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