The no-good, lousy birthday gift-giver

The world’s worst gift-giver … is getting worse. Sad. Pathetic. A real louse.

What’s wrong with me?

“Did a package arrive today?” I asked my wife, nervously. Biting my nails. It was zero hour. Getting close. Her birthday? Near on the horizon. Just days away.

“No,” my wife replied. “Are you expecting something?”

“Me? … Um … no. Why do you ask?” Smooth lousy gift-giver. Any dolt could see through that, and my wife is no dolt. Not to mention I had specifically asked her to pick out her gift — to make sure I got the right one. Then I ordered it online. I waited two days for it to be delivered.

Where is it?!?

The gift? A Fitbit exercise watch. Counts steps, heart beats, rungs on your belt, even guilts you out of eating burritos drowned in sour cream. It was a gift, but also a replacement. I was responsible for … ahem … accidentally throwing away her old one. In an airport parking lot. Still not sure how I managed that one.

Now I had turned an IOU into a birthday present. SURPRISE!

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The REAL poll of polls

If your house is like mine, you’ve been getting lots of phone calls recently. And because no sane person actually makes phone calls anymore, you know all these calls are just automated election polls asking your opinion on this issue or that candidate.

It’s not just the sheer quantity of the polls that bother me, but also that they ask the same questions and limit your answers to the same boring answers. So I’ve designed my own poll that I would love to see dialing the homes of millions of Americans (who will never answer their phones.) Here it is:

Are you planning to vote on election day?
A. Yes
B. No
C. Only if a family member is being held hostage
D. There’s an election this year?!? How come no one said anything?

Which party do you support?
A. Democrats
B. Republicans
C. Independents
D. That crazy dance party in the Nevada desert where they burn a big wooden man and then wonder why in the world they are listening to music in a desert.

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What do dogs REALLY understand?

Busted!

And I must tell you, I suspected it all along. I think we all did. Dogs are smarter than we give them credit for. But they play us!

The proof comes in a recent study. Hungarian researchers — Hungary has been on the forefront of K9 research ever since proving that dogs ate the Christmas presents, not burglars! — learned that man’s best friend really does understand what we are saying. Well, actually that they analyze both the words that we say along with our tone to put together meaning.

But that’s a bunch of scientific mumbo-jumbo. The fine print is this: My dog’s been scammin’ me!

She’s smart. She understands perfectly what I’m saying, and always has. More insidiously, she thinks that I’m just a big, dumb human who lacks the neural pathways to know that Hungary is a country, not just when I want dinner. (To be honest with you, I was a little unclear on that. I mean, where is Hungary anyway?)

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Don’t snicker at the toddler

I was trying to fight it. Desperately attempting to suppress it. Making my best effort not to show it.

But it came through. I couldn’t help it as we wandered like a pack of baboons through the Kennedy Space Center. My dad. My wife and our 10-year-old. My brother and his wife. And their nearly 3-year-old son, Striker.

I just couldn’t help giving the “toddler stare of disbelief.”

We all do it. Some people are mean about it. Others curious. Then there are people like me who can’t seem to remember having kids at that age. We give off a look that seems to say, “Is that normal?”

It’s toddler denial complex — the belief that your child was never, ever that small, that energetic and that … well … kooky. That he or she came straight into the world refined, sipping tea, asking how the stock market was doing, able to stand perfectly still for more than 5 seconds and always saying, “Dear Papa, how may I make your life more enjoyable?”

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Maybe it’s time we ban dads from back-to-school shopping

Dads shouldn’t be allowed to shop for back-to-school supplies. It’s a common fact. An unwritten rule. A law that some enterprising politician ought to propose. Everyone
knows it. Dads know it. Moms know it. Poor little kids know it. Yet, every year, millions of dads still do it, and catastrophe unfolds.

I speak from personal experience.

I don’t say this in some macho, chauvinistic way. Like it’s below us or that real men should be out chopping wood instead of grabbing loose leaf paper. No, it’s more that we’re an impatient, easily-frustrated walking embarrassment to our family. And we don’t know a No. 2 pencil from a … well … a No. 3?

I went with my wife and daughter shopping for school supplies the weekend before she started fifth grade. It wasn’t my cup of tea.

The way I see school shopping: You grab a bunch of stuff and throw it in a basket. You have maybe a 50-50 shot some of it is what you need, but more importantly, you’re on the way home!

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Big technology dreams for the future

What do kids dream about now? Like big future things. Things that make them sigh in bed at night and say to themselves, “If only I had a plutonium-powered homework eraser! That would do the trick.”

I was thinking about this as I was buying a running hydration belt that would also carry my iPhone. (Hydration belt is code for “goofy runner gets parched and needs mini-canteens on his waist.”)

Anyway, the belt needs to carry my iPhone so it will connect to my new heart rate monitor. That way I can see if my heart is still beating after I try to drink water on a long run and crash into a tree … or maybe a moving car.

Anyway, it occurred to me that all the little things that I dreamed about as a kid – super-techy watches that know your location, communicators like on “Star Trek,” devices that allow video calls, little electronic pads that tell you everything you ever wanted to know, including your vital signs – are now reality. Commonplace. They’re here and we have them and even take them for granted.

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Surviving a week in Critterville

What were we thinking? In a single week, we became caregivers — albeit temporary — to a total of 15 animals. Fifteen! It’s like Dr. Doolittle time.

We’re tending to our neighbor’s flock of lovebirds, along with her adopted cat. We have new chicks, and then my brother went away and left us his dog. (I am affectionately referring to her as “Meatchunk.”)

All in the same week. How do these things happen? Why does the universe think to itself, “Let’s rain animals on the Thompsons … AT THE SAME TIME!”

I keep coming home and expecting to find a lost baby sheep or a gaggle of homeless porcupines on my front porch. “Mind if we join you, too?”

It’s not so bad — the lovebirds aren’t at our house. And actually it’s kind of fun. Besides, other people have tended to our critters, so it’s good to return the favor.

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End-of-summer trip envy

America has never been more divided. We are split in two — torn apart by a division so profound that it threatens our very being. Which camp do you fall into? Those who still have summer vacations ahead of them, or those who have already taken them?

Talk about polarization.

It is a bitter, angry camp for those who have already taken them. I know this from personal experience. I’m one of the envious souls, coveting everyone’s vacation plans as my own suddenly feel a million miles in the rearview mirror.

I don’t care where it is. Someone could tell me they’re going to Hackitup, Idaho, and my jaw drops. They could be going there to study pig slop or how potato fungus plans to vote in the presidential election.

“Really?!?” I say. “It sounds so wonderful! Is there going to be a pool with a slide? Do they have a Starbucks in the hotel lobby? Are you going to get pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse!?!”

I inquire more. I hang on every word. Oh, these darn First World problems!

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The confounding cable upgrade call

The actual recorded transcript as I called the cable company, desperately trying to learn more about bundling my services, saving money and watching the Tour de France guilt-free:

Rep: Good afternoon. This is so-and-so cable company. How can I help you today?

Me: Yes, thank you. I’m calling because I like money and want to save some with these great deals and services I’ve been reading about. Can you help me with that?

Rep: Most definitely, sir. Let me run through some of the many choices we are currently offering. Let’s see … we have a DVR special that comes with two toppings and a side of marinara … hold on. Wrong special. OK, here we go. Our top package comes with 800 channels, 792 of which you will never watch, plus a DVR that can record 87 shows simultaneously. But don’t worry: You don’t have to watch any of those, either.

Me: OK … um … what else does it come with?

Rep: Let’s see. It says here you are eligible for our new Super Extreme WIFI modem. What makes it “super” and “extreme,” you ask? The fact that we named it that. Plus, it is so powerful, you can communicate with the probe Juno, currently orbiting Jupiter.

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A family river-rapid down memory lane

Panic set in as I walked up the aisle — straight to the front of the line. Where would I put my wallet? How would I protect my bag from the water? What would my hair look like after the deluge? Did I really want to walk around a theme park soaking wet, my pants drenched, people wondering why I would go out in public like that?

“Look, honey! That man wet himself … all over!”

It was the Congo River Rapids at Tampa’s Busch Gardens. I hadn’t been back to the park in over a decade. Now three generations of Thompson — my dad, my daughter, my wife and me — were boarding this wobbly raft. All the riders who just came off were drenched. DRENCHED! One woman was complaining she almost drowned. She wanted CPR from a snappy-looking employee.

What am I an idiot, I thought? This isn’t what grown people do.

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