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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Sunday, February 22, 2009

" A hit. You have sank my battleship." - The Grim Reaper, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey


The Battleship Texas. This ship fought in WWI and WWII, losing only one man to combat related injuries. A symbol of pride for all Texans, this ship was forever defiled by horrible snoring the other night. My snoring.

Cub Scouts presents many an opportunity for The Boy and I to interact in a way more meaningful than, “pick up your socks, now take out the trash, get me a Phillips screwdriver from the shop” sort of way. One of those is camping. Preferably it’s outdoors, since then we can start a fire and then heroically save the camp when it slips its bounds and begins to flame everywhere (this has happened to us). However sometimes a fire is just a bit inappropriate . . .

In Texas, we have a variety of ships that are available for Cub Scout sleepovers: the USS Cavalla (a submarine), the USS Lexington (I haven’t been to this one – it’s either an aircraft carrier or a Constitution-Class starship) and the USS Texas.

My first experience with the USS Texas came when I was reading a book, The Ayes of Texas by Daniel Da Cruz. In this 1982 version of Red Dawn in Texas, the Soviet Union is preparing to kick the heinies of a complacent America. Texas? They won’t hear of it, succeed from the wussified Union, and with the help of NASA engineers refit the USS Texas into a high-tech war machine that keeps the Russkies out of the Brazos. It was a good yarn.

Rather than read about it in a book that I bought at a supermarket back when Reagan was president, this time I was fortunate enough to spend a night on the Texas with The Boy’s Cub Scout troop. The Boy and I were the first ones there – I didn’t think that I’d be able to take him at all, since on Thursday he was sick. The Mrs. took him to a doctor, and the doctor indicated that it was a virus – no antibiotics required. He felt fine the next day but they booted him from school because the doctor’s note said “he’s sick”, and we proceeded to pack and head to the USS Texas.

I had been on the Texas before, primarily above decks, and, well, it seemed small for the term “Battleship.” Heck, this battleship, (at least the sign said) was a dreadnaught which meant at the time of its construction, was considered one of the baddest ships at sea. The baddest, in 1914.

Inside, however, it was a completely different story – it was not small at all. The ship was huge. I learned on our trip that at one point, 1,600 men lived on board the ship – working multiple shifts (though, unlike a submarine, people didn’t have to share bunks).

Walking through the maze of history with a batch of Cub Scouts is enlightening. They got to see where the sailors ate, where they worked, and where they, ahem, went No. 2. They even got to see where the sailors got put when they were bad when we visited the brig. In the brig, the sanitary arrangements consisted of a bucket, and the bed consisted of the cold, solid steel floor. All while the prisoner was in a locked iron box with no light and just a few holes for ventilation. The prisoner got a bread and water for two days, and regular rations the third. This, to me, seems a bit more of a deterrent than our current penal system, but I’m thinking that the tennis skills and bench press abilities of our inmates would suffer should we follow a course of punishment similar to this.

Anyhow, after a tour belowdecks, we went to our room to sleep. It was 10PM, and I was tired. So were the Cub Scouts. We went to our bunks and bunked down. Outside of various Other Boys coughing, and my Olympic-Quality snoring, the night was uneventful. At 10:30PM the speakers came on and the mournful melody, Taps, played. Of course, by that time all the Cub Scouts were nearly asleep, so another five minutes of “What’s that??” was followed again by quiet.

Until 6:30AM. That’s when Reveille played. I was completely not ready to get up. While I do not turn to dust at 6:30AM on Saturday, I do turn into pea gravel. Ugh.

We convened for a nice breakfast, and, mercifully, some coffee. After about six cups I gain an actual personality. I could only get my hands on three, so I had to fake it. We walked about the upper deck, and got to view the Captain’s quarters, the inside of one of the 14” guns, and the bridge. Standing up on top of the bridge, imagining the ship under full steam into the sea, was wonderful. Or would have been wonderful, had my head still not been ringing from a conk from a low overhead beam. I’m imagining that sailors must have been shorter at some point.

Well, the Texas isn’t a futuristic war machine slated to kill Evil Soviets, but, with a few lasers here and there and maybe a cold fusion drive . . .
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Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Gold silverware?"-Jane Jetson, The Jetsons


So, at last the stimulus package has reached the Wilder family. I can report that The Boy has decided that he will quit second grade and begin working a job so he can get that extra $13 a week and do nothing but spend it on cheap Pez®. Oops, he has to get a job first, and it seems that all of the “street urchin” positions have been filled in Houston. So, I guess he’ll have to go and sell hedge funds futures in his Lego™ collection, which is probably a better asset than the third mortgage on a million-dollar condo in Encino that Wells Fargo is calling a “prime asset.”

Warning. What follows is a rant. It may not have the strict technical construction and tight, razor-sharp wit that normally accompanies Wilder By Far. Okay, you’ve been warned.

I try not to make this a political blog, because the one thing that I know politicians fail at horribly is that little thing called “the truth.” Oh, sure, Obama is going to bring “Change”, but frankly I like being alive, drinking beer, and eating steak. If he were going to change those things, well, that would make me sad. If he were going to make me a millionaire so I could spend more time being alive, drinking beer, and eating steak, well, I’d be in favor of that.

Apparently, the “Change” Obama was talking about was his address. Dunno ‘bout you, but I’m with The Who . . . “Please meet the new boss, same as the old boss . . .” Oh, sure, I’m thinking he might ride in on a winged unicorn that craps M&M’s® but I haven’t seen that quite yet.

Call me jaded. I guess that I would look good as a green statue. At least then my abs would be rock hard.

But I digress.

The thing that people forget about the Great Depression is that 70% of people had good jobs. Oh, sure, they had sand-flavored Jell-O® as dessert (or should that be desert?) and had nothing but chicken to eat for eleven years, but they made it through.

Not that it didn’t mess with their nuggets, though. Ma Wilder made it through the depression and made the family save all the tin plates from the Swanson™ TV dinners (this was back before the microwave made such a packaging faux pas a potentially incendiary event). I asked her why she saved TV dinner plates and dill pickle jars once, and she said, “You never know when we might need them.”

I still cannot conceive of a use for Swanson™ TV dinner tins. Perhaps she wanted us to spot-weld them to her Impala© in the event of rust. Other than that? I’m still at a loss. And since we lived in the driest part of the US, where rust was a century-long event, it may be that Ma Wilder was just off a bit.

I also know Ma wanted us to be self sufficient on our 2-1/2 acre slice of heaven. Since the only garden that she had tended for THREE YEARS had produced nothing but itsy-bitsy potatoes (after we had planted big ones) and some anemic strawberries, I hated to tell her that if the USSR ever launched the apocalypse against the US, well, pretty soon we’d be eating dog and sagebrush, since she couldn’t grow formaldehyde in a FEMA trailer.

But Ma Wilder did manage to put some stories through my head that ring familiar now. “Don’t ever buy stocks – that’s how The Man gets ya.” Since Pop Wilder technically was “The Man” in his day job, I didn’t argue this one. Ma Wilder also stored money about the place, and as soon as the Feds allowed purchase of gold again, I think she and Pa bought a bit. I know that at one point they had a LOT of silver coins, to which the disposition thereof was never made clear to me, since they were travelling a long way and came back with oodles of cash in their hands. But I got an Atari™ with Missile Command© soon afterward, so I was cool with that. (This by the way is an example of Gresham’s Law: Bad Money drives out Good and the son of people who have good money can get an Atari™. Silver=Good Money, and everyone kept the silver coins and wouldn’t give them as change. I challenge you thus: have you ever got a real silver (pre-1965 coin) as change at Taco Bell? Nope. So there.)

(OMIGOSH MOMENT: The United States used to mint money that was made of SILVER. ACTUAL SILVER!!! They stopped that when they had most of us conditioned that if it looked silvery, it was money. Fact check: DID YOU KNOW THAT WE USED TO USE GOLD AS MONEY, TOO????)

(Final fact check: DID YOU KNOW THAT THE CONSTITUTION REQUIRES WE MAKE MONEY ONLY OF GOLD AND SILVER? “Nor shall . . . any state make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts.”)

So, now the Treasury is too cheap to make a penny out of copper – because it would actually cost them more than a penny to make. And they didn’t make pennies out of copper way in the past because copper was so expensive – it was because copper was cheap. Did I mention that nickels used to be made of nickel? Yeah, not so much now. I think they make current coins out of the stuff that the chicken processing plants can’t use to make McNuggets®.

The other notion that Ma Wilder put in my head is that you have to take care of each other, in a far greater sense. I know her family took in a young boy and raised him through high school when his parents couldn’t care for him. He ended up calling those sorta-adoptive parents Mom and Dad. This is another good way to ignore The Man.

I used to worry that Congress was creating obligations far in excess of what any economy could ever produce, but that was too scary. Now I worry about fashion. It’s easy. Does this shirt go with that? Hmmm . . . . . Okay, as long as my belt matches my shoes, I’m in the house.

I talked with a friend of mine and he mentioned that this particular financial calamity, still unfolding as I write, was fairly debilitating – it was like being nibbled to death by ducks. Evil, Wall-Street-Banking-Ducks, but, still ducks. It was hard to get mad at the ducks, because they were just being ducks. But the news just keeps getting worse as we go along. I imagine that in Stimulus Package XVII that perhaps the San Francisco 49’ers will defeat the Denver Dread Deflation. My response? Live out of debt (he’s working that way) and remember the important people around you and the love and life you can share. And all that beer that you can drink.

Make no mistake – we are in deflation now. I can go into the husk of a Circuit City© and buy a completely awesome plasma flat screen for a third of what it was last year. Same thing in Best Buy™. Heck, they even had a Wii© in stock for the first time, well, ever.

I remember seeing a Mad™ Magazine comic from my brother’s collection that summed it up: deflation is where everything is cheap, but nobody has any money. If only a Stimulus Helicopter would fly by . . . .

Perhaps I need to look into that street urchin job . . .
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Sunday, February 08, 2009

"You work for Torchwood?" - The Doctor, Doctor Who


The construction crews building this new intersection must get a lot of joy out of this work – they’ve been doing it for two years.

One of the joys of parenting (outside of sending them to bed so that The Mrs. and I can watch movies that have cursing of a stronger vintage than “shucky-darn” and characters that aren’t animated talking animals solving hopelessly contorted and implausible crimes involving the old deserted amusement park) is watching my children learn the important lessons. Oh, not the ones that involve how to win a knife fight against drunken bikers, but in this case the importance of work.

Perhaps the most important lesson that Pop Wilder taught me (outside of how to handle myself in a knife fight against drunken Old West bank robbers – Pop is old enough to have voted for Roosevelt – Teddy, not that young whippersnapper Franklin) is that work is a good thing.

Yes, I know that work is something I’m supposed to avoid since it cuts into time that I could use to eat Pez®, but frankly, I like to do most work. There’s something about the feeling of accomplishment that I get when I finally mow the last foot of hedge or mop the last square foot of lawn. There’s a bit of a Zen feeling of completeness – of satisfaction from doing something, doing it well, but most of all, finishing it. This is similar (I think) to the feeling that heads of large banks feel when they get lots of government money for free.

On Saturday I grabbed The Boy and we went outside to work. Last year when we had bagged massive amounts of savagely ripped apart plant matter, The Boy had complained bitterly over everything from the temperature, (“My face is melting”) to his tools (“I think I’m allergic to trash bags”). This time? He worked quickly, quietly, with the exception that he said, “I like working” several times. The Boy even put his gloves back in the shop when he was done, rather than let them sit out to rot on the concrete, as is more usual. The Boy still has a little ways to go when it comes to initiative, and empty pop cans appear to be invisible, or perhaps artifacts of nature that should never be disturbed. “That’s an endangered A&W® root beer can in its native environment. Be quiet!”

Learning to like working is what it’s all about. So much of our lives (unless you are Paris Hilton) revolve around work – work is one way that we can add significance to the actions we take and make the world a better place, filled with meaning and joy. Unless you’re Paris Hilton. Or the head of a major bank. Or in Congress.

I still remember Ma Wilder telling me that I would appreciate things more if I paid for them, although I thought her rent increase when I turned eight was just a bit much. But, really, Ma was right. I did appreciate them more, but more than that, they were mine, and I wasn’t beholden to anyone for them. Of course, as soon as I could buy fireworks, I then discovered that I could also make the things I’d scrimped and saved for explode, which was, perhaps, even more fun.

So, The Boy happily picked up, cleaned, fetched, carried, and didn’t complain a bit. For about six hours of his time, The Boy figured I should pay him about $5. Actually, he’s worth more, and given that his rent is due to increase soon, I might even chip in a $10 for this weekend. He’ll need to start saving for knives.
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Sunday, February 01, 2009

"Pavlov was this scientist guy, you know, and every time this dog would ring a bell, Pavlov would eat." - Michael, That 70's Show


Reliant© Stadium, where no football was played tonight. If you listen to most Texans™ fans, no football has ever been played at Reliant® Stadium. (Actually, I sort of like the Texas JV team, they may suck, but they’re plucky.)

The Boy finally had the metal staples removed from his skull, apparently with little discomfort. I don’t know about you, but I personally think that head wounds should hurt a bit – it’s sort of a Pavlovian conditioning to keep you from doing stupid things, like that hangover I got from eating Nuclear Jell-O® in college. Nuclear Jell-O™ is regular Jell-O©, but my friend made it with pure grain alcohol, and is thus very insidious because it’s got about a twenty minute time delay from consumption to the part of your brain that enables the use of verbs and, coincidentally, walking, to shut down entirely. The next day? I hoped only for death. Maybe a grilled cheese sandwich first, but death should follow quickly thereafter. Unfortunately for me, I lived, and still had to go to Physics 231.

That’s why I’m against all the namby-pamby dressing of kids in full body armor prior to letting them loose on a bicycle. I’m sure that this trend started in California, because they’re the only ones who had the time and smarminess available to decide that riding a bicycle required more protective clothing than we’d sent with a typical GI as he stormed Normandy. As a sidebar, that typical GI had a different experience learning to ride his bike as his father taught him to ride the bike during the Great Depression by only feeding him if he could prove he had scraped his elbow on raw concrete until you could see bone, after making through the impromptu minefield his father had thrown together.

Me? I’m not so extreme, but I think wearing helmets while you ride a bike makes sense if you’re Lance Armstrong and are going down a French hillside at 834 miles per hour (9,324 km/hr). I can see Lance wanting to put on the latest in tactical gear. Does he do that? No. He shaves his legs so that it’s easier to pull off the bandages that he knows he’ll inevitably get. That’s the way that men deal with pain.

An eight year old on a bicycle with a top speed of six miles per hour? No. The pain should be a motivator to teach them to not do stupid things. That’s why we have pain.

Take, for instance, me. There’s a regular occurrence in the Casa de Wilder wherein I run through the house to the master bathroom (where we keep all the serious medical supplies) and The Mrs. gets up, sighing, (because this is a regular event) to collect her keys and get Pugsley ready so she can drive me to the doctors to get stitched up.

The last time this happened I tried to open a drum of unknown provenance that came with our house in Alaska (it said it was used cooking grease, but you can never tell). As the tool slipped, so did my pinky. It impacted the drum, which proved to be pretty adroit at removing it. The doctor finished the job.

Now that The Mrs. has at least two people in her life committed to wreaking havoc upon their own bodies, I’m sure that she’s resigned to multiple trips to the doctor a year to have various appendages sewn up or, in more drastic cases, just removed. (If you’ve never had your fingernail removed, it’s only slightly more uncomfortable than having to pay taxes.)

Thankfully, my parents never knew the real dangers I got myself into when I was young. I had my friend C.R. try to pull me up while I was hanging over the side of a cliff when I was eight. He couldn’t. (Stupid Six Million Dollar Man, anyway.) I was stuck in the middle of a highway lane of traffic (on a blind turn) as my bellbottoms got entangled in my bicycle chain. (You can inch your way out of danger if you hustle and aren’t too worried about how much you rip up your Sedgefield® jeans.)

Should I skip the motorcycle wreck? The time my friend Daniel Cisneros and I found the tear gas grenade, or the time we played Light Saber® with fluorescent bulbs? The time that my car spun six times on two wheels?

I have no illusion that we live in a world without risk. Part of childhood is embracing that risk, and jumping into the swimming hole not giving a rip if a rattler is also enjoying a swim.

So, parents of the world, chill out. I’m sure your Mom was quite upset when she found that you’d eaten a significant number of her birth control pills when you were four.

Mine was. Apparently poison control, once they stopped laughing, told her the risk that I’d get pregnant was pretty low.
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