Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holidays

I'm back in Pennsylvania for the holidays -- that's right, I said HOLIDAYS rather than Christmas, mostly because I am a member of the liberal atheist elite who devote their lives to destroying everything Christ stands for, up to and including Christmas sales of $10 off any purchase of $50 or more at Kohl's. (Also, I do not shave my armpits, but that might go without saying.)

Speaking of the HOLIDAYS, in college I had a friend who lived with a few other students in house off campus, and he and his housemates had gotten a Christmas tree. When he said it was the first time he'd ever had a Christmas tree, I was flummoxed. Was he really poor growing up? I asked. No, he said. I know he grew up in a big city -- maybe they didn't sell Christmas trees in the city. They do sell trees in the city, he said. I did eventually figure out why he didn't have a Christmas tree growing up, but it took me a surprisingly long time to remember that Santa doesn't come down Jewish kids' chimneys. I think Santa might be an anti-Semite, probably from hanging around with Mel Gibson too much.

I do not want to be responsible for
introducing my mother to
Angry Birds
Whenever I visit my mom in Pennsylvania, I make sure to ask her if she needs any help with the computer. My mom and stepfather often have a list of things they can't figure out that are actually pretty easy -- like saving an attachment from email to the desktop -- that I can can do for them. They just recently got Droid phones and are learning how to use those, so for Christmas my sister gave them a "gift" of three free apps that she would install on their phones. How great of an idea is that for a gift? It's FREE! And it will only take my sister a few minutes to install them. Why didn't I think of that? Next year, I will try to figure out a gift for my mother that will cost me nothing but a couple minutes of effort. Do you think she would like some dust bunnies? It might be tough wrapping them, but nothing's too good for the woman who gave birth to me.

I'm no newcomer to providing technical assistance to the un-technically inclined. At my former place of employment, I was by far the most tech-savvy of the people working there and as such wound up providing a lot of de facto technical assistance even though that wasn't my job. I learned firsthand what my sister has said for years: Be careful what skills you master, because then everyone will come to you for help. One person in particular would call me for assistance, and while I was always glad to be of use, I would get a little irritated when my coworker would proclaim that SHE DIDN'T DO ANYTHING, that the computer just SPONTANEOUSLY opened the wrong document and then deleted a bunch of paragraphs ALL BY ITSELF and could I please help because apparently her computer had EVOLVED INTO A SENTIENT BEING and it was PISSED. Hey, if you hit a wrong button, then I can help. But it sounds like what you need is an exorcism, and I used my last bit of holy water to tend to my philodendron.

Christmas is past which  means New Year's Eve is right around the corner. I always waffle on whether to make any new year's resolutions. Should I set resolutions as a means of striving to improve my character? Or should I just accept my foibles as part of being human? This year, though, I'm definitely going to make a resolution: 2011 is the year I stop shaving my legs, too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

O'Hare

Ah, O'Hare. My old nemesis. We meet again.

I had thought that on Christmas of all days, perhaps we could forge a truce. In the spirit of the season's peace and love, we could lay down our mutual weapons, the way that British and German troops laid down their arms on Christmas Day in World War I and came together for one single peaceful day before going back to killing each other.

No? No peace, not even on Christmas Day? If that is your wish. Then we will fight, fight to the death.

We were scheduled to fly out of Madison at 6 AM on Christmas Day, but when we got to the airport, we were informed that the pilot was "sick," meaning there was nobody available to fly our plane. I put "sick" in quotes because c'mon, the guy was scheduled to work at 6 AM on Christmas Day. ANYBODY who is scheduled to work then is going to call in sick. Plus, I would bet a bright and shiny quarter that the pilot opened a gift-wrapped bottle of tequila on Christmas Eve and the cancellation the following morning flowed naturally from that.

It would have been handy to know about the flight difficulties BEFORE we showed up at the airport at 5 AM, and in fact we did get a text from Orbitz that our plane had been significantly delayed, but only after we had checked in, gone through security, and found our way to the gate. If you live in Chicago, please drive to Orbitz corporate HQ and punch the CEO in the face for me. Thank you.

The agent at the gate in Madison got to work rebooking people, but American Airlines figures that they only need one agent for about every 279 customers, or about the same ratio, in Uzbekistan, of endocrinologists to the general population. It took the gate agent literally an hour to rebook the first customer. I don't know what he was doing with them but it might have involved offering grief counseling. And at that point in the process, grief counseling was very appropriate.

With no pilot available to fly our plane, a healthy pilot had to be flown in from Chicago, because apparently no pilots live in Madison. Maybe we have a municipal zoning ordinance against pilots or something. My understanding is that it's not that hard to fly a plane, and they could have scared up a couple of kids who like to play Flight Simulator, but apparently the airline is a real stickler for that regulation that the pilot must be an adult. Go figure.

Stella and Baby W were rock stars for the whole trip, which I really appreciated. Stella is such a great traveler that I think she is going to grow up to be one of those people who basically lives in airports, racking up mileage by the hundreds of thousands. I just hope she remembers her dear old ma and flies me down to Miami on a companion ticket with a free upgrade.

Part of our problem is that we missed our first flight out of Chicago to Harrisburg, and planes only fly to Harrisburg once every six or seven weeks, apparently. I don't see why -- Harrisburg has a beautiful, gleaming, state of the art airport that does a wonderful job serving the nearly 25 people who fly to it every year.

This trip was reminiscent of our Christmas air travel last year, when I got to fulfill a childhood dream of spending Christmas Eve in a Super 8 motel near the Detroit airport. Last year had the advantage in that the airlines completely lost one of my carry-on bags that I had gate-checked. I never did get it back, and while I couldn't remember exactly what I had inside the bag, my memory was suddenly much clearer when it came time to file my report to get compensation for my lost bag. Yes, now it's coming back to me: the bag was full of very expensive stuff. I do remember that a t-shirt I've had since college was in there, and how can you put a price on something like that? Yet somehow I managed to: $75.

We did finally make it to Pennsylvania, albeit very late. I have a feeling, though, that the nightmare is far from over. In fact, I think it's just begun. If I don't wake up in the morning, go looking for O'Hare.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Vacuum

Baby W is getting close to crawling, but for now he just scoots around the room on his stomach. This means the floor is much cleaner than it used to be, for two reasons: 1) I vacuum it more often to make it less likely the baby can get his fat hands on the little bits of floor crud that he likes to put in his mouth, 2) but also because the baby himself essentially cleans and polishes the floor as he maneuvers around, because all the dust bunnies stick to his fleece sleeper. He reminds me of a Roomba, one of those robot floor vacuums that move randomly about the room picking up dirt. Every hour or so I shake him out on the porch to get him clean, then set him back down to suck up more dirt.

This floor is already clean.
Why do they need a vacuum?
By the way, I went to Amazon to read about Roombas, and one of the reviews that I read was 2,700 words long and had been updated six separate times over a time span of two years. That's shorter than most term papers I wrote in college, and something tells me that in college this guy shrank the margins and the font size in order to cram the most words possible into five pages. I recently learned a technique, about 15 years too late, where you skip a page number in a term paper -- for example, going from page 6 to page 8 -- so that what appears to be a 10 page paper is really only a 9 page paper. What cruel twist of fate caused me to learn this trick now? There was a brief shining moment during which knowledge of this kind of sneakiness would have come in handy, and it was during History of Russia freshman year. Now the moment has passed, leaving me bitter, much like a Bolshevik after the first failed Russian revolution, maybe, if in fact there was more than one. I don't think I wrote my paper on that.

I got kind of sucked into browsing reviews that this fellow has written, and I saw that he has written a review of a Scooba, a floor-washing robot, that was 1,500 words long. Baby W also doubles as a floor-washing robot or at least a floor-polishing robot. The wooden floors get a nice sheen after he rubs them all over with the front of his drool-soaked sleeper.

This same reviewer has written hundreds of reviews on Amazon, including a five-paragraph review of a tube of toothpaste. Now, I'm not exactly in a position to make fun of somebody else's useless hobby, especially in light of my useless hobby (hey, you're the one reading it) but this guy is devoted. He even reviewed Durex Play Quiver Lubricant, although he only gave it three stars out of five, saying it "smelled like paste." Immediately after that, he wrote a review for a bottle of Roasted Raspberry Chipotle sauce. Do not put these things next to each other by the bedside because in the passion of the moment you could grab the wrong container. Now THAT I would like read a review of.

Anyway, because of the baby, our floor is cleaner these days, but it's still not what anybody would call clean. I prefer to think of it as an indoor sod floor.

At least we have a functioning vacuum cleaner, which was not always the case. Our previous vacuum cleaner burned through a rubber belt every time we used it. To this day, when I detect the smoky funk of burning rubber, my first thought is, "Smells like a clean house to me!" We used to have a vacuum supplies store within walking distance, which was handy since we spent about a quarter of our pre-tax income on vacuum belts. The store went out of business not long after we got a new vacuum, which I don't think is a coincidence. I think it had something to do with the Bolsheviks.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ice

We had a rainstorm followed a few hours later by a snowstorm and while the main streets have since recovered, the side streets, sidewalks, and bike paths are covered with a packed-down combination of snow and ice that on the spur of the moment I have decided to call "snice." Please adopt this terminology and let's see if we can get this thing to go viral! This would be my first experience with anything viral (other than chicken pox) since I am so out of the mainstream media that I regularly do not recognize the stars on the cover of People Magazine. I am thinking this could be a serious liability if the terrorists get their hands on a nuclear bomb, use it on an American city, and our civilization crumbles to their point where knowledge about Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber becomes useful in a post-apocalyptic world.

My ignorance of mainstream median means I have never seen Glee, which from the enthusiasm of my Facebook friends seems to be a major omission. David once had to watch an episode for work -- I know that sounds funny, but it's true -- and proclaimed it "boring," and since this is a guy who thinks 3.5 hours of a football game that ends in a score of 3 to 0 is fascinating, I took his comment to heart. 

Since I dodge mainstream media, you might think I rely more on outlets like NPR. But for some reason I never listen to NPR either, a fact that I'm sure bedevils NPR since I'm smack in the middle of all their target demographics. They're sitting around the table saying, "Let's see, mid 30s, graduate degree, on the 1 to 10 scale of being a wild-eyed liberal she's a 11, lives in the people's republic of Madison for crying out loud -- why isn't she listening?!?" And you know, I did turn on NPR recently but it was because I was stuck in a traffic jam in Milwaukee caused by the police closing down the interstate because some guy on the highway was holed up with a gun threatening to shoot various people. I suspect he was listening to NPR too. Hearing some twee story about a white mariachi singer who is also a part-time hedgehog masseuse probably sent him over the edge.

Why do I suspect this guy's name
is Walter?
Anyway, the snice on the roads means I am hesitant to ride my bike to work due to the slick surface. I try to be careful but I have taken a few falls on my bike, one (of course!) in front of a whole group of little kids and their parents who were waiting for the school bus. I hit the ground hard, and it was very, very difficult for me not to let loose with a whole string of f-bombs but out of consideration for the little tykes' ears I managed to bite my tongue, and let me just say that St. Peter better have been paying attention because I'm hoping that restraint weighs heavily on my side when I hit the pearly gates. When I wiped out on my bike, several parents ran over to me in alarm. One dad asked, "What hurts?? Is it your neck? Did you hit your head??" I managed to groan out, "It's my butt...I hit my butt really hard." Strangely, I didn't get much sympathy after that. In fact I did hit my head, but since I was wearing a helmet I had very little damage to the old noodle. So I'm thinking that maybe I should design some sort of protection for my other end. I could call it the butt-met.

All this snice means I'm taking the bus to work, which wouldn't be so bad except that when it snows the bus system apparently runs on a schedule known to none in this universe, where somehow the buses actually manage to make time run backwards. I think Stephen Hawking should come to town to investigate.

The roads have improved the last couple days, which is good because I need to get out and finish my Christmas shopping. Yikes, just a few days left! This year I've decided to take a one-size-fits-all approach to getting gifts. Everyone on my list is getting a butt-met. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Address

I have come to the reluctant conclusion that people with the same first initial (T) and last name as me (Cornelius) are morons. This makes me sad, partly because Cornelius is a great last name. It's not so common that there's somebody else in your high school class with the same name, yet it's familiar enough that most people can spell it and pronounce it. It doesn't lend itself to derogatory nicknames. I mean, you can try to work something up using the whole "corny" aspect of the name, but it's a lot of work for something that doesn't sting too much. I saw an obit yesterday for a fellow named Henry Crapp -- now there's a bad last name. On the other hand, think how much time his named saved his fellow schoolmates in their search for coming up with insulting nicknames for each other. His parents did their work for them.

Cornelius is a great last name, and it's better than David's last name, which is shorter but difficult to know how to pronounce or spell. I was determined that Stella should have my (clearly superior) last name, and in fact that's how I broke the news to David: "Hey honey, I'm pregnant and by the way thebabygetsmylastname." Apparently I love Baby W less, because he has David's last name. The holiday letters we get this time of year are amusing because nobody is quite sure what the last name of anybody in this family is, and they often come addressed to the written equivalent of David and Tamarine Mumble Mumble.

But the sad thing about people named T. Cornelius is they are apparently not very bright. I base this on the number of emails I get that in error, that have clearly been caused by some other tcornelius entering their email address wrong. For example, whoever has tcornelius@hotmail.com will buy something and accidentally list my address of tcornelius@anotherdomain.com. I am not going to list my actual address because apparently if you do the spambots immediately assume you're in need of penis-enlarging pharmaceuticals  and start sending you helpful sales pitches. From the emails I already get, I've calculated that penis-enlargement pills make up at least 10%, and some months as much as 12% of the national gross domestic product, with another 8% of the GDP generated by Nigerian royalty pleading for help releasing their fortunes.

A fellow named Timothy Cornelius helps prove my point. Every couple weeks he buys protein powder from GNC and gives them my email for the shipping confirmation. But I probably shouldn't make fun of Timothy; anybody who needs to buy extra protein can probably crush my skull as if it were a can of spirulina extract.

I also have somehow gotten into the email distribution list of Adelphic Union Lodge #14 in Harlem. I'm not quite sure what this group of men (and they are all men) is about, but I think their organization might be masonic-related, so they are probably going to have to snuff me out for even mentioning that they exist. I actually love being on this email list because of how they address each other -- they use the title Worshipful, then the person's last name. I myself have been addressed on this email list as Worshipful Cornelius. I knew something had been missing from my life, and now I know what it is: not enough people calling me Worshipful.

You know how when you buy something online and you have to give your name, you often have to indicate if your title is Mr, Mrs, Ms, etc? I'm starting a campaign right now to include Worshipful among the list of prefixes. There's one person I can think of who would be dead set against this idea. He's passed on, though, so I don't think we need to worry too much about Worshipful Crapp.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sledding

We have snow here and I have taken Stella sledding twice this week. Sledding has been an amazing experience because it has proved what I thought was a scientific impossibility: Stella can have fun outdoors in the winter. I always thought the idea of  Stella happily frolicking outside in the snow was akin to sightings of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker -- a nice idea, but you suspect that the birders were dipping into the Jägermeister before reporting seeing a bird previously thought to be extinct.

(Did you see that? I knew to put an umlaut on the ä in Jägermeister! I even know what Jägermeister means. Yes, I am certainly finding my undergraduate minor in German to come in handy, especially when it comes to accurately rending and translating liquor brand names.)

As long as I am contributing to the body of scientific knowledge, I would like to make another contribution, one based on months of rigorous scientific observation: The age at when boys begin to grab their junk is exactly 7 1/2 months. Hey, I know it's not the cure for cancer, but we all do what we can.

Stella may have been born here in Wisconsin but she does not like the cold. Perhaps the babies got mixed up at the hospital and somewhere in New Orleans there's a kid looking out the window right now, sighing and wishing for temperatures that make your nose hairs freeze. Stella is going to move south the moment she is able to, and I'm surprised she hasn't already set out for more moderate climates with her trusty princess bike (training wheels included) and a compass.

The lakes in town are going to freeze any day now, which means the ice fisherman will be out. People from reasonable climates -- defined as those where you don't lose an extremity to frostbite when you go out to bring the newspaper in -- are amazed to hear how popular ice fishing is, and that people will often drive out on the lake, either with a snowmobile or a truck, to get to their favorite spots. Ice fishers are very aggressive about what kind of ice they'll go out on. If the lake is frozen only to the extent that there is the equivalent of a single ice cube floating in the middle of the lake, then by golly there will be an ice fisherman on that ice cube.

That aggressive approach to getting out on the ice means that every year, some people (and their heavy machinery) go through the ice. It's very sad, and totally unexpected, because who could have predicted that a two-ton pickup would overload a surface that had been a liquid just weeks before? Who could possibly know that 4,000+ pounds would be too heavy for the ice, keeping in mind that a machine as limited as my blender has a function that can crush that same ice to a fine, powdery consistency that works just great for making margaritas?

When the lakes freeze, that's what I consider the real beginning of winter. And now that I know that Stella likes sledding, I foresee lots of trips to the hill, wearing our snow pants, boots, coats, hats, mittens, scarves, and long underwear. I usually bring along a little something else to keep me warm, too. It's called Jägermeister.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tree

The kids and I went to get a Christmas tree this weekend. David stayed home because although Christmas comes but once a year, the Packers play but 16 times a year (regular season), and he was feeling a different type of holiday spirit. The Packers are borderline mediocre this year and David apparently needs to spend every minute of every game concentrating on propelling them to victory, otherwise they won't make the playoffs. His focus broke during the last minutes of the Atlanta game last week when he got up to throw a load of laundry in, allowing the Falcons to kick a last-minute field goal to win. He's not going to let that happen again.

We need a small tree because we have a small house. I planned on getting a better tree than last year, when the tree lot owner saw us assessing various options and pointed out the most stunted, saddest-looking spindly-trunked tree on the whole lot as a good one for us to buy. You know how the oldest trees, those several thousand-year old bristle cone pines in California, are small trees, all hunched over with gnarly little branches? The tree the lot owner was trying to foist on us was quite possibly one of those, older than the birth of Christ. But I was on to this guy. As if! I thought. He is trying to get us to buy the ugly puppy of the litter, but I am going to let Stella pick out the tree and she is going to pick out a much better specimen.

Guess which one tree we came home with.

I thought it might be fun this year to walk the 3/4 mile to the tree lot with the kids and pull the tree back in a sled. But you know how sometimes when you come up with what seems like an ambitious but do-able plan, there's some small part of your brain that retains a firm grasp on what is and isn't a good idea, and that part of your brain starts clearing its throat and shuffling its feet and then after all goes to hell, that part of your brain gets really annoying and goes on and on about how it KNEW this wasn't such a good idea from the get-go, but would you listen to it, noooooo? Well, that part of my brain was acting up when it heard of my plan to walk the tree back home, but I'm happy to say that part of my brain was wrong, as our trip went off without a hitch. Still, the current score is something like Pessimistic But Realistic Side of Brain: 998, My Plans and Schemes, 2.

The tree lot is in a block with a decent amount of blight, to which the tree lot makes its own contribution. Here is the sign in front of their business:


In case that sign wasn't clear enough, they made this additional sign, which they obviously spent a lot of time on, possibly as much as six or seven minutes.


Across the street from the tree lot there is a vacant lot that used to house a business called Grillz that sold jewel-studded enamel overlays for teeth. It didn't last long, possibly because it was located in a neighborhood full of people who have some alternative tendencies but also have disposable income, and if they had to make a list of the thousand things they would ever spend money on, diamond teeth would be #996, right after chocolates in the shape of Justin Bieber's face, but ahead of fleece-lined earwax removers. Bewejeled teeth are just ridiculous, unless you're Dr. Teeth who for a Muppet has some pretty serious sex appeal. (Although though rumor has it he's a heroin addict, so he probably also has some pretty serious sexual dysfunction. For a Muppet, anyway.)

On the way back from the tree lot, Stella was goofing around and I experienced a rite of passage held in common with every parent who has lived in northern climates: warning your kid not to put their tongue on anything cold. I was proud to join a tradition that goes back to the Bronze Age, when cave women warned their offspring not to lick the mastodon spear.

The tree is up now, and looks great. We're getting ready for Christmas, and I had hoped to do all my shopping at one store, but then it went out of business. No matter, I'll just have to find a new place to buy all my sparkly teeth gifts.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rust

I'm revisiting the topic of renaming Wisconsin to help with our economy. Two posts ago, I suggested that an over-reliance on the letter W is dragging us down and the state should move to an I-based name. Reader Marce had the brilliant idea of renaming our state iSconsin. Why didn't I think of that? Then we would almost be as cool as iOwa.

I know these are politically charged times, but renaming Wisconsin to iSconsin is not a partisan issue. Ha, you didn't actually believe that, did you? Anything that is described as not a partisan issue is invariably a hotly-contested partisan issue. Here, let's try an example. "Babies are cute. That's not a partisan issue." But wait! Here comes the Coalition of Concerned Adults (CCA), which is alleging that most babies are freeloaders on the system. This group points out that the baby unemployment rate is scandalously high and they pay very little in taxes.  Babies often take their parents out of the workplace and therefore destroy jobs. Plus, everybody knows babies suck up a lot of BadgerCare health insurance money.

Does that sound cute to you? Only if you're an America-hating socialist! Soon you will be nodding your head along to CCA's argument that babies are destroying the fabric of our community and hindering our ability to be economically competitive. And that's even before the Alliance for Diaper Control weighs in.

Milwaukee is full, and I mean FULL,
of babies. No wonder they have
problems.
Another approach we could take to help getting Wisconsin back on track economically is to dump Milwaukee. Milwaukee is an ailing community, with a high prevalence of poverty and declining manufacturing base. Many rust-belt cities have met the same fate, with Minneapolis being a notable exception in that it has managed to retain a vibrant economy. Look, even Favre can get a job in Minneapolis!

I say we sell Milwaukee to Chicago for cheap and let them try to turn it around. Another alternative would be to take a very sharp saw and cut around the borders of Milwaukee County and then float it gently out into Lake Michigan. Perhaps Michigan would throw a rope out and tow it in for the scrap value.

The downside to these plans is that without Milwaukee, this state is basically South Dakota. Still those people  seem happy, all seven of them. (As an aside, doing so-called "research" for this post, which mostly involved eating marshmallows, I went to WikiAnswers and read a question that someone had posted asking what you call a person who lives in South Dakota. Another person had posted the answer, "They're South Dakotens, dumb shit," misspelling Dakotans. To my mind, this exchange pretty much sums up the internet.)

Ex-Governor Malleus,
Incus, and Stapes
Wisconsin is getting a new governor soon who has promised to put a high priority on creating jobs in the state and reducing unemployment. He's also pledged to make a lot of cuts in state government. I'm concerned that this will have a negative effect on the University of Wisconsin, which is one of the best things this state has ever done, edged out only by deep-fried cheese curds and the fact that for years we had a governor leading the state who had essentially the same first and last names (Tommy Thompson) which meant we only had to remember one name, thus freeing up valuable space in the Wisconsin memory banks. For some reason I appear to have allocated my share to remembering the names of the three tiny bones in your ear.

With apologies to Tommy Thompson, I want to go on the record as saying that people should not have the same first name as their last name. Finally, we've found an topic that is not a partisan issue.