Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Valen-mine Day

Valentine’s Day is never about the guy in the relationship. It’s always about the girl. Flowers, heart-shaped jewelry, heart-shaped chocolate, flowery greetings, flowery dinners . . . Just look at the lines in grocery stores on Valentine’s Day -- no women, just men waiting to buy flowers that’ll die in a week, chocolate that’ll never be eaten, teddy bears that’ll just get donated, cards with glitter that’ll make an unruly mess . . . Men are expected to do for women, but what do women do for men?

This year, Valentine’s Day is taking a turn in my house. It’s going to be for me. That’s what I was thinking anyway, until my wife asked if we could go on a romantic weekend trip, which means we’re going no matter what. So much for the “for me” idea.

A romantic Valentine’s weekend trip should be nice, even for a guy. However, it never is. I can never have peace.

The cost of the hotel on Valentine’s weekend and the expensive dinners are enough to ruin any sense of mental calm. Then you’ve got the cost of a babysitter for the weekend, the cost of valet parking and the unfair cost of buy-one-dozen-and-only-get-a-half-dozen roses -- typical for this time of year.

Here’s the worst: For the past 10 years that my wife and I have been married, hotels have put us in rooms next to the ice machine. How romantic is that?

“I love you so—”

Ger-uggggggggg. (That’s the sound of an ice machine, which echoes through the room every 15 minutes throughout the night, usually accompanied with drunken or juvenile laughter.)

Nevertheless, there was no debate about going or not going on the trip this weekend. I just booked a room. I did it for my wife. But I set out to plan the trip with “me” in mind.

The first thing I did: I told the hotel clerk, “No ice maker!” Then I told the wife, “No flowers!” I said I’d get her some next week when they go back down to half the price. Then I told her that for every boutique store she dragged me through, we’d have to pay a visit to a brewery or something cool like that.

The Valentine’s Day card I picked out for my wife: no glitter, no flowery hearts and no flowery prose. It was straightforward: “I love you, Wife.” And that was it.

The trip was shaping up nicely. I got my in-laws to watch our 7-year-old for free. The clerk at the hotel was really nice. She gave me all kinds of discounts -- even a discount just for having unpleasant stays we’d had at other hotel chains.

And then reality came into view. I added up the costs. Wow, that became a small fortune really fast. I made the mistake of voicing my frustrations with my wife. By the time I realized my error, I’d already killed the excitement she had for the trip.

So I called the hotel clerk and cancelled my arrangements. I had a nice talk with her. She told me how husbands are always screwing up with their wives at this time of year, but said apologizing is what makes it Valentine’s Day. She asked if I still wanted to cancel the room -- this was a minion of Valentine’s Day to the death.

So I apologized to my wife, but it was really for her, not for me -- I truly felt bad about ruining Valentine’s Day. When she accepted my apology, I rebooked the room and got the trip back in order. I even bought some really expensive flowers, a new card that had glitter, flowery hearts and flowery prose, and I threw out my straightforward card and cancelled the walking tour of the missile site I really wanted to see while on the trip. Like old times, I even got the room next to the ice machine.

“I don’t get it,” my wife said to me. “These are all things that make you miserable. Why would I be happy if you’re in misery?”

“I’ll have one thing that makes me most happy,” I said.

“What, me?” she said with playful mockery in her voice.

“No,” I responded.

“No?” she exclaimed, unpleasantly surprised.

“I’ll have your happiness.” It was corny, but it was honest. And fitting for Valentine’s Day.

“I still don’t get why you wanted the room next to the ice maker,” she said.

“Well,” I responded, “by now I’d say we’re able to tune out the sound. Besides, the only other room is next to the elevators.”

-February 2011

The Shoes Are On Other Feet

How do boys go through shoes so quickly? My 7-year-old went through two pairs in two months.

“More shoes?” my wife and I said to each other when we saw the shredded rubber our boy was wearing on his feet. We can’t afford to turn on our lights at night, let alone buy new shoes. In fact, the other evening I pulled up one of our solar-powered yard lights and hung it over the kitchen table so we could see our dinner. It was that bad.

“But he needs shoes,” my wife said.

“If we buy shoes,” I told her, “we can’t buy cheap ones.”

“But we’re spending too much money on the good ones,” she replied.

“Cheap shoes will force him to hate us,” I said. Then I told her about the pain and suffering I had to endure because of the cheap shoes my parents made me wear when I was about our kid’s age.

At first, I didn’t have to wear my cheapies to school because my mom and dad knew how bad the shoes were. But I had to wear them the rest of the time.

Now, everyone knows that the shoes you wear in grade school and how your peers respond to them factor into what colleges you’re able (or unable) to attend. That’s right. Kids are brutal, and they can shatter another kid’s confidence easily, thus affecting that kid’s entire life.

I had a friend who had to wear the same pair of cheap shoes every day for three years straight. His parents would stitch them up if they tore and wash them when they got dirty. The white laces never got as white as the rest of the shoe. Kids always made fun of him for that.

I certainly couldn’t complain to him about my cheap shoe situation. He had it just as bad, if not worse. But he gladly towed me in my Radio Flyer wagon with his bike while I grinded the soles of my shoes against the gritty asphalt to speed up the wearing-down process. He asked what I was doing. I said I was braking. I just had to get rid of those suckers.

I’d take off my shoes and use them for batting practice. I’d kick walls, let the dog chew on them. No mud puddle was left without ripples. But when my cheap shoes became a mess, my parents didn’t cave and buy me new “good” shoes like I’d planned (I assumed they’d believe the whole “You get what you pay for” bit and buy quality). No, they saw my friend’s newly washed sneakers and, a day later, I was wearing bright white shoes with mucky white laces.

My parents talked about never getting me the expensive shoes ever again. The cheap ones seemed to be holding up really well, they said.

I was doomed. The day would come when I’d have to wear those stinkers to school, and then everyone would poke fun.

“Those shoes aren’t so bad,” my friend told me.

“What do you know?” I said. “You’ve worn those same beat-up cheapies for three years.”

What a horrible thing to say. I lost a good friend because of it. He even went so far as to point out my cheap shoes to everyone we knew. They all laughed at me and put signs on my back. Yup, I was a grade-A dork.

I eventually apologized to my friend for the horrible thing I’d said to him about his shoes. I told him I deserved everything I got and would continue to get once I wore my cheap shoes to school. He graciously accepted my apology and wished me luck.

The years went by and, believe it or not, I survived grade school, even with cheap shoes.

“It was rough,” I told my wife. “But I was lucky -- very lucky -- to have had such a good friend by my side to take the taunts with me.”

As we discussed our son’s shoe situation, I imagined a reality where our kid wasn’t as lucky as I was. I didn’t want him taunted for the shoe choices his mother and I made.

So we bought him a brand new pair of really, really expensive shoes, the kind that would last forever. He test-drove them around the store. I couldn’t catch him. The shoes were that good. And really nice.

A month later, the shoes were trash.

So much for “You get what you pay for.”

-January 2011

Have Your Cake and Wear It, Too

I love cake. So when I saw the table ad for chocolate cake at the restaurant, I knew I had to have a piece. My wife was against it. She didn’t want our 7-year-old son getting any ideas.

“If you get it,” she said, “then he’ll want it, too.”

“Want what?” our son asked. “What’s it?”

“It’s nothing,” my wife replied, doing her best not to give the kid any ideas.

It’s just cake,” I said.

“Cake?” the boy said with increasing excitement. “I love cake. What cake? Chocolate cake?”

“The sugar’s gonna make him hyper,” my wife warned me. When the warning didn’t make me budge, she reminded me of the messes our kid made with cake in the past. My wife knows I hate mess.

“I can handle it,” I said. “It’s all under control.”

The waiter came by and, on cue, asked if we wanted dessert. My wife said no. I told her it was too late, that I’d already ordered.

Then I actually ordered.

Bystanders could see the storm clouds on the horizon when I asked for chocolate cake all around, even for the 7-year-old. They shot up out of their seats and ran, leaving full plates of food.

Out came the biggest . . . triple-decker . . . double fudge . . . towers of chocolate cake I’d ever seen. The cake came with shovels.

My wife’s piece intimidated her. She didn’t touch it. I studied my slice, looking for an approach route. My son jumped right in, no plan at all.

The face on the busboy was telling: Help! He could foresee cake everywhere. He eyed the kid, looking for compassion. He got no such gesture. He eyed the mom. The mom cried. He eyed the dad. I gave him a look of pure confidence. I think the poor guy ran for the time clock.

I slowed my eating during my approach into Quadrant 2 of the cake. That’s when I noticed the mess my son was making. I got scared. Real scared. I caught the busboy in his travels (he must’ve been denied clocking out), and I requested a few hundred napkins. He obliged.

I didn’t know where to begin. The mess started on the table surrounding the kid’s plate, then spread to the hands. The hands touched the face and the hands touched the shirt and the pants. From there, the mess made its way to the seat, then to the floor. It somehow managed to make its way to the ceiling, too.

Nobody at our table could move -- we were marooned, afraid of the mess as if it were a monster. In hindsight, it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. It was worse.

I left my cake unfinished and devised various strategies to get the kid out of the restaurant without tracking cake all over the place and, more importantly, without getting cake on me. But I couldn’t perfect anything. Making matters worse, the restaurant was pressuring us to leave to accommodate a line of people waiting for a table.

“You have to go,” the waiter said. The busboy grinned, happy to see me in peril -- misery loves company. I couldn’t pull myself together. Nothing was under my control. The mess was my fault and I had no exit strategy.

Then a plan came to me: Apologize to my wife for being dead wrong about the cake (maybe the first true apology in the history of husbands and wives) and apologize to the busboy for the mess.

The busboy took pity on me. He armed me with a stack of towels and offered me good luck. I welcomed his warmth with gratitude, and then I buckled down for the job I had to do. I wrapped my kid in towels and sprinted out the door.

The towels didn’t stop the mess from spreading. I got cake all over my hands and arms, all over my clothes. I made a chocolate cake path out of the restaurant and into the parking lot. The inside of my car was covered in double fudge. It looked like a cake had exploded in the back seat, and it might as well have.

When we got home, the mess continued onto the driveway and into the garage. It landed in the entryway, the hallway and in the bathroom. Even the dog, who was in his doghouse out back, found morsels of cake to eat.

My wife and I eventually got everything cleaned up and had our boy ready for bed at 11 p.m. -- two hours past his bedtime. The kid was so hyped up from cake he couldn’t sleep for another three hours.

Last night, we went to dinner. After eating, the waiter asked if we wanted cake. The cakes he showed us on a display plate looked so good. Yum.

“How about a cookie?” I said.

-January 2011

Healthy Holidays

My son has toys, but he plays with cardboard boxes, scrap paper, wrapping paper tubes and recycled Christmas bows. If he were a toddler, I’d understand, but he’s 7.

“Imagination is healthy, Daddy,” my boy said to me while building a nondescript machine out of old juice boxes and Scotch tape. I couldn’t disagree with what he was saying, but with Christmas coming, my wife and I wanted to know if we should be buying him toys or digging through the trash to find him junk.

We asked him to make a list for Santa. He told us the best stuff is what he’s seen on TV. My wife and I simultaneously felt our bank account go negative.

If we had a normal kid, we’d be right to worry. That stuff advertised on TV is expensive. It’s all video game systems, remote controlled gadgets and popular TV show-themed toys. But we have our son, who plays with junk. He doesn’t want expensive name-brand toys. He wants the stuff you see for $19.99 plus shipping and handling, and not the toys either.

Our son likes the weird household items, like the boot and glove dryer he saw on TV a few days ago. The kid doesn’t even own boots or gloves.

“Maybe I should watch TV and see what other great stuff I can find,” my son suggested. “But all that TV wouldn’t be healthy, would it?” he asked. “I don’t want to be ruled by TV. Did you know American kids spend about 30 hours a week watching TV? When they’re 70, they’ll have spent up to 10 years of their lives watching TV. That’s bad.”

“Where’d you learn that?” I asked with surprise.

“TV,” he said. Then he had a thought. “Maybe TV isn’t so bad.”

So my son set out to watch TV in search of “good” gift ideas for his Santa list. I sat with him and saw some really cool things advertised, like an actual flying saucer, a mini duck shooting gallery and a pretty neat mini magician’s magic set.

My son, however, had eyes for the Bug Vac (“It’s lightweight, Daddy, and it removes bugs with no mess.”), the Bed MadeEZ wedge (“Daddy, it’s designed by housekeepers from around the country.”) and the Twin Draft Guard (“Our drafty doors and windows are forcing us to crank up the heat, Dad. The Twin Draft Guard blocks air leaks from both sides”).

My son’s list grew with odd items. He couldn’t get enough. But he wanted more. He sat in front of the TV for days, collecting the names of weird items for his list.

“Mommy, Daddy,” he said one day. “I’m 7 and I have a TV problem. I think I better quit.”

Seven-year-olds think everything is just that easy. One day, when our son came home from a friend’s house -- a house that’s double the size of ours -- he asked if we could upgrade. “Can we get a bigger house? Just use your Chase card.” And after riding roller coasters at Magic Mountain another time, he asked if we could build a roller coaster of our own in the backyard. “Why can’t we build one, Daddy?” he asked. “You have wood in the garage.”

Yup, everything was an easy fix. But quitting TV was the kid’s first lesson in “easier said than done.” I caught him watching TV only minutes after he said he was finished with the tube.

“It’s okay, Daddy,” he said. “I don’t have a problem anymore. I’m perfectly healthy.”

He was perfectly in denial.

Then he went nuts. He hummed TV show themes nonstop and recited commercials word for word. My wife and I drew the line when he imitated kid pop star Justin Bieber, who he’d seen perform on TV.

We told our son we missed his made-up machines. We missed his made-up games. His imagination died and he was addicted to TV. Even he knew it.

A few days later, the TV gave our boy a way out. It advertised an “As Seen On TV” website. So I hooked the kid up to the Internet, with hopes it’d get him off TV. It seemed to work. And everything he ever wanted was there, even WonderFile, the ingenious organizer that turns any space into a neatly organized workplace.

A few clicks and a few hours later, my son’s Santa list was complete, and he’d forgotten all about TV. To celebrate, he asked if we could go outside to play.

“I’m so glad I don’t need TV anymore,” my son said while tossing a football. “But playing outside in this cold air doesn’t seem really healthy. Can I go inside and go online?”

And just like that, my wife and I have a true kid of the 21st century.

-December 2010

Working It Out

I’m broke. It’s my fault. I’ve given up.

Okay, so it’s really not as pretty as all that.

For the last 10 years, I’ve worked as a writer and content creator. But just barely. I’m on my way up.

In the last three years, there were months where I made no money at all. But sometimes I made very little money! My ultimate goal since I was a kid: sustain regular work as a filmmaker. And survive financially. That goal was all but in my grasp.

Now, at 34 years of age and little to no money in my pocket, I’ve had to consider going back to the job I got in high school, the one that supported me through film school, the one I so happily left to earn my living as a writer, which was beginning to work.

Before going back to that old job, I considered other options.

My wife and I had long ago cut frivolous spending. We don’t go anywhere fun. We don’t do anything fun. We don’t buy anything fun.

“What else can we cut?” my wife asked.

We sold the cars, leased two roller skates. Got rid of the house, rented someone’s closet. We’re wearing the same clothes since Tuesday . . . of last month.

“Mike,” my wife shouted. “What else can we cut?” she asked again.

I guess I was dreaming. I checked to make sure. Yup, I was wearing clean clothes and we still had our house and cars.

“There’s nothing else to cut,” I said.

So I made the decision to go backward, back to where I started, back to my first job -- manual labor with low, but at least steady pay.

While I filled out the online application, my 7-year-old son tried to keep me in high spirits. He talked about the wife he was going to get when he grows up.

“She’s gonna have blonde hair,” he said, “a pink shirt, blue jeans, and she’s gonna wanna play trucks with me all the time and have a family with me.” I wasn’t paying much attention to what my son was saying, but by the time I submitted my application, I knew I was making the right decision. My family’s well-being was more important than my career goals.

The next day, I got an interview for the job. I walked into the place I’d long since left and I couldn’t help but take in those sights, those sounds and those smells that I knew all too well. I swore that I’d never go back, that I’d keep moving forward no matter what. To go back would be to give up.

After leaving a decade ago, I occasionally had nightmares of being stuck at that job. I’d wake up in a panic, my wife assuring me I wasn’t back. I was doing well as a content creator for many years. I was making a living, building up a nice body of work and moving up. And right about the time things got bad, that’s when they got worse.

Four years of college that cost me $75,000 in student loans, and all the work I put into my career, not to mention the costly gambles I took to further that career, seemed to be meaningless as I went back to that high school job, asking for work.

Maybe I wouldn’t get it.

I got it.

My wife and son were thrilled. When I didn’t share their hoorays, my wife wondered why.

“I thought you wanted this job,” she said.

Wanted this job?

On my first day of work, I entered the building feeling like Tim Robbins’ character in “The Shawshank Redemption” as he encountered prison. I could almost hear the other employees chanting, “Fresh fish . . . fresh fish . . . fresh fish!” When I clocked in, it was like hearing my cell door slam home. On the outside I was a free man, the sky being the limit. Inside, however, I’m an institutionalized man, making just enough to get by, going nowhere.

That first day was the toughest, no doubt about it. My feet were sore, my back was sore, and I was constantly thirsty, spending most of my break time at the drinking fountain. The money certainly didn’t reflect the pain.

I knew right away I’d made a mistake. That night, friends and family tried to give me a boost.

“You weren’t going anywhere before anyway.”

“You gave your dream your best shot.”

“At least you have a job.”

 Yes, at least I have a job. My family can eat again. My wife and I can pay our bills, and we no longer owe anyone any money. But in that moment it seemed like something inside me died. My failure became a reality.

When I said goodbye to my wife and son on my first Saturday of work, I felt like I was saying goodbye to weekends with my family altogether. And I was.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” I said to them in a minister-giving-last-rites kind of way. “I enjoyed the time we had together and I’ll cherish it forever.” Before I got into my car to leave, my son presented me with a picture he drew of me at my new job.

“It’s for you, Daddy,” he said. “I’m so proud of you.”

There was some perspective.

Each day since then, I’ve gone to work feeling better about the choice I made. Sure, with this move I’ve gone backward. But maybe I was on the wrong path toward my goal. After all, I wasn’t making a living toward the end there. A dead end is a dead end, no forward movement there.

And so I seek a new path. I’ll continue to work really hard for many more years if I have to, and I might have to sacrifice as I have in the past, but forward I will go.

Like my son, I too once imagined a girl I’d marry -- one along the same lines as my son’s with blonde hair, pink shirt, blue jeans, likes to play trucks with me all the time, wants to have a family. I didn’t get exactly what I imagined.

I did better. And I’m very grateful for that.

-December 2010

What's All This Hype?

My 7-year-old son said, “She’s not his slave. That’s called womanizing.”

How does a 7-year-old know what “womanizing” is? My wife and I had been discussing a conversation I had with my brother who’d been bragging about how lucky he is to have a wife who cooks all the meals in the house. Indeed, my brother is lucky -- he can’t make toast. But my son decided to join in a conversation he had no business joining. He does that.

“That’s a problem,” my wife told me later.

“No it isn’t,” I said. “It just shows he’s smart -- he can speak with adults.”

My wife said I was in denial. I denied the accusation.

At school, our boy was getting in trouble for not minding his business, not staying in his seat and blurting out answers. We told him to mind his own business, stay in his seat and raise his hand and wait to be called on before answering any questions. And that was that. After all, the kid wasn’t trying to burn down the school. He was shouting out answers pertaining to the day’s lesson. Bad behavior could be a lot worse.

My wife said I was right. Then she had to think beyond that. “You think he has ADHD?” she asked.

“That’s something to consider,” I said, “if we were talking about someone else’s kid. But not our kid.”

To avoid an argument, I agreed that, as a precaution, we should look into ADHD. And then I went on with my day. I had no intention of looking into ADHD. There’s no way my son has ADHD. My wife and I didn’t do anything wrong as parents to give our kid ADHD. What was ADHD, anyway?

I looked it up online. ADHD is attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Symptoms include joining other people’s conversations, not being able to stay seated and blurting out answers. There it was right in front of me. My son had none of those problems.

My wife did her own research and, upon reading another bad report from our kid’s teacher about his hyper behavior in class, asked me to consider taking action.

“Okay, let’s settle this once and for all,” I said. I made an appointment with our son’s teacher. “I’m sick of teachers picking on our kid.”

At the meeting, the teacher talked about how much she adored our child, how he was the sweetest kid. Then she said she had to talk to him constantly about shouting out answers, minding his own business and settling down. She brought up a few other things that seemed to come right off the ADHD website I found, as if she was pushing us to think our kid had ADHD.

“Do you think he has ADHD?” my wife asked the teacher. She said she couldn’t give her opinion. Of course she couldn’t.

“That teacher just wants us to medicate our kid so she doesn’t have to do her job,” I told my wife after the meeting. “You wanna know what’s really going on here? All these signs we’re dissecting are really signs of our son’s leadership abilities. Think about it.”

I don’t think she thought about it. But in the days that followed, our son’s behavior in class improved. For the rest of the week, in fact, he got no bad reports. Maybe I was right. Maybe he was smarter than I thought, able to fix his behavior just like that.

Then we got the week’s end report saying our son had better behavior, but the teacher still had to give him visual cues to stop blurting out answers, to stay seated, etc. I can only assume that the teacher was putting in writing all the “facts” one would need to prove she did all she could to “help” our kid.

Facts or no facts, this was my son. I was concerned. I had to get real answers. I suggested to my wife that we take our son to see his doctor.

The doctor couldn’t tell us anything -- not yet, anyway. He gave us an evaluation to fill out and one for our son’s teacher to fill out.

Following the visit, we bought several books on ADHD, and each night, after long days at work and after putting our son to bed, my wife and I stayed up late reading our books and discussing our situation. We’ve barely slept in the last week.

We just got the teacher’s evaluation back and returned it to our son’s doctor. When we hear what the doctor has to say, I won’t be in denial. I’ll be ready to do whatever I have to do to help my son.

-November 2010

All's Welles

My 7-year-old son and I listened to the famous Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” broadcast from Oct. 30, 1938, a radio treat that tricked many listeners into thinking Martians had actually landed on Earth and were taking over.

“It’s the end of the world!” people cried out at the time, calling police, fire and newspapers for information and help. I told my son that this single broadcast caused major panic across the country.

“Some people were so scared,” I said, “they packed up all their things and left town.”

“But if the Martians were taking over the entire world,” my son asked, “where were people gonna go?”

“People were just scared,” I said. “Some had to be taken to the hospital because they were in such shock.”

“Are you kidding me?” my son said in awe of the prank. “Can we do something like that to Mommy?”

“Well,” I said, “we don’t want to scare Mommy into to the hospital.”

The kid realized what he said. He felt bad for suggesting such a thing.

“But we can scare her into tomorrow!” I said. “After all, it’s Halloween time!”

Before my son and I could plan our Halloween prank for Mommy, sirens outside drew us to the windows for a peek. We saw several fire trucks and police vehicles whistling by. News vans were close behind. Our neighbors poured out into their driveways to see what was going on.

I ran to the TV, flipped on the news.

The phone rang. My wife. “Turn on the news.”

“It’s on.”

“Do you know what’s going on?”

“No,” I said. “What?”

“I don’t know what,” she said. “I’m around the corner. I saw police go into our neighborhood.”

Outside, just over the hill, helicopters circled, lights flashed. Black unmarked vehicles sped down my street toward the action.

The doorbell rang. My neighbor. “You see all the cops?” he asked when I answered the door. “Bill ‘Two Doors Down’ said Bob ‘Across The Street’ said the Martians are landing. I guess it’s the end of the world, don’t you think?”

Martians? How ridiculous. Was I supposed to believe that?

I planned for my family’s immediate evacuation -- just in case.

My wife walked in to find me packing.

“Martians?” my wife asked when I told her why I was evacuating. “How ridiculous. Am I supposed to believe that?”

My neighbor, unbeknownst to me, followed us into our bedroom and joined the conversation. “This better not be a joke,” he said. “We better be in real danger here. I mean, if we go to all this trouble to pack up all our stuff and vacate only to find that this Martian business is all a joke, I’ll be pretty peeved.”

As the day progressed, we learned this was no joke. Really.

I had all the essentials packed -- underwear, socks, toothbrush, DVD collection. My son packed his coloring books.

“Alright, we’re all set,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“Wait,” my wife said. “I haven’t packed anything.”

“I got your make-up and People magazine,” I said. “You’re good to go.”

As I made sure the air conditioning was off, the lights were on timers and the doors were locked, my wife shifted gears into small talk about work. My neighbor was still following us around the house.

“Can I go to the bathroom alone?” I asked him. “Shouldn’t you be evacuating, too?”

My wife got upset at me for giving the neighbor attention and not listening to her. “You never listen to me,” she said.

“You’re arguing,” our neighbor pointed out. “You guys don’t seem like the arguing type.”

“Sweetie, I’m sorry,” I said to my wife, ignoring my neighbor. “I just wanna make sure everything’s set before we run from the Martians.”

Then I noticed that a timer on one of the lights in my house was set for the wrong time.

“See,” I said. “If I didn’t check this, we woulda evacuated and the lights wouldn’t have gone on tonight. You want a burglar to think we’re not home?”

“It’s the end of the world, dummy,” she said. “Who cares about burglars? I had a terrible day at work, don’t you wanna hear about how it’s almost the end of my career?”

My wife meant business, so much so our neighbor had to evacuate when he heard the tone in her voice.

And though we soon after discovered that there were no Martians, that instead all the commotion over the hill was due to a small brush fire that was put out in less than 30 minutes, the moral of the story remains: Even the end of the world isn’t more important than what your wife is telling you. This, unlike Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds,” is no joke.

-October 2010