child rearing

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!

Yosemite, COVID Edition

Just got back from a couple days in Yosemite. This trip was quite a bit different from those of the past.

I’ve been going to Yosemite since before I was cognizant. Probably been there around forty times total. This was Daughter’s third trip and she just turned six. So if there are two things I know in life, they’re probably Yosemite and being a snarky asshole. The latter I’ve done far more than forty times.

Used to camp there with my family every summer, when it was still possible to get reservations. They used to sell them through Ticketmaster (or maybe Ticketron?) on a rolling basis, whereby tickets became available eight weeks before the date of travel. So some would be released every day. My dad used to camp out at the local record store to get in there the minute they went on sale. 

Nowadays they release an entire month’s worth of reservations online at the same time. If you take the time to consult your calendar six months out to ensure that day isn’t somebody’s birthday or something, you’ve already lost them to somebody else. And whereas it used to be first-come, first-served as to which campsite once you got there, you now have to pick the specific numbered site when you reserve. The one time I tried to reserve, I went off to find a campground map to make sure I wasn’t getting the one right next to the shitter, and by the time I came back, it was taken. I guess next time, I’ll learn to love the vault toilets. 

So ever since the age of twenty or so, it’s been day trips. I used to live a couple hours from the park gate. Nowadays it takes a solid three/-and-a-half hours to get to the valley floor. That necessitates a bit more planning, usually a stay over the night before or after. Because the last thing I want to do after four hours in a car is the 2,000-foot elevation gain hike up to Nevada Falls.

Last year, it was just Daughter and I who went. Wife had an excuse called “having to go into work.” Clearly that’s not a thing anymore. I packed Daughter in the car shortly before her bedtime and drove through the night while she slept, because three hours in a car with a five-year old is torture for her and I. We stopped at a B & B in Groveland around 10 pm, and we were in the valley by 10 am the next morning, “hiking” up to Mirror Lake. If you’ve never been, the walk to Mirror Lake is literally on a road, a leftover from when they allowed cars more places. The road is also still usable if you have a disabled placard. The hike is 1.2 miles with an elevation gain of a whopping 100 feet. But this was enough for Daughter to ask “Are we there yet?” fifteen times and bloviate about the horrific workout I was forcing upon her. That’s about the time I scrapped the whole Vernal Falls idea. 

The Vernal Falls hike was a rite of passage for me. From when I was about my daughter’s age, my dad would hike us up to the footbridge, the first spot you can see the actual falls. The following year we went a little further. The first time I made it to the top, we took the back route, but my dad showed me the infamous Mist Trail. It’s effectively a staircase made out of misshapen granite that’s slippery as shit because you’re under a constant deluge of splash from the falls. You’d think it’s rain. My dad didn’t think I was able to ascend the Mist Trail that year (good call – at forty-five, I’m still a klutz), and promised we’d attempt it the following year. The following year we went to the Grand Canyon. And Zion the following year. Bullshit! Three years later I made it up. 

The only problem with making it to the top of Vernal Falls is you then realize it’s not even the cool waterfall on that hike. Nevada Falls, an extra two miles and another 1,000 feet up, after already going up 1,000 feet in the last mile-and-a-half, is one of the quirkiest waterfalls in existence. It’s crooked like Bill Clinton’s penis. I might’ve been in junior high by the time I conquered it. Nevada Falls, that is. Not Bill Clinton’s penis.

After that we found a cool trick. Get up to Glacier Point and take the Panorama Trail DOWN instead of up. Of course, that’s when I was a teenager. Nowadays I feel like going downhill is worse than going up. Not as strenuous, but it moves muscles in ways they’re not supposed to move.

My original plan was to try the Vernal Falls footbridge this year, then start Daughter on the same Trial by Hike my dad put me through. Except this year, the shuttles aren’t running as a result of COVID. Which is the impetus for this post. Obviously I can wax nostalgic for thousands of words about Yosemite, but that would be exciting for an audience of one. I know it usually seems like I only write this shit for myself, but it’s not entirely masturbatory.

After closing for three months, Yosemite opened to the public a few weeks ago. As soon as I saw they were reopening, I jumped online to get a reservation. We planned to go up Sunday morning, stay overnight near the park, then go back in Monday before driving home. As an added bonus, Yosemite was limiting entry! Yosemite without visitors is about as close to heaven on Earth as it gets. Just like John Muir intended. Unfortunately, a lot of other people had that same notion. And those rat bastards were parked EVERYWHERE!

Obviously they weren’t limiting entrance too much. They were aiming for half of the usual summer crowd. So the trails and meadows weren’t super full, but without the shuttle buses to get us around, we were on our own. Usually you drive to one of two or three parking lots and then ride the bus around everywhere. This time it was find a spot and walk as far as you have to.

When I heard there’d be no shuttles, I grew curious about a bus-only loop at the east end of the park. On it are two main attractions, the Mirror Lake “trail” I mentioned earlier and Happy Isles, which is where the trail to Vernal Falls, et al begins. Surely they can’t block those spots off, can they? Or are they going to make me walk the mile from Camp Curry just to get to the trailhead whence I have to hike another couple miles straight up? I mean, I’ll happily climb the 1,000 feet in elevation gain over a mile and a half trail, but adding on an extra half-mile of flatland? I think NOT! 

Our first day there, a Sunday, before we parked at Camp Curry, we drove ahead to check out the bus-only loop.. It was now car accessible. Sort of. We could drive to Happy Isles. Tons of cars were parked there. But we couldn’t get all the way to Mirror Lake. Not surprising. There’s plenty of space at Happy Isles for a makeshift parking lot. I don’t know how they’d do that at Mirror Lake. We went the other way on the loop and found the farthest we could get was North Pines/Stables, which is how far you can drive under normal conditions. 

Okay, no problem. It was late in the day by then. I was mainly using Day One to figure out what was open, what was closed. Make some plans for tomorrow when we could hit the ground running. And maybe, if we could drive all the way to Happy Isles, but not Mirror Lake, this would be the year we tackle Vernal Falls, after all. Start Daughter on the same rite of passage as me.

Except when we came back on Monday, the road to Happy Isles was closed. What the fuck? And naturally, the parking lot at North Pines was jam packed. So back to Camp Curry we went. At least there was a yummy-looking food truck there the day before. Its version of chicken & waffles was served in a waffle cone with a maple drizzle. Delightful. We passed on it because we had picked out a dinner spot near the hotel, but we were looking forward to it for lunch the next day.

But sure enough, that shit was as closed down as Happy Isles on Monday. What the fuck, people? It’s COVID time. Nobody’s working. There shouldn’t be huge differences between Sunday and Monday. The taco truck was open both days. But when you’ve got your heart set on chicken tenders in a waffle cone, carne asada ain’t gonna cut it.

Perhaps we could get around the loop on wheels. I had the brilliant idea to bring Daughter’s scooter about the eighth time we stopped on the way to Mirror Lake the year before. But we forgot to pack it. Oops. So we looked into renting bikes. Twenty-four bucks each for a half-day. Okay, so seventy-five bones for the three of us? It was a distinct possibility. After all , it’s not like we’d be spending money on scrumptious lunch options. Only one thing dissuaded us. The extra five bucks for her to rent a helmet. It wasn’t the cost, five bucks is excessively reasonable after the exorbitant cost for the rental itself. But something about putting something that’d been worn by every other kid on the face of the earth seems a bit too far these days. 

Ironic, I know, since under normal circumstances, they probably wouldn’t have cleaned that shit since last century and it would be filled with colonies of every head lice ever invented. This time, they’re probably disinfecting it every night. And yet…

In the same vein, Sunday night was the first time we’ve been in a hotel since the beforetimes. It felt weird. The one thing going for us was that, while Yosemite was closed, this hotel was either closed or getting very little action. But I never realized how the carpeting in a hotel room looks straight outta 1979, which was probably the last time it was cleaned. That’s probably Jack Tripper’s chest hair down there.

On the other hand, it’s refreshing that the feces and DNA left behind by previous guests are no longer my primary concern. Go ahead and bring in a black light. Spooge splats are fine as long as there aren’t any Mexican-beer-drinking viruses in the man batter.

After discovering that there was no parking close to Happy Isles or Mirror Lake, we parked at Camp Curry and walked through one of the empty campsites to the river. There’s only one campsite open in the whole park. Man, if I had been one of the lucky few to reserve one of the other sites back in February, I’d be pissed. That’s like winning the lottery only to find out that you won the wrong lottery and the money’s going to somebody else. 

I don’t see why they only open one campsite. If they’re trying to encourage social distancing, shouldn’t they open half of two different campsites? Then again, as I’ve opined before, camping is about as socially distant of an activity as we’ve got in this world. Especially if we’re to believe the newest reports that it’s very difficult for the virus to spread outdoors. True, Yosemite camping isn’t as socially distant as most campsites. Even though there is zero campsites available when you try to reserve, they jam ya in like sardines once you’re there. When I camp there, I actually have to pee IN THE BATHROOM! The Horror! 

Just as John Muir intended.

Speaking of which, halfway across the abandoned campsite, Daughter decided, as six-year-olds are wont to do, that this time, and no other time, was the proper time to vacate her bladder. But it’s cool, even if the campsites closed, they can’t be locking the bathrooms, right? Turns out that yes, they can. Could she make it across the street to the open campsite? Maybe three minutes? If you’ve ever encountered a kid in early elementary school, you know the answer was a resounding no. 

Of course, this was also the moment that a few rangers were walking through the campsite, checking it for, I don’t know, viruses and such? So we took Daughter behind a tree to hide from them, which probably was doing no such thing, and it was off to the races. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to peeing in public. I’m a guy, the world is my urinal. But that’s why I usually camp out in the middle of nowhere. It’s crowded at Yosemite. If I randomly whip it out, I’m liable to splash on hundreds of people. But I guess society is a bit more forgiving of a six-year-old than a mid-forties dude. 

When we finally made it through the campsite, I finally had that “passing it on” moment. We were standing on the rocky bottom of the frigid Merced River, throwing rocks and sticks into the current, and Daughter absolutely loved it. Couldn’t get enough. Sure, my feet were slicing and dicing and turning into icicles, but Daughter’s eating this shit up. And I’m reminded of all the times I walked across or laid down on an inflatable tube or mattress, with nary a thought of internal temperature or why the fuck couldn’t they put some goddamn sand at the bottom of this stream as John Muir intended.

It’s such a rare feeling, that I’m doing this parenting thing right. Sure, I might’ve exposed her to spooge marks and COVID the night before. And sure, I let her play on her Nintendo for all three hours both ways. But dammit, we gotta take the wins when we get them, right? 

She even said she’s excited to go back to Yosemite next year.

I’m sure that’ll change once I make her hike Vernal Falls.

Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Part 2

It’s academic time right now.

As I write this, my daughter is sitting next to me, working through a store-bought “Kindergarten skills booklet” that appears to have been written for kindergarten skills back when I was in kindergarten (Which is edible: paste or vegetables?), not what they’re doing now. So she’s burning through these. After all, if she can burn through a Dr. Seuss book, I don’t think having her trace the a at the beginning of apple’s going to vex her much. We’ve limited her to one page a day in some books, but we still have to give her enough busy work to get through the recommended one hour of morning Academic Time before our magical robot overlord, Alexa, tells us it’s time to move on to our next time allotment.

Such is life in what I’ve dubbed Quran-geddon(tm).

Is that how trademarks work? Can I just throw a ™ after something and now I get paid if anyone else uses it? In whatever quid pro-quo replace US Dollars in the sportless future when Alexa finally tells us it’s okay to go outside.

But just bear in mind I occasionally have to help my daughter with some of these things. So if I suddenly write, “no, baby, it’s six, not five,” assume I just gave Daughter instructions that included the “fuck-stain shit sickle” intended for this post.

I haven’t checked in since last Friday, back in the nascence of this Brave New World. I picked up Daughter from daycare and told her that her school and softball and dance class were all canceled, along with that little trip to Disneyland we had planned for this week. Then she and I spent about 72 hours in line at the grocery store in order to buy seven items, because the rest of the world was purchasing the entire store. The only thing they weren’t buying at that time was corned beef. So I figured I’d wait and come back after the weekend to buy that.

Oops.

To be fair to the hoarders, that’s totally on me, and I should know better than to wait until March 16 to buy corned beef. Although usually there’s a shit-ton of it, even on the 18th when I can buy it on sale.

My second foray to the grocery store showed some some through-lines from the previous trip and some anomalies. There seems to be a run on meat, in many ways the most perishable of items. My local store has filled up most of their meat refrigerators with salami packs, spread out so as to appear like there’s variety, in lieu of the normal beef and chicken and pork.

People are fucking horrible at hermitage. Why aren’t they buying the stuff that doesn’t go bad after a few days? They probably think they’re living off the grid by running a VPN while having their Google Maps giving them directions.

Bread and tortillas also seemed to be in shorter supply on Monday than they had been on Friday. Flour was gone, but sugar was there. Thank God there doesn’t seem to be a run on coffee or beer. All the beans were gone, too. Not sure if that’s a great idea for people with limited toilet paper options.

My family made it through the rainy weekend, but only through inertia. You know it’s bad when the parents are begging the child to watch Frozen II just one more time and the child’s not having it.

We broke the not-then-official quarantine both days. In fact, I’ve left the house for something or other pretty much every day. Usually it’s just a visit to a store or to get some take-out, and it’s substantially less than it would’ve been on normal stay-at-home days. Saturday we hit the bookstore to get the aforementioned workbooks. I also found a cool Marvel Comics 1000 dot-to-dot book. That’s for Papa while Baby works on her minuscule 20 dot-to-dots. Holy crap, they take a long time! “Daddy, I’ve already done, like, five and you’re only at, what, three-fifty?”

We also went to a furniture store to finally buy a desk we’ve been eyeing for a while. The vulturous salespeople there are annoying on a regular visit, hovering behind a nearby pillar at all times, ready to pounce with a “Can I help you with anything? Would you like to borrow my tape-measure? Here’s my card. You can call me even though I’ll never be more than six feet away.” They knew social distancing long before social distancing was a thing.

We knew going in that, with both the rain and the Quaran-geddon(tm) diminishing the quantity of customers, the salespeople would be even more omnipresent than usual. We braced ourselves and it still wasn’t enough. We finally glommed onto one just to ward off the other vampires. But their pheromones must not be working, because when she went to go check on something, they descended. Her tape-measure did nothing to ward the hordes off. All is fair in love, war, and commission jobs right before an economic meltdown.

Sunday we went to Michael’s to get more things to occupy Daughter and Best Buy to look at laptops for me. I thought about buying a Nintendo Switch, but they were sold out. I almost bought a PlayStation 4, but I’ve held out this long and the 5 is on the horizon. Fortunately I held firm, although I’m still wavering because “MLB: The Show 20” might be the only sport action I’ll be seeing for a while.

As an aside, I’m worried that MLB is one of the arbiters of when we get to go back to normal. The last time we shut down sports was for 9/11. The NFL canceled its games the following Sunday, and baseball dithered about when it should start up. One week later? Ten days? Then the NFL said they’d return the following Sunday and MLB followed suit the next day. Unfortunately, there is no NFL to act as the leader this time. Maybe the NHL will start up for the playoffs. But if not, it’s all on the MLB, and they aren’t known for being proactive. Last I heard they’re looking at June. That’s totally going to fuck up Mike Trout’s chance to win the all-time WAR title by the end of his career. I know: priorities!

Why isn’t MLB playing? It’s the only sport where players don’t regularly come in contact with each other. Social distancing? Take a look at the real estate between the average right fielder and center fielder. The only time they’re close to each other is when they’re in the dugout, but if there are no fans in attendance, they can just spread out in the first three or four rows of the stands. And they could play all day games because it’s not like any of us are at work. They’d make a killing on TV ratings.

Back to the present, I just had an argument with my daughter about an orange crayon. Because the first orange crayon I gave her to circle all the fucking words that start with an s wasn’t orange enough. It was too yellow. Looked orange enough to me, but that’s coming from a high school history teacher, not a kindergarten teacher. When did World War II start? Kinda sorta 1939, if you’re counting the main European conflict, but it wasn’t until 1941 that all of the major actors came in, with Operation Barbarossa in the summer and Pearl Harbor in December. Of course, the Pacific Theater could have been going on as early as 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

So don’t ask a fucking history teacher what “orange” is.

This has been my life this week. We’re using one of those charts that have been circulating online. One hour of “academic time” followed by one hour of “creative time.” There’s some outside time sprinkled in throughout the day, plus breaks for lunch and chores and quiet or reading time. I usually try to engage in whatever she’s doing, both for solidarity’s sake and to help stick to a routine myself. Of course, I don’t know if what I do counts as academic or creative. Most days, it’s probably neither. But the online time charts don’t put time aside for masturbatory self-flagellation.

It’s not like I can lesson plan during academic time. Well, I could, but by the time the hour was up, it would already be obsolete. The governor says schools are closed for the year and, I shit you not, I received an e-mail from my district the following morning saying, “That’s certainly his opinion.” And now it looks like the AP Test that my students have rightfully been freaking out about is going to change as well. Two separate test dates and they won’t cover anything from the twentieth century. So all of that nineteenth century remote learning I was working on can be stretched out. Plus the AP test will be online now, which means the motivated kids will spend the next six weeks trying to devise ways to cheat instead of studying for the exam. So there goes my pass rate.

I also liked how quickly the e-mails changed over the course of last weekend. Up until Saturday, it seemed like every company wanted to tell me how clean they were. They’ve been scrubbing every surface inside every business. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer might be things of the past, but there’s enough Lemon Pledge for every company, and then some. And when I say “every company,” holy crap! I didn’t even know I had done business with half these guys. How do they have my e-mail address? Has the government just provided every company with everybody’s e-mail address? It’s not like there are civil liberties or privacy anymore, so who cares what the government with our personal information?

Then on Sunday morning, all of the e-mails quickly switched from “look how clean we are” to “hey, we’ll deliver!” My favorite 180 came from Twin Peaks. If you aren’t aware of it, it’s one of those “breastaurants” whose main reason for existence is to see scantily-clad women. Oh, and maybe get some food. Think of Hooters and then take away 60% of each server’s clothing. Although to be fair to Twin Peaks, their food is substantially better than Hooters.

On Friday, Twin Peaks wanted me to know that all of their bikini-wearing servers will be on their hands and knees, polishing knobs during each shift. Wait, that might have come out wrong. They were cleaning everything, is what I meant to say. The message didn’t make me feel much better. In a standard restaurant, I only have to worry about the servers’ hands being clean. At Twin Peaks, ninety percent of their skin is touching everything. Fortunately, they did the economy-wide switch on Sunday. Turns out they deliver. But again, the food’s not their selling point. Customers aren’t missing the french fries, but rather the French maid outfits. And if the Doordash dude shows up wearing bikini bottoms, those fries aren’t going taste very good.

My county wasn’t on stay at home orders until yesterday morning. Then last night, the governor, who thinks he’s the most wonderful specimen of humanity and way smarter than everybody else, put the entire state on lockdown. A dictatorship is okay, after all, if the dictator is dashingly handsome and, let’s face it, better than you. Silly me, thinking we had freedom of assembly.

There seems to be some sort of distinction between “Stay at Home” and “Shelter in Place.” I’m not sure which is which, but the cities and counties have tended to start with one and then go to the other. Maybe one of them is a suggestion and the other is a mandate? I also have no idea which one the state of California is doing. We can still go to get food or medicine. And the good news is that beer is considered food.

I’ve actually taken my growler to my favorite local brewery to be refilled once, and I’m planning to go back. We’re also eating takeout for lunch more often than we need to. Because I’m on salary and I want these places to still be in business if we ever come out the other end of this. What’s the point of the checks that the federal government’s going to send out if there’s noplace left to spend it? Maybe that $1,000 will go to purchasing one roll of toilet paper on eBay.

Can’t wait to see the effect these lockdowns have on things like probable cause. Can a cop pull me over because I’m driving on the freeway? Do I have to make up some “essential” business I’m on my way to? I can’t give him the real answer, which is that that I’ve been stuck teaching academic time to a five-year old and wanted to listen to a grown-up podcast, which I’m way behind on because I don’t have a commute anymore.

We’re also allowed to go out to walk the dog or get exercise. If I don’t have a dog, can the cop arrest me if I don’t seem to be getting my heart into the cardio zone? “Come on, pansy, you call that exercise?”

Scratch that. The cops don’t need to catch you. Sacramento County just came out with an edict to call 311 if we see other people breaking their stay at home orders. Neighbors ratting out their neighbors. Getting more and more Stalin-y by the day.

I’ve got other things to say, but I think I need to flesh out a few thoughts. Better to post it here.

At least the rain isn’t coming back till Monday.

Coronavirus Lockdown Part 1

I’m writing from beyond the pale. I don’t know how long it’s been since society collapsed. After all, what is time but a communal construct?It all flows together once they closed all the schools and restaurants and bars and Disneyland. Since the rationing of bottled water and toilet paper. Has it been a month? A season? Would it still be the year of our Lord 2020, if we were still using those old calendars one might find on a dusty Google drive buried in the corner ‘neath Doordash coupons?

It’s only been a day? What the ever-loving fuck?

A lot’s changed since I finally decided to stop editing my last Coronavirus post to keep up. Back then I said we were overreacting. I still think we are. It seems like every day, they push the envelope. Not because there’s been a massive uptick showing the previous measures were unsuccessful, but more in a, “Wow, the people accepted the last infringement on civil liberties with nary a peep? Well how about if we call it shelter-in-place instead of martial law?”

But whatever. It’s not about us healthy people. It’s about the Baby Boomers next to us in the Target who can’t be bothered to wash their hands, because they’re God’s chosen generation and they’ve never given two shits about what society tells them to do, so why should they start now? I might get the shits, but they’ll die. Everyone under the age of sixty is a Typhoid Mary.

(We had a fix for social security right in front of us and we just couldn’t grab it…)

What was that? Did somebody say something? Never mind.

My family was supposed to go to Disneyland this week. Oops. After they closed, we managed to cancel Daughter’s independent study and her absences from day care and softball and dance. Oops.

On Friday afternoon, they canceled her school for the next month. Then my school canceled, as well. Then her dance class and her softball practices on Tuesday and softball games on Saturday and my curling canceled. Day care is still open (for now), but she only goes to day care two days a week. And let’s be honest, by the time this Friday rolls around, they’ll have joined the End of Days, too.

Which means I’m stuck with her for the next three weeks, at least. So I might as well blog about this shit, because if society isn’t ending, my sanity just might be. I don’t know how often I’ll post. Guessing it’ll get redundant pretty fast. And it’s not like my only-child is going to let me pick up my laptop. So I’ll have to plop her in front of the TV and then I start feeling guilty about my lack of parenting skills. At least until the electricity company tells all their workers to stay home.

Oh, and to add to the fun and frivolity, Mother Nature decided to get involved. We just had eight of the driest winter weeks on record, the trees in full bloom with daily temperatures in the seventies. Then, within twelve hours of schools being canceled, the rain came in. I think that’s what the Adult Entertainment Industry calls a “double-team.”

Still, I need to get some catharsis out. And if, in three weeks, they find me wandering the Nevada desert looking to drown my fears in some radiated dirt from all those nuclear tests seventy years ago, these blog posts will serve as evidence to chalk it up as another Coronavirus fatality.

This past Friday, I decided to go to the grocery store. It didn’t seem a momentous decision at the time. In fact, I decided to pick Daughter up from daycare first. She likes the grocery store, and it usually gives us a transition time before we get home. But clearly I missed the memo that this was the last time to stock up on important groceries before the impending Armageddon.

Holy shit! I expected the canned goods to be gone, maybe the long-term non-perishables. So when the pasta aisle looked like the toilet paper aisles that everyone’s been posting, I wasn’t shocked. Pasta lasts forever and you can do lots of different things with it. And even though I was annoyed that every single Kraft Macaroni n’ Cheese was gone, I shrugged and moved on. I mean, come on people, some of us have young kids and have to go through multiple blue boxes per day. What the hell are YOU using it for? Fortunately I managed to snag the last few Annie’s mac n’ cheeses. It sucks that I have to give my child something less processed. The organic ingredients might be a shock to her system. But at least I made sure some other fucker doesn’t get shit. It’s hoarding season, mother fucker!

I was a little more surprised at the carts full of chips. Really? You’re gonna hunker down with those things? How long do you expect them to last once you’ve opened each bag? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never thought of a bag of chips as something that’s going to last me through a nuclear winter.

There was also allegedly a run on girl scout cookies. Usually the last weekend of booth sales are abysmal, as most people are chock full. This past weekend, quite the opposite. It shouldn’t seem to matter, as there aren’t going to be any cookies for sale until next January, Coronavirus or no. It’s like the hoarding instinct, once triggered, applies to anything and everything.

What I didn’t expect was the ground beef to be gone. Sure, you can throw it in with your first batch of pasta, but isn’t there some canned tuna or spam that you can throw in there instead? I mean shit, I was just looking for Friday night dinner and with the rain coming in, this would be the last grilling I could do for a while. What the hell is everyone else doing with it? At least nobody was getting fresh veggies. Maybe because they’re afraid of having to throw it away when it goes bad, which would mean they’d have to leave their house to roll it to the curb.

I’m now convinced that all those post-apocalyptic shows are bullshit. They always go on “supply runs,” which consist of ransacking grocery stores for all the canned goods still on the shelves. If this is what happens when the CDC tells us to wash our hands, there isn’t going to be jack shit on the shelves after the real end of the world hits.

More annoying than what was and was not on the aisles, though, was my lack of ability to get through said aisles. Holy crap! Despite having nothing to buy, I’d estimate that half the population of Sacramento California was in that one Safeway. You couldn’t even get from one aisle to the next if you were at the end near the registers. You’d get to the coffee and have to do a 180, go all the way back to the empty meat section, then head down the cereal aisle. But good luck making it all the way to the Kashi bars, because you’d end up running into the checkout line. And that fucker’s going to box you out like nobody’s business, because he’s been holding that spot since, like, six o’clock this morning and there’s no way he’s letting you cut in line. If you really need some Cheerios, he’s willing to set up a bucket brigade to get it to you, but that’s as much as you’re getting. Now just turn around and go on the Snipe Hunt that is the dairy refrigerator.

When I finally finished and made my way to the promised land of cash registers, the mass of humanity almost made me give up the ghost. All of the lanes were open and none of them were moving. There was a lady next to me who had enough things in her cart to qualify for the express lane. The only problem was that the express lane was number eight and she was in line for number one. She maneuvered past me (in line for register two), made it a couple more feet, then withdrew back to lane one. It was too daunting. Fortunately the person behind her let her back in. Asshole in the cereal aisle would’ve made her go back to the end. I suggested she circle around through the back of the store, but if she failed in that endeavor, she’d lose her spot for sure. After another five or ten minutes (what’s time when you’re stuck in line), she tried the direct route one more time. I wished her luck as she disappeared through lane three. As of the time of this writing, I don’t know if she made it clear to the other side. She might be wandering the Nevada desert looking for the sweet release of an atomic crater.

It wasn’t just the number of people that slowed the progress of the lines, it was what they had in their carts. To say overflowing would be a misstatement. After all, if you have two carts, each filled to the brim, that’s more than overflowing. And if both of those carts are overflowing, then I’m at loss for a descriptor. I wanted to ask each of these hoarders how disappointed they would be if they WEREN’T self-quarantined (sorry, “sheltered in place” sound so much more chic). How shitty would that feel to have a pantry full of garbanzo beans with a perfectly open grocery store a block away that you’re totally capable of going to. Come Monday, the stocks should be re-shelved and nary a customer in sight.

“Dammit,” I hear those people saying, “I’m healthy. Who wants some hummus?”

And what’s the deal with all the bottled water? We still have water flowing to our homes, right? If the Governor shuts down “all non-essential” services, we’re still going to have electricity and water and garbage, right? I consider those “essential.” He can maybe shut down the state-run brothels, though.

What’s that? Whorehouses aren’t run by the state? Was that hooker lying to me when she said it was my patriotic duty to procure her services? I knew I should’ve asked to see her federal worker badge.

Now I know I’m prone to hyperbole for entertainment value, but I’m not at all exaggerating when I say it took us forty minutes to check out once we were in line. The entire shopping process took about an hour and fifteen minutes to get maybe twenty items. Not a good bang for the buck there. Either I need to change my shopping pattern or they do. And we all know it ain’t gonna be they. So maybe I’ll come back next week and buy ten of everything.

It’ll be fun! Ten mac n’ cheeses. Ten spinach. Ten suppositories! Ten bars of soap.

Soap, you say? Yes, there’s still tons of soap. The hand sanitizer has been gone for weeks, but nobody seems to care about the stuff that works better than hand sanitizer.

After returning from the grocery store, I ventured out one more time Friday night. This time to Target for the most important purchase a family facing weeks at home with a small child can make: Frozen II. We had already attempted to buy it earlier in the week. Wife thought she found a really good deal on it, only to bring it home and find out it was the original Frozen, which I’m pretty sure we already have twenty copies of that we’ve watched or listened to ten-thousand times. Well, now we have twenty-one copies that we’ve watch ten thousand and one times. Because when we realized we’d bought the wrong one, it was already in the Blu-Ray player.

But with Quaran-geddon approaching, we opted for the real thing. We tried to be good. Wife ordered it on her Target app to pick up in-store, so we wouldn’t have to interact with the public. Then we waited for it to be ready. And we waited. And we waited. How the hell long does it take an employee to go to the back of the store and grab a fucking DVD?

Finally, Wife sent me to go pick up a copy. She could then return the app purchase as soon as she picked it up.

On my way back from the store, minutes after I’d made the purchase, Wife called to tell me the one she ordered was ready.

When I got home, I got the alert that Disney-Plus was going to be releasing Frozen II  three months early, starting the following day. So, at least in this household, Frozen II is following in the footsteps of its predecessor. Three versions purchased in twenty-four hours. And want to guess how many times we’ve watched it since then?

Oh, and while I was at Target, I also grabbed Knives Out. And some cereal. And an ice cream or two.

Gotta be prepared, after all. I may have been late to this hoarding party, but dammit, I’ve learned from the best.

So I finally made it through Friday. The self-quarantine hadn’t even started yet. Only three weeks (at least) to go.

And the rain was coming.

One Tooth Down

Daughter just lost her first tooth, which means it’s time for the Tooth Fairy to come and visit. Another round of parenting fun.

Sorry, did I say fun? That’s not the word I was looking for. Is there an adjective that means anything you do is going to be a monumental fuck-up and make you the laughing stock of the parenting community and a cautionary tale spread throughout all of suburbia until the end of time, alongside razor blades in apples? What is that, if not fun? I’m sure the German have a word for it.

First of all, when they hell did kids start losing their teeth so early? 

I had Daughter late in life – just shy of my fortieth birthday. I was marginally aware of some parenting things in my twenties on account of two nieces I was close to. And I have some oddly prescient memories of my own upbringing in the 1970s, nut-hugger shorts and all! Bowl cuts before they were white supremacist!

I’m pretty sure I lost my first tooth around the end of first grade. I know this because when I lost my first tooth, well, I lost my first tooth. I was trying to chew through a helium balloon string on my hand when my tooth went flying into the grass. I was freaked out that I wouldn’t get my money from the Tooth Fairy. So I went home and wrote a note, an action I wouldn’t have been able to do in Kindergarten.

I was young for my grade. I was born in October, so the memory in question would’ve made me about six-and-a-half for me. They’ve changed the laws since then, so now I wouldn’t be in the grade I was in. I’d be one of the older kids in my class instead of the younger. I would’ve lost my first tooth at the end of my Kindergarten year instead of my First Grade year. But I still would’ve been six-and-a-half.

My daughter is five-and-a-half. Granted, she’s somehow always been physically advanced. Each of her teeth came in on the early end of the range. She’s regularly in the 90th percentile for height, which I don’t understand because I’m 5’8″ on a good day, Wife tops out at 5’5″, and we’re both taller than our parents. Never did I think I’d be trying to gear a progeny toward volleyball and basketball to take advantage of her height.

Although it’s going to be volleyball, cause the kid’s inherited my (lack of) running stamina.

But the crazy thing is that Daughter isn’t the first in her Kindergarten class to lose a tooth. Far from it. She’s a May baby, so she’s somewhere in the middle of the age range, maybe a little on the younger side. There are a fair number of six-year-olds in her class. But most of them are losing their teeth before they turn six. Heck, the September and October babies are already down three or four teeth. That was second-grade shit back in my day!

I know this isn’t the only indication of kids developing physically more quickly these days. Puberty is hitting two to three years earlier than a century ago. Middle school used to be the puberty years. Sequester the seventh and eighth graders to protect them from the olders and to avoid traumatizing the youngers. But puberty usually hits around fourth or fifth grade these days. And then I end up teaching 16 and 17 year-olds who are well beyond their “learn by” dates. 

Diet gets a good deal of the credit or the blame. After all, a century ago everybody ate dirt or, even worse, vegetables! I don’t think beef was even invented until after Sputnik launched. And if Junior’s on a regiment of pizza and Ding-Dongs, he’s going to growing tits and pubes. 

Except it’s not like we were withering away in the Carter years. We might have waited in lines to get gas, but there was no delay at the McDonald’s!

But now we put probiotics into our food. Or maybe it’s the soy in our milk. Or chickens genetically altered to resemble Pamela Anderson. Seriously? A half-beast is a full pound? Put a bra on that hen!

Maybe it’s the rBST in our milk. I have no idea what rBST is, I only know that I have to pay extra to get milk without it. And then I’m supposed to ignore the fact that this organic milk has an expiration date months later than milk should naturally last. I think the non-rBST organic milk in my fridge is going to last longer than Daughter’s other 27 teeth. 

So yeah, I don’t have the foggiest idea why kids are losing teeth the first week of kindergarten. All I know is that, as a parent, five years old is way too early to be losing teeth. We’re still adjusting to schooling. I mean, shit. I’m still trying to figure out how to explain what a sight word is. Now I’ve got to play Tooth Fairy, too? 

Oops. Spoiler. Hopefully there isn’t some random 6-year old that found this on her very first Google search. At least I won’t spill that other big secret. You know, the old dude in the red suit. 

Hey kids, Iron Man is TOTALLY still alive at the end of Avengers: Endgame.

Although, if my prescience about my own mindset forty years ago is legit, it seems that I gave up on the Tooth Fairy long before than I stopped believing in San… uh, “Iron Man.” It didn’t take long for this nascent free marketer to question how the fairy economy worked. After all, if Mr. Fairy ain’t using these teeth as a natural resource for some larger picture, then why the hell is he sneaking into my room in the middle of the night to take my Chiclets? Perv!

I held out my belief in the other guy much longer. I mean, the dude runs a sweatshop, and ain’t nothing more ‘Murican than making a bunch of cheap shit in a foreign land with near-slave labor. Plus, using Pascal’s wager, if I stop believing in Santa and it turns out he’s real, I’m losing out on a ton of shit. The Tooth Fairy? Meh. If he holds out on me because I no longer believe, I can find a quarter lying on the street and come out even.

Not that it’s a quarter anymore. But back in my day… 

Which leads to the worst part of any tooth loss and subsequent visitation from the smallfolk. Anyone know what the going rate on a pearly white is?

I know for damn sure that it’s going up much faster than inflation. The Fed better not be adjusting the interest rates based on lost teeth. Or maybe they should, then I can get a better COLA.

And I know from when my nieces were in this age range that the Tooth Fairy pays more for the first tooth than for subsequent teeth. Not sure why. He clearly knows nothing about the Law of Supply. If he wants us to keep producing his resources, he’s got to up the price, not lower it. What is he, some sort of drug dealer, giving us a sweet deal on the first go-around so that he can milk us for years to come? 

Seriously, Tooth Fairy, what the hell are you doing with these things? Because you’re acting shady as fuck.

We opted to give Daughter five dollars for the first tooth with the intention of lowering the payout to one dollar in the future. Wife’s been asking around and we’re “in the range.” Daughter told me that her best friend got three bucks for the first one. Unfortunately she told me this after she lost her tooth, and I’d been carrying around a crisp 5-note for two week by then. And it would be awkward to go buy a pack of gum to get change and complain that the singles are as dirty as a stripper’s g-string.

Hey, how do you tip strippers in countries that don’t have paper for their basic currency? I don’t think the g-string will keep the Loonie in place, and there’s no fucking way I’m tipping a fiver every time. Shit, a five-pound note is worth almost ten dollars. That’s one expensive thong! Well, a five-pound note was worth ten dollars before Brexit. Now it’s worth substantially less. Probably about the value of a baby tooth.

But the problem with giving Daughter a five-dollar bill, or three one-dollar bills, or really any sort of monetary denomination, is how little impact it will have for her. I’m not saying she doesn’t understand the value of money. She does, to a certain extent. Maybe not as much she will at seven, when God and nature decreed children to lose their teeth, but she understands that money is exchanged for goods and services, and that when one has a finite amount of money, one must assess the opportunity cost of a purchase versus holding onto said money for a potential later use. 

It’s not the concept of MONEY that she’s missing. It’s the concept of cash.

Seriously, how much cash does one use these days? We take Daughter grocery shopping with us. She hits Home Depot and Target with us on a weekly basis. We go out to eat, we talk about online orders with her, we donate to SPCA. She’s used gift cards at Baskin-Robbins and Starbucks. 

What we don’t do in front of her is take out paper currency and hand it over to a cashier. We don’t get change. I often give her whatever change accumulates in my pocket at the end of the day and she stores it in a Moon Jar. But if her primary notion of cash is that it is to be put away and never exchanged for goods or services, then she’s not going to get too excited when the Tooth Fairy leaves her some pointless green piece of paper. If he really wants kids to be happy about turning over their teeth, he should be leaving a Target gift card. Or maybe some Bitcoin.

We just started Daughter doing chores. Only we don’t pay her cash. We place a dollar amount for each item, and when she gets up to a certain amount, we get her a gift card. She gets to choose where. Unfortunately, her last choice was IHOP. Is it too much to have her get a BevMo card? Then I can tax it just like I do her Halloween candy.

We must not be alone in this regard. Because as the excitement of cash has diminished the Tooth Fairy experience has been replaced by a shit-ton of pomp, circumstance, and fluff. We used to put the tooth underneath the pillow and voila!, a quarter replaced it the next morning. 

Now there’s a booklet (basically an oversized wallet) and an envelope and a tooth “pillow” that’s really just another stuffed animal, as if Daughter doesn’t have enough of those. We put the tooth inside the booklet, along with a note welcoming an odd man inside my baby daughter’s bedroom, tied a bow around it and put it under her pillow. Then beside the bed, we put the tooth stuffed animal, under which we placed the empty envelope.

Then we learned the secret handshake of the Freemasons and Illuminati and she was off to la-la land.

Then we (children, look away!) took the tooth, put the fiver in the envelope, wrote a note FROM the Tooth Fairy thanking Daughter for her note TO the Tooth Fairy and for the very nice tooth and how we/he can’t wait for her to lose more teeth so we/he can return to her bedroom while she sleeps and give her more money. But not in a pervy way.

Wife even found a special Tooth Fairy card

(Now you’ll note I knew I lost my tooth in first grade because I could read and write, but then I said my kindergartner wrote a letter to the Tooth Fairy. The difference is that I wrote my letter by myself, whereas Daughter’s letter was about 90% letters provided by us. The joys of half-way through Kindergarten. “Mommy, Daddy, how do you spell Thank? How do you spell You? How do you spell Tooth?”)

After all the notes and pillows and incisor sleight-of-hand, we have to figure out what to do with the damn tooth. Do we flush it down the toilet like a dead fish? Is there a spot for it in her baby book? Not that we’ve kept up on her baby book since she was, like, a week old. Plus if we put it there and she someday decides to peruse said book, she’s going to wonder why we, instead of the Purveyor of Fine Bones store in Fairytown, are the ones in possession of it. 

Seriously, whoever came up with this whole thing didn’t really think it all the way through.

Wife put the tooth and the note in an envelope. Not sure if future teeth will go in there as well, but I assume that someday, when Daughter’s older and the gig is up, we’ll look back on it and laugh. She’ll read the note she wrote as a sweet, innocent, 5-year-old and be saved from her teenage cynicism for an evening. Then she’ll see the tooth and think her parents are freakazoid hoarder sickos. 

And then we’ll tell her that, congratulations, she gets to start paying her own health insurance the following month.

When Daughter woke up, it was pretty much as imagined. She was super jazzed to see that the tooth was gone. And ooo, there’s a note from the Tooth Fairy. Can we read it to her? And let’s snuggle with the tooth pillow and can we read the note again?

Oh, and what’s this in the envelope?

“It’s five dollars.”

She promptly puts it on the floor next to her and goes right back to the note. I should’ve just given her a fucking quarter like the good old days.

Oh well. Now it’s on to bunnies fucking chickens to celebrate our risen Lord. 

Who wants therapy

Everything I Needed to Know (I Learned in the Parking Lot)

The school I work at has a Fall Break after the first quarter. It’s great. I get a random week off that nobody else  gets off. Including my daughter, who is now in kindergarten.

So this week, I’ve actually still been in the house when she wakes up. I’ve let Wife go into work early since she’s usually on “get the kid ready” duty.

And I’ve now entered the very strange world of “child drop off and pick up” at elementary school.

Seriously people, how the fuck hard can this be?

I had dropped off once before, when I took her first day of kindergarten off work. She’s Late Start, so only half of the kindergartners were showing up at that time, about thirty kids total. The othergrades, as well as the other forty kindergartners, were already inside their respective classrooms, so I didn’t get to see too much of the crazy. My lasting impression was that there was WAY too much athleisure wear amongst the mothers. But whatever, I live in suburbia hell, so it shouldn’t be surprising to see all the stay-at-homers jonesing to get rid of the anchor that’s been weighing down their social lives for the last five years.  Now they can finally get back to the  Pilates that allowed them to entice their hedge-fund husbands in the first place.

Pick up on the first day of school was also a bit subdued, so it wasn’t until this past week that I truly saw the insanity that is drop-off and pick-up at a suburban elementary school.

And really, let me just say before I get too much further, that Late Start Kindergarten is a fucking weird-ass time warp. Three days a week, Daughter starts school at 10:05 am. On Mondays and Fridays, she starts at the regular school time of 8:50 am. What a great introduction to her next thirteen years of institutional indoctrination.

“Hey kids, don’t get too used to any one way of doing things! Routines are for suckers! And, oh hey, did we mention there’s a rally this Friday? What’s that? You’re having a test this Friday. Just put it off till Monday. I’m sure the students will do fine.”

Sorry, that might’ve been a little more teacher bitching than student.

Of course, the early starts don’t show up late twice a week to be equal opportunity annoying. Because early start equals early release, and then they get to have a margarita meeting. Uh huh. I’m sure you’re doing a ton of cooperative planning after school on Friday, kindergarten teacher. Wink, wink.

But that late start, on the days that she has to do it, are fucking brutal. What the heck kind of school starts at 10:05? That’s just early enough to not be able to do something substantive or make plans beforehand. We can’t go to a movie or mini golf. We can’t start an art project or teach the kiddo how to write a blog post.

But it’s late enough where I can’t just let her get ready for school at a leisurely pace. Seriously, I can have the kid ready to go by 8:00. 7:30 if she’s going to daycare in time to ride the bus. But even if I let the kid dawdle and get distracted, even without gentle nudging or voice-of-God “How freaking hard is it for you to brush your freaking teeth?”, she’s still going to be ready to go by 9:00. Then what the fuck am I supposed to do for an hour?

Naturally, I just plop her in front of the TV. What better way to get that brain geared up for a focused day of learning than two episodes of “Vampirina”?

Then it’s into the car for delivery time.

It occurs to me that, when I was Daughter’s age, I walked to school. I lived about as far from my elementary school as we currently live from Daughter’s. Given the rules I grew up under, she’d be a walker. Hell, everybody would be a walker, because elementary schools don’t do buses anymore.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all old man on you. No hiking my pants up to my nipples and saying that back in my day we hiked a hundred miles up a mountain just to find some snow to walk through. Uphill in both directions.

Quite the opposite. Like, holy shit, I have a five-year old now. Who in the fuck would think she can be responsible for getting herself to school? She can barely remember to go to the bathroom before heading to her state-mandated, hermetically-sealed, black-box-constructed car seat. Hell, I get worried when she wants to go to the mailbox by herself. What if some Formula 1 driver is driving two hundred miles per hour down the sidewalk of our six-house cul-de-sac? No fucking way I’d let her walk to school unless it was right next door. And even then, I’d put a GPS tracker on her.

Shoot, I wouldn’t even feel safe with her walking to the corner to get on a school bus to take her the rest of the way. Maybe that’s why schools stopped putting fifty kids in a huge death contraption driven by a loadie.

But back in 1979, my mom said, “See ya later,” and I hoofed it five blocks down one hill, then took a left and went up over another hill. Or sometimes I took the short-cut, a trail that went near bee hives and shit. And that was before California changed the birthday cutoff, so I was still four when kindergarten started. I was six months younger than my daughter was on her first day of school. What the fuck were you thinking, Baby Boomers?

Look, I know y’all were (and still are) the Me generation, and my generation became the Latchkey Kids and y’all are the reason we now have strict laws about when and where children must be supervised and that they need to be in a car seat when they get dropped off at high school graduation. I know all your hippie asses just needed to get back to smoking your weed after your five-year sabbatical, but really? You thought a bunch of four-year-olds should be responsible for getting their own asses to school? Put down the bong.

In my own mother’s defense, she said she freaked out and watched me walk to school from the back porch for the majority of my kindergarten year. She knew that I was a little spaz that was prone to simple distraction. One time in preschool, we were walking to the beach and I walked into a parked car. Oops.

Good thing I’m older now and am not likely to distraction and/or tangents, right?

Sorry, what was I writing about?

Oh, right. Student drop-off.

Morning drop-off is pretty simple. Kindergarten parents are supposed to stay with our children outside the gates until the teacher comes to pick them up. The rest of the students can go through the gates to wander around the school. Supervised, of course. What do you think this is, 1979?

So the drop-off line of cars moves pretty quickly. A car (or daycare bus) drives up to the curb, the back door opens, the student unbuckles himself from the seventeen-point harness car seat, and walks toward the school. Then the parent drives off for some Pilates and weed.

And truthfully, I don’t know all the nuances and protocols of the drop-off line since it’s only for non-kindergartners. For now, we have to park a half-block away and stand there with my kid until the teacher deigns to finish her morning constitutional.

Then there’s that really awkward moment after the teacher’s taken our children from us. Do I leave as soon as my child’s made it past the gate? Should I watch her make it all the way into the classroom? What happens when my kid’s first in line but the parent next to me’s kid is last? Do I shout out, “Peace out, motherfucker! You snooze, you lose!” and then run for my car? Technically, he’s handed his kid off, too. Are we both free to leave?

Am I supposed to talk to those other parents? I’ve come to know some of them because our kids have gone to birthday parties together and such. But it’s not like we have much to talk about. Should I ask the athleisure-wear lady where I can get some dank yoga? Or should I inquire if the unemployed father has found a job in the last 24 hours? Or would it be more appropriate to ask him about the best porn sites are these days?

Evidently none of us know how to act. Because we just put hands in pockets and shuffle away, trying not to make eye contact with each other. Like that awkward “both people leaving from the two sides of the glory hole at the same time” moment. Because now we’re just a bunch of grown-ups standing around outside an elementary school. And I didn’t even bring my trenchcoat!

So I just shield my face from prying eyes and high-tail it back to my car, past the long line of cars still dropping their kids off at the curb. Tardy much?

Then comes pick-up time. And this is where I’m fortunate that I have to pick up my kid at the gate. Because that long line of cars is now stretching to infinity. That whole “slow down long enough to kick the kid out” of drop-off is no longer present. Now they have to sit and wait for school to end. And wait. And wait. And wait.

The curb fits maybe ten cars at a time. So the first ten cars to get there can just chill and wait for school to get out. Presumably, they can turn off their car, because I can only assume they got there a half-hour after school started. Maybe they just dropped their kid off and never moved. Squatter’s rights.

Again, I don’t know what the protocol is for the non-kindergartners. I assume the kids get out and have to walk up and down the curb to see if their parent happened to get one of the sweet spots today. And if not, do they just hang out? And I assume that once one car leaves, it is immediately snatched up. Kinda like pick-up at the airport. And we all know how much of a shitshow that is. Now replace all the exhausted travelers with squirrely five- to eleven-year olds and, I’m sure you’ll agree, NOTHING bad could happen.

The rest of the cars are behind those go-getters stretching far into the street in both directions. Fortunately for both the children’s safety and the merging cars, this well-oiled machine is moving along at a glacial rate. And of course, all the cars remain turned on and idling. Huzzah for the environment!

One time at pick-up, I unintentionally tracked it. I pulled up and parked my car on the main street, about fifty yards from the intersection with the chock-full-in-both-directions street that Daughter’s school is on the corner of. As I was getting out of my car, Daughter’s daycare bus rolled up.

Wife and I have been curious about how the bus pickup process worked. So I figured this was a good chance to see how the daycare bus picks up the other kids. How they line up, how they board, what kind of Quaaludes the driver is on to have to sit through this idle hell each day. You know, the stuff that’ll make me feel better on the days I can’t be there.

I crossed the street right behind the bus, which had come to a stop six or seven cars away from the merge. I walked into the school, headed to the kindergarten pick-up space outside the gate, double-checked back on the process of the bus. It hadn’t moved. Of course it hadn’t moved! No students had been released from school yet. None of these cars would be moving for another ten minutes. It’s like the old “Camping out at Ticketmaster” days. .Not sure why all the cars are still running, but whatever. Maybe they are hoping that this is the day all the kids get out early.

The only thing that had changed was the line behind the daycare bus, which now stretched past where my car was parked. Seriously, how long have those first few cars been here?

After checking a few times, I got distracted. I don’t remember why. Maybe I ran into the glory hole parent from earlier. We shuffled our feet and looked at the ground and asked how lunch was and if either of us got anything done after the entire morning was screwed up by a 10:05 drop-off.

Kid was let out. Huzzah!

As I’m walking her away from the school I look at the curb. No sign of the bus yet. Bus is still out in the street. Cool, cool. Maybe I can still see how this whole thing works.

“What are you looking at, Daddy?”

“Oh, I was just curious where you get picked up by they day care bus.”

“Want me to show you?”

Absolutely!

Daughter walks me all the way down to the far end of the curb. There’s a little awning there with some students gathering underneath. Daughter says hi to a couple of kids.

The curb is still filled with idling cars, but not very many children are getting into them. Most of the children are tromping up and down the byway like we are. There seems to be a logjam. The earliest parents seem to be correlated with the latest children. Do go-getters beget lollygaggers?

We head back toward Daughter’s classroom. Still no bus. I can’t really delay her much longer without an explanation, and she’s way too young to comprehend glory holes, so we just head back to my car.

We pass the bus. Daughter waves to the driver. We cross the street just behind the bus. It’s idling, maybe six or seven cars away from the merge point.

Yep, you got it. It hasn’t fucking moved at all. I want to ask Daughter how fucking late the bus usually picks her up. Unfortunately she little concept of time.

But I should be able to extrapolate it or l out on my own. Let’s see, it’s been fifteen minutes and the bus has moved about five feet. By my calculation, they should be picking her up about a half-hour past next June.

But I’ll never know for sure, because after a super illegal u-turn to teach Daughter to respect the power of moving automobiles, I was off like Donkey Kong. At least, to help foster Daughter’s respect for the dangers of driving, I waited until I was at LEAST a quarter of the way through the illegal u-turn amongst children and parents before checking my phone for the latest porn site. Also, I had to wait until I had popped the bus driver’s qualuudes.

In all seriousness, I’m pretty sure I was home before the bus made it to the curb. Which means that all those other cars of all those other parents were still sitting in that line, too.

And the daycare bus has an excuse. It’s their fucking job. What the hell are all of those parents doing? Many of them were there before me, presumably because they don’t want to waste time. Except they don’t really care about the wasted time once they’re there. Or else they’d park and walk their athleisure-wear asses the half-block to and from school. It’s kinda like pilates. Then they’d be home by now, smoking their weed.

Then maybe the daycare bus could pick my kid up before midnight.

New math, indeed.

Whiskey Tango Family

I’m pretty fortunate when it comes to my extended family.

Not because they’re particularly helpful. Or empathetic. Or normal.

No, I’m fortunate because they live 400 miles away. Which means they’re close enough to visit for a weekend without wasting a day traveling each direction, but far enough away that I don’t have to see them very often.

I used to visit my family more often. Back then, I was single and in my twenties and my nieces were cute little kids and Southwest ran some really good fares.

Nowadays, I’ve got a five-year old daughter and a lot of shit going on that really makes it a hassle-and-a-half to get on a plane. Oh, and Southwest ain’t as cheap as it once was. Plus those rat bastards charge full-price for said five-year old even though her butt takes up, at a maximum, forty percent of that seat. AND I’ve stopped eating on Southwest since they switched from yummy peanuts to salt-lick pretzels.

And the TSA is a pain in the ass. And driving takes that full day I mentioned. And… umm… the lunar cycle? Help me out here. My mom is asking about next month.

I’ve managed to whittle it down to just two or three visits to the extended family per year. And I’ve started to notice that, with an additional distance between visits, a similar distance has grown between me and my family. Such that, whenever I’m forced to interact, I spend a good portion of my time wondering how the fuck we are related.

Part of it is generational, as the driving forces of my family have always been the baby boomers. So when the cooler is filled with a shit-ton of some tiny-ass water bottles that contain more plastic than water, such that I have to make a genuine decision between hydration and killing the planet, I chalk it up to the baby boomers being hellbent on ensuring that the earth doesn’t survive past their generation.  After all, they’ve been told that the world belonged to them from the moment they were born.

But my generation ain’t lining up to change things, either. I’m the only one who moved away. Everyone else stayed behind. Some of my cousins still live with their parents at 40 years old. The others have ventured a whopping two or three miles away from their childhood bedroom!

One of my cousins has a daughter who is six weeks younger than my daughter. I suggested we hold a joint family party somewhere in between, so that we could separate our requisite “crazy family party” from the “kids’ party.” She wouldn’t hear it! The birthday party has to include both family and friends, and must be as close to the cousin’s actual birthday as possible. The result is a “joint” birthday party that takes place six weeks after my daughter’s birthday, at which her cousin is getting twice as many presents.

And yeah, my daughter got a whole bunch of presents six weeks earlier, but that’s a hard concept to describe to a five-year old. So instead I just tell my daughter that all of those presents are shitty 99-cent store presents (more on that later) that we’re going to throw away as soon as we get home. Okay, I don’t tell her the last part, but I have yet to have her ever ask about any of the shit she’s gotten in the orgiastic bacchanal of two five-year olds simultaneously opening forty presents.

Full disclosure, I used to fucking hate the “family” birthday parties, where the child whose birthday it is ranks about twentieth on the list of reasons for the get-together. Reason number one is always showing off the house/cleaning skills/culinary skills.

One year I went to my room for two hours and nobody noticed. The boomers were all just there to see each other. None of that has changed. At this year’s party, the two birthday girls had to get out of the pool to blow out candles because, dammit, some old farts wanted cake before they left.

But it’s not just about birthday parties. It’s the whole shebang. Why do none of them have interest in anything slightly above banal? I only live 400 miles away. How am I so much less parochial? And, if they raised me, when the hell did they all become so god-damned Whiskey Tango?

To wit:

Beer. Last time I visited my family for a shindig, there were two beer options available: Bud Light and Corona. I tweeted about it, but wasn’t too bothered. The party hosted by boomers, so it was expected. All of their beer tastes were developed in 1960, when all beer came from Milwaukee or St. Louis.  For them, Michelob is a “premium craft.” Heck, I should be impressed they’ve “branched out” to Corona, even if it goes against my core belief that nothing that is supposed to have fruit added should be classified as beer.

Yes, Blue Moon, I’m looking in your direction.

But the child’s birthday party was hosted by Gen Xers, not Boomers. They are world travelers, and I have personally traveled to Australia and Scotland together, and I know she’s aware of craft beers. So I opened the cooler with baited breath. I was greeted with… Coors Light. I moved it out of the way, dug underneath and came up with another Coors Light. I opened the other side of the cooler, looking for the secret compartment with craft bee. Heck, I’d take a Michelob at this point. All I found was another sea of silver.

So I grabbed an iced tea instead. At least it wasn’t sweetened.

Maybe I should have…

BYOB. When we were leaving my mom’s house to go to the party, my mom’s husband asked me to pick out a bottle of wine or two. He said that my cousin never had good wine. I don’t think my mom’s husband’s wine is all that great, either. I live near multiple wine regions. Nothing in Southern California comes close. So if someone who drinks crappy wine says that the wine at this party will be crappy, then I better just plan on drinking beer.

Oops.

So I grabbed a bottle of wine for him. When we got to the party, I felt a little awkward bringing it in. Honestly, who brings their own booze to a non-BYOB party? So fucking tacky. Can I put my car up on blocks in your front yard, too?

Even worse, it was white wine, so it had to go in the host’s refrigerator. Because the cooler’s filled with Coors Light, naturally. Nothing’s so classy as walking in the front door and saying, “Hey, can you move some shit out of your refrigerator so I can put my mediocre wine in there since your wine sucks ass?”

Then again, had I known about the Coors Light situation, I would’ve been sneaking a six-pack in the refrigerator behind the wine.

Is it to late for Amazon drone delivery?

Shopping. At one point, we had to get a couple of things at the grocery store. Mainly, we had to pack the birthday present we brought for the cousin. If we tried to wrap it before we left, the TSA would have undone all our efforts.

My mom also wanted to provide fruit for the party. It’s BYOF, too. So off to the grocery store we went.

My mom didn’t ask what we needed. So when I appeared in the same checkout line as her with a gift bag, a card, and one package of colored tissue paper, she blinked and said, “Oh, I didn’t know that’s what you were getting. We could have gone to the 99-cent store if you wanted.”

Ugh. The 99-fucking-cent store. Both my and my wife’s mothers frequent that place. Neither mother is miserly nor in danger of running out of a pension anytime soon. But goddamn it if that 99-cent crap isn’t going to find a spot on their shelves.

It’s like they took all of those “Thrift” ideals that their Great Depression-era parents taught them, but only understood part of it. Thrift means both not overspending for things you need, but also not buying a bunch of unnecessary crap. But the Baby Boomers want all the crap, they just don’t want to pay for it. This becomes an issue because every time my mom sees my daughter, she’s giving her crap. It’s all ephemeral, not meant to be any more meaningful in the grand context than a passing bowel movement. Of course, each 99-cent piece of crap gets added to all of the other 99-cent pieces of crap and our house is overflowing like a backed-up toilet.

Meanwhile, while my mom’s chastising me for paying full price on a birthday card, she’s purchasing one of those pre-cut, pre-arranged fruit platters. Costs about eight bucks for maybe two bucks worth of fruit. With more plastic than a 3-ounce water bottle.

But just make sure you’re making the most from your “toys made of lead” budget.

Now let’s get out of here and enjoy the Southern California traffic.

Traffic. My mom doesn’t trust traffic apps. How does Google know, she asks, if there’s about to be an accident on a route? Fair enough, although I actually wouldn’t put it past Google to have an algorithm that knows where and when future accidents will occur.

But when she picked us up from the airport at 6:00 and we wanted to make a baseball game by 7:00, I told her in no uncertain terms that we were taking the route Google told us to take.

Of course, Google doesn’t assume you’ll stay in the slow lane for the ENTIRE fucking route. And sure, this is in Southern California. so all of the lanes are slow, but the slow lane is especially slow. Every mile, an onramp deposits ten new cars into the lane, who promptly merge in front of us, then slow down even more in order to pull into the second lane, from whence they speed up by twenty MPH or so. And my mom is pretty much eternally going five MPH, except for the times she’s at a complete stop for all of these mergers.

“And see?” she says when we get to the game twenty minutes later than Google said we would. “Google doesn’t know how to account for this Southern California traffic.”

I wonder what Google would say is the dominant flavor in…

Churros. We met my niece for breakfast at a pretty good establishment in San Diego County called the Breakfast Republic. Solid food. I’ve eaten there a couple of times, but this was the first time I’d eaten at this particular location.

They have lots of scrumptious variations of Eggs Benedict and pancakes. My niece is a vegetarian, so she wasn’t interested in the crab cake bennie I got. She got Churro Pancakes. She gave us each a bite. Pretty yummy. Actual chunks of churro in there, and a dominant flavor of cinnamon.

Which my mom found odd. “Huh,” she says. “I wouldn’t expect that for a churro. Do you taste, I don’t know, kind of… cinnamon in there?”

Um, yeah? What the hell does she think a churro tastes like? What does she think that brown powder that they roll the dough in when it’s done cooking? Cumin?

Oh well, at least she wasn’t offensive or anything…

Pride. After breakfast, my niece was heading off to a Pride parade. She wore a rainbow shirt that said Pride on it. At first, my mom seemed oblivious, but the conversation eventually went there.

She seemed okay at first. Nothing overly offensive. She asked if my niece’s boyfriend was going to go to the parade. My niece said probably not. It’s not that he’s opposed to gay pride, he just doesn’t really want to hang out with a bunch of sweaty dudes with asscheeks hanging out. Totally get that. I’ve never understood how, in order to support LGBTQ rights, you need to oppose basic hygiene. Is there any way I can believe in marriage equality without getting a sunburnt schlong?

That being said, does my niece’s boyfriend realize that it isn’t just dudes letting their asscheeks hang out? Nothing like a gay pride parade to bring out all the heterosexual labias. It’s Mardi Gras, only without the beads and the necessity to fly to New Orleans.

But I digress. The reason I brought this all up was my mom’s response. She agreed with the boyfriend. Sort of. In typical Baby Boomer and/or white trash and/or general out-of-touchness, she started with, I shit you not, “I’m not a homophobe, but…”

Prepare the eyeroll.

“I just don’t want to see it.”

Okay, not quite what niece’s boyfriend was saying.

My mom went on to say there’s a gay couple on a soap opera she watches. She just fast forwards whenever they start kissing. It bothers her.

Um, what exactly does she think the “phob” part of homophobia means. If I say I’m not afraid of snakes, I just don’t want to see one because it makes me uncomfortable, guess what? It means I’m afraid of snakes.

But my mom adds the coup de grace.

“I don’t have any problem with them doing what they do. Just… do it behind closed doors or something.”

Spoken like a true non-homophobe.

Seriously, how did I come from this family?

I don’t know.

Just pass me the Coors Light.

Who Knew Bruin Coo

The English language is stupid.

I know I’m not the first person to make this groundbreaking observation. Every rule in the English language is broken at least ten times. I before e except after c, or in pretty much every other word where you stop yourself, sure you’re about to spell it wrong, and then you repeat that adage and end up writing, “the horse nieghed.”

We’ve got some words pronounced in a Germanic fashion, others in the Latin manner, and probably some Scandinavian. England’s been invaded so often that they can’t even make their mind up on the correct words for various objects. Theater is a German word, cinema is French, so English uses them interchangeably.

Quick, what’s the difference between purple and violet? Nothing, aside from their language of origin.

And then there are the silent letters. I assume those are coming from French, because those bastards put an eaux at the end of every damn word. And really? Hors d’ouevres? It should be spelled ordurves. But I don’t think there are any gh’s in French, so WTF?

But we all just sit here and accept it all, as silently as half the fucking letters in our language, like victims of Stockholm Syndrome. Come to think of it, the vikings came from Stockholm, and they’re just one group that conquered England and fucked up the way they speak. So much for an island being easy to defend. The Danes were doing island hopping long before Douglas MacArthur made it hip and fashionable.

My current agitation with the only language I can read more than a sentence of is because I’m trying to teach it to my daughter. Not the spoken part. She’s got that part nailed down. Mostly. I mean, she still can’t seem to distinguish between hearing directions and following directions, but I teach high schoolers, and I know that subtle distinction is still a long way coming.

But she’s ready to learn how to read. And we’re ready for her to learn how to read. Because I swear, if I have to read about giving a mouse a fucking muffin one more goddamned time, I’m going to shove that muffin right up his rodent ass.

She’s been doing phonics at daycare for the better part of two years, so she knows all the sounds. She’s been taking swimming lessons for the same amount of time, and her swimming ability is about the same as her reading skills. She knows the motions, but if she were try to put them all together on her own, she’d end up at the bottom of the picture book, struggling to breathe.

So instead of throwing her into the deep end, we’ve been trying to sound things out together. And right off the bat, I’m questioning how much money we’ve wasted on phonics. She’s very lazy at reading beyond the first letter. After two years of “B is for bird,” she now sees box and goes, “buh, buh, big?” I’ll then have her sound it out. And she can do it.

“Buh, ah, ks.”

“Okay, put them all together.”

“Buh, buh, bamboozle.”

Where the fuck did you get boozle out of an x, kid?

But we’re trying, and she’s getting closer when she actually focuses. So we started out with everyone’s first reading adventure: Dr. Seuss. More specifically, “Hop on Pop.”

And it starts out great. Pup. Cup. Pup in Cup. Cup. Pup. Cup on Pup. All words she can sound out. Rhyming words. Once she’s figured out the ending sound, she can substitute the beginning sound, which she’s great at from phonics.

Then it gets a little tougher. Day. Play. We play all day.

At this point, I question whether or not I should explain to her why she’s not pronouncing a “yuh” at the end of play and day. That the vowel following the other vowel turns the former into a long sound, even if Y is a little bitch that can’t decide if it’s a vowel or not. Or do I just tell her that this is one of those cases where A says it’s name and hope she’ll just ignore the extra letter there? And all of a sudden, I’m the phonics teacher telling her the end of the word doesn’t matter and she should just sound out the beginning of the word and then make a wild stab at what form the vowel is taking in this particular word.

Then comes the next page. Night. Fight. We fight all night.

What the fuck? I give up.

First of all, Dr. Seuss, what the hell are silent “gh”es doing on page five of a book that is listed as “Easy reading. For the beginning readers”?

Secondly, what the hell am I supposed to do now? It’s one thing to tell her to ignore the y in day, when the y is silent but is in fact serving a purpose there, and if you were to pronounce “da-yuh,” you wouldn’t be kicked out of polite society. People would probably just think you’re singing a Harry Belafonte song.

But now I’m faced with a silent gh. If you pronounce it “niguhut,” people will have you committed. And now that I look at it in the “liguhut” of day, what the hell are those letters doing there in the first place? Are they acting as vowels to lengthen the i? So now I have to tell my daughter that the vowels are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y, and sometimes w, and sometimes gh. But the last three sets of “vowels” only act as vowels when they completely give up their will to live, don’t say their name and just sit there, aiding and abetting their “more important” brethren like a goddamned politician’s spouse?
Just sit there and look pretty, dears, and if anyone asks you what you really think about guhu-gate, stay quiet.

So with these words, I didn’t tell Daughter to do anything with the middle portion of the word. I just told her, “That word is night. That word is fight.”

And just like that, I’ve crossed over the great debate line in the world of reading. Because if you’re not on the side of phonics, then you must be with those rat bastards in the whole language camp. Whole languagers say, “Fuck sounding it out. Just memorize what each word is and use context clues.”

And really, isn’t that how we read? Even those of us who read via internal vocalization (and yes, I know that every goddamn speed reading course tells me to knock that shit off and I totally know I don’t need to do it and it’s frustrating as shit that it’s slowing me down, but gaddammit, I just can’t stop), don’t sound out the words. I know what “fucking goddammit” says, so I just say “fucking goddammit,” instead of “fuh, uh, sss, kuh, ih, nuh, guh” in my mind. Whole Language!

Whole Language basically tells us to learn all of the words and voila! you’re reading. Seems rather daunting for a language that has hundreds of thousands of words. But that’s probably also the number of different ways you can pronounce the letter c. So maybe instead of telling her the difference between the sss sound and the ck sound and the ch sound, I can just tell her the cisgendered cock has a chub. By the time I’m done explaining all of the rules of the language, those words will be totally appropriate for her.

And if Whole Language is just memorizing, then my five year-old should be a pro. She can recite the whole goddamned “Hop on Pop” without even looking at the page. Which is annoying when I’m trying to figure out if she’s actually learning how to read.

“Dad had a bad day. What a day dad had.”

“Wow, good job, Love… Wait, why are you staring out the window?”

But if we’re going to go the Whole Language route, then why the fuck have we spent the last two years teaching her the sounds of all the letters? And I don’t just mean that as a parent who has wasted time and money and brain cells listening to “A is for Apple, Apple, Apple” fifteen thousand times.

Why do we spend time telling out kids that e is for elephant when ninety percent of the time you encounter the letter e, it isn’t going to sound like that? We should instead say “e is for evil and elephant, but most of the time it’s silent just to fuck with the other vowel, vowel, vowel.”

And even when all that is done, can anyone, anywhere tell me what the fuck is with the whole silent gh thing?

Pre-school Graduation

My daughter graduated earlier this week.

Okay, maybe graduation isn’t the bet word for it. Promotion? Transition from expensive babysitting to free education?

Tell you what, let’s just call it “Tuesday.”

Because on Wednesday, she went right back to the exact same school, exact same classroom, exact same situation. It seems kind of odd to have a daycare graduation in early June, considering they’re still going to daycare for another two months. First week of August, the week before the local school districts starts, would seem a more logical time to celebrate the kids taking the next big step. But I guess it would be tough to buy graduation cards in August. Shit, it was already difficult to find kid-friendly graduation cards. To say nothing of “Class of 2032.”

But she had a little ceremony, so I guess we’ll call it a graduation. What it really served as was a thank you from the day care to the parents for spending… let’s see, carry the one, and…

Holy shit, have we really spent fifty grand there over the last five years? And all they could muster up for the ceremony was some goddamn Oreos?

But relax. This isn’t a blog whining about giving trophies to every goddamn participant or whatever. I might do that next year when she “graduates” from kindergarten and stays at the same school.

But this one is actually a meaningful transition in her life. Or at least it will be in August. She’ll be leaving behind the daycare that she’s been attending since she was eight weeks old. The next time she leaves a place where they wiped her ass after she shit her pantswill be college.

Seriously though, there were three kids at this ceremony who have been there since her first day there, over four and a half years ago. That’s longer than high school. Sure, she doesn’t remember them being there, but how many high school seniors really remember who sat next to them in ninth grade?

Plus, this might be the last time she’ll be happy to graduate next to the types of friends she has now. By sixth grade, the judgments will be rolling in.

It’s kinda sad. I look at her two best friends now and know, deep down, that they would have nothing to do with each other if they met in third grade instead of near birth.

One of them is on the way to being a total tomboy. She’s either halfway to Birkenstocks or halfway to Doc Martens. She showed up to my daughter’s gymnastics birthday party wearing jean shorts.

I love this kid, though, because she gives absolutely zero fucks. Whereas my daughter is always worried about who is playing with her or who is not responding the way she wants, this girl will do whatever the hell she has the hankering to do at any given point. At the gymnastics party, almost all of the girls clumped together, following each other to whatever ball pit was in vogue for the moment. I think I wrote about a similar chaos theory at her bounce-house birthday party last year.

Tomboy, though, just goes and plays with whatever she wants. So while the line for the slide is seven deep, she’s doing whatever she wants on the trampoline. Then everyone sees she’s having fun, they all head to the trampoline and she’s off to the balance beam. Not saying she’s a trendsetter. She just marches to the beat of her own drum.

Meanwhile, Friend #2 will be a Woo Girl just as soon as it’s appropriate to use that designation. She’s a bit shorter than most of the others. She jumps a lot. It wouldn’t surprise me if she’ll be the kid with the alcohol hookup in eighth grade. She’ll definitely know her way around a kegstand, and have a closet full of straw hats, by junior year.

At the birthday party, Woo Girl showed up in full gymnastics regalia. She usually followed the crowd, but only if the crowd was doing something requiring adrenaline. Swings, slides, trampolines. You wouldn’t find her concentrating the balance beam.

So we’ve got Tomboy and Woo Girl who are absolute besties with my daughter, the prissy teacher’s pet.

I know, I know. Every parent thinks their kid is the well-behaved little angel. And I’ve already posted before that my kid knows a substantial number of Jimmy Buffett songs. She tries to get the Piano Man at her school to play Piano Man, which doesn’t have the most appropriate lyrics for four-year-olds.

But you’ll note I didn’t say she was the good kid. I said she was the prissy teacher’s pet. That moniker comes with substantial baggage. If there’s going to be a kid thrown in the trash can for tattling in fourth grade, it’s probably going to be my daughter. And the ones who will be throwing her in the trashcan are probably Tomboy and Woo Girl, who she can’t get enough of these days.

Okay, you still want proof as to which lane my daughter’s merging on to?

At the “graduation” ceremony, the teachers read out what each child wants to be when he or she grows up. See if you can spot which of the first six students was my daughter based on their responses: 1. Superhero, 2. Veterinarian, 3. Ice Cream Shop Worker, 4. Racecar driver, 5. Mom, 6. Wizard.

No, she’s not the mom. That’s Tomboy, oddly enough. Guessing she’ll change her tune later.

Of course, my daughter was the veterinarian. In her defense, it’s really hard to get into wizarding school these days unless you live under stairs.

There ended up being three other future veterinarians in the crowd and I call bullshit on all three of them. One of them was my daughter’s first friend, who she still thinks of as her bestie despite having very little in common with. Daughter’s exhausted and grumpy on the days she’s played primarily with this girl instead of the newer friends, but it’s hard to explain to her what’s going on.

The first friend became her first friend because she wouldn’t ever talk. Not to the main teacher, not to the secondary teachers, not to the phonics teacher. But she would occasionally talk to my daughter, or at least my daughter would speak for her, so all of the teachers put them together. My daughter got a month of free phonics because they would send her alongside the quiet one to act as whisperer. We asked my daughter if she was actually saying what the girl was saying or if she was just answering the questions on her own. It was usually the latter.

Quiet Girl talks more now. She’s glommed onto the mean girl and is well on her way to being the punk rock girl in middle school. She already looks daggers at people whenever they turn their backs. The only thing she needs to learn is to do that when they’re looking at you, too, and she can wear a Cure T-shirt.

In typical back-of-the-class style, Quiet Girl still doesn’t like answering teachers’ questions. So it’s little shock that she “wants to be a veterinarian.” I don’t know if she actually copied my daughter or if she just remained silent and they asked my daughter what Quiet Girl wanted to be.

The other two “veterinarians” were similarly suspicious. Just copy the answer of the kid that the teachers are always praising the answer of. I can already tell how most of my daughter’s group projects will go for the next thirteen years.

As for the ceremony, it was very cute. The kids sang four songs. They turned “I’m a Little Teapot” into “I’m a Little Graduate.” And the second line of “Zip a Dee Doo Dah” changed “wonderful day” into “graduation day.” They also sang a song called “The World is a Rainbow,” and for the weeks leading up to it, when my daughter was (probably the only one) practicing at home, I kept thinking she was about to sing “The world is a vampire.” Unfortunately, it was some lame 1970s hippie song, not Smashing Pumpkins.

And my favorite song was “This Land is your Land.” If you think about it, it’s not an easy song to teach to a group of people with no concept of geography. Most of the kids could nail the “from California” part, but after that, it got a little dicey.

To the New York Island? Aren’t they a hockey team? The only sport my daughter knows is baseball and she is under explicit instructions that she may not root for any team from New York or Boston. Oh, maybe we’d allow the Mets, because we’re an AL household, so who gives a fuck about the senior circuit.

So instead of New York Island, my daughter started out singing “From California to the Land of China.”

Wow. Those are some lyrics I didn’t know about. Is that what we’re teaching the kids after Trump’s tariffs? That we own China now?

Let’s see, according to Wikipedia, it was written in 1940. So a sizable chunk of China had been conquered by Japan at that point. Maybe Woody Guthrie just figured we’d enter the war and “liberate” China into our possession. We did it with the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, after all.

Hell, we effectively did that in Korea after the war. Damn, that Woody Guthrie was prescient! It’s a good thing our daycare is teaching my daughter the hidden verses.

The next time my daughter practiced the lyrics, she changed them to “From California to the Land of Thailand.”

Wow, holy crap. What kind of imperialist jingoism is this? Last I checked, we never had Thailand. Not in Teddy Roosevelt’s wildest wet dreams. Hell, if you count all the Thai restaurants popping up in California, I think they might own more of our country than we ever owned of theirs.

Seriously, I think Thai restaurants are the new FroYo. Not that I’m complaining, but it makes it really hard to know which Thai place to go to. I can sample each of the FroYo places for $5 a pop. Thai restaurants cost a little more. Unless it’s lunch time.

But alas, my daughter finally figured out that our Land stretches east, not west. From California to the place with the fucking Yankees.

But now, it’s off to Big Kid School.

Only one of the kids from her daycare is going to her elementary school, and he’s one of the boys that she only discusses in passing. Gone will be the Tomboy and the Woo Girl and the Quiet Girl and the Mean Girl.

Maybe that’s a good thing. It gives her a chance at a fresh start. Except I’m going to miss the crazy dynamic from preschool. Who knows how much longer she’ll hang out with vastly different personalities. Another year or two, maybe.

The girl across the street from us is a cheerleader. Not a future cheerleader. A legitimate five-year-old cheerleader. Her mom was a cheerleader in high school. Has the fake tits to prove it. Never made it to college to lead cheers there. And now mom’s got her daughter well down the path to reliving her life. Including a year-round cheer program.

My wife worries about my daughter being in the same kindergarten class with Cheerleader. She thinks my daughter will glom onto another kid she has nothing in common with and it’ll be Quiet Girl all over again. I’m a little less freaked out. I know there’s no future for them. No way in hell are they friends when middle school hits. One of these days, Daughter will start hanging out with friends she actually has things in common with.

Besides, it might not be a bad idea to have someone she knows in the new class. And for the next few years, it’s not bad to have a girl the same age across the street from us. I don’t relish the day when I have to drive her to another neighborhood to play. Or “hang out,” because it won’t be long before “playing” is gauche.

But for now, she’s still in the sweet spot. A sweet spot where the Mean Girl and the Punk Rock Girl and the Spaz and the Cheerleader and the Priss can all get along.

Society will beat that out of them soon enough.