Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Uncle Day Weekend - Part 8

My prolonged absence from the blog has been due mostly to my determination to finish this story once and for all.  I have been working on it non-stop for two weeks, and while the result is far from perfect, I am thoroughly ready to call 'uncle' on Uncle Day Weekend...

For readers who can remember that far back, Part 7 detailed the majority of our visit to a little-known place called Bearizona. This visit occurred within the larger context of our Labor Day weekend trip, which we rechristened 'Uncle' Day weekend because we couldn’t take the summer heat in Phoenix anymore, and so sought refuge in the high country around Flagstaff.  Another goal was to get there and back without using the I-17 at any time, and to not travel the same road twice.  Part 8 carries us all the way to the conclusion of this story. 

Bearizona’s black bear exhibit was large in size and impressive in the number of bears it contained.  The dirt road through the enclosure was probably close to a half-mile long, if you straightened out the two large loops designed to give the visitor more viewing opportunities.  Once we entered, we saw almost immediately that the bears were active.  The staff must have just fed them, because a substantial number of bears were just off the edge of the trail, eating breakfast.  For some reason, they reminded me of old pictures of Dust-Bowl-era migrants pulled over informally along the shoulders of the Mother Road to eat, picnicking on their way to the Promised Land.  I must have seen a picture like that once upon a time; otherwise, I have no idea why that thought would even come to me.  Some of the bears were on all fours, and some were sitting straight up on their haunches, but all were doing the same thing:  eating slices of white bread.  Each one had a slice of the stuff already in its mouth, or was holding it with a paw.  We noticed one bear was holding his piece up to the sun as though he were appreciating its form, the way I might hold up a plump chunk of king crab leg glistening with clarified butter.  Some had piles of slices next to them.  

Black bears and white bread.
Sounds like a country song...
Who knew bears had a thing for Wonder Bread?  And they ate it with such apparent relish, too; it seemed to be a delicacy to them, like eating dessert first.  I’m sure they had been given other food as well; good food, healthy food, food with actual flavor.  All they seemed interested in was the Wonder Bread.  It was funny, but on some level, also a little disturbing.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Veteran's Day 2011

Reflections on Veteran’s Day, 2011
 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade - 11/11/11.
Although it got off to a shaky start (notice the misspelling, twice, of the word 'Hero's' on the banner), the parade immediately recovered its dignity and continued from there with great aplomb.  

I’m not sure I could tell you the last time I went to a big parade, but I’m sure it’s been ten years at least, maybe fifteen.  Parades are not really my thing, for two primary reasons.  For one thing, I don’t like crowds.  I don’t know what it is, but parades just seem to attract them.  Whenever I’m in a crowd, I quickly get very uptight and anxious.  It’s nothing personal against the rest of humanity; it’s just that so many things can go wrong when you have to stand next to folks you don’t know for longer than a standard elevator ride or forty-two seconds, whichever comes first.  Whenever I find myself in that kind of situation, I focus on all the mishaps that could occur, ranging from personal embarrassment to outright calamity, and then spend whatever time remains combining them in imaginative and unusual ways. 

The other reason is that parades are usually connected to a holiday, and I have always looked at holidays as precious and fleeting gifts of freedom from the rat race.  Thus, I tend to jealously guard these days much the way a dragon guards its treasure, specifically a dragon that’s down to its last few pieces of gold because some thief has absconded with the rest.  Holidays, especially the paid ones, engender a feeling similar to the one you get when the tax refund finally shows up in your bank account: even though you knew it was coming, you can’t help but get a little giddy anyway.  Putting myself in a situation where I would feel uncomfortable, such as a parade, for instance, has always struck me as an extremely non-giddy way to spend a holiday. 

However, things have changed drastically for me this year.  I’m a newly-minted freelance writer, which means I’m out of the rat race, because let’s face it, even rats don’t race for free, like I happen to be doing now.  One of the positive side effects, however, has been that I no longer feel a need to protect every spare moment that comes my way as though it were the last remaining seat in a death-match version of musical chairs.

The parade was preceded by a B-25(?) bomber
making several passes overhead.
So, on November 11th, 2011, we took the plunge.  We gathered up the kids, and went downtown to watch the VA Veterans Day Parade.  Many people don’t realize this, but Phoenix’s Veterans Day parade is one of the largest in the country.  I know we were surprised by how big a parade it actually is.  Looking at the program, handed out by scurrying troops of freshly-scrubbed Scouts before the start, we saw that there were a total of 49 groups participating.  We were duly impressed by that, until our daughter alerted us to the fact that there were another two pages of entrants, bringing the total to 105. 

The parade itself ran a very solid two hours.  Before we left the house, I heard the local news estimate thirty to forty thousand spectators would attend this year’s event.  Two hours in, I thought that was the number of people in the parade.  It’s a long parade, and it feels even longer when you spend the majority of the time preventing a frisky two-year-old from running into the tangle of marching legs, especially when the pretty horseys and the friendly doggies are passing by.  Fortunately for us, my daughter was eventually overwhelmed by all the excitement and fell asleep.  For the last half-hour, my wife and I alternated holding her slag-like body in our arms while doing our best to continue waving and clapping and cheering.    

The VA Veterans parade had all the things that make parades the joyous and nerve-wracking (maybe that’s just me) experiences they are: bands, floats, giant balloons, dignitaries, celebrities, great old restored cars like Ford Model T’s and convertible Caddies, big trucks and military vehicles of all shapes and sizes, really loud motorcycles, music, flags, baton twirlers, and, of course, crowds. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What themes may come...

As friends of the blog know, my older daughter Jessica and I have recently begun to read the Harry Potter series.  Yes, I know, as impossible as it sounds, we hadn’t read any of the books or seen any of the movies until the last few months.  The main reason is that my daughter is easily frightened, which is both blessing and curse.  So far, it’s been mostly curse, because it’s severely limited the rides she’s willing to go on at Disneyland, in addition to the movies she’s willing to see with me, but I fully expect it to become a blessing once boys start entering the equation.  In anticipation of that day, I’ve done my best to make dating sound really scary so far:

Jessica:  So, Dad, is going on a date really scary?
Me:  Horribly, terribly, ginormously scary.
Jessica: Boys are that bad?
Me:  Rotten, evil, scary, stinky monsters.
Jessica:  Is going on a date scarier than Splash Mountain?
Me:  Way scarier.
Jessica:  Is it worse than Thunder Mountain Railroad?
Me:  I don’t even have words to describe how much scarier dating is than Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Jessica: Worse even than Space MountainSpace Mountain is that one that goes in the dark, right, Dad?
Me:  Yes.  Listen to me.  Going on a date with a boy is scarier than all the mountains in Disneyland put together, even if you had Freddy Krueger sitting next to you, and Leatherface and Jason behind you, and the ride broke down, and you were all alone, stuck there for hours; well, it wouldn’t be for hours…

Jessica:  Who are they, Dad?
Me:  Who?
Jessica:  Freddy Krueger, and Jason, and the other one you said. 
Me:  They’re all boys, sweetie.  Exactly the kind of people you don’t want to know.

Hello Freddy!
Well, I didn't want to scare her too much! 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mental Splinters - Rick Perry

I’ve decided I need to create a new section of the blog. 

I’m not the world’s most observant person, but even I notice things from time to time.  Once I notice something, it won’t stop bothering me.  It’s like getting a splinter in your finger that irritates the crap out of you, until you finally go dig the tweezers out of the drawer in the bathroom and pull it out.  For some reason, writing these annoying things down has always served as the tweezers to my mental splinters.  I write it down, and it’s gone, and I don’t have to think about it anymore.  What happens after that doesn’t matter; it could get lost, tossed out, ripped up, or thrown in the fireplace.  I just needed to get it out.  It’s such a nice feeling, once it’s out. 

Unfortunately for you, dear reader, now I have a blog, which means that many of these splinters are likely to be deposited right here.  From my perspective, it’s vastly preferable to physically writing them down, prone as I am both to cramps in my writing hand and paper cuts.  In fact, I’ve already left many of these mental splinters all over the place; they just haven’t necessarily been identified as such. 

So, I apologize to you in advance for any inconvenience these splinters may cause.  At a minimum, you are stuck with having to look at them, and I suppose it’s even possible that you may yourself pick one up if you’re not suitably cautious.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Close Call

My two-year-old daughter Maria and I had a scary moment last week. 

It was a perfectly average Tuesday morning, although I don’t remember exactly how we spent the time.  I do remember lunch.  Maria wanted chicken nuggets, so I heated some up in the microwave, along with some peas, which these days is about the only vegetable I can sometimes cajole, plead, beg, threaten, browbeat, exhort and/or extort her into eating.  As had become usual, I let her eat in the back room where she liked to watch Caillou.  Statistically speaking, that was most likely what she watched; I honestly don’t remember now.  She ate contentedly for fifteen minutes or so.   

“Daddeeeeee, more chicken nuuuuuuuggets,” she called out from the back room.  She hadn’t touched her peas on this particular day, so we bickered about that for a minute or so, and then I took her plate to the kitchen and served up two more chicken nuggets.  I set her plate down on the coffee table in the back room, and went to the living room to check email or something equally irrelevant. 

Five, maybe ten, minutes later, I heard a faint gurgling sound behind me.  I figured it was Chubby, our dog, who sometimes makes sounds like that when she’s about to throw up.  I spun around in the chair, ready to grab her by the collar and hustle her to the door, and instead saw Maria standing at the intersection of the kitchen and the living room.  She had her hands up by her face.  She made another gurgling sound.  She was choking. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Uncle Day Weekend - Part 7

Uncle Day Weekend is the continuing saga of an overnight road trip we took over Labor Day Weekend.  Wondering why it’s called ‘Uncle Day?’  Check this out.  In part 6, we made it just inside the gates of Bearizona, a relatively new attraction near Williams, Arizona.  Part 7 is all about what we saw inside…

The first area of the park after the munched motorhome display (check out part 6 if you want to see a picture) is the donkey exhibit.  The map calls them American Burros.  This, I suppose, is in contrast to Mexican burros, which I love, especially with shredded beef and red chile sauce, but American burros are just donkeys.  It’s a strange way to start, although I suppose if you’re going to show donkeys at a wild animal park, the best place to put them is at the beginning.  They’re certainly not going to provide the big finish.  At Bearizona, there were maybe ten of them spread around randomly over the wide, bare ground of their enclosure, standing under pine trees or just out in the open.  Even they seemed confused as to why they were there.  We drove slowly through the large pen, searching for any sign of interesting behavior, or even movement.  One kind of twitched his ear, and then another lazily bent his neck to look in our direction.  He began to saunter towards us, and I got the feeling he might be coming over to bum a cigarette.  Sensing our non-smoker aura, he changed direction at the last moment and shuffled past us, meandering slowly along the road, eventually stopping and standing in another part of the pen.  That was exciting.  We moved on.

Donkeys in their natural habitat. I think there are four of them in this picture.

So cool.
The next exhibit was bison.  I love bison.  They are unequivocally my favorite North American mammal.  I love their massive, shaggy, triangular heads with their scraggly goatees, and thick, stubby horns.  Above the hips, they look like furry Marines, with thick necks, immense chests, enormous shoulders, and torsos which narrow sharply to a trim, dare I say positively svelte, waist.   Yet from the waist back, it’s as though God slapped an average cow’s rear end onto this monumental beast.  Granted, a cow that spends a lot of time at the gym doing squats, but a cow nonetheless.  This almost comical combination makes them look as though they’re always on the verge of tipping forward onto their broad, flat heads, leaving their little back legs wiggling helplessly in the air.  It’s an image that makes you want to laugh, but you quickly suppress the urge, because bison look as though they’re just waiting for you to give them a reason to turn you into mulch.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Leftover Halloween Treats


A sampling of tidbits from this year’s Halloween festivities that I want to get rid of before they go stale…

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was in heavy DVR rotation at our house over the last week or so.  It turned out that there were several other ways it connected to our Halloween this year:  

Inspired by the TV special, my ten-year-old daughter Jessica decided to be a “Charlie Brown ghost” for Halloween this year.  We bought a white sheet and a yard of black fabric.  With some scissors and a glue gun, we did our best to recreate poor old Charlie Brown’s infamous costume. It cost a total of $16 bucks to make, and that’s only because we didn’t have a white bedsheet lying around the house.  Here is how it turned out:

Charlie Brown

Not bad, right?  By the way, all modesty aside, I have the coolest daughter in the world.

I have to admit I’m more than a little proud that my daughter chose to be a Charlie Brown ghost.  She could have opted to be a vampire stewardess, or a zombie cheerleader, or Lindsay Lohan. It gives me a modicum of hope for the future.