Blog Entries

Passing on a Passion

I’ve been teaching Daughter some of the finer parts of sports recently. Y’know, “beyond the box score” stuff that gives you a deeper understanding of what it’s like to lace up them cleats and face the world like men.

But before I could get to the intricacies of ideal down and distance for a screen pass, I had to start with more basic fundamentals. Like “this is called football.”

Not that we’ve avoided exposing her to those various American pastimes, altogether. Wife and I met at a baseball game, so Daughter attended her first minor league baseball day (on Jimmy Buffett Night, no less) at about six weeks old. She’s been to three of the five major league stadiums in California. If we’re ever allowed to travel out of state again, she should finish the AL and NL West in no time. One trip to Seattle, one trip to Colorado, two places I love to visit!

What’s that? Arizona? Texas, too? During the summer?!?

But I don’t inundate her with many televised sports. Wife and I both grew up in the 1970s and 1980s when every television in America was required to be turned on whenever anybody was inside the house or else the Russians were going to win. Nowadays we prefer to have music on instead of TV. With SiriusXM and Pandora and Amazon Music all streaming on our Alexa, it’s a variety that would’ve given me carpal tunnel system with that behemoth of a five-CD changer I spent a month’s salary on my senior year of high school. 

When we do watch TV, it doesn’t follow the same pattern as when my father only knew of two types of programming – news and sports. By contrast, our TV is tuned to Disney, Jr about ninety percent of the time. 

The times I absolutely need to watch a baseball or football game, I’ll go to another room or, since this is the 21st century, watch it on my laptop or phone on the couch right next to my daughter watching Bluey. Daughter actually thinks curling is as prominent as football, since it’s only on devices, never the TV, so I watch it more often. Use that for your 21st century communications thesis!

Ha-ha, just kidding. Communications majors never write papers longer than a paragraph. 

Sometimes I wonder if my relationship with my own father would’ve been improved if he could’ve watched his sports by himself. Or, more realistically with my dad, if he could’ve sent me to the other room to watch my cartoons because, goddammit, he worked hard to pay for that roof over my head and, goddammit, he only gets to watch sports on weekends and every evening, but not Sunday evening because that’s 60 Minutes time and…

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, if I hadn’t interrupted my dad’s sport-watching so much, he might not’ve hated me so much? Or vice versa? 

But due to a confluence of events over the past month or so, she’s had to cede a little bit of her television dominance to some live sports instead of the same episode of Vampirina for the sixth time in a row. And since I’ve commandeered the tele, the least I could do was explain what’s going on. It makes me feel less guilty about asserting my manorial rights. Plus if I don’t engage Daughter and she jumps all over Mommy, then Daddy’s sports-viewing time is going by the wayside regardless of the fact that they’re going for it on 4th-and-one.

The first sport to grace our television screen was the baseball playoffs. I couldn’t watch them on mlb.tv subscription, which I use during the regular season because I root for an out-of-town team. But somehow the 150 hard-earned dollars I spent for their product doesn’t extend to the postseason. Sheesh, talk about a rip-off! I only get to watch 162 games from my favorite team for that $150? Why, back in my dad’s day, he was able to watch something like seventy WHOLE games. But only for the local team. And only if they weren’t opposite Belle and Sebastian, which my dad referred to as “What’s-his-face and his dog.”

At least he knew there was a dog in it. During the Latchkey 1980s, that might’ve won him a nomination for Parent of the Year.

So, sitting next to Daughter for an opening-round Padres game,  I started trying to explain baseball to Daughter. And herein the problems began. Because, in case I haven’t made it clear, my relationship with my father wasn’t great, and it was even worse when it came to sports.  If you need more proof, his favorite teams were the Dodgers and the Raiders. I grew up (yes, even when he was in the house) an Angels fan. When I finally got around to noticing the football, I opted for the Broncos, probably because I’d heard my dad curse John Elway’s name many a time.

I wasn’t entirely a self-taught sports fan. My grandparents were in the Angels booster’s club and I’ve been going to games in Anaheim my whole life. But I was in my teens before I learned how to throw a baseball. I used a VCR to tape a Braves relief pitcher’s delivery on TBS, then played it back in slow-motion to copy the mechanics. To this day, I still can’t throw a football. I throw it like a baseball, which countless people tell me isn’t possible until they see me throw a football, then remark, “Holy shit, you throw that just like a baseball!” 

It’s a good thing Daughter’s name isn’t Son.

Most of my sports viewing came about in college, primarily so I’d have something to talk to “normal” people about. My interests revolved around history and classic rock and penis/fart jokes. Meatloaf says two out of three ain’t bad, but I was, at best, batting .333, and unless I could pick and choose my audience, most of the time it was a hat-trick of strikeouts. So I expanded my understanding of baseball, including the fact that there were, at the time, 23 OTHER teams not named the Angels. I also partook in the weekly dorm-floor football viewing on Sunday mornings. Sprinkle in a dabbling of hockey and basketball and, voila!, I don’t have to leave the room when my anecdote about Catherine the Great falls flat.

I’ve taught plenty of girlfriends and other nerd-friends about how to follow sports, but seeing as my own appreciation for sports occurred beyond the age of reason, I don’t know if those experiences translate to fathering. When explaining the game to a six-year old hoping for guidance and discovery, the differences between a two-seam and a four-seam fastball probably ain’t gonna cut it.

The only thing my mom ever told me about how she raised me to like baseball was that, when we went to a game, we couldn’t go get food until there was a number under the “4” on the scoreboard, meaning top of the 4th if the away team scores a run, otherwise we had to wait until the middle of the inning when the “0” pops up. In retrospect, that seems to predicate one toward rooting for the away team, but I guess she was more concerned with her wallet than my blooming sports interest. Perhaps that helps explain my disparate, heterodox sports fandom these days. I live in northern California and the short list of teams I root for include the Anaheim Angels, Tennessee Titans, Colorado Buffaloes, and Calgary Flames. Don’t ask. It’s probably worthy of blog post of its own.

And no, they’re not the Los Angeles Angels. California Angels is okay, but Anaheim Angels is ideal. It’s alliterative and appears first in the alphabet. You’re never going to win over L.A., Arte Moreno. People in Orange County hate L.A. Lean into it!

My dad is no longer alive, so I can’t consult him about how he tried (and failed) to pique my interest, or at the very least, how he explained sports to me. I assume it was something along the lines of, “Fuck off, kid, the game is on.” Not in so many words, but the message would’ve been clear.

So I started with the basics. Pitcher versus batter, the most pure faceoff in all of sports. Equal parts strategy and execution. Two warriors trying to out-think each other before resorting to natural talent honed by thousands of repetitions.

How did I translate this into Daughter-speak?

“The guy with the ball is trying to throw it through the little square on the TV screen.”

One thing is certain. I can guarantee that isn’t how my father explained it to me. 

The “little square on the TV screen” is, of course, the strike zone, which is digitally imprinted on most baseball broadcasts over the past decade. I’m usually not too big of a fan of it. It’s not the official strike zone, of course, because that’s only in the eye of the umpire. But if nothing else, it gives us verifiable proof of what we’ve all been yelling since “Damn Yankees” – “You’re blind, Ump. You’re blind, Ump. You must be outta your mind, Ump!”

As an aside, who the hell decided that Broadway musical and 1950s baseball was a good mix? Throw in the devil, too. I’d be curious to watch the “Mad Men” episode that analyzed exactly which cross-section of society they were aiming for with that one. And why, when they revived it in the 1990s, did they stick with the Washington Senators, a team which hadn’t existed in 25 years? It’s gotta be even more confusing now, with the new Washington team playing in the national league and, ergo, never losing a playoff spot to those Damn Yankees. Baltimore Orioles is the same number of syllables. Just sayin’.

So I managed to get a few basics through to Daughter. Four pitches thrown outside the little box means a walk. Unless the batter swings and misses. Until I told her, on a 3-2 count, that the next pitch was the one where it would all be decided, only to see it fouled off. Then again. Then again. 

And she was done. Maybe next season she’ll learn what a base hit looks like.

Since the World Series, we’ve been doing some mandated COVID home-improvement projects. At least I assume they are mandated, because everybody I know is building house additions and buying new couches and converting the kid’s bedroom into a dry sauna room even though the kid is still living in the house. 

Our particular project was getting new carpets. This necessitated moving a bunch of furniture around, and for about a week, we only had (shudder…) one TV plugged in. In the whole house! What is this, 1947?

To make matters worse, my Titans were on TV. Since they made the AFC Championship last year and have the best running back in the game, they’re showing up as the game of the week a little more often. This is difficult for me because I’m used to the years when they only show up on my TV once or twice a year, so I’ve attuned myself to watching every time they’re on. This year, I’ve already seen them four times and we’re only halfway through the season. Although one of those was a Tuesday game that was delayed due to COVID, so maybe it’s less about Derrick Henry and more about 2020 just being fucked up in general.

Anyway, the Titans were going to be on TV and we only have one TV in the house. Sorry, Daughter, but I’m going to do an impression of the grandfather you never met. Now pull my finger.

So Daughter plopped herself next to me and asked me what was going on in the game, what the teams were trying to accomplish.

And what did I tell her?

They’re trying to get to the yellow line. 

That’s right, the magical first-down marker which I mocked and reviled when it was first added to football games. I considered it the greatest dumbing-down in the history of sports. How the hell hard is it to figure out how far they have to go if it’s listed as third-and-four and, by the way, they’ve got a giant fucking orange stick glaring at you from the sideline. 

Yeah, THAT magical yellow line.

You see, Daughter, they have three chances to get past the yellow line, and if they’re successful, they’ll get a new yellow line. If they don’t make it, they have to kick it away to the other team, who will get a yellow line of their own. 

Fortunately, she didn’t watch long enough to see somebody go for it on 4th down.

So let’s chalk “teaching sports” up as one more thing I can’t conceive of doing before technology existed. I don’t know how we found random businesses before Google Maps. Nor how we coordinated schedules with friends. How the hell did teachers teach without googling “Russian Revolution lesson plan.” How did authors write without cut-and-paste functions? Did they really have to retype the whole fucking page to fix one typo? What happens if there’s a typo on the retype?

And now, sports. The pitcher is trying to throw the ball through the little square. A football team is trying to get to the yellow line. If I ever turn on a hockey game, I’ll have to tell her they all want possession of the glowing thing.

Well, at the very least, I can be sure of one thing. 

I’m certainly not approaching sports with my daughter the same way my dad did with me.

A Rose by Any Other (Same) Name

From what I hear, Chrissy Teigen has struggled with her pregnancy. In fact, I think she miscarried. A number of media types and people I know were super chagrined. 

Me, I kinda shrugged my shoulders.

I mean, any time a pregnant woman loses her baby is a tragedy. But on the flip side, what are we to expect when a woman her age tries to have a child? I think she’s in her fifties, at least. The very fact they could conceive, I assume through some in vitro test tube, is a miracle of science. Am I supposed to be shocked that it didn’t take?

Her husband, John Legend, we are told, sat by her hospital bed as complications took hold. A harrowing experience, to be sure.

Wait, John Legend? The guy that butchered a John Lennon Christmas song? He’s married Chrissy Teigen? Cougar much, Chrissy? 

But then I saw a picture of John Legend standing next to some young African American woman in a hospital bed. Is this a stock pohoto? Because that woman looks nothing likethe actress/model I remember from my youth. 

Wait a second… 

After weeks of hearing the story, I finally realized that Chrissy Teigen is NOT Cheryl Tiegs. Two ENTIRELY different people. 

Chrissy Teigen is only 34 years old, which makes a lost pregnancy all the more ghastly.

Cheryl Tiegs, it turns out, is actually 73 years old. So yeah, medical science or no, she ain’t getting knocked up by a wanna-Beatle any time soon.

I’m really bad at the whole “spot the celebrity” game. It bothers Wife incessantly. I can identify a Phil Collins drumfill in a random one-hit wonder from 1987, but ask me to find the similarities in pictures of Jane Foster and Queen Amidala and I’m at a loss. There’s no way it’s the same actress in each role. I mean, the one next to Hayden Christensen is the second coming of Katherine Hepburn, while the one in the MCU is being out-acted by Kat Dennings.

At least Natalie Portman kept the same hair style in those two movies. Nobody will ever convince me that the Laura Prepon who starred in “That 70’s Show” is the same Laura Prepon who has starred in… well, pretty much everything since “That 70’s Show.” After all, the former was a redhead, while the latter has been, predominantly, a blonde. East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet. It’s not like L’Oreal makes a compass.

But obviously visuals weren’t my main issue with Chrissy Teigen and Cheryl Tiegs. Their names are way too close together. If this was a book, it would be the mark of a bad author. For instance, I made it 80,000 words into a WIP before realizing that two of the main characters are named Richard and Robbie. It wasn’t until they were in the same scene together that I realized how annoying it will be to read sentences in which they both appear. But unlike Chrissy and Cheryl, I’ll fix that in the second draft, where I’m pretty sure Robbie will become a Willie or a Billy. What are Chrissy Teigen and Cheryl Tiegs’ excuse for not fixing that shit in post-write?

I had a similar problem the first thousand or so times Daughter watched various installments of the “Hotel Transylvania” franchise. Selena Gomez voices the daughter, Mavis, which initially made no sense to me. She seems too professional an actress to be doing cartoon voiceovers, to say nothing of slumming around with Adam Sandler and his ilk. Aside from the fact that Mavis sounds like a legitimate twenty-something. And cartoons have done a good job of making the characters have similar visual characteristics as the actors that play them. Drac’s facial expressions totally match Adam Sandler, and Johnny has Andy Samberg’s weird sideways mouth.

Speaking of which, Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler in the same movie? Was Adam Goldberg unavailable? Fortunately, I’ve watched enough “Brooklyn 99” (and “The Goldbergs”) to know the difference between them, but only because Adam Sandler is about as distinctive as it gets for a guy who went to college in the early 1990s. Bob Barker once called when I was working in the state Capitol to ask my boss to vote for a spay/neuter bill and my first response was that I loved him in “Happy Gilmore.” He said he expected “Price is Right,” because, I guess, he he figured grandmas were the primary demographic for legislative aides. Who did he think I was, Chrissy Teigen?

I’m sure it shouldn’t shock you to know that, whoever I was thinking played the voice of Mavis, it sure as hell wasn’t Selena Gomez. I finally saw a behind-the-scenes video showing the actors do the voicework and Selena Gomez, would you believe it, is actually a twenty-something who looks a bit like Mavis, her character.

The problem is that I have no idea who I thought “Selena Gomez” was referring to. I’m pretty sure this was the first time I realized Selena Gomez existed as a human being. I never explicitly thought of anyone in particular, but had the general sense of a middle-aged Latina. Perhaps Salma Hayek, because their first names have a lot of the same letters, but I kinda got a Jennifer Lopez visual in my head, which of course looks nothing like Mavis. Or Selena Gomez.

Obviously I know who J-Lo is, and her name is nowhere close to Selena Gomez. But hear me out. She played the original Selena in her biopic. 

Okay, maybe you didn’t need to hear me out, cause that’s all I’ve got.

Obviously Selena Gomez isn’t that Selena, because she died long before “Hotel Transylvania.” But that at least gets me over the “Jennifer Lopez is Selena” hurdle. Add in the fact that Selena Gomez dated Justin Bieber, while J-Lo dated Alex Rodriguez, and I hate both of them. Incidentally, I thought it was Tom Brady that J-Lo dated, but a Google search told me it was the other overrated sports figure in the northeast that I stopped watching ESPN because of. And no, Salma Hayek never dated Tom Brady, either.

To be fair, unlike C. Teigen and C. Tiegs, I never explicitly thought Selena Gomez was Jennifer Lopez. I just had a general idea in my head that Selena Gomez was a fifty-something singer/actress who had been around since the mid-1990s. So maybe I really did just think she was the dead Selena.

Finally, let me head off the potential woke response of me being a typical white male who can’t distinguish between individual members of other ethnicities. Because I can’t tell white dudes apart, either.

Harry Styles is, allegedly, yet another singer and actor. Does anybody do one or the other anymore? I guess most actors stay in their lane, at least since the glory that was Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time,” but singers, it appears, must now become actors. I blame it on Justin Timberlake. Or Frank Sinatra. They might as well be the same person. 

Not that I get them confused.

For some reason, Harry Styles pops up in my news feed from time to time. Maybe he’s dating someone? Or has some political view that he needs to inform everybody about? I’m not sure and I don’t want to google it lest I get MORE headlines about Harry Styles – I’m already suffering from a slew of Selena Gomez info since I wrote the first part of this blog post yesterday.

If I had to guess, though, I think Harry Styles is some sort of fashionista. I don’t know if that’s a gendered word. A fashionister? Or maybe fashionisto? fashionistx? As an aside, I heard someone refer to a number of major league baseball players as Latinx, which confused me because I thought we were only supposed to use Latinx to refer to a group with both Latinos and Latinas. Is Latino offensive even if it’s a group of males of Latin American origin? Of course, I’m only asking the white people this, because no person of Latin American origin uses the phrase Latinx because it makes absolutely no fucking sense in Spanish.

Sorry, where was I? Right. Harry Styles. I couldn’t figure out why Harry Styles was making headlines for things like who he was dating or his new hairstyle. I mean, even when the dude was relevant, what, twenty years ago, I would never have called him hip. Hilarious, sure, but he’s tall and lanky, a goofy body frame perfect for physical comedy and not much else.

Have you spotted my train track yet? I was thinking of Ryan Stiles, the improv actor most notable for being on every single episode of “Whose Line is it, Anyway?”, both the English (good) and Drew Carey (bad) iterations. From this mid-40s perspective, he’s the far more important and influential of the Stileses, but I’m slowly coming to realize that he isn’t the ONLY of the Stileses.

It’s tough being me sometimes. Probably even tougher being my wife.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to research the subtle distinction between Jimmy Dean and James Dean.

Nostalgia on Rolling Wheels

A week or two before the shutdown, I found myself at the local skating rink.

In fact, it was literally days before society ended. Maybe the Friday before the Friday when the toilet paper ran out. I remember it clearly because the skating rink had hand sanitizer out and one of the local parents kept doing shots of that alcohol-based substance like we were experiencing a Friday night in our twenties, not our forties. How silly she’s going to feel, I remember thinking, when this whole thing blows over in a week or two.

And our kids still haven’t returned to school.

Sorry, I might’ve buried the lede on that story. Did I forget to mention that my town has a skating rink?

No, I don’t mean a skate park. I’m also not talking about some tennis court that’s been turned into a roller hockey court or a running track that’s been turned into a roller derby course. Nor is it ice skating.

I’m talking about an honest-to-goodness, slick wooden oval roller rink. Like with roller skates and shit. Straight out of 1978!

And let me tell ya, the decor is straight outta 1978, too. Check this out:

Can it be called retro if it’s the same it’s always been? You gotta give props to a company that keeps the same decor so long that it comes back into style again as a chic throwback. Imagine how much I’ll be crowing when those jean shorts in the back of my dresser come back around. Of course, it’ll all be moot if my 32-inch waist doesn’t come back at the same time.

My COVID hairstyle is looking suspiciously close to what all the hip dudes were sporting on MTV in the mid-1990s. Or how Keanu Reeves has looked his entire career. 

Keanu: the Jorts of Hollywood!

I actually went to the skating rink five times in the twelve months before lockdown. She became a kindergartner and all of a sudden we had to engage in spirit nights. And if skate nights worked to pass some cash the elementary school’s direction four decades ago, then they still serve that function now. The more things change, the more they stay the same. My daughter informs me on a regular basis that the floor is still hot lava! You’d think somebody would’ve done something about that since I was five years old. But nope. I’m sure the next politician running for office will promise to fix it during Infrastructure Week.

It’s not just for school, though. Only two of those five visits were supporting the school. One was for the girl scouts, the other two birthday parties. But I tie it all back to the elementary school, because without them leading the way with three or four fundraising nights a year there, I don’t think the girl scouts would’ve organically thought up a pastime from the early 1980s. Neither the six-year-old nor the seven-year-old could explain to me the finer points of trickle-down Reaganomics. 

The first time we went, Wife told me we were taking Daughter to her school’s skate night. 

“Ice skating?” 

“No, roller skating.”

Eyes narrowed, looking for TV cameras from a prank show. 

“At the school?” 

“No, this town has a roller rink.”

Blink. Blink.

“Do we have to buy…”

“Rentals.”

And before you ask, yep, they’re the same rentals you remember. Literally the same ones. Remember that one pair with the frayed shoelaces? I think I was wearing that exact pair in March.

Daughter had a great time and ended up asking Santa for a pair of skates for Christmas. Santa gave her what she wanted, which kept alive the streak of new wheels for every birthday and Christmas. I’m not kidding. Since she was two, every gift exchange has had some sort of wheeled travel item. It went from tricycle to balance bike to bike with training wheels to scooter to taking the training wheels of the bike. Last Christmas came the roller skates, which she promptly took out to skate on the street Christmas morning. She got a big-girl bike for her birthday this year, so I guess we’re up to car this Christmas? Is something else supposed to bridge the wheeled gap from six to sixteen?

I tweeted out a joke that it was also my fifth time at the skating rink in the past year, and also the fifth time at a skating rink since the Reagan administration. I was going for hyperbole, trying to be funny, but the more I thought about it, it might’ve been spot on. I remember roller blading a few times in college and beyond, but that was always done around the college campus, or on one of those aforementioned basketball-court-turned-hockey-rinks. Never did we go to a private entity designed exclusively for skating round and round in an oval.

So maybe in high school? But I don’t remember any skating rinks being open during high school. And my four years in high school matched the four years of the first Bush presidency. So yeah, snar-casm (snarky sarcasm) aside, I think it’s legitimately been since the Reagan administration since I’ve been to a skating rink. If I had to pinpoint a precise year for my last trip, I’d maybe say 1985. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” seems like a good final song to red-light/green-light to.

Sorry, not “final” song, since I’ve now red-light/green-lighted to “High Hopes,” or maybe it was “Old Town Road” or “The Middle.” Or maybe “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” The DJ has to still have it.

In addition to red-light/green-light, they still play four corners. The DJ also referred to something as “bitchin’,” a word I haven’t heard since the last time I was at a skating rink. Now I know where it’s been hidden all this time. Jesus, this place really is like Goonies and Ghostbusters trapped in amber. 

Speaking of retro, the roller rink had an advertisement (on one of their 12-inch box TVs) for an upcoming “Retro Night.” I didn’t check at the fine print, but I imagine the date was listed as January 1-December 31. I don’t know what they could do to make themselves more retro. Except maybe clean up some of the dust. And put out lines of cocaine.

Unfortunately, my skating skills aren’t what they were in 1985. Gotta admit it’s a little wobbly. Plus I’ve gotten used to ice skating, where you can more or less stop on a dime by turning your feet sideways. If you turn your feet sideways while the wheels are still moving forward, you’re in for a crash course in Newton’s Laws of Motion. I’ve also become more used to rollerblades, where they’re smart enough to put the brake in the back. Roller skates still have the rubber brake knob on the front. This makes no fucking sense. If you’re moving forward and you have to lean farther forward to slow yourself down, you’re just going ass over teakettle. Back brakes slow you down. Front brakes work like a pole vault. 

One thing that’s different is the tweens out on the rink. Not the concept of tweens, because skating rinks have always been the haven for “too young to drive, but old enough to be dropped off by parents for two hours.” But the big difference between tweens now and tweens then (aside from Day Glo) is that nowadays they have phones. And they’re on said phones while they’re skating, which is an action they don’t perform all that often. Do you see where I’m going with this? They crash because they’re looking at their phones. It’s fucking hilarious. Plus, I don’t have to feel guilty about laughing at them as I speed past. I can justify that they’re learning valuable lessons before they have a car around them.

The birthday party was scheduled to wrap up at 8:00. I figured that was just a suggestion, but around 7:40, they mentioned that we only had twenty minutes left. They were kicking us all out. Ah, I figured. The place closes down at 8:00. Kinda makes sense if you cater to kids and birthday parties. Then let the teenaged employees out before its too late. Maybe they need to head home to start up their weekend homework. I’m sure that’s what all my students do with their Friday night. 

Just kidding, they don’t start their homework Friday night. That’s what third period on Monday is for. 

My assumption about closing time at the roller rink was just as off-base. They told us we needed to get all the rentals and crutches (they’ve fashioned PVC pipe into triangular “walkers” for beginning skaters, of which there are quite a few at a sixth birthday party) back to the front to be ready for their next session. Next session? You mean the skate rink is open past 8:00 on a Friday?

And boy howdy, they are. When we left, we walked past the line waiting to get in. There had to be at least fifty people. Maybe closer to one hundred. Many were those very same teenagers who were supposed to be home working on school work. But there were also twenty-somethings and parents. Some people even looked to be my age. Just like 1978, if the skating rink is ROCKIN’, y’all better come knockin’!

Makes me wonder why there aren’t more roller rinks around. Sure, they can’t pull like they did in their heyday. I remember at one point my little town of 20,000 or so had its own roller rink and there was another one in the town of 30,000 a few miles away. That’s a level of glut that golf courses are now trying to draw back from. When Tiger was big, every municipality wanted five new golf courses. Now they need to figure out what to do with acres and acres of manicured land. One of the ones nearby turned into a soccer golf course.

But most towns have room and demand for one golf course. And they probably could stomach a skating rink, too. The problem, of course, was that most of them didn’t make it through the 80s and 90s to the point where they became retro chic. I imagine if you found yourself at a roller rink in, say, 1990, it was skeevy as hell. Cocaine in the bathrooms is groovy, but hypodermics are just a drag, man. I imagine the one in my town must own the land it’s built on. There’s no way it made it through the Clinton administration if it was paying monthly rent. 

But now the few remaining rinks have come full circle to wholesome family entertainment again. The type of place where they have elementary school nights and children’s birthday parties. In 1990, the only children having birthday parties at roller rinks were probably giving freebase spoons away in their goodie bags.

The range of “cool in the 1970s, later a joke” runs the gamut. On one end, you have bowling alleys. Somehow they’ve survived in spades. Not that bowlers are hip these days. Were they ever? But if I started this blog by saying I went bowling last weekend, you wouldn’t be all that surprised. Nobody’s ever looked at me with an odd expression, asking, “Did you just say there’s a bowling alley opened near you? Like, with pins and shit?”

On the other end of the spectrum is the old drive-in theater. Those used to be in abundance and now they’re only remembered as shrines to date rape. 

Actually, Sacramento still has a drive-in theater. Not sure how, cause I’ve gone a few times and, unlike the roller rink, I wasn’t pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t curious as to why they never made it to Y2K. 

The only reason drive-ins have value (aside from the fact that blow jobs in crowded movie theaters are frowned upon) is for families with kids. The kid can fall asleep in the back seat and the parents are finally able to see adult entertainment without taking out a second mortgage to get three hours of babysitting. 

But movies have gotten too good to be wasted on the shitty screen quality of drive-ins. Our TV screens are better. Our phones are better. And the only movies that we even bother to see in the theater anymore are the ones that are visually stunning enough to be wasted on our home screens. If my TV can’t do it justice, then the drive-in is straight-up insulting the director. Especially when some jackwagon drives up late to the movie, or leaves early, shining their headlights on the screen right when the boobs pop out CGI space-battle explosions reach their climax. 

I guess that sentence was going to end with a climax, either way.

Actually, the drive-ins managed to reopen long before the indoor theaters. It turns out the Sacramento drive-in is owned by a company that has seven or eight of them throughout the western U.S. I remember when they reopened in mid-May, making me ponder why a business where I stay in my car the entire time was closed to begin with. 

Of course, when they reopened, there were no new movies coming out. That’s been a problem for other movie theaters as they’ve reopened. Wasn’t “The Empire Strikes Back” the top grossing movie of April? I think when the drive-in reopened, it had a double-feature of two Spiderman movies – Tobey McGuire’s and Andrew Garfield’s. Or maybe it was “Goonies” and “Ghostbusters” trapped in amber.

But skating rinks should have gone the way of the bowling alley, not the drive-in theater. It’s a shame, because as I rediscovered over my daughter’s first year of public schooling, there’s still a place for zipping around in circles in this app-laden world. 

Maybe I should do something about that.

Right after I finish this petition to bring back lawn darts.

Some Statins, Stat!

Earlier this week, I wrote about my wife’s summer-long ordeal with her bored general practictioner, who spent his COVID Vacation searching through her medical file to find shit to tamper with. I also touched on tipping your servers and hookers. Well, not tipping your hooker, but the economics of prostitution. Although you should probably tip your hooker. And no, not “just the tip.”

Regardless, after living through Wife’s own medical-solution-in-search-or-a-problem, I probably should’ve been more on guard when my own doctor asked to set up a phone call. To be fair, although I’d like to be a writer, a chronicler of the human condition, I’ve never claimed to be all that observant.

Doc wanted to talk to me about cholesterol medicine. Doc’s been wanting to talk to me about cholesterol medicine for quite some time. A few years ago, I went in for something, probably gout, and he pulled a “Hey, I don’t give a flying fuck about what you came to me for, your cholesterol’s a smidge high, so let’s randomly prescribe you some statins.” 

Sure. Why not? He sent me over to the pharmacy and I left with the drugs that very day. On the way home, Wife told me I miiiiight want to look up some of the side effects of statins. Umm, okay. I’m sure I’m not the only person who approaches the medical profession with confused acquiescence. 

Okay, here’s what my robot overlord, Google, tells me are some statin side effects:

They might spike blood sugar. Hmm, I’ve been prediabetic for five years.

Liver damage. Hmm, I’m a borderline alcoholic.

Kidney problems. Well, at least it won’t make my gout worse.

At least I’m at Kaiser. One of the reasons I chose the Kaiser, aside from my love of old-tyme handlebar mustaches and pickelhaube helmets, is that you can see your test results online. Back when I was on a different plan, my doctor would tell me something in my blood was “a little elevated,” which could mean just about anything. 

“So it turns out there’s some extra lead in your system.” 

“Yeah, Doc, I came to you for a gunshot wound.”

But at Kaiser, I can see precisely where I am and, even better, what the standard range. When I got home from the “quick, take these drugs before you ask your wife about it” appointment, I looked more closely at my last blood test. The standard range for cholesterol is listed as anything under 239. My horrible, sky-high cholesterol that needed drugs right the fuck now was a whopping… 219. 

Except, you see, it’s not just a matter of overall cholesterol. You’ve got to look at the good cholesterol versus the bad. Your HDL, or good cholesterol has to be over 40 or else you’re unhealthy, and mine was only at a measly 52. Oh, and that LDL, it’s the bad cholesterol and we should really look for a way to get it under 159. So maybe some drugs will improve my reading of… 150.

I’m not saying I’m the picture of health. But if all of my cholesterol readings are within the range that’s deemed “normal,” it doesn’t seem to be something I should be pumping my body full of side effects for. Sorry, Kaiser Wilhelm, if you don’t want me making uninformed decisions, then maybe you need to not let me see the information.

Why are they giving me pills to fix something that ain’t broke, especially if there’s a good chance it’ll break something else? I mean, if I take these pills to drop my cholesterol from an “on the high end” 219 down to an, I don’t know, 200? While at the same time spiking my blood sugar and losing both my vision and my feet to diabetes, I wouldn’t necessarily call that a “win-win.”

So I came home with the prescription but never used it. That worked for a while. Doctor got his kickback from the pharmaceutical company and I kept my liver. Actually, the next two times I got tested, my cholesterol went down, first to 199 then to 189, despite never touching the statins. Maybe I’m so magical that just convincing myself I needed to lower my cholesterol was enough to do it. It’s some Jedi magic. 

Or else maybe my cholesterol fluctuates inside the normal range. There’s a reason it’s called a range, right?

But eventually they caught onto my duplicity. Not because my cholesterol changed, but because I never refilled the prescription for something I’m supposed to be taking every day. Or maybe they were onto me because my blood sugar didn’t spike enough. “People who take our drugs can’t be as healthy as you are.”

After a year or so, doctor sent me a nastigram that I better take my fucking medicine like a good fucking boy. I ignored him, so he referred me to the big boss. I started getting emails from some random dude, inside Kaiser, listed as “Pharm.” That might stand for pharmacist, but I assume he works for Big Pharm, which is where this entire push must be coming from. My doctor needs to get a new Porsche or something, and the gout medicine people just ain’t willing to cup his balls the way he likes on the reach-around. I mean, if there ain’t kickback going all the way up the wazoo, then why the hell are we not only prescribing cholesterol medicine to people who don’t need it, but actually following up to ensure that said individual is taking said unnecessary drugs. 

By contrast, I also have asthma (hurray, mid-forties!) but I’m really bad about using my inhaler. Not the emergency inhaler. I use that one often. But there’s an inhaler I’m supposed to use every day that will prevent the need for the emergency inhaler. Problem is that when I’m breathing fine, I forget. So that’s another prescription I’m supposed to fill every six months or so but regularly go two years between refills. And not a single email from doctor nor pharmacist nor Pfizer lobbyist. Because if you can’t breathe, meh. But if your cholesterol is normal, well then that’s a problem we need to solve! 

So there I was, foolishly accepting the call from a doctor with way too much time on his hands, knowing full well that he had some drug kingpin breathing down his neck to make sure he gets all his little cretins hooked, and wouldn’t you know it, he doesn’t want to ask me how my breathing’s going with all of the fires going on, like the snazzy new “Glass Fire,” proving that I’m a fucking Nostradamus who nobody heeds. Nope, what he really wants to talk to me about is how important it is that I get my normal cholesterol under control.

This time, however, I was prepared for the statin conversation. I asked for clarification, like why the fuck am I supposed to risk making some of my medical conditions worse in order to fix a problem I don’t have. It turns out that cholesterol medicine ain’t got shit to do with controlling cholesterol. Studies have shown that prescribing statins to people who don’t need them severely lessens the likelihood of, I don’t know, heart attacks and stroke and scurvy or something. 

Honestly! Why, the drug company who has the patent for this drug has run bazillions of tests and, wouldn’t you know it, they all came back proving that their product rivals only the flush toilet and electricity in the advancement of the human race. And the proof is that, when they prescribed it to people who didn’t need it, those people ended up STILL not needing it. It’s kind of like saying that stitches help people who’ve been stabbed by a sword, but our tests show that unstabbed people who were given stitches ALSO didn’t exhibit signs of sword punctures. Stitches greatly reduce your chances of bleeding out in a medieval dungeon.

My doctor assures me that the DHS has signed off on this whole cholesterol-medicine-for-non-cholesterol-purposes thing. And boy howdy, if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that government agencies devoted to our health always know what they’re talking about.  Like when the virus was airborne for, like, an hour before the CDC took it off their website because the president complained. A week later, it was airborne again. Hopefully you weren’t breathing in deeply for that week that the virus was noncommittal. 

And yeah, I know that the Department of Health Services ain’t the same as the Center for Disease Control, but the only reason we’re focused on the latter is because they’ve kept us hostage all year and we’re suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Even if the DHS whims can’t keep me chained to my refrigerator for the next fortnight, my eyebrow’s still rising over them suggesting what we really need in this world is more random, never-ending prescriptions. Those bacteria ain’t gonna develop antibiotic immunity by themselves, y’all! For all I know, the Orange One has a bunch of stock in the statin company and that’s why they’re now suggested for everything from hemorrhoids to gunshot wounds.

Then again, I’m just now realizing that the DHS is the British single-payer system. Shit, is my doctor running my blood tests in metric? Maybe that’s why my numbers don’t match what he’s saying.

Or maybe he’s talking about the other DHS, the American one that likes to look at your browser history. In which case I better get me some statins, because unlike some mamby-pamby doctors and pharmacists, you DEFINITELY don’t want to ignore the suggestions of the water-boarders. 

Then again, if it’s the Department of Homeland Security, then they need to update their sales pitch.

Lower your cholesterol! Avoid heart attacks! Now with fewer anal probes at the airport!!!

Sold!

Pandemic Pill Pushers

I worry about all the professions who are suffering during COVID, workers who can’t go through their normal day-to-day routines.

We hear a ton about the Uber and cab drivers, although I’m sure they’re all getting bonus shifts with Doordash. What about those retail cashiers, the restaurant servers? Am I the only one who struggles with what to tip for takeout orders? Look, I waited tables for most of my twenties. I know those servers get paid shit and rely on their tips to survive. My standard tip is 20-25% and you have to be phenomenally shitty to get less than 15%, but the most “serving” you’re doing on takeout is grabbing the bag, already prepped by the line chef or expediter, neither of whom are likely to a sniff of whatever tip I left. Is that worth 15%? I didn’t get my iced tea refilled once!

I still tip, but only as a nod to solidarity. And taxes. Did you know your server has to pay taxes based on what the government thinks you should’ve tipped him? If the bill is $100, the government is adding $15 to his W-2. Think about the next time you stiff a server – he actually lost money by serving you. 

But for takeout? I don’t know, man. I usually err towards 10%, enough to cover the stiffers and the IRS, but not enough to work as a dialogue about quality of service. Yeah, I feel a tinge of guilt, but I figure I’m not taking up one of his tables for an hour. He should be able to burn through 30 or 40 orders in an hour, as opposed to five. 

But then the restaurants are going to twist that little guilt knife by only giving me “pre-filled” options of 15%, 18%, and 20%. So now I have to write in my 10% number, making me go out of my way to stiff my server. Who isn’t really serving me. Shit, I bought donuts the other day, and she did that thing where they swivel the tablet around so I can select the tip, but then I had to tell her what the tip was and she would select it, so the customers don’t have to touch the screen. What the fuck am I supposed to say? “Write in 10% for yourself” or “No, I don’t think you deserve a tip”? So I told her to select 15%, the lowest option and now I just tipped more than I tip for takeout to a lady who only put six donuts in a goddamn box!

Donut-shop swindlers notwithstanding, making people write in any number below 15% probably results in more people paying zero.
“Skip” is just as easy to hit as “20%.”

I’m not here to talk about the servers though. At least they’re on most people’s radars. Some of them were probably laid off and reaping the rewards of the bonus unemployment before Congress yanked it away after a heartfelt and impassioned debate about the long-term consequences and short-term tradeoffs associated with paying people more to not work than they would make working. Ha ha, just kidding, politicians never articulate arguments for or against their actions, preferring the more nuanced “nan-nah, boo-boo.” Democrats wanted a $3 trillion bailout, which Republicans wanted $1 trillion, so they settled it like adults and made it zero. Maybe somebody should’ve given them a “$2 trillion” button.

So the Uber drivers are probably thriving and the servers will find a way to muster through. But what about the prostitutes? 

Meh, the prostitutes are probably fine. At least the illegal ones. For once, they’re economically better off than their legal counterparts in Nevada. I assume the brothels are shut down, but the place of business behind that dumpster on Broadway remains just as accessible as ever. It’s always on Broadway, right? Doesn’t matter which city, the whores hang out on Broadway. 

Plus, it’s not like their johns are overly concerned with health and cleanliness. I have a friend who’s a deputy DA, and one of the hookers she used to prosecute on a regular basis charged extra for sex without a condom. So I can have sex for twenty bucks, or I can have sex AND chlamydia for forty? What a bargain!

 Plus, you’re not allowed to kiss a hooker, right? So might as well keep that mask on.

So maybe the prostitutes are okay. But what about the drug dealers?

And before you tell me that pill pushers should be in the same boat as hookers (that ain’t a boat, it’s a yacht, baby!), let me clarify that I’m not talking about the same dealers you’re thinking of. The guys pushing meth and heroin are probably fine. I’m talking about doctors and Big Pharm.

You would think that primary care physicians would be overworked and malnourished during a medical emergency like we’ve faced the last six months, but it might turn out to be the exact opposite. Sure, those ICU Units are filled to the rafters, but the guy or gal you go to for the sniffles or tennis elbow is stuck twiddling their respective thumbs. After all, we’ve been told that all non-emergency situations don’t matter and are wasting the medical community’s valuable time. I went three months without allergy shots, and I don’t think my allergy doc was being drafted into front-line duty. So sorry about your pancreatic cancer, Grandma, but Aiden once drank a Corona, so you need to give your hospital bed up to him.

So now none of us are calling those doctors who normally take Grandma’s temperature long enough to refer her to seventeen other “specialists,” thereby maximizing insurance premiums whilst minimizing efficiency. Now those general practitioners are bored, and the news is doing their job for them, cause ain’t nobody questioning that 20% increase in insurance premiums this year. And just like a teacher who decides that the only time to clean the house is the day before grades are due, when doctors are bored, they find shit to meddle with. And since they’re probably not allowed in the Admiral’s Lounge with all the cool ICU doctors and patients, they fill their time consulting those nanobots they placed in our bloodstream the last time we peed in a cup.

What? There isn’t supposed to be blood in my urine? And I’m not supposed to put it back in my body when I’m done?

My wife got hit with BDS (Bored Doctor Syndrome) first. Her blood has always tested positive for a clotting risk. But her “askew numbers” have pretty much stayed consistent since her early twenties and she’s never had blood clots. It was certainly something we kept an eye on during her pregnancy, but if anything, overreacting to her bleeding risk is probably what caused them to radiate her after delivery, subjecting her to seven hospital trips over the first six months of Daughter’s life. So maybe sometimes we shouldn’t tinker with phantom ailments. 

I run into this all the time while I’m curling. We time the delivery to determine where the rock should end up and whether or not we need to sweep it. But you still have to watch the rock, walk alongside it. Sometimes the ice is frostier on one route than another. You gotta be ready to start or stop sweeping as the reality on the ice amends what your stopwatch told you. You can’t just say that it’s blood platelets was 3.6 seconds so the diabetes will end up right on the button.

Sorry, mixed my metaphors there, but you get what I mean. And in normal times, the doctors understand this, and don’t go out of their way to fix problems that only exist in the data.

For the most part, Wife’s blood issues are like a birthmark – always there with no discernable affect on her life. If the numbers had gone up as she got older, or if she ever experienced any of the many symptoms listed in the brochures, we would’ve done something. The health issues she does have, like some lactose intolerance that leads to some nasty IBS after a Starbucks trip, has nothing to do with blood clots. But obviously they aren’t concerned with that, because IBS isn’t covered by most insurance plans. Somehow that’s considered a “quality of life” issue like a boob job. Unlike boners, which are TOTALLY covered by insurance. Because, I suppose, senators have trouble getting it up. But let me tell you, needing to visit the toilet every five minutes is every bit as destructive to the libido as a little flaccidity amongst friends.

But somewhere in her medical file bored doctors were thumbing through, it said that Wife has clotting potential. So they called her up and told her that, you know, what with all this COVID stuff… 

I didn’t really see the connection, seeing as The ‘Rona attacks the lungs, not the blood. But you’ve heard the media reports. Everyone who dies is either old or had a pre-existing condition. What they don’t report, however, is whether that pre-existing conditionis in any way related to COVID. Hey, did you hear about that 25-year-old who died two days after catching the ‘Rona? Yeah, but he broke his arm as a teenager. And that teenager who got it? Her orthodontist said she had braces.

So whatever. Wife decides to play along with their blood-thinning regimen. But then she sliced her foot on a boat prop, so she had to wait a week. Seems a pretty big loophole there. All she has to do is cut herself once a week and she won’t have to go on blood thinners. Then again, if the shit they’re about to give her is going to turn her into a hemophiliac, maybe it ain’t worth it. Unless we get some medieval duchy out of it.

Instead of following my advice and becoming a cutter, Wife finally goes on the blood thinners. In addition to pills, she must give herself shots in the stomach. What the fuck kinda home remedy is that shit? I get allergy shots every few weeks and never once have I been expected to plunge that shit in myself. Aren’t there trained professionals who can give shots? Or are they too busy going through old medical boxes next to the Ark of the Covenant to sell Nefertiti on some meds?

Every few days, she gets her blood tested again. Fortunately they don’t make her take it out herself. On her first test, she overshot her mark. The number that used to be too low is now too high. This could be a great time for them to step back, realize Wife knew what she was talking about, that these were phantom numbers to begin with, an anomaly that remained consistent with no symptoms for twenty years, and that they were trying to fix a problem that didn’t exist, quite possibly creating a new problem, whereby my otherwise healthy wife now has to steer clear of a wall corner lest it break her skin and cause her to bleed out on the floor with nary a Russian orthodox month in sight to cure her.

Or, you know, they could just cut her down to one shot a day, then test again on Thursday.

So for the last month or so, Wife’s been heading to the lab to get her blood taken every three days. They adjust her dosage, rinse, and repeat. The good news is she doesn’t have to give herself shots anymore. The bad news is she’s never gotten down into the “healthy” range. Again, they’ve made her less healthy. Or maybe they’ve just made her equally as unhealthy, but on the other side. She’s gone from having slightly viscous to slightly runny blood. No big deal.

Except that all of those blood tests have her bruised up like a heroin junkie. She’s always had this problem where the technicians can’t find her veins. Sometimes they need to stick her three or four times before they get the good stuff. Add to that the fact that they won’t go in where the earlier bruises are and it wasn’t too long before they had to take blood out of the back of her hand! I’m a blood-giving pro. I don’t give two shits about getting shots, but holy hell, that sounds excruciating. Especially if it isn’t doing jack diddly to improve her health or quality of life. And since they haven’t done anything about her IBF, she still has to wipe with those hands!

So I should’ve been on guard, a couple weeks after Wife’s regimen started, when my doctor wanted to set up a phone call. 

Check here to hear about my own frivolity. At least I won’t bruise ya!

Stop Naming Fires!

Remember L.A. Story? The Steve Martin and Sarah Jessica Parker rom-com was hilariously funny to this SoCal kid when it came out during my high school years. It might as well have been my life. 

Except for the fact that I never touched Sarah Jessica Parker’s boobs. Or fake boobs, in general. Heck, I’m 45 years old now and I still haven’t touched fake boobs. Seeing as how Wife is naturally endowed, I doubt I ever will. Unless you count when they’re skewered into my back like steel girders on a crowded BART train. If anything, those encounters probably played into my utter lack of desire to do anything more with them.

And sure, sure. Those are only BAD boob jobs. Whereas your expensive boob job are wonderful. Like vegetarian bacon.

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, L.A. Story. I doubt it stands the test of time, but at least it predicted text message abbreviations.

What got me thinking about it was the scene where Steve Martin realizes the date, which means it’s open season on L.A. freeways. He pulls a gun out of the glove compartment and everybody starts shooting at each other. Hilarity ensues.

Ah, the good old days, when Mother Nature sat idly by and watched while we all killed each other. Nowadays any human-to-human violence takes a smoke-filled back seat to the orange-skied behemoth smothering us all.

In case you’ve missed the stunning visuals, the entire state of California is on fire right now. As it was last year. And the year before. As we shout into our Zoom calls through COVID-infected lungs: It’s Fire Season, motherfucker!

Although to call it a “season” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s pretty much half the year. In 2018, for instance, my Camptathalon was cut short when we were evacuated due to the Donnell Fire, which razed our campsite less than twelve hours after we left. That was in August. Also in 2018, many school districts canceled school the Friday before Thanksgiving due to smoke from the Camp Fire. Not to be confused with a campfire, which we had to douse when we evacuated the campsite back in August. Or the Carr Fire, also in 2018, which had nothing to do with an automobile.

Incidentally, I looked up the Donnell Fire to verify its name. I googled “Dardanelles fire” since Dardanelles was the resort that burned down. More on the naming of fires in a bit.

According to Wikipedia, “The Donnell Fire was a wildfire that started on August 1, 2018 due to an unknown cause.” Bull fucking shit. That fire, like many others, started as a “controlled burn” that got out of hand. I have photographic proof, from a few days before our camping trip, of a perfect ring of fire, something I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist in nature. Check it out, complete with timestamp.

I’ve never understood why they choose the height of fire season to do these controlled burns. I assume it has something to do with foliage being too wet in April to clear out enough of the debris, but April would seem to prioritize the “controlled” part instead of the “burn” part. A couple weeks ago, with half the state burning and every firefighter elsewhere, we drove by signs reading “prescribed burning ahead, do not report.” When we woke up Sunday morning, smoke was on the horizon. Shocking.

I mean, it’s no gender reveal party, but it’s disconcerting that the professionals are setting fires, too.

Hey, what kind of names do you think they’re considering for the fetus who burned down the whole state? Since the orgiastic pyrotechnics were blue, it’s clearly a boy, so I doubt they’ll go with Fyre. Or whatever Drew Barrymore’s character was named in Firestarter. Would Sparky be too on-the-nose? How about Forrest, to appease the gods?

Turns out Drew Barrymore’s character was named Charlie. An androgynous name! Perfect!

Dumbass professionals and pregnants aside, I really don’t know what’s caused this sharp uptick in fires recently. The Democrats in my newsfeed swear it’s climate change. The Republicans in my newsfeed swear it’s that we’re not allowed to clear underbrush and make fire roads anymore. I assume the truth is somewhere in the middle. As usual, the problems we ignore are only exacerbated  by the problems we attempt to fix. So instead of a breathable climate with firebreaks, we’re left with a sweltering hellscape, complete with kindling!

But whatever. To butcher a Jimmy Buffett line, I ain’t tryin’ to reason with fire season. Like taxes, smarmy Amber Alert signs, and a governor who thinks he’s solved COVID-19 by changing “Phase I, II, III, and IV” to “Purple, Red, Orange, and Yellow tiers” (I wonder if he dropped the mic after that stroke of brilliance), if I want to live in the only state where teachers make enough to buy a steak a month, I’ve just got to make peace with six months of fire each year. 

It’s like hurricane season, only twice as long and with substantially more certainty. Even if my house isn’t specifically in danger, I’m still trapped inside. I think the air outside has more ash than oxygen. When I opened my door the other morning, it smelled like I was camping inside a BBQ. Except if I was at a campsite or a BBQ, I could be drinking at oh-dark-thirty. Whereas that would be frowned upon at work.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m teaching from home. Nobody would know except my laptop screen. I actually lectured after a couple beers for the first time in my professional career last week. Don’t worry, it wasn’t a live lecture, but I remembered at about 9:30 Labor Day night that I hadn’t recorded the instructions for the next day. Oops.

I remember when California’s most famous natural disaster was our earthquakes. People who live in Tornado Alley or Hurricane Avenue or Locust Boulevard would comment how they couldn’t possibly conceive of living where there are earthquakes.

The great thing about earthquakes , though, is by the time you realize we’re having an earthquake, it’s already over. We don’t have to build an underground earthquake shelter or pack up all of our shit three times a year to drive 1,000 miles away on the chance that this might be one of the bad earthquakes instead of the mundane ones. 

Instead it’s, “did you feel… wait, is that… are we having an… whew, glad that’s over.” Unless you happen to be driving on the lower level of a bridge.

But with fires, we get to experience the looming dread that the rest of the country has always faced. When it gets too windy or too still, or too humid or too dry, we look at each other and know that we better stock up on the N-95s. And that’s before we knew that the fertility gods are now requesting sacrifices of scorched earth.

But whatever. Much like the Gales facing the Kansas twister or the Florida meth whores peddling their wares during Hurricanes Neal and Bob, we’re adjusting to life in Fire-geddon. Hell, it’s 2020, if the world isn’t literally crumbling to embers in your corner of the woods, just wait a week. Oh sorry, “corner of the woods” is probably an offensive statement here in Fire State. Every corner of every woods in the state is now an ember.

The problem that I’m having with the last five years isn’t the fires themselves, but rather our incessant need to come up with quippy little names for said fires.

I never understood the penchant for naming hurricanes. Sure, it helps to distinguish one from another, but that can be done without proper names of real human beings. There’ve been studies about people not taking female-named hurricanes as seriously as male-named ones. I can’t say for certain that Hurricane 2020-B would be any more or less effective. At least then they’d only get useful monikers once they’ve become something we should give a shit about. 

As opposed to our current classification system, where they get their fancy pre-selected name as soon as one drop of rainwater hits the Atlantic Ocean. It starts as Tropical Depression then it’s Tropical Storm, and because it has a name, we’re kinda rooting for it, right? I had a tropical storm named after me a few years ago, and I was really hoping it would head to New Orleans, hang out on Bourbon Street for a while, maybe drink a hand grenade because hurricanes are so gauche. 

It never became a hurricane. Insert sad-trombone noise.

It could be worse. I could be named Katrina. Or Andrew. Sucks for those people. We all want our named storms to peter out around a Category I, right? Worthwhile enough to be noticed, but nothing that’ll be reviled throughout time.

But hey,  the worst two hurricanes have one female name and one male name. And beyond those two, we’ve got Harvey and Sandy, Ike and Maria. Huzzah for gender equality!

At least when they’re naming hurricanes, they do it ahead of time and try to pick non-specific names. Now that they’ve decided to start naming fires, all bets are off. They name it after the fact and try to be as cutesy as possible. I guess all those out-of-work military planners had to get a job somewhere. Remember Operation Enduring Freedom? Good thing we didn’t take a left at Fallujah or we might be calling it Operation Turgid Nipple.

I’ve already listed some of the fire names above. The Carr Fire and the Camp Fire. Really? Oh what giggles must’ve erupted about the command center when those names were posited. “Sure, the town of Paradise is burning to the ground as we speak but, follow me here, guys. Camp Fire. Get it? Campfire? Oh, I’m so clever.”

They come up with some bogus bullshit about the fire starting near Carr Road or Camp Farm or whatever, but it’s clear they’re just trying to be clever. Hey, let me see if there was a Homeowners’ Ass. anywhere near the conflagration and I can call it the Ass Complex.

I perused the Cal Fire website while writing this. Check out some of the names: Oak Fire, Willow Fire, Lake Fire, Valley Fire, and Creek Fire. Clearly somebody was watching Animal Planet recently, because we’ve recently added a Bobcat Fire and a Sheep Fire. There’s also a Schoolhouse Fire. 

“Good thing all of our schools are canceled because of the plague, right boys? C’mon, up top!”

There’s a fire called the Lightning Fire, which may or may not have been caused by lightning. I say “may not,” because there were a lot of lightning fires (we had thunderstorms in mid-August) so it seems odd to name just one of them Lightning Fire. And we’re obviously not naming these fires after their causes or else we’d have “Dumbass Hipster Fire” and “Uncontrolled Control Burn Fire.” There’s an “August Complex Fire,” too. I have learned that a complex fire are when two or more fires merge. So the “August Complex Fire” mentions it was formerly known as the “Doe Fire.” Animal Planet Dude strikes again.

The problem with these names is that they’re confusing as hell, and when I want to check and see if anything is contained or if I’m ever going to see blue skies again, I first have to guess what clever name they’ve come up with. For instance, the county next door to me, bordering Sacramento, is named “El Dorado County.” The “El Dorado Fire,” meanwhile, is 500 miles away in Riverside County.

Imagine if the hurricanes were only named after they had already struck, and then were named random shit like “Cloud Hurricane” or “Wet Hurricane.” Or “Beaver Hurricane.” Then add in that “Texas Hurricane” just ravaged the coast of South Carolina.

I understand that, when there are twenty fires raging at any given time, there’s got to be a way to classify them. But guess what? Those of us living through this shit have come up with a much better classification system. The city that’s getting evacuated becomes the classification for the fire. Camp Fire, my ass. It was the Paradise Fire. Just ask Netflix.

Here’s the conversation I had at work last week.

“It was starting to clear up, but now it’s back. Is this smoke still from the San Jose fire?”

“No, I think that one’s mostly contained. I think this new smoke is from Fresno.”

“Really? Fresno’s an awfully long way away.”

“Whatever happened to the Auburn Fire? Wasn’t that blanketing you house last week?”

“No. Turns out the Auburn fire was minor. I thought it was that, but I was getting Vacaville.”

Super tough, huh?

Although I bet the forthcoming Cougar Fire will be nice and caliente.

You’ll Never Believe How I Play Animal Crossing! #713 will amaze you!! Plus X-Men and GoT!!!

Welcome back to my foray into the time- and mind-suck known as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, including the use of the clickbait titles required when writing about said game.

Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Sophie Turner starred as both a “Game of Thrones” character AND a Marvel character. I should probably post a picture of her. Meh, you can google it.

Oh, and I think last time I promised I’d tell you what new critters are available in September. Let me check my Critterpedia. I’ve see some salmon and some crickets. A snazzy red dragonfly is  out, but only during daytime hours. And something about acorns?

Dammit, I should’ve buried this at the end of the blog. With a shit-ton of “Next” buttons en route. I’m as bad as a Nigerian prince at this.

Last time, I wrote about my family’s journey from one to three Switch Lites, along with three copies of Animal Crossing. But at the tail end of that post, I was still managing to fight the temptation to hang out with passive aggressive animals. But eventually, I reached the point I always reach with Civilization games. Easy levels are too easy, hard levels kick my butt. If the damn game’s gonna last ten hours, I want it to be just hard enough to beat. The only thing worse than wasting ten hours on a game you’re kicking butt on is to waste ten hours only to lose. 

So some time in late June, I finally busted out our third copy of Animal Crossing and created the island of Buffett. Because Wife had already nabbed Copacabana and Margaritaville is too many letters.

If you haven’t played Animal Crossing, the main plot of this game is revolving debt. I assume they sell it as “building an island paradise amongst creepy animals with personality issues,” but really, it’s about the never-ending, crippling debt that defines modern America. Plus doing other people’s work for them. 

The stage is set with your very first task, which is to place not only your own tent, but the other two tag-alongs’ tents, too.  That’s right, they sell you on the whole “deserted island” motif then, Bam! give you two neighbors, one of whom is “snooty,” and three staff. Seems suspiciously like one of those “hour-long” timeshare meetings. 

You then spend the next month chasing Tom Nook, the crazy cruise director’s, dream of packing said island to the rafters with other residents until you can get a Fyre Festival concert going with an artist whose name sounds suspiciously close to an organization that one should not want to be too closely associated with. My heart skips a beat every time Daughter exclaims, in that echoing voice of a six-year old not yet aware of “inside voice,” that we have to get home quick so she can attend the K.K. rally.

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. 

After you’ve picked out the island, placed three tents , and promised to bury your first-born child into a glowing hole that will grow into a three-baby tree, they stick you with the bill. You owe fifty grand in moving expenses!

Not to worry, though. Like any good cult leader, he’s gonna cut you a deal on your first batch. All you have to do is use his phone app to get frequent flyer miles and drink his Kool-Aid on a regular basis. However, as soon as you pay it off, he hits you with another loan, and this one needs honest-to-goodness money to pay off. 

Sure, I don’t have to take out that second loan, but dude is a somewhat persistent used-car-that-runs-on-snake-oil salesman, “Hey, good job paying off that piece-of-shit tent,” he says. “How about manning up and getting a fucking house like the rest of society?” So you acquiesce and upgrade to a studio apartment, then a one-bedroom, then two. Eventually you add an upstairs. Each time, he builds it for you right away, then makes you pay off the loan. And he won’t let you forget about it either. If you chat with him about anything, it comes across as, “Boy, I really wish I could get my favorite Aryan singer to this podunk place. And hey, no hurries, but about that little loan I floated you…

“But seriously, go build some bridges and paths and campsites and shit, because this deserted island ain’t gonna turn into a five-star resort by itself.”

It’s not just the Jim Jones guy in charge, either. EVERYBODY on this fucking island wants you to do all of their work for them. In a Trumpian show of nepotism, Tom Nook’s little nephews want to set up a shop on the island. Only thing is that you have to collect all their supplies. Then, in a classic boss-versus-worker-bee twist, once they open the shop that you built for them, their hours are shorter. When they were working out of resident services, you could buy and sell from them 24 hours a day. Now their shop is only open 8:00 am to 10:00 pm. It’s like that old joke where the MBA guy finds a villager who fishes in the morning and drinks cervezas on the beach the rest of the day. The MBA tells him that he should expand his business, invest in a fleet, work hard for thirty years so he can enjoy a retirement of fishing in the morning and drinking cervezas on the beach the rest of the day.

The Nook boys will accept items for sale after hours, but then they take a 10% cut. About what you’d expect from dudes who relied upon their uncle for the plot of land and a random stranger for all the materials. I guess they’re too busy sipping cervezas on the beach. They certainly aren’t fishing, because that’s what they need me to do to keep their business afloat. 

Eventually, your island will grow to 10 other residents who might help the various Nookses with their get-rich-slowly schemes. But, hoo boy, those other residents su-uuuu-uck. The can’t fish. They can’t catch bugs. They can’t bang rocks. Hell, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one shake a damned tree. Not sure why these people (or animals, I suppose) decided coming to a deserted island, with no OSHA or ADA or left-turn signals. This sure ain’t one of those libertarian islands where you’re expected to fend for yourself.

Watch one try to catch a bug some time. It’s hilarious. They stalk up to it with their net raised and then they just stand there like Paul Giamatti trying to talk to a woman in “Sideways.” Pull the trigger, mother fucker!

At some point later in the game, you’re supposed to build bridges and inclines. I guess the game manufacturers thought people would feel used and abused by that point, so instead of paying for it all yourself, you place where it’ll go and then everybody on the island can contribute to its cost. Unfortunately, “everybody contributing” usually ends up equating to 197,572 bells from you and 428 combined from the other ten residents combined. True socialism at work!

But their slovenly ways aren’t nearly as annoying as how damned smug they are about it. They really should’ve named the game “Passive Aggressive Crossing.” If you talk to them more than once in a day, they not-so-subtly remind you that you’re wasting their time. “Wow, we keep running into each other” or “Hey, I have an idea, let’s see how many times we can talk” or “Didn’t I just talk to you?” But then if you go a couple days without talking to them, they remind you of that, too. 

This is probably why it’s a kid’s game. Daughter doesn’t understand social cues or sarcasm, so if somebody snidely says, “We should play a game where we keep talking to each other for no reason,” she’s like, “Sweet, a game!” Meanwhile, I return their own passive aggressiveness with a healthy dose of my own. The museum owner loves fish, but hates bugs. So I make him tell me more information about bugs, but whenever I give him a fish, I pull the “Sorry, I’m really busy.”

It only takes one look at our various islands to note the different ways we play this game. Wife’s island is meticulous, well-manicured trails between perfectly-segregated flower gardens. She even decorates the areas around each resident’s island with different motifs, giving each of those slackers their own flower beds. Daughter’s island is filled to the brim with lots of colorful knick-knacks. Instead of meticulous flowerbeds, her whole fucking island is one giant flowerbed. There’s probably some rhyme or reason to it, but I can’t discern how to get from point a to point b, much less the aesthetics of a six-year old. 

My island, meanwhile, has random shit dropped wherever. There’s usually some method to my madness, but I couldn’t give two shits about how it looks. My exercise bike is by some sort of fish-drying rack. I think there’s a lava lamp by my topiary. I do a good job of cleaning up all of my ersatz building materials, my rocks and wood and what-have-you, into neat little clumps of thirty. But then I put those clumps of thirty on the ground, whereas Wife puts them in storage. Why did I put all the shoes and cans out on the beach? So they’re out of the way! Sure, I coulda put them in front of Agnes’s house, but what would that accomplish? 

At least you can get around my island. Daughter’s island has so much random shit it’s a fucking maze. While Wife’s island has neat little flower beds of complimentary colors and varietals, Daughter’s island is one giant smorgasbord of every flower in existence. Oh, and fences. I visited her island last Sunday morning to buy some cheaper turnips from the disgusting, snot-nosed Daisy Mae, and Daughter informed me I had to go through the “secret passage” to get to the other side of the island. Said secret passage ended up being a zigzag of fences through a flower field, between two houses, and onto a bridge.

My flowers, by the way, are as haphazard as Daughters, only less prolific. When I get the quest to plant three flowers, I plant three flowers and nothing more. Then I drop the remaining seed packets there, so the next time I get that quest, I only need to pick them up and plant three more. So its more of an amorphous blob.

Daughter probably interacts with the other residents as the game designers intended. When given the choice (task!) of where to put their houses, she started by putting them as close to hers as possible. When that became untenable, she made carefully constructed neighborhoods, even paying to move some of their houses to live close to others they’re likely to get along with.

Me? I put those fuckers as far away from me as possible. I signed up for a deserted fucking island, dude. It’s bad enough these lollygaggers want me to do all their work for them. They want me to talk to them, too?

When I finally gained the ability to move houses, I didn’t move theirs, I moved mine. Because by then I could get across the river, and option I didn’t have at the beginning of the game. And it’s a skill the others never gain, because if they can’t work a goddamn net, I don’t see them mastering pole vaulting. Fifty thousand bells to cordon off half of the island for my own private compound? Sold!

Although I did also pay to move one of the original residents’ houses. I’d originally placed it too close to the center of a peninsula. When new residents moved in, I wanted them taking up as little space on my paradise as possible, so I moved Agnes’s house over a skosh to jam a new resident in right next to her, like a proper nineteenth century tenement. Slum lord, here I come. If I could put them all to work at a Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, I would. 

IT’s not only about where they live, either. Daughter makes gifts for her residents and sends them postcards. She doesn’t at all mind when one of them tells her to “snuffles” or “pronk.” Seriously, she’ll go around the island to collect natural resources, then craft them into finish products, just to walk up to a rando and give it to them when they weren’t even asking. WTF? Doesn’t she know she can get a good deal on that over at Nook’s Cranny?

Of course, then she always whines that Wife and I have more money and more Godzilla monsters than her. Maybe if she learns her lesson now, she can avoid the whole loadie friend stage in her teens and twenties.

So if I don’t make my island pretty and I don’t interact with my residents, what the hell am I doing playing Animal Crossing? Trust me, it’s a question I ask myself on the regular. But, you see, they give you tasks. A never-ending list of tasks that give me Nook miles that I must complete in order to get assigned new ones. In order to get Nook miles that I don’t need, which I redeem for cash and prizes. which I don’t do.

It’s so easy to fall under its spell. All I have to do is cut down a tree and catch five fish? Easy peazy. So why am I, thirty minutes later, still with two fish to go and a virgin forest? It’s just like those never-ending games that I download on my phone.

Except that I had to pay for this never-ending game. Three times, in fact. 

Crap.

Maybe I need to sell some ads to those free-game companies.

Secret Animal Crossing Tips with Marvel Villains and George R.R. Martin!

I’ll be right with you. I have to catch two fish to get some Nook miles. 

Two hours later…

No really. I’ll finish this blog post. As soon as I buy a shrubbery from Leif and talk to one more resident.

I know I’m a little late to the party, but as you can probably tell, I’ve become one of the presumably billions of people who turned COVID-geddon into a non-stop fest of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

It might seem silly and pointless to be writing my “review” of a game that came out months ago, but my Google feed suggests otherwise. It’s not quite as clickbaity as “Next Game of Thrones Book Release Date will Fix Major Plothole,” followed by a description of  season six of the tv show. Or maybe “MCU Phase Seven Villain Confirmed,” which links to a list of comic book villains. Really? Doctor Doom AND Galactus are both Marvel characters?

Seriously, near the end of July, I saw a headline for which Animal Crossing bugs and fish would be disappearing at the end of the month. Hey guess what? I can check my Critterpedia, too. In case you’re wondering, cicadas are going away at the end of August. 

And Hugh Jackman probably won’t be playing Wolverine in the Disney Marvel movies.

We were late to the Animal Crossing party as a result of being late to the Nintendo Switch party. Haven’t played many video games since a) child became mobile, and b) phones started adding never-ending games that require you to log in once every 30 minutes to accomplish nothing at all. My PlayStation 3 is collecting dust upstairs, Assassin’s Creed 3 about 15% done and Grand Theft Auto 4 still in its plastic wrap. I thought, briefly, about buying a PS4, until I found out that it doesn’t have backward compatibility. But the PS5 will, so maybe sometime in 2022 I’ll finally conquer Zork.

With the ‘Rona shutting down both mine and my daughter’s school year a couple month’s before her sixth birthday, which allegedly comes with a minuscule amount of hand-eye coordination, I figured it was finally time to splurge on a next generation console before it became a last generation console. Like me.

Unfortunately, the entire rest of the planet also decided to buy a Nintendo Switch in March. And the supply line was already jacked up because they’re made in countries which went through the Shutdown Shuffle thing back in November. 

But because I typed “Nintendo” once upon an internet search, I spent most of April getting all sorts of fancy newsfeed notices about this fantastical new game that looked nothing like Mario. Why, it’s only giant-headed humans on a brightly-colored island. 

But from what I read, and heard from friends who owned a Switch before the shutdown, it was the BEST of times. It’s an obsessive game, they told me. There’s SO MUCH to do on it. Like fishing and catching bugs and chopping trees and… and… that’s about it. Sounded more like farming to me, but a video game titled “It’s Literally Just Lawn Mowing” was in the top ten downloads on Google Play a little while ago. Wow, we’re really looking for a slice of normalcy this year, aren’t we?

I asked one of my friends if it was kid friendly. She blinked at me through the Zoom call as if I had asked if the Pope shits in the woods. “Yeah. Have you seen it? It’s made for kids.” Well sure, I said, but so was Minecraft, but then grown-ups come and destroy everything your child has built. I mean, have you seen what we’ve done with Halloween?

But she assured me that, if I were to ever track down a console, Daughter could keep her island safely secured from other human beings. Sold! Removing contact from other human beings is the whole fucking point of video games, yesno?

I spent most of April and May scouring every virtual marketplace for a console, any console. Except for eBay, because no way was I going to pay $600 for a used console that somebody stuck up their butt first.

In early May, I saw some Switch Lites for sale, but no big plug-into-the-tv Switches. I hadn’t heard of these Lite things before, but I was skeptical. I’m aware the big selling point of the Switch is that it can be plugged into a TV or can be transported and played on its own little screen. As with the Wii and, really, every console including the original NES, Nintendo can never compete with the big boys on graphics or gameplay, so they differentiate themselves with fancy little “let’s redefine what video games even are.” For a span of a couple months in seventh grade, every boy and half the girls in my school were competing and sharing progress and helping each other through Metroid. “Hey, I got missiles last night.” “Dude, I’m stuck on the bats.” “Oh, place a bomb on the left-most doorway.” Hard to believe we did all that without cell phones or cheat boards.

Still, I was leery of the Switch Lite. Handheld consoles always hearken back to Game Boy. And really, isn’t my phone a handheld gaming console? And their games are free! Sure, I have to watch an ad stream as never-ending as the daily Nook Miles tasks, but all the advertisements are just for other free games. How the hell does that work? Seems as bogus an economic system as the hospitals and insurance companies that concoct random numbers because nobody really pays any of those make-believe prices. “Go ahead, add another zero and we’ll just raise premiums, which employers will cover in lieu of raises. Oh, and we can run an ad on Candy Crush with the extra profit.”

But as April turned into May and Daughter’s birthday approached with nary a toy store in sight, those shoddy Switch Lites started calling my name like lite beer during Lent. After watching them show up, then disappear again, on Target’s website, the next time I saw them, I nabbed it as quick as possible. The two games I got with it were Mario Kart, which Daughter’s played maybe five times since early June, and Ye Ol’ Crossing de Carne.

I also bought Civilization VI for Daddy, because I’ve played every other iteration of Civilization, dating all the way back to the first one on 5-1/4″ floppys back in 1991. When Daughter opened the present, we informed her that, while this was her birthday gift, it was a family item. We reserved the right to play on it when we desired.

That lasted about a week.

Not that Daughter was reticent to give it up. She’s okay with watching us play, to a certain extent, but Wife was having none of it. It started out innocently enough. We figured we should what the hell this game was all about if we were going to use it as a baby sitter while we worked. Daughter had played it a few times, but her reading level isn’t quite up to the level of word bubble after word bubble of Tom Nook’s bullshit. So Wife made a character to figure out if there was more to the game than running around and fishing.

Spoiler alert: there isn’t any more to the game than running around and fishing.

While Daughter was usually okay with limiting her game time, you could only get our Nintendo if you took it from our cold, sleeping hands. Turns out Animal Crossing is precisely the style and speed of video game Wife prefers. And Civilization VI is just as crack-like as the first five. Unfortunately, looking up from the screen and realizing it’s 3:00 am is much more of an existential crisis at 45 than it was at 19. I might as well just stay up until I can call the chiropractor.

The good news is that the Switch Lite has a finite battery, so it gives me more impetus to save and quit than any of the first five Civilizations did. Sure, I could plug it in, but if I’m getting up from the couch, I might as well go to bed.

The other drawback to all of us playing on the same machine was that we all had to play on Daughter’s island, which she named Hawaii, because she isn’t the best at naming things. We’ve adopted two animals from rescue groups over the past year and she kept both random names assigned by the fostering employees. It could be worse. She named the fish Grocery Bag and Shopping Cart.

After about a week of Wife getting her feel for the game, she was checking Target inventory for not only a second, but a third, Switch Lite. A week after those arrived, they were joined by a second copy of Animal Crossing, so the two of them could play at the same time. I repeatedly said we didn’t need a third copy, but allegedly one of the real joys of this game is visiting each other’s islands, which can only be done if we’re all playing on three different machines, with three different copies of the video game.

For those keeping track, my $199 investment in Daughter’s birthday/COVID sanity, has now turned into $600 in consoles plus $180 for three copies of the same game. And yeah, I know we can log in and out of different machines and download it to each one, then log out again. But meh, it’s not like there were many options to waste money on during the lockdown. Hell, without a commute, I’m probably saving that much money a month in gas and oil changes.

Plus, we totally kick ass at the Bug Off now. Did you know you get bonuses if three of you are buggin’ at the same time?

Still, I might need to figure out how to monetize this damn blog to pay off all my bills.

On that note, click here to hear how our peaceful family was taken over by creepy animals with personality issues. Two posts are better than one, right?

By the time it posts, I might be able to tell you which critters and fish show up in September.

Oh, and spoilers about every Marvel, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter plotline for the rest of time!

COVID Scoreboard

Am I the only one this happens to? 

I return home from  some socially-distant walkabout, or perhaps I put on my HazMat suit to buy a dozen eggs, and immediately go wash my hands, as I was told might be important back in March, but I haven’t heard one medical or political leader mention since then. But the running water makes me have to go pee. Then I have to wash my hands again. I’m starting to think Bath, Body Works, and Zoom is behind this whole COVID thing. 

Yes, I list Bath and Body Works as two different entities, which I assume merged in the late Middle Ages, like Buda and Pest.

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in. In that time, the world seemingly ended and then started to come back before deciding that, meh, maybe it needs to hit the snooze button for another six months or so. 

I blogged a fair amount back when it all came crashing down. But then I stopped because every post ended up being the same. Even when I went beyond the COVID stuff, what the hell else was I supposed to write about? A fancy new restaurant I discovered? That new movie that’s become water cooler scuttlebutt? Try as I might, I can’t milk 1000+ words out of washing my hands and then peeing. 

At least not on a weekly basis.

But here on the cusp of a the second full decade of COVID, it’s worth another check in. 

What’s that? It’s only been five months? Regardless, Daughter and I are both heading back to school this coming week, so I guess now is as good a time as any to take the rectal temperature.

Of course, “heading back to school” might not be 100% accurate. We’ve started education via shiny screen, at any rate. In my last post I mentioned my district was bloviating about sending all the kids back to schools and starting teacher death pools as a new fundraising apparatus. Then they said the students didn’t have to show up at school but the teachers still did, because only one of those two variables are important to the educational process and their bottom line. After that, the teachers agreed to let them blame pushing back the start of the school year by a week on us to the parents. As a result, we’re allowed to teach from home. So now I’m live-streaming 12th grade AP right next to Daughter, who is live-streaming first grade. My students are very jealous that we can’t spend a whole day on “how to use crayons” like the other talking head in the room.

I called it, of course. I knew that no school district was actually going to go through with the whole “no social distancing, everybody come back” threat. Wait, what’s that? Georgia, you say? Too bad they suspend people for taking pictures, so we’ll never see what that looks like…

Looking back on my earlier posts,  I was right more often than I was wrong. I thought we were overreacting and, I know this is an unpopular position, but I still think we’re overreacting. Or maybe not overreacting, but focusing on the wrong things. Much like the TSA, half the crap we’re doing is designed to look like we’re trying instead of actually keeping us safe. If there was really virtually no spread at BLM rallies, then half the stuff we shut down didn’t need to be shut down. As another example, in baseball, they have to sanitize the bullpen phone after each usage, even though the bullpen phone is answered by the same person every single time.

And no, I don’t think that’s where the entire Marlins team caught the ‘Rona. Unless there’s a bullpen phone in South Beach night clubs. 

Speaking of sports, I was also right that baseball is a relatively easy game to socially distance. What I forgot was that the owners and the players would rather stick their heads up their collective asses than to take advantage of months where everybody is stuck at home watching Frozen II for the seventy-fifth time. The owners were convinced they were going to lose ALL of their money and then, lo and behold, opening night was the highest rated in years. Imagine if it had happened back in May. Or April, if we’d never shut it down in the first place.

Of course, two teams have gone full COVID. Double digit cases on both the Marlins and Cardinals, which is made even worse by the fact that those two teams don’t play each other. Had they caught it from each other, we might have a good test study. But they’re in different time zones. Again, it probably would’ve been better for MLB to start up in April or May, when the players couldn’t go to bars after the games. But when you hold off for three months because it’s “unsafe,” then say, “Okay, things are safe enough to return now,” then people are going to act as if they’re safe. It’s the lesson that the entire United States learned during July.

That’s why the recent cancellations of most of college football was obvious from a mile away. And the conferences that are still “contemplating it” are only doing it for the optics. College football is a fucking pipe dream. Take all of the problems MLB has had and add in teenagers without millions of dollars on the line. Or proper health care beyond a team doctor who gets paid to say, “Yep, he can play.”

Closer to home, the recreational soccer league we signed Daughter up for back around the time her softball season was canceled after one game seem intent to go on with soccer this fall. With only “slight modifications.” Such as there won’t be any actual games. Only practices. And parents can’t hang out at the practice. But we can’t leave practice. We have to sit in our cars the whole time. How quickly can I opt out?

Here’s what I don’t get: how would putting my daughter on a field with 10 other six-year-olds and a couple of parent coaches be fine, but putting her on a field with 20 others be where the problems come? Yes, I understand the law of averages, but if the implication is that at least one team will get COVID and they don’t want to spread it to others, then maybe they shouldn’t be having team practices in the first place. 

The soccer league is just taking a cue from the general sense of “othering” tied up with COVID. My team is okay, it’s those other teams that we have to fear. I know all of my friends are clean and safe, it’s those OTHER people who are disgusting and COVID-y. Right before my curling league shut down, somebody proposed that we keep our leagues running, because we know all those people, but maybe stop doing Learn-to-Curls, because the GENERAL PUBLIC can come to those. I responded that the members were just as likely to have it as non-members, so we shut the whole thing down.

Conversation with my father-in-law: “The mask is not just to protect you, but other people.” “But I don’t have it.” “How do you know?” “Because I’m healthy.”

Which is not to say I’m immune to this othering. Whenever I hear of someone catching it, I ask, “where did they go? What did they do? In what way did they bring this on themselves?” And when they caught it at church, I breathe a sigh of relief. 

Somebody at my wife’s work caught it. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the guy who frequented every bar in the greater Sacramento area the day they re-opened. It’s one of the conscientious ones, my wife claimed. He’s got three kids at home! It’s totally random!

Turns out he went to Tahoe, which is pretty much the hottest of hotbeds in our state. “Don’t have COVID? Well, come on down and we’ll fix that right up!”

Back in March and April, I thought we forced shut down too quickly, before we could see if the distancing and hand washing would help. And masks, although back then they lied to us by telling us masks didn’t help. In fact, masks were probably bad for us. The lie was totally reasonable. One look at the toilet paper aisle was enough to realize that if we thought we needed masks, no doctor would be able to cover his or her face until 2025. 

But the short-term gain from that little white lie came back to haunt the CDC, didn’t it? Might be a teachable moment in there. If we were allowed to teach anymore. Most people (certainly not all, but most) are willing to go along with scientists changing their minds as new evidence comes in. What we’re less thrilled with is the “Oh yeah, we knew all along that you should be doing this, but we didn’t think you could handle it. This time we’ll keep the football down, Charlie Brown.”

So yeah, I still don’t understand why we shut down camping and miniature golf and contactless car washes. Perhaps if we had taken a measured response at the beginning, told people that if they wash hands and wear masks and be careful about how close they are to people, that we can do certain things. Instead they told us we couldn’t do a goddamn thing for two months and then were shocked that we crammed the beach so closely that we were cupping the balls of the dude three blankets away.

Most of us have figured out the measured approach on this second go around, yes? We wash our hands and wear our masks. We let people take out temperature when we go inside. I don’t understand what good that does if the main problem with COVID is how many people we spread it to before we have any symptoms. Once your temperature hits 100 degrees, it’s game fucking over. Last time I went to Kaiser, they didn’t stop me to take my temperature, so I figured they were acknowledging it as pointless. Nope, the nurse informed me, they’ve just gone all Big Brother and are surreptitiously scanning us from afar.

I hate going into Kaiser, because they make me lie. “Have you been experiencing any shortness of breath?” Um, I’m here to get allergy shots, meaning it’s been many weeks since my last allergy shots. And I have allergy-induced asthma that gets worse the longer I’ve gone without shots. So have I been experiencing any shortness of breath? I just assume they mean “more than usual” and say no. 

The mask companies finally caught up and made fancy, fashionable masks so we can accessorize with our favorite sports teams or pop culture references or works of art. We carry our hand sanitizer with us, even if it smells like a noontime drunk. Seriously, I’ve got some alcohol-based hand sanitizer in my car and, let me tell you, if I ever get pulled over after using that shit, I’m going to jail. Granted, it’s 100 degrees on the average day in Sacramento, but that stuff is straight rum coming out of there. Is that how we fixed the supply problem? Hand sanitizer: all gone, Restaurant alcohol: wasting away undrunk. Get me that Bicardi, stat!

I think the biggest failed lesson from the first lockdown was that the lockdowns had fuck-all to do with people’s actions. Herr Kommandant Newsom told us all to stay home and, lo and behold, we all stayed home! He hath spoken and we hath listened! Except that’s not really how it happened. What actually happened was people started hoarding and staying at home and started freaking out about whether or not they were going to go to work. On March 12, for instance, March Madness was canceled and Disneyland closed. And seriously, if those two organizations that put profit ahead of their very souls, are shutting down, then why the fuck am I going to work in my cubicle? 

Seven days later, after we had all purchased enough toilet paper to survive a nuclear shitstorm, Herr Kommandant told us, “Hey, why don’t you stay home? Go ahead. It’s on me.” Then, instead of trying to figure out how it spreads or if masks work or if a bear shits in the woods, he spent the next two months patting himself on the back that EVERYBODY in his state was listening to him and his fancy hair.

I assume they’re separate entities, Newsom and his hair. I only wonder who is the one that’s truly in charge of the symbiotic relationship.

Then people got tired of being trapped at home, so they started going out. And the Governor, not willing to admit people weren’t following his directions, came up with some bullshit about Phases and  R-1s and how if we do our best to watch all of his press conferences and maybe get our Senator put on the national ticket so that next year he can pull a Blegojevich next year, then maybe he’ll let us go to bars, but only if they serve us fatty foods with each drink.

Seriously, at one point everybody went to the beach and he said if we kept going to the beach, he wasn’t going to open anything. Then there was one windy day in SoCal where people didn’t go to the beach and he said, “Since everyone listened to me, you can go to the beaches now. And movie theaters, too.” 

But still no camping. And still, in late May, nothing about masks.

Remember when Georgia had a “Partial re-opening” and it was lambasted as short-sighted and dangerous, while at the same time California had a “phased rollback of restrictions,” which included about 90% the same things, but was somehow lauded as a studious approach based on evidence? Of course, nobody’s saying that about California now as we’ve surged past all the models.

So yeah, I still think I was right about a fair amount. About toilet paper and social distancing and the likelihood that schools would never have on-location education ever again. At one point I said that if we all hunkered down for two months then all returned to the wild, we weren’t really “flattening the curve” so much as “delaying the curve.” I think I get a fucking gold star and a cookie for that prediction, yeah?

But there were definitely some things I could not have been more wrong about. Top of that list is how many people want to burn the whole thing down. I mean, I assume they want to stay in lockdown forever, or else they’d wear some fucking masks, right? 

Seriously people, if y’all put on your masks and stopped practicing fully-clothed sodomy with each other, we could be out of this in a manner of weeks. But today I had some 80-year-old lady crawling up my backside at the checkout counter at the grocery store. Y’know, those carts are almost six feet long, so all you have to do is stand behind your fucking cart and we’re good. And yeah, I know you have to take stuff out of your cart, but this lady stood right behind me and pulled her empty cart in behind her. Then she LEANED TOWARD ME!!!

And now everybody’s trying to follow the letter of the rules without following the intent. Bars are selling a single french fry to go with your drink. Restaurants can serve outdoors, so they’re throwing up giant tents to keep all the COVID trapped around you in a nice moist environment. Others aren’t even pretending to follow the rules. A waterslide park outside of Sacramento recently reopened in violation of a state mandate. They’re being fined $500 a day. 

Five hundred bucks a day. They run a water park in a Trump-voting county where the average temperature is over 100 degrees. I think they make back that $500 in the first twenty minutes they’re open. That’s kinda like making me pay the extra five-cent sin tax on my beer. It’s not really doing jackshit to dissuade me from drinking.

Oh wait, it’s not a sin tax, it’s a recycling tax. I’m supposed to get it back if I recycle. Except all the recycling centers have closed, and that was long before COVID. Probably a topic for another time.

I’ve got plenty of time, after all. With tent dining and opened water parks and a bunch of Anti- Masxxers, to say nothing of the 100 students waiting patiently on a Zoom call to turn a freeze-frame screencapture of my nosehair into a Tik Tok, we’re going to be here for a while.

Back to School, Sort Of

 My school district is threatening to start school up again in a few weeks.

Yes, I used the word threaten. I don’t think they intend to go through with it. I think it’s a negotiating strategy, an “I WILL turn this car back around” opening gambit. I don’t know who, exactly, they think they’re negotiating with. The teachers union, the parents, the media. Probably a mixture of all three and more besides, considering their scorched earth approach.

IF Y’ALL WON’T SIGN UP FOR DISTANCE LEARNING, WE’LL INFECT ONE STUDENT PER DAY UNTIL OUR DEMANDS ARE MET!!!

I’ve been involved with many school districts in my life. Between the districts I’ve worked for and the ones teachers and admin I know have moved on to, plus throw in the fact that my daughter is (allegedly) starting first grade in less than a month, I have understanding of the inner workings of upwards of ten different school districts. 

This might shock y’all, but school districts are a fucking mess.

The average district office is an awkward mishmash of former teachers who couldn’t wait to get out of the classroom and lifelong bureaucrats who are most comfortable when articulating the subtle differences between form 47(f) and 72(q), and don’t forget to write hard enough for the goldenrod triplicate and page twelve requires two initials and a signature. Add into that mix the Board of Education, a group of would-be politicians who aren’t savvy enough to win a competitive election like, say, dogcatcher.

So it’s no surprise the the average response of the average district is to put their heads in the sand and hope that the issue de jour blows over before there’s any blow back. Which isn’t to say they don’t spend money. They spend shit-tons. We get guest speakers for some fancy new fix that’s going to have all third graders solving differential calculus. Then we move onto another fix the following year, long before we get any data about if those now-fourth graders can do any third-grade math, let alone z-axis graphing. 

Most districts think that REAL education occurs far, far away from the classroom. If you’ve never encountered a child, you’re probably the best educator in the world. After all, those fucking students fuck up all of our well-laid plans. During the budget crisis a decade ago (returning soon to a school district near you!), my district laid off close to fifteen percent of the teachers along with about five percent of the district staff. After all, a teacher with a class size of forty is a minor issue compared to an assistant superintendent cutting down to ONLY two secretaries. How the hell can she get ANYTHING done?

Here a good example of how my district meanders its way through the average “catastrophe”. After Sandy Hook, the federal government sent a bunch of money out for security improvements. My school wrote out a proposal for keyless (badge) entry to our buildings. The proposal was approved. Everything was set to be installed over summer. When we came back, we had the same shitty doors. The district decided they would “test run” the keyless entry at the district office. Because, you know, it’s EVERY DAY we’re bombarded with horrific stories of school (district office) shootings. We all know those horrific stories of the admin assistant who quietly ushers all of the NCR paper into a closet seconds before…

Even better, they only gave badges to district office employees. Why the fuck would teachers want into the district office? We are inconsequential in the business of running a school district. We have to check in through the front door like the rest of the riffraff.

The badge system worked so well that they added a second one to the elevator. Personnel and Benefits are on the bottom floor, they argue, why should any teacher need to know what’s going on up there on the second and third floor? If we really have legitimate business there, we can (I shit you not) call whomever we’re supposed to meet and they can go send the elevator down to us.

Here’s another example: During that budget crisis, we negotiated a reduction in the school year. We got rid of the two bullshit “teacher development” days plus five student days. That way, we could say we agreed to a two percent pay cut while actually taking an eight percent pay cut. When the recession was over, they gave us back the seven days and added three more bullshit days. But not the two percent pay cut.

The bullshit days don’t have to be bullshit days. But they’re always bullshit days. You see, the year we negotiated the days back, the school year calendar was already set. So we just threw the now five extra non-student days on at the beginning of the school year with the idea that we’d move them around the following year. That was back in 2013. Want to guess where the bullshit days fall on the current calendar?

If we were serious about using these days as development days, which is what they’re called, or if we were interested in legitimately following through on whatever we’re working on the first day, we’d spread them out throughout the year. Have two of them at the beginning, then check in at the beginning of each quarter to check progress and reassess. Instead, we go to six hours of meetings for five straight days. By the time we see a student, we’re fucking exhausted. And any bright a-ha moment we had on day one has been lost behind a fog of tardy policies and dress codes. Come mid-October, somebody in the lunch room will throw out a, “Hey, weren’t we supposed to be doing something with vocabulary this year?” and none of us will the slightest idea what the fuck he’s talking about. 

So remember that these institutions are the ones responsible for reinventing their entire industry in the span of a few weeks.

I hear you saying, “a few weeks? Haven’t we been shut down since March? What the hell have they been doing since then?”

And the answer is, mostly, twiddling their thumbs and hoping everything was going to be better. 

My district ran fourth quarter in a “no-harm/no-foul” mode. If you liked the grade you had when we shut down, you can keep it without doing a fucking thing! Distance learning where everybody gets a trophy. The result was predictable. The A students continued to do work, because they’re A students. Some B students did, if they were bored. C and D students didn’t do a fucking thing, because what if they do an assignment and it lowers their grade? Even though we set the rules that, not only could your end grade not be lower than it was in mid-March, no SINGLE ASSIGNMENT could lower your percentage at all. So if you had a 76% in my class and you sent me a picture of feces, congratulations, you just got 16 out of 20 on that assignment. A few F students did enough work to get up to a 60%.

But it’s okay, because by August, we’ll have licked COVID and everybody will be excellent at social distancing and wearing masks and washing our hands. Movie theaters and sporting events and restaurants would be alive and well, right?

Oops.

To be fair, we’ve had a whole bunch of meetings over the summer. My department chair is part of the “High School Task Force,” so he’s regularly come to the rest of us with updates and to ask for suggestions. We’ve come up with alternative schedules whereby only 25% of the students are on campus at any given time. One batch comes Monday AM, another on Monday PM, then two more on Tuesday before we cycle back to the Monday peeps on Wednesday. Friday’s an “all distance learning” day, which is also a teacher catch-up day, because if I only have my students in my class one hour a week instead of one hour a day, I’m going to be spending most of my time in front of the classroom. I can’t exactly give them seat work so I can update my blog like usual.

Of course, this schedule wouldn’t work for younger students. High schoolers can legally stay home by themselves on the three days they’re not at school. I don’t see that working for elementary school kids. I’ve been faced with that option for my daughter. We could send her back full time or two days a week. But what will we do with her the other three days? Send her to daycare? Isn’t that pretty much the same as sending her to school, only without the education? Her school is also offering a full distance learning option. But again, where would that distance learning happen? She’d probably be sitting in my classroom with teenagers getting a whole DIFFERENT type of education. Daddy, what’s a fucktard?

But it doesn’t really matter what our task force or the middle school or elementary versions thereof came up with, because the district replied with a nice, resounding hell-to-the-no. Comically, the Board of Education isn’t even involved with the negotiation, and they weren’t there when we negotiated the shutdown back in March. They just told the superintendent to figure out the minor stuff while they focus on the important educational stuff like, I shit you not, spending millions of dollars on a fence around the district office because one time there was a homeless person nearby. The fence would only be passable by people with badges, which the teachers don’t have. Not sure how we’ll get to personnel or benefits now.

Oh, and on the same board agenda as the gate was starting to look into pay cuts for teachers next year.

What the district did decide on was a two-fold approach. Parents have the option to sign up for 100% distance learning for the entire school year or 100% live instruction for the entire school year. No switching from one to the other after you’ve made the decision, which they gave parents one week to ruminate. Who needs more time than that to decide such a minor thing?

Now the numbers are in. Clearly I’m not the only parent who went with the “what the fuck am I supposed to do with my kids when I’m at school?” option. Not that my district offered a hybrid option. Still, the results are informative. In my largely low-income, two-worker family district, only six percent of parents opted for distance learning. In my daughter’s district, where there are a shit-ton of stay-at-home parents and lots of personal computing devices, not to mention a hybrid option, only ten percent opted for some sort of distance learning.

So yay! Only 94% of my students will be in my class on a typical day. So now my class of 40 students will have… 38.4? Super easy to socially distance those 38!

And all of that was before the COVID spike. Now districts are scrambling.

Last week, Daughter’s district blanketed us with phone calls and emails about our county potentially being put on Herr Kommandant Newsom’s “watch list.” Great name, Gavin. You know we were already putting your face on the principal from The Breakfast Club, right? Like you can keep this up all weekend? And your response is to come up with a “Watch List.” Only it’s not a watch list. Because once you’re on the watch list, you’re already shutting down. If you’re saying, “this county will probably go on the watch list the day after tomorrow if x, y, z doesn’t change,” isn’t that county already being watched? 

Anyway, when it was reported that my county might go on the watch list, Daughter’s district alerted us that, even if we opted for in-school instruction, we might still be starting the school year at home. Be prepared, they told us, for a kooky, crazy school year where we oscillate between in-school and at-home based on how many COVID cases we have and how many of Herr Kommandant’s hairs are out of place. Just kidding, none of his hairs are ever out of place. Have you seen that guy? Only person in America who stayed groomed during the entire shut-down.

Meanwhile, my district, which is in a county that’s already on the watch list and has been surging like a motherfucker, shrugs and says, “what’re you gonna do?” Even on their FAQ, they claim that social distancing is only a suggestion, not a requirement. Kinda like flossing twice a day. So they’re going to jam us in like sardines and just give a vague answer to the dentist. The good news is some of us will start dying off, which should relieve the overcrowding issue. Unless it’s the teachers, which’ll cause the classes to become even more crowded. Because if I die, they’ll need to combine my students with somebody else’s. I doubt they’re going to have a ton of success hiring a sub to go into the classroom where the last teacher caught COVID and died.

Speaking of catching COVID, we’ve been told that if any of our students test positive, we need to quarantine ourselves for two weeks. If that happens, we have to use our own sick leave. We get ten sick days a year. So after we burn all of our sick leave on the first quarantine… 

But as I said at the beginning, I think this is just a negotiating tactic. The district broke off talks with my union saying they couldn’t meet again until the week before we report for the five bullshit days. My inner Nostradamus can predict exactly how that conversation will go”

“We can’t open. Our teachers will die!”

“We’ll give you distance learning for a five-percent pay cut. After all, you won’t need to buy as many school supplies, etc, if you’re teaching from home.”

Or not teaching from home. The latest I heard was they didn’t like giving us that much autonomy. If there is any distance learning this year, they want us doing it from the classroom. 

And that’s pretty much the only thing that’s been “fixed” about distance learning. All that stuff you’ve heard about teachers being trained to do it better this year? Ain’t happening. It’s going to be another big shrug and “figure it out.” 

So my union will probably agree to the pay cut in order to not have any students. Which is great, because then my district can finally build that moat around their fortress.