Oct 21, 2008

On the Seventh Day of Christmas... he rested.

Holiday Quiz:

  1. When someone refers to Christmas "Cheer", do you immediately think "cold water cycle"?
  2. When you sit down to your turkey dinner, do you start fretting about all the silverware that will have to be hand-washed in a lukewarm sink full of floating giblets?
  3. After unwrapping your gifts, do you find reasons to lock yourself in the bathroom for 60 minutes at a time?
If you answered "yes" to any of the above, chances are you could be suffering from a condition known as Holiday Work-Avoidance Syndrome.

Christmas Day is the definition of bittersweet. For every Lee Valley tool you receive, there is a toy to be assembled. For every friend who drops in for a beer, there is an incontinent great-aunt who smells like Cinnamon Air-Wick. For every Xbox game, there is a sweater so garish it would make Bill Cosby puke.

And let's get back to that whole not-using-the-dishwasher thing. Men of Canada, it is time for a private-members bill that would ban all dishes and silverware that need to be "hand-washed". And that goes for women's clothing, too. Ladies, the 19th century called. They want their quaintness back. Can we please dispense with this manual-labour nonsense? Take a minute and savour the estrogen-friendly utopia you live in; where men can actually be convinced to wash anything at all. Because when you ask us to stoop to sub-Amish levels of homemaking, you only make it easier for us drop everything and try our luck as a traveling carny.

So we all agree that despite the stuffing, mulled wine and Toblerone, Christmas can be a whole lot of work - actually, you can skip the mulled wine, now that I think about it. There's a way to get through it, though - even if you can't enjoy your stocking full of tall-boys just yet. It's all about doing relatively easy jobs that nobody thought of first.

Example: the kids are up at 5:30, and since Shopper's Drug Mart no longer carries chloroform, you've got a decision to make. Are you the guy who sleeps in, and is despised for the rest of the day by a sleep-deprived wife? Or are you the guy who bites the bullet and selflessly agrees to "take care of the kids" - even though the sun hasn't risen yet and you stayed up 'til 3AM to watch "It's a Wonderful Wife" and "Miracle on 42 DDDs" on pay-per-view? This should be a no-brainer. Keeping kids happy on Christmas morning is about as challenging as keeping dogs happy at a butcher store full of fire-hydrants.

Be pro-active. Kids too loud? Cram them full of hot chocolate and candy canes, then flake out on the couch while they watch Toopy and Binoo's Holiday Hallucination. In a pinch, let them unwrap one gift. If Mom asks about this, feign ignorance. "Oh yeah, like I would let them open a gift before Gam Gam got here. Right." Above all, don't let anyone forget that you were the guy who took one for the team.

If you can't bear the thought of an early morning - and who can blame you - set your sights a little later. Volunteer to make breakfast. The kids will eat anything (which is to say, nothing) and if your family is coming over, you usually can't miss with something seasonal and sophisticated, like peppermint tea and croissants - which you surreptitiously bought the day before, right? Get creative, because creative is memorable. Bake some of those cinnamon buns that come in a tube. Squeeze some fresh OJ. If your mother-in-law is English, get your hands on some scones and Marmite (a British delicacy made by simmering yeast, blood sausage and rugby balls).

Do some research, but don't overlook the obvious. If you have some Tim Horton's crack-heads in the crowd, you might want to make a road trip for a crate of Timmy's insulin-busting fat-rings and a 75 oz. double-double for everyone. Most importantly, keep telling everyone within earshot, "Oh, it's the least I could do. What with you guys doing dinner and all!". Hey, breakfast is a cake-walk compared with dinner, and if you steer clear of vendetta-worthy junk like Quaker Harvest Crunch and prune juice, you might actually improve everyone's morning and mitigate the fact that there are seven kids in the next room smashing each other's skulls with Bratz and Bionicles.

Remember, this is not about avoiding work. It's about choosing tolerable tasks over humiliating drudgery. There is nothing worse than sitting down to your new Blu-Ray copy of GoodFellas, just as your mother comes in and asks if you could 'help in the kitchen'. 'Help', in case you were unaware, is code for peeling 700 potatoes into the sink while listening to five women discuss which No-Frills has the cheapest head-cheese. Wouldn't you rather be in the basement workshop; sipping on a cold one while fixing the wooden salad spoon you just broke "accidentally"?

Better yet, be The Driver. There's always somebody or some thing that needs to be dropped off and picked up. The further away, the better. In fact, being designated driver on Christmas night is one of the best gigs you can land. Bring along some CDs and take your time. After all, we want to get there in one piece. Think about it. Being the driver means:

a) You're not in a house full of electronic toys that makes NORAD look like a nativity scene.
b) You're not listening to Gampa's perennial tale of having his leg amputated in the Crimean War.
c) You can cement your title of World's Coolest Uncle by taking your nephew out and doing donuts in the nearest deserted parking lot.

Whatever you plan is, remember: there is nothing... absolutely nothing, that is as crappy as Cleaning Up After Christmas Dinner. The grease; the clattering; the endless washing, drying and archiving of all those precious saucers in their Bone China Bunker for the next 364 days. (It's times like these that make you wish you were an ER doctor - on the remote chance that you might be paged to perform an emergency tracheotomy with a Bic pen.)

You want a Christmas Wish? Here's mine: The kids are strapped down to the couch, watching High School Musical VIII: Troy Gets Beat Up in Shop Class. The dining room table is piled with 27 kinds of Chinese food, plastic spoons, chopsticks, and a Great Wall of Chinet. There is a hottub-sized, industrial-strength Blue Bin in the kitchen for throwing away everything. My wife is doing the world's largest Sudoku in the den with her Mom and aunts. And the men are fighting over whether we are going to watch Casino Royale or The Dirty Dozen on the new 50" Aquos, as I tap the keg of Steam Whistle that's been sitting in a bucket of ice all day.

Gloria in excelcis.

Christmas Lists - The Chill Edition

In honour of the first sorta-snowfall today, I thought I'd fire out a sneak-peek at December's two Chill magazine lists.

Top excuses not to shovel your driveway

  1. Sparks created by scraping metal may contribute to global warming.
  2. If I sprinkle bones and arrowheads on the snow, archaeologists may dig it up for me.
  3. Maintaining a thick, crusty layer of ice is the best way to flaunt four-wheel-drive capability of my car.
  4. Infinitesimal possibility that surface ice will form a convex lens that will melt the snow beneath it.
  5. You call it an unshovelled driveway. I call it nature unspoiled, man.
  6. Snow is insulating, and the removal of insulation should only be done by professionals.
  7. Shoveling my own driveway takes jobs away from ordinary Canadians.
  8. By instead leaving a snow-angel, I increase the chances that real angels will arrive and contribute to my nativity scene.

Top reasons to give for returning gifts
  1. Needed more money to immunize children in Africa.
  2. I actually wear an extra-Medium.
  3. Isn't there enough clutter in the world?
  4. By getting some cash back now, I have more money to spend on your gift.
  5. Turns out, I'm allergic to cheap leather.
  6. Returning? No, I just have trouble meeting people.
  7. I already have Blue Planet. I needed Jackass 3 to complete the set.

Guys' Christmas Shopping Guide.

First things first. 

Can we all agree to make 2008 The Year We Make Greeting Cards History? For the price of a cup of coffee, you will be able to give someone... a cup of coffee! You know why? Because you won't be spending the month of December sweating dozens of over-priced greeting cards that have sub-Bazooka Joe humour levels.

And don't get me started on thank-you cards. Thank you cards exist for one reason, and one reason only: punishing eleven-year-olds who got more stuff than you. Here's the deal: I buy you a gift, you buy me a gift. It's over.

No cards. No notes. Whether this exchange occurs on Christmas, Arbor Day, or the third Sunday after the New Moon on Monday, we both silently agree that we could have bought better stuff for ourselves, and let it go.

So where were we? Oh yeah, Christmas gifts for you and yours.

Presents have never been my specialty. It is safe to say that my obituary will not include the words, "gift-giver" alongside "ballbuster". When I was fifteen, I accidentally discovered my Dad's stash... not of porn - that was much easier to find. What I unearthed below the bathroom sink and behind the Drano, was Dad's Graveyard of Crap Gifts I'd given him over the years (i.e. five progressively dustier bottles of English Leather). I can totally understand that he didn't want to throw them into the garbage - he obviously appreciated the gesture and didn't want to hurt my feelings. But I now appreciate that he didn't want to smell like the trunk of a '61 Vauxhall, either.

But buying a gift for a man is easy. You can't really go wrong. Women are a little different... in much the same way that a Scotch Bonnet pepper is different than say, Spicy Velveeta Dip. You want proof? I once bought my mom a potted plant for Mothers Day. I was in such a rush to buy anything, I didn't realize it was plastic... until I saw her face as I handed it over. It was like giving a toddler a chocolate-covered scorpion - a grateful smile touched her eyes, then slowly morphed into a grimace of restrained horror.

This was my first foray into the delicate world of What Women Actually Want. The funny thing is, I believe that a plastic plant is a completely logical (read: male) way of showing everlasting love for a woman. What exactly is the message of fresh-cut flowers? "Here, honey. This embarrassingly overpriced bouquet represents my love for you: fresh and fragrant the moment I need to impress you, but now wilting, and completely dead by Thursday."

When dealing with women, a man soon learns to ignore "logic". Spock may have been the smartest, but Kirk got the babes; green or otherwise.

So the question remains. What are you going to buy your girl? As stupid as this sounds, you should just ask her. Personally, I dig surprises; but my understanding is that most women don't. Any guy who has ever shown up at his wife's office on Valentine's Day dressed in a leotard with a red heart painted on his face can attest to this... oh yeah, like I'm the only one.

If you don't feel right telling your significant other that you've completely and utterly given up, ask her best friend. The best-friend will agree to give it some thought. She will then wait a respectable six or seven picoseconds and phone your girlfriend to ask her why you are such a clueless loser. The girlfriend then gets back to you, and, whammo! You're done. If your better-half has no friends, ask her mom; ask her co-workers; ask that guy she has drinks with on Friday nights when you're out of town... okay, maybe not him. He's probably busy.

At the very least, ask the light-of-your-life what price range she's comfortable with. (Survival tip: always add 30% to this figure.) On a lark, I've just Googled: "girlfriend, christmas gift, $100". Guess what? Ideas. Tons of ideas. You think the internet exists to not part you with your money? The best things in life are free, for everything else there's PayPal.

Now, if you absolutely insist on doing it the hard way, it helps to know what not to do. (A good rule-of-thumb is to ask your best friend, then do the opposite.)

  • Don't... buy her "vintage" lingerie from eBay.
  • Don't... buy an expensive combo gift that "doubles as a birthday present" - unless you plan on sleeping alone on her birthday.
  • Don't... buy her a DVD that you can't stand. How many times do you think you can fake it through 'Pride and Sensibility', starring Dame Gwynyth Bonham Kleenex?
  • Don't... buy her a ring that isn't an engagement ring. Are you seriously going to enquire about her ring size, then show up with that piece of quartz you saw her glancing at in Wasaga Beach?
  • Don't... buy her a gift certificate to anything with the words "Cajun", "Extreme" or "Pot-Limit". In fact, if you - as a male - register any interest in the gift, you're already in trouble.
And don't... I repeat, do not buy her a gym membership or exercise equipment. Even if she pleaded with you, e-mailed to remind you, and then stapled a SuperFitness brochure to your forehead. This is her war - and you don't want any part of it, big guy.

Finally, if you plan on taking her to a Swiss Chalet, it better be in Switzerland, Diamond Jim.

Here's a Bonus Tip: Buy another gift. This one should be around $30 and it's bought in case she out-spent you. It also helps take the sting out of a main gift that went over like a dutch oven. Don't put it under the tree! Keep it hidden. This is your Get Out of Jail card if you ignored my advice and got her a bulk tin of Slim Fast or Call of Duty VII: Die, Commie, Die!

So now you're saying, okay smart-guy. You know so much. What are you buying your wife this year? Answer: I have no freakin' clue. Off the top of my head, I'd say something personal. It's way better to give something cheap and thoughtful, than something expensive and cliched. Just bump it up a little higher than "macaroni with gold spray-paint" and you're on your way. Blow up and frame that photo she likes... Get her a first edition of her favorite book... Take her to that B&B she mentioned in the spring. If you can show her that you paid attention to one single, solitary thing she has said over the past calendar year, you're on the on-ramp to Mistletoe City.

The only exception to the "cliches no good" rule is... a puppy. If you've absolutely hit the wall; if you're frozen like a deer in headlights that's been dunked in liquid nitrogen, you can always cough up a cool 1700 bucks and buy her a mini-Cujo. Say what you want, puppies are Kryptonite. (It's just that the side-effects of this Kryptonite isotope are late-night whining and urine-scented carpets.)

And, finally, what if it's 5PM on December 24th and your reading this in line at the Beer Store? Well, buddy... unless your gal likes exotic microbrews, you're up the Creemore; because there's only one thing left that could possibly keep you out of the soup kitchen tomorrow night... Proposing.

And don't bother sending me a thank-you card when she says yes.

Chill Article - Look But Don't Touch Football

(Note: for those of you who don't do that whole free magazine thing, this is your chance to have a peek at the beer-centric prose available in Chill... worth every penny, I say.)

I've never been what you'd call a natural athlete (people tell me I have my mother's arms). When I played "skins" in high school, I was often mistaken for the parallel bars. In football, I played drawback, you dig?

Me playing football is like my mom competing in a freestyle rap battle. It's theoretically possible, but it's sure not going to be pretty. The thing is, when a guy of my… vintage goes out there looking for a team sport, it has to be social, fun, and—most importantly—fracture-free. This is where touch football comes in.

Like many American pastimes, touch football is making huge inroads in Canada. Like dodge ball, it has a quirky, after-school vibe that people enjoy. Unlike dodge ball, injuries you sustain can be bragged about during a job interview. "Yes, Mr. Sale. We are very impressed with your CV, but that red welt on your forehead leads us to believe you recently got pwned by a thirteen-year-old girl."

Now since the words "touch" and "football" are usually not in my vocabulary—unless accompanied by the words "ten-foot pole"—I had to start basically from scratch.

Good news #1: you don't have to be some 'roided masochist to play touch football. Try this test: stand in the middle of your living room with your arms out in front of you, squat until your bum is resting on your heels. If you can do this without the neighbours wondering why you're playing Yahtzee, you're halfway there.

And don't feel bad if you're not quite Tom Brady's stunt-double. Football is filled with XXXL guys who not only survive, but thrive on their girth. (This is not an excuse to continue your strict regimen of bacon-stuffed cheese sticks with gravy chasers, but at least you've got a chance at instilling something other than pity in the opposing team.) Hey, it may be "touch" football, but there's no arguing with 280 pounds of large, sweaty dude headed toward an open receiver. And try getting on a beach volleyball team with a nickname like Landfill.

Make sure you buy a good pair of running shoes. Your flip-flops are not going to cut it. Some leagues want you to have rubber cleats, while others may be okay with bare feet and ankle-bracelets. Wherever you go, know what the gear requirements are.

Good news, part deux: finding a league is actually pretty easy (provided you don't live in, say, the outskirts of Pickle Lake). You know that whole interweb thingy? If you can't figure out how to Google a local gridiron, you're probably not ready for something as complicated as a "two-point conversion". Try checking out www.ontariofootballalliance.ca. That should set you straight.

If you're a loner, feel free to roll the dice, hoping for a vacancy on a team crammed with fun athletic dudes who are on a first-name basis with the Tecate girls. But your best bet is to cajole the usual suspects at your next BBQ and join a league. The easily kept promise of a post-game pitcher (on you) should do the trick. If not, you might mention this to the guys: women are getting in on the act.

What's that, you say? A co-ed sport with the word "touch" in it? Um... yes. Word to the wise, though: although there is no maximum amount of time you're "allowed" to touch the opposing ball-carrier, Velcro-handed rushers more often than not end up with two black eyes and a restraining order. Black eyes if they're lucky. Sal Granata, at the Ultimate Touch Football League in Toronto says that although women make up a minority of the players, you'd be best not to underestimate them. In Sal's words, "The guys really respect the ladies, because if they don't, 6 points will be scored against them."

So you and your buddies now have a team. Way to go, Rudy. Time for a team name. The UTFL have some beauts: The Boilermakers, The Spitting Llamas and - no joke - The MILF Hunters and the The Mighty Cocks. Memo to self: Wife stays home on game night.

Surprisingly, the UTFL only have one team called the Rough Riders, which, as a Canadian fan, I find a little unpatriotic. (I was always hoping the CFL would bump it up to three. The Fredricton Ruffryders, maybe?)

Let's talk rules. The rules are—well, they're a little messed-up is what they are. Nobody seems to agree on anything. Meaghan Davis, the Touch Program Coordinator at Football Canada tells me that Flag football is played five-on-five or seven-on-seven, while Touch sticks to seven-on-seven. In Touch, the rules are being updated. In Flag, they're in process. In my local league, it's six-on-six. Who cares? You're out there to have fun, not jury a trial. Play one-on-one, if that's your bag. Be the first team in Ontario where each side is a prime number greater than 50!

The basic thrust is this: Two opposing teams looking to score the most points. The pigskin is snapped to a quarterback, or merely picked up. The ball-bearer now has about seven seconds to attempt a pass — or run it himself. (That's the whole "one steamboat, two steamboat" thing—it comes from an aquatic version of the game played exclusively by riverboat gamblers. Actually I have no idea where this comes from.)

Remember, it's mostly a passing game, so don't worry about spending inordinate amounts of time studying a chalkboard that looks like tic-tac-toe for Vulcans. Just find someone who's open and let it fly. (This is the part where I'd be looking for a league that is cool with Nerf. Fun's fun, but I don't want my body to look like an anger-management group was using me as a CPR dummy.)

Take it to the end zone and spike that mother. If you absolutely can't help yourself, you may indulge in one – and only one – "stir-the-pot-Cuba-Gooding-Jr"—type move. Then, rip off your jersey and throw it to that kid drinking a Coke over there.


If—as a quarterback—you can't decide between "Hike!" or "Hut hut hut!", just ask for the ball; politely but firmly.

Bicycle tires are generally sub-standard for running drills.

If a teammate tells you to "Go long!" always respond with "That's what she said."

The patting of a teammate's butt after a good play should never last longer than 0.02 seconds. In fact, I propose eliminating this altogether.

Never play any team wearing matching butcher's aprons.

When choosing a team name, obscure wild animals are a good idea (e.g. the Mimico Marmosets, the Shelbyville Shadflies, the New Liskeard Narwhals... etc.)

Unless you're really okay with giggles, try to avoid Trojans or Titans as a team name.

Oct 20, 2008

Apple Porn.

Mmmmm... extruded aluminium...

I realize there's no zealot like a convert, but this is a good example of why Apple is winning.

Don't get me wrong. I am not buying this laptop. This laptop costs way too much. It is made solely for those who spend more than 80 minutes a day in Starbucks while wearing a knitted cap with earflaps.

But here's the question... When was the last time any PC maker showed this much pride in a product. Better yet, when was the last time any PC company spent more than 15 minutes thinking about the concept of marketing?

Oct 14, 2008

Bad Parenting 104

Here’s a rule I forget twice as often as I remember:

If you ever feel compelled to bribe a child with a future reward, don’t.

Thursday might as well be next year.

Case study:
Your son is bumming out at bed-time. Probably because he is overtired, was not allowed to play Wii Bowling at 7:45 and was also not allowed to take his camera with him to bed (don’t ask).

Do you:

a) Give in.

b) Let him stew on it, knowing he will be asleep in seven minutes and will forget all by morning.

c) Tell him that all his problems are trivial, because you’re taking him out of school on Thursday so that you can bowl for real!

Well, it ain’t (c), brother.

Actual response:
“You mean tonight?”
“No. Thursday.”
“No. Thursday.”
(Long silence, followed by deep sigh and deeper moping.)

Congratulations, Dad. Not only have you worsened the situation, you have now invalidated all praise you might have received on Thursday morning.

Bowling on Thursday is now a gutter ball... unless we go to McDonald's!

P.S. Here's the Wii Bowling trick.