Thursday, December 30, 2010

We Don't Want More Money

My aunt and uncle told my wife and me that they were putting us in their will. In the unfortunate case of their deaths, we’d get their entire estate.

“You guys will be set for life,” my uncle said.

We’d inherit three paid-off vehicles, enough savings to retire and a house that could fit three of our houses in the living room. Yes, we’d be set. But then again, we’d be miserable.

If my wife and I received such a fortune, we’d put it all into savings and invest. We’re responsible people, not materialistic. But at a certain point, we’d go mad for not having any fun with the money. You can’t take it with you.

So maybe we’d get a boat. It’d just be one boat, though. And a matching truck, too. It’s not that we’d want the matching truck. We’re not materialistic. But we’d need the truck to tow the boat. Matching it wouldn’t be an extra cost.

Then we’d get the three-car garage. Not that we’d want the three-car garage. We’re not materialistic. But we’d need the three-car garage to store the boat and the truck because the homeowners association wouldn’t allow the boat to sit in the street. We’d also need life jackets, boat wear, water skis . . . maybe one of those Evel Knievel ski jumps. And another truck and trailer to tow the ski jump.

One day we’d discover our savings is gone and our debts have doubled, and my wife and I would need second jobs. We’d be working more than breathing, our 6-year-old son would think the faculty at his school and at day care are his parents, and our boat would have two years of spider webs on the wheels. We’d be miserably in debt.

Today I’m already miserably in debt without all that capital my aunt and uncle are offering. So why do we need it? We don’t want it. So we’ll just have to give it away when the time comes, we thought.

Following a tragic accident I can’t bare to recall, my aunt and uncle’s estate became ours. And, despite our previous philosophy to give it away, my wife and I collected with the condition that we wouldn’t give in to any materialistic whims, even though we’re not materialistic -- we’re responsible people.

So we sold my aunt and uncle’s vehicles and house, and with the earnings and their savings we paid off our bills, our student loans and all the debts we owed. Life became comfortable. And then it got even better.

No longer did I spend entire weekends ruining things around the house in the name of “repair.” I could afford handymen to do the jobs correctly.

After long days of work, my family got to do what every other family across the country gets to do -- we went out for dinner.

My wife and I introduced our son to culture. We traveled, and not just on camping trips to the backyard.

Then, what I feared would happen, happened: Life became great thanks to money! My wife and I never argued about money anymore. We had time to spend together as a family. We could enroll our kid in different activities and sports.

None of this was materialistic. It was so we could raise a well-rounded child. Even the science lab we added on to our home was so our son could become more cultivated.

I recently took a day off work to open up the backyard so a crew could dig out a pool (our son was getting serious about swimming), and I caught the water company trying to shut off our water. It seems my wife and I forgot to pay the bill. Evidently, we also forgot to read our mail -- we’d received repeated notices that our water would be shut off as well as our phone, our gas and our Internet if we didn’t pay up.

“But we have automatic withdrawal,” my wife told me.

“Oh,” I said. “Then it must be a computer error.” And it was. The bank’s computer kept saying we had no money in our account.

And just like that, we were miserably in debt.

Luckily, I woke up. It was all a miserable nightmare. And to our good fortune, my aunt and uncle were alive and healthy. We still had water running through our pipes. The telephone had a dial tone. The gas was turned on. Our Internet was still connected. And we still had money in the bank -- all $10.27 of it.

-April 2010

Dog Gone

“Daddy, something real bad happened,” my 6-year-old said when I picked him up from school last Thursday.

Like any other dad, I responded with, “What’d you do wrong?” I was fuming even though I hadn’t heard the news yet.

“It’s not me, Daddy,” he said. “It’s Jessica -- her dog ran away. And I’m so sorry for her.” You’d think my son had a dog that ran away. He was so emotional, very sad for Jessica.

“Oh, OK,” I said. “I hope she finds it.” And I went on with business as usual. Maybe I wasn’t sympathetic, but I must admit, I was just relieved my kid didn’t get into any trouble.

My son wanted compassion and he was going to get it. So he went to Mommy.

“Mommy, something real bad happened,” he said when my wife got home.

Like any other mom, she responded with, “Oh my God, what happened? Where does it hurt?” She was hysterical even though she could see our son was perfectly fine.

“No, Mommy,” he said. “It’s Jessica -- her dog ran away. And I’m so sorry for her.” You’d think my wife had a Coach purse that ran away. She was more emotional than our son, very sad for Jessica.

A few days later, our son announced better news -- Jessica’s dog evidently came home. My wife and kid were relieved. A high heel to my shin reminded me that I was relieved, too.

So the dog situation was over. And then came yesterday. My wife and I bumped into Jessica’s parents and my wife asked how their dog was doing back home.

“Dog?” they said. “We don’t have a dog.”

“But our son said Jessica told him her dog ran away.”

“She told us the same thing,” said Jessica’s mom. “She has an imaginary dog.”

My wife actually asked if they were sure they didn’t have a dog.

Jessica’s mom said she was sure. She continued: “Jessica came up with the whole dog thing to prove she’d make a great dog owner. She made ‘Missing’ signs when her dog went missing and we had to post them up all over town. We were afraid someone would actually bring us a stray dog.”

My wife and I didn’t have the hearts to tell our son that Jessica’s “missing” dog wasn’t real -- our boy was so attached to that dog.

“I saw you talking to Jessica’s parents,” our son said to us. “Did you ask about Jessica’s dog?”

“We did,” my wife said.

“Jessica is sure a great dog owner, don’t you think?” he asked us.

“Yes, she is,” my wife said.

“She was so worried about her dog, just like I was so worried . . . I could be a great dog owner, too, don’t you think? But I know you won’t let me have a dog, even though I’d love to have one.”

That’s when my wife and I discovered the plot these two 6-year-olds masterminded together. We don’t know if Jessica’s parents caved and bought their child a dog, but we sure weren’t going to give in to our child -- at least I wouldn’t without a fight.

“Dogs are a lot of work,” I said. “Are you willing to walk a dog every morning and every night?”

“Yeah,” the boy said.

“Are you willing to feed him all his meals?”


“Are you willing to clean up after him?”


All I needed was one no. “Are you willing to quiet him down in the middle of the night when he’s barking? Can you guarantee I won’t find one dog hair on my clothes or on the furniture? Are you gonna pay for all the medical bills associated with his health?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”

“OK,” my wife said to him. “You can have a dog.”

“What?” my son said, pleasantly surprised.

“What?” I said surprised in a different way.

Since then, our son has been walking his brand-new imaginary dog around the house nonstop.

-March 2010

No More Theme Days

I dropped my 6-year-old son off at school. Every other kid on the playground was dressed in Disney attire.

We saw two adorable little Disney princesses walk by us. Over on the jungle gym, several kids were wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Another kid had one of those silly Goofy hats on his head. There were even kids dressed like the old Mickey Mouse Club Mousketeers -- how nostalgic. How cute. My son was wearing a bloodied “Jaws” shirt.

“Oh no, Daddy, we forgot today’s Disney Day,” my son said, disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to participate.

“Sorry,” I said, “I didn’t get the note.” Though it’s very possible I missed the note since we get paper from the kid’s school in Costco-like quantities.

“Now I’m the only one without something Disney,” my son said. And he wasn’t exaggerating -- he was the only one. I felt bad. I didn’t want him to lose out because his Mommy and I didn’t know it was another theme day at school.

“You didn’t remember it was Disney Day?” my wife asked me when I called to tell her.

“I didn’t know.”

“I told you.”

“No you didn’t.”

I asked my son if he wanted to run home to change.

“No, it’s OK, Daddy.” He looked so sad.

I took him home and he got into his “Wall-E” shirt.

After I dropped him back off at school, the fury inside me grew. Every day -- well, at least almost every couple months -- there’s another theme day. And if there isn’t a theme day at school, there’s a theme day at the day care center after school.

These theme days range from Disney Day to 50s Day, Spirit Day to Crazy Tie Day. Coming soon to the day care center near me is Twins Day. My first thought: Why not Dodgers Day? We don’t live in Minnesota.

“No, not Minnesota Twins Day,” my wife said. Twins Day. Read the whole note.” The note said that we had to coordinate our kid’s wardrobe with another kid’s wardrobe -- as if they were twins.

“We have to find a kid in his class who just so happens to have the same clothes as his so the two of them could be twins?” I asked my wife. “How long is that gonna take?”

“No,” my wife said. “We have to go out and buy the same stuff.”

“What? How much disposable money do they think we have?”

“They’re just trying to get the kids to have spirit,” my wife said. “It’s for fun, so the kids can feel like they belong.”

“Shouldn’t they know they belong when their names are called during roll call?”

“You told me you were excited about Twins Day,” my wife said.

“No I didn’t. I didn’t even know about Twins Day.”

My wife continued to tell me why theme days were great. It all sounded really good, made sense.

I wasn’t having it.

“It’s OK, Mommy,” our son said. “I’m not sad. It’s not the most important thing in the world.” And he was serious. He really didn’t care to participate in theme days anymore.

“Are you sure?” my wife asked him. “Don’t just say that because Daddy says it.”

“I’m not just saying it,” he said. “Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean I wanna do it. But can I please get Valentine’s cards? All my friends are getting them.”

I forgot about regular holidays.

“What do you think, Daddy?” my wife asked me. “Can he?”

“Of course he can,” I said. “Valentine’s Day is a regular holiday. It’s on the calendar. I know when it’s coming. It’s not something that just sneaks up on us.”

Now my wife puts all of our son’s theme days on my calendar so I know when they’re coming. They won’t just sneak up on me.

-February 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Daddy Man vs. 6-Year-Old

In 6-Year-Old’s bedroom.
DADDY MAN (DM): If you move, I’ll know. If you make a peep, I’ll know. If you blink . . . I’ll know.

6-YEAR-OLD (6-Y-O): How’ll you know if I blink if you can’t see me?

DM: Because I’m Daddy Man. Daddy Man doesn’t rest. Ever. Daddy Man knows. Watch, I’ll step out and step back in when you blink.

Daddy Man steps out.
Daddy Man steps back in.
DM: You blinked.

6-Y-O: Whoa, how’d you know?

DM: I told you, I’m Daddy Man. Daddy Man always knows. So no playing; no getting off the bed; no fooling around. You sit there. I’ll get you when your timeout is over.

6-Y-O: OK . . . Wait. Daddy? If I’m good in my timeout, can I get out early?

DM: No. But you can be good.

6-Y-O: OK . . . Wait. Daddy? Can I lay down on my bed and think about my bad behavior?

DM: No. You’re in timeout -- no lying down, no playing, no more talking, You sit there. I’ll get you when your timeout is over.

Daddy Man steps out.
Daddy Man steps back in.
DM: What was that noise?

6-Y-O: What noise?

DM: What do you mean, “What noise?” I just heard a noise. What was it?

6-Y-O: So you can’t see me?

DM: I told you, I’m Daddy Man, and Daddy Man doesn’t rest. Of course I can see you. I just wanna see if you’re gonna lie to me. Now what was that noise?

6-Y-O: I went into my toy box.

DM: Is that you’re final answer? Daddy Man always knows. If you’re lying, you better say now.

6-Y-O: That’s all I did, Daddy Man, I swear.

DM: No more going into your toy box. And no noise.

6-Y-O: What if I cough?

DM: It better be a real cough.

6-Y-O: How’ll you know if it’s not a real cough?

DM: You’ll know because you’ll be in another real timeout. Now quiet. I’ll get you when your timeout is over.

Daddy Man steps out.
6-Y-O: Daddy?

Daddy Man steps back in.
6-Y-O: I have to go potty.

DM: Hurry.

The 6-Year-Old steps out.
DM: What’s that noise?

The 6-Year-Old steps back in.
DM: What were you doing in there?

6-Y-O: I was cleaning the bathroom for you.

DM: I don’t want you to clean the bathroom for me. This is why you’re in trouble -- you don’t listen. Now listen: sit down, don’t move, don’t talk, don’t make noise. I’ll get you when your timeout is over.

Mommy steps in.
MOMMY: I thought you were working on your column.

DM: I’m trying to work on my column.

MOMMY: Well, I’m doing all the bills.

DM: Well, I’m not playing.

MOMMY: But I’m doing all the bills and you still have to work on your column. That means I have to do all the bills.

DM: I can’t even work on my column. I can’t even have peace and quiet. Ever. Daddy Man doesn’t rest.

6-Y-O: You can’t lie, Daddy. She’s Mommy Woman. She always knows, too.

DM: Fine. Daddy Man will take a timeout. Daddy Man will rest. Nobody get me until my timeout is over.

Daddy Man goes to his room.

-January 2010

I Forgot What I Was Worrying About

I was worrying about something really important, but I forgot what it was.

Sometimes I worry about Item A as if it’s the end of the world, until Item B comes up. Then I forget about Item A, and Item B becomes the new end of the world -- as if Item A wasn’t anything to worry about in the first place. Then, once I resolve Item B, I go back to worrying about Item A, and Item A becomes the end of the world again.

But that’s not the case here. The case here is: I simply forgot what I was worrying about. And now I’m worrying about what I forgot because what if it was important?

I’m retracing my steps, hoping a little déjà vu will help me remember what I was worrying about. I bump into my 6-year-old son. I ask if I forgot to do anything for him. He says I’m supposed to make dinner.

“I can’t do that right now,” I reply. “I’m busy worrying about trying to remember what I was worrying about.”

My wife returns from a late night meeting and I feel relieved -- she usually helps me remember what I forget. I ask her, “Did you ask me to do something? I can’t remember.”

She’s crying. She says something about “worst day of her professional life.”

“No, that’s not it,” I tell her. Before I can get back to retracing my steps, my wife attacks me.

“I just told you I had a terrible day,” she says, “and all you care about is what you forgot? How about you forgot to think about your wife?”

My wife and I have an understanding that if we get into a tiff, we have to resolve the issue right then and right there -- we can’t walk away and let it boil.

So I drop everything. And I tell her we’ll argue soon.

Now back to retracing my steps.

“You broke our rule,” my wife says, following me around the house.

The problem: When I can’t remember something, I go mad and I do things that are out of character. I go even madder if I’m digging deep for something and I can’t pull anything up.

But somehow I’m sane enough to realize I’m being insensitive. I apologize to my wife and kid and tell my wife I’m ready to hear what happened at work.

I’m not catching a single word of her story. The more she talks, the more it bugs me that I can’t remember what I was worrying about.

Maybe I was worrying about writing thank-you letters for Christmas gifts I received. No, I have another six months before that’s a problem.

Maybe I was worrying about calling someone or meeting someone or paying someone. I go through my address book, looking for names, hoping that’ll refresh my memory. Who the heck is Benji Biffer? Why’s his contact information in my address book? Geez, my grandparents are still in my book? They passed away over five years ago.

“Dad, I’m so hungry,” my kid says.
“Mike, you’re ignoring us,” my wife says.

I try to tune out my family and think: I got home, put my bag here, was gonna turn on my computer, went to the bathroom instead, was thinking about the thing I was worrying about when I went to the bathroom. What if I flush the toilet? Maybe the sound will trigger the thoughts I had when I previously flushed.



I had no engagements, no late bills, nothing to do for work. Did I miss a doctor’s appointment?

My kid: “Dad, we need dinner.”

My wife: “Daddy’s not making dinner.”

My thoughts: Maybe I was supposed to make dinner.



“Ahhhh!” I scream. “Will you people leave me alone?” My wife and kid freeze out of fear.

I finally remember what I forgot! I wanted to get the mail.

I noticed my wife brought it in.

-January 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Playtime Bits from the ‘burbs

A SIGN OF TOUGH TIMES? -- It’s easy during tough times such as these to derail emotionally, to get depressed, to lose focus due to overwhelming despair, to miss the things in life that really count. The other day, while driving south on Interstate 5 into Orange County, I drove past Disneyland and forgot to point out to my family, using my usual Disneyland Monorail announcer voice, the site of the majestic Matterhorn Mountain. After we went by, my wife asked if I was okay, if I was working too hard, if I was working too much. This was a telling sign, indeed, that playtime is needed in my life -- that or someone pulled a fast one on me and moved the mountain.

SPACED OUT -- My 6-year-old son -- a first-grader -- is learning more in school than I remember learning at his age. Thanks to the California Distinguished School he attends, he knows all the continents on the planet, he produces art that’s suitable for framing, and he can do math that I couldn’t do in high school. Before winter break, he and his classmates each had to do an oral presentation in front of the class where they were graded on eye contact, hand gestures, the use of visual aids and the memorization of at least four lines of dialogue. My son’s gonna be smarter than me within the year, which is fine. But I worry he doesn’t have a chance to be a kid, that academics are consuming his life. He assured me, however, that he gets plenty of time to play. A couple weeks ago while at recess, he said, he and some friends put a man into space.

SICK UNTIL FRIDAY -- My son and I were on a pedal boat. I felt motion sickness coming on. I told the kid we’d have to pedal back to shore, that I was feeling sick. The next day, my son said, like me, he got sick from the boat. He proved it with a few lung-shattering coughs and a sniffle. Then he told me he’d have to miss the first week back at school. He assured me, however, that he’d be better again on Friday afternoon -- just in time, miraculously, to play on the weekend.

5 -- My son made a friend while playing at the park. He brought the kid to me and said, “Look, Daddy, I have a new friend.” I said to the kid, “Hi, I’m Mike.” The kid said, “Hi, I’m 5.”

EVOLUTION OF A ROLLER COASTER RIDER -- As a young kid, I found riding roller coasters to be horrifying -- the train could fly off the track; the seat harness could break loose and I could fall out; the stilts that hold the track a million feet in the air could collapse and send me to my death. But then I became a teenager -- I became smarter than everyone else -- and I realized people were getting on and off without dying. I learned that roller coaster makers have safety codes and standards, and constant tests to ensure safety. And then I experienced enough life to realize that accidents do, in fact, happen. Shortcuts in the workplace take place hourly. Procrastination and the lack of communication are the differences between “The track is fine” and “There’s a large section of track missing at the bottom of the hill!” And that’s why, at age 33, riding roller coasters is horrifying again.

QUEUE PILEUP -- A new study reveals that when waiting in line to go on a ride, stepping on the heels of the people in front of you and practically spooning them doesn’t make you get on any faster.

RACE TO GET DRESSED -- Getting a 6-year-old dressed in a hurry can be a challenge. Mine often gets distracted and can turn the task into an all-day event. To avoid being late to a particular engagement, I made the chore of getting dressed into a game. “Whoever gets dressed first wins,” I said. And then came the rules: “Okay, Daddy, if I get dressed first, then I’ll run into your room. If you get dressed first, then you run into my room. If I run into your room, I win. If you run into my room, you win. If we both win, we’ll crash into each other in the hallway . . . ” After his 15-minute breakdown of the rules, and after a few “pauses” in the game so I could help him turn his socks inside out and tie his shoes, we successfully became late.

-January 2010

New Year’s Resolved

My wife made a New Year’s resolution to be a neater person on my behalf. For the New Year, I decided to be less anal-retentive on her behalf.

At a New Year’s party, we met a couple that mirrored us -- the girl was the anal-retentive one and the guy was the messy one.

“Opposites attract, don’t they?” the guy said.

“He’s always leaving the lights on in the house,” the girl told us.

“She’s always turning them off,” he said.

This guy was a total disaster -- a nightmare. And his wife seemed to have it all together -- a dream. However, it’s against the rules to turn on your own team. So I sided with the guy.

“Why would she turn off the lights if you had them on?” I asked.

My wife was quick to respond. “You always get mad when I leave the lights on,” she said to me. “You turn them off constantly.”

“I always ask if you need them on before I turn them off,” I said.

“That’s just your passive aggressive way of telling me you want them off,” she said.

My wife then confided in the guy. “Sometimes I’ll take something out of the microwave before the time is up and I’ll forget to hit ‘cancel,’ and he’ll ask if I need the remaining seconds on the dial before he clears it.”

The guy didn’t really respond -- just kind of chuckled. He was loyal to Team Man. His girl, however, turned on her team in an instant.

“The microwave is a killer,” she said. “He leaves seconds -- sometimes even minutes -- on our microwave all the time.”

“It’s not a big deal,” my wife said.

“What if you wanna see the clock?” the girl asked.

“Yeah,” I said to my wife. “What if I’m running late for something and I’m trying to see what time it is, and I go to the kitchen to check the time on the microwave and it says 12 seconds? Now I have to walk all the way over to the microwave, hit cancel and become late for sure.”

“How much later is that really gonna make you?” my wife asked.

“If I’m running late,” I said, “going to the microwave will make me later enough to ruin me.”

“You’re always wearing your watch anyway.”

“What if I forget to put on my watch?”

“You never forget your watch,” my wife said. “Don’t you remember -- you’re perfect?”

“I never said I was perfect. I just like things orderly and complete so life isn’t more difficult than it needs to be.”

The girl was nodding in agreement to everything I was saying. “One time,” she said, “I came home to find our bikes in the dining room.”

“Because they cluttered up the garage,” her guy said in his defense.

“The bikes were in the dining room?” I asked. I couldn’t believe what the guy had done. He couldn’t believe what I just did -- I switched sides against Team Man. He looked at me as if I’d turned communist. Then my wife made matters worse.

“If I did that,” my wife told the guy, “my husband would never let me live it down.”

We were in the final countdown to the New Year, and this guy was the only person in the place not smiling. He had remained loyal to me -- his fellow man -- all evening, even though we were opposing types. Then I crossed the line and left him standing alone.

I had to strike before he did. “It looks like you and my wife are both a mess,” I said to him.

“And you and my wife are both anal,” he replied.

“But, like you were saying earlier,” I said, “opposites attract. I think if my wife was as anal as I am -- so set in her own ways -- life would be pretty miserable. I think one anal person is enough”

The other couple agreed that if such were the case in their relationship, the result would be a miserable existence.

After everyone sang “Auld Lang Syne,” I asked my wife to cancel her New Year’s resolution to be neater. I told her to just be herself. She smiled and gave me a big hug.

Then she asked if I could keep my New Year’s resolution and still work on being less anal.

-January 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

I Can't Make Decisions

WIFE: So whaddaya want for dinner?

ME: Ummm—

WIFE: You wanna go out?

ME: Yeah. Sure.

WIFE: You decide. Where do you want to go?

ME: Ooooh, let’s go to Maria’s Italian Deli. They’ve got that really good manicotti. And cannoli. That sounds good.

WIFE: But we just had Italian food two nights ago. Where else would you want to go?

ME: Let’s go to Dave’s, then.

WIFE: That’s too fattening. What about Salt Creek Grille?

ME: That’s too expensive. What about BJ’s?

WIFE: We always go to BJ’s.

ME: Well, where do you wanna go then?

WIFE: It’s your decision.

ME: OK then. Everyone in the car. We’re going to Maria’s.

WIFE: I thought you didn’t wanna go to Maria’s.

ME: No, you didn’t wanna go to Maria’s.

WIFE: Can we go somewhere else? Anywhere but Italian food.

ME: OK, how about the Route 66 Grill?

WIFE: Isn’t that kinda like Dave’s?

ME: I guess it’s somewhat like Dave’s.

WIFE: How about Margarita’s?

ME: Is that where you wanna go?

WIFE: It’s your decision. Do you wanna go there?

ME: No, but if you wanna go there, then let’s go.

WIFE: No -- just pick where you wanna go.

ME: I did pick where I wanna go. You didn’t like it. And you didn’t like my second and third choices either. So you tell me where you wanna go.

WIFE: Are you mad at me?

ME: No, I’m just hungry, so choose where you wanna go, and let’s go.

WIFE: I’m sorry -- go ahead, you choose where you wanna go.

ME: OK, Maria’s.

WIFE: Maybe we should just eat at home.

ME: Fine.

WIFE: What do you wanna have?

ME: Spaghetti.

WIFE: But we just had Italian food two nights ago.

ME: How about meat loaf?

WIFE: Kinda fattening, don’t you think?

ME: Steak?

WIFE: Anything healthier?

ME: Pork chops?

WIFE: Hmmm—

ME: Chicken? Fish? Tacos—

WIFE: Which one do you want?

I went into the kitchen, got the cereal, the milk, bowls and spoons, and I put it on the table. I sat down, poured the cereal into a bowl, poured the milk, and I started eating. My wife and our son joined me.

WIFE: This was a good idea, sweetie. So whaddaya want for Christmas?

ME: I’ll shop for myself.

-December 2009

Bad Kid, Bad Parenting

My wife and I were at the park with our 6-year-old son and saw a little boy wash his friend’s face with a mouthful of juice. Bad kid, bad parenting.

While at the mall, a little girl was screaming at her parents like she was challenging them to a death match -- and winning. Bad kid, bad parenting.

Our boy has been getting in trouble at school for giving random items flight in the classroom, mistaking listening for talking and telling white lies that he’d dragged through soot. Bad kid . . . who the heck’s teaching him all this?

We were embarrassed to hear some of the things our kid was doing. After all, we’re loving, caring, disciplining parents. What’s going on?

When I was young, I was afraid to even think about doing something that could imply anything less than stellar behavior. I feared my dad would kill me, and I never pushed my limits to see if he’d actually follow through.

My son, however, seems perfectly fine pushing his limits to see if I’ll destroy him for bad behavior as I often warn. The problem: I’m like the tough-talking, timid kid in a tussle at the bike racks after school, unable to back down because everyone’s watching but unable to strike.

“Push me one more time and I’ll kill you . . . I just dare you to do it again, cowboy . . . I’m giving you one more chance . . . Keep pushing me and see what happens . . . Now you’re really starting to make me really mad . . . You just pushed me again . . . You just don’t get it, do you?”

My wife and I can’t just kill our kid like I promised, but it’s practically the next step. We can’t take anything else away from him. He’s got nothing -- we took his toys (he’s bored with them anyway), we took away his TV privileges (not much of a punishment with most of today’s programming), we wouldn’t allow playing with others (he’s an only child, so he’s used to it), and Santa Claus wouldn’t visit this Christmas (which could actually help Mom and Dad in these tough financial times).

The kid has no problem taking a spanking. He doesn’t fight it. He just takes it.

“That shows he’s smart,” a friend told me. “He knows his punishment will eventually end and that his slate will be wiped clean. So all is well. That also shows he can take pain and suffering. That’s a leader if I ever saw one. You ever seen ‘Braveheart?’”

Others had similar responses to our kid’s bad behavior.

When I told a co-worker that my kid got reprimanded at school for tattling (kids can’t snitch unless it’s serious), the guy said my son would make a great reporter. “He broke the story first.”

When I told my step-dad that his grandson got in trouble for throwing toys, he said, “Maybe he’ll be a quarterback.”

When my wife told her friends that our son got in trouble for trying to kiss a girl in class, they said the kid was just mature.

Bossing his classmates around meant he had leadership skills. Not telling the truth meant he wasn’t a rat. Spitting and making faces meant he knew how to make an audience laugh. And stealing meant he was business savvy.

To deal with the matter, my wife and I set up a meeting with our son’s teacher. We feared the kid’s teacher wouldn’t let us off the hook like our family and friends so easily did.

And she didn’t. She told us our child’s behavior needed improvement, and she and the principal told us more tales of terror -- pure terror.

My wife and I conclude that we’re stuck with a child who has a behavior problem, who isn’t learning with the punishments we’re giving him. Bad kid, bad parenting.

“He’s only been bad for a couple months,” my mom said. “Learning doesn’t happen overnight. Give him time. He’ll be fine.”

My wife and I took comfort in that.

So maybe our kid won’t be better behaved tomorrow. We’re hoping for results by next week.

-December 2009

Family News in Brief -- November ’09

On Nov. 9, a family friend mailed my father an anonymous $70 check, enough to cover a dinner tab from 20 years earlier. The 1989 dinner, according to the family friend, was supposed to be his treat, not my father’s, but my father wouldn’t let him pay. “It was my idea to go to dinner in the first place,” the family friend said. “The fact that he would disguise a visit to the cashier as a trip to the restroom was low down.” Analysts said the kind gesture of paying the tab -- maybe an attempt to show affection for the fellow man -- clearly backfired when a feud over who’d pay for a few steak dinners at a neighborhood Sizzler turned into a war of silence that lasted two decades. “He’s a great friend,” my father said, “and I wanted to pay.” But now, after cashing an anonymous check he received in the mail for $70, my dad has suspicions. “If this is his idea of paying me back, I’ve got some news -- I’ll give it back to the bank.” Some feuds, sources said, may never end.

My wife misplaced all four of our cordless phones earlier this month. While I searched for the phones, she called from work and asked if I could find her camera for an event she wanted to photograph that evening. “It’s in the office,” my wife said. I momentarily reported that it wasn’t in the office. “It’s in the laundry room,” she said. It wasn’t there either. At the time, I was speaking to my wife on the only phone I could find, which was plugged into the wall, and so each time I checked a spot for the camera, I had to set the phone down and search and come back. Sources said I looked like I was playing Red Rover by myself, going back and forth. Later that day, my wife discovered this story to be fiction, and a poor attempt on my part to encourage her to be more careful about where she places things like her camera and our cordless phones. Studies show that a husband trying to encourage his wife to change her habits would have more luck making it out of Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza alive wearing a suit made of prize tickets.

A Thanksgiving turkey reported missing late Wednesday afternoon was found last night in a wash near the 27000 block of McBean Parkway. Authorities responded to my wife’s call on the eve before Thanksgiving about the missing bird. They searched our house for hours before extending the hunt into the surrounding neighborhoods. “That afternoon, I went to the refrigerator to get the turkey, and it was gone,” my wife said. “I’m not sure how it ended up across town in a wash.” The bird seemed OK upon discovery, but was covered in dirt and appeared thinner than when picked up at a Vons market earlier in the week. Conspiracy theorists suspect angry vegetarians bird-napped the turkey and, before carrying out some sick plan against “animal killers,” abandoned the Butterball in the wash. Others say the turkey’s soul, still present in the body while in our refrigerator, anticipated a shrewd handling of its death and up and made a run for it. No one, however, can be sure about what really happened, which is why we’re offering a reward to anyone who comes forward with information so that my family can be at peace. Please contact me at with any details.

Early yesterday morning, while driving to the mall for Christmas shopping, my father-in-law realized that his deafness in his right ear might not have been the result of close gunfire while serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He now attributes his hearing loss to something much closer to home. “I’m usually driving when my wife and I go anywhere,” he said, “and she’s usually sitting on my starboard side, trying to improve my driving. Any husband knows how I really went deaf in my right ear.” Asked if his wife could comment on the matter, my father-in-law said she wasn’t available. That’s his story and he’s not letting her hear it.

-November 2009

Friday, February 5, 2010

Turkey Bits from the ‘burbs

TURKEY TIME -- You know it’s Turkey Time when the air gets cold, the wind blows and the leaves color the ground yellow and orange. In the fall, it’s great fun to jump and roll around in the big piles of leaves. So I went to Walmart and, believe it or not, they didn’t have leaves for sale.

TURKEY DINNER AND A THOUSAND PUMPKIN PIES -- We were hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Our guests asked what they could bring. “Don’t bring anything,” we said. Every single guest apparently understood that to mean: Bring pumpkin pies. So we ended up with a thousand pumpkin pies! Luckily my wife and I had ice cream for the group because there was only enough pumpkin pie for me.

DEAD AS A TURKEY -- Thanksgiving is typically a time to gather with friends and family. My neighbor said he thought about staging his own funeral this year so that his family would come together.

TURKEY TV -- Nothing brings in the holiday season like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. I’ve never been to the parade in person, but I watch it on TV every year. “You don’t watch it every year,” my wife said when I told someone I did. “Yes I do,” I replied. My wife said, “You only watch about five minutes of it and then you leave the room.” Maybe my wife’s right (don’t tell her I said that). But I would watch the whole parade if there wasn’t so much singing and dancing. And so many marching bands. And all that nonsensical banter from the commentators. And then there are all those commercials. And it’s such a long parade. And everything moves so slowly. I like the balloons.

TURKEY TOIL -- My 6-year-old son traced his hand on a big piece of construction paper and turned it into a picture of a turkey for Thanksgiving. While trying to hang it on the front of the refrigerator, the kid stomped his feet and cried, “I moved the grocery list and I moved Mommy’s recipes and I moved my old Halloween pictures -- my Thanksgiving art still won’t fit.” I told him, “Crying won’t help you solve the problem.” He replied, “I’m in first grade -- I don’t cry. I whine. So I’m whining.”

LITTLE TURKEY, LOTTA TURKEY, BIG TURKEY -- If I suggested a big turkey for Thanksgiving, my wife would say, “What are you saying -- that I’m big and need a big bird to fill my appetite?” So I suggested a small turkey. She said, “What are saying -- that I’m big and need a small bird so I don’t fill my appetite?” There was only one turkey in the room after that.

MY SON’S A TURKEY, TOO -- My wife and I watched “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” with our 6-year-old son. There’s a really funny sequence with Snoopy and Woodstock struggling to get into a garage to find a table and some chairs for a Thanksgiving feast. The automatic garage door sends Snoopy into the air and through a basketball hoop. My wife laughed so hard she rolled off the couch. Later in the sequence, a basketball bounces out of the garage with Snoopy attached. I laughed milk out of my nose. Next, Snoopy performs some fancy dribbling with the ball. Then he tosses the ball over to Woodstock so his little bird companion can show off, too. The ball flattens Woodstock. My wife and I burst into laughter and wouldn’t stop. “Why doesn’t he just get the table and chairs?” our son said, clearly annoyed. “He’s not making any progress.” Then the kid asked my wife to get off the floor and asked me to clean the milk off my face.

TURKEY FOR ‘THE BIRDS’ -- Each Thanksgiving, my bird comes with a healthy serving of “The Birds,” a helping of “North By Northwest” -- sometimes “Vertigo” -- and a side of “Rear Window.” Afterward, I like to treat myself to a little “Psycho.” Yup, it’s my own tradition to watch Alfred Hitchcock movies on Thanksgiving Day. “What do Hitchcock movies have to do with Thanksgiving?” people always ask me. “Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for what you have. It’s about family and friends. What do spies and evil schemes and murder have to do with that?” My answer: Absolutely nothing.

-November 2009

All Was Well . . . And Then . . .

I woke up yesterday morning feeling great. All was well.

I sauntered into the kitchen, flipped on the light. The light worked.

I poured myself a big bowl of my favorite cereal. I went to the refrigerator. We had milk.

My cereal was very good. I didn’t rush it. I enjoyed it.

Then I got cleaned up and dressed for work. I finished getting ready right on time. I drove to the office. I made it there right on time.

When I sat down at my desk, I got to my tasks. I finished everything I set out to do . . . right on time.

At lunchtime, I wrapped my teeth around some food. It was very good food. I had just the right amount to eat -- not too much, not too little. When it was time to go back to work, I was willing and able. And I finished everything I set out to do.

My wife called while I was at work. She said everything was well. She just wanted me to know that. I told her all was well with me, too. She told me all was also well with our 6-year-old son.

After work, I drove home. I made it.

That’s when I realized traffic didn’t stop me. There were no Sig-Alerts. There was no construction. The motorist on his cell phone wolfing down an animal style double-double from In-N-Out Burger and grooming his dog while piloting his car didn’t smash into me while I drove through that green light.

When I got home, my wife was watching TV. It wasn’t a reality show.

The mail in my mailbox was addressed to my wife and me -- not to my neighbors or to the people who lived in my house 20 years ago.

I decided to trim some trees on my property. Raccoons the size of small rhinoceroses had been using the trees as their gateway to my rooftop for tap dance parties that took place in the middle of the night. I dug out my rickety extension ladder, threw it up against the trees, and hacked the branches away from the house. My ladder didn’t collapse.

When I changed the oil in my car, the twigs I used as jack stands didn’t snap and send the underside of the vehicle into my face for a kiss.

The shower rained warm water on me when I went to clean up for dinner.

My wife had my favorite dinner hot and ready for me when I finished cleaning up.

My son spilled peas off his plate, and the vacuum with an over-stuffed pick-up bag still sucked up the mess when I ran it over the floor.

All was certainly well.

And then it kept going well.

“What kind of Friday the 13th is this?” I asked my wife.

I tried to make unfortunate things happen to me, but everything turned out well. I tripped over obstacles I placed in the middle of the floor for the very purpose of injuring myself. I couldn’t get hurt.

I tried to start an argument with my wife. She gave me a kiss.

I told my kid he could do whatever he wanted to do and that, no matter what he did, he wouldn’t get busted. He made an “I love you, Daddy” card.

For a columnist who uses daily events as source material, “all is well” is not so well at all. Stories without conflict are not stories. I have nothing to write about this week, as you can tell if you made it this far. In fact, the following gap is brought to you by that lack of something to write about:

“For some people,” my wife said, “Friday the 13th actually brings good luck.”

Wouldn’t you know? That’s just my luck.

-November 2009

Aesthetic . . . And Totally Worthless

As part of a homeowners association, I’ve come to expect home exterior upkeep in the area, corresponding colors throughout the neighborhood and a lack of rogue vehicles on the street or on front lawns and porches for months at a time. In general, I’ve come to expect aesthetic bliss.

It’s clear most HOAs have property values in mind. My HOA is no exception. We’ve got these really expensive, fancy-looking cast iron mailboxes, which must add tremendous value to the homes since nobody seems to mind driving to the post office to drop off their outgoing mail. Why must they drop off mail at the post office when they have their own mailboxes? Good question.

The said expensive, fancy-looking boxes don’t allow for mail pickup. The mail carrier has no access to the inside. He can drop stuff in, but he can’t fit his hand inside to take stuff out -- the mail slot is far too narrow.

“You can hang your outgoing mail halfway out the slot,” a neighbor suggested.

“What about when it rains?” I asked.

OK, so Southern California doesn’t get much rain. But the problem extends beyond wet outgoing mail on wet days. Sometimes, when hanging my outgoing mail halfway out the slot, it falls back into the box. I can’t afford to have my mail slip back into the box. I live in a nice area, which means I’m paying my bills at the last minute. If my payments slip back into my box, my mail carrier doesn’t deliver my mail. As a result, I get late-charged.

“Why don’t you bring your outgoing mail to the post office or to one of the general boxes on the street?” asked a neighbor.

I refuse to spend time, gas and wear and tear on my vehicle to use another mailbox when I have a mailbox -- an expensive, fancy-looking one -- on my own property. No, I’d rather spend time, energy and wear and tear on my nerves complaining about it.

Perhaps you, too, have had similar problems where aesthetics have won out over function. I know of an entire city whose bus riders fell victim to this ridiculous phenomenon.

Citizens of the said city asked their city council to address the lack of bus shelters around town. People were tired of waiting at bus stops in the pouring rain. The city council dove right in. After all, three of the council members were incumbents in an upcoming race for seats on the next council.

“We must shelter our citizens,” was how the discussion began. The end was more like, “It doesn’t matter that the slats for a roof don’t shield our citizens from the rain. These shelters must beautify the city, unlike those eyesores in the San Fernando Valley.”

The said city council eventually installed the said worthless (practically roofless) bus shelters. Indeed, the shelters were worthless. But they were aesthetically pleasing and the premier shelters in the area.

I was shocked at this display of stupidity. As a father, I felt I had an obligation to teach my growing son the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, functional and “Who came up with this stupid idea?” So I stood up. I showed my son that you have to take action against stupidity.

I made a weatherproof strap with an “outgoing mail” sign on one end, which could dangle outside the box. I attached a binder clip on the other end of the strap to clamp onto my outgoing mail, which could sit inside my mailbox. When my mail carrier sees the sign, he knows I have outgoing mail. He can tug on the strap and pull the mail through the slot.

My outgoing mail now stays dry in wet weather, and I don’t have to hang my bills halfway out the slot and worry about them falling back into the box, out of my mail carrier’s reach.

So maybe I didn’t truly stand up against stupidity. Maybe I joined in. Maybe I didn’t teach my son anything worthwhile. But my invention is sure aesthetically pleasing and the premier outgoing mail system in the area.

-November 2009

Family News in Brief -- October ’09

Dozens of new graveyards have been showing up in the area all month and homeowners are screaming, “Not in my backyard.” Several of these NIMBYists said they moved to the Santa Clarita Valley to get away from things like overdevelopment, overcrowding and graveyards. “Where did this cemetery come from?” asked one of my neighbors when he saw my Halloween gravestones. “Not in my back yard,” he said. The graveyard, incidentally, happens to be in my front yard, and it’s going away after tonight’s trick-or-treating celebration. However, someone stopped by the house yesterday and asked how much for a plot. Considering the hard financial climate of the day, I thought long and hard about suggesting a price.

The Witching Hour, which is the haunting time that takes place during Halloween season, is continuing to take its toll on innocent people. Officials on Tuesday released figures showing that spooky witches, ghouls and goblins are the cause of more than 20 unsolicited scares in my house alone since the beginning of the season. “Just last week,” my wife said on Wednesday, “we had only 6 scares. Now that we’re in the home stretch to Halloween, scares have been around every corner.” Witching Hour experts suggest that numbers are expected to rise in years to come as my son, a 6-year-old, enters the prime age for scaring his parents. The scares, these sources added, will become progressively elaborate as the boy becomes older and more inventive, but will taper off during the teenage years when he wants nothing to do with his mom and dad. According to the individual behind the scares, “I’m not Mommy and Daddy’s son. I’m a scary ghoul. Rrrrraooooar!”

“Daddy, we have a problem,” said my wife in an urgent phone call to work yesterday afternoon. It seems my 6-year-old son stuck his hand into one of those Halloween candy bowls with the motorized attacking zombie claws, was attacked by the claw, and then couldn’t shake the claw loose. “These mechanized candy bowls have become so routine that it’s easy to forget it’s not wise to let a motorized zombie claw clamp down on your hand,” said the general manager of the store that sells the spooky dish. “Bring it back to the store and we’ll give you a full refund.” Turns out, the guy couldn’t take the dish back with my son attached. So now my son’s going trick-or-treating tonight dressed as a trick-or-treater who got eaten by a candy bowl.

After only a few months as my future sister-in-law, my younger brother’s wife-to-be made a move yesterday that could cost her a walk down the aisle. She told sources that she wanted to go to a college football game on Halloween Day. “I’m all for football games,” my brother said in a statement following the announcement, “but on Halloween? You’re supposed to be carving pumpkins, watching scary movies, haunting up the house for trick-or-treaters and basically getting ready for the big night.” Making matters worse, the girl said her favorite Thanksgiving was the one she had with lobster instead of turkey, and that getting a Christmas tree during the Christmas season was something she rarely did. “Holidays were never that big of a deal in my family,” she actually admitted. Sources claim that my family, including my siblings, my parents and my grandparents, are holiday extremists. But this girl, whom my brother plans to marry, is just plain crazy. My brother did the sane thing and signed her up for an extensive 6-month holiday boot camp. Officials said she’d be marrying material by Easter.

-October 2009

He Walks in the Night

Don’t put your baby to sleep under silent conditions.

That’s what we were told when our son was born.

Numerous parents said, “If your baby gets used to complete silence when you put him down, he’ll never get to sleep -- even with the slightest bit of noise. Worse, he’ll wake up at the sound of a pin drop. Get your baby used to sleeping with noise, and he’ll sleep anytime anywhere.”

No problem.

And then my wife and I tried it.

The problem: Each night when we put the baby down to sleep, we were ready to go to sleep as well. We were new parents, and we were always tired, so making noise was a difficult task when all we wanted to do was sleep.

“Why don’t we leave the TV or the radio on?” my wife asked.

“Because I can’t sleep with noise,” I said. Even the music from the crib mobile kept me awake. “Does it really matter if it’s quiet or not?” I asked my wife.

Despite her answer, we did what everyone told us not to do and we put our newborn to sleep under silent conditions.

About two months later, we hosted a dinner for some friends and their newborn. When dessert was ready, the babies were ready for bed. So we put the kids down and headed back to the dining room for after-dinner conversation and sweets.

Our guests’ baby fell right to sleep -- even through our rowdy chatting and laughter. Our baby, on the other hand, was crying, giggling, laughing, trying to join in our discussion from his room.

“Have you been putting your baby to sleep under silent conditions?” the couple asked, busting us for disobeying a golden rule.
Guilty as charged, I said, “Of course not. He’s probably just hungry again.”

More food didn’t help. Rocking him to sleep didn’t work. And singing only made matters worse. Our baby just needed complete silence.

After that night, my wife and I decided we’d have to make it noisy when it came time for our son to sleep. He’d learn to nap under noisy conditions no matter how long it took.

Surprisingly, our efforts paid off in no time.

When the kid was 2, he slept soundly in his outdoor swing while I chain-sawed down a nearby tree. At 3, he slept through a grand slam at a near packed Dodger Stadium. At 6, I’m willing to bet a monster truck crashing through his bedroom and spinning donuts in the rubble wouldn’t wake him up.

But now we have another problem. Our son just doesn’t wake up, not even when he gets up.

One time he had a fever that required routine sips of medicine. One of those routine medicine sips came while he was asleep. My wife and I couldn’t get him up. We turned on the lights, screamed at him to wake up, and even stood him straight up on his feet and let go. He just stood there like a statue, sleeping, for 10 minutes while we funneled medicine down his throat.
“How does he sleep like that?” my wife and I asked each other.

We were forced to answer the question.

“Because we trained him to sleep anytime anywhere.” Evidently, he could sleep anyhow, too, even while in motion. We caught him walking in the night a few times.

At about 2 a.m. sometime last week, we had squirrels on the roof. I thought it was my son sleep-walking on the tiles, and I ran outside to rescue him before he fell off the house and got hurt. My neighbors said I should’ve checked his room before taking out my noisy extension ladder, some invasive floodlights and an ear drum-shattering megaphone.

Getting our kid up for school has become quite the problem. And getting him up after car rides where he falls asleep is also a problem. It’s all a problem.

My wife and I racked our brains to find a solution, and we eventually found one.

The plan?

It’s a simple revenge plot to completely wipe out those who told us not to put our kid to sleep under silent conditions.

-October 2009

Monday, February 1, 2010

Halloween Bits from the ‘burbs

HALLOWEEN’S ALMOST HERE -- My 6-year-old son has seen “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” at least 3,000 times. That was just this month. After a recent viewing, he said, “Daddy, it’s Halloween time -- we better get ready for ‘tricks or treats.’” I said, “We have two weeks until ‘tricks or treats.’” He said, “Then we better hurry and get pumpkins and candy and our costumes and decorate the house -- ” I cut him off. “We have plenty of time, son.” So he asked, “Then can we watch ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ again?” I said, “No, it’s Halloween time -- we better hurry and get pumpkins and candy and our costumes and decorate the house . . .”

COSTUME PARTY PANDEMONIUM -- Costume parties crawl with monsters, spill with ghoulish mischief and come to booming life with dozens of sugared-up kids thanks to non-attentive parents. One can’t escape the commotion, the caramel apple messes, the water-drenched kids bobbing for apples, the melted wax lips stuck to the floor and the runny milk chocolate on the furniture. The host of a recent party came to me toward the night’s end and said, “We’re gonna go now. Thanks for having us.” His wife grabbed him before he could run free. I thanked our hosts for a lovely evening, then dragged my family out the door before the kids held us captive.

SNAKE LADY GIVES A LICKING -- Mommy got into the Halloween spirit. She dug up some rubber snakes and ducked behind the couch until an opportune moment to pop out and scare our son. “Phhsssssss!” She and the snakes exploded from hiding. “Mommy,” our kid said, “you got spit on me. Yuck. Eeeuw. Gross.” For his response, Mommy licked him like the snake lady she was.

NO TOUCHING -- At the Halloween store, my boy knows not to touch anything. “That mask seems cool,” he said. “Daddy, can you touch it and tell me what it’s like?”

GRANDPA’S DEAD -- Grandpa found a bargain on 3 Musketeers candy -- his favorite Halloween treat. So he bought a couple bags for trick-or-treaters and a couple bags for himself. My wife said, “Grandpa’s in Heaven.” My son said, “When did he die?”

SCARE MOMMY -- I took my family through a haunted house. I didn’t think it’d be too scary. My wife and kid were so frightened they were actually in pain. When we got out, my son said to me, “I don’t ever wanna do that again! But when we get home, let’s scare Mommy.”

SPOOKY PLACE -- My son shut down his room to decorate it for Halloween. When he finished, he re-opened it for his mommy and daddy to experience. At the door we noticed an “Open” sign and another sign nearby with the letter “A” printed on it -- just like those health board rating signs in restaurant windows. Upon entry, my wife and I removed the “A” and shut the place down for extensive fake blood and green slime violations, among others. The place will remain closed until at least the four surrounding walls and the ceiling are found.

PUMPKIN PATCHED -- We got some pumpkins from the local patch. My son picked a large one. “Wow, you can carry it,” I marveled. He was so proud of his strength. To demonstrate, he carried the pumpkin to the car. Along the way, the pumpkin took a spill. And spill it did -- all over the ground. “Daddy, fix it,” he wept. “Wow, you destroyed it,” is all I could say. Again, he became so proud of his strength. To demonstrate, he smashed the pumpkin into several more pieces. That patched things up.

I’M A DUMMY -- I stuffed newspaper in my clothes, put on a monster mask, propped myself up in a chair near the front door and passed myself off as a Halloween dummy. Some friends came over for dinner and noticed my craftsmanship. “Wow, look at the dummy,” said the woman. “It looks so real.” The man disagreed. “It looks so fake. There’s newspaper sticking out of the sleeves.” Before I could scare the couple into a coma, the man gave me a good hard kick to test the dummy’s durability. Yup, a dummy for sure.

-October 2009

I Don't Wanna Hold Your Baby

Your baby might be real cute, but I don’t wanna hold it. It’s not personal.

When I got a new car, I didn’t ask people if they wanted to drive it. When I got my wife, I didn’t ask people if they wanted to date her. The car and the wife are mine. And your car and your wife are yours.

If a friend asked me to drive his new car, I’d say, “No. What if I crash and destroy the thing? Worse, what if I fall in love with it?“

If a friend asked me to date his wife -- well, I’d say he was an idiot.

Getting back to where I began -- I don’t want to hold anyone’s newborn baby.

“It’s okay,” the mother always says. “You won’t drop her.”

“But I just don’t wanna hold her,” I say. “Why do you want me to hold her?”

Why do they want us to hold their kids? Are they tired of holding the little guys? Maybe they want a break? If I’m going to get any joy out of holding a kid, it’s going to be my own.

“But don’t you just wanna love them?” my wife asked when I told her I didn’t want to hold her friend’s new twins. “They’re so cute.”

“No, I don’t just wanna love them,” I said. “If you saw some stranger you thought was cute, would you just walk up to him and cuddle him? I don’t know those babies. I don’t even know the parents all that well.”

Just before my son was born, a family friend asked if I wanted to hold her newborn baby -- for practice.

“No thanks,” I said.

“But don’t you wanna know what it’s like to hold your baby?”

“Yeah, I do,” I said. “But that’s not my baby, that’s yours.”

“Here,” she insisted, “take him.” And she forced her baby into my arms.

Before she could let go, I put my hands behind my back.

“I’m not gonna take it,” I said. “Please don’t make me.”

“But you won’t drop him,” she said.

“If you try to give me that thing, I’m gonna drop it. So don’t give it to me.”

“But you won’t drop him, I promise.”

“No,” I said, “I’m telling you, I will drop it if you give it to me, I promise. I’ll do it on purpose.”

For some odd reason, she decided not to be my friend anymore. And when my son was born, she wouldn’t hold him -- even at my wife’s request -- which was fine with me. My wife, on the other hand, was worried.

“Why doesn’t she wanna hold him?”

“Why do you want her to hold him?” I asked. “What if she drops him? Worse, what if she wants to keep him?”

About two years later, the same lady had another kid. She was so thrilled that she even approached me with a friendly smile. And she asked if I wanted to hold her.

“You wanna feel what a baby girl feels like in your arms?”

I took the baby into my arms. I knew I wouldn’t drop her -- holding my son so many times had given me the confidence. But the worst thing happened -- I fell in love with the little darling and I wanted to keep her.

So my wife and I tried to have another kid, only we found we were unable to do so. Maybe it was karma after I’d refused to hold so many babies for so long. Or maybe it was meant to be because now I wouldn’t have to share the love I have for my son. Maybe it was just basic physiology.

Today, I have no real problem holding other people’s babies, though I don’t ask to do so. I also have no problem with the reverse. For example: The other day, I had no problem asking the neighbor if he wanted to hold my groceries. I asked him to hold them from the trunk of my car to the house.

“Your food might look real good,” he said, “but I don’t wanna hold it.”

-October 2009

Family News in Brief -- September ’09

A newspaper column is nothing without its readership, and so I decided earlier this month to thank my readers for taking the time out of their busy days to read my work. “Thank you, everyone,” I said while in the presence of fans. “A newspaper column is nothing without its readership. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy days to read my work.” Indeed, this columnist is honored to receive such kindness. And so now, in print, I’d like to give thanks to each and every single one of my readers. Henry, Joe, Isabel and Charlie at the barbershop, thanks again for reading. Like I said the other day, I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy days to read my work.

A motorized toothbrush has been tossed in the trash after going on an unstoppable tirade inside my 6-year-old son’s bathroom. At about 7 p.m. on Tuesday, the SpongeBob SquarePants toothbrush, 2 months old, was turned on for the nightly cleaning of my son’s teeth. That’s when it started and didn’t stop until I pulled out the batteries that powered the device. “What the heck is wrong with this piece of junk?” I said when I learned that pressing the off switch on the toothbrush wouldn’t shut it down. “Dang it, turn off, you piece of junk. Turn off. Turn off!” The whole incident in the bathroom was captured on video as my wife filmed the outburst for about four minutes on her phone. In the video, the toothbrush can be seen just going and going and going and not shutting off even when I tried smashing it against the bathroom counter. The toothbrush is currently being held in the trashcan near the side of my house. It faces total destruction on Monday when the trash man comes to empty our bins.

The wife of a close friend shot down plans for a man cave last night on grounds that my friend and his buddies shouldn’t be allowed to have that much fun. Local residents spoke out against the decision. “This is an outrage,” said Valencia man Ver E. Madd, who said he wished he could have a man cave in his home. “If only I had the space for such a great place. I’d never need to leave the house.” Stevenson Ranch man Nev Ergettingoverit said, “You’ve heard of homes with sewing rooms, and you’ve heard of homes with gardening sheds, but when have you ever heard of a home with an actual man cave? The incongruity of it is amazing.” Another local, Ang Ryman, was so upset with the ruling he couldn’t speak when it came time to voice his opinion on the matter. But his brother Hung said he would’ve enjoyed snacking on the man cave’s 10-year supply of jerky and beer nuts. The man cave plans included a full bar, a pool table, three flat screen TVs with full cable, a beat-up couch the Salvation Army wouldn’t even take, a juke box programmed to reject music by Sarah McLachlan, Brittany Spears, the Indigo Girls and other similar artists if anyone attempted to put such music in, a humidor stocked with the finest Cuban cigars, and live “men’s” entertainment every Friday and Saturday night. The site for the proposed man cave will instead be turned into a playroom for the kids. Wives were not contacted to comment for this story.

My father-in-law had nothing to do with the rip in my son’s stuffed bear as indicated in a story I wrote on Feb. 21 of this year. My father-in-law’s only involvement in the incident was the stitching he gave the bear when my son found out his favorite stuffed animal got hurt. Evidently, readers want the truth. For the record: Everything else I write is completely accurate.

-September 2009

Random Bits from the 'burbs

ATM TROUBLES -- While waiting in line for the drive-up ATM, the woman a few cars ahead of me struggled from the driver’s seat of her vehicle to reach the buttons on the machine. So she stepped out of the car and accomplished the transaction on foot, accidentally bumping her door shut. The automatic door locks went into effect, locking all four doors and her baby inside. After failing to coach the baby into unlocking the door, the woman called someone on her cell phone, and within five minutes, a man in a blacked-out sedan came speeding into the parking lot, left arm extended out the window with a keyless-entry remote in hand, clicking away at the button. The woman’s doors unlocked, allowing access inside the car and access to the child. The man in the blacked-out sedan sped out of the parking lot as fast as he’d entered -- the woman’s embarrassed husband, no doubt.

FREE COUCH -- My 6-year-old son and I were on a walk to the park when we came across a couch someone had placed in front of their house at curbside, a sign on the couch indicating it was free for the taking. I stopped my son before he could sit down -- the couch was filthy. Nobody in his or her right mind would accept this free gift, let alone put it in their home as an actual piece of furniture. The couch sat on the street for about a week. Even the “Free” sign survived all seven days. One morning, while driving by, I noticed someone replaced the “Free” sign with a sign that read “$50.” Someone stole the couch within the hour.

ATTENTION, HILLARY -- I sometimes write about family friends in my column, prompting one friend, Hillary Agamata, to request I give her the “heads up” if I write about her. Since it’s such a small town, she didn’t want to find out about such news secondhand. This is to you, Hillary: I’m writing about you in my column today.

YOU SPEAK WINDOW? -- My family and I were wandering through the neighborhood strip mall when a kid, banging on the window from inside a store, seemed to be speaking to us. The boy was clearly telling us something important, and we stopped and tried to make it out. I couldn’t hear a word he was saying nor could I read what he was saying by his lip movements. I asked my wife if she could understand the kid. She said she doesn’t speak Window.

OUCH! -- BAM! My 6-year-old son banged his head on the roof of the car as he settled into his car seat. I asked if he was OK. He said he felt great -- in that instance he knew he’d grown taller since the previous day.

EXHAUSTED -- My wife and I finished some exhausting housework, then took a stroll down Town Center Drive to find a place to eat -- neither one of us wanted to cook. As we strolled, my wife told me how she’d hit her limit, that she was mentally and physically worn out, that she wouldn’t be able walk back to the car after dinner, that she might not make it through dinner without passing out in her plate of food. Just before she could fall flat on her face, she saw that “pearlized leather” Coach bag in the store window and regained energy to run inside and gawk.

MANNERS, PLEASE -- After returning home from the store, my 6-year-old son asked if he had good manners. I still can’t figure out what he wants.

GOOD REASON -- There’s a perfectly good explanation for the garage band down the street. I’m told someone will make up the explanation later.

MAGNETIC -- While eating dinner at a restaurant, my 6-year-old son held his knife and fork together and said that the two were magnetic. My wife and I played along, not wanting to discourage the use of his imagination. And then he showed us that his knife and fork were, in fact, magnetic, dangling the fork from the magnetized knife.

-September 2009

My 6-Year-Old Wants E.T. to Come Home

MY SON: Hey, Daddy, why doesn’t E.T. come back to Earth?

ME: Because E.T. is from a movie.

MY SON: But Santa Claus is from a movie, and he comes back to our house every Christmas.

ME: Well, E.T. can’t come back to Earth because . . . Remember in the movie when he gets really sick and he turns all white?

MY SON: Yeah, I remember.

ME: Well, that’s because our planet got him really sick and made him turn all white. And that’s why, when his buddies came back to Earth to pick him up, they just landed, popped the spaceship doors open, yelled for E.T. to get in quick, and then they tore up out of here before they, too, got really sick and turned all white.

MY SON: Do you think E.T. is having fun in space? Do you think he plays games out there?

ME: Of course he plays games out there.

MY SON: What kind of games?

ME: The regular stuff. Soccer. Tag. Bocce ball.

MY SON: I could easily win E.T. in tag. He’s so slow.

ME: Well, you have legs -- you can run fast. E.T. doesn’t have legs -- he can’t run fast. And so since E.T. and his buddies all hobble along slowly, the game is even, and so it’s a lot of fun.

MY SON: Do E.T. people have bikes?

ME: I don’t think so because, like I said, they don’t have legs. So it’d be hard to peddle.

MY SON: Hey, Daddy, why can’t E.T. just buy a helmet at Walmart or someplace like that so he can come back to Earth and not get sick? Remember you said we’d need helmets if we went to space? Why can’t E.T. just wear a helmet when he comes here?

ME: Maybe he’s afraid to go to Walmart. Or maybe he just hasn’t come back to Earth because spaceship tickets are more expensive these days.

MY SON: When will spaceship tickets not be more expensive these days?

ME: Not for a long time. But even if spaceship tickets weren’t so expensive, maybe E.T. doesn’t want to come here again.
Maybe he wants to go somewhere else. When we go on vacation, we don’t always go to the same place.

MY SON: We always go to the same Disneyland.

ME: OK, but we’ve only been to New York once. That’s because it’s far away, and it costs a lot of money to go far away. So if we’re going to spend a lot of money to go somewhere far away, we usually like to go to different places. So when E.T. goes to spend a lot of money to go somewhere far away, maybe he also likes to go to different places.

MY SON: So we’re never going to New York again?

ME: No, we may go to New York again.

MY SON: So then E.T. may come here again? Do you think we’ll get to see him when he comes here again?

ME: I think we’ll be asleep if he comes here again. He likes to visit in the middle of the night when everyone’s asleep -- like in the movie. Remember?

MY SON: The guys with the keys weren’t asleep.

ME: That’s because they were looking for E.T. Remember?

MY SON: Then why can’t we go looking for E.T., too?

ME: Well, E.T. is really sneaky. Those guys with the keys couldn’t even catch him?

MY SON: Yeah, I remember. But Elliot caught him because he had Reece’s Pieces candies. So can we go to the store and get Reece’s Pieces candies?

ME: They don’t make those candies anymore.

MY SON: But we saw them at the store last week. Remember?

ME: Yeah, I guess I do remember . . . Look, in the sky.

MY SON: Where?

ME: There.

MY SON: There?

ME: That light shooting across the sky.

MY SON: Huh?

ME: It’s E.T.’s spaceship flying away.


ME: Yeah.

MY SON: We missed him?

ME: Yeah.

MY SON: Oh no.

ME: Oh well.

MY SON: Oh no.

ME: OK . . . Now let’s do something else.

-September 2009

Wife Uses 'Bad Memory' for Her Benefit

My wife says I forget things she tells me, but I don’t remember forgetting anything.

She often tells me these “things” when I’m working on something -- in deep concentration. Days later, when she accuses me of forgetting what “we discussed,” I tell her I most likely didn’t hear what she said because I was busy. She asks why, then, did I respond if I didn’t hear.

“Did I say ‘Uh huh’ or something generic like that?” I ask. “Because if I had any kind of response like that, then chances are I wasn’t really listening.”

My wife then tells me I didn’t say “Uh huh” or something generic like that, and she reenacts, word for word, beat by beat, how I responded to what she said.

None of the scenes she’s acted out have ever been accurate.

I’ve therefore come to the conclusion that my wife is playing with my mind.

Yesterday she busted me for forgetting to do something she supposedly asked me to do on Monday. I know for a fact she never asked me to do anything. And I told her so.

“I know for a fact you never asked me to do anything,” I said.

“Whose memory are you gonna trust?” she asked. “Mine or yours?”

I admit I don’t have “Rain Man” memory. But when I know something, I know it for sure. And I know I’m sure about this latest accusation -- my wife never asked me to do anything on Monday.

But I tried to recall the incident anyway. I racked my brain. I replayed in my head the start of the week in its entirety.

Nowhere could I see my wife approaching me and asking for anything.

It’s common knowledge: Wives are manipulative. I know my wife is using my “bad memory” for her personal gain. In reality, she forgot to ask me to do the thing she wanted me to do on Monday. But since she already accused me of forgetting, she couldn’t back down. So instead she took a stronger stance against my mental faculties to justify her actions.

Mind thy head, the sign says above the low overhang. I always do. And I take great care of the contents within my head. Example: When my wife and I got married, I stored the date in my memory so I wouldn’t forget. And when I got home, I put the date in the calendar on my computer with a reminder that’d pop up onscreen and on my cell phone every year, a week before the day, so I’d remember to buy a gift and say, “Happy anniversary, babe.”

If someone asks me to do something, I always remember to write it down on a Post-It note. If I don’t get to the requested task, it’s not because I forgot, but rather because I didn’t have the time to read the more than 800 notes I have posted around my house, in my car and on my person.

I’m the proud owner of many famous movie quotes, which I store neatly -- in alphabetical order -- in my memory. Name a movie, and I can probably recite at least a few lines from it. Do I get credit for this unbelievably incredible skill? Of course not. My wife seems to think that movie quotes are trivial and space wasters, and that it’s because I have such an overflow of movie quotes in my brain that I don’t have room to store what she says.

I wondered if other husbands ever had to deal with this issue of their memories during their marriage tenures.

My mother-in-law said her husband wouldn’t remember.

My mom said my step-dad forgets everything.

I certainly wouldn’t forget if my wife abused my mind. My memory is much better than that.

But I’ll be darned if I can bring to mind yesterday’s conversation regarding the thing I allegedly forgot to do. I just know that whatever it was my wife thinks she told me, I didn’t forget it.

Now where was I?

-September 2009