don draper

Aliens are why the word “Harass” has the word “ass” in it

There are many who walk among us who fear aliens are coming to Earth under the cloak of secrecy, stealing us and submitting us to heinous examinations like anal probes, and such.  Collectively, I refer to these people as crackpots. 

What could possibly inspire a being, who is evolved enough to venture across the galaxy, to come here and study our colons? 

And vivisection?  Please!  After the first couple studies they’d have seen pretty much everything there is to see. 

If a being is evolved enough to make this intergalactic trek undetected, my guess is it would be as bored with us (as a lower species) as we might ourselves become with goldfish or box turtles.  Similarly, much as some of us create imaginary scenarios for our pets, or even try to train them and control their environments, I think hyper-evolved aliens are more likely to mess with us than study us.

My theory is aliens come to Earth, abduct random samples of our species, reprogram them, and then watch the devastation their minions create.  Case in point?  How about the “Respectful Workplace” phenomenon.

Back in the good old days, a martini-laden executive could rouse himself from a nap at his desk, walk outside his office door, adjust his secretary’s breasts (just to make sure they’re level) and then tell her she’s getting a little chunky before meandering off to the kitchen to grab a beer and a pack of smokes from the office supply cabinet. 

The secretary had three choices:

1) accept the comments and keep working

2) quit in outrage, or

3) stop eating meatball hoagies at lunch and drop a few pounds so her master wouldn’t think she’s fat and subsequently replace her with a younger, sexier secretary. 

These days, there’s no liquor in the office place.  We’re all self-sufficient, what with our computers, and e-mail and cell phones, etc, so nobody even has a secretary anymore, let alone the means to harass one.  

Regardless, if anyone so much as speaks to another co-worker, there’s an immediate threat of legal rebuking for harassment of some sort, and the guidelines for this behavior are so completely grey, that the instructions from highly compensated consultants is “well, just be professional, and you should be okay.”

What the … ???

Office workers today fear for their employment every time they open their mouths.  As a result, the workplace is becoming a haven for homogenized behavior – any attempts to interject personality, humor or sarcasm may be met with immediate legal action and employment termination.  Social interaction, friendship, comraderie?  Those are the antitheses of acceptable professional behavior, and at some point, offices will close entirely, and worker bees will stay home, interacting only with their goldfish and box turtles.

No matter how fervently we fantasize about the good old days, they’re gone forever.  Still, must we knee-jerk 180 degress to such an absurdly strict extreme as the one in which we find ourselves today? 

In today’s workplace, the work product is far less important than the successful navigation of the social minefield that exists in the office.  An employee could be a money-making machine for the company, but if he accidentally bumps into a $5/hour intern, he’s immediately fired for imposing himself physically on a co-worker. 

What has happened to our society to make it so hysterically over-sensitive to everything?  It’s quite simple, really.  As noted above, aliens have abducted simple human beings and converted them to their minions … lawyers!!!

Pestilence, the plague, terrorists, swarms of locusts, airplane peanuts, these things are all child’s play compared to the mass devestation being imposed on our planet by lawyers. 

Lawyers wordsmith their way into the psyche of potential victims, convince them they’ve been wronged and then assure them someone will pay them tons of money to make things right.  Battle lines get drawn; money changes hands; other potential victims watch what transpires, and more law suits are filed.   

Need an example?  How about this one: A friend shared a story the other day about a Christmas party where suggestive photos were taken and then taped to the office manager’s door.  The office manager then sued the company and was awarded nearly three quarters of a million dollars for her pain and suffering. 

My bet is, the next day, every employee came in early, taped suggestive photos to their own doors and then sued the company for similar paydays.  Why not?!

Somewhere in the heavens, aliens are zipping across the skies in their undetectable flying contraptions, laughing hysterically each time a productive member of society drops the F-bomb in frustration and gets sued by an underling whose feelings get hurt and whose lawyer is on speed-dial. 

It’s probably true that forcing a subordinate to concede to having sex with you in exchange for career advancement is wrong on some level, but telling someone their haircut looks nice probably isn’t worthy of a multi-million dollar law suit.  If it wasn’t for the minions, there would probably be some common sense within our society deciding where a reasonable line should be drawn, but until those damned aliens stop meddling, we’ll all continue to succomb to the lure of lucre and sue one another for anything at the drop of a hat.

At some point, I think we’d be better off with anal probes and vivisections than lawyers.

AFH cow

Where are all the aliens when I really need them?

So, my wife received an invitation to go out for drinks with a friend tonight.  As a working mother, my wife’s social calendar leaves a lot to be desired, so whenever an opportunity for her to hang out with a friend arises, I encourage her to pursue it.

That leaves me at home with a ten-year-old boy, an eight-year-old boy and a four-month-old Springer Spaniel named Fenwick.  How have things gone?  Well, if the United States had not discovered the A-Bomb in 1945, they could have dropped these three on Japan, and Hirohito would have capitulated within ten minutes.

Watching one’s own children should be simple, right?  Every parent reading this probably knowingly smirked at that question, but honestly, how difficult should this be?

Let’s consider the question rationally.  The total period of child-sitting will be about five hours.  Sometime after the third hour, the children will be sent to bed, so really, we’re talking about three hours of actual engagement.  There’re video games to occupy the boys, and we all know their soft little minds turn to tapiocca when confronted with video games, and hours pass like seconds.  All I really needed to do was leave them alone, therefore, and I’d be home free. 

The dog’s a little tougher.  Without opposable thumbs, or a penchant for gaming strategy, Fenwick’s really not much for X-Box, or Wii (unless she can chew on them), and since she’s only four months old, there is no relaxation to be accomplished within fifty feet of her.  She’s a teething machine with boundless energy.  Fortunately, unlike the case with the children, I can lock Fenwick in her kennel and fear no legal ramifications if Child Services happens to stop by.  Her incessant whining and howling can be distracting, but it’s far more tolerable than having my flesh rendered from my body.

So there.  See?  – piece of cake!  The boys will play video games, and the dog will be confined to her kennel.

- perfect plan, except all three will need to eat, and that’s where the proverbial wheels fell off the train.

“Dad?  What’s for dinner?”

With his younger brother in tow, my oldest asked that question a few minutes after seven o’clock.  I was an hour from being home-free!

Until that moment, I was quietly relaxing in front of my TV at the other end of the house from my children and dog.  Now, they had penetrated my defenses, and were invading.

“What would you like?” 

It seemed like a logical, and reasonable answer.  After all, I was actually looking forward to having fun with the boys tonight – the three of us sitting in a restaurant somewhere, eating unhealthy comfort food and talking about bodily functions, and why girls are icky, but the entire world took a cataclysmic left turn at that moment, and there was no rescuing the evening.

In unison, both boys responded with polar opposite choices.  The only point of agreement was that they each hated each other’s choice.

I proposed a fair and equitable solution – best of three coin toss – but knew, in the back of my mind, that neither of these monkeys would accept a loss valiantly, and the odds were good we weren’t going to survive this conflict without some carnage.  It took all three flips of the coin, but in the end, my oldest prevailed.  At that moment, my youngest went into his familiar whining routine, then passive-aggressively sitting in a chair when instructed to find his shoes, and basically turning into a defiant, contrary, miserable monster.

As I awaited the imaginary steam building up in me to explode out of my ears like a fire whistle, I yelled for everyone to get in the car, grabbed my keys, and made my way into the garage.  The car rumbled to a start, and as I backed out of the garage, my youngest made one final whiney remark. 

The camel’s back had been broken.

Apparently, the brakes in my car are pretty good, because as I slammed my right foot into the brake pedal, our bodies all convulsed.  Silently, I put the car back into “drive,” returned the car to its rightful position in the garage and turned the engine off.  The boys tensely awaited my next words.

“There’s no way on god’s green Earth I’m going to spend a single nickel tonight in a restaurant, just to suffer through a meal with you two.” 

Yup.  That’s what I said.   There would have been a slew of profanity thrown in too, but I exhausted what was left of my self-control to edit what my brain wanted to say before it left my lips. – lucky save.

Then, I announced we were staying home for dinner, and suggested to my oldest that he find something to eat.  I sent the younger one to his room without supper, at which point he elevated his game from whining to full-on wailing and blubbering.

Upon entering the house, I released the puppy from her crate, and she immediately bit my leg and peed on the floor.  It was at that precise moment that I, like Hirohito, accepted … no, welcomed defeat.  

This all brings me to my question: if aliens exist, why the hell don’t they abduct fathers of young children? 

We always hear about livestock, typically of the bovine variety, being unwittingly levitated into a space craft via a beam of light, or of children being abducted from the depths of slumber, but you never hear of, oh, say, a 40-something father of two getting whisked away to salvation. 

Did I say salavation?  Yes, I did, and here’s why.

To be frank, I doubt there’s really all that much anal probing going on anymore.  I mean, how many examinations does it really take to learn everything there is to know about the colon, bowels and intestines?  Two?  Three, maybe?  – Certainly, fewer than ten.  By this point, I suspect aliens have discovered everything they could possibly want to learn from that particular procedure.  That same logic applies to every part of physical examinations, too.  For the most part, men are all the same, and women are, too.  The aliens have had years and years to abduct and examine us, so, again, I suspect they’ve moth-balled the whole body-cavity search wing of their space ship, and have moved on to other things.

I’ll bet they never really did any such examinations at all, anyway.  I think they abduct stuff for a reason.  For example, why would I abduct a cow?  Answer: Because I’m hungry.  Why would I abduct a woman?  Answer: Duh!  Why would I abduct a man?  Answer: two reasons: first, to have someone to explain the nuances of reality TV to me, and second, out of pity.

These aliens may actually be fathers themselves, and when they see us struggling to hang on to what little self-esteem and sanity we have left, they swoop in, whisk us up into their ships, and watch Cinemax and share nachos with us.  At least that’s the story I’m going with!

At this point, I think I need a compassionate alien to fly over my house and abduct my sorry ass.  Maybe, like anything else, I need to advertise to attract my target market.  Do aliens have Craig’s List?  I can see the personal ad now: Married male with children seeking long quiet ride in space ship … introverted, mute, deaf aliens prefered.

Esther – You Just Can’t “BEST” Her

Esther is the name of my mother’s mother.  To me, she was Mom Mom, and I just realized this morning that she’s still having an impact on my life.

Typically, the words “Italian Grandmother” conjure up images of a little old lady wearing a black dress and an apron, spoiling her grandchildren with affection and food.  Well, that wasn’t Esther.  She was never the grandmotherly type.  As a kid, I resented her nonchalance toward us, but as an adult, I not only understand her behavior, but have developed a strong respect for her.

Her father (my great grandfather: Grandpop) used to tell us stories about how he knew he was in trouble with his daughter when she lost her shoes (and the family temporarily lost her) as a toddler on the boat heading from Italy to New York.  She didn’t disappoint him, either, eloping years later with my grandfather while Grandpop was headed back to Italy to get a new wife (that’s another very interesting story).

My great grandfather was a character in his own right.  His name was Carmine (the “i” is short, not long, by the way), and was a fireplug of a guy.  He was barely more than five feet tall, but even though I’m more than a foot taller, our hands were about the same size (and I can stretch to reach ten keys on a piano keyboard).  He was barrel-chested, and your first glance of him would illustrate the fact that he never lived the soft, office-life of privilege many of us live today.  He worked for everything he ever had. 

His birthday was the day after Christmas, so every year, as a kid, my parents would pack us up and drive to Grandpop’s house to celebrate.  He was usually holding court in his living room while Grandmom (Grandpop’s second wife) toiled in the kitchen making the most amazing Italian cookies ever to be eaten.  Many of those recipes died with her, by the way, but that’s a different story.

Grandpop came to America with virtually no money, not knowing the common language, and only knowing one person.  He was lucky.  In many cases, immigrants knew no one. 

On the occasion of one of his post-90th birthdays, my great grandfather shared a story of what life was like when he first came to America. 

He and his buddy heard there was work where a new reservoir was being built.  They walked a few dozen miles to get to the site, only to be shunned by the supervisor.  Apparently, this boss hated “greaseballs.”   Grandpop and his friend didn’t take “no” easily, so they tried to prove they would do anything the supervisor asked.  Since they spoke virtually no English, they pantomimed to get their message across.  To paraphrase my great grandfather’s broken English: “There I was with my big ‘moosestash,’ flexing my muscles, trying to show what a big man I was.” 

The supervisor conceded, and instructed the two guidos to grab a particular crate from the southern end of the reservoir, and carry it more than a mile to the northern end.  That may not sound like a big deal, but lugging a couple-hundred pound crate that far over rocky terrain, in the hot, humid Philadelphia summer was going to be an all-day task.   Thrilled with the opportunity, the two immediately set out to earn their day’s wage.

The crate was heavy, and in many cases, they both lifted one end and dragged it over rocks, and pushed it down hills.  They sat on the crate when they took breaks, and popped the tops off their drinks by banging the bottles off the top of the crate.   By the time they reached the north end of the reservoir, the work day was concluding, and all the other workers were congregating around the bursar to collect their day’s pay. 

 The crate was battered and spilt in some places, but its contents were intact, so the day was a success.  Grandpop and his paisano dramatically dropped the crate at the foot of the bursar and the crowd scattered, running for cover.  Grandpop was confused until one of the other workers, who spoke Italian, informed him and his friend that they just carried a crate full of wet dynamite. 

It was a miracle that crate didn’t explode when they first picked it up, let alone all those times they dropped it down hills, or dragged it up hill across boulders.   If it had exploded, yours truly would not be telling you this story.  That much is certain!

So this gives you an idea of what kind of stock Esther came from, and she didn’t break stride.  And she was as narcissistic as they came!  Whenever there was a camera in her presence, she would strike, what our family came to know as, “the pose” – left foot pointing at the camera, right foot pointing at a 45 degree angle from there, shoulders back, head up and hands clasped in front at the waist.  There was never a hair out of place.  Her clothes were always impeccable, and her body never changed.  She was about 5 feet tall, and weighed about 100 pounds her entire life.  When I was a kid, in her 50s and 60s, I would watch her exercise every day with Jack Lalanne (who was three years her junior).  She bowled a 200 after her 90th birthday, and walked three or more miles every day.

She was also a total extrovert.  She would step onto a silent transit bus, and three stops later, when she got off, everyone would be talking, and bidding her adieu.  She was a frenetic, insomniac, drama queen who had little patience for children or fools, and spoke her mind freely.

When my older brother and I were little, we always looked forward to spending time with Mom Mom … Dad’s mom.  She was the prototypical grandmother who treated us like young royalty.  My mother’s mother (Esther) was another story entirely. 

It was apparent she would only tolerate us if we behaved and conformed to her terms.  The TV would be tuned to Jack Lalanne, soap operas, or Lawrence Welk.  If we wanted to watch something else, we could go home and watch it there.  We ate what she ate (which was virtually nothing because she was always starving herself to maintain her diminutive frame), and we weren’t allowed to make any noise.  The only thing Esther and I ever did together when I was a kid was walk.

She’d enter our house, sit for about five minutes and then get up, point at me and say “Let’s go for a walk.”  She didn’t so much enjoy my company as need someone to keep her company and protect her from god-knows-what.  She was one of the most paranoid people on the planet.

We lived in a bucolic suburb where crime was limited to claiming too many deductions on one’s income taxes, yet when Esther spent the night, she’d check all the doors to make sure they were locked, look under the bed and check the closets to ensure no boogie monsters were preparing to lunge out and eat her in her sleep, and then lock the bedroom door, which provided all kinds of safety because it was hollow, and made of balsa wood!

Anyway, I’m pretty sure she only had me accompany her to keep her safe.  She wasn’t delusional enough to believe I would protect her, but rather she could outrun me, and possibly throw me at threatening people, facilitating her escape.  Mom Mom loved me …

I don’t recall ever actually speaking during any of these walks together.  It wouldn’t surprise me if no words were ever exchanged, but I came to really enjoy heading out with her.  Oddly enough, we actually developed a bond.  Of all her grandchildren, I’m the one who would “moon” her when she’d ask me to do something, and she’d tell me how bad I was, but would still laugh.  As a teen, I was the one who would drive her around on her errands, and would drive as fast as I could to scare her.  She’d tell me to slow down, but only half-heartedly, because she enjoyed the thrill as much as I did.  She always took special care to tell me how much she preferred her other grandchildren, but in the end, we became friends.

As kids, I think we tend to classify grandparents as old people, but we seem to emphasize the “old” part, not the “people” part.  I didn’t realize until I was much older, but my grandmother was a pistol all her life.  She didn’t like rocking babies to sleep on a chair.  She wanted playmates.  Her body may have gotten old, but her mind always remained youthful.  To this day, I attribute my inability to sit down for more than 5 minutes to my grandmother. 

Esther lived to the ripe old age of 91 (almost 92).  She’d have lived longer, if not for her accident.  She was out taking her three mile walk one day when she crossed the driveway of a bank and some dipshit in a stationwagon pulled into the bank at speed, never noticing Esther in his path.  She weighed next to nothing, and the impact threw her fifteen feet in the air, and she landed hard on the parking lot.  Her pelvis was broken, and she was rushed to the hospital.  Her bones healed (albeit slowly), but the clots that were formed resulted in a series of strokes.  Her muscles atrophied during her recovery, and she was wheelchair-bound until she died within the next year, or so.  She would turn 100 this Fall, and if it hadn’t been for that accident, she’d probably still be around, walking my legs off every time she came to visit.

As much as we didn’t like one another when I was little, our relationship blossomed to the point where one night, in my mid-thirties, she was visiting from Florida and my wife and I took her out bowling – her favorite activity.  It was a Friday night, and I was exhausted from working all day (so was my wife, and for the same reason).  I was going to try to back out of taking Mom Mom out, but when I arrived at my parents’ house, there was Mom Mom, sitting on the couch, clutching her bowling bag on her lap, feet together, hair made up, outfit clean and pressed, looking like a fresh bag of mail waiting to be picked up by a passing train.  There was no way I could tell her no, so I changed my mood, took her hand and left.

It was one of the best nights of my, or my wife’s life.  We played two games with Mom Mom – she kicked our asses – and then went to a local Italian restaurant for dinner.  She talked our ears off about the old days, and her various escapades with family and friends, and when we finally got home at around midnight, she was still so full of energy, she asked us to go for a walk.  It was my last walk with mom Mom.

We strolled my parents’ neighborhood for about an hour, until my wife and I were exhausted.  It was about 1 AM, and Esther still had energy in the tank, but we called it a night, and for the first time in my life, Mom Mom thanked me.  For years after that night, my mom and aunt would tell us how Mom Mom always reminded them of that night, and how much fun it was.  It was the first time I actually understood her. 

Thank god I didn’t cancel!!!

Walking has always been my “go to” form of exercise.  In any given week, I probably walk between 20 and 25 miles.  It’s a great way for me to relax, formulate thoughts, enjoy music through headphones, and basically get into a “zone.”  I enjoy playing sports and hitting the gym (now and then), but walking has always been a part of my life.  It wasn’t until this morning, while on my way to the pastry shop to pick up breakfast treats for the family, I had a denouement.  Walking is a part of my life because of Esther.  She trained me to do this.  – not sure if she recognized similarities between us, or not, but I share her energy, her obvious ADD, and her desire to “do” and not to “sit.”

My oldest son is starting to take walks with me.  Hopefully, one day, 30 or 40 years from now, he’ll still be taking walks, and will think back on the times he and I spent together.  Sometimes holding hands and chit chatting, and other times, just walking quietly, enjoying the scenery and the presence of a loved one.  Maybe  he’ll start a walking tradition with his kids, and Esther’s legacy will continue.

A Three Hour Tour

A couple weeks ago, we were back East, suffering through the three “H”s of mid-summer: Hazy, Hot and Humid.  Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees, and with high humidity, the heat index was more than 115 degrees.  Put simply, it was nasty.

Flash forward to today, and my family is tucked up in the Idaho mountains, lakeside, enjoying 75-80 degree temperatures with virtually no humidity.  It’s been over 100 degrees more than 30 consecutive days in Oklahoma and parts of Texas, but here in McCall, it’s refreshingly cool.

There are many who love the beach and the surf, and live for days when they can lounge in chairs at the water’s edge, or ride the waves.  For me, crisp mountain air in the forests of Idaho creates heaven on Earth. 

This particular town is magical.  In the winter, the area receives a few hundred inches of snow, and becomes a playground for winter sports (skiing, snow-mobiling, building ice sculptures, sledding, etc).  In the summer, between the great weather, gorgeous scenery, and lake, there is no shortage of activities – biking, hiking, boating, white water rafting, etc.  We come up here whenever we can, and brought family here about a month ago to share the area’s bounty.

On that particular trip, we decided to give our family the full experience, and went north of the lake to kayak – ostensibly to search for moose and eagles, but really just to have a little fun away from the house.  This was not adventure kayaking, by any means. 

Even though we were kayaking in July, the upper portions of the mountains were still covered with a couple feet of snow.  The streams and lake are fed by the snow, so the water levels everywhere were very high.  The water pouring out the southern portion of the lake created dozens of miles of class 4 and 5 rapids where world-class kayakers and rafters play.  The section of water to the north of the lake though, where we were venturing, was virtually flat.  There was a slight current, but no one ever gets in trouble there.  Well …

Our party was comprised of my niece (21) and nephew (17) in one kayak, my oldest son (10) and my brother-in-law (fortunately an experienced kayaker – more on that later) in another kayak, and my wife and I and our 8 year-old son between us in the final kayak.

We paddled along for about a mile, trying to keep from getting too wet, chatting between boats, and otherwise enjoying the amazing scenery.  As mentioned, the water was high and there was a head-current, but all-in-all, the water was peaceful.  Then we came to a bend in the … well, body of water.  Although I think it qualifies as a river, it’s difficult to refer to this section as anything more than a stream, or tributary.

A tree trunk had fallen into the current at some point in the recent past and gotten lodged into the bank.  An eddy swirled around the fallen tree and created a disturbance in the rest of the current.  We were bringing up the rear of our three kayaks, and as we approached the eddy, I made a series of stupid, novice mistakes and we found ourselves parallel to the log with powerful water pushing the port side of our kayak down.  Just as we were about to tip over, I had a Nostradamus moment, and thought to myself “this is really going to suck!”  And I was right.

About a half hour before this water was swirling around this fallen tree, it was snow, 500 feet up the hill.  The ambient water temperature was somewhere between 40 and 50 degrees.  The outdoor air temperature wasn’t even 70 degrees. 

As we plunged into the icy water, over our heads, it felt as though our hearts stopped.  The shock of the frigid water was overwhelming.  My first thought was to grab my 8 year-old and get his head above the water.  My wife had the same idea, and the two of us pulled him up.  The water was too deep to stand on the bottom, so we simultaneously treaded water, held up our son and tried to flip the kayak back over while maintaining our own wits and balance.  At this point, I should probably share something: I’m terrified of water.

Most sane people recognize the immense power of water, and respect it.  I go several steps beyond respect, and a couple steps beyond abject fear.  I can trace this fear back to a specific experience.

When I was about 10 years old, I was taking a junior life saving course at the local high school pool.  I was a good swimmer with really bad sinuses (you’ll see why I noted that second part in a second).  As part of our training, we were expected to “save” a rubber brick from the bottom of the pool.  The pool was 12 feet deep.

It was my turn; my instructor threw the brick to the bottom, and I endeavored to swim after it.  I got to somewhere around 8 feet, and my head felt like it was going to implode.  My sinuses were pounding, and the water pressure was too much to overcome.  I tried to swim lower, but couldn’t.  As I ran out of air, I began swimming back up to the surface.  My instructor saw me coming up without the brick and dove in.  Before I could break the surface, the instructor grabbed me and pulled me down to the bottom, handed me the brick and let me swim back to the top.

I was completely out of air before I got pulled down, so as you might surmise, I was completely panicked.  When I finally got to the top, I gasped, sprawled-out next to the pool trying to catch my breath, and then got up and left – never to return.

 In the instructor’s defense, he probably thought he was doing a good thing, helping me succeed.  In reality, he was traumatizing me for the rest of my life, but hey, let’s not dwell on the negative, okay?

Unfortunately, knowing the root of fear actually has nothing to do with overcoming it.

So I’m terrified of water, and now I’ve been thrust into near-freezing water with my wife and youngest son and, once again, I’m panicking.  I hollered for my brother-in-law who was a few minutes up-stream from us.  Once we got his attention, he turned around and headed back to help.  In the meantime, we had flipped the kayak up-right.  It was half-full of water.  Our son got in; my wife got in, but as I tried to climb in, we capsized again. 

This time, we lifted our son on top of the flipped hull for safety, and my wife and I kicked, trying to move us to the bank and to safety.  Unfortunately, the water current had other plans, and no matter how hard we struggled, we couldn’t get any closer to the bank. 

After nearly five minutes in the water, my brother-in-law got next to us, successfully pried my son’s hands off our hull and got him into his kayak.  Then he helped navigate us close enough to the bank so we could stand up and man-handle the kayak into position.  If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened to us, but I did keep having images of Leonardo DiCaprio slipping off the edge of the raft, frozen to death at the end Titanic. 

We were completely exhausted. 

Between the water temperature, the shock, the panic and the actual expenditure of energy needed to maneuver ourselves and the craft, we didn’t have much left in our tanks.  After expending more energy to flip the kayak back onto its hull, empty out the water and climb back in, we set off for the launch site.  Our niece and nephew had collected our various things, including the oars, so at least we didn’t have to chase all over the place for our stuff.

Again, thanks to my experienced brother-in-law who suggested we put our cell phones, keys, wallet, camera and anything else valuable in zip-lock bags and leave air in the bags so they’d float and stay dry if there was a problem on the water, we didn’t lose anything … except one of my shoes which slipped off when we flipped.  With all that water current, that shoe is now probably someplace in Nevada.

Not only were we exhausted, we were freezing cold.  Cotton is not a water-sport-friendly fabric, my friends.  It retains moisture like a camel in the desert.  My wife and I hunched forward in the kayak, shivering, and paddled our way back to the starting point, about a mile ahead of us.

When we got back to the launch site, the lady who rented the kayaks in the first place was shocked to see us back, and even more shocked to find out what happened.  Apparently, no one ever flips … except us.

As we sloshed back across the loose stones of the parking lot to our car, my youngest son calmly asked me to never take him kayaking again.  I had a hard time coming up with a reason why we should, so I just nodded my head and settled into the driver’s seat with soggy pants and one shoe. 

I’ve kept my remaining shoe, not so much as a trophy, but as a reminder (a) to buy shoes that are more snug in the future, and (b) to never lose sight of how scary and powerful water can be.

You’d think that would be enough, wouldn’t you?  – Except it’s not.  I’ve lived my life trying to confront fear and overcome it.  I’d made some good strides against my water phobia over the years, but much of that was undone when I did my imitation of a kayaking polar bear.

Last week, not only did I agree to join friends on a white water rafting trip, but I organized it.  The biggest things we hit were a few class-3 and maybe one or two class-4 patches, so for the most part, it was a pretty tame trip.  The other seven riders jumped out of the raft at various points along the trip to cool down in the refreshing and clean water, but I remained seated in pseudo safety within the confines of the raft.  Now and then, as we made our way downstream, I was drenched by surges of water blasting over the sides of the raft, but I wasn’t about to willingly jump into the water  … baby steps.



There’s an insideous illness out there that is both debilitating and contageous.  It’s called “an Ironman Triathlon.” 

Unlike an ordinary triathlon, which incorporates three different legs of a single race, most commonly including swimming, biking and running, the Ironman version is the ultimate in extreme perversion, requiring a 2.4 mile swim, and 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run, which is a full marathon.  All of this must be completed in 17 hours, but worse than that, each individual leg of the race must be completed within a set amount of time, or the participant will be disqualified. 

The swimming must be completed within 2 hours and 20 minutes, and the biking must be completed within 10 and a half hours after the overall event began.   The balance of the time can be spent running, as long as that’s completed by the 17 hours deadline.  Simply put, if the event begins at 7AM, it must be completed by midnight, and the first two stages must be completed by 9:20AM and 5:30PM, respectively.

This is not an endeavor one takes on casually.  A friend of mine is training for an iron man competition that’s only a couple weeks away.  He’s been training for a year – running, swimming biking, etc. – and by last report, he can’t wait for this nightmare to end! 

There’s only so much one can do to prepare for such an untertaking, though, because training doesn’t include preparing for the actual race conditions.  For example, every day when he practices swimming, he goes to the YMCA, dives into the heated swimming pool and starts banging out laps. 

On the fateful day a couple weeks from now, he’ll dive into a mountain lake that is probably not much warmer than 50 degrees, and his eyes will be met, not  by clear, chemically-balanced, chlorinated pool water, but by murky, dark, lake water that’s filled with tree-limbs, nymphing bugs and various forms of other organic matter, including fish, and their poop.  Oh, and there will be wind.  There’s no wind in the YMCA, so not only will he be swimming in miserable conditions, he’ll probably be introduced to fighting water current, too.

After 2 hours of that hell, he’ll get to hop on his bike and start riding to who the hell knows where.  We don’t live near this event, so the road course for both the biking and running will be completely unfamiliar, not to mention uncomfortable.

When you were a kid, did you ever get out of a friend’s pool and then ride your bike home?  Do you remember the unpleasant feeling of being wet, and trying not to stick to your bike seat, or develop a rash?  If you were anything like me, that bike ride home sucked … that whole, entire ONE mile.  These nuts are going to be riding like that for 112 miles, and then they’re going to change shoes and run a full marathon.

There are people who train for years to run marathons.  I remember watching footage of people running the Boston, or New York marathons and thinking “these poeple have lost their minds.”  Well, Ironman competitors must look at marathoners and think “pussies.”  Wouldn’t you?

It’s human nature to scoff at someone else’s inferior accomplishments. 

“Oh, you got your GED?  Whoopty-do.  I’m an actual high school graduate.”

“High school, eh?  Well I completed junior college.”

“Junior college?  You’re lookin’ at a college graduate, right here.”

“Yeah, I was one of them too, and then I got a real degree – a masters.”

“I’m a Phd and I eat masters grads for lunch.”

“Oh, really?  Well, I’m an MD, so while you and your Phd are waiting tables, I’m driving home in a Ferrari after performing surgery on a clumsy GED!”

“Hah!  You all suck, because I … AM … an IRONMAN!!!”

… and then there’re are the crazy long-distance runners.  Did you ever hear of Dean Karnazes?  Look ‘im up.  He runs ultramarathons – as far as 226.2 miles in one trot.  To accomplish this, he’ll run all night, and actually sleep-run.  When he runs, he brings a cell phone and a credit card so he can order a pizza and have it delivered en route.  This guy probably looks down his nose at Ironmen competitors as slackers and n’er do wells.

And then there’s … oooh … I think I just got a cramp in my index finger from all this typing.   I quit.

ski lift

The Easiest Part of Being a Parent

The easiest part of being a parent is making the baby.  It’s pretty much downhill from there!

Speaking of “downhill,” I was on a ski lift this past weekend with my 10 year-old son.  Those of you who have ridden a ski lift know what it’s like, but for those of you who have never been on such a contraption, I will attempt to describe the experience.  

To start, imagine yourself seated on a chair that is suspended fifteen or more feet above the ground, and is gently swaying forward and back as it gradually drifts up the mountain toward its destination.  The gentle rocking back and forth is hypnotic, and as long as you’re not acrophobic, your blood pressure starts to drop as you slip into a pseudo hibernation. 

It’s extremely quiet, too, so your mind can’t help but begin wandering.  The only sound is that of the cable overhead being pulled through the pulleys mounted to the support towers that are spaced a hundred or so feet from one another, like soldiers marching in a line. 

Even though you’re bundled in layers of clothes, it’s not unusual for a brisk breeze to be blow a quick chill at you, so you’ll instinctively bury your chin into your chest, as if you’re balling yourself up for protection. 

Visually, the scene is spectacular and serene all at once – cobalt blue skis contrasted by the brilliant white snow flocking the trees, covering the rocks and smothering the Earth beneath you.  Saplings and underbrush poke through the top of the snow blanket, if only to remind you that there will be life again on these hills in a few months, but for now everything is dormant, and peaceful, and quiet.  In these modern times of constant interruptions from cell phones and white noise, it’s the serenity that is most intoxicating.

For some, the ski lift ride is a necessary evil – an obligatory bridge between their last downhill run and their next.   For others, though, it is a time of refuge, for soul searching, for recreational streams of consciousness and daydreaming. 

For me, it’s a time to be whacked in the nuts by my sons errantly swung ski pole.

“Hey, buddy, you wanna watch where you’re swinging those things?  I may not need these anymore, but I’ve kind of grown attached to them.”

Oops.  Once again, my mouth started working before my brain, and now I’ve potentially opened Pandora’s Box in front of an inquisitive 4th grade boy.


“Yes, buddy,” I replied, hoping to God he was going to ask about anything but what I had just said.

“What are our nuggets for, anyway?”

… aaaaaand there it was.  Crap.  How much longer is this lift ride?  I know.  I’ll make this simple, and hope he drops it.

“Well, buddy, they help make babies.”


I really wasn’t prepared to have this conversation, especially since I’m not very good at thinking on my feet when it comes to biology, but I was officially so deep into this hole, a spelunker with a search light, a thousand feet of rope and ten gallons of Vaseline couldn’t pull me out unscathed.

“Well, to make a baby, you need an egg - the girl has that - and you need a little swimmy thing called a sperm - and the boy has that.  Sperm come from your nugs, and look like tad poles.  The boy has to give the sperm to the girl and fertilize her egg so she can make a baby.”

“Ew.  So that’s why you kiss when you get married?”

I have to admit, I paused when he said this for a moment or so, as I quickly went through the plethora of one-liners his innocent little straight line had offered me, but once I regained my composure, I suppressed my smirk and replied simply: “No.  Kissing isn’t necessarily part of the process.  You see, your weiner delivers the sperm to the girl.”

That was it! He looked at me like I had just told him that Legos are actually small aliens who pee on his toothbrush when he’s sleeping.  He blurted out: “OH MY GOD! Could we please stop talking about this now?!

… there have been times in my son’s life when his words have evoked the deepest possible emotions from me – saying “daddy” for the first time, telling me how much he loves me and why, telling me the Phillies have just won the World Series – but never before has he said anything that has brought me more relief and joy than when he asked to stop talking about sex.

By this point, we were nearly at the top of the lift, and were preparing to disembark.  We hopped off the chair, turned quickly to the right, and started joyfully skiing down the hill. 

Have I ever told you how serene and wonderful it is to ski?  It’s particularly peaceful because it’s virtually impossible to carry on a conversation with a ten year-old.


The Best Thing about the President of the United States is the 3rd Monday in February

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act (aka: Public Law 90-363), which was passed in 1968, is an Act of Congress that amended the federal holiday provisions of the United States Code to establish the observance of certain holidays on Mondays.  It took effect three years later, on January 1, 1971.  This not only affected Washington’s Birthday, but also Columbus Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. 

Basically, instead of celebrating those holidays on specific dates (like New Years, or Christmas), they were moved to specific Mondays (Washington’s Birthday being moved from his actual birthday of February 22nd, to the 3 Monday of February, for example).

I wonder how long it took Congress to draft, review and act upon this critical piece of national business.  Does our federal government really need to spend this much energy on such trivialities, and when it does, must a three year runway be required for implementation?

Because Washington’s birthday (February 22nd), and Lincoln’s birthday (February 12th) were so close together on the calendar, many states decided to eschew Washington and Lincoln specifically, and bundle all the Presidents into one, generic Monday holiday. 

This sounds like these guys are getting a raw deal, but (a) they’re both dead, so they probably don’t care, and (b) none of the rest of us probably really care, either.  Personally, I hold little affinity for any of our former leaders, not because they were good or bad, but because so little is known of them beyond folklore and publicity.  Their stories tend to be fascinating (how an individual rises to such an elite, elevated office), but their true selves are often clouded by fanciful legacies.  Consider George Washington and Valley Forge.

I grew up near Valley Forge, and, to this day, people still dress in colonial outfits there and re-enact the crossing of the Delaware and the winter’s encampment in Valley Forge.  Suffice to say, winter near Philadelphia is extremely unpleasant.  It snows, sometimes a foot or more at a time, and it’s not light, fluffy snow like ski havens like Utah boast.  It’s wet, heavy snow that weighs a ton and doesn’t go away until sometime in June.  The humidity there is very high, so when temperatures get down into single-digits (which they do; trust me), it feels several degrees colder than what the thermometer reads.  And then there’s the wind-chill-factor.  This is the gauge of how cold it FEELS versus how cold it actually is, relative to the velocity of the wind.  It’s not unusual for the wind-chill-factor to be several degrees below zero in the winter there.  Sounds like a great place to go camping.  Doesn’t it?

Now let’s consider the actual troops’ living conditions.  Some men lived in cabins, which only differed from sleeping outdoors in that there was an actual door separating the inside from the outside.  There were huge gaps in the walls and roof, and the wind basically blew right through the structures.  The lucky guys got the cabins.  The ones outside were worse off.  Some had tents, others didn’t.  Many didn’t have shoes. 

We have been led to believe that George Washington walked among the troops in his immaculate uniform, looking regal, fatherly and sincere, contemplating his Spring attack on the British forces.   History would have us believe his resolve was unwavering, and those who fought for him held him in the highest esteem, almost as if they were following Jim Jones, waiting for their cups of Kool Aid.

That has to be complete bullshit.  Right?  The troops were freezing and starving.  It was probably all Washington and his officers could do to keep any of them there.  I’d be shocked if the attrition rate wasn’t nearly 50%.  I know.  History books would never support that speculation, but honestly, would you stay?

And what about Washington?  He was married to a wealthy woman, and was a decorated war hero.  He had a lot to lose if this revolution went sideways.  How many times every day do you think he thought to himself “What the hell am I doing?! I have a big house in Virginia with a rich wife and a bunch of slaves.  Why am I freezing my rear-end off with this hodge-podge of troops who collectively smell like the business-end of my horse?”

Well, he didn’t quit, and after a series of absolute miracles, Washington and his troops vanquished the British, and a new republic was born.  Then his trouble really started. 

Try creating an entirely new country from scratch some time with the help of a bunch of self-serving politicians. 

Come to think of it, maybe I should have an affinity for Washington, after all the angst he had to endure.

Anyway, very few of us know the real facts about our former leaders, and painfully few even know the propagandist stuff that’s been generated about them over the years. 

Like any other profession, I suppose, there were effective leaders and bumbling fools.  There were probably charlatans and men of piety,  geniuses and morons, and everything in between.  The fact is, the President is only a single cog in the wheel of government, and their success or failure must certainly be a result of the willingness of the supporting casts to cooperate with them.    How many could have done better if their advisors, or congressmen, or senators worked better with them?  How many would have been worse if they didn’t have such good support?

In the end, it’s probably good that many states lumped the bunch of them into one, non-date-specific day every year.  For most of us, Presidents Day is less about the presidents themselves, and more about the allure of a three-day weekend.  I, for one, intend to spend my extra weekend day re-memorizing the names of all the presidents, and then learning little facts about each of them … 

Who am I kidding?  I’ll actually probably spend the day walking around the mall enjoying the requisite 25% off on all sheets and comforters at the Washington’s Birthday Sale.  Maybe I’ll even spot some guy dressed up like George Washington! – sure hope he looks dignified, and has wooden teeth.


Vacation?! You call this a vacation???!!!

Before we had kids, my wife and I would take annual ski trips to Vermont or Quebec every winter with friends.  We had no idea how easy we had it.

We’d stay in ski-in/ski-out condos, so every morning, all we’d have to do is dress, step out the door, click into our equipment and slide our way down the mountain to the first lift chair of the day.  We could even ski home in the middle of the day for bathroom breaks or snacks.  It was the ultimate in luxury – no public restrooms, no $8 rubber chicken sandwiches, and no changing clothes in sub-freezing temperatures.

Wow!  Those days are LONG gone.

This week, we are on a ski trip with our kids – two elementary school-aged little boys.  The resort we’re visiting doesn’t have ski-in/ski-out.  We stay in town, a twenty minute drive from the lifts.  Between the added wrinkle of inconvenience resulting from having to drive to the hill, and the incomprehensible inconvenience of trying to get children ready to ski in the morning, we’d probably be better off just staying home and burning dollar bills by the bucket-full, and then holding the refrigerator door open with one hand, holding our head in the open refrigerator where the gasket is, and then repeatedly slamming the door closed against our heads.  That would provide basically the same result, but wouldn’t require leaving the home.

Every morning is greeted with the same level of enthusiasm from the boys.

“- ready to go skiing guys?”

“I just want to stay home and play my DS.  Can I just stay here with Mommy?”

“What makes you think mommy wants to stay here with you?  Stop your whining, get up, get dressed and get to the breakfast table.  In that order.

… ten minutes later.

“You’re still not out of bed?!  GET UP!!!”

… five minutes later.

“Daddy, stop pulling me out of bed.  Ow!  You’re hurting me!  I don’t want to go skiing!  I hate skiing!!!  STOP!!!!!”

After a few more tender, verbal exchanges of affection with one another, the children are typically finally at the kitchen table, heads in hands, grumbling, and abjectively refusing to select what food they’ll eat.  At some point, none of us care anymore if they eat or not, and we give up on breakfast. 

After breakfast concludes, the clothing begins.  I think this factor alone is why people take their children to the beach instead of ski hills. 

When we’re at the beach, wardrobe is simple: strip the kids naked, but on a pair of swim shorts, and they’re ready to go (except for the excessive spraying of sunblock on them).

Skiing requires long underwear (top and bottom), a fleece pullover, fleece pants, long ski socks, ski pants, a ski jacket, mittens, a ski helmet, goggles, snow boots (for walking to the hill) and ski boots (for actual skiing).  Invariably, once all these garments are found, and forcibly outfitted onto the child, he decides he has to pee.  – everything comes off, he relieves his bladder, and the outfitting begins again, in earnest. – never fails, even if you insist they pee before they start getting dressed, they will always have to pee after they’re fully clothed. 

While in the past, my wife and I traveled with nothing more than what was on our backs, we now arrive at the ski hill resembling pathetic, old pack mules. 

Driving up to the resort is only part of the journey.  The next part requires driving 1/4 mile away across the parking lot to ditch our car.  In the olden days, we’d have been able to park closer to the hill because we’d have arrived a few minutes before the lifts opened.  Now, with kids, we’re lucky if we arrive before lunch.  Latecomers take what parking is left for them.

Once the car is parked, the long, arduous trek to the lodge begins.  My wife and I carry everyone’s skis, poles, equipment bags (which contain boots, helmets, mittens, goggles, etc), and we steer the children across the snow covered lot, dodging swerving cars whose drivers are seeking a place to land, and aren’t paying attention to pedestrians, and make our way to our destination.

Once at the lodge, we change the kids out of their snow boots, and into their ski boots.  We put on their mittens, we tuck their little ears into their helmets, we hand them their skis and then we proceed to dress ourselves – putting on boots, helmets, goggles, gloves, etc.

By the time all of this work -waking the dead, and dressing them at home, driving to the resort, trekking across the lot and the outfitting of ourselves and our children – concludes, we’re too exhausted to ski.

And without fail, at the moment we’re about to ride the first chair lift of the day, one of the kids has to pee again.

I know I’ll return to the office after this trip, and my colleagues will ask me how everything went.  They’ll mean well, but I’ll still be inclined to murder them where they stand just for reminding me of what a ridiculously inconvenient pain in the rear-end it is to travel with children. 

It’s times like these when I keep reminding myself: we had children on purpose!


You have the right to remain orderly

According to Merriam Webster, definition 7(a) of the noun “order” is: the state of peace, freedom from confused or unruly behavior, and respect for law or proper authority.  7(b) defines it as a specific rule, regulation, or authoritative direction.

My interpretation is that order is the implementation of the law.  In its most extreme, rigid context, order is the antithesis of freedom, and in recent decades, order has been so vigilantly pursued by our society, that we are on the verge of becoming a police state.  Sometimes peace on the surface creates distress down below, and trying to force order is just another way of creating havoc!

Think back to the 1990s.  In those days, it was perfectly permissible to smoke a cigarette on an airplane, or in a train, or in a restaurant, a bar, a shopping mall, or a friend’s house.  In the decades leading up to the 1990s, even non-smokers used to keep ash trays on their coffee tables for when guests would stop by for a visit.  We had all become painfully aware of the health risks associated with smoking cigarettes for at least thirty years by that point, of course, but we still accepted smoking as a choice in our society.   

By 1998, all smoking on US flights had been forbidden.  You’ll never guess why.

A bunch of flight attendants sued the airlines because they contracted lung cancer and cited second hand smoke from passengers as the cause.  The case was settled for $49 million, and the airlines ceased all smoking on domestic flights.  Try lighting a cigarette now on an airplane, and you’ll be arrested and Federal charges will be filed against you. 

At various intervals before and since smoking was prohibited from domestic flights, smoking was prohibited from restaurants, most public places, office buildings, even bars.  Now, no one seems to even own an ash tray, let alone permit that disgusting behavior in their homes. 

What the heck happened?  Well, between ridiculous law suits, and the media’s repeated condemnation of smoking through manipulated statistics and veiled peripheral attacks – blaming the cost of health care, the effects of smoking on others, and how smoking is actually a violation of everyone else’s rights – society decided smokers needed to be stopped, and everything possible, short of prohibiting it all together, was pursued, including excessive taxation and ostricizing.

How extreme has this new order become?  People smoke outside of their own homes.  Smokers have basically become the leppers of modern US society.

Well, good for them.  Right?  It’s a filthy habit, and it’s reportedly unhealthy, not merely for the smoker, but everyone around them who inhales their exhaust.  And why should we all have to pay for their health care when they don’t care about themselves to begin with?  Am I right?  It’s not our fault they contract lung cancer, or heart disease, or anything else.  – serves ‘em right!

Or does it???

What’s to stop society from using the same arguments to control any other behaviors various groups consider unhealthy, filthy or subversive?  How long will it be before the government begins to control what we’re allowed to eat?  Fast food is fattening and unhealthy.  Why should the rest of us be stuck footing the bill for the health care costs associated with obese people?  It’s their fault they’re the way they are, not ours.  If we have to pay those bills, we should have a say in whether or not they can eat that stuff.  For that matter, they should be required to exercise, too!

Seem far fetched? 

Have you noticed the law suits being filed against restaurants like McDonalds because they make their food too enticing, and it’s their fault their patrons are getting fat?  How long will it be before lawyers recruit health care companies to join the law suits?  Once settlements start to get paid out, those precedents will be the loose thread that unravels the fast food industry.

The targeting is already well underway.  This year, to ensure consumer knowledge, California fast food restaurants are required to provide detailed calorie information on their menus for all their fare.  Sort of reminds you of those labels on cigarettes all those years ago, doesn’t it? 

And California has taken their efforts to another level by banning trans-fat-containing cooking oils because they clog arteries and cause heart disease.  Violating restaurants will be fined $1,000 per occurrence.  How long will it be before we’re forbidden from eating steak that is cooked less than medium-well, or that contains more than 10% fat?  How long will it be before every food deemed to be unhealthy is hit with a sur-charge or special tax (like cigarettes) to disincentivize consumers from eating it?

Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here.  I’m not suggesting we should eat unhealthy foods, or smoke cigarettes (even though I wholly condone such behavior).  I am merely condemning the government for deciding when, where and if we should be permitted to do so.  We should have the freedom to choose.  And for the love of all that’s holy, no police force should be jack-booting us into submission every time we step over this line that affects only us.

Do we really need someone policing this stuff?  Doesn’t anyone else see our rights eroding before our eyes without so much as a peep from any of us to prevent it?

Try “lighting up” in a restaurant, and see how quickly you’re assaulted and either forced to extinguish your smoke, or vacate the premises immediately.  Chances are, you could have a screaming match with your date and not be disturbed, but if you strike a match and place it to the end of a cigarette, LOOK OUT!!!  It is not far fetched at all to believe, if you resist, the proprietor will call 9-1-1; the police will arrive and if you’re still there, you will be arrested.  There’s no logic or reason there.  It’s a black-and-white issue: you broke the law, and you’re under arrest. 

This sort of myopically ludicrous law enforcement is running rampant in our society these days, and it’s truly troubling.  In the old days, we’d expect a cop to arrive on such a scene and try to reason with the violator in an attempt to diffuse a potential situation and have everyone separate and get on with their lives.  Not these days.  Today, if the cop comes, he’s performing an arrest.  Period.  – even if the situation doesn’t warrant it, and the circumstances are completely misunderstood.  Johnny Law is coming down, and he’s coming down hard. 

Here’s a good illustration of how things were in the old days, when cops were people, and not automotons.

One of my friends is an attorney, a husband, and a father of two boys.  By all indications, he’s a productive, conservative member of society.  Thirty or so years ago, he was working as a dishwasher in a restaurant, and became friendly with the cook.  When he turned 18, the cook gave him a bottle of some god-awful flavored schnapps, and the two of them proceeded to celebrate the  birthday after work.  Back then, 18 was the legal drinking age in this state. 

 After this adolescent foray into adulthood, my friend, let’s say his name is Paul (it really is Paul, but let’s act like he’s anonymous and we’re giving him a fake name to protect his real identity) drove home.  Based upon society’s programming, you probably just made an “oh my goodness” face and made an inhaled sighing noise.

At the time, Paul lived in an extremely rural area – the kind with two traffic lights, both of which only flashed yellow in one direction and red in the other.  He reached one of these signaled intesections and passed out at the wheel.  Sometime later, a cop pulled up beside the sleeping Paul and his rumbling automobile, tapped on the glass and winced when Paul woke up, opened the window and blasted the cop with massive stink-breath.  The cop reviewed Paul’s ID, realized he lived about a half-mile away, had Paul park his car on the side of the road, drove Paul home, and made sure he got inside without puking on the front step … or the cop’s boots.

This is a terrific example of the logic officers used to use before knee-jerking into action.  Yes, Paul was driving drunk, but it was an isolated incident, he wasn’t harming anyone else, or putting anyone else at risk, and a little compassion from the officer resulted in Paul getting home safely, and ultimately becoming a productive member of society and producing a very lovely family.

These days?  If 18 year-old Paul was caught driving under the influence (let alone shit-faced), he’d be arrested and his license would be suspended, at the very least.  At that point, his chances of leaving that po-dunk little town and going to college and especially law school would be pretty much shot to hell.  His life would be permanently marred, because he would have a criminal record … because of one night of stupidity at the age of 18. 

None of us condone drunk driving, but can any of us really condone this excessive punishment for a first time offense, either?  No matter how lily-white we like to believe we all were, the fact is, we all did stupid things when we were metriculating from adolescence to adulthood, and if we were held permantently accountable for those actions, none of us would be where we are today.

What ever happened to the police using a little common sense instead of coming down on every offender like a bag of hammers?  Yes, the media has sufficiently convinced us that “drunk drivers = road fatalities,” but believe it or not, those occurrences are extremely rare.  The fatal statistics have merely been heavily publicized to achieve an end.

How many traffic fatalities are the result of people falling asleep at the wheel, or being distracted by someone or something, or being temporarily blinded by the sun when it’s low on the horizon, or by the failure of a poorly maintained vehicle?  How many accidents are caused by someone who was too old to properly function behind the wheel, or someone who had the flu and shouldn’t have been behind the wheel?  Are we going to legislate and strictly enforce traffic laws against all of them as well?

The media skews facts to make them sensational.  We, the viewing public froth at the mouth with excitement and demand action.  Lawyers file law suits to make money, and legislators try to garner votes by exploiting and supporting popular social agendas.  The cops step-up their enforcement, and crack down on violators, and we sit back and smile as yet another one of our hard-fought liberties falls by the way side.

It’s time for some good old fashioned aluminum foil to be placed on top of our heads to keep the influences from the propagandist media out of our brains.  We need to resist the urge to sue everyone for everything when we screw something up ourselves.  We need to stop citing peripheral reasons in an effort to steal someone’s liberties.  We need to stand up and protect our rights, each and every one of them, even if the one at risk doesn’t matter to us personally, because the next one might matter, and by then there may be no more support left to give.  We need to teach our legislators what’s really important, and instruct them to stop passing laws that deprive us of our rights and freedoms.  Most of all, we have to address those squeeky wheels among us who feel that the actions of others are violating their own rights, respectfully tell them we appreciate and support their rights to speak freely, and then kick their asses off our blessed shores!


What the WHAT?!!!

Man’s fascination with his own, let’s say “manhood,” begins at an early age.  I recall watching my youngest as he was potty training become awestruck by the remarkable metamorphosis of his once flaccid phallus into an erect, little twig, which he summarily swirled around in circles, giggling uncontrollably.   He was so impressed with his magical abilities, he tried to perform his act for our friends’ daughters whenever they would come visit.  It was laughed-off as cute and naïve when he was three … probably won’t get the same reaction from girls’ parents when he’s in his teens, though.

As we mature into puberty, we begin receiving visits from the boner fairy, often at very inopportune times, like when we have to stand up in class and read something, or the school bus arrives at our stop and we have to stand up and walk the full length of the aisle to disembark, all the while holding our books or book bag in front of our laps for cover.  These are the same years we awake in horror in the middle of the night with sticky, messy bed linens, and desperately try to remove all evidence for fear our mothers will discover whatever the hell is going on with us when she does the laundry.

Ask a teenager what “Erectile Dysfunction” is, and he’ll tell you it’s either the fact he gets more wood deliveries than a lumber yard, or he orgasms as soon as his girlfriend reaches to unzip his fly!  Ah, how times change.

When we were kids, we learned how our bodies were going to change in the near future, and what to expect as a result.  Ideally, our fathers would have taught us those things, but let’s be serious.  What man, let alone parent, is going to sit down and talk to a boy about puberty and what to expect?  We can’t even agree on a word for our “you-know-whats” because every term makes us uncomfortable.  If we can’t name it, how the hell can we discuss what it does, or how to use it? 

Every guy I know learns about this stuff the same way – innuendo, heresay, and sneak peaks at porn.

Wouldn’t it be nice, then, if someone figured out a way to teach middle-aged or older men what to expect as they age?  I can see it now, flipping through channels at 2AM and finding an infomercial where two people are in bed and the guy can’t perform.  A narrator speaks in a low, assuring voice “does this happen to you?  Well, you’re not alone.  Many men have difficulty performing as they mature.  See your doctor to examine possible causes like latent testicular injury, an enlarged prostate, poor blood flow, boredom with your partner, or maybe you’re gay and can’t get aroused around women any more…”

We need something like that, because primetime television commercials just don’t work.  Seeing two people sitting (supposedly naked) in separate bathtubs in the middle of their backyard does not say “successful erection and intercourse here” to me.  It says “I freakin’ give up and am resorting to sitting naked in a bathtub in my backyard.  Can you hand me the luffa?”

And exactly how insipid must we consumers seem?  Pharmaceutical marketers play soothing melodies and show people picking flowers in a garden, or holding hands with partners as they walk along a beach, or through a flowery pasture as the soothing narrator regales listeners with a litany of potential side effects ranging from constipation, diarrhea, depression, anxiety, four-hour long erections, heart attack, stroke, to some, or all of the above.  The only thing I’ve never heard mentioned in those disclaimers is exploding “ball sacks,” and I’m pretty sure I only missed that because I was screaming too loud from the rest of the list to hear much else!

A friend of mine just began taking a medication called Flomax.  I assume he is suffering from an enlarged prostate, because I looked up reasons why this medication might be prescribed, and that’s what I read.  I didn’t know why he would be taking this stuff before I Googled it because (a) guys don’t discuss medical stuff with one another (remember, we’re the ones who can’t even name our … you know … thingy), and (b) if I relied on what I’ve learned from Flowmax commercials, I would assume my friend is having trouble with his Mustang convertible. 

According to the cautionary leaflet included within a box of Flowmax, those who take the medication may experience some side effects.  In fact, a sexual side effect was reported in clinical trials: abnormal ejaculation.

What Is Abnormal Ejaculation, you ask?  Well, Abnormal ejaculation is a term used to describe several problems which may include:

* Not being able to ejaculate (at which point, why would anyone want to live, thus rendering the medication completely irrelevant, anyway),

* Decreased amounts of ejaculate, and

* Retrograde ejaculation — ejaculate enters the bladder instead of leaving the body through the penis. This problem is usually painless and harmless. Men with this problem may notice cloudy urine after sexual intercourse.

Again, harken back to a typical man’s teen years when he could fill a condom from 100 feet away at a moment’s notice, and then flash forward to when, even if he can orgasm, he’ll barely produce a enough to matter, and it may not even come out. 

Son of a b … why didn’t anyone warn us about this eventuality?! 

As a male, we learn over time we’re really not good for much – spouses, children, bosses, they all reinforce our sense of uselessness over time.  The one thing we always figured we could rely on was our ability to become physically aroused, and produce and launch a batch of semen.  Call us simple, but some days, that’s what keeps us from turning the gas on in the kitchen and taking a nap.  The possibility of losing that one, primal skill is grossly disconcerting. 

Personally, I think aliens are to blame for this whole thing.  They’re coming down to Earth, and are messing with our man-stuff while we sleep so they can step in and provide surrogate services to our women.  My guess is aliens all look something like a very slimy-surfaced version of Abe Vigoda and really have no chance of wooing an Earth female into propagation.  Their best bet is to eliminate the competition.  Females will feel an evolutionary compulsion to continue the species, and will agree, as a last resort, to reproduce with these butt-ugly creatures.  Meanwhile, the remaining Earth males will be driving around in old convertibles, scrambling to find port-o-potties while their buddies all sit in the car acting supportive.


They can’t get all of us, though.  Through sheer numbers, I believe we will prevail (well, that and wearing aluminum foil on our heads to protect us from these space devils). 

Consider Tony Randall.  He became a father in his 80s.  I won’t want to father any more children at that point in my life, but it sure would be nice to know I can.  Way to go, Tony.  Even though you’re dead, you’re an inspiration to each and every one of us who have reached middle age and recognize that the next orgasm could be our last. 

Boy, I sure hope he wasn’t an alien …


Ghost of VWs Past

My wife and I started dating each other when we were teenagers, nearly 30 years ago.  On our first Christmas together, probably to the chagrin of my parents, I spent dinner and the evening at her house with about forty of her relatives.  While we dined and celebrated, there was a blizzard; several inches of snow landed and temperatures dropped below zero by the time I was set to head home.

When I tried to leave, my dad’s car wouldn’t start, and among others, my wife’s father, brother-in law and uncle all came to my rescue, helping me dig the car out, and then pushing it to where it could be diagnosed.  The car was a VW with a stick shift, so, in thick heavy snow, we all pushed the car to the top of the driveway and I tried to coast back down to jump start it.  That attempt failed and I almost slid the car through the fence at the bottom of the driveway.

We spent about an hour trying to get that car running.  Most of us were out there without gloves or hats.  A couple guys were even out there without coats, but they were so heavily lubricated by the evening’s libations, that they hardly noticed the cutting chill in the air.

Spirits that evening were high, and even though conditions were atrocious, we actually had fun.  We laughed, teased each other, threw a couple snowballs to scientifically test the snow quality, and had a hell of a good time reviving that v-dub.  Ultimately, the car started, and I slowly navigated my way home; everyone else went in and continued to celebrate together.

Although it’s been decades since that night, I remember it clearly and fondly.  These days, I also remember that my father-in-law was the same age then that I am today, and that my brother-in-law and my wife’s uncle have each been gone for more than fifteen years.  Most of the others that night have either passed away or left the family for one reason or another as well.

Regardless what happened since then, that one night was one for the ages.

So what’s the point?

Well, it could be that on that frosty evening, I learned the importance of owning a reliable car and that I’ve never been stranded once since then.  Of course, that would be a lie.  I’m not that Pavlovian, and have owned a couple cars even shittier than that VW since then, so that can’t be the point.

If that’s not the point, perhaps it’s that excessive alcohol consumption makes people jolly and helpful.  That hypothesis could be true, but I’ve seen enough cranky, argumentative, unhelpful drunks to know it’s probably not a hard-and-fast rule.

So what’s the point?  Do we really need there to be a point?  Well, in this case, yes.

The point is that Holidays are an enigma.  They’re fun and festive, but they also tend to remind us how fleeting time is.

Remember when we were all the youngest ones at holiday functions, running around like wild people, being chided by adults for getting our dress-up clothes dirty or damaged?  How about eating at the “kid’s table?”

It wasn’t long, though, before our older siblings or cousins started bringing dates to holiday functions, and then we did, too.  Then those dates turned into spouses, and baby high-chairs started appearing around the table again, but this time, we weren’t the ones occupying them.  As a new batch of children started filling the kids table, we became parents; our parents turned into grandparents, and our grandparents departed.

Not to be cliché, but this evolution through the holiday hierarchy is an annually recurring smack of reality that can actually help us re-focus on what is truly important in our lives – our personal relationships.   It’s a reminder that no matter what monetary or career success or failure we experience, our time here is finite, and all the riches in the world can’t change that.

Now, all this talk about mortality probably sounds like I’m trying to pee in your Cheerios, but I’m not.  I’m actually acting as a purveyor of hope – hope that we can all find purpose in our lives and achieve fulfillment within the time we are each allocated. This self-actualization won’t come easily, however.  It’s going to take diligence, focus, effort, and probably a little more diligence.

It may seem a bit paradoxical, but our mortality is an asset.  When resources are finite, they become more precious, and our time together is very finite, and infinitely precious.

Aside from some serious over-crowding on this planet, the main consequence of immortality would be that we’d never have a sense of urgency.  We’d never have to worry about prioritizing our time, because we’d have all the time in the world to do everything.  As a result, we’d probably never end up doing anything. We’d also probably run out of money after a while, but that’s a financial planning discussion on an entirely different blog.

Mortality, and the simple progressive passage of time is omnipresent.

Every night I lament the fact my children are one day closer to growing up.  In a few years, they will grow away from me and my wife – as they should.  They’ll find their own paths, spend time with their own friends and pursue their own lives – spouses, children, careers, etc.  Until then, my priority is to teach them, help them become adults, and have fun along the way.  The memories of that journey will be my reward.

The same logic holds true for friends and family.  Even though we may expect to catch up with them “one of these days,” they won’t always be around.  If we’re not proactive and focused, our procrastination will leave us with regrets.  This is where the diligence comes into play.

How often do we find ourselves torn between obligations at work, and seeing our kids play little league, or perform in a school pageant?  How many times, even when we are home, do we talk about work?  How frequently do we remotely check our e-mail from our phones when we’re standing right in front of our kids at a park, or a movie, or dinner?

Our lives are naturally hectic.  Most of us need to work to survive and pay the bills, but sometimes, I think we lose our way.  Distractions from work seem to take on greater and greater importance, and we tend to prioritize those distractions above spending time with our families.

For many of us, our work defines us and it makes us feel indispensible, but in the back of our minds, we all know damned well that there will always be work distractions, and that when we retire, someone else will step in our shoes and manage everything without us.  We are not indispensible at work, but we are indispensible at home.

And what about the pursuit of money?  Don’t we all want money?  Of course we do, but at what cost?  Luxuries and toys and self-indulgence are enticing, but in the end, inanimate objects and selfish experiences won’t share our memories, only our families and friends will do that.

Don’t get me wrong.  Not only am I not perfect, I am guilty of everything written here, and even though I’d love a Ferrari as much as the next guy, I’m pretty sure once my kids have left the nest and my parents have passed away, I’ll gladly trade that Ferrari for one more family dinner with everyone around the table, laughing and sharing a meal.

Christmas is only a few weeks away, and as it approaches, I’ll spend a lot of time remembering the great Christmases my parents gave us when we were little, and the laughs and camaraderie we enjoyed all those years at my in-laws, and finally of the few, but spectacular Christmases we’ve spent thus far with our own kids.  I’ll definitely reflect on that frigid, snowy night nearly 30 years ago, too, and I’ll remember my youthful father-in-law, Uncle Ed and Tom, and then I’ll remember my wife as a teenager, and I’ll smile.  Those memories are invaluable and irreplaceable, and I hope to make a lot more of them for myself and others before my time here runs out.

Hey, didn’t Charles Dickens write something like this once?  I tend to remember he was much longer-winded about it …


Pleasure Yourself in a Buick

Instead of trying to do something productive with my life, I studied marketing in college, hoping to make it big in advertising.  Like most people, what I studied in college ended up having very little to do with the course of my actual career, but I still remember a thing or two about some of my coursework, in particular, product naming.

A friend from Canada reminded me of how much international manufacturers struggle with the cross-cultural impact of product names .  In particular, he shared with me that he recently intended to purchase a Buick LaCrosse for his wife, but ended up with an Allure instead.  They’re actually the same car, mind you, but GM decided to rename the car they sell in the States (the LaCrosse), as the Allure in the great white north.  Why, you might ask?

It’s very simple.  In America, LaCrosse is recognized as an athletic endeavor created by its natives.  Buick wanted to imply athleticism with the name of their fine sedan, so they called it the LaCrosse.

Athleticism was not going to be inferred in French-speaking Quebec, however.  There, LaCrosse is a colloquial for masturbation and, well, when Buick’s ad gurus suggest you “grab the stick,” they really mean the gear lever and not …well … anyway, they punted and named the car the Allure.

GM has made a practice of changing car names north of the border for years.  When I was a child, my parents owned a Pontiac Catalina.  I was shocked during a car trip through Canada to see our exact same car with slightly different tail light lenses and the name “Parisienne” glued to the trunk lid.  Even as a 6 year-old, I knew our Pontiac had more in common with Cleveland than Paris, but since I hadn’t read Ogilvy on Advertising yet, and was clearly not sophisticated enough to understand GM’s mastery of focus groups and market analysis, I kept my mouth shut.

I think they sold 12 Parisiennes in 1970, by the way.

Also, back in the ’70s, GM wanted to sell Chevy’s mid-sized coupe , the Nova, in Mexico.  The problem there was “No va” in Spanish means “doesn’t go.”  In retrospect, this was actually a completely honest name for the car, but it wasn’t going to help GM move product, so they named it something else in the land of Pancho Villa.

Ironically, Nova wasn’t such a great name in America, either.  After all, a nova is a cataclysmic nuclear explosion, and hardly a connotation one wants its customers to infer when purchasing a vehicle destined to cart around their families.

Ford was probably disappointed that Chevy had already trademarked that name, since it was clearly descriptive of one of their own products which they decided to call the Pinto, instead.  You may recall, Pintos had a nasty habit of getting bumped in the rear bumper and then exploding into flames … like a nova.

By the way, in Brazilian, Portugese, Pinto is slang for penis.

Auto manufacturers have been fixated for eons on the belief that we consumers will somehow be swayed, or dissuaded by the inferred images of a snazzy product name.  Instead, the marketing wonks could have followed the teachings of Shakespeare over Ogilvy.  After all, it was Shakespeare who said “a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet,” – a name is less important than the product itself.

Of course, judging by the turds-on-wheels Detroit has rolled out over the past few decades, they probably need to keep thinking up slick names to distract us from the door handles that fall off in our hands.

goodwrench 2

Mr. Goodwrench – dead at the age of 36

Mr. Goodwrench, long-time, iconic mascot of General Motors, and purveyor of reliable auto service worldwide has succombed to bankruptcy reorganization.

Since 1974, through various hairstyle and wardrobe changes, Mr. Goodwrench soldiered on, maintaining GM products of all kinds.  He was the master of nuts and bolts, but now, he’s merely screwed.

For decades, GM paraded Mr. Goodwrench to the buying public to cement an image of reliability, but ultimately, the automotive giant came to realize that no amount of folksy advertising could disguise their abysmal array of products.

Because of the powerful UAW (United Auto Workers union), many believed GM couldn’t touch Mr. Goodwrench, but once the Obama administration took control of the once-proud automaker, the union’s negotiating power all-but disappeared, leaving Mr. Goodwrench exposed.  Not only did Goodwrench lose what he thought was guaranteed lifetime employment and a ridiculously over-stated hourly wage, he also lost his medical benefits, pension, identity and, let’s face it, his very existence.

Goodwrench was preceded in death by Rusty Jones who, in 1988, was euthanized when his after-market undercoating employer bit the dust in financial ruin.  Goodwrench is survived by the ideal mascot couple, Ronald McDonald and Betty Crocker.  Chef Boyardee is expected to deliver the eulogy.

Halloween 2010 001

Halloween Post Mortem – Some People Suck!

Last night was Halloween, and as I had mentioned previously, because very few people make the effort to trek up the hill to our home, we do not man the front door.  Instead, we fill a basket with candy, leave it on the front step, and venture off with our young children to canvass the neighborhood for treats, and basically remind ourselves that we’re too old and fat to chase after wee children for three hours after dinner in the chilly, damp darkness.

When I, myself, was wee and bounded my own costumed-way across my childhood neighborhood, it was a rare sight for anyone to leave what has become known as an “honor basket” full of candy in front of their house on Halloween.  When we spotted one, we were immediately inclined to empty the basket into our bags and anonymously dash off into oblivion with our good fortune, but we never did so.

There was something inside us discouraging such behavior.  Perhaps it was the fear that one of our compatriots would “blow us in;” maybe it was the reality that if our mothers found out, we’d never live to see another Halloween, or maybe we were just raised to know it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.  Whatever the reason, we took a piece or two of un-monitored candy, and left the remainder behind for the next trick-or-treater and his or her own moral compass.

What the heck happened to that childhood decency, or fear, or respect, or whatever it was back then?

Not five minutes after we embarked upon our pedestrian excursion last night, a minivan pulled up in front of our house, a miscreant of indiscriminate age stepped out, grabbed the basket and emptied it into his bag.  He tossed the basket back on our step, got back in the van and was driven off to his next conquest.  That simple, selfish act sickened me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I hoped the basket would be empty when we returned home, but I had hoped it would be empty because it brought joy to many who happened upon it.  Instead, one person’s gluttony deprived others of joy.  That act really made me wonder about the mindset of some people.

It is my purest belief that if our society is ever going to evolve, the basis for that evolution will be mutual compassion and respect.  Sadly, when I’m aware of such selfish behavior as that of the minivan misanthrope, I don’t think we’re anywhere near an acceptable level of enlightenment.  If we were, the candy-glutton would have only taken a piece of candy to satisfy his own desires, and left the rest behind for others to enjoy and partake.  Instead, he acted with a total disregard for everyone else in favor of his own avarice.

Had the culprit been a youngster who acted alone, I wouldn’t have minded.  Kids are immature, and although we’d hope the lessons we imbue will be heeded, unattended children may simply not be equipped with the necessary maturity to control the urge to grab as much chocolate as humanly possible.  This is not, and cannot be the case for an adult.

If one is old enough to drive, he should be old enough to discern between being sympathetic to those around him, and being a greedy jackass.  Even though the driver himself may not have been the one to empty the basket, he should have had the presence of mind to direct his passenger not to take everything.

Have you ever wondered what type of people spawned the politicians of the world?  Look no further than the role models who fail to impart positive human values to their progeny.  The person who emptied the basket last night is likely destined to a life of selfishness because those responsible for parenting him failed to teach him otherwise.

All ranting aside, Halloween night was awesome.  Our newly carved jack-o-lanterns glowed in the dark in front of our home, and our children collected enough candy to fill a Hershey warehouse.  Spirits of all kinds were high, and everyone collapsed into slumber the moment their faces hit their pillows – children and parents alike.  The incident with the candy basket was a minor distraction and had no impact on our evening overall.  It’s only been these past several hours of reflection that have caused me any distress.

There are an abundance of people in the world who are genuinely good, and who look out for one another.  It has been my great fortune to know quite a few of these people.  Sadly, there is also an abundance of selfish assholes whose behavior diminishes the quality of life for the rest of us.  We really need to figure out a way to stop these people from procreating.  Maybe next year I’ll lace the candy with saltpeter …


Trick or Treat?! No. Wait. Let me decide …

Halloween is something of an enigma.   Is it a harvest celebration?  How about a religious one?  Maybe it’s some sort of annual, supernatural crack in time.

Well, whatever its origins, Halloween, like virtually every other ritualistic celebration, has been pirated by the secular world and converted into a profit center.   Believe it or not, Americans alone spend nearly $6.9 BILLION each year on Halloween – the most on any holiday except Christmas.  Maybe we should do this a couple more times per year to spur-on our economic recovery!

Although only some adults “get” Halloween, nearly every child does.  Our boys start planning their Halloween costumes in the middle of July, and change their minds about 6,000 times per week before the fateful moment when a commitment needs to be made, and a costume needs to be ordered.

Back when I was a kid, we would impatiently await the Sears Christmas Catalog to begin scanning those pages for Halloween costumes.  Local toy stores and 5-and-dimes of the day carried the cheap stuff (the translucent, paper-thin masks that disintegrated as soon as the rubber band was stretched around one’s head, and the body of the costume that seemed to be constructed of something slightly less durable than toilet paper).

In our town, there was a man with a costume shop that was open year-round.  His store specialized in theatrical garb.  He rented his masterpieces, and was about 90 years old when I was a kid, so he’s probably long gone by now.  But, according to Google, his store still lives on.

Unlike most kids, I never wore store-bought costumes.  My mother made my costumes every year when I was of trick-or-treating age.  One year, I went as a four-foot-tall witch’s hat.  Another year I went as a ghost.  One year, I was Willy Wonka.  To this day, I feel bad for my mom over this, because every year, she really worked hard assembling these costumes, and every damned year back East, it rained, and the costumes were mangled before I left my driveway.

Regardless the fate of these costumes, though, I will always remember my mom making them for me and, I guess, that’s sort of the point of the whole thing anyway.  Right?

Flash forward about forty years, and we now have our own elementary-school-aged kids to take trick-or-treating.  We live in a huge development of about 800 homes, and nearly all of them are closely abutted to one another on flat, gridded-out streets.  Those of us who live up in the hills don’t see many trick-or-treaters (why walk up hill for a half-dozen houses when there are hundreds down below?), so we usually leave candy outside in a bucket for the honor system, and we head out as a family to traverse the community.

As a child, trick-or-treating is simple.  It’s all about volume.  - hit as many homes as possible in the least amount of time, and be sure to bring a large, durable bag for toting around the booty.

As an adult, trick-or-treating takes on a different hue.   We’re not much more than beasts of burden who double as a GPS.  We point the kids in the right direction, let them know which houses aren’t participating, help them find honor-system candy bowls when they exist, and otherwise carry candy bags when they get too heavy, masks and accoutrements when they become too cumbersome, and usually trick-or-treaters when the walk home is just too much for little legs to endure.  As torturous as this sounds, it’s quite the contrary.  I wish these days would last forever.

Like Santa Claus and birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese, Halloween is not merely a holiday for the young, it is for the very young.  At some point in time, our boys will no longer want us to go trick-or-treating with them.  They’ll want to go with their group of friends, or skip trick-or-treating entirely and hang out at parties.  Like our parents before us, my wife and I will be left behind, romanticizing about the days when we would walk the streets with our boys, and then make an exaggerated fuss over every other youngster who comes to our door for treats.

But for now, we can still enjoy the magic.  So, when the boys wake up on Halloween morning, we’ll have breakfast, and then carve our pumpkins.  We’ll all bide our time before it’s time to suit-up, and then we’ll venture out on what will likely be a cold, damp excursion.  We’ll pass friends along the way, whine about how tough this night gets the older and fatter we become, and we’ll laugh as our kids innocently dart from house to house, arguing over who gets to ring the doorbell, and who needs to wait for whom because they’re going too fast.

Finally, we’ll reconvene at home, empty the bags and count and categorize all the booty from the night’s conquest.

Six months from now, we’ll end up throwing most of this candy away, once it’s been forgotten, but on Halloween night, our boys will fall asleep, dreaming of their new riches, and licking their lips in their sleep, waiting for the first light of morning to beg for their treats.

Fall Leaves

At Last, Another Excuse for Napping!

Summer ended officially more than a month ago, but the weather around the Aluminum Foil Hat homestead has been pleasantly mild and sunny since then, so the transitional solstice went by unceremoniously.  This weekend brought an end to all of that.

Saturday started out rainy and cold, and pretty much stayed that way all weekend.  By all predictions, it’s going to continue to be wet and cold for at least the next week, and possibly longer.  Unlike when weather like this settles in in the Spring, and we have summer to look forward to once we come out of this funk, at this time of year, we’re burdened with the reality that, once this weather passes, it’s going to get colder and wetter. – hardly cause for optimism.

In the Summer, we yearn to be outside, tossing balls, riding bikes, socializing, swimming, barbequeing, camping, etc.  We’re constantly busy, and full of energy.  Personally, by this point in the year, I’m sick of all that activity, and want to hibernate.  Maybe there’s more to this than just my own personal desire to be lazy, though.

Once Fall arrives, the days get shorter and our enthusiasm for activity wanes right along with the sun.  This is the perfect segue to a life of sloth.  No longer do we need to respond to the urge to get outside and be active.  Now, we can submit to our urge to nap, eat chips, scratch our burgeoning bellies and daydream about sitting around and doing absolutely nothing.

Even food changes with the weather.

In the Summer, we eat hot dogs and hamburgers and cole slaw and baked beans and ears of corn.  In the Fall and Winter, we eat hearty foods like stews and soups and mashed potatoes.  It’s as if somewhere in our genetic code there’s still a caveman preparing his body for the cold harsh Winter and the scarcity of food.  Of course, these days, as long as there’s McDonalds and we have $3 in our pockets, we’ll never go hungry, but millions of years of evolution have indelibly scratched survivalism into our psyches and that means conserving energy and eating for the long haul.

Over the next several weeks, the weather will continue to degrade into winter here above the 43rd parallel.  We’ll turn on the heat in the house, pull out the Snuggies and spend hours on end watching Mork and Mindy reruns, and trying very hard to laugh between spontaneous naps.  We’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with about 6,000 calories of food in November, and then spend like drunken sailors, buying Christmas presents for our kids and then celebrating with more 6,000 calorie meals between Christmas Eve and New Years.

Come Springtime, as the ice thaws and our internal calendar reminds us to begin waking up and preparing for outdoor activity, we’ll grab our distended bellies with both hands and fling ourselves out of our recliners, squeeze into our jeans and start preparing the lawn for weekly cuts.  In the mean time, I’m keeping the remote control close by, and wearing my aluminum foil hat, in case one of the networks or cable decides to try poisoning my mind while I’m watching sit-coms and made-for-TV movies.


Thunk! Ow! My nose!!!

I was having a football catch with my 9 year-old son, a few minutes ago.

He’s only recently become interested in football, but like any kid his age, once he gets started on something, he wants to do it all the time.  Every day when I drag myself into the house from work, he runs up to me, grabs me and begs me to go outside that second and have a catch.  He’s even started wearing football jerseys around the house and outside when we’re playing.  Best of all, he provides play-by-play and “color” when he’s catching, telling me how good he is, and what a good receiver, or linebacker or punter he’d be.

Today is a gorgeous Fall day – sunny, 65 degrees, no breeze – and by 11AM, I decided the kids had played enough X-Box for one weekend.  So, ogre that I am, I forced them to shut off the TV, get dressed and get outside and play.  It didn’t take long before my oldest and I were tossing around the pig-skin.

As you can imagine, I’m not drilling his belly with 50-yard laser beams.  I’m tossing the ball softly 10 – 15 yards so he can get under it and make the catch.  On one fateful attempt today, though, I lobbed one to him.  It had a beautiful graceful arc.  He put his hands up to catch it and, THUD.  The ball went through his hands and smashed him right in the face.

As he collapsed in the front lawn, the ball bounced about ten feet away from him, and his shoe, which had been knocked off him in the collision, landed about as far in the opposite direction.  The whole thing took about two seconds, and looked like a combination of a stunt man getting blown out of a bunker by a grenade, or Charlie Brown flying through the air after Lucy pulls the football out from under him.

His hands covered his face; he curled up like a ball and started crying.

As a parent, my mind was flooded with thoughts: I hope this didn’t knock out one of his brand new adult teeth.  I hope nothing is broken on his face.  I hope he’s not bleeding, or in need of stitches.  Most importantly, I hope I can contain my laughter.

At this stage of life, kids gain and lose passion for things in an instant.  Sometimes the change is the result of a cataclysmic event.  Other times, nothing causes the change except the direction of the breeze, or a whim.  My goal now is to help my little boy get over this painful event and want to try playing again.

Philosophically, it’s a life lesson.  How many times in life do we get knocked down figuratively or literally?  At some point in our lives, we learn we must get up, turn our collars to the wind, and trudge on, whether we want to, or not.

My son is learning this lesson before my eyes, today.  He just asked me to go out and have another catch.

Question Mark(1)

Emphasizing Punctuation

If you lived in Rome a couple thousand years ago, you probably would have spoken Latin, and if you were literate, you would have had a very difficult time emphasizing comments, because Latin text employed only upper-case letters, and no punctuation.  Imagine how many different interpretations any sentence could have without punctuation.

Come to think of it, “Et tu Brutus,” could have been a poor translation of what really occurred.  Maybe Caesar and Brutus were catching a ball game at the Colliseum, Brutus got up to get a hot dog, and Caesar called after him: “Eh!  Two, Brutus!”

We may never know the truth.

Fortunately for us, languages have evolved and we, in particular, have the benefit of a bevy of various punctuation marks to use to pause, stop or combine sentences.  We can even change the tone of a sentence with periods, question-marks, and exclamation points, but is that really enough?!

The differences between a period and an exclamation point are pretty apparent, but what do you do when you can’t commit to an extreme, and you need something in the middle, something that says “heck, yeah” instead of “HELL yeah!”  We’re trapped like Romans!

You may be thinking this isn’t a really big deal, but for some us, it’s paralyzing.  Many find it difficult dealing with hypocrisy.  We may agree with a friend’s comment, but we’d feel disingenuous if we concluded our comment with an exclamation point because it just goes too darned far, but a period is too subtle.

Clearly, our language has not evolved far enough just yet.   It seems we may need to nudge things along, so I suggest we establish a new foundation, conduct a telethon, create a think tank, organize focus groups, employ the scientific method, and develop a “sentence-ender” that we can really get behind. (!)

National Punctuation Day is September 24th, so we have nearly a year to come up with a solution for this.

Who’s with me?

There’s No Sense like Nose Sense


Many of us would like to believe our strongest sense is “common” sense, but that’s just nonsense.   

If you ask someone what their strongest sense is, you’ll probably get a variety of answers.  According to research, however, regardless of which sense is your strongest, it is likely that smell is your strongest memory sense.  This makes perfect sense, because if I had to pick one receptor as the best for conjuring memories, I’d pick my nose! 

Case in point?  One day, years ago, I caught a whiff of a faintly familiar and ancient perfume, and was transported to my youth, to a moment in time in my grandmother’s dressing area.  She’s been gone for more than 30 years, but the moment my nose caught that scent, it was as if she was standing right next to me.   You have probably enjoyed similar experiences.

Of course, it would be great if only pleasant memories like that were conjured by aromas, but none of us are that lucky.  How many times do we smell something and think back to torturous events, like chemistry class, or that time we surprised a skunk?

Today, I am traveling by air, and that means my nose will fall victim to a plethora of heinous assaults. 

It always amazes me what people will do on airplanes and in airports.  At what point did it become acceptable to eschew all forms of decorum in these places?  Invariably, as soon as I sit down in my narrow, leg-room abbreviated seat, someone within two seats of me will take off his or her shoes.  Somehow, regardless of your point of departure or your destination, when you step inside an airplane, you enter the flying version of Kentucky. 

And not only do these fellow passengers eschew their shoes, they take the opportunity to stretch out and shove their feet as far forward as possible  under someone’s (usually my) seat, so their sweaty, sock-wrapped stink-emitters are located far from them and directly under some trapped victim (again, usually me)!   And it doesn’t stop with these shoe-shunners, either. 

We’ve all fallen victim to the senior citizens who bathe in perfume before traveling.  Although I erupt into sneezing fits whenever I’m within 5 feet of such fragrances, I tend to cut these folks some slack because their olfactories have diminished over time, and they don’t realize how strong their aromas actually are.  This forgiveness is non-existent, however, for anyone under the age of 40 who smells like the cosmetic counter at Macy’s. 

Here’s a message to those who think they need to wear this much perfume:  You don’t!  This over-profusion of sickening sweet eau de toilet makes us prefer the smell of an actual toilet.    It’s not sexy.  It’s not alluring.  It’s nauseating.  Stop it.

Then there’s the piece de resistance.  Let me share this anecdotally. 

A couple years ago, I had been traveling excessively, and had accumulated enough trips in a short period of time to warrant an up-grade from the cattle-car to first class on a cross-country flight.  As a business traveler, I rarely had the corporate approval to travel more luxuriously than the back of coach, so this was quite a pleasant surprise.  My window seat was about 50% wider than a standard seat, and it lavished me with copious legroom.  – pure bliss.   Well, pure bliss until the passenger next to me settled in. 

He ordered a Bloody Mary (one of the stinkiest drink known to mankind), kicked off his shoes and proceeded to exercise his flatulence muscles from the moment we began taxiing for take-off until we landed three hours later.  I have no idea what that man had to eat that week, but whatever it was, it smelled god-awful once it traveled through his intestines.  The worst part?  Because he was launching SBDs (Silent But Deadly, noiseless farts), he thought he was passing gas with full anonymity.   NOT!

Air travel is a necessary evil, and probably not one we’d ever recall fondly.  Personally, the moment I step away from the airport curb, I do everything within my power to expunge the day’s events from my memory.  That’s where the memory sense becomes one’s enemy. 

It’s great when a brief whiff of a passing aroma conjures images of Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or times with Grandmom, but I could go with never remembering that air traveler’s three-day old burritos, or his smelly feet, or the Eau de Hooker on the 35 year-old bimbo sitting next to me right now!!!

The silver lining here is, over time, our senses dull.  Our hearing will get worse, so we’ll have a convenient excuse for not listening.  Our eyesight will wane, so when we look in the mirror, our wrinkles and flab will be less distinguishable, and, thank god, our sense of smell will become less acute.  Hopefully, as a senior citizen, my sense of smell will have diminished to the point where odors won’t make it to my brain and remind me of co-travelers from the past, but I doubt it.  With my luck, I’ll stop being able to smell chocolate chip cookies, but Bloody Mary farts?  They’ll always get through.

Ignorance Is Bliss !

This is an homage to my mother.

As you read this, you may infer  that my mother is insipid, but your inference would be wrong.  She’s just not worldly.  She’s funny as hell, and tough as nails, to the point that when we were kids, we called her the Iron Colonel because she was so strict.  We’d also refer to her as John Wayne Toilet Paper, because she took no shit off anyone!

She’s the quintessential little old Italian lady – about 5 feet tall, 80 years old, opinionated, more Catholic than the Pope, instinctively sarcastic and able to inflict guilt quicker than an Oozie spits out bullets.   She is also the queen of decorum – never wryly tossing out comments rife with sexual innuendo, or making off-color jokes, which is why the following is ironically funny.

A few years ago, my wife and I invited my parents over for dinner and a quiet evening.  Dinner concluded, the kids were in bed, and we four adults decided to play Rummy.

Every round, after my mother decided she didn’t have any more cards to lay down, instead of simply declaring her turn to be over, she would colorfully announce that she’d “shot her load.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

The first time this happened, my wife and I looked across the table at one another, like we were frozen in granite, silently seeking confirmation from one another that we had just heard what we thought we’d heard.

We then looked to my father who had closed his eyes, and quietly lowered and shook his head from side to side.

Mom was oblivious.

Each subsequent round, my wife became increasingly close to exploding with laughter, and my father merely kept shaking his head.  Since I’m not one to leave the elephant quietly grazing in the middle of the living room, I finally asked my mother if she knew what her comment meant.

“It means I’m done,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“Yes, but do you know in what context that comment is usually used?”

<insert blank stare back at me>

“Mom, it’s what a GUY says when he’s ‘finished.’”

After a momentary pause for the reality of what was said to sink in, my mother’s eyes grew to the size of cantaloupes, and she turned her glare across the table at my father who was now silently laughing to himself, with only his shoulders going up and down uncontrollably to give him away.

Now, just because mom can be naïve and innocent as a three year old, that doesn’t mean she can’t still come out with occasional pearls of brilliance.

When I was a kid, for example, on very rare occasions when my father was ill, and fighting to dress and go to work, my mom would stop him and send him back to bed with one of my favorite mom-isms: “They can replace a Pope in a week, and a President in an hour.  Get over yourself, and get back to bed.”  – tough to develop much of an ego when mom’s around.

Another favorite is when she expanded my grandmother’s favorite saying, taking it over the bridge from caution to threat.  My grandmother used to say “First you laugh, and then you cry,” and my mom added “and then I have to get involved!”

Of course, having an acerbic wit doesn’t preclude one from being hopelessly naive.  One day, just after Woody Allen started dating his Asian step-daughter, my mom heard a joke that made everyone laugh, so she adopted it.

The joke was “What does Kodak film and Woody Allen have in common?  They both come in a yellow box.”

Now, who among my mother’s social network would tell such a joke is a question we could never answer.  Regardless, mom told this joke to everyone she met (friends and strangers, alike).  Of course, she’d always laugh at the end, but most people would just tilt their heads and look at her like she’d lost her marbles.

One day, she told me the joke, but instead of laughter, there was a moment of uncomfortable silence between us before I asked her if she knew what that joke meant.

She freely admitted she had no idea what it meant, but everyone seemed to think it was hysterical.  When I explained the punch line, she was immediately mortified as she recalled each and every person to whom she had told the joke, including the parish priest earlier that morning following mass.  With each person she remembered, she’d raise her eyebrows and say “ooooo,” like a hoot owl.

One of the greatest gifts in life is growing up with parents.  In our youth we hold our parents up on a pedestal as if they’re something more than what they are.  During our adolescence, we see the flaws in our parents, but we have no empathy to see beyond those flaws.  As we mature, though, we recognize that our parents are just people who spent their lives doing the best they could to provide for their kids.  It’s exhausting duty, being a parent, and the longer I am one, the more I realize how good my own parents were at it.

Yes, we tease my mom, but that’s because she’s a strong person who can take it … and dish it out!  Life would have been so boring with one of those “June Cleaver” pearl-wearing moms who did housework in high heels and a dress.  Such women were robots.

My mom wore sweat clothes around the house,begrudgingly performed housework (all the while, quietly maintaining an immaculate home), cooked dinner every night, and would sit up and talk ‘til the wee hours of the morning with us just because she enjoyed spending time with her kids.  Yes, she’s my mom, but we’re also friends.  Most of all, we always knew, if we ever needed her, my mom would step in and kick anyone’s ass who would threaten her children.  In fact, I’ve asked her to come to my office in a couple weeks to deal with a couple people …

Every time I think of my mom, I smile, and remember good times.  What a great legacy. Hopefully, when my boys get older, their memories will be of the funny times we shared, and of the affection I have for them.

Hopefully, they’ll forget the images of me parading around in my underwear, though.  Psycho-therapy is so expensive …

Here’s to you, mom!