Monday, December 28, 2015

Mark of Cosby

The other day, the little Goofs were excited to see their grandparents who, as a matter of course, would shower them with gifts and affection. I was going to say: 
These are my parents, they aren't nice. These are old people trying to get into heaven.
But I didn't say it, because it is a Bill Cosby line. This happens a lot, he said a lot of very funny things.

What can we do with this vast corpus of brilliant material. He was very funny, his humor touched on the fundamentals of family and childhood. He was a story-teller par excellence. But now, given his massive, heinous crimes, it all leaves a bad taste.

In my research study politicians, people who make tough calls and do unpleasant things. I am pretty understanding and forgiving, it was Max Weber in his essay on "Black Hands" who observed that people who wish to remain pure should not go into politics.

But, there are moral absolutes. When someone I admire because they did great things and appeared to remain decent turns out to have flaws that are beyond the pale... Well this isn't about a god having clay feet, which I can understand and accept, it turns their work into a steaming pile of crap.

In a previous life I took a stab at being a stand-up comedian. I wasn't bad - not brilliant - but not bad. I'll write about it sometime.

But I speak with some authority when I say, the greatest crime among comedians is stealing material. Comedians aren't just performers they are a unique one-person show mining whatever wounds are in their heart to an audience for laughs. They are more akin to novelists, but without the comfortable remove. Stealing someone's material is deep, bad stuff - it's appropriating their life, it isn't stealing, it's kidnapping - or murdering their children. 

I can't reference Bill Cosby material because, as a former member of the fraternity, I must say where the joke came from if it isn't my own. And I don't want to say his name.

So here is my proposal. Bill Cosby's material is now public domain. Tell his jokes and don't cite him. Performers should make careers off of his material and not mention him (except maybe to donate the proceeds to his victims.)

This is an imperfect response. There is no perfect justice. What he did cannot be undone. Assuming actual criminal punishment is not possible, Cosby will end his days alone and despised with only his cold millions for company. It should make the end of Citizen Kane look like a warm family scene by comparison.

When Cain became the first murderer he wasn't killed, but instead was branded with a mark and forced to wander the earth, accepted nowhere. I say we brand him as well, the Mark of Cosby.

Monday, November 30, 2015

GoofBoy's Cyber Monday Nightmare

GoofBoy has been perusing flyers for new electronics and musing that perhaps his laptop will have an accident and we will need to take advantage of the Cyber Monday savings and get a great replacement.

When GoofBoy got his first laptop, which was of decent quality, the hard drive crashed. I replaced it. Then, months later, the hard drive crashed again and I had had enough. We bought the least expensive laptop that met his needs (I made him do the research.) I fully expect it won't last him through high school. But an early demise is unacceptable.

I warned him if there were such an untimely accident, I would replace his laptop with the cheapest, crappiest option possible.

"But Dad, I already have the cheapest, crummiest laptop out there."

"Oh knucklehead you have NO idea. I'll get an old PC and strap it to your back with duct tape. You'll have a fifty foot extension cord for a tail. The monitor will hang from your neck on a harness."

"That sounds great, I'll be Cyber Boy!"

"Yea? Keep pushing me, how about writing your papers in text messages on a flip phone."

"No, you can't do that, the school requires everything to be in GoogleDocs."

"It's easy to route texts into Google Docs. Anyway, I can do worse. I'll make you use your sister's laptop."

"What, NOOO! It doesn't even have touch screen!"

"I can't do that, why should your sister suffer." A couple years ago when GoofGirl felt like she "wasn't good" with computers I stumbled on a sale of really good refurbished Chromebooks (for less than a decent phone). She's fallen in love with it and is learning to code.

"No," I continued, "But if something happens to your computer I will definitely get you a laptop with no touchscreen!"

"Good luck, they don't even make them without touchscreen anymore."

"I'll pay extra!"

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Spitfire Envy

When GoofBoy was little I would tell him stories about his grandfather, who could fly around in a heli-pack. 

Not wanting to leave BubbeGoof out of these adventures, I explained that she had been a famed aviatrix in her youth. (This came from a flash of inspiration in which I envisioned my mom in a leather jacket and aviator goggles flipping Amelia Earhart the bird - like Tom Cruise in Top Gun but in a Sopwith Camel, not an F-14). I added that she flew with the Eagle Squadron during the Battle of Britain and when Pop got into trouble on his heli-pack adventures she would get the old Spitfire out of the garage and get him out of trouble.

(I also love making jokes at the expense of my mom. For one of her big birthdays, I promised to stop making of fun of her for being old for one year. I lasted about one hour.)

This summer, to celebrate his bar mitzvah the GrandGoofs took their grandson to London. Here is an email I wrote to him:
Today is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
In the summer of 1940, France had fallen, Hitler dominated Europe, and Britain stood alone. The Luftwaffe tried to bomb Britain into submission. Heavily outnumbered the Royal Air Force through skill, daring (and radar - a huge technological advantage) fought them off. I grew up reading about the heroism of the British pilots of Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes downing Nazi bombers by the score.
As a boy when I built fighter planes with Legos they were always Spitfires (they are the Eddie Murray of fighter planes). I built Messerschmitts for them to shoot down, but I wouldn't put a swastika on them, because I knew they shouldn't be in the house.
Hope you do or see something to commemorate the Battle of Britain.
If you get to see a Spitfire flyover I'll be jealous as hell! I know I would have scheduled the trip around it myself. But maybe it's for the best if you don't go. Bubbie might have flashbacks.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Goofy Ghost Story

Halloween is past, but it is never too late for a ghost story.

Shortly after MamaGoof's beloved aunt Nana died we were visiting Abuela. It was one of our more relaxed visits. Papa was finally under good care at a home and Nana had been sick for a long time. Abuela could finally relax some, and so could we. MamaGoof and I had some kid-free excursions.

A very sweet young woman from the Philippines was living with Abuela and helping her out. Besides being a diligent care-giver and helper, she also watched telenovelas with Abuela. But she reported that she sensed a presence, walking back and forth in Nana's room.

MamaGoof believes in ghosts and sometimes thinks she encounters them. Skeptics among you, don't jump to conclusions. MamaGoof is a scientist (PhD in biostatistics!) While she watches horror movies and GhostHunters, she does not revel in her connection to the supernatural. She wants nothing to do with it. She does not go to seances or brag about her deep connections to other dimensions - that isn't her. Instead she wishes this creepy stuff would leave her alone.

Naturally the care-giver's report was a matter of deep concern. There were to be no more excursions, since MamaGoof was deeply concerned GoofGirl might have an encounter.

In this regard - and many others. I am MamaGoof's exact opposite. I don't believe in the supernatural. At the same time horror movies terrify me. (Maybe the reason I don't believe in the supernatural is not due to reason - but to fear, which is perfectly reasonable when you think about it.)

As MamaGoof worried I, for once, said the right thing.

"I understand you are pretty upset and concerned about this. I respect that and want to help. But I really lack the equipment to get this. I'm taking your concerns seriously, I'll do what you need me to do. Just a warning though. If it turns out you're right and there's a ghost I will yell 'zoinks' and jump out of clothes before running full speed to another city."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Robot Killer!

"Daddy, what do you do at your new job?"

"I fight robots," I could tell them what I actually do, but that would be boring.

"Dad, you're gonna get killed!" GoofBoy, who has recently seen the Terminator movies, exclaimed - deeply concerned.

"I don't fight killer robots, I wouldn't have a chance. I fight workaday robots. Today I fought Wall-E."

"There really are robots like Wall-E?" GoofGirl asked excited.

"Not anymore, I smashed it into tinfoil with a sledgehammer."

GoofGirl went away upset. But the next day, the kids were back asking me what robots I fought.

"They built these special little drones designed to deliver a single flower. It's called the Butterfly. I knocked them out of the air with a baseball bat."

"Dad, you are a terrible person," GoofBoy said flatly.

Yet they kept asking.

I told them about a new robot vacuum cleaner that looked like a ballerina and danced around the room in beautiful unpredictable patterns and makes music instead of vacuum cleaner noises. I used a Nerf disc gun to destroy it.

"What robot did you fight today Daddy?"

"It was a really boring robot today. It was just a cognitive radio."

"How is a radio a robot?" GoofGirl asked.

"Well it is designed to switch places on the radio spectrum depending on the situation. So it senses the environment, processes the information, and takes action. By our working definition, that's a robot."

"That's a pretty boring robot. I'm sure it was a tough fight," GoofBoy said, sarcastically.

"Oh, it was! I had to tear it apart with my bare hands. And it kept playing music at me. When it blared Mumford and Sons I was pumped to wreck it. But then it switched to kids music, Laurie Berkner, The Wiggles... I was almost crying as I threw it to the floor and finally smashed it."

"Daddy, why is the government paying you to break robots?"

"Top secret, I can't tell you."

"If it were really secret you wouldn't be telling us about it."

Good point.

"OK, look, the robots have watched the Terminator movies as well. They aren't stupid. They know we'll be expecting this. So instead, what if they try something sneakier, will all the little robots doing little things to try to slowly get us to do what they want? We need to make sure we can still take care of them. In short, I'm doing it for you."

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Inclusive Little Goofs

When GoofBoy came home from his first summer at Camp Ramah several years ago, one of the very first things he told us about was meeting and getting to know the kids in the special needs program. He relished his time with them. Many had limited vocabularies, but he appreciated how funny they could be given their limited tools to communicate.

Each year GoofBoy was a "buddy" to one kid. He took walks with him on Shabbat and visited with him regularly throughout his time at the camp. One year his buddy was there for eight weeks, but GoofBoy was only there for four. He was disconsolate when he learned GoofBoy was leaving. But GoofBoy introduced him to some of his friends who would be there all eight weeks and could keep him company.

GoofGirl also spent time with the kids in the special needs program. She mentioned visiting them to play games and to dance. She said not every kid in her bunk went out of their way to spend time with the special needs kids, but no one was mean to them - all the kids treated them with respect.

But this inclusive attitude wasn't learned at camp, just encouraged. The little Goofs brought it with them and, as always, I am very proud and touched by their deep kindness. (They are also great about visiting sick, elderly relatives and friends - no easy thing for children, or adults for that matter.)

One day during carpool we saw a social services bus in front of a house. A wheelchair-bound young man who we know from synagogue was being taken to the van. GoofBoy and Carpool Buddy enthusiastically exclaimed, "We know him from shul! So that's where he lives!"

Another time we were sitting at Panera's having lunch. A man sitting near us we gesticulating (a little) and muttering. Out of the corner of my eye I diagnosed him as having Tourette syndrome. In the car on the way home I asked if they had noticed him. They hadn't. I asked if it might have bothered them.

The boys answered in chorus, "No way! Why would it? There was a guy with Tourette on American Idol. He was awesome!"

As it happens, I have a pair of developmentally disabled cousins. They are in their 60s now. One is in a group home near us and comes to our synagogue. The little Goofs are always nice to them and happy to see them. They mention them proudly. My cousins have been told they are "uncles" and are very pleased with this.

This is all very different from when I was a kid. I don't remember us being particularly interested in special needs kids, and almost certainly not particularly nice or respectful.

This is different and different can be wonderful.

People with special needs face enormous challenges to living full lives. But the distances they have come have been enormous and the changing attitudes of today's kids hold promise for an even more inclusive future.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Under the Bus: Lessons on Horrible Humor

Once after buying something at CVS I made a donation with my purchase.

GoofBoy, observing this, said, "Dad, that was really great that you gave that money to kids with diabetes."

"Buddy, I gave it to help kids with diabetes. I wouldn't give it to the kids with diabetes, they'd just use it to buy candy."

GoofBoy laughed hard and then said, "Dad that's really horrible."

"But funny. Lots of things that are really funny are also really horrible. That's how humor works."


Driving we like to put the GPS in other languages. For a while we had it set on German, which is fun because even if you don't understand a word, it is very insistent.

As I drove GoofBoy and his friends around to their practices, I translated the GPS.
Make a right in two minutes.Make a right now!You haf failed to follow instructions. U-turn immediately!U-turn! Schnell! You vill be late.Clearly you vill not follow ze instructions.Alternate route plotted.You vill take ze train. This train vill haf no stops!
GoofBoy laughed, and then said, wisely, "Dad, that's horrible."


I came home from a meeting at the synagogue and observed, "Could we have one synagogue meeting in which someone didn't invoke the Holocaust?"

Note: if we ever really wanted to debunk Zionist conspiracy theories, we should just invite anti-Semites to a synagogue meeting. They will pretty quickly be convinced that Jews can't run anything or keep a secret.

"What was it this time?" MamaGoof asked.

In a bellowing old man voice I yelled, "No gefilte fish after Shabbos services? It's like the Holocaust!"

Everyone laughed, but GoofBoy, again the voice of reason, noted, "Dad, this is horrible."

"But funny," I said, "And you know why? Because there's no business like the Shoah business."

This quickly became a punchline around the house. "We're out of the good maple syrup? It's like the Holocaust!"

"Ten minutes waiting for the ATM? It's like the Holocaust!"

Another aside: So far I've made fun of diabetics, Germans, Jews, and the Holocaust. I hope any outraged comments (assuming I have any readers) are similarly balanced. Also, in fairness, I regularly threaten to sell my kids on the dark web and make fun of their friends mercilessly. I also do truly terrible things to the Spanish language.

It resonated. GoofGirl came home from school the other day and said, "A lot of kids in my class were complaining when the school ran out of their favorite juice box. And I was like, 'We're out of raspberry-lemonade? It's like the Holocaust!'"

Here I sat up, "Did you say this?"

"No," GoofGirl answered, "But I was thinking it."

"OK. Good. Because a lot of people will, as your brother says, think this is horrible. You will get into big trouble. And I will have to go to lots of boring meetings at school. No one wants this. So if you slip up and say something inappropriate - I'm throwing you under the bus."

"What does that mean?" the Little Goofs asked in unison.

"It means that I'll tell them you are out of control and should be sent to juvey."

Just so we're clear.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

First Day Jitters

Lots of first day jitters around Goof Manor earlier this week. The little Goofs returned to school. They weren't worried about bullying since they go to a Jewish day school where the quality of bullying is definitely sub-par. Although there is occasional litigation.

The little Goofs primary worry was other kids in their classes who, by misbehavior, might distract them from focusing on their school work. Really, they were stressed about this.

I was pretty nervous though since I'm starting something new. FatherGoof has been accepted for a prestigious fellowship for brilliant scientists (despite the fact that yours truly is neither brilliant nor a scientist - apparently they have a quota to accept a certain number of middle-aged acerbic goofs to balance the brilliant young biochemists). Having made my own hours (i.e. worked from home while wearing sweatpants) for over a decade, having to go somewhere every day, I mean every single day, while wearing pants and a nice shirt, seems impossible. 

When will I work out, when will I blog? What's that tiny violin sound I hear?

I will be driving less carpool, which is - in a word - wonderful. The children of the Carpool Clan are pretty happy too. Carpool Mom, less so.

But I was pretty nervous. The fellowship includes an extensive orientation. Scientists can be pretty mean. I was afraid the big scientists would take my reactor core, leaving me with nothing but a middle school microscope for looking at slides of snot (remember those, they were pretty cool at the time - I thought I was seeing snot molecules.)

MamaGoof knowing how jittery I was kept tabs by text and email. GoofGirl was doing ok, in her Advisory Group (which used to be called Homeroom) she is in with an old friend. They used to design guillotines together, but now they are working on a laser cannon. (Does the school not know it is a terrible idea to put them together?)

GoofBoy had normal jitters, but things calmed down when they spent math discussing swords. I guess this is part of geometry?

But I was in trouble. When I got there it was just like I thought. No one would let me sit by their table.

I knew what I had to do, I saw it in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Here are the texts MamaGoof recieved.

So everyone had a good first day.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Dronies - A Dad Goes to BronyCon

As we were driving to Baltimore THE Harry Chapin song came on. The one that brings a tear and wave of regret to every parent: 
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin' home, Dad, I don't know when
But we'll get together then
You know we'll have a good time then
Except for one thing, I was driving my daughter to BronyCon. I have NOTHING to apologize for. If my children don’t get the level of attention they want from me it is because they are insatiable timesucks - not because I ignore them.

BronyCon is probably pretty interesting. My daughter loves the edgy reboot of a once insipid animated series. For an animated kids show about magic ponies, My Little Pony is really good. There is a vast, fleshed out multi-verse, smart references to culture, and interesting characters. It is so good that “Cons” are held where people can dress up in costumes, make music inspired by the series, and talk endlessly about it. It is SO good that young men have taken to it and are fans (hence the appellation “brony” - bros who like My Little Pony.)

One’s first thought would have to be that these guys are maybe just a little off - but that is unfair. They may be weird - but hell so was I at their age (and probably still am). But there is an important distinction between weird and creepy. A distinction I’ve been trying to teach GoofGirl, with limited success.

I’ve enjoyed watching a lot of gender barriers shrink and fall. GoofGirl plays with Legos - I don’t remember any girls playing with Legos ever when I was kid (in fairness, I don’t remember a lot of girls.) I remember at some point in my 20s a friend of mine asking me, “When did it become ok to talk about Star Trek around women?” But it had and it was great!

I guess I’m a little worried that girls finally have this really cool thing, so naturally guys will jump all over it and make it their own. But I probably don’t need to worry too much. These girls (and women) aren’t exactly pushovers!

That being said BronyCon itself didn’t do much for yours truly. GoofGirl spent a day with some other girls, chaperoned by a friend (THANKS!). I joined on Sunday. I went to science fiction conventions as a kid, I know the drill. Panels, autographs, people in costumes, and an exhibit hall with a vast range of stuff to buy.

GoofGirl likes to shop, so we spent a LOT of time in the vendors hall as she agonized over what to buy. I put the kibosh on the $75 Princess Luna. Canny GoofGirl had shown me a $300 one and firmly declared she wasn’t interested before taking me to the one she wanted. Good try.

Sorry, but there are limits. I acquisced to a $12 Fluttershy needed to keep GoofGirl’s current Princess Luna company - although I think Fluttershy, who is very shy, is not such great company. (Wow - I’ve retained something from her hours of plot summaries - which are often longer than the actual show.)

My preferences are Pinkie Pie because she is easily identifiable and her name is alliterative. But I’ve come around to Apple Jack who runs an apple farm and brews cider. They pony world (Equestria) is not without merit.

We attended a panel about how to make your own pony plushies. GoofGirl was fascinated - I learned that the ears are harder than you'd think.

I was not alone, there was a fair spattering of middle-aged guys who were not bronies, gamely following their little girls around the conventions. We weren't really bronies - we were dronies.

That's where the hip flask could come in handy. Or better, the next BronyCon could accommodate our needs and maybe set up a bar for us. If they played My Little Pony Episodes while we drank we could really get into it. Maybe, when the full sentiment and decency hit us, as we were deep in our cups of Applejack's handiwork. I have a vision of us drones huddling together, sobbing on behalf of Rarity or Rainbow Dash.

I can see our daughters finding us and nodding sadly and telling us, "Daddy, just because it is ok for boys to cry now doesn't mean they have to."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

THUNDERSHIRT!!! or why MamaGoof dreads summer storms

Regular readers of this blog (assuming there are any) know that I fall in love with words and ascribe unique meanings to them that are not in accord with the general understanding of the word.
Recently, I have taken to the word "Thundershirt" which is a product intended to calm dogs, who tend to find thunder nerve-wracking. Here is a very good natured dog I know who finds thunder scary, but who is now finally able to chill during a summer storm.

While the reasoning part of my brain appreciates this, the dominant part of my brain envisioned a thunder shirt as something a mild-mannered copy editor at a trade magazine for insurance adjusters (that's a pretty specific back-story because I've been thinking about this a lot) might put on to become ThunderBoy!
ThunderBoy flies around, creating storms, saving people (possibly in trouble from the storm he caused, and of course fighting super-super-villians.
I saw a little boy running around his house yelling, "Thundershirt! BOOM! Thundershirt! BOOM!"

Gentle reader, you undoubtedly know what happened next... I became that little boy running around my house yelling, "Thundershirt! BOOM!"

Since I work alone at home a lot, I would also text this to MamaGoof - who was seriously considering getting an actual thunder shirt for people to perhaps calm me down.

Instead, she sent me some helpful videos and this graphic about thunder shirts so that I would be properly informed and hopefully lose interest.

This graphic on how to use a thunder shirt does not come with written instructions. So I've rectified the situation below.

1. Place THUNDERSHIRT!!! on dog. To make full use of THUNDERSHIRT!!! dog must be airborne.

2. To lift off, flap THUNDERSHIRT!!! wings vigorously.

3. To land, fold wings in.

4. To stop dog from flying around, place food directly in dog's mouth.

WARNING: For use with dogs only. DO NOT USE with other household pets. Especially cats. SERIOUSLY, do not use this product with cats. For other pets and children of all ages, see our Cloudburst line of products.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Fishy Tale Part III: The Stunning Conclusion

The Little Goofs asked me to write them funny letters at camp. So I wrote them a story, part I is here and part II is here. The exciting conclusion follows!


We froze in horror. The first eater on the other team was a giant dinosaur. It looked like a T-Rex, until I realized. It was Godzilla! How was I going to defeat Godzilla in a sushi-eating contest. Then it got even scarier. Behind Godzilla, I don’t know how to say this...

Hello Kitty is real and terrifying. It is an enormous, ferocious-looking cat - the size of a row house! How could we ever eat more fish than a giant cat! And behind them, grinning evilly was North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

A referee in samurai garb came out and explained the rules in Japanese. Old Man Mannesushi translated for us. We did not have to eat what was in front of us, they would bring us any kind of sushi we wanted. But it absolutely must not be cooked. Any sort of food preparation would result in the eater’s expulsion. If an eater were expelled whatever he ate would be disqualified, but the team could substitute other eaters. Ultimately the two man team that ate the most sushi by a complex formula of weight and volume would win. One person had to be eating at all time. The other could rest. But if no one on the team was eating, the team was finished.

An ancient gong sounded and the contest was on.

Godzilla began tearing into the table of food, eating pounds at a time. The only thing slowing him down was his tiny T-Rex arms. Pop offered to go first, but I waved him off. Mr. Mannesushi reminded us, speed did not matter then he said, “I believe you Americans have a saying? Think outside the box?” He pointed to Godzilla and said, “You must now eat outside the box.”

I remembered watching Godzilla movies and cartoons and had an idea.

“Hey lizard brain, eat up! Get fat, we’re gonna make a lot of shoes out of you!”

Godzilla kept eating, but his eyes flickered over to me. I flipped him the bird.

“You think you’re gonna win - you can’t even beat mothra!”

He stopped eating for a second and looked directly at me.

“Sharktopus could KICK YOUR ASS!” I shouted and jumped under the table.

I felt a scorching heat all around me and a terrible sound like a giant piece of chalk on a blackboard the size of a mountain filled the room.

A huge gong sounded. Pop looked under the table and told me to come.

Godzilla had lost his temper and fired his eye-lasers at me. I had gone under the table but it had cooked some of the sushi.

Godzilla was disqualified!

But Hello Kitty moved into his place. Her meow was like thunder and drooled horrible slime down her enormous fangs. In one swipe of her paw he ate a ten pound tub of eel. I felt a hand on my shoulder, Pop was tapping me out and going in.


“What are you going to do, I asked?”

Pop just smiled, pulled out his phone and walked up to Hello Kitty. The enormous feline monster looked at Pop’s phone. She bent closer, her eyes were suddenly less fierce, rather confused. She looked for a moment more, then her fangs retracted. The horrible, hungry expression on her face changed and she became the Hello Kitty we all know and love. And then, she just walked away. Pop turned his phone around and I saw it was a picture of GoofGirl cuddled up with her Hello Kitty toy (the one Bubbe bought).

Kim Jong-un grinned, “You have tricks and I have tricks. But now let the contest truly begin.” 

A pair of enormous sumo wrestlers stepped forward. One sat down at the table opposite Pop and began to eat. Pop calmly signaled and an octopus was placed on his head, like a vice president (did you really think I would write this whole thing without mentioning vice presidents?) The entire crowd, which had been silent till now, gasped. Pop began to work the octopus into his mouth.

They both ate slowly and methodically. The first sumo wrestler tapped out, but Pop kept eating. He finished the octopus and I tapped in. I took a deep breath, remembered what the snow monkey told me and I WAS the ocean. The fish returned to me. Tuna, salmon, mackerel, yellow-tail, red snapper, and my beloved Patagonian tooth fish all swam within me. I can’t tell you how long I ate. I dimly noticed the second sumo wrestler tapped out and the first one came back in. I kept eating. I noticed two men carry off a fifty gallon drum of soy sauce and bring a fresh one.

And then I was full. I could eat no more. I was sweating salmon oil. I looked over to Pop. He tapped my shoulder. He looked up to the sky and let out a mighty EE-EE-EE-EE like a dolphin. Then he leapt, like a playful porpoise, flying through the air and into the table full of fish. It was as though he was swimming through the fish, devouring them.

The sumo wrestler eating turned a little green, the other one tapped in. He started eating, but after a few minutes doubled over clutching his stomach. Pop kept swimming through the sushi.

The great gong sounded. The match was over. We had won. Kim Jong-Un scowled, "You have won today, but tomorrow will be mine."

Then, he switched on his heli-pack and flew away.

I asked Pop about the dolphin noises. He turned to me and said, “The snow monkey told me to do it. But it was easy to become a dolphin when you are a Mannes-tee!"

Then all of the Mannesushis (hundreds) in the arena stood and sang the Manatee Song.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Fishy Tale Part II: What I wrote my kids at camp

Last week I posted part 1 of a series of letters I've sent to my children at summer camp. In the letters I tell a story about our family. In part 1, My father (their grandfather) and I flew to Japan to help our cousins in a clan feud that could only be settled by a sushi-eating contest. My dad and I are ringers. In Japan I learn that there is more at stake than a little land and meet a magical snow monkey princess. Then I return to the garden where I am met by our clan patriarch Miyamato Mannesushi. Here's what happens next:


“Where have you been?” Old Mannesushi said, in a very, very quiet voice. When anyone is this quiet, you know they are very, very angry.
“Um, I went for a walk, in the woods.” I sputtered.
“For a week?”
“I was only gone for an hour…” I tailed off. There were puddles in the garden, it had rained - a lot. I must have been gone a long time.
“We have been looking for you. The contest is in an hour - you could have missed it. You need to prepare.”
“I think I’m ready, the snow monkey told me…” I wasn’t sure how to explain what had happened.
Mr. Mannesushi bowed to me and said, “You will be the ocean. That is good.”
I suddenly realized I was very hungry, “Let’s go, I’m ready!”
“Wait,” Mr. Mannesushi said, “There are things I must tell you. Your father looked into the developer who is trying to take over this reserve. It is what you might call a dummy company. Some interest, from outside of Japan, it is trying to take over. We cannot figure out who it is. But there are other nations that would destroy Japan and now you know that there is more to the snow monkeys than at first appears.”
“So, I study international affairs. I know things have been tense with China. Is this something they might do?”
“Your father said you studied international affairs. I am glad you are here with us. We do not think it is China. We and China are like two sumo wrestlers who are ancient rivals. We hate each other and fight as hard as we can. But China too has ancient magics. They know better than to toy with such deep things.”
“Hmmm. Russia has their hands full with the Ukraine, but I know you’ve tangled with them in the past.”
“No,” Old Mannesushi nodded, “They tried once. Baba Yaga’s hut tried to water-sky across the Sea of Japan. But we destroyed it with Harpoon missiles. Russia will not try that again. They are far behind in magics since then.”
“Well that only leaves North Korea, that I can think of. Are they strong in magic? Could they do something like this?”
“No, they lost all of their magic when the country divided. That is why the north is so poor and the south is so rich.”
“It isn’t because of the failures of embracing a centrally planned economy?”
Mr. Mannesushi looked at me, “There is what we can see and understand and then there is what is beyond. That is where there is magic. Like how you can go away for an hour and come back in a week.”
“You know, we always underestimate North Korea. With no money they’ve built nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles out of duct tape, paper-clips and moon-sand. I don’t know how this sacred magic stuff works, but I wouldn’t put anything past them. They might even have ostrich bombs!”
“Wait, what was that last thing you said?” Mannusushi asked abruptly.
“I was joking. Couple years ago, Kim Jong-il, you know the father of the current ruler, started building ostrich farms to revive the economy.”
“Ostriches…” Mannesushi muttered, “That must be it, they are ancient enemies to snow monkeys. It is North Korea plotting to destroy Japan. This is very serious. Now, anything can happen!”
As he said that, one of our other cousins ran into the garden. His face was white with terror. “Uncle, they are here! They, I don’t know how to explain! You must come quick, it is time to start!”
I followed them into the pagoda. It was large, but simply built of wood with paper walls. Then, we went into the basement and came upon a giant steel door. We went through it and what felt like miles of tunnels. Then we opened another giant steel door and entered an enormous underground arena. It was packed, but you’ve never been surrounded by so many people who, at the same time, are so very quiet.
Miyamoto Mannesushi whispered, “Many are ghosts. Some are living, but many are ghosts. If you fail, this will not only change Japan today and in the future, it will change the the past. The ancestors too are worried.”
I noticed a booth with curtains in the stands. Because of all the coverings, I couldn’t see if someone was inside. Miyamoto saw me looking at it, “That is the Imperial Booth. The Emperor himself is not here, it would raise too many suspicions. But a representative of the Imperial Household is in attendance.”
As I made my way to the arena I saw Pop, right in the middle at a table piled high with sushi. He had the biggest smile you've ever seen.
Then, the other team entered and our faces froze.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

A Fish Tale Part 1: What I wrote to my kids at camp

While others complain or laugh at the letters they get home from camp (although none can quite compare to what I wrote my mother over a quarter-century ago), I spend a lot of time thinking about what I should write to my kids. When the little Goofs are at sleep-away camp they insist that I send them lots of letters because apparently they are entertaining. Sometimes I try to tell stories. Last summer I wrote a little mystery for them in a genre they particularly love. But I also relate adventures with the far-flung branches of our family. Last summer I visited Scotland to join Clan MacMannes as we faced off against our ancient enemies the McGoofs. Turns out there is a real clan McManus in Ireland. This summer, family duty called me elsewhere:


Don't tell mommy. I didn't leave the airport after I dropped you off. I had my own flight to catch. The Mannesushis (our family in Japan) are in trouble. Since time immemorial the Mannesushis have been guardians of a vast nature preserve for the gentle snow monkeys who live in northern Japan. We live at peace with them, sharing sashimi, playing games, and enjoying the natural beauty of our home. There are places where you can visit the snow monkeys (they look like little white gorillas), but not at our family's nature preserve. These are sacred monkeys that must be left in peace.

Unfortunately, a big development company in Tokyo wants to develop our preserve for tourism. They promise not to build, just to let tourists come. But they do not understand, these snow monkeys are under the personal protection of the emperor and must be left in peace.

Understand, though it isn't just about leaving the snow monkeys in peace. When they are at peace Japan is at peace. During WWII someone had caged them and all of Japan (and the world) suffered. More recently, a poacher killed one and Godzilla attacked Tokyo.

What does all of this have to do with me, you wonder?

The developers are challenging the Mannesushi stewardship of the sacred snow monkey preserve. Under an agreement established under the Tokugawa shogunate five hundred years ago, if the Mannesushis introduce unwarranted innovations into the preserve they can no longer be stewards. The developers are arguing that cel-phones are a modern innovation that disrupts the the natural life of the sacred snow monkeys. (The monkeys like to play games on the phones, like SushiChef and Angry Birds - and especially Hello Kitty! One snow monkey has a Twitter account!)

Under the agreement, the only way to settle the dispute is through a sushi eating contest. Now you can see where I come in. They sent a charter jet and Pop and I are heading to Japan to eat sushi and save Japan (and maybe the world.)

Anyway, the plane has an onboard sushi chef and some great Japanese beer. So Pop and I are warming up!


We landed in Tokyo, it was a great flight! But really long, then we were whisked north on one of the super-trains (it is almost as fast as an airplane.) Pop and I were having a great time and looking forward to the sushi eating contest. We thought it would be a blast.

Turns out things are much more serious than we realized. When we got there, we learned that there had just been a ninja raid on the nature preserve and one of the snow monkeys was kidnapped! This is very bad, it undermines the Mannesushi’s claims as guardians of the snow monkeys. It was then that I realized that something important was going on.

Pop, since he is a real estate attorney, was talking to the Mannesushis about the development plans and legal aspects. He also went over the sushi eating contest rules.

There was a beautiful and peace Japanese garden at the Temple and I began walking along the trails. The garden didn’t look very big, but as I was walking the garden seemed to get bigger and bigger. It also got wilder. Before I knew it I was in deep woods with enormous, ancient trees. A pair of snow monkeys stood in front of me. They had spears. They looked fierce, but at the same time oddly gentle. They gestured for me to follow them. They took me even deeper into the woods.

We came to a clearing. The circle of great trees were like the pillars of an ancient temple and the leaves filtered the sunlight like stained glass windows. The shadows on the ground shifted slightly in the breeze like a vast kaleidoscope.

In the center there was a snow monkey. He looked like the other snow monkeys, but was somehow different. He was so perfectly white, it was as though light come out of her (somehow I suddenly knew it was a lady snow monkey.) She gestured for me to come close and sit before her. She looked deep into my eyes. She did not speak, but somehow I heard her voice. Low and gentle, but firm.

She told me it was very important that I prevail in the sushi eating contest. Japan is a modern nation that makes cars and electronics. But it is also an ancient place with deep magic. Somehow, these snow monkeys bind the two and if they come unbound Japan, and maybe the world, will be in great danger.

I said I understood, even though I didn’t and would do my best.

She looked at me again and told me not to eat the sushi.

I didn’t understand.

If you eat the sushi, it will fill you. You must be the ocean to which the fish return. 

I know that sounds strange, but I swear it made sense.

Then, in an instant, I was back in the garden and old Miyamato Mannesushi was walking towards me.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Making it at the National Makers Faire

Since the Goofs are little makers, and the last day of school was only a half day, I took them to the National Maker Faire (Friday, June 12). I can’t say we had any idea of what to expect. Usually my adventures go pretty well - but I’ve had duds. I was upfront - you guys get to decide. If it stinks, we can leave. This placated them, since all they wanted to do was watch TV. (They go away to camp for four weeks about a week after school and will not see any TV - so the week between school and sleep-away camp is a sort of anything goes.)

I needn’t have worried.

The National Maker Faire is an event intended to showcase invention and tinkering. Held at the University of the District of Columbia, it sprawled across the campus. As soon as we got there we encountered the Pinbox 3000 from the Cardboard Teck Instantute who make pinball machines from recycled cardboard. With a little doing, one can make their own and equip it as they wish. The Goofs have encountered pinball before, but were ready to play all afternoon. They both play lots of video games, but there is something deeply satisfying playing a game where you manipulate actual objects in physical space. It is a crucial additional dimension. (I think that is part of the charm of paper books vs. eBooks.)

However, I urged them on.

One of the highlights was the enormous Lego display. One of the wonderful things about our time is that girls play with Legos. They always could of course, but don’t recall them being terribly interested (in fairness, girls weren’t that interested in yours truly so how would I have known?) But now, there are Lego sets oriented to girls and - more importantly - girls who simply don’t see Legos as “something for boys.”

The Lego section at the National Makers Faire was enormous. The United States was outlined in tape and children were encouraged to build things and place them where they belong in the U.S. They hope was at the end of the fair that the U.S. would be full. GoofGirl did her part, building pueblo for New Mexico, LAX for Los Angeles, and the camp where she is heading next week.

GoofBoy and I wandered around. There were lots of tchotchkes and toys (and what's wrong with that, fun is important!) But there is also a lot of serious stuff. All this making is important and can change lives. The vastly increased availability of small-scale manufacturing technology like 3-D printers means it is that much easier to build highly specialized equipment to solve all kinds of problems. We learned about NASA’s contest to develop a habitat on Mars, how NIST measures the effectiveness of sophisticated equipment, and how kids in Baltimore are using 3D printers to make inexpensive prosthetics. Pretty cool.

When we finally dragged GoofGirl away from the Legos we saw the wonderful chaos machine (which had the extra virtue of being indoors). We had to pass by about a million exhibits to beat traffic, but there was a wealth of great terrific stuff to see. GREAT THINGS ARE HAPPENING! I'm just scratching the surface - you can see a list of exhibitors here

Better, come by next year - we will!