Friday, April 30, 2010

My Wife Has Entered The Twilight Zone

The movie “Twilight,” which has caused such a stir lately, and the book series written by a caught in the doldrums housewife have completely missed the target audience.  The saga (as my wife calls it) details the trials and tribulations of human/vampire romance in a Washington state high school.

You would think that the target audience would be high school girls, but apparently high school girls do not read novels about high school girls falling in love with vampires.  Junior high and middle school girls do read books about high school girls.

Guess who else does.  Middle school teachers.  They are insane about this.

The First Bite of Twilight
It all started innocently enough.  A couple of girls in my wife’s class told her she should read the book and, being a teacher who likes to keep up with what the kids are reading and watching, she did.  She bought the paperback version of “Twilight.”  She read it rather quickly, after all, she has a masters degree and we’re not talking Dostoevsky here.  It was written for 12-year-olds.

This has turned into something like Harry Potter meets the Beatles-mania for a group of teachers and a few friends who have become infatuated with Stephanie Meyer’s offering.  My wife is at the lead, and for the past year, it’s all she can think about outside of work.

She passed it off to someone and someone else offered her the second book.  She started lapping it up the drippings from a fresh bite when one of the new mush-heads gave her the first book on CD.  So while she’s reading the second one, she was listening to the first one on her iPod.  She then went to the Barnes & Noble and bought the first and second books in hardback.

In June, Stephanie Meyer came to Kansas City to promote her franchise in advance of the movie coming out.  Again, more mush-heads standing in line to get autographs and hear about Bella and Jacob and Edward playing baseball and making their way through high school without biting one another.  (Bella’s the girl, by the way, and a whiny one, at that.)

I asked my wife why she needed two or three versions of a book, and she said, “You wouldn’t understand if you haven’t read the books.”

Well, of course I understand.  You bought two versions of the same book.  One in hardback and one in paperback.  What’s not to understand?  Then you bought the second one in hardback and the book on CD.  Are you seeing a pattern here?

She said she gets something out of listening to the actors.  My God, they’re not actors.  They’re just people reading the book to you.  The book you’ve already read.  Twice.  She said, “If you don’t read the book you won’t understand.”  Of course I understand.  There are three books out, and you’ve paid for five copies and are in possession of a pirated version of one other copy.

By the end of the school year, she was doing a Twilight Tuesdays group.  Originally, I thought she was sponsoring a book club for her students, something she’s done before with the Harry Potter series.  Little did I know, she and two others had been gathering other mush-heads and were scouring the internet for tidbits and theories and discussion groups.  Ashley was putting it all together and disseminating the information to her group of adults (no kids) every Tuesday.  It had become water cooler, er, teachers’ lounge fare.

Although she claims it only takes “a few minutes” to do, I once clocked her at five hours.  She didn’t get to bed until 2:00 a.m. on a school night and a couple of times over the summer, she didn’t get to sleep until after 4:00.

Now, I know that some of you must be thinking “This guy doesn’t want his wife having anything outside of him and the family” and still others must be of the opinion that I need to put my foot down.  I’m not going to do that.  I choose, instead, to be passive aggressive and write a story about it in the hope that she will someday realize exactly what a mush-head she’s turned into.

Then, in August, all hell broke loose.

For her birthday, usually I plan something ranging from dinner with her Mom, and I’ll do all the cooking to a surprise party with all of her friends (no small feat, I’ll tell you.)  This year, all she wanted for her birthday was to be left alone.

Twilight Nerds Unite
The night before her birthday, the fourth (FOURTH!) installment in the series was released.  She and three other mush-heads went to pick up “Breaking Dawn” at midnight.  They were required to pre-pay for the book, and decided to make a night of it.  They made T-shirts which said “Twilight Nerds Unite” on them.  Then they went to dinner and showed up at the bookstore along with a thousand other middle school minions and one very exasperated weekends-only Dad who had to numb himself with Jack Daniels and Prozac to get through this experience.

There was a trivia contest.  The leader of this three-ring circus passed out nine pages of questions and my wife’s team of teachers won a bag full of candy and shwag from the Twilight franchise.  “We CRUSHED them,” she announced to me the next day, with fire in her eye and Starburst wrapper clinging to her neck.

I’m sure the little girls in attendance were disappointed, but it’s hard to beat three adults at trivia when they only missed one question.  Even then, Ashley wasn’t satisfied.  “I think the question we missed was kind of vague.  It could’ve gone either way.  When I get some time, I’m going to re-read that chapter and write a letter to the host.”

She had been up all night reading.  That’s what she wanted for her birthday.  To read.  Our twin boys were five, and they had their first big birthday party earlier that year.  They understood that on your birthday, you get to do anything you want, go anywhere for dinner and people treat you nicer because it’s your birthday.  On that day, their Mom didn’t get out of the chair except to go to the bathroom or to move to the bedroom when it got too noisy.  I think she may have had a sandwich.

I took the boys to Sam’s and came back to find her asleep in the chair.  We brought everything in through the garage and I popped a pizza in the oven for dinner.  She was still reading and dozing as I got the boys to bed.  A couple of hours later, I went to bed and she got up and returned to the chair to continue the saga of Bella and Jacob.  Apparently they were married now and having sex and everything.  Everyone is worried about Bella having a vampire child.  They don’t know if she can take it physically.  She’s weak.  There are theories.

She finished the book in about 40 hours.  She took a couple of weeks off from reading anything other than internet blogs and message boards about the movie coming out in November.  Her Tuesday Twilight group had grown to a number which was more than 30, I think.  It now included my mother-in-law, which I never saw happening, and Ashley’s friend who has a PhD from one of the most respected institutions of higher learning in this country.  Ash had suggested it to Dana, who read the first three books over Labor Day weekend and then e-mailed her reaction to the books.  “I’ve been reading for three days and I’m tired and horny,” she said in the e-mail.


Team Jacob vs. Team Edward
In November, the movie came out.  I was told under no circumstance was I to make plans for that Friday night.  All the mush-heads made plans to see the 4:25 showing.  I asked if she was even going to come home from work.  She said, “Yes.  I’m going to stop by.”  Ashley left the house at 3:00.  Her group numbered three dozen, ranging in age from 12 to 63.  My mother-in-law wasn’t even the oldest on in the group.  There were only four girls under the age of 16.

They made t-shirts.  I mean, more t-shirts.  They had a printer do them.  The ones from the book release were just iron-on things Ashley did at home.  That wasn’t good enough.  This called for a professional.  Team Jacob shirt wearers outnumbered Team Edward shirt wearers by a goodly margin.  Apparently, there’s some discrepancy as to whom readers think Bella should be with, Jacob the vampire or Edward the werewolf.

This is some high school they’ve got in Forks, Washington.  My high school in Wichita had jocks, nerds, car dudes, and juvenile delinquents.  Pretty standard stuff.  And I’ve gone through the yearbooks… none of my classmates sparkled in the daylight.

They made gift bags.  Girls like that stuff, Ashley said.  Everybody donated something for the premier.  Ash made bookmarks for everyone.  Someone got some pictures to put in the bag.  Others got some sparkle stuff that women wear to clubs.  Others put in snacks for the movie.  I’m pretty sure someone put in an apple because the cover of the book has an apple in the picture.  I don’t know why.

I digress.  They saw the movie.  They laughed.  They cried.  They pointed out where the movie diverged from the book.  They all twittered during the Meyer’s cameo as “Stephanie” during a scene in the diner.  Afterward, they all went to have dinner and drinks at a bar close-by to discuss the places where they laughed, the places where they cried, the places where the movie diverged from the book and Meyer’s cameo as “Stephanie” during the diner scene.

About 11:40, Ashley called to check in and let me know they’d be out late.  She walked through the door about 3:15.  I’d fallen asleep in the recliner and was amazed that it was 3:15, since the bar closed at 1:30.  She and Tracy, the other mush-head leader, decided to see the midnight showing of the movie.  And just so you don’t think that my wife is the only Twilight nerd out there, I’ll tell you about Tracy.

A few weeks after the movie, or as I like to call it, when life gets back to normal, Ashley asked if I could watch the boys on a Saturday afternoon so she and Tracy could take a group of girls to see the movie.  I thought “OK.  That’s nice they’re taking a group of girls to see the movie.  Yeah, I can do that.”

Tracy called on Sunday morning after Thanksgiving to see if Ashley would like to meet and see the movie.  Again.  She covered the phone, and asked me if it was OK.  “Either today, or next Saturday, not both,” I said.  She put the phone back to her ear and said, “Joel’s got plans this afternoon, so I can’t.  I’m sorry.”  Total lie. And it made me out to be the bad guy. But in my mind, I'd stood up for what was right. And sane.

So, in the world of mush-heads, there’s at least one other who is just as dedicated… er… crazy.  I’d like to talk to her husband.  Maybe we should start a support group.

The Saturday outing rolled around and Tracy called to let Ashley know that she and the girls were Christmas shopping and they’d like to go to a later show.  Ashley asked me if it was OK, as if I had any say in the matter.  I just nodded.  They adjusted their plans and she hung up.  I had to ask why Tracy would take all those girls Christmas shopping.  “Just two girls,” Ashley explained.

“She’s letting two girls upset the schedule for all the others?” I asked.

“What others?” she asked.

“You told me you were taking a group of girls to see the movie with Tracy.  I assumed it was a group from school or something.”

“No, it’s just two girls.”  I delved further, already knowing the answer, and I wasn’t going to like it, but I asked anyway.

“Do they already have T-shirts?”  Ashley nodded, confirming my thought that I’d been had and that the two girls were there the night the movie opened.

It’s been nine weeks since the movie opened.  It was number one at the box office for one whole week.  It met with mixed reviews and even the true fans admit that the special effects suck.  The fourth book has been released.  You’d think that maybe it would all slow down for the Tuesday Twilight group.  There was some question as to whether or not the kid that played Jacob was going to be in the sequel.  Apparently, he’s not going to be big enough to play the werewolf or something.  Wait… that’s Edward.  OK, I’ve got that straight.  So there were stories to read and blogs to check out and websites to revisit to get the latest gossip.  Gather it all up and send it out to the other mush-heads.  More than 90 minutes to do that and we get in bed and she’s reading the last book.  Again.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome
Let’s check the score.  First book… two copies, one pirated CD, two copies on DVD. Oh, she has it for her Kindle, too. The hardback has been signed by Meyer.  She’s seen the movie in theaters three times, although I have a sneaking suspicion that she and Dana saw it again when she was in town for Christmas and she just didn’t want to tell me.  She’s read the book twice and listened to it I don’t know how many times.  Second book… hardback, CD, DVD, Kindle.  She saw it twice the night it opened, and once the night of the DVD release party.  Third book… hardback, signed by the author; she’s read it twice, and now has it on Kindle. She'll read it once more before the movie comes out, "just as a refresher."  Last book… hardback, and she’s getting ready to finish it for the second time.

We're not addicted. We're enthusiastically devoted
The next installment, "Breaking Dawn," premiered in September, I think. Whatever. The band of mush-heads, numbering about four dozen now, showed up wearing t-shirts, gift bags, the whole nine yards.

One of the local news channels even got wind of it and sent a crew out to the theater. Ashley called me twice on my cell phone, twice on the land line and texted me twice to make sure that I recorded it. I sent her a text with a picture of the DVR schedule so she'd know that indeed, I had done my duty for the night. And the boys are doing just fine, thanks for asking, honey.

Out of morbid curiosity, I watched the newscast. There in high definition is my lovely wife and her merry group of mush-heads wearing still more shirts which say "We're not addicted. We're enthusiastically devoted" on them, along with the Twilight logo. The crew interviews Ashley, who's wearing a Burger King crown with a New Moon promo on it. In fact, so is everyone else. So somewhere there are four dozen little girls who couldn't get a Burger King crown with a New Moon promo on it so these people could have them. OK. Whatever.

By the way, Ashley wouldn't let me delete the newscast off of the DVR for five months.

Will the madness never end?

Apparently, I have the answer. A few weeks ago, the second movie came out on DVD. The merry band of mush-heads got together to watch both movies. Again. I’d already had plans to go to a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, but I was told that I would have to watch the boys that night, as this had been planned for quite some time. “But it’s not on the calendar,” I pointed out. “Plus I asked you if you wanted to go to the fundraiser and you said you would if we could get your Mom to babysit.”

“I must have forgotten,” she said. “We’ve been planning this since November.”

“Since November?” I asked. “When did you start planning it?”

“At Chili’s. We went there for dinner after we saw ‘New Moon.’”

My hand. My forehead. A great SLAP echoes through the dining room and into the kitchen.

“Let me get this straight. You were planning this little shindig after you saw “New Moon” while you were waiting to see it again. Is that about right?”

“Sounds about right,” Ashley replied.

So this is my life. The next installment of the saga, the name of which escapes me, is due in theaters in June. I’m not sure which date in June, but I’ve wiped the weekends clear in June. I’ll be at the house if you want to come hang out with the boys and me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tax Day Rant

I won't gripe about paying taxes. Except the Kansas City Earnings Tax. I think reasonable taxes are fine.

For the first time in quite some time, we did the taxes ourselves. By "we did the taxes ourselves," I mean that I did the taxes. Ashley did her share of the tax work by signing the returns and asking "How much are we getting back?" and "Do you think we ought to take it to H & R Block?" repeatedly.

Like every other form of commerce, tax preparation can be done online. We filed electronically this year. My best estimate is that it added about six hours worth of work to the process.

Since we were e-filing, we had to fill in all the information that is included in the W-2s. Got that done. Didn't like it, but I got it done.

Then I had to re-create Form 8823 for Noncash Charitable Donations. Check.

I filled out the Federal returns and filed electronically, only to be rejected because we needed a specific form for a contribution we made to a non-profit organization. No problem. I went back and attached the form, filling out all the necessary information and re-filed. It was rejected again because the specific form needed a supporting form.

The first one was easy enough. I'll just go back and find the 1098-C form and attach it. After a half hour of looking, I came to the realization that Form 1098-C is not available. No problem.

I'll just print everything and add the form and mail it in. Kickin it old school. That's how I roll.

I couldn't access my returns. My password didn't match. Had I forgotten the password? No way. But I decided to reset the password through the website. Except that it didn't recognize my email address.

Now I was in trouble. I gave up. Time for a beer and a couple of hours not looking at taxes. I stepped away.

When I returned to the computer, I decided to try one more time to access my returns on the website. It worked! All I had to do was print the returns, add the Form 8823 and 1098-C and I was golden.

Time to move on to the state returns. Because I worked in Kansas, I had to pay taxes in Kansas and declare a credit for the state of Missouri where I live. The Kansas form took 25 minutes to fill out. The Missouri form is 16 pages.

I finally got it done. I was done.

Then, and only then, did I realize that Missouri won't allow you to e-file if you exceed a certain income. We exceeded it. And I was back to mailing it in. Old school.

OK... now I'm done.

Not so fast.

We live in Kansas City. I realized that I had to file city taxes too. Kansas City takes 1% off the top. No deductions. No credits. Nothing.

I went to the city website and got the necessary form. This was the biggest pain in the butt during the whole ordeal. Why? It's one page. It's one percent. Why's it such a pain?

Each individual number was in its own box. And the tab key didn't move the cursor to the next box. So putting in the income information wasn't "65327." It was 6 (move the mouse) 5 (move the mouse) 3 (move the mouse) 2 (move the mouse) 7 (move the mouse).

And each of the 14 freaking lines on the form was the same way.

So now I'm down to the wire. I just need to address the envelopes and pray that I have some stamps.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why I'm an asshole

Over the years, many times someone has come to me and said, "You're a good person and I love you, but you can be an asshole sometimes." So today, I've been thinking about why.

I think people thinking this of me stems from two possible scenarios. The first happens more often than not; the second is what I'm talking about here.

I have a very dry sense of humor. It's not very often that I set out to say something mean. It's just that some people take what I say way too seriously. It happens often. I don't deny it. I don't understand how the person I've offended doesn't say, "Wait. What does that mean? Are you serious?"

I would. But that's me. I give people the opportunity to explain what they've said. If they're joking, I forgive. If they're not, I give them a chance to apologize. If I've said something to offend someone (it's happened) and I am told they're offended, I like the opportunity to tell them "I'm sorry. It was a joke. And a bad one." If I'm not joking, I tell them why I said what I've said. If they don't like me for it, then it is what it is.

The other scenario occurs when someone acts in such a way I find disappointing. They do something that is despicable. Something that goes beyond decency, and offer no explanation for what they've done. Or worse yet, offer weak explanation for what they've done.

When someone is disloyal, it really makes me mad. When I've done nothing but be there for them, make sacrifices for them, and they do something to deliberately hurt me, it makes me question their very souls.

When my former friends and employees took over the space that used to house Kyle's Tap Room, the bar I owned for six years, it hurt me incredibly. If any one of them had been forced out of business as I had by an unscrupulous landlord, I would have helped them get even, not sign a lease agreement and gone into business using the equipment my friend couldn't remove. They are creating a business from what I was forced to leave behind. They never came to talk to me about it until they'd signed the lease. Even though they knew the landlord's actions cost me my life's savings and six years of work, they decided the best thing to do was go into business at no cost to them. My friendship and loyalty wasn't worth doing the right thing.

And now, another instance of someone behaving in such a way, that I find unforgivable recently happened. (This would be the example of the "weak" explanation for what they've done.)

I really take offense when someone lets another person down and justifies their action with their own personal problem. I've seen it happen when relationships break down when one is going through a tough time. Illness, money problems, unemployment... they're all part of being in a relationship. I've seen too many people abandon their significant other when they're going through a tough time. The explanation being, "I have my own problems to work out. I can't be there for you."

Usually the problem they need to work on is significantly less problematic than what the other is facing. The one leaving the relationship is the weak one. The one who needs to lean on the other in trying times is the stronger of the two and asks for nothing more than a little support.

But they get none. It makes me want to lash out at them, but in this case I can't. I'm not close enough this time to take the person aside and tell him what a jackass he's being. If telling him he's a sorry excuse for a human being makes me an asshole, so be it. I won't lose any sleep over it. How could I? I only sleep four hours a night.

These things make me question the moral fiber of some people. It makes me realize that some people truly have no souls. In some small way, however, it makes me want to be a better person, because I know that sometimes people don't get the support they need when they need it the most. It makes me want to be there for them, as I wish people would be there for me when I need it. Know this: If we are friends, I'll never betray you. You can always count on me to help, if I can.

Anyway... if you're reading this, and you've ever thought I was an asshole because of something I've said, it's one of two things. Either I was joking with you and you didn't get it, or you did something I would NEVER do because my Dad would kick the shit out of me for behaving that way.

 If it's the first, we can talk about it and I'll probably apologize. If it's the second, you can talk to my Mom and she'll kick the shit out of you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Taking stock of how time flies

I never really understood the expression "Time flies," but I'm getting a true sense of it lately.

My sons just turned seven this week. Only yesterday I was holding them in one hand. They were born seven weeks premature, as many twins are, and Aidan at a 4 pounds, 13 ounces had trouble keeping his body temperature up. They wanted to keep him in a warmer and Ashley was so upset that he couldn't stay in the room with us. Tristan was fine, but we thought it best to keep them together, since they had only known being together.

They both fit easily in the same incubator. Wrapped in blankets, wearing little hats. You'd certainly never know today that they were undersized. They're both over 4 feet 5 inches tall. Aidan weighs a little more than 90 pounds. We throw a baseball in the front yard every day and I can't believe how quickly time has passed since we had to keep him in a little heated bed to keep him warm.

April 1st holds special significance for my family. Ashley's brother, Kyle, and two of his friends were in a car wreck on that date nine years ago. They were killed coming around a dark curve on their way home. It's so sad. I wonder if this day will ever just be another day for Ashley and her Mom. I doubt that it will.

The mothers of the boys still get together every year to maintain the monument on the highway. Not simply a marker, there are three crosses on the side of the road bearing the names of Jeff, Kyle and Jason surrounded by flowers which come up every year to remind us of the life that each lost. On significant days such as birthdays, their friends still take balloons or write notes to them.

I didn't know Kyle that well, but in the years that we had the bar which we named Kyle's Tap Room, many of his friends came in and told me how much they missed him. I got to know Kyle through their stories. I've never heard anyone say a bad thing about Kyle. Not once.

As for myself, I remember his laugh, most of all. Aidan, who looks like his uncle (A LOT) and carries the middle name Kyle, also laughs like him. I don't know if it's a comfort or disturbing to Ashley, but I think it's probably a nice reminder of her lost brother.

Another reminder of how time goes by is my fast-approaching 25 year high school reunion. I've never been to a reunion. I don't think we had a 5-year, I didn't know about the 10-year until it was too late, since I somehow was on the "lost" list and never received notification of it. I'm not sure if we even had a 15-year, or a 20-year, but we probably did, and honestly, I probably wouldn't have gone anyway.

But a funny thing has happened between 2005 and 2010. It's called Facebook. Maybe you've heard of it.

It's made me start caring about the people I lost track of when we left South High. Once again, I know a little bit about the daily lives of the people I went to school with, whether it's the small dramas or common successes that make up our days. I know about the big struggles, too... relationships, unemployment, family, health. A lot of them, I can speak with on a daily basis through comments about each others' posts. And it's like not a day has passed and we're seeing each other walking through the hall on our way to class.

It's nice to be able to reconnect with people who I lost to time. I can't believe it's been 25 years, and that we're in our early 40s. I remember when that seemed old.

I think the mind has a way of playing tricks on you. When you're in the moment, you don't realize how much time has gone by. Those moments add up almost imperceptibly, until you are forced to take stock of those moments as the passage of time.

In my mind, wondering how we're going to produce a 12-page newspaper every other week is high drama, Kyle is laughing hysterically at something on the TV in his room, and Aidan and Tristan will always be those little guys who ate two ounces at a time.

Memories are funny things.