Redbook - The Other Good Book

I sat in the doctor’s office waiting to see the man who I was sure would tell me that my broken finger needed to be removed from my body. He would hand me a damp washcloth to bite down on and bring out the hacksaw which sat right next to the tongue depressors and cotton balls in one of the mystery drawers he had in his office. I had to dream up scenarios like this as there was surprisingly very little to occupy my mind during the eternity of waiting. On the wall opposite where I was standing hung a truly inspirational poster of a baseball player sliding into second base. “RISKS: While others wait for chances, winners take them.” I found it odd that it was exactly because of a risk that I took that I was making a rare visit to the doctor’s office, awaiting amputation.

With nothing else to do, I glanced toward the sterilized counter where I saw a copy of Redbook magazine. It goes without me saying that doctor’s offices are notorious for outdated magazines. The crinkled pages, which have long since been separated from their perfume samples and any semblance of relevance, are there for your only amusement in what is often a very unamusing situation. Want to know the most exciting prospects for the upcoming football season, even though next week is the Super Bowl? Try this slightly damp Sports Illustrated. They are usually the only escape from staring at the horrific, pastel-infused, nautically-themed artwork created by some coke-addled struggling artist in the 1980s and reprinted by the thousands exclusively for waiting rooms. That or staring at bitterly ironic motivational posters.

The Redbook that happened to be in my exam room was dated July 2001. On its cover, it featured a smiling Janet Jackson. Among the article teasers on the cover (10 things your man really wants in bed, 71 ways to eat slim this summer, 430 ways to use that little black dress as a weapon against a potential rapist) was information about what I would find in the Janet Jackson article. She would apparently dish on the strains of her second (secret) marriage as well as an eating disorder, or something.

This is the actual cover of the magazine. I do tell the truth, occasionally.

July 2001 was, of course, before Janet Jackson’s right nipple would find its way onto America’s television sets—and into our hearts. It was truly a more innocent time where we actually cared about the things that were written in Redbook magazine. From such a far off date, we never could have imagined that we would have been in the current economic catastrophe that we are in. We wouldn’t have known that America would be involved in two ugly wars which would cost hundreds of thousands of lives. We wouldn’t believe that the little red-headed girl from The Parent Trap would become a recovering addict and a horrifically untalented actress who was difficult, at times, to even look at. Hayley Mills, where did you go wrong?

We also could have never imagined that only two months later, four hijacked planes would not only destroy lives and landmarks, but would come to change just about every part of society. I was about 3/4th of the way through my two-year tenure as a missionary for the LDS church on the morning of September 11th, 2001. The day started in typical fashion; indoctrinating ourselves and planning our proselytizing activities for the day. My companion and I rode a few stations away on the Montreal metro to get to our appointment at 10:00 in the morning. We were meeting with a Chinese woman that we had contacted a few days earlier and who had expressed some interest in learning more about the church. We sat down at her kitchen table and began to offload the religious paraphernalia from our backpacks as she went to answer a phone call.

She started talking in Mandarin, and, soon, the intonation in her voice made her sound like an Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas record playing backwards at a high RPM. She got off the phone and ran over to us at the table. She tried to explain something to us, only her English, in this moment of panic, failed her miserably. “Planes fall down! Into New York! Five-angle building! Big rush, Times Square!” She went to turn on the T.V. and we were confronted with the image of smoke billowing from the World Trade Center.

We would spend the next hour or so glued to the television set, a device that we had grown unaccustomed to in our temporary life of technological abstinence. We would watch in real time as both of the towers collapsed. We didn’t say much, the three of us, as we viewed the tragedy with unbelieving eyes. We packed up our things and left our contact on the couch with teary eyes, hers and ours. We rode the metro home where the usual crowd of loud-mouthed dredges of French-Canadian society were silent.

Our apartment, situated in the middle of the area of Little Lebanon (sandwiched between Little Iran and Little Azerbaijan) was equally silent. The next few days would be interesting indeed. We were not allowed to proselytize or carry our trademark backpacks around town. My companion’s neo-conservative views came out of the woodworks in several angry tirades, just like so many other middle-of-the-road Americans. Once our missionary efforts began again, we were bombarded with the question, “How would God allow such suffering?” Though my companion and other missionaries had some set answers they used for just such questions, if given the chance, I would typically respond with, “I don’t know.”

It wasn’t that I questioned my faith or any of my beliefs. I just didn’t know why this happened. Nearly eight years later, that suffering has been magnified across borders and into the homes of nearly everyone on the planet, in one way or another. Now, Redbook teases about articles like “47 secrets to living off of .47 cents a day” and “121 ways to report to authorities that your neighbor is a terrorist without later receiving an envelope full of anthrax from the Islamic extremist camp in Pakistan that you are pretty sure your neighbor was training at in the summer, even though he said he was going to Branson.” So many problems that I don’t know why we are suffering from and July 2001 Janet Jackson is completely oblivious to.

I wish I knew how to make the world a better place. We may be heading that way, slowly but surely. Maybe all that we need are some motivational posters to get us moving there quicker. Realizing the innocence of the past, I nurse my broken finger, a trifle of a thing compared with other tragedies, and flip through the innocent pages of Redbook to find out just what exactly guys like me really wanted in bed.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Overpriced Theater Food

I now offer to you a new guest entry here at Bag Stranded. This one comes highly recommended. It is well worth your time to read it and laugh at it. It is written by Doug Giddings, a co-worker and kindred spirit of mine. We both bleed Red Sox red. We both have screaming children in tow. And, as you will soon read, we both love, or at least loved, going to the movies. Leaving a comment will make Doug feel special as well. We should make him feel special.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Overpriced Theater Food
By Doug Giddings

America’s great pastime is dead. I’m not talking about baseball, which is still the best thing ever invented—I refer to the cinematic experience of being swept away to different times, better places, and inconceivable adventures. What grandma still calls “the movie house.”

The explanation behind this slow, cancerous death that has afflicted what was once an almost obsessive part of my life has been debated for decades. For many, the exorbitant ticket prices have been enough to discourage people from going to the theater to see their favorite films. Others argue that it is the development of state-of-the-art electronics now available on the consumer level, allowing people to experience better sound and crisper picture from the darkness of their own homes. But I think it’s more than that—if prices and accessibility were the only thing keeping people in on Friday nights, Disney On Ice would have stopped coming to town by now.

For me, the last straw came a few years ago. My wife and I met another couple on opening day of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Script, and we were running late. By the time we got to the theater, the only two seats still available were the ones my friend had saved for us. The moment I sat down I realized my chair was wet. Great.

But that’s just the half of it. Ever notice how bad something smells when it’s covered with dirty upholstery and something really sugary—say, root beer—is spilled on it? It reeks. So I plugged my nose, put my wife’s jacket on the chair, and sat down.

Thirty minutes into the movie, the jacket reached its absorption threshold. I was uncomfortable, my butt was soaked, and every time I fidgeted my friend would hiss.

“Stop moving, it stinks!”

An eternity later, the movie ended and the lights came on. I stood and stretched, glancing casually down at the wretched seat. That’s when I realized—the chair wasn’t covered in root beer after all—someone had actually thrown up on it. Yes, I had sat for three hours in someone else’s puke.

I’ve rarely been back to the movies since. And never without checking my seat first. But of course, that’s not the real reason for my estrangement with what had once been the love of my life. If one bad experience were all it took to discourage me from going to movies, then I would have given up my other passions long ago. I’m sure I would have stopped playing baseball after my first broken finger, and I think I would have quit frequenting restaurants with the ever-alluring “All You Can Eat” sign after the time I got sick and yakked roughly 10 pounds of partially digested hash browns all over myself. Yes, most of my stories seem to involve vomit in one form or another. Sorry.

Looking back, my first awkward moment at the movies came during Titanic, and it had nothing to do with Kate Winslet’ nipples. The movie was playing at the one-screen theater in the small town where I grew up, and nearly caused mass-suicides among the young girls of our school when Leonardo DiCaprio died at the end. I hadn’t gone with a girl, nor was I stalking women I’d hoped to lure into my arms in a moment of emotional distress. Instead, I sat next to The Hoe—a burly man-friend who weighed 12 pounds at birth and was shaving by the time he was seven. He had talked me into attending the movie in hopes of trolling for women; instead, he squirmed for almost three hours, clearly uncomfortable at the lack of a buffer seat between us. We went home emotionally confused and without so much as a phone number between us.

Despite any previous awkwardness, the magic of going to the movies re-entered my life when I was 14 and my dad sent me in from the parking lot to purchase tickets for a rated-R movie we wanted to see. It wasn’t my first movie with an R-rating, but it was the first time I had purchased the tickets myself. I shuffled slowly to the counter, like Oliver Twist preparing to ask for more food. I knew what was going to happen—I’d ask for the tickets, unable to keep my voice from cracking with every other word, and storm troopers would burst into the lobby from hidden doorways and drag me to an interrogation room where Clint Eastwood would tickle my chin with the barrel of his .44 caliber handgun. Instead, the pimply and uninterested cashier handed me the tickets and I skipped out to my waiting father like a convict newly released on parole.

While the movie itself had been awesome, my real appreciation had nothing to do with watching Arnold throw terrorists out of airplanes. I had done something wrong, and I liked it. For me, going to the movies had taken on a new sense of excitement.

As I got older and started driving, my friends and I went to movies all the time. And if we weren’t going to R-rated movies just for the sake of sneaking into them, we would hide in the bathroom or behind dark corners, and slip from theater to theater when the members of the Cinema Gestapo weren’t looking. We moved like ninjas, silently crushing stray pieces of popcorn into the seizure-inducing carpet with the speed of mythical creatures, only to emerge several days later with blurry eyes and movie hangovers.

Of course, such movie marathons presented us with an even greater challenge—man cannot live on Dots alone. My meager manual labor salary wasn’t sufficient enough for me to dine on theater food. I might as well have ordered a steak at a fancy restaurant as have afforded five-dollar hotdogs on a regular basis. I briefly considered eating what I found on the floor between the rows of padded chairs, but that was pretty low, even for me.

I was debating the nutritional value of urinal cakes with my friends when our answer came in the form of a flashing neon sign. A discount grocery store opened right next to the theater, complete with dim lighting and questionable produce. But they had candy—rows and rows of candy, available at a fraction of the Cinemark price. I paid for my treats and stuffed my pockets, along with my partners-in-crime, Jack and Pete, and we headed back to the theater, daring them to catch us in the act of smuggling food. Words cannot express the rush I felt as I successfully walked past the bored ticket-taker who didn’t utter so much as a single word at my bulging pants; I felt like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, smuggling tools past the Nazi guards for a chance at uninhibited freedom.

As the weeks progressed, so did my cravings. I was tired of Milk Duds and Shock Tarts, and would have killed for a cool, refreshing beverage. Our food purchases became more exotic, and every day posed a challenge to see what we could get away with. We started wearing knee-length tube socks to conceal the packages of Twizzlers hidden snugly against our calves, and the two-liter bottles of Dr. Pepper sloshed from their hiding place behind my belt. I’d occasionally carry in super-sized value meals from McDonald’s, and once I successfully managed to smuggle in a large pizza, which left grease stains on my back from where it had been hidden under my shirt.

Of course, such reverse-thievery wasn’t easy. As our treats grew more elaborate, we required more clothing to conceal them. For Jack and Pete this posed a problem, as they were both a little on the heavy side of the scale, and didn’t have a lot of hiding places left for an entire coconut cream pie. This left things up to me—the “Skinny Bitch” of our trio—and my friends quickly became the Short Round and Willie Scott to my Temple of Doom.

I began stocking an entire winter wardrobe in the trunk of my car, never knowing what smuggling needs I would have from one evening to the next. On a random day in July I’d waddle into the theater wearing long jeans and a full winter coat, looking like Kirstie Alley after swallowing both Oprah and Ricki Lake in one gulp. Theater employees began looking at me a little more closely, awkward as I seemed, but their glances were always of pity or disgust at the fat man with a skinny face—never suspicion.

In fact, we were never caught. And we never came close to eating all the food we had brought in with us. But it was never really about the food anyway; while the Milk Duds and oatmeal pies helped sustain us from one movie to the next, it was really more about the movie experience itself. It was my own random form of participation that made the movies better—there was something indescribable about sneaking into a theater by climbing through the rafters and then free-rappelling into a seat reserved for someone else, or smuggling in enough food to feed a third world country, that helped erase some of my own inadequacies. I knew that I would never be able to scale the walls like Spiderman. I’d never fight like Jackie Chan, and Natalie Portman would never be waiting for me out in the parking lot. Nevertheless, my own little triumphs somehow dulled the pain of being average and ordinary.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped sneaking into movies. I’m not sure when it happened—somewhere between the dates with women who were unimpressed by the number of two-liter bottles I could fit down my pants, and the need to empty the clothes from my trunk to make room for strollers. Either way, it happened slowly, like the unraveling plot in an M. Night Shyamalan film.

The weekend movie marathons have ended. If my wife wants a drink, I pay for it at the concessions counter rather than strapping one to my leg like a catheter bag in the parking lot. And while I’ve seen some decent films in the past few years, the magic of the theater seems to have gone.

A few months ago my younger brother and I went to a movie. Unfortunately, the film we wanted to see was sold-out, and a Quasimodo-like man stood outside the theater doors double-checking tickets.

“Dude,” my brother said, “let’s sneak in.”

The dying embers in my heart were suddenly roused to life—a challenge. But the torch had been passed years before, and instead I went to another movie—one I paid for—and left my determined brother to fend for himself.

Half an hour later, I received a text from my brother that he had gotten inside and secured us seats in the sold-out theater. I took a deep breath and prepared to dust off my ninja skills. Within minutes I found myself in the crowded room and joined my brother on the second row, where seeing the screen would require craning my head at an angle that would leave my neck numb for weeks.

“Dude, what took you so long?”

For a kid with a mohawk and enough tattoos to get himself into The Guinness Book of World Records, he’s awfully intolerant.

There I was—I had sneaked into a movie for the first time in years, and it was no small feat. But the joy was no longer there; instead, I watched with remiss as my brother beamed smugly from his chair and pulled a bag of Twizzlers from his sock. I declined his outstretched offering and turned my attention back to the screen, where I waited impatiently for the movie to end.

Grumpy Goes On Vacation II

Part Two, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Teacups

As mid-day naptime came, I snuggled into my hotel pull-out couch which doubled as a medieval torture device and indulged myself, as I am wont to do, in self-pity. My mind wandered back to my recent and sad history of vacations. As I started my current job, I left behind two weeks of well-earned vacation as a laundry monkey. When I began my employment as a laundry monkey, I did so on what would have been my anniversary of two years as the little elf who puts the bread on the grocery store shelves before you wake up.

The last vacation I took, in fact, was soon after my first son, Zachary, was born. My wife’s maternity leave was up, and so I took a week off to stay with the baby and help ease his transition into being watched by grandparents. That easing involved me testing the bounds of the human sentiment of patience as for hours on end, a constant din of colicky screams emanated from his little body. Though I loved being there for my little boy, I was never happier to leave my “vacation” and get back to work at 1 in the morning with my pornography and illicit drug aficionados of co-workers.

I woke my son up from his slumber so that we could at least try to squeeze off three hours in the park for the day. I love it when my son takes his rare naps, but if I am paying the equivalent of $100 an hour for an experience, it better either be a fully-catered ride on a zeppelin, playing catch with the reanimated corpse of Johnny Unitas, or torturing my own personal European hostel resident in a secluded country club. I will not spend it to stand in line at “It’s A Small World” with a hysteric child.

We ventured back into the theme park in the late afternoon. We managed to avoid initial incident with Zachary by telling him we were going to “Tomorrowland” instead of “Disneyland”. The jig was up shortly after he saw the floral display of the ever-present mouse inside the front gates. Though he protested, we managed to take him over to the House of the Future: the single largest and stupidest “ride” in the entire park.

Whenever anyone tries to form some type of attraction focused around the wonders of the future, you know there will eventually be a problem. Especially if that attraction is a multi-million dollar theater which once foretold of computers that fit in the comfort of your entire basement and can calculate numbers up to 7 digits, an interconnected highway system that will allow you to travel cross-county in your horseless carriage, and a toaster that will personalize your toast by burning your name into it. Though they have tried to update the house, it still featured electronic innovations such as a karaoke machine and Guitar Hero II. I know, not even Guitar Hero III. Lame.

After eating the “Pizza of the Future”, featuring cheese that ages backwards like Benjamin Button, we were off to the submarine ride. Here, I had to confront one of my biggest paranoia. Yes, I am extremely claustrophobic and hyperventilate in enclosed, inescapable spaces but my real fear is being confined in those same enclosed spaces along with a bevy of overstimulated, fart-filled children. Luckily, Zachary rather enjoyed the ride. This surprised me as it was full of the usual Disney shock value including man-eating moray eels and lightning and thunder. Yes, lightning and thunder in a submarine allegedly 20,000 leagues under the sea. We concluded the evening by visiting Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters where Zachary fired a laser gun at evildoers and the deafening shrill of thousands of blaster rounds being popped off at blindingly neon flashing aliens was just the trick to lull our consistently contradictive infant to sleep.

We went on a quick jaunt, otherwise known as a night’s sleep, back to the hotel and then, in the morning, made our way back to the park again. This time, we had to park in the Timon parking lot—the parking structures being named after characters who increase in level of obscurity along with the distance that they are from the park itself. At least we weren’t in the “Professor Quigley from The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” parking lot. It seemed Zachary started enjoying his experience more and more as he become acclimated to the insanity of the park. He enjoyed his ride on the Jungle Cruise and his time in the pirate store with Mommy while my sister and I rode Pirates of the Caribbean. Though Zach loves pirates in general, the level of debauchery that is exhibited on the ride might have challenged his innocence even more than Pinocchio.He was even holding up well after our naptime roundtrip to the hotel. We tried making it to a few more rides, but it being the Friday night after graduation, the park was rapidly filling up with scantily clad teens and cotton-candy clad children. While we waited for the Pixar parade to come through, I walked a few feet off from our family’s position and discovered, albeit much too late in the vacation, the beauty of the single rider line. The line for the MaliBoomer (a ride with the elegantly simple pretext of shooting you a thousand feet in the air) was wrapping around the rest of the park, but as a single rider, I walked past them all and straight to the front of the line. All I had to do was swallow any pride I had (which is like one of those thousand spiders that you swallow without ever knowing it) and sit next to three frantically screaming, Jonas Brothers-loving, hormonal teenage girls. They strapped me in and, as expected, shot me into the air.

Just before I reached the summit, drowning out the ever-increasing decibels next to me, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I could see most of the state of California from my position and my body released its tension. We floated at the top with our limbs flailing to reach some type of equilibrium and my mind quickly reflected back to my family somewhere down below me where gravitational pull was at normal levels. I had perhaps been grumpy during this trip, and I had maybe even taken some of the wind out of the optimistic sails of my wife. I loved being able to take this seldom opportunity for an actual vacation with them, even with the midnight wakings, the hysterics over animatronics, and the occasional accusatory glares. I loved my family deeply and was suddenly very aware of that fact and very anxious to be close to them.

Luckily, the ride re-entered the atmosphere shortly afterwards and I sat next to my family while the likes of Lightning McQueen, Woody, and brightly-colored, ever-smiling dancers paraded past our prime position. The night ended with more crying as Toon Town seemed to be a veritable hall or horrors to Zachary. We weaved our way through the throngs of people and eventually made it home very late that night. Though I managed to break my already broken finger several times on the trip, as we lugged our luggage home, I considered it a success that we all survived.

In the few days that have followed since our trip, I have noticed something amazing that has happened with Zachary. First of all, he talks about Disneyland constantly. “My favorite ride was Toon Rabbit’s Spin,” he claims, though his mother and I know full well that he screamed as if we wanted to throw him into a meat grinder when we suggested going on it. Not only that, but he has become so imaginative. He creates zoos and aquariums with his animal toys and asks us to buy tickets to see them. He pretends that he is a racecar or a pirate and develops intricate backgrounds for his characters. It seems as though his exposure to the Magic Kingdom has magically awoken his little toddler imagination. When I see that, all the grumpiness that I had stored up, all the bad experiences we may have had—it all goes away and I feel a little less like Grumpy and a little more like Happy.

As far as a return trip, however, the next time I see Mickey had better be in Hell as he, Walt, and I hold hands and walk together into the inferno. Now that sounds like a vacation.

Grumpy Goes On Vacation

Part One, or "M-I-C-K-E-why...why...why..."

“Why do you have to be so Grumpy?” These words issued from my wife’s mouth in one moment of my temporarily not being ecstatic about the vacation we were planning. That vacation involved the compulsory family Hajj to the Magic Kingdom, otherwise known as Disneyland. The only real magic involved is how they manage to convince you to give them $300 for an experience that is comparable to what the federal authorities used to try to get David Koresh out of his Waco compound.

You, the reader, may agree with my wife that my inherent pessimism is uncalled for. After all, it is the happiest place on earth. How could I be so unhappy? I plan on spending the next few blog posts convincing you that Mickey and his motley friends are bent on corrupting your children and infusing the world not with happiness but with misery, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Exhibit A: the turkey drumstick frequently gnawed on between Toon Town and Fantasyland.

I have only visited Disneyland one other time in my life. I was eight years old and so I mercifully don’t remember much of the experience. It was a more innocent time where traveling across Southern Utah and Nevada through the heat of August in a small Civic sans a/c was considered standard practice; where the rides at Disneyland still mirrored the classic yet boring live-action films of the 60s and 70s; where Michael Jackson as Captain EO, with his phallus of a sidekick in Fuzzball, was worth standing in line for.

And so, we can say that my expectations for the voyage were not too high. With the recently sustained broken finger, I knew that the difficulty of juggling my own children and their luggage would prove to be interesting. We wrestled with the issue of doping our sons with Benadryl before the flight so as to not expose the well-paying airline customers to the frequent, high-pitch shrill of our children’s cries we have grown so accustomed to. That, along with every other “good” idea I had prior to and during this trip, was nixed by our family’s Board of Directors which includes my wife and only my wife. We boarded the plane and I could feel the stress-tension sweat welling up in my armpit. Fortunately, we made it through the airport, onto the plane, and into another state without incident. Though I hovered over Zach’s window seat with an open sick bag waiting for the sure-to-come projectile, my fears were, at least temporarily, allayed. Miranda then gave me the smirk that clearly said, “See, Mr. Grumpy, things are going just swimmingly.”

Of course, soon after the successful landing, we went through the relatively unsuccessful transaction of shuttling two children, three overstuffed suitcases, several handbags and two car seats through a crowded rental car bus, along a crowded line of renters, over a crowded parking lot of rentables, and into the crowded city of L.A.

And so it begins.

After visiting the beach and seeing all kinds of humanity in far less clothing than they should have been sporting (including a dude that felt it necessary to avoid a tan line on his butt crack, seriously. Seriously?) we went into our hotel room for a much needed night’s sleep. We had invited my dear sweet sister to come with us as we knew our only hope of survival on the trip would be if the adults could outnumber the children. In the only equation that really made sense in awkward family algebra, she slept on the bed with Zachary while Miranda and I fit ourselves on the couch’s pull-out like misshapen pieces in a Tetris puzzle. The only thing that relieved the stress of a sharpened protruding spring slowly inserting itself between my 3rd and 4th vertebrae was when Isaac, in his usual 1:00 a.m. call for a nightcap, joined us in the steely excuse for a bed. My back was relieved because there was just enough room for about 10 square inches of my body to be on the bed at one time. Occasionally, it was the top of my forehead, but I eventually found it simpler to let my ankle get the marginal comfort while the rest of me sprawled out on the floor like a murder victim.

We “woke up” in the morning about as refreshed as a blanket you find in your dead grandmother’s attic. Turns out that the slumberers who spent the night on the actual bed did not sleep too well either. Zachary chose to sprawl out horizontally across the bed and, on several intermittent occasions, grope my sister’s face like a blind man trying to assess his company. We managed to drag ourselves to the lobby for a continental breakfast and then off to the place where all the freaking magic happens. We arrived in the park and made the trek from the car (which I believe was in a parking lot somewhere in Fresno, California) to the theme park.

Approximately an hour later we were making our way back to the hotel. You see, I had my sneaking suspicions that with Zachary’s tender disposition, which made him cry while witnessing a game of Duck Hunt on the Wii, might come into play when exposed to the far scarier subject matter of Disneyland. Our second ride after the carousel happened to be the ill-chosen Pinocchio's Daring Adventure. Maybe you don’t remember it as a kid, but Pinocchio, I am convinced, was penned by the devil himself. And the ride tends to focus on the high points of the movie, such as Pinocchio’s separation from his surrogate father, being eaten alive by a whale, and having your physical features mutate after being exposed to a drunken gambling horde of ne’er-do-wells. Top it off with an eerie darkness and a bearded character laughing deeply and maniacally in the background, and my little son is now emotionally scarred for life. It took a total of five seconds on the ride for the hysterics to begin and several hours for them to wane. We left the park with Zachary muttering through his sobs “Disneyland is bad! We won’t ride a bunch of rides! You won’t leave me!”

As we ventured back to the hotel for naps and hopefully a clearing of the emotional slate for Zachary, into the rear-view mirror Miranda gave me an entirely different glare. It reminded me a bit of the scary ghostly image that is summoned into a mirror in the first full-length animated horror movie, Snow White. I wish the glare was one that said something like “You were right all along. I really should listen to you and respect your opinion more often.” However, it was not. It read something more along the lines of “You did this - you and your grumpy pessimism. I don’t know how, but you willed this bad karma on us and as soon as we have a great and happy time on this vacation, which we damn well better have, I am going to get you back.” I focused on the road home, my broken splinted finger pointing the way to drive, and whistled while I worked on my family vacation.

Way Beyond Thunderdome

My heart was pounding, priming my body for the action it was about to encounter. The straggling defender from our team made his way to the sidelines where I burst onto the court like a precariously aimed bottle rocket to substitute in for him. Five minutes had gone by in the second half and my team trailed 4 to 0. This was not an unusual scene by any means, but it was so strange to not have played for the entire game up to this point. I was planning on playing goalie for the second half, but the first half goalie was determined not to relinquish his position, and so I subbed in at defense. It took about 15 seconds, but I managed to chase the ball down to the opposite end of the court to the far right of goal. With a move that I learned from Cristiano Ronaldo, or at least from his digital representation on the Xbox, I swiped the ball with my counter foot, in step, and bent it just over the goalie’s arm and into the area cordoned off by blue painter’s tape known as the goal. I held my hands out to stop my full-speed motion sprint into the wall, heard the whistle blow signifying a goal, and trotted back rather non-chalantly to my defensive position with the roar of applause and accolades ringing in my ear.

15 seconds later, I heard the ref’s whistle blow again, only this time it followed a much different move that I learned from Zinedine Zidane which involved an opponent sprawled out on the ground in front of me and my offering a hand in a feigning attempt at good-sportsmanship. It wasn’t the first time I had resorted to violence in the heat of the game. I once threw a shoulder into a dude charging into my goalie box and once, as a striker, my elevating knee happened to meet the opposing goalie’s descending face in a collision that left him claiming to see stars and me with a bit of tooth imbedded above my kneecap. But, as the referee could apparently see the fury stewing in my eyes, he felt that after this collision, it would be best to give me a card and have me sit out for two minutes. I marched off the court after what I considered a pretty badass 30 seconds of playing time and was greeted by the frightened stares and hesitantly extended hands of my teammates.

This was the indoor soccer league where my work pitted department against department in a multi-sport year-round competition. The prize: one week’s worth of casual dress and the honor of reigning supreme over IT nerds and Executives alike. It was on like Azerbaijan.

After my thirty seconds of rabid-badger-like ferocity on the court, I sat on the sidelines and yelled orders at my team. After clapping exuberantly as the Senior Writer blocked an attempt at goal by allowing the ball to smack her directly, and I can only imagine painfully, in her breasts, I began to notice some pressure from my left index finger. I started to massage my knuckle assuming that I jammed my finger either in my screaming full-on sprint into the wall, or my screaming collision with a higher-pitched screaming opponent. By game’s end (4-7 loss, 1-8 on the season) My finger had swelled up to the size of a Jimmy Dean sausage-flavored product. I put some ice on it and laughed it off along with others in my department. As I went towards my car, still donning my full soccer gear, the finger was completely immobilized. Before I went to bed, my finger started to look like an androgynous bluish-green Dr. Seuss character. I resolved to call the doctor in the morning.

I knew I was in trouble when everyone at the doctor’s office who caught sight of the ever-plumping digit let go an audible gasp. The family doctor entered into the room and with the smile that he sported at all times, whether dealing with goiters or gonorrhea, immediately sent me back to the X-ray room. The X-ray technician, who loved her job about as much as a kid searching for diamonds in a mud pit in Sierra Leone, manipulated my fingers across a sheet of black film. She developed the X-rays and with an accusatory, motherly glance, asked me just what I had done to myself. She waited for the doctor to come into the room and tell me, still with the smile on his face, that I had broken my finger.

The concept of this was more disturbing to me than any present physical pain. I had only broken one bone in my life prior to this. I was two years old and fell down a stair and landed wrongly on my arm. I cried for a minute, but then went on with my regular daily duties of meticulously lining up my Hot Wheels by color, model, and transmission type and remembering that my poo had to go in my training potty. It wasn’t until a few days, yes, a few days later that my parents happened to notice me running around in the back yard one evening. I climbed the ladder to the top of the slide on my playground, only I managed to use only my left arm. I positioned myself at the top of the slide and went down to the bottom with my right arm flapping in the breeze behind me like a fleshy windsock. My very perceptive parents took me to the doctor who pronounced, I am sure with a smile on his face, that I had broken my arm.

I spent the next two months using the cast on my arm as a bludgeoning weapon against my two sisters. Something told me, as the doctor wrapped an ace bandage from my mid-forearm to four inches in front of the tip of my now imperfect index finger, that this time around would not be quite as fun. I sit in front of a computer at work and type all day. Now I have to learn to type with only one hand. This blog entry alone has taken me thirteen hours to compose. I can not plant all of the late-spring flowers or mow the lawn or change a diaper, for that matter. I have to pick up my kids like they are an object in some Scottish Highland athletic event I am participating in. I am traveling to Disneyland next week and will have to cling on to the teacups with my teeth as my one good arm will be aiming my vomiting son’s mouth outside of the revolving flatware.

And, perhaps most tragic, I will have to resign my position as the emotional leader of the Creative Cremators indoor soccer team. Yeah we only have two games left and it would take someone like Cristiano Ronaldo to take my place in order for us to make it to the playoffs, but I still feel a sadness that I will be leaving my fellow copy writers and graphic designers to fend for themselves against the dreaded IT department. We had so much potential, but the mad fury of competition, drowning out any other concerns like fatigue, pain, or social normality, was just lacking in our team. Oh well. At least I’ll be there on the sideline extending one giant, ace-bandaged-wrapped, swollen finger at our opponents.

Kit was the Coolest

It is time for another guest entry here at Bag Stranded. This one is brought to you by Dave Baker. When he is not spending his time reading and re-reading my blog, he tends to dabble in his own blogging. If you don't mind slightly more vulgar fare, check him out at The Man Diary or his political punditry at Bakery Fresh Politics. Remember, I always love guest submissions as they allow me the much needed time to reorganize my fantasy baseball team.

The one where Dave gets jealous of Mr. Hasselhoff and his fancy talking car
by Dave Baker

My friends really need to stop buying trendy cars. I’m giving too many innocent people the finger.

I flipped an elderly woman off the other day. But to be fair, she was driving that silver Toyota Tacoma like a speed-addled 15-year-old. Still, it’s not something I’m incredibly proud of. I didn’t go home and beam while I wrote about it in my diary before I went to bed. That sort of thing just happens.

Before, when my friends were too poor to afford a newer car, I could be about 99 percent sure the person driving toward me in the ’83 Subaru Brat — the one with the primer-gray-and-matte-black-spray-paint exterior, stolen fast food banner flapping out the window and smoke billowing out of the chunk of metal that once could have been called the engine — was actually one of my friends. No one else would dare drive with .38 Special stickers covering much the passenger’s side of the windshield.

Now, those distinctive automotive stylings have turned into a slick black ant marching lockstep with the other slick black ants. “But mine has 15 chrome screws on the hood scoop, when most others have 13.” I can’t ascertain that information at 45 miles per hour, while texting and digging for the Spin Doctors CD that just fell between the seats. I have to make a split-second decision whether to make some type of high-speed, obscene gesture, or let them escape unscathed. And that’s almost unthinkable. I hate missing an opportunity to physically express the utter hate and discontent I have for the people I call friends. If I could insult them in a more thorough manner as they drove by, I would do it. Yo Momma jokes just aren’t as effective in a drive-by scenario.

But I’m no better than they are. In my search for a reliable car with low miles and an appetite for gas like the Olsen Twins’ appetites for … well … anything edible, I purchased one of the most popular cars on the road. Who would have thought so many people were also looking for a reliable car that gets good gas mileage? Weird.

The truth is, I can’t spit without hitting the windshield of a white, 2005 Nissan Sentra. I bought the Starbucks of the automobile world. If you’ll allow, I’d like to adapt (read: butcher) a Lewis Black joke to fit my current vehicular situation: “I got out of my white, 2005 Nissan Sentra and said, ‘If I turn around, I couldn’t possibly see the same, white, 2005 Nissan Sentra. It’s not possible. The world would fold in on itself if I turned around and saw another white, 2005 Nissan Sentra.’ But there it is.”

Popularity aside, the car’s OK. It runs. It’s fairly inconspicuous. The stereo works. It doesn’t smell like Rush Limbaugh’s soul.

But it has a spoiler.

And the spoiler is doing its job: spoiling the car for me, as well as any chance I had to pick up girls simply on the strength of my automobile — actually, that last part may have a lot to do with the fact that the car is a white, 2005 Nissan Sentra, and not so much to do with the spoiler.

I’ve always hated spoilers, though. They scream, “I’m a tool. Hey, look at me. I’m a tool.” The height of the spoiler is directly proportional to how big of a douche the car’s owner is. It’s the popped collar of car culture. I once saw a hatchback with a spoiler, and it looked like what I imagine the Hunchback of Notre Dame would look like if he were wearing a pink Abercrombie polo with the collar popped.

You’re probably wondering why I even bought the car in the first place?

I was sick of car shopping — plain and simple. And if you’ve ever bought a car, you know what I’m talking about. Car shopping isn’t like regular shopping — it’s a lot more like hunting than shopping, really. Usually if I’m going shopping, I enter the store, find what I need, pay for it and leave. Oh, if car shopping was only that simple.

To car shop, you first have to scout your prey. Drive by several dealerships. Check out the Web sites. Comb the classifieds. Then you pick your dealership, arm yourself with some knowledge from Consumer Reports about what you can expect to pay, and you enter the hunting ground.

After you’re on the lot, you see the car you want, and you think, “Hey, we could be out of here before lunch.” That would be true if you didn’t have to deal with the car salesman. He’s the main obstacle between you and your prey. That mountain you have to climb in order to sneak up and shoot the unsuspecting car in the head, so you can mount it on your wall — you have to show it off to your friends somehow, and what better way than on a piece wood with red felt trim?

By the time you finish test driving and listening to the salesman’s weak attempts at building report with you — “I see you’re missing a couple of your fingers. I know how it feels. I can pull my thumb off. Wanna see?” — it’s mid-afternoon, and you’re so sick of hearing about air bags and trunk space that you’re ready to ride a Razor Scooter to work every day. Then, you finally get your shot to buy the car. Maybe it was the stagnant pond water they handed you when you returned to the dealership, or the resulting dysentery, but you’re going to take the shot — you’re going to take whatever offer they make you.

At that point, you should be finished. Not when you’re car shopping. The dealer still has to gut your financial history, use undercoating and extended warranties to bleed you completely dry, and skin you with the scalpels of tax, title and registration. Finally, you sign the papers and get to take your new car home.

And it’s not until after looking out the rearview mirror at your spoiler — causing you to almost lose control of the car — and after you’ve gotten the finger from every sixth car that drove by, that you realize you’ve made a huge mistake.