Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Number 4 and 8 Happy Meals, Please.

You know how when you reconnect with folks in January after you haven't seen them for a week or two and you ask them how their holidays were? You know how they almost always say something like, Nice, I guess. Kind of a blur? Wanna know why they can't parse it with sufficient clarity to relate that time to you? Because almost without fail shit like this (^) happens.
This photo, expertly snapped with my cheap-ass cell phone camera, shows Ethan and Thomas dressed in their pajamas talking to Santa Claus in McDonald's.
In their pajamas. Talking to Santa. In McDonald's.
Pajamas. Santa. McDonald's.
Those three words have no god damn business being in the same sentence, EVER.
If this had happened in June, I guarantee you some good citizen would have called the cops thinking that either a) my kids had escaped from some weird hostage situation in the middle of the night, b) they were about to be abducted by this Santa dude, c) Santa was indeed packing a semi-automatic and was gonna jack the place, or d) all of the above.
But during Christmastime? Pfft, you'd have to bring it a lot Cirque du Soleil-er to raise an eyebrow around here, bub. For starters, nobody noticed or cared that my kids were wearing pajamas. In fact, there were 6 other little kids there with their pajamas on. (Luckily, none of them wore the same flannel penguin prints as our kids. Can you imagine the embarrassment?) Only the patrons with kids even noticed Santa, and it took most of them a good 10 minutes to register. None of the childless patrons even glanced his way. In their defense, his beard and mustache were real. But our neighborhood is not exactly overrun by fat, white pimps, so the outfit alone warranted at least a glance. Fuck sake, people. This is how the terrorists will win. I'm not asking for Bourne-Identity-know-the-room-at-a-glance awareness, but there is NO REASON this scene should go unnoticed. Just put down the eggnog and pay the fuck attention!
Anyway, this particular McDonald's has an indoor playground so we hung around a while after eating. As the boys chased each other around, I had a chance to overhear this Santa chat with a few of the other kids who found their way to him, eager to get those last-minute gift requests in. I gotta hand it to him, he was good. In addition to the real beard, he seemed like a sincere cat, telling several of the kids that it was up to them to decide whether they were going to have a great Christmas. Zen master meets Determinist in itchy red pimp gear. The kids really seemed to take it all to heart. Except for Thomas and Ethan who were obviously just in it for the candy canes. In their defense, they were probably a little put off when McSanta asked them, "What's with the pajamas?" Cha, "Hello, kettle? This is pot. You're black."

"I have often depended on the blindness of strangers." -- Adrienne E. Gusoff

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Four minutes, 10 seconds of your life that you'll never get back. But you can totally see Thomas' weewee at 2:08.
That's my boy!


Happy holidays to all!


Monday, December 14, 2009

Housekeeping.

Anyone interested in observing evolution need only look at the scant few rungs on the evolutionary ladder separating my kids from beasts that throw shit at each other. Not the neatest bunch in the bunch, I must say, and it's only an onionskin of development that classifies them as kids and not monkeys. And speaking of throwing shit, if I had to put a number to it I'd guess that only about 30% of the floorspace in our house is currently walkable, and the percentage is that high only because I have learned to bulldoze while I walk.
Being the opportunist I am, I thought maybe I'd use Santa's impending visit to motivate the kids to clean up a bit. You know, "We don't want Santa to break an ankle, do we?" I thought I had them, too. Thought it was working. Then I realized that every time I threw out the Santa threat and they jumped to attention -- a motion I assumed meant they had heard, understood, acknowledged (HUA!) -- they were actually scrambling to find something new to play with/add to the floor.
So last night, in a fit of pissedoffedness, I actually fell back to a universal parental admonition: "Jesus, Ethan! How many times have I told you to pick this crap up? I swear it's like in one ear and out ... well, ... out the same ear I guess because you only have one. But while it's in there it's ... while it's in your head, there ... you're obviously ignoring it. Squeak."
I turn to Sandi, looking for help. She is purple, quaking in silent laughter and covering her mouth and nose to catch any dinner she has not yet swallowed. I don't want to say that her reaction and the subsequent weakening of the lesson is the reason the floor's always so damn dirty, so I'll just change the subject.

------



The holidays are a special time; an annoying time. Often punctuated by flourishes of absolute vein-opening stimuli. To whit, I present Aunt Mary's 2007 "gift" to our family. Quid pro quo, Aunt Mary. Hope those rabid badgers are working out for you.


------

When I was a kid we used to visit my aunt and uncle and their family in Frenchtown, NJ. They were so, SO different from us that I found it hard to believe we were related at all. For instance, they all seemed happy and well adjusted. They were genuine, caring people who truly enjoyed each others' company and whose home often served as the hub for bigger family reunions. To this day I count them among the most amazing folks I've ever met.
I was a really shy kid back then and I spent most of my time at these get-togethers watching the older kids, marveling at what it must be like to get all the grownup jokes. To be so god damn cool. I studied them like a fanatic would study a world-class athlete. And the coolest of them all by far was Chrissy. She with embroidered denim jacket and Joni Mitchell smile. Floppy, over-sized hats and sunglasses. Peace sign necklaces and leather chokers. Total hippie. I watched her with fascination, having never before seen anyone so comfortable in their own skin. Her energy was massive yet controlled, as if she ran on some Star Trek-age propulsion technology. It was as if she moved space silently and effortlessly around her while the rest of us bulled our way through it. I was insanely intimidated by her/in awe of her, as she represented a league of human being that was way beyond my ability to fathom.
So we didn't talk much, although it's not like she ignored me. Far from it, she always went out of her way to say hi and she never talked to me like I was a little kid. Which I was. Still, she made me feel part of it all. She was just cool.
A few years ago the now-grownup me had the chance to sit and talk with her at yet another family reunion. For the first time ever we really talked. Like peers from the same generation, not relatives from polar opposite backgrounds separated by a decade. And you know what? She was even cooler than I'd built her up to be. We talked for what seemed like hours about I have no idea what, and it was the most comfortable I'd been with anyone for a long time. I met her son that day and remember thinking how they seemed more like a team than a mother and son. Tight. No secrets. I was jealous. And watching the two of them interact helped me consider how I'd like to raise my sons. To this day I measure my relationship with Thomas and Ethan by the watermark she set.
Chrissy died this past Saturday. Cancer. She leaves behind so very many strong and lasting impressions -- many she probably wouldn't expect. Like the impact she made on me. A toast to the cool girl. Bravest hopes for all who remain.

"Silence knows, can't drown a heart."
-- Jay Farrar

Monday, December 7, 2009

Swimming Pools, Movie Stars, Flaming Ears.

Just got off the phone with Nicole, the surgery scheduling person for Cedars-Sinai. As in we just scheduled Ethan's Medpor reconstruction (the physical outer ear) surgery. As in we get to spend June 21 - 30 in beautiful southern California. As in it's another Christmas miracle and don't you wish you were me -- well, except for that one-eared kid thing?
Our pre-surgery consultation is 6/21, surgery 6/22 (in at 6 a.m., kicked out of the hospital by 4 p.m. -- does that sound rushed to anybody else?), drain removal 6/25, post-op evaluation/dressing change/ceremonial first hair washing/flight home 6/30. Nicole says that after the drain is removed we're pretty much free to move about the area, so maybe we'll see if we can score some free sympathy passes for Disneyland. I mean it's not like Ethan and Thomas haven't EARNED a few free tix by virtue of their obsession with your movies, Uncle Walt. Hell, most of what they asked for for Christmas this year had to do with Wall-E (Not. Cheap.) (Bitches.). And have I mentioned that we own nearly every single character and/or toy from the movie Cars, including the characters that sat up in the stands during the races but didn't have any lines or contribute to the story line in any way, you cheating bastards? ("I've never seen that character before. What do they call him?" "Seat 49, Row R, Section Q." "Don't we already have Seat 49, Row R, Section Q at home?" "That's Seat 49, Row R, Section Q, PISTON CUP race. This is Seat 49, Row R, Section Q, California Tie-Breaker Edition. Dumbass.")
And have I mentioned that between them, Thomas and Ethan can reenact the entire film Finding Nemo? And Toy Story? And Toy Story II? And A Bug's Life? And Monsters, Inc.? And The Incredibles? And Up!? And even Ratatouille? Do you have any idea how many hours (and dollars) our family has invested in your company? And need I remind you that when I had the BEST JOB I'VE EVER HAD, you bought the company and sold us all to the publishing equivalent of slave owners. And then you had the nerve to include free park passes as part of the severance package, but only 2 because apparently our breakup was just too painful for you to endure for a third day.
Meh, maybe we'll go to Universal Studios.
Anyhoo, I'm as happy as a little girl *pulls shirt out to simulate erect nipples* at the thought of E-train with ear. Something to twist when I'm angry at him. And I'm excited because we just bought a handheld video camera from woot.com (if you've never been, check them out. My dream job is to write product descriptions for them or at least hang out with the people who do). The camera? Coolest. Thing. Ever. Shoots HD video, has a built-in USB plug, fits in a shirt pocket and much, much more. And what's that mean to you, the consumer? Well, a shit-load of video blogs from the road is all! I figure I owe you a break from my crappy writing just because you've hung in there with us for so long. I'll try to spare you the really gory videos -- or at least post prominent warnings. And because I love you, if I happen to vomit during filming, I'll try to edit out the sound.
And if a film of Disneyland burning down happens to find its way onto teh internets at around the time we're in California? And if during that video you hear someone shouting, "We don't need your ears, we've got our own, mother fucker!" and that someone sounds just like me? Coincidence. Pure coincidence.

"It's kind of fun to do the impossible." -- Walt Disney

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Season of Miracles

"We" spent the better part of this past Sunday putting up our holiday decorations. "I" oppose this practice for so many reasons that it would be impossible to list them all in the finite space that is the internet. And yet, last year while shopping at Target, Thomas offered such an indefensible argument that I had to cave in: "Daddy, these lights are 70% off!" Me: "You can read? When the fuck did that happen? It's a Christmas miracle!"
So even with 70% off, we spent a few hundred dollars on lights and light-up snowmen and the like, which gives me chest pains when I think about it -- even more so when you consider that we live in the middle of NOWHERE, and that the only people who will ever see our decorations are the 6 neighbors who have to pass our house to get out of our development, their collective 2 visitors per year, the pizza dudes who deliver to them and the lucky folks aboard the space station. But the end result is magnificent if I do say so myself. The lights are even timed to turn on just before we pull up to the house -- a thought that I confess makes my sphincter pucker a bit from excitement.
And if you look really closely you'll see a piece of my burnt flesh among the lights, too. About 4 hours into hanging them (3 hours longer than I imagined the entire decorating process would take) I noticed one section of bulbs wasn't lighting up. Upon inspection I discovered a bulb that must have been smashed during packing last year -- just a few wires poking out from where the glass should have been. Without thinking, I reached to pull the broken bulb out and in one smooth motion sliced a half-inch gash in my finger while simultaneously cauterizing the wound with the voltage that now flowed freely through my skin as it completed the circuit. A smoking, non-bleeding half-inch gash? Another Christmas miracle!
Later that evening, back aching, finger throbbing, head pounding from the kids who were now screaming along with that goddamned musical statue that Aunt Mary gave us last year -- the one with the bell-toting snowman and barking dog that perform the world's worst duet of "Jingle Bells" -- two things hit me: 1) I should drink more and 2) whoever designed the holiday season got it all wrong.
I get that spreading out a few pivotal holidays over the course of a few months is at least a little effective in distracting one from the fact that winter = death, and hopefully lives are spared by such trivialities. But seriously, why not do it right? How about one gigantic holiday that runs from mid-November until mid-March. Let's call it Thanksmasnewentineuary. Or Edsmastime since I thought of it. On the first day of Edsmastime, you give everyone you know a thousand dollars and a card. Because Edsmastime is meant to celebrate all the sentiments of the collective holiday season, it would be reasonable to assume that each card would be about 80 - 100 pages long.* On the second day of Edsmastime, the entire country shuts down until mid-March. Celebrants are free to travel anywhere they choose (If you're looking for me, I'll be here). That's it. That's the sum total of all the rules that govern it. $1,000, a gigantic freakin' card, and a three-month vacation. No shopping, no lines, no freezing my McNuggets off, no pretending to like her family. I really don't see a flaw in it, but that's just me.
Of course, I realize that it's too late to alter our plans this year, so we're just going to have to stick to a more traditional holiday. And to that end, this year we're giving at least one kid a new ear. Hey, "HAPPY NEW EAR!" I wonder whether they make a card for that or if I'll have to try to either erase or cut off the 'y' from a standard card. Either way ...

"Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love." -- Hamilton Wright Mabie




*Speaking of cards, please check out
this site. These are absolutely the coolest greeting cards I've ever seen and are easily my choice to become the official greeting card of Edsmastime.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Three Ears and a Dream



I know, I know. It's been a while. A few stories about my butt cheeks and the women who love them have apparently sapped my creativity. Fear not, my progeni have volunteered to entertain where their dear, proud dad has fallen off.
The back story: We took advantage of some down time this past Sunday to go for a lovely train ride in Strasburg, PA. Along the way, the boys broke out into this holiday classic and wowed the entire crowd. Not a dry eye on the train, I tell ya. All six of them.
And so, recreated here for your viewing enjoyment and without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I present ... this ... thing.

"You, you got what I need. And you say he's just a friend. And you say he's just a friend, oh baby you." -- Biz Markie

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Other Cheek

56 Days Out

So, have you ever been to Cancun? I was there once. A lifetime ago. But that's not to say that I don't still have very vivid memories of the trip. For instance, I remember being extremely hungover and taking a 3-hour bus ride to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. When we finally got there, the first thing I saw was this. So I did what any able bodied American male would do: I climbed it. I climbed for what felt like an hour before I looked down and realized that I was only 3/4 of the way up. Then I climbed some more until I got to the top. Then I remembered that I'm really, intensely afraid of heights.
And did I mention that I was hungover? OK, just wanted to be sure I was using all the colors when painting the picture.
Needless to say it was a long, emotionally painful descent. When I got to the bottom I found myself on the opposite side of the pyramid from where I'd started. And on THIS side, the Chichen Itza Parks and Recreation Department had put up a lovely little sign informing park patrons of the number of falling-off-the-pyramid deaths that had occurred to date in that particular calendar year. Seriously. And it had flip numbers like an old-time deli. "Now serving number thirty thr...(AAAHHHHHHH!!!!!! FOOMP!) uh, four." My trip was in early December and the number on the sign was 37. That's fucked up, yo. Can you imagine if 37 people a year were crushed to death by the Liberty Bell? Like, NOBODY would come to Philadelphia.
Anyhoo, the night before is the real reason that the death-avoiding portion of my brain had failed me that day. What happened that night? 2 words: Booze. Cruise.
Color me naive, but before that night I had assumed that alcohol would be optional and consumed at one's own pace on a booze cruise. I mean, the word "cruise" implies leisure and a certain amount of autonomy, right? Cha, this was more like the tequilalympics. As soon as I set foot on the boat, BAM, some tiny Mexican guy is literally standing on a chair, pouring alcohol down my throat and spinning me around. And he's obviously a shitty judge of volumes and capacities as tequila punch is now pouring down my face and staining my $5 souvenir t-shirt. Little man and his shipmates lead us gringos into communal conga line formation as "Whoomp, There It Is" blares over the ship's tinny speakers. God, I hate this song.
The line snakes around the ship's deck with gringos stopping at no fewer than 6 drinking stations along the circuit. After about 45 minutes we're pulling up to the dock. I'm trying to count the number of tequila shots I've had on-board. Twenty four? That can't be right. So hard to think with "Whoomp, There It Is" pumping over the ship's awesome sound system. God, I love this song!
Hey, what's that, a buffet? I fucking LOVE food! And I love you, tiny guy who's leading us to the food! Let me pick you up! What? No, I don't need any more tequi ... OK! I love you, man. Hommes. My hommes on the range. Oh, snap! That's where they get that from, isn't it: "Yo, hommes." All these years I thought they were saying "Holmes," as in "You are to me what Holmes was to Watson" or some shit. What? Yeah, tequila. Don't mind if I do. It's like brain food or something.
Meanwhile, there's some kind of show going on. A whole bunch of tiny guys dancing with firesticks. Cool! God, I'm thirsty. Where's tequila guy? WHOOMP, THERE HE IS! MI AMIGO!
Oh, AWEsome. That tiny Herve Villachez mother fucker just said we're going to play some kind of games now. Beach Olympics! WHOOMP, THERE IT IS! I can PLAY me some olympics, yo. Wait, what? Herve's pointing at me. What's he saying? He wants me to be a contestant? NO WAY! This is the BEST day EVER! I'm game, Herve! What do I do? Uh huh. Drink tequila, uh huh. Put the butt of this baseball bat on the ground and my nose on the handle, uh huh. Spin around 10 times, race down the beach to the other bat station, uh huh. Drink more tequila, spin around 10 more times and race back here. PFFT, that's EASY! And this other dude from the audience? I'mma kick his ASS! No offense, other dude. I love you, hommes. See you at the finish line. On my mark. Get set. TEQUILA! spinspinspinspinspin (whoa!) spinspinspinspinspinstand. AGHH! What happened to the earth's axis while I was spinning? Fuck, there goes other dude. I'd better hurry. I'm OFF. I'm veeeeeerrriiinnnnnnnggggg rightrightright, can't stop! Picking up speed! Mayday, mayday, we're gonna crash! OH, the HUMANITY!

At this point in the story I'd like to explain that several of Herve's tiny friends had been lining the "runway" charged with keeping participants from falling and possibly hurting themselves. Well, keeping normal-sized participants safe, anyway. Did I mention I'm 6'5"? And when I say Herve's buds were tiny, I'm talking not one of them broke the 5 foot mark. So I guess I can't blame them for running away from me like, well, something that runs away really fast. Funny, when I learned the island we were sailing to was named Isla Mujeres, Island of Women, I thought the name had something to do with actual women, not faggy Mexican dudes.
Long story short, I landed in the sand well short of the finish line. And when I landed I was still moving. And because I had neither control of my body nor sense of up and down, I landed first on my right ear, then slid on my right hip, my back to the crowd. The impact of my landing pulled my loose elastic-waist shorts down to slightly below my knees. I was not wearing underwear. Again. You'd really think I'd have learned after the whole Mickey thing.
The audience, now on their feet, is shouting, "WHOOMP, THERE IT IS!" at my bare ass.

I spend the rest of the evening digging sand out of my ear and my pockets and hiding in the back of the crowd. Time's up. I make my way to the boat. I find a nice, secluded seat on the bow and am relieved to find that the ride home is much less audience-participation-y than the ride there. Things are quiet, no drinking. The waves are calming. My soul is beginning to heal. And then from the ship's tinny speakers I hear something -- recorded laughter and music. I turn to see a television screen aglow with images of the night's cruise. Wow, they video taped the whole trip without us knowing it. And now they're selling copies for $15 each as souvenirs. Smart. By now the whole ship is glued to the TV sets, people trying to pick themselves and their friends out in the crowd. There's everyone on the ride over, drinking and dancing. There we are getting off the boat. There's the buffet. There's Herve. I turn my head back to the water, not wanting to see what I know is coming. But in perfect time a loud voice from within the crowd yells, "THERE'S THAT GUY'S ASS!" Roar. Where's that fucking tequila midget when I really need him. Oh well, I'll never be able to come back HERE again.
The ship finally docks and I hang back to let the rest of the crowd get off first. As I'm about to disembark the ship's captain comes up to me and shakes my hand. They had never sold nearly this many copies of that damn video before. All in a day's work, captain. No thanks necessary.
On the 5-block walk back to the hotel, I am approached or heralded by at least 15 different people from the cruise -- some of whom are staying at the same hotel, which allows us to bump into each other several times before I fly back home. Joy. And for the rest of my time in Cancun I will officially be known as Ass Guy.

"Rectum? Shit, it damn near killed him." -- Richard Pryor


Friday, November 6, 2009

The Back Stories

Ethan,
I understand that the past few posts have been kinda emo and may give you reason to suspect that daddy was a big, hairy girlscout back in the day. So I figured I'd change the tone a bit with a few quick stories about my ass. Because nothing redeems one's reputation for masculine levelheadedness like a good ass story.

Story 1: The Real Reason Daddy Can Never Be President
My college roommate, the guy you call uncle Mickey? Total prick. Oh sure, he seems like an OK guy when he's giving you dollar bills for fetching him beer, but don't let him fool you. Prick prick prick. The fact that he keeps calling you Evan should give you a pretty clear idea of what I'm talking about.
When we were in school together uncle Mickey used to have a job working for one of the hotter nightclubs in the area. His job was to take a sweet-ass, state-of-the-art video camera and cruise the beaches looking for beautiful people. He'd tape interviews with them, maybe throw in a few random hot bod shots and tell everyone that if they wanted to see themselves on TV, they should come to the club that night and bring all their beautiful friends. (And for this he was paid? Of all the jobs I held during college, I'm hard pressed to remember one where I didn't smell like a NY cabbie's ass in August by the end of my shift.) The lure worked pretty well, as apparently beautiful people are really into seeing themselves on TV.
At the time I was working the graveyard shift as a room service waiter at a hotel-casino (smellier than it sounds). My days began at about 10 p.m. when I'd wake up to get ready for work. I'd work from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m., do a little studying, head to classes, then come home and go to sleep at about 2 in the afternoon. Honestly, it more than kinda blew since I didn't get to hang out with my friends during the day, but it was really good money and I got to meet a lot of celebrities who wouldn't dare show their faces in restaurants for fear of being mobbed. For all I know, I'm the only guy from our school who ever scored a bathrobe autographed and worn by Frank Sinatra -- well, the only guy who didn't have to compromise his beliefs to get one, anyway. Big tipper, Ol' Blue Eyes. Salta da oyth.
So I had this one particular night off from work. Mickey was begging me to come to the club that night because he had shot this amazing video and I gotta see it and it will change my life and may end all disease and hunger and wars and there may be a vice-pope position in it for me if I play my cards right. Cha, whatever. Mickey knew the bartenders. He had me at cheap drinks.
Now, one of the hooks to this club was that there were televisions on every wall, spaced no more than a few inches apart, from about waist-high up to the ceiling. There literally must have been more than 500 TVs in the place. That's why Mickey's beach video worked so well there.
I walk into the club that night with our other roommate, TJ. Not a lot of people there, not a lot going on. I scan the room looking for Mickey and finally see him up in the DJ booth. He's pointing wildly all around him at the TV screens, which at the time were playing the head sucking scene from Videodrome. He looks down and appears to be playing with some kind of switch. The screens turn black for a second and the music stops. Then the screens brighten with a new scene. Hand-held, kinda shaky, obviously not Videodrome. It looks like this was taken in somebody's house. Familiar. I've been here before. Wait, that's our house. The "Hotel California," in beautiful Marvin Gardens. Cool. I watch as the camera heads upstairs. The audio track, now being pumped full-volume over the club's impressive sound system, is what sounds like at least 2 guys whispering and giggling. Sounds like Mickey and another roommate, Matt. They're at the top of the stairs. There's my bedroom. Why are they heading toward my bedroom? They're opening my door. Why are they opening my door? Hey, there I am sleeping on my bed. On my side, relaxed fetal position. Hey, there's my ass. Hey, I sleep uncovered and in the nude and there's my ass. On TV. No, on 500 TVs. In a bar where there may be people who know me. Everybody in the club -- patrons, managers, bartenders, cooks peeking out from the kitchen -- are laughing hysterically. The volume from their collective laughter seems disproportionately high considering the number of people responsible for it. Me? I'm paralyzed -- too numb to feel TJ's arm around me as he leans in to whisper, "I had nothing to do with this, man." No matter. You're still a dead man, jerkoff. As soon as I can move my legs again I'm gonna bury one or both of my feet in your ass.
The camera swings around to my face. The camera operators are having a hard time suppressing their laughter, but are apparently quiet enough to not wake me. I'm really a sound sleeper, eh? Quite cherubic and innocent, too, in the frames that feature my face. The camera moves back to my ass. Zoom in. Zoom out. Zoom WAY in. Mercifully, my nads are hidden between my legs. Slow pan back to the face. Zoom in. Zoom out. Zoom WAY in. I can hear Matt on the videotape asking the sleeping me if the camera smells funny. Then one more shot of my ass annnnnnnnd SCENE! The screen goes dark. The houselights come up. Mickey grabs the DJ's mic and says something like, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a movie star in the audience tonight. Ed, take a bow."
Now, some folks say that videotape was overwritten. Some say it sits in a vault somewhere in a warehouse in New Jersey. Some say it's in the remote corner of the basement in an ancient Italian church being guarded by the Knights Templar. All I know -- all I CARE about -- is that it's not on youtube. Not yet.
Stay tuned for Story 2: La Isla Moon Hairies

"Doin' the butt. Hey. Sexy, sexy. Ain't nothing wrong if you wanna do the butt all night long." -- E.U.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Oh well, whatever. Nevermind.

Yeah, that whole Katie Couric thing? I know it's only a few days old, but nevermind. I quit.
You know, from the time it crossed my mind to put it out there it felt ... odd. Like totally-against-everything-I-stand-for odd. I actually wondered where the hell I was going with it and, frankly, I'm surprised I let me get as far as I did.
Oh sure, I could have found a way to weave some gems into the fabric, like using "I Can Hear Russia From My House" as a post title, but at the end of the day that whole celebrity stalker thing? Smokescreen. And not one that I'm particularly adept at keeping up, either. (I knew Bloggess, and you, sir, are no Bloggess!).
Truth be told, I don't give a rat's ass about Katie Couric (no offense, Katie). In fact, I consider her to be part of "the problem" -- part of a machine that intentionally blurs news and entertainment together to make we poor shitheads think that by following the Balloon Boy story loosely we're sufficiently invested when actually we've just been distracted from shit that would make us bleed from the eyes if we bothered to watch (offense, Katie). But that's a breakdown for another day. This isn't about Katie Couric and it never was. No, this is all about Ethan and DAMN me for diluting that for a single second. DAMN me for putting my own internal conflicts ahead of the needs of my child. And in classic circus format, too. What the fuck is wrong with me?

You know what the hardest part of this whole trip is for me? It's not the waiting. In fact, there's safety in waiting. Because when you're waiting, distractions are OK -- welcome, even. The elephant is free to roam about some other area of the room. Hell, you may even busy yourself in the Oncologist's office by reading a magazine while waiting for your next chemotherapy treatment -- maybe something about the Top 10 Places to Retire in Style because, for just a moment, you forgot.
No, what's hardest about this is NOT waiting. Because every time I'm NOT waiting -- every time I'm forced to regard the whole fucked up thing in all its glorious fuckedupedness -- I have to remember to forget the three most dangerous words I know: IT'S. NOT. FAIR.

It's not fair that Ethan was born like this. There I said it. That seems like such a natural, organic thought, doesn't it? But follow along as my mind attempts to put the ARG!!! into argument, and it does this EVERY. FUCKING. TIME: The genesis ... This was just a random thing. So there's technically no one to blame. And if there's no one to blame, there's no one to get mad at. And if there's no one to get mad at, then anger is a waste of time. Well, that makes sense but the fact remains that I do feel anger. So there must be something wrong with me. And if there's no logical place to direct this anger, what the fuck do I do with it? Maybe I should just cry. Again. Oh, I know. I can stalk Katie Fucking Couric!
I understand that, at least in part, my anger is just a redirection of my fear. Like when you corner a wild animal and said animal responds with some expression that looks an awful lot like anger. Perfectly understandable in my case since Ethan's going to have to go through 2 pretty intense surgeries in a very short time after all. There's a lot to be fearful of. Phew, finally some negativity I can embrace!
Meanwhile, every time I have to make a phone call or get an e-mail or think about this at all, I get a knot in my stomach. I feel the adrenaline jetting through my body. Dread. Fear. Anger ... and they all crash full force into the Inbox on the desk of my mind's editor, who's no doubt sitting there just shitting his pants at the magnitude of his job. Poor little bastard has to take all this raw emotion and bundle it into something digestable. And I'm thinking that the fact that you're reading this now may be a sign that he quit. Otherwise you'd no doubt be entertained (?) by my follow up note to Katie Couric where I attempted to pressure her by suggesting that she could be replaced with Dustin "Screech" Diamond, whose birthday also happens to be on January 7.
No. No. No. My goal for this space is to provide Ethan with some insight as to what these times were like. And I failed miserably. I'm sorry, Ethan. It won't happen again. And for the record? During these times? If you ever wanted to know how I felt? I was scared out of my fucking mind.

"One need not be a chamber to be haunted:
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place." -- Emily Dickinson

Friday, October 30, 2009

Operation Perky Bunny

I'm proud to report that this morning at 9:41 a.m. Operation Perky Bunny was officially launched, proving once and for all that there are no limits to how far one will go to distract oneself from the enormous vacuum of time that exists between the present and the future. Following is the five paragraph order.

Situation: Ethan's atresia surgery and Katie Couric's birthday fall on the same day, 1/7.

Mission:

A) Commander's Intent
1) To entice Katie Couric to come to Charlottesville, VA, on her birthday/Ethan's atresia surgery day
2) To raise awareness of atresia-microtia using the Katie Couric machine
3) To get Ethan on TV

Execution:

A) Badger, bother, bewilder
1) extend invitation. repeatedly
2) encourage others to do same
B) Bitch, bake, bribe
1) complain that ear/birthday cake will have been baked for naught
2) play "break our child's heart" card
3) play upon Stephanopoulos connection, peer pressure

Administration/Logistics: Cake procurement, excessive invitation issuance, Catholic guilt

Command and Control:
A) Autograph signing
B) Cocktail enjoyment/reminiscences
C) Copy of video for scrapbook

OK, E-Force. You have your orders. Now go get that Couric!

"I beg. I call. I badger. I cajole. Part of the secret is everyone has fun and that's really motivating." -- Katie Couric




Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2010: The Ear We Make Contact

70 Days Out.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a date for atresia repair surgery: Thursday, January 7, 2010.
Ronnie Bean (whom I love in a wholesome, non-oogy kinda way and whom I regret we will probably not get a chance to meet since Ronnie apparently works in a building far from gen pop. Which is sad for us. Not so much for Ronnie because we all know that people suck and who the hell wants to have to deal with them?) contacted me yesterday afternoon to ask if that date worked for us. We checked our calendars and nada, so we confirmed. Actually, the timing is great since the company Sandi and I work for just started offering an EPO Plus plan that takes effect January 1, 2010. The plan essentially pays for everything (remember that post about it costing us $1,000? Just forget that one) so I opted in because, well DUH! So in essence I'm giving our insurance company the day off from January 1 - 6. My little gift to them. I know, I'm a softy. After that though? Well, I'm thinking that unless the healthcare industry is indeed single-payer by then, with the atresia repair and the Medpor reconstruction and all I will probably be declared an enemy of the corporate state, extraordinarily rendered to some shithole Middle Eastern country and water-boarded until they run out of water. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Anyhoo, the way this trip should shake out is that we'll leave for Virginia Tuesday night, show up for a surgical consultation, maybe a hearing test on Wednesday, then Ethan is admitted on Thursday. The surgery should take 4 - 6 hours and Ethan will have to stay over night, but barring any complications, we can take him HOME FRIDAY! There will be a follow-up visit in either a week or a month (I can't remember which. I suck.), and then we're free to schedule the Medpor surgery with Dr. Lewin in California. We hope to get that procedure done around Spring break, or at least before summer begins. Seriously, I know it would be long-term gain, short-term loss, but the thought of having to keep Eth inside to heal while his friends are rampaging through the neighborhood during the summer isn't my ideal. Probably not his, either. Whatever. I'm probably being really naive about the time frame, but at least the first chord has been plunked on the great Zen banjo in the sky. This performance will be played in the key of January 7, thankyouverymuch.
But what's been most important/adorable has been Ethan's response. He's known that this was coming and he's been excited about it, but until now he hasn't had a firm date. Yesterday when I picked the boys up from school Ethan told me that one of his friends is going to DisneyWorld for Christmas this year and wouldn't it be great if we could go, wink wink. To which I replied, "well, sure, I guess that would be great. But I was thinking maybe we could do something a little different this year. Like get you a new ear."
Silence from the backseat. "Mommy and I heard from Dr. Brad and got a date for your surgery. We're going to spend the Christmas break hanging out together, then drive down to Virginia to meet Dr. Brad the following week and he can make it so you'll be able to hear with your little ear. What do you think?"
I looked in my rearview mirror to see Ethan grinning wildly -- and I mean WILDLY. That's an image I hope my mind never loses. Finally he said, "I think that's a good idea."
Through a slightly smaller grin he asked me if it will hurt. I told him he'll be asleep and that at worst it may be a little sore afterward, but that it's nothing a tough little monkey like him can't deal with. I hope like fuck I wasn't lying to him because the kid's got a memory like an elephant when it comes to stuff like this and I'm already destined to be the subject of many a therapy session. I also hope that his fascination with his new hearing will take his mind off the fact that daddy is a big, fat, lying jackass. Anyway I successfully changed the subject by reminding him that his friend will only get to take photos and t-shirts home from his Disney trip, while we'll get a new ear out of ours. And ears last longer than any t-shirt ever could. Believe me, I'm a guy and I went to a state college, which is to say that I may unknowingly hold the world's record for refusal to call time of death on a garment. To whit, most of the t-shirts in my drawers pre-date my kids -- some by 15 years. Seriously. But I still have the ears that used to pass through those ratty, frayed neckholes at least 3 times a week. So suck it, Disney boy!
Anyway, tangential thinker that I am, I wondered what other great moments occurred on January 7. A quick search on teh internets let me know that it also happens to be Katie Couric's birthday. Now, I'm not sure, but I think I have at least the germ of a life-altering idea. The details are a little fuzzy, but include Katie Couric coming to Virginia on operation day to meet Ethan and plaster his face all over the news, and maybe we have a surprise birthday cake shaped like an ear for her. The plan may or may not involve a piece of Ethan's ear sailing across Colorado in a home-made hot air balloon. Like I said, I'm still working out the details. Meanwhile, I'm going to go see if she's on Twitter so I can start feeling her out for 1/7. Keep your fingers crossed.
And wherever you happen to be on January 7, please do two things: 1) Try to send out as much good energy as you can for a very special little boy and 2) At some point in the day, imagine what it would be like for your child to hear for the very first time and smile with us.

"He was always sort of a scrappy little kid, wasn't he? A bit of a fighter?" -- Katie Couric


Monday, October 26, 2009

Love in the Time of Hollera

At one point during the past week I was absolutely certain that the CIA was somehow behind the H1N1 Virus. I was also pretty sure we owned several tiny purple horses that only revealed themselves in certain light and loved to have their bellies scratched.
I don't believe that what I've been trying to shake is Swine Flu, but I'm keeping my over-stuffed head down and trying not to cough on people -- people I like -- just in case. Whatever this is, it's vicious. I had a flu shot a few weeks ago, and the mental images of this new bug bending that virus over and making it its bitch are among the more pleasant things that have passed through my head of late. Seriously, it's like the scenes from "Lockdown" that they couldn't show on TV being played out in my bloodstream. And amid all the bacteriological anal rape, reality seems to have returned to the uncollapsed wave function and I am no longer able to reliably discern the real from the imagined. So I figure I'll just throw some stuff out there and let you decide whether it really happened or not.

- I think I had a telephone interview for a job I really wanted during which I told the woman interviewing me that I wanted to wear pajamas to work every day. "You know how they say to dress for the job you want? Well, I want to work from home. Or be Hugh Hefner. And frankly, pajamas are a huge concession considering I sleep in the nude and would have to buy new office jammies." I think I also used profanity, said that Human Resources departments should be renamed "don't sue us" departments and suggested that my management style was very relaxed and non-negotiable. "Yeah, as long as you get your stuff done, I don't give a shit if you come in 2 days a year wearing a tiara. What am I, your fuckin' babysitter?" So far I haven't received a call-back so I can't be sure if this really happened.
- I think Sandi and I had a date. I believe we went to dinner at a really nice restaurant, then went to see Lewis Black. I think I dropped Sandi off at the front door, then parked 3 blocks away from the theater and walked in the pouring rain. The next morning my clothes were still wet, so this probably happened. Which is great, because both dinner and the show were freakin' awesome.
- I think I solved for Pi.
- I think George Harrison sat by my bedside laughing and calling me "Eddie in the Sky With Diamonds."
- I think the fungus growing on the north side of our house tearfully begged me not to powerwash it away.
- I think Ethan stayed home from school one day because he wasn't feeling well and the school would no doubt shoot that look of disapproval they always shoot us when we do something wrong.
- I think on the day he stayed home he had his first real diarrhea episode. I vaguely remember running to the bathroom because he was in such a panic only to find that he'd locked the door. I think I begged with him to tell me what the problem was, and I think his response was a quiet, quivery "Water is coming out of my butt." I believe I got him to open the door and assured him that there was nothing wrong with him -- that it happens to EVERYbody some time.
- I think he then pulled out several flip charts and a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate how rare this actually is among 5-year-olds.
- I think I'm perhaps at my most delusional when I believe myself to be a good dad.
- I think I testified before Congress in favor of a single payer system.
- I think I actually believed that Ted Danson sent me an e-mail asking me personally for help raising money for the Clinton Foundation. And I replied all like, "George Clinton? I LOVE P-Funk! Do you think they'd come to my house and jam? I know all the words to 'Do Fries Go With That Shake?'"
- I think we had a Halloween party at our house for a few dozen of Thomas' and Ethan's school friends. I'm pretty sure this actually happened because the house was still totally destroyed as of this morning. However, there are several details of the party that seem just too surreal to all be true:
  • parents of 5- and 6-year-olds who have never met you before will just drop their kids off at your house and leave to "run errands" for 4 hours;
  • Sandi can not be that freakin' bad at math that she would ever imagine the appropriate amount of food to feed 25 kids and a handful of parents is 5 party-size pizzas, roughly 6 feet worth of assorted subs, 6-gallons of punch, 15 dozen cookies, 10 pounds of assorted candy, 4 trays of hot hors d'oeuvres, a case of beer, 3 cases of soda, 2 large bags of chips with dip, a 3-gallon drum of cheesy poofs, 2 large bags of pretzels, 2 cases of chocolate milk, 3 large blocks of assorted cheeses, 1 vegetable tray, 1 fruit tray, 8 cases of flavored water and whatever one could find in our pantry;
  • some little girl grabbed one of the boys' Nerf swords and smacked me in the legs for at least 2 hours straight;
  • the little kid who kissed Ethan in school is much worse than I ever imagined;
  • kids only seem to want the toys at the bottom of the storage bins;
  • buying a drum set for Christmas last year was a really bad idea;
  • parents who drop their kids off at your party then return to pick them up 4 hours later will actually think it's OK to say to you, "Man, you're pretty brave" or something equally asinine;
  • Some of those same parents will not understand why you're telling the little bitch with the Nerf sword to smack them until they bleed;
  • nobody will eat cookies shaped like fingers with almond sliver/fingernails held in place with red gel;
  • kids don't flush.
"Picture yourself on a bed with a fever, and George Harrison is mocking your high. Suddenly small purple ponies with chalkboards are helping you solve for pi." -- George Harrison's Ghost

Thursday, October 15, 2009

An After-Care Carol

Excerpts From A Play Dedicated to the Little Girls in the YMCA After-Care Program Who Called Thomas a Jerk and Refused to Play With Him. In Three Acts.

From Act 1,
What Was
... "I said I'm Bert! The Ghost'a Relationships Past? You know, wit da chains and da rattlin' and shit? WOOOOOOO?"
"Whatever," said Paris, thumbing through her new copy of Cosmo.
"You're fat," said Brittany.
"Look, you little ... " Bert cut himself off. "My JOB is to show you how yous came to dis lowly state. I don't like it no more dan yous, but it's my JOB. You know what a JOB is?"
"Yeah," said Brianna, regarding her nails. "That's when. like. Mexican people. you know. mow your yard and stuff? so they can afford. like. beans and stuff?"
Head throbbing for most of the three hours he'd been at this, the ghost checked his urge to slap and continued, "Just shut your freakin' pie holes and look at da screens, all right?"
"Whatever," said the three in creepy, disaffected unison.
As the girls' television screens flickered to life, each glowed with images of a different beautiful young lady sauntering through the halls of her school, her walk thrumming with a rehearsed, over-the-top sexuality that seemed to swish "jail" on the left step and "bait" on the right.
"Mommy?" Paris squinted. "Is that you?"
"Yeah," answered Bert, exhausted and rubbing his temples. "Dem're yer mudders. Jus fuckin' watch, eh?"
Watch they did, as their mothers fast-forwarded from boy to boy, careening from encounter to encounter. At first the boyfriends seemed smart and hunky -- prized catches by most standards -- and the girls felt a strange pride that their mothers had lured the best and the brightest. That pride swelled all the more as they watched the young ladies on the screens crush the spirits of the quieter boys, which inspired their daughters-cum-voyeurs to cheer: "Rick 'em, rock 'em, roll 'em, reek. Come on, mommy, crush that geek!"
But as the stories advanced, the suitors became homelier. Less self-confident. Downright losery. It seemed the "catches" had grown tired of the games and, after nearly six hours of watching their mothers dive headlong into increasingly desperate and repulsive encounters with bouncers, Radio Shack stock boys and frat guys, the three stopped and stood in disbelief as the exclamation point was delivered. There on the screens were the three saddest, most pimply, insecure and horny lumps of false bravado they had ever seen.
"Daddy? But, but ..." Brianna whispered in disbelief. "He's such a ... a ..."

From Act 2, What Is
"Mommy, put down those pills! Daddy, those one dollar bills are supposed to be for my college tuition! Oh, why can't they hear me? Make it stop, MAKE IT STOP!!"

From Act 3,
What Should Never Be
"Oh, Maurice ... er, I mean Mr. Ghost of Relationships Future, sir! We don't WANT to end up like that! We don't WANT to have our husbands leave us for some young sluts because we're so fucking shallow and self-absorbed! We don't WANT to be all wrinkly and have all those cats! WE DON'T WANT TO BE A WAITRESS!"
The girls fell to their knees on the cold gravel driveway outside the double-wide Maurice had led them to -- the home he assured them they would share until their miserable, wretched deaths. Their backs heaved with silent sobs until in quiet, somber unison, they managed, "But we're too old to change."
"Too OLD?! Bitch, you 6. Are you out cho got damn mind!? And GIT the fuck up. Be all cryin' all over the got damn driveway and shit. Now git yo stupid ass home and don' make me come on back here agin or I'mma show you my pimp hand. You gots?"
"We gots."
"And get that got damn Tammy Faye make-up off yo faces. Black lines all runnin' down yo shit." The girls watched as Maurice strutted toward the parking lot, mumbling as he went, "6-year-old girls runnin' 'round like Tyra Banks and what not. Ain't that about a bitch." As he ducked into his Cutlass Supreme, Maurice turned one last time. He winked and said, "And tell ya mommas Maurice say hey. They know."

"I know you like to think your shit don't stink, but lean a little bit closer see roses really smell like poo-ooh-ooh." -- OutKast


Monday, October 12, 2009

Puloo Si BaGOOMba

Several updates.

1) $1,000. That, at least in theory, is the most it will cost us to have Dr. Brad make it so that Ethan can hear. The most, as in "I can't seem to get even a ballpark figure from anyone as to what atresia repair surgery costs, so I'm relying on Blue Cross Blue Shield's in-network max figure which is essentially 10%, capped at $1,000 with a $300 deductible (already met)." You know, that old chestnut.
I guess that means there's no reason not to schedule surgery with Dr. Brad. For some reason -- possibly the recent onslaught of horror stories being trotted out during the current health care reform debates -- I had it in my head that this would be harder. Whatever. Not ruling out a fight in the future, but basking in the current state of uncomplicatednessosity. Looking toward either the Christmas break or Spring break since we'd rather not have the boys out of school unless absolutely necessary.
Wait, we're talking about Kindergarten and first grade here. And despite the fact that Kindergarten is the new first grade and first grade is the new second grade, it's still all shite considering that we're talking about Ethan being able to hear. No, fuck that, first available and school can kiss my ass. Not really, I like their school. But you know what I mean.

2) Speaking of school, just had a lovely chat with Ms. A (not her real name), the guidance counselor who's filling in for Ms. B (not her real name either. GOD, I'm totally the Bourne Identity) who's out on maternity leave. It appears that while in the hall en route to the cafeteria, a little boy in his class tried to kiss Ethan. Ethan, who knows better than to play around in the halls, told the little boy to stop. The little boy persisted so Ethan punched him several times. Really fucking hard. I've felt Ethan's punches and, while most of them were to my nads and, thus, produced more pain than would be normally experienced, I can testify to his non-ball-punching strength as well. Sometimes I deliver that testimony in a really high voice. With tears streaming down my cheeks. And I tend to sleep on my back those nights.
Anyhoo the teacher took both boys to Ms. A's office who then called me. And I gotta tell you, Ms. A's voice? Not. Threatening. When she announced that she was calling from the school, her tone made me think that she wanted Sandi to bake something for a fundraiser. And then I found out who she was and why she was calling and I'm all like DAMN, I wish MY disciplinarians were that nice. Mine were big, sweaty guys fresh from the bush in Vietnam who spit on you when they yell-spoke -- "A TWISTED SISTER PIN?! ON YOUR UNIFORM?!" Seriously, I still have the yearbooks. It was not my imagination. Those guys were BADASS.
So Aunt Bea's on the phone telling me that Ethan just jacked some kid and all I can think is lady, not to tell you your business or anything, but if your concern here is that Eth may become a career gay basher, you may want to take a sterner tone. Ugh, fuckin' ugh. I gotta do EVERYthing myself. So she puts him on the phone. Odd thing? He asks me to speak to me by name: "Hello, may I speak to Ed please?" That's when I realized that the school must pass out Ecstasy and play industrial rave music for morning recess. T'would certainly explain the mirrored balls in the gym.
Anyway, Ethan and I spoke. I expressed my displeasure in firm daddy tones and let him know that we will be talking about this. Now all I have to do is figure a way to do so without using the words "hate crime" which could lay the seeds for a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thanks, Aunt Bea. You've made my job SO much easier.

3) Sandi and I took a day last week and went shopping for stuff to finish our bedroom. We scored a few really nice carved wooden masks, much like the picture shown above (without the ears, though. I added those in case you couldn't tell. Surprise!). I hung the masks above our headboard yesterday and when Ethan saw them, he went up to one and said, "Hey, Pal. Why the long face?" His first joke. Well, his first funny joke. His first attempted joke was "Why did the chicken cross the road. Because he dropped his keys." Which reminds me that Thomas told his first funny joke around this time last year: "Excuse me, can I have another butt please? This one has a crack in it."

4) Ooh, let's have a contest. If you can tell me what the title of this post is from I'll send you something nice. E-mail me your answers and I'll pick a random winner.

5) There is no five.

"Laughter is inner jogging." -- Norman Cousins


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dear Hallmark, Have I Got a Challenge For You

I'm in a weird mood. Sorry for this.

Language just fails me when I try to describe remembrances of my father. Even the word "remember" seems to want to constrain my recollections to a laundry list of characteristics and shared experiences: He had dark hair, He took me to a Phillies game, and so on. Yeah, there certainly were enough of those line items to give anyone an idea of what he was like, but what bonded us was so far beyond any words I can conjure. My father created a physical wake as he passed through a room and I could feel him in our house. He had a palpable energy. And his energy fed mine without depleting. Whether or not we shared world views (we didn't), we were tethered to each other in such a way that is beyond my ability to fully describe, save to say we were like different points along the same lightning strike. And within that tether our differences did not matter. We were in perfect union, dancing as only lightning can.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I'm the youngest of 7 kids -- 5 boys, 2 girls, 2 sets of fraternal twins in the mix. My dad was 47 when I was born -- my age now. Ask me how I'd handle having a newborn in my life right now and if I use any word that is not a synonym for "poorly," punch me hard in the face for lying. As it is, many are the days when I feel guilty for not giving my 5- and 6-year-old sons the energy they deserve. I worry that they'll view me as I viewed my father: Uninvested. Apathetic. Rehearsed. Spent. When he and I played catch it seemed like a task to him, like mandatory sexual harassment training hosted by the Human Resources department. He clearly didn't want to be there -- counting the minutes until it was over -- but obliged because such things were part of his job description. The argument that maybe he was spent from having to go through those same motions 6 times before isn't anything a child on the receiving end is willing or able to accept. Do you have any idea how many times the cast of Cats has had to perform? Yeah, well I don't either but I know it's more than 6.
When my older brother and sister, twins 7 years my senior, moved out of the house, I lost the 2 most important people in my daily life -- the people I truly credit with having raised me. My father and I spent most of the following years avoiding each other. My mother died of cancer 2 days short of my birthday during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at college. After that it was he and I, thrust together in silence. We shared his house and the chores and we stayed out of each others' way. So removed was he that when I told him I wanted to go to art school he asked me in a not so nice way if I was gay. Which was pretty gutsy considering I dwarfed him since I'd turned 14, and pretty out of touch considering I'd knocked up the first girl I ever had sex with a few year earlier, and had been dating the woman who would become my first wife for more than a year. And so went our ballet as we tried our darnedest not to break each other. But he wouldn't remain unbroken for long. He began to drink.
My laundry list of shared experiences is packed with memories of coming home to find him passed out in his chair, empty fifth of vodka on the floor. Trips to the emergency room to sew him up after he'd stumbled through the sliding glass door. Re-parking his car so that he wouldn't feel shame when he woke and realized that he'd completely missed the driveway.
I found his body three days after he died. He was to come to dinner at our apartment the Saturday before but didn't show. When I called that night to ask if he was coming he laughed a knowing laugh and said, "Oh, I don't think so," as if he knew he was dead. Part of me likes to entertain the fantasy that I was talking with his ghost on the phone that night.
I had just started a new job and was in a probationary stage, so I didn't have the flexibility to take off and visit him. However, a few days of unreturned calls lead me to make the 2-hour drive that grim Wednesday morning. I was greeted by a full mailbox and a dozen newspapers in varying stages of yellow scattered on the front porch. Telltale. I let myself in and called for him. No answer. I searched the downstairs. Nothing. I walked upstairs and saw his legs through the open door of the hall bathroom. He had died on the toilet. Heart attack. Lurched slightly forward and against the wall, very purple for all the broken capillaries. The look on his face could have easily passed for disdain -- one last silent chastisement.
In my panic I lifted him from the toilet and carried him to his bed. I called the police. I have no idea how long it took for anyone to arrive, but I do recall a responding officer apologizing for having to ask me questions about whether or not we had fought. Apparently the moving of a dead body is fairly common in crimes of passion. I told him not to worry, that I understood he was only doing his job. I was summarily cleared of any suspicion, woohoo. I began to make the phone calls and was struck by how surreal it seemed to be watching the bag containing my dad's dead body being wheeled from the house as my sister's phone rang on the other end. The circle of life. Strung with barbs and sitting atop a fence.
I didn't sleep well for quite a few months after that. Every time I closed my eyes I saw the picture of my father's body. I can still see it in amazing detail to this day some 20 years later. I suspect this is a mild form of PTSD. I remember one very vivid dream of him coming back to visit me to tell me I had done very well the day I found him. He seemed to be trying to explain something in a roundabout fashion about how in death he'd learned the truth of life and the universe. I remember waking thinking that the underlying message was that the power to mold my own reality was in my hands. My dad and Sartre. Who would have guessed.
He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to my mom. Full Honor Guard, 21-gun salute, overhead fly-by with one plane missing from formation. Aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors all shared stories of how great a man he was. He was just great before I got there is all.

Every once in a while the universe affords us the opportunity to take inventory of our lives. As I look around me and see the amazingly dense beauty that saturates my daily life, I wonder how I got here. I wonder how I created such a lush, rewarding reality and to what degree my decisions were influenced by my dad. I cherish the intimacy my sons and I share -- a closeness he and I could never have dreamed of. I wonder if my father had the emotional capacity to be moved to tears by the beauty of his children's laughter like I often am. I wonder if he sensed relief that it was over. If he flashed back to his warrior/hero days. If he thought about his father.
I am in awe of the underlying power and I marvel at the lightning bolt as I look down the line at the next points in the surge. Thomas and Ethan, you have inherited such a pure, strong, fleeting energy. Use it wisely and please be mindful to occasionally look back up the lightning bolt and give your grandfather a nod.

Happy birthday dad. Miss you. We're cool.

"Earth and sky, why you and I have an electric attraction is understood.
I danced around until you found me reaching out like a great redwood
to lightning." -- Maia Sharp


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Curses!

By now it probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise that I have no aversion to profanity -- or, as Patrick Star would call it, fancy sentence enhancers. And since I've mentioned that I swear like a sailor in front of my kids, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Ethan occasionally stands in the middle of the kitchen yelling, "Who the hell left the door open?" (In his defense, it is really annoying.) Ethan also points at things he doesn't recognize and asks, "What the hell is that thing?" So inquisitive.
Now, surely my parents would have injured themselves in their haste to get me to a priest had I said anything remotely as profane when I was 5. But I just can't get past thinking it's the cutest thing I've ever seen. Which I do. Because it is.
Know what's not so cute, though? Having to figure a way to teach where the line is drawn (yes, even I acknowledge there's a line). For instance, "hell" and "damn" are almost always cute -- especially when delivered in that innocent Pebbles Flintstone voice that all kids have. Relative to its context, "shit" starts to push the boundaries of acceptability and "fuck" should really only be trotted out on special occasions, otherwise you risk cheapening it. These are rules and they're relatively easy to teach because the words themselves are the triggers. What's not so easy to teach is the subtle bundling of ordinary non-swear words to create something almost unspeakably profane. For example, let's say -- oh, I don't know -- Jack Black's withdrawal-induced plea to be freed in exchange for oral sex in Tropic Thunder: "I'll cradle the balls, stroke the shaft, work the pipe and swallow the gravy." Now call me crazy, but I'd rather have my kids run around going "Fuckety fuck fuck" all day in front of a flock of nuns than to say that line even once.

Bet you know what's coming, don't you.

The other night I couldn't sleep and went downstairs to watch TV. Lucky me, HBO was playing Tropic Thunder which happens to be one of my favorite movies ever, so I watched it. When it was over I went to sleep.
The next morning I woke up and went downstairs to do my morning chores—get everyone's stuff ready for the day. I turned on the TV to keep me company and to try to catch the weather. A few minutes later the kids came down for breakfast. Ethan, wanting to watch SpongeBob, hit the "previous channel" button (surprise, most nights our TV is tuned to Nickelodeon when we turn it off). Guess what the last channel was this time. Right, HBO from last night's insomniac theater. Guess what was playing. Right, Tropic Thunder. Guess what scene was on? Right, the "work the pipe" speech -- and I mean the timing of this was so precise that it would have made a Swiss watchmaker take notice. It sounded a little like this: "...today, highs in the mid- to upper-60s with plenty of sun—FSSHHT—cradle the balls, ..."
So here's me in the kitchen, pulse instantly nearing quadruple digits, sprinting to grab the remote from Ethan's hands, which I realize after the fact is probably the wrong thing to do. Because now he realizes that he's just heard something he shouldn't have, which, to him, is his cue to memorize it. And repeat it. Often. So for the next half hour or so until the bus comes Ethan is in my face parroting these lines to best of his abilities: "Ladle the malls, broke the chaff, work the pie and swallow the gravy." He even does that little "vvv vvv vvv" thing Jack Black does afterward. Which CREEPS. ME. THEFUCK. OUT!
But I downplay it, knowing that acknowledgment is reinforcement. And I try to change the subject after each utterance, but to no avail. Not even me actually turning the TV to SpongeBob is drawing his attention from this. He is focused. He knows this tweaks me. He just doesn't know why. But he apparently doesn't need to. "Daddy, daddy, daddy. Ladle the malls, ladle the malls, ladle the malls." Christ, he's written a song about it already.
Oh well, here's hoping a few things: 1) he doesn't repeat this at school, as we surely don't need any more notes home (within the first 14 days of school we had no fewer than 10 notes between them -- none of which were profanity-related, thankyouverymuch), and 2) enough stuff happens to him today that he forgets about this by the time he gets home.
Fortunately, both wishes came true. Well, at least we didn't get any notes home about our son propositioning anybody with offers of oral sex. Or indecipherable cooking instructions or whatever the hell he said. And as for me, all I can say is "Universe? Message received loud and clear: Tomorrow I learn how to use that fucking channel blocking fucking function!"

"Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer." —Mark Twain

Friday, September 25, 2009

While You Were Gone We Painted the House

THE TIMELINE
Several months ago: Sandi and her college roommates decided to get together for an annual reunion weekend in the Finger Lakes. Wine tasting, fine dining, pillow fights, talking about boys ... the whole magilla. That weekend would be this weekend. No problem for me to watch the kids, that's the kind of guy I am. Just don't come back smelling of swarthy Sommelier.
Friday morning: Sandi is scheduled to leave our house at around 11 a.m. I'll put the kids on the bus and let her sleep in, then pick the kids up after work so we can begin our manly-man weekend: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for dinner, Halloween Oreos for dessert, camp-out in sleeping bags in front of the big screen, watching movies until we pass out. It don't get any better than that, kids.
Anyhoo, Thomas wakes feeling a little iffy. 'Yeah, right,' thinks me. 'That's the oldest trick in the book -- Ooh, my stomach hurts. I need attention.' Little faker bastard. I tickle his stomach, trying to get him to laugh and thereby prove that he's school-worthy and won't have to miss picture day -- catch him in his own lie. What I caught was about 2 quarts of vomit. Hmm, plans. They sure do gang aft agley, eh?
OK, not to worry. Sandi just won't get to sleep in as late as she would have. But she shouldn't have to miss her weekend. Ethan is good to go to school so I'll just put him on the bus, go in to the office to pick up some work and bring it home so I can tend to Thomas. I should be back in plenty of time for her to stay on schedule and participate full-force in her lost weekend with her ho friends. Easy peasy, rice and cheesy as Ethan likes to say. No idea where he got that from. Possibly that "channeling of the dead grandparents" thing again.
Friday late morning: Work gathered, Ethan at school, Sandi chomping at the bit to flee the stench that is now the family room. I'm on my way home feeling pretty sure that whatever made Thomas leggo his eggos all over me has long passed and that I'll walk into a big, ├╝ber-animated hug. Let the bonding begin. So confident am I that all is well that I stop at the store to pick up some EXTRA Oreos. You know, in the interest of replenishing lost nutrients.
I enter the house. It's quiet. Too quiet. "Thomas, I got Oreos! Ready to start our manly-man weekend a little early?" From his room I hear echo-y wretching and splatters -- the hybrid sound of someone at once puking into a bucket while trying to mouth "FUCKYOU!!" Yeah, OK. This might not be the glorious testosterone fest I'd planned. I switch into caretaker mode and send Sandi on her way. (Note: She called no fewer than 5 times on the 45-minute drive to the first way-point in her trip and several more times before bed time. Which truly illustrates the biggest difference between mothers and fathers. Not that I'd be apathetic by any stretch of the imagination. It's really a matter of practicality as my roommates would be yelling at pretend strippers in the background, trying to get me in trouble. "Yeah, honey. Ed's the shy one. Maybe a lap dance will help him relax!" Pricks.)
Friday evening: The bucket, she's a-getting a workout, no? Christ, this kid hasn't eaten anything since dinner last night and where is all this goop coming from? And poor Ethan. Just wandering around the house babbling about how it's not fair that he's not getting Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for dinner. But the good news is that there's no fever. And as of about 7 p.m., Thomas seems to be able to keep liquids down. Victory! Mayhaps we have saved Saturday.
Saturday morning: Ethan wakes complaining of an upset stomach. Son of a bitch. Well, at least I know better than to taunt the demons by attempting to exorcise them with a good tickling. Thomas still a bit lethargic, but obviously bouncing back. Daddy's assessment: low-key, indoor fun is the order of the day. Which is fine, except I promised my next door neighbor that we'd rent the plate compactor and finally finish the paver walkways we've been working on together. So them indoors, me partially out? It could work.
Saturday afternoon: It's not working. 15 minutes of work to every 45 minutes of hugging and consoling. Like working in the terminal patient ward but whinier. Such is a daddy's lot. I can see the goals of the weekend giving me the finger from their rear view mirror. Might not finish the walkway. Probably won't have time to clean the house before Sandi gets home on Sunday evening. 2 bags of Oreos uneaten. Come on preservatives, do your thing.
Saturday evening: Ethan's vomiting jag never materialized, which is one in the plus column. But neither of the boys seem up to camp out night. Calling the time of death on funnnnn NOW! Shower, into clean jammies, a little reading and then a movie.
Sunday morning: Woke up surprisingly early. Checked in on the boys: No vomit. No pee. No unwanted bodily excretions to speak of. SCORE! Off to enjoy morning coffee and some grown-up TV. God, Sunday morning TV blows. Not that it matters, because at coffee's first sip the boys crash out of their bedroom door like Barbaro. Oh, they're feeling better, all righty. A little chocolate milk and vitamins and they're off to the basement play room to destroy and will I put Cars on the big screen for them. Why, yes. Yes I will. Oh, and will I sit and watch it with them? Why, yes. As soon as I get done doing this mumblemumblemumbledaddything (dear god, I really don't want my Cars-watching count to break into 4 digits!). Oh, and don't forget mommy's coming home tonight. Maybe we should do something special for her. Should we make her a card or something? Ethan: "Let's get her camera and take pictures of our weewees." Get back to you on that one, big guy.
Summary: Nobody died. The walkway is completed. The boys are currently on their third helping of cinnamon toast made with love. So far they're receptive to the idea of getting dressed and leaving the house today, although I have no clue as to what we'll do. Maybe grab lunch at Five Guys and go see Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs in 3D. Just what daddy needs, another movie -- and one about food to boot, which doesn't at ALL make me want to gag more than I already have this weekend. But we all agree that we want to be here when mommy comes home so we can give her the biggest hug ever and tell her how much we missed her and give her the cards we're making right now at the table and tell her that we hope she had a great time and didn't miss us too much. Oh, and there's a special present for you on your camera. Welcome home, baby.

"Now what you gonna do when the planets shift? What you gonna do, gonna slit your wrists? Cry love, cry love." -- John Hiatt

Friday, September 18, 2009

RIP Huggy, 2004 - 2009

Today we are gathered to mourn the loss of Huggy, the toe wart.
I knew Huggy. As toe warts go, he was a good egg. So much more than just a fair-weather companion to Thomas, he was one of the family. A bulbous analogy of the human condition, he shared our tears and our laughter. Our good times and bad. Never judging, always supportive in that special "Huggy" way. No, that gigantic wad of thick, bubbly, semi-translucent skin didn't ... COULDN'T show the true depth of him. As the foot doctor would suggest in Huggy's last hours, "Jesus, that thing's like a snowman. You see how big it is on the surface? It's about twice that size under the skin. I'm gonna need a stronger laser."


Stronger laser, indeed. Would that Huggy's caretakers had possessed stronger child handling skills, too, as Thomas was -- how should we say -- less than gently treated? For instance, you probably don't want to tell a young boy who's already scared that you're going to need more electricity to burn a piece of his toe off. I mean seriously, people, this can't have been the first child you've ever encountered, right? You were, after all, recommended by our pediatrician who is good with kids.
And so, if I may, a few suggestions to you on pediatric practice management beginning thus: Did it ever occur to you that you may want to downplay the ominousness of the whole affair? For instance, I'm no Albert Epstein but even I know you don't tell a kid "this is gonna hurt a lot" and then ask him to stick his foot through a black curtain. Hey, if I lead you into a room with a bunch of surgical instruments, then tell you I'm going to hurt you and please stick your wiener through this hole so you can't see what's about to happen to it, would you do it? Could you do it without your blood pressure reaching dangerously high levels? And then would you hand me a $30 co-pay when it was all done, because if your answer is yes, I'm totally in the wrong business. Except that, irony of ironies, I wouldn't have wanted you to stick your wiener through a hole until now after you scared the shit out of my kid, and now only so I could smash it with a hammer. Fuck sake, throw in some creepy organ music and a hand-held cinematic treatment and you have a horror classic on your hands.
And speaking of, your assistant (who was more "ass" than "istant" to be sure) was perfectly cast. With a hairstyle obviously crafted as an homage to one or both of the Twin Towers, she called me in to help calm Thomas down. I obliged happily and, with my own special brand of masculine lilt, had just about gotten him to the point where you could have injected the anesthetic into his big toe. If you recall, I hugged him gently, rubbed his hair and spoke in low, calming tones -- feeling him relax in my arms only to have the whole vibe dashed by "HEY, I KNOW! LET'S DRAW A SMILEY FACE ON YOUR FOOT! THAT'LL CHEER YOU UP, RIGHT?" The caps are not my embellishment. She actually spoke in all caps, like the bastard child of Fran Drescher and Gilbert Gottfried. To which I responded: THE FUCK, y'all!
And so if the rest of the procedure went horribly for you, it's your own stupid fault. It was failure by your own design. You really should have understood from the fact that my son NAMED HIS FUCKING WART that this was a big deal to him. And for my part, you cost me an extra $40 at the toy store on the way home just to get him to stop crying, and I've had to repeatedly reassure him that doctors are not our enemies.
Hey, I get it. Maybe you liked to party and didn't end up getting the grades you'd need to become an inspiring atresia repair surgeon like my man, Dr. Brad. And maybe your wife's a real shrew who keeps harping on you about your relative lack of success. Maybe she's always on you about so and so's surgeon husband who retired a billionaire at 50 and moved the family to Amalfi. And how her mother told her to hold out for a plastic surgeon instead of a foot guy. Well, maybe I'm angry that Little Feat never called me to replace Lowell. Let's you and I get drunk and express our personal frustrations in the parking lot. Meanwhile, the luckiest minute of your day was when you finally smeared the bloody mass(es -- turns out Huggy was pregnant with a little subcutaneous offspring) onto that paper-covered tray. Two more minutes and I'd be rocking your world with my own inimitable version of Fat Man in the Bathtub, if you know what I'm saying.
But I digress. This isn't about me or Dr. Insensitive-with-the-shrewish-bitch-of-a-wife. This is about Huggy, the bestest, most painfulest lump of unnecessary skin there ever was. To huggy!

"There are more pleasant things to do than beat up people." -- Muhammad Ali

Friday, September 11, 2009

He Said the Sheriff Is A-Near!

We used to suffer -- and I mean SUFFER, with a capital SUFF -- through trips to the store with the kids. Meltdowns, runaways, pelting each other with fruits and vegetables. The kind of stuff that makes non-parent patrons run, don't walk, to their neighborhood urologist and schedule a good right fixin'. Screw the pain meds, just start cuttin' and don't stop until you hit something pro-create-y.
And yeah, we weren't alone, nor were we the worst in the store at any given time, but it does kinda dash your hopes of perfect parentness in a hurry. So we looked to the internet for help. And boy, did we find it. Article after article, discussion after discussion, plea after plea about store behavior issues. The most reasonable (read: easiest) suggestion we came across seemed to be to give your kids jobs: Pick out the cereal, help put everything on the conveyor belt, push the cart, etc. We opted for 'push the cart,' which, of course, meant we had to get two carts every time we shopped, even if we were only there for a loaf of bread ... er, two loaves of bread. Freakin' sibling rivalry.
It all seemed to be working wonderfully until one day recently when a Hispanic family, who had obviously read the same articles we read, happened into the same aisle. Their kids, roughly the same ages as ours, played NASCAR with their carts whereas our kids preferred to act out scenes from the movie Cars. To each their own. Let us celebrate our differences. We parents smiled at each other knowingly (I see you were on parents.com, too. Good stuff, eh?) and we returned our attention to the chicken nugget selection when ...

Crash!
Ethan: "Watch it, Pedro!"

Oh. No. He. Fucking. Didn't. Please tell me he knows him and his name is really Pedro! Please tell me he knows him and his name is really Pedro!
Turn.
Other parents turned.
All attention, both families and a shitload of passersby, focused on Ethan.
Awkward.
Leaving now.
Hey, I know! Maybe you can help put the groceries on the ... conveyor ... belt? Little ... helper? Squeak?

You know how they call it "The Walk of Shame" when, after a totally drunken one-night stand, you walk out into the street wearing the same clothes you had on the night before? Well, this was kinda like that, only if you'd just realized after the fact that you'd slept with your grandma or something.
To this day I can only hope the looks on our faces conveyed what the thought bubbles would have read and that these fine folks didn't go home and tell their friends about the racist assholes they'd just encountered. Which would really be a tragedy because we're SO the least racist people you know. Seriously. I'm tempted to list all my minority friends and re-declare my lust for Melissa Harris-Lacewell, but that seems cheap and apologetic -- like I'd gathered objects and kept them in a glass box, taking them out in case of a racism emergency.
We asked Ethan where he'd heard about calling Hispanic boys "Pedro," hoping he'd answer SpongeBob so that we could finally sue somebody with lots of money and live on Easy Street. No such luck. He didn't remember. And to this day we suspect he may have been channeling one or all of their racist grandparents' spirits. Which isn't as far fetched as it sounds, considering that Thomas pronounces Acme "Ack-a-me" just like his grandma used to. All I need is a theremin and an autographed photo of David Duchovny.
Anyway, we had a long talk with him about respecting different cultures and being aware of what might offend others. A very hard talk to have to a 5-year-old, believe me, and I'm sure it sounded a mixture of pops, buzzes and Esperanto to him. But to date, no new outbursts. Just the same, if anyone knows where we could score a Medic-Alert bracelet that reads "Tourette Syndrome" we'd greatly appreciate it.

"I should be horsewhipped and sued then go quietly, my tail between my knees. I'll crawl back under my stone." -- Richard Thompson