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Monday, June 11, 2012

Snickerfritz Takes a Wilderness Journey.

     Our journey continued to The Sleeping Bear Dunes in Northern Michigan. Now, to the technologically backward, it might seem like a simple task to look at a map, choose a route involving interstates, and driving to our destination. But, to a tech-savvy pair like Central Planning and I, it made more sense to follow the route chosen for us by our Global Positioning Satellite unit known as "Snickerfritz". We figured that, being as how satellites can see the world in much the way we see a map, it would be a simple task for Snickerfritz to guide us by the shortest route possible to The Dunes, whereupon we would have more time to frolic and play in the sand.

     However, we failed to take into account that the shortest route may not necessarily be the fastest route. Instead, we naively trusted modern technology to do our thinking for us and as a result, I saw parts of Michigan that I am certain have not been seen by people in a long while. In fact, even Snickerfritz's screen showed empty gray areas on either side of the road we were on. If your GPS unit doesn't know what's on either side of the road, this is a sure sign that you should stay on the road and keep going until you no longer hear the distant sound of Dueling Banjos.

     Still, we kept on, following the directions plotted out for us by Snickerfritz, and doing our level best not to panic. Despite the offbeat route, we finally arrived at the dunes near suppertime. Unfortunately, we had not taken into consideration that Michigan, especially Northern Michigan, does not necessarily adhere to the calendar with regard to seasons. For instance; while it was hot and muggy in Southeastern Michigan, in Northwestern Michigan, it was cold and rainy. Inquiries to Diswan and Datwan as to whether they were ready to hike the dunes and see the lake were met with resounding and definitive negative responses. Not that I blamed them; it was cold, windy, wet, and we were all hungry. So. we hung around the beach for a bit and then headed for Mackinaw City for the night.

     Make no mistake, the Northern coastline of Michigan is gorgeous and I can readily see why it would attract people to live there.Not my cup of tea, really, but I understand other people wanting to do it. Perhaps I wouldn't have been so hasty to bail out on Michigan if I'd known such places existed.

     Nah! Give me my dry, dusty, prairie any day!

     Soooo, once again guided by Snickerfritz, we made our way back to an area that the GPS recognized and drove across the upper edge of the Lower Peninsula to Mackinaw City. It was during this time that one of the harsh realities of Michigan hit home; if you want to see Michigan, you have to go to Michigan. No one "passes through" Michigan; if you want to see it, you have to make it your destination. The problem is that Michigan does a shitty job of promoting itself. They have a few, really stupid, "Pure Michigan" commercials that do nothing to recommend the place, and the trials and tribulations of Detroit eclipse anything else happening in the state, so no one ever wakes up in the morning and says, "Wow! I really want to visit Michigan." It's too bad because much of the state is gorgeous. In fact, as we proved the following day, it is possible to overdose on scenery.

Next: "Look kids! Scenery!"

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Old Friends and The Birthday Lobster Massacre

     Arriving at the home of The Matriarch and The Handyman, it was a relief to know that we would be able to spend a couple of days where we weren't speeding across the state or trying to get to yet another relative's house. We dumped out luggage and whatnot near our sleeping quarters and settled in for the evening. We spent the evening catching up with each other and getting reacquainted. The Handyman told us of his plans to renovate his kitchen, The Matriarch brought us up to date on family and friends, and even The Skater surfaced from his computer to grace us with his presence. After a while, burned out from driving, and ready for a soft bed, we turned in and called it a night. Plans for the next morning was big doings; a trip to The Detroit Zoo, dinner with the family, and visits to old friends.

     The next morning, at my insistence, we had breakfast at The Original Pancake House in Grosse Pointe Woods. With locations across the country, they have raised breakfast to the status of art. They make a dish called a Dutch Baby. When you first see it, you ask yourself, "Do I eat it or pray to it?" It is a plateful of delicious decadence and well worth the trip. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and, now that we were full to the point of discomfort, we were ready to walk it off at the zoo.

     The Detroit Zoo is one of the jewels of southeastern Michigan. First, the people in charge of the zoo wisely decided that the zoo most assuredly should not be in the city of Detroit. The reason being, back when the zoo was opened in 1928, the area was fairly unregulated and the presence of a finely landscaped zoological park was considered an improvement of the area. Nowadays, since Detroit has vanished, the Detroit Zoo provides a controlled environment for people to view exotic wildlife, as opposed to the uncontrolled environment that plays host to the wildlife that currently inhabits the former city. We also had the advantage of being friends with an employee at the zoo who was able to take time out of her busy schedule to give us an insider's view of the park. As a result, Diswan and Datwan were able to watch the penguins and the River Otter feed. She also gave us some tips on which animals would be active and which ones were hiding.

     One of the best exhibits is their new Lion exhibit. Instead of viewing the lions from behind a wall and across a moat, the new exhibit has a glass wall approximately fifteen feet tall. This enables people to observe the lions while separated only by the glass. It is exhilarating to be within inches of a 300 pound cat, and a relief to know that they can't get to you. Of course, Diswan wanted to hang out in The Penguin House. Don't get me wrong, I like the penguins, but the place smells like a fish cannery. Our group could only tolerate a few minutes at a time.

     Another favorite of the McWopski crew is The Reptile House. We have all become well acquainted with reptiles by virtue of being within driving distance of Reptile Gardens. Admittedly, Reptile Gardens is superior to the zoo, but to be fair, Reptile Gardens specializes in one group of animals while the zoo has examples of dozens of species. The budgetary considerations are less complicated and, Reptile Gardens being a for-profit business, the cash flow is a little more consistent. But the Detroit Zoo is an admirable facility, especially for a region that has seen as big a decrease of its tax base as Michigan has.

     So, after the zoo, it was time to head back to my sister's place for our annual Birthday dinner. Traditionally, since no less than four members of my family had birthdays in May, we gathered at The Matriarch's house and had fresh lobster for dinner, complete with melted butter, baked potato, and whatever else struck our fancy. I was interested to see how Diswan and Datwan handled seeing live lobsters cooked. I thought that they might get upset at the idea of eating something that they had seen alive mere moments before. I needn't have worried; years of Discovery Channel and Animal Planet have taught the boys about the food chain and how some animals eat others to survive. I also explained to them that our ancestors did not scratch and claw their way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables. When dinner was served, I cracked the shells for the boys and they dug in like a couple of good little carnivores. The carnage was admirable and the dinner table looked like a lobster graveyard when we were done.

     Once dinner was done, I took the opportunity to foist my children off on to my sister and go visit my friend Pete. I've known Pete for a long time. We met while we were working in the Emergency Department of St. John Hospital in Detroit. He started out in X-Ray, and I was an ER Tech. Later on, Pete transferred over to the ER and Thank God for it. Someday, I'll post the "Employee Handbook" that I wrote for prospective ER employees, but for now, suffice it to say that the things we saw and experienced in the ER forged a bond between all of us that worked there. When the denizens of Detroit seemed like they were doing their best to flood our ER with blood, guts, and insanity, I had to look no farther than to my left or right, and Pete was right there next to me.

     Pete is also a Cancer Survivor. Having beat Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, he has proven to be tougher than leather. Unfortunately, he has the great misfortune of being one of only two hundred people in the world to have to face it twice. For that reason alone I wanted to see him. It just so happened that my visit would coincide with his girlfriend's daughter's birthday. This required the purchase of an appropriate gift, thankfully handled by Central Planning, and a short trip to his house. I went alone so as to be mindful of his health, since he had just started a round of chemo. I should have known better; he was up and around and in good spirits. Lymphoma doesn't stand a chance against Pete.

     I was there for about an hour, visiting with him and his family. They were all wonderful people and Pete is lucky to have such a support system. Especially Erica, the love of his life, since she consented to move in with him to help him through this time. I swear, when he comes through this, if he doesn't propose to that woman it will confirm in my mind that chemo causes brain damage.

     After visiting Pete, it was back to my sister's place to retrieve Central Planning and head up to Cloverleaf Pizza to meet a couple of other ER cronies, Dee and Kim. Dee and Kim had started out as ER Techs, and then moved on to become Patient Representatives. The Patient Rep is the bridge between the patient's family and the staff of the ER. Without them, the family would remain ignorant of the patient's status until the patient either recovered or died.

     In Dee and Kim's case, they did their job extremely well with an added flourish; they helped victims of domestic violence escape their abuser and get to a shelter. Generally, when a victim of DV arrived in the ER for treatment, they were accompanied by their abuser. The abuser would insist on speaking for the victim, be hesitant to leave her alone with staff, and become indignant when asked anything personal. The funny thing was, all of the things that they did in order to conceal their crime, were the very things that gave them away as the abuser.

     Enter Dee and Kim.

     Once it was determined that this was a case of Domestic Violence, the standard method was, one of them would find some pretense of separating the abuser from his victim while the other, having already contacted the shelter, would sneak the victim out the back to her transportation whereupon she would go home, pack, and go to the shelter. The abuser was usually none the wiser for at least an hour. By the time the abuser discovered that his victim was gone, she had already made it to safety. Dee and Kim had this routine down so well, I swear that they could have given lessons to The Underground Railroad.

     We met that evening and sat, reminisced, and drank an ocean of coffee and diet soda; a far cry from the days in which we would party far into the night. It was gratifying to see them again; I hadn't realized how much I missed them. Concluding yet another day of pleasant company, good food, and good conversation, we packed up and headed for my sister's place. We had a long day ahead of us.

Next: Snickerfritz Takes a Wilderness Journey.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Into the Wilderness

     Having said our goodbyes and packed the kiddies into the car, we set our course for Southeastern Michigan near where Detroit used to be. Yes, you read that right; where it used to be. You see, the signs are still in place, and there are still people residing inside where the boundaries are marked, but Detroit, for all intents and purposes, has ceased to exist. It's sad to see that the place once known as "The Motor City" and "Motown" is now just a depressing collection of empty buildings, desperate people, and the memories of former greatness.

     Oh sure, there are people that will tell you that Detroit is coming back. Thing is, though, I heard that while attending Finney High School in the Seventies. So far? No comeback. And despite the photos put out there by Public Relations flacks that make the distant observer think Detroit looks like this:

The reality is that that section of Detroit is very small. You will, of course, note that the photographer took this photo from the Canadian side. He probably didn't think one photo of The Renaissance Center was worth risking his life.

 The majority of Detroit looks like this:

As you can see, what was once Detroit is regressing back to wilderness, so spare me the optimistic platitudes. THIS is what fifty years of Progressive politics, Socialist policies, union influence, and government corruption has wrought. What was once a thriving, vibrant city is now good only as a backdrop for movies set in bombed-out warzones. Whatever connection I ever had to Detroit has been burned, bulldozed, and bankrupted out of existence.

     Which is why we were travelling to a distant suburb to visit my niece, The Surprise, and her family. The Surprise was so named because growing up, she was something of a Princess, in the negative sense. So, for her to grow up and become the formidable woman that she is today is, well, a surprise. She is married to The Seeker, a man that is in the throes of finding his way in the world as well as finding himself. His loyalty to The Surprise is unquestioned, and their hospitality was every bit as warm and welcoming as that of Central Planning's family.

     They have three adorable little kids, two girls and a boy that I can only refer to as The Swarm since I didn't really get to interact with them too much. Diswan and Datwan got along with them, although I believe that they were road-weary and burnt out on visiting relatives by this time. Still, The Surprise made the inspired decision to turn on a sprinkler and any and all conflicts were washed away as all of the children got soaked. The woman is a genius.

     The Seeker fired up the grill and set about cooking up some burgers, hot dogs, and kebabs. He claimed that it was his first time ever trying it, but I think he was sand-bagging. No one gets lucky enough to turn out food as good as he did their first time out. The burgers were done to perfection, the hot dogs had just the right amount of burn to them, and the kebabs were awesome; the vegetables crunchy and warm, the meat cooked through, with just enough spice.

     The only bad thing about the visit was the cloud of conflict that hung over us. Remember me talking about conflict among Sicilians? Well, my niece and her mother (my sister, The Matriarch) are in the midst of one now. I'm not sure how it happened, but both are angry with each other, both are hurt, and no one seems to know what started it or why. It's sort of a cross between the Chicken/Egg argument and the phenomenon of Paris Hilton being famous because she's famous. I wish they would just have a civil discussion (or as close as they can get) and hash it out. I tend to be like Switzerland in these things; heavily armed and inconvenient to get to. My heart goes out to both sides, but I've got my own family and issues to contend with. Other than that, and the fact that the weather was typical for a Michigan Summer; 95 degrees and 700% humidity, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

     With our bellies once again filled to the point of discomfort, we set out to visit The Matriarch and her bunch.

     The Matriarch is my sister. She is one of those infuriating people in that, whatever she decides to do, she does to the point of perfection, and is admired by one and all because of it. School, work, cooking, whatever, she masters it and her ability in whatever it is quickly exceeds those with more experience and training. Growing up, my mother had to work full-time running her business, so The Matriarch was always there for me, and spent much of her time getting me out of trouble with whatever school official I had managed to piss off that week. She always had a spare room for me to stay in, a meal to mooch, and a vehicle to borrow.

     I, being the quintessential Little Brother, did my best to make her miserable, make fun of her at every opportunity, and insure that her refrigerator never had an excess of leftovers. Whenever possible, I annoyed her suitors, embarrassed her in front of her friends, and provided a poor example for her children.

     Her children, being ever contrary, did not follow my example. Her oldest son, The Sailor, is off in The US Navy making America safe for Democracy. Or from Democracy. Or from terrorism. Whatever, he's serving his country, and doing a damned fine job of it. Oldest daughter is The Manager. She is in charge of all Emergency Medical Support, for either the branch of The Royal Saudi Family that resides in Dearborn, Michigan, or the events at Joe Louis Arena. I don't remember her title except for it being the same as as "The One In Charge" We've already discussed The Surprise, and child number four, a vivacious young lady I call The Gymnast is an office manager somewhere, with aspirations of becoming a Registered Nurse. Of all of The Matriarch's children, The Gymnast is the one that cracks me up. She has a talent for sarcasm, and a quick wit. She's fun to be around and seems to have it all together. Currently, The Gymnast is going out with a pleasant, hard-working young man I call 'Underwear' in reference to his inability to keep his pants pulled up. Underwear wants to own his own business someday. His preferred business will involve some sort of industrial machinery which, I'm sure, will be governed by OSHA regulations requiring him to wear a belt or buy pants that fit, so as to prevent him from snagging his underwear on some sharp, whirling, axle thingy that will drag him into the machine and grind him into a bloody mush of greasy meat and Fruit of the Loom shreds. Yes, he seems likable enough, but his inability to master the simple task of concealing his undergarments from public view makes me wonder if, instead of a girlfriend, he might need an attendant of some sort. Perhaps that's why The Gymnast is going to Nursing School. Hmm, I'll have to give this some thought. Finally, we have The Skater. Still in High School, The Skater is, I believe the Politically Correct term is "physically challenged". The Skater has lost the ability of perambulation and can only move long distances while perched atop a flat board riding on wheels.

     Tragically, his equilibrium is such that he can't roll in a straight line. This causes him to veer off course and he ends up scraping along curbs, flying down staircases, and losing his footing, causing him to repeatedly separate from his board. His erratic method of locomotion is best illustrated thusly:

My understanding is that he is actually in that clip somewhere, but Walleye Vision makes me nauseous, so I haven't been able to watch it long enough to find him.

     Then there is my Brother-in-law, The Handyman. The Handyman, as his name suggests, builds, fixes, and repairs stuff. He has an almost uncontrollable compulsion to remodel his kitchen every few years. He's about to do it again. I'm not sure how many times he's done it, but I'm willing to bet he's in the double digits. He's also one of those people that local politicians hate; he pays attention to what they're doing and then calls them on it when they do something underhanded. Moreover, he doesn't forget, he doesn't quit, and when you try to discourage or intimidate him, he gets angry and redoubles his efforts. Recently, he became  incensed enough to run for City Council himself. He didn't win, but he sure scared them. He's thinking of doing it again. I think he just likes to see that shocked and frightened expression on their faces when he shows up at meetings.

     As luck would have it, we would only be able to see a The Gymnast and The Skater as the rest of the kids have lives or something. In any event, this is what awaited us as we drove towards the last of the relatives to visit.

Next time: Old Friends and The Birthday Lobster Massacre

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Inferiority Complexes and More Food

     Engaging in yet another long drive, we drove half way across The Mitten in order to spend the night at The Sleep Nazi's house. By this time, I believe my butt was developing callouses and my hands were becoming permanently shaped to grasp a steering wheel. However, it was necessary for me to do most of the driving because Central Planning was actually working from her position in the passenger seat.

     It's true.

     Due to the miracles of modern technology, my beloved was able to conduct business while I did the driving. It reminded me a bit of "Driving Miss Daisy", although Central Planning is more pleasant than "Driving's" lead female character by several degrees. And, I must admit, it is something of a wonderment to me that, when I was a child and long trips were taken, you had two choices for entertainment; read a book, or argue with sibling. Work was something that ceased when we left and had to be caught up when we returned. Nowadays, Central Planning missed nary an email while we were on the road. Either that or she has found an imaginative way to game me into driving without looking guilty.

     And on the road we were, for several hours, arriving at the domicile of The Sleep Nazi at O-Dark-Thirty, without detours, thanks again to our Garmin GPS and the wonderful people that launched all of those satellites. Despite the late hour, we stayed up for a while and caught up on the news and events of our respective families. One of the things that was discussed was the relationships and politics between various family members, my father-in-law, and his new wife. Predictably, there were some hurt feelings, unsettled emotions, and unfinished business among the various factions, all of which could be settled if everyone just got together and screamed it out.

     That's the advantage of having grown up in a Sicilian family; what others see as yelling and screaming, we know to be communication. We yell, we scream, and in a couple of years everyone forgets about it. In order to ease our pain, we eat. That's why Sicilians, contrary to all of those stupid mobster movies, tend to be fat, happy, and loud.

     My wife's family is Dutch. Dutch people are nothing if not polite, reserved, and civil. They bottle up their anger and emotions until one day, they kill everybody and everything within a hectare around them. But they are also loving and forgiving. The typical Dutch method of conflict is to politely ignore it until they decide within themselves to forgive and forget. They completely skip over the yelling and screaming part. They are absolutely no fun at all to argue with.

     Nonetheless, we all sat and discussed the issues of the day well into the night, whereupon we turned in. When we awoke the next morning, we got the full tour of the house. One thing about The Sleep Nazi and Dr. Teeth; they are the epitome of The American Dream. They met in college where Dr. Teeth was completing his degree prior to entering Dental School, and The Sleep Nazi was studying to be an Art Teacher. They met, fell in love, and got married. Dr. Teeth became a Dentist and joined his father's practice, The Sleep Nazi taught art and sold paintings. She is a very successful artist on top of being a wife and mother. Their house is a reflection of all of that. They have a lovely place in the suburbs that is approximately seventy-five thousand square feet with twenty seven bedrooms and a bathroom everywhere that there isn't a closet. Plus, it has a finished basement.

     This requires some explanation; I grew up in The Mogadishu of the Midwest when it was still a blue-collar factory town. Our houses had two or three bedrooms, and those that scrimped and saved had a finished basement. By 'finished' I mean, indoor/outdoor carpet on the floor (because it was easier to replace if the basement flooded), a couch, television set (that was drowned out by the washer and dryer in the unfinished section), cheap paneling on the walls, and if they were really rolling in the dough, a wet bar where the local men could sit and argue about football. Dr. Teeth has redefined the concept of 'finished basement' for me. His basement is a whole other house, complete with kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom, and, of course, spacious (if not palatial) bathroom. All of this sits upon a beautifully manicured lawn, surrounded by other, similar houses. Even the wildlife needs a gate key to get in. All in all, it made me realize that I am waaaaay behind on the earning curve.

     Ever the gracious host and hostess, they opened all of this to two road-weary parents and their children who were on the brink of a psychotic break from being on the road umpteen hours a day for the previous three days. And they spoiled us rotten. The Sleep Nazi, despite her name, is nothing of the sort after a good night's sleep. She is warm, funny, and interesting. She also believes that guests should have their slightest whim acceded to; a trait that endears her to me no end. Since I am a coffee addict, my needs are many and she insured that the coffee never stopped flowing. Dr. Teeth never flinched at my children ransacking his house and pestering him with unending questions about....everything. All in all, they made the day enjoyable and relaxing.

     The Fireball and Long Drink of Silence arrived with food for lunch, Dr. Teeth, Long Drink, my FIL, and one of Teeth's progeny played Bocce Ball (!!!) on the back forty. The kids ran amok, the women did, well whatever they did. I was playing Bocce Ball. Later on, I repaired to one of the couches to read a book. A feat I was able to manage for quite some time before I was pelted with Nerf darts by one of Teeth's kids.

     Reading is an interesting phenomenon in Central Planning's family. They all do it, or I assume they did it at some point in time since they are all college-educated, but I don't know how they got it done. Anytime anyone attempts to read a book, some strange hormone is released into the brain of the nearest relative that compels them to ask the reader a question. Unfortunately, this trait has been passed on to my own children. Diswan and Datwan can sit and ignore me for hours on end, no matter what I or they are doing. BUT, should I crack open a book or magazine, suddenly I am required to answer all of the mysteries of the world at that exact instant.

     All of this to say that a good time was had by all, and the rest and relaxation was a perfect way to prepare for our next ordeal: visiting my family.

Next: Into the Wilderness.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Into the Belly of the Beast

     Picking up where I left off, Day 2 was pretty uneventful. We left the comfort of the Comfort Inn and headed back out on the road. This day, however, was the worst of the entire trip. Why? I can sum that up in one word: Chicago. Chicago is probably a great city, as far as cities go. I know that it is far superior to The Mogadishu of the Midwest where I grew up, but driving in and around it is a pain in the Fourth Point of Contact. First, there are the toll roads. Now, one of the things that has dimmed my enthusiasm for this trip is the fact that I have made it four times in eighteen months. During that time, the tolls have doubled, without any discernible improvement in the roads or traffic flow. Moreover, last time, I made the mistake of getting caught in The Loop, the highway that circumvents the city proper and, as near as I can tell, contains a perpetual traffic jam.

     Fortunately for us, our new GPS managed to route us away from that furball and took us a faster way. That is not to say that it wasn't a long, arduous drive, but at least we didn't have to go through the middle of town. Also, we managed to find one awesome Gyro's place; Chiggy's Gyros. They make a spicy gyro that is a little bundle of Heaven on pita bread. I mean, I love living where we live. The scenery, the people, and the environment are all topnotch. BUT, I sometimes long for some ethnic food. Something with spice and flavor. On the prairie, people think spicy food is food that contains salt and pepper. We do have a pretty good Chinese Restaurant, but a gyro is just a thing of legends to the plains people. Chiggy's, on the other hand, makes gyros the way God intended them to be made; fresh ingredients, hot, and too much meat to fit into the pita bread. PLUS, the spicy one is, well, spicy. It was sooo good, I made us turn around and get seconds. After that brief interlude, we continued on our way.

     We drove for what seemed like an eternity until we finally arrived at the home that my father-in-law shares with his new wife. Being exhausted, we unpacked our stuff, put the kids to bed, and went to bed ourselves. My in-laws, ever the cordial hosts, provided the most comfortable night's sleep we had had for a couple of days; soft bed, quiet room, and big, comfy, blankets. Which brought us to:

Day 3.
     We woke up, had breakfast, and went to the John Ball Zoo, where we met up with sister number three, The Peacemaker.

     There are a total of four girls in the family, whom I have titled in my own mind, in order of birth, Central Planning, The Sleep Nazi, The Peacemaker, and  The Fireball. My wife, Central Planning, is one of those people that just naturally, almost uncontrollably, organizes things. She has a spreadsheet to keep track of her spreadsheets. I can honestly say that my life would be a mess without her. The Sleep Nazi was christened that by her sisters. When it's bedtime, IT. IS. BEDTIME. And woe be unto the unfortunate soul that awakens her before she is ready, for her wrath will rain down upon them like ash from a volcano. Other than that, she's a sweetheart. Her husband, Dr. Teeth, is a dentist and is a joy to be around. He's charismatic, engaging, and fun. The Peacemaker is, as the name indicates, the one that irons out the disagreements between family members. She's also ordained as a Pastor (a process which had its own unique brand of BS thrown her way). Her husband, The Prof is a teacher. Being trapped in a building with dozens of kids all day is a small slice of Hell to me, but he does it and loves it. The Fireball is, ummmm, volatile. Most of the time, she's sweet, fun, and a hoot to talk to. BUT, occasionally, she blows up and the heat drives you away. For awhile. It's hard to stay away for long. Her husband, Long Drink of Silence, is perfect for her and a heckuva nice guy on top of it.

     Where was I? Oh! The zoo. The main zoo attraction (for me) was the pool where they had stingrays swimming around. If you stuck your hand in the water, were real still, and patient, you occasionally would feel one under your hand as it passed by. The problem was, this was a new exhibit and the stingrays weren't too crazy about the idea, so they stayed in a nice, tight, little circle out of everyone's reach. Diswan was mightily put out by this as he wanted to touch a stingray. Their evasion of his efforts made him more angry and upset, I think, about being rejected. I guess being rejected by a fish is a big blow to a ten-year-old's ego, so I took him aside and said, "How would you feel if a thousand people a day wanted to touch you while you were swimming?" He looked off into the distance for a minute ( I swear I could actually hear the gears turning) and replied, "Good point." My oldest is nothing if not logical. All in all, it was a good time, both ours and The Preacher's kids got along well, and it was a nice, relaxing experience.

     Afterwards, we all went over to The Preacher's house where she and her husband spoiled us with an abundance of awesome food and good conversation. The Prof, and I both enjoy movies and books, so it was refreshing to talk to someone with whom I had something in common. It was tough to leave (literally, I was so full that getting into the car was a chore.) but leave we had to. From there, we went to spend time with The Sleep Nazi and her husband, Dr. Teeth.

Next: Inferiority Complexes and More Food.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Family Togetherness and the Bataan Death Drive

     A week ago, I was afforded the opportunity to join my blushing bride, Central Planning, and the two boys, Diswan and Datwan, for a week-long "vacation." The truth is that there were still some loose ends to tie up from the deaths of our respective mothers, and since Her Eminence has the ability to work from anywhere there is an internet connection, it was decided that she should take the boys and use this as an opportunity to tie up those loose ends while simultaneously basking in the glow of familial warmth.
     As it happened, the powers that be at my place of employment, Big Box Destination Retail, allowed me a week off. It seems that the customer flow and product throughput had assumed the same characteristics as The Nile River during the dry season in that employees outnumbered customer count on three days out of seven. This resulted in the payroll costs soaring through the roof without any incoming profit to offset the loss. Management's solution to this was to send employees home early each slow day.

    In my department,  rather than play "employee roulette", it was decided to give one employee an entire week off. I, in a rare flash of insight, saw this as an opportunity to accompany my family on their trip. Initially, Central Planning was suspicious at my enthusiasm towards the  idea of me joining them. She offered me numerous opportunities to stay behind and enjoy the solitude and I, I must admit for the sake of full disclosure, was tempted to take her up on them.

     Normally, a long drive anywhere with Diswan and Datwan along results in me wanting to fling myself out of the moving vehicle. There is the inevitable "Are we there yet?" from Datwan, the constant bickering with his brother, the numerous stops for bathroom breaks (I finally beat that one. When we stop, EVERYONE goes to the bathroom regardless of protestations about not having the urge right then.), and the long, mind-numbing hours at the wheel listening to whatever happens to be on the radio.

     Much of my displeasure at long car trips has been ameliorated by the invention of the car-friendly DVD player. I am certain that if the identity of the inventor of this Blessed Device were made known to the public, his or her praises would be sung from the highest mountain tops, from sea, to shining sea, and he or she would never have to pay another bar tab as long as he or she lived, since parents around the world would line up to buy drinks. I keep a bottle of single-malt scotch handy should I ever encounter this Exalted One. It is because of that electronic marvel that silence reigns throughout the Chevy Blazer.

    So, armed with The DVD Player of Tranquility, a bunch of snacks, and the optimism of those with short memories, we set off for The Mitten. The first thing we noticed was the scenery; there is a lot of it on the prairie. Everywhere we looked was more scenery. Unfortunately, once we got a couple of hours East, it all looked the same. Endless miles of lush green prairie followed by, endless miles of lush, green prairie. For eight solid hours.

     We stopped off briefly at the Eastern franchise of Big Box Destination Retail to buy a GPS unit; the Garmin Nuvi 400. The voice that emanated from the GPS was immediately dubbed "Snickerfritz" by Datwan. I have no idea why he named it that, but it seemed inspired to me. Diswan insisted that it should be called "Helicoprion" which is apparently the name of some prehistoric shark. I don't know how he made that connection, but I have no doubt that it made sense to him. As it was, this little gem of technology would have supplanted the car-friendly DVD player in the Blessed Device hierarchy except for its infuriating inability to accurately locate Starbucks when I was jonesing for more caffeine. Thus, it must remain in Second Place until that deficiency is rectified.

     Inevitably, after being burned out on scenery, we needed to find a suitable place to crash for the night. Fortunately, Central Planning, utilizing her mad skills with a Blackberry, found us wonderful accommodations at Country Inn & Suites. We had a two-room suite that enabled us to separate ourselves from our progeny, thus insuring we all had a good night's sleep.

Next time: Into The Belly of the Beast