March 2009

So, I’ve got this story. It didn’t happen to me. It happened to someone else. But I was there. And to this day, I think it is the funniest thing I have ever witnessed. Of course, it’s at the expense of someone else and laughing about it is probably a cruel thing to do, but he was a friend of mine. And we all know that, in friendships, it’s totally OK to laugh once you’ve determined there is no phyiscal trauma. The cast of character’s in this little tale are Johnny, Sarah (Johnny’s sister), Chris, Stevie, a handful of other friends and a dog named Wilbur. Names have been changed to protect the humiliated.

When I was 14, waaaayyyyy back in 1984, a bunch of us were sitting on Johnny’s porch goofing around, listening to the Purple Rain soundtrack cassette on the ghetto blaster and talking about how cool it would be to be a ninjas. Chris and his younger brother, Stevie (about 10 years old) lived two doors down from Johnny. They had heard us playing the music and had come out of their house with their dog, Wilbur. We all liked Wilbur. He was a medium sized dog with short, jet-black fur. He was very friendly and would let anyone and everyone pet him. Wilbur didn’t mind playing a bit rough and it was not unusual for someone to be wrestling with him, at least for a few minutes, whenever he was brought around.

As I said we were talking about ninjas and had gotten into a debate as to who was better…Sho Kosugi (from Revenge of the Ninja) or James Ryan (from Kill and Kill Again). Chris had joined in, siding with the Ryanites and Stevie was down in the yard with Wilbur. As the conversation continued, Stevie gave his two-cents about Sho Kosugi being better because, “he took those guys with the guns and was, like, ‘Hiiiiyaahhhh, heeyaaah boff’ and they were all hurt and stuff and dropped their guns and ran away. If I was that Sho Kosugi guy, I’d have been all ‘yah yah oyyyyyyyy!’” While he was saying this, he was demonstrating his own…let’s say “martial art style”… with Wilbur. Stevie eventually got down on the ground and was rolling around with Wilbur, who was yipping and crouching the way dogs do when they play. Stevie was grabbing Wilbur…Wilbur was slapping at Stevie with his paw.

That’s when things got out of hand.

Stevie was on his hands and knees and charged head-first at Wilbur. Wilbur reacted by rearing up a bit and getting his paws on Stevie’s shoulders…and then he began humping. Unfortunately, Stevie was not able to get out of this position. Wilbur was just too heavy. Stevie was screaming and flailing his arms trying to get them to a place where he could push the dog off, but Wilbur wasn’t about to be disuaded. We could hear Stevie calling for help, but we were too busy laughing. Wilbur kept right on humping and, eventually, Stevie stopped flailing and screaming and just collapsed…no longer fighting the inevitable. Wilbur continued his humping and we were laughing so hard that we were crying. Sarah ended up peeing her pants because she was laughing so hard.

Finally, Wilbur stopped. Through our tears, we could see Stevie get to his knees. He had that shell-shocked, thousand yard stare and his hair…my God, his hair…on one side…had a glazed look to it. He sat there like that until Chris was able to get his laughter under control. As Chris was helping him up, Stevie silently looked at him with eyes that seemed to say, “Where am I? What just happened?” Chris led him home and the rest of the day was filled with our reenactments of the event.


I recently had a discussion with some people about consequences. It started off with us talking about our kids and teaching them consequences, but rapidly turned into a big share-fest of personal stories about consequences.

For one guy, it was touching a hot stove. For another, it was throwing snowballs at cars and hitting a police car with one. For another, it was getting cut when handling a pocket-knife for the first time. Mine had to do with throwing rocks. At windows.

I was about 9 or 10 and our house was next door to small apartment building. I always thought that was odd, considering it was the only apartment building on the whole entire street, but I’m told it’s because the neighborhood was built before certain zoning laws were established and, well…there you have it.

ANYWAY…I was about 9 or 10 and my next door neighbor (other next door, NOT the apartment next door) and I were playing in his back yard. We got to wondering if we could throw rocks all the way across my backyard and hit the window on the apartment building. This was not a big pane window, it was divided into small squares.

So, we spent some time throwing nickel and quarter sized rocks at this window until one of us, I can’t remember who, broke it. Yay! Mission accomplished! Whaddya wanna do now? It never entered our heads that this was vandalism, or it was wrong, or that someone was going to have to pay money to repair it. We just wanted to see if we could do it.

WELL…as you can probably guess, we were caught. Turns out the old woman who lived in the apartment had spied us through the window and she told my dad. I was the older one, so I MUST have been the ring-leader. My dad paid for the pane replacement and I had to spend an hour each day for a week helping this lady with some chores. I vacuumed her floor, washed her dishes, mopped her floor, took out her garbage, etc. But I was OK with all of that. In my mind, my punishment was just being around her.

Those of you who know me well are no doubt aware that I’m rather quite, introverted and uncomfortable when it comes to interacting with people whom I do not know very well. That hour each day was the longest hour ever. Being 9 or 10, I wasn’t very good at the chores I was doing and she was constantly talking to me about how to do it. Looking back, she was actually trying to teach and help me. She was very patient and she didn’t criticize, she’d dry the dishes while I washed, she’d get the bucket and mop ready…pretty classy. She could have been a mean old bitch, but she wasn’t.

But, damn, I hated it. I would have just rather done the chores and not said two words to her. But no. I had to talk about my school and things I liked to do and listen to her tales of changes the neighborhood had gone through. ::Shudder::

When the week was over, my dad asked if I had learned my lesson. I said yes. He asked what it was that I learned. I told him that you shouldn’t throw rocks at windows because you might have to be with someone you don’t know and talk about things. I remember him agreeing about the rock throwing and was satisfied that I wouldn’t do it anymore. He wasn’t too thrilled with my reason though. He explained the whole “vandalism” and “respect for others” to me, which was all well and good. But I don’t think I would have gotten as much out of the punishment if it was just going to rely on those concepts. The “having to be around and talk with someone you don’t know” thing is what really drove the lesson home.

I hate the goddamn U-SCAN machines at my local grocery store. I have never been able to use these “convenient” devices without it becoming necessary for an attendant to get involved.

Take the other day, for example. That morning, my daughter was making oatmeal and discovered that we were out of milk. So I ran up to the store to get some. I ended up getting 2 gallons of milk and two small boxes of donuts. There was 1 checkout lane open and there were 6 people in line. I didn’t want to wait, so I thought I’d give the U-SCAN a try. I hadn’t used the U-SCAN in about 6 months because of previous less-than-satisfactory experiences, but I thought “what the hell.”

So I scan my first gallon of milk and it tells me to place the item in the bag. I do. It tells me (again) to place the item in the bag. At this point, my shoulders slumped. I looked to the sky and heaved a sigh that unmistakably said, “For the sake of all that is holy in this god-awful world….WHY?” Meanwhile the machine repeated its request: “Please place the item in the bag.” I lifted the milk out of the bag and set it down again. The U-SCAN continued with, “Please place the item in the bag.” Again, I lifted the milk and set it down again. This did nothing, for the U-SCAN still wished for me to “place the item in the bag.”

Now, even though these are U-SCAN machines, there is an employee of the store stationed in the area to help customers in need, to accept checks as payment, etc. I signaled for help. He came over and asked what the problem was. I told him. The machine, ever so politely, made its request again: “Please place the item in the bag.” You know what the employee did? He picked up the milk in the bag and set it down again. And it fucking worked.

“Sometimes you have to pick it up and set it down again,” he explained.

“Gosh, really? Thanks, I’ll remember that from now on.” He smiled and went back to his employee station. I turned back to machine and scanned my next gallon of milk.

“Please place the item in the bag.” I set it in the bag and nothing happened. After a few moments, the U-SCAN said, “Please place the item in the bag.” So I lift the milk up and set it down again. This time, however, the U-SCAN said, “Please wait for an attendant.”

What. The. HELL.

I turned to signal the attendant and found that he was already walking in my direction with some hand-held thing in his hands. He looked at my screen, pressed a few buttons on his hand-held and my scan registered. I started to thank him, but he was already walking back to his station. I scanned the first box of donuts.

“Please wait for an attendant.”

I stood there and shook my head in resignation. The attendant appeared at my shoulder, looking at my screen and pressing buttons on his hand-held. My scan registered. “Please place the item in the bag.” I did so, fully expecting no confirmation that I had done so. However, in a stunning turn of events, it did not repeat its request and was patiently waiting for me to scan my next item. I scanned the second box of donuts.

“Please wait for an attendant.”

“Suck on my dick.”

The attendant reappeared again, looking at my screen and pressing buttons. The scan registered, he disappeared. “Please place the item in the bag.” I put the box on top of the other box of donuts and pressed the PAY NOW button. Of course, there was NO ISSUE WHATSOEVER the payment process. That’s not surprising, really. It’ll take your money just fine.

I left the store with a strengthened resolve to not use the U-SCAN again. But I’m sure, in a future moment of weakness, I’ll forget the intensity of my current feelings and I’ll be lured into giving it another shot.

When I was a kid, we had this book called The Best Loved Poems of the American People. When I first discovered this book, I totally thought that was true…that these poems were indeed the best loved ones of the American people. Since I had never heard of any of them, I memorized a few of the titles and verses in the book of poetry, went to school and peppered my conversations with titles and quotes from these poems so that people would see that I was “in the know.” I mean, I didn’t want to be one of the American People who didn’t know any of these supposedly “best loved” poems. I figured, based on the title, that everyone would know them. I asked my friends and my teachers if they had heard of this one or that one or that one or this one. Now, looking back, I see that asking other 9 year olds was kind of ridiculous. But none of my teachers knew any of the poems I mentioned, either. So my conclusion was that there must have been a vote back in the 1920’s or 1930’s (before my teachers were born) where a bunch of newspapers asked readers to send in their favorite poems. Then, all the newspapers got together and sorted out the poems into stacks, so that all entries for this poem was in one stack, all entries for that poem were in another stack and so on. Then…they took the 100 largest piles and said, “These! These are the best, loved poems of the American people! By Jove, we’ll include them in a book so that all the people of America can learn to love them, too.”

Anyway, after I discovered this book on our shelf, my dad saw me reading it one day and shared with me his favorite poem. At 9, I had no clue what the poem was about or what it meant, but after I started going to catholic school in 7th grade (1982 for those keeping score at home) and hearing, for the first time in my life, about God and His divine plan and what not, I remembered a poem from the book that was the complete and total opposite of what I was now hearing from the teachers. I went home and got the poem book down off the bookshelf. I had long since forgotten the name of the poem, so I glanced through each one, looking for that last line that I remembered quite clearly. I thought, but wasn’t certain, that this was the same poem my dad had showed me. Or it could have been just one of the many I had read years ago, so I went to ask him. He didn’t have to look at the book. He had it memorized and recited it to me. It was called “Invictus,” by Wm. Ernest Henley. I think that this poem served to shape my belief structure more than anything else.

This poem didn’t show up again until October of 2005 at my dad’s funeral. Only, it wasn’t exactly THAT poem. I was awfully surprised when the reverand/pastor/monsignoir/priest guy read a poem that he “knew was [my dad]’s favorite.”

The following link has both the poem that my dad shared with me years and years ago, (on the left) and the poem that was read at my dad’s service (on the right).

Invictus and My Captain <—-Click this

I asked my mom where that poem came from and why it was read, and she said, through her tears, “Because your daddy wanted it.”

In the house where I grew up, there was never any talk of religion. However, at some point it had to have been mentioned because I knew there was someone named God who lived up in the sky on a cloud. He sat on a throne and watched angels bowl (i.e. thunderstorms). I had no inkling about why they were bowling. I just knew that they bowled and, I assume, slept when they weren’t bowling. It was all a very storybook-ish type image. I was raised with a very strong “personal responsibility” motif and that it was MY choices, right or wrong, that would turn me into whoever I would eventually become.

So, to hear that poem read, and by my dad’s request at that, I felt….what…betrayed? Angry? Disappointed? Confused? All of the above? It was totally different from how I was raised. It was so foreign to me that I could almost hear the screeching of tires as my “emotional involvement” in the funeral proceedings came to a stop. Everything from that point up until they played Taps at the graveyard had no meaning or impact for me. It was as if I was at some stranger’s funeral.

From what I know about my father, and from my experience with a few other people I’ve known in my life, I think that as some people get older, they tend to WANT to believe more because they know that they’ve almost reached the end. In my humble opinion, I think that’s like cramming for the test the night before. I mean, how is it that a lifelong theory of thought gets tossed out the window based on the fear that there might not be…and the hope that there will be…something more? And if it’s based on hope, I don’t think that should qualify as “faith,” because the two are different.

This one time (not at band camp) my daughter asked me to stay in the bathroom while she got her bath. When I asked her why, she said that she was afraid a Great White Shark was going to come up out of the drain and she just wanted someone there with her.


That got me thinking back to when I was a kid and the irrational fear I had about sharks. It was at the swimming pool. There were two diving boards: a low dive, which is what most pools have nowadays, and a high dive, which fewer and fewer pools seem to have. This high dive was about 12-15 feet high. Every time I stood on the edge of the diving board, I could clearly imagine the following scene: Just as I step off the diving board and commit myself to the freefall, a shark will emerge from the water directly beneath me and I will plummet straight into its mouth and eaten alive.

It didn’t matter that I KNEW that if there was a man eating shark in the pool, it would have been common knowledge and the pool would have been closed. It didn’t matter that I KNEW there was no way a shark could survive in a chlorine swimming pool. That’s the image that was in my head. I still jumped. But once I hit the water, I swam like the dickens to get to that ladder and out of the pool.

Then, strangely enough, that scene in my head kind of ended up really happening. When I was 10, my sister (who was in college) went on a trip with a big group of people to the Bahamas and she took me along. They had chartered a boat (named Sundancer). One day, everyone decided to go for a swim. Now, this was NOT a swimming pool. This is the actual ocean and there were actual sharks that lived in this ocean. Earlier in the trip, I had seen them. Needless to say, I didn’t want to go into the drink. I had my goggles on, but I didn’t want to go in. My sister was in the water telling me it was fine and that I could come on in, but I just stood on the deck of the boat in my goggles shaking my head no. So one of the guys grabbed me underneath the arms and threw me in. I screamed and held tightly onto my goggles, because I didn’t want them to fall of when hit the water and burn my eyes because of the salt. When I went under, I could see clearly because of the goggles. And I saw a shark. OK, so maybe it wasn’t a shark. Could’ve been a barracuda, might have been a dolphin, or it could have been a just a fish that was close, but at that moment, it was a goddamn shark. I swam back to the boat, scurried up the ladder and ran to my little cabin below deck. From then on, I wouldn’t go in the water.

To this day, whenever I go to a beach, I won’t wade out any farther than waist deep.

THAT was put to the test during sping break 2006 when we were given a trip to Hilton Head. One day, the dad of the other family we went with and I took all six kids for a walk down the beach. It was a fairly long walk…about 45 minutes down and about an hour or so back (cuz we were tired and walked slowly). On the way back, it seemed that the tide had come in and now there was…let’s just say…a river mouth where there wasn’t one before. We had to cross it in order to get back, no doubt about it. But this was really deep. The other dad went first with one of his kids and the water was up to mid-chest level on him, and he’s taller than me. But, I’m a dad and I’ve got my kids with me who need to get across. I don’t have the luxury of being uncomfortable in this situation so…I did what I had to do and took each kid across in turn, the water up to my chin, and all the while being nervous as hell because I’d read that places like that are a popular spot for things like sharks and what not. Definitely don’t want to do that again.

And yes, I sat on the bathroom floor with my book while she got her bath.

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