This is an offshoot of the original Liam & Janet blog. That blog has become overrun by Liam's inability to keep his mouth shut when something annoys him. The serious rants there seemed incongruous with the humor columns. The plan for the humor columns continues to be to post a new one every Friday, plus occasional extras when the mood strikes.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

On Firetrucks, Floods and other 'F' Words

Tonight, famous stand up comic Paula Poundstone signed a copy of her book to me with the inscription "Now would be a good time to say 'firetruck(*).'"

For those who are not aware, today was my birthday. If you are not aware, then you must not be someone with whom I have regular contact, because I'm one of those weenies who don't pay much attention to birthdays or endow them with much importance... until my own comes along, and then, starting about a month before, finds subtle excuses to work his own upcoming special day into every conversation, such as "Oh, is today your birthday? Cool! Mine is later this month!" or "I'm kind of trying to diet, but my birthday is coming up, so I'm going to let myself have this to celebrate." or "You support a completely non-interventionist foreign policy? Interesting! My birthday is in two weeks!"

I have long been a fan of Ms. Poundstone, and so when I learned (about 6 months ago) that she would be performing in my area on the actual date of my birthday, I knew that I had to attend, and so I immediately began making plans to do so by not actually buying tickets and completely forgetting that the event was going to happen. This is the same process by which I arduously prepared for my wedding to Janet, which explains the look of bewildered surprise on my face in all of our wedding photos.

I continued this rigorous preparation until about a week ago, when two things happened: First, one week ago today I rode in an elevator with Ms. Poundstone while attending my 25 year high school class reunion, five hours away in New Jersey. Astute readers will probably have picked up on this subtle clue in last week's essay. Second, two days ago I successfully won a pair of tickets to the show, five MINUTES away from my office. In comedy, of course, timing is everything (for example, had I won those tickets tomorrow, I wouldn't have had enough material to write an entire essay), and so interestingly, I won the pair of tickets about 20 minutes after my dear wife Janet phoned me to tell me to keep my birthday evening open, because she'd made plans. Fortunately, it turned out that the plans she'd made had involved purchasing tickets to Ms. Poundstone's show, and so in the process of winning tickets, I also turned my wife into a scalper, thus proving that no good deed goes unpunished.

I am not a particular believer in "fate" or "karma", but when events conspire to thrust Paula Poundstone into my life repeatedly, clearly the Universe is saying "I don't really care what you do with your Saturday evening, inasmuch as I am not actually a sentient being, but you could probably do worse than to use those free tickets and go see some comedy", and I think we can all see that when the Universe says something that powerful, we'd all best listen.

And so at this point in the story, Janet and I donated one of our children to two of our best friends to raise.

This was not actually our intention, of course. Dan and Tristin are two of our best friends in all the world as measured in the number of times we've answered the question "Who do we know who would be willing to (some thankless, boring or inconvenient task for which we are unsuited, unable, or unwilling)?" with "I know! Dan & Tristin!". In this particular case, of course, that task was watching our youngest son, Liam, while we went to the show.

Dan and Tristin have a wonderful rustic house here, in a town in NH that makes my description of OUR home town as "rural" seem hyperbolic in the extreme. Their house is up on a hill, on a wooded lot that can only be accessed by a dirt road right-of-way across another lot. On nice summer days, this driveway runs along beside a lovely little stream. On days which contain any rain at all or even sufficiently high humidity, the driveway runs alongside the raging whitewater torrent of death.

We were not aware of this facet of the stream this afternoon as we dropped off Liam into Dan and Tristin's able care and he displayed his typical separation anxiety by saying "Bye, Mommy! Bye, Daddy!" the moment we arrived, long before we had actually intended on leaving. But we looked at each other and said "the rain is really starting to come down, let's get going" and completely ignored the foreshadowing ominous musical "sting" that rang out of nowhere.

So off we went to have a bit of dinner and go see Paula Poundstone (who was fantastic, by the way. If you get a chance, you really should go see her show!) and then tried to retrieve our child. The stream, which had been politely, almost mockingly calm when we had dropped him off was now a two-foot-deep raging river running perpendicular to its normal course, directly across where Dan and Tristin had previously kept their driveway. We could see the house, safely up on the hill, but there was simply no way to get to it. Dan came out of the house with a flashlight and hip-waders (and really, how much more evidence do you need that this happens a lot when Dan, not a fisherman, actually had hip waders handy!) and came out to chat with us.

We agreed that it was unsafe to try to transport a sleeping Liam across this maelstrom, and so the best solution for all concerned was simply for Dan and Tristin to adopt Liam.

We will miss him.

*          *          *

I began this essay with an amusing tale about an inscription, originally intending to end it with the joke (fully attributed) which led to it, but in the process of writing this, I came to realize that stealing an entire story from Ms. Poundstone's act, even with credit, would make this essay not so much my own as hers with a batch of clumsy comedic fumbling on my part racing to her professionally crafted tale at the end. My exact words, when I realized this, were "Oh firetruck, I can't steal a joke that blatantly. It simply wouldn't be right!"

As such, I have decided that I will omit that story from the essay proper, but will compromise by posting the joke in question (because it's damned funny) in the first comment on the blog. Don't thank me, I'm merely trying to avoid owing some percentage of the vast profits from Liam Humor Enterprises in royalties.

(*)She did not actually say this. As you are no doubt aware, I like to keep these little flights of fancy clean, so that readers who happen to be my children are not exposed to any of the harshness of the world and can continue to believe in rainbows and unicorns and will thus be ripe pickin's for the cruel realities of the world to squash like an overripe tomato once they hit college.

You may also be aware that this is ludicrous, in that in my personal life I've been known to use language so "salty" that it might make a drunken sailor run off to the nearest monastery to dedicate his life to silence and beauty and trying to rid the world of filthy mothe... er, gentlemen, such as myself.

And so, to avoid offending you, gentle reader, I have replaced just such an offensive word with "firetruck." If your constitution cannot handle coarser language, just pretend that I have used that word to be silly. For the rest of you, imagine the firetruck in one of those giant car-sized trash compactors heroes were forever getting trapped in (inside their cars) in bad 1970s era cop shows... if you get my drift.

Copyright © October 25, 2009 by Liam Johnson.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to ... Go

As I type this, I am dressed in a dress shirt and tie and a pair of suit pants, and sitting on the toilet.

The toilet, I can explain. See, Janet and I have made the arduous journey, at considerable personal expense, through wild terrain (Connecticut) and barren wilderness (New York) to arrive at the very last place on Earth any mortal wishes to be (Bergen County, New Jersey). As many of you may know, I grew up here until leaving for college. Stealing a joke from a comedian whose name I no longer remember, it took me until I was 18 to realize we were actually free to leave. And this weekend is my 25 year high school class reunion, which I am not only attending, but had the odd lack of sense to volunteer to help organize!

So we're staying in a hotel overnight, and as you seasoned travelers are no doubt aware, in many such rooms, the only available outlet is in the bathroom, and then only if you unplug the hair dryer whose volume and temperature are approximately the same as having someone walk up a moderate flight of stairs and then breathe heavily upon your wet hair. It occurs to me that these would be extremely appropriate in Wal*Mart bathrooms, the ones whose sinks drool three anemic streams of water on you. Then again, I don't know why I complain, in my case I'd be perfectly happy if they just gave us a squeegee.

My laptop battery is low, thus the outlet and my current ignominious location. I have a much harder time explaining the suit clothing. The truth is, I'm not a suit guy. I don't wear a tie when we go to church on Sunday. As I recall, I didn't wear a suit or tie to the last funeral I attended. I'm pretty sure I wore one when I got married to Janet, because since I was metaphorically tying a rope around my neck for the rest of my life, I might as well tie something physically there as well. (Just kidding, Janet!)

I've drawn the line at the suit jacket. As I explained to one of my classmates, when she asked what I'd be wearing (so her husband could decide what to wear also), I'm male and heterosexual, I'm not expected to have fashion sense. Plus, I don't own a sport coat.

But here's the thing: this entire reunion is the fault of Facebook. I'm not kidding. A little less than a year ago, I was on Facebook and noticed that there were a lot of "East Bumble High School, Class of 19xx" groups, but none for my graduating class, and with nothing better to do with my time, I created one. A few days later, several people had found it, and I made my big mistake: I asked "Y'know, we're coming up on 25 years since we all graduated. Does anyone know if there's a 25 year reunion coming up?"

You need to understand, I'd never really thought about it. To this point, some part of me had just assumed that there were reunion fairies out there that just randomly pulled together reunions on multiples of 5 and 10 years (5 and 10 being magical numbers ever since the day when "5 and 10" meant the local Woolworth's). So I just figured "someone" was probably putting together the 25 year reunion, and that it would be fun to attend.

Well, of course it turns out that there are no fairies. Well, in some classes there may be, but I already established that I'm heterosexual (bada bum). There are just random people too stupid to answer "er, I'd love to, but I have a thing with a guy" when someone else says "Hey! We should organize one!"

I should say, "we" organized this the way "my 3 year old son and I" go shopping for groceries. I sat comfortably in the shopping cart (aka from the distance of New Hampshire), occasionally pontificating in e-mail my opinions about how the event should go and left virtually all of the real work to people who are less lazy and more organized than I. Very much the small child, asking "Daddy, can we get that?" and being told "no, that menu item would be too expensive" or "no, strippers aren't appropriate for a reunion dinner".

Still, though, apparently no one on the team feels that they did as much work as "everyone else" did, which means that either the division of labor was more equitable than I realize, or we're going to get down there in half an hour to set up and realize we forgot something major, like a band, a caterer, or actually letting the hotel know we'd be using their banquet room.

The planning for this reunion went very smoothly for quite some time, and then four days ago it took and abrupt left turn: Apparently two weeks ago, the hotel which we had booked had a fire in their main banquet room. They hadn't bothered to let us know, because they figured they could just put us in a couple of the smaller banquet rooms with a private hallway between, and no one would notice, apparently on the theory that 25 years out of high school, we'd clearly be too senile to recognize that A) we were not, technically, in a single, large ballroom, and B) hotel ballrooms are not supposed to smell like California during forest fire season.

Well, we (and by "we" I mean Diana, who did most of the local heavy lifting) noticed. On Tuesday morning, when we went to sign the final contract, give final numbers, and pay the bill, we took one look at the proposed solution and immediately we notified the other five members of the planning committee.

Just down the street from the hotel we were supposed to be at is a luxury hotel, the ballroom of which we on the committee had rejected since it was nearly 50% more expensive, but apparently in these economic times we were not the only people who rejected it, because when we made a big stink about the, er, big stink, our original hotel worked out a deal with the new hotel by which A) they would host our reunion, and B) we would pay them the same fee we had originally negotiated with the cheaper hotel. We traded up, big time, but those reports that members of the reunion committee were seen darting furtively through the dark the the moments before the fire are entirely spurious, I promise.

By the way, one other interesting result of being in the nicer hotel is (this is true), I rode up an elevator with noted comic and modern day philosopher Paula Poundstone. Well, technically, this is only sort of true. Running back to my room to get my laptop computer (every successful reunion needs a laptop!), I got into the elevator with a woman who looked incredibly like Ms. Poundstone, and when she pressed my floor (20), I said "That's my floor too!" and she replied in Paula Poundstone's voice "Well that's convenient". I never asked, to be sure. My wife has since said "You should have", but here's my thinking: I'm not very good with faces... or voices... or, really when it gets right down to it, differentiating humans from other primates. By not asking, I get to spend the rest of my life thinking "I might have ridden 20 floors in an elevator with Paula Poundstone" instead of spending the next day of my life saying "I rode 20 floors in a woman who was nothing like Paula Poundstone, but until I asked, I thought it was." A lifetime of "brush with greatness" memories vs. 20 minutes of "wow, that was stupid! How I could have initially thought that gentleman was Paula Poundstone, I have no idea!"

Anyway, this brush with greatness gave me the self-confidence and humility necessary to negotiate an evening with people who had beaten me up so badly in the high school locker room (and with the guys as well), many of whom have since gone on to do things far more successful than writing computer programs, silly humor essays and breeding like the Waltons on Rohypnol.

But I'm not bitter. Very few of them have successfully lost their hair!

Copyright © October 17, 2009 by Liam Johnson.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's A Car, Not A Crisis!

My birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, and it's making me take stock of my life. There's something unnerving about realizing that people who graduated college this past year or this next one were just about being born when I graduated college. (Well, OK, no, I went on the "Decelerated Plan", so technically the people who were being born as I graduated college are just getting out of diapers... which is pretty embarrassing, giving the valedictory speech to their high school classes in Depends... but I digress.)

This birthday brings up something that's been eating at me since I turned 40: the midlife crisis. When do I get to have mine? It's not fair, I see so many men my age running around with fast cars and hot women (or hot cars and fast women, which is almost as good) and I want to know when I get my turn! Oh, sure, my wife is incredibly hot, but it's not the same; She's my wife. The whole point of the midlife crisis is NEW hot women. NEW fast cars. NEW applications to AARP arriving in the mail.

Seriously, the stereotype of the midlife crisis has actually always bothered me, and here's why:

If you have a Y chromosome, you're genetically wired towards sports cars. The sportier the better. We grow up seeing them on television and dreaming of the day when we'll own one of our very own. Not a sport-y car, but a no-point-to-it, way-more-gas-guzzling-than-is-justified, take-the-muffler-off-so-everyone-looks-at-you SPORTS car. An it-cost-more-than-I-make-in-a-year-but-damn-it-it's-worth-it car. A Lamborghini Countach or a Ferrari Testarossa.

And we know we'll never get it, but sooner or later we'd like to settle for a Corvette. And so we start dreaming and planning and scheming and more than a little bit of praying when we should have been praying for the wellbeing of our family members, or at the very least, a passing grade on that final we didn't study for. And we're in high school when this starts.

Reality first kicks us in the nethers around the end of junior year in high school, when we finally convince our parents to let us buy a used car. We envision finding an old DeLorean that we can work on for a few weeks over the summer and bring back to tip-top condition, to ride triumphantly back to school in the fall. What we end up finding is that our life savings, the sum financial result of our lives to this point will manage to buy us a used Chevette. And not the good one, either, in order to afford gas and insurance, we have to buy the one with the big dent in the door and an aroma which seems to indicate that the previous owner's goal in life was to see just how many cigarettes it took to make a windshield look "charcoal tinted" without actually paying for tinting.

And just a few days after we learn that, we discover something else: We have the raw ability to repair and restore a car that hurricane Katrina had to repair and restore New Orleans, but with less likelihood of attracting topless drunken women.

So we drive our beater-mobile, eventually coming to grips with the fact that at least every other guy in our graduating class fared about the same in the car department, except for the rich kid who lives on the hill, but everyone pretty much figures he's a jerk and a snob anyway. (This is true, we had one guy in my class whose father bought him a Corvette as a gift. Not for graduating, nor for turning legal age, but because this kid had failed the drivers test twice, and his father offered him the 'vette as an incentive to study and pass the third time. Yes, really.)

High school ends and we head off to college, replacing the Chevette with a 10 year old Honda Civic that our parents had decided to replace. Still not a sexy car, but reliable in the same way our parents are: Never giving us quite everything that we want, but there for us when we really need it. And in much the same way our parents also didn't, this car utterly fails to get us laid. But that's OK, this is college, we've got way too much studying and stuff to do to, and really, we can get to everything we really need with a few minutes walk, so the car mostly just sits parked most of the time.

College ends, and we go out into the world to start our careers, laden with college loan debt and being paid at a rate that we will, one drunken night, make the mistake of calculating that if it doesn't improve, we will make enough money to pay off our student loans just about in time to retire and file for social security. We're no longer thinking about the car, we're thinking about whether after eating Kraft macaroni and cheese every night this week, the box it came in might make a nice change of pace tonight.

But of course our pay does improve, and we begin the slow climb up the corporate ladder, and pretty soon, we've got some disposable income. Not a lot, but a bit, and it is at this moment that SHE walks into our lives. Our future ex-wife, but at the moment we're convinced she's The One, without whom our life is not complete, The One with whom our own genes will combine to form perfect little human specimens, The One who completes us. (The One who will one day run off with a plastic surgeon from L.A., taking our children, half of our stuff and more than 75% of our metaphorical gonads with her, but we don't know that yet).

And so as quickly as it arrived, that "disposable income" goes to feeding another mouth, and then one or two much smaller mouths connected to little butts that have to be covered in diapers whose annual cost makes you look back fondly on the days when all you had to pay was college tuition. You love the kids, they make you happy, almost happy enough to not think about the car you traded away the chance for in order to have them, and so you work extra hard and scrape together the cash to save for a down payment, so you can buy a house and give them some stability.

One day you wake up, and you're in your thirties, with a mortgage and two kids rapidly approaching their teens and now eating piles of food equal to their own body weight each day. On the plus side, you've passed the halfway point in paying off the student loans, but there's still shockingly little in your 401(k), and that car is just as far away as ever, and in a way you hadn't thought possible, gets even further away as you pay the divorce lawyers and sell off most of what you own in order to split it "equitably", a word which in legal circles means "75% to legal fees, 45% to your ex, leaving whatever remains to you."

But as the divorce is finalized, you begin dating again, and with the wisdom of experience, on your 35th birthday, you marry your second wife. This time, you chose well, this one will last, but she's in debt as well, being the one woman in the country, apparently, who decided to treat her ex-husband fairly in the divorce and he screwed her for it. And not in a good way.

Finally, you reach mid-forties. The kids are in college, so there's no more child support payments, and those student loans are finally paid off! You've managed to put together a little bit of a retirement fund and you have a little bit of extra money, and so finally, one day, you announce to your wife that you're going to buy your dream car. Not the Testarossa or the Countach, but the Corvette, and what happens? Everyone looks at you and "tsks" and says ruefully "midlife crisis car".

We finally make it to a point in life where we can achieve one of our lifetime goals, and it's dismissed as a midlife crisis. Just because we bought a sexy car. Just because we wanted something that goes "Vrooom".

Knowing all of this, you can just imagine how much work we put into the trophy wife!

Copyright © October 14, 2009 by Liam Johnson.

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