dove into another, Stalking The Angel. It was, perhaps, even better than Crais' debut. This is a highly entertaining series that's funny while still not pulling any punches.

The Weekly Question From Mia. Did you like third grade?

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October 9, 2013


Fourteen years ago - in front of everyone we're remotely related to and quite a few people we weren't - Beth agreed to be my wife.

And I'm a much better person for her being in my life.

I love you Beth!

Posted by Chris at 7:19 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 8, 2013


The government shutdown has obvious and less obvious victims. Case in point? Food trucks.

Business has plummeted for Washington’s food truck industry due to the government shutdown, forcing some trucks to lay off staff and stay off the streets.

The Washington Post reports sales at several trucks are down 50 percent or more since federal offices closed last week.
Food truck owners said they rely heavily on federal workers at L’Enfant Plaza, Federal Triangle, the Navy Yard and near the State Department to keep their businesses afloat.

Layth Mansour, the owner of Philadelphia Steak Bites and George’s Buffalo Wings, says sales were down 65 percent last week. He said that if the shutdown wasn’t resolved by Monday, he would have to pull his trucks off the street and lay off workers.

Still, however, the shutdown probably seems both nameless and faceless - very abstract - to the majority of Americans. After all, planes didn't fall out of the sky, we weren't invaded by North Korea and Lady Gaga hasn't wrestled the Oval Office from Barack Obama.

But it's not an abstract concept.

Hi, I'm Chris Cactus and I'm a furloughed government employee.

A month or so ago, I quit my job and moved to something bigger and better. The government. And, yes, despite the shutdown and furloughs I still believe it's exactly that - bigger and better. But it's tough. We've got a lot saved which is great since I have no idea when my next paycheck is showing up. My benefits haven't been processed so I have no health, dental or life insurance and my retirement contributions are up in the air. Like a lot of the people I work with, I took a pay cut and gave up a nice fat yearly bonus to work for you, the taxpayers, not because it's a cushy job but because it's an important one. I'm good at what I do. You're getting your money's worth out of me. If I'm allowed to go to work, that is.

I've been home for a week and while I've loved the time with my wife and family I'd like to go to work. Because what I do is important. And you want me working for you.

Posted by Chris at 7:08 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 7, 2013

Where's Fall?

October in Washington should feel different. It should be chilly in the evenings and slightly warm in the afternoons. We should be trying to find our jackets and scarves. Not this October. The average high this weekend was around 90 degrees. We wore shorts and t-shirts and briefly considered turning on the air conditioning. We settled for fans instead.

On Friday night, we all went and saw my old high school football team get crushed by local rivals. Our Saturday was lower-key. We divided and conquered. Beth took Owen to a Star Wars celebration at a local library while Mia and I went shopping and hit a restaurant for lunch. Sunday was more eventful. We went to a playground in the morning then took part in a community nature festival all afternoon.

Throughout the whole weekend we sweated our asses off. Because October in Washington should feel different.

Mia and I spent a great deal of time on Sunday talking about the fact that our nation's capital was built on a swamp. We both had the same fundamental question - why? I mean, Philadelphia was pretty sweet. With the exception of the venomous future Eagles fans, why move? For a long time, officers stationed in DC were given hardship pay. Not only that, tropical duty pay.

Still, October should feel different. And we should not have had to turn on the air conditioning yesterday.

No doubt, in a weeks' time we'll be freezing. In a month it'll be snowing and I'll be bitching about that. At least we squeezed another summer-like weekend in before all that went down.

Posted by Chris at 8:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Haiku For Monday #468

Another weird week
in Monkeytown. But aren't
they always weird weeks?

Posted by Chris at 8:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 4, 2013

The Weeklies #267

The Weekly Political Event. Shutdownapalooza 2013!

The Weekly Side Effect. It's been a very quiet week.

The Weekly Entertainment Event. We finally cut the cord. Bye cable!

The Weekly TV. My kids are fascinated with I Love Lucy. We showed them the candy episode - you remember the one, with Lucy and Ethel stuffing their faces full of candy on a candy-packing line - and they nearly passed out laughing. So we kept the hits coming and they loved each one. They almost didn't notice that it was in black and white. Now that's classic.

The Weekly Beer. Lost Rhino's Faceplant IPA.

The Weekly Read. For years my dad's been telling me to pick up one of Robert Crais' Elvis Cole novels. I finally did, picking up the first Cole novel, The Monkey's Raincoat. My initial impression was that it was yet another hardboiled crime novel featuring another snarky private investigator that would be anything but memorable. But after a few pages things started getting good. Then the got better. Needless to say, Elvis Cole made me a believer.

The Weekly Music. Who doesn't like a little progressive metal? Oh, you? Just ignore this then. Prog-metal masters Dream Theater unleashed their latest, the self titled Dream Theater. Does it rock? Oh yes it does. New drummer Mike Mangini unleashes his fantastic talent and the rest of the band follows.

Posted by Chris at 7:27 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 3, 2013


This week has been - and continues to be - ridiculous, politically speaking. And I feel like we went over some precipice at 12:00 on Tuesday morning, a point at which ego overcame the job of governing.

A government shutdown sounds ominous but the reality is a little different. Planes stay in the air, borders remain patrolled and as far as I can tell the NSA is still reading my blog and Facebook posts. It's not the end of the world. It's inconvenient. Living in and around DC, though, gives you a bit of a different perspective. What you realize very quickly is that the government shutdown hurts individuals, families and businesses that depend on the government.

Simply, the people this hurts most are the ones who've decided to provide their talent and skills to the government itself. And that's a shame.

What do you think? What's the problem, what's the solution, and when does that solution happen?

Posted by Chris at 7:16 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 1, 2013

Bathroom Coaching

Yesterday, I was in the bathroom at work. A couple seconds into, well, you know, I started hearing voices. This was initially very disconcerting until I discovered that they were actually quite encouraging though somewhat pressed for time.

Voices: Five! Four! Three! Two! One!
Inner Monologue: Wow, I didn't know they put a time limit on peeing around here. That's a commitment to productivity right there.

A few seconds later...

Voices: Go! That's right! You're doing great! Keep it up! That's it, you've got it.
IM: And they're so supportive. I mean, it's weird but encouraging.

Then I found out the real story. Our particular section of our office building is located directly under the building's fitness center. Workers gather throughout the day for the various classes they teach and, apparently, sound carries rather well through the gym and bathrooms. I'm sure they're all very supportive people but, frankly, I was a little relieved (ha) when I discovered it wasn't aimed at me.

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