Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Friday, December 28, 2012

The War On Christmas (Gift Exchange With Random People In Our Lives)

Is there any way we can cease and desist on the Christmas gifts we purchase for the ancillary yet important people in our lives?  Does the neighbor up the street really need a pound of organic coffee?  Does your friend’s son really need an iTunes gift card? These purchases are slippery slopes of giftdom that once started, prove harder to stop than Barry Bonds at a Balco tent sale.

Bonnie and I were involved in several of these unfortunate transactions this year.  And by “Bonnie and I” I really mean, Bonnie.  If you exclude beer and lap dances, I haven’t bought something for my guy friends in, well, ever.

From what I can tell, there are basically two categories of this gift exchange pandemonium.  There are the people that you exchange gifts with every year because somewhere in the past this tragic tradition was started.  From all appearances, barring death, this will go on for life.  Unless this gift is cookies or something edible, chances are this gift will suck or be useless.  It will be exchanged over hugs, probably. Then, you will wonder how you can re-gift it. 

But, at least with these people you pretty much know something is coming so you can be prepared.  The second category is even worse.   These are the people who unexpectedly show up and give you something – catching you off guard.  It’s almost like a pesky rash after a trip to Tijuana – you hate to admit to it, but you know you have to do something about it.  In these cases, the desire of a woman to reciprocate is overwhelming.  They won’t think twice about making a trip to the store in a blinding snowstorm to pick up a raspberry/vanilla/spruce candle plus $200 for a gift bag and tissue paper to wrap it in.  Goddammit, they will not be made a fool!

It’s time we bifurcate* in our gift giving.  Spouses (significant other if you are getting regular sex), kids and parents should all get gifts for Christmas.  Friends, neighbors, kids of people you worked with three years ago who you made the mistake of getting something for and now can’t stop – all these types of people – no gifts.  None.  If you are really bent on doing something nice for them, leave out the Christmas letter in your card that will surely bore them to tears.  I kid, everyone likes reading about family ailments and the welfare of your cat.  Siblings are tougher.  There remains a lot of pressure to buy something for your brothers and sisters.  I say they get axed as well.  In reality, you probably don’t even like some of them so it will be easier to leave everyone out.

Now, if you take this stance, a difficult one, I know, you may have a few awkward moments next year. Suck it up.  Like that rash from Tijuana, learn your lesson, take your antibiotics and stay out of the whorehouses.  And let’s be honest, you really have no need for a tub of hot cocoa mix anyway - and neither does anyone else.

*I read this word last night and was determined to use it like a motherf&$#er in this post somewhere.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I Act In A Commercial - And Of Course Kill It

I know many of you have been wondering, “How is Dave’s acting career going?”  Well, let me tell – it is incredible. 

Coming off my killer performance in The Slaughter Of Good Ole Richie (This film is in very limited release.  Like, you gotta be in my son’s TV Production class to see it limited release), I was asked to star in a commercial for Kid Away. 

You’re probably thinking, “Wait, isn’t doing a commercial after a film a step back?”  To that, I say, “Talk to my son’s teacher.”

Anyway, the shoot was taking place on a Sunday afternoon.  As such, I was appropriately hungover from a party at our house the night before.  This adds a ton of street cred to my career.  It creates a “Is he going to show up?  Will he be sober?” vibe that keeps everyone on edge. 

I have cobbled together four unedited scenes, and the following is some back story on each to let you in on a bit of tradecraft.  This is sort of like “The Actors Studio” but way cooler and more intimate.

Scene 1 – I was directed to show “max frustration.”  Arguably, I may be showing “max constipation.”  However, there is no doubt – amongst anyone – that whatever I am showing is definitely “max” something.  This is just raw emotion people, deal with it.

Scene 2 – For a lot of actors, working with children can be a challenge.  It’s plain to see that not only am I up for the challenge, I fucking embrace it.  Those little ones will be talking about this opportunity for years to come.  God bless ‘em.

Scene 3 – One man, one camera, one line.  Raw, eloquent, daring.  The crew was speechless after this one.  It can be embarrassing sometimes.  I swear people were moved to tears.  It's cool if you want to watch that part again.

Scene 4 – (This scene took a few minutes to get going because the two actresses, upon seeing they were wearing the same outfit, had to say things like, “Oh my god! We are wearing the same thing!” and, “I LOVE yoga pants!”)  Timing was everything in this shot – and I have no idea why my hand was buried in my pocket.  (A subconscious nod to Alanis Morissette?)

I know you probably aren’t often granted this sort of access – this sort of “behind the scenes” (quotes intentional) stuff.   So, you’re welcome. 

Here’s the bad news.  I’m retiring.  Or more accurately, I’m being forced into retirement.  I was informed today the next project is something called Stop Motion.  Wikipedia defines that as, “an animation technique to make a physically manipulated object appear to move on its own.”  This would have been perfect for me the night of the party.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where I Totally Own My First Appearance In An Independent Film - With Video!

Both of the boys, as part of their TV Production class at school, were required to write, storyboard and shoot a five minute film.  It was an awesome project made even more awesome by my insistence that I have a part in both.

Dylan’s Film, Zoo Copz, was an action piece.  Unfortunately, I was only given one line. “We’re out of gas!”  I tried to punch up the script by suggesting that I say, “We’re out of fucking gas!” but I was told in no uncertain terms – no.  However, after a discussion with the production team during which I heard, “He has to drive the getaway car, he is the only one with a license,” I was given the role of stunt driver.  This meant that I had to peel-out, or whatever I could muster out of my 2004 Escape, in the cul-de-sac.  We even posted security and crowd control to make sure no little kids were hurt.  I did a great job.

Such a great job, in fact, that Chris gave the role of Mr. Winkle in his film, The Slaughter of Good Ole Richie, to meProduction was a pain in the ass from the start.  Besides some technical issues, the leading lady (and my wife), Bonnie, quit after the first day.  Well, she didn’t quit exactly.  Since we were behind schedule (we are so Hollywood) she had to leave for a business trip.  This meant I had to go to a neighbor and say, “Dude, can I borrow your wife for about an hour for a movie?”  This was met with raised eyebrows.  I assured him there were no sex scenes (that he knew of) and that I would have her back in one piece.  Day two was called due to darkness.  (The production budget for lighting was zero.)

We finally wrapped filming today.  (We had to delay the first scene because the guy behind us was cutting his grass and the noise of the lawnmower was interfering.)  I only had a few lines, but I totally killed it.  In fact, I pretty much owned the entire production.

I haven’t been in show business since I was cast as an elf in 4th grade.  But let me tell you, it courses through my veins.  It was like a re-goddamn-awakening.  I’m 43, but I have no doubt these films will be the start of something big.  Maybe the next Bourne movie.  After you watch the clip, I’m sure you will agree.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Murky Socio-Economics Of School Pictures

It’s time for the annual emptying of the checking account that comes under the guise of School Pictures.  It’s not that we don’t want pictures of our kids, it’s just that we don’t want a lot of pictures of our kids.  Buying school pictures is like paying for twenty gallons of gas and only getting to put five gallons in your tank.

“Only buy what you want,” the uninitiated may say.  I scoff.  It’s IMPOSSIBLE to buy what you want.  The economic geniuses behind the available packages know exactly what you want; therefore, they construct said packages to include “almost” what you want.  This forces you into either buying a package that includes things like a diamond encrusted picture frame, or relegates you to the dreaded a-la-cart section, where an extra 5x7 can require a hardship distribution from your 401(k).

This year we have a choice of seven packages.  At the low end is the “Entry” package, which should be called the “entry package for parents who don’t care about their child” because the only photo you get is a Polaroid picture they take when your kid is in line.  At the high end is the “Ultimate” package which includes a hologram image of your child beamed onto the roof of your house. 

This is Sally, before her parents ruined her
There are all sorts of add-ons and special offers available.  But the one I find most compelling is the “Premium Retouching” option.  For $12 you can have your child’s photo “retouched”, and for free you get to ruin any semblance of self-esteem they may have.  “Sally, remember how we couldn't use you in the family Christmas picture last year because of the acne and yellow teeth?  Well, we are going to get your school pictures retouched!  Finally, a picture that won’t be embarrassing!”  If you think your child won’t be bringing that up in therapy in a few years you are mistaken.

We settled on the “Value” package which means one of the grandparents is getting downsized to a 3 x 5.  I was pulling for the “Family” package only because it sounds like we are truly invested in our kids.  “Oh, we always get the Family package.  It’s just so us!” 

The pictures will show up in a few weeks.  We will liberate the few that we need and relegate the balance to a drawer.  If they don’t fit, we can douse them in that extra fifteen gallons of gas and set it on fire.  Maybe that will drown out that annoying hologram on my snobby neighbor’s house.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Street Artist, A Walking Stick And A Lesson In Living

Olu, pronounced “Oh-Lou”, is a black man in his late fifties with great, rounded shoulders and an easy manner.  He’s a business man, artist and a sage.  Olu sits on a low wall outside of a restaurant in downtown Cleveland where he carves elaborate walking sticks with a folding knife.

Olu and Me in his studio
“That’s beautiful,” I told him as I walked up to him.  Across his lap was a piece of cedar about four feet long and an inch or two thick.  He held it firm in one hand, turning it, as the other gripped the knife and gingerly transformed the wood into an ornate and rustic piece of art.  Where he stripped the bark, the alabaster of the pulp provided a contrast to the dark exterior.

“My raw materials are cheap,” he said with a smile.

“How long does it take to make one of them?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “each one takes about eight to ten hours.  I try to get about five dollars an hour to help with my room.  This one here is about sixty dollars, but I am willing to negotiate.”  Business man.

As he handed the mostly completed stick to me, I immediately noticed the intricate detail of the face.  It reminded me of something you would see on Easter Island or from a market in Jamaica.

“Where do you get the inspiration for the design?”

He chuckled.  “I don’t get inspiration.  I look at the stick and listen to what it wants to be.  Then I just bring it out.  I guess you could say I uncover what is already there.” He grabs another piece of cedar, raw and untouched.  “Like this one here.  I was looking at it this morning and I see a wizard.” Artist.  (Those words have really stuck with me the last few days.  Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I like that idea.)

The Handle
“How did you start doing this?” I knew I was asking a lot of questions, but his story was compelling.

“Well,” he stopped working and looked at me, “Seven years ago I had surgery on both of my knees.”  He pulled up one of his pant legs to reveal a massive scar.  “I could only walk with two canes - hobbling around, mostly.  I was miserable.  One day I asked God what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  So I just pulled out a knife and started carving a few bumps and rings in one of my canes.  One day, a guy asked me where I got that old cane with the design in it.  When I told him I made it he asked if he could buy it.  I said, ‘sure.’  God kinda led me here.  I’m grateful.”  Sage.

There was no way I was leaving without the walking stick. 

While Olu uncovered what was already in that ordinary piece of cedar, I uncovered something that was already there, too.  I uncovered a talented artist who claims he can’t draw.  I uncovered a wise man that is probably often overlooked because his studio is a wall. 

For fifty dollars I have a very fine piece of original art – the only one like it in the entire world.  But it hangs on my wall not as art, it hangs there to remind me that there is a lot in this world to uncover if we are just willing to look.  And of course, it reminds me of Olu.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Adolescent Psychology, Gazelle Livers and Ping Pong

Building your child’s self-esteem is a pillar of adolescent psychology.  Doing so instills your child with a sense of self-worth and confidence, which seem like pretty good traits.  Go ahead – Google it.  I did, and the results all pretty much say something like, “Hence it is not surprising that parents and clinicians want to foster self-esteem in young people.”  To that I say, fuck that noise, especially if it comes at the expense of my self-esteem and self-worth and confidence.

When a badass dad lion in Africa has a son, he isn’t thinking about building up his son's self-esteem, he is thinking that in a few short years that little bastard is going to be competitor number one for a gazelle liver.  You know what badass dad lion does?  He sure as hell doesn’t show his son how to gouge a liver out of a gazelle.  Oh no, he eats every damn liver he can.

All of which brings me to ping pong, which for purposes of this story, will be a metaphor for a gazelle liver.  Over the summer, the boys and their friends have been playing copious amounts of ping pong in our basement.  A month or two ago, I thought I would enter the fray and play them.  I hadn’t played ping pong in some time, but nonetheless, I of course considered myself awesome, certainly capable of beating my two fourteen year olds.  Possessing such confidence, I thought during the first match that I should “take it easy” and then promptly lost 21-8.

“Okay,” I thought, “enough with that strategy, time to show them the mane and the big scary teeth.” And then I lost 21-12.

But once your cub discovers how tasty a liver is, the cat (so to speak) is out of the bag.  So then I determined that to rightly assume my place in the pride, I had to not only just win, I had to completely dominate.  I played ferociously.  When a ball offered itself to be spiked, I not only wanted to smack it, I wanted to crack the ball off of my son’s sternum (after it hit on his side of the net, of course.) 

My record improved dramatically, which is to say I no longer lost every game, just most games.  On the rare occasion that I won, I rocked it.  I talked smack.  I screamed things like, “I’m dominating you!”  And then they would beat me again.

So my new and possibly controversial advice is this.  Kick their ass while you still can.  Don’t feel bad about it.  In fact, relish it. You’re certainly not “fostering their self-esteem” by handing them a liver in a nice patch of tall grass.  And then, when they are better than you, when they routinely beat you at ping pong, pat yourself on the back.  Your kids are supposed to be better than you.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Where Dave Uncovers A Conspiracy To Overthrow The World From The Front Seat Of His Car

I’m in my car in the parking lot of Home Depot, George Harrison on the radio, and I'm staring at the back of a package of Mylar numbers, considering that a strange little accident may have led to me uncovering a hidden agenda with the potential for world domination.

A couple of days ago my neighbor backed into my mailbox.  This was either a) an accident as he claimed, or b) a purposeful act because he didn’t like it.  Dutifully, he went out and bought me a new one and offered his sincere (or contrived) apology.  With the new mail box installed I went to Home Depot to buy some new numbers.

I was thankful that my house number is simply 121 (this is a foreshadowing of things to come) and that my neighborhood decided to not number houses with thirty or forty numbers.  That always seemed awful damned contentious to me.  I could never understand long house numbers.  It serves zero purpose other than what appears a lame attempt at status.

But back to me sitting in the car.  For some reason, I turned the package of numbers over and read this.  “This package contains 32 total characters: 4 each of 1-2-3 & 0; 3 each of 4-5-7 & 8; 2 each of 6 & 9.”  What the hell is up with that disparity?  Since when have numbers been relegated to such classification?  What, 6 is not as prominent as 1?  This seems like an overt attempt to profile numbers and to minimize some of these numbers directly out of existence. 

Since I pretend to be a writer, I thought I would pretend to be a journalist and called the offending company.  (A company whose zip is 45231, by the way.)  I talked to Len in customer service.

“Len,” I said, “What’s up with the disparity of numbers in your product?”

“I wasn’t aware of that,” he responded, “Let me look.”  After a few keystrokes (he was either looking at the product data or emailing the FBI my phone number) he said, “Not really sure.  I guess it is from their market research.”

“Curious, don’t you think, Len?”

“I guess some numbers are used more than others,” he said.

Len drank the Kool-Aid.

But the scary thing is, if Len is right, and his company did do market research, who is the cabal behind slowly eliminating numbers so that businesses like Len’s eventually stop making certain numbers altogether?  If the package of numbers I have is any indication of the future, numbers will soon be: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 0. Then: 1, 2, 3, 0.  Let your mind get around that!  (As I mentioned earlier, my house number is 121.  Accident?  I think not.)

You may ask, “What would be the motive behind this?”  It’s quite obvious this is an attempt to bring about social discord and revolution.  Think of it in these terms.  Your telephone number has ten digits, and currently there are ten numbers, 0-9.  Now, if you limit the available numbers to 1, 2, 3, and 0 the possible ten digit phone number combinations greatly decrease.  Are you ready to give up your phone?  Extrapolate that.  Ready to give up your Social Security Number?  Grasp the hugeness of this issue?

Am I wrong?  Maybe.  But if I’m not, this may be the last dispatch you will have from me.  I changed “Len’s” name out of courtesy, but if I disappear, his real name is in the notebook on my bar.  And by the way, the company that made the Mylar numbers?  Their phone number has six 0’s.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I Went Away With My Kids And Thank God We Didn't Bond

I have taken “guy trips” that have included stops in: Vegas, New Orleans, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, Chicago and Baltimore.  I can assure you they all included copious amounts of alcohol and activity that was borderline hedonistic.  I usually came home exhausted and broke.  One time I came home without a driver’s license and credit card and a very bad limp.  (That was the New Orleans trip and I am still trying to put together the timeline on that one.)

These trips were memorable and epic.

When I mentioned to my wife that I wanted to take another “guy trip” with my two boys, my wife did everything but make a hotel reservation for me amid proclamations that sounded a lot like, “They won’t be young forever.”  (Or it could have been, “You won’t be young forever.”)

Dylan, Chris and I Being Awesome
A week later, Dylan, Chris and I were in my car heading across Pennsylvania Route 6 toward Wellsboro, PA, an area known as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.  We were going to spend three days in the 
mountains hiking and biking and basically guying it up. 

It would be easy to be nostalgic about a trip like this and wax on about father/son bonding.  But really, there was none of that.  That’s right.  We did not bond.  At all.

Bonding can be defined as “join or to be joined securely to something else.”   Well, we really didn’t need joined.  I found out we are joined.

We hiked the gorges and rode bikes along the trail next to Pine Creek.  We had lunch on picnic tables with not a soul in sight.  We ate Italian two nights in a row.  We did a little swimming and I caught up on some reading.  We argued about whether or not the bird we saw was an eagle (it was) and we did some ball-
busting – which is an awesome guy thing to do.  We just had fun.

So we didn’t “bond.”  For me this trip was validation.  It was validation that I have two awesome kids who are well adjusted and can laugh at themselves (when not laughing at each other).  It was validation that we (though they would never admit such a thing) get along pretty well.  It was validation that trips don’t have to end with a limp and a call to your credit card company to prove you had one hell of a great time.  And it was validation that, thankfully, we didn’t need to bond.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Painting Is Not An ED Commercial

You know the commercial that shows a young couple walking into one of those big box home improvement stores where they are excited and notably hand in hand?  They stand in front of the thousands of paint choices and laugh and giggle like they are picking out cupcakes.  They go home, still laughing, and start prepping some room for painting – maybe she dabs paint on his cheek and you wonder if this is an erectile dysfunction commercial because all those ED commercials are like that.  Some couple is “folding laundry together” and then a glance, which in the real world means, “get away from me” but in the commercial leads to sex.  But this couple isn’t having sex – yet – because they are having a great time painting.  And the room looks awesome.  They pull the tape off and the husband painted the Last Supper or some Andy Warhol work.  The couple hugs and smiles and are so proud of the really fun day the husband grinds up a bunch of Viagra and snorts it off his wife’s bosom. 

That’s bullshit.

When Bonnie and I were in our local home improvement store today she was holding two paint swatches which were dissimilar only in the way that a one additional drop of tan added to a fifty-five gallon drum of light tan paint would make.

“Which one do you think?" She said.

“I want nothing to do with this,” I said, “whatever.”  I was filled with despair.

What a difference, huh?
One of the things I hate about painting is that you have to prepare for it like a goddamn shuttle launch.  Curtains have to come down, cover plates have to come off, holes need fixed – then sanded, and baseboards need taped.  Furniture needs moved.  Basically you spend an hour doing things and you haven’t even opened your paint.  At least when you dig a ditch the very first thing you do is dig.

All I think about as I am carefully – and by carefully I mean not really giving a shit – painting is that when I am finished I will have another hour of work.  It's almost unnerving.  Those silly curtains and cover plates, well, they don’t reinstall themselves.  And then you have to clean the paintbrush.  Fortunately we have a slop sink in our furnace room that is perfect for this sort of thing.  Unfortunately, the furnace room is full of nine years of various boxes/accessories/Costco 300 packs of toilet paper so I end up straddling parts of a bunk bed and an old speaker while I clean the brush. 

And even then it’s not over.  All the photos and shelves and other stuff bought at those godforsaken parties your wife goes to has to go back up on the walls.

When I finally finished I wasn’t feeling joyous and what I felt like snorting wasn’t Viagra.  Forget The Last Supper, I was just happy I didn’t drip any paint on the carpet.  Those commercials really are bullshit.  Imagine that.

(Aged Parchment.  We painted the family room Aged Parchment.  Add a drop of tan to a fifty-five gallon drum of light tan.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dave Finally Buys A Damn Pillow - An Update

There is no way that being in Kohl’s department store should make you feel like an elitist, but as I stood in front of a wall of pillows that’s exactly how I felt.  There were all these pillows for queen and twin beds, but not a damn one for a king.  It’s not my fault we have a king size bed.  It’s not like we bought it to shove it up the ass of the bourgeois.  We just own a big bed, okay?  But now, I can’t find a king pillow and I am losing my mind. 

I spent thirty seconds massaging one of those Tempur-Pedic pillows, and man, they seem really badass.  But I feared that their weird shape, with that dip in the middle, would prove a costly mistake or possibly suffocate me if I fell asleep drunk.

What gets me is I wouldn’t even be here if a) my cheap pillow would have lasted longer than eight years, b) I could learn to love sleeping on something that felt like shredded corrugated cardboard, and c) I would have manned up at Bed Bath and Beyond a few days before (and as tragically outlined in my previous post.)

I was only at Kohl’s because I hate the thought of going to Walmart – whose parking lot I just pulled into.  The entirety of Kohl’s could fit into our local Walmart’s bathroom.  The only thing our Walmart doesn’t have is a hotel and spa.  Although the store is so massive it could be I just didn’t see it.

After walking three miles, and then back one mile since the pillows are decidedly NOT where I was told they were (thanks elderly greeter) I was in front of more pillows.  And by now, the entire experience had started to weigh on me.  I was exhausted and exasperated.  (However, on a fun side note, I was using the bathroom at Walmart – the one with Kohl’s inside of it – and while I was washing my hands a woman walked into the men’s room.  The timing was either good or bad depending on how you look at it.)

Stoned Sheep
As much as I hate to admit it, Walmart has their inventory issue solved.  Within thirty-seconds I found what I was looking for, a super firm pillow.  I was happy.  And then I read the package.  It said it had a “3 inch gusset for back and side sleepers.”  I’m a dedicated stomach sleeper, and what the hell is a gusset as it relates to a pillow?  Does anyone even look for such a distinction?  And if you do, are you crazy?  I buried that away the same way I ignore the warning labels on alcohol.  But the other weird thing was the picture of nine sheep on the plastic cover – all looking like they just came off a forty-eight hour bender at Studio 54.  Wigged out sheep does not inspire visions of Kate Upton dreams.  The whole thing makes you question the real meaning behind counting sheep (of all things), doesn’t it?

But since I had already spent too long on this endeavor and since I was becoming borderline manic, I bought the beast.  When I got home, I wrestled the pillow case on which made me feel like I was putting a condom on a flaccid elephant. 

When I crawled into bed that night, I tossed caution to the wind and turned onto my stomach, didn’t think of sheep (mostly) and embraced my elitism.  I don’t know if it was the beer or the pillow, but damn, I slept well.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

We Should Have Went To Home Depot - How Dave Loses His Battle To Buy A Pillow

Remember that scene from Old School where Will Ferrell’s character says, “We’re gonna go to Home Depot, buy some wall paper, get some flooring.  Stuff like that.  Maybe Bed Bath and Beyond.”  Remember that?  And how funny it was?  Well, it’s not so funny when you find yourself at a Bed Bath and Beyond with your wife.  And it’s really not so funny when you find yourself there because you said, “I need a new pillow.”

So, on a blazingly hot afternoon, we strolled into the air conditioned and well lit confines of our local BBB.  And just like you can’t get just one lap dance, neither can you go into BBB and just purchase one thing.  Apparently, we needed a new dish rack.  I say, “apparently” because I had no idea there was a problem with our old one.  It seemed perfectly capable of performing its sole task, holding dishes.  But Bonnie insisted that though it did indeed hold dishes sufficiently, it was becoming moldy.  (Guys are just awful at recognizing this sort of thing.)

“I want to get another bamboo one,” she said, “I like bamboo, they just get funky after a while.”

Being a guy and what I consider a voice of reason, I said, “Well, why don’t we get one of these wire kind?”

I can’t express how quickly the next sentence came out of Bonnie’s mouth.  As soon as I enunciated the “nd” in “kind” she said, “I want bamboo.”  She did not at all express this in a way that was terse, rather, it was stated in a way that sounded like, “Your opinion is not at all welcome.”  So we compromised – and got the bamboo.

Bamboo dish rack in hand (and pillow nowhere in sight), we now were looking at wine glasses.  There is something to be said for a beautiful crystal wine glass.  Usually it’s, “Damn!  I just broke that beautiful crystal wine glass.”  Bonnie and I drink a lot of wine and we usually get so drunk we are always breaking the glasses.  I jest.  We were looking for something somewhat elegant that also had the durability of Tupperware.  Or, the four glasses for ten dollars.

Finally, after we passed the Soda Stream machine and the griddle that allows you to cook 300 pancakes at once, we arrived at the pillow section.  It was here that I broke down.  I have about a five-minute window in any one store where I can function like a human.  After the five-minute mark, my sole desire is to run like the building is on fire.  And now, here we were at an entire section of pillows.  Different sizes, different material, different whatever it is you use to describe how hard or soft it is.  It was fucking overwhelming.  And the prices?  Everything from $15 to $80. 

Sensing this was going downhill faster than an Obama fundraiser at the NRA, Bonnie said, “You really should get something.  It will help you sleep.”  I felt like saying, “Do any of these say, ‘cure for neurosis?’”  Instead, I said, “I don’t know what I want, let’s just go.”

We left BBB with a dish rack (that I didn’t know we needed) and wine glasses (that have a shelf life of about two months.)  We didn’t leave with a pillow (my own fault – see above comment about neurosis and add anxiety and despair).  Will Ferrell said he and his wife were going to go to BBB, “if they had time.”  I wish we didn’t.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Apparently, Writing About Your Balls Is Not Funny.

There are real benefits to being a Dicks’ Sporting Goods Scorecard Member.  For instance, for every $75,000.00 you spend, they send you a $10.00 gift card that arrives exactly one day after you just made a purchase.  You also get email notices asking if you would like to write reviews for products you’ve purchased.

Imagine my delight when I was asked if I wanted to review my recent purchase of a bag (a sack, really) of lacrosse balls.  My face lit up like Mitt Romney at a Cadillac dealership.

Here is my eloquent prose:

“This is the best sack of balls I have ever had.  I lost my old balls in my wife’s bush.  I only had one left – and who wants to play with one ball?  I played with my new balls all night and they still felt great in the morning!  I will always get my sack of balls from Dick’s.” 

Then there was the issue of accepting the terms and conditions of the review.  I’m sure somewhere in the small print there was something about not being a schmuck.  I checked with my lawyer who assured me that while I was not doing anything criminal, I was being an ass.  Since most of my life has been governed by that credo, I hit “submit” and waited for the chips to fall. 

I figured there was a 90% chance this was not going to make it past the intern whose job it is to review the reviews.  But, I thought there was maybe a 10% chance that someone would have a sense of humor (or be incredibly juvenile like me) and post the darn thing in hopes that it would go viral.  In which case, it would have drove millions of hits to Dick’s website and subsequently catapulted me from obscure blog author to “joke writing consultant to the stars.”

So I waited.  The next day I received an automated email that basically said, “What you think is funny we find childish.  (To be fair, some of us found it funny.  Unfortunately, these are not the same people who would have to testify at a class action suit that would most assuredly be brought against Dick’s for our corporate insensitivity.)  Therefore, we can’t print this.  (Though we have shared it around the office.)”   Or, it may have said that the review was found to not be in compliance with the “terms and conditions.”  It did, however, thank me for my playing and invited me to submit further reviews as long as I keep an eye on the “terms and conditions.”

I am grateful for the chance to redeem myself.  You see, I just bought a box of blanks, and I am dying to start me next review with, “My wife loves when I shoot blanks.” 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Moms Are From "Sure, I Will Go Out On Sunday Night To Get Poster Board" And Dads Are From "You're Screwed."

At 6:10 on Sunday night, we were enjoying a family dinner when my son asked, “Do we have any poster board?”

“Oh yeah,” my other son said, “I have that project too.”

Parents, we know the following to be true. Those who aren’t parents heed my words. Nothing good comes from poster board. It is a gateway to school project hell.

So last Sunday evening, a few hours from bedtime, we were about to make collages – with poster board that we were not sure we even had – that were due the next day.

And by “we” I mean the boys and my wife. The “I” part of “we” went to the family room to finish off the wine.

Sensing the encroaching swear-fest from me, Bonnie donned her “Ultimate Mom” cape and herded the boys upstairs.

Or so I thought. About thirty minutes later she came up from the basement –with poster board. “I snuck out because I didn’t want you to get mad,” she said. She did the right thing of course, teaching the boys a lesson by not getting them what they needed would be fruitless.

She did it because she “didn’t want them to be upset.” Would I have done this? Probably - but I would have made damn sure they were upset. I just feel that as the father of a couple of boys, I need to be, well, a prick sometimes. Now, this could be some buried passive aggressive wiring, but I don’t think it is. I liken it more to the “silverback syndrome” that gorillas display. You see, the second a baby boy is born, the silverback knows his days are numbered; he also knows his offspring is going to be way cooler than he is. Before he can pick the fleas off his wife, his son will be eating more awesome bananas than he ever had as a kid. The silverback will be envious. So, in the years that he is still physically more imposing and while his offspring still need a back ride to the clearing to play with his other gorilla friends, the silverback jumps at the opportunity to pretend he is still the boss.

For the kids, of course (gorilla or human) this doesn’t work. Dave Bowie sang, “And these children that you spit on as they try and change their world, are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware what they’re going through.” So yeah, I would have gone out for the poster board, and I would have been pissed off. I like to think I could have pissed them off a little, just a little, for not telling us sooner. But they would certainly have been immune to my consultations. They know the Silverback would move a mountain for them.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bending The Sub Lady To My Will (Where Dave Contends With A Knife Wielding Senior Citizen)

The lady brandished the 14” bread knife at me as she spoke, each syllable accented with a flicking of the knife through the air.

“That was not me, sir,” she said sternly. (Five flicks.)

“It absolutely was you,” I said.

“Sir,” flick, “I would not have done that.”

“You did it last week,” my safety buoyed by the counter between us.

It’s rare you find yourself in a confrontation at the sub counter in a grocery store, but I sure as hell did.

It started three weeks ago, and like the Bloods and Crips, escalated to outlandish proportions.

You see, every week Bonnie and I order a 14” Italian sub to eat over the weekend. Well, three weeks ago when I ordered the sub I was told by the lady who would soon be brandishing the knife that they were running a special: buy one 7” sub and get a 7” sub for free. “Great,” I said, “I’ll take it.” I really was not paying attention, but at the very last moment, I noticed she cut the sub, made on a 14” roll, in half, wrapped each separately and gave me both pieces.

“Hmm,” I thought, “had I known that I would not have had her cut it.” Why? Because we bring our sub home whole, and cut it into thirds. Lesson learned.

The following week, I went to the counter and told the lady (who had no idea at this point in seven days hence she would be considering felony murder) that I would like the special, but just do not cut it.

“I can’t so that,” she said.

Before we go further, a few facts:

1. I was not asking for anything special, including: extra meat, half-toasted, double wrapped, the tomatoes not touching the lettuce or Swiss cheese with minimal holes.

2. Had the special meant I would get 7” inch bread, I would have been fine. I would assume they got a deal on 7” rolls somewhere. It was the EXACT SAME SANDWICH, just cut in half (and at the very end to boot.)

Round two was successfully mediated by a younger worker – kind of like the former gang member who goes back to the neighborhood. Reluctantly, she left the sandwich intact and just put two stickers on.

It was 1 to 1. The rubber match.

This week when I showed up at the counter, I thought the problem was solved. This is when the lady began wielding the knife, steadfast in her resolve. I felt like asking her if she forgot what the gang mediator had done last week.

After some posturing, she went to ask a manager.

“We can’t do it.” I think her teeth were clenching.

“You don’t remember this discussion last week? You were here last week, I remember. Just put two stickers on it, that’s all.”

Granted, I sort of felt like an elitist prick at this point. And truthfully, I really had no desire to upset this older lady. I brushed those feelings aside.

She went back to the manager who I am sure told her, “Okay, just don’t cut the sub for the elitist prick.”

“Okay, what kind of cheese do you want?” the knife back on the counter.

I almost said, “The same kind I asked for when I fucking ordered before you tried to turn this into a Federal racketeering case.” But I didn’t.

When she handed me my uncut sub, I also didn’t say, “See, that wasn’t so hard after all.” I did say, “See you next week.” I swear I heard the knife flick through the air.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Where Dave Eats A Fried Pig Head

“I wouldn’t recommend eating the eye,” our waiter said as he placed half of a deep fried pig head in front of me. It took a few seconds for my eyes to orient themselves; for the head to come into focus.

As it arrived.  The sunken eye is near the top

“It’s being held up by a piece of neck meat. Make sure you rip it open and dig around. I brought you a knife but mostly you just go at this thing with your hands.”

I found the eye, just aft of the jaws. It was crinkly brown with a little ball of hard yellow that had formed on the outside. (The iris?) I started with the cheeks.

Bonnie and I were eating at Cure, a newer restaurant in Lawrenceville, for her birthday. Our general rule for finding a new restaurant is that we don’t eat anywhere that my parents would love. This excludes anyplace that serves baked potatoes. Not that there is a thing wrong with baked potatoes, I just don’t want to spend money to eat one. (Our biggest restaurant avoidance is steak houses. Fifty dollars for a steak I can cook just as well on my Weber kettle grill? Kiss my ass.)

But back to the swine’s head. Imagine a mold of a pig skull with every cavity stuffed with juicy pulled pork then wrapped in bacon. Then deep fry it. Granted, you have to get past the wrinkled eye and the teeth, but beyond that, it’s really quite amazing. The snout was the one part that was a bit disappointing, with its bits of bony cartilage. On the other hand, the gums were a treat, like thinly sliced, crispy bacon.

Lest you think Bonnie was averse to this, she was not. She gamely devoured the pieces I placed on her plate of house made chorizo and gnocchi. I could not say as much for the young girl sitting next to us. She had a look on her face best described as a cross between someone who was witnessing an autopsy and someone who was questioning the wisdom of a fifth shot of tequila. I made sure to pull the upper and lower jaw apart when she was looking.
The halfway point.  See the teeth?

Bone exposed (God that was fun to type) and eye still intact (though I have to admit, the waiter said he didn’t “recommend” I eat the eye - he didn’t say to “not” eat the eye) we passed on desert which would have been a plate of locally sourced cheeses.

Here is a brief Q&A culled from several inquiries:

Q: Would you eat it again?
A: Hell yeah.
Q: It was BYOB, what did you drink?
A: Duh. A cooler of beers, a squirt bottle of vodka and some tonic.
Q: Did you say pickled beef tongue was on the appetizer platter?
A: Yeah, it was great. So was the creamy lard on baguette.

Anyone hungry?

(I highly recommend you visit this place.  Click here for their website.)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Greatest Music Video Of All Time - Deconstructed

MTV no more invented music videos than the movie Pretty Woman invented prostitutes. Both were merely vehicles for glamming up an already existing genre. So before Tawny Kitaen slathered about a Jaguar during Whitesnake's, Here I Go Again, record companies were pumping untold hundreds into music video production.

Possibly the grandest example of this is the infinitely compelling video for the classic Hall and Oates song, She’s Gone. After watching this video many times I have come up with two divergent views. First, it is possible that the video is as bland as it is because no one, not even the caterer, gave a rat’s ass about it. But I like to think otherwise. I like to think that the minimalistic but highly stylized video may be the greatest piece of short film work on record.

The video opens with a still shot of an abandoned luncheonette, possible THE abandoned luncheonette that spawned the album by the same name, and of which She’s Gone made its appearance. It’s at this point that the video makes a very hard left turn into the obscure. At 0:25 we are met with Hall and Oates, both seated in chairs from Goodwill. Hall, who looks like a sullen Dave Bowie is wearing high-heeled clogs with socks and Oates is wearing the front, and only the front, of a tuxedo shirt. The horrid lip synching begins. But, is it horrid or perfect? Everyone who has gone through a romantic pitfall has been off their game a bit, stumbling around. So, maybe from the very first line of the song, the fact that they appear to not be in synch with the track is really the ingenious manifestation of emotion.

At 0:57 the chorus starts, and at this point you may be thinking, “Okay, couple of stoned dudes in chairs. What’s the big deal?” Well, at 1:01, a brunette in a purple flowered dress, long-strides in front of Hall and Oates, obviously the woman who has cast the pall over the fortitude of our protagonists. She walks purposefully from left to right, followed briskly at 1:08 (and this is where things get really heady) by the devil. As they sing the line, “Oh, I’d pay the devil to replace her,” Hall and Oates both grab for money sitting on the table between them to throw at the devil. However, only Hall succeeds. Either Oates just mucked up his cue, or, this is done to demonstrate his reluctance to so easily give in to soul-sucking evil. (It’s interesting that immediately after this, Oates sings, “What went wrong.”)

When the chorus is sung for the second time, the devil again comes across the stage, at 1:52. This time, two different things happen. First, the devil looks squarely into the camera, perhaps signifying to us that he can tempt anyone, even us voyeurs. Secondly, Oates either gets his cue right and tosses money at the devil, or, it is symbolic that heartache is so incredibly porous, that the ability to withstand the temptation is only fleeting.

The most intimate and telling few seconds of the video happens between 2:45 and 3:10. The devil, after his third appearance circles back around behind John Oates and helps him on with his tuxedo jacket – except it has flippers. Oates picks up his Les Paul and plays the guitar solo. This appears to be emblematic of fighting through an obvious handicap - in this case, playing the guitar with no fingers. This seems an obvious metaphor that needs no further explanation.

As the song fades and Hall and Oates wonder off stage right and left respectively, the devil, who has been following them, sits decisively in Hall’s seat. Was this because Hall was the first to throw money at him? Was this because Hall did not possess the determination to overcome his fragile psychological state like Oates did when he played through the flippers? Whatever the reason, the devil looks very content to placidly resign himself with the knowledge that during our weaker moments, he is sure to find someone willing to wear high heeled clogs.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Youth Sports - It's All Apparel And Camp Chairs

We recently spent a cloudy and cold Sunday in Medina, Ohio at a lacrosse tournament. Besides some excellent middle school games I was struck by two things. One, youth sports is nothing if not a team-apparel rich environment. And two, what’s up with all the freaking camp chairs?

My Protagonists
Every kid (about 1,000 at this tournament) is dressed in the latest apparel couture of his or her school’s team -all worn with gang color fanaticism - and none of it cheap. My boys (along with about every other lacrosse player at their school) own the pièce de résistance - the Seneca Valley Boat Jacket. They retail for $85.00 – and that’s without having a clue what the hell the “boat” in boat jacket even is. According to the apparel tab on our association website, you can also order: four different types of tee-shirts (not including something called a “performance tee”), four different styles of hoodies (to be worn at your own peril), sweatpants, golf shirts, fleece jackets, etc. They even have something called an “unstructured hat.” Being fashion challenged, I have no idea what “unstructured” means. Maybe it’s a hat that refuses to stay on your head, or one with a bill that moves around depending on the mood it’s in.

And it’s not just the kids, it’s the fools like me – a grown man running around with a Seneca Valley Lacrosse tee-shirt. But it does match my boxers that have “lax dad” written across the ass.

And these camp chairs. What’s up with their proliferation? You wouldn’t dare go to a game without a camp chair. Or in most cases, a trunk full of them. If for some reason we forget to take our camp chairs to a game, my wife and I become flabbergasted as one of us says, “Shit, we forgot the chairs!” But a lot of this is born out of necessity, since schools will spend tens of thousands on a Kentucky Bluegrass-turf -hybrid playing surface, but will not shell out a grand for a decent set of bleachers. These chairs sprout like dandelions all along the fringes of every field. Just once I’d like to go to my parent’s house and grab one of their old aluminum folding chairs with the plaid and frayed webbing and the bent arm rest and show up with that. That would be like showing up at the gym with a Walkman cassette player with the foam headset instead of an MP3 player. Old school or old fart?

Somehow I can’t picture my dad wearing a North Catholic High School Trojans tee-shirt to my basketball game decades ago, and I think if I told him to bring a camp chair he would show up with a stump. Not me, I’m the guy with the team tee-shirt and my camp chair – with netted cup holder, of course. Oh, and the boxers. (Maybe.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Because Sometimes The Ass Is Your Own Bad Self

I chuckled to myself at the woman emptying six creamers into her small coffee before I chuckled out loud at myself for emptying my sugar packet into the garbage can instead of my cup. It was the closing chapter of a tumultuous ten minutes.

(Warning: The following is going to seem shallow and bitchy – some may even say elitist. To you I say – I couldn’t agree more.)

There are few things I enjoy more in the morning than some semblance of routine. On the few mornings a week I begrudgingly convince myself that it is in my best interest to go the gym, I look forward to the following post work-out treat; a low-fat chocolate milk (the best recovery drink in the world) and a coffee. Not only that, I want to get it from the convenience store that is, logically, convenient. It is where I stop most mornings for coffee, where I stop on the way home for milk and where my kids walk to spend $70 on a 324oz Slurpee and eight hotdogs. It is like my offsite kitchen and pantry – I know where everything is.

But lately they have disappointed me by refusing to stock low-fat chocolate milk. Sure, they have whole-fat (is that right?) chocolate milk, and a tractor trailer’s worth of energy drinks, but dammit, no low-fat chocolate milk. For the last few weeks I have joined that sliver of the demographic that have walked out of a convenience store empty handed (and disgusted).

Because I am intent on my chocolate milk AND coffee, (and out of spite) I drive to another convenience store a mile away. It’s still on my way, but on the wrong side of road, and out here in suburbia avoiding an extra traffic light takes on the tactical significance of a SEAL Team 6 raid. (By this time, my coveted routine has been busted like a Santorum coffee mug at an #occupywallstreet teach-in.)

So, not only am I out of my routine, I feel like a jackass because I am hovering around this foreign coffee station searching desperately for the sugar like a senior citizen looking for the prunes at an Atlantic City buffet. When I finally tracked them down (hidden right in front of me) I caught the lady next to me with a fistful of creamers, six to be exact, and watched her empty one after another into her small coffee. I thought of two things; 1) maybe coffee shouldn’t be her drink, and 2) she was making what amounted to a poor person’s latte. That’s what made me laugh to myself. (I thought it was funny, at least.) It was also at this point I grabbed a packet of sugar, ripped off the top and proceeded to pour it right into the garbage can – sweetening the empty wrappers and coffee stirrers.

Yeah, my routine was broken, I just poured sugar into a garbage can, and a woman with a very creamy coffee (who was most likely very secure in her morning routine) got a good (outward, fully outward) laugh at the elitist stranger in her offsite kitchen.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kids Swear, Okay?

Sitting at my kitchen table last week, I heard my son say, “Dammit” while he thumbed his iPhone in the family room.

“Dylan,” I spoke up, “I’m right here.”

“Oh geez, Dad, sorry,” he said.

And that was it. No yelling. No taking away his iPhone. No lectures.

There are some parents who would have gone ballistic at this point - maybe even cursing at their child to not curse. This isn’t to say that the boys are allowed to swear in the house, it’s just not a capital offense.

I do not possess some higher parental knowledge that allows me to lead with zen-like platitudes. Its just means that to think that my kids are above swearing is foolhardy. Getting overly engaged in the policing of language is like picking low hanging fruit.

And really, how much of a hypocrite could I be? I have been practicing swearing since I was their age (about 13.) Since then, I have become so skilled in cursing that I can deliver a sentence with up to 75% swear words. There are days when I don’t tell the people in my life that I love them, but never a day when I don’t say the word “fuck.” So be it.

A year ago, when the boys got their first iPod, they had asked about downloading a song that had the “Parental Warning” graphic attached because of the word “fuck.” (At the behest of my wife, I was going to try and avoid swearing in my blog, but I would’ve had to type, “the ‘f’ word” or something like that. So silly!) I said, “Listen boys, I really don’t care about you hearing a bad word. I care a lot about you hearing songs that talk about drugs or hurting people. So yeah, you can get it.”

OM effing G! What kind of parent does that? Well, I guess one that knows boys will be boys, one who realizes that teenagers like to swear the way that Fox News likes leggy blondes, and one who is glad his kids recognize that coming to me to ask about downloading a song is being responsible. Thats the high fruit, dammit.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Friend Mark Went To India. I Interviewed Him.

I talked to my good friend Mark about his recent trip to India. Included are references to; elephants, class warfare, having your “junk grabbed,” and the Beatles. Enjoy.

Me: Everyone from George Harrison to Alanis Morissette (who sang “thank you, India” on her song “Thank U”) has been influenced by the culture of India. Now that you are back in the USA, did you have a Ravi Shankar moment?

Mark: Unfortunately, between running the gauntlet of driving to and from airports in Delhi, Pune, Chennai, and Bangalore, I didn't have time to get my 'zen' on. The closest thing I experienced to a Ravi Shankar moment is hearing a Sitar ringtone when hitching a totally impromptu elephant ride on the way to Agra (city of Taj Mahal).
Mark, in red.  Photo (I think) used by permission.

We saw this old guy riding an elephant on the side of the road, and my boss decided it was a good idea to stop the van and ask him if we could take rides for a couple hundred rupees. After some serious Hindi negotiations, and against any better judgment whatsoever, I eagerly volunteered to hop on. Once onboard the elephant with my co-worker and this old guy, we were taken down a trail away from the road where several Indian families came out of the woods to point and laugh at us.

It was pretty harmless until we turned around and the elephant decided to take a dump. Apparently they don't much like things on their backs when going #2 because it started convulsing much like a dog who is trying to scratch a pesky flea on its back. Andy and I were about 5 seconds from getting tossed on our heads until the old driver pulls out a whip and started restoring a little order with the big guy; and started yelling something at us in Hindi. As we were trying to decipher his instructions, his Sitar ringtone from his cell phone goes off and the convulsing started again.

We somehow made it back to the road and my boss had this, “oh shit, I think I'm liable for these clowns” look on his face, and the adventure subsided. This was our first two hours on the subcontinent.

One of your pictures shows you and your group sharing an elaborate dinner. Did it bother you at all that merely steps from where you were feasting there existed abject poverty?

Not really, and that's the strangest thing. The dirt, lack of infrastructure, mass of humanity, and garbage were so prominent everywhere that we felt like we were mere voyeurs watching a surreal documentary. Most of our time was spent in a car, getting to and from each location in painstaking traffic (which included cars, trucks with 10 or more people riding, rickshaws with 6 or more people riding, motorcycles with up to a family of 5, dogs, pigs, monkeys, and cows).

To us it was overwhelming, but the locals of all classes seemed to be oblivious to the surroundings. They go about their day walking through the garbage with a certain peace and dignity. The dichotomy of the class environment seems to be lost on them. It makes the folks here in the U.S. pushing a class warfare agenda look foolish. If you want to see the real “haves and have-nots”, this is the place to look.

That being said, the Indian people are so proud of their culture that they want visitors to experience all the good and lavish things their land has to offer, with no sense of angst whatsoever.

There is a scene in Slumdog Millionaire where it shows the actors filling water bottles right out of the tap in the back of a restaurant. Did you ever burp and fear the onslaught of Delhi Belly?

We were warned ahead of time to make sure all waiters open the bottles of water in front of you, and we never had an issue. Personally, I stuck to bottles of 'King Fisher' beer at every meal to ensure I didn't get sick.

I’ve seen you successfully navigate a packed bar in order to get a twenty-five cent draft beer. How did that type of experience prepare you for the crowds?

It definitely helped me navigate the pick-pocketers at the Taj Mahal. Nothing like walking into a tiny, dark mosque doorway with 8 hands on your junk.

A few months ago, I ate chicken hearts. Glad I tried them, but once was enough. Ready to go back to India or was once enough?

To be honest, I couldn't wait to get back to the states and French kiss the clean concrete. I'm in no hurry to go back, but I would after a year or so. The next time I would like to stay in one city for at least a week. We spent most of our time on planes or driving to and from airports, so it was difficult to get more than a 'surface level' experience of each area. I'd like to go deeper, so I could possibly write my 'Within you, without you'*.

*That's on Sgt. Pepper's, Hot Fire, in case you didn't know.

I did know that. And “Thank U” is on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. (Okay, I had to Google that.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Riding On Trains With Old People

Recently, I was dispatched by my parents to go to Sarasota, Florida to assist them in getting back home. Not a bad gig if you can get it. It did, however, require me to travel via (cliché coming) planes, trains and automobiles. I was to fly to Florida on a Thursday; drive from Sarasota to Orlando on Friday; load us and their vehicle on the Amtrak Autotrain Friday afternoon; spend the night on the train; arrive in DC on Saturday morning; and drive them home from there. So yeah, a couple of thousand miles in forty-eight hours. I did it – here is the train part.

2:30PM – We board the train without being asked for any ID and without one bag getting searched. Zero, and I mean Z-E-R-O security on the rails – just sayin’.

2:50 – The old lady down the car leans her head out of her room and asks me if they have started serving the free wine and cheese yet.

3:00 – They announce that free wine and cheese is now being served in the lounge car. Stampede of old people toward the lounge car begins in earnest.

3:05 – I arrive in the lounge car to what looks like a pack of jackals fighting over an antelope carcass.

3:06 – I go downstairs to the bar for a Sam Adams. (The first of many.)

3:25 - My son Dylan calls me and says, “Dad, we have a major dilemma. Shingles are blowing off of our house.” “Dylan, I am on a train in Florida!” Frantic phone calls ensue. (All is well.)

5:00 – Our call for dinner. You have a choice of the 5:00, 7:00 and 9:00 dinner times. My parents of course choose the earliest one, which means after dinner I am going to have about five hours to kill.

5:03 – We arrive at the dining car and are served salad, dinner and dessert in about twenty efficient minutes.

6:15 – I am back in the lounge car drinking Sam Adams and reading Rolling Stone. Turns out Pete Townshend just sold his all of his publishing for an estimated $30-$50 million. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

7:10 – Two cute blondes sit down at my booth to watch a Dolphin movie. (Not sure which one, the dolphins may or may not have been talking.)

7:15 – The cute blondes mom tells them they have to go and get their pajamas on.

8:00 – I head downstairs to a little slice of heaven known as the smoking lounge. I smoke a cigarette but feel (and smell like) I smoked a pack since it is like smoking with three other people in the middle of a group hug inside a phone booth.

8:05 – 9:00 – I drink more Sam Adams.

My coffin (strap array on the right)
9:30 – Kyle, our porter, turns the “roomette” my dad and I are sharing into a double-decker, coffin sized sleeping berth. The top bunk I will be sleeping in is suspended by an array of what appears to be seatbelt straps.

9:45 – As my dad goes to sleep he says, “Be careful you don’t fall out of that sonofabitch, you’re liable to strangle yourself in those straps.” Thanks, dad, you sleep well too.

10:00 – 6:00AM – I spend a fitful night being jostled around in my crypt while worrying about death by hanging.

8:00 – We arrive in Lorton, Virginia, retrieve the car and drive home.

Mostly, I ask my kids to put away their laundry and take out the garbage. Mine just asked me to come to Florida. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

When Kids Just "Shut Things Off"

Every week day at 3:00 I call home to talk to my kids who are just getting home from school about then. The conversations are brief; how was school, any homework, let the dog out. But sometimes, I relay a very simple request. On Thursday, I asked for the following three things:

1. Take four chicken breasts out of the freezer in the garage for dinner and put them in a container of water in the sink. (Not: Go to the local farm, track down a couple of chickens, slaughter them, butcher them, and prepare chicken cacciatore.)

2. Bring in the garbage cans. (Not: Bring in the garbage cans at our old house thirty miles away. I mean the ones at the end of the driveway that you walked around on your way in the house.)

3. Put your clothes away. (Not: Take your dirty clothes down to the creek, wash them against a rock, dry them on a clothesline, iron them and put them away in order of color.)

If you belly crawled to complete these tasks, it would take five minutes tops – seven if you actually put the clothes in drawers instead of on the floor.

Do I have to tell you how many were done when I got home? I didn’t think so.

When I inquired about this when I got home, and by inquired I mean I yelled, “Dammit! Why didn’t you at least get out the chicken?” The response was, “Sorry dad, I forgot!” What my son meant to say was, “Dad, shut up you ass. And stop yelling, I am playing xBox.”

But he was lying – he didn’t forget. To forget implies that you knew something, and it slipped your mind. Like, “I knew I was supposed to get milk on the way home, but I forgot.” You can’t forget if you never knew it in the first place. (A derivative of this strategy is employed in DC all the time.)

You can only be pissed off about frozen chicken for so long, because as a parent you just make it work. Today’s garbage cans is tomorrows running out at 8:00 at night to get a tee shirt for a school project that is due the next day even though they knew about it for a week and when you are ask him in the car why he didn’t tell you earlier he says, “Dad, sometimes I just shut things off.” Wonderful.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Airline Reservation "Option" That Cost Me $12.00. (Or - How the Airlines Are Fully Engaged In The "Very Serious Business" Of Screwing Their Customers.)

In my previous post, I talked about the “very serious business” that my parents summoned me to their house for. They had asked me to fly to Florida at the end of the month and travel back home with them to help drive. This precipitated the unenviable task of getting a plane ticket that did not involve a layover in Kandahar.

I was pleased with the most recent DOT regulation that required airlines and travel websites to include all their fees and taxes in the price of the ticket up front, so that when you get to the check-out page of the website, the price does not escalate from $215 to $3,812.

The DOT regulation, however, had one caveat. The airlines were still entitled to exclude “optional fees” from their pricing. Therefore, AirTran got down to the “very serious business” of screwing me.

I found a flight that did not require me getting to the airport while the bartenders from TGIF’s were still counting their tips from the night before and proceeded to the seat assignment page. You have to admit, it is sort of fun picking your seat – it’s like one last vestige of self-determination. AirTran wants you to pay for this.

Here are the options:

1. Priority Seating - $13 – $15. This not only gets you the fancy, up front seats, you get to board first. Outside of First Class where you can get a cocktail immediately, I never understood the rush to get into a seat that has the plush comfort of a wooden folding chair without the lumbar support.

2. Exit Row Seating - $20. If I am reading this correctly, airline safety stops the second the overweight, drunk guy with an extra $20 decides he wants to park his fat ass in an exit row. Call me crazy, but I think this seat should be given to the person who can do the most pushups in the boarding lounge.

3. Steerage Class - $6. This is every other seat in the plane, including the middle seat in the last row next to the bathroom.  (I have a layover, so that's $6 x two legs - amazing this isn't charged by the air mile.)

Now, this is one of the “optional fees,” because you do not have to reserve a seat. The airline will tell you that you are more than welcome to come to the airport without a seat assignment and you will be given one there – if they don’t overbook the flight.

Would you make a reservation at a restaurant, pay up front and be content if you were told that for only a few extra dollars they would actually guarantee you a seat? Would you pay an extra $20 for a really good seat?

But the airlines have been in the “very serious business” of bilking their customers for years, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. I am just looking forward to my thimble of Diet Coke and a Gold Fish Cracker.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Cryptic Phone Call, a High Speed Dash and a Question That Will Never Be Answered

There are times of the day when a phone call from your parents illicit little more than some chat time with mom. Eight forty-five Saturday morning is not one of those times.

The finishing touches to an egg, cheese and sausage sandwich were just coming together – my Saturday morning, after gym meal – when my cell phone rang. The screen displayed, “Mom.” This can’t be good, I thought.

“Hello,” I said.

My dad was on the other end. “You up yet or are you still sleeping?” My dad always thinks everyone sleeps too much. He is cut from the cloth when men were expected to be up and working every single day at the crack of dawn.

“I’m up. What’s going on?”

“Can you come over here this morning? We have some very serious business to discuss.” He didn’t sound like he was kidding. He sounded like he was going to tell me someone was dead or dying.

I asked him if everyone was okay. “Yeah,” he said, “me and your mother aren’t dead or dying.”

I am almost forty-three and have never been summoned by my parents to discuss “very serious business.” This must be what it feels like to be a mafia soldier when the don calls unexpectedly. “Hey thirty-fingers, can you come by the social club? Use the back door and go to the basement.”

My mind became a rolodex and the cards every conceivable eventuality that would qualify as “very serious business.”

I drove over – very quickly – the good mafia soldier. I settled in on the couch – prepared for something disastrous like, “It’s time you know that you were adopted. We decided to tell you because of the possibility that your real father, Newt Gingrich, may get the GOP nomination.”

“Well,” my dad said. Here it comes, I thought. “You know we are going to be in Florida next month. I can’t drive far anymore. Do you think you could come down there before we leave and travel with us back here?”

I wasn’t going to get whacked, Newt wasn’t my father (thank God for all that is holy). The racing thoughts, the dire predictions, the 85 MPH car trip was all to ask me if I could fly to Florida, load my parents and their car on an Amtrak train, ride overnight while we have dinner in the dining car, sleep in a sleeper car, get off the train in DC and drive them back to Pittsburgh.

Why they had to tell me in person, on Saturday morning, after a cryptic phone call is a question that will never be answered.

As I gathered my coat and my mental acuity, I asked if they had alcohol on the train.

“Wine with dinner and drinks in the lounge car,” My dad said. “But we usually sneak on a pop bottle full of Manhattans.” All aboard.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I Have The Need, The Need To Better Understand My New Channels

I hate my new goddamn remote control. Or rather, I hate the fact that I can no longer efficiently navigate my television. After thirteen years, we gave up paying half our wages for cable TV and had Direct TV installed – producing a monumental cost savings. It also produced a monumental problem – I can’t find the stations I want to watch!

I used to have command over the remote like Maverick had command over his F 14 after he had his Godly talk with Goose, clenched Goose’s dog tags and re-engaged the MiG’s buzzing around Iceman. ESPN? Bam – channel 185. Discovery? Bam – 124. History – Travel – HBO? Bam – Bam – Bam! 130, 52 (not in HD), 199.

Now, I am Maverick after he flies through the jet wash yet again and Iceman says, “Maverick is disengaging” and the bald Captain back on the aircraft carrier screams, “Damn it. I knew it!” I am unsure - hesitant. “No, no, it’s no good,” said Maverick.

The only thing I am sure of is the local stations – miraculously they have re-emerged at their long standing original channel number. Channel 2 (CBS – KDKA) is somehow on channel 2. Channel 53 (Fox) is no longer on 109. (I bet there was a good reason to move the local channels on the cable system, but it may just have been a mind fuck.)

But now, I find myself having to relearn that which I hold dear – which is complete command over the remote. A neighbor mentioned that I should make a “favorites” list. But that is like flying on auto-pilot. Maverick never flew on auto pilot. He wasn’t on auto pilot when he requested a flyby and the flight controller said, “Negative ghost rider, the pattern in full.*” No, Maverick was a stick and rudder guy. That’s me. I don’t want a list. If I want to go from Spike TV to USA, I don’t want to have to scroll through eight of my favorites to get there.

So for now, instead of pulling “inverted negative G’s”, navigating my remote like Jester, I am resigned to trying to keep above the “hard deck.” (I said dEck.) The entire thing “takes my breath away.”

(* I never understood the “ghost rider” part of this. After a quick Google search, the best I could find was that “ghost rider” was the call sign for his aircraft. As far as I can remember, they never identified an aircraft in any other part of the movie; they always referred to the pilot’s call sign. If anyone has a better answer to this, please let me know.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

This Is What You Owe The Person Who Loves You

Okay, the last few days have not been the greatest. Garden variety self-pity, gonna be 43 type stuff. So I’m whining to a friend about it via email. Then he sends me this, reprinted with his permission. I’m not sure a more astute observation about love and truth has ever been made.

“so I feel like speaking although I was not asked.

you have two kids. regardless if you like it or not, they look at you. they watch your every move. there are days when they see their hero - days when they see an ass. but they are watching.

good Dave, bad Dave - you are soaking into their brains - into their behavior. into who they will become. it's might seem simplistic, but your boys are becoming you - and that's a huge fucking responsibility.

I know what my dad gave me. now that I know what he was capable of giving me - had he just tried a little harder when I was a kid - I realize I would be a better person if he had just had the courage to be open and honest with me. I wish that he had shown me his truth: the sucky parts and the good parts. if he had told me what sucked in his life, I could have formulated a plan to avoid it.

you are a dad. you have a responsibility to show your sons the best you. they need to see you respond to your dreams. they need to see you struggle to keep your passion alive. they need to see your truth.

warts aren't always ugly.

sorry about this. it's just where I am. I guess my dad couldn't be honest with me 'cause he wasn't honest with himself.”