Archive for category: Fairly Odd Parents-Present

A Fairly Odd Viral Convergence

03 Feb 2002
February 3, 2002

We are all sick. All four of us! Fevers, congestion, the whole bit. We have never all been sick at the same time. This is Viral Convergence! I’m emailing Gareth at Jargon Watch immediately about this!

It’s bad enough when my wife and I are sick. Taking care of two young children when you can barely get out of bed is bad. But dragging yourself out to take temperatures, dole out Motrin, Tylenol, Pediacare, and, finally, Nyquil is really, really bad.

horoscopeThere aren’t enough different places to lay down and watch TV for all of us! My wife just wants to sleep. I can’t watch Regis and Kelly, Oprah, or even the “lower tier” talk shows. That reality is too much for me.

I need long movies where boy meets girl and they decide to put on a show in a barn. Who’s that comedic character actress from the 30s, tall and blond, who always manages to work in the splits in any dance routine she does? Life always ends up nice and neat in her films. Never a care to worry about. That’s what I want to watch, that’s what I need to watch right now.

The kids (bless their hearts) are lethargic enough so they are at least not running around screaming and, well, being children. Their tastes run towards the Rug Rats, The Wild Thornberrys, CatDog, Arthur, Hey Arnold, and SpongeBob.

Wait a minute, those seem pretty attractive. Give me a couple of Fairly Odd Parents! Yes! That’s the Reality TV I require.

I’m Timmy and my (fairly odd) parents are Cosmo and Wanda! Timmy’s bio sounds strikingly like my childhood: “Timmy Turner is just like every other kid on Earth—totally powerless against the adults of the world! He’s smarter than most of them too, which makes it even MORE frustrating…” My alter ego is Cleft, the Boy Chin Wonder, sidekick to that superhero, The Crimson Chin!

Wait a minute, all this sort of sounds like my life NOW.

My Fairly Odd Parents help me make sense of the world. They grant me my wishes, and in the process, teach me life’s hard lessons. Most importantly, even when my path brings me to the brink of chaos, I feel like I’ve got some power in the world.

Yeah, that’s just what I need right now.

The Art of Leveraged Bargaining

18 Dec 2001
December 18, 2001

The planets were in perfect marital alignment yesterday! It was one of those days that brought out the best in my wife and I and proved just why we were a couple!

horoscopeI had volunteered to bring something to our office Christmas party. My wife said she’d be happy to make her famous brownie recipe. I was grateful for her offer for I had just planned to buy something. But I was concerned she wouldn’t have time. She was planning on helping a friend last night and wouldn’t get home until late. “No,” she said. ” It shouldn’t be a problem.” And, true enough, when she returned she made them.

This morning was like all mornings in our household: totally chaotic. We roused two sleeping little girls, got them dressed and fed, despite their objections to our parent-approved menu (my youngest has just determined that candy is her breakfast of choice) and what they wanted to wear. Typically, as we get closer to the important “point of no return” (the border between leaving the house and being on time or being late), the pressure increases.

In the midst of this, my wife begins to cut the brownies for final packing. As I’m dressing, I hear a moan spring from the kitchen. “They’re mushy!” “What?” I return. “What are you talking about?” “The brownies are mushy. I can’t cut them! Let me put them in the oven for a little longer.”

“We can’t do that! We’ll be late! Uh uh! No way.” The pandemonium threatens to get out of hand. A quick call to Karen, a local co-worker, who often comes into the office later yields no help. Her husband says she’s leaving in 15 minutes. “Well, that’s it. I’ll just buy something (What? Where? Does CVS have an office party section?). I will be forgiven by my office mates. We tried.

And so it went. I got to work and was intensely scouring the net for new innovations to incorporate into our museum’s web site when Karen arrived at my door, brownies in hand! I was shocked. What happened? It turned out her husband was off just a little. She wasn’t leaving in 15 minutes, more like 45. And my good wife rushed the properly baked brownies over. I was amazed and gratified. “Do something nice for your wife tonight, Jeff,” Karen admonished as she walked away.

Now, just as there is chaos at the beginning of our day, so too is their chaos when I return home. The adults are exhausted and walk around as if we’re already asleep. The girls, too, are tired but run around as if they have just woken up. So when pushing the front door open I was faced with my nightly problem: summoning enough reserves to make it through dinner, baths, running after the kids to put on their pj’s, and read them a story. And then I had a thought! A deal really. Moms and dads are always making bargins with each other, parental trade-offs if you will.

“I will call our cell phone company to transfer your number to your brand new phone if you wash the dishes and put the children to bed.” My wife looked at me in astonishment and exclaimed: “That’s exactly what I was going to propose!” This was the moment of alignment and we were in sync!

You see, calling our cell phone company (which shall remain anonymous and heretofore be known as CPC) is an ordeal beyond imagination. Nothing is easy. Their bills are impossible for anyone with a graduate degree to decipher (example: you get free long distance but they charge you for it but then they give you a credit at the end of the bill for the same amount). But if anyone can move through this maze it’s me. This is my forte. Not a job I enjoy, but one I’m really good at.

Up until last year we still had our original plan from 1996: 15 minutes for $19.95. The thought of changing it was too much to bear. But then, with my father’s illness, I racked up a sizable bill and it was time to upgrade. After about 2 hours of being shuttled from one customer service representative to another (with one disconnect in between) I was promised some “courtesy minutes” to help offset my debt while I was moved over to a more contemporary plan (couldn’t do it immediately you see, I had to wait until the beginning of my monthly billing cycle).

The courtesy minutes never showed up on my bill. I was never moved to the new plan and no one at this phone company had any record of my previous conversations with them. I was fit to be tied. Now I was angry and ready to bolt to a competing CPC. And then it happened. I hit pay dirt: I told them I was leaving. I was immediately connected to the Retention Department.

If you want anything out of your CPC, ask to be connected to Retention. They have the power. And they know codes that your lowly customer service rep has never heard of. No one on the initial rung had ever heard of courtesy minutes. But Retention had. I thought I was going nuts and started to picture myself in a contemporary version of Gaslight until I got connected to them.

Within hours (and that’s a short time in this field), I got my extra minutes, got hooked up to a new plan, and I could almost imagine I had always been a satisfied customer! That’s why my wife was willing to make this deal with me!

One of the first shocks I ever received as a married man was how different customer service reps, plumbers, and other workers treat women verses men. Literally, sexual discrimination hit home for me. But my wife and I both agree, I can often get things done in this department much easier than she can (and she’s no slouch).

So, with the deal struck, I got in my pj’s, closed the bedroom door, relaxed, and prepared for battle. When I finally was connected to a live person I simply said the magic words: “Please connect me to Retention.”

The planets were in perfect harmony last night. And each of us had used our talents to help the other out. This is a joyous season!

Maintaining Creative Control

08 Oct 2001
October 8, 2001

horoscopeI’ve been working on a web project about 9/11 and have been totally consumed. You know that feeling? Total commitment to an idea and its realization. It’s like the sports equivalent of the zone: you look up and five hours have passed since you last realized, well, reality. What a rush and mixture of emotions. I haven’t felt this way in quite a while. But, with the sharp awareness that I lack the power to control the uncontrollable these days, this is my only alternative.

All I’ve got is my creativity. It’s the one thing in life where no compromises are foisted upon me. No one is looking over my shoulder. And no one is evaluating my performance. I get the undiluted power to consider: listen to advice, think about the alternatives, and make the ultimate decisions. It makes me feel good. And it gives me a sense of control in my life.

Speaking of of which, I’ve been acutely aware of my daughter’s inaugural indoctrination into the societal rules of order since entering kindergarten a few weeks back. I am simultaneously sad and relieved.

The unbridled energy of toddlers is exciting to watch but oh-so-tiring (especially for us “older” parents). It’s hard to believe I ever had that amount of stamina (especially as I sit in my PJs at midday writing this). It’s fun and amazing to view the world through your child’s inexperienced and uncontrolled eyes.

On the other hand, I am an ordered person. Fear of chaos has often been my guide. In college I never pulled an all-nighter. Not once (I realize I’m the odd man out here). I always made sure I had finished the readings a week before each exam. This made me feel like I had enough time to study. It also allowed me to concentrate on the content of the course and not my reoccurring nightmare where I’m handed the exam only to realize I can’t tell which class it’s for! The upside of all of this is that I’ve grown to be good at organization. I can handle multiple tasks simultaneously with an eye at what has to be done up ahead. Egads. I’ve just described what it takes to be a, uh, Project Manager!

So, you can see why I have mixed emotions about watching my children learn to control themselves. It started on my daughter’s first day of school. After the first week she could recite the school’s five steps of conflict resolution: 1. Ignore. 2. Move away. 3. Talk friendly. 4. Talk firmly. 5. Get adult help.

And she can now say the Pledge of Allegiance with strength and the conviction of a five year old. We’ve explained to her just what she’s pledging allegiance to. She has homework, usually a fun art-based activity, every day (in an effort, we were told, to prepare them for the rigors of “real” homework to come in the 1st grade).

I’m pondering, though, where the fine line between teaching adherence to rules and teaching independent thinking resides. I’m a child of —I almost said “the 60s.” Well, I’m a child of my father actually. Through him I learned to question authority, usually his.

My hope is to work with both my daughters rather than try and control them when it comes to learning these lessons. And I’m just a little relieved to remember what I learned in my early days of art school: you’ve got to know the rules before you can learn how to break them!

Vacation 2001: West Meets East

24 Aug 2001
August 24, 2001

horoscopeWe’ve just returned from an East Coast summer institution and I have been baptized in the waters of Wildwood, New Jersey! Our family’s first vacation at the New Jersey shore.

The Shore: one of the first differences I noted about East and West Coast summer rituals. Oh, people here often call it “the beach” but “the shore” has a long standing tradition. It’s an event imbued with 19th century gentility: one of escaping the oppressive heat of New York, Philadelphia or the swampland called Washington, DC. People around here will tell you they’re going “down the ocean” (said in my best “Bal’mor” accent). In LA we simply wanted to catch the best wave we could find.

After three days and four nights of in depth observation, here, in a nutshell, are my side-by-side comparisons between West and East Coast beach experiences. Of course, the biggest difference for me was getting used to the sun rising over the ocean, not setting.

You wake up in the morning and decide to go to the beach. You wake up in the morning and decide to go to the beach in 9 months. You start looking for a hotel. But you may be too late.
Everyone looks like they just got back from a casting call for Baywatch. Everyone looks like they just got back from a casting call for The Sopranos.
Tattoos look freshly made last June. Tattoos look freshly made in June 1950.
Young waiters speak to you with Valley girl and dude accents. Young waiters speak to you with East European accents.
Long hair flows down people’s backs. Long hair flows on people’s backs.
You hear Blink 182 on boom boxes. You hear Robert Goulette on hotel loudspeakers.
Everyone’s single or trying to look that way. Families, families, families. Often multigenerational (nice to see).

Whereas Cape May, a few miles to the south, is full of beautiful Victorian B & B’s. The Wildwoods (Wildwood Crest, Wildwood, and North Wildwood) are full of 50s motels. The Star Dust, the Fleur de Lis, the Hawaii Kai, the Athens, and the Pyramid are but a few of the white-washed, mildly themed motor inns with brightly colored doors, fake palm trees (where can we get a pair of these for our front lawn?), all tinted pale swimming pool aqua. At night the neon is better than Las Vegas and much more real.

We stayed at the Bal Harbour Hotels in Wildwood Crest. Why it’s plural is beyond me. It’s just one hotel. It looked more like vintage 1970s but it was right on the beach. This was my wife’s family tradition, since she was a girl: first in a rented house a few blocks from the shore (10 closely-packed relatives and one bathroom), then the migration to the Bal Harbour a few years later.

But the thing that most sets both coastal beaches apart are the boardwalks of the East. It feels like very little has changed in the last 50 years. The amusement rides are no longer rickety wood structures (the prices are decidedly 21st century though) and the booths waft with the sounds of Britney Spears instead of Rosemary Clooney. But it still has that edgy, forbidden feel: you know, like your dad would give you a good smack if he caught you there.

There’s nothing that comes close on the beaches of the West anymore. POP (Pacific Ocean Park), my haunt of youth, right on the border between Venice and Santa Monica beaches, was bulldozed decades ago. And high-rise condos hide any evidence it ever existed.

Since The Beach is a multiple day adventure here in the East, the boardwalk is the perfect diversion after a day on the sand. Dusk is the best time to arrive. It feels seedier as the sun goes down. And I can sense my dad’s presence glaring down at me just over my shoulder.

Father’s Day: My Present

17 Jun 2001
June 17, 2001

horoscopeMy wife turned over in bed and said “Happy Father’s Day, honey! Would you like breakfast in bed?” “No thanks,” I replied. “But some early morning ‘p and q’ [peace and quiet] would really be nice.” One of my most favorite times in the day is early, early morning, before the kids get up. I often wait for the newspaper to be delivered at 5:30 am just to sit and read, uninterrupted for 30 minutes before getting ready for work. My quiet time is worth so much to me I gladly go to bed at the ungodly hour of 9:30 or 10 just to exercise this morning pleasure.

Father’s Day 2001 was off to a great start. A day when I could do just about anything I wanted with little or no guilt. I read. Read the Post and the NY Times. All in glorious solitude.

I built. Ok, constructed a pre-fab IKEA bookcase for my new office downstairs. I moved. Moved my books from my old office (which had been doubling as my daughter’s bedroom for sometime) to my new one. I cleaned and threw out. Threw out piles of ancient notes, articles, and outdated computer books. This is most difficult for me, throwing out books. I would never have done that in the pre-digital age. Perfectly good-looking books. I kept them so much beyond their usefulness I don’t think I could find a place to even donate them to. How-to’s on Illustrator 4 (aren’t they up to version 10 now?), Photoshop 3, and long extinct applications like MacWrite.

When my eldest daughter woke up she couldn’t wait to give me the card Mom had bought for her and her sister. Now, just a word about cards. We don’t believe in them. Well, not the store-bought $2.95 a shot kind. Hand made are great. But who wants to spend all that money on a greeting even your grandparents would find inappropriate and sappy. Who writes these things? When forced to, we’re lucky enough to be right around the block from the Factory Card Outlet, where every card is 49 cents! Once every three months we stock up.

My wife had warned me about her extravagance but said she’d actually found one at the CVS Drugstore that was so perfect it was worth the extra cost. And, indeed, it was.

Next on the agenda was my daughter’s tap dance recital. Twenty-nine classes had their 2 minute turns at glory. Bedecked in sequins and frill, purple, canary yellow, and shocking pink, each class did their dance. The three-year olds were cutest. And every so often you saw the arm of an assistant just off stage, mirroring the moves the little ones were to make. And once in a while a child just stood there frozen in angst, looking out at the multitudes of parents, grandparents, and friends cheering her and her fellow dancers on.

Of course, my daughter was wonderful!

I wasn’t allow to video the performance. You have to buy the school’s professionally made tape. And the program was much too long. But in that darkened auditorium I reflected on the meanings of this ritual for my daughter and of the father’s day rituals of my childhood. Darkened auditoriums are often petri dishes for my mind.

It occurred to me that, since my father’s death last Fall, I was now the patriarch of the family. Oh, not in the “ruler of my domain” sense. Afterall, this was the 21st century and I was a child of the 60s. Nevertheless, I was the eldest man now. My sister’s husband had died a few years back so I could see the possibility that this might have meaning to her children, even though they’re in their twenties. I didn’t know what to make of this at all. What responsibilities does the role mandate? Does age equal wisdom? Not necessarily when you look at the history of my upbringing.

When we got home there was a voicemail from my sister, wishing me a happy dad’s day. I know this day’s hard for her, thinking about her husband and dad. I immediately returned her call. When I got her answering machine I told her I had been thinking about her and about the discovery of my newly found patriarchy. But, I told her, this patriarchy would be filled with fun and happiness. Yes! Happiness was the legacy I’d like to bring to the job!

Synchronicity, Relatively Speaking

10 Jun 2001
June 10, 2001

Synchronicity. Thursday morning I got two emails. One from another Jeff Gates (this one’s the real estate agent in Michigan who was first to register The second from a woman who wanted to know if I was related to her grandmother.

I answered the Jeff first, informing him we had a “relative” who ran for Senate in the Green Party this year. Then I opened Nina’s email. I was intrigued the moment I saw the subject: my grandmother’s maiden name.

About three years ago I happened upon a geneology site and registered all my grandparents’ names. I’d gotten one dead end inquiry during that time. I opened the email.

horoscopeNina was looking for descendents of her Grandmother Margaret whose siblings were Albert, Grisha, Yuri, Bessie, and Louis Bieber. I am Bessie’s grandson. Wow, I’d always wondered about Aunt Margaret (how’d a nice Jewish aunt get a name like Margaret?). No one talked much about her. The only story I’d heard was that she and my grandmother had had a falling out many years ago. Now that everyone was gone that story sat on the pile of our family lore with the others. I returned her email.

The next day Nina answered by telling me a little about her family and herself. Turns out she’s exactly 8 days older than me and lives in Arlington, Virginia. Now it was getting interesting. My long lost cousin lived right across the Potomac River from me! I told her to sit down before reading my email and gave her my phone number. A half hour later the phone rang. Caller ID told me it was her.

How quickly can one start sharing sacred family stories with a stranger? A stranger who, following the family tree, has lived an identically-filtered life.
She wasn’t surprised by my stories (I’ll save the heavier ones for when we meet) and I wasn’t surprised by hers. Family legacies, even from the Shtetl, run strong. Moisha, our great grandfather, might have something interesting to say about that.

* * *

Yesterday afternoon my immediate family and I went to a party with friends. The adults sat in the shade of the trees while our children played. Harry, someone we met when we went to China, had something to tell us. He recently had bought a used book on on Maryland fossils. When he got it, my wife’s father’s name was inscribed on the inside cover! After my father-in-law had died, my mother-in-law had sold many of his books (he collected rocks and fossils) to a book dealer. Synchronicity.

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