Friday, July 18, 2008

The Wife’s Not a Fan of the Fan

My wife hates my fan.

It’s a little white two-speed oscillating fan that I use to keep cool at night while I sleep. My little fan helps save energy and money by giving my air conditioner a rest, yet my wife can’t stand the thing.

But before I make my wife out to have horns, a red tail and a pitchfork, I should give a little background on the fan. I can’t lie. I don’t use my fan just to keep cool. I’ve become addicted to the soothing humming sounds it makes, and therefore I use it each night -- even on cold winter nights -- for a sound that is to me what a lullaby is to babies.

The fan doesn’t help my wife sleep at all. In fact, it annoys her. But she doesn’t complain -- not often anyway -- because she took me for better and certainly for worse.

Last winter, my little fan joined forces with my wife and refused to turn on -- probably from overuse. I threw a fit. A couple sucker punches to the motor made the thing start up. But it was then that I realized I had a serious problem. I decided that I needed to kick my fan habit -- and now. 

Quitting was harder than I thought. I tried all sorts of methods to wean myself from the fan, but each night I needed that machine's sweet noise to put me to sleep. 

I bought one of those calming rain forest sound effects CDs and looped it all night, hoping that the sounds of crickets and birds in their native habitat would put me to sleep. Instead I tossed and turned and kung fu chopped the insects that I thought were attacking me as I tried to sleep.

I tried to quit the fan cold turkey. I asked my wife to hide the thing, and I told her to keep it hidden no matter what I said, no matter how upset I got.

After one night without the fan, I went into withdrawal, experiencing horrible mood swings. I needed my fan fix. But I couldn’t find my fan.

I threatened my wife, telling her that if she didn’t find my fan, I’d take her 4-year-old son from her.

My wife didn’t give in. Instead, she suggested we play music at night as a substitute, even though she knows that I hate listening to music while falling asleep.

On our first night as a married couple, my brand new wife asked if playing music at night would bother me. 
Still sedated by our “I dos” and wedding cake, I said, “If you wanna play music, please do, my love.”

I hated the music. Even the songs I loved became my worst enemies. My ears weren’t meant to be a rock star’s microphones while I slept. I soon learned that ever since my wife was a teenager, she needed music at night to sleep. I put up with her addiction for two years.

I finally suggested running an oscillating fan to kick the habit. I’d heard that the humming sounds could put anyone to sleep. So we bought a little white two-speed oscillating fan -- the same little fan I can’t find now -- and in a few nights, my wife didn’t need the music anymore. A few nights later, she didn’t even need the fan anymore. But that’s when I got addicted to the fan.

Today, I’m in more need of that little white fan than ever, especially with these hot, humid nights. Still, my wife won’t return my fan.

So I agreed to use music at night to kick my fan habit. After a few torturous nights of that, my wife was good and hooked on music as a sleep agent again.

And then I hid the stereo from her, which tortured her.

Can you believe my wife still won’t return my fan?

-July 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Four-Year-Old’s Sincerity Not So Sincere

My 4-year-old son hurt my feelings the other day. He said he wanted my wife to drive him to school. When I told him that I was going to take him, he said, “No! I don’t want you to take me! I want Mommy!”

My feelings were hurt, but I didn’t feel that bad because sometimes my son says he wants to do things with me and not with his mom. Nevertheless, my son doesn’t have to be rude.

And so I decided to teach the boy about hurting people’s feelings -- not an easy task. When I told him that he hurt my feelings, he asked to see my “boo-boo.”

“There is no boo-boo that you can see,” I said. “It doesn’t hurt on the outside, it hurts on the inside.”

“Does it sting,” my son asked, “like when I fell down and hurt my knee and couldn’t walk all day?”

“No, it’s a different kind of hurt,” I said. “It’s like being sad.”

“Oh, I know what sad is,” my son said as if he uncovered the meaning of life. “Sad like when your smile is upside down.”

“Yes, exactly,” I said.

I set out to teach a 4-year-old boy something very difficult, an emotion, and I was making great progress. He knew exactly what I was talking about.

Then he said, “If your smile is upside down, why don’t you just smile regularly?”

I was getting nowhere with the kid.

The boy continued throwing a fit because he still wanted Mommy to take him to school. I wasn’t going to let him be rude to me. So I did what most anyone would do in my situation. I punished the kid for yelling at me and for hurting my feelings -- again. I took away one of his favorite toys for a week. And that was that.

That night, when my son was saying goodnight, he told my wife and me that when he grows up, he wants to be a racecar driver, he wants to grow hair on his arms, and he wants to love his mommy.

“What about Daddy?” my wife asked. “Do you want to love him, too?”

“No, I just want to love Mommy,” he replied.

He hurt my feelings again!

This time, my wife tried teaching the boy about people’s feelings. He still wasn’t getting it, and he showed us his frustration by yelling, “I just don’t know what you’re talking about, Mom!”

We couldn’t believe the rudeness he displayed. So we did what anyone would do in our situation. We punished the kid.

“We were going to take you to the popcorn room (the movie theater) tomorrow and watch a movie,” my wife said, “but since you keep hurting Daddy’s feelings and since you’re being rude and yelling at me and hurting my feelings, we’re not going to go.”

“No,” my son sobbed as if we were torturing him on “the rack.” He kept saying that he was sorry.

My wife asked, “Are you sorry because you feel bad that you hurt our feelings, or are you sorry because you can’t go to the popcorn room?”

“No, I’m sorry because I’m really sorry I hurt your feelings,” my son said. He sounded very sincere, tears included. “What movie are we going to see in the popcorn room?” There goes his sincerity.

So we did what anyone would do in our situation. We gave up and went to the movies anyway.

-July 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It’s a Gas-tly Situation

I’d like to report a crime.

Last night, a local gas station robbed me of my hard-earned dough. The loss was $62.78. And I didn’t even fill my tank.
All I wanted to do was treat my family to a nice Fourth of July weekend at the beach. So I went to the gas station to refuel my vehicle for the trip. I stuck my debit card into the ATM receptacle and then I raised my hands into the air while the pump robbed me of more than 60 bucks.

Then, as I was getting back into my car, I heard some happy-go-lucky voice over the station’s loudspeaker tell me to come back again and to stop by the snack shack to buy an $8 doughnut. I waited for the brash voice to add, “And bring your wife’s car next time. We know she commutes.”

Did you know that the world’s first gas station for automobiles opened for business in 1905? According to sources, gas was about 7 cents a gallon at that time. Between 1905 and 1999, gas went up about 90 cents a gallon.

So how is it that in a month’s time in 2008, gas went from $4 a gallon to $5 a gallon, the same dollar increase we experienced within almost 100 years time?

I’m kinda shocked I let the gas station take me for so much money for such a puny amount of fuel. And now that I have this “gold” in my car, I don’t want to go to the beach. I don’t want to drive anywhere. It’ll cost too much in fuel.

My 4-year-old son was very upset when I said we couldn’t go to the beach. I told him that for a cheaper price I could buy him his very own pet dolphin and we could build the marine mammal an aquarium in the backyard. He was happy.

I wonder: Has gasoline gone on the black market yet? I can see the dark figure now, in the shadows of a film noir-ish alleyway, the figure wearing a black overcoat, with keys to what looks like an ice cream truck, but instead of ice cream for sale the entrepreneur offers fuel at a price gas stations can’t compete with.

“Pull up to the truck,” the mysterious man would say to the person who wants his supply, and then he’d open up the back doors, and inside there’d be a big tank of gas. The man would fill up the buyer’s vehicle, and as he finishes the job, he’d tell the buyer, “Call me again when you need another fix.”

Gas is getting so expensive that I wonder if, in the very near future, having the fortune to buy a tank of gas will be considered a status symbol. The type of gas you buy might even determine your class. I can see rich teens bragging about having Chevron gas in their sport utility vehicles. Those same kids will ridicule less fortunate kids who have to fill up their economy-sized tanks with bargain gases from places like “Don’s Cheaper.”

The movie industry has a whole new set piece to utilize for its crime genre films. Instead of knocking over a bank and depleting the fortune within, masterminds will plan the heist of a lifetime at a Shell gas station. The criminals think they have the perfect plan, but while making a getaway with the fuel, two members of the four-man crew die in a firefight with armed guards who protect the precious contents within the pumps. Then the twist: The criminals get back to their hideout only to discover that the gas they stole was a mixture of one part fuel, nine parts water. No good.

Sure, gas is expensive today and on the rise. And sure, my family will be staying home for Independence Day due to high gas costs. But all is well because everyone I know is staying home for the same reasons. It’s the few people at the beach who are going to be lonely.

-July 2008

Family News in Brief -- June '08

Earlier this month, teachers and students reported that my 4-year-old son and one of his female classmates were dating. “The two of them were caught together in the tunnel slide sharing a moment of passion,” said a teacher, who asked to remain anonymous. “It seems they were sharing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, something they’re both passionate about.” Both my 4-year-old and the girl denied the alleged romance, stating that they were just good friends. The girl’s parents issued a strongly worded statement expressing the lack of seriousness between the couple. “The Picarella boy is very nice, and we’d love to have him over for a play date, but just because we use the word ‘date,’ doesn’t mean that the two kids are dating romantically,” the statement read in part. Since these suspicions have come up, my son and the girl have not been seen together again.

On the night of Fri., June 13, my fax machine of five years died in its sleep. I’d recently used it during the day to fax an important document to my insurance company. Afterward, I shut the machine down for the night, and the next day when I turned it on, it showed signs of illness, and then it passed away. Said the machine before its death, “Vvvvvv-tch-vvvvvvv-tch-vvv,” followed by what bystanders called a dreadful “blop.” Memorial services were held in my backyard at the Picarella Memorial Trash Can. After my wife’s lovely eulogy, my 4-year-old son fired a two-water gun salute. “We’ve all had a chance to remember the good times we had with that fax machine, but we’ve had to move on,” my wife said in a statement last week. “We bought a fax/scanner/printer/copier all-in-one machine, and life is good again.”

During one of the worst telemarketing call streaks of our time, Americans are standing up for their rights, demanding that telemarketers respect dinnertime as a time to hold off on sales calls. “Before sitting down for that final meal of the day, I take the phone off the hook,” said my next-door neighbor who claims telemarketers are a pain. Last week, a telemarketer called me at dinnertime reporting that I won $25,000. Aware of the oncoming sales hook, I asked the telemarketer to hold while I ran downstairs so I could verbally notify my wife of the alleged reward. With great enthusiasm, I bolted down the hallway and staged a nasty spill, which I enhanced with pots and pans hitting the floor. I acted as if I was in extreme agony, yelling out, “I can see the bone,” to which the telemarketer asked in a panicked state if I was OK. After hanging up the phone, I broke into the obligatory laugh, and, in an ironic twist of fate, actually tripped over one of the pans I’d thrown to the ground, and, according to medical professionals, twisted and sprained my wrist, making the use of a fork and knife at dinnertime a worse pain than a telemarketer’s phone call.

Dancing waters performed in what’s now being hailed a stylish work of magic and intrigue. Last weekend, a packed crowd, including my wife and 4-year-old son, stood around a man-made pond at a shopping center in Los Angeles and watched water squirt, spray and literally dance before us. “We basically have water jets, which are kinda like big squirt guns under the water, that shoot water out of the lake,” said a janitor at the mall. “We program those big, high-tech water guns to move to whatever music the mall manager chooses to play.” My son didn’t want to leave the lake, citing the water display as “really, really, really neat.” And so there we sat for three days watching water squirt all over the place to Neil Diamond hits.

-June 2008

The Big 'B'

It was 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in July. I was already eating lunch -- a roast beef sandwich at Skip’s Deli down on 11th Street. They made the best coleslaw at Skip’s, and I was sure not to spill any of it on myself. I was wearing a lime leisure suit with a gold chain around my neck, with white athletic socks and white tennis shoes on my feet. I was everything a neighborhood kid ought to be except I wasn’t from the neighborhood. I was here to make a drop.

The Girl lived here. This was the kind of place where they spell “coffee” N-O, N-A-M-E, B-R-A-N-D-S, and if you suggested a chain store, they’d kill you.

The Girl and I first met at Barney’s, a coffee joint a few doors down. We’d only dated for two months and within a week had already shared a roast beef sandwich at Skip’s. We used to joke about other couples, how they’d come up with those ridiculous “pet names” for each other like Sugar Bub, Snooky Wookums and Baby Bunny Berry Pie. We promised that we’d never make up “pet names” for each other.

That is until today. The Girl had gone too far -- too far from home. She was on vacation at the other end of the country, visiting an aunt and uncle for recreational purposes. Yeah, The Girl had gone too far, and I’d make her pay.

At 10:30 a.m., The Landlord of the building usually stepped out to take The Mutt for a walk -- the kind of walk that means some poor homeowner would receive unsolicited lawn fertilization. Once The Landlord left for that walk, she’d leave the 4-unit complex vacant.

I’d utilize that time to slip into the building and into The Girl’s apartment unit with keys I’d secretly duplicated at the Do-It Center, and then I’d make the drop. Afterward, I’d high tail it back over to Skip’s before my slice of warm apple pie lost its steam.

It was to be an easy job, easy like finding trouble in Troublesville, only I’d be the trouble, and The Girl would find me -- or rather she’d find my handy work in her living room when she got back from her trip. You see, I’d created a giant looming-

Hold that thought. The Landlord just exited the building with The Mutt. They were early. It was 10:08 a.m. to be exact. She was making her way around the block, which meant I had about 20 minutes to get into the building, drop off The Package, and get out before she returned.

I finished off my coleslaw, asked The Waitress to hold my table and my tab, and made my way across the street to the apartment complex. I unlocked the front door of the building with my duplicate key and propped the door open. Then I went to the second door on the right, unlocked it with my other duplicate, and propped that door open.

With speed and skill, I nonchalantly sprinted out of the building, down the walkway to my parked sedan across the street, and then I looked both ways before I pulled out the six-foot tall-

Hold that thought. The Landlord and The Mutt were heading back to the building! There went my easy job. I was stuck, and my apple pie back at Skip’s would surely get cold. I’d never get those doors closed before The Landlord made it to the building entrance. She’d see me and wonder how I got a key, or she’d think I was a burglar and have me arrested. I could always tell her I knew The Girl. Perhaps she’d even seen me with her. But she’d never allow me in the building without The Girl’s company.

I acted before I consciously thought about what I was gonna do. I set off my car alarm, which produced the kind of noisy blast you might hear just before you die. It sent The Mutt, with The Landlord in tow, into a mad dash in the opposite direction.

Then I made my move back into the building with The Package, and made the drop. I buttoned up the place, de-squawked my car alarm, and was back at Skip’s finishing my lunch when The Landlord and The Mutt returned, looking like balloons that lost all their air. I had succeeded in a job well done.

When The Girl got home from her trip, she found a giant looming six-foot tall bumblebee -- stinger and all -- that I’d cut out from cardboard and painted. In the insect’s hands was a big paper sign with the words “Welcome Home, My Little Honey Bee” written on it. The Girl called and thanked me for the lovely and unexpected gesture. She even appreciated my ridiculous “pet name” humor.

Ever since then, The Girl -- who I’ve come to call my wife -- has never ever, not even for a second, gone too far from me. She also expects unexpected gifts at unexpected times all the time. Such is my luck.

-June 2008

A Great Family Man

With Father's Day approaching, my mother has just told me I've been a great dad to my 4-year-old son and a great husband to my wife. She said I was a great family man like her father -- my Grandpa Balsamo. This was a huge compliment. I felt touched. I felt honored. I felt like my mom was going to say, "Hah, just kidding!"

I've known since I was a young boy that my Grandpa Balsamo loved to play the saxophone and the clarinet, but I thought he did it strictly for fun. I learned that at one time he made money as a musician and had hopes of playing music for a living.

Unfortunately, because it was such a tough profession during difficult economic times, my grandfather was more likely to go pro as a rock/paper/scissors player than to make a living as a musician.

So, soon after getting married and starting a family, my grandfather began a career as a machinist.

Since my grandpa's death, I've often wondered if he was disappointed that his music career never took off. I wonder if he regretted taking work as a machinist. I'd like to know his true feelings on that.

I asked my mom what she thought, and she said my grandpa was always happy. She said she'd send me a video interview that my aunt had conducted with him. My mom said I might find what I was looking for in the video.

While I waited for the package to arrive in the mail, I dug up a picture of my grandpa when he was about my age. He was sitting at a work station in his garage repairing an instrument, a job he did during the day to make extra money while he played music at night. Like always, my grandpa was grinning in the photograph.

But I wondered, was his smile true or just for the camera? Was he worried that repairing instruments was earning him more money than playing instruments?

My grandpa’s skill with his hands would soon allow him a career outside the music business, an opportunity that would provide the money he needed to support his family. Did he know such a fate was ahead? Sitting there repairing that instrument in the photograph, one leg relaxed over the other, was my grandfather settling into a life unfulfilled, the reality of playing music professionally slowly slipping away?

I have dreams, just like my grandpa had, and I've had to put those dreams on hold at times to make a living to support my family. I know the feeling of defeat, and I know the feeling of fear that my dreams are slipping away. But I always try to convince myself that it's only a temporary defeat and not permanent. I tell myself that even Superman couldn't support himself rescuing people -- he had to become Clark Kent and work a day job at the Daily Planet in order to make ends meet. I try to believe that one day my dreams will become a reality if I just keep trying.

My mom's video showed up in the mail after a couple of days. I watched my grandpa's interview with great enthusiasm, examining every frame carefully, looking for clues to this man's passions in life, his successes and his failures, and for telltale signs as to whether he made the choice to abandon his dreams or if he had no choice in the matter.

I learned that my grandpa's dad, my great-grandfather, died before my grandpa was in his teens. My Great-grandmother Balsamo had to raise eight children alone.

In the interview, my grandpa said that, despite what happened with his dad, his was a very happy family, and that he was a happy kid. He did lots of fun things like working a paper route, attending school and shining shoes at a barbershop. Fun?

Each family member, young and old, my grandpa said, had to pitch in around the house and work so that the fatherless family could survive. But everyone was happy because they had each other, he said.

Later in life, my grandfather and my grandmother would raise five girls. It was a happy family, according to all. My mom tells me that my grandpa always put his family first -- before work, before music, before everything. My mom has countless stories to prove this, which is why when she told me that I was a great dad like hers, I was so deeply moved.

But when my mom told me this, I couldn't help but wonder if I was heading down the same path that my grandpa traveled, for better or for worse. I wondered if my dreams would ever come true.

Before my grandpa died almost five years ago, I visited him in the hospital. He asked about my personal dreams and if I was still pursuing them. Yes, I said, I was still working my way toward my goals.

He smiled, as if he knew the challenges and almost as if he knew my fate. And then he asked me about my family -- my wife and newborn son. I said we were all very happy. He smiled again. That was the last I saw of my grandpa alive.

About six months ago, I learned about a really bright girl who graduated from high school with outstanding grades and honors. She was offered $185,000 in scholarships for college -- an unbelievable opportunity. She turned it down.

I found out she grew up in a fatherless home with no siblings. For many years, she lived on the street. Instead of accepting the scholarships and an education, this girl got married to someone who really couldn't support her, and the two of them started a family. It seems that building a family was more important than anything else to this girl.

Still, so many people around her, including myself, couldn't believe she turned down so much money and an education, which would have made her life so much better.

But I wonder. If my grandpa were in the girl's place today, which way would he go? If I were in the girl's place today, which way would I go? Which way would you go?

-June 2008

I’ll Have My Velveeta and Eat It, Too

Being single wasn’t so bad. But at the time, I would’ve given up both my arms and a leg to have a wife like I have now. I would’ve given up my vision and my hearing. Heck, I would’ve taken more drastic measures and trashed my prized DVD collection to be with someone.

However, I wasn’t so desperate that I would’ve settled down with Godzilla’s problem daughter just to be in a relationship. I looked long and hard for a girlfriend, and when I did meet my soon-to-be-wife, I knew that I found someone worth giving up my entire world if that’s what it meant to be with her.

Relationships are great, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a lot of work. I grew up in a family of five. I played organized sports where you had to work as a team. I’ve collaborated with others on creative projects. I know that in order to be on any team (relationships included), you sometimes have to give up certain things for the good of the whole.

So when I took my soon-to-be-wife as a girlfriend, and when she said that she preferred Romaine lettuce to iceberg, and wheat bread to white bread, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to Velveeta’s brand, I had no problem giving up the latter for the good of the whole. After all, I didn’t have to give up my arms, a leg, my vision, my hearing, or worse, my prized DVD collection.

Sure, I ate iceberg lettuce, white bread and Velveeta’s macaroni and cheese here and there, but these weren’t necessities in my life. So I just stopped eating the stuff. And my relationship with my soon-to-be-wife began . . . and flourished.

As the two of us got to know each other better, I would give up other similar items. No more “drink” drinks. (“Drinks,” evidently, are made from artificial substances whereas “juice” comes from all-natural products.) My soon-to-be-wife often ate peppermint Life Savers as a means to cure upset stomachs. I’d later learn that peppermint “Breathsavers” didn’t do the trick, so we didn’t buy that brand anymore. As with the other things I previously gave up, these things I would surrender were no problem.

Almost 10 years later, I still haven’t missed these things -- until last weekend when eating dinner at a restaurant. I ordered a salad that happened to be made with iceberg lettuce. I ate the salad. And I forgot how wonderful, how terrific, how great the pale crisp juicy leaves tasted.

I said to my wife, “You know, this iceberg lettuce isn’t as good as everyone says.”

The next day when my wife left the house to run some errands, I calmly waved good bye, and then, in a mad rush, took off for the grocery store to buy iceberg lettuce, white bread, Velveeta Macaroni and Cheese, and all the other things I gave up for my wife.

Like an addict, I smuggled the stuff into my house, locked the doors, turned off the lights, and consumed the goods while hiding under the bed on the lookout for my better half. I was in Heaven, as if I’d tasted these fantastic products for the first time.

I wanted to consume all this stuff all the time. I’d long forgotten the painful days of singlehood where I would’ve given up so much just to be in a relationship. That day, while in “Heaven” under my bed consuming all those wonderful things, I no longer wanted to give up anything. And I still wanted to be with my wife. I wanted my cake, and I wanted to eat it, too, and I’d just have to explain that to the woman I loved, which wouldn’t be much of a problem since the two of us have such a candid relationship.

I candidly videotaped my thoughts for my wife, expressing my feelings about the things I’d given up. I wasn’t worried. It’s just that everything I’d built with my wife in our lives was on the line, with singlehood at bay if I took a wrong step, so I needed to present myself clearly, diplomatically, persuasively -- in other words: without the nervous stutter of someone who feared losing his life.

Video in hand, I was very confident in what I was about to do. But just in case, I bought my wife 10-dozen roses, took her to her favorite restaurant for dinner that night, and I even threw my jacket over a puddle for her before I set her in front of the TV, put on my video and ran.

After the viewing, my wife found me under the bed with an iceberg lettuce salad. She looked at me in silence -- a long silence as if piecing it all together, perhaps pondering how she’d dispose of my body once she ended me.

And then she said, “I don’t care if you eat that.”

Turns out she never expected me to give up any of that stuff I’d stopped consuming.

We’re both currently eating our meals happily ever after.

-June 2008

Monsters in May

It’s almost summertime, time for swimming pools, time for beach parties and time for barbeques. My 4-year-old son says it’s time for Halloween.

I thought this was strange, my son’s early anticipation for Halloween. But I was just like him when I was a kid. I celebrated Halloween all year long. But I paid the price for such an idiosyncrasy.

I was a unique individual with a rich imagination able to keep myself entertained with very little. Put another way, I was the weirdo kid in school who spent his days alone on the playground shoveling sand from one end of the sandbox to the other, with no friends whatsoever -- not even the loser kids.

Whereas most kids talked about movies like “The Love Bug,” featuring Herbie, a little Volkswagen that makes people say, “It’s alive?” all I could to talk about were the classic monster movies like “Frankenstein,” featuring a mad scientist who, when bringing a corpse to life, says, “It’s alive!”

Even in December when most of my classmates were dreaming about jolly old St. Nicholas and his elves, I was more fascinated with the evil monsters of Christmas such as the Grinch from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and Scrooge, the mean old miser from “A Christmas Carol.”

When my classmates were bragging about the new bikes and skateboards they got for Christmas or Hanukah, I was showing off the Halloween masks and scary sound effects albums that I’d received, which, to me, were far better gifts.

You can see why I didn’t have any friends.

My lonely childhood flashed before my eyes when my son asked if we could put up the Halloween decorations a couple weeks ago. I told the boy that Halloween was months away, and that we’d put up the decorations when it was the right time to do so, the right time of course being the month of August.

A few more days passed, and my son kept hounding me to bring out the Halloween gear. I just couldn’t let my son suffer socially the way I did as a child, so I gave him a firm “No.”

I found the Halloween boxes buried in the garage. I couldn’t help myself. It was the monster within me acting out. I dug up my Halloween stuff like Dr. Frankenstein dug up bodies in the cemetery. And then, like in the movie, I used the stuff I found to create my monster. My monster, of course, was my son, who is certainly becoming more like me, for better and certainly for worse.

The parent in me wanted to keep my son safe from public humiliation. So the child and I made a deal that if we took out the Halloween stuff, we wouldn’t talk about it at school until Halloween time.

At school the next day, I found my son and his friends bursting with joy as they planned what they’d be for Halloween, and how they were going to visit haunted houses to find monsters. So much for our deal.

But since the kids were so excited about Halloween, I decided to spill some additional monster lore on them, including, but not limited to, the recipe for witch stew (black cats, spiders and human guts), how you kill a zombie (decapitation) and the words you must say properly to raise the dead (Klatto, Verata, Nicto).

And then reality grabbed me like the strangler in the night, and I realized that I was supposed to be a responsible parent and not a monster teaching pre-kindergarten kids about such gruesome and terrifying things. What if these kids started having nightmares about devil bats coming after them, or what if they became afraid of the dark because “that’s when monsters come out from the closet and from under the bed?” What if these kids no longer wanted to go into cemeteries alone at night? (Maybe that last “what if” isn’t so bad, but I don’t think many parents would appreciate the previous issues.)

I decided to be a responsible adult and, before these kids’ parents complained to me about corrupting their youngsters, I’d arrange a meeting with the grown-ups and admit the cold truth of the matter.

I’d tell these adults, with my sincere apologies, that I didn’t know where my son got all the nonsense about Halloween and monsters, and that I’d punish him for teaching their children about such horrible, frightening things.

Before I could say anything, the parents I wanted to meet came to me and told me how my son had cured their children of their fears of the dark, and that the little ones no longer had nightmares. However, the adults seemed a bit concerned about the fact that their sons and daughters wanted to visit nearby graveyards at night to dig up corpses to create their own Frankenstein Monsters in the garage.

-May 2008

What Are We Doing for Memorial Day?

It’s almost Memorial Day weekend, and my family has nothing to do.

Last Sunday, I asked my wife what she wanted to do. She said she didn’t know. I asked my 4-year-old son what he wanted to do. He also said he didn’t know. The two of them asked me what I wanted to do. I said I didn’t know.

The next day, I left a voicemail for some family friends, asking if they wanted to go to the beach for Memorial Day. Just as soon as I left the message, I got a call from some other friends who asked if we wanted to go boating at the lake on Memorial Day. Not having any other solid plans, I said, “Yeah, that’d be great. Count us in.”

At home, my wife said she’d made plans for Memorial Day. She said we’d go over to her parents’ house for a barbeque, and that there’d be lots of extended family over there for fun and games.

“But I already made plans to go to the lake,” I said.

“You’re gonna go to the lake?” she asked.

“No,” I responded. “We’re gonna go to the lake.”

My son surprised both his mother and me when he and his buddy, the kid from next door, said they’d already made Memorial Day plans of their own to go to the nearby park to play. And since the neighbor kid’s parents heard those plans and assumed it was an official request my wife and I made, they booked the appointment.

Memorial Day is a holiday that asks Americans to remember the men and women who have died in battle to protect our country. My son will certainly remember his mommy and daddy as we battled to our deaths to protect our reputations among family and friends, trying to set plans for Memorial Day weekend.

But before we could actually kill each other, the phone rang. It was the party I had called, asking if they wanted to go with my family to the beach for Memorial Day. A big “Yes, we’d love to go to the beach” was their response. A long silence as I tried to think of a good excuse for canceling the invitation. And then I got a call on the other line. Holding the party in suspense without a response, I picked up the other line.

“So, are you guys coming up for Memorial Day weekend?” It was my parents, asking if I’d pack my family into the car, and drive up to Northern California so the proud grandparents could see their grandson -- never mind seeing their son and daughter-in-law. It was a question I couldn’t answer. The long pause only made my parents think that I didn’t want to see them, and that I wasn’t smart enough or quick enough to think of a good reason not to come.

Two days later, my parents were still emotionally damaged. The verbal war between my wife and I regarding this whole mess was still raging, and neither side had any edge on the other.

In an attempt to make peace, I finally threw up the white flag, and I became my own mediator, suggesting to my wife that we merge events and people into one gathering.

“We could go to the lake where the beach people can still get wet, and where the boat people can still ride in the boat, and then we could bring a portable barbeque for the barbeque people, and we could purchase or rent some portable park-type play equipment so our son and his friend can still play together. That way, everyone is happy. What do you think?” I asked, thinking I was quite clever to come up with such a brilliant solution. I called all parties involved and shared my idea.

Of course, the perfect solution is never perfect. Everybody, including my wife, hated the idea. They all took offense. And while my wife and I eventually made peace, everyone else banned my family from their plans.

My wife and I now have arrangements to spend the Memorial Day weekend alone with our son. No friends, no extended family, no beach, no lake, no boats, no park -- just our family at home sweet home, relaxing like we should’ve planned to do in the first place.

Ah, it’s going to be a great Memorial Day weekend -- unless some other party wants to invite us to their gathering for a better time. My wife and I are taking the first invitation. Anyone? Anyone?

-May 2008

It's a Bird, It's a Plane . . . It's Dad!

Family men are action heroes. We face a horrible, treacherous nemesis, far worse than other super heroes must face. We must stand up against the dreaded Domestic Gremlin, a creature not seen, but one that endangers our precious domesticated lifestyle, causing kitchen appliances to malfunction, allowing critters and other unsightly creatures to enter wife- and kid-inhabited living quarters.

As a single young man, I saw my super powers as merely average skills. But as a husband and father, my super powers are -- well, SUPER!

If my wife sees a scary bug, one that will bite her head off . . . Super Husband will kill the pest and save the day! If my son hears a scary noise outside his room while sleeping, and he’s afraid it’s the killer cow that haunts his dreams . . . Super Dad will go outside and defeat the “dangerous” quadruped!

I use my super powers to fix things throughout the house (inside and out). I have super strength and can lift several bags of groceries all at the same time. And I can open any screw-top jar no matter how tight the lid was fastened in the factory.

Even outside the home, my super powers come in handy. At a restaurant the other night, for instance, our waitress brought my wife the wrong drink. I used my super powers to draw the lady back to our table, and then I told her, “My wife ordered a Diet Coke, not a Cherry Coke.” Within seconds, my wife had the drink she ordered, all thanks to my super powers.

I have a super hero costume. It’s a really thick flannel shirt that nearly deflects bullets. I put on that “suit” any time I need to carry out a super feat. At the end of the day, I hang my super suit on a nail in my very own “Bat Cave.” Yup, the garage (my bat cave) is where I keep all my wonderful toys like the toys Batman has in the movies. And while Batman has things like a bat wing, bat smoke and bat fire power, my super hero toys come in the form of screwdrivers, fly swatters and mousetraps.

That’s right, I’m the real deal, a true action hero. I’m so super that I think Hollywood will one day turn my story into a movie, maybe to feature action star Vin Diesel in the lead role. He’s got about the right build to play me, no?

So all was well in the kingdom of suburbia when out of nowhere came a villain far worse than the Domestic Gremlin. At first sight, even I doubted my super powers as Dad. This villain came in the form of a human of some sort, about 5-feet 6, black hair, brown eyes, wearing a white coat that went down to her knees. She was armed with a piece of paper that said I needed to see a cardiologist.

Simply put: About a year ago, my doctor said I needed to see a cardiologist because she found some problems with my heart. To save a long story from becoming longer, the cardiologist made me get a pacemaker.

As a super hero, my powers were rendered useless. I don’t know how I survived such a surgery, but I’ve since been in much greater fear of doctors, never before having encountered such a being for any other reason but to take a harmless physical check-up needed to play football as a kid.

The other day at a routine check-up, my doctor suggested that I get my blood taken so that the lab could check my cholesterol, even though, based on all the other million tests I did before having surgery, I looked as healthy as healthy can be.
“You don’t have to do the test, but it might be a good idea,” my doctor said.

“Well, then if I don’t have to do the test, then I won’t,” I said. She might as well have said, “I can punch you in the face if you want.” Why would I want to endure something unpleasant? Needles are sharp. They poke through my skin, bust through my veins and suck up my blood. I’m fine without the intrusion.

My wife said I was being a big baby. She has no problem giving blood, and even my son has no problems with shots, she added. And here I was, once a hero, acting like a coward.

The truth of the matter is that I never was a hero, at least not in my own eyes. I had no super powers, just average skills.

So there I stood, by choice, before my worst enemy, the doctor, who was holding a big, sharp needle. I laid down on a gurney, stuck out my arm, and let this monster stick me with a needle and steal my blood.

I was an action hero at that very moment, not for anyone else, but for myself . . . Until next time!

-May 2008

Gardener? For What?

Last summer, my wife asked if I thought we needed a gardener to maintain our front and back yards. My answer was a big “No.”

My dad took care of his yard work. My grandfather took care of his yard work. I’d be darned if someone else would do my yard work. I’m a Picarella man. I’ll do my own work, thank you very much. I told my wife all of this, and then I said, “I have spoken, and that’s that,” which basically means nothing these days.

So my wife and I spent another three hours arguing about whether or not I should give up the landscaping duties at our home. From a bystander’s perspective, I might’ve looked like a big dummy, fighting to do manual labor around the house, which was especially dumb since the matter had nothing to do with the cost of a landscaper. We could afford a landscaper.

My wife pointed out that I hadn’t even mowed the lawn in over three weeks when it should’ve been done on a weekly basis. I had to admit, the landscaping looked bad. But I’d been busy at work and just didn’t have the energy or time to break out the lawnmower and garden tools and spend half my weekend maintaining the place. And that’s how I lost the argument with my wife.

We got a landscaper the following week, and I have to admit, it was nice not having to do the work. I was able to spend more time with my family, I could rest after long days of work during the week . . . Life was great!

And then my wife said the following:

“Doesn’t the grass look greener and more lush than EVER before?”

“What?” I asked. “No, it doesn’t look greener or more lush than before. What are you saying?”

“I’m not criticizing you,” my wife said.

“I’m not taking it as criticism,” I lied. “I’m just answering your question. So, again, no, I don’t think the grass looks any better than before.”

I knew then that I should’ve never agreed to hire a gardener. Now my wife had one more reason why she could do without me. I needed to protect my job as a husband, not terminate it.

So, in September, we got rid of the gardener. I became useful again. And I’m a “real” Picarella man again, like my dad and grandfather, doing the yard again.

After firing the gardener, I spent that first weekend -- the entire weekend -- working on the front and back yards, and I must say that our landscaping never looked so glorious, so rich, so green and so lush. I was very proud of the work. My wife even recognized the visual splendor of the place.

The next week, I spent a little less time on the yards.

I skipped the following week’s yard duties altogether since I was out of town. Once I got home, I didn’t make up the work. And I didn’t do it the following week either.

This continued on until we got a letter from our homeowners association regarding a lack of yard maintenance. I was a bit embarrassed. My wife was upset.

Today, the landscaping looks great again -- better than ever. And my wife is very happy.

I must say it’s good to have the gardener back.

-May 2008