Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mama, Don’t Let You Daughters Grow Up to Join a Knack Cover Band

11 clever quips

No one obviously bothered to explain to these kids’ parents the irony of Japanese school girls singing an ode to male teenage hormonal lust.

Never gonna stop, give it up.
Such a dirty mind.
Always get it up for the touch
of the younger kind.

Video: “My Sharona," unnamed Japanese school girls

My my my i yi woo, indeed.

For more tales of the young ‘uns and their dag-gum devil music (no, worse – Lady Gaga), please head on over to my post today on DadCentric titled “When Your Girl Goes Gaga.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Son, The Playa

31 clever quips

The phone rings with a subliminal tone begging me to answer it instead of letting it go to the machine as usual. It’s Thing 2’s teacher.

I need to talk to you about an incident that happened at lunch today.”

The first warning sign came in the autumn under a canopy of decaying leaves and bitterly cold drizzle. Thing 2’s class came to tour the local arboretum. I played chaperone while they learned about the circle of life in the vegetative world.

Instead I witnessed the embryos of birds and bees.

Thing 2 was holding hands with a girl.

Well, it was really more the other way around. I saw her make the grab, and she saw me see it, giving me a coy smile before she turned away.

She was his assigned “buddy” for the day. Maggie. A stick with a blonde ponytail. She had been giving him the googly eyes since that first day she joined his class, mid-semester, last year. I know. I helped out in the classroom that day.

The children were playing a game of spin of the bottle.”

A month or so later, while I helped sell pencils, erasers and things of far more plastic and far less essential nature at a school function, a teacher passed on a sighting of the second warning sign.

“Oh, your son is so cute. And with the girls! Thing 2 and Libby are always together on the playground. They are best friends.”

Libby? Who’s Libby?

When I asked, Thing 2 quickly owned up that it was his idea and he was the one leading the game.”

Libby is a classmate. In February, while others were passing around glossy index-card Valentines from the drugstore that featured the latest hip cartoon character or superhero on them, Libby presented my son with this 9-by-12-inch homemade beauty:

valentines-1

He said when the bottle landed on someone …”

valentines-2

… you had to dare that person …”

valentines-3

… to tell someone that he or she loved them.”

Huh?

That’s it?

“So,” I say into the receiver. “You’re saying that no spit was swapped?”

His teacher laughs.

“Yes, that’s correct. … Tomorrow at lunch, some of the assigned seats will be rearranged.”

* * *

Thing 2 clamors into the minivan that afternoon. He vibrates with the unharnessed energy of the nearly 8-year-old boy he is.

“Hey, buddy,” I say over my shoulder from the driver’s seat. “Anything interesting happen at school today.”

I catch his expression from the corner of my eye. No fear, no deception, just pre-adolescent exuberance. “Nope. Is it taco night?”

“Yep. Taco night.”

“Yeaaah! Taco-taco-TAAAAAAA-cooooo!”

* * *

Thing 2 sits at the counter and asks a question of no consequence.

“I don’t know,” I say, the corners of my mouth rising to devilish points. “Maybe will should spin a bottle for it?”

“OK,” he says. His expression and body language stays unchanged.

As opposed to My Love’s. She has been apprised of the phone call and her eyes speak to me in deafening volumes.

“Not now,” she pushes through gritted teeth that sharpens each letter before it hurtles toward me. Her head motions to big sister, Thing 1, snacking at the other end of the counter.

I duck, roll my eyes and mouth “I know” because I do know.

Geez. Let a dad have a little fun, woman.

A short while later, when big sister is miles away at dance class, My Love and I flip on the klieg lights. We don shades, fold arms, tilt heads all David Caruso like.

We confront. He confesses. Rubber hoses limp back to their lockers.

“Don’t sweat it,” I say. “Just understand that that game is not appropriate for school, OK? No biggie.”

But My Love, she wants more. She wants details. Nay, she wants …

Names.

“Who else was playing?”

They spill forward monosyllabically. I know most of them, if not by sight, by reputation. But of the girls in his list, conspicuous by their absence, are two.

Maggie.

And Libby.

* * *

The day after.

The sun creeps over the backyard tree line, bathing the kitchen counter in tangerine and lemon just to Thing 2’s left. He polishes off his bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch then hurries down to his laboratory.

He’s been cutting and pasting and taping off and on since Tuesday afternoon. He has a project of the highest importance on the second-grade Richter scale due this morning.

“Two’s still asleep!” falsely tattles Thing 1 when she arrives in the kitchen half an hour later.

“No, he’s not,” I say. “He was up before you and he’s downstairs putting the final touches on his lid. Today’s Crazy Hat Day at school.”

“Oh,” she says. “How was I to know?”

Minutes later, as I scrape the plates, from the basement, my son arises. This is what he looked like:

my-sons-pimp-hat-003

Amazing.

my-sons-pimp-hat-001

Overnight, my son has transformed from stud to pimp.

image 

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Finally Home and, Uh, You Know the Rest

16 clever quips
Our odyssey has ended.

The power is back on. No longer will my woman be cold and my beer warm. Well, I can guarantee you the beer.

Spent Tuesday night burying those who did not survive The Big Thaw. Pity the poor salmon that first gave their lives to be made into frozen Costco burger patties for me, only to go soggy and squishy in a poorly iced Coleman cooler. To never know the joy of being grilled then slathered in homemade tartar sauce. You should try it sometime.

Wednesday spent with chainsaw in hand and 911 on speed dial. As you can tell by my typing, I still have 10 thumbs masquerading as fingers.

Yesterday was scrubbing and brushing and rubbing. Then after I got out of the shower ...

I'm wiped out and not in the usual hazy, post-St. Patrick's Day way a man of my vague Irish heritage tends to be. My liver is grateful, though. My joints, not so much.

I'll be back at full speed next week, assuming they finally reopen school and I can pry the Things hands from off each others' necks. Ah, sibling bonding.

Meanwhile, enjoy the wicked organ work in this fitting musical Odyssey.

Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na


Video: Mike Doughty, "Put It Down"

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Still Powerless (and Gamey)

16 clever quips
The lights remain off at Uncool Estates, however, we have found refuge in several places with an abundance of outlets and a tolerance for smelly patrons: namely, the public library, the mall and a few generous friends. Given this, a few observations from me:
  • The TP at the library is far kinder and gentler than the see-through, one-ply stuff at the local Barnes & Noble "superstore." Super, my sore ass.
  • This finding explains why our library is always in debt. Previously, I had thought its problem with excessive spending on paper products was about buying too many copies of the latest Jackie Collins novels.
  • The library is definitely not spending its money on computer monitors. This one I'm working one looks like it fell off the back of a truck. 
  • A truck delivering IBM PC Jrs.
  • If dropped naked in the middle of the desert, the Things would die not of dehydration, starvation or sun exposure. Within 3 hours, they would keel over from lack of electricity, their thumbs flicking reflexively for their missing Nintendo DS Lites.
That's all for me now. If you want something fun to read in the meantime, please head over to Polite Fictions, a collaborative fiction blog I write for with some really talented folks.

This go round, we are doing "The Alphabet of Regret." We each take a letter then choose a subject accordingly: autism, breakdown, cowboys, etc. When my turn came up last week, I -- being the Ringo Starr of this band of bloggers -- went all Octopus's Garden/Yellow Submarine on them and wrote:

F is for Femme Fatale, a cautionary tale about mixing religion, revenge and, um, bondage.

Fiction, people, it's fiction.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Power to the Uncools! Please?

18 clever quips
All those people left without electricity and heat after that storm knocked down all the trees and powerlines in the Northeast over the weekend?

The Uncools are among them.

We're all fine. We narrowly had a tree fall on the Minivan of Manliness while trying to get out of the neighborhood on Saturday night. We had another just miss our patio shortly after that. This freaked Thing 2 a bit, but other than that, we're all good.

Our house is fine, but dark and cold and missing a handful of shingles from the garage roof. Oh, it's also filled with a slowly rotting freezer full of food we had just purchased at Costco.

On the positive side, my arteries didn't need that 8 pounds of bacon, any way.

Latest word is that we'll get power back on Wednesday.

Night.

8 o'clock.


I'll survive but the Things were a bit stir crazy without computers, TVs and the like after just 30 minutes. We're at the public library charging up their Nintendo DS's as I type while I look for a non-existent local hotel room to crash in. They'll survive, though. Luckily, it isn't sub-freezing temperatures and I still have some firewood left from the storms three years ago to burn and we have a warm Lab to lay on our feet.

Please don't try to come help us. Really. I've had one cold shower in four days and I'm afraid my funk would render you unconscious.

Hope to have more for you soon from a re-electrified Uncool Estates. Be well, all. We are.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Ski, You Ski, We All Scream When the Credit Card Bill Arrives

13 clever quips

Just before that first time we reached the mountain, we drove past two cemeteries. That's some potentially heavy-handed foreshadowing when your family has just decided to take up skiing.

Turns out, I misinterpreted this sign. The burial grounds we skirted en route to Ski Sundown (there it was again!) in New Hartford, a year ago weren't a harbinger of physical demise to come on the slopes. They were a warning that this hobby could lead to a pauper's grave.

me-thumbs-upThis clarification came a few days ago after having survived my first full winter's skiing with minimal near-death experiences and one huge escape from blowing half a million dollars on a weekend hideaway in Vermont.

The near-fatal fiscal buildup came gradually. The previous summer, we wisely invested in helmets, goggles and arctic wear at mega-low online, off-season rates. Our family of four, still sporting shorts and sandals at the time, visited a local ski shop to be fit for a long winter's rental of skis, boots and poles – all at a pre-snowflake discount.

When December finally came, we hit the slopes. The slopes hit back at our bank account.

Gas. Lift tickets, which resorts upsell with movie-theater concession ingenuity ("Only $5 more for the all-day versus the half-day even though in reality I'll only ski an extra 45 minutes? What a deal!"). Lunch and post-run adult beverages to revive numb feet and soothe sore thighs. Repeated every few weekends and we're talking credit card bills of Swiss Alps proportion.

However, I figured that as long as My Love stayed employed, Wall Street didn't tank again and I avoided hospital expenses by managing to continue to weave around the snowboarders who randomly chill in the middle of every flippin' trail I take, we'd survive.

Then my wife started visiting real estate Web sites.

Although she grew up in the eastern Great Plains where the closest one comes to skiing is sliding down the stadium steps at a Nebraska Cornhuskers game after one too many tomato juice tainted Budweisers, My Love spent many hours swooshing down the Colorado Rockies while on road trips in college and even more so after shed moved to Denver the day she graduated. She gave this up when the company she worked for shipped her East and she meet me, a man committed to always avoiding situations that could land me in a full-body cast. This winter, though, she was in her glory because not only me but also the Things reveled in one of her former passions.

evil-thing2My Love read aloud the descriptions of this potential second home in the heart of the Vermont ski country. Four thousand square feet, 2.1 acres of land, stream teeming with trout, hot tub and just minutes from the slopes of Stratton Mountain.

"We're going to be near there when we stay at my friend's house this weekend," she said last Thursday, sounding even more upbeat than usual. "Let's check it out."

We had talked for years about investing in a property we could use as an occasional getaway and rental unit, but it never happened for several reasons. The biggest, as far as I was concerned, was a poor Schlep Ratio.

Schlep Ratio (SR) is expense and travel time multiplied by the weight and square footage of your luggage added to onsite, non-relaxation time (cleaning your vacation home, waiting in a lift line, etc.) divided by time spent actually enjoying the destination minus sleep but excluding naps. Weekend ski trips to central Vermont from southwestern Connecticut (it’s that little tail part that wags the rest of the state) have very high SR. This means acceptability on an infrequent basis and only if you're staying at someone's place for free.

However, I’ve learned over our 17 years together to never express these kinds of Doubting Thomas opinions directly to My Love. She’s the can-do dreamer; I’m the cynic who tries to disguise his fears as practicality. My negativity only makes her want to work harder to prove me wrong and she succeeds far too much at this for what remains of my ego.

Luckily for me, by the time we reached this mountainside dream home she was drooling over online, it was nearly four hours and a minivan full of kids, a kenneled dog and a ton of ski equipment later, My Love had already done some mental calculations of the Schlep Ratio on her own.

We looked through the car windows, nodded and left.

Somewhere safely down the highway, she started talking aloud – more to herself, really, than me. We’d need to get a third car, a 4x4, because the minivan only has front wheel drive. We’d have to hire someone to maintain the yard during the summer and plow the quarter-mile long driveway in the winter. She didn’t want to spend the weekend’s there cleaning so someone would need to come in at least monthly to do that. And four hours, even without traffic, now that’s a schlep.

It went on and on. I sat there and tried not to agree too enthusiastically.

"Looks like we'll be putting our money in the kids' college fund this spring," she said once we were many many mile down the highway.

For her sake, though, I'm going to start seeding the Things’ little minds about the importance of winning a ski team scholarship.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Can I Get an AAAAAAAAAAH, Man?

28 clever quips

Remember how hard I was working this year to yell less at my kids?

yellingI blew it all last night.

It felt good and I won’t apologize about it.

The day started so promising. Ran two miles. Had two good cups of coffee from two different stores. Pleasant experience dealing with the bank over an ATM issue. Collection of appreciative birds eating at the feeder outside my office window.  Me and Murphy met the Things at school and we walked home in the unusually warm early March sunlight. Thing 2 and I had our first game of catch for the year out in the front yard. I helped Thing 1 spend her birthday money (and then some) online on a decent first camera that – yes, sweetie -- is in the pink color you wanted.

Then around dinnertime all hell broke loose.

Someone’s touching someone else. Someone’s bothering me when I’m trying to do something. I can’t do this with that one here. I won’t leave because that one wants to do something here. She drooled on my special blanket! He pushed me in the stomach! But you said. But mom said. But blah blah blah.

I tried reasoning.

I tried sending them to their rooms.

Motherflucker, I tried enough.

Laws were laid down and consequences spelled out at Who-concert volume.

Lips curled. Tears fell.

Yet no one has said, “I’m sorry.”

Especially not me.

Not this time.

But, at last, all is calm again.

Parenting: Not for the faint of heart or the meek of voice.

(I’m still here. Just waiting for the guilt to kick in.)

+ + +

On a lighter note, I discuss the evil that is overpriced and overly complex highchairs on DadCentric.com this week. You’ll think better of me after you read that one.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ran Out of Excuses

17 clever quips

My Love has been trying to persuade me to take up jogging since shortly after we first met which, I feel compelled to point out, was at a keg party.

run-for-beer In those days, she'd arise at an hour still better suited for last call than lacing up one's Sauconys and by the time the sun had even considered peeping out from under its earthly covers, she would have already logged half a dozen miles. Not an attractive trait in my book of love, but I admit that I did admire the dividends her regimen paid in other -- ahem -- areas that grabbed my attention during the early stages of the mating ritual.

In the 17 years we've know each other since, she's run marathons in Honolulu, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City and half marathons elsewhere. To me, these are all certifiable acts of insanity or, at the very least, signs she needs a more stimulating and purposeful hobby. Re-grouting bathroom tile, for example, also has a clear starting and ending point, offers great emotional and physical satisfaction upon completion and results in very similar aches and pains in the lower extremities.

I have tried jogging before. My Love and some co-workers conned me into running a 5K many years back. After only a few practice runs, it felt as though John Daly had lined a tee shot directly into the side of my left knee. I eventually ran the race, but my knee stayed cranky for months afterward and that's where my running career hit the wall.

(This is the point when whenever I tell this story that My Love shakes her head and calls me something endearing like "wuss." Running, it is clear, does not build one's empathy toward the lame.)

Sometime early last year, though, I found myself forced into an occasional run that for once had nothing to do about the urgency to reach an unoccupied bathroom.

I blame our dog, Murphy.

While on our walks, our 3-year-old Labrador retriever, sometimes decides he'd rather be going in a different direction if not going at all. When these moments hit, he simply locks all four legs in "park" or just lies down all together. Since modern dog training methods frown on yanking a dog into mobility and physically lifting Murphy, who weighs about 75 pounds, offers only a solution for the literal short haul, an alternative had to be found.

This is when I'd take a treat, hold it inches from his snout then pull it back while uttering the words I never thought I'd say aloud, with any sense of enthusiasm, to man or beast:

"OK -- let's go for a run!"

These were short burst semi-sprints: a few dozen feet to maybe a few dozen yards at a time. During the winter, when the golf course by our neighborhood lay deserted except for northern winds and rotting snow, Murphy's leash would be detached and we'd run the odd fairway or two.

When I mentioned this to My Love, her face brightened like a child on Christmas morning. I told her not to get carried away by this. I said it again after my subsequent decision to purchase a pair of running shoes for it could just be a passing phase like that time I was fascinated by mutton chop sideburns.

Spring, summer and fall went by without anything more than my occasional run to jumpstart the pup. Then three weeks ago, in the dead of New England winter, I did it. I hopped onto our treadmill in the toasty basement and put in a little more than a mile.

Twice.

I did it again last week.

Once I even did a mile and a half, picking up the pace so it was less of a brisk walk and more of a vague approximation of an ungainly trot.

I can't say I loved it, but I definitely didn't loathe it, either.

Hallelujah! I've achieved indifference!

That's the same as an endorphin high, right?

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Coffee and Do Nots

20 clever quips

coffee-cup-optimismAt eye level, just to the right of the rear entrance to the coffee shop, someone had plastered a clear sticker with a single word on it.

optimism

Every few days when I’d stop by the store, whether it was to treat myself or the family (excluding the dog, who’s trying to kick caffeine), I’d reach for the handle then pause ever so momentarily to stare at this assembly of letters.

optimism

Who put this here? Why was it here?  What does it really mean?

optimism

This vexed me for weeks, and weeks turned into months.

optimism

Do I interpret it at face value? Is it a whisper campaign for local band that covers No Depression alt-country? Was its placement just to the right of a computer printout taped to the inside of the glass warning that this door is locked after 9 p.m. a simple coincidence or a flailing attempt at irony?

optimism

Every time I saw that stupid word in its stupid black, stupider san serif type, and stupidiest-yet lowercase smirk, it irritated me like a rash of unknown origin. Optimism, my bloody eye.

Then, one day, it was gone.

I ran my fingers over the metal plate it had been affixed to and felt no adhesive tackiness. The baby blue paint that had always been beneath it showed no flaking or hint of discoloration to suggest anything had ever been stuck here before and pried off since.

It was like “optimism” had never existed.

At that very moment, I felt strangely angry with all of mankind.

Every time I entered that door to the coffee shop from then on, I looked at that blank plate and wondered why and how and to where my “optimism” had disappeared.

I did so again yesterday when I wandered in around 2:30 in the afternoon to order a Latte Lite.

“Do you want sugar in that?" 

“No,” I said. “That kinda defeats the purpose of ordering a Lite.”

“Splenda?”

“No. No sweetener.”

The clerk disappeared around a stack of the industrial-sized, stainless steel deus ex machina that make coffee from this place taste so much better than what I brew from the same beans and water through the $200 coffee maker in my kitchen.

“Hey, uh, do you know what the deal was with the sticker that used to be outside by the back door?”

“Excuse me,” she said, reappearing with my coffee.

“For the longest time, there was a clear plastic sticker with the word ‘optimism’ printed on it that someone had stuck just to the right of the back door. It’s been missing for a couple of months now.”

“I’m sorry,” she smiled and shrugged. I figured  her English was roughly as suspect as my question.

“Never mind,” I said, handing her a five for the coffee. She made change and I pocketed the bills before dropping the coins into the ceramic “tip mug” on the counter.

I made a quarter turn then hesitated. I reached back into my jacket for a dollar and let it fall on top of the coins lining the bottom of mug.

When I got into the minivan, I peeled back the lid to my coffee, carefully avoiding the sharp edges that had slit open a finger more than once before.

I brought the steaming, caffeinated cup of joy to my lips.

An unexpected sweetness hit my tongue.

I puckered. I winced. I eyed the cup like a deceitful spouse.

Yeah, that’s frickin’ optimism for you.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Baby Advice Gap

18 clever quips

When my best friend from college had her first baby a few months ago, My Love squealed in giddy delight.

“If you ever need any advice, call me!” she chirped like an over-caffeinated canary to my friend several times during the call.

Leaving out her innate areas of expertise (breastfeeding, hormone fluctuations, creative excuses for avoiding non-procreative relations), the following are baby-rearing niches My Love is most qualified to consult on:

  • lying convincingly about whose turn it is to put the kids to sleep,
  • inventing rules that apply exclusively to the other spouse such as, “If you are leaving this house to run an errand, you are either taking the dog or taking the baby with you, Mister!”
  • how to avoid emptying the Diaper Genie.

Read more about those latter skills in Baby Unnecessities: The Diaper Genie, only on DadCentric.DG cartoon

What’s your spouse’s area of baby expertise?

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(Cartoon: Shoeboxblog.com)

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