Monday, May 23, 2011

Owning a Pool is Draining

In what is starting to become a regular feature of this blog, here is the latest installment of “Dumb Things I’ve Done”

This being my first summer as a pool owner, I decided to call in the experts to help me open it, namely Cousin Tony and my nephew Robert, who kindly gave up what could have been their last hours on Earth (what with the supposed Rapture and all) to assist me.

And I use the term assist very loosely, as they did all the work while I fetched things and kept them in Diet Cokes and beer. I did help pull off the cover, but I was the only one cringing at both the swampy look of the pool and the hundreds of crickets that came swarming out of it. The real men just took it all in stride and got to work: Tony focused on the pool stuff, while Robert took care of the filter. Seeing them both so busy, and feeling a bit emasculated by my cowering at the crickets, I decided I would take on the job of draining out the excess water left behind from all the snow and rain we got. Armed only with a hose and a nicely sloping yard, I was able to get a siphon going in no time. Feeling proud of myself, I went over to see what else I could help with.

Robert told me to start brushing off the algae covered sides, but Cousin Tony interrupted and raced off to his car, returning with a present: a cool robot vacuum thingy that looked a bit like Wall-E from the Pixar movie.  So Robert showed me how to work the robot instead. He explained how the cloth bag that came with it would quickly clog due to all the gunk in the pool, and recommended I buy some disposable bags for the initial clean-up, that way I could just toss them out instead of hosing off the cloth one, which he said could get pretty gross. But after hearing they were fifteen bucks each, I decided washing the reusable one wasn’t that big a deal. I mean, how gross could it be?

So we dumped Wall-E in the pool and watched in admiration as he quickly set out cleaning the bottom, leaving a clean white track behind as he scoured the pool floor. “You’ll probably have to clean the bag in like an hour,” Robert said, noting how grimy the walls and floor were. “It won’t work if it’s all clogged up and full.”

I nodded and thanked them for their help, offering Robert another beer and promising Cousin Tony that I’d send him a check for the robot.  Then I went in the house to wash up and check on Eli.

An hour later I dutifully went to clean the robot’s bag – and that’s when I learned just how gross it could be! No one warned me about the worms! Hundreds of them, wriggling in the fetid slime.  I plugged my nose and nearly lost my lunch as I hosed it off, wincing each time the water splashed back at me.  Suddenly those $15 bags didn’t sound so bad, as there was no way in hell I was dealing with this again. So I went inside to fetch Eli and headed off to the pool supply store.

An hour, and $45 later, we returned. And that’s when I noticed that the wonderful siphon I had created was still running! I had forgotten to pull out the hose, and after three hours of draining, the pool level was now well below the skimmers, the back yard was flooded, and the filter was close to burning out.

And to make matters worse, we have a well, so I couldn’t just turn the hose on and start refilling without risking running it dry. So I spent the next 8 hours carefully monitoring the water level, hoping to get the pool back to where it was supposed to be (“Two inches above the lowest skimmer” according to Robert) without emptying my well.

It was pretty dark the last time I went to check, so I had to lie on my belly and reach into the pool to feel with my hands to see how far the water had come up – and that’s when it happened.

Something leaped out of the water and tried to attack me!

I screamed like a girl as I scrambled to my feet, jumping back a safe distance from whatever “it” was. Alligator? Beaver? Giant Worm?


It was just Wall-E. No one told me the thing could climb walls! And if they did, I forgot about it during the whole emptying of the pool fiasco. Regardless, that little robot scared the hell out of me as it appeared from the murky water mere inches from my face.

Trying to save face, I slowly walked back to the house while rapidly considering what possible explanation I could give for my screaming, but luckily my wife was busy giving the baby a bath (most likely in the last of our well water) and didn’t hear anything.

Grateful for small mercies, I flopped on the couch and turned on the TV to make sure no one actually got raptured. But aside from a volcano erupting in Iceland, and the Mets getting killed by the Yankees, it appeared all was well in the world. No earthquakes. No fire in the sky. No plague of locusts…well, come to think of it, there were those crickets. And I did flood the backyard. And let’s not forget that horrible scream. Maybe that Harold Camping guy wasn’t crazy after all. He had most of the facts right, his scale was just a little off. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Prom Miss I Should Have Kept

For nearly two years I have been communicating with a group of writers through facebook, email, blogs, and on-line message boards, and this weekend I was finally going to have a chance to meet many of them in person at a book release party for Gae Polisner (check her out here) on Long Island. She had been promoting this event for months, and I was really looking forward to meeting her and the many people I had formed virtual friendships with over the past year. So much so that I was willing to make the two-hour drive, through the busiest parts of I-95, alone, just to be there.
I was about an hour into the trip, when my cell phone rang.  I hate cell phones, and only have one for emergencies, so when it went off, I knew something was wrong. It was my wife, telling me that my dad was experiencing some sort of memory problem, and was being brought to the emergency room. She assured me that other than the memory loss, he seemed fine, and that they were just going to bring him in as a precaution.
“I’m not sure what you should do,” my wife said.  “But I thought you would want to know.”
I knew what I should do –in fact I had already exited the highway as we were talking  - but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. What I wanted was to be in Long Island, sipping wine and shaking hands with my sparkly new friends, but I knew I had to forgo the book signing and head to the hospital.
I’m happy to say my dad is fine. By the time I got there (actually, I beat them to the hospital) he was only a little confused, and slightly concerned, but other than that, he was his normal old self: teasing my mom, flirting with the nurses, insisting that I shouldn’t have come…
But I knew I had to. And I’m glad I did – yet– I can’t deny that I was very disappointed at missing all the fun back on Long Island. I know I made the right decision, but I also know that it cost me a good time. The thing is, though, I've learned from experience that fun is fleeting, while regret lasts forever. And in my opinion, the source of all regret are the decisions we make, or don't make.
I won’t even attempt to venture a guess as to how many decisions one makes in a typical week, never mind a lifetime, but it’s got to be in the thousands.  Everything, from choosing between paper or plastic, chicken or beef, or even chemo or surgery, requires a decision. And not to get too philosophical, but EVERY decision has the potential to become a major decision. The clothes we wear, the route we take to work, and the radio station we listen to, can all have a huge impact on the rest of our day, or even our lives.  Of course we can’t live our lives worrying about the implications of every decision, and frankly, I don’t even get too bent out of shape over the bad ones.  But there is one, out of the hundreds of thousands of decisions I have made, that I truly regret.
That’s not to say I’ve never made a poor decision, I do that on a daily basis. And I’ve even made some that have had lasting consequences, like the night I decided to hang up on my brother after he called me at 3:00 a.m. from New Orleans looking for a funny joke to tell the loud group I could hear partying behind him. I told him he was a joke, and promptly hung up.
 Bad decision, as those were the last words I would ever say to him, since he died the next day.  But I don’t regret it.  For one thing, it was sort of funny. And another, it was real. Had I known it was the last time we would talk, who knows what sort of mushy stuff might have come out of my mouth.
Another seemingly safe decision over pizza toppings resulted in a horrific car accident that nearly killed my young nephew. Had I not wanted white clam pizza, we would have ordered from the place that delivered, instead of sending my nephew and his son to pick it up from another place, where they wound up getting hit head-on by a drunk driver. But again, I don’t blame myself. Logically I know that the tragic chain of events that put everyone in the exact spot at that exact time were way beyond my immediete influence.  
But I did have full control over the actions that led to my lasting regret. It happened over twenty years ago. I was a senior in high school, and had just come home from getting fitted for my tux for the prom when I got the horrible news that my godfather, and everyone’s favorite person, George, had suddenly passed away.  It was very tragic and unexpected and horrible on every level – but my response to it was even more horrible. I’d like to think my initial reaction was one of remorse or shock or sadness. But I can’t be sure, because all I clearly remember are my next thoughts, which were selfishly about how this was going to affect the prom.
And of course, the wake was scheduled for the same night, with the funeral the following day – traditionally the Prom Picnic as Sherwood Island. Again, let me repeat that George was one of my favorite people. The life of the party, the heart of the family, the zip in our doodah.  My decision should have been a no-brainer. Honoring the legacy of a well-loved relative certainly takes precedence over the overwrought urgency of a stupid prom.  But I was conflicted. Okay, 40-year old me is claiming I was conflicted, but 17-year old me was probably much more concerned with missing out on the prom than making the wake. Which is why “he” jumped at my mom’s suggestion to skip the wake and go to the prom, so long as I made the funeral  the next day.  Which I did.  Barely.
Basically I made an appearance. I left my friends back at the hotel we had booked, sat anxiously through the church service, hugged and kissed everyone I could find, and then rushed off for the beach. I skipped the graveside service, the burial, and the repast to go party with my pals.  And the thing is, I can’t recall a single moment from that day, or the prom the night before – I’m sure all the Haffenreffer 40 ouncers didn’t help, but mostly it’s because one high school event or party is just like the next. They all blend together. But I only have one family, and one Cousin George, and I should have been together with them.
And I’ve regretted it ever since. Twenty years of guilt over something I didn't do. So when that call came the other night, I knew what I had to do. I had to pass up a good time with my friends to be with my family during a tough one. And even though I had a feeling it was a false alarm, and that my presence wasn’t really needed, I still needed to be there.  Decisions are easy to make – like the Seinfeld episode on reservations, any monkey can take one, it’s holding them that matters, and it’s how you handle the consequences of your decisions that counts.  And personally, I would much rather deal with a short-lived disappointment than live with long-term regret.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Spearheading a Movement (and you WILL move!)

I know I’m a blatant self-promoter when it comes to my book (Kindle version only .99 cents – click here: Alchemy) but other than that, you’ll rarely hear me tooting my own horn (well, there was that one time at Band Camp…) But anyway, one thing I am proud of is my ability to stick to a decision or plan. Once I make up my mind to do something, it usually gets done – and generally, when I say I’m NOT going to do something, I don’t. Some things are harder to stick to than others, but for the most part, I follow through on my threats and keep my promises.

Which is why I’m so excited about Memorial Day. You see, about four years ago, I “discovered” Michael Franti and Spearhead – I know, for “real” fans of the band, I was about ten years late – but I did buy the album months before “Say Hey (I Love You)” became a hit, if that helps boost my cred.  All I know is, I spent the end of the summer of 2008 listening to “All Rebel Rockers’ pretty much non-stop. It was the perfect summer soundtrack – ideal for both riding to the beach and relaxing on the sand – a little rock, little reggae, some rap, R&B, it was all there.

Of course, with anything that good, you want more, and my first instinct was to buy up their entire back catalogue – but – here’s where that persistence paid off. Rather than let myself overload on Spearhead music, I limited myself to one CD a summer. So every Memorial Day, for the past three years, I’ve been going to iTunes and downloading my seasonal fix.

I spent 2009 grooving to “Yell Fire,” which is currently my favorite album. 2010 brought a FestivaLink live album – but only because the new album at the time, “Sound of Sunshine” was not scheduled for release until July, and I just couldn’t wait that long. But in a few weeks, I can finally listen to it. I’ve been so good, I haven’t even sampled any of the songs, so even though it’s over a year old, it’ll be all new to me.

I’m sure there’s lots of lessons to be learned from this: good things come to those who wait, everything in moderation, sometimes you should put off until tomorrow what you can do today…But the real thing to take from this is this: get thee to iTunes and buy you some Franti. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ode to Me Mother!

Me, with the rake, as "The Country Boy"

NOTE: The following originally appeared as an insert in the program for a play I was in, called "The Country Boy" and I rerun it now in honor of my mama! Happy Mother's Day

This play was originally going to be presented around Mother’s Day, and I thought placing an ad in the playbill proclaiming my love for me mother would make a cute (and inexpensive) gift - but then a better date opened up in June and put an end to that plan (leaving my poor mother with another Kohl’s gift certificate!)
            But I’ve been thinking about her throughout this entire production. The mother character you’ll soon see on stage is such a  kind, caring, and considerate woman, always putting others before herself – rarely showing the world anything but a smile, regardless of what is going on – that I never really had to act, because she is exactly like my mother in real life. And probably yours too.
            We all owe so much to our mothers. The simple fact of me being on this stage is because of my mother. She has supported and defended my every decision, no matter how crazy. Whether it was me intentionally repeating junior year in high school, or heading off to boot camp a few years later (or foolishly deciding to be in this play!) she has always had my back. But it wasn’t until I started playing “Curly” that I realized that many of the things my four brothers and I put her through must not have been as easy for her as she let on. In fact, some of the things were outright heart breaking, and would have destroyed a lesser woman – but my mother is the strongest person I know.
            Sure, the fathers get all the credit for their physical strength, but it’s the mothers who have the real burden of carrying the emotional loads for their families.  Watch the mother on stage closely, listen intently, you’ll rarely hear her complain. Her sons are leaving her, her husband keeps his distance, the neighbors rely on her for everything  - yet she just keeps on giving. And forgiving.  No one seems to notice her pain. No one considers her feelings. Not because they don’t love her – they just take it for granted that she’ll understand.
My mother has guided our family through so many tough times, and through them all, we’ve relied on her to be the steady one. The Rock.  I’ll speak for myself, but everyone in my family should feel guilty for just expecting my mother to be there, ready to soothe us and save us and solve our problems – or sit through the same play two nights in a row! But that’s my mother, and nobody does it better. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts on the News

Officials reacting as Bin Laden mission is carried out

I am not a political person, but even if I was, this is not the place to discuss politics -  which is why I’m going to talk about my feelings instead. Problem is, presently my feelings are struggling with how to deal with the demise of Osama Bin Laden, and by sharing said feelings, I’m inevitably opening the door to a political discussion. But be forewarned, I live with a 16-year old, and I know how to slam doors – so any knee-jerk, or just plain jerk, reactions (other than my own!) will be met with a not so subtle SLAM! Got it? Good.

Let me start by saying I am glad Bin Laden is dead. I’m happy he was shot in the head rather than captured alive to face a trial and execution. I’m hoping Hell is worse than they say it is.  I’ll say it again, I’m glad he’s dead. But I’m not ecstatically wrapping myself in the flag and cheering over it.  And seeing others doing so, taking to the streets to sing “God Bless America” and “Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye” doesn’t fill me with pride. It actually disgusts me a little bit.

Now, I’m the first to well up and get a lump in my throat at any mention of 9/11, and I support our troops 100% - but I just don’t see how this...

Crowd celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden

is all that different than this...

Anti-American crowd chanting "Death to George Bush"

I’d like to believe we are better than that. I NEED to believe that the enemies we are fighting ARE lower than us, inhumane scum who deserve nothing less than a painful death. But, when I see Americans behaving in similar ways, it makes me wonder. 

I have never attended an execution, but I’d be shocked to see anything other than tears and anger coming from the victim’s families at the moment of the convict’s death. They may derive some relief and satisfaction that the bastard got what he deserved – but they’re not celebrating. They know they're not getting anything, or anyone back. To them, it’s still a loss.

And killing Bin Laden was not a win for the American people. Don’t get me wrong, it was a HUGE win for the military, and I have absolutely no problem if our soldiers are hooting and hollering over it for months to come. They have seen and done things we have not, and have earned a special right to celebrate. But not the rest of us.  This isn’t the Giants winning the Superbowl. It’s not Neal Armstrong walking on the moon.  This isn’t the American spirit overcoming insurmountable odds. It was the entire U.S. military against one horrible asshole. And after ten years, thousands of people are dead and one son of a bitch is at the bottom of the sea. And I’m sorry, I just don’t see that as a victory.

Again, that’s not to diminish the actions and sacrifices of our soldiers. For them, it IS a victory, and deservedly so. But to all the singers in the street, and the talking heads on TV, and the horn-honking, flag-waving, chest-bumping citizens out there, this is not a cause for such celebration. In my heart, I know that this is just your way of showing support for our troops, and that you are cheering their efforts and accomplishments – but - much like the football coach who advises a showboating player to stop dancing in the end zone and act like he’s been there before, I suggest you do the same. The only difference being,  we don’t want to go there again.

We should be showing the world a face of grim satisfaction. One that deters others from trying to hurt us again, rather than provoking them to action.  Our soldiers have a very dirty job to do, and I am grateful for the brave men and woman who voluntarily carry it out, so let’s not make their job any harder by giving our enemies more reason to hate us. It might feel good to stand up and shout, “In your face, terrorists!” but YOU don’t have to face them. They do.