Thursday, December 29, 2011

Apply, yourself

"Dad, can we watch Rent tonight?"
"Sure!" Then I think about it. "Well, maybe...it depends what Corb's reaction will be when he finds out he has to sit through all that...ohhhhh..." I grit my teeth. "Shhh! Now listen, Ashes, I'm putting together all the stuff for your college apps. We need to concentrate on this."

And with that, I start to Google the next college on the list, so we can start the application.

Ashes nods and goes back to watching the fifth episode of Gossip Girl she's seen that day. Then, suddenly: "I want to play with her hair."

I look up from my typing. "What?"

"That girl. On the screen. I want to play with her hair. It's long, pretty, and blond."

"That's nice, Ashes. Now, would you mind it if we--"

"Oh my God! Did you just hear what Chuck Bass just said?"

Oh, my Lord. This kid! I decide to go travel down the path of patience. "No, Ashes, I was trying to concentrate on your college applications. You know, the ones that are due, like...now?"

"Oh." There's silence, except for the meaningless drone of Gossip Girl. Ah good, perhaps we can now make some progress! I start to type a little faster, unburdened by the curse of inter--

"Dad, didn't you say that Chuck Bass was from Desperate Housewives?"

--uptions. Dammit!

"Dad?"

I glance up at the television screen. "No, Ashes. I said that the guy standing next to him was." Then, I squint my eyes. "But on second thought, I think I thought he was somebody else."

"I mean, don't you just want to slap him in the face? Chuck Bass. Like, ten years ago, I would have totally slapped him."

I'm not sure exactly what that means. "Ashes, why don't we turn off Gossip Girl for just a little while? I bet we can bang this out in ten minutes. It really doesn't look that bad at all, really. We can just turn down the noise and focus on this, and then, you can go back to watching Gossip Girl. Okay?"

"Oh. Sure."

I turn off the television. Silence fills the room. Ah, this is nice...silence. I glance back down at the screen, and start to review the next field that we have to fill. "Now then, it looks as if we need to--"

"Oh my God! Dad, did you see on TV that there's this family that's adopted five monkeys? They totally run around and torment the family. Have you ever seen a monkey holding a steak knife? It's kind of adorable."

At that point, I want to throw up my hands. This is sheer craziness! I wonder what the college app process would have been like if I hadn't asked for a little concentration...

And yet.

Above all else, I am acutely aware that I am going to miss all of this, ten months from now.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Killer queso.

"That was some killer queso dip you made tonight."

"How so?" Corb looks over my way, his beady little blues eyes shining. He's in the driver's seat, we're making our way home from Josie's house. It's Sunday night, around nine. We've just dropped the kids off.

"Well, let me think about this. First of all, the second we're done with supper, Ashes runs into the bathroom. Remember that? I told you it smelled like bad gas, after she got out, and you said it smelled more like bad ass? You remember that, right?"

"Oh, yes." Corb smiles, entertained with himself. "I did say something like that."

"Then we get to Josie's house, and the first thing I do is run upstairs to the kids' bathroom. I tell you Corb, I thought I was going to crap my pants!" I pause, turn away from him, stare outside at the pretty Christmas lights, examining the darkness in my soul. "In fact..."

"Ted, you didn't!"

"No. I didn't!" Beat beat beat.

"But I have to tell you, it was the worst feeling in the world. There I am, running up the stairs with this awful squishing feeling hovering around the edges of my ass, and then I get to the top, and I realize that the kids have closed the doggy fence. The doggy fence was closed, Corb! And I can't figure out how the hell to open the goddamn thing. And so I'm standing there, fumbling around, trying desperately to figure out how to unlock the thing. Hoping, praying. Meanwhile, things are pushing out and pushing out and I'm squeezing my butt cheeks tighter and tighter, and I'm wondering whether I can just climb over the damn thing but then I think that lifting my leg up might not be a good idea...

"And finally, I get it undone! I run into the bathroom, pull down my pants, and sploosh! It all comes out. All of it, like a flood. And I'm amazed I made it, because honestly, my ass cheeks couldn't have brushed onto that toilet bowl for more than a second before--"

"All right!" Corb screams out. "Ted, stop it! That's enough, really!"

I try not to smile. "But I checked my pants, just to make sure."

"Ted! Really, that's enough!"

"And they're clean. And I'm amazed! But then I go to wash my hands, and after that, I'm leaving the room and wave number two suddenly comes on. You ever have a wave number two?"

Corb shakes his head. "Yes, Ted. I've had a wave number two."

"And suddenly, I look down, and I notice there's...ploppage on the floor."

"TED!!!!"

"I know! How could I not have noticed before?" I squirm in my seat. "I just don't get how it could have missed me. I mean, it seems like a mathematical impossibility, really. But I pulled my pants off, turned them inside out, checked my shorts, and still--"

"TED!!!"

"Well, there was nothing there. Can you believe it? Nothing there. Then you start knocking on the bathroom, and I yell at you to get away and use the downstairs. Josie must have loved the fact that we both went over there to use her bathrooms, huh?"

Corb grits his teeth. "Hey, Ted?"

"Yes, Corb?"

"You did...um, I mean, about the...um, ploppage. You cleaned up. Right?"

I roll my eyes. "Of course I did. She's not THAT bad an ex-wife. Anyway, that was some killer queso dip, Corb." I yawn, go back to looking out the window at the pretty lights. "Some killer queso dip."

That's when I felt another rumble in my tummy. Quickly, I roll the window down. "Better drive faster, Corb. Looks like wave three is on its way..."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

No debate about it, have yourself a merry little holiday season.

When it came to figuring out how to dress up my tacky little manger scene this year, there really wasn’t much of a presidential debate to be had. I mean, hands down, the Republican race has been the biggest source of unintentional entertainment for a while now…at least, for me. Combine that with an Occupy Wall Street background and badaboom! Instant American Manger, 2011 style.

It's been an interesting year, to say the least, but we got through it. Some of us even grew a little wiser, I think. I hope all of my friends have a great holiday season, a terrific Christmas (for those who celebrate the birth of the baby…um, teabag?), and good food plus holiday cheer in the weeks ahead. And, laughter. Lots of it.

My wish for the new year: Here's to many happy stories in the next twelve months, and the gift and ability to tell them well. I can't wait to see what 2012 has in store! I’m sensing good things in all of our stockings.

All the best,
Ted

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"If you can hear this..."

"There you are in Mousetrap, Paul. Love the pointy mustache!"

Paul grins and pulls at his pajama bottoms. His legs are so skinny. "Do you remember the guy who played the Inspector in that show? What was his name?"

Sue looks up from browsing through the scrapbook she holds in her hands, anticipating the well-worn story he's going to tell. "His name was Larry."

"Remember the time he was on stage in the middle of the final scene, telling everyone who the murderer was, and he forgot his lines?" Paul laughs. "So he walked off the stage to find where he was in the script and figure out his line? Remember that?"

I laugh politely (did it sound fake? I hope not) and grab his arm. "I know it was a good thing you were there to keep the show going."

"Paul is the master improvisor," says Sue.

Paul turns the page of the scrapbook he's holding. "Oh! And there you are as Scumbiscuit," I say, pointing to a picture of Paul wearing a ridiculous white pastry chef's hat, with the word 'Scrumbiscuit' embroidered on it.

"Mais oui, I am the, 'ow you say, Scoombiscuit," he booms in an over-the-top French accent.

"--and the master of a million and one voices," continues Sue. "He can just hear one once and bam! He can do it perfectly. Hey Paul, do you remember the first show we were both in? The director would come to rehearsal drunk as a skunk..."

"...and take out her false teeth when she got excited, and wave them around. Ha! Hey, Ricky!" Paul says, noticing an orderly passing by. The orderly nods politely, turns around. "I want you to meet a few people. This is my sister Sue, and her husband Rick. And this is my friend, Ted."

"Nice to meet you," says the orderly, and then turns to go about his business.

Paul turns his attention back to me. "Hey, you were in Jesus Christ Superstar, weren't you? You played Judas, didn't you? Were was that held?"

"North Eldredge High School," I replied.

"Great show, great show. Remember the two-record album? Man, I used to play that all the time. One time, a friend of mine took me to see it at PPAC. It was amazing. That opening number, right before they go into Heaven on their Mind...first, there's complete stillness, and then you hear the guitar come in..." And then, he proceeds to sing every note in the overture, staring at me intently.

I had forgotten that Paul liked to reenact albums. It kind of reminded me of my son-in-law, who likes to loudly play songs he's plucked from YouTube, in the middle of parties. Of course, in Paul's teen years, they didn't have YouTube...only vinyl. This approximation were probably his generations' form of mass communication (note: why yes, that was an obscure Jesus Christ Superstar reference. Thanks for noticing!)

I wait politely until he arrives at the fanfare. "I remember waiting for my first song to begin, during that overture. I stood behind the grand drape. The director wanted the stage to be completely covered in fog when the curtain went up. So I'd stand there as the fog machine poured smoke onto the stage, and it would get higher and higher and higher, until it was over my head. And I'd have to breathe it in! I tell you, by the time that curtain went up, I'd choke out, 'My mind is clearer now...'"

"But your voice wasn't," giggles Sue.

"Hey, you!" says a fiesty-looking Italian lady with dark hair, who it turns out, is Paul's Occupational Therapist. "You singing Pink Floyd again?"

Paul laughs, shakes his head.  "Nikki! I want you to meet a few people. This is my sister Sue, and her husband Rick. And this is my friend, Ted."

She nods appreciatively. "You sure have a huge crowd today. He tellin' you about Pink Floyd? This man knows everything there is to know about Pink Floyd. Paul, you show 'em the jacket we gave you?" She turns to me. "One of our orderlies had a boyfriend who made her one of the all time great Pink Floyd jackets, back when she was nineteen. She kept it all this time and decided to give it to Paul! It fits him, too, believe it or not."

Paul looks down at his skinny frame, at least a hundred pounds less than when I last saw him. "I have a little trouble with the sleeves..."

That rings a bell with Nikki. "Paul, did you go down for dialysis today?"

Paul nods.

Pink Floyd. Funny, just about a month ago, I rediscovered my Pink Floyd fascination, brought about by a Rolling Stone article on the anniversary of Dark Side of the Moon. "So, you're a big Pink Floyd fan, huh?"

"The biggest," says Paul, with obvious pride. "Ask me anything."

"Who was the original lead singer?"

"Syd Barrett," replies Paul. "Their first album was Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Of course, their greatest album, and the one that made them famous, was Dark Side of the Moon."

"Oh yes..."

"It starts off with the really quiet, but then, you start to hear this sound, coming out of the silence..." And suddenly, Paul launches into a recitation of the entire first side of Dark Side of the Moon. Sue turns her head, starts talking to Rick. Paul shifts his attention solely to me.

Politely, I listen. He runs through album, song by song. Speak to Me, then Breathe. Then On the Run.

"...and then, you hear the tick tock of a clock, and suddenly, there's a huge noise of all these clocks going off, everywhere!" says Paul, enthusiastically. "And then you hear the guitar, and then..." And then, he starts singing. "Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day, you fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way..."

As he sings, he gains momentum. I sing along, trying hard not to think of the situation Paul has found himself in, of the world within which he resides. Paul continues forward, the same old smile on his face. "So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking..." His eyes grow wide, he points to Rick, he's unaware of how loudly he's singing. "Racing around to come up behind you again. The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older, shorter of breath and one day closer to death!"

The punchline has been punched. Paul pauses. "Oh...what's next...I forget now..."

"Every year is getting shorter," I sing, helpfully. Together, we finish off the song. Paul seems pleased. "And then comes The Last Great Gig in the Sky. My favorite."

He nods, grabs my hand. "Do you know, if you listen closely to that song, after the second chorus, there's a section that sounds like mumbling? But if you listen really closely, you can hear what it says? Do you know what it says?"

I'm starting to feel a little uncomfortable, "No...what?"

He stares at me, dead serious. "If you can hear this, you're dying." He shakes his head. "That's what it says. 'If you can hear this, you're dying.'"

I glance away at Paul, look over at Sue. She brings a hand to her face. "How long can you stay, Ted?"

"What time is it?" A glance down, to the phone. "Oh,man. Have to pick up the kids soon. Guys, do you mind if we take a look at that jacket, though? I'd really like to see it..."

We pack up the scrapbooks. Rick and I head off to Paul's room, trade small talk. Paul lifts himself up, uses his walker to shuffle back to his room, Psychic Sue following behind. The jacket revealed, photos taken. Then, goodbyes.

"I'll be back," I say to Paul as I hug him.

"You'd better be," he says.

All the way home, I think about life on the dark side of the moon.



"What's the purpose of life, Corb?" I ask, later that night, as he's going to bed.

"That's easy," he says, stretching out his big toes. To live."

"Is that it?" I pace around the room. "It just seems so purposeless, if that's all there is to it. There's just got to be something more, if not, it just all seems kind of futile, if all that living means is you're going to end up in a--"

"But few people really live," Corb replies. "Most people spend their times obsessing about stupid things, like bills and laundry and day-to-day crap, and don't spend any time at all actually living. The trick is living, Ted. That's something only a lucky few achieve."

Living. Hmmm.

If you can hear this...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Operation: Scumbiscuit

One of my silly mystery nights, featuring Psychic Sue, far right. 
This one was called The Battle Royale

Just the other day, I mentioned in my entry on journaling a quote from the play Love Letters, and lo and behold, what should I receive this morning but an email from my favorite acting partner, Psychic Sue. Some of you may remember her from a memorable adventure I took to Heniker, New Hampshire to perform in a production of that play with her.

This time around, the message was not so cheery: "Could you possibly call me as soon as you can? I have new information about my brother Paul."

Paul is an old friend, too, although I haven't kept in touch with him as much as I have Psychic Sue. I certainly never performed in any productions of Love Letters with him. However, he was a kind, loving bear of a man, with a love for old Three Stooges routines, and he had appeared in a few of the wildly amateurish mystery nights I had written and directed (and sometimes appeared in) back in the days that I still had hair. His character was usually that of Scumbiscuit, a jovial French chef with an atrocious French accent.

Last I had heard from Psychic Sue, Paul had fallen upon hard times. He had been diagnosed with diabetes and as a result, lost his eyesight for some time, although two painful surgeries had partially restored that. He had even been homeless for a while, although Sue and family had managed to find him a good place to live.

Immediately, I called Sue back. Sure enough, the news was bad. After a short peaceful lull, things were tough for Paul once again. "He scratched his toe a few months ago," Sue told me. "And because he has diabetes, things got bad quickly. They've had to amputate that toe. But even worse, because circulation is so poor down there, the other toes started to die. So, they've made the decision to cut all of his toes off on one foot."

What could I say? I said the words that you say. To repeat them here would be pointless.

"Ted, the thing is, through all that he's been through, he's always maintained a good attitude. You know how he always was. Always smiling, always there to listen to other people. Never thought badly of anyone. But this one's getting him down. He's grown really moody in the rehab center. Still has good days. The other day, he told me that he had had the best day of his life, can you believe it? I asked why, and he said that they held a Halloween party for some area kids, and he had never laughed so much in his life. A kid's Halloween party and it did that for him! But there are other days...well, he gets down. Moody. He''s losing hope, I think."

I waited for the next step. I knew that Psychic Sue was formulating a plan.

"So, I was thinking about the fact that loved the mystery nights he was involved in, and also Mousetrap. And I was wondering, do you have any photos from those shows he was in? He still talks about all of them, and how much he loved them. They still bring a smile to his face...so I was wondering, do you have any--"

Aha! "Actually, Z, yes, I do," I said, moving into the bedroom. Josie and I had kept good care to record all of the shows we were in, back in the days when we involved with Eldredge Community Theater. We took dozens of photos, and maintained beautiful scrapbooks that Josie spent hours putting together. When we left the group, under not-too-pleasant circumstances, we had kept them, fearing that they would not have been treated very nicely by the group that was then in power. So, yes, I had many dozens of photos on hand.

Sue was amazed. "Oh wow...if you could just find a way to share them with Paul, that'd be great. I'll be coming home for Thanksgiving, but I'm not sure when I could stop over. I'll be with family all day Thursday, and then we're visiting Paul on Friday..."

I took a deep breath. "How about if I go with you to visit him on Friday? I could bring the scrapbooks with me. He could see them firsthand"

You could hear the relief in her voice. "Ted, would you really do that? I think it would mean the world to him."

Absolutely I would.

It's nice to know that those old memories mean as much to someone else as they do to me. All those old friends and the silly adventures that people went along with me on. They were foolish and unpolished, but in many ways, those are some of my fondest memories, back in the days when I was young and extremely foolish.

It's time to pay it forward, I think. Seeing Paul on Friday...Operation Scumbiscuit...is going to be a pleasure.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

This Greek's Way.

"The fact that they were in love with play and would play magnificently would be proof enough of how they lived and how they looked at life...the little pleasures, too, that daily living holds were felt as such keen enjoyment."
Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way

Me, as a little devil.
Aha! That's it. That's the whole purpose of my life, I think. Or at least, my online journal writings. Who needs all that sturm und drang, and even more, who wants to look back and read about it, years from now?

Oh, I've written down-right down and depressing entries, of course. When I first starting writing my online journal, way back in 2002, my first few years were all about the crumbling of my marriage to Josie and my first hesitant steps into the world outside, on my own. Not the cheeriest of subjects, frankly, which is why, try as I might, I've never been able to go back and read it from beginning to end. It's just too sad for me.

Instead, it's the moments of silliness and celebration that I've preferred, and frankly, which I think I have more of an inclination to write about. In fact, one of my first online journal entries was about a giant plant that lived at the Homestead on our deck, and some insane tall tale about how it went wild and one day and grew vines that wrapped themselves around Josie, attempting to drag her down underneath. Freudian symbolism abounds, certainly, even up to the ending, where I discover a secret passage, hidden underneath.

Those are the stories I go back to, time and again, because they have a lightness of spirit that I find attractive. That, and my "power statements," such as the story about how Josie and I first met, and what she means to me, or unpleasant stories of being bullied in junior high...nothing light in spirit about those, although they both have messages of hope contained within, about how it's possible to overcome even the worst of adversity and prosper from it.

Even so, I'm keenly aware that the way I tell my story is a bit different, and that not everyone is as obsessed as I am about turning the "little pleasures that daily living holds" into the fabric of the stories they tell. Many people use their blogs to wax political, or make things intensely personal without regard to others (an audience of one). Or, they skip the personal altogether, and use their space primarily to discuss anything BUT their personal life. Or, they try to focus their stories exclusively on one aspect of their lives: those who focus on how they raise their children (and usually how well they do at it), or on their life in writing. I can't be constrained like...my stories could be about my kids, could be about my life with Corb, could be political, could be about theater, could be about nothing. A high spirited people do not obey so easily. And do not focus so narrowly, either.

One could call my material myopic in nature, and perhaps it is. But, it's what I do. Since I first started keeping journals, actually, when I wrote in the third person, and attributed the stories to the author "Vern Slater." My interest has always been on celebrating the every day, the mundane, the trivial matters in my life and those around me. That's my fascination, and it's a fascination I've increasingly chosen to embrace.

My dear friend [info]adrianaendless has taken to calling me a gypsy, because she feels that my style of writing the stories that I write are akin to that a gypsy telling a story around the fire. I think there's an element of truth to that, and I find it flattering. But in reading The Greek Way, I'm struck by how much of who I am has been influenced by a culture that I never really knew much about. My grandfather came to America as a Greek orphan and died when my father was 12, so I never really knew him nor did I have family members that I could reach out and connect with. However, likes those vines that entangled Josie, what lurks beneath has always held quite a strong pull, and the secret passage underneath has been informing my life since the very start.

Oh, and I'm usually deeply in debt, too. There's another thing I can attribute to my Greek heritage.

Note: today's photo is me, one Halloween. Five, maybe?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Best Bathroom Book Bets 2011



Anyone who's read me for a while knows I'm a huge fan of what I like to call toilet books. These are the books that (maybe not) you bring in with you for a pleasant little time away from the world, crapping or peeing to your heart's content while you read a little something something.

Toilet books can't be linear. They need to be something you can simply flip through and select a random page to read. Doesn't matter what page you turn to, you're going to find something interesting. After all, you're only going to be in their for ten or twenty minutes. Now, this is important: It also can't be a book you're reading in a linear fashion, because that interrupts your digestive flow. No, no, no. The perfect bathroom book needs to be something light and tasty, but with a little kick...kind of like an aperitif.

And of course, you need to mix bathroom books up every so often. One does get bored reading the same books time and again, after all. As a result, some get put away for a year or so, and then come back again. Others get retired for good.

So, in no particular order, here are my current picks for classic bathroom books...what I'm reading now. Pick a few up and you can crap like Ted! Let's face it, that's infinitely more entertaining than moving like Jagger. I know, right?
  • Get Happy: the Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke. Okay, I lied, this is my number one fave, right now. I have to admit, I am mildly obsessed with this book. But how can you not be fascinated with a book that has a story about Judy Garland giving some random movie star a hummer and then being forced to sing "Over the Rainbow" after she's done finishing him off? Talk about singing for your supper! Or the MGM executive who flashes a teen Shirley Temple, expecting her to service him, but she just ends up in a fit of giggles, so he fires her? I mean, this book is the Good Ship Lollipop, and the some! (My personal favorite pages: the late MGM years, right before she gets fired and tries to commit suicide. I don't like the suicide part, so I always skip over that.)
  • Center Square: The Paul Lynde Story by Wilson and Florenski. A quick read about the misadventures of a deeply troubled gay icon: practically every page ends in disaster. Without a doubt, the most offensive Hollywood Squares Paul Lynde joke: "What should you think when you walk into an apartment and all the walls and carpets are brown?" Paul Lynde: "The maid exploded."
  • Sing for Your Supper by Ethan Mordden. A look a Broadway musicals in the 1930s. Fascinating rhythm!
  • Popeye: The First Fifty Years by Bud Sagendorf. If I had a book on Dick Tracey, that would be on this list. But how can you go wrong with the Sea Hag, Alice the Goon, or Poopdeck Pappy?
  • My 1981 High School yearbook. Okay, okay, I know you PROBABLY don't have access to this one, particularly the version I own, which my best friend from high school sent an ENTIRE YEAR defiling and defacing. But if only you could...oh, the hours of pleasure I've derived from this book! It's better than sex. Well, almost. I'm including two of the few items that couldn't possibly offend anyone...the rest just will have to remain secret for some time to come.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Summer Place.

About a month ago, I received word that a friend of mine, Alana, would soon be retiring, and would I like to go to her surprise retirement party?

Of course, I said yes. Even though I haven't worked in the department she works in for over decade, I have fond memories of my time spent as a Casualty Supervisor in the Claim Department, and especially, the people that I worked with. Without a doubt, Alana was one of my all-time favorites.

I love Alana because she has such a love for the absurd. She never fails to see the humor in things, and is one of those people who can get you laughing, no matter how serious the work at hand is. Working in Casualty, which basically means figuring out how much of a price tag to place on a person's injury, you have to value people like that.

Being a lover of the absurd, I suppose it's no surprise that Alana tends to attract absurd situations into her life. It's just bees being attracted to honey, I suppose. Time after time while I was working with her, Alana would come to me, as her boss, and, being a lover of tales (just like me), she'd unfurl in glorious detail some of the strangest situations, much to my amusement.

During one of her first months, she came to my desk with the strangest look on her face. Even at that time, I knew her well enough to know that I was in for a great story. "What is it this time, dear?" I asked.

"Well..." she said, clearly distressed. "I have this injury claim, and I just don't know what kind of value to put on it."

"What happened?" I asked.

"Our insured struck the vehicle in front of him in the rear, so liability's clear," she replied. "He struck two little old ladies, these two sweet little old ladies. Nicest women you'd ever want to meet. So I was doing my job today and making calls out to both of them to see how they were and whether they were injured. I called the passenger, and when I spoke to her, I asked whether she was injured. She told me, well...yes...but in a kind of interesting way..." Then, Alana  blushed and smiled, for dramatic effect. "It seems that because of the impact, her left breast smashed up against the seatbelt, causing her nipple to become inverted."

I blushed, tried not to giggle. "You're saying her nipple...went..."

"That's right, Ted," she replied. "It went south for the winter. But should I offer her any money for that? I mean, other than the inconvenience, it's not hurting her. She's certainly not going to be breast feeding any more...so what should do?"

"Keep the file open and call her in a month," I replied.

One month went by, and the inverted nipple lady came up for diary. I called Alana over to my desk. "So, what ever happened to that little old lady with the nipple that went south for the winter?" I asked.

"Oh, that!" Alana beamed at me. It was as if she had been waiting for me to ask. "I called her the other day to see how things were, and she said, 'Oh, just fine.' Then I asked her, delicately, how her little problem was. She said, 'You know what? I was taking a shower the other day and soaping up the puppies, when all of a sudden, POP! Everything was back to normal!"

Then she laughed, and of course, I started to laugh. For the rest of the day, all of I could think of was POP! Right away, that would get me to laughing again.

There are so many other stories like that. Weddings we'd go to, where she'd come dressed in a fox stole complete with matching muff. I marveled over that muff of hers for hours. Another wedding, where she brought with her a Nantucket wicker basket. I amused myself by shoving things into her basket whenever she went to the bathroom...dinner rolls, napkins...stories of pranks she pulled on neighbors, memorable Christmas themes she'd arrange for her children...oh, and sayings. "Laugh and lie," she'd always tell me, and it's something that stuck with me for years. Laugh and lie, even if you're furious with someone or about something. Better to put on a happy face than to fuss and make a bad deal even worse. Just don't let them see they got to you.

Alana is a lover of life, and it always showed. And even after I left the department, I still kept in touch with her. How could I not? People like her are few and far between.

This afternoon was her retirement party, and after she had entered the room and delivered her farewell speech, she went around the room to thank everyone. When she came to me and our friend Anna, she stopped. "You two," she said, sotto voce. "Follow me for a minute."

With that, she walked out of the room. Of course, we followed, wondering what in the heck we were in for now.

Alana moved us by a cubicle, then lifted up a finger. "Wait right here," she said, then scurried off.

Of course, we didn't move a muscle. How could we?

Alana returned a few minutes later, with a bag under her arm. "So, I think both of you know that my husband Russ inherited a beach house in Westport, and we've been in the process of refurbishing it," she said. "Anyway, I was going through some stuff in he cellar, and I came across a box of watercolors that had been painted by his Great-aunt Mabel. Remarkable woman. Born before the turn of the century. She had been a student at RISD, but didn't graduate. Smart as a whip, though! She made all her children bring home all their college text books so that she could read them, and she did, cover to cover. Anyway, she was quite an artist. Her husband was an artist, too, and he never graduated from RISD either...he'd been thrown out, for some such thing. She always got angry about the fact that they would go to art fairs and sell their works, and his would always sell, and hers wouldn't. Even though she was the better artist. 'Your paintings are too dark!' she'd always tell him. Then he died, and what did she do? She took all his paintings and made them brighter! I tell you, remarkable woman..."

"Anyway, I found this pile of paintings in the cellar, and figured she'd want people to have them, rather than have them gathering dust in some dark old place. So, would you like to take one?"

The one I chose is shown at the start of this story, and I fully intend to frame it within the next few days and hang it on my wall. Right in the living room, right by my writing desk.

And not just because it's a nice painting crafted by a remarkable woman. That's just half of the story, for me.

The other half is that the painting was given to me BY a remarkable woman. A professional absurdist, an eternal optimist, someone who taught me to laugh and lie (although I don't use that trick half as much as I should.) Every time I see that painting on my wall, I know it's going to make me smile.

That's something anyone can use to brighten up any corner of a home, I think. Which is why I'm happy to have Mabel...and Alana...brightening my life for many years to come.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Just the three of us



Presidential hopeful Rick Perry demonstrates his favorite way to hold a corn dog.

Isn't it always the way?

Two nights ago, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, a man who is almost succeeding in making his fellow Texan George Bush look intelligent, provided hours of entertainment when he announced that his economic plan called for the elimination of three government agencies...and then forgot the names of the three he was looking to axe.

"Let me tell you, it’s three agencies that are gone when I get there," said Perry, just brimming with confidence (but not necessarily grammatical syntax). "Commerce, Education, and the um, what’s the third one there? Commerce, education and eh, eh...'"

Mitt Romney, trying to be helpful, suggested, "EPA?"

Perry scratched his his head and made the face Darren always used to make in Bewitched, when Samanatha disappears from the kitchen in the opening credits. "No, that's not it..."

Hey, I know how those things go. I'm FOREVER having the same problem at the supermarket. Whenever I have three things I need to get, it seems like I can always remember the first two items, but once I have those two in hand, try as I might, I can never remember what that third thing was. It's so annoying! There I stand in the supermarcado, looking a little like Darren and scratching my head. Chicken soup, gruel, and...oh gosh...chicken soup, gruel, and...dammit, what was it again?

Then I go home, all frustrated, and the minute I step into the living room, that's when I remember: Oh right, tampons! How could I possibly have forgotten?

I'm sure it must have been the same thing for Mr. Perry last night, only in reverse, right? Instead of picking things up, he's looking to go all "Hulk smash" on three agencies. Same concept, though...dammit, what was the frickin' name of that third agency? Oh right...tampons!


I wonder, do you think he went home that night, and after taking off his slippers and throwing the blankets back, sat there for a moment, his hands in his head. His wife moves over, pats him on the back "What's the matter, honey?" "I'm the...worst...Republican presidential...candidate...ever!" he sobs.

Well, maybe.

Of course, Herman Cain's having the same problem, too. What were the names of those ladies I was inappropriate with, again? Man, it's so hard to remember once you get past the first two...

I tell you, my holiday card this year is going to be so damn entertaining... 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Politics of ABC.

You know, really, if you think about it, there's no real reason that the alphabet is the way it is.

Oh, of course, you need to have some way to organize things, in order to file and be able to more efficiently look items up. Other than that, though, it's not like the number system, where 1 has to go before 2, which has to go before 3. From a logical standpoint, there's no real reason that A HAS to go before B, which HAS to go before C. C could just as easily go before A, quite frankly, and it really wouldn't matter, because that's not the way that we use the alphabet. It's simply what we've gotten used to. Had we gotten used to a different order, a world where B did go before A, we would have just accepted it, and it would have been just as functional for us as our present system is.

The way we phrase things verbally, the way we write, has nothing to do with the order we assign to our letters. The rules of grammar and sentence structure play a far more important role. In so many cases, even that doesn't particularly matter, frankly. 

When Ashes was going to kindergarten, she had the worst time with her alphabet. I remember getting so worried because she'd have such a difficult time sounding everything out and putting all the building blocks together. We would spend hours in her room, sounding everything out, writing everything down. And I would get so frustrated. Even then, we'd have those Greek temper arguments that we're so famous for within our family, where we'd argue and storm and rage and then fifteen minutes later, we'd be fine and moving forward.

Maybe it wasn't such a big deal. Maybe If I had just viewed the alphabet as a completely artificial construct without any sense of real logic behind it I wouldn't have gotten all so passionate and it would have made everything a lot easier.

Still, I suppose it is OUR artificial construct, and one of the cornerstones upon which our civilization is based. No one's demanding, after all,  that we rethink our alphabet, and place B before A, after all. We have way bigger fish to fry.

But who decided it? Was it a totally arbitrary thing? Was there a Holy See where folks came together and argued about the positioning? Someone came to the meeting bucking for the letter A to be the first letter? "Well, I was really hoping for the letter M to go first, but harumph, okay, what the hell, let's give A a chance to prove itself." 

Hmm. Like the Holy See, are there letters that were determined to be heretical? Maybe Q was a letter that was on the borderline. I know that W was an iffy letter, for a while. People seemed to like UU, years ago. Hell, for all intents and purposes, W is still UU. But were there any letters that were also-rans? What does it feel like to be a rejected letter, I wonder?

Sigh. Maybe I just needed a bit more coffee, this morning.

Just asked Ashes. She thinks that people who had no lives are the ones who determined the order of Things such as the alphabet. You know what? She may have a point there...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Testify!


































He held the mike close to his mouth, so that his words could be heard to greatest number of people. "If you hate someone, then the Lord says, you'll burn in hell, a thousand times over! For it says so in the good book, the only book you'll ever need to read--"

"Come back when you have pubic hair!"

The voice came from the audience, from a college boy in a prisoner outfit. His friends laughed, low and dirty, and he tossed a cigarette in the speaker's direction and walked away.

His crude request wasn't off the mark, though,. The boy with the mike could hardly be more than ten years old, with short blond hair, piercing brown eyes, and a grim look on his face that suggested he wasn't enjoying himself one bit. He appeared to be a boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and perhaps given what he was preaching, he was.

Unlike the crowd around him, partying in the city of Salem, he was wearing a simple brown outfit and dark boots. Across the street, presumably, his parents were keeping a not-so-careful eye on him, laboring as they were under a huge sign that read, "REPENT, PEOPLE OF SALEM!"

Hey, it's hard work, trying unsuccessfully to convert a sinful flock. However, this isn't to say that the grim-faced boy was alone, because he was being watched over and followed, every step of his speech, by a smiling woman with a purple robe, dressed as a witch. Every so often, she'd dance behind him and sing, "This is total bullshit, this is total bullshit..."

"You are doomed, you worshipers of witches, you followers of the devil!" the boy continued, ignoring the woman behind him. "You don't have to be! The Lord loves you, I love you, and we both want you--"

"Go home and love yourself," said a short boy standing next to a tall girl with pink hair, as the crowd started to grow around the boy.

I tugged at Corb's sleeve. "This is awful," I said. "I hope nothing happens to him."

"They're not going to hurt him," said Corb, transfixed. "This is fascinating. I want to see what happens next." Next to us, Ashes and Theo nodded, not wanting to miss a second of the drama playing out.

The boy ignored the girl and the purple witch, and continued on with his testimony. A group of wicked boys gathered close to him, started taunting him. "Where do you come from?" asked one of the boys, in his face.

"Arkansas," said the boy.

"And this is how you're fucking spending your Halloween? Don't you want to live life?"

The boy paused for a bit, lost his focus, dropped the mike. Then, finding inspiration, he shoved it back to his mouth. "But what is living life? Do you like the life YOU live?"

Frustrated, Pink Hair ran across the street. "Are you just going to leave him alone there and not have someone look after him?" she screamed ao the people holding the "REPENT" sign. "How can you call yourself Christians if you just leave your little boy alone like that?"

A heavy-set man with thinning hair came forward, wearing a blue suit. "Now hold on, ma'am, he's not alone! He has the power of the Lord by his side. But, do you?"

"Maybe you should be by his side, too!" she continued. "What if something happens to him, while you're standing there holding your signs--"

"Nothing's going to happen," said the man, who nonetheless walked across the street, to get face to face with the lady, as the boy continued to proselytize. "But do you know what's going to happen to you? If you continue this sinful life, of witch worshiping and idolatry, you surely are going to burn in hell--"

"How dare you?" shouted Pink Hair, incensed. "You know, I don't have a problem with your religion at all, it's fine with me. Do what you want. But how dare you try to scare me into--"

"Woah woah woah!"

"How dare you try to use a little boy to--"

"Shhh, shhh, shh!" said the man. "It's my turn, let me speak."

Pink Hair stopped. "Okay."

"We're not trying to scare anyone," he said. "We have every right to be here and to speak our mind. All we're trying to point out is that there is one god and one god only, and that these people here who are spending the day, dressing up as demons and worshipping false gods, are sure to burn in hell and suffer a million horrible degradations, unless they embrace the Lord our God, the man who gave his life and died on the cross at Calvary."

Pink Hair rolled her eyes. "See? There you go again!"

"Shhh, shhh, shhh!"

But Pink Hair was just warming up. "You just tried to scare me into--"

"Now, ma'am, it's my turn to talk, you had your say--"

Suddenly, Corb was there by Pink Hair's side. "She DIDN'T have her say!" he shouted to the man. "You just lectured her! When she tried to respond, you cut her off. At least listen to what SHE has to say!"

And with that, the woman tried again. The preacher man gave him a second to respond. Meanwhile, the 10-year-old boy had handed the mike over to an older man, also on the heavy side, who was thumbing through his Bible, ready to begin his testifying. I turned the kids, who were watching Corb and the woman, locked in mortal combat with the preacher man. "You want to leave?" I asked.

Ashes' eyes were huge. "No, I want to stay. This is the most fun all night!"

There's a lesson for you, sinners: you can take the kids to Salem, spend a couple of hundred on wax museums, candlelit tours, and dinners, but sometimes, the best entertainment in life is absolutely free.

We must have spent an hour watching the preachers go on and on and get yelled and mocked by people dressed as witches, or goblins, or Sponge Bob Square Pants. When we finally left, it was only because the preachers had decided to take a break and our legs were killing us.

I think my kids learned an important lesson last night: forget about the curtain and the orchestra. Real life is more immediate, you never know what's noing to happen, and there's always a hint of viiolence in the air. In the end, street theater can make for the best theater of all.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A kind of death.



One of the things I get crap about all the time is the fact that I never answer my cell phone. "Why didn't you answer?" is something I'm always hearing from the kids or the ex-wife or the someday mother-in-law, usually in a slightly offended tone, as if I took one look at the name of the person calling and pushed my phone away, cackling out gleefully, "As if!"

Truth is, during the day, I keep my phone on vibrate because the sound of it pinging every five seconds due to all the email I get is enough to drive me crazy (but not enough to get me to vote Republican). Plus, it's annoying for the guy at work who sits behind me, who puts the mudge in the word curmudgeon. Him, I don't want to annoy. Then, at night, I forget to turn it back on to "noise" mode, so I can never hear it when someone calls, because I have this weird thing about having stuff touch my body, like rings or watches or, well...cell phones. So, I usually place it by the record player (yes, record player. They're back in style, right?) and forget about it.

This is why I was so gratified last night, to be driving home from Boston and hear the following exchange between Google executive Rick Schmidt and Gwen Ifill:
SCHMIDT: It's always alarming to me that people text message. They don't talk on the phone anymore. And people actually have forgotten how to leave voice messages on phones. It's sort of shocking, right?
GWEN IFILL: They have forgotten how to check them as well.
ERIC SCHMIDT: That's right.

Yep, that's me all over. Given the choice between sending a text message and having to be forced to actually engage in verbal intercourse, I'll take the text message, each and every time.

And also, what's the point of a voice message, I ask you, in this day and age? Most people I know have phones that clearly indicate who it was who called you, unless it's a bill collector or someone you don't know.

Now, if it is a bill collector or someone you don't know, by all means, leave a message. But otherwise, why do I need to bother listening to a message? I'd much rather just send a text message asking, "What's up?"

I don't miss it, either. Voice mails are not things that I shall sigh wistfully over and mourn the passage of, unlike the lost art of letter writing or the charming smell of burned wood on your clothing in the days when we used to communicate by smoke signal. Ah, those were the days. Even carrier pigeons have a certain charm, if you're into birds (dirty, disgusting, filthy, lice-ridden boids).

Not voicemails. I always hated leaving them...never know what to say, so I always try to be clever, and I'm sure, more than not, fall flat. And most voicemails are a trial to sit through and listen. The only one that really sticks in my head that's ever been worth keeping was one where boss called and forgot he was leaving me a message, mid-call, because one of his sons chewed the leg off of another son's Barbie doll.

Listening to my boss yell at his kid was kind of entertaining, i have to admit. I could just see him waving the amputated Barbie doll in his son's face, screaming with anger. Have to admit, I did keep the message around for months, just because it brought a smile on my face.

Also, some answering machine messages were kind of fun to listen to, too, in the dinosaur days of answering machines. Those days are long gone. Goner than records, apparently. No one leaves cute messages any more for you to snicker over. We're all far more serious, far more corporate, far more boring, than THAT.

So, sure, count me in as one of those who has gleefully ditched the practice of actual phone conversations and voicemail messages. Does that make me less the social guy I once was?

Perhaps. I suppose. Yes, yes it does.

However! All that time saved does gives me more time to play "Words with Friends" on Facebook! And that's...well, kind of social, right? Hey, a guy's got to have his priorities.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Another crossing.

6:30 in the morning. Saturday. The alarm goes off.

I throw the blankets back, stumble off the couch. Shuffle down the hall and knock on Ashes' door.

"Time to wake up."

"Mmmmmm hmmmm." I wait until I'm pretty sure she's out of bed, then move back to the couch.

Twenty minutes later. I stumble out of bed again and move over to the table where the printed out SAT ticket is placed. Scan it over, quickly. Excited, I moved down the hall, knock on Ashes' door again.

"Mmmmmm hmmmm."

"Hey! I just realized that it says we have to be there at 7:45, latest. That means we have fifteen more minutes to sleep!"

"Mmmmmm hmmmm." I move back to the couch. Sleep.

7:15, we're in the stang and just about to pull out of the parking lot on our way to Cumberland High School. This should be great, I think to myself, finally a perfect situation where nothing is going to go wrong. I printed out the Mapquest last night and it's only twenty minutes away, so we'll get there with ten minutes to spare. We have the pencils, the scientific calculator, Ash has been studying like crazy and should feel totally prepared and at ease and do just fine, and...

"What about my photo ID?" Ashes asks.

And with one sentence, my little bubble is popped. "Um, what?"

"My photo ID. I told you last night, I forgot it at mom's house. Remember? You called her up, she said she'd leave it in her car with the doors unlocked?"

"Oh."

No, no...don't panic, it'll be okay. Even if Josie's house is fifteen minutes away and...

Flash forward to 7:43. The photo ID has been picked up and I'm speeding down the highway in my stang, having spent the past half an hour watching the time ticking down, knowing that you can't change the laws of physics, no matter how much you would like to. 7:15 becomes 7:25 becomes 7:35 becomes...

"It's almost 7:45, says Ashes.

"I know." I try to keep a good attitude. "But we're almost at the exit."

"But we only have two minutes to go! And they're REALLY strict about these things."

"They'll let you in, don't worry. I'll walk in with you."

"It WON'T matter! They're really strict about these things. We might as well turn around and go back home now."

"No, no! Don't give up like that. We'll be fine." I put my foot on the accelerator just a little harder. "Just keep studying."

Ashes closes her eyes and places her study cards on the floor. "I've studied enough..."

"Look! We're almost at the exit." Just keeping thinking good thoughts keep thinking good thoughts...she's worked too hard, can't let this happen, it won't happen they wouldn't let it...

7:47, and we pull into the high school. I notice with relief that other kids are walking into the high school. And, not being thrown out. "You want me to go with you?" I ask.

"No, I'll go. I'll let you know if there's a problem." That in and of itself is a minor miracle, as Ashes ALWAYS wants me to go with her.

She opens the car door and heads to the entrance. I wait there as long as I can, not wishing to block anyone in. After a few minutes, I take a turn around the parking lot, then move back to the entrance. I do this six times, then park and walk over to the entrance, just to be on the safe side.

Ashes is nowhere to be seen. Just to be even safer, I send her a text, "You make it in?"

A few minutes go by, then: "Y"

As I drive off, I type into the Blackberry "Good luck! You'll do fine." I pause, then type: "I love you."

Maybe it's early hour or the lack of sleep, but as I type it, I start to feel a catch in my throat, and my eyes start to get misty. Silly sentimental man, Josie always tells me. And, of course, she's right, I am.

All I know is, one more hurdle has been crossed. And that feels good and scary (and good), all at the same time.

Growing up is so hard. So many stages and tests and things to be done as one makes the transition. It's hard on the kids, but especially...most especially, I think, it's hard on the parents.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing.


Every year around this time, one of my favorite fundraisers is held: the annual Crossroads Gala, benefiting the homeless in Rhode Island. These past few years, they've worked magic all over the state, turning a baseball stadium into a night club, a skating rink into the land of Oz, and (my personal favorite) an abandoned factory into the land of Oz. This year was no exception, as a car lot in not the nicest section of Providence became the setting for a trip back to the 1950s, complete with classic cars, fuzzy dice, bowling pins, a jukebox filled with music, and even a friendly neighborhood motorcycle gang. And, for a good cause.

This time around, this past Saturday night, I was tasked with filling the table, something that, sadly, even though it's such a terrific event, is always a challenge. Unable to find anyone from work, I asked for a little help from my friends. In short order, I had Pauline on board, dragging along our friend Joann. Then, at the last minute, about two hours before the start of the event, Coco and Matty said they'd go.

Coco, of course, her usual beautiful, insane self: "Cinderella has nothing to wear," she wrote to me an hour before the event. "It's Grease!" I wrote back. "Come as a Pink Lady, in tight jeans and a leather jacket."

Instead, she decided on dressing up as a Bobby Soxer (Sandy, if you will), but right before she got onto the highway, she decided she didn't like what she was wearing and drove back home to turn herself into Chacha Digregorio, the best dancer at Saint Bernadetts with the worst reputation. The bad girls always have the best times.

Coco arrived at the Grease Ball looking terrific, and even managed another amazing transformation later in the evening. She actually made me look good dancing.

Look, I'll admit it hear and now, when it comes to putting on my dancing shoes, both of mine are lefties. I can sing fine, I can act decently, but just try to get me to do a few dance steps, I dare you. Let's just say I have to work harder than the rest.

Not that I don't want to be a good dancer. Oh, if only! I just get too self conscious, though. I think too much about it. I once had an Eskimo friend who told me that he was a spirit of the sky, and I was bound to the earth. I'm not sure he wasn't on to something: to dance is to fly, and while I'd give anything to do so, these feet want to stay where they are.

That might explain why I'm so fascinated by Fred Astaire, I suppose. He always made gliding across the ballroom look so easy. The man even danced on ceilings!

What I didn't realize until recently, though, is how hard he worked. According to the book I'm reading now, Putting on the Ritz: <i> Fred Astaire and the Fine Art of Panache </i>, he wasn't the best natural dancer in his family. That was his sister Adele, who didn't need to practice to be good.

For Fred, he had to work, day in and day out, to become better, to become brilliant, and then, he had to work twice as hard, to maintain his level of seamless perfection.

"You will always have to work this hard, and you will always have to sweat," he once told a young Debbie Reynolds. "If you don't sweat, you're not working very hard."

Anyways, after dinner, my dear friend David, somehow sensing Coco's potential, invited her out onto the dance for a turn. Now, David's a good dancer, and honestly, the two of them were amazing to watch. It just seemed so natural, so graceful. When they returned back to the table, I sighed to Coco, "I wish I could dance like that."

Coco flashed her winning Sicilian smile and extended her arm. "Then why don't you?"

I stood there, flustered. "Oh, I just can't...I mean, I always wanted to, but..."

"Then let's do it." She grabbed my hand. I hesitated for a second, then stood up. And before I knew it, I was out of the dance floor.

"Now, move like this." Coco held my hands and started me into a simple box step, which somehow worked well with the song that the Motown-style singers (think The Temptations) were crooning. Then, before I knew it, the Twist was playing, the beat picked up, Coco was moving me across the floor at lightning speed. "You'd better lead!" I managed to call out. She nodded. I was there for the ride.

And, for some reason...maybe it was the instruction, maybe it was the four Cosmos inside my belly...I was actually picking it up! Coco had me extend my arm, then she'd spin out away from me, then spin back in and cross past me. We'd pull out, we'd weave back in, she'd smile, I'd laugh, and it was almost as if my feet were pulling away from the ground and I was learning to fly! For just one moment in time...

A few hours later, sober again (but not quite), my feet back on the ground. "That felt incredible," I said to Coco, in the parking lot of a bar.

"And you weren't bad, either," she said. "You have natural rhythm. You don't force your partner to follow everything you do. In ballroom dancing, the man leads, but it's more of a suggestion. You were in tune to that."

It was nice to be in tune with the music, to be an inch or so off the ground. It was nice to be inspired enough to actually set aside my insecurities and simply dance. Dancing lifts you up, moves you out of the physical realm, makes your body do things you didn'tr know it could do. But Fred's damn right, it does take hard work and a lot sweat.

Worth it, though. For just one magical night, I had shoes with wings on.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A special place to hangar out.


Corb's grandmother is celebrating her 90th birthday this year, and owing to his fantastic organizing powers...and the fact that he is, after all, his mother's golden child, he's been charged (along with his older brother) with overseeing the celebration. Personally, I think it's an excuse for him to go out with his mother more.

In any event, Corb had a meeting yesterday to visit an airline hangar for the party. I personally think it's an inspired idea: Corb's grandmother was a Navy WAVE in her youth, and her husband was in the Air Force. It's a perfect way to honor her life and her service to her country, even if that was so many years ago.

By the way, that's how she ended up meeting Ernest Hemingway. Her husband was stationed in Key West, and she was living on the base. They had an argument, and she stormed off with a friend to cool down. Ended up at a bar. Hemingway was sitting there, smoking a cigar. He found her attractive. Sidled over to where she was, offered to buy her a drink.

Being a proper lady, she turned him down. It wasn't until she left the bar that her friend said, "Do you know who that was?"

So, I think an airline hangar is a superb idea. Corb's brother even has a friend who can fly in some vintage airplanes. Talk about a night to remember.

Corb's mom wasn't that keen on the idea, however. She felt it might evoke too many painful memories. You see, Corb's grandfather, in addition to being in the Air Force, also flew planes commercially, back in the early days of flight and died in a plane crash. Wasn't even scheduled to work that night, but filled in at the last minute for a friend.

Funny story about that: the night he died, Corb's mom swears she woke up (she was seven), and saw her father standing at the foot of the bed. He smiled at her, told her he loves her, and asked her to take good care of her mother.

The next day, she learned her father had passed on. Also, that her mother and sister had a similar visitation. And, she's spent the rest of her life taking care of her mother.

"So, how did it work out?" I asked Corb, when he returned home from the hangar last night.

"It's not going to work," he replied, kind of dejected, "The place is too small, and it hasn't been kept in good condition. And, there's no heat in the hangar and only one really tiny bathroom. It's half the size of our bathroom! That's a huge issue, I think. All of her friends are ninety, too. Old people need good bathrooms."

Back to the drawing board. The birthday bash isn't until October. Hopefully, these cats can come up with a first-rate place before then.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Privates Education



I waited until around four in the afternoon to make the call. To be honest, Annie had reminded me in a text message, and once my boss was safely wedged tightly into a meeting, I made it a point to pick up the phone in my cubicle and give my little guy a call.

He picked up on the second ring. "Hey, Theo," I said.

I detected a bit of amusement in his deep voice. "Let me guess. You want to know how my first day of high school was."

First day of high school. Yes, my youngest, in high school. Deep sigh. Wow, that sounds so old. "How'd you guess?"

"You're only the fourth person to call me and ask. You, mom, Annie, and Ashes."

"Ashes? You're sister Ashes actually called?" Now, that was even more touching. "See, I knew that you two secretly cared for each other. Why else would she call to see how your first day was?"

"Yeah...uh, no."

"So how was it? Your first day that is."

"Fine." That's it, just a one word answer. But then, Theo's not one to go on and on. Just short, direct, to-the-point responses. Why waste time on boring details?

And just as I was about to move on... "Oh, and I do have this one teacher. Her name is, get this, G String."

I paused, Jack Benny style. "You have a teacher named Mrs. G String?"

"Yep! It says it right on my syllabus. Her last name is String, her first named starts with a G. So that's the way they put it on the schedule. G String."

I shook my head. "I bet she's a really popular teacher, Theo."

"No, not really. But they said we can send her emails! We can write to her at gstring@eldredge.com."

I shook my head. "Somehow that just sounds so wrong."

"I know, huh?"

"So what is Mrs. G String teaching you?" I asked, curious.

"English."

"Oh! Well, THAT's okay," I said, with a grin. "If you had said sex ed, on the other hand...I would have had to gone down to that school myself. The only G strings you should be studying are in music class, boychick."

Later on, I discovered the real truth, from Josie. "The teacher's name is actual Strong, you know. Mrs. G Strong. Theo just thinks it's funny to tell everyone that her name is Mrs. G String."

The brat! That night, after Corb had returned home from work and I told him the whole story, he made it a point to call up Theo. "He's asleep," said Josie. "Went to bed right at eight. Going to school for an actual whole day wore him out."

"Oh, that's okay," said Corb. "But can you leave him a message? Tell him Principal Buttcrack called, from his school. I hear he's making an ass out of one of our teachers."

Somehow, I don't think Theo's going to live this one down...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dead men rooming.



"So, Chad's mother wants us to look at another apartment."

I was driving my oldest, Annie, to the supermarket, preparing for a fabulous Mexican feast. "I'm well confused," I said. "You've already picked out another apartment."

"I know."

"You've already signed the lease."

"I know."

"You've already handed over the security deposit."

"I know!" Annie sat in the passenger's seat and held her belly, as her baby squirmed around inside her. "But she says this is a bargain that we can't turn down. The place is about $950, and--"

"I'm right bamboozled," I said. "That's more than what you're paying now."

"I know."

"And it's more than some of the places where I live, which you thought were great."

"I know."

"And you said you couldn't afford those places, but this is more."

"I know!" Annie giggled. "But this one is a three bedroom."

"What does that matter? If you can't afford a lower-priced one, how can you afford--"

"It gets better." Annie paused and looked out the window, still holding her belly. "I didn't tell you why she knows the place opened up."

"Oh, God!"

"See, Chad's sister lives in the apartment above, and the guy on the floor below used to be a family friend. Notice I said 'used.' He died last week."

I shook my head. "Annie, do you really want to live in a dead man's apartment?"

"It gets better. Then Chad's mother told us exactly how he died. Said it was horrible.

Said he had this weird disease that caused all his blood to flow out of every orifice as he was dying. Apparently the stains are so bad that they still can't get some of them out."

Well, that's a keeper.

Paint me a superstitious one, but I don't like to move into places that have histories like that, especially recent histories. Josie and I, when we bought the Homestead, knew that the previous owner had passed away there. He had been rather obsese and suffered a heart attack on the second floor. They had trouble getting him downstairs, from what I hear.

However, his wife had lived there for years after he died, so it hadn't been recent. Even so, both Josie and Ashes see things on the stairwell where they would have carried him down.

In our first apartment together, Corb and I both had numerous instances involving the ghost of the old man who lived there before. He used to come to visit Corb at night. Not that Corb's adverse to old men, but this one was too little creepy. Our cat Thumbkin died in the apartment, too, and for months afterwards, Corb would feel something move to the foot of the bed at the end of the day, as we were preparing to go to bed.

Bottom line, bargain hunters: I'm a bit happy that Annie did not decide to take advantage of this fabulous offer. Sometimes what came before can have a huge influence on what comes afterwards, if you ask me. Better to let sleeping corpses rest.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Biting the hand



So, this past Saturday, Corb and I headed out on our annual pilgrimmage to Provincetown, to have some fun in the sun with our fellow gays.

Where else can I spend hours holding hands with the Corbster and walking up and down the town square, over and over again? I tell you, I kind of know how Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom at the end of the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

Last summer, since we were a bit strapped, we spent a credit crunch day at Provincetown, trying to be as thrifty as possible. Even so, I picked up a great book on the films of Elizabeth Taylor at the used book store.

This year, things are better, so I was REALLY looking to a return to our normal routine. And one big part of that, I have to admit, was our annual dinner at the Patio, this open air restaurant located right on the main drag (pardon the pun). The food has always been great and the place affords a great view of the characters that inhabit the town.

I have to admit, I was thinking about the meal for days in advance. I had really missed going the year before, and perhaps because of the two year gap, the enjoyment I had received from the meals there in the past had been magnified to ten times larger than that giant corn dog that Michele Bachmann tried to shove in her mouth a few weeks ago.

Well, sometimes expectations do not live up to reality, and I'm sorry to report, that was my experience this year at the Patio.

I blame the waiter. He was just kind of snotty, and set the mood for the entire dining experience.

It started from the first moment he came to our table. The minute he saw us, he took one look at us, kind of made a face, and then said, "I'm assuming you won't be looking at the wine menu?" and took the wine glasses off of our table.

Fair enough. As a matter of fact, we weren't looking for any wine.

Then he came by with our water. I took the glass from his hand to place in front of me, and before I could put it down, he practically started to have a nervous breakdown in front of me, because I made the mistake of moving to place the glass down on the table, completely naked.

"Hmmm hmmm hmmm." The waiter started coughing. I looked up, to see him staring at me, aghast. "I was REALLY hoping to place that guy on a coaster." Then he snatched the glass away from Corb, so he could personally place it down, properly.

Okay, so maybe he was a stickler for those sorts of things. Amused, I picked up my blackberry and started to type, "I think our waiter is a control freak."

"Hmmm hmmm hmmm."

I looked up from the Blackberry. There was the waiter, right behind me. Had he read what I wrote? I looked around, nervously, and smiled innocently up at him.

"Ready to order?" In a flash, he took the rolls in his hand and casually tossed them across the table, so that they landed, practically on Corb's lap.

"Um, sure..." We started to order from the menu, even though I had just heard him recite a list of the specials to the people who were seated next to us. People who had ordered wine, by the way. I guess he figured we weren't the kind of people who like specials, either.

Fifteen minutes later, we had our food order, but there was only one thing. The drinks that we had ordered, when the waiter had assumed we didn't want wine? Still not at our table. Who ever heard of someone receiving their dinner before receiving their alchoholic beverages? It boggles the mind. I mean, from a restaurant standpoint, doesn't it make sense to start the guests drinking so they're ready for seconds by the time the food order comes in? More profit that way, I'd say.

So, we had to beg the boy who delivered our food to find out what had happened to our drinks. About five minutes later, our surly waiter arrived with them, along with water refills, which were long overdue.

But wait! It gets better. After dinner was through (I ordered the mac and cheese with lobster, something I have loved in the past, but kind of regretted this time), the waiter came back. "Are you all set for your check?" he asked, somehow forgetting to ask us if we wanted dessert.

I mean, come on. No drinks? No dessert? What waiter in their right mind leaves those things out?

Apparently, a waiter who didn't like his customers much. Rather than ask for a dessert menu (and I did love their desserts), I accepted the bill and paid it.

This is the point where you can always get back at a waiter, however. I left the man a ten percent tip, and deliberately wrote, under my signature, "Service was poor."

Service may have been poor, but I wasn't at the time, and if the waiter had been a bit smarter about things, we would have ordered much more and given him a bigger tip. There's a lesson for you, sinners: no matter how much your customer irritates you, it's probably best just to suck it up, smile for the camera, and pretend as if we had all the manners of Fred Astaire.

The rest of our time in Provincetown was just great, and we had a much nicer waiter at the place we visited for lunch, a waiter we met again at the hilarious drag show we attended, with Dina Martina. He was cute and had a personality, so we both ordered two rounds of drinks, both times. Happy gays are tipsy gays, after all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Some catch.


I move over to Corb, laden with foodage. We're at our traditional booth at Panera's. It's a Sunday.

"Shhh, don't say another word," Corb says to me, the minute I sat down. "This is way too interesting."

"What?"

"Shhhh! The two behind us. They're on a first date, and I don't think the boy's scoring any points."

I glance over.


"Stop it!" whispers Corb urgently. "They'll realize we're looking at them."

"Well, I didn't see much," I whisper back.

"I'll look for you. So, here's the deal. They're both probably freshman in college, tops. He's cute enough."

"Which kind of cute?"

"Yours. But he has terrible clothes sense."

"Does he have hairy legs?"

"Hairy enough."

I grin. "That'll do."

"Yeah, but you'd hate how he's dressed. He's wearing...get this...a buttoned-up Oxford with those nylon whooshy gym shorts. And, he's weaing a pair of black sandals along with black socks, pulled up all the way. You know how much you hate the socks and sandals combination."

"Black socks especially." I sigh. "Why can't straight guys figure out what a horrible, horrible look that is?"

"You should see her body language," says Corb. "You can tell so much from that. She has her arms crossed, and she's turned away from him, as far as she can get. Oh, and if I were her, I'd be bored out of my mind,"

"Why?"

"The boy is dull beyond belief! He just spent the past fifteen minutes telling her about his summer at camp as a CTA and this one counselor who made an autistic kid cry. Then he tried to make himself sound all sweet and sensitive, and told her that he would have been more compassionate, if he had been the counselor. Oh, shhhh! Wait...he's just about to erupt again..."

Suddenly, the boy's voice booms through our area of the restaurant. It's masculine and husky, with all the makings of a used car salesman. "You know, you really are a beauty in the old fashioned way," he says, for all to hear. "Kind of like Marilyn Monroe. No, really! You totally are. Except, not like her. But that style. You know, you're a classic beauty."

"Oh my God," groans the girl. "You are such a player!"

"No, I'm not, really! A playa! No, I am not a playa, I swear."

"Are those sweat stains?" the girl says, suddenly mortified.

Okay, at the point, I can't help it, I have to take a look.

I see the boy, looking down at his shirt, which does have huge sweat stains under the pits. Instead of looking embarrassed, he just sits there with a stupid grin on his face. "Oh. Okay, okay, I can explain that. See, I was working out at the gym before I got here. Yeah, yeah, I know, not the best decision, I can accept that. But it's not like I didn't shower. Because I did, before I left the gym. So it's not like I stink or anything."

The girl rises from the table, shaking her non-Marilyn Monroe like blond hair. "I gotta go."

"Want a ride home?" the boy volunteers.

The girl smiles politely and walks out of the restaurant.

"No way!" I whisper. "She's ditching him."

We watch the rest of the act play out, in pantomime. The boy rises from the table, moves to her, standing on the sidewalk, motions to his car, parked nearby. She shakes her head again, takes out her cell phone. Starts dialing. The boy motions to his car one more time, practically pleading with her.

She won't even look at him by this point. Rejected, he starts to walk away. She stands outside the restaurant, playing with her cell phone. Doesn't even glance in his direction as he drives away.

I can't blame her. I think if I was on a blind date and the boy next to me had huge wet sweat stains under his pits, I wouldn't be that inclined to continue with the date, either. Let that be a lesson to you, guys: save the exercise for in the bedroom!

Ah, the heartbreak of young love. I'm happy we've reached the status of old married couple. Much less drama, that way.