The fraud in the frozen foods aisle

One Saturday I got a sudden and mysterious knot on my knee. It was swollen, but X-rays showed no damage, and the doctor concluded it would probably heal itself. As a precaution, she advised me to pick up some extra-strength pain reliever.

We all went to the store together on the way home from the doctor. I was feeling pretty good, so I suggested we pick up our groceries while we were there. My wife thought that was a fine idea and immediately steered me toward the bay of motorized carts for disabled shoppers.

I attempted to persuade her this mode of transportation was unnecessary, but you know how a wife always thinks her husband is just trying to be manly in public, because a wife thinks her husband perceives himself always with a large S on his chest and a blue cape on his back? It was like that.

She’s awfully insistent when she is trying to save me from myself. She says stuff like: “Oh, you’re embarrassed to ride that? How will you feel when everybody sees you fall over in the middle of the store?”

She won – not because her position was strong, but because she can tolerate a louder argument in public.

Somehow, my wife failed to take pictures of my embarrassment. She must be slipping.

Walking toward the go-cart I limped more than medically necessary, in case any passersby wondered at my justification for commandeering Granny’s ride.

Once mounted, I experimented with positions to make my leg appear more busted. I even considered riding side-saddle to insinuate an inability to lift my leg over the front of the seat. I discarded this idea from fear my wife would loudly offer to bring me my corset and parasol.

I settled on keeping my leg rigidly straight, inviting onlookers to imagine a poor man who could not bend his knee. I also decided to ride out on my own, putting as much store between myself and my always-conspicuous family.

Riding my lonesome trail, I imaged all eyes on me, casting suspicion on my need for special accommodation. I passed a fellow traveler, a young lady, robust and healthy, in no way manifesting a requirement to ride the aisles, except for the crutch proudly displayed behind her handlebars.

Damn! If I only had a crutch, all these haters would be silenced!

The self-conscious grocery rider learns these carts make the beeping noise of a construction vehicle when backing. In a Saturday superstore, there are an alarming number of obstructions that force reversing.

I had almost become resigned to my trike when I saw him: a man older than me, with one less leg, striding toward me on one crutch. There is no condemnation quite like riding past an upstanding amputee.

My impulse was to get up from my bicycle basketful of groceries, and march out of the store. But this would prove how little I needed my mechanical advantage, so I bowed my head until the man passed.

I found my family; we bought our groceries; then I parked my vehicle and walked out of the store like the fraud I am.

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No country for young boys

My wife and I just finished driving to California and back with our three boys. We live in the Eastern Time Zone, so this was a substantial road trip.

Why would anyone drive cross country with three little boys? Are we crazy?

Apparently.

We went to California for my sister-in-law’s wedding. The cost of flying the family there and then renting a minivan for several days was a big factor in the decision to drive.

Plus, we’re crazy.

Sane people would have gone into debt to fly. Probably. Honestly, I have no idea how sane people think.

Driving 5,000 miles (8,000 km) with a one-year-old, a three-year-old, and a seven-year-old was a fun adventure – the kind of fun that takes years off your life.

I’m older now, and wiser. It’s the kind of wisdom that’s only useful for those driving consecutive days with children, which is something, God willing, I will never have to do again. So, it may turn out to be useless wisdom; that would be the best case scenario.

Happy, soothing pictures from the Pacific Ocean to calm my nerves.

Happy, soothing pictures from the Pacific Ocean to calm my nerves.

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In case any friends out there find themselves with such a daunting journey ahead of them, here are some nuggets of wisdom I learned on our trip:

  • Nothing makes a preschooler have to pee more urgently than traveling a mile past a rest stop.
  • Driving is often touted as a great way to see the country, but America all looks pretty much the same at night. The dashboard lights are the same everywhere.
  • One-year-olds can be amazingly peaceful car passengers, for a little while.
  • Speed limits are unnecessary if there are enough trucks on the road.
  • A three-year-old and a seven-year old can fight over which movie to watch for longer than any movie lasts.
  • Everyone knows “I’ll turn this car around and go home!” is an idle threat.
  • To Daddy, “I’ll turn this car around and go home!” is a beautiful, forlorn daydream.
  • The western states are too big. They should be divided up so kids don’t have to ask, “Are we still in Colorado?” 300 times.
  • A seven-year-old + a third row seat + the Rocky Mountains = puke. It’s simple arithmetic.
  • The rift between the McDonald’s and Wendy’s factions can tear a weary family apart for the duration of the highway break.
  • Regardless of who won the restaurant debate, you’ll have an upset stomach for the next 200 miles.
  • Sprint does not operate a single cell tower within the state of Nebraska.
  • When the Garmin tells you your next turn is in 524 miles, you are someplace you don’t belong.
  • Despite what seems like constant tumult, kids do actually sleep in the car. You realize this when, after arriving home at 7 a.m. and going straight to bed, the kids wake you up two hours later.

Driving across the US and back with small children is not for everyone. Rational, mature, reflective adults have no business attempting it. It’s a fool’s errand, and only we fools know how to do it right.

So you want to build a Mega Bloks helicopter with your kids: FAQ

Q. What are Mega Bloks Call of Duty sets?

A. Mega Bloks, if you are not steeped in the world of expensive plastic squares, are a competitor to LEGO. Call of Duty is the paramilitary wing of Mega Bloks.

Q. What’s the difference between Mega Bloks and LEGOs?

A. Mega Bloks are cheaper than LEGOs in proportion to how much harder their instructions are to follow.

Q. Is there anything else people should know about Mega Bloks?

A. Yes. Although the pieces are segregated into about a dozen different plastic bags, in order to complete Step 1 of construction, you will need exactly one piece from each of the dozen bags, necessitating that you dump all 324,943 pieces out into one omnibus pile.

Q. What is the best time to build a Mega Bloks Call of Duty helicopter?

A. When Daddy is home alone with a six-year-old, a two-year-old, and an eight-month old. Preferably late afternoon of a frigid day when you have been cooped up in the house for hours together already.

Q. Where is the best place to build your set?

A. The dining room table. No other surface will hold the 324,943 pieces.

Q. Isn’t it too close to dinner to spread that all out over the dining room table?

A. Work fast or eat on the floor.

chopper from hell

As with all of our greatest family accomplishments, this one was built on the placemat of US Presidents.

Q. Why can’t Big Brother (6) build this set by himself?

A. He could have, if Daddy had been smart enough to shell out the extra cash for LEGOs, with their at least partially-discernable instructions.

Q. What did Big Brother do to help?

A. Big Brother snapped together pieces at random so that whenever Daddy looked for a specific piece it was sure to be cleverly disguised within some abstract sculpture.

Q. What did Buster (2) do to help?

A. Buster loaded some crucial pieces into the back of his toy truck and quietly drove them to a different room.

Q. What did New Baby (<1) do to help?

A. New Baby crawled around the perimeter of the table, patrolling for any fallen pieces that might look good to eat. He also sneaked away at one point to the kitchen where he pulled a used bag of microwave popcorn from the garbage, spilling unpopped kernels all over the floor. These also looked good to eat, which provided Daddy with a nice break from his work as he sprinted from the dining room to the kitchen. You shouldn’t sit in one place for too long.

Q. Did the children do anything else helpful?

A. Lots. Big Brother and Buster got into a fight every 10 minutes over the helicopter pilots and their tiny guns and equipment so that Daddy could have something to break up the monotony of searching for missing pieces.

Q. Is Daddy supposed to yell so much when playing with the kids?

A. Everyone has a different method of family fun.

Q. Will this become a regular activity?

A. Only after Daddy has died and gone to Hell.

Don’t expect William Henry Harrison to do you any favors

Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers regarding the outcome of the War of 1812. If you have not yet seen this war and don’t want the ending ruined for you, proceed with caution.

My smoldering annoyance with William Henry Harrison burst into open flame recently. You see, we couldn’t find New Baby’s birth certificate. Our natural reaction was to curse the name of the late Mr. Harrison.

No friend fo mine

William Henry Harrison: trouble maker. I’ve taken the precaution of blocking him on Facebook.

History buffs may recall that old Billy Harrison was President of the United States for 32 days, or even that he was governor of Indiana during its short pants youth as a territory, before it grew up into mature statehood.

Those are fine accomplishments, if you’re into that. But I will always remember William H. Harrison as the commander of US forces at the Battle of the Thames. This battle took place in southern Ontario in 1813. The good news, if you are cheering for the US in the War of 1812, is that Harrison’s army won the day. The bad news is that it didn’t do a thing to lessen the amount of paperwork needed to cart a family, by the most direct route, from Michigan to New York in 2014.

But it could have.

The Thames battle site is right in the middle of that aggravating little strip of Canada that hangs down into the Great Lakes between Detroit and Buffalo. In 1813, Harrison won control of that area. He could have stayed there and maybe moved the border crossings off to the north so that we could scoot through without having to wait in line to reveal to a complete stranger the intimate details of our vacation plans. Then we wouldn’t have had to turn the house upside down searching for a single slip of paper we had no hope of finding. In the end, we wouldn’t have had to drive through Ohio and add hours to our already too long road trip.

War of 1812

The area in question is the off-white bit that separates the Michigan Territory from New York. The battlefield is the dot marked #4.

Harrison could have accomplish these great things, but he didn’t. He packed up his army and went home. He probably didn’t even give a single thought to the inconvenience this would cause me and my family. I begin to think he did it out of spite.

We collected all the boys’ birth certificates in anticipation of pleasant encounters with border guards. On the morning of departure, Big Brother’s was there; Buster’s was there, but New Baby’s was missing. This odd disappearance might as well be blamed on Harrison’s ghost as anybody else. Why he carries his vendetta beyond the grave I don’t’ know.

As we were standing still amidst Cleveland road construction I conceded that he’d won this round.

Death of Tecumseh

Another result of the battle: Tecumseh was transformed from feared Shawnee war chief to popular lawnmower engine. (Currier & Ives)

Serious historians may suggest that my animosity toward Harrison is misplaced. After all, the Treaty of Ghent restored the original boundaries, regardless of the placement of armies at the close of hostilities. So even if he had homesteaded southern Ontario, it wouldn’t have made any difference to me. The historians may be right, and this is why I’m also pissed off at the negotiators who approved the Treaty of Ghent. They were jerks too.

Come on, Canada. Let’s deal. There must be something you’d take in trade for the right-of-way between Michigan and New York. I think we have some nice tropical islands: sun, sand, and surf; and you wouldn’t even need a passport. Think about it. Call me.