Monday, November 27, 2006

Worst Place in the World

Let me tell you something about where my sister lives.

Lancaster, California, the largest city in the Antelope Valley, lies some 80 miles Northeast of Los Angeles. It has an approximate population of 138,000. Assuming that 50% of that population is male, and that 50% of that is under 18, that leaves around 35,000 guys who are as likely as not to bust a pool cue over your head during an argument about drugs. At any given time, only 25,000 or so are available to do this, as the rest of them are in either in jail or busily working in their secluded methamphetamine labs somewhere out on the desert.

Driving into the Antelope Valley is like slowly dipping into a sensory deprivation tank. From the north, you head East out of Bakersfield on Highway 58, passing over the Tehachapi Mountains and then descending into the desert at Mojave. In front of you is endless shades of brown, broken up occasionally by dilapidated trailers and ATVs.

Highway 58 is wracked by strong winds, made all the more treacherous as you are passed, tailgated or slowed down by legions of gigantic RVs towing dirt bikes and even more ATVs. Somewhere out beyond Lancaster is a desert playground. Huge vehicles full of equally huge goateed white men are in a rush to get there, where they can ride their sanctioned off-road vehicles and sit in lawn chairs under awnings that silently scroll back into the inner workings of their gigantic RVs when the sun goes down.

78.3% of all Lancaster residents age 25 or over have a high school education. 15.8% have a bachelors degree or better. 11.2% are unemployed. For 2004, the crime index was 438.9, well above the national average of 327.2. By contrast, Newark, New Jersey had a 2004 crime index of 590.0, while Boise, Idaho, had one of 286.3.

The city of Springboro, Ohio, prior residence of my sister and her family, had a 2004 overall rate of 106.3.

There are problems with youth crime in Lancaster. Some theorize that the problems arise from the simple fact that, as more and more families flee the Los Angeles basin in search of affordable housing, children and teenagers are simply unsupervised for enormous chunks of time. As their parents commute the 160 mile round-trip into L.A., the kids are free to pursue whatever interests they have, legal or not.

There are problems with corruption in Lancaster, as there are anywhere. An epidemic of government-issued housing voucher abuses is driving up housing costs. Section 8 vouchers are bought and sold as currency, in opposition to their indended use, strictly for housing.

There is a minor league baseball team in Lancaster, the JetHawks, affiliated with the Boston Red Sox. They play at Clear Channel Stadium just off of highway 14. During the off-season, the stadium parking lot is sometimes used for firefighter training and practice. The team name is a reference to the area's proud history of aerospace accomplishments and advancements, both in the private sector and at nearby Edwards Air Force Base.

Edwards Air Force Base is where the U.S. Air Force sends its best Rocket Scientists to learn how to fly experimental aircraft, whether they want to go there or not. The U.S. space program was born at Edwards (then Muroc) Air Force Base, and the legendary Chuck Yeager became the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound there, on October 14, 1947.

My sister, Noodles Mom, has spent several of the best years of her life at Edwards Air Force Base, twenty-eight miles from the nearest town. This town is not Lancaster, but Rosamond, a place in which the feeling of anger in the air is strong enough to be obvious even to strangers passing through town.

Life on Edwards Air Force Base barely resembles the world just outside its gates. Inside the base, crime is mostly non-existent. Homes have grassy lawns, unlike the rest of the Antelope Valley, which is strewn with rocks, tumbleweed and Joshua Trees. Children ride their bikes to school and walk around unchaperoned. For Noodles Mom, a trip to one of the three mercantile centers on base (the Commisary, the BX or the "Shopette") is not complete unless she sees at least a half-dozen acquaintences or friends. It is, she sometimes says, "Like living in the 1950s."

Across the street from Clear Channel Stadium is a large movie theater complex, the Cinemark 22. Like many similar complexes across America, it has multiple screens, a few large concessions areas, and an enormous parking lot. Inside the theaters, the seats are steeply tiered, so that each one has an unobstructed view, whatever the height of the person sitting directly in front of you. The seats are large and well-padded, to provide, if not an optimum movie experience, then at least as pleasant of one as possible.

Last Saturday, somewhere on the floor of theater 10 in the Cinemark 22 complex, one of Lancaster's 134,000 residents found my wallet. And for whatever reason, perhaps because instead of teaching them values and ethic their parents were commuting into L.A., or perhaps the $11 they spent to see "Happy Feet" was the last $11 they had, forcing them into criminal acts to feed themselves, that someone took my wallet and, instead of turning it into the theater's lost and found, decided that I'd donated to them for their use.

Or maybe freaking Stater Brothers was just having a good sale, and finding some loser's wallet on the floor of the Cinemark 10 was just the kind of break they'd been looking for. Maybe the big group of kids sitting behind us saw me drop my wallet on the ground, then waited for the movie to end to see if I'd be stupid enough to leave it there. Maybe one of them thought, "We should turn that thing in. What a hassle it will be for that guy, you know, the one who was sitting there holding his little kid's hand during the movie? Maybe the benefits we might get from taking that wallet are outweighed by the pain he'll feel by its absence. Maybe we have a responsibility, as citizens of the world, nay, Lancaster, to do something good instead of doing something obvious and selfish."

And to that, his friends said, "Nah."

So they took my wallet, saw that it had no money, shrugged, looked at the pictures of the Jawa and maybe said to them, "Your dad's a chump. He's going to buy us some new things now," and went on over to Stater Brothers. On foot, of course, because they are poor enough to need my credit cards, and therefore must have no car, and there are few buses in Lancaster, and if they are, they are too dangerous to ride.

So to Stater Brothers they went, after waiting a day to see if I'd cancel my cards and then trying them out at a local Chevron (see, if you spend a little at first, you can see if any bells go off or anything, then just sort of shrug it off, no harm, no foul). They went gleefully up and down the aisles at Stater Brothers, which is sort of a low-class Southern California version of Safeway, buying up enough food to last a month, or maybe just a bunch of liquor.

I had been wondering how on earth you can manage to spend $430.82 at Stater Brothers on just food. I'd at first just assumed they'd bought a bunch of meat, and of course as a good San Franciscan, had felt a pang of sadness when I saw that the first place they went was Stater Brothers.

"How sad," I'd said to myself, full of paternal white liberal guilt. "They wanted only to feed themselves. They probably bought enough food for the entire extended family to eat for a month."

Whatever. That image quickly passed when I sat down at our kitchen table and began the arduous process of stopping and undoing whatever damage the thieves had already done.

Fortunately (so far), I got there early. The only charge was Stater Brothers. They hadn't yet figured out to use my ATM. I have cancelled the remaining credit cards and alerted the credit bureaus. Now I have to go to the social security office, because they got my social security card, too. Probably the first time any of them have ever seen one of those, so it should take them some time to figure out its value.

In 15 months, the Rocket Scientist, as planned, will retire from the Air Force, freeing his family from the pox that is the Antelope Valley. In the past, I have been very vocal about my dislike for Lancaster, my general creeped-outedness toward Edwards Air Force Base and the raw deal I think my sister's family has gotten by being forced to live there. Recently, I decided I would try to stay silent about this, as I figured my sister knows how awful the place is and any reinforcement of that by me would just be piling on.

But now it's personal.

My parents have made it very clear that they think I feel the greater Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area is the worst place on earth. That I feel this offends them, as it is where they live, but after a lifetime of bad-mouthing Phoenix, dismissing it as some kind of beachless, over-cooked Orange County knockoff, never once suspecting that half of my family would eventually live there, I have been unable to muster up the diplomacy and political savvy to at least pretend that I was kidding.

But they are wrong, for it is now confirmed in my mind that Lancaster, California is the worst place on earth. For in Lancaster, California, when you drop your wallet, 48 hours later you find that you have spent $430.82 at Stater Brothers, a store which, I might add, I have been to only once in my life, and that time only because I was having a sleepover at Dave Money's house and his mom had to stop at Stater Brothers to pick up a few things for dinner.

This is the last time I will speak of this matter. The cities of Lancaster, Palmdale, Mojave, Rosamond and even picturesque Tehachapi can carry on without having to absorb my periodic bile -- literally, the cities did, indeed, absorb my bile on this last trip -- one day becoming an exit off the freeway to point and stare at while driving to Las Vegas.

And as for you, you wallet-stealing low-life criminals, I hope you enjoy that pantry full of food, because it's on me. Buy all the baking soda and nasal inhalers you need and chalk it up to start-up costs. After all, nothing tops off an animated Robin Williams feature like lifting some chump's wallet and going on a spending spree.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving Makes Me Sick

Here's one of the bad things about getting the flu at 41. It can happen in a central location where you are surrounded by family, with not only your mother and father but also your wife in attendance, and no one will take the time to rub your head. I am sure that if my grandmother had been in the house, she would have hopped onto her new scooter and sped through the Rocket Scientist's government-issued dwelling just to proffer some open-ended head rubbing onto her ailing grandson.

Naturally, missing head rubs are not the only thing that sucks about the Thanksgiving flu. In my efforts to secure the honor of LVG (Least Valuable Guest), I've spent that majority of the past 72 hours lying semi-conscious in my niece Noodles' bed, with scores of photos of horses staring down at me from the walls. I was well into my second day of pain before I answered a question I'd been asking silently since Thursday. Yes, there is a photo of the Budweiser Clydesdales mixed in among the other equines.

The trip started out okay. We hit some traffic on the way down, but it was gone by the time we hit Casa de Fruta, where we paraded Shack around for appreciative travelers while the Jawa and I made up new categories of items and actions needing the "Casa de" treatment.

Me: "When you use the Casa de Bathroom, don't forget to Casa de Wash Your Hands."
Jawa: "Can we go into the Casa de Marketplace after this and get some Casa de Candy?"
Me: "Casa de Okay."

We crack us up, as any effective father-son team must.

And there I was, secretly hidden away at Edwards Air Force Base, my sister's version of Alcatraz, 30 miles from the nearest town, matching my brother-in-law Bud and/or Marsi Sam Adams for Bud, when I went public: "You know, I don't fell all that hot."

Down went the beer. Up came dinner. And that was that.

That evening went not in a flash, but in a long, fever-altered march of nausea, and every road led to the bathroom. At 2:30, as I slumped, my head in my arms only inches above toilet water level, I thought seriously of just sleeping there in the bathroom. If I was 23 and this state had been alcohol-induced, it would have made for a great story. Instead, it was merely pathetic. I couldn't sleep in the bathroom. I didn't know where my sister kept the blankets.

Yesterday, while everyone else went bowling here on base, I laid on the couch, drinking Cherry Vanilla Cokes and watching college football, eating the occasional slice of bread. Every hour or so I reassured a nervous Jawa, who notably was also revealing a surprising caretaker side, that I was okay. Even though I wasn't.

Realize that I hate throwing up more than anything in the world. I will do almost anything to avoid it. So having to do it seven times in a short 72 hours did not leave me in the best mood. And realize that, while I'm lying in bed -- surrounded by two-dimensional horses, my only company two recent issues of The New Yorker and a copy of Esquire written by and for the most shallow men in the world -- everyone else is in the other room having a good time, you can see that even when I began to emerge from my flu-addled fog this morning, I was still not in the best frame of mind.

Which could explain why I lost my wallet today at the Cinemark 22 in Lancaster, where we went to see the 2:25 showing of "Happy Feet," along with hundreds of candidates for future episodes of "What Not to Wear," also known as Lancaster residents.

But they are not the ones who lost my wallet. I alone am responsible. Is it somewhere under my seat? I don't know. The "Bevis and Buttheads" (R. Scientist, 11/25/06) who work at the theater say that it is not there. "We looked right after you called the first time," they told me, impatiently. And yet, they did not call to share the results of their search until I had called the fourth time. And if the wallet is not there, where is it?

By now, I had the LVG award all but wrapped up. Multiple sweeps of my sister's luxurious Acura MDX failed to turn up anything more than a few empty bottles of water. Frantic searches of her ready-to-be-condemned-by-the-U.S-government "housing" were failures. I sat, motionless in front of the USC-Notre Dame game for an hour, my arms crossed, an angry expression my face, then interrupted dinner twice to call the Cinemark 22. All for nothing.

The wallet remains missing, perhaps sitting somewhere really obvious, waiting to be found; or perhaps already in the hands of some Lancaster delinquent who, disgusted to find it completely without cash, has tossed it into a garbage can, oblivious to the time and effort it will take me to replace its contents.

If only I had timed all of this differently, I could be throwing up on my potential wallet-takers, showing them, in full technicolor display, what I thought of what they thought of my wallet.

As for "Happy Feet?" Not bad, but certainly not worth losing my wallet.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sleep Nomads

There are many reasons to spend your night out of the marital bed. This is one of the things they don't tell you about marriage. We were led to believe that a night on the couch meant the marriage was in trouble, that the only way a husband ended up there was as the result of a horrible fight with his wife.

I'm here to tell you that this just isn't so.

I spent last night nestled in among several stuffed animals on the lower bunk of the Jawa's bunk beds. I did this to escape the boiler room-like quality that my own bed and room had taken on due to S. Bullock's persistent cough. Much earlier in the evening I had decreed that on this night Sandra Bullock would share her bed with the true love of her life, the Jawa, where they would both be free to cough violently and repeatedly. Whatever germs to result would then drift peacefully and harmlessly back down on them, hopefully sparing me of whatever illness they jointly and suddenly became afflicted with yesterday.

So into the bottom bunk I went, my feet smashed up against the footboard, semi-sprawled out across the 24-inch wide mattress.

I slept fitfully and intermittently, and today I can feel the illness creeping into the back of my throat. But it was worth a shot, to sacrifice a night atop my own brand-new pillow top Sealy Posturpedic in the hopes that the entire family would benefit.

And may I say without casting suspicions on the state of my union that this is far from the first time I have retreated to the bottom bunk and/or the living room couch for my rest. Amazingly, despite S. Bullock's refusal to invest in a room air conditioner for the 6 days a year it gets hot in San Francisco, thus leaving our bedroom sweltering and me unable to sleep on those 6 days, I have yet to completely disengage and spend the night downstairs, where it is a solid 15 degrees cooler. I threaten each summer to do this, but never do, instead staying in my own bed, sweating, as a sardonic Bullock searches her brain for new ways to let me know how ridiculous she finds it to point an oscillating fan at your face when you sleep, no matter how uncomfortably hot the room is.

For many years, we struggled with getting the Jawa to remain in his own bed for an unbroken 8 hours. Each night we would put him in the bottom bunk, hoping that the next time we'd see him would be 5 or 6 a.m., only to be suddenly and unpleasantly awakened at 1:30, 2:30, 3:30, each singularly or in a combination of two or three times, by a Jawa bursting into our room then launching himself at top speed into our bed.

Usually, we sent him away, but sometimes, until we caught on to the fact that even a freaked-out Jawa couldn't possibily be having 3 bad dreams per evening, we let him stay in our bed, leaving me with double the normal amount of very sharp arm and leg joints to deal with. Often I would struggle, then give up, leaving the bed and heading out to the large, welcoming couch in the living room, finding the glare of the streetlight preferable to the perpetual fidgeting of a rattled Jawa in my bed.

Sandra Bullock never leaves our bed. It would take much more than a flying Jawa, insomnia or extreme heat to dislodge her. The bed is her retreat, the only place in the house where she allows herself to not work. Unless, of course, she is planning a bar mitzvah four years in advance at 4:00 in the morning instead of sleeping.

As a liberal arts grad, I often find myself battling insomnia. I wake up several times a night, and usually can empty my brain quickly enough to fall back asleep. Sometimes, though, some random thought will pop into my head -- usually cryptic and existential, not the remodeling and party planning thoughts that occasionally plague S. Bullock, causing her own slightly ridiculous insomnia -- leaving me unable to get back to dreamland. The only way to break the spell is to read, and since I am far too considerate to snap on my light at 3 a.m., I usually troop on out to the living room, read for awhile, and then spend the balance of the evening on the couch.

Fortunately, ours is a very comfortable couch, bought during the "nesting" period just prior to the Jawa's birth at Z Gallerie in Seattle. It is enormous, green and 42 inches wide when you remove the pillows.

I have been thinking lately that maybe sleep doesn' t have to be something that occurs in 8-hour blocks. Or 6-hour blocks. I am already someone whose body refuses to make it easy to join the rest of the in-bed-at-11-up-by-7 world. Though I adhere to that schedule, I find that the first two hours of the day are useless, while I spend the best hours of the day trying to sleep.

What if we could take a nap every day, thus taking some of the nighttime pressure off of the sleeping act? A siesta, say, from 1-3 each afternoon, would allow us to stay up a few hours more at night, making life much more productive for the portion of the citizenry with more vampirish rythmns. I wasn't a nap guy until well into my 30s, but now that I've adapted, I find them very refreshing. More so than nighttime sleep, in fact. Just yesterday I logged a life-affirming 45 minutes on the couch as the world blared around me. As a result, it was 12:30 before I hit the bottom bunk, but I feel okay this morning.

Most of you don't have time for a nap, sadly. As discussed in this space recently, most of you are at work. Worse yet, most of you are prisoners to the outdated notion that naps are for lazy people with nothing better to do. Okay, maybe that applies to me, but I'm sure there are people out there for whom a nap would actually increase productivity.

Whatever that means.

I look forward to a return to my marital bed tonight. I will drape one of my countless black t-shirts over the light so as not to bother Sandra Bullock and if I have to cough, will turn my head toward the window.

Completely appropos of nothing, I just remembered that Flush Puppy, the Jawa and I were walking around Japantown Saturday and we saw an old Japanese guy wearing a Sandra Bullock t-shirt. If anyone knows where I can get one of those, please let me know.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Lazier Than Thou

I am lazier than you. I say that not to boast or self-flagellate, but as a mere statement of fact. Before you argue with me over this point, I ask you this: are you reading this at work?

I am at home.

I stand behind my record. It is 12:31 on a Thursday and I am sitting on the couch, listening to music and wearing slippers. And why am I here? Because I am lazier than you.

I just finished eating lunch: pretzels, grapes and cottage cheese. I suppose I could have looked a little harder for something that resembled an actual meal, and as I counted out my pretzels I thought, "man, lunch is getting pretty boring," but I'm just too lazy to put forth the effort required to make lunch more interesting, unless it involves going somewhere and having someone else make lunch for me.

Yesterday I grabbed a tortilla and sliced up some cheese, but as usual couldn't get myself to take the next step and heat up the thing to make it into a quesadilla. Too much work.

I can count the number of times in he past 41 years that I've wanted to work harder than anyone around me on exactly one hand. They are as follows:

1) doing math in grade school, until we moved to Orange County and they couldn't figure out what to do with me, so they sat me in a corner until everyone else caught up and I had sufficiently lost interest in math.

2) Playing baseball, which I actually kind of sucked at, but worked incredibly hard at to become mediocre. The day it ended, on a bullpen mound next to the practice fields at Santa Clara University, my shoulder and elbow throbbing with pain as I bounced sinkers up to the plate, I thought, "Well, that's no big deal," but it was. To this day I feel inspired by baseball fields. Maybe I should take my laptop out to one?

3) Playing the guitar which, after an aborted attempt as a child, I suddenly became obsessed with at age 20. Because it wasn't indie enough to take lessons, my skills never progressed past the campfire stage, but I remember forcing my Stupid Americans bandmates Roger A. Hunt and the Frederick brothers to keep practicing, long after they wanted to quit for the night.

The band thing never panned out, because Hunt went to law school and the Frederick brothers moved away, but also because you're not supposed to play in a garage band into your 30s and 40s, unless you happen to have been born between 1946 and 1956, in which case you can continue to play, pretending to be relevant, long past your expiration date.

4) There was this one time I remember, in August of 1993, standing over the shoulder of this guy Bill, who was putting together my motorcycle 'zine, The Zealot, on his Mac at 2 in the morning. I remember thinking, "So this is what it's like to be passionately involved in some kind of work. How novel."

Unfortunately, that was the last issue of The Zealot, and was greeted with derision both from advertisers and from my former business partner, who left a bile-filled message on my answering machine, informing me in his exaggerated northern Kentucky accent that "awl the artwork belawngs to me. Ah own it."

5) Playing volleyball. See baseball, only add 15 or so years. We moved to San Francisco and volleyball ended. I was too lazy to look for a new team.

So that's it. Five times in 41 years. And note that three of the five start with "playing."

With this kind of history, am I motivated to become less lazy? No. I

n fact, if I was allowed, my perfect day would look something like this: wake up around 9:30 or 10:00, lay in bed reading, then get out of bed and do some more reading. Go get lunch, maybe shop for some CDs or books, come back, read. Sit down and attempt to do some work on the computer, only to spend two hours researching 1970s TV shows or emailing strange photos to Roger Hunt.

Walk around, read. Rinse, repeat. I've got this great mafia book I'm reading right now. It's about 800 pages long and all of these things keep getting in the way of reading it. Today I had to go workout, then had a bunch of errands to do. Then I had to go thank the construction guys down the street for retrieving Shack when he escaped (while I was at the gym). Later I have to get the oil changed in the Acura and take Shack for a walk.

So you see my pain.

It's too bad there isn't a way for turn reading into a lucrative -- and yet mostly immobile -- career. Yes, I go to the gym, but I have to convince myself, during the dangerous period spanning from the time I wake up to the time I arrive at the gym, to continue moving forward. It's easy when I have to drop the Jawa at school, because momentum has me out of the house, contact lenses in, clothes on, a mere ten minutes from 24-hour fitness.

Once I'm at the gym, it's no easier. I have to re-convince myself to continue, each step of the way. "I can just do some cardio today," I'll tell myself, and then, "20 minutes is probably okay for today," while I'm climbing away on the Precor. "There's a guy sitting at the machine I want to use. I won't do that one today."

Being lazy does not make life easier, because it's not sustainable in the adult world. It's a daily struggle to force myself to at least do enough to continue to appear to be functioning as a semi-productive adult.

It would be helpful if I could conquer my EDD (energy deficiency disorder), or rather ELD (excessive laziness disorder), but for now I'll have to make do with work-arounds, or coping strategies as they call them in the mental health professionals community.

I think Shack has the right idea. Run around like a crazy person for awhile, then sleep. Get someone to feed you, ignore all personal hygiene, look mournful all the time and people will rub your head and give you food. Is that too much for ask for?

I hope you enjoyed the links in the last post. I'm too lazy to put any in this one.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Shoe Crisis

For as long as I can remember, I've been a shoe guy. This dates back to grade school, to the days of PF Flyers, which we bought either downtown at Art Douglas (where they gave you pretzel rods and had risers to sit on) or at the smaller place in Clarks Summit. PF Flyers were similar to Chuck Taylors, but they made you jump higher.

There was a small glitch in sixth grade, after we moved to California, when my mom made the mistake of buying us shoes from Sears, which unsurprisingly fell apart in three weeks. Then she bought us some more, which fell apart in four weeks.

I have a very clear memory of telling Dave K., later in sixth grade, that he needed to ditch those sorry old blue Vans he wore and get on the Thom McCan Jox bandwagon. I wore them, Chip McLean wore them, they were of the moment.

The next year, things really took off. I began a great run at the forward edge of athletic shoe consumerism. Running shoes in strange colors, New Balance 320s the same year they were introduced. I talked my mom, for whom spending exorbitant amounts of money on footwear was a foreign concept, into buying first-generation Nike Waffle Trainers for her trips around the Villa Park High School track.

There was always a dark undercurrent, however. Shoes cost money, and since my mom dished out only $15 per pair (enough to buy some baseline canvas Nikes, but not Adidas Stan Smith's, which cost $26.49 with tax), any cost overruns were managed by me. I did what I had to do.

I bought unusual shoes on sale at Big 5, like the oddball mutation of new leather Converse uppers with old school Chuck Taylor soles. Available in bulk at he beginning of my ninth grade year, they became sudden trend at school, then quickly disappeared, except for the pair on my feet, as Roger A. Hunt looked on skeptically from atop his high end all-leather Converse.

Then came high school, and things got complicated. They haven't eased since.

All I wanted was the green Topsider oxfords that Hunt had. All of the cool seniors had them, too. They were and integral part of the chic Orange County conservative surfer uniform. Unfortunately, since we were not actual locals, and instead committed to individualism, I ended up with some Thom McCan knock-offs and a weird pair of Deerskin oxfords that looked similar to the Topsiders but were "more comfortable," according to my dad. Like the Alfa Romeo we drove (instead of a BMW), the shoes were best appreciated by the few insiders we unconsciously targeted anyway -- the non-mainstream enthusiasts.

I wanted the Topsiders. That's all.

So I got a job, or series of jobs, and had the extra lettuce available to buy real topsiders, crisp Izod shirts and -- as mentioned previously -- stylish Brittania jeans. Did I feel a sense of accomplishment? Could I relax?

No. It accelerated from there. Next came penny loafers and saddle shoes, then putty-colored Cole Haans to be worn without socks. Argyle sweaters and khaki pants from Sousa & Lefkowitz, a local outlet so revered that we once set up lawn chairs and spent the night on the sidewalk in front of the place so that we'd be the people who got the $50 gift certificates when the doors opened for their annual sale the following morning.

And still I could not relax.

Periodically, for reasons still unknown to me, shoes that once looked wonderful suddenly lose their allure. You wake up one morning and suddenly they look small and thin, clumsy. They're a weird color. Your pant legs swallow them up so they look like slippers. Or your taste changes, and the Cole Haans you coveted for so long are immediately and forever as unhip as those shorts with all of the little sharks on them that you loved last summer.

And so it was and will be. My saddle shoes dropped out of rotation immediately upon arriving at college. Doug Davidovich introduced me to Topsider deck shoes which I wore for four years in white, blue and black. Eventually, searching for a look that would mark me indelibly as a laid-back Southern Californian, someone for whom the beach is always an option, I took to wearing flip-flops to class, or sometimes just walking barefoot, then slamming the sandals (always Flojo brand) onto my feet as I arrived at class.

After college, I moved to Seattle, where I stomped around in Doc Martens for a few years. I thought I'd wear those shoes forever. I truly loved them, and tried to induce Sandra Bullock to join my big-shoed world, only to fail miserably. An unused pair of purple 8-hole Docs sat in her closet for years before we threw them out. There were some hybrid Nike trail running shoes and light-duty hiking boots in there, too, for summer wear. One year I was so broke that I just took hand-me-down high tops from my friends, and wore a pair of white Chuck Taylors until the duct tape and cardboard I was using to keep them together became a liability during the cold Seattle winter.

There were other shoes, mostly big and black. Some had steel toes. Some were meant to be worn while riding a motorcycle. I flirted with work boots, secretly enjoying the hidden irony implicit in the idea of me wearing footwear best used while working with power tools. I still have a pair, bought on Mission Street during my most recent blue collar period, when I got laid off by a dotcom and decided I was going to "get back to my street roots." Or someone's street roots, at least.

I have mentioned in here before that 41 can be a difficult age, appearance-wise. My friend Butter Goats has long cultivated a "perpetually 12 years old" look, so the recent trend toward Pumas and other 1970s-inspired, semi-running shoe-looking gear has worked well for him. I've tried to wear that stuff. When I do, I look down and feel like some kid stuck his feet on my body while I wasn't looking.

S. Bullock has tried, repeatedly, to find me the casual pair of shoes that I won't hate. So far she has failed. During the real estate period, I went with several pairs of Kenneth Cole shoes, left over from various periods of employment. But when that "career" ended, it was like the Kenneth Coles aged 75 years overnight. Now some hang on my closet door, while others share space on the floor with running shoes, Vans, the Adidas Sambas I bought seven years ago (I know this, because I wore them to the Jawa's 2nd birthday party. He had identical little tiny ones and used to say "same shoes!" all the time) and now wear regularly because I have no other options, and the leopard skin creepers I wore on my wedding day.

I have been looking for a go-to shoe since real estate ended. I'm a casual guy 24/7 now, and I need a casual look. The high-tech Nikes I've been wearing, thankful that running shoes are acceptable in the aging hipster world, are not meant for heavy use. They are my workout shoes and need to be restricted to that environment. I bought some Vans, but like many shoes, they were much better as an idea than they were in reality. I have these cool Tsubos that Flush Puppy steered me towards one time when I was in Seattle doing a couple of magazine articles, but they're now two years old and besides, their soles are so thin that my stylishly long jeans drag on the ground. However, please note that the soles are also so thin that I don't have to remove them when going through security in airports.

I was dreaming of some new casual shoes. They would be hip, but age-appropriate. Not skateboarding shoes, not 70s shoes, maybe some Tigers. They've been showing up on alot of urban feet lately. I began doing reconnaissance, haunting the hipster shoe stores on Haight Street with the Jawa, who also needed some shoes. They would be the go-to shoes. I could strap them on every morning with little or no thought. They would be the symbol of my simplified life, and would appear effortlessly stylish, but not overbearing, as if their stylishness was by accident and without thought.

But I got impatient. Instead of waiting for the right moment, I panicked while the Jawa was at Foot Action, betting some New Balance running shoes. I grabbed the first pair that even remotely resembled the idea I had in my mind: Adidas, brown, with big giant shoelaces. They looked good on my feet ... in the store.

Not so much at home, or in public. Those laces, which my niece, Noodles, says should be tied behind the tongue, so as not to look like a poseur, they're too big. I wear them and all I see are laces. That and a 41-year-old guy trying to look like a teenager. I think I had imagined myself as lanky when I bought them, but reality is not so kind.

So what now? I've mixed the Adidas into my rotation, but I'm still augmenting them with my 7-year-old Sambas, my space age Nikes and the occasional Tsubo. I don't have the go-to shoe I'd imagined. Each morning still finds me digging through the pile of shoes at the bottom of my closet, hoping in vain that I will turn up some magical pair that I had forgotten about but would suddenly see in a new, flattering light.

And honestly, I kind of wish I could just wear work boots every day. Why not? Johnny Depp does it, and he's 44.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Childhood Dreams

At 8:51 this evening, the last resident of my home, besides me, fell asleep. That resident was Shack. Eleven minutes earlier, the Jawa went down, still holding the Deltora Dragon book he had been reading. Twenty minutes prior to that, Sandra Bullock lost consciousness on the couch, 49 minutes after she announced, as we drove home from Ken Dunque and Yo Ma Ma's house, that she could "probably fall asleep right now."

I would undoubtedly be following closely behind them into slumberland had I not been lulled into a refreshing afternoon nap by today's Oakland Raiders - Denver Bronco's game. Fortunately, a quick 30 minutes of sleep gave me the energy needed to outlast the rest of my family, leaving me with something that has been in short supply this weekend: time alone in my own home.

This week, as discussed earlier in these virtual pages, was bookfair week at our school. Along with Jenny from the Block, I am the co-chair, for the third consecutive year. And as I noted earlier, my 30-year-old childless and wifeless DJ boss was wholly unimpressed by the resulting absences from work the bookfair produced. I did, however, manage to squeeze 11 hours of work into my week, in addition to the 40+ I spent at the bookfair.

My responsibility at work this week: something called "status forms." These forms are required for each piece of equipment used by the company. I have, so far, made a little bit short of 600 of them. This week, I made status forms everywhere but at work. I made them while watching the Warriors defeat the Mavericks Tuesday night. I made them while waiting for the Jawa to complete his saxaphone lesson on Thursday. Finally, on Friday, I made them at work.

Add all of this to the massive task that was the bookfair, and the result was one fatigued lefthander by week's end, which did not stop me from covering a football game Friday night, then playing host to my sister, Noodle's Mom, her husband the Rocket Scientist, and their children Noodles and Count Burpalot. Plus a guinea pig that the Jawa brought home from school for the weekend in an unprecedented show of poor timing.

Are you interested in knowing who is protecting our country while you (and I) go blithely about our business? My brother-in-law the Rocket Scientist has committed his best earning years to he United States Air Force, as a result earning perhaps 40% of what he could make in the private sector (so sayeth Noodle's Mom) and taking his family on a continental odyssey covering ground from Anchorage, Alaska to Virginia, Ohio, and, presently the middle of the godforsaken desert, 80 miles Northeast of Los Angeles.

This is where the big shots go, the guys with The Right Stuff. And their families, who have, at last count, removed 14 mice from their government-issued digs.

The Rocket Scientist loves coming to San Francisco, despite the intolerant political air that smugly envelopes our burgh. Mostly, he loves going to the cheese store in our neighborhood. This weekend, sometimes accompanied by Noodles, sometimes by Count Burpalot and sometimes by Shack, The Rocket Scientist took three separate trips to the Cheese Boutique, returning each time not only with several cheeses but also with targeted cheeses to buy on his next trip.

It took my several years to understand, let alone appreciate, the Rocket Scientist's exceedingly dry sense of humor, but now he cracks me up. Like Sandra Bullock, he knows exactly who he is and has very little use for the things that distract him from his mission in life; which was, for many years, to be an astronaut.

Think about this for a moment, those of us who have carved out careers in software development, customer fulfillment and/or corporate communications: an astronaut.

What did you want to be when you were eight years old?

When I was eight, I wanted to be a car designer. A few years later I realized that what I really wanted to be was a first baseman. At the same time, I remember, Noodle's Mom wanted to be a forest ranger, and I'm pretty sure that my dad, who was 35 at the time, still wanted to be a general, even though that avenue had already been shut off from him for 17 years.

And then think about the age at which you gave up on that goal and moved onto something more feasible. The day I walked off of the field at Santa Clara after bouncing fastballs to Mike McFarlane in the bullpen (they bounced because my elbow hurt so much that they weren't reaching the plate) was the obvious day my baseball goal died, but that was always more of a dream than a goal. The original one -- car designer -- which was actually pretty realistic for an eight-year-old, was buried under a large stack of baseball cards by the time I was 10. The drafting table in my bedroom suddenly became a storage unit, little league started, and even though I was pretty awful the first couple of years, that was it.

And yet the Rocket Scientist carried on. He got an ROTC scholarship to pay for MIT, then entered the air force the same time that Noodle's Mom, in a move completely at odds with her life up to that point but in the end life-changing in ways she hadn't planned on at first, finished officer training school (or something like that. All I know is that it was in Texas and by the time she graduated, she could iron shirts better than anyone I'd ever known ... until I met Sandra Bullock a few years later.).

His childhood goal stayed alive until just recently, and died more because of politics than for any Puff the Magic Dragon or Langston Hughes dream deferred reasons. He did all he could, excelled at everything, brought his family to the desert so he could outshine the other hotshots, but was denied entry to the space program repeatedly until his original career goal quietly fizzled out. He found other space- and flight-related areas of interest, committed to the egghead path instead of grabbing one of the cushy "this is your captain speaking" airline jobs that many Air Force pilots take.

No, the Rocket Scientist has never been one to take the easy path. It may be hard to swallow for good San Franciscans whose highest moral calling is to prevent military recruiters from appearing at high school career fairs, but in his own way, the Rocket Scientist has followed the road less travelled more than the hipster web 2.0 kids often seen scarfing down burritos for lunch South of Market. Call him stubborn, call him incapable of taking any other path, call him white and nerdy (but not repeatedly, as it will hurt his feelings), but give him some props for not taking the easy, completely uncontroversial way out.

Just don't get him started talking about cheese. Unless you have about an hour to spare.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

This is not about politics. It's about voting.

If I were honest, I'd admit that when I woke up this morning, I figured there was no better than a 25% chance I'd vote. I'd received the voter "slates" sent to me by Mr. San Francisco and My Fashion Hero, who is a political consultant by trade, so I was informed, but the timing was horrible. Election day fell right in the middle of the bookfair, my largest volunteering commitment of the year.

This is the third (and final) year that I have co-chaired the BHDS bookfair with Jenny From the Block. Our job, as I have reminded her all year, is to make sure no one sees us sweat. Over the past three years we have assembled a team of people we can trust, so rather than do everything ourselves and then shoulder an heroic load of stress, we coordinate, fill in the blanks, organize, and, perhaps most importantly, make sure the process is enough fun that no one realizes they're putting in tons of hours, effort and sometimes their own money to raise money for a school they already commit $18,000 a year to.

This is our job. We juggle the personalities and appear to be light on our feet. And decide who can handle the news that our book supplier has screwed up our order yet again. Or that one of the people who's supposed to be selling stuff in our marketplace has stamped his foot and demanded better placement in the room. Or that it's 5:45 and the food has not shown up, but even worse, the carrots we bought a Costco are rotten.

Tomorrow, in fact, is the big event itself, the nighttime bookfair extravaganza. It'll be over like a flash, but I guarantee that, no matter how easy it seems at the time, 24 hours from now I'll feel like I've just completed boot camp.

Add to this the sorry fact that my 31-years-old-and-not-only-kidless-but-also-unmarried-and-DJs-on-weekends-for-kicks boss at the Biotech is wondering what the heck kind of responsibility that comes before work goes by the innocuous name "bookfair," and you can see that not letting anyone see you sweat is not as easy as it sounds.

With all of this going on, who can be expected to vote? Even frequent phone calls from the likes of Bill Clinton, begging me to get out there and vote are not enough to inspire me.

My favorite voting experience was 1998. I have no idea who or what I voted for. I just remember walking through a cold Autumn Seattle night with my wife and toddler and feeling an overwhelming wave of warmth as we entered Lowell Elementary school, a few blocks from our apartment. We voted, smiled at everyone, and then walked the tiny Jawa around the school, looking into the darkened classrooms and telling him that soon he'll be in a school this big.

What I like about voting is the sense of community spirit you feel when you are actually at he polling station. Even here in San Francisco, where everyone has their own righteous idea of exactly how you should be voting (and acting, and thinking as), they all fairly glow with civic pride at the thought of grassroots participation in democracy.

I was willing to forgoe that, today, but I never got the chance. Instead, as we walked home from soccer practice, the Jawa insisted I vote. Even though we weren't sure where to go, and even though I left my wallet at home, he was steadfast. We went by the house, got my wallet, and walked until we found the garage full of voting machines.

My Jawa is a political animal, which is interesting, because unique among Bay Area parents, I think, I've gone out of my way to avoid sharing my own political opinions with him. When he said he liked George Bush because he was "spreading democracy to the rest of the world," I said nothing. His interest, I think, is more important right now than the particulars. He changed his presidential opinion, by the way, during the 2004 Democratic convention. The then seven-year-old Jawa sat enraptured as John Kerry spoke -- which is difficult, given the Dem candidates lack of charisma. I didn't even realize the Jawa was in the room until Kerry mentioned something about "never going to war."

"That's what I want to hear!" exclaimed the Jawa, who then pledged alliegance to Kerry.

Last year I began taking the Jawa into the booth with me, getting his input, and actually letting him decide on the issues he felt strongly about. He usually picks a couple of propositions, ones that, at least on the surface, have big, obvious impacts that he can understand.

This year is was prop 86 (cigarette tax) and prop 87 (alternative energy exploration). He was in favor of both, but then changed his mind. I can't remember why, but he had pretty well thought-out explanations for his position shifts. He is 9, however, which I remembered as he urged me to vote for our incumbent district 8 supervisor, whose posters had a very cool drawing of a guy with a TV head.

I voted for him because his opponent was a Burning Man hippie. I am not 9.

So after all of this, and after he made me call Sandra Bullock so he could remind her to come home and vote, I had to hit the polls. We went, Shack in tow, cast our vote, and felt pretty good, even though a couple of my ballots clogged up the voting machine. A quiet alarm sounded, and the volunteer in charge of feeding the ballots into the machine eyed me suspiciously.

My first thought was that maybe the machine simply won't accept the ballots of people who cast no votes for any Green Party candidates. I thought of tossing out something to that effect, or nervously saying, "Okay, okay, I voted Republican! I'll do it again!" but that seemed as innapropriate as the time I told the baggage handler to be careful of my over-filled bag, because "if you open it, it might explode." I held my tongue.

A few hours later, Sandra Bullock voted in the back seat of a pollster's car. The long line, he explained, had him searching for alternative voting spots. Another woman voted while sitting on someone's front stoop. "Skid row voting," she commented, before she sat down and started filling out her ballot.

And again, even here in San Francisco, where mainstream thought is that the U.S. is on the brink of political collapse, the voting experience was simple, pleasant and even patriotic. Everyone was in a good mood. In fact, the gathering probably represented the most San Franciscans I've seen in one spot without hearing someone disparage the mayor, the governor or the president.

It's downright encouraging, and I'm glad for every opportunity I have to show to participate.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Jeans Meditation

Long gone are the days of my teens, where you went to the Miller's Outpost and bought a few pairs of Levi's, wore them until they fell apart and then checked to see if you'd grown an inch since you bought the last pair.

(by the way, I am typing this without the benefit of a "t". It fell off of my laptop Friday night as I was writing 200 words about the Bellarmine-Riordan football game. I just tried to glue it back on but it didn't work. Now my keyboard looks like it's missing a tooth. No, just a "t.")

(as a further digression, Friday was the first time I had to "file" my story immediately after the game. So if you were in the parking lot at San Jose City College at around 10 p.m. and saw some guy walking around in the dark holding a laptop in front of him, that was me, looking for a random wireless connection.)

The Levi's became a necessity in 7th grade, when the Garanimals and Toughskins of grammar school overnight became so uncool as to brand you a geek no matter what your other qualities. The switch to Levi's -- requiring the accompanying switch from Sears to Miller's Outpost -- was enough of a sea change, but the addition of "designer" jeans shook up my entire adolescent world.

First, Roger A. Hunt, whose access to older sisters gave him a fashion and hipness leg-up on everyone else, introduced Brittania jeans to our 9th grade class. Combined with his cool second-generation, putty-colored Topsiders, they gave him a style cache I think he may not have enjoyed since, though he did have a short run of wearing really ground-breaking shoes right after college. I tried to follow, only to have Jim Fregosi, Jr. make fun of my shoes -- the really unique black desert boots I'd bought in Australia -- at a party.

(The effort required to include the letter "t" is so great that I am considering eliminating it entirely from my online world.)

I tried my best to keep up, but my mother resisted, and she had access to the money. After much coercing, she agreed to get me the A Smile drawstring pants that were sweeping Santiago Junior High School, but not the Brittanias. They cost $28.

Then, a surprise: I pulled a few strings and arrived for the first, terrifying day of 10th grade (and high school) with a pair of Calvin Kleins. The effect was immediate. Sophomore cheerleaders Julie Megar and Kris Erickson battled to be my lab partner in Biology. Whether it was the Calvins or my reputation as a nerd is not important. What is important was a month later, when Julie told me that she "really liked my Calvin Kleins."


The Calvins were an anomly. I soon decided that, given my tenuous grip on masculinity, they were too effete. Back to Levi's, 501s, button fly, size 32-36. Or maybe 33-36 (age 28), 34-34 (age 33), and finally, the humiliating oversquare 34-32. There was an unsettling period of coolness in the late 80s when I lived in Seattle, rode a motorcycle, worked in a comedy club and wore gigantic Levis with Doc Martens.

Much later, having returned to a more well-fitting state of fashion anonymity, I switched to GAP jeans, and blissfully wore them, the straight legs hugging my calves and not obscuring my big black shoes, well into my 30s.

And then came the Mom jeans.

We are all products of our time. My dad once told me that men choose their style during their senior year of high school and never change. My style? Kind of a modified Army-Navy. Nice, boring, consistent. And I still think tapered jeans look cool.

Which is not cool. Dad jeans.

Sandra Bullock first hipped me to the scourge that is Mom jeans long before the term became "Saturday Night Live" fodder. "You know," she told me, "those jeans that are tapered and have a high waist? Moms wear them." Their male counterpart, the Dad jeans, are similar. Best worn with a webbed belt. They are the jeans that announce to the world that time has continued to march on but you have decided to stay in the decade in which you are most comfortable.

S. Bullock pointed out the dadness of my existing jeans. It was sobering, to say the least.

Then she told my poor sister, Noodle's Mom, who responded as I would have, and did, by first denying it, then explaining that this is the style where she lives, then a few hours later asking me if I thought she was guilty of sporting the pariah-like Mom jeans, and then suggesting we go shopping, where she replaced the offending denim with some hipper bootcut Sevens, or Citizens for Humanity. Honestly, I can't remember which ones she bought, but she corrected the problem quickly and efficiently.

Then came the controversial attempted forced conversion to boot cut jeans, in which S. Bullock and Carrie Bradshaw escorted the vacationing and complaining vaguely about the state of his wardrobe me to the GAP in downtown Seattle and made me buy three pairs of cutting edge pairs, only to have me learn the following week that no one else in my life was convinced that men of my particular sexual orientation were likely to wear the style of jeans I had just bought.

So they hung, ironically, in the closet, save for a few occasions when I suddenly decided that I liked the idea of them enough to give them a try. I put them on, looked down at my shoes, which were completely obscured by the flared legs of my pants, and then quietly hung them back up in the closet.

Finally, I rebelled. No more bootcut, no matter that hip young rock and rollers were actually buying bootcut women's jeans for the cooler fit. I am not a hip young rock and roller, and in fact during the very short period that I presented myself as such, said category of person wore Levi's, cuffed and looking tough with big old biker boots storming out of the bottoms of them.

I finally found the jeans I liked. GAP 1969, straight leg, with a variety of washes but not the ones that Sandra Bullock claims look "acid-washed." Unfortunately, the last time Ken Dunque gave us the GAP "Friends and Family" discount cards, I bought two pairs that are too large. Incredibly comfortable, and frankly I like the saggy jeans look, but S. Bullock claims they make me look "dumpy."

Pause here to remind you that for all of her charms, Sandra Bullock is not known for her tact. Nor will she sugar coat something to spare your feelings. If your jeans make you look dumpy, and you are standing within view of S. Bullock, you will soon learn the sad truth about your jeans. Or, now that I think of it, any hat you might think to be a stylish alternative to the variety of baseball caps you have worn since second grade.

Certainly, S. Bullock is honest enough to let you know that the brand new skinny-legged "Morrison" jeans the GAP is marketing make you look like "The Big Fig Newton."

But that is not fair. S. Bullock has a special hatred for the new trend of "skinny jeans." She is waging a one-woman campaign to keep people from buying them, in the hopes that the trend will quietly disappear before she has to look at a neo-1980s world of skinny legged jeans worn with equal frequency by people who look good in them and people who do not.

There is a delicate balance to being in your 40s in the 21st century. On the one hand, you want to be seen as someone who's still got some fashion sense, who doesn't look like another adult who left their desire to look good somewhere under a pile of diapers and toys. On the other hand, you don't want to look like a pathetic middle-aged fool trying to look like you're 21, or like it's still 1968, even though Mick Jagger does it and it made him rich.

As for me, I am happy to say that, at 41, despite my secret admiration of skinny jeans and stubborn love for oversized, low-hanging pants, I have achieved jeans equilibrium with my 1969 jeans. I am confident that if Julie Megar were here, she would say the same thing.

If anyone has any suggestions for the restoration of my "t," please don't hesitate to pass them along.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Good Dad, Bad Dad: Halloween Edition

GOOD DAD: 8:30 a.m.

Good Dad will spend the extra time not only volunteering at his Jawa's school, manning the raffle tickets table during drop-off, but will also be one of only two dads floating amidst a boistrous room of moms who've come for the "All About 4th Grade" meeting.

BAD DAD: 9:00 a.m.

Rather than actually contribute anything of value to the "All About 4th Grade" meeting, Bad Dad instead sits and quietly makes off-handed comments, hoping to undermine whatever value can be derived from the meeting. Eventually, he begins to feel suffocated by all of these women, shut out of their inside jokes about PMS, childbirth and the relative uselessness of boys. Toward the end of the meeting, his mood turns ugly and he replaces his humorous asides with acerbic suggestions that the school's entire mission is to "feminize" his son.

GOOD DAD: 11:00 a.m.

With over an hour to recover from the "All About 4th Grade" meeting, Good Dad devotes the next chunk of his day to finding the missing components of his Jawa's Halloween costume. First, he goes to the sporting goods store at the mall, looking for yellow-tinted goggles (to simulate the glowing eyes of a Jawa) and inexpensive brown gloves.

Unfortunately, these items prove difficult to find. By the time Good Dad reaches the third sporting goods store, he finds himself in big box land, a.k.a. Colma. Limping on his one good leg, he courageously walks the perimeter of the gigantic "Sports Authority" store, only to find that the only goggles available are green and cost $20. Being a Good Dad and docile Jewish man, he makes sure to email a photo of the green goggles to his wife, Sandra Bullock, before making any decisions. She agrees that the expensive green goggles will not work.

"I'm going to Target and calling it a day," he says back.

At Target he finds a nice pair of $5.99 brown gloves. After carefully emailing a photo of them to S. Bullock, he purchases them. This Jawa will have the proper gloves, but no glowing yellow eyes.


This underhanded dad spends the entire trip wondering how to work in some kind of purchase for himself. After all, rare is the sporting goods store that doesn't contain something Bad Dad wants and/or needs. After spending a few minutes at the inexpensive sunglasses aisle, in the hopes of finding another pair of $20 sunglasses, perhaps a pair that are not intended for feminine wear, and then having the additional bonus of being able to point out to Sandra Bullock that, in the end, buying 3 pairs of cheap sunglasses is equal to the financial outlay required for one pair of good ones, he decides that there are no pairs that look less awful than the ones he now owns.

At Target, he flirts with the idea of buying something electronic, a digital camera or clock radio. This kind of investment, though, cannot be made without consulting the breadwinner, in this case S. Bullock. Even Bad Dad knows this.

On the way home, Bad Dad thinks that maybe his reward for this day of errands could be a stop at his favorite Salvadorean grocery store for some pupusas and a Mexican Coke. A quick glance down at his expanding stomach quickly squashes that idea.

GOOD DAD: 3:15 p.m.

Volunteers to have Tony Hawk over for a playdate, in anticipation of the evening's Halloween events. He also reminds Hawk and the Jawa, whose excitement level has left them just short of jumping out of their own skin, to take Shack up to the dog park for some exercise. And then, while the two 9-year-olds immediately suggest that they go down to the nearby playground while Good Dad hangs out with Shack and the weird dog people sharing the park on this day, Good Dad cheerfully agrees, spending his time swiveling his head from the playground to the dog park, and then happily accepting the scolding of some dog woman whose two dogs are on leashes, and could perhaps get very "nervous" at the sight of a ridiculous-looking Corgi 1/5 their height rushing up to them and leaping on them with glee. "You really should stay with your dog," she says, as Good Dad thanks her for the advice.

BAD DAD: 5:00 p.m.

Then puts the children into his car, joined by Sandra Bullock, whose only goal in life, it seems, is to make sure we have flowers when we arrive at the Pacific Heights home of Tony Hawk. As they drive, he forces his charges to listen to an anthology of Sublime's greatest hits, the cover of which boasts that these songs are the original "uncensored" versions with "explicit" lyrics. Bad Dad is too tired to care about this, and so ignores the sidelong glances thrown at him by S. Bullock as the Sublime vocalist explains that because he is able to "get high," and can play the guitar like an Oedipal incest survivor, his day will be okay, no matter what types of drugs his mother is addicted to.

GOOD DAD: 6:00

Arrives at Hawk's home, mingles with the Man About Town and his wife, who the Shaman insists I call "Teddy Bear" though she in no way resembles any bear, but the Shaman is presently sitting on my living room floor doing his homework while my own Jawa continues to find ways to avoid it, so I will give him his way this one time. Good Dad then volunteers to take all of the children trick-or-treating, despite the shooting pains in his leg which, unlike last time he hurt his back, do not seem to be subsiding after a week. He is joined by the Hammer, plus a large contingent of nicely-dressed people who have coalesced around the Man About Town. Within three houses, the Man About Town and his posse have disappeared into the general chaos of Halloween, while the Hammer and the Good Dad are trying desperately to keep up with their pack of sprinting, costumed children.

The Good Dad pauses for a moment to silently marvel at the accurate Jawa costume assembled by Sandra Bullock. His child truly looks like a Jawa, especially as he dashes from house to house, his burlap rope flapping in the nighttime breeze.

BAD DAD : 7:00 p.m.

The Bad Dad cannot help but notice the successful novelist who lives next door to the Man About Town and the Teddy Bear. He has read his novel, which was okay and sold well, but had he not been told by the Teddy Bear that the novelist's wife is perhaps better qualified to build an enormous house such as the one in which they now reside, the Bad Dad would be grinding his teeth in ugly green envy at what he sees as a great global injustice: that a mediocre novelist has become outrageously wealthy while the Bad Dad continues to stare at a blank computer screen each day. In the end, the Bad Dad settles for making fun of the successful novelist's cliched brown felt Indiana Jones hat.

GOOD DAD: 7:30 p.m.

One by one the children drop out of the group. Eventually, all that remains of the original pack is the Good Dad, the Jawa, and Tony Hawk's little sister Natalie Portman. Both children have insisted on continuing the trek, a few times suggesting that we re-visit some of the places we've already been. Good Dad gently reminds his charges that it is tacky to trick-or-treat twice in the same spot.

BAD DAD: 7:35 p.m.

Ponders this and decides that maybe it's not such a bad idea, since all of the houses on the other side of the street are dark and have no pumpkins outside.

GOOD DAD: 7:37 p.m.

Wins this argument. Even as he winces in pain, he tries to do the right thing, though the Jawa and Portman are beginning to complain that their feet hurt.

Good Dad then returns the children to the house, where all of the other adults are relaxing, handing out candy to the multitudes of people who drive their cars to Pacific Heights and trick-or-treat there.

BAD DAD: 8:15 p.m.

Silently complains to himself that his leg is killing him and he's tired and really wants to go home, ignore his family and his dog and watch TV alone with perhaps a bag of tortilla chips and a Coke at the ready. To amuse himself, he teaches the children something he learned while listening to Jim Rome on the radio today. "If someone asks me what I'm dressed as," Bad Dad tells his rapt, sub-10-years-old audience, "I'm going to say, 'I'M A FREAKING GROWN-UP, YOU LOSER!" The children love this. It takes only a few reminders before they are shouting it to each other, to their parents, to strangers on the street.

GOOD DAD: 9:00 p.m.

The evening winds down with Good Dad pleasantly minglingwith the other adults, even the ones he does not know well. He does not yell at his child when the child ignores his pleas to "put on your shoes!" and then calmly explains that the child cannot spend a half hour "sorting his candy" upon arriving home, as it will be 9:15 by then and no one who is 9 years old, no matter how jacked up on sugar, is allowed to stay up until 9:45 on a school night.


But when the father in question repeats "Do your homework!" 45 times to a child who is determined to ignore him, no matter how loud his voice gets, is he being Good Dad or Bad Dad?