Archive for January, 2011

Penguin’s balls

January 31, 2011

Andrew Hicks

EDITOR’S NOTE: For the sixth or seventh time (we’re not sure, and we hate doing math, and none of you are gonna take the time to go check, either) since taking the 2011 Post a Day challenge, Andrew missed the midnight blog-post deadline today. Andrew doesn’t like missing deadlines, but he would like to add that he has posted 31 times for the month of January and tripled the traffic to his site. So there.

Andrew’s kinda defensive sometimes. He has a lot of flaws, really. He procrastinates, he’s lazy, and we’ll be honest–we don’t get the whole Beefaroni thing either. It’s over-processed, cheap, and at room temperature smells like dog food.

You should see Andrew’s wardrobe, too. Probably half a dozen articles of cltohing purchased during his Great Old Navy Binge of ’02 are still in circulation. Don’t invite him to a formal occasion, or he’ll show up late wearing a wrinkled dress shirt purchased a half-hour before.

Oh, and Andrew has this pair of jeans he calls his Everyday Jeans. Why does he call them that? Because he wears them EVERY DAY. When it’s time for the E-Jeans to get washed, out come the Understudy Jeans, and sometimes he’ll wear those for four days in a row. Dude’s a slob. It takes more than one greasy permanent stain on an old gray T-shirt to make Andrew bounce it to the trashcan, too.

The guy’s so immature, too. Sarah and Silas have a 3-foot-tall wobbly penguin toy that stands up and has a see-through belly with four colorful plastic balls that rattle when the kid shakes the penguin. Earlier today, when Sarah asked her daddy to get the balls out so she could play with them, Andrew got a cheap laugh out of saying, “No, those balls can’t come out. You’ll never get the penguin’s balls away from him. He’s got two pair. He’s keeping ’em. That penguin’s got some serious balls.”

Cheap laugh, right? Well, we’ll make sure Andrew posts on time tomorrow, in the first person and everything.

My quiet neighborhood

January 30, 2011

Andrew Hicks

As I mentioned many, many blog posts ago, Tiffany and I rent a four-bedroom house with a decent-sized backyard and an old driveway whose tectonic plates are constantly shifting. When we first moved here in 2007, when it was just me, my wife and 14-year-old Josh, we lived in the double duplex next door. It’s two garages, four units and two garages. Us moving next door two years ago has been the complex’s only change in residence since we moved here.

In our old unit are a single mom and adolescent daughter. Next door, my friend and smoke break buddy I’ve written about here and there with the four small kids. In the third unit, a long-bearded old man living solo with no apparent friends or family. Even door-to-door salesmen have the sixth sense to avoid knocking on that door. The guy in the third unit is usually only spotted way after dark, when he occasionally wanders out to his front patio and takes a leak all over the concrete. The fourth unit is also occupied by a single old man, but this guy has kids and grandkids that stop by once a season or so. I did notice his Christmas tree stayed up well into January, but otherwise I’ve got nothing bad to say about the dude.

The house next door to us on the opposite side is vacant. It’s tiny and dilapidated, and it looks like it hasn’t been lived in for at least a decade. Still, during the nice-weather months, whoever owns it shows up promptly every Saturday morning to cut the grass and edge the yard. He cuts it with a diagonal crisscross pattern and everything, and it always irks me that the abandoned crack house next door continually has a nicer lawn than mine. Although, I will add, it doesn’t irk me enough to do any extra work on my yard.

Across the street is a two-story U-shape of rentals. During the nice-weather months, these neighbors can be spotted in lawn chairs, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes from shortly after dawn until the middle of the night. They quit their jobs so they could party more, which — from the standpoint of this former hardcore partier — is a truly ballsy move that speaks major dedication to the craft of alcoholism.

Next to this U-shape of apartments is a small-town bank whose employees offer the most consistently rude customer service I’ve ever experienced. Not to mention, when we opened an account, I got a box of 500 checks that said my name was Andrew S. Hicks. My middle name is Justin. Fail.

A couple houses down from the old four-unit lives a 90-year-old woman whose daughter and son-in-law come to walk the dog and take care of basic maintenance. This couple were regulars of mine at the last serving/bartending gig I had. They’d make a three-hour occasion out of dinner, each generally downing a handful of Old Fashioneds before ordering entrees.*

Down the block in the other direction is the day care where Tiffany worked when we first moved here. Her coworkers at the day care were a bunch of women and a single guy named Mr. Dick who had been working there for decades. Stepson Josh and I used to get big, immature laughs out of the idea of generations’ worth of parents leaving their small children in the care of Mr. Dick.

The junior high and high school are close enough that I can hear their intercom announcements from my bed. I’m way more attuned to school-announcement gossip than I rightfully should be. For instance, I know little Tommy Johnson got called to the principal’s office three times in the same week earlier this month. And, seriously, it was the week of MLK Day* AND there was a snow day. Tommy Johnson needs to clean up his act.

Just beyond our backyard is an assisted-living complex that houses mostly elderly people. The most visible resident, though, is a middle-aged fella who looks like a larger, longer-haired version of Vincent D’Onofrio in Men in Black. He walks his dog past our house probably six times a day when the weather’s nice, and whenever the dog stops to sniff or pee on something, Fat Vince looks around with his crazy eyes. I don’t like to draw the blinds, but sometimes I can’t help it.

I picture Fat Vince as living alone and probably speaking most of his words to that dog. He’s probably on the Internet a lot, too. He might read blogs. He might like comedy. He might recognize that I’m writing about him now. He might have thought this was a great blog until about a paragraph and a half ago. I might be in trouble the next time he takes Fido for a walk.

*Before I quit drinking, I used to fantasize that I’d be walking Sarah by their elderly mom’s house in the stroller, and they’d be there, having some kind of afternoon whiskey party. In this fantasy, I get toasted in the daytime and entertain a bunch of older folk. I can’t possibly be considered a deadbeat dad either, because in the fantasy, the actual Teletubbies are there to keep Sarah occupied while dad drifts away.

**Whether it’s whole, 2%, chocolate or soy, there’s no wrong way to celebrate MLK Day.

Chinese butterfly earsheep

January 29, 2011

Andrew Hicks

Sarah has two new obsessions — rainbows and butterflies. We spent an hour the other day looking at Google Image results for the word “rainbow.” Only saw one tranny the entire time.

Then Sarah got really excited when I found a butterfly documentary on Netflix Instant. She climbed up on my lap to watch with me. Ten minutes in, there was a segment on butterfly sex, with the narrator remarking, “The female butterfly doesn’t want to mate, but the male engages in forced copulation.” Just another Butterfly Rape Wednesday at the Hicks house.

From my studious, regimented daily reading of the Wall Street Journal, I now know a Chinese mom would never let her kids look at rainbows or reverse-cowgirl butterfly sex, thanks to the article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” The piece is probably 2,000 words long and never once mentions the obvious answer — the Chinese probably make better moms because they’re only allowed to have one kid. I’ve got two kids and can barely keep up; I know a guy who can’t write his own name and has seven kids. I bet not a one of those seven practices violin for three hours a day.

Of course, I want the best for my own kids. I want to take advantage of opportunities and nurture their abilities. I need some of that Chinawoman mom discipline, applied first to my own life and then passed down to Sarah and Silas. Sarah seems to have natural talent for rhythm and dance, she can throw a ball at a predetermined target most of the time, and she’s becoming more masterful with letters, numbers and words.

Sarah runs words together now, too, which is adorable and entertaining. We had the Baby Mozart DVD on the other day while we were playing in Silas’s room, and Sarah said, “Look! Sheep!” I said, yep, that’s a sheep. And she said, “It’s got ears! Earsheep!” Which was just as clever as anything I could’ve come up with at the time. Two more years, and she’ll be ghostwriting this blog while dad sips Country Time in the backyard.

For those who don’t have very small children babysat by the TV set, Baby Mozart is a half-hour DVD that costs 15 bucks. Its music was all recorded free of copyright royalties by like two guys with synthesizers in a lady’s basement. Its visuals are still shots and action shots of toys and stuffed animals.

Cheap, simple, and Sarah has loved watching it since she was like 2 months old. The husband-wife team that made Baby Mozart sank $18,000 of their life savings to produce it, expanded it into the Baby Einstein franchise (Baby Bach, Baby Beethoven, Baby Hoobastank), then sold out to Disney a few years later and made buckets of money. They were geniuses, and though neither of them is Chinese, I suspect each was raised by a Chinese mother.

SPAM COMMENT OF THE DAY

“American English is not to be confused with Antartican English which can only be translated by . .It is estimated by the that American English will be replaced by sometime before 1986…”

5 comedy techniques that have stuck with me

January 28, 2011

Andrew Hicks

While on the phone with my dad the other night, we were talking about comedy and my history with comedy, and he asked me, “Well, what are some of the early types of humor you liked that still stick with you?” I was a little tired, a little brain dead, and my immediate answer was, “Uh… as a kid until now, I’ve always enjoyed silly stuff. But not all silly stuff. Some of it’s stupid silly, some of it’s intellectual silly, and there’s good and bad examples of each, which kinda makes it all more silly.”

I stopped right there, as I was making not a single lick of rational sense, but my dad’s question led me to think a little bit about which forms and methods of comedy I appreciated early on and still carry with me. So I wrote this:

5 COMEDY TECHNIQUES

THAT HAVE STUCK WITH ME

DEADPAN

At the age of 11, after seeing the 1989 Tim Burton movie, I became obsessed with all things Batman. The ’60s TV show, in particular. I took it rather seriously at first, but as I grew into my sense of humor throughout adolescence, I started to appreciate the deadpan genius of Adam West and a few of the veteran character actors on the show.

Neil Hamilton, who played Commissioner Gordon, was a master of finding the super-serious side of funny in the often-outlandish dialogue he was given and performances he was surrounded by. The man was a brilliant straight man, whether he realized it or not. The style and rhythm of his dialogue delivery influence me to this day.

Also, I fell hard for Airplane! at an impressionable age. I loved the combination of obvious, elementary-level jokes and straight-faced performances of Leslie Nielson, Peter Graves and Robert Stack. I recently learned that the studio balked at the casting of dramatic actors in those parts and wanted Chevy Chase, Dom Deluise and Bill Murray instead. Which would not have been nearly as sublimely silly.

 

INSIDE JOKES

This is more tried and true in real-life conversation for me than in written or performed comedy, but when I connect with someone on a comedic level, I relish developing and sustaining inside jokes with that person.

The magic of Facebook has allowed me to create and expand a central group of writers and comic thinkers, and we stumble on new inside jokes every day, lending a sense of inclusion and continuity to our humor.

As an occasional stand-up comedy performer, I strive to create shared references with an audience early on and cash in on it more and more as my routine unfolds. I’m not quite consistent at achieving this, but I get better and better, IMHO.

 

IMPRESSIONS

As mentioned numerous times in this blog, I have a lifetime devotion to Saturday Night Live. I started watching at 11, in the apex of the Carvey/Hartman/Hooks/Jackson/Lovitz/Miller/Myers/Nealon period. Immediately, my favorite SNL thing to imitate whenever I got the chance was Carvey’s George Bush.

Then and now, I have a soft spot for SNL’s comedy characterizations of famous people from pop culture, politics and sports. Most of the impressions I’ve been doing for 15 years or more — Carson, John Travolta, Ed McMahon, Paul McCartney, Tom Brokaw, Pat Robertson — owe their existence to old SNL.

Since being married and having a wife who straight-out tells me most of my stable of voices sounds pretty much the same, I’ve started to downplay that amateur SNL side of my comedy… Aw, who am I kidding? I’ll spend the entire night doing bad Jerry Seinfeld if someone’s there to laugh. Even if that someone is 2 years old. Actually, especially if that someone is 2 years old.

 

MUSIC-BASED COMEDY

When I’m not writing about daytime dad things, a lot of my humor revolves around music. Pop music, hip-hop, rock,old stuff, new stuff. Funny observations about songs and artists. I like song parodies as a genre, though most of them aren’t that great. I never liked movie musicals, but I liked a lot of older TV show theme songs, which are funny for reasons right and wrong but decidedly very geeky.

As a mid-teenager, I went through a brief but pretty intense “Weird Al” Yankovic phase, and now still think he has a couple dozen songs I’ll take to the grave. Only one of my standup bits relies on rewritten pop music for its humor, but right now I’m wishing I would have learned to play guitar in my youth. My father-in-law has contributed a spare acoustic guitar to the cause. Have not yet gotten around to doing anything with it. Unfortunately.

POP CULTURE/TOPICAL COMEDY

I’m sure it started with being in junior high and trying to figure out what current events SNL was parodying and Dennis Miller was cracking his lofty, obtuse jokes about, but I also got into David Letterman for several years as a teenager. The peak of it was during the O.J. years, where Letterman first declared sanctimoniously — to HUGE applause — that he wouldn’t do O.J. jokes because “I don’t find anything funny about double murder,” and later devoted hours of monologue time to the Juice.

Anyway, there’s something fascinating yet revolting to me about our celebrity culture, irresponsible government and corporate-owned media that makes me want to stay current enough on the news to instantly crack wise about whatever’s going on out there. I still strive to stay on the level of Stewart and Colbert, “Weekend Update” and late-night talk show monologues when it comes to current events. Some of my jokes are far better than others in this respect.

There’s more, of course, but these five things formed a pretty wide base for much of my humor over the years and still now. If you’d like to share any of your old favorites and comedic influences, please hit up the comments section.

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Sarah, newborn Silas and Tiffany's parents.

Examples of Dad’s geekiness

January 27, 2011

Andrew Hicks

 

  • Likes to refer to Sarah’s rainbow bib as “Roy G. Bib.”
  • When burping Silas, will frequently pat his back to drum beat of “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie while singing, “Let’s burp!”
  • Got a good laugh out of a little kid on “Barney” saying, “She’s like a brother to me.”
  • When Silas peed on Dad’s leg while flashing a huge grin, wrote a Facebook status about it on phone before cleaning up.
  • While half-awake, could have sworn Elmo was singing “Skeet skeet skeet skeet” on “Sesame Street.”
  • After breaking ankle on neighbor’s stairs last fall, wanted to purchase said stairs and comically reenact Stephen King‘s practice of buying and destroying the car that hit him in 1999, when he broke every bone in his body. Later found out King didn’t actually do this; he just bought the car and had it junked.
  • When Silas smiles, sometimes calls him “Smiley Silas” because it rhymes with the name of Billy Ray Cyrus‘s uber-famous teenage daughter.
  • Occasionally uses the prefix uber-.
  • Upon learning Sarah would automatically laugh when hearing the word “sassy,” Dad tracked down every Phil Hartman quote he could find from 1991 Sassy’s Sassiest Gentlemen” SNL sketch.
  • Now can draw Elmo’s head in seconds with five pen strokes.
  • Built most of this blog posting around months-old material written on a yellow legal pad. (Sorry, this actually belongs in the companion piece “Examples of Dad’s Laziness.”)

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

My 3 favorite ladies -- Tiffany, Sarah and my mom. Christmas 2008.

Crazy Watermelon Forehead

January 26, 2011

Andrew Hicks

We’re implementing a new routine in our house — the early wakeup*. I get up with the babies when Tiffany gets up for work. This brutal event happens every morning at the ungodly hour of 5:30.

I was dramatizing slightly in that last sentence, but I’ve had problems getting up early since puberty. But I’ve been the type of person who has a second-shift body clock and will only start my day early when forced to. So now I’m forcing myself to, and I have outside accountability.

So far, so good. The first day threw off Sarah’s baby body clock some, and she took a short, irregular nap, but I think she’s settled in now. If I get up, get in the shower and get moving, I wake up pretty easily. The hard part is staying active and resisting the temptation to prematurely slow activity and sit or even (Don’t do it, Andrew!) lie down. If I lie down, even “just for a minute,” when I’ve gotten up earlier than I’m used to, my activity level usually sits at zero for the next couple hours.

Kids will keep you up and running, but there is downtime, sometimes for, like, up to an hour. Getting everyone into an ironclad wakeup and sleep schedule will help me maximize and maybe even schedule my downtime with the kids’ body clocks. First things first, though. I have to actually get this routine cemented, which will take a few more days.

But it’s still morning, Sarah and Silas are both taking their naps, and I’m writing my blog already. I won’t have to wrestle with the midnight curfew tonight or, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, really at all with the new routine in place.

I’ve already gotten some good cooking, cleaning and baby play time in, too, a rarity for the AM hours. I got on the floor with Sarah and Silas and kinda had them playing with each other. Silas was in his Bumbo, and for the first time, he gripped one of Sarah’s little plastic play balls and waved it around, which delighted Sarah to no end.

Crazy Newspaper Head

Sarah started passing Silas other toys she wanted to watch him grab onto, so he indulged her by latching onto the little bunch of bananas toy and the half-watermelon toy. There was no one over the age of 2 around, so I let loose with the old Adam Sandler SNL bit about easy Halloween costumes for people with no money**. (“Look at me, I’m Crazy Watermelon Forehead! Can you believe it? I have a half a watermelon growing out of my head. My life is filled with pain and torment. Won’t you gimme some candy?”)

And I still have the whole afternoon and evening ahead of me.

*Which reminds me of a great Ross Perot sketch Dana Carvey did on “Saturday Night Live just before the 1992 election. “So, Step 1: a National Curfew, nationwide, lights out, 8:45 pm. Now, you may say, ‘Ross, what am I gonna do after 8:45?’ Well, I suggest you sleep — you’ll be glad you did when you hear that National Wake-Up Siren at 4:45 am. And don’t you worry, folks, you won’t sleep through it; it’ll be loooouuuuud!”

**Today’s blog is brought to you by the Ghost of “Saturday Night Live” Season 18, now streaming on Netflix Instant with a bunch of good sketches missing but still plenty of quality laughs from the last gasp of the show’s true golden age.

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Josh plays with Baby Sarah and her Elmo guitar. Summer 2009.

Giant Legos

January 25, 2011

Andrew Hicks

When Tiffany was pregnant with Sarah, she mentioned a few times that she hoped she could quickly have one more baby and be done. At the time, we didn’t think we’d ever connect with a second baby, considering the 16-year gap between Sarah and my stepson Josh. I agreed two would be the ideal number of babies, especially if I could get one of each gender, but I had a lot of hesitance and uncertainty about just how life-changing one baby would be, much less a second.

A big reason Tiffany wanted us to have two was that she didn’t want to raise another only child. Tiffany and Josh had a mother-son relationship and a best-friend relationship, considering each was the other’s main companion for many years. This time around, Tiffany wanted her new baby to have the benefits of a sibling close in age. Not to mention, when there are two kids around, the hope is, they will be happy to play with each other and not be lonely and bugging you to play with them while you’re trying to make dinner.

Now that Sarah’s well into being 2, I’m looking forward to the day I’ll be able to sit back and watch her and Silas play together. I can join in if I want, or I can be that proverbial dad on the lawnchair with a book, relaxing with his own pursuits while the kids scamper around, content being kids. That’s the ideal, anyway.

Right now, Sarah realizes Silas can’t catch or throw the little yellow, orange and purple plastic balls she likes to play with, so she runs to find me to be her fun partner. She does come over to Silas and say things like, “Here you go. Ball,” and gently drop it near him as if she’s hoping today will be the day he finally takes the bait. So far, Silas’s main form of playing is to grab whatever’s in his reach, pull it close and stare at it. Or try to put it in his mouth. And he rolls over. That’s pretty much his entire repertoire.

So sometimes, when I’m trying to get stuff done, I have a slightly annoyed inner reaction of, “Why can’t you go play by yourself? Do you think playing with the same dozen giant Legos for an hour straight is fun for a grown man?” Sometimes I offer up half-hearted protestations to buy myself a couple more minutes. But then I get down on the floor and play with the cards, play with the giant Legos, play with the little cars, and I see this little girl’s face light up with fascination and wonder.

Being right in the heart of a toddler’s discoveries is a privilege not everyone gets to experience. Not everyone who does experience it gets joy out of it. Me, I can never be sure how much time I’ll have this simple, early fun of parenting before Sarah grows up, gets complicated and develops a sense of sarcasm. Then the boys are going to start coming after her, and it’ll be a whole new headache.

In another couple years, the way I hit a wiffle ball up through the trees with the yellow plastic bat might not impress her anymore. Right now, I show off my uncoordinated, rudimentary sports skill and get a, “Wow, Daddy! Far!” I’ll take that kind of genuine hero worship from my progeny as long as I can get it.

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Sarah, 7/10/10.

The night I met her

January 24, 2011

Andrew Hicks

Wednesday, April 19, 2007
2:07 a.m.

I’m at the top corner bar at Ameristar Casino, by myself. Al is bartending. Al and I have a friendly relationship built on combined decades of music geekdom. When the casino Muzak is tuned to the ’80s or ’90s channels, we race to see who can first successfully identify the title, artist and year of release.

On a dead night at the bar, it keeps us both entertained. Right now, though, almost every seat at his bar is filled, so I plan to get a Budweiser draft and keep on walking. There are three other bars in the casino, and odds are, I’ll stop and talk to someone I know or quickly make a new friend.

I try to get Al’s attention up at the service entrance to the bar. He’s headed over to me when a female voice yells out, “Al! Al!” He turns his head. Six seats down, a striking woman I’d peg to be about my age is pointing down at the video poker machine in front of her. “Al! Do you have any gum? This thing ate my quarter!”

I hear that, and I meander down the bar to see the situation firsthand. Ordinarily, I’m not incredibly bold socially, but since I moved into my bachelor pad four months ago, I’ve been the indisputable life of the party again. I have the ironclad conviction that everything out of my mouth is borne of some form of comic genius. Whether I am right about this, I cannot objectively say, but people usually seem to enjoy the crazy talk that comes out of my mouth.

“Where did you put your quarter?” I ask the stranger. “There’s definitely no coin slot on a bar video poker machine.”

She points down at the slot next to the video screen where you’re supposed to insert your players’ card. It’s the size of a credit card or hotel keycard and definitely not the size of any American coin. I decide I should make fun of this girl in a jovial sorta fashion. So I do, and she tells me this is her first time in the casino since like 1997, a year in which there apparently still were coin slots attached to video poker machines.

“I’ve been watching you,” I tell her. “You’re crazy.”

This offends her for some reason. In my delusional, bloated head, this one-line gem of brilliance should only get a huge, warm laugh. I explain to her that crazy’s a good thing, that normal is boring, that I’m a lunatic, and that everyone who’s ever been close to me is crazy, too. And I was watching her earlier, out of the corner of my eye. I could tell from a distance that this girl had a magnetic personality, a natural beauty and just something different. Something crazy.

She tells me she’s at the casino by herself, too. I tell her we should take the escalator down to the ground floor and cruise the tables. I overheard a cocktail waitress say “American Idol” star Chris Daughtry, who played a concert earlier tonight in the casino showroom, is playing blackjack on Table 7 and is way shorter and uglier than you’d think from TV. But we don’t go anywhere. We stay at the bar and talk and laugh, and my Budweiser draft disappears with a quickness. One more, and I’m out of money.

I explain my cashlessness to my new friend, and she buys me a beer, but only after she determines that I really don’t have any money and am not trying to take advantage of the potential kindness of a stranger. She pulls out a Ziploc bag full of quarters, dimes and nickels — the odds and ends of tips she made from restaurant customers — and she buys me a beer with a pile of change.

She tells me her name is Tiffany, and later she tells me that she’s 35 years old. I don’t believe her, so I ask for her ID. The ID confirms it, and we start talking about my perceived generational differences between the cultural reference points of someone my age, 29, and someone six years older. She quickly reveals herself to be a great pop culture sparring partner, awash in information from before my time straight up to now.

All too soon, it’s last call. I wage a campaign to get Tiffany to come back to the bachelor pad with me. There’s something electric about this girl — instantly appealing, intriguing and comforting to me — and I really just want to hang out with her some more. She already gets me in a way that far surpasses that of the other casino bar strangers-turned-temporary-drinking-buddies I’ve met.

She resists, of course. She doesn’t ever go out in the first place, and she’s not the one-night-stand type. I’m not either. “We’re just friends hanging out,” I keep telling her. I run through my other selling points — I have roommates living with me, so I can’t be a psycho killer. I’m the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. I can show you some of those hilarious old Saturday Night Live sketches we’ve been rhapsodizing about. And I’ve got beer.

5:57 a.m.

My roommate Tim just left for work. He’s one of my oldest and best friends. Our bedrooms are connected by a bathroom, so once I heard his alarm go off a couple times, I brought Tiffany through the bathroom so she could meet him. This was late-night, manic drunk logic, but I wanted to introduce them. I figured Tim would recognize immediately that I stumbled into something special.

The DVD player is in Tim’s room. My bedroom is huge, and it’s set up for some good hanging out, but all I have audiovisually is a Bose iPod dock and a 13″ TV/VCR combo given to me by a guy from work. So when Tim leaves, I show Tiffany some of the highlights of the Best of Chris Farley SNL DVD.

We watch, but we talk about our lives — me preaching the philosophy of self-love and keeping things emotionally uncomplicated, and her telling me about her first husband and the abusive boyfriend she just broke up with. She’s kind, she’s thoughtful, she’s loving. This is someone I value immediately, and I have a hard time picturing the kind of man who would mistreat her.

There’s a gentle nervousness within me, but I’m most filled with an air of excitement. I’ve been truly coming back to life since I moved in here, and now I feel like I’ve met the other side of me that’s been missing all this time. And, best of all, I don’t have any of the accompanying obsessiveness, self-loathing and hesitance that have plagued me the other couple of times I thought I’d met the right girl. I know that, if I never see Tiffany again, I still had an unexpectedly amazing night.

Tiffany leaves. She has to work at 11, and she has precious little time to sleep off the abundance of Grolsch beer that went from my fridge to our bellies these past few hours. I watch a little more SNL while stretching across Tim’s bed, and I call my mom as the sun comes up. I tell her I met the woman I’m going to marry, but I tell her I’m going to play it cool and let it move at a natural, comfortable pace.

I call two other friends and tell them this was the night I met my Yoko Ono. “But Yoko broke up the band,” one of them pouts back to me. At this point, I have no idea that love’s going to crash down hard on my head in a matter of weeks, and that before the summer is out, I’ll be married and living in another state. And, for all intents and purposes, the old band will be broken up.

Right now, all I know is, I found her. She’s really real. She exists, she’s beautiful, and I found her.

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Tiffany: a self-portrait she doesn't know I'm posting yet.

Computer catapult games

January 23, 2011

Andrew Hicks

I got back into the habit of typing “2010” in as I write new blog entries, so on the 20th, I went back to get an updated tally of how many January days I’ve mislabeled in 2011. It was a dead heat after the first 20 days — 10 posts labeled “2010,” and 10 labeled “2011.” Now that I’ve devoted this time and space to analyze the issue twice, I think I’ve broken myself of the habit. The last three days’ worth of blogs have managed to correctly identify the year in which they were written.

This habit has caused me problems in the past. I was in the DMV one January afternoon, titling a car I’d just bought, and when I went to sign my part of the title, I wrote down the wrong year, the earlier year. Oops. They had to get the seller on the phone — I’d bought it from a friend, but it was still in her mother’s name, and her mother lived in Louisiana — and fax the title over to some Shreveport Office Max or something. She showed up there, and I guess initialed her approval of the scribbled-on date change, then she faxed it back.

I think she was working out when her daughter called her, so I appreciate her getting her sweaty ass over to the nearest Office Max fax machine. I got every penny of my money’s worth out of that car, too.

Sarah seems to have already graduated from wanting to sit on my lap and watch Mickey Mouse shorts on YouTube to wanting to play paint coloring games on the computer. Well, she doesn’t play really, but she watches me color in the different elements of the “No Square Wheels” sign on Jungle Junction‘s website. It’s a little tedious for me to color in endless simple cartoon drawings, but it’s made me more mindful of the color palette in general. I no longer wear pink and green in conjunction with diagonal stripes. Not after Labor Day, anyway.

I found out Sarah stays entertained watching me play computer games, too. Though I am and have always been a huge nerd, the peak of my “gaming” life was probably at the age of 12 or so. I was a huge childhood fan of Atari and the original Nintendo Entertainment System; anything more sophisticated than that I’ve only played sporadically or not at all. And I don’t sit around and play games online, either. All of a sudden, I have to build a repertoire. That should be fun.

On one of the paint sites, I found a game where you launch a brave little guy off a catapult, setting the strength and trajectory angles by pushing the space bar at a certain time. The first eight or so times I played it, I didn’t know what else you were supposed to do, so the guy kept having graphic, brutal ground landings. Sarah was saying, “Owww!” and “Are you okay?” Later, I found out you could get jumping powers by sailing through pink clouds, and that the little guy came equipped with parachute.

The instructions and all the game buttons were in German, so it took me a minute. Thank God for the occasional obvious visual aid or English word. “Die menschen zu fliegen durch die luft UP ARROW. Ddie rosa wolke durch drĂ¼cken SPACE BAR.” I was a German Translator Tool to the preceding sentence. Then I wrote this sentence in English and translated to English, then translated it back to English.*

*Original text: “I used a German translator tool to provide the preceding sentence. Then I wrote this sentence in English, translated it to German, then translated it back to English.”

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

At a Cardinals game with Tiffany on Easter, 2009.

Group appetizer binge

January 22, 2011

Andrew Hicks

EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post was also written twelve hours after the midnight cutoff, while Silas slept and Sarah ate yogurt and watched “Caillou” in her highchair. Two things Andrew has learned about “Caillou” so far — 1) It’s not pronounced “Kaloo,” and 2) The dad on the show cuts his lawn with an electric mower. Andrew’s grandpa had an electric lawnmower when Andrew was growing up, and Andrew was surprised to learn the cord didn’t always seem to be in danger of being run over and chopped up by a giant, rapidly rotating blade. Electric lawnmowers do just seem vaguely uncool, though, like when you see a kid wear a helmet while riding his bike at 8 miles per hour.

Tonight, Tiffany made an impulse stop into the supermarket. She was in the mood to fire up the oven, shove in a continuous stream of frozen appetizers and make a night of eating them and having fun. This wasn’t a couple boxes of wings, either; it was a Noah’s Ark affair — two of everything. Potato skins, jalapeno poppers, toasted ravioli with meat sauce, popcorn chicken, spinach dip, chicken fries and four Red Baron pizzas.

Our abundance of unhealthy food led us to consider doing the impossible: having people over. In 2007, we arrived in Springfield broke, living in a tiny apartment and not knowing anyone. Just as quickly, we were pregnant. Then we had a baby. Then we were pregnant again. Then we had another baby. Along the line, we moved into a house twice as big as the old place, and just recently we got our layout and setup the way we want it, based on the humble quantity and quality of furniture we do have.

Only now, in early 2011, does it seem natural to invite a friend or two or maybe four over to hang out. But we don’t usually actually do it. We arrived at the decision tonight sometime between 8:30 and 9, and we found a pair of couple friends available and willing to come over with their 7-year-old daughter.

In the period between realizing people were coming over and people actually coming over, we force-cleaned the neglected areas of the house. This provided a missing degree of accountability; the house would not have gotten cleaned otherwise.

The bringing of the 7-year-old daughter was key to our plan. Tiffany and I get pockets of time to ourselves — some time individually, less time as a couple. Sarah plays with us, and she plays by herself, but she rarely gets to play with another kid. This turned out to be good for everyone. Kid time for the kids, adult time for the adults, and oven-warmed appetizers for all. Silas even had a fortuitously gracious sense of timing and decided to sleep through almost the entire affair.

Sarah and her new little friend played well together, and the rest of us hung out and cracked jokes and played Guitar Hero. I haven’t done Guitar Hero in a couple years (at the peak of my abilities, I did an alright job playing songs of average difficulty, which makes me perfectly mediocre), but I enjoyed making fun of the entire Rush 2112” track* and its pretentious Spinal Tap/Stonehenge spoken-word nonsense breaks.

The friends we had over went to high school with my next-door neighbor, who bundles and buddies up with me almost daily for outdoor cigarette breaks, so we went as a group to retrieve her. She’s a single lady with four small kids, and it was going on midnight by this time. But through the magic of a double baby monitor, we brought the neighbor over, and sounds of peaceful kid slumber from next door filled the monitor**.

I happened into an unexpectedly poignant moment amidst all this. Sarah had already gone to bed***, and I went upstairs to check on our friends’ daughter, who had been lying on a blanket in Silas’s bedroom, watching The Swan Princess. I peeked in the doorway and saw the little girl holding a large white rectangle with medical-blue borders.

“Know what this is?” she asked me.

I didn’t. I thought maybe she’d found it in the back of a low dresser drawer, with all the stuff we’ve been given and never use. “Where’d you get that?” I asked.

She said, “It’s my pee pad. I pee all the time when I sleep.”

I had instant flashbacks to the bunk beds I shared with my younger brother. He was in the top bunk, with a rubber mattress cover. Sometimes, when he’d wake up and shift position to where his lower leg hung off the side of the bed, his body weight would depress the mattress and cause dribbles of his overnight urine to splash down in my direction.

“It’s no big deal,” I told the little girl. “A lot of people do it. My brother did it until he was like ten.”

“They say it’s disgusting,” she said back, “they” being the other kids, I imagined.

I wanted to give an impassioned speech about how it’s not disgusting, it’s a common problem, and screw those other kids. Having just written the “Rejector or rejectee?” blog post, memories of feeling like an insecure weird kid are still floating around freshly in my brain. I’m siding big with the underdog right now.

Letting other people’s jokes, opinions and snide comments hold you back is counterproductive and criminal, although I have to admit I’ve cracked plenty of jokes and snide comments over the years when I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.

Little moments like the above just provide quick reminders that I’m one of the grownups now, and any support, encouragement and rational thought I can provide for those younger than myself can only help. And beyond those things, I can also provide skins, poppers, toasted ravioli, popcorn chicken, spinach dip and pizza. Which makes the process of getting people to spend time at your house that much easier.

*I mean, this song lasts a ridiculously long time. “2112” is both the title and the duration of the song. It is two thousand, one hundred and twelve minutes long.

**The neighbor had to leave abruptly, and Tiffany and I realized later that we still have her monitor base, and she has ours. Theoretically, either one of us would be provided with daily opportunities to eavesdrop. If nothing else, though, we could coordinate our smoke breaks this way by speaking into the air. We wouldn’t even have to reach for our phones. The Information Age is so pathetically astounding.

***Sarah acted like she was going to fall asleep for about two minutes before remembering she had a new play pal who was still in the house. It was all crying from that moment until we relented and let our wide-awake toddler get up to play some more.