Friday, December 31, 2010

Cruising Around D.C. with Capital Bikeshare

To make up for another year with no hope for a raise, my employer gave us an additional paid day off to celebrate the New Year. Since I had no plans, I decided to tour around Washington D.C. on the new shared bicycle system operated by Capital Bikeshare.

The new system includes over 1,100 bikes parked at 110 docking stations around D.C. and Arlington. I found the system to be very simple to use, and very similar to the Denver B-Cycle network in Denver, CO. (read my post about that ride)

Like Denver B-Cycle, a 24-hour day pass can be purchased for $5. Rides less than 30 minutes are free. So the challenge is to pay attention to the clock and to reach another docking station before your 30 minutes expires and your credit card is charged a small fee. It's actually pretty fun, and I used the free Spotcycle iPhone app to find more bike racks. Once I reached a station I simply pushed the bike into the rack until it clicked and the green light let me know it was safe to walk away. Then I'd slide my credit card in the machine, take my printed code, and punch it into the bike rack to rent a bike for another half-hour.

Capital Bikeshare's docking stations were located near all the must-see sights in D.C., and in places that probably serve commuters and locals. The three-speed bikes are nice and stable and the gears shift easily. I was able to hit cruising speed from a dead stop without standing up to pedal. The seat posts adjust to fit all lengths of legs, too.

During the course of the day, I rode six different bikes and saw D.C. neighborhoods I probably wouldn't have visited on foot. Ironically, I borrowed my first bike at the L'Enfant station, which is directly across the street from the Department of Transportation. Because it was cold and early, the streets were empty and the dirt track around the Mall was my own personal racetrack until the museums opened. I saw a scrap of the Hindenburg in the Smithsonian Castle, saw the outstretched arms of the Titanic Memorial along the Anacostia River Walk, stopped by Nationals Park, saw the Trapeze School of New York's odd bubble building in the old Navy Yards, explored the Eastern Market and Old Capitol neighborhoods, feasted on some killer pizza at Matchbox with my wife, and tore through Chinatown like a kid on his first Christmas bike.

If you're visiting D.C., or just looking to do something fun and different, I highly recommend seeing the city with Capital Bikeshare.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Stories from the Plains

My kids are criminal masterminds. Seriously, prison gang members would be impressed with their ingenuity.
My nearly two-year-old shanked his older brother in the eye with an oddly sharpened dog bone today.
Apparently, my nearly four-year-old is working toward a career in smuggling. On the way to bed we noticed he was scratching at his bottom. I assumed he just needed to clean up a bit. As we entered the bathroom he said, "Something's in there, Da-Da." I nervously helped him pull his drawers down only to find a foil-wrapped Christmas chocolate resting in the crotch of his X-Men underpants. Santa's shaking jelly-belly was a schoolgirl's giggle compared to our uproarious laughter.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Noble Goal Indeed

The theme in my son's daycare class this week is occupations. When asked what he wanted to be when he grows up my 3.5-yr-old replied with conviction, "Batman!"

Whew! What a relief to find that I'm raising a future vigilante instead of a criminal. It's hard to tell some days. And since Batman doesn't have any real super powers, the goal to become him is entirely possible. Aspiring to become Superman would simply be a waste of time.

He's a smart kid. Confidence is built by achieving your goals, and he already understands not to set the bar too high. Look out Jokers of the world!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Shhh, Everyone is Sleeping

My living room is boobytrapped. It's late and I'm trying to pick up toys in stealth mode, but Handy Manny's tools are singing and trying to teach me Spanish. Startled, I step on a puzzle piece with a tiny plastic handle and curse the world through clenched teeth and crossed eyes. I reach for the toy that perversely celebrates mining and am greeted by beeps, alarms, and explosions. Light reaches the transportation puzzle and myriad motorcycles and automobiles fill the dead space with tinny sounds of revving engines. The damn duck pool gets stepped on and the mechanical current begins to swirl. The overturned robot beeps for aid like a stranded turtle. Rocket, the vehicle powered by the patted thighs of Little Einsteins - and hordes of toddlers on couches around the world - begs for a mission, even though it's missing a front wheel and any hope of following directions. Bert complains from his sidecar about Ernie's motorcycle driving skills. Chickens, pigs, cows, and horses berate me from the farm. Mary tells me about her little lamb, and the ambulance siren screams as the wheels spin fruitlessly in the air. The toy dog yips a pathetic bark as I step on its ridiculous face. With the lights off, an unholy alliance of Cars movie characters and miniature X-Men ambush my bare feet with admantium claws, clinched, painted fists, and exaggerated rear spoilers. Mission Impossible characters couldn't sneak through this room. Every night the traps have moved, but they're there, waiting....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Oh, Me So Dumb

You can read the title of this post to the tune of 2 Live Crew's classic jam, Me So Horny, or in your best imitation of one of the worst Star Wars characters ever created, Jar Jar Binks.

I'm testing my Google Analytics software. If you read this post, please comment or call me a name. Let me know you're out there.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Word, PowerPoint, Excel - I Own You!

I found this gem while looking around my completely unorganized folder of Word docs. To put this in context, my wife and I moved to D.C. from Portland, Maine in 2006, when her marketing company offered her a promotion. We'd never even visited the capital before, but decided to make the move. I temped for a couple months before finding my current gig. The following thoughts were written down after an interview with a staffing company. I'd never heard the word blog back then; I was just angry and wanted to remember how I felt that day.

What I didn't write down at the time was that I ended up at the Tidal Basin during the peak of the Cherry Blossom Festival. So the office temp tests nearly broke my will, but I experienced one of the signature D.C. events by accident - and in my suit, I looked damn good doing it.

I am 30 years old and I suck at Excel. I suck at PowerPoint too. And for the record, I suck at Access. Am I going to let my abysmal test scores define me? Is my entire post-college existence going to be measured by my knowledge of Microsoft Office software? Am I doomed to fail because I haven't become a paper-pushing automaton?

These were the questions I contemplated as I stared at the crumbling grout between the bathroom wall tiles. The faint smell of warm chlorine permeated the air. Damp with perspiration, my heart raced, a vein throbbed in my neck, and I silently muttered a profanity-laden tirade and seethed with frustration.

My registration session with the staffing agency - my first attempt at finding a new job in our new city - had not gone well. I had been humbled by the software tests. My recruiter didn't listen to a word I had said; she'd already read my resume and pigeonholed me in her mind. The glaring fluorescent overhead lights and the tiny, windowless meeting space felt like an interrogation room. A woman erased and replaced figures on a dry-erase board with foul, pungent markers. Occasionally a bell would ring, celebrating a successfully completed task; clapping and muted cheers emanated from the cubicles. I felt claustrophobic, nauseated and out of place. I wanted to run.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hola, Amigos!

Thanks for checking in on my blog. I've got stories in the upcoming I Am Modern holiday special and their winter edition. I'll let you know when they're available online. You may have heard that I'll be guest blogging on during the final week of each month. Set your Outlook calendar! I'm also working on an artist profile at the moment. I'll introduce you to the talented guy playing the piano in the YouTube feed to your right. And, finally, MLB is coming to an end which will leave me bored and restless. Expect more frequent posts soon.
Thanks for your time and comments.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Guest Blogging at DullesMoms This Week

I've got a new story posted on this week. Look for And You Thought Curious George Was Naughty.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Big City, Small World

We knew the pizza and pong would be tasty and fun after seeing Comet Ping Pong featured on The Food Network's hit show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri, but who knew date night would lead to a chat with a Pulitzer Prize nominated author about the Maharishi School in Fairfield, Iowa over Peruvian cocktails and beers in D.C.

It happened just like that. On a whim we decided to book a babysitter and take a night for ourselves. So with the man-van parked at the Springfield Metro station, we took a carefree train ride into D.C. to sample some new pizza and battle for ping pong bragging rights.

Comet's neon sign may be visible from the moon. I've never visited the lunar rock, but the sign is a bright beacon to any and all crispy crust, wood-fired pizza lovers in our corner of the solar system. Seriously, the pizza was awesome, the beer selection was more than respectable, and the ping pong action was hot.

Comet features three full-size tables and one mini table in the back, and one full-size table outside- yes, outside. The outdoor seating area was packed with pizza people! So dinner was a rockin' success, except that the online review we read had us hop off at one Metro station too soon. Luckily the cabs were prevalent and we caught a relaxing ride north. Last thing about the Comet: have fun finding the restrooms. I mean it - have fun!

So the pepperoni and cheese of this blog post was our bartender at Los Andes in Adams Morgan. The basement bar beneath the Peruvian restaurant Los Canteras caught Angie's attention because she saw a lone patron through the barred windows. Well, barred windows, dark stairs to a subterranean bar, and anything in Spanish is usually enough to draw us in for a drink.

The lone patron turned out to be the chef, and he quickly withdrew to the kitchen to prepare for the dinner rush. (We're parents, so date night starts around Boca del Vista time, i.e. early) So with the chef cooking, we had the barman's full attention. He slid me a bottle of Cusquena, which he described as a fuller beer than Peru's alternate hopped beverage option, Cristal. (Cusquena's slogan is "the gold of the Incas") My wife went with a Macchu Pisco, an egg-free twist on the bar's signature Pisco Sour cocktail.

My wife shared a story about our friends, who married themselves along the Inca trail on the way to the mountain ruins of Machu Picchu. The barman listened quietly, a knowing smirk forming in the corners of his mouth. After listening to her story, he divulged that he was co-owner of a B&B in a small Peruvian village near the Machu Picchu trailhead.

As the conversation flowed on, we learned that he had been a travel writer for the Washington Post and Time magazine. In fact, he once ran the Post's Moscow bureau in Russia. I didn't learn until later, during a Google search on the way home, that he was fluent in five languages and had been nominated for a Pulitzer for his writing. He was much too modest to brag about such an honor.

Maybe the most interesting thing to us was that one of his brothers had run a restaurant in Ames, Iowa, where we had gone to college. He couldn't remember the name of the joint, but we left our email address in case it came to him. After reading his profile on a travel writers Web site, I think he'll follow through. As a former Post reporter, I'm sure he won't be able to sleep until he knows the restaurant's name.

What a great night out! The best thing about living in and around big cities is meeting fellow transplants. Everyone has a story to tell. We were just lucky enough to be served by a well-traveled, professional storyteller and Pulitzer Prize nominee from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mourning Naptime

My latest story for I Am Modern Magazine was just published in their Fall 2010 issue. Read it, share it, and let me know what you think. Read it online here:

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Meltdown at 30 Thousand Feet: A Flying With Children Fiasco

As first published by

If you’ve ever seen a pair of scampering squirrels chasing each other up and down a tree at dizzying speeds, you may understand what flying with young children is like. Now take those two squirrels, stuff them in a paper sack, give it a shake until their good and mad, and then ask them to sit quietly on an airplane. Now you know what flying with my two sons is like. On a recent flight home from Colorado to D.C., they had a very public meltdown, and my response was about as effective as using gasoline to extinguish a fire.

When it comes to flying, I’ve become THAT guy at the airport, the guy with the rental cart piled high with a massive, over-stuffed, family-size suitcase, two backpacks bursting with toys, books, blankets and diapers, a cooler full of sippycups, and two car seats stacked precariously on top of it all. The carefree, pre-children days of traveling with a single backpack, a book and a buzz are a distant memory. So by boarding time, after loading and unloading the taxi, checking in to the whining demands for more juice, the usual headache of being processed by security, multiple bathroom breaks and an excessively long line to buy bagels; I was already worn out and ready to relax. I just wanted to find our seats, point the little jet of cold air on my face, and close my eyes. Of course, that turned out to be a ridiculously naive fantasy.

After gate-checking the jogging stroller, we were welcomed aboard by grinning flight attendants. Their insincere Barbie smirks couldn’t mask their true thoughts as they sized us up. They knew with one look - This family is going to be a problem. My wife carried our 16-month-old and a backpack, and I had a bag and my three-year-old’s hand. The apprehensive looks on the faces of the other passengers as we ambled past them down the aisle bordered on dread. I could almost read their minds as their fearful eyes moved from our procession to the empty seats around them: Please don’t sit next to me.Please...

With one bag stowed above and the other stuffed under the seat, it wasn’t long before my sons’ cheerful disposition dissipated and their behavior became unruly. Poor ‘Lil C was too young for a seat of his own and just wanted to lie down in his crib. He writhed and screamed and threw his Nuk and sippycup on the floor over and over. Then like the flip of a bi-polar switch, his wailing briefly turned to laughter and he sat still for a page or two of a story before returning to his sonorous assault on my ears.

Big C continuously pulled the window shade down. He unfastened his seatbelt during takeoff and banged his tray down repeatedly. The woman in front of us had her seat kicked multiple times as he whined, cried and threw tantrums over the most infinitesimal things. I tried to point things out the window like rivers, fields and clouds, but he wasn’t interested. My patience was gone and the end of my rope was tattered and frayed. I was screaming at my son through clenched teeth, yelling and gesturing at my wife in frustration, and generally making everything worse. The unfolding scene drew sympathetic looks from parents and irritated glances from others. The cacophony was so invasive, so crushing that I’m sure everyone was secretly praying that the mild turbulence we were experiencing would increase, tear the roof off, and suck them out into a blissful freefall.

There’s nothing worse than sitting near an irate parent. The offending parent’s hostility is contagious. A dark cloud of revulsion and hate spreads from them throughout the cabin and taints everyone’s mood. The recycled air tastes more stale than normal. People take long, hopeful looks at their watches. The merchandise in the Sky Mall catalog seems junkier than ever, and the already completed crossword puzzle feels like a personal insult. Passengers normally tolerate misbehaving children, but they loathe the hotheaded parent that loses their cool and makes things worse. I had become the irate parent.

I was nearly institutional. After being scolded by my wife for losing my temper, I was in a near catatonic state, staring blankly at the graphic of the airplane traveling across the screen mounted on the seat in front of me. The plane was moving slower than eastbound traffic on Hwy 66 on a Monday morning. Slugs inch across the sidewalk faster than the animated plane moved. As we hovered over the Midwest, Washington might as well have been in Europe. My mind filled with fantastic visions of escape. Maybe if I kicked over the beverage cart, the anonymous Air Marshall would choke me out of my misery with a headlock. I wanted off the plane one way or another.

And just as I was about to commit a felony at 30 thousand feet, my baby boy fell asleep and his older brother’s attention was captured by a surprise gift. The remainder of the flight had its challenges, but the worst was over. When it comes to flying, I learned not to expect too much from the kids. After all, they were out of their element and out of their routine. Their sleep schedules had been obliterated by the switch in time zones, and ‘Lil C was forced to sleep in a Pack n’ Play all week. Like their father, I’m sure they just wanted off that plane, too.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Guest Blogging at DullesMoms This Week

If you've ever been stuck in a bus with wings with angry kids, check out my story Meltdown at 30 Thousand Feet: A Flying With Children Fiasco at on Monday, July 26.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Snowmageddon Remembered

The mercury is boiling today in Northern Virginia. The back-to-back blizzards of 2010 don't sound so bad in comparison. Anyone else melting out there today?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I'm Guest Blogging on Again has invited me to guest blog again. (Thanks, Elizabeth!) Check out a new daddy story on Monday, July 26. In case you missed my June 28 posting on DullesMoms, I've posted it below.

Elmo Has Never Punched Anyone

I should really think twice about some of the characters I introduce to my sons. Kung Fu Panda is one of my three-year-old’s favorite animated films. He’s fascinated by Tai Lung, the evil snow leopard determined to terrorize the inhabitants of the Valley of Peace. Today he acted the scene where Tai Lung breaks his bonds and escapes from prison. Our living room blanket was cast aside like shattered shackles and my boy growled and proclaimed, “I’m Tai Lung!” The menacing scowl on his little face was so frighteningly cute that I totally dropped my guard and took a stiff left jab to my right eye. Lying on my back wondering if my kid had just given me a shiner, I couldn’t muster any anger toward him. We play pretty rough, so it was just a matter of time until he beat my defense. But still, I asked myself why he couldn’t impersonate Elmo, or even Barney the lame dinosaur. Those chump characters never do battle.

Battles and who would win them is a normal conversation around our house. “Daddy, no one can beat Spiderman?” “Daddy, no one can beat Chewbacca?” “Daddy, Obi Wan Kenobi took care of business when he blasted General Grievous?” Yes, our living room is full of Marvel, DC and Star Wars characters. At bedtime, I often share YouTube videos from my iPhone. I learned pretty quickly that the Emperor in Star Wars is too scary for toddlers. Seeing Yoda sizzle and shake from the lightning crackling from the hooded Sith lord’s fingers was a little much. We still watch YouTube videos, but we stick to cartoon clips of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Spiderman and Batman.

Speaking of Batman, my 15-month-old’s third word was Batman – right after ma-ma and da-da. Sure, he calls every superhero figurine Batman, but it’s still a point of pride with me. I love it when his older brother corrects him, too. “No, that’s Wolverine, not Batman.” Like most younger siblings, he is infatuated with his older brother and imitates his every move. Needless to say, I’m fighting off attacks from both boys these days.

I hope my boys learn to appreciate my wife and I for sending them to daycare dressed in Spiderman shirts, Power Ranger hats, Lighting McQueen shoes and camouflage shorts. During a recent daycare drop-off, I witnessed my three-year-old comparing shirts with his classmates. Even at his age the kids are assigning status to branded clothing. Plain or striped shirts just aren’t cool enough for these guys. I remember as a kindergartner faking a need to use the bathroom just so I could shed my long-sleeve, pearl button, flannel shirts and reveal my A-Team, Dukes of Hazard and Spiderman Underoos. I guess things haven’t changed that much in thirty years.

We’ve watched the final battle between Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon about a zillion times. It’s a great fight. One of the most rewarding experiences I enjoy as a father is when my oldest son tears off his shirt and declares, “I’m Chuck Norris!” I may have to dodge imaginary webs, absorb left hooks, shin kicks and head butts, but sharing the wicked delights of pop culture with my sons is so worth it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Soul Mountain Saves the Day

What do you do when the thermometer reads 95+, the sweating, singing pirate cuts out 20 minutes early from his free children's performance, and your kids are angry at the world from a lack of sleep? No, not the bar. We headed west to the Blue Ridge and enjoyed a tasty meal at Soul Mountain restaurant in Front Royal.

When we left the house, I actually had planned on only catching the second half of the singing pirate's show, based on my kids' attention span at a similar event. So
Ang and I were fairly irked when the dude in the soaked puffy shirt began his signature kick line with the kids on stage with more than 20 minutes left of his scheduled performance. The sun was roasting, all four of us were tired and hot, and the morning's plans were slipping down the porcelain slope like many other failed outings. Luckily, we were in a district park and the playground was new and just down the path from the amphitheater. After 15 minutes of conquering the volcano climbing wall, sliding, swinging, and saying hi to the turtles in the nearby pond, it was time to go. I overheard conversations from other parents in similar predicaments. "Come on, time to go. We don't have any sunblock." Apparently they were also victims of the singing pirates musical mutiny.

I love my oldest son, so I won't dwell on the walk up the hill to the parking lot. I will, however, give props to my 15-month-old for slogging up the slope unassisted. Once in the car, the situation was dire. Nemo on the DVD player and sippy cups full of cold milk bought us enough time to formulate a plan. We decided to take Hwy 66 West toward the mountains and leave the naptime battles for another day.

The short, one-hour drive to Front Royal was relaxing and a welcome break from our normal routine. We spotted our favorite apple orchard, Hartland, and a favorite winery, Naked Mountain. The hills got bigger, the traffic lessened, and the temperature dropped by a few degrees.

Front Royal is the northern access point to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Shenandoah National Park. The historic downtown is scenic and bustling with wine bars, a coffee shop, antique shops, a cheese and wine store, and other vendors catering to tourists and locals alike. East Main Street is anchored, though, by Soul Mountain, a quirky restaurant with a Caribbean menu.

Our second visit to Soul Mountain was just as enjoyable as the first, over two years ago. I love it when you can find a restaurant's owner toiling in the kitchen. That's the sign of a passionate chef. A wife/husband combo worked the floor as the server and bartender, respectively.

Natural light illuminated the seating area from the large glass windows, and reggae tunes played in the background as modern art mingled with tribal prints on the walls.
I was set to order a funky chicken wrap with a ginger sauce, but our waitress sold me on the special BBQ bacon burger of the day (see the pic; don't drool on your screen). The sandwich and krinkle-cut fries were flavorful and filling, but the little dollop of herbed orzo pasta salad made the plate.

People make a restaurant great, and there was no shortage of humans at Soul Mountain. Nearly every table was full by the time we asked for the bill - and they were almost all locals. A retired pediatrician approached us and shared some advice about raising boys - stop at two. Ha!

The friendly staff, personable patrons, ocean-themed restrooms, amazing menu, refreshing taps, and all around great vibe make Soul Mountain a must-stop oasis for Blue Ridge Parkway cruisers, hikers, locals, or exhausted refugee families from the D.C. suburbs.

My URL Will Give You Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Seriously, what was I thinking when I chose the URL I type fast and accurately and I still get tripped up. It's an obscene amount of characters to type just to see if there is any new content to read.

If you read my stories or look at my photos more than once a year, try subscribing by RSS (Real Simple Syndication); you'll never have to type that obnoxious URL again. If you're not familiar with RSS, it's really, well, for lack of a better word, simple.

In Internet Explorer (MSN), RSS Feeds are bookmarked just like Favorite Web sites. You simply click on the feed title to see if any new content has been posted. If not, you click away to be entertained somewhere else on the Web. There are plenty of other RSS readers to follow your favorite Web sites, including Outlook. Even if you don't subscribe to Deliberately Unintentional, I highly recommend using RSS to manage the information you want to digest online. New content is sent to you in an unobtrusive manner and, if you follow sites with horribly long URLs like mine, you just may save yourself a trip to the physical therapist.

Click on "Subscribe by RSS" at the top of the page and never type my blog's URL again.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Strange Sighting

I once saw a baby manatee swimming in unison with a dolphin near the mouth of the Monkey River in Belize. I thought that was pretty cool. Today I saw a black cat with no tail fraternizing with two deer in the middle of my local stream valley trail. I had just finished a punishing run in sweltering conditions, so I blinked a few times to make sure the heat wasn't playing with my mind. Acting as if I'd stumbled upon a secret meeting, the three conspirators scattered into the underbrush before I was able to snap a pic of their furtive forest gathering. #

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Click On The Cloud

Check out the new feature on DU! I really like label/tag clouds. If you're visiting a blog for the first time, it's cool to click on words that catch your interest. So kick chronological order in the face and click on the keywords floating in the cloud to be transported to old posts. Comments are encouraged. Make it public, email me, or send me a tweet. Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Praise for Denver B-Cycle

Denver's B-Cycle program is awesome. Simple. Cheap. Efficient. Fun. I just spent a week in a downtown Denver hotel with my family and couldn't resist the funky red bikes I kept seeing in racks around the city. Denver B-Cycle has 500(!) three-speed bicycles parked around the metro area for residents and visitors to ride. With over 300 days of sunshine, Denver is the perfect place for a green bike project like this.

With two kids napping, I finally had an opportunity to sneak out and explore downtown without a stroller. My goal was to see the new Denver Art Museum. The architect is the same guy who designed the first version of the Freedom Tower, which will replace the World Trade Center towers. The multi-faceted facade feels out of place at first, but the edifice's crazy angles actually suit the city's alternative personality.

Anyway, knowing that my me-time was limited, I decided to rent a Denver B-Cycle and see more faster. I'd seen the bike racks all over the place and really wanted to try one. It was so simple!

Members are charged for the time the bike is checked out, similar to a metered cab ride. Non-members just run a credit card, pick a bike, and enjoy cruising the streets for $5/per day. (Update: Courtney from Denver B-Cycle informed me that there are usage fees for rides longer than 30 minutes. Click here for rates.)

The front end was a bit heavy, but I still managed to get over a curb or two. Denver has bike lanes and drivers are respectful, so I didn't have to fight for my right to ride like in most cities.

The three speeds were just enough to keep up with traffic and to get off the line at stoplights. I doubt I could do a wheelie, but my buddy Shark probably could. I think he could pull a wheelie on a recumbent bike if he was challenged to do so. I digress....

So, after seeing the sights I wanted to see, the light rain I had been tolerating picked up and became annoying. A 16th Street Mall security guard politely told me I wasn't allowed to ride in the shuttle lanes, but he didn't know where I could ditch the bike. I rode around for a bit getting wetter and wetter, still having a great time, but finally pulled under an overhang to avoid getting totally soaked. I gave the number printed on the bike a quick call and was given directions to the nearest bike rack by a very helpful human. Turns out I was only a half block away! The rack made a satisfying clicking sound as I pushed the front wheel in and a little light blinked "success." I walked around the corner to my the entrance of my hotel with a smile on my face.

What a great program. Sure, Denver has an excellent climate to support community bikes, but there are plenty of other cities that would benefit from such a service. I saw racks near all the major sightseeing destinations, the convention center, the train station, and at the best spots to grab a beer or a burger.

If you're ever in Denver, rent a red bike and enjoy the city. And if you have any problems, call the customer service number and speak to an actual person! Friendly, too.

D.C. is replacing their Smart Bike program with Bikeshare. $5 rides! Excellent!

Denver Drummers

As mentioned in a previous post, I appreciate street musicians. Some people just walk by without taking a second to listen to the tunes. Whether it's because they feel like they have to throw a buck in the hat, or because they think the performers are bums, they just duck their heads and pick up their pace. Conversely, I've let trains go by just to hear the crescendo of a steel drum band on a subway platform in NYC. Sometimes I throw them some change, sometimes I don't. On this particular day I didn't throw any coins, but only because the lady on the left didn't get in on the act. The other two guys were rocking, though. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Elmo Has Never Punched Anyone

I was invited to guest blog on this week. Stop by to read my story, Elmo Has Never Punched Anyone.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

One Blended Ground Squirrel, Please

How do you like your friendly, neighborhood ground squirrels? Fuzzy and cute? Curious and coy? Frisky and fun? How about sprayed all over the back of your house?

Feeling so fresh and so clean-clean from my morning shower, I was ready to tackle whatever the day had in store for me. But then just as I buckled my belt and turned off my electric toothbrush, my wife called up to me, "Honey, I think something is in the air-conditioner outside. I heard a knocking sound and turned it off. It looks like there might be some blood, too."

Oh, there was blood alright. And gooey guts and clumps of fur and sinewy innards sprayed and splattered all over the inside of the air-conditioning unit, up the siding and dangling from the wire grill. The only thing missing was the source of the mysterious knocking sound, which I can only imagine was the poor rodent's skull. I looked for it, albeit tentatively, as I hosed down the whole area, but never found it. I really didn't want to make eye contact with a decapitated ground squirrel, anyway.

Once the remains of the pureed grinny had been washed away, we flipped the air back on and waited for the knocking sound. Thankfully, the skull must have fallen to the floor of the air-conditioner's housing. The unit is over 20 years old and due to be replaced. I'll have to ask the installation guy how many skulls he's found lying beneath the whirring blades of death.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bangin' Buckets

These guys were jammin' outside Nationals Park on Father's Day. I always enjoy street music.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Life Socks

As first seen in I Am Modern Magazine's Summer 2010 edition.

I saw a baby blue sock with an orange stripe, and a white one with a gray toe. A camouflage sock peeked out from beneath a discarded, outgrown onesie. But where was the bleepin’ match to the sock in my hand? The cliché needle in a haystack would be easier to find than a matching sock in this stack of singles. After rummaging fruitlessly through the pile, I accepted defeat thinking, “Who sees his feet anyway? They’re in his shoes all day.” After all, the clock was ticking and the daily daycare drop-off circus routine waited down the road. Mismatched socks were a minor casualty in the pre-dawn battle to move my two young boys out the door.

The morning began as most do, with my one-year-old’s cries blaring from the monitor on the nightstand. Why I bother to set the alarm clock, I don’t know. I felt my way blindly through the dark hallway to his room, scooped him up from his crib and delivered him to his mother. As she consoled him with coos and whispered hushes, I descended the stairs to the kitchen to retrieve a sippy-cup of soothing milk. Just as I was about to climb back into bed, my three-year-old appeared in the doorway demanding to drink “juicy” in Mommy and Daddy’s bed. Once again I was dispatched to fetch a beverage, and dreams of slipping back under my warm covers were dashed for the day.

Some mornings I handle parenting challenges gracefully. Other days I’m growling like a rabid raccoon and kicking toys across the room in frustration. My patience was tested on this day. I managed to wrap a diaper around my writhing child despite his best attempts to thwart me. My victory was rewarded with the need to repeat the process three minutes later. Hunger had apparently driven my older son mad, as he whined and cried alternately for cereal and milk and Disney’s Phineas and Ferb cartoon. I retrieved the pacifier from behind the diaper table where it had been intentionally tossed. I administered medicines to pouting, pursed lips. I pounced over the couch like a cat and wrestled a hooded sweatshirt over an uncooperative head. I praised the inventor of Velcro as I fastened the straps on size-9 Spiderman shoes. As a final insult, before climbing into the back hatch of the man-van when the automatic doors opened, my son whacked his ride with a stick.

With the boys finally buckled in, I felt like a caricature of a dad from a Sunday comic strip: bloodshot eyes, slumped shoulders and mumbling obscenities. When I later crawled into the office, a gas station coffee in hand, I realized that though my socks were both black, they weren’t an exact match. How fitting.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Skateboarding Still Isn't A Crime

My cracked Santa Cruz skateboard still has life in it! The coned Slimeballs may need to be rotated, though, after tonight's session. Those old wheels were practically smoking as I carved big, beautiful, beefy lines down the hills in my hood.

It's been awhile since I felt the raw fear that the death wobbles deliver. My trucks and deck turned to Jello beneath my feet as the shadowy forest whooshed by. What a rush!

My foot was off the board as I contemplated bailing, but it would have been suicidal to try and slow my rocketing momentum at that point. All I could do was keep my creaky knees bent and flow down the concrete slope.

For a skater born in the mid-seventies, I was pretty pleased with my ollie, but my flip tricks need a little work. Maybe I'll have to settle for just surfing sidewalks in style. Nah, I don't think so.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

New Features

Deliberately Unintentional doesn't get updated as often as CNN or MSN; however, I have added a Twitter feed, so scroll down and see what I'm yappin' about. Or better yet, just follow @kattmaiser on Twitter.

Also, you may have noticed I added a Picasa slideshow box to the right side of this blog. If you don't see a new story or a recent tweet, scroll down and see if there are any new snaps floating by. The iPhone's camera isn't the best, but it does the trick.

Thanks for your patience and support.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Monkey Bars, Handlebars and Rock Bars

Last weekend was a nice mix of my new reality and a taste of the old days thrown in for good measure. Although we visit a lot of parks as a family and I sneak away for a run every other night, it's nothing like the pre-kids days of 36 holes of disc golf, three-hour bike rides and 10-mile hikes. Not to mention Sunday morning mimosas.

On the way home from work I stopped off to crush a bucket of golf balls at the driving range "rapid fire" style, as I had to pick up the boys from daycare. The driving range has been my proxy for a real round of golf for the past few years. Sending a few dozen beat-up balls for a ride with the swing of a loaner driver always satisfies.

Following an evening of beers and Nationals baseball on the couch, I took the boys up to the local elementary school's playground. It has a nice mix of slides, platforms, swings and climbers. Plus the playground is on a hill next to a big open athletic field, which affords some nice sky views. I love the wooded hills here in Virginia, but sometimes it's nice to emerge from the trees.

After a rejuvenating nap, we piled into the man-van for a short ride to a local lake for a stroller/backpack hike. The wind was ripping, but the sun was warm on our faces. Having my little guy babbling and pointing things out along the walk was pretty cool, too.

Our family is beginning to outgrow our little shed. Bikes, trikes, gardening gear, inflatable pools, baseball bats and balls, skateboards, snowshoes, camping equipment, tools, toys and old car seats are hung and piled in every available space.

So now I've laid the groundwork for why I took my wife's bike for a spin instead of my own much more masculine two-wheel, steel horse. The chick bike was simply the easiest to retrieve from the cluttered shed. I promise, it wasn't because her seat is like sitting atop a mountain of cotton candy, or because all 21 of her gears work perfectly. Nope, it was just easier to reach....

Speaking of chicks, we enjoyed a really good Mothers Day brunch in a D.C. neighborhood called Adams Morgan. The venue, the Asylum, was pretty interesting. At night it hosts rock bands, but their kitchen has a really diverse menu including vegetarian/vegan options. Needless to say, my wife was quite pleased with her meal and my huevos rancheros were fantastic. The mimosas kept mommy and daddy smiling as a certain three-year-old acted his age.

The National Zoo is just down the road from Adams Morgan, so we parked the man-van on a side street, loaded up the strollers and walked a few blocks to the entrance. For those of you who have never been to D.C., the National Zoo is a Smithsonian institution, which means admission is free. You really can't beat seeing prowling tigers, lounging lions, climbing gibbons, playful orangutans and pandas for free. The season is still young and it was early, so the crowds weren't too thick.

I had planned to end the weekend with a grilling session and a few beers in the backyard; however, a frozen pizza the size of a hula hoop had forced the freezer door ajar while we were out. The pork chops and corn-on-the-cob had to wait.

All in all it was a very fulfilling weekend. The right balance was struck between me time and family fun, which isn't always an easy thing to do these days.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Boys of Summer

I think I should quit my job and just focus on preparing Cannon and Colton for the Major Leagues. Social Security is moving toward bankruptcy and who knows how long it’ll be before Wall Street gambles away my meager retirement savings. I figure training a couple kids to play professional baseball is probably the safest bet for my long-term security.

However, there is one small hole in this plan - I stunk at the game when I was a kid. I was always a fan of the game, but I never applied myself. Maybe it was because my first coach was always in court or jail for drinking and driving, or maybe it was because I found early success on a skateboard. Either way, baseball was part of my life growing up - and still is - and I hope the game is part of my sons’ lives.

I remember playing tee-ball, utterly clueless to the complete rules and nuances of the game. Yet I understood “see ball, hit ball, run.” I remember playing Optimist baseball at Galloway Park and watching Darin and Jeremy crank moonshots deep into the field over the hapless outfielders (there weren’t any fences back then). I remember playing catch with my father in the backyard on hot, muggy afternoons with the scent of freshly cut grass wafting on the breeze (we still do our best to break out the mitts when I'm in town). And as awesome as it was to see the St. Louis Cardinals play at old Busch Stadium, hanging out under the bleachers at a Waterloo Indians game eating dogs and salted peanuts in the shell was almost as fulfilling. The glare of the lights, the smell of stale beer, the crack of the bat in the cool evening air, and the roar from the crowd as a foul ball looped over the grandstands and smashed a windshield are all very vivid memories to this day.

It's fair to say baseball has been a big part of Cannon's first three years. After all, he did walk out of Camden Yards in his diaper on Fathers Day a two years ago, and he was at RFK Stadium for the final Nationals game before they moved into their new digs. Both Cannon and Colton accompanied Angie and I to a Single-A Potomac Nationals game on Fathers Day last year, which was really a lot of fun and very reminiscent of a Lootown Indians game.

The past couple weeks Cannon has been making consistent contact with the ball off the tee, but he’s also been consistently hitting me with the bat. In case you’ve forgotten, the thin, yellow whiffleball bat really smarts. The stinging pain is a small price to pay though to watch him square up to the tee and take his hacks.

His younger brother Colton’s temperature is also rising with baseball fever. When he’s not scurrying off with the bats or knocking the ball of its perch, he can belt the big plastic ball all the way to the fence with a little help from me. From the way his little eyes light up and his toothy smile that spreads from ear-to-ear, I can tell he likes the feeling. Catching the ball is still a bit like playing catch with mannequins, but at least one of the two boys has a glove. I'll just keep throwing balls at them until they figure it out.

Now would be a good time to thank my old friend Rob for adding to our collection of soft baseballs, because we've had a few good living room dodgeball battles since we saw you in March. My sons are welcome to throw every ball in the house at me and hit me with their bats, just so long as they give me free tickets to their professional games in the future.

It may be a tad premature to discuss the placement of their plaques in Cooperstown, but I have much more confidence in the Baseball Hall of Fame voters than the U.S. government or my financial broker. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy every backyard pitch, every ball smacked off the fence, every slap to the shins and every ballgame I can share with my boys.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Stop the Train! Our plans have changed.

The Metro is a great way to get around the D.C. metro area. The cars are clean, the riders are polite, the stations feel safe and many of the outer lines are above ground. It's usually pretty reliable. Usually. But I'll think twice the next time I gamble the success of a date night on the reliability of its service.

Hiring a babysitter is a rare occasion for my wife and me. At $15/per hour, we choose our nights carefully. So when our train crawled out of the Springfield station slower than a sunburned drunkard on a Jersey beach, we began to doubt our chosen mode of transportation. The conductor's voice crackled over our car's speakers. It was hard to make out what he said, but it sure sounded like he said all Blue and Yellow trains were terminating at Crystal City due to police action at the Pentagon City station. Though the cherry blossom trees ringing the Tidal Basin across the Potomac River were merely a couple miles away, they might as well have been in Japan. This train wasn't going to D.C.

Our plans had been fairly modest but had promised to forge some new memories. We were going to experience the cherry blossoms at dusk on the final weekend of the festival, and then walk to The Pour House on Capitol Hill to find out who the true Skeeball champ was. Now we were trapped one stop from where we'd started, the clock was ticking, the frustration was mounting and the train wasn't moving.

The night could have been ruined before it even began, but we decided to take control of the situation. A quick look at my iPhone revealed that there was indeed a police situation ahead and it was a bomb threat. After living in New York City for four years and around the D.C. area for five, we knew that this wasn't going to be resolved quickly. Suspicious packages aren't taken lightly, especially ones near the Pentagon. So we bailed on our D.C. plan and hopped out to catch the next train to Old Town Alexandria.

Just across the street from the King Street station we saw a Hilton Hotel with an attached bar called Seagar's. We needed to regroup, relax and relaunch our date night. Upscale hotel bars are always fun. The bartenders are always professional and the wine and beer options are plentiful. Well, almost always. We should have recognized the impending disaster when a large vase full of cut cherry tree branches greeted us in the lobby. Slap! Thanks for the reminder, Hilton!

So we bellied up to the posh bar on comfy stools and admired the back-lit bottles of expensive booze and exotic wines. I ordered a bottle of beer an Angie chose a nice red. I don't know what ever happened to my beer, but the bartender returned to tell us that Angie's wine was out of stock. This was not a short process. We sat there for ten minutes empty-handed, our night teetering on the brink of disaster, and we began to wonder why we had left the house to begin with. The barman finally returned (without my beer) and asked Angie for a second choice. We politely declined and told him we'd try another watering hole.

Luckily, O'Shaughnessy's, a true drinker's pub, was only a block away. The bar is located above a deli on King Street and seemed like the answer to our prayers. Unfortunately, the bar was one of the few that still allows smoking, but the windows were open and a good breeze was keeping the air fresh. The portly barman said he was doing me a favor when he discouraged my attempt to order the house ale. A game of pool would have been nice, but an almost comical "Out of Order" placard informed us that pool would not be played this evening.

We looked at the Washington Post's Going Out Guide application on my iPhone to locate a good restaurant. We were surrounded by options, so we knocked back our Sierra Nevadas and joined the throngs of early evening revelers on the street below.

We popped into Tiffany's Tavern for a quick one and asked if anyone had heard of The PX, a modern speakeasy we'd just read about. The first woman hadn't heard of it, but her coworker had. With loose directions to look for the blue light on South Columbus Street, we headed down the road.

After a firm rap on the door, a well-dressed woman opened the door a crack and I told her we were there for The PX. She opened the door and allowed us to enter, but I was disappointed she didn't use the traditional sliding window to check us out first. She escorted us up steep stairs past a hardwood bar to a small sitting room. An ornate chandelier dangled from the high ceiling. A smartly dressed couple sipped cocktails on one couch. A pair of women chatted quietly on another sofa. Angie and I settled in for some nice red wine. The atmosphere reminded me of some of the eastern European lounges in Astoria, Queens we used to frequent.

After being escorted back down the stairs, we headed to the Overwood for dinner. The wood-fired kitchen is off the normal tourist route by a couple blocks. I appreciated the large glass facade and enjoyed a potent pint of Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and some spinach artichoke dip before my steak arrived. Our meal provided a nice cap on an evening that nearly never started. The episode reminded me that good food, good drinks and good company can rescue a date night from the ashes. And I'll ride Metro again, but if our plans begin in D.C., our vehicle may be parked there too.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ragin' Against the Machine in the Man-Van

My one-year-old is now a punch dancer. Oh, you're not familiar with punch dancing? Punch dancing is simply headbanging from the safety of a car seat. Shoulder harnesses and lap belts seriously restrict spontaneous physical reactions to heavy metal. But the punch dance channels the driving double bass beats of hard-hitting bands through clenched fists. My sons have taken Dad's lead, pumping their little fists like mini-pistons in a powerful V-8 engine to the rocking tunes blasting over our humble man-van's Infinity surround sound system.

Now that my one-year-old is facing forward and has joined our rolling party, he's interacting with his older brother and learning the nuances of the man-van. I'm always revved up to finally get my boys buckled in for the short ride home from daycare after a long day of work. Hanging out with these two is always a blast and helps keep me young. I miss their enthusiasm for life as I navigate the sad, stale office life of adults. And I could play with X-men characters and Matchbox cars all day, everyday.

So when my three-year-old asked for a jam, I changed the station from NPR to the rock station faster than guitarist Kerry King picks out crushing chords for Slayer. A glazed look fell over his face as he found the beat and started punching the air to Rage Against The Machine's Killing in the Name. I know, the song title is a tad inappropriate for young kids, but lead singer Zach de la Rocha growls most of the lyrics. Don't judge me. Ever seen the fight scene at Toad Hall in the finale of Disney's Wind in the Willows? Spoiler alert: Pistols, battle axes, throwing knives and murderous weasels. Yeah, 1949 was a boom year for quality kids' programming. Barney would've been hunted to extinction.

Headbangin' dads out there, let me tell you there's nothing more special than hearing your oldest son say, "He's doing the punch dance! He's punching!" Their combined laughter was like super premium fuel for my punching fist, and I bashed the air and nodded my head to Rage's beat with unbridled pride.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Leprechauns Don't Wear Togas

Chicken souvlaki and a Greek salad on St. Patrick's Day? The horror! Sadly, our plans to introduce the boys to the joys of Irish folk music, Irish stew, soda bread and Guinness mustaches proved to be about as elusive as a leprechaun.

Maybe it was naive to think we'd find a table at Kate's Irish Pub on their busiest day of the year. But I was surprised to see the cluster of eager entrants bedazzled in cheap party favors and plastic shamrocks waiting at the door. A sign in the window noted the $5 cover charge, so the party had already begun by the time the man-van rolled to a stop in front of the gaudy crowd and Angie hopped out to assess the situation.

Almost as soon as she penetrated the heaving, green crowd, she was back again. "It's packed and F-bombs are dropping left and right." Immediately we knew our St. Patty's Day plan was a bust. So much for singing along to the Irish Rover with a mouthful of beef and carrots.

Fairfax County has a dearth of bars, especially traditional Irish pubs. Looking back on our neighborhoods in Queens, NY, we really took for granted the plethora of good watering holes found on every block. Real Irish bars staffed by real Irish bartenders were never more than a stumble away.

So rather than return home as my son so adamantly requested, we settled into our usual table near the windows at Saratoga Pizzeria. My son's green, plastic top hat was crinkled and dented from wearing it all day at daycare, but he still received a number of compliments on it.

I guess the night wasn't all bad; the feta cheese was fresh, my chicken was seasoned perfectly, my Greek beer was served in a frosty mug and the pita bread was grilled just right. Still, St. Patrick's Day should be celebrated in a pub with Guinness, Irish pub grub and lots of singing. And, I'm pretty sure no one has ever seen a leprechaun in a toga.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Priceless or Worthless?

The recent This American Life podcast, House on Loon Lake, got me thinking about the idiom “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” The narrator told a story about breaking into an abandoned New England home as a bored adolescent. Confronted with rooms full of personal effects, he and his friends imagined the fate of the family who had lived there. I don’t want to give away the ending to the story, but the kids’ exaggerated explanations for the abandoned home were far more bizarre than the sad truth.

So, sitting here on my worn, black leather loveseat, staring at my kids’ toys, I wonder if the things in front of me, my family’s things, are worth anything more than the original price tags. Look around your own abode. If you vanished today and someone stumbled across your deserted belongings, would your stories be worth anything to anyone? Will the material things that describe your life be featured in a future museum exhibit or just junk destined for the local landfill?

My mother bought the toy farm set. The silo was attached briefly before it was unattached and used as a vertical garage for Matchbox cars and “bad guys.” I purchased the 36” Toshiba TV with my first commission check earned by selling classified advertisements a decade ago. My good friend Yahroo helped me haul it home from Best Buy. The crooked, miniature glass lampshade was originally part of a pair given to us by our late great grandmother – an incredible woman who is much missed. The warm glow of the two tea lights set the mood for many good evenings. My baby boy’s first birthday is approaching, yet a tourist photo of my wife, first son and me, still sheathed in plastic, rests behind the Panasonic speakers purchased with United airline miles. A white tag on a Smurf’s rear end points toward the ceiling. An exquisite hummingbird, hand-carved and purchased from an artist in Belize while on our honeymoon, defies gravity as it balances on its impossibly narrow wooden beak. Yellowed and dying leaves cling to the sad tendrils of a lush and waxy vine, a remnant of the thirty-some healthy houseplants that used to fill our home(s).

A Pirates of the Caribbean folding chair is stashed beneath the dark stained coffee table turned toy station. The hand-me-down Leapfrog electronic reading device rests limply against a wall, unused; the purple plastic learning cartridges are scattered behind me. The temperature-telling rubber ducky lies on its side. Mac Truck’s trailer, the one that accidentally deposited Pixar’s superstar racing sensation Lighting McQueen near fictional Radiator Springs, is parked harmlessly next to the red, rectangular toy bucket now decorated with Spiderman, Superman, NASCAR and T-Rex stickers. A yellow taxicab lies on its side. A foam baseball separates the Frankenstein bathtub ducky from the recycled plastic recycling truck. The Honda Ridgeline Matchbox truck is parked behind the purple viewfinder with its crumpled photo disc. The empty bucket on the extension ladder of the oversized red fire truck leans against the wall; the cab is stuffed with Marvel action figures. An unused inflatable mattress peeks from a green box leaning against the wall. The pull-along puppy from PAMIDA, a sweet gift from another great grandmother, lies motionlessly on its side, the red pull cord draped forlornly across its snout.

The always left-turning ambulance rests upside down in the dark-stained wicker book box. Blue and red cardboard bricks, hand-folded a year ago, lie buried beneath the rubble of other toys. The furry, green, belching T-Rex’s yellow foot protrudes over the rim of a woven basket. Squeeze, Handy Manny’s animated pliers, stares blankly with never-blinking eyes. A plastic dinosaur mocks its own species extinction as it lies prone. The Thing, Thor and Plastic Man grace the side of a Marvel Super Hero Squad inflatable ball. The homemade rice rattle hides behind the newer, more annoying Handy Manny drill. A bathtub squirt toy peeks from beneath the entertainment system. My firstborn son and his now way-too-small KC Royals cap stares back from a black and white photo taken in Savannah, Georgia.

Is this junk? Are my family’s memories meaningless? Are yours?

The yellow dump truck with no dump box looks as if it crashed into the sometimes face-eating squirrel. A plastic penguin, an overturned toy motorcycle, a yellow choo-choo, a lone fuzzy bear slipper, an insatiable, stuffed yellow pelican, a Raccoon Brewery growler from 2003, an oddly peeled roll of silver duct tape, a tie-dyed tapestry, a hand-built shelf, mini Princess Leia, photos of a first ocean visit celebrated, a bottle of flat bubbles, a bouncy ball with suspended glitter, C3PO, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton, a wooden keepsake box, my youngest' first shoes.

And that’s just what I can see in front of me. I can only hope that if my family had to disappear into the night and leave behind all our worldly possessions, unsorted and unfiltered, that curious kids will someday climb through a broken window and scare themselves with imagined stories of our demise.

Are your family’s heirlooms priceless or worthless?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snowmaggedon Strikes D.C. Metro

Apparently snow is Kryptonite to Superman. At least that’s what came to mind while watching my new neighbor wield a shovel in his too-tight Superman t-shirt. Seeing him helplessly hurl shovelfuls of snow into the wind nearly had me in tears. But after watching defeat set in on his sad face, I thought he might be the one to cry. Bewildered by the enormity of the task ahead, his laser vision fizzled and his angry glare was the only thing hot enough to possibly melt a snowflake or two.

Snowmaggedon? Snowpocalypse? Snowverkill? Possibly exaggerated, but it is true that we received two feet of heavy, wet snow in a storm big enough to silence the jets in the sky. It was by far the most snow I’ve ever experienced in a single event, and certainly the most I’ve ever shoveled. After digging out, I now know how John Henry must have felt when that shaft of sunlight pierced the hole left by the final swing of his mighty sledgehammer: relieved, proud, and triumphant.

I love a good snowstorm, especially a record breaking storm. Everyday life can be so regimented; every minute planned and scheduled. A snowstorm breaks up the monotony like a garden spade through ice. Sure there are highlights to illuminate each day, but the routine is a rut in which the wheels of novelty spin fruitlessly. Big weather events like blackouts (electrical not alcohol), 100-year floods, and blizzards shake things up, disrupting routines. People suddenly snap out of their malaise as if they have just been pelted in the face with a snowball. They’re forced to communicate with neighbors who’ve been hiding behind closed doors since Thanksgiving. People take up shovels and unite behind a common cause, lending a helping hand or sharing a laugh over a shovelful of snow. Heads nod and “mmm-hmmm’s” are heard as broad, pointless statements about the weather and the world are made. Snowstorms also remind us haughty humans that our place in the pecking order is much lower than we care to admit. Because whether it’s Mother Nature blanketing the land in misery, or someone close to us delivering an icy insult, sometimes it’s good to get knocked down a peg or two. Snowstorms, like all major natural disasters, put life back into perspective.

Buried beneath the snow with all the headlines about power outages, lost productivity, and bad drivers is the fact that my sister-an-law and her man have been stranded here since Sunday. Their bosses back home can’t complain about their absence when the snowstorm is the top story on the evening news each night. We don’t see them but a few times each year, so we’ve enjoyed their extended visit. Their nephews have loved the extra attention, and my future brother-in-law is a bulldozer with a shovel in his hand.

And now February Fury (to borrow The Weather Channel’s malevolent moniker) has arrived. In a matter of hours we’ll be pushing a fresh foot of snow to the muted sounds of winter. If the roads are impassable and cabin fever sets in, we’ll once again don the backpacks and trek to the bodega for a “bag of nice” – more beer. Half-Tail the backyard squirrel’s loyalty will once again be rewarded with scraps of wheat bread flung like Frisbees from my sliding glass doorway. I’ll be more than happy to help dig my Vietnamese neighbor out - so long as she brings her Toro snow blower and fresh pork spring rolls to the party again! And poor Superman is next door staring blankly out the window at the accumulating snow, quaking in his shiny red boots.

Check out a slideshow here:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty

When the night began, the plan had been to enjoy an Italian meal and some wine while the boys watched a movie at Kindercare during the center’s monthly Parents’ Night Out. If asked the odds of agreeing to a professional, spa-style pedicure that night, I’d have answered, “HA! Zero chance, no way.” And yet there I was, my pasty white feet a blur beneath the bubbles, and an Asian woman kneeling before me quietly preparing a bucket of lotions, balms, towels and strange clipping tools.

Warm water bubbled up between my toes. My chair vibrated and hummed as a mechanical roller rearranged my vertebrae. A calming heat rose from my lower back and radiated outward like the morning sun crossing the lawn. One would think sitting in that massage chair with my feet submerged would have been relaxing; but, in fact, I was not relaxed at all. Whether it was the full moon, the cheap Chianti, or my recent lack of sleep, my wife had somehow convinced me to join her for my first pedicure.

The food next door had been awful. The Kalmata olives were mushy, the olive oil bland and runny, the fresh mozzarella had the consistency of a wet eraser, the Chianti was overpriced, the gnocchi was chewy, and the pepperonis were nothing more than salty islands floating in a sea of greasy orange globules.

The conversation had been nearly as bad. After a full work week and less than an ideal amount of sleep, the two of us had trudged past exhaustion into the realm of zombies. We struggled to make eye contact, our red-rimmed eyes lazily settling on such exciting things as the back of a spoon or a crust of bread. Sentences were started with hopes of finishing them, but most trailed off into unintelligible mumbles. After 45 minutes of forced pseudo-socializing, we paid the bill and, to the obvious surprise of our waitress, declined boxes for our leftovers. I’m not sure Half-Tail, my backyard squirrel, would have accepted such noxious faire had I offered it.

So it was in this weakened state of mind that my wife asked if I’d be up for a pedicure. “Come on, it’ll be fun!” she had promised. Not wanting to squander what little adult time we had been allotted, I reluctantly said yes and entered the salon.

Angie made the arrangements as I helped myself to the bowl of candy on the counter, plopped down onto an overstuffed chair, and began thumbing through some headlines on my iPhone. A minute later, I was being ushered over to a brown, vinyl chair, similar to a barber’s, but with a bubbling cauldron beneath the foot rest.

The blinding overhead lights and the mirrored walls were disorienting, and I didn’t know where to store my shoes and socks. Was I to take them off, or the attendant? I followed Angie’s lead and set my footwear next to the chair and climbed into the seat. Sensing my discomfort, she slipped me a copy of Washingtonian magazine and gave me a reassuring smile. Seventy-five top bars were featured in the cover story. Sweet.

It occurred to me that watching a barber cut hair in the mirror was far less intimate and more removed. I felt uncomfortable watching the woman work, so I kept my face buried in the magazine and read about lounges, hotel bars and classic dives. My left foot slipped through the woman’s muscular grip like a bar of soap in the shower. Her thumbs pressed into the deepest flesh on my calf. I was beginning to melt into my chair like a pat of butter spread on a steaming ear of corn.

Alternating between right and left legs, she nearly scrubbed the hair off with an orange-scented exfoliating balm. It burned like hot sand and I liked it. With the skin rubbed red raw, she wrapped each leg in a towel moistened in cold water. I peeked over the magazine as she clipped my toenails with the adroitness of a surgeon. She employed a shoeshine boy’s circular wrist action as she filed and buffed the nails, and her block sander smoothed out heels calloused from many miles walked.

Finally, she applied lotion from my knees to my ankles and wrapped my legs with a hot towel. Moments later my legs felt cold and stinging hot at the same, not unlike the sensation of chewing strong peppermint gum. As I reclined in that humming chair, my legs tingling like a fiery snowball beneath the hot towel, my exfoliated feet red and pruned, I realized that this wouldn’t be my last pedicure. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll get talked into one of those creepy, green face masks - and love it, too.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Livin' Small

I remember when mopping floors on a Saturday night earned me an hourly wage, a cut from the tip jar, a handful of shots, and a pitcher of beer. Now I sweep escaped Cheerios and scrub juice stains for kicks. Yay!

Friday, January 29, 2010

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Wow! Five months since my last blog post? Ouch. If anyone still checks for new content, please leave a comment or let me know I'm a lazy bum via email.

I recently watched that Julie and Julia flick about the wannabe writer/chef and her undying love for Julia Childs. If you haven't seen it, it's an enjoyable movie. New Yorkers will like it. Anyway, the writer/chef character blogs about her efforts to cook every recipe in Child's book in one year. When she first starts posting blog entries she doubts anyone is "out there" reading her stuff. So if anyone still stops by, let me hear from you. Or if you landed on this page because of one of my tags, call me a jerk and then read an old post.

For you stubborn readers, subscribe to my RSS Feed; it'll save you the time of typing my cumbersome URL just to find out I haven't figured out how to beam thoughts from my brain to my blog yet. I still need to find the time to sit down and type them out.