Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday, 4:32 p.m., at the Greene Home

Sam: Dad, I got a yellow card today.

Dad: What happened?

Sam: I was talking.

Dad: Well, you need to work on that don’t you?

Sam: But the kid I enjoy chatting with sits in front of me. (His choice of words here was about to put me in stitches. First off, he didn’t use the word “like” – “enjoy” expresses such a wider spread of positive emotions. Then, he didn’t use “talking” or “joking around” to describe the action from which he derives such pleasure – no, he suddenly turns into a 67-year-old British spinster who, when she’s not chatting, she’s nattering around her flat.)

Dad: That’s when you need to work especially hard not to talk. You need to tell him that you both need to keep quiet.

Sam: But, dad, he’s really funny. (At that, I had exactly ten seconds to make it to the bathroom before I wet my pants.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Santa Needs a More Ergonomic Chair

With less than a million days before December 25th, Christmas was heavy on both my sons’ minds as we were driving home from Wal-Mart this evening. My younger son, Sam, asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I certainly felt put on the spot, so I had to think fast. I told them I wanted a Slip-N-Slide. Both of my boys perked up at that, and you could read their minds like a book: “Cool! That’ll be like a bonus present for me!”

Perhaps wanting to continue the wet-and-wild theme, Sam announced he was going to ask Santa for this enormous inflatable waterslide that’s about as big as our house – he saw one on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on Sunday night. Careful not to spoil any illusions he may still be holding onto, I told him that I was reasonably sure Santa would not be bringing such an item to our house this or any other year. It’s not so much the cost – I’m looking out for Santa’s logistical constraints with so many stops and such limited space in his sleigh.

A momentary silence fell over the car as the suburban landscape rushed by our windows. Sam’s not one to let such a mood remain too long, and coupling that with his constant concern for his fellow man, he felt constrained to make public those inner thoughts that were ruminating about his head at that very moment: “You know, I feel kind of sorry for Santa having to go all over the world to deliver toys.” A quick glance over at Sam revealed he was really worried about the big guy making his rounds on that one magical night each year.

At that very moment, it was as if I could see what was taking place before his mind’s eye:

The scene: a squalid jail cell with inadequate lighting and a musty smell from a dripping faucet in the corner. In walks a skinny, pugnacious stub of a man wearing a khaki uniform, a belt hanging just below his armpits, and a silver badge that says “The Man.” Santa’s sleeping fitfully in the corner of the cell on a bench that needs a good varnishing.

The Man: “Wake up, fat boy! It’s time.”

Santa’s jarred awake, his eyes are bloodshot and worry is painted on his face.

Santa: “But I don’t want to go. It’s too cold outside, the reindeer have really bad gas because someone always seems to feed them a beef log and/or a can of Slim Jims just before we take off, and my Sciatica always acts up about two hours into the trip – that beaded seat cover some of those New York cabbies use doesn’t do squat for me.”

The Man: “A deal’s a deal, chump. Every year you make the same bet with the Easter Bunny, and he always wins and gets to vacation down in Boca while you have to stay at the North Pole and fly around the world delivering toys. He hides eggs – that’s what he does, and he’s good at it. You’ll never be able to find them all in a half an hour. I don’t care if you have your elves on the lookout when he’s hiding them – that’s cheating by the way, which’ll get you on your own naughty list. What irony! Now get up, and get dressed!”

Dejected, Santa stands up and walks to the door of the cell. The Man shoves the key home and turns the lock, swinging the door open and taking a step back to size up his ward.

Santa: “Alright. But have you ever been downwind when Rudolph gets a sinus infection? How do you think he gets a red nose? Ugh! Fine, tell the elves to get everything ready. We’ll be leaving in ten minutes. But first, I need to use the john and take a Percocet.”

Looking to snap Sam out of his reverie, I turned the radio on and heard the final seconds of “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd. Which is funny because that’s exactly how Santa’s going to feel if he mixes that Percocet with a little bit of spiked eggnog.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Oprah Explained

Have you ever tried to learn a new language? Sure, you go through all the grammar lessons, verb conjugation, learning the proper gender of certain words (you think I’m kidding), syntax, etc., but when it comes to being conversational, you have to display more than a textbook grasp of the language itself – you have to learn the idioms, the catchy sayings that identify you as a native speaker. In light of that, have you ever stopped to think of all the idioms we use in the American dialect of the English language that either make no sense or cause someone learning our language for the first time to say (in their own language, of course), “With minds that work like that, how is it possible that they became a superpower? That’s embarrassing to the rest of the world!”

Here’s just a sampling:

Beat a Dead Horse: Is there some part of the country in which it’s legal to beat a live horse? Is the purpose of this saying to convey the sheer uselessness of beating a dead one because there’s a whole paddock full of naughty horses just waiting their turn to take a lickin’?

Can’t Cut the Mustard: Has there ever been a time in human history when someone has needed the help of someone else to slice through a dollop of mustard? If so, can a person REALLY fail to do that?

Dropping Like Flies: Now, I could certainly see a group adopting the saying “Buzzing Around Like Flies” or “Landing All Over my Potato Salad Like Flies”, but I have in all my time on the face of this planet never seen a fly just drop from out of the sky. Sure, if it hits a bug zapper, it’s taking a dive, but so would you if you decided to walk right into something that delivers a gajillion volts of electricity through your entire body. If you’re wont to do that, perhaps they should change the saying to “Dropping Like Phyllis (or whatever your name may be)”.

Cock and Bull Story: Think back to the last ten or twenty tall tales or outright lies you’ve heard someone tell and ask yourself one simple question: Did a single one of them involve either a rooster or a male cow, or both of them for that matter? Do either of these animals have a tendency to stretch the truth more than the rest of the animal kingdom? Perhaps that’s why Oprah doesn’t eat beef!

Going to Hell in a Handbasket: I can understand the first part of this idiom – things are going from bad to worse – but the phrase “in a handbasket” has me over a barrel (I couldn’t resist). Is there something less than dignified about being carried somewhere in a handbasket as opposed to a bucket from Home Depot? Are we to assume Little Red Riding Hood was an emissary from the Underworld because of her devilish choice of conveyance for her grandmother’s goodies?

No Room to Swing a Cat: This certainly has to have a similar origin to the whole horses-who-like-the-beatdown thing. Was it during the Industrial Revolution when there was a shortage of tape measures that some carpenter’s aide said, “Wait, I got this one. If I can swing old Fang in a circle without hitting his head on anything, we should have enough space to install an elevator right here.”

I can picture the beleaguered foreign student leaving his English class one evening and deciding to strike up a conversation with the first person he sees on the street: “I learned about a mustard cutter who failed to swing his cat in a small room. He was so upset by this that he went to beat on his horse but found it was already dead and covered by flies.” His conversational companion undoubtedly is going to give him a very strange look, which will elicit something else from the student: “If you think that’s a cocky bull story, you and your handbasket can take a trip to hell.”

As he sits in the local precinct adjacent to a diner to fill out an assault report, he’ll say to the officer, “Do I smell bacon?”