Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Old School...

Last week, the kids started another school year. We now have one in eighth, one in fifth and the youngest in all-day kindergarten. Mostly, my wife handles the chaos that is getting all three ready for the day. Occasionally, I'll make a lunch or put socks on one of them. But, I have a hard enough time getting myself washed, dressed and out the door for my day to be of any use to the rest of the family.

Despite my ineptitude when it comes to the morning routine, I excel in the area of homework. I'm the go-to parent when it comes to difficult math or science problems. And, my journalism degree comes in handy for the "Language Arts" (that's what they call English, Reading & Spelling these days).

Though I've always been able to tackle the tough homework questions, I feel my days are numbered, especially with the eight grader. Once serious algebra questions start coming home, I'm grabbing a life boat, some oars and my pride before heading to shore. Bailing as the homework savior is the one time in life when quitting is a better option than trying. I know my educational limits -- now it's time for my kids to know my educational limits. It's precisely the reason I've been hammering home to them the idea that at the top of the list of important things to do while in school, regardless of grade, is to make friends with the smart kids.

The good news is my kids have not yet approached me with anything that looks like sentence diagramming. I swear I didn't learn to actually read until high school. That's because just about any real sentence I came across in grade school needed to be dissected like a frog in biology class. The only real difference between the frog dissection and diagramming a sentence was that at least I could recognize a frog bone a frog muscle and a frog heart. I had no idea what I was doing with nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. I was clueless, yet I was one of the best in my class at doing it -- sentence diagramming that is, not amphibian autopsies. Who knows, maybe I was an idiot savant when it came to sentence structure. That's what I thought when I was younger, but then I realized that I was just an idiot and did an exceptional job of guessing the answers. Guessing, I've found, is not an ideal strategy to use in dealing with career and family issues when one enters the world of adults.

Similarly, the metric system has only occasionally reared its ugly head in my kid's homework papers. When I was in grade school the teachers had us convinced that we would not be able to function as adults if we did not learn the metric system. Like African Killer Bees that were due to build a giant hive at the end of our street by 1980, we would need to take heed or face a gruesome demise. I guess teachers missed the memo that said "Unless You're Planning To Become An Olympic Swimmer, Diver or Track & Field Athlete, The Metric System Will Be A Huge Waste Of Time For You And Your Students."

I pretty much pulled the plug on learning anything math-related that didn't require a calculator after hearing my high school algebra teacher tell our class that we'd end up using less than 10% of what he was teaching when we got into the real world. That was refreshing. That one comment shaped my mathematical life. It was a lot like learning that size doesn't matter and only the good die young.

So, my kids don't have to worry about diagramming sentences or learning the metric system. There's still an outside chance that those crazy killer bees took the scenic route on their way to Ohio, but I'll save my children the uneccessary concern.

The thing my offspring have to deal with hits much closer to home -- it's called Peanut Allergies. My youngest is not allowed to bring in anything that contains peanuts, including a seemingly benign peanut butter and jelly sandwich. PB&J is dangerous? Apparantly, to anyone with a peanut allergy it is. So, there is a ban on the favorite sandwich of American youth in my daughter's school. My wife's school doesn't ban the sandwich, but makes the afflicted kids sit by themselves, away from people who might be packing toxic peanuts or their derivatives -- like lepers.

I'm not sure when the whole peanut allergy thing first came to light, but I'm pretty much convinced it's a hoax. At best, it's unfair to peanut lovers. I wonder if my youngest was allergic to cheese if the school would stop serving pizza. Or worse, if she had the dreaded combo allergy of both cheese and salami -- potentially, lunch would be need to be abolished altogether, at least if we were playing by the same rules that are being used for the peanut allergy people.

But that's just me, right? School has been a haven for stupid rules for as long as I can remember. Like not touching the water fountain with your mouth and having to raise your hand to ask permission to fart in class.

In reality, not much has changed. The teachers still teach. The kids still learn.

And I...well, I'm still just an idiot.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The "Big Sweater" Story...

My weight can be a problem.

I'm too big to be going topless at the beach. And too small to be considered for the reality television show, Biggest Loser. I'm like a "tweener" in basketball or football vernacular -- my skills are proportionately out of whack with my body type.

This issue is never more exposed than when I'm on vacation. And right now, I'm on vacation.

I'll give you one guess where our family respit is this year. And before you smartasses guess, I'm not at Krispy Kreme Fantasy Camp or taking the Candy Land Game Virtual Reality Tour. I'm at every overweight man's little vacation of horrors -- that's right, I'm at the beach. There's no chance I'm mentioning which beach for fear of paparazzi who want to snap a few pics and then publish them as a cruel "Separated at Birth" story alongside a shot of Shamu or Moby Dick. That's a no-win situation for me, so I'll just say I'm not in Ohio and leave it at that.

Beach vacations spell big time trouble for me. They seem like fun. Sand, surf, sun --what could go wrong? Well, let me tell you that at the rate my body sweats, I wear a life vest all week long, as I have serious concerns that a sudden outburst of energy could cause me to drown in a puddle of my own perspiration. The week is a lot like how I envision fat camp to be. To me the only difference between a beach vacation and fat camp is I don't have to hide chocolate under my pillow.

There are three things I'm really good at -- eating, sweating and complaining. Amazingly, a beach vacation allows me to do all three at the same time. I was able to showcase my talents almost immediately, upon arrival at the condo we'd be staying at for the week with my wife's sister and her family.

After unloading and carrying a minivan full of crap up to the living space in 90-degree heat and off the charts humidity with very little assistance from any of my two older and able-bodied children, I'm sure I looked like I had lost a fight with a fire hose. I was suturated, miserable and ready for beer. I opened a cold bottle of the liquid gold and held it to my forehead, providing me a cool but all too brief reprieve from this nighmarish sweat episode. It barely changed the status of my sweat glands. Apparantly, no one told them I was done exerting myself. The spigot needed to be turned off and nothing was working.

To go with the beer, I grabbed a doggy bag of uneaten food from the counter. We stopped at a Mexican restaurant before arriving at the condo and my daughter failed to do any damage to a giant beef burrito and some refried beans. I'm so glad I had kids with shit-tiny appetites. There's always a snack or two for daddy after we eat out.

After doing my best Joey Chestnut imitation on the leftovers, I noticed my brother-in-law sitting comfortably on the balcony, sipping his beer and talking about plans for the week. But, there was something just not right and I figured it out right away. The man was completely dry! Not moist dry, but bone dry. In fact, my sister-in-law's husband was drier than my mother's meat loaf.

I tried to ignore it, but nothing could keep my mind off it. We both unloaded approximately the same amount of crap from our minivans. The difference is, I surmised, that my brother-in-law is in great shape. He does P90x and runs marathons. He's very dedicated. On the other hand, I once peed for ninety seconds and watched a Deadliest Catch marathon on the Discovery Channel.

The reasons for why I was out-sweating him were obvious, the most important of which was my extra baggage. But just because I know why, doesn't mean I can't resent him for it. He could at least pretend to be exhausted, couldn't he? Somehow, he was oblivious to my anguish. Damn him.

Finally, I had had enough.

"Hey, you're not sweating. What's up with that?"

"Oh, I sweat a ton."

My sister-in-law even piped in. "He's a big sweater." I thought that was funny because of the way it sounded and the fact that I actually do wear a big sweater.

Funny or not, I was about to take the gloves off when suddenly I decided I would reason with the man. Afterall, he was my brother-in-law and except for the times when he doesn't sweat when he should I really like the guy. Plus, reasoning is normally less strenuous than arguing. So, cooler heads (no pun intended) prevailed as I determined a pissing match over who sweats more would not be beneficial and might actually cause me to sweat even more.

"Okay." I took a deep breath, mostly because I was still winded from moving all that crap. "Look at me. Now, look at you. See anything different?"


"No, I want you to REALLY take a nice long look at me, then look at you."

"Okay. Well, now that you mentioned it. You're soaked."

"Yes!!! Thank you!" Finally, I was getting the credit that I deserved.

Reasoning really did work. I'd have to remember that for similar situations in the future.

Now that we had reached common ground, we stayed up late and well after the rest of our families were in bed, sharing our best sweat stories. It was a bonding experience that only a fat man could truly appreciate. Sometime during my fourth bag of Dorito's at around two in the morning my brother-in-law requested and end to the evening.

"I have a run in the morning. Do you want to come?"

"What time?" I feigned interest.

"Around seven."

"Ah yeah, I think I'll pass. I only run before six, but you have fun. And try not to sweat too much."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I'm Back...

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I've been away for a while, so hopefully there are more than a few hearts that are fonder than when I posted my last article in late February. And now that I'm officially back, I must apologize to those hearts that wish I'd have stayed away for good. Your email inbox is about to hate me.

Since the last time you heard from me, I landed a new job, started and stopped working out sixteen times and discovered fast food's nectar of the gods, McDonald's Pineapple-Mango Smoothie, which I had four straight days in late July.

Like Tiger Woods deciding to resume his golfing career, I've decided it's time to start blogging again. I fired my caddy and changed my swing. I just hope I can still make the cut. In my five months of silence I've accumalated quite a lot of crap to talk about -- I should be good for another two to three weeks before taking another un-announced hiatus.

See you soon.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Idiot's Guide To 2012

Remember when we partied like it was 1999? Well, some of us did -- and I'm still trying to pay that off. Though it was my last brush with pure peer pressure, it was surely my most costly brush with peer pressure. Hell, all the computers in the world would be too stupid to figure out that 2000 comes after 1999, right? When that happened, the whole of civilization's technology would stop working, rendering the human race exponentially more dysfunctional than we already were.

But, something happened when the clock struck twelve on New Year's Eve 1999. Dick Clark was still rockin' on our concave picture tube television sets. The giant crystal ball didn't malfunction and explode into a billion pieces right there in Times Square. And guess what? We would all survive into the new millenium. Catastrophe averted.

1999 was supposed to be "the end of the world." And, it proved to be a lot of worry and not much excitement. Boooo!!! You know, someday I'd like to finish what I start. Uh, maybe the world ending is a bad place to start, or should I say finish.

For those disappointed that the world didn't come to a halt, don't worry, there's a new end of the world just around the corner. This one is based on the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012. December 21st, 2012 to be exact, so think of all the money you'll be saving on Christmas presents. What's really cool about this end of the world prediction is that the world-famous prognosticator, Nostrodamus, concurs with the Mayans -- 2012 is the new 1999.

Apparantly, Mayan prophecy is all the rage on elementary school playgrounds these days. My ten-year-old son asked me the other day if the world was going to end in 2012. I asked him where he heard that, which I find out later is not the most calming response to a question of such magnitude. Asking someone where they heard something immediately gives credence to the rumor, followed by a cause for alarm. I covered for my faux paux with a quick, "Well, I'm still waiting for the killer bees to get us."

"Killer bees?" My son started to tremble.

"Listen, the world's not coming to an end in 2012. You know how I know?"


"Because the world was supposed to come to an end in 1999 when all the computers would stop working. It didn't happen. When I was a kid, they told us World War III was coming and we'd blow ourselves up with nukes." My kid knows about nukes from his experience with Call of Duty: Black Ops. I know it's rated Mature, but it sure comes in handy for conversations like this. So who's the bad parent now?

"That never happened, right Dad."

"Right son." Sometimes he amazes me with his grasp of comlex things. Like understanding that since we were still talking the world hadn't ended. What a genius boy I begat. "And those killer bees, they never happened either. I remember being scared to death watching the news about how the killer bees would be in Ohio by 1978. We'd all be dead and the bees would take over the world. I'm still waiting. Bird flu. Waiting. Swine flu. Still waiting. Giant lizards. You know it, waiting for those too."

"Giant lizards?"

I tend to romanticize the end of the world a bit too much. "Yeah, I came up with that one on my own. Sorry."

"So, we're not going to die?"

"We should be so lucky. I mean, don't worry son, you're destined for a life of disappointment, tragedy and heartbreak. Then, when you finally have enough money to really live your life, you're body will break down and you won't be able to enjoy any of it. It's the circle of life, kiddo, the circle of life. For a moment I felt like King Mufasa talking to Simba."

"Thanks Dad." My son walked away, seemingly more confused than when we started our conversation. But, I'd rather have him confused than scared out of his wits. Mission accomplished.

As much as I don't want to believe that the end will actually happen in 2012, some of the shows on the History Channel really get you thinking. What bugs me is that Nostrodamus, great prophet that he was, is unable to tell us specifically how the world will actually end. He's narrowed it down to volcano eruptions, comets colliding with the earth, floods and the sun somehow blasting us from hundreds of millions of miles away. So, basically he's laid out every possible scenario, a virtual smorgasbord of annihilation. One thing's for sure, I'm not buying what he's selling.

A common thread that runs through the Mayan and Nostrodamus prophecies is in the concept of major change that will take place in the world. Most believe that when the sun aligns itself with the center of the Milky Way in December of 2012, there could be potential for things to happen. Crazy things. Catastrophic things. I'll go with the scientists who looks at these types of things happened in the past. These changes didn't take place all at once, they said, but over thousands and millions of years. That's my kind of prophecy, slow and steady.

After our third child, my wife has been on me to get snipped, if you know what I mean. For Dick Van Patten, eight was enough. For my family, three is more than enough. But, I've been putting this "procedure" off, stalling like a Dean Smith basketball team running the four corner offense.

Now with all the talk about 2012, I'm more convicted than ever to not have the operation.

The other day, she bothered me again to "go see the doctor."

"I can't." I needed to for her to understand that this was bigger than the both of us. "If Nostrodamus is right and the end of the world is really coming, what if I'm the only man to survive? Who will help to re-populate the world? As tough as it would be for me, it would be my duty. I can't be that selfish to contribute to the extinction of the human race."

"Trust me," my wife shot back. "No one's going to be that disappointed if they can't have sex with you. You don't see me crying any tears, do you?"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

One Roman Collar, Please

I was a strange kid. Many would argue that I'm also a strange adult -- but I'm not in the mood for arguing, so I'll just accept it as fact.

When other kids wanted to be pro athletes or firefighters or cowboys when they grew up, I yearned to be a major league baseball umpire or priest or ornithologist. Aspiring to become an umpire at thirteen meant that I gave up on my athletic dreams at an earlier age than any American-born heterosexual boy in history. The priest thing at eleven meant I had lost hope in ever landing a girlfriend that didn't require a bicycle pump. And, the desire to become an ornithologist (basically a bird scientist) at age twelve was just plain creepy. Looking back on those Sunday morning birdwatching hikes with my mother and the local chapter of the National Audobon Society, I don't know how I ever avoided an adulthood filled with frilly pink dresses, self-induced lisps and Cher worship.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I should be able to look back on those days and laugh. But all I can do is cringe. To think of all the things I missed out on in my youth. While my friends were playing baseball, I was calling balls and strikes for nine-year-olds. When other kids in my class were starting to notice girls, I was acting out a Roman Catholic mass using a Pringle potato chip as the "body of Christ." And, when others were just waking up at a friend's house after a sleepover, I was in the metroparks tracking down a Great Horned Owl or tufted titmouse or yellow-bellied sapsucker. Sheesh.

What a loser.

I'm not entirely sure how or when I turned the corner and started to act like a normal human. My father's perpetual look of disappointment probably had something to do with it. Having a brother almost three years younger and four times cooler than me could also have had an impact. Whatever it was, I came out of my trance and started to participate in "normal" activities. I played CYO football, basketball and baseball in eighth grade. I played football in high school. My voice changed. Hair started growing in normally smooth places. Girls who once sprinted away from me without looking back when I approached, slowed their survival strategy to a liesurely gallop with a quick glance back over their shoulder to make sure I wasn't gaining on them.

Things were progressing nicely. I graduated from high school. I went to college. I graduated in only six years. Got a job. Got married. Got another job. Got a house. Got a mortgage. Had some kids. Got a few more jobs. A dog. Another house. Another mortgage. A second mortgage. Another job.

And, here I am. A perfectly normal life.

Yet, when you look at all the responsibility that comes with a normal life, you have to wonder if it's all worth it. Loads of stress and things I really didn't take into account when I hung up my binoculars and "Peterson's Complete Field Guide to North American Birds."

Now I have to think about paying bills and sending three kids to college and retirement. My wife has needs too -- like fixing things around the house, yardwork and free backrubs. And the kids? Apparantly, when you sign kids up for activities, you're supposed to actually drive them to the actitity and, get this, stay for the entire thing, then drive them home afterward. So much for my "me" time.

But, I made my bed. So...

The other day my wife and I went to dinner at the classic suburban Italian chain restaurant, Macaroni Grill. It's a nice enough place, with nice enough food. About five minutes after being seated, we notice a group of five priests walking in. But they're not just walking in, they're practically skipping into the restaurant. Big smiles on their faces. Laughing. Talking kind of loud about something. Each and every one of the men in black seemingly without a care in the world.

I turn to my wife and ask, "Look at those guys. How can they be so, so, so...happy?"

"I don't know. Maybe it's the eggplant parmesan special."

"No, that's not it. You know what it is?"

"No... tell me."

"When they were younger no one told them to put the Pringles down."

"What are you talking..."

"They said to the world, 'I don't need to be normal.' And you know how that turned out for them?"


"They live on their own, someone cooks for them, someone cleans for them, they work once a week and probably watch porn all day when they're not printing out next Sunday's talk from FreeSermons.com. They don't have to worry about what they're going to wear every day -- black shirt, black pants, black socks, black shoes. They don't have to tie a tie, they just stick a piece of white plastic into the top of their black shirt. That's it, they're done."

"And, talk about job security," my wife added.

"Yeah, isn't that the truth. Priests don't have to worry about resumes or headhunters or monster.com. Good economy or bad, God pays them the same salary."

Part of me wanted to go over and ask them what was so funny. But I already knew.

"You know honey, I think you're right. It must be the eggplant parmesan."

My wife just smiled and said, "I'll take that backrub when we get home."

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Lamented Valentine...

One of the things I truly love about my wife and what has kept us together for almost sixteen years is our mutual disdain for superficial holidays. Early in our relationship, we made a pact to never, ever celebrate Sweetest Day -- no cards, no handshake, nothing.

Anyone with half a brain knows Sweetest Day was concocted by greeting card companies in an effort to bridge the gap between Father's Day and Christmas. Though I'm one of the few who still sends out Labor Day cards to all my family and friends, I'm not a fan of frivolously planting holidays throughout the year for monetary gain.

Today is Valentine's Day, the cash cow of the greeting card industry. It's Hallmark's hallmark day. And as a special Valentine's Day gift to each other, my wife and I decided not to celebrate. I gotta tell you, her brazen disregard for conventional romantic milestones is starting to turn me on.

I know, I know, we're such bad people. But, I don't feel bad at all. In fact I feel a whole lot better about this Valentine's Day than the previous fifteen when, at a bare-bones minimum, I was out fifty bucks for long-stemmed red roses or twenty-five for a dozen pieces of chocolate-covered fruit -- sometimes I would even do both. Holy heck that's a lot of dough to be spending on two of the least unique gifts in the history of gift giving.

Our kids are not a part of our nonconformist ways. They celebrate Valentine's Day like every other red-blooded American child -- with a box of pre-printed cards and candy hearts. Growing up I too participated in this charade. It stung to find out that not every girl in my third grade class really wanted to be my valentine. What kind of holiday does this to an innocent boy? As scarred as I still am, I'm not about to push my values and beliefs on my children. They need to feel the same pain and awkward shame that I did growing up. "Sorry son, I know the candy heart Carly gave you said you were 'Too cool', but she most likely didn't mean it."

Kids can be cruel, but they ain't nothing compared to greeting card companies. A few years back I wrote a letter to the American Greetings creative department. My letter detailed just how I felt about Valentine's Day cards. I suggested a new line of cards for the more realistic child. Instead of the traditional "Be Mine" or "My Favorite Valentine", my cards would read: "You're In My Class" and "Don't Get Too Excited, I'm Giving The Same Card To Every Kid." See how that works? No satisfaction, no disappointment. The perfect holiday message. A month later, I received a big box of blank cards from American Greetings and a note that read: "Get Well Soon."

Even if my wife and I wanted to celebrate, doing so would be difficult. That's what happens when you have kids. Between a long day of work and our children's baseball and swim practices, we probably won't even see each other until sometime around ten o'clock in the evening. At which time I'll probably take a blank card from the big American Greetings box and scribble something inside like, "Don't Get Too Excited, I'm Planning To Fall Asleep In About Five Minutes Anyway."

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Super Bowl Loser

If you're a Cleveland Browns fan, the Super Bowl would have to be considered the most irrelevant sporting event of the year. My team hasn't been to a NFL championship game since 1964, before they started calling it the Super Bowl. There have been 46 NFL championship games played since then, 44 of them Super Bowls, which started in 1967, the year of my birth.

For me, a giant helping of Frosted Flakes and milk in a large Tupperware container is a Super Bowl. Normally, I could care less about the game, which is now only three days away. But the team I hate the most, the Pittsburgh Steelers, is playing the Green Bay Packers on Sunday evening. Steelers fans are known for waving a ridiculous yellow (they'd call it gold) towel over their heads all game long. Packers fans, or Cheeseheads, are known for wearing giants wedges of cheese made from foam on their heads. Let's see. I hate Pittsburgh, but I love cheese. Cheese makes the world go round -- it's my favorite pierogi ingredient. And any person willing to wear a cheese hat in sub-zero temperatures to watch football has my undying respect. Add it all up and you can probably guess who I'll be rooting for in Super Bowl XLV.

For the past few years I've DVRd the games, but only to speed through the game action to get to the commercials. Because Super Bowl games typically end up being duds, the commercials are very often the most entertaining part of the broadcast. I've worked in the advertising industry since 1991. So, if I'm watching with my family and the commercials come on I'll usually tell my kids to shut their pie holes while "daddy goes to work." During breaks in the game I become the Roger Ebert of Super Bowl ads. I used to keep notes and record my biting commentary on cassette tapes, but then I realized how strange that was and worried that my wife might try to use that against me if we ever have a nasty custody battle. "Yes your honor, I have the tapes right here. Would you like to listen to them?" At which point the judge would reply, "No that's okay, the notebooks will suffice. Visitation denied."

I don't really know who has Super Bowl parties these days. I haven't been to one in years, which means I haven't been invited to one in years. Part of me wonders if all these parties are really happening or if it's like the phantom holiday, Sweetest Day. I've never tried to do something with any of my friends on Sweetest Day and had them answer that they couldn't because it would mess up their romantic evening plans. Whenever I ask my wife what she's getting me for Sweetest Day, she starts to laugh uncontrollably and usually lands up on the ground holding her sides.

Because we're social outcasts, we watch at home. My wife always makes a few appetizers to have while we're watching the game with the kids -- things like nachos, crab dip and chicken wings. I've even been known to crack open a cold one. An empty beer bottle is something only a true Browns fan can love. If my kids get out of hand, the game pisses me off or the appetizers don't wow me, I lay down the law Cleveland-style, with a quick bottle toss across the room. Most of the time I don't try to hit anything, I do it just to scare them a bit. I'm not a big drinker at home, so I'll sometimes open the container and dump the beer in the sink just to have an empty bottle at my disposal. Don't knock it, it's quite a deterant.

A lot of people place bets on the Super Bowl. When I was younger the only Super Bowl bet you could make was on which team would win. There would be a point spread and all, but that's as detailed as it got. Nowadays you have the ability to put money down on how long the national anthem will take to sing (by the way the over/under is one minute and fifty-two seconds by Cristina Aguilera) or which side of the ball, offense or defense, will do the Gatorade dump on the winning coach at the end of the game. Apparantly, the smart money is on the defense since the offense will most likely be running out the clock.

Who comes up with these things? And, who's betting on it? Must be the guy who says, "You know I've never won a straight up Super Bowl bet, but I've got a buddy who gave me an inside tip that Aguilera's national anthem will only last twenty-three seconds due to a wardrobe malfunction. One of her sequins will catch fire and burn her left boob, forcing her to flash the entire world while she tries to extinguish the flame. I don't know how he knows this, but he said I could take that to the bank." Me, I'm happy with a couple of Super Bowl squares, a fundraiser for my son's baseball team. It's not considered gambling if you know you're going to lose.

I know not everyone feels the way I do about the Super Bowl. But if you're lucky enough to get invited to a Super Bowl party and there happens to be an obnoxious Steelers fan in the group, don't overreact. Wait until the commercial break is over, take out your lighter, then grab his stupid Terrible Towel, jump up on the coffee table and yell out, "I'm taking bets on whether this yellow rag will burn faster than Aguilera's dress."

Come to think of it, a similar incident got me banned from the last Super Bowl party I attended. Oh well. Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

An Unpopular View

I'm depressed.

I have no friends.

It used to be that when someone said that they had no friends, they meant it. Twenty years ago, if you had no friends, you either were really, really mean, or you lived in the cabin next to Ted Kaczynski, and you literally had no friends. Today, having no friends means you have only 342 friends, like I do.

The problem is, I don't have 342 real friends, I have 342 Facebook friends, only 42 of whom I would actually recognize if I saw them out in public. About half of that number would actually recognize me, partly due to the fact that my Facebook profile photo is not of me, but of George Costanza from Seinfeld. I wonder if any of those 321 friends who wouldn't recognize me have ever come across Jason Alexander, the actor who played George, and called out my name. Jason hasn't called to complain about this problem, so I'll assume it's a non-issue.

My 21-year-old niece has almost 1,800 friends. That's what got me so upset. I'm more than twice her age, yet she has six times the number of friends that I do. She's nice and all, but is she really six times nicer than I am? At this rate, she'll have almost 4,000 friends by the time she's my age. I'm going to have to "friend" everyone I meet for the next ten years just to keep her from widening the gap.

My thirteen-year-old daughter has begged and pleaded for my wife and I to allow her to have her own Facebook page. Initially we held strong in denying our child her placemarker in social cyberspace. My wife and I cave to just about everything else our children badger us about. Why have we been so unified on the subject? It probably has something to do with keeping our kid on the straight and narrow, not giving in to outside forces that could potentially distract her from keeping her straight A's or other important seventh grade things.

But now I wonder if the message isn't "Honey, we're doing this because we love you," but "Sorry honey, we're not allowing you to have friends." That's probably what she thinks I'm saying. Afterall, kids these days don't talk to each other, they text and Facebook and, well, that's about it. The only real personal interaction that ever happens between these kids is when they ask each other for their phone numbers -- a phone number that is only ever needed for, you guessed it, texting. I wonder how many generations it will take for our hands to evolve to about a quarter of their current size to be more compatible with small phone keyboards for texting. The same way I've been curious about how Neandrathals were able to wear baseball caps with those huge foreheads, centuries from now, children will wonder how those "giant-fingered" people were even able to text on a cell phone. I'm sure some 24th-century science center will offer an attraction allowing people to put their small hands into specially-designed 21st-century gloves that will give you the feeling of having the same size hands my daughter had back in 2011. With the gloves on, you could try to use a cell phone or tie your shoes or thread a needle. It'll be a regular laugh-riot I'm sure.

Maybe my daughter and I really don't need friends. I only had a couple of really close friends until I got married. Then, my friends were the husbands of my wife's friends. That changed again when we had kids. Now all my friends are the fathers of the kids my kids play sports with. So, it really all takes care of itself. Right?

My wife thinks that Facebook is the devil. We used to make fun of people who had Facebook pages. She and I would see people profiled on the local news who were so consumed with social networking that they'd lost their job, their spouse, their house and were currently spending upwards of twenty hours a day playing Farmville and Mafia Wars in a little efficiency apartment with no hot water and a freezer full of pepperoni Hot Pockets. All we could do was shake our heads.

One day I got curious about how this whole social networking thing worked. It might be fun to see what old friends were doing these days. I made a game of finding people I hadn't seen in thirty years. That game stopped being fun almost immediately. A friend (a father of one of kids my son played soccer and baseball with) invited me to join his mafia on Mafia Wars. I reached level 21 in no time and was starting to build my own mafia when I realized where this was leading -- a social networking rabbit hole. I splashed a big glass of cold water on my face to help me snap out of it. My mafia has been neglected for almost two years now. I'm sure they miss their godfather, but I needed to remove myself from the world of online organized crime before it consumed me too. I could handle sleeping in my kitchen. I just don't like Hot Pockets.

After my self-induced intervention, I use Facebook as I'm sure it was intended, to play online poker and promote my blog. It's harmless really.

So, I made the decision to allow my daughter to have her Facebook page. My wife is not really happy with the idea, but I explained about all the security options she'll have so only her friends can access her information.

Upon hearing the news, my daughter sprang from her chair and gave me a big hug.

"Now I won't have to end up being a friendless loser like you! Thanks Dad."

I'm sure she meant to say something else. I'm also sure she forgot that I have a 342-friend head-start.

That's all the motivation I need. Look out world, I'm about to become popular.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Good Fight

This past weekend my son's basketball coach came out of the closet. That's right, he admitted that he was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Being from Cleveland, I'm a hardcore Browns fan. If you know anything about pro football, you'll know that the Cleveland/Pittsburgh rivalry is like the NFL's version of the Hatfields and the McCoys.

So, as you can imagine, I took his revelation hard. There was something always not right about the guy, but I could never put my finger on it. Now that I know, I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to figure it out on my own. Dammit. I'm usually really good at sniffing out the enemy. It's like I have "Sports Fan Gaydar." Somehow this time I missed it. He must have been using some sort of elaborate cloaking device to keep me from knowing the truth.

But now I don't know what to do. Do I let my kid continue to play on the team and be coached by him? How could I allow this guy, a fan of the team I grew up hating more than my mother's green been caserole, to hold such a meaningful role in my son's life? If I found out our church pastor was a child molestor, would I allow my kid to continue to be an alter boy? Hell no. So how is this any different?

As any god-fearing Browns fan would do, I prayed about what action I should take while watching Biggest Loser. Then God spoke to me. Or maybe it was Jillian Michaels. Whoever said it, I knew that I needed to confront the coach -- immediately.

Since I'm not big on confrontations, I made use of modern technology to get the answers to my questions. I decided to text him.


He texted: "Who is this?"

Apparantly, he did not have me saved into his phone's address book. Simpleton.


He texted: "Steve Nash?"

Now he was just trying to be a wise guy.


Then he hit me right between the eyes with something I hadn't expected. "I grew up in western Pennsylvania. Sorry."

My balloon was losing air and fast.

There are so many Clevelanders out there who become Steelers fans just because they win more than the Browns -- they are referred to as "frontrunners." I assumed my son's coach was like the others. To find out that he was rooting for his hometown team, I softened up a bit.

I texted: "DAMMIT!"

There was really nothing I could say. When I was younger and the Browns were competitive, I used to punctuate everything I said, no matter who I was talking to, with a hearty "Steelers suck!" Unfortunately, the Steelers don't suck now. They are actually pretty darned good. Pittsburgh was playing Baltimore for the right to go to the AFC Chamionship Game later on. I decided to be the better man.


Baltimore is actually pretty good though too, but I was finally speaking a language the coach and I could both understand.

So, how does it all happen? How do people become fans of certain teams? To me it's pretty much black and white. You live in Cleveland, you're a Browns fan. You live in Pittsburgh, you're a Steelers fan. You live in Bagdad, you're a car bomb fan. You have no choice -- it's pretermined. I actually respect my son's coach for continuing to follow the team he grew up watching, despite moving to Cleveland. So many people seem to come here from Pittsburgh. Funny that I never hear of anyone moving from Cleveland to Pittsburgh. I've been to Pittsburgh, so I think I know why. Let's just leave it at that.

My kids, all three, are Cleveland fans. And, despite a lot of losing over the last decade, they are all Browns fans. It hasn't been easy. I've worked hard to make that happen. Several times during my career I've had opportunities to move elsewhere -- Syracuse, St. Louis and Dallas to name a few. Each time I turned down the chance to move. Sometimes the money was better. Sometimes the climate was better. But, none of them could offer me the security of knowing that when my kids got older they'd all be just like me -- a fat guy who roots for losers. My teams might not always win, in fact they mostly lose, but by keeping my kids on the same path, I've won the most important game of all.

The best man at my wedding, a native Clevelander, married a Pittsburgh girl. They now live in Connecticut and have two twin boys. On a regular basis, my friend tells me stories of how difficult trying to raise his boys to be Cleveland fans can be. First of all, his wife's side of the family poisons the twins with Pittsburgh crap -- t-shirts and jerseys and coat and hats. My friend's side of the family all moved to Baltimore more than twenty-five years ago, so they're now Ravens fans. This leaves my buddy to do it all on his own. And, by all accounts, Connecticut is one of the strangest areas to raise a sports fan. They are right in the middle of a tug-of-war between the New England Patriots, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles -- that's what the choices are where my friend and his family live. Now add the Cleveland Browns to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster, if not complete sports affiliation confusion. I try to think about my state of mind if I'm a kid living there. I couldn't blame them for taking up with one of the three local teams -- hell, they've been scads more successful than the Browns. But, it looks like one of the boys is turning into a Steelers fan. The other is still up in the air according to my friend. It's a fight I doubt he'll win in the end, but I respect him for even taking the fight up in the first place.

I'm sure to some extent my son's coach is living a little of the same nightmare, though it couldn't be nearly as bad for him, afterall the Browns rarely win and the Steelers rarely lose. There's a good chance they all move to Cleveland just to rub our noses in it.

So, what do I do with the whole coaching thing.

I picked up my phone.


What the hell was I doing. You know what happened to the indians when they started to trust the white man? No way. Not now.

Before he could respond, I texted a follow-up message.


I love technology.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow Balls

When it comes to snow, I'm conflicted.

If you grew up in Cleveland like I did, snow means something to you. Like "snow days" -- days when inclement winter weather would force the schools to close. The smart kids would relish in the reality of having another day to study for the big test or put the finishing touches on a class project. To the rest of us, school didn't exist, at least for a day. The test would have to be taken based on what I knew the night before. Having an extra day to study or work on a project would be tantamount to cheating. Deadlines are deadlines, right? Parents never understood the logic of a kid who just won the free day lottery.

As kids, we'd spend our unscheduled mini-vacation building snowmen, going sled riding, constructing snow forts and having snowball fights. In those days, the snow seemed deeper and the drifts higher, and not just because I was shorter back then. Yet, I don't once remember ever being cold, even after eight hours in freezing temperatures, with only a short lunch to break up the day. By the end of the day, we'd start praying hard for another day off, though we mostly be disappointed.

Heading to school the next day, we'd regret the time not spent on schoolwork. Funny thing, I remember the snowball fights in high definition detail, yet I have no idea what grades I ever received on the tests or assignments.

I guess my priorities were all in the right place back then.

As one ages, the thrill of snow diminishes. I've managed to hold out longer than most full grown adults. My wife being a school teacher actually helps. She has the ongoing thrill of seeing her school listed as "closed" on local network television. Even though I haven't had a "snow day" in over twenty-five years, dating back to my senior year in high school, I still check that same list of closings with irrelevant hope. Some day I'm going to see that St. Rita's school in Solon, Ohio is closed, put on my snowsuit, then run outside and pound out three or four picture perfect snow angles in the front yard. I'd then pack a few dozen snow balls and pelt a few of my sad-sack neighbors on their way to work in their cars while hiding behind my hastily-made treelawn snow fort. I haven't done it yet, but someday I will, hopefully before it's too hard too get back up after falling backwards four times.

Despite all of this, snow has become less pleasurable to me, which makes me sad. Before, when I was a child, my father was in charge of all snow-related chores. Now it's my turn. The torch has been passed. So, I'm the one who shovels the drive and the sidewalk and the walk leading to our front door. I'm the nice neighbor who helps the Indian family next door when they get snowed in. I curse at the city for forgetting to plow our dead-end street. And, when the city plows finally get around to it, they pile all the hard icy stuff in a big mound right at the end of my driveway. So, I curse some more.

But here's the worst part. Now I get cold in the wintertime. And that sucks.

When my kids want to go sled riding, lately I've started to cringe. It's gotten to the point that I'm just flat-out uncomfortable in the snow. Last year, my wife bought me a new snowsuit from Walmart. It was an end-of-the-season special and she purchased it without having me there to try it on first. It's well documented that I am proportionally a mess. Five foot eight and half and two hundred and something pounds. That's a lot to admit to, I know, but when trying on snowsuits, the humiliation is taken to an entirely different level. My new Walmart snowsuit fits me perfectly in a grand total of zero of the most important places. The legs are too long. The belly is too tight. And, the inseam -- well, each time I put the damned thing on my voice goes up three octaves -- in other words, it's uber-tight in the groinal region. Normally I'd be happy as hell to have my junk secure during physical activity. I'm less thrilled when that same security requires an ice pack after I'm done.

But who needs balls anyway? Hell, my wife has accused me of not having them for more than a decade. I've tried to envision the person who would fit perfectly into this winter torture suit. My best guess is that he's six foot eight with most of his body being leg, a mid-section the circumference of coaxial cable, and a very small vagina.

So the other day the kids finally got their way. At some point I actually felt like it was a good idea to go sledding. There's a great hill that's part of the Metroparks within a few minutes drive. The older two could fend for themselves, but the five-year-old still needs assistance. Parental assistance on a sledding hill equates to walking up the hill with the sled in one hand and my child's hand in the other. Not such a bad deal, right? How Normal Rockwellesque. Now, think about it thirty-three times, because that's the number of trips up the hill we made, each time more grueling than the last.

There are two jobs that parents have when taking the kids sledding. Hill duty, as noted above, was mine. My wife? Well, as I was trying to self-induce cardiac arrest with my upteen trips up the giant hill, she was...taking pictures. Being the sledding photographer is important. Having a pictoral record of the day of fun so that scrapbooks can be filled is a worthwhile endeavor. My only hope is that years from now the photo album won't be filled with pictures labeled "When Daddy's Heart Gave Out."

The good news is that I survived. But, what truly bothered me about taking my kids sledding had nothing to do with the inequity of the jobs my wife and I had to perform. Instead, it was the lack of etiquette that this new generation of sledders were putting on display. In my day, we found a spot at the top of the hill, waited until nothing was in our way, pushed off, then steered clear of things that would pop into our path on the way down. Back then, when we reached the end of our ride, we carefully walked to the side of the hill, out of the way of the next set of hill riders and walked back up to the top. Safety was always first -- that's the way I remember it anyway.

Apparantly, 2011 is a new day in sledding.

The kids and adults on the hill this day seemed to have only one thing in mind -- mame as many people as possible on their way down. My five-year-old was assaulted on three of her first four trips down. It's like watching a car crash from the sidewalk. You can see it coming, but are helpless to do anything about it. Fortunately, like her father, she survived each of the near-death experiences -- God bless innertube sleds.

The fun didn't stop there for these etiquette-challenged sledders. Once they get to the bottom, they get up, grab their slid and head straight back up the hill. Not out of the way of other sledders. Not over to the side of the hill. They go right back up the way they came. Right into the freaking path of oncoming traffic. The me-first generation is now affecting classic snow sports

Even though we had these inbreds to deal with, we did our sledding thing for almost an hour and a half. Good times and even better memories. I'm hoping that my kids will never stop loving snow. And, I hope that my five-year-old remembers the guy who schlepped her sled up that hill without complaining (at least to her). I know they'll have pictures to look back on this day thanks to the family photographer, their mom.

As for the idiots who chose to not sled the right way, I was going to say something to all of them before we left, but I didn't have the balls.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Who Stole My Meal Ticket?

My parents are snowbirds. They live in Cleveland from mid-May to mid-October. In mid-October, they zip down to their second home just outside of Orlando, Florida, spend about a month there, then back up to Cleveland for Thanksgiving and the December holidays. A day or two after the new year they're back on their way to Florida until mid-May, when the cycle begins anew.

Having grown up with them, I could never in a million years picture my parents making this sort of move. During my entire time living amongst them, we took exactly one vacation as a family. So you can understand my surprise that they moved a gallon of gas away from Disney World. I'm assuming they did it to torture me and my younger brother, overtly rubbing our noses in it and defiantly calling out, "Hey kids, look what we can do with our money. See what you're missing? You had to go off, find jobs, get married and have kids, didn't you? Don't worry, we'll tell Mickey you said 'hi'."

They have a nice comfortable life now and they've earned it. I'm not going to take any of that satisfaction away from them. But they do have a track record of selfish behavior -- it's not just the purchase of the winter home.

It started when they decided to add central air to their house in Cleveland several years after both my brother and I were out of their hair permanently. I suffered through so many sickeningly-humid summers during my youth. Night after night I would lose half my body weight in sweat. They weren't completely oblivious to my plight -- Mom and dad once gave me a box fan to use in my room so that the hot air could be blown at me all night long -- like sitting in front of a hair dryer for eight hours while I struggled to sleep. I remember complaining about not having air conditioning like some of my friends had at their houses. They responded with a twist to the all-time classic parental comeback, "I suppose if your friends' families wanted to all jump off the bridge together, you'd want to do that too?"

"Yes, yes I would. I'd jump right off the bridge with them if that's what it took! For the love of God, just make it cool in here!"

But their me-first ways didn't stop there. A few years later, right around the time I turned 30, they bought a boat. A boat? My father was going through a mid-life crisis in his sixties. All he needed to make the picture complete was a 27-year-old girlfriend and an ascot. The purchase of the boat hit me hard. It was actually my parents' second boat. The first, "the jet boat", was sold not long after I was born. Want to know why they got rid of the boat? Because of me. Apparently, having a baby really cramped their style, not allowing them to hit the lake on a moments notice like they were used to doing. Yes, that's right, I was blamed for sucking all the fun out of their lives. And, I heard about it constantly during my younger years. Like when my father would stop off at the marina to watch people back their trailered boats into the water and launch them into the lake for an evening of fun and frivolity. He'd then come home and do a recap for us. Always, the story would end with, "Yeah, we used to have a boat. She was a great boat. But then you came and ruined everything. Your mother and I couldn't just pack up and head to the lake after work anymore. No. Nope. I had to come home and change diapers and cook dinner and give you a bath and read you stories."

Comments like these were always followed with long, deep sighs from both of my parents. A silver lining to the new boat is that I haven't heard those complaints and I haven't felt the guilt since they brought it home.

The winter home in Florida was the last major retirement purchase. I think they've had it now for about six years. It's very nice and very well decorated. In Cleveland, the house I grew up in is still decorated in early-German beer stein. That's about all the interior design my mother ever did was to throw up a few collectible mugs on a wall shelf -- the rest of the room just seemed to settle in around them. But, in Florida, my parents turned into Vern Yip from Trading Spaces. They went with an African motif throughout their main living area and it really works. I'm actually very proud. Plus, it makes buying Christmas gifts for them so much easier -- any zoo animal made from some sort of metal will do.

I have to believe this occasional splurging on things they never would have purchased when my brother and I were around has led to an occasional guilt trip or two. I'm sure I'm the one mostly responsible for them, but I don't care. Any chance I get to point out how their free-spending ways have negatively impacted my fragile emotional state, I go for it. Sometimes I think it makes them feel bad, which is good.

One way they try to make it up to me is in paying for meals. Anytime we go out to dinner with them, they have to pay. My father is 73-years old. He doesn't hear as well as he used to and his reflexes are a tad slower than when he was younger, but at a restaurant he pounces like a female lion on a baby antelope when the check comes. There's no escape. I've tried to outwit him. Once I tried cutting off the waitress on her way to the table with the bill. My father, seeing what I was doing, leapt from his seat, ripped the check from my hands and then pushed me into the table of six seated next to us. I should have made him pay the dry cleaning bill too that day.

Now I just basically accept that when we go out with my parents, dinner is on them. Though I've never discussed this with them, it's my way of letting go of my resentment for buying all those cools things after I left home. If it helps them deal with it too, all the better.

So, when I noticed their 24-inch picture tube television had been replaced by a 60-inch plasma at their Cleveland house at Christmas this year, I nearly fell out of my seat. Fortunately, I was standing.

"What the hell is that?" The word "hell" is as close to a swear word that I've ever used in the presence of my parents. After our family left to head home the language was much stronger. "They think they can get away with this? Sonofabitch. They're leaving in a week. What do they need a TV that size for?" My wife tried to calm me, but I kept going. "I suppose buying us a meal or two is supposed to make me feel better? No freakin' way. Not this time."

On January 1st, I let them take the family out to brunch. It was our last hurrah with them until they returned in May. The kids got to say goodbye to grammy and grandpa, and I got to get one last free meal in before spring. On January 2nd, they'd be on their way to Florida and I'd be responsible for the tab if we decided to dine out as a family until at least May. Back to reality.

Or maybe not.

Last night I decided to take the kids to a great little place called the Brew Kettle for dinner. You can make your own beer in the back of this place (which I've never done), so they have some great hand-crafted beers on tap. We got appetizers. We got desserts. I drank good expensive beer.

My wife noticed a crazed look on my face at some point during dinner. "Uh, honey, don't you think this is a bit much?"

"Give me your phone," I said.


"Just give me your phone," I begged. She gave me her phone, a puzzled, possibly frightened look glossed her face.

I dialed, then waited.

"Mom. Hey, it's me. Can you do me a favor? I need your credit card number."
My mother asked why.

"You wanna know why? Really? Because I don't think you're finished paying for your television, that's why."

She then gave me the number, probably with the thought that I was being held at gunpoint, forced to make this call. If she gave me the number, they would surely let me go and wouldn't harm me.

"Okay. Got it. Well, I have to go now. By the way, thanks for dinner."

A smile crossed my face as I ended the call.

"Did they bring the desserts yet?"

Now I feel fine.