Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Karma is a Harsh Mistress

While technically not a Halloween story, this is a tale of monsters and spirits gone awry.

Once upon a time, I worked as a counselor at a summer day camp. For some reason, my employers decided it would be wise to put me in charge of a group of 12 six-year-old boys. Yes, I was ten years older than them, but I was just as mature as they were.

One of the keystones of being male is the utter inability to admit to fear. Fear is not an emotion we admit to. Sure, in the dark hours of the morning, after the fourth beer, we might sit and dwell upon mortality, but in front of a crowd fear is not an acceptable emotion.

I’m happy to report that one year, the kids in my group were the most utterly fearless six-year-olds to walk the Earth. No threat of violence (non-enforceable, of course), restriction of privileges or dire happenings could prod them into doing something they didn’t want to do, and God help you if they decided they wanted to keep playing on the playground – no force known to man could pry them from the sweet siren song of a sandbox.

And if they decided to run into the woods? You were in for a long period of yelling and searching, hoping they chose not to go home (many of them lived nearby).

Enter Mr. Moto. Mr. Moto was an escapee from an insane asylum. He lived in the woods, where he would tie the bad children to trees and would eventually eat them. Like the idea that I was actually in charge of these kids, Mr. Moto was pure fiction – the nuclear option we (the boy counselors) used if the kids were being especially uppity. The mere mention of Mr. Moto guaranteed instant compliance, as no child wants to be eaten while tied to a tree.

St. Louis in mid-July has all the ambiance of a steam room. Clear blue skies and the hot sun shines down as humidity blows up from the Gulf to guarantee that your clothes will stick to you by 9:00 AM, and finding a cool spot to relax is a treasure indeed. For me, excessive heat also makes me cranky. Add cranky to my general laziness, and you begin to see how chasing bratty kids around isn’t always a fun way to kill an afternoon.

One day, after a particularly long playground session, we had to move on, and the kids fought like crazy, not wanting to go. I invoked the spirit of Mr. Moto.

And was rebuked.

I tried again.

And they laughed at me.

Good Lord, I thought, we’ve gone nuclear one time too many. It no longer works. I could feel my control of these kids slipping away – soon, anarchy would reign, and my fellow counselors would shun me, because no one wanted to associate with someone who had no control over his group.

I then hit upon the solution. “If you all don’t get moving now, Moto’s coming out of the woods for you!” I said.

They laughed some more.

“Okay. Your funeral. I want no part of this.” And I ran off.

Straight into the woods I ran, around the trails lining the park. One trail let out next to the playground. As I approached the opening, I pulled my shirt over my head and ran out, screaming “YYYYYEEEEAAAAHHHHH!”

I pulled my shirt down, chuckling. And realized my kids had scattered to the four winds. Uh-oh.

Fortunately, I found them before they ran into traffic or straight home. After much whining and crying, I finally calmed them down (and promised them lots and lots of ice cream the next day).

But when I was climbing into my car to go home that night, I realized my wallet was no longer in my pocket. Egad.

I slipped back into the woods, and found it. Two hours later. With no cash in it. The next day, I loaded up on treats and ice cream and made up to the kids. Oh, and I also got my ass chewed up one side of the park and down the other by my boss.

I’m a different person than I was back then. More mature, more confident. And if I’m ever in that situation again, I would do it differently.

I’ll keep my wallet in the car before going out to work with the kids.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Apparently, There WAS Something Left to Sell

If you thought major league baseball has sold out to ridiculous levels (AT&T Call to the bullpen, anyone?) and could go no further, you were wrong.

At this rate, it's only a matter of time before Jerry Reinsdorf sells that last shard of dignity on e-bay.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Getting My Nerd On

Last Friday night, Darcy babysat, and rather than use the time for self-improvement or making the world a better place, I opted to get my nerd on instead. I know, I know, you all see me as this really hip dude, but sometimes, I just have to let my inner nerd out.

Some thoughts about Friday’s Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica episodes, some spoilers included.

Doctor Who – “Tooth and Claw”

  • “May God forgive me.” This is my favorite opening teaser of all the new episodes; it’s perfect – kung fu monks taking over the castle, the women and servants fearfully looking on as the monks drag the mysterious cage down with them, the scream and cue the credits. Perfect timing.
  • “You’re a punk.” Any doubts I had about the Doctor banging Rose were completely dispelled by the first scene.
  • Eighteen seventy-nine. Same difference.” Nice throwback to past continuity when the Doctor claiming to be James MacCrimmon – I’m glad the new show doesn’t disregard the long history – this especially comes up in the next episode.
  • I want to like David Tennant as the Doctor; I think he was well-cast – in many ways, he’s taken to the role far better than Christopher Eccleston did, but I wish Russell Davies would have given him better episodes to work with. My favorites for this season: “Tooth and Claw”, “School Reunion”, “The Impossible Planet” and “Doomsday”.
  • While I like Rose as a companion, she alternated between making me laugh and wanting to reach in the screen and smack her. I liked how she took charge in the basement, but the whole "We are not amused" thing was irritating.
  • The big thing I’ve enjoyed about the new series is that Davies tries to explore the aftermath of a typical visit by the Doctor. Let’s face it – he leaves plenty of devastation and bodies behind him. The idea that Queen Victoria wants no further part of his “help” is a great one; unfortunately, I thought the execution throughout the season was poorly done.
  • “Oh my god! They’re werewolves!” Overall, a fun episode. It works well because it, like all the better episodes of Doctor Who, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and really, how can you take a plot involving kung fu monks trying to infect Queen Victoria with lycanthropy in order to seize control of the crown too seriously?

Battlestar Galactica – “Occupation/Precipice”

  • I didn’t think they’d be able to top last season’s finale – they did. Man, I can’t wait until Friday.
  • Without Adama there to reign him in, Tigh has become a combination of Ahab, Ho Chi Minh, and Osama bin Laden. He’s going to make the Cylons pay for that eye, and pay dearly. Unfortunately, the cost will ultimately be his humanity. The scene where Roslin confronts him about the suicide bombings sums it up perfectly.
  • Joining Tigh in the crazy section, Kara has also lost her mind, and I can’t say I blame her – you’re locked in a gilded cage with a loony Cylon who you murder regularly only to have him return a few hours later. Oh, then he produces a child that may or may not be your daughter? You and sanity would probably part ways a bit as well.
  • Off the subject, but the people who came up with and approved the shit joke for the new Domino’s ads probably shouldn’t be in marketing. Just a thought.
  • Lee has finally given into his inner whiner, something he’s long threatened to do. This disappoints me; I always enjoyed Lee’s character – it’s hard seeing him like this.
  • “Have hope. We’re coming for you.” This simple message was the heart of the episodes - and the series itself - that no matter how dark things look, don't give up hope.
  • Head-Six still rocks. Forget the real thing – the scenes where she keeps Baltar afloat are always intense, and this one was especially so. Six might enjoy messing with Baltar, but she always has his best interests at heart.
  • I need to listen to the podcast, but it looks like Moore is still going to keep screwing Sharon
  • The end was straight out of The Great Escape, and it’s a shocking way to end the episode. I’m guessing that Roslin escapes, since they show her in upcoming teasers. However, I do hope that Zarek escapes as well, because I like how the two characters see right through one another, but they still grudgingly respect each other. And I never thought I would say this: it would be a shame to lose Richard Hatch from this show.

Monday, October 09, 2006


The car settled in the trees, gently rocking for a moment or two as if it wanted to get back up, then it settled into stillness. Steam hissed from the crumpled front end as I ran up to the car, briefly wondering if it was liable to burst into flames or explode (thank you, years of bad TV). The whole time, I dreaded what I would find.

Augusta is tucked away in the hills of Missouri, about 20 miles south of St. Charles. It’s a quiet, rural area of rolling hills and farms. It’s a stop along the Katy Trail, and it’s known for its wineries. Every October, a long caravan of cars full of wine-country pilgrims wind their way up and down the hills along the country roads.

Darcy and I were headed there Saturday afternoon, when we came to one of the steepest, most winding hills. A short line of cars had just started down the hill while we were starting our climb. The lead car in the downward procession suddenly tried jerking to a halt, juked right and left, spun out, sailed off the road, flipped twice and landed in the ditch not 30 feet from my car.

When you see an accident like this, time slows. It takes a second to register that lives – including your own – are potentially at risk. You feel like you’re watching something that’s going on somewhere else – thing like this don’t happen, they can’t. Something like this is too terrible to contemplate.

I told Darcy to call 911 as I jumped out – along with several others – to see what could be done. And really – there wasn’t much. Someone had already helped the sobbing seven-year-old off to the side. Two people were helping a forty-ish woman from the car as a girl climbed into the back seat to remove the baby from her car seat. I helped the woman from the car sit down on the embankment then started to go around to the other side to see about freeing the driver. With someone else’s help, he climbed out of the car and walked around to his family.

Glancing inside the car, I could see air bags limply hanging from the dashboard and steering wheel. Toys, pens, and all the assorted flotsam scattered throughout the passenger compartment. Had they not been wearing seatbelts, we’d have been carrying their bodies from the remains of the car.

Someone more knowledgeable in first aid than I started treating the victims, and the army of cell phoners finally reached emergency services. Help was on its way. Realizing that standing around and staring with ten other people would do little good, we returned to the road and headed onto our destination.

This summer and fall especially, it seems like tragedy and fear are lurking just a heartbeat away, ready to spring at a moment’s notice. Second chances are rare. Don’t let the piddling problems weigh you down – save that for the big ones. Hug your kids, kiss your wives (husbands, etc.), and revel in what you have instead of dreaming about what you don’t.