this morning, my daughter’s playing video games (hey, she’s got a Geek Dad, so this isn’t a wholly bad thing), and I’m sitting down to an overdue
helping of Christmas writing leftovers:
My daughter and
I spent a good chunk of Christmas Eve day rolling dough and baking and
decorating cutout cookies while Jenn was at work. There was a moment or two
where the huge pile of baked and still-bare cookies felt like a chore, but it
passed quickly because I still love the whole process of putting the food
coloring in the icing and mixing up the colors in different bowls and getting
out the array of sprinkles and trying to make every single cookie different
from the rest. Growing up, mom used to bake ’em, but it was Dad and my brothers
and me who did all the icing.
probably my daughter’s last “believing in Santa” Christmas. She’s 10 years old and awfully sharp, and
the truth is, I’m pretty sure she was just playing along this year, not wanting
to let go. Can’t say that I blame her.
Christmas Eve, she and I are getting out cookies and milk for Santa, and she
says we should put out some carrots for the reindeer, too. I remind her that we
are out of carrots, having finished them up at lunch over the previous day or
Screwing up her face and squinting with one eye, she points a finger and deepens her voice
to an impressive Darren McGavin impression for a fifth-grade girl and hits me between
the eyes with a “Christmas Story” reference: “Yoooouuuuuu used up….all the
Seriously: Could a 1980s Dad be more proud?
Day was a little odd because Jenn had to work from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. She got up and left at 5:30, but my daughter and I got up at the
same time because, duh, we were too excited to go back to
bed. We headed down to Mom & Jeff’s about 6:45, when it was still dark. Along the way, we looked around and pointed out scenes we liked – houses or trees on hilltops silhouetted against the slowly brightening sky.
looking at the houses closer as we passed, seeing whose lights were on, who was
up and in the kitchen or the family room, and who maybe wasn’t at home or was
It was just
the two of us and Nick joining Mom & Jeff, so it was kind of a quiet, calm
morning of opening gifts, and Nick left about 9:30 to head home. After that, we mostly rested. My daughter crawled into a huge box at one point with Mom’s new kitten, a pillow and a blanket and fell asleep for almost an hour.
home at about 1:35 in the afternoon and got back just a few minutes after Jenn. It felt like a
different day as we sat down to open our family presents at three o’clock.
We got a
Nintendo Wii this year. Jenn & I decided it would be our big gift to the
family. I haven’t really wanted a video game system since middle school, when I
begged and begged for a floppy disk drive to go along with our Commodore 64. I had a Super Nintendo for a little
while after college, but it wasn’t really my decision or my desire, and I never really got bit by the bug.
sure how my daughter would react to the Wii, since outside of the system and the
games we bought with it, she got mostly clothes. But we saved it until the end
of our gift-giving, and I was glad to see how excited she got.
playing it around 4:30 or so, and – wow. I was a little kid again, getting my original Atari on Christmas morning and just going insane with fun. I’ve never stopped playing video games, of course, but it’s been a long time since I really shared the experience, since mostly I’ve played on the computer the last 15 years or so. But this, this jumping around the living room with my wife and kid and playing goofy games like bowling and tennis and baseball (and yes, on some level realizing how hilarious it is that we’re having a total blast and yet haven’t even ventured beyond the equivalent of "Combat" on the old Atari) and laughing and falling onto the couches … this was serious fun.
last couple weeks, in addition to the hours we put in as a family watching all
the Christmas television specials we could, and even pulling out the VCR to
watch the Garfield program we taped years ago, I’ve been watching the Lord of
the Rings movies. I never realized until this year how strongly I associate
them with the holidays because they pull me back to those three great seasons
when the movies were released in the theaters.
Christmas light display sits off Interstate 77 northbound, just south of mile
marker 140. Trees and hills line both sides of the freeway, and though there
are neighborhoods and houses tucked back a ways, it’s an unlit stretch of road.
year, someone who lives in one of those hidden homes hauls one of those three-
or four-foot high plastic electric candles to the very back of their yard,
which reaches the treeline near the road. They plant it on the top of their
fence corner, beside a shed. There’s no other light in their backyard that I
can see, no displays or ribbons or snowmen: Just that single plastic yellow
I wonder if
it’s meant as a special light for someone – a mom or a dad or a brother or
sister on their way home, maybe – or if it’s just out there for everybody
I watch for
it every year in late November, and I get a little sad every January when it
gets unplugged and put, presumably, back in storage.
At any given moment, most of the stuff in my email account is actually from me.
I’ll send myself blogging notes from work to home with two-word subject headers like "share this" or "email this guy" or "whoa." They tend to pile up quickly and sadly, it seems like once a month I wind up deleting half of them.
But no more. No. Mas.
Having been roundly inspired by the final two episodes of "Everest: Beyond the Limit," I’m going for the gusto and will try to start some neater inbox housekeeping. In the words of Yukon Cornelius, "Waahoooooo!"
For your consideration, then, the latest stuff I’ve found neat-o:
10 Habits of Highly Effective Brains. I particularly like No. 5, which reads in part: Once new neurons appear in your brain, where they stay in your brain
and how long they survive depends on how you use them. "Use It or Lose
It" does not mean "do crossword puzzle number 1,234,567". It means,
"challenge your brain often with fundamentally new activities." (Bingo – we’ve justified our "Portal" obsession.)
Last dispatch from Moscow. The Baltimore Sun has closed its Moscow bureau, which is a sad enough statement alone. That they couldn’t see fit to run Erika Niedowski’s great look back at the lives of American reporters behind the Iron Curtain is worse.
Nerdy Things to do Before You Die. Lots of fun ones, but I think a visit to Skywalker Ranch is a glaring omission. And minus 1,138 geek points for The Park Benchers because No. 12 should actually read "the 501st Legion."
So I picked up the latest issue of ToyFare (for the stat nuts in Fantasy Geek Magazine Leagues, that’s #126, February 2008, coming in at 96 pages) today, because I’ve got a Transformers Classics 2.0 piece in the big honkin’ 2008 Preview section, based on an interview with Hasbro designer Bill Rawley.
I’m pretty psyched – although ToyFare ran an online piece I did back in the summer and even linked it to my Q & A with T’formers lead designer Aaron Archer, this is my first contribution to the print edition.
It’s been more than a decade and a half since I even pretended to have any sort of musical talent, and that last time hardly counts, because it was a brief period in college when I bought a used saxophone and taught myself to play it one summer. And even then, the stuff I’d learned in four years of playing clarinet and then bass clarinet at Lake Elementary and Lake Middle schools – fifth through eighth grades – was pretty well gone and buried.
My daughter’s in fifth grade now, and she plays the viola. Practices four or five nights a week in the back room of the house, but the sound carries easily through the kitchen and into the living room. Her first orchestra concert was a little over a week ago.
The mental trips between past and present began as soon as I got home from work at six that evening. It’s December, so it was already dark. My daughter had eaten her supper already and was upstairs getting cleaned up and dressed, and my wife and I had a hurried dinner so we could leave by six-thirty. I caught a faint pull in my gut of that “something special on a
school night” feeling, like the little thrill of seeing that old CBS “Special Presentation” logo spinning on the television screen that meant it was time for a Charlie Brown or a Rankin/Bass holiday show.
The school district – yes, we live in the same school district where I grew up, and my daughter has actually had classes in some of the same rooms I did, and being back in those halls on meet-the-teacher nights is still a fun and kind of a surreal experience – has a real community theatre these days, just a few years old. In my band years, we played in the middle school gym, two bands on the floor and the oldest group of kids up on the stage.
Watching my daughter file in with the other fifth graders and take her seat on the stage, I thought about the half-hour before our band concerts, how it was weird to see kids from school but not actually in school, and everybody a little dressier than normal. (The next day, you’d see a lot of us wearing those same outfits in school, minus maybe the ties and jackets if we had them. We had sensible moms, I guess, and an outfit worn for a couple hours during a band concert clearly doesn’t count as being worn at all.)
I remember being in fifth grade and thinking how OLD those eighth-graders looked. My God, that guy had a beard! And those girls – they were, uh, shaped differently than the ones in our band.
In sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, about a week or two into every summer vacation there was a weekend band festival in the parking lot behind the high school. Seeing kids there was even more odd than seeing them at night, but it was also more fun because we didn’t have to dress up, and when it wasn’t your turn to play, you could run around and play all the goofy carnival games like Chuck-A-Luck and the ones where you threw ping-pong balls into miniature goldfish bowls.
My daughter’s up on stage and the orchestra’s tuning up, and the kids are plucking their strings while the teacher goes around and makes an adjustment here or there, and I remember the utter dread that came with playing a woodwind: The fear of SQUEAK!ing on concert night. Solos were never for me, thanks very much, I’m happy to sit here in the second clarinets with my buddy Mark (we’d both take up the bass clarinet in seventh grade – the only two basses in the band – and get to move back by the tubas) and let others run the risk of public SQUEAK!ing.
The fifth graders played their songs (all plucking, no drawing of the bows at their first concert), and I watched my daughter’s
concentration and her fingers and her chin tucked onto her viola and I wondered if I ever looked that serious, because wow, do I remember band as being a place to really goof off. (Which would probably explain why I never really considered my playing a ‘talent.’) Maybe the strings just come with a little more class than I had between the ages of 10 and 13.
After they finished, they left the stage and sat in a few rows of seats down front, and the other three orchestras played their sets, and eventually, the concert was over and we wedged our way into the narrow halls behind the auditorium, wading into the chaos to find our kid. And here she came, music folder tucked under one arm, viola case in hand, winter coat on, shuffling
through the packed and noisy hallway.
Outside, it was easy to breathe, and cold, and it was a quiet ride home.
I drove 43 miles before my tires touched pavement.
And this was a white-knuckled, patience-patience-patience-for-God’s-sake forty-three miles on two-lane roads through rural northeast Ohio that I’d never driven before, not a highway drive where even in bad weather you can take some comfort in being on an interstate. This was 43 miles in a constant snowfall on roads already buried in the stuff, thankful at least for a landscape that was hilly but didn’t necessitate many turns in the road, balancing on that line of speed between slow enough to maintain control and fast enough to keep the momentum up to get over the next hill.
Anyone in his right mind – and especially anyone in his right mind who drives a fuel-economy sedan that in no way resembles a truck or SUV or anything remotely fit for such a trip – would have turned around after sliding through a half-mile.
But I wasn’t in my right mind: I was on my way to a Jeopardy! audition.
Last January, I took the online qualification quiz, thought I did all right, and promptly forgot all about it until late October, when I got an invitation to come to Pittsburgh on Dec. 7 for a follow-up interview and tryout. Used my last vacation time of the year to take the day off.
Planned the route ahead, of course: 97.7 miles, according to GoogleMaps, and a shade over two hours. Peachy. Easy enough to leave by, say 9 a.m. and have plenty of time to spare.
Until, of course, I woke up last Friday and saw the snow. Panic bells. Red alert. Something here from somewhere else. Managed to leave the house by 8:10, but needed to go to the bank and then put gas in the car, so it was 8:30 before I really got on the road. Still, I figured 100 miles, three and a half hours, I’d be in good shape once I got onto
the main streets, so no problem.
Um. Yeah. The first state route I got to wasn’t any more clear than my driveway was, and this is where I started to wonder if maybe I wasn’t going to get to try out for Jeopardy! after all. Okay, I figured, I’ll take the alternate route, which is 12 miles longer, but puts me on Interstate 76 a lot quicker, so I can make up the time.
No sooner do I pass the last major intersection that commits me to this decision than I see a police roadblock ahead at the bottom of a hill. Frak. Frakkingfrakfrakyou’refrakkingkiddingme. (According to the next day’s newspaper, there wasn’t even an accident. When the road gets bad at that particular spot, they just close it off and don’t even let people try to get up or down. It’s apparently called ‘Soap Hill,’ and you know it’s bad because I drove that road twice a day, five days a week for close to three years when I worked up in Warren and I had never seen it closed before.)
There was one more turnoff between me and the roadblock, so I took it. I was familiar with it, but it’s a doozy of a back road, short and winding, and it didn’t look like more than three or four other cars could have traveled it that morning. So now I’m on an all-but-unplowed road heading away from where I need to be going, back toward my original route that takes me through countryside. At the next stop sign, I seriously considered turning right, heading home, and calling to see if I could reschedule my tryout for Saturday.
But I turned left. Skidded through Alliance, then north towards East Goshen and finally west on a three-digit state route for a 15-mile stretch that seemed forever but finally got me to Interstate 76, glory be, where I saw blessed blacktop for the first time that morning, two hours and ten minutes after I left the gas station.
I had 59 more miles to Pittsburgh, and it wasn’t a speedy trek, but the roads were mostly clear and I made it
to downtown around 11:40, found a parking lot near the hotel/convention center, and walked into the lobby where the other hopefuls were filling out their paperwork at about 11:50.
At least I didn’t have time to get too nervous.
The tryout was actually way more fun and less nerve-wracking than I thought it would be, and I was kind of sad when it wrapped up after about two hours. I guess I’d used up all my stressability on the drive over. (I don’t want to write too much about the tryout itself, lest I give up some double-super-secret game show operations formula and muck up my shot.)
On the way home, I ate the lunch I’d packed and drove the same route. It felt like a completely different day, though: Still overcast the whole way, but the snow had stopped, and every road was clear.