July 14th, 2005The Centaur
As a newcomer to the family, my wife is still getting used to my parents’ many idiosyncrasies that the rest of us have slowly accepted as almost normal behavior. She’ll ask an innocent question like, “Why do your parents have nine bicycles parked in their garage for just the two of them?” And I’d cock my head to the side, ponder it for a second, and realize she’s right… that is a little bizarre.
I experienced this phenomenon several times during a visit to my parents’ lake home over the Fourth of July and thought I’d share the story behind some of the more discussion-worthy landmarks around their house. So enjoy the tour, and please, no flash photography.
The Jar of Skittles: In the interest of full disclosure, there are actually multiple jars of Skittles placed strategically throughout my parents’ house. And the funny thing is, nobody really likes Skittles to begin with. And I’m not referring just to my family… I’m talking about people in general.
I witnessed proof of this on several occasions over the weekend. Standing by a Skittles jar, I’d notice a random uncle or cousin casually reach in and grab a handful of candy, thereby putting me in the awkward position of having to deliver the bad news:
Me: “You know, those aren’t M&M’s…”
Sure enough, they’d look at the candies in their palm, and look back at me as if I’d played a practical joke on them. No, random uncle or cousin, you haven’t been Punk’d. My parents filled that candy jar with Skittles intentionally.
And for the record, I completely understand their frustration. If you’re going to have a community candy dish, it better be a crowd pleaser. Instead of an all-time classic like M&M’s or vastly underrated Reese’s Pieces, my parents have stocked their house with a chewy citrus candy that is only slightly sweeter than a multi-vitamin. I can only assume they were out of more appealing choices like cough drops and Tic Tacs while filling their candy dishes.
It wasn’t until later in the weekend that I finally began to put the pieces together. While at the golf course, my dad nonchalantly reached into his pocket, fished out a handful of Skittles, and popped them into his mouth. I didn’t call him on it, but I’m sure it was a move he lifted from Napoleon Dynamite. Suddenly the reasoning behind the Skittles jar made perfect sense: While M&M’s may promise to “not melt in your hand” only Skittles can boast about not melting in your pockets.
The Double Toilet Paper Dispenser: This is a touchy subject. When my Dad was building the house, he saw an opportunity to remove a major source of inefficiency from his life. In the master bathroom, he installed a double toilet paper dispenser, like the kind found in rest areas, port-a-potties and other high-traffic lavatories. Of course, the point of the double toilet paper dispenser is to have two rolls of TP functioning at all times. This way, he reasoned, not only would a back-up roll always be readily available, but also the time spent re-stocking the toilet paper dispenser would be literally cut in half.
Unfortunately, my mom sees it entirely differently. She actually cried when she first witnessed the double toilet paper dispenser. What would people think? That they burn through so much toilet paper as a household that they need a backup roll installed at all times? That changing the empty roll of toilet paper constitutes a tremendous burden on their time? She was sick with embarrassment just thinking about it. Her dream of one day decorating the bathroom with flowers or matching hand towels was over. Why even bother? If anything, you may as well just install spring-loaded faucets, hot-air blowing hand dryers and a urinal to complete the rest area motif. In her mind, that’s what their master bathroom had become.
Of course, my dad is unrepentant. He’s proud of the double-toilet paper dispenser. And he’s quick to point out that if he stocks both dispensers with two-ply, it’s the equivalent of having four rolls of toilet paper in operation at once. And let’s face it, that is pretty damn impressive.
The Alarm Clock: “Shouldn’t you be getting up now?” my wife asked, implying she was eager to have the bed to herself. Normally a question of this nature is the product of my hogging the covers or releasing a cloud of flatulence between the sheets. This time was different, as the ancient alarm clock in the guest bedroom failed to sound and she was trying to prevent me from missing my tee time.
Somehow the alarm didn’t get set the night before. Of course, this was not for lack of trying. Before going to bed, I spent ten minutes tinkering with the gigantic device my parents call a clock radio. I pulled various levers, hit switches… it felt like I was operating a piece of heavy machinery. Since there wasn’t a digital readout, I had no way of knowing if any of my random tinkerings had any effect. I shrugged my shoulders and went to sleep hoping that maybe a random fire alarm or smoke detector would sound early enough to wake me before my tee time.
Outside of museum exhibits or unearthed time capsules, most of you will never see an alarm clock like this. So I’ll spare you a trip to the Smithsonian and just describe it right here. Is it bigger than a breadbasket? Yes, actually. Much bigger. Evidently, people in those days liked to make their colossal clock radios the focal point of their bedrooms. Soon, it evolved to the point where your clock radio and nightstand were actually the same thing. Since the clock radios were so huge there was really no way to distinguish where the nightstand ended and where the clock radio began, so manufacturers just slapped wood paneling on their clock radios so everything would match.
Furthermore, “buttons” weren’t in fashion then. Electronics in those days relied on “knobs” and “dials.” Consequently, I’ve often wondered that if the buttons on their DVD player were replaced by a bunch of knobs and dials, perhaps my parents could actually operate it.
Also, back then, people didn’t have a need to wake up at, say, 6:42 am like we do nowadays. People in that era were content just to be awoken in that general time frame. The reason? The alarm time is set by turning a dial that only registers in half-hour increments. Thusly, unless you were a safecracker by trade, it was virtually impossible to carefully position the dials to set a precise alarm time. So in this example, the individual would position the alarm dial within the range between 6:30 and 7 am. And they’d go to sleep, not knowing when they would actually be getting up the next day. It would just be a surprise. Sure, they could ballpark it within a half-hour, but that was about it. Evidently, in those days, people routinely missed their flights and appointments, and if you were within a half hour of showing up for work on time that was considered punctual.
The Fleet of Bicycles: Where do bicycles go to die? The answer is my parents’ garage. There isn’t a seatless, brakeless or tireless bike in America that my parents won’t pay a quarter for at a garage sale. They currently own nine such bicycles. That’s right, NINE. They can’t even park their cars in the garage, as both stalls are devoted to housing this fleet of semi-functional bikes.
Ultimately, their plan is to salvage two bikes from the fleet to be kept and used as their permanent bikes. To aid in this process, my Dad tagged each bike with a “Service Label,” so the test rider can jot down any repairs needed during operation. Naturally, comments such as “No Brakes” or “Rides Horribly” are common. While salvaging two out of the nine may seem like a reasonable goal, I find it really optimistic. And their standards are low too. They don’t seem to care if the bikes can actually switch gears or turn corners.
The only nice thing about the fleet is that my parents have essentially created a completely disposable form of transportation. I would have no qualms about tossing one of their bikes in a dumpster at the end of a ride. Unfortunately though, I fear the fleet of bicycles is merely a precursor to a growing collection of other antique fitness equipment. They recently purchased a second rowing machine that is older than I am. I just pray they never figure out how shop on Ebay, which is essentially a Worldwide Online Garage Sale!!!
The Coffee Maker: Like the double toilet paper dispenser, this is another commercial-grade amenity at my parents’ house. If you’ve frequented a place that sells “Grand Slam” style breakfasts recently, chances are you’ve seen an industrial strength coffee maker in action. My parents also have one of these models in their kitchen, the kind that is capable of brewing two pots of coffee, simultaneously, in about 30 seconds.
But what private citizen would need something like this? You simply have to know my Dad, perhaps the most prolific coffee drinker on the planet. He will consume coffee with any meal and at any point in the day. For instance, I’ve seen him order coffee with a slice of pizza. And depending on the time of day, he’ll either pour a cup of coffee to help him stay awake, or to help him sleep. Somehow, it can do both.
And that’s why the commercial-grade coffee maker is a necessity. His daily coffee consumption over the years has singlehandedly put all of Juan Valdez’s children through college. Honestly, if anyone ever invented some sort of drinking game involving shots of coffee, I’m sure my Dad could drink a room full of truckers under the table.
The Complaint Jar: This is the newest item on the list, but it’s one that should have tremendous longevity. Since my parents have officially decided to retire, my father has begun seeking additional sources of income to subsidize their retirement. His latest invention has proven to be a gold mine.
It’s called “The Complaint Jar,” and the rules are simple: If you complain about anything in their home, you must toss a quarter into the Complaint Jar for each infraction. As evidenced above, this can add up quickly. For instance, here’s a partial list of some actual complaints I logged over the weekend:
1. Disappointing beer selection. (And no microbrews)
2. The lack of water pressure in the showers.
3. The deck surface being too hot on my bare feet.
4. Cocktail olives being too difficult to find in the fridge.
5. Serving Wheat-Thins instead of RITZ crackers with seafood dip.
And so forth… As the weekend wore on, I began to worry if I’d have to rollover a portion of my 401k to cover my complaint tab. Sadly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the rules of the Complaint Jar have been in effect throughout this entire post. This will probably cost me another fourteen dollars or so. Looks like my parents will be eating at The Sizzler tonight.