2001 Christmas Letter

Welcome to yet another Christmas letter. Having been writing these annual summaries of my life since 1995, one might develop the notion that I somehow know what I’m doing. Over the years I have noticed that other people notice when I spell words wrong or put completely incorrect words where they just don’t belong. While I see this as “cute” and “charming”, the rest of the world generally does not. For example, the words “assess” and “asses” contain almost the same letters, but their meaning is quite different. If any of these types of mistakes have been made in the following letter, please rest assured that it is the work of the Evil Alien Overlord who controls all my outgoing communications. Having said that, please enjoy the rest of this letter.

After reading through my past Christmas letters, I’ve noticed a rather disturbing trend. Much like the Academy Awards, events that occurred in the first few months of the year are underrepresented in the end of the year production. While I don’t consciously omit stories from the beginning of the year, it just seems to happen. To correct for this grievous injustice, I have made the proactive decision to document events which occured in January. Let me think (envision me sitting at my desk scratching my head as I thoughtfully stare up at the ceiling)—I remember it was cold, and it snowed a little bit in Boulder. Hmm… that’s not really witty or insightful. OK, next year I will take better notes throughout the year so I can present a balanced portrayal of my life. I promise.

The most significant event of my life this year involved me getting the thought into my head that I should become a writer. The idea of finding another computer programming job just was about as appealing as a “Three’s Company” television reunion special (likely plot line: Chrissy isn’t pregnant—she’s menopausal.). While I’m generally not good at things like “making plans” or “developing strategies”, I did manage to come up with a vague notion of writing a weekly story for a web site I run. Since the beginning of February I have written about random thoughts and ideas that happen to be running around my head when I sit down at my computer. Notable topics include a squishy ball, playing laser tag, and dreams of becoming a lounge singer. And just in case I haven’t plugged my web site enough this year, all my stories can be found on the Internet at www.newfunny.com.

While I consider my weekly writing efforts to be a noble cause, it does make writing my Christmas letter this year is a bit more challenging than usual. For example, I could write extensively about my trip to Germany in August, but I’ve already composed three separate stories on my web site. For everyone who has not read about my adventures in Europe the first time around, here is the abbreviated version: I flew to Germany, experienced numerous amusing encounters with the local population, developed several insightful observations, and then got home safely.

While my efforts to establish myself in the writing world kept me in front of my computer for extended periods of time, I have managed to continue volunteering at Habitat For Humanity. As all men know, the call of the compressed air nail gun can not be left for the answering machine. In addition to helping out at the construction site, I have built a web site for the Boulder Valley Habitat affiliate. When my otherwise hectic schedule permits, I go and take pictures of people as they work on the houses. While making no admission of guilt, there seems to be a strange correlation between those who are not nice to me at the construction site and unflattering photographs of people picking their nose and scratching themselves inappropriately.

After spending last Christmas in Minnesota at my sister’s apartment where the temperature varied from a low of negative 20 to a high of zero, my mom and I declared that the location of the next family get together was to be held below the Tropic of Cancer. Hawaii was discussed, but in the end we decided to make my sister fly back to Denver. For the duration of her stay the temperature in Denver was actually lower than in Minneapolis. This helped Karen appreciate our jokes about Minnesota being a frozen wasteland just that much more.

Despite my general inability to buy interesting and unique presents for my family and friends during the holidays, I did have one flash of brilliance when it came to my cousin Ted. After seeing how much his daughters loved singing along with the karaoke machine, I went out and found a Britney Spears karaoke CD. Now I just want to return to Pennsylvania for the sole purpose of getting the girls all wound up singing “Hit me baby one more time” and then taking off after I grow tired of the experience.

Unfortunately, the rest of my Christmas shopping experience was not nearly as productive.

A week before Christmas I drove to Target to try and find two presents for my sister and cousin. I walked around aimlessly trying to visualize what two twenty something women might like to have under the tree this year. Somehow I ended up looking at new Playstation video games. While I did not seem to remember either of them owning a Playstation console, I could not dismiss the possibility they both secretly play video games whenever I leave the room. If this hypothesis was true, I would really have no other choice but to buy each of them a new Playstation game. If I happened to be wrong all they would have to do is send the stuff back to me and I would, uhhh, return the games and find them an alternate gift. Unless of course the plastic packaging was opened, in which case I would be unable to return the games to the store.

Fortunately, a nearby female shopper was reading my thoughts as if they were popping up above my head in cartoon caption bubbles. She grabbed the games out of my hands and told me that in no uncertain terms was I to buy anything from the electronics department.

As I continued my search, I experienced a moment of insight and clarity where I saw the light. To clarify: this was not a metaphorical light, but rather a light bulb for sale. While I’m usually not the type of person who gets excited about this kind of thing, this bulb was like no other I’ve ever seen. It was a green 40 watt bulb that looked as though it had lost a battle with a glue gun. I was totally mesmerized. I grabbed one and headed immediately to the checkout lane—figuring that Karen and Robin would be happy receiving my unconditional love and admiration this holiday season. Again.

That closes the books on another year for me. I have learned quite a bit in 2001. Like how my mom gets unreasonably upset when I make a “dead hooker in the trunk” joke in front of my Grandmother. Which I find strange since she finds them quite entertaining when its just the two of us. My mom and I, that is. As tradition dictates, I’m ending with some useful and inspirational advice from one of my favorite movies. As Vizzini from “The Princess Bride” once said: You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

Women Are Strange

Many great philosophers have tried to isolate exactly what separates human kind from the rest of the animal kingdom. As a species human beings are not the fastest creatures, we do not have the most strength, and when it comes to flying through the air under our own power, well, it’s safe to say that we suck pretty bad there too. I sat on my couch the other night eating a half dozen tiny saltine and peanut butter sandwiches and realized we are the only species on this planet where the males spend quite a large percentage of their free time trying to understand the females. Which might not be such a bad thing if it did a lick of good.

I look back to my high school days and think of many things I regret doing and not doing. For example, I could probably track down my ninth grade algebra teacher in order to cover his house in toilet paper and put someone else’s license plates on his car, but my anger has dissipated over the years. Sure—I still firmly believe he took way too much pleasure in torturing me, but if I got caught throwing eggs at his house I would no longer have the luxury of being charged as a minor.

The biggest thing I would have NOT done in high school if I could do it all over again would be attending my senior prom. In fact, I use this as evidence I will never create a time traveling device. If I were to master time travel sometime in the future, the first thing I would have done is gone back to 1992 and physically prevented myself from going through with it. I bought into the hype that everyone should go to their senior prom. Not that I’m against the general idea, but I ended up asking this girl I hardly knew to be my date. The whole night was incredibly awkward. I spent the entire night asking myself questions like “Is this supposed to be fun?”, “Why did I pay 80 bucks so I could rent clothes that make me look like the waiter?”, and “I wonder who is on Saturday Night Live tonight? Maybe this time it will be funny.”

I learned many, many things during my time in college. Very little of this knowledge related to any higher understanding of women. My love for Taco Bell was at its peak during this time in my life, and I was always asking my friends if they wanted to join me on a run for the border. When I would ask my guy friends to go with me they would usually respond with something to the effect of “Omar, you are becoming a freak about Taco Bell—get a life!” They would never agree to go and then pout and be otherwise ill tempered the rest of the night because the mere thought of another soft taco and bean burrito made them gag. My girlfriend at the time, however, seemed to do this on a surprisingly regular basis.

Starting a relationship with a woman is a lot like buying an automobile. When going to buy a car it is usually quite difficult to know exactly how much the car costs. Sure, there might be a price on the windshield, but this is just a ball park figure. The final cost of the car is the sticker price plus a certain number of dollars determined by a complex set of factors that include rifling through all potential customer’s wallets for detailed personal financial information. The entire process is designed to be disorienting and confusing. Is the 500 bucks for rust proofing a good idea or a total scam? Should I buy a car that is entirely manufactured in Peru? Did the salesman just steal my wallet? In the end most people consider the purchase a success if they have any money at all left over and the vehicle they drive off the lot has close to the number of doors as the sales person promised.

Starting a relationship with a man is more like buying groceries. While lacking the new car smell and endless strings of colored plastic flags, grocery shopping is a very simple process. You can look at an item, pick it up, and use any other senses to determine if a given product meets your needs at the time. While trying to be helpful and courteous, employees at these establishments are for the most part apathetic about individual decisions made by customers. Nobody get fired based on, say, how many cans of soup are purchased on a given day.

If you happen to be a man, you probably find the behavior of women to be just as foreign and confusing as a crooked Mexican real estate time share scheme. For better or worse, that is just the way things are. And it helps prove how advance the human race has become over the years.

Trip To Pennsylvania

They say getting there is half the fun. While I am not sure exactly how that phrase came into existence, I seriously doubt it applies to excursions involving airline travel. If it does, however, I can only expect to enjoy the rest of my trip the equivalent of receiving a full body pat down by a 45 year old bald man wearing purple latex gloves. But eventually the driver let us get into the taxi cab and took us to the airport.

Getting through the security in the airport was no cake walk either. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have eaten that second bowl of Total cereal before leaving for the airport. It turns out that having 200 percent of the recommended daily allowance of iron was more than enough to set off the metal detectors. For reasons that I honestly do not understand, my request to be examined by a nearby perky attractive young female security guard was not well received.

Just to keep everyone on the same page here, I recently traveled to Taylor, Pennsylvania to spend time visiting relatives I haven’t seen in more than five years. My mom and I found a good deal on airplane tickets back to the east coast, so we flew from Denver right into the Scranton / Wilkes Berre airport. I suppose a more accurate way of describing the situation would be to say our plane gently landed on the runway next to the airport.

We didn’t plan this ahead of time, but we arrived in town the day before my cousin’s oldest daughter’s birthday party. Seeing Ted really put the amount of time since my last visit into perspective. Here is the main gist of our conversation:

Ted: Hi Omar, I haven’t seen you in forever! What have you been up to since we saw each other last?

Me: Well, not too much lately– I’m working on being a writer. Oh yeah, and I have built a new web site. What about you?

Ted: I got married and have three kids.

While I generally don’t get invited to many birthday parties for four year old girls, the big screen television equipped with satellite cable and complete NFL game coverage made sure that all age groups were equally entertained. The older males at the party were preoccupied with determining how the outcomes of the games would effect the playoff prospects of their favorite teams. The small girls at the party amused themselves after all the presents were unwrapped and examined by everyone. The amusement, of course, was derived almost exclusively from a large cardboard box.

The largest box was about three feet high and two feet square at the base. The girls, who where dressed up as their favorite Disney heroines, wanted nothing more than to get inside the box. Not being able to think of any good reasons why they shouldn’t be inside the box, I picked them up one at a time and placed them inside. The next thing I know I am rolling them around on the floor inside the box. Their experience seemed quite disorienting and nauseating, which is exactly why they found it entertaining beyond description.

After ten minutes, the box gave up and burst open, causing the girls to pour out onto the floor. After one final round of exuberant giggling, the girls moved on to a slightly more high tech entertainment device: the karaoke machine. I had one of those “life isn’t fair” realizations while witnessing the girls completely mangle Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless the USA.” Everyone at the party thought they were cute and adorable, but when I do the exact same thing in a seedy college town bar after a downing a couple shots of tequila none of the nearby perky attractive young females seem to have similar feelings of admiration.

Everyone knows that the fine art of residential use lamp repair has fallen out of favor over the years. During my stay in Taylor, I got a glimpse into this rare electrical experience as my three uncles worked to fix two of my grandmother’s broken lamps. My rough calculations led me to the conclusion that the replacement plugs and wire consisted of less than one percent of the total cost of the project. The rest of the budget included the beer that was consumed during the repair process.

Over all I had a great time in Pennsylvania. I really enjoyed playing with some of my younger relatives, some of whom I haven’t seen since they were negative two. While I can’t predict the future, I am going to try and get back there in less than five years from now. I’ll bring my extensive karaoke skills and a much, much bigger cardboard box.

Shell Games

Before going on I must point out that what I am about to say it pure speculation. Despite having an Arabic name I was born and raised in the United States (as were both my parents and three of my four grandparents). I don’t speak or write any language other than English and the few bits and pieces of French I remember from high school. To the best of my knowledge I have never been questioned by the FBI. And despite certain hostile feeling towards my ninth grade algebra teacher, I have never been accused of trying to incite a Jihad.

Having said that, consider the following.

Staying completely ignorant of the current “War on Terrorism” is almost impossible with the daily five page special in the newspapers. The round the clock CNN coverage comes complete with constant headlines crawling across the bottom of the screen with helpful bits of information such as “Fighting continues in Afghanistan,” “FBI searching for source of Anthrax,” and “CNN headline crawler graphics still up and running.” While I don’t spend every waking moment obsessed about how things are going to turn out, I did have a rather disturbing random thought today: What if Bin Laden is not in Afghanistan as the moment?

The world is a very big place, and Afghan caves are only one of many places where someone could hide. It’s quite possible that Bin Laden made alternate living arrangements before the September attacks. It would serve his cause to be living somewhere else once the military campaign begins. It seems reasonable that a country like Iraq would be willing to quietly take him in just to make the United States look bad. Here is how the conversation between the two leaders might have gone, with the exception that they probably wouldn’t be speaking in English.

Saddam: Hello, Saddam Hussein speaking.

Bin Laden: Mr. Hussein, it’s Osama here. How are things going over there in Iraq?

Saddam: Osama Bin Laden? THE Osama Bin Laden? Boy, I’ve heard a lot about you. Seems like you have built up quite an impressive terrorist operation over the past couple of years. So, I just HAVE to know– were you the one who bombed those US embassies in Africa? And the attack on the U.S.S. Cole? I have to admit that was pretty damn cool.

Bin Laden: Well, I don’t like to brag….

Saddam: Come on, it’s me, Sadam—I just have to hear it from you first hand. I promise, I won’t tell anyone else.

Bin Laden: OK, yes, that was me. You are making me blush here Sadam. Listen, I have a favor to ask you. I was wondering if I could crash at your place for a while.

Saddam: What’s the matter—is Afghanistan not cool enough for you anymore?

Bin Laden: It’s not that. I am going to play a little trick on the United States, and I need to lay low for a few months.

Saddam: Sure, come on over—stay as long as you want. I’m all for making those guys look bad. I’m getting pretty sick of them bombing Iraq. Okay, maybe in retrospect we shouldn’t have invaded Kuwait, but for Allah’s sake, that was 10 years ago. They really need to get over it and go home—the party is over.

Bin Laden: Thank you so much Saddam. This really means a lot to me. But I do have to warn you—if everything goes as planned, the US will so want to rip me a new a-hole. Possibly two or three. When they find out where I am it could get ugly.

Saddam: Ah, don’t sweat it my friend. They have been trying to kick my ass out of the country for the past decade. It always reminds me of that old Elton John song.

Bin Laden: Crocodile Rock? I never understood that one. Why does he want to dance with this animal? It’s not cute like a puppy or kitten.

Saddam: No, silly. The song “I’m Still Standing.”

Bin Laden: Ah, I understand you now. I’m going to pack up a few things and slip on over tomorrow night. But, remember, my plan will only work if everyone thinks I’m still living in my cave over here. So if anyone asks just pretend you don’t know anything.

Saddam: No problem. I’ll set up the guest bedroom and if anyone asks you are my cousin Mohammed who is visiting from out of town. Nobody will think twice about it.

Bin Laden: You are the best. I’ll see you tomorrow. We can sit down with a nice cup of tea and I’ll explain my plan of mass destruction and global religious warfare.

Saddam: Sounds like a plan. See you then Osama.