Wednesday, August 18, 2010

All Dressed Up with No Time to Go

You remember those old-fashioned family vacations? Each family member had their pre-determined location in the station wagon, a station wagon with fake wood paneling on it sides making it look like it belonged in Robert Young’s den. In my family growing up Dad drove, I sat next to him and the oldest brother sat next to me on the front seat. Mom sat behind my father in order to reach each family member to hand them supplies: cups of water from the thermos, snack foods – including Space Food Sticks (I did not make those up, they were, and I quote from Wikipeida, a “non-frozen balance energy snack in rod form containing nutritionally balanced amounts of carbohydrate, fat and protein) and the occasional comic book. My kid sister sat in the back seat with Mom and the second oldest son had the run of the back of the station wagon. This was before car seats and seat belt laws so he lived back there with pillows and the luggage.

The biggest versions of these trips meant you were on the road visiting tourist traps, museums, malls, crummy roadside restaurants featuring gift shops with more things made in China than Beijing itself and, if your little sister was like mine, every gas station restroom between here and Galveston. The smaller ones had you visiting family members and bunking on a sleeper sofa with a mattress actually harder than the petrified sandwich crusts found when it was pulled open for the first time since the Eisenhower administration.

You remember those? So do I. That is exactly why my family did nothing like that this past summer.

I exaggerate. The main reason we did not go anywhere was finding free time was impossible. I’m not talking about the 47 year-old chief breadwinner for the family. I had vacation days aplenty. Everybody else was too busy. Between the orchestra camp at KU (kid #3), the drum major camp in Illinois (kid #2), the summer community theater production (kid #1), the lifeguard job (kid #2), the babysitting jobs (kid #1), the petsitting jobs (kid #3), and the summer part-time job (wife #1 and only) we couldn’t figure out three days in a row when everyone was available.

Fortunately, my family is easy to please. Even though there was no Grand Canyon adventure or Hawaiian escapades (look no further than the Brady Bunch to see those aren’t all they are cracked up to be) there was no complaining. While they are open to greater adventures they are content with simpler pleasures.

You hear the term “destination” used to describe places tourists desire to visit. The marketing people like to use it. “Make Disney Land your destination vacation!” Truthfully, I find it a little odd to use such a generic word for something which is supposed to be special. Wherever you’re headed is technically a destination. “Make Kwik Shop your 1:00 AM insatiable craving for microwave burritos destination!”
Everyone in my family is perfectly happy if our “destination vacation” is simply a big book store. We can spend the better part of a long weekend in Barnes and Noble. I say that both because it is true and because I hold out hope a Barnes and Noble executive will stumble across this column and feel I have earned a sizable gift certificate for the shameless plug I just handed to his company.

We all like books. Even the youngsters like the feel, the smell and the sensation of holding the book and turning the pages. Technology is working on making that a thing of the past. The aforementioned Barnes and Noble is for sale (which may mean the gift certificate proposition is more time sensitive than originally thought). Bookstores are inching their way onto the endangered species list. With the ease of shopping on-line brick and mortar locations are not truly necessary and more and more people don’t bother to use them. Also, e-books have made a huge jump in the market.

E-books are downloads of the text of an entire book onto your computer or some such device. All the words are there with none of the pages, covers or dust jackets. Storage is in bytes not linear inches of bookshelves. I have a few on my laptop but I have to say I like pages better than pixels.

I will probably migrate over to e-books eventually, but if the bookstores disappear my family may be relegated to the microwave burritos for our vacation destinations.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Not All Reality is Exciting

I have probably mentioned this before. We do not have television at our house. I do not mean that as some sort of mating call for the pseudo-intellectual. We are not sitting around the living room reading aloud to each other from Marcel Proust’s A la recherché du temps perdu in the original French. I spend more time than I ought watching internet “broadcasts” of Chuck, Psych, and The Human Target so I am not above watching TV. I simply tell you we have no television at our house to show I do not have all the conduits of information many people have. Yet, somehow I have lots of information.

Not long ago President Obama was on The View and when asked about Snooki, he didn’t know who she was. That was very reassuring to me. He has much more important things to pay attention to than a personage known throughout much of the free world for, umm, shall we say, somewhat hedonistic behaviors. He should be spending his time on things like the economy, oil spills and who will replace Ellen DeGeneres on American Idol. (Maybe Elena Kagan if the Supreme Court gig doesn't work out.)

I have never seen an episode of Jersey Shore or American Idol yet I know many things about both of them. I do not know them purposefully. The information seems to be in the air supply. Just another example of why the EPA needs to be more vigilant.
In the case of American Idol people who I enjoy have spent loads of time telling me what is happening on the show. Tony Kornheiser’s radio show dedicated so much time to it I stopped listening and a blog I read written by long-time television comedy writer Ken Levine does blow-by-blow accounts of each episode. I skip those entries. But still, I know a person named Crystal Bowersox was the runner-up last year. Crystal Bowersox…sounds like a special additive for laundry detergent to combat stains and unpleasant odor. (Tide - now with crystal bowersox for improved cleaning!)

Television people categorize these shows as unscripted. What? It really doesn’t take a group of erudite practiced crafters of the English language hours of intense effort to come up with such riveting storytelling as the account of Danielle from The Real Housewives of New Jersey as she tries to recapture the romance of dating by enrolling in a pole-dancing class? Are you sure Shakespeare didn’t come up with that first? There was a little known hand-written note in the first folio of Romeo and Juliet indicating the Bard considered a scene with Juliet and Lady Capulet discussing breast augmentation surgery to attract a husband. (This could have led to a very famous line: Two Bs or double Ds that is the question.)

The people in many of these shows get very rich and incredibly famous. Many things I do I do in hopes of becoming richer and a little famous. Maybe the path to getting my work as a writer known to the world is to have a reality show revolving around my life. The biggest hurdle to this is the fact my life would be considered truly boring by most of, who am I kidding, all of the viewing public.

It is often a topic of conversation in my house just how boring we are. My wife and I love each other and have had maybe two disagreements in almost 20 years of marriage and neither incident had us throwing living room décor or even epithets at each other. Our children don’t seem to dislike us and we think they are pretty cool. We don’t even have to yell at them to turn their music down. When the oldest kid is in the living room with her internet radio turned up you hear Julie Andrews or Rosemary Clooney, not rap artists or pop divas spouting unapproved by old people lyrics. When the youngest one is closeted in his room roaming the internet it turns out he is watching YouTube, not videos on how to make basement explosives but old episodes of The Addams Family.

The final nail in the excitement coffin has to be what happened the other night. I have two, count ‘em, two teenage daughters. They got together with a bunch of their peers and went over to a house with no adults in sight. They went into the basement theater. They fired up the projector and the DVD player and proceeded to watch… wait for it… Lion King One and Half. A cartoon! A direct-to-video Disney cartoon!