Friday, June 3, 2016


I have Italian-American parents, and they have a unique way of parenting.

My book, “Everything Ever After (Confessions of a Family Man),” is a collection of stories from this column. My parents were more than thrilled about it, and I was more than thrilled that they were so thrilled. It’s not that they’re not supportive; on the contrary, they’re very encouraging. But there’s an Italian way of handling children.

“What’s the publisher doing to get your book out there?” my mom asked. She decided it wasn’t enough and asked me to send her 300 copies of the book so she could do better.

My dad gave me praise . . . And then he told me how I could’ve done more.

“You should’ve written about being Italian-American,” he said. “We got the best food, the best painters, Frank Sinatra, ‘The Godfather.’ A.P. Giannini of Bank of America financially rebuilt San Francisco after the 1906 quake when no other bank would loan money. He helped Disney fund the completion of “Snow White” and was instrumental in Hollywood and in California’s wine business.”

“Dad, I write a family humor column,” I said. “How do I put that kind of thing in there?”

You’re the writer,” he told me. “I’m just giving you ideas.”

A couple weeks ago, my 11-year-old son came home excited about a science test he took. His grade was barely proficient.

“Aren’t you proud of me?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered. Then the Italian parent came out in me. “But you only barely made proficient.”

Why can’t anything be good enough? I thought. Why do I always want more? Why do I feel that everything can always be better? I’m gonna have to do better about that.

From then on I tried to look at everything through new, everything-is-good-enough eyes. And it worked. Nothing could be better than what I had.

But something was missing. It’s hard to not want more. You know, some people think a good case of greed is healthy.

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” says Michael Douglas’s character in the movie “Wall Street.” “Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

So why is it bad to want more out of life? I couldn’t stop wanting more for my son, for my family, for my life. Saying I wouldn’t want more was like saying I wouldn’t bleed if I got cut.

“No one’s complaining about you being greedy,” my wife said.

But I was complaining. I guess that’s the Italian in me, and it had a chokehold on me -- Am I doing enough for my family, am I living up to my expectations in life, can I do better?

My stress went to my lower back. I couldn’t even walk. That’s when complaining comes in handy.

“You gotta get it off your chest,” my wife often tells me when I get back pain.

But that’d reinforce the “never good enough” attitude I so wanted to avoid. I wanted to be happy with what I had.

“We also got Robert De Niro,” I recalled my dad saying earlier.

De Niro was great in “Godfather II.” Thinking of him in that movie made me realize something we Sicilians possess that pushes us to overcome adversity, to do better, to succeed: Revenge!

In the final scenes with De Niro in “The Godfather Part II,” his character goes back to Sicily to avenge the death of his parents and older brother, and become the Godfather. I needed a revenge plot like that. Call me greedy, but I just wanted more.

So I got even with my mom -- I sent her those 300 books so she had to promote it. And I got back at my dad -- I put that Italian stuff in my writing after all (see the beginning of this story, Dad). My mom and dad’s “more” turned out to be more for me in the end -- more books sales, my dad off my back. And I helped them feel better, too, so I could feel better about my greed.

I still had one last confrontation -- one with my son. I’d make him pay for barely getting proficient on that science test.

“Is it worth it?” I could hear my wife say. “I mean, you’ve won. You wanna wipe everybody out?”
“I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out,” I could reply. “Just my enemies, that’s all.”

I helped my son study for that next science test until his brains came to a slow boil. He aced the test. 

See? Greed is good. I felt much better. Even my back pain had gone away.

The next weekend, my son called me to the backyard. He showed me how he could hide the dog’s bone anywhere and the dog could find it by smell every time. I was amazed.

My son barked at the dog to find it faster.

“Take it easy on him,” I said. “Where’s all this aggression coming from?”

Evidently, that Italian parent is in my son, too.

-October 2014

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Flea and Tick Killer

I'm afraid to talk back to Siri, the iPhone’s intelligent personal assistant, for fear she’ll give my phone a virus. I play it safe, follow the rules, never putting weird things like pineapple on my pizza.

So the other afternoon before going to work, I applied that monthly flea and tick treatment to my pet beagle. I followed the rules vigilantly, step by step, because, after all, that stuff’s intended to go into the dog’s bloodstream and I didn’t need it accidentally going into mine. (If you use a flea and tick treatment on your animal, don’t be alarmed when I write that it goes into the bloodstream. It doesn’t. Only I didn’t know it at the time.)

The cap exploded in my hand. Flea and tick treatment all over my skin. Into my pores. Very little on the dog. And I knew for a fact it had entered my bloodstream.

I panicked, dropped the tube of treatment on the ground and reached for the package to read the first aid part. I stopped my dog before he could lick any of the treatment off the garage floor.

Persons applying this product must wear household latex gloves.

Now where was that step in the steps?

If on skin or clothing: Take off contaminated clothing. (I interpreted that as a direction to burn my clothes.) Wash skin immediately with plenty of water for 20 minutes. (Twenty minutes!) Call poison control or doctor for treatment advice. (Biohazard containment?)

Not knowing what else to do, I worried. I considered my 40-minute commute to work -- I had 41 minutes until I needed to be on the clock. I worried more.

Five minutes of hand washing with plenty of hot water (the faucet at full power) felt like two hours. Have you ever washed your hands for five real minutes? My son turned 11 years old in less time.

My fingers tingled. I knew then the contagion was in my veins and on its way to my heart.

“If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911.”

I thought about it, but an intense woman from Poison Control answered and ordered me to give her my name, age, weight -- she practically conducted a physical over the phone. Cough!

“Excuse me, not to interrupt,” I interrupted, “but I’m gonna be six minutes late for work, which is actually a big deal, and I just need to know if I’m blowing this thing out of proportion.”

“This is a very serious matter, sir,” the lady shot back. “We haven’t seen this treatment on people, so we don’t know what to expect. You know, you’re supposed to wear gloves when using this stuff.”

By the time I hung up the phone with No-Help-At-All, I was on my way to being 15 minutes late to work and I’d only accomplished half of the 20-minute hand washing I was supposed to be doing.

I got back to scrubbing my fingerprints clean off anyway. I had my boss on speakerphone.

“Of all days, this is the worst day to be late,” he said.

“Twenty minutes tops,” I promised, even though I really needed 40 to do the hand washing right.


Ten minutes wasn’t going to work at all.

“Perfect,” I said. “See you then.” And I continued melting my hands down to glue.

My son got home from school, wondered why I was still there. I told him the story. He asked how long I’d been washing my hands. I told him 18 minutes straight. He said I wouldn’t be able to keep my promise to my boss about only being 10 minutes late. So, after 19 minutes of washing my hands, I stopped. My son feared that the skipped minute could be the difference between life or death. He’s such a worrier.

Let’s see, death or being late to work?

I’d just have to die later. I couldn’t waste another minute washing -- I had to get to work.

While on the road, I called my wife and told her my hands fell off in the car.

“Your hands didn’t fall off,” she said.

“Not yet, but they better before I get to work so I can have a decent excuse for being so late.”

My hands never fell off. I showed up 51 minutes after my shift began and my boss was fine with it. But my fingers were still tingling, so at lunch I researched the treatment to see what might be going on. I discovered that it doesn’t go into the bloodstream. It goes into the sweat glands. Magically my fingers stopped tingling.

Even after rubbing shoulders with death, I’m still the same nervous guy I was in the beginning. I’ve never had fleas or ticks before, but I’ll be applying that treatment to my body again in a month’s time. Just to play it safe.

-October 2014

WARNING: Please do not apply animal flea-and-tick treatment to your own human skin. The final statement of this story was the author's shameful attempt at humor.

Tooth for a Tooth, Eye for School Supplies

I don’t remember my elementary school sending home a list of supplies to buy when I was a kid. From what I recall, my parents bought what they thought I’d need.

I like to help out. My wife, I know, is very good-natured. She’s an eighth-grade teacher, which says a lot right there. We’ve spent good money on school supplies for her classroom. But why are we expected to buy those same supplies for our son’s classroom when he’s not even the teacher?

I’m referring to the reams of paper on the list we got from school. And the boxes of tissue. And the bottles of hand sanitizer. None of that stuff goes in my son’s pencil box. I was totally against it.

“We have to get it,” I told my wife and son. “It’s on the list.”

“We can’t afford to buy that stuff for my classroom, let alone for his,” my wife said.

My son added, “Guys, I think this list is just a suggestion. My school can easily afford it. They just bought new handballs for the playground last year.”

I could see it all now: We don’t buy all the supplies on the list, I drop my son off at school for his first day, and on my way back to my car to drive home, I get stopped by the administration.

“I wanna talk to you,” says one of the large men in the group now surrounding me.

“I haven’t got time,” I respond.

“Make time, Mr. Picarella.”

A black sedan with blacked-out windows pulls up, the back door flies open in front of me.

“What are you worried about?” Large Man 1 says to me, as I fear what’s to come next. “If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already. Get in.”

The car takes me to the district building across town. Two of the large men who stopped me at the school pull me into some sort of holding chamber. Brick walls, no windows. One bright white light overhead. The large men push me down into a chair at a table.

We wait.

A powerful man enters, sits down with me. He doesn’t speak, just stares at me. He motions to Large Man 2, who quickly produces a piece of paper from his jacket pocket, hands it to Powerful Man.

It looks like the school supplies list, everything checked off but the reams of paper, boxes of tissue and bottles of hand sanitizer I didn’t pack with my son when I dropped him off.

Powerful Man stares at the list, taps his fingers on the table, every now and then looking up at me, examining my every expression. More looking at the list. More tapping. More examining.

“Your kid like recess?” he finally asks. Before I can answer, he says, “That’s gone. He like field trips? More like trips to the field to pick up trash now. How ‘bout his teacher -- the kid like her? From this point on he reports to the janitor.”

I take the school supplies list. “I can run down to the store and get the other things on this list.”

“You think so?” he says. “You think you can just pick and choose what to buy on the list, insult us by not getting it all, make us feel like the bad guys for asking for it, make us bring you down here?”

He turns to the large men, “Nicky, Joey, you think I wanted to bring this guy down here?”

The large men nod.

Back to me, he says, “You think I went through changing your son’s status from student to janitor’s assistant just to let you off the hook that easily? Nah. You’re gonna pay. I not only want the supplies on that list that you owe the classroom, but how does Room Dad sound? We also got a book fair coming up, volunteers needed. And the Fall Dance needs chaperones. Wear somethin’ nice.”

This guy clearly doesn’t know me. Behind my friendly exterior is a very, very—

“No problem,” I say.

At the store, in front of all the school supplies on sale, I stopped imaging what might happen if I didn’t buy everything on the list. I wasn’t going to be the only parent in the school who didn’t buy reams of paper, boxes of tissue and bottles of hand sanitizer for the classroom.

On the first day, I wasn’t the only one. Everyone else skipped those items, too.

I dropped off my son, went back to my car, got in, drove home. And that was that. No black sedan with blacked-out windows, no large men, no threats.

I couldn’t keep looking over my shoulder. I had the supplies to the classroom before recess.

-September 2014

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


My family and I tried snorkeling in Hawaii like all of you highly recommended. Thank you for the suggestion!

Normally I get seasick on small boats out at sea. But it was my wife who was stressed out that she might get sick, so nervous and so anxious that she couldn’t enjoy any of our time on vacation in Hawaii.

“There’s really nothing for you to worry about,” I told her. “You didn’t get sick on the boat ride out to the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. The boat ride out to the snorkeling spot is the exact same thing.”

I practically dragged her from our hotel to the dock. Once we were aboard, she realized quite quickly that it was the exact same thing as the boat ride at Pearl Harbor. Only it wasn’t the exact same thing for me.

Wait, what? I’m sick?

My stomach turned for shore as soon as my lead foot hit the deck.

“Maybe you were right,” my wife said. “Maybe there’s really nothing for me to worry about.”

Meanwhile I was freaking out. I thought of all the ways I could jump off the boat without spoiling the experience for my wife and 11-year-old son.

“This is gonna be fun,” I said as the boat pulled away. So much for getting off.

I had three hours ahead of me at sea -- one hour for snorkeling and two more for a follow-up lunch on the ocean. My stomach would make me pay.

Meet the antagonist of the story -- the catamaran. The catamaran is a multi-hulled vessel that has two parallel hulls of equal size. Experts say that the dual hulls allow for faster speeds and a more comfortable ride with less heeling (when a boat leans over to one side) than a boat with a single hull.

Sounds great, right? But even Goldfinger, arguably the most sinister villain in the James Bond movie franchise, initially appeared ever so kind and loving as he coddled his pet cat on his lap. How cute.

Catamarans, as we’ll soon find out, can exhibit (in other words, will exhibit) a slightly unsettling (in other words, alarmingly inhumane) hobbyhorse motion.

Up, down. Up, down. I dubbed the boat Goldfinger, as it slowly tried to break me.

“Do you expect me to throw up?” I asked Goldfinger.

“No, Mr. Bond,” the boat answered (it really did). “I expect you to die.”

My plan: Get off that horrible bobbing craft and into that beautiful, calm water before anyone else.

“You forgot your snorkeling gear,” my wife yelled.

Oh yeah, I thought, snorkeling. That’s why we’re here.

The snorkeling was amazing. Even my wife and son, who were initially alarmed by the idea of the masks blocking their nasal passages, soon began to enjoy the experience. There were hundreds of fish and huge sea turtles to see. All of you who highly recommended it were so right about it being a must-try activity. But were any of you going to mention the part about drinking seawater?

I swallowed a fish-tank-sized gulp of the Pacific Ocean. Not amazing. And not an elixir for my seasickness. The water was still moving, too. My body was going up and down in that hobbyhorse motion, and I don’t even have hulls.

My plan: Get back onto Goldfinger, at all costs. I practically held my wife and kid underwater as I used them as anchors to push myself back onboard. Then I told the captain I needed a boat to pick me up and bring me to shore immediately. He told me that wasn’t an option even though I told him I needed it.

“No ejector seat to shore?” I said under my breath as I turned away. “You’re joking.”

I could almost hear him respond like Q in those Bond movies, “I never joke about my work, 007.”

Once everyone was back on the boat and lunch was served, my wife asked if she could get me anything.

“Dramamine,” I said. “Shaken, not stirred.”

Then I left the party for the vacant bow of Goldfinger. I had a boat to destroy.

No Dramamine, and two hours later I destroyed nothing. There’s no climax to this story -- no exciting James Bond action set pieces or witty Bond one-liners. I suffered, plain and simple. I overcame nothing. I was miserable. It’s been a week and I still feel that dreadful hobbyhorse motion.

So I highly recommend snorkeling to anyone who hasn't tried it. There's really nothing for you to worry about.

-August 2014

To Make a Long Story Sport

Sports -- my 11-year-old son never really got into any of them. Until this year.

When he was younger, he played soccer and tried karate, and he would've been good at both if it wasn't for the whole athleticism part of it all. Then, a couple months ago, he asked his mom and me if he could play basketball.

Are we doing our son a disservice by putting him in a sport now, when most kids his age have already been playing since kindergarten? My wife and I don’t want to see him fail miserably. We don’t want the other kids knocking him down. We don’t want him riding the bench every game.

“I really wanna play,” he told us.

“You know it costs money, right?” we asked. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go to Disneyland or get a trunk full of video games? How about a new car? We’ll go down to the DMV and see if we can get your driver’s license early.”

“I really wanna play,” he repeated.

We signed him up for a basketball clinic. It was more about the fundamentals than competition.

The kids at the clinic were so much better than our son. They could dribble, shoot; they knew plays already. And then there were the kids in our son’s group -- my wife and I called them the Bad News Bears, and they were truly awful. We couldn’t be more thrilled.

Warm-up on the court before practice was one thing. Working on individual skills with the coaches was probably the worst thing I could’ve watched for my self-esteem as a parent.

“Can you please stick two sharpened No. 2 pencils through my eyeballs?” I asked my wife, who took the easier way out and simply covered her eyes with the palms of her hands.

Even the kids who looked bad played like members from the USA Dream Team next to our son. I knew then their mothers had swallowed basketballs during their pregnancies to get their kids started early.

My wife and I were right there with our son as he struggled.

“I want a left-right,” the coach yelled, “shot fake, jab right, jab left, shot fake again, then penetrate the open lane for the basket.”

While all the other kids were laying up their shots, our son was still in the backcourt trying to figure out the left-right step -- he kept doing a left, right-left hop. The coach explained the move again. My wife and I knew our kid wasn’t getting any of it. We were sidelined and totally helpless.

“Don’t step in,” my wife whispered to me. “Don’t be that parent.” Then she saw our boy do another right-left step instead of left-right. “Left-right,” she shouted, “not right-left!”

Our fears, our anxieties and our nervousness were all encapsulated in our son. My wife and I saw him suffer all the problems we’d passed down to him through the genetic process. The three of us were being put through an exercise of patience -- we needed instant results, and we had two chances of getting them -- slim and none, as Laker announcer Chick Hearn used to say, and slim just left the building.

“This thing’s in the refrigerator,” I told my wife. “The door’s closed, the lights are out and the Jell-O’s jigglin’. We’re doing our kid a disservice. We put him in basketball too late in life.”

A reputable source later told me that Lakers star basketball player Kobe Bryant started playing when he was 12 years old, a hope that starting our kid late in a sport wasn’t hopeless after all.

“What reputable source?” my wife asked.

“One of the kids on the team.”

“One of the kids on the Bad News Bears?”

According to a real source, Kobe actually started playing when he was 3.

“We’re doomed,” I said. “It’s time we end this. We gave it a shot and he’s clearly given up. If he really loved the sport, he’d stick to it. His heart wouldn’t let him quit.”

“It’s only been one day of practice,” our son told us in the car. “I really wanna play.”

So we let him play.

The first game -- nervous time. We watched our son work really hard. He played solid defense. He got an assist, knocked down a free throw and almost hit a jumper at the buzzer. By “almost” I mean he got the ball off, but it was an airmail special.

Today our boy is better than when he started and progressing nicely. And while he's still behind on his skills, I no longer think we're doing a disservice. In fact, I think we're providing a service. My wife and I have offered up our child as a confidence booster to the other players every time they run him over.

-August 2014

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Fetching Torpedoes

It’s summertime and my 11-year-old son wants to do nothing but three things -- swim, swim and after that swim some more.

He’s part human. I think his love for swimming, however, comes from the fish in him.

I used to be just like him when I was his age. Living in Southern California, I spent entire years in the pool. I definitely get it. But I have to draw the line at midnight. Hey, you’ve gotta rest. And so does everyone else in the neighborhood who can hear him swimming.

“Dad, can we go swimming?” he asked one summer night way past 11 p.m.

“It’s too late,” I told him. “In other words, no loud splashing.”

It was a glorious time, morning, noon and night. And then the torpedoes hit.

My son’s friend tossed a dozen missile-shaped dive toys into the pool for a game of fetch. The underwater dummy warheads plummeted deep into the deep, deep end. Eight and a half long feet down.

My son can swim. He just can’t dive. He’s touched the bottom of the pool once. With his foot. At least one of his toes brushed the floor of the pool, though it might’ve been more like the wall.

After failing miserably to reach one torpedo, my son retreated from the pool to his room where he’d never come out as long as he lives.

“You can’t just give up,” my wife told him, like that’d change his mind.

“OK, can you teach me, then?” he asked.

Back at the pool, my wife tossed a few torpedoes into the pool and told my son to fetch. He dove in. He came right back up, sans torpedoes.

“I can’t get them,” he said.

“We’re not leaving until you do,” my wife replied, going for tough love.

They weren’t leaving.

This is where I entered. Picture Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid.” Time for a little “wax on, wax off” and “paint the fence,” but with swimming. I sent the wife inside while the boy and I got to it.

“You can’t just jump in and chase torpedoes,” I said. “Swim over to the shallow end and go under for as long as you can hold your breath.”

He wasn’t under long.

“I think I’m ready!” he announced when he came up for more air than he could catch.

He wasn’t close to ready. I ordered him to go underwater again and to stay under until he was completely and absolutely out of air. Each subsequent time he had to beat his previous time. I was conditioning him to be comfortable while submerged, not panicked like I know he was when he was going after the torpedoes.

Then we moved further and further out toward the deep end.

Halfway out, my son announced that he had dreams of dying in the water.

“There’s more at stake here than mere life,” I said. “I told Mommy that I’d have you fetching torpedoes within the hour. You’ll stay alive until then.”

I wasn’t worried. The kid was progressing nicely, gradually becoming more comfortable with going underwater. Remember in “The Karate Kid” when Daniel-san discovers he can defend himself by demonstrating “wax on, wax off” and “paint the fence”? That’s where we were in the training.

“I think I’m ready now!” my son announced after being under water for 20 seconds.

He wasn’t close to ready. We kept working. He stayed under water longer each time. He went deeper and deeper in the pool. When he finally stopped saying he was ready, I told him he was ready.

“Let’s go get some torpedoes,” I said.

The kid took a quick rest on a lounger at poolside. Then it got real. He stepped into the water at the shallow end and swam out, way out to the deep, deep end, slowly to save energy and air. He took some serious breaths -- I’ve seen large air mattresses that could’ve been filled with just half of those breaths.

Then he just did it. He went down and came up with three torpedoes, no problem.

“It was like the final finale in ‘The Karate Kid,’” I bragged to my wife when we returned. “You know, where Daniel-san does the crane kick? Aren’t you glad our son is in my dojo?”

I should’ve known -- now my wife thinks that, since I have the “winning formula,” I can do all the teaching from here on out. No rest for me. Ever.

I presented her with this column. I told her that now she, too, has the “winning formula.” 

I shrugged. I'll take that rest after all.

-July 2014

Gymdependence Day

It seemed like I was eating garbage lately. I felt unhealthy, sluggish and grumpy all the time.

But there she was in the grocery store, so beautiful, staring at me through the plastic window in the top of the cardboard box. They called her the “All-American Pie” -- half apple, half cherry, and right in time for the Fourth of July.

“We gotta get her for the Fourth,” I declared to my wife and 10-year-old son. The boy was all for it.

“OK, Mr. I’m-Gonna-Eat-Healthier,” my wife replied.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I stopped her. “I merely made an observation about my recent eating habits. I wasn’t establishing a mantra to eat better.”

But my loving wife, who’d noticed my junk food intake, was genuinely concerned for my health. She told me I was getting older, that I wasn’t exercising, and that I had the diet of a 10-year-old. I’d heard a speech like that before, in October 1985, when my mom caught me finishing all my Halloween candy in one night.

“If you want company at the gym,” I said, “why don’t you just ask?”

She loved the idea. She was calling my bluff.

You see, in late ‘90s during our dating stage, I thought I’d be charming and go with her to the gym. I tried to break some crazy mileage record on the treadmill and I broke the treadmill instead. My soon-to-be wife was so embarrassed she never asked me to go with her again, and I hoped she never would.

“That’s a great idea!” she said. “You should come with me to the gym. I have a guest pass.”

“That’s a horrible idea,” I fired back. “Do you remember the treadmill incident of ’99? Everyone staring at us, gym personnel calling for back-up and lots of tools over the loudspeaker?”

The only way I’d win the argument was to give in. And make her regret the decision.

Still, I fought.

“I exercise all the time,” I told her as we entered the place. “I just did 10 push-ups last year.”

At the front counter, my wife asked how the guest pass worked.

“So I can bring him whenever I want?”

Notice she said whenever she wants?

The lady behind the counter took my name. I waited for her to find my gym rap sheet. She was sure to boot me out after reading about my run-in with previous exercise equipment.

“Alright, you’re all set. Have a great workout.”

To the treadmills I went. My wife followed.

I wasn’t breaking any mileage records. And I wasn’t breaking any machines either. I was breaking a serious sweat, and I found it hard to do what I’d been doing since I was born -- I lost the ability to breathe.

“I told you you’re out of shape,” my wife said. “And the way you eat doesn’t help.”

I was too complicated to be pried open like that. One thing was certain -- I could kiss that All-American Pie good bye. I was in no position to eat more junk.

We did exercise after exercise. And just when I thought it was time to go, we did more exercise.

“You know,” I said to my wife, “there’s more to life than health and energy and feeling good.”

At my lowest, my wife was at her highest.

“It’s so hard to get to the gym,” My wife said.

Good, I thought. Maybe we won’t go again.

“Having you here makes it easier for me to go.”

Just my luck.

“You’re such a good husband.”

Yeah, I can’t wait to—

Whoa, whoa, whoa, what was this? When I thought about it, I realized I am a good husband. After I got over myself, I found my purpose at the gym. From then on, I wanted to go. I wanted to help my wife.

We worked hard together. (Insert Rocky Balboa-like exercise montage here. Picture a loving couple running up the 72 stone steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art, which I did in my mind on the stair-stepper. Can you hear that “You’re the Best Around” song from “The Karate Kid”?)

I was eating well, too. I felt healthy, energetic and in good spirits. All the time.

So now there's really no reason I can't take a little break and enjoy that All-American Pie this Fourth of July.

-July 2014

Beware of the Moon

My son just finished fifth grade. He says he’s a sixth-grader now.

No he’s not! I’ve still got the rest of the summer to call him my little boy. He was born only 10 years ago. I guess he’ll be 11 next month, though.

I had an idea: If I could just stop time, he wouldn’t have to grow up.

It was Friday the 13th. And a full moon. I read somewhere that a full moon on a Friday the 13th won’t happen again until the year 2049. My son will be 46 years old. There’s no denying it -- the kid is getting older. And I wasn’t against that. I just wasn’t for it.

“Full moon tonight,” I said. “Werewolves out.”

“No they’re not,” he said, clearly too old to believe in all that. And then he twisted the dagger in my side. “I know werewolves aren’t real, (here it comes) Dad.”

That’s right, he called me “Dad.” I’m no longer “Daddy.”

“Whoa, what is happening?” I said. “Werewolves are real. Have you ever seen a werewolf?”

“Exactly my point, Dad.” There was that “Dad” stuff again. “I’ve never seen a werewolf.”

“Exactly my point,” I responded. “Believing is seeing.”

I talked to my wife. “He doesn’t believe in monsters anymore.”

“Don’t tell him about monsters,” she said. “He’ll have nightmares.”

“That’s what I'm trying to say,” I told her. “He’s growing out of nightmares.”

She heard what I was saying. Even if she was on the phone, she could still hear me.

After dinner, we were finishing up our root beers, playing a game of darts, and my wife told our son, “No bike ride tonight, werewolves out.”

My wife’s dart hit the bull’s eye.

Good girl, I thought. We can stop this growing up.

“Wait, what? No bike ride? Ah, come on.”

That was me sulking. But our boy was right behind me.

“Yeah, come on,” he cried. “What if we just stay on the bike trail?”

“Yeah, stay on the trail, keep clear of the moors,” I said, giving my own rendition of a line from “An American Werewolf in London.”

“Yeah, Mommy, we’ll keep clear of the moors. What are moors?”

I missed the dartboard completely. I’ve never missed the board.

“Is this really happening?” I asked. “Why does she get ‘Mommy’ and I get ‘Dad’?”

After creaming us both in darts, the kid took me aside and said he still called his mother “Mommy” because she was more sensitive, and I was a man.

Yup, this was really happening. The kid was getting older. But he was right -- I was a man. I mean, I am a man.

“I’m sensitive, too,” I told him. “So can you still call me ‘Daddy’?”

Before he could answer, he got a call from a friend and couldn’t talk anymore.

“This is not happening,” I said.

My wife and I had to come to grips with this whole growing-up thing. That night, while our son talked on the phone, we discussed our new reality. I hated talking so bluntly to my wife because she was so sensitive about our son not being her baby anymore. I made a comparison to soften the blow.

“It’s like the man living with the werewolf’s curse under the full moon,” I said. “Our son is changing, transforming before our eyes, except he’ll never be a little boy anymore. He’s gonna change into a werewolf and then call it a day.”

“That’s life,” she said.

“Why are you OK with this?” I fired back. “Why aren’t you comforting me?”

When our boy got off the phone, I confronted him. “Son, you’re right, you’re probably too old to believe in werewolves anymore.”

He said he was too old. Then he asked if he could go over to his friend’s house to play board games with her and her family. Key word: “her.” A girl made my son grow up. What was next, cologne?

My wife and I let our over-scented boy go. And we decided to take that bike ride after all. As we parted ways with our son, he humored us with, “Mom, Dad . . . Beware of the moon.”

-June 2014

Taking a Stand

I try not to speak my views about certain topics in public forums like this or in social media, whether my ideas are left, right or in between, because some people are so passionate about these things that wars could result.

But this one time I had to go against my wife’s wishes to remain silent -- and put it all out there -- to settle a years-long debate in determining which hamburger stand is better, In-N-Out or Fatburger?

To choose a burger stand or not choose a burger stand? That was the question. My wife asked me to leave it alone. I had to speak up.

At first, I couldn’t decide for myself which place was better. Different days and different appetites had me flip-flopping, adopting one stand and then the other like so many other bandwagoneers. My wife and our 10-year-old son weren’t any help. I’d pressure them to choose a winner for me, but they couldn’t make up their minds.

And then the application of one variable in my equation helped make my choice clear. It was so obvious and so simple, yet it took years to find. That is, when choosing a burger stand, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: Would Dirty Harry eat there?

So while my wife was suggesting I not start what would surely end in my death on Facebook, I was submitting the following post to my timeline: “After years of study and calculation with facts and figures, many tasty hamburgers and a look under a magnifying glass into the art and taste of excellent burger cuisine, and after careful thought, consideration and deliberation with other serious burger eaters, I finally came to my robust conclusion: Fatburger has a better burger than In-N-Out.”

I hate to type it, because now it’ll be on the record, but my wife was right. War was waged. An unofficial In-N-Out source issued the following statement: “I declare war in the name of the In-N-Out Kingdom.”

What was to follow would later be known as the first Burger World War because other nations joined in the fight. We had unofficial representatives of the Five Guys hamburger stand, The Habit and a slew of others. One person had the nerve to bring up a $20 hamburger from some French joint with a name I can’t even pronounce. Come on!

No one was changing my mind. My wife asked me to leave it alone. Meanwhile, I was posting the following comment to my wall: “Burger warriors, this was not some fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants decision, where I just punched into Facebook what was flashing through my ADHD mind at the moment. This was a final analysis made from mouthfuls of data I collected.”

I wasn’t changing any minds either. The war raged on.

“We, the In-N-Out Kingdom of the world, shall march to your door, break down any and all barriers, and force-serve you delicious, freshly made In-N-Out burgers and animal-style fries until you surrender.”

The various countries of the burger world submitted studies confirming their leadership in the burgerverse, in effect leaving no burger stand on its feet.

I also felt defeated. I went to my wife for solace. She delivered what was perhaps the most eloquent “I told you so” speech I’d ever heard. I agreed with her on all points and admitted my mistakes. Then I realized what I could post on Facebook next.

“It all ends here. The Original Double-Deck Cheeseburger at Bob’s Big Boy rules. Long live the king!”

Crickets. Burger Nation was silent.

How could that be? How could no one respond? It was as if I wanted retaliation. While sitting at Bob’s wolfing down my Double-Deck, I realized the opposition was the fun in it all. I even made new friends on Facebook during some pretty nasty exchanges of derogatory remarks toward the other guy’s burger stand of choice.

“I’m glad you had fun,” my wife said. “But now it’s done. Just don’t be starting any wars between New York pizza and Chicago pizza.”

“New York pizza, end of story,” I said. “Good idea. After that, I think I’ll do one on hot dogs, too. To Dodger Stadium we go to begin research.”

What are your favorites here? Come on, take a stand.

-June 2014

Friday, April 8, 2016

What Are We Watching?

I’m always baffled when Americans speak out against our American way of life. Ours is a country built on freedom, faith, spirit and sacrifice. It’s the greatest country in the world!

So I was more than shocked to hear my own wife and 10-year-old son reject it all.

“We are not gonna watch war movies all Memorial Day weekend,” they told me.

That’s right, the Turner Classic Movies network is doing a 72-hour classic war movie marathon this weekend to celebrate and honor those who fought to protect our way of life, and I want to see it. But my family wants nothing to do with it.

They said things like “No!” and “Are you kidding me?”

Then it got real -- “Those movies are lame,” my wife said.

My kid added, “They’re ancient.”
“Of course you know,” I said, “this means war.”

How can my wife criticize what I watch?

“Lame?” I asked her. “Let’s take a look at what you watch -- your reality TV and those housewives. Half the time I don’t even know what they’re screaming. Between the yelling over each other, the bleeps on top of all the profanity and the lack of any sort of point to the program, you’d get more meaning out of a preschool production of interpretive dance.”

Then I turned my attention to my son. “And you call my movies ancient? Having fun is gonna be an ancient activity for you if you don’t start taking my side from now on.”

I was winning nicely. But I had to bring it home.

“Now, if you look at a war classic like ‘The Great Escape,’ you’ll benefit from all the major American ideals that film presents. You’ve got the escape, which represents hope. You’ve got all those men who gave their lives so others could get out, which represents sacrifice.

“The James Garner character risked his life to help the blind Donald Pleasance, showing goodwill toward man. Steve McQueen never said die, showing perseverance and spirit. And then there was Charles Bronson and his claustrophobia -- he dug that tunnel anyway. That’s American courage in the face of true adversity.”

My wife interrupted my monologue -- I had more. “The true story wasn’t even about Americans,” she said. “It was about the British.”

“Who told you that?” I asked.

“You did,” she said. “Last Memorial Day after you watched the whole movie, and then all the commentary, and then all those special features.”

“Well, forget real life,” I snapped back. “We’re talking about the movie here. And the movie is American for sure.”

My wife’s rebuttal: “Well, I’m sure not watching war films all weekend.”

Which meant I wasn’t either. So there’d be no “Dirty Dozen,’ no “Steel Helmet,” no “Sergeant York” or “Kelly’s Heroes.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what else is for sure,” I said to my wife. “There will be no reality TV either. None. In fact, for Memorial Day weekend, we’re going outside.”

In a slight change of events, my wife and son happily agreed with my plans.

“But,” I said, “we’re gonna do something to celebrate and honor American heroes who gave their lives in the line of duty. That’s what Memorial Day is all about. So we’re going to a mortuary.”

“Ah, Dad,” my son griped. “Last year you brought us there and said there’d be an air squadron fly-by, and the only thing going on was some guy’s funeral.”

My wife didn’t even have to speak.

“Alright then,” I said. “We’re going to the pool.”

“Yay,” my son said. “And when we get back, we can watch the Disney Channel.”

-May 2014

Relaxed Axed

Our house is loud. Conversations bounce all over the place, usually a few at a time. There’s little focus. So I completely understand when outsiders feel the need to escape.

Which is why I wanted to send my wife for a Mother’s Day massage. She’d appreciate the break.

“People don’t try to escape us,” my 10-year-old son said to me. “That’s so rude, Dad.”

“It’s not rude if you’re talking about yourself,” I told him.

“I think we should give Mom a party for Mother’s Day,” the kid suggested.

“That’s the exact opposite of my point. The point is a break from the chaos.”

“Parties are fun,” my son insisted. “Let’s make it a surprise.”

“Parties are chaos,” I said. “Especially when it’s a surprise.”

After a debate about whether our Mother’s Day plans should be news to Mom or not . . .

“Can you guys quiet down about your plans?” Mom said from the other room. “I’m trying to nap.”

That settled the element of secrecy in the matter.

“Wouldn’t you want a party for Mother’s Day?” the kid shouted out to Mom.

“Don’t you think a massage is more needed?” I yelled just as loud.

“I’m trying to nap, guys!”

“See,” I pointed out. “She wants relaxation.”

“They both sound great, Mike,” she said from the other room.

“See, she likes the party more,” said the kid.

“How’s that more?” I asked.

“Because she has to agree with you. You’re married.”

After a debate about whether our Mother’s Day plans should be a massage or a party . . .

“Can you guys decide to do both and save the argument?” Mom said. “I’m trying to nap.”

It was settled -- we’d have a Mother’s Day party, and then send her for a massage. Perfect!

“Should it be a massage?” I asked. “Or maybe a pedicure or a manicure? Or both? Or all three?”

“Who should we invite?” the boy asked. “And should we bring in all the grandpas and grandmas?”

“I have an idea,” the wife yelled back at us.

“All of them?” I shouted.

“Yeah,” the kid said, “all the grandparents?”

“Not all the grandparents,” I said. “All the massage, pedicure and manicure is what I meant.”

Not all the grandparents? Dad, you can’t invite one grandpa and grandma and not the other.”

“Those weren’t any of the ideas I was thinking about,” Mom interrupted. “My idea was for you guys to go somewhere else and discuss this so I can nap.”

My son and I went to the back room of the house to talk. But as anyone who’s been to our house can attest, there’s no place inside that’ll afford you the break you need from the chaos.

After our separate debates, which took place simultaneously . . .

“Can you guys decide to do everything and invite anyone?” Mom said. “I’m still trying to nap.”

It was settled -- we’d send Mom to a massage, pedicure and manicure, and we’d have a big party.

“Where’s that place I sent you for your birthday?” I shouted out to my wife.

“Mom, should we invite people by mail or by phone?” our boy asked just as loud.

“Ask me, not Mom,” I said to my son. “She’s trying to nap.”

“Well you asked her something,” he replied.

You can’t answer my thing,” I told him.

“And you can’t answer mine.”

“Yes I can,” I said. “You do it by phone.”

“Do it by invitation,” my wife yelled back. “By phone is tacky.” Then, “I’ll be back in an hour.”

“Where are you going?” I asked as I ran to the entryway and caught her on her way out the door.

“To get the name of the place you’re looking for . . . and a break from the noise.”

See what I mean? Our house is loud. Conversations bounce all over the place, usually a few at a time. There’s little focus. I understood why my wife felt the need to escape. I was even exhausted.

“Can I go with you?” I asked.

Our son chimed in. "Me, too?"

-May 2014