Welcome, Moz Faithful

Hey there. If you came here from the recommendation of the brilliantly magnificent Janice Whaley and her Smiths Project blog, I welcome you. I was once a blogger here in a former, less busy life, but have taken the late summer, early and late fall, and early winter off. But, please follow me anyway and, once I come back (starting in January, fingers crossed), it will be with some truly lackluster vengeance.

And, just for you fans of Janice and of Morrissey, here is the article I wrote about Morrissey a while back for your reading pleasure in the meantime: There is a Light that Occasionally Goes Out.

Also, leaving a comment might just expedite my return.

Bag Stranded Reread: Summertime, and the Living is Not Easy

Well, it is Friday, and unfortunately, I have had to deal with more than my fair share of crap today. So, I will not be able to finish my weekly post. But, never fear, a new post will be up on Monday and it will be disgustingly delicious. Trust me. In the meantime, to celebrate the return of ABC's Wipeout as well as the return of the hellish summer heat, here is a Bag Stranded Reread of a blog that I posted last summer. Hopefully it will hold you over through the weekend.


Enjoy, and feel free to leave new fresh comments too! That means you, Mom.

My Father, the Snake Assassin

I’ve been mowing the lawn at my parents' house as my father’s health has, for the moment, taken a turn for the worse. As he is the owner of the much famed and much accursed Smith work ethic, it has obviously been difficult for him to allow me to do the yard work in which he truly prides himself. Of course, it was never too difficult several years ago when I lived under his roof. At that time, yard work served as my daily meal ticket. Not only was I responsible for mowing the lawn once a week, but I also had to weed the garden, water the flowers, and tend to the no less than 80 rose bushes planted around the house. Forget my chores and I would receive the common lecture rating my existence as equal to those of the beloved flowers. “How would you like to sit in the sun without water for a week?” I often considered this as a viable option of getting out of my yard work chores, especially as I sat there, hose in hand, for hours in the blistering Utah summers, like a slightly more depressed Belgian statue.

But, far from being a taskmaster, my father was an instructor who taught me both the value of a well-kept yard and several important life lessons along the way. Landscaping lessons like how to fertilize rose bushes in the spring or the proper way to edge a lawn were combined with the valuable life skills of killing grasshoppers with fingernail polish remover and exploding tomato worms with a well-placed firecracker. There were also times that we threw around a football in the backyard or had batting practice with fallen apples. But the greatest sport, and one of the greatest lessons my father ever taught me, was the fine art of Olympic Snake Throwing.

Otherwise known as “OST”, “Slithery Shot-put”, or “The Beautiful Game”, Olympic Snake Throwing combined the thrill of competition with the thrill of cultish snake handling—something that many other sports would do well to incorporate. The game is played spontaneously upon finding a snake in the yard on any one of the many occasions when we were outside doing yard work. My parents lived behind a field that had a small irrigation canal running right next to their property line. This made for an ideal breeding ground for snakes and our backyard made for the proving ground for young snakes to do battle against the legendary human giants of my father and I.

The first rule of Olympic Snake Throwing is that you don’t talk about Olympic Snake Throwing. The second rule is that you always wear gloves. The object of the game is to hurl the found snakes from our backyard into the field behind our house. Points are awarded based on distance and bounce as well as style and overall technical composition of the program. The reason for the second rule is that the captured snake will take to urinating and defecating on its captor as a last line of defense, which interestingly enough is how I got kicked off of the junior high wrestling team.

In interest of full disclosure, I should point out that these were garter snakes, though I can see how this story would be much more interesting with rattlesnakes or pythons. There was no real danger of becoming a dead fellow with these snakes. Garter snakes are so named because in ancient times they were removed from a new bride’s upper thigh and cast into a crowd of drunken Neanderthals. But a snake is a snake, and snakes are pretty damn scary. Sure, we occasionally felt bad about our sport, especially when PETA drenched our family car in fake snake blood (it was actually just pig’s blood). But we felt that we were doing the world a favor by disposing of these menacing pests. We fancied ourselves the St. Patricks of Magna, Utah; only instead of drowning the snakes in an Irish sea, we hucked them into a rocky field for sport.

"You just pick 'em up and huck 'em." -The Beloved St. Patrick

I had many memorable moments playing Scottie Pippen to my father’s Michael Jordan. It always took me a great deal of courage to pick the snakes up myself, so I first learned how to do it by watching my father’s technique. On my first try, I ran toward the field, screaming like a girl as the snake writhed in my gloved hand, and threw the beast slightly less far than I needed to. It did not clear the chain link fence and was instead impaled on the top wires. After receiving the thumbs down from my frowning mother who peered through the kitchen window, my father took a shovel and flicked the pierced snake off of the fence and then, promptly, ended his misery. Yes, this was a blood sport, but that didn’t mean we were without mercy.

I also had one of my first lessons in sexual education when I threw what I thought to be an extra long garter snake into the field. The entire incident happened in slow motion and I swear that I heard a Verdi opera in the background. The two snakes flipped through the air, their entanglement in the throes of love being so rudely interrupted, until their unholy union was broken and each landed in separate spots of the craggy field. "Dad, what was that?" I inquired. "Ask your mother," came the loving response. The years went by and the snakes were hurled into the fields by the dozens. We knew that if any of them survived the catapult, they would think twice before entering Smith property again. That was, of course, until the snake uprising.

The year of the rebellion, the snakes began entering our house. We would find them in the pantry, under our couches, and hiding behind our toilets. We did not know how, but they came into our house through any hole they could find and they terrorized our family. This, of course, was unprecedented. We had never gone into the field hunting for them, yet they were brash enough to attack us where we lived. I burned through several pairs of gloves and my father blew out his rotator cuff in our efforts to push back the invaders. Wherever we turned, the snakes threw themselves under our lawn mower blades, wound themselves around the aptly named serpentine belts of our car, and conducted air raids by jumping out at us from the trees. Eventually, peace came to the land and we saw fewer snakes in the ensuing years. At first, their absence was welcome. But eventually, we would come to miss the gruesome sport and long for the days of the epic battle between snake and man, and prepubescent boy.

As I mowed my ailing father’s lawn I just happened to run into a very old friend. I nearly stepped on a medium-sized garter snake as it slithered onto the field of battle. Having my bloodlust atrophy somewhat with age, I was prone to let him go and continue to mow the lawn. That was until I turned the corner and saw the serpent eyeing me, daring me on to reignite past tradition. I turned off the engine and the snake took off, hiding in the long, untrimmed grass. I ran to the shed and rummaged through it without finding any gloves. I knew I would have to turn to what my father always called “Plan B”. I grabbed the shovel from the dusty spot it occupied on the side of the shed and bent down low, inspecting the grass blades for any sign of movement. After a few minutes, I tracked it to below the border of the pear tree. After kicking around, it made its way out and then promptly met its end after several blows of my shovel. After standing there like King Leonidas with Spartan sword in hand, I offered the deceased a respectful bow before burying his pieces in the fertile soil of the tree. “It is finished,” I said under my breath with adrenaline still coursing through the veins of my clenched fist. “The battle is mine.”

After finishing my mowing job, I hurried into the house to tell my father about the experience. Even while obviously suffering from his chronic and debilitating illness, and even with my mother berating me for once more killing another of God’s creatures, I could still see the feeling of pride well up in his eyes. Though I may have thought I was suffering under his tutelage when I was younger or dismissed his instruction as unnecessary, it is now clear that my father taught me more than I could have ever asked for. Aside from murdering reptiles, he taught me, by example, how to love and protect your family, how to know and push past your limits, how to give thanks and love to other, non-snake creatures, and how to be a good husband, father, and man. I can only hope to be able to teach my son half of what my wonderful father has taught me over the years, though my own son’s affinity towards snakes might prevent him from enjoying their execution when he is old enough. I will always be indebted to my dad. And even though advanced age and illness might prevent him from competing in future Olympic Snake Throwing competition, there will always be fireworks and tomato worms.

Try and tell me that you don't want to just blow this thing up.

Jar Jar Mitzvah

Once a month, Miranda and I get together with two other similarly-aged couples for a rousing game night. For people our age who are burdened with the duties of parentage and struggling in middle/lower/perceived management, it is our last bastion of freedom. Our games range from the party variety (Loaded Questions) to the nerdy variety (Settlers of Catan) to the nerds of the party variety (Guitar Hero, Burt Bacharach Edition).

During these games we often find out rather privileged information about each other. Often this information comes unsolicited and is difficult to forget, no matter how hard we try. But one of the most shocking admissions came one night when I found out that one of these friends had never experienced what we, and most of the rest of humanity, consider a crucial action signifying entry into manhood, even though most of us had all basically done it as boys.

“I’ve never seen any of the Star Wars movies,” he said with a shame that was as thick as the morning fog on Endor.

With the exception of my dear wife, who thinks that she “saw that one Star Wars with the cute little teddy bear people,” we were all dumbfounded. This man’s wife, who had been told about this condition beforehand, shook her head in shame and embarrassment that it was now well-known that she had to take a serious step down when exchanging marriage vows.

We vowed at that moment that we would redeem his dignity and manhood by having a Star Wars marathon where he would be indoctrinated in the world and ways of Star Wars in one sitting. We were ready to suggest that he be strapped into a wicker-back chair with his eyelids taped open à la A Clockwork Orange, but he had never seen that movie either. But he was ready to embark on the venture under his own free will. So we set the date and anxiously awaited our voyage to a galaxy far, far away.

In telling other people about our plans, it was remarkable how similar the reactions were. First, nobody could believe that there was yet someone alive who had never seen any of the Star Wars movies before. Then, when people considered our planned marathon, it was as if every person we talked to had considered such a thing before. But like telling off your boss, biking across the state, or eating every item off of the Denny’s breakfast menu in one sitting, it was something that you only thought about but never actually set out to accomplish.

After the gasps subsided, the inevitable first question was, “So, what order are you going to watch them in.” It was a valid question, seeing as how George Lucas started the franchise with episode IV because the world was not ready for one Jar Jar Binks. Of course, we watched them in chronological order by release date, something that every inquirer seemed to agree with, having personally made that decision in their minds years ago. It was as if they asked what prayer we would utter on our pilgrimage to the Wailing Wall, knowing they would obviously choose the Prayer of Sorrow. “Next year in Naboo,” they said under their breath. “Next year in Naboo.”

Star Wars has always played an intricate part in my life. Of course I am far from the biggest Star Wars fanatic. I might not know the serial code on Boba Fett’s blaster, but I have also seriously considered purchasing a tauntaun sleeping bag. One of my earliest memories is of watching A New Hope on TV when I was about three years old. Just as C-3PO and R2-D2 traversed the unforgiving desert sands of Tatooine, the plastic tube I had in my ear to prevent infection worked its way out into my fingers, ensuring that I would have to go through another medical procedure to put one back in. Even at three years old, I envied the life of an android. A few years later, I was able to go to Disneyland for the inaugural year of Star Tours, back when Michael Jackson was involved for some reason. Even after that, I roughly played with Star Wars figures with no regard for their future value. All I knew is that my Banthas belonged in the mud pit in the backyard.

I thought they smelled bad on the outside.

I watched and rewatched all of the available episodes during my childhood and adolescence. The playground rumors that episodes I through III were going to be made in the near future were set aside along with the rumors that MC Hammer was a Mormon, Jose Canseco injected liquefied Smarties before every game, and a banking crisis would cripple the US economy in 20 years. Eventually though, the rumors were confirmed, to much weeping for joy that my generation would live to see the long-awaited prophesy fulfilled.

Of course, as a prelude to his prequels, George Lucas revolutionized the industry by re-releasing, for the fourth time, episodes IV, V, and VI in the theaters. Only this time they were über-digitally enhanced with ÜberHX Technology™. Each movie also had some wholly unnecessary and terribly fake-looking additions, like plastic surgery on a 55-year-old woman that had once been the beauty that brought thousands of young, nerdy boys into manhood. But, I still went to see these re-releases for the first show on opening day. One of the proudest moments of achievement in my scholastic career was walking out of a particularly boring pre-calculus class, with a parental letter granting me full indemnity, in order to go see The Empire Strikes Back. It is good to know that I had parents that knew the priorities of a worthwhile education in the force.

Eventually the prequels came out. When I saw Episode I in the theaters, the sheer excitement of the throngs of Star Wars faithful was infectious. The news broadcast stories of people dressed in full Wookie regalia who had been waiting in line at their local movie theater for weeks. Sitting in the theater on opening day, when the frightening Star Wars logo burst onto the screen to the sound of John Williams sneezing, the response of the audience, cheering and screaming, was orgasmic. By the time the outdated blue credits sputtered onto the screen, we were all filled with shame and regret and the desperate need to take a shower. As anticlimactic as the junior miss episodes of Star Wars were, true fans like me still accepted them as a necessary part of the franchise, if only for the intrinsic hotness of Natalie Portman.

My friends and I sat in front of a gigantic television set for the now-much-hyped marathon. We cozied up on our separate couches and let the Doritos and caffeinated beverages flow. In many ways, it was what I had always imagined the life of an adult to be when I was a child. And yet, I never felt so childish as I did sitting there on a Saturday morning and accomplishing none of the actual responsibilities that I had in my life. But by seeing all of the movies in succession, it was as if my experience was heightened. I felt the frozen snot of an upside-down Luke on Hoth. I shed a little tear at the quickening of Yoda. I gave a slight fist pump when boy Anakin won the pod race. I moaned “Nooooo!!!” along with Vader a few minutes before the end of our experiment. We watched roughly 14 hours of film when all was said and done. My friend walked away from it a man, albeit a now nerdier man than ever. And I walked away with a greater connection to one of the greatest stories ever told.

My son, who just turned four, has recently discovered Star Wars for himself and is now able to identify in the most obscure of characters. Though he was somewhat upset that he did not receive the Princess Leia figure for his birthday, the battle-ready Yoda and clone fighter were enough to appease him for the time being. I look forward now, after my recent re-education, to being able to raise him up in the ways of Star Wars. I sense that the force is strong with this one—the force to become unreasonably obsessed with a series of movies. I will take him as my young padawan and together we will take on the mission of the Jedi; to protect the universe from evil and tyranny. Or at least build forts with the couch cushions and use paper towel rolls as our light sabers over the weekend. There will always be responsibilities waiting, but sometimes, you just need to go down to Tosche station to pick up some power converters.

The valentine cards my son will be giving out his first year of school.

A Memorial Memorial Day: the not-so-triumphant return of Bag Stranded

The morning of Memorial Day I woke up, as usual, with my youngest child just in time to catch the last re-airing of the previous night’s Sports Center, before anyone was willing to wake up and comment on sports all over again. I was exhausted from the preparations that I undertook with my oldest child having what we lovingly refer to as a puking spell the night previous. Luckily, the spew only flew twice before going to bed, though I had readied myself for an all-night hourly vomit session. So I had a hard time going to bed and I didn’t stay there for too long. To top things off, Miranda was feeling under the weather as well. I had been looking forward to a meaty BBQ and Miracle-Whip-based-pasta-salad fest with the extended family, but I was sadly coming to the realization that it might not happen.

The stress hormones that are released in my body when I have to play the caretaker to my ailing family is a great way to reevaluate all of the things that are going wrong in my life. 5:00 in the morning is a good time for that as well. And so I mulled over my plans for the future, and inevitably, my hopeless and lately lacking devotion to this blog was one of the first things that came to my mind.

So, the fact that I have not been “active” on this blog lately is something that has been weighing heavily on my mind. My lack of writing has not been from a lack of will, but rather a lack of time. Well, let’s call it a lack of will to spend time doing it when I could just as easily spend that time catching up on TV Land reruns of Barney Miller’s 7th season (or the “Golden Season” as it is known in some circles). I love Bag Stranded, even if you might not. I hate the idea of blogging, but I love the experience of writing and there is no better subject to write about than my less than worthwhile existence. Though it takes work, I actually like sharing information with you that you never really wanted to know in the first place, but which might be kind of amusing at some point.

I have never been very good at keeping the lofty goals I set for myself. For examples, please refer to January 2nd of every year of my entire life. But as I sat watching Hannah Storm and her misshapen body dictate something about how LeBron James’ love of gyros might mean a move to the Greek leagues next year, I realized that it might be time for me to change my ways. Along with drinking less carbonation, abstaining from compulsively eating processed cheese slices, and finally learning how to speak Arabic, I realized that I should devote more time to my little blog and its little, so very little, group of fans. Being the terrible goal-setter that I am, I prayed for a sign to know if making these resolutions was something that would be sustained by a higher power.

Then it appeared.

Opening the blinds and looking into my backyard, a peacock the size of a Dodge Stratus was preening itself beneath the Japanese elm. It was mind-numbingly glorious. How it appeared in my backyard was a mystery, but I was convinced that this giant peacock was sent to me as a cherubic sign that my goals were, in fact, approved by deity.

Later in the morning, while the wife and children watched fully-protected behind the sliding-glass door, I went out to feed the peacock bird seed, sliced carrots, and Frosted Cheerios. I cautiously approached it and it cautiously eyed me. It’s neck turned to try and see me at all angles and it’s crest dangled from the top of its head like some type of tassel from a Lebanese belly dancer. Meanwhile, my wife and children waited in anticipation for the bird to do something like put its tail feathers on full display or savagely eviscerate me with its beak. I whispered in a way so that my family could not see how crazy their husband and father had become. “Thanks for coming. I’ll try to do better with my life.” The peacock faced me directly, stared into my eyes, and opened its mouth to reveal its gravelly, purple pointed tongue. However, rather than a James Earl Jones-esque voice bestowing divine wisdom on my behalf, the peacock emitted a little gagging sound and dropped from its mouth a partially digested carrot slice.

It flew away, or pounced, or whatever peacocks do just a short time later. I don’t think that I have the ability to be an interpreter of signs, so I guess that the backyard peacock is as good of a sign as any. And, one of the easiest goals that I can set for myself and one of the most rewarding to keep (arguably ahead of moderating my cheese slice intake) would be to write a Bag Stranded article once a week. And that is exactly what I am going to do. So, to my loyal fans: thanks for sticking with me through this latest rough patch. For any new readers: sorry if I don’t live up to the hype that got you here. Please be sure to check back here into Bag Stranded every Friday where I will post a new article about some other embarrassing facet of my life. It can and it will be done, so sayeth the peacock.

The feathered oracle.

Belated Blog Swap

As I have done before, it is time for a little blog swap, where I share my blog with another blogger to blog about whatever they would like to blog about on my blog instead of their blog. Blog.

So, here is Laurie Steiner of the appropriately named lauriesteiner.com. You can head over there to check out the orthographic vandalism I left on her site. Meanwhile, hear what she has to say below. Thanks!

About a month ago, I came across a post on 20 Something Bloggers about a “blog swap.” Blog swap? Hmm, this sounds interesting. You see, I’m pretty new to 20sb and joined this online blogger community in hopes of meeting and interacting with a bunch of interesting and insightful, funny and quirky, intriguing and intelligent bloggers. I wanted to expand my online network and take full advantage of this thing people call the blogosphere.

So I signed up for the blog swap.

And then, nothing.

I never heard back from 20sb. No e-mail. No 20sb wall post or message. Nada. No one told me who my blog swap partner was or outlined any instructions. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not ragging on 20sb by any means here—just stressing how truly teary-eyed I was when I was left stranded in the dark.

Then I came across this via Twitter. I scrolled down to find my name and came cross some random dude who I was pretty sure I hadn’t ever heard of. Which, sadly, means I hadn’t ever read his blog before either. After doing a little stalker action via 20sb, we messaged and voila—here we are, guest posting for each other. Two random strangers who find themselves funny, interesting and clever paired up to be blog buddies. Sounds really sweet, doesn’t it? Aww.

Well, here’s a little bit about me. I blog here. I’m a magazine editor and PR/social media freelancer from Texas who writes about anything communications-related and everything in between. I also tend to throw in stuff about my travels, doggie, hobbies and adventures in the kitchen. It’s my space—a safe haven where I can ramble about professional and personal life with some dashes of sarcasm, laughter, tears and sometimes utter ridiculousness too.

I hope you’ll stop by and check out my blog—and if you don’t have the time, interest or simply don’t care, then at least hang around Bag Stranded for a while because Cameron’s got something to say and there’s no doubt his blog will add a smile (and most likely some laughter) to your day.

- LBlog Swap: Adding touches of brightness to an otherwise bitterly depressing blog. Thanks Laurie.

Descent into Kanabness

Here is a link to my slideshow of pictures from the infamous trip to Kanab, described in the previous article. The pictures are funny. The captions are serious.


And, as it turns out, Miranda doesn't feel comfortable with the public at large, that is to say you, looking at pictures of our children. Go figure. So, up until the point that I delete this blog post because it really has no need to exist, you can email me at cameronssmith@gmail.com if you would like to be privy to such classified information. Now get lost, sicko. Or stay and read on. That is ok with me.

Absolutely Kanabulous

Kanab. Aside from being about the worst thing that you can call a woman in Klingon, Kanab is also a small town right at the southern border of central Utah. In anatomical terms, it is where Utah’s sphincter would be. It is known as “Utah’s Little Hollywood” because apparently Robert Mitchum shot a scene there once in 1958 just before urinating on a cottonwood tree and leaving for Big Hollywood. According to the most recent census, there are 2 African Americans and 1 Pacific Islander living within city limits. It is also the place that my immediate and my extended family chose to spend our first family vacation in 18 years.

We went to Kanab because my wife found a rentable condo there at a reasonable price. There are also rentable condos for a reasonable price less than a six-hour drive away, but that is apparently beside the point. As the expedition loomed over our heads during the month of March, this was my constant argument. If you combine the long drive with my son’s projectile-vomiting carsickness and my other son’s proclivity for pooping at inopportune moments, you would seem to have whatever the opposite of the word “vacation” is. Even the thrilling Kanab Wikipedia page could not dissuade my wife, or my mother who quickly championed the cause of the trip and carried it as her own. And so, on April 1st, the day when millions of fun-loving pranksters pulled practical jokes on those they love, I embarked in my van, loaded up as if for the Joad family journey across the Oklahoma panhandle, and made my way towards Kanab.

In truth the ride down wasn’t too painful, thanks to some Benadryl (or Sleepy Juice, as we like to call it) and the constant drone of Yo Gabba Gabba in our van’s DVD player. I had loaded up some audio books on my iPod in the hope that at some point the children and their mother would choose the same time to all sleep, leaving me to my own literary benefit. However, my plans were foiled as the smooth narration of a Neil Gaiman novel was interrupted by intermittent cries from my drug-induced children and the mind-numbing catchiness of songs like “You Don’t Bite Your Friends” coming through the speakers. Add this to my wife’s constant stream of questions I couldn’t possibly answer, though answers were adamantly expected. “What do people out here do for work? Where do they go when they need to shop at a Target? Wouldn’t it be great if we could fly to Kanab but still be in a car to keep all of our stuff.” We arrived in Kanab, just before completely driving through it, and found our condo. I was pleasantly surprised, something that rarely happens in my life, with the cleanliness and size of the condo. We unpacked literally most of our belongings and, tired from the long drive across the state doing nothing but sitting, we all sat on the couch for the rest of the day.

The first few days of our sojourn in the South were fairly uneventful. We basically just watched the children play with the bevy of toys that their grandmother spoiled them with as we ate the bounty of food that our mother spoiled us with. There was an awe-inspiring mound of junk food on the kitchen counter that served as a kind of communal trough or a saltlick from whence to satisfy our appetite throughout the day. We played some games, got some rest, and dealt with the temper-tantrums of the child and adult varieties. The day before we were set to leave, I woke up from my bed on the couch which I am convinced was once used as a Turkish torture device and realized that we had really done nothing to merit the tumultous journey to this desert location. So I gathered up those who wanted to come with and set out on adventure. We drove out about 30 minutes out of town to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes—a breathtaking expanse of...well, pink sand dunes. At one point, we found a short trail and so we ventured with the children across the sand which at first was fun to walk across, but after 30 minutes forced us into deciding who we would eat first to survive. Eventually, we made our way back to the car with only sand in our teeth, looking like Lawrence of Arabia, if he happened to bring along his three toddlers into the desert and drove a minivan instead of a camel.

Luckily, I was dressed for the occasion.

We then decided to take a trip to some caves that we heard about while desperately searching Google for “Things to DO in Kanab”. A website warned that the caves were “technically” private property, but as long as you didn’t leave trash anywhere, one should be fine. Luckily, my wife stayed home with our youngest—a tribute to her wise premonition. We found the caves, just off of the main freeway, parked our cars on top of some brush, and headed down an ominous dirt path toward the caves, visible on the side of the mountain ahead of us. There was a rusty sign which featured small print in a font that hasn’t been used since 1964 underneath a large, all-caps “NO TRESPASSING!!!” I was convinced that we would be just fine, though I was still a little nervous as my primary source of conviction came from the internet. I also felt a little at odd exposing my son and his cousin, both 3 years old, to what had more than a passing resemblance to the beginning of a teen camping slasher film. We came to a fork in the road; one path led to the caves and was marked by another, rustier “No Trespassing” sign. Down the other road there stood a weather-worn cabin enshrouded by trees. We forged ahead, keeping a glance on the cabin for any disgruntled resident that might protest our passing. About 75 yards later my brother-in-law and his son stopped just ahead of us on the road. I followed his steady glance toward a tree where some bright white objects were strewn on the ground. We both walked over and found that what we both thought had to be fake was in fact quite real and quite disturbingly picked-clean skeletal remains.

An appearance of a gigantic femur with a little fur still attached above the hoof discounted the remains as human. On the other side of the road, the skull was found—it’s empty ocular cavities staring at the young family intruding upon its gruesome final resting place. We continued on, for whatever reason, towards an opening a little farther down the road where a fire had recently been extinguished. “I’m ok going back,” said my brother-in-law, with my other two sisters agreeing immediately in unison. But here we were, so close to what looked like truly impressive cave formations. I thought to myself that any one of the red cautionary flags that were raised would be easy to overlook, but the combination of all of them seemed to serve as a warning from above. We stood there in at the side of the ashes in silence as my family awaited my decision as the interim trip advisor. In the silence, I could swear that I heard a banjo playing softly in the background. I bent down and saw the pages of a book that had been burned in the fire, leaving only a few corners of text undestroyed. I told myself that the contents of this book would determine our course. I dusted off the black char and saw in my hands what was left of a detailed military weapons manual. From my crouched position, at the same height as my son and his cousin, I looked them both in the eyes and said in a trembling voice, “I’m going to need you boys to run for me, ok? Can you do that?” With lightness of foot, we made our way back to the now-shamefully-named Nissan Quest, luckily without the report of any firearms behind us. I still couldn’t shake the feeling though that those Kanab hills had eyes, and they were freaking the crap out of me.

We left for Salt Lake City and its relative civilization the next day. As is usually the case, the ride back home was more dramatic and traumatic. High winds blew grit in our eyes outside a rock shop in Orderville. A desperate stop was made in Nephi for my son to pee on the side of the road for the first of what I can only assume will be many times in his life. And diapers were soiled and changed in Santaquin and American Fork. We discovered that the city of Beaver only has one eating establishment which is approximately the size of a bathroom stall. Don’t ask about their bathroom stall. But, all in all, no spew was spewed, no one had a breakdown, and despite my persistence in the matter, the trip did not end up to be the death of me. It was wonderful to spend time with my immediate family as well as my parents and siblings and nephew. No sooner had we once again unloaded our belongs back into their original positions of disarray in our home than Miranda began talking about our future return trip to Kanab, as if it were part of our Passover ritual. “Next year in Kanab, we’ll have to make it up to those rock caves,” she said. All I could do was smile and wait until next year’s vacation where, if I do survive, I might have an even better story to tell. I’d like to meet that one Pacific Islander anyway.

The caves. If you look real close, you will see the face of death. And yes, those cave walls are actually bleeding.

H2 No

As I sat in a dank and humid public recreation center, on a rickety bench 20 yards away from the pool, where my three year old son began drowning out of sight of the instructor approximately 30 seconds into his first swimming lesson, I knew that I was fully justified in my life-long hatred of swimming.

In my opinion, there is no reason for man to swim unless his only food source is on an island other than the one he is living on. There is a reason that evolution goes in the direction it does—out of the water and onto sweet, inviting, solid dry land. Or, for those of the creationist ilk, God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Evelina—a scaley fish-human hybrid with massive gills. Yet, humans continue to defy the natural order of the universe by skirting across the destructive waves of oceans, diving haphazardly into lakes, and discretely urinating in chlorinated swimming pools.

Though I believe the logic stated in the previous paragraph is sufficient to prove my point, I also have a handful of personal experiences to further clarify my theory. The first came when I was around 6 or 7 years old. My aunt and uncle had planned for my cousin and I to have a fun outing at the local waterslide park; the aptly and horrifyingly named Raging Waters. I went with the excitement of a young, innocent boy whose familiarity with water never went deeper than the shallows of his own bathtub. After plastering my plaster-white skin with an SPF 7 sun-block (it was the 80s, after all), my cousin and I climbed to a medium-range slide for our first attempt. He went down, screaming with a mixture of joy and the fear of death, and into the arms of his mother below. I stared down the plastic tube, familiar with the playground variety of slides, but not one with thousands of gallons of water forcing you into vertigo just before slamming you into the depths of the abyss. The only thing I was more scared of than lunging myself down this slide was apologizing as I worked my way past the throngs of people in line behind me. So I entered the death canal and let the water take me to an unknown future.

Within seconds, I felt myself skirting along the open waters of the pool and then immediately sinking into its murky depths. My arms flailed and groped desperately for something, anything to save my young life. My fingers grasped at something, though when I pulled, it sunk down in the water with me. Just as I was ready to abandon myself to a watery grave, the arms of my aunt lifted my head above the water. No sooner had my lungs taken in the sweet breath of life than I was plunged below once more, though with my eyes opened I understood why. My aunt had to let go of me in order to pull up the top of her bathing suit, which I had used as a life-line of hope, over her exposed breasts. It is a wonder that she chose to rescue me again, after rescuing her modesty, in order to drag my cousin and I out of the pool and drive us home without a word being spoken.

Four years after this incident, my mother decided that it was time for me to take swimming lessons. I was dropped off at a high school pool where I changed my clothes and entered the pool area to meet my beginner class composed of children, none of whom had yet graduated from kindergarten. I stood in the shallow end of the pool, with the water scarcely rising to my knees, as the instructor taught us how to swim like a turtle, a dolphin, and a doggy. Though I cried secretly in my room before class, I went to each and every one. By the end of the course, I had learned to blow bubbles in the water and sit on the inflatable seahorse, while my kiddie compatriots were Mark Spitz-ing their way around the length of the pool. “Swimming isn’t for everyone,” my failed instructor told me. “Swimming isn’t for no one!” I sobbed back as I fled the pool, too embarrassed to manage proper grammar construction.

Danny, the 5-year-old class champion. He got his mustache and armpit hair early.

As puberty roared into my life shortly afterwards, with it came body issues that prevented me from seeking out the pool as a place of recreation. Though I wasn’t really that fat, I was too big to be comfortably shirtless among the increasingly attractive opposite sex. I briefly experimented with being the kid who swims with an oversized Ocean Pacific shirt on, but found that to be equally worthy of ridicule. I would go to the pool with friends occasionally, only after convincing myself that, if I kept my body underwater, I could blame my portly appearance on refraction. However, even this became unbearable as standing motionless in the shallow end of the pool is not conducive to fun nor to flirting. Also, the necessity of a pubescent boy changing his clothes in a locker room full of grown men, strutting pridefully and disgustingly naked, was something I felt I didn’t need in my life.

Today, even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to swim. This is not only because of my failure to learn the skill, but it is because the body issues I had as a teenager have been multiplied a hundredfold. I am now much larger and, though the hair on my chest might resemble a whiter, chubbier version of Tom Selleck, that on my back might resemble a wild, ursine creature of Mexican folklore. And so I had to surrender the perceived fatherly duty of teaching my son to swim into the hands of a 16-year-old, inattentive, rec center swimming instructor.

As we walked into the building yesterday, the smell of chlorine triggered all of the horrible memories I had stored and filed in the “never again” folder of my psyche. I changed my excited son into his swimming trunks and sat him on the steps of the pool next to his cousin for their first swimming lessons. Four other children joined the group as my wife and I sat 20 feet away on a barricaded bench. The Michael Phelps wannabe entered the pool and poured a few beach toys into the water in front of the children. The other kids, who had all obviously been in a pool more than once in their lives, unlike my child, walked down the steps and bobbed their way to the toys. Zachary walked down as well to join in the fun. However, the fun ended soon after the slanting 3-foot-deep floor slanted slightly lower than my son’s unimpressive 3 foot 4 inch stature. With the instructor’s back turned to the children whose lives were entrusted in his pimply care, my son’s head went under water and his arms flailed in vain for some sense of security.

I stood up as my shout of “Hey!” echoed throughout the building, but did not phase the instructor who continued to dream of the pizza and Mountain Dew waiting for him back at home. I began to scale the barricade and a mother, passing by with her own child, dropped to her knees and readied herself to dive in after my drowning child. Just before I flung myself into the area, the teacher turned around and lifted Zach’s head above the water and led him over to the stairs where his gasping for air eventually turned into the heart-wrenching sobs of a tender three-year-old who has had his first brush death. The rest of the lesson was spent with Zach wading his feet in the pool from the steps and the other taller, braver and less drowned children bobbing unsupervised as the hapless instructor lazily led one child after another into the deeper waters.

An angry call is forthcoming and a return for a second lesson is doubtful, but along with sympathy for my child’s tragedy, I also feel some sense of guilt. If I had taken more initiative to learn to swim as a child, or if I had paid for a membership at a combo fitness/hair-removal center, I would have been able to help him learn a little about swimming before this point. But the truth is, despite my guilt, I am glad that we live in a landlocked state where the only large body of water has enough salt in it to completely prevent any drowning of swimmers that can get past the offensive, sulfuric odor. And there is a reason, several in fact, for my harboring animosity towards the deep blue. Hopefully you can all see that and now sympathize with me. Well, me and my aunt.

Here comes the show.

Better Living Through Nougat

I can trace the moment that I gave up on life to a fall day of my senior year in high school. Well, maybe it wasn’t a complete abandonment of all hope, but it was the day that I realized I could put momentary pleasures over any concern for my general health and well-being. It is a moment everyone has during their entry into adulthood. This could range from excessive drinking to promiscuous sex to marathon sessions of World of Warcraft in a darkened basement. My vice, however, came in the form of a surprisingly heavy brown cardboard box with the word “Snickers” emblazoned on its packaging, resting at the bottom of my locker. The perforated edges at the top of the open case formed the teeth in its demonic mouth, which called to me in a sound muffled by the tin in the locker door. “Eat me. Eat all of me, Cameron.” I simply couldn’t resist.

During my senior year, I was part of the student body officers of the prestigious Cyprus High School of Magna Utah; home of scholars, champions, and some several hundred other kids who fit into neither of those categories. I held the office of second-vice-president, the responsibilities of which included changing the letters on the outdoor marquee, doing the morning announcements, and covering for the vice-president, should she be unable to fulfill her duties due to heavy menstruation. The benefits of holding office were innumerable. We had diplomatic immunity when it came to skipping out on class. The chemistry test takes a back seat to the urgent matter of counting the votes for the Homecoming queen (who, interestingly enough, also later “took a back seat”). We had an “SBO” room that was really just a repurposed janitor’s closet with a couch. The room was meant as a place for us to meet and discuss pressing matters involving the students we represented. It was also a great place to make out and/or sleep during school hours. Mostly sleep.

Another responsibility of the sacred office, as well as a benefit, was that we got to run the show for school assemblies. While most students used the assemblies to ogle the cheerleaders or complain about how stupid the assemblies were, it was our responsibility to rally up the pep in our oft pepless peers. After some theorizing, we realized that spectators at any sporting event become infinitely more excited when there is an infinitesimal chance that they will snag a free item launched their way during an intermission. The actual item doesn’t matter much as I once saw a man at a Utah Jazz game jab his elbow into the brittle ribs of a grandmother to maintain possession of a miniature plush basketball with a bank slogan on one side of it.

So, we decided that at a moment where the students’ interest in the assembly began to wane, we would run out in front of the bleachers and throw candy out to the masses. This elicited the response that we hoped for and got people to join in the frenzy. Being the logician that I am, I deduced that if an adequate response came from throwing out miniature taffies, then the larger the candy item, the greater the response. I put my postulation to the test the next assembly by throwing larger, chocolatey treats. The crowd went wild. Then, I discovered that the school administration had a secret cache of cases of full-size candy bars. I grabbed three of these cases and held them in my locker until the next assembly.

Between the Assistant Principal discussing the no-tolerance sexual harassment policy and the dance team performing to Divinyls classic “I Touch Myself”, we ran on the court and threw out the candy bars to the amazed students. The next opportunity arose after the football coach spewed murderous threats against the local rivals for the next big game. Right after we left our seats to throw out the candy bars, the students stood up and cheered in rapt anticipation, not believing that their mere attendance could warrant such a reward. The next time we threw out candy was when the school band began performing “My Sharona” from the stands, one of only two songs they knew. I got up, whipped a Snickers out of the case, wound up and wildly threw the sucker like a frisbee. The bar flew, end to end, into the stands and over the outstretched fingers that longed for its caramelly goodness and directly into the face of Gary Mortensen, the tuba player.

In fairness, Gary's face had it coming.

A painful, prolonged squeal emerged from Gary’s tuba as he collapsed onto the bleachers. Apparently, Snickers not only satisfies your hunger, but it also satisfies Newton’s equation of relative velocity. He got a black eye and our campaign of projectile pep came to an end. The only problem was that now I was in sole possession of three cases of Snickers candy bars. In high school I was filled with much less contempt, and so I saw problems as opportunities instead of as catastrophes, which I see them as now. I kept the cases at the bottom of the locker. Before my calculus class, I grabbed one to give me that extra push I needed. I also had one after lunch as a kind of dessert, despite the actual dessert that I had during lunch. Then I had another before English to help me not be so depressed while reading Thomas Hardy, and then one more for the walk home. This is not just what happened the first day with the Snickers. This is more of conservative estimate of my daily routine.

I spent several weeks of my senior year eating between 4 and 7 full-sized candy bars a day. Not the fun size (a misnomer if I have ever heard one). We are talking a 6-inch long, 2-inch tall hunk of peanuts covered in at least five types of sugar and at least three kinds of sadness. Though I didn’t step on a scale to know how much weight I gained, I do know that I experienced occasional temporary blindness. My metabolism went on strike, and then eventually left me completely for a better job with some skinny kid in Reno. Occasionally, I bartered the Snickers to other students for cash or favors, but their value in my mind was as inflated as my over-run gastro-intestinal system, so I kept most of them to myself. For those few weeks, I lived like a king, which is where that particular size of candy bar gets its name.

I have continued my torrid relationship outside of this high school experience. I haven’t relived the orgiastic indulgence of those weeks in high school, but I admit I’ve been tempted by them on the grocery store shelves, like one might be with a former lover who once fed them an endless supply of candy bars. When I worked early hours, they made for an excellent substitute of an actual breakfast. It also doesn’t help that candy bar technology has brought us the new greatest candy bar, the Fast Break. If you haven’t had one of these, they are made by combining a myriad of caloric marvels (caramel, nougat, nuts, Nacho Cheese Doritos, fatback, Crisco, a fried egg) and then covering all those in chocolate and marketing it as an “energy snack”.

For many of my friends of other religious persuasions, it is currently the period of Lent. During this time, the faithful voluntarily give up something for 40 days to commemorate when Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness without Facebook. This seems like an excellent practice and a great opportunity for me to give up my chocolatey vice. Of course, my people (you know, the Mormons) invented the candy bar letter, putting chunks of candy bar in ice cream, and enshrouding our carrot slices with Jello. But I probably should take on the challenge and offer up this one sacrifice for even longer than the 40 requisite days. This means none of the succulent Cadbury Eggs, no stale Butterfingers at Halloween, no chocolate covered, marshmallow Santas and no deep-fried Snickers at the State Fair. Maybe this will renew my once positive and innocent outlook on life. Something has to. The time has come to say no to nougat.

Well, maybe after one last Fast Break. I haven’t had breakfast today after all.

And unless you find a "Milky Way" to pay me the "100 Grand" you owe, I will "Fast Break" your legs into "Reeses Pieces" and leave you for dead on "5th Avenue". Sincerely, "3 Musketeers".

Why I Love Nicole Kidman: Valentine's Day Special

Hello everyone. As I am sure you are well aware, this weekend is Valentine's Day, or as I like to call it, February 14th. But, in my own little way, I wanted to spread around the love. So, I've gone and taken one of my favorite columns about love and remixed it for the special occasion. I recorded a reading of it in my audiolab/office/children's wasteland of toys. With some technological trickery, I am able to put it on here for you to enjoy.

This column was originally published in early 2009 as a two part article entitled "Why I Love Nicole Kidman." I combined them together here, so buckle in for a bumpy 17 minute ride. Just click on the music icon in the box.net widget below to play the recording.

Thanks for being a Bag Stranded supporter. I love you. No, seriously. Like love love.

Oh, and be sure to leave a comment and let me know if I have a future in radio.

TV is My Guide

We have just emerged from one of the most coveted events of the year when it comes to football fans, chicken wing purveyors, and people in the business of all things television. The Super Bowl is not only the biggest event for actual television sales, but it is obviously the point where anti-abortion activism and web-hosting, car racing lesbianism alike spend the greater part of their advertising budgets for the year. More importantly, it is a time where fanatics sit down with people who think that Drew Brees is a new type of laundry detergent to bask in the glow of their television sets.

I was among these throngs of people last night, though I cared less about the outcome of the game then I did the outcome of the assorted fried vittles I had ingested. A lot of time was spent discussing with friends, not the play-by-play of the game or even the stream of rodent/groin hit/rodent getting hit in the groin-themed commercials, but about the quality of television. We shared dramatic stories about cable and satellite providers, the subtle differences in HD, and the comparative (and compensative) size of our television screens. This got me thinking about events, both recent and long-past, that have made my relationship with TV what it is today.

For some time as a child, my father worked a swing shift and my mother worked two jobs in order to afford to futilely put braces on my rotten teeth. This meant that often in the mornings and at night, my sisters and I were left to take care of ourselves. I often got dressed in the morning in front of the one television set that we owned. Instead of learning to read the clock, I instead taught myself that when Care Bears started its second segment, it was time to head off to school. I would hurry home from school to receive my true education in the tutelage of He-Man, Alf, and the Muppet Babies. At night, my sister micro-waved Banquet pot pies for us and we learned valuable life lessons while watching Family Ties, Designing Women, and, of course, Moonlighting. Oh, Maddie, will you ever learn?

I can link nearly every important event in my life to something I was watching on television. I remember suffering with Chicken Pox while watching Slim Goodbody, admiring his pox-free, cadaver-like costume. I tried to use a baseball bat to free Mr. Rogers from his glassy confines so that he could play with my train set. I lost a tube which was placed in my ear during Star Wars on the CBS Thursday Movie of the Week and my eardrum broke years later while watching Rambo on the Fox Saturday Movie of the Week. During a particular episode of Wings, I became so violently ill that I realized my own fragile mortality. Seinfeld was on when I went to my first date. I wrote my first major thesis paper (24 pages worth) on the language usage of different characters in The Simpsons. I watched Band of Brothers the day before I got married and I watched the 2006 World Cup when my first child was born. Television has been like a second mother. Actually, since it didn’t remind me of the difficulties it had rearing me or scold me for using bad language in a blog post, perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was like a helpful and wise conjoined twin.

Vomit inducing comedy.

I have written before about how television has also helped me in rearing my own children, or at least eased the difficulties slightly. When Zachary was young, we put him down in front of a myriad of Baby Einstein DVDs, convinced that we would make a nuclear physicist out of him by age 14. He was mesmerized by the DVDs and as soon as he could control his neck muscles, we put him in a saucer seat 6 feet from the TV and let the subliminal genius soak through his fontanelle. The discovery of the repeat play option, which loops the DVD, meant that the television became my full-time, unpaid nanny as I was free to do whatever adult activities I would like (playing Toki Toki Boom, usually). When recently Baby Einstein issued a voluntary recall on its DVDs, citing that research showed it didn’t implant genius into children, but a murderous bloodlust and an instinctual mistrust of Asians, I felt somewhat guilty for my lackluster style of parenting. However, the $15 check for the two duplicate DVDs that we owned and sent back adequately assuaged that guilt.

Our second child has never had the same type of fascination with an illuminated magic rectangle that broadcasts whatever you desire. But, like Zachary, Isaac has the same disregard for the medical benefits of proper sleep. This used to mean getting up at 2:30 in the morning and cursing his wide-awake giggling. I would usually take him downstairs and turn on the television while he tuckered himself out. It was at this point that I realized that the DVR was sanctioned by a loving God. Isaac has improved slightly, allowing me to sleep until 4:30 these days. In his 16 months of life, he has been exposed to several gritty cop dramas, questionable situation comedies, and re-runs of Band of Brothers. He enjoys a couple of shows, but only enough to dance (bobbing and turning like a 75 year-old man) through the title sequences. But, as he tends to busy himself while Daddy watches his “stories” in the morning, I usually control the remote. At least I didn’t put him in front of that mind-rotting Baby Einstein.

I love television dearly, and I am glad to know that my children do as well. However, on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, Zachary was playing in the family room while I was picking up some things around the house. I stopped for a moment to listen to what he was saying. “But first, here’s a quiz...” he said, in the style of one of his favorite shows, Animal Atlas. “A- Sharks have lots of tooth. B-Flys have many tooth. C- Gwasshoppows have a long teeth. Or D- Tooth are important.” As an English major, this made me cringe slightly, but as a trivia lover, it was awesome that he was making up his own animal/dental trivia game. But after that he said “We’ll be right back with the FINAL answer on Channel 7, also available online and on-de-man. This is KUED.” Though I don’t think that overexposing children to television is generally a problem, when your child can identify a station’s call letters, it is time to re-evaluate as a parent.

I think that Miranda and I are actually good parents, in most scenarios. We have Zachary read at least three books a day, though I usually have to get him to read them by suggesting that they are like watching TV, but in your head. We reward Zach’s diligence in going to the potty with more time watching movies or television or playing games on said television. I firmly believe that Isaac will grow up to become a successful law-enforcement officer after watching Southland so many times. It’s hard to turn your back on a device that you have relied on for so much for so long. I should probably strive to be an even better father, though, by using less television and perhaps more actual interaction with my sons, like playing Chutes and Ladders, practicing our water-colors, or by tossing around a football. Just not when the Super Bowl is on. In that case, I will suggest that he either sit quietly or go upstairs and get Daddy more nacho cheese. Now, if only Isaac could learn to be like one of those stock-trading, talking babies, we could make so much money. And with it, we could, of course, buy a bigger TV.

Buy low. Sell high. Don't trust the Asians.

Author’s Note: Since I know it will come up, I just wanted to say that my mother did make a lot of sacrifices for our family, many of which included tirelessly being present while we grew up. As one of the tens of readers that I have on this blog, I wanted to let her know that she will always be my first mother, disapproval of my language choices and all.

Park Violation City, UT

Or Things You Shouldn't Do With Clay

Here in Utah, the crossroads of the west, January signals a few special events that are very near and dear to our hearts. The “inversion”, or what happens when smog gets trapped in the whirling cesspool of the Salt Lake Valley, comes to infect the air that we breathe and turns the office into a symphony of hacking, mucousy coughing. It also signals the coming of one of the most revered film festivals in the world, the Sundance Film Festival. Because of these two things, January is also the month where local news stops to focus on either inversion or celebrity sightings. When Jessica Biel coming out of a Park City Starbucks tops the murderous rampage of a nun in an Ogden orphanage for handicapped children, you know it is January in Utah.

Robert Redford started the Sundance Film Festival in 1978 in order to bring independent pretentious filmmakers to his newfound home in Park City. It has since become a way to bring pretentious movie studios, production companies, and A-list actors to Park City. The festival has transformed this sleepy Wasatch Mountain town, which was founded on silver mining and legalized prostitution, into a town way too hip to actually be considered a part of the state of Utah. I have actually heard it in a news report referred to as being located in Colorado, as if its coolness required that it be airlifted 285 miles to the East where the alcohol content in beer was the same as the rest of the known world.

As a general rule, despite all of the things put in place to draw me there, I tend to stay away from the Park City on a Hill. It is for the same reason that I tended to stay away from the pretty, popular girls in high school. During the winter months, it is obviously a prime destination for those who enjoy skiing. It even inspired the pun that graced our state’s license plates for 15 years “The Greatest Snow On Earth”. You heard us. Screw you, Nepal. I have been a Utah resident the whole of the 29 years of my life and I have been skiing a total of zero times. I know that that is kind of like a resident of Hawaii never seeing the ocean or a resident of New Jersey never smelling Axe body spray. Something about the mixture of expensive equipment, expensive fares, and expensive reconstructive surgery discouraged me from it.

One thing that did get me to go to Park City when I was younger is the world-renowned Factory Outlet Stores. Before the days of Wal-mart, Kohls, and Kohl-mart, this sprawling conglomerate was the Mecca of back-to-school shopping moms. It is essentially an outdoor mall with mostly famous, brand name stores. Here’s the kicker: the stores feature products with factory defects. This meant buying form-fitting Hammer pants, belts with mis-weaved braids, and Reebok Pumps that filled your shoes with nitrous-oxide. All worthwhile sacrifices to put your children in fashionable clothing.

If it is good enough for Dominique Wilkins, it is good enough for me.

Even with all of the hoopla that descends on Park City during the Sundance Film Festival, I have rarely attended the much-publicized event, despite the fact that I love “film” almost as much as I love “movies”. Much like the skiing and outlet shopping, this too is due to my perpetual state of poverty. A ticket to a Sundance movie floats somewhere between the cost of a topless revue in Vegas and a pair of non-defective Reebok Pumps. But I have been to Sundance a couple of times, experienced the mayhem, and vowed to never return.

The first time I went was when I was around 14 years old. My sister, seeing the cinematic aspirations that I had in my future, invited me to the event and my parents scrounged up the money for the ticket. It was to see a movie called Colin Fitz. It was a great comedy about two security guards assigned to guard the grave of a rock star on the anniversary of his death. It won several film festival awards, but was never picked up by a movie studio. So, as is the fate with most festival movies, it remains in a celluloid warehouse somewhere in Des Moines. It was at this screening, though, that I had my first celebrity sighting outside of a stadium fireworks show. (I love you Andy Williams!) Of course, this pre-dated the huge thronging of celebrities at Sundance, so we kind of had to settle for what we could get. That settling rested squarely on the shoulders of one Tony Danza. You heard me right, Mr. Tony Danza, or Tony Micelli, as I still like to call him. Who’s the boss? You are, my Italian-American friend, you are.

My next and last experience at Sundance came the following year when I went again with my sister to see a series of animated shorts. We were pretty excited because of a Wallace and Gromit short that was going to be featured. This was, of course, before Wallace and Grommit were popular and cool, or before the Park City effect, as I like to call it. Because the short we wanted to see was only half an hour, there were about 5 other short animated films that were grouped with it. The Sundance Film Festival is known for its independent films with one-word titles that explore horrific sexual metaphors. This year, there was Tub (about a man who impregnates a bathroom fixture). Two years ago, there was Teeth (about a girl whose hoo-hah has dentition). Many years earlier, when I was in attendance, there was Achilles.

As the curtain opened up to begin the short animated film segments, the word “Achilles” came across the screen. We all know the story about the Grecian warrior. Mother dips his whole person into the magic river, with exception of his heel. He goes on to win many battles and fight in the Trojan War. All of that is pretty well depicted by the speechless clay animation figures on the screen in front of us. It took all of 2 minutes. And then began the horror. Apparently, what they don’t teach you in those Mythology 101 books is that Achilles not only enjoyed homosexual behavior in his later years, but he enjoyed it a lot. For the next 13 minutes, my 15 year-old eyes, along with those of the entire audience, were exposed to the most graphic homoerotic claymation pornography that has ever been put on film. Still with no words, and only haunting sounds, the plaster was twisted into all sorts of unholy positions that my hands were only somewhat successful at shielding. The credits rolled at one climactic point and the sound of constant gasping by the audience was replaced with ashamed and violated weeping. Wallace and Gromit would never be the same to me again.

I’ve been reluctant to make my way up to the Gomorrah of Utah ever since that day. I will occasionally go there with my wife for a one-week salary brunch on Main Street or to purchase defective Abercrombie and Fitch clothes for my children. But, in general, I don’t like to talk about my experience with Park City very much. I will say that writing about it here has lifted this burden I have been carrying for sometime. I still shy away from my kids playing with Play-Doh and the sight of Brad Pitt with a sword makes me curl into a fetal position. But I feel that I am on the road to recovery. That road is going back down Parley’s Canyon and into the Salt Lake Valley where I can breathe a little easier. Well, metaphorically speaking. With the inversion in the air, it is technically recommended that you not breathe while outdoors. That can do some real damage.

To Catch A Clay Animator - New on NBC Dateline

Love Snorey

I slept on the couch last night. In fact, I’ve slept on the couch downstairs for the past few weeks. It is not that I have been relegated to the secondary sleeping station of many a husband because of some dispute with my spouse. Quite the opposite, I am sleeping down there because I love my spouse. When I sleep on the couch, she actually sleeps better, which means that she is happier, which means that my goal as a loving, caring husband is fulfilled. Also there is the fact that it is awesome.

You see, over the past few months, I have become something of a snorer. I never used to snore. I am not sure if it is because of my weight gain catching up with my diaphragm or if it is my general feeling of apathy towards life seeping into my sleep patterns. I would like to blame it on my nasty cold however, which has ruled my life for about a month now. Just before Christmas, I got some nasty sinus headaches and soon had my nasal passages blocked by animated mucus blobs wearing wife-beaters. According to Miranda and her blood-shot eyes, this caused my snoring to be raised on the decibel scale from somewhere between the squeal of a pig being slaughtered and a jet fighter upon take off. I think it may have been a bit closer to the pig.

The coup-de-gracelessness, as it were, came on Christmas morning. After working until 12:30 at night filling-in for Santa’s elves, who long ago abandoned the hope of being able to provide our children with a sufficient number of toys, I was awoken by Miranda at 2:30 in the morning. “Honey, I’m sorry, but you keep snoring and I really need to get to sleep and I am so tired and...” I interrupted her by grabbing my saliva-soaked pillow and groggily exiting the bedroom whilst mumbling, “Well, Merry Christmas to you too.” I removed the back cushions on the couch, flopped down with my pillow and a thin throw blanket, and began anew a snoring session that tricked the neighborhood children into thinking they heard the prancing and heavy dragging of reindeer hooves on their roofs.

Since then, I have slept on the couch every night under the pretense of keeping my wife from my offensive snoring. In truth, I have never slept better. I have a few theories as to why this is. It could be the colder air in that portion of the house agrees better with my ample condition. It could be that I can snore or perform other nighttime expulsions entirely unencumbered by the restraints of a partner and ethical norms. It could also be the fact that, as small a surface area as the couch provides, it is still more room than the narrow ledge that my wife allows me on our appropriately named queen mattress.

I have never been a snuggler. It is nice to see people on television or in the movies who spoon up to their spouses and just cuddle all night long. In fact I watched that happen with envy in the movie Paranormal Activity. I really wanted to be able to have what that couple had, minus the cloven hoofed demon dragging my wife by her foot out of the room. I just have never been able to do that. When we were first married, it was a cute gesture; holding each other tightly as one of us gently fell asleep and breathed hot breath into the other one’s face until he was so uncomfortable that he had to use great skill to extract himself from the grasp and relieve the pain in his aching back. It was these newlywed attempts that quickly diminished the real estate holdings that I had on that mattress to the amount of space one would allow a sloth on a tree branch.

The resemblance is startling.

Last night, my wife and I spent the evening as a veritable picture of a seven-year couple with two children – watching DVRed American Idol and eating different kinds of junk food in opposite corners of the room.

“Coming up next on American Idol - can this young, now cancer-free, man from a meat packing plant in rural Arkansas impress the judges with his raw talent?”

“Yes!” Miranda exclaimed, with confident authority.

“Miranda, I think that it was more of a rhetorical question.”

“But I really think that he will.”

After the episode, I got my sheets and pillows from the closet and told Miranda to get off of my bed.

“Are you going to come upstairs and sleep with me tonight?” Over the years, I have come to distinguish this as purely a practical statement, void of any sexual implication whatsoever. My wife, for whatever reason, actually wanted me to lie down next to her, fall asleep, and then immediately awaken her with what sounds like a didgeridoo warning the neighboring village of an impending attack.

To me this was completely impractical. Though she wouldn’t admit it, I know that Miranda has been sleeping better with these new arrangements. She doesn’t have to hear me snore and she finally has full reign of the entire mattress, like Great Britain regaining control of the Falkland Islands. And I get to fall asleep watching episodes of Bear Grylls drinking fluid from a camel carcass. It is truly a win-win.

“After not even seven years, we are already turning into my parents.” Miranda was referencing the fact that her parents have a similar sleeping arrangement to our own. Her father sleeps in his own bedroom in the basement. This was borne out of the same grievance of snoring, but has turned into quite the luxury. My father-in-law has a complete surround sound system and a large, flat-screen television while my mother-in-law has more room for her collection of ceramic teddy bears from around the world. My own parents still sleep in the same bed, as long as my mother doesn’t fall asleep on the couch reading The Reading Lolita Potato Murder Club Society or my father doesn’t fall asleep downstairs watching Transformers 2. This could be because their combined cacophony of snoring sounds like something composed by Wagner. It is hauntingly beautiful.

To me, sleeping on the couch is a practical solution to a real problem. There is a reason that Lucy and Ricky are America’s best-loved television couple. Sure they may have constantly bickered and threatened physical violence and lied to each other and eventually divorced, but it seemed they were very happy with their network-mandated separate sleeping arrangements. Not like those scandalous swingers, the Bradys. But, when all is said and done, I guess that I can see Miranda’s need for the emotional attachment that comes with sleeping on the same story of the house as your loved one. Though we don’t cuddle up with each other very often, there is still some comfort in rolling over and feeling your spouse’s ice cold, unshaven leg brushing up against your own. I have made a lot of sacrifices in this marriage despite all practical logic (i.e. allowing the purchase of so many different plates that the only way to store them is by using them as wall decorations). I suppose that for the sake of our marriage, I can give up my makeshift bachelor pad of a couch and an amazing solid four hours of sleep before the children wake. What a true, loving, and lasting marriage really entails is looking into each other’s eyes and saying “I love you” before falling asleep together between exchanges of hot breath, cold feet, and rib-vibrating, rocket test-launch levels of auditory intrusion that in no way can be of a natural origin. Sleep tight.

She definitely has some 'splainin to do.