The Joys of Child Abandoment & Covetousness

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nothing strengthens a marriage like abandoning your children and coveting the possessions of multi-millionaires. While this claim might not be completely in harmony with the church’s official position on child abandonment (don’t do it) or coveting (ditto), this is exactly what the NMW and I did to celebrate our 12th Anniversary.

My totally awesome Normal Mormon Mother-in-Law visited us in NC from Utah and agreed to watch the kids for two nights, thus allowing the NMW and me to have a little getaway. We decided to make the 3-hour drive to Asheville, North Carolina, to visit the Biltmore House and stay in a cozy Bed & Breakfast. Asheville is located smack dab in the green, picturesque Smokey Mountains and is the undisputed hippest, coolest, trendiest city in North Carolina. For you westerners, think of Asheville as Utah’s equivalent of Park City, Arizona’s answer to Sedona, or Wyoming’s version of Old Man Cooper’s Dairy Farm.

Asheville is the home of The Biltmore House, which is known as America's Largest Home. It was constructed by George Vanderbilt in 1895 and contains 250 rooms, 43 bathrooms, a 7-story dining room, and original Renoir artwork. I think Batman lives in the basement as well. George Vanderbilt was made obscenely wealthy either as an industrial tycoon or a crack dealer (I’m too lazy to Google the answer), but he somehow managed to build a ginormous house. As part of our getaway we toured the Biltmore and thought you might enjoy reading how our day unfolded:

9:28 a.m. – Have breakfast at the most upscale McDonald’s I have ever seen, a fitting testament to Asheville’s trendy vibe. The exterior looks like an Alpine chalet. The interior décor features Roman-styled columns, a self-playing baby grand piano, and classy floor tile. This McDonald’s is so classy I bet the Playland slide doesn’t even smell like 3-day old toddler urine.

9:47 a.m. – As we walk back to our car, the NMW asks me if there are any homeless people in a place as nice as Asheville. After thinking about it, I conclude Asheville does, in fact, have homeless people. They are called “middle class.”

10:12 a.m. – We enter the Biltmore and park in section C-3. I tell myself to just think of the Star Wars robot C3-PO to remember where we parked. We will either end up back here, or completely lost in section R-2.

10:21 a.m. – The shuttle arrives to take us to the Biltmore House. As I lug my 6’6” body on to the shuttle I nail my head against the roof of the bus, which is about 6’4”. To my complete delight, the Biltmore shuttles have comfortably padded roofs! Those of us who are freakishly tall hit our heads quite regularly, which explains why our short-term memories are worse than Dori from Finding Nemo. I’m just glad the Biltmore had the courtesy to pad…their…ummm…uhhhhhh….what was I talking about again? Sorry, I lose track some times. Oh, yeah, I was talking about Finding Nemo! Right?

10:23 a.m. – The guy sitting in front of me on the shuttle is slathering on some sort extremely pungent lotion and/or biological weapon that is burning my eyes, nose, lungs, and every other sensitive bodily orifice. My head feels as though I touched my tongue to a 9-volt battery and deeply inhaled the scent of a nappy-headed European backpacker.

10:27 a.m. – Step off the shuttle and am amazed at the size, majesty, and elegance of the Biltmore House. But then again, the NMW and I rented small college student apartments for six years, including one that I’m pretty sure was actually a retrofitted Tuff Shed, so I’m easily impressed.

10:31 a.m. – We have entered the Biltmore House and the main dining hall is an obscenely ridiculous seven stories high. No wonder they pad the roofs of the shuttles – George Vanderbilt must have been forty feet tall!

10:40 a.m. – Unimpressed by the “Breakfast Room.” Heck, even I have my own breakfast room. It’s called the driver’s seat of a 2002 Honda Accord, people!

10:52 a.m. – I realized why John Mayer is so famous – he sold his soul to Lucifer in the late eighteen hundreds in order to become a rock star in the 2000’s. This 110-year-old gargoyle was commissioned by Satan himself to commemorate the moment when he took John Mayer’s eternal soul. Look closely, this IS John Mayer.
10:55 a.m. – The Biltmore Library is slightly more impressive than the stack of random old newspapers I have by the side of my toilet. In the corner of the Library there is a statue of an early Christian saint. The saint has his index finger raised to his lips, as if shushing people as they come through the room. I lean over to the NMW and say, “Hey, get a load of Saint Shushie – patron saint of Shushiness.” The volume of the NMW’s laughter will definitely incur the wrath of Saint Shushie throughout the rest of eternity.

11:23 a.m. – So much for George Vanderbilt being forty feet tall. He and his wife slept in separate bedrooms and their beds were about four feet long by three feet wide, or roughly the size of Nell Carter. The NMW says, “I can’t believe they ever had any kids, sleeping in separate rooms on those tiny beds…” But then again, the two of us are a combined 12’3” and are touring this summer with Captain Rickey’s Carnival of Freaks. (Look for us in Pocatello on August 18th!)

11:55 a.m. – We are shown a huge double door that is used for transporting all oversized cargo and materials into the house, including Michael Moore during his 2007 visit.

12:20 p.m. – We enter the Bachelor’s Wing where gentlemen from an earlier era used to retire for cigars and brandy at the end of a long day of hunting, gallivanting, tomfoolery and general shenanigans. A sign hung in 1902 stating, “NO CHICKS ALLOWED!” remains displayed in the hall. I can’t tell the NMW exactly what we men did in the Bachelor’s Wing, but it involved shotguns, endangered species, and extremely tasty jerky. Also, we can no longer register under our real names at the Bed & Breakfast.

1:21 p.m. – Our tour of the actual Biltmore House is over, so we head toward the gardens. We begin walking through an area called the “Shrub Gardens.” After about six seconds we realize that shrubs are totally boring and leave. (Sorry to all of you shrub lovers out there, but it’s true. Shrubs are totally, totally lame.)

2:06 p.m. – On the advice of a friend who recently visited Biltmore and was struck with the number of British tourists she encountered, the NMW and I begin speaking with British accents. My new name is Sir Bertram Van Munster of Newlincolntonshire. The NMW changes her name to Cat Deely. We keep the British accents up for nearly an hour, constantly afraid that a true Brit is going to overhear us and out us as the frauds we are. I think our straight, white, healthy teeth will give away our non-Britishness before our terrible accents will, though.

3:09 p.m. – Head to the Biltmore Farm. I know drug use is a problem in this country, but take a look at this obvious pot head!
3:11 p.m. – As I look at the beautiful, fruitful garden on Biltmore Farm, I tell the NMW I want a garden like this one day. Mark my words – our next house will have an acre of land and 2-3 dinners per week will consist largely of what we harvested from our own crops. Now do Choc-o-Diles grow in plants or on trees?

3:31 p.m. – We are watching a live butter making demonstration and the farm worker says, “Everybody knows fat floats to the top of the milk.” The phrase “Fat Floats” makes me giggle. I think “Fat Floats” would be the perfect title to the sequel to the 1998 Sandra Bullock movie “Hope Floats.” In “Fat Floats” Sandra Bullock has lost all hope, gained 186 pounds, and taken up swimming.

We ended up finishing the day with dinner at a Japanese restaurant, playing pool at our B&B, and watching the movie “New In Town” on my laptop. (Nothing says “relaxing getaway” to an HR Manager like watching a movie about shutting down a small-town manufacturing plant. I could have written that screenplay in my sleep…) NMW, I love you. Thank you for the twelve best years of my life. You make me smile. You strengthen my testimony. You give me confidence. You make life fun. You make me laugh.

Just tone it down around Saint Sushie next time, will ya?

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Killing Time (Serioulsy. I Killed It. Time's Dead.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

For the past eleven days I have been home all by my lonesome as the Normal Mormon Wife and our three crazy kids have been visiting family all over the country. They will return home tomorrow night and life will finally get back to normal, complete with runny noses, skinned knees, fights over toys, Play Station games, arguments about bed times, no desire to do chores, etc. And those are the issues that will surface just between the NMW and me. I can only imagine what the kids have in store for us...

In the absence of family my life has consisted of one primary objective:

Killing time.

The phrase "killing time" implies that time, like anything else, can ultimately be killed. (The obvious exceptions to the 'anything can be killed' rule, of course, are The Three Nephites, John the Beloved, Chuck Norris and Al Davis.) I've expended so much effort recently in killing time that I actually succeeded! I killed time! Seriously. It's dead.

Time was killed on Sunday, July 19th, 2009 at 10:48 p.m. I had been doing such a good job at killing Time over the past few days that he was nearly dead at 6:02 p.m. when I left home to have dinner at a friend's house. There was blood trickling out of Time's ears and his breathing was shallow, but Time was definitely alive when I left home. When I returned later that evening I noticed Time had crawled over to the the telephone and dialed, "9-1-", but I wrestled the phone away from him before he called the cops. I managed to kill Time later that evening. It was a messy job and I ended up with "a lot of Time on my hands", so I concealed the evidence by putting "Time in a bottle", tying the bottle to a cement block and dumping it in a lake.

The whole ordeal was pretty traumatic and it is going to be a while before I can put this horrific tragedy behind me. But you know the old saying - Time heals all wounds. Except for his own wounds, I learned, since Time is now decomposing at the bottom of Lake Jeanette.

But I did not act alone in this killing. A number of accomplices from all over the web assisted me every step of the way. So if you're ever in the need for killing some Time, here are the seedy thugs who made it happen for me:

Hulu - Best place on the web for free TV shows and movies. In the TV department you can find everything from The Simpsons to The Office to COPS to The A Team to Ice Road Truckers. The free movies are pretty skimpy for those of us of the LDS persuasion, but you can watch Saints and Soliders, Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie, and The Secret of NIMH.

Rasmussen Reports - New polls are added several times a day to show what our fellow Americans believe about society, politics, sports, and business. Some polls have rational outcomes, while the results of others are completely crazy. By "rational" I mean that I agree with the majority of the respondents. "Crazy" outcomes occur when I disagree with the majority, or, better said, Rasmussen was only able to find people who sniff glue to respond to that particular survey.

Facebook - My high score on Path Words is 960. I stopped playing Scramble after I did not blink for 13 consecutive hours and my eyes had to be replaced with walnuts. I have never joined Mafia Wars. And, yes, you will suffer the same fate as Time if you Super Poke me!

ESPN - Despite my Shawn Bradley-related feud with Bill Simmons, he continues to be a must read. During the football season I gobble up Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback columns that ramble from football to space exploration to politics. While I don't always agree with his political beliefs, Easterbrook's a great writer. Speaking of politics...

Huffpo & Drudge Report - I read a lot about politics and visit one of these two sites multiple times each day. Most of you like this blog being a politics-free zone, so I'll refrain from saying which one of those two sites I thoroughly enjoy. If you have never visited either site, the Huffpo will appeal to liberals and Drudge to conservatives. If you are a "moderate" or an "independent", I recommend you pick a side before the 2012 presidential election, which will end in a full-scale armed battle as predicted in Orson Scott Card's book "Empire". Speaking of the OSC...

Orson Scott Card's "In the Village"
- OSC is my all-time favorite author. His Mormon Times pieces usually broaden my perspective and help me see common, everyday situation in life a little differently.

Snide Remarks - No other writer can make me laugh like Eric D. Snider. He and I were at BYU at the same time and reading his weekly column in The Daily Universe student paper was one of the highlights of my week. His Police Beat spoof mocking BYU's weekly police roundup is still the funniest column I have ever read.

Boomshine - More addictive than Girl Scout Samoa cookies sprinkled with crack cocaine...or so I've been told (quickly backpedaling...)

Segullah - My sister, Angela Hallstrom, has great posts at Segullah.org. If you live in the Salt Lake valley you can probably relate to her recent column about the East Side vs. West Side rivalry. It's one of my favorites. Sure, Segullah is geared toward women, so I call myself Mrs. Bertram Van Munster when I visit there to disguise the fact that I am really of the gender that sprouts back hair.

Youtube - A happy, upbeat trailer for The Shining. A cringe-worthy song celebrating the Bank of America and MBNA merger (I'm pretty sure Michael Scott wrote this...). Tom Chamber's dunk. I love ping pong. And, my personal favorite, DRAMATIC CHIPMUNK.

And those, ladies and gents, were my accomplices in killing Time. But if my family ever goes on vacation without me again I will need to fill the void somehow. Please post your top-3 favorite websites, videos, web games, clips, etc. that are not listed in this post. I will select the best submissions and give "Honorary Accomplice To Murder" awards to the people who posted them.

And for those of you who disagree with my selections, put down the glue and answer the phone. Rasmussen wants to ask you a few questions.

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The Bizarre Foodstuffs of a Lonely Man

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It is not good for man to be alone.

And alone is how I currently find myself. The Normal Mormon Wife and our three kids left in late June on an epic month-long road trip, leaving me to my own devices. I flew out last week to vacation with them in Utah for a fabulous week and then headed back home, by myself, to North Carolina. So I now find myself as a lone man tending the garden in my backyard approximately 35 miles from Eden, NC.

But unlike Adam, the first lonely man, I am not eating nearly enough fruit. However, I have found myself regularly consuming a disturbing amount of foods that should have been forbidden years ago by the Surgeon General. Unfortunately, I place more stock in the advice of Mayor McCheese than C. Everett Coop, as witnessed by my recent eating habits

I have eaten enough Wendy’s in the NMW’s absence that red pigtails have begun spontaneously sprouting from the sides of my head. My visits to Subway have been so frequent that Jared himself, feeling threatened, told me “back off, man!” or else he would “gut me like a fish” for invading his turf. I have digested so many Taco Bell items that it no longer bothers me chalupas are really just dead Chihuahuas rolled up in discarded carpet samples.

All of this fast food is not healthy. I realized this yesterday when my blood pressure was so high that my blood broke the sound barrier, so I headed to Wal-Mart to do some grocery shopping. This shopping venture may have been the first time I have gone grocery shopping on my own, for myself, since the NMW and I were married in 1997. Since I was only shopping for enough food to last for ten days I did not take the time to make a shopping list. I just grabbed my cart (aka “buggy” in North Carolina) and filled it with a bunch of stuff that looked appetizing and easy to cook.

When I looked at my final receipt I couldn’t help but laugh at my list of bizarre foodstuffs. Here is what I, as a respectable 34-year-old male, purchased to keep me nourished for the next week and a half:

Bread ($2.24) – The NMW wisely weaned me off white bread for wheat bread years ago for health reasons. After several minutes of perusing the bread isle I realized that I had no idea what type of wheat bread I have been eating for the better part of a decade. Whole Grain? Enriched? Honey? Free Range? I purchased Honey because it sounded the yummiest.

Beefaroni-3 ($.88 ea.) – My first love was a girl named Natalie who was in my Kindergarten class. My second love was a girl named Amy in my second grade class. My third love was a substance called Beefaroni. While I have no idea what happened to Natalie or Amy, I am still on good terms with Beefaroni.

Chicken Pot Pie ($2.48) – These bad boys were in my regular rotation as a college student and I have not eaten one in several years. This was a nostalgia purchase. All I need to do now is put on a Depeche Mode CD, repeatedly quote Beavis and/or Butthead, and start some relationship drama and it will be like I’m back at Ricks College circa 1993.

Frito's Honey Barbecue Flavor Twists (2 for $4) – These crunchy, flavorful goodies rank in the Top-5 Most Important Inventions in my lifetime along with the personal computer, the internet, cell phones, and Madden.

Hot Pockets (2 for $4) – One pepperoni, one ham and cheese. I love the portability of Hot Pockets. Maybe I’ll multitask tomorrow by going for a jog at the same time I wolf down a ham and cheese Hot Pocket.

Funyons ($.88) – Impulse purchase. They were eaten before I got home. I rarely buy Funyons when the family is at home because the oniony smell lingers on my breath for several days, regardless of how often or vigorously I brush my teeth. But when I’m on my own? Funyon me up, baby!

GV CM BT MSH ($1.32) – I seriously have no idea what this is and cannot decipher the meaning of the abbreviation on the receipt. Please post comments with your theories or vote in the poll on the right hand column. My guess? Great Valley Combustible Bat Mush.

Pepperoni Pizza (2 for $2.50) – I lived on these in college and still look forward to a hot Totino’s after a long day of work and church meetings. Sure, in college my blood was a thick, gloopy substance that smelled of pepperoni and grease, but man, Tonino’s are good!

Chocolate Milk ($3.42) – Hey! The price on the rack was something like $2.25, not $3.42! Wal-Mart ripped me off! Anyway, I got the chocolate milk because I need some source of calcium in my diet. On a side note, my milk drinking habit is somewhat strange. I cannot drink milk unless it is so cold it is nearly frozen. My milk always goes in the freezer for about five minutes before I drink it. The perfect glass of milk, in my book, has just started to form a ring of frozen milk at the top of the cup.

Dynobites Cereal ($5.24 per bag) – I almost never eat cereal in the morning. It is more of an evening snack for me. In fact, I had two big bowls of Coco Dynobites for dinner last night. If I die from poor nutrition over the next ten days, please place a bag of Coco Dynobites in my casket.

Steak ($4.03) – I am man. Hear me grill!

Tax ($.76) – I was going to make a political joke here, but learned the hard way that it’s best to keep this a politics-free zone.

While I did well stocking up on foods that are either 1) Chocolate or 2) Frozen, I realized that there was no fruit on my receipt. But that might be for the best. After all, the first (and possibly last) time a lonely man got himself some fruit, things didn’t turn out quite so well.

Hurry home, NMW. I miss you!

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Campin' with Cletus and Deadly Varmints!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

“Happy early Father’s Day!” said the Normal Mormon Wife. It was Friday, two days before my official day of praise and eating red meat, and I was still at work. Over the phone the NMW gave me the following instructions, “Don’t go home after work…and make sure your car has at least a half of a tank of gas.”

Saying I was intrigued is like saying Mary Murphy on SYTYCD gets slightly excited about a “buck” and/or “stank” dance routine. My mind was swimming with possibilities. Were we going to the Carolina beaches? The Appalachians? Where, pray tell? WHERE!?

Well, we ended up staying in town but I still almost get eaten alive by a wild animal and shot dead by drunk hillbillies. I’ll explain later.

Before I left work the NMW called again and told me to meet her at huge campground just outside of town. She and our three kids would meet me there for an evening of hot dogs, S’mores, and outdoor shenanigans. Then the family would head home at night and I would camp out.

Alone. All by myself.

When I first spoke to the NMW about my desire to go camping alone I described the experience as “fun”, “relaxing”, and “manly.” I think she used words like “disturbing”, “anti-social”, and “Charles Manson-like”. But this is what I love about the NMW – she supports me even when she thinks I am behaving like a serial killer.

I volunteered to swing by Wal-Mart to grab some hot dogs, buns, and ketchup. When I got to the campground I was amazed to see the NMW had already put up my tent despite having three kids with her. Initially I could only see two kids because our 12-month-old toddler daughter was already covered in mud and blended into the natural environment, like Arnold Schwarzenegger hiding in the mud bank from The Predator. (Sorry if only three people got that last reference, but it was an unforgettably cool moment in the movie.)

The NMW unpacked the groceries and said, “Ummm…where are the hot dogs?” They were nowhere to be found.

Now I know I put the hot dogs in my shopping cart because I had debated whether to get the generic dogs ($.17 per artery-clogging goodie) or the all-beef, road-kill free Oscar Meyers ($.26 each per coronary assassin). After reviewing my Wal-Mart receipt I realized the hot dogs never even got rung up. I think they must have disappeared from my cart into a fourth dimension vortex near the Fritos display at that particular Wal-Mart. (I’ve seen other shoppers have things get sucked into that same vortex, too, like “hope” and “the will to live.” Gotta love Wal-Mart!)

So we improvised had S’mores for dinner!

As the sun started to go down and our daughter’s mud-to-skin ratio became dangerously out of whack, the family headed home. And I was left alone. In nature. To camp.

And, being a real manly-man, did what manly-men do – I gazed at the stars, contemplated stuff, stoked the fire, ate several 12-inch Slim Jims, and started re-writing a novel I shelved a while back. And I was completely happy.

But my tranquility was shattered when the human version of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel and his brood pulled into the campsite next to mine. I counted between twelve and seventy-eight children running about yelling, “Wooooo Hooooo!” until 11:30 p.m. At one point I asked myself, “Where are their parents and/or court-appointed guardians?” My question was answered after hearing an adult male belch followed by the sounds of several other adults hootin’, hollerin’, and guffawin’ their approval.

I tuned them out and kept writing. By now it was pitch black and I could only see within a few feet of my fire. At one point I had to get up to gather some more firewood and as my flashlight illuminated the blackness I saw something that freaked me out:

A coyote.

Now, I’m no Jack Hannah or anything, but I am positive it was a coyote. My friends have tried to convince me that it was a fox or a hedgehog and I’m just embellishing, but after extensive internet research I have concluded it was, in fact, a coyote. Among all the other possibilities, it definitely looked most like the first animal in this police lineup:

The coyote was slinking around the outskirts of my camp about forty feet from my fire. As soon as the flashlight hit him he quickly darted into the woods, like an impatient member at Stake Conference who bolts the meeting before the closing hymn to “beat the parking lot traffic.”

Hoping the coyote was gone for good I sat down and continued to type. One of the things I did not anticipate was having every insect within ten miles being attracted to the glow of my laptop screen. Seriously. Dozens of winged insect swarmed my monitor like a quorum of hungry Deacons attacking the éclair table at a wedding reception.

While I was typing and simultaneously shooing away bugs I was also periodically shining my flashlight in sweeping motions in the general direction where I had spotted the coyote. I felt like a prison watchtower guard scanning the walls for escaping convicts. After several minutes I had become convinced the coyote had left for good, but then I did one last flashlight sweep for good measure.

And there, reflecting back at me in the flashlight beam, were two dazzling coyote eyes.

He was only about fifteen feet away and slinking toward me in perfect silence, like a parent tip-toeing away from a sleeping infant’s crib.

We both froze. Then, when the fight-or-flight instinct kicked in, I responded by urinating myself, throwing Slim Jims at the coyote, and running away screaming like a little girl.

Not really. I jumped up, made my 6’6" frame as big as possible, bared my teeth, and growled like a bear. The coyote ran away. I felt manly. And freaked out. So I picked up a large club-shaped piece of firewood roughly the size of baseball bat and continued typing.

I kept scanning the camp site every minute or two with my flash light after that. And, believe it or not, but a few minutes later I CAUGHT THE COYOTE FIVE FEET AWAY FROM ME! Now I was convinced he was trying to eat me, and, if successful, the NMW would forever be the brunt of “Maybe the dingo ate your husband,” jokes. I was not about to let that happen.

Plus, at this rate, I wouldn’t catch the coyote’s next sneak attack until he was literally sitting in my lap and editing my novel. I had had enough!

I picked up my club, jumped up from my chair, and ran after the stupid coyote while I hissed, growled, yelled and grunted like a female tennis pro.

The coyote left for good this time, but I’m pretty sure I was too successful in my general scariness because I startled Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel and his posse. Based on the noises that had emanated from their camp I was pretty sure my neighbors had four things in amply supply: 1) Beer. 2) Loaded Shot Guns. 3) Limited common sense (even when sober). 4) Itchy trigger fingers.

For a moment I was afraid Cletus was going to shoot me dead right there on the spot, mistaking me for a bear. Or his parole officer. Whatever. Fortunately nobody ended up eating hot lead that evening. (Well, at least I didn’t, but I wouldn’t put anything by Cletus and his crew of merry-makers.)

At this point I was tired and not particularly relishing hand-to-hand combat with a wild animal or trading small arms fire with my neighbors, so I went to bed. Nothing protects a person from wild animals and a hail of gunfire like a $10-tent from Wal-Mart.

Fortunately I survived the night alone in the woods and returned home to celebrate Father’s Day with an fun-loving wife and three awesome (and dirty) children.

But the next time the NMW says, “Don’t come home…get your passport…withdraw $218…meet me at the Motel 8 under the name Chesty LaRue…” I’m asking some follow-up questions.

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