Friday, December 1, 2017

Rest Assure

I was sick. Real sick.

I’d worked eight days in a row and had only one upcoming day off before Christmas. I needed that day off to rest. But I’d already designated the time to Christmas shopping and helping my wife get ready for our big Christmas Eve party.

The problem with wives is they have our best interests at heart. Aside from wanting to buy the more expensive dryer because it had 10 more features (10 features I knew we’d never use), my wife is always looking out for me. Even that duvet cover for the bed was really for me.

“Don’t you know you’ll be happy if your wife is happy?” she said. “Happy wife, happy life.”

Now my wife was proposing something else that was good for me -- rest.

“How do you expect to get better if you don’t let your body recuperate?” she asked.

She didn’t have to tell me. I’m a huge fan of rest. Some people look at sleep as something you do to relax. I look at it as an art form. Beautiful things come out of sleep and relaxation -- great ideas, more energy, fantastic trains of thought and an immune system with the troops and firepower capable of fighting off a flu that, in my body, was currently looking like the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“OK, I’ll rest,” I promised my wife when my day off finally arrived. But, like I said, she didn’t have to force me to sleep. Sleeping is my true passion.

 That morning she woke and announced her plans to take our 11-year-old son out for a full day of Christmas shopping and errands, giving me all the peace I needed to rest and recuperate. My wife is so thoughtful. Except she left me with myself.

Once she was up, I was up, and I was thinking about all the Christmas shopping I had to finish. I was also thinking of the nativity set I never got a chance to put up.

That nativity is a centerpiece for Christmas in our house, I thought. I can put that up real quick -- no problem. Then I’ll get back in bed and get to that resting I know I need.

I waited for my wife and kid to depart and then I shot out of bed and, without even changing my clothes, went to the garage for the nativity set. It took me less than two hours to set up the scene of the birth of Christ. All I needed was an extension cord to power the Christmas star in the sky, and then I’d rest.

One quick thing always leads to another real quick thing. My plan was to run down to the store real quick and get an extension cord. How can you not have a Christmas star in a nativity scene?

Once I’m up and on the move, I have a hard time getting back to sleep. And once I’m at the store for an extension cord for the nativity, I have to knock down some Christmas shopping. I’d be quick.

I saw the video game my son wanted, only it was for the wrong video game system. I’d have to go elsewhere to get the one we needed. I could do that -- the video game store was only across town.

While I was on my way to another store to get another gift real quick, my wife called. I couldn’t let her know I was out of bed. I answered like I’d been sleeping.

“Um, he-llo,” I said in a groggy voice.

“How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Good. I was just sleeping. Rest is definitely what I needed.”

“I’m calling you from home where you’re not sleeping, not from my cell,” my wife informed me.

“Well,” I said with a few coughs I couldn’t control, “I got my Christmas shopping done (cough), and I put up the nativity, although I still have to plug in the Christmas star (cough, cough), which I can do real quick when I get home with the extension cord I just got (ha-chew!).”

“But now the day is over, you haven’t rested, and you sound worse than before.”

She was right. I had to get home, eat dinner real quick (I’d light up the Christmas star without her knowing), and get to bed.

Before I knew it, morning arrived and my alarm was screaming in my ear. One quick snooze leads to another real quick snooze. And once I’m down and that sick, I have a hard time getting back up.

I snoozed my alarm way too many times. I barely made it to work on time. By the time Christmas showed up, I felt fine and totally capable of helping my son play with the toys he got.

The real problem is that wives have our best interests at heart. My wife was going to make me get that rest I knew I still needed. So on New Year’s Day, my next day off, I made plans to sleep all day. First, I’ll take down the Christmas decorations. I’ll be real quick.

-December 2014

Road Trip

It was going well -- too well. So three vicious dogs ruined it by charging my 11-year-old son from behind a fence and practically eating him and his bicycle whole. I knew there’d be trouble along the way.

“I want you to be able to take care of yourself. I just wanna help,” I told my son before the trip.

This is my boy’s last year as an elementary school student. Next year he’s off to junior high. And while he rides his bike to and from the elementary school, the junior high campus is a lot farther from home and the route seems a bit sketchy.

“I think we’re gonna have to drive you next year,” I told the kid when the discussion came up. “I’ve driven to the junior high before, and some portions of the way don’t even have sidewalks.”

Daaaaad,” my son said in that tone of voice that let me know he was almost a teen. “I already know there’s a bike trail to the junior high. My friends told me it was back near the wash.”

Great! I thought. A bike trail! Near the wash, though? Great.

I was about to call off any consideration for riding when my wife, coincidently, broke in with a story about some friends who wouldn’t let their 20-something-year-old kids fly alone for the holidays.

“I flew by myself when I was 13,” I said.

Come to think of it, when I was my son’s age, I rode my bike longer distances and in worse areas than this alleged bike trail near the wash to the junior high.

So it was set -- my son and I would ride this trail beforehand and check it out. Over the weekend, we got the bikes in tip-top shape, packed some sandwiches and a couple bottles of electrolyte-enhanced water, cued up the GPS on my smart phone, and set out on our odyssey.

Right away my son wanted me to know he was old enough to lead the mission.

“I’m steering this ship,” I said.

“But, Daaaaad,” he said in that tone of voice again. “I already know how to get there. My friends told me. We have to go this way.”

“It’s good you’ve got confidence,” I said, “but I’ve got GPS. We go this way.”

At one point, he insisted I was taking the wrong path.

“Fine, you want the reigns?” I said. “Lead away. But when you get lost, don’t come crying to me.”

It wasn’t long before he knew he’d made a mistake. He simply turned around.

Why isn’t he freaking out? I wondered. When you’re lost, it’s natural to flip your lid.

“Do you want me to retake the lead?” I asked.

“No, we’re almost there,” he said with even more confidence than before. That’s when the three vicious dogs attacked from behind that fence. Maybe they were only pugs, but they were snarling.

My son got a whiff of death as he hit his brakes, swerved into some trashcans and smacked a tree.

He stripped off his helmet and searched for blood. “I hope I don’t have a concussion.”

“You barely even tapped your head,” I said. “And you were wearing a helmet. Where do you come up with these gross exaggerations?” I asked, trying to shoo off the “hounds from Hell.”

Clearly I needed to lead our exploration again. Cleary I’d be driving him to school next year.

“I knew there’d be trouble along the way,” I said, constantly checking on my boy behind me as we rode on. “You don’t just have to know where you’re going. You also have to look where you’re going. You never know when dogs will jump out like that or a car will come flying out of a driveway--”

“Dad, watch out for that light post!”

The crash reminded me of the Light Post Incident of ’88. I was my son’s age, constantly checking on my younger brother riding his bike behind me on our way home from school one day, when I clipped a light post, spraining my right wrist. I rode home left-handed. I survived. But I remember hiding the sprain from my parents for fear they wouldn’t let me ride to school anymore. I could handle it. My son could, too.

“OK,” I told my boy. “Lead us home.”

He took the role seriously and led with great ability.

The wash wasn’t so bad either. It looked like an enchanted lagoon next to the washes I remember as a kid, but my boy was on alert for any danger that might’ve been lurking within. I couldn’t help but miss the baby my boy used to be, always in need of my help.

As we turned down our street, we passed a lady with a stroller, struggling to calm her really loud, bawling kid. I couldn’t help but be glad my kid was growing up.

-December 2014

Feast of Burden

Overeating makes no sense to me. Unless there’s competition involved.

My younger brother and I used to try to out-eat one another at buffets and Thanksgiving feasts, and we’d eat so much we’d make ourselves sick for days to follow.

But it’s been years since we’ve been to a buffet or spent a Thanksgiving together due to the more than 1,000 miles between us, so now I simply enjoy my meals -- I don’t stuff myself.

“Dad, you can Skype Uncle Tom on Thanksgiving and then we can finally see who eats the most,” my 11-year-old son said.

I’d told my boy about past food fights between my brother and me. He wanted to see, firsthand, one of these showdowns -- to the death.

Can you imagine Skyping a Thanksgiving meal? No civilized, decent human being would consider it. And then God created brothers.

My brother was definitely up for Skyping a feast-off. He never got over being younger than me. I certainly couldn’t back down or I’d be undoing all the “older brother” work I’d put in over the years.

And so began the final engagement of war between my brother and me.

My stomach had other thoughts. It was used to consuming human-sized portions. Going back to oversized helpings just for Thanksgiving would be like running the L.A. Marathon with no training. My stomach was so out of shape it couldn’t even handle double-decker burgers anymore.

To test the waters, I went to Fatburger and ordered their famous XXXL burger. I couldn’t even pick that thing up. It was magnificent. A crowd gathered to watch it eat me.

By this point my brother was most likely eating entire hamburger stands. He was younger, had more stamina. I thought about starving myself like I’d done in past campaigns to see if an uncontrollable hunger would turn me into a beast. I tried to turn down a meatball sandwich from my favorite Italian deli.

It’s amazing what man can do if he puts his mind to it. I just couldn’t put my mind to it. I couldn’t look that beautiful sandwich in the roll with all that provolone cheese and say no. That fortress of marinara-covered meatballs seemed more rewarding than beating my younger brother in a battle of appetites -- again.

So I ate the sandwich. It was so good I had another. I thought I’d never get full, and like a ferocious beast I kept devouring more food.

Then something magical happened -- I got so full, and so sick that I wanted more. It’s like at the gym when the pain is a sign of gain. I was taking in so much food I don’t think I was taking in any air.

“I can’t talk, I’m not breathing, hand me another pizza,” I told the guy at the deli. When I ran out of money to buy more food, I went home and stuffed my face with anything we had in the kitchen.

A whole loaf of bread?

The thought of it hurt.

You call that pain? Two loaves, please.

I ate my wife’s wheat bread, which I usually hate next to my sourdough. Together, though, it wasn’t so bad. The last few slices didn’t even have taste. I just shoveled everything and then anything in. By Thanksgiving I was going to be a legitimate dumpsite for anything that’d fit in my mouth.

The local media would break the story of my victory, and when I made national headlines, my brother would still be looking for a knife to carve the turkey.

 Unfortunately, the ferocious beast in me scurried off and left me in so much agony I couldn’t even cry. I knew then I’d done permanent damage to my digestive system. The medical community would have to invent a new doctor to surgically remove the food I’d swallowed, and I’d be the spokesperson for a new disorder that makes the act of eating impossible.

I had to call my brother and call off the feast-off.

I couldn’t get to the phone. I was that weighed down. My son brought me the cordless and before I could dial, it rang. It was my brother.

He was also marooned to the floor, his daughter holding his cell to his own food-stuffed face so he could talk.

“I’m calling off the Thanksgiving Day battle,” he said. “I won’t eat again till Christmas.”

I agreed, but I said in my older-brotherly way, “Guess you lose in a forfeit, then, huh?”

-November 2014

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Houston, We Have a Piece of Candy

Candy! Glorious, magnificent Halloween candy!

My 11-year-old son and I were polishing off the last of Halloween’s rewards in the kitchen when a small Sweet Tart dropped out of my hand, bounced off the counter, hit the floor, spun in a few circles and then rolled under the dishwasher.

Stupid, ridiculous candy!

“Dad, you’re not gonna go all crazy, are you?” my son asked. “It’s only a tiny piece of candy.”

I didn’t want him to think his dad was crazy. I was willing to leave it alone.

“That’s nothing,” my wife said. “You know how many things I’ve dropped under there?”

“Houston,” I said, “we have a piece of candy and other stuff under the dishwasher.”

I was on the kitchen floor with a metal coat hanger, trying to hook the Sweet Tart and anything else under there. The dishwasher, unlike the stove, has very little room to maneuver underneath. And while the refrigerator can be moved easily, the dishwasher is securely mounted with lots of hardware.

My wife couldn’t bear to take on my stress. She was already worried about whether or not she’d receive her National Board Certification, which is an advanced teaching credential that involved quite a lengthy process to complete. She was to learn about her fate in that matter the following morning.

“Well? Can you feel anything under there?” she asked.

My wife is quite talented and was about to take on my anxieties as well as her own. I couldn’t allow it. I pretended to find a few things underneath and we all went to sleep.

“You’re kidding me,” my wife heard me say in the middle of the night. But I wasn’t talking in my sleep. I was in the kitchen, under the dishwasher, talking to the machinery. I had to get that Sweet Tart.

“Take a break,” my wife yelled from our bedroom.

“If that piece of candy under there doesn’t get a break,” I hollered back. “I don’t get a break.”

My wife was up and so stressed she was actually pacing. Even our son, who could sleep through a series of mortar blasts in his bedroom, was awake and making a fuss about the noise.

How could I be so insensitive? I mean, my wife had no control of her dilemma -- her work for that certification had long been turned in, so there was nothing she could do. But my dilemma was so petty.

“OK, quiet down, let’s stay cool, people,” I told my family with my coat hanger still protruding from under the dishwasher. “Let’s work the problem. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.”

“You’re serious?” my wife said, annoyed. “You’re gonna quote ‘Apollo 13’ here?”

She stormed off.

“Dad, Mom is worried about her National Boards,” my son told me. Then he stormed off after her.

“We just lost the moon,” I said to my coat hanger.

I went for my wife. I comforted her, told her she'd pass her certification -- I wove a tapestry of proofs so believable and so beautiful that she forgot about my obsession with the candy. What I think really did trick was her going online to see if her National Boards scores were posted early. They were. She passed!

We all celebrated late into the late, late night. When everyone was back, snug in their beds, with visions of sugar-plums and National Board Certifications dancing in their heads, I sprang from my bed and out to the garage for my tools.

My tools! My top quality, major brand tools! I’d long wanted to repair something -- anything -- with those tools. Now I was going to use those babies to remove my dishwasher and retrieve that candy.

Where's all that water coming from? I wondered as I worked.

I was headed toward the worst home improvement disaster of my career as homeowner. Then I repeated aloud a line Ed Harris’ character spoke in “Apollo 13.”

“With all due respect, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”

My tools -- my glorious, magnificent tools -- came through. I pulled the dishwasher, fixed the water hose I’d knocked loose, rescued the candy and other assorted items that had rolled under, and had everything back in order by daylight. My wife and I both had successes that night.

As I was grabbing the last screw for the reinstallation, it dropped out of my hand, bounced off the counter, hit the floor, spun in a few circles and then rolled under the dishwasher. Then it rolled back out. Whew!

I went for the screw but bumped it deep under the appliance where it remained.

Once again, I called Mission Control aloud: Houston, I dont care anymore. And I went to bed.

-November 2014

Friday, July 21, 2017

Halloween Magic

My 11-year-old son recently got over being scared to death, and he can finally endure scary movies. He tells me his nightmares are even fun.

So I can really lay it on this Halloween.

The magic of Halloween is the frights, the mystery, the unknown.

“There’s a house,” I told him. “I don’t even like to walk past it. The yard is overgrown and the house is dark even in the daylight. On Halloween night, there’s finally a sign of life there -- a lone jack-o’-lantern in the window. Its frown is haunting.

“One Halloween,” I continued, “many years ago, that jack-o’-lantern wasn’t frowning. It was grinning. Only it didn’t start the night that way. When most everyone else had retuned to their homes for the night, the last trick-or-treaters of the night crept up to the door. A sweet old lady answered. No, she didn’t turn them into toads. She offered them a table of Halloween treats -- cakes and candies, cookies and desserts.

“The trick-or-treaters loaded up their sacks, wished the old lady a happy Halloween, and were on their way. They didn’t even notice the change in the jack-o’-lantern’s now mischievous face as they stepped off the porch. But that’s not all that changed -- the treats in the kids’ bags turned into bugs and lizards. And the treats they’d already eaten . . . Well, you can guess what happened.”

There was no debate with my son about this house.

“We hafta go!” my son announced with great excitement.

That’s all he and his friends talked about for days. My wife said our son’s friends were making fun of him.

“He’s too old to believe in haunted houses and witches and Halloween magic,” she told me.

“I didn’t tell his friends the story,” I replied. “He told them. And they’re not making fun of him. They’re making fun of me.”

Regardless, there was nothing we could do at that point. The gauntlet had been thrown down, the damage done, the magic in their minds.

“Does your dad really believe that story?” my son’s friends asked him.

“No, he just likes to have fun,” he told them.

“Yeah, “ I interrupted to save my son from humiliation. “It’s all for fun. But, just so you know, there is a frowning jack-o’-lantern in the front window, and nobody ever goes up to that house. Those parts are true.”

The kids laughed. I was bummed, defeated -- my son was too old to believe in Halloween magic, not old enough to appreciate the true meaning of Halloween.

“What is the true meaning of Halloween?” my wife asked.

“Candy!” I said with new realization. Halloween could still be fun.

So I challenged my son and his friends to beat an old record of filling two pillowcases with candy. I’d never even filled one, but had heard of a kid who actually came home with two, even after snacking on treats throughout his travels in the night.

“That house I was telling you about,” I said, “I really wasn’t lying -- nobody goes there. Ever. That’s why you’ll score big. The old lady there will be so happy to see you she’ll empty all her treats into your bags.”

The kids were brimming with anticipation, salivating for the full-size candy bars I promised the old lady would give.

Yet I wondered -- when darkness sets in on Halloween night, would my previous tale have more impact? It’s one thing to make fun of such a story in the daylight in the comfort of friendly company. It’s another thing to walk down a dark path on Halloween night toward a big, lurking house, the cold air creeping up the back of your spine, the shadows from the trees obscuring any crouching creatures, and with the thought of potential horrors up ahead.

What would my son and his friends do? Did they have the guts to go up to that house? Or would they run?

As I’d told my wife previously, the gauntlet had been thrown down, the damage done, the magic in their minds. On the way to school earlier this week, my son and his friends stopped by that dark house and knocked on the door. The old lady answered.

“My dad says you’re a witch.”

I’ll tell you this: I don’t have the guts to go up to that house now.

-October 2014

Thursday, July 20, 2017


My son, now 11 years old, used to be fearless.

Then I took him into a haunted house one Halloween. I carelessly brought my wife along.

The kid was doing gloriously with all the scares. When my wife screamed and grabbed onto me for protection, our son decided he needed to get out of there no matter who or what he needed to run over. He’s been afraid of anything frightening ever since.

“I think it’s time to not be afraid anymore,” I told my son this Halloween season. “I think it’s time we watch a scary movie. And Mom’s not invited this time.”

“Dad, is this movie rated R?” the kid asked as I put in the DVD.

“Yeah, so?”

“So then it’s not appropriate for me,” he said.

“I was watching this stuff when I was in third grade,” I told him. “Aside from all the blood, a guy getting his eyes pushed into his head, and bugs eating a kid alive, it’s totally fine. It’s Halloween time -- it’s fun!”

Right away I could see the kid was really getting into it.

“Why aren’t you watching?” I asked. “This part is great!”

“This part is gross, Dad.”

“You’re gonna miss it.”

“Tell me when I have.”

Seriously, how can you not enjoy these movies?

“This is dumb, Dad, why doesn’t he run? That thing’s gonna get him if he just sits there.”

“That’s the fun of it all,” I told him. “Doesn’t it get you all worked up?”

“That thing’s gonna pop out any time now -- AHHHHHHH!”

“Open your eyes, here comes the pushing-in-his-eyes part.”

The kid wasn’t getting it.

“Wait,” he said, “so the Halloween mask itself is evil and will kill people?”

“Now you’re catching on. Isn’t it great?”

“What are you guys watching?” my wife asked when she unexpectedly appeared into the room.

“It’s a scary movie, Mom.”

“This isn’t appropriate for an 11-year-old,” she said.

“I saw this movie when I was 8,” I told her to calm her down.

At the scene where the bugs devour the kid like he was a fun-size candy bar, my son allowed himself the pleasure of watching.

“Eeeeew, is that real?” he asked.

“What do you think?” I said. “Of course it’s real!”

“No it’s not,” my wife assured our son. “Wait, don’t go in there. She’s gonna get -- AHHHHH!”

My wife went for the remote control to turn the movie off.

“No, not yet, Mom,” my son shouted. “They’re kissing.”

I turned it off.

“Why is death OK, but kissing is not?” the boy asked. “It’s just love. Killing is a sin.”

“OK, the killing is fake,” I admitted. “But that love stuff is serious.”

Maybe we needed to wait a little longer before introducing the kid to scary movies.

That night, my wife woke me up.

“Did you hear that?”

“No,” I said. “Go back to sleep.”

“This is your fault -- you made me watch that dumb scary movie and now I’m hearing things.”

After investigation, I discovered my son in the living room watching the rest of the scary movie.

“I couldn’t sleep, Dad. This movie gave me nightmares.”

“Then why are you watching the end of it?”

I turned it off.

“Wait, it’s almost over,” the kid stopped me.

“But you said you were having nightmares.”

“Yeah,” he said, “isn’t it great?”

Mission accomplished. Yes! My son’s ready for Halloween haunted houses again.

-October 2014