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I first met my nemesis when I was seven and he was a hatchling. Apollo was the new family pet, a baby African Gray parrot with glorious red tail feathers and a vocabulary that was growing faster than mine.

We all loved him from the start, but the feeling wasn’t necessarily mutual

My parents brought Apollo home from an exotic bird dealer and set up his cage in the family room. He was beautiful, with varying shades of gray feathers layered over that spectacular red tail, and he would squawk and mumble and dance around his cage, determined to be the center of attention. His cage was ten feet from the kitchen table, so he was practically a participant in every meal. Over the years, Apollo learned to use that prime location to his advantage, pleading, “Try that? Try that?” whenever we were eating something interesting. If my dad rewarded him with a chunk of food, Apollo would thank him by saying, “Oooooh!” and then, often, dropping the morsel on the floor in disgust.

Our relationship started well, but it didn’t take long for Apollo to decide that I was a prime rival for my mother’s affection. He adored her, nuzzling her cheek and twisting around like a puppy to get a scratch behind his ears.

I had loved our old bird, a magnificent cockatoo who would perch regally on my tiny arm. I quickly decided that wouldn’t be an option with Apollo. Apollo and I were both young, and our behavior was erratic, and we were terrified of each other. I don’t remember the first time Apollo bit me, and he never did a lot of damage, but his intentions were pretty obvious. And I certainly didn’t help things when I started cringing at his every movement. I was terrified of the bird.

And at that point, I realized something interesting: Apollo wasn’t the cuddliest, most playful pet a child could have, but he was by far the coolest. When I was hanging out with my friends, Apollo would shout my name from the next room. When it got dark outside, or he was just sick of you being near him, he would suggest, “Time for bed!” When the phone would ring, he would try to answer it and carry on half of a conversation: “Hello? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Okay, just a second. ERIC, IT’S FOR YOU!”

My friends were amazed. This brilliant creature could whistle the Addams Family tune and the showdown music from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” He would do a cool head-bobbing dance whenever I got close to his cage. He would fly a blazing, hairpin route away from his cage, out of the family room, through the kitchen, past the pantry, around a corner, through the dining room and into the living room, where he would alight gently on a couch. At Christmastime, when we replaced that couch with a tree, his flight would end with a horrified squawk and a small pile of feathers.

And I loved that bird. Who cared if his head-bobbing was actually a sign that he wanted to fight? Or that he occasionally lunged at the bars of his cage when I walked by? Or even that he had learned to climb off his cage, walk stealthily through the house so I couldn’t hear him coming, and then bite my feet and fly away?

How many other pets could say, “Check out the babes!”?

When I was in the sixth grade, and Apollo had been living with us for about five years, we first parted ways. He flew through three open doors, out the garage and into a torrential thunderstorm. We searched for hours in winds that could lift you off the ground by your umbrella. After that, we hung up signs, and then we put fliers in every mailbox in the city. There was no sign of Apollo.

After several days, we figured we had seen the last of our poor parrot, who probably hadn’t lasted an hour in the harsh world of cats and cars. And then a woman two towns away went out into her backyard and saw a beautiful, bedraggled gray parrot standing in the grass. He walked up to her and looked at her hopefully until she handed him a snack. She figured the creature probably wasn’t a native of the greater-Cleveland area, so she called the animal warden.

My dad and I picked up Apollo from the warden’s office, and I gave my old enemy a good scratch and some grapes on the way home. Apollo was so happy to be back in the house that he forgot he hated me. He sat on my arm, he let me stroke his tail, and he stopped telling me to go to bed in the middle of the afternoon. He was a whole new bird. And then, after two weeks of friendship, I went to his cage to play with him. He chomped down on my arm, did his war dance, and everything was back to normal.

Apollo and I grew up together, in a way. After a time, I went away to college in Illinois and then took a job in North Carolina. He was the sibling who stayed home with my parents. I would come home for holidays and visits, and it was always strangely gratifying when he would remember my name. We developed a grudging truce where I would sneak him piles of fruit and he, in turn, kept his rage simmering below the surface. African Grays often live to be eighty or a hundred years old, and I fully expected to take care of him myself someday.

Two weeks ago, I visited Cleveland to see my parents’ new house and celebrate my grandfather’s ninetieth birthday. Apollo was his old self, which is to say grumpy and talkative. I fed him a grape, and he accepted it warily through the bars of his cage. He was still nursing a grudge against my dad from the move, but that was just Apollo being Apollo. With my mom, he was as cuddly as ever.

A week later, my parents went on a trip to Chicago and noticed that Apollo looked a little wobbly as they were leaving. My dad came home a few days later to find him barely able to stand, and rushed him to an exotic bird specialist. Apollo died the next day. He was just 19 years old.

The vet said Apollo’s heart was over twice its normal size. He hadn’t seen anything like it, and it had certainly been building for months. But Apollo was a proud bird, and he hid his problems until it was too late to help him. Because my mom was still gone, my dad had to bring Apollo home and bury him in their new back yard. As soon as he finished, the sky opened up and it started pouring. For the second time, Apollo was caught out in the rain.

A couple of days later, I talked to my mom as she sat stranded at an airport, still trying to make it home from that rough trip. She said she was sorry Apollo hadn’t been a better family pet, that he had been friendly only to her. But in his own way, Apollo was as good a pet as any kid could ask for. He had as much personality as any dog or cat, he impressed our friends, and he was frequently hilarious. On many occasions, I cracked up as my mom carried on entire conversations with the bird, thinking he was my dad.

It’s strange that Apollo lived longer than most dogs ever will, and yet he really was far too young. I like to think that we would have been friends someday, but I have no way of knowing that. Maybe he would have fallen for my future wife and gone on hating me, or maybe my parents would have eventually given him to a bird sanctuary, as they had occasionally discussed. I think Apollo would have liked that, though he certainly couldn’t have been any happier than when he was sitting on my mom’s shoulder in the den, intercepting occasional bites of popcorn on their way to her mouth.

When most childhood pets die, you feel their absence every time you return home. With Apollo, it feels strange every time I call my parents on the phone and don’t hear him carrying on a conversation in the background. My mom will say something, and then she’ll pause, and I’ll notice those white spaces in between sentences that used to be filled with whistles and words and snippets of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” And I think that’s what makes a great pet: they fill in those white spaces in our lives that we didn’t know were there.

Christmas letter!

For those of you that weren't lucky enough to receive my annual Christmas letter (I just sent it to people who had previously sent me Christmas cards, and by "annual" I mean I did it once), I proudly reproduce it for you here:

Hello friends, and Merry Christmas!

It’s your old pals, Jess and Eric! We cherished the many holiday newsletters we received last year, so much so that we decided to write our own! It is such a joy to have the opportunity to hear from each of you and find out what the last year had in store: your triumphs, your tragedies, your assault convictions that were subsequently overturned on technicalities. We can only hope that our adventures were just as thrilling.

The Christmas spirit has overtaken us all at Chateau ChiWard. Eric is currently relaxing in front of a blazing fire, sipping cocoa and reading A Christmas Carol. Wiki is hanging the mistletoe from the doorways, merrily howling “Good King Wenceslas.” And Jess has gained 165 pounds and grown a white beard. Ho ho ho!

No, but seriously, she has a problem.

But it’s not just the spirit of the season that has us feeling jolly! This past year has been good to each of us. All year, Jess continued to pursue her dream of becoming a dentist while simultaneously keeping an international bank from falling apart. As of December 31, she will officially leave her job as an accountant at Credit Suisse, at which point a series of irregularities should start showing up in their accounting books. We’d tell you all to ring in the new year by selling your shares, but that would be insider trading! Wink wink!

Outside of Credit Suisse, Jess has been taking science classes at NC State University and working on her dental applications for this coming year. But her true passion is competitive Call of Duty: Black Ops, an online shooting game based on the Vietnam War. Each night, under the screen name “Slagathor,” she signs on-line and blows the heads off of hundreds of “noobs” with her Uzi. Most of her personal acquaintances think of Jess as a loving girlfriend and thoughtful friend, but to millions of gamers across the world, her name is synonymous with Death.

With Jess so preoccupied, Eric has had to find plenty of ways to occupy himself. He’s still working at Cisco Systems (over 750 days without a murder!), where he builds and tests IP phones. Every time he watches The Office, he points at little props in the background and screams “I WORKED ON THAT!” It gets really annoying.

Eric has also become enmeshed in the world of underground hip-hop, where his ingenious rhymes have earned “Manatee Sheriff” a small but devoted following (here’s a sampling: “kumquat” and “thumb squat”). His song “Trust Then Pain” was credited with starting a small riot in Provo, Utah, which garnered him a lot of respect in the rap world. We would tell you where to download his songs, but if you were cool enough to understand them, you’d know already.

After a trip to Japan earlier this year, Eric became heavily interested in modern Buddhism, which he manifests mostly by building small rock shrines everywhere he goes. To most people, they are just small piles of rocks, but Eric knows that they symbolize something much more powerful. He hasn’t bothered to look up what that is, though.

Eric also plays a lot of tennis, but mostly just because he looks good in those short little skirts.

As for the hairiest member of the family (but not by much! Jess’s beard has gotten really long!), Wiki has spent most of the year lying on the floor, ready to spring into action at the slightest noise outside our front door. By his unofficial count, he has thwarted 862 break-ins, 429 kidnappings and 41 murders in the past year alone.

But although his role as guard dog is of foremost importance to him, Wiki has also been expanding his career as a canine actor. Next year, he’s hoping to star in an all-dog reimagining of The Shawshank Redemption. In the past, you’ve probably “scene” him in Hotel For Dogs, Marley and Me, and as Jackie Chan’s black buddy in Rush Hour 3.

While Wiki was off filming Homeward Bound 3: Barking Mad, Jess and Eric decided to take the ultimate “next step”: the eternal bliss of domestic partnership. Our families were somewhat disappointed that we didn’t go for that other “next step,” but everybody keeps saying that it’s good enough for the gays, so we figured it was good enough for us. Since our big “DP” session, to be honest, we’ve been kind of disappointed by the gifts we’ve received. Not to drop any hints, but we’re registered for beer pong cups and a lava lamp at Spencer’s Gifts.

Looking back, this year truly has been a magical one. We’ve all had our ups and downs, our highs and lows, our victories and defeats, our Empire Strikes Backs and our Phantom Menaces, but through it all, we’ve been blessed with the only things that really matter: an LCD television, a Playstation 3, and a wicker model of a panda bear striking a sexy pose with a piece of bamboo (thanks Grandpa!).

We hope that all of you are as lucky as we are in this, the chilliest of seasons. Should you find yourself without a warm fire, a delicious meal, or friendly company this Christmas, just show up at Eric’s parents’ house. They’ll hook ya up.


Jess n Eric

Pumpkins in December!

Hey guys! Wanna see some pumpkins that Jess and I carved a month ago?!


Last year, as you may recall, I made a Darth Vader pumpkin and a Batman pumpkin, so I had a lot to live up to. I really should have carved some crappy pumpkins for my first time out, just to set a low standard.

A lot of jack-o-lantern carving kits come with pre-made patterns that you can tape onto your gourd for a quick and flashy design. This is not my style. My style is as follows:

1) Google "Boba Fett."
2) Try to doodle the first image you find onto a pumpkin
3) Say "Shit! Pencil doesn't work on pumpkin skin!"
4) Start scraping and hope for the best.

While I was slaving away, muttering and complaining and accidentally dumping quarts of pumpkin goo onto the floor, Jess sat down and whipped up a beautiful pumpkin in about 30 minutes. Here's hers:

Then she sat down to eat an ice cream sandwich and watch Project Runway, while I continued to stab myself with kitchen knives. Here's what I came up with, about two hours later:

But that wasn't all! I had foolishly purchased two pumpkins for myself, so that meant I had to do it all over again. For pumpkin number two, I decided to go with an old favorite:

I think Calvin turned out better than Boba, probably because of his simplicity.

Here's are some pictures of all three of our pumpkins, lounging together on the front stoop:


(Rot set in about three days later.)

Beach stories vol. 2!

I always think that I'm going to update this blog when I have a free idle moment. Well, with all the cool things I have to entertain myself, there's no such thing as an "idle moment." So this blog languishes, unattended, while I watch zombie movies on Netflix or play Battle Bears on my iPhone.

Nevertheless, here I am, with my second promised beach story!

While we were at the beach, Jess and I hit up one of the old vacation mainstays: putt-putt. Miniature golf is a great game for the two of us, because neither of us are very good at it. One of the few problems with our relationship is that, no matter what game we play, one of us is way better than the other, and the loser just ends up mad. By both sucking equally at a game that is entirely meaningless, we can have a small competition without anyone upset at the end. And, without fail, you can make fun of all the weird strangers on the course.

Now, like everybody else, when we play putt-putt we always steal an extra game. You know how it works: There are two courses, with piratey names like "The Greens of the Black Pearl" or "Blackbeard's Bunkers." You get to the end of the first course, catch the ball before it gets sucked away by the ball-retrieval tunnel, and go play the other eighteen. Now, Mom, I know you won't approve, but you have to understand that this is how miniature golf is meant to be played. Nobody pays for a second game. It's built into the putt-putt business model.

When Jess and I play miniature golf, Jess always wins the first game and i always win the second. I think it's probably because i slowly get better and more competitive as the night goes on, and Jess slowly gets less interested in miniature golf. So we finished up the first 18 at Pirate's Cove, with Jess winning handily, and started towards the second course (let's call it "The Captain's Lagoon"). The two courses were on opposite sides of the clubhouse, with a door leading out to each one. That meant that we had two options:

1) We could walk through the clubhouse, past the guy behind the desk, and go out the second door
2) We could just walk around the clubhouse

To me, the choice didn't seem too hard, but Jess disagreed. See, going around the clubhouse would force us to walk across another hole, interfering with a family on the green. And Jess is nothing if not considerate. So we had the following conversation:

Jess: Let's just go through the clubhouse. He won't remember us.
Eric: Why would we take the chance? We can just walk around.
Jess: I don't want to get in their way.
Eric: We'll just walk past them. It'll take a second, and we're guaranteed to be safe.
Jess: Oh, c'mon, that guy won't remember. There are a million people coming through here.
Eric: But why...

So we walked through the clubhouse, out to the second course, and were immediately chased down by the guy behind the counter, who was yelling "HEY! YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR A SECOND GAME!"

I think he would have tackled us if we hadn't handed over our clubs (which was probably a mistake, since they were are only means of defense). He was the only person working that night, so he had left behind a clubhouse full of people just to apprehend us.

And that's how we got kicked out of the Pirate's Cove.

Beach stories!

Jess and I spent last week on the NC coast, lounging on the beach and lounging on the couch and lounging at root beer emporiums. There are three interesting stories to come out of this trip, and I'll share them with you one by one. Unless I never get around to the other two, in which case you're stuck with this one.

But it's a good one.

A little over a year ago, I gave my dad a set of sand sculpting tools for Father's Day. Unfortunately, I gave them to him at the beach, and he was flying home, so he couldn't take them with him. And, for one reason or another (the main reason being that we live 10 hours apart), I still haven't returned them.

So, as luck would have it, I had a giant bucket of sand tools with me at the beach. And I knew that I had to create something that would make my dad proud. There was only one obvious project to attempt:


Sand Helm's Deep

I built it on the side of this hill going up to our condo. That way the hill could be part of the mountain that Helm's Deep is built into. That meant I had to carry water a loooonnng way. In these pictures, you can see I'm kind of perched above it.


Sand Helm's Deep

I was going mostly by memory since I had no way of printing a picture and I was scared of getting sand all in my iphone. I should have brought some Legos so I could have a horde of orcs charging up the bridge.

Here are my castle and the "real" Helm's Deep:

Sand Helm's Deep

real helm's deep

Next year: Sand White House?

Oh wait, I'll probably have to give the sand tools back by then.

Toe-touching update!

 It's been a long time since I last updated you on my epic quest to touch my toes. And, now, I'm happy to report that...


Okay, I actually did it a couple of months ago, and never bothered to report it on here. Now I can put my fingers just about flat onto the ground, and I'm thinking about working my way to my palms. Let's not rush things, though.

It turns out that stretching every night does actually make you more flexible. Who woulda thought? For those of you that would also like to be as flexible as a normal human being, here is my extremely rigorous nightly routine. I think I'll call it P91X:

1) Stand several feet away from a wall, bend backwards, and put your palms on the wall. Bend over as far backwards as you can and hold it for 30 seconds. If you're really flexible, you can do that backwards bridge thing, but then if you're capable of doing that, you don't have to bother reading these steps.

2) Cross one leg over the other, bend over as far as you can, hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and do it again.

3) Sit on the ground, extend your right leg, bend over it as far as you can and grab your toes, and hold for 30 seconds. Do the same with your left leg.

4) In a doorway, put one leg up vertically on the doorframe with your other leg extending through the door. Lean forward as far as you can. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and do it again.

5) Finally, stand up with your legs together, bend over as far as you can, and try to touch your toes. Hold for 30 seconds.

This whole routine can be done in six or seven minutes, unless, like me, you get to a part you don't like and dawdle for five minutes checking your fantasy baseball team or sipping Cherry Coke. 

It's often been said that, the more you do some sort of exercise routine (if this even counts as exercise), the less obnoxious it becomes. Let me tell you that this is not true at all. I've been doing this dumb routine for months, and I still absolutely hate it. The thing about stretching is that, even when you become more flexible, you just try to stretch farther the next day. The whole point is to stretch until it hurts and then hold it there. And it freaking sucks. 

Other than the pride that comes with touching one's toes, I have seen absolutely no benefit from my newfound flexibility. It's not like I was pulling muscles before, and I rarely have occasion to pick things up without flexing my knees. But at least I don't feel like a toad every time I bend over. 

Buoyed by my success, I decided to try that "100 Pushups" thing that is all the rage these days. The idea of that program, of course, is to get to the point where you can do 100 straight pushups without stopping. I figured that would be good for my self-esteem, and maybe put some oomph into my tennis strokes. In a couple of weeks, I worked my way up from 31 to 44. Then, in straining to finish off pushup number 44, I wrenched something awful in my back.

So, you know, maybe I'll stick to stretching.


Like many of you, I've been inundated with ads for Zac Efron's newest opus, Charlie St. Cloud.


And, like many of you, I am incredibly excited.

Yes, I know it looks abysmal. Yes, the trailer features every movie cliche ever written. Yes, Zac Efron apparently has a knack for discovering terrible, terrible films. And that's exactly why I can't wait for it.

Look, these are actual quotes from just the TV ads for Charlie St. Cloud:
  • "A small-town hero... a tragic accident... a miraculous gift."
  • "He'll become the person he was meant to be!"
  • "What if there was a way to hold on? What if there was a reason to let go?"
  • "Love doesn't wait for you!"
  • "Trust your heart, Charlie St. Cloud."
  • "You just have to believe!"
  • "Is that why you gave up... everything?"
  • "You can't put life on hold, Charlie!"
  • "Charlie, at some point, we all have to let go!"
Charlie St. Cloud is the story of a young man, played by Efron, who is so upset when his brother Sam is killed by a drunk driver that he loses the ability to utter anything except the most banal of cliches. This tragic disability causes him to be shunned by society, but luckily he is able to see Sam's ghost, so he's not too lonely. This is his deep, dark secret, which he naturally tells everybody who comes along. Things go swimmingly for the brothers, since playing catch for hours every night never gets old, until an attractive young yachtswoman named Tess comes along and steals Charlie's heart. She is won over by his cliches, and the two share some steamy smooches, but hanging out with Tess makes Sam's ghost fade away. Finally, when Tess's boat disappears at sea, Charlie is forced to make an impossible decision between the brother he loves and a really pretty girl that he's known for like a week.
You probably know that Charlie St. Cloud is based on a novel, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, by Ben Sherwood. What you may not know is that the plot has been somewhat altered. The original story takes place 13 years after Sam's death, when our hero is pushing 30 and now working as the undertaker at his brother's cemetery. Not only does he see his brother's ghost, but he also sees the spirits of other graveyard residents. And when a young yachtswoman disappears at sea, he begins to see her ghost as well. He rescues her body from the ocean, deep in a coma, but the experience finally teaches him that he needs to move on. He quits his job, but when he visits the girl in the hospital for the last time, he is struck by a car. The next time he awakes, he is a ghost in his old graveyard, and he realizes that he will never be able to leave.

I would feel bad about spoiling the ending for you, but I'm pretty certain that the movie isn't going to end with Zac Efron getting pulverized by a Hyundai Sonata. 

Now, you may be thinking that the original story actually sounds pretty interesting, kind of a dark little drama that twists you at the end. And you're right, but that's not Zac's style. Because he would never appear in anything that could be described as "dark."

It's hard to put a finger on what I love about Zac Efron, but I think it's something like this: while he is clearly incredibly talented -- and there's no denying it* -- he has a pitch-perfect nose for movies that are both incredibly earnest and incredibly bad. 

*Look, don't you argue with me, buster. The dude can sing (even if he was dubbed with another singer in High School Musical 1), and he was actually really good in Hairspray. Stop being too cool for school. 

The first thing Zac Efron ever acted in was one episode of the brilliant TV series Firefly, one of the greatest shows ever made. But don't hold that against him! When you're a young actor, you have to take every role you can get. Shortly thereafter, he got his first regular role on Summerland, and clearly he had found his niche:

All of these movies were actually really successful, largely because girls who haven't hit puberty want to do... something... to Zac (they're not quite sure what yet). But the Zac Efron that I believe in is not a cynic that knows he can bat his eyelashes in fluff films and get teenage girls to hand over their tanning salon money. No, the Zac Efron that I believe in read the script for Charlie St. Cloud, which calls for him to shout "THIS IS WHY I WAS GIVEN A SECOND CHANCE!" and said to himself "Zac, my boy, start clearing the mantle, because Uncle Oscar is coming to visit."

Maybe he even called up the director and said "What if, in this scene, I furrow my brow and say 'The more I'm in your world... the less I can be in his.' Genius, right?!"

After seeing Hairspray, I was a little worried about Zac Efron. That movie wasn't my normal cup of tea, but it was certainly a great film and he was certainly good in it. I even remarked to my friend Liz, "Can you imagine if, 25 years from now, Zac Efron is considered one of the best actors of his generation?"

As it turned out, I didn't have to worry. Zac is still the actor I love. He signs on for one lousy movie after another, and in each one, he gives it his absolute all. There is no more earnest actor in Hollywood today.** In another time, if Disney hadn't discovered him, he might have been giving 110% to terrible horror films with names like Sharktopus. He's that kind of actor.

**Zac inherited this title from Brendan Fraser. Brendan surely knows that he hasn't appeared in a single decent film in his 20 year career, but there's no way he's phoning in The Mummy 4: Rise of the Aztec.

I might not even go see Charlie St. Cloud. I'll probably get it on Netflix at some point. But I like knowing that there's one certainty in movies these days, one actor that will deliver a hilarious performance every time whether he means to or not.

There are a lot of cynics out there who, like the grizzled old sailor in Charlie St. Cloud, will look at Zac Efron and say, "No one can survive these waters!" But Zac will look them in the eye, grab the mooring line, and -- with his voice breaking -- shout "I've got to save Tess! I CAN DO THIS!"

Yes you can, Zac. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

On being weird

A few entries ago, I wrote a throwaway line promising to blog about "how not to become that weird guy Aunt Jess is dating." Frankly, if any of you ever expected me to follow up on a promised blog entry, you were hopelessly naive, but I've had a surprising number of people ask when that journal entry is coming.* Apparently a lot of you are also concerned with whether or not I'm weird (the answer, you will shortly learn, is yes).

*Sadly, nobody seemed interested in learning how to dominate at Blitz. I guess I'll just take my secrets to the grave.

I wasn't going to ever write that blog, because frankly it doesn't seem very funny. Then, an evening or two later, Jess put me on the spot and asked me how I was going to avoid becoming her weird boyfriend. I fumbled out some stuff about her nieces becoming teenagers, and thinking adults are weird, and wondering what our status is, but upon reflection I think there's a simpler explanation: if you are an adult male, and you are relatively normal, then you have probably absorbed the belief that you should never be talking to a teenage female.* Maybe if it's your sister you'll say hi from across the room, but otherwise there is a constant, desperate fear of looking like Matthew McConaughey's character from Dazed and Confused. As somebody who famously hit on a 12-year-old girl by mistake, I'm particularly sensitive to this. And it doesn't help that people between 14 and 18 are predisposed to hate everybody anyway.

**The exception, of course, is my cousin Karl, who loves high school girls. Just kidding!***


Of course, this is issue is relevant because Jess's family is pumping out little girls fast enough to fill softball squads for years. At my last count she has five nieces and enough second cousins that I don't bother to keep track anymore. Currently, they are all varying degrees of delightful. One likes to be picked up and flipped upside down and slammed onto a couch. She also likes to punch me, but it's still funny because she's not strong enough to do any damage yet. Another kicks butt at the Rock Band drums. With a third, you can say "Wow! That's a low price!" and she'll respond "I KNOW! ...Did you say something about a low price?" Some of the others don't do much yet, but they haven't pooped on me, so they're still okay in my book.

But eventually, that family is going to have about 35 teenage girls running around at the same time. Jess has pointed out that they're all basically going to think of me as family, and she's right of course (not that "uncle" and "weird" are mutually exclusive). Intellectually I know it's not really going to be an issue, though at some point I'll probably have to stop body-slamming them onto the couch. Just in case, my plan is to get them all to play tennis. I'll form them into an elite tennis squad, and I'll be their coach, because that never turns out badly.

Yeah, I was right. This entry is weird all by itself.

My Playstation is an imposter

I got my Playstation 3 back today. But was it my Playstation? Or an imposter spy?

My PS3 was gone because, a couple of weeks ago, it decided to die on me. What happened, you ask? You know how, on the front of a PS3, there is an LED that is either red (when it's off) or green (when it's on)? Well, as it turns out, when that light flashes yellow, it means that your system's innards have dissolved into a puddle of overheated snot. In this case, the yellow represents snot. It's really pretty obvious.

When my system first started flashing yellow (in the middle of a tense chase scene in Red Faction: Guerilla), I turned to Google, which informed me that I was in fact fucked. Some people on the Internet have discovered the cause, which is some overheated solder that melted and broke some connection inside the system (that was the technical explanation right there). They had also determined that, by disassembling your system, cleaning out its insides, coating it with some special heat-resistant goo, then "reflowing" the solder with a heat gun at upwards of 400 degrees, you could make a real mess on your table. Also, you might get it working for another couple weeks.

Because I'm currently using my heat gun to roast caterpillars on my patio*, I decided not to fix my PS3 myself. Instead I called Sony, who told me that, for the low, low price of $180, they would fix the defective system that cost $600 in the first place (oooh, I can feel the righteous consumer anger flowing!). Alternatively, for $150, they would send me a brand-new system that wouldn't play my Playstation 2 games.

I opted for the fix, at which point they informed me that, per official Sony policy, they would erase my hard drive as soon as they got it. As far as I can tell, the official reason for this is "just to be a dick." Actually, they said it was to protect my privacy, because I would have been hugely embarrassed if one of their employees had gotten on my system and seen that it took me three tries to beat that stupid quick-time event at the end of God of War 2.

Not wanting to give up all my hard-earned unlocked Rock Band songs, I sent them a follow-up email asking if I could remove the hard drive and just send them the rest of the system. When they took too long to respond, I tried calling and asking a representative on the phone. She told me no, though she couldn't quite seem to articulate why. Moments later, I received an email response from a different Sony representative saying "Sure, keep the hard drive!" Following the philosophy that has served me well throughout my life, I chose the answer that I liked the best, pulled my hard drive out, and sent in the system.

Actually, first I had to wait for the official Playstation death box (or "cardboard coffin," as the kids on the Internet are calling it). When your Playstation breaks, Sony mails you a fine cardboard box, which you will have to be at home to sign for, because heaven forbid the UPS guy leave an empty cardboard box in the apartment office where it could be stolen. After I signed for my box, I packaged up my dead darling and took it to the UPS store, where the friendly guy behind the counter greeted me with, "Playstation broke, huh?" Apparently he sees about three dead PS3s per week, though he told me I shouldn't feel bad because "I see 10 XBoxes."

The night I sent away my Playstation, I thought to myself "Well, I guess I'll just watch a DVD." Then I realized that my Playstation was also my DVD player. Depressing.

The following nights were just as bad. With Jess studying for the DAT every night, I had to resort to desperate measures to entertain myself (believe it or not, a few times I resorted to playing the Wii!). But after ten or so terrible, sleepless nights, my PS3 arrived at my door this afternoon.

Or did it?

When I unboxed my system, it looked suspiciously pristine. Since I am fond of engraving obscenities into all my electronics, that was my first warning sign. Looking in the hard drive slot, I found that there was a drive in there, which was also suspicious since mine was still sitting next to the TV. And when I hooked it up and stuck my hard drive in there, I got an error: "Hard drive was not formatted by this Playstation. You must reformat the hard drive to proceed."

This wasn't the Playstation that I know and love!

See, each hard drive is formatted to an individual Playstation. In this case, I believe the official reason for this is something like "Screw you, Eric!" No, really, it's something about piracy. So I now have a new Playstation with two hard drives, but none of my original data. And I think the new one might be watching me while I sleep.

So, guys: back up your data. And if your Playstation starts blinking yellow, hit it with a hammer. It'll make you feel better, and you're never getting it back anyway.

One reporter slowly descends into insanity

Today, John Isner and Nicholas Mahut played the longest match in tennis history (wait! keep reading! this will be interesting!). Or, that is to say, they played part of it -- the match was finally called for darkness at 59-all in the fifth set. The match has lasted 9 hours and 58 minutes so far, dwarfing the previous longest match by over three hours already. By the end, both players were exhausted. And so were the journalists.

The Guardian, the U.K.'s largest newspaper, sends reporters to live-blog the matches. And the slow descent into madness of one unfortunate journalist was nearly as entertaining as the match itself. It's worth reading even if you're not into tennis.

Here are some relevant snippets from Xan Brooks's liveblog:

At 18-18:

"On and on they go. Soon they will sprout beards and their hair will grow down their backs, and their tennis whites will yellow and then rot off their bodies. And still they will stand out there on Court 18, belting aces and listening as the umpire calls the score. Finally, I suppose, one of them will die."

At 21-21:

"John Isner's serving arm has fallen off. Nicolas Mahut's head is loose and rolling bonelessly on his neck. And yet still they play on. The score is now 21-21 in the fifth and final set. This is now, officially, the longest final set in Wimbledon history."

At 25-26:

"On Court 18 a match is not won and lost; it is just played out infinitely, deeper and deeper into a fifth and final set as the numbers rack up and the terrain turns uncharted. Under the feet of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, the grass is growing. Before long they will be playing in a jungle and when they sit down at the change of ends, a crocodile will come to menace them. They are poised at 25 games apiece in a deciding set that is now nudging three hours."

At 33-33:

"Is it a dream, a lie, or is John Isner really about to triumph in the longest match in tennis history? The American flicks a backhand return up the line to reach 15-40, with two match points. But then Mahut finds the line with a forehand and hastens in to tap away a terrified volley. Incredibly, he saves the second match point too and then pulls level once more: 33-33 in the final set.

So yes, it was a dream, it was a lie. The Amazing Zombie Tennis Pros are not through with us yet. Ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha!"

At 34-34:

"The score stands at 34-34. In order to stay upright and keep their strength, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut have now started eating members of the audience. They trudge back to the baseline, gnawing on thigh-bones and sucking intestines. They have decided that they will stay on Court 18 until every spectator is eaten. Only then, they say, will they consider ending their contest."

At 37-37:

"I'm wondering if maybe an angel will come and set them free. Is this too much to ask? Just one slender angel, with white wings and a wise smile, to tell them that's it's all right, they have suffered enough and that they are now being recalled. The angel could hug them and kiss their brows and invite them to lay their rackets gently on the grass. And then they could all ascend to heaven together. John Isner, Nicolas Mahut and the kind angel that saved them."

At 40-40:

"The sun is sinking and the court is a blur. It is at this stage that Zombie Isner starts to look like Zombie Mahut and the Zombie Umpire stops croaking and starts to chirrup like a grasshopper. In other words, we're here but we're gone. Is anyone still alive up in the stands or have they now all been eaten? It's 40-40. And that's games, not points."

At 45-45:

"And so this match goes on and on, on and on. Somewhere along the way, the players have mislaid their names. The man who was once Mahut is now a string-bag of offal. The man who was Isner is a parched piece of cow-hide.

The offal looks fresher, possesses a piercing backhand and still throws itself about the court on occasion. But the cow-hide can serve and has the advantage of going ahead by one game and forcing the offal to catch-up. This the offal is only too happy to do. It hits a backhand down the line and then follows that up with an ace, and the score now stands at 45 games apiece."

At 48-48:

"What happens if we steal their rackets? If we steal their rackets, the zombies can no longer hit their aces and thump their backhands and keep us all prisoner on Court 18. I'm shocked that this is only occurring to me now. Will nobody run onto the court and steal their rackets? Are they all too scared of the zombies' clutching claws and gore-stained teeth? Steal their rackets and we can all go home. Who's with me? Steal their rackets and then run for the tube."

At 56-56:

"It's 56 games all and darkness is falling. This, needless to say, is not a good development, because everybody knows that zombies like the dark. So far in this match they've been comparatively puny and manageable, only eating a few of the spectators in between bashing their serves.

But come night-fall the world is their oyster. They will play on, play on, right through until dawn. Perhaps they will even leave the court during the change-overs to munch on other people. Has Roger Federer left the grounds? Perhaps they will munch on him, hounding him down as he runs for his car, disembowelling him in the parking lot and leaving Wimbledon without its reigning champion. Maybe they will even eat the trophy too."

At 59-58:

"No. It's not. At least not just yet. An exhausted Isner is serving to make it 59-58. An exhausted Mahut runs for a volley and falls flat on his face. An exhausted umpire calls the score in a dreadful, reedy croak. An exhausted Isner takes the game. It's 59-58."

And at the conclusion:

"Mahut prevails! Mahut wins! This is not to say he wins the match, of course. Nobody is winning this match; not now and not ever. But he prevails in his complaint and his wish is granted. Play is suspended. They will come back tomorrow and duke it out all over again. The scoreboard will be re-set at 0-0 first set and Isner and Mahut will take it from there.

OK, so they won't do that, exactly. Instead, they will pick it up where they left off, at 59-59 in the final set. Apparently the last set of this match has now lasted longer than any match in tennis history. Can this really be true? Nothing would surprise me anymore.

I'm off tomorrow, possibly lying in a ditch somewhere."

Glorious. I can't wait for this match to drag on to Friday, when this poor guy will have to come back and liveblog some more. If the zombies don't get him.