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.