Streets of Fire

Some things written by Jeff Kelley, a man in Richmond, Va. He likes aircraft carriers but doesn't really know the intricacies of them (weight, length, etc.)

Kids’ “Toys”

Kids’ toys have gotten absolutely ridiculous since I was a child. It’s as if toy makers don’t think twice before they go forward with their many ideas and designs. So many toys are wholly inappropriate for children, much less babies.

Take, for example, the bath toys our 7-month-old daughter plays with each night: a package of 10 small rubber cartoonish sea animals that suck in water and spray. The whale I understand, certainly. The snail, harmless.

But the rubber stingray? How am I supposed to explain to my 7-MONTH-OLD that stingrays, if agitated, can sometimes strike and kill their aggressor? “It might look cute, honey,” I am forced to say to her, “but one of these very creatures violently ended the life of Steve Irwin, the famed Crocodile Hunter only a few years back, by stabbing him through the heart with its barbed tail while his friend watched on in horror. He died instantly.”

My kid hasn’t even seen the Crocodile Hunter perform, nor understand the concept of death.

While the makers of the stingray toy should be ashamed, even more innocent toys require additional explanation. My daughter has a small squishy ball with soft spikes on it, and while I am sure the spikes feel good on her teething gums, the toy also resembles a flail’s spiked ball from Medieval times. So there’s my precious child, chewing on her ball, looking all cute on the floor, and I’m struggling to explain to her that peasants in the 16th century used devices with similar looking spiked balls typically made of stone, iron, or steel to deliver lethal blows to their enemies’ heads. Plus, I’m so afraid that she’s going to ask me more about the Middle Ages, and I don’t recall much from my world history classes in high school.

As a hand-me-down, we were given a Fisher-Price red toy barn with miniature farm animals. The barn is also battery-operated and makes animal noises, none of which are the screams of terror of farm animals being slaughtered. I appreciate Fisher-Price for not including such sounds and using only “moo,” “oink,” and “neigh,” although I still feel responsible for explaining to my sweet, innocent, adorable baby that all of these animals eventually meet their demise so that we can enjoy their meats for our own nutritional benefit.

"We don’t eat horses," I tell her, holding up the miniature horse action figure, "but if they break a leg while racing, it’s game over, straight to the glue factory. Also, some other countries in fact do eat horse."

So the Fisher-Price toy barn gets an F, and if a Fisher-Price toy horse glue factory exists, that gets an F, too.

Stackable, colorful plastic cups? “You can fill them with water, but many children are not so lucky.”

A dinosaur puzzle? “They no longer exist. Entire species instantaneously wiped out by an asteroid, which is a significant possibility during your lifetime.”

A stuffed bunny? “I ran over a real one of these when I was 16. It lived but probably not for much longer.”

At some point, as you can see, kid’s toys crossed the line from innocent to inappropriate, and I look forward a day when she is a little older and ops for something more proper and less controversial, like a Barbie doll or video games.

I’m A Little Teapot: A Book Review

As told and illustrated by Isa Trapani, I’m A Little Teapot (1996, Whispering Coyote Press) is an adaptation of the famous 1939 nursery rhyme and features 11 additional stanzas to accompany the original poem. Teapot tells the story of a lady teapot with big aspirations to move beyond the kitchen, a frankly ludicrous proposition that caused me to have to explain to my 6-month-old daughter that teapots are inanimate objects and cannot play in orchestras, be used as pirate ships, or go on safaris, which are just three of the 11 ridiculous dreams told by our unnamed pot. Which, I should mention, can’t have dreams! Teapots aren’t even alive/have no functional organs. The entire story is preposterous.

Plus, hearing about other people’s dreams is really boring and causes me to lose interest almost instantaneously, but I was already past the first page and was forced to read an entire book about someone’s dream to my kid.

After reciting the poem we all know and introducing herself from the stovetop as both “little” and “short and stout” to two (also unnamed) children sitting at the nearby kitchen table, the teapot launches into her dreams. The story immediately moves to China where the teapot and kids go kite flying, a dream of the teapot and an obvious-if-not-embarrassing attempt to bring diversity to an otherwise all-white children’s book. Also, I wasn’t sure how to rhyme “And eat with chopsticks as we float” like “Tip me over and pour me out.” I had to pronounce it ”chop-a-sticks” in order to make the rhyme work, and felt like a complete idiot in front of my daughter. 

The teapot then shares her dream of becoming a matador, which forced me to explain to an infant - an infant - what bullfighting is. “Yes, unfortunately the bulls are slaughtered during these events,” I told my daughter, tears swelling in my eyes. “And teapots can’t really become matadors, remember, this book is all just a dream.” (A nightmare, more like it.)

I did, however, get a little distracted at this point in the book when I imagined making a movie about a woman matador who has to fight her way through a male-dominated sport. There could be some really great drama in a movie like that, and solid action sequences featuring real bulls, which will have everyone in Hollywood talking.

Anyway, the teapot turns into a spaceship and meets aliens (“Teapots can’t do that and aliens probably exist but we have never seen one outside of an incident in the 1940s”); the teapot turns into a pirate ship (“Pirates are bad”); and the teapot goes on a jungle safari and swings from vines (“Teapots do not have arms and if you ever are given the opportunity to see the Brendan Fraser version of George of the Jungle just skip it, total waste of time”).

Perhaps most bafflingly, the teapot also goes on a fox hunt and, while not pictured, readers can only assume she holds an innate desire to shoot an innocent animal purely for sport. Between the bull and the fox, the book is simmering with an underlying hatred of animals. Honestly I’m surprised the teapot didn’t bow-hunt the alien or turn the jungle safari into an Amazonian bloodbath.

At one point the teapot joins an orchestra and plays a saxophone, meaning the illustrator overlooked a perfect opportunity for the teapot to play her own spout. So bush-league.

The book ends with a child pouring tea in a living room filled with characters from the previous pages: Asian kids, black kids, about double the number of white kids than Asian and black kids, the alien, other babies, the bull (clearly a continuity error as it was killed 20 pages prior), and a fox (also assumed dead, so has to be a ghost-fox). Many of the kids are also drinking tea, and I have never seen a kid drink tea. Children should also not be handling steaming hot liquids or drinking caffeine, two facts Mrs. Trapani chooses to irresponsibly glaze over for the sake of a story. Also my daughter ate page 7.

Rating: C-minus

Slides

If you were to chart a line graph showing my slide usage during the past 32 years, it would be nil from 1981 to 1983, with an immediate increase for about a decade before falling off to zero again in the early ’90s. My slide use would stay that way for many years, popping up intermittently during those few occasions when I visited a water park or playground, both of which contain an inordinate amount of other people’s bandages laying the ground.

And then, in 2014, my slide-usage line graph would spike again, all the way to 100. 

My company recently installed a rather substantial slide that takes people between floors: it’s an enclosed chute, and makes two full spirals before dumping passengers out on the floor below. Professional people, adult people, even young people (“young” as defined as “early 20s”) use the slide.

The slide is a true people-mover, and an efficient one at that: it’s fast and fun, and no one can say that by using it you are fooling around at work. It’s a slide with purpose. 

Consider the juxtaposition of this sight: the other day I watched an older man in his mid-50s, dress shirt, tie, and suit pants, patiently tap away at his iPhone. He was standing at the top of the slide, looking serious and down-to-business, perhaps finishing up an email to a supplier. “See if you can do something about bringing the cost down on those 22s,” he was probably typing. I use “22s” as an inclusive, jargon term that can be applied to any industry. Most all of us deal every day with “22s.”

The man typed with purpose and prose, closed out his iPhone session, dropped the device into his pocket, clutched his hands to the slide’s aluminum handle, and threw himself down to the fourth floor, spiraling and laughing the entire way down, the issue in his email a distant memory now residing on the floor above.

The other day I was moving back and forth between floors, and took the slide probably a dozen times in the course of two hours. I have used the slide so much that I’ve gotten to the point where I do not have to pause to get my feet steady before moving down; in one swift motion, I can grab the slide and whip myself down its chute.

As if a slide during the workweek wasn’t enough, my in-laws pool contians a similarly-shaped spiral waterslide. During adult swim, which still causes me to swell with giddiness because I like to look at kids with the expression of “I can get into the pool, for the next fifteen minutes, however many times I want, and you can’t.” Over the weekend I managed to take the slide five times in a row during aduld swim, authoritatively cutting in front of a growing line of small kids waiting for the lifeguard’s whistle to blow.

And now, with our daughter pushing six months, it is clear that slides have returned to my life and are here to stay for quite some time. That is fine with me, because playground slides are much better than presentation ones.

Photo

  • The other day I Tweeted a non-political picture of President Obama touring the new 9/11 museum. He was walking with President Clinton, and I found the picture, shot by the official White House photographer, rather odd because Obama was drinking coffee kinda nonchalantly as he browsed these quite important exhibits. No big deal, really, but just strange timing for coffee. Anyway, whatever, I shared a picture of two presidents at the new 9/11 museum.
  • Today a close friend texted. Now given, I do have a news background and did get to cover President Bush a couple times, so my friend may have had this in mind.
  • Friend: Were you in New York this week?
  • Me: No, why?
  • Friend: Oh, that Twitter picture.
  • Me: You thought I took the picture of Obama and Bill at the 9/11 museum?
  • Friend: Yup.
  • Me: Rest assured, I would have definitely told you if I was going on a private 9/11 museum tour with two U.S. presidents.

Birthmark

Our daughter has a prominent birthmark on the top of her head, toward the rear of the parietal bone which makes me sound smart but in fact I just Googled before I finished this sentence. Prior to stepping into the dad role on Christmas Eve, I never really paid any attention to birthmarks and figured most birthmarks were brown spots on the skin or whatever. Nora’s birthmark, however, is a rather bulbous round red dot about the size if a dime. It’s completely harmless and will not only de-bulbify and disappear, but any trace would eventually be covered up by hair. My daughter is still adorable, is what I’m trying to say.

Most people consider her birthmark to be cute, particularly family and friends or those who are aware that the red thing is a birthmark. But sure, I certainly see how some folks would see the mark as unsightly or perhaps come to the conclusion that something is wrong. Outside of the birthmark, if anyone looks at my dear daughter and sees anything they want to criticize, well, may they die painfully in the fieriest of fires, and may their ashes be re-burned for good measure and their urn driven over by a taxi, and in that cab are six sumo wrestlers to add to the vehicle’s weight in order to ensure that the urn is crushed to tiny, irreparable bits.

I recall being on an airplane a few years ago and seeing a newborn with a red birthmark on the top of her head, but knowing nothing about babies at the time - and also having burned through a few of those tiny Smirnoffs that Delta sells for $8 a pop - thought the worst for the child. “Those poor parents must have gone through hell having a daughter with cancer or a tumor or whatever,” I thought then. I may have even nodded at the guy on the way off the plane as a show of solidarity for his daughter who, ultimately, I now know was completley fine. Looking back, he may have thought I was hitting on him, which I wasn’t, but that would certainly make for a humorous plotline in a romantic comedy (“Guy A meets Guy B due to birthmark on Guy B’s daughter’s head”).

Recap

Welcome to my House of Cards recap blog where I discuss what happened in the previous show, only I don’t really understand what is going on in this TV program so I do the best job I can.

In the previous episode, several politician types, one of whom was black, were in an office mentioning a lot of names and talking about political topics, I think. The president, who may have actually been the vice president, was also there. Outside of “Frank,” who is played by Kevin Spacey, I don’t know any of their names because there are a lot of names mentioned in the show, and I was on Instagram during most of the scene and sort of paying attention in the background because the show is really hard to follow. Frank wants to be powerful, and already is powerful. To gain more power, he does a lot of manipulating mostly during meetings that contain heavy dialogue. One of his powers, for example, is that he talks to the camera, but only us audience members can see that. The people on the show have no idea Frank is talking to us, possibly because they are on Instagram and not paying attention.

There was also a part about a commission, or the commission, or several commissions. They might have said “committee,” or perhaps both. These subjects were very important to the plot line.

A reporter texted Kevin Spacey. She was the same reporter whose sister was in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and who I always hope to see naked on the show, but she only does partial nudity. There was also a prostitute part and she was pretty hot too and I think she has something to do with a congressman who drinks heavily in most episodes. He has clearly done something bad and I hope they will come back to this story arc in a later episode so that I can try to understand it better.

At one point there is discussion of a bill that is going through Congress or maybe it’s the House of Representatives. Or are those the same thing? One of the people talking about the bill said he was a senator if that makes a difference.

I am fairly certain that Kevin Spacey’s wife, Claire (sp?), is evil although in this episode you could totally tell that she has a nice side. She is a little bit of both good and evil. I think that she is very much symbolic of the Bible, or even God/Christ or the Virgin Mary, or Mary Magdeline. Claire also works with a clean water group, which, total Biblical reference there I’m sure. She and Frank (if I’ve lost you, that’s Kevin Spacey’s character) have no children and a cool house in the city, which I am like 98 percent sure is Washington although one can’t rule out nearby Arlington, Alexandria, or Bethesda.

The opening credits that feature Washington are pretty neat, and I even recognized a few locations as I try to make it up to D.C. once a month or so. Please return to my next blog for my recap of Episode 11 which I will probably watch because society claims I am supposed to enjoy House of Cards even though I’d much rather watch cartoons.

Twist-tie

If I had a nickel for every time I lost a twist-tie from a loaf of bread, well, I would still probably only have like four or five bucks. The point is, I lose twist-ties all the time, but not enough to buy a car or anything like that.

I could probably buy a sandwich with all the money I’d make from a lifetime of losing twist-ties, but part of the reason I buy bread is so I don’t have to buy sandwiches by making them myself. Plus, an entire lifetime would be a long time to save up for only one sandwich, and there are far better ways to earn lunch money than by losing twist-ties. In conclusion, losing twist-ties is not a sound investment but selling methamphetamine is.

Invention Idea

So you know how baby monitors allow parents to listen in on their child from a couple rooms away? As a parent, you can go about your evening of watching Inside Edition and eating chips and still hear everything the baby is doing a few rooms over. If the baby starts crying or needs a diaper change or whatever causes babies to cry (sadness over inability to eat chips?), parents can attend to their kid, or of course choose to ignore the child. Look, this isn’t a piece about how to raise a child, you’re on your own for that. No no: this is a piece about innovation.

The problem is that baby monitors are one-way communicators: the baby can’t hear you, and I’ve found this out because I have screamed into baby monitors and the kid can’t legitimately hear anything, unless I am in close proximity to the nursery and the baby simply hears me screaming until I am red in the face. The other thing is that our baby is really young and doesn’t really react to sound or screams.

The other day it occurs to me that you could take the baby monitor product one step further: allow the baby to hear you. As in two-way communication. That way, you can talk to the child, and the child can respond back. This may even allow you to continue watching Inside Edition and eating your chips because you’d hear the kid rustling around but be like “Hey kid are you okay or do I need to come in there and change your diaper or feed you since you are incapable of doing anything for yourself?” and then your baby is all “Yeah Ma I’m fine, leave me alone, just need to roll around and cry a little bit.” Now you’ve just had a conversation with your baby through a machine, all while continuing to watch your favorite syndicated newsmagazine - not to mention television’s longest-running, top-rated, and most honored.

Now that you’ve got the concept of the two-way baby monitor, let’s take another giant leap forward - and bare with me because I am about to either blow your mind or completely lose you with all this future-speak. We take the two-way baby monitor idea, pull it out of the infant market, and expand it to general consumers. Boom! Suddenly you have a system that allows two people to converse by talking into little machines to one another.

With the proper technology infrastructure in place, you create a system whereby two people can speak to one another over long-range distances. Perhaps they discuss Inside Edition's hard-hitting investigations, exclusive newsmaker interviews and incisive human-interest stories, as well as celebrity and pop culture features. Or simply chip varieties, and why dill is suddenly popping up everywhere. Topic of discussion doesn't really matter; the point is, they can talk to one another through a machine

Of course, at first we would have to test out the technology by talking into the monitors from one room to another room in a house. Then the first guy walks across the street while the second guy stays back in the house. They go back and forth until the first guy walks as far as he can while still hearing the second guy’s voice on the other end. Depends on how far the signal carries. Perhaps the first guy walks upwards of one mile, and someday in the hopefully not-too-distant future, you could talk to someone through the baby monitor at a range of up to 10 or even 20 miles. 

I will likely need to hire an engineer, as well as someone who specializes in walking long distances.

Now I know you’re thinking: “Jeff, clearly you have not thought about the fact that many baby monitors today allow parents to watch their kids on video, not just audio.” Well, as an innovator, let me say that I am one step ahead of you. Imagine being able to chat over video to another person, even if they are all the way across town! Definitely part of my invention plan, although likely a third or fourth version of it. 

In time, you may also be able to record that video conversation, or snap photos of the other person. Again, this is Star Trek-like stuff so I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

Surely my idea has limitations. As an innovator, I understand that. Baby monitors require being plugged into an electrical outlet to operate, so you would only be able to use my concept in places with access to a power source. I would definitely sell an inexpensive cord-lengthener to allow people to use their communicator far away from power outlets; still, it’s not like you will ever be able to walk down the street talking into an adult version of a baby monitor. 

Also, if this idea is going to be adopted by the masses, I’ll need to figure out a way for people to communicate with a particular device. Maybe this means giving each baby monitor its own numerical or alphabetic code. Then if you want to call a specific person, you simply “dial” that person’s code to reach them. And now that I think about it, say you regularly talk to multiple people, you may therefore have multiple codes to manage. Hopefully people will be smart enough to store the codes in a safe place. 

Anyway, clearly some work to be done on my concept but I am hopeful that it has legs. I’ve shared my idea with a few people and to be honest most think I’m an idiot. But I’ve read the books about entrepreneurism and learned that it’s important to press on when people try to detract you. This idea is worth at least two million dollars and I can’t believe no one has thought of it.

Or is it “distract” you? Is “detract” a word? Detact. Detract. Detach?

Friend Texts Photo Of His Dented Fender

  • Friend: I will find who put this ding in my fender and then I will kill their family while they watch.
  • Me: From a financial and general personal reputation-slash-morality standpoint, I would recommend paying for the damage yourself, frustrating as that may be. Killing an entire family - particularly while the family member who dented your car watches on - will have severe legal, monetary, and ethical repercussions that far outweigh the cash cost of repairing a fender. Anyway, something to think about.
  • Friend: I think you're underestimating how good I am at killing an entire family without anyone finding out.