Monday, June 29, 2009

What Is This Teaching Our Children?

That question's all over the place nowadays, it seems. People, even those without children, cannot approach an object or an idea without endlessly worrying about its effect on their offspring.

Picture this absurd scene:

A man sidles up to a public drinking fountain, eyeing it suspiciously. Suddenly, he stops. His jaw drops and his knees bend slightly. His index finger, levered outward and upward by his astonished arm, points accusingly at the refreshment-dispensing appliance.

"Behold!" he cries, "this abomination, lurking here against this very wall! Note its unnaturally reflective surface and its cold, utilitarian design! Is this what we want our children exposed to? With their soft, PlayDoh-like brains and their wondering eyes with the sleep crusties in them? For God's sake! They'll believe that water comes from metal boxes and not from Culligan men! Citizens; take up your sledgehammers and--!"

Well, you get the idea.

Very young children are, by nature, sticky little information sinks. It's their imperative to learn all they can about the world by listening to, touching, trying to eat and biting on everything they come across. This serves them well if there is a discerning adult around to steer them past things that lie or try to touch/eat/bite them back.

In those few cases where the adult is non-discerning or steers like a blindfolded moose with all four legs tied together, you end up with one of those people who still try to put everything in their mouths and are at great risk of winding up in a cult. (Interestingly, threatening them with a spanking or a time-out still has the same deterrent effect it does on a three-year-old, so there are advantages.)

So kids are stupid. But they were sort of born that way.

One of today's biggest (cause of; scapegoat for--pick one depending on viewpoint) excessive and chronic stupidity in the population at large is video games. It seems to me that the kid who blames a video game for "making" him bring a gun to school is giving a slightly more sophisticated version of the "he started it!" excuse; kids are liars. But that's a discussion for another time and another blog.

Pretend, if you will, that you are 11 years old again. Also, because it's funnier this way, pretend that you are very stupid; anything you see on TV, even if you're controlling the action yourself with a gamepad, is real. Garfield? Real. The Lucky Charms leprechaun? Real and creepy. Newt Gingrich? Infuriatingly real. The latest in console video games? Real and stunningly rendered.

Now that I have laid the groundwork, I would like to tell you my tragic tale. Kind time-wasters, I am not asking for your sympathy. I am merely putting this out there as a warning.

It was 1994. Rareware's Donkey Kong Country had been released to some fanfare, and after watching, wide-eyed, as my friend played it, I just had to have a copy for my own Super Nintendo console. Never before had I seen such realistic graphics. I had just barely avoided believing that Mario was real; right up until I saw a turtle with wings. Magic mushrooms and clouds with eyes were one thing, but I mean honestly now. You almost had me, Nintendo! Almost!

But Donkey Kong warped me. I believed every pixel of it. Fast-forward a year to my family vacation in Florida. We were out touring a swamp on one of those boats with the big fan in the back--I still don't know what they're called. We were all enjoying the ride and learning a lot from our guide about different types of mosquitoes, when I saw an alligator.

It was swimming toward our boat.

I was the only one who seemed to sense the danger we were in.

I acted.

Well, to make an R-rated story PG, I was in the hospital for three weeks because Donkey Kong Country taught me that you could kill alligators by jumping on them.

Lies. Filthy, lousy, 16-bit lies. No impact spangle; no exclamation of "og!" or "ugh!" from the alligator, and it did not fall off the screen when it was all over. It turned out to be foul-tempered and bitey.

I would like to leave you with a list of other video game lies for you to warn your children about. Think of it as a little assistance from The FooDaddy; some power steering.

  • Collecting a hundred pennies gives you an extra life, allowing you to start over if you fall off a cliff.
  • Stuff from Japan is cool.
  • Driving into and successfully avoiding oncoming traffic will give you "boost," which will make spiffy flames come out of your exhaust pipes.
  • Holding "Y" makes you run faster.
  • All soldiers hold their guns out at arm's length and swing it in a mild arc as they run.
  • Eating leaves or drinking Slim Fast can cure injuries (such as zombie bites).
  • As long as they're on your team, you can punch your friends all you want without hurting them.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hidey, the Pantsless Agoraphobe

Once one has been living in a place for a while, particularly if he has been doing it solo, one comes to the realization that trivial formalities such as pooping with the door closed and wearing pants all the time are a waste of his time.

Naturally, he will clothe the southern bits and close that door should guests be present, because he is not a total cretin, after all.

But if one's evening is quiet, and the only scheduled interaction with the population at large is hours away, off go the pants! Time to make coffee!

Which is what I was doing when the doorbell sounded.

I froze, jar of coffee beans hovering, tilted, above the mill.

"Are you wearing pants?" my brain asked. I checked. Oh, God no.

A single bean dropped from the lip of the jar. It bounced across the counter and onto the floor, where it was immediately snapped up by the ever-watchful cat.

"Don't panic. Let's think this through. Are there any pants nearby?"

There aren't. The closest pair I know of is down the hall in my bedroom. Unfeasible. I have to pass the front door with its giant window in order to get to them.

The doorbell rang again. It was then that I realized that the garage door was open, and the door leading from it into the house was unlocked. What if it was someone who felt they knew me well enough to enter without invite? They could just come in! They could just wander into the house and see me standing there, pantsless, clutching a jar of beans like some sort of pervert!

"Calm down. If they knew you well enough to just walk in, you wouldn't be so embarrassed if they saw your boxer shorts."

But these have a hole in them.

"Point taken. Look, what if you crawled past the front door? They'd have to be on tip-toe right up against the glass to see you then."

True, but what if it's one of those sticky little kids? The kind who come by with boxes of horrible waxy candy bars they're selling for eight bucks apiece so they can pay for a trip to some mosquitoey summer camp? Those little bastards are almost guaranteed to have their faces pressed right on your window, latched on with their very moistness like tree frogs. Damn them!

"Geez. You sure you should be making coffee now? You seem wound up pretty tight already."

I think I'm just going to hide.

"Just so long as you never tell your girlfriend. What kind of hamster will she think you are, hiding from fund-raising frog-kids? How sad."

If you won't tell, I won't tell. Let's just sort of crouch here in the corner next to the stove until they go away.

"Yes. Like some kind of primitive hominid, confronted with the glitter and hum of the modern kitchen! Oooooo! Beware the chrome-lined demon's grind-hole in the sink! It can destroy your body and eat your soul!"

Shut up. Besides, I think they're gone now. I'm not even crouching any more, see?

"You should probably put down that spatula. What were you going to do with it, anyway?"

Wield it.

"Drive away the intruders with your mighty spatula? This is almost good enough for a blog post. Why don't you just wear pants when you're at home during the day? Most normal people do."

Or I could turn into one of those belching old men who proudly answer the door in their underwear and scratch their naughty bits with the UPS man's stylus before they sign the magic clipboard.

"You could. Or, since you're not an old man yet, you could keep an emergency pair of pants in the cupboard. Wham! Problem solved! Good idea or what?"

You are my brain. It's your job. Good work. Have some caffeine.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Henry, the Bush-Cat

I'm sure you're all dying for an update on Henry, the stray cat I fed.

He's still there, in his favorite bush, and I'm still feeding him.

It's actually kind of nice having him out there in the bushes. When I come home, I'm greeted on both sides of my door. Henry handles the outdoor greeting, while I have a poke through the shrubbery to see if there are any more dead rabbits in there, and then my two official cats greet me when I come inside. Naturally, with their keen sense of smell, they suspect me of subterfuge instantly.

"Why do you smell funny?" they ask, heads cocked and eyes narrowed.

"Because I worked outside today, and it was 85 degrees," I tell them evasively.

"You know what we mean," they say with an exasperated sigh.

"You guys are cats. You're barely sentient. Barfing is your hobby," I reply, a little tersely. "I don't have to answer to you."

"We're going to go enjoy our hobby in your laundry now," they say, and stalk off.


At least it's a cute furry animal who's living in the bushes. I harbor my share of humanitarian sentiment, but believe it or not, if it were a person out there, I would feel uncomfortable. Perhaps even to the point of asking him to leave, or chasing him away with a broom.

Me: Ahhh...good to be home. Looks like there's still time to do a little writing tonight before---aw, man.

Bush Hobo: Hey! Oi! Hey!

Me: Dammit.

BH: You got any sammiches? Sammiches? Hey!

Me: Still haven't found your owner yet, huh?

BH: There's bugs in my water.

Me: Well, maybe you should go live in someone else's bushes.

BH: Nope! Found a dead rabbit! Want it?

Me: No.

BH: You sure? I caught it myself. Hey! Can I have some more Purina? I ate all the stuff you gave me yesterday. Whatchoo got in that bag?

Me: Stop rubbing my shins. Tomorrow I'm gonna take you to the vet and see if you have an RF-ID tag. *sigh* And I suppose you can have this can of cat food--it gives my cats gas.

BH: Oh boy! Meat goo! Oh boy ohboyohboy! Hey! Heeeeey! Here's my belly. Rub it!

Me: Dammit.

I would also imagine that finding a home for a bush hobo would be pretty hard. It's not easy to get someone to take a stray cat, even with their inherent cuteness advantage.

Interestingly, if the bush hobo was a toddler, the balance would swing the other way, swinging back again right around puberty. Just something to think about the next time you chastise me for giving a dollar to a bum.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Kind-Hearted Putz

I suppose you would say that I am one. I am somewhat selective in how I dole out my kind-heartedness, but not very. My putzedness, by comparison, is broadband.

Whenever I see a bug in my house, I pick it up and put it outside. Unless it's a mosquito or a housefly. Mosquitoes deserve to die, and the houseflies usually get eaten by the cats, and I'm enough of a jerk to let them go ahead and do that. I am most hospitable to spiders because they, like the cats, eat bugs I don't like.

Speaking of cats... If you encounter a stray one, and you tell someone, the conversation always goes in the same direction.

You: I sawr a stray cat in my yard!

Anybody you tell the above to: I hope you didn't feed it!


You didn't feed it did you?


If you feed it, you'll never get rid of it.

Well, duh. We've all been told this at least a hundred times. It's one of those things you learn growing up; don't talk to strangers, never pee in the dark, bears are more scared of you than you are of them, and never feed stray cats.

But if you're a kind-hearted putz, you kind of have to. The rational side of my brain replayed the message, recorded in the voice of every single person I have ever known, about not feeding strays.

"Don't feed 'em," it said after the message clicked off.

"Yeah, but..." countered the putzy side of my brain. The side that feels sorry for fuzzy little animals who make noise and appreciate Purina.

"I'm serious," the stern, no-nonsense side said, shaking its finger. "You've already got two cats, and you can't afford to adopt this one too. It looks like it belongs to someone anyway. Look. It's been neutered."

"Awww! The poor thing doesn't even have any balls! He doesn't have any balls and he's hungry!"

"I'm telling you--"

"If he does belong to somebody, he's lost right now, and I'd be a real jerk not to feed him. What kind of neighbor would that make me? If I don't feed him, the owls will eat him," the soft side says, edging my body closer to the bag of cat food.

"I don't see what that has to do with--"

"If he isn't well fed," the putzy side says, directing my hand to reach for a bowl, "he won't have the energy he needs to battle them. Besides. There's a thunderstorm rolling in, and poor Henry's gonna be scared on top of everything else."


"The cat. I've decided to name him Henry."

"I give up."

The rational side of my brain usually does give up in these situations. I suspect that it secretly wanted to feed Henry too.

So here I am with two official cats, and a third satellite cat who hangs out on the porch and talks to the porch furniture all night. I've got the rational side of my brain convinced that he's making himself useful out there by eating tree-destroying moths, but that's not going to work for very long.

If any of you time-wasters want a talkative, affectionate male cat who eats moths, and you live near the 49519 ZIP code, let me know! I have one all ready to go.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Coffee's Habits

Good afternoon, time-wasters! Greeting you in this manner is probably the safest way to go, as it's always afternoon, unless it's exactly 12:00.

Of course, it technically IS afternoon, even when your clock says 12:00. The knife-edge of noon exists for only an instant. Cutting that instant into ever smaller increments results in there essentially being NO NOON, which is scary. So I won't talk about it any more.

Since I have a headache, I'm going to have Coffee help me write this post. You folks remember Coffee, don't you? He's that abstract personification of caffeine's effect on my physiology? Ah, good.

Our subject for today is: habits.

Coffee: The nun capes?

FooDaddy: No. Those things you do without thinking.

Coffee: Like being awesome?

FD: In a manner of speaking, yes. What I'd like to discuss with you is their origins. Throughout one's walk of life, when do we stop to pick up our habits?

C: That's stupid. That language you just used? Flowery and stupid. "Walk of life"? Who are you--Nicholas Sparks?

FD: You're right; that was a little cliche. How would you put it?

C: I wonder what beavers are made of. I'd imagine they're made of the same stuff as you and I, mostly, but I like to think they're at least sorta made of dried ketchup. You ever think about that? What things look like they should be made out of?

FD: Not really. Habits? Where do they come from? I assume we're not born with them, but rather with a predisposition for developing certain ones. Like if you're a nervous baby, you will probably develop into an adult that needs to squeeze a stress-ball a lot or who gets sweaty easily.

C: Now, adobe houses, they look like they're made of really pale fudge. Giraffes? Cardboard. You? Now despite your pansy tendencies, you're made of half spanky, half dope. You're like a spanky-dope sandwich with kick-ass sprinkles. You wanna go to the mall and pretend to be business hobos? We could bring a card table and set it up in the fountain and try to charge people for stuff.

FD: Take Coffee here as an example. He has a habit of leaping from one train of thought to another without so much as waiting for them to pull into a station. He treats segues like a bad driver treats a clutch; they're an unnecessary formality.

C: (poking me in the chest) You know what you need? A hat. A big hat with a buckle on it.

FD: I suppose you'd have to draw a line between habit and "obsession" or whatever OCD people call the things they do. But where would you draw it? A person whose habit it is to always soap up his left arm first in the shower is decidedly less a slave to habit than the person who has to spell out his name on his kitchen table with Skittles before he can leave the house.

C: I'm going to develop a habit right now. Check this out. (grunting and straining) Ow. There! Now I always have to pick the Maraschino cherry off of something and eat it separately. Whaddya say to a milkshake? Make mine a mocha with a cherry on top. I'll go get your keys.

FD: My colleague brings up an excellent point. Can you think of a habit that you consciously started? While you may have, through daily repetition, "made a habit" of locking your house before you leave, I would call that more of a learned pattern than a habit. It's ingrained because you were taught to do it by your parents or forcibly by having your stuff stolen when you forgot to do it.

C: (picking up a fork) This one's got five tines! Five! What a crazy, twisted--oh, wait. It's only got four. My mistake. But still, if it had five, wouldn't that be weird? Most of them only have four.

FD: So that's your homework assignment, time-wasters. Consciously develop a habit. It has to be something totally unconnected to the efficiency at which you go about your life. Make it a habit to check for your wallet before you blow your nose. Turn your car's fan to medium-high before you start it, and then to low before you back out of the driveway. Eat all the red Skittles out of the bag before starting on the rest.

C: You know how you can make people remember you? By getting yourself a hat with a buckle on it and asking for strange things at Steak'n'Shake. You have that list of funny British words? That'd be great. I'm going to ask for a plate of fried trundle-wheeps. Oh, and the Steak'n'Shake building looks like it's made out of peppermint candies.

FD: Never waver! It has to become a habit. And if you can teach it to your children, it could make the leap from stupid idea you read on the Internet to habit to meme to neurosis in a matter of generations. Just think! Something you started doing one day because you were bored could eventually turn into "that thing we don't talk about over dinner, okay? Now stop staring and eat your corn."

C: You're out of ideas now, aren't you?

FD: Pretty much.

C: How're you going to end it?

FD: Stop typing?

C: Brilliant!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Blah, and Furthermore, Blah

If you would be so indulgent, dear browser, I would like to don my Old Man hat and rant a bit. If I could ask for your further obligefulness, I would also like to don my hobo pants. Thanks! Mighty white of you.

Oh, it wouldn't bother you, dear browser, if I were to wear these fat guy suspenders too, would it? Grand. And this dirty old cummerbund? Capital!

Of course, I did not come here to discuss my wardrobe, but rather the slow and inexorable decline in substance and quality of American written discourse. Let me put it in a timeline:

In the Olden Days, intrapersonal communication was characterized by mincingly polite prose on really dense, yellowish paper served up in envelopes like the one pictured above, which appears to have been sealed with strawberry preserves. Letters were painstakingly written by hand with a singularly disagreeable instrument called a "fountain pen," which was basically a miniature dagger retrofitted for writing duty by placing it near a little dunky-pot of ink.

The point of course is that if you were going to go through all the trouble of sharpening your pen and finding some of that neat leathery paper and some jam to seal your envelope, you were going to make jolly well sure that your content was worthy.

For instance, just a day ago, I got a letter from a friend. Sure, it was just an email, but compared to the fashionable methods of communication, it was downright quaint.

And so it was for years, until someone (probably some hard-faced old man with a monocle and a limp and a penchant for whacking children with a cane) came up with the typewriter. "Myeah! It lets ya write lots, see? Lots! And all in one go, see? Myeah!" this prince among men probably said.

It was then possible for the average (literate) human to put down on paper all that he wished to say without worrying about running out of ink, hurling his damnable fountain pen out the window in frustration, or deciding that this paper was far too nice to be rudely prodded with said pen.

The letter I got from my friend, for example, was orders of magnitude longer and more richly detailed than most of today's fashionable methods allow. Well, okay, it was only a single sentence, but it was a properly structured and punctuated sentence. Try getting that from your average Twitterer.

The typewriter served mankind (and, according to some thought experiments, monkeykind) well for decades until some pansy with tender fingertips invented the word processor. With its ability to store page upon page of writing in semi-volatile form, ease of editing surged. Now a reasonably intelligent monkey could write an eight-page letter, complete with proper spelling and mostly proper punctuation, without saying more than two or three important things.

The letter my friend sent me, though, being only the single sentence, was a paragon of distilled wit; the antithesis of vacuous; a precise roadmap of the important events in his life.

Well, okay, it was about a fart. And at least one imaginary shrew.

That's not really important right now. I just don't like these modern kids, slouching around ejaculating their proto-thoughts with their shiny little cellphones that I fantasize about sealing up permanently with strawberry preserves.

As much as I am loathe to do so, I have to take off my Old Man hat so that I can post this little rant in a browser that is still in beta, on a computer with four processors and two monitors. Otherwise, it'd be hypocritical, wouldn't it?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Moron Helps Drive a Truck - Part 2

By the time the Moron had all of the Commodities stacked on the shelves inside the back of the truck, his bowtie was damp with sweat, and he desperately needed a Barky Bar.

"You go on without me," he said from the floor, where he lay flat on his back with one arm tossed over his honest brow.

"I can't," said the driver. He poked the Moron in the chest with his crutch. "Because of this."

"I don't think I'm going to make it. Tell my cats I hate them." He curled up into a ball and began snoring.

"We'll stop at a doughnut place," the driver said with a rising inflection. "Buuuut I suppose you wouldn't be interested in doughnuts, being dead and all." He looked back over his shoulder to see what effect this had on the Moron, but he was gone.

"Come on! That ol' highway's a-callin our names. It's calling me 'Ignatius' for some reason, but I'll let it go this time. Pedal to the textured polymer floor covering!" the Moron hooted, leaning out of the passenger's side window of the truck.

The great Diesel V8 roared, propelling the twelve-ton vehicle out into the great vastness of uncharted rural and semi-rural Michigan. The Moron, who wished he'd brought a champagne bottle to smash on the truck's fender to commemorate this voyage, had to settle for staring in awe at the driver.

"Stop that," the driver said.

"How do you find your way about so easily?" the Moron said, his voice clotted with awe and Barky Bar shrapnel.

"This is just the other end of the parking lot. See? There's your car."

"Swoon!" the Moron said, but didn't. The Company needed him alert and unswooned if he were going to singlehandedly keep the ledgers in the black. "So where's our first stop?"

The driver popped a match alight with his thumbnail. "Oh, you're going to love this," he said, lighting his cigar. "We're going over to another building to pick up even more Commodities."

"Oooooo..." the Moron said, impressed. "Can I have one?"

"A Commodity? I'm afraid not. The Places on our route need those."

"No, one of those," the Moron said, pointing.

"A cigar? Are you sure?"

"No, a match," he said, pointing harder.

"What for?"


"Good enough for me!" The driver handed one of the wooden strike-anywhere matches to the Moron, who immediately put it in his breast pocket and resumed his vacuous look of awe and indigestion. "We're here. You wanna run round back and lift the door while I go unlock the building and get at the loading dock door?"

"Do I ever!" the Moron hooted, springing from the truck and sprawling on the pavement.

The Moron dampened his bowtie again with the sweat of labor. A little less this time, he thought, because the work was putting him in better shape. He flexed a biceps.

"Yessirreefrank," he said, admiring it. He heaved the last box of Commodities into the truck and pulled the door down.

"Well, this was rather unexpected," he mumbled to himself in the colorless twilight of the back of the truck. "Seems I have misjudged the proper zone of untrappedfulness. Looks like it's on that side of the door."

He scratched his head.

He scratched an armpit.

He admired his biceps again.

"Wonder if it latches from the outside..." He inspected the door's lower edge. "Yes. It seems so. That would make sense, wouldn't it?" he said, nudging a Commodity. "Let's just hope the driver notices I'm missing before he takes off!"