Saturday, April 28, 2012

Where Else Can You Take Off Your Shoes – And Your Belt – In Public?

Everyone should travel for the cultural benefits and the emotional satisfaction, but we should reconsider the airport experience. Last time I went to Lambert – St. Louis International Airport, I could tell by looking that most people were making an ordeal out of it rather than enjoying it. If you look at the airport more as an amusement park, it becomes a pleasant beginning to your journey rather than a drudgery.

Like any amusement park, parking can be a challenge. So why not make a game of it? Rather than worrying about how close you can park, why not see how far away you can get? The whole rest of your trip, you can picture your car, alone, hundreds of yards from the others, on the very last row of the most distant lot, and laugh.

Shuttle buses are always fun. As soon as everyone settles in, stand and say, "I suppose you're wondering why I've asked you all here today…" That always makes people smile.

The lines at the airport are the same as your favorite amusement park, except you get to take your shoes off and strangers touch you in intimate places. It's hard to beat that. And the food is just as expensive, and tasty, as at any midway.

The big difference is that instead of riding the latest coaster, that maybe goes 60 mph, tops, and lasts 73 seconds, you get a soft recliner in a ride that tops 600 mph, miles in the air, takes hours, and still manages to bounce you around like anything Six Flags could do.

Parking photo from here, airport line photo from here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mind Long Gone, Now I’m Losing My Time

Watching a documentary of the Traveling Wilburys, at the point where Roy Orbison dies, I remember it like it was last Thursday. Then they flash the date, and it takes a minute to register. 1988.

1988. A lot of things had happened to me by the time I was listening to the Wilburys in 1988. It didn’t seem that long ago, until the math kicked in.

In 1988, the year 2000 was 12 years away. Now, it is 24 years later. That’s 43 percent of my life, and 2 years away from being half of Orbison’s life. A long time, but it doesn’t feel that long ago.

remember November 22, 1963, and the Beatles on Sullivan. I remember Neil Armstrong on the moon, the U.S. Bicentennial, and the Cardinals in the World Series, 6 years later, all a long time ago.
Elvis died ages ago, seemingly long before John Lennon (although only 3 years), but Roy Orbison dying, that doesn’t seem that long ago. Bob Dole running for President and Martha Stewart going to prison, those seem far in the past, although both happened much more recently.
Why does Roy Orbison still feel current, while John Lennon does not? Is it the 8 years between their deaths? I don’t think so. I think it’s more of what was going on with me in those days, as Kelly suggested it might be.
Personal and professional struggles unlike any I’d had before 1988 left me, well, struggling for the next few years, a portend of things to come, it turned out. So I turned to music, which I listened to constantly, especially Orbison, and my CD collection, which absorbed any extra time and spare change I had.

I decided to buy every Orbison CD, an impossible task, and watched A Black & White Night hundreds of times. Orbison’s music was a security blanket in ways that Lennon’s was not, and he has stayed more current in my mind.
Could it be that simple? Am I missing something? Or is this just something we all go through once we are people “of a certain age”?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Little Difference Between The Mall And Dante’s Inferno

Events beyond my control put me at my local mall recently, twice, and now I have a new reason to hate being there.
I haven’t enjoyed the mall since I was 12, when I got kicked out of a department store for bouncing on the beds. So I don’t visit often, despite having 7 daughters. Everything there is too snooty, and too expensive. Even with 80 percent off clearance sales, I won’t pay that much for a shirt. There are too many artificial scents, and too many artificial sales clerks. There are too many marauding bands of barely dressed 14-year-old girls, and too many barely dressed, over-tanned 50-year-old former Barbie Dolls who just don’t have a clue.
And now there are too many hawkers.

Arial view of our local mall, about as close as I care to get.

Our mall has always had kiosks scattered throughout the center aisles, each one a fresh little horror to avoid between JCPenney and Dillard’s. But now, many of these temporary, over-priced stalls are inhabited by snarling, aggressive, mean-spirited trolls who harass everyone who gets within 40 feet of them, “how dare you walk by without buying this crap I’m pushing.”
Not only are they intrusive, they are rude, and I resent it. If I wanted to be hounded like that I would go to the midway at our annual carnival, or to the local boat show, or walk around with a big bag of Ben and Jerry’s on day 15 a 3-week weight loss camp.
At the mall, I want to mind my own business, thank you.
How about you? The next time you are tempted, before going to the mall, remind yourself what it's like by playing this:

Mall map from Simon Malls, arial photo from here.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

No Joke: Laughter Makes You Healthier And More Fun At Parties

Remember the Monty Python Killer Joke skit where people actually die laughing? Laughlab is looking for the genuine article, the world’s funniest joke. They have collected and rated more than 10,000 jokes, two of which are copied here. Tell me which you prefer, or submit your own (G-rated) joke.
Joke 1
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. In the night, Holmes wakes Watson up: "Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you deduce."
Watson says, "I see millions of stars and even if a few of those have planets, it's quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life."
Holmes replied: "Watson, you idiot, somebody stole our tent."
Joke 2
Two hunters are in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing. His eyes are rolled back in his head.
The other guy whips out his phone and calls 911. "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator, in a calm soothing voice, says: "Just take it easy, sir. First, let's make sure he's dead."
There's silence, then a shot.
The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says, "Okay, now what?"

I discovered these jokes at, where there is plenty of support for laughter being the best medicine. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Uexpected Pain In Unexpected Places

Lucy’s been gone more than a month, not long enough to remove the pain, but long enough that it is more of a dull and profound ache. Unfortunately, this misery is punctured with brilliant, piercing pain every time we find things she left behind.

I’ve taken most of her things downstairs, her highchair, her old walker, most of her books, her puzzles, some of her toys, the big things that hurt to look at. There are still a few things I’ve not yet taken down, like her bike and doll stroller (with Sally sitting right where she left her), because the pain of erasing traces of her all at once is too much. So, I take things away slowly, one at a time, when no one is looking, so we don’t all give in to prolonged bouts of open weeping.

But we still find Lucy in unexpected places, and the pain is fresh.

Her favorite little ball, a gift from her Uncle Danny, was under the ottoman, discovered while vacuuming.

Her favorite big ball, under her little table.

A little pink sock was in the couch cushions, along with one of her little bells, and another sock is tucked away behind the cake stands on one of the kitchen cabinets.

Her little bean bag bear was under a blanket. There was a pretty little pink hair pretty in the bathroom, the one she could never leave in more than a minute or two.

Her spoons were still in the silverware drawer.

There’s a too-small summer sandal on the back porch and a baby book in with the DVDs.

There are hundreds of teeth marks on Libby’s old crib that don’t belong to Libby.

Puzzle pieces, a favorite old cup one of the girls used and left out, all little pieces of Lucy.
Most of the memories are sweet, so bittersweet doesn’t really fit, but there is a lot of pain when they come unexpectedly like that. We probably will not get used to it.
Yes, of course, it is better to have loved and lost, and I know she is not lost, she’s just in California, which some say is about the same. I wouldn’t trade our time with her for anything, and any pain now is worth it. We just miss her, and hope she comes home soon.
You might mention that to her mom if you see her….

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

We Are Never Going To (That) McDonald’s Again

We don’t eat at McDonald’s, except for an occasional ice cream cone or snack-sized McFlurry, no more than 5 or 6 times a week. My wife, Kelly, always asks for an unsweetened iced tea. There wasn’t a McDonald’s near us, if you can believe that, so we were happy when they built one just up the street.

The new store has been very busy, with both drive-thru lanes full most of the time. When we drive through, we always ask for “the biggest unsweet iced tea you have,”and often repeat that part to be sure they get it right. Unsweet iced tea. At the window, as they pass the tea over, I ask if it is unsweet. They always say yes, but Kelly immediately opens a straw and tastes it before we drive away. Wendy’s always gets it right, but other places often don’t, especially McDonald’s.

At this new McDonald’s, they haven’t gotten it right yet. Not once. The first time, I asked the guy at the window, “is this unsweet?” and he said “yes.” It wasn’t. When we drove back through to fix it, they were none too pleased. Two days later, the same thing happened.

The other day, Kelly called screaming, “we are never going there again, we are never going there again….” She had gotten a sweet tea. So she parked the car, went into the store, waited in line, explained her problem, and was treated badly, like it was her fault and she ought to just tough it out. What’s the big deal?

So now, as all these pictures show, we just drive by. Yesterday, at the other nearby McDonalds, as he passed the cup out, the first thing the guy says, “here’s your sweet tea.”

Perhaps the problem is that McDonald's only has Sweet Tea cups like this one, and should consider matching Unsweet Tea cups to avoid confusion.

Perhaps it would be easier if Kelly just gave up tea, or if we moved to a country where customer service still matters.

What would you do?

Monday, April 16, 2012

No Shortage Of ASL Nazis

Some people are just messed up. You want proof? Just read the comments following online newspaper articles and sports sites, or in this case, the comments following YouTube videos.

Just tonight, I came across the three new Paul McCartney videos for My Valentine, one of which features the beautiful Natalie Portman, one of which features the equally beautiful Johnny Depp, and one of which fades in and out between both.

The videos are stark and stunning in their elegant simplicity, and complement the song perfectly. Smoldering, intimate and deeply sensuous, the two actors gaze into the camera, then use American Sign Language in time with McCartney’s voice. I found the entire experience to be moving and memorable.

But the point is the comments following these excellent videos. Many are what you expect: “my favorite singer + my favorite actor + my favorite language = my favorite video ever <3” from amymarie073; “this is art” from XDPeruMan.

Others quickly degenerate into an argument about how Lennon was better that McCartney, or how McCartney isn’t what he used to be, or just a general foul-mouthed mish-mash.

What bothers me most, though, is the comments knocking the supposed errors in proper ASL, such as this one from sistecker:

While inaccurate signs and stoic facial expressions were used in this video, it's highly recommended that you get in touch with a professional Deaf organization that consists of native and certified ASL professionals.”

Or this one from darrenfrazier, who asks who provided the instruction: someone “most likely not deaf, but who knew sign language at an amateur level, perhaps a volunteering interpreter at a church, hmmm?”

Were I Mr. McCartney, I would likely be reminded of an expression I used to hear in Europe: “Up yours!” Sorry, mom, it had to be said.

What is wrong with people like this? Don’t they have better things to do, like throwing eggs at Girl Scouts? The Soup Nazi was funny, ASL Nazis are not.

My daughter, who is finishing her third year of ASL instruction, says the signing is pretty much right on in these videos, so that’s good enough for me. She also reminded me that, like all of us, deaf people have their own style, their own peculiarities, their own language shortcuts in ASL.

Interestingly enough, Portman and Depp were instructed by “native and certified ASL professionals” at The Sign Language Company, which seems like a pretty good source to me, despite the fact that they are from LA.
What do you think?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I Owe Stephen King An Apology

Stephen King On Writing is one of my favorite books, and I read it every couple of years. Half memoir, half writing “how to,” it is absorbing and delightful. I recommend it to my students and suggest that they read it every year. If you haven't, you should read it, too.

However, that is the only one of King’s many books that I’ve been able to read. I’ve tried many times to read various books by Mr. King, but kept getting bogged down after 30 or 40 pages. The stories were okay, but couldn’t hold my interest because the writing seemed too heavy handed, too brutish, like he was typing with his fists.

So, after days of consideration, it was with great reluctance that I downloaded 11/22/63: A Novel on The reviews were good, glowing, in fact, and I’ve learned to trust the opinions of Audible listeners. Plus, the book is more than 30 hours long, which the bargain hunter in me always finds attractive.

I’m only 15 hours into it, but it is a wonderful and fascinating story, based loosely – so far – on an English teacher’s obsession with Lee Harvey Oswald and the possibility of going back in time to prevent the Kennedy killing.

The writing is wonderful, masterful, vivid, compelling. The characters are rich and deep, genuine, involved, and I find myself thinking about them and their lives often throughout the day. Life in small-town and big-town 1958 up to 1962 – so far – is mesmerizing, with the constant but subtle hint of mysterious dangers to come, and the mighty reluctance of the past to be changed. I believe obdurate is the word used.
You’ll get no more details from me, only a hearty endorsement. If you have a library card, use it. If you have access to a book store, buy it. It probably has been in print long enough that it is available in used book stores. Of course, it’s available on Amazon, and on Audible. In fact, you can download it for free by clicking the link in the right column above.
If you are already a Stephen King fan, perhaps you can recommend a title I should read? Thanks.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Draw Me Something Good

Don’t tell her, but there may be something wrong with my wife. Several of us have an app called Draw Something, where we are given a word which we have to illustrate using digital finger paints. It’s a fun game, sometimes challenging, and it helps us keep in touch, however slightly, with friends and distant family.

Most of us, the normal ones among us, anyway, draw simple figures and shapes, just enough to convey the sense of what the image is. We use the color palette sparingly, again, just enough to get the point across.

And then there’s Kelly. Kelly has a background for every image. Kelly uses broad, bold strokes to make her way through the meat of the image, not just the essence, and she isn’t afraid to erase. She often trashes whole pages and starts over, and doesn’t mind taking 20 or 30 minutes getting the image just right.

What’s wrong with this woman? Sure, we can always tell what she’s drawn, which is the point, but Van Gogh himself wouldn’t put that much into it.

That’s just the way she is, though, now that I think about it, and one reason I adore her so. She uses table clothes and hand-knitted doilies. She spends nearly as much on gift wrapping as she does on gifts. Her cookies, always delicious, are exactly the same size as each other.
What’s wrong with this woman? Nothing, I say, nothing at all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The City Of Jefferson: We're Movin' On Up

I made another trip to the City of Jefferson today, our state capitol. As a parent of 8, I’ve been lucky enough to make this school trip many times, to get a bit more education and to spend a bit of time with the kiddies and their friends. Not all of the kiddies have appreciated me being there over the years, but some have.

One of my favorite parts of the capitol building tour is the Senate Lounge, which features a wall-to-wall mural by Thomas Hart Benton. I love the rich, deep colors and the liquid movements of the characters in his work. You can see more here, or read about it here.

I like the towering, heavy, light-filled empty spaces in these types of buildings, like in European cathedrals.

Something I hadn’t done yet, but have wanted to for a long time, was to climb up into the dome, far, far into the top of the building. It took our guides three sets of keys to get us up there, then we had hundreds of steep, tiny steps up and up and up, on a narrow, caged walkway. I was fascinated at the other side of the dome, the part you can’t see from the lower floors, the dusty scaffolding that holds it in place, the surprisingly small supports, the clever engineering. I tried to imagine what it would have been like, back in 1917, to be up there building that dome. It must have been dangerous, but it may have been just another day at work for those guys.

The view was fantastic, well worth the many steps and shallow breaths getting up there.

Back on the ground, I found a flower I like. The grounds around the capitol building and the Governor’s Mansion are immaculate, as expected, but they are made more pleasing with hundreds and hundreds of school children running across them.

As a school boy myself, perhaps 4th grade, I used to collect photographs of this building, and always hoped I would one day be able to see it in person. It does not disappoint, if you like history, old, old houses, fine art, and old, hardwood floors.

Me, I’m a big fan of wooden floors, one of my favorite features of our own house, and perhaps one reason why I like to play basketball.

We also were lucky enough to meet one of our state senators and a representative or two, and unlucky enough to sit in on parts of a state Senate session and a House of Representatives session. I have to tell you, I’m not impressed, but watching my elected officials “in action” wasn’t enough to spoil a lovely day.
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