Thursday, May 24, 2012

“The Dentist” or: “How I Tricked a Dental Professional Into Thinking My Teeth Were Perfect”

Six months ago, my dentist said I had a cavity that needed drilling. He warned me to change my brushing habits immediately or else.

My first thought: My brushing habits have kept me cavity-free for 20 years. What’s he talking about? My second thought: We’re in tough financial times -- I have no cavity. This guy just needs money.

I told the dentist I was going to get a second opinion. I left his office and went online.

According to the Internet, I didn’t have a cavity at all. Various sites and forums let me know that brushing my teeth twice a day with tartar control anti-cavity toothpaste would help prevent cavities. Well, I brushed my teeth twice a day with tartar control anti-cavity toothpaste. I couldn’t have a cavity.

I called my dentist and told him he made a mistake, that my teeth were fine and that I didn’t need any filling. He told me I not only needed a filling, but my gums were receding. Don’t you love how he just tacks that on after the fact?

By the way, not only do you need that True Coat Super Seal on your car so you don’t get oxidation, but you’re also going to need our Shine-E-Gloss on top of that to protect the True Coat.

This guy was a car salesman. What the heck does receding gums even mean?

I went to the professionals to find out -- I went online. Have you seen what receding gums looks like? Yikes! Receding gums cause uncontrolled growth of plaque and tartar, which causes cavities and later inflammation of the gums -- gingivitis. Gingivitis, I read, is a sign of even worse things to come.

Let me paint the picture: swollen gums (mine seemed to be swelling the more I looked at them), discolored teeth (mine weren’t all that white), bone loss (maybe that tiny piece of bone I swallowed with my steak wasn’t from the steak), abscesses (I wasn’t sure what that was, but I knew I had it anyway) and bad breath (I needed breath mints all the time).

I called my dentist back, made an appointment to get my cavity removed. Then I bought three kinds of toothpaste -- one for the morning, one for the afternoon and one for the evening. I also bought a range of mouthwashes, two types of dental floss and a motorized toothbrush that cost 80 bucks.

Next, I amped up my brushing habits. After eating, I’d rinse with mouthwash, floss my teeth, brush my teeth for no less than 10 minutes, floss again, and then rinse with a different mouthwash. I altered my diet as well -- no fruit snacks or hard candies, very little sugar at all and plenty of dentist-approved chewing gum. Chewing gum after meals, I read, stimulates the production of saliva, which helps wash away and neutralize the acid produced by bacteria in plaque.

Within a week, my teeth felt great. My wife and 8-year-old son even upgraded their teeth-cleaning programs. They started using my supplies, so I had to start hiding my stuff. I told them to get their own.

One day I couldn’t find one of my tubes of toothpaste. I thought I hid it too well. Then I thought my wife or kid used it up. But how could they go through a whole tube in a few days? I thought. And then my father-in-law stayed over and used the shower in our guest bathroom. He came out smelling like my son’s watermelon-scented 3-in-1 body wash/shampoo/conditioner.

“What happened to the liquid Dove?” he asked. “All I could find was that watermelon stuff.”

My son got defensive. “Girls want their men to smell like fruit. How do you think I got Tess to be my future wife?”

I’m not sidetracking here with the shampoo story. This “shampoo incident” brought me to the empty tubes of my toothpaste in the trash. You see, my son is an amateur scientist -- he empties shampoos, face washes and now the guest bathroom liquid soap and my super-duper toothpaste into empty water bottles to make “potions.” When I found the empty liquid Dove bottle in the trash, I also found my tube of toothpaste -- emptied.

It got worse. When I went to get my cavity drilled and filled the following day, the dentist said my teeth looked worse than before and that I really needed to change my brushing habits. What the heck?

I came to the conclusion that my dentist would never be happy. He was a perfectionist and my teeth would never be perfect, not if I was going to use them.

So I went back to my old, not-so-great brushing and eating routines. Six months later when I had another check-up, I didn’t even do the whole brush-really-good-for-the-dentist-appointment-like-I-brush-this-way-all-year-long routine like I normally do. I didn’t care what the guy had to say about my teeth.

“Wow,” he said. “Your teeth look great! Didn’t I say you just needed to change your habits?”

-May 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Grand Poobah

I can never say no.

I was helping my wife glue paper rainbow cutouts onto a page in one of her scrapbooks when my father-in-law called and asked me to check my e-mail. I couldn’t say no.

I don’t like confrontation and I try to stay in everyone’s good graces. So, even though I was afraid my father-in-law’s e-mail might contain painful requests like, “Can you give my daughter a better lifestyle” or “Please give her back,” I went to my computer and opened my mail.

Dear Mike, the letter began. When you married my daughter in 2000, I thought it best we combine forces to provide the highest level of male support we could achieve. Thus, the Misunderstood Husband’s Club and Rowing Society was born.

I was voted the esteemed Grand Poobah, and you, thankfully, assumed whatever other roles were left. It is with great sadness, then, that I resign my position to you, as I feel I am no longer qualified to carry on my leadership.

I stopped reading the letter right there. I couldn’t fill my father-in-law’s shoes. I didn’t have the skill, the experience or the time. How could I lead? But how could I say no?

As I continued reading my father-in-law’s e-mail, I tried imagining myself as the new head of the Misunderstood Husband’s Club and Rowing Society.

Since the beginning, our club flourished and provided support for both of us when dealing with our wives, my daughter and other assorted female friends and relations. Oftentimes, when faced with mysterious female logic, the only thing that saved the day was discussing the problem during our monthly meetings at the R.E. Pool Memorial Shelter for Downtrodden Husbands (an old Dew Drop Inn).

I recalled my father-in-law’s unequivocal headship at those meetings and his firm ability to reel in an emotional speaker. I was then reminded of the calm and cool my father-in-law exuded during the incident he described next in his e-mail.

 Perhaps the best instance of our wives misunderstanding our innocent actions is best exemplified in the well-known Junk Food Jaunt. If you recall, you and I dropped our wives off at the gym, and instead of waiting out front as promised, we shuttled across the parking lot to the nearby 7-Eleven market for a sweet snack or two.

Sitting outside in the car, a gym member -- and friend of my wife and yours -- noticed us consuming the tasty treats and, upon entering the fitness center, ratted us out. When we were confronted, it was no use trying to deny our actions -- the evidence was all over our hands and faces.

Instead of receiving affirmation for taking our wives to the gym, we were chastised for consuming a perfectly legal item.

I distinctly remember the skirmish, and I remember speaking my mind openly at one of our meetings later in the week. Perhaps I spoke a little too openly. However, it was my father-in-law, the Grand Poobah, who calmed me down, who reminded me of the vow I took when I said I do—“You must,” he said, “above all, serve, protect, obey, and say, ‘Yes, dear.’”

I could never settle a shaken husband of the club that quickly or that effectively. In other words, I could never be Grand Poobah. I could never accept my father-in-law’s resignation. He would have to continue his reign.

I finished reading my father-in-law’s e-mail, which had more group nostalgia and farewell babble, and then I consulted my wife on the matter.

“Why me?” I asked her. “I can’t be leader. But I can’t say no.”

“Why can't you say no?” my wife asked.

And then it occurred to me -- Yeah, why can't I say no? 

I used to say no all the time. When I was a kid, I’d say no to strangers if they offered candy or I’d say no to friends with dumb suggestions like, “Hey, you should roll that tire down the street into oncoming traffic.” At some point during my “growing up,” I became a pushover.

I wouldn’t be easily swayed any longer. I picked up the phone, called my father-in-law, and began talking about random subject matter until I could find a transition point to tell him no.

And then he said something that had previously slipped my mind. He said, “Had it not been for the untimely death of my wife (back in August), I would’ve continued my leadership of the club . . .”

Thus, for the first time in years, I told someone no. My father-in-law said, “You don’t have to take over as Grand Poobah if you don’t want to.” And I said, “No, I’ll be happy to take over.”

My father-in-law, according to his e-mail, will remain a mentor to the group.

-May 2012

The Big Easter Bunny Heist

You’ve seen it in movies: Teacher sits the parents down, says their kid is running a business out of an empty office on campus, a room the school staff presumed was used for storage. The kid’s business -- a secret operation to catch the Easter Bunny.

Maybe you haven’t seen it in movies. But it runs through my mind as my wife and I prepare to meet with our 8-year-old son’s teacher the week before spring break.

During the scene in my head, the teacher tells my wife and me that our kid has a crew for Operation Bunny under his command. On the wall behind the kid’s desk in “his office” is one of those motivational pictures with a climber at the peak of a mountain and, in big letters below the image, the words Ambition -- Aspire to climb as high as you can dream.

I taught my son to go after what he wants. Maybe he’s a little too ambitious. That’s why I fear what his teacher has to say. What is my son up to? I wonder.

I also know that, during this time of year, my kid has one obsession -- to catch the Easter Bunny. Maybe it’s because he wants to prove to his non-believer friends that Bunny does exist. Maybe it’s because Bunny is a trickster and my son doesn’t want to be tricked any longer. Maybe my son’s grown tired of Easter egg hunts and he wants one final, big score -- all of the Bunny’s Easter eggs.

The day before the parent-teacher conference, my son tries softening us up.

“If my teacher says I’m distracted by the stuff in my desk, then I don’t remember him telling me that. I promise.”

I remind the kid of the weight the words “I promise” carry, and I ask if he means it. He says he does, that he promises he’s been good in school. If he’s lying, that’s a huge deal in our world, and I won’t be happy.

My wife and I enter the classroom. It smells like erasers and pencil shavings. We’ll be here for the next 30 minutes. By 4:30, I’ll know where our son stands. And I’ll know if his promise is good.

The teacher -- he has nothing but shining things to say about our kid. Nothing about a secret office on campus. Nothing about Operation Bunny. Nothing even about our boy smuggling carrots or radishes (Bunny bait) from the cafeteria to his desk.

I won’t say to the teacher, Huh? But I want to. Maybe he’s trying to soften us up.

That’s it. He finally gets to the part about our son’s wandering mind, his constant questions unrelated to the subject being taught in class. But the teacher says our son is very imaginative, unlike any student he’s ever had.

This guy’s clearly working for my son. How many Bunny eggs did my kid promise him?

With good marks on his report card, my son’s situation is pretty good. In fact, it’s too good. I give the teacher a smile, one that means there’s really nothing to smile about.

“Alright,” I said to the teacher. “Enough with the charades. Let’s go to the kid’s desk for the plans, the list of guys he’s hired for the job, the bankroll to fund the whole operation. I know it’s all there.”

The teacher’s eyes go wide. Maybe he’s with me. Maybe he thinks I’m nuts. Maybe I don’t care either way. Before I can roll my son’s desk, the teacher assures me there’s nothing to worry about.

I roll the desk anyway. Nothing but useless class work inside. I guess the teacher is giving it to us straight. And I guess my son and I can still hold sacred the words “I promise.”

My wife and I meet up with our son outside the classroom and tell him the good news about the conference. The boy seems relieved. That’s suspicious. But I offer ice cream -- not for him for doing well, but for me for making it through the conference without completely losing my obsessive-compulsive mind.

After two scoops of mint chocolate chip and a Dixie cup of water, a hunch about my son’s previous suspicious behavior leads me to our fridge. Low and behold -- missing carrots!

I knew he was leaving me out of the Bunny heist fun.

I go to the kid’s room, tear it apart. I find the carrots. That’s right, the carrots from the fridge. Then I find a stick, twine and a box labeled Bunny Catcher 1027-Z, a hybrid of the model we made last year and the leprechaun trap we just made for St. Patrick’s Day.

I confront my son. He gives me a story about wanting to catch Bunny without my help.

“If you just let me help you again,” I plead, “I promise . . . we will catch the Easter Bunny.”

My kid reminds me of the weight the words “I promise” carry. And now, per my promise, I have to deliver an Easter Bunny.

You’ve seen it in movies -- father puts his foot in his mouth.

-April 2012

Can't Trust My Wife

Do wives just tell us what we want to hear?

When my wife and I took our son to see Pixar’s “Up” in the theater back in 2009, the three of us walked out saying we loved the movie. We bought the Blu-ray.

Recently, our son (now 8) announced that he wanted to watch “Up” again. My wife said she didn’t really like the film.

“I thought you loved it,” I said.

“I only said it was only okay,” she replied.

Not so surprising. She does this with restaurants, too. We’ll go to a place, I’ll say I love it, she’ll say she loves it, and then when she asks where I want to eat the next time we go out, I’ll suggest the place we both said we loved, and she’ll say, “No, that place was only okay.”


There was a similar ridiculousness with Disneyland. When our dating was becoming more than serious, I took her to the happiest place on Earth to see how she liked it, which would tell me if I should go on liking her, maybe even marry her. I only gave her the darn ring because she said she loved the place. Now she says Disneyland is “only okay.” That was pushing it too far.

I called her out. She said there was no opinion changing or lies, just my bad memory.

“You can’t even remember that my favorite ice cream is peanut butter chocolate,” she said.

“You said you hated peanut butter chocolate.”

“I love peanut butter chocolate.”

I could take it no longer. I had to catch her in a change of opinion or a lie and document it. Better yet, I had to record it.

But how immature was that? Was I going to carry a notebook like a detective? Or plant a recorder on my body like some mob informant?

That’s exactly what I was going to do! I gave myself a week to get proof of my wife’s dishonesty.

Monday -- I look for my little tape recorder. Time’s flying. The day’s already over. Why the heck is my recorder with my wife’s stuff?

Tuesday -- I prod my wife for strong opinions about anything. She gives me nothing but “only okays.” I take her to a movie after work, then to a restaurant. More “only okays.” I’m afraid to ask what she thinks of me.

Wednesday -- My wife tells me I’m being more thoughtful than ever, always asking for her opinion. She says she loves my attention to her. I get it on tape.

Wednesday night -- My wife finds out what I’m up to. She’s mad. Something tells me that opinion won’t change.

Thursday -- I’m thinking maybe this investigation is stupid. Who really cares anyway, right? Now my wife doesn’t trust me. It was only a tiny investigation against her.

Friday -- I’m giving up. I put away my pad. Put away my recorder. The wife seems to be in a good mood. I’m guessing that’ll change one day.

Saturday -- I know I said I was going to stop with all this sleuthing, but I introduce my wife to a podcast called “The Moth,” and she says she loves it.

Luckily my tape recorder is not back with my wife’s stuff. It’s in my nightstand. I get all the goods -- my wife on tape admitting her love for the podcast. She even tells me I can bust her if she ever says she doesn’t love the podcast.

Watch, this’ll be the one opinion she doesn’t change.

Sunday -- The final day of my experiment to prove that my wife is not to be trusted. I have to get something now or never. But I can’t make her mad again because life could become miserable for me.

I go for it. I ask if she wants to listen to another podcast of “The Moth.” She tells me no, that the podcast is only okay.

I . . . get . . . it . . . on . . . tape! I feel like Donnie Brasco after recording a telling conversation that could send the mob down in flames.

And while my wife swears she didn’t break my tape recorder on purpose, I know for certain that the wives of this world will never admit when we husbands are right.

-March 2012

Coming Soon!

I’m sometimes accused of trying to give my kid everything he wants.

I know that’s a bad idea because as much as I want to make him happy, I don’t want him growing up thinking life will treat him the same way. I want to give him the skills and preparation he needs for the real world.

So when my son, now 8 years old, asked to make a movie like the kind we watch in the theater, I initially wanted to say yes to make him happy. But because I went to film school, made movies and worked in the film industry, I said no. None of it is magic. The real world of the movies is heartache, pain and mostly failure.

Then I considered what was best for the kid. Heartache, pain and failure would all come along soon enough. I figured it’d be better for him to deal with letdown at a young age than be blindsided by it when he’s older and the stakes are higher.

My son and I immediately went into production on the movie, using the family video camera and the movie editing software on the family computer.

Right away the kid and the movie didn’t get along. Making movies takes time, and my son can’t sit through the blink of an eye. But soon after realizing the workload he was in for, he quickly regained focus and plodded forward.

My son wanted his movie to have car chases, explosions and big monsters like in the films we watched in the theater. I knew the toy cars we pushed through the camera frame and the generic computer-generated explosions we applied via the editing program and the Halloween masks we wore were no match for the millions of dollars spent on the blockbusters my kid wanted to imitate. I just knew he’d be let down in the end, and it was going to hurt. But it was going to be good for him, right?

As we reached the end of post-production, my son was extremely proud and happy with the work we were doing. He was having a great time, too.

I think every filmmaker experiences such disillusionment. In other words -- it’s always too good to be true.

As we watched the first cut of the movie, I could almost taste the heartache to come. Friends and family would especially suffer through the 20-minute opus. I wouldn’t be able to deal with the pain my son would soon experience. I kept telling myself that my son’s pain now was better than his pain later.

But the kid loved his movie. It was everything he hoped it would be . . . and more. Now he wanted everyone else to take the ride.

I couldn’t deny him the opportunity. So I gathered family and friends while he set up a movie theater in his room. I made popcorn. He cleared off his bookshelf to make a snack stand. I lined up the people outside his door. He ushered them into his theater, which even had aisles and seat numbers.

Before the start of the picture, my son instructed everyone to “please silence your cell phones.” Then he dimmed the lights and “rolled film.”

Everyone was very impressed with my kid’s directorial debut and fed his ego respectively. As a result, the up-and-coming Spielberg wanted to make DVDs so he could sell them to strangers on the street. “You know, like how kids sell lemonade,” he said.

I had to set my son straight. He made a great little video for his age, doing the best he could with the resources at hand, but no one but family was really going to buy it. I couldn’t say anything, though. I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news. But the look on my face said it all.

“Daddy,” my son said, “I know it’s not like a movie in the store. But maybe people will want to support a kid and his art.”

I didn’t have to protect my kid after all. He wasn’t under any false illusions -- ever. He knew exactly what he’d made and he just wanted people to see it for what it was. I was so glad I didn’t have to let him down.

And then he asked how we could get his movie nominated for an Academy Award.

-March 2012

Bedcrime Story

My 8-year-old son has to make his bed every morning. There’s a problem, though. Let me explain.

He keeps his bed made at all times, even when he sleeps. One night before bedtime, I pulled his covers down for him while he put on his pajamas, and then I went to brush my teeth. When I came back to say good night, he had the covers back on the bed and was putting finishing touches on his hospital corners.

“Why’d you make the bed?” I asked him.

“I just wanted to see how I’m gonna make it in the morning,” he said.

But that was a lie. As it turns out, my son would wait for me to leave the room, and then he’d get up and make the bed, and just sleep on top of the covers.

He had his bed made a different way every day. He’d arrange blankets, pillows, toys and stuffed animals in various fashions -- his bed was quite the display, I assure you. It gets even more complicated.
I think I have a right to be concerned when, watching an action movie where two guys are fighting head to head, my son says, “The bed in that room was so nice a few minutes ago. Now it’s all messed up.” He didn’t notice the awesome karate moves over a dining room table or the smashing hard hits, just the “amazing bed presentation” that was disturbed by two reckless men who were mad at each other.

I asked why he was so obsessed with neat beds. He said I made him that way.


I wasn’t buying that. No way.

Yet, if you accused me of doing something I didn’t do, I’d eventually think I did it. That’s how I’m wired. In due course I began to explore how it was that I, in fact, made my son into a kid who was obsessed with making his bed, who wouldn’t get under the covers when it was time to go to sleep.

Now I can easily point out what other people are doing wrong. But I couldn’t see so much in the mirror. So I went to my wife -- wives are good at shining a light on their husband’s shortcomings.

“You used to complain about him not making his bed all the time,” she said.

“Your point?” I asked. “Every parent does that.”

“But then you turned it into a game,” she replied.

She was right. I made it fun. The rules of the game: Whichever player could make his bed the fastest would win. Players could receive bonus points for added touches to the bed, hence the various blankets, pillows, toys and stuffed animals my kid added to his arrangements.

Early on, I intentionally won the games so my son would try harder -- he was more worried about speed than quality. After a few days, I couldn’t prevail if I tried. My son’s bed was always made before mine, and it looked much better.

But therein lies the problem. In order to win, he had to keep his bed made at all times. He’d freeze at night sleeping on top of his covers. Then, in the morning, he’d just spend a moment adding a few touches. And while I felt more secure about losing to an 8-year-old, I had to end the game.

 It was too late, however. My son couldn’t change his behavior. He had to keep his bed made and as done up as ever, and he had to sleep on top of the covers. I asked various professionals for advice. They told me there was nothing I could do -- my kid would always be an obsessive bed maker, unable to crawl under the sheets for the rest of his life.

There it was. I’d ruined my son.

One night, while I was trying to get a snow jacket on my sleeping kid, my wife came in and delivered one of those monologues that come toward the end of movies, the ones that encourage the hero to pick himself up and finish the fight. Those monologues, backed up by sweeping musical accompaniments, are always so cheesy and unbelievable. But my wife’s was so magical.

The next morning, I went into my kid’s room ready for battle. He didn’t even know what hit him. Remember those scenes in prison films where the guards “tossed” one of the inmate’s cells to find escape tools or other contraband? Picture that. I tossed my son’s bed with him on it. He and his blankets and toys and stuffed animals flew into the air.

I created a new game -- the Who-Can-Keep-The-Messiest-Bed game. My son became a master of that one, too. I’m proud to say he’s sleeping under the covers again. Yes!

Only problem: Even after he wins the game, I can’t get him to make his bed to save my life.

-February 2012

Mishap-y Birthday

In the beginning of a relationship, men treat their women way too well for their birthdays.

It’s not that women don’t deserve to be treated well. Rather, men can never top what they did during those early days of dating, and after a number of years of marriage -- if it gets to that point -- women will hold us husbands to the untoppable standards that, unbeknownst to us, we set for ourselves.

I remember the puppy love stage: I showered my wife with expensive gifts, pages of heartfelt prose, big surprises and uncompromising attention. But as I got older and more domesticated, I found I no longer had excess money for expensive gifts, there were only so many ways to write I love you, my wife learned all my tricks and so there was no way to surprise her, and I just couldn’t give her the same attention because so many other things robbed me of my energy and focus.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t love my wife. I adore my wife and I always have.

Last year at this time (my wife’s birthday pre-season), I thought about what I was going to do to celebrate the day she was born. She’d seen the decline of my gestures for her birthday after the first two years of marriage. And she saw right through my leveling-off period where I did no more and no less than the year before, a standard I could comfortably meet from year to year.

I can’t do the same yet again, I thought. That’d be as bad as doing less, especially at this point.

For five years straight, I prepared the same birthday meal, invited the same people over, bought basically the same gift, and I gave the exact same birthday card (I’d purchased 15 copies of the same card one year). I strategically designed her birthdays so she could never say the previous one was better.

But to cross the five-year mark and repeat that same routine for a sixth year in a row seemed, well, tacky. This was my wife, after all, not a job, and I wanted her to feel appreciated on her birthday.

I took my chances anyway. I bought everything I needed for the usual birthday meal. I sent invitations to the usual crowd. I got the status quo gift. Dug out that winning birthday card. It was all the same. And then, on the eve before her birthday, there was something different.

I ate dinner the same time I eat it every night -- around 6. Closed up the house -- shut the blinds, locked the doors. Got ready for bed -- brushed my teeth, watched a few scenes from a favorite movie, made sure I had the sheets just right. I kissed the wife goodnight and shut my eyes.

Then, for the first time in my life, I saw a ghost. Either that or it was a dream. The ghost was a younger version of me (much younger), dressed like a Dickens ghost, and he criticized me for doing the same thing on my wife’s birthday for a sixth year in a row. For an entity that could magically appear and whip up a Dickens costume in no time with no money, I could understand why he thought I could so easily just “go bigger,” as he told me I must do, too.

“Hey,” I told ghost me. “Tomorrow’s game day. It’s too late to alter my plans now.”

That ghost me didn’t care about reason and logistics.

“What happened to your enthusiasm?” the young spirit kept telling me. “You’ve got to surprise your wife with breakfast in bed, lay out her clothes while she’s in the shower, put a love poem in the front seat of her car, hang a birthday banner from a freeway overpass she drives under on the way to work --”

“That’s impossible,” I interrupted. And it was. I couldn’t pick out her clothes. I’m a guy.

I tried some karate moves on ghost me in an attempt to get rid of him, but he knew the moves better than I did since he was younger and closer in time to those lessons I took as a kid. Ghost me swept my legs and I hit the floor hard. My words were my only defense at that point.

“I can’t top what we did in those early days,” I whimpered. “I outdid ourself. Sorry, but there’s nowhere to go from there but down.”

“You gotta think,” the ghost told me. “Think how excited she’d be. Think how much she’d love you.”

“Think,” I said, “how this has got to be an elaborate joke involving a video projector and footage of someone who looks exactly like me 12 years ago.”

The next morning, I got up early -- real early, way before my wife gets up. I did the breakfast-in-bed thing, made a radio dedication to my wife, put flowers and poetry in her car, hung a banner from an overpass. I miraculously outdid myself. It was the bargain I made with ghost me the night before so he’d stop haunting me -- I had to get to sleep.

I was proud of myself. My wife’s birthday last year was her best.

That night she hugged and kissed me and said I shouldn’t have. And now, a year later, my wife’s birthday is coming up -- her expectations are up as well -- and I’m the one saying I shouldn’t have.

-February 2012


It’s the ultimate breakfast -- DONUTS.

But is ultimate always good? Is all that glitters always gold?

When I was a kid, my family bought donuts every now and then. My dad made sure of that. I remember his favorite -- Bavarian cream. Subsequently, Bavarian cream was my favorite, too.

Even when I got older (11 years old), when my friends and I spent the night in our fort during the summer, we’d wake up in the morning and get donuts. I always got the Bavarian cream. Yum.

My wife doesn’t like donuts, which means for the past 11 years since we’ve been married, I haven’t had a single donut. Last Sunday morning, however, around 10 a.m., my wife, 8-year-old son and I passed a donut shop. A giant poster in the window advertising Bavarian cream-filled donuts called for me.

“What are we gonna do for breakfast?” I asked my wife.

“We’re not having donuts,” she said, totally aware of what was going on in my mind.

“I know,” I said. “But they’re so good.”

“But they’re so bad,” she replied.

We got stuck at a red light, and that donut advertisement taunted me.

“What’re donuts?” the 8-year-old asked. Poor kid had no idea.

“We don’t really have any breakfast food at home,” I said to my wife. “And if we go shopping right now, we might as well just skip breakfast and do lunch.”

Her look said it all. I didn’t know I had it in me to so shamelessly manipulate her like that.

To the donut shop we went. My wife sat in the car.

“Just get six donuts,” she said on our way out. “We don’t need any leftovers.”

The lady in the donut shop told my son and me that we could get a super baker’s dozen (14 donuts) for the price of six donuts.

“But Mommy told us to only get six,” the kid reminded me.

Six wasn’t going to work. I needed at least four glazed donuts for myself. It’s funny -- no one wants to admit that glazed donuts are actually the best. They always say they’re too plain. I used to claim that the Bavarian cream ruled the dozen, but I’d always grab a glazed first. And I’d always wrap up the “meal” with a glazed. I could no longer deny the power that that particular donut had over me.

“We’ll do the 14,” I told Donut Lady. “And we’ll start with six glazed.” Then I looked to my son -- “How many glazed ones do you want?”

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It sets the tone for the 24 hours to follow. When my son and I picked our super baker’s dozen, I knew it was going to be a great day. For insurance, I ordered a somewhat healthy breakfast sandwich for my wife. And some fruit. That’d score me points.

After I paid, my son saw a glazed twist that was hiding in the back of the display case. He said the glazed twist was going to be his favorite donut once he tried it.

“It’s too late now,” I said. “It’s not like we can switch ‘em.”

Donut Lady threw in two glazed twists for the kid -- free of charge.

We left the store with the breakfast sandwich, the fruit and one big box of donuts.

“What happened to ‘only six donuts’?” Mommy asked. She was actually upset, even though we got the six donuts like she requested . . . and 10 more.

The entire morning was ruined. And it would most likely set the tone for the 24 hours to follow.

When we got home, my wife ate her breakfast sandwich and fruit. My son and I didn’t touch our breakfast. I felt bad. I knew my wife didn’t want to be tempted by all that sugary goodness.

When she was finished, I opened that big box. But, seeing the donuts, I couldn’t eat a single one. The guilt hung over my head. Then Mommy caught a glimpse of a rainbow-sprinkled donut.

“Can I have that one?” she asked.

That gave my son and me the okay to tear that box to shreds.

Finally, after all these years, I had the donut feast I’d so been wanting.

Four minutes and about 26 seconds later, after polishing off the last of the 16 donuts, I never wanted another donut again.

-January 2012

Same Ol' New

New year. New goals. New outlook.

Same ol’ thing.

For the past eight years, my wife and I have spent each New Year’s Eve alone. That’s how it’s been.

You see, once we had a child, we were excluded from any and all New Year’s Eve celebrations -- babies are typically not welcome at such parties, and baby sitters don’t seem to exist.

My wife and I would barely make it to 9 p.m., let alone midnight. But we were okay with that.

This year, however, our only child was old enough to warrant our family’s inclusion at New Year’s Eve parties. My wife had the idea to host a party of our own. Some friends and their children (our son’s age) were available and open to the idea of coming over.

No way, I thought. Not me. Hosting parties is too much work and never any fun because I’m too busy worrying about my responsibilities as host. But I knew my wife wanted the party and I wanted to make her happy. It would cost me, for sure. I needed a solution.

I went to the only place I knew I could get good, solid counsel -- the barbershop.

Barbershop Joe convinced me to host the party. He nicked my ear with the clippers.


“You think that hurt?” he asked. “Try disappointing the wife -- you don’t wanna know that pain.”

I gave my wife the okay to have the party. Evidently, the invitations had already gone out.

“We’re gonna do enchiladas,” I said firmly to rebound from my previous loss. “And we need a piƱata that’s shaped like the year 2011 so we can bash it to pieces to show how kind 2011 was to us.”

Luckily, my wife was happy with those ideas.

The plans came together rather smoothly. I actually enjoyed organizing the party. It finally hit me -- for the first time in all these years, my wife and I were finally going to get to celebrate New Year’s Eve with other people, just like everyone else in the world.

Then, for the first time in all these years, I was called in to work on New Year’s Eve.

“Nothing changes,” I said to my wife when I heard. “I won’t even finish until about midnight.”

I was angry. And then I didn’t care anymore. I’d have to work all day, maybe get home in time to make some New Year’s Eve noise, and then, I predicted, I’d have to clean up the party mess. Because that’s how it’d go down.

The wife would ask, “You want help?”

I’d answer, “No, you were cooking and entertaining all day.”

And I’d be furious because I worked all day, too, and got stuck cleaning up, but I wouldn’t say anything.

“Just once,” I said to my wife, “I’d like to have my cake and eat it, too. I know people who get to have that. I really don’t think it’s that unattainable.”

“Why don’t you just see if you can get out of work?” my wife asked.

I hadn’t really considered doing that.

My plan was to be cool, to act as if I had nothing to lose.

“Puh-leeeease,” I pleaded with my boss, “can I have that day off?”

A co-worker said I was actually on the floor begging. I don’t remember that part.

“I asked if you could work on New Year’s Eve,” my boss said. “You told me no problem. If you couldn’t do it, why didn’t you just say you couldn’t do it?”

“But how could I say no?” I asked.

“You just say no,” he said.


“So do you wanna work, or do you want the day off?”

I finally stood up for myself -- I told my boss I wanted the day off. Though, a co-worker said my boss had to insist I take the day off. I don’t remember that part.

So, for the first time in years, I was going to get to celebrate New Year’s Eve at a party. I was happy for about 20 minutes. And then I felt a cold coming on.

I was in bed all night -- no loud, exciting party for me.

And it was a peaceful New Year’s Eve after all.

It’s going to be a good year.

-January 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Santa Letter

Dear Santa,

This year, I’d like my 8-year-old son to have the best Christmas ever, like the ones you gave me when I was a kid.

I try not to compare my experiences as a child with my son’s. If I do that, then I’ll kill myself trying to make his childhood exactly like mine. It’s like ordering a meal at a restaurant -- if I set my mind on having the meatloaf, then that’s what I must have. If the waiter comes back and says they ran out of meatloaf, I’ll turn the kitchen upside down looking for it.

So I decided I wouldn’t reflect on all the great Christmases you gave me. I couldn’t set myself up for the letdown that was inevitable.

But trying not to think about it made me think about it, and my mind wandered back to those spectacular Christmas days. I still wonder -- how did you make every Christmas so great, so special? 

Remember the year I wanted that Steve Caballero skateboard -- the red one with the black Vision Blur wheels? If you remember, I wrote a letter to you asking only for that, suggesting you get me nothing else, just the board. No clothes, no toys, no candy.

Christmas morning, I opened all kinds of great gifts. I got that really cool RC truck, my favorite candy, all those records, a bunch of Steve Caballero skateboard shirts . . . I got a lot of stuff. But when I was finished opening all my presents, no Steve Caballero skateboard.

I was bummed. I would’ve traded all those gifts, great as they were, for that red Steve Caballero skateboard with the Vision Blur wheels.

Long after the last gift was opened, I was going through the candy in my stocking when Mom asked me to get a rag from the hallway closet to clean a mess my younger brother had made on the coffee table. I moped down the hall to the closet. When I opened the door, the rag was sitting on top of the Steve Caballero skateboard you hid for me. It was the best surprise ever -- un-top-able.

You still always managed to surprise me in different ways each Christmas after. One year, on Christmas Eve, when I thought you weren’t real anymore, my little brother and I lay in bed telling each other all the gifts Mom and Dad had bought us for Christmas. We knew everything we were going to get the next morning. But, magically, you surprised us with other goodies, and I came to believe in you again.

I was especially surprised when I got the Halloween masks you put under the tree for me. Stores had long since stopped carrying them -- it was December, after all. Yet you knew how much I loved Halloween and, being Santa, you found a way to get those masks and other Halloween treats for me. You got me things I didn’t even have on my Christmas list, things I had only mentioned to friends and family way back in the summer.

You got me my favorite candy, Atari games, the exact size clothing for me . . . Christmas was always a perfect fit.

How can my son’s Christmas be as good as all that? No matter how good my son’s Christmas is this year, I know it will never match the greatness of mine.

Christmas is almost here and I guess my boy will get what he gets. He often says, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” He never does throw a fit. He’s such a happy kid. He’ll most likely be as happy as I was as a kid, even if I don’t think his Christmas is as magical as the ones I had.

I told him to write you a letter. He asked for very little. I told him he made a very nice list -- he wasn’t greedy at all. 

“But remember,” I said to him, “Santa Claus can only get you one thing on that list.”

“That’s okay,” he said with a smile. “I’ll be happy even if I got nothing. I just love Christmas.”

Santa, I don’t know how you made my Christmases so great, and I’m not asking you to give my son everything on his list, but I have to ask for one thing he really wants that my wife and I can’t possibly give him. I think it could make this Christmas for him almost as good as the ones you gave me.

He wants to ride in your sleigh and help you pass out gifts. You think you can pull that one off? 

-December 2011

Shop Till You Pop

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or so a popular Christmas song tells us.

I love the Christmas season. Come the first of December, a different kind of happiness takes over my soul, an unmatched feeling of joy, of loving, of giving. I know, however, that such isn’t the case with everyone.

On Thanksgiving Day, a friend asked if I was ready for Christmas shopping. Nope, not me. The thought of buying presents at this time of year kills any visions of sugarplums dancing in my head because people are crazy. I had no plans of going out into that jungle of shoppers to spend money on items that were marked up just so they could be marked down and advertised as “great deals.” To avoid such horrors and pain, I did my shopping in June. Smart thinking, eh?

But then the Christmas season blew into town with the colder weather, and that December happiness came over me, that unmatched feeling of joy, of loving, of giving.

I was ready to hit the malls.

Even though I already had gifts for everyone, there were so many other things I could buy. And so many “great deals.”

Saturday morning I packed the family into the car and set out for adventure.

At first, I didn’t notice the hostility on the road. Motorists cut me off and ran red lights like any other day. But when one lady blew through a stop sign, almost hitting me, and threw her half-eaten candy cane at my car signaling me to get out of her way, I realized, Today is different -- people like this woman have to get to the malls 30 or 40 seconds before me.

At the parking lot, those 30 seconds paid off for Candy Cane Lady -- she got the last parking spot in town. But, just as I was about to park in another country, I found a spot that had just become available -- right near the store entrance. Ha! I got into the store 50 seconds faster than Candy Cane Lady . . . and I got stuck at the edge of 3 million shoppers in a structure that only accommodated a few hundred max.

Children screaming, people pushing made me think this scene wasn’t the “meeting smile after smile” feeling that the song “Silver Bells” had in mind.

A wave of perfume crashed into me, making my brain throb. I could feel the side effects -- I couldn’t think. I pit-stopped my family in a corner of the store near a holiday display and almost got run over by a man carrying several shopping bags. This guy actually sped up, trying to ram me with his holiday treasures, telling me, “I’ll run over people like you.”

“Like who?” I asked. “Someone not clearing a path for you? Who are you?”

Before I could ram him with the object in my hands, my wife took our 8-year-old son from my grasp.

A few purchases later and well into the process of numerous shopping bag handles cutting bloody lines into my hands, I looked up through a skylight in the building and into the heavens and asked, “Why me?” I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself. I was livid. Why me? I finished my shopping in June.

I began making deals with store employees -- “If you show me a back way outta this place, I’ll give you all my purchases.” I even offered up my “next in line” spot at a register to a woman 300 people back so she’d turn off her dancing reindeer hat that looped the same “Jingle Bells” tune so often and so loudly that it was all I could hear. The sound of the kid crying next to me didn’t even register in my ears.

I didn’t care anymore. I crashed in the food court. Finally I got a break. But even a super sub sandwich couldn’t bring me back to life.

I watched families fight over what they were going to eat. Shoppers threatened other shoppers with plastic eating utensils to win the last table available for dining. People left trays of trash in tree planters because they didn’t want to walk a few more steps to the trashcan. I felt disgusted with humanity.

After finishing my lunch, I gave my wife the car keys, got up and got out of there. I walked home and brought up the Internet on my computer to finish the shopping I didn’t need to do in the first place -- ah, that December happiness was back, that unmatched feeling of joy, of loving, of giving.

Online shopping was uneventful -- a few clicks . . . done. But it was hassle-free.

When my family returned from shopping, they spilled into the house like a party that just arrived. But I knew their laughter and excitement and funny stories weren’t real. I knew that going to the malls at this time of year was not fun. It was miserable. There was no excitement, not like with online shopping.

No, I didn’t miss anything. Right?

-December 2011