Jul 27

Pretentious: according to The Free Dictionary, this means “making claim to distinction or importance, esp undeservedly.”  A large portion of my adult life has been spent trying to avoid looking pretentious.  Pretentious people tend to make me mad, and pretentious people tend to show exactly how pretentious they are by the clothes they wear and the cars they drive… sigh.

This past weekend, the wife and I came to the conclusion that it was time to replace my car.  “My car”… as if I own anything of my own anymore.  Once you get married, you enter into a socialist state in which everything is community property.  However, in the state of my marriage, I have always tended to get the crappy car.  You know, we head to the dealership with my old piece of crap as the trade-in,  we get a nice vehicle, the wife gets the nice vehicle, and I get the next piece of crap that used to be the wife’s.  This has always been my choice, because I don’t mind driving a good car that looks like a piece of crap… what’s pretentious about a beat-up Taurus station wagon?  Nothing, that’s what; so I drove the Taurus for a few years.  It was a good, non-pretentious car.

Taurus

Then, all of a sudden, the head gasket on the Taurus goes out.  Well, that sucks.  It’s gonna cost like $2000 to get that head gasket replaced, and the Blue Book on a 1996 Taurus wagon with a physical condition matching ours is like $1500.  Doesn’t make sense to fix it, does it?  So, I limp the thing along.  I get used to it wanting to die at stop lights, and I get used to adding oil and antifreeze.  No big deal.  It’s all so un-pretentious, you know?  Well, a few months later, I notice that the tires are looking a little ragged… as in, they are all completely bald at exactly the same time.  Crap.  Well, I just drive the thing around town, and I tell the Scoutmaster that I can’t haul the scouts in the Taurus anymore (which is a relief… ’cause hauling those kids around gets a little pricey when most of the parents aren’t kicking in for gas moolah).  No big deal right… except, I notice that there is actually metal showing through on one of the tires.

Is metal supposed to show through on a tire?  I’m kind of doubting it.  I know the tires are “steel-belted”, and I know my “belt” shows most of the time (except when my belly is hanging over it… oh, who am I kidding, my belt never shows; but I know on normal people, belts show).  I know next to nothing about anything auto-mechanically related (which the actual mechanics in our area seem to love), but I’m a figurin’ that metal fiber showing up on the outside of the tire ain’t a good thing.  Crap.

Ok, so I’m justifying in my head how I can keep driving the Taurus around for  a bit longer.  I am, after all, just driving the thing in town.  If the tires actually blows, I’ll probably be going less than 50 mph, so all is well, right?  Sure!  Until, all of a sudden, every time I step on the brakes, I hear the horrid sound of metal on metal.  What the… aren’t the brakes supposed to squeal before you get the whole metal on metal thing?  Again, a mechanic I am not; I know you are supposed to hear a stinking squeal before you hear the brain-gnashing nails-on-chalkboard-esque  metal-on-metal horror-fest that all of a sudden I am experiencing.  Crap.  I am beginning to realize that it’s about time to call it quits with the Taurus.

The wife, for like the past six months, has been telling me we need to get a new car.  I am finally at the point where I can agree.  So, we go looking for cars.  We will, as our main intention, buy a car on Saturday.  So, Friday night, we go through some of the local lots to see what is available.  One thing we learned by driving through the local lots: if you, as a local car lot dude, do not display the prices you are asking for your cars either on the car itself or, at least, on your website… I will not buy a car from you.  There is absolutely nothing more exasperating to me when trying to make a multi-thousand-dollar purchase then not to be able to weigh your options before being assaulted by the onslaught of commission-based sales representatives.  I will not do it.  We saw plenty of cars that we really liked at several of the smaller lots, but we had no idea how much these things were selling for.  We were looking in the $5000 range.  We would have felt stupid asking about a car that we thought might have been in our range and finding out that car was being sold for $12,000 (which is what we expected to be the reality).  Needless-to-say, we avoided all lots with no published prices.  My duty was to myself and my family… not a salesman who was going to try to sell me more than what I was looking for.

After doing a brief bit of browsing, the wife and I had narrowed it down to one lot in particular (that had at least one non-pushy sales person and obviously-displayed prices… and the lot we bought our past two vehicles at).  Now, we just had to decide on a vehicle.

Great time to interject that the wife finds my blog… this blog… a little disturbing.  Through this blog, the wife has discovered that I feel kind of old and that turning forty really sucked for me and that I am kind of going through a mid-life crisis.  The wife knows that I love her and I would never trade her in for a newer model… because, you know, I don’t sense a blown head gasket and she keeps her tires pretty well rotated.  However, the wife is constantly looking for ways to improve my libido and self-esteem at this precarious point in my life ( if anyone has potential winning Power-ball numbers, please forward them to my wife).  So, as we’re looking for cars, she keeps saying, “Make sure you pick something you are going to be happy driving.”  I think she is messing with me, you know, just playing with my esteem so if I end up picking something I end up hating she can come back and say, “I told you to pick something that would make you happy.”  Well, a Jeep Wrangler would make me happy, but there was none of those in the $5000 arena.  However, there was this nice little Pontiac Firebird with funky orange paint.

Firebird

Ahhh… a true lower-middle class mid-life crisis car. Thing is, no matter what we looked at, the wife kept saying, “Don’t forget about the Firebird.” I think she was serious! It was a little more than we were looking at spending, but we could have swung it. She either really wanted me to have the Firebird, or she knew that my reason would kick in and I would come to the conclusion on my own that a sports car is not a realistic option for a 40-year-old with a wife and two young-uns. Damn, I wanted that Firebird! But, the reason kicked in and I knew it would make more sense to drive something like that when I turn fifty… you know, when the senior discounts start to kick in… and the hair is completely gray… and the chances of actually losing that belly are ZERO… slightly less than 10 years from now…

sigh

… and she is still going to be able to say, “I told you to pick something you would be happy driving.”  I married a pretty bright dame :)

Okay, so the Firebird is postponed for the next 10 years or so.  We are seriously down to two cars within our range.  One is a 2001 Cadillac Catera, the other is a Chevy Aveo.  The Caddy has less than 100,000 miles and is in great shape… and is about a grand less than we were looking to spend.

Catera

The Aveo is a 2009 with less than 8,000 miles and in about a grand more than we were planning on spending.

Aveo

I’m immediately leaning toward the Aveo. It’s low-mileage, it will last almost forever, it gets great gas mileage, and it is so stinking ugly that “pretentious” would never a word to describe it.  The wife seems fine with my choice of one of the ugliest cars since the Vega, and I am ready to take her for a test drive… the car, not the wife.

Handles like a dream, pretty punchy for such a little piece of crap, rides like a cardboard soap-box derby car, but, hey… it can’t weight more than I do.  It starts to get a little warm in her as we’re taking her around town.

“Turn on the AC,” says the wife.

Travis, our awesome little sales dude, looks kind of sheepishly at us from the back seat and says, “Uh, this one doesn’t have AC.”

Stardate: 2010.  We have encountered an alien life form known as the Aveo.  On her world, they still make cars with no AC.  Hers is a dying world, but one on which we are momentarily trapped.  I am quickly sending our coordinates to Spock so he can beam us the hell out of here.

“I could live with no AC,” I say.  “I’ll be the one mostly driving it, it gets like 40 miles-per-gallon, and I don’t mind sweating a little… it’ll help me keep my weight down.”

“Having a car that gets 40 miles-per-gallon would make sense if we could take it on trips… but I will not ride in a car with no AC.”  The wife doesn’t even smile as she makes her assertion.

“We could roll down the windows,” I smile, still hoping to avoid any chance of looking pretentious.  After all, there is nothing I can imagine that would be less pretentious than my sweaty-ass driving around in this little piece of crap with all the windows down and me justifying at the top of my lungs to any passerby who looks my way, “I’m getting 40 miles-per-gallon, so screw you!”

“Can you imagine how cranky your boys will be if we’re taking a trip to Denver in this thing in the middle of the summer with no AC?”  She has a point.  The boys are barely bearable on any kind of lengthy trip when the climate is perfect.  Hot wind blowing in our faces as sweat pours down our faces would not add to the delight of any of our outings.

“So, I guess it’s the Cadillac,” I surrender.

“There’s always the Firebird, ” the wife reminds me.”

Firebird

The Cadillac, of course, drives like a dream… and has AC.

So, we head into the offices so Travis can help us figure out which car we want.

“Which car have you folks decided on,” Travis asks.

“Well, I guess we’d like the Cadillac,” I say.

“You don’t sound so sure,” says Travis.

“There is still the Firebird,” says the wife.

Firebird

“Does the Firebird come with the blond?” I ask.

“No, I’m afraid not,” says Travis. “You wouldn’t believe how many 40-year-old-looking guys ask that, though.”

“…sigh… I guess the Cadillac it is.”

Here we are, a few days later, and I love the Cadillac.  It really does drive like a dream… considering the thing is almost 10 years old.  The Bose sound system is amazing, and the thing has more buttons than a person can push on a relatively lengthy drive.  There is still the pretentious-factor.  I still feel like the only people who drive Cadillacs are snotty people with money and posers.  The wife insists I’m wrong, but I still have a vague recollection of an ad I once saw…

Cadillac

… maybe it’s just my imagination.  I guess being a poser ain’t so bad… not when the tunes sound so flipping good on that Bose…

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Jul 16

I recently spent a week with my 12-year-old son at Camp Laramie Peak Boy Scout Camp in Wyoming.

Laramie Peak, WY

This is the second summer that my son and I have attended a scout camp.  Last summer, we enjoyed a week in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota at Medicine Mountain (I say “enjoyed” only because it didn’t suck as much as Camp Laramie Peak).

Dead Dudes

(at Medicine Mountain, we actually set our tents right inside Washington’s nostril… who knew there was an entire scout camp inside the heads of the dead presidents?!?)

Ahh… sleeping on the ground in a tent as the rain pounds down and the winds gust up to 90 MPH, what could be more fun?

I am an Assistant Scoutmaster.  This means that I don’t want (and am far from qualified for) the position of Scoutmaster, but I like helping the kids reach their goals.  I am not an utterly complete pessimist (although I am within spitting distance), and I really do believe in trying to help young people find a measure of success.  I have been a leader in scouts since my son was a tiger cub and he is now a Second Class Boy Scout.  This means I have been involved in scouting for around six years.  Six years is far longer than I have held any single job with any single employer.  Let’s face it… I’m a quiter.  When life throws an obstacle or stress my way, I quit.  Quitting is easy, and starting something new is exciting, so there you have it.  When something starts sucking, I quit; but I have never quit scouting (although, trust me, I have been very tempted).

Camp overall was pretty good (the food kind of sucked and there wasn’t enough of it, the weather was horrible,  getting up early bites, etc.etc.etc. and all the other stuff I could go on and on bitching about) considering these camps are meant to build character in boys.  I’m old and my crappy character is beyond help, so I tend to look at these camps as a chore and not a vacation (even though I have to use up precious vacation to attend).

Something that really struck me with camp this year was the way the counselors were “looking out” for the scouts.  If you’ve ever been to a scout camp, you know that the majority of the counselors are not that much older than the scouts.  Many of the counselors are high school and college kids just pulling a summer gig.  It was easy to tell these counselors had been trained on how to make sure a kid isn’t being abused.

During this camp, many of us adult leaders went through “safety training”, which is little more than “how to cover your ass as an adult male when working with young boys”.  I’d like to throw a big thanks out to all of the stupid pedophiles and the Catholic Church for making this stinking training necessary.  Never be alone with a scout; never touch a scout; if you suspect a scout is being abused in any way, shape or form inside or outside of scouting, let the district council know (not the police, not the boy’s parents, not any kind of authoritative figure in the boy’s life whatsoever… the disctrict council; all of this is to cover your and BSA’s asses).  The training really didn’t make it seem like we volunteer our time to help the boys succeed.  The training really focused on how not to get Boy Scouts of America sued.  Ah… what a wonderful world we live in.

Anyway, back to the counselors.  Anyone who has spent a week with boys ranging in age from 17-years-old all the way down to 11-years-old knows that an 11 and 12-year-olds who are away from their mothers can have, well, to put it politely, mild emotional breakdowns.  These vary from slight bouts of teary-eyed whininess to full-blown tantrums.  On this trip, I got to deal with a couple of full blown tantrums, and during each tantrum, a counselor happened to walk by right smack in the middle of each.

When a young boy throws a tantrum, one of the first things he tends to do is try to stomp off on his own to show how mad he is.  Of course, at scout camp, the boys are required to use the buddy system.  There is to be no stomping off.  A boy eaten by a mountain lion wouldn’t be good for BSA’s image.  So when the boy with the attitude starts stomping off, you must stop him.  Of course, you can’t touch the boy, so, at times, you have to raise your voice to get the boy to understand that he seriously can’t stomp off by himself.  This is exactly what was happening with the first instance.  A group of scouts was heading to a merit badge class for the afternoon and I was escorting them.  One of the boys started getting, well, kind of tantrumy, because he wanted to hang around camp instead of going to the merit badge counseling.  The more I told him he needed to go to his counseling, the less he wanted to go… until he got pissed-off and started stomping off.  Of course, I couldn’t let him stomp off by himself, so I told him to get back with the group.  He kept walking and the further he got away, the more I had to raise my voice.  Finally, I ran to the boy and stood in front of him.  “C’mon, man, get back with the group,” I told him.  At this point is when the teen-aged counselor was walking by.  The counselor stopped right beside us and looked straight at the scout.

“Are you okay?” the counselor asked.

“He’s fine,” I responded.  “He’s just doesn’t want to go to his counseling and he thinks he needs to stomp off by himself.”

The counselor completely ignored me.  He continued to look at the scout, “Are you okay?”

The scout finally responded, “Yeah, I’m fine,” to which the counselor simply turned and continued on his way.

As I watched the teen get farther and farther away, it popped into my head to yell, “Thanks for the help; couldn’t have done it without you,” but I thought better of it.  It still took some time and effort to get the upset scout to rejoin our group, with no help from the interfering counselor.   I figured that the counselors were trained to do exactly what this one had just done, which made me feel a little like a turd clinging to the side of the toilet bowl of scouting… but that’s why I volunteer my time, right?

Second instance was similar.  One of the scouts wanted to borrow some money from me to buy some crap at the trading post.  I have made it an official rule of mine that I do not lend money to scouts for unnecessary items.  I have seen other leaders get burned in the past by lending scouts money and never receiving that money back.  I volunteer my time… because time is more precious than money (and I have more time than I do money).  Well, the fact that I wouldn’t lend the scout cash so he could buy an energy drink (yeah, just what I needed was a hopped-up 11-year-old to watch after for the afternoon), apparently was enough to send him into a stomping-away tantrum.

Right, crap, here we go again.  I start hollering for the boy to rejoin the group right as a counselor is walking by.  The scout is crying and whatnot because that stupid energy drink is so flipping important to him at that moment in time.  I jog up to the scout right as the counselor is asking “Are you okay?”

For crying-out-flipping loud!  These guys probably report all of this crap back to the “district council” and I’m gonna look like a child beater or something.  “He’s just mad because I wouldn’t lend him money to buy a stupid energy drink,:” I explain, feeling a little stupid for having to explain the situation to an acne-faced teenager.

The counselor doesn’t acknowledge me at all, never taking his eyes of the boy.  “Is there anything I can do?” the counselor asks the scout.

By this time, I’m getting to the verge of throwing a tantrum.  I feel like I’m very discreetly being accused of doing something wrong.  I spent my own money to “volunteer” my time to go to camp and help BSA accomplish it’s mission.  I was not spending my time and money to be ignored and accused.  I’m getting pissed.

I sooo wanted to say, “I’m glad your offering assistance, ’cause it’s so much easier to smack them silly if someone holds them… can you grab his arms?” just to see what kind of response I could get out of the counselor, but I didn’t.  The scout finally shaped up and we all went our separate ways.

So, I guess the moral of the story is counselors at scout camps are trained to cover the ass of the camp, adult leaders are trained to cover not only their own asses but the ass of BSA, and the whole stupid thing makes me wonder if it’s really worth having to cover my ass to volunteer my time and money to an organization that apparently a lot of people want to sue.

You know, maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong angle.  Maybe I should be looking for a reason to sue.  You know, all of the stupid bagels they served at the mess hall did tend to go straight to my ass… making it that much harder to cover.

barf
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.FatAss

I could sue for that, couldn’t I?

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