Saturday, July 29, 2006

Guest Blogger: Kim Strickland

Kim Strickland is a pilot for a major airline, a novelist, and a mother of twin boys. Her novel "Wish Club" is about a women's book group that reads a novel about witchcraft and tries one of the spells for fun, only to have the spell actually work. Nuttiness and mayhem ensue. ("Wish Club" is coming in 2007 from Three Rivers Press, a division of Crown Publishing Group.)

Kim is the yin (City Mom) to my yang (Suburban Man). In our dueling columns we've discovered that the only real difference between us is our area codes. Oh, and I think she's a chick, too. And a mom. Check out some of her other great columns. I have a link on the right--listed under Links to Rick's Picks (A City Mom).

By Kim Strickland

My sons’ hair is too long and scraggly and this makes me ecstatic, because it means I get to take them to Al’s—their barber. I love Al’s. It’s quiet there.

I don’t know whether the silence is a result of my presence, or whether it’s just a man thing. I don’t care. I revel in it.

My boys, twins, were two when I brought them in for the first time and it’s as though, even at that age, they somehow psychically intuited that men don’t talk at Al’s. Silence for an entire hour. I was in heaven.

They were born with full heads of hair. And it never did fall out, as I was warned by well-meaning relatives, but it did turn red, then blond, as it grew and grew. And grew. They needed haircuts at six months. I couldn’t bring myself to do it until ten months, when it became clear there was no avoiding it. While crawling around, they’d begun to continually bonk their heads on our dining room table due to limited forward visibility.

I cut their hair myself for a while and thought I was doing a decent job, until my babysitter asked, and I quote, “Where do they get those haircuts?”

Perhaps it was time to enlist professional help.

But they were only one and a half. Would they sit still? Would they cry? Would they bite? I chose a Supercuts because it was nearby, but mostly because no one there knew us.

I told them they needed to sit still or they might accidentally get poked with the scissors, or worse—I grew solemn, their eyes grew wide—they might end up with bad haircuts.

They sat like they’d been hypnotized while Rosa cut their hair, a process made difficult by the fact that their mother was taking flash photographs to preserve the memory. I distinctly remember Rosa blinking at me with irritation after one particularly blinding shot. Despite the adversity, everyone survived. They even got great cuts.

We continued to see Rosa for about six month and all was well, until the whole idea began to grate on my husband. (Read: No sons of mine should get their hair cut in a salon.)

“But it’s not like it’s a girlie salon,” I told him. “Men get their hair cut there too.”

He looked unconvinced.

“I’m pretty sure the woman who owns the place is really a man—what with the Adam’s apple and all.”

This did not help my case.

Which is how we came to Al’s, my husband’s barber. Al’s probably been cutting hair at his place on Grace Street longer than I’ve been alive. He’s often nodded at a man walking into his storefront shop, telling me, “I’ve been cutting his hair since he was their age,” while pointing at my boys.

The walls at Al’s are covered with wood grain paneling that’s covered with taxidermied fish, fishing trophies and other such fishing paraphernalia. There are stacks upon stacks of sporting magazines and the Trib is always on the coffee table, but I never read when I’m there; I just stare at the fishing trophies or the stuffed larged-mouth bass on the wall, a goofy expression on my face, secure in the knowledge that neither it nor my sons will burst into a rendition of “Take me to the River.”

It amazes me the lengths a mother of young children will go to in order to find some quiet time. I suffer the irritated looks of other patrons, “A woman? Here?” and the uneasy body language they exhibit as they wait their turns next to me, but they are always polite, and offer up their chairs for me when we walk in. At Al’s, chivalry may be annoyed, but it’s not dead.

When the boys and I leave, I often wonder if they burst into conversation about the game or hot babes or whatever it is men talk about when women aren’t around. I suspect the truth is, they don’t.

After our first visit, Al gave the boys lollipops, then said, as if he’d somehow psychically intuited it, “Now guys, no more going to the girlie salon. You’re men now. You come to the barber to get your haircut.”

Gladly, Al. Gladly.

To read other guest bloggers, click here:

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Half Empty: "Nine Fine Political Whines"

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.


By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

You know those little moments that irk you, that get your blood pressure boiling for no good reason, that make you grit your teeth and pretend you aren’t incredibly irritated? You don’t say anything because it’s obvious that whatever is bothering you is your problem—not anyone else’s—and why should you bother other people with something that is probably just a pet peeve?

Ah, but there’s your mistake. A glass of fine whine goes with any dish. When you get a taste for it, stop by and visit one of us. Our whine cellars are particularly well-stocked.

For instance, we have nine fine whines to get you started. All of these are served in the political arena.

1. “Partisan”
Whenever we hear someone like Ted Kennedy or Dick Cheney ripping the other party for partisan politics, we laugh out loud. Apparently mirrors are unavailable for purchase in Washington D.C.

2. “Hypocrite”
If you accuse someone of being hypocritical because he is using the exact opposite argument he used previously, and yet you disagreed with him both times, there’s a minor flaw in your own argument.

3. Staying on Message
When everyone in your party (and both parties do this now) says the same thing, using the exact same words, that is incredibly creepy. Maybe we can elect robots and program them.

4. “Treason”
The punishment for treason is death. If that’s the way you really feel, then go ahead and use the word, but we think you should forever be referred to this way: “Joe Schmo, who has called for the execution of his political enemies, said this today…”

5. Party Mascots
The mascot for the Democrats is the ass. Nice choice. The mascot for the Republicans is the elephant; the animal that produces more excrement than any other animal. Nice choice. Why not just abandon subtlety altogether and go with the weasel and the snake?

6. Staged Photo Op
Every element of your appearance is managed; from the hand-picked crowd that is told when to cheer and applaud, to the focus-group tested slogan emblazoned on the elaborately designed backdrop, to the pre-approved script, and….how are you different from Hollywood again?

7. “Nazi”
Decide for yourself if this label is getting out of hand. The following debates on the Senate floor all involved at least one Senator comparing someone on the other side to Nazis: Terry Shiavo, gun control, global warming, the threat of filibuster, immigration, and we’re not kidding here…Social Security. And the Senate is the polite house of Congress. At least they preface the charge with “My dear friend and colleague.”

8. James Carville's Diction
It's not exactly Cajun, and it's not exactly human. Are we the only ones who can't understand a word that man is saying?

9. “The Elite”
We love the use of this term by the people elected to national office, who are by their very definition “America’s Elite.” Maybe this is where we can build a foundation of agreement—when they say that “the elite” is out of touch with “real Americans,” there shouldn’t be anyone in this country who disagrees with that position.

Got any others? Feel free to send them in by clicking on the “comments” link below.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Suburban Man: Cartoon Father

By Rick Kaempfer

My oldest son Tommy fancies himself a cartoonist. Ever since he was five or six years old he has been drawing a comic strip he calls “Gate’s Comics.” The stars of the strip are three brothers named Gate, Gooey and Baby Phil (approximately the same ages of Tommy, Johnny & Sean) who engage in wacky hijinks while trying to avoid their parents.

My wife Bridget is not a fan because the mother in the strip is always angry. Tommy usually draws her with a red face and furrowed brow, and she almost always has smoke coming out of her ears. Any strip involving “Gate’s Mom” has some sort of an angry punch line, but it usually doesn’t go overboard. For instance, I think her head has only exploded once. I’m not sure why Bridget doesn’t like that character. After all, it could be much worse.

Take Gate’s Dad, for instance. Gate’s Dad is stupid. Really, really stupid. Whenever Gate’s Dad stars in a strip, he can be counted on to say or do something hilariously moronic.

I’m sure many of you already have a phone in your hand dialing the good folks over at DCFS to have these children removed from such an angry and stupid home. That’s usually the reaction adults have to the strip. They look at us and wonder…

But Tommy swears this comic strip is completely fictional. When I point out to him that the three children bear a striking resemblance to himself and his brothers, he nods. When I say that the realistic portrayal of the brothers causes people to assume his real-life mother is always angry and his real-life father is a dim bulb, he nods. When I subtly suggest he should think about changing those characters, he won’t compromise his artistic vision.

“Why didn’t you base Gate’s parents on your real parents?” I asked.

“Because I needed someone funnier,” he said.

Ouch. That hurt, but I understood it from a comedic perspective. He’s a little too young to draw nuanced characters at his age. Angry Mom is just a vehicle for angry jokes. Dumb Dad is just a vehicle for dumb jokes.

“Fine,” I said, “but if you keep drawing the mom and dad characters like this, you have to stop showing this strip to your teachers. They’ll think we have some serious problems at home.”

“No problem,” he agreed. “Besides, Dad, I couldn’t draw a cartoon dad like you because there already is one.”

I braced myself. I was praying he didn’t say Homer Simpson. Just because a man loves bacon and beer doesn’t make him Homer.

“Who?” I asked with my eyes closed.

“Calvin’s Dad,” he said.

I knew he was talking about the father in the Calvin & Hobbes strip, but I didn’t remember exactly what kind of a father Calvin had, so I did a little research into my cartoon counterpart. It didn’t take me long to find him on Tommy’s bookshelf. Calvin’s dad is prominently featured in almost every Calvin & Hobbes collection.

The first time he appears, this is the exchange:

Calvin: “How come you always read me my bedtime story and not mom?”
Dad: “Because reading the bedtime story is the Dad’s job.”
Mom: “And it appears to be the only ‘Dad’ job around here.”
Calvin: “Left the dishes for mom again, huh?”
Dad: “This story is called ‘Why Prince Charming remained single.’”


Here was the next strip…

Calvin: “Dad can you fix my beanie? I broke the propeller trying to put it together.”
Dad: “This isn’t so bad. You just snapped the battery case. There, good as new! Now just let this sit awhile so the glue can set.”
Calvin: “You did it! You fixed it! I can’t believe it! Hey Mom! Dad fixed something!”
Mom: “He did? Your Dad?”


Here's one more to complete the portrait...

Calvin: Dad, how come old photographs are always black and white? Didn't they have color film back then?
Dad: Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs are in color. It's just the world was black and white then.
Calvin: But then why are paintings in color? If the world was black and white, wouldn't artists have painted it that way?
Dad: Not necessarily. A lot of those great artists were insane.


What can I say? Tommy is right. Calvin's dad might be my clone.

Oh well.

At least he’s not stupid.

(Special thanks to Bill Watterson, the author of Calvin & Hobbes)

If you'd like to read any previous Suburban Man columns, click here:

Sunday, July 23, 2006

SHORE MAGAZINE ARTICLE--Best Festival in Michigan

I wrote short little pieces about the best festivals in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan (as chosen by the readers of SHORE MAGAZINE). You can see the online version of this magazine at Last week, I focused on Illinois. This week, it's Michigan.

(From the July 2006 issue)

Best Festival in Michigan: Saint Joseph Venetian Festival

The Saint Joseph Venetian Festival has been voted as the top festival in Michigan by the readers of Shore. Organizers of the original festival in 1979 probably had no idea it would grow into the mega-event it has become when they named it after the famed Venice lighted boat parades.

Jeff Hoover, a native of Saint Joseph—and now a producer of the WGN-TV Morning News in Chicago, has been attending the festival since it began. “In the early days before the festival went king-sized,” he said, “I was working for WSJM/WIRX radio. We would set up off the river where the main stage was built on a barge. It’s gotten bigger every year.”

It now draws attendees from all over the Southwestern Michigan area and beyond. The radio station still broadcasts the fireworks display, and the lighted boat parade is still one of the highlights, but the festival now has food (including exotic fare like alligator skewers and decadent desserts like gourmet cheesecakes), big name entertainment (including this year’s concerts by Styx, Little Big Town, and the Bangles), and even amusement park rides.