Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Third Cousin, One's Removed.

Good Gobble, I love Turkey Day. 

If holidays were early 90s college basketball teams, Thanksgiving would be Michigan, and the Fab Five is turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie. And like Chris Webber, I’ll travel to have some.

It’s been a personally-revered event since my days as a lard lovin’ little chubbgoblin. The sage-speckled strata of salty goodness bewitched me at such a young age I would have surely chosen giblet gravy Pop Tarts over strawberry had they been available at the A & P. Each time I traced a turkey around my fleshy digits, I fantasized of the crayon becoming a fork, the drawing a drizzly butterball. 

Every year, my aunt held a feast. Cousins and friends and extended family crammed the house, all the delicious smells weaving with the comfortable aroma of my uncle’s pipe. I loved everyone one there.

Almost everyone, that is. I'll call him Jackie. I’m not sure if he was related to me or not—he was someone’s step-grandfather-in-law or something—all I know is that he was always there by the time we arrived. Jackie was older, his thinning hair and glasses giving his face a nondescript “old man of the 1960s” look. Every year, there he was, perched in a folding chair, leaning on his cane and clicking his dentures.

Jackie would wait until we’d been there a while. As soon as my parents weren’t around, he’d look me up and down and say something about my weight. Usually it was along the lines of “Looks like you’re a little on the fat side.”

In case you didn’t already know, I had a few insecurity issues as a kid—my teeth stuck out, I had black, horn-rimmed glasses, and yes, I was a little on the fat side. Even if he hadn’t pointed it out, I already felt like a dweeb, having been forced to dress up in my church clothes just to see a bunch of people I usually saw in my Sears Toughskins. It was as if he knew I was a sitting duck for his ridicule.

My feelings weren’t hurt as Jackie lampooned my girth year after year; it pissed me off. He didn’t exactly have the body of Wink Martindale, I figured, so he should just shut the hell up. 

But a couple of years later, the ground shifted a bit. I learned some information about Jackie from an intoxicated, yet apparently well-informed, family member:

He had no penis.

I’m not making this up. It was forty-five years ago, but it may has well have happened this morning, the words are so clear in my memory. Here are some of the thoughts and feelings I recall upon hearing this game-changer:

a) Totally not surprised—His pants always rode up over his gut, making the lower half a little snug. He didn’t sport even a slight bulge, his smooth groin mirroring Homer Simpson’s. I could only imagine that, without a twig, the berries simply sank back into the peat moss.

b) Grossed out—Oh, man, that must’ve hurt! What did they do with it?

c) Vengeful—I may be fat, Jackie, but I can always lose weight. Also, I have a penis.

d) Sad—I remember thinking, how much would it suck—sorry, bad choice of words—how much would it bite—sorry, my bad again. That must have been terrible.

I can’t remember if Jackie had already passed away before I’d learned of his dismembership from Klub Kilbasa. I know I was still quite young and my parents must have been shocked to observe my learning this classified data from the drunk relative. I never brought it up, so to speak, and neither did they.

So Jackie, all this time later, I forgive you for calling me fat every year at Thanksgiving. And wherever you are, I hope they let you have as many of those things as you want.

You deserve it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Halloween Season: When Every Day is Payday.

The stuff starts showing up at the store around late September. A small display, festooned in black and orange, whispers to me as I wheel past en route to the Meow Mix. The sultry hiss of temptation beckons: 

"Dare you sample my delights yet, my weak friend? Go ahead, buy a bag. What’s not fun about fun size? Check it off the old to-do list. Yes, of course, you can put me in the basement for a few weeks and forget about me. 

"So glad you brought me home, my lover. Oopsy! You opened my bag, you silly galoot. Oh well, what harm is it to sample a savory sliver? Yes, yes, have another. And another. One more and the bag is gone, my sweet. Splendid.”

And yet again, the terrorists have won. 

It’s candy season, a time when high fructose seeps from the walls and the workplace becomes a Hershey highway. If October had a theme song, it might steal the chorus from Eighties one-hit wonder, The Church:

…I got no time,
For private consultation.
I ate forty Milky Ways tonight…

Throughout the year, a few co-workers maintain candy jars, perfect for those 2:30 drive-bys. But as All Hallows approaches, public sugar stations spring up like algae blooms in Limbaugh’s thigh meat—thirty paces to the Raisinette bowl, only seventeen to the York Peppermint Patties. Hmmm, Raisinettes would hit the spot, plus I can use the additional exercise.

Since we’re smack in the middle of the Festival of Saint Wonka, what better time to embrace our inner glucose glutton? Yes, it’s unhealthy, and sure, by 10:00 on Halloween night a lot of us can already feel the Mount Vesuvius of unicorn zits pushing through our forehead epidermis, but doggone it, I love the stuff, which is why I’d love to share with you my top five Halloween candies:

5) Payday—The only finalist lacking the cocoa bean, Payday’s savory peanuts pair effortlessly with the mysterious charms of nougat, a robust compound discovered in Roswell, New Mexico during the summer of 1947.

4) M-n-Ms—Probably the speediest sugar delivery vehicle in the Western Hemisphere, a handfull of these can paste a hundred calories to your dorsal flaps before you even get to the copy machine.

3) Butterfinger—I’ve loved these since I was knee-high to Augustus Gloop.

2) Kit Kat—Holy sweet mother of Monsanto, this time of year I eat so many Kit Kats, FEMA has to drop them from helicopters for the kids.

1) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—Although I wouldn’t consider that stuff in the middle actual peanut butter, RPCs are the undisputed king of candy. If there’s a heaven, the gate is orange with brown trim. Plus, after six or seven, they make me feel most ill of any candy, and that, my friend, is power.

Enjoy your season, and keep in mind, if I see you with a kale smoothie, you’re dead to me.

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's Man Crush Friday!

Hows about we try something a little different today (By the way, should “hows” actually be “how’s,” as in “How is about we…”)? That makes no sense; Our language is so complex, there must be other options. Oh, got it.

Howz about we try something a little different today? No big deal, we’re just gonna apply a little Photoshop skew tool to our Friday.

As those of us who’ve been chugging Zuckerberg Cooler for the past five years are fully aware, a photo theme now exists for each day of the week. Of course Throwback Thursday is the granddaddy, a fun excuse to sift through the archives and embarrass a loved one while displaying how awesome you looked in cut-offs and hair.

It’s the only daily theme in which I participate during the week. I could do Woman Crush Wednesday, but that would get boring just alternating between Jennifer Lawrence and Susan Sarandon.

Transformation Tuesday? Nah. At my age, I’m like a Pop Tart where every advancing year is a little while longer in the toaster. And like the famous carb and jelly cardboard, I’m getting hotter inside, yet all you see is the blistering, blackening icing. 

Mmm. Pop Tarts.

It’s Monday’s Facebook strain I’d like to exploit for today’s purposes. Let’s make today “Man Crush Friday.”

I know, it doesn’t flow off the tongue like Man Crush Monday, but what else are our choices? My Friday Fabio? TGIF (That Guy I Fancy)? Hunkdaaaaaay!? 

All fairly lame. And anyway, today is not about guys we’re crushing on, dudes we admire or envy—it’s about men we actually want to crush. Like this:



I’m not sure there’s an anvil heavy enough to do anything other than bounce off Rush Limbaugh, but there are so many other candidates for this week’s man crushes. Here they are:

Republican presidential front runner Ted Cruz, who said on Thursday, “When Congress returns to session, I will be introducing a constitutional amendment to prevent the federal government or the courts from attacking or striking down state marriage laws.”

I’m afraid that ship has sailed, Teddy Bear. You’d have better luck getting the Palin family to just use their words.

Along those lines, Utah G.O.P. congressman Kraig Powell, coined a new term for gay wedlock: "I call them 'pairriages',” he said, “because they do not have the ability to produce a child.”

Neither does your mom, Kraig, so are your parents in a pairriage now? And who spells Craig with a K?

Finally this week, Oklahoma state rep and renowned Islamic scholar John Bennett, imparted a salty spray of reason on his constituency. “There is no radical Islam. There is no moderate Islam. The teachings of Mohammed’s teaching only teaches one thing—the violence, the beheadings, ISIS—that is Islam. Period.”

Good to know. And what a stunning wordsmith this man is, using the word “teach” three times in a single sentence.

I don’t want to end this post on a negative note, leaving you with the sour taste force fed by three halfwit politicians. So here are my actual man crushes as of Friday, October 10, 2014:

Percy Harvin, John Oliver, Tony Soprano, Jimmy Fallon. Oh, and the guy who landed that jet on the Hudson river a few years ago—Sully Sullivan. Still digging his action. I think I’ve been a pilot every Halloween since.

How about you? Good, bad or both—who are your man crushes?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

When Bad Thoughts Lead to Bad Actions.

Hey, I just got back from the grocery store. 

Let me dig deep into the bag…ah, there they are. I got fifty percent off the family-size cans of worms, so I went ahead and grabbed three. Let’s see, here’s a tin of night crawlers in gun-control sauce, which I often serve when my dad comes over. Oh, and here’s the Safeway Select Obamacare Worm Medley, also a favorite with guests…like my dad.

And ah, yes, I managed to nab the last can of these babies. They seem to be popular lately. Let’s pry back the lid and take a whiff. Mmmm…Spicy Sriracha Spankworms.

By now, you’ve probably heard the story of Adrian Peterson, superstar running back for the Minnesota Vikings. Charged with felony child abuse for whipping his four-year-old son with a tree branch, Peterson has been suspended indefinitely by his team. Advertisers like Nike and Castrol have quit this guy faster than he got snatched up in this year's fantasy drafts. 

As serious as these accusations are, Peterson’s timing couldn’t have been worse. His story broke less than a week after video surfaced of the other running back on the All-Bully Team, Ray Rice, knocking his pregnant fiancĂ© senseless in an elevator. So yeah, you'll have to excuse us for being a little touchy about the delivery of domestic violence by world class athletes.

Peterson contends that he is not an abuser, that he’s simply disciplining his child the same way he was taught growing up in Palestine, Texas, but that just seems to be another example of the abused becoming the abuser. I’m pretty sure we’d all agree that breaking the skin on the head of a four-year-old falls outside the definition of discipline, so let’s dial it down a couple of notches and talk about spanking.

Do you spank your kids? Did you get spanked back in the day? Every couple of months or so, someone on Facebook will post a meme that says something like, “Share this if you played outside in the dirt all day, your friends were white, and you got spanked right there in your Sears Toughskins…” or something like that. 

It’s an issue that’s so multi-layered—cultural, generational, even geographical. An ABC News poll found that among Southerners, 62 percent of parents spank their kids, compared to 41 percent for the rest of the United States. 

Pansy-ass Yanks.

As I noted in the aforementioned Facebook meme, most of my fellow Boomers got whacked as well. I usually never went more than a couple of days without a good swat. Being the little DB that I was, I exhibited at an early age an aptitude for finding psychological pressure points in my siblings and parents. I wouldn’t freaking let up on people. 

Usually, after firing ample verbal salvos over the bow, my mom or dad would stomp into the kitchen and yank open that second drawer down—the one with the longer utensils. I’d watch in fear and contempt as they rifled through spatulas and wooden spoons, their wide eyes searching for the perfect instrument of revenge on their little wise ass. 

Occasionally, my parents’ elevated adrenaline or my blocking paw might force an errant swing, which would then strike me below the buttocks and squarely on the upper leg. Remember those? They hurt so much that your mouth yawned a silent scream of anguish, saliva roping and snapping between your incisors. Only when your grey matter fully registered the pain signal, were you able to emit a scream like Roger Daltrey jamming his pinky toe into an amp.

Have I ever spanked my kids? Yep, a couple of times. But it didn’t feel right. It seemed like I was teaching my daughters that when anger gets out of control, violence is okay, so I stopped doing it. It’s a decision every parent is faced with, and let’s face it, there are times when it’s tempting as hell.

But when spanking becomes battery, is it any surprise to you that a couple of professional football players might be a little prone to this behavior? For god’s sake, anger is the straw that stirs the NFL’s Sunday morning Bloody Mary. The game is based on hammering your opponent into submission; these dudes play the game with bad thoughts.

Sad as it is, until these athletes find the tools to isolate and compartmentalize their violent impulses, no amount of punishment will stop the behavior.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Few Questions About That Terrible Day.

It was a beautiful late summer morning, a lot like today. 

Here on the west coast, it had already all gone down by the time most of us found out. The news slowly infected us, one human at a time. A nation that began the day flush with post-Cold-War hubris, slowly blanketed itself in a murk of fear and grief. It was a black cloud as undeniable as the one unleashed on the canyons of lower Manhattan when the towers finally collapsed. 

Where were you? I learned about it as I switched on the car radio after dropping off my six-year-old daughter at school. That’s ridiculous, I remember thinking. Planes don’t get hijacked anymore, not since, like, D.B. Cooper in the Seventies. Both towers collapsed? From two planes? Is this some kind of Orson Welles-type radio bullshit? 

Doesn’t seem like it. And how does a plane fly into the Pentagon? How could a lumbering jetliner strike the nerve center of our military? I must be getting bad information.

To wit, some of it was bad. Remember the rumors of mysterious packages outside Camp David, terrorist activity at the Brooklyn Bridge, our streets jammed with celebrating Arab Americans?

Who was the first person you called? Did you have a spouse at the time? Kids? Were you stuck somewhere distant, unable to find a flight or rental car to get back home?

Then there were the substantiated peripheral events. On September 18, when the first anthrax-laced envelopes arrived at the offices of media and congressional members, the scales really seemed to tip. All factors pointed to the most effectively planned and executed conspiracy against America in our history. 

What else do the terrorists have in store? How deep does this go? I can vividly recall my wife and I being about one exploded Amtrack from whisking the family away and getting all Green Acres-like as a gentleman farmer and bead maker in the Idaho panhandle. Did you have similar thoughts?

Were you glued to your TV? Were you suspicious of strangers? How did you sleep?

So much happened on that horrible day—My Pet Goat, Cheney hightailing it to his bunker—loaded-down firefighters scurrying into the inferno as soot-soaked New Yorkers ran from harm’s way.

I’d really like to hear your story. What happened with you that horrible day and how has September 11 affected your life’s trajectory these past thirteen years?

As brutal a place as the world can be, I’m glad we’re all still around to talk about it.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Sweat Life.

I glance down at myself as I walk out the door into the crisp morning. It’s been forty minutes since I climbed off the elliptical, yet irregular swatches of perspiration speckle my t-shirt where skin touches fabric, mostly through the midriff. Obviously, the shower didn’t take—again—so I think dry thoughts to stop my carcass from steaming like a doughy hum bow.

I’m a sweater; always have been. I love fall for so many reasons—football, the beautiful local foliage, shopping early for the best deals on Halloween produce and razor blades—but when you’re as prolific a perspirer as I am, the frosty weather soothes those prickly pores like Mother Nature’s Speedstick. 

But whether it’s due to an unusually hot summer or the deepening tick head of manopause, I fear my exterior hydration issue is getting worse. 

Last Thursday was my birthday, so the family and I planned to meet up at our favorite Italian place in downtown Seattle. Coincidentally, earlier that afternoon my employer threw a nice little summer bash down at the waterfront aquarium. Having cake and eating it too was the order of the day, so, after enjoying the company of my co-workers and a few refreshing beverages, I took my leave to climb the hill toward the restaurant on Second Avenue. 

I was first to arrive, and while not having reached the dew point, I was a bit frothy around the dorsal fins. The only available outdoor table sat directly across from the accordion player but what the hell, I thought. I knew a certain family member didn’t enjoy dining al fresco among the traffic, but hey, someone had turned fifty-two years old that day and it wasn’t her.

I won’t rat her out, but when she arrived with the other two, she immediately voiced her contempt for my seat selection. Always one to keep the peace, I acquiesced and agreed to go inside. We followed the host to a pleasant corner table.

Less than thirty seconds after immersing myself in this sweltering, garlic-infused corner, I had already transformed into a human Yellowstone National Park, geysers of murky saline dripping down my neck and filling my ear hoops with appealing liquid color prisms. 

My robust napkin served as my only ally as the people who most loved me glared like I’d just eaten their phones. “Why don’t you go to the bathroom and freshen up?” one of them quipped. “We’ll wait to order.”

I splashed water on my face and neck and returned to the table. By the time the waiter arrived, I was again basting in my own yields. As the young man took our orders, his eyes darted in my direction while my napkin inched one dab at a time toward terminal saturation. “Excuse me. I’ll be right back,” said the waiter. He disappeared around the corner.

The rest of the family, tugged between embarrassment and empathy, stayed cool and dry, as if they’d just emerged from baby powder showers. Bastards. Just as I feared the final life-affirming electrolytes had soaked into my t-shirt, the waiter returned. He carried a very large fan.

Erupting in laughter, my beloved wife and offspring watched as the guy stood it up about three feet away and pointed right at my face. “I always get really hot working back here. This should help both of us,” he offered. For all I cared, he could have told me that I was making the other customers vomit their bruschetta, as long as that fan stayed blowing on my sweaty noggin. “Bless you,” was all I could think of to say in my weakened state.

My birthday dinner progressed nicely from that moment forward. The looks of humor and disgust gradually evaporated from my family’s faces, and by the time the tiramisu arrived, I was dry enough to open presents safely. The accordion player shuffled over to accompany the waiters in an Italian-accented rendition of “Happy Birthday” and the evening ended on a pleasant note.

As I rose from the table and peeled the sticky denim from my hamstrings, my younger daughter put her arm on my shoulder. “Happy birthday, Dad. Eew, you’re still sweaty.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Let Them Eat Crab.

It’s been a great summer; best in a long time. I can think of a few reasons why, but number one on the list is an unprecedented preponderance of household harmony. The home and hearth, while fully occupied, has emanated the aromatic bouquet of tranquility.

Why? Because the kids have gotten along.

Why? Because they haven’t been around each other much.

And for the last time, why? Because the older kid’s been working! 

Gives me goosebumps to say it. All summer she’s been whacking the alarm clock and punching the time clock, packing a lunch and coming home spent like a two-for-one Applebee’s Groupon. To a skeptical parent, how soothing flow the foamy waters of the Protestant work ethic. 

By the same token, for a college sophomore who typically brims with the boundless energy of a seven-year-old, what more serendipitous summer vocation exists than an opportunity to professionally frolic with genuine seven-year-olds? None that I can think of, so let’s see how things went.

I caught up with our YMCA-camp-counselor-in-residence, codename Zebra, last weekend during a ninety-minute car ride down to Olympia. Able to nap at a moment’s notice, I felt compelled to engage her prior to her succumbing to the taunting luxury of our ’06 Hyundai. 

They call you Zebra. Why is that?

All the counselors have nicknames. It’s to keep the kids from finding us on social media. Like a little kid would actually do that.

Hey, you never know. Did you name yourself?

We all name ourselves. There’s T-Rex, Sharkzilla, Scooby, Snickerdoodle…let’s see… Razzle, Flounder, Puppy…

Sounds like a mushroom-inspired Barney episode.

Good one, Dad.

So what was it like having to wake up at 6:30? 

Really hard. I haven’t gotten up that early since eighth grade. It made naps even more crucial than they were before. I still managed to get in eight hours a night.

Yeah, that’s not true. But moving along, was there anything that surprised you about this job? 

It’s fairly unstructured. Each counselor gets a group of ten kids, and it’s up to us to find things for them to do. We go on field trips a few times a week, but the rest of the time is sort of our choice. 

How do they behave?

Overall, they’re pretty good. The worst time is when we’re lined up for the bathroom. It takes a full 25 minutes to get everyone through, so they start messing with each other. They throw rocks and pine cones at each other. They use acorns like currency. 

Sounds like a prison yard.

I still can't figure out how their faces get so dirty. Did my face get dirty?

Filthy. Just disgusting. Yes.

The other day a kid came up to me holding a little crab he found on the beach. It was still alive. He said “Zebra, can I eat this crab?” I said “Absolutely not.” He said “Well, how come Tristan gets to?” I went down to the beach and Tristan had already eaten a couple of the legs off a live crab. I said “Tristan, why are you doing that?” He said “Because people eat crabs all the time.” I said “Tristan, you have to kill the crab before you eat it.” He said “I didn’t know that, Zebra.”

What part of your job did you enjoy the most?

I always liked it when we ate our lunches. The kids were always content and liked to talk about stuff.

What kind of stuff?

This one kid, whose name is Joseph, is so cute. When he makes the “s” sound it sounds more like “sh.” The other day, he said “Zhebra, I have to tell you shomething. Well, remember when I told you one of my momsh ish dead? Well, I feel bad. That wash a lie. She’sh alive. I jusht wanted to shee what you would shay.”

They don’t care about hanging out with the opposite sex. A couple of kids even became boyfriend and girlfriend. They’re so adorable, you can tell by the looks on their faces that they really like each other. They give each other acorns.

Sounds like quite a learning experience. Do you think working with kids may be something you’d like to do for a career?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Dad.

Thanks for your hard work with the little ones, Zebra. Relating to them is easy. Taking care of them isn’t.