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Monday, January 30, 2006

Divorce School?

Yes, it turns out there is such a thing. Complete with homework. It's a class though the county, modeled on Kids' Turn a program developed in San Francisco. I don't know why they changed the name to Kids' Voice if they bought the SF outfits curriculum, complete with a video that refers to it as Kids' Turn, but as the Emperor Joseph II, the George W. of the Hapsburgs might say, 'there it is.'

DISCLAIMER: I realize 'Amadeus' is a fictional deconstruction of Mozart's life. I have no idea if Joseph II was anywhere near as stupid as Bush II, though I guess it's possible. It seems Joseph II would probably have at least been a moron who spoke several languages, and W. seems unable to articulate even a sandwich order in his supposed native tongue.

I want to get my kids through this mess without scars, or without worse scars than they are already doomed to from the marriage. This is an easy thing to say, not such an easy thing to do.

The classes are focused on the kids, getting them to talk and getting them around other kids going through the same thing. Which is fine as far as it goes, but Mo doesn't really communicate all that verbally. It's not that she can't talk, it's more that you're not going to have anything typically described as conversation with her, not at this point. She's almost nine, plus huge for her age, so people tend to assume that verbal instructions and questions will get processed on a twelve-year-old level. Very often, I suspect she comprehends well beyond her years but that doesn't necessarily yield the result you're after. And asking her to talk about her problems, forget it. If you listen to what she does say, you learn a bit about what's on her mind, but you're not going to have a linear Q&A.

One of the things that struck me as remarkable about the adults in my parental pod is how long some have been going through the process of divorce. Some were recently separated, but the separation was long planned; others had been in the process of divorce for years. Years! I don't mean years of the process of picking up the pieces, years of slogging through negotiations, hearings, etc.

Mo was ready to bolt during the introductory video, and my Dad took her for the rest of the class, which might be the best thing for both of them. He was the one who bird-dogged this class, even paid the fees and offered to meet us there each week to help with Mo. This is a huge step forward for him as a grandfather, because the past few years he's been scared to deal with her one-on-one. Typical kids scare him bad enough, throwing autism and epilepsy into the mix brings it to the point where he doesn't even deny that he's freaked out. And in fairness, it's not as if there's no reason to be nervous: she has a terrible aptitude for endangering herself; she's a flight risk and hits zero to sixty in zero-point-zero seconds; she can destroy anything; she's stronger than you (no matter who 'you' is). And a lot of those attributes will serve her well as long as it can be channeled, but it still makes it a daunting baby-sitting assignment, one I probably wouldn't take with a stranger's kid.

Em was pleased with the deal because they bribed her with Doritos and a Capri Sun liquid sugar bag. Mo and her Grandpa found the speech pathology room in the host school, which had tons of goodies Mo was glad to play with, including a cool Gonzo plush toy.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

No Coach's Coffee For Me...

The term 'coach's coffee,' as I understand it, is not crudely roasted or otherwise plain coffee in the traditional sense. In the good old days of professional sports free of anti-doping regulations, amphetamines were even more available than steroids. Candy jars of greenies and coffee laced with Dexedrine were standard, famously in baseball. It figures, baseball is boring, and requires an unhealthy capacity for concentrating on mindless stuff. A center fielder who can hit is great, but he plays even better when you get him grinding his teeth and sweating from the crank in his java.

'Coach's coffee' is like a virgin Bloody Mary to a veteran of clubhouse speed, which is to say a recovering addict.

But none of that for me. Today I was so dead on my feet I actually drank coffee, something I never do. I've always preferred my caffeine cold, but I needed a bolus dose today. If they'd offered coffee with amphetamines, I'd have bought that.

Mo was tired last night, went to bed early, then decided to get up at midnight. For the day.

Is it early in the morning or still last night? I guess a lush figures it's five o'clock somewhere, and Mo figures it's morning somewhere. I did get her to go back to sleep some, but she wanted to snuggle in my bed and that meant her periodic flopping, kicking and vocalizations woke me up at least once an hour for the three or four hours I was more or less in bed.

I wish I had that kind of energy to attack the day with. I doubt there's enough speed in a large trailer park to do that.

Cruel and Unusual Crushes

The Crush Calculator

This is a mean kid with a magnifying glass if ever there was. But I'm a little cranky. Still, incase you're touchy about privacy, use made-up names for everyone including yourself. Really.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Negotiating With Idiots

Come off your high horse if you think refusing to negotiate with 'terrorists' is a realistic plan. I'm totally not defending suicide bombers, but no terrorist group has ever mounted a serious threat without popular support, and popular support indicates legitiate (if sometimes incorrectly understood) grievances.

If you let Hamas candidates run in an election, you have to know they might win, right? Look at Northern Ireland, and ask yourself if it's better to have exploding trains or elections that don't turn out like you planned.

Also ask yourself, if you had to choose, do you want to board a commuter train that blows up or have your house sprayed by a helicopter gunship? If you're anything like me, you don't think that's much of a choice, yet one is supposedly terrorism and the other is a 'security measure.'

Personally, I wouldn't say that any nation state has the 'right' to exist. Nation states have governments, and governments are not a good idea, whether you put Hamas or the GOP, the ANC, the Communist Party or the fucking Taliban in charge.

Can You Use That In A Sentence?

Yes, that was an option, asking the chick to use the word in a sentence. Kids did that when there was probably no homonym even in an unabridged OED. Which is fine, gives them a chance to collect themselves, but they have to remember to ask.

Are spelling bees ridiculous? On many levels I'd say yes. Em mentioned in her distress about finishing third, that she didn't want to be in it, but honestly that was sour grapes. She wanted to win it all, and nothing else was acceptable to her. Part of growing up is she'll have to learn that even when you're awfully good at something, others will have better luck or success that may or may not be 'earned.' And remember Nancy Kerrigan? She had the world at her feet to endorse and then had a fit over only winning a Silver in '94? You have to learn to get beaten with a bit of class.

On the other hand, if Em thinks only first place is acceptable, I don't have to worry about her underachieving. Since many people never give their best to anything, that's half the battle, the other half is teaching a kid that sometimes your best isn't good enough, but you can't let that make you miserable.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Unbearable Spelling of Bees

I went to my daughter’s school today for the spelling bee. Can you use that last word in a sentence, please? This was asked by kids on words that have no homonyms I know of. And then, my spell-check addiction was called up by a surprising number of words I mentally spelled along with a kid, thought they’d nailed only to hear, ‘I’m sorry, that’s incorrect.’

It is? Control+Z, biatch.

Last year, Em got knocked out in the first round because she stammered, the stage fright. I was prepared this year, knowing that she can spell pretty much anything, including words she doesn’t know the meaning of. She learned where her gastrocnemius was clear back in Kindergarten, still knows it and even knows it as a ‘c’ in it that has no business being there. Even with Latinate words, that’s too much.

But she got to the 9th round this year. Surprising stage poise for a kiddo who freaks out at an audience of two, and the person giving the words was hard to understand. A boy in the opening round was given ‘ear’ and between the distortion on the PA and the fact that he couldn’t believed they’d give him a word so obvious, he spelled ‘E-A-G-E-R’ and was told, ‘I’m sorry, that’s incorrect.’ I don’t believe for a minute that anyone thought he heard ‘ear’ and added a ‘g’ and ‘e,’ but the rules are rules.

The ninth round had four kids left, and the kid before Em blew a word I thought he’d nail. I was surprised, it was a word that would have tripped up the kids to fell yearly. None of them were terrible spellers, they started this affair with the three top contestants in classroom contests.

Em was given ‘photography,’ and she nailed it. Except she started to say the letter ‘f.’ She caught herself, but you could tell what she started to say and the rules are explicit about redoing letters. Even though she said ‘Photography eff... P-H-O-T-O-G-R-A-P-H-Y,’ she was told, ‘I’m sorry, that’s incorrect.’ They were then down to the twosome, the head-to-head to see who gets to perpetuate this misery at a county level next month.

Betweem rounds, disqualified kiddos left the stage and reemerged in the gym, but Em didn’t do the latter. I got worried and it turned out I was right. She was bawling in the hallway abut her miserable failure after placing third in her school. You’d think me and the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster pressured her, which did not happen.

Well, according to Em it kind of did. Last year we drilled her a lot before the bee. It was in part because we knew she stammered when she was nervous, and we thought practice would help. More significantly, it’s just cool to find out your kid can spell words the don’t comprehend. We were at lunch with friends and Em spelled some word about ten times harder than ‘photography’ and Frau Lobster said ‘see, idiots can give birth to geniuses.’ Em was quick to defend me (though I didn’t ‘give birth’ to her), ‘Not, it’s not Daddy’s fault!’

Ahem, teach me to gloat about her brains.

Anyway, kids emerged from the gym and Em was still crying, even as I assured her it was awesome that she was even on the stage, let along that she almost took it all. She is aware that nothing I say can be trusted, and she reacted accordingly. But her classmates were congratulating her and she was still inconsolable. Later, in the truck after I signed her out of Hell, she said none of the kids had any sympathy for her.

Sympathy? That’s because they see you on the bronze-medal dais, and they don’t see where there’s any call for sympathy. Except for the two kids who made it past round nine, you beat them all, where’s the sympathy to come from? Did you show sympathy to the kids you whipped?

But I’m speaking logic to an emotional pre-teen kiddo. It didn’t seem to comfort her that one of the spelling bees I can remember from my childhood ended when I fucked up the word ‘rhythm.’ That’s a word that needs to buy a vowel...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Okay, if your'e an Xtian, you might want to skip this. Or not, if you're an Xtian with a sense of humor. What would Jesus download?

If you're tolerant and have high speed, click here.

If your'e intolerant and/or have a dial-up connection, just think about Fred Phelps. I may be an asshole, but no one's about to advocate a new state law to balance me out.

And I have no idea where this came from except it came from a friend in Caulifournya, so who knows what intellectual property rights I'm wiping my ass on.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I'm Back?

One or two of you might be aware that I have literary ambitions. That's if the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster still reads this at all.

And what are literary ambitions? Guaranteed to be frustrated, unprofitable, bad for home life and work, pretentious, arrogant, selfish and unrealistic. You'd have to be a hermit to pretend anyone reads books these days, and if they do it's not like they'll run out of titles.

Writing a novel is not something your coworkers will understand. If you tell them you're doing it, they'll ask, 'Why?' It's a surprisingly good question, because writing a novel supposes that you've read or are at least are aware of Herman Melville, the Greeks, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and so on. Plus you're probably aware of lesser lights, Amy Hempel, Mark Richard, Terry Southern, Thom Jones, Lionel Shriver, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Lethem, Mchael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides, Vonegut, Bradbury, PKD, and so on. And you've probably read a bunch of other stuff, best sellers like Alice Sebold, oddballs like Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, DeLillo. You might even have read Tom Wolfe and John Irving, and wondered why they don't like each other since they write almost exactly the same sort of book.

So the 'why' question turns out to be good, despite the fact it's generally asked by someone who has read little but TV listings and the instructions on a macaroni box since high school. The question is more accurately, 'who the hell do you think you are?' You have something to add to this literary dowry?

Of course if you’re the sort of person who even needs to decide whether to risk the 'why' question with a coworker, you already have an answer: 'Yes, I have something to add.' It's ridiculous, but like sexual preference, it's better not to fight it.

So where's my contribution? Don't look, it's not decent. It's embarrassing, but some parts are brand new and some have suffered a dozen revisions. The total is numbingly long, and I haven't worked on rewrites in earnest for most of the past year. It sucks. If I die today, promise me you'll burn it unread.

I haven't had the courage to face my own ms, but I have done something almost as good. I've done a critique in a writer's workshop I've been in for a couple of years. Critiquing has always helped me more than critiques, because in finding the problems with a stranger's story, I inevitably find problems in my own. Not that feedback isn't helpful, it's just not 'as helpful.'

As an added bonus, I've been fallow in the workshop long enough I don't know most of the writers as authors and fellow critics. The downfall of any workshop is when friendship trumps the awful truth that 'X' doesn't work or 'Phrase Y' is too purple to be believed.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Fake Recreation

A guilty pleasure of mine is playing poker. Three major obstacles thwart this as a form of recreation: I don't have any friends who play who are close enough to me to invite me in; I'm no good at it; and I don't have the money to lose even if I knew people and thought I could play.

Of course there's online games, but that only gets one of those obstacles out of the way. Well, there's play-money games to be found, but when anyone can click for more chips, they gamble idiotically. I may not be any great player, but I know you don't go all-in to see the flop. No pockets are that good. Also, if it's fake money, you're way, way more likely to get beat at the river.

But I occasionally go on a fake money site and play a few hands. It's mildly amusing in small doses, and playing against people is more interesting than playing against a machine. There's personalities, even if the play is distorted by the fact that it doesn't hurt to lose enough money to pay off your house on a single hand. Unless you're awfully attached to worthless cyber-chips.

But my most recent trip to the fake-money tables I saw a player who didn't have a personality, they had a fixed pattern. You could see in very few hands how this character was going to bet, and it wasn't that they were doing badly. Factoring the style of play with Monopoly Dollars and figuring pot-odds, probably a pretty rational way to play. Except too rational.

Come to find out, there's software you can use to play these games. It's a semi-sophisticated macro, I'm told, that bets for you. I'm sure it was developed to help people cheat at poker for real money, but some clown is using it for play-money.

Hello? What's wrong with this picture?

I realize online poker is of marginal value as recreation, but if you have to let your computer bet for you, isn't that kind of like faking an orgasm while masturbating?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Actual Leadership

The founder and CEO of the company I work for, he's an unusual cat. I enjoy Dilbert and Max Barry novels, but really, I don't work in that kind of cubicle farm. It's a cubicle farm, true, and I have shared a cubicle for five years or so with a guy who won't speak to me except on the phone, but still.

What makes it different? Well, the aforementioned guy had every reason on earth to fire me a few years ago when I was a supervisor. I'd risen by Peter Principle to my level of incompetence. I don't even know what an emotional competency is, and I don't even want to know how to fake one. Neither does the CEO, but he knows what they look like and he knew I didn't have any.

So instead of firing me, he offered me to the chance to go back to what I was good at without even making me take a pay cut. I took a pay cut but that was because I was sick of working nights and I couldn’t take the shift differential with me or it wouldn't be a shift differential. If I'd been willing to continue coming home in the pre-dawn hours and nailing the coffin lid shut, I'd have kept the differential too.

How do I explain to people not just that it's an unusual president who offers such a chance to a guy like me, but why I'd take it so gladly?

Today I had a living example of why. We have added on to our building, tripling the space we have to work with. The old building is going to be gutted and remodeled to be up to code for the new size, being that the rules are different at 120,000 square feet. It's been fun watching it go up, they brought in concrete Lego things to make the walls, and it was fun to watch guys ride cement zambonis on the huge new floor. Oh, but the example.

Moving cubicles to the new building, professional movers do the nut and bolt stuff but we move our shit over with hand carts. When it was my turn I loaded up my stuff and was waiting on an IT guy to move my computer when the CEO I'm talking about showed up and pitched in. This guy started the company from a bankrupt farm about 20 years ago and built it into a $20 million a year business. The dude is in blue jeans on his hands and knees feeding me cables for my computer through the desktop of my new cubicle. And it was the most natural thing in the world. I wasn't thinking that the CEO should be in a suit and above doing anything that involves crawling around. This is not a guy I see every day or anything like it, it's just a guy I work for, and you can't not bust your ass when you work for a guy like that.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sympathy For The Devil Elmo!

I don't have anything to say about this picture, I just liked it. I stumbled on this shot in a stock photo search, but I was looking for something I could actually use. I forget what, it doesn't matter. Unless someone is selling Eagles albums, I don't imagine anyone would ever need this picture. And if they are selling Eagles records, I want to know: why? The Eagles were awful. I won't even say they sucked hard, because except when smoking pot, I don't think they were ambitious enough to suck hard.

But it dislodged something I thought of Christmas morning, while Mo was playing with her new Elmo, prior to incapacitating it with scissors. Now he's a scary plastic skeleton that sings 'Shout.'

No, my daughter doesn't hate Elmo. She worships him. And I signed off on the IEP with the OT goal of getting her to use scissors a few years back and you can't un-ring the bell. You can try to keep scissors away from her, but if you can get to them, she'll get to them. Eventually you find that anything with a lock can be opened. Anything that can be pryed off is not really nailed down.

Yes, we had 'Tickle Me Elmo,' and 'Chicken Dance Elmo' and so on. The batteries wear out, but not before the novelty of the song sung in a lo-fi version of the Muppet voice.

But with the 'Twist & Shout' version, they are bordering on picking up music you might hear without being in a Kindergarten room, on the 'Barney' studio set, or at a wedding reception. I got to wondering what would be next?

'Highway to Hell Elmo?' Or give Elmo a mohawk and program him with a Dead Kennedy's tune: 'Kill The Poor Elmo,' or 'California Über Alles Elmo.' Em told me that no one would ever want to buy an 'I Kill Children Elmo,' but that was before Twist & Shout Elmo's foot had been pressed 465 times a day until he was slurring the words, the low batteries making him sound drunk.

Since the punk thing was pissing Em off, I headed back to the relatively tame waters of hard rock. I don't know any Ludacris or Eminem bits, so I couldn't outrage children of all ages with speculation about Elmo's potential rapping career. Then it hit me, the perfect song for Elmo to do next Christmas:

'Sympathy For The Devil' by the Rolling Stones. The 'hoo-hoos' are even in Elmo's natural register. And while it's technically a 'satanic' bit, the baby boomers who buy these things for their grandchildren probably wouldn't connect those dots. They'd just remember the killer weed they had the night they saw the Stones perform that tune, think it was cute that Sesame Street was tying in with classic rock material.

Yes, I know there are people who will rail against 'Sympathy For The Devil Elmo.' I saw in the paper today where a woman is trying to get an entire shopping mall in Olathe reclassified as an 'adult business' because she was offended by something she saw at Spencer's. But assholes who think that way are a good reason to have things like an overtly satanic Muppet.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


If I say something sucks and Em agrees, she'll add the modifier, saying 'It sucks hard.' This is amazingly cute in a ten-year-old.

One of the things that sucks hard is housekeeping that's been neglected. My brother brought his shop-vac over last week and we kicked ass on my house for a few hours. His shop-vac made me realize how pathetic the one in my garage is. In fairness, it was free. It has a tiny motor, small capacity and a busted coaster. I didn't even see any as wimpy as it for sale at Home Depot. But I did see monsters like my brother's, and since it had done such a great job on a variety of tasks, I decided to pop for one. They're not expensive, I found a five horsepower 12-gallon model for a little over fifty bucks. It's big enough to hold the entirety of its underpowered predecessor.

Yes, it sucks hard.

I was using it in the bedroom, figuring I'd get a bunch of dog hair and other detritis up, and suck the toothpaste caps out of the drain in the bathroom sink back there (yes, the drain was clogged with toothpaste caps, kids can be so charming). I was still kind of getting my sea legs with it, seeing what it would and wouldn't pick up.

I did not mean to suck up a pair of underwear. Really.

But I underestimated what five horses sucking hard can do. What they can do is suck up a pair of extra large men's boxers. What they don't seem to be able to do is deliver them to either end of the ribbed hose. I tried both the blower and the vacuum ports, and they're not moving. The hose is long enough a broom stick wouldn't push them out, which was the longest thing I could find in the appropriate diameter. No luck snagging them with a coathanger either.

So until I find something to dislodge the shorts, my big new shop-vac is pretty much useless. Talk about sucking hard.

Friday, January 13, 2006


I just love that new book smell, don't you?

This is something I just don't do as a rule. Order a book, full retail price, on the strength of the author. Even if I loved the book before it, there's too much risk. I was reminded of why I don't do this when I made an exception for Chuck Palahniuk's 'Haunted.' When Chuck is on his game he's one of my favorite contemporary writers, but the connective material meant to turn that collection of cute stories into a novel was awful.

Another example is Craig Clevenger, who's debut 'Contortionist's Handbook' is a masterpiece. I was lucky enough to get a 'street team' preview of his follow up, 'Dermaphoria,' and I didn't go around telling people how great it was because it wasn't. Kind of like a literary 'Kill Bill,' Clevenger took his considerable talents and squandered them on another drug-culture tale. I might read the rest of it, from the library. Might even pick it up as a remainder if I see it and it's cheap enough, but I'm not rushing out to buy it in hardback.

Still, while Max Barry's first novel, 'Syrup' was my favorite of his first two, 'Jennifer Government' being somewhat less riotously fun, I've rushed in again, just as I did with 'Haunted.' Even faster, actually.

The publication date is January 17, but I bought the book today. It was actually in yesterday evening but I got the message too late to go fetch it. As of Max's blog of two days ago, even he hasn't seen a proper, finished copy of the book. I thought perhaps a mistake had been made and one of his other books had been ordered by mistake, but nope, it was 'Company.'

I thought maybe Borders was messing up, but I wanted the book so I wasn't going to rock the boat. It turns out that while some books are released with a 'lay down date,' prior to which a retailer can be tortured by ex-KGB agents for selling a book, they aren't all (or even mostly) released this way.

Ironically, it was 'Jennifer Government' that made such hay out of the marketing practice of withholding goods to stimulate demand. Maybe part of why that book wasn't as funny as 'Syrup' is Nike is pretty much as portrayed in 'Jennifer Government,' where Coca-Cola, besides being on the other side of America from where Max places them, is probably a few years away from marketing 'Fukk' to the masses.

But I'm falling down on the job as a sneezer. That's the marketing term for obnoxious people like me who rant and rave about how you have to try 'X' or read 'Y' because it's the best whatever in the history of whatevers. Nothing wrong with sneezes, it's the most honest form of marketing there is. If I rave about a book because I loved it, even if you find the book irritating, you at least got an honest recomendation. If I constantly recommend books you hate and have nothing good to say about your favorites, then my endorsement still tells you more than an advertisment can.

I haven't read 'Company' yet, only admired the cover. I'm about halfway through 'Americana' by Don DeLillo and haven't put it aside to read the new Max Barry. It's next, warming up in the on-deck circle. I just blogged about it and I haven't even read it. I guess that's a sneeze of sorts. I won't tell you to run out and buy it since I haven't read it yet. But if you feel like running out and buying it, you don't have to wait for the 17th.

The odd thing with 'Americana' is I shouldn't like it. Except that I do, so far anyway.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In God (and Alan Greenspan) We Trust

Ariel Sharon is having blood drained from his head, last I heard, and apparently he's following the example of our Commander in Grief, who was quoted as saying that Sharon is a 'man of peace' (didn't he put on a nice firework show for the people of Beruit in 1982?) and said he was 'praying for' the Israeli warlord, I mean Prime Minister.

On a more serious note, either cell phones have struck again, or mining companies are heartless, money-grubbing machines preying on the economic plight of Appalachian people. Any reason why these need to be mutually exclusive?

Oh, and with the Chiefs aren't in the playoffs, I want to officially throw in with my redneck friends, all two of them:

Until next year, I think they're coming back to Arrowhead for the season opener. But the Bengals are so due, and since I hate the Colts both for being a whore franchise (one that moves to soak up taxpayer money, as opposed to the rest, engaged in stationary extortion), and for what the Colts did to the Chiefs in the playoffs our 13-3 year. Also, if I understand the brackets, to make this wish come true, the Bengals will have to beat Denver, which would be sweet. And if Tampa Bay makes it to the Super Bowl, I'd have to root for the Bengals because Em still hasn't forgiven the Bucs for the '04 season injury to Priest Holmes. Something which, no matter how many times I explain the inherent risks of the game, she insists proves that the Bucaneers are 'bad twerps.'