Saturday, December 31, 2011

That New Year's Thing

There are different schools of thought on the New Years’ Resolution thing.

There are those who think New Years’ Resolutions are bullshit. In a kneejerk situation, I’d say that I fall into that camp, but it’s not true.

There are those who like the idea of resolutions, make them, and then immediately fail to complete them. This… sadly… is more like me. I have a lot of ambitions come January 1st, but my resolve isn’t as strong as the resolution. (My favorite was my resolution to force myself to run a marathon BECAUSE I hated running. Good one, Muchacho!)

There are those who make the resolutions and even keep them. These are the Tofu Muchacha’s of the world. The people with staggering discipline and resolve. I admire them.

Among the people who make resolutions, there are sub sets. Do you tell people, or do you not? Does telling people make it more likely to complete the resolution, or just more likely you’ll feel dumb for making them and failing?

I guess we’ll find out together, because here are my five resolutions… for all the world (or my 3 loyal readers) to see.

The TM and I have both made 5 resolutions for 2012. I won’t spoil hers for you, but here are mine… In no particular order.

Resolution #1:
Post a new blog every Monday

There was a time, a couple of years ago, where I was blogging regularly 10-20 times a month. That was when I didn’t have a girlfriend, and had a regular job where I could blog at work…. Er… I mean… think about my blog so that I knew what I’d write after-hours. Nowadays, if I blog 3 times in a month, that’s a lot. I’d like to think that the quality of the blogs I do post are better, overall, but I’m not even sure that’s true.

In any case, I really like to blog. I like writing, and I think that the “blog” is a totally unsung medium for creative writing. It’s a very raw venue to write, and I like that sort of unpolished quality about it. Even the better pieces of mine weren’t meditated over for weeks, but rather hours. I like that sort of immediacy.

Anyway, I don’t have specifics for content, but I’d like for them to be enjoyable for everyone, so I’ll try to mix it up, and post different stuff, and most importantly focus on the writing itself, because I have to believe there’s a unique voice in there somewhere.

Resolution #2
Build 11 pieces of furniture.

That may sound like a very specific and incongruous number of furniture pieces, but my thinking on it is that I’m not QUITE ready to start by January. You see… I just started becoming very interested in woodworking, and furniture making. The artistry of it appeals to me. The tactility of it. I love the smell of wood, the feel of the grain. It’s just a very appealing outlet for me. So far, I’ve made a table. It’s cool, but it’s not the kind of woodwork that I’m really talking about. I’m looking to learn how to traditional joinery (dovetails, dowels, etc…) and to do it by hand. I want the pieces to be useful, but also attractive.

Thanks to the generosity of my peeps over the holiday season, I’ve managed to amass pretty much all of the power tools and equipment I need to put together a solid woodworking shop.

The goal is to spend the month of January practicing some of the basic skills needed (joints, angles, routing) to hit the ground running for February. I’m extremely excited about this one.

Resolution # 3
Do one “home improvement” task per week.

I’m not looking to cop-out here by changing a light-bulb and calling it a week. I’d like to get the yard into shape. I’d like to re-do the light fixtures in the front of the house. I’ve got stair sanding, garage cleaning, house spraying. All kinds of things to do. I’ll be partly relying on the TM to give me tasks, but I don’t see why I can’t keep busy. I’m always looking to add to my personal skill-set, and I think this could also contribute to that.

Not very exciting, I know, but those gutters ain’t gonna clean themselves, and maybe I’ll be able to blog about how I fell off the roof, or was attacked by birds or something. Filthy fucking birds.

Resolution # 4
Become a vegetarian* for a full year.

I told my buddy Alan about this one last week, and when he asked me why, I honestly told him “I don’t know”.

I’m still not totally sure. It’s not a health thing, I think. I find myself generally bored by vegetarian fare (with the exception of what the TM tends to make), and I’m interested in expanding my cultural and epicurean horizons by exploring foods and recipes that can make being a vegetarian accessible.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE meat. Bacon is delicious. Pretty much any style of chili is great. I love it. But, meat doesn’t really agree with me all that well, and I can’t go through life eating things that make me feel sick just because I think they’re fucking delicious. That’s not a sane thing to do. I’m led to believe that being a vegetarian can be just as satisfying, and from a personal perspective, I find myself feeling much less like throwing up after a salad than a steak. So… I guess I figure, might as well give it a shot.

There are some additional features of this vegetarian thing… that really make it not entirely vegetarian.

1) I’m taking my mom to a steakhouse, and while I’m not sure I WILL get steak, I am reserving the right to do so without feeling guilty that I’m breaking the Vegetarian Code. I know I am, and I’m planning it ahead of time. From the start.

2) I am allowed one seafood item per week. It can be any sort of animal of the sea (other than lion or otter). The only qualifier is that it can’t be fried. Sushi? Yes. Traditional Fish and Chips? No. (additional note: this isn’t a fried food thing. If I want a French fry, I’m allowed). The reason for the “No fried fish” thing is that if I’m going outside of the vegetarian thing, I’m not going to undercut the potential protein and nutrient infusion by muddying those waters with fried batter. Just feels weird.

3) I am not cutting out eggs, cheese, or any other dairy. I’m also allowed to eat soups that utilize chicken or beef stocks. Again… I’m not against meat consumption. I’m just getting it out there from the beginning.

Resolution # 5
Get into good enough shape and condition to run the Turkey Day 10K run on Thanksgiving.

This is coming from the guy who planned to run a marathon, while openly hating running. I still hate running. But the truth of the matter is… I want to challenge myself. I always like exercise when I have time to do it, and having a specific goal will be helpful.

To this end, I am getting a personal trainer to help whip me into shape, and provide me with a training plan. My ideal would be to work away from the running track/road for as long as possible. Strengthening my core, and my knees, enough so that once I start working on the running (hopefully mid Summer?) that my knees and back can handle the pounding of the pavement. I’ve got pretty shitty knees. They’ve been bad for a while, and I even went to an orthopedist a couple of years ago who said that they’re bad enough that I could elect to have surgery on them to scope them out. For me, it’s a matter of how much pain I am willing to accept, and strengthening first is the best way to minimize the pain. My back hasn’t been right since I fell off that horse back at Blue Jacket in the Summer of 2001.

Anyway, this isn’t a weight-loss goal, so I won’t be reporting on my weight or whatever. This is a conditioning goal.

So there they are… I invite any of you to check in with me as I go, though to help with resolution #1, I plan to blog about a lot of these things. Expect photos of my furniture and my house projects when applicable. Expect profanity laced rants about my trainer. Expect long, flowery stories about how much I miss bacon.

Most of all, expect a shitload of bitching about all of it, because those who know me know that almost every unpleasant thing I voluntarily do is simply a way to have an excuse to complain.

I AM the Duke of Negativity, after all.

Let the resolving begin.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Hunger Games:Let Them Have Stakes!

(It’s been a while since I blogged, so cut me a break on the rambling if it’s even more pronounced than usual. )

Spoilers ahead.
I haven't been reading as much as I'd like. The Tofu Muchacha is the most voracious reader I have ever met, so my general lack of a "book in hand" is even more pronounced sometimes.
The thing is… I love to read. When I really get into a book, I plow through it, tackling every word, plot point, characterization. It really makes me completely useless for anything else until I’m done with it. Maybe that’s why I don’t read that often…

I become obsessive. I read spoilers and commentaries and reviews and speculations. The month after I read Harry Potter 6, I spent more time on Mugglenet than I did doing work. I read every single little essay and breakdown. Who was ‘RAB’? Was Dumbledore really dead? All that stuff.

What I’m trying to say is that when I sink myself into a really good book, it’s rarely just the book.

The Hunger Games trilogy has done this to me.

How did nobody tell me how awesome these books are?

The books are told from the perspective of a teen girl. Much like in Twilight or The Forest of Hands and Teeth (both discussed on this blog in the past, even in relation to each other). The main characters in these books are similar, but not the same. Bella Swan (Twilight) is this sort of gawky, completely self-unaware moron who goes through life being oblivious to everyone around her for no particular reason. Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games books is also unaware of other people’s perception of her, for the most part, but as opposed to dumb-old Bella, she’s also capable, self-possessed, and independent. In fact, while Bella needs rescuing from… well…  just about everything ever, Katniss is a total, certifiable badass. She provides for her family, bravely volunteers to essentially sacrifice herself on behalf of her sister, and she more than holds her own in not one, but two Hunger Games (not to mention the actual war zones of the third book.). Despite her self-assessment that she’s selfish, she repeatedly displays loyalty, morality, courage, and empathy. On the other hand, Bella’s full and complete motivation is some sickening, weirdo crush on Edward the Toothless, Shiny Vampire.

Like the other books, The Hunger Games also features a “love triangle”. Yes… it’s true.  Apparently this is some sort of requirement for entry into the Young Adult genre, so just like every “Young Adult” novel featuring a teen girl main character, there’s not just one guy vying for Katniss’ attention, but two. And just like every “Young Adult” novel, she’s at least somewhat oblivious to their attentions until they’re literally licking her face and actively trying to die for her. And just like every “Young Adult” novel, a fair amount of internal monologue from the main character is devoted to her hashing out her feelings for her various suitors.  The difference here is that while in Twilight Bella’s love triangle poses no mystery whatsoever (shit… on the back of the first book, she talks about being “Irrevocably in love” with Edward), and Mary from The Forest of Hands and Teeth sort of realizes that her love life is pretty inconsequential when the world is ending,  I had a difficult time figuring out what would happen with Katniss. And more importantly, there were many times over the course of the action where I was convinced she’d end up with neither of them and be happy with that, or that one of them would die, making her decision that much easier. Nobody thinks Edward or Jacob will ever die. In fact, Jacob can’t die, because he’s not a real character. He’s simply this sort of symbol of the life Bella is leaving behind when she forces Edward to kill her in one of the grossest scenes of devotion in any book ever.  

Katniss has moments where she could go either way (or neither way), and even better is that the moments are earned in the text. There really aren’t any convenient misunderstandings. There aren’t dumb roadblocks. She simply has two perfectly good, though flawed, men whom she loves, and she has a truly hard time deciding between them for legitimate reasons. Peeta is the love for the future. Gale is the love for the now. Her world largely defines her choices. |

It makes sense that she’d pick Gale… He saved her family. He’s more like her. He’s got shared life experiences. He’s a survivor in the most traditional sense, which makes him the perfect choice for a world where there’s no order. Where survival is necessary.

Then there’s Peeta. He saved her life numerous times. He sacrificed his leg, his sanity, everything to keep her safe. And ultimately, she ends up with him, not because of any of these things, but because he’s a beacon of light and positivity that balances out her nightmares. He’s the perfect choice for a world recovering from Chaos. It’s a decision that makes sense.

Suzanne Collins refused to create a choice without consequence. She created stakes to her choice, and by keeping both men alive, and largely whole she refused to give Katniss an easy choice either way. It’s easily the most tolerable teen love triangle I can recall. (Not that I liked the constant internal tug-o-war between the two. I could see and understand the dilemma from the start, and the perpetual back and forth was sort of beating a dead horse really.

But really, it’s the consequence that makes the story good. You get the feeling that if Katniss had chosen Gale, that Peeta would not have been okay. That he would have faded somehow, like Haymitch. Gale is a little stronger, but he makes it clear to Katniss that he can’t be there and watch her with Peeta. She knows she’ll lose one by chosing the other.

The Stakes Get Higher, or… you know… exist

My biggest complaint about Twilight is that nothing happens, and when it does, it’ isn’t drastic or even.. like… “on screen” (so to speak). Nobody of import is ever really harmed, and because it’s established early on that any danger is by choice, there are no real stakes to anything they do. There aren’t really even any true antagonists. The wolves, sort of, but since Jacob is one, and they’d never really kill off any of them, they’re ultimately harmless. (Not to mention that the author sets up their whole mythology to be “protectors”). The Vulturi are certainly not nice, but that’s sort of like saying that the cops and judges in a judicial system are the judges. They may be dicks, but they’re just enforcing the established rules. It’s so fucking boring. There are hundreds of pages of speculation and conversations about what MIGHT happen, and then the climax is a 3 page sequence that ends in the bad guys just sort of going away after being convinced Renesme isn’t the droid they’re looking for or some shit.

It’s what makes The Forest of Hands and Teeth so good. Everyone can die. Most folks do die. The Zombies are a real danger. The people are forced into danger. It’s scary as hell. It’s a great series of books.

The stakes in The Hunger Games?

Everyone could fucking die. And for the most part, they do. Off the top of my head, here’s a short list of the important, and beloved characters who bite it in The Hunger Games:

Peeta’s parents
President Snow
President Coin
and about a million others.

There are fire bombs, horrible mutant killing machines, deadly waves, deadly earthquakes, beheadings, eviscerations, suicides, electrocutions, and dozens of other ways to die, kill, or both.

Collins establishes in the first 5 pages that these people live in a scary, dangerous, unfair world, and she sticks to her guns the whole way through. Even the ending, while undeniably positive, isn’t without reservation. I think it’s my favorite thing about the books. The books end with Katniss being released from custody after assassinating the new president of Panem (after the revolution). She’s on the verge of insanity. She’s been attempting to kill herself. She’s broken. Her mother isn’t by her side. Her sister is dead. She has no idea until later where Gale is. The world is broken. Even after she and Peeta finally sort of merge together for good, there’s a heavy heartedness to it. She ends the book wondering how she’ll explain The Hunger Games to her children, and how the world will be. It’s the ambiguity that draws me. After so many resolute moments throughout the book, I really loved how Katniss’ story ends on a positive, but certainly bittersweet note. She finds her true love for Peeta. They have children. They live in peace. Except in their memories that still haunt them. It’s really very sad, and very hopeful at the same time. That’s not an easy balance.

There’s an important theme in the 3rd book. “Real or Not Real”, where Peeta, having been brainwashed, tries to make sense of the very confusing feelings he has, as his deceptions and his true feelings mixed around.

Really, all of the books play with this in an ever maturing way. I love how so much of the books deal with perception and not necessarily reality. It’s not important in the first book whether Peeta really loves Katniss, but it IS important to the viewers. It’s not important in the second book if Katniss was really trying to defy The Capitol with the berries, but President Snow knows that the people perceive it that way. The wedding doesn’t have to be real except to those watching it. In the final book, District 13 is viewed as a force for positive change, so it doesn’t really matter if they’re just as manipulative and unscrupulous as those they’re overthrowing.

In the end, after all of the confusion, and tracker jacker induced hallucinations, and lies, and amnesias, and everything else, the perception finally dies away, and we’re left with the lovely ending where Katniss, finally confirms for Peeta the one important thing for him in the world.

“You love me. Real or not real?”


It’s really a beautiful way to end a surprisingly well written, and exceedingly entertaining book series.

I have a friend who doesn’t finish books because she doesn’t want to let go of the characters or the world they live in. That’s how I felt about these books.

Read them. For real.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Grey Days of Penn State; The Death of Honor

If you asked me today to name the two men my grandfather revered more than any other, I may have been wrong, but I wouldn't have hesitated in answering. John Wooden and Joe Paterno.

I grew up rooting quietly for Penn State football as a sort of nod to the blood connection I have to central, small town Pennsylvania. My grandpa grew up in Wilkes Barre. My grandma in Mansfield. I remember so many Saturdays of my childhood sitting near my grandpa (Little Kings in hand), and hearing him talk in soft, awed tones about Joe Pa...

So it's in that context I've been following the horrible story at Penn State for the last few days with growing disgust and sadness.

There are certainly parts that are undeniable; beyond argument...

The abuse Jerry Sandusky subjected those boys to is terrible. It could be argued that it's the worst thing imaginable, and it is more than clear not enough was done to stop him from abusing others. Penn State Officials didn't do enough, and instead were worried about protecting the school's image.

Those three facts, to me, are black and white.
To me, though, maybe there's some grey as well.

Most people I've heard from would disagree. They'd say that the Mike McQueary should have physically stopped Sandusky mid-act when he witnessed it. They'd say that Joe Paterno, after being told of the incident by McQueary, didn't do enough by merely reporting the incident to Penn State officials, and should have followed up to make sure something was done.They'd say that Paterno failed as a human being and should never coach another game at Penn State. They'd say that he's forever tarnished his legacy.

I am not, in any way, saying that the way things were handled were even remotely adequate. With all the outrage, I'm sure that's a difficult thing to do, but I wonder what was going through McQueary's and Paterno's minds at the time.. I don't blame people for not trying to see their perspective. So many of the facts are irrefutably horrible, that it's easy to say "they are all I need to know".

I hope my readers will give me some leeway to try to play devil's advocate for a few. I have to believe that most people are fundamentally good. I refuse to give Sandusky that benefit of the doubt, but I'm going to look at McQueary and Paterno for a minute...

Mike McQueary is a guy who grew up in State College, PA. He knew Jerry Sandusky his whole life. He knew him as the father of his classmates, as a walking legend on the football team he dreamed of playing for, as a mentor while he finally played at that college, as the founder of a charity benefiting poor children.

Try to imagine knowing someone your whole life, and not just knowing them, but deifying them. This is, as Michael Weinreb so interestingly said, a man they worshipped in stand-up form. Is it at all plausible, even if not right or okay, that factoring all these things in, maybe it wasn't as easy to step in as we'd all hope it would be? That a person might freeze, even for a minute, when faced with seeing a thing they'd never expected to see.  I've heard dozens of people on the radio saying that they unequivocally would have stepped in right at that moment, and ushered the child to safety. That's great for them, and hopefully true, but I have a hard time listening to what other people would do in someone else's experience. I'm sure that, in hindsight, that McQueary wishes he'd done more, too. I just think it's too easy to say that McQueary should have had the presence of mind in that moment to set aside every bit of history and act as everybody else deems that he should have.

To be clear... I think he should have too, but I don't know that I make him a villain for hesitating. Or even retreating. He reported the incident, which I agree is the dirty bare minimum, but I do think it's better to do the right thing eventually as opposed to not at all.

I, personally, have seen kids getting spanked or slapped in grocery stores and parking lots, felt like it was excessive, and I've done nothing. I've been upset with myself afterward for doing nothing. I've regretted doing nothing. But I still did nothing.

I was talking to my buddy Alan this evening and his lovely girlfriend, Lesli, and she brought up this time when she saw her nephew walk into a fire and everyone froze for a minute. She said she even looked away, just as a gut reaction. She then used a phrase I've used before on this blog, and I think it really applies here.

'Cognitive Dissonance' is a discomfort felt when you hold two conflicting ideas simultaneously. The fight in your brain between what you expect to see, and what you really do see. Could McQueary's hesitation in that moment be attributed to cognitive dissonance? Could he have, in that moment, frozen while he simultaneously saw a devastatingly horrible act perpetrated by a man who he looked up to as a father figure and a legend?

Okay... That's enough about Mike McQueary. I've provided more of an argument on his behalf than he rightly deserves. In the end, the argument against him is too strong. A child can't defend themselves. McQueary was a big, healthy 28 year old man who could have stopped it. End of story.

Okay... deep breath.

I think the great Joe Paterno has some explaining to do.  Do I think he deserved to be fired? Probably, in that the public as a whole, at least outside of State College, would never have let it pass...

When I started this blog earlier today, 12 hours ago or so, I was going to try to ease off the throttle against Paterno. I was truly going to say that those who say Paterno failed as a human being and should never coach another game at Penn State, or that he's forever tarnished his legacy were not looking at the grey of the situation.

I was wrong. I was struggling with my own cognitive dissonance.

I have written 10 different excuses for Paterno tonight. I've deleted them all. I can't talk myself into any of them. There is no idolatry to fall back on. There is no reasonable excuse.  I want, so badly, to preserve the honor of this man I've respected for literally my whole life. This man my grandfathered spoke of in reverent tones. I simply can't do it.

Joe Paterno sat in his seat of ultimate power, and he did the bare minimum under the law. For the life of me, I don't know why. Maybe it's because Jerry Sandusky was his lifelong friend. Maybe it's because he didn't want to believe such horrible things about someone he knew for so long. Maybe he truly did feel embarrassed that he was "fooled".

Fuck that.

Joe Paterno was God. There are many people who would call him the most famous and respected man in Pennsylvania. The men he reported the crimes to were his superiors in name only, and everybody knows that. Joe Paterno's subsequent inaction after his token report is, in my mind the second greatest sin of the whole sordid affair. Maybe it's my strong desire to give Joe Paterno a small window of absolution, but t I keep trying to come up with a reason he wasn't responsible, but I've failed. Joe Paterno failed those children. Joe Paterno failed every person who looked at him as a moral compass.

I started today hearing how Joe Paterno's legacy was tarnished forever, and I didn't want to believe it, but it's true. JoePa may be the greatest coach in any sport, ever, but he'll never again be the paragon of blue collar honor and virtue we all believed him to be.

I'm sad for the boys who were abused, and that the firing or legacy of a football coach is overshadowing their experience.

The death of the honor of Joe Paterno isn't the greatest tragedy of the Penn State story, but it is a tragedy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Disney: A Recap (and some bitching, as always)

Hey Everybody!

The TM and I returned from Disney a couple of weeks back and I think I've finally organized my thoughts enough to write coherently about the trip.

First a couple of general thoughts, and then my likes and dislikes.

Thought 1:
This may be surprising to my readers, but as great a time as I had this trip, I think I'm okay not going again for a couple of years. There are some things that occurred to me during the trip that make me feel like I've been going about it all wrong the last few visits, and maybe I burned myself out a bit.

The thing I need to remind myself is that I'm not a rookie. I'm not going for just a couple of days. I've seen everything several times. I know what I love, and what I can live without. And yet... I attack the visit like a rookie. Every time. I try to cram in everything. I try to plan every day and meal and whatever, and if I'm being honest with myself... I'm done with that.

I could go, literally, 20 more visits without riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and a) I know it'll be there on visit 21, and b) I know that every turn and twist will be the same as it has been for ever one of my previous 15 visits. That's the beauty of Disney World. The classics (for the most part) aren't going anywhere. They so rarely close major attractions. I mean... they don't need to. They usually would just expand. It's not without exception, but you know... even if they were to get rid of Big Thunder? I would be bummed I didn't ride it one last time, but not devastated.

There are a few rides I would be devastated about... Pirates. Haunted Mansion. Kilimanjaro Safari. Soarin. They aren't going anywhere.

My point is... Skipping a ride due to a long line, or to preserve my sanity? That's gotta be something I embrace from now on. Time to take a deep breath. Time to plan less, enjoy more, and not stress about fitting it all in. (That's what she said)

Thought 2:
I can barely tolerate crowds anymore. Like... at all. We chose the 2nd slowest time of year, and it was still really crowded when compared to a shopping mall or whatever. I need to find every way possible to eliminate the crowds from my experience. How do I do that?
a) Bring rain gear - One of the best times we had was after a torrential rain. We had the whole World Showcase to our selves (you know... relatively). Of course two hours after the rain, the crowd was back to normal.
b) Avoid the bus system whenever possible. I hate the buses. They are crowded, and well... crowded. They make me stressed out for like.. 2 hours prior to getting on them. Thats no good. This pretty much leaves us with 2 different hotel choices in the future. The Yacht Club and The Boardwalk. Sadly, these are also much more expensive, so the frequency of visits will need to be adjusted. These two resorts have alternate access to two of the four parks. This appeals to me. They also tend to have generally less crowded buses. And, especially with the Boardwalk, they have interesting things to do when you're not at the park.

Okay, so....

Things I liked:

- The new restaurant in Mexico was the best meal I had the whole time. It was awesome. I'd heard some mixed things about it, but I loved what I got, and the setting is great. It's the new "place to eat and watch Illuminations". Really good stuff.

- The Fantasyland Expansion plans. Seriously, that shit is going to be awesome.

- Best Kilimanjaro Safari experience (annoying people notwithstanding) I've had in ages. It was all about the giraffes this time around, and I really enjoyed it.

- Fucking DOLE WHIP. I mean... I'd always heard about Dole Whip being this thing you got in Adventureland, and I never thought about it much past that. Well... We tried it this time, and my god. It's seriously the best shit ever. I can't believe I waited so long.

- The Wishes Fireworks. I'm not a fireworks guy, but damn.... those are some good fireworks indeed. Very impressive.

- Port Orleans French Quarter. It's probably my favorite of all of the hotels I've stayed in Disney, and even though my comments about the buses are sincere, they shouldn't reflect poorly on this place. It's really nice.

- Finding Nemo the Musical. I know I've talked about it before at least a little, but that's a damned good show for a theme park. Great music. Excellent acting. It's all of the things missing from the poor Great Movie Ride.

- Tower of Terror. I've never been shy about how little I like roller coasters (very little), and the reason for this being the terrifying drops and plummets and whatnot. Well... Let's call this the exception to the rule. We rode it twice in a row, and I seriously laughed like a kook both times. It's so much damned fun. They do this thing where each ride is a little different, because its' on some computer randomizer thing. It's less like falling than like being a giant yo-yo. I love it.

- STAR TOURS. I admit I've never been a great fan of Star Tours, despite the theming. That has all changed since they refurbished it. The changes were inspired. There were all these rumors about it being converted into a pod racing simulator, which sounded cool, but I was also wary of, because pod racing only showed up in the terrible first chapter. Well... There are over FIFTY possible stories (including pod racing), and the story is random. in fact, you'd have to ride it for 6 straight hours to experience all of the stories. How cool is that?! Also, it's 3D now, and incredibly smooth. Darth Vader threw our vehicle with THE FORCE. Awesome.

-Taking Fisheye and Wide Angle photos of my favorite Disney things. The lead photo is a fisheye lens photo of Spaceship Earth. From immediately beneath it. Amazing. Here's a good one of Magic Kingdom:

There were, of course, more things that I liked and have liked for years, but for the sake of brevity, I'm keeping it at these NEW developments.

Things I didn't like so much...

- Most of the rest of the food. It's not that it's bad, but god damn is it overpriced. I wasn't even paying for most of it outside of the dining plan, but they make the mistake of showing us the bills even when we are paying with plan. The Dining Plan is definitely reasonable, and I have no complaints. We ended up using almost all of our snacks during the Food and Wine Festival, whcih was fun, but still... overall the quality of the food wasn't equivalent to the price. Not even close. We're talking about movie-theater popcorn level overpriced. It's hard to remember sometimes that in the end, you're dealing with family restaurants that are glossed up for the location. The food is generally boring.

- Again... the crowds. If I had to choose one specific target? Strollers, Scooters, and Wheelchairs. I would never begrudge someone who really needed one of these things, but FAR too many people were using their strollers are glorified shopping carts. Far too many people were using their scooters as battering rams. Far too many people just loved to stop in the middle of an already crowded walkway and block everything up with their damned strollers and carts and whatever. That shit makes me crazy. I am 100% convinced that I identified several people who were using the wheelchairs as an excuse to get their whole party to the front of lines. I get that you want to bring your little kids. I would never say that's wrong. Just have some fucking respect for others, please. In general, I find people rude. How difficult is it to walk around a poor guy taking one photo. Or, you know... wait for a few seconds. Apparently impossible.

You know... Those are really the two main problems I had this time.

The Flash Photography craze I noted last time seems to have ebbed, thankfully.

Disney seems to be on the right track with their updates. Even the tired-ass Swiss Family Treehouse is being refurbished. The Fantasyland expansion will be great. I'm really looking forward to the James Cameron assisted new land in Animal Kingdom (I think I may have to write a whole blog about that).

There's a million great things to come at my beloved Disney World. I just have to remember that I don't need to do everything every time. I had an amazing time, and I can't wait to go back... Whenever that might be.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Walt Disney World.

Yesterday marked the 40th Anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney World in Florida. If you’ve ever visited my blog, you’ll know that this is a big deal to me, and that Disney World is my favorite place on Earth.

To honor this milestone I present you with…

The Top 5 Things Disney World Needs to Do to Keep Moving Forward

Get Back to Basics.

One of the things that has drawn so many people into the Disney Experience over the years is the company’s legendary, outstanding customer service. Heck, I even invoked the Disney Service name when I interviewed for my first job in private aviation, when I knew nothing about planes.

The thing is… that level of service has slipped just a little over the past 10 years or so.

There was a time that nobody came close, and now… well.. they’re still the best, but the margin has slimmed. It’s not unusual to see a cast member texting, or complaining about how long their shift is. I shouldn’t say it’s a common occurrence, but not long ago there was no chance of that happening. It’s not just the cast members running the rides or selling the merchandise… One of my favorite rides for years was The Great Movie Ride at what used to be MGM Studios. The best part of it was that there were actors on the ride, interacting with you… These days the actors suck ass. That’s just an example.

Don’t get me wrong. Disney is still the best at what they do, and we’re talking just tiny tweaks. And even moreso, there are still many, many cast members who wanted to work for Disney for the very reasons I’ve mentioned… It’s why I would like to work for them. The majority of the cast members are top notch, and they love what they do. I just want Disney to make it a point to get back to being so much better than every other theme park when it comes to the customer experience, that the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” would shut the hell up.

Expand Animal Kingdom.

I’m probably one of the most unabashed supporters of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, but even I admit that it’s not a full day experience like Magic Kingdom or Epcot, and it doesn’t have the big giant draws that Studios has. (With the exception of Expedition Everest, which is awesome.) There’s just not a lot to do. If you don’t want to get absolutely soaked, you need to skip one of the biggest rides, in Kali River Rapids. If you’re bored with watching animals in their natural environment, you’ll skip the Kilimanjaro Safari. If you aren’t interested in taking the full hour or so needed to go to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, you’ll skip that. Basically there are only a couple of big draws in the park, and I’d venture to say that only one of those actually entices people to go to AK. This has got to change.

Fortunately (I think), the company just announced a big expansion to the park based on the film “Avatar”, which.. while I initially was very disappointed in, but once I thought it through more, and realized that it’s more likely to be based on the world of Pandora from the film (and the upcoming 2 more films that take place elsewhere in that world), the more excited I am. This opens up a whole world of possibilities, even potentially re-starting the “Beastly Kingdom” expansion that has long been discussed. See? Disney’s listening to me already.

Spruce Up The World Showcase

The World Showcase at Epcot is one of my favorite things about Disney, and it’s clearly the Tofu Muchacha’s favorite out of anything. There are so many cool shops and attractions, and the architecture and theming is really cool. One of the things that impressed me the most about Disney as a 13 year old first timer was how all of the countries were populated entirely by people from their respective countries (i.e. The Germany Pavilion is entirely staffed by Germans).

So, what do I mean by “spruce up”? Well…

There are 2 things that need to be done, definitely.

First, there’s spot way out there by Germany and China that is simply called “The Outpost”. This very clearly has to be developed into another country. Some countries that never got through the planning stages are Israel, Russia, Venezuela, and the UAE. My personal vote would be something like Brazil… Something completely different than all of the other countries. As it is right now, there’s just this semi-offensive area that vaguely represents a white bread African hut with generic misters and whatnot. It’s just lazy. Get a country in there. There hasn’t been a new one since The Norway Pavilion was opened in 1988.

Second, Disney needs to go systematically through each pavilion and determine if there’s anything that can be added or improved to the existing country pavilions. For example, while many of the counties have either movies (China, Canada, France, Norway) or exhibits (China, Japan) or Rides (Norway, Mexico) or… national embarrassments (USA), there are several that don’t really feature any sort of attraction to speak of (Britain, Italy, Germany, Morocco).

Let’s talk briefly about the aforementioned “National Embarrassment”. Currently the largest pavilion and the gaudiest show in the park, if not at Disney World is The American Pavilion, and the attached show “The American Adventure”. Yes, it’s impressive. Yes, it’s sort of vaguely emotional. Still…. I think it’s inexcusable. It’s like throwing your own birthday party and then giving yourself a better gift than anyone else gave you. We should all be embarrassed. We should all skip “The American Adventure”. I mean… I think it’s more than anything a redundancy. We’re LIVING The “American Adventure” every fucking day. It’s like a vanity plate on a Hummer. (Says the guy with the vanity plate).

Figure out The Studios.

When I first visited Disney World in 1993, my favorite park was Disney’s MGM Studios. It had this magical Disney feel that combined the romanticism of movies just around the time I was first developing a love for movies and movie making. There was all of this “old Hollywood” charm that I probably enjoyed more than any 13 year old straight kid ever did. Oh, and the rides were all fresh and fun and new. As in…everything was at the most, four years old.

Now? Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still many, many things I love about the place. I think the visuals of the place are absolutely incredible, even down to the fact that the original layout was a Hidden Mickey visible from space. They had Star Wars and Indiana Jones. They had the best shops in the whole of Walt Disney World (That’s actually probably still true.) It was really freaking awesome.

Sadly, as the emphasis of the part became more weighted toward the dual thrill rides of Rock’n’Roller Coaster and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the rest of the part went neglected for a little too long. The Great Movie Ride, once one of my favorite things about Disney World (in fact you will have seen it appear very high on my “Favorite Things” lists leading up to two past Disney vacations) has not been updated for like… ever. The acting is bad. The movies featured aren’t that recent, or even that relatable at this point. There’s really not a lot of things to “do”, but rather a crapload of things to “see”. This is problematic, because it makes it difficult to navigate the whole park in a day. You can certainly experience the 5 (that’s right, only 5) rides and attractions:

The Great Movie Ride
Tower of Terror
Rock-n-Roller Coaster
Star Tours
Toy Story Mania

If you go in looking to only do those 5 things, and you get there early on an light day, you’re done by noon. The problem is… there are something like 19 shows. There’s no way you can ever see 19 shows in one day. Maybe not even two. There’s just so much waiting in lines, and then waiting in audiences. It’s just become this sort of boring park.

Wow… that was a lot of background for my point… sorry..

They’ve made strides, certainly. Star Tours has been re-done to with a new theme and new movie. Pixar has taken up residence, which is kind of awesome. The American Idol experience is a fun diversion (especially if you make it onto the “show”), though I can’t imagine much more shelf-life of it, especially after Idol finally takes it’s final bow. I believe there’s been talk of updating the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular (woefully outdated still featuring Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is the same thing it was when I was 13), to be a Pirates of the Caribbean Stunt Show. That would be awesome.

Seriously, though… come on, guys….update the Great Movie Ride. Add more rides to the Pixar area. Where’s that Monster’s Inc roller coaster? Maybe something new with the Muppets?

It’s getting almost to the point where the visit to The Studios is perfunctory, and not anticipated with the glee it once was.

Think “Long Term Legacy”.

Listen… I am a capitalist. I have never been offended by a company (whose goal is to make money) trying to make money. I believe that there’s no inherent higher call to be charitable or anything like that.

But what I don’t like, specifically with Walt Disney World, is when the company chooses to capitalize on short term, fad type things, and focus less on the long term things that will last a long time and will create that nostalgic feel that keeps people coming back year after year and generation after generation. This, again, is what separates Disney from their “competitors”. Disney creates stand-alone iconic rides like “It’s a Small World” and “The Haunted Mansion” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Rides that spawned films. The competition creates rides based on popular movies. The problem with that, is that those movies fade most of the time, and then you have this dated ride. Think “Twister” at Universal. That was a cool attraction, but I guarantee that most of the teens at Universal have never seen the movie.

My preference is to see less advantage taken of the “Princess” fad. Or the “Pirates” fad. I understand that the company wants to make the money when the money is there to be made, but I wish they’d sometimes do a little better to integrate theming and more lasting motifs into their money makers. I can think of two examples of where this sort of “brand marketing” failed, and crowds either complained long enough to change things, or that time is coming soon..

The Enchanted Tiki Room is one of the legendary attractions at Disney World. Walt himself famously talked to a mechanical parrot, teasing the attraction. About 15 years ago, they decided that the classic version of the ride wasn’t cutting it anymore, so they added the currently popular Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King. Not to say that those weren’t both great movies. They are. Still… the show never had the same timeless resonance that it once did, so while the interest was briefly increased, ultimately it petered out.

The other example is the once great “Alien Encounter”. Now… I understand why they got rid of that attraction. Ultimately the Magic Kingdom is a park for kids more than anything, and that was a damned scary attraction. But it also was awesome. And unique. And not tied to anything in particular, so had it been in a different environment, it could have lasted as long as they wanted. So they replaced it, almost entirely with a watered down version featuring Stitch. I LOVE Stitch, but this is one of the dumbest things in the whole park. People hate it. Everyone hates it.

Damn, I’m rambling today.

So I guess my final point for this is that Disney knows how to make money. They know they can make money by constantly changing their target and going after whatever is the most popular thing at any given moment in time. They could also choose to seek out the possibly harder to find, but ultimately more valuable timeless classic. I just wish they’d quit so blatantly going after the first, and start going after the second again.

I know I sound like I’m complaining here. I mean… I feel that way. You have to know, though, that I struggled coming up with these 5 things. There are so many amazing things that I always talk about, I sometimes feel like it’s okay to talk about the ways they can still improve. Walt Disney himself famously said “Keep Moving Forward”.

Disney does it the best. They’ve got the best idea people, the best artists, the best everything, and that’s why I go back as often as the TM will allow me. All of the things I suggest are small in proportion to the magic the place makes every day.

Happy Birthday, Disney World. My favorite place.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ramblings of the Night Shift

Friends! I have returned.

I apologize for the long absence, but I’ve recently changed companies, and I’ve spent the past month training and preparing to be a full time “Third Shifter”.

You all may think I’m a little crazy, but it’s definitely a change for the better. I loved my old company in a lot of ways, but the time commitment was getting to be too much, and too much of a strain. This may be an overnight shift, but the time outside of work is so much less that I just had to take the opportunity.

Not to worry, though… You, my wonderful readers, have been in my thoughts. Now that I’m all adjusted and whatnot, I’ve thought of a new feature for the ol’ blog. I call it “Ramblings of the Night Shift”.

These will be my mostly unedited, free flowing thoughts that I have as I experience the permanent jet lag of working from 10pm to 8am for days at a time each week. Don’t expect the longer form type stuff I generally write, though those will hopefully come around as well. These will be shorter and probably incongruous. So… ENJOY!

Ramblings 1

What kind of moron does Jerome Simpson have to be? The guy FINALLY gets his chance to be a starter, and potentially a big-time producer for an NFL team. The guy has got to be making 500K a year if he’s making a fucking dollar, and he’s moonlighting as a fucking pot donkey. The guy had SIX POUNDS of pot in his condo. The Bengals have drafted some real idiots in the past, but if these things turn out to be true, he’s definitely the dumbest one. That’s right up there with Donald Little torturing his roommate with a hot coat hangar, or Art Long punching a horse… I’m troubled that the only really dumb crimes I can come up with were perpetrated by UC Basketball players…

I’m starting to worry about how I’m going to use the bathroom. Not like… in general, but at work. I’m the only person here, and part of my performance is charted by how many phone calls I miss during a shift. The phone isn’t going to ring off the hook or anything, but that makes missing a call even worse. I’m not totally sure I can go 10 hours while also eating my scheduled small and nutritious snacks (as advised by the TM) and my scheduled lunch. Plus I have to stay hydrated. I’m actually starting to have a little mini panic about it. I like going to the bathroom. I don’t like holding it.

The Charlie Sheen Roast is playing behind me in another department. Charlie Sheen is a total lunatic. Not in the funny way. I am glad the fervor faded at least a little since the total blow-up over the winter. What a mess that was. Anyway, I’m getting distracted… I don’t understand why the roasters always pick on each other more than they pick on the roastee. It seems kinda dumb. There was a pretty funny guy named Anthony Jeselnik. Nobody knows who the hell he is, but he was fucking hilarious. I will be looking up more of him. (Apparently he was named one of the top up and coming comics of 2009… like anyone keeps track of that bullshit).

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I'm So Vain: A Poll

Hey folks-

I got a new car, and I am getting vanity plates. I know... I know... Shhhhhhh

So, I'm putting it to you, my readers, to vote on the final decision:

TAIL NBR free polls
I have to order them soon, so the results will be final as of the end of the business day on Friday.

Thanks in advance for voting!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The NCAA is Dumb

I love this picture for so many reasons, but primarily because he's a Cardinals fan.

I know most people who read my blog don't care about sports. So... my apologies. I guess just check back in another two weeks and see if I've been irritated by something else.

Of course, soon enough, I'll be blogging more about my very fast approaching Disney trip, so you have that other thing nobody cares about to look forward to.

As I was driving home last evening from a rousing viewing of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, (a very bizarre movie about Computers and Wizards), I heard that the University of Miami (Florida) (Only people from Ohio feel the need to clarify) has been linked to "thousands" of NCAA Rules Violations stemming from their football players getting illegal benefits from some dude, who also happens to be in jail for being a part of a near-billion dollar ponzi scheme.

There's all this talk about how this will affect the College Football Landscape and what will be done to punish The U and whatnot, and the ridiculously drastic phrase "Death Penalty" was being bandied about like they're actually talking about something that matters. Las Vegas sports books have taken the first game of the season against "off the board" making it un-bettable.

What a bunch of mother fucking drama queens.

Here's what I don't get... Why in the world does it matter? Is it to impose some sort of relevance on the NCAA, a notoriously ridiculous and pointless organization? An organization whose sole purpose at this point is to hold hostage the keys to the imaginary chastity belts of any given players' standing as a "student athlete". Student athlete...a term so laughably antiquated that the NCAA itself seems to have difficulty defining it.

And what a bunch of mother fucking hypocrites.

According to the rules, a "student athlete" can't receive any sort of compensation or benefit that would entice them to come to a school, or once at the school, can't receive any sort of benefit beyond the benefits they receive as a scholarshipped athlete. This includes being provided hookers, cars, cash, tattoos in exchange for memorabilia, or really anything that can be construed as a benefit bestowed on them because of their status. There are even limits to the amount of money a "student athlete" can earn while working a non-sports related part time job.

This is dumb. Oh... and completely un-enforceable.

The popular radio duo on ESPN Radio, Mike and Mike, argued about the issue this morning. Mike Greenberg believes that regulating the payout of illegal benefits is completely impossible, as has been proven true by years of failure. His solution is to eliminate the rules against it. Mike Golic (a former Notre Dame and NFL player) believes that the rules are necessary, and likens it to the rules against performance enhancing drugs. Greenberg stated over and over again that these aren't the same, and while he had a difficult time correctly articulating why, I don't have that same problem.

The differences are simple:
1) You can't TEST for illegal money or abortions or boats or whatever. It's all sort of grey area. Well... not all of it, but short of having something in writing that says "I gave Cam Newton $X.XX dollars to play football at Auburn University", every circumstance is littered with grey. On the other hand, there are several ways to conclusively test for performance enhancing drugs. Nothing grey about that, aside from every single one of them claiming they thought they were taking B-12.

2) The money, or the sex parties, or the mall trips, or the tattoos don't affect the athlete's performance on the field, whereas the drugs, in fact, do. They're actually called "Performance Enhancing Drugs". This, to me, is the only distinction worth mentioning, even. Reggie Bush would have been the best football player on the field at USC had he received a beach house or not. Would Tony Mandarich have been the best college football player way back in 1991 if he hadn't loaded himself with more drugs than Pablo Escobar's entertainment hutch? The answer is muddier.

The NCAA spends thousands of man hours investigating how much Tyrelle Pryor benefitted from trading his bowl rings for tattoos (as if that bullshit made any difference to anything that happens EITHER in the classroom or on the field.

Somehow this is what the NCAA has become. This sort of fascist accountant.

So what do I think should be done?

1) Keep the drugs illegal. As I said, they're testable, and have been proven to enhance performance.

2) Make the NCAA focus on academic issues. Cheating on exams, not taking exams, not taking enough credits, having other students write papers.... All of the things that could potentially make an athlete ACADEMICALLY ineligible. These are legitimate issues and things that need to be handled by the NCAA (and the colleges themselves).

3) Let the kids take whatever money, handies, boats, cars, houses they are offered, and by whomever offers it. We live in a free market society. Let the kids operate as capitalists, and treat themselves as industries.

Whoa Muchacho... won't the rich get richer?

I don't think so. I mean... I have no proof of this, since I'm writing this whole blog from the hip, but here's what I think...

First, most of the colleges out there are "dirty" by today's standards to one degree or another, so the actual difference may not be as big as one might assume.

Second, there are still the academic requirements that have to be considered. Duke and Notre Dame still can't accept certain students simply because they can't get into the schools.

Third, there are still scholarship and roster limits. John Calipari could officially offer each of the 20 McDonalds All-Americans money to come to UK (as if he doesn't already), and that doesn't mean that they would all come, NOR SHOULD THEY. You go to a high-profile school to get playing time, and TV time, and get to "the league". A dude can't get to the league sitting on the bench, and if the team is stacked from top to bottom with stars, everyone gets slighted.

I actually believe the schools will monitor themselves a bit. You need role players. You need character guys. You need the unselfish point guards. Just because they CAN offer money to everyone, doesn't mean they WILL.

I think things may even level out more than we think. There are guys who may not rate a money offer from UK or UNC who would normally go there, but Pepperdine is offering 50K instead...

I was talking to my dad, the Beefy Padre, about this, and he thinks the real issue with creating a free-market approach to the whole business is that it opens up the sports world to a higher likelihood of gambling problems, or fixed games, or points shaving, or whatever.

I'm not convinced this would be a problem with my solution, because the motivating factor for most of these issues is the "forbidden money", so if the money can come from anywhere, and the players can legitimately receive money from other sources, the gambling element wouldn't have as much pull. Personally, I think it's probably a bigger risk as it is now.

The real solution is: Ban gambling on college events. Stop laughing.

Seriously, though... that's the solution. Of course the NCAA is pleased as punch to collect dollar after dollar on casino promotions, and gambling kick-backs, and all that nonsense. They'd NEVER give that up. Not to mention that gambling on college basketball and football is a HUGE moneymaker for the casinos.

Anyway, it all doesn't matter, because the NCAA will never fix the problem. Or admit that it really isn't a problem. Or admit that there are real problems they should be concentrating on...

Did you know that the NCAA regulates what kind of meals schools can provide their athletes? Breakfasts can consist of Bagels, fruit, and nuts. That sounds okay, right? Well... Cream cheese, peanut butter, jelly... Those are not included, so if a school gives the player a bagel, they better fucking make sure he eats that bitch dry, or they've committed a "minor rules violation."

That is not a joke. This is what the idiots are worried about. There's no hope for collegiate sports.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

8 Lives too Many

Oh... if we only knew then.

We have four cats.


I've mentioned them before. Little Walter (not so little. Fat, really), and Little Roy. Zoro and Sammy. They're a fun little furry bunch. They play, and eat, and fight, and snuggle with each other (and us when we're lucky). Oh... and they pee.

God damnit do they pee.

If you think this sounds ominous, like one of those blogs where the crazy person telegraphs the murder spree they're about to set forth upon... You may be right.

Let me state again, and for the record, that I love these cats. That love is tried every day by one cat in particular. Roy has decided to have separation anxiety like nobody's business. When the TM leaves the house? He pees. When she gets home after a long time away? He pees.

On the bed. On the couch. On the extension cords. On my socks. On the power strips. On the floor. On the mail. I'm certain there are more.

I live in fear that I'll sit in cat pee. Or that I'll go to open my mail, and it will be yellow and damp and stinking of ammonia. It's no way to live, I tells ya.

So, we've now become slaves to the cat. It's amazing. He's the smallest, shyest one, but we are fully wrapped around his left paw-paw.

It started small.

The TM bought us rubber sheets. She'll argue it wasn't as bad as all that, but yeah. Rubber. Sheets. Like we're fucking bed-wetters. This wasn't exactly a preemptive measure, we realized, but our understanding of the psychology of the cat was primitive at the time.

In conjunction to the shameful rubber sheets, we also started rewarding the cats with treats when they peed in the litter boxes in front of us. Just to be clear, we were now rewarding the cats for doing something even baby kittens figure out in about 6 seconds.

This worked for a little while. We call this period in our history "The Great Pee-ce". I realize this needs a little work, but we can't all have a "Black Death".

So this time of prosperity lasted for a long time. Well... you know...there was a weird time over the Winter when this strange cat was prowling around outside, and we had a couple of sporadic incidents, but still.... a relative peace.

Nearly a whole year. Unfortunately, about 3 months ago, the TM and I decided to re-do the floor of our bedroom, and things were... disrupted. Suddenly we started noticing a distinct "pee smell" on things like extension cords... Floors. And then again... the bed.

We started to realize that his pee habits were connected to the TM's comings and goings. The crazy ass cat has fucking separation anxiety. The TM started making a beeline to the litter boxes as soon as we'd get home and wait to reward him for "making the peepees". It's certainly not dignified.

Whenever he'd have an "accident" she'd blame herself for not paying closer attention to his signs. She was doing some research after a particularly nasty and wet week, and read all kinds of "solutions". The one she felt had the most credibility was this DVD called "Cat Sitter" where it shows hours worth of footage of various small wildlife doing their things... Rats, Hamsters, Butterflies, Parrots, etc... Apparently the trigger times for anxious cats are the 15 minutes before people leave and the 15 minutes after the get home (I have no idea how people know this).

So we head to the pet store and buy the cats a video. I was very sad for us that day. We tested it out in our living room and yes... the cats were HYPNOTIZED. They stood there pawing at my beautiful flat screen, and I started twitching. It was working, but I had this horrible vision of coming home to find my TV on the floor with cat scratch marks all across her screen...

The TM must have sensed my worry, so she suggested getting a little TV for the kitchen where the cats could paw with impunity. This was a pretty aggressive suggestion on the TMs part since she barely tolerates TV for humans. A TV just for cats is... like whoa.

So out we went. I was thinking we'd get some cheap little TV at a cheap little store, but no... The TM went all out and she bought a DVD/TV combo that is really the nicest kitchen TV a cat could have. Really more like a nice dorm TV.

Now we have a TV for our peeing cats. She turns on the TV before we leave, plays their little video, and sets the sleep timer... Crossing our fingers each and every time that the damned animals will be distracted just long enough to forget that we left.

And you know... it's working... mostly. We had a snag when we went to New York for 2 days a couple of week ago, and when we got home, there was like a pee explosion. On the table. On the floor. And most horrifically... our couch. The place where I sit most of the time at the house. It was like a punishment.

So... To Recap...

Rubber Sheets
Litter Box Treats
Routine Pee-Watching
a TV

and still... there was pee.

We were at the pet store, loading up on pet odor remover, because that's what our life has become, and we come across this pheromone thing that plugs into the wall. It looked intriguing, because it claims to put out some sort of crazy hormones that tell the cats to calm the fuck down. So we bought that. And of course, if it works, we're tacitly agreeing to also buy the monthly refills.

An endless money pit, these cats.

And so far? It's working. I mean... we assume. Since this cat is smarter than us, we can only guess that the most recent remedy has made the difference, but for all I know the fucker is angling for me to buy him a car or something. Or have a daily fish delivery or whatever.

Can I get rid of him? No. He's the TWIN BROTHER of the sweetest, most well-behaved of the cats, and they are bonded so tightly we could never separate them.

The cat has us over a barrel. It's a pretty defeating feeling, I must admit.

How can you stay mad at this:He very likely is plotting where he'll pee next. Probably on this laptop.