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Friday, August 31, 2012

Splat-ters of the Week: John Mayer and Katy Perry

This week’s splat-ters get short shrift because I have to pack for a trip to Georgia.  (I’m so frazzled I don’t even have time to refer to myself in the plural.) My  brother and sister-in-law live there and are parents to my beautiful 4 month-old nephew, Baby B.  The two had an opportunity to get away for a few days if they could line up childcare, so I jumped at the chance to do a stint as Aunt In Residence with Baby B. 

The Aunt In Residence program is not new.  I piloted this groundbreaking initiative over a 9 month period while living in Herndon last year with my sister, brother-in-law, 9 year-old niece and 8 year-old nephew.  The curriculum at that time consisted of a single course-- “Sarcasm: Walking the Fine Line Between ‘Funny’ and ‘Grounded’”—but it was a rousing success so expansion was just a matter of time.  Borrowing the Law & Order franchise model, this weekend I’m rolling out Aunt In Residence: Infant Care Unit.

I started working on the AIR ICU syllabus the moment my brother bought my plane ticket.  I have only two days with B so the agenda is tight.  Day 1 will focus on the humanities, such as Art and Music Appreciation.  Baby B’s aptitude in both areas will be measured by his response to seminal audio and visual works.  On Day 2, we’ll turn to math and science.  Results will be reported here so stay tuned.

Speaking of tunes, the award this week goes to John Mayer and Katy Perry for being not just accomplished singers and songwriters, but also talented splitters and splat-ters. 

Perry’s 14-month marriage—a life sentence by my standards --supposedly left her “wide awake” but not alert enough to steer clear of the likes of John Player, er, Mayer (or primary colors in hair dye but that’s a separate issue). 

Mayer is not just a formidable musical talent but also a leading jerk thanks to his well-known dating antics and his inability to refrain from making appalling comments about them.  After a 2010 interview that broadcast the most horrifying of these, Mayer generated so much negative publicity it would’ve taken Usain Bolt to outrun it.  Mayer's solution was to become a recluse and hide in Montana, like a less explosive Ted Kaczynski. 

Mayer stayed out of the limelight until Rolling Stone interviewed him a couple months ago, just before he and Perry were linked romantically.  The singer sounded contrite. 

Both he and Perry desperately needed a good rebound.  But sometimes two negatives do not make a positive and this was one of those times.  Mayer pulled the plug on the relationship via email, proving that “contrite” is actually a compound word comprised of “con” and “trite.” 

These two are splat-tastic and have earned their golden pancakes. No doubt they’d rather win a Grammy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Outlook is Everything

I don’t often write here about my failed marriage because it’s not fair to “Mark,” who doesn’t get a chance to air his side of the story.  So when I do write about it, I’ll try to mitigate the potential for bias by sticking strictly to the facts.

And remember, if you want Mark’s perspective, all you have to do is call him at ... Just kidding! (Though this reminds me that I should tell the story about an evening in  January when my best friend’s rear-end chose the worst possible time(s) to call my ex-husband.  Those familiar with the incident might recall a wisecrack I made then about AT&T unveiling a new “Butt-to-Butt” calling program.  I promise not to say anything nearly so non-factual when I get around to writing about it here.)  

As most people know, marriage requires the parties to negotiate regularly on macro and micro levels.  Achieving compromise can be tricky, regardless of whether the issue is broad (should we move to another city?) or narrow (what’s for dinner?).  A recurring micro issue in my and Mark’s household involved figuring out the best way to keep track of our joint and respective schedules.  

We agreed that we couldn’t successfully maintain a kitchen wall calendar.  I suggested the “If It Ain’t Broke” method, according to which the person who was going out for Girls’ Night would apprise the other person of her plans and leave it up to him to make note of them using his existing date-keeping system.  Mark didn’t like this idea.  He used Microsoft Outlook’s calendar feature at work to schedule everything, whether personal or professional.  He worried that if I told him my plans by email or phone, he might not remember to transfer them to his electronic calendar and then might forget about them altogether.   His solution?  We should email each other meeting notices. Through Outlook.  

I had some reservations about this.  For openers, I allow anyone within my company to access my work calendar.  Setting up meetings is much easier that way, and I don’t care who knows that I have a conference call on Monday morning to discuss the Smith account.   But I might feel differently about registering for company-wide consumption the date and time of, say, a waxing appointment.   

But after a couple months I yielded and agreed to take on a whole new Outlook.  I started sending Mark meeting notices for things like my book club and receiving from him “invitations” to shoot sporting clays.  Each of us would click “accept” to place the event on our individual electronic calendars.  Outlook knew when we were having date nights, too.

Mark and I separated in July 2011.  In the weeks leading up to that, I went alone to certain functions we had planned to attend together that were recorded in Outlook, such as my law school pal’s cookout and my aunt and uncle’s surprise 50th birthday bash.  Just before each of these events, Mark emailed me an updated response changing his reply from “accepted” to “declined.”  In case I hadn’t already gotten the message, I guess.

Those notes proved to be some of the most benign communications of our divorce.  Few people would describe dissolving a marriage as an easy process, yet some couples manage to split amicably.  In the early days of our separation I hoped we would be that kind of couple.  In terms of realism, this ranked right up there with hoping brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tarts would land on the superfood list above blueberries.

When I got the court order in May that officially ended our marriage and eliminated any need for further contact between me and Mark, I felt a huge surge of relief.  I assumed Mark had a similar reaction.  When his name appeared in my email in-box at work last Monday, I was caught off guard. 

The prospect of reading his message excited me as much as the idea of stapling my eyelids to my forehead.  But my stapler was empty, so I had no choice.  I opened the note and found a brand new rejection notice for the law school friend’s cookout that occurred in July 2011.  Moments later Mark sent me another “updated response” informing me afresh that he would not be attending last year’s 50th birthday party for my aunt and uncle.

I suppose nothing says “we’re done” like  a Double-Dog decline.  

I hope I don’t get Triple Dog Declined, but just in case, I’m going to make good and sure I have plenty of staples on hand.   

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Splat-ter of the Week: Diana Nyad

We start by acknowledging that the Y chromosomes put together an all-star lineup of splat-ters this week.  Batting leadoff was Todd Akin, the Republican Congressman from Missouri, who hit one straight into left field when he made breathtakingly ignorant remarks about rape and the female anatomy.  We wonder how he landed a seat on the Committee for Science, Space and Technology, unless “Committee” is a euphemism for “Summer school.”  If he somehow manages to get re-elected, we expect he’ll introduce a bill to make voodoo a core competency for med students.
Hot on Akin’s heels, Prince Harry splatted spectacularly by taking the Crown Jewels on tour and finding out that the “what happens in Vegas” rule has a royal caveat.
The splat-ters in the third and cleanup spots –Lance Armstrong and Roger Clemens--hail from the always reliable “Drugs in Sports” sector.  This week, Armstrong abandoned his efforts to challenge the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s findings that he engaged in blood doping. Armstrong didn’t test positive for doping but a bunch of former teammates were willing to testify that he did it.  The USADA banned Armstrong from cycling and has recommended that he be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.  Questions about the fairness of USADA’s process and Armstrong’s guilt abound.  Those are unlikely to be resolved any time soon and the real story may never emerge.  But even if the former champion loses his landmark victories, we’re pretty sure a guy who beat testicular cancer will find a way to rebound from this splat.  

We’re less sure Roger Clemens can recover from his decision to return to the mound for the Atlantic League at age 50.  Apparently, striking out the Department of Justice renewed Clemens’s confidence in his fastball.  Last night he made his first appearance for the Sugarland Skeeters, whom we believe play in the same conference as the Bad News Bears.  It went well but was too short to be conclusive.  Since Hall of Fame aspirations may be driving this ill-considered rebound attempt, we trust Clemens will steer clear of performance-enhancing substances. He should be fine, as long as Geritol isn’t on MLB’s banned list. 
As remarkable as these male splats were, though, we give this week’s Golden Pancake to Diana Nyad, the 62 year-old swimmer who tried for the fourth time to make the 103 mile swim from Cuba to Florida (this time without a shark cage).  Unfortunately for Nyad -- one of the most accomplished endurance swimmers ever-- the Florida Straits were not her water so much as her Waterloo.   

She first attempted the crossing at age 28, enclosed in a shark cage.  Wind and huge sea swells pushed her hopelessly off course, so she was forced to end that quest after 49 hours.  More than 30 years after that first splat, she tried again.  Her second and third attempts were cut short by stings from a highly venomous species of jellyfish. Nyad had a special wetsuit made and a protective skin cream developed in the hopes of preventing these creatures from foiling her fourth try.  But enhanced technology couldn’t trump Mother Nature.  The jellies still found her skin, sharks circled within dangerous proximity, and a lightning-laced squall surrounded her.  

Nyad was forced to give up again, after spending 51 hours as a floating hors d’oeuvre.  We have to hand it to anyone whose pursuit of a single goal results in a three-decade splat.  We doubt she’ll give it another go, but since her last name doubles as an acronym for “Not Your Average Diana,” this golden gal will probably find her way out of the dirt pretty quickly.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Splat-ter of the Week: The Presidential Candidates

The one issue Americans seem to agree on these days is that we're tired of the divisive political atmosphere in Washington.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney claimed to feel the same way, with each having expressed a desire to curtail partisan bickering and change the climate on the Hill and in our country.

We know that issues like the economy and health care have polarized the population for years now, making civil, fact-based discourse a lofty and ambitious goal that requires exploration of largely uncharted territory.

And yet, in a situation that demands the political equivalents of Lewis and Clark, we find ourselves with Lenny and Squiggy.  It's not even Labor Day and our presidential "hopefuls" have already slung enough mud to drown a sounder of swine.

We don't care which campaign veered off the moral high road first.  Both got hopelessly lost mere moments into the journey.  During a rally this week, Joe  "Now You Know Why I Used To Plagiarize" Biden suggested that the Republicans were somehow running on a slavery platform. The Romney camp ensured the rhetoric stayed in the ditch by accusing Obama of sowing discord along racial and class lines (while telling us to stop worrying our pretty little heads about his tax returns). And those are just this week's examples.

When we said we wanted a change in the political climate in Washington, we weren't asking for global warming, for crying out loud.

Step on up and get your golden pancakes, commander-in-chief wannabes. And please forgive us if we don't turn on our TV for the next three months.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hat Splat

Just before I went to Mexico in May, I bought a straw hat with a fairly wide brim.  It gave my pale, over-40 face some measure of protection against the sun, but it also hampered my ability to blend in with the scenery.  Few Mexicans were likely to mistake me for a native even before I bought the hat but it bguaranteed that I stood out like a bleach stain.  For this reason I dubbed it the "Gringa Hat."  It served me well, if not flatteringly.

If asked, the hat probably wouldn't describe me in very glowing terms either because I rewarded its faithful service by sending it home inside my checked bag, surrounded by 20 pounds of dirty clothes.
The hat didn't rebound from its ignominious return trip right away.  It took a week or two to puff back up.  Once it regained its shape I got in the habit of wearing it stateside to ward off the sun.

It didn't necessarily look any more fashionable here than on the international circuit but I sported it in places where it stood out less, like the Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney concert I took my sister, Suzi, to this past Sunday for her birthday.  In terms of demographics, the crowd at this show was basically one massive, hat-wearing bleach stain, so my sombrero fit in just fine.

(Musically speaking, I cut a pretty wide swath. This Thursday my other sister and I are taking our mom to see Barry Manilow.  Every now and then we make such sacrifices for the sake of family.  And we're fully prepared, should daughterly duty require it, to belt out every word of "Copacabana," "I Can't Smile Without You," and "Mandy." All daughters should be so loving.)

Somewhere in the middle of Tim McGraw's set, shade crept over our section of the stadium so I took off the Gringa Hat.  To shield it from wandering feet and swaying beers I stuck it under my seat.  Shortly after his rendition of "Live Like You Were Dying," which produced a stadium-wide vibe that left me slack-jawed, Tim wrapped up his set. I decided to check on the hat.  My strategic placement had kept it from getting trampled but did not save it from a fateful encounter with a basket of chips and salsa that got kicked over the edge by someone in the row behind us.

As my sister and I walked out to the parking lot after the show we agreed the Gringa Hat could not, and should not, be resuscitated.  But I thought it deserved a more dignified end than a Dumpster burial.  I've decided to say "adios" to it on Thursday night at the Barry show because let's face it: the only thing this hat's missing is a heaping helping of cheese.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Splat-ter of the Week: Lazy August Edition

As usual, the week's news produced plenty of excellent splats and we're late choosing the best one. We'll attribute our delay to the abundance of qualified candidates (though an abundance of happy hours may have had something to do with it).

The Olympic cup still runneth over with splats.  Athletic ones aside a few people begged us to honor NBC, which hit the wall in Week 1 of the Games with their Castro-like rationing of marquee event coverage.  In week two they kept sliding, compounding the felony of tape delay by forcing people to sit through endless fluff pieces to get to the most anticipated events.  We would understand if NBC aired these human interest pieces to pass the time during a weather delay, but when the delay is entirely man-made and its creator decides to prolong it just to keep people hanging on past 11 p.m., dedicated viewers with day jobs have found it tough to be patient.  Though the coverage fiasco has been an unexpected boon for the ailing U.S. toothpick industry, which has sold record numbers of eyelid-propping devices over the last two weeks.

But we're going to pass over NBC and the athletes. We think the most deserving recipient of this week's honor is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for sending a new rover to Mars.  NASA, the pioneer of American space exploration, knows a thing or two about splatting.  In that way it reminds us a bit of Ford Motors, another paragon of American invention.   While both entities have produced moments of world-changing, horizon-broadening innovation, each has cranked out some major clunkers, too. The Hubble Telescope, for example, turned out to be a very expensive intergalactic Pinto when NASA launched it in 1990.  After its pricey and very public splat the space agency poured significant resources into repairing the telescope.  NASA's efforts got the Hubble up to Escort levels in terms of mechanical soundness (and to Millennium Falcon levels in terms of price).  It has since become a pretty darned reliable apparatus.

Just last week, NASA sent a rover - the Curiosity - to Mars.  According to the agency it's the most complex spacecraft that's ever been sent there.  Tension was high as we watched in fear that they'd fire up a space Fiesta.   Yet not only did NASA launch and land the craft with spectacular precision, the thing seems to work, too.  It's being test-driven as we speak and early signs are that this baby is a Lincoln.  So NASA, step on up and claim your golden pancake. Sure, you've had a few splats over time, but at least you get up when you land on the new ground you're breaking.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

2 Busy 4U

Last week I caught up with a good friend over dinner. She filled me in on her goings-on, including some dating adventures, and then asked me about my love life.

"Nothing to report," I said, "but it's kind of liberating to know my phone isn't going to ring."

Not that people actually call each other anymore.  Now that instant, silent modes of communication abound, starting a conversation with someone new without actually speaking is quick and nearly effortless, like opening a can of soda.  Those first few sips-- mutual friend-ing on Facebook, texting with adolescent ardor --are all fun and fizzy.

But heaven forbid one person decides she's not thirsty anymore, or she wants to switch to tea.
A decade ago, she could just leave the can on the counter and let its contents quietly go flat. The can got to keep a little dignity, too.  It was free to invent reasons for a crush's abrupt disappearance with very little worry that anyone would disprove them, no matter how implausible (lost in Area 54) or uncharitable (lost in Area 54 and then set upon by a starving bear moments after opening a jumbo bag of Doritos).

These days, if you leave the opened can alone for more than an evening, it's going to want to know where you went.  (And the very demanding ones will expect to be recycled after they get dumped.)  Even if it doesn't ask, it'll find out as soon as it goes on Facebook, and it will have a hard time convincing itself that you died but somehow found a way to continue updating your status posthumously.

Modern daters should be ready for this situation, yet recent conversations with two of my single friends have convinced me they're not.  I listened as they traded lame excuses they'd been given by someone who disappeared.  One friend --a generous soul--emailed the object of her affection after he went dark, expressing concern for his wellbeing. He responded via text two days later. "Crazy busy - working like a dog." On his Facebook page, she assumed, because he had managed to relay to the world the important news that he likes Target and to check in at various bars and restaurants on FourSquare.

My guy friend countered with an entry from a former love interest who went from texting him with restraining order frequency to near-total silence.  She ended a week of non-contact with the following heartfelt missive: "'Sup?"

Before we knew it, these two entries had started a competition--a blowoff-off, if you will. And you are hereby invited to join in the game.  Send your nominations for the best modern day blowoff to  splatospheric@gmail.com.  (Names and other identifying information can be changed as needed to protect the guilty, or the merely embarrassed.) Let the lames, er, games, begin!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Splat-ter of the Week: Olympic Edition

Because the Olympics only come around once every couple of years, we’ve focused our attention this week on the major splatting action unfolding in London.

NBC garnered more than one vote for its “You’ll See What We Want You To, When We Want You To” 2012 Olympics coverage model, according to which they treat TV watchers to live footage of heart-stopping croquet action and dish out stingy rations of swimming on extreme time delay. 

No doubt we speak for all U.S. viewers when we say the delay hasn't bothered us at all.  It’s no big deal to don a pair of blinders and walk around with our fingers in our ears to avoid finding out the results of marquee events through astounding 21st century technology like the office water cooler.  Our patience really paid off when, somewhere in the middle of our hours-long wait to watch Missy Franklin make her first run at a gold medal, NBC thoughtfully suggested we tune in to tomorrow’s “Today Show” to see a chat with brand new gold medalist Missy Franklin. We’re so impressed by NBC's self-scooping that we're considering announcing today that we've awarded them next week's prize.

While we mull that over, we return to the action in London this week.  The Olympics are one big splat-fest.  Every day produces new tales of success, failure, and everything in between, so choosing a lone standout is tough (especially since we lack complicated tiebreaking rules like they have in women’s gymnastics).  But after much careful consideration, we’ve decided to give the gold medal in Synchronized Splatting to the Poster Boys of U.S. Swimming--Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps—for an Olympic story that covers the full splat gamut.

After Phelps dominated the 2008 Beijing Olympics and earned a record-setting eight gold medals, he  took a well-deserved breather.  While resting on his laurels he happened to rest on some other flammable herbs, indicating that perhaps his focus had shifted away from swimming.  When he got back in the water, his return was less than triumphant, too.  The media began to speculate that he was finished.

Meanwhile, Lochte spent the post-Beijing period working on becoming the new face of men’s swimming.  He changed his diet and beefed up his weight training program, with tangible results.  He beat Phelps a few times in head-to-head competitions, including last year’s World Championships.  Lochte also started to gain ground on Phelps in the duel for media exposure as he began to appear on magazine covers and to serve as an unpaid spokesman for the dental bling industry.

But at the Olympic Trials in Omaha earlier this summer, Phelps showed signs that his comeback attempt might have legs after all.  He bested Lochte in three of four events. The significance of these victories was unclear since the Trials represented only a preliminary matchup, but they at least offered the public some hope that the finale of Phelps and Lochte’s rivalry might be grand after all.  Lochte fed the beast of media hype with his prediction that the 2012 Olympics would be “his time.”

The pair first went head-to-head for hardware in the finals of the 400 Meter Individual Medley last Saturday.  Based on this contest, it looked like Lochte could add “skilled medium” to his list of accomplishments.  He raced to gold as Phelps splatted to a fourth place finish. Phelps reacted by adding a huge serving of humble pie to his 10,000 calorie per day diet.

Lochte and Phelps then joined forces on Sunday for the men’s 4 x 100 freestyle relay, offering Phelps his first shot at redemption. Four years earlier the U.S. men's relay team had to close a large gap in the final leg of the same race to out-touch the French.  They snagged the gold medal in world record-breaking time. In London, the tables turned. Phelps helped the U.S. team build a full body length lead, but Lochte struggled to maintain it during the anchor leg and got overtaken at the wall by…the French. Earning a silver medal in the Olympics is an impressive accomplishment by absolute standards, but for Phelps and Lochte, it was a huge joint splat.

On Tuesday, Phelps raced in the 200 fly, an event he hadn't lost in twelve years. The race came down to the finish, just as it did in 2008, when Phelps won by the narrowest of margins. But in London, he wasn’t able to produce one of his trademark finishes. He got out-touched and ended up with silver.  With this medal, his 18th, Phelps tied the record for most decorated Olympian.  Comeback-wise, though, he still hadn’t bounced off the proverbial wall.  He'd lost his signature event and a gold medal remained just out of reach.

A chance at redemption for Phelps and Lochte arrived that same night in the form of the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay. Lochte kicked off the race like the champion that he is, creating a sizeable lead that teammates Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens maintained.  Phelps anchored for the U.S. and managed to hold off Yannick Agnel-- the same Frenchman who’d overtaken Lochte in the 4 x 100 relay—for a team gold that made history for Phelps (the first athlete to receive 19 Olympic medals) and redeemed Lochte. The addition of humble pie to Phelp’s regimen showed as he thanked his teammates for enabling his historic achievement.

The final Phelps-Locthe showdown –the 200 meter IM--took place Thursday, half an hour after Lochte swam the 200 meter backstroke.  Though favored to win the 200 back, Lochte not only failed to grab the gold but came in a splatty third.  His crystal ball was looking more and more like a snow globe as he and Phelps took the blocks for the 200 IM.  The race ended for Lochte almost as soon as it started.  After the 50 fly, Phelps built up a lead he refused to relinquish and Lochte closed out “his time” in London with a silver. Phelps may have gotten the last word in their rivalry (along with his third straight Olympic gold medal in the same event) but Lochte’s story is far from over.  We’ll see him, and perhaps his precious metal-enhanced smile, again in 2016. 

Phelps still has a couple more lines to write in this chapter, but with 20 medals to his credit as of today—16 of them gold--we at Splatospheric think it’s safe to say he cleans up well.   (Saturday morning update: We're definitely safe to say that. Phelps came out of 7th place to win the 100M fly yesterday, winning it three times in three straight Olympics.  With that victory he nabbed his second three-peat, his 21st medal overall and his 17th gold,.)

So step on up and grab your golden pancake, boys. We’re sure you’re hungry.