Friday, April 30, 2010
In the same way my sons try to figure out how many more days until their birthday or Christmas, I find myself watching the calendar throughout the year to see how close July is. When the weather gets warmer, my focus on that week becomes more intense. I have to do something every now and then just to curb my anticipation.
I find myself stopping out in the garage while taking out the garbage just to check on the fishing tackle. Shopping trips will involve me sneaking into the sport section, if there is one in the particular store, and checking out rods and reels. I’ve bought several fishing t-shirts that I wear. I even insisted on wearing the camouflage cargo pants that I bought specifically for this trip for three straight days last week. The longer I can wear a pair of pants without washing it, the more it resembles my attire while on this trip.
I ought to point out here that I am not very good at fishing. My father and eldest brother are great. They’ve done their homework. They know the lake. They have the equipment and know how to use it. If they don’t bag at least one very large fish on this trip each, they are disappointed. They take several other fishing trips each summer and expect the same results at each destination.
I’ll get a decent catch or two, but nothing trophy worthy. If I catch an average sized large mouth bass, I may as well stop fishing for the rest of the week. I spend most of my time on the boat doing things other than fishing anyway. Unhooking pan fish from wife my sons’ hooks takes up most of the time. When I’m not doing that, I’m handing out snacks from the cooler or enjoying a beer.
Not having the time to focus on serious fishing is nothing I regret. I like watching my sons enjoy themselves. Taking them up there and teaching them the little I know about the hobby has them doing things that I didn’t do until I was in my twenties. They will hold their catch by the lip and release it into the water themselves. They’ll grab a minnow carefully from the bucket and hand it to me to put on their hook. They even handle leeches with their bare hands. Yes, the black squirmy things that suck blood, those leeches. The only reason I handle them now is because I didn’t think it looked right to use a set of needle nose pliers to take a leech from the hand of a five-year-old.
Fishing has always been more about forcing yourself to slow down than anything else to me. When out on a lake, waiting for a bite, patience is a must. A beer and cigar are just as useful equipment in my mind as the rod, reel and bait.
This is no more evident anywhere else than in my sons’ behavior from the beginning of the week to the end. My boys are pretty well behaved in general, but when they first arrive, like any kids, they want to do everything. They want to run around, play this, play that, and be constantly entertained. After only a day or two, I’ll see them just sitting on the porch, staring out at the lake, or taking a quiet walk along the lakefront. On the first day, they want to catch fish after fish. By the end, they’ll sit on the boat and hang out with a line in the water. They start the week as Ricochet Rabbit and end it as Deputy Dawg.
So, while it seems a bit strange to get all worked up about going somewhere to relax, I’ve begun my count down. Seventy more days.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
James opened his eyes slowly to see his mother sitting on the side of his bed.
“Good morning, Jimmy,” she said, placing a hand on his forehead. “Doesn’t look like you have a fever anymore, but you still better get some sleep. I already called school, so you just get your rest. I have to go help grandma with a few errands, but I’ll be back by lunch time, okay?”
While she was talking, James was attempting to get over his surprise that he was still alive. Having done that, he hesitated in answering due to his surprise that he was in his room, not the hospital.
“Okay,” he said in a quiet and confused voice. His mother took his confusion as fatigue and found it adorable.
She smiled at James and left his room, closing the door behind her. Her footsteps went down the hall. A door opened and closed. The car started and James listened to the sound of the engine move away from the house, slowly at first, then faster until it was gone.
James was in his room by himself. Alive.
For a moment, James thought the whole night must have been a dream. Maybe some of it was real and in his anger and embarrassment he dreamt the rest. Maybe he really had been very sick with a fever and had hallucinated the whole thing.
In a revelation, James kicked the blankets from his body and pulled up his t-shirt. There, on his stomach, was a dark purple bruise about the size and shape of a silver dollar. The rest of his skin around it was yellow and greenish.
He touched it lightly and winced in pain.
“Damn, that hurts,” he said to himself. While he didn’t enjoy having the bruise, James thought it was better than the hole that should have be there.
How could this be? James wondered.
He thought the shot might have been off. Had he been on his side and the bullet simply glanced off his skin, not puncturing it? He thought he’d heard of something like that happening before.
Or maybe there was a malfunction with the man’s gun. Or perhaps it wasn’t a real gun at all. Maybe it was a paint gun or pellet gun.
James was standing shirtless in front of the full length mirror on the back of his bedroom door, wondering all of this and inspecting the extent of his bruising. He turned to see more bruises on his back, and then heard the overhead door of the garage going up.
Thinking his mother must have forgotten something, James threw on his shirt and jumped back into bed.
The car’s engine shut off and its door opened and closed. The door into the house opened then and footsteps made their way toward James’ bedroom. James closed his eyes and turned his head so that his mother would think he was asleep.
The door to his room opened and there was silence. James considered opening his eyes and turning to look, but instead took a deep, snore-like breath.
There were more footsteps, then weight pushing down on the side of his bed as his visitor sat.
“I thought she’d never leave,” his father’s voice said.
James instantly felt like he was back on the floor of that garage, fading out of consciousness, being saved by someone he couldn't see. He could practically feel his father's hand lifting his head from the concrete again.
In one motion, James opened his eyes, sat up and threw his arms around his father. James held on tightly and tears welled in his eyes. There were also tears in his father’s eyes for a moment, but they were gone before James noticed them.
When they separated from their embrace, James wiped the tears away quickly. “What happened?” James asked.
“First, let’s see your bruise.”
James lifted his shirt to show his father what he had just been looking at. His father winced on James’ behalf and then reached out to touch it.
“Don’t,” James said and pulled away.
“Relax,” his father assured him. “I’m trying to help. Just let me touch it.”
“It hurts bad,” James protested.
“Trust me,” his father said. “You think I pulled you out of there last night and told your mother you had a fever and should stay home from school just so I could torture you?”
James thought it over.
“Just let me touch it.”
With this, James conceded and braced for the pain as his father’s hand drew closer. Yet, when his father placed his palm over the bruise, the pain was nowhere near as bad as when he’d touched it himself just moments ago. When his father took his hand off of it, James even thought the bruise looked smaller and not as dark.
James started to ask, “What did you…” when his father held up a finger to interrupt him.
“Now, we talk about what happened last night,” he said. “What were you doing there?”
James explained. He told his father the whole story. He told him of the scent, how he ran from the men the first time and about the dreams he had. He described in painful detail the way the men stormed the garage, how he nearly took them all, how much the gunshot hurt and how he thought he was dead.
He went back to describe the previous events of the day to include his confrontation in the hallway at school. He went far back enough to include his tale of dodge ball glory and even the dent in his locker door. James figured if his father knew how different and how strong he had felt as of late, maybe he wouldn’t seem quite as stupid for going into such a bad neighborhood and trying to save that girl.
James went on for several minutes and his father let him. As James spoke, his father listened in silence. He gave James his full attention and nodded occasionally, nothing more.
After James felt like he’d gotten it all out and made his case, he ended by saying, “I just had to do something. I couldn’t leave that girl alone.”
James’ father nodded in agreement and then there was a long silence as they stared at one another.
“You certainly did something alright,” his father said finally.
James laughed a little, but looked at his father as he did to find a stone serious face looking back at him. He stopped laughing.
“James, you almost got yourself killed.”
“I know,” James said and looked down.
His father’s hand came to his chin and pushed it back up.
“When I’m disappointed in you, you can look down,” his father told him, “but right now, you keep your chin up because you did a great thing. I’m proud to see what you chose to do last night. Be proud of yourself.”
His father sighed and continued. “But, to be honest, I am scared. You are obviously special and talented and…exceptional, like I knew you would be. But if you don’t understand your own power, your own ability, things have the potential to go very wrong. I just want you to know that before you do anything like you did last night again.”
James nodded and then asked, “How did you know?”
“That you were special?”
“Exceptional,” James corrected him.
His father smiled. “The odds were in your favor,” he said. “Knowing that, I saw the ease with which things came to you as you grew up. School was never a problem for you. Any sport you felt like playing, you were great at. Don’t you remember how you were riding your bike faster than all your friends?”
“I guess,” James said.
“And tell me, James, when was the last time you remember having cut yourself on anything?”
“Oh my God,” James whispered, then said excitedly, “So I have powers. And you have powers. Are we super heroes?!”
“Easy,” his father said. “It’s not like the comic books and the movies, but we have special talents, just like your grandfather and great grandfather did.”
“What powers did they have?” James asked.
“That’s for another day.”
“Well, I have super smell and super strength and...” James thought for a moment. “Is that it? That would kinda suck.”
“It doesn’t suck,” James’ father protested. “Your sense of smell allowed you to find that girl. You probably picked up on certain pheromones or her sweat or even adrenaline, like smelling fear. Your strength helped you fight those men. You’re also very smart and very fast. I followed you after you climbed out the window last night, but I couldn’t keep up. I lost you.” His father put his hand on James’ shoulder. “I was a nervous wreck when I lost you.”
“Yeah, but you can fly, right? That’s how you found me?”
“No!” James’ father explained. “That’s comic book stuff. Nobody can fly. Strength, intelligence, energy, stuff like that. That’s real. People like us have enhancements to existing talents. I can’t fly.”
“Then how’d you find me?”
“I knew which way you had gone and heard gunshots.” He paused for a moment and James saw fear in his father’s eyes. “I went toward the shots and, thank God, I found you. I just jumped through the roof, no flying.”
“But you landed right on that guy. How’d you know where he was?”
“I can see through things. I saw him, I saw him pointing the gun at you. I saw you climb out of the window earlier last night. I saw you had a broken rib from the bullet even though it couldn’t go through your skin.”
“So I have super strong skin, too,” James said.
“It looks that way, but let’s give the super stuff a rest, okay?” his father said, smiling and shaking his head. Then he looked at his watch and said, “James, I need to go. Your mother will be back soon and she can’t know about any of this, okay? At least not yet.”
“Okay,” James said, even though he wanted to know more. He wondered if his father was out most nights, fighting crime or if his grandfather had used his abilities in World War II. James even wondered if one of his ancestors had gone down a different path and been a super villain.
“I know you have a lot of questions,” James’ father said, making James wonder if he could read minds as well. “But we’ll talk more about this tonight. For now, you get your rest and remember that I’m proud of you. Not everybody decides to help people with their talents, but you did. I’m so proud of you for that.”
“Thanks, dad,” James said.
“Well, you had me worried there for a while. You seemed to be acting a bit selfish and reckless.”
“I know,” James said and smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry.”
His father stared at him a while longer, then sighed and came back to James’ bed. He embraced James again. “And James, do me a favor,” his father said with his arms still around him. “Next time, tell me before you go running off pulling a stunt like that. You remember when I told you to come talk to me if anything was different?”
James’ father stood and made his way back to the door. “You’re not alone out there,” he said finally. “When things get dark and ugly and you think you’re the only one who can or wants to do anything about it, just remember that you’re not alone.”
With that, he shut the door and James heard the car start and pull away from the house.
James sat on his bed with his head buzzing in excitement. It all had been real and his father really was something more exceptional than he had ever let on. James felt the pride his father told him he ought to have. He had saved a young girl last night from certain death. He imagined all the other things he could do in the future now that he knew for sure he was different. The world seemed brand new to James and he had so many questions.
The most surprising thing of all was that, for the first time that he could remember, James was looking forward to having a long talk with his father when he got home.
The End. Thanks for reading.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I’m not sure how other parents of five through seven-year-old children handle Internet privileges, but I’m pretty paranoid about it myself. I know there’s all kinds of parental locks and blocking mechanisms, and I’ve set them up with passwords. I’m still wary of my sons playing on the computer without me watching over their shoulder.
Apparently, I’m un-cool for this. I’m starting to be told how this kid’s dad and that kid’s mom let them play Poptropica all night and how they even got memberships and I don’t need to be sitting in there watching them play. These other parents either have super advanced protective software on their computers, are unaware that Poptropica is a social Internet site where anyone can create a character who can interact with others, or are so desperate to have their kids occupied and not at their side, poking them, saying, “Mom, Dad, Mom, Dad,” that they just don’t care.
Personally, my conscience won’t let me leave them unattended in front of the computer. I imagine Chris Hansen knocking on my front door.
“Sir, I’m Chris Hansen and we’re filming To Catch A Predator. Are you aware that your sons are currently roaming the Internet unattended?”
I’m sure I’d be embarrassed when I opened the door with an issue of Captain America tucked under my arm, wearing a ripped World’s Greatest Dad t-shirt and pajama pants whose crotch opening never quite closes correctly. Not the way you want to make your national television debut.
To be honest, I don’t even like letting my sons play on the computer without a direct line of sight to the screen. I learned this lesson when I heard them cracking up to a video on YouTube with no sound other than people laughing in the background. Somehow, after letting them watch the Funny Gummy Bear video, they navigated to a different, less appropriate video clip as I sat a mere ten feet away on the couch.
“How did the monkey aim the pee into his mouth?!” my five-year-old wondered through laughter.
This video, though gross, wasn’t necessarily the bad part. You can imagine the list of related videos along the right side of the screen, however. Thank God I got over there before they began perusing their options for further animal related video entertainment.
Their school has a website with educational games that I let them play on, but either my wife or me sit next to them while they do it. My eldest was pestering me today to buy him a Poptropica membership so I told him he could afford one himself if he sold his DS and all the games. I used to let them watch old Marvel cartoons on YouTube, but that was before the peeing monkey incident.
So, the computers in my household are currently on lock down from my sons until I figure out how to handle their adventurous Internet attitudes. Hopefully a spring and summer full of outdoor activity will keep them from resorting to the computers for entertainment at all. Maybe by next fall, I’ll have a discouragement strategy in place.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
That’s not what he did.
These sock monkeys have magnets in them. The magnets are placed at their hands, feet, tail and the top of their head so they can sometimes where a hat that they came with.
My eldest son took the disembodied sock monkey head and attached it via magnet to its own hand. Then he held it up proudly to show us and announced that he had just created a sock monkey zombie.
Moments like this make me realize what fun it is to see two different people’s traits displayed together in one person. The way my boys figure out how things work and which parts are where comes from me. It’s how my eldest son knew immediately which magnets were where and how they would work. This is a small scale example, but he was working the DVD player before he was school age and I trust him now with the Blu Ray. He’s also been building Lego sets on his own and creating some impressive custom creations. He definitely doesn’t get these things from his mother.
However, the ability to take toy destruction in stride and see if it could lead to something else fun, he gets from my wife. If he were all me, he would have cried because he didn’t know of a way to fix the sock monkey himself yet. His lack of sewing skills or the fact that he wasn’t in possession of a roll of duct tape at the moment would have crippled him emotionally. But, since he’s fifty percent my wife, he said, “Oh well,” and found a way to make the pieces that he had fun anyway.
I think my wife and I have done things like this for one another too. She’s taught me to laugh at myself more. She’s made me more spontaneous. We’ve each taught each other to be more confident in our strengths. I’ve helped her appreciate beauty in small, everyday things. I’ve gotten her to eat more red meat. These are all things I’m very proud of.
I’m so proud of the way we and our boys have tried to help one another build and nurture our strengths and overcome our weaknesses together that there is now a monument to this mutual growth around the rearview mirror of our family minivan. It’s a sock monkey, hanging upside down from his legs, holding his severed zombie head in his hand.
There’s still a big smile on its face.
Monday, April 26, 2010
In an effort to be better at staying in touch I had started playing basketball again a few months back. My doing so served two purposes. It was intended to get me into shape. It also gave me a regularly scheduled time to see a good friend of mine who I had spent a depressingly small amount of time with over the last several years.
A few weeks into this new arrangement, feeling good about my fitness and enjoying my friend’s company once again, I suffered a fairly serious injury on the court. My buddy happened to be running late that day and I knew that when he arrived, he’d be greeted by me, my ice pack, and my request for a ride to the emergency room.
Despite a good deal of pain and the sinking suspicion that I may never play basketball to the mediocre level I had once attained ever again, I actually sat on the bleachers with a smile on my face, awaiting my friend’s reaction when he entered. When he did, his reaction was much as I expected. He stopped where he saw me and laughed.
“What did you do now?”
“Pretty sure I tore my Achilles.”
He laughed again. Then we discussed arrangements regarding my trip to the hospital and returning my car to my house. With my wife at work and me without the ability to apply pressure with my right foot, driving was out of the question for awhile.
My friend was helpful and supportive as I knew he would be. But first, he had to give me a hard time. That’s fine. I accept it. Hell, I even appreciate it. You know why? Because when you have a good friend who busts your balls, it helps you take yourself less seriously. I think that’s healthy. If we could all look in the mirror and recognize that which is absolutely ridiculous about ourselves more often, the world would be a better place.
When you have a friend who knows you well enough to know your weaknesses and make fun of them, it helps you realize that those things you’re so insecure about are actually kind of funny. If this guy knows I can be an accident-prone klutz from time to time and still likes me, it must not be that big a deal. In this case, it took the edge off an embarrassing situation.
Even as I needed surgery and spent months in a cast, on crutches and in physical therapy, I would stop every now and then, look at the mess I had become and laugh. I remembered his reaction and couldn’t help it.
I give him a lot of credit for helping me. In fact, I look at my injury as a sort of blessing and I’m not sure if my perspective would have been that way if he hadn’t been there to laugh at me and help me laugh at myself from the beginning of it. His ability to see the humor in my misfortune set the tone for my recovery.
Did I say it was a blessing? Yes I did. With the time I spent off work, I started writing again. I had set my hobby aside for some time, but I decided there ought to be something positive taken from the fact that I was going to be spending a lot of time on my back and even in a wheelchair. That’s how I started this blog. Now, my daily writing is a way of life for me like it used to be when I was younger. Despite feeling old and pathetic physically, due to my injury, I feel more like myself emotionally again as I write.
My theory is that if my buddy, who knew me when I used to write all the time, hadn’t been there to put my injury in perspective and keep me from taking it too seriously, I might not have tried to make anything positive out of it. I may have sat in bed watching movies, getting fatter than I already was and feeling sorry for myself.
My friend called me recently. He told me he still had my basketball shoes in his car and thought they looked nice. He suggested he might use them since I wasn’t going to be needing them any time soon. I love that guy.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
James didn’t run straight home after what he considered to be his worst day at school ever. One reason was that he knew he would get home too early making it obvious he’d skipped his last class. The other reason was because the rage he felt inside was taking longer to get rid of than he thought it would.
Normally, a set of lifting weights, a good run or some kind of physical exertion would quell his desire to smash something. What he wanted to smash right now was Mike Sutton’s face, and his run wasn’t changing that. So, he kept pushing himself further.
At times a wave of anger would sweep over him as if he were still in the hallway at school and he would break into a sprint. It would subside then, but never quite go away. James could still feel it there, gnawing at the back of his head.
When he’d been running in excess of two hours, James decided it was time to head home. This obviously wasn’t working. He thought some sit ups, push ups and pull ups alone in his room might help.
Just as this thought crossed his mind, however, something hit James. A scent. It was an odor that was faint, yet powerful. James exhaled forcefully from his nose and shook his head. The unpleasant scent seemed like a bug that had flown up his nose. It sat in his nostrils and worked its way up behind his eyes, where it tingled uncomfortably.
His eyes watered and as James wiped the tears from his face, he felt he could determine which direction the offensive smell was coming from. He stared in that direction for a moment, confused. Before he knew it, he was used to the scent. He didn’t like it any more than he had at first, but he could stand it now at least.
James felt like his whole face was being pulled toward the odor and imagined a cartoon he’d seen before. It was almost as if he could see the smell right now like it that cartoon, where the wolf is summoned to the cooling pie on the windowsill by the smoky looking hand of its aroma. Even though it made him feel silly, James started jogging in the direction the smell seemed to come from.
When he first started following the scent trail, James felt annoyed. He just wanted an answer as to what this smell was that had hit him in the face and made him feel so strange. He expected to find an exceptionally putrid pile of garbage lying in an alley somewhere. But as he drew closer, the smell grew stronger. James would stop suddenly at corners, making abrupt turns to follow it. Soon enough, James felt his frustration give way to curiosity and downright excitement to find out what he was being led to.
It was pungent now, and James knew he was close. He was moving so quickly to his unknown destination, sniffing the air as he went, that he didn’t notice he’d run right past the alley where the smell seemed to originate from until he felt it pull him backwards. He stopped, wheeled around and turned into the alley and almost shouted, “Ah-ha!”
James stood at the mouth of the alley and found himself staring at the back of a bright yellow compact car. Its two doors were wide open and while one man rifled through the front seat area, another man held a young woman by the back of the hair, forcing her to bend over the hood as he leaned down and whispered in her ear.
She wasn’t even a young woman, James had decided. She was a girl. She looked barely old enough to be driving that car which, James guessed at this point, was being stolen. She was crying, but her mouth hand been covered with duct tape. The smell James had tracked to this location seemed to be radiating form her. It was like a glow that surrounded her in James’ mind the way waves of heat make you see things distorted on the road ahead of you.
JDO 826. James took note of the license plate. JDO 826.
“Hey!” called the man in the car as he stepped backward out of it and saw James. “Get out of here!”
James just stood and stared for a while longer. The man from the car began walking toward him and James took note of his shoulder-length, greasy black hair, brown eyes, five-o’clock shadow, and faded blue jeans.
“I said get out of here, kid,” the man repeated, still advancing on James. “You don’t want no part of this.”
James turned his attention to the man holding the girl down. His shaved head glistened with sweat and he actually smiled at James as he looked in his direction. It was then that James noticed the gun in his left hand, pressed against the girl’s ribs. As James looked at him, he raised the nine millimeter revolver in his direction.
James felt absolutely sure that this man was pointing the barrel of the gun just over his right shoulder, which felt strangely calming. When the man fired, James heard and felt it whiz past his right ear and felt sickeningly satisfied by this even though he knew he should have run a long time ago.
“Hey!” the man approaching James called back to his partner. “Get her in the trunk and let’s get out of here, man!” Then he turned back to James and pulled a knife from his pocket. “You stupid? Don’t you know enough to save your ass when you can?”
The satisfaction James felt over the bullet’s trajectory disappeared as the man with the knife drew closer. He was right in front of him now, almost within arm’s reach. James tilted his head and looked past him to see the man with the gun shoving the girl into the trunk.
The man with the knife began to reach out with his free hand to grab James and James took off like a bolt of lightning.
James ran for several blocks before realizing he had no idea where he was. James felt like he was going to throw up as he looked around to find that he had twisted and turned down so many streets in pursuit of that scent that he was now in the middle of a very bad neighborhood without any sense of which direction would lead him home.
James put his head down and ran as fast as he could, zig-zagging through the streets in an attempt to create distance between himself and the two men and to keep them off his trail. After running for what must have been a few miles at a full sprint, James stopped at an abandoned house and ran inside.
He panted and put his hands to his knees. As he did so, James noticed that he had pissed his pants. He went down to his knees and started to cry.
James clenched his fists. He was frightened and ashamed and angry with himself. He wanted to go home.
“Stop being a baby,” James said out loud to himself and stood up. He smeared the tears across his face with his palms and sniffed. The odor was still there but not as strong anymore. James wanted nothing more right then than to get away from it.
He walked out of the house he’d taken shelter in and found a street sign. He was on Parker Street and the sun was making its descent to his left. Parker ran through his neighborhood which was north of the crime infested area he found himself in now, so if he headed north on Parker, he figured he’d be someplace familiar before long.
James began running. He maintained a good pace until he started seeing houses he recognized. Soon enough the intersecting street names were familiar too. Eventually, he took a right on his own street and slid quietly in the back door of his house, into the shower and then right into his room.
James was exhausted and laid down on his bed. After covering his head with his pillow, James started to cry again. He was so tired, his tears only managed to force sleep upon him and James was out like a light within a few seconds.
He awoke to his mother knocking on his door and calling, “Jimmy, dinner’s ready. You okay in there?”
“Don’t feel good,” James called back. “Can I get some more sleep and eat later?”
His mother cracked the door open. “Think you’re coming down with something?”
“Maybe,” he said. “I just feel so tired.”
“Get your rest, sweety.” With that, she closed the door and James nodded back off.
During his first round of sleep, James was so tired he slept like the dead. Now, having been woken once and falling back to sleep, he dreamt.
James pictured the girl he’d seen in the alley earlier in the day. He saw her face, mouth covered with hastily applied duct tape, tears in her eyes, looking to him for help. Then, he saw her in the trunk of the yellow compact car, her face bruised and bloodied, but still breathing. Then it was the car driving away, with her still concealed inside.
James sat straight up in bed, breathing heavily and sweating. He looked around momentarily to find that his room was completely dark. His clock read 11:17 in green digital numbers. Apparently his mother had let him sleep, but now James was wide awake. In fact, he felt an energy running through him that was different form anything he’d felt before.
James reached over and turned on his bedside lamp. He could remember the scent from girl to the point that he almost smelled it now. He could nearly feel it behind his eyes still, like he was standing in the alley again.
Before he knew what he was doing, James was dressed in sweatpants and a dark hooded sweatshirt and had snuck silently out his window with an aluminum baseball bat in hand. He jogged west to Parker Street and started heading south. He didn’t have a firm recollection of where any of the day’s previous events had taken place, but he hoped something would spark his memory as he got closer.
James looked to his left as he passed the abandoned house he’d hid in. He sneered as he passed it. The house seemed to mock him as James felt certain he could smell his own urine from his pants. He broke into a sprint to get past it faster and was suddenly hit with something that almost knocked him off his feet.
He stumbled and then realized it was the scent. The same odor he’d smelled earlier that day, and it seemed even stronger.
Once again, a path seemed to open before James and he followed it. It took him around corners and through vacant lots, becoming ever more potent and offensive as he went. It burned his nose, stung his eyes and choked him, but he kept following it.
Eventually, the path led him down another alley. This one was lined on both sides with residential garages. Some were missing overhead doors, some showed evidence of having been on fire recently. James slowed his pace considerably and stayed close to the side of the alley as he made his way down it. He stopped every now and again as he crouched behind a garbage can and listened carefully. He didn’t hear anything.
Near the other end of the alley, he met the end of the path. James stood before the overhead door of a newer frame garage, staring at it. He looked both ways down the alley. Nobody was around. He pressed his ear against the door. He heard nothing. He sniffed. The scent was definitely coming from inside.
Carefully, James peeked around the corner of the garage. Again, he found nobody, but saw the service door. As he held his body flat against the outer wall, he slid toward the door and tried the knob. Locked, of course.
James could hear music and men’s voices from the apartment building the garage sat behind. He began to feel the fear that gripped him earlier and, for a moment, considered running back home.
James closed his eye then and took a deep breath through his nose. The odor penetrated through his lungs and made his head feel as if it were going to burst. He gripped the baseball bat, opened his eyes, sprang to his feet and forced the door open with one swift kick. The door frame shattered and as the door swung open, it struck a pile of metal tools, making a great deal of noise. Knowing the occupants of the house must have heard the racket, even over their music, James knew he had to move fast.
He stepped into the garage and saw the yellow car before him. JDO 826. From the trunk came waves of vision distorting heat that James suspected only he saw. He ran to the trunk and tried to pull it open, but couldn’t. He then made his way to the driver’s door and opened it. At least that was unlocked.
“Get out there and see what it was,” came a voice from the house and footsteps on stairs.
James started to panic. He looked for a trunk release. Nothing near the steering wheel. Nothing near the seat. No keys in the ignition. As James reached for the glove box, he heard the building’s rear door open and slam.
James climbed back out from the car, gabbed his bat and stood behind the door he’d kicked in as the first person entered the garage. He instantly recognized the shoulder-length hair of the man with the knife in the light from the alley as he walked in right past James.
“Who’s in here,” he shouted, knife held out once again in front of him.
James answered by smashing the bat down on his arm as hard as he could. He heard a snap as the man screamed in pain and the knife fell to the concrete floor. James followed with a strike to the man’s knee, resulting in another snap and another scream of pain.
Another man James didn’t recognize entered holding his hand forward. Not waiting to see if it was knife or gun, James swung the bat and knocked whatever it was from the new man’s hand and kicked him in the stomach. This sent the man airborne out the door and into the nearby fence.
As it seemed only two had come out to start, James made a break for the car again, hoping to fumble in the glove box and get the trunk open. As he heard more footsteps running down the gangway, toward the garage, James flipped the glove box open and felt around desperately. Just as the first man of the new wave reached the doorway, another man he didn’t recognize, James felt a button and pushed it.
The trunk made a THUNK sound, but just as it did, James was being pulled from the car by his ankle.
He slid out and landed on the concrete floor flat on his back. As the man leaned over and reached for him, James jabbed the butt of his bat into the man’s nose, knocking him backward into the wall of the garage.
Suddenly, the single light bulb in the garage turned on and James, still on his back, saw the man with the gun and the shaved head standing in the doorway.
“What the…” the man started saying as he looked around the floor. James noticed blood and saw bone sticking out from both arm and leg of the long haired man with the knife. The man with the gun looked up at James and said, “You’re that kid. What are you like a ninja or some shit?”
This time the man’s gun was pointed directly into James’ stomach as he lay on his back on the bloody garage floor. If he shot now, James thought, he wouldn’t miss. He sat perfectly still and silent, staring the man with the gun right in the eyes. The man started to smile.
The guy whose nose James had broken advanced on James at that point, kicking the bat from his hands. He reached down and picked James up by his sweatshirt with both hands.
“He’s just a kid!” he said as he held James a foot off the ground, eye to eye with him.
“Yeah,” the man with the gun answered as two others walked up behind him, with their own pistols in their hands. “A kid who doesn’t know when to mind his own damn business.”
James closed his eyes. He was disappointed in himself. He hadn’t thought this through. He hadn’t been thinking many things through lately, just acting. He found himself wishing his father was here now. The tears began to well in James’ eyes as he realized he may very well not live through tonight’s impulsive decisions.
“Don’t cry, kid,” the man holding him by his shirt said and began to laugh.
James sniffed and felt the odor biting at him from behind his eyes again. He opened his eyes to see the man holding him, laughing and looking toward the man with the gun. When he laughed it reminded James of Mike Sutton laughing at him at school, only with alcohol on his breath. Then, James pictured his locker.
James smashed the peak of his forehead into the man’s already broken nose and landed on his feet again as the man with the whiskey breath collapsed unconscious to the floor. Picking up the knife that had been dropped, James threw it at the group by the doorway, causing the man with the gun and one of the others to dodge out of the way. The third wasn’t as lucky. He took the blade in the thigh, all the way down to the handle and dropped his gun as he screamed in pain.
A few shots rang out in the cramped space of the garage like thunder and James rolled across the floor through the men’s blood. He was able to make it to the rear of the bright yellow car and crouched down behind it.
Just then, he heard rustling and muffled whimpering. James diverted his attention from the two gun wielding men, rose to his knees and lifted the lid of the trunk.
There she was, with the same look on her face that he’d seen in his sleep. The girl was frightened, looking for help from James. She was bloodied and bruised. Her clothes were torn. But she was alive.
As James breathed a sigh of relief, one of the men tackled him from behind and held his arms behind his back. The shaven head man came to the back of the car and pointed the gun at his belly again.
“Hurry up,” the man holding James said as he struggled to keep his arms pinned behind him. “This kid is stronger than he looks.”
Without a word, the sweaty, shaven headed man fire the gun.
James felt a burst of pain in his belly that wasn’t at all what he thought a bullet would feel like. It felt more like he’d been hit with a cannonball than a bullet. There wasn’t the pinpoint pain and tearing feeling he’d expected. He felt like his entire stomach had just been struck by a car.
James doubled over and the man holding him let him fall to the ground. James put his hands over his belly. It hurt, but he didn’t see any blood. Still, he felt like he was about to pass out.
The shaven headed man smiled at James again as he stood over him and pointed the gun at his head this time.
“Shoulda minded your own…”
Before he could finish the sentence, something crashed through the roof and landed on top of him. As James’ vision began to fail, he saw the something was a someone. Whoever it was lifted the man who had just shot James and threw him across the garage like a rag doll, where he actually went through the wall and into the backyard. A punch to the man that had just held James sent him through the overhead door and out into the alley.
James began to black out and said in a whisper to the large stranger who had just saved him, “He shot me.”
James felt a hand beneath his head and heard a voice say, “Hang in there, buddy. I’ve got you. You’re gonna be okay.”
“She’s in the trunk,” James added. His vision was gone and he wasn’t sure the words even made it out of his mouth.
“She’s gonna be okay too. I’m so proud of you,” the voice said back from the dark.
As he lost consciousness, James realized it was the voice of his father.
To Be Concluded...
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Occasionally, I’ll be in the middle of something and will drop a comic book on a table to get to as soon as I have a free moment. In the meantime, each pass I make through the room in which it rests involves me staring at it. It calls to me like the beating of that hideous heart hidden beneath the floor boards.
The longest I will usually go in possession of the latest delivery without reading it is a few hours. If it’s my wife’s day off, I will tend to delay out of respect for her. Come to think of it, I don’t think she really cares. After all, she’s the one who encouraged me to subscribe to the comic books I’m currently getting. I just seem to have an aversion to reading comic books in the presence of a female. Comic books and spending time with a woman seem to be contradictory to one another in my mind. I’m not sure what I’m afraid of. Do I think that if see actually sees me with my face buried in a comic book, she’ll think I’m a dork? Like she hasn’t figured that out already.
One of my usual techniques to get comic reading time is the bathroom break. If the opportunity to hide somewhere and read the issue isn’t immediately available, within half an hour I usually need to go to the bathroom. This gives me all the time I need and I would dare say close to fifty percent of my comic books are read there. Of course, my eldest brother may want to be aware of this before he borrows any more back issues from me. I’ve actually pondered sitting down for all my bathroom needs like women have to. I’d be practically unstoppable. Then I decided I couldn’t live with myself. Take away a man’s ability to pee standing up and what does he have left?
Anyway, lately, my role as a father leaves me without time to read the most recent episode in the lives of my favorite Marvel heroes. This has lead to some marathon delays in reading. I actually had three separate comic book titles that sat on my desk for three days before I got around to hunkering down with a beer and a bowl of pretzels and reading them. I was busy attending baseball games, helping with homework, running errands. I was ashamed of myself.
When I don’t read my newest comics immediately, I feel like I’m letting the super heroes contained within the pages down. I feel as if they are relying on me to move their lives forward. Without my reading their tales, they are trapped in suspended animation. Furthermore, there are friends of mine who do not have the luxury of subscribing to multiple comic books without facing ridicule. They depend upon my synopsis and then loaning of the comics to them. When I get delayed, they get delayed. You see, reading them in a timely manner isn’t just about me. It’s a rather selfless act. I’m practically donating my time to a cause. I have the greater good in mind.
Well, not that I don’t enjoy writing here, but the latest issue of The Amazing Spider-Man has been calling to me for the last twelve hours or so. I’ve decided I’m going to end this post as suddenly and awkwardly as a Saturday night Live sketch so I can get around to it.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Instead of being the laid back father who smokes his pipe in the bleachers and says, “Tut, tut,” and, “Bully for you, son,” and waits to discuss the details of the game over celebratory ice cream, I find that I am apparently the dad who inserts himself as an assistant coach when he sees there is a need for extra volunteers. Thus, I end up intentionally clapping louder than originally planned so the players can’t help but notice my enthusiasm and cupping my hands to my mouth as I shout out coachly advice like, “Let’s be ready out there!”
Let me point out that I am being supportive of every kid on the team. Also, while I am louder and more active at my sons’ games than I thought I would be, I’m not a yeller. I firmly believe that parents who yell at their children from the sidelines during sporting events are not helping. They aren’t helping the coach and they certainly aren’t helping the kid.
By yelling, I don’t mean “C’mon Johnny, you can do it!” or “Get a hit!” or supportive things like that. That’s not yelling, it’s cheering. I think shouting out words of support for your child, in fact, is better than saying nothing. The kid knows you’re there and knows you care about them and want to see them do well. You aren’t just going through the motions. You are showing interest, even if your shouting from the sideline embarrasses them. I think it’s best to have a kid who is embarrassed by how much you love them than to have one who resents you for trying to push them too hard.
What I mean by yelling is criticism. Now, it’s one thing for a coach to yell critical things at a player, especially as the skill level of the sport increases. The coach’s job is to be a mentor and a teacher of the given sport. It’s important that a coach instill discipline and knowledge in a player under his management by pointing things out to the players as they happen, or immediately thereafter. This is acceptable in my book. The parent who shouts critically in the middle of the game is a different story.
The parent who yells constantly at their child to the point that you can hear them loading all their failed hopes and dreams on the kid’s shoulders in order to live vicariously through them is something that I don’t think is healthy. Call me Captain Obvious, but I really don’t think some parents get this. They don’t see that their shouting at their kid for misplaying a ground ball is different from the coach doing it. They don’t see how much more embarrassing and emotionally damaging it is for a kid to hear his dad criticize his play publicly than it is for a coach to do so.
I was thinking about this over the last few days as I helped in several ways at my sons’ baseball games. I began asking myself some questions. Why was I helping coach? Why did I insert myself into a role that I hadn’t planned on filling prior to the start of the season? Was I just trying to exert my influence on my own sons while making it socially acceptable?
I worried for a second. I thought I might be taking a step in the direction of the pushy parent. I wondered if I would see that look in my sons’ eyes as I told them what they needed to do to play better, the look that says I’ve sucked all the fun out of the game. I pictured myself getting into heated arguments with various umpires and referees and following parents from rival teams to their cars and expressing my anger on their hood with the nine iron from my trunk.
Then I realized that I seemed to be the first one clapping at most of the events on the field, including for the other team. My applause was usually followed by the applause of other parents who were watching the game. I didn’t feel embarrassed to clap by myself as loudly as I could as the team came off the field each inning. I wanted them to hear somebody cheering them on. I wanted the kids to see they had a fan, an advocate. I wanted all the kids, not just my son, to feel like somebody was proud enough of them to stand there and clap and shout “Great hit!” I loved seeing them smile and go out onto the field the next inning with a visibly greater amount of confidence.
I guess that’s why I volunteered to help. Not because I’m one of the greatest baseball minds of my generation, because I most certainly am not, but because I knew I would focus on the positive. I knew that kids learning a new sport needed to be encouraged to keep playing it first and foremost. When all one hears is criticism of their performance, they tend to want to give up. I wanted there to be an extra voice telling the kids what a great job they did.
I figure the more encouragement the kids receive now, the better. We all get ample opportunities in this life to be told we suck at something. I know I have.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
To be perfectly honest, I rushed last week's installment and was disappointed myself. Thus, I have decided to take some extra time on the next step and build excitement to the point that I cannot possibly fail to disappoint everyone even further.
But seriously folks, t-ball and other various errands that come along with parenthood have left me sleep deprived and unprepared to deliver a quiality prodcut. That's why I'm taking today off and leaving you only with this post to explain myself.
I will get back to the mindless rambling you've come to expect here tomorrow and the Thursday edition will appear Sunday when weekly features will also be updated.
Thank you for your patience. I must go now. First pitch for my 5-year-old's game is in one hour.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I grew up in an age when the internet did not exist as a research tool. Perhaps that makes me old school or out dated, but I am still wary to trust internet sources. This ought to put me in good shape for yelling at my kids as they reach the teenage years about what I used to do when I was their age.
“There were these things called libraries and they held stacks of paper bound together with words printed on them. They were called books and if they still existed, I’d pick one up right now and fling it at your ungrateful head so you could see how heavy they were.”
I suppose it’s a bit silly that I trusted Encyclopedia Britannica implicitly if you want to get into it. However, that’s the point. One source of information eventually shows its reliability over all others and becomes trusted to give you the truth. Then you don’t need to verify it for several obsessive hours on your own just so you can say, “See, I told you Eric Stoltz was the kid in Mask.”
That’s what Encyclopedias are. They are trusted. Again, call me old fashioned, but I find it hard to trust information that can be posted by anybody who knows how to get on the internet. If it’s something I’m able to do with ease (I’ve been posting on this blog daily for almost two months) it is obviously a bunch of hogwash and not to be taken seriously.
There is no requirement that you have any sort of expertise in order to weigh in on an issue online. If I wished, I could begin a campaign of false information that would confuse at least a few people and result in an F or two on a history paper. Granted, I would have to do it on another website that a lot of people actually read, but that’s beside the point. My point is that there seems to be no one reliable source for online information.
Or so I thought.
I started to look at Wikipedia in depth. Years ago I had dismissed it entirely. I thought a site that allows its users to edit page content has no credibility whatsoever. In my mind, it was the equivalent of a bunch of high school sophomores sitting around trying to piece together details for their history final which was in an hour and they hadn’t listened to the lectures all year. You could read Yeah, that’s it and Whatever, dude, that has to be right and Can’t we just go play some hacky-sack already? between the lines of text.
I must admit that the more I looked at it, the more reliable Wikipedia’s information seemed to be. Sure, I could throw a quick, John Doe smells like butt in the middle of an article, but how long would it remain there?
That’s what I now find to be the beauty of the site: its elaborate system of checks and balances. If something in any given article is incorrect or changes, there are millions of nerds, geeks and fanboys scouring constantly for inaccuracies.
Have you ever had a lengthy discussion with a huge nerd? Not huge in girth, I mean in nerdiness, although some may argue the two go hand in pudgy hand. Anyway, you are bound to have at least a fact per minute of discussion corrected by said nerd. They cannot help but correct that which is wrong. It’s one of the burdens that make them have so much trouble in social situations. I dare say I often find myself wanting to correct people in the middle of their sentences and have learned to suppress that urge over many years of training by my wife.
When you think about it, what better source of information is there than legions of nerds sitting in front of their computers, just waiting to tell somebody else that their information is wrong? The collective geek brainpower harnessed by Wikipedia is overpowering. False information doesn’t stand a chance. A thousand points of light are trained on each and every obscure article, each pale, clammy palm sweating in anticipation with the hopes they may be the first to find an error, be it factual or grammatical, in an article that just so happens to fall within the realm of one of their many areas of expertise. The misinformed stand no chance. The nerd of society attack mistakes with same tenacity with which they attack a foot long turkey sub and a Diet Coke.
This is why I hereby decide to save myself precious hours of my life in research and instead trust my fellow nerds to do the compulsive fact checking on my behalf. From this point on, anything that is posted on Wikipedia shall be considered by me as absolute truth.
And I see it says here that I smell like butt. No arguing there. Off to the shower for me.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
My sons had been up for a few hours already. They know that mommy and daddy catch up on sleep the days they don’t have school, so they hadn’t disturbed us. They know how to pour themselves some milk or juice and cereal without making a mess.
If they do make a mess, they know where the paper towels are. The drill is, the one who made the mess starts wiping while the other runs to our room to wake us and get us to help clean. Not the best way to be wrenched from slumber, but it beats waking up to one of them crying from having been punched by his brother or feeling a hand on your face and having one of them tell you the dog barfed on the kitchen floor. Then, you get up to see little footprints of dog puke leading backwards from the side of your bed to the scene of the canine crime. As you wipe it up, you try to determine what it was that caused this upheaval, seeing if you recognize any solid objects hidden within the goo so that you can make sure the dog didn’t get into the garbage. Don’t laugh, I’ve been there.
This particular morning, however, none of those horrific events had happened. It was a casual waking according to Circadian rhythm and I convinced my stiff knees to gingerly lower me step after step and get the coffee maker started. No mess was found and I could hear the discussion between my sons over the sound effects from Mario Party DS coming from the basement. Overall, a pretty pleasant morning.
It wasn’t until after I’d started the coffee that I returned to the living room, which I had already passed through, and saw something on the coffee table that piqued my interest. There was a ripped open Lego Star Wars box on the floor and a fully assembled Rebel Scout Speeder on the table.
I froze and stared at it for a minute in disbelief. That box had been sitting on the side, waiting for a day when I could sit down with them and build it. Our usual routine involved them helping me separate the pieces by color, finding the pieces needed for each step and then, if they felt like it, trying to put the pieces on themselves, usually ending with me shifting the piece a stud or two in a given direction to its proper placement or, at least, needing to push the block on more firmly and flush to the block beneath it.
I had not built this set with them. I knew this because I remember each Lego set I’ve built since I was a child. I’m a Lego veteran. I remember my first space set with its green tinted plastic faux-glass cockpits and its grey futuristic-through-the-eyes-of-the-80s style pieces that I haven’t seen in a set since. I remember assembling the town in my parents’ basement as a pre-teen with my custom made buildings, including the towering skyscraper at its center. I can recall nearly each step during the week I spent leading up to Christmas Eve constructing the Death Star and hiding it back in a closet at the end of each session. This set was not of my doing.
I also knew my wife hadn’t helped them. She has the patience to keep from yelling at them as milk covers every square inch of surface on the table. She is patient enough to stay silent and allow them to try and give an honest answer to the question of why they decided to draw with permanent marker on the wall. She was dedicated and patient enough to carry each of them around in her own uterus for nine months a piece. These are all trials that would have caused me to absolutely lose my mind, yet she remained cool. Following Lego instructions, however, seems to be the limit to her patience. That and listening to driving directions given by yours truly. So, again, I knew she hadn’t helped.
This left but one possible answer. The boys had built the set on their own.
I was filled with pride as I took the fully assembled speeder, complete with Rebel Trooper figures sitting in proper places, in my hands. My boys, my sons, had built their first Lego set by themselves and hadn’t come to ask me for a single bit of help. Sure, a few of the translucent red stud serving as warning lights had been left off and the Rebel Alliance symbol sticker on the front was a bit askew, but they had done it.
As I turned it over in my hands, admiring their work and occasionally pushing a few pieces together more firmly, another thought crept into my head. It moved in slowly and sinisterly, removing the smile from my face gradually and replacing it with a sort of sweaty palm feeling.
I was being phased out.
When they received Lego sets on their birthdays, particularly Lego Star Wars sets, I was usually just as pleased as they were. I knew I was going to get to help put it together. I’ve even had my eldest brother stop by after work just to have him help me with some of the more complicated ones. We assembled most of the Tantive IV over beers. Now what was I to do? This joy was suddenly being taken from me.
I tried to picture myself as a ninja master. I wanted to be happy that my pupils were taking my training and using it to their fullest potential. I tried to take pride in the fact that I had taught them so well that they would surpass even my talents. Their ability would be a direct reflection of my own mastery of the art form.
What I felt instead was the sickening threat that John Henry must have felt when his boss pulled the steam drill out onto the tracks. If this is how I feel now, how am I going to cope with the day they are able to beat me at basket ball, or the day when I can’t chase them down from behind in the park? They are supposed to be my window into acting like a child while having a cover under which to do so. Alas, I have discovered that my gleaming castle may have been built upon pillars of sand.
I’m going to have to start buying my own Lego sets. Either that, or I will need to hide the ones they get as gifts until I am ready to help them. I still have height as my advantage. New Lego set will need to be put on the highest shelf until I am ready to “supervise” their assembly. This should buy me a few more years to become emotionally ready.
Monday, April 19, 2010
My lawn is beginning to look shaggy. I have yet to drag the mower out and give it its first run of the season, but if I don’t do it soon, the comments from the neighbors will begin.
They may start by talking about their own lawn, getting you to take a look at how well manicured they keep it. This is how they get you to notice that your lawn sucks by comparison. Soon, you start to feel inadequate and cut yours too. I’ve even seen this technique inspire one to fertilize and weed to keep dandelions from spreading to the concerned neighbor’s lawn.
If this doesn’t work, they break out the half-joking, half-serious comments to make a point until they realize they’ve upset you. Then it becomes, “I was only joking.” Suddenly they’re acting like your drinking buddy who was just busting your balls, telling you you’re taking things too seriously. As you try to remember how many times you’ve hung out socially with the guy, you realize the answer is none because he’s always rubbed you the wrong way. This is why you never cared how nice his lawn looks. However, this technique might still get you to cut your grass just to shut him up.
But…if the owner of the jungle-like lawn in question really doesn’t care how nice the neighbor’s lawn looks in comparison and really doesn’t give a rat’s ass if he was serious or joking when he made that comment, then none of these techniques will have any effect upon one’s motivation to conduct landscaping maintenance. Enter, me.
I don’t hold my neighbors in disdain. I’m not a bad neighbor. I’m a down right neighborly neighbor, in fact. Lawn trimming, however, is just one of those things that I do not feel societal pressure over. I bought the minivan, I shop at Target, I pay my taxes, I wait in line without cutting and don’t send my food back when I don’t like it, I just eat it. In short, I’ve conformed. When it comes to my grass, though, nothing but internal motivation is going to get it cut. I need to have trouble finding the dog crap, lose the bright yellow foam practice golf ball I just dinged off the garage, have my wife tell me I can’t have people over for a barbeque until it gets cut or get just plain sick of looking at the sheer length of it in order to get the mower out and start it up.
Is it getting close to that point? Yes, but it’s not quite there yet. Each time I stare at my lawn and think, “Damn that’s getting long,” I end up finding something higher on my priority list to do. My sons’ baseball practices, writing this blog and taking a nap are just a few such things.
The other day, I began to wonder to myself when my oldest son can be trusted with such a task. Certainly, this summer is too soon. Next year probably is as well. But as he comes closer to the double-digit age range, I’m thinking he might be in play to take over lawn care responsibilities from his old man. Ten is an age where he will still have interest in pushing around a machine that makes a lot of noise but will be careful enough with it not to lose any toes. It’s important to strike in that window of opportunity to meet with as little resistance as possible. But, if I can find a way to attach the lawn mower to his old big wheel, perhaps he can start a few years early.
Once I can get the boys mowing the lawn, when a neighbor comments on the length of my grass, I can turn it into a discussion of how busy my son is with the many activities he’s involved with. Then come the details about his performance in said activities.
That’s when they cut the conversation shorter than the blades of grass on their lawn because they realized they had something they forgot to do. Nothing gets a neighbor in their house, minding their own business, faster than bragging about your kids in painful detail.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
5. Stupid - It doesn't matter whether this is really a swear word or not. They think it is. plus, they gasp and go, "Awwwwww," when they hear me say it, so it counts.
4. Hell - I'v explained to them that this word is perfectly acceptable when used in the context of a religious discussion of the afterlife. My oldest made another acceptable time to say this that I couldn;t help but agree with. When he was about four, we were on vacation and he saw a rather shocking tourist attraction. He said, "What the Hell?!" for which I immediately scolded him. He then explained, "Daddy, when you see something like that, you just gotta say what the Hell." I couldn;t argue with that.
3. Dammit - This was probably one of their first, said during a moment of frustration I can't recall the specifics of.
2. A**hole - Yes, I'm beginning to censor them. This was uttered recently by my five-year-old, who said it in order to explain why another kid in his class was bad. No, this isn't what he called him, but he said the boy said, "the worst swear word ever." I made the mistake of asking what it was and this was the answer.
1. Sh** - I overheard this in the other room just the other day. It immediately followed the sound effects that indicate Mario has met his demise. It was said by my five-year-old and I had to give him credit for the circumstances it was used it and how matter of fact he sounded upon saying it. If you're going to say it, say it like a pro, that's my motto.
This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is your own brewery. Ok, let's make it, a good brewery. Maybe you've brewed your own beer before from one of those crappy kits you stick in the fridge or whatever, but You're not going to be mass producing a quality product anytime soon. Unless, of course, you are my hero, Jake Leinenkugel. Jake, if you're reading, keep doing what you're doing.
This week's sign you are a nerd is that you think benching a player on your fantasy baseball team is going to affect his performance. I know you have a lot of pride in your team and you have won your league three years running, but write down what it is your playing: Fantasy Baseball. Good, now underline and highlight the word Fantasy and carry that sheet of paper with you at all times. When you start to get agitated and yell at a player through your TV, take it out.
This week's nemesis is the tilt of the Earth. Because you just can't keep yourself still, when I get busy and don't remember that the days are slowly getting longer, I look up from what I'm doing, thinking, it's still light out, I have time. Then, I suddenly realize I only have ten minutes to feed my sons, give them baths and get them to sleep.
This week's lesson learned is that t-ball is a big commitment. I knew they would have a lot of practices and games, but I had no idea I'd be spending a few hours a day being asked, "Am I next? Can I go next? I want to be next. Can I go next?" or that I'd be returning home covered in a thin film of infiled dirt.
And, this week's Star Wars quote is actually a brief exchange from Episode III:
Supreme Chancellor Palpatine: "Are you going to kill me?"
Anakin Skywalker: "I would really like to!"
I'm hoping to keep this up every day like I have so far, and knowing people are reading helps, so a big thank you to everybody who reads this.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
I should point out here that these values vary slightly if you choose the grilled chicken version over the fried chicken. However, let’s be honest. If you are even considering eating this sandwich, the nutritional numbers are of no concern to you. Fried or grilled is all about your taste preference.
Anyway, I think this sandwich is remarkable. I haven’t tried it, so I’m not talking about a flavor level. I’m talking about ingenuity. Whoever developed this thing has thought outside the box. They refused to be reigned in by the widely accepted constraints of standard sandwich construction. They said, “Bread? Who needs bread?” and they were right. Nobody eats a sandwich for the bread. You eat the sandwich for what’s inside. So, why not take what’s inside and make the whole thing out of it. If you already know what you like, why waste those calories on something you don’t?
I’m somewhat jealous. Fifteen plus years ago, I had a radical sandwich idea myself. At the time, I was eating deli meat sandwiches fairly regularly. I would try to get some variety: salami, ham, turkey, roast beef. Occasionally, I would have a cold meatloaf sandwich. That’s when it hit me. When cold, meatloaf really does have a bread-like consistency. Why not take two slices of meatloaf and put the cold cuts in the middle? Alas, I never marketed the idea and now someone has gone above and beyond in sandwich making trends. For that, I salute them.
To all those out there who would argue that this sandwich is unhealthy, disgusting or a heart attack waiting to happen, you may be right. However, this sandwich represents something more. It gives us the freedom to choose what we want on either side of our fattening contents. If we choose that to be more fattening ingredients, so be it. That is the choice of each and every individual.
What more could you want from a sandwich, I ask? Freedom to choose, ingenuity, protein, over-indulgence and obesity; it’s all there. All the things that made this country great are wrapped up in a single saturated fat and sodium laden sandwich.
I say this sandwich doesn’t just ooze cheese and bacon and chicken grease. It oozes America.
Friday, April 16, 2010
I irrationally think that if I get my tax return in early, I will look like a law-abiding citizen who has nothing to hide. I really don’t have anything to hide. My finances are extremely uncomplicated. I don’t believe there would ever be any reason to audit me nor do I think the IRS could ask me any questions that wouldn’t be easily answered. Still, I fear the audit.
I suppose this is because I’m one of those people who just try to avoid getting noticed in a lot of ways in order to make it through each day. My freshman year of high school was spent trying to promote my anonymity. I didn’t need to be popular, I just wanted to be a face in the crowd and not be singled out for anything. I wanted to show up, do my own thing and get out of there. Even now, at a store, I want to get in and out without any added attention. Stores where they come up and ask you if you need help are my least favorite. This is why I haven’t gone into a Foot Locker in over a decade. A lot of people seem to take this approach. I think that’s why stores like Target and Wal-Mart do well. You can wander around those stores for hours without anybody saying a word to you unless you initiate contact.
As I look back on this, I realize it’s likely an unhealthy approach. Every kid, or adult for that matter, tries to just blend in at some point. Just think of all the times a supervisor asked for a volunteer to do something and everyone did their best to avoid eye contact while not making any furtive gestures to attract attention. Of course, just because everyone is guilty of it, that doesn’t make it right.
Those of us with children want to instill confidence in them. We want to teach them to stand up for themselves and to be comfortable with who they are. We want them to fit in, but not to the point of sacrificing their dreams and talents. What better way to do this than to lead by example?
Maybe next year, I’ll encourage the IRS to take a closer look at my tax return. Maybe I’ll file for an extension just to really have it put under a microscope. I have nothing to hide, go ahead and do your best to try and find a flaw. I have done nothing wrong. That’ll show them.
***Following for IRS Personnel only***
Listen, that was just a joke. I really don’t want you to look any harder at my return than anybody else’s. Not that you can’t if you don’t want to. Again, I have nothing to hide. I just wanted to joke around a little. I’m sure you all would love the opportunity to show people that just because you work for the IRS doesn’t mean you don’t have a sense of humor, right? Well, here’s that chance.
You’ll be receiving next year’s return mid-February, like usual. Love you guys.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
James sat in English class, fuming. He was having a bad day.
It all began to go south after Mike Sutton had embarrassed him at lunch. The embarrassment he could handle. The fact that it happened in front of Shelly Abraham was what really bothered him.
James had been told by a few of the guys in Gym that he looked like he was working out a lot.
“Dude, you have guns,” one said, squeezing his upper arm.
He couldn’t remember the other comments, but figured if the boys were noticing he was developing muscle definition faster than everyone else, there must be a few girls who noticed too. In fact, he didn’t really care how many girls noticed, only if Shelly noticed.
So, after a few days of extra push-ups to make sure he looked his best, James rolled his shirt sleeves up just enough for Shelly to see the bottom of his biceps and approached her table during lunch. Tray in hand, he was about to say, in his deepest voice, “Hi, Shelly. Mind if I sit with you?” when Mike Sutton sat on her bench and slid right up next to her.
While James had become much more confident as of late, he had never put this confidence to the test in real time. His experience came mostly in front of his mirror, his conversations with himself. This is where he’d practiced his opening line, his request to sit with Shelly. He had even practiced a number of second lines based on her different possible reactions.
He tried, “What’s that? You’ve been wondering what took me so long to ask? Well I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”
Then there was, “Because I always wondered what it would be like to sit next to an angel.”
He had even planned a face saving last resort. He would shrug, being sure to highlight his shoulder muscles, then say, “That’s cool, maybe another time.”
He hadn’t accounted for anyone else at the table to say a word, especially not a potential competitor.
Instead of throwing out his planned line, or any other cheesy line for that matter, James froze. He stood perfectly still, staring at the two of them, mouth just slightly open in surprise. He stood there just long enough for Mike to look up and see him there.
“What’s with the creep?” Mike asked Shelly.
She laughed. Of course she laughed. Had he taken the time to think about it, James might have seen her laugh as coming simply out of nervousness or even the need to be polite and laugh at the joke of a boy who was showing her attention. While not experienced with girls by any means, James had noticed that some girls would laugh at jokes he knew they couldn’t possibly find funny from guys who he knew they couldn’t possibly be interested in just because that’s what they did at their age. He thought it must feel good to get attention and the girls didn’t want to discourage that. James understood, even appreciated it.
At this very moment, however, her laughter crushed him. He could physically feel all the swollen, muscle-bound confidence he possessed just seconds ago rush out of him.
A few other passersby had heard Mike’s question to Shelly and stopped to look. James dropped his head and walked past them in his best attempt to look like he had meant to do so all along.
“Stalk you later,” Mike called after him and James heard several people laugh, including Shelly.
When he sat at his usual table and Dave asked him what that had been about, James shrugged without worrying about showing off any muscle and said, “Nothing.” It was all he could do at the time to contain the rage he was feeling.
Over and hour later, during English, the rage was still contained, but hadn’t dissipated. All he saw was red. All he heard was his own pounding heartbeat. All he felt was heat and tension throughout his body. All he could taste was blood, for he had bitten into his bottom lip without noticing. He didn’t even fill out his name at the top of the quiz that sat on his desk. While everyone else scribble answers, he sat still, breathing fire.
James felt like there was a pot of boiling water inside him and the lid on top was shaking more violently the longer it was left on. James knew he must do something to Mike Sutton, but he didn’t know what.
Then, at the last break between classes for the day, James saw him in the hall, books under his arm, talking to some other popular kids. James was so focused, he didn’t even see who the others were.
James walked straight through the crowd, toward Mike and purposely bumped into him. His books fell to the ground and slid across the hall.
“What the hell,” Mike said, looking at his books on the floor, not James. Upon looking up, he added, “Real nice, stalker.”
“What did you call me?” James asked, stepping toward him.
For a second, Mike was startled. This didn’t fit James’ reputation. James wasn’t usually aggressive and the popular kids were all about expected behavior. When something didn’t fit their expectations, they were thrown off.
“I called you a stalker,” he said, after gathering himself and taking a step backward.
“Why you backing up?” James asked and stepped forward again. He made a point of taking a larger step forward than Mike had taken back, so they were even closer now. James could tell Mike was intimidated, which was just what he had been hoping for.
“Because I don’t want your face too close to mine,” Mike replied with a hint of nervousness James thought only he might have noticed. After he said it, Mike looked to the crowd for agreement.
James didn’t see the need for any more words. He wanted Mike Sutton embarrassed right here and now. He dropped his own books, lunged forward and grabbed Mike’s shirt in his fists. In a split second, James had Mike pinned against the lockers, his feet no longer touching the ground.
What James saw then was absolute fear on Mike Sutton’s face. It was exactly the reaction he’d been looking for. James stared right into his eyes and breathed heavy. Then, a smile slowly began to spread across his face.
“Teachers,” someone form the fringe of the now very attentive crowd that had circled around them shouted. James dropped Mike just as suddenly as he had picked him up and took one step back. He never took his eyes off Mike, however.
“What’s going on,” Mr. Cartwright called as he pushed through the circle of students.
James still stared at Mike without saying a word.
“They bumped into each other, all their books fell,” Dave spoke up for them both. Up to this point, James hadn’t realized Dave was nearby.
“Well pick them up and get to class,” Mr. Cartwright said, then looked around at everyone in a way that showed he knew better than to think such a circular crowd could precede anything but a fight. “That goes for all of you!”
James bent to pick up his books, but still stared. Mike was visibly shaken as his friends ushered him away.
“What a freak,” an anonymous member of the group mumbled at James.
“Yeah, you really are a creep,” said a voice James recognized. He looked to see it was Shelly, sneering at him the way only a teenage girl who hated your guts could.
James decided then that, after English, he would skip his last class and take an extra long run home.
To Be Continued...
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Being awake earlier makes me feel like a better person. This may just be me buying into expectations, but when I sleep in, I feel lazy and guilty. I see myself rolling out of bed through the judging eyes of society. I feel as if I’m a jobless, unshaven, hobo who gave up on himself shortly after the rest of civilization did. I feel like the refrigerator I go stand in front of belongs to whatever friend of mine has let me crash on their couch for the last several months until I get my feet under me, but who has let me stay so long I’m now considered a legal tenant despite not paying any rent. As I squint my bloodshot eyes, searching for some cold leftover pizza for breakfast, and reach under my ripped Whitesnake t-shirt to scratch my belly, I am disgusted with myself.
On the other hand, when I wake up early, no matter how crabby I was to begin with, I feel like a productive member of society. I find myself waving at people, even slowing down as I pass casual acquaintances so that I can catch the moment when they make eye contact and say,” Good morning.” But I’m saying more than that. What I’m really saying is, “Look at me, everybody. I’m awake. I did it. I’m up and outside, like a good boy.” In a much more deeply hidden part of my psyche, this also disgusts me.
Don’t get me wrong, it takes a lot of work to get me out of bed. I hit the snooze button an average of four times every morning and, honestly, don’t usually remember the first two or three times. This chipper, wide awake me is not my natural self. As I said earlier, at heart, I am not a morning person. I think if I was able to hire somebody to get me dressed and into my car with a cup of coffee in my hand without waking me up until it’s time to start driving, that would make it easier. I might be a morning person then.
Still, my resistance to waking up is obviously my body telling me it wants more sleep. This isn’t something to be taken lightly. Sleep deprivation is a serious issue in terms of long term health so I wonder how I’m faring on that front. Of course, the easy solution would be to get to sleep earlier the night before, but that’s way too simple and I have a theory that something so simple can’t possibly be right. If life has taught me anything, it’s that everything is supposed to be difficult.
I think I’ve developed what my brother once described best as Sleep Inertia. You know inertia, the concept that a body at rest tends to stay at rest and a moving body tends to remain moving. When I’m asleep, I want to stay asleep indefinitely. Once I’m awake, I want to stay awake.
So, you see, no matter what it is I want to do, my body resists. My body doesn’t want to go to sleep early most nights any more than it wants to let me wake up in the morning. I think the solution here is to just stop listening to my body. Am I to live my life under the tyrannical thumb of my physical form? Am I not more than this earthly shell?
If my body continues to resist my will, I shall attempt to appease it with jelly donuts and beer. If it doesn’t fall in line after that, it’s asking for a serious beating. Wait…
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I want to point out that I say cleaning service because the word maid just doesn’t seem right to me. The term maid suggests a more constant presence in my mind to the point of potential live-in status. I think of Alice from The Brady Bunch. There’s a personal level to the word maid.
For someone to be called a maid, I would think you’d also have to know their name. I have no idea what the names of the three ladies who show up to clean my house are. I feel rude not knowing, but after seeing that they needed their more adeptly English speaking boss to come with them on their first visit, I haven’t wanted to push my luck. Every time I start to get up the courage to enquire, I end up in a five minute conversation about where more Windex is. This usually just results in me going to get it myself and handing it to them. Plus, after so many visits to our home, I think it eventually becomes too late. There’s the whole “You’re asking me now?!” aspect to it. It’s like a joke that’s been built up for too long. Best to just forget it and move on.
I also don’t think maid works well in the plural form. To say one has maids leads me to believe that they have an entire staff living out back in the coach house. Each maid has their own specialty or wing of the house to attend to. Of course the maids are not to be confused with the cooking staff or the stable personnel. Seeing as I neither own a plantation nor live in Victorian England, I see no need to leave anything for “the help” to take care of. I just want my house clean every now and then without the stress. Thus, we do not employ maids, we pay some cleaning ladies.
Anyway, every other week, three cleaning ladies of otherwise unknown Eastern European descent arrive at our home and spend about an hour or so cleaning. During this time, I feel like a prisoner in my own home. I dare not leave because…well, I guess I just feel weird leaving three nameless people who speak constantly to one another in a language I don’t understand in my home alone. Yet, I am confined to certain rooms at a time. I feel like a sheep. I begin sitting with my wife in one spot, then one of them comes in and we move hurriedly out of their way into a different room only to be shooed into yet another room when they eventually come to clean that one. I’m not even sure what they do exactly because I’m too shy to remain anywhere near where they are working.
After they leave, I see the benefit in having them come. The house smells nicer, I can walk around barefoot without feeling dog hair accumulating on my heels and the toilet paper rolls end in a little folded triangular point. Oh, how I love being the first to use the bathroom after they leave. There’s something ever so satisfying about gripping that folded two-ply triangle between my fingers and pulling it down. It’s like checking into a hotel and using the bathroom for the first time, everything is new and fresh and perfect in that moment before I completely defile it.
There are other benefits. The boys know that the cleaning ladies’ presence in our home is a big deal. This causes them to make sure they put their toys away for at least a few days afterward so that they don’t get the “This house was just cleaned, now look at it” speech from daddy. I also seem to be able to find all the things I’m looking for because everything is actually organized and put away in the place it belongs.
And then there is the fact that my wife and I haven’t strangled one another. As a married couple, we enjoy plenty of things together. We often make a point of taking some mundane chore or errand and using it as an excuse to spend some time together. Usually, we highlight the teamwork aspect of tackling a task together which makes us feel closer. I’m proud of our ability to do that in a lot of cases. Cleaning, however, isn’t supportive of this behavior in our household. Rather than bring us together, it seems to compel each of us toward murder. We have conversations like…
“I thought you just swept in here!”
“Then why did I find so much dog hair behind the couch?”
“Because you moved the couch.”
Or then there’s…
“Can you stop putting your dirty clothes on top of the clean ones?”
“If I knew which pile was which, maybe I could.”
Ugly. This is prevented by having the cleaning ladies come every other week. Even though I opposed spending money on this initially, I have to admit that keeping me and my wife away from each other’s throats is worth the cost. So, if I have to be a caged gerbil, running from room to room to avoid unwanted human contact for a while in my own home, so be it. Whatever allows me to sleep without one eye constantly open.
Monday, April 12, 2010
While I’m getting older (does everybody have that problem?), I’m not old, meaning I shouldn’t feel this out of shape yet. Plus, I used to be athletic. I enjoyed sports. I will even toot my own horn by saying I don’t think I was the least talented guy on a court or field very often, if at all. This makes my current pathetic state all the more depressing. I sometimes think about the fact that I used to be able to dunk a basketball. To answer your first question: yes, on a ten foot rim. To answer your second: just using my legs. When I compare this to my need to sit down and breathe after carrying a hamper full of laundry to the basement, I want to cry. In fact, I have cried over it a handful of times. I’m secure enough in my manhood to admit this.
All this may seem bad, but here’s where I tell you the part I’m most ashamed of. Get ready for it. I have a gym membership. I got a great deal of use out of it at one point. I was working out three times a week. I was at the gym so often, in fact, that my sons were able to anticipate which days they would be going with me and get to use the play room there. Alas, the last year and a half has seen me beset with injury after injury and I haven’t been able to get back in the routine.
Of course these excuses are just that; excuses. You know what they say about excuses, don’t you? They are like…well, they stink, basically. I don’t want to be too vulgar. Besides, while these excuses might have legitimately removed me from the gym, they haven’t prevented me from going back. What’s prevented me from going back is my run in with an old flame. While some people might want to get into better shape to impress someone they used to have a love affair with, my returned ex appreciates me with a few extra pounds, acne, and a complexion that oozes sunlight deprivation. I speak, of course, of video games.
Having owned an Xbox 360 for less than a year, much of my spare time is taken up trying to complete Bioshock and Mass Effect so that I can get on to Bioshock 2 and Mass Effect 2. Yes, I’m one of those guys who must play the video games in order. I think I see the potential for a sign you are a nerd there (see left hand column). Also, I’ve been trying to write a lot, if that’s what you call what I’m doing here. Then there is my marriage and these two people we have living with us who seem to rely on me and my wife for almost everything. While I’m sometimes able to multi-task, handling the kids and video games at the same time, this leaves little time for a consistent workout regimen.
I’ve considered combining video games and working out. I own Wii Fit along with the balance board. There are a lot of yoga poses on there. After all, as I get older, I realize that what I’ve lost over the years that really bothers me isn’t so much strength or endurance. I’m not considering a career change into the refrigerator moving business, nor do I see myself developing the compulsive need to win a marathon in my near future. What I’m really lacking is the flexibility I used to have when I was stretching before every basketball practice and before and after every weight lifting session. Throwing my back out when I bend down to pick up a quarter sucks. Thus, I could start by doing some yoga with my Wii fitness trainer. It is technically a video game, so my will power might be less resistant to it. I would only have to use it as a start, to get myself back into the habits of a healthier lifestyle. There’s just something in me that won’t let me try this as a serious option. That thing is testosterone. I’m secure enough in my manhood to admit I cry, but not secure enough to accept Wii Fit yoga as my workout of choice.
But, yet again, I’ve allowed my rotund backside to plop onto the comfy Lay-Z-Boy recliner of excuses. It’s easier and I’m lazy, so that’s what I do and I justify it anyway possible. After all, thinking of a way to rationalize my laziness requires zero physical effort. Working out requires way more. That’s if I remember correctly. It’s been a while.