Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Joy of Proficiency

28 clever quips
For past two springs, the mailman has brought a copy of a copy of a copy of a letter from the local school system.

The original names and dates on it are always whited out and the new ones are scrawled in by hand, but each time the message is always the same:

Your daughter needs to go to summer school.

That letter won't come this year, though, because according to Thing 1's last report card her reading skills are now, and I quote, "proficient."

It's been a long struggle for my little girl. It's been even more of a struggle for me.

Reading and writing, for whatever reason, came quite easily for me as a child (though poor typing, lazy spelling and the difficulty of proofing my own work continue to do me in as an adult). It shouldn't have, according to today's parenting experts, because I seem to recall spending most of my preschool days watching Gilligan and Maxwell Smart, wearing knees out on my pants from playing Hot Wheels and sitting in a beauty parlor for hours every week, drinking tea with too much Coffee-Mate in it while my Mom got her hair done.

So flash forward three decades or so and there's me, lying in bed next to Thing 1, getting verbally and physically exasperated. We'd read the same book every night for a week and every night, she'd read some word like "going" on the first line of a page, then struggle to pronounce it the next six times it appeared in the story.

We tried flash cards. Hit and miss.

We tried Hooked on Phonics. This drove us both nuts with the annoying repetitive songs and whatnot. After a few tries, we hide it in the living room closet. (However, it may work for you! Buy it used from me now on Amazon -- kindergarten and first-grade editions!)

Eventually, she was sent to summer school. Three hours a day for four weeks. Thing 1 told me that they talked a lot about feelings and civic responsibility in class. The school assures me that was part of the curriculum and that she was not accidentally mixed into a juvenile delinquent rehab class. I still have doubts.

The turning point came last year in second grade, for several reasons I think.

One, she had a couple of her best buds in class to share the pain of learning. For whatever reason, she ended up with only one of the 25 kids from her kindergarten class in first grade. Given her shyness around new people, that just added to battle. The bully who wouldn't assign her a role in the playground pretend games didn't help either. (Ed. Note: Thing 1 says she now handles this boy by chasing him around the playground threatening to kiss him.)

Two, her second-grade teacher was a good one who had a firm hand on the class. She needed it with a couple of those kids, whom I had to physically stop from trying to maim a squirrel with their bare hands on a field trip once.

Third, we hired one of the other teachers at school to tutor Thing 1 once a week. I think the extra attention -- alone with an adult who knows how to teach as opposed to a dad who, at this point, knows mostly how to go "Aarrrrrrgh! Why don't you get this?" -- helped her turn the corner.

And now, she is "proficient."

Papa's proud of you, girl.

Though he's also glad you're not that much better at reading, given the incident I'm posting about Tuesday on Dadcentric.com. See y'all there.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fame - Is It Any Wonder

14 clever quips
Two weeks ago, my first biweekly column for the local newspaper ran in print and on the Web. It had the immediate impact with the public that I expected. I'm think the term, used in most media circles, is "meh."

Several of you read it out of a sense of loyalty, curiosity or, most likely, the same bizarre impulse that makes one continually use their tongue to probe a painful canker sore. I appreciate your obvious lunacy and how well technology has taught people to click with Pavlovian reliability on any link sent to them via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter (because I did all three -- I'm that desperate for attention). Now, can I interest you in some herbal Viagra?

Meanwhile, the reaction of the rest of the world whom I didn't cajole or bribe, well, mmm … let me give you two examples of how fame (or even infamy) did not reach these parts.

First, there's the Mother of All Uncoolness.

In the roughly 10 years I worked as a reporter for a daily newspaper, I'm not sure she ever once commented on anything I wrote with the exception of an interview I had with actor Kirk Douglas (whom, you should know, was 4-foot-7 and frail in real life but still gave off an air that he'd kick your ass if your questioning got out of line). To date, she still won't let me have back the autographed photo his publicist sent of the two of us.

So, in an experiment, nobody told the Mother of All Uncoolness about my column appearing. Two days passed. I called her.

"Hi, Mom -- so, did you read the newspaper Friday?"

"Yes, I read it every day."

"Even the editorial pages?"

"Oh, yes. I always scan the pictures to see if I know anybody."

"So you're saying you didn't recognize your own son!"

"What!?"

(I realized that The Mother of All Uncoolness, being quite hard of hearing, might have thought I said "obituary pages.")

"My photo was on the EDITORIAL page. Right below the cartoon. I have a column now."

"You were on there? Well, you should come over and visit more often."

She called back later to say she fished the newspaper out of the recycling bin and found my column.

That was it. Two weeks later and she still hasn't told me if she liked it or not.

And, yes, I have stopped by and seen her since. Twice.

The real test, though, was going to be my neighbor -- a retired lawyer whose wife told me that he not only reads the paper cover to cover, word for word, but even reads the week's worth of back issues he has waiting for him whenever they return from vacation. The three times in the past year I either had something I've written or written about me appear in print, he has always made mention of it the next time we've seen each other around the neighborhood.

A few days after the column ran, I was walking the dog home after escorting the Things to school when my neighbor drives up the street and pulls his immaculately clean and shiny black sedan over next me.

Yeeees!

"Hey!" he yells across the front seat through the rolled down passenger window. "What year did you graduate?"

An odd way to start a conversation about how brilliant my piece was. Well, the column was about mandated standardized testing in schools, so maybe he's going to give me his thoughtful analysis of academic expectations of children during his era, mine and today's.

"You were salutatorian of your high school class, right?"

"Uh, yeah," I said. "How did you know that?"

"There's a plaque up in the front hall of the school listing all the valedictorians and salutatorians. I was reading it before the basketball game the other night and saw your name," he said. "You know, you're a lot smarter than you look."

Well, apparently not.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Everywhere at Once; Nowhere at All

22 clever quips
Yes, that's me at the bar last week. I'm again waiting for the others to show for our monthly Blog 'n' Grog. For the second time since January 1, I appear to be the only one in attendance.

It's 45 minutes past the start. I decide to finish my stout then return home.

Then this tall but doughy guy slurs his way up to me and asks if the stool next to mine is taken. At least that's what I think. It's loud and crowded in the bar and my hearing is notoriously spotty in these situations.

He offers to buy me another beer. That's like offering Keith Richards a little taste of smack.

He has the barmaid set me up.

Then he gives her a $20 bill and asks for tens in return. She turns to the register and he starts making unintelligible grunts that, by his gestures and body language, I interpret as being in reference to the barmaid's rather fetching rear compartment.

When she presents him with the tens, he hands her another $20 bill and asks for two more tens. She turns, he leers and slobbers, she gives him the change and then he hands her another twenty.

He does this another two times.

I'm simultaneously in awe that I have never thought of this ploy before while guilt-racked over being in awe because I was raised to lust far more discreetly and privately than this.

Shortly thereafter, the drunk guy with all the tens made from his twenties starts to come on to me. Very heavily.

He continues to do so even after Beth, one of my best blogging buddies who is not really a blogger but owner of the greatest day spa in all the county, shows up.

"Doesn't this bother you?" she asks when his attention goes momentarily elsewhere.

"No," I say. "This is actually the most attention anyone -- male or female -- has ever paid to me in a bar."

Which leads me to pimp my fitting review of the Paul Rudd/Jason Segel "bromance" I Love You, Man on DadCentric today.

Which then leads me to pimp my answers to questions on sex, romance and parenting on Hot Dads yesterday.

Which makes me realize I get be a whore and a pimp in the same post.

Awesome.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shedding Extra Light on Your Seasonal Demise

15 clever quips
Daylight Savings Time has been with us for almost two weeks and I'm happy to report that you, dear reader, are not dead.

That's not a clever metaphor because I'm neither that smart nor that literate. Oh, I might have been at one time. But:
  • 2,340 readings of "Go, Dog, Go!",
  • about 6,208 games of "Candyland" (most of which I lost -- a pox on you, Mr. Mint!), and
  • a few million viewings of "The Sonny Suite House of iWizard Montana"
have killed the few remaining brain cells the alcohol imbibed during my four years of "higher learning" had pickled and preserved for later use.

There are good reasons why moving the clock an hour ahead makes me fear for your life.

Unless, of course, you live in Hawaii.

Residents in our tropical island state do not observe Daylight Savings Time. This is because federally mandated residency requirements for mai tai consumption, surfboard waxing and suntan-oil slathering makes it impossible to get a good grip on those tiny watch knobs. Frickin' socialist Democratic Congress!

(Conversely, even though most of Arizona does not "spring forward" with the rest of us, I AM extremely concerned about those residents. You should be, too. Clearly, something is not right with people who willingly live in a desert without the express written consent of God via a burning bush. Is it too passé to insert a John McCain joke here? Nah!)

To start with, I'm afraid you could have a massive coronary.

This fear comes from doctors in Sweden who, during a break from their usual research into perfecting penis-enlargement pumps, analyzed the death rates of their fellow citizens. They found the incidence of heart attack is significantly higher in the first three days following the switch to Daylight Savings Time.

Poor dead Swedes -- at least they made it long enough to enjoy a final Feast of St. Prinskorvblodpaltkroppkakor, which celebrates the end of winter with one last massive meal of pork-filling dumplings and blood sausage in a delicate triple-cheese sauce.

Medical science also tells us that, according to a study of Australian death statistics from 1971 to 2001, men in the land of "shrimp on the barbie" (a phrase that never fails to make me think of midgets tag-teaming a buxom plastic doll) kill themselves in droves during the first few weeks following the advancing of the clocks.

Some will say this has to do with the time change messing with the body's circadian rhythms, thus adding stress to the body and mind.

I, however, theorize that the real culprit here is bad Aussie pop music. How else to explain that the rate of self-inflicted deaths reached its zenith in 1988 right around the chart peak of Kyle Minogue's "The Loco-motion"?

Further investigation into possible links to the pre-"Jessie's Girl" singles of Rick Springfield is now underway.

Wait, you say, there must be something good about Daylight Savings Time?

Doesn't that extra hour of exposure to sun help combat seasonal affective disorder and let our bodies produce some vital vitamin D?

Doesn't the added light at rush hour help prevent traffic accidents?

Well, of course, it does!

It also gives us all a greater chance of developing skin cancer.

In scientific terminology, this is known as "a wash."

Monday, March 16, 2009

She's Not Testy Over Standardized Tests

13 clever quips
Some people have test anxiety. My daughter, however, sees it as opportunity to indulge in her favorite pastime -- mass accumulation of stuff.

I learned this the other day when, upon the drive home from school, Thing 1 pledged her love to the Connecticut Mastery Test. The CMT, for those of you out of state and/or without children, is the major standardized test for elementary and middle school students in the Nutmeg State, a nickname for Connecticut that most kids don't know today because it won't appear in the form of a question on the CMTs. This is good because, frankly, it's a stupid nickname. "The Place in the Northeast Where the Natives Don't Have a Funny Accent State" -- now at least that would makes sense.

How well a school district's students do on the CMT forms the basis of its educational reputation. Fairly or not, this partially explains why in some circles our town's public schools are thought of as highly as those "how to operate your remote control" channels on cable and DirecTV. To make matters worse, schools that don't improve their test scores can eventually lose important federal funding because, darn it, this is America -- we can only support so many flawed industries and lost causes. Besides, when was the last time your kid donated to a re-election campaign, huh?

All school year, my third-grader has deluged me with reams of notices from school explaining the CMT, offering test-taking strategies and inviting me to forums explaining why I should pay attention to these notices telling me to pay attention. Naturally, I round-filed them all, instead opting to convince Thing 1 to shut off yet another "Hannah Montana" rerun and study her vocabulary words so, for once, she could ace her weekly spelling test.

My priorities, not surprisingly, were all wrong.

A teacher told me that even though the CMT now has a section requiring a written essay, the two things test evaluators don't take into account are spelling and handwriting. These people obviously had the same rigorous training as the ones who gave me a passing grade on the scrawl known as my 20th Century American History final in college, which was taken with a raging Jägermeister-and-Keystone-induced hangover. (Ed. note: Excessive drinking is not a state-approved CMT study strategy for students, but it is optional for teachers, administrators and parents once testing concludes.)

Anyway, I'm sure she'll do OK. Thing 1 been fed a steady diet of CMT strategies since kindergarten. For example, the walls of her school are lined with vaguely Orwellian slogans such as "Show what you know," "Rename = Title; Brief = Short" and "No. 2 pencils good; No. 4 pencils bad." Also, knowing my girl, I am pretty sure she viewed hours of filling in bubbles on an optical scan sheet as something akin to a government-sanctioned art class.

"Why are you so happy about taking the CMTs?" I asked.

"We have no homework for the whole two weeks during the test," she said. "And every day before the test, I get a new pencil and eraser!"

My expectations are now set. Test evaluators, if you are reading this, be kind. Her answers may be wrong, but they will be done in the neatest, blackest, most precisely filled-in bubbles in the state.

Moreover, please note how, when you look at them from afar, they form a perfect smiley face.

Friday, March 13, 2009

First Day. Rest of Life. Blah, Blah, Blah.

17 clever quips
If you drifted over from my column debuting today in The Advocate of Stamford, Norwalk and the far wealthier suburbs: Welcome! Has anyone told you lately that you're technologically well-endowed?

If you're one of my regulars, God save you! How may I suck up to you today?

Embarking on a new, albeit part-time, career as a newspaper columnist has always been one of those dreams … that other people have always thought I should have.

COLLEGE GIRLFRIEND: You're a funny writer. You should be the next Dave Barry!

ME: No, I'm going to be the next Hemingway! Listen: "The night was cold. We drank absinthe. A bull gored the matador's buttocks like the Great Cal Ripken Jr. smacking a line drive through the Spanish mountains under the tall trees into the snowy valleys of the lioness's soft bits. We left Piscataway at daybreak."

We broke up. My novel turned into a novella that turned into a short story that is being revised for my upcoming Twitter showdown with Shaquille O'Neal. Eh ... so it goes.

Then there's My Love (that's my wife for those joining the program already in progress):

MY LOVE: I think you'd be a great columnist. You'd be the next Dave Barry.

ME: You know, after Dave Barry became successful he divorced his first wife and got hitched to a cutie sports columnist at his newspaper who was nearly 20 years his junior.

MY LOVE: Dave Barry sucks.

My Love can rest easy. The sports staff at The Advocate is all male. And around my age. And kinda hairy.

Then there's my biggest fan, The Mother of All Uncoolness (uh, that's my mom):

MAU: I told you to take some classes in broadcasting. Such a nice voice and face. You haven't shaved since Tuesday have you?

ME: But, Mom, everyone says I could be the next Dave Barry.

MAU: Dave Barry sucks. Look at that nice Nick Gregory who does the Ch. 5 weather … mmm! Must use a Mach 3 and hot lather.

I did end up working at a newspaper -- The Advocate's hoity-but-less-so-toity sister, Greenwich Time. First, I was a "stringer," which is newspaper talk for one who works cheaply and without medical coverage therefore requiring DIY surgery utilizing packaging twine. I worked my way up to part-time reporter (a stringer on salary, still without medical coverage but now with access to the newspaper's supply of Scotch tape and staples); then full-time reporter (wage slave who lives on free office "coffee"); and, finally, ended as a features reporter/copy editor (wage slave who lays out the horoscope page when not reporting on the latest fad diets).

That ended when My Love got a better job (yea for marrying people with ambition and marketable skills!) and we left Stamford for Texas 11 years ago.

In the Lone Star State, I did PR for a year … for law firms. You can come up with your own similes for that line of work but let me start you off: It was like trying to con Rush Limbaugh into being grand marshal for a "legalize marijuana" parade sponsored by anorexic gay Black Panthers sporting Randall Cunningham jerseys.

Afterward, I managed employee communications for a Fortune 500 company for almost nine years. About five years back, we moved back here, to my hometown, and I telecommuted until I was laid off in 2007.

That's right -- laid off in 2007. This is only fad of which I can lay claim to being an early adopter.

So here I am today, kinda back where I started in so many ways, working in an industry not-quite-dead but extremely cold, clammy and pale.

On Friday the 13th no less!

I think the philosopher Linus Van Pelt said it best:


"What are you talking about?" My Love interjected when I first mentioned this chronological coincidence. "The best thing that has ever happened to you was on a Friday the 13th."

It took a few seconds to register.

She was referring to the day we first met.

You know, maybe I'm going make it after all.

(What? Where's the music video of me tossing my Bridgeport Bluefish cap up in front of the Stamford Town Center? No budget? Pfft -- welcome to my frickin' world.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Blogiversary -- Exposed!

13 clever quips
Good day, blogosphere, I'm Reggie Hartner -- you may remember me from last year's report on BlogHer 'o8 -- and this is a special edition of IWitless News.

Today is March 11. A day that will live in infamy not only because it marks the death of the original meat packer, Oskar Mayer, but also -- to a much lesser extent -- because it marks the birth of a far inferior maker of bologna -- the "Always Home and Uncool" blog.

Here's IWitless News correspondent Todd Zalinsky with our story. Todd:

(Cut to REPORTER sitting in front of computer.)

REPORTER: Thanks, Reg. It all began with a sacrilegious rewrite of the opening chorus of the beloved 'Brady Bunch' theme. Later that same day -- good gravy -- he spewed out something about his days as a Dungeons & Dragons geek. Why, dear Lord, why?!

(Cut to man with three-days of growth on face, wearing eight-year-old faded Brew-Thru beer shop T-shirt with black paint stains on it.)

UNCOOL: I needed to do something to prove to My Love that I didn't spend all day surfing adult Web sites in search of free 20-second previews.

REPORTER (off camera): Did you have a longer-term goal?

UNCOOL: Well, yeah. Like most people, I hoped a well-connected wealthy patron of the arts or talent agent would recognize my genius and lead me down the path of not-so-well-deserved-but-not-worth-losing-sleep-over riches and fame.

REPORTER (off camera): And then?

UNCOOL: And then, I could finally afford full-access membership to those adult Web sites.

(Cut to UNCOOL rummaging through refrigerator. He starts to shovel cold, leftover pizza in his mouth. The toppings drip onto his droopy, tube-socked feet.)

REPORTER (voice over): But the primrose path to blogging fame is littered with people far more sexually and scatological explicit, trippingly more drug-induced and -- yet -- generally just as marginal as he …

(Cut to UNCOOL, padding around with a half-filled beer, scratching his sweatpantsed ass.)

What could make this former reporter, laid-off corporate cubicle dweller and father of two stand apart ? …

(MURPHY THE YELLOW LAB enters frame from left, sticks nose into UNCOOL's sweatpantsed ass.)

We went to the REAL source.

(Cut to MY LOVE in corporate professional pantsuit, looking very serious. Superimpose title: "Blogger's Sugar Mama.")

MY LOVE: He tries really hard. I think that's his problem. Hard isn't his strength.

REPORTER (off-camera): That's what she said!

MY LOVE: Huh? I don't get it.

REPORTER (off-camera): Apparently not. (Snickers.)

(Cut to UNCOOL, now in "Joe Sucks, Bring Back Steve" Blue's Clues sweatshirt, four-days growth on face, wearing glasses with visible fingerprints on lenses, typing at computer.)

REPORTER (voice over): Trying hard but typing poorly about his issues with perfectly legal drugs, teaching his kids how to fracture bones while having fun and his putting a dead dog in his luggage -- it's a part of his grand strategy … for Internet obscurity.

(Cut to REPORTER interviewing UNCOOL.)

REPORTER: You don't take advertising.

UNCOOL: It's not that I don't take advertising. I don't seek it. If anyone wants to spend money advertising on my site they're welcome to fork it over. I mean, can the world have enough animated GIFs of women shaking their booties to promote mortgage scams or blooming flowers to illustrate that great fresh smell from your pantie liners?

REPORTER: Definitely not. And payment from that stuff is -- like, lucrative -- I hear. Sometimes four digits. If you count the places to the right of the decimal point.

UNCOOL: Beside, as a minority blogger. I'm neither a propeller-head, a politico nor of a gender loaded with an ovary full of potential TLC reality shows. I'm not exactly a marketer's wet dream. I'm, well, me.

REPORTER: Just a man?

UNCOOL: Mmm, no. Just a guy.

(Cut to REPORTER walking though cluttered garage.)

REPORTER: So, after a year, what keeps this 'guy' of 40 plugging away? (Accidentally kicks over pile of empty bottles and cans.)

(Cut to UNCOOL -- now with five days growth, wearing a black T-shirts reading "The Figgs" bearing an illustration of Phil Spector sporting a honking white man Afro -- being interviewed by REPORTER.)

UNCOOL: Not a clue. (Hiccups.)

REPORTER: Has this past year changed you in any way?

UNCOOL: My wife says when I vent my sarcasm on my blog, I'm nicer to her. Leaves me kind of strapped for dinner conversation, though.

REPORTER: Have you ever meet any of your readers?

UNCOOL: A few -- locally and elsewhere. They all seem, believe it or not, disarmingly normal in real life. Therefore, one is definitely a serial killer. I'm thinking it's probably the guy in Chicago. I'm hoping it's not the woman who gets me naked twice a month.

REPORTER: Now we're talking!

UNCOOL: Pfft! She's my massage therapist. I write for her spa's newsletter in exchange for free rubdowns.

REPORTER: Really …

UNCOOL: Considering the only writing most people want me to do them is for free, it's actually …

REPORTER: You get fully naked for her? I mean: You. In. The. Buff.

UNCOOL: Yep.

REPORTER: Excuse me. (Ducks off camera. Unintelligible sound in background. Comes back, wiping mouth.) Any other great lessons learned from the blog-o-sphere?

UNCOOL: Nope.

REPORTER: That's it? No grand pronouncements on building virtual community and finding your inner child online. Oooo oooo -- life is grand! This has been great therapy. Now it's all Cheese Nips and sunshine. La la la la!

UNCOOL: Nope. I'm pretty certain I'm as screwed up as ever. Just more people know it.

REPORTER: Yeah, you're going places, Mary Ann.

UNCOOL: Actually, that reminds me. I've got a biweekly column starting in my local newspaper starting on Friday.

REPORTER: What?

UNCOOL: Yep. One Friday it's my local buddy, the multi-talented Sarah Darer Littman writing liberally about politics; the next, it's me writing about, pfft, probably about the same (bleep) I write about here. Except I'll get paid for it. Starts Friday in The Advocate.

REPORTER: The magazine for, uh, Clay Aiken types?

UNCOOL: No, but that is a common point of confusion. It's a daily newspaper in Connecticut. (Sighs.) Lifelong dream come true, sort of. That is if you exclude all those ones about trading vocals with Roger Daltry on "Dreaming From the Waist" followed by an after-party involving lingerie-clad supermodels and butterscotch Magic Shell. (Tongue hangs out.) Uuuuuuh, butterscotch.

REPORTER: (Bleep)! Why didn't you tell us before we started this (bleep)ing interview?

UNCOOL: Well, I have learned one thing in the past year. I'm extremely terrible at self-promotion.

(Screen goes black. REGGIE HARTNER back on camera.)

That was Todd Zalinsky reporting.

For all of us here at IWitless News, I'm Reggie Hartner and this has been a special report.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming of women in bikinis dancing with people in gorilla suits.



Video: "Monkey to Man," Elvis Costello & The Imposters

Monday, March 9, 2009

When Blood is Not Enough

12 clever quips
On the privacy screen are colored slips of numbered paper: blue for those with appointments, white for walk-ins. They are up to No. 5 of the blues while No. 1 of the whites has just been posted.

I'm White "3."

It shouldn't be long before my number is up.

"I'm going to be late coming home from tennis Sunday," I told My Love the day before. "I'm going to give blood."

She looked up from her laptop. "Are you going to help that boy who was in the newspaper?"

"Yeah," I said. "I haven't given blood in a while, and he has the same thing that killed David."

The church gym is a sea of portable cots, chairs and medical tubing. A few people are lying down, already squeezing crimson into dangling bags, and a dozen more are seated with me in the waiting area. A classic rock station echoes around the high rafters from a boom box, making the place feel more vacant than it is.

The binder of laminated papers in my lap tells me what sex acts and world travel could make me ineligible for donation. I return it. Now I wait to be called on so a Red Cross employee can bring me behind a gray-green screen and ask me about my sex acts and world travel. She shall be bored.

I open the paperback I brought and read a passage about drunkenness in Minnesota. Then, the boom box starts to play "Casey Jones."

David was my best friend in high school. He was my gateway, as best friends are, to most of the typical "evil" firsts of the underage -- buying alcohol, consuming alcohol, smoking cigarettes, smoking things that aren't cigarettes, the Grateful Dead, etc. (Ugh -- The Dead, man. I need a miracle! Jerry moved!)

During morning announcements, one late fall day during sophomore year, the principal announced we were all supposed to be praying for David. He had just been diagnosed with leukemia.

*

A woman slides up to me and enthusiastically says hello.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she says and backs up. "From the side, you look just like my friend Frank."

And I'm sorry, Frank.

A man is walking around explaining the option of donating platelets instead of blood. I did this once at a post-9/11 blood drive. My Love -- who was a regular donor for a while -- was pregnant with Thing 2 at the time, so I went to the sports arena across from my office in uptown Dallas and donated on her behalf as part of a birthday present for her. I gave her my free T-shirt, but I ate the Nutter Butters. They always gave out Nutter Butters after giving blood in the DFW area.

"Uncool," the man says, reading my name off the sticker on my chest, "do you know what your blood type is?"

It's O or B. One was what the Carter Blood Center of Dallas/Fort Worth told me. The other was the result of a finger-prick test I did during an eighth-grade biology class. I honestly don't remember which gave me which answer.

"No, sorry," I answer. "I don't."

A overweight teen with a goatee who has just donated is shuffling around through the tables and chairs. He's talking to people and singing along with the boom box. It's "More Than a Feeling."

I turn back to my book.

*

Most, but not all, of the portable cots having people lying in them. There's about two dozen people waiting with me now. The blues are up to the low 20s. White "2" still has a seat with me. It's been 40 minutes.

A local TV station is interviewing a couple of girls in T-shirts with large blue ribbons printed on them. The ribbons bear the name "Peter." A few minutes later, the reporter is combing through the donors-to-be, looking for a good interview.

He convinces the less-than-excited kid in front of me who said he "kinda knows" the boy with leukemia we're all here for today.

David's leukemia went into remission in high school. He eventually graduated from Boston College, even got married. The cancer didn't care, though. It came back even harder this time, and he went off to Sloan-Kettering to have a bone marrow transplant.

"They're the best," a nurse I met on a TWA flight from St. Louis told me at the time. "He's in good hands."

A few weeks later David called me. I don't remember the conservation other than he was stoned out of his chemo-bald gourd from the pain meds and it made me laugh a lot.

A few days after, his immune-suppressed body he got in the oncoming path of the wrong germ at the wrong time.

*

The blues are now in the low 30s. I contemplate pretending to go to the bathroom and sneaking out the side exit. There's at least three dozen people waiting with me now and almost all the tables are filled with people lying prone, letting life siphon from them.

I put the unopened Band-Aid I had been using as a bookmarker in place. I head for the front door.

"Thank you so much for giving!" says the girl at the reception table.

"I'm sorry, I didn’t donate." I hand her back my white slip with the big, black "3" on it. "I've been waiting an hour and no one's even called No. 2 to get screened yet. I'll see if I can come back later."

I know I won't. I've got a hoard of soccer players to coach, a dog in need of a long walk and more than a few chores waiting for me.

I peel the green nametag off my chest, folding it in half. For the first time, I notice what it says along with my name: "I Make A Difference."

I slip it into my paperback, next to the Band-Aid, and start the car.

When I get home, I tell My Love about my latest failure. From the other room, the stereo is playing. It's a different radio station than the one I heard in the gym.

However, the song is still "Casey Jones."

*

I remember David reviewing the Pete Townshend album this song came from for the high school paper, which I was editor of at the time. He hated that album. He was so wrong. One day, we'll pick up the argument.


Video: "Give Blood," Pete Townshend w/ David Gilmour

Friday, March 6, 2009

Between a Hug and a Choke

17 clever quips
Tucked inside the usual sheaf of papers about snack schedules and fundraisers that the afterschool program leaves for me once a month was a folded piece of pink construction paper, decorated in a multicolor scribble of markers by the oversized, nearly 7-year-old hands of Thing 2.

"Mom and Dad," read the cover, "you are the bast pares I have."

I turned to the boy, who was putting on his coat, which was once bright yellow but now bore the three-dimensional haze of grays, blacks, browns and whites from a winter of being tossed on the floors of gyms, basements and classrooms.

"Is this a leftover from Valentine's Day?"

"Yep," he said.

Flipping it open, I found a trimmed sheet of loose-leaf stapled in. In pencil, his scribble lay.

"Mom and Dad you are the bast peppl on earth. Thing 1 thacs for halping me on pok'emon."

I looked at him, his coat flying open as he twisted his body side to side.

"Dude," I said, "thanks."

His head tilted up. His eyes shifted toward whatever invisible object it is he always seems to focus on that's dangling down from the ceiling over your left shoulder when you talk to him.

"You're welcome. Now," he said, turning away so I could clearly see the frayed strap on his Spider-Man backpack that I had repaired with duct tape a few months ago, "let's get going -- chubby."

Son, dear son.

I should hug you more often. I really should.

Sometimes, though, so much of my energy goes into trying NOT to throttle you that I just can't lift my arms. And, trust me -- that is a good thing. A very, very good thing.

I love you, too, you little twerp.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Around the Block

16 clever quips
I'm in my usual 5:45 p.m. multi-task mode of preparing dinner three separate ways to satisfy myself and each Thing, proofing their homework and trying to engage these dear little parasites -- who are far more eager to log on to "Wizard 101" than in building meaningful childhood memories with their rapidly aging, belly expanding, hair thinning parental unit known as Dad, or He Who Has Occasional Conniptions -- in conversation.

Then it happens.

"Dad, do you ever have writer's block?" Thing 1 says.

"Uh, yeah. Do you know what that is?"

"Yeah. It's when you can't think of anything to write," she said. "Tomie dePaola doesn't call it that. He calls it 'artist's block.'"

"What's the difference? And, who's Tomie? New beau?"

"'Artist's block' is when you can't think of anything to draw. He's a famous writer and draw-er. Don't you know him?"

"Not off the top of my head. Does he have a blog?"

"I don't know. Maybe. We read one of his books and some stuff about him in school today. He's really famous."

She eats some leftover pork roast, known in our house as "chicken" because that is the only acceptable term for any kind of meat with "meat," for whatever reason, being the most offensive term of all. She starts talking about a story she wrote in school that her teacher read aloud to the class today.

Despite her loathing of reading and struggle to improve at, Thing 1 does periodically goes on story writing jags. She did a few on her own last summer and worked on one with her best friend on a play date a few weeks back. She sometimes lets me edit them by cleaning up the not-even-phonetic spelling and raised-on-bad-kiddie-sitcom grammar and then inserting page breaks so she can drop in clip art or draw in the critical illustration, which I sometimes think is the real reason she wrote the story in the first place.

"She gave me a 'four,'" Thing 1 says.

"A four out of what? Four? Forty?"

"Out of six. She said I might have actually gotten a bit higher, but she was tired when she was grading all the stories."

I've given up trying to understand how things are graded in her school. Sometimes fours are the best. Sometimes it's As. Sometimes a simple "good" is the best you can get. The grading system in this town was just as goofy when I was growing up here, when we strove for an "E" for Excellence and felt crushed by an "S" for Satisfactory though a satisfactory life would be more than excellent on many a grownup day.

We talk some more about her story. She's seems unusually excited for something neither shopping nor Jonas Brothers related.

"You're not thinking about becoming a writer are you?" I ask.

"Nooooo!" she says. "I'd never make any money or become famous. It takes months to write a book and publish it."

Oh, yeah. Months.

"That's OK," I say, knowing that her 9-year-old heart is torn between art teacher and fashion designer. "I wouldn't recommend it any way. Learn a trade. You'll feel more accomplished at the end of every day."

We return to leftovers.

"You know, I've had real bad writer's block of late. Did you hear me and Mom talking about that last night?"

"Uh-uh."

"Not block so much. I've been writing a lot lately and it isn't anything I'm happy with. You should feel happy with what you write, whether it's about something funny or serious or sad. But sometimes, I just feel like I've created junk, you know? Junk is junk and it makes you feel junky."

I pour her more milk.

"How are you today?" she asks.

"Much better," I say.

I snap the cap back onto the gallon.

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