Saturday, July 31, 2010

Attention kids

I overheard you playing with your cousins on the trampoline this morning, pretending you were all skydiving.

While this may work fine in an imaginary situation, for future reference:

If you jump out of a plane and forget your parachute, it is NOT good form to ask another falling skydiver if you can borrow theirs for a few minutes, and then give it back to them after you've landed, so then they can land with it, too. Gravity doesn't work that way.

Thank you.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 16

Today we drove to Middleofnowhere, Utah, where my MIL has rented a large house for us to meet up with her, Mrs. Grumpy’s brothers, and their families for a few days.

Family reunions with this branch have always been interesting. In the past they’ve involved trips to the lake, which have ended with someone accidentally sinking a boat in shallow water. So this year they picked a place nowhere near a lake.

As we drove through Utah we had to stop for highway construction. A young guy holding one of those Stop/Slow signs brought our column of cars to halt. He motioned for us to roll down the window.

Mrs. Grumpy: “Hi.”

Mr. RM: “Sorry, folks. Road work going on. Gonna be about 5 minutes before the guide vehicle comes back.”

Mrs. Grumpy: “Okay.”

Mr. RM: “While you’re waiting, would you like a copy of the Book of Mormon?”

When we finally got to high-altitude Middleofnowhere, it was colder than we thought it would be. Unfortunately, we’d sent our jackets back home with my parents after the cruise.

All of us were fine except Craig, who was convinced he was going to die of hypothermia. So I set off to find a cheap sweatshirt.

This wasn't as easy as it sounds. We’re in the middle of nowhere, and couldn’t find a Wal-Mart (those of you who know how much I hate Wal-Mart will understand how desperate I must have been to be looking for one).

After driving through town (which took < 1 minute) I located the local store, which had some cheap sweatshirts. When I was checking out the guy at the cash register asked me “do you need any ammo or kerosene?”

My MIL has rented this HUGE house for the family reunion, so that each family can have their own bedroom. Whoever designed this place was remarkably fond of mirrors, and has them on, quite literally, every wall (and a few ceilings) in all the rooms & hallways. It makes me wonder if we’re being videotaped for some sort of “family reunities in the boondocks and kills each other” reality show.

Another oddity of the house is an old headless mannequin, wearing a white dress.

Exactly why anyone thought this would enhance the beauty of the place is beyond me. All it needs was some blood on the gown and ghost stories to scare the little kids.

Since getting here the thing has made the rounds, randomly showing up in various showers, closets, and beds.

One of my SIL's brought some gifts for the kids, leftover headbands from the movie "Kung-Fu Panda". Their are 5 types, each one listing a character's martial arts style from the flick. So they say things like "Monkey Style" or "Tiger Style". In retrospect, I guess it's a good thing there wasn't a doggie in the film.

When dinner finally rolled around, my MIL called a local place to order food, and my BIL Rob and I were designated to go pick it up.

Rob is an interesting guy. His job requires him to drive long distances between rural areas. To pass the time he installed a DVD player in his truck so he can watch movies while driving (I swear!). Ever since I married his sister he’s been after me to leave my job and open a lawn mowing service with him.

As we were driving along I noticed that the the DVD player had broken, and asked him what happened. He replied “Oh, I loaned the truck to this stupid kid who lives in town. While he was driving he accidentally spilled a milkshake into it. People are so fucked up these days. I mean, what kind of idiot would trust a kid like that?”

I didn’t bother to answer the question.

The sign in front of Local Dump said: “Take-Out Service: Pull up on east side of building, and we will bring it out to you.”

So Rob pulled up on the west side of the building, and stopped.

I wanted to be polite, so I didn’t say anything. I watched as someone drove up to the other side of the building, got their order, and headed off. Rob just sat there.

Finally he said: “I wonder where our order is?”

Dr. Grumpy: “Um, I think we’re supposed to be on the east side of the building. That’s what the sign says.”

BIL Rob: “I know, but we are on the east side.”

Dr. Grumpy: “We’re on the west side. See, look at the sun.”

BIL: “No, the sign meant east side as you look at the building from the road. We’re turned around now, and so the sides are reversed”.

Dr. Grumpy: “East and west don’t change. We need to be on that side of the building”

BIL Rob: “We’re on the east side. Trust me.”

It wasn’t worth arguing. So we continued waiting. After a few more minutes Rob went into the restaurant and came back with the food. He told me he hadn’t tipped the waitress, because she was an idiot who didn’t know the difference between east and west.

Attention fighting cousins!

I really don't care whether Sparky the magic flying dog is able to turn invisible for a maximum of 5 or 10 minutes at a time.

It makes no difference to me, so please leave me out of this surprisingly contentious debate.

Thank you.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 15

Today we were at Lagoon.

What is Lagoon, you ask? I personally think it’s Utah’s best kept secret (disclaimer- to my knowledge, neither I nor anyone I know has any financial involvement whatsoever in Lagoon).

It’s an amusement park north of Salt Lake City, which has a remarkably good collection of roller coasters of all different kinds, and an assortment of other decent vomit-inducing amusements. The park is privately owned, with a friendly feel you don't get at generic Six Flags places.

For the record, I’m an amusement park person/parent. I know most people hate going to them with kids, but not me. I love going on wild rides with my kids, shrieking with them, and doing all the corny amusement park stuff.

Wicked, in particular, is a great ride. If you’ve never experienced sphincter dysfunction before, the first 10 seconds of this coaster is a great way to do it.

Another ride is simply called “Roller Coaster”. It’s from 1921, and is the oldest roller coaster in the Western U.S., 7th oldest in the world. Although the ride is tame compared to it’s newer cousins, it has the added thrill of being made of entirely of wood, which flexes in all directions during the ride. This gives you the exciting impression that the whole thing is ready to collapse at any given moment, burying you in a pile of toothpicks.

The park also includes a variety of other features not normally found at amusement parks. This includes a waterpark, accurate 1800’s pioneer village with a museum-quality set of antiquities (medical geek that I am, I spent time in the old pharmacy, which also sells ice cream), a campground, and surrounding hiking trails. All of this is set on the side of a mountain, with some spectacular views. The park has so many trees that in some areas you feel like you’re on a roller coaster in the middle of the forest.

And the lines are nothing compared to Disneyland. The locals bitch if the line is 15 minutes long, and have no idea how lucky they are. Even better, unlike the greedy bunch that runs Disney parks, Lagoon lets you bring in your own food and picnic. You can also buy a giant soda jug with endless refills. Which is just perfect for me.

We haven’t been here for a few summers, back when the kids weren’t big enough for all the attractions. That year one of the ride-height-Nazis carefully measured Marie and proclaimed that at 45 and 7/8 inches she couldn't go on a 46 inch ride. This guy actually took a freakin’ credit card out of his wallet to see if he could slide it between the top of her head and the 46 inch height marker.

Craig, who loves to swim, absolutely HATES getting wet when he isn’t swimming. In spite of this, he loves going on water rides, as he has a bizarre belief that he won’t get wet (no matter how many times this has been disproven). So we went on the river ride.

This time, however, his luck held out, as we all got soaked except him. UNTIL we passed through the area where people watching can plug in quarters to set off water bombs as rafts go by. So as we floated past Craig stood up and yelled at them that they BETTER. NOT. GET. US. WET!

Bad move, Craig. I hope you learned a lesson.

While on the sky ride one of Frank’s flip-flops fell onto the roof of a building. Fortunately, they sell flip-flops at the pool shop there, and I suspect the sky ride is a regular cause of business.

Around mid-afternoon Mrs. Grumpy ran into some old friends, and abandoned me to my fate left with them. So the kids and I continued the rides on our own.

And then it happened.

We were on the log ride, and as Craig waved his arms wildly, he hit me. And my glasses snapped cleanly in two. Then both halves fell off the ride, into the water far below.


I’m so near-sighted it’s unbelievable. I travel with a spare pair, but it was back in the hotel. And I couldn’t reach Mrs. Grumpy.

Double shit.

So, setting the problem aside for later we finished up on the rides as I let the kids drag me around (the crazy leading the blind).

And then I faced the big challenge: finding the car.

Triple shit.

I had only a vague idea where we parked, because Mrs. Grumpy had moved the car when she went to get lunch out of the cooler. And in my current state the parking lot, which is pretty damn big (and full) was a collection of many fuzzy blobs of various colors and sizes. I couldn’t read license plates from more than a foot away.

So in a desperate attempt to find our car, I hoisted Frank (because he's the tallest) onto my shoulders. I used to carry him around that way when he was younger, but now he’s 11, and pretty damn heavy. I told him to look for the car, and guide us there.

You have no idea how many other people have white minivans until you try to find yours. In Utah family transportation comes in 2 sizes: Minivan and Ford Excursion. I think Frank led us to EVERY SINGLE FREAKING LIGHT-COLORED MINIVAN except ours, until Marie noticed it as we passed it heading for another one.

By that time my shoulders were killing me. And they still hurt.

Driving back to the hotel, in my prescription sunglasses, at night, was not fun (regardless of what Corey Hart may have told you), but we made it. The kids enjoyed hearing me swear at the pompous GPS bitch-voice.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 14

While the kids were watching TV this morning, an ad came on for the IHOP bacon & egg cheeseburger. WTF? They can’t advertise cigarettes on TV, but they can push this to kids?

A few minutes later I was showering, and realized I’d left the shampoo bottle out on the counter. I asked Frank to hand it to me, and then lathered up my hair.

But it didn’t lather. It clumped. And the more I rubbed the worse it got. In horror, I realized Frank had given me a bottle of generic hotel hand lotion, which showed no sign of coming out of my hair. I think I used up the hotel’s entire hot water supply and quite a bit of shampoo to de- goopify my receding hairline.

The freeway went through quite a few small towns. A peculiarity you see in Idaho is that every neighborhood has at least one house with a sign up that you can buy jerky there.

Today we drove through Red Rock Pass in Idaho, which is an interesting area.

From roughly 14,000 to 32,000 years ago the immense Lake Bonneville covered large amounts of Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. At some point, roughly 14,500 years ago, this massive lake eroded through a weak spot at Red Rock pass, causing a torrential flood. The flood rate was 15 million cubic feet of water per second, which is 3 times the average flow of the Amazon river today.

It’s oddly strange to stand in this quiet, rocky, area and think of it being under several hundred feet of water, pouring out with terrible force. Today the Great Salt Lake and Bonneville Salt Flats are all that are left of the massive lake.

We stopped for some groceries around noon. The store had a big aisle marked "Mormon Food Storage Supplies". It included rice, beans, wheat, big plastic containers, and (I swear!) A whole row of José Cuervo Margarita mixes. Either this is some new church doctrine, or they need a better stockboy.

Upon returning to our car, we saw this spankin' vehicle, which featured a plastic pigeon nailed to the trunk.

On the way out of town we passed a sandwich place advertising “15-inch footlong subs”. I pointed it out to the kids, and asked what was wrong with it. Frank said it was because they were using the metric system.

On this trip we’ve seen quite a few wind farms. Back home I hear people complaining about them being horrible eyesores, and not wanting them around. I have to tell you, though, that 100 tall wind turbines are a hell of a lot better looking than a single belching smokestack.

We eventually arrived back at my FIL’s house, where he enthusiastically greeted me with a gift-wrapped bag of the horrid jerky I’d tossed earlier in the trip, since he figured I’d enjoyed it so much.

While she and the kids visited with FIL, Mrs. Grumpy sent me to forage for pizza at a Little Caesar’s, which had a sign in front that said “Little Caesar is hot and ready tonight”. Since “Little Caesar” is allegedly the founder’s nickname, I have to wonder if that was one of his college pick-up lines.

While driving back with dinner I was passed by a big Dodge pick-up truck with the license plate “ITSOBIG”.

Only a few more days. I can do this.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 13

After disembarking, the kids and I waited while Mrs. Grumpy went for the Sienna. To give them something to do, I told them to count taxis as they went by. This turned out to be a bad move, as most had signs on them advertising a strip bar called “Dream Girls”, with photos of scantily clad women. This gave the wild bunch the giggles, and they quickly evolved to counting just Dream Girl cabs, then the number of boobies on each cab ([taxis with dream girls] x 2 = total number of boobies).

So we drove through the Pacific northwest, passing though Yakima (with a sign that said “Yakima- the Palm Springs of Washington”, whatever that means). We also went by a sign for Tacoma Screw Products.

On the trip overall we’ve been through quite a few towns of varying sizes. This has included Afton, Wyoming, home of the world's largest arch made entirely from elk antlers. For the benefit of animal lovers it was noted that all antlers were naturally shed by elks as they grew, and no elks were harmed in the making of the arch.

In one small northern Utah town, when we were at a red light, I happened to glance at the car next to us. A muscular guy winked and waved his tongue at me.

This afternoon we needed to pee, and top off the car, so pulled into a small town. To my surprise the gas station doubled as a feed store. I went in to pay for our purchase and the friendly clerk (wearing hunting gear, a gun, and a T-shirt that said "Shh!!! I'm hiding from the voices!") asked me if I needed any livestock feed (in our family "Livestock feed" constitutes a trip to McD's). The place also has a small restaurant, so I guess they cover pretty much all land creatures.

Oddball combination businesses have been a common finding on this trip. In one area we passed Rocky Mountain Fireworks & Fur store, which sold both.

We finally stopped in the late afternoon, in a place where Mrs. Grumpy has more family. She asked me to keep the kids at the motel, So I marched them out to the pool and plunked myself down with my faithful 2005 iBook and a Diet Coke.

Shortly after starting work, I poured Diet Coke down the front of my shirt.

We were meeting her family for dinner, and I don’t have many clean clothes left (tonight is laundry night). So I decided to get the stains out of my shirt by rubbing that part in the pool (guy thinking, I know). Unfortunately, after doing that it occurred to me that the chlorine in the pool might only stain that part of the shirt. So to balance it out, I soaked the whole shirt in the pool, and hung it over a chair to dry.

At dinner my in-laws asked me why I was wearing a wet shirt. I mumbled “it’s a guy thing” and left it at that (the shirt came out fine).

The restaurant they chose was a local roadside place, where I suggested my kids get something safe. So Craig ordered fried shrimp. Fortunately, I suspect they were from Costco (which is where I’d suggested going for dinner in the first place, thank you very much).

Fried anything, regardless of how bad it is for you, has always reminded me of Bill Crosby’s old routine about how Americans can eat anything if they can put it between 2 slices of bread. Similarly, we will also eat anything as long as it has been breaded and deep-fried. This is not a joke. Red Lobster and Long John Silver’s have built empires by realizing this.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 12

This cruise (as they all do) has some interesting passengers. Sometimes, I swear, it’s like the cruise line supplies them. This one features:

A lady who wears what looks like cake decorations on her head. These are NOT silly hats, and she clearly thinks they’re quite fashionable. She has different ones every day, sometimes with flowers, little people, ribbons, and small houses. I was hoping to see one with burning birthday candles, but I guess it wouldn’t be safe on the ship.

Another lady has outfits consisting of a tube top, 1970’s short-shorts, and knee-high boots. It’s like her fashion sense is stuck in the 1970’s, waiting to get a call to appear on Charlie’s Angels.

There are a truly frightening number of morbidly obese guys whose entire trip wardrobe consists of T-shirts that say "This is what AWESOMENESS looks like."

Another prize, and likely the winner, is a lady in her 40’s who’s on her honeymoon. Nothing wrong with that, EXCEPT SHE WEARS HER WEDDING DRESS EVERYWHERE! I’ve seen her in it every freakin' day now. At dinner. By the pool. At trivia. At karoke. On shore. She’s either having it washed every day, or has several dresses, or stinks.

While watching the world go by this morning I heard some vaguely familiar lyrics overhead, but the music didn’t match. After listening carefully, I realized (to my horror) that it was a cover of Pink Floyd's “Comfortably Numb”, redone as a disco song.

On the way up to lunch, in a crowded elevator, Frank had the class to rip one off. Loudly. Of course, Marie and Craig couldn’t let it go, announcing to the elevator who it was, and which of the guys in the elevator was his Dad. When the doors opened at the next stop I bolted out, leaving my kids looking horrified as I disappeared into a staircase. I needed the exercise anyway.

After lunch, Marie decided she wanted a grilled cheese sandwich for desert. As we headed for the deli we began hearing people talking loudly. Then yelling. Then running. And in a scene reminiscent of “Titanic” we saw increasing numbers of people dropping what they were doing and heading for the stern.

I looked out the window. The ship wasn’t listing as best I could tell. We were moving forward at the same speed. I didn’t notice any smoke. But more and more people ran past us. We started wondering if we were missing a boat drill.

So Marie asked her boyfriend, Grilled-Cheese-Master-Ajay, what was going on. He laughed and told us they’d just opened the cruise's chocolate buffet in back, but to prevent a riot were letting the news spread by word-of-mouth, rather than announcing it overhead.

We turned to go there ourselves. I then realized that the kids were gone already. They'd vanished in a blur, heading for the stern. I found myself holding Marie's grilled cheese sandwich, with one bite out of it.

This afternoon Frank and Craig wanted to play cards, so I grabbed a deck and we went down to the card room. It was packed, so instead we went to the casino next door. We got a table near the bar, got some Cokes, and began an exciting game of Go Fish.

None of the crew minded, but as usual some bored passenger felt the need to come over and chew me out for doing such sinful things as teaching my kids to gamble and drink. I didn’t bother (you can’t argue with these types) to point out we were doing neither.

After Mrs. Nosey left, the pianist struck up a cheery rendition of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".

Our last stop on the cruise was tonight, in Victoria, British Columbia.

I haven't been to Victoria in many years, but have always liked the place. Unfortunately, we didn't get in until early evening. Even worse, we docked in an industrial part of the harbor, far from easy walking distance to the venerable Empress Hotel or lovely Buchart Gardens.

It was, however, the first time I'd been to Canada since I began my writing career, and so I assumed a delegation of my Canadian fans (all 5 of you) would be waiting for me at the gangway, eager to have me sign your official Dr. Grumpy T-shirts.

So I dug through my luggage for any clean clothes I had left, which consisted of blue basketball shorts with silver stripes, and a Hawaiian floral shirt. The shirt had fit nicely when I packed it, but after 7 days on the S.S. Smorgasbord my buffet belly protruded like a hairy melon.

Thus fashionably attired, I marched down the gangway with Marie (the only one who wanted to go with me) and hoped my outfit didn't create an international incident.

Fortunately, the majority of passengers had left the ship in a rush earlier, and so we were alone as we walked ashore. We were greeted by a few bored harbor agents who stamped our passports. We wandered around for a few minutes, were told it would be a while for the next shuttle into town, and then returned to the ship after Marie abruptly declared she was hungry and wanted grilled cheese and ice cream.

I waved to a guy standing on the deck of a nearby Canadian Coast Guard Ship (C.C.G.S Sir Wilfrid Laurier) who was watching me closely. I can understand this, because if terrorists were trying to send someone to horrify people with bad fashion sense, they likely would be dressed like I was.

Today was the last full day of the cruise. As usual, we were presented with the U.S. Customs Declaration form, which features some of the typical great questions asked by government agencies. This includes them wondering if I happen to be carrying snails or insects on me. REALLY!

I’m actually glad to be leaving, because if I hear the phrase “have a cracking day!” again, I’m going to throttle Stu.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 11

Today started unusually early. Around 2:00 a.m. Marie went to pee. She left the bathroom door ajar, but the ship's rolling slammed it shut. In the haze of being semi-awake and peeing, Marie didn’t realize the door was no longer ajar, but closed. So of course, it wouldn’t open when she pushed on it. In her fogginess it didn’t occur to her to try, say, turning the handle.

So she immediately went into meltdown mode. She began screaming, pounding and kicking the door to try to get it open. She woke up Craig and Frank, who somehow decided she was screaming because she was trapped in the bathroom and the ship was sinking. As I went to extricate Marie from the john, Mrs. Grumpy tried to calm down the hysterical boys.

It took us about 10 minutes to get all settled, when the whole thing was set off again by the shrill ring of the telephone. It was security. For the first time ever someone had made a noise complaint about us, and we were warned to be quiet (if I find out it was my sister, she gets to swim home).

I told the kids that they were not to make any more noise until they saw water, smoke, or daylight coming into the cabin.

Today we’re in Ketchikan, Alaska. This pretty little town is known as the Salmon Capital of the World, is near Misty Fjords National Monument, and has a remarkable collection of Native American totem polls. It’s jammed up against the mountains, so the entire city is 1/4 mile wide and 3 miles long.

So, for all of that, what kind of things would you find on a “genuine Alaskan Shopping Experience” in Ketchikan? Well, the Cruiseship Lines guidebook to the town listed 18 Alaskan shopping experiences. Lets break them down:

13 jewelery stores
2 art galleries
1 place selling clothes that change color in direct sunlight
1 place selling clothes made from bamboo (Get a free bamboo necklace just by yelling “Cariloha!” in public! Wow!)
1 salmon store

How many of you would look at that list and say “Wow! That just screams a small Alaskan town to me!”.

Years ago, on our first trip here, Mrs. Grumpy and I paid $100 each for a bald eagle sightseeing excursion.

It was quite impressive, but unfortunately after you get to Ketchikan you realize that bald eagles are freakin’ EVERYWHERE, like pigeons back home. They particularly congregate around dumpsters. So it's pretty depressing to realize you shelled out $200 to see something you could have seen for free, just by hanging out behind the Burger King.

My Dad wanted to take us to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. In all honesty, prior to this afternoon I had no idea there was such a thing as timbersports. But they handed out a brochure listing their participants in such finger-removing sports as speed sawing, tree climbing/falling, log rolling, and power chainsaw. It noted several of these guys are regional champions or have earned college scholarships in this field. And I had no idea it even existed. It was contrived and touristy, but hey, I’m a tourist here, and it was surprisingly entertaining. Afterwards we walked around the town and tried cupcakes and other local delicacies before returning to base.

After boarding the ship, we stopped for Diet Cokes in the lobby. They were playing a country love song in the background, and I swear the chorus was “I want to check you for ticks.” I can only assume the singer's date either had serious hygiene issues, was into something kinky, or was a dog.

We relaxed by the pool this afternoon (I’m now reading "A Confederacy of Dunces"- quite good). Out of the corner of my eye I saw a white ball of fur moving around next to my chair. I absently reached down to pet it and mumbled “Hello, Snowball.” I suddenly realized Snowball was back home, and looked up at an Indonesian lady cleaning the deck, who had no idea why a balding American was petting her mop.

As the boys swam, the Smorgasbord’s entertainment staff put a beanbag-toss set out by the pool, for anyone to play with. That anyone turned out to be Marie, who decided to play it herself by tossing beanbags back & forth and switching sides.

To my horror her beanbag score was:

Hit the target: 3

Lady in a wheelchair: 1.

People waiting in line for hamburgers: 3

People waiting in line for ice cream: 2

The metal piece over the stage with lights hanging off it: 1

Tossed in pool: 2

Fortunately the staff took away the bowling set before she got interested in that.

My BIL, Dave, signed up to play in the ship’s ping-pong tournament. He, and everyone else, were crushed by a guy who travels with his own, specially-made, ping-pong paddle. You have to respect that kind of mindset to take ping-pong so seriously you don’t go anywhere without your customized paddle.

As always, there are plenty of photo-ops on the ship. Every night they have different portrait themes. You can have your picture taken with you cheerfully in the woods (surrounded by small stuffed animals), holding firearms in the old west, on the grand staircase of the Titanic, and other pleasant areas.

So as I headed for the dining room I passed a lady in a blue dress. She was keeping a ship’s photographer busy with her posing at a piano. As I watched the pictures became increasingly explicit. At first she was just sitting there, smiling. Then sitting with her hand slightly up under her skirt. Then winking and licking the piano. Then licking a long-stemmed wine glass. Then licking the piano, holding the wine glass, and turned so you could see she didn’t have any undies on.

My family wanted to know what held me up on the way to dinner. I told them the elevator got stuck.

July 25, 1956. Whatever happened to..?

It seems odd to be putting this up while on a cruise, but it is the anniversary, and I had the post ready. So what the hell.

The story of the Andrea Doria is well-known, and I won't go into too many details. 54 years ago today the ocean liners Andrea Doria and Stockholm collided in a heavy fog off Nantucket, Massachusetts. The Andrea Doria sank after several hours, in one of the first shipwrecks to be covered live by the media. Her wreck is slowly collapsing to the seabed.

As the ship that was lost, the Andrea Doria gets all the publicity. But what happened to the Stockholm?

The Stockholm, after the collision

She's still out there, plying her trade as an ocean liner.

After being repaired she returned to work. She's since been sold multiple times, operating for several lines under many names, including Volkerfeundschat, Volker, Fridtjof Nanen, Italia I, Italia Prima, Valtur Prima, Caribe, and (currently) Athena.

In addition to her career as a cruise ship, she's also been used as barracks ship in Oslo.

In 1989, 33 years after the collision, she was taken to Genoa, Italy, which was the Andrea Doria's home port. She underwent an extensive reconstruction there, and subsequently served the Caribbean-Italy route for a time. She had another large series of modifications in 1994.

More recently, while on a cruise to Australia in December, 2008, she was attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, and successfully fought off her assailants with water cannons.

And she continues in service today, with her remarkable past unknown to the many who now vacation on her. Her current website (perhaps understandably) doesn't even mention it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 10

Today we were in Juneau.

After walking off the ship, we were greeted by shuttles going to whale-watching cruises, glacier hiking tours, shopping districts, etc. And where did most people go? They piled into the one that said “Shuttle to Walmart.” WTF, people?

Since the kids only experience with whales consisted of trips to Seaworld, I decided to take them on a whale-seeing excursion, which they quite enjoyed.

This boat had a naturalist, a very nice girl named Christine. She was quite knowledgeable and helpful, but as I listened to her answer questions it occurred to me that she could start making up answers, and no one would know. “Those are McFlurpy Whales. They only eat penguins and eucalyptus leaves, and so every day migrate to the waters between Australia and Antarctica to feed, returning to Alaska by nightfall to care for their young.” And the tourists would take pictures, say “Oh, I’ve never heard of those” and go home to spread the story.

The tour boat sold a few souvenirs, including smoked salmon. So to drum up sales they gave it out on crackers as a snack. Several people lined up to buy some, and I heard this exchange.

Mrs. Uglyhat: "I love this! Can I buy some?"

Boatgirl: "Certainly, ma'am. Here you go, genuine Alaska smoked salmon."

Mrs. Uglyhat: "No! Not the salmon! I can buy that at home. I mean the crackers! They're wonderful."

Boatgirl: (taken aback) "Uh... Those are just Ritz crackers."

Mrs. Uglyhat: "Well I love them!"

Boatgirl: “Um, we’re just selling the salmon.”

I personally thought Boatgirl should have just sold her a box of crackers for $20.

So the kids saw whales, and impressed Christine with their knowledge of Orcas. This consisted of them screaming “Shamu! Shamu!” loudly at every passing whale (humpback and orcas). Or wave that they thought was a whale. Or floating seaweed.

After the whale-watching trip we walked around town. Unfortunately, Juneau has the usual gift shops selling the usual local T-shirts, ulu knives, hats, humorous boxer shorts, and a CD of songs by "Trapper Dan" (it’s called Bear Essentials, and the cover features a naked man with a strategically placed guitar).

We took the kid on a hanging gondola tram ride over town, to the top of Mount Roberts. With our usual remarkable luck we got to share the trip with 2 idiotic women who were arguing over whether or not the gift shops in Juneau would accept American dollars. Fortunately, their argument ended when one of their husbands turned out to be terrified of heights. Every time the gondola shook a little he’d scream.

The kids favorite attraction was the waterfront statue of Patsy Ann. She was a Bull Terrier that was the Juneau community dog in the 1930’s. Although born deaf, she could always tell when ships were coming, and would greet them.

After leaving Juneau we were sitting on deck watching the scenery go by. At one point we saw a large bear wandering along the shore. As word got out people ran over to the side of the shop, watching, pointing, and taking pictures. After a few minutes of this the bear suddenly stood up and began waving at us.

Obviously, this local has WAY too much time on his hands.

Perhaps the oddest occupation you encounter on these cruises is the ship's professional shopper (sometimes called the "Shopping Consultant". This is, I suspect, a coveted position. It consists of a lady who's entire job is to go buy expensive jewelery and clothes ashore, then come back and report to the passengers about how wonderfully she was treated at various places. Since she only shops at places that have paid Cruiseship Lines a fee to appear in the shipboard advertising, one has to take her endorsements with a grain of salt. But certainly, given the amenities of a decent cabin, food, and a shopping expense account, it sounds like a delightfully cushy job.

Dinner has become quite entertaining. My 16 year old nephew, Greg, can’t eat gluten foods. So the awesome dining room head waittress, Marlina, comes to our table at dinner each night to show him what’s on the menu for the following day. This way Greg can pick what he wants, and they make sure it’s safely prepared for him.

Now Greg is a good guy, but he’s also a typical teenage boy. Marlina is a stunning beauty from Eastern Europe, and Greg has discovered that if he pretends to be near sighted, Marlina bends closer to him with the menu, and he gets a better view of her cleavage.

Ah, to be 15 again.

I’m really not much of a gambling person (I’m cheap). But I do like blackjack. Since they had a tournament that was only $20 for 30 minutes play, I decided to enter for the hell of it.

So at the appointed time I went down to play. In my time slot there was only one other guy, and a gorgeous dealer with a thick accent. I sat down at the table, and she looked at me.

Ms. Dealer: “You are here for BJ?”

Dr. Grumpy: (taken aback) “Uh, excuse me?”

Ms. Dealer: “BJ. You are here for the BJ, correct?”

My inner voice: “Wow! For $20 that’s not a bad deal!”

Dr. Grumpy: “Um, yes, blackjack.”

The other guy at the table whispered to me “She said the same thing to me. Damn near gave me a heart attack.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 9

Today we were in Skagway, Alaska.

An interesting feature here is the harbor. We docked next to a rock wall, which was covered with ship-related graffiti. Every time a ship called on Skagway for the first time, it's name was painted on the wall. This had obviously been going on for quite a while, and it covered most of the place. The table my family had chosen was cheerfully opposite the sign painted in 1977 by the crew of the Prinsendam, which sank while cruising Alaska in 1981.

Makes you think. The number of ships safely cruising the area doesn’t change the fact that these are still narrow, dangerous waters. We tend to think all our modern gadgets are protection, and they are- to a point. A large passenger ferry, the Queen of the North, sank in these waters as recently as 2006, due to a navigation error.

Skagway is a small town that has a fascinating history. Unfortunately, very few tourists care about history, and so places like Skagway (such as Jackson, Wyoming, Lahaina, Hawaii, and Tombstone, Arizona) have survived by opening boutiques of various kinds, making you feel that their entire historical significance is based on jewelry, leather goods, and T-shirt shops.

One interesting place I noticed was this restaurant, a pizzeria which features popular Italian and Mexican foods such as crab, halibut burgers, salmon chowder, and that ever-popular Italian and Mexican delicacy, the gyro. I can only assume the owner suffers from ADD, or is marketing to indecisive people.

(click to enlarge)

Skagway also features such novelties as the Sarah Palin gift shop, and the Red Onion prostitution museum. The latter has a sign in the window that said "Tours are $5 for 15 minutes- the same price as 1898."

For almost $180/person you can get a more detailed tour of the city’s prostitution history. The shore excursion guide featured quite a suggestive description of it, which I've included below.

(click to enlarge)

With a description like that, and for that kind of money, you'd think they could include at least a hand job. Maybe they do.

After boarding the Smorgasbord we went back to our cabin. There was a note on the door saying they’ll be doing “routine maintenance” on our balcony tomorrow. The way I’ve been eating I can only assume they’re reinforcing it.

The highlight of dinner tonight was Craig, Frank, and their cousin Greg linking Nintendos together so they could play each other. At one point all 3 of the gadgets beeped simultaneously, and my parents thought that was their cue to take vitamins.

Tonight’s shipboard show was a musical review called “The Big Easy”. It was okay, but was made spectacular by a mechanical failure. In one scene a female singer is wearing a wig that made her look like Maleficent (who in my opinion is STILL the greatest Disney villain EVER).

Anyway, a line was lowered for her to attach to her costume, and then, as she sang, lifted her high above the stage.

EXCEPT it didn’t quite work out. When she got hoisted in the air, for whatever reason, the cable rotated her away for the audience. So while she belted out the song we’re all looking at her back. She tried to turn around (without much success) by flailing her arms and legs wildly while singing. It didn’t help, but did give the odd appearance of an epileptic spider doing a musical number.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 8

Today we cruised the remarkably beautiful Tracy Arm fjord, dotted with floating ice (from upstream glaciers) and lined by sheer mountains with cascading waterfalls. It was truly lovely. We commandeered a table with an excellent view at breakfast, and spent most of the morning watching the scenery go by. We’d see the occasional seal lying on a drifting ice floe or eagles diving for fish.

For shut-ins, there’s a TV channel on board that shows the view from the bow 24/7. I assume it's for people who are too lazy to leave their rooms, or honeymooners. It makes you think the cruise line got their HBO cut off, and decided to show this instead.

After we left the gorgeous fjord, we were treated to some less-then spectacular scenery: The ship’s Hairy Chest contest.

I have no idea where this odd tradition started, but it’s a regular feature on Cruiseship Lines. Usually it consists of 6-8 muscular guys strutting their stuff in front of the crowd, while ladies cheer them on.

On previous cruises I've taken the volunteers were muscular young guys. On this trip, however, there apparently weren't any. As a result the Hairy Chest Contest looked more like a Belly-Bucking competition. It was made even more comical by the fact that the first 3 guys who volunteered were named Harry, Dick, and Randy.

This not-so-sightly competition was followed by an ice carving demonstration. They hauled a huge block of ice on deck, and one bright passenger immediately asked, "Do you use real ice for these? Or is it just water made to look like ice?"

Afterwards I wanted to relax in the hot tub. The one by the covered pool was overloaded with kids, so I went to the one in the spa. There’s an area with deck chairs next to it, and, for no obvious reason, a statue of a butt.

(No, I have no idea what the electronic gadget is. Maybe some sort of digital prostate examining device)

While I was soaking a young couple came in playing "pass the toddler" back and forth. They told me that they'd taken this cruise specifically to celebrate the child's 1st birthday, because they wanted to do something he'd remember. They'd read about how kids don’t remember their first B-days, and so they wanted to do something unforgettable. Their reasoning was that by doing something like an Alaskan cruise (as opposed to a cake with candles in the yard) that he’d definitely remember his first birthday.

I smiled and listened politely. They were O-SO special.

Afterwards I got into the elevator, and was joined by a couple from Germany. Mrs. German looked me over. I'm dripping wet, with a soaked towel and T-shirt over my shoulders. She says something in German, and her husband smiles, then looks at me and says "She says you smell like a pool".

On the way to dinner I passed through a lounge, where a Filipino bartender was setting up for the night. I was treated to him doing an enthusiastic version of “Hello Dolly”. I wanted to applaud. I respect people who, like me, have no vocal talent whatsoever, but still belt them out with enthusiasm.

There's always one person on every cruise who's determined to lose weight on the ship, and try to make everyone around them feel guilty about it (a lady last year brought a freaking scale on the ship). At dinner, between random beeping from the kids' Gameboys and my parents' vitamin watch, I saw the featured one on the Smorgasbord.

This lady in her 40's was sitting across the aisle from us, in a group of girlfriends. As these types always do, she felt the need to tell her companions how much fat, salt, and calories were in their dishes (I'll be surprised if she isn't swimming back to Seattle in a day or two).

Of course, all of us are ordering excellent food, brought by our wonderful waitstaff. So what did this babe do?

She had her own food, from the PutridSystem diet plan. Cardboard bread! Taste-free treats! Mystery pasta!

She'd whip these miniature, pleasure-free, semi-edible items from her bag with great drama, and loudly read the nutritional contents (such as they may be) to her friends and anyone else who could hear, happily comparing them to whatever her friends were eating.

I have nothing against healthy eating and losing weight. I recommend it to my patients, and sometimes even make half-hearted attempts at it myself (Lipitor, take me away!). But the ship's menu does feature several healthy options. Even if you don't want them, I don't understand why you feel that makes you superior to others, or have to try and make them feel like shit.

One nice feature this ship has is a guy named Ram, who’s the dining room magician. He has a great sleight-of-hand, and is just awesome for entertainment and at keeping kids distracted while dinner is coming. He hasn’t, however, thus far been able to make Miss PutridSystem disappear. Maybe if I tip him...

My kids are having a hard time accepting that Cruiseship Lines, as a cost saving measure, has stopped the "Meet the Captain" party with dancing. Since it involved free drinks I liked it too. Marie sees it as a great time to show off her pseudo-convulsive dance moves to an adoring audience, and to drag me down with her in the process. We won’t win any contests, but do have fun. And isn't that what Summer vacations are for?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 7

Last night was a rough night. My sister has never been on a cruise, and has the cabin next to ours. She wasn't sure what normal rocking was, and we were occasionally woken by her screaming at her husband that the ship was sinking. Then she'd call us for reassurance. An hour later it would start over again.

On my initial Alaskan cruise several years ago, I had a truly memorable swimming experience. We'd gone much earlier in the season. The pool on top of the ship was heated, and it was in the 60’s outside. I had a relaxing time, lazily swimming back and forth as the water sloshed with the ship’s motion. Most people were downstairs playing bingo or napping or whatever, and I had the area to myself. It was quite nice.

Until a wind kicked up. And the temperature dropped. I wasn’t too alarmed, as I was comfortable in the pool, and my bathrobe and towel were within arm's reach.

Then it began snowing. A LOT. And the temp dropped into the 30’s. And when a strong gust of wind struck I watched in horror as my bathrobe and towel blew into the gulf of Alaska (I later got billed for them, too).

I was trapped in the pool.

The distance from the pool to the nearest door was only about 50 feet. Not so long. But when you are soaking wet, with nothing other than a wet bathing suit, and it’s 37° F, with 40 mph winds, and snowing, that 50 feet looks like a light year.

I jumped out of the warm pool. The blast of cold was awful. It was the longest 50 feet of my life. By the time I got inside I had a lump in my throat, which I’d previously used to urinate with.

With that in mind, I’m glad the Smorgasbord has a covered pool.

For those of you with my vice, I give you the most valuable cruising tip of all: When you walk on board, the ABSOLUTE FIRST THING you should do is go straight to the nearest bar (usually you enter the ship near the lobby one) and buy a soda card (fountain card on some lines). They give you a card, or put a sticker on your ship ID, giving you access to unlimited Diet Coke (or lesser soft drinks of your choice) for the duration of the trip. A Diet Coke bought individually is $2.50. So for someone like me the $55/7 day card pays for itself in, oh, say, 20 minutes.

The Smorgasbord’s cruise director is Stu. Like all cruise directors, he always sounds like he lives on Prozac and coffee, and can make even the most mundane activity, or dire emergency, sound like something that will be a hell of a lot of fun you don't want to miss.

Stu, although a native English speaker, isn't native to the American dialect. As a result he routinely wishes us a "cracking day". Fortunately, by reading ABB regularly, I've come to learn that this doesn't involve what Americans normally refer to as crack (unless you consider the oversupply of poorly fitted bathing suits at the pool).

He’s a good guy, but personally, I preferred Goose, from our July, 2009 cruise. Besides the name, Goose also had his morning phone-in TV show, and the drunken/stupid/both calls he got reminded me of a typical day at my office.

At lunch today, to my surprise, my cell phone rang. I figured only Mary or Annie would be calling me directly, so I answered it.

Dr. Grumpy: “Hello? This is Dr. Grumpy.”

Ms. Slowhuc: “Yes, this is Local Hospital. We have a consult for you, on the lady in room 755.”

Dr. Grumpy: “I’m in Alaska.”

Ms. Slowhuc: “That’s okay, the nurse said you can do it tomorrow.”

Dr. Grumpy: “No. I’m on vacation. I won’t be home for a while.”

Ms. Slowhuc: “You are refusing the consult?”

Dr. Grumpy: “I’m not there! Dr. Cortex is covering. Please call...”

Ms. Slowhuc: “But the consult isn’t for Dr. Cortex. It's for you.”

Dr. Grumpy: “But he's covering for me.”

Ms. Slowhuc: “They asked for you.”

Dr. Grumpy (sigh): "Just call him. Trust me.”


After lunch I went golfing with the kids and their cousins. Marie’s shot off the 8th hole is now somewhere at the bottom of the Inside Passage (she really doesn’t grasp the difference between driving and putting very well). I got billed for a lost ball. At least it’s cheaper than the basketball I put overboard last Summer off Mexico.

My parent’s are both vitamin addicts, and don’t go anywhere without their little Ziploc baggies of pills. And a watch with multiple alarms that go off to remind them when they're supposed to take what. I think the constant beeping and chirping at different times of dinner scared our waiter Vladimir, who was afraid we had a bomb under the table (actually, Craig was under the table, trying to tie my shoes together).

Today we're quietly heading north. To my disappointment, we aren’t visiting Prince Rupert, which is a pretty little town in western British Columbia. It’s historically an interesting place, more because of what it might have been. I was there a few years ago.

In the early 20th century, as trade between North America and the far east developed, west coast ports grew increasingly busy. Charles Hays, General Manager of a railroad company, aggressively developed the area. He realized that it was geographically close enough to Japan to significantly shorten shipping routes, and wanted to make the town the major hub for western North American shipping. The plans might have made Prince Rupert an immense metropolis had they been carried through.

But Mr. Hays died in 1912 on the Titanic, and his dreams for Prince Rupert went with him. In retrospect, the area is so lovely that it’s probably best they never happened.

A particularly interesting feature of Prince Rupert is the harbor park, which is designed to be a memorial for those lost in the Pacific. The centerpiece is an oddly out-of-place Japanese fishing boat, resting under a Shinto shrine. There is a sad story behind it.

On September 26, 1985 retired civil servant Kazukio Sakamoto left Owase, Japan, for a routine fishing trip in his boat the Kazu Maru. He never returned.

On March 26, 1987 a Canadian patrol vessel off British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte island encountered a capsized, but still floating, hull covered with barnacles and weeds. They towed it to the harbor, where it was found to be the missing Kazu Maru. It had floated from Japan across to Canada. In a bizarre coincidence, Owase and Prince Rupert have been sister cities since the 1960’s.

There was no trace of Mr. Sakamoto, and his demise remains a mystery. With the permission of his family, the boat was made the centerpiece of the park, and remains there today as a poignant reminder of those lost at sea.

Meep meep meep meep meep

Mrs. Grumpy put a bathing sponge up in our cabin's shower.

Maybe it's just me, but now when I'm in there I feel like I'm being watched by Beaker, from The Muppet Show.

See if you can tell them apart.


The shower.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 6

This morning, with plenty of Diet Coke on hand, I didn’t want coffee for breakfast. This pissed off the hotel’s breakfast lady to no end, as she kept coming over to offer me some, and made it sound like she’d gone out at 2:00 a.m. just to buy it for me. She even recruited the kids in trying to convince me to have a cup of joe (perhaps it was poisoned). After we checked out and drove off, I kept absently looking in the rear view mirror for her following us.

Today we met my parents and my sister’s family, and headed for the harbor. This year my Dad decided to take me and my sister’s tribes to Alaska on a family trip aboard the S.S. Smorgasbord. So between 3 cabins we have (literally) a boatload of people.

In the terminal my father had paid extra to have “priority check-in” on the cruise, and was told there was a special waiting area for this. I think he was under the impression this was a separate area of plush chairs, quiet fountains, a classical music quartet, and stunning, nubile serving girls catering to your every whim.

He was clearly disappointed to find it was simply a section of standard airport-style row seats, in the center of all the other waiting people, surrounded by a bunch of those rope barriers they use in movie theater lines. The provided entertainment was yesterday’s newspaper (with the sports section missing). The closest thing to a serving girl was an overweight guy named Harvey who kept yelling at people not to lean on the ropes. It’s my parents’ first cruise, and it clearly wasn’t starting the way he wanted it to.

My initial Alaskan cruise was several years ago, with a company I’ll call Non-Consumable food Lines. Mrs. Grumpy and I went without the kids. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that trip would become a noteworthy experience for me and my blog followers.

There was a talent show on the last full day of that cruise, and Mrs. Grumpy asked me to enter it, doing comedy based on my practice. Since it also fell on her birthday, I couldn’t refuse.

So I got some of the material I’d been saving together, and did a 3 minute stand-up routine. For better or worse I was beaten by an 88 year-old clog-dancer. But that experience eventually contributed to the creation of this blog (and who’s gonna read a blog called anyway?). I think she got the sympathy vote, just in case she didn't make it through the cruise.

Back to 2010.

When we found our cabin it was hot as hell, in spite of the AC being on cold. So I called to complain. The lady who answered the phone assured me that an “air-conditioner fixer specialty person” would come soon, and so he did. The guy walked into our cabin, pulled the plastic cover off the AC control, blew dust out of it, whacked it with the side of his hand, and left. It worked fine after that.

While Mrs. Grumpy unpacked, she told me to either get the kids out of her hair, or kill them. So I dragged them upstairs. They made me stop for ice cream, apparently out of fear that they would go into a hypoglycemic coma so soon after lunch. After getting there Marie decided she also desperately needed a grilled cheese sandwich, as it had been nearly 30 minutes since lunch. So she made friends with Ajay, master of the S.S. Smorgasbord’s grill.

Then we went off to golf. Marie, picking up right where she’d left off on our last cruise, started by knocking over a lady’s daiquiri and shattering the glass (I guess it’s hard to play when you’re trying to hold a club and ice cream cone in one hand and a grilled cheese in the other). When someone came over to clean it up, she began wailing that it was Craig’s fault for talking to her while she was teeing off.

To prepare for this cruise, I read a great book called Cruise Confidential, by Brian Bruns. He wrote the book while working as a waiter for Carnival, and it gives a remarkable view into the lives of the ship’s service crew.

Basically they work hard and party hard. In fact, from reading the book you get the impression that when they’re not working the crew are either sleeping, drinking, or screwing (they also have to guard their silverware from other waiters). It notes that Mr. Bruns is the only American (as of the time of the writing) to have survived a Carnival tour-of-duty. I’m surprised that the book hasn’t recruited more American college-aged guys to the field, as it sounds like the lifestyle of mindless labor, alcohol, and frequent sex would be quite attractive at some point. Carnival even provides condoms to the employees.

After reading the book it’s impossible to walk around the ship looking at crew members and not wonder who’s banging who.

I also became aware that, like everyone else out there, the crew has to put up with some remarkably stupid questions. An example from the book is “What do you do with the ice sculptures after they melt?”

And that's it from the S.S. Smorgasboard.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 5

Today we are in Seattle.

I was woken this morning by the 3 kids doing a horrific rendition of the 1980’s pop song “Don’t You Want Me?”. Considering they stayed up watching "Underdog" later than Mrs. Grumpy or I, they sure had a lot of energy when they woke up. I had no idea 80's pop was in the movie's soundtrack. Or maybe they changed the channel after we passed out.

After getting them dressed (which required me threatening to volunteer the boys for some electrical conductance experiments) we went down to breakfast. We'd run out of Diet Cokes, so I wanted coffee to wake up.

Unfortunately, the hotel had somehow managed to run out of coffee by the time we made it downstairs. Fortunately, there was a Costco nearby. So we reloaded on critical (and not-so-critical) supplies (20 lbs. box of laundry soap, 48 cans of Diet Coke, 1 box of pancake mix [NO! I HAVE NO FREAKIN' IDEA WHY WE NEEDED TO BUY PANCAKE MIX!], tomatoes [just in case, I guess], and tape) and I bought a soda cup at the snack bar and kept refilling it. Of course, by this time the kids were afraid they'd die of starvation (they hadn't eaten in what, an hour?), so they all wanted hot dogs, too.

On a side note, is there anyone else out there who remembers the married days before you had kids and a cheap date was a trip to Costco and 2 hot dogs for $3, and you thought that was awesome?

Then we dragged the kids down to Pike Place market and the aquarium. As we drove, the kids were stunned to see the Space Needle really exists. They'd assumed it was just a prop on iCarly.

Aquariums are cropping up on every corner in North America these days, but there are very few that I really like. Seattle is one of them (the others are Vancouver and Boston, though I haven't been to either in years). Actually, I haven't been to that many aquariums when I think about it. I know there are many others, but none of them in North America have octopi I want to vote for.

As we walked into the first exhibit hall, a guy came up to Marie and said "Hey, little lady, would you like to touch my sea cucumber?"

I was about to call security until I realized he worked there, and, indeed, was carrying around a live sea cucumber in a big plastic bowl. I looked around and saw quite a few people carrying sea creatures to show kids, and was reassured that a pedophile hadn't snuck into the aquarium. Or, if he had, at least he wasn't hiding in the bathroom.

It's really embarrassing when your kids start hitting each other in a fight over which of the starfish in the "hands-on" tide pool is Patrick. Or ask the nice lady working there why he isn't wearing pants, like on the show.

While walking between the buildings I noticed this interesting architectural feature overhead.

As you can see, it's a door to nowhere hanging off the 2nd floor. I secretly hoped that on the inside of the door was a sign that said “smoking patio”.

After the aquarium we wandered around Pike Place Market. I like this place, and could spend all day browsing. I have a fond memory from the 1990's when I was in Seattle interviewing for neurology residency. Due to flight schedules I had a whole day to kill, and spent it wandering around the waterfront and Pike Place area. I dodged flying fish, bought books, had someone take my picture next to a cardboard cutout of a T-101 Terminator (I figured in a few months patients would see me that way), and ate anything that looked good (which was a lot.). By the end of the day I was poorer, fatter, and barely fit into my suit for the interview the next day.

But now, with 3 wild kids, the best you can do is window shop and keep them out of stores where they might break something.

One item here that caught my attention was this poster for a lighthearted musical. I was somewhat sorry to see the show’s run was over by the time we visited.

Seattle has some things that other cities just can't match. My kids, in particular, loved the famous Wall of Gum (picture below). This is exactly what it sounds like. Since 1993 people have been sticking their gum on a wall at the market, and it's now several inches thick. It’s been named the 2nd germiest attraction in the world after the Blarney stone.

Of course, all 3 of them wanted to add gum to it. We didn't have any (shit! why didn't we think of that at Costco?). So to prevent widespread unrest I bought an overpriced pack of gum, and they all chewed a piece and then stuck it up.

(yes, that’s Frank. Due to him turning a kid in for eating clay, he’s now in the Wingnut Elementary School witness protection program).

Immediately after this picture was taken, Frank, for reasons known only to him, rubbed his hands all over everyone else's gum! So I was assigned the job of slathering him with Purell (don't leave home without it).

We stopped at Ivar's for dinner and were assaulted by fed the world's fattest seagulls again. On the way back to the hotel, Craig and Marie capped off the day by eating the damn tomatoes, sending seeds flying through the minivan.

And that's the way it is.

Weenie barbecue

I'd like to thank my Science Marches on Department for sending me this. Although I'm on vacation, the nature of such important research demands that it be published immediately.

Determination of Human Penile Electrical Resistance

J Sex Med. 2010 May 26. [Epub ahead of print]

Tsai VF, Chang HC, Liu SP, Kuo YC, Chen JH, Jaw FS, Hsieh JT.

Institute of Biomedical Engineering, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan.


Introduction. Electrosurgery has been a surgical application since the late 19th century. Although many urologists take this daily application for granted, the effects of electrical treatment on penile nerves and vessels have not been well documented.

Methods. Measurement of the electrical characteristics of three human penises in order to create models to analyze the effect of electricity on penile nerves and vessels.

Results. Electrical resistivity (rho) of the penile shaft is 127.14 Omega . cm at 500 kHz. Electrical current density (J) of the penis shaft is 71.06 mA/cm(2), nerve (60.23 mA/cm(2)), vessel (67.93 mA/cm(2)), and return electrode (2.11 mA/cm(2)). Electrical field strength (E) of the whole penis shaft is 9.03 volt/cm. The proportion of generated heat on the penis is four times as much as on other body parts of the circuit.

Conclusions. Potential and subclinical injury to erectile tissue caused by electrosurgery on the penis cannot be underestimated.

Waking up in Seattle

And checking the internet.

This was on Wikipedia this morning, under the "From Wikipedia's newest articles" section.

Maybe I'm just tired, but it gave me the giggles.

(click to enlarge)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 4

Today we drove to Seattle.

As you may remember, last night we had trouble finding a hotel room. The town was small, but we were tired, and couldn't handle the thought of driving for another few hours.

Unfortunately, the place is hosting some sort of regional fishing meeting, so finding a room was hard. We finally got one in a nondescript place on the outskirts. It looked fine, and served breakfast to boot (for people traveling with kids, the trend of hotels that offer even a basic continental breakfast is just awesome). There were several other families there, and the pool was full of kids. So we went in, and I asked for a room. That seemed to surprise the friendly clerk, and he said "How many rooms?" I replied "Oh, just one." I figured he was just hard of hearing.

Silly me. At breakfast this morning we discovered that the place covertly specializes in polygamous families. So our little familial unit of 5 was dwarfed by throngs of kids in different colored clothes, mothers rushing everywhere, and alpha males eating waffles. One guy had a T-shirt that said "I may not be smart, but I can lift heavy things". I was glad when none of them asked me about Marie's availability.

A few miles outside Missoula we passed a large bra in the middle of the road. This was followed by a sock, then a pair of shorts, and, after a surprisingly large wardrobe of clothes, we caught up to a car with suitcases on the roof, one of which was unlocked and opening as they hit bumps, allowing things to escape. We tried to tell the driver, but she flipped us off.

We saw this warehouse as we traveled. For my other medical readers, I had to get a shot of it. So now I know where the land of Junkie Joy is located.

Western Montana is remarkably scenic. Our enjoyment of it was only slightly marred by Frank asking "How do they do such nice landscaping?”

Later, while driving through the middle of nowhere we passed a cement plant. In typical tourist fashion, there were several cars pulled over with people taking pictures of it. I don't understand people.

It occurred to me today that the GPS system has ruined one of the truly great moments of childhood trips: watching your parents fighting over directions. Today's children will grow up with no idea that parents would once fight over directions, would fight over whether or not to pull over and ask for directions, would fight over who got to hold the map. The most they ever hear is the pleasant GPS voice saying "RECALCULATING" which translates into "You dipshit, why can't you listen?"

In late afternoon we passed a religious billboard, which read “Jesus said ‘This is the work of the Lord’ ”. Due to poor (or perhaps intentional) placement, the sign was located immediately next to the town landfill.

After arriving in Seattle we took the kids down to the waterfront for dinner, and ate outside. There we were assaulted by that most aggressive bird of prey, the seagull. It's like these things evolved solely for the purpose of attacking people who eat outside. Some of them were so fat it was amazing to see them fly.

The kids are watching Underdog, the movie. I'm going to bed, the queen size.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 3

Today we drove through Yellowstone National Park.

Our drive here was somewhat delayed, as the GPS gadget had decided to take us to a shopping mall in another town that had “Yellowstone” in the name. Because, of course, we assume it knows what it’s doing, it took us 30 minutes before we finally got suspicious and investigated.

When I was kid, we made several family trips to Yellowstone. It and the Teton mountains are remarkable. Literally some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth.

I vividly remember a trip here in the late 1970's, in our faithful blue Datsun 610 stationwagon (for those too young to know, Datsun became Nissan in the early 80's). My father spotted a large buffalo near the road, and pulled over to get pictures with his humungous multi-lens Nikon camera (my father is an untalented photographer, but tries hard. He has over 300 slides he took of the Golden Gate Bridge in the early 70's, shot from every possible ground angle).

So as we sat there, Mr. Buffalo decided he wasn't too fond of the blue Datsun (or worse, thought it was attractive) and decided to investigate it. So as it came over, we all piled into the car. Dad decided to drive away slowly, trying to get shots of the buffalo through the rear window, neatly framed by my sister and I screaming at him to go faster. But he kept driving slowly away, letting the buffalo catch-up, reassuring us that he could step on the accelerator anytime he wanted to.

It was at this point that the Datsun's transmission began making a horrible noise.

We were now much slower that the buffalo, and my father kept stepping on the gas pedal trying to get away. As the buff closed to about 20 feet the car suddenly lurched forward, veered off the road, swung back on it, and left the frustrated buffalo behind.

So it was somewhat comical that today, when I drove into Yellowstone with my family, the guy at the entrance handed us a map and a large yellow paper that said "Buffalo are dangerous! They weigh 2000 pounds and can run 30 MPH. Do not allow them too close to your car". I hoped they were giving it to everyone, and not saying "Hey! that's the guy who's dad tormented a buff 34 years ago! Give him the flyer!"

Old Faithful, the geyser basins, paint pots, Mammoth Hot Springs- all phenomenal, unearthly areas. Of course, all of this was lost on my kids, who were whining about (Heaven forbid!) having to walk around to see things. So we told them to shut up and keep walking.

We ended up following a ranger around, as he led a tour group. The experience gave me some further appreciation of the park, and dramatically increased my already high esteem for rangers. Because this poor lady was being bombarded by stupid questions to rival those in my practice:

"Do you run the geyser's at night? Or only when the park is open?"

"What time do you bring the bears in for the night?"

"How did they know where to dig holes so geysers would form?"

As we walked around, I heard a teenage girl (covered in piercings and tatoos) complaining about the pathways and informational signs, saying that "it ruins it all, they should just leave things the way nature made it". Is that irony, or what?

Before setting off we decided to feed the whiny kids. This plan ended when we were trapped in line behind another tourist, who wasn't a native English speaker. In fact, as best I could tell his only English words were "Pizza" and "Coke". They didn't have pizza, and the teenage guy trying to patiently explain this to Mr. Pizza was fighting a losing battle. So we left. The whiny kids deserved granola bars, anyway.

As we drove through the park I saw signs that said "Warning: Frost Heaves!" We didn't know what frost heaves were (I've since looked it up, so you don't need to tell me). I was amazed at the number of signs for them. Apparently frost heaves are on a par with Astroturf and Al Queda as a threat to civilization. I was glad to finally have a chance to look up info on them, as I’d guessed they meant barfing from overeating ice cream.

We actually saw bears on this trip, at close range, albeit from the car. I haven’t seen them here before, although I’ve encountered pretty much everything else. It was cool.

After our day at Yellowstone, we began heading for Seattle, but were tired and didn’t get far. We stopped in a small town, which had a restaurant advertising “$7 footlong hot dogs- $5”. We had some trouble finding a room, but finally did, and set up Camp Grumpy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 2

Hell is a hotel that doesn’t have Nick on TV to distract my kids. So, while we were waiting to go over to my in-laws, my kids killed time by watching Playhouse Disney, which they’re WAY beyond.

So we’re watching “Special Agent Oso”. Today’s episode featured Oso (a bear) trying to feed a pet bunny, and he couldn’t figure out if the food should be inside or outside it’s cage (REALLY!). When he finally got it right, the supporting characters sang “Oso! He's O-SO Special"

Yes, indeed he is.

After an improvised martial arts match at the hotel’s waffle station, we went over to my FIL’s house. I genuinely like my FIL. He's a good guy. He teaches at a university. He has the interesting background of being able to fix ANYTHING, drive a racing jetboat, and he put himself through college and grad school by being a semi-pro boxer.

I have no idea why, but he's always called me "Big I.” He is, to date, the ONLY person I have ever allowed to call me that. And I HATE being called Big I. But from him it sounds okay.

This morning, while Mrs. Grumpy visited with family, and kids went over to a cousin's house, I sat down to read a Bill Bryson book (one of my favorite authors) that I found on a shelf. At some point my FIL came in with a bag of beef jerky.

"Hey, Big I. Here’s some leftover jerky from a trip with the grad students last week. Why don’t you finish it, I’ve had enough.” He plopped down an almost-full bag of jerky next to me, and left the room.

I’m normally not a jerky person, but tried a piece. It was HORRIBLE. Awful beyond words. I spit it out in a Kleenex and flushed it.

And apparently he wanted me to eat it all.

When he went out back to work on his boat, I quickly tossed the bag in the trash and buried it under some newspapar.

A while later he came in and asked me how the jerky was. Trying to be polite I said it was great, and that I’d finished it.

He said, “Oh, I’m glad someone liked it. Me and the grad students all thought it was terrible stuff."

Thanks, FIL.

This afternoon I was assigned the job of going to get an in-law a gift certificate to a local pizza place (it’s his birthday). FIL volunteered to drive me.

Riding with FIL is always an adventure, because he LOVES to teach. So while driving along he’ll randomly point out a window and say something like “See that Mountain Big I? That’s where, in 1873, Lt. Hardon of the 26th Cavalry clashed with the Buffalo Indians. The battle began as his men ascended the east face of Mount Bigpileofrock, and then...”

And while he’s intently looking out the back window pointing at landmarks, you’re holding on for dear life because he’s crossed into on-coming traffic, and doesn’t notice them frantically honking as they swerve off the road. Fortunately, this is a relatively small town, and most locals recognize the red 1987 Chevy Astro as it weaves in and out of traffic, and give it a wide berth.

As we dodged oncoming cars and I learned about the geological history of Bigass Mountain, we passed a sign that said: “Litter and it will hurt!!”

The pizza place was nothing special. A guy in overalls and a Big State University T-shirt sold me a $50 giftcard, then recognized my FIL and began arguing with him about his crappy grade from last semester.

When we got back I noticed this unusual receipt.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grumpy Summer Vacation, Day 1

Yesterday I flew in and met up with the tribe, who are visiting Mrs. Grumpy’s Dad and his wife’s kids, and their kids.

When we checked into our hotel last night they'd screwed up our reservation, and had us down as needing a handicapped room. This didn't seem to be that big a deal, and since it was the only room they had left, we took it. We were exhausted. I set up a wake-up call, went out to forage for food, and after dinner we all fell dead asleep.

Morning came, and with it our wake-up call. When we went to bed it had, somewhat naively, never occurred to me that a wake-up call in a handicapped room would involve more than a phone ringing. But it did.

At 8:00 the phone SHRIEKED at a volume that would normally be mistaken for a racing fire truck, or perhaps a nuclear bomb. It went beyond waking us up. We all leaped out of bed, with the kids screaming that it was a fire alarm. As if the noise wasn't enough to wake the deaf, the room lights suddenly began flashing on and off, plunging our dark-adjusted eyes from glare to dark to glare again at a seizure-inducing frequency. I grabbed the phone, still asleep, and screamed "What the hell is going on?". The desk clerk, in polite tones amplified by the phone's megavolume, just said "This is your wake-up call sir". I screamed "Thank you!" and hung up.

The lights stopped, plunging the room back into pitch darkness. There were 10 seconds of silence, interrupted by Craig announcing that he needed to change his underwear.

After breakfast we went over to my FIL's house. As soon as I walked in I was unceremoniously told that I'd been picked to lead everybody's kids on a forest adventure hike (I’d apparently been voted to do this while I was flying here yesterday). They all told me that Mrs. Grumpy was supposed to have told me last night. When I looked at her, she pretended to still be deaf from the wake-up call.

So I was given 9 kids, some granola bars & water, and loaded up the van.

On the way to the trailhead Mrs. Grumpy called to tell me to stop for mosquito repellent. After making several wrong turns (and being run off the road by a tractor) I finally found a store. I bought a bottle, and moved on.

The hike was an adventure of whiny children, trees, and LOTS of mosquitoes. Bug repellent doesn’t work. Anyone who spends any time in the great outdoors knows that “repellent” is a misnomer. In fact, it’s more like firing a flare to announce your presence, daring the bugs to come get you.

And they do.

You walk quickly, and they follow you. You stop to swat them, and more land on you. And the kids thought we were having a portable eclipse because of the way the black bug cloud followed us everywhere.

After we gave up and turned back, I discovered the bottle of repellent had leaked in my shoulder pack. It had partially melted one of my plastic credit cards. Nice to think it was on our skin.

We headed back to the house, and to clean the bug spray off I sent all the kids to the showers. Of course, as soon as they got out they wanted to go swimming. All the other adults had magically disappeared, too (gee, I wonder why).

So I'm trying to direct 10 kids (somehow another had joined us, I have no idea where) in and out of showers, and clothes, and towels. All the while I'm having horrible visions of being seen by a nosy neighbor and spending the rest of my life in pedophile prison.

After a bunch of Happy Meals I dragged the kids, and cousins, and some friends who’d somehow attached themselves to my safari train (we were up to 12 now, WTF?), to the city pool. Where, of course, I’m suddenly the bad guy because (although I just bought them lunch) I won’t pay for them to buy stuff from the vending machines. Even though I think some of the snacks in there had gone out of production during my childhood.

The city pool was a popular spot, although when we got there one of the pools was temporarily closed for a rescue drill. As I watched, 2 lifeguards "rescued" a 3rd guard, who was pretending to be a drowning victim. The drowning victim, however, wasn't particularly realistic, as he kept talking, and they were all giggling over something. When they got closer I realized the victim had developed a woody during the drill, and was trying to cover it with his hat.

The kids ran into the pool. I found a chair, opened my book, popped a Diet Coke, and relaxed. The afternoon went on, with increasingly cloudy skies. Then thunder crackled, and suddenly it began pouring rain.

At home this would have sent everyone scurrying out of the pool to shelter (I still don't understand why people get out of the pool when it's raining- you're already wet for crying out loud!) but here everyone kept merrily swimming. Even as it became a downpour. Even as strong winds began blowing. And then the temperature suddenly began dropping. Into the low 50's.

To the kids in the pool, none of this was a big deal. To a guy (like me) in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops, it wasn't pleasant. My kids had NO interest in leaving the pool, and I was stuck watching them. And I was cold.

Then the wind began blowing water from the water slide onto me. And when I reached for a towel to cover up, my paperback blew into the pool.

At this point I was waiting for a grizzly bear to come maul me. I figured that would make the day complete.

Fortunately, as the lightning got closer, they closed the pool, giving me an excuse to haul the wild bunch back to base. Where the other adults had returned from a nice day of restaurant hopping. They also wanted to know who some of the 14 kids were that I'd brought home, as 3 of them had never been seen before.

I can only assume they were tossed out of passing UFO's by angry alien parents. "It's 4 light years back to Centauri, and you guys can walk if you don't behave!"

I certainly sympathize.
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