Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sometimes I Need to Forget

(Riffing off of Vodka Mom)

Sometimes I need you, sometimes I want to think I came from another world, that I have no Earthly ties or memories or feelings. But when the ornaments come out, at this time of year, your ghostly caresses are lovingly cold and irresistible. Too cold for me, too strong. My wife knows it, and she has at least the strength to say, "These feeling are too much!"

Me? I walk past the decorated tree, with its mutt-world of ornaments, some from my life, some from my kids, some from lives no longer flickering, and I realized this morning I haven't looked directly at the tree. I have been very tired, and I wonder if looking at my family's ornaments, and the emotion that they would require, has been beyond me. I'll wait another day or two, as I'm getting stronger everyday. But I will look at them and remember not that only one set of hands is left to hang them, but many hands went into the memories they hold.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Role Player

I was sitting with my kids watching CNN tonight when Tiger Woods was named "Athlete of the Year". This is not going to be an essay about Tiger, although I love the irony that he became famous, in large part, by using his wood and became infamous, in large part, by using his wood. Over the last ten years, commentators on golf spoke fawningly of his "big wood" game. More recently, others have gamely spoken of some fawning over his "big wood".

So no, no rant about fidelity, nor criticism of the super-rich, or how spending so much time away from your family can strain the bonds of any marriage. And can we agree that the news media and the entertainment industry no longer are separate professions? And finally, no, this not about heroes falling, because no matter how much you love or revile Mr. Woods, no golfer is a hero. Great athlete? Yes. On the level of Martin Luther King, JFK, Captain Sullenberger, Eleanor Roosevelt? No, not even close.

What has transpired these last few weeks is more about us than Tiger. We keep looking for role models who are flawless, who are above reproach, who don't make mistakes, who are everything to everyone. We are, it seems, seeking superhumans. But I feel we are actually seeking something inhuman, if we expect perfection from a golfer. Or a president. Or an actor. Allowing kids -- and even adults -- to put these people, or any people, on a pedestal so high, yet precarious, is a fool's errand. But we keep acting the fool. So, perhaps we should look elsewhere for our guides.

My dad, as an example. He's been gone for almost twelve years, but there doesn't go a day where I don't wish I could ask him for advice. He served in the Marine Corps for 26 years, helped raised three kids, honored his wife, respected his mother, coached Little League, and made a living that allowed all three of us to go to college and graduate without debt. He also was fashion retarded, had an old-school Irish temper, and thought doctors were for pussies. He rarely swore, so "pussies" is my word. He could fix anything, treated everyone with respect, and I can't recall him trashing anyone he'd ever met in person. He also scraped off all of the lead paint from the side of our house and stored it in a tin trash bin in our garage. He was a deacon at his church. He liked opera. He did his own taxes. He called everything "that thing", and when he sent me to fetch it, he'd say "Get the thing...on the thing, by the thing."

See, my dad was available to me. His role modeling showed me both nobility in a regular man, and the mundane life of a very regular man. He farted. He had bad breath, especially in the morning. I saw him shave. I saw him tired. I heard his stories. He taught me what I needed and what I didn't need. I didn't always get him, nor him me. When I needed someone else to show me about being a good person, I had a former OSS agent and Ma Bell line crew manager to tell me to "Don't worry, be happy." I had a camp director who had a major physical disability, who made a place safe for young men and women to grow up. When Dad couldn't get me, he sent me places where others could carry me.

I never had need of a superhero. I didn't fall prostrate for the icon of the moment. I never bought into someone else's image of a real man. I didn't idolize a shortstop, a rock star, an actor, or a pitchman. I didn't idolize anyone, or more aptly, any one. Perhaps the most significant lesson my most important role model gave to me was to diversify my portfolio. When someone I admired inevitably behaved like, well, the way we all do in our worst moments, they didn't fall far because I never held them too high. Maybe what we can learn from Tiger is that we put him in a pantheon reserved for gods. And we humans are many things, but we are not, nor ever will be, gods.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


In a dream, I awoke outside of my body. I was sitting, small and powerless, on the headboard of my bed. Lying in my place was a animated version of me, a golem. It look liked me, moved liked me, somehow knew my routines. Oddly, I even knew my golem's name. It was Carl, very proper. Very Prussian. As I stared, Carl opened his eyes - he did not awake, as he was neither asleep before his eyes opened nor was he truly awake after they did - all before the alarm sounded. He rose stiffly from my spot in the bed before even the dogs began to stir. He found my house slippers, worn with the prints from my callused feet, without needing to see. He found the bedroom door in the pitch darkness, and scuffled zombielike down the upper hallway, mimicking an even more hollow echo of my routine. He dumbly descended the stair, skipping the top step - which squeals a protest if you tread upon it - just as I would have. I watched him head downstairs, perched mute over his left shoulder, floating unembodied, neither cold nor warm.

Only our very dumb dog Costello followed him to the kitchen, for our less-dumb dog Calvin seemingly detected that Carl was merely a shadow of an idea of me. Calvin somehow knew to wait for my wife, who asleep didn't notice I was gone, replaced by a hollow vessel of clay, breathed to life by a cold breeze from long dead ghosts.

I watched, trapped in my dream, as Carl let out the very dumb dog to relieve himself. The golem - my golem - stood rock still in the doorway, looking beyond, not at - very dumb Costello. I wondered if Costello would eventually notice that Carl failed to acknowledged his existence with a biscuit or a kind word. Carl went back to the kitchen, and without thought or emotion or even pause, made coffee. He never stopped to look out the window or smile or fart, he just kept slowing doing what I normally did. After some small clatter of glass on plastic, the carafe was set and the percolation began. I noted grimly that Mr. Coffee showed more light and color than Carl. I wondered, too, whether Carl would feel as alone and scared if it were him trapped overlooking my shoulder.

Abbruptly but without fanfare, I began to feel my dreamstate begin to fade. The kitchen floor hard and firm under my slippers. A smell, familiar to me, the tart odor of coffee. The throaty growl of the furnace kicking on in the basement. I was mildly shocked that Carl had gone so quickly, leaving without so much as a word or a nod, leaving me standing at the counter in a blackened kitchen, alone with a very dumb dog. I stirred a bit, and absently scratched an itch on my shoulder. It felt real, if inconsequential. I spun and headed to the family room for a bit of CNN, rubbing the stubble on my chin. It was then, passing through the dining room, that I saw Carl briefly again, looking back at me in the mirror. He need, I noticed, a shave.

Friday, November 27, 2009

In No Particular Order

Here's my personal "To-Do" List:

1) Fly in a World War II single engine fighter, preferably a P-51 Mustang. A FAU Corsair would work, too. And a P-38 Lightning would suffice, even though it has two engines.

2) Visit Normandy, France.

3) Live in the wild, unplugged and self-sufficient, for a month. Not alone, but I would do it alone if no one wants to come along.

4) Meet the President.

5) Win a scratch ticket for more than $100.

6) Have a perfect shave - no nicks, no missed whiskers, no doubt about it.

7) Hit a walk-off homerun.

8) Give my wife a perfect gift, at the perfect time.

9) Host a huge blow-out food and beer extravaganza, for like 300 friends. Sorry, but no kids.

10) Stay up to see the sunrise in New Orleans and remember it.

11) Coach an undefeated team.

12) Drive a car on a closed race track.

13) Write or illustrate a children's book.

14) Build something from start to finish, like a boat or a cabin.

15) Live on the water, or on the shore really. Ocean or lake, no matter.

16) Ride a bike for a long, long time.

17) Break up a fight. And walk away from it.

18) Learn blacksmith skills.

19) Have a reason to wear a tux (that fits...), and whatever the reason is, my wife gets to dress up, too.

20) Drive across the country.

Okay? Did I miss anything? I will let you know how it goes.

Cleaning Out the Mental Attic

I've had my driver's license for twenty-five years, as of today. Luckily, only one minor crash in the intervening years. It was only a month or two after I got my license, and the wreck involved barbecue sauce, black ice, and a cute girl named Rachel.

Why do people go to malls, especially on "Black Friday"? Does anyone remember what "Black Tuesday" meant originally? As a retailer, wouldn't "Green Friday" paint a better picture. It is all about the money, right?

Speaking of which, whatever happened to Christmas? I am as "politically correct" as the next guy (person?), but it is sort of weird that wishing someone "Happy Holidays" has replaced "Merry Christmas." I'm agnostic, but I have this gut feeling that if I'm gonna' give and receive from Santa Claus, I probably should give a nod to Jesus. Poor guy.

Speaking of whom, I would like to go to a mall with HIM, even on "Black Friday". I know that I am assuming a lot here, like that HE will come back. Would you? Or that he'd want to hang with me. Or worse, that he shops on Amazon and wouldn't be caught dead - again - in a freaking mall. But because I imagine he would have some pretty funny insights into our culture, it would be worth the traffic to head out on the road today. Sharing a Starbucks with Jesus at William Sonoma, now that would be cool.

Changing topics. If you could call the previous mental effluvium 'topics' at all. I've been tweaked a bit by the phrase "bucket lists" over the years. At first I thought if you want to do something so bad, get off y'er ass and do it. But I've softened my stance a bit, especially since I have kids and responsibilities and a wife and two dogs and chores and, well, other shit that gets in the way sometimes. Priorities, brother. Since I can't really do everything I want on a whim right now, maybe making a list makes some sense. I worry that my list will feel like a "honey-do" chore list. But then again, I worry about how much I worry, too. I'm gonna start working on my list, but I'm not sure I can get to twenty. Can I borrow some of yours?

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Still Believe

I checked the calendar. It's only November 16th. I'm sitting next to a bowl of Halloween candy. The yard is full of fading leaves, wilted by rain and sun. It's 54 degrees outside, and Thanksgiving is still more than two week away. But unexpectedly, I got everything I wanted for Christmas tonight. No bags, no boxes, no ribbons - except in my daughter's hair, damp from her shower.

The world has been spinning a bit too fast lately. Too many days in a row where I could feel our little planet spinning at a thousand miles an hour, hurtling through the empty void of space. But tonight, for a time, everything stood peacefully still, wrapped not in blanket of snow, but one of quiet time, just us watching a movie. On a school night, no less. My darling wife, at least as tired as me, asleep happily on the couch. My daughter perched on my lap, head resting on my shoulder. My son, snuggled between us, our dogs curled up at our feet. No e-mail, no phones, no bills to pay, no meetings, no laundry or dishes to squabble over. Just us and a movie. Maybe not your favorite, but mine. Fred Claus. Thanks, Paul. Thanks, Vince.

There's something about dancing elves, kids hopeful for a happy Christmas, and two brothers seeking redemption that mixes well for me. Maybe because my brother and I never quite got the chance to say one more "I love you, man" or because I'm a sucker for a down-and-out orphan kid from the city. Or more likely, I'm a fool for a happy ending. We watched the movie blissfully, giggling as Vince and the elves shook it out to Elvis, or chortled quietly - trying to let Mrs. Odds sleep - when Santa and Fred slugged it out with snowballs. It was all so good.

And when Annie Lennox started to sing "Holy Night", I was done in. I felt tears well in my eyes, and soon after felt them tip-toe down my cheeks, reminding me that I'm not as tough as I look. I remembered my mom and how she would try each Christmas to capture her three adult children in one magic moment, long after Christmas became about gifts, UPS, and credit cards. I thought about all the things I would say to my brother, and wondered if he would remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle he gave me when I was twenty, sagely stating that one should always get at least one toy on Christmas. Leonardo stands in my office, reminding me of better times and good advice from one seriously unlikely source. I felt my daughter's weight pressing against my chest, but the tightness there wasn't from her alone. Perhaps like the Grinch, my heart was growing three sizes too big.

So Santa, thanks for coming early this year. Really, there is no need for anything else this year. Well, for me anyway. There are lots of other kids, big and small, who could use a hula-hoop or baseball bat, a puppy or maybe a visit from their brother, sister, mom, dad, or other loved-one. And don't pay too much attention to the naughty-nice business. We all want to be nice.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


My eight year old came home yesterday from school with some new skills. He'd learned how to play the game M*A*S*H* which, for those uninitiated, is a grid-elimination game where the host asks the guest to give multiple answers that will predict their future. The categories presented by our own mini-Alec Trebec were "Your Future Spouse", "Your Dream Car", "Favorite Place", "Perfect Job", "Net Worth", and "Number of Kids". It turns out that this playful little exercise ended up being something of a source of conflict for Mrs. Odds and myself, and I walked right into it.

So, here are some handy tips, boys. First, don't let your wife go first. She'll get a dreamy look in her eyes and try to list Clooney four times under "Future Spouse", and I simply don't measure up to George. Secondly, after your dearest finds out she is going to be the next (...or first?) Mrs. George Clooney, her finding out that Bridget Moynahan is your next ex-wife, somehow makes YOU an asshole. In fact, listing anyone other than her is a bad strategy. Third, don't try to rationalize with your eight year old how replacing his mommy with Bridget might lead to getting Tom Brady's autograph, in a hastily sketched awkward custody visit-scenario. With that line of thinking, I just should have listed Giselle Bundershplintz, but I erroneously thought we were playing for fun.

The "Your Dream Car" should be safe, but watch out. I listed an Audi TT as one of my choices, but it sounds an awful lot like an "Outy Titty" to a kid. Ooops. And don't list New Orleans as your favorite place, if - for example - you just fought a knock-down-spit flying-caffeine fueled battle Royale with your spouse about wanting to visit the Big Easy, to which she replied, "Go ahead, asshole." My wife's net worth, according to my son's calculus, turned out to be $1.00. She was not pleased or amused that I "won" all the money in the world.

Perfect job? She listed singer, writer, artist, and teacher. Cute, sweet, potentially real vocations. I listed sniper, cartoonist, inventor, and President. Apparently not cute, sweet, or potentially realistic. Crap, I thought it was a GAME. Under the withering gaze of Mrs. Clooney, I desperately explained to my son that he had said I am a really good sniper just the other day. This hasty backpedaling, as it turns out, was at least a triple error on my part - I let my kid watch me play X-Box 360 Live, I admitted indirectly that I play enough to be good at video games, and that I taught my kid what a sniper is. Again, ooops.

You know, my gut warned me against playing. And my gut is big enough to be heard clearly. I might have escaped permanent harm with the "Number of Kids" question, as I insisted that whatever number of future spawn I got, it had to be preceded by "two plus..." and I avoided teaching my son the term "vasectomy."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hey, Nice Rock

Albert Camus? You have to be kidding me. Albert. I bet he got his le ass kicked on le playground. But crap if I don't identify with Albert Camus (Cam-ewwwww!) and his essay Le Mythe de Sisyphe. I hate most things French, but I think Bert has it about right.

Consider the original Myth of Sisyphus. Mr. Sisyphus (And yeah, he probably got teased on the playground, too. "Hey Sissy-phus, your tunic is showing!") pissed off some Greek god or goddess. I forget who, but even money it was Zeus. That dude had temper issues and couldn't keep his hands off the ladies. So anyway, Sisyphus sticks his finger in the eye of the immortals, and as punishment, he is eternally destined to roll a honkin' big rock up a hill. And right when he gets to the pinnacle, the rock rolls back to the bottom. Push, roll, repeat. Push, roll, repeat. Give credit where credit is due; the Ancient Greeks knew torture. Dick Cheney must love his classics. So Sisyphus was, well, damned. Pissed, sore, blistered, bitter, lonely, and so on.

But back to Albert. He posits that Sisyphus was all that -- blistered, sore, exhausted, etc. - AND happy. Happy? At first blush, one might think Albert had his head up his derriere. But roll with me and Albert here. All of the toil and struggle, the failure and misery? Part of the human condition. The rock exercise is simply a metaphor for our simple little human condition.

In other words, Sisyphus had a purpose. He had goals, He was determined (So, okay, fine, Zeus or Hera or Hades or Mars or whoever made him do it...). Don't measure Sisyphus by his failure along the way, but instead on the total of the journey he took. Why must he be sad or full of self-loathing? Perhaps he was content to push his rock, living in the moment, taking in the view, full of hope that one day -- one day -- he'd get the rock to the top and earn a rest. He didn't know any better but than to hope.

So push your rock. It might roll back down the hill, and if it does at least you have a choice. Quit or roll it again. Quit or roll again. Me and Albert, I think we are rollers.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Gift of Swearing

"You're a monkey fuck," I casually retorted to friend (I'll call her Happier)recently. I had a big smile on my face when I said it, and my tone contained no rancor, bile, meanness, or spite. And obviously, it isn't true. Or I'm fairly certain of that, but I can't be totally sure. Happier is very nice and has an unassuming demeanor, so I can rule out with reasonable confidence that I wasn't stating a fact when I called her a "monkey fucker". Happier was around when I threw out another favorite of mine; fuck-stick. Happier even said she wanted to work that into her own lexicon. I took that as the highest of praise. Happier thinks a I swear good. Or well, for you grammar ass-lickers out there.

Perhaps my gift for artful language construction is a product of a strict upbringing. When I was a kid growing up in the 70's, I would get grounded for saying "suck", even if I was helping my Mom vacuum. So "suck nut" just feels liberating to me now. I was a generally nice and happy kid, so it wasn't like I had a lot to swear about, but if I said "shit", I just started running for my life. We were so square (quadrangle?), that I remember the first time my Dad said "shit" in my presence. Dallas Cowboys on t.v., in the basement, Dad sitting in a highback lounge chair. It was maroon. Not my Dad, the chair, you fuck-stick.

One great irony was I ran around, as a kid, yelling with glee that my bike was the "balls!", and my new dog was the "balls!", and Mr. B. my English teacher was the "balls!" That is, until a kid who grew up in Manhattan embarrassingly asked me if I knew that "balls" was a synonym for testicles. My parents loved that things were the "balls!" but if I uttered "crap" I was grounded for two weeks before I could say "Sorry, sorry!"

It was the 70's, so it was fine to call my brother a "retard", but if I called him "stupid" I got ... well, grounded, of course. My sister, who was a bitch -- and can still channel her inner-bitch like a pro -- could not be called a "bitch." Jerk was fine. Bitch, grounded. Terd, dung, scat, poop, "B.M." (short for bowel movement I learned years later) all on the approved list. But "shit" was verboten. Go figure.

So here's my tip for swearing like a mad sailor. Take any general-use curse word (fuck, shit, ass, dick, etc.) and add it to a totally benign term. For example, "fuck" plus "wad" makes "fuckwad." Dick plus the verb dangle plus -er becomes "dick dangler." I don't know what it means, but it sounds good. "Ass" plus "rope" plus -ing? "What, are you ass-roping?" Again, I don't know what it means, but it sounds better than plain "You ass." Go practice with a loved-one and let me know how it works out, would you?

When you are ready for the next level, add two nice words to make a new swear that makes people go, "Ewwww!" The advantages here are many-fold, not least of which is you gain plausible deniability for later, especially if you rip one at work or when fighting with your spouse. Or if the kids hear it, heaven forbid. An example would be mixing "pillow" with "pounder" for the very gross "pillow pounder." (Not mine originally) Hair and glue? "She's got hairglue!" It implies bad things, so don't use it if you don't want the responsibility. These aren't safe for rookies, so don't blame me if you get dumped, punched, slapped or sued, you fucktard.

Actually, the best use of forbidden words / inappropriate phrasing I've ever heard came from my wife's grandmother, of all people. I'd like to think she knew what she was doing, but I'll never be sure, as she passed away a few years back. At ninety-four, she had been picked up from her retirement community for a visit with the kids, grand kids, great-grand kids, and our very large, friendly dog. As our house-cow nuzzled her and laid his monster-sized head in her lap, she gently petted his head and scratched his ears. The room grew quiet as she travelled back in time to her youth. She spoke lovingly of her time on the family farm, and how she used to drive a horse and buggy. But her favorite pet was her cat. Oh, how she loved her cat. She came back to present and looked lovingly at her many family members gathered around, and said, "Oh, how I used to love rubbing my pussy."

Boy, did she HAVE the gift.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Almost Brilliant

You know how mayonnaise and ketchup and all sorts of condiments now come in bottles that rest on their lids so the good stuff is always right where you need it? I thought that up. No shit, for real. I was walking up and down the aisles of a Price Chopper in Vermont like 14 years ago and the idea just came to me. We were there just because it was the first grocery in our area open 24 hours. Life was pretty boring, so much so that we thought going to the grocery store at midnight was actually entertainment. We were wilder once.

Somebody stole my idea though. Because it wasn't a month later that I saw Hines ketchup in the now ever-present inverted containers. Bastards. Sneaky damn bastards. How did they steal my idea and get it to market so fast?

Voice recognition. Yep, thought that up, too. Perhaps you are familiar with Dragon Natural Speaking and Ford's Sync? They owe their thanks to me, although some may claim otherwise. But I know what I know. In fact, I'm only typing this entry to spite the "stealers" out there.

It's not just commercial endeavors, either. When it comes to world events, I'm like a modern day Nostradamus. I had the US invasion of North Korea pegged, except George "W" Bush wrecked my prediction with the whole Afghanistan and Iraq wars thing. Technically speaking, both Afghanistan and Iraq are in Asia, so I think I'm still good on that call. Or close enough, anyway.

So folks, ride my coattails to the next big thing. Here's my latest prediction; a public option for health care reform. Bank on it. It's a lock.

Is it Just Cramps or CANCER?

So let me figure this one out. One can mix up cramps for cancer? That sounds wicked fucking scary. So if I eat a pair of egg, cheese, and sausage sandwiches for breakfast, leftover steak for pre-lunch, two grilled roast beef sandwiches for real lunch, a pound of pistachios for a tweener, and top off my daily intake with a full dinner of Polo Marsala, two beers, and two diet cokes, it's not cramps. I had cancer Saturday night? Huh, I thought it was overeating.


Flat belly
Slim legs
Amazing butt
Get them in one amazing workout!

Really? One work out. Fuckin' A. One? I'm in, sign me up. It almost sounds too good to be true. I can workout once. I can do this.


Gorgeous for less; 67 best buys for your skin, hair, body and more! To get gorgeous for less, I should buy...67 products. Not counting toothpaste and deodorant, I'm gonna say, in my lifetime, I won't buy 67 total products. Skin, okay, requires lotion I suppose. Hair; shampoo. And okay, fine, conditioner. Body? If you count feet, Desenex for crud that grows between my toes. But what's the 'more' here? Elbows? Eyebrows? The taint? Is there a product that treats elbows and the taint? That would be novel.


Alicia Silverstone's Diet Makeover? Alright, can we agree on something? Alicia Silverstone's diet needed a make-over? I throw the flag on that one. She was hot ten years ago, remains hot today, and will die someday, but it will be a hot death. Did she blow up like a Sumo wrestler? Steak and cheese diet not work out for her? I guess I missed the day she was fat. But I feel pretty good stating her diet probably wasn't made over. Tweaked, maybe. But she looks to be pushing 100 lbs. now, so I bet we'd all be happy with either of her diets. And her genes. Can I have her genes, please?

For the record, I'm a dude. I am sitting next to a recent issue of Health Magazine, and I am going to go for broke here. I'm not the target audience the editors of Health had in mind for this issue. I'm pretty sad that my daughter and wife might be.

My tips for gorgeous for less, amazing ass, and cramps vs. cancer:
*get rid of your mirrors (free - can't get less than free)
*wear baggier pants (okay, not an amazing ass, just a well-hidden one)
*talk to your doctor for cancer diagnosis ($20 co-pay)

Who needs a magazine? I give this advice for free. Do you feel better yet? I do.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Forty is the New Black

A hundred years ago, forty was worth a big party. Hell, if you survived measles, polio, infections, pneumonia, and childbirth, you were something special. Nowadays, turning forty is as remarkable as turning, well, thirty-nine. So why do people get all nutty about forty?

My wife turns forty today. She's hotter now than she was ten years ago, and she was really cute then. She's more accomplished now. Wiser. Funnier. Deeper, reflective, patient, stronger... Who wouldn't want to turn forty, I gotta ask? At least if you could do it with her grace & style. She has done stuff that anyone would see as admirable, like raise two beautiful kids, be cast in a musical production, work full time, and all while putting up with me. Puh-lease. I know a lot of people that could never handle what she does, ever - at forty, or at any age. And frosting - she fits in clothes that she could have worn fifteen years, for Christ's sake.

She's not really special today. She is special everyday. For forty years, fifteen with me. I don't think a cake and a card really would be a fair reward, and since we just rebuilt our kitchen, we can't afford a treasure to match her. She just caught me staring at her. I acted dumb, as I was thinking mildly lewd thoughts and was distracted from my writing. A bit of blond hair is spilling out from her baseball cap, and it's sexy as hell. She is cleaning our new kitchen with 409 while I stare.

See, that's my point. I like her more and more. I find her more and more attractive. She's formidable, unpredictable and reliable, powerful and gentle. If she was sexy and funny at thirty-five, just imagine how incredible she is now? So everyday is worth a celebration. Today, it just comes with cake.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dear Mom & Dad,

I wrote God a few weeks ago, but he's a lousy pen-pal. No response, not even an e-mail. Sheeesh. Guess he's busy. Maybe I have the wrong address. Would you check for me? I haven't written you in a long while, so please excuse my poor manners.

I had a poignant memory of you today and wish your were closer, so we could have shared it together. I'm sure you feel the same way. It's silly really, but I got home from work today and our kitchen is totally finished. And I thought of you immediately. Instead of sitting in the new kitchen, I went outside and listened to the wind howl and watch the neighborhood trees contort. I remembered when you remodeled your kitchen and the pride you shared with us when you finished the project. You were so happy and felt so good about what you accomplished. We feel the same way, and I know some our success and accomplishment is due to you. So thanks for showing us the way. I just wish you could come over and have a cup a coffee and a long chat. A chat about anything. But you can't come over and I totally understand. But I can still wish it, right?

"C" is sitting at the peninsula doing her homework. The light is so good, it makes even doing homework feel nice. So you can imagine how cooking makes us feel. Mom, I can see you helping make the turkey at Thanksgiving. It makes a great mental picture, even if it won't happen this year. Mom, you would absolutely drop dead (sorry, awkward wording...) to see how much she's grown since you last saw her. She's starting to be a young woman, although most of the time she's still just a girl. She's so gentle, I wonder how I could be her dad, given that I'm an ox. But wondering aside, I'm really glad I am. Dad, she'd melt you in a minute, you softy. So far, were doing pretty good with her.

And "W"? He's great. Dad, he can throw a ball like no one's business. And he can draw! At seven, he puts pencil to paper and ideas just take shape. Is it wrong to be jealous of your kid's talent? And origami... he folds paper into shapes so graceful, intricate, and delicate. I'm in awe of his care and craft. Both kids miss each of you. Almost as much as I do.

So, that's about it. For today, anyway. I think of you far more often than I write. And I know you can't write as often as you wish, so don't feel bad. You would if you could. I hope you are happy and well. Say 'hi' to my brother, but I'm still mad at him. Love him, yes. Like him? Not yet. And if you see God, would you tell him I'm not writing until he does!



Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Just Listen to Yourself

Uh-oh. This is going to be a rant. I may sound like an OF, Republican, Angry White Guy, or Lou Dobbs. I'm channeling Dennis Leary. Hear me out.

Years back when I lived in Vermont, I was listening to the radio and heard a report (now infamous) about a women who successfully sued McDonalds because she burned the skin of her nether-parts with hot coffee. She stuck a Styrofoam cup of steaming hot Joe between her legs and drove away. Or started to, until through the normal operation of her motor vehicle, her thighs squished the cup and the molten coffee boiled her... well, parts.

For the record, I think McDonalds is in league with Satan. And styrofoam has a half-life that makes uranium look like a mayfly and will be in landfills until Hell freezes over, thaws out, and freezes again. But...

What kind of moron puts hot anything in their crotch? A stupid moron. Sort of like gettin' mad when you drip hot glue from a hot glue gun on your hand. It's called hot glue 'cause it fucking glue, numb-nuts. So, hot coffee parked in your special place?!? Well, duh.

When did needing someone else to pay for one's own stupidity, ineptitude, tom-foolery, natural ability, height, heart condition, or whatever else ails you become normal? If not "pay for", then replace it with "fix" or "solve" or any synonym for solve without the complaintant taking any responsibility for the alleged affront. And this is when I really sound like an OF, (Old Fucker for those not in the know), so get ready.

No, Kentucky Fried Chicken didn't make you fat. You made you fat. Or you and the genes your parents handed down. So sue yourself, fatass. No, pot holes don't get fixed in a timely fashion 'cause most towns and cities are broke, so vote for higher taxes, dumb-ass. That tar shit is pricey. No, you should pay $3.00 a gallon for gas. It's called supply and demand. They have oil, you want oil. So, sell your S.U.V. and buy a hybrid. Or walk, which - surprise, surprise - might help with your KFC issue, by the way.

Screwed up kids? No, it is probably not your school's fault. It is probably yours. No, really. Your teen is smokin' dope? Um, put down the scotch-rocks? You think your kid's teacher doesn't like your kid? Um, do you like your kid? If you won't raise your kid 'cause it is unrewarding, don't complain when the school tries -- and fails -- to do the job the way you want it done. If you want schools to do all the work, vote for higher taxes. And be prepared to not agree with everything that happens.

In favor of the war in Afghanistan? Vote for higher taxes. Them Predator drones? Nope, not free. Not free at all. Like the state of the VA nowadays? Who does? Do the math, friends. Two active wars, defense projects like the F-35, robotic weapon systems, and medical costs for head injuries suffered by the brave soldiers standing up to do the work we (...yes, we...) asked them to do. So, to quote from Good Fellas, "Fuck you, pay me." You want security and want it for free? Hey, that's funny.

Not in favor of the war? Exactly who, then, is gonna protect us from those who really do think America is fat, lazy, and arrogant? Or those who think of women as good for breeding and nothing else? Remember this - the Taliban killed the ideal of pluralistic schools in their homeland, as well as eradicating ancient, historically significant religious shrines that weren't their religious shrines. Pro or con war, we are going to pay. Pick your poison. But it is going to hurt.

See, this rant is about us. We want stuff, but we don't want to pay for it. We want to be taken seriously but act like children. Actually, most children act better than a lot of so-called grown-ups, but you know what I mean. We want good government but don't want to -- or can't -- understand making hard, compromising choices. Pundits mock universal health care in Canada or the U.K., but most of us couldn't tell anyone else thing one about universal health care. We want to be thinner, but our exercise regimen consists of walking to our car twice a day.

Schools don't teach values? Then you teach values. Politicians are all crooked? The run for fucking office! Want erectile function instead of dysfunction? Take Viagra but for the love of all things good, don't complain about your health care costs rising. At least something is rising that makes you happy, right? Gas too expensive? Drive less. Don't like you kid's soccer coach, volunteer to coach. Got a gut, do sit-ups. Boss an asshole? So what? Takes one to know one.

See, we all have complaints. Too often, we also seem to think someone else should take responsibility for them. We want our cake. But we don't want to pay for it and we want it nut & gluten free, too. Take a minute and stop yammering. Shhhhh. The problem, my friends, might not be "them" but "us". Just listen to yourself. I just don't want to.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


There are ways to thanks friends. A card, a 12-pack of beer, a ride to the airport. Common place, really. Can getting your own blog entry, which the friend will probably never read, count? We'll see.

We (my family) have the fortune of owning a boat. Not a yacht. A boat. 13 foot whaler, a floating brick. A money pit. But its a boat. And it spit the bit today. The boating season (who knew...there is a boating season) ends shortly up here in New England. If you wait 'til the harbor freezes over, you waited too long to pull your boat. So today was the day to get our third child out of the water. We were all present for the big day, primed for one last family adventure, one last excursion onto the big, bad ocean. And the boat wouldn't start. Nothing. Nada. Zip. We know shit about boats, except ours needs gas, its small, and it costs a lot of money to operate. Money we don't have. But its a boat in a place where having a boat is synonymous with having a house. But it won't run today.

But my friend, he loves boats. Being on the water for him is relaxing. He likes fiddling with cables and gear and massaging cranky boats into life. Me? If I could sink my boat outside the harbor and not get caught, I would do it. So when we tried everything we could think of to get the brick to run (which admittedly isn't too much), we called our friend. Could you give us a tow? I'm quite certain he had a nap all lined up this afternoon, but instead he hauled his ass into his boat and came to the rescue.

No, we were never in danger. No one was gonna get hurt if our boat sat in the water another weekend or three. Realistically, we would have been out five hundred bucks and been anxious until our little hobby was safe on land in our driveway. But he hooked up some lines and tied some knots and spent his whole afternoon bailing us out of a jam. And he was glad to do it.

Above and beyond the call of duty. A day wasted saving his buddy's pride and bank account. And what did he want in return. Not a damn thing. So he's getting a blog entry and a fifth of Maker's Mark. And what did I get? Sure, my boat is in my driveway, for which I'm grateful. But really what I got was affirmation that moving to my new home was the smartest and best thing I've done in years. I got a reminder that friendship isn't about cards or gifts or even witing an essay, but rather about something much less quantifiable. I was reminded today that friendship shows up when you need it the most and expect it the least. Today it showed up and turned a bad situation into a memory.

Thanks R.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


We are a strange group, us humans. If you don't believe me, walk around in public at a mall, visit your kids' school, or watch the news. We are not always bad -- sometimes even good -- but surely and definitely we are a weird species.

Take fashion as an example. For the record, I have two (yes, count 'em) shades of khakis and four different colors of plain shirts to wear to work, so I think I'm eminently qualified to comment on haute couture. I was driving to work the other day, when I saw an amply rear-endowed mother of one bent over in the passenger compartment of her SUV. She was clearly struggling with either the carseat or her kid, who was in turn struggling with having to sit in the car seat. I've been there - not so much fun. I could tell from her body language that she was fried and on the verge of losing it.

But that's not what I noticed first, truth be told. I noticed her gigunda ass. I'm not commentating on the size of her posterior; my own seat cushion ain't so small either. No, in fact I wasn't even "window shopping"... You know, checking out the merchandise without intending to purchase. My wife and I agreed years ago that it wasn't worth fighting over if one of us checking out someone else's goods. Look, don't touch.

No, what attracted my attention was the dazzling bright, hot pink sweats with "UCK!" spelled out in pt. 1024 font across this poor soul's graciously full buttocks. My first thought was, "Uck!" as in gross, but why would someone wear that on their ass? I then realized the passenger door was obscuring the first letter or...gulp!... letters. My next thoughts? "Fuck!" Followed by "Suck!", "Truck!", and finally "Canuck!". But why would a grown woman wear "Fuck" on her ass? Or suck, truck, or Canuck for that matter. There are no good answers to those questions, my friends.

As I pulled up at the light near her house, the full spelling came into view. It read "Luck!" I don't know who should be more embarrassed. Me, for thinking uckfucksucktruckCanuck. Or her, for wearing a neon sign-esque pair of pants with letters so big you could see 'em from the space station, on a butt that could be rented as billboard space. But either way, "Luck!" was not helping her wrestle the car seat and/or rebel two year old into place.

Like I said earlier, we are an odd bunch. And my fashion tip of the day? Wear khakis.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Snap Shot

If one could graph the relationship between intelligence and wisdom, what would we find? I fear that my intelligence drops in direct proportion to gains in personal wisdom. What one might call this an example of a divergent series, I suppose.

I used to be smart but my overall brain power is diminishing in relation to the context of the world I inhabit. While I think my intelligence approaches zero, it will never be nothing. Conversely, I am more wise after each passing experience. My quotient of wisdom may approach infinity, but it will never be infinite.

I miss being smart and sure, while I like my growing perspective. Why can't I have both? Will I be a happy idiot when I get older? The idiot part seems assured.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Strangeness of Strangers

We seem to have an addiction in the family. Yeah, we have alcoholics and we have workaholics and we have other -olics that I can't even imagine. No, this is a different vice, albatross, cross, whatever you wish to call it. We need chaos. Pressure, deadlines, too many balls in the air. If we don't have it, we make it. If we can't make it, we borrow others'. Our current drug of choice is a kitchen remodel. Good buzz, a bit pricey, but it should quiet the monster for at least a year, right? Right?

I slink out of the house on a beautiful, cool summer day to one of our regular dealers, a shady dude known as Mr. Home Depot, "D-poh" in the parlance of the street. I showered before I left the house, but I already feel dirty. I'm there for the second time in two days, looking to score a shower and a vanity, oh, yeah, and a faucet. I'm nervous, because I'm a poser. Not a contractor, you dig? Just a kid from the 'burbs. I grab one of the flat carts, trying to look mad. No basket cart for me, no way. I navigate to the back row, way past the paint and the pvc and light fixtures to the bathroom section. It's dark and scary, and frankly sort of seedy. So I grab my stash and slink to the front to pay for my haul. In and out, don't make eye contact with the other addicts and junkies. Get out to the parking lot with my huge-ass cart and my huge-ass boxes, trying to do this on the lo' down. Anonymous. Fumble for the key fob. Pop the trunk. Lift the tail gate. Got to load the Honda and get back to my 'hood.

I can barely lift the first box, which is the size of a coffin and weighs as much. Christ, the carton is bigger than than the bathroom where it will be installed. I get it man-handled onto the rear gate of my Element, and I go white. It's too fuckin' big to fit in the car. I'm naked in the parking lot, sweating cold rivulets of panic, watching the other addicts watch me. Oh shit, oh shit. I got to get out of there. I call my wife, needing to hear her voice, needing her to know that I can't get the fix home, no little pick-me-up coming home with Daddy. I'm busted and shaking and crazed.

And this preppy, tired looking 40'ish woman stops and smiles at me, shakes her head. She knows why I'm there. "Don't jam it in," she says. "Maybe put it on the roof." I think to myself, "Well if I could lift the monster that high off the ground, I'd just adjust my blue tights and red cape and fly the fucker home." Thanks a lot. At least she didn't point and just laugh. I'm in a bad way. Why did I ever get hooked on chaos in the first place?

But the next guy, he ambles over and stops. He looks at me, at Box-zilla, at the car. And he shrugs. "Need a hand? Looks heavy." No judgement. Just a do-gooder. And for the next ten minutes, as I try to get my lever my shit into the back of the damn car, at least three more guys quit their own missions for a moment and offer to help. Nice guys. Friendly faces. Helping out a brother in need. I say, "No thanks" but their kindness calms me down. I think. I find a knife in my kid's tackle box and cut Box-zilla down to size. When I'm done, I've jimmied the bastard in enough that it only hangs out the back the the car about four feet. I cram the other shit in and get ready to leave, when the prepster comes on out of the D-poh with her own little bag of goodies, and laughs. "So you jammed it in?" Bitch.

I get on home, shaking from my trip and praying to get the monkey off my back. The high of the fix doesn't last. Chaos keeps on calling.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dear God,

How are you? Please take no offense that I have recently publicly identified myself an an atheist. I was tired. Today, I'm agnostic. For the record, on Saturday I was Episcopalian. Attention deficit, religious identity disorder?!? ADRID... Do they make a pill for that?

Respectfully, you have a tremendous sense of humor. The depth and breadth of your creations, and the interactions between them, create a panoply of ideas, emotions, and memories that spin this humble man's head in dizzying fashion. So, thank you for the last week. It was very entertaining. Can you take a minute to help me figure out how it is all connected?

As you know, we attended the annual clam bake in Wareham last weekend. It's been going on forever and a year, but the word on the street is this was the last year. The man who has done the heavy lifting (literally) for the event is tired. After all, he's raised (with his wonderful wife) four children to adulthood and a pack of grandkids that grows algebraically -- if not exponentially -- every year. He's done it all without expectations, and I think he is a classic stoic and noble. And his hands are always dirty. Oh, and he has cancer. He didn't tell anyone, of course, but word got out. Maybe someone will step up and keep the fire burning (and the seaweed steaming), but if not, it has been an amazing run.

We drove up to Maine and spent some time on the water with friends. This family from Maryland we visited with has beautiful children and as a couple, a grace and bearing that makes one realize there are lots of really great, nice normal people on our little blue marble. We fetched sea glass from the shore, surfed in warm Maine water (...okay, there is no such thing, but it was water and we were in Maine), and kayaked out to this little lonely island to poke around an abandoned lighthouse. Exploring the island, I wondered what it was like a hundred years ago. I studied the pealing lead paint and contemplated our footprint on the environment. I imagined the world taken over by zombies and how this island would measure up as a refuge. Really.

We zipped over to Vermont for the wedding of a very good man. My in-laws took our our kids so my wife and I could play adults for a night. I remembered why we moved closer to them, and even with the oddness that is my wife's family (and I know odd families), I could not help but feel a brimming sense of joy that my son's grandfather thinks playing catch with him is better than anything else on the planet. I found myself, during the service at the wedding, reciting the Lord's Prayer and feeling comforted by its words and patterns. I looked at Jesus on the cross and wished it had gone otherwise for him; he seemed like a good fellow. I sat next to my wife and remembered our wedding, all of the hopes and dreams we had. It gave me a sense of optimism I hadn't felt in some time, knowing this young couple was going to give a life together a chance - I hope they realize their dreams and make some new ones on their journey together.

I crossed paths with my favorite uncle who was diagnosed with lung cancer and given two years to live...twelve or thirteen years ago. He's had a good hand all along. I saw my aunt (not my uncle's wife) and was oblivious to the fact she's still an alcoholic. I heard the theme song to Jaws in my head as we kayaked out to the aforementioned island and at the same time told my kids that sharks were not remotely interested in us. I slid head first into home in a meaningless softball game to break up the shutout the opposing pitcher was spinning. I was safe and my knees are killing me. A friend told me tragic news that was welcome tidings to her. I stayed up late to watch A-Rod hammer a walk-off homerun off a rookie in the fifteenth inning. Our puppy Abbott chewed his leash off to gain his freedom and then chewed off Hobbes' for good measure.

So, yeah, it was a good week. Rich. But I feel like a 7th grader reading a Bronte novel; I get the plot, character, and setting but have no idea what it means. So, sir or madam, any chance you could lend me your teacher's edition? I feel bad that I don't get it. I'm the dumb kid in class. But I do thank you for everything that you threw my way last week. For an atheistic leaning, currently lapsed Episcopalian agnostic, that sounds like a prayer. Or a request for a little extra help in the form of enlightenment.



Friday, July 10, 2009


We've been married fifteen years. Today. 5,475 days, not counting leap years. Christ, I get bored in like twelve minutes. I fast forward through fight scenes. I get bored unless something or someone is actually burning, bleeding, or screaming.

Strangely, happily there has been no burning in our marriage. True, there has been a little bleeding. For example, I fell off a ladder this week. My wife (the topic of the entry) was holding it, right up until I asked her not to. No shit. I asked her to turn off the hose. Whomp! I dropped 16 feet. And bled a bit. But if you are paying close attention, she was holding the ladder. That is mature love. Not particularly poetic but oddly poignant.

Screaming? Some. Good natured, mostly. I'd like to tell you it was always impassioned and heartfelt. However, a lot of times one of us was dehydrated, hung-over, stupid, or in some other way being an ass. I have taken more than my fair share of turns being the jerk, but my wife ain't afraid to take her turns, either. Like I mentioned earlier, this love is adult, seasoned. Sort of like...well, the hell I know what it's like. (For the record, my first idea for a metaphor was smoked barbecued ribs.) Put it this way - every day I wake up and am surprised she is still here. She gets bored easily, too. And I'm a handful. Sexy. But a handful.

I could stay true to the genre and extol my wife's virtues, but that would be pedestrian, and given it's our anniversary, totally predictable. Can I skip to the end and tell you she had a lot to offer? Cute as hell. Complicated. Nuts. Unpredictable. Stubborn. Oh, wickedly stubborn. Patient. Okay, I'm not exactly skipping to the end... To summarize, I won and married up.

For the younger readers, there is no such thing as a fairy tale marriage. Watch "When Harry Met Sally" for a primer. For the folks who are long married, you go ahead and decide if we have have it good. We keep saying we do, which is miles harder to say than "I do."

But I know this (...and I know very little for sure...) - I am a better man and person because I met and married my wife. She may scratch her head at times and come up short when she weighs how things have played out, but I scored.

So, it's 1:00 a.m. Technically speaking, we are in our 16th year now. I wonder what this year will bring? Whatever shakes out, I know who will be holding my hand. Fifteen years? Easy.

Oh, thanks. And I love you.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Prime and Prejudice

A few years back, a student of mine gave me a book on prime number theory because he knew I liked math. Okay, he was ten and he picked out a book about Bernhard Riemann and the greatest unsolved problem in mathematics. Oh, his dad is researcher at Johns Hopkins and was voted top ten smartest Americans alive. And his mom has two doctorates and is a professor at Hopkins, too. What a bunch of slackers...

So I get this book and I'm gonna' read it, damn it. How hard can it be, honestly? I cruised through the first eighteen pages or so; the first chapter is essentially about a theoretical card trick and convergent series. But by chapter two, I start to dribble and drool a bit. The author gets into the history of mathematics in 18th century Germany and little anecdotes such as "Ah, shucks, wasn't Gauss a cut up in class! Oh, don't talk to me about Euler." Throw in a sentence like, "N / pi (N) - log N. (Pronounced "N over pi of N tends asymptotically to log N" by page 45 and I might as well be reading sanskrit. But... I. Am. Gonna'. Finish. The. Book. Damn. It.

Three years later, I am finally done with the freakin' book. Guess what? I read the whole damn book only to find out that the author wasn't kidding - the problem is still unsolved. Oh, what a buzz kill. Berhard Reimann dedicated his life to this problem and he died from an ear infection or something tragic, and he never did come up with an answer (proof...) to whether or not there are infinite prime numbers. Oh, sucks being him. I spent bits and pieces of three years reading about his struggles but I am not dead, at least. But I wanted the Disney ending to the story, I must admit. For Riemann and me. For him, peer recognition and fame (...he was loved by an adoring wife...). For me, enlightenment (...I am loved by an adoring wife...). We both were ROBBED!

Then I reread the second to last chapter. The autor wrote, "As Andrew Odlyzko told me, "Either it is true, or else it isn't. One day we shall know. I have no idea what the consequences will be, and I don't believe anyone else has, either. I am certain, though, that they will be tremendous. At the end of the hunt, our understanding will be transformed. Until then, the joy and fascination is in the hunt itself, and -- for those of us not equipped to ride -- in observing the energy, resolution, and ingenuity of the hunters. Wir mussen wissen, wir werden wissen."

We must know. We will know. In the meantime, admire the passion of others, even if they use really big words.

Monday, June 1, 2009

When the Phone Rings Again

Life is a peculiar thing, I've found. There are little forks along life's path all the time, and sometimes great divergences, splits in the course of life. I had never really noticed the little ones, as they are sort of like back county roads. All the views are interesting, and they all get you where you are going eventually. The big ones, well, they spin you and turn you and change you abruptly. And everything comes at you so fast, so damn fast. Some times you see the sharper turns coming, some times you don't.

My youngest child, like his older sister, was (and remains...) a pretty good sleeper. Once he went to bed, he was down for the count. Most nights, my wife and I got to sleep through the night, six hours or so. Sure, once in awhile one of our kids got the stomach bug or had a spell of night terrors, but most nights were wonderfully mundane.

One late Saturday night --so late it was Sunday already-- our 3 year old Will woke early. Five o'clock or within minutes of it. He padded his way up to our room and stood next to me quietly until I sensed his presence. I wasn't startled, 'cause kids do that kinda stuff. Sort of Ninja in a onezie... Most nights, I would gather him back up and tuck him in his bed, keeping the habit of separate beds intact. But he'd been pretty good of late, and he was damn cute and snuggly, so I let him crawl into bed with me. He nuzzled up and was asleep in seconds. I took a deep breath and exhaled contentedly. We might sleep like this 'til 8:00. A nice, lazy start to a Sunday.

I had barely left consciousness when I was jarred awake again by the phone ringing. My first thought? Naw, this couldn't happen again. This time it had to be a wrong number. My adrenaline kicked in and I knew my day was going to start, for better or worse. I reached for the phone, gulped, and answered with a cautious 'hello'. I prayed I wouldn't know the voice on the other end. It was my sister. Hello, surreality.

"Hey, um, oh my god. Dan's dead." I'm pretty sure that's what she said, but I know she said more too, because I remember she said she had gone to a Green Day show and the local police were waiting for her when she got home. That the Florida State police had called her local police office in suburban San Francisco, because they couldn't find my brother's parents. I can remember her telling me that my brother had been shot by a neighbor. I remember yelling "Fuck!" as I tried to make my body go down the stairs, away from my angelic sleeping boy and my sweet wife and my gentle daughter.

And in that thirty second span, I knew my life --and that of our family-- had turned and twisted and veered off course. Life had turned suddenly -- a second time in less than 8 months -- onto a superhighway of loss, sadness, discovery, and grief. But unlike the sudden loss of my mom, this new highway also took me past hate, anger, denial, and hurt. I have been on some back roads lately, and I'm remembering how much I used to love casual drives through life's lesser travelled roads. But I can still hear the roar of the highway. It scares me. But I'm still driving. Just don't call, okay?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Don't say it...

When I was starting out, I landed a job in an after school program helping kids out, keeping an eye on them, teaching a bit, and generally having a lot of laughs. Which is good, 'cause the pay stunk. We used to make extra snacks for the kids, in the hopes there would be leftovers and we'd have something for dinner.

At one of our requisite trainings on dealing with kids and conflict, the director of the program mentioned she didn't want us to ask the kids to say 'sorry' if they hurt another child's feelings. At the time, I thought she was wildly out of touch, a do-gooder, a liberal. But her point was simple and straightforward. If a kid just says sorry, what really have they done to fix their error? They had to address the problem they caused directly. Actions, not words.

Years later, I have come to believe she was -- is -- absolutely right. The word 'sorry' is a cheap out, junk food, a distraction. Too many people -- famous or not -- seem to think saying you are sorry means anything. On the famous side, take Manny Ramirez as an example. Suspended for 50 games for using juice, he was expected to say sorry to his teammates. Not even to the fans, mind you, not that it would matter. He makes millions of millions, screws his team, and his teammates are supposed to listen to an apology? Oh, sure, he's gonna cough up 7 million while he sits by the pool, but when he comes back, he'll start collecting the 20+ million owed to him. If he were sorry, he'd go to every game and take tickets at the turnstile, maybe lug some popcorn or beers to the fans (...and pay for it, too), and take turns washing the team's jockstraps. Maybe he is sorry, but what I'd like is to see him do something to fix the mess he caused.

It's not the rich and shameless that worry me, though. It's us regular folks. My kids, as an example. Our daughter, bless her kind soul, leaves her junk all over the house. When I'm tripping all over it, the first thing out of her mouth is "I'm sorry, Dad." I'm not interested in how she feels about me tripping or disrespecting the rest of the family, but I'm very interested in her picking her stuff up. It's simple, really. Don't say 'sorry' because it doesn't do a whole lot. Instead, I'm trying to teach her to pick up before it is a problem, and when she forgets, I'm really hoping she'll start saying "I'll get it picked up now."

To be honest, I'm fighting a losing battle. But I love long odds, so I'll keep chipping away. The next time my daughter leaves her cleats in the kitchen and I call her out on it, I'd be perfectly happy if she just spoke the truth. "Dad, I'm not sorry. My feet were hot and I took off my shoes immediately upon entering the house. Then I saw the puppy and forgot all about the shoes. My feet feel better and, boy, the puppy really is cute." Oh, if she then puts her cleats away, that would be cool, too.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Stuff Goes BOOM!

I want to work for Myth Busters. What a crazy good job, no? Adam and Jamie are building a cannon with match heads and a shaved-down bowling ball. I mean really, what COULD be better? Okay, so they missed their target the first time but it would have left a mark. The damn ball went 1500 feet! They get paid to blow up, maul, spindle, and otherwise totally trash random stuff. Oh, the glory.

My favorite personal stories of wrecking stuff? Drum roll, please.

Number 5 - tennis ball cannon. I was like ten and my brother (14'ish at the time)duct taped a couple of tennis cans together and had himself a homemade mortar. Into his highly crafted, well designed device went about a pint of gas. Next, a tennis ball. And finally, a match. We ran, expecting a huge WHOMP! and a flaming tennis ball to arch through the summer sky into the baseball diamond behind our neighbor's house. What actually happened was the gasoline leaked out of the bottom of the mortar and caught merrily on fire. The puddle of burning gas spread out on our lawn and we charred about 50 square feet of grass and dandelions. Kinda'

Number 4 - fluorescent light bulbs. I had this sweet gig at my summer camp working maintenance before all the kids showed up. Good money, clean living. Every spring we would hit the grounds and clean up after long, hard New Hampshire winters. Little bit of this, little bit o' that. Learned how to sweat joints, a bit of carpentry, and even took a turn with dowsing rods. But the light bulbs, oh man. For some reason there were like 60 of these long-ass fluorescent bulbs that were no good and me and a buddy were tasked to get rid if them.

So we load up this flatbed with the bulbs and a bunch of other crap and drove over to this massive, empty dumpster the size of a tractor-trailer. I climbed up into the bed of our truck and grabbed one of these 6 foot long bulbs and tossed it overhand like a spear, not really thinking about it as I let go. The sucker flew straight as an arrow and disintegrated in this amazing slow-motion implosion. It was beautiful. For the next fifteen minutes, me and John threw these oddly graceful tubes of glass into the side of the dumpster, howling like mad men as they transformed from tubes to dust in a split second. We dreamed we were Zeus, hurling thunderbolts from Olympus. We were gods, wearing Dickeys and leather gloves.

Number 3 - oh, brother, what hath thy done? I was not a fan of church as a kid. Pretty much fought my parents like a feral cat when they woke me up Sunday mornings and said, "It's time for church, buddy." About every six weeks or so I'd outlast mom and dad, freaking out so royally they probably figured bringing the Antichrist with Tourette Syndrome to church was not gonna' look too good. Of course, I'd get grounded, but hell, once you go ape shit, go all the way, right? Two weeks with no television versus not having to sit in church listening to some wacky sermon I didn't understand, the whole time making paper airplanes out of the bulletin. Easy time, brothers and sisters, easy time.

So this one Sunday I go nutty, push my parents over the edge, get grounded, and get to climb back in bed. I'm in under the covers, wondering why my parents still love me and I hear this hiss, followed by an angry gurgle, followed by a muted thump, and culminated by a mad cackle from my brother. (I think I was still ten; it was a very good year) A few minutes pass, same drill. A few more minutes, repeat.

Okay, so now I'm curious because the next sound I hear is the bathtub draining in the kids' bathroom. And then my brother is whipping off my covers and dragging me out of bed, saying "You gotta see this, you gotta see this!" And I'm in the bathroom and he's holding up a bottle rocket. And I'm looking at him and I've got no idea what the hell I'm supposed to see. I've seen bottle rockets before, no big whup. And he goes into this frenzied, breathless description about shooting the things into the tub and how they whip around in the water like angry bees, and I'm looking at him like a dolt, and he looks at the empty tub and figures he can shoot one into the toilet and I'll get the big thrill.

So, before I can even start to get worried, he lights this rocket and it shoots out of his hand into the 1/2 pint of water at the bottom of the toilet. It hisses and bubbles and, wham! There is this big old hole in the bottom of the crapper. I look at him and he looks at me. I say, "Hey, I think you blew up the toilet." And he says, "Naw." And I, with even thinking about it, reach into the toilet and bring out this honkin' piece a porcelain and hold it up. "No, you blew up the toilet."

Number 2 - Duck, you sucker. Okay, so when I was kid we had records. Yeah, I'm that old. And back in the day, our parents mostly left us to our own devices. So me and this good buddy were bored with our Legos or whatever, so we decided to play some of my mom's records. We were that bored. Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka, stuff like that.

One of the album covers had this brunette totally covered in whipped cream, showing a tad of cleavage. Racy. After holding the cover at every possible angle to see if we could look down this woman's breasts (no luck...), I flipped the jacket at my buddy and the damn thing flew like a Frisbee, nearly clipping my pal in the head. He picked up a record, without thinking it all the way through, and gunned it at me. So like a pound of vinyl came winging at my head at mach 2, missed me by a hair, and shattered on the wall of my living room.

Smart kids would have crapped their pants and hidden the evidence. We obviously ate a few too many paint chips, 'cause we grabbed two armfuls of my mom's records and hauled butt over to the park near my house. We spent the next hour winging records at each other like little rabid ninjas. When they broke, we flung the jagged pieces at each other. It was really, really fun. God, how I didn't end up hurt or sent to reform school, I will never know. My poor mother...

Number 1 - Down with the ship. My dad's sister won this sunfish by saving labels from Kool cigarettes, but she lived in Rochester and we lived on the ocean, so she gave us the boat. So one day in 1975 this truck pulls up and off-loads this sailboat. I'm a kid and I'm happy that we got a boat. My dad, he is practically bursting with pride. We haul this 12 foot rig up to the local family beach every Saturday for the next few summers, and dad teaches us the basics of sailing. When you are seven, that is called bonding with dad.

When you turn fifteen and dad -- who is six foot, two inches -- still crams his ass into the Styrofoam sunfish (yeah, no wonder my aunt gave it to us...), it's called future therapy sessions. Hell, he loved this boat so much he actually fiberglassed it to get it to last longer. I think sometime after I turned twenty, he finally gave up on the idea he and I were gonna' go sailing in it again and used it to store the recycling in the garage. He couldn't throw away anything, and certainly not his prized possession, his yacht.

Well, dad passed away when I was thirty. By that time, I had learned to love everything about the guy. Except the damn boat, which was still in the garage full of old Boston Globes and Opera Digests. And my poor mom, she needed to do a bit a cleaning and saying goodbye, so she called the local dump and they told her the freakin' boat would cost $600 to dispose of because -- in 1998 -- it was considered a hazardous-material! She was on the verge of tears. Her heart was tearing up, as she was mourning my dad, but she hated the damn boat as much as me. I gave her a hug and asked her to go to the store to get me a diet coke or something random.

As soon as she left the house, I got out some big ole' contractor bags and an axe, and knocked that fucker into fifty pieces. Stuffed 'em into the bags. Drove up to the dump, and merrily pitched the bags into the maw of the town's massive compactor. Not the greenest move ever, but when mom got home, no boat. She looked at me, I looked at her, and that was that. Loved my dad, but bustin' that boat up probably saved my mom.

I have a respectable job nowadays. I don't get to break much, and I keep a close eye on my son. Someday, though, I'm gonna have to find some crap around the house we don't need or want, and he and I are gonna bust it all to hell. And then watch Myth Busters together.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Prime Number Theory or Zombies?

I used to be smart. Not rocket scientist smart, but not the dimmest bulb in the chandelier, either. But given a choice between studying prime number theory or reading about zombie holocausts, I lately seem to opt for spending time with shambling, walking moaning dead.

Maybe I was exposed to too many fumes from old fashioned model glue when I was a kid - I wonder if my parents ever questioned how quiet I was as I put together Zeros, Wildcats, and Mustangs? Or were they just glad I was quiet.

Maybe the mercury I used to play with on my desk in my bedroom, extracted from a broken thermometer I accidentally purposely broke and the pirated from my 10th grade chemistry class play a role in my diminished capabilities?

Maybe the seven or eight diagnosed and undiagnosed concussions play a factor? Beside getting hit in the head of the sledge hammer, I flipped off a second story porch and landed on my pumpkin, got cold cocked walking out of a bar in New Orleans, played football for 8 years, and did any number of stupid and silly things that rang my brain-bell a bit too loudly.

Another possibility -- which is more chilling, frankly -- is that I'm not dumber as I get older. Could it be that that I'm the still reasonably bright guy I was years ago, but that I like -- prefer -- reading Zombie fiction? Is it possible that, while I find prime number theory fascinating, I get more emotional satisfaction reading about dead people eating living people, who become dead people, who then try to eat yet other living people? What's up with that?

But here's my cold-hearted self-reflection for the day. Prime number theory is spinach. Zombies are buffalo chicken wings. I eat spinach 'cause it's good for me. I eat wings because I love them.

I suppose it's also possible that I'm just dummer and like crap that's basically bad for me...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Okay, I never quite got this Cialis ad. What's the point of having perma-wood if you don't touch your wife? And the water in the tub would get wicked cold. Shrinky, shrinky. Frankly I think this would have been much more effective as a plug for Extenze.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Oh, you think that hurts? Well...

Here's a strange little phenomenon I've noticed with the kids I have taught over the years - they like to talk about scars. I've had some great, special moments with kids, magic moments where they have the "Aha!' moment or master some skill, or sometimes let me know that the mom and dad are getting a divorce.

But one universal conversation I have every year - a really fun, everyone-gets-to-play sort of conversation - revolves around getting hurt. Maybe the unifier is that no matter how different we are, no matter what age we are, no matter what our parents do for a living, we all wipe out once in awhile. Good solid, emergency room trips for stitches wipe outs. Medical intervention required. I.V. tubes a bonus. Surgery? Golden.

I mean, we all eventually go ass-over-tea kettle on our bikes, right? That's good for a concussion or 9 stitches on the chin. Half the people I know have walked through a glass storm door and need to be sewn up after. I have students or former students who have fallen out of bunk beds and broken arms, had sisters push them wonky and knocked them off a porch, been run over by a out-of-control snowboarder. Man, they love to tell me about a gusher or a compound fracture or some 106 degree fever they survived.

These revelations always start when some kid makes it back to school after a bout of conjunctivitis or pneumonia, or some overnight in the hospital. I tell 'em how glad I am they are back at school, which I mean whole heartedly. And cause I'm a klutz and stupid and love to do dumb things at least once in awhile, I can always commiserate. "Oh, yeah, I had pink eye in 10th grade." Or "My son, he stuck his hand in a bowling ball return machine and almost lost a finger." Or "Yeah, you remember when I left school last year to have neck surgery? We were playing Flinch, 'member? You were there. It was a rainy day recess!"

I have an ace. When some kid tells about his uncle who fell out of a third floor apartment while trying to fix a gutter downspout, I pull out my card. "Yeah, well I got hit in the head with sledge hammer." Kids love that one. I don't know why, but they do. Maybe 'cause I'm still here. Maybe 'cause they like to know their teachers are mortal and bit stupid. Maybe they like gore, who knows. But most times when I roll out the sledge hammer story, the groups gets quiet and there are a few nods of approval. They rub their arm which used to be in a cast, or scratch their scalp where some E-room doc glued a bleeder closed, or maybe think of Uncle Jimmy who was in a wheel chair all last winter.

And we start to scatter to class or carpool or basketball practice, and I think to myself "Be safe, kids." But not too safe. Scars remind us we are living.

You Using the Whole Fist, Doc?

So, I have a serious medical condition. It's called Fried-Bender Syndrome, and it's very rare, and very painful, and chronic, and non-specific, AND asymptomatic. But just 'cause there are no signs of the disease doesn't mean I don't have it.

I know I suffer from this malady because I self-diagnosed. I'm qualified, you see, to make a diagnosis because my wife is qualified to make a diagnosis. She's qualified because her sister is a doctor. I believe technically that makes me a Doctor-in-Law, but that sound pretentious or distant --off putting -- and I want my patients to feels like I care. Just call me Doctor.

Another reason I'm qualified to make this diagnosis is because I made up the name for the syndrome; making up a syndrome name has certain perks, naming rights if you will. Right number one...diagnosis authority. Voila.

So this condition, you may not have heard of it, right? There are random and disconnected symptoms. This is TRUE, I swear. I get disabling stomach pains. Like the feeling of getting kicked in the lemons, but higher. It always comes on at night. This little freight-train of joy -- thankfully -- happens infrequently. Over the eleven years I've had it, I've gotten pretty good at hearing the train whistle way off in the distance. I can hustle the kids off to bed, get some work done, say good night to my wife, and so forth. Then I find the bathroom farthest away from anyone and barf my brains out. It usually lessens the pain. Then I brush my teeth.

I'm not bulimic, but thanks for the concern. I like eating as much as the next guy, may be a little more, if you know what I mean. But after putting up with this weird little ritual for two-three years, I talked with my wife about my concern. Remember, she's almost a doctor. We looked at diet. Nothing. Stress. Not really. Food allergies. Nope. Years went by. The kids grew up and started to noticed that once in awhile Dad puked.

So when my kids noticed my syndrome, I had had enough of putting up with Fried-Bender and set an appointment with my doctor. He actually went to med school - apparently that provides additional skills that my wife and I did not possess - who knew?

This is where it gets awkward for my audience. The fellas out there know that when you approach 40, anytime you tell your doctor that your digestive system is out of whack, they are gonna check the Exit Door. That scares us (the man-boys). And the chicas? Not a lot of sympathy coming my way, given that doctors prod around their pipes from like 13 years old on up.

But man-boys, we are conditioned. Especially if you are old enough to have seen Fletch. I see anyone put on a Latex glove, I hear strands of Moon River in my head. Every time. School nurse puts on a glove to help a first grader with a bloody nose? Moon River. Watching C.S.I. and that chick that used to be on West Wing puts on a glove to pick-up a shell casing? Moon River.

So, in the days ahead of my appointment, The Voices start in. "You are gonna get probed. You are gonna get probed by a 300 hundred pound man with a goatee. You are gonna get probed by a 300 pound woman woman with a mustache. Something is gonna get stuck in the Exit Door and you're gonna end up in the Emergency Room, ass-n'ked, face down, with the hand of some orderly STUCK in the Badlands." Yeah, The Voices can be cruel.

So, I drive on over to the good doctor's office. I'm controlling The Voices and I really want to figure out this stomach pain thing. Enough already, right? I'm sweating lightly. Tell the doctor about my history and the first thing he says is, "We better check your lower G.I." Okay, I knew it was coming, so I shush The Voices. I'm a bit startled by his use of "we" but I'm good, I'm in control. I knew at least he was not gonna probe me. Come one, after years of med school and a successful practice, anal exam have to be the first thing a good doctor delegates. I'm right, because he says to me, "I'll go get the nurse-practitioner." The Voices scream, "Dead man walking. Here comes the pain. Here comes the humiliation." I begin to pray to God. I never pray, so I know the odds that God is listening to my frequency are not good. But I pray nevertheless. "Small fingers, small finger, small fingers. Blind man, small fingers, blind man, small fingers..."

Things go awry when the door opens. Apparently God hears my prayer but he has a very good sense of humor. Very clever guy, this God. Because into exam room number 5 walks the hottest medical staffer I have ever seen. M.I.L.F. Babe. Fantasy material. Sultry. And she has small hands, really pretty hands. The Voices love this! "A hot chick is gonna see you naked. Don't pop a wood..."

I'm married. I like being married. I have never been naked around another woman since I got married. I belong to my wife in really good ways. I'm old skool. But The Voices, they are bastards. "She's hot. Damn, she's hot. She's gonna like you. She's gonna lay her hands on you and you are gonna be naked. You, my friend, are gonna get seduced in exam room number five." The Voices even dig up some cheesy porn-soundtrack music to play in my head.

So, I'm on my side before I know it. Facing away from Nurse M.I.L.F., thank you GOD. She leans close to me and quietly says into my ear, "This will be easy." Oh, The Voices are going bananas now. "Wha-hoo! Bring it on!" And this one Little Voice I can barely hear says, "She sees all sort of asses everyday. This isn't fun for her. This is her job, dude. She isn't gonna find this awkward. Sure, if she has to stick her finger in someone's ass today, you might not be the worst. But NOTHING is going to HAPPEN." I focus on this one Little Voice.

Glove snaps. Moon River. I'm sweating. Nurse Hottie's hand on my hip. I stop breathing. EXIT DOOR breached. I am definitely not breathing. EXIT DOOR exited. Breathing again.

She leans in again and quietly says, "There you go. That wasn't too bad."

Sister, you have no idea.

I've decided to stick to self-diagnosis. The therapy for Fried-Bender is to lay off eating 5 pounds of french fries for my first and only meal at dinner time, add some fiber, and drink more water. It seems to be working. Maybe I am a doctor.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Are you surprised? Really? Come on, really?

...Binghamton, New York


...Wampum, Pennsylvania

That's this month. After the Virginia Tech shootings two years ago -- or Columbine ten years ago -- why does anyone express surprise at the horror of mass shootings or demonstrate shock when some poor 11-year old kid kills his soon-to-be step-mother? It is NOT the horror some people feel when they learn of these tragedies that knocks me for a loop -- Christ, these shootings damn well better horrify us. No, what knocks me out is that people actually seem genuinely surprised, shocked by these shootings. What does it say about me that I'm more surprised to learn there is town named Wampum than someone was shot there?

Shocked? Come on, really? What would shock me, what would surprise me, would be when there are no mass shootings for awhile, no stories of inner city kids getting shot inside their apartments during drug-deals-gone-bad, no kids killing their cousins while playing with dear old dad's loaded Glock 17.

Folks, shock should be reserved for shit that happens that doesn't happen all the time. Little green aliens, shock! Jesus among us again, shock! The Cubs win, the Cubs win...yep, shock. 14 people gunned down trying to learn English? Nope, it's just Friday.

If anyone bothers to read this post, I predict two kinds of responses. First, let's imagine the nice folks who have never been around guns or been victimized during a gun crime or just live in some happy suburban bubble. Those nice folks (...and I'm almost one of 'em) are gonna think I'm a bastard (cold hearted bastard, how could he not be shocked?), because they are darned shocked when they learned about some poor town half away across this country that gets ripped inside out when some quiet, shy neighbor goes loco and kills his ex-wife, her mom, her two kids, and the neighbor who came out on the porch when she heard the gunfire. These nice folks are gonna try to tell me they were shocked when they heard that the shooter's neighbors were shocked that the shooter went loco. Come on, you were NOT shocked. Look in the mirror. Fine, you were horrified, but shocked? Nah, you were horrified, turned off CNN, and took your kid to softball practice.

The second response group? Kind of a muddle, this one. An amalgam. I'll be nice and call them the Patriotic Brotherhood of the Second Amendment. The P.B.S.A. has an eclectic membership. Handful of legit hunters, some military guys (retired, active), toss in some angry white guys (...and I am one of those), couple of RNC members, Wayne LaPierre, and some underemployed 20-somethings; like I amalgam. Odd bedfellows. Whatever. Their response will be rather less monolithic. There might be a "enforce the guns laws" comment or two, perhaps a "right to bear arms" thought shared. Even money that one comment cryptically warns the Federal Government is a threat and we need the guns, and I kinda' expect I'll be called a pussy, although it will be misspelled P-U-S-Y. But all of those comments will miss the mark, friends. I'm not railing against guns, kids. I'm simply saying drop the shocked bit, would ya'?

With all of the guns kicking around, shit, people are gonna get SHOT. Duh. Are people shocked when there is a traffic accident? No. Hurt? Maybe. Scared, sure. Not shocked, though. With all of the millions of cars out there, we all half expect to get run over twice a week on the way to work. No surprise when it happens. But with millions of guns in millions of homes, we are going to keep being shocked when random people get shot by other random people? Stop it. You are not shocked. You might be faking it.

So, let's make a deal. Let's retire 'shock' and 'surprise' in this arena. It's unseemly. We come across as posers. Let's focus on being horrified. I think a lot of us are horrified. Maybe not horrified enough, but I think at least it's real feeling. My only real concern about horrified is that it will soon be meaningless, too.

You see, when my brother was shot and killed by a neighbor, I was 'shocked' and 'surprised' for awhile. I have spent a long time being 'horrified', and truth be told, it's starting to wear off. I think resigned is next.

When The Phone Rings

So, parents of young kids, you know that finding time to "get some" with your loved one is pretty hard. Christ, there were times when our kids were very little that finding time to fool around was like orchestrating a landing on the freakin' Moon. Everything-- everything -- had to go right.

Most days, I played it like this. Saturday, mid-afternoon. "Okay, second child is down for a nap (early in sleep cycle, but not too early), first born child perched in front of Barney (early into video tape, but not too early) -- in the basement, where there will be adequate distance from the raucous love making about to occur on the second floor." Sound barriers, check. Better shoot for noise discipline, so I'm going to ratchet down from 'raucous' to 'gentle' or even just 'awake'.

"Next, find wife." Hope she showered since going to work Friday. Don't hold out hope and I'm desperate anyway.

"Apply moves." Given this phase of life, "moves" translates to a head nod towards upstairs. My wife usually obliges -- she likes me. Some days she even takes off her bright yellow rubber gloves that she was wears when she scrubs the kitchen.

"Perform act." No details available.

So this one particular Saturday, we had won the nooky lottery. Our oldest child had goddamn, honest-to-god midday, four hour play date. Our youngest is practically begging for a nap before our Play Date Mom Heroine has even turned the corner of our street. Yeah, she picked up. So second child is tucked in asleep before the front door swings shut and my wife, anticipating the 'moves' has already gone upstairs to primp. Primp! Holy shit, I'm gonna win. I'm a Red Sox fan and I know suffering. This is like my own personal "1918 - in your face Yankees, four game comeback, World Series win" moment, but with sex. I'm gonna win.

So we are at 'it' quick. It's not art, mind you. But it's good. Fun. We are worriers, so the phone is close by and there is an unspoken agreement. If the Play Date Mom Heroine calls to say our child is miserable, we will pick-up. Begrudgingly.

So we are 45 seconds into what promises to be 270 seconds of the best fun we had had together in months when the phone rings. You saw that coming, of course. My wife actually pauses before she lunges for the phone. She paused before she pounced on the phone, at least. She loves me.

"Hello," she answers. She sounds husky. Pause. Recognition. Pause. "Yeah, he's right here."

My wife hands me the phone. Why me? She can tell Play Date Mom Heroine we'll be right over to pick up crying/puking/skinned knee child, right?

"It's Jane W_ _ _ _ _ _ _," is all she says. Jane is my mom's best friend. What the hell is she calling for. I have a conscious thought that I'm not going to get laid after all. I was going to be Billy Bucknered by a middle-aged lady in Maine, for Christ's sake.

"Hey, Jane," I say into the phone. I feel surreal but I don't know why.

"Peter, it's your mom, honey. She's gone." Jane's voice cracked.

So did I.

Beef sticks anyone?

I'm all out of my dirty little secret, so I head to the Mobile station (a.k.a. drug dealer) down the road from my house to stock up.

I go in and ask the dude behind the counter for three tins. Routine. Except it's three instead of two. Nah, I don't have a problem. He asks to check my I.D. For the fourth time. I'm 41 years old. Sure, I'm too old to chew but, Christ, I'm too old to be carded, right?

Odd thing, but I like convenience counter clerks. They are wacky folks by nature. I try to imagine how the hell they ended up working second or third shift at a Mobil Mart. I wonder if I could hack it. Does it require a degree? But the clerks, they are okay mostly. I'm polite, so maybe that's why they warm up to me. They tell me all sorts of shit. One dude nearby has two thumbs on one hand, this little extra digit that sort of protrudes benignly (hey, it might even be angling for jauntily) from his other -- real? -- thumb. Wicked nice guy, though. Last time I was in, he was trying to pick up this hot chick who was buying lottery tickets or some shit. I admired his pluck, but come on, what are the chances she's gonna hang around the pumps 'til his shift is over?

I digress. So I'm at the Mobil Mart tonight, thinking to myself that getting I.D.'d for chew at 41 is either funny or fucking pathetic, when I notice a plastic box on the counter full of meat. Really. When I first walked in, I was checking to see if there was any Copenhagen, and then I eyeballed the 3-pound Reese Peanut Butter nougat ass expander. I didn't notice -- at first -- the black walled and clear top Lexan box with convenient pull-drawer Meat Stick dispenser. But damn if I didn't start to fixate on that little modern convenience. I mean, who doesn't want a Meat Stick from a Mobil Mart? "Yeah, I'll put $20 on pump 4, two scratch tickets, black coffee and ...whoa! a couple of Meat Sticks." They're two for a freakin' dollar, brother. Get four. Then I notice there are two of these Meat Stick magic boxes on the counter. These little babies must be hot sellers.

And the dude, he looks at me and I look at him. He sort of shyly says, "Yeah, I got here today and they (...right, the THEY people) told me to push the Meat Sticks." No shit? No shit.

Chuckling to myself, I left the Mart and headed back to my truck, thinking we are going to Hell in a Prado knock off. I'm mean, what pathetic -- fat? -- fuck would buy meat from a Mobil Mart counter? And right about when I was feeling sorry for -- and a bit ashamed of -- this nameless, faceless loser, I put my hand in my coat pocket and felt the reassuring presence of my three tins of Copenhagen.