Wednesday, March 22, 2006

#121 - Seeing Through Graduated Lenses

Back when I was yet a lad, my mother was informed of her high school's 30th reunion. My memories are fuzzy about whether she actually attended. I want to say she went to one, perhaps her 25th, but Mom would have to verify that for me.

Whether or not she went to an actual reunion, I thought it not at all unreasonable for Mom to be having such a thing as a 30th reunion. After all, I had grown and was out of the house by then. Furthermore, Mom was old enough to be having 30th reunions. It all just sort of fit.

The other day, whilst worrying about losing a lung due to bronchitis, I received a phone call. "This is the Royal High Reunion Committee letting you know that we'll be having our 30th Reunion this summer!" He said this in the tone of voice reserved for the very same telemarketers we have forever banished from our phone. You know... the ones who want to give you a Free Prize! No obligation! All we ask is that you listen to a brief (as measured by a calendar) presentation after which we will HOLD YOU HOSTAGE UNTIL YOU UNDERSTAND THE BENEFITS OF TIME-SHARE VACATION CONDOS!

He continued. "We just wanted to make sure that you're the same Woody who used to live in Simi Valley and graduated from Royal in 1976." Hmph. Well, you found me. "Great! Can I update your address so we can send you an invitation?" Oh, why not. Beats having you buy it from a telemarketer.

So I gave him my address. Today the invitation arrived. It sits, unopened, on my dining room table. I feel safe having it sit on that table right now, because the table has become a black hole. This is because the Woodyettes have piled enough toys and paper-doll materials on top of it to increase its mass to roughly the weight of a small planet, and it now has its own gravity. I feel thus assured that the invitation will either disappear into the void, or, at the very least, be prevented from being opened due to the flap of the envelope weighing now about 900 pounds.

But of course you know what will happen. One day I will innocently pass the table which Mrs. Woody will have cleared off so she can hold school there. The invitation will see me heading for the little Programmer's room where I will be intending to catch up on some crucial study materials. Instead, the invitation will leap into my hands, and I will read it while sitting on my "thinking chair," and suddenly the house will quake at the sound of my desperate wailing, "NOOOOOoooooo!!!"

Because let's face it; the last thing I want to do is find out how all those stoners from my youth have fared in life to this point. This was The Seventies. The Seventies were the devil-spawn children of The Sixties. You were either stoned, gonna be stoned, or getting a buzz from all the stoners sitting next to you in class. This explains disco and platform shoes. The Seventies were bad enough to spawn their own hideous retro TV series. That's how bad it was. So the thought that I might actually come face-to-face with that particular part of my past is, shall we say, somewhat less than palatable.

I spent most of the Eighties recovering from the Seventies. I was both a jerk and a geek in high school. Despite that, I somehow managed to create a reasonably normal life for myself after I graduated. Two years in the Mayan high country had something to do with it. I have no idea how the kids who burned 30% of their brain cells before they graduated would have done that. Lots of beer and Dr. Phil, is my guess.

And there's one more haunting question about this so-called "reunion." When did I ever become old enough to be having a 30th reunion, huh? Tell me, huh? I AM NOT THAT OLD. Not by a long shot. At most, I should be having, oh, a 15th reunion, or even (I'll be generous here) a 20th. But not a 30th.

'Course, I do have 22 years with my company right now, and if you count my starter marriage I would have been married, lessee... it'll have been 22 years this year, not counting my year in de-tox before marrying Mrs. Woody. I also have a son who's nearly 19 now... and a daughter who is, well, older than that...


So, okay, I guess 30 is not such a far-fetched number at that. Come to think of it, when Mom's school had its 30th reunion, Mom was still pretty much a spring chicken. Not really all that old. Still had kids at home (this isn't saying much... she had to get re-married and move to Texas last year before she didn't have kids at home), and the first grandchild was still a year away...

Alright. 30th reunions are no big deal. So I'm nearly 48 this year. So what? Lots of people are turning 48 this year. In fact, at this age I command a certain amount of respect in the world. I have experience, doggone it. I've been around, Bucko... I could teach you a thing or two! Yeah! Let's hear it for the Not Quite Senior set! Who cares if I got a 30th reunion invitation? Not me, I'll tell ya that!

'Course, I still won't go. After all, I still have my pride.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

#120 - The Mail of the Species

It's a ritual that I have performed nearly every day of my marriage to Mrs. Woody. First, when we lived in a townhouse in Ventura County, and now in our home in Anaheim. Six days out of the week I visit our mailbox and see what the disgruntled postal worker has delivered.

The ritual is now enhanced because our neighborhood has trash cans strategically placed around the mailboxes so that people can preview their mail and deal with it accordingly. Those cans are nearly full just about every time I visit the mailbox.

Tonight I stopped by on my way home from the store. It's Saturday, so of course we're sick. Mrs. Woody started it, and I picked up on it the very next day. Some sort of head cold with all the attendant chest congestion and accompanying fevers. Loads of fun. This time, though, we found ourselves a bit short on medicine, so I went to the store [switches to Guy Mode] dragged my coughing, hacking corpse out of bed, fevers raging with every step, [returns to Regular Mode] and picked up a few necessaries. I generally stop by the mail on my way home.

One glance at the Third Class Mail cans told me that the sacrificial lamb for today was Adelphia Cable. Bless their little hearts. They are, of course, the only game in town if you want cable rather than satellite, and ever since the big scandal with their founders they've been trying harder than ever to win back the business. Their pricing structure is now such that, frankly, I'm astonished that they remain in business at all. I suspect that if the FCC and local governments weren't so concerned about the appearance of monopolies (as opposed to the enforced cable servitude that we currently experience), Adelphia would have disappeared long ago. Yet here they are, advertising yet another ludicrous discounted rate in a vain attempt to win business from us.

Judging from the Third Class Mail repositories, they have a loooong battle ahead.

From our perspective, we will join Adelphia just about the time that the Democrats put together a coherent platform. Or the Republicans. Take your pick. For one thing, Adelphia doesn't offer BYU-TV. We must have BYU-TV. Adelphia doesn't carry it, so that's that. Also, I love the convenience of having certain programming go haywire every time it rains, which is what happens with our Dish service. If the clouds are thick enough, we don't watch TV. This is probably a good thing, and encourages the correct behavior. Tonight, for example, I finally realized there is a God when this latest storm interrupted "George of the Jungle 2." The Woodyettes were distraught. I may slip a little extra in my Dish bill this month.

But back to the mailbox. This ritual of pre-recycling our mail is quite the time saver. For example, not one of those little postcard-sized mailers that have missing children on one side and carpet cleaners on the other has ever darkened Hacienda Woody. I take a quick look at the missing kids, realize that I never get out enough to ever see one, and refuse to even glance at the flip side. Carpet cleaning, maid services... whatever. I have never, in my adult life, looked at one of these mailers, slapped my forehead and exclaimed, "My gosh! I need to have my carpet cleaned! Of course!" Have you ever decided to get your carpets cleaned just because you got one of these mailers? Neither have I.

Most unfortunately, third class mailers are getting more clever about getting thrown unceremoniously away. They spend vast amounts of money to mail these things out, and they want a return on their investment. They need to get these things from the mailbox into my home, and the way they do that is to put my name on it. In ancient times, federal law mandated that they use the words "OCCUPANT" or "RESIDENT" to clearly indicate that this was throw-away mail. But now, because of identity theft, the third class world is cottoning on to the idea that if they put my name on it, I will take it into my house. Where we will promptly shred it. But at least it's IN MY HOUSE. It's a partial victory, but a hard-earned one.

By the way, we have one of those cross-cut shredders that turns everything into confetti. I like this shredder.

The ironic part, of course, is that these mailers get my information from those companies who constantly tell me that my privacy is their highest concern. I haven't yet figured out how they square the ethics of this practice, but I'm sure it's in their corporate training program somehow.

So the ritual continues. One day, soon, I'll pass it along to my Woodyettes, who will, in turn, pass it along to their children.

The Great Circle of Mail continues.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

#119 - Overheard in La Casa Woody

Doodle Woodyette, after watching "George of the Jungle" thirteen consecutive times:

Funny thing is, she sounds just like that little monkey scaring off the big, ferocious lion in the movie.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

#118 - Corrupting Young Minds

I know it may worry some liberals out there that my girls are growing up in a conservative home. You can bet I lose precious sleep every night worrying about all those kids who are growing up in liberal homes, so I'm just assuming that this is a reciprocal problem. Mrs. Woody and I are, needless to say, indoctrinating our Woodyettes with all sorts of conservative propaganda, and are making good and sure that they grow up to be good little (gasp!) right-wingers. As defined by those who care about such things, that is. Personally, I never got into this "liberal vs. conservative" nonsense until I was in my thirties, and then only reluctantly. Yes, I adhere to very traditional conservative values, because those values are taught by the Church as part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why else would I live the way I do? Why else would I want my girls to do the same? It's really just that simple, although there are those "out there" who try to make it a much more complex issue than it really is.

But it's time for another confession. You know... confession being good for the soul and all that: I am corrupting my girls.

Those who are acquainted with my extended family of Woodys will instantly recognize perhaps the root of all that is insidious in our gene pool. We have some of the quirkiest senses of humor that God ever put on this earth, and I point the finger of blame squarely at my father. This is, of course, no surprise. I always blame Dad for my sense of humor because a) it happens to be true, and b) he ain't around to defend himself anymore. Yeah, sure, I'll have to deal with all of this on the other side of the veil at some point, but I'd like to see him wiggle his way out of it.

Now, according to my mother (who is still around to defend herself), I started life as a very sweet, innocent little boy. Quite angelic, in fact. I even had strawberry blonde hair that would melt the heart of any martinet who might happen to cross my path. (She usually reminisces about the "sweet and angelic" part immediately preceding her memories of what a brat I was every time we visited the doctor and wore out every nurse who tried to stick a needle in my back during allergy tests. Go figure.)

At some point, however, I turned from a sweet and innocent boy into a crazed, megalomaniacal dictator of a big brother who ruled by open intimidation (Mom always forgets this part... my siblings do not) and even sported, of all things, a cackle that was vaguely reminiscent of Snidely Whiplash.

You see, Dad had chosen to take us to see a movie one night, and that movie was [CUE: theme from "Psycho!"] "The Great Race."

From that moment on I began channeling "Professor Fate."

Those of you who remember the movie will hopefully understand its attraction to me. It was a campy melodrama in the "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" vein, and the over-acting was quite deliberate. Tony Curtis couldn't have been a more perfect "Great Leslie," and in my mind, Jack Lemmon should have won every acting award Hollywood had to offer just for his performance as "Professor Fate." It was inspired casting all around.

It was, however, Lemmon's delivery that tickled the funny bone of a nascent young actor. When the movie came out (1965) I was still a good four years away from my first experience as an actor, but I had all the makings of one even at that tender age. Lemmon inspired me. We saw the movie only once or twice, and it wouldn't appear on television again for a few years after that. But I found myself making Fate's insane cackle my signature laugh. I got to where I could do a fairly passable imitation of the Professor on demand. I even

[NOTE TO ASPIRING YOUNG ACTORS WISHING TO KNOW THE SECRET OF WOODY'S SUCCESS ON STAGE: What follows is it. This is what made me the actor I became. Follow this advice at your own peril.]

practiced Fate's facial expressions, including the eyebrows, in the mirror religiously for hours every day of my young life. In point of fact, if I had spent anywhere near as much time on my homework as I spent in front of the mirror, I would be President of the United States today. Lessons to the would-be wise.

Last Saturday, while waiting for Olympic coverage to once again take over our alpha brain waves, I looked for something to watch that wouldn't require much attention on my part. I decided to put our "Great Race" DVD in the player because I haven't watched it for a couple of years now, and thought it would be fun. I wasn't disappointed, and soon found myself guffawing at all the classic Professor Fate antics and wishing that Hollywood would make movies "like that" once again. Then, all of a sudden it seemed, my Woodyettes were sitting on the couch with me, watching just as intently as I was.

I was a little puzzled, because this isn't exactly their kind of entertainment. Their entertainment usually consists of young children, preferably at least one blonde and one brunette, involved in some sort of life-or-death exercise involving, at a minimum, one pegasus. There are no children in "The Great Race" except for the urchins who are scribbling graffiti ("Fate loves Fate") on Fate's gate to his property, or the kid who punches Max in the gut because Fate popped his balloon before the start of the race.

Then it dawned on me. It's not the movie that has them riveted. It's Daddy.

Years ago, when my Dad took his brood to the theater to see "The Great Race," I remember listening to Dad chuckle his way through the movie. Almost invariably he was chuckling at Professor Fate, and this made a great impression on me. Even years later, watching the film on television (which became a Woody tradition in the days before VCRs), Dad would chuckle heartily at Professor Fate and Max. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Dad chuckle. It had a nearly narcotic effect on me, and I found myself wanting to be an actor just like Lemmon so I could make Dad chuckle. It worked, sometimes. When I wasn't being an idiot teenager, anyway.

So I suspect that, more than anything else, my Woodyettes like to hear their Daddy laugh. It must be a comfort thing, when you stop to think about it. If Daddy is laughing, things must be right with the world. It's a signal that all is well, and Daddy isn't stressing about anything at that moment, which means Daddy won't be yelling at them for any reason in the immediate future. I think I understand this now.

Thus Daddy has resolved to do more to make his girls feel more comfortable with life. Oh, I can't realistically expect that I will never show the stresses that I sometimes feel. One can't really be an adult without feeling (and occasionally showing) stress. But if I make that an exception in my life, rather than a rule, my family will benefit accordingly.

I need to make my girls laugh. Guess I'd better spend more time in front of the mirror.