Friday, December 12, 2014

The Ballad of Trip Fallwell.

Catching the bus at Third and Pike has always been interesting. I mean, pretty much any place where untreated mental illness meets drugs and alcohol is going to provide some gloomy theater to a guy waiting for his ride to the suburbs every weeknight. But the past couple of nights have been a bit—interestinger. 

Two straight nights, someone has fallen to the ground directly in front of me. 

Wednesday, when a woman toppled into the street while stepping off the curb, two other bystanders and I converged on her. Reaching her last, I immediately became odd man out as each of the tripper’s arms had already been claimed in this odd game of musical limbs. Unsure what to do and already invested in the scene, I sheepishly patted her on the shoulder and retreated to the shadows.

Then on Thursday, while staring glazy-eyed into the murky twilight, I heard the icky sound of cloth-wrapped meat spanking concrete. If I had to onomatopoeviate the sound, it was something like, “thwarckshhhlip.” It was a woman again, and this time I made it to her first. “Need a hand?” I asked. She looked shaken and embarrassed as I helped her off the sidewalk, hobbling away and rubbing her shoulder.

So yeah, two falls in two days, which made me realize that people, even able-bodied adults, wipe out a lot. I know I do, and since I’m kind of a freak of nature athletically, the rest of you must have serious challenges staying vertical. 

Kidding, of course. How often have I hit the pavement? Put it this way: I’ve left more skin on the streets than a blind skateboarder with dandruff. And it doesn’t bode well for my golden years. Sprinkled in with all the head smackings and toe jammings are several more alarming occurrences each year where my feet have rescinded their citizenship.

So, in keeping with the holiday spirit, I’ve worked up a little ditty to summarize my travails. It’s sung to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas, and we’ll just start at the end and work backwards.

During five decades of clumsy,
I’ve wiped out constantly,

Twelve feet from a treehouse,
Eleven people saw me,
Ten times at Target,
Nine stairs down in jammies,
Eight achy ankles, 
Seven feet off a truck ramp,
Six puzzling grass stains,

Fiiiiiive pulled hamstriiiiings.

Four times last month,
Three people gasped,
Two friends laughed hard,

And that time last month when I skinned both my knees.

While we’re on the subject, here’s to a speedy recovery for my papa. He tweaked a couple ribs, so he’s gonna wear sweats on the sideline this weekend and hopefully be ready for the Cardinals game.

Please, have a safe holiday season.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Teaching Our Children the Merits of Inactivism.

Hi! Good to see you again. 

Back in November, I posted the following to the Reflections of a Shallow Pond Facebook page:

To my faithful readers, each of whom I love unconditionally,

You may or may not have noticed that I've been posting to the blog a little less lately. Due to my chronic OCD, I've been devoting most of my blog prep time to writing a kids' book.

It's going well, and I think a few thousand more words should round out the first draft, at which time I'll start posting again. It'll be a happy day to emerge from the other side of this meaty juggernaut.

Feel free to peruse the archives if you're looking for a treasure trove of outdated punchlines.

Thanks for reading.

Pretty much instantaneously, I started regretting that bloated little press release. 

If I had wanted to be honest with myself and everyone else, I would have said, “Due to my chronic OCD, I’m unable to focus on anything but working on the first draft of my middle grade novel. Also, I can’t think of anything to write about anyway, and there’s quite a bit of football that needs watching.”

Ahh, I feel better already. Oh,one last thing—did I say something about a “meaty juggernaut”? Yeah, I don’t think so. Trinity by Leon Uris is a meaty juggernaut. Chris Christie is a meaty juggernaut. 

Right now, I’d describe the book as more of a “cheesy Duggar plot.” In real-life terms, it’s currently about the length a routine colon cleanse—you’d be closing the cover around the time you’re closing the lid. Ideally, however, I'd like it to span the course of an intense but survivable bird flu.

Anyway, moving on. Wow, November wasn’t exactly a harmonious month, was it? The Ferguson decision, coupled with an increasingly violent attitude toward Black Friday, coagulated into the perfect Nor’ Easter of social unrest this past month. 

For the first time here in Seattle, protesters stormed two downtown Malls, freaking out pretty much everyone but the guy in the Brookstone store who’d been waiting a half hour to try the new Infiniti IT 8500 Massage Chair and by god, wasn’t lettin’ a mob of tree huggers stand between him and his flamin' sciatica. 

Have you ever participated in a demonstration? Ever stood up to the man—told him you’re fed up with his bullshit—and that you’re not going anywhere until justice, and hopefully pizza, is delivered? 

I have, twice. I first dipped my toes into the muddy sand of civil disobedience in high school. Was I rebelling against the tyrannical re-institution of selective service registration? Can’t say I was. Did I march against Ronald Reagan’s covert war against Nicaragua’s Sandanistas? Um…nah.

The arena many of my classmates and I chose as our initiation into rabble rousing was just that—a basketball arena. I’ve long since forgotten what the referee did to incite such activism, but whatever it was, a few of us spontaneously decided to sit on the court after the game to challenge the loss forced upon us by a gang of zebra-striped oppressors. Unflinchingly resolved that the ref violated our basic human right to a senior year playoff win, we rattled the rafters of the Hazen High School gym with chants of,“Hell no! We won’t go!”

Classy, eh? If co-opting Vietnam anti-war slogans toward our equally righteous ends was the order of the day, then so be it. 

Seriously, though, what did we think—that the referees would sheepishly return to the court and say, “We’ve never seen a group of people sit on the floor so powerfully. Let’s go ahead and bring the teams out and add a couple more minutes to the game clock. Well played, Trojan student body.”

The principal and a couple of off-duty cops told us to leave. We did, but incensed at the injustice we’d witnessed, my friends and I wouldn't forget this until well into the Dairy Queen drive-through line.

I’d like to think that my second act of public rebellion was a catalyst toward inspiring my older daughter’s future actions. On February 15, 2003, protesters in cities across America took to the streets to object to the Bush Administration’s impending invasion of Iraq. 

Nearly eight years old, my kid seemed a good age at which to impart a lesson on First Amendment rights by participating in the parade from Seattle Center to the International District.

I knew that, how ever far we walked away from the car, we’d have to hike back the same distance, and I didn’t want her forever associating social demonstration with boredom, hunger and fatigue. We managed to walk half the route before peeling off course and finding a place with chicken tenders and getting to the car in time to beat the agitator traffic. 

But how, on that crisp winter day, could I have known that a simple lesson would propel my sweet cherub toward a life of activism twelve years hence? Here’s what happened yesterday, as told by my nineteen-year-old daughter, a sophomore at Western Washington University:

I was walking on campus with a couple of friends. We were on our way to get a hot chocolate at Starbucks. We saw something happening in Red Square (the brick-floored hub of campus), like lots of people were gathering, so we decided to check it out. We walked over and saw two girls standing on the fountain, talking into bullhorns. A drum started beating, and for every beat, one of them said the name of a famous victim of police brutality.

A few minutes later, we found ourselves right in the middle of a huge crowd. The drum started beating faster…and people started lying on the wet bricks. I said to my friend, "Wow, that sucks for them. It must be freezing down there.” 

More and more people dropped to the ground, and before we knew it, we were the only ones standing. “We can’t leave now,” I said. So all three of us just laid down. At least I had my backpack on so my back didn’t get wet, but pretty soon, my butt was so cold it was numb. We laid there for almost ten minutes. Then the drum started beating again and everyone stood up. My friend had on a white sweatshirt, so, it wasn’t doing too good after that. 

But we still went to Starbucks.

Who’s a proud papa? This guy.

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 fiancé 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.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Fanny Diaries

The following account of my colonoscopy is intended for both mature and immature audiences. In documenting this experience, I'll try not to get too brown. Butt I'd also like to encourage you, my friends, many of whom are 50ish, to consider getting screened, because I love you and so do a handful of other people.

My friend calls me a verbal flasher. So be it. At least I'm not jotting this down while sitting in my car next to a playground.

Monday, 7:21 AM—Hopped up on two hollow-gutted coffees, I board Metro, T minus twenty-four hours, nine minutes until the glovin' starts and the lights go up.

I nestle into my favorite seat, the one in the back corner with a little extra elbow room for either writing or etching a sick tag on the window. I pull out my colonoscopy prep sheet. "No solid foods all day, only broth, coffee, soda or Popsicles. Beginning at 5:30, drink eight ounces of Golytely every ten minutes."

Golytely? Awesome name. I've heard the company has a friendly but competitive relationship with the three other giants in the power laxative market: I Shit You Lot, Fecease, and Jell-O Instant Pudding.

Monday, 7:54 AM,—When the pharmacist slides the jug onto the counter, I almost sh.. (too easy). Seriously, this is a gallon jug with the "fill line" almost to the cap. After water and a refreshing lemon flavor packet, it makes a gallon of Poolytely.

Wonder if Bartell's sells beer bong materials. Probably not. 

Monday, 5:26 PM—After fantasizing about New York style pizza all day, I bid goodnight to the family and hop in the minivan for the twenty-minute ride to Motel 6.

Our house has one bathroom. Staying there tonight wouldn't go well for anyone.

I arrive to see families playing in the inner courtyard swimming pool. Not quite the clientele I was expecting being so close to the airport, but hey, that and my ten-percent AARP discount have me feeling weak with excitement.

Monday, 5:53 PM—I enter Room 238 overlooking the pool, and slide the curtains closed. I feel like I'm hiding out after robbing a Fotomat. Might as well get comfortable. I change clothes and throw off the DNA-encrusted bedspread.

Monday, 6:01 PM—I decant the first cup of Lemon Crush. Barely makes a dent in the top of the jug. Bottoms up. "Argh," says Mr. Uvula the dangling pirate. Tastes like chilled poodle saliva. 

Only fifteen more cups to go. I set my phone alarm for ten minutes and turn on the TV. It's Wolf Blitzer with an image of Robin Williams in the corner of the screen—Robin Williams, 1951-2014.

What? No. The guy was a genius. The World According to Garp, The Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, his stream-of-consciousness stand-up routines, and now he's gone. Sometimes it seemed like he couldn't get it all out fast enough. Only 63. What a loss.

Monday, 7:15 PM—Seven doses in. I'm feeling the first gurgles of a new lifestyle, so I'll sign off for a bit.

Monday, 10:47 PM—Feeling stable. Goodnight.

Tuesday, 5:15 AM—Ever the Pavlovian, upon hearing the familiar folksy refrain of my phone alarm, my brain reacts. Shit. Time to drink more of the shit.

Seeing the empty jug on the counter snaps me to reality. I feel sleepily satisfied as I stuff the plastic container into the garbage, take a shower and throw my stuff together. Farewell Motel 6. May our most intimate secrets pass silently into Puget Sound.

Tuesday, 6:01 AM—My wife is up when I arrive home. During the school year, she puts in about eighty hours a week, so she tends to enjoy sleeping in during the summer. Little is said as we climb into the Hyundai under dark dawn skies.

Tuesday, 6:44 AM—I check in at the endoscopy clinic and get a wrist band. Two other dudes come in right after me, also accompanied by female partners. Occasionally we glance at each other, sharing the bond of our impending initiation into the Brotherhood of the Bottom.

Tuesday, 6:57 AM—The nurse greets my wife and me. She's very friendly and pretty. Glad she can see me at my best. I'm led through a door and into a small bay. "Go ahead and have a seat on the bed," she says. "It's going to be your home for the whole procedure; we'll just wheel you around."

"Am I getting a general anesthetic?" I ask.

"It's not general, it's called 'conscious sedation,' a combination of drugs that help you relax and block pain. You may be awake but you won't remember anything. A lot of people just go to sleep."

She starts an I.V. and asks me a list of questions. "Okay, that's it for me. The doctor should be in shortly. Nice to meet you and I'll see you afterwards."

Tuesday, 7:10 AM—The doctor enters through the curtain, introduces himself and explains the procedure: "We wind the scope through the colon and look around. Sometimes we'll see a polyp, which is a lump in the lining caused by abnormal cell growth. If that's the case we insert instruments to clip it off and suture it."

"Are polyps common?' I say.

"They occur in about twenty-five percent of people over fifty. Okay, ready to go?"

"Sure." I watch him deftly perform multiple tasks while chatting with me. Interesting how doctors and nurses are so good at doing that. "How many of these do you do in a day?" I ask him.

"Today, fourteen."

Tuesday, 7:17 AM—The nurse rolls me into the brightly lit colonoscopy room. She asks me to lie sideways, facing the monitors and TVscreen. I always wondered how my grizzled mug would come across in HD, but today the paparazzi aren't interested in my face.

"Okay," says the doctor, "we're starting the anesthetic."

I feel my heart race and watch the digits rise on the monitor: 76, 82, 84. I still don't feel anythi...."

Tuesday, 8:09 AM—I'm sitting in a chair. My clothes are back on and my wife and doctor are standing next to me.

"We found a couple of small polyps," he says, "one was three millimeters and the other was seven millimeters. We cut them out and we'll let you know as soon as we get the results from pathology." He hands me a packet of literature.

I lose track of reality again and didn't permanently revive until I found myself riding over the West Seattle Bridge.

"Are you hungry?" asks my wife.

Hunger doesn't describe the feeling, dear bride. I could eat Little Caesar himself. "Yeah."

"Want to have breakfast at Easy Street?"

I've just gone thirty-six hours without lard. I want breakfast, lunch and dinner at Easy Street. "Yeah."

Tuesday, 9:22 AM—After washing down a club sandwich and fries with some of the best coffee I've ever tasted, we return home. I fall on the couch, turn on Dexter and sleep deeply through two episodes.

Tuesday, 11:11 AM—Feeling great.

Wednesday, 1:47 PM—Back at work. I open an email from the clinic which tell me my biopsy results are in. For the past day I've tried not to obsess over it, but Mr. OCD despises uncertainty even more than he hates Howard Schultz. I can't imagine the anxiety cancer patients must feel. Here I am, ruminating over a couple of little colon lumps for twenty-four hours, and these poor people must dance to this number over and over again.

Wednesday, 2:19 PM—I call the clinic and the nurse reads me the doctor's letter:

"Dear Mr. Haywood,

I hope this letter finds you in good health. While the polyps we removed were not found to be cancerous, we would consider them pre-cancerous and thus rightly removed.

"We would like to see you for another screening in five years. Take care."


Please do this. It's really not a big deal in the to speak. Do it for yourself and do it for everyone who cares about you.

Get your ass in there.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Abby, Dear.

Today I’d like to again tap into your ample reserves of wisdom. 

A few months ago, I asked your advice about how to handle a delicate situation regarding a near-collision with an acquaintance. You convinced me to traverse the well-paved route of least resistance; you counseled me to do nothing.

I did nothing. Thank you for recognizing my skill set. 

Since you’ve proven yourselves such worthy mentors, I’ve come up with some additional queries, a few issues for which I’d love to get some resolution. I guess you could call this a reverse advice column, because rather than posing as an Ann-Landers-type wellspring of motherly wheedling, I’m going to ply you, the reader, with a few burning inquires of my own. We’ll just call it “Abby Dear.”   

I won’t enjoy the benefit of anonymity, like “Backed up in Baltimore.” I’m also forfeiting the pleasure of exacting judgment on others, but as the Dalai Lama once said, “Do you have any idea how much you yammer, son? Put a lid on it for once and slurp some of the compote drizzling from someone else’s pie hole.”

So here goes. Please feel free to answer any- or everything.

A) Every summer, our 60-year-old apple tree drops so much fruit, we could sign on as exclusive sauce providers to the Seattle Hempfest pork chop tent. What are my options other than pressing a swimming pool full of cider? Open a fruit thrift store featuring gently used apples? Sell fruit leather vaporizers at the farmers’ market?

B) Is it possible to love tomatoes too much? I can eat them like apples, and it makes me feel slightly like a cat lady.

C) Should I feel self-conscious about not owning a smart phone? I definitely do. It’s not easy keeping it stuffed into my front pocket while punching digits, and stretching for the pound sign can be slightly pleasurable yet alarming to fellow bus riders.

D) I’m not asking your advice on this one, but I’m curious—when’s the last time you took off your shirt in a public place? I did it this summer in San Diego, but it was in a beach setting with a large buffer between people. I’m talking about cruising the Taste of Tukwila, your muffin top drooping from the waist band of your Dockers cut-offs. 

I never would have considered it, had it not been for an elderly man I’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Every morning as I ride past a retirement home, I see the same ancient dude ambling down the sidewalk. He’s shirtless, his grey gym shorts pairing pleasantly with a bristly beard and fuzzy mop of hair. 

This man doesn’t give a shit and I love him for it. He’s probably been hot all night, so he just rolls out of bed and into the crisp dawn air. Screw the staring people at the bus stop. After another morning experiencing his boundless freedom, I inched a step closer to a life of carefree toplessness.

E) What should I ask for for my birthday at the end of the month? After racking my brain for the past two weeks, it's a toss-up between a Safeway gift card and a colonoscopy. 

F) Lastly, are the Seattle Seahawks going to repeat as World Champions? I’ve got to tell you I had a dream, like last Thursday, that the Seahawks did win their second consecutive Superbowl. I woke up happier than any time since around the age of fourteen.

That’s everything for now. The nourishment of your guidance is immeasurable.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Such Sweet, Sometimes Sickening, Summer Songs.

As of today, we’re forty-two percent into our summer. And in my opinion, until August 3 when we step onto the sun splashed summit, plant a couple of prayer flags and begin the darkening descent toward autumn, it's an opportune time to soak it all in. 

It's the sights, it's the smells—nothing permeates our senses like summer:

Jumping through the sprinkler and skidding along the soaked brown grass. 

Blowing the wrapper off a popsicle, your anxious tongue gluing itself to the icy crust.

The aromas of coconut sun screen and salty air filling the car as you troll for a parking spot at the beach.

But more than anything else, it’s the music. Nothing yanks me by the scruff and hurls me into the Dr. Emmett’s DeLorean faster than an old summer tune. 

The other day I popped on the old classic rock station while piloting our gangrenous Kia through West Seattle’s narrow thoroughfares. The song playing was “Beautiful Girls” by Van Halen, and for the next three minutes, only muscle memory and an urgent bladder navigated the car homeward, since my mind had taken a sharp left at 1978.

I found myself on the shores of Lake Tapps, a man-made reservoir in the shadow of Mount Rainier, fed by its silty glacier water. Go ahead and hold up your thumb and forefinger. Yep, I'd say it was about that cold. 

On one of my many lazy days spent there during that summer of Van Halen, my friend Corey and I found ourselves living an actual beer commercial. As we floated on inner tubes out in the middle of the lake, two girls slowly approached, paddling a raft. Gesturing to a cooler, on of them asked if we wanted to share a twelve-pack of Rainier and drift around a little. 

Why, yes. As a matter of fact, we would. 

Corey always had a way about him. How can I put it? Let’s just say the pizza guy tended to show up on the porch even when Corey didn’t order anything.

Even though summer pop songs elicit powerful nostalgia, not all of these emotions are positive. One night during 1976 while playing Kick the Can with the neighbor kids, I felt the urge to relieve myself. Knowing that my parents wouldn't let me go back out if I went in the house, I opted to use an alternate organic source. 

Okay, I peed into a shrub. The song I remember pulsing through my head, just before a kid named Howard shoved me into my own filth midstream, was “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” by Elton John and Kiki Dee.

I retreated to my house, ashamed and itchy, forever tying the essence of juniper berries and urine to two smartly dressed Brits.

“Shout,” a 1985 summer release by Tears for Fears, also dredges up some early-Twenties angst. I know I’ve droned on a lot about my ex-girlfriend, but dating her during college was like registering for  an extra twelve-credit class in “I-can’t-believe-how-much-I-hate-you-but-sure-I’ll-be-right-over-with-some-wine-and-cheese-nips-ociology.

If you remember the Tears for Fears video, the guy is standing on the edge of a cliff, singing and looking pissed. Okay, that was exactly how I felt, except I don't remember singing or having the other three guys in the band lip syncing at my ten-o’clock. 

Speaking of old MTV videos, they always seemed to have a hard time figuring out what to do with the drummer. The three other guys could stand out in the field with their acoustic guitars, but the drummer had to either bob his head and look cool or play a saw or something. Poor guy.

Anyway, that’s enough of my long-winded stories. Here are a few other summer pop tunes that have throttled a pressure point or two in my central nervous system since I started listening to the radio around 1973.  Is there some cheesiness? Absolutely, but we can’t always control when songs and events become permanently intertwined, right? The list goes until 1992, when CDs and digital music usurped a lot of my FM radio listening:

1973—“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”—Elton John
1974—“Seasons in the Sun”—Terry Jacks
1975—“Fame”—David Bowie
1976—“Afternoon Delight”—Starland Vocal Band
1977—“Telephone Line”—Electric Light Orchestra
1978—“Just What I Needed”—The Cars
1979—“My Sharona”—The Knack
1980—“Sailing”—Christopher Cross
1981—“Tom Sawyer”—Rush
1982—“Stone in Love”—Journey
1983—“Safety Dance”—Men Without Hats
1984—“Sister Christian”—Night Ranger
1985—“Don’t You (Forget About Me)”—Simple Minds
1986—“Your Wildest Dreams”—Moody Blues
1988—“Sweet Child o’ Mine”—Guns-n-Roses
1989—“Angel Eyes”—Jeff Healy
1990—“Janie’s Got a Gun”—Aerosmith
1991—“More Than Words”—Extreme
1992—“Hunger Strike”—Temple of the Dog

I’d love to hear your choices and maybe a few words to describe the back story.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Oreos for Breakfast.

Summer Vacation Blitz 2014 is in the books, and all that’s left are a bug-streaked windshield, one bottle of warm IPA and a lazy attitude.

After our four-day junket to San Diego, we joined seven other family members down in Manzanita Oregon. It’s about twenty minutes south of Cannon Beach, that legendary hamlet where a buck will still buy a scoop of ice cream, but if you want a dish or cone with it, you’ll need to toss in a five spot.

Just to give you an idea of the situation in our rental house, picture the setting of Dan in Real Life, where a large extended family gathers in a picturesque locale. That’s exactly how this was, except we didn’t have a talent show or morning aerobics and my brother didn’t punch me in the face this time.

But other than that it was crazily similar. 

Oh, yeah, and I’m not a widower and my teenage daughter didn’t accuse me of being a murderer of love, but everything else was exactly the same.

I don’t want to give you the verbal equivalent of your Aunt Melba’s Little Big Horn slide show, so I just thought I’d share a few of the lessons I’ve gleaned from shacking up with family for a whole calendar week. In the workplace these are known as “learnings, “takeaways” or “knowledge soak,” if you happen to work at Microsoft. Maybe you’ve gathered some of the same findings:

1) I eat too much. For God’s sake, when else but vacation do I slither out of bed and grab a couple of Oreos on the way to the cinnamon rolls? Throughout the week, I singlehandedly transformed a five-pound jar of Red Vines into a smudgy husk coated in Red Dust Number Forty.

2) I sleep a lot, but not well. You know how it is—the bed feels a little off and the covers have a slight skeeviness, like that coating your fingers accumulate while browsing through the jeans rack at Goodwill. The room was painted a shade of blue made famous by cadaver genitals, and smelled slightly of kelp and pork roast.

3) I drink too much. Beer-Thirty arrived early most days, and on others, even earlier. Consequently, please see Takeaway #2.

4) Hiking is fun—but I’m not good at it. A 1400-foot vertical climb means there’s a good chance I’ll be tripping over up to thirty exposed tree roots. Not to disappoint, on the way back down, I rolled my ankle and ate trail. I currently have a bruise on my outer butt that resembles a chubby Mother Mary with one eye.

5) Family vacations keep improving as the kids get older. Let’s face it—it kind of sucks to travel with little children, especially when your idea of a vacation doesn’t include getting up at 6:30 to play Candyland, a game you could despise just as much without the nice ocean view. Nowadays, those girls of mine sleep more than house cats on Ambien.

6) It’s great to hang out with my dad, brother, sister and all the in-laws I know my older brother was disappointed that I didn’t want to share a bunk bed like the old days, but the dude’s bladder isn’t exactly the elastic parcel of youth it once was. I told him I’d be willing to try if he’s willing to invite a thousand daily Kegels into his life.

7) Nothing beats laughing so much that your gut aches for seven straight days. There’s a washboard stomach somewhere under there from nonstop guffawing. 

Trust me, because after last week, I’m not lifting my shirt in public for a while.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

If You Go, Don't Forget Your Louis Valentins.

Family vacations can be a lot like watching a last-place baseball team: You come home sunburned and pissed off, wondering why you spent all that time and money on such selfish bastards.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

So simple. My wife, ever the brains of the organization, proposed letting our older daughter have the house to herself while her younger sister brought a friend with us down to San Diego over the July Fourth weekend.

It was the magic of addition by subtraction, like segregating an oxidizing agent from a reducing compound to stave off explosive polymerization.

Sorry, I just started watching Breaking Bad again. 

Sure, there were a few Griswoldian hitches in our get-along. My first couple of forays behind the wheel of our sporty Kia Soul proved a little dicey, but that’s what happens when a high performance motor car is piloted by a dude in flip flops who constantly has to pee a little. 

Did I drive over a few curbs? Sure. Did my ham-footed braking illicit a smattering of spirited “JC Tim!"s from my lovely bride after exerting forced flexion on her delicate neck tissue? Maybe.

But on the whole, this was our best trip in a long time. I won’t bore you with my watered down Rick Stevesishness, but I will say this: check out San Diego. It’s a beautiful, manageable place to spend a few days. And as if there aren’t a Brazilian other reasons to visit, everything takes about twenty minutes to reach. Whether it’s Pacific Beach, Mission Bay, Coronado or Balboa Park, your inner thighs will be chaffing from the salty beach air faster than you can say fish taco.

And speaking of Balboa Park, it’s ground zero for Dr. Suess enthusiasts. Theodore Geisel, having lived in La Jolla for nearly fifty years, surely drew inspiration for his illustrations strolling through and around this locale. Here's what I mean:

I couldn't believe it! I half expected the Lorax to peek his head around the trunk and scream at us for supporting Monsanto. Many of us will line up to see where Mozart was born or where Hemingway drank, but no waiting is necessary to catch the splendor of my personal Mecca, the Suessian forest at Balboa Park.

Of course, traveling and living in close quarters with a couple of fourteen-year-old girls poses its own challenges. They were often so occupied with posting photos of themselves in San Diego that they spent about forty percent of the time actually being in San Diego as the adults did. Oh well, at least they supplied a few verbal gems:

Teenaager: “Dad, these sunglasses were only $10. They’re Louis Valentin. I got a great deal.”

Me: “Are you thinking of Louis Vuitton?"

Teenager: “Whatever."

Teenager: “Dad, this place is too small. Can we just stay in a hotel?”

Me: “No.”

Teenager: “Whatever."

Teenager: “Dad, I want to go to college in San Diego.”

Me: “Okay. How will you pay for it?”

Teenager: “Dad, Stop it.”

I did.

We returned refreshed and, let’s just say, slightly secretly sandy. Our older daughter picked us up at the airport and returned us to a house that was nearly as cleanish as she’s ever cleaned it.

And next time we’re thinking about trying the whole San Diego thing with no kids. I'm confident our delicate family chemistry will survive intact.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Few Words About the Mispronunciationism Epidemic.

“Dad, you’re such a hypocrite.”

My younger daughter hurls that knuckleball at me quite a bit. Ever since she learned it back in sixth grade, it’s her go-to accusation. The other day she called me out again, this time for mispronouncing words.

“You’re always correcting people’s words, but you don’t say words right all the time.” 

Most mature parents, like my wife, would just let a provocative statement from their hormone-soaked adolescent vaporize harmlessly through an ozone crack. 

Not this petty simpleton. “I don’t say any words wrong,” I said. “Name one.” Bam, take that, teenager.

“You say ‘girl SCOUT' cookies. It’s supposed to be ‘GIRL scout' cookies.”

She had no idea how on top of my game I felt. “That’s not mispronunciation, that’s just putting the accent on a different word.” 

“Whatever. You’re still a hypocrite.”

Curses. I had nothing. My only recourse would have been to initiate the feared “am-not, are-too” exchange, and I probably would have if my bride weren’t within easy earshot.

Hypocrite or not, I’m not a fan of mispronunciation. I blame my mom. Whenever I’d butcher a word or not know its definition, she made me look it up in our twelve-pound dictionary sitting next to the phone.

Ever since then, my hackles have saluted at the sound of a misspoken word. The George W. Bush years proved to be the most prolific reign of lexiconic butchery since Archie Bunker told Edith that “you can’t squeeze blood out of a tulip.” 

Our Yale- and Harvard-educated Commander-in-Chief, the man who held the keys to America’s doomsday arsenal, couldn’t pronounce “nuclear.” During a 2004 presidential debate with John Kerry, Bush said, “I hear there’s rumors on the Internets that we’re going to have a draft.”

Even Cheney must have made disapproving buzzard noises when he heard that.

I won’t drone on about our ex-Prez who paints puppy pictures. It’s like calling your old girlfriend and asking for that VHS copy of “Purple Rain” that she never gave back. What’s the point?

But as long as we eat our sherbert acrossed from the libary after supposably prespiring about our prostrate, we must abide these wordroids. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Expecially—I have a good friend who’s mispronounced “especially” since I’ve known him, but what am I gonna do—stop him mid-sentence or wait for a more opportune moment to humiliate him? Nah. There’s already a glut of dickishness on our big blue marble.

Disorientated—Frequently spoken by those who actually are disorientated.

Irregardless—Actually, simply add two letters to the beginning, and “unirregardless” returns to meaning what it should.

Expresso—Yes, I’ve heard this from actual Seattle natives. This should be added to our citizenship test right after the dog CPR section.

Sometimes, however, it can get personal. A few years ago at a company meeting, my group was recognized for working on a successful campaign. The speaker read our names from a slide and I could tell she was a mispronouncer after messing up two of the first five names. 

I still felt safe. The worst I’ve ever been called is “Hayward,” even though my name is phonetically the easiest word to pronounce in the English language. Seriously, I’ve heard that “Haywood” was one of the first caveman last names, since it can be grunted.

She reached my name on the list—Sherry Jones, Mark Johnson, Tim Hayway…”

Hayway? What the hell? This woman was a freaking vice president and she couldn’t pronounce a word that even my cat accidentally says a couple of times a week?

Spontaneous barks of laughter erupted from random spots throughout the room. Everyone in my vicinity shoved me and choked back fits of laughter.

That was five years ago. Just take a guess at what I’m still called around the old water cooler.

Besides that.

Monday, June 23, 2014

She's back.

To honor the completion of her freshman year at Western Washington University, I've composed this tribute to my first-born and her joyous homecoming.

Sung to the tune of “Back in Black,” by AC/DC:

Zoe’s Back

Zoe’s back.
Her shit is stacked
In the hall and on the kitchen counter.

Yeah, she’s hangin’ loose.
Trying to choose:
Watch Grey’s or nap for half an hour?

She’s got a job.
I hope by God
She can stick it out for sixty days or so.

It’s for the Y.
Your little guy
Has a brain that’s just like Zo’s.

‘Cause she’s back.

Oh, my back.

Yeah, she’s back.

You know it, Jack.

Well, she’s baa haa haa haa haack.
Baa haa haa haa haack.
Zoe’s back.

Her crap is still unpacked.

Back to our shack
Comes the power pack.
Six meals a day, not including snacks.

Yeah she loves to hang
With her gang,
Instagramming selfies with the cat.

Well she watches sports
Always in her shorts,
Only gets up to pee and refill Goldfish.

This soon will end.
When we send
Our angel off to pull her weight.

‘Cause she’s back.

That’s a fact.

Yeah, she’s back.

Step on a crack.

Well, she’s baa haa haa haa haack.
Baa haa haa haa haack.
Zoe’s back.

From the land of Hacky Sack.

Please insert Angus Young solo in its entirety. 

‘Cause she’s back.

She gives us flack.

Yeah, she’s back.

She wants some slack.

Well, she’s baa haa haa haa haack.
Baa haa haa haa haack.
Zoe’s back.

Pour me a Coke and Jack.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It's Yearbook Season.

Since it’s that time of year, let’s talk a little today about milestones.

Last night was my fourteen-year-old daughter’s eighth grade “promotion” ceremony. The word “graduation” seems to get tossed around so much these days. Between preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school, yesterday marked our ninth such ceremony. 

Holy sweet father of T-ball trophies, what's next? At this rate it won't be long before maternity wards start broadcasting “Pomp and Circumcise” through the corridors.

So yeah, the past couple of weeks have been heaped with one everyone-gets-a-badge-uation after another.

(At this point, please insert the inquisitive tones of “Dateline’s" Keith Morrison): But there’s another historic way station lurking in the milky dusk of a bygone decade

Twenty years ago this week, on June 17, 1994, O.J. Simpson performed his hour-long Ford Bronco infomercial. With his friend Al, a wad of cash and a gun to his head, Simpson took 95 million of us on a slow ride to the intersection of Holy Shit I Never Knew O.J. Was a Psycho Boulevard, and like, Sepulveda.

Along with most of the world, I initially believed the whole situation was a misunderstanding. How could this All-American football-star-turned-actor possess the capacity for such savagery? 

As a kid, I worshipped the guy like subsequent generations idolized Micheal Jordan and Tom Brady. I’m not proud of this now, but check it out—I even wore his shoes:

Originally intending to write exclusively on the Broncoversary and my childhood worship of O.J., once I pulled out that old yearbook, I was instantly distracted. To hell with O.J. Simpson, I thought, let’s talk about something more relevant. 

Think back to those warm, waning June days, when the work was done, and our sole responsibility was attaining as many heartfelt dedications as could be crammed into a 64-page hardbound time capsule.

Every adolescent message you are about to read was written by classmates now in their fifties. Since so much time has passed and most legal statutes of limitation have expired, I decided to include names. You may see something you wrote thirty-six years ago. Let’s just hope you were nice to me.

The following are excerpts from the pages of the 1977-78 Olympic Junior High annual.

I still haven't tried Caryn's recipe because the only place that sells giggles is Whole Foods, and they're organic and really expensive.

Happy yearbook season.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Life of Service? Roger That.

This is the fifth in my series of Rolling-Stone-reporter-wannabe interviews, entitled... I've always had a hard time with the let's just call it, "Friends with great stories."

For the past six months, my teenager has been hard at work on her life story, also known as her eighth grade portfolio. The girl's only fourteen but holy sweet mother of toner cartridges, this juggernaut has grown to the size of the Chicago phonebook! 

How's that for an old man joke? I've been practicing.

My point is that, regardless of how long we've been alive, everyone's got a story to tell. And heavens to mergatroid, a few of us have carved out lives with such colorful chapters, I feel obligated to share them.  And if I had to find a common denominator, I'd say my friends who've sacrificed the most, those who've lived lives of compassion, have had the most amazing journeys. 

Yada yada, Yoda. Post that beautiful meme to Facebook and move along.

I met Rog (pronounced Råhjhhj) in a high school weight lifting group. We were on the football team, and the coach had made it unofficially mandatory to take his P.E. class. Rog and I ended up working out together (I use the term "working" more loosely than a Limbaugh jowl) and spent fifty minutes every day making fun of the coach and pulling up our tube socks. 

We cracked wise as our chubby leader spat coachisms out his frothy mouth cracks, his polyester shorts buzzing like a little table saw where his thighs ground together. He clapped his meaty hands and snorted out football clichés: "Get strong, Trojans! Hum babe! I see a band of  warriors in this room who are gonna pin their ears back and lay some wood to Kennedy High School on September 9!" 
Lay some wood? Yeah, when September 9 finally rolled around, think balsa wood. 

"Owoooohhh! Let's get it on!" That was the dude we called Mole Man, our own version of Rudy, yelling from over by the squat rack. He was about five feet four and you could set your watch by his robust testosterone geysers. "Let's go, men! Hurts so good!"

During our two years together playing for mighty Troy, the team compiled a 2-16 record, amounting to a winning percentage of just over eleven. Didn't hurt very good to get beaten 54-6 by Evergreen, but a few hushed sideline jokes among the less serious salved the emotional contusions of being physically dominated on a weekly basis.

From an early age, Rog was drawn to stringed instruments. I used to love this picture until I found out it was taken at senior prom. At least he took some heat off the guys who brought farm animals.
After graduating in 1982, Rog opted to postpone college to address some lingering rock 'n' roll issues, playing bass for a year-and-a-half in '80s cover bands like this one called Splash:

Compelling concept for a band, no? That's him on the far left. Did Rog get a tad distracted playing"Mr. Roboto" while his low slung bass rhythmically assaulted his Speedo-covered loins? Perhaps, but it never…showed?

I know, too far again. But now for the good part, where our guest is allowed to talk. 

Rog, after eighteen months purging your rock demons and singing high harmony on "Hungry Like the Wolf," you experienced, shall we say, a total eclipse of the heart, and decided to go to college. When the money ran out, you applied for an Army ROTC scholarship, altering the course of your life significantly.

Definitely. The two-year academic scholarship bought me an obligation for four years active duty. My original plan was be a tank driver (I LOVED those things), but the Army had other ideas.

Since I didn’t want to go into the finance branch of the Army or to the Air Defense Artillery, my military science professor said my options were limited to two: medical school or law school. That summer I took the LSAT (the morning after seeing KISS and WASP in concert) and did well enough to get admitted to Gonzaga. 

Wow, I'm sure you weren't the first scholar propelled by KISS toward academic excellence. Actually, you probably were. Anyway, after meeting your awesome and beautiful wife Marci during college and marrying her while in law school, you graduated in 1990 and passed the Washington State Bar Exam, thereby beginning your military obligation.

After attending JAG School in Charlottesville, Virginia (Judge Advocate Generals are lawyers trained in military law), Marci and I were given three locations to choose from: Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Drum, New York or Panama. 

We both immediately vetoed Fort Polk, also known as swamp city. I liked the idea of Panama, but Marci—always the mature person in the relationship—mentioned that the United States had just invaded Panama the previous year, and she wasn’t too keen on living there for three years.  

Sounds reasonable. So it was Fort Drum by default, then.

Yeah. It was the home of the 10th Mountain Division, and had I done a little more research, I would have known that the chances would be very good that I would be going to some of the world’s favorite hot spots of that time.  

Like Somalia?

Like Somalia. We knew it was possible, since I was an Army lawyer. We go where the soldiers go.

And that's exactly where you were sent for six months in 1993.

I was there between April and September. To give you a feel for the situation, the Black Hawk Down sequence of events occurred three weeks after I left. 

We were the “QRF” or Quick Reaction Force, meaning our troops would get deployed to any trouble spots in Somalia that a general deemed worthy of messing with. My job was to handle everything legal. Early on, that meant writing wills and powers of attorney for soldiers. 

I also paid a lot of claims for damage that we (the Army) caused as a result of our own negligence. Let me explain the distinction: if combat action resulted in damage to property, we didn’t pay. But if our helicopters were training in an empty desert and one of the wire-guided missiles left the grid and hit a building, I'd be paying out a claim. 

Here's an example: At one of our road checkpoints, a young soldier accidentally discharged a round. The shot went through the windshield of a waiting car, killing a young Somali man.

I heard about it immediately and flew to the scene the following morning. Accompanying me in the helicopter were a paralegal, an interpreter and a security detail, plus a guy carrying ten thousand American dollars, which was the maximum I could pay on a claim.

We got to the village and I met the father of the deceased man. He was a a highly respected elder, looked about a thousand years old and arrived with his own entourage of five or six guys. 

Through the interpreter, I told him how sorry the United States was for his loss. I listened to him rant about what the Americans were doing there and why was his oldest son now dead? Not a lot of fun, but then I get to tell him the good news—I had a whopping $10,000 US for his trouble.  

He was insulted, which he should have been. I sure as hell would probably have swung away if the roles were reversed, and this was when I heard for the first time about “blood money.”  

This guy told me he didn't want our money. In the Somali culture, if an oldest son (and primary family breadwinner) is killed, custom demands that the responsible party provide one thousand camels as compensation.  

As this was being explained to me by the interpreter, I started thinking—I could save the government some money. The camels in Somalia looked awful; they couldn’t be that expensive. How hard could it be to round up a thousand and deliver them?  

I told the guy I'd look into it. We got into the helicopter and headed back to the base. When I got there, my boss told me I was out of my mind and that I would not be going out on the open market trying to buy camels (Precedent alone for this would have been disastrous.).

After a few days, I flew back to the village with the bad news. When the old man and his peeps showed up, the money was laid out on the table. I told him the US government is not in the business of camel herding, and that while I was deeply sorry for his loss, our laws and customs only allowed me to pay this amount.  

The old man got all pissed off and stormed out of the building. About an hour later, he came back alone, telling my interpreter he urgently needed to see me. I invited him in and he told me he would take the payment, but he couldn’t appear to be leaving with money at the risk of being robbed.  

He said in order for it to work, he needed yell and storm out again, just in case anyone was watching. The guy stuffed the cash into his underwear, signed a release and yelled for another five minutes. Then he walked out and down the dirt road that runs through town, never to be seen again.

Did you perform any other duties while in Somalia?

When I first got there and we weren’t being shot at or mortared, I would go out to the orphanages. We would bring soccer balls and supplies and spend time with the kids. I got close with one named Mohammed, and I still have his photo.  

He would visit me when I would sit in front of the embassy accepting claims.  I saw him every week for about two months—gave him candy, a Walkman, some cassettes—then he stopped coming. Soon after that we started taking rounds at the embassy, and I never saw him again. Chances are he ended up killed or working for Al Qaeda.

Over the ensuing twenty years, in both in active and reserve duty, you performed virtually every type of service for the Army—labor law, trial defense, even environmental law. Yet when you finally retired in 2009, you returned to another hot zone in a civilian role. Describe that.

I signed a contract with the State Department to perform “Rule of Law” work for a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan. We were basically sent to establish or re-ignite legal systems. The problem was, no lawyers or judges were around anymore; nearly all of them had left the country for places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. 

All that was left were old lawyers who could not afford to get out of the country. During my time there, I worked on getting lawyers trained (there was a law school nearby that taught Islamic Sharia law.). The program took four years to spit out lawyers. so there was no quick fix.  

What little was left of the court system there, like every other political or administrative system, was corrupt. Tons of dollars were thrown at the problem. Every politician starting at the top of the food chain had their fingers on the money, and took a piece of the pie as the funds worked their way down to the town or village that needed a new police station or courthouse. Often times the money wouldn’t make it at all. 

Then there was the question about which law to apply—traditional Anglo Common Law or Sharia. We also had to compete with the Taliban shadow government, who had their own, Sharia-based court system. 

All in all, my opinion of what we were doing there was not good. My little piece of the picture indicated that our efforts were simply prolonging the inevitable, since there would never be a traditional court system with prosecutors, juries, and defense attorneys. I was more than a little disenchanted with our role and how I was handled as a contract employee.

Interesting. Speaking of "shadow" court systems, let's talk about the shadow job you've been performing for the past fifteen years when you weren't deployed to war zones and counseling soldiers.

Yeah, the “Big Job” working on the Seattle Mariner Grounds Crew.  On average I work around forty to fifty games of the 81 game home schedule. I started in September 1999. Head groundskeeper Bob Christofferson, a.k.a. the "Sod Father," started the next year. Since then, he, I and the rest of the crew have become like family. Most of us were around in 2001 for the All Star Game and the playoffs.

And if I'm not mistaken, 2001 was the last time the Mariners did make the playoffs, yes?

Yes, and there's a reason. The grounds crew started dancing in 2002. Coincidence? I think not. The baseball gods are NOT happy with us. Many of us on the crew want nothing to do with the dance, since we believe it has run its course.  

However, we are told there are many fans contacting the front office and marketing clamoring for the fat guys to get out there and shake it. We haven't danced all season, but it looks like we're finally going to succumb to the pressure.The choreographer was at the ballpark last night.

Anything else you'd like to mention before we sign off? 

One last thing. Marci has been incredible throughout the last 25 years. There was at least one time during my career that I could not tell her where I was going, and that had to be hard on her. I left her with our one-month-old son when I went to Somalia. I have been on numerous other deployments where she was left to be the sole parent to both of our sons for extended periods of time. She has never complained or asked me not to go.

Thanks, Roger. And thank you, Marci.