Monday, January 16, 2006

It Is A Tale Told By An Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

The international conspiracy against me began at 11:30 on Saturday. I was about halfway into a two thousand yard swim when I my goggles separated.


By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.
--William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Not surprisingly, this ended my swim. Had I known then what I know now, I would have immediately searched the pool area for a man wearing a trench coat, or whatever is fashionable for international agents to wear these days. Gauchos, perhaps.

That afternoon, my PC speakers gave up the ghost. To remove my subwoofer from its secure location under my desk, I require four city workers, a bulldozer, and one of those dudes with the moustache and the two-way radio and a hardhat because--well, just because without that guy not working, the whole not-working attitude of the crew might start to erode.

Not thirty minutes later, we left for a birthday party. At the mall.

On the way, Gloria said something and I smiled. She may have thought it was a grimace. She said "Oh, I think you have something in your teeth." I knew she was right, because I'd had this little black speck jammed in-between two of my teeth for about an hour.

In retrospect, a tracking device. But we never know that kind of shit when we really need to know it.

I spent the next fifteen minutes of the drive surreptitiously trying to get that speck out with my tongue. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Then Gloria said "I think it's still there" and I started laughing. She said "I thought maybe you forgot," and I would have answered her but I couldn't, because I think my tongue was cramping.

When we got to the mall, the parking lot was jammed. It was the middle of January and there were no parking spaces. I let Gloria and Eli off at the entrance, then parked, showing my passport three times along the way.

Then I spent five minutes trying to get that damned speck out of my teeth. That little piece of pepper wasn't stuck in my teeth--it was installed.

I caught up with Gloria and Eli. "Sorry," I said, "I was trying to get that thing out of my teeth."

"Oh, I'm glad you got it out," Gloria said.

"I didn't," I said. "It's not leaving. I gave it a name. I'm not calling it a speck any more--it's a sidekick."

This birthday party was at a place called The Inflatables, which is an indoor children's playground, basically, that's filled with, well, giant inflatable stuff. If you can remember carnival favorite The Moon Walk when you were a kid, imagine ten better versions of that, along with climbing and sliding.

Here's the thing about The Inflatables, though: that stuff has to stay inflated. And that takes motors. And the sound of those motors and the rushing air sound like an airplane where you're sitting in the single loudest seat. Well, if you were sitting in a plane with a hundred five year olds, all of whom are screaming at the same time. This was the first time I'd ever been at this place on a Saturday afternoon. With three birthday parties going on simultaneously.

I was stone deaf in thirty minutes, and only had an hour and a half to go. I skipped the pizza because we were going to stop and have dinner on the way home, but I was starving, so it was tough. Five minutes before the party ended, Eli 4.5 banged heads with another kid. Not hard, but two solid hours of hyper-activity had him exhausted and on the edge, and he started bawling. And couldn't stop.

So instead of a nice, relaxing dinner, I carried Eli for about two hundred yards through the mall, we got in the car, and we wound up at the McDonald's drive-through on the way home.

This wasn't as much of a disaster as it sounds, because I really like McDonald's baked apple pies. So even though the day has been a total disaster, this was going to be a nice moment. "I'd like a kid's meal with milk, a large Diet Coke, and an apple pie," I said to the speaker.

"We're out of apple pie," said the female voice.

They were out of apple pie. I've been going to McDonald's for almost forty years and they've never been out of anything.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
--William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

It was at that point that I realized what I was dealing with: a conspiracy against me on an international level. "How did you know it was me?" I demanded.

There was a long pause. "Voice-comp," was her hesitant answer.

"And the tracking device stuck between my teeth?" I asked.

"Not us," she said. "Maybe the Bulgarians."

You might think that since they knew I was on to them, that the op would be called off.

Not a chance.

On Sunday, the best pro football playoff game this year was taking place in Chicago. It was a bruising, brilliant game, and I'm sure you assume that I was home in front of the television, watching in all its high-definition glory.

And I was, during the first half. During the second half, I was at the movies.

I went to the lobby and called my friend Mike after about thirty minutes. "I'm thirty minutes into a two and a half hour film version of Pride and Prejudice," I said. "I want you to drive down here and kill me."

He laughed, totally unaware of the events of the last two days. I think.

"I'll go G. Gordon Libby and stand on the corner. You'll be home in fifteen minutes."

Here's the crazy thing: I like Jane Austen's books. And I can even tolerate movies based on her books--when Emma Thompson is in them. But this was the most torturous, half-witted adaptation I've ever seen.

It saw stupid and raised.

Here's the thing about every shitty, slow moving adaptation of a Jane Austen book: the camera moves. Continuously. It never stops, because it gives the illusion that something is actually happening. Trees sway. Candlelight flickers wildly. Schools of insects fly across the screen. Everything moves but the plot.

It's like focusing a camera on the one drop of water trickling down a glacier to make you believe that the glacier is moving.

And then there were the horses.

A horse, a horse. My kingdom for a horse!--William Shakespeare, King Richard III

Dear God, in every historical drama every horse must be constantly galloping. Need a tomato for a salad? Harness the horses! We must leave for the fields forthwith!

The only contribution this film made to the cinematic canon was giggling. Women and girls giggled constantly in this film. The first thirty minutes, as far as I could tell, consisted of an establishing shot, a dance, and giggling.

Even Gloria, who dearly loves Jane Austen, knew the ugly truth. At one particularly heinous moment of stupidity, she looked at me and we both laughed. "This is horrible!" she said, and indeed it was.

When the lights finally came on, hours or perhaps days later, I turned to Gloria. "Do we get our finisher's t-shirts in the lobby?" I asked.

"I feel I must inform you," I said on the way home, "that I am presently the victim of an international conspiracy."

"Sure you are," she said.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
--William Shakespeare, Hamlet

That was all right, though, because today was going to be better. I had a holiday from work, and Gloria and Eli were meeting some kids at the park. The only way all four kids and two moms would be coming to our house for three hours, Gloria assured me, would be if it rained.

Well, hell, it hasn't rained here for three months. We're in such a severe drought condition that it's actually illegal to grill anything outside right now. One spark and fifty thousand acres are on fire. The weather forecast listed a ten percent chance of rain, and that was purely a hopeful courtesy.

So when I woke up this morning and looked outside, of course it was raining. No problem, I thought. I'll go swim. That way, I wouldn't be swimming tomorrow, and I'd have some extra time to write while Eli was at pre-school. So off I went to 24 Hours Dungeon of Fitness, which as Steven Wright used to say, is open twenty-four hours but not in a row.

I've swum at this gym probably a hundred times. I've never seen more than eight people in this pool at any time in the last year (except for water aerobics classes). I walked in and there were twelve people--two in each of the four lanes with dividers, plus four more people sharing an undivided lane and a mini-lane that is only twenty yards long. Plus on top of that, there were three people waiting. That's almost double the people that I have ever seen in the pool before.

After a sizable wait, I wound up in the full-length, undivided lane. I proceeded to swim a mile in the same manner that one would weave through a parking lot, at the mall, in December. People were hippo-kicking and walking with giant water shoes and just wandering around in complete confusion. All in my lane. At one point, a woman was just standing at the end of the lane. She didn't have goggles on, she wasn't swimming, she wasn't even moving. She was just standing there. In my way.

"Your cover's been blown," I said. That was the last I saw of her, although I later heard the whirring of helicopter blades on the roof. An emergency agent extraction, I guessed.

On the way home, though, I did the only sensible thing: I initiated countermeasures. I stopped at McDonald's on the way home and ate two apple pies.

And it only cost me five bucks to get a stranger to buy them for me.

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