Archive for category: Fairly Odd Parents-Present

The Attack of the Wasps!

31 Jul 2011
July 31, 2011
wasps

It wasn’t this bad but it felt like it was.

Last Sunday at 11 a.m. I was attacked by a swarm of wasps. More on that in a minute. But first, what good is a trauma like this if you can’t come out of it with a good story. A good story is the souvenir of traumas –providing you recover.

Two decades ago I was visiting my friends Bob and Ellen in San Francisco when we decided to go camping in Yosemite. I’m a California native but had never been to this national park. Bob and Ellen found this odd, but mostly sad, and they took it upon themselves to fix this. So we traveled from sea level to 11,000 feet in one glorious day. Except, by the time we got to Tuolumne Meadows to begin our hike it was nearing dusk and I was starting to feel a bit queasy. Sunset turned into night. Queasy turned into altitude sickness and we were all so tired we just slung our food over a low branch, rather than follow the strict guidelines for keeping bears at bay.

In the middle of the night we were attacked by said bear. The details of this encounter have become legendary and, much to the chagrin of our friends, have been told and retold a thousand times. Over the years, the details of our attack have diverged. Bob, Ellen, and I all now tell very different stories (the bear was light brown, no, black, no, dark brown). Most importantly, our relationship was forever cemented by this event. But if it wasn’t for me, there wouldn’t have been a story.

The next day, tired and traumatized, we had to move to a new campsite at 6,000 feet so I could recover from the high altitude. There we happened upon friends of Bob’s and Ellen’s. Still in shock, they started to retell their tale: “Guess what? Last night a bear came in to our campsite.” They waited for the expected reaction of horror and sympathy. Yet, there was none. “Oh yeah, that happened to us a while back,” their friends replied. Bob and Ellen were crestfallen. It was time to step in. “Friends,” I said, “you need to know how to tell a good story. You don’t say ‘a bear came into our campsite.’ You say ‘Guess what? We were attacked by a bear!'”

And so, I was attacked by a swarm of wasps. Only this time I really was ATTACKED. Relentlessly.

A couple months ago we reseeded our lawn and after nurturing the new grass it was finally time to mow. It was hot and muggy and I constantly had to wave the gnats away from my face. We never had gnats before. Suddenly, the “gnats” started stinging. As I look back now, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. I remember my surprise at this sudden gnat aggressiveness until it dawned on me. These were no longer small harmless bugs. I didn’t actually see the wasps. Not yet. But I instinctively tried to protect myself as I ran to the front door. Which was locked. I pounded and heard someone scream. Me. Simultaneously, I was both being attacked and completely disembodied.

My youngest daughter sauntered to the door. She had no idea what was happening. As always, her timing could best be described as “teenage leisurely.” But my oldest yelled out to my wife that it sounded like Dad was being mugged. I ran into the house and the wasps came with me. Then I came face-to-face with my savior. My wife had just gotten out of the shower and as I ran screaming into the bathroom she pushed me into the tub and turned on the water. Again, I was operating in two entirely different worlds. I was still being stung but I had the wherewith all to remove my iPhone and wallet before being drenched fully clothed. I told my wife I couldn’t breathe but told her it was because I was just out of breath, not because I was in anaphylactic shock. The adrenaline rush was huge. She got me a kitchen chair so I could sit down in the tub. As she removed my clothes I watched the mound of drowned wasps grow by the drain. She placed my soaked jeans in the sink.

People in shock usually don’t know their in shock. It’s simply their reality at the moment. As I retell this tale it’s pretty clear I was in shock. As I sat in bed, I realized my head was really hurting. The wasps’ stingers had mercilessly banged at my skull. Ice pack in hand, my wife tried to figure out the right dosage of children’s Benadryl we had on hand. I’d never had a systemic reaction to bee stings before but I’d never had so many stings at one time. She calculated six teaspoons. But when I talked to the on call nurse, she thought that probably was an overdose. I survived. With ice pack in one hand, I posted my status to Facebook with the other. I was coming out of shock.

Later I found at least eleven stings but also found out that, unlike bees which sting once and die, wasps can continually pump venom into you over and over. They were angry and vicious. Apparently, the sound of the lawn mower going over their nest in the hole in the ground set them off.

The nurse told me what the next few days would be like. The stings didn’t itch yet but they would start the next day. That would last about 48 hours and then it would start to subside. Luckily, I had time to recover from the actual attack before the untenable itching commenced. It was unbearable. I couldn’t sleep. My only saving grace was that each sting seemed to take its turn at being insufferable. Itching can literally drive you mad. I tried digging my nails into my fingers to offset the itch. It didn’t work. In the relative calm of the middle of the night I contemplated my insanity. The next night I slept with boo boo bunnies we had saved from our children’s childhoods (little plastic ice cubes wrapped up in a plush little rabbit). Ice saved my sanity. And, just as the nurse had predicted, by the third day the itching started to go away.

My wife counted over thirty wasps in the tub but was shocked to find 22 more (some still alive) in my jeans. I was very lucky.

I usually am good to insects. Live and let live, I say. But we had an exterminator to the house on Friday. Those insects met their match. And they paid dearly for their innate aggressiveness. I made him go over the entire lawn, inch by inch. But it may take me a while to get back to mowing. A trauma is a trauma. I was attacked by wasps. I’ve lived to tell this tale. And this is my souvenir.

To the Moon, Alice! I mean Susie!

30 May 2011
May 30, 2011
Pan Am Moon Club Card

My reservations for the moon were set and this card proved it. Click image for larger view.

For all the dystopian commentary on mankind’s distant future the 1968 film 2001 projected, it also allowed us to place ourselves in an optimistic and limitless near future as we neared the apex of America’s space program: the moon landing. This was one of the first films to feature low key product placement like the American Express credit card and the iconic scenes of Pan Am’s Space Clipper ferrying people to the a near orbit docking station on their way to the moon. If it was hard to visualize humanity evolving into that obelisk’s future, it was easy to imagine ourselves participating in the more consumer-friendly one.

Soon after Apollo 8’s orbit of the moon in December 1968 Pan Am began taking reservations for its first commercial flights to the moon. And, as it turned out, I was the 1043rd person to do so.

I remember calling Pan Am reservations. “I’d like to make a round-trip reservation to the moon,” I told the woman on the other end of the phone. And, without skipping a beat, she replied, “For how many passengers, please?” Using their traditional call center and an identical script added to the reality of what I was doing. I was making a reservation for a real future.

“Two,” I said. “For my wife and me.” I gave her my name and when she
asked for my wife’s name I told her “I don’t know yet. I’m not married. But I will be when it’s time to go.” I was adventurous at 20 but had no desire to share this momentous event with strangers. I was planning ahead on multiple fronts.

At first she wouldn’t accept my reservation for my wife-to-be but I finally convinced her of my sincerity. She didn’t really have to follow every detail of her script and she finally relented. “Will that be coach or first class?”

Our present future is a bit different. Pan Am is no longer and airplane trips are as romantic as the 3 a.m. Greyhound to Knoxville; I finally got an American Express card but I leave home without it all the time; and commercial lunar trips are still science fiction. Back on Earth and finally married (18 years today) my wife and I are firmly planted in the stratosphere that is our attic, downsizing and getting rid of the more extraneous parts of our past. But as I went through my first box of very important memories I spied this card–proof of my membership in Pan Am’s First Moon Trip Club and proof that, at one time decades ago, I was ready to leave home and this planet on the first commercial spaceship outta here. (Oh, this process is sure to be glacial if I keep unearthing important documents like this.)

Now that I have my wife firmly in hand I’m ready for our flight. If I could only give that reservation clerk Susie’s name.

Anatomy of an Encounter: I Could Be Wrong

15 May 2011
May 15, 2011
No Smoking

I thought the facts made me right. Image by spelio

As I stood in a long line at the ATM outside my bank I smelled smoke. It came and went and, after a while I started to look around for the smoker. At first, I couldn’t spot him but finally noticed the man right in front of me was holding a cigarette behind his back as he conversed with the woman in front of him. When I was young I had a severe form of asthma with no help, I’m sure, from my parents’ 1950s smoking habits. Luckily, I grew out of the disease. But to this day, I relive those years whenever as much as a simple chest cold impedes my breathing. So you can see why I don’t like inhaling secondhand smoke. Rather than passively accepting my fate, I’ve started to be a little more proactive when it comes to this part of my health. I watched him for a while, assessing his approachability, but decided not to pursue it.

Yet, I really didn’t want that smoke wafting in my face. I felt I was being held hostage in line. The next nearest bank branch was a few miles away and my lunchtime was almost up. And, yes, he was shorter than me and dressed in a business suit with no visible tattoos but you never know with smokers (okay, to be fair, you never know with anybody). I took a few steps back to catch my breath and consider my options. “Please don’t say anything,” I told myself. “Remember when you nicely asked a woman smoking just inches from a restaurant door to please move away? Don’t do it.” Suddenly I heard myself saying, “Excuse me, would you mind not smoking in line?” And with that I stepped over to the other side.

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Father Knows Best When He’s Got It Good

21 Feb 2011
February 21, 2011
Dad Knows Best

Jim Anderson surrounded by his adoring family. Umm, not quite me.

I walked down the hall as I’d done thousands of times before. As always I’m on a mission. Most of them are trivial: take the trash to the kitchen, transpose a novel from my backpack to my nightstand, or talk to my wife about something or other. This time as I walked out our bedroom door I turned my head, just for a second, to glance at my older daughter’s bedroom. And in that moment I felt the culmination of my life to that point. These fleeting events can never be predicted. If we’re lucky we’re open to them when they hit us. How many have I missed?

Her room was clean (clean!) but empty. She’d spent the night at a friend’s house –a sleepover that was sure to transform my happy, laughing daughter into a sleepless zombie later that day. But for now it was quiet and I was safe. In that second, as I turned my head from her bedroom back to the hall, I realized I had a family and I was the Dad. I heard a pileated woodpecker’s ratta-tat-tat on a tree just outside her window.

It was a funny realization. I knew all of this already but somehow it hit me anyway. Strange as it sounds, I felt fulfilled. Me, fulfilled? I’d spent most of my life looking forward with expectations and aspirations and suddenly here I was.

Sometimes I feel like I live in a sitcom. I grew up wanting to be a Father Knows Best sort of dad but I’ve ended up more of a Modern Family type of patriarch. That is, I was far from the benevolent CEO of my family. Instead, I’d turned into a quirky guy who’s happy to be surrounded by his quirky outside-the-box kids. And like a sitcom, zany moments quickly follow calm, contemplative ones like these. Just now my youngest started screaming. She’s gotten a sliver in her finger. She wants it out NOW but is afraid it will hurt when I attempt to remove it. She’s shaking so hard with anticipation her fear is sure to become a reality. What’s a father to do? With one fell swoop I take the tweezers and pull the entire sliver out. Yeah, just like that. Just like the 1950s iconic father Jim Anderson would do.

Yes, I thought in that second, I’ve got the family I deserved. I turned my head and returned to my latest mission. But this time I didn’t forget what really led me down that hall.

On Becoming the New Old Fogey

29 Dec 2010
December 29, 2010

As we get ready to ring in the new year, I’m reminded that I’m not getting any younger. And, I’m quite comfortable with that. Late night New Year’s Eve parties have given way to quiet evenings at home with my family and friends. A little Thai, and while the kids play in their bedrooms with friends, we’re nicely ensconced in front of our fireplace, a good old vine Zin in hand. Times Square isn’t even on our radar.

But being comfortable isn’t my only goal come January. Oh, sometimes I aspire to be a Father Knows Best sort of dad, but, if you must know, I’m really more of a Modern Family sort of one. I may be getting older but I’m working on a strategy for not getting old.

Betty White on SNL

Betty White mixing it up with a friend on Saturday Night Live.

The successful campaign to get White a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live by Gen Xers and Millennials is a surprising turn on how we look at age. To what does Betty (may I call you Betty, Ms. White?) owe this adoration amongst young people? She’s 88! But she doesn’t act like anyone’s grandmother. So, what makes a person get old? And why is Betty so young?

As I get closer to geezerhood, I’ve been taking a good hard look at myself. I can’t stop my birthdays (as my father used to say, “Consider the alternative!”). But I can fine tune how I look at the world, and my outlook has little to do with my real age. My neighbor, in his early 50s, is afraid of the future and has said he’d like to go back to the 1960s (as if any point in that decade was a banner year for safety).

My father, an engineer for Lockheed in the early 1960s, traveled the world teaching other engineers how to move from their slide rules to computers. Despite his ability to embrace and evangelize the new, as he got older he lost that edge. Somewhere over the decades he seemed to lose his interest in fresh ideas. His younger self morphed into his older self, afraid of what was coming next. And, like my neighbor, it scared him.

The Bettys of the world don’t seem to work that way. Oh, as White said in her SNL opening monologue, when she first heard about the Facebook campaign to get her to host the show, she had no idea what Facebook was and, in fact, now that she knew, she thought it was a big waste of time. The audience laughed and understood it’s not whether they are technology savvy that makes people like Betty so attractive.

So what makes some stay young while others slowly grow old? Aside from staying buff (okay, it’s an uphill battle), here are a few things I’m doing to stave off old fogeyhood:

  1. Be alert and stay connected. I am constantly observing people and how they work. Last week it suddenly occurred to me that every time I walk out of my office building I come in contact with people I’ve never seen before. So there’s a constant influx of new material and interactions happening right in front of me. Simply by doing things like commuting or walking down the street I’m injecting myself in that daily mix. This allows me to stay connected. Sometimes I merely observe but at other times I interact—sometimes with total strangers.

    I’m what Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University, calls an infovore (PDF). “The more information the infovore consumes, the more order he brings to his world.” What a perfect word. (Too bad he’s too young to be an old fogey.) Order in my world includes and embraces the often-chaotic nature of daily life. But if an abundance of information gives you headache and sweaty palms, you’re probably not an infovore. Still, the advantage the New Old Fogeys have is we can take decades of our past experiences and fold them into this novel mix.

    Using Facebook and Twitter, all of technology for that matter, isn’t the goal. They’re just tools which allow me to…

  2. Explore new ideas. But that doesn’t mean I embrace every new idea I come in contact with. The more I explore, the more discerning I become (and the more I discover about myself). But I’m looking for people who share this inquisitiveness.

    Three years ago my oldest daughter, then 10, gave me an impromptu report card on my aging. One day while in the car, I suddenly heard from the backseat: “Dad, you’re really cool. You like cool clothes, you like cool music, and you like technology.” What a gift! I took it to heart and was encouraged to keep up the good work. Two years later I thought I’d better check in with her to see how I was doing. “Well,” she hesitated, “you’re not so good in the music department any more.” (She had just finished a class in the history of rock and roll and thought she knew it all.) I immediately countered: “Do you know who Adele is?” She didn’t. “I predict she will win the Grammy for the best new artist this year!” On the night of the awards, my daughter and I sat together as Adele was named the winner. My reputation was salvaged for at least the next six months—okay, maybe two weeks.

    My ideas are constantly changing and being challenged. And I’ll accept that challenge from anywhere and anyone. This exploration and mixing of ideas allows me to…

  3. Play. The New Old Fogey isn’t just a consumer of new ideas, we seem to inhale, mix them up, and play around with them. The result: newer, perhaps quite idiosyncratic thoughts. Unlike my father and neighbor, we’re willing to take risks. The most engaged senior citizens aren’t just guarding what we’ve acquired over the years; we’re growing and giving it back by interacting with the people around us. Betty White’s willingness to immerse herself in other people’s ideas and inject her own take on them keeps her mind active and engaged. And it’s clear she’s really enjoying what she’s doing. That’s play.

At age 61 I’ve decided to look for a mentor. I don’t care how old he or she is. But as I begin to think about the next phase of my life, I’m looking for guidance and people who are as interested in these things as I am. My father used to say: “Youth is wasted on the young.” He believed that by the time you got old and hopefully wiser, you no longer had any energy or desire to explore. I don’t believe that for one minute. And neither does Betty.

What’s your strategy for becoming a new old fogey?

The Rally for Sanity? It Was Insane!

31 Oct 2010
October 31, 2010
Standing at the rally with my poster

I positioned us at the Rally for a good photo op of the Capitol.

At the last minute I decided to bring one of my Chamomile Tea Party posters to the Rally for Sanity here on the National Mall yesterday. So Friday afternoon I got it printed BIG. You might wonder why this wasn’t on my radar weeks ago. After all, procrastination is not my usual style. Let’s see, there’s work, soccer games, work, grocery shopping, exhaustion, and work –well, you get the picture. The Chamomile Tea Party is my “side” biz. Promotion is key to any success but my methodology doesn’t normally include rallies. And my volunteer base is, shall we say, minimal. All I needed, though, was a kick in the pants. And that came from a coworker.

On Friday she said “favorited” my latest poster on Flickr. And when I wrote to thank her she said “You’re bringing it to the rally, right?” And, suddenly, my über promotional skills kicked in (I knew they were in there somewhere). I downloaded the poster from my own Flickr stream, had someone print it 30″ x 40″, rolled it up and brought it home. When I arrived at the house my chief volunteer (my wife) greeted me at the door with a huge piece of Foam Core and double-sided tape. Team Chamomile mounted it to the board and I was set.

As a rally veteran of the National Mall (you might remember my sojourn to the Inauguration) I like to have a plan. I survey the details of the event and then decide which stop on the Metro to exit and just where to find the choicest place to stand. But I have to balance that with realities: did I want to get up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday to rouse my 14 year old (she’s a veteran too but needs her sleep)? A balanced approach is key. Staking out a spot in the front row is usually not part of my strategy.

The Rally began at noon but we got there at 10. My sign was a bit unwieldy but light. My first reaction to the poster came as we sat down in the subway car. A smile and then “Great poster!” from the family sitting across from us. The day was beginning just right. As we exited the Metro I headed towards a meet up with The Coffee Party, a large group whose “dial-it-down” philosophy matches my own. Along the way, I wanted to stop off at the meeting area for GovLoop, a social media site for local, state, and federal government workers I’ve contributed to. As I walked down the street, I held my sign facing forward and the poster love really commenced. Knowing smiles and pointing as we passed. I felt like I was on stage. No longer the behind-the-scenes creative I was walking my walk.

When my daughter and I got to the Coffee Party meet up point no one was to be found. And, suddenly, I could see why. There were people who DID get up at 5 a.m. to get to the Mall. Thousands of them. And if we didn’t get our place soon, we would be pushed to the hinterlands. The Coffee Party must have staked out their spot and we needed to do the same. So we got as close to the stage as we could and I positioned us as close to the middle of the Mall to get the Capitol centered in any pic I took (what I lack in organizational skills I make up for in photographic composition). Yet, I realized as we watched the large video screens on the sides that the organizers had roving cameras looking for interesting signs and costumes and we were too far away for any of that free publicity.

And this brings me to the root of my dilemma. I think hard and I work hard –even on these posters. I love getting my work out there. But there was part of me that just wanted to enjoy the day with my daughter and the hundreds of thousands of others who were tired of the political positioning, the elections, and the dogma. Promotion of my posters –yes I did some of that. People all around me wanted to take a photo of it. And I always “pressed the flesh” with my signature “You can download them yourself at chamomileteaparty.com.” During the rally, I would often hold it up high and make a 360. And when the rally was over, I held it above my head on the slow trek out of the area. But I didn’t want to forget why we were there in the first place.

The front page of the Huffington Post

Others had brought their Chamomile Tea Party posters to the Rally! Click on image for larger view.

This morning, as I surveyed the online world, I suddenly discovered that I had more volunteers at the Rally than I thought. This photo of some of my other posters made it to the front page of the Huffington Post! I’d been promoting my “download and bring to the rally” approach for weeks. And some good people actually did it. It’s gratifying to see others take up your efforts and turn it into their own.

The best part of the day? On a packed subway ride home, my daughter and I finally got a seat near the end of the line. It was the first time we had sat down all day. I put my arm around her and said “What’cha think?” “I liked it,” she said, “but I didn’t understand all the words they used.” “Like what?” I asked. “Like liberal. I know I should know that but I don’t.” “Well, you see,” I replied, “there are liberals and conservatives. Sort of like Democrats and Republicans but a bit different…”

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