Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Family News in Brief -- February ’09

‘THERE'S NO PLACE TO SIT,' SAYS WIFEAt about 4:30 p.m. on Wed., Feb. 4, my wife came home from a long day of work and said she couldn’t go another night in search of a place to sit, that the constant mess in the living room was becoming a nuisance. “Every day,” my wife said, “I come home tired, wanting to sit down, relax and watch TV, but I can’t because my husband and 5-year-old son have built a fort that takes up not some, but all of the living room. Or they’ve rearranged our couches to be a spaceship or a car or some Zapper 3000 machine.” My son wouldn’t comment on the matter. I apologized for any damages caused, and promised that my wife, from that day forward, would always have a seat in the living room. The next day, as promised, my wife had a place to sit on the couch -- right next to the starting point of the toy roller coaster my son and I built. Mommy could be the first person to place a marble on the track and watch it take a run down the sofa, over the coffee table, across the top of the TV and through a series and twists, turns and loops in the center of the room.

SON COMES HOME FROM SCHOOL SMARTER, SICKEREarlier this month, my 5-year-old son brought home a lesson he learned in school about patterns. According to my boy, “Cough, cough, sniff. Cough, cough, sniff.” He followed his cough and sniff attack with an observation: “It’s a pattern,” he said. “Cough, cough, sniff. Cough, cough, sniff.” It seems my son also brought home a cold.

LAST CHANCE FOR LOW, LOW-COST EXTENDED WARRANTY My wife and I were the lucky winners of an offer to buy a low, low-cost extended warranty for one of our vehicles. The guy on the phone said so. “This is a one-time offer that won’t be offered again.” My wife said thanks, but no thanks, and hung up. “Wouldn’t you know it?” my wife said. “The next week my husband and I were, again, the lucky winners of yet another offer to buy a low, low-cost extended warranty for the same vehicle. And this was the company’s final offer, they said. Again I said no.” My wife and I have such good luck. Each week, for the last several months, we are the lucky winners of the same one-time final offer to buy a low, low-cost extended warranty for one of our vehicles.

HOUSE FURNISHED WITH BUTTON PANELSFollowing a recent visit to the hospital to see a sick friend, my 5-year-old son decided to turn our three-bedroom home into a medical center, complete with all the necessary “machine buttons.” The boy installed buttons at the foot of our beds, buttons on the arms of the couches and chairs, buttons on the walls in the hall and buttons below every light switch. “He’s taken pieces of paper from our printer and drawn button panels on each sheet,” my wife said yesterday. “Then he’s taped them on practically every surface in the house.” Asked what the buttons are for, my son said, “They’re for kids not to touch.”

-February 2009

The Great Bear Scare - or - The Man Who Repaired Bear

My wife changed our plans, canceling my casual get-together with friends, and setting a more important get-together of her own. I was available to watch our 5-year-old son that Saturday evening after all.

The three-bedroom house was silent -- not the silence of mischief, but the silence associated with peace -- and I was enjoying it.

Then everything changed.

I plodded into my son’s bedroom to see what he was fussing about. Clutching his favorite teddy bear -- appropriately named Bear -- he showed me a long rip across the furry stuffed animal’s right armpit.

“What’s this?” my son demanded as if I had hurt Bear.

“What’s what?” I asked my son.

I didn’t hurt the stuffed animal. Somehow I felt guilty.

“This rip on Bear,” he said. “Did you do this?”

“I didn’t do nothin’,” I said.

Two years ago, when Bear lost an eyebrow, my son climbed up onto his train table and said he’d jump, that he didn’t want to live anymore. He showed no signs of this dramatic behavior with the armpit injury. Maybe he was growing up.

And then stuffing spilled out of Bear’s underarm.

“Oh my God, he’s dying!” he cried out. Then he jumped up onto the train table, threatened to jump.

Bear’s injury was no accident, I was sure. I had to find out who hurt my boy’s fuzzy-bunches-of-love. The criminal would pay.

I didn’t have much. An injured bear, stuffing all over the floor and an angry child.

I tried to pinpoint the time of the crime.

My son awoke to singing birds that morning with Bear in his arms. All was well. As far as I knew, nobody but my wife, son and I were in the house that day, though I’d left on three occasions to run errands.

I got my son to admit that one of his friends had come over to play while I was gone. Bingo!

I called an associate who worked at the play gym where my boy’s friend once attended. He gave me the dope on the kid, said he had a long criminal past. He broke the wheels off toy trucks. He bit the heads off toy soldiers. Most telling, he ripped the wings off a stuffed duck.

My son protected his friend, said he didn’t go near Bear the whole time he was over. I really didn’t have enough evidence to call the parents and accuse the little brat. That’s a no-no in California. Any New Yorker in my shoes could call the kid a murderer to his parents’ faces and actually enjoy it, no matter the response. But in California, you can’t be so brutally honest. You risk being called rude, and we sensitive Californians can’t take such harsh evaluation.

“Bear is dying!” my son yelled. The boy was a crumbling wreck.

I called Grandma to see if she could race over and repair Bear. Grandma was out of town on business. Not good. Grandpa hinted that he could fix Bear, said he was a Boy Scout once. Perfect. He could take needle and thread to Bear and calm my boy down. Then I could concentrate and solve the crime.

Grandpa arrived and went to work on Bear. I picked up the phone to call my wife, digging for clues. The dial tone indicated a voicemail. I listened to the message. Grandpa sent it earlier that day.

“It’s Dad,” Grandpa said in the message. “Gimmie a call.” Then I heard a sharp sound from his end of the line, as if he pressed the wrong button when hanging up the phone. And while thinking nobody but Grandma was listening, Grandpa spilled his guts. He’d torn Bear’s arm when he was over that morning while I was out, he said. He called it an accident.

I slammed the phone down on the receiver.

Grandpa was finishing up Bear’s repair. He was quiet. Was he going to say anything about the crime he committed? Was he going to remain silent and play hero repairman? I couldn’t let Grandpa walk away from this. I had to say something. I had to take this criminal down.

“Thanks for fixing bear,” I said to Grandpa in perfect California tongue.

To this day Grandpa remains a free man.

-February 2009

Valen-crime's Day

Since my wife and I have a 5-year-old, the two of us will not be having Valentine’s dinner alone. And since misery loves company, we invited another family with the same predicament to join us.

A dinner date was my wife’s idea. She took over the planning. She decided on the time and the place (our house), and she even thought up some tabletop activities for the kids so that us adults could enjoy a long, pleasant, semi-adult-like evening.

TROUBLE BEGINS TO BREWBefore my wife could e-mail her plan to the friends involved, we received two e-mails from the matriarchs of two other families. It seemed our friends had already invited these two families to join us for Valentine’s dinner.

One of these women “suggested” the dinner take place at her house, where she has an entire game room that’s “perfect” for the kids. “Valentine’s Day is also my favorite holiday,” she wrote in her message, “and I spend the whole year searching for the most adorable decorations. I’ll have the perfect atmosphere for the perfect Valentine’s gathering.”

The other woman wrote that she belonged to a karate studio that takes in children for the entire evening so adults can enjoy a night out. She suggested making the kids disappear for the evening and offered up a night of wine tasting, which she would host in her home’s private “wine cellar.”

My wife thought it was a great idea to involve more families, but she still wanted to stick to her original plan. She wrote e-mails to these ladies welcoming them to the party and asking for their input.

CONTEMPLATING MURDER“Do not send those e-mails,” I said. I typically like to stay out of such matters, but I knew that if my wife sent those e-mails, she’d only be setting herself up for pain and suffering. “Just cancel the dinner,” I said. “Tell ‘em I’m gonna be sick or something.”

“What? Why?” she asked.

“Do you not remember the wedding shower you were in charge of?” I asked. “I mean, do you not remember the wedding shower you were gonna be in charge of until the bride-to-be’s two other friends called and said they wanted to ‘help?’”

“Yeah, but that was different,” she said.

In a very serious tone, I said, “Listen.” (My wife hates when I start my explanations with “listen.” Therefore, I use it only in the most critical of circumstances.) “If you send those e-mails and you don’t cancel the dinner, I am going to kill those people so we can’t have dinner with them.”

I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. I really had my wife’s best interests in mind. And she knew it.

After a lengthy discussion about the deadly dynamics of too many cooks in the kitchen, my wife did what wives rarely do. She said I was right. Then down came the water works. And a line of questioning that sounded more like a hound baying at the moon.

“W-w-w-why . . . d-d-d-doesn’t . . . a-a-a-anyone . . . t-t-t-trust meeeee . . . t-t-to organize . . . anything-ing-ingggg?” she sobbed. “W-w-w-why . . . d-d-didn’t theyyyy . . . just t-t-t-tell us-s-s-s . . . they want-t-t-t-ed . . . other p-p-p-people?”

“Because they didn’t invite those other people,” I answered matter-of-factly. “Those other people invited themselves.”

NEGATIVE BUT NOT SELFISHMy wife’s sobbing came to a halt. “Why are you so negative?” she asked me as she dried her tears.

“I might be negative about this, but you know I’m right.”

“I know,” she admitted. “And I know you’re looking out for my best interests. You’re so unselfish.”

Unselfish? Me? Maybe. I really just can’t handle the bickering and the crying and the lost friendships that are sure to follow any decision to have more than one person plan an event.

After our good talk, my wife pulled herself together, thanked me again for listening to her, then jumped on the computer and sent those e-mails I had asked her not to send.

So I killed the three families involved in the dinner and I told my wife we’d have to spend Valentine’s night alone after all.

COMING CLEANOK, so maybe the “killing” part was a lie.

-February 2009

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Family News in Brief -- January ’09

At 9:22 p.m. on Sat., Jan. 3, during my 5-year-old son’s first slumber party with his friends at my house, the TV in the master bedroom stopped working. For the remainder of the evening, my wife and I were forced to hold steady and focused conversation. “At almost 10 p.m. on a Saturday, after our 5-year-old and his slumber buddies had already gone to sleep on the living room floor, what were my husband and I to do but talk quietly in our room?” my wife told sources. “We couldn’t leave the house, we couldn’t watch TV in the living room, and neither one of us was tired. Any slight noise we made, aside from talking very low, woke at least one of the kids. Yup, my husband and I talked -- for two whole hours.” Asked how I held out during the January 3rd talk-a-thon, I answered, “Anything and everything I said was held against me.”

On the night of Tues., Jan. 6 in my 5-year-old son’s bedroom, my own flesh and blood asked that I not kiss him good night. He said he was contagious. “I had the hiccups,” my son said the following morning after his recovery. “I didn’t want to hiccup on my daddy and get him sick.” The kid is very cautious. For example, when he feels the slightest stuffed-up nose coming on, he knows to ask for the humidifier to clear his sinuses. Tuesday evening, when my son became hiccup-positive, he begged for the humidifier, claiming it would cure his convulsive gasps. My wife and I humored the boy and put the humidifier in his room. Eventually, the hiccups passed, and normality in my son’s life was restored. On Saturday, my wife, son and I attended Scooter’s Jungle for a birthday party. While playing on the slides with my son, I scraped my elbow. My son saw the bruise on my arm and he demanded I stay away from him again. “I’m allergic to bruises,” he said. Experts suggest that my kid is paranoid.

Studies show that my memory sucks, and I concur. Last week I met up with a friend of a friend. The stranger told me his name, and then he continued to tell me a story. After less than a minute, I already forgot the stranger’s name, and because I was trying to think of his name, I wasn’t listening to his story. When the stranger asked me a question, which I presumed had relevance to his story, I fumbled for an answer. That’s when I decided to pay attention from then on. I planned to ask for the stranger’s name after his story -- just before we parted -- and then I could write it down to remember. “What happened?” my wife asked me later that day. According to my memory, I got the stranger’s name again after he finished his story. But just before we parted ways, he decided to tell me one last story, causing me to forget his name again, fail to listen to another one of his stories while I tried to remember his name, and fumble for another answer to another question, which I presumed had relevance to what he was talking about. That’s all I can recall.

My father-in-law’s cherished R.E. Pool Memorial Shelter for Downtrodden Husbands in Santa Clarita, which provided local support and outreach to downtrodden husbands, shut its doors yesterday after eight years of service due to a lack of participation and attendance. According to local wives, husbands have never been happier. “There’s no need for such a ridiculous shelter,” said one area wife, who wished to remain anonymous. Several other wives echoed the statement, and said their spouses would certainly agree. Husbands, however, weren’t allowed to comment on the matter for this report.

-January 2009

Fish Sleeps with Luca Brasi

When Johnny Fontane whimpered to his godfather about his inability to get a part in a movie, Don Vito Corleone, with anger and disappointment in his voice, commanded his godson to act like a man.

“What’s the matter with you?” the Godfather yelled. “Is this how you turned out? A Hollywood finocchio that cries like a woman?”

The character Marlon Brando played in “The Godfather” is the quintessential man; he’s tough, he’s strong . . . and he certainly wouldn’t cry if he lost a pet.

Last week, while on vacation, my in-laws called with a Sicilian message. They said my 5-year-old son’s pet fish, Fish E. Fish (a.k.a. Tiny Fish), sleeps with Luca Brasi. In other words, so you non-Sicilians and non-“Godfather” lovers can understand, Fish died.

My son wasn’t shaken at all.

“He’s a man,” I told my wife when she asked why our boy wasn’t sad.

“But Fish is never going to come back,” my wife told our boy, trying to get him to break. “He’s gone forever. Don’t you feel any sadness?”

“The kid’s fine,” I said. “Why do you want him to be a baby?”

“It’s OK, Mommy,” our son said. “I’m not sad.”

Ah, some day my son will take over the family business.

I gave Fish a proper burial. I packed his body into a small jewelry box, and buried it in our backyard planter. My son said a few kind words about his former pet, and that was that.

“Is Fish up in Heaven now?” the boy asked as we went inside. “Or do you think he’s stuck in traffic?”

“No, he’s in Heaven,” my wife said. “But he’s never coming back. You understand that, right? He’s never ever, ever coming back -- ever.”

My son thought about all those “evers.”

“Are you sad now?” my wife asked him.

Just then our son broke into tears.

“Now why did you do that?” I asked my wife. “How’s he ever gonna be a man?”

“He’s not a baby because he’s sad that his pet died,” my wife said. “It’s OK to be sad and have feelings.”

“But he was fine before,” I said. “It’s like you wanted him to feel bad.”

“No, I just don’t want him to think he has to hold back his emotions,” she said.

I thought about what my wife said, and I tried to find the logic in a growing boy crying about a dead fish. Maybe it was OK that-

“No, it’s not OK,” I said. “What’s the matter with you? Do you want our son to be a Hollywood finocchio that cries like a woman?”

Of everyone in my family, I should’ve been the most emotional over the death of Fish. I took care of Fish. I fed him most of the time, I cleaned his tank, I changed the light in his tank when it went out, I gave him medicine when he was ill . . .

Just because I’m not wallowing in grief, doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings for Fish. I have lots of fond memories of him -- like when we first brought him home from the pet store and I took pictures of the two of us together for my wallet, or like when I used to try to communicate with him every morning by tapping Morse code on the aquarium glass. Fish and I even joked around with my wife and son when I cleaned the tank. I’d move him to another bowl and pretend he went missing.

Yep, Fish and I had some really great times. Sniff sniff. And I’m sure gonna miss him. Sniff sniff. And there’s no way I can bring him back ever, ever again. Ever. WAAAAH!

There’s a scene in “The Godfather” where Don Vito Corleone is in an undertaker’s place looking over his son’s bullet-riddled body. The Don becomes very emotional. Remember? He said, “Look how they massacred my boy.” The Godfather practically bawled all over the corpse.

And that’s why I can justify my tears for Fish.

-January 2009

My 5-Year-Old and Skunks

MY SON: Hey Daddy, why do skunks stink?

Pause. I try to decide if I should just say, “Because,” and end what could be a really long, pointless conversation . . . or if I should answer the question and educate my son.
ME: Well, you see, skunks don’t stink. They spray a liquid that stinks.

MY SON: Why do they do that?

ME: They do that to anyone who looks dangerous.

MY SON: But I’m not dangerous.

ME: But the skunk doesn’t know that.

MY SON: But I’d love the skunk if I saw him.

ME: Listen, if you ever see a skunk, walk away from it. Don’t try to tell it you love it.

MY SON: But I won’t hurt it.

ME: The skunk doesn’t know that. The skunk just sees that you’re big, and if you go toward it, it’s gonna be afraid of you and it’s gonna spray you. And then you’ll stink, and it’s gonna stink to wash all that stink off.

MY SON: But I don’t want him to spray me. What if I just pet him?

ME: Don’t ever pet a skunk. Don’t ever even go near a skunk.

MY SON: But what if I see a skunk?

ME: Have you ever seen a skunk?

MY SON: In cartoons.

ME: Well, skunks are a lot nicer in cartoons than they are in real life.

MY SON: Are skunks bad guys in real life? Should we kill them?

ME: No, skunks aren’t bad guys in real life. And no, we shouldn’t try to kill them.

MY SON: But why do skunks have to spray their stink on people?

Pause. I try to decide if I should just say, “Because,” and end this long, pointless conversation . . . or if I should answer the question and educate my son.

ME: Well, you see, every animal needs a way to protect itself from bigger and stronger animals. Since skunks are so small and can’t really fight, they use their stink to make the other animals run away.

MY SON: So other animals are bad guys and we should kill them?

ME: No, other animals aren’t bad guys. And no, we shouldn’t kill any animals.

MY SON: But if other animals always wanna fight skunks, aren’t the other animals the bad guys?

ME: They’re not bad guys. In order to survive, all animals have to eat, and they usually eat smaller animals.

MY SON: “Other animals” sound like bad guys to me.

ME: Well, maybe they sound bad, but that’s the way life works. Animals can’t just go into a restaurant and order a lunch or a dinner. And they can’t go grocery shopping and cook their own meals either. They have to hunt, beat and eat other living things.

MY SON: Why would another animal wanna eat a skunk if skunks smell so bad?

ME: Well, that’s exactly why skunks stink. They don’t want to get eaten.

MY SON: Sometimes when I go to the bathroom, I stink. Is that so other animals won’t eat me?

ME: I never thought about it that way.

MY SON: When I see a skunk, I know what I’m gonna do.

ME: Walk away like I told you?

MY SON: No. I can make my stink like I do when I go to the bathroom before the skunk can make his stink on me. And then the skunk will run away and not even make his stink.

Pause. I try to decide if I should just say, “Good plan,” and hope my son never bumps into a skunk . . . or if I should respond truthfully and educate my son.

ME: Well, you see . . . Maybe it’s time you ask Mommy about all this.

-January 2009