Category ArchiveFamily life
If there were lyrics to “Pomp and Circumstance” for parents of the college graduate set, they might go something like this:
You’re moving your stuff home,
Bringing all that junk back,
Load up that old futon
Get ready to pack.
Or maybe, depending on how the sheepskin was financed, parents could sing:
Your degree cost me thousands
In tuition and fees,
Now you will have no job
With a degree in art history.
No education, of course, is ever wasted, especially when acquiring it involves four years of late-night bull sessions, greasy pizza and liquid calories, at least if what we see in “Animal House” is true. And, of course, Hollywood is always scrupulous in its accurate portrayal of university life, just as it is with police work and domestic issues.
Higher education has been uppermost in my mind recently because my daughter graduated Sunday. I enjoyed the ceremony and her success, yet my back kept twinging. Maybe it was because of three hours spent in bleacher seats, but more likely it was due to all the boxes and furniture I hauled up and down stairs a few days before.
My wife says I have no reason to complain. After all, she took two days off work to help pack and unpack. All I did was show up two afternoons to serve as cart horse for larger items.
Once upon a time, going to college involved just a few milk cartons — borrowed from behind your favorite grocery store, despite the stenciled warning “Thou Shalt Not Steal” — filled with books, sweatshirts and jeans, plus a halfway decent stereo system. You’d live in a dorm room about the size of a closet, with all the aesthetic appeal of a stairwell — cinder blocks, a small window that would be the envy of only the Prisoner of Zenda, and a shower shared by dozens of people, at least one of whom had ringworm.
Today, young adults live better in many college dorms than they will in the first few years after college (unless they move back home and wait five to 10 years for the economy to improve), when those initial apartments look more the way dorms did a few decades ago. Colleges and universities now build student housing to resemble Soho studio lofts, and students enthusiastically cart in enough junk to fill the extra space.
And if a student (like my daughter) moves off campus into a situation that offers even more livable space (she and three friends shared a house), plan on those two milk cartons to morph into 50 or 100, enough to turn a misdemeanor into grand larceny.
Bringing my daughter home was akin to moving a Romanian princess back from exile and involved five car loads and one pickup truck, all filled to bursting. We carried boxes of books, lamps, two TVs, a computer, Ramen noodles, a desk, two chairs, a bed, a dresser, bagels, a Keurig, clothes, shoes, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, clothes, shoes, GRE flashcards, curtains, shoes, potato chips, clothes, rice mixes, over-the-counter medications, pots, pans, clothes and shoes.
Oh, and some clothes and shoes. (Imelda Marcos, eat your heart out.)
And as if further proof is needed that nature abhors a vacuum (although I hear it tolerates a Dyson), most of these collected treasures found a home in my newly cleaned garage, which — for two nights only — was capable of containing a car.
Today, the garage looks like the aftermath of a tornado at a flea market and will remain that way until we trek off with all these treasures again for graduate school in a few months.
In the meantime, though, let us raise our glasses to members of the Class of 2013, who face an exciting future secure in the knowledge that they have already contributed to a financial boom in two key growth areas: construction and medicine.
Self-storage rentals and Doan’s pills sales are through the roof.
@cschillig on Twitter
Family life 04 Apr 2013 08:01 pm
Wondering what to do with all those leftover marshmallow peeps that many people buy but few people like?
Try peep jousting.
Take two sugary peeps, preferably of different colors, and place them on a microwave-safe dish. Poke toothpicks into each so that the points face the other peep, like two Jedi knights. Place them in the microwave and nuke on high. The first peep deflated by its opponent’s toothpick is the loser.
An enterprising Advanced Placement student — hi, Donny! — informed me of the sport last week, and I instantly knew this was the excitement my family’s Easter Sunday needed. I invested in about three packages of peeps, the first time I’ve ever bought the things, and a box of toothpicks, and then sent out taunting text messages to family members about the supremacy of my squishy soldiers.
Surprisingly, my mom agreed that her microwave could serve as the arena for peep skirmishes. I wouldn’t have offered my microwave for fear that a peep would explode, causing an Easter trip to the store to replace it. (The microwave, not the peep.)
Maybe Mom was set at ease by the YouTube videos I forwarded showing peeps melting like the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz” or Nazis at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” instead of exploding like Marvin’s head in “Pulp Fiction.” Or maybe she was vying for a new microwave.
In any event, no microwaves were harmed in the tournament, but plenty of peeps went home to their maker. And no, I don’t mean Just Born Inc. in Bethlehem, Pa., which manufactures the candy.
If you’d like to watch a preview trailer and actual footage of the Schillig peep wars, go to cschillig.blogspot.com and prepare to see too many pictures of a middle-aged bald man with nothing better to do mugging at the camera.
If the sight of scorched peeps disturbs you, however, then I’d advise staying far away.
In other Easter news, Google inspired the ire of some users when it chose to honor not God, Jesus, bunnies or ducks last Sunday but instead featured an image of Cesar Chavez on its search engine home page.
While Fox News unsurprisingly dubbed the late Chavez a “leftist icon,” it’s probably more fair to describe him as a tireless promoter of the rights of working people everywhere, specifically farm workers. A former migrant worker himself, Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association, which eventually became the United Farm Workers.
His methods of protest were decidedly nonviolent, including hunger strikes, marches and boycotts. That last is probably enough to earn him the ire of Fox News, which crusades tirelessly on behalf of downtrodden millionaires who have had to lay off half their domestic staffs and cut back to just four vacations a year because of the downturn in the economy.
There really is no secret why Google chose Chavez to honor on March 31: It was his birthday, a holiday in three states.
Internet users who switched over to Bing because that search engine featured a more Easter-themed page may be surprised to learn that brightly colored eggs have about as much to do with the spiritual message of the holiday as peep jousting in a microwave.
And for those poor, deluded souls who confused Cesar Chavez with Hugo Chavez — the late, not-much-lamented president of Venezuela — and who used the occasion to advance a conspiracy theory involving Google, Hugo and President Obama — well, they’d be better off educating themselves via Google searches than blasting the company for ignoring Easter.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published April 4, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
By the time you read this, Mount Union Theatre will almost certainly be history.
The digital reader board was the first to go, scooped out of the original marquee and relocated to West State Street, where it still provides news about speakers and events on campus. Next was the box office, removed to parts unknown. When I drove by last week, the front doors were gone and a dump truck had been backed inside the front lobby.
I almost parked and made an illegal sortie inside to take one more look at the building and try to catch a faint whiff of buttery popcorn or an echo of Clark Gable telling Vivien Leigh that frankly, my dear, he didn’t give a damn. Maybe tomorrow, I thought, but the next day a fence had been erected — probably because a lot of other drivers had the same attack of nostalgia — and that was that.
Like many people in Alliance, I have fond memories of Mount Union Theatre. I first saw “Star Wars” there back in the 1970s, igniting a passion that still burns to this day. It’s the theater where I watched my first R-rated film, “Dracula” starring Frank Langella, a concession by my parents because of my love of monster movies and vampires.
When the theater reopened in the early ’80s after a few years of dormancy, I was a freshman in high school, and my Friday- and Saturday-night dance card was filled with revivals of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Altered States,” “A Man for All Seasons,” one or more of the “Rocky” films, and many more.
In those days, at the cusp of the home video era, the theater was a buzzing, vibrant destination, an inexpensive way to enjoyably fill a few hours. Movies there were second-run, but still new enough that they hadn’t been released onto VHS, so demand was high.
Mount Union Theatre was the place where I almost took my first date, except I was too afraid to ask her and ended up going with a friend instead. It’s the place where my daughter saw her first movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” and where we would take her to see many more, including practically the entire Disney animated catalog. It’s the place where my wife and I both fell asleep during the first Harry Potter film, when we realized the franchise was not for us.
The venue itself, to be honest, was no great shakes. The seats were uncomfortable, the screen was small in comparison to modern movie houses, and the sound system left something to be desired. When I was a kid, I remember the Powers That Be announcing the closing of the snack bar in the second half of the movie, blaring out a last call for popcorn and sodas right overtop the film.
But there was something about Mount Union Theatre that transcended its flaws. Maybe it was the well-chosen Pink Panther and Bugs Bunny shorts before the main feature, or the text-heavy descriptions of each movie in the newspaper ads that gave it a more historic slant, or the fact that you could — and did — run into friends and neighbors willing to share a common experience for a few hours in the same dark room.
By the early 2000s, attendance on Friday and Saturday nights had slowed to a trickle — too many other entertainment options and a much smaller window between theatrical and home video release took a toll on ticket sales.
The last movie I saw there was, appropriately enough, “King Kong,” my all-time favorite, in July 2004. Only a few dozen people were in attendance. Two years later, college brass brought the curtain down on weekend movies, and since then the building has been used only occasionally. My last visit, although I didn’t know it at the time, was to hear One Book One Community author Chitra Divakaruni speak about her novel, “One Amazing Thing,” last year. The theater looked pretty shabby then, a poor cousin to the more opulent Palace in downtown Canton. If Mount Union had more aesthetic appeal than a saltine cracker box, maybe more people would have campaigned to keep it.
But let’s face it: Nostalgia, however enjoyable, isn’t a viable long-term financial strategy, for a university or for individuals. The college and the community will be better served by a new science facility than by another vacant building, no matter how beloved.
Meanwhile, the one part of the theater that will survive the wrecking ball (besides the digital marquee) are the memories of so many evenings spent in the dark, staring at the silver screen and willingly surrendering their troubles for a few hours.
Like Bogie told Bergman, we’ll always have Paris. And Alliance-area movie fans will always have memories of Mount Union Theatre, even after the building itself has faded to black.
@cschillig on Twitter
Share theater memories #MUTheatre on Twitter
We have unusual dinner conversations.
If ever a family is the polar opposite of the traditional sit-down-to-eat type of Americana popularized by Norman Rockwell on Saturday Evening Post covers, it is mine. Even for major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is normal for us to gather in blue jeans and sweatshirts, blithely ignore the social norms of which fork to use with what course (even the idea of “courses” is alien, as we usually just throw everything onto the table and dig in), and engage in conversations more suited to the locker room than the dining room.
Admittedly, I’m often the catalyst for these discussions. In recent years, I’ve started holiday dinner table debates about what the shape of many well-known monuments says about the self-esteem and … uh, inadequacies of earlier generations of architects and politicians, and defended my long-held belief that people’s interior organs are not located in fixed positions but rather vary greatly from body to body.
Out of respect for the nature of a family newspaper, I’ll avoid saying anything else about the former and concentrate on the latter.
Somewhere, I once read a quote that said if individual facial features — eyes, ears, nose, and so on — were spaced as differently as interior organs, we’d have a hard time recognizing one another as human. This isn’t to say that some people’s hearts are located where their appendix should be, just that there are certain differences in our interior anatomies that are more extreme than many people might guess.
I have performed no research to back this up, and my Google searches haven’t been very helpful. When you type “How far can my liver move?” into a Web browser, you get some crazy answers, believe me. But it sounds like something that might be true, which is my only litmus test for dinner table conversation, so I threw it out there next to the Easter ham and dinner rolls just to see what people would say.
The three nurses in the family — my wife, sister and brother-in-law — openly mocked me. My mom, who had just passed a plate of yams that looked suspiciously like chopped-up intestines, looked appalled. But none of them could entirely refute my claim, at least not to my satisfaction. (When people started turning green, we changed the topic.)
I vowed to seek out opinions from surgeons and gastroenterologists to prove everybody wrong, but I’ve been too busy playing Words With Friends and reading Donald Duck comics to make any phone calls. Yet.
Another unusual conversation happened last weekend. As my wife, daughter and I enjoyed a restaurant meal, the subject turned to longevity and left-handedness. A study from the ’90s says that left-handed people, on average, die seven years earlier than right-handers, a trend variously attributed to a higher rate of accidents, the stress of living in a right-handed world, and certain diseases more common to those who use the “sinister” hand.
I’m a leftie, and while I’m not accident prone, I remember feeling stressed in various college classes when I was limited to a few left-handed desks shoved in the back of a classroom, and I still get bummed when I drag a shirtsleeve through wet ink. But is this enough to erase seven years? I don’t know.
On the positive side comes news that vegetarians — a tribe I’ve belonged to for 38 days (provided I don’t backslide between the time I write this and the time you read it) — are 32 percent less likely to suffer from heart disease than their meat-eating peers.
I was heartened by this research, and by a 2011 study that says happy people die earlier than unhappy people. I wouldn’t call myself unhappy, but I’m certainly not the Pollyannaish, foppish type who thinks everything is wonderful! wonderful! wonderful! either.
I’d call it a wash — the seven years I lose for left handedness is made up by the time I gain from cynicism and a healthy heart, even if said heart is located closer to where my appendix should be.
I can’t wait to bring all this up around the dinner table the next time everybody gets together for a holiday meal. No matter what they think of my theory of interior organs, I bet they will prefer it to more photos of the Washington Monument.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Feb. 7, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
I have a lifelong love/hate relationship with stocking caps.
Like many petulant 6-year-olds, I spent my formative years fighting headwear, especially the Dickensian kind with the ball on the end. Perfectly acceptable hats (to anyone but an image-conscious kid) were accidentally-on-purpose left on buses, stuck on snowmen at a friend’s house or buried unceremoniously in the bottom of the garbage.
Unfortunately, I had a mother with an endless supply of stocking caps, each more grotesque and unflattering than the last. Like “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,” every time I got rid of one, another took its place — sometimes brown and orange for the sports team I was supposed to promote, sometimes orange and black for my future alma mater, sometimes affixed with a label for a grain or horse-food company from my dad’s job. Hats were everywhere in Casa Schillig — except on my head.
Mom even resorted to an unethical appeal to authority to coerce my compliance. At times when I was especially uncooperative — usually any day that ended in a “y” — she picked up the phone and dialed her accomplice.
“Hello, Time and Temperature? Yes, this is Chris’s mom. Should he wear a hat today? Uh-huh. Yes, it IS very cold. OK, I’ll tell him. Goodbye.”
“What did he say? What did he say?”
“He said to wear a hat. Do you want to call back and ask him yourself?”
I never did. It didn’t occur to me that Mom would lie — or that time and temperature was a pre-recorded message with nothing to say about headwear preferences of gullible children.
So much for hat hate. Later in life, I reversed myself and started wearing one, maybe about the same time that I switched from Republican to Democrat, a decision that some say proves my head was unprotected for too many years.
Key to this change of heart (hat, not political party) is the often-repeated assertion that 70 percent of body heat escapes through the head.
So when I take the dog for his morning and evening winter constitutional, my uniform includes a blue stocking cap pulled down so far that it practically blocks my vision, making me the Arch Avenue equivalent of Nanook of the North. When I go to work or run errands, I likewise don my headgear.
My niece, who works at Dunkin Donuts, says the hat makes me look like a thug in the drive-thru; my wife says it, coupled with my scraggly beard, makes me a candidate for post-office bulletin boards. Yet I persist because I like looking vaguely unsavory and because I want to support the U.S. mail system.
So imagine my chagrin when a study out of the University of Michigan said the 70-percent statistic is a myth. According to Andrew Maynard, whose research was summarized in a Huffington Post article, you lose no more heat through your noggin than through any other body part.
I tried to forget Maynard’s research as soon as possible, but no such luck: The next day, as the dog pulled me along unshoveled walks (the unofficial status symbol of Alliance winter), I felt colder, as though that 70 percent body heat had been held inside by force of my belief. The next day, I stopped wearing the hat.
Fast forward to Sunday morning. As I was writing this column, I reread Maynard’s research, which has something to do with how much warmer a stocking cap makes you when you dance naked in the snow. (Ah, these academics and their tax-funded research.)
Apparently, escaping body heat has everything to do with how much skin is exposed. Those nude dancers have hats that cover about 10 percent of their body, meaning they are 10 percent warmer than those who dance naked without hats.
For a guy like me who doesn’t dance naked in the snow — at least not while walking the dog — it means that if my head is the only exposed part, then that’s where my most significant body-heat loss will occur, so the hat really does help, just not at the 70-percent level.
This clarification turned the mental trick, because when I walked the dog after reading it, I felt warmer with my hat than I did when I thought it wasn’t helping.
Which proves that warmth has less to do with what’s on our heads than what’s in them, something Mom must have known when she made those bogus calls to time and temperature.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Jan. 10, 2013 in The Alliance Review.
Family life 25 Oct 2012 06:57 am
Less than two weeks before Halloween and I was facing my fear of heights to fish a bag of poop off the neighbor’s roof.
I wish I could say I was a Good Samaritan, that the nice couple next door had reached out in need because hooligans had taken the “trick” part of “trick or treat” to heart.
But I can’t, because I threw the poop up there myself.
Before I go further, let me explain that I’m not the world’s best neighbor. Living next to Chris Schillig doesn’t exactly guarantee property values will drop, but it is a sign that you should contact a real estate agent soon.
You know the neighbor who obsesses over his lawn and shrubs, trimming and pruning to surgical precision, using a leaf blower the way a holy man might wield a crucifix, covering porch railings and mailbox with fresh coats of paint every spring whether they need it or not?
Well, I’m not that neighbor.
My sole goal for mowing is to set a new PR each time I pull the cord. My idea of weeding is to run that same mower through the flower beds, as long as it doesn’t detract from my overall time. I consider Mother Nature to be the best leaf blower, especially when she shuffles fall’s foliage out of my yard and into somebody else’s. The one time I tried my hand with a paintbrush, I stopped mid-stroke and hired somebody else — the cheapest somebody else I could find — to finish the job.
In other words, I’m less Ward Cleaver and more Homer Simpson.
But I do have standards, lax though they may be — weeds in the crack of the hypothetical sidewalk that even I refuse to cross. And tossing feces on the neighbor’s roof definitely is on the wrong side of that line.
Not that I intentionally threw the poop there, of course.
See, while I am in other regards a neighbor to be avoided, if not outright abhorred, in one regard I am the picture of fastidiousness: cleaning up after my dog.
Whenever I walk him, I take an ample supply of doggie bags, and not the kind they give you in restaurants. Wherever and whenever my pooch squats, I am there, usually with plastic Walmart sack in hand, plucking every last trace of steaming doggie DNA from the frosty autumn grass.
The problem is that I fancy myself a major-league pitcher. When I return home, I stand at the end of the driveway, between my neighbor’s house and mine, and hurl the bag of poop toward my detached garage, aiming for the garbage can.
Usually, I miss the target. Bags often carom off the backyard fence, the side of the house and my wife’s car.
But on one memorable Thursday night, the dog jerked his leash as I went into the windup and the bag did not shoot down the drive toward friendly-fire targets, but rather up, up, up into the air and splat! onto the neighbor’s roof.
It was awfully dark that night, so inky black that I wasn’t certain where the bag had landed. But I hadn’t thrown it high enough to escape the atmosphere and enter orbit, and it hadn’t come back down, so I suspected the worst.
(Actually, the worst would have been through their living room window and into their laps as they watched TV, but still …)
For one moment, I considered slinking inside the house and pretending like I hadn’t violated a social norm bigger than Antarctica.
And actually, that’s just what I did.
But then my conscience kicked in, and I knew I would have to confess.
So that’s how, one day later, I ended up balanced precariously on a ladder, using a broomstick to bridge the gap between the top of the highest rung and the offensive bag of feces.
It was a growth experience in many ways. Halloween should be all about facing your fears — whether a fear of social embarrassment or a fear of heights.
For me, the first was much worse than the second. Not only did I have to confess to my neighbor that I’d thrown a steaming bag of crap on his roof, but because I’m the kind of neighbor who isn’t the least bit handy, I also had to borrow his ladder to get it down.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Oct. 25, 2012, in The Alliance Review.
My wife is taking a class in conflict management, so our marriage has turned into one big laboratory experiment.
I grew up in an era when people managed conflict with their fists. If the school bully gave you grief, you invited him outside at recess for a pummelling.
Unfortunately, I was always the party who got pummelled. (At least once or twice, I was the bully, too). The conflict was usually resolved when I stumbled off the playground holding my stomach. And a few teeth.
I know now, through the secondhand wonders of my wife’s higher education — and a textbook copyrighted in 1979, the same year I was being whaled on behind Ye Olde Red-Brick School — that violence is not the answer.
Instead, I should have resolved issues with reasoned speech. For example, when the class thug held me upside down by my ankles and shook the lunch money out of my pockets, I should have said, “When you threaten me, I feel uncomfortable. Please stop.”
I have no doubt this would have led to an extended debate in the boys’ room, whereupon I should have said, “When you stick my head repeatedly in the toilet (glub, glub), you make me feel (glub, glub) sad. Please (gasp!) stop.”
My wife isn’t nearly as intimidating as the neighborhood bully. Instead, this class has made her much worse.
Now she trots out a fancy psychological battery of expressions at every opportunity, which has raised her threat level on the Homeland Security Advisory System from blue (guarded) to orange (high), with some of our discussions edging my anxiety needle into red (severe).
Over the last month, I’ve been hearing lines like this: “It makes me feel secure in our relationship when you send me roses at work.” Or “When you rub my feet, I can tell you really love me.” Or even, “If you would pick a nice romantic comedy for us to watch, it would be a wonderful extension of your feelings toward me.”
Based on the listening-skills chapter, whenever she complains about something or someone, I’m supposed to validate her by saying, “I can tell you’re really upset,” or “It bugs you when so-and-so treats you that way.”
At which point she would likely turn to me and say, “No feces, famous detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle” or the shorter, alliterative version of the same.
I should also summarize her complaints to be certain I understand them. After she bores regales me with a 10-minute harangue about some minor incident at work, I’m supposed to say, “You were upset that Nicole laughed at you when you slipped getting out of the car.” This would be better than my usual response, which is to shrug my shoulders and go back to watching TV.
The most preposterous section of the book, however, is a hypothetical situation where a wife calls her husband “fatty,” as in, “Boy, fatty, look at you putting away that pie. You’re really packing on the pounds.”
The husband replies, “I don’t like it when you call me names, and if you continue, I’m not going to talk to you any longer.” Then he refuses to respond to any communication that uses “fatty,” until, after two days, she stops using the word and apologizes.
My wife asked me if I would use the same method as the husband in the book.
“I’m not fat,” I replied.
“But if you were.”
“But I’m not.”
“But if …”
(Hypotheticals are hard for me.)
So: I do not believe it would work, nor would it be my method. Instead, if my spouse insisted on calling me “fatty,” I would respond by calling her the most appalling, horrific, vile word I know; an expletive so irredeemably foul that it has never been uttered on cable TV, not even on the upper-tier channels where you have to pay extra for the good stuff; an epithet that would cause all the hair on her father’s head (if he had any) to straighten, curl, straighten again and then fall off; a term so scathing that it has been outlawed in several foreign countries and rejected by every dictionary with the moxie to even consider it; a train-wreck of a word, an atomic bomb of a word, a mincing, gnawing, mine-shaft of a word; a fiery nugget more spirit-deadening, more devastating than ten thousand “fatties.”
I’d say that, and nothing more. Where I come from, we call that the “turnabout-is-fair-play” type of conflict management.
I don’t think I’d do well in this class, which is why next semester I hope she’ll sign up for a course in human sexuality. At least those techniques would be fun to try.
@cschillig on Twitter
When I go down at sea, let the record show I did it in new clothes.
My wife and I are on a cruise this week, her fourth and my first and last. I have avoided this vacation for years — decades even — content to send her off with friends while I reveled in the rustic glories of the cats’ litter box and Tuesday night’s dragging of trash to the road. Hey, somebody has to keep the home fires burning.
No such luck this year, however, when her requests morphed into commands and my strategy changed from polite avoidance to “go along to get along,” a mantra familiar to many a spouse.
I’m not opposed to an ocean voyage in theory, but in practice, I:
a. Don’t know how to swim;
b. Have a fear of pirates; and
c. Keep hearing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” whenever I consider sailing.
For the last year, I dutifully have collected every scrap of news about cruise-ship mishaps, which has been easy to do. They’ve been run aground, sidelined by infectious illnesses, invaded by Somali pirates — hell, they’ve probably been infiltrated by little green men with rectal probes, but the government has shushed all that.
And don’t even get me started about sharks.
Despite all the evidence that I would be safer on land, my wife insists that I go. I even played my ultimate hand, the embarrassment card, to no avail: I told her I fully intend to show up for the Captain’s Dinner wearing a life vest, surgical mask and flippers and carrying a harpoon gun, thereby covering all bases. She said fine.
For all you landlubbers out there, the Captain’s Dinner is a huge deal in the nautical world. From what I’m told, everybody must dress formally to eat with the captain, even though he won’t actually sit with you but will instead be at a table closer to the door, where he can more easily slip out with buxom passengers or jump overboard in the event of an emergency.
This is pretty much exactly what happened to the captain of the ill-fated Concordia, the Italian luxury liner that sank in January. The overboard part, that is, not the back-door exit with buxom passengers.
He claimed to have been forcibly ejected from the ship when it capsized, conveniently landing in a lifeboat, where he directed the evacuation efforts. With that kind of luck, the guy should play the lottery for the rest of his natural life.
While I worry about my mortality and morality — you know pirates are going to sell the cutest passengers into a life of debauched slavery, which means I’m first on the auction block — my wife worries about my wardrobe.
Apparently, an old maritime rule states that passengers cannot, under any circumstances, board a cruise ship in clothes they have worn before. So I now have new shirts, shorts and shoes, all purchased without my consent and many without my presence. (My spouse estimated my size.)
So when pirates muscle their way on board, I’ll face them in my new striped polo shirt and dress shorts. When Ebola strikes, I’ll wretch my guts out in a sporty casual button-down (hope I don’t stain it with my blood). When the ship runs aground on a sandbar because the captain is too busy schmoozing passengers to attend to his job, I’ll topple overboard into the sharks’ all-you-can-devour buffet wearing my new v-neck. “V,” in this case, stands for victim.
Of course, in one respect, I’ll be fortunate. When authorities fish my remains from the bottom of the sea and can’t identify me even by dental records, they can always fall back on Method Number Two.
I’ll be the guy in the new khaki Dockers.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Aug. 9, 2012, in The Alliance Review.
It had been a perfectly lousy spring, but summer was looking up.
In May of last year, we made the decision to put our 12-year-old husky mix, Molly, to sleep. I sat with her during her last moments, and I’m not ashamed to say that I pulled the car off the road and cried after leaving the vet’s.
Life as a non-dog owner was different, but I adapted. Sure, I was a little blue at the loss of my friend, but part of me — a part that grew larger every day — recognized that her departure brought new freedoms.
I was no longer attached to an invisible leash that brought me home every six or seven hours to “put the dog out.” Pre- and post-vacation trips to the kennel were a thing of the past. On rainy days, I didn’t need to wipe off her paws before she came inside. I could leave food on the table with the reasonable expectation that it would still be there when I came back.
On June 9, I announced, “You know, I’m OK with not having a dog anymore. Really.” And I was.
So imagine my surprise 20 minutes later when my daughter handed me an early birthday present: a golden retriever pup she had named Cooper, after my favorite rock-and-roll singer. She said I looked sad lately and she wanted to cheer me up.
If life were a Hallmark movie, we would have hugged. Instead, I said, “Thanks for the 5-and-a-half-pound pooping and peeing machine.” Except I didn’t say pooping and peeing. It wasn’t exactly a Kodak moment.
Summer churned by. Cooper was sweet, lovable, adorable, fill-in-your-favorite-cute-adjective, but my first assessment was correct: He was a boatload of gastrointestinal problems of the explosive, runny variety.
I often spent lunch breaks swamping out the inside of his cage. Because it was too big, we cordoned him off in the front half with the plastic lid from a large storage bin. On more than one occasion when nobody was home, he knocked the lid over, defecated on top, and then rolled through it repeatedly. I called this the “poop slide,” except I didn’t say “poop.”
I was becoming an expert at chocolatey puppy baths, not a profession I aspired to. Plotting an exit strategy, I had my wife call the breeder and ask about the return policy. A veterinarian had to certify in writing that the dog had health problems. All I had to do was look in the cage at noon each day for evidence of that.
My life paraphrased a Clash song: Should he stay or should he go? If he stayed, I would be miserable. If he went, I would be miserable because I made him go. I took the path of least resistance, but told myself it was temporary.
Summer turned to fall. Cooper’s snout elongated like a dishonest Pinocchio’s nose, his hair went from short and spiky to long and curly, and his stomach, thankfully, settled. His early morning walks (5:30 a.m. daily — including weekends — a dog’s bladder knows no holiday) netted some curious finds — gum and candy wrappers in abundance, of course, but also a bicycle helmet, mittens, a surgical mask and the frozen corpse of a squirrel.
Cooper retrieved but did not relinquish, so I had to pry most items from between his teeth, except the icy squirrelsicle, which he dropped unceremoniously on my shoe.
By late autumn, I was still asking around to see who wanted a dog, but less frequently and without much heart. Around Christmas I relented and decided he could stay. Everybody else already knew this, of course. I’m kind of slow that way.
Cooper has grown and grown — in physical size, but also on me. Today, he weighs around 85 pounds, and his head alone is bigger than the puppy he once was. I look forward to coming home and being greeted by him and whatever object he chooses to bring me — napkins, wooden spoons from a kitchen drawer that he butts open with his head, or a pair of my wife’s shoes, chewed with reckless abandon. If he were gone, I’d be spared much frustration and inconvenience, but I’d also miss long walks, wet-tongue kisses and endless games of catch.
I still wouldn’t advocate buying a dog as a gift unless you ask the recipient first, but in my case, it worked out. So I guess this is my way of acknowledging to my daughter, one year later, that she knew me better than I knew myself.
Sincerely, thanks for the 5-and-a-half pound pooping and peeing machine. He’s retrieved my heart, but has yet to relinquish it.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published on June 21, 2012, in The Alliance Review.
The world’s gone and caught the shutter bug.
Statistics are hard to come by, but humanity has captured north of 3.5 trillion photos since the dawn of the daguerreotype in 1838, according to the 1000 Memories organization, which estimates that we add 375 billion new photos annually in this, the age of digital photography. 1000 Memories also estimates that 20 percent of all digital photos will end up in the same place, Facebook, which has a collection 10,000 times larger than the Library of Congress. (These statistics are from a blog entry in September, so figures have grown since.)
Now, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around numbers much larger than three. Many people share my problem, as witnessed by the popularity of trios such as the Three Bears, Three Blind Mice, Three Little Pigs, Three Wise Men, Three Stooges, and Peter, Paul and Mary, not to mention the cherished theory that famous people die in threes. So imagining 3.5 trillion photos is daunting, although it’s dwarfed by the $15 trillion national debt, which makes my head hurt even more. But it’s believable — society’s photo mania, not the national debt — when you consider it anecdotally. My wife and I spent last week in Washington, D.C., where we were the only tourists not making love to cameras every waking moment.
Wherever we went, visitors were snapping pictures — of monuments, of each other, and of each other in front of monuments. If they had confined themselves to such photos, it would be understandable. But they didn’t. When they finished with monuments, they focused on crazy stuff, like squirrels hopping across the National Mall, or empty park benches.
Everywhere I stepped, I ruined somebody’s picture. Like some demented mime display of the stop, drop and roll creed, people in front of me plunged to the ground or Tebowed to find the perfect angle of sunlight glinting off a nearby hot dog vendor’s cart, or stepped into traffic to capture motorcycles rumbling along Constitution Avenue.
Some people obviously believe a camera slung around the neck confers immunity from injury, that it won’t hurt to be run over by a Harley Davidson as long as you get a picture of it on your way to the pavement and the emergency room.
One old man in the Museum of Natural History wouldn’t rest until he had taken a photo of his companion in front of a stuffed black bear behind glass, even though the light from his flash bounced off the display case and surely ruined the shot, and his strategic placement in the middle of the room blocked dozens of other visitors.
Look, we all have our individual quirks and obsessions, but unless these guys were naturalists who had made Ursus americanus their life’s work, they tied up museum traffic for no reason.
Back when each image cost money to develop, such unimportant pictures would die stillborn in the amateur photographer’s imagination. Readers of a certain age can remember the role the number 24 played in photography — 24 shots on a standard roll of 35-millimeter film (sometimes 27, if you were lucky). Having a finite number meant you self-edited before pressing the shutter button. If I take 24 pictures of a display case full of brochures at the hotel, then I won’t have any left for George Washington’s false teeth on display in Mount Vernon. (By the way, taking pictures of Washington’s teeth is strictly prohibited.)
Today’s photographers needn’t worry about self-editing. We fire at will as we march bravely toward 4, 5, and 6 trillion pictures, snapping more images in two minutes than the entire human race throughout the 1800s and compulsively loading them to Facebook, so our friends know we are on vacation and that our houses can be pillaged at will.
One of my favorite memories of this year’s vacation is the photographer in a subway tunnel, standing 6 inches from a poster of a watercolor painting that advertised an art show, snapping and re-snapping and complaining about glare.
A few dozen steps would have put him on the subway, where he could have gone to see the painting itself for free.
Now that’s a guy who’s sick in the head for pictures.
@cschillig on Twitter