Saturday, August 19, 2006

Guest Blogger: Spike Manton

Spike Manton is a radio personality (WCKG, WLUP, ESPN), a comedian, and a playwright. He co-wrote the outstanding play "Leaving Iowa", which is now playing at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago. ( The play is about a family car vacation.

He recently lived the story line...

"21st Century Vacations"

By Spike Manton

I just returned from a family vacation with my wife and 2 kids. We drove to upstate New York in our minivan, a minivan that seats 7 adults, yet was barely able to fit two kids and their belongings for a long weekend. The drive was long, but painless. How could it be anything else with three car chargers, two DVD players and two gameboys? One thing was abundantly clear - their car trip was more fun than any vacation I ever had in my life.

I grew up in your standard 1960’s family unit of 4 kids, 2 pets and one station wagon the size of Rhode Island. When we went on vacation, we drove. We drove everywhere. Who didn’t back then? I maintain that from 1945 until 1980 the only thing that changed for the family vacation was the size of the paneling on the side of the station wagon. America worked 50 weeks a year and then piled into their beastmobile and drove off to see some other part of the country. Anywhere was better than that boring, humdrum monument to monotony called home. It was an annual family ritual that underwent a great change somewhere in the 80’s. I blame gameboys, cheap airfares and seatbelts as the biggest culprits.

Yes, seatbelts. Our kids will never know the insanity of hanging out the back window throwing fruit at the trucker behind you, and then climbing over three seats to ride on Dad’s lap to help him steer, all while traveling 65 mph down the highway. How can you have a real fight in the back seat if you are both strapped in place like a hostage?

Of course, technology is biggest culprit. Slug Bug, the License Plate Game, The Alphabet game, Billboard bingo were the only options in the mobile amusement park of my childhood. They were boring, brief distractions in the non-air conditioned hell we endured between rest area picnic stops. Then came the Gameboy and suddenly the back seat was silent. Dads drove for hours without hearing a peep. The only emergency to prevent was running out of AA batteries. It was the end of an era. My nephews once arrived at my home at the end of a 16 hour trip and STAYED IN THE CAR FOR 20 MINUTES BECAUSE THEY WERE FINISHING A GAME ON THEIR GAMEBOY. It was a far cry from the moments I entertained leaping from our moving car just to escape.

In the end, I am not complaining. I wouldn’t trade vacations with my Dad’s generation for anything. I like my quiet, headphone laden minivan. It makes it easier for me to hear the GPS directions while talking on my pocket PC phone with my Bluetooth headset.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Half Empty: Worst Jobs

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.

"Worst Jobs"

By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

Big Brother is watching.

Don’t worry, it’s only Rick (technically he is a big brother) and he’s watching. During the lifetime of this blog, Rick has discovered that most of the hits have occurred between 8:00A – 5:00P Monday thru Friday. For all of you with gainful employment, thumbs up to sticking it to the man. Is it because this blog is an indispensable source of humor or is it because you hate your job?

We think it's the latter.

As always, Rick and Dave are concerned with your happiness and want to help. While you’re toiling through your mundane work experience, remember it could be worse. There are jobs out there far worse than yours. Feeling better about yourself through the misfortunes of others (Germans call this 'Schadenfreude') has always worked pretty well for us. Take our lead and think about the following vocations next time you get depressed about your own:

1) The coach of the Washington Generals
This is the team that plays the Harlem Globetrotters every night. Their record? 0-6,000,000. That's even worse than the Cubs.

2) The Star Trek guy that accompanies Kirk, Spock and Bones on a mission
Take this job and you’re 100% certain to be eaten by a large space alien or whacked by a Klingon. Worst part, you ain’t getting any of the syndication money.

3) Santa's Elf
So you're an accountant and you think that April is the busy season? Fourth Quarter at Santa's Workshop would make your calculator melt.

4) Rodeo Clown
If antagonizing a 2,000-pound horn-wielding cranky beast is your bag, go for it. Here’s a tip though, try to negotiate not having to wear size 54 shoes.

5) Steve's replacement on Blues Clues
Take this job and you’ll be forever compared to perhaps the greatest performer in history. Steve is a better dancer than Joe, he’s a better singer than Joe, and he’s a better artist than Joe. He can fill a whole notebook in a day, twice.

6) Paris Hilton’s Calculus Professor
Teacher: Please compute...
Paris: My doggie likes to eat food.

7) The tragedy receptionist
Every time there's an awful tragedy like a plane, train, or bus crash, there's always a hotline for family members to inquire about the fate of their loved ones. Somebody has to answer those calls. We're assuming they don't have that automated yet..."Press the first three letters of the last name followed by the pound sign, to find out if your loved one has survived."

8) Naomi Canpbell’s domestic help

If you wear a helmet you might escape with your life, but those lanky-types pack more of a whallop than you think.

9) High School Driving Instructor

Not only will you have to teach teenagers who don't fear death, you’ll have jerks like us purposely cutting you off in traffic for kicks.

So, the next time you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you have a crappy job, think of these poor shlubs. No matter how bad your life is, it could be worse.

Puts a smile on your face just thinking about it, doesn't it?

To read other Half Empty columns, click here:

Today is the anniversary of Elvis' death. Click here to read how the tenth anniversary of his death in 1987 inadvertantly led to a lifelong obsession of mine: Snow Dome King

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Suburban Man: Feeding Children

By Rick Kaempfer

When I became the primary caregiver for my family, some people who knew me well worried about the health of my children. According to this chicken-little crowd, my caffeine/fast food/alcohol diet wasn’t the best example to set for the boys. They also knew what picky eaters my children were, and worried that I wouldn’t be able to accommodate their persnickety-ness.

How picky were my boys? I could give you dozens of examples, but I think the one that best exemplified their eating habits is this: The presence of any tiny green flecks (like parsley) on any item on any plate caused a complete boycott of the meal. Tommy even came up with a word to describe this phenomenon: Lickeys. Let me scream it in a sentence for you.


I can understand why some people were worried that a care-giving novice like me would have difficulties adjusting.

Well, sorry to disappoint the naysayers, but I’m here to report that we’ve made incredible progress in this area. My own diet is much better since I eliminated one of my three vices (note: it’s not caffeine or alcohol), and the boys aren’t nearly as picky as they used to be. In fact, I’m going to go so far as to say that my three boys now have an almost perfect diet. They eat all of the food groups every day.

Granted, each of them only eats one, but this is still progress.

I’ve learned to make the best of my family’s culinary challenge by slowly but surely encouraging food experimentation within their own chosen food group (Tommy-carbs, Johnny-meat, Sean-fruits/vegetables). The results have been astounding. Collectively they will eat just about anything now.

For instance, I used to make four different meals a night, just to avoid the fights. Ever since I discovered that each boy is willing to experiment within his chosen food group, I’m down to one normal healthy meal for everyone. This saves an incredible amount of time and effort, and allows me to have some fun trying out different foods.

Sean and Tommy aren’t big meat eaters, but if I tell Johnny that the mystery meat on his plate is some sort of sausage, he’ll eat it—no questions asked. Tommy and Johnny aren’t big fruit or vegetable eaters, but Sean will try everything from spinach to eggplant to boysenberries without complaint. Sean and Johnny are not exactly carboholics, but Tommy would be accepted by any local twelve-step program, which allows me to experiment with any form of carbohydrate on the planet (as long as it’s white).

Of course, this new approach ensures that each of the boys is now guaranteed to have at least two things on his plate that he doesn’t eat, but somehow the intra-food-group experimentation has fostered a certain amount of tentative inter-food-group experimentation too.

Sean will now nibble on meat and carbs occasionally as long as his plate is mostly covered with fruits and vegetables. If he ever learns to sit still for more three seconds, I have high hopes for his future eating ability.

Johnny is still a ravenous carnivore, but he has also discovered that fruit actually tastes good. He will now regularly devour entire oranges and apples. Two years ago, this was a ridiculous pipedream.

Tommy will now eat tiny lickey-free pieces of meat and five or six different types of vegetables as long as the plate is still mostly covered with carbs. This is such a miracle that the Pope has dispatched investigators to document my future beatitude.

Of course, there is a slight downside to this new approach: our food bills are getting bigger and bigger. Bridget and I are fully expecting to be eaten out of house and home when all three of them are teenagers. On the other hand, at least we’re a little more confident they’ll make it to their teen years now.

And to me, that’s progress.

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