Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Three-Hour Man

I'm a three-hour man.

When I was a kid, the most exciting thing in the world for me was pro football. You could not drag me away from the TV on Sunday. I lived and breathed football.

I've wondered for years why I've never enjoyed the holidays that much. I really enjoy the enthusiasm of Eli 5.4, but almost everything also about the holiday is a real grind. It's not a holiday--it's work.

And it lasts too long.

Yesterday, we went to Eli's school Christmas show. There are about a hundred kids at his school, broken up into six different classes. Add four hundred adults (parents/relatives) and stir. In a word: anarchy.

At any one moment, there were kids making a break for it, two hundred adults with video cameras jamming the aisles, kids screaming and crying. All we needed were tanks and it would have been indistinguishable from a revolution.

Every class got up and sang songs and did little skits and got presents from Santa AND IT WOULDN'T END. Eli's class didn't even get up to the stage until ninety freaking minutes after we got there.

In the meantime, though, we were entertained by the family in front of us, who seemed to be constantly arguing (and not quietly). At one point, the mother's veins were sticking out on her neck because she was so mad, and I suddenly thought: wouldn't it be cool if smoke started pouring out of her head, then her head kind of came loose from her neck, and if you looked closely you could see wires inside?

But of course that didn't happen, because nothing cool like that EVER happens to me.

Eli was the opening announcer for the entire show, by the way, and kicked complete ass. We were in an offsite auditorium, and I wasn't kidding when I said there were four hundred people in the audience. So Eli 5.4 walks up to the microphone in front of this angry mob and speaks very calmly and clearly. There must have been fifty kids talk into the microphone at some point, but he was the only one who spoke at the proper volume and pace and was easy to understand. I thought he might be intimidated, but nothing phases that little guy.

Clearly, he doesn't get that quality from his father.

After the Christmas show finally ended--in late February, as far as I could tell--we went to eat dinner. I was miserable--not because there was anything intrinsically WRONG with anything we'd been doing, but because it had all lasted so long. We'd left the house four hours ago and were just finally sitting down to eat.

So I started kind of idly thinking about other times when I'd had this feeling, and after a few minutes I had, after forty-five years of life, finally figured it out: I'm a three-hour man.

Remember pro football when I was a kid? The games lasted--three hours. Or less. Now, if anything lasts longer than three hours--including driving time--I can't stand it. It's like there's a timer in my head, and when that three hour timer reaches zero, I get grouchy as hell.

Gloria might say the difference from my normal "mood" is hard to discern.

That's the number, though, and it makes sense of all kinds of things. Gloria loves festivals and I don't like them at all--because they last so long. Driving an hour to go on some kind of nature hike? Too long. Two-and-a-half hour movie, plus dinner? Too long.

We went to something they call "The Trail of Lights" on Saturday night. It's a gigantic Christmas light display in Zilker Park where people can walk through what seems like a hundred displays of Christmas lights with different themes. We were the last ones in before they shut the gate for the night, and we were literally running to stay ahead of the guy who was turning out the lights behind us.

Okay, we had crashed a special preview of the Trail of Lights that was intended for runners participating in some kind of race, and it wasn't even officially open yet, but we didn't know that. And it was kind of funny having to speed walk through the damn thing. "Keep moving!" I'd shout when I saw the little guy driving the maintenance cart.

Including the driving time, dinner, the mile walk TO the Trail of Lights, the mile walk THROUGH the Trail of Lights, the walk to the Zilker Park Christmas tree, the mile walk BACK to the car, and the drive home, we were out for four hours.

Last hour sucked. For everyone.

"That was the worst trip ever," Eli 5.4 said when we finally got back to the car after the long, long walk.

"Oh, no way," I said. "We've had much worse trips than that."

"Like what?" he asked.

"Well, I went to New Orleans with your Mom once and her friends thought it would be fun if we all stayed in a converted orphanage. And they wound up running out of rooms and sent us to this crumbling house that they said Germans liked to stay in because it reminded them of a Wim Wenders film."

"WHAT?" I really like it when he's amazed, even if he has no idea what I'm talking about.

"The house looked like it had rats, so we wound up staying at this hotel with dark blue rooms that had roaches instead. So that, buddy, was a worse trip than this. Actually, any trip we've ever taken to New Orleans was much worse than this."

"Tell me ANOTHER one, Daddy!" At this point I heard something sort of like growling, and since we didn't have a dog in the car, I figured I better stop.

So now that I've finally figured this out, I get to officially drive Gloria crazy. Here is a template of the conversation we'll have a hundred times in the next few years:
"So, honey, I thought we might go to see [INSERT EVENT HERE]."

"How long will that last, including driving time? Is it past the three hour limit of non-suckitude?"

"I do, and if it lasts less than three hours--including driving time--I'm ready to go."


I'd never survive in Europe.

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