Sunday, June 26, 2005

For some reason, I just can't think of anything to say right now...

Former TV Star Paul Winchell Dies


Thursday, June 16, 2005
4 x 4 EYES

I got new glasses this week. It's amazing how much glasses -- at least when you wear them every day -- affect your overall look. That's part of the fun, I guess, but also part of the danger, which is probably why I never change my frames too drastically.

With that in mind, I figured it might be time for a brief retrospective of my last few pairs of glasses, starting with a picture taken today of the new ones:

Next, my most recent glasses, as seen in last year's trip to London:

The next ones date about 2-3 years before those, from my previous trip to London. See if you can spot Big Ben in the background:

And finally, another pair. I'm not sure when these were from:


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

  1. Contractors are inherently evil.

    I’m not saying that all contractors actually are evil. I’m just saying they were all born that way. There may be some good ones out there, but if so, they’ve had to grapple and scrounge for every bit of decency they could find in their withered, ashen souls. And they undoubtedly remain locked in a constant struggle to fight their natural urges to gouge, lie and screw up. And I can back that up with cold, hard evidence.

  2. Contractors will selectively withhold information if it might make you change your mind about hiring them.

    We might have thought twice about our getting our mold removal done if only we’d known...

    ... that cleaning up mold would also require messing up the rest of our kitchen, including tearing out one of our cabinets -- door, shelf, drywall and all.

    ... that after the procedure, our kitchen would be turned into a “containment area” for the next week, cocooned in a big plastic tent so it looked like the house in E.T. after the scientists descend on it and E.T. gets all sickly and pasty-white.

    ... that the mold people would set up a ventilator that would sound like a revving Harley motor and run constantly until they came back to shut it off.

    ... that we’d have to pay an additional $350 for another mold test -- and pass that test -- before the mold people would lift their quarantine of our kitchen and come back to remove all their equipment.

    ... that our kitchen would be virtually inaccessible for six days.

    ... that we’d have to reschedule the plumber who was supposed to come in the next day to fix the dishwasher and the kitchen sink.

    But we didn’t know any of that before the procedure was done. Why not? See Lesson #1.

  3. You’ll always be on their schedule, not yours.

    It doesn’t matter if you need your plumbing work done today because the painters are coming tomorrow. Nor does it matter if you’re taking off from work because a contractor’s supposed to come, and you’re sitting around an empty condo twiddling your thumbs all morning waiting for the phone to ring. They can cancel on you without notice if one of their other clients has a more important job that comes up at the last minute. And all the complaining in the world will get you nowhere.

  4. Never pay until the work is done.

    Drew and I are both very responsible with our money. We pay our rent and our bills on time, all the time. We have very high credit ratings. Landlords love us. Creditors fight over the right to lend us outrageous sums of money. Contractors, on the other hand, look at us and lick their lips.

    When the mold company came to take back their ventilator and remove their tent from our kitchen, I handed the worker a check for $2,500 as soon as he arrived. I didn’t even wait for him to ask me for it. I knew it was a lot of money, and I didn’t want him to think for even a second that I might be the kind of guy who’d give him a hard time about paying when he presented the invoice. I wanted him to trust me, to respect me, and most of all, to like me.

    Yes, I’m that naïve.

    He quickly ripped down the plastic curtain, grabbed his ventilator and made a beeline for the door.

    “Um, aren’t you going to put the cabinet back the way it was?” I asked him, pointing to the disassembled cabinet pieces the previous crew had left on our balcony.

    “Let me see,” he said, and then he took out his cell phone and called his office to check with his boss.

    “Let me see?” I didn’t get it. Why did he need permission not to be an asshole?

    He stood a few feet away from me and proceeded to have one of those uncomfortable yes/no conversations someone has when they don’t want someone who’s listening to know what they’re talking about. We all know how transparent those conversations usually are to the listener, so here’s what I picture his boss was saying on the other end.

    “Is he there with you right now?”


    “Okay, then only answer me with ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Do you understand?”


    “Has he paid you already?”


    “Perfect! Have you loaded the equipment back in the truck yet?”


    “Shit. Okay. Well, does he look pissed?”

    “Oh, yes.”

    “Can you run fast?”


    “Then run! Run like the wind! Bwa-hahahahaha!”

    He hung up the phone and was out the door about two seconds later.

    “Sorry, they say I can’t do it.”

    “What do you mean you can’t do it?”

    “If you call them, they can send someone else out.”

    So I called. The office was very pleasant, telling me that they’d be happy to send someone else out to clean up the mess, and they’d call me later that day to schedule it. I felt slightly relieved as I hung up. And then, for the first time, I walked in the kitchen.

    Not only was there a giant hole where the cabinet used to be, but there was junk and debris everywhere. There was a row of giant staples across the wall and the ceiling where the curtain had been fastened, as if the worker had just pulled it off with one swift yank. Some of the staples had fallen out and lay littered around the floor and on the countertop. Others were still stuck in place on the wall and the ceiling, with little bits of plastic curtain underneath them. The ones that had already fallen out had left large holes where they’d been. Were staples really the best way for them to fasten their curtain, or just the easiest for them? No one told us we’d need a paint job to cover up their mess when they were done.

    And as a final “fuck you” to us, the water line to the refrigerator had been disconnected. Drew and I had both always dreamed -- in our sad, humble dreams -- of having one of those refrigerators that dispensed water and ice, and the new condo came with one. Only now it could dispense neither water nor ice. There was just a long, bendy copper wire sticking out of the wall next to it, helpfully taped and labeled “fridge”. I have no idea why they needed to disconnect this to do their work. It wasn’t in their way, it certainly wasn’t moldy, and it wasn’t hurting anyone at all. I honestly, deep down in my heart, think they were just being mean.

    As for the call to schedule someone to do the cleanup, it never came. Drew and I tried contacting the mold people a few more times, and we kept getting put off. Then we realized why they were suddenly so unavailable: there was no more money in it for them because we’d already paid. Who knew mold people could be so slimy?

    We’re hoping the plumber -- when he finally does come -- can fix the fridge. We still don’t know what we’re going to do about the cabinet.

  5. Don’t assume the work will get done right.

    Because Drew and I are both very busy guys, we gave the painters a set of keys to our condo so they could let themselves in and come and go as they needed to. We had chosen them based on a friend’s recommendation, so we trusted that they would get the work done right.

    After their first day of painting, we decided to stop by and check on their progress. Their work so far was terrific. The paint looked sharp, clean and well-applied.

    Only it was the wrong color.

    All of it.

    The living room was the color the bedroom was supposed to be, and the bedroom was bright green.

    Nothing was supposed to be bright green, or anything even close to it.

    I tried to figure it out. “Well, everyone says the colors look different on the wall than they do in the book.”

    “Everyone says they look darker," Drew pointed out. "No one says they look green when they’re supposed to be gray.”

    Well, thankfully, a quick meeting with the main painter guy cleared up the confusion. He went back to the paint store, got the right colors, and now everything looks great.

    We're just hoping he won't charge us for the extra day's labor.

  6. Kindness will bite you in the ass.

    Drew wanted to do something nice for the plaster guys who were working Saturday morning transforming a wall of mirrors into a normal wall. So we stopped and picked up some coffee and bagels for them.

    We came back at the end of the day to check on their work. The wall looked great, but there was a big coffee stain on the carpet, and the workers had long since taken off. No note, no phone call, no apology.

    Thankfully, we’re tearing out that carpet to put in wood flooring next week.

    ... but they didn’t know that.

  7. They'll never clean up the mess they made before they leave.

    This one is self-explanatory. And infuriating.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

Because he did it to me...

Hey, everyone, it's Drew's birthday!

Stop by his site and wish him a happy one!



Just after we arrived at my sister's house in New Jersey for Memorial Day weekend, Drew pointed out to me that this was our first visit with her family since she'd named us in her will as the guardians of her two daughters, ages 3 1/2 and 2, in the event of Something That Will Never Happen happening. Drew asked me if I was nervous, and if I'd be wondering all weekend if she was keeping a close eye on how I got along with the kids so she'd know if she made the right choice.

Well, uh, now that you mention it, Drew... yes!

My younger niece still has a very limited vocabulary, and the words she does know are sometimes hard to understand. "Nah" means "yes". She still can't pronounce "Jerry", but instead of making up some cute alternative, she just avoids saying my name altogether. Here's how she lists off everyone at dinner... "Mommy! Daddy! Grandma! Drew!... vague gesture in my direction" After about the millionth time someone pointed at me and asked her "Who's that?", only to receive a blank stare in return, I begged them to stop.

* * *

The worst thing I did on the whole trip was to teach these two young, impressionable girls a four-letter word:


It started off innocently enough. I'd bop one of them on the head gently with a pillow and shout, "Boop!" It was a fun game, and like most games with kids that age, you can play it five thousand times in a row, and they'll laugh just as hard every time. Soon, they were running around doing it to everyone they saw, then exploding with laughter afterward. A bonk on the nose with an Elmo doll... "Boop!" A thrust of the 80% deflated Dora the Explorer balloon from the birthday party two weeks ago... "Boop!"

Naturally, the booping eventually got out of hand. Boops were often followed by tears, and more than once, the word "boop" was used in anger. By the time I left, the word "boop" was attached to all sorts of physical abuse and I apologized profusely to my sister for ever starting the whole mess.

Another word my nieces know is "beep", which means "fart", and which is something they do a lot. I can't blame them. If we had such cute names for all bodily functions, maybe there wouldn't be any shame attached to them at all. My sister and her husband used to call beeps "air poopies", which is even cuter... and thus even more dangerous. Sometimes my nieces will beep and then announce it proudly. First, there's the loud sound the beep itself makes, then the announcement, "I beeped!", and then gleeful tittering. And it's not that they're gassy kids. They're just so uninhibited about beeps that even a mild burst of excitement can bring them on, such as my brother-in-law tossing them up in the air and catching them, or telling them we're going to the movies.

* * *

The movie we saw was "Madagascar". I'm not sure if my nieces are just too young to be able to sit through a movie that long, or if no one of any age was meant to sit through that film. About half an hour into the movie, my older niece turned to her mom and said, "Mommy, I think it's over. Can we go now?" Alas, the characters had only just then reached the titular land, so the rest of us knew it was far, far from over. A few minutes later, my niece was chatting again, wondering if she could go in the kiddie pool when she got home. I asked her afterward if she liked the movie. "Yes," was all she said. That translates into two big thumbs down by three-year-old standards.

There are a couple of amusing moments in the movie, but as Drew pointed out, it's a little weird to watch a kid's movie where the main tension is, "Will the hero eat his best friend?" It's nice to see David Schwimmer land a movie role, but not so nice when he's typecast as the neurotic Jewish-surnamed hypochondriac stereotype giraffe. David, I'm sure the VO sessions were quick, but couldn’t you just have stayed home and snacked on a hundred-dollar-bill sandwich instead?

A word of advice: If you're going to see this film, don't see it in New Jersey. One of the celeb-voiced CGI animals makes a mean-spirited anti-Jersey crack that had the whole theater full of tots in an uproar when I saw it.

* * *

Despite everything my sister and her husband have done to persuade her otherwise, my older niece's favorite book is "The English Roses" by Madonna. They've tried to persuade her otherwise not because it's a bad book, but because it's a long book, and she wants them to read it to her every night before she goes to bed. On the night I put her to bed, I realized how many times she's heard the book, because despite its length and relative difficulty, she practically had it memorized.

"Do you know who Madonna is?" I asked her.


"She's a very famous writer," I told her. "And she's British."

I had never read "The English Roses" before, but I was surprised at how not-terrible it was -- and how seemingly autobiographical. It's about a group of stuck-up cliquey girls (none of whom represent Madonna) and the girl they know whom they exclude from their adventures because she's so beautiful that they're insanely jealous of her (Madonna). The mean girls end up learning that this gorgeous young lass is actually -- Spoiler Alert -- quite unhappy because her mom died and now she has lots of chores to do at home as a result. So then they stop being assholes.

The book is set in Madonna's adopted homeland of England, which you can tell because the girls drink tea and because one girl wears a Union Jack dress and another calls her mother "Mum". When I tried to read "Mum"'s dialogue to my niece with a British accent, she told me to "stop doing the silly voice". (Madonna, please take heed.) The book ultimately had its intended effect: it put her to sleep.

* * *

My older niece's current favorite playtime activity is to put on "shows". A "show" consists of her standing in the front of the room and announcing, in a bold circus ringmaster tone of voice, "Ladies and Gentleman... I love to sing!" She then sings a song she composed herself, which goes roughly like this:

"I love to sing!/
I love to sing!/
I love to sing!/
I love to sing!

I love to sing!/
I love to sing!/
I love to sing!/
I love to sing!"

The shows draw quite a crowd. Not only are all the people in the house expected to attend, but so are all the dolls. And everyone gets a turn to take the stage, sometimes alone and sometimes, by her special request, in a duet with her. On occasion, the performance invitation is extended to dolls as well, and she props the doll up against the TV and makes everyone stare at it in silence until she determines the doll has finished its performance.

A few days before we arrived, my sister took the kid to Barnes & Noble, and when she saw a real stage set up in the children's section, she stood up and performed her show live for an audience of passers-by. We happened to go to that same Barnes & Noble while I was in town, but it was more crowded that night, and she had stage fright.

* * *

Like all little girls, my niece has lots of dolls, mostly in the bald, expressionless dirty pajama genre of dolls that only very young kids fail to realize are insanely creepy. Each of her hundreds of dolls has a name, and 90% of the capacity of her developing intellect has been allocated to remembering these names and keeping the dolls straight. If you ask her what her dolls names are, she will gladly introduce them to you.

"That's Pablo... and Tyrone... and Tasha... and Teniequa..."

Nobody is sure where she gets the names for her dolls. They're not the names of any of the kids in her preschool class or of any of the characters on the TV shows she watches.

Pictured (l-r): Pablo, Tyrone, Tasha, Teniequa

* * *

My sister and her husband have a strict "no name calling" policy in their house, which was harder on me and Drew than on the kids, I think. It took a whole lot of adjustment. I'm not used to dealing with kids without being able to call them "goofball" and "poopyhead". Nor am I used to dealing with Drew without using those words. If Something That Will Never Happen ever happened, that's one rule that would go right out the window -- along with that whole going to church thing.

* * *

While we were in town, we also happened to hang out with my six-year-old step-nephew, who repeatedly bragged that he was in the gifted and talented program at school. He's exactly the kind of kid I want and deserve to have some day, insufferably precocious to others, but adorably nerdy to me.

My sister and her husband told me as we were on our way to meet his family at the beach that they weren't so sure he was the golden boy he made himself out to be. They suspected him of smuggling a toy microphone out of my sister's house during a party there two weeks ago. When we met up with him, my brother-in-law pointedly asked him if he knew where the microphone had gone. "I have trouble remembering things," he said, and then he quickly ran off. The next day, his mom called to say she'd found it in his room.

On seeing my iPod, he told me he had one, too, and I made a mental note to keep a close eye on it whenever Sticky Fingers was around. He told me he had a ton of songs on his.

"How many?" I asked.

"Thirty-two!" he said.

I asked him what his favorite song was, and he said it was "A World Without Danger".

"I don't know that song. Who sings it?"

"It's not a who! It's a theme song!"

"A theme to what?"

"To my favorite TV show, 'Code Lyoko'!"

"Oh." I was only familiar with this show because he'd spent about half an hour explaining it to me the last time I'd seen him. It's on the Cartoon Network, it's in that tacky faux-anime style that doesn't bother kids who don't know any better, and it has something to do with computers. Suffice it to say it's a show made for the kind of kid who likes to go around bragging that he's in the gifted and talented program.

A minute later, he came back over because he had something he wanted to add: "My other favorite song is 'One-Two Step' by Ciara Featuring Missy Elliot." And as he ran off again, he yelled, "It's on her album 'Goodies'!"

Man, I love kids.

As for whether this weekend was a big test or not, I'm still not sure. My sister never mentioned anything, which probably means that she's perfectly comfortable with her decision.

Or that she still has her eye on me.


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