Sunday, December 16, 2012

Please...



You all need to STOP! And yes, I mean YOU. Whether you’re my wife, my family, my friend, my neighbor, my coworker, or my fellow American, you need to stop! You need to stop watching the news, listening to the radio, reading the paper, and going on-line to find out more about the shootings in Newtown. What MORE do you need to know? After learning that 26 innocent people were gunned down, 20 of them children, what MORE could you possibly need to know? Other than finding out if anyone you knew personally was involved, there is NOTHING else you need to know.

Everything else you WANT to know. And that’s pretty fucking sick if you ask me.

But lucky for you, the media will be happy to fulfill your desires. Want to know what the last thing one of the victims had for breakfast? Keep watching. Curious as to what’s inside all those Christmas gifts that will never be opened? Keep reading.  Want to hear an exclusive interview with a 9-year old survivor? Stay tuned.


And right now many of you are offended, gasping indignantly that YOU don’t want to know that, and YOU think it’s terrible.  Yet you keep watching.  You sit on your couch complaining how insensitive the reporters are for questioning survivors and families of the victims at a time like this, yet you don’t change the channel. You “like” your friend’s comment that the state medical examiner should never have released such gory details about the deaths, and then you Google the report to find out just how gory and insensitive it was. You claim to dread the inevitable release of the class photos of the 20 smiling young children doomed to die, yet you’ll buy the goddamned paper.

Then you’ll gather and talk and ask yourselves HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED? You’ll point fingers at bad parents, weak gun control laws, poor security in the schools, and issues with how mental illness is treated. You’ll blame violent video games, gory movies, and heavy metal music.

But guess what? As abhorrent as some of those lyrics and images can be, they can not POSSIBLY be worse than the version of “Heaven” I heard on the radio yesterday that was remixed with actual sound bites from the survivors and first responders. I know it was meant as a tribute, but it’s fucking deranged. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if ends up at #1 on iTunes, because people like YOU are going to buy it. 

The weird part is YOU are the good people. You love your kids.  You support your community. You value human life and have compassion for others. You donate to worthy causes, help out when you can, and cry yourselves to sleep at night over things like this. And I love and respect you ALL for it. I just don’t get this addiction to violence. You claim to hate it, yet refuse to look away. And will actually seek it out.

So much so that we’ve even had to create words to describe such actions. Rubbernecking is an actual term that refers the traffic caused on the CLEAR side of the highway by those slowing down to look back at the carnage on the OTHER side. Why? What are you hoping to see when what you NEED to see is the road in front of you? What do you WANT to see so badly that you’re putting your own safety at risk?

And that’s exactly what you’re doing while watching the news sensationalize tragedies, for as YOU sit there in scared shock over what you are seeing, some psycho is making mental (and I DO mean mental) notes on what he needs to do to make you feel even worse when it’s his turn.  You’re giving him a blueprint for what he needs to do to top the last guy. 

But instead of turning off the TV, you’ll turn to your friends and say things like, “If that was MY kid, I would have made sure he received the help he needed,” and “If MY son was that troubled, I would NEVER have guns in the house.” You’ll wonder why “somebody” didn’t see or say something sooner. You’ll want to know who was responsible, and why they didn’t do more to stop it.

But YOU need to stop it. You need to stop giving your tacit approval to those providing such information by not consuming it. I’m not saying turn your back and turn it off, I’m just saying turn away after you’ve heard enough. And I think just knowing that 26 innocent people, 20 of them children, were shot and killed in their school is MORE than enough.

Don’t you?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Toasting the Wonder Bread of Wine


I've said pretty much everything there is to say about Thanksgiving in previous blogs and columns (like here, and here) so this year I will focus on the REAL symbol of the holiday: Georges Duboeuf's Beaujolais Nouveau. Sure, it's a crappy wine in a tacky bottle, but similar to cranberry sauce (both in taste and color), it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it.

The gimmick is that the wine is the first of the harvest and vintage. In fact, it's so fresh, in order to have it on store shelves in time for the holiday, the first shipment has to be sent over by plane, which adds a couple bucks to the price. You can get the exact same bottle for $5 less a week later when it arrives on our shores via boat. But where's the fun in that?

Plus, like I said, the wine itself is crap. A glorified fruit juice that just so happens to get you drunk. You don't have to be an oenophile to know that young wine is not a good thing, but that's Beaujolais Nouveau's claim to fame.  "We're first!" they proudly shout, which is much different than, "We're Number 1"  (although it does tastes like it!)

So why do I celebrate the day with bad wine? And how did it become my personal symbol of the holiday? To tell you the truth, I have no freaking clue! Much like how no one really likes fruit cakes or Hickory Farms gift baskets at Christmas, yet they still get them, this fruity wine winds up on my table every year. The only difference is I go out of my way to buy it (well not that far out of my way, as I'll already be at the package store buying lots of real wine and good beer, but you get the point.)

What you still don't get is why. And neither do I. It just somehow became a tradition. And like most good traditions, it defies logic. There's nothing rational about running around the house beating on a pot with a wooden spoon to ring in the new year, but we do. There's no real reason for hiding, and then trying to find, the Christmas Pickle ornament on the tree, but we do. And there's no point in putting out a bowl of mixed nuts still in the shell that no one ever eats, but we do it every year. Because it's tradition. It's what you do. Some are fun, and some are just done. But you have to do them because holidays without traditions are just...days.

Which may be why I mark this particular holiday by drinking a wine that is literally days old. When we toast to the days past, and to the days ahead, and drink to the times we've had and to the time we have, the unaged wine serves as a reminder that while things do get better with time, we need to appreciate the present as well. Even if it is overly sweet and fruity!





BONUS CONTENT:

My favorite Beaujolais Nouveau story comes from Thanksgiving 2008. What happened was, after finding out in July that my wife was pregnant, I voluntarily gave up drinking as a sign of solidarity. At the time, I didn’t consider the calendar, which was a good thing, as I would have noticed that nine months starting in the middle of the summer would take me from the height of picnic season to Oktoberfest, and straight (literally) through the holiday season. But since I loved my wife, and don’t drink alone, it didn’t really seem like that big of a deal.  And it wasn’t. Much.

I made it all the way to Thanksgiving, where I was enviously watching my brother open "his" second bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau when my wife picked up his glass and took a sip.

“What was that?” I asked in disbelief.
“What? It was just a sip…”
“I know, but you’re drinking…”
“No. I took a sip.”
“Yes, but technically, you’re drinking. You just drank wine. And I said I wouldn’t drink until you could.”
“So?”
“So? So you drank! That means I can too! Pass that bottle over here!”

Had this loophole not been discovered, I would have dutifully carried out my commitment through April. But once you open Pandora's Box, or bottle, it's hard to put a lid on it. Thus began a several months of me forcing my wife to sip off of things I wanted to drink. Sometimes I’d just dip my finger in a glass and touch it to her lips. So long as she imbibed first, I was in the clear!



Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Cativersary!




It's been one year since Steve the Cat showed up on our front porch, so in honor of our First Cativersary, I wrote the following poem:



You shed
and shred
and lay upon
my bed

You leave things 
that are dead 
in places you
know I'll tread


You puke up on the rug
and drink from Eli's mug
You give the plants a tug
and sound gross eating a bug

You sit on my knees
and make my wife sneeze
you bring in ticks and fleas
and gave us poison ivy

Your claws are lethal cutters
You're always licking butter
You chase anything that flutters
and ignore all of my mutters

Your nine lives are eight too many
and I've seen better tails on a penny
If it were up to me, we wouldn't have any
When it comes to pets, a goldfish would be plenty

But since my kids love you so much
I'll ignore the scratches on the hutch
But give my leg lamp another touch
and you'll be walking with a crutch!





Monday, November 5, 2012

The Mitts are Coming Off!




I don’t have the voice of Bruce Springsteen. Or the oratory skills of Bill Clinton. Or the money of Bill Gates. Or even the talent of Danny Devito. I’m just a blogger with 76 followers, so unlike them, when I endorse Barack Obama, I know nobody’s listening.

Nor should they, as I know jack shit about politics! I don’t know the difference between the trade deficit and the federal deficit. I couldn’t tell you how a bill becomes a law without singing the Schoolhouse Rock song first. And up until ten minutes ago, I thought Medicaid and Medicare were the same thing.

So clearly I’m no expert on the election. But I need you to listen to me anyway and vote for President Obama.

And here’s why…

Four years ago, I was honesty afraid for our country. Banks were failing. Car companies were going under. Screenwriters were on strike! Not to mention the mortgage crisis and rice prices and all the major companies and institutions that were filing for bankruptcy. It was truly scary. I wanted to hoard food and build a shelter and move to Vermont, which is unusual, as I’m typically a very laid back person.  And even though I didn’t have any money in the market, or a home to buy, nor did I particularly care for rice, I still felt really stressed and anxious and concerned for my well-being.  With so much happening all at once, I couldn’t help but feel in a constant state of panic.

But I don’t feel that way anymore.  And I haven’t in quite awhile. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that President Obama stepped in and saved the day like some sort of Superman. I know markets correct themselves, things happen in cycles, and pendulums swing both ways – but – I also know that during that terrible time, he gave me hope. I felt confident and comfortable with him in charge…and I use that term loosely, as I also know the president is not really in charge.

I see the role of president as being closer to a figurehead than a dictator. Certainly he (or she) has more executive powers than say Queen Elizabeth or Prince Charles, but when it comes right down to it, the president still needs the approval of Congress (I think) and other legislative bodies in order to make any lasting decisions. So when we elect a president, what we’re really doing is choosing someone to serve as the face of our country and the embodiment of our values.

And while President Obama is much smarter, taller, and blacker than I’ll ever be, he is still the best representative of how I want to be perceived as a person and as an American. He’s real. He’s candid. He’s funny. And he loves his family (and who wouldn’t, with such a hot wife!) Mitt Romney and his little sidekick may have that all-American look, or at least the type popularized by all those 80’s movies about frat boys and jocks, but is that the image we really want to portray? Are they the people you really want representing you? Do you want us to be cast as bullies who look down on others and believe success is measured in dollars? Or do you want to be seen as intelligent, compassionate people who recognize that hard work pays off in more ways than one? 

I hope you see it my way and vote for Obama. I’m sure it’s cooler to obey The Boss, or the Bills, or even Danny Devito; all of whom are risking their reputations and fan bases with their support and endorsement of the president. But for me, the stakes are even higher. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Waxing Nostalgic




My boots were looking pretty scuffy, but having just paid $700 for a tank of oil, I wasn’t too keen on spending another $80 on a pair of shoes. So I bought a two-dollar tin of Kiwi shoe polish and decided to shine them up instead.

After finding an old t-shirt and spreading out some newspaper, I twisted the lever to pry off the lid, and the unmistakable smell that emerged instantly brought me back almost twenty-five years to my days in Basic Training. This in itself is not unusual, as scent is intrinsically linked with memory. What was strange was that the memory it elicited had nothing to with the many hours I spent in the barracks polishing my combat boots. Instead it took me back to the time my buddy and I almost died stealing some floor wax.

We were stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia, home of the Army Infantry School, the 3rd Ranger Battalion, and the infamous School of the Americas, where many Latin American dictators were trained.  Luckily, we were trained by a slightly less fascist group of drill sergeants, but there were several who openly took pleasure in our pain.

“Drop and give me twenty!” was too passé for the likes of them, so they’d dole out punishments like “Madonna in the Back of a’57 Chevy” where the offending soldier had to lie on his back with his legs spread and pelvis thrust high in the air while holding the position for several core crunching minutes. Or “The Koala,” which had the soldier wrapping his arms and legs around the nearest tree or pole and hanging ass in the air. These had no real training benefits for us soldiers, and were clearly done for the amusement of the evil drill instructors. But even the ones who were looking out for our best interests managed to do so in ways that were interesting to them.

The Canteen Drill is a good example of this. Training in the hot Georgia sun was a quick ticket to heat stroke (and maybe a few hours rest in the infirmary) so the drill sergeants made sure we stayed hydrated by force feeding us water every two hours. We all had 1-quart canteens strapped to our sides which were expected to be full, yet empty, at the same time.  Every so often, a drill sergeant would shout, “Canteen Drill” and we all had to stop what we were doing and chug the contents of our canteens and then refill them at the nearest water station. And then repeat!

Now, considering the average human bladder can only hold about ¾’s of a quart, the smarter soldiers quickly learned to keep their canteens empty (ideally through periodic drinking) so that when the inevitable Canteen Drill was called, they would not have two quarts of liquid sloshing through their system.

I was one of the smart soldiers. Or so I thought…

One day, my buddy and I were assigned KP duty at the Officers’ Mess. There was some bigwig general visiting, and somehow we got the call to serve orange juice and clear away plates. For some reason, we felt special and important doing this…until the meal was over, we were instructed to sweep and buff the floor.

We inwardly groaned, as buffing the floor was a BIG job back at the barracks. A tedious and thankless job that required three steps to properly remove the day’s worth of scuff marks and sweat from the floor. The guy in charge of the mess hall must have sensed our disappointment, as he pointed out that the floor wax they had in the Officers’ Mess was much better than what we had back “home.”

“It’s a one step process,” he said, showing us the 10-gallon bucket of floor cleaner. “Just spread it on the floor and buff away. It cleans, waxes, and shines all at once!”

And he was right. It was like some sort of miracle wax. We had the floor sparkling in one quarter of the time it would have taken us back at the barracks.

“We need to bring some of this stuff back!” my buddy said. “We’ll be heroes!”

“I agree,” I said. “But how? There’s no way we could carry that big bucket out of here…”

“We could fill our canteens,” he suggested. “They issued us two, so we can just swap them out when we get back.”

Such was the power of this wax that I agreed to his plan.

So we emptied our canteens in the sink, filled them with the noxious pink liquid, and set off across base to hide the contraband in our barracks.

We got maybe a half-mile before running into a drill sergeant, who upon seeing our sweaty faces from our double-time march, called for a Canteen Drill.

“Uh…” I stammered.

“Um…” my buddy stuttered.

“YOU HEARD ME!” he shouted. “NOW GET THEM CANTEENS VERTICAL!”

So afraid of the screaming sergeant, we both unscrewed our caps and prepared to drink what was more than likely poisonous floor wax. We eyed each other in a “If you do it, I’ll do it manner” and I was shocked to see my buddy was actually going to drink his.

“Wait!” I said, stopping his arm. “We can’t.” I then babbled out the entire story to the surprisingly amused drill sergeant.

“Can’t say I don’t admire you boys’ initiative,” he said, shaking his head. “But I can’t ignore your stupidity. Now drop and show me Madonna in the Back of a ’57 Chevy!”

25 years later, you’d think it would be the smell of the wax I’d remember, but it was shoe polish. Either way, the memory still shines.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

This Is Not Working Out




I was helping a friend move the other day when he asked if I was still going to the gym.  Now, this could have been an innocent question. Or even a compliment, perhaps inspired by the sight of my bulging biceps as I heaved his dining room table into the back of my pickup.  But of course I didn’t take it that way. To me, if someone has to ask of you’re still going to the gym, what they’re really saying is you’re obviously not going enough.

But, I have been going fairly often. Maybe not often enough to make any noticeable changes to my physique, but often enough to notice some fairly interesting things.

Things such as:

People are capable of some amazing things while on a treadmill or stairmaster

I can barely jog and watch TV at the same time, but the people around me are reading magazines, checking facebook, knitting sweaters, and, for all I know, doing their taxes. All while maintaining a pace faster than mine! If I so much as try to switch channels during a commercial, I know I’m going to lose my balance and go shooting through the wall like Wile E. Coyote. But the multi-taskers around me make the guys in that OK Go video look like amateurs.

People really don’t care what they wear to the gym

Granted, I am one of them, but I’m still surprised at what others deem appropriate for working out in public. Basically, we see the gym as a showcase for our free t-shirts.  Shirts with slogans from local radio stations. Tank tops advertising Pete’s Paving. Sweatshirts emblazoned with Mill River Fun Run 2002. Stuff most people wouldn’t use for a dust rag, we happily wear to the gym. But, strangely enough, while I have no problem sporting my “Diklus Miklus” t-shirt (a party favor from a friend’s bachelor party) or The New York Giants Run On Dunkin’ freebie (thanks, Jeff), I would NEVER think of wearing the complimentary t-shirt the gym gave me for signing up. That’s just tacky.

People like to relax at the gym

I’m not talking about working out to relieve stress. I mean straight up relaxing. For every two people busting their ass on a machine, there’s one who seems to simply enjoy sitting on it. I know I take a break between sets, but some people just seem to set between breaks.

Men will always be boys

No matter how much they can bench, deep down, men are still boys. I know this because every time I go to put my stuff in one of the gym’s lockers, Locker #69 is always taken. The surrounding 65-72 are all empty, but 69 is always full. 


Everybody works out

The gym I go to caters to non-jocks of the world, and is actually referred to in some circles as Planet Fatness due to its less-than conditioned clientele. Signs proclaim the place a Judgment-Free Zone and a “Lunk Alarm” sounds if anyone gets too macho with the grunting or weight dropping.  Which suits me just fine. But sometimes I feel worried for some of the people working out there. And other times I’m just worried about myself! The other day I was on the floor doing some sit-ups, and I look up to see an elderly gentleman, who clearly had suffered from a stroke at sometime, struggling to stand on a balance ball while attempting to lift a 50-pound barbell that was directly over my head! I think it’s great that people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities feel comfortable going to the gym, but at the same time, if you can’t pump your own gas, you probably shouldn’t be pumping iron.



Everybody drinks water differently

I’m pretty much a camel when it comes to water, where a few sips from the fountain will get me through a two-hour workout. But some people have some strange drinking habits. There’s the Triple Sipper, who takes three quick sips from his bottle every time he raises it. The Squirter, who likes to squeeze a stream of water into her mouth. The Mister, who rather than drink the water, sprays it into her face while lapping it out of the air. And The Guzzler, who makes a big show of draining their bottle in a single sip, while soaking the front of their shirt.  And don’t even get me started on the weirdos who carry around what is clearly a steaming cup of coffee. I guess that’s one way to feel the burn!


So there you have it. I suppose if I spent as much time watching my weight as I do watching people, I wouldn’t need to go to the gym. But then where would I wear my Diklus Miklus shirt?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Get a "Wife..."




“Daddy, I’ve got cider in my ear,” has long been my own personal shorthand for winding up on the losing end of a sucker bet. It was uttered most famously by Marlon Brando in “Guys and Dolls” after his character, Sky Masterson, agreed to terms of a bet that seemed like easy money, only to find out he had been conned. It stems from advice that his father gave him, which was, “One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you're going to wind up with an ear full of cider.”

And until recently, I have been pretty good about following this advice. I have never fallen for an Internet scam, purchased a time share, or allowed a stranger in a parking lot to replace my windshield (Hi, Honey!) – but – the other day I fell victim to a con perpetrated by my supposed best friend.

It started with her bragging about her book sales. You see her most recent book, Wife for Hire, had steadily been climbing the charts all summer (it is presently #2 on Barnes & Noble Top 100), and she took every opportunity to let me know about it through email and phone calls.

Of course I was proud of her and excited with her success…to the extent that having my own book currently ranked 130,000 in the country would allow. Which frankly, isn’t much! But, she works a lot harder at it than I do, and is apparently willing to sleep her way to the top, so I begrudgingly admitted defeat and offered my sincere congratulations.

But jealous as I was of the fame and fortune that would soon be coming her way, I took solace in knowing that I was beating her at something she found even more important. Fantasy Football!

We were going head to head in Week One of our “Family Style” fantasy league, and my team was beating hers by over 70 points going into the Sunday Night Game. All she had left was a second half of a struggling Peyton Manning at QB and the Monday night game with the Ravens defense to make up the points, while I STILL had a receiver and running back yet to play. And SHE starts talking smack!

Here are the unedited email exchanges:


From: Christine Bell
To: michael wood
Sent: Sunday, September 9, 2012 8:44 PM
Subject:

859 on BN, 1870 on Amazon, BITCHES!!!!!!

Christine Bell
http://www.christine-bell.com

From: michael wood
To: Christine Bell
Sent: Sunday, September 9, 2012 9:02 PM
Subject: Re:

130.4 to 73.8 on Family Style, BITCH!!!!!

From: Christine Bell
To: michael wood
Sent: Sunday, September 9, 2012 9:05 PM
Subject: Re:

Yeah, except my D hasn't gotten on the field. Ten bucks I still beat you.

Christine Bell

From: michael wood
To: Christine Bell
Sent: Sunday, September 9, 2012 9:09 PM
Subject: Re:

deal *virtual handshake*

From: Christine Bell
To: michael wood
Sent: Sunday, September 9, 2012 9:13 PM
Subject: Re:

*hocks loogie into palm* *shakes*

Christine Bell

Of course I couldn’t help but notice the pretentious “signature line” with the web site link, as well as the cheap shot with the loogie. But what I failed to see was the potential for an earful of cider. Because there wasn't one! It was a sucker bet. There was no way I could lose…

And as it turned out, I didn’t. I won the lousy ten bucks.* But only after suffering through three hours of torture as the Raven’s D put up HUGE numbers, while I put up with a constant barrage of texted taunts from Christine.  As my huge lead dwindled to a pathetic 3-point advantage, it occurred to me that whatever happened, I couldn’t possibly win. She had swindled me. Even if my team managed to come out ahead, they were supposed to win. When we made the bet, I had a 70-point advantage, which didn’t leave me much room for bragging rights.  I couldn’t rightly taunt or tease her for losing when she had no chance of winning in the first place. But if SHE won, I would never hear the end of it. Nor would anyone else. For the rest of my life, I would have to listen to stories about the time she overcame a 70-point deficit to beat me. All while her book was outselling mine.  

For those looking for a moral to this story, I suggest you reread the first paragraph, as I can’t do better than Sky Masterson’s daddy. But I CAN do better than Christine Bell at Fantasy Football! 

* Let the record show that as of 10:30 am on Sept. 23rd, 2012, I have yet to receive my winnings. Christine says she's waiting for her royalty check. But here's her reality check - you lost, BITCH!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The End of Summer Bites


All I wanted to do was wack some weeds before my wife’s happy hour guests arrived.  So I fired up the ECHO and started shredding some grass, thinking about the cold beers waiting for me in the cooler.

            I was just about done, finishing the area around a large deck box that we keep below the desk for lawn games, e-z ups, bee spray, etc., when my legs started burning.

            At first I thought it was just dirt and pieces of grass pelting me, so I continued on. But then the pain got worse, and I looked down and saw a cloud of bees coming after me from beneath the deck box, with three of the nastier ones stinging the shit out of my calves.

            I dropped the wacker and got the hell out of there.

            I grabbed an ice cube from the cooler, along with a well-deserved beer, and from a safe distance, iced my leg as I watched the hundreds of bees swarming around the deck box. And I DO mean hundreds. I have no problem exaggerating the truth for comic effect, but this is no hyperbole.  There were hundreds of them. Hundreds of angry, vengeful bees, all looking for the guy who just wacked their house.

            Fortunately, they didn’t get a good look at me, which was unfortunate for my three-year old son and the kids of the Happy Hour crowd that would soon be arriving.  All expecting to play croquet, swing on the swings, and go in the pool.  Worried that they would become unwitting victims of the bees’ revenge, I figured I better “take care” of the problem.

            Problem was, all the spray was in the box that they were protecting. After briefly flirting with the idea of creating some sort of flame thrower, I wisely decided to go to the store and buy some more spray.  Only, rather than go to Home Depot, where the “good” stuff was, I thought I’d save some time and go to a closer place so that I could get back and spray the bees before the kids got there.

            Fifteen minutes, and dollars, later, I was back, armed with three cans of foaming spray that promised to kill on contact.

            They lied

            I stood about six feet away and sent a mighty blast of foam towards the bees, covering them, the grass, and the side of the box in a shaving cream like substance – and then watched in horror as they ate their way out of it and zoomed after me. WTF?

            I had assumed that “on contact” meant instant death, but maybe I was wrong. So I grabbed another beer and waited, from a safe distance, to see if they would start dying shortly after contact.
           
            They didn’t

            By then the kids had started arriving, so I went into the garage and dug out the roll of yellow caution tape that I rarely get to use, and strung a protective plastic barrier between the bees and the rest of the yard. I warned the kids to stay away from the area, helped myself to another beer, and began plotting my nighttime raid on the hive, when I’ve repeatedly been told, the bees would be dormant and easy to slaughter.

            They weren’t

            Around nine o’clock, and nine beers later (remember when I said I had no problem exaggerating for comic effect?), I crept towards the deck box and slowly opened it, silently removing the can of good bee spray that was inside. So far, so good, I thought. Not a single bee or sting in sight.

            I figured the nest was under the box, and really wanting to get them good, decided I better move it before napalming them. This proved easier said than done, since as I’ve mentioned, it was full of heavy things like horseshoes, bocce sets, an e-z up canopy, gallons of torch fuel, and who knows what else. Point is, with a flashlight in one hand and killer bee spray in the other, my little hip shoves weren’t having much effect on moving the box.

            So I put the stuff down and gave a might heave. The beam of the flashlight in the grass let me know I had made a BIG mistake. The bees were not sleeping, and in fact, were quite ready for me, and before I could grab my spray, they were swarming and stinging me again.

            I ran up onto the deck, swearing and swatting and ripping my t-shirt off in the process, after one bee managed to get inside and started stinging my chest.

            “What ya doin’?” one of my wife’s friends called out from her seat at the firepit, as the rest of them hooted and catcalled at my unannounced strip show.

            “Bees,” I stammered. “I was spraying the bees…”

            “And you, what?” she interrupted. “Decided to offer them as much exposed flesh as possible?”

            Their cackling and heckling broke something in me, and next thing I know,  I'm making a beeline through the yard for the dropped flashlight and spray. Heedless of the bees, I picked the can up and calmy walked back to the deck, where I unleashed a torrent of spray into the newly exposed hive.

            “Death from above!” I shouted (not really. Remember that comic effect thing?) as I emptied the can and tossed it down into the ruins of their home. “That’ll teach you a lesson I will never forget!”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Half a Tank is All it Takes


I recently returned from a week in the Berkshires, and while everything is unpacked, I still can’t get over the difference 100 miles can make. All it took was three hours and five gallons of gas to feel like I was living on another planet. And no, I’m not talking about the beautiful mountains, friendly people, rolling farmland, and fresh air – of which there was plenty. I’m talking about more important things. Eye-opening things. Things like…

House numbers in the 20,000’s!  Seriously. We were driving on Route 2 and the mailboxes had numbers on them that looked like advertisements for the latest MegaBucks jackpot. I’ve seen addresses in the low thousands before, but 24,771 just seems ridiculous.

Towns with no cell service! I don’t own a phone, so I never would have noticed, but I overheard a man in what was formerly Alice’s Restaurant (more on that later) ask the waitress if people always had trouble getting a signal in there, or if it was just him.  She matter of factly told him there was NO cell phone service. Period. He looked at her like she was speaking another language, and said, “So I have to go outside?” And she said, “No. There’s no signal in the entire town!”

Stores and restaurants with no names! We drove by several establishments with no discernible signs or names. They were clearly open for business, and customers were going in and out of them, but from the road you could not tell if it was a hardware store, luncheonette, or pharmacy.  And then you walk in and find it's all three. On a related note, there were several places that proclaimed their unusual combos, such as the Laundromat AND car wash, book store AND bait shop, and antiques AND farm fresh egg stand that we passed.

Stockbridge does not celebrate its claim to fame! I’m a big Arlo Guthrie fan, so when I saw we were near the home of Officer Obie and the place that was “just a half a mile from the railroad track” that lent its name to his song, “Alice’s Restaurant” I just had to stop. But while it was a very cute little town, there was nothing to commemorate its place in music history. We went to the police officer station and found only tributes to Norman Rockwell. We walked Main Street and found more tributes to Norman Rockwell. We ate at Theresa’s Stockbridge Café, which was once Alice’s Restaurant, and did have some Arlo pics on the wall (and thankfully no Rockwells!) But they didn’t offer a Thanksgiving feast that could not be beat, or even so much as a turkey sandwich on the menu. Whatever happened to getting anything you want?

But other than that, I did get everything that I wanted out of our little trip. Time with the family. Time away from the cat.  We fed goats, explored Howe’s Cavern, danced to a Dead band under a bridge in Troy, and enjoyed many locally brewed beers. I know in some of our larger states it can be a hundred miles between gas stations, but around here, those same hundred miles can bring you to a whole new world.  A world where a town not only openly rejects “fame” in favor of respect, but is also free from the sounds of cell phones! A world where a good name matters less than a good reputation. A world where books and worms live happily together – which now that I think of it, actually makes sense.

 But I still don’t see the point in those high house numbers! They're just stupid.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Here Today, Gandhi Tomorrow



Above is a picture of my son, and his new friend, Gandhi. And while Gandhi is an unusual name to be bestowed upon a blue seahorse by a three-year old, I assure you that he came up with it all on his own. But in case you’re not inclined to believe me, here is the story…

Last week we took Eli and his cousin Emma to a local amusement park, and after a day spent spinning on the kiddie rides and splashing in the waterpark (the kids, not us. We spent it waiting, and wading, after them), we were heading towards the exit when the kids decided they wanted to play a game. A quick survey of the area revealed only one that didn’t involve guns, darts, or skill: a little fishing game where “everybody wins” – so long as they pay the fairly reasonable $2 per turn.

Eli took his pole and proceeded to “hook” three fish at once. Never a fisherman myself, I was impressed with his skill. I was also thinking that that $2 suddenly seemed VERY reasonable as I proudly watched him reel in his catch. But my wife had other thoughts and was in the process of warning him that he could have only one – and just as the guy running the game was saying, “That’s okay, he can have them all…” Eli heeded his mother’s words and shook them all off. 

My son barely batted an eye as the fish dropped into the space between the counter and the wading pool they were floating but I could see the look of relief on the carnie’s face as he picked up a single fish and handed it to Eli. Each fish had a number on the bottom that coincided with the size of a prize. A one earned the winner a “small prize” while a five netted a “grand prize.” Eli flipped his fish to reveal a one. And while I was tempted to lean over the counter and see which fish the guy didn’t choose, I decided not to worry about the ones that got away (ones that were probably fives!)

Of course, Emma caught a two, so there was a moment of near tears and arguing when Eli saw her slightly larger stuffed starfish alongside his small seahorse. But Emma’s dad, Mike, quickly distracted them by asking what their names were. Both kids looked at their prizes, and were probably about to christen them with names like “Starry” and “Seahorsey” when Mike suggested “Marley” for the starfish and “Bob” for the seahorse.

Now Eli is too young to recognize the Bob Marley reference, but he always loved the name Bob. For a while, back when he was two, everything was Bob, including me. So he was quite happy to be the owner of Bob the Blue Seahorse. And for the next few hours, they were inseparable.

But after coming home and swimming in the pool, swinging on the playground, and digging in the sandbox, Bob was quickly forgotten.

A few days later, I noticed something blue in the backyard. I asked Eli what is was, and his eyes lit up in recognition. “It’s my seahorsey!” he cried, racing off to retrieve it.

I caught up in time to hear him talking to it. “I thought you was a gone,” he soothed, as he stroked its blue fur. “I thought you was a gone-dee!” (He’s been adding –dee sounds to the ends of words lately)

“Look Daddy,” he said happily, holding up his new buddy. “It’s a Gone-dee! I found a Gone-dee!”

And he’s been Gandhi ever since.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Easy as Falling Off a Blog


Not sure how it happens, but it seems like the MORE time I have, the less I get done. You would think as a teacher, and with it being summer, I'd have ample opportunity to mow my lawn, do some writing, put away my winter clothes, install the bathroom window that's been in the garage since Thanksgiving, and update my blog. But somehow between all the napping and bike riding and swimming (okay, floating) and picnicking and napping, things go undone.

But, I'm happy to report that as of July 3rd, my bulky sweaters have been stowed away and my summer clothes are now taking up residence in their former home. Unfortunately, due to the extreme heat in the attic, they all shrunk, so I had to add "Properly ventilate attic" to my To Do... list. But at least I did some writing!

And the lawn does get mowed – sometimes twice a week. I’m sure I make quite the sight circling around in my shrunken shorts and too tight t-shirt, but at least my grass looks good. Okay, it’s not really grass – more like clover and dust, as I can never find the time to properly weed or water it. But at least it’s freshly cut clover. And all the dust I kick up gives me an excuse not to wash the cars, as, well, they’ll just get dirty again.

As for the window, I have no such excuses. Frankly I’m intimidated by it. The bathroom came out so beautiful. The walls so pristine, that I’m having a tough time gathering up the nerve to mess around with it. But I will. As soon as I man up and hang the mirror. And install the towel rack.

That only leaves my abandoned blog, which has gone unupdated since May 29th – and even THAT is a bit of a stretch, as it was a guest post by a student, but I’m counting it. 


Just like I’m counting this! 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Happy (and Healthy) Birthday!

John Lawless sporting a birthday brocolli hat

NOTE: The following was written by Ryan Lawless, a 6th grader at my school. He and his dad attended a memoir writing workshop, and this story was the result. Originally it was planned that it would be published in book format, along with the rest of the participant's stories, but so few people saw their ideas through to the end, a book was not possible.  But since Ryan and his dad worked so hard on this, I felt their story deserved to be shared...even if it's just with you people!


Happy and Healthy Birthday
by Ryan and Rick Lawless

I had just finished eating my meatloaf and broccoli and was excited that dessert was coming.  My cousins, Jack and his sister, baby Sabrina, were visiting for dinner with their dad and mom.  Their dad is my Uncle Sean.  He used to be an actor and singer and coached the Red Sox Little League team that Jack and I played on.   As I helped my mom clear the table and get out new plates for dessert, Uncle Sean asked my older brother, John, what he wanted for his birthday. 

My older brother likes to play the guitar and is a decent skate boarder and he likes to be cool.  And when I say cool, I mean he likes to let me know that I’m the little brother  and he’s stronger, taller, and faster than me.  So when Uncle Sean asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he tried to be his cool self and said, “I don’t know.”

 I don’t know?”  asked Uncle Sean. “So, if I got you broccoli for your birthday, you wouldn’t care?”

                 The little flinch John made told me that he was shocked by the question.  But he was tough and strong and acted cool and said, “I don’t care.”



The next Saturday was John’s tenth birthday party and Uncle Sean came to our house carrying a good-sized birthday present in green wrapping paper. We had birthday cake that was scrumdiddlyumptious and then John started to open up his presents.  Uncle Sean’s was the last present. He had wrapped it in the funnies from the Sunday paper. 



With great excitement, but a gentle touch, John started to open it. Uncle Sean asked him to wait while he got out his video camera, but John couldn’t wait any longer and ripped the present open, excited to see what he got.  Inside the box were ten heads of broccoli, one for each year, and John’s expression went blank as he gave Uncle Sean a puzzled look.  I know he was thinking, “Broccoli? Are you kidding me?” 


                After everyone had a good laugh, Uncle Sean gave him twenty dollars in a birthday card as a consolation present.


For his eleventh birthday, John got a huge present in green striped wrapping paper.  He was excited to see what was in the huge box and quickly tore off the paper and opened the box.  Inside was a smaller box, wrapped in blue wrapping paper with stars on it.  He was surprised but determined to keep going.  When he opened that one, there was another box inside, wrapped in red paper. This went on and on for 10 boxes, until he came to the eleventh box.  He seemed a little unsure as he opened it, and inside, wrapped in a piece of tissue paper was one piece of broccoli.



On his next birthday, he got a pretty cool present from Uncle Sean.  It was a piñata in the shape of a football.  Sabrina is the youngest cousin, and she got to go first.  And even though she’s a girl and the smallest, she did a pretty good job hitting the piñata with the stick.  The middle cousins, Thomas, Michael and I, got to swing next.  I got a couple good hits in, but the piñata was still intact.  John and his older friend took turns till it was just starting to break.  John got to finish it off.  He took one big swing and the football popped open.           Everybody was running to get some candy until they realized that the piñata was spilling out a waterfall of broccoli florets.



John’s thirteenth birthday was at Daddy’s Extreme Sports.  After playing mini golf, laser tag and riding the go carts, we went into the party room and had pizza and cake and then presents were opened.  This time Uncle Sean’s present was first.  It wasn’t wrapped, but was just a bottle and an envelope. And came with a catch. 


Uncle Sean told John, “You can have what’s in the envelope…if you drink what’s in the bottle.  Or,  you could just have $10.”


                “What’s in the bottle?” John asked.



 “It’s a smoothie,” replied Uncle Sean.



 John thought about it for a minute and seemed reluctant, but everybody was telling him to drink it.  That was good enough for John and he said he’d try the drink.  He started strong and began to drink, but as soon as it touched his lips, his mouth twisted like he just had a gulp of sour lime juice.  Then his face turned green and he spit out the drink.



“It’s a broccoli shake!” Uncle Sean yelled over the laughter.  “I added a little apple juice to liquify it!”


 Later I had a small taste and it was so bitter and disgusting that I never want to have it again.   Lucky for John, the envelope had $20.


And while twenty bucks is a good present, my all-time favorite was John’s fourteenth birthday.  Sadly, Uncle Sean had to work and wasn’t able to be at the party.  At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, John’s friends started to show up.  There was Tristan, Kevin, Alex, Adonis, and my friend Connor. We had pizza and afterward out came a big birthday cake.  It was John’s favorite, chocolate with chocolate frosting and red writing that said, Happy Birthday John.  We lit all fourteen candles, sang happy birthday and then ate the cake.  Afterwards we went to the living room to open the presents. 


 “Too bad Uncle Sean’s not here,” my mother said. “He dropped off this video tape though.  Looks like you’re not going to get a broccoli present this year.”

My dad put the video tape in the VCR and Uncle Sean popped up on the TV.  He was sitting at his kitchen table and said, “If you’re watching this video, that means you’ve  already eaten your cake”   We watched as he pulled a food processer into view, followed by a tray of cooked broccoli, which he set on the table.   Then without a word he put the broccoli into the food processor and turned it on. 

“Whooshhhhh!”  went the machine as it blended the green vegetable into a smooth paste.  Next he opened up a can of chocolate frosting and spooned it into the food processor, blending them together.  Finally he pulled out the naked cake, got a spatula and smoothed the broccoli icing all over the top.  Then he turned and gave a big smile into the camera and the video stopped. 



The kids were all staring slack jawed at the TV, the parents all laughing and I screamed out, “Oh my God, I ate the frosting!”  


It took a year to get the taste out of my mouth. By then, it was John’s fifteenth birthday, and he got a red baseball hat with real broccoli sewn to the top. For his sixteenth birthday, he got a plastic piece of broccoli on a key chain.  The broccoli was about 4 inches long and Uncle Sean said it would be easy to find his car keys when he started to drive.


I’m not sure what Uncle Sean has planned for the next few years, but I’m sure he’s got something (green) up his sleeve to keep the tradition going.



And maybe by the time John turns 21, he’ll realize that being cool can be a good thing, but if you act like you don’t care when someone asks what you want, you might not be happy with what you get. 



On the other hand, you might have a good story to tell!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Not So Fast!


You wouldn’t know it to look at me – in fact my wife was not even aware of it – but every so often I embark on a 3-day fast to try and teach my body who’s the boss. Spoiler Alert: It's Tony Danza. But I DO manage to make it through the three days without food, and for what it’s worth, it’s really not all that difficult.  A minor headache on Day 2 was the worst of my complaints this time– in fact, I felt so good, I added a fourth day just for shits and giggles.

Speaking of which….for the past year I’d been eyeing an unused colonoscopy “prep” kit that’s been hanging around our house (don’t ask) and was considering using it to really clean out the pipes after my latest fast. But after hearing all the horror stories, and unsure of the medical ramifications, I wimped out and settled on the Salt Water Flush instead.

It’s not as gross as it sounds. There’s no irrigation involved. You simply add a tablespoon of non-iodized sea salt to a liter of warm water and chug it. Then, soon after, nature starts calling like a telemarketer at dinnertime.  Simple, right?

That’s what I thought too. So, on my way home from an early dismissal day – we had to be back four hours later for conferences – I stopped at the local supermarket and bought the sea salt, a liter of Voss water, and a measuring spoon. Figuring I had plenty of time to get ‘er done before having to head back to school, I mixed the concoction in the parking lot and started pounding it as I drove home.

No sooner had the last of the brackish water poured down my throat, the Low Fuel light popped up on my dashboard. “Shit,” (no pun intended) I muttered, as I reversed direction for the nearest gas station. Knowing my F-150 wouldn’t get far without gassing up, I really had no choice – but – as I waited for the car in front of me to fill up, a rumble in my belly had me worrying about how far I could make it.

Why didn’t I just wait until I was in the safety of my own home, I wondered as the gas flowed into my vehicle at a rate I imagined the liquid in me was about to escape. As the pressure in my bowels built up, words from the cleansing website I had read up on flashed through my mind: WARNING: After drinking the mixture, do NOT attempt to flatulate!

At the time, I remember smiling, thinking, who attempts to flatulate? But I wasn’t smiling now. In fact, I was sweating. And it was salty.

I put in just enough gas to get me home and eased myself into the front seat. I turned off the radio so I could focus, and drove away. I made it about a mile before coming upon an elementary school that was getting out. And as luck would have it, the crossing guard had to stop me. Twice. The second time for a kid on crutches being escorted by his grandmother with a walker – who thought it was a good idea to stop in the middle of the road to converse with the equally elderly crossing guard.

I was tempted to toot my horn to “speed” them along, but was afraid the sound might startle my sphincter. So I just grit my teeth and clenched until they cleared the crosswalk and I resumed driving.

Of course I ended up behind a bus. An elementary bus, mind you, meaning it stops at EVERY house and WAITS for mommies to come out and collect their kiddies. And then waits for them to enter the house before pulling away  - only to stop twenty feet down the road and repeat the process.

This resulted in more gritting and clenching as I tried to ignore the kids thumbing their noses at me through the Emergency Evacuation door at the back of the bus.  Let’s go,” I hollered. “I’m the one with the emergency evacuation here!”

Finally the bus turned right, and I had a clear road in front of me. Funny how I never noticed all the traffic lights on my route before. Not funny when they all happened to be red.  And the car with the “Shit Happens” bumper sticker? Definitely not funny!

But I made it home without incident. I delicately slid out of the truck and hurried inside, grateful that no one else was around to witness what was about to happen. Which was…

Nothing!

Once in the comforts of my own home, all the discomfort I was feeling dissipated. So much so that I decided to mow the lawn, thinking the motion of the tractor might encourage things.

I did the backyard first, since it was closest to the bathroom. But thirty minutes later, I was done, and still nothing. As I steered toward the front yard, the thought occurred to me: What if it didn’t happen? Or worse, what if it started happening during conferences?

What the hell was I thinking? I thought for the tenth time that day. Maybe four days without food had muddled my mind. I mean, who does something like this when they’re meeting with parents in a few hours? The conferences were only ten minutes each, and I had scheduled them very tightly, so I couldn’t just excuse myself when I felt the urge.

But thanks to the moles and gophers, my front yard is very bumpy, and right about the time I was finishing, I could feel “something” happening. Thank you Jesus, I thought as I motored into the garage, getting a little taste of what it was like to walk on water as I hobbled into the house.

I'll spare you the details. but let's just say, thirty minutes later, I was ready for duty!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lying in Wait


Last Friday I met some of my coworkers for Happy Hour after school. Since it was a last minute decision, I emailed my wife to let her I was going to be a little late. Of course, it turned into a happy TWO hours, so I didn’t get home until much later than expected.  But that was fine, because thanks to facebook, she already knew I was running behind schedule.

Turns out I was “tagged” so she, and the rest of my friends and family, knew that “Ellen Connors was with Mike Wood and 5 other people at Bin 100 Restaurant at 4:36 on Friday”  - which for me wasn’t a problem -  but I couldn’t help but think that it could have been! What if I hadn’t told her where I was going? What if I had lied and said I was staying late to grade papers or something? What if I had blown off some other friends or obligations to go to a bar?

Not that I would lie (or grade papers) but still, don’t I have the right to? And even more importantly, don’t I have the right to some “private” time with my friends without the rest of the world knowing about it?

Apparently not.

As much as I love facebook, I have been finding it more and more intrusive lately. Not so much for me, as really all I do is post pics of my son, make snarky comments on my friends’ walls, and share funny status updates. But without even trying, or prying, I’ve been learning things about my friends that they would never willingly share.  I know that James is listening to ABBA on Spotify, Jeff just read an article about Posh Beckham’s bikini body, and Renee “likes” camel toes.

Interesting stuff, no doubt. But do they really want me knowing their business? And do I really want to know?

Apparently yes, on both counts.

But while I could go on and on about privacy and the over-sharing of personal information, I only mention them to get to my real point, which is that thanks to social media, lying is becoming almost impossible in today’s society.  Or, to be more accurate, getting away with lying is becoming almost impossible

For example, when I returned from the aforementioned happy hour, my wife was there to meet me at the door. I could tell she was upset, but since I wasn’t that late, I knew it wasn’t with me.  Nor was she angry that I was hanging out with Ellen Connors. Turns out she was freaking out over our daughter’s sudden change in prom plans.

The original plan was to go to a trusted friends house for an after prom party/sleepover, but that had recently changed to having a different group of friends coming over to our house instead. We were fine with either option, though my wife was secretly hoping they would end up here. But it wasn’t just disappointment that got her so upset when Plan C was sprung upon her, which involved Julianna going to a party at an unknown “friend’s” house, the details of which were vague at best.

So vague that it was pretty much decided before I got home that Plan C was not an option. But my wife was visibly upset that she was, in the words of my stepdaughter, “ruining her prom!”

In my wife’s defense, she had a variety of reasons for not liking the new plan. For one thing, not knowing the parents, or even the kid who was hosting the party, she was concerned about what might be going on at the house.  Plus, there was her own experience as a prom goer - such as the time she lied to her parents about going to a friend’s house, only to get caught at a hotel party.

But in my stepdaughter’s defense, I felt she deserved credit for being honest. I tried to explain to my wife that Julianna could have very easily lied and told us she was sticking with Plan A, and then gone wherever the hell she wanted. But she didn’t. She was being truthful, even though she knew the facts would sound sketchy to a suspicious mother

Now, I know she’s a good kid with a fairly decent head on her shoulders – but – she is still a teenager, and as much as I’d like to believe her sense of honesty stems from how well she was raised, I know it’s probably more a response to the facebook phenomenon than quality parenting.

With all the tagging and instant sharing of photos and automatic check-ins at locations, there’s nowhere, or way, to hide anymore.  Sooner or later (and most likely sooner) your whereabouts will come out, which makes lying about them a much riskier proposition. And by default, truth becomes the more viable option.

So I worked on my wife all night and finally convinced her to let Julianna go to the party – and since we’re telling the truth here, I should add that I did so with much trepidation. Because I’m “just” the step-dad, I really don’t have much say in certain matters, and by speaking out so strongly about this, I was really putting myself at risk.  If I talked her into changing her mind, and god forbid, something happened to Julianna, it would have been my fault. My wife would have divorced me and Julianna’s dad would have killed me.  But I spoke up anyway. Not because I thought it was so important that she go to this party, I just didn’t want to send her the wrong message.  She’s never given us any reason not to trust her, and it didn’t seem fair to start now just because we were less than honest in the past. Plus, I didn’t want her to feel like she had to start lying to get her way – not that facebook would let her get away with it. But still…