Friday, November 25, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving Turkey-Fueled Rant about the Dangers of Free-Market Capitalism

Ahh, thanksgiving.  It's one of those few exceptional times during the year in America where we can come together with our families and indulge in our own cultural traditions.  Some families watch football, some play football.  Some fight over who gets to break the wishbone.  Almost everyone is in a turkey coma.

There are very few real secular traditions in American culture.  And thanksgiving is probably the last remaining bastion of real tradition that we have left.  I love the holiday, and I think the only people who don't are turkey lovers.  And I don't mean "lovers of eating turkey".  I mean people who marry turkeys.  Yeah, Them.  Weirdos.

But the great American free market knows that people are enjoying themselves and seems to want a piece of it.  Because every single year, the openings of their stores encroach more and more on our celebrations.

Take, for example, Target, which opens its doors this year at midnight on Black Friday.  Yes, you read that right.  Midnight.  Toys R Us?  9pm.  NINE PM.  Most people who read this will think, "Who wants to shop at 9pm after eating an entire gaggle of bearded geese?"  And you're right.  Seriously, who wants to do this?  I really want to know.  Think about it - you have to either cut your celebration short, or start earlier, or whatever to get some sleep so that you can make your way down to your target to get a $350 40'' TV.

Simply put, that means that for people who will show up at midnight on Black Friday, shopping is more important than family.

Ok, but what about the counterargument?  Yes, we might be moving our celebrations for shopping, but it's for a good cause - buying things cheaply (especially during a recession) so that we can spread joy on Christmas.

Believe me - I get the whole, buying things cheaply deal.  But if your budget is so tight that you have to get up at midnight to go and buy $350 TVs, perhaps you should reconsider spending so much money in the first place?  You know what they say, buy one, get one half off isn't really a deal unless you planned on buying two to begin with.  Otherwise, it's just a ploy to get you to spend more money.

And spreading joy during Christmas through material possessions?  Look, I'm all for buying awesome stuff for your kids and making them happy, but why compromise one holiday for another simply for savings?  Personally, I'd rather pay a little more if it means I get to celebrate Thanksgiving normally, and without nap breaks so I can get to Target at 12 midnight.

*steps off soapbox*

But hey, the great thing about America is you're free to do whatever you want.  Just don't come crawling to me when you don't have any money because you chose to forgo American tradition for what companies WANT you to think is American tradition.

Just another reason why the free market is a bad idea.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy thanksgiving, everyone!

Biggest things I'm thankful for?  My loving and doting wife, and my healthy and beautiful child.

Enjoy yourselves everyone, and five bucks to the first one to hemorrhage internally from a turkey overdose.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Invasion of the Banichki Snatchers

Russia is a strange land.

A strange land where people don't celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December.  And think fish eggs are a delicacy.  And wear live bear cubs on their heads.

"Don't ask about the carpets". 

But a largely un-highlighted aspect of Russian culture is what I call the Native American mentality.

Probably the largest complaint that Native Americans had about the White man wasn't that we viciously killed and raped and destroyed their entire homeland with little to no regard for the original inhabitants of the land.  No.  It was that we didn't use all of the parts of the Buffalo when we killed it.

However, if, instead of Spanish and English colonists, the first settlers were Russian colonists, I think they would have gotten along a lot better.

For example, it is well documented that Russians will reuse grocery bags as trash bags.  Ok, that's not too weird.  I remember doing that too back in the day.  Also, they will wash out the "Banichki" (or small containers) that they get their pickled olives, tomatoes, watermelons, mushrooms and herring in from the grocery store.  (Yes, they WILL pickle all of those items)  They then use them as a kind of Tupperware, or a coin collector/piggy bank.  Or, in a pinch, as a little hat.  Russians are also known to save and dry out used paper towels.  While definitely classified as insane, I realize this is not unique to the Russian culture.

But probably one of the most outrageous things I've noticed that I've never seen before is when they save Styrofoam meat trays.  That's right, that yellow thing the meat comes in.  They will save and wash this and use it for a serving dish or a non-permanent cutting board.  

Meanwhile, my wife and I just spent a billion dollars on some ultra super special secret crazy Lock & Locks.  Which are like Tupperware on PCP.  Why?  I'm not sure, but I think we came up with the reason it was "for Sammy's food".  In retrospect, I think some Pickled Tomato Banichki might have been a good alternative.

Disclaimer: I am not saying that I don't understand WHY they save everything, I'm simply pointing out that it is strange from an American ultra-consumerist perspective.  I don't think I need to say it, but I will just for good measure: I understand the historically limited availability of household goods in Russia.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rubbing it in

I just wanted you all to know.

At the time of this writing, says that Philadelphia will be 51 degrees and raining.

"And I still have to drive through Philly Traffic!"

And while it's a short week, and everyone's excited for the wonderful turkey explosion that will likely occur in your oven, you can't help the fact that it's cold.  And rainy.  And because of the cold, your joints are probably hurting.  Also, it's flu season, so you could very well be getting sick.  Oh, and don't forget all those presents you'll have to buy all your friends and family, draining your budget for people you love, yes, but don't lie.  There's probably some people on your list that you can't stand. 

There's an NBA lockout, so you can't watch basketball.  And there's nothing good on TV because it's Thanksgiving week and Jon Stewart and the entire cast of Parenthood/Modern Family took the week off. 

Nothing to do but sulk.

And think about how Bill and his entire family are here:

This reminds me of Wayne's World and the Star Trek Theme Song
trying to get some landing gear action while sipping a motha-fuckin' daiquiri. 

Sorry, everyone - I'm a little excited.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lessons in Fatherhood Passed Down

There are a few times in my life when I remember my dad being an AWESOME dad.  One was when he bought an entire comic store's worth of Magic: the Gathering cards and would periodically shower us with new packs randomly.  That's not to say that I played or still play Magic: the Gathering.  No, I'm way too cool for that. 

Another time was when he stood up to my principal in high school when I said some really, really, deplorably embarrassing stuff.  He saved my ass from some seriously bad punishment, and I actually never expected how vigilantly he defended me.  His usual response was, "you got in trouble, you deserve your punishment".

But this whole Penn State disaster made me start thinking about the other major time when I remember my dad being a great dad. 

I was in 6th grade, and my dad was stationed in Italy for two years.  I went to a school that was on the military base there, and every military base has an intricate system of teachers that are all sort of shifted around between all military bases.  Going to school in a military school is very, very interesting.  You'd be best friends with a whole group of awesome kids, and the next month, you're totally alone, because all those kid's parents would move away to their next deployment. 

Growing up like this is tough for kids.  Especially overseas, where there's such a shallow pool of friends or support, and their parents are usually caught up in whatever job they're doing for the military.  So the kids are usually pretty misbehaved. 

So teachers there are all pretty haggard, what with the constant changes in their classrooms, and overall troublesome kids. 

My science teacher in 6th grade was Mr. Science (definitely not his name).  I remember him being a total geek, and I constantly made fun of him, but in a 6th grade sort of way - nothing mean or malicious.  I would be rebellious because he was teaching us stuff I already knew, like why temperature changed throughout the year.  Or how plants grew.  And even though I was rebellious, I could tell I was his favorite student.

I could tell this especially when we were in a computer room, and he was teaching us the basics of computers.  I had already pretty much mastered MS-DOS, so I was acting up again.  He came behind me while I was on the computer and put his hands on my shoulders in a really weird way, which made me shudder, and try and wriggle free.  Then he said, "Why won't you ever let me touch you?" and I don't remember what I said, but I remember being freaked out.  I don't remember if he touched me before, but I'm pretty sure he did.  In any case, this was DEFINITELY a touch with a creep factor of 10. 

I told my dad about it, and he basically went into his room with a missile launcher and blew the guys head off.  Mr. Science was fired almost instantaneously because of the firestorm my dad caused.  I think he even got the Commanding Officer of the base (the military equivalent of the Mayor) involved. 

I don't remember many instances of him defending us from the outside world, or many instances at all where I'd say my dad set a good example in any remote way, but I'm glad that there were these two situations. 

Especially now that I'm raising my own kid in a world with grimy assholes like Sandusky.  And now, apparently, Bernie Fine.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Post Involving Star Wars References and Vodka - Win

In the near or distant past or future we may or may not be going on a business or pleasure trip to a land either very far away or extremely close (problem, potential house robbers?).

And, oh my god, let me tell you how awful it is to pack for said trip.  Ready?  Commence whining.

You never realize how much stuff you need for a child until you're trying to pack it into one suitcase.  We've been packing for 3 days (or rather, we had been packing or will be packing) prior to our departure.  And just for feeding the little Sarlacc we've spawned, we're probably using up a good 900 pounds of our 50 pound per suitcase limit (by the way, thanks for that awesome aspect of flying, airline industry).  And because he constantly throws up on himself, or pees everywhere, or has explosive, projectile poop making for a deadly gauntlet of fecal matter, we need to bring 7000 changes of clothes for him, just for the week (or day, or three months - insert anti-Joe Pesci vagueness here) that we're going to be gone.  We mitigated the feeding issue a little bit through the purchase of a Magic Bullet, vigorously endorsed by our insane nanny (who, by the way, apparently has been enlisted to act as a cosmic counterbalance to all people who do not like talking).  However, I'm not entirely convinced TSA won't think this is some kind of terrorist item and force us to part with what our nanny has dubbed "the manifestation of freedom in America". 

We pre-checked in for the flight, and dropped $100 just for the luggage (without it even being weighed).  I'm still having trouble sitting down from the experience.  I'm excited for that moment in the airport where we're hastily rearranging our underwear to get under that ridiculous 50 pound limit.

But, to be honest, I'm slightly excited, because I've been given a mission: figure out a way to pour out the water from a water bottle and fill it back up with vodka without opening the top.  Why?  Two reasons.  First, I don't know if you knew this, but I'll be traveling with Russians.  They like vodka, and they don't like paying $10 a shot for it.  And when I say "They", I really mean "I".  And reason #2?  It's like I'm an awesome 1920's gangster, trying to smuggle alcohol.  It's a ridiculously cool feeling.  I just want to see if I can do it.

I figured out a few possibilities: remove the label, cut a tiny hole underneath where the label was, pour in the vodka through a paper funnel, put clear duct tape over the hole, and replace the label.  This only works half way, and looks like crap.  Or, poke a tiny hole in the cap and do essentially the same thing.  This works slightly better, but the problem could be if the rent-a-cops at the entrance decide to investigate even remotely, it's easy to see that hole, and the smell of vodka is pretty potent.

The last resort, I think, would be to wear loose sweatpants and stuff water bottles into socks underneath the sweatpants.  They just ask you to remove items from your pockets, not to take off all your clothes.

I'll let you know how that goes (or went).  But in the meantime, Enjoy your Thanksgiving!  I've scheduled a few filler posts to provide your daily dose of Borscht during the time we may or may not be gone or here. 

Until then!  or'll never know!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sammy Learns Some Physics

Guys!  GUYS, I gotta tell you something. 

So last night, I was out for a walk with Sammy.  You know, that kid I've got.  This one:

"Happy Birthday...Mr. President"

And we're walking in the dark because WTF, Earth, it gets dark at 5pm.  So I'm blabbering to him about the cars and the streetlights, and he's basically just playing with his hands or making Goo goo sounds. 

Then, all of a sudden, a helicopter flies overhead, and I say to him, "Sammy, look at the helicopter!" and he looks skyward to see the lights of the helicopter pass over the trees and stares at it for a couple seconds as it flies past. 

We both sit there for a bit while the sounds of the helicopter die out and in those few seconds, I'm realizing I'm having my first "moment" with my kid, where he's listening to me, and it seems like he's REALLY understanding what I'm telling him. 

This is important because he usually pretends like he DOESN'T understand.  Like when he's in his walker and doesn't understand "no" when you tell him he can't put his hands inside the trashcan or open up the drawers, or tip over plants.  If you tell him it's time for bed, he sort of looks at you and thinks you're saying "Hey, time to play!"  If you tell him he needs to be careful standing because he doesn't know how to walk yet, he thinks you're saying "let's see if you can run across the room!"

So I took advantage of that moment after the helicopter passed when he was listening to me to describe to him the detailed physics of how helicopters can stay in the air.

Surprisingly, this is not it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Apocalyptic Dreams

Ever since I can remember, I've dreamed of of wandering off into the woods with only a knife and my wits and figuring out if I can survive.  Kind of like Robinson Crusoe, but on purpose.  And without an anthropomorphic volleyball.

But now that I've got a wife and kids, that dream of awesomeness has been kind of hampered by this whole...silly having a family thing.

But it does bring to life another aspect of that same Neanderthal-ian gene.  Take, for example, this report I recently read that the IEA put out which says that the world will end in a fiery blaze of hell, complete with skyscraper tsunamis, devastating hurricanes, paralyzing droughts and flash floods that mysteriously appear without any rain at all. 

Because of this report, I've been having nightmares about these sorts of things.  Terrible apocalyptic situations where neighbors turn against each other a la Busta Rhymes' Extinction Level Event Intro.  Just last night I had one about a horrible hurricane that leveled all of Philadelphia, leaving everyone in its wake dead, and those who were trying to get out on the terribly constructed roads got stuck and ended up killing each other for supplies.  Might make the mayor think about investing in some infrastructure, yeah?

So, with that, I've decided on a plan.  Well, it's not really a plan yet, but it's a plan to MAKE a plan.  I'm researching and making a list of proper things to fit in a bug out bag.  Item I'm most excited about getting in the mail?  The KA-BAR.  Item I'm least excited about?  The field medical stapler.

But I think there's a little bit of a difference in that purposeful jaunt into the woods to prove my own manhood to myself and these apocalyptic visions I've been having.  Obviously, there's the whole...everyone's dead sort of thing.  But there's also the possibility that in a real disaster event when people revert to animal-form and start hoarding resources and raiding each other for water, you're going to be forced to defend yourself and your family.

Now, I've never been in a fight.  Not a real one, I mean.  Of course, I've wrestled around with my buddies and my brother, but I've never been in a fight born out of anger and desperation.  And while I'm super excited about wielding a giant knife like Steven Seagal, I'm worried that I wouldn't be able to "take the necessary steps to protect my family".  I put that in quotes because I didn't want to say "kill someone".  I think I'm just excited about wielding a giant knife because I grew up on Steven Seagal, Arnold, and Jackie Chan.  But if the chips were down, I don't know that I could shoot someone in the face.

I asked my wife last night if she thought she could, thinking that coming from a different culture and being female might make a difference.  She told me that if she were faced with an intruder who was going to hurt her or Sammy, she'd shoot, no problem.

But then she said, "I wouldn't want to hit him in the face though, because that'd be a mess I wouldn't want to clean up.  I'd just fire wildly around him."

I imagine I'd be able to shoot someone in the leg or arm or something, but that's not a guarantee that you're going to stop someone who wants your last scraps of food from taking them.  While I'm writing this, I'm going back to that scene from American History X where Edward Norton curb-stomps that guy for breaking into his house.

Talk about anger and desperation

Walking off into the woods for a month with just a knife, I'd probably be able to survive off berries and the occasional squirrel (though I would HATE to clean and gut an animal).  But given an apocalyptic situation?  I guess I've gotta get used to the idea that I'm gonna have to cut a bitch.  But then there's the fear that what if I'm OK with it?  What if I blow off some guy's jaw and take his food, and then I'm just like, "sweet, who's next?"  And then I start this massive warlord scheme where I'm like Tony Montana or Eko from Lost killing people without even thinking twice.

See?  I worry about these things.  What about you?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

My paternal grandfather was a pilot in WW2.  My father was a Navy ship doc in the Persian Gulf and spent 27 years in the service.  My mom was an enlisted nurse.  My brother is in Alaska with the Coast Guard jumping out of helicopters every day to ensure safety in treacherous waters.  He also did a tour in the Caribbean stopping migrants and drug runners from hitting our shores.  I've been around the military my entire life. 

So when I got my Air Force ROTC scholarship to be an aerospace engineer designing sweet airplanes like the F-22, I guess you could say it was pretty much my destiny. 

Unless, of course, you take into consideration that I am too stubborn to listen to authority and hate following orders, especially if everyone else is following them.

But that's besides the point.  It's Veteran's Day.  Which makes me reflect on my 26 years of living in almost constant contact with military families and the problems that these people face.  You know what's great?  That 9 out of 10 veterans will be thanked for their service today. 

You know what's not great?  That the unemployment rate for veterans is 12.1%.  And when you break that down further, it's 30% for veterans 18-24 years old.  Compare this to the 19% unemployment for recent college grads.  But let's be fair here - a good number of those college grads SHOULDN'T be employed because they majored in leisure or woman's studies. Just hypothesizing and rounding, let's say that there is even 15% of recent college grads who don't have a job but majored in something useful.

You also have to consider that there are some college grads who just went to school because their parents made them, and are now on their parents' couch working at Urban Outfitters.  And college grads who can afford to be picky about their career path because they're still on their parents' health insurance and want to wait out the recession until that dream career comes knocking on their door. 

But every single veteran who comes back from a tour of duty has done a service for their country that relatively few have the balls to do.  Sure, some enter in for different reasons.  Hell, I wanted someone to pay for my school, so I signed up for ROTC.  Then when things hit the fan, I dropped out and tried to enlist because they were waving a $20k signing bonus in my face.  And to a 19 year old kid, $20k is a LOT of money.  Actually, I don't know many people that would say it's not a lot of money.  Except, maybe, me from the future.  That's right, we talk.

Sorry, got on a tangent there.  What I'm trying to say is that despite anyone's reasons for getting in the military, they all sacrifice something.  And they come back to 30% unemployment after a year long tour in the asshole of Hell - Afghanistan.  Or it's close neighbor the dirty taint of hell - Iraq.  We kids who went to college? What did we sacrifice?  I mean, besides a couple million brain cells from getting drunk and falling down the stairs. 

I'm not saying that we should feel guilty for not serving in the military, or that there should be mandatory service (though it seems like a good idea, although I haven't thought it through entirely).  I'm just saying that for God's sake - we've gotta do more than just thank these folks.  If that's all we're doing, we're just giving them lip service.  Which, hey, it's been a long time for some of them - they might need that (sorry - dirty joke). 

But Christ, in 2011, there were about 11k troops just from Iraq and Afghanistan that were homeless.  That's not counting veterans from before these wars or from other theaters of operation.  Going off of the roughly 130k troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, that's an 8.5% chance that you'll be homeless once you come back from war.  WTF. 

So yes, absolutely.  Thank a vet today.  And every day for that matter.  But please.  They need more than thanks.  They need good, paying jobs.  And for christ's sake - if they're responsible and reliable enough to handle a gun that looks like this:

without killing themselves or others (except for the bad guys) all while coordinating with their platoons to effectively clear buildings and neighborhoods while minimizing casualties, I think they'll be responsible and reliable enough to hand in their TPS reports on time.

So Happy Veteran's day.  And if you've served our country in any way, thank you.  The second I own my own business, I'll staff it entirely with veterans.  Should make for an interesting company picnic.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kinect the Dots

If you are a genius, and can design Microsoft Kinect hacks, please let me know because I have a business idea that could make us millions.

Check out these incredible, yet un-exploitable ideas other geniuses have come up with.  I don't know any of them, which is why I have yet to make a quadrillion dollars.

And yes, you might think that having a machine constantly and relentlessly track the position of your nipples would be entirely useless, but it's the basis for my entire get rich plan.

So please, computer programmers of the world, get in touch with me.  You, or your nipples, won't regret it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

This is Not an Exaggeration

Wife: We need to get you new shoes.

Me: What do you mean?  I have three pairs of shoes.  Walking shoes, sandals, and dress shoes.  Why do we need anymore shoes?  There are so many shoes by the door that we could go back in time and outfit the entire rebel army with footwear so fresh that we might be able to change the outcome of the Civil War! 

Wife: Your walking shoes have giant gaping holes in them, no one wears sandals in November, and your dress shoes are brown, and all your dressy clothes are black and those two colors don't go together.

Me: They're walking shoes.  The holes in them are for ventilation.  This is what allows my feet to breathe.  And you've never met people from beach or desert areas then.  They'll wear sandals in February.  And it's not like there's a law against black and brown being worn together.  I mean, I imagine black and brown bears are best friends, terrorizing the forest creatures together hand in hand!

Wife: Stop being ridiculous, we're getting you new shoes, and that's all there is to it!

Me:  I think you're manifesting this argument so that you can say you try and get me nice things all the time so you can use that against me when I tell you that YOU don't need anymore shoes. 

Wife:  What are you talking about?  We just bought me shoes, like, a week ago!

Me: Right, but you've now realized that we didn't get you ENOUGH shoes, and you're trying to be extra liberal with your shoe distribution and rationing in the hopes that I'LL be extra liberal with MY shoe distribution and rationing.

Wife: We should really get you to a hospital.

Me: Don't change the subject! I know how these things work!  It's like how I tell you to eat the last piece of meat when I KNOW you're full just so I can seem magnanimous, only to have you turn around and say, no, please have it, I couldn't eat anymore! It's a brilliant plan!

Wife: No one's accusing you of having brilliant plans.

Me: I know, and I'm frustrated about it!  Tell me I have brilliant plans!

Wife: Ok, you're brilliant.  Possibly the most brilliant man to walk the planet.  People should write songs about your brilliance.

Me:  Thank you, I know.  Now...what were we talking about?

Wife: (slyly) You had just suggested that we get takeout for dinner.

Me: Hmm, I don't remember that, but you see how brilliant my ideas are?  I'll order.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Origins of our Culture - Part 1

American culture bothers me.  Or, because it's important to be specific, suburban white upper middle class American culture bothers me. 

I went to first and second grade in San Diego public schools.  Then I was homeschooled, and then brought to Italy as a Navy brat.  The next time I was in a domestic American school was 7th grade.  But that was deep in the Pennsylvanian Poconos, which, arguably, isn't real American culture.  Appalachia is its own culture all unto itself.

In 8th grade, my parents were in a better spot financially, so they enrolled me in a swanky private school in rural Virginia.  By that time, I had spent 6 years almost entirely removed from any real exposure to what it meant to be a suburban upper middle class white kid. 

Apparently, it has a lot to do with smoking pot in your friend's parents' BMW.

But that's besides the point.  Becoming exposed to American culture as a 13 year old is like that first time you get to drink alcohol - you're so excited about the idea of drinking, but when you finally get to know what gin or whiskey or vodka actually tastes like, you're is stupid, how can anybody drink this stuff?  But then, after you have a couple shots, you start to feel much better about the whole situation, and somehow, football starts to make sense.

I never got past the first couple shots.  Football still seems to be incredibly stupid. Same goes for all sports, really.  Barbecued pulled pork.  Disneyland.  Turkey Trots.  Chuck E. Cheese.  The electric slide.  Apple pie.  White kids playing gangster rap.  Jimmy Buffet and Fat middle aged men in Hawaiian shirts.  And while we're on songs typically played by dirty dueling pianos after midnight on Caribbean cruises, that song "The Piano Man". 

It all just tastes like rubbing alcohol, burning the entire way down.  But I think it's mostly because white suburban culture (not unlike most other American sub-cultures) is born out of consumerism and gluttony, and unless you've been born and raised in this culture, you don't really get a chance to see just how well American schools teach their marketing majors. 

So as you could imagine, I struggled to make friends in high school and college, tending to avoid the overwhelming sea of guys trying to out-BBQ or out-Football each other while blasting either "Cheeseburger in Paradise" or "Gangster's Paradise" over the radio.

This is why, I think, I became so attracted to Russian culture - it seemed a lot less threatening.  When introduced to things, I was SUPPOSED to not know anything about them.  I enjoyed so much how we could sit around the dinner table on a Tuesday night until eleven BS-ing and having tea without ever retiring to the living room to plop down on the couch and waste away the night reluctantly watching Survivor.  Or on the weekends, we would march down the streets of Washington D.C., Philly or State College, or any place that could serve as a backdrop for walking hand in hand mulling over our wants and dreams, our future and our past, as walking aimlessly isn't a huge part of American culture. Or how we could go to the Russian Sauna and spend eight hours drinking and laughing with our half naked friends where nobody cares what you look like in a bathing suit.  Or how we might start eating New Year's dinner at 11:30pm and won't finish until six or seven in the morning surrounded by the closest friends and family playing guitar and singing and dancing around like idiots, thanking the past year for all its great moments, and asking the new year to bring on nothing but happiness. 

A lot of this might be because I was unlucky with my own family - my father was too focused on his career and never around to show me how fun watching football with the guys or going to Chuck E. Cheese's could be - and very lucky in finding a woman with such a great and rich culture.  But I also think a lot of it also has to do with the fact that American culture, at its very foundation, is mostly concerned with getting you to buy something you don't want, and until ten minutes ago, you've probably never heard of. 

And this has gotten me thinking a lot about my own origins - largely Irish and Scottish, with a good helping of German lumped in there - and how almost entirely absent those cultural traditions were from my childhood.  Something I'll save for another time

Monday, November 7, 2011

Christmas Gift Ideas for the Awesome

I just looked at the calendar.  In case you weren't aware,


And you know how after Thanksgiving, it seems like Christmas jumps up almost immediately on your face and gives you a surprise dry humping?  Especially because once you have all that turkey, you feel all sleepy and you have to hibernate for the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend?  It's like a tinsel-laden, anima-tronic, wrapping paper ambush to the groin.

So, because I'm such a nice guy, I want to do you a favor.  I have been working tirelessly to gather up a list of the most amazing gifts to get for any dude in your life (including/especially me). 

And if you've been reading this blog long enough, you will have already guessed my first gift recommendation.

It's the absolutely frightening-looking, large enough to put in the back of a pickup and fight the Libyan Loyalists, Nerf Vulcan Cannon.

Making a war face: you're doing it wrong.
Seriously, any guy who gets one of these will be like warm butter in your hands.  If you like that sort of thing.  Sounds drippy and gross smelling to me.  Better that it would be warm butter in a proper dish for serving melted butter like a small bowl.  Can you imagine how bad your hands will smell the rest of the day?  Ok, moving on.

The second thing you're probably expecting me to promote?  Nunchucks.

no caption needed.

Or any sweet ninja weapon for that matter.  A Sai, a Bo, Katana blades...well, that's all I know about ninja weapons.  Thanks TMNT.  Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any damage the recipient of this gift causes inside your house, or to his own body.  This is mainly the reason I have not purchased nunchucks for myself yet: I plan on having more children.  ALTERNATIVE VASECTOMY METHOD FTW.

Third suggestion?  A sledgehammer.

Trust me, that's a happy-dude face, thanks to his sledgehammer
Like nunchucks, I use a sledgehammer to serve as a proxy for awesome man tools like hatchets, butcher knives, axes, post-hole diggers, brick chisels and camouflage snuggies

Next up?  Earth: the series.

95% of the proceeds go to the marketing people for the amazing and original title
One time, I was at the dentist and they had this playing on their HD TV in the waiting room.  It was at the part of the series when they were interviewing some rabbits or something about how much they like to rustle around in the scrub brush, and I was so absolutely amazed and entranced with these stupid rabbits that I never wanted to leave that dentist's office even with all of the drilling and screaming that was going on in the back of the office.  When I came out from the back, after having the dentist confirm that my teeth were the most amazing teeth he's ever seen, I stuck around and watch the part about the manatees.

And the final suggestion that I have for people looking to buy their husbands, boyfriends, sons, and really, really cool girl family members something really super awesome is this: the Orion SkyQuest XX14i Dobsonian Telescope.
99 problems and a Zenithal Hole is one.

Lightweight, portable, and it even comes with a stool, a blanket and a few hand to hand weapons so that when you're sitting out in the middle of a field at midnight totally alone (don't kid yourself - if you're buying this, you're totally alone), you'll have some way to defend yourself against the freezing cold and bears.  I remember those great father/son moments my dad and I had when we would go out in the back with our telescope, try and track down the red supergiant Betelgeuse with a telescope that didn't have equatorial tracking, and be utterly silent for hours on end (talking disturbs the majesty of the universe, and walking around disturbs the alignment of the telescope's mirrors) while we both froze nearly to death.  Family friendly, AND teaches you about both the stars and natural selection!

So there you have it folks, five of the greatest gifts you can get me...I mean, your significant other or child to make this Christmas (or New Years for you Russians) the best they've had yet.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Deep Thoughts for a Friday

I've been thinking a lot recently.  So for this post, I plan on not thinking anything through at all.

So prepare thyself.

When I get rich and famous, I want to purchase a sports car that is capable of going three hundred miles an hour, but drive it always at 10 miles under the speed limit.  I also want to put in the back window a picture of a horse-butt, and on the side windows, a picture of horse-sides, so people will think there's a horse inside the car.

Why are picture frames rectangular?  Especially when camera lenses are typically circular?  Do you think it's because the rectangle was the conventional shape of printed material since the dawn of man?  Or was it because lobbyists for and supporters of circular paper couldn't get anyone on their.....side...?

If we could fly, would dogs still be man's best friend?  Perhaps we would choose something more agile, like a hawk.  Would seagulls then be like those yippy Jack Russells?  What would a crow be? In the same vein, do you think there's any similarity between the fact that dogs are canines, and the police have K-9 divisions?

Why isn't the giant slingshot a more acceptable form of transportation?  And don't say because it's dangerous, because goddamn it, we all need a little more danger in our lives.  Is there a worldwide shortage of rubber? If so, we can divert resources from the condom factories.  Why?  Like I said...we need more danger.

Why do we need to drink water if we produce saliva?  One time, when I was a lifeguard, I tried to collect all the saliva I produced during one shift.  As expected, it quickly became disgusting.

Is it even remotely possible that English and Australian people are faking their accents because they simply don't want to admit that America is awesome?  Does that even make sense?  No?  Well then, boomerang.

Why haven't we tamed deer?  It seems like they'd make pretty awesome steeds.  Or just simply pack animals.  Or even domestic pets.  You could use them to dry your laundry.

If the globe is warming, and people in the tropics cannot survive the deadly heat, they will likely migrate north.  If they do this, then the increased population density will cause temperatures in those regions to go up. After all, when you watch alpine climbing movies, everyone huddles together for warmth.  My solution?  Giant refrigerators.  Stuff people in refrigerators to bring down their body temperature.  To zero.

Ok, I'm turning my brain back on now. I refuse to go back and re-read what I've written because it's likely 90% gobble-dee-gook.  So enjoy, and happy Friday.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sammy's Bedtime Story Last Night, or I Need to Drop Out of my MBA

"Once upon a time, there was a King in a far away land named Sammy.  He was a smart and powerful king who ruled over a little village that was plagued by the presence of a giant and hungry dragon.

"Every day, the dragon would come down from his dragon cave and eat 15 of the villagers.  This was very concerning to the villagers because there was a limited and dwindling number of villagers.  So they asked their king to figure out something to do about the dragon.

"First, King Sammy thought that he could appease the dragon.  So he sent 30 villagers up the hill as a sacrifice.  The dragon seemed very happy to eat them, but came down the next day to gather up 15 more.

"Then King Sammy thought that perhaps the Dragon could be reasoned with.  So he sent 40 of his top diplomats to the cave to plead with the dragon to stop eating the villagers.  But the dragon promptly ate them and the next day came back for more.

"Then King Sammy thought that perhaps the cave could be walled up and the dragon sealed inside.  So he sent 50 of his best engineers to construct an enclosure around the cave.  But before they could lay a sufficient foundation, the dragon ate all the engineers and the next day came back for more.

"Then King Sammy thought that perhaps he could storm the cave and kill the dragon.  So he sent 100 of his strongest warriors to attack the dragon.  But when they entered the cave, the dragon crushed them all and ate what was left of them, and the next day came back for more.

"Then King Sammy was fed up.  He hadn't been able to come to a solution to the problem through any logical means, and the dragon had almost eaten all his villagers.  He asked the remaining farmers how many cows they had and found out that they could spare about 15 cows per day on a renewable basis, especially with the reduced population.  So he went up to the cave himself, thinking the energy the dragon would use to eat one person wouldn't equal the calories gained by eating said person.  He asked the dragon, 'What if we were to provide you with 5 cows per day?  Would you be satisfied and not eat any more of our villagers?'

"The dragon responded, '5 cows?  You must be joking!'

"And the brilliant King Sammy answered, 'Certainly not, especially considering you eat 15 people a day, and the average cow is approximately worth three people in body weight'.

"'I'll take no less than 10 cows per day'.

"And the shrewd King Sammy found that to be ridiculous, saying, 'You'll get no more than 8 - this gives you an extra 9 people's worth of meat per day, increasing your daily meat intake by more than 50%'.

"The dragon thought for a minute and finally agreed to the terms of the agreement.  No more villagers were lost to the dragon, the deal was settled for less than budgeted by the farmers, and the dragon got to eat (in essence) 9 more people per day.  And everyone lived happily ever after.

"The End."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to Drink Like a Russian

The majority of Russians enjoy drinking.  It's a fact known around the world.  But there is a very, very specific set of rules and regulations in the Russian drinking tradition, and in the name of science and cultural awareness I've endured countless torturous dinners being force fed pig butt and vodka to report the following to you.  And so, I give you, How to drink like a Russian.

#1 - Beer is not Alcohol.  In a 12 oz. beer there is (on average) 5% alcohol, or 0.6 oz. of alcohol.  In a 1 oz. shot of vodka, there is 40%, or 0.4 oz. of alcohol.  This doesn't matter.  Russians don't believe you can not get drunk off of beer. I kid you not - if you have two shots of vodka with dinner, they will not let you drive home. but four beers?  Let's put him in charge of the unbuckled infant car pool bus to Disneyland. 

They'll protect, but only if the bartender's serving

#2 - The higher the % alcohol, the more adventurous.  Similar to Americans and beer, Russians enjoy discovering vodkas that have very high alcohol percentage.  "Vasya and Petya brewed samagon and it came out 90%.  Can you imagine? 90%.  Zis must be wut warm summer day feel like."  Yes, warm summer day with acid.  All over your body.  Because samagon is like moonshine, only moonshine mixed with what I can only imagine is liquid Schwartz. 

Liquid Schwartz: Jet fuel? Or alcohol strong enough to melt your face off?  You decide

#3 - Only alcoholics drink alone.  This doesn't only apply to people drinking in their closets listening to emo music and putting on eyeliner.  When taking shots, you cannot drink without someone else drinking simultaneously.  It's considered rude and entirely in bad form.

The only thing wrong with this is picture is that they're not drinking in unison

#4 - In continuation of #3, There must ALWAYS be something to toast to.  There is a strict order of toasts that are given at every meeting of friends.  You must at the very least raise your glass, but if you want to be friendly and social, you should tap the glass of every single person at the table. The first toast of the night (barring any special situations that might require toasting, like a birthday, or wedding, or Vasya finally getting his samagon above 90% alcohol) must be to the fact that you all gathered.  Then, it's to health.  After this, I get kind of fuzzy on the order, but I think it's to family, love, gathering again, friendship, literature, love again, then to the women (and the men must stand for this one), family (did we do family yet?), love, good food and finally, family.

"To sexually suggestive facial expressions!"

#5 - Drinking without food is blasphemy.  The only culture that will drink heavily without food is the Americans.  We will sit at the bar drinking with only pretzels or nuts to fill our stomachs.  The Russians consider people who drink without eating to be either alcoholics or idiots.  This is why dinners will last five to six hours, and a dinner party will usually devour all the food in your house.  If it doesn't, there wasn't enough vodka.

#6 - Certain drinks go with Certain situations/foods. Beer, because it's non-alcoholic, can be had while going into the 200 degree Russian sauna.  It is to be had with salty dried fish.  Vodka is special, treat it as such.  Only drink it during dinner, and don't abuse it.  It is best chased with pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, and other briny substances.  Cognac is pretty much the wine of Russia - to be savored and tasted for flavor and can be sipped throughout dinner.  And champagne is for celebrating only.  There is no reason to ever have tequila or whiskey.
#7 - Know when to stop.  Don't compete.  You have no idea who you're dealing with.  Competing with the Russians in drinking is like competing with Bear Grylls is a pee drinking/live fish eating contest.  You're not going to win, and nobody's going to be happy about the fact that you tried.

Poor grandma - her first question of the morning: "Where did this donkey come from?"
 And like all good Russian boys, I know when to stop.  Which is why #7 is the end of the post.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Judaism, Immigration, and the Meaning of Happiness

My wife is Jewish.  She's so Jewish her last name is the Jewish equivalent of "Christ".  But she's Jewish only by heritage.  But it's a strong heritage.  Her grandma and grandpa fled both the Germans who were rapidly advancing into Russia and the Pogroms by hiding in the Ural Mountains, and they lost two kids in the process. 

It's a strange culture for people who are not familiar - that of keeping heritage and tradition but not religion.  If you ask anyone in her family what they believe happens when you die, they'd likely say you just get buried, and people move on.  For them, there's not much else beyond what is purely real and tangible. 

My wife is a bit more spiritual than that, having gone to and enjoyed a Jewish school when in Russia (though it was more out of de facto segregation and safety in numbers than because her parents wanted her to learn about their traditions).  In fact, when she began to really, REALLY enjoy Jewish culture and history and traditions, her parents took her out for fear that she was becoming inundated.  She still tells me stories about how she came home wanting to have a traditional Seder (the meal celebrating the beginning of Passover), her parents said no, and she was incredibly disappointed.

But with that suppression of the inundation of religion, it was interesting that her family inundated her with the belief that she needed to only marry another Jew.  The way it was explained to me was: non-Jews will marry you, and then many years later when things get tough in the marriage, they will turn on you, spit on you and call you a "kike". 

She also told me stories about how the Jewish school she was a part of would put on parades and marches through the city, and all the children would dread them.  Non-Jews (mostly Orthodox Christians) would line the sidewalks of the parades and pelt them with rocks as they walked down the street, and when the children complained, the school simply said that they were trying to "raise awareness" of the Jewish presence and by simply doing that, the other children would stop throwing stones at them.

So I can imagine how difficult it was for them to move to a different country with those fears of anti-Semitic sentiment, and how they likely wanted their daughter to seek out another Jew for the same reasons they put their daughter in Jewish school - de facto segregation and safety in numbers. 

So when she brought me home, tattoos, piercings and all, I can't imagine her parents were too happy.  But for so called "spiritual" Americans, it's different.  I was raised Lutheran, but probably because my family moved around constantly, we never really had a church we constantly went to, and religion was never high on our priority list.  We celebrated with family on the holidays, and religion was rarely brought into even the most religious of celebrations.  So, like I said, for "spiritual" Americans, obviously not the devout, saying you're Jewish or Christian, or any other religion, (except, unfortunately Islam - it's sad, but that's different now-a-days) is like saying you grew up in Michigan or Idaho. Different, yes - but it serves as more of an interesting conversation topic than a dividing wedge between two people.

My wife asked me if I wanted to convert.  And I considered it for a while - but seeing as how neither one of us really subscribed to religion as a major pillar of our lives, I thought it would be a little disrespectful and blasphemous to convert just to get married to someone, and then never follow through.  So we both said, screw it - and forever after we were ALMOST as happy as this:

Monday, October 31, 2011

Re-Opening of the Bolshoi - Reflections of an American

One of the most admirable things about Russian Culture is their commitment to the arts.  The Bolshoi Theater re-opened this weekend in Moscow after 6 years of renovations with about as much pomp as a Post-Soviet culture will allow.  Below are the highlights.

Go here if you'd like to watch the whole thing, including a pretty incredible Swan Lake.

What really amazes me about Russian culture is that in the audience, you can see all the major pop stars, movie stars, government officials and (presumably) powerful business people.  In my MBA classes, we study Russia as a so-called "emerging market" along with Brazil, India and China (the "BRIC" countries of current major emerging markets).  However, when you consider that Russia has one of the highest literacy rates and one of the highest rates of advanced degrees per capita (not to mention the USSR was a super power that beat the US to space), it's difficult to think about it on the same level as China and India, who (at least in my mind) more aptly fall within the definition of "Emerging". 

Could you see something like this happening in the US?  This is the equivalent of Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, John McCain, and Bill Gates sitting down to watch a two hour ballet/opera/nationalism extravaganza in an opera house as old as the US itself.  I could never imagine a situation that would match this actually happening in America.  Not only because we don't have any opera houses that have been steeped in as much national pride as the Bolshoi, but also because Americans in general just don't care about the arts.  The closest thing we've had to celebrity endorsement of the arts was Gwyneth Paltrow showing up on Glee in a Marie Antoinette outfit singing Cee-Lo.  God, how I hate her.

But besides this, if you watch the highlights, you get a sense of WHY this would never happen in the states.  The government spent $700 million dollars restoring the building with hand crafted wooden wall adornments, a 6-meter chandelier, and a stage large enough to handle the entire Russian proletariat class all at once.  Obama can't spent $0.50 without the tea party shitting their proverbial pants, let alone $700 million on something the majority of tea party members will never see or can even remotely appreciate.  They'd likely rather see a Blue Angels Superbowl flyby.  Probably costs the same, too.

It's strange, though, that from an American perspective the performance seemed so self-congratulatory.  The Bolshoi troupe spent about five minutes of the entire performance filling up a massive stair-set reminiscent of the Battleship Potemkin's Odessa Steps sequence for the sole purpose, it seemed, of showing just how massive the stage was.  All of this was in front of a scaled down version of the entire opera house, as if to say - "Hey, don't forget that we just spent more than half a decade and close to a Billion Dollars renovating this place!!"  Medvedev gave a long, boring speech before retiring to the Tsar's balcony, and an intricate light show played upon the outside of the building while fireworks erupted above. 

Not that I don't agree with the renovation, or think that they should be lauded for supporting the arts.  I just don't think if we were to do something like this, we would be so "hey, look how awesome WE are".  We already know how awesome we are, I guess.  Flaunting it would just be overkill and rude.

Another thing to note: Russians start to applaud in a sea of applause similar to the way Americans applaud, but then, if they really liked something, they typically will all end up clapping in unison. I've been to a couple Russian performances (violin virtuosos and stringed quartets straight from Russia to NE Philly) where the entire audience all started clapping together.  It made me incredibly uncomfortable.  At first, I thought they were mocking the performers, until my wife explained it to me. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ode to a One Sink Bathroom

How sweet that you bumped my elbow
in the mirror you caught my eye
you brush your teeth with such vigor
and tell me how to brush mine

So cute when you take off your makeup
with wipes that smell'o formaldehyde
your face near the faucet for an hour
my beautiful sweet darling bride

Seriously, what are you doing?
I have toothpaste in my mouth!
I'm definitely not going to swallow it,
and you suggest the toilet to spit it out?

You stand there taking your time
probably on purpose, but really, who knows?
but if you hog the sink any longer
like Luda, I'mna throw them bows.

now, at least forty five minutes later
I'm standing here left only to think
about how in our next house
you're getting your own goddamn sink.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

From Memory to Poop - Disjointed Post Party

I have a horrid memory.  That's why I just wrote this post, and then almost as soon as I wrote it, I forgot that I did.  And now I feel guilty that I haven't stuck with it in any way at all.  Also, last night, my wife asked me to go make tea and defrost something for dinner.  I went into the kitchen, made tea, and started thinking about something (I don't remember what it was, but it was likely something along the lines of optimal lip angles for tea cups both for drinking and for transporting tea from one room to another, and the difficulties of incorporating personal preference into that measurement).  Then I forgot what I was doing, only to be reminded by the ding of the teapot that I needed to bring my wife tea.  Then, she freaked out that I didn't defrost anything.

And by "freaked out", I mean, "made a tsk-ing sound" once or twice.

It's gotten so bad recently that I've resorted to keeping my own honeydew list (so named because cantaloupes get too much goddamn attention already) which as of this moment has 21 things I need to do ranging from register my wife to vote (I'm stalling because she's a republican) to selling out of my trading positions to buying chap stick (because it's that time of year when everyone's lips get leprosy and I refuse to use Vaseline).

It's actually  vastly increasing my productivity.  Whereas before, if I had any extra time to be doing anything, i'd just sit around and play risk, I'm actually takin' care of business.

I'm not entirely sure where I meant this post to go, mostly because I spent a great deal of time seriously considering how to optimize tea cups.  Seriously.  I even did a couple Google searches in the middle of the post.

But I DO want to say that Sammy is 9 months today!  Gotta go to the doctor's tonight to ask all the important questions regarding pooping and peeing.

on a related note, I wonder how many times a pediatrician either says or uses a euphemism for poop in one day.  Probably a billion.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I consider myself to be an extremely happy person.  I absolutely love everything about my life, except for the whole, "i'm not fantabulously wealthy yet" thing.

But it wasn't always like that.  In fact, I was a pretty miserable piece of dingle-berry for the better part of my teenage years.

"Ah, ha ha, but isn't everyone, you self-congratulating moron?" you ask?

Perhaps, but I had victimization and self-pity down to a science.

"What a weird thing to compete with people over - how miserable you were as a teenager."

Ok, who's writing this post, you or me?  Seriously, you can be such a dick sometimes, hypothetical alter-ego.

"Bitch, I'm Super-Id, I ain't no ego. [Flies Away]"

(edit: I took Psych 101 eight years ago and apparently forgot that it's super-ego, not super-id.  note to self - google search things you're not sure about)

Right, so now that I got that out of my system, let's move along.  Last night my wife was watching this wedding video some douche put up on Facebook of him giving this douchy speech to his bride about how trite-fully he could insert as many cliches into the same tired sentence.  "You complete me, You're the captain of my vessel, I truly started living the moment I met you, I never really knew happiness until the day we saw each other, blah, blah, blah."  Then, everyone in the wedding reception died by being bludgeoned to death with their rubber chicken while a troupe of 50 guys recited Hamlet in rounds.

Ok, no, not really, but that would have been more interesting than the stupid speech he was giving.

But my wife looked over at me and said, "You would never have made that speech because you don't think the same way about me as he does about his bride".

And if you knew my wife, which I'd be at first surprised and then suspicious and probably jealous if you said you did, you'd know that she was only half serious when she said that.  Part of it was, "I want to talk about how ridiculous this guy and his wife are".  And part of it was "I actually believe deep down that you don't really feel this way."

I understand that sometimes women need to be reassured about the love of their partners.  Hell, I even like to be reassured sometimes.  (Although my wife would tell you I constantly need attention and keeping me reassured is almost a full time job - but don't listen to her).  But there was a time when I wrote this.  (Actually, I wrote that four and a half months before I met my wife).  I went through life so angry and generally sad at seriously nothing at all that I convinced myself I was bi-polar.  It was like self-induced solitary confinement. In the end, I was just a hormonal kid who was able to buy beer because he looked old enough and flirted with the overweight beer-seller woman and who forced himself to suffer for two whole years because some girl decided she didn't like me.  I mean, really, really suffered. 

And then, it seemed like a light turned on - and when my wife entered at probably the most chaotic time, she balanced me out, gave me something to hope for, to look forward to, and to rely on.  She loved me for everything I was, and everything that she knew I could be, no matter how many times she stormed out of my apartment and left voice mails on my phone simply saying "Fuck you" because I said something stupid (something I'm still guilty of, though she's toned down her language).

She taught me what it was like to be happy.  I mean, really, truly, explosively happy.  That kind of happy where you get the church giggles ALL THE TIME and no matter what you try to do, you just can't help yourself from bathing in your suppressed quivering glee that still somehow manages to escape through pressed lips and palms pressed over your mouth to the jealousy of everyone else in the surrounding pews.

She saved me.  But she knows this.  I just hope she doesn't feel jealous of that other douche for making a public speech about it.  You know, because it's so much more private to post it on the internet.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Writing This Just Made Me Feel Better

I tend to not handle stress very well. 

It's 9 in the morning, and already I can give you three examples.
  1. I was running late this morning because it was raining, and I know Philly traffic turns to chilled molasses in the rain.  Sammy woke up and needed to be fed at EXACTLY the wrong minute.  My wife also demanded that I make her lunch, wash her nursing pump materials, make her tea, pack for school tonight, win a game of chess on the hardest setting on the computer, design a bridge that can automatically add a temporary lane in construction or accident situations, and recite the alphabet backwards in Aramaic in 10 MINUTES.
  2. Because it was raining, I was late to work during earnings season, which is pretty much the only time when there is a tremendous amount of work.  Thus, I had to drive in heavy traffic and work on my blackberry at the same time.  And due to my amazing driving skills (which we've already covered) I was half Fast and Furious half Pursuit of Happiness.  That's right, I also solved a Rubik's Cube.
  3. When I finally GOT to work, I had piled up a mountain of stuff that needed to be done 300 minutes ago. And when I sat down and turned on my computer, the systems crashed.  Just then, someone came in my office saying that things needed to be done 300 minutes ago and I SCREAMED at her.  Although, it was mostly directed towards the systems being down, so I sort of like to think that I screamed WITH her rather than AT her.  
And now that I've had my coffee and my two big-ass bagels with the cream cheese of awesomeness lathered on top, I feel much better. 

That's all I really wanted to say.  Just in case there was a poor starving Ethiopian reading this blog, and he was just curious about how difficult it was for me to make lunch, then drive in my comfortable car to my comfortable place of business where I sit behind a desk and there's no physical labor involved in the job what-so-ever, all while I stuff myself with delicious bagels. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why You Should all Come to my House in the Event of a Zombie Apocalypse (Unless you're a Zombie - then stay away)

I've been thinking a lot recently about the zombie apocalypse.  I don't know why, but I've had zombie related dreams three out of the past four nights.  Perhaps it has something to with a habit I've developed of playing zombie related flash games as I'm getting ready to go to sleep?  Nah.

For example, last night I had this insane dream where our first babysitter (who in retrospect sort of looked like a dawn of the dead zombie) was all crazy obsessed with Sammy, but not in a good way, like "I want him forever" kind of way.  And when we told her she couldn't work with us anymore, we were at this playground with a bathroom stall.  She got all sad and circled around the playground, entered the bathroom stall, and came out.  She went around again, and entered the stall, but this time, when she came out, there were two instances of her.  Like the stall was some evil version of Calvin's Duplicator from "Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink'".  And in like, three minutes, there were fifty of her, all zombie-like and crazy.  Then, I woke up from my dream and realized the power went out in the house.  I looked out the window to see if other houses had their power off, and it was storming.  The zombie babysitter was standing in the middle of our backyard pointing at me.

Yeah, it was like this.

Then I woke up again to the alarm clock.  I wasn't sure if this was reality yet, so I waited (please note: I said "waited", not "hid") about ten minutes before wrenching myself out of bed to go shower, aka walk down the dark hallway to the REALLY dark part of the house.

Moral of the story?  Always add an ethicator to perfect your duplicator.

Ok, moving on.  I'll sit at nighttime sometimes thinking about the defensive characteristics of our house, and where I would create a defensive position if the country were to plunge into chaos.  The great thing about our house is that there are a few key bottlenecks inside the house with hugely advantageous spots for ambushes.  The stairs lead up to one end of a very long hallway, which allows for a machine gun nest to be installed at the end of that hallway.  This position affords that nest the benefit of also overlooking the front of the house, from which vantage provides ample opportunity for elevated sniping.  In addition, our house is on the top of a hill, which is a natural defense against attacks. 

This picture was taken at the end of my upstairs hallway.

The only problem?  No shotguns.  No sniper rifles.  No assault rifles or Bazookas.  We don't even have a handgun.  I think the most dangerous projectile in our house (besides Sammy's infrequent projectile vomit) is a set of darts.  However, we do have an unnecessarily sharp gardening tool that I've taught myself how to throw like a knife and a super sweet hatchet

And while I might sleep with only a small fixed-blade knife by my bedside, I still sometimes get excited about those creaks and groans of a settling house.  I get excited because I might finally get the chance to execute my fool-proof house-defense plan.

But this is where you come in.  My wife is against guns.  I have no idea why, but I imagine it's due to her aversion to being awesome.  So, if you could, please write in the comments about how important it is for a husband to have Rambo levels of armaments inside the home.  I'm talking mini-guns, an uzi, an F-14, and perhaps an M-1 Abrams or two.  If you do, I'll let you come hunker down with us during the apocalypse. 

Cigars, too.  We need cigars.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Philly/Moscow Driving Habits

If you were to ask my wife, she will tell you she almost died this morning.

If you were to ask me, I'd tell you we had a normal morning commute through heavy Philly traffic.  I drove creatively and efficiently.

She'd say I drove recklessly and suicidally. 

Let's break this down and be reasonable here.  Let's forget the fact that in the decade that I've been driving, I've only had one speeding ticket.  Let's also forget that I've never been in an accident that was my fault.

The REAL meat of this discussion comes from her father's driving habits.  When I'm driving, she will hold on to the roof of the car, screaming, panting, pleading for her life, and generally trying to deliberately distract me from my excellent driving skills.  Then, of course, in the future when I DO get in an accident (because of her loud crow-like squawking, likely) she can then say, "See? I KNEW you were a bad driver".

Let this be a warning, wife.

When her father drives, my wife may as well be at the spa, getting a relaxing deep tissue massage by a large-breasted German woman named Helga, and listening to descriptions of delicious Bratwurst recipes.  This man learned how to drive in Russia, for God's sake.  This was back when cars didn't even have turn signals or brake lights, and aggressive driving was taught as a survival method in the Army.  And somehow, when he's weaving through traffic like an insane-o-pants, she's totally fine with it.

Apparently, she comes standard in Luxury Volkswagen models.  Dat auto.

When I was growing up and my dad was stationed at the naval base in Sicily, my parents lovingly joked that the lines painted on the roads of the Italian Autostrada were just painted on the roads just for show, and speed signs were more suggestions than anything else.  And yet, if you were to get into an accident, or cut the wrong person off, the only thing that would happen would be the Italian would get out of the car, wave his/her hands around a lot, and then get back in and drive away.  Then we would all go to the local pastry shop and laugh about it over a cannoli. 

But in Russia?  God help those trying to find your body after an accident in Moscow. Seriously, Google "Driving in Moscow" and watch some of the other crazy You Tube videos, or actually go on some of the sites like this one and this one and read how seriously the people suggest finding alternative methods of transportation.  Not because of the possibility of traffic jams, but rather for your own safety.  Apparently, most people there don't have legal licenses, they "paid for" their licenses, they didn't earn them. 

Can you pick out the asshole?  That's right - it's all of them.

Actually, now that I've worked this out, I'd probably feel a lot safer driving in the same car as someone who survived 50 or so years driving in Russia too.  Ok, in the end, I get why she's so much more comfortable with his driving, but come on, I'm like a basket-making corn-row hair-dressing snake.  That is to say, a master of weaving.

Ok, that was dumb.  But I'm still an awesome driver.  That being said, I know I'm going to get into an accident now. I'm going to end this post because I think I've tempted fate enough.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Russians Want to Touch Your Baby

Americans have two modes of public interaction:

1. "Leave Me Alone, You Crazy Lunatic".  This is generally reserved for homeless people and fellow public transportation takers and passers-by on the street, and people you're in line with to the latest Wes Anderson movie.  The more space we give each other, the better, and I'm residing well within this mentality 99% of the time.  It's where I plan on retiring, deep within Senile Old Man county.  Perhaps "Get off my lawn!" township.

Zombies ESPECIALLY don't like to be touched by weirdo strangers

2.  "Oh My God, Come Here, I Need to Grab You All Over".  This mode is the rarer one, and typically the most scary.  This really only comes about when you're in the company of a serial killer, at a strip joint, or in the vicinity of a pregnant woman/cute baby.

Classic example of #2.  No, not THAT #2, SITUATION #2.  Jeez

I think you know where I'm going with this.

Anyway, I love this set up - I totally understand the boundaries, and have grown up with these rules all my life.  There are a few exceptions, and there are a few people who choose to ignore these rules, but having grown up here, I'm comfortable with my ability to pick out Grabby McTouchy-Pants in a crowd and avoid him as if, well, he will touch you all over.

Clue #1: Grabby McTouchy-Pants tends to grab himself.  A LOT.

But the Russians have been able to find a way to FURTHER polarize these completely opposite sentiments. 

For example, I've spoken about the Grocery store before.  It is a lovely place, full of quiet, distanced judgment.  If you're alone, you are not expected to say "Excuse Me" unless someone is DIRECTLY in your way.  You should not make eye contact with your fellow shoppers, and the only conversation that can ever happen (in only the rarest of situations) is conversation about how slow the woman at the kolbasa/bread counter is moving, or how stupid she is.  Also, as a side note, Russian culture allows you to revert to your primal instincts should there be a price discrepancy at the cashier or if there is a wild sale happening. 

Stampedes are acceptable. 

$0.02 off Pierogies??? BUY/EAT ALL THE PIEROGIES.

This is not like American stores, where you're expected to say "excuse me", eye contact is ok, and limited and minor friendly banter about sales or food choices is acceptable.

HOWEVER, should you be carting around an adorable 8 month old baby who is curious and tends to squeal with glee periodically, it is perfectly acceptable for crazy Russian Grandmas to attack you from all sides like you're Colonel Custer at Little Big Horn. 

"Give me Baby. I wanna it now."

All of the following happened in the past few trips to the grocery store, without exaggeration:
  • An old guy winked and clucked at Sammy like a chicken with an eye spasm.
  • A young woman tried to play the Russian version of "Patty Cake" with him the second I turned my back to get a bag of potatoes
  • Grandmas (yes, more than one) have sprung up from behind me out of no where only to grab his legs and say, loosely translated, "Oh, what nice legs!"
  • Standing in line for bread, someone reached out and patted him on the head and said something I didn't understand.
  • A rabid team of Cossacks stormed the building atop their horses, headed straight for Sammy, stole him out of my arms, and began tossing him back and forth between themselves while singing Russian Drinking Songs.
Ok, that last one didn't exactly happen like I said. 

It was much, much worse.

But moving on, I want to know what compels people in this germophobic society to reach out and grab someone's child, or come in uninvited to rub a pregnant woman's belly.  The older Russians who came from and grew up in the old country have an excuse - they've never really been part of the Purell explosion of the last 10-15 years in America. 

But while I've been hard on the Russians here, there have been some CLOSE calls in American stores.  I actually had to smack a bitch for coming too close.  No, not really, but I gave her my best dirty look.  After all, who knows if she just pooped and forgot to wash her hands?  And now she's rubbing her hands all over my son!?! No thank you, Poops McGee.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Guest post from the Suniverse

I have a very special, awesome surprise for you: today's guest is the Suniverse, who is the author of her eponymous blog.  And you know what?  She's funny, and clever, and that kind of amazing that you only find once in a while.   Please, read away:

Food, glorious food.

First, I want to thank Bill for being so kind as to invite me to post on his blog, and then being even kinder for not telling me to go suck it when it took me over a month to get him this post.  I am a horrible person.

And that's not the only reason. I'm horrible about the topic of food.

Food is amazing and wonderful and tasty and when you're hungry? It's the best.

It's also weird and bizarre and when you come from an immigrant family, it can be a little scary.  Actually, there are only a few scary things for me [mostly the giant buckets of smelt, the lamb's head that stares at you while people - like your own mother! - start stripping it for weird bits of flesh, and that gross onion stew that permeates the entire house]. 

The other stuff? I'm fine with.  Yummy little bits of meat that have been sauteed until they are super crispy are not merely pieces of fat, they are DELICIOUS.  That baked bit of lamb that's crispy and tasty? OH HOLY HELL, get out of my way.  The crusty bit of dough that has no filling? GIVE IT TO ME, PLEASE.  My sister and I discussed these delicacies, much to my future [non-immigrant] mother-in-law's horror, at the dinner the night before I got married.

The husband, who is generic American, has done a good job enjoying - well, maybe enjoying is too strong a word, maybe he's done a good job just eating the food that is foisted upon him at various parties and dinners.  He deals well with pots of beans and lamb, pastries that are filled with he knows not what and the giant portions that come with them.

I, on the other hand, have a really hard time adjusting to American food.  I mean, it's ubiquitous and I eat it all the time and I cook it, but it never ceases to amaze me that people will make regular American food for a party.  Where is the painstakingly made platter of sweets? You BOUGHT THAT CAKE? What's wrong with you?  You're making dinner and it's a something you'd eat on a weeknight? WHAT? WE'RE COMPANY!

I get very weird about that kind of thing.  It's a culture shock for me, despite the fact that I was born and raised in this country and lived on my own and married an American.  There are some things, evidently, that are simply ingrained in the genes, and my expectation of food that has been slaved over is one of them.

When are you inviting me for dinner?  

Me! I'm inviting you over for dinner.  and I'll get my wife to cook something outrageously rare and difficult.  I'm sure she won't mind.  In the meantime, while she's whipping it up, head over to the Suniverse's blog and get your immigrant on.  Best part of her blog?  The obscure scrubs quote at the top.