Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Encontrar Valor






Speaking Spanish has always been a struggle – a brain teasing, headache ensuing struggle. And it appeared as though the more I practiced, the worse I became. I now know what the problem was – there were two, actually. First, I never took advantage of the times when I had zero responsibility as a young woman to hightail it to South America and waterboard myself with the language. Second, I got a late start.

I was in the seventh grade when I was informed that a foreign language was a requirement to get out of middle school. I wanted French. My mother demanded Spanish.

“When the hell are you ever going to speak French in California? Knowing how to speak Spanish is almost a prerequisite to live here, so suck it up.”

So suck it up I did, and I found that I actually liked it. I wasn’t particularly great at conjugating verbs or twirling my “rr’s” but man, did I enjoy the beauty of the language’s sound, the effortless way it rolled off the tongue – not my tongue – and the smooth accents that dangled in the mouth – certainly not my mouth. That didn’t stop me from practicing in the mirror, pretending I was a Spanish speaking news anchor. I knew I sounded like a wounded animal, but just like hearing your favorite song on the radio and transforming yourself into Cindy Lauper, I fantasized.

My pipe dreams of being an ambassador or translator quickly dissipated over the summer months when I went back to my native tongue. I thought about practicing so I wouldn’t “lose it”, but with who? My monolingual mother? And practicing took valuable time away from my eight straight hours of MTV viewing.

Going back to school – starting eighth grade Spanish– was like starting over. I struggled to remember what I was taught, struggled to maintain a B. But that wasn’t the point. Not for me, anyway. It was to be coherent. Making the grades was certainly the point for my mother, though. In fact, getting into college was her whole reason for my existence and foreign language credit was an item on her elaborate recipe.

When I reached high school, I tried to give up, but the ol’ ball and chain parental unit insisted I stick with it.

“Spanish will look great on a college application.”

Not if I can’t speak it, Mother.

How was it going to look that I took six years of Spanish and couldn’t talk my way to the bathroom in an emergency?!? This gave me pause: why could I sit down at a piano, open sheet music, read it and play after only a couple of tries, but place me in the front of a class full of Spanish speakers and my brain would be stuck in neutral?

It’s the difference of seven years. I began playing piano when I was five. I started taking Spanish when I was twelve. The frontal lobe that soaks up a new language like a sponge becomes more like a smelly old dish towel after the age of say, eight. I might be making this up, but I am pretty sure I am in the ballpark here.

As it turned out, the longer I took Spanish, the more I sounded as if I were a tortured cat. I developed this insatiable talent for butchering its words so badly, that my teacher, Seniora Henriquez typically responded with combined expressions of wincing and inquiry.

There are a couple of Spanish phrases I will never forget, however. Those are not your typical, “donde esta el bano” or “cuantos anos tienes”. I have committed the following to memory: “hay muchas aplicaciones” and “el protector del asiento inodoro”, which translate to mean “there are many applications” and “a toilet seat protector”, respectively.

I recall my biggest stress factor in my Junior year of high school wasn’t making curfew or boyfriends, it was being called on to speak in front of my Spanish class. I remember getting a progress report mid-semester and discovering that I was barely holding onto a C. This would be the end of my life if my mother ever found out.

Then she found out.

My mother scheduled a face to face meeting with Seniora Henriquez and learned that I wasn’t applying myself, that I had lost my confidence. I questioned how I had any to lose in the first place. Seniora informed my mother that I had one last chance to pull my grade up by doing well on the final: to show the class how to do or make something.

How about show the class how to flip the bird? That required zero Spanish.

“Just study harder, then you will have nothing to worry about.” This was my father’s brilliant advice over dinner.

My mother’s advice was to give me the stinkeye each night until I miraculously got a B.

I began to think of everything that could go wrong with an assignment like this, which led to a true panic attack that lasted until four days before the presentation was due.

My mother finally broke her silence and asked what I had planned for my final, and if that plan would bring my grade up. I politely informed her that I would be failing Spanish that year and that perhaps she should set her sights on a solid community college education for her daughter. She could save a lot of money that way.

“You have got to hit this out of the ballpark and I have just the plan. This is going to require some open minded thinking on your part.”

Oh, boy.

The “how to” assignment was derived from a concept that originated during one of our family outings in San Francisco, circa 1984. I was around twelve years old.

My family regularly took the train into the City on weekends for dinner and a little fun. We came from modest means so we typically ate clam chowder on the wharf and used our limited funds on whoopie cushions and fake snot at the cheap novelty stores. We would also walk. We would walk and walk and walk until our feet were the size of bread loaves or our complaints coincided with the last train out of there.

On one particularly whiny evening, my mother and her best friend, Lynnie decided to use the public restroom together while my father, brother and I sat on a bench and waited for the night to be over. As a side, Lynnie was an exact physical replica of Laverne from the Laverne and Shirley Show, which at the time I watched obsessively.

Ten minutes passed, and I had waited long enough. I was past ready to get my preteen butt back home. Just as I headed for the bathroom to check on them, my mother and Lynnie paraded out the door wearing toilet seat protectors on their heads.

Like a bad accident, I tried not to look, but couldn’t seem to avert my eyes.

"Why, mom?"

"Why not, honey?"

They walked past us and began prancing down the wharf.

“What the hell are they doing, Dad?”

“How the hell should I know? And don’t cuss.”

Passersby stopped and stared with speculation. Some even asked what they were.

"Why, they are hats. They are also vests. Look."

Lynnie pulled the protector over her head and waved her Vanna White hand in front of her new collar.

“…and best of all, they’re free.”

The good, intoxicated people of San Francisco enjoyed their gumption. Some even went looking for a restroom so they too could have their very own toilet seat protector.

I, however, did not share in their jubilation. I, however, wanted to die.


But in a moment of uncharacteristic clarity, my father offered up the following:

“Pretend like you don’t know them, like they are some random crazy women, other kids’ mothers, and sit back and watch people’s reactions. It’s rather funny if you disassociate yourself from them. How do you think I have been able to stay married to your mother for so long?”

And so the night progressed with San Francisco providing a stage for my mother and her best friend. And a show I watched from a far.

“So, how many people in your Spanish class, Amy?”

Oh, we are so not doing this, Mother.

Oh, but we did.

We planned to grab, or as my mother put it, "pilfer” at least fifty toilet seat protectors from the Denny’s down the street from our house

“You may need extras in case this trend catches on.”

You're always one step ahead, Mother.


I spent the remaining three days translating my oration into Spanish and committing the terms for “toilet seat” and “protector” to memory. This was motivation at its core.

My presentation was called “101 ways to use a toilet seat protector”, or “Ciento y uno formas para usar un protector del asiento inodoro”. This little nugget of a project landed me an A and a better command of the language.

It also landed me in the principal’s office when 50 high schoolers were strolling around campus with ass gasgets on their heads.

Explaining to the Principal that I didn't swipe them from the high school bathrooms, but from Denny's with my mother three nights prior was a difficult and uncomfortable conversation to have. Hey, at least I didn't have to do it in Espanol.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tails of Dogtown


Even my dogs are weird.

I had one named Motagus. Pronounced Mo’ Tay Gus. My dad named him and then proceeded to throw him against a fence when he pooped in the house. It only happened once. My mother threatened to leave her animal abuser husband if it happened again, which created an unwaivering fear my dad had for that dog whenever he happened to be lingering about.

From then on, my dad was relegated to poop patrol, nightly feedings and telling “Gus” what a good boy he turned out to be, this for the sake of saving the marriage. Gus knew he had a pass for life after the “incident” and one could argue, took advantage of the situation . He ate my stuffed animals – gutted them, actually –he climbed on the bed, couches, ate scraps off of the dining room table. Even ate my mother’s beloved bull scrotum purse (see A Really Stupid Gift, June 18, 2011.) He was punished with a good old fashioned rub behind the ears and an “atta boy”.

Gus had a bad habit of approaching company without them knowing, and stelthly placing his unit on their crossed legs, their dangling feet. This didn’t bode well when my mother ran for city council and had her supporters over for coffee meetings. Gus would sneak under the kitchen table and sit frozen against a campaign manager or fundraiser’s foot, panting, hoping not to get caught. Invariably he did which caused my mother to uncomfortably explain that Gus was “fixed” too late in life and she's really sorry for the inconvenience.

I remember when Gus was fixed because I couldn’t write about him anymore in class. I was seven. I had just finished an essay about his large body parts. This is the actual class assignment:


Gus died happy and of old age. We missed him for his peculiar dog ways, for molesting our guests and for teaching my dad that hitting and throwing living things were not okay.

Then we had Misty, the Border Collie who would rather play ball than eat. My brother and I would test her to see if she would ever give up by throwing her beloved tennis ball for hours. We went for half days sometimes – summer was boring in Livermore; it was either test our dog’s athletic prowess or watch Huey Lewis and the News MTV video reruns until our brains throbbed with pain.

After her paws were bloody and worn and the tennis ball was but a fuzzy piece of rubber the size of a nickel, my mother would yell from the kitchen window for us to quit torturing the dog.


Misty developed bad hips but she would drag those hips to chase what we threw at her. The last straw was when I threw one of my brother’s “action figures” (read: dolls) for Misty to retrieve. She returned it while dragging the second half of her body back to us for another toss.

Then there was Max. I bought his pure bread highness for more money than I had shortly after I graduated from college and moved into my own place. He was a black pug with a sinus problem. He kept me up most nights with his snoring and he wasn’t altogether potty trained. He crapped in my roommate’s closet several times. I was grateful for this because my roommate was a little messy and didn’t find the poop until it was dried and pushed aside by her big clown shoes. Another blessing – my roommate had skiis for feet. Her bigfoot shoes covered Max’s doodies quite well until they were hard enough and thus, didn’t leave any smelly remnants behind on the carpet of our rented house where the security deposit was vitally important for when the house got too stinky and we had to move.

Come to think of it, I don’t rightly believe Max liked my roommate all that well because he never seemed to soil my room and I recall a few times where he took the opportunity to climb up on her bed and pee on her freshly clean sheets. Perhaps the warmth of the sheets made him want to pee, similar to the adverse effects of warm bath water.

I learned a lesson from Gus that I applied to Max. As soon as he was old enough, I made an appointment to get him fixed - whacked, as it were. I happened to impulsively mention this to my father in one of our “how’ve ya been?” conversations.

Me Pops was mortified.

In the days that followed said conversation, the old man left me thirteen voice mail messages. Let me clarify. They started off addressed for me. When I refused to return the calls, they were aimed at Max. The messages went something like this:

Beep: “Amy, how could you do that to such a spunky, smart sweet dog? He won’t be the same.”

Beep: “Amy, it’s dad again. How could you make my granddog a nutless wonder?”

Beep: “Amy, if you know what’s good for you, don’t take this dog’s manhood away. Remember what happened to Gus?”

Yeah, he leg humped our guests.

Beep: “Max, this is your grandfather speaking. If you can hear me, run for your life. Just find an opportunity when your mother opens the door for pizza and skedaddle out the front door.”

Beep: “This damn answering machine must have cut me off. Max, I will be waiting for you at the end of the street. Ruuuunnn.”

Beep: “Max, did you get my last message? Bark if you did. Or crap on the kitchen floor in protest. Don’t let her do this to you.”

If those messages didn’t seal the deal, nothing would. So I took the bastard in at the first available appointment. And when we pulled up to the vet’s parking lot, in true form, he peed all over the passenger’s seat. The only solice I had was that my roommate usually rode shotgun. I would keep this little secret from her.


As I signed the papers and payed the astronomical fee to have these little gems plucked – can’t you just tie a rubber band around them and wait for them to fall off? – I asked the receptionist if anyone has ever kept the testicles once they are removed from the dog.


Apparently, all the time. She responded as if I were asking for routine flea medication. She made me fill out some additional paperwork and said they would be available by the time I picked Max up.

“Perfect, I’ll take ‘em.”

Is it bad to admit that I was more excited to pick up the specimen than the dog?


The little meatballs appeared in a jar full of formaldehyde with a label that read, “Specimen: testicles. Patient: Max.”

This was the coolest thing I have ever owned, and that included the full suspension mountain bike on which I splurged impulsively the same year I bought Max.


I stared at the nuggets for the longest time. Not excessively long, though, that would be weird.

Max was sedated, and pleasantly calm in his pet taxi which allowed me more time to examine these little octopi.

“Interesting, huh?”

My roommate thought I had lost my mind especially since I used them as a centerpiece on our kitchen table. Not for long, though, I had other plans for Max’s peanuts.

Christmas, 1997, I found a little box in which the balls fit perfectly. I tied a bow and headed to my folks for dinner and gift exchanges. Hardly able to contain myself through dinner, I rushed through the meal to proclaim that it was gift giving time. And I was destined to go last, which almost became the death of me. My patience was wearing thin while I sat there through unwrapped china plates, new baseball gloves, scented massage lotion. Borrrrriiinng!

And as if time stood still, I asked Dad to reach under the tree for that last little gift.

“Especially for you, dad, from the heart.”

He tore the box open and held it to the light. He squinted to read the label. The next verbal exchange is not for public consumption. After his bombastic verbal vomiting, my Pops broke out in song,


Pug nuts roasting on an open fire.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanks, Jim



I am thankful for many “things” that I have in my life. Some of these things are actual things – my house. My job. My Southern Living Big Book of BBQ. My bathtub.

Most of these things are people. Putting aside for a minute (and it goes without saying), that I am thankful for my husband, Pants, our beautiful boy Yack and all of the family and friends I couldn’t live without, I focus on one individual who made me look at my life and those around me in a whole new way.

His name was Jim.

I met Jim in the lot where I parked my car for work. Jim lived in an abandoned garage about 10 feet from where my car resided for eight to ten hours a day, five days a week.

Jim bugged me. But I was successful in ignoring him for several months. He was dirty and he smelled bad. He always asked me what my name was, asked for money, food. This daily barrage forced me to be thankful that I had a job. If only Jim could get one too and leave me alone.

And then on a dreary winter morning, Jim inched his way into my cold narcissistic heart.

He did this by being funny.

“So what’s your name, darlin’? I keep seeing you every day, don’t you think we oughta be on a first name basis by now? Maybe you could muster up a 'hello' or a 'piss off'?”

What would typically be an averting of my eyes, I decided to look at him. Jim had a kind but worn face. I sized him up and figured he wasn’t a threat. I answered his question by giving him a five dollar bill and a smile. Perhaps this was my non verbal way of letting the homeless man know that I wanted to be left to my own selfish daily routine.

“Thanks, darlin’. I’m Jim. I figure your name is darlin’.”

Jim extended his hand.

I smiled nervously and walked away.

The next day, Jim was waiting for me as I pulled into the parking lot. It was a Monday and I know this because I had just spent all weekend snowboarding the powdery slopes up in Tahoe. You could do things like that when you had a job.

Since it snowed all weekend, my car was a dusty mess. You had to squint to see its true cherry red color.

“Hey darlin’, this car is a mess. Where have you been?”

I didn’t answer. I just reached into my purse to pull out whatever money I had left over from the beer soaked weekend.

“I don’t want your handouts. I want to earn them. Let me clean your car.”

And so goes the first conversation I had with Jim:

Me: What are you talking about? How are you going to do that, Jim? You don’t have access to a hose.. or soap, obviously.

Jim: She speaks. She stings when she speaks. Just because my appearance doesn’t lend you to believe I have access to soap, doesn’t mean I can’t get it. Look, trust me on this, when you get back from work, this car will be shiny new.

Me: If you have this car cleaned by the time I come back this evening, I will pay you $20. In fact, take the $20 now because you made me laugh on a Monday, which is a hard thing to do.. I won’t even ask for it back if it’s not clean.

Jim: Ma’am, I am an honest human being. I want to do right by my country. See?”

Jim then pulls out a credit card from his Velcro wallet. He explains that he can’t use it anymore, but he did and that’s what counts. He’s a good American. That credit card is his reminder.

Me: “Have a resourceful day, Jim. And P.S. My name is Amy.”

Jim: “Hells bells. Amy. Well, it’s nice to meet you, Amy.”

We part ways after we shake hands.

And I don’t wash my hands when I get into work. I cease to see Jim as dirty.

That evening walking back to my car, I figured I lost $20 to Jim and still had a dirty car. I made a mental note to hit up the carwash on my way home and perhaps give Jim a verbal lesson in over promising.

I saw the car before I saw Jim. It was spotless. Not a smudge in sight, as if I had taken it in to get it detailed. Unbelievable. As I circled the vehicle slowly, careful not to touch it, I began wondering how Jim did all of this. How did he get the water? The soap? Towels? Did he spit shine this thing? Pee on it?

I saw Jim sitting on the curb, arms behind him, watching me with a smirk on his face.

Me: “How, Jim? How did you do this? It’s beautiful.”

Jim: “I told you I would be resourceful, darlin’, er, Amy.”

I prodded Jim further to tell me how he managed to clean my car in the middle of a public parking lot but figured that his resistance in telling me was probably for my benefit. Being a coconspirator in some code violation or misdemeanor theft probably wouldn’t be too good for the rep. So, I didn’t push it further.

Our subsequent days together, Jim and me, were filled with banter, story telling, some cash exchanges – one way, of course and hugs. Big bear hugs. I remember looking forward to having my moments with Jim when my work days started and ended. He even walked me to work a couple of times but stopped a few blocks short in fear of my being seen with him. He instinctively made the decision to skedaddle before he felt I had to ask him to, saving us both the humiliation of that happening. Funny thing, though, I wouldn’t have been embarrassed having been seen with Jim, more protective of him. He was my friend.

About a year later, the abandoned garage where Jim resided was torn down and in its place went an upscale restaurant. I boycotted it for a few months until I tried their fried zucchini chips. I rationalized that the restaurant owners had little clue that they took a friend away from me.

Jim was gone. No goodbyes. Nothing left behind.

When I was downtown, I made it a point to look in places where I thought Jim might be. A couple of times after a nice dinner out with Pants, I would order and extra pizza and have Pants drive me to the church steps. I would get out of the car and ask those cold homeless people huddled together in sleeping bags if anyone had seen Jim.

Invariably, they all told me that he had stepped out, that he would be back shortly and yes, they will make sure my uneaten pizza will get to him.

Several months later, I was in the passenger’s seat of my coworker’s white pristine 5series BMW. We were en route to pick up some expensive fish and a new light for her tank at work. As we rounded the corner, I happened to look over at the bus stop and saw Jim amidst his peers.

“Stop the car.”

My friend asked why. I answered her by pushing the automatic window button and yelling out the car, “Jiiiiimmmmmmmm.”

He popped his head up among his crowd, saw that it was me, and came running.

“Amy, where have you been? Ha, I should answer that question. I had to leave. That restaurant was built and replaced my house. I have missed you. Still parking in the same lot? Heyyyy, nice car, and who’s this you’re with?”

Jim had his head inside the car window and was ogling all over my very pristine coworker and her very pristine car.

Coworker: “Um, Amy, what’s this about?”

Me: “This is my friend, Jim.”

While we were chatting, Jim’s friends all gathered around the parked car to get a look and by look, I mean touch. Their hands were all over the hood. And they were heckling Jim by asking if we were his girlfriends. I affirmed that we were.

Then Jim started to take off his shirt.

Coworker got nervous.

Jim said that he wanted to show me something. “I still wear the gift you gave me.”

I didn’t recall giving anything to Jim except for my loose change and dollar bills from my wallet.

Jim took off the six shirts he was wearing, one at a time, until he got to the very last one. It took awhile and coworker was getting impatient. He finally removed his remaining shirt and grabbed the pin that he had fastened to one of them. It read, “I’m broke.”

I am a lot of things, but mean spirited isn’t one of them, at least not since I have met Jim. I let him down gently by indicating that I didn’t get him that pin, and that I tended to disagree with it.

Me: “You’re not broke, Jim. I think you’re a very rich man. You have given me many wonderful things. I am forever indebted to you.”

Jim: “Well, when I make my first million, I am going to come find you and marry you.”

Coworker: “Can we go now?”

That was the second to the last time I saw Jim.

Five years ago, I was walking out of my hairdresser’s shop and I saw a shell of a man that resembled Jim. I yelled his name as if I was asking a question.

Jim turned around and belligerently asked, “who wants to know?”

It’s Amy.

Jim’s eyes were filled with yellow. He slurred his expletive laced words and stumbled down the street. His pants, holey and worn, were held up by a rope. He reeked of garbage and cheap booze. He told me to go eff myself. I got into my car and cried.

I think about Jim a lot, especially during holidays. He inspired me to spend my spare time at a homeless shelter where I help those without jobs put together resumes and 30 second, “tell me about yourself” pitches. I am not supposed to ask them about their past, what got them to this place, and I certainly cannot pretend that I know how to get them out. I am simply there to show compassion and be a friend. After all, I learned these special skills from Jim. I might as well put them to good use. It's the least I could do.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Dog Days Are Over? Not If You Know Camilo


One would think I had learned my lesson two months ago when I decided to step up my workouts with Midtown Strength and Conditioning’s devil in disguise, Camilo by getting a little mano y mano time.

The last time I got Camiloed, he ruined the way I saw the world. My thighs, my piriformis (if you don’t know what this is, google it. It’s a muscle I didn’t know existed), my belly, my traps - these body parts haven’t been the same since. But they, along with my brain, have short term memory loss and convinced me to come back for another beat down. And since I never travel alone, my dear friend Tye, who seems to be game for any hair brained idea, was with me last time, and agreed to join me for round two. Poor Tye.

Similar to child birth, we forgot the historic pain and decided to have another two on one. Besides, we were stronger. We were rugged. We just finished Tough Mudder. Bring it, Milo. Seriously, you won’t be able to tame these guns..

Tye and I had been shoulder deep in work, having just successfully put on a well attended seminar on public retirement (yawn) and even though our minds were tired, our sedentary week needed a jump start.

“I have an idea, Tye. How about tomorrow morning, we get Camiloed before work.”

Tye wasn’t sure he was mentally prepared, but who is after hosting 150 seminar attendees?

And really, did Tye have a choice? For the sake of me calling him names that resembled weak animals and crying babies, he relented.

Camilo, having already drunk a concoction of Red Bull, some amino acid sprinkles and something else that I am sure is not legal in the States, he had that crazed look in his eye when we entered the gym.

Listen, caffeine-hopped-gym-boss, we're going to dominate today.

Typically, Camilo starts his popular noon classes off easy (which I attend on a regular basis) – a little mobility, stretching, a slow two-block jog.

But like a seven on the richter scale, he launches into the hell that will consume us for the next hour.

He barks, “35 kettle bell swings.”

I should have ducked and covered. Instead, I grabbed a 26 pounder. He yanks it from my cold dead hands and replaces it with a 44 pounder.

I start to sweat. I glance at Tye who is sweating more than me, and mouths, “I wasn’t f%$%% ready for this.”

Tye doesn’t typically swear. This is where I determine that he’s mad.

We finish and I water board myself under the spigot. This sucks.

Camilo tells us we have 30 seconds to rest. That’s enough time for me to do absolutely nothing except for think about the next round of pain.

The next 45 minutes were a painful blur. They involved more burpees than my age. (Note: I will be turning 40 in May. I should not be doing burpees at my age), prowler pushes with more weight than I can add in my foggy head, and medicine ball twists, slams, lunges and keg tosses, which made me think of beer, which then made me want to puke, which then made me want to lie down in front of the big industrial fan and sleep.for.30.more.seconds.

I peered at Tye only a few times. His sidewinder sink-eyes were almost worse than the push presses we had to do.

Sorry, Tye. Really, I am.

Let me to discuss the elephant in the room. I think I am capable of more than I actually can do. It goes back to the inflated ego thing. And every time I decide to prove it to myself, getting Camiloed humbles me. It’s a test of wills, a mental game I play with him, the gym, Tye, me. And I lose. Every single time.

I walk into the gym as a gorilla.

I walk out with a baby monkey on my back.

And it’s not without good reason. I have accomplished what I have set out to do physically, kind of..

I have completed the ever elusive double under jump rope.. embarrassingly so. In fact, if you blink, you may miss it and end up witnessing a tangled mess of rope and hair and a subsequent launching of whatever is in my hand at the time – water bottle or jump rope. Just make sure you are not within range.

I have completed my second Tough Mudder, but just barely. It took five and a half hours, 6 bandaids, 1,255 cuss words, and a couple of friendship enders.

With this extensive repertoire under my belt, you’d think I could handle Camilo by now.

Not so.

I just have to figure out how to master his workouts without him knowing it so he doesn’t decide to ratchet it up.

I don’t know if that’s going to happen. He’s too stealth a poker player. He won’t let me see his hand.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Devil



There was an incident recently in an elevator. I was at work. I was making my way from one floor to the next in the state capitol. I was lobbying. I was trying to convince law makers to vote a certain way on specific legislation.

It was during this one innocent little elevator ride where my mind went from an analytical, focused, politically charged bullet train to a crazed maniacal food fighting mess hall.

In a scrupulous attempt to make eye contact and small talk with my fellow elevator patrons, I caught the glimpse of someone of whom I had seen before. This wasn’t a fellow politico. This was a T.V. face or someone I had seen on the silver screen. But I wasn’t altogether sure. Perhaps I had seen her on a mail hit piece for a campaign, or in my bookmarked favorites on the Internet. I did what came naturally. I stared at her.

I also eavesdropped on the conversation she was having with her entourage to see if I could pick up on some hints.

The woman spoke. “I think that gentleman back there recognized me.”

And that’s all I needed to hear to capitalize on an opportunity and solve this little mystery. I faced her eyeball to eyeball and proclaimed, “Well, I recognize you too. Are you quitting the acting gig and moving into politics?”

To which she replied, “No, my dear. I am doing both. I am here to help our SAG union members.” (SAG is the acronym for the “screen actors guild” for those who aren’t in the biz, FYI.)

Aha! I knew it. She was an actress and one that I had seen a million times before in movies… or was it T.V?. And if you give me a minute, I can name what she’s been in.

Just give me a minute.

Due to pride and the timing of our elevator visit, I didn’t ask this actress, who looked a lot like Shirley Maclaine, what she had been in. I thought that would be rude and would show what a terrible spectator of pop culture I was. It was as if I wanted to give this stranger the impression that I was completely down with her career, and even came across as a devoted fan.

Besides, someone in the Capitol had to have run into her and picked up her name. I would therefore be able to answer the rest of my questions through a private Google search... what the heck has she been in?

Strategically, I used my work to sneak in a few frenzied inquiries. “Hi, Senator, please vote no on this nonsensical piece of legislation and by the way, did you run into an actress today in the Capitol? Why, you ask? Because I know I have seen her on something and it’s just killing me that I can’t figure it out. What has she been in? Well, I am not altogether certain. Perhaps a T.V. series or a movie. I can tell you one thing, she looks an awful lot like Shirley Maclaine. Have you seen anyone like that today? No? Okay, well thanks. And please vote no. Oh, and don’t forget to ask your colleagues if anyone matches that description.”

Was I a lobbyist or a CSI detective? I started embarrassing myself.

What an idiot. Let this go.

But I couldn’t. I began a furious texting campaign. Alert, Alert. Anyone with any information on an actress who was in the Capitol today, please notify me immediately.

I wondered why I was so crazed about solving this mystery, because really, on the grand scheme of things, who gave a crap?

I did. It started affecting my already unsteady mind.

I started having flashes of this woman. I closed my eyes and played out scenes that she had been in, asking my memory bank to send me any clue - was it Phenomenon with John Travolta? Was she the replacement to Ms. Garrett in Facts of Life? Was she Roseanne and Dan's neighbor?

That night on the way home, as I painfully focused on this mystery woman, I came to the conclusion that she was on Big Love. No, ER, that’s it. Or was it Six Feet Under? How about the movie Breakable with Bruce Willis?

Something in my brain always took me to the obscure semi creepy shows. So I did what came naturally. I started a Google frenzy. Here’s what I searched which was a complete time suck – I am ashamed to admit it’s two hours I will never get back:

Actress lookalike to Shirley Maclaine (I googled this three times)

Redhead actresses (there is an actual website dedicated to all beautiful redheads in Hollywood. Problem is, the pics portray young 20 somethings. This woman was slightly older than that.)

Favorite redhead moms

Crazy aunt actresses

Funny mother, silver screen

M. Night Shyamalan moves, character actor

John Travolta movies

Wikipedia, Facts of Life

Cast of Dexter

Shirley Maclaine looks like this actress (thinking that this would be different than the first entry).

You may be thinking that I have better things to do. This is a fact. I had to put my sweet son Yack down for bed. I had to pay some attention to my husband, Pants. I had to get my head in the game for tomorrow’s Capitol brawls.

But none of this happened.

My last resort was Facebook. I posted the following as my status: I am going nuts trying to figure this out. Ran into the actress today at the capitol who looks just like Shirley MacClaine. She and I chatted but I was too proud to ask her what her name was. Please, anyone, let me know who she is or I will lose sleep tonight.

I received 66 responses, which included such entries as: “was it Lily Tomlin?”

Come on. Does Lily Tomlin have light red hair and look like Shirley Maclaine? No. Please. I know who Lily Tomlin is and I would bow down and kiss her feet right there in the elevator if it were her. I mean, really, who didn’t see The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe?

And then my Facebook community really started to let me down with responses such as: Bo Derek, Charlotte Rae, Carrot Top, Shirley Maclaine – are you sure it wasn’t her?

Don’t get me wrong, I was very appreciative of the 66 responses and accompanying support, but help me solve a problem, for the love of…

I dreamt about my mystery woman that night. I saw her in a court room. She was a defendant. She was crazy. Too bad I didn’t dream about who else was in the court room. Their faces were all smothered in Vaseline. My mind was playing tricks on me. My mind was the court jester.

I woke up pissed.

I had to find a way to put this behind me for the sake of my family and my job. I grabbed my phone and began re-texting everyone I knew. “Dammit, I deserve this. Find out who this mystery woman is STAT.”

I showed up for work the next day actually worse for wear. Eyes bleary. Head foggy except for the actress’ face clear as day, taunting me with her flirty, patronizing eyes.

Go away, I don’t care anymore.

Oh, but I did.

I arrived in the halls of the Capitol with the firm commitment to not think about Mystery Actress. That is until many people swooped down upon me, “did you find out who it was?”

No, and I lost sleep.

That’s the thing with Facebook. My problem becomes your problem. Very comforting, until you want to forget the obsessive nature of your mind. And so I was reminded..

“Oh hi, I was thinking it might be Cloris Leachman?”

“Was it Sofia Loren?”

“I have been thinking about your dilemma. Did you find out which offices she was visiting?”

No, no and no.

And just as I was about to throw in the towel and seek psychiatric help, I saw the SAG lobbyist.

“I will pay you a lot of money if you can tell me who the actress was who happened to be wandering the halls of the capitol yesterday.” – Eww, I sounded like a crackhead.

“Oh yeah, her name is Jenny O’Hara.”

Excuse me? I lost sleep over a woman by the name of Jenny O’Hara?

I began to shake between the time this sweet lobbyist guy uttered her name and the time I pulled up my iPad to search her image. (only thing an iPad is good for).

And there she was. As if we were back in the elevator having our brief but meaningful encounter.

There you are, Jenny O’Hara.

Now the real question had to be answered, why was I so obsessed? Why the reaction? Why the dust up? I searched the Internet Movie Database and read her filmography history.

And then it hit me. I had recently watched a movie called Devil where a group of people find themselves trapped in an elevator. The Devil is amongst them and the lights keep going out. Each one gets creamed during the course of the movie. The premise seems rather sophomoric but to tell you the truth, that flick kept me up for two nights straight. It’s bloody. It’s heart pounding. There's brutal death. And, (warning, spoiler alert) that crazy Jenny O’Hara had something to do with it.

That blasted movie had caused me to have photo flashes of Jenny O’Hara’s character in the rear file cabinets of my brain ever since.

And get this. It was written – not directed – by M. Night Shyamalan. Now, how does my subconscious know this?

Let me tell you, it doesn’t. It was just scared shitless seeing Ms. O’hara in an elevator.

I’m just glad I got out of there alive, and fully understood later who I was dealing with.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Ego Strikes Again


There are many things I have resolved not to do – most of them predicated on the fact that I simply can’t do them. Take running a marathon. That’s a nonstarter because my old man knees and webbed duck feet will give out on me on mile fourteen. I know this for a fact - I have actually made it to thirteen before my feet ballooned up like Grandma Vera’s. It didn’t go well when a couple of days later, I had to go to work.. I tried putting on my high heels. It appeared as though I attempted to stuff bread loaves into little party hats. And my knees merely couldn’t hold up that kind of pressure.

Spelling bees are also out. I have to spell check words like squirrel, rhythm, and weird. Trivial Pursuit is out too until I am 80 years old and can only pick the pop culture option. I’m a dummy on the fartless facts front. For instance, ask me where Cyprus is and I will likely tell you it’s a music station as opposed to a country in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Oh, and I will never skydive. Messing one's drawers at 10,000 feet in the air just doesn’t seem like a very good character builder.

Double unders were also on my “do not do” list too and for good reason which I will get to; that was until my ego got the best of me and I impulsively challenged a sweet, getting-into-shape unassuming 13 year old boy to a duel of sorts.

Blame it on my ego, or my father. But I've got a little swordfight on my hands.

Before I get to how I poked baby bear in the snout, let’s get to what these dreaded little physical challenges are and why I refused to do them.

Double unders, ah yes, think regular jump ropes on steroids. Instead of swinging the rope around one’s head and jumping to somewhat of a tempo once the rope nears the feet, one must circle that rope around the entire body twice before landing. That’s right. This is known as the elusive and un-teachable act of jumping one time per every two swings around the feet. I’ve seen it done but only by elite and exceptionally coordinated athletes at the Torture Chamber known as the Midtown gym. I have also tried it, almost repelling my head into a brick wall after my feet got hog tied in the rope. This unfortunate incident happened twice. Perhaps three times. Not so cool looking. Not to mention it took me years to master the patting head rubbing belly move. This seems way more complicated.

The most daunting aspect of this tangled mess, aside from receiving permanent facial scars from rope lash, is the sound. The jump rope is whipped so fast, it sounds like a 70 mile an hour wind tunnel on the top of a mountain range. Of course, I couldn’t make this sound even if I tried, but again, I have witnessed it and yeah, it's scary.

It’s pretty understandable that the double under was filed into my “do not do” folder for the sake of public humiliation, and also my life.

Back to how I am planning to crush this punk kid.

So, there’s this new trainer at the gym. We call him Irish Ed. He can whip up several double unders without breaking a sweat. I am unclear as to where he learned this skill, but if it was back in Ireland, I’m glad the double under isn’t an official Olympic sport or we Americans would be SOL.

Out of the kindness of his heart, or maybe the need to curb his wincing from seeing me try, Irish Ed has taken it upon himself to teach me how to master the double under. I have publicly given up on it about five times, not shamed to declare defeat. Again, there are some things I am just not cut out to do. But Irish Ed thinks I have potential. He apparently thinks that 13 year old kid has potential too because right after I waved my hand in Irish Ed’s face and told him to go coach someone else, the Kid, under Irish Ed’s tutelage, did a double under right in front of me.

That’s it. Come here, kid.

I can’t sleep at night with that on my conscience.

I asked the Kid if he had any money to his name.

He said no.

I said, “well find it, kid, because in a month, you and I are going to have a double under off and I am going to take $20 from you.”

Several gym patrons (read: rats) offered to spot him the dough.

And now it’s game on to see who can do more.

Problem is, Irish Ed is coaching both of us and Kid has a leg up. I may have to call foul and point to “favoritism by coach” if I happen to lose.

Problem #2: if I win, I appear to be a jerk for picking a fight with a kid and strutting around thinking I am the cat’s pajamas for beating him. And if I lose, well, that’s just pathetic.

So here I am, feeling regretful for opening up my egomaniacal mouth and deciding that something on my “do not do” list should be pursued because some punk kid can do it.

I need therapy.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Force Of Nature




One of my greatest pleasures is hiking in the mountains – the cool, clean air, the fresh pine smell, the blisters like little badges of honor. When I gave birth to Yack, I was destined to not let this little bundle of joy take away one of my favorite pastimes.

At first, hiking with the little man was easy. I plunked him in one of those baby bjorns, threw my hiking boots on and charged up the hill. After five minutes, the rhythmic bouncing of my stride rocked him to sleep and I was at peace with a baby boy who was subconsciously appreciating the same sounds and smells as I was.

This went on for a good year.

And then overnight, my one year old turned into a three year old. And he didn’t want to be strapped into a bjorn, or any other suspension devise. He didn’t want to hike at all. He broke my damn heart by wanting to watch Sponge Bob instead of hiking. Was this kid even mine?

He didn’t care about the singing birds, or the way our dogs sniffed for animal waste on the trail. He didn’t care about hiking the way I did. He only cared about Sponge Bob.

But as any good parent would, I forced him. Fresh air should be mandatory. Exercise should be required. Talking about the beautiful surroundings should be a part of one’s own moral fabric. I was destined, forced, to shape this kid’s psyche.

Even if it made him hate me.

The hikes thereafter were memorable, alright. They consisted of crying, tantrums and clenched teeth. Looking back, I am so ashamed of how I behaved.

I began to hate hikes.

One of the options was to drop him off at a sitter’s and trudge on without my little offspring, my sidekick. But knowing that I only spend limited time as a working mom with the little man, I didn’t feel right about leaving him while I enjoyed nature. Plus, I had to capitalize on the time when I had positive influence over him, not to mention influence over his English language. I vividly recall one hiking highlight where he picked up a large tree branch, jabbed me in the gut and said, “mama, mira, una pistola,” to which I retorted, “that’s not a gun, Yack. It’s a stick,” to which he replied, “ah, un palito”.

These are the moments that make me realize he is spending too much time at Nena’s, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

These hikes were my lifeblood. I had to think of something fast to comingle my son with that I thought was a mandatory educational experience, nature.

So, I did what came naturally. I bribed him.

First off, there’s only so much trudging up the hill I can do with him strapped to my back, and since my child toting backpack only allows for about a 25 pound kid, we are well over our max. So is my back.

This recipe for success may be criticized by my well read “PC” parental friends; to you I say, I don’t give a rip about your opinion right now. All I know is that my kid and I are at the top of Bear Valley so go pound sand.

Here goes: I take a large zip lock plastic baggie of Gummy Bears, which I usually replace with those organic fruit pieces. He’s three. He can’t read. He doesn’t know the difference.

I put these little nuggets of gold in my pocket and as if I were Hansel leaving a bread crumb trail. I explain to Yack that if he just make it up to that big tree log at the top of that bend, he will get two.. yes, two Gummy Bears. I may even pull them out of my pocket to show that I am serious, letting him follow his nose like Toucan Sam.

And then he runs, no, he bolts of the hill, with candied treats on the brain. He is usually at the tree before I am, hand out, waiting for his reward.

I am pleased. I like hiking again. But this feeling is fleeting.

“I am done hiking, mommy.”

But we have only gone 100 yards. I offer more Gummy Bears until he is completely comatose on a full blown organic liquid cane sugar rush.

“I don’t want anymore Gummy Bears.”

I ask Yack if he’s thirsty. And I question which way my moral compass is pointing if I am withholding water from my child as an incentive to soldier on. I have only mild regrets when I say the following, “you can have water, Yack, when you reach to that second redwood right above that ridge.”

And then he starts to sprint, with what is likely a mild onset of dehydration.

But I am enjoying hiking again.

When Yack has finally had it, he faces me, pink cheeked, sweaty, pleading for me to pick him up the rest of the way.

“Why don’t you get in the backpack?”

It’s too small for him, he explains. It’s for babies.

And it is. But I give him a choice: walk, or get in the backpack. (Leg cramps? He’ll get over them. I will be the one suffering from carrying him, no?)

He chooses the backpack. His legs flop well over the foot rests. His shoulders peek way over the top of my neck. He has undoubtedly outgrown this thing, but how else am I going to hoof this 35 pound ball of three year old muscle down the hill? I ain’t gonna pick him up, that’s for sure.

And so it goes. He sees a bird here, a lizard there. He wants to get out of the backpack five minutes after he is in it. I bribe him to stay in. “If you stay in the backpack, I will give you more Gummy Bears.” He says no. He starts resembling a Gummy Bear. Perhaps it’s the delirium I am experiencing as I struggle to put one foot in front of the other.

This punk is heavy.

As luck would have it, we reach the car. We’re exhausted. By the time we are done, he has gotten into and out of the backpack at least a half dozen times. It takes us twice as long to go half as far. He’s seen the requisite things I would like him to view on a hike – the birds, the large trees, the mountain monsters that live in the “jungle”.

We dust off and get into the car. Yack says he wants to watch Sponge Bob on my iPad. I hand it to him without saying a word as we drive off.

I am happy. I like hiking... today.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Getting Camiloed



It’s coming up on a year since I started frequenting the Torture Chamber. I shoulda quit when I had the chance – when I finished the Tough Mudder race last October and lived to tell about it. That was one opportunity. The other was when I threw my back out picking up a barbell “like an idiot”. I was out for an entire week and would have felt justified if I never returned. Or when budget negotiations were steaming up at the Capitol and I didn’t have time to even eat, let alone peel away for a butt kicking. That’s, let’s see.. three times at least within the past year that I could have easily said, “See ya, Midtown. Good riddance. Nice knowing you and your stinky kettle bells.”

But I keep returning.

I hope it gets easier.

It hasn’t.

I search for a day when I walk out of there thinking, “hey, what do you know, I don’t feel like my breakfast is going to come back up and land in the parking lot.”

And that’s why I continue to go. To one day say that I not only survived Camilo and his ridiculous sandbag throwing, dumb bell raising, sled pulling workout, but that I also did something relatively productive afterwards.

I’m not real bright, I'll admit. Case in point: every two weeks or so I dare myself to survive a little one on one training session with Camilo. This is after three days a week of his group class. I do this not because I don’t get enough during the classes, I simply want to see if it’s any easier than the last time we met eyeball to eyeball, barbell to barbell.

Well, one of two things is happening. Either I am not improving, or he keeps quietly ratcheting it up on me. I can’t tell either way.

That’s because Camilo is quiet. Uber quiet. Sometimes, I have to strain to hear him and the only way I can tell if I am being a good student is if I get the obligatory fist bump. I like the fist bump, also known as Fo’ Knuckles. Getting the Fo’ Knuckles makes me feel super sweet, like I could probably hang with Camilo and his old baseball teammates from college without them thinking that I am a dork tomboy wanna be. Yeah, probably not.

This past week was an especially humbling workout with Camilo. That’s because my ego was bigger than my mobility. You see, I may have bragged a little to a coworker friend of mine about how he probably couldn’t survive one of Camilo’s workouts. He just started at the gym because he is doing the Tough Mudder race with me this year (yep, not too bright). And I mentioned that having alone time with Camilo is not only reserved for veteran Tough Mudders but also for those who have strong inner strength. I was basically calling my friend out as a pantywaist.

My friend reluctantly decided to join me.

“Okay, Tye, but I have to warn you, throwing up is okay, quitting is not.”

He gave me his “whatever, bring it” look and away we went.

Camilo was already preparing for us when we showed up, buzzing around in fast forward. Tye looked apprehensive at best. I think he even whispered to himself that he wasn’t ready for this. I approached Camilo and gave him a friendly shot in the arm. Perhaps a little non verbal sign that I was bringing my A game today and my buddy Tye was there to try and keep up.

Camilo then picked me up, put me on the back of his shoulders and squatted me five times, just like that.

Uh oh. As I was being swung in the air, I started having some doubts. Camilo was onto my inflated ego.

We started off slow which was a good thing, because I was worried about Tye, would he be able to keep up with my stellar physical capabilities? Tye ain’t no wilting flower. He has muscles on top of muscles but this was a different type of workout. I wondered if his heart muscle would be able to keep up with my heart muscle.

We started off the hour with “squats” and “clean and jerks” and finished off with several sets of “snatches”. (I often wonder about the guy who made up the names for these moves.. and yes, he was most certainly a guy.)

While Camilo was working on Tye’s form, I stayed steady with my reps, hoping that if I finished before I was noticed, he wouldn’t add more weight to my very comfortable barbell.

Grab those 25s over there, Brown.

Here we go.

After a few of those, I felt blood vessels popping in my face. I wondered if they would be permanent. Does Botox fix perpetual eye bulge and varicose face veins?

He kept telling me to keep my heel down and my knee out while I pounded out my reps.

I reminded him that I have a club foot and have some limitations in what I am able to do.

He shrugged. “I don’t see any limitations. Just keep your heel down and knee out.”

Apparently, there’s no room for pansy-ass excuses, so I kept my mouth shut (very challenging) and did what I was told.

Tye, on the other hand was making me look bad. He was dead lifting like it was Christmas.

You just wait until we get to the conditioning part, Tye.

Next, Camilo had us do burpees. Fifty of them. If you know what a burpee is, you feel bad for me right now. Camilo showed Tye the proper form since he was unfamiliar with the movement. Camilo jumped in the air like a flying squirrel, landing on feet and hands, knocked out a pushup and then shot in the air clapping his hands overhead. Burpees are dreadful. Don’t try them at home.

After thirty burpees, I wanted to hurl. Tye was sweating enough to fill a water cooler, but he was keeping up. This pissed me off. Tye was supposed to have collapsed by now, with me doing my last set of burpees over his dead body.

Camilo then made us to sled pulls along the wall of the gym. Next, he made us do medicine ball slams – too many to count. Then he told us to get a set of kettle bells. I went to pick up the 44 pounders - my comfort zone. Camilo took them out of my hands and handed me the 62ers. I let them fall to the ground as my shoulders about fell out of their sockets.

He told us to go outside and start walking. Chest out. Holding the boulders from hell in our brittle aching fingers. He told us to walk to T Street – a half block away. Tye and I exchanged “I hate you” looks. He hated me for getting him into this. I hated him for keeping up.

I couldn’t make it to T Street. My arms felt like they were being pulled off. Tye stopped too. I don’t want to know why.

Camilo asked if we needed a short break.

No, we’re standing here because we like the way that orange tree glistens in the sun.

“Well, we might as well make the most of this time. Ten jump squats.”

How about ten kiss my butts, Camilo? How about that?

Tye and I realized in short order that every time we stopped, we would have to perform these excruciating leaps. Not to mention how imbecilic we looked to the passersby.

We suffered through to T Street. Camilo said we were now to walk to S Street. I wanted to take the kettle bell and put it in his mouth, but I couldn’t lift it past my hip.

You’re lucky, Camilo. One of these days I will be able to reach it to your head.

After five sets of jump squats – yeah, do the math, that’s five breaks – we made it to S Street. I placed my kettle bells down with authority, elated that we were finished.

That is, until I realized that these hunks of metal were somehow going to have to get back to the gym.

Camilo, you have a truck, right? We aren’t taking these back.

Camilo just smiled and told us that he has a surprise waiting for us if we get these kettle bells back to the shade. The shade, my friends, was only 10 feet away. I love surprises. I imagined him having a Snickers bar in his pocket. Or maybe he was going to offer us a cold glass of what my son, Yack refers to as aqua de limon.

“The surprise” happened to be ten sprints up and over the hilly lawn. Camilo stood at the top, egging Tye and me on to go faster. “It’s Tough Mudder season. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.”

I don’t like surprises anymore.

After the sprints, I refused to make eye contact with Camilo. I took my boulder sized kettle bells and sprint walked back to the gym. And yes, Tye was right there with me. I couldn’t shake this knucklehead. He was like a bad penny.

When got to the floor of the gym, we rolled out our backs and shoulders with Styrofoam tubes. Camilo approached both of us with his Fo’ Knuckles. Tye put his hand out to show me he was shaking. He was speechless.

Good, he got Camiloed too.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Champion


There are many ways in which to describe my father. He’s big. He’s pretty funny. He’s resilient. Very loyal. And competitive. Obsessively so.

Most of his qualities – good, bad or indifferent – rubbed off on my brother and me. We also unfortunately acquired his unhealthy competitive nature. As adults with our own children, my brother and I realize that we too would rather win than improve the egos of our kids by letting them enjoy a small victory. We must actively go against the forces of our own nature so as not to instill the offensive overdrive into our young and impressionable toddlers.

That’s right, as my father’s daughter, I have come to terms with the fact that my bloodthirsty quest for victory is a direct link to his parenting skills, and if I am not careful, this perpetual cycle will see no end. I resist the urge to follow in my father’s footsteps and go all gonzo on my offspring.

Admitting it is the first step to enlightenment, no?

My father is a winner. In fact, he’s never lost a game; not to his friends, his parents, his arch enemies, his children, his wife (with one minor exception which we will get into). He’s that dad you could never beat no matter how hard you tried. Even when my brother and I crafted our skills to be better than him, we never conquered him. It’s because he would rather cheat his kids than lose. I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he would rather lose his dignity than a game. Baseball great George Brett from the Kansas City Royals once said it best and I believe my father would agree: "If a tie is like kissing your sister, losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out."

To prove my point, let’s begin with a short and partial list of the games in which he has never lost:

Racquetball, tennis, cribbage, the board game Sorry, golf, soccer, sprinting, the basketball game Horse, tennis, darts, bocce ball, spitting, horseshoes, Pac Man, Mrs. Pac Man, and Solitaire – yes, Solitaire. He won every single time. Figure that one out. Or don’t.

One of his favorite expressions in the racquetball court after slamming the ball in our backs:

“This is a tough sport, kids. You have to be tough to play tough.”

So why didn’t we just up and quit?

“Because quitting doesn’t build character.”

And apparently, character is something every child needs in order to grow tall and not get picked on at school. I wanted some character, so did my brother. So we hung in there until it was dark, or way past our bedtime, or wobbly and weary eyed.

This character building, as we had come to learn, was another term for doing everything humanly possible to beat the opponent. Cheating was not necessarily frowned upon, but getting caught was. Flipping the game board if one was legitimately losing, now that was considered okay behavior. Technically, it wasn't quitting. It was merely a hiccup, a do over of sorts.

Aside from cheating and throwing tantrums, there are a few other strategies that I feel compelled to share here, because they served me so well in life. They are as follows:

Game: Ping Pong
Strategy: Lick ball when opponent isn’t looking. Put a lot of spin on it. Slam opponent in the face so if it doesn’t hit table, opponent will be too blind to see.

Game: Horse Shoes
Strategy: Clank horse shoes together behind thrower’s head, preferably right before their release.

Game: Horse
Strategy: Continue with the easiest lay up in the same location until opponent cannot hold ball over head any longer. This may be coupled with constant ribbing during shots. Warning: the game will likely drag on for hours without a miss. The challenger with the most endurance and height typically wins.

Game: Racquetball
Strategy: aim that bouncy blue ball right in the back of opponent as hard as possible. This will create a semi permanent donut shaped bruise and will inhibit opponent from gaining leverage. (It should be noted here that when we would play with my father, he would “teach us a lesson to get out of the center”, which required us to run all over the court. He, on the other hand, would stand in the same place during the entire game aiming the ball at us. Instead of playing racquetball, we played a modified version of dodge ball. Racquetball is supposed to be a great workout, but my dad didn’t lose a pound, even as the undefeated champion at our neighborhood club for two straight years. You can't get in shape if you stand in one place the whole time.)

Game: Trivial Pursuit
Strategy: This involves some handy work. Pick the card up out of the pile backwards, take a quick gander at the answer on the back of the card, memorize. Look like you are straining to think before blurting the correct answer. Look surprised at getting it right.

Game: Swimming
Strategy: Kick wide and don’t swim straight. The goal is to swim into your opponent, causing slight panic and confusion. Must be made to look like an accident.

Game: Darts
Strategy: having a very large and flexible torso helps. Lean as far as possible with toes well over the line. Act like you’re falling before throwing the dart. If this doesn’t work, heckle during opponent’s turn.

And if all else fails, throw whatever is in your hand – cards, play money, golf clubs, racquets. This will end the game immediately without anyone being declared the winner. This is known as a hung jury and another game will soon follow with slates clean.

This is how I grew up. This is what I learned from my father.

Doesn’t sound too bad, huh?

Well, the dysfunctional obsessive need to win didn’t stop with the games. It could be daily routines.

Eating: “Are you going to have that last French fry?”

If I didn’t eat my food fast enough, I’d lose it.

Driving: "I bet I can spot more words with letters that begin with S than you can. Ready go. “STOP! Street Crossing! Subway! Santa Cruz! Slurpee!"

Watching television: “I don’t want to watch Three’s Company. I want to watch Cheers. Where’s that remote control? I had better find it before you do.”

This invariably led to a mad scramble amidst the couch pillows, shag carpet, coffee table. Crying. Something breaking. My mother yelling.

Doing chores: “You better pick up the dog poop faster than I wash the dishes.”

And the most annoying part of losing was his ridiculous victory song. Chest puffed, biceps pumped, singing to Queen:

I am the champion - my friends
And I’ll keep on fighting - till the end -
I am the champion -
I am the champion
No time for losers
'Cause I am the champion - of the world -

I've taken my bows
And my curtain calls -
You brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it
I thank you all -

I never quite understood his need to beat small children at physically and mentally straining sports such as wrestling and word games and eating, but I recognized his pure pleasure in winning, which made me wish for someone to take him out.. Someone, anyone, needed to knock him on his knees. Do it for the children.

There simply was no stopping the insanity, and as personal quests go, it became an obsession of mine to get good enough to beat him at anything. I focused my efforts on ping pong. It was the only game that I could practice day and night with one willing participant. That was my mom. She always encouraged me to find a hobby. I told her that my hobby was trying to beat dad. She supported this. We played a lot. We played in the morning before school. We played after soccer practice, before bed.

Before long, my hobby became her hobby. She got good.

The ping pong games that my parents played were more than silly recreational occurrences, they were full contact sports. They typically ended in the dark, in tears or paddles being broken. These were not enjoyable times, watching the two of them battle. And why did my mother continue to play with my father? Because she knew that someday she would actually beat the bastard.

It was a day of infamy. It will forever be celebrated as a win for the underdog, the bullied, the victim. It was a win for those of us who lost to my father too many times to count, for those of us who suffered irreparable mental scars and permanent physical ailments. It was a win for those who experienced the wrath of humiliation. It was the Hollywood ending.

With one game, my mother leveled the playing field ad infinitum. My father would no longer be immortal; he was now just one of us – a normal person who loses a game once in awhile and then takes out the trash.

This is how I remember it: I had a couple of my high school friends over as we lay by the fan playing video games in the living room. It was nearly one hundred degrees outside and we were miserable. I assumed my parents were in full battle mode in the backyard because I heard the shrieks coming from the patio – a typical occurrence. I ignored the hollers for awhile, but they became so distracting, I peeked into the backyard to see how badly my father was beating my mother.

And there she stood almost completely naked with just the paddle in her hand, jumping up and down (my eyes, my eyes) in excitement because she was winning.

My mother’s clothes were wadded up in the corner of the grass.

Like watching a car accident, I couldn’t look away. With every point my mother scored, off came another article of clothing until she bounced freely like a front row groupie at a Kiss concert. Under normal circumstances, I would have been still with fear knowing my high school friends were within eye shot of my mother’s bare boobies. But this was different, my mother was about to beat my father in a game. An actual game.

I called for my brother. “You have to see this now.”

We all knelt down, eyes fixated on the game, petrified that if my mother didn’t win, our lives would be ruined. I couldn't breathe. All of us stared in awe; my brother and I giddy with slight possibility of triumph, not concerned with what Naked Mom would do to our reputation at school.

And then she won. And aptly gloated. Arms in a bicep curl, strutting her victory around the table, not minding at all that she had eye witnesses.

I am the champion - my friends
And I’ll keep on fighting - till the end -
I am the champion -
I am the champion
No time for losers
'Cause I am the champion - of the world -

My father retreated to his garage where he put his Chinese custom made ping pong paddle on the top shelf where it still sits unused to this day.

The aftermath was blissful, but short lived. My father still challenged us kids to competitive nonsense, but with far less fervor. All we had to do was remind him that he lost to an old naked lady, which put him in his place ever so slightly.

Of course, word got around school that my mother was a peace loving naked hippie, but once the story was explained as to why she did it, most kids who knew my dad thought that the expose’ was a tiny footnote in his defeat.

It was something that had to happen.

And so when I have the slight urge to jump up and down after beating my three year old in Candyland, I suppress those feelings, knowing that if I feed the hunger, I too may find myself racing his father at the track and field in nothing but my skivvies.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Really Stupid Gift



It was one of those typical years where my folks were, as they phrased it, “strapped for cash”. I was around ten years old; I had zero concept of or interest in the need to live within one's means.

My mother was an elected official at the time, making a stipend of $300 per month and my father was making mere scraps as a credit collector for a local energy company (read: small step up from repo man.) Their hard earned cash was going to the mortgage payment, bills, my brother's and my soccer sign-ups and dog food. That was about it. The holidays were fast approaching and my folks decided that Christmas wasn’t going to be the usual in the Brown family, which meant they were probably going to skimp on our gifts.

In order to deliver this harrowing news, of which my brother and I already suspected due to the noticeable increase in the Mac N Cheese dinners and “brown bag your lunch” pep talks, my father would wait until it was glaringly obvious and then call a family meeting.

He would order us to meet at the kitchen table in five minutes. “If you have to take a crap, hold it. This shit’s more important than your own right now.”

My mother was typically already at the table running her worried fingers through her hair, mumbling to herself about how she sure hopes we don’t have to “cut into the kid’s college savings to make ends meet”.

My father prided himself on providing for his family without spoiling his children. But we knew things were different this time around. Throwing threats of Christmas into the mix meant a whole new ball game.

“Alright, everyone take a seat. We are going to have to cut back on Christmas this year.” My father yacked on an on as if he were giving a power point presentation to a bunch of salesmen, “Now, in the beginning of this year, things looked good, but then we had to take a second mortgage out on the house to fix the roof,” (like we knew what a mortgage was anyway), “and we are putting money aside for your kids’ orthodontia.” Ortho-what? Hey, if Dad was giving me an ultimatum, either braces or Christmas presents, this wasn’t going to be a difficult decision for me to make.

“So, that means that you shouldn’t come to expect a lot of gifts at Christmas, okay? In fact, Mom and I aren’t going to exchange gifts at all.”

Obviously, this wasn’t the part of the family meeting they rehearsed in the bedroom.

“Tom, I am your wife. We will be exchanging gifts this year.”

“We’ll see about that one. Kids, go play.”

My brother and I retreated to our bedrooms, where we were forced to face last years’ useless, dilapidated toys. The heads of my brother’s action figures (dolls) were nowhere to be found, his snoopy nose was now a cat toy. My coloring books were simply colored, my soccer ball – nothing but a deflated piece of leather stuffed under my bed. We felt deprived, ripped off, desperate for a shedding of the old, and replenishing of the new. Christmas was spring cleaning for kids.

Come to find out later, my father’s ban on spousal gifts caused quite a riff between the two. They retreated to their non verbal avoidance dance for a better part of two days. That is, until my father relented.

They decided to tap into the creative. No gift was going to be over $20.. My mother’s requirement was that “… it can’t be anything stupid.”

And that’s how one little family crisis was diverted and another one evolved.

What lingers even today is the question: what really constitutes a stupid gift, especially if it’s thoughtful and personal?

Desperate times called for desperate measures, so my father conducted a nationwide search for the world’s stupidest gift. He started by calling his friends, Nutsy and Igor and Thomps. These are real names of my father’s real college friends with whom he disappears once a year on some grunt brained booze fest they call a golf trip.

Their suggestions were merely recycled versions of past gag-birthday gifts, a blow up doll here, a piece of fake poop there.. nothing seemed original. My father was becoming desperate and it started to show. As Christmas approached, he turned into a crotchety grump. Think: the Old Man in the Christmas Story.

One evening, on his hour long commute home from work, he was listening to KGO radio. They had a segment on “unusual gifts.” A sign from the cosmos..

And that’s where all of his answers came true. Getting The Gift did take some finagling. He had to call a company in Texas to have the gift shipped. He had to put it on the credit card. And since shipping and handling wasn’t included, he was going over his price limit by a few dollars. This took skills. And you have to hand it to my father. That isn’t a small feat when you have two bored and curious kids without any toys to play with.

The Gift fell into both requirements: cheap and stupid. When he phoned the company in Texas, he inquired about how The Gift was to be shipped.

The Gift arrived via UPS two weeks later in a pecan pie box. He was there to receive it. He hid it in an undisclosed location. Since us kids scoured that 1,400 square foot three bedroom two bath home, we figured he took it to work with him.

My father spent the remaining weeks before Christmas parked on the couch watching football on television grinning as if he had cracked the code . My mother, on the other hand was running around franticly, finishing up her last minute shopping, trying to decide what to get her kids for under twenty smacks. Does she go for the practical gifts like the Rag jeans and leg warmers, or the used Lite-Brite set? Typical household. Father is responsible for buying one semi sentimental yet totally cliche'd gift for wife, wife is responsible for buying gifts for kids, grandparents, neighbors, office coworkers, kids’ teachers and close friends.

To top off the Christmas that year, our tree resembled the rose bush in my mother’s backyard garden. Wait a minute, it was the rose bush in my mother’s backyard garden. It was disguised in homemade ornaments and cheesy blinking colored lights.

The gifts under the tree resembled the tree itself, camouflaged in fancy wrapping paper and bows. As any ten year old would do, I started tallying the to/from’s. I noticed I had three wrapped gifts, Jim also had three (leave it to my mother to never let on that I was her favorite child) and one gift in the very back for dad.

I asked my father where his gift to mom was located.

“Do I look that stupid? There is no way I’m telling you. You’re the family leak.”

It was useless to try and explain that I was merely looking for the wrapped present, that I wasn’t attempting to break into Fort Knox. I gave up that goal about two weeks prior, after I had wasted four hours of precious Saturday outdoor time combing through my father’s closet.

“Can we eat it?”

On Christmas Eve night, my brother and I stared at the unopened pie box in the fridge.

With a swoop of his bear paw, my father shut the fridge, almost severing our little fingers. Funny, this guy would dust off an entire German chocolate cake without even cutting it into pieces. One fork, one plate.

What made him have sole propriety over this pie?

This little shift in behavior set off a fact finding mission that my brother and I dove into with gusto. We stalked, cajoled, begged, threatened and tantrum’ed our way until my father had enough.

“Stop harassing me about that damn pie. You’re not getting any. It’s your mother’s gift.”

Huh? But why a pie? Why?

Why?

Why,dad..?

Why?

Why a pie, dad?

Why?

That's not a very thoughtful gift.

Why a pie?

Cuz that would be stupid if you got mom a pie for Christmas.

Why?

Why a pie?

“You kids redefine annoying. Go to bed.”

Well, Christmas morning came without much additional fanfare than that of the pecan pie wasting away in our fridge. Jim and I, as usual, woke up at around five a.m. and encouraged our folks to do the same. We all gathered in the family room for our obligatory gift exchange.

And so it went. Christmas was a total bust. I got clothes, and maybe a stuffed animal to add to my tattered collection. Jim too received clothes, and perhaps a baseball glove. My father received the usual – a tie.

Leave it to the lackluster response from two materialistic and somewhat spoiled preteens to brighten the Christmas spirit. We turned to our indescribable ceramic animals that we made in art class that year and handed them over to our parnets, unwrapped but half expecting them to be displayed as centerpieces for Christmas dinner.

And when all the gifts were unwrapped, my father sat on the couch still donning that cracked-code smile. He pointed under the rose bush and nodded for my brother to retrieve our mother’s pie box. It should be noted here that my father prided himself on waiting until he was last to do anything. His sole motivation in doing so was to torture us kids. These acts included but are not limited to: opening gifts, eating ice cream, redeeming circus tickets, throwing water balloons.

Jim grabbed the pie box from under the rose bush trying hard to avoid the thorns. He read the card, “To Cath, Love, Tom.” He then handed the gift to my mother as we all sat still and looked on.

This better be a God dang good pie.

“Now, wait a second,” my father said, “Tell me how much you love me, Cath.”

Harummph.

My mother opened the pie box and help up what appeared to be a hairy leather purse. “Oh, what the hell is this?”

She lifted the purse up to the light, examined it closely. She even put it to her nose and took a long slow sniff inside.

“It smells like dead animal.” My mother was disgusted.

My father was overly joyed.

“That’s because it is a dead animal. It’s a dead animal’s gonads. What you have there, my darling, is a genuine bull scrotum purse.”

My mother dropped the “purse” and screamed while my brother and I scampered to the floor to get a closer look.

We didn’t dare touch the bull scrotum purse.

After the initial shock of receiving a bull scrotum purse for Christmas, and countless hours of hand sanitizing, my mother grew rather fond of it. So, she hung it on the wall at eye level in the living room. She did this, of course, while wearing dish washing gloves that were disposed of immediately afterwards.

That purse hung on the wall for years after that dreaded Christmas morning. In fact, every time we went to the garage through the side door, we had to look at it, hanging there, reminding us that it once was the sack around a bull’s testicles.

It became something of a novelty; a show and tell of sorts. My mother began showing it off to people who visited our home. She was not selective. Everyone who entered our humble home was shown the purse.

My mother would tell our guests what it was very in a very bourgeois tone, as if she were describing a Jackson Pollock piece. “This is a present given to me by my dear husband back in ’82. It comes from the ruins of Texas. It resembles the huntsmen of a generation ago where bulls were sought for their meat for food, their skin for warmth and their scrotums for containers to hold valuable items. Why yes, you would be right. It is a bull scrotum purse.”

Oh, how proud my mother was of her heirloom.

And then the unthinkable happened. It was July. I was fifteen.

I remember distinctly my mother yelling throughout the house that someone had stolen her purse.

My father asked why she had left it in the car with the window open, just assuming that’s what happened.

“Not that purse, my bull scrotum purse. Someone has taken it. I knew I shouldn’t have left it out in plain sight on the wall for the world to see.”

And her incessant chatter about it. No wonder it was gone.

Everyone wants a bull scrotum purse.

But since that stinky old ball sack was so important to my mother, we all hunted for clues. We began a search and rescue effort of the entire property.

I was relegated to the backyard. I walked the parameter of the lawn while my 70 pound lab, Motaygus followed. I searched the long grass more to avoid the poopy mine fields than to find bull scrotum clues.

Then there it was: the leather straps to the purse. Tattered, chewed. And then I found a patch of gnawed ball sack five feet away in the bushes.

Yep, this sucker’s been eaten.

I looked down at Motaygus, who avoided eye contact. Guilty. Bad dog.

The suckiest part of this whole drawn out saga was that I had to be bearer of bad news, that Motaygus had put his front paws on the wall, grabbed the purse with his teeth and proceeded to eat the remains outside.

I mean really, what’s a dog to do? I am surprised it took him five years knowing that the smell was probably driving him nuts.

Nuts. Literally.

Oh, and as for my mother, she received a bull scrotum candy dish the following year for her birthday. It is prominently displayed on her kitchen counter where it holds several pieces of Almond Roca… wrapped, of course and out of reach of all domesticated pets.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Getting Schooled by the Pool





It began as a required feature during our house hunting spree five years ago. Pants and I wanted, no, needed a pool. Considering the fact that we suffer through 110 degree summers, feel a perpetual need to have fancy things around to attract friends, and harbor a nagging yearning to recreate the volleyball seen in Meet The Parents, it was more of a necessity than say a kitchen or bathroom.

You think I’m kidding.

The house on which we ended up settling was in a word, dumpy. But it had one hell of a pool. The first time I laid eyes on it, I thought it looked Olympic. Do they even make pools this big anymore? Certainly not, as it accompanied our 80 year old tudor. The pool came with a springy diving board to boot; I was giddy.

As Pants and the real estate agent were “envisioning” a complete remodel of the inside of the house, I was bouncing on the diving board in the rain donning my jacket and boots. Thoughts of margarita fueled swim parties fogged my head.

I was sold. We put an offer on the house that the owners couldn’t refuse. And since it was a seller’s market at the height of the bubble, we overbid. No one was getting this pool but me. No one.

The house needed so much work that we didn’t move in for eight months. I paid no mind. I went to my pool after work, on weekends and I swam in it lap after lap. Pants came along too. He had to. Someone had to oversee the demolition project inside the house. As he peered out the window covered in sawdust, I would wave during my backstroke.

I was happy.

Things began to change when we finally moved in. The pool turned on me, on us. The first red flag was the insurance agent. He told us we had to get rid of the diving board. He told us that it’s a liability waiting to happen. (If you jump at just the right angle, you can hit your head on the wooden patio overhang but only if you’ve been drinking heavily is there ever a chance of that happening, which knowing my guests, put the odds at probable.)

I freaked. There's no way we could get rid of the diving board. The property value alone would take a nosedive. Pants told me to calm down, that there was a way around this little snag.

So, we lied. “Yes, we will take it down.” We have since painted it with a grainy finish to really improve on the footing and grip. And this is after we were told that painting a diving board is not a good idea because you can’t see age defects or cracking in the board if it’s refinished. “It’s a liability.” Uh, yeah, we know that, but so is driving to work every day but you don’t see me scaling back that activity, now do you?

Then the pool started turning colors, a swampy green to be precise. It didn’t happen overnight. It crept up on us, starting with a slight Gatorade color. “Perhaps it’s the way the sun is setting, right, Pants?” I would sway back and forth, squinting my eyes from the kitchen window.

“Why yes," Pants would reassure me, "the sunset appears to be green this lovely evening.”

I knew we had to call in reinforcements when I was swimming one day and couldn’t see my own feet. So, we hired a pool guy, who told us that the thinger ma’ bobber needed a new motor. So we bought it.

That didn’t work.

Then another pool guy that we hired after “letting the other one go” told us that we needed to clean the filters every other day. So we did that.

That didn’t work.

Then Pants decided that he was going to tackle this little pool problem on his own. "No need to throw money at someone who isn't going to tell us how to fix the damn pool." So we began throwing money at troubleshooting. We spent nearly our mortgage payments on chlorine, metal free, acid, neutralizer, non neutralizer, de fogger, anti aging agents, algae controllers, and salt. Yes, even salt. And sometime Pants' efforts paid off, but only so far. The minute he would get it back from swamp to Gatorade, we would cheer with joy, knowing that a bright blue was within reach. But then we would have to add water due to evaporation, or was it a leak? And then we would head three shades back to swampland. I was afraid that I was going to lose something in it, like my bike, or my dog, like that Chihuahua found in the swamp in Florida after 19 days. Don’t believe me? Google it.

We began cancelling parties which is what I considered hitting bottom. Sorry, I would email, not this weekend. We are out of town. When friends asked if they could drop by anyway to take a dip (yes, we have a few friends under the category: "I am only friends with you because you have a pool and I am going to prove that fact while you are out of town this weekend and during the Winter when I will pretend not to know you), I would have to indiciate that the pool was under quarantine.

We began to retreat to the cool mountains, forgetting we ever had a pool or friends.

I gave up on that pool rather quickly, but Pants couldn’t let it go. It became an obsession with him. I would wake up at 6 a.m. and get breakfast ready for Yack. I would look everywhere for Pants, until I heard the scrubbing sounds of the Polaris. I would follow the sounds to the backyard, where I would see Pants sweeping the sides of the pool down in his pajamas. Stripy and flannel, if you must know.

Poor Pants.

Weekends were spent in hiding from our friends, with Pants driving back and forth and back and forth and “I have to make one more trip to the pool place before they close”. He would pour and clean and spray and take apart and put back together. I could add up the hours of time spent on the pool for you here, but I don't want to be responsible for spreading that negative energy around the world wide web.

On one particular evening, we were discussing Pants’ pool frustration with a sharp tongued and opinionated friend (those are my favorite). He told said friend that he had done everything he could do to that pool. He’s poured every type of product and cleaned every piece of equipment.

“There’s nothing else I can do”. He looked sad.

Snarky friend responds, “Why don’t you pee in it, see if that works?”

And that’s exactly what Pants did. He marched out the back door, stood at the water’s edge and proceeded to take a long, beer soaked leak into the pool.

But that didn't work either.

Then one day, the fifth pool “expert” came over and told us that the wood bench underneath the old and decrepit fiberglass at the shallow end of the pool was rotting - the cause of the green swampy tint. "It's probably making your skin itchy too." Funny, since it had been over a year since I swam in the damn money pit, I would be happy with a little itchy skin for the sake of a good ol’ half gainer.

Based on #5's assessment, Pants and I made the very difficult decision of draining the 30 thousand gallon pool (for the third time – our sincere apologies to our neighbors), and scrape off the fiberglass, take out the bench and redo the entire pool for the low low price of $eatbeansandriceforayear. Pants believed that by scraping off the fiberglass himself, thus exposing his lungs to asbestos and other unknown chemicals, it would save us a good chunk of the cost. It did, but if he keels over prematurely due to a rare form of lung disease, I am going to be pissed.

This little project took over three months, and cut into my pool time in a serious way. Alas and just in time for winter, the pool project was complete. And it was beautiful. Every shade of blue imaginable permeated through the glistening waters. I felt a sense of euphoria and a new found attraction to Pants. After an entire year of trial and error, my man mastered the art of pool maintenance. Perhaps we should start a side business.

But wait.

Winter ended.

Spring sprung.

And with the beautiful warm blue skies came an olive colored cesspool.

Pants ignored the change in our pool’s demeanor. He took off on a trip with his old high school buddies and drowned his sorrow in manly things and left me and Yack to stare at the pool in disgust. We attempted to ignore the pool by not making eye contact with it. We kept ourselves preoccupied with play dough and paints indoors with the shades drawn. We also went on long trips to the park. We even saw a pool at the local park, so inviting, so clean, so blue.

“Mommy, look, it’s a pool. Let’s go swimming.”

“No honey, we don’t have your bathing suit. Besides, we have a pool at home. Daddy is going to fix it when he gets home.”

“But that pool is yucky.”

When Pants got home from his trip, he called pool guy #6 who put Pants at ease the minute he arrived. He spoke in soft tones and used a lot of eye contact. He listened to Pants lay out the chronological trials of the pool while putting a supporting hand on his shoulder. If I wasn't mistaken, I might have even seen Pants shed a tear. I could be wrong about this as allergy season is approaching.

After assuring Pants that all will be right in the world, pool guy #6 dumped enough chlorine to blind a large elephant and told Pants to be patient.

That night, we went to bed anxious, hoping that pool guy #6 was here to save the pool, to save us.

And just as if it were Christmas morning in May, we awoke to azure beauty and a renewed hope for summer and our sanity.

So to my dear seasonal friends, you may return with your towels, your large brimmed hats and barbeque meat, for we are back in cannonball business. But make it quick. This blissful state of affairs is bound to be fleeting.