Wilder by Far

A look at life with the Wilder family. Updated most weekends and some vacation days. You can contact me at movingnorth@gmail.com..

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Location: United States

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Bills, bills, bills. One is born, one runs up bills, one dies." - Blackadder, Blackadder the Third

Left: Pugsley pushes a car. I love it when The Boy takes pictures like this - the perspective they provide is fantastic, especially when he focuses on the dust bunnies.

I promised more on the differences in between Texas and Alaska. I like to keep the promises that I want to keep, so, here are some more:

Interest level. Texans are very, very interested in Alaska. Alaskans consider Texas too small to worry about. I get my hair cut at the local SuperCuts™ and have darn near started a hairstylist mutiny because I described the conditions in Fairbanks where the stylists won’t work on Saturday or Sunday (the big days for tips down here) because they make enough money for Pez® and pantyhose during the week, and are hungover or something on Saturday.

Permits. Everything down here requires a permit. Government is just as inefficient in Fairbanks, but there’s so much less of it than down here. When there isn’t enough government to suit us, heck, we band together to form homeowner’s associations so we can argue about how many beer cans you can throw onto your lawn and leave sitting for a month before you’re officially branded a “nuisance.” (For the record, it must be more than a twelver. Maybe I need to buy beer in shinier cans?) There are also things called “building codes,” whatever those are.

Choices. I’m the kind of guy that can go to the same restaurant and order the same thing every single time I go out to eat. I ate (true story) the same thing for lunch every single day that I had lunch in high school. Variety in food isn’t important to me. Picky as hell? Yes. Novelty required in dining? No. Here in Houston it’s choices galore. Most average restaurants are as good as the best dining available in Fairbanks. STOP IT. I wish there was just one place to go. The Mrs. (reasonably) wants to, in a town with 734 restaurants per person, to go to differing places. Me, it just makes my head ache. I know what I want to eat at the places I’ve been. Going to a new restaurant makes me as confused as George Clooney is when he’s playing characters that aren’t, well, George Clooney.

More Choices. We went to one grocery store in Fairbanks, got our prescriptions there, too. Do we really need the seven different grocery store chains within a mile of my house? The sixteen pharmacies? Oh, they all sell beer? Nevermind. We can keep those.

Weather. The obvious. I’ve yet to break out a winter jacket here. The Mrs. entered Pugsley’s room the other night and thought it was a bit chilly. She thought to herself, “I’ll have to have John fix that before winter.” Then she realized it is winter. It’s already as cold as it will get. Fortunately, Pugsley has good, umm, appetite-related insulation. More insulation for his room? Nah. More reinforcement for his floor? Maybe.

Traffic. More cars on a single mile segment of road at 8am than there are in Fairbanks. All of them (except for mine) are Lexuses. Lexi. Mercedes. Traffic isn’t bad, though, if you limit all your driving to between midnight and 4am.

Doctors. Doctors in Houston are like bimbos in Hollywood. Cheap and numerous. Hopefully not dumb. In Fairbanks, it costs a sack of gold and a blood oath to get a prescription. Here, doctors follow you home to see if you need to have your pillow fluffed.

Houses. Like doctors in Houston and Paris Hilton, houses are cheap here, too. Nice houses: they’re in the $60/square foot price range. In Fairbanks, houses are expensive, and I never could figure that one out – it’s not like Alaska’s not made of land.

One thing both places share is pride. Alaskans feel (outside of the federal highway money) that they’re an independent sort. They don’t need others. At midnight on the local radio station in Fairbanks, they play the Alaskan Anthem. In Texas, they’re sure there isn’t another state, and if you make Texas mad, it will just chuck the Stars and Stripes and go back to being the Lone Star Republic. I was in Home Despot® and was making my ritual donation of $157.23, when I chatted with a clerk. He was from Arkansas, and had lived in Texas for five years.

His advice: “When a Texan asks you how long you’ve been living in Texas, you just tell ‘em that you might have been born someplace else, but you got here as soon as you could. They love that.”

Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Ah, so we see that fire ants in the underwear can change the course of whole governments." - Pearl Forrester, MST3K

Nolan Ryan is one difference. If he'd been born in Fairbanks, well, he'd have been one heck of a miner.

It takes a while to get the feeling of the place. The sights, the sounds, the smells take a while to permeate your being. It’s a lot like being the carpet at the Angelina/Brad house – oh, they look like clean, scrubbed celebrities, but in reality Angelina showered last April and Brad rubs ham on his hair to keep that “just got up” look. Okay, I don’t know that Brad rubs ham on his head, but, really, who could tell?

Okay, cheating Hollywood couples aside, it’s time for a column to discuss the differences in Houston and Fairbanks by a clever use of juxtaposition. (I used to think that juxtaposition was a word that you only Pamela Anderson would know, and would involve a lot of liquids that decreased friction. Then I went to grad school, and learned that it meant side-by-side comparison. Imagine my disappointment.)

I’ll try to avoid the Yakov Smirnov type comparisons: “In Fairbanks, air iss cold. In Houston, air colds you!!!”

See why I’m going to avoid that? Yeah. Thought so.

Anyhow, part of what I’m seeing now is very disturbing. When it’s the coldest part of January, well, in Fairbanks, all of the bugs are very, very dead. Last week I saw a wasp and several species of bugs of such complexity that they looked like they were getting ready to star in a Sci-Fi™ channel movie, and not as the good guy.

The bugs themselves could take up a whole column. The red imported fire ant, solenopsis invicta is one. I grew up with ants, red ones that bit and hurt. Then I moved to Alaska, where any ant you’d see would be as big as your finger, but not bite and be primarily interested in chewing wood, slowly. They were called “carpenter ants.” Made you think of pale people singing songs like, “I’m on Top of the World,” and then not eating enough and dying. Fire ants are known as such because their sting feels like being burned by fire. I prefer the carpenter ants, unless they’ve got circular saws by now.

Invictus is Latin for “unconquered.” I’ve never been intimidated by a small, hive-bound insect before, but when some sort of bespectacled scientist decides to name an ant “unconquered,” well, you know that the ant must be a bit tougher than the average ant. There are also things called “grubs,” “termites.” and “ticks.” None of those live in Alaska.

Right now they share the house with me, but contribute little to the mortgage payment. I’ll let you know how that works out.

Traffic is horrendous here. On a Saturday, you might end up at a red light with fifty cars behind you. In Fairbanks, it’s rare that there are fifty operable cars. I drive an hour to work. In Fairbanks, I could drive an hour and be an hour away from anyone.

In Fairbanks, the crimes were mainly petty home burglary and domestic violence. In Houston, well, there are violent muggings, car-jackings, and bank robberies. In many cases, when it comes on the radio that the Chase® Bank was robbed, well, it makes you wonder if it was the Chase® Bank on the north side of the street, or the one on the south side.

Texas is like Fairbanks in that everybody has a gun. I appear to be an outlier, since when I began to discuss the guns that I own and the fact that I think that a .44 magnum is woefully underpowered from an Alaska standpoint, most people begin to feel that I should register as a military organization. In Alaska, well, people wondered why I called those puny things “weapons.”

Housing prices are lower, too. I don’t really understand that, since, well, Alaska’s made of land, and, well, it’s huge. But in Houston you can buy a house with a pool and granite countertops for what a gallon of milk would cost in Fairbanks, unless it was moose milk, in which case you could buy a mall down here.

Next, more witty observations about life in Houston, and clever, baby-oil covered juxtapositions. Because you can never get enough baby-oil.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Houston, we have a problem." - Tom Hanks, Apollo 13

Oh, it looks fun . . .

I don’t know what made me buy the suit.

I think it was the book. I was reading a book and the general point of the book was that sometimes we as people forget the big picture, and focus on the small. Few people (none, really) from my first job are going to come to my funeral. The important thing is the love and the family surrounding us now, because, after all, we’re all going to die. I know, loser talk. But in this case, it worked.

That, I think, led me to buy the suit.

It was bright orange, and baggy like a clown suit with a big zipper up the front. Thankfully it had web mesh belts sewn on the front.

I debated. It was expensive, but, then again, fashion always is.

It wasn’t a clown suit – it was an astronaut suit. And, it wasn’t for me, it was for The Boy.

When I was the age that The Boy is now, I we marched up and down the streets dressed as astronauts. This was before school boards went nutty, so I brought a toy pistol with me to stick in the belt of my space suit.

Teacher: “Astronauts don’t need guns.”

Young John Wilder: “And you would know that exactly how?

My butt hurt for a week. Oh, yeah, teachers could do that forbidden thing, too.

Anyhow, I gave it to The Boy when I got home. He was ecstatic. The Boy put it on at lightspeed, and I suggested he go outside and play. He ran off to his room. The Boy emerged two minutes later, again dressed in his jeans and t-shirt. “Where’s your astronaut suit?”

“I don’t want to get it dirty.” When The Mrs. finally revived me, well, I was still as stunned as Willie Nelson when he first heard of deodorant. (Just me, or do you think the red-haired stranger might stink up a room, too?)

Given The Boy’s love for his new suit, off to the Johnson Space Center we went the next day.

Death, taxes, payment for parking.

Perhaps our expectations were too high. To start with, we were charged $5.00 for parking. Minor, I know, but really. Next, the admission was about $20.00 a head for the complete tour. We opted for the family membership. You can go back anytime for a year, right?

Hmmm. I wonder if there's a way I could just donate my kidney instead . . .

The TSA guy at the door asked us if we were carrying knives, umm, whatever you’d do in a tourist attraction with a knife. Perhaps whittling isn’t allowed at the Space Center.

Well, now I know what Disneyland would be like if it were run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or your local DMV. It would be . . . boring. Admittedly, having young Pugsley with us, we couldn’t do a whole lot. At 18 months of age, he weighs in at 120 lbs (2.1kg). It’s not like the stroller goes up the stairs, and heaven forbid attempting to carry him without undergoing a strict weight training program first. We wandered a bit, and noticed the biggest kid’s play area (think a McDonald’s Playland on a government budget) I’ve ever seen, three stories high. The Boy had neglected to wear socks, and was thus banished to the outer darkness of not being able to climb on a congressionally funded tornado slide.

I was looking for the membership desk. We got there at 12:45 PM (that’s AM in metric) and saw a sign that said, “MEMBERSHIP WILL REOPEN AT: 1:00” so I kept an eye on the desk.

There were some displays (we didn’t get to the trams since it was raining, nor pay $4.00 for The Boy to crash a virtual jet, nor $56.00 for a kid’s order of fries) but we finally got to the kids’ hands-on area. The Boy got to pull some levers and launch a toy rocket with a blast of air. The next attraction was an air fan that kept a ball floating on a cushion of air through the lovely pressure balancing act providing experimental evidence of the Bernoulli principle. You could modulate the airflow with a valve and change the height of the ball. Simple, right?

An eight year old was acting like a hyperactive baboon, putting the ball in the air, and swatting it and then running after it like a terrier on crack. His mother saw The Boy and I patiently awaiting the apparatus so I could explain what those crazy Bernoulli brothers figured out. She said, “Spot, let’s go. This little boy wants to play.”

Play, hell. It was time to introduce The Boy to some straightforward math:

Well, rather than go through basic fluid mechanics with The Boy, Spot decided to ignore his mother, and keep playing with the apparatus like a crazed weasel. She looked at me apologetically, as if to say, “Hey, you understand. Spot’s in charge.”

Umm, no, not really. My vote? Neuter Spot and spay mommy so we don’t spread the “weak mommy-hyperactive controlling brat gene.” Or, vice versa. I could never keep “spay” and “neuter” straight. Biology’s not my thing. (If I were to devise a taxonomic system for the classification of species, it would include three categories: “can make beer with it”, “otherwise edible” and “firewood.” Everything else would be ignored or hastened into extinction.)

The Mrs. is not noted for suffering fools or the weak willingly, so we left the kids’ area before I needed to scrounge up bail money out of the seat cushions of the Wildermobile.

I went back to the Membership Desk. Now the sign had been replaced: MEMBERSHIP WILL REOPEN AT: 2:00. Somehow, they had snuck back in the thirty seconds the desk had been out of my sight and swapped out the sign. It was 1:28. I marched over to the (staffed) Information Desk.

John Wilder: “I want to get my membership processed, or I want a refund.”

Clerk: “Umm, they’ll be back at (squinting) 2:00.”

John Wilder: “No. Don’t trust the sign. Don’t believe the sign. The sign lies. It said they’d be back at 1:00. They weren’t. I want a refund, or my membership. Now.”

Apparently this was a first for them, someone demanding service who’d paid for it. Being unfamiliar with how government works, they got somebody more familiar with government over to the membership counter and promptly misspelled our names on the identification cards.

The Mrs., though starving by this point, is also not noted for paying $56.00 for fries.

We left.

We hit the Golden Arches (complete with astronaut on top) and headed home. I looked at The Boy, happily munching a Chicken McPart™ in the back seat.

The Mrs. said, “The Boy asked if you wanted an astronaut suit, too. I told him you probably did.”

Yeah, The Mrs. is right, as usual. But I still think astronauts should carry guns. There might be bears in space.

By the way, a shout out to Tiffany in PA for doing the right thing, namely getting a copy of The First Seal. Tiffany, you have a beer waiting for you whenever you get to Houston!

You can, too. Do the right thing, well, not get a free beer. Well, maybe get a free beer, since we're always looking for a reason to have a beer, anyhow:

The Mrs.’ book is online and available at Amazon.com at this link.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"I was the lead man in a struggling band. Chef told me to wear funny hats. I thought he said "bite the head off a bat." - Ozzy, South Park

This was a picture taken by The Boy. It took me a while to figure out what it was, but it turns out it was a picture of an egg whisk in hell. No, actually, that's the springy little thing inside a cheap red flashlight that he took a picture of. I would love to have the time to do that, but, hey, drugs are illegal, and that's what he's for, to see things I can't. Go, The Boy!

I was sitting at my computer the other day, contemplating the potential integration of the entire personality of a human, a mechanism to allow a person to overcome all fear and thus become unlimited in their potential – a revolutionary new way for mankind to put fear, hatred and war behind them. Either that or I was thinking about getting a piece of jerky from the kitchen. I can’t recall which.

Anyhow, as I pondered, weak and weary, I heard the familiar strains of Tony Iommi’s guitar, playing Black Sabbath’s version of “Paranoid.” I believe that this song was written before Ozzy had enough of his brain removed by brain termites so he sounds like he’s fifty years older than Wilford Brimley.

I was alone. The Mrs. was doing, well, whatever The Mrs. does when she’s not with me (I think she was training a bunch of Green Berets sixty ways to kill a man with a whiffleball bat). Pugsley was digesting his latest meal, six steaks and a baked potato, not bad for 19 months old – he gnaws his way out of the crib at night for snacks. The Boy was in bed, theoretically sleeping.

I decided to investigate.

It was The Boy. The Boy had taken his Sony™ Micro-Cassette recorder and recorded a bit of radio from the local classic rock station.

Why is The Boy listening to classic rock? Well, there’s exactly one of classic rock station in Houston, but about seventy-zillion rap stations, several stations in Spanish, and one (I think) in Arabic. The Boy doesn’t speak Arabic, nor does he speak Spanish (though he can do a stream of consciousness gibberish that he calls Spanish), so the three choices are rap, country, and classic rock. I don’t mind rap, in a strictly academic sense, but as a practical matter, the subject matter is a bit stronger than PG-13, most of the time. The Boy hasn’t been in prison with his mamma while his dog was stolen by the woman that done him wrong, so he doesn’t listen to much country. Given that The Boy is six, well, I’d much rather he be listening to classic rock, where I know the worst of it is listening to Bob Seger whine about people being mean to him because his hair is long. Stupid Bob Seger.

As such, The Boy’s been grooving lately to KKRW. He’s gone so far as to take his Sony® Micro-Cassette recorder and record stretches of radio. Thus, Ozzy Osbourne was letting The Boy know what it was like to be finished with my woman because she couldn’t help me with my mind. Apparently, people think he’s insane because he’s frowning all the time. Can you help him?

I don’t know. Black Sabbath may have been music that I tried to scare my parents with (didn’t work) but, then again, I wasn’t listening to that when I was six. I was listening to Alice Cooper instead. “It’s just a phase, dear, he’ll grow out of it.”

Following The Boy’s taped version of Ozzy, came Fleetwood Mac, complete with Stevie Nicks singing (is it just me, or does it sound like Stevie is gargling with marbles on all of those songs?). The Boy apparently loves it. There he was, sprawled out on his bed in his PJ’s, listening to his songs.

I reached down and turned the cassette player off.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“You’ll kill the batteries if you leave this on all night. I’ll turn on your radio. That work for you?”


I closed the door to the room, Steve Miller singing about how he’d like to take the money and run. The Boy resumed his slumber and all was right with the world.

Now, was I interested in solving all of humanity’s problems via creating a method wherein people could eliminate war? Or was it the jerky?

It was the jerky. Mmmm. Jerky tastes good.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"On behalf of myself and Harold and the whole gang up here at Possum Lodge, keep your stick on the ice." - Red Green, The Red Green Show

The Boy took this. I call this "Still Life, Suburban Street, Where's The Frigging Ice?"


Pandemonium in the streets! Call Jack Bauer! Call Walker, Texas Ranger! Call, umm, somebody! Anybody!

I first heard about the looming terror last week in a series of whispered rumors. It might be coming. It would be coming soon.

Then my neighbor, Gladys Kravitz (more on that in a future missive), indicated that, in breathless terms, there was a run at the supermarket – everything was flying off the shelves. Bottled water. Milk. Diapers. Toilet paper. For Heaven’s sake – there’s a Pez shortage! People were digging in, and preparing for disaster.

The looming terror? Tornados? Foreign invasion? Brad and Angelina moving to town?


A minor taste of what people in Alaska would call “summer.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Houston is caught in the fevered grip of panic from the thought that it might be a bit chilly this week. I think it even has it’s own theme: Ice Storm, 2007. It’s been the lead story for the last five days, and it certainly sounds like the newscasters are talking in bold when they mention it.

I see stories spring up in the news about what do if you catch hypothermia, as if you can even do that in three or four hours of walking around in nothing but Wonder Woman™ Underoos® outside holding a can of spray paint and looking for spare change under a trash can to buy breath mints (don’t ask how I know that to be true, but just trust me). To listen to the media, Houston was about to see temperatures similar to the last ice age, which resulted in the formation of the Icecapades and the popularity of Olympic Ice Clog Dancing.

Strangely, Global Warming® stories are not in the news this week . . . .

I will admit that houses down here are woefully unprepared for anything approaching weather. In Fairbanks, I had triple pane windows. Here, my windows are made out of a single sheet of the stuff that wraps a Twinkie©. The original builder apparently also thought that it would be a good idea to put bare copper pipe outside and exposed to the elements. The copper pipe has the patina of age, so, I was probably being a bit silly when The Boy and I went out and put foam insulation over the pipe coming out to the valves for the garden hoses. In the 240 years since Casa Wilder South has been built, well, those pipes haven’t frozen.

The Boy and I wrapped the pipe just in case that it might get to 32.14ºF or slightly below and cause the end of human civilization in Houston, or at least a total shortage of toilet paper. Oh, and burst my pipes.

Do I mock? Yes. Last winter I saw temperatures that were 87ºF colder than Houston will be at it’s coldest this year. And I saw them for longer than a week. And, I’ve been in real ice storms, where glaze ice was thick enough to coat Donald Trump’s hair. I understand that they can be and have been serious business this year.

But in Houston??? As of today I haven’t even seen temperatures that would require a normal human to seek a coat, let alone the assortment of knit caps, parkas, mufflers, insulated gloves, and snow boots that I’ve seen before it even got to below 40ºF. I wonder: why do these people even have these clothes? Really, is it that hard to brave a day or two of discomfort rather than purchase an entire new wardrobe that would make you the envy of people working outside all day in darkest winter in Fairbanks? When you live in Houston? I will say this, with emphasis: it’s not cold enough outside to get beer to a decent and drinkable (beer is always drinkable- editor) temperature.

Enough random musings. The other day, The Boy indicated it was hot. It was in the 60’s out. He was sweaty. This summer I fully anticipate that he’ll melt when it hits 80ºF, saving him from the problem of bursting into flames since no member of our near-albino family can tolerate much more light than a 40-Watt bulb for more than twenty minutes at a time without blistering. And forget going outside to get the Sunday paper – all you would find of us would be a little pile of ashes on the driveway.

Last night, however, I got to see the supermarket in shambles, anything that could burn having been ripped off the shelves, the occasional tumbleweed and slowly smoking fire dotting the aisles between housewares and ladies undergarment thingies. Each clerk had a dazed expression, looking like they’d just stared into the face of an unspeakable evil for ninety straight hours. You could see the desperation and terror in the eyes of the clerks as they looked upon the desolation that had been the local Target®. In short, it was like a place where Stephen King would shop.

Armed with the latest reports on the local radio station, I bravely took to the streets this morning. I wish I could say something dramatic like there was a bazillion car pileup, but, really, it was a boring, uneventful drive to work at 70 mph (3,084 km/hr, if you’re French, or maybe even Canadian – I think if you’re French-Canadian, it’s definitely km/hr). I think there was certainly the possibility of a bazillion car pileup, but, sadly, we were lacking ice. The coffee was good.

So, here I sit. A veteran now of some mildly chilly weather. Dang, I’m tough. Jack Bauer, look out.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

"Strange, I usually get some sign when Lilith is in town: dogs forming into packs, blood weeping down the wall." - Niles, Frasier

As you can see, in Texas we either have large hydrants or small signs.

Part of living in Alaska that I loved was the wide-open nature of things. If you wanted to open up a shop where you slowly strangled loud kittens in your front yard with piano wire in the middle of a residential neighborhood, well, fine. Your neighbors might not appreciate it, but there was little, if anything they could really do about it, except see if they could get a corner on the kitten market to drive you out of business.

Texas is the opposite. It seems as though there is a permit for every eventuality and a restriction such that most things that aren’t prohibited are mandatory. Case in point: when we bought the latest Casa Wilder I called to set up the electricity account in my name. Not only could you purchase electricity like you were picking out a brand of ketchup (catsup?) at the store, but the number of plans provided by the different providers was dizzying. One promised my teeth would be whiter if I used their electricity. One promised that their juice would make me irresistible to all females on the planet. How to choose?

Well, regardless of how I chose, I got the incredibly odd message that my power could not be activated until I paid a fee and had my home inspected by the local city. So, I moved from a place where I was free to strangle kittens at will to a place where my carpet would be inspected prior to me being allowed to use a basic utility.

Oh, and I got to pay for the privilege of having my home inspected, fifty dollars. I’m pretty sure that I would need a permit to paint the inside of my house. I’d be surprised if there isn’t a city law requiring all interior doors to be open or closed, depending upon the phase of the moon.

I also have a Homeowner’s Association. This appears to be one of the “cool” ones, where they only give you static if you decide to open a topless bar in your garage, and set to cover charge too high.

The changes don’t end there. In the locale that I now hang my cowboy hat, as I drive home, the streets are lined with well-planned businesses. The streets are tree-lined and attractive. What’s most noticeable is that there are no signs peaking up, showing what business might be where. The only signs that (apparently) are allowed by law are ones that are at ground level, approximately six feet in height.

I suppose if I knew where everything was, this method of signage would be enough. But, if I knew where everything was, then I wouldn’t need signs at all, would I?

I suppose this attempt at beautification was well intentioned, but for a relative newcomer like me, it just makes me end up missing the turn for the place that I want to go. There is a bit of help for me, though. At one location that I passed, I noticed that there was a Chase™ bank. Right across the street from another bank. Another Chase® bank. The Wells Fargo© bank that’s in the parking lot of the grocery store that has a Wells Fargo™ bank in the lobby, well, I guess they were making shrewd use of space, right? I’m only surprised that there isn’t a Wells Fargo™ in the lobby of the Starbucks® in the lobby of the Wells Fargo©. All of these would be without visible signs, so I couldn’t find a single one of them, but would be pretty sure that if I went into a cryptically indicated storefront I could get coffee and a loan.

Apparently, good city planning involves making it impossible to find things and having sixty branches of each bank per mile.

The other part of moving to a new location is: what the heck is in all of these stores? What’s an “HEB,” and do I need something that’s in there? Do they sell things I need, or is it a store filled with neck-high blades rotating at 3600 rpm? I still cannot understand why Popeye would be synonymous with fried chicken, rather than a chain of fried spinach restaurants.

I finally did get a welcome letter from the city, though. They told me I’d need a permit if I had an alarm system. Thankfully that’s only $50 per year. What wonderful service they provide!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

"Hi, I'm Julia Roberts. You know, a lot of people died in the tsunami, but don't worry, I didn't." - Julia Roberts, The Family Guy

If someone tells you that Monster Trucks are unpopular in the South, well, maybe in South Manhatten. If it consumes gasoline, it's the bee's knees in Houston.

It started on Friday night. The Boy, after being sent to bed, came out in his ‘jammies and said, “I want you to take me to Monster Trucks.”

He was referring, it turns out, to the show that would be held at the local stadium, Reliant™ Stadium. I’m not sure why we have Reliant® Stadium here in Houston, since as near as I can tell the Astros play at Enron™ MinuteMaid® Park and we have no professional football team. I do know that Reliant© Stadium irritates me just a little, since Reliant® is the company I buy my electricity from. I really want that particular company using both sides of the copy paper, working in horrid conditions in dimly lit offices and driving 17 year-old-pickups, not spending millions of electricity-generated revenue a year on a nice stadium sign.

I thought about it, and talked it over with The Mrs. We thought it was a good idea, so I told The Boy, yes, we could go to Monster Trucks on Saturday. Monster Trucks are everything The Boy (and, indeed most six-year-old boys) would enjoy: fire-breathing massive chunks of steal that drive fast, make lots of noise, and are designed to crunch cars better than the ones I own.

I’ve been to a Monster Truck show twice in my life, and in both cases you could walk to the venue and just buy a ticket and walk on in. Monster Truck show selling out? Nah. Reliant® Stadium has seats for 70,000. Would 70,000 people pay to see big trucks? No.

Well, we left early. I hadn’t been to the stadium before and didn’t know where to park, or, really even where it was in more than a general sense. I picked up the cell phone, and called The Mrs. (who was busy, as she is 14 hours a day, feeding Pugsley). She was able to bring up an Internet map. She helped me take the right exits to get near that nirvana of little-boydom, Monster Trucks.

As I took the exit to get to the huge highway that runs past the stadium, my dadsense® registered a problem. There was a ten mile backup of cars on the freeway. Immediately I sensed that the previous places that I had been were not nearly as Monster Truck crazy as Houston.

We drove for another forty minutes and finally the signs near the parking displayed the message I’d feared – Monster Trucks were sold out.

For a few minutes, The Boy was inconsolable. He cried, indicated that we were “poor” (the definition of which was “not having tickets”) and generally was upset that we didn’t have tickets.

I floated an alternative. “Hey, let’s go to a movie instead.” That led to a fractured conversation.

The Boy: “No, you can’t do that.”

John Wilder: “Sure you can! They’re on big screens and they’re neat.”

The Boy: “Like a plasma screen?” (We don’t own one – he’s seen on at Best Buy™)

John Wilder: “No, bigger!”

We settled on Charlotte’s Web. I knew nothing about the current release, and, in fact, know one the barest of plot details on this as well, something about a talking pig eating a spider. I was reading chainsaw operations manuals when they did Charlotte’s Web in third grade, and intellectually I prefer pigs as bacon rather than as talking protagonists (except in Animal Farm, in which I believe that they were evil enough to make bacon taste even better).

We got our tickets, got our goodies, and settled down. We watched the previews, and then that creepy Dakota Fanning girl raised a pig. When the talking pig, Wilbur, met the talking spider, who I assume was Charlotte, The Boy announced, “Time to go home.” Julia Roberts’ voice brings that out in me, too.

As we walked to the car, he enthused that he thought that Charlotte’s Web was the best movie he’d ever seen. Driving home, I told him we’d seen only about twenty minutes of the movie, and there was a lot more.

“We’ll go back and see the rest sometime.”

“No, we won’t.” Not at $15 for two people, plus a mortgage’s worth of snacks.

I think we left at the right time, before the pig eats the spider. That would just be a downer, except that I could imagine that the pig was really eating Julia Roberts, which I guess would be okay. Besides, I’ve also committed to actually buying tickets in advance for the February 3, 2007 Monster Truck show. And, I will, to avoid the whole Julia Roberts thing.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Snakes Spiders, why'd it have to be snakes spiders?" Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark

Pugsley, showing some Christmas cheer. Note the belly like a bowl full of jelly.

Major note and plug for Wilder Global Domination, Inc.:

The Mrs.’ book is online and available at Amazon.com at this link. We've decided to up the ante. If you buy a copy and want a signed bookplate, e-mail your address and we'll shoot one out to you with a big slingshot that I've been building in the backyard. Warn your neighbors. We'll even personalize it and thank you for all of your help. We're not above lying to move som books.

Okay, okay, I’ve spent some time complaining (whining, The Mrs. would say) about what apartment life is like. We’re in a house now, and, well, it’s time to start whining about that.

We didn’t buy a new house. The Mrs. has a thing for older fixer-uppers, which is why, I think, she married me. For whatever reason, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, electrical problems seem to proliferate in the Casa Wilder South.

“The bathroom light doesn’t work,” The Mrs. noted, as she in her kerchief (and I in my cap) had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.

When what did my wandering mind did think? The GFCI must be on the blink.

Away to the bathroom I flew like a flash, tore open the cabinets and moved the powder for rash.

The light from the bedroom on the opened medicine gave the threadbare towels a . . .

Okay, you come up with a rhyme for medicine, tough guy.

In truth, I ignored The Mrs. until the next morning when she complained that her hair drier was likewise nonfunctional. I looked high and low, near and far, in the bathroom. I couldn’t locate the switch for the GFCI. (A GFCI is a magical box, mounted near the sink. It is filled with Electricity Fairies that pluck stray electrons from the current flow when you decide that making toast while taking a bubble bath is a good idea, and the toaster and your hair drier fall into the tub with you. Also, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the Electricity Fairies have a union contract negotiation and go on strike, taking down all of your bathroom outlets. GFCI stands for Good Fairy Circuit Interrupter.)

I went to the circuit breaker, thinking that maybe the solution might be in there. No good.

The only solution . . . the attic.

The attic of my house is, well, very attic-y. It is attic-y in that it is dark, foreboding, cramped, and is devoid of life except for spiders. What the spiders eat is anyone’s guess. I’m guessing stray electricity fairies. Oh, and husbands.

I got up into the attic. A house or two ago, I was in an attic and stepped right through the drywall roof onto . . . nothing. I was stopped at my, ahem, hip, ahem, (this is a family column) by the joist. Which was better than falling onto the garage concrete, but only marginally. I attempted to do better this time. I walked from joist to joist (sideways, between an inner false wall and the outer sheathing), wearing a geeky headlamp for light, brushing away the carcasses of spiders that had been young when Reagan was president. And saying, “ewwww” every once in a while.

I cocked the fedora on my hat at a jaunty angle, retrieved my trusty bullwhip from my side, and, at least in my dreams, pretended that instead of attempting to figure out how some electrician had wired the house the night after watching “Urban Cowboy” at the drive-in, that instead I was attempting to retrieve a lost Incan golden idol, and then have to run out of the attic while nail guns shot poisoned roofing nails at me. All while being chased by a big ball of fiberglass insulation. Hey, John Wilder and the Raiders of the Lost Wiring . . . it has a ring to it . . .

It’s better than reality.

During the next six hours (six hours) I went back up into the twice more, went to Home Despot™ to pick up various parts and things, and sorted out every circuit breaker in the house, marking same, and then verifying that all of the circuit breakers were active (kids: don’t try this at home) through the use of a multimeter, I was stumped.

It was like a video game. My shoulders slumped. I walked back into the now-dim bathroom, electrical outlets and switches hanging out of their outlet covers like badges of my failure, six hours of hot, sweaty frustrating work behind me.

I thought (really) to myself . . . “This is like some sort of video game. I just know the answer is in this room.” I started back at the beginning. “Outlet here. Outlet there. Switch there. Power comes in here. Only other spot is this cabinet. Surely no one could be fool enough to put one in there. “ I opened it up, moved the powder for rash, and sure enough, there was a GFCI, fairies intact, taunting me with its thereness. I pushed the switch, and was amazed that the light above the mirror gave a lovely glow, and gave the luster of mid-day to the hair drier below.

Exhausted, I went to The Mrs. I was thankful for finding the problem, but, perhaps, I was even more thankful than that for one other thing: her loving patience, her devotion to a man who would become obsessed with finding a circuit, to the point that it chewed up an entire day.

I said, “Thank you, The Mrs. Why do you do it? Why do you put up with these obsessive jags that I have?”

She smiled, then sighed. “John, I’ve given up long ago expecting you to pay someone competent to do it.”

See? She loves me.

*Note: New look coming soon, when I’m not being chased by spiders in the attic.

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