Wednesday, September 30, 2009


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: ", 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

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, too. Good stuff, eh?) and we returned our attention to the chicken nugget selection when ...

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!
Other parents turned.
All attention, both families and a shitload of passersby, focused on Ethan.
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

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Silence of the Lamb

I'm staring at my phone. Willing it to ring. Urging it to vibrate. Remembering when I tried to bend spoons with my mind as a child after seeing Uri Geller do it on The Mike Douglas Show. And yeah, having pretty much the same result now as I did then, which is to say not a very good one. Still.
Focus. Let your mind gooooooo annnnnnddddd ... RING!
Son of a bitch!

Now I'm screaming in my head, hoping she can hear me lo these many state lines away. "callllllllllll ... NOW!! ..... NOW!!! .......... NOW!!!!"
She is Diane Lamb, Managed Care Specialist at the University of Virginia Health System and she is now the most important person in the world as far as we are concerned. Diane will tell us how much Ethan's surgery will cost us. She will also tell us how much our insurance will cover and, hopefully, what internal organs Dr. Kesser may take in trade for his services. Man, if she says "body fat" it's ears for everybody, on me.
She is Diane Lamb, the last waypoint before we can schedule Ethan's surgery, and we are desperately in need of some good news. Hasn't been remarkably unremarkable of late. Over the past few weeks we've managed to break several hundreds of dollars worth of lawn and garden equipment. Plus the riding mower died. Plus the water pump in the minivan blew up. Plus the coffee maker went to play on a farm with a bunch of other coffee makers where it could run free all day.
Plus lots of other unexpected crap happened that, all told, will end up costing us much more money than we'd care to think about. But besides that, this season brings other new and recurring feelings of dread. This time last year Sandi's mom was diagnosed with cancer. She died shortly after. My father died around this time of year quite a few years ago. His birthday was on Halloween. I just learned that a (very cool and amazing) cousin was diagnosed with cancer and is not expected to live past a few weeks, if she's alive now. Sandi will have to postpone her entry into school due to a delay in the selling of her mother's house. We had to cancel our holiday vacation plans for financial reasons. The days are shorter. The weather is colder. The forecast is for a harsh, snowy winter. Death is all around. Unless you're our crabgrass. Seriously? I just want to lock myself in my room, eat Entenmann's chocolate chip cookies and listen to The Cure until Spring comes again.
And here I sit like a jackass staring at this cheap Motorola cell phone -- the one I just got, the back panel of which broke off within a few days and which Verizon will not replace -- mind-begging for Diane to call, to return my calls. Not for us, but for the physical safety of that obnoxiously perky bitch who works at the Acme and apparently just loves this time of year. Yeah, why don't you take your "crisp air" and pound it up your pooper, Bonnie, you fucking cow. I swear to god, one more "don't you just love this time of year?" and there'll be a clean-up in aisle 10 all righty. Shut your mouth and put the lotion in the basket.

Son of a bitch!

"If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?" -- Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi