Monday, December 19, 2011

Where Justin Bieber Fans Come From?

If you ever look at, say, a rabid Justin Bieber fan and think, "I wonder what she (or he, I guess) was like 5-6 years ago," wonder no more.

I'm not sure if it's a gene or a developed trait, but our older daughter tends to get a little fanatical about, well, whatever it is she happens to be fanatical about.  For a long time, it was Tyrone from "The Backyardigans."  Tyrone was the subject of most of her sentences, most of her artwork, and most of her stories.  Her fanaticism shifted to "Bunny," the name of her most treasured stuffed bunny.

These days, Mario is her "Justin Bieber du jour", and what follows is a small sampling of the fruit of her attention.

First up is a list of book titles involving Mario.  I'm not sure if these are books that currently exist in her imagination or that she just thinks would someday make great, real, books.  I think at least a couple of them are variants of titles that are actual children's books.  Here's the scanned list with my typed version to follow (which may add some capitalization and punctuation to The Hungry PK 1's original list).

"Mario and the Princess"
"Mario and Mary Get in a Fight"
"The Two Marios"
"Water Mario"
"Mario is Silly (Silly Mario)"
"Mario and the--'Yuck!  Uh, I Don't Want to Finish"
"Mario and the Egyptian Ruins"
"Mario and the Bad Bike Crash"
"Mario and the Hick Up" (I think it would be "Mario Gets the Hick Ups") [I'm interpreting the 2nd part of this to be her voice second guessing the original title, and not part of the title; contra the "Yuck!"-title above, which I believe is all part of the suggested title proper -THP]
"Nobody Likes Mario"
"Muddy, Sticky, Cruddy, Wet Mario!"

Not to boast, but I gotta say this is a pretty impressive list of made up book titles.  Lots of variety in both title structures and themes, which would seem to include, for example: conflict resolution, history, bike safety, and follow-through on tasks.  The targeted age range also seems to vary, from infant ("Muddy, Sticky, Cruddy, Wet Mario!") to toddler ("Mario is Silly [Silly Mario]") to pre-school ("Mario and the Princess") and on through grade school ("Mario and the Egyptian Ruins") and junior high ("Nobody Likes Mario"--or was that just me?).

So if other options stall, Monkey 1 definitely has a future in book title authorship.  Or...  perhaps even as an actual book author.  What follows is an actual book, written by Monkey 1, that I scanned page by page.  I'll provide a little clarification on the plotline after each page.

"Mario's Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad Life"

Based on the title alone, the Coen brothers have already expressed interest in acquiring the movie rights.

"Ouchy, morning hurts!" / "It's dark in here."

LEFT: Mario wakes up so suddenly that the alarm clock bounces off his head and flies out the window.
RIGHT: Mario gets up on the wrong side of the bed and is afraid because it's dark.

"Um, I'd rather wear Baby Marios!" "Wear yours!" / "Mom, my cereal is mean!" "That doesn't make sense."

LEFT: Mario's clothes are too boring, so he says he wants to wear Baby Mario's.  His mother replies to this with "Wear yours!"
RIGHT: Mario's cereal tells him that he is dumb.  Mario tells his mom, who tells him that that doesn't make sense.

"I'll take care of it." / "Achooooo" "Sorry"

LEFT: Baby Mario had been crying, and Mario's mom tell him that she'll take care of it.
RIGHT: Mario leaves on his bike and kicks up some dust in the face of his friend, who sneezes.  Mario apologizes.

"Go!!!!" "Go Mario! Go Mario!" / "Whoops" "Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!"

LEFT: Mario goes to practice for the bike race on Saturday.  He gets off to a good start.
RIGHT: Mario accidently drives off a cliff into some lava.

"This race is no match for me!" / "Oops" "Uh oh"

LEFT: Mario confidently tries again.
RIGHT: Mario misses a jump and lands in lava again.

"Woo Hoo!" / "Oops" "I hope he's okay" "Silly Mario"

LEFT: Mario makes the biggest jump on the track.
RIGHT: Mario misses the landing and ends up in lava again.

"Who turned out the light?"

LEFT: In mid-jump, Mario's bike turns into a long cart that can hold a lot of people.
RIGHT: Someone turns out the light, and Mario gets scared.

LEFT: Mario practices some more, and things go well.
RIGHT: Mario's name appears on his bike.

LEFT: Mario lands in lava again.
RIGHT: Somehow, Mario manages to win the race, and is hoisted in the air by his friends, trophy in hand.

This is a slightly happier piece of work: Mario giving Luigi a flower.

Prose?  Check.  2D art?  Check.  3D art?  See below.  The figure below is Mario.  In the first photo, he's standing, supported by a chain of beads.

At the puppetmaster's decree, Mario "falls", at which point his head lines up with the pre-arranged talking bubble which, of course, reads "Ow!".

The puller-of-strings can then make Mario stand up again.

Finally, here is a picture of Monkey 1 herself, modelling her new favorite shirt that, when she received, she immediately put on over her Christmas dress.

So is this the picture of a future teen-idol fanatic?  We'll find out in a couple of years.  In the meantime, I'm going to work on channeling her focus towards curing cancer or stomping out world hunger.  Though I will probably settle for cleaning her room.


Updated, 5/26/12:
Monkey 1's Mario fanaticism has waned ever-so-slightly in the last few months.  Or maybe not.  It's hard to tell.  But there are a couple of artistic highlights that she created that are post-worthy.  However, creating an entirely new post of Mario art seems excessive to me.  Hence, an in-post update.  Enjoy!

The girls received an easel for Christmas which, of course, meant bigger Mario pictures.  

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Luigi & Mario; Mario & Peach; Tall Mario

Any artist worth their salt has used the medium of Pixos.  Monkey 1 is no exception.

But tapping into the tradition of more classic media--like mosaic--is a surefire method of inspiring art aficionados everywhere.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thanksgiving Themes, PART 5: "Jury Duty"

Jury duty doesn't bother me.  It's an inconvenience, and the whole jury system (along with the justice system) could use an overhaul.  But it is what it is.  Our system is pretty decent compared to the rest of the world's, and someone's got to serve on the juries.

So when I got summoned to show up on November 28th, the day after my birthday, I wasn't crying a river or anything like that.  If anything, I thought, "Well that will be easy to remember."

And overall, my experience at the courthouse was fine.  Got some emails read & written, sorted some coupons, took a nap--it was fine.

Before and after jury duty?  Pretty sucky.

Things started off innocently enough on my birthday.  As I emerged from my donut coma and the late NFL games wound down, I began to gather up what I needed for the next day, like a book, some snacks, stuff to write with--oh, and my summons.  I looked where I thought it was.  It was not there.

I looked through a couple of piles.  Still no summons.  I told Beth to start exercising without me, and I'd be down in a few minutes.  When she finished, she came upstairs.  I was still looking.  For about 2 hours I sifted through piles of stuff on all three floors of our house.

I was surely not the first person to misplace this important document, but I also didn't know how big of a deal it was to lose it.  Would it be a big headache for the jury coordinator?  Would it result in a fine for contempt of court?

Aside from those concerns, I wasn't even sure exactly where I was supposed to be and when I was supposed to be there.  The St. Louis courts website was of very little help; most of the FAQ's were variations of "This is my situation--does that get me out of jury duty?"  Was the question "What if I lost my summons?" asked THAT infrequently?  Apparently so.

Of course, since it was Sunday, there was no one official who I could call to ask my IAQ ("infrequently...").  This meant I would be getting up earlier on Monday to get the girls ready for school more quickly, and still "drive blind" towards the courthouse, hoping someone at the courthouse would answer my phone call on Monday morning.

My relaxing birthday was getting less and less relaxing and more and more tragic feeling.  I had brought this on myself.  Important documents go in designated places--that is a rule I have had trouble internalizing.  When we moved to California 10 years ago, I closed out our savings account in Kirksville and was issued a cashier's check for our life's savings.  My next stop was to buy a tub of protein powder at the local health and supplement store, since we weren't sure we'd be able to get it in California.  Five days later, after much stress and anguish for both myself and my wife, we found the check in the brown paper bag alongside the tub of protein powder.  Seemed like a good place to put it at the time.  As Spinal Tap sings in "The Majesty of Rock": "The more things stay the same, the less they change."

"Isolating areas of growth while not getting down on myself"--that's another rule I need to work on.  I'll put that right next to "Put important documents in designated places" on my "Things I'm Working On" list which, of course, is hard for me to look at without getting down on myself.  Another post, I suppose...

But my pre-jury-duty crisis has a happy-ish ending.  On Monday morning, someone at the courthouse answered my phone call right away and told me that losing my summons wasn't a big deal, and to just show up.  When I got there, I told them my name, and they printed off a new jury number tag.  They actually didn't even check my ID, which I found a little odd.  I guess they're not too picky about filling up the jury pool, as long as the person who shows up appears to be of the same species as the name they have in their records.

The moral of this story is: Pretend all important documents are jury summons, and care for them as such.

Like I said, jury duty proper was uneventful and even productive.  But my pre-service crisis was bookended  neatly by an independent post-service crisis.  Most of the jurors were released to go home around 5:00 (along with most other people in downtown St. Louis).  Jurors and normal people alike scurried to the parking garage, then weaved around in our cars like connected train cars.  The train approached an exit ramp, and cars began backing up behind a mechanical arm sitting in the down position.

The person in front was trying to feed their paper, courthouse validated parking ticket into a machine intended for plastic parking passes.  I observed that the second exit-lane, parallel to the first, was empty.  Furthermore, there was a small sign taped to window of the booth of the second lane that read: "Jurors Exit Here."  I pulled up to THAT closed arm, only to find that to get the arm to open, I would need to hand my ticket to an actual parking attendant inside the booth.  And the booth was empty.

So both exit ramp arms were in down position.  Meanwhile, rows of cars lined up behind both me and "I wish I had a plastic ticket" lady.  Neither of us could pull forward, thanks to the arms.  And neither of us could pull backwards, thanks to the cars lined up behind us, many of the drivers of which many began to honk and yell things out of their windows.

The next few minutes I've tried to block out, but I recall that somehow it WAS finally communicated to the cars at the end of the train that it would be nice if they could back up a little, so that the people in front of them could back up, and so on and so forth.  When it was my turn to back up out of the exit ramp, I rolled for a few feet, then heard a loud noise, then saw a concrete wall a little too close to my passenger-side window.

Literally about 5 seconds later, a woman appeared--I'm not sure from where--with a bag of fastfood, and said, "Oh, I'm sorry."  She walked into the booth, took my ticket, and opened up the arm.

I drove out of the garage and then pulled to the side of the street, hopped out of my car, walked around to the passenger side, and saw this:

If I had waited for another 5 seconds to back up my car, this wouldn't have happened.  If I had continued to drive around the parking garage to the NEXT exit, this wouldn't have happened.  If I had gotten stuck behind the lady in the left lane, this wouldn't have happened.  If I had missed the elevator, or missed the shuttle from the courthouse, or let one person go in front of me, this wouldn't have happened.

When assessing how angry I am at any given moment, I (like most people, I'm sure) ask myself, "If I were David Banner, would I turn into the Incredible Hulk right now?"  As I stood looking at the damage caused to my car because someone thought it was a good idea to go grab their dinner at 5:15 on a weekday evening, well, yes, I would have turned into the Incredible Hulk.  I don't know what I would have done THEN.  Probably caused even more damage, or maybe growled in the face of the parking garage attendant.

I was still fuming when I got home, and fuming when 30 minutes later when I got a phone call from our insurance adjuster.  She was calling about the CRV, which careful readers of WPFF will recall was totaled back in August.  She wanted to ask me how I would feel about a settlement figure for the accident.  It would cover my medical bills (chiropractor treatment) for the accident.  I was happy about that, but the numbers didn't quite add up.  The number she was quoting me was more than the amount of my bills.  I expressed my confusion, and she was quickly chimed in, "Oh, the extra money is for your pain and inconvenience."  It wasn't enough to retire on, but it WOULD be enough to get, say, a scratch on our new car taken care of.  Add in my $12 for jury duty, and we may even have enough left over to paint flames across the hood.

So, my Thanksgiving weekend wrapped up with an unexpected expense followed by an unexpected influx of cash.  Interesting.

Meanwhile, my black eye is healed and my nose is straight-ish.

I just spent the last of my Walgreens and CVS coupons that I attained Thanksgiving day.

A friend of mine with a kid who loves trains is coming over tomorrow and he will get to play with the train that my uncle gave us.

And I am still very grateful for a family that wants to celebrate me on my birthday.  It was a good Thanksgiving weekend.

Oh, one final addendum:  While I was sitting outside the courtroom to which I had been called on Monday afternoon, I decided to catch up on some reading, and pulled out a stack of emails I had printed out.  As I flipped through them, I stumbled across this:

There was much laughing.  Not by me, of course, but I'm sure someone, somewhere in the world was laughing about something.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thanksgiving Themes, PART 4: "Happy Birthday to Me"

I'm sure I don't need to tell you that Sharlto Copley, star of the Oscar nominated "District 9", was born on November 27, 1973.  But did you know that he was born the very same day as The Hungry Preacher?  True fact.

So after fighting off sickness Tuesday and Wednesday, shopping and partaking in a Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, breaking my nose and hosting an second Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, and cutting down a Christmas tree and attending a birthday party for my nephew on Saturday, I was pretty razzed for doing as close as possible to nothing for my birthday on Sunday.

Beth had originally suggested that I get a TV for my birthday, but after some consideration, I suggested that we wait on that purchase.  I made this call late in the game, so plan B was donuts and an omelet for breakfast and chillaxing most of the day.  I was happy with this plan.

The girls were excited to celebrate and my younger one created an original piece of art for me.

She was obviously eager to present me with this, as demonstrated by her actions the day before my birthday.  It was about 7:30 in the morning when I awoke to hearing Monkey 2 wandering into our bedroom.  She crept up to my side of the bed and said, "Daddy?"  Half asleep, I muttered, "Yeah?"

"Is your birthday today?"

I cracked my eyes open and saw an envelope in her hand.  I said, "No, it's tomorrow."

She pulled the envelope behind her back and said, "Oh."  After I pause, she said, "Can I go downstairs and watch something?"  I said she could, and she walked away, envelope in tow.  Very cute.

Anyway, as the late NFL games were wrapping up, my birthday got less relaxing and more frustrating.  Which I will talk about in the final post of this series: Thanksgiving Themes, PART 5: "Jury Duty".


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thanksgiving Themes, PART 3: "The Train"

Beth cooked up a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner for an assortment of relatives who gathered at our house on Friday afternoon (there were conflicts on Thursday).  As the festivities wound down, my uncle informed me that he had a gift he wanted to present to our family, and to not let anyone leave before he had the chance to.

My uncle is a generous and thoughtful guy, so I was curious, to say the least.  In a few minutes, we corralled everyone into the living room and gave him the floor.  He explained that when he was growing up, his family had a train set that came out of storage for only a few weeks out of the year, around Christmas time.  The track was set up around the tree, and each year, a new car was added to the set.  This was a special and memorable tradition for him, and he wanted to give each of his nieces and nephews the opportunity to embark upon the same tradition with their own families.

And how, you may wonder, would someone bestow that opportunity to their nieces and nephews?  By presenting them with a "Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Freight Train Set with Diorama," of course!

Honestly, my knowledge of trains is half-Amtrak, half-Thomas, but I have known for quite some time that there existed types of high-quality train sets in shops and basements previously undiscovered by me.  Friday, the contents of those shops and/or basements came into my house in a large gift bag, compliments of my uncle Paul.

Beth and I were pretty floored, and the girls were (pardon the cliche) filled with wonder.  Future setup locations are TBD, but this year we weren't prepared to loop the train around the Christmas tree.  Instead, we looped it around our Christmas branch, which we set up on the dining room table.

The setup was pretty simple (especially since Beth did it), and the girls have enjoyed it.  The light on the engine is functional, and actual smoke puffs out of the... uh, I don't think it's called a "chimney" on a train, is it?  Anyway, whatever it is, smoke comes out of it.  The engine is heavy and solid.  I am sure that we will embark on the tradition that my uncle suggested when he gave us the train.

We are thankful.

I had some technical difficulties getting this post up yesterday--sorry about that.  Parts 4 & 5 of Thanksgiving themes are penciled in for Monday and Tuesday, for those of you with planners.  See you then.