Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Zoo in Paris: Day 4

After leaving Paris yesterday, the plan was to drive back home. Along the way, though, Angie hatched the idea that we would spend the night in Epernay under the pretense that the drive would be too long for the boys. Yeah, right.

It wasn't until today, when we drove by the Moët champagne factory that it finally clicked. Bubbles!

See, Angie has a slight addiction to bubbles. She will undoubtedly deny it, but I have documented proof. Besides, anyone that knows our livers can confirm our affection for bubbly drinks, especially on New Year's Eve. And any given Friday.

The morning started out with a stroll around one of the city's lovely fountains. Without pointing out exactly which game Angie is playing, can you guess?

As Angie bubbled around, the boys were busy having a ball. With three boys, it's pretty much a constant assumption that at any given moment, someone will be bugging someone else, so Angie and I certainly appreciated the choke-free silence. After a while, though, curiosity got the better of me and I wandered over to see what could possibly be entertaining the boys for more than twenty minutes.

'Hot Wheels? Are you serious?'

'Oh hey, Papa, look! This one can race around the edge of the fountain until David smashes it into the ocean. Then I have to save the day by fishing it out.'

'Well, that at least explains why you're soaked.'

I walked away scratching my head. Back home, we have a box of over two hundred cars and our bathtub's edge is quite similar to the fountain's.

I had just made my way back to Angie when Peter growled and started chasing David around the fountain.

'You just had to go over there, didn't you?'

Rather than respond to hostile glares, I rallied everyone up for a nice photo op in front of the Fountain of Youth. David had apparently struck gold, though and Peter refused to even sit close to the sibling he was now referring to as 'the kid I'm not speaking to'.

Even after getting screamed at by wise and sexually attractive male parental-types, David continued to drive Peter up the walls. Since there were no walls to be driven, Peter improvised. Kinda.

 'Peter! Quit your pole-dancing and let's go get some croissants.'

In France, they obviously put powder cocaine in their bread products. I ate my baguette and damn near choked my first born while trying to convince him that he didn't really want to eat his sandwich. Angie came to Peter's rescue with what was, I have to say, a reasonable suggestion.

'Why don't you just go back to the bakery and buy another roll?'

I love Angie for so many reasons, but her ability to keep me from stealing food from my young always tops the list. After a bellyful of French dough, we decided to go to church.

Luckily, I was still on vacation, which meant that going to church meant just that. We went to the church. We took a picture of it. And then we got in the car and told the navi to plot the course home. Three hours and fifty minutes to your destination.

I laughed out loud at Vicky's wishful thinking. She obviously had not taken into consideration the sheer number of our offspring.

'Papa, I need to pee.'

'Okay, buddy, but four stops in one hour means that Mama wins and we now have to visit another church.'

Had the boys known that Angie and I had a side bet, I'm quite certain that we would have never visited the Saint-Étienne de Metz. The French translation was 'Saint-Stephen of Metz', so I naturally approved Peter's nature call.

If you look close enough, you'll see that Peter is a) not exactly happy and b) still distancing himself from David. This might have something to do with the car ride, where David continued to push Peter's buttons to the point where his debonair creator stepped in.

'David! Stop screaming at Peter that his Star Wars collector cards are not worthy.'

'Can I at least tell him that mine are better?'

'No, and stop bragging.'

David continued on with a barrage of variations that his cards were better that I simply ignored. Partly to save Peter's dignity, but mostly to selfishly preserve my sanity. Instead, we took the boys on a churchy art tour of Marc Chagall's masterpieces. The boys might not know who Renoir is, but after the two-hour tour guided by Mama, they will certainly never forget the name Chagall. At one point, David grew slightly interested because one of the painted windows depicted King David. Shortly after, though, he ran off through the echoey church screaming for Tom to BE QUIET!

Before getting kicked off holy grounds, I took the boys to a nearby pastry shop and initiated a sugar high that culminated with me asked the boys what they thought of our trip.

Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter:  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Zoo in Paris: Day 3

The last time we went to Paris, I was robbed of my money shot of the Eiffel Tower because of silly things like French holidays and ninja guards. This time around, I was determined to make up for lost photos.

We parked the car around the block from the Tower. I took this shot of the street corner sign, originally only to be able to find the car. Later, though, this shot turned out to be the only proof I have that we were really, really close to the Eiffel Tower.

Go ahead, Google it! Avenue de Suffren is a 12 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. The fact that it took us 45 minutes is further proof that the Johnson's Zoo did actually see the Eiffel Tower. Trust me.

For those untrusting soles that are wondering why we have no photographic proof, let me explain. After taking my lovely shot of our parking spot, my camera was full. No problem, Angie had her iPhone, with plenty of space for memorable shots of the Eiffel Tower.

Angie snapped away as we approached the tower. She also went nuts when we were under the Tower. Being the Johnson's, we didn't reserve tickets three months in advance and took one look at the line for those dumbasses that show up without reserved tickets and Angie quickly came to the conclusion that our family would not be climbing the tower on this trip.

'Steve, this is gonna take at least two hours and Peter needs a bathroom.'

'The wait could be two minutes and Peter would still need a bathroom. Did you at least get some good shots? 'Cause, come on - we can't go back this time without any shots of the Tower.'

'Yeah, yeah. I got plenty. I need coffee.'

As per usual, we did what Angie wanted. Since her wish involved caffeine, I didn't complain. We made our way to a lovely café, where I promptly deleted a shitload of pictures from my camera to free up space so that I could continue documenting The Zoo in Paris, Day 3.

The boys ordered chocolate crêpes that costed an arm and six legs. Shortly after, Angie launched into a full-on panic attack.

'My phone just died!'

'I don't blame it. Maybe you should stop playing the bubble game.'

'Steve! I'm serious. My phone is dead.'

For a change, Angie was right. Her phone, the same one with the only documented proof that we had actually visited the Eiffel Tower, was gone. I don't know what the hell she did - I only know that it was certainly her fault.

Since our search for coffee had taken us across town to the Notre Dame Cathedral, we were not exactly in a convenient position to go back. Peter was visibly crushed.

Okay, 'crushed' is maybe not the right word, but he definitely made himself visible. I was too busy fuming to notice, though.

'Angie! We've only got two hours of parking. Let's move out!'

After Peter climbed the Eiffel pole of remorse, Tommy and Davey of course wanted their turn.

'No way. We're on a schedule. We've got a dusty church and shitload of locks to check out. Besides, I was only able to put two hours of money on the meter. Move out!'


'Sure, go for it.'

Angie tends to get her freak on any time that the boys gets a negative from her and then a positive by ignoring her and asking me. Oddly enough, this logic doesn't work in the other direction. Yeah, odd.

Speaking of odd, the pigeons of Notre Dame are apparently hip to be square.

Upon closer look, it turned out that some weirdo (oddly not related to us) had laid down a square pattern of bird seed. My curiosity could not control itself, so I asked the odd gentleman sprinkling bird seed all over the place what the hell he was doing. Mistake.
Bird Man then launched a twenty-minute rant on how he was forming and photographing special symbols made out of pigeons to spell out secret messages that you would only understand if you went to whacko-boy's website. Oh, damn! No Wi-Fi connection here....
It was about that point that insanity was interrupted by two blondies who had decided that it would be totally total to get a snapshot of themselves inside the square of winged-rats. It started out fine, until the pigeons apparently felt threatened by one of the blondies stepping into their rectangular territory. Then things got photographically interesting.
The pigeons had either finished their snack or collectively decided that bleached hair was somehow tastier. I didn't really care, though. I cracked my ass up as the entire pigeon population of Notre Dame swarmed in on valley chick's noggin and tried to eat her hair.
There are only so many minutes that you can watch a live remake of a pretty funny Hitchcock flick before you look at your watch and once again get worried about your car getting towed.
'Right! Lovely! Let's move out!' 
 Now, most of you might be wondering 'What could possibly top infested pigeons attacking a bunch of bleached tourists?'
Luckily, in so many ways, our boys are not like you. I was their tour guide and I simply laid out the plans.
'Okay, boys! We're done with pole-climbing monkeys and winged-rats. Let's move on to locking up pint-sized hooligans!'

This bridge is globally famous for nutcase lovebirds who, for some reason, go to this bridge and attach a lock to the railing and throw the key into the river. I won't write how I would judge love-stupid maroon-tourists that have nothing better to do than to poison the river-life by tossing erosive metal keys into semi-clean water. Shit, I think I just did.

As we left the bridge over troubled waters, the designated driver checked his watch and threw in his two cents.

'Yo, woman! We need to go - like now! We're gonna get towed and trust me, that will totally ruin the walk home.'

'Calm down, Steve. We're in Paris! Things like that don't happen here.'

I tried my damndest not to vomit as Angie described the world she lives in. The problem is, I am a Realist. By definition, that meant I had to walk away from Angie's delusional babblings and go check on the car.

'Okay, Butter Buns, you stay with the kids and spend the next hour buying overpriced key chains; I'm going to run off and make sure that we still have a vehicle to drive home.'

'Yeah, whatever. Bye.'

The content of her farewell didn't bother me, but the tone was most certainly worthy of a public flogging. Man, what happened to the good old days?

I chose to ignore caffeine-deprived better-halves with overly-strong itinerary-opinions and an under-appreciation for way-too-many-hyphens and huffed off to secure our ride home.

As I neared our car, I saw it was blocked in by a tow truck. Hmmm. I ran up waving my arms like a madman and started screaming apologies at the driver in Spanish. Why Spanish? Because I don't know French.

I reached in my pocket and held up a bunch of pocket shrapnel as I pointed to the parking meter. The man shook his head and gave me the international symbol for 'you were THIS close, buddy' before climbing back into his truck. Whew!

After finally finding Angie, I recapped the story. Okay, I admit I might have done it in an overly 'in your face' way, but I don't think she picked up on it.

'That's really interesting, honey, but hey, look at Peter! He's getting a cartoon picture done.'

While we waited, Peter repeatedly told the man that he didn't want his broken cheek bone to show up. He alternated between German and English, but each time the friendly French guy just laughed and said 'oui, oui'.

For a change, Peter fidgeted more than David, who sat like a stoner for his portrait.

Tommy chose yet again to distance himself from behaving like either of his siblings and simply cracked up giggling for the entire ordeal.

Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter:  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Zoo in Paris: Day 2

I don't read Health Nut Review very often, but I'm pretty sure I can wing the basics. It all starts with a seriously balanced breakfast.

Shortly after this lovely shot, David tried to "scare" Tommy and Peter faked a karate chop in his face to see how he would react. I'm glad to report that Tommy's total-focus glare in this shot withstood both asinine attempts to spill his drink. That's ma' boy!

After confirming his distant Irish heritage by not wasting a drop of anything liquid, I decided to check on Angie. She had prematurely left the breakfast table, giggling to herself and mumbling something about needing fresh air. I interrupted her as she was self-preparing herself for a day of loudness.

'Um, Angie, are you okay? You're smiling and you haven't had a coffee yet.'
'Is that a yes?'
I am used to ignoring women, catatonic or not, so instead of continuing our fun, but one-sided game, I went to check on our first born.
Tommy had finally found a cement pole small enough that he could self-perch on. I gave him huge high-fives and tried my damndest not to make it sound condescending.

'Wow, Tommy, that's just...uh, AMAZING! I mean, the way you can jump on that pole all by yourself and just, you know, sit. WOW! FANTASTIC!'

Angie gave my sarcasm daggers, but inside, I'm pretty sure her brain chuckled. More importantly, Tommy glowed like a firefly in heat. And please don't ask me how I know what that looks like.

At the main gates, the bro's got all brotherly like for a photo op.

Shortly after, Angie snatched the map and self-proclaimed herself to be the Disney Siri. Let the squinting begin!

There's only so much frazzled map folding and cursing I can handle. After five minutes, I snuck off with Tommy to see how much money I could throw at one of the many souvenir wagons. After ten minutes, Peter joined me and it was clear to me that the additional five minutes of exposure to his mother's navigational ambitions had taken its toll on him. It wasn't blatantly obvious, but he was definitely acting a little goofy.

After Angie finally found our bearings, we decided to actually hit some rides. First on the boys' list was the latest Toy Story exhibit.

The next on the list had less to do with the boys and more to do with Angie's generation. Yes, that's right - we were forced to enjoy a viewing of the classic Michael Jackson 3D video, Captain EO.

Tommy was absolutely wowed. Every time one of the space ship 'flew into the crowd', Tommy would jump back in surprise. Then he would reach forward in his seat and try to touch the space ship. Every time, the old lady in front of us with the white poofy hair would whip around, annoyed that Tommy was shoving his digits in her doo.

'Chill out, Granny, he just wants to know what 3D feels like.'

According to Granny, 3D feels like 'If your kid grabs my hair one more time, my purse and your son's head are gonna become friends.'

In Tommy's defense, her hair did look like a pretty good landing pad for spacecraft. In her defense, we simply decided to leave the old bat alone. Great, lovely, move on!

Nothing like watching Michael Jackson kick the shit out of aliens gives my kids the courage needed to ride manly man rides, like the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Despite what was photographically documented, Peter was totally brave on the Pirates of the Caribbean' ride. But, hey! What the hell was Tommy doing during Peter's white-knuckled attempt to outcourage David?

Tommy had curled up in the back of a horse and buggy wagon in the Old West and for reasons only known to his ego, he decided to practice his poses for Gap Kids.

After the adrenaline-packed Caribbean death trap, Peter politely passed on my offer to go on it again and rather considerately insisted that we stick to rides that Tommy can go on. I don't think that David picked up on Peter's reluctance, but he was totally ready to keep moving.

'Yeah, Papa! Like that one - look!'

No trip to Disneyland is complete without a boat ride through 'It's a Small World'. Peter and David were impressed, but Tommy - he was amazed.
'Yeah, that's great, Tommy, but you don't have to scream at the top of your...'
It didn't surprise me that Angie's son was ignoring me, but it did surprise me how many countries Peter and David were able to guess as we made our way through the watery canals. I remember the 'It's a Small World' ride from way back when I was a young pup and I can only hope that my little doggies were experiencing the same memory that has stayed with me all these years.
Warm and fuzzy memories are great, but if you want to guarantee that your kids will never forget their trip to Disneyland, you have to be willing to scare the ever loving shit of them. That's right, you take them to Big Thunder Mountain.

The line for this one was insane. After about 40 minutes, Peter's bladder started paging him. The problem was that we were only halfway through the line and there was no urinal in sight. The only way to relieve Peter was for him to fight his way against the line and then somehow convince everyone on his way back in that he wasn't really cutting. Luckily, my brain puts crack cocaine to shame.

'Hey Peter - do you want to play games on my iPhone?'

*POOF* Peter zombied out for the next half hour and completely ignored silly things like bodily functions. That is, of course, until we had started the ride and we were halfway up the side of Big Thunder Mountain. That's when you just laugh at your anguished kid and tell him to buckle up.

After the ride, there was also the chance to buy pictures, but I took one look at the snapshot of petrified Peter and even I could not bring myself to such levels of embarrassment. More importantly, Peter survived the ride AND made it to the bathroom before embarrassment turned into humiliation.

As we left the park, the boys were able to each pick out a 'thing', followed by a trip to the candy store. This damn near sent Peter into a panic attack. His major dilemma was that he had a free choice of what to pick and his mind interpreted this to mean that he had to pick up and examine every article in every store to make sure that in the end he chose the right thing.

David, on the other hand, zeroed in on an oversized Donald Duck within 30 seconds and raced off to the candy store with Tommy, giggling like a bunch of happy kids.

After getting smack-wired on sugary cotton, we decided to head home. On the way out, Tommy started to melt down.

'I'm soooo tired!'

'No problem, Tommy - jump on my back'

I told Peter that I thought that his offer to piggy-back Tommy was awesome and off they went. Tommy kept screaming for Peter to go faster and unfortunately Angie has conditioned Peter to do whatever people are screaming at him to do.

About five meters before the exit, Peter tripped. Being the considerate kid he is, he didn't let go of his little brother. Unfortunately, this meant that Tommy's fall was cushioned by Peter's face as it smacked into the cement pavement.

I immediately scooped up our first born and unsuccessfully tried to get Peter to stop wailing like a kid who's just broken his cheek bone. Luckily, depending on how you look at it, Peter has actually broken his cheek bone before. I tried to remember the wise doctor's advice.

'Yup, nothing to do, really. Just make sure the eye sockets don't swell up. Otherwise, it'll heal on its own.'

We took the shuttle back to the hotel, threw an ice-pack on Peter's face and let him sleep in our bed. When Peter finally snoozed, I went to check on my other angels. I don't read Health Nut Review very often, but I'm pretty sure I can wing the basics. It all ends with a seriously cute snuggle and a really overpriced Donald Duck.

Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter:  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
David: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Tom: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Zoo in Paris: Day 1

After Angie's accident, the last thing on my mind was worrying about the family's summer vacation. Angie's mind, though, had a different opinion. It normally does.
'Of course we have to have a vacation! The boys can't go back to everyone talking about their extravagant furloughs off to the Maldives and then one-up them by raving about their daily trips to the burn clinic in Ludwigshafen.'
'Okay, but you can't fly and a trip to the ocean is pretty much out of the...'
'Yeah, yeah - how about Paris?'
'Uh, sure, but the boys start school in two weeks.'

'Yeah, and I start next week. We'll leave tomorrow.'

A quick check with Google pleased me that we could make the journey in 4 hours and 52 minutes. What Google Maps doesn't take into consideration, though, is the number of bladders you have traveling with you.

David and Tommy helped, but Peter definitely put the 'P' in Paris. So yeah, approximately 8 hours and 254 bladder breaks later, we finally reached our new cage.

Peter raced into the lobby and damn near tackled the concierge.

'Where's the bathroom??!!'

Luckily, the hotel staff spoke English. An added bonus that we would not have known without Peter - the hotel had several toilets, all conveniently spaced out to ensure that no guest could walk more than 15 feet without immediate access to a urinal. Ahh, comfort away from home.

We checked in and decided to head out into the city for some grub. Along the way, Peter perched himself on a slab of concrete and, for some reason still unknown to normal humans, started to meditate. Om mani padme Disneyland.

David also had no freakin' idea what Peter was doing, but silly things like 'reasons why' never got into the way of David emulating his bigger brother. Perch me up, Mama!

Eventually we found a pub that could quench my thirst and feed wild animals. On the way home, what had started out as 'Odd boy meditating' turned into the latest fashion trend in Paris that I like to call 'Odd boy on a slab of cement with the coolest guys around getting primed for Disneyland.'

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Back to Chaos

'You have to make it fun for them.'

Angie's words were ringing in my ears as we drove to visit her on day two of her hospital stay. Peter broke my concentration with a question that I'm pretty sure he would not have asked if Mama had been in the car.

'Can I roll down my window?'

There is no speed limit in Germany on a lot of the highways, so we were cruising at 140 km (around 90 mph). I was about to explain when one of the voices in my head reminded me. 'You have to make it fun for them.'

'Go for it!'

The insane giggling could still be heard over the roar of the wind. It brought a smile to my face, which was something I had not predicted at the beginning of day two.

In the weeks that followed, Angie's mantra would lead to a lot of things that probably would never have happened.

'Papa, can I have an ice-cream for breakfast?'

'Go for it!'

'Papa, can we go to McDonald's every day for lunch?'

'Go for it!'

'Papa, can we make milkshakes for dinner?'

'Go for it!'

'Papa, can I climb up the side of an elevator wearing Crocs that are two sizes too big?'

'Go for it!'

'Papa, can we ignore the big "NO TRESPASSING" signs and go check out the cool helicopter next to the hospital?'

'Go for it!'

'Papa, can all three of us get into the tub and splash gallons of water onto the floor?'

'Go for it!'

'Papa, can we ball up all of the newspapers that Mama isn't here to read and use them for a summer-time snowball fight?'

'Go for it!'

I like that in the end, David and Tommy teamed up to take Peter down. Peter apparently didn't like this.

'Papa, can I punch David and Tommy in the belly?'

'Buddy, I have to draw the line somewhere.'

So, yeah - I think you get the point. I tried making it fun for them.

We also went for a visit every day. Understandably, the trips in the beginning were a bit solemn.

After a week or so, the boys got into playing games with Mama.

I love this shot because the expressions speak volumes.

David's is saying 'Who won? Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh biggity-bonk yeah!'

Peter's is saying 'If you don't stop gloating, I'm gonna drop-kick you in the teeth.'

Mama's is saying 'If Peter tilts his card just a little more, I'm so totally gonna cheat.'

Angie was still in the hospital when Christine and George flew in. For some reason, my family normally tends to visit us for one, max two days. For my sister, it was two days.

Angie wasn't up for a hospital visit, though, so I had to entertain. My managerial background kicked in and I simply delegated the task.

'Boys! Go have fun with your cousins!'

After scaring some hearing-sensitive neighbors, the boys took Patrick and Stephanie to the bridge over the Neckar.

After scaring some hearing-sensitive swans, the cousins broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the loudest picnic ever. Ever.  

After scaring off hearing-sensitive humans, the loud ones turned on me.

'We want ice-cream, and we want it NOW!'

'Uh, umm...Go for it?'

After an ear-piercing afternoon with five sugar-packed wildlings, nothing hits the spot like a bottle or two of wine.

After this lovely gem, Stephanie announced to everyone that she loved David and that they would be getting married soon.

Shortly after Stephanie's impromptu proclamation, Christine ordered another glass of wine. Make it a double. Then, like the ass I am, I tricked my older sister into playing a funny game with the kids.

I felt guilty, so I reminded Christine of two things:
  1. I was taking pictures.
  2. I write a blog where I tend to embarrass immediate family members.
In her defense, there was a slight pause before she responded.

Shortly after, George called for the bill and we said our goodbyes.

A few days later, we visited Angie on her last night at the hospital. I tried to strike up a conversation that would subliminally warn her of the state of our apartment. As if it were a sign that things were slowly returning back to chaos, she completely ignored me.

'Steve! The boys have been eating McDonald's every single day. You have to promise me that you're not going to McDonald's tonight.'

'I promise.'

As we left the hospital, we passed a McDonald's, which was conveniently located right next to the hospital.

'Papa, can we go to McDonald's for dinner?'

'Nope, sorry. I promised Mama that I would not take you to McDonald's.'

The boys complained, but only briefly. They know by now that whines and nags are the two things that I can expertly tune out.

As we entered Heidelberg, I remembered the promise to Angie that I would not take the boys to McDonald's for dinner and simply drove past the second set of golden arches. As we passed Burger King, though, my brain nudged me - should we?

'Go for it!'