This is a re-post of an article I wrote over six years ago. After this published in the Dallas Morning News, I received over 50 supportive emails from parents of video gamers, support groups, even counselors who specialize in video game addiction. I’ve never returned to Azeroth.
The man sees the clock on the wall finally crawl around to 5 P.M. and he flies out the door. He’s been Jonesing all day for his fix, and now he can finally have it. Although he has a respectable career, his coworkers don’t know about the secret vice he enjoys at home. After some questionable driving speeds, he runs into his house, once again ignoring his overgrown yard, his neglected dog, and the pile of laundry building up in front of the washer. The man sprints upstairs, anxious to settle into a long night of full-sensory submersion. He closes the door (and shuts out the rest of the world) behind him, sits down at his favorite chair, and logs into World of Warcraft.
Hi, I’m Jeff – I’m a former World of Warcraft addict.
Despite the 40-plus hours a week I put into the game, I was still considered to be a “casual player”. During in-game chatter and through headphone discussions, people would say “Oh, Riddler – He has a family. He’s not committed to a regular raiding schedule.” They said family like it was a bad thing, like “Riddler has alcoholism.” My real life friends and my wife acted the same way about the game: “Jeff plays Warcraft,” with the same tone that one may say “Jeff is a porn fiend.” So I ended up existing in a surreal middle-place where people in my real-world life and in-game life each thought I spent too much with the other side.
It’s hard to explain to muggles what life is like in the WoW Matrix. The world is so expansive, it would take days for your character to walk across the in-game continents. Along with the multitudes of your in-game friends, you live in an obsessive world of continuous collection. It sounds wildly silly to even write this, but there was a time that I’d have given up a toe for the druid hat at the end of Blackrock Spire. You get invested in the progress of your character. In the same way that you’d be miffed if you spent a whole Saturday designing a garden arrangement, only to have the rascally neighborhood kid stomp it to smithereens with a nine iron, you’d crap a brick if an in-game stranger took the reward at the end of a six-hour dungeon.
People who don’t play online games assume that the hard-core Warcraft gamers must be slackers or don’t have personal goals. On the contrary, for people who are goal-driven and motivated by achievements, the game locks in their attention with the lure of continuous successes. Under the surface of the fantasy theme elements, there is a complex world of in-game economy, incremental scaling of powers and abilities, and real people relying on teamwork to complete mutual goals. The same man or woman who might have started a business, invented something useful, or written an insightful book is instead working on his or her Tier 5 gear set. Earning little bits of electronic data for all those hours of strategy and effort.
It is surprising how much you get to know your in-game buds. Through months (or years) of play, you end up spending more time in their virtual companionship than with your real-life friends and family. For example, my wife and I don’t have any inside jokes about the time we spent five hours climbing through a maze of monsters, only to accidentally kill everybody in my group when I fell asleep at the keyboard and didn’t heal anybody. Eventually, I stopped trying to explain how amazing and addictive it was to friends and coworkers. I grew quiet and endured the rituals of real-life – sitting in boredom through work, family birthdays, and obligatory dinners with the wife, all the while glancing impatiently at my watch. And I wondered where I might find a druid-themed watch.
I saw people lose their jobs, fail their marriages, drop out of school, and neglect their kids to fully submerge into their in-game lives. Just like anybody does with geeky hobbies, at first I considered myself a bit too cool for fanaticism, and assumed I’d play a couple or three casual hours a week. Then when my real-life hours started slipping away, I hung onto those stories of the hard-core gamers, trying to convince myself that I wasn’t “as bad as that guy who pees in a thermos.” Before I knew it, I had converted my Date Night with the wife to Raid Night with the guild. I cruised the Ironforge Auction House while I put on my shoes for work in the morning. I made spreadsheets of my goals and marked my progress towards each! Spreadsheets! The whole thing became quite silly, but I was hooked.
When my wife and I started trying for our first baby, I knew that my Life of Warcraft would soon be over. What I didn’t expect, however, is that we’d be successful within eight days (I must have been wearing my Amulet of the Fertile Rabbit, with extra Charisma points). Holy Nefarion – I was suddenly a Dad. I thought about the guys in my guild who, when they spoke into their microphones, you’d hear a baby crying in the background. I quickly uninstalled the game, sold my character for the price of a used car, and broke all my installation disks. I had successfully unplugged from the matrix. No fading out of play – just a quick exit, like quickly pulling off a geeky, life-sucking Bandaid.
The withdrawal was rough at first, but I eventually overcame it. I found myself collecting random things around the house – wine corks, paint cans, Legos, and paperback books. But no more epic adventures – Riddler was dead. It took me about 3 months to get used to a midnight bedtime instead of the normal 3am logoffs. I still hear from in-game buds from time to time, telling me how their Warcrack lives are going – new monsters beaten, new areas unlocked, and sweet, sweet new gear. I write them back and remind them what a sunburn feels like, or what it’s like to go on a date night.
Maybe I’ll log in for just a minute to see how things are going, just a moment for old time’s sake… I can quit anytime…
Two recent events have convinced me that I can see into the future.
But just two seconds.
I was cycling home from Granbury, making the long loop around Fort Worth on the Loop 820 access road. Many vehicles passed me on the highway, but one caught my attention. A man was standing up in the bed of the truck holding the roof of the cab with one arm, and holding dozens of long, thin trim boards with the other. Despite the obvious poor planning on their part, they had made it this far, so it stands to reason that they should have continued on this way and made it to their project without incident.
Then my future-sight kicked in: I pictured the wind suddenly catching the boards, fanning them out and throwing the guy backwards, sending long pieces of trim catapulting end over end, eventually shattering into splinters on the windshields of other cars, and the man struggling not to fall out of the pickup.
And that’s exactly what happened. It happened so quickly after visualizing it, it was almost as if I had caused it to happen. When cloud of wood splinters and board fragments settled, I could see the man hunched over the tailgate. By the time I caught up on my bike, both he and the driver were standing next to their truck, looking at the remains of their project materials with shamed, defeated expressions, not even talking to each other.
So I decided at that moment that I might be a fortune teller, even if I could only see two seconds into the future. It’s not useful for sports betting or predicting the stock market, but it might one day help me dodge a fly ball at a baseball game.
There is a visiting scientist at my work for an extended project, a tiny Asian guy named Dong. Real name, you can’t make this kind of stuff up. He’s still figuring out the ins and outs of how this place works, so I wasn’t entirely surprised that he’d made a little mess on the floor in the breakroom while he changed out the empty Ozarka water bottle. He had set the Wet Floor sign out and I could see that he had mopped up his mess with a few napkins. It’s not rocket science, but everything has a learning curve and those jugs are a little harder to lift if you’re under 5 feet tall.
As I entered, he was kneeling next to the rack of unopened water bottles, stacked in rows three-high along the wall. Then my future-sight kicked in again: I pictured him peeling the lid and popping the top off one of the bottles, then comically panicking while water flooded the breakroom.
And that’s exactly what happened. He couldn’t tip it up because it was in one of the lower rows on the rack (obviously chosen based on his tiny stature), and now he couldn’t pull it out because it was shooting out gallons of water at him. He splashed at the water with his hands, briefly looked at me and said “Help me!” in a thick accent, and then went back to wiggling the jug while its contents poured all over him and the floor.
I was going to help him. But I couldn’t because I was super busy, crying laughing and trying really hard not to wet myself.
Dong learned an important lesson about gravity today. (I bet that’s a sentence you didn’t foresee reading today.)
The islanders are generally shy and friendly. If you see someone driving aggressively or cutting in line in front of you, it’s not one of the locals – it’s definitely a French guy. Not all the French tourists are bad, though. The lawyer who looked like a bad guy from a James Bond movie was actually quite pleasant. But if you see a guy smoking indoors in a crowded area, collar turned up, rolling his eyes at everything, wearing skinny-jeans, he’s French.
Most people on the island speak a combination of French mixed in with traditional Polynesian words. Ia Orana (Ya-o-ranna) means “howdy” and Mauruuru (Ma-roo-roo) means ‘thanks for the money, White Devil.’
I didn’t realize this before, but the art of tattooing originated in this part of the world. Every islander that I saw has at least one. They tend to have a classy style of abstract line art that usually resembles local fish, plants, and critters, and only with the dark-blue ink. (I didn’t see any tramp stamps like the Disneyland logo that I saw on a very large white woman at Walmart back home in Texas.)
The majority of all food we tasted on the island was some combination of French or local Polynesian cuisine, plus a scattering of pizza places. If you crave spicy food like me, you’d better bring your own bottle of Sriracha sauce or crushed red pepper because there apparently isn’t a spicy pepper of any kind on the island.
A big local guy who looked like a Polynesian version of Rodney Dangerfield showed us how to make poisson cru, a popular local dish. It’s basically a coconut ceviche and it’s delicious. He fearlessly hacked away at a coconut with a machete with such little caution, I did a quick check to see if he still had all his fingers. Poly Dangerfield can tell you 100 things you can do with different parts of the coconut tree. When he’s not teaching coconut awareness classes, he swims around and scrubs barnacles off the ladders that go up to the bungalows. It seems like a great life.
Another traditional preparation is for the islanders to dig a hole in the ground, start a fire, and then stick meat in there to be covered and slow roasted all day. When you drive the perimeter of the island, a big, smoky, throat-choking haze of burning palm leaves clouds every residential area. (Until we figured out that this was how they cook dinner, we thought everybody on the island were just pyros and loved to burn stuff.)
We drove across the island to the Tiki Village to watch their traditional cultural presentation that I insensitively referred to as “ooga booga dancing.” It starts off by bringing all the guys from the audience, and then all the girls, out to show us dance moves and make sure that we’re all nice and sweaty and covered with sand for the rest of the evening. Then they do a mock wedding (yawn), and then the whole thing does a 180 and they start badass fire-dancing (furthering my pyro theory). While they danced, their kids in the audience danced along to the familiar moves, singing along to the songs, generally emulating their parents as their heroes, and sometimes even streaking out into the stage area to interfere and dance along. It was awesome.
On the evening that our hotel did their own traditional ooga booga dancing, we were exhausted from the Vacation Trifecta (sun, swim, and rum) and spent the evening lounging around the bungalow playing Candy Crush. The Frenchman in the neighboring bungalow, however, was super excited about their performance. He perched on his porch and yelped at the music across the lagoon, long into the night.
We decided to buy a black pearl, the special gem that is grown only in this part of the world, and Diva Bride set off on a mission to find the perfect one. Her unique blend of researching skills, persistence, love of pretty things, and patient new husband made for a very long day. We ended up visiting 27 pearl stores around the island, but I didn’t mind because it gave us an adventure. Some of the shop owners wear stiletto heels and short skirts to work while driving scooters. While Diva Bride looked at every round stone on the island, I bothered the shop owners. (“Wait, you get these from oysters? Are you sure?”) The punchline is that in the end, our marathon shopping trip didn’t yield a pearl – the best deal was back at the hotel gift shop.
One other shopping note is that the options for electronic merchandise on the island, understandably, aren’t are expansive as we’re used to back home. After our the waterproof camera we borrowed started blinking Poltergeist screen display and then spewed battery fluid, we were tickled to find that the local grocery store indeed sold an underwater digital video camera. It worked once for an hour, then died, and then never worked again. We took it back to the market and experienced their return policy:
Since I tend to make wild claims about being an expert on pretty much anything after having experienced it even once, I’m going to blurt out everything I know about Tahiti.
Around the perimeter
The Moorea island is a tropical wonderland dream. It looks like a living postcard. If you go anywhere near the water (which is most everywhere), you’re treated to the most gorgeous waters, tropical beaches, and palm trees you’ve probably ever seen. It simply makes every other place you’ve ever visited look like crap.
If you look underwater with mask on, you can see for miles – it’s like swimming in an aquarium packed with over-sized exotic fish. Diva Wife is a huge fan of marine life and was thrilled to see 117 species she could name from memory. She and the fish swam around for hours and hours, doing fish stuff. When it was time to go, I had to peel her fingers away from the bungalow and threaten to bonk her on the head with a big cartoon hammer and drag her back to the ferry. It’s a hard place to leave.
Inside the island
If you get too far inland, it’s a familiar blend of humid rainforest, struggling infrastructure, limited technology, people weaving and selling baskets on the sidewalk, wild-ass drivers, and chickens everywhere. It reminded me of being in Mexico.
What to pack
Passport – Apparently the international customs folks insist that you have one of these. To ensure that you remember yours, I recommend marrying someone who is more organized than you so she can find your passport in 8 minutes, after you spend a panicky 8 hours looking for it.
Sunscreen – We bought approximately $308 worth of sunscreen and used it all. If you share my genetically-deficient white skin, you might as well roll around in a bathtub of SPF 80 before you go anywhere.
Liquor – If you do the duty-free shop on the way out of town, you can get your combustible adult beverages cheaper than normal prices back home, and MUCH cheaper than you’ll find on the island. Jack Daniels is considered a high-end import there and a bottle will run you $125. (The rum they make on the island is relatively cheap, and doesn’t taste bad, but for some reason makes your breath smell like barf and bananas. If you’re into that.)
Multiple sets of swim shorts – I thought that the act of swimming would continually wash my swim trucks. Ideally, if I swam every time I wore them, they should remain nearly clean all week, right? No, after about 4 days, they smelled so bad we thought we’d have to burn them. We came back into the bungalow and it smelled like the shorts had been pulled out of a restaurant dumpster.
A big misconception was that if we made our presence known as honeymooners, we might get some extra in-flight attention, perhaps a seating upgrade or free stuff. Diva Wife looked super adorable in her little veil and bejazzled wedding-themed hoodie and I wore my shirt that proudly said “Taken”. But alas, they gave us no extra love. I think it’s because about 80% of the people who go to Tahiti were on their honeymoon. Or maybe it’s just because airlines are cheap.
Not only were we on our first flights together, it was each of our first-ever flights with Virgin Atlantic and Air France. I was under the impression that Virgin would be some unique experience, like first class in every seat. But it was fairly routine, and they charged out the nose for every tiny detail, even the WiFi (by the minute) despite making it seem like it’s free in advertisements . They dress quirky, and the hot pink lights make the cabin look like a night club, and they have an interesting flight safety cartoon to watch. But in the areas I care about, I rate it a great big “meh.”
Air France had the TVs on every seat too – their interactive panels were much more responsive and had more content. Air France’s meals, movies, and drinks were all included, and all were top notch. They had scores of attendants and checked on us often. We were fortunate that the longest legs of our flight were with Air France instead of Virgin. If you fly domestically, I don’t think the premium Virgin prices are worth it.
One oddball detail on the way home was that right before we left the island, Air France suddenly announced that due to regulations, they had to spray the plane for bugs. While they announced it, they walked up and down the aisles three times, gassing us all with pesticides while we coughed and put our shirts over our mouths.
Wedding bells are just a few weeks away.
Some people ask why we picked such a short engagement, only three months long. (Then they usually take a quick peek at Diva Bride-to-Be’s belly and are confused to observe that she is still quite petite and un-pregnant.) No, we’re not expecting (as far as I know).
I tell people that we’ve just waited all this time to tie the knot, so now we’re in a hurry to start the rest of our lives together. This is true, but it’s also because wedding planning is a painful experience. Let’s not stretch out this awful part-time job and stress out for a whole year.
Most guys getting into this think that the goal is to find that sweet spot in the little safety zone between “Stop being a control freak on every detail in this wedding!” and “You’re not helping with anything!” But here’s the trick, there is no safety zone, those things overlap. No matter how high your Groom Involvement Level is, the new bride will never stop and say “Thank you, you’re giving just the right amount of input – not too much and not too little.”
You might think it’s a good idea to say “they both look good,” or “whatever you want, sweetie,” but that’s a bear trap, dear readers. What? You don’t even care?! You’re not excited about this wedding at all.
On the other end, if you express an opinion that doesn’t jive, you have now introduced more stress to that process that already has them in a tizzy. What?! We can’t have the flower girl throw around flower petals! The place won’t allow real petals and the people will think the fake ones look like crap!
Are you insane?
The secret goal here is to weigh all the options, to figure out which one they like, and smile and point at that one.
I think most brides will consider a few options, look at their budget, stress a little bit, and then pick the best one they can afford. But my Diva Bride-to-Be is truly a masterful project manager. She will acquire vast amounts of research, read every available consumer review, package 327 different versions of a plan, shop for hours upon days, and pick only the exact best option. For example, there is a very good chance that we’ll devote a full seven and a half hours picking out the right color ribbon to give to our cake lady.
She put more effort into selecting bridesmaids dresses than I did when I picked out my house.
I imagine that when we make new tiny humans, that she’ll tell them the story of Goldilocks and the 117 bears. The first 35 porridges were not gluten-free and the next 21 porridges were prepared in kitchens with less than a 82% approval rating on Yelp. The 117th bear’s porridge was the most acceptable, but by then Goldilocks had been eating porridge all damn day and just wanted to go home and take these freaking shoes off.
In terms of being selective about purchases, I’m pretty easy-going. For example, I’m not a very good dresser unless other people shop for me. Sometimes I’ll let a waiter pick out what I’m eating from the menu. I tend to pick out pets by wandering into an animal shelter and announcing “I’m taking home the ugliest dog you got – which one’s getting gassed tomorrow?” And here is how my thought process goes on birthday cards: “Hey, this is a birthday card. Neat, I’ll get this one.”
When it’s all said and done, she’s probably right. Being picky is a probably the better approach. Sometimes I stop and realize that this person that I’m about to spend the rest of my life with – who is so dedicated and uncompromising in only accepting her most important choices – also chose me.
I got engaged this weekend! I surprised Diva Girlfriend with a ring at a fancy restaurant, she said yes, and now she becomes Diva Bride-to-Be.
I know what you’re thinking. Society says that your scripted response right now should be either “Congratulations. When is the big day?” or “Have you set a date yet?”
Our culture insists that we follow the standard programming with these little automated responses. It would be frowned upon if you followed up with “Hot dog. I’ve always wanted to see her naked,” or “Neat. I’ll put your invitation in my scrapbook next to the invitation from your last wedding.”
These little scripted expectations are everywhere. If someone asks “How is your day going?” you are supposed to say: “Good, thank you. How is yours?” But here’s the catch — that other guy does not really want to know how your day is going, because people can’t handle real responses.
“How is your day going?”
“I’ve had the worst day. I was in a weird mood and ate a whole pineapple, and it gave me the runs. Then I sneezed at work and accidentally crapped my pants.”
In general, for the big life events, these expected responses seem to always nudge you on to the next thing. They say they’re engaged, you ask when’s the date. As soon as they get married, you start inquiring about kids. If they churn out some loinproduct, you start asking when they’re going to have more.
Why is there such a big rush by everyone to push you along to the next big event? I remember sitting in the hospital, delirious from sleep exhaustion, holding my precious new little princess Jules. We had just squirted out this baby no less than 11 hours ago and my aunt-in-law had the nerve to ask “So…… when’s the next one?” If I could shoot laser beams out of my eyes, I would have accidentally exploded her head right then. Mis-fire, pew pew pew.
I’ve decided to start giving weird responses, you know… shake up the societal norms a bit. If someone comes to me and pronounces “I have some news, we’re pregnant,” I’ll say “Congratulations! Have you picked out what color eyes he’s going to have?” Or if someone sends me a graduation announcement, I’ll invite them to find a time machine and attend my own baby shower. Then I’ll say no thanks on the gift exchange, we’re already square. Or if someone announces their new promotion, I’ll say “Sweet, now you can get that elective bellybutton removal surgery you’ve been wanting.”
Each year, I take a moment to reflect on this most recent trip around the sun, decide again that I am quite terrific just like I am, and then make resolutions for everyone else. Here are my:
2013 New Year’s Resolutions, But Not for Me
10) Jerry Jones the Owner will fire himself as Jerry Jones the GM, satisfying decades of frustration from among Cowboys fans. But then in a weird twist of fate, Jerry the Owner will also rehire himself as one of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
9) City planners in the Dallas-Fort Worth area will have a conversation with each other at some point and have the startling revelation that they accidentally all started major construction projects on every major intersection in the whole freaking Metroplex at the same time. After a collective forehead slap, they’ll draw straws and prioritize projects so we have at least one uninterrupted route through town.
8) My new kitten will find something to chew on that tastes better than me. I’m going to start initiating “Spontaneous Kittycat Bathtime” everytime she nips at me from now on.
7) This year, anytime somebody says “Hey we should hang out sometime soon,” they will actually make arrangements at some point. Otherwise I will start sneaking into your house and hanging out with you anyway. While you sleep. And I’m dressed like a clown, holding big cartoon scissors, just to freak you out.
6) Any persons on the planet who happen to be unemployed adult roommates of mine will make a much better effort to wake up before noon to receive important packages. If not, I will start waking him up with a bucket of scorpions that each have tiny head-mounted chainsaws.
5) My daughter will figure out the names of the four kids who live next door so I can stop greeting them all with “Hi neighbor”. They’re super-cool kids, but I never learned their names, so now it would be awkward to ask after two years.
4) MyFreeInsuranceQuotes.com will eventually stop calling me every day. Something is broken in their system that they can’t or won’t fix, and they’ve called me every workday for about 4 months straight, ever since I re-fi’d my house. I’ve even started to recognize some of their voices. “Hi Larry, how were the holidays? Did you end up getting that lawnmower you were looking at?”
3) Facebook will modify their mobile app so that it doesn’t send out friend requests so easily. After I got my new phone, I selected the “Sync Contacts” checkbox, thinking that it would marry up my existing contacts with any that happened to also be Facebook friends. But instead, it sent out over 300 new friend requests to anyone I’ve ever called, emailed, or texted. My number of new friends nearly doubled overnight. Ex-girlfriends, ex-in-laws, vendor reps from work, random people I might have called once to ask about a bike for sale on Craigslist … and then they eventually suspended my account for spamming out invites. Thanks, Facebook.
2) Diva Girlfriend will eventually stop trying to convince me that white undershirts need to be folded or hung up immediately out of the dryer. I will continue to claim that they stretch across quite smoothly after I put them on. Same goes for underwear.
1) In 2013, local police will start enforcing rules related to using the left lane only for passing and for use of blinkers. If you use the passing lane to go under the speed limit and doodle around, eating and texting and putting on makeup, local law enforcement helicopters will swoop in and pick up your car with a giant magnet and drop you in the lake. Or in a bad neighborhood in Dallas.
It is not a strong enough term to say that I enjoy Sriracha hot sauce. I have a full-blown relationship with it.
There is no greater culinary joy than the eye-tearing tongue-flame of the red chili sauce. There isn’t a single genre of savory food that I have not yet doused with the spicy red goo. If you invent a new dish, I don’t even know what it is yet, but I already want to put Sriracha on it. I’ve cooked with it in marinades, dips, stuffing, wraps, sauces, fillers, and have even brought it with me into a restaurant that doesn’t serve it.
Sriracha is the only word I know that starts with an S and then R. If there are others, please don’t tell me. I want to keep this stuff special.
Here are some highlights of my personal journey with Sriracha:
It seems like an errand until I get there. But right as I walk through the front doors, beyond the amazing meaty/oniony smell of the hot dog stand, I always remember how much I love going to Lowe’s. It’s not the closest big-box hardware retail to my house, but I go there because I know where everything is, the paint girl is hot, and they give a 5% discount on all purchases with the credit card.
So I’m doing my thing, picking up a few odds and ends, flirting with the paint girl, playing with the demo powertools, daydreaming of bigass projects that need cool new tools and materials. I usually have a brief flash of responsibility and put back some of the unnecessary stuff I’ve collected. But not today – I was gearing up for an important project.
“I’m sorry, sir, your card is declined.“
“What? I thought my balance was zero. What does it say?”
“You have a past due minimum balance.”
“What was my minimum amount due?”
“How can I pay you zero dollars? The card is completely paid off. Is my card inactive or something?”
“No, it shows here it’s active. And yes, it shows here you don’t have any outstanding balance.”
“I just want to use the card for the 5% discount. How do I use it today?“
“The system won’t let me use this card unless you make a payment. Weird, huh?“
“And it won’t let me make a payment of zero, right?”
So I went to the Customer Service desk and basically repeated the exact conversation with two more employees. Then I made an unnecessary payment to give my account a new negative-balance / credit so the system would let me use the card for my purchases.
Then they wouldn’t let me buy the adorable little gift card holder for the gift card I was buying for my brother’s housewarming present. It’s listed among the items that are restricted from purchasing with the Lowe’s Card. Afterwards, the gal at the checkout had the nerve to offer me to join their MyLowes rewards program. It seems like their next step might be a new line of Lowe’s Cards that unpleasantly shock your genitals from time to time in your pocket.
On the way out of there, I noticed a wall-mounted bell by the exit that said “Ring the Bell for Great Service!” So I took my newly-purchased scissors out of the bag and snipped off the string inside the bell that held the ringer and smiled as it hit the floor behind me.
During a memorably exciting car wash, I realized that the sunroof in my Charger had a leak.
Phonecall 1 from the dealership: Good news, we found the problem with your sunroof. We just need to realign the tracks that it rides along. This will be ready tomorrow.
Day 2: Oops, we broke the darn thing, but don’t worry. We ordered you a brand new set of sunroof tracks.
Day 3: Hi there, me again. We kinda ordered the wrong part. But don’t worry, it’s coming, two days.
Day 5: Hoo boy, we are really taking a long time on this. It turns out that we have to take off your front windshield to get the new tracks in. But don’t worry, we have a guy who does these all the time. No big deal.
Day 6: Okay, we broke your windshield. The new one is on order, probably two more days. Yes, we suck.
For the first few days, I carpooled to work and Diva Girlfriend and I endured each other’s morning radio talk shows. But I realized after a week that my warranty coverage actually included a rental car. It’s a very secretive policy – Wink, wink, nudge, nudge – they only offer one if you bring it up. My dealership service rep always acts like it’s some kind of hassle, like I’m asking to borrow their offices to host a mud wrestling event or something.
Enterprise needs to expand their slogan from “We’ll pick you up!” to “We’ll pick you up! Eventually! And then bring you back to our store to stand in line there!”
When it became my turn at the rental car counter, a male employee wrestled a key out of my (cute) female representative’s hand to scurry it across the room to a little blonde customer wearing a slightly sheer little sundress. My female sales rep and I shared an eyerolling moment while we watched him lurching over Blondie-locks, dripping sweat from his receding hairline and forcing awkward small talk while she tried to leave. I apparently missed out on renting a Chrysler 300.
As my sales rep handed me a different set of keys, she whispered “sorry,” and then I was introduced to the comedic stylings of the Dodge Caliber.
Ranked 41st out of 41 economy class cars, this is Dodge’s replacement to the Neon. It’s pretty bad when the JD Power report recommends that you upgrade to the Ford Focus. My usual ride is the SRT8 Dodge Charger, a 455 hp work of art with an enormous Hemi engine that lusts for speed and throws you back into your seat. It is unthinkable that these two cars are made by the same company.
But I don’t want to be completely negative. The Dodge Caliber has some bright sides too.
I am a furnace when I sleep. As my brain drifts off into dreamworld, my body apparently thinks it needs to ramp up into hyperdrive. I’ll be wearing a Zorro cape, standing on top of my new patio cover and trying to shoot a 30-foot tall robotic iguana with a shotgun (you know, normal dream stuff) allthewhile my real body is undergoing a feverish, sweaty, flailing-about experience. I have been known to wake up with the corner of the fitted sheet up over my head, my covers halfway across the room, and my underwear twisted nearly 180 degrees around the backside of my body.
In one of those fast-motion / time elapse sleep studies, where they video your sleep posture and then play it back in fast motion, I picture me dancing across the bed like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, kicking any cats and/or girlfriends trying to sleep near me.
For some reason, naps are even worse. If I wake up from a good two hour nap on the couch, even in a cool room, I will wake up looking like the winning coach of the Superbowl, doused with water on my chest and neck. Things are stuck to weird places, I’ll have drool in my hair somehow, and any pets who started the nap curled up with me are now moved to the other couch, having grown tired of my backflips or whatever.
There are all kinds of sleeping positions. Some people hug their pillow like they’re hoping to successfully choke it into submission. Some people spread out like a stranded starfish. Others will curl into a little ball, bury their head under a pile of three pillows, and wear over-the-knee socks. I had a friend-of-a-friend who couldn’t sleep unless she had a hairdryer on, all night. That seems dangerous.
Sleeping combinations are even worse when you add more people to the bed. See the following chart of baby sleeping positions from www.howtobeadad.com
(You might need to click on the picture to see the full thing).
When my daughter Jules was a baby, she’d do some combination of the “H is for Hell” and simply crawling up and kicking me in the nose from time to time.
I find that my heat regulation is the toughest part of getting comfortable. There’s about a three-degree temperature range where I’m not sweating or freezing. So I invented the perfect sleeping maneuver.
It’s called Radiator Leg.
Here’s how Radiator Leg works. You get under your covers, and you get yourself all snuggly awesome. You build whatever fort of pillows that you need, and get your perfect little cocoon all set. But then, you hang one leg out. Just one leg. The other one stays in your cocoon of badass snuggly comfort. That one leg will act as a radiator, drawing all the heat away from your body with evaporative cooling.
So following my invention of the Counterblink Maneuver (where you fake a right blinker when you want to get in the left lane), Radiator Leg is my second significant contribution to mankind. Trust me, you’ll be thanking me the next time you’re trying to get comfortable and you employ the new maneuver. Then you can go back to sleep and think about battling giant robot lizards.
Kittens are cute.
10. Freeze it in between uses to preserve its freshness.
9. Teach it to attack all guests just in case one of them means harm.
8. Make it wear ridiculous costumes until it goes insane
7. Be really literal with a catapult
6. Turn it back into the kitten rental place.
5. Make it an internet sensation
4. Drop it off out in the woods, hope for the best, and cry yourself to sleep for the next year.
3. Teach it to backup your data and run system maintenance on your home networks while you’re at work.
2. Keep that little furball drunk all the time.
1. Let it slowly take over your life, pamper it night and day like it’s household royalty, and continue this for 15 to 20 years.
I consider myself a sports fan. But then again, most people probably do. My brother can name the starting offensive line for any NFL team, can tell you what year and round they were drafted, and tell you fun-facts about pretty much anybody (“See the right tackle? He went in the 2nd round out of Penn State four years ago and he cross-stitches unicorns in his spare time. His mother was born in Belgium and always sneezes twice in a row.”)
I can’t do those things, but I do nonetheless have some hot sports opinions. In all sports, the rules are periodically reevaluated, and then changes are made to evolve the games. This concept is pure blasphemy to the sports purists out there, so this article is not for you. But for the rest of you, I have some suggestions.
The individual players and coaches who win the Pro Bowl earn an extra draft pick for their team. Right now the Pro Bowl is a beating for all involved. The players and coaches don’t want to risk injury, the best players are often not even there because they’re preparing for their Superbowl the following week, and the fans reward this lousy exhibition game with terrible ratings. Let’s energize the game with a new round of draft picks that takes place after the first round — During the new ‘Pro Bowl Round’, the teams that had players represented on the winning team (only) take a random draw to see who goes first for their extra draft pick.
Allow 10 seconds of touchdown celebrations. When it’s all said and done, we watch sports because they’re entertaining. Don’t penalize a guy for taking off his helmet and doing a chicken dance, or for lining up with excited teammates and doing coordinated strutting about, or punting the ball back across the field. Give them 10 seconds for shenanigans — the fans (and ratings) will love it. If the opponent gets their feelings hurt by the celebration, then try harder not to let them score again, you big babies.
No rebounds allowed for missed free throws in the last two minutes of the game. I’ve seen many games end up with this awful version of basketball — these desperation scrambles to foul someone for a chance at a free-throw rebound. It’s a lame version of trying to force a turnover, slows down the last 2 minutes into a 20+ minute long exercise and takes the climax out of the game.
Half court shots are worth 4 points. It would spread out the court a bit and add some exciting comeback opportunities. We’d see alot more players try to lob one up from the other side of the court. These shots are occasionally made at halftime or the ends of games and they’re always entertaining.
The cost of bringing in a relief pitcher is an extra out required to end that inning. Rotating fresh bullpen pitchers through makes the games lower-scoring, longer, and more boring. Sure, it’s nice to see 98 mph fastballs the whole game from fresh pitchers, but teams should be rewarded for having tough pitchers who can hang in there longer. The offense suffers from the current trend of bringing in more and more fresh pitchers. I fear that we’re eventually headed towards a sport where the pitchers can’t handle a pitch count over 50 and the bullpen becomes a 20-man circus. Only allow position players to sub in during a game.
Pitchers have to bat. Not only is the AL designated hitter system a super wussy way of playing, it’s incredibly odd to have two divisions of the same league that have different rules. Pinch runners are also a lazy travesty. Before these guys were prissy millionaires, they had to work harder, and be tougher. Oh, and every time you bring a little jacket out to a runner on first base, we are booing you at home. This sport is heading towards getting to use scooters to travel around the bases so they don’t hurt their wittle legs.
Driving is probably the most dangerous thing that we do on a regular basis. Not only are you flying down the street in a big metal box hoping not to hit anything, your other goal is to avoid all the other people out there zipping along in their own big metal boxes. It’s like running a 5K where everybody is holding a pair of scissors. And many of them are using their free hand that isn’t holding scissors to put on makeup or look at Facebook on their phone or eat a breakfast burrito.
We made the 6+ hour roadtrip to see Diva Girlfriend’s family this weekend. We made it there and back like pros, 12+ hours in the car. We diverted around some holiday traffic, managed to avoid tickets, and didn’t get into any trouble. For example, I successfully avoided a drunk redneck trying to engage me in an impromptu race or perhaps some kind of roadside fight just east of San Antonio. He seemed pretty upset about me ignoring him (even though he was in an old pickup truck and towing a boat). I need a sign that says “I’m not going to race you, I have a friggin kid in here.”
Making long roadtrips with a kid can be a challenge, but here are some tips to making it work for you.
1. Bring good kids
This seems like a simple tip, but you’d be surprised how many people overlook this important detail. Not all kids are great travel companions. Jules is awesome on trips, but some of your kids are little monsters. If your kid shrieks like a chimpanzee everytime they want something , or they can’t go five miles without squirting a Capri Sun onto the back of your head, or they fight with each other like they’re in a UFC-octagon back there, you might want to leave their little butts at home.
2. Play some roadtrip games
Kids always like Simon Says because it’s a chance for them to be bossy. Jules tries to get me to do stuff that’s hard to do while driving, like “Simon Says close both of your eyes. Close them, Daddy.”
Another good roadtrip game is “I spy with my little eye…” You give a clue and the rest of the car blurts out guesses. Jules said she spied “something green” and it ended up being “envy.” Weird.
I made up a new game where you have to sing everything you say. Diva Girlfriend wouldn’t play. There is also the Quiet Game, which was probably originally borne out of desperation for a silent moment in the car.
3. Stop often for the potty
Kids have bladders the size of a quarter. And even if you’re lucky enough to have one who will tell you when they need to make a restroom detour, you only get the heads-up after it is Mission Critical. The first time you hear about it, they’re doing the Pee Pee Dance and begging you to stop the car immediately. That’s a recipe for ending up in some low-quality restrooms. It’s better to get out in front of this one and be proactive — make them go often, so you don’t have the mad scramble to find a place to pee.
One time I tried to point the Ol’ Supersoaker into a Dr Pepper bottle when my friend Evan was driving — we got the giggles and spilled Dr Pepper and urine everywhere.
4. Bring geeky gadgets
I can’t tell you how great it is to have the Leapster Explorer. Jules will spend hours back there, creating and feeding her little electronic pets or playing monotonous Princess-related games. Diva Girlfriend claims to get barfy if she tries to read in the car, but it’s a selective kind of nausea because I’ve seen her do marathon Facebook sessions without any issues.
5. Keep your eyes on the road
After staring at your hood and relatively similar scenery for hours on end, you might be tempted to let your eyes wander. Kids especially encourage this. ”Daddy, look at this picture I drew of you! Look over here, I drew your face on a flower!” But remember back to the scissors analogy — there are thousands of other people rocketing down the road, just feet away from you, with only a very loose command of their vehicles. You have to be ready at all times to swerve into a different lane to avoid them. So be on your toes, people.
I have a co-worker who has his phone set to go “Quack, quack, quack” everytime his wife calls. It never loses its comedic novelty. Another one has the theme song that plays when the Wicked Witch of the East appears.
In a way, our ringtones define us. Even by not selecting a ringtone, that defines you too. Like the lyrics from Rush: If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. If that default tone goes off, everybody within earshot knows that you’re either lazy or a brand-new mobile phone user.
I leave my phone on vibrate almost all the time. It’s a gentle, barely-audible bzzt, bzzt. I’m the type who tends to forget to toggle the ringer off, so this is my way of avoiding blasting out whichever weird ringtone I’ve selected during meetings at work or at church.
One day I left it on for some reason, and I heard voices coming from my pocket during a meeting with executives. I quickly did the mad-scramble-thing to mute it, and then I remembered that I somehow talked Diva Girlfriend recording the phrase: “Excuse me sir, would you like to motorboat me?”
The little bzzt, bzzt that my phone makes is also the same (silenced) notification for all manners of other things… home emails, work emails, ESPN sports alerts, facebook notifications, you name it. Altogether I get about 100-150 of them a day, one kind or another. I inevitably get a big blast of those going off right after I go to sleep, often a big string of email advertisements, reminding me that they’re having a special one-day sale that is completely different than yesterday’s special one-day sale.
Occasionally, a groggy Diva Girlfriend will hear the bzzt, bzzt and go “Who is texting you this late?!” to which I will answer something random, based on my mood. Recent answers have included “That’s my urination reminder alarm — it’s reminding me to Shake Hands with the Man,” and “I can’t get a break from these bitches… Always some big-booty hos, wantin’ some of this,” and “Oh weird, Pauly Shore died today.”
On a similar note, I’ve found it surprisingly effective to avoiding constant questioning by my Mom, perpetually asking what I’ve been doing today, by always answering that question with “I just pooped. It was enormous.”
I don’t judge people by their ringtones, but I do find it funny when an otherwise-wallflowery coworker has her phone go off and it’s blaring LET ME SEE THAT BOOTY SHAKE, BOOTY SHAKE, BOOTY SHAKE.
My mom’s phone went off during her brother’s funeral. I had even grabbed her phone in advance and turned off the ringer to avoid this from happening. But she had turned it back on just in case she had any last-minute calls, even though literally every human she knows was within 50 feet of her at the time. On the bright side, it did add a moment of levity to the otherwise-sad proceedings to hear her phone interrupt the funeral and belt out the Country song: God is great, beer is good… people are crazy….
Because my brain operates in a general state of chaos most of the time, my To Do Lists serve as a thin-but-critical lifeline of sanity. The Lists keep me from straying off into the wilderness, where I would inevitably become lost and live in the trees and have to eat beetles. I am fairly worthless in a grocery store without The List — Instead I’ll skip up and down the aisles, excited about some new chicken marinade recipe I just thought of, only to come home to be greeted by a hungry dog. Then I have to go back out to get his dog food. And he sits there and judges me.
When I don’t get around to doing something, it gets repeated at the top of the next day’s list. That’s the little penalty — I have to rewrite the undone thing on the next list. It’s not quite the same level of self-flagellation like the creepy albino guy from the Da Vinci code, whacking his back with some sort of torture device at the end of a rope. But it’s still a penalty to pay.
Recently, I found myself doing the list-rewriting thing with my haircut. For weeks. I simply could not make it to the place. At first it was general sense of procrastination, but then I ran into an odd series of obstacles that wouldn’t let me get my haircut.
Eventually, my hairdo started doing some weird stuff. If it was music, this would have been free-form jazz. Lots of noise, no melody. For some reason, my hair doesn’t all grow at the same length. I grow hair seven times as fast at the temples, which can get out of control pretty quick.
One Saturday morning, I rushed over to the haircut place right when they opened, hoping to be the first one in line so I could make it to some birthday event on time afterwards with kiddo. No luck — the manager was late to open the place, everybody was standing around out front. And I couldn’t talk the haircutters into giving me a trim right there on the sidewalk, and they were a little standoffish when I offered to pick the lock to the store’s front door.
Another day, I ventured out to the haircut place by my work but they were “out of stylists.” But they said I could come back at 3pm and they “might” be staffed then. How does a place run out of stylists? In some crazy scheme to turn a profit, you’d think they’d keep the place staffed with scissors and people who know how to use them during the day.
So I tried to leave work early one day, and right as my car hit the on-ramp to the highway, I got called to do a U-turn back into work for an emergency. At this point I started looking around to see if I was on Candid Camera or something.
This went on literally for weeks. Everytime I’d try to go get the haircut, something crazy would pop up. Like I’d get held up by a stopped train when I had a short window of time to get the haircut. Or I’d finally make it there during daylight hours, but oops, forgot my wallet. Fate obviously did not want me to have shorter hair.
Finally, the planets aligned in my favor and I was able to make it to the place by my house. And not only were they open, and I had my wallet, and I had time to get the haircut without being somewhere else in a hurry… my favorite haircutter Betty was also available. Score.
I peeked outside to see if the place was about to get robbed, or perhaps a pack of wolves would figure out how to open the door and try to come interrupt us. No, this haircut was definitely going to happen.
But as I waited for Betty, there was a weird vibe in the air. The stylists were awestruck as the guy right before me gave Betty a $100 tip. Holy crap — that’s like a 700% tip. I was sure she’d suddenly decide to be done for the day and I’d fall back into Haircut Purgatory. It was the biggest tip she’d ever received, by double, and she was glowing with the feeling of appreciation for her special craft.
Despite being wildly distracted, chatting to the other girls about the big tip, Betty went ahead and gave me a terrific haircut as always. In fact, she was in a zone today — it made my top 5 best haircuts ever.
It was such a relief to have this thing done — not just because my hair continued to grow longer each day, but because of all the obstacles. Through a combination of the sheer happiness of getting my haircut finally accomplished, and the funds I accumulated while missing whole haircut intervals, and a general sense of competitiveness… I knew what I had to do. I threw down a tip that beat his by one dollar and strutted out of there like a boss.
Get a haircut
I took Diva Girlfriend to a small town last weekend for a bed-and-breakfast thing. It was mostly great — I’d recommend the historic and beautiful place where we stayed, if not for the creepy innkeeper who lurches over you like one of the hillbillies from Deliverance, and the enormous box-top TVs that dangle precariously over each of the bathtubs and beds.
We explored the small town in search of a good dinner, and a wishy-washy Yelp crowd led us to a small hibachi place in a strip mall across from a SuperTarget. But we’re open-minded, so we gave it a shot. (“Hey, this looks like the least worst place within 45 miles!”)
Our hibachi griller wasn’t exactly spectacular, in the sense that he seemed nervous and completely boned all of our orders. But you had to appreciate that this was some pretty fine dining for a small town. The table next to us was full of ranchers’ sons and daughters out on their prom dinner dates. They looked like they were well-fueled with teenage hormones and rot-gut whiskey. But in a good way.
And I thought the griller guy was trying really hard, which was worth more than anything. When I see a guy trying his best and struggling, I can’t help but to pull for them. I suddenly become their own personal plant in the audience, laughing at their terrible hibachi-themed humor (Ha! You spun the egg! An “egg roll”! I get it!), trying to get the rest of the crowd to rally in their behalf. I root for the underdog, even when he’s making bad food for me.
So while our less-than-spectacular griller made unrepeatably awful jokes, and I laughed out loud, and Diva Girlfriend wondered if I had a head injury, the rest of the small town hibachi crowd did their normal thing… until suddenly…
Whoosh! The sudden flame of the grill as the next griller set his little round of oil on fire. This was followed immediately by the loudest, girliest shriek my ears have ever heard.
It was a boy at the next table. Probably 10 years old, definitely impressed by the hibachi experience, scared out of his wits. He was caught completely unaware that his griller was about to set his hibachi on fire.
Somehow that single banshee-like exclamation made the whole experience worth it. I didn’t get the food I ordered, my Asian griller was actually kinda Mexican, and the local prom yokels outnumbered us 4 to 1. But that one little shriek reminded me that at some point, we all had our first hibachi experience. Good for you, Scared Shrieking Dude.