Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Zombies, End of the World, New Year

First there was the threat of Y2K, where the world as we knew it was going to end because all computers, which controlled the planet, weren’t going to rollover from ’99 to ’00. Then there was Dec. 21, 2012, the last day of the Mayan calendar and thus, doomsday. And finally, there was the Zombie Apocalypse on Dec. 22, 2012, the doomsayers’ way of killing us off if we survived the end.

Well, it’s 2013. We made it.

It all came upon us so quickly. When the end is that near, life seems so short. I had put the End of the World in my calendar. I didn’t want to miss it. I wasn’t sure, though, if I should categorize it as “personal,” “home” or “work” since the end of the world really applies to all categories.

I set it as an “all-day” event. My 9-year-old son asked me to skip work that day so he could be with his parents for the End of the World. As luck would have it, I had no more sick leave or vacation days.

On the day, I hoped the End of the World would at least hit before I had to go to work so I wouldn’t have to work another shift. A friend told me the world would most likely end right as I clocked out. That made sense.

My son kept his mom and me close that Friday morning of Dec. 21. It was a somber time.

But the end of the world came and went. Life continued.

Next up -- the Zombie Apocalypse, and this, unlike the End of the World, wasn’t going to be as easy to dodge. That Saturday morning, my son informed me that no one was out front. Apocalypse!

“No one is ever out front,” I reminded him. “They’re in front of a computer or TV screen.”

Then I announced that the kid and I had Christmas shopping to finish. My son was against going out among the zombies but assured me, with a st- st- stutter, that he wasn’t af-f-f-fraid. He said it was better if we stayed in. He repeated that he wasn’t sc-c-cared. It was just too cold outside, he said.

And then he put on his Davy Crockett hat.

“Alright, Daddy,” he gave in, “let’s go do some zombie battle.”

Zombies were everywhere.

I was wrong: Those people were just mindlessly glued to their iPhones like me.

But as the day wore on, those mindless people looked more and more mindless. And they were asking for our minds. Rather, they chased us, repeating “Brains!” I just assumed we were near Comic-Con.

I’d taught my kid all about Davy Crockett, how he killed a bear when he was only 3, how he and his rifle, Ol’ Bess, never backed down from a fight. And while the kid had his own Davy Crockett coonskin cap, he didn’t have any sort of Ol’ Bess to take on brain eaters. The best we could do was . . . “Run for it!” I yelled.

We took cover at, what my son called the World Famous Diane Camper Christmas Party. For those who haven’t yet experienced a Diane Camper Christmas party, they are, according to my kid, “more world famous than our parties because more people fit in Diane’s house than in ours.”

It was the perfect place and time to live life like it was 1999. Diane and her husband, Bones -- a doctor, not a magician -- offered food, activities, “Star Trek” impersonations and occasional medical attention if injured in a party game. Zombie-bite treatment, however, was questionable, according to Bones.

The place was so packed my son thought the world was actually all there in Diane’s living room. Someone opened the back door to let in some fresh air. They let in some zombies instead. Diane got bit.

“Bones!” I yelled.

“Brains!” he yelled back. He became one of Them. And They were everywhere.

The problem with trying to live life to the fullest when you’re being pursued by zombies is that it’s hard to have fun when you’re on the run, ducking tons of clawing bloody hands and teeth. In hindsight, I suppose we could’ve had a little more fun with the chase. But when isn’t there regret in hindsight?

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays. And hearing the song with those words reminded my son and me that Mommy was home alone. It’s amazing what I boy will do to save his Mommy -- my son got us home in one piece, with our brains and all. And Mommy was fine.

When I woke the next morning, I realized, No, it wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t a scary story either.

No, according to my son’s journal, we’d actually lived this crazy adventure. We apparently fought off the zombies using “potty words,” a 9-year-old’s defense in every tight spot. And now we can finally live every moment like we’re at a World Famous Diane Camper Christmas Party, and enjoy it this time.

Wouldn’t you know it? A new end of the world is already upon us. The Big Asteroid deflected off some space junk and is headed our way within the year. This time it’s all doom and gloom.

-January 2013

The Big Christ-miss Wish

Why can’t my 9-year-old son ask for something simple this Christmas, like a Ferrari or a jet boat?

There are dads like me all over suburbia, I guess. I’m the kind who wants to get his kid the best Christmas gift ever. So when my son came to me and asked for a miracle, I told him no problem.

My wife was watching Oprah when my son and I walked into the room. The guy talking to Oprah on the show said he’d died, seen Heaven, and come back to life to tell the story. It was utter ridiculousness.

My son ate it up. And he wanted leftovers -- he wanted his grandma to come back to life, too.

“Well,” I told him, “that guy was dead for only a few minutes at best. Grandma’s been gone for over a year.”

“But that guy went all the way up to Heaven,” the kid retorted. “Grandma’s in Heaven. So she can just leave and come back down to Earth like he did, right?”

“Well,” I began to say, “he—”

“I’ll write Santa,” my son cut in. “He always comes through.” And lucky for me that he does.

The kid got out a piece of canvas card stock (some really nice stuff for a letter) and laid down some of his nicest prose. His penmanship was remarkable, something his schoolwork missed. All the while my wife and I were trying to convince him to ask for something Santa could actually deliver.

“It’s only one thing I’m asking for,” the kid said. “Santa won’t think I’m greedy.”

“But not even Santa can bring a person back to life,” I said.

“Daddy,” the kid responded with little patience for my petty opinions, “come on. If he can make 300- to 500-pound reindeers fly through the air, and cover 197 million square miles of the Earth’s surface in one night in a sleigh, and live forever like he’s currently doing, then he should have no problem doing the one simple little thing I’m asking for -- bring Grandma back to life.”

“Well,” I said, “it isn’t a . . . Wait, how do you know how much reindeer weigh? And how do you know the square mileage of the Earth’s surface? Are those numbers accurate?”

As I steered my phone into Internet mode, my son said, “Go ahead, look it up. But I’m right.”

“Well,” I said, discovering that he was, in fact, right, “you’re not right. And you’re wrong about Santa, too. He can’t bring Grandma back. I know this because if he could, everyone would ask for loved ones to come back and there’d be all these people coming back to life.”

I was sorry to disappoint the kid, but it had to happen sooner or later.

“People are coming back to life, Daddy,” he said. “Zombies, and the guy on Mommy’s TV show.”

As my son shared his Christmas wish with the whole world, his smile began to turn . . . into an even bigger smile. No one supported him, but he still believed in the power of his wish.

But then some of his friends tried to tell him that Santa doesn’t exist. That’s what did it.

“Maybe Grandma can’t come back after all,” he finally said. “With no Santa, there’s no hope.”

The kid slumped into a chair.

Then, with a renewed energy, “New plan, Daddy!” he said. “We’re gonna trap Santa to prove he’s real, then we’ll just make him bring Grandma back if he wants me to protect his rep at my school!”

“Well,” I said, “I’m thinking this is going too far. I’m gonna have to stop this right now. Son, I have to tell you something -- Santa is, well, just too darn big and jolly to trap.”

Now, we’d made some killer leprechaun traps and even better Easter Bunny traps over the years, though we never caught our marks. But catch St. Nick? He’s a saint. How do you catch a saint?

Using ribbon and garland, a light-up camel from our outdoor manger scene, placebo Christmas gifts, candy cane candles, cookies and milk as bait, and a stuffed snowman to break Santa’s fall (it’s too complicated to fully explain), we tested the Santa Trap 2900 (patent pending) . . . on Mommy.

It didn’t work. Mommy just got annoyed.

For a dad who likes to get his kid the best Christmas gift of all time, I was succeeding in making it his most disappointing Christmas to date. The trap failure was a real blow to the kid’s confidence.

“Maybe you’re doing something wrong, Daddy,” he said. “Or maybe . . . Ah, maybe next year.”

“Exactly,” I said. “Next year we’ll bring Grandma back to life.” I’d worry about “the how” later.

“No, Daddy, we can’t bring Grandma back to life ever. I think that guy on Mommy’s show was just scamming us. We’ll just have to visit Grandma at the cemetery for Christmas. How’s that?”

And with that, he wrote another letter to Santa, this time asking for a Ferrari and a jet boat instead.

-December 2012

Distaste Test

There’s a problem in my marriage. My wife demands that I taste her food when we go out to eat. It’s like she’s Al Qaeda launching a war on my meal enjoyment.

Why can’t we each just eat what we chose to order? If I wanted what she ordered, I would’ve ordered it.

With my decision to get a particular meal comes a taste palette I expect to savor. I can’t simply add other flavors to the mix. The entire dining experience is ruined.

So maybe I’m a little hard on my wife when she pushes her food on me.

“Sure,” I say, “I’ll try it.”

Maybe I’m not hard enough.

The other day, my wife suggested we try a new restaurant. That meant one thing: She’d want to sample. Wait, there’s a second thing: She’d want me to sample, too. I hate that. When I set out to eat a meal, I budget the entire plate. I never eat over my budget (not often, anyway), and I require everything I’ve set out to eat. Giving even one bite of my meal away throws the whole calculation off balance.

I wasn’t going to give in and go to this place to put up with the kind of meal blasphemy I’ve come to expect. I’d just have to tell my wife no, demand that we go to a familiar place, a place with no new dishes to try because we’ve had them all. I’d just have to be hard on her.

“Sure,” I said, “I’ll try it.”

I marched into the new restaurant determined to eat only what I ordered. And I was going to eat all of my meal, too -- share none of it.

I hated the place at first sight . . . and smell. It was seafood. Even though both sides of my family come from Palermo, Sicily, a seafood town, and even though my last name, I’m told, has something to do with a fisher boat, I take offense to all things fishy. I can’t even eat tuna fish. I knew I wouldn’t want to try my wife’s food. Heck, I wouldn’t even want to try my own.

We sat down and I investigated the menu for anything edible. It was more like an interrogation.

I found one dish. Beef teriyaki. I could eat that.

Now, my wife knows I despise seafood, and that I’ve tried enough of it to know for sure that it’s not for me. You name it, I’ve tried it -- crab, lobster, sushi, salmon, shrimp. And I’ve had it prepared many different ways, even the way you make it. Sorry if I offend anyone, but it all stinks. With that in mind, it should’ve been easy to convince my wife to drop the whole taste test thing.

“You wanna taste mine?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “My palate is set up for beef teriyaki.”

I hoped she wouldn’t ask for a taste of mine because the servings were pathetic. If price had anything to do with portions, I should’ve had a month’s worth of leftovers.

“Can I try some of yours?” my wife asked.

I couldn’t tell her no even though I was planning on eating the exact amount of food on my plate. I couldn’t be that hard on her. She’s my love. I had to let her try some of my skimpy servings.

“Sure,” I said. “You can try it.”

I believe the word you’re looking for is spineless.

I cut a small piece of my food for her to taste. The sample could’ve passed as a crumb. She asked for more. I gave her more -- two crumbs. And I watched her cut a piece of her seafood for me to try. I wish she gave me crumbs. Instead, the portion she slid over looked more like a beached whale on my plate.

She delivered the whole “It doesn’t have that fishy taste” speech that all fish pushers shamelessly apply to attract followers. Then she left me on my own and tried the sample I gave her. I jealously watched those morsels go down, morsels I’d budgeted for my personal intake.

My eyes fell back down to the fish on my plate. I took a bite. More like a lick. I swear I made contact.

Let’s just say I inhaled my soda and all the water at the table in hopes of pushing that fishy taste it didn’t have down into the pit of my stomach. Then I finished my micro meal and asked for the hefty check.

My wife suggested dessert. Enough was enough.

“Sure,” I said, “I can try dessert.”

Dessert was different, though. I could do the whole “trying thing” with dessert.

I tried everyone’s dessert until all of it was gone. I guess it wasn’t a terrible eating outing.

-December 2012

Off Without a Thanksgiving Hitch

It’s Thanksgiving -- time for my Alfred Hitchcock movie marathon!

My wife and 9-year-old son roll their eyes.

Hey, it’s tradition.

I get that they don’t get how Hitchcock suspense movies have anything to do with a holiday about giving thanks, about family. On the plus side, however, Thanksgiving is about turkey, and Hitch did cook up one heck-of-a film about birds.

I don’t quite recall how watching Hitchcock films on Thanksgiving came to be a tradition of mine. I think there were a couple of Thanksgiving holidays in a row where I happened to be in the mood for a slice of murder. Then, one year, I went without. And I knew I was missing something delicious.

The next year, I made sure to watch “The Birds.” The year after that, I watched “The Birds” and a few other Hitch classics. But last year, I made plans for the tastiest Thanksgiving Hitch Movie Marathon of all. I had the entire holiday programmed through dinner, with all the trimmings and “Psycho” for dessert.

I showed my wife a printout of the movie line-up. She actually exhaled into my face, flipping the paper back at me without giving the mix of films any consideration.

Great, I wondered, what’d I do this time?

Turns out that she was annoyed with me for making, what she defined as, weird plans for Thanksgiving Day.

Weird means it’s not normal,” I said.

“It’s not normal,” my wife replied.

“No, I normally watch Hitch movies every Thanksgiving. It’s tradition. So it is normal.”

“It’s not normal,” my wife said, “to bring movies to someone else’s house and play them on their TV during a holiday gathering. We are not playing Hitchcock movies at my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving. It’s not normal.”

That settled it. I’d make it the new norm.

I chopped a few films from the line-up to slim it down and packed up my DVDs for the long voyage to my wife’s aunt’s house. This, I thought, will be the best Thanksgiving yet.

Days before the gathering, family members discussed what they hoped to do on the holiday. Some planned to watch football. I figured I’d just check scores for them in between movies. My wife and her aunt planned to spend quality family time together. Who does that anymore now that we have iPads? My son planned to go on a turkey egg hunt. Where do you even find turkey eggs? Maybe that was the point.

First thing Thanksgiving morning, my brother called and asked if I was going to play “Duck Hunt.” I forgot about that tradition, which died long ago when I retired my old Nintendo video game system. The death of one tradition was all the more reason to keep my Hitchcock movie tradition alive.

On the car ride over to the Thanksgiving festivities, I realized my plan was too perfect to work. I couldn’t just thrust my movies onto the whole family.

But maybe I could.

Then my wife asked if I left the DVDs at home. I told her I hadn’t. She reminded me why I made a mistake -- she’d make my life miserable if I asked to play them on her aunt’s TV.

Good enough reason.

I brought the movies into the house anyway. Rather, I smuggled them in with the bag of side dishes my wife prepared -- just in case I got the opportunity to play them. But I knew I’d just have to swallow the excitement I had for a day with Hitch and take part in everyone else’s traditions.

By the end of the night, I hadn’t even mentioned my movie marathon. In fact, I forgot all about it. I was having such large portions of fun spending time with everyone and hunting down turkey eggs and watching football and eating and not watching any of my films. I really forgot all about Hitch. Really.

On the way home, my wife thanked me for not pushing my film festival on the family.

“It was really a great Thanksgiving,” I replied. “I didn’t even need my Hitch Movie Marathon.”

After 12 years of marriage, I’ve learned to compromise. And I feel good about it, like a good husband, a good father, a good person.

But this Thanksgiving is another story.

Now for this year’s line-up of Hitchcock films . . .

-November 2012 

Over Over-thinking

I even over-thought the title of this story.

I still think I should call it “Over-thinking Over” instead of “Over Over-thinking.” The title, “Over-thinking Over,” basically says that my over-thinking days are over. But that title looks awkward. My current title, “Over Over-thinking,” seems to say clear enough that I’m done with over-thinking -- I’m over it.

However, will readers think it means I’m a double over-thinker, an over, over-thinker? I guess I am a double over-thinker, so it would work. But I want readers to know that, by the end of this story, I’ll be over over-thinking, done with it.

Maybe the dual meaning of the title “Over Over-thinking” is a good thing -- it’s ambiguous, makes you think. In fact, I want readers to get the dual meaning.

Now what if they don’t get both meanings? What if they only get one?

I’m running out of space here -- I better get started. As I stated earlier, by the end of this story, I’ll no longer be an over-thinker. That’s because my neurosis recently went into high gear, and nothing can stay in high gear too long without eventually breaking down.

It all began toward the end of summer. My wife and I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t get higher-paying work, we’d never see the year 2013. To say this is an overstatement is an understatement.

Actually, no, it’s pretty accurate -- I had to make more money. And then, just in time, I noticed a job opportunity at work, one that would pay exactly what we needed in order to see the New Year.

I really needed the job. And so I didn’t think twice about applying. I couldn’t afford over-thinking. I couldn’t have doubt.

No, the over-thinking and doubt came after I made my decision and took action, when it was too late to turn back.

I imagined management laughing at me for applying (“This guy actually thinks he’s good enough to apply for this job.”). I figured they’d disqualify me (“Sorry, only everyone else but you can apply.”).
I second-guessed my resume and letter of interest -- Why’d I attempt humor in my letter? I thought. I should’ve organized my jobs chronologically, not by skill set. And did I overdo it with the glossy paper?

A few days went by before I got an interview. My brain was at work the whole time.

They’re not even gonna call me in for questioning, I thought. I better keep looking for other work. But I’ve submitted hundreds of online applications and heard nothing. I’m no good. Maybe the right opportunity isn’t here yet. I’m not looking hard enough. Maybe five hours of sleep at night is too much.

When I got the interview, I was no less stressed. When I left, however, I felt really good about how I did.

And then I thought about it. I did horribly. Was I sitting up straight? I wondered. I think I mumbled. I know I repeated myself. There were those awkward pauses. But I needed those pauses to think. But I over-thought. Since when is thinking such a bad thing? Maybe management wants a faster thinker. Maybe the world will end in December as some people predict, making all of this irrelevant.

I asked myself why I put myself out there for failure. I guess if I didn’t apply, there could be nothing but failure. My brain kept spinning out of control while management made a decision. I wrote a follow-up letter, followed up in person and thought about a few other ways to check in. After a laborious debate in my head, I decided against further follow-up action. Then I followed up over the phone.

A week and a half later, the hiring manager called me into his office for my yearly review. I got excellent marks, the best I ever received. And then he told me I didn’t get the job.

I sat back in my chair and accepted the decision. I accepted my fate. It’s all I could do. So maybe I’d financially destroy my family. Maybe the entire world would end. But maybe my family would be okay. Maybe the world wouldn’t end. I couldn’t change how I got here -- over-thinking past moves was a waste.

I told my wife the news.

She asked, “Now what?”

I told her I’d just have to continue working hard, continue looking for work.

And she actually felt at ease. To tell you the truth, I felt at ease, too.

But what does that mean -- to feel at ease? Does that mean I’m not doing all I can to save my family? Does that mean I’m giving up? And why did I accept management’s decision? Maybe I should’ve challenged it. Maybe they wanted a rebuttal, to prove that I was the leader they wanted for the job . . .

I wrote that, by the end of this story, I’d no longer be an over-thinker.

I guess my story continues.

-November 2012

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Social Not-working

When social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace and YouTube and Twitter and LinkedIn and . . . and all those other 3,000 sites came out, I was quick to jump in and say, “Wow, this is a really amazing way to throw away your existence just to link up with people. I’ll stick with e-mail, the phone, or, here’s an idea: I’ll socialize in person.”

But everyone was doing this social networking thing. What I wanted to know was: Were these social networks really bringing people together, turning the “me” generation into a “we” generation, or were these sites just gluing more people to their computers, isolating us further?

At the time these social networks were becoming popular, I was working in marketing. More specifically, I was writing and directing viral ad campaigns. I was helping to spread my clients’ messages “virally.” In other words, I was selling products through social media. So, according to the company that employed me, I had to link in to these social networks.

“No, I won’t sign up for any of these . . . Oh, okay, yeah, I do need my paycheck. Social networking, here I come.”

I wondered how long it’d last. A week? A month? The end of the day? I instantly hated it. Each site required a user name and password. In this age, I didn’t need more of those. Each site also required a lengthy profile I had to fill out, with my name, my picture, my likes and dislikes. I disliked social websites.

Then I had to send friend requests to the same people over and over again from each account. Many friends “un-friended” me after the first handful of friend requests from the various social networks.

Most of the sites were for socializing. Some, however, were for creating professional connections. Some were for watching and posting videos. Some were for filling your inboxes with spam. Once I was on Facebook, requests for me to play Mafia Wars and Farmville came flooding in. People “poked” me, sent me icons of drinks and cakes. I never understood that whole gifting thing -- they were icons, not real gifts. But it didn’t stop me from returning the love.

And then, a few months in, the unbelievable happened. I saw the value of these sites. As more and more people joined the social networks, I began to connect with childhood friends, extended family, schoolmates from my past and former co-workers who’d all lost touch with me.

As a kid, I moved from place to place, attending numerous schools. I reconnected with acquaintances from all those places. I worked in the film industry on films and TV projects, creating families on each job. I reconnected with many of those families.

Hey, it was great. Until I realized I was throwing away my existence just to link up with people. I wasn’t even talking to these people. We’d do a little song and dance of “Hey, what’s up?” and “We should meet up sometime,” but it never amounted to any meet-ups.

Sure, I could look at their profiles and see what they were up to. But I’d eat up hours of my days just profile fishing. And when these social networks became available as smart phone applications, the sickness got worse. I was cemented to my networks, reading about what people were eating at every given moment, learning why a person in the cubicle next to my friend was annoying.

It was awful. I was social-networking my life away and I felt terrible about it.

I stopped cold turkey. Not the social networking. I stopped feeling terrible about social-networking my life away. How could I stop social networking? There was a chance, after all, that I’d meet up with a long lost friend or extended family member.

One day, I was visiting my wife’s Facebook page and I saw a picture she took of our son at the beach. I wasn’t at the beach with them for the picture. I asked my wife in a Facebook message when they’d gone to the beach, even though my wife was in the next room.

I could see how bad the sickness was getting. At the time, I no longer worked in marketing and was no longer required to have social networks. So I closed my accounts.

Okay, I kept a few accounts open in the event someone from my past wanted to meet up. And I started calling people in person, actually talking to them. I even met up with a few people, too. What’s more important was I spent quality time with my family again.

Life is much better when you communicate in person, not via the Internet. I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to do more in-person networking.

So contact me on Facebook and we’ll get started. I’m at www.facebook.com/mpicarella.

-October 2012

Halloween Rules!

I bought my 9-year-old son a skeleton costume for Halloween.

I remember dressing up for Halloween. I used to love dressing up for school, eager to see if anyone knew it was me behind the scary costume I picked out that year, eager to see if I could figure out who my friends were behind their costumes.

I remember always wanting to be a skeleton for Halloween. For whatever reason my dad always had a better idea for my costume each year. So when my son said he wanted to be a superhero this year, I got him the skeleton costume I always wanted.

I’m joking. He wanted to be the skeleton. But I can’t say I didn’t nudge him in the right direction.

We found a really awesome skeleton outfit -- glow-in-the-dark three-dimensional bones with a really freaky skull mask. The company that made this thing really went all out.

“Your friends at school are gonna freak out,” I said to my son. “And freaking people out is what Halloween is all about.”

“But we’re not allowed to dress up for Halloween at school,” my son reminded me. “Remember?”

“What?” I said in disbelief. “Dressing up for Halloween at school is what Halloween is all about.”

“I thought it was all about freaking people out,” my kid said.

“Listen,” I said, “forget school rules.”

“Forget school rules?” my son asked.

“That’s right, forget school rules,” I repeated. “We’re talking about Halloween rules here. And what a dumb school rule. I bet some baby kid got scared and the parents complained, as if being scared is bad. These adults don’t want kids to have emotions anymore. ‘You’re having too much fun, knock it off.’”

“Yeah,” my kid said in agreement. “These kids today are just babies. And so are their parents.”

“You’re dressing up,” I told my son. “Tell your friends they’re dressing up, too.”

When my wife got home, she asked why a skeleton instead of the superhero our kid wanted to be.

“Because freaking people out is what Halloween is all about,” our boy said. “And about dressing up for Halloween at school.”

I tried to stop my kid from saying more -- my wife would be against any school uprising.

“Wow, this is a pretty awesome skeleton costume,” she said. “The company that made this thing really went all out. Maybe you’ll win the costume contest this year.”

Had she also forgotten the no-dress policy? And what about this costume contest she manufactured in her mind? Well, who was I to let her in on the school rule?”

“Yeah, maybe he’ll win this year,” I went along. “Isn’t it the best -- dressing up for school, eager to see if anyone knows it’s you behind the costume you picked out, eager to see if you can figure out who your friends are behind their costumes?”

And then I thought about it -- my son wouldn’t have the same costume-going experience I had because he’d be the only kid in a costume. No other parent would let their kid disobey school rules. I had to tell my kid we were a no-go on the dressing-up thing at school. But it was too late.

“I wonder if Joey will be a skeleton, too,” my son said when I entered his room. “He loves skeletons. And I bet Tess is gonna be a werewolf. I bet I’ll figure out who all my friends are.”

I was in a pickle. I had to either tell my kid he couldn’t dress up for school or I had to lead him into big trouble. There was really only one thing I could do -- ignore the dilemma and hope it went away.

My wife saw me chewing my fingernails and asked what was wrong. She’d pick me back up. She always gave me the boost I needed to push on. So I told her my problem and waited for that boost.

“You idiot,” she said. “Why’d you tell him he could dress up against school rules?”

“Listen,” I said, “forget school rules.”

“Forget school rules?” she asked.

“That’s right, forget school rules,” I repeated. “We’re talking about Halloween rules here -- always hand out candy to trick-or-treaters, never blow out a jack-o-lantern before midnight . . . wear a costume to school.”

And then I thought about it -- why is it a rule not to dress up? What are the reasons?

I would call the school and find out, and then simply get the rule overturned.

By this time, my son had figured out what was going on. He was right there when I placed the call.

Idiotic reason after idiotic reason, I listened to some school representative list off nonsense. And when the lady was through with her chatter, I hung up.

“You’re not dressing up for school,” I informed my son.

“What about Halloween rules?” he asked.

“Listen,” I replied, “forget Halloween rules. We’re talking about school rules here.” 

-October 2012

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pumpkin Candies

I have a feeling my wife is out to get me. She was all of 39 years old when she decided she didn’t want to be 40. So she punishes me.

What is she looking for? I haven’t done anything wrong. Unless she says so. She follows me to the garage, the mailbox, and even down the hall. She tries to follow me into the bathroom. She digs through our closets, under the bed, through my dirty laundry. She calls my mom and talks secretively to her.

“What do you think I’ve done?” I finally ask her.

“I’m not spying on you or looking for anything,” she says. “I’m not doing anything.”

I bring up specific instances. She denies it all. I tell her to stop. She says she isn’t doing anything.

“But you are,” I say.

She says she isn’t doing anything.

That’s how arguments go in our house.

A history
During Halloween time when I was around 8 years old, I ate so many pumpkin candies I made myself sick. My stomach rejected these pumpkin candies -- more accurately, my stomach projected these pumpkin candies. This happened in church. Needless to say, the people in front of me were less than thrilled.

My love for the sweet mellowcreme candy wasn’t immediate. At about age 4, when first introduced to pumpkin candies (small, pumpkin-shaped confections made primarily from corn syrup, honey, wax and sugar, and tasting like candy corn), I didn’t want to eat them. I wanted to draw faces on them and put them up as decorations for Halloween.

Then I made the mistake of taking a bite. Yum. But even at such an early age, when the stomach can practically take any dose of candy and not get upset, my stomach hurt after only two or three bags. What made matters worse was I had to have more, the same effect I imagine nicotine has on smokers.

During my childhood, my mother would fill up a glass pumpkin jar with pumpkin candies every October. I’d quickly gobble those babies down. After my churchgoing incident with the pumpkin candies, I learned to manage my pumpkin candy intake. I knew my limit -- sort of.

I came close to repeating the church disaster many times, but I have to say, as an adult, I’ve never come close to eating too much. If I stick to one bag every Halloween season, I’ll be fine.

I just can’t give them up. Each bite of those candies gives me a rush of Halloween nostalgia. Those childhood days of Halloween are some of the highlights of my life. Halloween, you see, is my favorite time of year. It’s a time of magic, of make-believe, of becoming someone else (or something else). It’s the mystery and excitement of seeing others’ costumes, of seeing how others respond to yours. It’s about giving and getting candy, scaring and getting scared. You laugh, you scream, you run, you dream. You play tricks and get tricked. It’s a heck of a ride.

With that first bite of the sweet mellowcreme each year comes a burst of Halloween memories: my earliest experience trick-or-treating without adults, going into inventive haunted house walk-throughs, that one house that might’ve actually been haunted. The second bite of the candy now makes me sick.

“Why is this happening?” I asked during the last few Halloween seasons of pumpkin candy consumption. Last year, I considered throwing out my bag of candies after only eating two pieces.

My wife, unsupportive as she is, told me I was on the right track. Can you believe that? They’re bad for my stomach, she said, bad for my diet (funny, I don’t have one), bad for my teeth. And pumpkin candies are just gross, she added. My wife just doesn’t want me to be happy.

Back to the “sneak” pit
I catch my wife at the trashcan with my bag of pumpkin candies.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Throwing these out,” she answers. “I’m just trying to make you healthy.”

I’m touched to learn of her concern for me. Really. I tell her I don’t need the pumpkin candies anymore, that they make me sick, that the memories are all reruns anyway.

But that night, I can’t help it. I sneak out to the trashcan in search of that bag of magic she threw out, not unlike the way Dr. Frankenstein ventured into the graveyard to find a body for his monster. This parallel makes me consider the damage I might cause -- every Frankenstein story I’ve seen ended terribly for Dr. Frankenstein.

So I turn around before I open the can to retrieve my candies. I go back to my wife and confess my doings.

And I catch her.

Ah ha, my wife isn’t out to get me. As she eats from the bag she never threw out, I learn that, all along, she was out to get my pumpkin candies!

-September 2012

Good Listener

“Daddy, you’re home!” says my 9-year-old son with a hug before I can get in the house.

“Tell Daddy what kind of day you had,” says my wife with a kiss before I can shut the door.

“I had a bad day, Daddy.”

“He’s not listening to me, Mike.”

“I argued, too, Daddy.”

“Mike, his arguing is getting out of control.”

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” the kid says.

“You’ve been saying sorry all day,” says my wife. “I told you to clean your room. You said okay. Then you kept playing. How many times did I tell you to stop playing to clean your room?”


“No. Three times.”

“No. Twice.”

“See, Mike, everything’s an argument.”

“No,” the kid says.

“You just said ‘once,’ then you said ‘twice.’ I asked you to clean your room three times, did I not?”


“So you just argued with me for no reason because now you agree that I told you three times.”

“But I thought it was once and then I thought it was twice and now I know it was three times.”

“Mike, do you wanna say something about this? This is the way it’s been all day.”

“No it wasn’t,” the kid says.

“Go to your room,” my wife says to the kid.

“I’m sorry, Mommy.”

“Go to your room,” my wife repeats, setting my dinner on the table.

“How was your day at work? Better than my day here?”

“Mommy?” our kid calls from his room. “Can I tell you something?”

“Come here,” she says.

“I’m sorry for being bad today.”

“You can’t treat me like this,” she tells him. “You don’t treat Daddy like this, do you? Daddy, does he treat you like this?”

“Yes,” my son says matter-of-factly.

“You don’t treat Daddy like this,” my wife says to our son. “Now you’re gonna argue about that?”


“But you’re arguing.”

“Sorry, Mommy,” the kid says, leaving the first silence in the room since I got home.

“Is dinner good, Mike?”

“I helped make it, Daddy.”

“So you didn’t tell me how your day was,” my wife says to me.

“Hey, Daddy,” my kid cuts in, “Joey came over to play today.”

“They got along really well,” my wife says. “Oh, tell Daddy about the joke you guys made up.”

“Oh, yeah. Mommy asked us what was next to the Salton Sea and we said the Salton D.”

“You know, Salton C, like the letter C,” my wife says. “That’s good, right?”

I don’t answer my wife’s question. I don’t say a word. I sit in silence and finish my dinner.

My wife accuses me of not listening to her and our son. After a long day of not being heard, she’d hoped, she says, that I’d at least listen to her.

“I heard everything you said,” I finally assure her. “Every word, every sentence, every event. Go on. Continue. I’m just listening.”

“If you were listening,” my wife tells me, “then what’d we say?”

“How can you accuse me of not listening?” I ask. I’m hurt. “You saw me listening. You saw me giving eye contact. You saw my facial expressions as I listened. Yet you want me to prove myself.”

Yup, they want me to prove that I was listening.

“I’m a good listener,” I say, and then I pause. “It’s my memory that’s no good.”

-September 2012

The Most Nerve-Wracking Show on Earth

It was my idea to go to the circus -- “The Greatest Show on Earth."

Every kid should go to the circus at least once. I went when I was a kid. It was my son’s 9th birthday and I thought he should go before his age hit double digits.

Okay, so I wanted to go to the circus, too. I hadn’t gone since before my age hit double digits.

To begin with, I’m a nervous guy. I worry. I stress. I get anxious. In life, I try to keep things as close to status quo as possible. This keeps my nerves at bay. I think I do a pretty good job of staying calm.

And then I got that circus flyer in the mail. That flyer was intended to reach my son, who’d go for those bright colors and buzzwords like Suspense, Thrills and Big Laughs. That flyer even spoke directly to him -- “Ask your parents . . .”

My kid wasn’t falling for any of that.

But I sure did. “Wow,” I said. “The circus is in town. Look at all the bright colors. And there’s suspense and thrills and big laughs. We gotta go!”

“Why do you want to go to the circus?” my protective wife asked. “With the way your nerves work, you’ll be a wreck watching all those stunts.”

“What?” I said. “The circus is kids stuff. Come on. Let’s buy the tickets.”

We invited some friends and family to go with us. They wanted to celebrate my son’s birthday with him. My wife rode in her sister’s car to the big top, which was good because we were going to the city and she’s usually telling me to “Turn here!” and “Slow down!” and “Look out!”

Once we were there and the show was underway, I realized why I hadn’t gone to the circus since I was a kid. Meet my nerves -- they let me know that at least one daring performer on the flying trapeze was going to fall and miss the net; they let me know that the tiger trainer was going make a false move and make the nightly news; they let me know that my son was not going to scoop that flavored slushy without leaving scoops all over his clothes.

My protective wife saw the stress I was experiencing and told me to “Breathe.”

“Why’d you make me come to this?” I said to her. “Someone’s gonna die here.”

“They’re professionals,” she reminded me. I reminded her that a live circus wasn’t a movie -- there were no special effects, no second takes and no actors faking their deaths. If people died, they’d really be dead.

But as the acts went on, I realized everything was going to be okay. I began to notice the safety systems in place -- people to catch performers if they missed their targets, tools to keep lions and their sharp teeth off the trainer, and confident looks to prove that these tricks had all been done many times over. I was feeling much better.

My wife, however, was ready to take me home.

“But I’m really okay,” I said. “I wanna stay.”

She wouldn’t budge on her stance.

So maybe I was thinking about selling our dog for fear my son would try to teach him to jump through fiery hoops. I didn’t vocalize this consideration. Nevertheless, I was ashamed of having such worries. I was so mad at myself that I didn’t even care about the safety of eight motorcycle riders circling the inside of a caged globe. It was death defying, too.

“Hey, look,” I said to my wife, trying to convince her to let me stay. “I’m not nervous anymore.” And I wasn’t. But then I got nervous for not being nervous. How could I not care about a person’s life, even someone who was voluntarily -- and so stupidly -- riding a motorcycle in a tiny cage with seven other motorcycle riders?

When the show ended and we were walking back to the cars, I came to the conclusion that the circus was merely playing with my mind. They wanted me to go through a roller coaster of emotions. There was nothing wrong with me, despite my feeling like maybe I needed to check into a mental institution for my nerves. It’s nerves like mine that keep people going to the circus. It’s nerves like mine that make my life so exhilarating to me.

I had a couple close calls getting out of the circus parking lot, and I could feel my blood pumping. I crossed into lanes where motorists weren’t giving me the right of way. I made wrong turns, but got back on the right path. I was living!

My wife, who was in the car ride home with me, was holding on for her life. She was in no mood to hear about the realization I had regarding my nerves. She was too busy telling me to “Turn here!” and “Slow down!” and “Look out!”

Maybe it came as a surprise to my wife when I, of all people, told her not to be nervous.

-July 2012

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I Always Lose

I never win. I wonder if that’s the way it’ll be forever.

I lose in sports, I lose in those dice and word games you play on your phone; I never pick the winners at Oscar time; I never place in contests, except for that one countywide poetry contest I won in second grade. But that doesn’t really count because the teacher entered my poem without my knowledge.

Eight years ago when my son was born, I made a promise that I’d save him from my bad gaming luck. Since then I’ve kept true to that promise -- I always put him on the team against me. He always wins.

A year or two ago, I stopped competing altogether. I’d come to the conclusion that excessive losing would eventually do something to my ego . . . or lack thereof.

All was well.

And then some friends of the family asked if we wanted to participate in a day of park games.

“Yeah, park games!” my son said.

I loved the excitement.

Hated the idea.

I came up with an alternative activity: “How about we walk the dogs?”

I could’ve said I was sick or busy searching for the meaning of life. I would’ve been done with the whole thing. But then our friends called me “chicken” and “fraidy cat.” I couldn’t walk away after that. I was too entertained by their paltry attempts to get me to play their games.

“You know,” my son said, “legends say you’re most likely to win when you have nothing to lose.”

I don’t know where my 8-year-old comes up with this stuff, but he had a point. Maybe I could win if I just didn’t think about it, like with my poem in second grade. I didn’t think about it, and it was my best work.

I helped pack up the games -- horseshoes, our bocce ball set, water balloons, the basketball. We had a carload of games and refreshments for the day, and I was ready not to think about it.

The players were all very competitive. “We’re gonna kill you.” “How’s it feel to be the next biggest loser?” “I always win at this game.”

Have you ever tried to not think about something you're actively doing? It’s like watching a good movie -- you can’t help but get invested in the characters, the conflicts. You want the underdog to win. After almost winning a few games, I wanted to win even more. But even in those near-victorious moments, I never got cocky. I didn’t talk trash like the others did. When ahead, I’d say to my competitor, “Well, you’ve still won more games than I have.”

They’d respond with, “You actually think you’re gonna win this one, don’t you?”

The more I heard this and the more I lost, the more difficult it was to not think about it. I wasn’t just losing the games; I was losing my dignity, my self-esteem. I couldn’t help but think about it.

Why did I do this dumb park games thing? I thought. I knew this would happen.

The people who played on my teams said what I was thinking. They suggested I sit out.

On my way to the sidelines, my son said, “Legends say that poor sports never win,” which was ridiculous, I told him, because I thought I did a pretty good job suppressing my poor sport attitude.

“If it’s so suppressed,” my wife said, “then why did you throw that water gun into the street and run out and stomp on it until it looked like sand?”

“I thought it had a bee on it,” I replied.

The spirit of the park games fell hard. Our friends were quiet, bummed, looking for a way to cut out early. This was my fault. I’d put a damper on the whole day. I’d ruined everyone’s time at the park.

Sweet bliss! That’d teach them to taunt me when I lost. I felt victorious for the first time all day.

And then my wife came walking over to talk to me. I was sure she was going to blame me for everyone’s bad time. I was sure she was going to spoil my only victory of the day. I was right -- she did.

At her request, I joined in the final game. I really didn’t care if I won or lost. I just wanted to go home.

If you thought this was going to be a story about how I turned the world’s longest losing streak into a winning one, then I apologize for misleading you. I lost again. Royally. And everyone was happy again. They really liked when I lost and they won.

In the end, my friends and family forgot about my bad attitude earlier in the day. They all thanked me for a great time. And I was off the hook.

I got lucky. I guess I always get lucky. I wonder if that’s the way it’ll be forever.

-July 2012

Summer Planners

To my wife and 8-year-old son, summer has endless possibilities. They want to do something. They want to do everything.

About a week ago, we received the city’s “summer guide to mind-blowing fun” in the mail. Not only did this guide give my wife and kid some ideas for the summer, it also gave them even more ideas.

“We don’t have money for all these ideas,” I said. “And I don’t have time away from work.”

My wife informed me that her plans weren’t set in stone. They were just ideas.

Needless to say, I couldn’t control what my wife and kid were going to do or devise for the summer while I was at work. When I’d get home, I’d have to go along with whatever they threw at me.

For example, they planned my first day off -- museum trips, playtime at the beach, a visit to a water slide park and fancy restaurant outings. When I asked how we could afford to do all that stuff, even if we could fit it all in 24 hours and still get in a night’s sleep, I became the bad guy.

“Guess who’s being a sour sport?” my son said.

My wife told the kid that I wasn’t being a sour sport. I was only looking out for the financial interests of our family. Thank goodness my wife understood where I was coming from.

“How about a trip to Hawaii?” she suggested instead. “We’ll only go for a few days.”

So when I said we couldn’t afford museum trips, playtime at the beach, a visit to a water slide park and fancy restaurant outings, Hawaii is her next idea?

While I was at work the next day, my wife put together a Hawaiian package, complete with car service to and from airports, air travel plans, hotel and dining arrangements, and activity and event schedules.

I suggested instead one simple, inexpensive trip to the Grand Canyon for the summer.

“You don’t have to pay to look into the canyon,” I said, “and we can rent an RV, which doubles as transportation and sleeping arrangements.”

“I can’t sleep in an RV,” my wife replied. “I’m a girl. I need comfort, showers . . . amenities.” Then she told me an RV would go against everything I stood for -- it costs money.

“Guess who’s really being expensive?” my son chimed in.

“Oh, Hawaii isn’t expensive?” I asked.

“The trip isn’t set in stone,” my wife responded. “It’s just an idea -- something to think about.”

But really, what was there to think about? Airplanes, hotels . . . lying on the beach with nothing to do but not think about work, bills or when I have to change the oil in the cars . . .

“Wow, you found some great deals,” I said when I saw her Hawaiian research. “When do you want to go?”

But I soon saw that, as good of a deal as it was, we still were in no position to make the trip.

“I knew it,” I said. “Why do you do this?” I bawled out my wife. “You come up with stuff we can’t afford, we get excited about it, and then we realize what we knew all along -- we can’t afford it.”

I was pretty angry. It shocked my wife. My son noticed my wife’s response to my behavior.

“Guess who’s in trouble now?” he said. Then he saw my response to his behavior and he answered his own question. “Me?” he said.

The next day I woke for work, and moved through the house with very little communication between my family and me. When I got home, I apologized to them for getting so angry the night before. They apologized to me for getting my hopes up, though I couldn’t let them take the blame.

Ah, why not? I thought. Let them take the blame. 

I accepted their apology.

“I just wanted us to have a good summer,” my wife confessed.

And that’s when I got the idea. We could do a camping trip . . . in the backyard. The barbeque could be our campfire, the neighborhood pool could be our lake, the city pathways near our house could be our hiking trails, and our lawn could be our campground. Best of all, it would cost us nothing.

Everyone was on board. We swam, roasted marshmallows, took in the local floral and fauna, and before it got dark we pitched a tent for sleeping.

“Where’s your sleeping bag?” I asked my wife.

“Oh, I’m sleeping inside,” she said. “I’m a girl. I need comfort, showers . . . air conditioning.”

That night in the tent as sweat poured off my body, I listened to the AC motor turn while it cooled my wife inside the house. I pretended the hard ground was as comfortable as my nice soft bed, all the while devising a surefire plan to get to Hawaii next year.

-June 2012