February 2009

I’m a huge fan of time travel stories. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, short stories, movies…the whole concept is fascinating to me.

Sure, we’d all like to be able to go into the future and see what things are going to be like…or travel to the past to see if Oswald really was a lone gunman or to see just how those pyramids were built.

But, I think I’ve hit upon a great, practical use for time travel: Running an efficient take-out pizza joint.

So check this out. A customer comes up to the counter at 7:00pm and places an order with the cashier. The cashier transmits the customer’s order (via special quantum computer) 25 minutes into the past…so that the kitchen receives the order at 6:35pm and makes the pizza, thereby having the pizza ready by 7:00pm (when the customer places the order). From the customer’s standpoint, he/she receives the piping hot, made-to-order (no matter how weird) pizza immediately!

Feel free to bask in the glory of my genius.


Let’s talk about milestones. Everybody has them in their lives. Some of them are common to all of us (usually by age): 16 = Driver’s license, 17 = legal admission to rated ‘R’ movies, 18 = legal adult, 21 = legal to drink, 25 = insurance rates drop, etc etc.

When I was a kid, I remember measuring myself against our car. One day, I would be taller than the car and, boy oh boy how cool things would be then. It gave me something to look forward to, a physical marker (besides those measurements on the door jamb) that I was getting older and growing up. Even now, every now and then, I pause before getting into my car and remember the excitement I felt when I finally did become taller than the car. It gives me an odd feeling of success, even though the goal was achieved through no special effort on my part.

In high school, I began to wonder when other people would begin seeing me as an adult. I figured that would be important because, in public at least, adults are expected to act a certain way. When you’re a kid, it’s no big deal to be riding your bike around the neighborhood while holding a wooden broom handle, pretending to be a knight on a quest. Or, at least when I was a kid, sneaking around the neighborhood with toy guns wouldn’t garner a second look. HOWEVER, an adult behaving in either of those ways may be viewed as “suspicious.” Anyway…I figured that the best gauge of whether people viewed me as an adult would be whether or not I was offered coffee as an after dinner drink. Why? Well, as a kid with my parents at a restaurant, when dinner was over the waitress (or waiter) would ask my parents if they would like any coffee. I was never offered any. When I asked my parents about it, they said that coffee was a grown-up drink.

Well, I was 24 when I was offered my first cup of coffee after dinner. I don’t know what happened, but it’s happened every time since then. It was almost as if some magic switch was thrown. “From this point on,” (insert sound of a switch being flipped on) “Kevin will be offered coffee after dinner.”

Of course, I still act like a kid whenever I can. I’m 39 years old and I still crawl up the stairs pretending to be Spider-Man.

Several years ago when my daughter, S, was in third grade, her school had a technology fund raiser. These particular funds were raised by students selling items from the Sally Foster Catalog. Of course, there were incentives designed to motivate the students to sell. If a student collected X dollars, that student got to choose a prize from X level. If a student collected Y dollars, then that student chose a prize from Y level. S immediately saw what she wanted: A plastic coin-sorter slash bank in the shape of a combination lock. So, she sold what she needed to sell in order to meet the prize eligibility requirements.

A couple of weeks after the fundraiser was over, she picked up her prize. When I got home from work that day, she showed me how it worked and showed me how to do the combination. She was just so excited about it. About 8:00pm, her brother, Z, got hold of it and attempted to open it without using the combination. He succeeded, but broke it in the process. S was devastated. Cried and cried and cried. Now, S is a worry-wart. She frets and worries about things and works herself up to the point where she’s crying…usually about things that MIGHT happen tomorrow or next week. I knew that if I didn’t tell her something, she’d be up all night fighting back tears. So I told her that we’d take the sorter-slash-bank back to school, tell Mr. C (the guy who is in charge of the incentives) we discovered it was broken when we opened it, and ask if another could be ordered. This calmed her down and she was able to get a decent night’s sleep.

The next morning, I was thinking about it some more and, on our way to school, we talked about lying. I told her that I really really wanted her to have her sorter bank, because she worked so hard for it and it wasn’t fair that her brother broke it. But I also told her that I was afraid I would be teaching her a wrong lesson by lying about the circumstances of the damage in order to get what we want. What’s more, I told her that if we tell Mr. C that it was broken though carelessness, there’s a chance that he’d refuse to order another one because, hey, we didn’t take care of the one we had. She looked me right in the eye and said, “Dad, I know lying is wrong, but it’s just this one time.” Right away, my fears about her being taught a wrong lesson were solidified and it hit me like a hammer.

“Honey, is killing someone wrong?”

“Sure it is, Dad.”

“OK, but what if we did it just once? Just this one time?”

“No. Killing is wrong.”

“That’s right. So how is that any different from lying…just this once?”

“Because lying isn’t the same as killing someone. Besides, we’re talking about a plastic bank, not someone’s life.”

“True, but the idea is exactly the same. It’s wrong to lie/kill/steal/cheat, but it’s ok if we only do it just this one time. Does that sound right to you?”


“So we’ll tell Mr. C the truth. That your brother broke it.”

“But what if he won’t order another one?”

“Then…we’ll kill your brother. Just this once. Honey, I don’t know what we’ll do. Maybe we’ll make Z give you his allowance until we can go buy another one on our own.”

We arrived at school and she went to her room, while I made my way to Mr. C’s office. I told him the truth about what happened, and asked if it were possible to get another one. He said, “Sure. I’ll return this one as “damaged upon receipt” and order a new one. Fill out this form and you’ll get it when it comes in.” I thanked him and left.

I remember how that got me thinking about the role that that lies play in our society. Clearly, there was no thought involved in Mr. C’s choice to mark the item “damaged upon receipt,” even though he knew that wasn’t that case. Just as there wasn’t any thought involved when I initially told S that we’d tell Mr. C that the sorter bank was broken when we got it. Reflexively, the instinct was to lie in order to get what we wanted. Lie to win. If lying is so ingrained…so indoctrinated into our culture…why is so much time and effort spent trying to tell children that lying is wrong? Aren’t they just going to grow up and make decisions about what’s “OK” to lie about and what isn’t anyway?

I’m an avid reader. I always have a book to read. I think the longest time I’ve spent between finishing one book and starting another is 2 or 3 days.

I like watching movies, too. After a day of working and an evening with the kids, there’s nothing better than spending a couple of hours “decompressing” in front of a TV screen.

Sometimes, these two things become intertwined, for there are plenty of movies out there in the world that are based on a book.

For years and years, I’ve been of the opinion that, if a movie is a based on a book, I should read the book first. It’s taken me 38 years to realize that this, in my humble, vacuous opinion, has been a mistake.

The beginnings of this conclusion began with Harry Potter. I had no interest in reading Sorcerer’s Stone when it first came out. I had glanced at it in the bookstore and immediately put it down when I saw the word “wizard.” I’ve never been able to really get into books with wizards, trolls, elves, orcs, etc. (However, I WILL read The Lord of the Rings before I die. I’ve been trying to read those books since I was 16, but that’s a completely different story.)

In 2003, my family saw the movie Sorcerer’s Stone. And we loved it. We bought that movie and Chamber of Secrets and we loved that one too. I was sold. We bought the books and I began reading them to my daughter. When the movie version of Prisoner of Azkaban came out, we had already read that book. When we saw the movie, we were disappointed. We didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous 2 movies. So much had been left out of the story. At the time, it was easy to blame it on the change of directors. Chris Columbus directed the first 2 movies. Alfonso Cuaron directed the third. Every Potter film as initially been disappointing, but after subsequent viewings they have become more enjoyable.

More recently, there were the movies Hostage and Gone Baby Gone. I really enjoyed the books, but as for the movies……not so much.

Which brings me to The Ruins. The Ruins is a 2008 horror film. The DVD looked promising, but I didn’t have high hopes because a) I had never heard of it before and b) it’s a horror film. Typically, those two in conjunction with another is a recipe for bad. But I borrowed it from the library and was surprised at how good it actually was. To be clear, this will never be a classic and it won’t win any type of award or anything, but it was pretty good (and graphic) for what it was.

A few weeks later, I was at the library again and I saw a book called The Ruins. It jumped out at me because I recently saw the movie. As I read the description, I thought it sounded WAY too much like the movie to be a coincidence. A quick check of the DVD box confirmed that the movie was based on the book. Screenplay for the movie was done by the book’s author. So I checked out the book and read it. It was a pretty darn, good book.

Now, the thing is, this is a book I would never have read. In fact, if I knew the movie was based on the book, I don’t think I would have ended up seeing the movie knowing what the book was about. And if, by some chance, I did read the book before seeing the movie, I would not have liked the movie (for there were many, many changes).

So…the movie (which I enjoyed) helped me enjoy the book as well. Had I read the book first, the best scenario would have been that I liked the book but hated the movie.

So, my long standing rule is changing. When it comes to movies based on books, I will see the movie before reading the book. Maybe that will help me get through The Lord of the Rings. Although…I have attempted to watch Fellowship of the Ring about 8 times and still can’t make it through without getting completely confused.

Several months ago, we were over at my sister-in-law’s house for something, a birthday party most likely, and A was having a good time with her cousin playing Nintendo Wii. They were playing High School Musical: Sing It. This is a game where songs from the movie are played and you sing along with them into a microphone and the game judges you on your pitch and durations of the notes. Despite the fact that A isn’t into High School Musical, she had an absolutely great time singing along with the songs.

Since the movie Mamma Mia came out, A has been totally digging on ABBA. She loved the Mamma Mia soundtrack and asked us to get ABBA albums out of the library. She’d walk around the house with her headphones on singing ABBA. We’d be in the van listening to the Mamma Mia soundtrack and she’d be singing the songs.

Several weeks ago, we went to Target to look for a birthday present for one of her friends. A went to the toys to look around while L and I went around to get some things that we needed (dishwasher soap, Capri Suns, etc). When we got to the toy department, A wasn’t there. Not to worry, though. She wasn’t far off. She was in the video game section, just standing before the cabinet with eyes wide as wide could be.

There, on the top shelf behind the glass, was a game. Singstar: ABBA. It’s the same kind of game as the High School Musical one I talked about earlier, only it’s on the PS2. And it’s ABBA. And her birthday was coming up.

“That’s what I want for my birthday,” she said. “That right there.” I told her that we’d have to do some research on the game to see what songs were on it and read reviews and what not in order to see if it was really something she wanted. We also informed her that it was going to be much more than the $30 (the cost of the game) because we would also have to purchase the microphones, which were going to be another $25.

I knew that she REALLY wanted this game when she said, “I could use some of my Christmas money to buy the microphones!”

I gave her the text-book parent answer. “We’ll see.”

Well, her birthday came and one of the presents she opened up was Singstar: ABBA. She hugged it and didn’t want to put the box down.

“Can we put it in?” she asked.

“Uhhh, I guess. But we don’t have the microphones.”

“So? I just want to hear the songs. There are some I don’t know and I want to at least listen to them before I have to sing them.”

So we put the game in and set it up with a throwaway profile so she could listen to the songs. Two days later, it was the weekend and all she kept asking was, “When can we go to GameStop to get the microphones? Can we go now? What about now? What about after lunch? When can we go?”

We went after dinner and she bought the microphones. We arrived at home and she was on the floor opening the box before she had even taken her coat off.

The next 3 hours was as close to an ABBA concert as I’ll ever get. Or want to get. She was having the time of her life, belting out Dancing Queen, The Winner Takes It All, Mamma Mia, and others.

And you know what? It looked like one hell of a good time. We set up S.O.S. as a duet and I sang with her. Her sister sang songs with her. L sang songs with her. And even Z sang with her. Everyone was having a good time. So good, in fact, that I’ll be purchasing SingStar: 80’s very soon.

I’m looking forward to singing Culture Club, Wham, and Flock of Seagulls.

Yes. I am a dork.

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