Wednesday, May 26, 2010

All The Way Home

We have met the enemy and he is Wii: Ethan has become a video game-aholic and it's the University of Virginia Health System's fault.

Poor little bastard. Not more than a few minutes out of recovery after his atresia surgery. Loitering at the corner of Lucid and HUUUURRR!! Blvd. Wandering around the ward wearing only SpongeBob pajama bottoms and those gigantic hospital-issue slipper/tube socks that always slide halfway off your feet and make you feel like you're walking in swim fins. His brain and body struggling to find any task at which they might collaborate, reacquaint.

And he's walking. And I'm spotting him so he doesn't fall and crack his skull. And I'm thinking about the times in college I must have looked like he does now, thanks to too much tequila and Jolt cola. Tequila Mockingbird we called it. A sadistic recipe that ensured you'd be wide awake when the vomiting came.

And he's walking. He's heard there's a rabbit somewhere on this floor and he must find it. He has issued himself this quest. He walks right past the rabbit. Into the activity center. Nintendo. On wheels. He shoots me a mean look -- at least it appears mean. It could just be the bandages pushing down on his brow. The look says, "Do this now, mother fucker. I SAID NOW!" Yes sir, how high? I do this now.

Within minutes he's playing some racing game. He is amazingly good at this, especially considering that I don't think he's ever played anything more sophisticated than the (lame, daddy!) Leapster 2 we bought him for Christmas this year. This must be what Mozart looked like when he first sat down at a piano. OK, it's not that prodigenous. Still, the little fucker's got skills. We stay for an hour. As the day wears on, the nurses get tired of looking for him and just wheel the Nintendo station into his room.

•••

Home from Virginia, realizing that we'd have to find a way to keep Ethan entertained but immobile, we thought it might be a good idea to invest in some kind of gaming system. (OK, I did it. It was entirely me. My idea. Goodbye, Parent of the Year Award. I hardly knew ye!) Wii seemed the most family-friendly, so we got one that came bundled with a few games. Hours of fun. But hours eventually end. Need more games. Off to Game Stop. Nice guy behind the counter. Scary how much he knows about video games. He needs a girlfriend. Not a SIMs one, either.

New games? Beaten in a week. Need more, daddy. Oh, and have you ever noticed that you can't take a Wii with you to school? And sometimes we have electronics day and all the other kids bring in their DSs and obviously their daddies love them more than you love me? You asshole? Back to Game Stop for a used DS and a few used games. One month/$600 in gaming gear after surgery and we're staring at a rack of stuff we've defeated. No worries, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is out. For $50. Girlfriend-needing-guy at Game Stop hands me a coupon: If we beat this game by July 7 we can get $2.00 off our next purchase. Fuck you, you pimple faced gimp. I hope you never get laid.

•••

Some folks emerge from their hospital stays addicted to pain killers. Lucky bastards. That's an addiction that's breakable. Ever try to take a Wii-mote from the hands of a 6-year-old? Might as well staple a steak to your ass and jump into a hungry lion's den.

Tell you what, though. If I can figure this out? How to break this habit or at least get him to remember to eat? I'mma be rich, yo. Starting my own business: Wii-hab. I'm betting there's a market for it. I'm betting there are other parents out there in the same boat.


You Tolerate Me! You Really Tolerate Me!

Hey, y'all. I've been astutely reviewed by Ask And Ye Shall Receive over here. First, let me say that I fucking love them. Their site reads like my thought bubbles would. Second, they were amazingly merciful with me and very constructive in the process. I've taken their advice and added a few extra carriage returns between spewage to make it easier on you -- no small task since I spilled water ... OK, scotch on my cheap-ass keyboard about a year ago and the return key does not work. If I am suddenly more understandable, you may thank them for it.

"One of the best lessons children learn through video games is standing still will get them killed quicker than anything else." -- Jinx Milea

Monday, May 17, 2010

ReVH1sionist History.

If you're ever looking for me Monday through Friday from 6:00 – 6:30 a.m., you can usually find me on the couch drinking my coffee and watching TV. I'll warn you that I'm not real lucid during that time so if you do find me, avoid asking me anything that requires an accurate or intelligible answer. Best to wait until after the coffee's had a chance to work its voodoo, then add another 2 -- shall we call them "courtesy" hours? and you may get something slightly more coherent than grunts and snorts.
Despite the funk that is my morning, I am at least a little discerning with my television viewing. First, gotta check out the weather -- that's a given. Then maybe a little Morning Joe on MSNBC to get the blood pumping (I don't care what your political bent is. Watching Pat Buchanan first thing in the morning is like snorting cocaine off a rabid badger's shaved ass). And during the commercials I like to check out VH1 Classic.
VH1 Classic is my guilty pleasure. Can't help it, make no apologies for it. I'm a sucker for music videos -- especially those from the 80s. In fact, if the playlist is really groovy, I might not even go back to MSNBC -- even when I know their commercials must be over. All cocaine, no badger, VH1 is.
But to know me is to know that something pisses me off about everything and, sadly, I have found the chink in VH1's armor: Whenever they're not playing music videos? And they decide to talk? They lie.
It took me a while to realize this since the only time I really watch VH1 is during the foggy time that is my morning coffee. But one morning I swore I heard someone refer to Guns N' Roses as one of the greatest bands in rock & roll history. Not that they managed to sell a surprising number of crappy albums to tone deaf, pre-pubescent boys who think they sound just like Axl in the shower and, ergo, must be cool, or that they managed to get any airplay for their abominable, god-awful remake of Bob Dylan's masterpiece "Knocking On Heaven's Door," but that they were one of the greatest bands ever. Funk or no, that got my attention -- attention I began paying to what had until then been flying under my morning radar.
Ordinarily I wouldn't mind much if they eulogized some has-beens in too-glowing terms. But what if one day after my death my kids, curious about what my childhood must have been like, tuned in and thought that perhaps I had been a GNR fan since, after all, they were one of the greatest bands in history? And what if subsequently they thought me a bigger ass than I was? Living it down would be one thing. Dying it down is impossible. Besides, I don't need VH1's help in making me look like an ass.
And so I consider it my duty to set the record straight on a few things that VH1 gets really wrong. For the kids. For (what's left of) my reputation. For the music.
In no particular order ...
1. KISS was never cool. Ever. The whole womanizers thing? Have you seen the Gene Simmons sex tape? And there's a fairly large body of evidence that supports the position that Paul Stanley is gay. No, KISS was for people who didn't have the balls to embrace GWAR.
2. Def Leppard are not tortured geniuses. They're idiots. Their name is not cool. They're just too stupid to spell deaf or leopard correctly. (See: Bill and Ted's Big Adventure.)
3. Motley Crüe blows. They are, however, interesting. I mean, it's not everybody who gets to fuck Pamela Anderson or who shot up their body weight in heroin in a single dose or whatever the fuck they're famous for. But let us not confuse "being interesting" for "being talented." Otherwise my favorite homeless guy, Mr. To Eat, who haunts the streets of Center City Philadelphia repeating the same chant/plea for money so that he may have something to eat, may be the most talented mother fucker on the planet.
4. The world was never on the edge of its seat wondering what Madonna's next incarnation would be. Nobody who actually knew shit about music cared. The whole "reinventing yourself" thing? That's what people who can't for the life of them imagine how they got famous do. Like "tomatoes never hit a moving target" or something.
5. While there are certainly talented individuals in the band, Joe Walsh is the only long-term palatable thing about The Eagles.
6. The Clash were possibly the farthest thing from a "one hit wonder" that music will ever know. Joe Strummer's work with the Mescaleros is the stuff societies are built on.
7. Legos did not make music. Queen deserves better. Love him or hate him, Freddie raised the bar.
8. The Beatles "Rock Band" videos are amazingly bad at conveying just how amazing and influential the band actually was. See the movie "Let It Be" for a more accurate record.
9. In fact, quite a few ultra-talented musicians managed to make some of the worst videos on earth. Don't judge them too harshly by their VH1 presence. Among some of the worst video-to-raw talent quotient misrepresentations: Yes. The Rolling Stones. Aerosmith. Stevie Wonder. Bruce Springsteen.
10. On the other side of the coin, there are acts that probably would never have succeeded were it not for the music video. Falco. Abba. Thomas Dolby. Falco.

There are today many media watchers who have pronounced the music video dead. While I agree that the current crop of artists seem to fall under number 10, once in a while the cosmos conspire to bring something so energizing as to renew your hope in the genre. And so I leave you with this video. It is one of the reasons that I will return again and again to VH1, despite their lies. Because artistry cannot be diluted, no matter how you piss on the backdrop on which it's presented.

"Art is making something out of nothing and selling it." -- Frank Zappa


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lean Green Behavior Machine

Let me start this off by saying that I've known for a long, long time that Thomas is special. By special I mean he's some bizarre cocktail of quirky and brilliant and ruthless and compassionate and annoying and precious and beautiful and moody. And he's all these things to the Nth power, and he's all these things all the time.
For instance, see this image on the right? That's Mr. Krabbs and SpongeBob made from dominoes. While the rest of the 2-year-olds in his preschool napped, ours made this. Lest you think this was just a one-time thing, I have a basement full of proof to the contrary. Illustrations, books, scripts, paintings, posters, sculptures ... you name it, I can show you boxes full of it, and it all shows sophistication well above what his age should allow.
When he was 3 his preschool teachers gave Thomas some puzzles to work on to keep him busy. They were intended for ages 11 and older. He finished them in 10 minutes. He now builds 3-D puzzles in mere minutes as well. He also remembers every line and nuance in every movie he's ever seen, even if he's only seen it once. He draws in perspective and understands vanishing points. He is a pretty smart little fucker. Even his teacher agrees.
So when his teacher asked to have a guidance counselor present during our last parent-teacher meeting, we were a little puzzled. Something about the way she careened through the list of his positive attributes, and I could just tell that she was looking through her sites for a place to drop the bomb. Sure enough, after the requisite "good news" she told us that he had a hard time focusing. He was squirmy. He would burst out laughing for no reason. He would yell. He would look at how the legs connected to the desk while she taught her lessons. He would interrupt her. And while she admitted he wasn't a distraction to the other kids and that he tested very well on the lessons (even if he appeared not to be paying attention), she seemed to say the most by what she didn't say at all. As if she silently begged us to decipher some code that she'd been forced to use. Like in those movies where the hostage has to answer the phone at gunpoint and make like nothing's wrong. Like does anybody know the semaphores for ADHD? Well, sorry but I don't speak winking, gesticulating inference very well.
In our kids' school, there's a color-coded behavior monitoring system: Green days are days without incident. Blue days, you had one warning. Yellow days, you're on double secret probation. Red days, you miss recess and purple days you get sent to the Principle's office and she calls your parents. This is tracked visually on a colored bulletin board that hangs in the front of the classroom, the child's name affixed to a magnet that they themselves must stand up and slide from color to color. The color on which your name lands at the end of the day is recorded in your folder and sent home each night so that your parents can monitor behavior in near-real time. After this meeting we paid more careful attention to Thomas' colors. Was it normal that he was bringing home yellows and blues and reds nearly every day? Was there something wrong? Did we need to take action? One thing was for sure: if his teacher had any opinion, she wasn't talking.
So we raced home to look up ADHD. ADD. Autism. Asperger's. Gifted. Ed Zachary Disease (your kid's so ugly, his face looks Ed Zachary like my ass). Anything we could find. And while Thomas exhibits some symptoms of nearly everything we looked at (except for Ed Zachary and boy, did we breathe a sigh of relief on that one because you can get better from the other stuff), nothing seemed to fit exactly.
And this is the part of the story where I wish I could tell you that it ended up just being some grand misunderstanding. That his teacher had squirted a grapefruit into her eye that made her wink uncontrollably all day. That we all whispered "kittens" down the lane and it came back "barbed wire." Wish I could, but that's not what happened. We're in a very odd place right now, trying to seriously and objectively evaluate what we have in front of us. Is this some developmental hiccup? Something more serious? Do we test for any of the popular acronyms or is his teacher just a mean and bitter cow? Or is this just the universe taking yet another shot at my balls?
Which reminds me, I totally should have titled the last post "Ball's Well That Ends Well." Guess I dropped the ball on that one. What, you didn't think I was going to make it through an entire post without mentioning them, did you?
In all seriousness, if you happen to have any input or ideas or expertise or whatever, please reach out to me either via e-mail or comment on this post. One thing we have learned is that there is just as much misinformation as there is information on the internet.

•••

On another note, I took the boys to Ten Thousand Villages (Sandi's favorite store) to buy, among other Mother's Day gifts, a necklace. We were standing by the necklace display area when a young lady asked if we needed help. Thomas put out his hands and violently mock strangled some imaginary person in front of him. Then he stopped and with his fingers still together in mid-strangle pose, he raised his hands and said, "Yeah, we need a necklace about this big."
Kids, if that's "special needs" then I never want to be mainstreamed.

"I like to figure things out and solve problems." -- Temple Grandin


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Games Without Frontiers

Remember the guy with the quids? His name was Rob. My nickname for him was Broccoli Rob which I thought was kinda clever (on account of he was like a vegetable, get it?). Broccoli Rob was the kind of guy who would call you up to ask if you wanted to play golf, then not only not show up for the round, but disappear out of your life for 9 months, not answering any phone calls or e-mails or anything. Then one day he'd call you up and pick up the conversation seamlessly from where he left off as if no time at all had passed -- all while you're stuck on the other end waiting for him to take a breath so you can find out what the fuck happened to him. The worst thing is that the stories of his disappearances weren't really stories at all. He just got drunk and forgot about our plans, then felt like he had to avoid me until I forgot to be mad.
I fucking hated Broccoli Rob for that. I would never do that to you. I will tell you now that I love being here and if I'm ever gone for a stretch, I promise to come back with a good reason. Even if I have to make something up.
To whit, following are updates on a some of the things that have kept me away.

1. My Health.
I will offer here that my testicles have been seen and touched by more people during the past month than during the entire decade that was my 20s. In some cases the doctor attending to me would disappear from the room only to emerge moments later with 4 or 5 "colleagues" -- people who I imagine are not actually doctors, but maybe curious neighbors or drinking buddies to whom the doctor had lost a bet -- all anxious to glove up and have at 'em. Makes a boy feel special.
With all that attention came a slew of uneasy conversations, peppered with words like hydrocele. debridement. cyst. hernia. surgery. tumor. removal. pre-cancerous. biopsy. The list goes on. And after all that pain and all that prodding and all that inspection and all that worrying, it turns out there's absofuckinglutely nothing wrong with me. Chronic ball pain -- while cause for my primary physician to freak out and, in turn, scare the piss out of me -- seems to be pretty common at my age. Who knew?
Probably worth pointing out that my primary care physician is a woman and is thus excused for gaps in her testicular knowledge by virtue of the fact that she does not possess the equipment and cannot be expected to fully understand the mystery that is men. This being said, I must say that I stand by my choice of her as my health advocate as I am now old enough for annual digital rectal exams and she has the tiniest fingers I've ever seen.
So I do have a hernia, but it's a belly button hernia and the surgeon essentially said it's a few clicks more complicated than clipping a toenail. Further, he said that if I felt at all apprehensive about the procedure he'd be happy to give me a box of Kleenex and a copy of Beaches on DVD because obviously I'm a woman.
I also had a growth on my right thigh biopsied and some pre-cancerous cells on my cheek frozen off. No big whoop. Part and parcel of being Irish.
To summarize: Healthy as a horse, albeit a horse with slightly achy balls.

2. My Job.
One day as I was sitting at my cubicle I heard a loud explosion and the sounds of screams. I looked out the window and saw that the Barclay's building across the street was under attack by what appeared to be an alien spaceship. Long story short, a small band of us hid out in the basement where, after a long period of trial and error, we learned that these aliens died when water hit them. Crisis averted, world saved. But it took a lot of time.

3. Ethan.
You remember Ethan, right? The kid this blog is supposed to be about? Well, Ethan's 1-month post-op check-up was rescheduled several times -- conferences, alien invasions, guest ball touchers ... you know, that kind of unavoidable stuff. That visit finally happened yesterday morning. Wanna know how it went? Well, I can sum it up in one word: Normal. Ethan has normal hearing. Specifically, in measuring 4 ranges of frequencies, the 2 middle ranges show him at 25 dB which falls within the normal range. For ultra-low and ultra-high range he has mild hearing loss, but he still scored 100% on test word recognition. And since in math we are taught to round 1/2 up to 1, we're calling it normal and considering it an amazing win, made even better by the likelihood that Eth's hearing will actually get even better with time.
Dr. Brad was, again, damn near giddy when he looked into Ethan's ear and saw how well everything had healed. He let me look through a set of magnifying lenses and showed me how the prosthetic bone is visible through the ear drum he created. I personally was struck by how many tiny arteries were already in place, bringing blood to the area. Admittedly I don't know shit about shit, but I know when something looks healthy and Ethan's ear looks to atresia repair surgery like Usain Bolt looks like to track and field.
Most important, at least to Ethan, is that he's now officially clear to run and jump and swim and be a little kid. And to that end I gotta tell you that I am so proud of that little guy. He has taken such amazing care of his ear during his recovery period, being very careful to avoid percussive activities and water. In fact, since the previous trips to Virginia were all business and left little time for leisure, we decided to make this trip special. We drove to Williamsburg and did Busch Gardens the day before with my brother and his wife (who are amazingly gracious hosts). During a river raft-style ride, a considerable amount of water got dumped on Ethan's head and he nearly freaked out, worrying that he was going to be in trouble for getting his ear wet. It was the kind of thing that makes you want to pick him up and hug him, which I did. And I sat him down, looked him in the eye and assured him that he is no longer at risk and has nothing to worry about. That he is healed. That we are celebrating the successful end of a very trying time in our lives.
Other special things: Ethan turned 6 this month. He also lost his first top tooth at dinner in Williamsburg on Saturday. The Tooth Fairy found us and left $10 under Ethan's hotel pillow, which he promptly spent on a light-up sword in the Oktoberfest Pavilion the next day.

4. The Pussy Game
The boys made up a game that they now play all the time. The gist is that one of them pretends to be a mean old lady and the other pretends to be the mean old lady's cat. The old lady walks around saying, "Puss-ay, puss-ay," and when the cat comes by, the old lady beats the living shit out of it. Now, when Ethan plays the old lady, he sounds just like Lovey Howell from the Gilligan's Island. Try to imagine that for a second -- A 6-year-old boy wandering around like a proper, gentile old lady saying, "Puss-ay, puss-ay." Now if you can sit there while this game is being played and not damn near blow an o-ring trying not to laugh, you're a better person than I. So the other night Sandi and I were hanging out while the boys played the Pussy Game and we decided we'd had enough. "Guys, knock it off, OK? You're getting too violent." Ethan: "It's OK, daddy. We're not being rough. We're playing 'Old Lady' pussy." Pop goes the aneurism, don't the aneurism go pop.

"You can't help that. We're all mad here." -- The Cheshire Cat