Friday, July 30, 2010

Ugh, Wilderness!

17 clever quips

Twice a year, my wife and I break the seal on our hermetically suburbanized lives to go camping. Since we are as rugged as a cardboard box in a hurricane, we load the Things into the minivan and drive all of five minutes from our climate-controlled, Cat-5 wired, high-def ready house to pitch a tent overnight at the local nature center.

We attended our first of these biannual Family Camp Outs (that’s the name -- honest) two years ago. The parents of one of the friends of Thing 2, our own nature boy, convinced us it was the perfect way to get back to nature without the inconvenience of actual wilderness, such as stowing provisions so as not to attract killer rabbits or playing Russian roulette by grabbing for leaves in the dark when one has to ... you know. For the most part, they were right.

You set up camp just feet from the asphalt parking lot next to the center's "meadow," a field of wood chips generally not favored by the bowel-challenged Canada geese that swim in the adjacent pond. The center's staff grills up burgers and hot dogs for dinner and flips pancakes for breakfast for you right there in the meadow. Come sunset, they build a bonfire and provide all the trimmings for s'mores.

Most importantly, they keep all the center's bathrooms unlocked and stocked with TP.

Essentially, all you need for this adventure is a tent and a flashlight.

"This is like `Camping for Dummies,'" My Love initially observed. She had done the real thing during her relatively hardscrabble Midwestern childhood, but these days she prefers an intimate relationship with her new iPhone and The Wall Street Journal Wine Club delivering six types of cabernet to our front door every other month.

So, we be dummies.

At our first Family Camp Out, a rumbling shook the ground at 5 in the morning. A vicious rain followed, which we could have handled if it wasn't for the accompanying lightning and the sudden realization that we had situated our tent right next to a flagpole. This resulted in a chaotic scramble to get into the minivan alive, followed by a quick drive home, where I ended up making pancakes for us and the family that had conveniently talked us into the outing in the first place.

At the next campout, it rained before and during our arrival. Such perilous conditions moved the event indoors, with us pitching our Sir Edmund Hillary-endorsed tent on the carpeted upper floor of the center's main building, a 19th century mansion turned into a museum and art hall.

bendel mansion

However, nature's terror followed us upstairs. The room we slept in had -- only TWO hours before -- been the site of a campout animal lecture during which a black rat snake tried to escape behind a radiator and a large box turtle, while being held in midair, relieved itself on the floor to the delight of dozens of children. So chances are, at some point, I stepped in turtle urine.

This past weekend, though, we came prepared. To avoid lightning strikes, we set up our tent away from the flagpole and in the grass by the center's Otter Pond. To counter the heat and humidity, we hung a battery-operated fan over our air mattresses.

If only we had invested in napalm-grade insect repellant.

Our family of four gave up counting the bites we received from no-see-ums when we reached 100.

no see um bites

Yet the subsequent scratching still has not soothed our itch to camp. Come Monday, I'll be putting in my reservation for the next Family Camp Out, scheduled for October.

I hope to see you there. I'll be the guy in the non-conductive rubber suit with sleeves that tie in the back.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


13 clever quips

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
- Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams

I never knew Robert D'Aquila, the high school principal who died unexpectedly earlier this month at age 56. I only knew him as Mr. D'Aquila, the math teacher from my high school in the mid-1980s.

In the four years I spent at Stamford Catholic High School, he was never "the popular teacher" or "the cool teacher." Those types came and went during my time served. But he was always there, always paying attention and always quietly helping. That's what some of my classmates and I remember most about him as we reminisced via Facebook a few weeks ago.

Sean Barry wrote that he especially remembered the "pretty well rust-eaten" car his teacher -- and for a few years, neighbor -- drove during those years.

"I realize now how grand a gesture that car was," said Sean, a teacher and writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y. "Genuine teachers, the selfless, self-effacing, committed kind, are those who drive a car like that not from neglect, but from a sense of priority. What mattered to Bob was his school and his students. The rest appropriately would take care of itself."

Alan Chapell recalled the first meeting he had with Mr. D’Aquila while he was taking summer school classes in 1984 to try to get into Stamford Catholic after "literally failing out” of another local high school. After Alan had a run-in with another teacher and was kicked out of class, Mr. D'Aquila confronted him.

"He said, ‘When they decide whether they're going to accept you to SCHS, they're probably going to ask me what you were like in summer school. And I'm going to have to be honest. So, it's really up to you.' No drama. No judgments. Just an honest assessment that empowered me to decide my own future," wrote Alan, who credits Mr. D'Aquila for helping him boost his math SAT score enough to get accepted into the University of Connecticut. Alan graduated, went on to get a law degree, and now heads his own company in New York City that consults with interactive media companies on public policy issues.

"He was easily the best math teacher I have ever had," wrote Deborah Anzalone Esposito, whose father Joe Anzalone was the varsity football coach during most of our tenure. "He explained concepts very thoroughly and precisely without ever getting annoyed with the class for `not getting it.' He would simply smirk and go through it again."

Now a social studies teacher at a middle school in Seymour, Conn., Deb credits Mr. D'Aquila as being one of the people who most inspired her career choice.

"When I was a senior, he simply wrote (in my yearbook), ‘It's been a pleasure,' because I used to always tell him that he was my favorite teacher," she added.

As for me, I have three distinct memories of Mr. D'Aquila from my Green and Gold days.

I remember him always being the person operating the clock at our home basketball games: freshman to varsity, boys and girls.

I remember that whenever our Math Analysis class discovered that he had made a mistake in the calculations he chalked out on the blackboard, he would take a good hard look at his work then say, "Good! I did that to see if you were paying attention."

Finally, I remember one teacher, one of those more popular and cool ones that we students flocked to, telling a few of us how lucky we all were to have Mr. D'Aquila at our school. "He could easily get a job with IBM or GTE and be making real money," the teacher said, "but he chooses to be here because he believes in education and he believes in all of you. That's a gift."

For that gift, Mr. D'Aquila, many of your former students owe you a lifetime of thank-you cards.

* * *

What teacher do you remember most and why?

Bob D'Aquila(photo: Dru Nadler / Stamford Advocate)

Monday, July 26, 2010

What is the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladened Swallow?

10 clever quips
While I finish tapping out the epic tale of my dog's bout with an autoimmune disease as well as doing another load of laundry (one word -- OxiClean; that wacky, and dead, Billy Mays knew his stuff on this one though I do suspect he may have been snorting it when he recommended the Zorbeez over the Shamwow), you can get more than your full dose of Uncoolness today at Dad of Divas, where the extremely tolerant Chris interviewed me for his Dads in the Limelight series.

Why, you ask, why should I click this link to visit another dad site when I have all the at-home dadness I can stand right here? Here's why:

1. The interview features the only known closeup photo of me and Mr. Met together, disproving the theory popular in some parts of the blogosphere that we are one and the same. It also proves that my head is larger than his and that my hairline is rapidly receding.

2. It contains some important advice about fatherhood which may or may not be: "Always use birth control, you idiot, or this is what will happen to you! Ahhhh! AHHHHHH! I'm on fire!"

3. I let you ladies in on two of the important issues really weighing on the minds of the father of your children. (Hint: The answer to the first issue is, in my mind, "Tommy.")

4. The interview was obviously done at a time when I was much happier and more frenetic than when I wrote last week's post. Obviously, my meds need adjusting. Someone get me an orange Hostess cupcake, ASAP!

And if you're still not sold on clicking over, rest assured that the majority of the interview really did go something like this:

Video: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "Bridgekeeper's 3 Questions"

Monday, July 19, 2010

Novocaine for the Soul

19 clever quips

The following knowledge has been acquired by yours truly in the past two weeks:

I have a compressed nerve in my left arm that is causing the index finger on that hand to tingle and periodically go numb.

My blood pressure continues to be a tick-and-a-half away from what my doctor classifies, per her expensive med school degree, as just beyond “something to keep an eye on.”

A few years ago, a guy I knew in high school blew his head off with a shotgun.

One of my favorite teachers recently died suddenly in his sleep.

Oh, and now my dog has an autoimmune disease.

This morning’s trip to the dentist for a filling replacement, therefore, seemed more promising than usual.

While my dentist punctures the upper left side of my mouth with a second round of anesthesia, in rushes the hygienist who has been cleaning my teeth every six months for the last three years.

“Uncool, when you are done here, you need to find me,” she says. “I need to talk to you.”

Her tone was not the normal Polish-tinged purr I’m used to hearing through her powder blue surgical mask. It’s unusually urgent and hurried.

“Oooh, you are in trouble now, boy!” my dentist says with another poke into my gums. “What did you do?”

That’s what I’m wondering.

Did she find out that I skate by on only flossing for a week immediately prior to my cleanings?

Has the way I tend to stare into her light-dilated eyes while she scrapes the doughnut remains from the buckles in wisdom teeth finally started to unnerve her to the point of filing a restraining order against me?

“OK, I know that already feels numb but it’s going to take a good six or seven minutes for the tooth to go dead as well, so just lay back there for a while,” says my dentist.

Then he yells out the door: “Hey, Uncool is free if you want to talk to him now!”

The rat.

I’m flat on my back in the pleather recliner and I turn my head at the sound of footsteps. She enters the room, safety goggles down, mask up.

Here it comes.

“Uncool! I want you to know that I loved your column about your daughter talking about cutting her hair to help sick kids! I stole the newspaper from here in the office and brought home for my daughter. And you know what?”

“Did she cut her hair and donate it to Locks of Love?”

“All the way to here,” she says, raising her hand level to the middle of her own head.

I try to smile but half my face is frozen in an impenetrable droop.

“That’s great,” I say forgetting, among other things, to worry about whether I drooled the words onto the collar of my shirt.

Video: Eels, “Novocaine for the Soul”

# # #

Cure JM is still in 12th place for the $250,000 Pepsi Refresh grant with 11 days of voting to go. Please vote every day and ask your friends to do the same. Thing 1 is counting on you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Maybe I’m Not Such a Bad Guy After All

17 clever quips

erase a hole stick


erase ahole not   
Phew! Glad that didn’t work on me.

Hope it does a better job on youth soccer officials.

+ + +

Now please swing over to my blogging bud Vodka Mom’s site where you can enter to win a “Despicable Me” prize pack by helping Cure JM snag a $250,000 Pepsi Refresh grant. We’re still stuck at No. 13 so vote today and every day through July 31 and ask your friends to do the same. Thanks!

UPDATE! Now Vodka Mom is also offering the chance to win a Flip Video camera but one of the requirements is still voting for Cure JM to win that $250,000 grant.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pepsi Refresh Proving Me Wrong

17 clever quips
While I'll tell you that I am a realist, I know what I really am.

I am a pessimist. I am a cynic. Sometimes that makes me, plainly put, an a-hole of the nth degree.

When My Love told me Cure JM Foundation was applying to be in the running for $250,000 grant through the Pepsi Refresh Project, I told her not to hold her breath. A million other organizations would be applying as well.

When word came July 1 that the application was accepted and that the world would be voting on Cure JM's proposal online, I told her not to get too excited. Only the top two vote-getters out of 278 finalists would win the quarter of a million dollars. Cure JM is a tiny, all-volunteer organization created around a disease that only 3 in a million kids are diagnosed with every year in the United States. While its base is passionate, it's minuscule, I told her.

The odds of Cure JM winning, like the odds of your child actually developing juvenile myositis, are exceptionally and astronomically poor.

Seven days into the voting, the Make Juvenile Myositis a Memory application is ranked 13th in popularity.


Out of 278 applicants for $250,000.

Holy shiitake.

I need you good folk of the Internet to do me a favor.

I need you to prove me wrong.

You need to do nothing more than go every day this month to the Make Juvenile Myositis a Memory application page, click the "Vote for this Idea" then either vote by using your Facebook sign-in or creating a unique sign-in based on a valid e-mail address. Takes less than a minute a day to do and costs you not a cent.

If Cure JM wins, every bit of that $250,000, which represents about half of the money Cure JM normally raises in an entire year, goes either to fund research studies or to support the doctors and scientists who help children with juvenile myositis at "JM Centers of Excellence" the foundation has help set up in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Please lend a hand -- vote daily, Tweet, Facebook, grab a widget (like the one I have at the top right of my home page) -- every little bit helps.

If not to prove me wrong, then to prove there's hope for kids like:
Parker, diagnosed at age 4

Gracie, diagnosed at age 10

Mason, diagnosed at age 17 months

and, of course, Thing 1, diagnosed age 2.5

* * *
This is the video I put together for the application. You can spot me lurking in the background of one of the last slides.


My Uncool Past