F.O.R.D.

Ages ago, when men were men and women were shorter, automobiles inspired the kind of unabashed allegiance and partisan fervor that we now reserve for computer operating systems. Entire families would align themselves behind a giant mega-conglomerate from Detroit and forswear ever buyin’, ridin’, fixin’, or otherwisen’ any so-called cars made by the competition. Dadgummit.

Ford clans would wage war on Chevy clans and Chevy clans would wage war on Chrysler clans, and so on and so on. Well, OK… “war” was hanging a sign with a pithy saying in the garage and maybe buying a pair of branded pair of fuzzy dice. And these were clans with a “c” not a “k.” White sheets were for chamois and not much else. Occasionally things would escalate when that no-good brother-in-law would show up for Thanksgiving in a car made by the Evil Competition, and Dad would mutter under his breath about the godawful indignity of it all until he passed out during the football game and the brother-in-law would change the channel.

In those days, Brothers-in-law were always no good bums and lousy moochers. It wasn’t until they passed of the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Extended Families Act that Brothers-in-law were required to be given equal standing. The Act reads in part, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of a sibling’s marital status, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any relation-in-law.”

Aficionados for the various car clans would rally in garages across the country and make up derisive and mocking jeers that they would hurl–always with great relish and while holding a warm can of PBR–at the competition. These jeers were always, always acronyms.

The wittiest (it’s a low bar) were always directed at Ford owners, Found On Road Dead, Fix Or Repair Daily, Ford Owners Recommend Dodge, Full Of Rust Deposits, For Old Retired Drunks, etc… GM came in for its share: General Maintenance, General Mistakes, Generally Malfunctions, and General Misery. But my favorite is one for Chevy: Can’t Have Everything Vern, YaknowwhatImean? Not only is it peculiarly specific, it’s also a wonderfully tortured acronym. Plus, my Grandfather’s name is Vern.

Foreign jeers? There really weren’t any. For a long time, no decent self-respecting American would buy a foreign car (except maybe someone’s no-good, lousy, mooching, bum of a brother-in-law). And by the time foreign cars actually started to become popular, creating an acronym that made sense was kind of hard. Toyota: Runs For a Long Time with Low Maintenance Costs.There’s just no zing to that. It doesn’t flow like Darn Old Dirty Gas Eater does.

Chrysler has recently tried to reinvigorate this lost sense of Americana with the attempted reinvigoration of pseudo-brands. “That thing got a Hemi, Bob? Why of course it does, Earl! I’d no sooner buy a truck without a Hemi than loan money to my wife’s no-account brother!” (So… I actually had to do some research on this one. “Hemi” means that the engine has hemispherical combustion chambers–I suppose instead of those pesky rhomboid chambers. It’s an engine style that was used in 1912 by… wait for it… Peugeot! Peugeot! They’re French!) Aside from insipid product placements in movies and television, “It’s got a Hemi!” doesn’t seem to have caught fire with the public. (Chrysler lost $2.9 billion in 2007. Peugeot made $2.7 billion in 2007.)

My Dad was a Chevy guy. Well, sorta. He has this really cool old 1947 Ford logging truck that’s pretty slick (looks like this). But it doesn’t run anymore. He had a lot of old Chevy trucks over the years too. Most of them ran sporadically. Except for the one with the Ooogah horn. (I loved that horn.) It was a 56 (or a 57 or 58… I can’t remember). It ran for a long time. Had a pinto wagon too. That doesn’t run anymore either–but it also didn’t blow up, which is suppose can be considered a positive in the Pinto. Mostly we were poor so whatever car was actually running was the one we rallied behind.

Me? We have a Jeep Cherokee and a Ford Contour. The Jeep is great. It’s a two-wheel drive Jeep (I know.) so it stinks in the snow, but otherwise it’s great. The Contour on the other hand…. well, it’s Dead in the Driveway right now. It was Dead on the Road a few hours ago, and it’s quite frequently in and out of the shop. It’s loud, it shakes like Lindsey Lohan in rehab if you push it past 45, there’s a broken seatbelt in the back, and it’s once lustrous silver (I’m assuming it was lustrous once) is now the color of dirty road slush ice. It’s a truly craptacular car.

But I’m no car-maker fanboy. If and when we go out to buy a new (heavily used) car from a reputable dealer (Jimbo’s CrazyLot), I’ll do my research and select the car that best matches the family’s needs (is cheap) regardless of who makes it (Yugo). In the meantime, I’ll reserve my allegiances for the contests that my generation finds compelling. I’ve even got some acronyms: Most Annoying Cult, Annoying People Playing with Little Electronics, Defunct Operating System, Vastly Inferior Software To Apple’s, and my personal favorite: Vastly Improved Solitaire Tiling Algorithms.

***Note: I realize that I seem to be picking on Lindsey Lohan a lot lately. Well, in the last two posts at any rate. I’d pick on other people, but the problem is that I need druggie references and I’ve become such an old man that I don’t really know who’s hip and with it (and consequently in and out of rehab) anymore. My wife thinks that the very fact that I use the words “hip” and “with it” means that I’m hopelessly “square.” I was tempted to go with Gary Busey yesterday… I mean, he must be on drugs, right? But he was too scary. Britney might be a druggie, but she also might be insane and, regardless, she just seems kind of sad now. Plus, with Lohan, there’s the added schadenfreude of watching a former child star (and the star of The Parent Trap, for goodness sake!) go all loopy–doin’ the Bonaducci as it were.

***Note: How about Patsy T. Mink joke! I was very proud. (I know, I know.) Look her up. It still won’t be very funny, but at least it will make sense.)

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My brief hiatus

It’s been awhile since I posted anything here. What with basketball games, family gatherings, sick little girls, emergency room visits and electro-cardiograms, I just haven’t found the time to write anything. And, of course, there’s all that bad television that so desperately needs to be watched.

OK. That’s a lie. There’s always time. I should just be honest and tell the truth; I’ve written a bunch and it’s all been dreck.

I wrote a long piece responding to an article on 9/11 conspirators that meandered (more than usual!) and wavered and wobbled and ended up both snarky and banal (a combination that’s harder to achieve than you might imagine). I took a few stabs at a platform (I haven’t forgotten!) but there hasn’t been any spark to the writing. When your statement of principles sounds pre-teen protean you’ve got trouble. (America should, like, totally be more free. You know?) I also wrote some background for a site I’ve been thinking about putting up, but it turned out woefully bad. I was going for urbane sophisticate but wound up with a bunch of doody jokes. Also, I read an article on grammar, which is just dangerous. In this case, the article was on semicolons; I think I’m using them too much.

(And speaking of dreck, pre-teen protean? Ugh.)

The past two weeks have been pretty busy. We went to Adam’s Middle-School Mega Concert where they pack everyone into the gym and every group plays one song (sixth-grade band followed by eighth grade chorus followed by seventh grade orchestra followed by silly faculty comedy routine) and it’s really hot and really long and the kids who aren’t performing get bored and sullen. Actually, this one wasn’t so bad. It’s not everyday that you hear a Dona Nobis Pacem followed by the theme to The Simpsons.

I also spent much time laying out class photos for the elementary school yearbook. Since when do elementary school shave yearbooks? I don’t remember getting a yearbook in fourth grade. Of course, I was in Mexico for fourth grade, so maybe I did and I just couldn’t read it. “¡Adios gringo!” Hannah was sick with an intestinal bug that was a real joy. (How much gross liquid can a nine-year old expel at once? More than you’d imagine.) And of course, we’re a family that shares, so Jamie, Pat and I are all now afflicted with the cold/flu/general-winter-miserableness.

We saw Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt in concert (Just the two of them and their guitars; it was great.) American Idol is on, and like every other suburban American, I’m required by law to watch at least sixteen hours of Ryan Seacrest every week. Plus, Jamie and I have started watching Craig Ferguson on the Late Late Show (we tape it and watch it the next day at a reasonable hour). He’s very funny and very zany; we like him a lot. (That was another semicolon; make me stop!) Hat tip to Joshua for the YouTube link that prompted us to start watching.

And on Saturday, the boys lost a thrilling semi-final basketball game by two points. Those games are so exciting; I always think I’m going to have a heart-attack.

Which brings me around to the big reason I’ve been so lax in posting…. emergency-room visits and cardiograms. About a year ago, I learned that I have dangerously high cholesterol levels (in the manner of Mt. Everest or Lindsey Lohan… which is to say, very high). So I started taking medication and getting bi-monthly blood work-ups, and I’ve been a little skittish ever since. (No… Not you! Yes, yes, I know it’s hard to believe… Is there an emoticon for an eyeroll? There should be.)

Anyway, my skittishness reached its zenith a couple of weeks ago when I found myself spending the day in the emergency room with pain in my chest and numbness in my left arm. The diagnosis was “chest pain of unknown cause,” which I took to be good news… sort of. The ER doc guessed that I was probably just fine and dandy, if a bit panicky. “Oh, and by the way, your electro-cardiogram indicated that you have a Right Bundle Branch Block. Which is usually nothing,” he said. “You’re absolutely fine, it’s completely benign, no worries, really. But why don’t you go see a cardiologist as soon as you possibly can?”

So I did. And on Monday I had a “nuclear stress test.” The whole “stress test” thing seems redundant to me, as if being injected with a radioactive gel (that’s the nuclear part) and having giant machines revolve around you and take pictures of your heart isn’t stressful enough. The nurses who administer the test were all very calm and peaceful, but there’s an odd dissonance in the calm and gentle reminder that I shouldn’t handle any infants or babies for 24 hours because I’ll be radioactive. (I’m still waiting for my super-powers to show up. I’m hoping for laser eye-beams, but becoming super-stretchy would be cool too.)

So, I’ve been a bit pre-occupied the last few days. Sitting down to write about whether I disliked Barack Obama more than John McCain seemed needlessly absurd and amazingly pointless; my heart just isn’t in it.

However, the news is back from the doctor and is all good. My heart is where it should be and is doing what it should do and is getting all the oxygen it needs. I need to keep watch over the cholesterol and will probably be on statins for a good-long while, but am otherwise fine and healthy.

Now when I have a two-week lapse between posts, it’ll just be because I’m lazy.

Thanksgiving

Would it be too corny to say that I give thanks for Thanksgiving? Probably.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s an American holiday and that’s cool. We live in the land of plenty and we know it. It’s also a capitalist holiday (or at the very least, it’s a celebration of the end of collectivist deprivation). Thanksgiving is secular too. Which means there’s no midnight mass, no morning mass, no afternoon mass, and no threat of a mass at any other time.

Thanksgiving is the start of the Christmas Season. I know that the malls and department stores have been in full Christmas swing since September, but Thanksgiving is when you can finally pull out your favorite Christmas CD without worrying about violent reprisal. And even though it’s the start of the Christmas Season, it has none of the pressure of Christmas; there are no presents to buy, there’s nothing to wrap, and the afternoon isn’t quite so boring. (One of my favorite lyrics of all time is, “And every day’s like Christmas Day without you. It’s cold and there’s nothing to do .”)

Plus, there’s lot’s and lot’s of really good food. It’s not Thanksgiving unless you can feed the square of the number of people at your table. And really, what’s better than sharing a meal with the people you love?

Thanksgiving has always been good to me. There have been few family fights and lots of good eats. Even when I was away at school or young and on my own, my friends and I would gather and we’d feast on what we could. We’d have Thanksgivings filled with dishes I’d learned growing up with my mother in New Orleans: shrimp Creole, crawfish etoufee, gumbo, and jambalya. The Thanksgiving meal is traditional for a reason; the ritualized menu reminds us of home and helps us remember. Even when I was thousands of miles from home, making a big pot of jambalya or etoufee helped bring a part of my family’s Thanksgiving to my table.

But it’s not always Creole and Cajun. I’ve made vegan mushroom paté, dozens of pecan pies, Thai spring rolls, and once I even made a lavish tortellini pie. It had meatballs, cheese, tortellini, a wonderful ragu bolognese, and a sweet custard. It turned out great and I loved it. Everyone else smiled and swallowed, but no one was as taken by it as I was. That was Thanksgiving in the Brown House in Portland. We called it the brown house because every ceiling, wall, and rail was brown wood. the floors were brown carpet. It was perpetually dark. You needed a flashlight to read in the living room. But it had a great stove.

We had a lot to drink at those Thanksgivings in Portland. They’re my “lost” Thanksgivings–holidays where we’d eat 12 pounds of turkey and drink 20 pounds of Beaujolais Nouveau. But they were all good days. I think. My memories are a bit hazy. We have photos, and everyone’s smiling, but you can’t tell what we ate for all the bottles on the table. One year we rented out the rec room in a friend’s apartment complex. Eric made six gallons of gumbo, and I made sweet-potato dim sum. We also had turkey, potatoes, cranberries and two cases of wine. There were 8 adults.

But I’m older and wiser and considerably more moderate now. I’ll be spending this thanksgiving with my wife’s family. There will be more than 20 of us. The chairs will be mismatched, the tables will be borrowed and crammed onto porches, and there will be games of touch football in the backyard. With any luck there will be a platter or two of deviled eggs. Of course, I’ll only have one or two. Now I drink less wine and worry more about cholesterol. But the dinner will be grand and the company will be better.

It will be my third Thanksgiving with Jamie’s family, and just my second with our kids. I know how much fun I’ll have, but I’ll still miss all of my family and friends that won’t be joining us. I’ll give my thanks and I’ll think aboutholidays gone by.

I remember the year of the bunnies.

My father lives in the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico. The house is halfway up a mountain with state forest on two sides and very distant neighbors on the others. It’s remote and beautiful and very pet friendly. The fish stay indoors, but the scores of cats and dogs are free to come and go as they please. My favorite dog of all time, Tucker, lived in that house for many years. Tucker was a mutt. He must have been mostly Collie and German Shepherd because he was full-sized, Shepherd colored, and had some Collie in his face. There must also have been a gutsy Dachshund somewhere back down the line, because his legs were only three inches long. He ran like an inchworm and he couldn’t jump into a truck without help, but he was as smart and loyal and loving as any dog ever was.

One year, now several years ago, my father had rabbits. I don’t remember how or why they came to live at the house, but they were there at Thanksgiving. As was I. It was a year I had made it home to family. Tucker had died years prior, and had been replaced by Todd and Chewbaca. Chewy is long gone, but Todd is still alive. Old and fat, he looks like a giant sausage that’s been stuffed into a dog costume.

My father had built pens in the garden by the house, and the bunnies lived very happily. They were, as bunnies must be, segregated by sex and so I presume they weren’t living as happily as they might have wished, but they seemed comfortable. And cute. And large and fat. They weren’t food bunnies; they were pet bunnies. And they were much loved by my little sister and brother.

On that Thanksgiving we had a traditional New Mexican spread: yams, cranberries, potatoes, stuffing, and green chile galore. And of course, we had a beautiful turkey. But as Ralphie Parker can well attest, all dogs — including the Bumpuses’ hounds — love turkey. So the dogs had been banished outside as the turkey was cooked, prepared, cooled and sliced.

We all sat down, and had just packed our plates… I’m sure I was just beginning to pour some gravy over my mounded pile of turkey goodness. My father had probably just finished singing along with the full version of Alice’s Restaurant; our meal had barely begun. We heard the mewling cries, and we wondered what they were. Then we heard the shrieks and we knew. Todd and Chewy were having a feast of their own. Apparently driven mad by turkey lust, they had finally found their way into the rabbit pen.

That Thanksgiving went to the dogs. But that’s as bad a Thanksgiving as I’ve ever had.

And I guess that’s my point. Thanksgiving is great because it’s simple. Get together. Eat. Laugh. Nap.

A bad Thanksgiving is spent alone in a box under an overpass. And thankfully, I’ve never been there. I have been blessed with such wonderful friends and such a wonderful family, my life is filled with joy and laughter and love. And that’s what I’m thankful for on the last Thursday in November and on every other day too.

Although I can’t sit down with everyone I love this Thursday, I’ll think of all of you as I say my thanks and pour my gravy.

Thanks to all of you for filling my life with wonder and joy.
May your Thanksgiving tables always be too crowded and your chairs mismatched.
May your turkey be large and brown with crispy skin and may your gravy be smooth and rich.
And may you always have one non-traditional dish–whether it’s a vegan tofu stew or a selection of fresh sushi.
May you drink and eat your fill, and may you nap peacefully after dinner.
May you play touch football in the fallen leaves and finally put on that Christmas music.
May you remember to tell everyone how much you love them.
May you always keep those you love close to your heart, no matter how far away they might live.

And may you keep your bunnies safe and warm.

Six Flags Theme Park and Apiary

For a few weeks before the wedding, Jamie and I had been discussing what to do the week after the wedding. We knew we’d have the kids, and since our post-wedding budget was what it was, we knew that a big honeymoon was out of the picture. Plus, the kids had just spent a few days with their father at the Jersey shore, and we wanted to go on vacation with them too.

We’d talked about going to Boston, or Washington (I really like going to museums and other Places-of-Historical-Significance, and I feel a deep-seated need to drag whiny, bored children through them as well. I’m sure it has something to do with my own childhood and a desire for vengeance on the world.) or taking day trips to places within easy reach. The kids also really wanted to go to a water park, so we settled on the idea of going to Boston, and stopping at the Six Flags New England Amusement Park and Apiary.

The park is in Springfield, Mass, on our way to Boston, and this late in the season, we got six admissions for the price of one (each person gets six visits for the price of one visit). Our original plan was to do the park, go on to Boston, and then do the park again on the way back.

As it turned out, we never got to Boston, the kids had so much fun at the park that we stayed and did the park for three days in a row.

The park is nice. Much nicer than I expected, actually. All theme parks are ultimately judged in comparison to DisneyWorld, and most theme parks suffer for the comparison. And Six Flags does too. Just not as much as I would have thought. The park is kept pretty clean, the various areas have individual themes that are fairly consistent and well designed, and the rides are pretty good. But of course, the rides are mostly roller coasters and other turn-em-squeeze-em-flip-em county fair type rides.

A bit of background here:
Our kids suffer from a severe case of DisneyWorld-Overexposure-by-Proxy syndrome. They have cousins who have annual passes and vacation club memberships to the Greatest of All Vacation Spots and who go down to Disney, it seems, about every other week. And our kids haven’t been in years. So we get much pressure and a Disney vacation looms in our future like a giant mortgage balloon payment (only Disney will be more expensive).

Plus, our kids hate scary rides and won’t go on anything scarier than the teacups at the county fair. Now, I’ll admit that the teacups are, in fact, much scarier to me than any roller coaster. But kids have iron stomachs, don’t worry about what that carney operator’s last conviction was for, and never seem to notice that funk coming from the skeezy old guy sitting next to you.

Anyway, I thought I could use Six Flags as a kind of barometer — how would a Disney trip go? Because, believe me, if I’m spending six thousand dollars on a trip to an amusement park, we are all going to be d~mn well amused.

The verdict? Positive. On the whole, the big rides at Six Flags are actually much bigger and scarier than at Disney. I haven’t been on the new Everest, but for the most part, Disney coasters are pretty tame. And the kids braved the Thunderbolt and Catwoman’s Whip and Nightwing and other mid-level coasters at Six Flags pretty well. I did find it interesting that they were perfectly willing to fly down a tube of water with nothing but their shorts (and sometimes not even those!) to protect themselves, but a giant steel cage was too much. Disney looks more doable now….

The water park, Hurricane Harbor, was the best water park I’ve been to, but I’ve only been to a couple. The kids loved it, and the crowds in the water park were very manageable while we were there. The slides are great and the kids had loads of fun in the wave pools and the water towers.

The food is spotty. Some is ok, and some is really not so ok. The quality (and curiously, even the vendor) of the chicken strips (a staple food in our house) varied from kiosk to kiosk. There are some chain/branded places like Papa John’s, Ben and Jerry’s, and ColdStone Creamery (I had a bad experience at ColdStone Creamery… they refused to give a 12 year-old a sample. What’s up with that? $7 for a small sundae and you won’t let the kid try the cake flavor?) but for the most part, it’s park-owned food. On the plus side, beer is readily available.

And then there are the bees.

It was truly unbelievable. Every food kiosk, every shrubbery, every soda stand, everywhere…. No matter where you are in the park, there at least three or four bees swarming around. It’s like a kind of ride: The Bee Dodge. To be sure, they’re not killer bees, and they’re not savagely attacking people, but kids, especially little kids, are generally afraid of bees, and they can be a source of tremendous angst and whining. I was the only person in our party that was stung , and that happened while I was inside a closed building.

Overall we were very happy. Six Flags New England has some great coasters and all the standard rafting, log-flume rides that you’d expect from an amusement park. And while they don’t put nearly as much effort into the presentation and overall experience as Disney does, it was well worth the cost, and we’ll be going back again before our six-visit passes expire in October.

About Us

Hi! We’re Jamie and Patrick Stephens!

You can contact us at web@psjs.net.

As you may have guessed from the postings and the photos, we were recently married (August 18, 2007), and we’d like to thank everyone who helped make that day as wonderful and as magical as it was.

Jamie is an executive manager/administrator who’s done just about everything there is to do in nonprofit management. From organizing conferences and events, to top-level fund-raising, to managing staff operations, she’s done it all. Right now she’s helping a national financial services corporation manage it’s branch offices. Oh, she’s also their director of Human Resources.

And she also writes a monthly health and wellness column that is distributed to over 50,000 CEOs and executives nationwide.

Patrick has written on issues ranging from Cloning and Stem-cell research to Foreign Policy and issues of justice in war, to environmentalism, urban transportation, and the Elian Gonzalez tragedy of 2000.

He has spoken across the country to national and local audiences of legislators, college professors, policy professionals, students, and businessmen on bioethics, welfare reform, transportation policy, environmentalism, affirmative action and improvisation.

The blog here is mostly Pat’s, so please don’t blame Jamie for anything ridiculous Patrick writes!

But that stuff is all mostly fluff. Most importantly, we have three wonderful and amazing children, Adam, Patrick and Hannah, who fill our lives with wonder, laughter, and much noise!