Friday, November 8, 2013

"Your Nose Is Not a Toybox" (And Other Things I Can't Believe I've Actually Said)

Sometimes I'm surprised by the words that come out of my mouth. The other day, while dealing with my three year-old in the bathroom, I actually said:

"Hold still! No one wants to wipe a moving bum!"

As soon as I said it I knew it was absurd. "No one wants to wipe a moving bum." Not only is it a rare sentence (I doubt anyone has ever uttered those words in that particular order before), but it's probably a  pretty accurate sentence, too. (Although, after some of the things I saw in my Abnormal Psychology class, I can only say that with certainty about 99.99999% of the general population.)

It got me thinking about some of the things I've said that I never thought I would have ever verbalized. As a dad, I've found myself saying a lot of odd things. Things like:

"Don't sit on your brother...even though he likes it."

"The socks go on first. And then the shoes."

"Come here. Let me sniff your bum."

"Do I look like Beaker to you?" (A word of explanation. When Roni would start to get bossy, usually with her little brother, we had to explain to her that she was not actually in charge of everyone. We then told her that the one person she could boss around was her stuffed figure of Beaker from The Muppet Show. Occasionally we have to remind her that none of the rest of us are, in fact, Beaker.)

Poor Beaker! Always getting picked on. (And no, I don't look like him.) (My nose isn't orange enough.)
"Don't lick the pool water." Actually, this is something that The Wife said to one of our kids, and she  thought it was funny. It brings up a whole category of "things I can't believe I've said." The "don't lick/eat that" category. Such as when my sister-in-law had to tell her daughter:

"Don't lick the cat."

As the parent of a five year-old, I've been asked to teach the four and five year-old class at church. This has exposed me to saying many, many more absurd things along these lines. As examples:

"Don't lick your shoe."

"Don't lick your chair."

"Don't eat your shoelaces." (Instances like this make me thankful for Velcro.)

"We are not having crayons for lunch."

"Being reverent means keeping your tongue in your mouth."

"We don't eat paper."

"That note is for you to give your parents, not for you to eat."


"Please wait until after class before you eat your coloring page."

It's not just one kid, but several of the children who have the problem of trying to eat (or lick) things in class. Thankfully, my daughter isn't one of them. Instead I get to say to her things like:

"Miss Piggy will protect you from the monsters." (I told her this at three in the morning when she woke up screaming for me because she had a bad dream.)


"You can't have any more broccoli until you finish your chicken nuggets." (Roni likes her some veggies!)

And then, finally, there's this that I told my son a while back:

"Get a tissue. That booger is not a toy! And your nose is not a toybox!" (I knew a couple of guys in college to whom I should have said this.)

And now, it's your turn. If any of you, my dear readers (all seven of you) can think of absurd things you can't believe you actually said, please leave them here in the comments section, or on Facebook at the link for this story. I'm interested to hear what you have to say. Thanks!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ode To My Flip Phone

So futuristic.

So obsolete.

It started back in the early 1970s, when I would come home from school and watch episodes of Star Trek. (Yes, I know Star Trek aired in the 1960s. But, I was only two months old when the first episode aired in 1966, so my first memories of the show are from the syndicated reruns.) I was a Spock guy. Probably because I thought I was smart and logical. Besides, I was too afraid of girls to ever think of myself as Captain Kirk. (Now that I'm older and grumpier I find myself identifying more and more with "Bones" McCoy. I'm getting increasingly curmudgeonly.)

At the time our best way of communicating with the world outside our house was via the telephone that was permanently mounted on our wall. The base box was connected to the receiver by a ten-foot long pigtail cord. And, it wasn't even ours. The phone was owned by the telephone company. And it wasn't private. We had a party line. That meant we shared the phone line with the neighbors down the street. If they were using the phone, we couldn't. 

An old-style, wall-mounted rotary phone, with cord.
(Heaven forbid we ever had to call anyone from Downey with their "897" prefix.)

So, when I watched Star Trek and saw them carrying around a communicator, I was fascinated. It was so futuristic. Here was a tiny box, less than one-tenth the size of our wall-mounted box, that a person could carry around on their belt or their pocket. (No cord!) And, each person had one of their own! It wasn't shared with anyone else in the house, the neighbors, or, in the case of Star Trek, anyone else on the spaceship. 

Star Trek communicator, open and closed. (Ooo, buttons and lights!)

One of the best features of the Star Trek communicator was that with a flick of the wrist the cover would open up to reveal its innards of button and blinking lights. (Futuristic devices can never have too many blinking lights!)

As kids we used to pretend we had our own communicators. We'd use boxes, rocks, dirt clods, or our imagination, but whatever we were using as our communicator, we would flick our wrists in that special "Star Trek communicator" way to flip open the lid on our pretend device. Then we would twist an imaginary knob and talk into it.


I was a bit late to the game in getting my first cell phone. I didn't get one until 2002. At the time I had a job where I was delivering ice cream to convenience stores, and I got tired of having to carry around quarters to use pay phones whenever I needed to call in to the office. That first cell phone was pretty big and bulky, and I didn't use it very often.

It wasn't until 2006 that I got my first "flip" phone. The Wife and I had just gotten engaged, and I needed something a bit more reliable that I could use more often than my old phone.

I was very excited to get a "flip" phone. But, I was immediately disappointed when my "flip" phone wouldn't flip open when I did my old "Star Trek communicator" wrist flick. The tension of the spring on the cover was too tight to open with a simple wrist flick. I would have to pry the phone open at least half way before I could effectively wrist flick it the rest of the way. That didn't stop me from trying, though. I would wrist flick that thing open (with the help of a prying thumb) every chance I could.

A few years into our marriage, we upgraded our phones. I still had a flip phone, but now it was advanced enough that I could actually take, send and receive pictures on it! (Try doing that on your fancy communicator, Dr. McCoy!) [Doctor McCoy's response: "I'm a doctor, not a photographer!"]

I had the perfect communicating tool, right there in my pocket!

And then, I left it in my pocket and put it through the washing machine. (Oops.)

That phone died in the washing machine that day. Unfortunately, we were locked into a calling plan, so I was unable to get me a new phone to replace it. (You gotta love those calling plans!) (Or not.) I ended up getting a makeshift replacement phone. It could handle phone calls just fine, but I couldn't send or receive pictures on it.

Yes, my flip phone may be obsolete, but at least my calculator watch is still cool!

Meanwhile, as I was plugging along with my makeshift replacement phone, my "futuristic" flip phones were getting replaced by "smart" phones. Apparently, a group of non-Star Trek fans decided that it was better if the phone screen was in front of you all the time, without having to "flip" a lid open to reveal it. The longer I held on to my "flip" phone, the more out of date and obsolete my phone and I were. (And the more I enjoyed those commercials with Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader, where someone tries to steal his phone and he welcomes it. Here's a link: Take my phone.) (I laugh as hard at that commercial as The Wife laughs at the one where the farmer spells cow "C-O-W-E-I-E-I-O.")

Finally, last week, my old, obsolete, makeshift replacement phone died. And so, I've now joined the zombie horde of iPhone owners. It will take some getting used to. At this point my new "smart" phone is much smarter than I am. I still really don't know what an "app" is. And, while it will certainly be nice to take and receive pictures, and surf the interwebs on my phone, I'm still going to miss my old flip phone.

So, if you ever see me strangely flicking my wrist as I answer my phone, don't think I'm too weird. I'm just fondly remembering a time from my past when that was a futuristic gesture.

Friday, October 18, 2013

"Are You Pregnant?" (And 4 Other Questions You Should NEVER Ask)

I was at work the other day, exchanging pleasantries with a casual acquaintance/co-worker, when out of the blue she says, "So, are you having any more kids yet?"

My immediate reaction was, "That's none of your dadgum business!" But, instead I gave her about as vague of an answer as I could, "Well, I don't know."

Undaunted, she pressed the issue. "How old are your kids now?" "Five and three." "Well, you definitely need to get some more! You don't want there to be too big of a gap! You're not getting any younger! You gotta get going on that!"

I hem-hawed another general response, "Well, you never know," then looked for any excuse I could find to remove myself from the conversation, something along the lines of, "Sorry, I've got to go check and see if my shoelaces are the same length. I'll talk to you later."

This incident got me thinking about some of the questions that you just shouldn't ask people. So, I thought I'd gather up some of those questions and show why they should remain unasked.

Question: When are you going to have kids? (Or, if you already have kids, change that to: When are you going to have more kids?)
This question has been asked to almost every newly married couple, almost every engaged couple, and a large number of couples who have been on more than three dates. The answer, of course, is: "None of your dadgum business!" (If you want to replace "dadgum" with something a little stronger, please feel free to do so.)

When or if couples decide to have children is a private decision. So is how many children they have. There may be personal, economical, physical, or other factors that effect those decisions that you might not be aware of.

For example, some friends of mine moved to a different state and were promptly excoriated by their new church leader for being "selfish" and "putting their careers above family" because they had been married for over five years and didn't have any kids yet. Aside from this being absolutely none of his "dadgum" business, this idiot knew nothing about the miscarriage or the visits to the fertility clinic. (This guy was a special kind of stupid.)

(While we're here, the number of children a family has is a personal, private matter, too. You may think you are being funny or helpful, but no one wants to hear "Are you trying to repopulate the earth by yourself?" or "Are you trying for your own baseball team?" or "helpful" tips about birth control. Again: none of your business!)

Exception (When this question might be asked.): Immediate family and close friends might ask this question in a quiet, private setting, but even then it is iffy. It's probably best not to ask unless they bring the subject up.

Pregnant? Don't ask.

Question: Are you pregnant?
It's pretty simple: you should never ask this question unless you are 100% sure the answer is "Yes." And, if you are 100% sure the answer is "Yes," there is no need to ask the question, is there?

Just because someone has put on a few pounds or is a little rounder in the belly, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are pregnant. They might have eaten three pieces of pie too many, or have clothes that fit oddly.

Generally speaking, if a woman wants you to know if she is pregnant, she will let you know. Leave it at that.

Exception: If your wife just went into the restroom with a pregnancy test.

Question: Are we there yet?
This one is very easy. If you are traveling somewhere in some sort of vehicle, be it car, airplane, bus, boat, train or whatever, and the vehicle is still in motion, chances are you are not there yet.

Exception: If you wake up in a vehicle that is no longer in motion.

Question: Does this make me look fat?
If you ask this question, I have a few questions for you. Do you really want to know the truth? Are you sure you want to put the person to whom you are asking this question in a position where they might have to decide whether to hurt your feelings or tell you a lie?

Or, more simply, have you heard of a mirror? And, do you know how to use one?

Exception: If you are trying to dress up as Santa Claus.

Question: Don't you know who I am?
Oh, so you are famous. Or you are important. Or you think you are famous and/or important.

Well, guess what? If you find yourself in a situation where you are indignantly asking "Don't you know who I am?" chances are you are not as famous and/or important as you think you are. (This question is often posed by celebrities or sports stars when they get pulled over for drunk driving.)

(And, by the way, even if I do know who you are it doesn't mean you are entitled to special treatment or anything. You might just have to slum it with the rest of us schlubs.)

Exception: If you are talking to someone who has amnesia.

And, finally:
Question: When will the Vikings finally win a Super Bowl?
Oops.  That question belongs in the "Questions That Might Never Be Answered" column, not the "Questions That Should Never Be Asked" column. Sorry about that.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Day I "Failed" My Drug Test

The government wants my bodily fluids.

Okay, that's being a bit overdramatic. They don't want all of my bodily fluids. (Yet.) They just want my urine. Lots and lots of my urine. (And occasionally my breath, too.)

One of the "fun" things about being a truck driver is that the DOT (Dudes On Tricycles  Dogs On Trampolines  Desperately Obnoxious Texans  Department of Transportation) requires that I be subject to random drug tests. I guess it makes sense, because no one wants people who are on drugs or have been drinking to be driving trucks on our nation's highways and byways. (Although I, like most Americans, don't know what exactly a "byway" is.)

But, as a "clean" truck driver, I've always looked at these tests as annoyances. I've never worried about passing the tests, because I've never taken any illegal drugs, and I've never so much as even tasted a beer. (I've smelled beer, and that's enough for me. The smell of beer reminds me of shoveling rotted, moldy, mice-infested grain inside a windowless metal granary in the heat of the summer when the temperature outside the metal shed was over 95 degrees and the temperature inside was well over 100 degrees. And barf. So, just the smell of beer has been more than enough of a deterrent for me.)

How it works is that every so often (it might be once a month, it might be once in a couple of years) my employer will get a notice that my name has been drawn, and it's my turn for a random drug test.

It was worse when I used to work at the warehouse of a local, Utah-based grocery store chain. (For the sake of anonymity, we'll call it "Smith's.") This particular grocery store chain also did random drug tests on all of the employees at the warehouse. So, between "Smith's" and the DOT, I was doubled up on the random test list. I would rarely go more than two months between drug tests.

A woman would come to the warehouse with a list of names and a bunch of empty bottles. The names would be called, and the bottles would be filled. If the bottles couldn't be filled, then it was time to drink, sit and wait. I always felt bad for the woman and some of the things she had to put up with. No one was ever happy to see her. Those who knew they might not pass the test were often belligerent with her. (I was always amazed by how many employees were "caught" and fired due to the random drug tests. It would be, "Hey, I haven't seen Jasper around for a while. Where did he go?" "Oh, he got caught by a random last week.")

And, sometimes the woman would get stuck hearing things she just didn't want to hear. Like the time one of our more mentally challenged employees, after having to do the "drink, sit and wait" told her, "Ma'am, I've been waiting so long that now I have to go out of both ends!"

Not satisfied with just taking my urine, the DOT will occasionally also ask for my breath. I remember the first time I got picked to do the random breathalyzer test. I was at the warehouse, and did the test at a table in the break area where all the other employees were walking by. The sheer horror on the faces of some of those employees who thought that the company was now administering breath tests was pretty funny. I had to reassure them that it was special treat reserved only for the truck drivers.

Just trying to give the Government what it wants. (One cup full of urine at a time.)

So, last week when I got the notice that I had been the lucky one "selected" for a random drug test, I wasn't too worried. I had been through this before, many times. At my current job the procedure is that I will get a notice that I've "won the urine lottery," then I have to go in, either that day or the next day, to a nearby medical lab that specializes in administering drug tests.

So, I got my notice, finished my night at work (I was too busy to break away), and figured I'd go in the next morning on my day off.

The next day I went through my usual routine, except I made sure I didn't go to the bathroom after brushing my teeth. I got Roni off to kindergarten, loaded Buzz up in the van, grabbed a soda pop and a bottle of water to drink on the way in, and made the twenty minute drive to the lab office.

I got there, signed in, and went through the usual procedure. I emptied my pockets. (They have to make sure I'm not carrying someone else's pee in my pockets.) (Because, you know, that's something that I regularly do.) I was given a cup. I was shown the line to which I needed to fill the cup. (The government needs enough of my urine to fill two little vials.) I was then sent to the toilet room with the emphatic instruction to DO NOT FLUSH THE TOILET!

I followed the instructions and did what I was told. Everything was going fine until it was time to fill the cup. I didn't quite fill it up to the line!

What? This had never happened before! But, it was this close to being up to the line. Surely that would be enough, right? The lady poured from the cup into the two vials. Nope. Not quite enough. I had "failed" my drug test!

So, I was given a cup, the same size as the cup I had just tried to fill (but NOT the same cup!!!) and told to take it out to the drinking fountain. I needed to drink plenty of water and sit in the waiting area until the time I felt I could fill the (other) cup up past the government's need-for-pee line.

One immediate problem faced me: I had Buzz with me. So, I had to figure out how to entertain a three year-old boy in a doctor's office lobby. Buzz decided that the thing he would most like to do is jump up and down. He did this four or five times before I was barked at by the receptionist. "There is an office directly below us, and they can hear everything! I'm surprised they haven't come up here to see what's going on yet!" Great. So now I have to wrestle with an active, hyper three year-old, keeping him from jumping up and down, so the idiots working beneath a doctor office's lobby don't hear sounds from the people above them. Nice.

In between my wrestling matches with Buzz, I would take the cup they gave me (the second, non-urinated cup) to the water fountain, fill it, then quickly drain it like a shot glass. (Not that I've ever drank anything from a shot glass. Really. I've just seen it done on the movies and the television.) I would take four six-ounce "shots" of water, then go sit down and try to keep Buzz from disturbing the cellar dwellers for a few minutes, then I would get up and take four more "shots" of water. I followed this routine at least four times. (If you are counting at home, that's at least 16 "shots" of water.)

And, eventually it worked. I had to go to the bathroom again. So, I stood up and announced to the room my intentions to give it another "go." (Pun intended.) (Not funny, but intended.)

Once again I emptied my pockets. (Still no foreign urine in them.) (No domestic urine, either.) Once again I was given a cup and shown the line to which I needed to fill it.

And, once again, I came up just short of the line! I "failed" again!

Of course, if they would have just combined the urine from my first attempt with the urine from my second attempt, they would have had more than enough urine to satisfy the government overlords. But, no, that would have made sense. And been too easy. And we can't have that. (This is the government we are dealing with, after all.)

This time I was given another new cup and the instructions to "Drink some water and wait until you can go again, but don't drink more than 40 ounces." WHAT??? Umm, it's a little late for that, I'm afraid. 16 cups of water at six ounces per cup comes out to 96 ounces! (For those of you that are mathematically challenged, 96 is larger than 40.) (For those of you that are not mathematically challenged: 96 > 40.) Oops.

Besides my inability to fill the cup to the appropriate line and the fact that I drank more than two times more water than the government recommendation, I had another problem. My daughter, Roni, was at kindergarten. Kindergarten lasts half a day. And, because of my inadequacies, my attempt to give the government some of my bodily fluids was quickly becoming a more-than-half-a-day event.

I told the lab people that I needed to go home and get my daughter from kindergarten. They said that I needed to finish the test within three hours of when I had started it, but it was okay if I left and came back if it was okay with my employer. That led to a very awkward phone call from me to my boss's assistant. (I'm sure he was not expecting to have a conversation about urine when he picked up the telephone.)

So, with the approval of my work and the lab, I took Buzz and headed to the van. (Once we got out of the building, I encouraged Buzz to jump as much as he possibly could on the sidewalk.) And, of course, about ten minutes into the twenty minute drive home those 96 ounces hit me: I really had to go to the bathroom.

We made it home and waited the ten to fifteen minutes for Roni to arrive home on the bus. While we waited, I spent most of my time shuffling from one foot to another, because I really had to go to the bathroom.

I threw Roni in the van, along with some licorice and some crackers. As I attempted to make the twenty minute drive back to the lab in less than ten minutes, I was constantly stuffing food into my face to try to keep my mind off the fact that I REALLY had to go to the bathroom. 

We've all used the term "hold it" when referring to needing to go to the bathroom but waiting until the appropriate time and place. Well, by the time I got off of the freeway exit, I was literally holding it because I REALLY, REALLY needed to go to the bathroom.

And then, about a mile away from the lab, I reached the breaking point. I didn't think I was going to make it to the lab without peeing my pants. I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY needed to go to the bathroom!!! So, I pulled over to the side of the road.

Roni asked, "What are you doing, daddy?" I knew exactly what I was doing. I was going to walk around to the side of the van and go just a little bit, just enough to relieve the pressure, but not enough so I wouldn't be able to fill the darn cup. It was a perfect plan.

Until I actually got out of the van and walked around to the passenger side. I looked around at the five lanes of busy traffic. I looked at the nearby houses that had an unobstructed view of me on the passenger side of that van. I looked at the van itself, with all of those windows and with my kids staring out those windows at me. I realized the van just wasn't going to provide me very good cover to carry out my plan. (It is, after all, a mini-van.)

And so, I couldn't do it. I got back in the van and drove the rest of the way to the lab. I unbuckled the kids and herded them into the building. As I waited seemingly forever (about 30 seconds) for them to call me back, I did the two-step shuffle of my feet, not giving a damn whether or not I was making too much noise for the office crew downstairs.

And then, I went through the old routine again. I emptied my pockets. (Still no urine there!) (Luckily.) I was given the cup and shown the line. I didn't care about the line. I took that cup into the bathroom and I filled it! I filled it and I kept going. I could have filled five or six of their cups if they had wanted me to. I could have filled one of those big round orange coolers if they had wanted me to.
I did not fill this. (But I probably could have.)

And finally, it was over. Everyone was happy. The government had my bodily fluids. And I had never been so relieved in all my life.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Salt Lake Comic Con (A Running Diary)

For my birthday my in-laws got me tickets to the first annual Salt Lake Comic Con. I was giddy with anticipation for: the vendors with hard-to-find comic books and comic book merchandise; the fun of seeing people in creative and outlandish costumes; and even for seeing some of the "stars" in attendance.

So, once again I'm going to steal borrow the format from ESPN and's Bill Simmons, and give you a "Running Diary" of Day One of the Salt Lake Comic Con.

Day Before Comic Con, 4:08 PM: On their Facebook page, Salt Lake Comic Con says, "Be sure to tune in to tonight's 10:00 PM news for a major announcement of a new "Special Guest" coming this weekend!"

Now, since the Comic Con was first announced, a few changes (mostly additions) had been made to the guest list. Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker from Star Trek: The Next Generation) dropped out because of a scheduling conflict between Comic Con and Patrick Stewart's wedding. We quickly learned that Captain Kirk (William Shatner) was not invited to Captain Picard's wedding, because Shatner moved in to take the place of Frakes at Comic Con.

By the time of this "major announcement," the "Special Guests" were William Shatner, Adam West and Burt Ward (Batman and Robin from the 1960's television show), and Henry "The Fonz" Winkler. So, there was rampant speculation as to who the new "Special Guest" would be. Since the other "Special Guests" were icons of 60s and 70s television, my mind went along those lines. And my thoughts soon went to one person: Lynda Carter!
Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman! (Nice cape.)
If Lynda Carter were to attend Comic Con, my interest in the "stars" would immediately shift from "somewhat interested" to "Dang! I gotta be there!"

Day Before Comic Con, 9-ish PM: Around here there is a colloquial saying for having to get up early in the morning to go to work. It is: "Getting up at the butt-crack of dawn." Well, for my work I have to get up three butt-cracks before dawn, so I had to go to bed before the big 10:00 PM announcement.

Day of Comic Con, 2:30 AM: I can't sleep because there might be a very slight, very remote chance of meeting Lynda Carter. I shut off my alarm (which would have gone off at 2:35 AM, anyway) and hop in the shower.

2:58 AM: Get dressed, and grab my laptop to see who the big 10:00 PM announcement was.

Stan Lee!!!

Stan Lee is the most accomplished comic book writer of all time! With the help of his artists, he created Iron Man, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, The Hulk, Thor, Daredevil, The Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, and many, many more! In fact, an argument could be made that Stan Lee is the most influential writer (of any kind) of the 20th Century! 

But he's no Lynda Carter.

Stan Lee (Not Lynda Carter)
3:26 AM: Leave for work. (I told you it was three butt-cracks before dawn.)

3:54 AM through 1:57 PM: Work.

2:24 PM: Arrive home. Hop in the shower again. (Yes, I already showered in the morning. But, I figure that there will be plenty of hygienically challenged people at Comic Con. I don't intend to be one of them.)

2:51 PM: Take a "selfie" in my Comic Con "costume."
Ready for Comic Con
(It used to be called a "self-portrait," or even just "taking a picture of myself." Nowadays, apparently, it is called a "selfie.")

3:13 PM: Drop the kids off at The Wife's school. (It's one of their favorite places in the world.) (They like it much more than the junior high kids who actually attend it do.) 

4:35 PM: Arrive in Salt Lake and eventually find a parking spot.

4:42 PM: Attempting to enter the Comic Con, I find my line.
My first line of the day.

4:51 PM: While in line, I spot my first celebrity!
There's Waldo!!!
4:57 PM: Still in line, seeing more and more people in costume.
Catwoman, Bane, Li'l Robin Hood, and Wonder Woman (among others.)
5:02 PM: The line finally winds its way inside the building! I am now inside at Comic Con! Unfortunately, that doesn't mean I'm done standing in line, because inside the line looks like this:
Nerds! So many, many nerds! (And some occasional cool people, too.)
5:15 PM: While standing in line, one of the most common things overheard was people asking, "Who is that supposed to be?" about other people dressed in costume. The answers would be interesting. Some guys had to prove their know-it-all-ness by confidently stating who each costume or t-shirt was supposed to be depicting, whether they were actually correct or not.

Me? I probably knew who about half of the costumes were supposed to be. I have large gaps in my nerd knowledge. I don't know much anime, or fantasy, or video game characters. And, I'm a little shaky on comic book characters introduced after 1993.

5:32 PM: I'm finally at the front of the line! I get my entry wristband and my "swag bag." Everyone who bought the three-day pass for Comic Con was promised a "swag bag" full of "pop culture merchandise." So, what was in my "swag bag?" A Comic Con program and a small, mass-produced poster which featured a drawing of most of the "stars" who would be appearing. That was it. 

The bag was not very swaggy.

5:36 PM: Now that I'm officially inside the Comic Con, I wander around for a bit. I get up on the second floor to overlook the main Exhibit Hall.

The Exhibit Hall, where all the action is.

The Exhibit Hall is where all of the vendors are, and it's also where all of the "stars" have their photo-op and autograph lines. Unfortunately, I discover that in order to get into the Exhibit Hall, I have to stand in another line.

5:52 PM: I go to get in the Exhibit Hall line, only to find that the end of the line takes me back outside again.
Outside in line again. (Hey, look, there's Waldo again, too!)
5:59 PM: My first real celebrity sighting. As I am waiting in the Exhibit Hall line, Lou Ferrigno is whisked by on a golf cart. (He looks incredible-ish.)

6:02 PM: This was a much faster moving line. Only ten minutes! And now, I am actually in the Exhibit Hall! (Unfortunately, so are approximately 30,000 other people.)

6:04 PM: I try to work my way through the throng to see what some of the vendors have to sell. There is some cool stuff. I really liked these posters.
I thought the comic book covers blown up as posters were cool.
But, as a semi-responsible adult, I just can't really see a place in our house where I could hang a poster. (I guess I'm not a teenager anymore.)

Some of the vendors had things I wasn't interested in at all.
Sorry, not even Spider-man can talk me into wanting a pinball machine.
6:37 PM: Eventually, I worked my way to the back of the Exhibit Hall where the "stars" were. The "stars" were lined up behind tables, each with a big picture of themselves to remind the fans of who they used to be.
The guy in the white shirt below where it says "Kevin Sorbo" is actually Kevin Sorbo! (Television's Hercules.)
Of course, in order to get in one of those lines to actually meet and/or talk with the "stars," you had to be willing to pay extra for their autographs or to have a picture taken with them. The extra pay was usually between $30 and $50. (Shatner was $75.) And, I found out later that some of the "stars" would not accept credit cards. Some of them were "cash only."

Not all of the "stars" were in their booths that night. (Shatner and Stan Lee were only appearing on Saturday.) Among those who were in their booths while I was there were:
Kevin Sorbo (Television's Hercules.)
John De Lancie ("Q" from Star Trek: The Next Generation.)
Adrian Paul (Television's Highlander.)
Lou Ferrigno (Television's Incredible Hulk.)
David Prowse ("Darth Vader" from Star Wars.)
Peter Mayhew ("Chewbacca" from Star Wars.)
Ray Park ("Darth Maul" from Star Wars.)
Dwight Schultz ("Barclay" from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Also from The A-Team.)
Dirk Benedict (From the original Battlestar Galactica and The A-Team.)
Richard Hatch (From the original Battlestar Galactica.)

Also, three of the original Mighty Morphing Power Rangers were there, along with a Hobbit, a couple of women I had never heard of, and that one guy from that television show about witches that I never watched. (Brian Krause from Charmed.)

Unfortunately, one person who was scheduled to appear that I didn't see while I was there was Dean Cain (Superman/Clark from television's Lois & Clark.) The Wife really likes him, and I might have actually paid the extra to get a picture of me with Mr. Cain. But, I didn't see him. 

Surprisingly, all evening long the longest lines were to see Ray Park, who played "Darth Maul" in the fourth Star Wars movie. (You know, the one that was supposed to be the first Star Wars movie.) Some of the "stars" would drop in and out of their booths, while others were there every time I walked by. I'm not sure if that meant they were the friendliest and the best for their fans or if meant they were the ones most desperate for the extra cash from the autograph seekers. (Maybe both.)

7:09 PM: As I wander, I get to look at some pretty awesome costumes. Here are a few highlights:
It may look like a dinosaur, but it walks like a man! (A very clumsy, slow man with an obstructed line of sight, but a man nonetheless.)
And then there was this Star Wars guy:
Yes, he's on stilts. And yes, I think the Rebel Forces could probably take him down with that stroller.
More Star Wars:
Sorry it's blurry, but when a dancing, dapper Stormtrooper is walking your way, it's hard to stay focused.
And, one of my favorites:
The Invincible Iron Man! (He's shorter than I expected in real life.)

Of course, there were a lot more people in cool costumes, I just didn't take pictures of all of them. Some costumes were professional looking, others were obviously homemade. (Others still looked as if they had made by drunken frat boys with no sense of fashion.)

There was spandex. There was good use of spandex, and there was poor use of spandex. And, there was very, very questionable use of spandex. (I didn't take any pictures of the folks in spandex costumes, because I didn't want to add to the level of skeevyness.)

I was somewhat surprised by the distribution of some of the costumes. By far the most common costume  was of comic book character Deadpool. I'm not sure why. (I'm not very familiar with Deadpool. He's too "new" for me.) Meanwhile, I was surprised to see only one Wolverine the entire evening, and that was an attractive female in a spandex Wolverine costume. (No picture available, for reasons stated above.)

The most popular female costume was some variation of either Catwoman/Batgirl/Female Batman.  (Usually black tights and a mask, with or without some kind of "Bat" symbol.) There were, of course, lots of male Batmen, too. I was surprised, however, by how many Robin costumes there were. Robin? Really? Lame Robin in his red, green and yellow costume?  I don't get it.

The majority of Comic Com patrons opted for my simplistic costume idea: a t-shirt with some sort of connection to comic books or science fiction. And there's nothing wrong with that. (I saw several other people in Green Lantern shirts like mine, but I didn't see anyone else use the red-shirt-under-the-Green-Lantern-shirt look to make it more Sheldon Cooper-esque.)

7:38 PM: Thought about getting something to eat. Looked at the prices. Decided I could get something on my way home.

7:58 PM: The Exhibit Hall is supposed to close at 8:00 PM. I am on my way out when they announce that they will keep it open until 9:00 PM. I decide to leave anyway. It's been a long day. (Three butt-cracks before dawn was a long, long time ago in a land far, far away.) (You know, now that I think of it, I may have seen someone in a "three butt-cracks before dawn" costume.)

On my way back to the car I walk past a zombie. I think I know how he feels.

Friday, September 6, 2013

I Am a Nerd.

I'm a nerd.

I've known I've been a nerd for a long, long time. Oh, sure, there was that time in sixth grade when I thought I might win the "best dressed" award because I had a Star Wars shirt for every day of the week. I didn't know then. (I didn't win, either.)

I think it was in junior high when I realized I was a nerd. And I was ashamed of it. That's when I quit collecting comic books (the first time.) I was afraid that one of the "cool" kids might see me sifting through the comic book racks at the drug stores and grocery stores of Pocatello, and think that I was some kind of loser. (At the time, I thought comic books were perceived to be for littler kids, not "hip" and "with-it" junior high schoolers.)

I started back in to collecting comic books when I was a junior or senior in high school. By then I knew I was a nerd, and so did pretty much everyone else.

So, twenty-something years later when I started dating the woman who would become The Wife, I was unquestionably, no doubt about it, abso-freaking-tively a nerd. And I was fine with that.

The Wife fancied herself a nerd, too. And so, we had to ask the question: Which one of us was the bigger nerd?

She had some pretty good credentials. For one thing, she had her ham radio license. (Pretty nerdy!) To be fair, it wasn't something she had sought out. Getting her ham radio license was something that was strongly encouraged by her dad. (He has definite nerdish tendencies.) (Sorry, PopPop, but it's true.) But, even though it wasn't her idea, a ham radio license is still a ham radio license.

The Wife's other best nerd qualification is that she is a junior high school math teacher. That is very nerdish! In fact, since we've been married there have been a few times when I have caught her doing math that was not for one of the classes she is teaching or for one of the classes she is taking.

Soak that in for a second. In other words: Sometimes she does math just for the fun of it!!! (Nerd alert!!!)

She makes a strong case. But, it flounders when compared to mine.

My basic nerd credentials can be pointed out in three easy ways:

1: I wear a calculator watch!

My "nerd watch" will even do tricks. Turn it upside down and it says "hellooo!"
Many, many years ago, my sister got me a Casio calculator watch for my birthday or Christmas (I forget which.) I'm guessing this is because she loves me, and she thinks I'm a nerd. (Look at it. This is definitely something you would only give to someone you thought of as a nerd.)

I immediately liked it. It has time, calculator, alarm, and stop-watch functions! I liked it so much that when it came time to get a new watch (because the watchband broke; the watches themselves are nearly indestructible), I bought another one just like it. And, I've been doing so for the past 20 years! (Every time I have to get a new watch I'm a little surprised to find they still make the exact same model. I'm glad they do. I'd be lost without it.)

2: I have a large comic book collection. Several thousand comic books.
Captain America enjoying the view in the comic book closet.

Oh, don't worry, it's not a particularly valuable comic book collection. That's because they aren't in pristine condition. You see, I would actually read the comic books when I bought them! I didn't just bag them and board them and keep them hermetically sealed (on Funk and Wagnall's porch) so they would stay in mint (or near mint) condition. (Oops.)

C: I've been to more than one Star Trek convention. 

You can go to one Star Trek convention and say you are just going to make fun of the nerds, but if you go to more than one, you are not fooling anyone: you are a nerd.

When I was living in Idaho, my friends and I drove down to Salt Lake City to see George "Oh my!" Takei (Mr. Sulu) at a Star Trek convention. We had a good time, but I figured that it would be a "once," and that I was done with Star Trek conventions.

But then, a few years later, it was announced that William Shatner was coming to Pocatello, Idaho! If William Shatner comes to Pocatello, you have to go see him, don't you? (At least, that's what I thought. Most other people disagreed, because there weren't many people there to see The Shat. It was not a well attended Star Trek convention. On the plus side, I can say I saw William Shatner at his only ever appearance in Pocatello, 'cause I'm sure he ain't ever going back.)

That pushed me up to two Star Trek conventions, and sealed my nerd qualifications.

So, despite her best efforts, The Wife couldn't come close to stacking up against my nerd credentials. (And that's without even bringing out my trump card: I was a 40 year-old virgin.)

When the announcement came this summer that Salt Lake City was getting its first Comic Con, The Wife was unimpressed. She wondered aloud who would want to go to such a thing. Meanwhile, when I heard the announcement, I was intrigued and voiced that I might actually be interested in attending.

My in-laws were there when The Wife and I voiced these opinions, and, about a week later, I had myself a three-day pass to Comic Con as a birthday present from my in-laws! As the build-up continued to Comic Con, and as more and more guests were announced, The Wife continued to show absolutely no interest in attending. (Although her attitude changed a little bit when they announced that Dean Cain would be there.)

If you look at the evidence, it's pretty clear that The Wife and I are both nerds. We're just different kinds of nerds. I am most definitely a Comic Book Nerd. So, I'll be going to Comic Con this weekend, and I'm sure I'll be reporting about it here in the next few days. Because that's what I do.

Because I'm a nerd.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

No More Watermelons In My Shirt!

It started when I saw the man with a watermelon hidden in his shirt.

Truth be told, it wasn't hidden very well. There was, pretty obviously, a watermelon right there under his shirt. It had to be a watermelon, right? It couldn't have just been his gut. Guts aren't normally that big. Or shaped like a watermelon.

Of course, I didn't actually see  the man. I saw a picture of him. Because, (as some of you may have guessed by now) the Man With the Watermelon In His Shirt was me.

The Man With the Watermelon In His Shirt. (Even Baby Roni isn't happy about it.)

It was the summer of 2009. My daughter, Roni, was a little over one year old, and we went as a family on a camping vacation to south/central Utah. (Travel Hint #1: One year old babies generally do not like sleeping in a tent. And they tend to do their best to make sure everyone else in the tent shares the same view before the night is over.) (Travel Hint B: Though camping out in 100 degree weather near St. George, Utah may sound like fun, there is much to be said about the comforts of an air-conditioned motel room, and all of it is good.)

While visiting Bryce Canyon National Park, I thought it would be a good idea to have a picture taken of me holding Roni, with the canyon in the background. It was not a good picture. (I had this picture up on the computer screen this morning. I asked the now five year-old Roni, "What's wrong with this picture?" Without hesitation she said, "You're fat.")

It wasn't until we were home from the vacation, downloading photos from the camera to the desktop, that I saw just how horrible the picture was. (It was one of the few moments where I wish I had gotten a smaller monitor.) There he was, The Man With the Watermelon In His Shirt, in color and taking up the entire screen.

It was then that I decided I needed to do something about my weight.

Now, I didn't immediately do something about my weight. (Except keep eating.) It wasn't until later that winter that I finally started to take action. I had let myself get up to 268 pounds, which is skinny if you are an NFL offensive lineman, but pretty heavy for everyone else.

I started to play basketball, exercise, and watch what I eat. (I wrote about it at the time. See: The Slow Joe Two-Step Never-Fail Weight Loss Program.) [A quick summary if you don't want to click on the link. The two steps of the "Slow Joe Two-Step Never-Fail Weight Loss Program?" #1: Exercise, and #2: Watch what you eat.] Using this approach, I was able to lose 30 pounds over the next eight or nine months. I got down to as low as 235 pounds.

And then, I stopped losing weight. I settled in and spent the next two and a half years hovering around 240 pounds. Oh, every once in a while I'd put on five pounds. And then I'd go on a push to lose weight again and lose a few pounds. But, I generally was stuck around 240 pounds. I figured that's where I was pretty much going to be stuck at for the rest of my life.

Then, this spring, The Wife came across a weight loss program called "Feel Great In 8." It is an eight-week program developed by a woman named Tiffany Rudd. The program consists of a weekly points system based on things like calorie count, servings of fruits and vegetables eaten, and amount of water dranken dranked drinked drunkened drank drinkened drunkified taken in by means of drinking. Points were also awarded for exercise, reading, meditating, and avoiding addictions, among other things. (Here is a link to her site: Feel Great In 8.)

The Wife started the program and enjoyed it. She was losing weight and feeling healthier. I noticed that, as a family, we were eating healthier, mostly because The Wife was cooking healthier meals. The Wife finished the eight week program and was going to sign up for another eight weeks. She asked me if I wanted to try it, too.

I was hesitant. The program didn't seem very manly. I had my "Two-step-never-fail-I-don't-need-any-help-I-can-do-this-on-my-own" approach that I had always used successfully in the past. Only, it wasn't working anymore. I couldn't get over the hump.

There was one other thing about the "Feel Great In Eight" program that I found trepidatious. I did not want to count calories. I had never counted calories before, and I wasn't about to start now! I didn't want to be one of those people who looks at the label of every food and adds everything up. I didn't want to be the guy who looks at a package of donuts and says, "Nope, too many calories. I think I'll eat this celery stick instead."

I thought about it for a while, then finally decided, "What the heck." I figured if the calorie counting got to be too much of a hassle, I could always just drop out of the program.

So, in early June, I joined up for an eight-week cycle of "Feel Great In 8." It didn't take long for me to figure out this was a good thing for me. I lost about ten pounds in the first three weeks. By the time the eight week program was finished, I had lost about 20 pounds!

So, whereas I thought I was going to be stuck at 240 pounds for the rest of my life, I have now dipped under 220 pounds for the first time in over ten years! I'm actually entertaining the idea of getting under 200. (Of course, there is a difference between "entertaining the idea" and "actual reality.") I used to joke that I wanted the first number of my weight to be something other than a "2," so that meant either gaining 60 pounds or losing 40. Now, with only 20 more to lose, it's in the realm of possibility.

Yes, I am sucking in my gut. But, part of the point is that I now actually CAN suck in my gut!

But, it wasn't just the "Feel Great In 8" program. Early in June we also bought a new elliptical exercise machine. I had had one from when I was single, but it was old and wobbly, and at one point while exercising on it, a bolt popped off and flew across the room. So, it had long ago been exiled to the garage. The Wife wouldn't get on it at all. (For some reason she didn't like the idea of having to dodge flying bolts.)

So, since we were both interested in exercising, The Wife and I decided on a new elliptical machine that we could put in our bedroom. And, I've found that it's a lot easier to exercise in the bedroom than it is to move the cars out of the way and work out in the garage. (Plus, the garage is too hot in the summer.) The only problem with the bedroom is that sometimes the kids like to wander through and be spectators.

Now, I'm still not where I should be. I just looked it up, and according to one website a person of my height (6'2") should weigh 174 pounds. 174 pounds! I haven't weighed 174 since before Frankie first say "Relax." I think I crossed the 174 pound barrier during that freshman year of college, gorging on the dorm room cafeteria food. (Unlimited desserts!!!)

The website did say that while 174 was "ideal," I could also be considered "healthy" if I was in a range between 155 and 194. And, while 194 might actually be possible, if I weighed 155 pounds I would look anything but "healthy."

One of the disadvantages of losing this much weight is that my clothes don't fit me very well anymore. A couple weeks ago at work I was tugging up my pants so often that I popped a belt loop. (Lesson learned: don't pull up your pants by the belt loops.) In fact, the other day I actually took some size 32 waist jeans into the dressing room of the Walmart to try them on. Once I got them into the dressing room the size 32 jeans laughed at me and said, "Nice try, fat boy, but not even close!" Still, it was worth a try. (Why don't they make a size 33 jeans? Not everyone changes waist sizes two inches at a time!) (See: One Size Fits Sometimes.)

So, despite my macho, two-step plan, it turns out there have been several factors in helping me lose this weight. They include:

1. The Wife. Her support and her cooking have helped out considerably. (Who knew this beef-eating Idaho farm boy would like eggplant or something called "spinach pie?") (It's easier to eat healthy food when it actually tastes good!)

2. Exercise. The elliptical machine has been a blessing. I load up some songs that get me going at a good pace, and I'm off. ("One Way Ticket To Anywhere" by the Osmonds is a particularly good exercise song. Yes, I said the Osmonds. Snicker if you want, but I'll stand by my results.) Plus, I've found I'm enjoying basketball more now that I'm not carrying all that extra weight while trying to run. (Unfortunately, the weight loss hasn't helped my shooting percentage at all.)

3. "Feel Great In 8." I found that just that little bit of accountability, having to turn in my point totals every week, would help me stay on the straight and narrow.

D. Eating more fruits and vegetables. Everyone knows it's better to eat fruits and vegetables than processed/packaged/man-made foods. We just don't always act on it the way we should. (It's tough, because some of that processed/packaged/man-made stuff tastes really good!)

5. Calorie counting. Yes, the thing I dreaded most about the "Feel Great In 8" program is probably the thing that will have the most lasting impact on how I eat for the rest of my life. It was really an eye-opener for me when I actually started looking at the calorie content of different foods. I was amazed (and appalled) when I saw that one "fruit" pie (may or may not contain actual fruit) had more calories than an entire entree of Italian chicken in cream cheese sauce over noodles! I'll still have an occasional candy bar or donut, I just won't have three or five at a time. (And I'm sorry, but I don't care how much calorie counting I do, you'll still never catch me eating a piece of celery.) (Disgusting, stringy stuff.)

6. "My Fitness Pal." This is the program (or "app," as the kids today call them) that I use to keep track of my calories for the day. I'm not perfect. I still go over my calorie count one or two days a week. But this "app" helps me keep track and keep things under control (relatively.)

Of course, I'm still not skinny. I still have a gut. But, I'm not The Man With the Watermelon In His Shirt anymore. Yes, I can stick out my gut and make it look like a basketball, only now instead of a regulation sized basketball it's more like a WNBA basketball. It's not perfect, but it is progress.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Guy With Dolls

I used to play with dolls.

At least, that's what my wife thinks. I told her a story once, and ever since she'll occasionally tease me about when I used to play with dolls. (Sometimes you have to be careful what stories from your past you tell your spouse. They can come back to haunt you.) (For example, I'm sure The Wife regrets ever telling me about that time she danced in Vegas.)

Of course, I didn't actually play with dolls.

I played with action figures.

Yes, there is a difference. Barbie is a doll. Iron Man is an action figure! Ken is a doll. The Thing (from the Fantastic Four) is an action figure! The Cabbage Patch Kids? Dolls. Big Jim and his crew? Action figures!

Iron Man, ready for action!

Yes, I was a comic book nerd as a kid, and my Iron Man doll action figure and my Thing doll action figure were two of my prized possessions. (Is it ironic or coincidental that both of those dolls action figures can be seen in the collection of the lead character in the movie The 40 Year-Old Virgin? I'll let you make that call.) (And no, I did not have a doll action figure of the Six-Million Dollar Man's boss like he did in the movie.) (But I wouldn't have been opposed to it.)

Marvel Comics dolls action figures were pretty hard to find back in the day. I was on constant lookout at all the toy stores in Pocatello for any sign of them, usually to no avail. (Of course, it didn't help that at that time Pocatello didn't really have any toy stores, just a few drug stores with toy sections.) In fact, if I remember correctly, I purchased my Thing doll action figure while on a trip out east to visit family in Virginia. (From that point on I would think of the east coast as a land where every store had a full supply of every Marvel Comics toy available.) (Of course, these days you can't walk into any store anywhere without a Marvel Comics toy falling on your head. They are everywhere!)

There was such a scarcity of Marvel Comics toys in eastern Idaho that I became so desperate I decided to order some of the toys from the ads in the comic books themselves. I believe it was before my trip out east, and I wanted to have a Thing doll action figure.

Yes, this is the "Thing" that I wanted.

So, I cut out the order form from one of my comic books, and I saved up my quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Literally. Yes, I literally filled the envelope with the order form from my comic book and about seven or eight dollars worth of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. I can still remember the "THUD!!!" it made when I dropped it into the mailbox at the post office.

Then, I patiently waited my "six to eight weeks" for delivery. And I waited, and I waited, and I waited. But my order never came. Of course it never came! The envelope I sent my order off in, full of change, probably weighed about seven pounds, and had one little stamp on it.

To this day, I'm not sure of my Mom's intentions regarding my comic book order. Did she innocently let me send off my "envelope o' change," not really thinking about whether the post office would deliver it or not? Or, did she plot to let me waste my hard-earned money ("THUD!!!"), knowing that if my order never came that I wouldn't ever want to order anything else from a comic book again? (If I got my Thing doll action figure, what would I try to buy next? The hypno-x-ray glasses? The Charles Atlas bodybuilding course? The switchblade comb? I needed to be stopped!)

If it was a ploy, it worked. After counting down my six weeks, and my eight weeks, and up to 16 weeks, I finally gave up. And I never ordered anything from a comic book again. That said, I tend to believe Mom was innocent. I just can't picture her being that mean.

But, Iron Man and Thing weren't the only dolls action figures that I had. I also had a collection of "Big Jim" dolls action figures. Big Jim looked an awful lot like a Ken doll. In fact, maybe a little too much like a Ken doll, plastic hair and all.

Big Jim: similar to a Ken doll, but much manlier!

There were three big differences between Big Jim and Ken, (other than Big Jim being marketed toward boys and Ken being marketed toward girls.)

A) Big Jim had bulging biceps. Literally. If you bent Big Jim's arm, his bicep would get bigger. Each Big Jim doll action figure came with a metal band that you could place around his arm. When you bent his arm, his bulging bicep would pop the metal band, like in the picture on the box above.

2) Big Jim had "karate chop action." If you pushed a panel in Big Jim's back, his right arm would swing down forcefully, as if engaged in a karate chop.

And, 3) Big Jim had permanent plastic shorts. Whereas a Ken doll's crotchatic region was a smooth, skin-colored area of confusion, Big Jim's "stuff" was safely ensconced in permanent plastic orange shorts.

At the time, Big Jim was much more easily available for purchase than the Marvel Comics heroes, so I owned a few of them over the years.  I even at one point had the Big Jim Kung Fu Studio, which was a play area where Big Jim could break wooden boards in half with his "karate chop action." (Maybe is was "kung fu action." I don't remember for sure.)

A two-page comic book ad for Big Jim and his Kung Fu Studio.

The thing I most remember doing with Big Jim, though, was having him race down the river! My brother and I (yes, I'm outing my brother as having played with dolls action figures, too) would take a couple of Big Jim dolls action figures down to the stream that ran through the cow pasture at my Grandma and Grandpa's ranch. 

We would throw the dolls action figures into the stream and have them race each other. The stream wound its way through the cow pasture for about a quarter of a mile, and in that stretch the Big Jims would have to navigate their way through rapids, waterfalls, and whirlpools. They couldn't have swam their way through all that danger if they were mere "dolls." No, only an action figure could have made it through that treacherous course!

Of course, there was always more than just Big Jim. He had his own crew of buddies. There was Big Jack, Big Jim's African-American friend. There was Big Josh, his mountain-man, bearded friend. And, there was Big Jeff, his blonde-haired Australian friend. (I know I had a Big Jeff doll action figure. He joined Big Jim on many a race down the river.)

A few years later, Big Jim got a whole new pack of friends, called the P.A.C.K. (Professional Agents/Crime Killers!) They included "Warpath," a native American with a bow and arrow; "Dr. Steel," a bald, tattooed tough guy with a steel hand; and "The Whip," a weapons specialist who was bearded and vaguely foreign.

A comic book ad for Big Jim's P.A.C.K.

I never owned any of Big Jim's P.A.C.K., because by the time they came out, I had started to become too old to play with dolls action figures anymore. I put Big Jim, Big Jeff, Iron Man and the Thing away and didn't think of them for quite some time. 

And then, a funny thing happened. As an adult, I started to get nostalgic thinking about my old dolls action figures. And, being single (for a long, long time) with some disposable income, I disposed of some of that income on some new dolls action figures. It helped that not only were the new dolls action figures available for sale (at stores and through eBay), but they were also way cooler looking than they had been when I was a kid. Here's a quick comparison:

1970's Iron Man
Today's Iron Man

And another:

1970's Thing
Today's Thing

That said, I didn't actually play with the new dolls action figures I was collecting. I was just collecting them for the sake of collecting. (Much the same way other people collect stamps, or coins, or baseball cards.) (Or some women collect shoes.) Besides, even as "cool" looking as the new dolls action figures are, I doubt they could hold up to a trip or two down Big Jim's river race.

Now that I'm married and have kids, disposable income is more a dream than a reality. I haven't bought a doll action figure for myself for years. But, as the kids get older, I do like to make sure that they have plenty of fun toys to play with. And, if some of those toys happen to be dolls action figures, then so be it. 

So yes, I did play with dolls action figures as a kid. And now, I'll gladly play with dolls action figures with my kids. (Sometimes actual dolls, too. I often get asked by Roni to help her change dresses on her Polly Pockets. It's not easy, because my fingers are big, and those Polly Pocket dresses are tiny. And tight.) (Polly should really invest in some looser fitting clothing!) 

It was the story of Big Jim's river races that prompted The Wife to tease me about playing with dolls. It doesn't really bother me because it's true. I did play with dolls. And I turned out okay. 

(Well, relatively okay.)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Truck Drivers Say the Darndest Things

One time, at work, I came upstairs to find a truck driver waiting for his load to be unloaded and his paperwork to be processed. He looked like a cross between Napoleon Dynamite (from the movie Napoleon Dynamite) and his brother Kip (also from the movie Napoleon Dynamite) if they were 50 years old.

As he sat, he reached into his backpack (yes, a fifty year old man with a backpack!) and pulled out a Rubik's Cube. He began to twist the cube, trying to align the colors. As he did, he kept glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. It seemed to me he was trying to goad me into a conversation. He wanted me to ask him about the Rubik's Cube. He wanted me to ask about his backpack.

But, I knew better. You see, I've been around enough truck drivers to know the basic rules: 1) Never initiate conversation with a truck driver; B) Never look a truck driver directly in the eyes; and C) Whatever you do, do NOT sniff a truck driver!!!

The life of a truck driver can be a lonely, solitary existence. They can be on the road for days, weeks, and sometimes months at a time. Not all, but some of them will look for any opportunity they can get to talk to an actual person. And they will talk to (or at) you for hours and hours if you let them.

It doesn't really matter if you talk back at all. Just having an actual living being acknowledge their existence with an occasional "uh-huh" or nod of the head will be enough to keep them talking until the cows come home. (And it doesn't really matter where the cows have been.)

And, the topic of the conversation isn't important, either. They might tell you their life story. They might discuss politics. They might talk about the price of food in the vending machines. They might talk about those a*#holes at the port of entry. They might talk about the latest episode of Honey Boo Boo. It really doesn't matter as long as they are talking and someone actually seems to be listening.

The other day I came up to the office to find a truck driver had cornered one of the secretaries. As I ate my lunch I listened to him expound about a wide variety of topics, including the George Zimmerman trial. He seemed (at least in his own mind) to be an expert on the case, recounting details not known to the press, the police, the jurors, or probably even Zimmerman himself.

Then, he started into a story about himself. "These kids kept revving their engines really early in the morning. So, I went down and I was going to talk to them. I was just going to talk to them. Now, you see, when I was in the Special Forces I was trained how to kill a man with just these two fingers..." (I was tempted to turn around to see which two fingers he was talking about, but that would have put me at risk of making eye contact with him. I did not want that to happen. He was talking to Vicki, he wasn't talking to me. And I wanted to keep it that way.)(Vicki is a big girl. She can take care of herself.)

I had some work of my own to attend to, so I didn't hear the end of his story. But, I had doubts as to its veracity. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that people who actually were in Special Forces are not usually the type of people who talk and brag about how they were in Special Forces and were trained how to kill people with just two fingers. They tend to keep that kind of information to themselves.

Anyway, as Vicki finally fended off the driver with her third, "I've got to get back to this work" comment, he turned toward me. I tried my best to pretend he wasn't there. It didn't matter. He started talking to the back of my head. Eventually, the personal decency I was raised with (curse you, personal decency!) forced me to acknowledge him. I gave him a head nod and a "Yup" or two. The next thing I knew I was listening to a ten minute "conversation" about the return of Twinkies and the politics of the Hostess shutdown.

I tried to get away by walking downstairs back to my truck. He followed me. It wasn't until I had actually gotten into my truck and started to back away from him before he finally closed the conversation. (At least I think he did.)

Some of the things truck drivers say leave me totally baffled. A few weeks ago a truck driver came up to me and said, "Has anyone ever told you you look like Eric Clapton?" "No," I said. "No one ever." I then wondered if I should call the police to get this truck driver a sobriety test before letting him get out on the open road. To compare:

Eric Clapton
Me. (He plays the guitar better, too.)

Another time a guy told me, "I just spent the last three days moving. I filled up my neighbor's garbage bin. I waited until they weren't home, and I filled it up! He'll be mad at me, but he won't be able to find me, because I moved."

Now, why in the world would he tell me this story? Did he tell me because he wanted me to not like him? Because if that's the case, it worked.

The other day a driver came up to me and the conversation went like this:
Truck driver: "Do you have any funny jokes you can tell me?"
Me (not really expecting this question): "Umm, no."
Truck driver: "What do you call a seagull that flies over the bay?"
Me: Silence, trying not to make eye contact.
Truck driver: "A bay gull!"
Me: Polite chuckle; looking for any avenue of escape. (Actually considering feigning my own death.)

It's not just the guy truck drivers, either. Women truck drivers can talk your ear off, too. Women truck drivers are a special breed. They didn't get the memo that the mullet is no longer a fashionably acceptable hairdo. (A female truck driver convention would feature more mullets and flannel than a Billy Ray Cyrus concert!)

One of the funniest thing a truck driver has ever said to me was spoken by a female truck driver. I approached her because I thought she looked confused. She could see that I was trying to help her, and told me she didn't need any help, saying, "I'm not lost. She done told me where to go." (The "she" referring to one of the secretaries in the office.)

"I'm not lost. She done told me where to go." Now, if that's not the makings of a good country song title, then I don't know country music! (Actually, I don't really know country music. I'm more of a rock and pop fan. Still, even I know a good country song title when I hear one!)

So, to sum up, unless you want to hear someone babbling on for hours it's best to remember the three rules of talking to truck drivers: A) Never initiate conversation with a truck driver; 2) Never look a truck driver directly in the eyes; and 3) Whatever you do, do NOT sniff a truck driver! (That last one doesn't really need any explanation, does it?)