Friday, August 31, 2007

We Can Only Blame Ourselves

The sky is falling, the sky is falling! For the last several years, we've all been inundated by junk mail from various mortgage companies offering us the chance to refinance and make lower mortgage payments. For years we've been refinancing to pay off our credit card debt, then turning around and running our credit card debt right back up. Industry experts said this couldn't go on forever, and we turned a deaf ear.

For those of you who are paying the piper now -- whether you're a borrower or a lender -- I can only say this. You were warned, and you can only blame yourself if you're in trouble now. Yes, I'm speaking from experience. I bought my house roughly seven years ago. I wasn't a stellar borrower, but I wasn't a high-risk borrower either. A couple of years went by, interest rates declined, my credit was a little better than when I had first bought the home, and I refinanced. But I was smart about it. I waited until the rates had dropped enough to actually make a refinance worthwhile -- over both the short term and the long term -- and I refinanced at a fixed rate.

I distinctly remember the day I signed the refinancing paperwork. I was sitting across the table from the loan officer reading the paperwork, when she casually pulled out a second set of papers and said "You know, if you refinanced with a variable rate loan, you could save an additional X amount per month."

"Really," I asked?

"Yes sir."

"Okay. So how much will I save when the interest rates hit Y%?" My question was met with silence. "Okay, let me ask you this... interest rates are at an all-time low, right?

"Yes sir."

"And by signing my original paperwork, I'm locking myself into a payment of $Z per month, for the duration of this loan, right?"

"Yes sir."

"If I take this variable rate, I'll save $X per month..."

"For the next two years, sir."

"Right, but statistically speaking, the chances of interest rates staying this low for the next 30 years are virtually non-existent, right?"

"Well, I can't predict that sir."

"Exactly, but I can. Interest rates will go up, and I'll end up paying hundreds more, probably thousands, somewhere down the road." Again, I was met with silence. "That's what I thought. I'll stick with the original offer, thank you very much."

"Yes sir."

Here's my point. Yeah, I paid a little more up front, but I know how much my mortgage payment will be, from now until it's paid off. And I'm saving thousands over the long haul. The average consumer didn't think past their next month's payment, and the average lender only saw the extra dollar signs in the future. Neither thought far enough ahead to realize that more people would default. It was all greed, greed, greed. And you've only got yourselves to blame. I'm glad I looked ahead.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Lesson in Life

It's been over twenty years since I graduated Marine Corps boot camp, but the experience made permanent changes to my personality, and I recall some things as if they happened yesterday. Today, for no apparent reason, I remembered one of my not-so-proud moments.

Most people have heard of blanket parties. My platoon didn't have blanket parties per se, but we did have something similar... we tipped racks. A rack tipping consisted of waiting until the offending recruit fell asleep and then another group of recruits would fling the slacker out of his bed -- mattress and all. There was no lasting physical damage to the slacker, but it did serve as a "wake-up call," if you'll pardon the pun.

One night I took part in a rack tipping. I don't remember what the guy did, but I remember a group of us tipping the mattress. I remember running back to my own bed. And I remember that something went wrong. When we tipped the rack, the guy got tangled in his sheets, hit the deck face-first, and ended up busting a tooth, right at the gum line.

One of my con-conspirators was identified and refused to take the fall alone (again, no pun intended). He came to us and said that if we didn't step forward that he'd blow the whistle. We all came forward, and we all got busted. I still think the guy who was identified was a weasel. He should have kept his yap shut, because that's how this kind of crap works. But I also deserved to get busted; the slacker may have needed a wake-up call, but he certainly didn't need to lose a tooth over the whole deal.

During boot camp I stayed away from the slacker recruit. I don't remember if it was because I was ordered to do so, or because I was ashamed of what I'd done, but I ran into him in the airport after graduation. When I saw him, I did what I should have done sooner. I walked up to him and apologized. He was incredibly gracious and said that it was okay. I was relieved by his forgiveness, but knew that it wasn't really okay, and I told him so.

This experience underscores the power of group think. I did something I shouldn't have done, and I justified it by thinking that it was necessary for the group's overall well-being. It was a crappy way to learn an important lesson about conforming, and I regret it to this day. My guilt is somewhat reduced by the other guy's forgiveness, but nothing truly justifies what I did. I can only hope that the lesson stays with me, so I don't repeat the mistake.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Making Memories

Sometimes it's the little things that make the best memories...

Yesterday morning we experienced a lunar eclipse. I'm not exactly what you'd call an astronomy buff, but I enjoy looking up to the heavens on a clear evening, and I appreciate celestial beauty. (<--I'm talking about you, wifey-poo!) Knowing that the eclipse isn't something you can see every day, I decided to ask the kids if they would like to see it. The little 'un jumped at the chance. The older daughter asked when it was going on, and when she found out that she'd have to get up early to see it, she kind of rolled her eyes and said "Yeah, right." The next morning the alarm went off, and I got up, walked out to the back yard, and determined that we'd have to drive out of town in order to see the moon. I went to younger daughter's room and gently woke her up. "Hey kid," I whispered, gently shaking her. She popped right up. "Yeah?" "I can't see the moon from the yard, so we'll need to go into the country to see it. You still wanna go?" "Yeah." It still surprises me how quickly and easily she wakes up in the morning. A total contrast to her big sister. Anyway, she got dressed, and off we went. We hit every red light on the way out of town, so a normally five-minute trip took us fifteen minutes. But once we were out of town, we pulled over on the side of a gravel road, climbed in the bed of the truck and just hung out.

"Those crickets are loud, daddy. Why are they so loud and annoying?" I explained how crickets are actually rubbing their legs together, and that the chirping is a mating call.

"Why is the moon red tonight?" I told her about light refraction...

"Where did you learn all this stuff?"

"Your old dad knows a lot of crazy stuff, kid. Wanna hit BK for some breakfast?"


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Conservative Co-Worker

I have a co-worker who is incredibly conservative. (Translation: She's born again.) With this in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise when I inform you that she's easily offended by, shall we say, colloquial language. As much as I try to consider her sensitivities, I sometimes fail, as I did a few minutes ago...

Co-worker brings a laptop to my desk.

"This laptop doesn't work."

"Whose is it," I asked, failing to recognize it on sight?

"It belongs to {so-and-so} in H.R."

"Oh God, it's the one with that special shit on it, isn't it," I asked? I realized that my words would probably be offensive to her, but figured I'd draw less attention to my faux pas by letting it go.

"Would you like to try that one again?" Apparently she was not willing to let it slide.

"No, I'd just say the same thing again and offend you more."

Like I said, I try to take her sensitivity into consideration, but the fact is, I swear like a sailor Marine in my natural habitat. And usually when something slips in her presence, I apologize. But once in a while, every now and then, shouldn't she be the one who's willing to let shit slide?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


As I was getting ready for work this morning, my cell phone rang...



"Yeah kid, what's up?"

"Umm... {Neighbor Kid} and I missed the bus."

"Okay, come back home. I should be ready to leave the house when you get here."

A few minutes passed and sure enough, the kids got to the house as I was ready to leave. Just as the kids jumped in the truck, the garbage men came by and emptied our trash cans. I walked to the curb, picked up the cans and heard
"Dad, leave those things there. You can get 'em after work."

"It's supposed to rain today, so I'd rather do this now."

"But we're going to be late for school," she responded, obviously annoyed with me.

Let me get this straight. You missed the bus, but you're worried that you'll be late because I'm taking my trash cans to the garage? A mere 60-second walk? What about the fact that I'm going to be late for work because I've got to take you to school?

"Look kid, you need to remember that you're inconveniencing me and chill a bit."

"Okay, but if I get dropped from my class because of excessive tardies, it's your fault."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Las Vegas Wild Life

Virtually every kid has a certain animal that they love... I'm a dog person. A friend of mine is a cat person. Certain odd individuals like cows. Others collect pig figurines. The younger girl likes dolphins. It so happens that the Mirage in Las Vegas holds Sigfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. Since the young 'un had never seen a real dolphin up-close and personal, we made the trip. To make things a little more exciting, they have recently announced the arrival of a new baby dolphin, named Sgt. Pepper. The mom, Duchess, has the same name as one of our dogs.

In addition to the dolphins, which held the little 'un's attention for less time than I had expected, they had lions, tigers, leopards, a black panther, and some other animals that I didn't recognize. Since this was a Siegfried and Roy attraction, I couldn't help but wonder if the animal (what was it, a white tiger?) that big Siegfried (or was it Roy?) was in the cage, or if they'd made albino tiger burgers out of him (or was it a her?). And though Siegfried (or was it Roy) publicly claims to have no hard feelings toward the beast ("... it was only trying to rescue me..."), I can't help but secretly wonder if the famous animal tamer mysteriously acquired a new fur coat.

As I moved on to the other animals, I couldn't help but make a few other smart-ass observations... For example, the black panther kept cleaning itself... you know... ummm... down there... to which I (predictably) announced "Well, if I could do it, I'd be doing the same thing." The men invariably grinned, chuckled or nodded in agreement. The women invariably shook their heads in mock disgust, and the kids gave the embarrassed "Da-ad!!"

This is the feared Topiary Beast, made famous in various Stephen King novels. It took me a bit to recognize it, but once I realized what it was, I made a hasty exit, lest something Stephen King-ish happen to me in front of the children. In retrospect, I wonder why they didn't have it caged. Maybe it ate the groundskeeper.

Since when is a swan a ferocious beast?!?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Experiencing Star Trek

One of our Las Vegas forays included a trip to the Hilton hotel... not to see the infamous socialite of the same name, but to visit the Star Trek Experience. (Besides, considering that there was a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas that weekend, I'm sure we would have been sorely disappointed if we went to the Hilton for the purpose of seeing what's-her-name.) No, wifey-poo and I had a couple of ulterior motives for going. We went partially because we wanted to do the Experience again, but we also went because Neighbor Girl's mom is a closet Star Trek geek and we wanted to hook her up with some bling.

In all honesty, I was (more than) a little concerned that the kids would think the Experience was lame. I combated this by intentionally not answering their questions about what it was like. I neither played it up nor downplayed it. I said there were a couple of rides and left it at that. (My ploy worked perfectly, by the way.) We arrived shortly before the attraction opened, and were greeted by a Ferengi shopkeeper. The guy was a perfect Ferengi... somewhat socially inept, missing the average human cues, and talking about how he was socializing because he heard that it's good for business.

The Experience was a little more pricey than I remembered, especially when I threw in some pictures. They asked if I wanted pics, and I said "Yeah, sure." So they threw on an extra ten bucks or so... little did I realize that this meant one shot with one person in the photo. Any variance cost extra. Since Big Daughter was in the roller coaster shot (see yesterday's post), I wanted to spread the wealth, so I sat the Little Daughter in the Captain's Chair. She's a natural-born leader, eh?

And I put Neighbor Girl in the Borg shot. She did this little "thumbs up" pose while we were in the lobby and I thought it was soooo cute that I told her she should do that pose in the Borg chamber. She didn't really get it when she took the pic... in fact, she was a little reluctant to do this pose. But look at that picture!! It's SO classic that it's one of my favorite all-time pictures of anyone, anywhere! Neighbor Girl of Borg... happy to be assimilated.

Like I said, I was a little skeptical about taking my girls to the Star Trek experience. My reason for taking them was because my wife, Neighbor Girl's mom and I are all nerds. But in the end, they all had a blast. By the way, we had lunch in Quark's restaurant.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dizzying Heights

I'm not sure whether or not I've mentioned this, but I'm scared of heights. This isn't an all-encompassing fear... I don't mind flying, I can climb on the roof of my house, and I don't freak out in high-rise buildings. But I am afraid of heights. Our trip to the Stratosphere brought this phobia to the surface. I was a little timid walking around the observation deck because I realized that a mere chain-link fence was the only thing separating me from a long drop followed by a splattering stop.

Despite this fear, the thrill-seeker in me was somehow convinced that the thrill rides (located on the top of the Stratosphere) would be fun. I still don't know what the fuck I was thinking. We're standing in the line to buy the tickets that would get us to the observation deck... and the lady behind the ticket counter asks us "how many" rides we wanted. I immediately noticed that one of the rides was down for the count and secretly breathed a sigh of relief that we wouldn't be doing all three. But before I could say "No rides for us, thanks," the kids said "All of them!" Well shit. It's bad enough to look like a chicken. But to look like a chicken when compared to your own kids?!? No. Dammit, I guess I had no choice but to swallow my own fear and agree to ride the two remaining rides.

So we went straight up to the observation deck, where the uneasiness set in almost immediately. (Did I mention that a mere chain link fence was the only thing separating me from a long, long fall?) Just as I got used to walking while hyperventilating, it was time to hit the first ride... the X-Scream. And just as we started boarding the ride, the older one started really freaking out. "Daddy, I'm scared. Daddy, we're going to die. Daddy, I don't want to do this. Daddy, why are you bleeding?"

"Ummm, because you're clawing my arm."

"Sorry. Daddy, I'm scared. Daddy, we're going to die. Daddy, I don't want to do this. Daddy, you're really bleeding a lot."

"Sorry kid, I'll try to bleed less next time you pierce my skin with your razor-sharp, fear-strengthened talons." Did I mention that I'm scared of heights? I was really at my own wits end, and here's my kid freaking out. I really didn't know what to do. Did I hold it together for the sake of the kid, or did I allow her fear to amplify my own, causing us both to run from the ride, screaming like frightened little girls in a cheap horror flick?

No sooner did I look at my wife and say "I'm not sure if I can do this..." I was really considering chickening out... than I found myself strapped in to the ride. Somehow, through all of this, the surge of blood stopped, but I'm not really sure how. The kid never stopped clawing me. In fact, there was one nail that I'm sure completely penetrated my arm. Maybe the claw doubled as a cauterizer... maybe my own fear caused all of my blood to leave my extremities. Regardless, the kid was screaming, the blood was no longer flowing from my arm, and I could not escape my fate.

I don't really remember what happened next, but based on the picture above, my own fear must have subsided, while my daughter's own fear escalated. Heck, maybe she simply absorbed my fear. All I know is that the ride was fun, and it was over before I knew it. As we got off the ride, the big kid said "Let's do it again." So we did. We rode the other ride. If you're wondering how that went, just re-read this article, but omit the part where we do another ride afterward.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Let's Talk About Las Vegas

Now that I'm back from my family vacation and have had a couple of days to get back into my routine, I think it's time to tell you all about the trip. We spent a week out there with my brother-in-law, who took great care of us. During our stay, we saw a magic show, a play, we the kids shopped, we ate and ate and ate, rode roller coasters, visited the Stratosphere, did the Star Trek Experience and much more. Too much, in fact, to even THINK about discussing in one post, so I'll talk about some of this stuff over the next few days.

As I say "family vacation" though, I should point out that we had an extra member of the family. Neighbor girl is the kid next door. She's the older kid's best friend, and gets along great with the little one too. The Mrs. and I are friends with her parents, and they have taken big kid on vacation with them in the past. Neighbor girl was a delight to have on the trip with us. She did a great job of keeping the kids occupied and was so well-behaved that words can't really describe it.

Tune in tomorrow when I start actually writing about some of the stuff we saw. Is there anything you'd specifically like to hear about first?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Double Entendre

Let's file today's entry under "Kids say the darndest things."

My brother-in-law, who has graciously hosted us for our visit to Las Vegas, has a swimming pool, and the kids have been spending a lot of time out there. Of course we all know what happens when you put kids in a pool all day long... especially if said kids refuse to wear sunscreen. Yep, they all turned various shades of pink.

Fast forward a day or two, when my older daughter began complaining about her sunburn. We're hanging around the house when I hear -- and you can't make this shit up -- "My boobs are hot."

I was speechless.