Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On behalf of all someones

A quick thought for a late Wednesday afternoon.

I was reading through my spam emails today. I do that because I live in constant fear that, buried in the solicitations for manhood pills (I need to take a pill to watch football and have gas? I had no idea) and promises to help me quit smoking while learning French, there will be an earnest and real attempt to deliver to me seventeen (17) squintillion dollars. I don't want to miss that chance. So, going through the emails, I saw a subject line as follows:

This is the video that Women don't you to see.

I deleted it immediately, purely out of respect for the wishes of all women, everywhere. You're welcome.

But I started wondering -- who asked all the women? Do you women have some sort of meeting where you vote on these things? Is there a mailable proxy? Is that why you go to the bathroom in groups? Do you all know me well enough to know how I would respond to said video? Can you ladies give me a hint as to what was on it? And if you are so powerful and have formed such consensus, can you put out some sort of manifesto so I understand how I can stop having so many of you mad at me all the time?

Men don't really agree on anything too difficult. Sammiches are good. If it requires thought or any effort, most men don't worry about agreeing or not. We just change the channel. You know the 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed? Women. You know how I know? They have an opinion about gum. The fifth actually just said "do whatever you want." And then she got mad at the guy for having the gum.

And then I wondered if this video and the email were an entree into the works of Freud. Finally, we know what woman wants. She wants me not to watch that video. So please, ladies, send more spam so I can direct my actions appropriately.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Woe, Woe, Woe, It's Magic Kingdom

Thursday was set aside for the kingdom. THE kingdom. The center of the Disney universe. Where a kid can idolize the work of a misogynistic racist, shake hands with a college student in a mouse suit without anyone's being drunk or getting arrested, pay 60 dollars to be dressed as a princess in clothes made by slave labor and watch shows in which non-minorities sing and dance about good ol' America. We braved the crowds (there really were crowds. Apparently this week was an international vacation week) and spent the day at the Magic Kingdom.

The walk from the car to the monorail was cold, really cold, but we eschewed the tram. It has no windows so had we stood in the cold and waited for departure, we would be buffeted by wind the whole way. The walk was good for us: it prepared us for a day of walking and complaining. We then monorailed our way towards Main Street USA. There was an announcement on the way that the monorail would be out of service from 11:30 to 7PM. That presented us with a problem -- how to leave if we wanted to, before 7PM. Disney really didn't want us to go. Eventually, we confirmed that the ferry would still be running so we grumbled about being a captive audience and the potential for sea sickness but we stumbled along. And the line at the Main Street Starbucks was not worth the effort. I figured there would be another somewhere in the park. There wasn't! Does the suffering ever cease?

We went through various rides, sing a combination of the Fast pass schedule and an eagle eye to spot rides where the wait time was under 45 minutes. Because on a cold day, when supposedly no one is at the park, I want to wait 30 minutes so I can ride the 2 minute Peter Pan ride. And don't get me started on the It's A Small World thing. More money was thrown into the water on that ride than I make in a year. The animatronics haven't been updated for 30 years and I am convinced that workers there rotate in and out quickly to avoid the suicide issue hearing that song over and over. After that was the wandering. We went from area to area trying things out and moving on. The "drive a car" ride in Tomorrowland, and the Space Mountain roller coaster, The Barnstormer, the Astro Orbiter, The Haunted Mansion and the Mad Tea Party were all rides I sat outside of. I went on the Buzz Lightyear "shoot an alien because Tim Allen tells you to" ride (with minimal spinning around) and the mini-ferry to Tom Sawyer's Island where you can walk around to the other ferry to get back. It was magical. The Swiss Family Treehouse was a series of stairs up and down a tree so I did that, and I got to spend my $1 to shoot a fake gun at an old attraction I can't find on the map. But it involved shooting things and it is near a bathroom. That's Disney gold, people. So start there and ask. It is my favorite part of the park. Bring quarters. I noted that the "futuristic" rides such as the people mover and the monorail were no longer that futuristic. We were on a people mover and monorail at the airport, big deal. Maybe this stuff was all fancy when the park was opened, but shouldn't they update to a new cutting edge? The day went by and eventually, we decided to leave. We did, indeed, take the ferry and watched the sun set over the resorts filled with people for whom this trip means something and money means nothing. A packing, a night' sleep, a house cleaning, a taxi and a plane ride and we were in the 16 delicious degrees which define New Jersey in January.

One side note -- I realized that the pavilions in Epcot are actually representations not of countries around the world, but of airports in countries around the world. The souvenir garbage available is the same stuff you see when you land in a faraway city and can suddenly buy smarmy t-shirts proclaiming your HEART of something local. They should really change the name to "airports of the world."

I do not understand the allure of either Universal or Disney. They are expensive, crowded and kitschy. The rides don't interest me and the shows are contrived and laborious to watch. When the weather is cold enough to stay away, the lines are finally short enough to make going worth the money. Yet, people keep flocking to these places and I can't figure out why. Here's to staying home and being happy with what I have and where I am. Here's to seeing the world via the internet and meeting people the old fashioned way -- yelling through closed car windows during a traffic jam, or making uncomfortable small talk in the waiting room of a doctor running very late.

It is now Saturday night. One week since we left and 1.5 days since we returned. I have over 200 pictures to go through and organize so I can upload them to albums no one wants to see. I have receipts to go through and decide if I will scrapbook then burn, or just burn straight away. I shoveled, we have to shop and work is back in business on Monday.

And let us never speak of the shortcut again.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why I don't like EPCOT, really

I'd like to take a break from all my lighthearted attacks on the theme park genre to discuss, if I may, why I don't like EPCOT. For real. Don't get me wrong -- the wifi is strong, the beer is plentiful and I can't get tired of all those Disney related things to buy. But there is a serious problem.

EPCOT does its best to give a taste of each country but it does so by freezing an entire country at one moment in its history and packaging that static window as the entire of the rich cultural heritage. Each country is a historical moment, a single ethnic contribution, maybe an architectural or geographical crumb, a beer and a food item. That's it. Do we really need to have our stereotypes of each culture reinforced by smiling actors wearing clothes that no one in the country has worn for 500 years? Are we supposed to be learning about how each country contributes to the global village today or about how they developed their signature dinner menu in 1750? Japan is a fascinating culture and country which is a first world power. Do I need that reduced to shrimp crackers, Hello Kitty and a woman bowing and saying "arigato" while giggling? I honestly felt bad for her and wanted to ask her if she was comfortable playing in to the oldest and most demeaning cliches about her identity. Does the Mexican pavilion help the cause of Mexican validity by giving me a burrito and Three Amigos references?

Maybe we are beyond the pavilions. Maybe the internet and the constant availability of information about disparate cultures makes the world showcase unnecessary and, if anything, stifling. Is the point to highlight something about each country to show it off? And if so, does the UK give us nothing more than Mary Poppins? Is the US to be known in the world for the Revolutionary War, fifes and domestic beer? When people couldn't travel anywhere on the cheap or see the sights of the world online, maybe seeing the Chinese pavilion was exciting and novel. When all I knew of France was the Eiffel tower, maybe seeing some of the other tourist sites was eye opening. But now, with a series of clicks, I can come in with more information and better pictures. Do I gain something by getting to speak with a native of Norway? Maybe but is that what is being stressed, or are the natives forced to play roles -- to act like historical natives and not like actual humans who live in a culture infused with the influences of an entire world, eager to move forward and reinvent themselves in a modern mold. By being stuck in these differences, EPCOT is undercutting the notion that we are all the same. Yes, we have distinct histories of which we should be proud, but the world showcase doesn't look at comparative histories the way a museum would. It insultingly presents these old ideas as the essence of what the country is now. What scientific breakthroughs are happening in Morocco NOW, and what cooperation with another country is Canada leveraging in order to improve the world? Why can't we talk about that instead of logging and the fur trade?

EPCOT is a vision of what the world of the future was going to be as of 1982. It has been over 30 years. Either those initial expectations have come true and they need to be updated or they haven't and they won't. If it really is a small world, why does EPCOT keep trying to cut it into smaller, discrete and old fashioned pieces?

Tastefully Offensive

I just spent a day at Epcot. Epcot, for those who don’t know, is an acronym for “Expensive, plodding, Cutesy ot.” Epcot is a Disney park (did I mention I am starting a new usenet group… “alt.disney”? I don’t know if that joke has been made before or if anyone will get it, but either way, I am claiming this material for Spain.) As a Disney park, Epcot is required to extract money from people at a disturbing rate and an alarm sounds if a patron does not spend money for over 45 minutes. Let me reflect on a few of the points today:

1. The weather was cold. Really cold. Like there was an arctic cold front coming in from the south pole of Pluto (no, wait…Neptune). When we got there the only Disney product we wanted was a pair of gloves that didn't look like swollen hands. Maybe a scarf. If I wanted cold, I would have stayed in New Jersey. Sure, there was no snow this morning but my mouse ears turned red and my duck bill was chapped. The park should have lowered the rates to reward those fools who showed up and stayed. That there were later waiting times of up to a 60 minutes was ridiculous. Not only shouldn't the park have made anyone wait on any lines while Goofy-thermia was setting in, but there just weren't enough people in the park to justify those waits.

2. In the past, if you showed up with a medical issue which made it tough for you to get around or wait on line, you got a sort of pass which allowed you to go in a separate line. Not any more. Now, if you show up in a wheelchair with a note from your doctor explaining that you have only 3 hours to live, the park will give you 1 “cut to the front” pass to use once and then say “have fun waiting on line and enjoy the Coffin ride at the end.” It was as the day was, tastefully offensive. Sure, they are trying to be fair to everyone (no doubt, Pass-abuse is rampant amongst the rich and injured, and why would it help someone with no legs to get to the front of the line) but it smacks of insensitivity.

3. If you don’t like rides and motion simulators, spending 90 plus dollars to sit around seems a bit excessive.

4. The best ride was the Starbucks ride. It cost a bit extra, but it was worth it. I went on twice.

OK, so much for the quick reflections. Let me tell you a bit about my day.

It was cold. But I have mentioned that.

Maddie had the line of the day. As we sat around watching people she said “seeing little girls dressed like princesses makes me happy.” Had I said that, I would have been arrested. But when she said, it was just plain lovely. As I said…tastefully offensive.

There was a “test track” ride which involved driving a car. I begged off as I expected to drive a car later in the day. There was a large screen movie and slow motion ride starring Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye when both were 25 years younger and funnier. The performances and the motion movie made me nauseated. I will not make that mistake again. There were some other things but they all seemed to involve my sitting around watching the bags. It is a skill I have developed.

Finally, we made our way towards the crown jewel of Epcot – the pavilions of the countries. I looked forward to the beer and the sun light as I was still cold. Here are some specific reflections (all said in the spirit of tastefully offensive):

1. The goods at the Japan pavilion were made in China.

2. The Japan workers don’t like questions about the comfort women concession stand.

3. The Norway pavilion had a maelstrom but no femaelstrom. I think that is wrong.

4. The kids tried on hats at the China pavilion but I told them not to because they might have rice.

5. I found the entire China pavilion repressing. Did you know that the dishes are made from a ceramic that they call “ceramic”?

6. They don’t like the Falun Gong references.

7. The China pavilion only lets each family bring in 1 girl.

8. I finally bought a beer in the Germany section. I told them they shouldn’t charge me as the beer was reparations.

9. There is a lovely model train next to the Germany pavilion. I think that that is a bad thing.

*I have more Holocaust related jokes but they seem to go beyond “tastefully” and squarely into “just offensive.”

10. There was a mime in the Italy section. When I think Italy, I don’t think mimes. Couldn't they get something more Italian, like a murder?

11. The American pavilion was full of people skipping work and over eating. And there were guests also.

12. I asked the people in the Morocco pavilion for a copy of Othello. They didn’t get it or send me to Italy. It was sad. No one in the American pavilion got it either.

13. The France pavilion was nice but champagne slushies? That seems a bit excessive.

14. Both the UK and Canada have phone booths as central tourist points.

Tastefully offensive.

After the countries of the world we hung out a bit to give me a chance to sit some more. There was a bit of ice cream involved, some phone charging and people watching. It was a blast. Eventually, it was time to get lost as we tried to get home without directions but we found our way back to the park and tried again. A quick stop at the Publix so that we could say hi to everyone and spend some momey, and then we made it back. Tomorrow, I will report on the best places to sit when avoiding doing anything at the Magic Kingdom. I just hope there is a Starbucks ride.

A brief Summery

A brief summery (the weather is lovely) of the first three days of vacation. The family is spending time in lovely Orlando, FL at the beautiful vacation house of my brother-in-law and his wife and kids. So already that’s awesome. Kudos to you guys!

We packed (limiting ourselves to 1 checked bag) and got on to a Jet Blue flight. This is ordinarily more trauma than I can bear in an evening but I persevered and stayed on while the plane actually took flight. I didn't spring for headphones so I literally just watched the TV. When there isn't audio, it takes on a while new dimension of meaning. You can write your own dialogue!

We landed at about midnight in (relatively) balmy Orlando and found our way to the cab line. There was one cab there. We were one family there. Seemed like a good match. If only we spoke the same language, and she wanted to be there as much as we did. Well, 8 minutes and $22 dollars later we found our goal, in a swanky country club setting. We learned the house and spread our stuff out. And I fell asleep.

The next day we made a trip to the local Publix our central event. We had all sorts of other plans but by the time we got in and out of Publix (2 carts, $220 worth of groceries, and an interesting conversation with Alexa, or cashier. She’s a double major, math and physics, and was proposed to on the campus of Rollins college by her boyfriend of 3 years. Much mazel. I kvelled) and got home, we decided to sit back and just enjoy the rest of the day. The wife and I decided to take a long walk. Well, we decided to take a moderate walk to the club house. It became a long walk as we got completely lost on the way back. A golf course is big and it all looks the same. We were sure that each rise hid the one water trap next to our lodging but we ended up in Alabama. We had to flag down a passing billionaire to drive us back to our house in his golf cart. It was a learning experience. We are never taking a walk again. We later discovered how to use the pool. It is NOT intuitive. Our co-guests arrived later in the evening and we got everyone settled in.

Early the next morning, we made our way to Universal Studios. Though there was some difficulty finagling our way into the preferred parking area, my wife got the job done, so good on her! From the parking area, we hiked the 14 miles to the general entrance, and then the next 5 miles to the park entrance, clutching bags of food, drink and tickets. We got into the park and started looking around. I haven’t been to an amusement/theme park in a long time so I had to acclimate myself. Apparently, when laying out a park, one has a required “concession stand per square foot” requirement and a “souvenir store to patron” ratio of 1:1.5. The rides have been minimized – a couple of actual rides and a series of motion simulators which put up big 3-D movies while they shake the money out of your pockets and the food out of your system so you feel compelled to buy another turkey leg, ice cream sundae and 74 ounce soda. We walked around the park, waiting on all the lines for rides like the “waitenator” and “try your patience.” We really enjoyed the tie ins to movies but I found the Bridges of Madison County ride a bit slow and the one connected to Caligula disturbing to say the least. In between rides we saw the “shows.” They use the word “show” differently down here in Florida. In New Jersey it has something to do with entertainment. Here, not so much. The animal show had the requisite animals doing animal stuff, but mostly ignoring the trainers and freaking out the audience. I guess during the off-season they allow the oppositional animals to come out and chew the faces off of children who should be in school. The other show involved horror movie make up artistry. It was actually neat because the woman in it seemed as angry as every parent in the audience. Her comments were borderline offensive and therefore humorous.

I caught a magic show, ate way too much popcorn, sat on a replica of some Hollywood street, wore a series of 3-D glasses and eventually, braved the cool, windy nighttime weather to watch the “finale” – a movie reminding me of how much Universal is involved in movies, just in case I forgot after spending the whole day looking at movie tie ins. Fireworks and then the mass exodus to the parking lot. We had the benefit of an Express pass so we got to jump to the front of the lines and not wait. This was especially useful on the ride called "bathroom." I can’t understand how one goes to a park without this luxury item. With it, we were able to get around the whole park in one day. Without it, we would still be on line for the first event. I discovered through the day that I really don’t like amusement parks, but the saving grace was that with the pass, I could dislike them so much more efficiently.

This morning, we made our way to the other Universal park, Islands of Adventure. One of the adventures was paying $17 for a bottle of sun tan lotion. True fact. Seventeen dollars for a product which would otherwise cost 3-4 bucks at a CVS in suburbia. The markup approaches infinity. You pay them to park, to eat, to get wet and to dry off. Theme rides including roller coasters, spinning teacup type things, over head swings, river rafting and multiple motion simulators were there for me not to go on. Then it started raining. We put on ponchos and waited it out in the various stores, as did EVERYONE else. Sure, there was little else to do, but people just crammed into stores and stood there. Didn't they know that that was MY plan? We walked around, running into blind alleys and hidden concession stands, living off a constant flow of popcorn and second hand Spanish (the demographic of the park was 15% Jewish, 10% English speaking not-Jewish and the remainder spoke some other language. They might have been Jewish, speaking another language but I couldn't tell. Real Jews speak English.) We didn't stay as late and yet we still made it through the entire park with time to reflect on all we didn't enjoy. Again, those passes made it reasonable. But I guess if everyone used them, they wouldn't be as special, so don’t go using them. Save them for us.

I took a late night (9PM) trip to Publix to pick up some refreshments -- that place is open and spacious and the people are nice. I really want to buy everything and just chat with everyone. I hate it.

In other news, we are considering going to Disney tomorrow but we have not yet bought tickets. Also, there is apparently a snow storm raging in the northeast, blanketing our street in over a foot of snow. When I looked at the week-long forecast before we left, there was no mention of snow, so we left our car parked on the street and not in the driveway. We expect to come back to a ticket for not moving our car during a snow emergency. I will bill the weather channel. We will also come back to a house that is snowed it. I have yet to figure this one out.

Anyway, you can look up the rides online and feel free to ask specifics. Answers will cost you $17. I need more sun tan lotion.

Monday, January 6, 2014

On "we"

Feel free to ask my mother if you don't think this is true. She'll sigh and say "it was worse than that." The fact is, I, as a child, was bored. I had entire blocks of time when, as I would complain to my mother "I have NOTHING TO DO." I rarely complained that to my father because, somehow, he always found something for me to do and it usually involved cleaning something. He is a miracle worker like that.

So I would drag myself over to my mother who was involved in something unimportant. (It might have been doing the taxes, performing open heart surgery or composing an opera, but I could not fathom how it could be nearly as important as my complaint.) I sort of stood over her and said "Mom, I'm bored."

This was usually met by the kind of silence that only a mother can make. The kind that somehow conveys a mixture of "I'm sorry sweetie" and "why are you even here? I didn't birth you so you could hang around and pester me. We cut the cord, Jack, now vamoose." So I stood there, waiting for the proper response of "Bored? That's horrible. Allow me to entertain you." That didn't happen so I repeated, in a slightly more nasal voice, "Mooooom. I said I'm bored."

At this point she looked up slowly, sizing me up, I think, to see how you smacks it would take to get me to leave and whether those smacks would get in the way of the surgery she was performing. She measured her words and finally said "Go find something to do." Sage words. I took the implicit threat and counted my toes, yet again (this took up to 3 hours as I have particularly tricky toes, but it has made me expert at counting to 12.5).

I rarely have this conversation with my children. I have discovered that they are rarely bored and I am trying to figure out if this is a good thing or not. Yes, they stay out of my hair (often found in piles on the floor) but they cannot cope with the prospect of not being entertained for any length of time. The internet, and the proliferation of devices allowing access to said internet gives them a constant stream of sensory input.

Do they ever have to be alone? Certainly not -- they can make phone calls, Skype calls, online conferences and video chats with any friend at any time for free. One of the reasons I had no friends was that phone calls cost too much when I was a boy. If you wanted to talk to a friend from summer camp, you had to book time on the long distance wire and mortgage your house. Family in Israel? It was cheaper and easier to swim there. And we had no answering machines, caller ID, call waiting or texting. If your friend was in the bathroom and the phone rang, no one got it and he had no idea who called so you didn't get a call back. Done.

And when I had "nothing to do" I could always pick up a book. Just some random book from a book shelf, and look through it. I amazed my kid yesterday by remembering the human-powered aircraft "Gossamer Albatross"." Why did I know it? Because I had a chance to be bored as a child. I had time to absorb stuff that I bumped into. Now? If my kid has a moment during which she is bored, she just loads up season 3 of some Scandinavian TV show I have never heard of and watches it. Does she look through a book shelf picking things at random? No, she "follows" some celebrity and exchanges messages with other young ladies similarly enslaved by the vapidity of a culture of technological interaction. Shooting message content at other anonymous avatars and competing to be the first and best at what no one cares about anyway.

Is there down time? Sort of. My religion imposes electronics-free times and my children have to interact with peers face-to-face, but they rarely are bored. I didn't just learn to play solitaire (4 or 5 different games) but I learned to flick playing cards across a room. I learned to shoot rubber bands and fly paper airplanes and read anything to kill a few hours. I stumbled upon more information and fell into more imaginary worlds than the internet could ever spoon feed me, and it all stuck with me because I wasn't expecting it.

We are planning a vacation and I have to warn my children that there may not be wifi so they might not be able to connect to everything at all hours. The horrors.

Unplug. Get bored. Let boredom be the mother of innovation. Amuse yourself. Discover what other have to be told. Walk somewhere. Smell something. Be surprised. Do nothing for 15 minutes. It isn't the end of the world. It might be the beginning of a new one, though.

I have to post this on the internet and my mom taught me all this with just a look.