Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Now that “the holidays” have passed, you find yourself in that strange limbo-like stage between the vacation mind set and the harsh reality of being back at work. While you float between fantasy and reality, your mind ponders whether you really did eat your body weight in Cheez Whiz – don’t deny it – and if there’s some way you can convince your neighbors that your Christmas lights are actually up in celebration of Ground Hog Day (so you’ve got until February to take them down). Inevitably, these musings – spurred on by heartburn and the anticipation of having to get back to work – cause us to look inwardly and decide we’re, by darn, gonna make some changes in our lives! And so begins the list of New Year’s resolutions.

Let’s be honest here: the vast majority of us aren’t going to try to scale Mount Everest or swim the English Channel (whether it’s for reasons of laziness or sanity). We are, for the most part, trying to kick a bad habit or get out of a rut into which we’ve let ourselves fall over the year. I’ve been there, and I’ve made my share of lists – that have gone, probably, 98% unfulfilled. But that’s not the point. The point here is that we all need to come up with resolutions that will enable us from forming bad habits in the first place. Here are but two resolutions that I promise to devote my full energies to throughout the year:

1. It never fails. Whenever I sit down in a doctor’s office or wait to board a plane with a good book or magazine to read, somebody in my general vicinity decides now is an excellent time to call someone on their cell phone and proceeds to speak at a volume that a 60-year-old fading rock star could hear. Mark my words: in all of 2007, I resolve not to begin reading my book aloud so I can drown out the caller and be sure I’m following the intricate plot. Although I might be confused about why Harry Potter’s been sent to detention again by Professor Snape, it would be rude of me to intrude on the caller’s peace.

2. Driving along the great highways of our nation, more often than I would like I find myself in the far left lane (some dare call it “the fast lane”) applying the brakes and then following a much slower car ahead of me. I follow closely in the hopes that the driver ahead of me will notice their error and get over. Oddly enough, they don’t. Flashing the lights doesn’t help because they’ve demonstrated that they’re either not looking in their rearview mirror, or they have a vitamin deficiency that precludes them from seeing my car. It is my resolution for the upcoming year that I will not affix a large metal plate to the front of my car to help me in pushing these people out of the way. Obviously, these metal plates are needed for these drivers’ heads.

I hope this helps you in coming up with your own list of resolutions. If you need further help in deciding what needs to be changed in your life, call a friend. Might I recommend you do so on your cell phone in the middle of a movie just when the plot twist is being revealed – you’ll get plenty of people telling you what to do.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

These Stones Weren't Rolling

Not too long ago, I had the chance to spend a week with the Stones. For those who know me, it may be hard to believe that during that time I freely popped my fair share of pills and found myself seeking the sweet relief of a good puking more than once. It was an experience that few men my age get to have, and it’s certainly one that I won’t soon forget. Unfortunately, though, Mick and Keith won’t ever recall these events because they weren’t there – the Stones to which I’m referring were of the kidney variety, and the drugs were prescribed to me by a real doctor. No brush of fame here – just the need to brush my teeth each time my stomach decided to tell everyone to get out of the pool.

This wasn’t my first bout with these little buggers that cause so much pain and misery that kicking the neighbor’s dog – no matter how yappy it’s been in the past – won’t bring any satisfaction. When I first passed kidney stones about three and a half years ago, numerous people told me that the pain was equal to that which women experience during child birth. After careful consideration, I concluded that these people were (a) full of crap, (b) more highly medicated than I was – and perhaps not by anyone formally recognized by the American Medical Association, or (c) high school biology class dropouts. Let’s take a moment and review the mechanics involved in each process, shall we?

With kidney stones, you’re trying to push a small grain-of-sand-like object from your kidney to your bladder – yes, a little grain of sand. The pathway between these two bodily repositories is very narrow and lined with muscles, so the pour-some-acid-in-an-open-wound pain comes from the muscles trying to push the stone down a skinny tunnel. My doctor, in describing this process, took a rubber glove and stretched out one of the fingers while simulating trying to push a grain of sand through the glove finger. He was fortunate that he had previously pumped me full of some really great feel-good drugs, because the entire time he was going through this educational process with me, he had a huge smile on his face. In retrospect, he was either an unusually friendly human being (unlikely, because we were on a really bad HMO), or he was the Marquis de Sade – my mind was on other things so I didn’t check for a name tag.

I don’t believe I need to go into detail about the birthing process. Suffice it to say, in this scenario, the grain of sand is the size of a watermelon with arms and legs, and you don’t have to worry about how much it will cost to put the grain of sand through an Ivy League college or whether it will grow up to be the next Adolf Hitler once it’s out. Nor with kidney stones does one run the risk of having stretch marks that resemble a relief map of the Amazon.

It would seem reasonable to presume that women are far better equipped to handle a higher threshold of pain in all aspects of life, but the next time your wife or significant other starts to cry because of something you deem to be no big deal, I would caution against saying, “Come on, honey. You shouldn’t cry over this. You went through childbirth – this is nothing.” If you do find yourself making such a statement, heaven help you because the pain you’ll soon experience will be far worse than kidney stones!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Appetites of Destruction

When our two sons get home from school each day, the first thing on their minds is food. With their ravenous appetites, one might think the boys attend a school with Ghandi as their principal. At any rate, the moment they walk in the door they make a beeline to the kitchen to rummage through the pantry and sack the refrigerator. And if something doesn’t tickle their fancy immediately, they turn to my wife with a look in their eyes that I could only describe as “wild”. They’re still young and considerably smaller than my wife, so she can handle them on her own at present. But in the back of her mind there’s a little voice saying, “Someday, they’re going to be bigger and taller than you – and there are two of them.” (At this point one might argue that we have bigger problems if my wife is hearing voices, but that’s another issue for another day.) At that very moment, she must find something that will satisfy them until their next feeding – because if she doesn’t act quickly, she’ll have to pick up a kitchen chair and keep them back with a whip while she finds large sides of beef to throw to them.
Quite often you see a story on the six o’clock news about a mountain lion taking a dip in someone’s pool and then walking off with some of the neighborhood pets (between its teeth or in its stomach). And every story seems to end the same way: “Well, Bob, Animal Control naturally had to put the creature down.” It had always seemed strange to me that this was the “natural” solution to the problem. That’s a bit of an extreme punishment for “trespassing” and “theft”, isn’t it?
Then, looking at my boys one afternoon as they were licking the chocolate frosting off their lips from an after-school snack, it dawned on me: Animal Control’s trying to “send a message” to the other animals out in the wild – you know, make an example out of these feral felons and put the fear of God in them. And if we don’t find a way to control our children’s appetites, we could be running into the same problem in our own homes.
I can see it now: a news story about a standoff in a quaint suburban town with helicopters buzzing overhead and police cars surrounding a modest three-bedroom house. With a very concerned look painted on her face (looking as though she’s either very serious or seriously constipated), the reporter will say, “The details are still coming in, but here’s what I’ve been able to piece together so far: an eight-year-old boy – who we believe lives three doors down – came home from school today to find his own pantry completely free of Twinkies, cup cakes, or any other snack food. It appears he eluded his mother who was trying to get him to eat a carrot and made his way into the home we’re standing in front of now. Preliminary reports have come in that the boy is currently into his second box of Pop Tarts, and he’s halfway through a two-liter bottle of soda – Mountain Dew, I believe. If the police can’t talk him out, we could be in for a long night – that sugar rush isn’t wearing off any time soon.”
I think we’re all beginning to see the enormity of the problem here: if this happens, we’ll have more than seemingly endless slow-motion car chases to interrupt our favorite television programs.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Race With the Devil

The first time I ever saw a Rubik’s cube, I wasn’t that impressed. Somebody had slapped six distinct colors on as many sides of the cube – nothing a sixth-grade art student couldn’t accomplish. But when I saw someone mix up the colors and then put them back in order (without taking a hammer to it and reassembling it), I was convinced I was witness to the introduction of something so dark and evil, the Ouija board had nothing on it. Then, someone taught me how to solve the cube, and I saw it for what it was: a toy.

Sudoku, the number game from Japan, had the same effect on me. And when I learned how to play the game and solve the puzzles, I stopped cursing it and wishing it would return to the inner circle of Hell. I’m sure many of you out there could name similar experiences.

At this point, I’m going to recommend that the children leave the room because I’m going to tell you about something that seems, at first, innocent but quickly reveals its diabolical nature: pinewood derby. For the uninitiated, this is an annual activity in which Cub Scouts participate by taking a chunk of wood, four nails, and four plastic wheels and carve out a car to be raced down a track. I was involved in a handful of these “derbies” as a young boy, but my naiveté protected me from being sucked in by this ugly monster. Now, in my adult years, I have been subjected to two of these events, and I am prepared to expose its black underbelly.

As background, we blithely and innocently took on the task last year of building a car and preparing for the race. My son’s car came in dead last in every heat. He was awarded the “Sportsmanship” medal, and I was more than happy with that. My wife, however, apparently took a solemn oath at that moment that this would not happen again. So, in preparation for this year’s event, my wife insisted that we get some expert help. While I can’t tell you what advice/guidance we were given in the “building” of our son’s car, I will reveal that we consulted with an engineer from General Dynamics and a pharmacist. Our son’s car (which he named “Red Hot & Blue”) came in fourth this year – I tremble to learn who my wife will have us seek out next year: perhaps a ninja.

In the months leading up to this annual race, you interact with the parents and various adults associated with the Cub Scout program, and they all seem to be normal and sane. Not a single one of them, in my experience, has been featured in an episode of “Cops” or turned up on the evening news driving a white Ford Bronco. However, on derby night, you don’t want to get in their way or you might risk losing a limb.

As I entered the hall where the race was to be held, I noticed that each car but my son’s was being carried and cared for by an adult – an adult with a very determined and driven look etched on his/her face. Some were wiping down the bodies of the cars (no doubt to improve the aerodynamics) and others had a pocketful of assorted tools to make the necessary last-minute tweaks and adjustments to assure maximum performance. One father brought his laptop to enter every car into a spreadsheet and track the results of each heat!

As we awaited the start of the race, I couldn’t help hearing snippets of conversation buzzing around me like mosquitoes. One mother had admitted to her friend that she spent twelve hours on the internet searching for the perfect car design. Someone else rattled off the name of some place in Cuba where you could get a guaranteed winning car for only $500.00. The one item I overheard that keeps me awake at night was a man claiming he had to bite off another man’s ear to get the last “piece” for his son’s car.

Clearly, this would make for a far more simple psychiatric test than ink blots or word association. If you want to gauge a person’s mental stability, hand him a chunk of wood, a handful of nails, and some plastic wheels, and tell him he has three days to prepare for a pinewood derby – then cover your ears and run!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Season's Readings

By a show of hands, how many of you send out a family holiday letter? Okay, put your hands down. By a show of groans, how many of you have been the recipients of those letters? That’s what I thought.

Not a year goes by that we don’t receive at least a dozen of these merry little missives, and about 90% of them are either outright lies (which isn’t all that bad – we’ll get to that later) or they make you want to curse your elementary school teachers for having taught you how to read. The end to this insanity begins with you.

I’m not against sending out the family letter. It’s great to keep in touch with those friends and family members you may have not heard from or spoken with over the year. And with that being the case, this is your one and only chance to reconnect with them. Do you want this little “reunion” to induce sleep or cause nausea?

For the sake of all your involuntary recipients out there, I’ve compiled a few guidelines for you to follow when you sit down to pen the family epistle:

1. Comedy is best employed by professionals. If you’re not getting regular gigs at The Improv, don’t take this moment to try out your material. This doesn’t mean you can’t employ some humor at your own expense – poke some fun at yourself. For example, if you bear a striking resemblance to Condoleezza Rice, you might want to open the letter with, “I tried to become a body double this year for the Secretary of State, but they thought it would be unwise to employ a man in that role.”

2. A little white lie can be very effective. One year, when our oldest son was about three, I wrote that he had found one of those hairless cats in the neighborhood and thought it looked cold. So, he took some shag carpet remnants and glued them all over the feline’s physique. I went on to finish the story by saying that sealing the pores on the hapless cat caused an unforeseen side effect: death. We received calls and letters from people we hadn’t heard from for years!

3. Save a tree. By all means, keep the family letter to one side of one page – 8 ½” X 11”. (If you have more than twelve children, then you may employ the back of the single page.) Even the Declaration of Independence was limited to one page – granted, it was slightly larger than letter-size, but it was written by hand in a really huge font, and John Hancock took up some major real estate with just his signature.

4. Don’t brag! One year, some friends of ours sent us their letter highlighting all of the wonderfully expensive items they were able to buy and exotic trips they took. Upping the gag factor by about three hundred points was the fact they tried to do this through rhymes. I didn’t think it was possible, but they found words to rhyme with Chevy Suburban and pearl necklace. These are the same folks who subsequently reported that their children were brainiacs – and yet those same tots sat next to mine in preschool eating paste and running into doors with their heads.

Please bear in mind that there’s only one person who’s qualified to call himself the Leader of the Western World, and best-selling authors make a lot of money because they do really well what we can’t. Have a safe and happy holiday, and keep the home fires burning – with all those family letters that really blow!

Political Cleansing

Back in college I was required to take a couple of political science classes. Being the masochist that I am, I took them both from the same teacher (over two different semesters, mind you) – better the devil you know than the one you don’t was my thought process. At any rate, I remember two main things from this cat’s classes: (1) he liked to ramble on about the great price he got on some large ceramic pots at a flea market, and (2) he was always talking about how things affected the body politic. Now, allow me to digress for a moment.

I grew up with a guy named Dave who would move heaven and earth to make sure he didn’t throw up. He’s now 36 years old, and I believe he has only tossed his cookies once in that entire time. To make matters worse, whenever he hears someone talking about throwing up, he gets physically ill – but he won’t let himself do it. I remember a night when we all sat around taking turns peppering the conversation with one reference or another to the act of vacating one’s stomach just to watch him turn green. Truth be told, we were waiting for him to explode.

Personally, when I’m sick to my stomach, I welcome the opportunity to heave. The moments leading up to the act are not pleasant, and they seem to take an eternity, but once I’m through with it I feel one hundred percent better. It doesn’t mean that I’m no longer sick, but I’m feeling good at the moment.

I bring this up as a means of gaining some perspective on what happened here in our country this past Tuesday. The body politic felt sick so it decided to stick its finger down its throat and let lunch fly. The problems they perceive still exist, and the possibility that they could get sick again or sicker is very strong, but they’re feeling settled at the moment.

It will be interesting to see what will happen in the coming days and months. Will we seek out proper “medical” advice, or will we continue to “self diagnose” and become political bulimics?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Fate Takes a Holiday

I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey – the food, that is (I can honestly say I’m pretty ambivalent on the country, but that’s neither here nor there). Whenever possible, we have a ham at our get-togethers with family and friends. However, for some strange reason, there’s a ginormous segment of the population that is either gaga over the almost taste-free fowl or feels it their patriotic duty to serve the bird on Thanksgiving Day.

One might ask how turkey came to be the centerpiece of the holiday meal, and that question bears one simple answer: the Pilgrims were from England. English cuisine has never been known for overwhelming the palette. When was the last time you watched Emeril and heard him say he was going to kick it up a notch by going British? Our English cousins may be known for their spicy wit and their saucy comebacks but not for culinary wonders. Also, why do you think it’s served with mashed potatoes, gravy, and yams? Very few people I know are clawing their way into the kitchen to get a mouthful of the naked bird. It’s very likely that the Native Americans who were invited to the first Thanksgiving feast could smell the turkey smell wafting through the air long before their arrival at the party – that’s why they brought some of their own food.

As many of you know, Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the turkey our national symbol rather than using the bald eagle. In denying Mr. Franklin his wish for a federal emblem, fate dealt us a mixed hand: had he succeeded, we would most assuredly be free from having to eat turkey on Thanksgiving; however, with that success would have come the embarrassing specter of standing before the world with a turkey, perhaps one of the dumbest birds to walk the earth, as the face of our nation. Nothing says “tough” like a turkey.

Along with the culinary challenges presented by Thanksgiving, this holiday carries with it many different meanings and memories. And they usually depend on the age of the person. Generally speaking, when one is young, the holiday means the sheer exhilaration of seeing cousins and other relatives. For the teens, it means having to face all those same relatives who pepper you with about a thousand questions about your latest choice of hairstyle or clothing; this grilling continues on through the end of puberty and into young adulthood, but the questions turn on college choice, career path, marriage, etc. And then once you’re married and have children of your own, Thanksgiving means traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to visit those same relatives you moved so far away to avoid – I mean, come on, it wouldn’t be fair (to you) for your kids to miss out on all the fun you had when you were their age.

It’s also odd that Thanksgiving conjures up so many memories – more so than many other holidays. For example, at the mere mention of the Thanksgiving holiday, someone in your immediate vicinity will suddenly break into a “I remember one year when . . .” story. However, you don’t get that same waxing of nostalgia for other holidays with statements like, “Hey, Phil, remember that wild Arbor Day back in 1986? Wow, the mayor’s cat was never the same since.”

Regardless of your memories of or feelings for the Thanksgiving holiday, I would recommend you reflect on one thing for which we should all feel grateful: Ben Franklin’s discovery of electricity – because without electricity, there would be no way to watch the football game from the comfort of your family room. And without the football game, you might be forced to make small talk with Aunt Fern about the removal of that hideous mole below her lip. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


One might wonder at the origin of the term Smart Alec. I can’t speak to the specific reasoning behind that term nor do I know the identity of the particularly sarcastic man (or boy) who earned himself this nickname. However, I believe it’s safe to say that it was, in fact, a male member of the human species and not a representative of the fairer sex.

My brother-in-law, Mike, went on a hunting trip recently, so my wife’s sister came to stay with us for the night with her two children. We had a very pleasant visit, but that’s completely unrelated to the topic at hand. (Sorry.) Mike called to check in with his wife while she was staying with us, and in the "goodbye" phase of the conversation, my wife’s sister said, "Be careful." Mike’s reply, in classic Smart Alec form, was, "Don’t worry. I took the deer’s skin and draped it over my shoulders and placed the head on top of my hat." When my wife’s sister recounted this to us, my wife rolled her eyes along with her sister, and the two of them laughed at Mike’s Devil-may-care attitude.

As I reflected on this, I came to the conclusion that Smart Alec-hood is man’s defense against going criminally insane. This stems from the dawn of time. Picture Eve handing the tempting apple to Adam and just when he’s about to chomp down on the luscious fruit, she says instinctually, "Be careful." Caught off guard, Adam bites his lip and starts bleeding. "How’d she know that was going to happen?" he muses. From then on, men have been trying to stay one step ahead of "be careful", and sarcasm is the most effective mental diversion.

Speaking on behalf of the men in this world, the need to admonish us occasionally and remind us to keep safety in mind is well deserved in a lot of cases. Were it not for the general stupidity of the male gender throughout the ages, we wouldn’t have guys trying to take a kayak over a 200-foot waterfall "to see if he can." Come on. Who was the first person to climb Mt. Everest? A man. Why? Because it was there! Who was the first person to sail around the world when the general consensus was that the ship and its crew would most likely fall off the edge and plummet to their deaths? A man. This isn’t one of those "hey look how much cooler we are, and by the way, we can pee standing up and write our names in the snow" kinds of rants. It’s intended to demonstrate that men throughout history haven’t exactly done a great deal to prove they’re careful. So, from birth, females are hardwired to look out for the males of the species.

Now, back to combating the possible onset of criminal insanity: because of this hardwiring, many of us men have loving wives, girlfriends (not at the same time, of course), mothers, etc. who tell us to "be careful" regardless of the circumstances. When I’m departing for a business trip, I get the "be careful" just after the peck on the cheek. Men around the world, in similar circumstances, are getting the same directive from the women in their lives. With a constant diet of "be careful" – if we dwelt on it – we would begin to wonder, "Does she know something I don’t? Should I check under the car to see if brake fluid has pooled under it from a severed line?" Instead, we lapse into survival mode and become Smart Alec: "I haven’t had anything to drink; and besides, I won’t be the one flying the plane, honey." Ha ha!

But after the laughter has died and I drive off to the airport, I pump the brakes a couple of times just in case.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Sounds of Insanity

I have to start off by stating I’m not a very musical person. When I was about twelve years old, I wanted to learn to play the drums. My parents, with a combination of financial savvy and foresight, already had an upright piano and decided the best course of action would be to cut a deal with me: take two years of piano first, then I could take drum lessons. (As a friend of mine has said numerous times, I might have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night.) I spotted the stall tactic a mile away, and I called my parents on it. They denied the stall and tried to convince me that the piano would better enable me to learn to read music and to develop an ear for melodies. Melodies, schmelodies! I wanted to bang on those drums and get the chicks. Of course, those weren’t my exact words to my parents, but I did try to convince them that the piano truly wasn’t necessary.

At the age of twelve, my business acumen wasn’t that well developed, and my negotiating prowess was – how shall I say – wanting. Mom and dad knew they were holding all the cards, so they stood firm. They signed me up for piano lessons with my brother’s girlfriend and dug in for the protracted battles to come: getting me to practice. Fortunately for everyone involved – especially my brother’s girlfriend whom he later married – it was a short campaign and I held up the white flag after two months. Peace and serenity were maintained in the Greene home, and drums were never purchased nor pounded.

With that said, despite my lack of musical talent, I was quite the singer as a young boy. I heartily belted out the classics either by myself or along with a group. Let’s see. “London Bridges” was one of my favorites – what a great tune to teach young, impressionable members of society. In the song, we bemoan the structural weaknesses of the bridges of London, but that’s okay because we have a good-looking woman (“my fair lady”) by our side. That had to be confusing for a lot of little girls. It also has to put nerves on edge for the citizens of and visitors to Lake Havasu, Arizona – taking the London Bridge apart, transporting it across the ocean, and reassembling it can’t exactly improve the strength of a relic of that size and magnitude.

“Ring Around the Rosie” was another oldie but a goodie. We would merrily chant away about how to take care of the body of someone who had fallen victim to the Bubonic Plague. Sunshine all around! Is it any wonder that so many of today’s adults are so heavily medicated?

I foresee children one hundred years from now singing about the fall of Enron with the same blithe and glee one feels when thinking about the arrival of Santa Claus.

Little Kenny was so clever
All had bought what he had to sell
Keeping the world hot and cold
He’d never see Graybar Hotel

Even farther in the future, after the world is taken over by cyborgs who are immune to disease and bad jokes, the young will sing about E.coli and wonder why spinach got such a bum wrap.

Bacteria, bacteria all wrapped up and bagged
Conveniently deadly, others just gagged
Pretty and green for Popeye’s delight
Gripping the world with terror and fright

You laugh now, but do you think our ancestors – two hundred, three hundred years ago – would have thought we’d pay for water in little plastic bottles?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Sky's the Limit

All told, I believe there are at least 764 shades of the color blue that are completely indistinguishable to my eyes, but my wife has the innate ability to differentiate each and every one. Stranger still, when I tell her that Cerulean and Celestial look identical to me, she’ll say things like, “Oh, come on. The Cerulean has way more red in it, and the Celestial tends to be more yellow.” How can “blue” be red or yellow? Aren’t we talking about the three primary colors, the basic building blocks of all other colors?

I would like to say that this truly shouldn’t matter to me, but I just spent my afternoon painting an entire wall Blue #429 – it has a name, I’m sure, but I dare not mention it for fear that one of you out there will send back to me a twelve-page thesis on the distinguishing characteristics of this particular shade of Blue. Exhaustion has overtaken me, and I just couldn’t take that. I’m not so exhausted from the physical labor involved; my arms are a bit fatigued, but that’s most likely due more to my personal lack of muscle. The exhaustion, quite honestly, stems from my watching a non-stop virtual tennis volley between my wife’s two minds on the subject of the color. “I think that will go really well with the couch and the black chairs.” “That’s way too nautical blue.” “It really softens up the room.” “I was going more for the color of that pillow.” Just when it seemed like one side had smashed it over the net to decide the match, the other would make an unexpected comeback that seemed just as devastating. Am I rooting for the side that likes the color as it is? Of course! More to the point, though: I just want it over. As I write this, I believe Erin’s in bed right now muttering pros and cons in her sleep.

Earlier today, before the paint was purchased and ushered into our home, I went on a hike with our oldest son, Jack. While we were out communing with nature and swatting at mosquitoes, I decided it was a good time to spring “the Birds & the Bees” talk on him. As I finished the short discourse, I asked him if it made sense, and he said, “Sort of.” I could tell from his befuddled response that I had taken him completely by surprise, and the topic of discussion was so far from his view of the world, he thought I had been out in the sun too long. I got that. So, I gave us both an easy out and said, “Well, when you start having questions along those lines, just ask me.” His response to this was calculated and well delivered: “You wanna throw rocks at that flower on top of that cactus?”

I can honestly say that the details of my explanation were pretty straightforward but limited to fit the audience. However, maybe the approach was all wrong. Granted, I don’t want my children getting their information from other kids at school, television, or a former President of the United States – so I do need to get them the facts. But while I’m preparing them to embrace the responsibilities of adulthood and married life, I should begin the discussion with the question: “How many shades of blue do you think there are in the world, son?”

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Defining Normal

I had dinner with my cousin and her husband recently, and the mealtime conversation invariably turned to family, both immediate and extended. The different points of discussion were usually kicked off by an innocent question: “Whatever happened to that girl he was dating?” “Didn’t you say he retired from that job a year ago?” “Was that wart really the shape of Abraham Lincoln’s head?” And with each topic came a flood of memories and interesting stories that caused me to sit back and look at my family and relatives with a bit of detached perspective.

Dysfunctional is probably too strong a term to use to describe them – that word carries with it way too much negative baggage. Connoting more of a whimsical and somewhat genius-based gallery of personalities, eccentric is a little off the mark, too. Putting it in proper context with the world and society in which we live, normal is perhaps most fitting.

I should place myself first under the microscope in the spirit of fairness. Had you told me at the age of five or six that thirty-something years later I would be working for a company that sells crumpled-up kraft paper, I would think you’re either insane or demonically possessed. Either way, in my mind, your powers of prognostication were way off: I was going to be a helicopter pilot or the next Bionic Man. Nevertheless, while in the process of veering off the aforementioned career paths on my way to today, I’ve developed a mildly manic compulsion of checking if my wallet is still in my pocket every ten minutes or so. I also have this weird habit of looking for and plucking out ingrown hairs from the stubble on my face. (A psychiatrist would probably have a field day with that.) So much for the self-disclosure. On to the cast of characters who populate the ranks of my genealogy.

One member of my family believes she saw her cat in a vision the night before she passed through the Navajo reservation when she found the stray feline. She gave the cat a Navajo name in honor of the circumstances of their meeting. I believe Peyote would have been a better name because that would explain the “vision” and the continued practice of taking her cat for walks in a stroller. Yes, you read that right: she takes her cat for walks in a stroller.

A late member of my family used to sit down at the family piano and play two songs over and over. Were the songs “Moonlight Sonata” and “Green Sleeves”, I might have had a better appreciation for the subtleties of musical composition. But no. They were “Sweet Georgia Brown” (perhaps better known as the Harlem Globetrotters theme) and a tune whose name I still don’t know today – we just referred to it as the Stripper Song. I will say this, though: when she played those two songs, she did it with flair and gusto!

Although not a particularly athletic individual, another relative was very fond of throwing things. When the family cat was trying to sharpen his claws on a lampshade, the “thrower” picked up the billiards cue stick that was close at hand and hurled it across two rooms missing the cat by mere inches – the cue stick embedded itself in the wall like a spear. Another incident involved our trying to seal up garbage cans filled with wheat for food storage when the lid wouldn’t quite fit; this prompted his hurling it across the garage like a giant metal Frisbee. The flight was impressive!

In addition to these personalities, I have a one-legged used-car salesman who can drive a golf ball a country mile, an exercise nut who eats only broiled chicken breasts and salmon, a self-proclaimed shopaholic who’s as regular at The Gap as Norm was at Cheers, a paranoid who thought Communist agents were following her, a lesbian who only eats vegetables that can be grown in the dark (or something like that), and a kleptomaniac.

By comparison, this slice of American Pie is representative of probably 95% of the population’s own backgrounds. The other 5% are either freakishly pristine, or they’re fresh off the boat and have no ties to the Kennedy family.

As you can see, the names have been withheld and their relation to me has not been specified for one main reason: to protect the innocent – me!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Carolina on my Mind

Traveling with my family is never boring; add to that the fact we chose to go to “the South”, and you have the makings of a fairly entertaining sitcom episode.

We flew into Raleigh, NC, and made our way southward. As were heading down I-40 to Wilmington, NC, our youngest, Sam, announced he had a foreign white powder on his sandal. I was fairly certain that it wasn’t anthrax so I kept driving. My wife, however, turned in her seat with a duly cautious look on her face intent on helping Sam determine the nature of this substance. Before this alert could develop its full potential for panic, Sam declared, “Oh, I know what it is. It’s powered doughnut. I just tasted it.” That opened a whole new potential for disaster as I nearly ran off the road while I tried to contain my laughter. The oddest thing about the whole incident, in retrospect, is I don’t recall any one of us admonishing Sam’s free-wheeling willingness to taste something on his shoe. Oddly enough, about an hour later, as we were looking for a place to have lunch, Sam made it very clear that he didn’t want any of the suggestions we were throwing out – this coming from a kid who eats sandal doughnut.

Our ultimate destination was Hilton Head Island, SC, and we decided to take the scenic route (read: really long), which took us through Myrtle Beach. What amazed me about this seaside burg was that within a 12-mile stretch on Highway 17 (the main strip), I counted 32 miniature golf courses. Stranger still, passing through this surreal scene on a Monday evening, every single one of these places was packed! So, next time you’re playing Trivial Pursuit and you’re asked, “What’s the miniature golf capital of the world?” you heard it here first.

Just after passing through Charleston, I rolled my window down to take in the pleasantly cool evening. Much to my disappointment, I didn’t hear the sounds of dueling banjos emanating from the stands of trees just beyond the road’s borders. So, Erin (my wife) turned on the radio and found a rather format-free station. We began our journey through the musical spectrum with Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” Making the song “their own” Erin and Sam decided to whistle along with the opening guitar solo – unfortunately, both Erin’s and Sam’s whistling sounded more like someone with a tracheotomy was trying to sing along. Following Deep Purple was Milli Vanilli, Lady Marmalade, Grand Funk Railroad, and Eddie Rabbit.

After checking in at the resort, I dropped Erin and Sam off in our room and took Jack back to the car to retrieve our luggage. (Yes, you read that right: I was far too cheap to have the bellhop do this.) Upon returning to the room, Erin informed me that housekeeping was on its way up to change the sheets on the boys’ hide-a-bed – apparently, when Erin opened it up she discovered a liberal sprinkling of unidentifiable crumbs all over the bedspread. When housekeeping arrived (it was actually the bellhop I had shafted on the tip), Erin pulled back the bedspread to get to the sheets underneath and found a pair of young girl’s panties. Erin made a very interesting point at this juncture of our evening: “I don’t know if it’s better or worse that they were girl’s panties.” Jury’s still out on that one!

Our stay at the resort was very uneventful – just as we had planned – except for the shark sighting. As the boys were off making sand castles, Erin was reading, and I was eating Wheat Thins straight out of the box, I spied a small stir of activity directly in front of us where the sand and water met: it was a shark! I bolted up and made it down to the spot in seconds. A group of three young men from Australia were being menaced by this killer when I arrived. Not taking thought for my own safety, I grabbed the shark with one hand and threw him out into the depths – I’m not heartless. That shark wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon! As I made it back to my chair, Erin said, “It would have been more impressive if the shark were more than 12 inches long, and you had put down the box of Wheat Thins before you went out there.” Needless to say, I didn’t make the evening news.

On our last day, we decided to make a side trip to Savannah, GA, and then head back to Raleigh via I-95. As we were entering South Carolina from Georgia, the interstate was laid out like the gates of a high-end country club: beautifully manicured shrubbery setting off marble-capped brick pony walls and the South Carolina flag flying proudly in the median. Erin and I were extremely impressed. Only later did we learn that this display of Southern gentility was to belie the sights of “Café Risque” (a 24-hour adult diner/novelty store) and “South of the Border” (a garish, electricity-eating, neon-festooned amusement park/fireworks mall).

The capper to the trip was our Southwest Airlines flight crew. As we were taxiing toward the runway, one of the flight attendants sang the safety lecture to us to the tune of “Ice, Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice. I couldn’t make any of this up, I swear!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Boston (rhymes with Tea) Party

Now that Tax Day has come and gone, enough time has passed to allow an objective view of our government’s revenue-collecting process. And tempers have cooled sufficiently so I won’t be accused of starting another tax payers’ uprising.

Not only do we get large chunks of money taken out of our checks, but the government goes to a lot of trouble of making sure you know how much they’re taking – they require your employer to print it right there on your pay stub. Adding insult to injury, you’re forced to “settle up” at the end of the year. It’s the government’s way of telling you how valuable you were to the American economy that particular year.

Before April 15, you gather up your W2 – although, you’re not quite sure whatever happened to the W1 – along with the other necessary documents (mortgage interest, business receipts, an IOU from your cousin Wilbur, etc.). You then trudge off to an accountant so you can have even more money taken away from you. After meeting with the accountant you’re told one of two things: you owe MORE or you paid TOO MUCH. The latter is always the preferred option, but that’s not the point. We’re forced to wait all year for the government to get back to us and let us know how valuable we were to them.

What are we smoking? How many of us would go to work for a company and freely accept the possibility that at the end of the year our boss could come to us and say, “You know, I think your work was a shade over mediocre. You need to write me a check for $11,769.52.”

That’s what’s happening with the government. One would think that our ever-changing tax burden is the direct result of our local and state representatives working hard on our behalf to “make a difference.” Ha ha ha! Now that’s funny.

Take the Big Dig in Boston as an example. This project started out as a tunnel to divert traffic beneath the city and remove the elevated roadways. After all was said and done, the Big Dig came in five years late and billions over budget. Yes, billions! Do you think the contractors ate that? Ha ha ha. That’s funny, too.

We blithely go throughout our days believing that our taxes are going to pay for schools, roads, the occasional geothermal energy plant, and so forth. And this would be fine if our politicians were professional contractors and project managers who understood what it meant to stick to a budget and keep their word. But what’s the number one profession of our politicians? Attorney. I have no qualms with men and women of the bar, but the last I checked, law school curriculum doesn’t include a single course on, say, managing multi-lingual construction crews.

Looking back on when I met with my accountant to prepare our 2005 taxes, the term “one hundred monkeys with typewriters” kept coming to mind. (I believe I may be using that out of context, but it seems to fit.) Despite Hollywood’s depictions of cute and cuddly monkeys, they really are vile creatures for the most part. I remember watching a monkey at the Bronx Zoo standing above another monkey in a tree and peeing on the one below. He had a knowing smirk on his face while doing this. I often get the same all-over icky feeling when a politician makes campaign promises. That being said, the point is clear: neither monkeys nor politicians should be allowed to write the tax code.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Patience Pays Off

Living a life without cable television has its down sides, I’ll admit. But it does present a challenge that has an occasional priceless payoff. Sure, it’s easy if you have 659 channels to surf – you’re bound to find something completely bizarre on one of those channels. "Phil, you gotta come in here right now. There’s a show on the TV with a guy who’ll eat anything you’ll give him and throw it back up in the same shape and condition as it was before he ate it." When you only have five or six channels in your repertoire, you’re forced to employ a greater discipline and patience and wait out the zaniness.

Quite honestly, network TV usually won’t have anything that bizarre. The FCC and the Bland Television Act of 1968 make sure of that. So, you’re really relying on the independent stations and PBS.

Last Friday evening, PBS came through! First off, a "commercial" announcing an upcoming program came on, and it began with a pastoral scene of some cattle grazing and generally doing nothing. A little music plays in the background, and then you hear the voice of a man saying, "Choosing between beautiful cows is like choosing between two beautiful women." (At this point, I don’t even need to describe to you what this guy looked like because whatever mental image you have, it’s correct!) I honestly fell a bit into some sort of fugue and never truly learned the theme of the program being advertised. I was too bewildered to pay attention to anything more being said on the screen. Given the fact this was PBS, I believe it’s fair to guess it wasn’t a new game show in which lonely men interview three heifers behind a blind screen and try to determine which one would be the most fun on a date. Nor could I see how the looks of the cows in question could be a determining factor in the quality of the meat or milk they produce, so it wasn’t a new cooking show.

As I continued to turn that bedeviling statement over and over in my mind, another program came on about cats that compete in shows. Having grown up in a household in which the family pets were cats rather than dogs, I must admit that I was intrigued – that and the fact one of the cats being featured was named Nicole Kidman (who bore a striking resemblance to her namesake).

About ten minutes into the program, my interest was beginning to wane when suddenly the producers cut to an interview with a gentleman in which he said, "I have photographed over 50,000 cats in my lifetime." That’s right, he said 50,000. Now that’s one goal-oriented guy!
But the payoff comes just after the interview. The next thing you see on the screen is one of the judges reaching into one of the cages, extracting one of the feline contestants and hoisting it into the air for all so see. The judge doesn’t just hold up the cat, but she places one hand just behind the front legs of the cat and her other hand just in front of the back legs and stretches the cat out so everyone can see it in all its furry glory. (Obviously, these cats are heavily medicated because they don’t even flinch.) While you’re watching the judge walking around, cat aloft in the same position as a spear in the hands of a Zulu warrior, you hear someone say, "These cat shows are just like the Miss America pageant." Then, the judge places the cat on a small display platform and proceeds to hold up its tail and look at its hindquarters with a "probing" finger – all the while, the Prozac cat doesn’t bat an eye.

This got me to thinking: if the Miss America pageant were really run like these cat shows, the Nielsen rating system would have to be revamped to measure the gazillions of viewers it would draw. Now that would be the true test of beauty! Answering questions about world peace and wearing evening dresses are child’s play compared to keeping a straight face while being hoisted above Bob Barker’s head and . . .

Friday, March 31, 2006

Decision 2006

Let us look back on the early days of our young Republic as a group of our forefathers is sitting around the local tavern complaining about the sorry condition of the road outside whenever it rained. (The reason none of the foremothers is at this little get-together is that they’re far too smart to go out to the tavern when it’s raining.) Although this is long before the days of Cole Hahn, Kenneth Cole, and Manolo Blahnik – so the issue of designer shoes being ruined by the elements hasn’t quite become a concern on par with cholera, being eaten by a bear, or witch hunts – human pride burned strong in the bosoms of the people, and frankly they were tired of looking like complete boobs when they slipped and fell face first as the tavern crowd looked on. Someone needed to save them from this embarrassment.

One from the crowd, listening to the debate as it raged on, stood upon the table and said, “Forsooth, be it a most diabolical quandary in which ye . . .”, but before he could launch into his proposal, someone from the back cut him off and said, “Talk like a normal dude or we’ll all take turns kicking you in the teeth.” Not shrinking from his cause, our brave spokesman goes on to explain that they needed someone to go to Washington to represent their local needs and concerns. He further proposed that, in exchange for doing this, they would all pay him a salary and put him up in a stately home in suburban Virginia (so he wouldn’t have to actually live among them). The crowd erupted into laughter; and some even wet themselves for they had never laughed harder in their lives – these were Colonial times, and stand-up comedy hadn’t yet hit its stride.

As the laughter died down, he began buying drinks for everyone. And once he got them sufficiently drunk, he tried his idea with them once more. At this point, they unanimously demanded that he take the job at twice the amount of money he had originally proposed, along with an expense account and the insistence that he go immediately out on a fact-finding mission to the Bahamas. Later that evening, when the tab came due, he told the barkeep that, he “appreciated the tavern’s support in this all-important endeavor of representative government” and spirited himself out the door. Thus the American Politician was born!

A couple of hundred years have passed since then, so it’s time to go in a new direction. In that spirit, I have the perfect candidate: the stay-at-home mom. Allow me to share a brief sampling of her qualifications:

1. Time Management: Congressional sessions would take all of about an hour instead of weeks on end. Say, for instance, there was an item on the agenda concerning road improvements. Rather than a whole storm of blustering and bluffery, she would stand up and say, “Look, is this going to make it easier for me to go and pick up my kids from baseball practice and ballet, or are we just talking about planting a couple of bushes along the roadway? Either way, let’s just take the vote. I’ve got kids to shuttle around!”

2. Selfless Service: She already does her job without complaint despite little spontaneous praise/positive feedback from her constituency (the family) all the while standing by their side in both defeat and triumph, and she doesn’t rest until they’re all home safely. Clearly, she’s not looking for the pat on the back from a civic group or a handout from a lobbyist.

3. Budgeting: She has no problem saying, “No. We don’t have the money for that. You can throw a tantrum all day, and it’s not going to change.” However, she’ll always find a way to provide a good education, keep clothes on your back, and put food in your mouth.

The impressive resume, of course, could go on and on. However, despite her unequaled qualifications, there’s only one problem with this entire scenario: every stay-at-home mom I know is far too smart to ever run for public office!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Let's Think About This

I wasn’t close to being the valedictorian at my high school graduation, but I pulled down fairly good grades and went on to a reputable university to earn a BA. (I could have said Bachelor of Arts, but it sounds funnier to say BA.) While in high school, my grades and other school-related activities were not a big enough deal to warrant a scholarship from a college, state or federal agency, or civic group. Not that it was by design, but I pretty much flew under the radar with the aforementioned entities. (It might have even come as a bit of a surprise to my college when I graduated: "Who’s Grant Greene? Did he really earn a BA from this institution?")

Scholarships are a funny thing. When I think of the word "scholar" I think of some old cat with shock-white hair and a cheesy mustache wearing a tweed sportcoat with leather patches on the elbows being asked by the PBS series Nova why ladybugs have such dreadful manners. And yet, we give scholarships to individuals who’ve shown they’re really good at playing something. Granted, not everyone can "read" a blitz or fully understand the mechanics behind a home-run swing. But I certainly don’t foresee a group of executives gathered around a conference table when the head of the group turns to the hulking mass of a man to his right and says, "Blutarski, you were a full-ride defensive lineman for Notre Dame, and I’m not even sure if you graduated. But what the heck, why don’t we leave it up to you to decide what percentage of mezzanine debt we want to include in this deal?"

I have no illusions as to the reason colleges offer these incentives to athletes: making money for the school! This may lead you to ask, then, "If making money is the motivation behind the giving of scholarships, then how do you explain their giving them for sports like archery and platform diving?" It’s a fair question, but I don’t have a clue as to the reason. (When’s the last time you saw a packed house at a badminton tournament?) To the extent that I believe calling these incentives "scholarships" is somewhat demeaning to the educational process, I’m all for keeping college sports (read: football and basketball) alive and well because they do make a boatload of cash for the schools.

Quite honestly, it would make more sense to recruit athletes as faculty members rather than as students. In the lion’s share of my college courses, the class was taught by a grad student while the professor was off writing a book in the name of the university. Athletes could "represent" the school in much the same way. Instead of writing books, they could, perhaps, be rewriting the record books with the most touchdowns or three-point shots in a regular season – all in the school’s name. Everybody wins: the school makes the money off of the sport, the athletes don’t have to bother with that pesky Algebra homework, the students get a first-rate team to root for, the boosters can stop skulking around in the dark shadows with the keys to a new SUV, and the IRS knows who’s getting paid what.

On the actual scholastic side of things, the awarding of scholarships to the extremely intelligent also seems to fly in the face of reason. Universities whose yearly tuition, per student, rivals the GNP of most third-world countries are courting the Übergeniuses to come to their school for free. First of all, the universities are complete morons for turning away a paying customer in favor of a really smart freeloader. Secondly, if these kids are so smart, is sitting in a room designed by the same person who did the local women’s penitentiary and listening to an octogenarian who’s spent his entire life ensconced within the campus confines really going to make them smarter? Heck, most of these kids have already built their own nuclear particle accelerator or they’re destined to invent the next Google – school’s not going to get them any farther.

What’s the colleges’ motivation? Are they looking to be named "School with the Most Brainiacs" by Smart People Magazine? That would look good on the university letterhead, sure, and it might even get a bachelor dean more dates, but what else are they looking to get out of it? Plus, it’s really sort of lazy for the colleges to recruit the really smart kids. Isn’t that a big part of the reason colleges exist? To show that they can help improve the mind? And unlike sports, there’s no television market or spectator draw (read: money) for filling your ranks with the educational Wunderkind. "Hey, Steve, flip it over to PBS. I want to watch the smart kids at Stanford outthink Harvard. They’re the underdogs, but I like the odds."

Friday, March 03, 2006

Signs of the Apocalypse

This may be very hard to believe, but someone is actually going to pay me money (not in beaver pelts or boxes of salted pork) to write a newspaper column about whatever I want. I’m not lying. You can check for yourself in next month’s Hot Spot Journal. I believe the web address is http://www.hotspotjournal.com/ (I'm on page 18 of the current issue). The editor of said monthly newspaper sat down with me at a local Jack in the Box restaurant recently (she even offered to buy me breakfast, so put that in your pipe and smoke it), and she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: the chance to reach 12,000 subscribers with my maniacal drivel and get paid to do it. This obviously means that the end of the world will quickly be upon us.
This impending finale of the Big Blue Marble on which we live didn’t just pop up on us suddenly. It’s been creeping up for lo these many years. For your review, I have put together a brief smattering of items/events that were designed to take our eyes off the ball:
1. The Schick Quattro: The goal with shaving, obviously, is to get your face and/or other hirsute body parts feeling like the surface of a baby’s bottom (preferably not after the child in question just consumed a lot of leafy green vegetables). But why the furor over four blades? Since the dawn of time, man (at the insistence of woman) has been quite able to remove the stubble from his face with a single-edged tool of some sort. Has the hair on our bodies become “smarter” over time much in the same way a flu strain builds up a resistance to a particular vaccine?
2. American Idol: Do you think it’s mere coincidence that this show is sponsored by Pop Tarts?
3. The Bill Clinton / Monica Lewinsky Debacle: When he finally admitted to lying to the American people, he was figuratively lifted atop the shoulders of the masses as if he just scored the game-winning goal in the 1980 Olympics. This is the same guy who swore to uphold the ethics of our highest office, and people are high-fiving him for scoring in the Oval Office. For some strange reason, I didn’t see those same people hanging around the court house to congratulate Mary Jo Laterno on sweet talking a younger man into her embrace. O Celebrity, Fickle is thy name!
4. Ronco: This is the company that brings you those can’t-live-without items you see featured on Saturday afternoon infomercials either because you’re too lazy to change the channel or you don’t have cable. Ronco has brought us “Great Looking Hair” Formula Number 9 Hair System, which is basically spray paint for bald spots. (I’m not quite sure what happened to the first eight formulas, but they obviously aren’t as effective as old Number 9.) Of note, too, are the Inside-the-Shell Egg Scrambler for the pathologically lazy omelet lover and the Bagel Cutter for the epileptic epicurean.
5. Oprah: Do I need to elaborate?
6. Bobblehead Dolls: Our affinity for these figurines isn’t borne solely out of a quaint adoration for the real person whom the doll represents but our unconscious acceptance that these people’s heads are, in fact, getting bigger by the day. Take Barry Bonds, for example: measure his proportions from news footage ten years ago and compare them to his dimensions today. They’re obviously askew. Our current gravitational field will quickly be knocked off kilter by these gargantuan noggins.
I’m no seer, but I believe these signs are pretty obvious. You’ll see my wisdom when you turn on the Super Bowl and find a 30-second commercial with Oprah Winfrey giving Bill Clinton the shave of a lifetime with a Schick Quattro while he scrambles eggs and cuts bagels. Obviously, you’ll need the wide screen TV so their heads will fit.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


It’s usually around the age of three or four when a young man’s mind begins to turn over the concept of heroes. Invariably, these thoughts center on men – I’m not being sexist – who seem to possess superhuman qualities. Even if the individual we choose to be the center of our universe is, in some strange turn of events, an actual non-fictional being, we endow him with abilities and powers beyond the reaches of man. For example, I went through a period when my kindergarten teacher, Mr. Drork, was my hero, and I would have estimated him to be somewhere near 9’6”. He was tall – he didn’t have a problem with our calling him Mr. Stork because of his height – but looking back, he was probably somewhere around 6’4” and the rest of us were all about the right height to bite his ankles. However, in all the time I was in his class, I never saw a pack of NBA scouts hovering around the monkey bars waiting for the moment to get him alone and steal him away to play center or power forward.

Throughout my youth, the list of my heroes was broad: John from CHiPs (never thought Ponch was all that cool), Shazam, Indiana Jones, Hank Aaron, Shaft (“he’s a bad – watch your mouth”), Murdock the helicopter pilot from the A-Team, Lee Majors (because he was married to Farrah Fawcett and because he played both “The Bionic Man” and “The Fall Guy”), James Bond (as played by Sean Connery), Aquaman, Richard Nixon, Cary Grant (no one cooler with the chicks), Han Solo, David Letterman, and Mr. Peabody (the time-traveling dog who had a pet boy named Sherman). Depending on the stage of life in which I found myself, or the circumstances I was facing, my “hero worship” would vary.

Now that I’m officially old (I have a 401k, attended parent/teacher conferences at school, passed kidney stones, found a certain degree of relaxation in turning off the TV and reading a book, etc.), my fascination with these many people whom I venerated for so long has waned. The “real” people I still respect for their accomplishments, and the fictional ones still give me reason to smile and/or laugh. However, I can now safely say I have chosen heroes far more worthy of my esteem and their popularity with me will never fade: my sons Jack and Sam.

Allow me to list their heroic qualities:

1. Faith – this may be hard to imagine (as it is especially so for me), they believe I know what I’m doing. Their faith in my abilities to put a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food in their mouths is steady.
2. Humility – they defer to me when they don’t know the answer to a question. They’ll readily admit they don’t have the knowledge and then display their first heroic quality and believe I do.
3. Strength – they ably bear the burden of putting up with my shortcomings and never falter in supporting me.
4. Honesty – more often than I would like to admit, they’ll make statements like, “Dad, you’re weird” or “that shirt makes your belly look too big”. No hidden meanings there.

To sum it all up, they have the superhuman ability to see beyond reality and to move on to the higher plain of accepting me for who I am and loving me for being their dad. That’s what I want to be like when I grow up!

Sappy Holidays 2005

Original and creative thought takes a little effort, for sure. For example, when you meet someone who has a pet, and you learn that they’ve defaulted to using descriptions in the naming process (e.g. “Midnight” for a black cat, “Chocolate” for a brown dog, “Snowball” for a white bunny, etc.), you wish there was some type of incentive out there that would force them to put a little more thought into the naming chore – perhaps they face the prospect of being spayed or neutered if they don’t. With that specter in mind, it is our sincere hope that you enjoy the “effort” we’ve undergone for this year’s letter.

Sam turned five this past February, thus reaching the magical age when he’s able to do all the things he’s been forced to watch from the sidelines. He began 2005 on the soccer field – however, one would be hard pressed to say he actually “played” soccer; his actions on the field would be better classified as chasing imaginary squirrels. The spring brought tee-ball, which could have been a continuation of squirrel chasing but for the prospect of swinging a large metal bat with virtual impunity: a five-year-old’s dream. And this fall (actually, it was late July), Sam started kindergarten. I swear I witnessed the birth of this child, so I can attest to the fact he’s our son, but body snatchers must have pulled a switcharoo sometime between birth and kindergarten because on the first day of class his teacher reported that Sam was asking for homework. That’s just not right!

For those who are keeping track, Jack turned eight in January. This means he’s still ten years away from his federally sanctioned right to vote – much to his chagrin – but upon turning eight he had the chance to be baptized. Although we were unable to play “Which Vegetable Would You Rather Be?” for the after-party (time constraints), it was a great experience. As Jack began third grade this year, his new teacher gave his class a writing assignment. Jack decided to write about being on the Magic School Bus and traveling through the digestive system of a boy’s body and ending the journey in the toilet. Although she didn’t want to encourage potty humor by giving Jack a good grade on his essay, she reported to us that she was constrained to commend him on his proper usage of the term “digestive system”.

Erin’s latest project has been to roam the neighborhood in search of dogs that look like celebrities. So far, she’s found a St. Bernard that looks uncannily like Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond, a Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog that bears a strong resemblance to James Carville, an Italian Greyhound that could be Sting’s twin, and a Corgi that looks like Kevin Bacon. She thought she found a Chihuahua that looked like Paris Hilton, but it turned out to be Paris without her makeup. Well, when Erin’s not engaged in her hunt for the hounds, she’s busy working at Jack and Sam’s new school, presiding over the women’s service organization at church, and keeping order at home.

This past year has given me the chance to confirm a long-held belief: people are nuts! Dozing on a flight to Reno recently, I was wrenched from the ethereal mists between unconscious stupor and wide-awake alertness when I heard the woman behind me tell her seatmate, “So I had the rest of the afternoon to argue with the cat.” Oh, I was awake. I swear. Walking through the Costco parking lot a few months back, I found myself beside two men when one said, “I saw that movie Sahara on the plane the other day.” Not yet having seen the movie I was mildly interested in hearing more, but my curiosity was not to be satisfied – the movie-watcher’s friend made sure of that as he asked, “Is that the one in the desert?” Are these the same people who program the gas pumps to tell you to “replace nozzle when finished”? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t drive around with a spare nozzle in my car for these events – I’ve always operated under the assumption that these items were capable of being used numerous times.

It’s been a great year for us! We hope this finds you warm and well. For your own personal amusement, ask your children, nieces, nephews, or random children while walking through the mall to name Santa’s reindeer. We did this recently and learned that Santa’s made some changes. Not only has he whittled the team down to four, there’s been quite a shakeup: he’s riding now with Rudolph, Tootoff, Shotoff, and Dixon. There’s bound to be a new claymation TV show on this by next year – I’m guessing the title will be something like Santa’s Posse. Until then, we wish you a very Merry Christmas, a wonderfully Happy New Year, and a fair to moderately exciting Ground Hog Day!