Monday, February 23, 2015

Chandler, Arizona: Too Clean for Cub Scouts

About four months ago my eight-year-old son became a Cub Scout, which means that his calendar (and by extension, mine) has suddenly gotten much fuller. We’re putting together shell collections, building pinewood derby cars, and solving cryptograms. It’s a lot more than I ever remember doing when I was a Cub Scout. Really my only memories of my scouting days are eating cupcakes at the end of den meetings and being chosen to play “the mom” in a skit in which I had to don a wig and a green dress. (I think my son’s got it a little better than I did, because they still get treats at the end of pack meetings, but so far I haven’t seen any of the scouts forced to dress in drag.)

Last week my son had to go on a hike and pick up litter along the trail, so I took him and my younger son to Veterans Oasis Park in southeast Chandler. This park has 4.5 miles of hiking trails featuring desert landscape, so I figured it would give us lots of opportunity to both admire cactus and pick up discarded soda cans.

With a brand new 13-gallon drawstring garbage bag in hand we started our hike figuring by the end it would take all three of us to drag the sack back out. But apparently the good citizens of Chandler are cleaner than we banked on. Ten minutes into our hike looking both on the trail and off, we still hadn’t found any litter. On the one hand, I was glad that I live in a city with such cleanly folks, but on the other hand, I was hoping we’d have at least a few slobs to help out my kid’s project.

I had all but given up hope of finding any trash at all when my younger son shouted, “There!” and pointed to a spot about five feet to our left. The three of us slowly crept over to the spot as though we were stalking prey and then under a bush we saw it—a one-inch by one-inch clear piece of plastic that may or may not have been a food wrapper at one time in its life. While I wasn’t quite sure what it was, it was clear that it was not something that would occur naturally in the dessert and so could only be defined as litter. I had my older son put on his work gloves (the Cub Scout handbook explicitly states that for safety purposes one must always wear gloves when picking up litter) and put the miniscule piece of plastic into the trash bag. 

We all felt a great sense of accomplishment at having removed the offending trash—so much so, that we decided to reward ourselves by eating the granola bars we brought as snacks. Of course once we ate the bars we had to throw the wrappers into our 13-gallon garbage bag, giving us a great sense of accomplishment once again.

And so the morning went, with my eagle-eyed six-year-old spotting a piece of litter smaller than my thumb every ten minutes or so, my meticulous eight-year-old carefully putting on his gloves to throw it out, and all three of us generating more litter between us than we found in our entire two-hour hike.

By the end of our mission we were all exhausted. Two hours of hiking is a lot on the legs and the six times we had to bend down to pick up litter only compounded our bone-weariness. But at least my son got to check off “Requirement 7” in his Cub Scout handbook. Now if only there was a requirement in his handbook that would make him clean up his room.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Amazing Nieces

Long before I was a dad I was an uncle. It’s true. I have two older brothers and between them they popped out seven kids (well, technically their wives did the popping out part) before I had even met my wife. The youngest of their brood is nine years older than the oldest of mine, so I had years of experience as an uncle before I ever became a dad—20 years’ worth, in fact. (Note: Experience as an uncle does not, in any way, shape, or form, prepare you for being a dad. But more on that thought in a future blog post.)

These days, of course, I’m much more focused on the accomplishments of my own kids than I am on my brothers’, and my blog posts reflect that. But this time around I’ve decided it’s high time to give some props to my brothers’ kids—specifically the nieces, of which there are two (one for each brother).

My older niece, Alyssa, is a film major at Brooklyn College, specializing in sound mixing. Apparently sound mixing is distinctly different from sound editing, as my niece explained to me last September when I was in New York. At the time she gave an excellent explanation of those differences, and for about five minutes after that conversation I probably could have articulated those differences to someone else. Now, five months later, I probably have as much chance of explaining the differences between sound mixing and sound editing as I do explaining the ins and outs of particle physics. Yeah, I’m not good with technical information.

Of course, being a film major is not in and of itself an amazing thing. Anyone can major in anything. (I could have even majored in physics…for about four days before I would have flunked out.) But in my niece Alyssa’s case, the thing that verified my biased uncle opinion that she’s amazing at what she does, is that she is one of five people across the country to have been nominated for a student achievement award by the Cinema Audio Society. She has been invited to their 51st annual award’s ceremony in Hollywood, where they give out awards for motion picture and television sound mixing. This is sort of like the Oscars for sound mixing folks. (Believe it or not, there’s an entirely different awards ceremony for sound editing people. See, I told you there was a difference.)

The point is that in less than two weeks my niece will be in Tinsel Town rubbing elbows with the sound mixing greats. Who knows, she might even end up sitting next to Gregg Rudloff. Yes, that Greg Rudloff, who won both an Oscar and a Cinema Audio Society award for The Matrix and is nominated for both awards again this year for American Sniper. (Okay, I never heard of him until now either, but his resume is pretty impressive, including having done the sound on This is Spinal Tap, one of my favorite comedies of all time, so I’m impressed.) In summation, it looks like my niece is on a much better track to realize my dream of winning an Oscar than I am. Good for her! (Seriously, that was said with pride, not jealousy.)

My younger niece, Lauren, is in the first year of a seven-year combined college and medical school program. So clearly she’s got some smarts. Indeed, she must have a few I.Q. points on her dad (my brother) because it took him eight years to finish college and medical school. Slacker!

But not only is my niece incredibly smart, she is incredibly talented as well. This time I will magically remove my uncle bias from the equation by letting you know that she is the reigning National American Miss New York Teen. This is no joke, as the current Miss America—Kira Kazantsev—was the National American Miss New York Teen in 2012. Now I’m not saying this means my niece will be Miss America in three years, because that is a bit of a leap, but four or five years, tops.

Yes, I see lots of red carpet activity in both my nieces’ futures. Oscars. Crowns. Maybe a Nobel Prize for good measure. I’m not ruling anything out with these two. They make me proud to be an uncle.

(Note: I don’t mean to imply that my nephews are slouches—four of them became Eagle Scouts by the time they were 13 and the fifth was the 10th grade New Jersey State Chess Champion last year.)

(Note 2: Yes, I know this blog was particularly boastful and self-serving, but hey, it’s my blog and I can write whatever the heck I want.)

(Note 3: Sorry to use strong language like “heck” on the internet, I’ll try to refrain from doing it next time.)

(Note 4: There is no Note 4.)