Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Born from jets; hoping for rebirth.

I still remember the Saab that got me—a dark red 1978 99 Turbo that I spotted at a donut shop when I was nine. It was a startling vehicle, with its clamshell hood, crazy wrap-around windshield, and rakish, swooping hatch. To me, it looked like some kind of spaceship, but cooler than anything George Lucas could’ve imagined. Even the nameplate seemed otherworldly: SAAB. I remember thinking that I’d probably never get a chance to ride in anything so exotic.

But just a few years later, my father began working for a Swedish firm, and his company car was a blue 1984 Saab 900 Turbo. Riding in its cockpit for the first time, feeling the whoosh of the turbocharger that seemed ready to lift us right off the pavement, I was hooked. I’ve owned four different Saabs since then, two of which are still in my driveway.

Like most Saab aficionados, I was never happy about GM’s dulling influence on the company, but I also grudgingly recognized that, without GM’s investment, Saab might’ve disappeared years ago. Still, that knowledge hasn’t made it any less painful to watch GM's recent treatment of Saab, first trying to sell them off like some toxic asset, and later announcing that they would just shut them down.

The American media’s Saab coverage has been spotty, so I’ve been following the story on a Swedish news site called The Local. Multiple articles there have suggested that GM rejected an initial bid from Dutch carmaker Stryker because it was backed by Russian investors, and “GM was reportedly concerned about the transfer of technical know-how to Russia.”

That one really had me scratching my head. Sure, Saabs have always featured some nifty engineering, but does the company really possess some secret technology that simply cannot fall into Russian hands? And if said technology does exist, why hasn’t GM exploited it to, you know, make money?

I'm beginning to suspect that GM is content to let Saab die because they'd rather not see the brand succeed under someone else’s stewardship—a turn of events that would just underline GM's own failure. And perhaps GM doesn't want any of their future vehicles—be they Chevys, Opels or Vauxhalls—to be forced to compete with a reinvigorated Saab, whose owners have always been among the world's most loyal and enthusiastic. Maybe that mysterious Saabist devotion is the real "technology" that GM is hesitant to sell.

As of today, GM has reportedly reopened the door to potential buyers; here's hoping that they can work something out. If not, maybe I'll see if I can track down that 99 Turbo from the donut shop, or an old 900 like Dad's—both cars are still more original and inspiring to me than anything Detroit has produced in the last thirty years.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Free Couch! (cushions not included)

Two weeks ago, we put our old couch out on the curb. We were actually hesitant to let it go—we'd had it for nearly ten years, and it was still quite comfortable—but we needed the space, and we were sure that someone else would give it a good home.

Within an hour, a couple in a minivan stopped to claim the couch. They said they wanted it for their playroom—they had young children, in addition to a teenage son—but they needed to clear some space in their van before they could haul it away. The plan was that would take the cushions and pillows immediately, and then the man and the teenage son would return shortly for the rest of the couch.

It seemed like a reasonable idea at the time. It was two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon; I figured they’d be back before dinner. But while other people stopped to inspect the couch (now looking a little naked), there was no sign of the couple in the minivan, either that day or the next. They just never came back.

And I just keep asking myself, Why?

I can understand changing your mind—maybe they figured out that the couch wouldn’t fit in their playroom. But still, wouldn't you at least return the cushions so that somebody else could use the thing? How much trouble could that possibly be, especially if it meant saving it from a landfill?

Since I don't like to think ill of people, I've been trying to imagine a scenario that would excuse this couple’s behavior. So far, I've only come up with three possibilities, summarized below. Since I never got their real names, I’ve just referred to them as "Regis and Kelly."

1. The 24 Theory.

Regis and Kelly were actually undercover counterterrorism operatives who had just discovered an explosive device hidden in the “Seasonal/Juice/Candy” aisle of our local Star Market. Using our couch cushions to fashion a makeshift blast suit, Kelly had successfully defused the bomb, saving dozens of lives and literally hundreds of dollars in tacky holiday decorations.

As a token of his gratitude, the store manager presented Kelly with a gallon jug of store-brand cranberry juice. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, Kelly attempted a celebratory swig from the unwieldy bottle, but just ended up spilling cranberry juice all over our herself and couch cushions, staining them irreparably.

2. The Memento / Dory Theory.

A tragic trapeze mishap in 1994 left Regis and Kelly afflicted with anteretrograde amnesia, a rare brain disorder that prevents them from being able to store new memories. And so, three minutes after pulling away from our house, Regis and Kelly forgot that they’d ever stopped. Upon arriving home that night, they were stunned to discover that their minivan was packed with couch cushions of every conceivable color and size.

Agreeing that this was probably just another one of Regis Jr.’s teenage pranks—in reality, Regis Jr. is now 30 years old and running for Massachusetts' open U.S. Senate seat—Regis and Kelly stacked all of the cushions on the curb for the morning trash pickup.

3. Raiders of the Lost Couch

Regis and Kelly were actually renegade "recyclers" (aka curb cruisers, dumpster divers, or sidewalk stalkers) who, shortly after leaving our house, were captured by a tyrannical junk cartel. Dragged to the evil trashlord's headquarters/two-car garage, they faced their longtime nemesis—we'll just call her "Kathie Lee"—who had discovered our cushions and correctly identified them as part of a rare late-90s Crate & Barrel Apartment Sleeper. Kathie Lee threatened Regis and Kelly with unspeakable tortures unless they revealed the couch's location.

"I'll never tell," Regis scowled. "You don't scare me anymore, Kathie Lee."

"Oh no?" Kathie Lee said, flicking on a karaoke machine.

Two days and 273 Christmas medleys later, Regis finally snapped and agreed to lead Kathie Lee to the couch. But by the time the trio arrived back at our house, the couch had disappeared...

They wondered: Had it been carted it off by some less-picky trash-picker? Or had it, separated from its beloved cushions, died of a broken heart and ascended directly to furniture heaven?

Or maybe—just maybe—the original owner couldn't leave the fricking couch blocking the sidewalk forever, so he'd had to haul this decushionated behemoth to the garage—by himself, if I had to guess—pivoting, dragging, and flipping the thing end-over-end, its fold-up bed frame periodically springing out at him like some enormous mechanical tongue. And maybe the couch is still sitting in his garage—alongside his old washer and dryer and everything else he can’t bring himself to throw out—waiting for someone to knock on his door and ask for it.

Or maybe we’ll never know what really happened…and maybe it’s better that way.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Teen Wolf Wearing Ray-Bans

As I've mentioned before, people visit my blog for a variety of reasons, most of which involve looking for someone or something else. They search for "snacks to regulate blood sugar," and Google or Yahoo magically mis-leads them to a post about my diabetic cat.

I feel a twinge of guilt every time I see hits like that in my Google Analytics report—my blog certainly isn't going to help anyone control their blood sugar—but I do enjoy my little glimpse of the things people search for:

best things about working in information technology
lost or corrupted user profile in Vista
how do you say ‘fan club’ in japanese?
use of freeze by dates
derek shortened
queasyness at bedtime
i'm not the man i thought i was
teen wolf wearing raybans

That's all pretty mundane stuff—I mean, who hasn't been gripped by the need to see an adolescent lycanthrope in glamorous eyewear? But every once in a while, I'll encounter a search imbued with such passion that it practically jumps off the screen:

a dog keeps peeing on the grassy strip between the curb and sidewalk who owns it

This one scared me because, very briefly, I worried it might've come from some disgruntled neighbor. Thankfully, Google indicated that this visitor actually lives in Iselin, New Jersey, a place Hugo and I will be sure to steer clear of.

Over time, I've noticed that certain searches seem to transcend geography. For some reason, I see hits like these coming in from all corners of the globe:

blackberry change life
blackberry changes people life
blackberry change my life
blackberry will make my life better
sugar snacks
blood sugar snacks
snacks good for blood sugar
snacks to regulate blood sugar
un gateau
ce n'est pas de gateaux
ceci n'est pas un gateau

The Blackberry hits, which arrived from as far away as Malaysia, Indonesia, and South Africa, just depress me beyond words. And while I totally understand all the blood sugar queries—diabetes is a global issue—it's harder to guess why people everywhere are also searching on "Ceci n'est pas un gateau." Though in a surreal sort of way, one search does answer the other, non?

Snacks good for blood sugar?
This is not a cake!

But by far the most curious search to bring anyone to my blog has to be:

he peeing long moan good

I have no idea what this person was looking for, but I’m pretty sure it was inappropriate, if only grammatically. And for some reason, my blog is the #1 Google result for this phrase.

I've always wanted to be #1 at something; I guess this is it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Old, Familiar Friend

Two weeks ago today, I took my old friend Spalding to the vet, something I'd done so many times over the last sixteen years. Unfortunately, this trip wasn’t like any of the others; this time, I came home with an empty carrier.

I'd known this day was coming, but that didn't make the occasion any less sad. As it turned out, diabetes wasn’t Spalding’s worst problem—he also had a tumor on one of his hind legs. By the time we discovered it, camouflaged within his gray fur and already encroaching on his knee, the only treatment was amputation. Given Spalding’s age and medical resume, we decided to keep him comfortable instead.

He had four good months after that, which I think was more than any of us expected. His limp gradually worsened, but he still hopped up onto the couch every night and sat purring beside me while I watched TV or wrote. And that's how I'll always remember Spald: a warm, happy shape beside me on the couch.

And he actually made an excellent writing partner, except on those rare occasions when I attempted to use a pen. Spalding never met a pen he didn't want to rub his face against, so he would chase it back and forth across the page, purring and lunging and knocking my hand off course. It kinda drove me crazy sometimes. But now, of course, I miss it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Weapon of Choice

It’s ten-thirty on Thursday night. Lilah and Alex are asleep, Hugo has been walked, and I’m in the dining room, trying to write.

But now Hugo appears beside me, wide-eyed and whining. I run through the list of things that might be troubling him:

Does he have water?

Is there a mouse in the kitchen cabinets?
I find no evidence of this, but much like the existence of God, it's a difficult thing to disprove.

Did the cat die again?
No, Spalding is still breathing..and now he’s meowing at me because I touched him.

Is Hugo about to have explosive diarrhea?
I take him outside again, and he casually attempts to pee on the new Japanese maple. When I snap the leash, he pretends to have been aiming for the fence.

Is Hugo distressed by that new rawhide, resting so tantalizingly atop the china cabinet?
I take the rawhide down and give it to Hugo. He runs off to stash it in his crate with his other rawhides, and then returns to whine at me again.

Would Hugo prefer that I write in the living room?
I relocate myself to the couch, which is far too comfy for productivity at this hour. Hugo is still upset though, pacing back and forth in front of me…

…and that’s when I finally see it, the source of his agitation: there’s a fly in the house.

This is very bad news, perhaps worse than all of the other possibilities combined. Something about a fly’s buzzing tickles the most primal parts of Hugo’s brain. If I don’t banish this thing, Hugo will be barking and chasing it around the house all night, pausing only to chew out his frustrations on unsuspecting shoes and books. And none of us will sleep.

My fly-killing skills are notoriously weak though, a point that was driven home by our cat Theo a few years ago. I'd been chasing this monster fly around the house, flailing and cursing at the thing for a good ten minutes, when it made the mistake of buzzing past Theo, half-asleep on a chair. Without even rising from his reclined position, Theo snatched the fly out of the air, dragged it straight to his mouth, and ate it in front of me.

I'd never been so impressed and revolted at the same time.

But Theo has since passed away, Spalding has no interest in insects, and Hugo is all enthusiasm and no skill. I grab Lilah’s slim paperback of Henry and Mudge from the table and, with little hope of success, begin tracking the fly. It circles just out of reach, resting first on the ceiling, and then on the inside of a lampshade.

When it finally stops on the wall, I strike. The fly lurches back into the air, stunned but alive, and Hugo lunges after it. His snapping jaws knock the fly off course, but it's just another glancing blow.

Seeking a more substantial weapon, I grab a magazine from today’s mail. The fly lights on the blinds and I strike again, knocking it to the windowsill while Hugo barks in near-rabid excitement behind me. One more bash, and the fly is finally dead.

With equal parts pride and relief, I get a tissue to collect the corpse and clean the errant bug-bits off the murder weapon, the Fall 2009 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. I recognize that there will be karmic consequences for what I've done, but at this point, I'm ready to accept a few lifetimes as a dung beetle if I can finally get some fricking work done.

But as soon as I return to the couch and the computer, so does Hugo. He's whining and wedging his head up onto my lap, every bit as agitated as before.

What now? Another bug?

No, it seems that Hugo just doesn’t understand what happened. He never saw the dead fly, so he's convinced that it's just hiding somewhere, waiting to start buzzing again.

Or maybe Hugo knows exactly what happened, and this is just his way of asking, "Aren't you going to eat that?"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Better Life Through Blackberry

One of the best things about working in information technology is that, even after 15 years, I still learn new things every day.

One afternoon last summer, for example, I learned that you should never answer your cell phone in a bathroom. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve discovered that when something starts buzzing in my pocket, my irrepressible instinct is to make it stop.1 On this occasion, I also experienced an untimely loss of motor control, and—splash!—I got my first Blackberry the next day.

If I’d known how completely that Blackberry would change my life though, I would’ve tossed my old Motorola RAZR in the toilet much sooner.2 So for anyone who might be contemplating Life on Blackberry, here’s an overview of the key benefits:

Always Connected!
Now that I carry my e-mail with me everywhere, I never miss an important message. Whether I’m driving to work, watching my daughter’s dance recital, or just trying to eat my dinner, I get:

BZZT!Hot deals from Dell!

And then BZZT!25% off Photo Mugs at Kodak Gallery!

And also BZZT!Amazon has some exciting products to recommend based items I bought as gifts for other people!

And how could I live without BZZT!The Gap is having a sale on flirty summer skirts!

And also, BZZT!Your Amazon order confirmation!

And furthermore BZZT!Your Amazon shipment notification!

And don’t forget BZZT!Yet another Amazon shipment notification! Because your electric nose-hair trimmers are coming from a separate warehouse!

And on a related note, receiving separate alerts for every single message3 has revealed how little of my correspondence comes from actual human beings, liberating me from the delusion that I have a lot of friends. (Sure, it hurts a little, but I'm growing from it. And when I get blue, I just order more stuff from Amazon.)

Always Sharing!
My Blackberry’s digital camera and 3G Internet connection has also changed the way I look at the world. Now I can take a low-res photo of anything I see and instantly upload it to Facebook, whose proprietary ImageCrappening™ technology will render it totally unrecognizable even to me. (How did I ever live without this?)

And on a related note, this capability also earned me a smirking reprimand from a supermarket manager, who stopped me from photographing myself in their security camera display.4 I'd been thinking that the picture would make a cool Facebook profile photo, but it turns out that I’m just a complete moron. Which is really good to know. (No pain, no gain, right?)

Always Antisocial!
One of the most overlooked Blackberry benefits is the ability it gives you to avoid eye contact with people you don’t want to talk to. Here’s how it works:

The moment you sense someone approaching, take out your Blackberry and stare down at it seriously. As long as you DON'T SMILE, everyone in the area will assume that you’re absorbed in some high-level business activity—maybe destabilizing the credit markets, or shipping American jobs overseas—and they will leave you alone.

If, on the other hand, someone were to see you fiddling with an iPhone, they would know immediately that you were just screwing around. Not only would they interrupt you, they might even ask to play with your iPhone, getting their greasy fingerprints all over it. This is something that I promise will never happen with a Blackberry.

Always Exploring!
The Blackberry’s built-in GPS, combined with VZ Navigator’s turn-by-turn driving directions, has taken me places that I never would've gone without it. On a recent drive to New York City, for example, VZ Navigator lost its GPS fix on us just as we were approaching the George Washington Bridge. This sent VZNav into a Tourette’s-like froth, during which it exhorted us to make a series of impossible turns onto side-streets that we couldn’t even see from the canyon of I-95. “Turn left onto Pinehurst Avenue! Turn left onto Washington Avenue! TRAFFIC INCIDENT AHEAD—5.6 MILES!!!”

It was all very exciting. So exciting, in fact, that we missed the one we turn actually needed—exit route 95 onto route 9A—et voilà: Welcome to New Jersey!

I shudder to think: if we'd been following those silly Google Maps directions, we would've missed out on that magical $8 ride back through the Lincoln Tunnel. I know that sounds expensive for a mere 8,000 feet of roadway, but when you calculate it out on a cost-per-hour basis, you see that the Lincoln Tunnel is actually one of Manhattan’s most affordable attractions. Particularly at rush hour.

Always Learning!
With the Internet always at my fingertips, I never have to wonder about anything anymore. Instead, I just look it up on IMDB or Wikipedia, interrupting the flow of every conversation to answer important questions like, "Who was the guy in that movie with so-and-so?" and “Is tofurkey made from soy or seitan?”

And while the answer to the former question is invariably Charles Durning or Dan Hedaya, the latter answer really depends on whether you’re referring to Turtle Island Foods' Tofurky™ products (capital T, no e), or if you’re using the more general word “tofurkey” to talk about some other turkey-like meat analogue. A word that, coincidentally, also has an extra e when compared to the analog in terms like analog television. And also an extra u, which tofurkey has either way I guess...

Sorry...what were we talking about?

1I trace this impulse back to the day I inadvertently pushed the lawnmower over a nest of yellow jackets while wearing shorts. It's just a self-preservation thing.
2Note: This technique does not actually make a RAZR stop ringing.
3Yes, I know how to turn the buzzing off. But what would be the point of that?
4The supermarket rules as I understand them: they can take as many pictures of me as they want, but self-portraiture is a terrorist act.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Infinity Times Two

Two girls, aged five and six, take seats at the dinner table.

5: I am so hungry right now.
6: Yeah, me too.
5: I'm so hungry I could eat your whole head off, if I was allowed.
6: But you wouldn't, right? Because I'm your friend.
5: No, I would. I'm serious. I would eat your head off right now.
6: But...would you eat your brother's head?
5: I would if I was allowed.
6: Well, I could eat the whole world and the universe.
5: And I could eat more than that.
6: And I could eat the whole day of school. I could eat the whole year.
5: Actually, I could eat even more than that.
6: Okay, well how about we just eat the same instead of boasting* about it?
5: Okay.

*Recent kindergarten vocabulary word. 6's teacher would be so proud.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I'm not the man you thought I was

I recently discovered that some of you have come here looking for an entirely different Derek Gentry.

So, just to clarify: I'm not him. I'm me.

I can certainly understand the confusion. In addition to having the same name, this other Derek Gentry and I are roughly the same age, and we both work in IT. The difference between us, it seems, is that he has been accused of defrauding a scented candle company out of $800,000, whereas I...well, my rigorous TV-watching schedule just doesn't allow for projects that ambitious.

I will admit, however, that after visiting the alleged candle company's website, I sorta wanted to bring them down too. I can't really explain or justify this impulse…I guess it’s just a Derek Gentry thing.

According to, there are thirty-one Derek Gentrys in the US, something that I was blissfully unaware of until recently. But now whenever I come across one of us, I wonder, Is he a better Derek Gentry than I am? Has he more fully realized his Derek Gentry potential than I have? My conclusion: Probably. I’ve always suspected that somebody else could do a better job of being me.

I also wonder: Would I have become a different person if I'd been given a different name? I think I would. A judge in New Zealand actually made a 9-year-old girl a ward of the court because her parents had named her Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii, saying that the name "makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap." I agree, and also I think the same could be said of the other names mentioned in the article, like "Number 16 Bus Shelter." How could you not be affected by growing up with a name like that?

Derek Gentry has been pretty good to me though. It did not lend itself to playground taunting, which is an important test of any name. As a kid, I sometimes wished that I was named “Steve,” but that was only because I also wanted to be The Six Million Dollar Man. At other times, I wished that Derek shortened to something, or that I had a nickname, but I've gotten over that.

I now work at a company where nicknaming is rampant, but unfortunately, these nicknames are often based on your initials. As a result, I get called DAG, DAGman, DAGmar, and DAGnabbit. None of these is exactly music to my ears, but the best one by far is "DAGmaster," which blossoms into "DAGmastah" when pronounced with the propah Massachusetts accent. If I ever pull a Joaquin Phoenix and drop IT for hip-hop, I will adopt the name DagMastah Flash.

Until then, you can just call me Derek. If it's even me you're looking for.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Beauty Is My Business

My wife had to be at work early on Monday, so I stuck around to get Lilah off to school. When it was time to do something with her hair, Lilah handed me a brush and two elastics.

“Two elastics? Why two?”
“I want pigtails today!”
“Oh, hmmm…I’ve never done pigtails. They'd probably be all lopsided.”
“How about braids?”
“Yeah…I would have no idea how to do braids.”
“Why not?”
“I just never learned. I’ve never had enough hair to do anything like that.”
“Well, maybe you should get one of those big Barbie-head things so you can practice?”

I knew exactly what she was thinking. Two weeks before, I’d taken Lilah to Toys R Us to spend her Tooth Fairy profits, and we’d stumbled into an entire pallet of Barbie-head things. But these weren’t ordinary Barbie heads, they were Barbie Island Princess Rosella Karaoke Styling Heads, a hundred of them stacked in the aisle, all marked down to $19.99, and all pleading, “Try me! I sing!”

Lilah pressed the test button on one of the heads, and its jaw twitched up and down in an unnerving way, chirping, "Let’s get ready for the royal ball!” According to the box, Rosella could sing three songs from the Barbie Island Princess movie, and you could sing along using the included flower microphone.
Now, perhaps Mattel had been convinced that this groundbreaking karaoke feature would reignite the whole Styling Head market, but my guess is that most parents would rather set their own hair on fire than bring home a creepy robotic singing Barbie head with no volume control. (Which is to say that Rosella was clearly aimed at the grandparent market.)

I also had to wonder what the unlucky employees of Rosella's Chinese factory felt about her. What would an entire assembly line of these singing blond heads look like? And how much more disturbing would they seem if they all sang in some unintelligible foreign tongue?

Regardless, Lilah wanted one. Rosella was slightly out of her price range though, and for some reason, I could not be convinced to chip in. Instead, we took home the house-brand “Dream Dazzlers Stylin' School Stylin' Head,” which was smaller, cheaper, and far less likely to start chanting prophecies of doom.

After school on Monday, Lilah sat me down for a hair-doin' lesson on the Stylin' Head. I thought I did pretty well for a first-timer, but Lilah's main comment was that she would give me additional lessons this weekend, "when we have more time." I'll let you judge the results for yourself.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dentistry for Amateurs

Despite my numerous protests, my daughter Lilah went ahead and turned six last October.

Around the same time, she also discovered that one of her front teeth was loose, an equally disconcerting development that she never tired of flaunting.

“Daddy look!”
“Oh…wow. That’s, uh…wow.”
“See how much I can wiggle it?”
“Yeah, but let’s not play with it too much, okay? We don’t want it to come out before the new one is ready, right?”

Lilah had already lost two lower teeth, but I just didn’t feel prepared for the front ones to go. The way I saw it, their departure would be the first big step in remaking her adorable little-girl grin into something new, unknown, and far more likely to snarl at me when I asked her how her day was. She was already growing up way too fast…couldn’t we just keep the baby teeth a little longer?

That feeling proved fleeting though—Lilah’s tooth soon became so unhinged that it was actually unsettling to look at. She would be telling my wife and I about something that had happened at school, but I’d find myself transfixed by this errant fang, trying to imagine how it could possibly remain attached while sticking out at a 45° angle. The tooth drove Lilah crazy too, flip-flopping around uncomfortably at every meal. Clearly, the thing had to go.

So every morning at breakfast, we’d give the wonky tooth a once-over, and every morning, we’d reach the same conclusion: “Oh yeah—that thing is coming out today!”

But six weeks later, the tooth was still holding on, and evicting it became a full-fledged hobby for me and Lilah. We’d dedicate an hour to it on Saturday mornings, Lilah testing the tooth in the mirror while I egged her on: How far can you push it back? How much can you pull it forward? How much can you twist it? But despite our efforts, the tooth remained stubbornly attached, gradually acquiring a disturbing bluish cast that even Lilah’s classmates mentioned.

I will admit that it was tempting to reach in and yank the thing out myself, but something made me hesitate. I’d had a similarly maddening tooth when I was a kid, and my maternal grandmother had decided that she would be the one to remove it—her father had been a dentist after all, and she was still in possession of his tools. Retrieving some antique pliers from the collection, Gram reached into my mouth and, with one swift motion, yanked the tooth out of my head.

Or, that was the idea anyway. She’d actually extracted the tooth beside the wobbly one, but you know...close enough.

Strangely, this story only convinced Lilah that we needed some pliers—or at least help from her friend Shanna, the preschool classmate who had inadvertently removed Lilah’s very first tooth. During a momentary lull at circle time, Shanna had asked Lilah if she could try wiggling said tooth, and somehow ended up twisting it right out of Lilah’s jaw. This was very exciting to the rest of their class—apparently bloodshed was rare at circle time—but once order had been restored, there was much joking about Shanna’s bright future as a dentist.

Thankfully, neither the pliers nor Shanna’s help proved necessary. Lilah was at the mirror doing her dental calisthenics one morning when the tooth just popped free. Lilah spat the tiny thing into her hand and we both stared at it, shocked. It seemed impossibly small, hardly bigger than a tic-tac really. How could something so tiny have caused so much trouble?

A second later though, Lilah all smiles, charging downstairs and yelling to my wife, “It came out! It came out! Yaaaay!”

This relief lasted until the next morning, when we discovered that Lilah’s remaining front tooth had tipped itself into the vacant space, essentially leaving Lilah with one very crooked, very central tooth. Thankfully, this configuration didn’t last that long—the leaner popped out two weeks later, opening a spacious, lisp-inducing gap in the front of Lilah’s smile.

So here we are: change has come, and more is coming as the two new front teeth inch their way into view. I still can’t say that I’m happy about all of it, but I’m trying, since I have little choice in the matter. And I know that soon enough, those two lost baby teeth are going to look even smaller than they do now.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Japanese Fan Club?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the months following your 16th birthday are pretty much the ideal time to go on vacation with your parents.

In my case, it was a trip to San Francisco in 1986, which allowed me to share my special brand of adolescent moodiness—and nerdy fashion sense—with the entire Bay Area, from scenic Carmel-by-the-Sea to the rolling hills of Wine Country.

Or at least I think that’s where we went—I actually spent the whole trip with headphones clamped to my ears, ignoring one breathtaking Pacific vista after another, and insisting that Alcatraz was the only thing that interested me in Northern California.

(And to Mom & Dad, I would just like to say: bad. Thanks for not abandoning me on the side of Highway 1.)

For some reason, my parents declined to spend even three hours of their vacation inside a prison, so the closest I would get to Alcatraz was a cruise around San Francisco Bay. That’s okay though, because it was while we were waiting in line for this ferry that I experienced the most singularly magnificent moment of my life to that point: out of nowhere, five young Japanese women approached us and asked if they could have their pictures taken with me.

To my 16-year-old self, this was as awesome as it was confusing. I regarded any female attention as an intrinsic good, even as I accepted the following very real possibilities:

1.That they had only chosen me because I looked unusually ridiculous, even for an American.
2.That these “Japanese tourists” were actually UC Berkeley students who just enjoyed messing with gullible out-of-towners.

But as the girls giggled through their round-robin camera exchange, taking turns posing beside me, I definitely got the feeling that they'd mistaken me for a celebrity—I just couldn’t imagine who. And between the language barrier and my burgeoning social awkwardness, I wasn’t about to ruin the moment by asking.

And then it was over, and time to board our ferry. From our seats on the upper deck, I got one last glimpse of my new friends, still standing together on the pier as we motored away. I waved to them, and they waved back with an enthusiasm that made me smile, even if it was intended for someone else. (And to these mysterious women, I would just like to say: Thanks. And my parents thank you too—if not for your arrival, I'd still be sulking about Alcatraz.)

I’ve often wondered how long it took them to realize their mistake. At the time, the only celebrity I could think of who even vaguely approximated my age and coloring was Michael J. Fox. But although he was still playing teenagers, he was really nine years older than me, six inches shorter, and (one would think) far less likely to be traveling with his parents. I doubted that anyone could confuse us, even considering the well-documented challenges of identifying people from other ethnic groups wearing enormous Ray-Ban Wayfarers.
Michael J. Fox photo by Alan Light

Come to think of it though, I’d originally acquired those sunglasses in an effort to make myself look more like Huey Lewis—perhaps I’d been more successful than I’d realized? Sure, Mr. Lewis was a full twenty years older than me, but he and the News were based in the Bay Area, after all. Even more telling, they had contributed two hit songs to Michael J. Fox’s biggest movie, Back to the Future. Hmmm...

However, I suspect that the answer might actually be found via one of Mr. Fox’s smaller films, Teen Wolf, in which he had portrayed a basketball-playing teenage werewolf. Those who have seen Teen Wolf understand that the film simply demanded a sequel—Teen Wolf Too—for which the producers turned to Jason Bateman, who was younger and less famous, but who still kind-sorta looked like Fox...and a little like me too?
Jason Bateman photo by Alan Light

Did those women think I was Jason Bateman? Maybe. Although, I have no idea what kind of Japanese fan base Jason enjoyed circa 1986—or for that matter, if my friends from the pier were actually Japanese.

What I do know is that Bateman played a character named “Derek“ on the popular TV show Silver Spoons, which might just seem like an eerie coincidence until you consider the fact that, on Arrested Development, Bateman played the father of Superbad actor Michael Cera, whose current hairdo is clearly an homage to the Chia-shrub that I was rockin' in '86.
Michael Cera photo by eugene

Okay, so maybe it's a stretch to suggest that those women mistook me for Michael Cera, especially when you consider the fact that he wasn’t born until two years after I visited San Francisco. But still, I can’t help feeling like there’s a connection there somewhere...maybe via Doc Brown’s DeLorean? (Or perhaps I’ve just been watching too much Lost.)

So the mystery remains unsolved for the moment, but darn it, I know the truth is out there. If the Internet has any real value (and I’m still not convinced that it does), maybe one of those women will find this post, recognize herself in the pictures, and send me an e-mail explaining what the heck happened that day. That would be pretty cool.

More likely, I'll get an e-mail from some smart-ass teenage boy pretending to be one of the women from that day...but I probably deserve that.

Either way, I just hope that Michael Cera gives me a call when he finally decides to complete the Teen Wolf trilogy. How about Teen Wolf Three: Family Vacation? I have some totally bitchin' ideas for the script.

Friday, February 20, 2009


The narrow little pantry off our kitchen has always been a mysterious space, perpetually overflowing with stuff while somehow remaining devoid of anything you’d actually want to eat. Last week, I decided to find out what was really in there. The answer: expired things, and individually wrapped fortune cookies.

I knew we had a few fortune cookies around, saved for my daughter over so many nights of Shing-Yee takeout, but what I found was a full-blown infestation: an entire Easter basket of them on one shelf, a grocery bag of them on another, and families of five huddled behind every box of crackers and cereal. I half-heartedly tried counting them on their way to the trash, but I lost track somewhere around 75.

I threw out a ton of other stuff too, including three different varieties of Teddy Grahams from ‘07, a cup of Split Pea Soup from early ‘05, and a tub of Crisco that supposedly would've been better if used by October of 2006 (I have my doubts).

As I was tossing all this stuff, I started to wonder about the expiration dates themselves. What do they really mean? For example, what sort of line did those Trader Joe's Bagel Chips cross in December of ‘08—was it merely a taste thing, or were they somehow dangerous? I've always suspected that some manufacturers set the dates arbitrarily, mostly as a way to prompt you to buy more.

Once I got into the flow of this purge though, I realized that I didn’t care if I was throwing away perfectly good food—I liked the license that the expiration dates gave me: Yes—I can be free of this accursed box of Triscuits forever! I didn’t even have to apply any judgment—things were either expired or they weren’t.

Which made me think that life would be simpler—or at least less cluttered—if everything bore expiration dates. Hmmm…do I really need to keep this Spin Doctors CD around? Oh look—it expired in 1993! But just as I was getting excited about this idea, I realized that somebody would inevitably start putting expiration dates on clothing, finally giving my wife the leverage she needed to throw out my entire wardrobe. So, you know…nevermind.

Friday, February 13, 2009

No Kindle For Me

I have always been a gadget-geek. If our house were suddenly buried by a Vesuvius-like volcanic explosion, future archaeologists excavating the site would discover a ridiculous number of battery-powered artifacts: three Blackberry phones, four iPods, four laptops, and no less than SIX digital cameras. (And to these archaeologists I would just say: be sure you find the right chargers for all this stuff, because you’ll be S.O.L. without them.)

This electronics habit, combined with my love of books, would seem to make me the ideal user for Amazon’s new Kindle 2 reading device. I’ve never actually held a Kindle in my hand, but it sounds pretty cool: a ten-ounce tablet capable of storing 1,500 electronic books, which you can purchase 24/7 using the Kindle’s free “Whispernet” wireless service. The Kindle 2 even has a text-to-voice feature that will actually read your books, magazines, and newspapers to you, if you like that sort of thing.

I won’t be getting a Kindle, however, because I just don’t see it meshing with my current program of buying way more books than I will EVER have time to read and letting them accumulate in every corner of the house: some on my nightstand, a few more on the kitchen counter, a small collection in the living room, and several precarious towers on the floor by the bookcase.

On an intellectual level, I recognize that I don’t have as much reading time as I did when I was an English major at UMass, but that doesn’t seem to stop me from walking into bookstores and convincing myself, over and over again, that I will somehow find time to read THIS book. And even when I’m willing to admit that I don’t have time right now, I tell myself that I must have this book at the ready when the rare and miraculous reading moment does arrive (i.e. the next time I can’t sleep).

Until then, I can at least enjoy my books as the beautiful objects that they are, occasionally picking one up to lose myself in its cover art or the pulpy scent of its pages. More often though, I’ll just end up knocking a heavy stack of them onto the floor while feeling around for the TV remote, or I’ll spend an hour looking for something important only to discover that it’s under a pile of stupid fricking books.

Which is just another way of saying that the books’ very physicality exerts a subtle but constant pressure that eventually results in—TA-DAH!—my reading one of them. Okay, so maybe I have to buy sixteen different titles before I reach this point, but still…reading is a good thing no matter how it happens, right? And somebody has to keep the publishers in business.

Clearly, getting a Kindle would upset the delicate balance of my life. If I could download any book at any time of the day or night, I could no longer justify buying them preemptively. And because I wouldn’t be getting a pretty new paperback or hardcover to fondle, I’d have even less desire to acquire anything until the moment I felt moved to read, which might never happen, given that I wouldn’t be tripping on books everywhere I went.

So what would motivate me to read...ever again? My fear is that I would just toss the Kindle in a drawer and go back to watching TV.

However, I think there might be a solution to this problem if Amazon can only find a way to implement it. I’ve written the following skit to dramatize my proposal:

INT. LIVING ROOM – NIGHT: Derek sits on his couch in front of his big-screen TV. An Amazon Kindle 2 rests on the table beside him.

KINDLE: Dude…didn’t you tell me that you were too busy to read? Why do I hear the TV?
DEREK: I don’t know. Leave me alone.
K: Wait—are you seriously watching Kath & Kim?
D: Well, yeah, but…I’m just waiting for The Office to come on.
K: It’s a rerun this week.
D: Yeah, but 30 Rock is on after that.
K: Dude, you should totally read a book right now.
D: Eh…
K: You liked Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, right?
D: Sure.
K: Well, customers who bought that also enjoyed The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Oh, and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which Oprah practically soiled herself over. You must know her, right—she’s on the TV too.
D: Yeah, I don’t know…I’m feeling kind of fried.
K: Dude, I can even READ IT TO YOU, you know, since you seem to have forgotten how...
D: Excuse me?

Now, I’m not completely out of my mind; I know that today’s technology wouldn’t allow you to converse with your Kindle. However, we do have the technology to allow some tattooed cube-dweller in Amazon’s Seattle offices to connect via Whispernet—which is really just Sprint’s cell service—and pretend to be your Kindle (thus all the “dudes”). And you know, I think I’d be fine with the pretending. I might even pay a small monthly fee for it, as would a large number of lonely people.

So, please consider it, Amazon. The way I see it, everybody wins: you get to sell me yet another battery-powered hunk of plastic, I keep reading (sort of), and our house is a whole lot tidier.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ceci n'est pas un gâteau.

Just a few thoughts of the Monday morning variety (i.e. things that seem interesting until I’ve had enough caffeine to realize how stupid they are):

"Ambiance" is a uniquely human concept that you could never explain to a gorilla, no matter how well it knew sign language. I would even venture to say that when we do discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, they still won’t know crap about ambiance.

At this very moment, it’s looking like Slinky Repair 101 would’ve been more useful than any of the classes I actually took in college (but I’m still holding out hope that my semester devoted to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity will eventually pay off).

Whenever I get stuck behind someone who is driving really badly, they are almost always going to the library.

Most restaurant desserts are obviously designed by people who hate dessert. I keep forgetting this, and so I get tricked into ordering things like the Flourless Chocolate Cake. I take one bite and I’m like, “Mmm, this is really…rich,” by which I actually mean, “Yeah, this isn’t even cake.”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pissing and Moaning

Like most New Englanders, I try to dedicate a portion of each day—even if it’s only 20-30 minutes—to complaining about the weather. This winter has already delivered such a wealth of meteorological misery that the only challenge has been deciding where to begin: the forty-bajillion inches of snow, the butt-numbing arctic cold, the skating-rink sidewalks, or maybe even the freakish Wizard-of-Oz winds that tore the gate off our fence.

Even our cold-loving dog Hugo seems ready for spring. I notice this most when I take him outside for the final time each night. This would normally be a two-minute jaunt, but with everything covered in hard, iced-over snow, Hugo and I end up slipping around the neighborhood for a half-hour while he searches for an acceptable place to empty his bladder.

The upside of these nightly trips is that, at least until the hypothermia sets in, I get some quiet time to think. Although, I pretty much always end up thinking the same two things: “Why won’t you just GO already?” followed soon after by, “Seriously…WHAT DOES IT FREAKING MATTER WHERE YOU PEE???”

The rest of the year, this is not a problem. At some point during our walk, Hugo will step into the grassy strip along the curb and start into his “tinkle trot,” which closely resembles a gymnast approaching the vault: his pace quickens, and after a dozen swift strides, he stops and strikes a regal pose while spattering the grass below. When he’s finished, he sniffs the air approvingly, and then steps squarely into his own puddle as he departs the scene.

But there’s no grass to be found now, Hugo WILL NOT pee on the sidewalk itself (it’s a canine thing), and the snow is piled so high everywhere that he can’t even walk through it. He still tries though, starting his trot on the sidewalk and only heaving himself up into the curbside snowbank at the very last second. His momentum carries him forward for a few more awkward steps, his feet crunching down through the snow’s icy crust and sinking him up to his belly. Eventually, he’s just stuck there, limbs ensnared, and he gives up. He looks up at me, and I swear I can hear his thoughts (which are naturally in haiku format):

Winter exhausts me.
Why do we live here again?
I blame you, human.

And so we walk on, with me trailing Hugo and repeating, “Hurry up…hurry up…hurry up,” a command that we started using when he was a puppy. Whenever he peed on his own, we’d whisper “hurry up,” gradually conditioning him to associate the words with the act.

I do worry, however, that I’ve now spent so much time saying “hurry up” when Hugo is merely preparing to pee that I might’ve changed its meaning for him. Maybe Hugo now thinks that “hurry up” means “Browse for a pee-spot, but be extremely selective.” For all I know, he might be desperately trying to hold it the whole time because I won’t give the right command, which he now thinks is something like, “Holy Freaking Crap, it’s about time!”

As it is, I usually have to go pretty badly after about fifteen minutes of this. I think all of the psychic energy that I pour into convincing Hugo to pee ends up backfiring and setting my own bladder off. And so now we’re off in some far corner of the neighborhood, Hugo still hasn’t done his thing, and I’m doing my own version of the tinkle trot to stave off incontinence.

I will admit that I’ve been tempted to go outside somewhere, but the houses in our neighborhood are very close-set, and there’s not much cover to be found (aside from the snowbanks anyway). So far, I’ve never given in to this impulse, but it does make me wonder why people are so weird about this stuff: they don’t think twice about a dog peeing on the street, but if they see another person doing it, they just call the police. I guess humans can be pretty picky about where they go too.