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Monday, June 30, 2003

My son, Ethan, is obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine. I don't mean he really likes Thomas. I don't mean that he prefers Thomas to all other toys and videos. I mean he lives, breathes, and sleeps Thomas. He wants to watch it every minute of every day and plays with the little train cars in between. It's scary.

If he goes for a walk, he wants to bring the cars with him. He ambles down the street with his pockets stuffed with Toby and a few passenger cars. He sleeps in his crib with Percy and Thomas.

He wants to look on the "puter" for the Thomas the Tank Engine website so he can look at pictures of the same trains he's got right in his hand. He simply can't get enough! I'm convinced someone's figured out how to harness the addictive minds of toddlers and use them for their own devious marketing ploys.

Each engine or car is between $12 and $20. The wooden tracks are a small fortune. The Thomas Activity Table is a large fortune. This is insane considering Hot Wheels are 66 cents each and not much smaller! Believe me, I have tried steering the kid's interests toward Hot Wheels, but to no avail. He still wants Thomas.

And if he does not get a chance to see or play with Thomas, he cries and carries on like a crack addict without a fix.

We look at the website and somehow he knows every one of the characters. He can rattle off their names and adventures like they were old war buddies. Thomas, Edward, Gordon and a whole host of others are all blue engines with creepy, gray faces on the front. To me, they all look the same, but somehow he can tell them apart. Amazing.

Having been born in 1969, my formative television years were 1973 through 1984. This being said, I can tell you of a train that could kick Thomas's ass. That train is the Soul Train. That psychadelic form or mass transport would shunt past Thomas, rattle off a mother joke, and say, "Get outta my damn' way, muthafucka." Then, he would spend the day whistling at Lady, the female engine, and her big caboose.

I recall watching television as a youngster (I love that word...but it means I'm getting old ). Sesame Street, Mister Rodgers, The Brady Bunch, Three's Company, WKRP in Cincinnatti, and What's Happenin' were some of my staples. In retrospect, many of my programs were horrible, yet I watched them religiously. There must be something about a child's mind that is addictive and loves structured programming. Maybe there is comfort in familiarity. However, the advent of the videotape and DVD has brought this addiction to a new level. Now, rather than watching 1/2 hour a day, kids can immerse themselves in a program indefinitely.

Truly frightening.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Let me be one of the only people around to say something negative about the new Harry Potter novel. One can't argue that it is a marketing phenomenon. There has never been a children's book like it. Perhaps not even an adult book like it. But, come on. If Abraham Lincoln himself rose from the dead, wrote a book, and dragged his slimy self to Barnes and Noble to hand-sign his first 500 copies, I'd still stay home and buy it in paperback a few months later.

Don't get me wrong. I had the 900-page tome delivered to my doorstep Saturday morning and had the first chapter read in five minutes.

The UPS guy should have been dressed in wizard robes. He told me 90% of his truck was packed with boxes from Amazon.com.

Let me put it bluntly. The book is flat. There are way too many characters way too soon (new and old). Heck, I think every pet in the first 4 books makes an appearance in the first 50 pages. There is a lot of extraneous information. It is slow. Many sentences are clumsy, complex, and awkward. It is mired down with detail. There is not enough plot progression. It stagnates.

You will hear the argument that anything that gets a child to read is good. Hogwash. Let's not train our kids to read watered down drivel. It only encourages them to read more watered down drivel. Do you feed ice cream to a child that won't eat his supper? Hell no. You'll just end up with a fat, little bastard with rotted teeth and a lawsuit against Ben and Jerry's. What happened to C.S. Lewis, Norton Juster, Madeleine L'Engle, and J.R.R. Tolkien?

Once again, I can't argue with Harry Potter's commercial success. It is an unprecedented smash hit. I will even concede that I enjoyed the first four books. But if the first book of the series were written like this one, it would have never gotten past the slush pile of the publishing house. It seems as though J.K. Rowling has taken on a little too much all at once. 900 pages? I think that's longer than the Bible! Who has more to say, Harry Potter or Jesus? I'd be curious to see what a 6th grader has to say on that topic.

When I am finished reading Order of the Phoenix, I may take a red pen to it, cut it down to 450 pages, and send it back to Scholastic Press.

** 7/12/2003 Addendum **

Check out this website: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/06/21/1056119515777.html

It was published after my review, and it is far more eloquent!!! Apparently, I'm not the only sourpus out there!

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Finally, the goldfish are in the pond.

On the front of the catalogue for goldfish pond supplies, there is a guy smiling and holding his thumb in the air. He's got a smile on his face like there is noting better or more rewarding in the world than owning and operating a goldfish pond. That guy is a rat-faced liar. I have comitted that guy's face to memory. If I ever see him at the mall, I am going to walk up and slap him.

It took months, no years, to get the pond and waterfall going, and it's still not up to par. We inherited our house's previous owner's hobby. When we moved into the house, the months of neglect were obvius to the eye and the nose. The pond was filled with sludge and dead fish which required a pump, a wetvac, noseplugs, and tribal spear.

After a few months sitting alone in the elements, the pond filled back up.

I hired an aquarium service to empty the thing the following year. I also wanted them to set me up with the proper plants and chemicals and fish. The two college kids who came by dumped the sludge over the fence into the neighbor's yard. I'm sure this is why we have never been invited to any block parties. It was at this point we discovered the pond had a leak somewhere along the course of the waterfall. This defect can be expensive so I did what any new homeowner would do: I ignored it.

We abandoned the project again.

Last summer we had an overpopulation of mosquitos as a result of the stagnant, stinky, algae-filled muck and mire. It looked like pea-soup, like the color of my web page. Elaine and I made a vow to get the thing going in an effort to avoid West Nile Virus for us, our son Ethan, and the dog. Heck, the dog has enough problems without West Nile Virus.

Early this season, my father-in-law and Elaine emptied the pond and I cleaned it out well enough to eat off the bottom. We bought plants. Refilled it. Placed the plants and lights. Re-emptied it to fix a collapsing wall. Filled the bottom with pea stone. Re-re-filled it. Poured in all sorts of "good bacteria" and clarifying chemicals.

We imposed upon our friend Ray to get the thing wired up properly. He did a great job, and I owe him a good bottle of scotch.

Then, we turned it on.


The pump kept tripping the breaker. Back to Eddie's Aquarium Store for a new $179 pump. I actually threatened the lady at the store that if the pond wasn't working soon, I would back up a dump truck and fill the thing with sand. Ethan might like fish, but I am sure he would like a 780 gallon sandbox as much, or more. She was not amused. Knowing I had already spent over $500 in the past few weeks, I am what's know as a cash cow. Perhaps they call it a "cash whale" in the aquarium business.

The pump works now, but now the lights are all screwed up. Some work, some don't. Some keep blowing out. Back to Eddie's for a new transformer and five underwater low-volt halogens. That was $260. The lights are not yet installed, but with the pump and filter going, I was eager to get some livestock.

Our friends, Dave and Danielle, who are part-time fish farmers supplied the fish. We have 2 in there now. Ethan has named them Dennis and Dennis and he shows a great deal of interest in feeding them and watching them swim around. Okay, I see the enjoyment from owning a pond.

This is where the name Dannis comes from: http://www.cuddlycollectibles.com/Disney%20Images/Stanley/StanleySMPLDennis.jpg

The waterfall still leaks. I have to add water every day.

The water gets green from algae. I have to add clarifying chemicals all the time.

I have to feed the fish every day or find "fish sitters" when we go away. Who the hell ever heard of a fish sitter?

But it is enjoyable. And relaxing. It's nice to sit on the bench and smoke a cigar with a glass of bourbon after work and just watch the fish eat the food and flit around (do fish flit?). However, if I ever see that bastard on the cover of the pond catalogue, I am still going to slap the piss out of him.
Testing, 1... 2... 3...

This entry is simply to test out what this blogger thing does. Hopefully, I will get the hang of it and can post all sorts of fun stuff about the fun stuff that is going on in my life.

Of course, that creates an assumption that fun stuff is going on in my life.

Well, here goes!

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