Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lie down with dogs, get up with nice good-morning kisses.

Dogs are a huge part of my life. They are fascinating. Show me another creature that will willingly and without conquest of them view you as their superior, be incredibly thankful when you give them a dead fish to eat, and save Timmy from drowning in the well by attempting to speak human.

Every day when I get home from work, I pull into our tuck-under garage. It's a weird setup, but basically I walk into the basement, go straight for about 25 feet, hang a left and go up a flight of stairs to the main level of the house.

We also have cats, and the litter boxes are downstairs, while the cats have the run of the house. Of course, this necessitates a cat door in this door at the top of the stairs. Either that, or we follow the cats around with a little cup to collect their urine. We chose the door. Sue us.

This, of course, means that when I look up that flight of stairs, I'm looking up at the door with the cat door in it. And it never fails. Every single time when I look up that flight of stairs after a hard day's work, there is at least one dog looking back at me through that door. It all depends on whether one of them has detected my arrival earlier and was able to block out the other by the simple expedient of sticking his head through the door first.

Needless to say with two dogs, when I arrive at the top of the stairs and open the door, I'm showered with doggie kisses and made to feel generally like I'm the center of the universe. Then I turn the corner and walk 10 feet to the doorway to the kitchen, where my wife rules.

And suddenly I'm not the center of the universe anymore. Go do this with that child. And when you're done, see what you can do about fixing the stinky water. And then shovel the snow that the @#$)(*&"*!!!! snow removal guy left in front of the garage.

I love my dogs. For a moment in every day (actually several, but I'll mention the others later), they make me feel like an emperor.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The sport of champions!

Driving along the winterscape here in the anti-hell of Minnesota, you get to see a lot of fun things. A deer might run by, and you ponder how it is that they stay warm when it's 30 below right outside your window. You'll often get to see a herd of fools on snowmobiles jumping drifts in ditches in a wind that can turn your earlobes to glass. Once a year in the small town where my folks live, they have a golf tournament. In the middle of winter. On the lake next to the town.

Just because.

But every December or so, you get to see something really special. Here in the north country, December is when foolhardiness kicks into high gear. One day you'll see a clear lake. The next, you'll see that several ice houses have sprung up, like some strange form of toadstools. The day after that, you'll probably have a city on the ice. All that's missing is a domed stadium and a city hall. In some places it's possible to have pizza delivered to you while you fish. I've done it before.

All those people have an obsession, and it goes something like this: first, spend a lot of money to buy a fish house, winter pole(s), tackle, auger, heater, and miscellaneous other things. You'll probably also need a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, because it's not fun getting stuck on the lake. If you want freedom of movement, you'll want a plow blade to mount on the front of your vehicle. Figure a minimum of $15,000 all told, and that's if you get shoddy equipment.

Then you spend a lot of time building and/or prepping the house, getting your gear ready, mounting the blade, plowing a path to a good place for your house, unloading the house, setting it up, banking it with snow (the only insulation handy), getting the heater started, drilling your hole and dipping all the ice chunks out of it. You've already visited the bait store and probably someplace for snacks and soda or beer. Finally, the moment is here.

You then put your minnow on the hook, drop the hook into the water...and watch the hole.

That's it. That's what everybody around here is so crazy about. Watching the hole. If you're lucky once in awhile the bobber will jerk down, and if you're luckier once in awhile you'll actually pull in a fish. More often you can just sit and watch the hole for hours on end.

Minnesota is renowned as a center of education and culture in the middle of flyover country. We have first-class universities, the best theaters in America outside of the coasts and maybe Chicago, some of the best city living to be had can be found in the Twin Cities and we're a very progressive lot all in all.

But something happens in winter, and we go back to basics. It's easy to imagine cave men sitting in the exact same spot, staring at a hole they've hacked in the ice with a spear, ready to catch dinner. It's a mystery. But there it is. Deal with it. Ugh.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Metrosexuals R us.

You've all heard about the phenomenon known as "Metrosexuals." These are the guys that, while remaining heterosexual, adopt many feminizing practices like getting pierced ears, using skin moisturizer, shopping (without a girlfriend on your arm, and enjoying it), and--let's face it--being a fag without being a fag.

"Fag" is a loaded term, too. This is probably a good point to say that in college, for a couple of quarters, I was the roommate of a homosexual guy. And he made it plain that he was attracted to me. I made it plain that I was VERY straight. We worked it out. The man fell off my radar many years ago (his choice, not mine) but suffice it to say that I'm not "homophobic."

But there was a summer in my youth (1987) when I was in love. I needed to be noticed and, eventually, loved by a 16-year-old. Clearly, I needed to be less like a guy. So I went from 215 pounds to 160 pounds in 2 months and 6 days. I was very meticulous in those measurements. I weighed 215 pounds almost EXACTLY when I started this experiment in self-denial, and 2 months and 6 days later, I weighed in (on the same scale) at 160 pounds. In between, I had lost my virginity, went through many ups and downs, and later I had many other stories to tell about that whole mess, but I still remember that as "the summer where I subsisted on iceberg lettuce and tuna." That's not far from the truth, either, as my family can tell you.

In that time, I not only went from a heavyish guy to a petite guy, but my tastes changed. When the time came to go to a REO Speedwagon concert (which I went to with the woman who would become my wife) I actually considered finding some way to make my hair sparkle. I went to that concert with several strands of my hair braided. Ugh.

In 1984, Prince burst onto the scene. He was a "metrosexual." The guy was clearly a heterosexual, as any viewing of the movie "Purple Rain" can tell you, but if you pay attention to his appearance, well, as one personal friend from South Africa said it, "I'm not with that faggoty mission, Mate." I loved that guy, and while we didn't agree on Prince's artistic output, I have to give him points for honesty as he saw it. Prince WAS "faggoty." But he, along with Michael Jackson (because let's face it, his later persona requires that we include him) made it "cool" to be "metrosexual."

So am I a metrosexual? No. My wife can attest to that. Do I look down on metrosexuals? No. It may be a way to Get That Girl, it may be a way to Find Out Who I Am, or it may be just a way to mess with the rest of us. For Governor Dean, it was political leverage for a time (and may God Damn him for that, because it's a real phenomenon.)

But I was one, at one point. Whatever it took to get what I most wanted at that point. That's the difference between homosexuals and metrosexuals, as I see it. Homosexuals are attracted to members of the same sex. Metrosexuals are (usually men) who are trying to make members of the opposite sex comfortable with them, so that they can get lucky.

Sorry if I blew anybody's cover here, but there it is.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I believe the children are our future.

Babies are fascinating creatures. Oh, sure, you could say that they're just miniature adults...but you would be misstating the case by a wide margin.

To begin with, there's that freakishly soft spot in the middle of their head. What's that all about? You'd think they'd have an extra-thick piece of skull there, so that it could thin out as they grow bigger. You'll understand that thick skulls on toddlers are an extra-good idea if you've ever watched how many times they slam their heads into just about anything they can reach.

Babies are also much more devious than adults, and in ways that adults would never think of. You never see an adult waiting until their primary caregiver is looking the other way and then dumping their lunch on the floor for the dog. You never have to change an adult's diaper twice in a row because they waited until after the first change to really do their business. Well, okay, I'll admit maybe you do. I've never changed an adult's diaper, but I bet you don't.

Babies also never lack self-confidence. They are the ruler of all they survey, period. If you don't like it, you'd better have earplugs, because they will tell you about it if they need to. You will be there at their beck and call whenever they feel like it's necessary, and woe to the feckless adult who disbelieves the baby's primacy in the order of things. They will grab you by the eardrums and make you understand your error at decibel levels that will shatter an ice cube.

Babies are also deeply interesting in other physical ways. Most babies can literally put their foot in their mouth. Many do it frequently. Most adults can only do it figuratively. Alas, many do it frequently. I know one baby who to all appearances has only one bone, that being her skull. I swear you can tie this girl in a square knot and as long as she's not hungry, it will simply earn you a delighted smile. While most babies, as I said, can put their foot in their mouth, she can do it from behind, if you lift her leg up backwards. I only did that once, and I immediately stopped because it felt acutely like child abuse. On most children, it certainly would have been. She took it in stride. Ah, nice to stretch that thigh muscle, it was getting a little tight.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of babies in particular and children in general is their effect on various adults. You can learn a lot about a person by how they react when they come into the presence of a baby, especially if the baby is interested in them. Some people get so tense it looks like they're about to go into seizures. Others seem to actually lose bodily integrity as their features melt into a grotesque smile/grimace/whatever and they begin to speak in tongues to the child. I always wondered why babies didn't get more scared when a grown woman (it's usually a woman) kneels down to their level, makes a contorted face and starts to babble uncontrollably at them. I'd be looking for my mom about that time. Er, unless the babbler is my mom. Then I'd probably just cry, and maybe look for a policeman.

The most interesting thing about babies? I think it's the fact that when they grow up, many of them will go to pieces at the sight of...babies. And the world goes round.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Colder than ice, but just as pretty.

I'm not so sure I'm buying into this whole global warming thing. I mean, this week I actually spit and watched it bounce. I almost went out on my deck to see if I could use a Twinkie to drive a green bean into a piece of angel food cake. Yes, it's cold in the north country.

It's not just us humans that are having trouble dealing with it, either. In the morning when I put the dogs out, they look at me like I owe them money. Normally happy to jump up and go anywhere at the drop of a hat any time of day or night at any speed, these days they look more like slugs than hyperthyroidal hamsters on speed when it comes to going outside.

Normally it's just the smokers that voluntarily subject themselves to this sort of thing for any length of time. You've seen them I'm sure, the little tribe of Inuits that inhabit the sidewalk outside of businesses and government buildings during business hours, performing their quasi-religious smoke ritual. It's hard to fault their devotion to the cause. I know. I used to be one. To somebody who has never smoked, it probably looks like a sign of mental illness...but those people have never experienced "the first cigarette in the morning." I still miss that one sometimes.

At least it isn't icicle season yet. That's the time in Minnesota later in the winter when things warm up a bit. The snow on the roofs start of slowly melt and the dripping moisture starts to form icicles on the eaves of buildings. Depending on the snow cover of the roof, the temperature and several other technical variables, the icicles can get to be the size of a telephone pole. That's when you've got to worry not just about the war, the recession, and starving people in Africa, but also about getting pile-driven by The Giant Icicle From Space, that's been ruminating on the edge of your garage and is waiting for just the right moment to attack.

I bought a snow blower last spring. Spring is the time to get a good deal on snow blowers, just as fall is the time to score a good motorcycle cheap. People will do anything to free up storage space, it seems. Anyway, I had bought a snow blower back in the 90s that was old enough to have cleared the field for the first superbowl. It was $125 at a garage sale (again, in the spring). It served me for 14 years or so, before dying a horrible death. My new one served me for about 2 months of active duty before shuffling off this mortal coil. It may be fixable, but it really didn't sound good. So I'm doing my part for the economy by paying a guy to come by with his truck and effortlessly do in 5 or 10 minutes what I could be doing in 1/2 hour with a lot of huffing and puffing. I'm not sure whether to laugh or curse.

But you know...I wouldn't trade winter here for something more sane like they have south of the Mason-Dixon line. There's something to be said for the idea of stepping outside and finding yourself in a crystal, sunlit version of the Carlsbad Caverns. That first snow of the year is absolutely pristine. Then dogs pee on it and animals run across it and it gets messed up in general, but then it gets renewed every time it snows. It's nature's etch-a-sketch.

And spring, when it comes, is such a glorious time that you get a little inkling of what Heaven must be like all the time.

But back to reality. Pass the hot cocoa, would you?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Careful what you put on your head.

Rogaine is great. It gives you hair, and that's a good thing, right? Well...yes. But as with so many other great products you can buy in modern life, it pays to read the fine print, and this is definitely no exception.

In print so small my nephew probably couldn't read it without a magnifying glass, we get to the good stuff:


* You are a woman.

Check. No breasts.

* You have no family history of hair loss.

Check. You could use my grandpa's head for a mirror.

* Your hair loss is sudden and/or patchy.

Check. No nuclear accidents in this area lately.

* You do not know the reason for your hair loss.

Well...I'm NOT really sure why it's going away, and I don't really care. I just want some back. I didn't know I had to be a doctor.

* You are under 18 years of age.

Check. If I'm under 18 years of age and losing my hair, I'm going to pitch in the towel and go Moby anyway, because there isn't much hope.

And it goes on in that vein for a few more items. Then it gets serious, warning me that I should ask a doctor if I have heart disease. Say what? Hair...heart...I'm not getting an important connection here, I think.

Then it warns you not to "apply to other parts of your body". Yeah, because I WANTED more hair in my armpits and nose. Good thing they warned me. A couple more warnings, and then the really juicy stuff:


* Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, faintness or dizziness occurs.

Naw, I think I'll just go on doing whatever I was doing if that stuff happens. Sheesh.

* Sudden, unexplained weight gain occurs.

I see. It's all really just a scam some fat farm cooked up to drum up business. Has anybody checked to see whether the same company that owns Rogaine also owns Bowflex?

* Your hands or feet swell.

Unless you're blowing on your thumb, of course. At least then you know what's causing it.

* Scalp irritation or redness occurs.

That is the single symptom in the entire list that doesn't worry me too much.

* Unwanted facial hair growth occurs.

Too late. I've already spent like $3000 on razors, cream, and various lotions over the last 25 years because of that very symptom.

Look, people, maybe this whole hair loss thing isn't that bad after all. I mean, next thing they'll discover that if you use too much, your pancreas will rot and your eyeballs will deflate or something. Is it really worth it? Maybe the ball-bearing look isn't so bad after all.

But Rogaine knows something you never really thought about. Men are just as vain as women, and many of us have our vanity surgically implanted in our hair follicles. If there's something that will bring back lost hair, taking it away from a man is like taking away a junky's fix. I'm surprised they don't sell this stuff on the street corner.

"Tell you what, I'll give you the first month for free, buddy."

Maybe I have a future career as a Rogaine pusher. But I think I'll keep my day job for now.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Big Hairy Deal

Different men react to losing their hair differently. Some of us panic, and will do anything, go anywhere, work any magic spell or spend any amount of money to keep from losing their hair or regain hair they've lost. Those are the people that join the "Hair Club for Men".

For some men, hair doesn't matter. Some of us even look better without it. I'm willing to bet the mushroom cap look didn't hurt Telly Savalas or Moby with the ladies. It wasn't half bad on Bruce Willis. Heck, it would probably improve the sex lives of half the guys out there, if I'm any judge of how guys usually do their hair when they have it.

I was usually pretty ambivalent about my hair, at least since the 80s croaked and left me with a gigantic mop of hairspray-encrusted stuff on my head. Since it became uncool to have hair bigger than the woman you're dating (and probably bigger than her rottweiler as well), I've sort of shrugged my shoulders and got it cut whenever I couldn't stand the nagging from my significant other/mom. When I got it cut, I really got it hacked, because I didn't want to mess with it any more than I had to.

But that was before I noticed that there was more hair in my drain every morning than on my dog's brush, and I wondered if I might have accidentally gotten radiation poisoning or something. It was unnerving...and it got worse. My hairline receded until I wondered if perhaps I would end up with something that looked more like a bonnet.

The other irritating thing is that while some of the hair that I took for granted all my life was gradually going AWOL, there were new recruits coming from the oddest places. The edges of my ears. The tip of my nose. My nostrils and ears started to look like some strange kind of grass bouquets. And don't get me started on my back. Caveman city.

But the thing that really got me thinking was when I went into one of those dressing rooms in the store where there are lots of mirrors. You know, the ones where you can be like the whole Rockette dance group and do high kicks, and watch the whole line of you into forever doing it?

Okay, I don't really do high kicks in the dressing room at the local clothing store. I'd probably need an ambulance if I tried. But I did get a room where there were angled mirrors at the tops of the walls, and through the strange multi-bank shot view noticed that while my head still looked like a forest (despite the deforestation some rogue farmers had visited on the edges, especially on the side of the face, and the extra brush that seems to want to grow on the opposite side on the neck), there was an area spang in the middle of that forest that looked like the trees there might be coming down with some sort of disease. Maybe they were elms. Anyway, age was visibly catching up with me.

Enter Rogaine®. I took the plunge. I discovered it wasn't nearly as expensive as I had thought, so I went for a few months of the foam to try it out.

Next column: be careful with that Rogaine...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Grand Entrance

I am a longtime writer and longtime blogger. That is, I have found that I have an affinity for bleating gripes, questions and observations into the ether, and I truly enjoy it when someone residing in the ether bleats back.

I've never written professionally, though I do hold a degree in Mass Communications which I've never used, preferring to take the path of professional geek. It paid the bills much better at a time when I was young and wanted the big payday. So actually, I guess I have written professionally, just in C++, C#, Visual Basic and a few other languages rather than English.

I am currently the proud proprietor of two blogs besides this one. One is about my experiences as a foster parent, and has not been updated nearly enough just lately. The other one is political and has been moribund for awhile. I find I've lost my taste for the political flame pits. That's a rough hobby, and I don't recommend it for the thin-skinned.

But while working on my foster blog, I've come to realize that while I may never be a great novelist--though I may give that a shot sometime--I think I could be a pretty good columnist. I do put together the occasional decent blog post when I take the time, and I've been told many times that I have something of a gift for entertaining people with my humble prose. What else do you really need to have a go at writing a column?

Well, actually you need someone to discover you and offer you cash to write your column. At this point I'm looking for exposure, and I don't plan to quit my day job anytime soon so I wouldn't need a huge payday, but the symbolism would be important to me. Heck, if I'm writing for free then I'll just do it right here. So that's why I'm here. To entertain myself, hone my craft, build a body of work as evidence to show potential employers my work and perhaps entertain the odd visitor now and then.

A real columnist will have a schedule, and that's something I've been bad about on my other active blog. I'm going to address that by giving myself deadlines of Tuesday midnight and Friday midnight every week, and perhaps increase frequency if I find I have more to say after a few weeks.

My style? Think of me as a poor man's Dave Barry. Okay, think of me as a dirt-poor-working-class-dog-on-foodstamps' Dave Barry. But I plan to work on it, and I aspire to be a middle-class-dentist's Dave Barry before I'm through.