Monday, March 29, 2010

Introducing ludicrosities

Recently, I was doing some Internet research for our summer vacation. Mike and I have apparently lost our minds completely, because we are seriously entertaining the idea of driving from Kansas to South Dakota’s Black Hills (Mapquest says 731 miles, 10 hours and 56 minutes) with a five-year-old, a three-year-old and a 10-week old. As I was browsing activities to entertain the masses, I stumbled upon the Old MacDonald Petting Zoo. A lively rendition of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” began to blare from the speakers and I thought I’d found a winner. When I clicked on their rates section, another song fired up and, within a few bars, I realized that I was “singing” along. The song playing on the site? Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood,” as “sung” by a chorus of clucking chickens.

To my great alarm, my first notice was not that the classic song was being clucked, but that I was clucking along. Once I stopped the garbled chicken singing, I couldn’t help but wonder why the web designer would choose “In The Mood” as a song to be clucked by chickens. I get (sort of) that they wanted a song to be clucked, as this is the website for a petting zoo and it’s probably easier to cluck a song than to moo one, but why “In The Mood”? Nothing about that song is linked to chickens, to the best of my musical knowledge. And that’s a peculiarly titled song to have on the rates section of a petting zoo website. Granted, I can’t come up with a song off the top of my head that would be better, but I am confident there is one. It’s these ridiculous moments that I love to discover and that make me appreciate the many (new word alert!) ludicrosities of life.

Ludicrosity – noun. Something that is ludicrous. Something completely inane, defying explanation, provoking curiosity.

Surely you have plenty examples of your own ludicrosities. I see (hear) them all the time. Just today, I was reading an article about how April has been declared The Month of the Military Child. Now, I’m going to try very hard to avoid soapbox ranting here, as I think the military is very good at certain things (like fighting and winning wars, which is what they exist for) and completely out of their league in many of their other undertakings (providing their own health care, and their propaganda machine – which creates things like “Month of The Military Child” to show how much the Army “cares” about soldiers and families - are at the top of my list of Things the Military Should Avoid). Regardless, as a thank you to the military child for their many sacrifices, such as constant uprooting and parental absence for extended periods of times during the formative years of life, etc; one of the “promotions” is free gun rentals at the shooting range for all kids under the age of 18. A ludicrosity, if ever I’ve heard one, but this is, of course, just my own personal opinion. Surely, there is something somewhere more appropriate to offer to kids for free. Cigarettes, maybe?

This gun rental situation reminded me of the renovation AAFES did of our PX (for the layperson, AAFES is the wunderorganization that runs the PX, which is a small, understaffed, understocked WalMart-type store at each post) last year. AAFES’ idea of an upgrade included a firearms and ammunitions counter. Surely, some members of our community appreciated the addition. But when you can’t even go in the store and walk out with a basic item like a curtain rod or a bra, I’m not so sure we need a weapons section. Every house has windows and someone who wears a bra. Not every house has a rifle cabinet. But my favorite part of the guns and ammo addition was the marketing campaign behind it. It opened in November, at which time several signs were posted around the community, reading, “Looking for the perfect gift? Come check out or new guns and ammo department at the PX!” I sure hope my husband was relieved…he’s always had a tough time buying me gifts at the PX, but all those woes are behind him now that the PX sells pistols. And just in time for the holidays, as nothing says, “I love you!” quite like a crossbow.

My husband’s favorite ludicrosities are the instructions on packaging materials. Go ahead and pull out just about any box or bag of anything and read the fine print on the back. One of his all-time favorites is from the frozen pizza box, which reminds people NOT to eat the pizza still frozen, and to remove the cardboard and plastic from the pizza prior to cooking. The advice is ridiculous, but we have to believe it’s there because some moron didn’t cook the pizza and chipped a tooth on the frozen product, or that some moron (same moron, perhaps?) cooked the pizza on the cardboard and in the plastic, sliced the cardboard up and gave themselves a paper cut on their tongue or choked on the plastic, trying to get it all down. Then, said moron turned around and sued the pizza makers for gazillions of dollars and probably won, resulting in the ludicrous warnings on the box.

A package of Windex wipes offers this wisdom: “Do not use for personal hygiene or as a baby wipe.” I blame the movie My Big, Fat Greek Wedding for this warning, as the protagonist’s father was known to use Windex to cure acne, among other things. Surely, this launched the personal hygiene issue, with someone somewhere taking it a step further and cleaning up a baby with it.

While many ludicrosities are fun to discover (with “In the Mood” being the most enjoyable for me in recent memory), I recommend against looking too hard for them. Let them discover you. There’s a saying, “It’s better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” It’s the same with ludicrosities. It’s better to think the world is full of ridiculousness than to seek and find the sheer volume of ludicrosities in existence, and worry that we are just a society full of loons and morons.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Derek and Ken, revisited

In hindsight, all the warning signs were there…the fear of commitment, the short-lived relationships, the frosted hair, the flashy clothes. Although it was the 1980s, which were a pretty flamboyant decade in the fashion annals, they were pioneers of the metrosexual movement, except that the term wouldn’t even develop for more than a decade. But still…only in hindsight is the view so clear. So imagine my surprise, 20-plus years after the fact, to discover my great childhood friends, Ken and Derek, are lovers. Perhaps you knew them, too? Ken was an ex of Barbie’s and Derek was the sole male member of Barbie’s girl band, The Rockers (as if this wasn’t clue numero uno). Barbie always swore she and Derek were just friends, but I never believed it. I always thought Derek was the reason behind her break-up with Ken, and I still think I was right, but for the wrong reasons. All the epiphanies, at such a late date.

I hadn’t seen all my old friends – Barbie, Ken, Derek, Skipper, and Miko, just to name a few – in a million years. You know how it is – friends grow up, grow apart, go their own ways. A few months ago, they all resurfaced to meet my then-four-year-old daughter, Grace. They were as fashionable as I remember them…decked out in classic, vintage styling. They must’ve come straight from that boutique we used to run together on Rodeo Drive. We all got reacquainted and Skipper was as cute and ebullient as ever, beautifully tanned and ageless after so many years. The same was true of Barbie and Tracey and Miko, though the astronaut (the most accomplished of all of us, it was all she ever dreamed of becoming) had lost a foot some years back in a space misadventure. Otherwise, they were all just as I’d remembered them – beautiful flowing hair, flawless skin, remarkably taut and in shape (likely because none of them had ever had kids themselves). How kind the years had been to them. I secretly wondered how different I looked to them, and if they were snarkily passing judgment after our reunion. Beautiful girls are united by one commonality – they are a catty brood.

I digress. Then, straggling at the back of the pack, came Derek and Ken. Derek’s dark hair was still frosted caramel (I thought that fad passed with the 1980s) and his eyes were rimmed with a hint of eyeliner, even though he hadn’t been in a band for two decades. He was sporting black leather capris, a sleeveless tuxedo shirt, white tennis shoes and a three-quarter sleeve, multi-colored, satin jacket. Oh…did I mention the snake tie? And then came Ken…Ken, Ken, Ken. How did I not know? His affiliation with USA Roller Sports (circa 1980) should have tipped me off, but I always thought he did that for Barb. That he tried out for various artistic and dance skate competitions nationwide (and Barbie didn’t) should’ve revealed it was his passion, not hers. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. But there Ken was, as muscled and toned as ever, wearing black shiny hot pants, a fitted red T, a sparkly purple jacket that matched the purple stripes on his shorts, a cowboy hat and skates. Had Ken always looked so much like a young Robert Redford?

Apparently, Ken and Derek have been together almost 20 years now and are well and happy, which is all anyone can really wish for their old friends. They survived some rough times in SanFran in the late ‘80s but they weathered the storm(s) together and are a stronger couple. The scuttlebutt is that Barbie is pretty well over it now, though she spent a lot of years in counseling following the discovery and developed yet another eating disorder. She always had a posse of friends to pull her through the dark times and she has had some relationships, though none has ever turned into the fairy tale she thought she’d achieve with Ken. She blamed herself for a lot of years, thinking she’d “turned” Ken gay and wondering if she’d somehow influenced Derek, too. But a bossy girlfriend (and band mate) does not a gay man make, so said her shrink, and she eventually found solace in yoga and feng shui and vegetarianism. It must be working for her because, as I said, she looks fabulous.

So, after catching up with my old friends, it was more obvious than ever that we – no matter who “we” are - are all the same. Everyone faces trials and tribulations, life is never what we expect it to be, and we, hopefully, emerge at the end of the sagas stronger and wiser, with good friends to help us along the way. No one has a perfect life, and “perfect” should never be the strived-for goal. Even the fairy tales are marred with misfortune; even the Barbies of the world get screwed over, and occasionally do the screwing over.

It was great to see them all after so many years, and so fun to remember all the good and funny times we shared. I wished my old friends well and they assured me they’d be around in the future to be friends to my daughters. I look forward to the adventures, and the occasional sagas, Grace and Nadia tell me about their new (my old) friends.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Pitch

Thanks to the vicarious adrenaline rush obtained during my frequent Olympic viewing, not only have I been retaining water (at eight months pregnant), but also endorphins. Two weeks after the fact, my Olympics recovery is complete. As happy as I always am for the Olympics to occur, I am equally happy to see them end. After the “Wow!” factor (to watch so many amazing athletes – so young and physically gifted – performing spectacular feats under so much pressure, and on a world stage) comes the “Whoa!” factor (the reminder that I possess no athleticism, am more than a decade older than most of these athletes, and that I have accomplished nothing spectacular on any stage, much less a world one).

Since I hit puberty, I’ve had all the athletic prowess of Bella Swan, the vampire-loving sourpuss of the Twilight saga. I’m not coordinated, I’m not graceful and I’m not fast. I can barely manage Frisbee with my five-year-old, and surely these days are numbered, too. But I like sports, both to watch and to play (if anyone will sacrifice and let me join their team). I know the basic rules of most of the major sports and, despite my own limitations, am perfectly capable of marveling at the abilities of others. Which is why I enjoy the Olympics so much, though often at the expense of my own self-esteem.

In addition to inducing a few more insecurities, I get frustrated with the Olympics because they claim most of my free time for a two-week period, as I religiously follow medal counts and watch all the drama that makes up the included sports (though Johnny Weir faced death threats for admiring fur, where was the outcry from bird-lovers over all the feathers adorning Evan Lysacek’s costume?!?).

Another thing that irks me about the Olympics is the analysis of performances. These know-it-all announcers bandy about the various sport-specific technical terms like every layperson in America knows the difference. We, as a nation, may be able to wade through the 31 flavors of Baskin Robbins, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who could tell you what a triple salchow, double mctwist or triple lindy is. Though I watch the performances with awe, the skaters, skiers, and snowboarders move so fast that I can’t even count rotations, much less determine proper foot positioning, grabs, landings, etc.

Then there are the sports that no one really knows anything about (see: luge, bobsled, skeleton, etc). I can watch them, but my only method of determining success was whether the individual/team was able to cross the finish line. When you’re talking about lying down on the equivalent of a big popsicle stick on blades and hurtling down an icy track, who’s to really know how much skill is involved? I’ve often wondered what would happen if you pulled “Joe Six-Pack” (Sarah’s greatest contributions to society will likely be her W-esque folksy colloquialisms) from the crowd, stuck a helmet on him and strapped him on a sled, and then sent him on his way. Assuming he crossed the finish line, and lived, would it result in a new world record? (And don’t even get me started on curling! Essentially shuffleboard on ice with a 40-pound stone, it was invented by the Scots around 1511; Scotch whisky dates back to 1495…Coincidence? You decide.)

Hence my new great idea. Since the Olympics are always strapped for cash, I think there should be a pay-to-play option. The world is full of crazy people, many with plenty of money to throw around. Why not do an Olympics-type reality show? I had initially thought of incorporating this idea straight into the Olympic games, but there would likely be too many liabilities, surely causing the International Olympic Committee more headaches than it already causes for itself. Plus, the professional athletes would surely suffer as a William Hung swooped in, talentless and clueless, stealing the spotlight and winning over the world (Oh, sweet, clueless William, where are you now?).

So, my show would go something like this…Professional announcers would be paired up with armchair viewers to comment on the performances. A brief tutorial would be offered at the beginning of each sport segment, so as to help all of America get a better grasp on what, exactly, it is we’re looking for when we watch the performances. I know that, from listening to my husband’s commentaries, uninformed comments, and the words made up to describe various maneuvers, are far more entertaining than the commentary offered by the people who actually know what it is they’re talking about.

For the winter Olympics, I figure we could safely include the following sports for your average American: the biathlon (for those not in the know: cross-country skiing and rifle-shooting…but only with blanks, of course), curling, cross-country skiing and, possibly, speed skating. Also to be included, but with additional physicals required and a few extra waivers of liability to be signed, would be hockey, figure skating and ice dancing.

The last grouping of Olympic sports that may or may not get green-light clearance from the lawyers representing the TV network would include the ones most likely to result in serious injury (or worse) to the participant: luge (on your back, feet first, no braking mechanism), skeleton (on your stomach, head first, no brake), bobsled (crouching in a pill-capsule that weighs a few-hundred pounds which, at least, is equipped with a brake), and all of the skiing sports: alpine and freestyle skiing, ski jumping and snow-boarding (for those in the know who might nitpick that I included snowboarding in a skiing category…I admit in full disclosure that I frequently have only a minimal grasp on the things I am discussing…it doesn’t stop Sarah Palin from having a national platform, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it stop me).

So, in summation, here’s the basic premise of the show: armchair commentators paired with professional commentators, reviewing two simultaneous athletic performances - one from a professional, one from, say, your mailman. Surely, there would be some laughs, some people would make some money, and, I would expect, America would come away with a new appreciation for the professional athlete (and the discovery of what embarrassing shape the rest of us are in).

Once my show is signed, I will happily take a guest spot. Though, unless Frisbee soon becomes a summer Olympics sport, expect me as an armchair commentator. I’ve barely recovered from the trauma of high school gym class…there’s no need to embarrass myself any further.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kids Say The Darnedest Things

A recent exchange with my two daughters went something like this:

Grace (age 4): When I get older I’m going to marry Oliver (our cat).

Me: You can’t marry Oliver. People can only marry other people.

Grace: And cats can only marry cats?

Me: No, cats don’t get married at all. Only people get married.

Nadia (age 2): Yes. And chickens don’t have teeth.

And so goes a typical conversation in our house. I so enjoy conversations with the girls, as they are often an adventure for all parties concerned. Sometimes Grace and Nadia are immensely perceptive and thought-provoking; sometimes (in Grace’s defense, I am mostly referring to Nadia) they border on incoherent. But, in our house, there’s almost always a several-minute conversation at dinnertime, during which Mike and I recount to each other all the loopy things we heard the girls say throughout the day. I’d been mentally composing a kids-say-the-darnedest-things piece when, a few days back, I received an e-mail from someone who has known me a long time, referencing something I myself said some 20-odd years ago. The story goes something like this:

During a second-grade discussion about various career options, my seven-year-old comrades and I fired off possibilities to our teacher, Ms. Stec. We’d covered some serious ground, having listed all the dreams and aspirations of the average kid, and on the chalkboard was written our occupation suggestions, like firefighter (surely it was listed as “fireman” in the un-PC days of the early 1980s), teacher, doctor, nurse, police officer, etc.

I had wanted to contribute “cop” (which was my career goal in the days before I developed my continuing disdain for rules and societal norms) but a classmate had volunteered it before me. As the list burgeoned, our second-grade-ideas were petering. I think I was able to add “garbage man” to the list, not as a personal preference, of course, but as a career choice that would be more suited to some of my crayon-eating cohorts. With a furrowed brow, I continued flipping through my memory bank, trying to come up with something heretofore unthought-of by my classmates. And that’s when it came to me and I raised my hand in victory, blurting it right out.

First, let me offer some background. I am the last of five kids, with 12 years difference between my nearest sibling and me. Because of the age difference, I kind of grew up as an only child, with TV as my most frequent companion. This was in the days pre-cable, when we were lucky to get three channels and only as we held ourselves in precarious yoga positions, clutching the rabbit ears. Children’s programming was pretty much non-existent, unless The Price is Right qualified.

I must’ve been seven years old in the second grade and, by that time, I already had a years-old soap opera addiction. During summer vacations and school holidays (plus the well-timed “sick” days, whenever there was a pivotal storyline coming to its climax), I had a four-soap-a-day habit. On school days, of course, I was limited to just one soap…because I wasn’t old enough yet to master the recording feature of the VCR, and I was still in school during the other three. I stayed abreast of the characters and events of the other shows through my mother (from whom I learned my addiction) and would flip through an issue of Soap Opera Digest whenever one was at hand. Though I frequently asked for a SOD subscription at holiday time, no one ever obliged my wish and I eked by, without that oh-so-juicy, behind-the-scenes soap opera gossip. I was just your average seven-year-old.

My favorite soap opera at the time was The Young and the Restless and my favorite character was Nikki, who I thought looked just like a real-life Barbie doll (Barbies being my other great passion at the time). In the early 1980s, Nikki was still a struggling young woman, trying to make it in the world. She had fallen in love with the rich and debonair Victor Newman (they would later marry and divorce several times, as all good soap opera couples do) and was on her way to becoming Genoa City’s premiere socialite. In typical Girl-Meets-Boy fashion, Nikki had met Victor at a club where she worked as a stripper. Likely daydreaming about Y&R during this class discussion, I was probably profiling the show’s characters and their jobs, thus resulting in my career epiphany. So, as I was saying a few paragraphs ago…

I raised my hand in victory, blurting it right out. After suggesting “stripper” as a career choice to my classmates, there was a bit of a tumult. I remember some laughing (though, in hindsight, it seems odd that so many second-graders would even know what a stripper was…perhaps there were more Y&R fans in that age group than I realized?), and I wish I could remember Ms. Stec’s reaction. If I recall correctly, my stripper suggestion ended that class discussion, and we likely moved on to safer material that didn’t include much student interaction.

Many years after the fact, boys who had been in that class with me remembered this one event more than any other thing about me. Forgotten was my status as Timed-Math-Test repeat champ (no one could add and subtract like me), and the fact that I could run really, really fast. I defended myself for years, always reminding people that I never said it was my career goal, but it was instead just another option for people who were so inclined. Years later, one of my classmates, as I heard through the grapevine, actually did go on to become a stripper, though I do hope that it wasn’t a seven-year-old who first planted the seed.

So, now, when my daughters say something ridiculous or ridiculously silly, I’ll remind myself to look no further than the mirror to see where their lunacy might have originated. And though I wish I could say that I outgrew my verbal gaffes, Mike would be the first to tell you that I am still occasionally guilty of saying ridiculous things. And so, for those of you who haven’t known me forever, I offer this musing as evidence that I have been saying “the darnedest things” for at least 26 years now. As a warning to my daughters, it seems to be genetic and there is a real possibility you will not outgrow it.