Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Playtime Bits from the ‘burbs

A SIGN OF TOUGH TIMES? -- It’s easy during tough times such as these to derail emotionally, to get depressed, to lose focus due to overwhelming despair, to miss the things in life that really count. The other day, while driving south on Interstate 5 into Orange County, I drove past Disneyland and forgot to point out to my family, using my usual Disneyland Monorail announcer voice, the site of the majestic Matterhorn Mountain. After we went by, my wife asked if I was okay, if I was working too hard, if I was working too much. This was a telling sign, indeed, that playtime is needed in my life -- that or someone pulled a fast one on me and moved the mountain.

SPACED OUT -- My 6-year-old son -- a first-grader -- is learning more in school than I remember learning at his age. Thanks to the California Distinguished School he attends, he knows all the continents on the planet, he produces art that’s suitable for framing, and he can do math that I couldn’t do in high school. Before winter break, he and his classmates each had to do an oral presentation in front of the class where they were graded on eye contact, hand gestures, the use of visual aids and the memorization of at least four lines of dialogue. My son’s gonna be smarter than me within the year, which is fine. But I worry he doesn’t have a chance to be a kid, that academics are consuming his life. He assured me, however, that he gets plenty of time to play. A couple weeks ago while at recess, he said, he and some friends put a man into space.

SICK UNTIL FRIDAY -- My son and I were on a pedal boat. I felt motion sickness coming on. I told the kid we’d have to pedal back to shore, that I was feeling sick. The next day, my son said, like me, he got sick from the boat. He proved it with a few lung-shattering coughs and a sniffle. Then he told me he’d have to miss the first week back at school. He assured me, however, that he’d be better again on Friday afternoon -- just in time, miraculously, to play on the weekend.

5 -- My son made a friend while playing at the park. He brought the kid to me and said, “Look, Daddy, I have a new friend.” I said to the kid, “Hi, I’m Mike.” The kid said, “Hi, I’m 5.”

EVOLUTION OF A ROLLER COASTER RIDER -- As a young kid, I found riding roller coasters to be horrifying -- the train could fly off the track; the seat harness could break loose and I could fall out; the stilts that hold the track a million feet in the air could collapse and send me to my death. But then I became a teenager -- I became smarter than everyone else -- and I realized people were getting on and off without dying. I learned that roller coaster makers have safety codes and standards, and constant tests to ensure safety. And then I experienced enough life to realize that accidents do, in fact, happen. Shortcuts in the workplace take place hourly. Procrastination and the lack of communication are the differences between “The track is fine” and “There’s a large section of track missing at the bottom of the hill!” And that’s why, at age 33, riding roller coasters is horrifying again.

QUEUE PILEUP -- A new study reveals that when waiting in line to go on a ride, stepping on the heels of the people in front of you and practically spooning them doesn’t make you get on any faster.

RACE TO GET DRESSED -- Getting a 6-year-old dressed in a hurry can be a challenge. Mine often gets distracted and can turn the task into an all-day event. To avoid being late to a particular engagement, I made the chore of getting dressed into a game. “Whoever gets dressed first wins,” I said. And then came the rules: “Okay, Daddy, if I get dressed first, then I’ll run into your room. If you get dressed first, then you run into my room. If I run into your room, I win. If you run into my room, you win. If we both win, we’ll crash into each other in the hallway . . . ” After his 15-minute breakdown of the rules, and after a few “pauses” in the game so I could help him turn his socks inside out and tie his shoes, we successfully became late.

-January 2010

New Year’s Resolved

My wife made a New Year’s resolution to be a neater person on my behalf. For the New Year, I decided to be less anal-retentive on her behalf.

At a New Year’s party, we met a couple that mirrored us -- the girl was the anal-retentive one and the guy was the messy one.

“Opposites attract, don’t they?” the guy said.

“He’s always leaving the lights on in the house,” the girl told us.

“She’s always turning them off,” he said.

This guy was a total disaster -- a nightmare. And his wife seemed to have it all together -- a dream. However, it’s against the rules to turn on your own team. So I sided with the guy.

“Why would she turn off the lights if you had them on?” I asked.

My wife was quick to respond. “You always get mad when I leave the lights on,” she said to me. “You turn them off constantly.”

“I always ask if you need them on before I turn them off,” I said.

“That’s just your passive aggressive way of telling me you want them off,” she said.

My wife then confided in the guy. “Sometimes I’ll take something out of the microwave before the time is up and I’ll forget to hit ‘cancel,’ and he’ll ask if I need the remaining seconds on the dial before he clears it.”

The guy didn’t really respond -- just kind of chuckled. He was loyal to Team Man. His girl, however, turned on her team in an instant.

“The microwave is a killer,” she said. “He leaves seconds -- sometimes even minutes -- on our microwave all the time.”

“It’s not a big deal,” my wife said.

“What if you wanna see the clock?” the girl asked.

“Yeah,” I said to my wife. “What if I’m running late for something and I’m trying to see what time it is, and I go to the kitchen to check the time on the microwave and it says 12 seconds? Now I have to walk all the way over to the microwave, hit cancel and become late for sure.”

“How much later is that really gonna make you?” my wife asked.

“If I’m running late,” I said, “going to the microwave will make me later enough to ruin me.”

“You’re always wearing your watch anyway.”

“What if I forget to put on my watch?”

“You never forget your watch,” my wife said. “Don’t you remember -- you’re perfect?”

“I never said I was perfect. I just like things orderly and complete so life isn’t more difficult than it needs to be.”

The girl was nodding in agreement to everything I was saying. “One time,” she said, “I came home to find our bikes in the dining room.”

“Because they cluttered up the garage,” her guy said in his defense.

“The bikes were in the dining room?” I asked. I couldn’t believe what the guy had done. He couldn’t believe what I just did -- I switched sides against Team Man. He looked at me as if I’d turned communist. Then my wife made matters worse.

“If I did that,” my wife told the guy, “my husband would never let me live it down.”

We were in the final countdown to the New Year, and this guy was the only person in the place not smiling. He had remained loyal to me -- his fellow man -- all evening, even though we were opposing types. Then I crossed the line and left him standing alone.

I had to strike before he did. “It looks like you and my wife are both a mess,” I said to him.

“And you and my wife are both anal,” he replied.

“But, like you were saying earlier,” I said, “opposites attract. I think if my wife was as anal as I am -- so set in her own ways -- life would be pretty miserable. I think one anal person is enough”

The other couple agreed that if such were the case in their relationship, the result would be a miserable existence.

After everyone sang “Auld Lang Syne,” I asked my wife to cancel her New Year’s resolution to be neater. I told her to just be herself. She smiled and gave me a big hug.

Then she asked if I could keep my New Year’s resolution and still work on being less anal.

-January 2010