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