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