Sunday, October 24, 2010

Romancing the Mudge

I think in fourty years or so, I'm going to make a terrific curmudgeon.

Actually, if you can keep a secret, I'm already practicing for it. My kids dread it when I have my little curmudgeonly moments, but I literally cannot help myself. And truth be told, the moments kind of amuse me, even if they appear absolutely horrifying to others.

The other day we were at Borders, and Ashes asked whether she could borrow a few bucks extra for a book she was purchasing. I only had a twenty, but that's okay, because I needed the change.

However, I noticed that the cashier was going for a ten. "Can I please have at least one five?" I asked. "I need it for lunch money tomorrow."

"Sorry, I'm not allowed to make change," she replied, looking down at her register.

"You're not making change," I replied. "You're paying me back for the book we just bought from you. I'm simply asking you to give me a five with what you're giving back to me."

"That's making change," she replied. "And it clearly says in the rulebooks that we cannot make change, because, like, they don't trust us enough to do so, because, like, they're afraid that we'll give away money or something."

"You're arguing semantics," I replied, sternly. "Giving me change would be if I came up and asked you to give me four fives for a twenty. Giving me back the money you owe because I just bought a book is not making change."

"What's arguing semantics?" Ashes asked, as soon as we were in the, without a single five.

"It means she's full of shit," I replied. "She just didn't want to give me any of the fives in her drawer, so she made up some dumb excuse."

"That's awful!" said Theo, appalled. "You told that girl she was full of...crap!"

"No, I said she was arguing semantics," I replied. "That was a nice way of saying she was full of crap."

"But she's going to look it up in the dictionary when she gets home and find out you thought she was full of crap," he said. "And next time we go to Borders, she's going to be mean to us."

"One more place we can't ever go again," muttered Ashes, rolling her eyes.

"Oh please," I said. "She won't remember us next time we can go in. I can promise you that."

Ashes and Theo just looked at each other and shook their heads.

Or take church, for example. These past two weeks, our pastor has been promoting a rummage sale that's taking place. At the end of each mention, she'd conclude by saying, "So why don't you drop on by and pick up some rummage? It's for a good cause!"

I'd sit there in the pew, biting my lip.

As we walk out of the church each week, the pastor always makes it a point to say good-bye to everyone. It's kind of like a wedding procession, and one of my favorite parts of the service. As we were walking out of church yesterday and came up to her, I couldn't help myself. With a curmudgeonly twinkle in my eye, I said, as I was giving her a hug,

"How could you say rummage?"

"What do you mean?" she asked, somewhat taken aback.

"Rummage is not a noun. You rummage through things. That's a verb. You don't pick up rummage. It's impossible."

"But you say rummage sale," she replied.

"Yes, but that's an adjective," I said. "It's like saying you're going to pick up some blue."

The pastor thought about that a bit. "Hmmm. But you know what? I'm still going to call it rummage."

"I know you will!" I laughed, and we parted, with Corb walking behind me, shaking his head, just as the kids had.

"I can't believe you just said that," was all he had to say, in the parking lot.

I tell you, it's going to all be way more adorable, once I'm toothless and full of wrinkles. Once I get to that point, they're going to love every minute of it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Point Oh One Principle

"Daddy, am I your favorite?"

Theo asked me this last night, and not for the first time. It's a familiar question for him, one he playfully tends to ask, every other day or so.

Of course, I provided him with my standard answer, particularly since Ashes was sitting in the back of the car. "You're my favorite son," I replied.

"Am I your favorite daughter?" asked Ashes from the back. That's a more difficult question, seeing as I have two daughters and only one son.

But I'm used to answering that one, too. "I love both of my girls equally, Ashes. You know that."

"But if there are two of them and only one of me, does that mean you love your daughters more than your son?" asked Theo.

Ah, now there was a new question. Still, it wasn't all that hard to answer. "No. I love all of my kids, equally."

"That doesn't make any sense," replied Theo, with a smirk on his face. It was almost as if he were waiting for me to answer, that way.

"Why not?"

"Because three doesn't going into one evenly. Each piece is only .33333, and that goes on forever and ever. So, you HAVE to love one of us just a little bit more...just point oh oh oh oh oh one percent, to make it whole."

I stopped for a minute, taken aback. Dammit! Why DID Theo have to be doing well in math this year?

Later that night, once I was all alone, I called my father up on the phone. "You're lucky you had four kids," I said testily, the minute he picked up.

"Why's that, Teddy?" he asked.

"Four goes into one evenly," I replied. "It's all .25 for each kid."

Still, is it true? Is love spread evenly that easy to achieve? Does it really work that way? Is there a point oh one in every parent/child relationship, spoken but never uttered?

When I was growing up, I secretly thought that my parents kind of loved my sister Kerrie better. I mean, look at the Exhibit One: our nicknames. I was Ed Skunk, Tommy was Tom Turkey, Laurie was Miss Pigpen. Kerrie? She was called the Princess.

That kind of screams point oh one percent, don't you think? I'm a smelly skunk, she's a frickin princess? I tell you, it's enough to justify a session or two of therapy, at the very least.

As I got older, I came to realize there was more to that oh one than met the eye. Kerrie had been quite sickly as a baby. In fact, at one point, she had pneumonia and became so sick she had to be placed in an oxygen tent. She almost died.

Under that lens, I guess it's kind of understandable that she wasn't stuck with a mean nickname. I mean, Breathless would seem kind of cruel, don't you think? Gaspy wouldn't exactly be that nice, either.

When I was a kid, I didn't get any of that. So, I just up and made up my own nickname for her. She once had a wart, so I called her the warthog. There. Nyah.

Josie and Corb are both the youngest in their families. I think that the youngest kids typically get treated with a little point oh one goodness from parents, for the most part. Certainly I think it's the case with both of them.

Still, even though I was not the youngest, but the oldest, and I had the hard act of my sister Kerrie to compare with, I can easily recall times where I felt a little point oh one in my family circle. Nights where I could stay up a little later than the other kids. Or the piece of baked stuffed shrimp that mom and dad would set aside for me, when they'd prepare special dinners for just the two of them, after we kids had gone to sleep.

Maybe that point oh one is a fluctuating decimal. Maybe it doesn't stay on one child all the time, but moves about like the Golden Snitch in a game of Quidditch. Now you have it, now you don't. That would be perfectly reasonable, I think. For parents, it's a perfect way to spread the wealth...and answer the question, "You always loved him best."

I wonder who will get my point oh one today?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Love and Corn Chips

My friend recently posted a story about her first kiss, and it got me thinking about my first hits from Cupid's arrow.

Actually, my first kiss happened right after my First Communion. Wait, I have a photo of me from that First Communion, so you can see what a little stud I was.

There you are, ladies. It's kind of washed out, and I apologize for that. But if you can, look at me, all decked out in my little red First Communion suit, clutching the Good Book in my right hand. Pretty sexy number, don't you think? Was it any wonder that the First Communion babes in my graduating class found me totally irresistible?

Well, one girl. Her name was Kelly, and she lived a few miles away from me, in a farmhouse. Even though I can't remember ever hanging out with her before, for some reason, my parents thought it perfectly acceptable that to celebrate my big day, I would want to spend time in the company of someone I barely knew. Someone of the fairer sex. They wanted me to spend time with a...lady friend.

Can you say, "Boom chica wa wa"?

She had red rusty hair and lots of freckles. And I don't remember anyone being at her house that day, just her. We played outside her huge front lawn. At around two, she asked me whether I wanted a bologna sandwich.

I had never eaten a sandwich anywhere besides home before, and the thought filled me with revulsion. "No, that's okay," I said, not really wanting to sample food from another house. What if it had maggots?

"Oh, come on!" she said, like Eve tempting Adam with the apple. Remember, this was right after First Communion, after all. I was chock full of Biblical analogies. "It'll be good."

"I-I-I don't know if I'm going to like it," I stammered.

"Oh, you'll like it," she said, older and wiser than me by six months, and learned in the way of sandwich making. "I'll make it any way you like." Then she paused and licked her lips. "Mayo or mustard?"


"Be right back."

Five minutes later, she was back, with limp bologna sandwiches on two plates.

I stared down at my plate, at the unappetizing mess before me, and wanted to die. There was only one slice of bologna on the sandwich, along with one slice of cheese. And she had used wheat bread, not white! I lifted up a slice of bread. Oh, egad. She had smeared the entire sandwich with mayonaise. There was practically more mayo than meat.

Bravely, I lifted the sandwich up to my mouth and took a bite. It was more hideous than I ever could have imagined. Why had I been stupid enough to even attempt to eat food anywhere but from my mom or Nana?

I put the sandwich down. Five minutes passed. "You only took one bite," she said, disappointed, after finishing off her plate.

"I'm not hungry."

"Okay. Want to go upstairs and play a game?"

A game? Oh, I liked games. That would make me feel a lot better! "Sure!"

"Follow me." Obediently, I trudged behind her. We entered her shabby rural home, depositing our plates onto a table in the kitchen, then made our way up a long stairway, to her room.

Her place was a mess, of course. Dolls and clothes everywhere. Bureaus with drawers hanging open. Two beds in the room, one stripped of bedsheets. A big poster of David Cassidy (probably from Tiger Beat) hung over the one that actually had sheets.

"What's the game?" I asked.

"You're going to kiss me," she commanded. I tell you, this girl was quite bossy for a ten-year-old, thinking back on it. Probably grew up to be a dominatrix. But she said it with a smile on her face, and the freckles on her nose were cute, in the glow of the sun shining through the windows. But still...

"Kiss you?" I shook my head. "Oh, I don't think so."

"Kiss me. I'm going to open up this closet..." She pointed to a closet by her bed. "We're going to go in it I'm going to close the door you're going to kiss me for five seconds."

"I am?"

"You are!" She grinned, and I could see a slice of bologna sticking out of her teeth. "Why, are you chicken?"

No, but you're bologna. I shook my head, wishing I was anywhere but this room. "No. I'm not chicken." Of course not. Me?

She walked over past her bed and pushed the sliding closet door open. The darkness inside beckoned, dark and uninviting. "Let's go."

Reluctantly, I followed her into the closet. It was cramped and covered with shoes and clothes, both on and off the rack. Toys were everywhere. We could barely find room to stand. She reached past me and closed the closet door behind me, so that we were completely in darkness. I felt her body, moving closer to mine.

Then, her head, moving closer to mine. "Are you ready?" she asked.

"Sure." I lowered my head and took the plunge.

You know how first kisses are supposed to be all hearts and flowers, all eye opening? Tom Sawyer kissing Becky Thatcher? Violins play and the earth stands still? The touch of the lips from the fairer sex wakens within you a sweet flower, one that only grows and eventually blossoms as the years pass?

All I could think of was...Fritos corn chips.

Seriously! The inside of that girl's mouth tasted exactly like Frito's corn chips. And used, chewed Frito's too. It had probably been the last thing she had been eating, although I don't remember seeing any on her plate. She hadn't put any on my plate! So why did her mouth taste like Frito's? This was all I could think about. Did she brush her teeth at all that day? Did she taste like stale Frito's because her breath was just stinky and...

I tell you, those were the longest five seconds of my life. Marie Antoinette facing the guillotine didn't have it so bad. Standing there in that cramped closet, trying not to vomit, as I pressed my lips against those of a girl who reeked of Frito's. I closed my eyes and held my breath, trying bravely to endure the torture, counting down in my head, all the while.


"Okay!" I pushed my way out of the closet, gasping for breath. The sunlight never looked so sweet. "Well, that was fun. Fun. A fun, fun game."

She looked over at me and squinted her eyes. A wicked smile played across her face. "Wanna play one that's even more fun? Now we're gonna go back in the closet and kiss for ten seconds. With our clothes off."

That was it! I was out of there. Forget it. "Oh, no, I don't think so," I said, and started to head out of the room and down the stairs. Kelly followed after me, asking me to come back, to get back in the closet with her, but I had my mind made up. I was out of there.

I don't recall how I got home. I actually may have walked all the way. Even if it was a long walk, it didn't matter, anything was worth getting away from that house of pain. Of dark tiny closets, filled with girls with loose lips that smelled of corn chips.

Anyway, I didn't have another kiss for many years after that. And I don't think I spoke to Kelly, ever again. Can you blame her for being angry with me?

Since then, I have learned the pleasures of kissing, so don't worry, the experience didn't scar me for life or anything. And, I even like corn chips. I still won't kiss anyone after eating some, though, so perhaps it did leave a little scar.

Anyway, there's my story. Adam had been tempted by Eve, but the apple had turned into corn chips, and the Tree of Knowledge had withered right there, right in front of our eyes. I stayed in Eden a few years after that, but Eve had been banished. I lived alone in that garden, or at least, my parents house, embracing a life devoid of kisses from icky girls.

Kind of like my life today. Well, seasons come and seasons go. This just wasn't the season for me.