Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Baby Story Part 13

I have come to appreciate sleep as being one of the most valuable currencies in the economy of parenthood. It is for that reason that parents will take any advice, no matter how nonsensical, if it promises consistent sleep from their infants. Up until the late 1960’s, many parents utilized the magical over-the-counter concoction known as “paregoric” to calm fussy or sleepless babies. Of course, that was before society frowned on administering opium to newborns so now we are forced to read books that offer comprehensive behavioral solutions. Thanks big brother. 
There are some who believe the key to consistent and predictable infant sleep patterns lies in unyielding regimentation. Each and every nap, meal, and bowel movement will governed by a strict schedule that cannot be altered for several weeks lest the spell be broken. Consequences of breaking the routine can include anything from insomnia to unsanctioned defecation. Those with the personal fortitude to dedicate to such a system have reported some rather impressive results.

Another school of thought teaches that the parent’s job is not to force the child into a regimen, but to learn the child’s patterns. Each and every child is an individual and if he or she feels the need to wake up screaming every half hour; we should be honored to have the opportunity to become acquainted with their energy. Unnecessary structure only serves to stifle creativity.

As with most philosophies, I believe there is wisdom in compromise and moderation. While I may find the “and a child shall lead them” approach somewhat eye-roll inducing, there is also little chance that I am going to choke down my sandwich because little Timmy’s nap-time might be delayed by 45 seconds. My wife and I have adopted a middle-of-the-road approach that seeks to provide the benefits of structure with the practicality of being able to urinate at will.

It seems to have worked fairly well and for the longest time it was not his inability to sleep that was infuriating, it was his ability to sleep anywhere but in his crib. He effortlessly nods off during a monster truck rally only to be startled awake later that evening when someone dropped a sock on the carpet. It appeared that the easiest way to awaken him was to gently place him on a Sealy Posturepedic Infant mattress in a darkened room.

We then inundated his room with noise conditioning devices. At one point his tiny little ears were being assailed by a white noise machine, an in-utero heartbeat provided by a stuffed animal, and an MP3 loop of “Moonlight Sonata.” Thank goodness my wife is smarter (and more patient) than I am since he would still be waking up every two hours and I would be attempting to soothe him with game calls and the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now.

It turns out that a structure personalized to our child’s temperament worked best for us, but If things go sideways I reserve to right to break out Ride of the Valkyries……

Saturday, June 22, 2013

An Review: The Busy Ball Popper

I see no shame in declaring myself to be a connoisseur of ball poppers for children, so when my wife purchased the Playskool Explore ‘N’ Grow Busy Ball Popper for our infant son, I could scarcely contain my excitement. I snatched the box from his tiny little fingers and proceeded to assemble the colorful apparatus. Setup was minimal and straightforward although you will need 4 D-cell batteries to operate it. The batteries are not overly expensive, but it should be noted that they can be used as a fist-loader in a physical altercation.

Initially my wife had experienced some trepidation after reading several product reviews that referenced the “loud volume” of the songs being somewhat off-putting.  The product description states that “giggles are guaranteed with eight lively songs” and by “lively” they mean ear-splitting and by “giggles” they mean an aneurism. I can only assume that the audio design was borrowed from an Israeli sleep-deprivation device and as such has no way to adjust the volume which is inexorably linked to the triggering mechanism. I was able to mute the volume by removing the case screws and cutting the pair of wires leading to the speakers.

I realize that this voids the manufacturer’s warranty but it was unlikely that I would ever find myself demanding a factory repair on a child’s $34 pneumatic ball-ejection device anyway. As a result of this modification the only noises I hear are rushing air mixed with childhood delight.

I am somewhat leery of the “mushroom trigger” mechanism as I fear it could encourage hallucinogenic experimentation later in life. After all, why else would a multinational company manufacture a toy that conditions impressionable children to utilize a “mushroom” to produce a “fun sensorial experience?” Go ahead and roll your eyes skeptics, but you’ll wish you had paid a little closer attention to his toys once junior is 19 and the police call you because he wandered naked into a Carl’s Jr looking for his vinyl copy of a Flaming Lips album.

I can concur with the 9 months and up manufacturer’s guidelines as my son (who has not yet reached six months) is unable to properly interact with the “shroom plunger.” However, he does seem to enjoy watching it operate as he soils himself. I cannot say the same....

Overall, Playskool makes a solid ball-popper despite the fact that they market educational toys under a brand-name that consistently misspells the word “school” on its packaging. The ejection mechanism works well and the clear feeder tubing provides a more esthetically-pleasing ball return system than other models I have worked with. Be advised that while it might be tempting to load a hamster into the clear feeder tube, this could prove to be rather unpleasant for both human and rodent. In conclusion, if you are looking for some wholesome family fun the Playskool Explore ‘N’ Grow Busy Ball Popper is for you.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The In-Home

The in-home purchase party is endlessly fascinating to me. Tastefully Simple, Avon, Pampered Chef, CAbi, Stella & Dot, and Beauty Control are just a few of the direct-sales-via in-home-party conglomerates getting a piece of this $30 Billion annual pie. It has become so widespread that there are now in-home parties where you can purchase bags to transport all of the items you purchased at the other in-home parties.Although it varies slightly from company to company, the basic model is as follows:

1.      Sales consultant for company contacts friends, family, or parole officer asks them to host a party.
2.      If said friend agrees to entrepreneurial home-invasion, they receive incentives in the form of “host rewards” which are usually discounts proportional to the amount of sales generated at the party.
3.      Consultant will take a percentage and attempt to continue the process by getting a party attendee to host their own shindig until the process becomes self-sustaining or you run out of acquaintances. 
As you can imagine, this business model is made possible by the fairer sex. I suspect this is because it combines the thrill of shopping with the allure of a social event. Can you imagine an in-home party hosted by and catering to men?
I would like to thank you all for attending and wanted to remind you any orders placed before July 15th will receive complimentary FRAM oil filter and a set of Dremel accessories as a part of our ongoing Month of Masculinity promotion. There are plenty of store-brand pork rinds and Natural Light left by the microwave, so help yourself. I also wanted to reiterate that if anyone needs their drywall knife monogrammed there is a $5 convenience fee for nicknames over 12 characters or containing profanity.

Interestingly, one of the fastest growing areas of in-home shopping involves adult novelties. So called “passion parties” promise an opportunity to acquire items previously only available to those with Internet connections or people who live near an Arkansas Interstate ramp. I fully understand why no one has tried these with men since it would take a full 20 minutes for the chuckling to die down once the first product was introduced. Plus, there would likely be a fist-fight once an attendee took the “I tried using one of these once but Frank’s wife didn’t seem to enjoy it” jokes too far.

There is one category of man parties that are colloquially known as “meat-ings” whereby the host provides alcohol, burgers, and pay-per-view entertainment to lure buddies over for a sales pitch. Generally speaking, this level of male generosity is only deployed once a bet has been lost or you have finally worked up the courage to ask your buddies to help you move on a Saturday. I suppose a group of liquored up male house-guests would be susceptible to certain specialized items (Snap-On calendars, LED grill-spatulas) but generally I doubt these are very successful.

I would like to get in on the action, so I am contemplating starting a company that performs in-home consultations that help prospective party-hosts decide which brand of direct sales marketing is best suited to their needs. Think of it as an e-Harmony for direct sales. We would use a detailed questionnaire and proprietary algorithm to determine which direct-sales company is most likely to generate the largest sales thereby getting you the best rewards. For instance, you would invite all of your friends to the house and we would gauge your social-circle’s level of interest in Tastefully Simple versus Thirty-One. This type of prep work would help hosts avoid those awkward situations where Sister Roberta gets invited to the “Tickle My Fancy” gathering and the CAbi consultant finds herself in the community center at a nudist colony. If you refer a friend I will even toss in a complimentary organizer bag for all your organizer bags.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Waffles & Acquittals

It is a thoroughly American love story. On March 10th, a 70-year old retired Army Lt. Col. named Ralph Wald wakes up in the middle of the night and shuffles into the kitchen of his home for a drink of water. On his way to the faucet he notices his 41-year old fifth wife Johnna Lynn fornicating on the living room floor of their home with her 32-year old ex-boyfriend Walter Lee Conley. Wald retrieved a .38 revolver from his bedroom and shot Conley in the head and stomach killing him instantly.

After an investigation, Wald was arrested and charged with second degree murder to which he pleads not guilty. During the ensuing trial, Wald’s attorney (Joe Episcopo) would invoke the murky Florida “stand your ground” statute claiming that Walt “did not recognize” his wife’s ex before he shot him and believed that his wife was being forcibly raped by an intruder. The wife was unable to clarify anything as she was “black-out” drunk the night of the incident having voluntarily consumed large amounts of cognac.

The prosecution argued that Wald’s unfamiliarity with the man he shot seemed unlikely since Conley and Flores had shared a house next door to Wald’s. Flores was even arrested last October for taking a shot at Conley after he walked next door to her then boyfriend Wald’s home and asked to reconcile. She was later bailed out by Wald and the two were married less than a month later. The state presented it as nothing more than a murder perpetrated by a jealous husband.
The happy couple
Mr. Episcopo reminded the court that under the Florida statute his client had no “duty to retreat” once he “perceived” a threat in his home and he was simply defending his wife. Episcopo referred to his client as a “hero” and “the kind of American who made this county great.” Upon taking the stand, Wald testified that he hoped to salvage his marriage saying, “I love my wife.” The jury took less than 2 hours to acquit Wald of all charges. After hearing the verdict, Flores told the Tampa Bay Times that "because my husband puts me first, he's taking me to the Waffle House” and that despite some lingering “trust issues” her husband forgives her “100 percent.”

There is a lot of material to cover but I have to immediately address one of the greatest quotes I have ever heard: "Because my husband puts me first, he's taking me to the Waffle House.” If there is a single statement that can function as a marital barometer it would be this one. Any woman who can make this declaration with a straight face is nothing short of a keeper because her diminished expectation of marriage is only eclipsed by her diminished expectation of fine dining. As for those pesky “trust issues” I am sure they will work themselves out over hash browns and a cup of coffee.

While I applaud Wald’s commitment to his fifth marriage, there are times where it is acceptable to take a matrimonial mulligan. Realizing that you have spent the past 5 months married to a violent, adulterous alcoholic who doesn’t even possess the initiative to walk next door to sleep with your neighbor is one of those times. It is tough to justify facing a murder conviction for a spouse whose idea of a Sunday night is cognac amnesia. If we accept her story at face value, it means that she was too inebriated to remember her first homicide but alert enough to unlock the door on a moment’s notice. I cannot think of any two more attractive qualities in a (mob) wife. I can only imagine how she comforted Wald following the shooting:

“If means anything sweetie I was much too drunk to realize that I was cheating on you with my younger ex-boyfriend. I honestly thought it was just a random drifter.”

Wald’s defense is nothing short of inspired. While most men’s first reaction would be to confront the assailant as soon as they realized their beloved wife was being brutally attacked, Wald felt that the most prudent course of action was to return to his bedroom and retrieve his firearm. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went ahead and swapped out the Brita filter while he was at it. And as far as the “not being sure this was her ex-boyfriend” story I feel safe in declaring that if there is one person whose face a man doesn’t forget it is the guy living next door that his young wife was having sex with as recently as Labor Day.

The real winner in all of this would have to be Joe Episcopo Esq. whose inspired performance (he reportedly even quoted Rudyard Kipling in his closing statement) was nothing short of legendary. To transform a sordid tale of lust, betrayal, and murder into a celebration of national pride is no small task and he rose to the challenge quite admirably. He even reminded jurors of his client’s military service by stating that the “same Constitution” Wald valiantly defended in the Vietnam War “came to his aid when he needed it.” I am sure this type of situation was exactly what our founding fathers had in mind when they penned it.

I understand the victim’s family being frustrated by the outcome. Certainly Conley’s behavior wouldn’t put him on the short list for a church deaconship, but that does not mean his life should be expendable. Perhaps Wald should have faced some repercussions; otherwise we might be sending the message to Floridians that it is less of a legal headache to shoot your wife’s lover than to file for an annulment.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Recently, a friend of mine introduced me to one of the greatest video clips I have ever seen. The segment stars Florida resident Joanna Rohrback demonstrating her equine-inspired workout routine christened “Prancercising”. For five glorious minutes, the woman who could have played Mrs. Geller's sister on Friends can be seen galloping down a poorly-maintained walking trail accompanied by what I can only assume are royalty-free MIDI files she found on the Internet. Donning ankle-weights and unnecessarily tight pants, she demonstrates four distinct methods of callisthenic exercise practically guaranteed to draw pity and ridicule in equal measure. 

Unconvinced this wasn’t an elaborate hoax devised in the common areas of a retirement community; I decided to do some research. It appears that Joanna developed and even registered the concept in 1989 but never put forth much effort to market it. All that changed when she finally got around to publishing her book in December of last year. As part of the marketing strategy she decided to film a demonstration video and upload it to YouTube. A few months later the video took off and since she has racked up millions of views and even been featured on The Today Show.
Prancercise Founder Joann (and her steed
On the official Prancercise website, the technique is described as “a springy, rhythmic way of moving forward, similar to a horse’s gait and ideally induced by elation.” Both the webpage and the book cover feature Joanna moving in perfect synchronicity with a magnificent white horse that may or may not have been Photoshopped from a perfume magazine ad. Always one to cover her bases, the picture has the following disclaimer:

Any photos showing her moving along side a horse are not a suggestion that anyone should try such an act.

Also, since we live in an age where every physical regimen apparently requires an overarching spiritual theme, she emphasizes that Prancercise is not simply a way to tone one’s body. Her website declares that the program is “about self-expression. It’s about Non-violence. It’s about Conservation.” For a mere $50 per year, you can become a Prancercise member allowing you to connect with other practitioners in your area and present yourself as a Prancercise ambassador.

I have to confess that I find the video both mesmerizing and disturbing. I am fairly certain that she could generate just as much income by slowing down the video, replacing the soundtrack with Sarah Mclachlan’s “Angel”, and having a voice-over plead:

This woman, like many of Florida’s elderly residents, needs your help. For just pennies a day you can help prevent the scourge of Prancercising from claiming another innocent victim. Isn’t it enough that that these Sunshine State Seniors are already being subjected to destructive hurricanes, relentless political courtship, and infrequent visits from guilt-ridden offspring? Please, give now before the streets are overrun with galloping geezers.

Despite my good-natured chiding, I must applaud Rohrback’s emphasis on non-violence. I cannot think of a more pertinent message for someone who voluntarily chooses to gallop in urban areas while announcing that it is “better to be punching into space than in your face!” I am still somewhat unclear as to where the conservation aspect comes in but the website does endorse both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the center for International Aid for Korean Animals. The website has yet to take a stance on non-Korean animals. 

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the program is the $50 fee that gives you the ability to locate other “prancercisers” in your area code and act on behalf of the brand. If Joanna is smart she will offer a dating service as well, because any two people who are willing to shell out 50 bucks for the privilege of publicly prancing in tandem deserve each other.