Friday, July 22, 2005


Some of you are probably expecting me to write something about Fat Camp. Fat Camp, for anyone reading this who might not be aware, is what my friends and I have come to call our annual camping trips, where we typically exert only a minor amount of energy either on a leisurely canoe outing or a brief, non-strenuous hike, and then spend the rest of the weekend sitting around in our camp chairs and eating nearly non-stop. I don't remember exactly when we dubbed these trips "Fat Camp," but I'm pretty sure it was the day in St. Croix State Park when my good friend Dale responded to my complaints about the size and attributes of my gut ("the paunch and the roll," as I called it) by handing me a bag of snacks and saying, "Have some chips, fatty." We liked the phrase so much that we used it as the slogan on the back of the t-shirts we printed for last year's trip.

I don't really feel like writing about Fat Camp, however. I feel I write about food and laziness often enough as it is, and most of you who might read this were there with me at camp anyway. You already know what I consumed and in what quantities. You already heard me rant on and on about how the tent Jamie expected me to sleep in was made for children or Hobbits and not for full-sized humans. You already know that "shat" is one of the all-time best Boggle words (even if it is worth just a measly one point), and you very likely remember why. (I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that we're all apparently still twelve years old, and poop remains inexplicably funny to us.)

So then. Enough about Fat Camp. Instead I'll tell you a story about eBay and retro toys and pirate talk. Why? Because it made me laugh, and because talking like a pirate is fun.

My little sister is quite the eBay maven. Her addiction began years ago as a buyer, collecting quirky t-shirts, Mystery Science Theater 3000 paraphernalia, and bootleg concert CDs. Eventually, she started selling items, too (probably a lot of the stuff she originally bought on eBay, as well as many of the items the packrat in her saved since childhood or acquired during her employment at various thrift stores). She now has the number 611 noted behind her user ID, and the star beside that number is purple (as opposed to blue or yellow or red or whatever). I'm sure she even knows (without digging through the eBay help files) just what that means in terms of where it ranks her among the other power sellers on the site.

Occasionally my sister will send me a link to some odd item she's found on eBay, like a supposedly haunted pair of boxer shorts or an empty PB Maxx candy wrapper someone saved since the 80s or a pair of Hooters Girl scrunch socks... Usually I have no idea what prompted her to search for anything that would have turned such items up in her results, but I also know that it's the Internet and sometimes, even with the most normal and ordinary of intentions, there's simply no telling where you'll end up.

Lately she's been selling many of the toys from our childhood... things now considered "vintage" that other Generation X-ers long ago lost to garage sales and now, with nostalgia, are reclaiming on eBay. As she lists her own items, she's been checking out what other people have available as well, and has been sending me the ones that sparked particularly vivid memories of our own long-forgotten identical toys. Yesterday, it was the Weebles Tumblin' Fun playset, with its bright yellow plastic track that let the Weeble family wobble down from the second floor to the first, passing through a two-dimensional tree along the way and landing somewhere in the vicinity of the front door. Today, it was the Tree Tots Family Treehouse by Kenner.

I'd nearly forgotten about the Tree Tots playhouse, but as soon as I saw the picture, it instantly came back to me... The pop-up release button that never worked quite as smoothly as it was supposed to; the poorly designed staircase that was always folding in on itself; the separate, detachable dog house bush that never stayed open on its own and frequently rolled away...

Don't get me wrong... despite all these deficiencies I'm for some reason remembering, we played with that toy a lot. One thing in the eBay seller's photo didn't look familiar to us, however. My sister pointed it out before I even had a chance to notice it being out of place myself... Namely, the dad.

We sorted it all out over email...

From: -valerie
To: Stefanie
Subject: valerie sent you this eBay item: Vintage Kenner Tree Tots Tree House Set

Here's the tree house. Note the sea captain-lookin' guy. I don't remember him at all. I think I do remember there being a father, but wasn't he dressed in a suit or something? With like black hair or dark brown hair? I can't remember for sure, but I know I don't remember the sea captain!"

From: Stefanie
To: -valerie
Subject: Re: valerie sent you this eBay item: Vintage Kenner Tree Tots Tree House Set

Note the following, direct from the seller's description, explaining the curious sea captain guy:
"All the people here are in very good to excellent condition... There is one person (the dad) who I replaced with a boat captain dad. I couldn't find the original dad. He can easily be found on Ebay as I've seen him listed alone before."
Aw. Poor guy. Probably dropped on a bus somewhere or something and now stranded all by himself in an eBay listing, just hoping the right person will find him and return him to his family... And what about the kids? What, their dad just gets arbitrarily replaced, like a soap opera actor? Like Darren, on Bewitched? Or Becky, on Roseanne?

From: -valerie
To: Stefanie
Subject: Re: valerie sent you this eBay item: Vintage Kenner Tree Tots Tree House Set

Ohhh, that makes so much more sense. I didn't read the description (obviously).

Anyway, that really is funny about the missing dad being replaced with a sea captain. What an odd choice. I mean... where'd the sea captain even come from? How did he transition into the family? Were the kids like, "I don't have to listen to you! You're not my real father!" And the sea captain was like, "Aaaaarrgghh."

Somewhere there's a little plastic man in a suit tied to the mast of a ship sailing in the ocean...

From: Stefanie
To: -valerie
Subject: Re: valerie sent you this eBay item: Vintage Kenner Tree Tots Tree House Set

Heh heh. It's fun to talk like a pirate.

From: Stefanie
To: -valerie
Subject: Re: valerie sent you this eBay item: Vintage Kenner Tree Tots Tree House Set

Hee. Wow; look at the website you found.

"Arrr! - This one is often confused with arrrgh, which is of course the sound you make when you sit on a belaying pin. 'Arrr!' can mean, variously, 'yes, I agree,' 'I'm happy,' 'I'm enjoying this beer,' 'My team is going to win it all,' 'I saw that television show, it sucked!' and 'That was a clever remark you or I just made.' And those are just a few of the myriad possibilities of Arrr!"

Hee hee!!


Someday I'll tell you about the time my friend Sarah and I went to a Pittsburgh Pirates game. Let's just say the pirate talk quickly got old for Sarah's husband, but it never stopped being funny to Sarah and me. (Hey Sarah! Gimme an "R"! [R!] Gimme an "R"! [R] Gimme an "R"! [R] Gimme an "R"! [R] What's it spell? [Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!])

OK, I guess that's pretty much the story, so I suppose I don't need to tell you about it later.

Speaking of pirates, there's a new Captain Morgan out now. It's called "Tattoo," and it's in a black bottle with really sinister and bad-ass looking graphics. Its aroma is significantly better than the mysterious Captain Morgan "Silver" (which I recently decided smells like nail polish remover), but unfortunately it tastes like some kind of odd, bad candy. I can't say the Tattoo has won me over as a convert.

I'm done talking about pirates now. Really. Arrrrr.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

What a friend she has in Jeebus

I'm not the type of person who's particularly charmed by "cute kid stories." I really don't need to know about the intimate details of my friends' children's potty-training struggles and mealtime antics. When a co-worker who just had a baby comes back to visit during maternity leave, I'm never one of the women fighting for "my turn to hold the baby."

That being said, this story from my friend Jenny (much like the Easter bunny question my friend Melinda was faced with a while back) cracked me up. I do hope it's not just the element of sacrilege I found amusing, though I can't say that wasn't at least a minor factor.

Jenny is what I consider a fairly typical Catholic. Although her husband doesn't go to church, she still goes on her own or with their daughters nearly every week. She avoids meat on Fridays during Lent as long as she remembers to do so, and she had both of her children baptized shortly after their births. She may be one of those "just going through the motions out of habit" sort of Catholics (a characteristic that seems to describe most Catholics--I grew up Catholic; I can say that), but I still assumed she'd begun familiarizing her young daughters (ages two and four) with all the usual stories about Jesus and God and Heaven and Mary and Moses and Noah and so forth.

Apparently not.

Jenny runs a day care business out of her home, and since the children she cares for spend nearly every moment of their days together, they constantly pick up habits and phrases from each other, and what's going on in one child's life quickly becomes the focus of all the other children's lives. Recently, one of Jenny's day care kids started Sunday school, so naturally this new experience and new knowledge is suddenly all little Alicia can talk about. Apparently it's "Jesus this" and "Jesus that" as she prattles on the way young children do.

Despite her regular attendance at Catholic mass, Jenny's four-year-old daughter Meghan was obviously unfamiliar with this Jesus person of whom Alicia spoke, and one day she piped up to voice her confusion. "Who is this Jesus you keep talking about, Alicia?" she asked. "Is he a friend of yours?"

Despite all of her new-found knowledge about Jesus and what a great guy he was and everything, it seems Alicia hadn't quite wrapped her head around it in such a way as to be able to explain the whole concept of "Son of Man" to a fellow four-year-old. She looked at Meghan, confused, and replied, "Um, he lives in Heaven..."

Meghan, still not making sense of it nor recognizing this as anything she'd heard about before, responded, "Where is that? Is it close by?"

This much, Alicia knew how to answer. Her parents have never strapped her into her car seat in their minivan to take her on a day trip to Heaven, and Jesus has never just stopped by their house to say Hi, so she was pretty confident in telling Meghan that no, in fact, it is not close.

"Is it further away than my grandma's house?" Meghan asked.

It was then that Jenny realized she'd perhaps been lapse in her most basic duties as a Catholic mother. She signed Meghan up for Bible School the very next weekend. Upon learning that she'd get a discount if she participated as a parental volunteer, she signed herself up as well. It's probably best for all involved that she didn't get herself roped into any actual teaching responsibilities. I'm sure the Snack Center will do just fine under her watch, however.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


I've spent the last five minutes very intently watching a squirrel wrestling with a peanut butter jar outside my window. I'm not sure if this means I'm extremely easily amused or I'm just feeling too unmotivated to get dressed already and head outside for another fun day of paint scraping on my house. Probably a bit of both, I suppose.

The squirrel is pretty entertaining, though... I thought he had given up his futile attempt to shove himself inside far enough to get any peanut butter out of the near-empty jar... he stopped fighting it and laid down next to it, spooning the jar as if to make peace with it in the hopes that it would open up and share its last bits of contents with him. Then he got a second wind and stuck his head back inside, hopping along across my neighbors' backyard with the jar bobbing in front of him all the way.

Guess I should learn something about perseverence and dedication from the little dude.

Incidentally, I am not the litterbug who left a near-empty jar laying about outside for a squirrel to carry off. Just in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I spent this past holiday weekend back on the east side of my home state--in Milwaukee, to be precise. The initial reason for the trip was a surprise birthday party for a friend (which was easy to keep a surprise, since the guest of honor's birthday is nearly two months from now). Since we were going to be in Milwaukee anyway, however, we decided to head to Summerfest.

My last trip to Summerfest was probably 16 or 17 years ago. I used to go with my parents nearly every year, and I remember us always leaving by 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., when the rowdy teenagers and drunken 20-somethings started pouring in. I never made it to Summerfest as a rowdy teenager or a drunken 20-something, so I almost feel cheated out of what is apparently the most popular and prominent Summerfest experience. The last time I went I was ten years too young; this year I felt ten years too old. We still stayed until near closing time to catch the Moby show, however, precariously crowding atop a picnic table alongside several thousand other picnic table dancers in the dark. At 21, I probably could have done that without worrying about the safety of the whole scenario, but if common sense and old age go hand in hand, so be it.

As with Grand Old Day and other big summer parties in my own neighborhood, Summerfest offers a wide range of calorie-rich and artery-clogging food choices. (There's even a handy Summerfest food pyramid to help you plan out your recommended allowances of important food groups such as Fried Cheese, Beer & Liquor, and Foods on a Stick.) Likewise, as with all other crowded public events, Summerfest offers some prime opportunities for people watching (i.e., ruthless critiquing of questionable wardrobe choices). The real draw of Summerfest, however, is supposed to be the entertainment. The spin doctors in charge of the event call it "the World's largest music festival." At nearly any point throughout the day, you can choose from a variety of acts performing on one of ten different stages and pavilions on the festival grounds. Multiply the number of performers each day by the eleven days of the festival and I suppose it's feasible there's some validity to the "World's largest" claim.

Still, despite this long list of entertainment choices, we repeatedly found ourselves with free time to kill and no option that sounded appealing to fill it. It was during these times that we visited the Children's Stage, and it was at the Children's Stage that we witnessed what was by far the most memorable performance of the day--a local magician's "Wonders of Magic" show. I'm not going to mention his name, because I wouldn't want my critique of his show to turn up the next time he Googles himself. It's best not to provoke a grudge from a man who travels with a large set of swords and can make women disappear. Therefore I'll just call him Bob.

I'm not arguing that Bob is skilled in presenting illusions and sleight of hand trickery. If you're impressed by that sort of thing, Bob won't disappoint. A big part of magic, however, is the showmanship, and despite Bob's best efforts, his showmanship reeked of low budget campiness. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic, but I find it hard to take someone seriously when he's wearing red pleather oxfords and an ill-fitting sequined blazer and using props seemingly constructed in his own backyard from plywood and tempra paint. To make matters worse, the humor he attempted to inject into his act was culled straight from the Benny Hill Show playbook. I don't know where he found his two not-quite-lovely young assistants, but I couldn't help wondering if their friends and family members know they get paid to be chased around a stage in high heels, holding their cheeks in mock distress (ala Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone), or if they've told their loved ones that they do something a bit less embarrassing for a living... like perhaps jumping out of birthday cakes in fringed pasties or scraping gum off the seats at Miller Park.

Bob's assistants made several wardrobe changes, and I think at least half of them came from the "Slutty Girls' Halloween Costumes" catalog (a mailing list Bob's undoubtedly been on for years). For one trick, the leggy blond assistant squeezed herself into an outfit very much like this one (warning: probably not a "work-safe" link), and when she turned to exit the stage, I seriously saw an exposed butt crease. On the Children's Stage. Call me a prude, but that's just not right. I suppose she was just blending in with the hundreds of female Summerfest patrons who felt an 80-degree day meant open license to let their breasts spill freely out of skimpy summer tanks and halters, but I still think a little modesty is not a bad idea.

We left the show about halfway through. Maybe the cheese factor was just a little too much; maybe we were worried our 23-year-old male companion was getting overstimulated; maybe we just knew that it wasn't going to get any better than frontal and posterior cleavage in the same three-minute time span. We headed off to another stage to see Lucinda Williams do her thing. We may have been hundreds of feet from the stage, but I'm pretty sure she was fully clothed. Guess she didn't get the memo.