Friday, December 25, 2009

Our Christmas Eve Tradition

Growing up, my family had a tradition every Christmas Eve – like most of the Jewish community, we’d go to the movies. No matter what time of year we went to the movies, Mom and Dad always warned us that it would be very cold in the theater. We would usually be the only family seeing a movie on a July afternoon wearing sweatshirts and long pants.

My mom had gone to high school with the theatre manager, so if there was a movie we wanted to see (provided it wasn’t opening weekend) all she had to do was put in a call to him and we were set for tickets. We often ended up seeing the biggest family movie of the season, which would have come out around Thanksgiving. By the time a month had passed and there was little to no public interest anymore, then we’d go with our passes.

The most influential Christmas Eve movie of my childhood was not so much for the content, but for my reaction, was My Girl. On our usual movie night in 1991, we headed towards the theater with some friends to take in the new Macaulay Culkin comedic romp. He had earned our trust the year before with Home Alone, so we figured this was another sure fire hit. I was at the same age of the characters in the movie and in the same awkward “friends who are girls” mode in school, so I wanted to sit a few rows in front of the rest of the group. What nobody could have seen coming was the way this movie ended. Culkin’s character, Thomas, was in the woods and he ran into an angry hive full of bees, which he happened to be allergic to. While trying to run, he lost his glasses, tripped and that was it. I was shocked – how could this happen? To pile it on, when they found his body, the mood ring he had received from his girl-friend, it had changed color for the first time. That was the final straw – I started bawling uncontrollably through the end of the movie and into the credits. My mom came to get me because everyone was leaving and she found me with my Starter winter jacket pulled over my head, hiding my tear soaked nine year old face. It was the first time I had ever cried at a movie and I would be relentlessly teased about it for years to come.

The Christmas Eve tradition took a huge hit the following year when the entire family went out and proceeded to dislike the Robin Williams movie Toys. It became a long standing joke in the family that any time the movie’s name would be mentioned, we would react like someone was talking about Voldemort. It was because of that experience that we were almost hesitant to see Toy Story in 1995 because of the shared name. When high school rolled around, my sister and I were usually away for Christmas at a USY convention. Then came college, when I was usually staffing those same conventions. Another problem seemed to be Hollywood releasing all of the really good movies on Christmas Day, meaning that our annual tradition would occur one day early.

When I moved to California I attempted this tradition with my roommate one year and ended up seeing a double feature of Spanglish and Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, effectively putting the bad memory of Toys out of my mind forever.

These days we usually hang out at home and watch Christmas movies or play video games. The past two years we've made our own pizza dough with friends and just stayed in. The one common theme every Christmas Eve, no matter what I'm doing or where I'm going - I'll always put on a sweatshirt just in case.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mario and Me

This week I got a Nintendo Wii and I’m every bit as excited as my fiancé is nervous that we’ll never have another conversation. It’s the fourth video game system I’ve owned, the first one I've had when it was first out and brand spanking new. In the past when I've gotten a system, the newer upgrade had already come out - always one step behind. But it’s the system I was never allowed to have that will always carry the fondest memories to me.

My parents never got me a Nintendo when I was a kid – I guess I would have been angrier about not having one if it weren’t for the fact that nearly every one of my friends from school and all of the kids in my neighborhood had them. If I was really jonesing for some Contra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Ducktales (my favorite game at the time), my fix was never so far away. Not having the system myself was never a back and forth struggle with the parents, nor did it become a large argument, it just was what it was. It might have had something to do with us owning two pinball machines. We also had an old Atari and my Dad often had new computer games for us to play. A four-colored computer version of The Price is Right could really incite the Lurie children’s competitive nature.

At my 8th birthday party, my secret love of Nintendo came to the forefront when I had friends come over to watch the Fred Savage movie The Wizard. A very odd choice for someone who didn’t even own the video game system the movie was shamelessly promoting. The movie was a glorified 100 minute commercial for Super Mario Bros. 3 – a new game that single handedly increased my number of play dates during the early 1990’s.

A few years later, something big happened. At an afternoon screening of Batman Returns at the North Haven Showcase Cinemas, I noticed a bunch of teenagers crowded around one of the arcade machines. As I inched closer, I saw the most violent fighting game I had ever laid eyes on - Mortal Kombat. In the days before the Internet, you heard about things from your friends at school. By this time, most of my friends had upgraded to the newest video game console, Super Nintendo (SNES). Not only had they already heard about this fighting game, but according to their subscriptions to Nintendo Power Magazine Mortal Kombat would be available on the SNES in the not too distant future. That settled it – I was shut out of the original Nintendo, but I would not be denied this time around.

Through some miraculous arrangement between my parents, Grandmother and Caldor’s Senior Citizen discounted Wednesdays, I got the Super Nintendo. I got it on a random day in the summer, not on a birthday or even Hanukkah. It came with a game called Mario All-Stars, which contained all three of the original Nintendo Mario games. As far as I was concerned, I was even with all of my friends. The following birthday I received Mortal Kombat II, the highly anticipated sequel to the arcade game I saw. This was a video game that was responsible for creating the video game rating system due to excess gore and violence. Unlike its precursor, Nintendo did not censor the blood in this game. My game collection began to pile up, I got a subscription to Nintendo Power and some extra controllers – I had arrived.

Though I always considered myself a Nintendo kid, when my uncle took a job at a video game company and offered me a free Playstation, I wasn’t going to turn it down. The console had been out for a few years, but it still seemed pretty revolutionary. It came with a bunch of games his company designed – most of them were fun, but a few of them were heavy role playing games that were too clunky for my liking. While I did appreciate the detail, especially with the wrestling games, I always had my SNES plugged in for the sheer fun of its game play.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I took Super Nintendo, not my Playstation, and continued to add to my collection through used game stores and e-bay. Later on, during the height of the Guitar Hero craze I did upgrade to a used Playstation 2 via craigslist and bought the guitar at a charity auction. Now, after about a year of feeling strange that my parents had a Wii and I didn’t, I’ve caught to the in crowd once again.

The first thing I’m going to do is download the original Nintendo version of Ducktales.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Did You Bring Me?

Sometime in the early 1990’s, my parents took a trip to Orlando which happened to be a couple of weeks before Hanukkah. It was a short trip for my Dad’s work and we had school – so this was a parent’s only trip. Before leaving, my parents asked if there was anything specific we wanted them to bring back. My sister, for whatever reason, absolutely wanted a black Hard Rock Café shirt and I asked for a Ren and Stimpy shirt.

We were excited for their return a few days later, partially because they always brought something for us, but mostly because they were back. Amy and I went into their room and watched them unpack. Regretfully, Mom informed us that she couldn’t find a Ren and Stimpy shirt and the Hard Rock Café did not have the style of shirt Amy wanted. It was disappointing, but the moment passed.

Amy wasn’t so willing to take no for an answer and she began digging into one of the suitcases until she pulled out a receipt from Hard Rock. She called them out on it, asking “Why is there a receipt for a Hard Rock shirt if you said they were out?”

“It was supposed to be a surprise for Hanukkah!” my mom yelled back.

At this moment, you’d think I’d be able to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Maybe if they were hiding Amy’s shirt, mine was in there somewhere as well. Nope. I was happy believing that Mom and Dad couldn’t find my shirt and went on with my life. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when Hanukkah arrived and I received the exact shirt I hoped for, that I figured it out.

My mom asked “Did you have any idea?” and I was too embarrassed to say that I didn’t know it was coming. I told her once Amy found her receipt, that I thought my shirt might be hidden away somewhere also. The truth was that I hadn’t even thought about the shirt since the day they came back and it was a really good surprise.

The side note to this story is that back in those days, when I was in 6th grade, I was wearing big t-shirts. A lot of the shirts I had back then would still fit me today. Case in point: I still own (and wear) the Ren and Stimpy shirt at least fifteen years later. I’m also convinced that this entry will be a good indicator if my fiancé actually reads my blog – if she does, the shirt is probably going to be a topic of conversation this evening.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

I didn’t post last week – things became chaotic with the Thanksgiving holiday and working the day after. I never really got the chance to develop the story I wanted into a full fledged entry. Devoted readers might recognize that I tend to use story themes based on the time of year. For last week I was leaning in two different directions as far as Thanksgiving related stories go – one story about the actual Thanksgiving meal and a more recent story about the insanity that occurs during the day after shopping. Neither of these were really main event stories, both constituted more of a side dish feeling.

Story 1: Turkey Day sans Turkey

When I was a kid, I was a picky eater. I realize now that I might still be considered in the picky range, but thanks to some new found food bravery and constant encouragement (and the occasional forcing) by my fiancé, I’ve tried many new things of late. If you invented a time machine for the sole purpose of going back to tell the child version of me that in the future I would be eating tomatoes, mushrooms and eggplant, I probably would have vomited uncontrollably just from hearing about it.

One of the things I didn’t eat was turkey. I love it now, but back when I was a kid, I could not fathom eating it. My mom would be in the kitchen all day, preparing this amazing meal, and I would stand next to her in the early stages of a tantrum just thinking about what was going to be served. Mom did what any person who was too busy to deal with my annoyance – she gave me what I wanted for dinner that night so I would shut up.

Hot Dogs.

That’s right – for about three years in my elementary school days I would sit down to a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner of Hot Dogs. I liked the side dishes, but it was easier to have me not occupying valuable kitchen space pulling on her sweater to complain about the food she was making. Eventually I got over whatever unknown problem I had with turkey and began to love it, but not a year goes by that my mom doesn’t remind me about being thankful for Hot Dogs.

Story 2: Fishing with my Father

My father counted down to the morning after Thanksgiving every year. Not having celebrated Christmas, this was easily the closest he would ever come. The advertisements for the various stores touted their best deals and he would circle his favorite ones. The shopping list would grow as larger as the times the stores opened crept earlier each year. I would awaken from my post tryptophan coma and find the living room and kitchen covered in shopping bags from the local stores (aside from the hidden ones that would be arriving to us later on).

After watching this from the sidelines my whole like, I finally got into the game last year. My father, the experienced veteran, made sure I was in it for real and not going to balk at the early hours. I assured him I wouldn’t let him down and we called it an early night to wake up long before sunrise.

The alarm hit just before 5:00 in the morning and we quickly dressed and headed to the car. Some fathers and sons rise early to go fishing, but that was never our style - unless of course, we were fishing for the best bargain in town.

The first stop was Wal-mart where I reeled in a Marlin (a new desktop computer) for our new apartment. Dad hit got a hooked a Red Snapper (a digital camera) for my still sleeping sister. We then crossed the street to arrive at Staples for some much discounted Bluefish, (bluetooth headsets). After exhausting my hometown’s resources, we traveled to North Haven and ran into the soon to be extinct Circuit City to catch some Minnows (DVD’s). Best Buy was next up where my Dad stocked up his Trout collection (Wii games). Next door to Best Buy was Target where I lost track of what we got. On the way home was a quick stop in at Kohl’s.

If you’ve never been to Kohl’s, it’s similar to a smaller JC Penny’s or Caldor’s, to those who actually remember it. It’s an “everything” store and all of their merchandise is usually between 60 and 70 percent off. On top of that, anyone with a Kohl’s card got an extra 15% off, and there were always coupons. The big deal was an electric griddle for $9.99, and I had to have one. I darted to the kitchenware section and saw the depleted pile of griddles. I made it and picked up the last one on the stack. No sooner than I read the front of the box, a woman pointed right in my face and asked “Are you buying that?” I wasn’t about to throw it back, so I huddled it under my arm and left that section of the store.

Our cooler was full and it was time to head back to the shore. We arrived home at 7:00 am and the house was still quiet. There would be a second trip out to scrounge the stores for left over deals when the rest of the family woke up. In the mean time, my father and I sat at the breakfast table and admired our haul, already thinking about our next fishing trip.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gym Class Hero

The physical education program in the Hamden Public school system was a series of peaks and valleys. The popularity of each activity rested on how much the activity made you sweat while participating. The less you sweat, the less likely it was to affect your appearance for your next class. Since so much of high school was based on looks, everyone tended to enjoy 6 weeks of badminton was followed by another 6 weeks of volleyball. Both of those were indoors and did not involve an arduous amount of moving around. The most popular was ice skating. Since our town’s public rink was on school property, the high school had access to it during the day. The awfulness of walking up all the football stadium steps to get there was canceled out by the fact that nobody had to get changed.

The worst activities included when the teachers gave into the cultural phenomenon that was Tae-Bo. I don’t care what popularity circle you are in, those videos made you a sweaty mess, and everyone in your next class could tell. Other less popular units included weight training, basketball and swimming. Our school had just gone through an extensive renovation period where we had a brand new swimming pool, and they were going to get their moneys worth.

I hated swimming, mostly because when I was younger I was terrified to go under water. I had always been in the lower groups until during one family trip to Texas I finally went tried it. Of course, that lead to a nasty case of Swimmer’s Ear, but that’s another story.

By the time high school started, I was an okay swimmer, not great, but I wasn’t going to die from drowning or fear. When I walked out to the pool area, the teacher came right over to me. I had missed the placement test because of Jewish holidays. There were two levels: advanced or beginner. Since both were already occupying the pool, I wasn’t tested; she just asked me which I would be more suited for.

I watched the advance class swim lap after full length lap and saw the beginner class flailing around in the shallow end, barely able to walk, playing with a beach ball. Some occasionally went underwater, but most didn’t.

What decision would you have made?

For the next four weeks I was back to my childhood swimming level. I gingerly entered the pool, playing up my former fears and feigned excitement over any minor advancement. I thought this was the best play I could have made – gym was never easier. Of course, when I told my mom, she chewed me out for taking the easy road. My argument of “high school swimming doesn’t matter” was countered with “first this, then what?” We had reached the stand off of gym class apathy against mother’s guilt. I decided not to bring it up until we switched sports. When that happened, I promised my mom I would give 100% effort during badminton.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Smoke if You Got 'em

or How I Got Asthma for Two Years

I was always a healthy kid growing up, so it came as a little bit of a surprise when I developed an asthma related cough in my middle school years. It appeared out of nowhere, but with two parents in the medical field, it was treated to the fullest extent.

The effects came and went – occasionally in gym class or while playing flag football after school I would need to catch my breath or begin coughing. There was no time that the symptoms were tested more than on the bus rides to and from school. You see, there were two kids named Mike and Kevin sat in the back and smoked cigarettes. This was a completely unbelievable occurrence for me. We all had the same health class where they clearly identified the dangers of smoking, yet these two guys lit up every afternoon.

The dilemma was that the back half of the bus was reserved for the 8th graders, but that’s also where the smokers sat. I couldn’t move up and sit with the 7th graders after waiting a whole year to earn the right to those seats. I stubbornly stood my ground and rode the bus a few seats in front of the clouded last row.

A week passed and I reached my breaking point. I went to the bus driver to have her ask them to stop. She was a skinny woman with a large auburn hairstyle that has passed its prime during the Reagan era. If you looked at her face it was hard to tell if she was 40 or 65, which was reason enough to not look at her at all. I remember emphasizing that I had asthma to gain some sympathy, even putting on a bit of a show with some forced coughs. It did not phase the driver one bit.

At the next stop light she looked at me and said "I smoked when I was their age, and I turned out okay."

"You're a bus driver," I told her with the elitist innocence that could have only been delivered by a privileged child.

She shot me a scowl the likes I had never seen and told me to sit down. How could she not see that this act of young rebellion, smoking, could send them directly down the same path as her, the path that lead to driving a bus? As much as I did not care for the two smokers I didn’t wish the life of a public school bus driver on them.

I was a lot of things, but not a tattle tale. Apparently this didn’t bode true for several of my fellow bus mates, all of whom had mentioned it to their parents when they arrived home that night. These parents called other parents and the phone tree grew to include my mother, who asked why I didn't say anything about it. The next day we had a new bus driver. I guess she wasn't doing so well for herself any longer.

In a related side note, my asthma and any signs of it went away shortly after I got to high school. The unused inhalers collected dust in my bathroom cabinet while I was able to get by without using them. We used to joke about the urban legends of the school being built on a lead field because the land was cheaper, but the in 2001 the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released an assessment on the school's neighborhood. It featured such lines as “The area is associated with landfills that were located in the area from the late 1800s through the 1950s,” and “Residents should avoid digging or other activities that disturb soils beneath the ground surface in the neighborhood.” In short, my old middle school was built on top of a landfill and when gym class was on the field outside, we were not too far above a century and a half of buried landfill waste. The same waste which contained samples of lead, mercury and arsenic, to name a few, only inches beneath the surface. When the report went public, the community demanded change, and a new middle school opened on the other side of town in 2006.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Muddy with a Buddy

In the spring of 2007, my co-worker Ernest told me about a race called Muddy Buddy. The race consisted of two partners alternating between running and biking for a six mile course which was divided into five legs. At the end of each leg there was an obstacle and at the very end of the race was a very long mud pit that you had to crawl through.

It sounded fun, so we signed up as a team, complete with a terribly obscure name from Futurama – “Team Scooty Puff Jr”. It didn’t seem like a very hard task, plus with several months to prepare, it would be okay. As the days and weeks ticked by, there was very little training, unless you count riding the bike five blocks to my friend Parker’s house to drink beers.

The time flew by and suddenly, the event was a few days away. I packed my roommates bike on to the back of my car, picked up Ernest and we drove out to San Dimas. There was a huge turnout, some in fancy costumes and everyone ready to go.

Upon seeing the course, it was evident to us that somewhere along the registration process, we must have missed the part about needing a mountain bike. The course was full of off-road paths, steep hills, tree roots, and sand. We were going to try and tackle these obstacles with a thin tired city bike. We decided that I would do the bike first and Ernest would begin on foot. This would give me three biking legs, since I was the weaker of the two of us at running.

The race began and all the heavy duty bikers took the lead. I lagged behind a bit and tried to get a rhythm going. The first downhill portion took us on to a beach, through the actual water and back up an even steeper hill. The water was deep enough to make my socks wet, putting me in a pretty foul mood at the time. I parked the bike and tackled the first obstacle - three balance beams – and began on foot. A little while after I began chugging along, Ernest passed by me on the bike and took the lead into the second obstacle – the cargo nets. After the third obstacle – the wall climb – I began running what seemed to be the smoothest and most downhill portion of the course. It was just then when Ernest zoomed by on the pavement, barely even peddling on the bike. After beating the tall, inflatable slide there was one leg left. This was the most ridiculous leg – weaving in and out of trees, steep tight turns while going downhill and a crowded path at that. I ended up running the steepest hill while carrying the bike.

I threw the bike into the parking area and found Ernest. There was one piece left and we were prepared to conquer the famous Mud Pit. In order to make sure you were deep inside the mud, there was a net hanging over the entire thing and you had to get down to crawl through it. I was down to my chin and Ernest was up to his neck, covered in mud.

It felt great succeeding in this task, despite the lack of practical preparation. We both ended up throwing out our shoes and socks into the overflowing garbage can that was already filled by people who had the same idea. There was a small series of tents set up where people were handing out things like free socks and granola bars. After grabbing our samples and hosing off in a crowded outdoor area, we got back in the car and headed out for the spoils of war – pizza and beer.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Candy Goggles

I grew up in a small town neighborhood with blocks upon blocks of houses stacked very close to one another. The blocks were long and narrow, roughly fifteen houses by five houses. This meant one thing to a kid - lots of Halloween candy to be had.

As you can see, there were many houses. We lived on the left side of Whitney Avenue, on Bedford Avenue, and never crossed to the other side. Growing up, Whitney Avenue was the biggest street around - two lanes on each side, and the crosswalk was a few blocks away. The houses on the other side were a little bigger, but that also meant less houses per block.

As kids we started with the cute plastic pumpkins to hold our candy. Getting older, we tried large plastic bags but eventually switched to pillowcases for their durability and size. They held a lot of candy, and always one toothbrush, given out by the dentist around the corner.

We were able to cover a lot of ground especially after it was deemed alright to go out without parental supervision. The first year of just going with friends, the plan was usually to do one side of the neighborhood, come home, dump the current candy stash on the dining room table, then go out to complete the route. We always had a large haul, which lead to my sister and I trading the ones we didn't like - she'd offer up her 3 Musketeers and I'd exchange for Milky Way or something I knew she'd like. I didn't have a candy I didn't like. I wasn't picky.

The first year I ever dared to do the other side of Whitney Avenue was in 7th grade. My friend Kerry lived on that side, so my friend Lisa and I were dropped off there to use it as a starting point. It was strange trying the other side of the road for a change, but we were able to cover some ground. As much as middle school was starting to alter my main focus to girls, I still liked candy.

The one house I'll always remember during that night was very strange. We stood at the end of the walkway staring at the flickering porch light, trying to decide if it was on or off. The cardinal rule was that if the light was off, the people were either out of candy or didn't want to have kids come to their door all night. After mulling it over, we walked up and rang the doorbell.

The door opened to an older man with a dazed look on his face. "Trick or Treat," we said to him, but he still remained confused. "Happy Halloween?" I said. He still looked like he was not sure what was going on. The wrinkles in his forehead shifted, he looked down at his watch and said "Halloween?" then shut the door. We looked at each other, unsure if we were supposed to remain on the step, when the door opened again.

The man was holding a half used six pack of Pepsi. He casually took one off the rings for each of us as he said "One for you... one for you... and one for you." Without saying anything else, he shut the door and the light was definitively shut off. The first rule of Halloween was to not eat anything that was strange or unwrapped. While this was strange, the cans were still sealed, so we gladly all drank them the next day at school lunch.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Worst Motorcycle Gang Member

Each year, the Hamden Middle School drama department put on two performances. The first one was a play and the second one was a musical. None of the musicals were popular or even known. The teacher sent away to a company to receive little known scripts. He was always very passionate about them and soon it became a well known rumor that he was writing them himself.

After working the light board for the play, I decided to try out for the musical. The only problem was that you had to get on the stage and sing. It didn't matter what, you just had to get up there and do it. If only I had the karaoke confidence I had today I wouldn't have gone up there and choked out a soft voiced rendition of "Happy Birthday".

Somehow, I made it into the play. The show was called "Rock and Roll". Not Rock n Roll, but "Rock and Roll," and I was playing the “Stubs,” second of three members of a motorcycle gang. About a week into the audition process, the lead motorcycle gang member, “Hubs,” was promoted to play a bigger role, and I was bumped up to the gang leader.

The costume budget for a public school musical is not exactly hemorrhaging money, so we were asked to bring in a lot of our own costumes. Thankfully, being a 1950’s high school show, many of the characters were able to get by with jeans and t-shirts. Not Hubs, he had to have a black leather jacket, something nobody in my family owned. Thankfully my first girlfriend, Lindsey, was able to procure one for me. It was only at the end of the performance that I noticed it was a woman’s jacket and had belonged to her mother.

There would be three performances of the show in one weekend, Thursday through Saturday. Before the first performance one of the teachers showed me how to draw on realistic looking sideburns using a mascara brush. I thought it looked so cool that for the second performance I drew on an entire beard – a bit much for someone who was supposed to be a high school street tough. It came off realistic enough for someone in the crowd to ask my mother if I grew it out just for the show, to which she replied “No, my 14 year old son did not grow a beard for the musical.”

On the second night my parents and sister brought me congratulations balloons. They had brought the same exact balloons for me on the first night, but they accidentally let go of them. When telling me this, they pointed up and the first balloons were still resting on the ceiling of the auditorium.

I liked being on the stage. Despite wearing a woman's leather jacket, a mascara beard and only being in 4 scenes, it was fun. The musical it self was kind of a blur – it was mainly a rip off of Grease. I was only involved in one song, and it was about French fries. The cast would go in on weekends and double as the crew, building the set and painting backdrops. My high school had an award winning theater department and I was ready to continue on that path. I used my new found love of the theater to earn a role in the high school’s fall performance of Bye, Bye Birdie as one of the adults. It was so much bigger and more time consuming that I eventually dropped out when it began affecting my grades.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The First Week of October

I apologize for not posting last week. It was the first miss of the year and even though it does make my “post every week” New Years Resolution a failure, I still think I’ve come a long way as a blogger. I did not know when I started this project at the beginning of the year how fun it would be and how much positive feedback I would get from friends and family and people I haven’t talked to in a long time.

On October 1st we drove to Connecticut to start our journey. The late drive was to cut two hours off the much bigger drive we would be taking on the next day. Lindy, my parents and I all got into my fathers car and headed to Cleveland. Lindy and I had done the drive the opposite direction last summer after her sisters wedding, but this was going to be around trip on Friday and leaving Monday.

We left at 7:00 am for what should have been a nine hour drive, but it ballooned up to twelve when every interstate in Pennsylvania decided that this would be the morning they closed to one lane to finish any outstanding construction.

Our stop for lunch was supposed to be the Berkey Creamery at Penn State, but our time was so far off, we had to make a stop around noon to eat our lunches. We still made a separate stop for ice cream - after seeing it on the Travel Channel, it was hard to pass up. Even though we were going 20 minutes out of the way to visit, it was really worth it. Lindy got an amazing pumpkin pie flavor while my Dad and I got a mint-chip-raspberry flavor. Mom, of course, got chocolate.

The drive, though long, was okay. My parents brought their portable DVD player and we took turns in the front and back seat in pairs. We introduced them to a few episodes of This American Life, to mixed reactions of enjoyment and sleeping-through-it-ness. Lindy was the fastest of the drivers, and since she did the home stretch, she seemed to make up some time on the Ohio turnpike.

The weekend was a mix of overwhelming family introductions for my parents and early stage pre-wedding planning for us. We showed off the reception hall and watched Meryl and Benjy’s wedding video to scope out the band and some other details. Thankfully, we were able to take a few hours off to hit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an amazing place to visit, if you’re ever in Cleveland.

It never fails that the drive back is always easier. You have more of an idea what you’re getting into and can better gauge your time. It didn’t hurt that there was barely any construction on the eastbound side of the road, so we actually did make it in the predicted nine hours. After a brief stop for dinner, Lindy and I went all the way back to Boston and got ready for the week ahead.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Texas Sized Donut

In March of 2003 my college paid for eleven members of the school newspaper to attend a journalism conference in Seattle, Washington. It was a four day conference that would lead right into the Sunday of Spring Break. I remember almost nothing about the conference itself, but I do remember having a great time in the city. During some of our sightseeing the Pike Place market I saw a chocolate frosted Texas Sized Donut. The same way a munchkin or donut hole fills the middle of a donut, this one was so big that a regular donut would fill the hole. I knew I had to have one.

After eating one of them with a friend or two, I thought that my mother would really get a kick out of this. I purchased another one and got it wrapped up in a to-go box. While preparing to fly back I was very concerned about the donut. During the entire six and a half hour flight from Seattle to Boston I sat with it on my lap, not trusting the overhead compartment during any turbulence.

We landed at 3:00 pm and split up into groups. My friend Laura and I were both heading towards South Station to catch the same train down the eastern seaboard, her to Philadelphia, and me to New Haven. This was the days before the ease of the Silver Line bus to the airport, so to get from Logan to South Station it meant riding the Airport shuttle to the blue line, switching at State Street to the Orange Line and then switching again at Downtown Crossing to the Red Line. To this day there is still no way to connect directly from Red to Blue, so needless to say, it was a complicated trek.

Laura and I entered the South Station concourse at 4:15. We had plenty of time to spare; our train did not depart until 5:25. As I put the donut down on a table my jubilation turned sour. I had been paying such close attention to the pastry and beating the clock that I completely lost track of my suitcase. I got separated from it somewhere along the journey and had no idea where. The logic of the situation began to inflate my mind – three different subway lines, not to mention the stations and the airport. I was about to start freaking out when my cell phone rang.

It was the head of security for the MBTA Blue Line. The good news was they had found my suitcase. The bad news was they were planning on blowing it up. Even while living over a year past the terrorism hyped days which followed 9/11, any abandoned suitcase on a busy means of public transportation would be viewed as a threat. Thankfully, the officials called my number, figuring that any true threat to America would not leave their real name and contact information on the luggage tag.

The man on the phone told me my suitcase was being held at Orient Heights, two stops past the airport. He said there was an office above the tracks and to find him there. Without thinking, I just ran for it. I left my backpack and donut with Laura and told her that I would be back in time. If I wasn't I told her to go ahead without me. There was very little thought put into that plan – what would she do with my things? Would she take them to Philadelphia with her or perhaps throw it out of the train when it stopped in New Haven?

I ran back to the red line, race back to the orange and again to the blue. Each second on the platform felt like 10 minutes. I kept fidgeting and checking my watch as if the trains would arrive faster based on my urgency. When each train pulled up I threw my arms in the air like I had thrown a touchdown. Each transfer made this seem more plausible, despite how quickly time was moving.

I arrived at Orient Heights at 4:46 and bounded up the stairs. The man in the office told me I was very fortunate to be getting the suitcase back and I nodded at a furious pace. There was a screen showing where all the blue line trains were and there was one pulling in to the station. He radioed the conductor and told him to wait for me as I franticly raced down the steps and on to the train.

My heart was beating and I was breathing heavy as I transferred at the same familiar locations one last time. Up and down stairs, taking a long hallway until I finally saw the headlights of my last Red Line train of the night. I made it back to South Station at 5:17, with 8 minutes to spare. I was sweaty and out of breath, but I had my suitcase in tow.

Three hours later I explained the harrowing tale to my mother and presented her with the prize. It was big enough to slice like a cake and we each had a piece. She said it tasted fine, which was code for “not worth the trouble.” Four years later I was back in Seattle with Lindy and we walked by the same bakery. This time I opted to pass on the donut after remembering all the trouble it caused me before.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cardboard and Tape

As I have mentioned previously about my arts high school, there were specific requirements for each year – two dimensional, three dimensional and media. The year before the nude art class and the battle with the dance department I again found myself stuck with the three dimensional class for my last semester. I had little to no interest in sculpture and did not particularly care for the teacher. She was the young daughter of the head of the arts department, fairly fresh out of art school herself.

In my own way I felt like rebelling by making every single one of my sculptures using cardboard, masking tape and various paint. I was using a theme based on Claes Oldenburg – a Swedish sculptor who played with sizes, making large things small and small things large. I made a tiny sofa and created a large scale salami, to name a few. Cardboard and tape all around – nothing more, nothing less.

After about eight of these small scale projects I was approached by the teacher. She hadn’t really given me any guidance during the term, but now she was ready to voice her concerns. She wanted me to expand my materials – not so much in those words, but saying that if I didn’t use something other than cardboard and tape she’d have difficulty passing me for the course.

Failing one of those classes was a ridiculous thought – it never happened unless you missed several weeks of class or didn’t complete the required assignment. I took her words to heart and began working on something big.

I grabbed materials – a large wood panel, a hot glue gun, lightbulbs, yarn, a big block of Styrofoam and of course, just to stick it back at her, some cardboard and tape. I cut the panel into four strips, two thin and two slightly wider and nailed them together. It created a five foot tall, thin box. From there I used a hand saw to cut a set of feet to attach to the bottom and scissors to cut out some letters. I painted it all red and it was clear to everyone I was making a six foot tall Pez dispenser.

The hardest part was the head, carving it from the Styrofoam block. I carved deep eye sockets and stuck in the lightbulbs, but didn’t have enough time or know how to make them light up. Instead I painted pupils on the bulbs and continued to carve. It wasn’t the most artistic face, but you could tell what it was. In the end I said it was a caveman to cover for the crudeness of the work. The face was painted and covered with a 99 cent store wig to complete the sculpture. I installed a pivot on the neck so it actually opened as a real dispenser would, but did not make the candy inside. The work was proudly displayed at the senior showcase and garnered some attention, mostly because it was so recognizable.

At the end of year, Hamden announced several participants to it’s annual “Salute to Young Artists” and I was named to the list. Along with receiving a certificate and being a part of a big ceremony, I got to select three pieces to be displayed at the town library for the summer, one of which was the six foot Caveman Pez dispenser. At the opening a man asked me to make one for him, only blue and with Batman’s head, but he never followed through. The dispenser is still proudly on display in my parents attic.

*Editors Note: I am looking for a old photo to scan. If not I'll take a new one in the attic, where the dispenser is laying on an old twin mattress.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Hartsfield Dash

Karma is a funny thing.

During one visit to Connecticut, I decided to check the status of my flight back to Los Angeles. It turned out that my flight from Hartford to Atlanta was now delayed two hours, thus making me arrive at 1:37 for a connecting flight that left at 1:15 . That wasn't going to work. I got on the phone with India, I mean, Delta, and began trying to fix things up. She tried lots of things that weren't going to work, such as putting me from Atlanta to Salt Lake City and staying overnight - though I wasn't going to make it due to the delay to Atlanta in the first place. It was nearly as inane as the counter attendant in Tommy Boy when they need to go to Chicago right away. It clearly wasn't the brightest conversation I've had, but I suppose she was following her script, which I figured out when she asked if I needed a hotel or car rental before I hung up.

When I arrived to the airport, the Delta line was insanely longer than all of the other airlines. Lindy's flight on Southwest was on time so she had to go. After we said goodbye my parents got in line for me and I jumped on one of the Delta phones near the check in counter.

At about the time I got through, my Dad came over to check on me, since the line wasn't working. Before he could speak and elderly lady grabbed his arm and said she couldn't hear the voice on the phone. He got her flight changed for her, talking to the Delta rep and writing down the information. She thanked him, said 'bless you' and was on her way. Back on my end, I got put on another delayed flight to Atlanta. It was supposed to leave at 7:15am, but was now leaving at 10:15am. The dark cloud behind the silver lining was that I'd be landing in Atlanta at 12:41 pm and I was still on my 1:15 pm flight to LAX. Not to worry, the woman reassured me, the flights were only one terminal apart.

I checked in, boarded the plane, sat in my front aisle seat and prepared to leave. Except we didn't take off anywhere close to on time. In mid-air the captain said our new arrival time was 12:50, and we'd have to take an extended taxi route to the terminal due to construction. We'd get to the gate at 1:00 pm. This was bad, since the woman on the phone said they close the doors 10 minutes before departure. I had five minutes. Then the news got worse. The gate had been switched to B36. Just to give you an idea of how far apart that is, I made a little diagram

The bottom right dot is where I arrived and the top left one is where I had to be in five minutes. The paths in the middle were the underground walkways or monorail stations. Clearly it's hard to tell by the drawing, but it's clear they're not so close together if the travel options include monorail travel.

The second we landed, I grabbed my shit and go. I'm running, swerving around people, cutting in front of the little beeping cart full of old-timers. I get to the escalators to the station - 1:04 pm. I am on my way down saying excuse me and everyone is kindly letting me by, except this one woman who had a bag with her dog in it. She reached down, I thought to move it, and she was only scratching his cutesy little head. Finally I hit the bottom level and see there are moving walkways. I bolt to them and make some okay time through Terminal A and to the stairs at Terminal T. It's 1:09. I get up the stairs and see a sign that says Gates 1-8, so I figure I'm real close and head that way. The hallway begins with Gate 8 and goes down by ones. Maybe it was the frustration of knowing that I would not be on a flight until 5:59pm, or the knowledge of previously being stranded in Atlanta's airport due to a tornado - I was not going to be denied.

I run to the gate. The plane is still there, but the sign says "Flight Dispatched". I said "Fuck Delta!" to myself, but apparently loud enough for the attendant to hear. She asked for my ticket to put me on standby to 2:30 and I obliged, crushed, winded and with sore knees.

Then her phone rang.

It wasn't the white phone on the podium, it was the red Batman-style phone. She told me to wait right there and I did as she said. She opened the door and headed back into the entry tunnel. I looked out the window to see it reconnecting to the plane. The only time I ever saw that was for Uchenna and Joyce during that season of Amazing Race in the finale they were sure to lose. The attendant came back out and said a passenger was sick, and if the paramedics said she couldn't fly, the seat was mine. Only a few seconds passed when she grabbed my ticket, while holding the door open with her foot and said 'hurry up'. I was on.

I don't know what that lady did to Karma, but I was thinking about that as I saw her passed out in the entrance ramp as I walked to the flight. I guess I was being rewarded for my father's good deed from the morning. The guy next to me told me the seat was unlucky, and I proceeded to let him know that I was lucky.

Of course, my winning streak ran out when they announced the movie they were showing was Lindsay Lohan's Just My Luck.

Though my bags didn't make it until the next Atlanta flight arrived, it was still a victory for me. I would have only been standby on the next two flights, and only confirmed on a 5:59pm flight that would have got me in closer to 8:15pm pacific time. I was happy to wait the extra 35 minutes for my bag to arrive instead of having it delivered four to five hours later. If I hadn't, Karma would have probably been pissed at me and made the bags late on their delivery.

Karma is a funny thing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A few thoughts about September 11th

This isn't really an anecdote, it's more of a continuous train of thoughts that I began writing and wanted to see where it went. It may or may not make sense.

The thing about anniversaries are that you they exist to remind you of the events that occurred on that day. For some reason people find the most comfort in the bigger anniversaries, the monumental ones, multiples of five or ten.

In two years it will be the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001. There will be books and dedications of plaques, ceremonies and reminders of what happened that day. It will also probably trend highly among twitter users and Facebook status updates – and then the next day, it won’t. History’s greatest tragedies always felt much heavier when reading about them in school books. Stories about those events that were told for generations, not a Nicolas Cage movie. How will that day be taught to our children? Today is the 8th anniversary. Does it matter? Do people need a reminder to remember?

I remember waking up that morning for the first day of classes of my sophomore year. After taking a quick shower, I came out to the common area of our suite to find one of my roommates awake long before he usually rose. The television was on with live footage of the still standing first tower as it burned. The second plane hit in front of our eyes. I went to class and the teacher canceled it ten minutes after it had started. The class was called History of Ethics.

I remember it taking a while before I could get through to my sister who had just moved to Brooklyn, right across from the newly named “Ground Zero”. She told me she was okay, but there was soot raining down from the sky in her neighborhood.

I remember the media explosion. One newscaster said this event was our generations Pearl Harbor. The Westin Copley hotel was stormed by authorities on live television because the hijackers had stayed there the previous night.

I remember the rumors. More attacks coming. Boston was next. The rumors got so strong that girls who lived next door to us fled to New Hampshire for the weekend. A few of us walked down Boylston and the streets were eerily vacant. We nervously walked by the Prudential Center and Hancock Tower, Boston’s tallest buildings. Eventually the nerves subsided and people began getting back to their routines.

I remember things moving on. Everyone talked of revenge, but the idea was not really so cut and dry. In the meantime sports came back, as did late night comedy. There was an outrageous list of songs that were banned from the radio because of words like crash, fly, and airplane in their lyrics. Other songs profited, using lyrics about the events of that day to get country music fans fired up.

I remember Universal Studios having there was a park wide moment of silence commemorating the anniversary, but that stopped after five years.

I remember not even noticing much the last few years. I hope I don’t forget.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Future's Last Ride

To commemorate the two year anniversary of the closing of Back to the Future the Ride, I thought I would re-post the entry I wrote in my old blog to mark the occasion. There are some minor edits and changes since it's original post, but it's generally the same. Some might call this a cop out, but I prefer to call it a "classic". Hell, comic strips, columnists, even podcasts put out reruns every now and again.


My first experience with the ride was in 1991 at Universal Orlando. It was the summer the ride first opened and my family was on vacation. Being an nine year old kid who was afraid of any ride that looked scary - despite having never actually been on one - I was really scared to go on it. My parents convinced me to get in the car, but during my first cycle, my head was down and my eyes were closed the whole time. If not for the more visible vehicles at the Funtastic World of Hannah Barbara later showing how the motion simulation worked, then I might never have gone on BTTF with my eyes open. Eleven years later I was struggling to find a job after moving to Los Angeles, so I turned to Universal Studios Hollywood. I was hired during a mass summer employment seasons and was offered a choice between Van Helsing or Future.

"You're the suckers Doc conned in to his Time Travel experiment."

Choosing BTTF was probably the best decision I could have made. From the start of training, these people became my first real friends on the west coast. It made the transition away from home all the more easy. It was hardly like work at all – between the four minute ride cycles you had down time to talk with, or avoid, those you were positioned with. If you could find just one or two people with something in common, your days would fly by. Aside from that, there was hallway basketball using the garbage cans and the game I made up with one of my co-workers April where you got points every time one of your guests mimicked the dummies did in the safety video. I was always put out at the Greeter position during rain or cold weather because of my east coast weather tolerance. I loved turnstile spiels and hated gigantic groups that didn't know their exact numbers. Even the elastic ankled khaki pants became tolerable. Secretly I hated being a lead because you spent all your time isolated in the control tower, dispatch, or doing walk throughs. The Tower was the loneliest, dark and sad place in the building, and sitting there for two hours straight was torture. All you had to do was watch the surveillance monitors, up to 12 at a time, to make sure that nothing was going wrong. I would have rather dealt with the angriest guest of all time than sit in tower.

"Remember, the future is what you make it."

Some of my favorite moments were being asked to redraw the two pre-show chalkboards on level one and three. Guests would come by while I was drawing and think that I was actually doing some kind of scientific equation (which is what I told them). I got to bring family and friends to the park and lock them down in their ride vehicles, which was both fun and embarrassing at the same time. There were barbeque's and parties. There was a great special event for Microsoft with no kids or lines and lots of free booze – made for an easy night of carefree adults who were just there for fun. Things were pretty similar every day, so when someone famous came to the ride, a lot of people would run to see them. It's hard to tell if more employees would check out a celebrities or just pretty girl. I'd say the girls. When Wrestlemania was in Los Angeles, I got to put several wrestlers in their vehicles, also Wilmer Valderama and Snoop Dogg. Summer new hires would come and go, but we all knew which people would be around for the long haul. I was there for the long haul, going from Lead to Supervisor for the Summer of 2006.

"Have a nice trip, see you next winter."

After my summer as a Dome supervisor, I was promoted off the lot into an office. I had made it out of Future, which was great, but I missed the daily routine just a little and my friends over there a lot. When the announcement of its closing at the end of the summer was made it never really hit me. It just seemed like one of those things that would be down the road some time and never actually happen. Summer flew by, and suddenly it was Labor Day weekend – Future's last stand. Though I hadn't actually worked at the ride in about ten months, the place still felt like home to me. I'd stop by occasionally during the last couple of weeks just see everyone and remember the times that were had. The management "Last Ride" was a really thoughtful thing for the company to do – they knew how much the ride meant to us as well.

Watch your step as you exit the vehicle.
Exit towards the red flashing light.
Enjoy the rest of your stay at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Friday, August 28, 2009

People DO read my Blog

I'm popular!

Apparently a little too popular.

When my parents came back from their vacation there was a message on their machine from an attorney who represented a client that I had written about. The attorney asked my folks to get in contact with me and have me remove a certain blog entry. If I removed it, the attorney said, "this will be the last you hear of me." The lawyer must googled his client or the client googled himself and thought it necessary for an attorney. There was nothing shown or written on my blog that was false - everyone knows all of the best stories are the kind you couldn't make up if you tried. I still decided to take down the entry. I don't need any trouble, especially for something as stupid as this. Now if only someone could perfect an "eternal sunshine" device to have the memories wiped clean from my brain.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hotel Bathroom Capacity

Every summer on Wheels, the staff would split into girls and boys and do evening activities on our own. The goal was to bond the genders together and create a good group dynamic. One summer I was privy to a group with an insanely disproportionate ratio of 24 females and 7 males. The problem with boys and girls nights was that for the guys, every night was a boys night. The seven of them only took up two hotel rooms, and when those rooms had connecting doors they all got to hang out together. The gender nights were continued out of jealousy from the girls, who wished they were as close as that summer's guys.

For the girls, these nights meant a lot more. There was notable jealousy of how close the boys were, so we tried a couple of these activities. Since the guys were used to this kind of thing we had a low key night. Our allotted budget was used to order to movie X-Men 2 on my hotel television and make iron on t-shirts with out nicknames. Towards the end of the movie, I realized that it was well over two hours long. During the climactic battle scene there was a knock on the door.

It was one of the female staff members – easily the stricter of the two. I looked at the clock and noticed it was nearly 11:15, past the previously discussed curfew. The girl’s activity must have already ended and they were already put in their rooms. Instead of admitting I was wrong and telling this staff person that the guys were still in my room I thought it would be best to try and shoe her away. I hid all of the guys in the bathroom and told them not to make a sound or move until I opened the door.

There were many faults to this plan. What if she had to use the bathroom? What if they made noise? What if she was bringing me to a meeting of some kind and I never told them they could leave?

The plan of shoeing her away quickly went out the window when she walked right in to my room and sat down on the bed. She wanted to know how the boy’s night event went and proceeded to tell me about how theirs went. The whole time I nervously eyed the clock.

All the while three of the guys stood in the bathtub and the other four were sitting on the tile floor. At one point, one of them made motions like they had to sneeze. Working like a well oiled team, the guy closest to the tissues passed one down and reached the sneezer before he could make a noise.

I was finally able to break free when the group leader called us to come to our nightly staff meeting. I let her go first, saying I had to go to the bathroom, watching to make sure she left the hall. The two rooms of guys were only a few down the hall, but if she had seen them out of their rooms it would have looked bad. Most of the guys were just upset to have missed the end of the movie, so I recounted it as best I could – the dam explodes, the Phoenix saga sort of begins and so on.

We never really discussed it openly as to not alienate the female staff member, who some of the kids already viewed as a bit of a stick in the mud. The other staff got a bit of a kick out of it and if the goal was to further the bond between the boys, then mission accomplished.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Log Cabin Hospital

Two weeks into my first time on Wheels, the group arrived at Yellowstone National Park. The furthest west I had ever been was Texas, so everything in the Rocky Mountains was very new to me. When the group settled in, there was time to go and explore, as long as there were groups of three. I headed off with my friends Jessica and another girl named Stephanie.

Our trio saw a sign pointing in the direction of “The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone,” and decided to check it out. We were at least two weeks away from seeing the real Grand Canyon, but we figured it would be good to see another one. Upon arriving to the lip of the canyon there was a rickety set of stairs leading down the steep edge. They seemed sturdy enough so we headed down them and took a photo, in which the wind was gusting so hard my shirt blew up and you can see my stomach.

On the road back, there was another huge gust of wind and I felt something in my eye. I did the first thing you’re not supposed to do and began to rub it, hoping to cry it out. It was hurting pretty bad already so I knew I needed to get somewhere and rinse it out.

We had been walking for a long time prior to this event and I knew I needed to rinse it out as soon as possible. At the time, it seemed like a medical emergency, so we decided to hitchhike back to our campground. Approaching the road, Jessica stuck her thumb out in classic hitcher format and a car pulled over for us. She explained my eye and they took us towards camp, dropping us at the Yellowstone Laundromat. I found a sink and attempted to rinse it out, but it wouldn’t work.

From the payphone I called Aaron, the group leader’s emergency pager number, which I would later learn did not have any service while inside any of the National Parks. I left a mildly frantic message and continued to walk to his cabin. When we got there, the two girls split off and left me with him.

He was in the middle of shaving and he took the cap to his shaving cream can and filled it with water, asking me to try flushing the eye again. I took the murky lidful of water and dumped it out, determined to rinse it a few more times as not to get shaving cream residue in my eye, on top of what was already in there. A few flush attempts proved to be fruitless, so as is the case with any medical situation on this trip, no matter how small, I was taken to the hospital. On normal hospital visits, one staff member would accompany the kid in a taxi from the hotel to the hospital, but again, being in the National Park, we had none of those luxuries. The only option was for Jen the staff member and I to use the group bus.

We drove about 15 minutes down some dark wooded roads to reach Lake Hospital, a 10-bed clinic constructed out of a log cabin in Yellowstone National Park. There was nowhere to park a bus, so the driver backed in to the helipad while we got out and went to the waiting room. We were greeted at the front desk by a woman or a man, okay, a person of very indiscriminate gender. This person had a thick flannel shirt and a hairstyle resembling Jaromir Jagr’s rookie card. We were instructed to sit and peruse the selection of nature magazines.

The on call doctor saw me about 15 minutes later and told him the whole story. I said that there was an entire leaf in my eye, because that’s what it felt like. He told me in return that the leaf was likely on the hard to reach back hemisphere of my eye, as illustrated by the brown dot in the eye below. His plan was to drop some numbing solution in my eye and use a throat culture swab to get it out.
The numbing solution was cold and turned the white of my eye yellow. It took a moment for it to start working, but then it felt like I couldn’t close my eye. There was something very unsettling about not being able to brace myself as someone moved the business end of a throat culture stick towards my eye. I had not choice but to stare right at the swab, unable to look away. After fishing around for a few seconds, there, on the end of the cotton swab was the cause of my gigantic pain for the last few hours. It was slightly larger than a grain of pepper. As he tossed the swab into the garbage I couldn't believe something that small had caused me such pain.

By the time we returned to the group, everyone was already in their rooms for the night. A girl’s birthday had to be postponed until the next day because though the staff had bought her a cake, it was in a cooler on the bus, which we had taken with us that night.

The next morning, Jen called my parents with the lead in line "Don’t worry, your son is fine." This is not the great conversation starter you’d think it is. My parents calmed down once I talked to them and I hardly thought about the incident for the rest of the summer.

For anyone interested, it costs $116.50 for someone to jab you in the eye with a stick.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Popular Jerks are Good at Basketball

I went to a Jewish sleep away camp for two summers. That is to say, the camp was about as Jewish as anyone who would mark the box marked Jewish on the SATs, but wouldn’t know a lulav from a bamboo shoot. The real emphasis on was sports. From the moment breakfast was over it was sports, swimming and more sports. The annual highlight was the 4-day long camp wide Olympiad, but aside from that, the day to day activities consisted of what the counselors thought would be entertaining.

One day they decided to have a basketball skills competition. It was easy to arrange this since the basketball court was located right outside our bunk. My friend Adam won the foul shooting contest, hitting nine out of ten. When it came time for the three point contest I inexplicably caught fire and managed to hit seven out of ten to win.

A few days later, the counselors organized a half court 2 on 2 tournament and participation was mandatory. Part of me looks back and thinks the counselors were doing things like this for their own amusement. There were clearly four boys who were the best at basketball and it was only a matter of time until they played in the finals - the other several rounds were just to delay the inevitable.

I always viewed my popularity at camp as somewhere in the middle management. Comfortable with my group of friends, more popular than some, and disliked the kids who were higher up on the food chain. Those kids were jerks, but when you're 13, and the jerks are popular, you still find yourself envying them. People might think that I only think these kids are jerks because I wasn't in their group, but that's not true, and I'll give you two examples.

One night I woke up and my face was burning hot. Someone in the jerk group had a small bottle of tabasco sauce and had put a few drops on my face while I slept. I ran to the sink to find two other campers flushing their faces in the sink with the same symptoms as me. That was the night I had won the three point contest, so the good feeling I had was washed right down the sink.

The two oldest boys groups, the "super-seniors" shared one large cabin split into two sides by age. The older guys were on the left, younger guys on the right and shower stalls and bathrooms connected the two. A rare night occured when all of the older boys climbed to the roof of the bunk to sit and talk. It was not a typical bonding session, but we had a good time. When the counselors told us to come down and go to bed, one of the jerks walked across the shower roof and began to urinate off the side. The stream went right onto a window sill that aligned with the top bunk of one of the younger boys.

As luck would have it, these popular jerks were the best at basketball.

I approached my friend Adam, said that we had a decent shot, having won the individual skills competitions. It never occured to me that both of these could have been gigantic flukes. My only thought was that if we teamed up, we could surprise some people.

Our first round opponents were a kid in Teva sandals and another kid nicknamed "Beef" for eating an inhuman amount of meat during one lunch session. As I have mentioned before, participation was not an option, and these were two kids would have probably passed on the tournament if there was a choice. In the second round we escaped by a slightly better team to make it to the semi finals.

The last four teams featured the two popular jerk teams, our team and one other surprise team. We were up against one of the high seeds. They handled us with ease at first, jumping up to a big lead before we even got on the board. The games were to 21, going by ones and it was a quick 7-1 lead for them. When the score reached 10-2, one of their players sat down on the court and let the other do all the work. They swapped out on occasion, but it was still embarassing and arrogant on their part. With the two on one advantage, we chipped at the lead and brought it back to a 15-9. It must have been too close, because the other kid got back up, seemingly bored and they proceeded to finish us off to the tune of 21-10.

I remember the feeling of anger build up in me watching them sit on the court and laughing at us. I fought off every urge to throw the basketball as I hard as I could at him, partly because I had only been in one fight before and partly because I thought he might just catch the ball. I don't remember is who won the tournament or the names of any of the jerks. I've even looked at the bunk picture from those two summers and could barely identify any of them. I hope that they took a lot of pride being the best basketball players in a southern Connecticut semi Jewish summer camp. As far as that can get you in life, if you live your life as a jerk, it's only a matter of time before you piss in the wrong persons window sill.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Four Teenage Boys and an Adult Film

I was out with my uncle on a family visitation on our last night in San Francisco and I already felt like I had been pulled away from my new family. Little did I know that I would soon have quite the bonding experience with my roommates.

I arrived back to the hotel after curfew so everyone was already in their rooms. When I got to the door and knocked there was a lot of commotion. The door opened slowly as my roommate Matt peered through the crack. "Oh, it's you," he said, then calling to the other "It's just Paul!"

He pulled me into the room and slammed the door. The other two guys sat nervously at the foot of one of the beds looking as if they just got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Before I could ask what was going on, David pressed the power button on the television and there it was. The reason they were so jump and that Matt opened the door so cautiously appeared on the screen. Two giant palm trees. When the camera panned down to reveal two sweaty naked people, the truth hit me like a rush of blood to the head: my roommates had ordered an adult movie.

The rules of the trip stated that nobody was allowed to order any hotel amenities. No room service, no dry cleaning, no movies - especially the adult ones. We'd all joke about it, going so far as to see what the choices were. It was an X-rated game of chicken. The first guy would check the menu, the next would read off the list, then read a description and so on. If someone felt particularly daring they would attempt to watch the preview which showed roughly 30 seconds of footage.

This time around Matt came back to the room and decided to peruse the selections. As the other two guys opened the door, Matt was startled, and instead of hitting the menu return button, he hit the purchase button. Once he realized what he had done, the panic began to set in. What kind of trouble would Matt be in? Would he be yelled at? Would his parents get called? The worst case scenarios danced through his head and before the opening credits were over Matt was out the door, full speed towards the front desk.

"I didn't mean to, I swear," he pleaded with the reception desk. "I accidentally ordered a movie and I didn't do it on purpose. I'm going to get in huge trouble, please, you've got to believe me." The clerk typed on her computer, pulling up the room account.

"Here's the charge, $9.95 for one movie," she said, peering up at him, eyes full of doubt. After glaring at him she realized that he was legitimately freaking out - sweating and breathing hard. She removed the charge from the room. Before he could thank her she continued, "Just so you know, I removed the charge, but the movie can't be stopped once it starts." The gears in Matt's head began turning, leading him to choose his next words carefully.

"So you're telling me, the movie is on in my room. I won't be charged for it and you can't shut it off." The hotel woman nodded. "Then what am I doing talking to you?" He took off down the long hallway back to the room at twice the speed he traveled to get to the desk in the first place and broke the news to the other roommates.

Up until this point I was still out with my uncle for dinner. Here we were, four sixteen year old boys with a free pornographic movie. We watched for a while before there was a knock on the door. Shit, staff doing bed check. The same commotion that happened when I had originally knocked came out for an encore. We scrambled to shut off the television and one of us ran to the door, while the rest sat innocently on the bed. As we opened it, our staff member Lowell could instantly tell that something was up.

"What was that?" he asked.

"What was what?"

"The noises I heard from the hallway."

I thought about the best possible cover and gave it a shot. "It was one of those shampoo commercials where the women really, really like the way their hair feels." Clearly not buying it, he made his way over to the television and turned it on, There in glorious color was two overly tanned people participating in something I would later learn was called "reverse cowgirl".

We all feigned surprise, another act that Lowell didn't buy for a second. Matt frantically told the whole front desk tale again and the only thing that upset Lowell was that he had left his room after curfew. He looked at the screen, looked at us and then back to his check list. "One-two-three-four. Everyone is here. Have a good night guys and don't stay up too late."

With that, he left. We were free. Immediately we called the other guys to brag. You see, this was no ordinary movie. Matt was a very thrifty consumer - he had ordered something called "Sex in Hawaii - Parts 1 & 2". This was a double feature which ran nearly three hours and didn't even bother with plot, characters or any dialogue at all. If there is one thing to say about porn, guys don't have a long attention span when it comes to watching it - a couple of minutes max. So a three hour feature was far more than anyone could handle.

As our interest wained, we left it on in the background. We began a game of cards on one of the beds. One of us wrote postcards home. Matt took a couple of photos of the screen with his camera. The night passed and when the movie ended we were actually pretty relieved. In the morning nobody called Matt by his name anymore, they all called him "Porno," a name that I coined due to the alliteration with his last name. The nickname stuck for the rest of the summer and way longer.

After the trip ended, Porno was showing photos to his dad. He had forgotten that he took pictures of the television screen that night in San Francisco, when suddenly he got to them. This was back in the days of sending film away and getting it mailed back, so there was no delete button. Thankfully the first one came out blurred and when his father asked what it was, he told him it was "a cave." The next one however, came out crystal clear and his dad glared at him and muttered something about the trip being "money well spent."

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Potter Lottery

Halfway through my 2005 Wheels trip there was a somewhat large event in the lives of the kids on the bus. The 6th book in the Harry Potter series would be released. It was a big deal for them - most of these kids weer 14 or 15 years old, which meant when the first book arrived in the states they were only 9 or 10. The most obsessed kids already had arranged for their parents to buy the book and overnight it to them on the trip at our next stop in Los Angeles. However we were in San Francisco for the weekend. Los Angeles was on Monday - an eternity away, considering the book came out on Friday.

By some stroke of luck there was a Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble in the plaza adjacent to our hotel and Saturday night I agreed to take any of them who desperately wanted to on a walk over to the stores. I told the eleven kids who came that there was almost certainly going to be no copies available - fans of the series had been waiting for this day for two years. Anyone who wanted to read it the night it came out would have reserved a copy ahead of time and there wasn't going to be random excess stock.

We walked to Wal-Mart first to find empty shelves and employees who laughed when I asked if they had any extra copies. Upon arriving at Barnes and Noble it looked something like the Filene's Basement wedding dress sale. It was definitely more people than I had ever seen in a book store at 10:30 pm on a Saturday night.

I approached the customer service counter with trepidation. I had already been laughed at once for asking if there were copies available. By some incredible dumb luck, the woman handed me three copies of the book that were left behind at the customer service desk. She said people had reserved the book at this location then later canceled because another store had a better release party. I asked the woman to please hold the books for me because I had eleven kids who were interested in buying them, now I just had to figure out who got to.

There was a brief thought of a trivia contest or some Potter related skills competition, but in the end we needed something quicker. I went back to the desk and procured a sheet of paper. I ripped it quickly into eleven pieces. On three of the pieces, I wrote "You can read!" and the remaining eight I wrote "Sucker!" Each piece was folded up and put into my hat. The Potter fans lined up and each picked a piece for the right to purchase this $30 book. Before anyone could open their paper, my friend Mordy, who had been visiting with our group for the weekend, switched his camera to video mode.

One of the kids jumped up and down even though he did not win. Another later revealed he had no interest in the book at all, he just wanted to see where everyone was going. Yet another defeated girl willed herself to purchase the audio book version, which was made up of 17 discs and clocked in at a monstrous 19 hours.

There were a few catches for the winners of the contest. Those who now had the book were not allowed to stay up for the entire Saturday night and finish it. The book was 672 pages long and we had a full day of San Francisco sight seeing the next day. It would be easy to tell if one of the kids had forgone sleep to be the first one finished.

The other stipulation was that whoever finished first was to turn the book over to me so I could read it next. It might have offset the first clause but I was willing to wait. As it turns out, one of the girls was finished before the drive to Los Angeles. I took my time and probably finished it in a weeks time, being lapped by several of my kids in the process.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Curse of the Donuts

On the road from Kansas City to Grand Island, Nebraska a lot can go through your mind. It is easy to think about that this city you are heading towards is not an Island and is certainly not Grand. Like a handful of the more rural stops on my trip, there is not much in the ways of Kosher food. When something like this is known, one of the bigger cities, like Kansas City, packs us a second dinner to heat up in the hotel the next night.

It works out great, unless a staff member leaves it in the Kansas City hotel freezer. This fact came to light while visiting the Island Oasis water park, a great place for the locals, but not much for these east coast kids who had seen bigger and better. While the kids were there, I took on the task of dinner by hitching a ride with bus driver to the corner supermarket. By this point in the afternoon, the bus was a disaster. There were extra donuts and crumbs everywhere. Our once brilliant prize had come back to haunt us in the form of smashed and wasted donuts.

Inside the store I scraped together a complete makeshift dinner. Anything that could be put in a convectional oven soon found its way into my cart. Waffles, fish sticks, various Morning Star veggie products and fries made up the main components of the meal. I added in some fruit and vegetables to try and even things out. Anything with a kosher symbol was given a green light. It was a mess, but when we got back to the hotel it worked out.

To avoid further disaster, and because the kids had been bugging me about it, I decided the group would just do laundry that night. The woman at the front desk of our hotel told me about a decent place about a mile down the road. The recommendation seemed suspect, but once I verified the number of washers and dryers, I deemed it to be alright. Anyone who has had the misfortune of doing laundry with 48 teenagers knows it can be a war zone. A lot of them are wide eyed first timers, having relied on parents to do it at home. I know I was when I first did this trip in high school.

Once the loads were started, things began to cool down. People talked, played guitar, played cards and some of the boys were kicking a soccer ball around in the vacant parking lot. I was unaware of this, but certainly one of my other staff members might have thought this was not a very good idea, except for the fact that my staff member all had their usual routines. One was usually on her phone, one usually on his laptop and the other two were on each other.

I sat on the curb watching the Nebraska summer sunset, thinking about how we avoided disaster with tonight's dinner. I wondered what would happen to our large trays of frozen spaghetti and meatballs that had been left. Like clockwork, the buzzers began to go off and people began to shift their clothes to a dryer.

Once the dryers had been rumbling for several minutes, a light blue car pulled up. A skinny, mulleted man in white-washed jeans and cowboy boots opened the back door and put his feet on the ground before it was fully stopped, as if he was Fred Flintstone helping the car slow down. He yelled out "the laundromat is closing in five minutes". It was now 8:30 and the sign on the door said it would be closing at 9:00. I told him that the group almost finished and he said "don't even try it, there was a robbery here last week, so everyone has to be out in five minutes". I tried explaining that these were just kids and we only needed 20 minutes or so, we'd still be finished before 9:00. Mild hysteria ensued when he started opening the dryers and pulling clothes out on to the floor

There were four girls who combined their load in a economy sized dryer that was locked shut. Try as he might, the Mullet Cowboy could not make the door budge. The man granted these girls immunity and said they could stay but everyone else had to move their wet clothing. Despite the fact someone from our group got to leave their clothes in, he still made everyone else vacate the building. I gave up trying to reason with him as he ignored each one of my requests and questions.

At this moment, I was approached by a woman from Arby's and asked me if I was in charge of the group. I said I was. She told me one of my kids threw a rock and broke a window in her establishment. As the lunatic cowboy ran amok through the laundromat, I grabbed one of my staff and instructed them to have all the kids pack their stuff and get on the bus. The laundry was becoming a side note to the situation as Mullet Cowboy was starting to concern me. She said it was one of the soccer playing kids, so I rounded those kids up and questioned them about it. All of them said that they didn't do it to the point where they had no idea there was even an Arby's in the parking lot.

I told the woman that my kids said they didn't do it and I trusted them. This woman, however, did not trust them. She wanted to see what the kids would have to say to the police. While the staff was occupied by the laundromat fiasco and I was with the kids sitting on the curb while on the phone with the program director, trying to figure out what to do next.

It was bad enough being separated from the group, but when the cops arrived, they began to question the kids one at a time while taking down their names and hometowns. All of the kids repeatedly denied picking up any rock in the parking lot. When the cops stepped aside with the woman from Arby's, the kids again pleaded to me that they didn't do anything. After all six had been talked to, one of the cops pulled me off to the side and asked when we were leaving. I told him we were driving to Denver first thing in the morning. He said "That's right," as if we were leaving only because he decreed it.

Dismissed by the police, the six boys ran back to the laundromat to see what was going on. They had a late start gathering their clothes from the machines and getting back on the bus. The Arby's woman threw her arms up in the air and began yelling at the police, at which point I thought it wise to make my exit as well.

When we returned to the hotel, I had the group stay on the bus momentarily while I had a word with the front desk. I spoke slow and calm, like a man about to snap, because at this point I didn't know if I would cry or spontaneously combust. I discussed with them the situation we were put in, including the fact that they were the ones who recommended the laundromat. The hotel graciously offered up their two industrial dryers. It wasn't ideal, but it was our best option - everyone would have their clothing dried together in two giant sized dryers, one of whites and one of colors.

Throughout the whole ordeal the kids were great. They complied with each step of that night, no matter how horrible it got. One by one, they brought their bags of wet clothing through the back corridors of the hotel, through all the service areas until reaching the terribly humid housekeeping area. The manager explained what had happened to the staff and both dryers were emptied. The kids emptied their bags into the machines and returned to the group room for evening services.

On the way through the courtyard I was approached by one kid away from the rest of the group. He needed to tell me something. As soon as he looked at me I knew exactly what he was going to say: he was the one who threw the rock. My instinct proved to be right as he timidly confessed.

I wanted to yell. I wanted to scream. I wanted to react at all, but after the day we had been through, I didn't have the energy. I also knew there was a specific chain of command that had to be followed before issuing any disciplinary action on the trip, so I couldn't do anything on the spot. Instead I used the only method I had free range to use: guilt. I mentioned to him that six innocent of his friends were being questioned by the police for no reason while he sat on the bus and watched.

Following the end of evening services I addressed the group with the same demeanor which I had talked to the front desk. It bordered between breakdown and calm. I told them the plan was for them to head up to their rooms for the night while the staff dealt with the laundry issue. There would be a slightly earlier wake up call in order to take care of dividing up the clothes. Then we'd pack the bus, drive to Denver and pretend like this night never happened.

The laundry was finally done about an hour later. The staff brought it to our group meeting room using huge bins. We stayed up for hours sorting it out. The task was large and we tiptoed towards delirium. We assigned tables in the meeting room for each variety of clothing: one for shirts, one for socks, another shorts, and one for other things, like towels. There was one last table for girlie things that we didn't (and I'm sure they didn't) want laying out in public view. We covered the items with a table cloth.

Some of the kids woke up even earlier than we had told them to in hopes of finding their stuff before the rush. The room resembled people rummaging through the results of a natural disaster. Poking through the shirts, checking tags for their names and trying to find what belonged to them. Some things were surely destroyed because the heat was too high or they were delicate, but nobody complained to me.

The summer had been great and drama free up until the point we got the donuts, so we attributed the bad luck to us receiving them. Before the ride to Denver, we stacked the remaining donuts in the corner, hopefully leaving behind our bad fortune for good.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Blessing of the Donuts

During the summer of 2005 I was the group leader of a USY on Wheels trip. It started out like any other night of the trip. I arranged for the group attend a baseball game on July 6th - the Kansas City Royals were playing the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman Stadium in KC. Seeing as most of the kids on the trip were from the north east, I wanted them to be able to experience baseball somewhere out of the Eastern Time Zone. At the time, the Mariners and Royals were the two absolute worst teams in baseball, so if anything, this was going to be a treat. The game went as expected - close score, very few extra base hits, sub-par pitching - but in the bottom of the 8th inning, everything changed.

The Royals had logged their 11th hit and the stadium began to stir. Being out-of-towners, we didn't have a clue why Homer Simpson's face appeared on the jumbo-tron. I asked one of the security guards what the fuss was, and he said that every time the Royals got twelve hits, everyone with a ticket stub won a free dozen doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. Suddenly the crowd was invested in the game again. There were two outs in the inning when back up catcher Jack Buck stepped to the plate and nailed a double in the gap for hit number 12.

The crowd went ballistic. This probably did not happen so often, being that the Royals sported a record of 27 wins and 55 losses. (Further research indicated the Royals achieved this feat 15 times in the 2005 season.) Who wouldn't be excited about the promise of a dozen overly sweet tasty treats. My kids were psyched and I was excited for all of us. Then the math kicked in. 48 kids + 5 staff + 1 driver meant we had 54 people. 54 people x 12 donuts = 648 donuts.

The group had an early ride to Grand Island, Nebraska the next day. It was nowhere near our longest drive of the summer, so an early wake up time would allow us to claim the donut prize. I decided to call ahead to the local Krispy Kreme before going over. They said they would surely honor the ticket stub rule. When I told them the numbers, the lady on the phone had a mild freak out. From my end of the phone it sounded like when a submarine commander was preparing the ship to dive. She managed to calm herself down and asked us to give them at least 20 minutes.

When we got there, I walked in first. I told the lady we had arrived and they had several dozen prepared. I went back to the bus and told the kids that this would be done in an orderly fashion. I felt bad for the staff of the shop so I encouraged the kids to get drinks even though I knew it would make us have an early bathroom stop during our drive.

The site of 648 donuts was intimidating and there were lots of pictures taken to back up that theory. The staff wore paper Krispy Kreme hats. Everyone had one or two (except for the girl with the gluten allergy) and we had a good laugh about the situation. During the course of the day, one girl ate 30 or so after being egged on by some other kids. Looking back, we should have found a place to donate at least two-thirds of them, but at the time we were all blinded by a combination of gluttonous thoughts and pride in claiming our reward from the night before.

We got back on the bus riding our sugar highs. As we began our drive, many of us drifted off to a morning nap, our stomachs were full and feeling happy. Nobody could have known what was waiting for us five hours down the road.

To be continued...

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Fastest way from Toronto to Syracuse is not through Philadelphia

Two friends from my own 1998 Wheels bus were getting married during my summer as a Wheels group leader. It was on July 3rd and my trip would be in Toronto, fairly close to their Syracuse wedding. I convinced the powers that be to let me take 24 hours off to attend the wedding. My friend David, a former Wheels group leader offered to come in and cover for me during the 24 hours I was gone. The plan was to meet back up with the group in Chicago the next day.

The first thing I learned was that a flight directly from Toronto to Syracuse did not exist. They were right across Lake Ontario from each other, but there was no way to find a flight that didn't go through somewhere entirely out of the way. It would have probably been more direct to take the four and a half hour bus ride, but I wanted to get their as fast as I could.

I had an early flight out of Toronto through Washington DC. I got through customs and was waiting by the gate when the flight was canceled due to plane mechanics. It was certainly an inconvenience, but I'm sure it would have been more so if the pilot decided to chance it and the mechanics became a problem mid-air.

I had to go back out to the main ticketing area and attempt to find a new way to Syracuse. At this point it was nearly 10:00 a.m. and the wedding began promptly at 5:00 p.m. I was supposed to originally land there at 1:00 pm, get picked up and have time to hang out with some of my old friends, but that was looking very unlikely.

Already had gone through customs. Had to come back out and go again later.

I was put on a 12:00 flight to Philadelphia, PA. I would arrive around 1:35 pm. The only flight to Syracuse was at 3:00, but since it was with a different airline, I had to pick up my back and re-check it before getting on the plane. I had no other choice but to comply even though arriving 40 minutes before the wedding started was going to be tough to pull off.

Visual Aid! Toronto to Philadelphia to Syracuse.
The plane touched down in Syracuse at 4:25 and I instantly grabbed my phone. I tried to plead with all my friends who were in town for the wedding. I hoped one of them had rented a car and could get me. Unfortunately, the synagogue wasn't right in the middle of Syracuse, it was out in a suburb called Manlius, about 20 miles away. All of my friends were already dressed and on their way there. My roommate had brought my suit with her from California and I told her to bring it to there and hang it in the coat room.

As we waited to deboard a couple in the row behind me asked if everything was alright. I told them the short, flustered version of my day. As it turns out they knew Jaclyn's father and wished me luck on my journey.

I ran ahead to the cab stand but none of them could understand what I meant nor did they seem to want to drive out to the suburbs. I hung up the phone, starting to feel defeated when the same couple from the plane approached me again. They offered me a ride and said it was only a little out of their way. I offered them money and they declined. They also declined the next offer of me naming my first born child after them.

We pulled up to the shul at 4:51 pm. All of the formally dressed guests were arriving and here I was, a 23 year old sweaty mess wearing jean shorts, a t-shirt and a baseball cap. I arrived at the door the same time as my roommate happened to be walking up. I yelled at her "I got here before you! Will explain later, where's my suit?" She told me it was in the coat room. I grabbed it and ran into the tiny synagogue men's room.

In the next five minutes I felt extremely fortunate that nobody entered the two-stall men's room to find me in my underwear changing into a suit. I splashed water on my face and threw on some extra deodorant before throwing my other clothes in a duffel bag and hiding it in the coat room. I sat down at 4:57 for the wedding. By the time the reception rolled around, my heart rate had slowed and I had finally stopped sweating. It was a great night.

I ended up staying in Syracuse for less than 14 hours, with a flight that left the next morning around 6:00 am. I was meeting back up with my group in Chicago, which, out of Syracuse meant a connecting flight in Washington D.C. I landed at O'Hare, took a cab to the Museum of Science and Industry and proceeded to fall asleep on a bench waiting for them to arrive.

Happy 4th Anniversary Ben & Jaclyn and congratulations on baby Ari!