Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wife Puts Foot Down

My wife put her foot down. Her bare foot. Right into my foot. I was wearing shoes.

“Mrrraaahhh!” she screamed as she hit the floor in pain. After heavy examination of her toe, she got up and actually punched me in the arm. Then she flipped me off with dual fingers and no remorse, blaming me for what she did -- this, during the season of Lent, when some of us are repenting for our sins.

My father-in-law warned me before marrying his daughter that when a woman is not in the forest, the man there is still wrong.

“I guess I better be more careful about where I don’t move from now on,” I told my wife as she accused me of “permanently injuring” her foot.

“Why were you just standing in the hall?” she asked.

“Because you were coming the other way,” I answered. “I stopped so you could pass.”

“Who stops in the middle of a hallway?”

“I moved to the side. You charged right into me.”

“Didn’t you see I was in a hurry?”

“Yeah,” I said, “which is why I moved to the side and stopped for you to go by.”

“Aren’t you gonna say sorry?”

“Sorry for what? For you crashing into me?”

“My foot hurts,” she said.

“Let me see it.”

“Not until you say sorry,” she demanded.

There was no way I was going to say sorry. It was a matter of principle.

So my wife invited her dad to dinner -- a possible threat to make me say sorry to his first-born.

“You brought him home,” he told her, “he’s your problem.”

“You let him marry me,” she said.

“I warned him when he asked for my blessing.”

“That’s not what happened.”

I jumped in. “If I may . . .”

My father-in-law gave me the floor.

“There were only two of us there that day,” I said. “And the two of us are in total agreement about what happened when I asked for the blessing.”

“This whole thing,” my wife complained, “is not going the way it’s supposed to go. My foot is hurt right now because of my husband, and he’s not apologizing like he should.”

“Might I remind you,” I said to my wife, “that this is the season of Lent. As part of my penance, I’m going to offer an unwarranted act of goodwill to you by forgiving you for blaming me.”

My wife was not going to let me win that easily. She was determined to make me say sorry for what she did or she’d make me sorry for what my parents did 38 years ago.

“You didn’t make enough dinner for me?” I asked. That came first. Next it was, “Why am I excluded from Easter plans?” Then, “Now you’re sleeping on the couch? Oh, I’m sleeping on the couch.”

All this because I wouldn’t say sorry? Because I wouldn’t take the blame for my wife ramming into a planted object in the hallway?

You’re darned right I wasn’t going to apologize. I didn’t do anything. If I was going to say sorry, I was going to have to do something to say sorry for.

“Let me see your toe,” I said.

It wasn’t sprained. It wasn’t broken. It wasn’t even red or swollen.

This is the toe that hurts?” I asked.

“Careful,” she said. “It hurts.”

I yanked.

“Mrrraaahhh!” she screamed. She punched me in the arm again. And she flipped me off with dual fingers and no remorse again.

Finally I was OK saying it -- “I’m sorry. And you’re welcome. Your toe’s fixed. It was jammed.”

Yet, as some commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as they do this time of year, my wife took it upon herself to crucify me through Easter and beyond.

-April 2014

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spring-a-ding . . . Dang!

My wife has this lavender-scented candle.

“Don’t you love it?” she said as I tried to figure out why my nostrils went from burning to charcoal so fast. Her candle is so potent that the headaches in my head pound on my eyeballs to get out. The candle doesn’t smell good either.

But if I wanted my wife to get rid of the candle, she’d get rid of it. I just allow her burn it.

“He thinks he gives me permission,” she once told a friend. “I just allow him believe that.”

As veterans of marriage, this is the game we play.

Spring is here -- time to plant. I’ve long wanted to put in Italian cypress trees, like the ones my family had in the backyard of my childhood home. Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe they’re just great trees.

“Don’t you love ‘em?” I said to my wife, at which point she tried to come up with a follow-up joke to mine. But I was serious. My love for those trees is real.

We discussed the aesthetics of trees until one of us (I’m not saying who) actually said that the trees that change most with the seasons bring the most joy. Anyone who says that has obviously never had to go through a box of Hefty trash bags to pick up all the leaves those “joy-bringing” trees drop in the fall.

“I’m simply not gonna let you put cypress trees in the backyard,” my wife finally announced.

Let?” I barked. “You think John Wayne had anyone let or not let him do what he wanted to do?”

“You think John Wayne ever wanted to plant cypress trees?”

Well, pilgrim, out here in suburbia a man settles his own problems. And that’s just what I was gonna do. As soon as my wife left the house.

She had a day of shopping planned, and when her car turned the corner, I grabbed my 10-year-old son and we flew to the Home Depot to buy some cypress trees. That way my son could shoulder some of the blame if it came down to that.

Planting the trees was invigorating. I’d never done it before and I must say I was enjoying the process.

“Why’s this taking so long?” my son whined.

“You can’t rush the creation of life.”

“Mommy’s home.”

“Hurry, throw the dirt into the holes,” I shouted to the kid.

When my wife found us out back, the trees were a done deal. And I was ready for the attack.

Like John Wayne in “Rio Bravo,” I said, “You want that gun, pick it up. I wish ya would.”

There was no gun. She wasn’t going to pick a fight, anyway. That’s when the guilt hit me.

“I figured you wouldn’t mind my getting just three trees,” I said. I don’t think I sounded weak. “I never say a word when you burn that lavender candle. That thing really causes me pain.”

“While you’re back here,” she said, ignoring everything I said, “you should fix the cement blocks in the planter box -- the ones leaning over. And the fence -- some of those boards are loose.”

How would John Wayne respond to that?

“OK,” I answered, and I started fixing up the planter box and fence. Hey, John Wayne’s been dead over 30 years, and I have at least 30 more years with my wife.

I had my work cut out. But I got into it. I even added other projects. I got some yard lights and some accent rocks, strung up some clear globe lights over the back patio. The place was turning into my own little backyard oasis, a Shangri-Yard. My wife was going to hate it.

“I love it,” she said.

No doubt this was a con. As veterans of marriage, this is the game we play.

When I couldn’t figure out her angle, I asked. She said she wasn’t up to anything, that she really liked what I did, and that the cypress trees were growing on her.

“You’re a good liar,” I said. “So what’d you get at the store today?”

“Let me show you. I got some new clothes and some hand lotion. And another one of those lavender candles for when our other one is finished.”

“It’s one headache after another,” I warned a friend who asked me for marital wisdom after he proposed to his girlfriend. “But like John Wayne said in ‘Stagecoach,’ ‘There are some things a man just can’t run away from.’”

“Fire up that candle,” I told my wife. “I’ll be in the backyard.”

-April 2014

This Story is Serious

I have to check with my 10-year-old son about each school day. I must know what’s going on. Otherwise, how can I be Super Dad and protect him from the lions and tigers and bears of the world?

Of course, there aren’t many wild animals on the prowl in suburbia these days, but I do replace the furnace filters in the house and protect my family from deadly germs trying to get inside. Still, I inquire.

“How was your day?” I asked my boy when he got home from school earlier this week.

“Good,” he said. “I got an ‘A’ on my English test. And we started learning about the Constitution. Oh, I got a death threat today.”

“What? Are you serious?” I asked.

“There was a note on my desk.”

“What’d it say?”

“It said, ‘You’re dead.’”

“What’d you do?”

“I gave it to my teacher.”

“What’d she do?”

“I don’t know,” my boy told me. “She’ll probably forget about it.”

“You need to follow up,” I demanded.

“I’ll check in a few days.”

“No, check first thing tomorrow. Do you know who wrote the note?”

“Dad, do we have to talk about this right now?”

Why was this not a big deal to him like when a video game doesn’t work? I took the matter to the highest level -- I called my wife.

Why did this have to be a huge deal? She wanted me to call the police.

“This is serious,” she said to me.

“He’s in fifth grade,” I reminded her. “Do you really think we need to involve the police?”

“I’m a teacher,” she replied. “I know what’s serious on a school campus and what’s not serious. This is serious.”

“You teach eighth grade. There’s a big difference between eighth grade and fifth grade. Fifth-graders just duke it out at the bike racks. And maybe this whole thing is best resolved at the bike racks.”

“Don’t you follow the news?” my wife asked. “There was an incident a few months ago where a third-grader brought a loaded gun to school with him.”

“It was a toy gun,” I told her.

“Did you see the report?”


“It was a real gun with real bullets.”

That got me serious. I utilized my secret detective skills and uncovered my son’s teacher’s phone number. I found it in the phone book.

The teacher said our son found the so-called “death threat” on the floor, not on his desk. And it said, “You suck,” not “You’re dead.”

“That’s right, that’s what it said,” my boy recalled. “And maybe it wasn’t on my desk, but it was near it.”

The teacher assured me this was not a serious matter. Next time I’d look deeper into these things before freaking out.

The following day, I asked my son about school because I have to know what’s going on. He showed me a report from his teacher. Apparently the kid used inappropriate language and harassed a student. This was serious, so I let myself freak out.

“What did you do, what, tell me?” I asked. “You’re in big trouble.”

“I told my friend it looked like he was making out with the water fountain when he got a drink.”

“Now tell me the serious part where you used inappropriate language and harassed him?”

“Dad, that was the serious part. I said ‘making out.’ My friend thought it was funny and laughed, but the girl behind us got offended and told the yard duty on me.”

Evidently, I needed to let my wife deal with this "serious" issue -- she knows serious. And I replaced another furnace filter in the house -- I know deadly germs try to get inside.

-March 2014

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Escape from the Backyard

I’m protective of my wife. I’m extremely protective of our 10-year-old son. But I’m most protective of our pet beagle.

It’s not that the dog is more important than my wife and our child. It’s just that the dog is a wanderer and more at risk. So I worry.

“You’re gonna worry yourself to death,” my mom always says.

The other day while at work I received a voicemail from a guy who apparently lives a few blocks from me, saying he had my dog.

“I think the dog is gone,” I told my wife who was at home. “Can you check?”

My wife told me my mom was right about me.

“You’re gonna worry yourself to death,” she said while humoring me and checking for the dog. “You’re not gonna believe this! The dog is gone!”

I rushed home from work, checked for myself. My wife wasn’t lying -- I discovered a break in the gate that previously kept the dog from escaping the backyard.

I went back into my voicemail and retrieved the message I’d heard earlier. The guy who found my dog tried giving me directions to his house so I could come by and collect what was rightfully mine.

“I’m right off of . . . Good boy. Here ya go . . . You know where the hospital is? . . . You’re such a cute boy, aren’t you? Have a biscuit . . . If you pass the hospital, you’ve gone too . . . Good boy, sit . . .”

“Is that my dog you’re talking to?” I asked.

“I’ll put him on the phone,” he said.

I raced over to the house to save my pet from any further damage.

Kids’ toys and bikes covered the lawn and the walkway to the front door. Two automobile projects, old shelving and several sheets of plywood looked like they’d been in the driveway since Bush was president (Bush Sr.).

Even with signs of children around, the place felt creepy, dangerous. Maybe it was the silence, the stillness that was unsettling, like the kids had all been turned into lampshades.

There I go worrying about nothing again, I thought.

I knocked on the door. The guy who answered seemed very nice. Too nice?

Dog toys littered the entryway. I spotted a dog bed and dog bowls just past the front room.

“You have a dog, too?” I asked.

“No, we bought those for your dog while he’s with us.”

“Where is he?” I asked, wondering if the guy planned to keep my pet for the night.

“He’s at the park with my wife and kids. You want something to drink?”

No, I want my dog is what I wanted to say. “Sure, whaddaya got?” is what I actually said. I eventually got around to asking where I could find this park so I could get my dog and go home.

“I’ll call up the wife,” the guy said, “have her bring the pup home.”

Perfect! Except the guy’s wife wasn’t picking up her cell. I was two seconds from slamming the guy into the wall and demanding he get me my dog before I ripped the spectacles off his face and jammed them down his throat.

Instead I said, “Well, I’ll just head home. Can you give me a call when they all get in?”

What the heck was I doing?

I explained to my wife that there was nothing to worry about, that the dog would be home shortly, but I was worrying myself to death. Where was our pup, what was happening to him, was he even still alive? Maybe the guy didn’t even have a wife and kids. I needed my wife to calm me down.

“It’s been hours, I’m worried, where is he?” she said in a panic.

My son was a wreck, too. I couldn’t have that. So I went back over to that guy’s house, this time prepared to get my dog no matter what. I was ready for a showdown if that’s what was facing me.

On the road, the guy called to say he was coming over with the dog. His whole family came in tow. They were very loving people and so happy to see the pooch back in his own home.

My mom was right about me -- I’m going to worry myself to death. I had to make a change for my own sanity.

I changed the gate from one gate to two. And I double locked them both. At least I’m not worried about another escape.

-February 2014

The Call

My 10-year-old son got his first real crush on a girl at school, right in time for Valentine’s Day.

Ah, that first crush -- I remember mine. I was probably the same age. I never told a soul about it. The girl certainly never found out.

My second crush was easier. My best friend got me the girl’s number. It was all downhill from there.

I had absolutely no reason not to call her, so the plan was to call after dinner. And then I changed the plan. I decided I’d call after I finished my homework. And then I changed that plan, too, and by then it was too late in the evening to call, so I planned to put it off until the weekend. On Saturday morning I also had no reasons to not call. I still didn’t call.

“Dad, there’s this girl at school -- can I call her?”

That’s my son. He was playing the “ask and leave it up to the parents” card. It was 8:42 p.m. on a school night and too close to bedtime. The kid had absolutely no reason not to call her, but he could make the “My parents won’t let me” reason work.

“It’s kinda late,” my wife said. “Her parents probably wouldn’t appreciate such a late phone call.”

Lucky kid. He was off the hook. My parents always encouraged me to call, and I could only blame myself for not following through.

“It’s not a phone call,” our boy told us. “We’re gonna video chat on the computer.”

My wife and I ducked into our bedroom and, behind closed doors, debriefed. Did we need to make sure the girl’s parents were OK with the video chatting? By checking with the parents would we sabotage the whole relationship before it even got started? Were we just nervous for nothing?

“Don’t worry,” I told my wife. “He won’t even have the courage to make the call. I know about that all too well.”

With our permission, our boy went into his room, got on his computer and rang up the girl without hesitation. The two began talking with no problem. She seemed very nice. My wife and I gave them their privacy.

“Do you wanna play truth-or-dare?” the girl asked.

I posted up just outside his room to hear more of the conversation. My wife was in the living room and couldn’t hear so well. She muted the TV.

“We can just talk,” our son told the girl.

Smart boy. He knew when too far was too far.

“Have you ever kissed someone you liked before?” he asked the girl.

My wife flew off the couch and joined me outside the room. Without making an appearance in the video chat, she got our boy’s attention and shot him “the look.”

The girl said she hadn’t kissed someone she liked before, but she wondered what it was like. Our son, taking the cue from his mother, masterfully changed the subject.

“Let’s talk about something else,” he said. He had no problem conversing. She did fine, too.

“So, are you, like, my secret admirer?” she asked.

When I was my son’s age, I’d planned run-ins with girls, but I couldn’t even say “Hey” to the target. The fearlessness of these kids today makes me worry that they’ll be married before they get lockers.

At 9 p.m., my wife and I made our son wrap up the chat. The two kids set up a time and place to meet at the school Valentine’s Day dance, and then they said their good-byes.

Clearly, we needed to set boundaries. These kids were too comfortable.

“Thank you for making me end the chat,” our boy said. “I was so nervous.”


The paper in my wife’s hand had the contact information for all the students in our son’s class. She emailed the girl’s parents about the video chat. She wanted to make sure they knew what was going on and felt it was her duty to assure them our boy would be a gentleman.

I sat our son down. “You two are clearly not shy,” I said. “You, especially, have to be careful with what you say and what you do because you’re the boy. That girl’s parents would freak out if they knew you were playing truth-or-dare.”

“Dad,” the kid said, “you heard how I responded to that inquiry. I shut it down.”

“And I’m very proud of you for doing that,” I said. “Just promise you’ll be extra careful. Girls’ parents are way more sensitive and protective than boys’ parents.”

DING. The response email from the girl’s parents arrived. The girl’s mom wrote that she and the girl’s father usually don’t allow their daughter to use the computer during the week, only on weekends.

“See?” I said to my boy. “I told you girls’ parents are way more sensitive and protective than boys’ parents.”

“But if she was just video chatting,” the email went on, “it’s no biggie. A little flirting or playing truth-or-dare never hurt anyone. Imagine how we would’ve been if we had that technology when we were their age.”

I turned to my son and said, “Just keep Valentine’s Day to cards and candy, all right?”

-February 2014

Renting 'Rambo'

My friends in fourth grade had seen “Rambo” and it’d been out on VHS for only a few days. Explosions, helicopters, automatic weapons and rocket launchers -- I couldn’t see the movie soon enough.

My parents had recently divorced, and being the oldest boy in the family, I was tasked to take over the “man things” in the house like open the pickle jar for my mom when the cap was on too tight, kill predator bugs when they got past our front door and keep our VCR from blinking 12:00 after power outages. “Rambo” was necessary viewing if I wanted to battle bigger problems facing our suburban household.

Bad guys were everywhere in the mid-‘80s. Just ask my mom -- she made us come inside when it got dark because of the dangers in the night. I bet Rambo never had to worry about coming in early.

Around this time, the VCR was still fairly new to my family, and Friday nights were for renting videos. When my mom got home from work, she’d take my sister, my brother and me to the video store to pick out a few “fun” movies for the weekend. I didn’t want fun. I wanted “Rambo.”

The shelves had endless possibilities: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Parent Trap,” “Freaky Friday” . . .

“Look at this one, Mom,” I said showing her the video box for “Rambo.” The cover showed it all -- Rambo with scars all over his huge muscles (not unlike the scratches on my own pythons), massive artillery in Rambo’s hands and a fireball filling the entire background. Rambo wore a really cool headband. I could cut up that shirt Mom made me wear on Easter Sunday (I’d never wear it again) and turn it into a headband of my own.

Words like “fire storms,” “explosive” and “warheads” immediately caught my attention.

“Look, Mom, P.O.W.s,” I said pulling a word from the synopsis on the back of the box.

“Do you know what that means?” she asked.

“Yeah. They’re like special ops in a battle. Or something like that. Can we get it?”

It was too late. Every copy of the film had already been rented.

Determined to get the movie, I asked the video store clerk to get one from the video return box. I was sure someone had just dumped a copy in there as we sat there and talked.

There were no “Rambo” videos on the premises, the guy said, and all copies had been reserved through the next week anyway.

“We do have ‘First Blood,’” he told me.

“What’s that?”

“That’s the first Rambo movie.”

He took me to the video on the shelf. The name Rambo was nowhere on the cover. There was no fireball, just a simple white background. On the real “Rambo” box, the title character was holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Here in this lame movie he was holding a mere machine gun.

“How about ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?’” my mom asked.

“I guess I’ll take ‘First Blood.’”

The clerk took our video membership card, tried to rent us a VCR in hopes we didn’t have one at home yet, rang up the two films and reminded us to please be kind and rewind. I reserved the real “Rambo” for the following weekend, then we got some dinner next door at Tony’s New York Pizza and we went home to watch “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

I sort of didn’t care which movie we watched first. The movie I really wanted to see was in someone else’s VCR.

After “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” everyone was ready for bed. I wasn’t tired. I put in “First Blood” and gave it a shot.

The movie started exactly as I imagined -- no action at all. A melancholy song plays and some guy plods over a hillside. He finds out a friend he was looking for is dead, so he walks some more.

Then gradually this guy (Rambo) starts blowing my mind. He slowly reveals himself as a fighting machine. A whole army can’t stop him. Guns, guts, explosions . . . war! It was everything a fourth-grade boy wanted to see. Well, almost everything, anyway. I figured I’d really get what I wanted in the second film.

“Rambo: First Blood Part 2” delivered. It was packed full of all the action and battle I knew I needed to protect my family. I watched it over and over again until I had to return it two days later.

As time passed, however, I would forget Part 2. I haven’t even seen it again since childhood. The first film, on the other hand, has stayed with me. The way Rambo slowly reveals his super powers in that movie and then the turn at the end is what really made it one of my favorite films of all time, one I still watch again and again to this day. I sometimes wonder if I ever would’ve rented it had the second film been available that Friday night at the video store.

Fast-forward to the other day. My 10-year-old son asked to see a movie his friends had already seen. Butt jokes, silly action, pranks and a singing goat -- he couldn’t see the movie soon enough.

We streamed it instantly on Netflix.

-January 2014


I don’t give my wife flowers. After only a few days, they’re drooping, smelling and dead. I even hate the process of buying flowers.

“What’d you do wrong?” guys ask, laughing. Ladies don’t say anything. Not with words anyway. They know you committed an unspeakable crime against all womanhood and that you’re shamelessly attempting to buy your way back into their good graces with flowers.

It’s not like you can be discreet about buying flowers. That plastic wrapping is so noisy. In line, everyone turns their attention to you because they know that crackling plastic sound -- it’s the sound of a man crawling back on his knees to his always-innocent woman.

I bought my wife flowers for years, but not to say sorry. I love her. It took some time before the question occurred to me: What if I stopped buying them? It was a hypothetical question, nothing more.

Would she even notice? I wondered. Would she care? She never made a fuss over flowers.

 This was my wife, not some stranger. If it were a stranger, I could just open it up for discussion. A wife, however, you had to live with till death do you part. The mere thought of depriving her of something like flowers is a dagger she could stick in you the rest of your life.

My wife and I share everything. She wouldn’t get upset.

No flowers it was. Not only did my wife appreciate my honesty and willingness to discuss my feelings with her, she also liked the idea of saving money, a rare commodity in our house.

Sometimes I wonder if life would be easier without outside forces. Friends and family and even strangers love to ruin a good thing. I had it made, and then these outside forces started meddling.

“But she doesn’t want flowers,” I told one of my wife’s friends who thought it was totally fine to call me at work and ask why I stopped buying flowers for the woman of my life, the mother of my child.

Even my own mother turned on me. “Mike,” she said, “you can’t not buy your wife flowers.”

I bought my wife more thoughtful things. Flowers, after all, are too easy go-to items. What’s more thoughtless than flowers? I wrote my wife letters, got her pedicures and things she needed, things that wouldn’t die in a few days. My wife loved it!

“You don’t have to buy your wife flowers anymore?” my friends asked me.

I couldn’t help it. I answered with the question, “You’re still buying your wives flowers?”

What happened next was as improbable as Bigfoot or a crop circle on my front lawn. A small U-Haul pulled up to the house across the street and my new neighbor saw me out front and asked for help with a few large furniture items. No problem. Except that she gave me her business card. The flower shop she owned in town was running a 20-percent-off discount on all floral arrangements.

When I told her I don’t buy my wife flowers, she found it necessary to pin me to the corner of my garage and tell me how I can’t declare my love any other way.

“Did you know the language of flowers during the Victorian era was, to lovers who couldn’t communicate verbally, the only way to share feelings and emotions? A periwinkle, for example, means a happy memory. A primrose means you can’t live without the other. It’s not too late, Michael, to give your beautiful wife a hyacinth, which means you’re sorry, as I’m sure you are for depriving her of so many bouquets, which, for a limited time, you can get at my store for 20 percent off.”

A sales pitch no less, but this secret language she spoke of had its allure.

I bought a book on the language of flowers. It was like a secret decoder ring. And I took my new neighbor up on her 20-percent-off discount and purchased a variety of flowers, which told a whole story.

Before I could share my secret message through flowers with my wife, she had a few messages of her own to share. Evidently, the wives of several of my friends had called complaining about an idea I gave their husbands regarding no more flowers.

“That was a mistake,” I said, offering her the language of flowers book and a few bouquets.

“It’s too late for that,” she said. “The fact you considered cutting them out in the first place is a disappointment.”

The flowers sagged and turned dark crimson in color, which, according to my flowers book, means mourning.

-January 2014

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

New Year State of Mind

This coming year is going to be great. I can’t see it any other way.

My 10-year-old son thinks I should expect the worst and then I’ll have it great. He says if I expect a great year, then I’m really setting myself up for a bad year.

I’m not easily manipulated, and no kid who’s lived just 10 years of life is going to change my outlook after living almost 40 years of life. No, I’ll remain positive if I want positive results.

There was, however, that one New Year’s I expected great things for the coming year. What followed was the worst year of my existence. Then there was the New Year’s I had only bad things to say about the coming year. That turned out bad, too.

“Those weren’t bad years,” my wife said. “You just go negative so fast.”

“I don’t go negative so fast,” I told her. “I’m positive about things all the time. Let’s see, when was the last time I was positive about something? Come to think of it, when was the last time something positive happened?”

“See?” she said.

“I’m joking. I realize I’m a very fortunate person.”

When I recall the fortunate events in my life, I remember having no expectations beforehand.

“That’s it!” I said. “I’ll simply let 2014 bring whatever it’s going to bring, and then this year will be great. So the plan is not to plan, and it’d all turn out well.

“Sounds like a plan to me,” my son said.

Regardless of his remarks, my lack of a plan this year is already working. Yesterday I was offered a book deal, and on Father’s Day a publisher plans to release a collection of stories from this column. I have high hopes.

“Careful, Daddy,” my son warned. “If you expect too much good, you might spoil it. If you just expect the worst instead, then it’ll turn out well.”

“That’s a terrible idea,” I replied, “and a wonderful way to sabotage the book deal. There’s a guy named Napoleon Hill who says you have to think and grow rich. If he were still alive, he’d tell you your way is a set-up for failure. You have to think positively and good things will follow.”

“But I thought you said you were just going to let 2014 be, that you weren’t going to have any expectations.”

I’m not that easily manipulated, and no 10-year-old is going to convince me that I keep switching my standpoints.

There was, however, the Christmas shopping experience I had with my boy last month. I began with no expectations for how shopping would go. Right away, some presents I bought a week earlier went on sale.

I asked for a price adjustment. The people at the front desk said I needed my receipt. I went home and went through all my Christmas gift receipts. The one I needed was gone.

I got back in the car with the gifts and tried to return them at the old price and repurchase them at the new, discounted price. The people at the front desk said, no problem. One problem: I needed the debit card I used to make the initial purchase. The debit card was at home with my wife.

So I got back in the car, went back home, got back to digging through the mess that was previously my living room before I destroyed it looking for my receipt, and my wife was nowhere to be found. I called her and discovered she was at the mall doing her own shopping.

So I got back in the car yet again, met my wife at the mall, got the card, and then I was off to the store and back at the front desk for the price adjustment. It was no hassle at all.

“What a hassle,” my wife said when I told her what I went through.

“See, Daddy,” my son pointed out after recalling the recent incident, “bad things had to happen before it got good.”

“But that wasn’t your point,” I replied. “You said I had to expect bad things before great things can happen. I didn’t expect anything when I was dealing with that price adjustment. I was simply working the problem like Tom Hanks and Ed Harris did in ‘Apollo 13.’”

“What about in the car when you said, ‘This night is never gonna end’ and ‘We’re making all these trips and we won’t even get the discount’ and all your other negative expectations while you were ‘working the problem?’”

I have to admit -- I’m easily manipulated. My 10-year-old convinced me that he was right. I was, in fact, expecting bad things to happen, and only by doing so was I actually more able and more committed to make it all good.

My wife was also right about how I go negative so fast. At the first bump in the road on the way to that price adjustment, I knew I was going to fail.

So in the end (or rather in the beginning of 2014), I’ll most likely start the year negative real fast, like my wife says I do, and because I’ll be expecting only bad things, I can ultimately expect great things.

Going back to what I originally stated -- this coming year is going to be great. I can’t see it any other way.

It all makes sense to me anyway.

-January 2014

Happy Holi-frays

“Ah, do we have to go? Can’t we just have Christmas at home?”

As a kid, I hated the idea of rushing Christmas morning so we could get to the big family gathering at a relative’s house far away from everything Santa brought. I didn’t want to take a bath and get all dressed up and put on a show of manners. My siblings and I dreamed of sitting around in our PJs, stuffing our faces with Mom’s homemade fudge and swimming in our toys.

Those big family Christmas gatherings were always chaotic. You could count on work, work and no fun -- we’d have to help set up holiday games that were too complicated to actually enjoy, prepare and serve food that was more than enough to feed an automobile shredder, and we couldn’t go home until everything was cleaner than when we arrived.

There was always complaining and arguing, and even though we knew what was to be expected each year, everyone showed up, whether in good spirits or sick with the flu. We kids were less than thrilled with the idea of gathering every Christmas. We had no say in the matter.

One year the group split. Jobs took some families far from home, and a big Christmas gathering was too difficult and too costly to coordinate. To us kids, the day was ours. No more rushing the morning to get to a big, chaotic Christmas dinner.

After a few years of Christmas to ourselves, we all felt something important missing. We longed for those big family gatherings. My relatives planned a reunion years in advance, and before I finished college, we got news of a long-awaited Christmas revival.

Everyone showed up. The old traditions were alive and well. My grandpa had his five daughters line up so he could present each with a single rose, we created new lyrics to familiar Christmas jingles, then performed them for the group, and there was, of course, the ritual of massive amounts of work.

My uncle always provided entertainment for the youth. During the golden age of non-electronic, kid-powered fun, we got bored easily and he’d amuse us with exercises to work our abs properly or ways to build a longer-lasting fire in the fireplace. I’ll never forget the latter demonstration. The resulting smoke pushed the family out of the house and into the cold night. It’s still common conversation at fire stations throughout Southern California.

Now my uncle was back with a fully automatic BB gun. And while the parents of the younger kids learning how to shoot a gun were less than happy with the day’s activity, I’d say it was a successful Christmas.

“We’ve gotta do this more often,” said one of my aunts.

Then the gifts came out. It was more like a birthday party for the toddlers. Most of us didn’t mind. Still, to the parents of the older offspring who got only a few gifts, it was an insult and reason to revitalize the complaining and the arguing of Christmases long past.

A few of us were stuck with the cleaning duties, which caused feuds between those working and those sitting.

“Why don’t you ask for help if you’re gonna get so upset?”

“Because I want the others to make an effort on their own.”

“We can’t all fit in the kitchen.”

“Why do you just assume that I’m upset?”

When we’d gone through all the holiday motions and the place was back to neat and orderly, we said our goodbyes -- not angry goodbyes, more like final goodbyes.

Years have passed and some relatives, unfortunately, have developed lifelong grudges. Some have left us for good. Never again did we all come together for Christmas. Luckily some of us still have the memories.

But now it’s time to create new memories. This year, the younger generation -- my generation -- is gathering for Christmas. We’ve planned a bunch of holiday games, enough food to feed three of those automobile shredders, and we should have plenty of work to keep us all together for good laughs, good times and maybe even a healthy argument or two the whole evening through. I eagerly await the chaos.

“Ah, do we have to go? Can’t we just have Christmas at home?”

My 10-year-old son is less than thrilled with the idea. Of course, he has no say in the matter.

-December 2013

Friday, March 4, 2016

Pumpkin Pie

Last year before Thanksgiving, my son, who was 9 at the time, tried to convince me that Mommy hated pumpkin pie. How can you hate pumpkin pie?

“It’s one of her favorites,” I said. “Mommy and I have been married for 13 years. Trust me, I know what she likes and doesn’t like.”

At Costco we ran into the greatest pumpkin pie I’d ever laid eyes on. It was big. It was beautiful. It was only $5.99.

“But Mommy’s gonna hate it,” the kid said.

“Didn’t we already have this conversation?” I said. “Trust me, I know Mommy. Throw it in the basket.”

While in line to buy the pie and a few other items on our shopping list, my son shared his excitement for our upcoming Thanksgiving feast.

“I can see it now,” he said, “me, the pumpkin pie -- in a serious relationship, kissing, biting.”

You can’t go wrong with pumpkin pie. I was confident.

“You wanna slide the card?” I asked when it was time to pay. A few months prior I’d hurt my back and couldn’t stand up to walk, and so I let my son pay the pizza deliveryman with my credit card. He got such a kick out of the transaction.

“Is that even a question?” he asked as he yanked the card out of my hand and slid it through the machine.

The pie was ours.

“Sweetie, you know I hate pumpkin pie,” my wife said when she saw the monstrous thing lying on the kitchen counter.

He bought it,” I said, referring to the one who slid the card.

Evidently my son was mad at me for throwing him under the bus. Hey, I had more to lose than he did.
So the plan was to go back to Costco and get Mommy the pie I knew to be her favorite -- apple pie.

“Apple’s not her favorite,” my son said. “Cherry is her favorite.”

“You think I don’t know my own wife after 13 years of marriage?”

“You didn’t know she hated pumpkin pie.”

“Well, I know for a fact she despises cherry pie,” I said. “One time I bought a cherry pie for Dessert Night and she about flipped -- in her loving way -- because I didn’t know her tastes after so many years together. That’s when she told me her favorite pie is pecan pie. That’s right, pecan pie. That’s her favorite.”

At the store for a second time that day, we came across a wonderful pecan pie. Next to it was a shining cherry pie, and I started to think I got my pies mixed up. Maybe I bought the pecan pie that year for dessert night and upon learning I got it wrong she told me her favorite pie was cherry.

“No, Daddy, you’re right,” my son said. “I remember Mommy saying her favorite was peach pie.”

“I didn’t say anything about peach pie. I said pecan pie.”

We were doomed. My wife would think I was a terrible husband for not knowing her or paying attention.

“Daddy, you’re just gonna have to take the fall this year,” my son said. “Once you choose the wrong pie, find out what actually is her favorite pie, then next year you’ll know for sure and you’ll be the great husband that Mommy knows and loves.”

The kid is smart, and so I went with his memory and bought the peach pie instead of the cherry or pecan pie. If it failed, I’d have to suck it up. And simply point the finger at our child.

I laid the peach pie on the kitchen counter. Then I ran.

My wife loved it. Last Thanksgiving was great.

This year we have a new problem. As Thanksgiving approached, my son and I were tasked to get dessert again, and we couldn’t get our stories straight. I’m confident that the peach pie was the winning dessert we bought last year, which is why I told the story as I have. While writing this, however, my son is over my shoulder telling me I’ve got it wrong, that it was the pecan pie we bought.

We agreed to disagree, but now I worry my wife will think I don’t know her. I know my wife. I bought both pies to be safe.

Both were wrong. She wanted pumpkin pie. I’m convinced --Mommy can’t make up her mind.

-November 2013

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Video Games Cheat

For fun, my 10-year-old son decided to play a Wii Sports video game. He kept losing. Where’s the fun in that?

The kid doesn’t even know how to use the controls. He just hits buttons, swings the remote around the room wildly, jumps up and down frantically and hopes to throw a winning punch in a boxing match or get a hit in a baseball game. I keep worrying he’s going to bounce and shake himself and our living room to pieces.

During a recent tennis match, he kept missing the ball on high returns and claimed the game was cheating.

“Why doesn’t it let me get it?” he asked nobody in particular.

“Because you’re not doing it right,” I answered. “Did you read the instructions? They can’t really intend for you to shake the remote like that. It’s gonna break.”

“That’s how you jump,” he told me. “You don’t know how to play this game, Dad. I do.”

Now, I could’ve told my son to turn the game off if he didn’t change his tone. But what does he learn? Instead, I decided to teach him about patience. I showed him the instruction booklet.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Exactly my point.

Then I told him how to use the controls correctly. Still, the kid had trouble. So I had to show him how it was done.

For the record: I don’t get along with video games. After hours of play, there's nothing to show for it. Just a score. And what does that really mean? Nothing. No real satisfaction. But I decided to play the game and teach my kid how to do it right and how to have patience. I’d have a better-behaved kid to show for my efforts.

“Here’s how you do it,” I told my son as I took the controller.

I couldn‘t get the darned thing to cooperate. There I was hitting buttons, swinging the remote around the room wildly, jumping up and down frantically trying to get at least one point on the board.

“It requires practice, that’s all,” I said. “Let’s play something else.”

My son thought I meant we should play another sport in the video game. Whether I liked it or not, I was going to have to play something long enough to master it so I could then show my son how to master it. Only then would I be able to teach him anything about patience.

We chose to play baseball. As we got better, the gameplay got more difficult. We struggled just to catch fly balls and make simple infield plays.

“This stupid thing is cheating!” my son yelled.

“If it’s so stupid, then why are we playing?” I asked. “Isn’t the purpose here to have fun?”

“I am having fun,” my son said. “I’m just competitive.”

The kid wasn’t giving up. He kept getting angrier and angrier until he slammed the remote into the couch several times out of frustration.

That was it.

“Alright, turn it off,” I told him. “No more video games. Go to your room.”

My son stormed off to his room, slammed the door behind him.

I followed. “Don’t you ever slam the door,” I said. “Who do you think you are?”

“You slam stuff around when you can’t fix something in the house,” he said.

What the heck just happened there?

“I’ve never slammed any doors,” I responded. “That’s not OK.”

After the kid apologized for his ridiculous behavior and when everything was good, he asked if he could play the video game again.

“No,” I said.

And I left him in the room to continue cooling off while I shut down the game system. Only thing is the system wouldn’t shut down.

“What the heck is wrong with this stupid thing?” I yelled.

I banged on buttons, flipped switches. Nothing.

So I yanked the cord out of the wall, hit the TV button off and slammed the doors of the entertainment center so hard the game system had to know who was boss.

Finally, for the first time all day, someone other than the video game won. Ah, satisfaction.

-November 2013