Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sleeping Dogs

I’m currently sitting at my desk in my office. Mind you, my office is in the basement of our house, so one would think it’s a quiet, secluded nook from which I can escape the world but for a few moments. Whoever might think that has obviously never had a basement or children.

As I sit here trying to write this, my two sons (who weigh probably sixty pounds apiece) are fulfilling the requirements to maintain their professional status as kids by chasing each other around and wailing like banshees. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, when you’re sitting in the basement, these two sets of feet sound like a herd of elephants, and the acoustics in the floor below them/ceiling above me make the wailing sound like fire trucks on their way to a three-alarm fire. Even my wife, as slight as she is, walking around upstairs sounds like a hammer pounding nails into two-by-fours. And to answer your question: No, I don’t have a hangover.

I have become accustomed to the “sounds of domesticity,” so the banshees/fire trucks are part of the normal soundtrack in my head. (Fortunately, we haven’t had occasion to have the need for any real fire trucks – or banshees for that matter – up to this point in our home.) However, the things that seem to invade the soundtrack in my head like the Chipmunks singing a Bob Dylan protest song are the constant off-the-wall questions and statements coming out of my sons’ mouths. Just when I think my world of reason is in perfect balance, one or both of my sons seem to find a way to push me off the beam with a zinger. Here’s a sampling:

1. Sitting in the bathroom, holding private court if you will, my youngest son bursts in to ask me to explain how Vaseline is made.
2. I awoke at 3:00 one fine morning to find of one my sons (I’m still a bit hazy about which one it was) hovering above me only to tell me that I look like a German Shepherd when I sleep. (I’ve always fancied myself more of a Jack Russell Terrier, personally.)
3. There is definitely an inverse relationship between how much of a hurry I’m in to get to work and the length of my sons’ latest story about the kid down the street who looks like a horse. (Orthodontia is something we should all take seriously, folks.)
4. My oldest son saw me with my shirt off and asked if he could connect the moles on my back with a ballpoint pen because he thought it would make the perfect silhouette of Grover from Sesame Street – or maybe it was Grover Cleveland, I can’t remember.

In a little more than a decade of fatherhood, I have come to learn that there’s a reason for this: it’s in our hardwiring. Somewhere deep in the cerebral cortex of every human being, from birth, is the knowledge that childhood will be the only time we’ll really be allowed to let our minds explore the universe around us and tell those around us what’s on our minds. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself this simple question: Would the boss be keen on you kicking in the bathroom stall to ask her to clarify the spreadsheet she just e-mailed you?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Swing and a Miss

By a show of hands, how many people want to see me naked? (Don’t think too much about it – vomiting and convulsions may develop.) Just as I thought, no one raised his or her hand – oddly enough, neither did I.

In the past week, I have seen a handful of news stories and read a number of articles about young actors choosing to go nude in their stage and film performances. (You may all be wondering why I’ve taken the time to watch or read these things – I wonder myself, quite honestly.) These stories contain quotes from fellow actors along these lines: “He is such a brave actor, truly dedicated to his craft.” Translation: “Taking his clothes off distracted us from the really lame storyline.” Of course, you hear/read quotes from the denuding actors themselves: “I felt like I would betray the character’s soul if I didn’t do this.” Translation: “The role’s not exactly Hamlet. Why not?” But here’s the one I hear a lot that has no sensible translation: “It was done very tastefully and professionally.” Last I checked, the “profession” – although perhaps the oldest known to humankind – that specializes in this type of activity is illegal in most states. Ask Hugh Grant.

When the media do these stories, the reporters seem to have this very serious look on their faces in the interviews. Now, it’s possible that the interviewer just has a really bad case of heartburn from lunch or he is, at that moment, trying to picture what the actor would look like dressed up as a hippopotamus or a walrus. However, the tones of these reports are to have us believe that the actor’s choice to disrobe is on par with Louis Pasteur’s decision to become a microbiologist.

Irony of ironies, I would be willing to say that 99% of us don’t sit around as adults and daydream about sitting in a laboratory infecting chickens in the hopes of finding a vaccine for the flu. However, back in high school, I would be willing to say that 99% of us didn’t idolize members of the Drama Club. Oddly enough, though, that’s where the icons of the American cinema made their start. And we, their fellow students, weren’t exactly falling all over ourselves to have them sit next to us in the lunchroom. Sure, they could memorize a soliloquy that took up four pages of single-spaced text, but their skills weren’t exactly going to help you get a date with a modern-day Juliet.

Now, back to Adulthood: Do me a favor the next time you’re watching Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood (or whatever) and an interview with an actor comes on. Turn the sound completely off, find an AM station on the radio that comes in without too much static (it doesn’t matter if it’s in English or another language), and watch the interview with the radio program as the soundtrack. After about twenty seconds, the actor’s mouth on TV will magically sync with what’s coming out of the radio – perhaps it will be Tobey Maguire along with the play-by-play for a Cubs game. I promise you this: it will make as much, or more, sense as what’s really being said in the interview. And you might find yourself wondering why Chicago didn’t get Spiderman to be their color man years ago!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Yonkers is a Funny Word

Certain body functions seem to have a greater comedic effect than others. Evidence of this fact is the many movies and television shows that center on, basically, the passing of gas from both the upper and lower egresses in the human body. (I could tell you a story about an oblivious elderly gentleman who was hard of hearing and very gassy while walking through a quiet supermarket in Yonkers, NY. I laughed until I cried – mind you, I was 19 years old – and I must admit my side hurts a bit still when I think about it.) Be that as it may, it’s my contention that sneezing is highly underrated for its ability to produce a laugh or two.

Take my wife for example. As she feels a sneeze coming on, you see her head rear back in slow motion – all the while you’re waiting for her noggin to begin swelling to two or three times its size as you anticipate the build-up – and then she stops but for a split second and the head begins to come forward (which is not too dissimilar to a good golf swing). You’re expecting to see an oral explosion on the same scale as Mt. St. Helens, but at the moment of truth her mouth closes and all you hear is a muffled snort as a puff of air escapes her lips. After seeing this I can’t help but laugh for all the lead up and the less-than-mighty delivery. (When we were first married I would look down at her feet to see if the stifled pressure at her mouth was diverted elsewhere and perhaps blew off her shoes.)

I’m sure you all know someone who makes you laugh every time you see them sneeze. There’s the guy whose whole body shakes like he’s been hit by a shock wave. You have the woman who makes a high-pitched squeak that’s almost the right frequency to be heard only by dogs. And we mustn’t forget that friend or family member who sounds like a machine gun, letting six or seven sneezes come flying out one after the other. Come to think of it, a video montage of people sneezing would be a great thing to watch on YouTube.

Comedic potential aside, there’s something about sneezing that causes me to wonder if people ever listen to what they’re saying. Yes, I’m referring to the sneeze rejoinder, “God bless you.” This stems from the belief that each time you sneeze your heart momentarily stops beating and then starts back up. So, by virtue of the fact you’re even saying this phrase, you’re acknowledging the existence of a higher power, while in the same breath you’re calling the reliability of his workmanship into question. We’ve got it all wrong, folks.

We go through our day-to-day activities vesting far more trust in things that are far less worthy. When we wake up in the morning and turn the light on, we don’t act a little surprised that the bulb works, and say, “GE bless you.” We don’t look down at our watches, shocked that they’re still ticking, and say, “Timex bless you.” Rather than going around looking for people who are sneezing and thus endangering their lives so we can await their hearts’ miraculous restarting to say, “God bless you,” perhaps our time would be better spent watching what we eat and getting our exercise – and possibly having our hearing checked to avoid an embarrassing situation in the supermarket.