Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Goodbye Fran

I said goodbye to my friend's mother today. Goodbye as in the final goodbye that is. She was in the hospital in a coma after suffering a very severe stroke. I was saddened to hear about the stroke and even more so when I learned there was no way she was going to recover from it.

Fran was 73 and quite vivacious. She wasn't the person you would expect to have been felled by a stroke. I've known several people who had strokes recently. They were not in as good shape as my friend's mother. But they all were able to snap back from it. I just figured Fran would, too.

The people sitting in the ICU waiting room looked like they should be the ones in the hospital bed, not Fran. They were old and weathered. One was wearing a body brace and using a walker due to a recent spinal compression surgery. Most were overweight and walked unsteadily due their aches and pains. These people were all contemporaries of Fran and people I had known since the 5th grade. They had aged, but Fran never seemed to age in my eyes.

She was slim and sprite. Always had a smile to greet you with and a big laugh that exposed her warmth. It wasn't her time to go, but who am I to say? In the end I guess it was.

One of my cousins is a top cancer doctor and researcher. He once said that the problem with being a doctor is that you will always fail. That's because the patient will with absolute certainty die one day. So what is the doctor's job? How long do you to try to preserve life? Who can determine when enough is enough?

I suppose we all think we can cheat death. We try to keep life going a bit longer because we know that the answers we seek will surely come tomorrow. We hope to find out if there is something better than the present, or we convince ourselves it must've been in the past. We forget that living is now, until it's not.

I was graciously invited to go into Fran's room by the family. I didn't want to intrude or impose but everyone was welcoming, especially Fran's husband, Ron. Big Ron as I knew him growing up. A large man in stature and personality. And from a kid's perspective at the time, somewhat intimidating. Fran was always a good counter to Big Ron.

I instinctively put my hand on his back and rubbed it. I told him how peaceful and at rest Fran looked. It was true. She had been in the hospital less than 24 hours so she still had color on her skin. Her eyes were not sunken into her head. I'd seen the death pallor before on ill patients who were awake and clinging to life. The open mouth, shocked eyes. You knew death was knocking. Fran was just asleep, resting peacefully. It was good to see this and I needed to tell Ron.

I think he appreciated it. He turned to me and said he suddenly felt at peace too.

The nurse walked in with her clipboard shortly after and started asking some perfunctory questions: What medications does she take? When did she take her last pill? Has she had a history of illness? Does she have cancer?

All of us in the room chuckled. We knew those questions didn't mean anything now. Fran was being kept alive on life support just so we could say goodbye. But Ron answered all the questions politely and patiently.  When the nurse asked if he had any questions she could answer Ron said yes he had only one. With his wry sense of humor he simply asked, "Why?"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Dog Sucks

My dog is asleep on the couch next to me. He breathes or rather sighs just like a person. It's kind of interesting to think he is alive just like me. Then he kicks me with his hind legs as he stretches out. I get up and leave.

I'm asleep in my bed. My dog comes up to my room, stands next to my bed and cries. He starts out with a slow whine then moves into a loud song until I awake and pat my bed giving him the okay to jump up. He walks across the bed deftly missing my legs and lays down next to me, like a human. His breath stinks and I feel the air from his dog lungs pass over his coarse tongue and yellow teeth that held roadkill earlier that day.

I now hear a lapping sound. Check that. A slurping sound. My dog is licking his dick. He calls it cleaning. I call it lucky.

He finishes and falls asleep next to me, his leg twitching and kicking me every so often. I put my arm around him just like a human, without realizing he probably has ticks that now embed themselves into my skin. My dog sucks.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Story Slam: Sometimes Death Happens

This entry, honed down to 5 minutes, is an updated version of an earlier story I wrote a couple of years ago. I used this piece at a recent Story Slam contest where 12 of us were selected to get up and read in front of an audience of 80-90 people, 3 of which were literary agents.

I didn't win - someone else did.

I was hit by a deer.

Yes, the deer hit me. He shot out of someone's front yard, as I was driving down the road one afternoon and smacked right into the side door of my car, a large white minivan, which is now referred to as the deer magnet.

This must’ve been the stupidest deer in the world. Who doesn’t see a large white minivan?

I’ve lived here for over 20 years. I’ve heard the stories. I’ve seen the post-accident carnage, but I never experienced it firsthand. Now, I could claim a kill, and it felt good, until my eleven-year-old daughter who was in the backseat screamed: "What was that? Did you hit someone?”

"No, it was just a deer and he hit me," I said.

"You killed a deer!? A deer!? What are you gonna do?" she cried.

I wasn’t sure. At least it wasn’t a person, I thought. If it were a person I would know what to do.

I slowed the car down, and reluctantly pulled to the side of the road. Should I even be stopping? I couldn’t do anything for it. The best thing for all us at that point was for the deer to die -- quickly.

I looked down the road, but I didn't see anything at first. Perhaps, he was just stunned. Maybe he got up and ran away. Or maybe his deer friends were watching from behind a bush laughing at the motorist who stopped.

Nope. He was there, in the gutter, on his back, his leg twitching, his body quivering. Not dead, but dying -- slowly.

My heart sank. What would Joe Pesci do?

I could never bring myself to whack his little deer skull to bits with a tire iron. But, I could back up the car and do a little forward/reverse action, just to help him crossover.

No, my daughter was in the car. She’d figure out why we were going over the same bump again and again.

Rhetorically, the words slipped out of my mouth. "What should I do?"

"I don't know, you're the adult!" my daughter snapped back at me.

She was right, but I still didn't know what to do.


A few weeks later, our fish died.

He was a freshwater blue gourami and joined our family six years earlier. He was a replacement for the five goldfish, which were won at a school fair by my two sons.

A word to the wise, don’t invest in a 10-gallon tank, filter, plastic plants and a castle until at least three weeks after bringing a goldfish into your home.

During that time span, each goldfish would take a turn dying in our beautifully decorated aquarium, now known as Davy Jones Locker.

And along with that died any hope of teaching the children compassion for another living thing. The boys had cheered wildly for more of the floaters.

The gourami was a second chance at redemption for the boys and my parenting skills. The gourami was thick and hearty and put those carnival fish to shame. He was surely going to live longer than 3 weeks.

And he did, but the kids were not impressed. He couldn’t be taught tricks and the only thing of interest to them was the long string of excrement that would trail out of his little fish anus.

The only other attention paid to him was when we returned home from occasional long weekends or vacations. The boys would race into the house to see the tank, only to shout out disappointedly: "He’s still alive!"

Until one day, he wasn’t. This 7-inch long fish that over the six years was once blue in color, then orange, had now turned stark white. He lay on his side at the bottom of the tank. He had struggled to die for two days, his gills gasping fruitlessly, his body sucked against the black filter.

I called the children into the room so they could see the final demise of this pet without a name. I suppose six years was not long enough to earn your own name. We had expected him to die like those before him, so we never bothered.

“Finally!” my eldest son exclaimed. The others concurred.

I told them he deserved a little more respect after all these years, and now I knew what to do. I told them we would have a proper burial in the backyard -- immediately.

The boys rolled their eyes.

"Where are you gonna bury him?" my daughter asked.

"Back by the dead tree stump."

"The neighbor's cat is gonna dig him up,” my middle son said. “He always pees there.”

"Get the shovel. We'll dig deep," I promised.

The burial site was prepared. And I gently flipped the fish into the hole. I have to admit the fish looked a little odd resting in the soil. But there he was, the white fish against the dark earth. I knew the cat would find him.

I managed to get a few words in: "Thank you fish for being part of our family. We're sorry we never named you, but we all knew who you were. You had a good, long life just like the man at the store said you would, so thanks for that, too."

 I went to cover the fish with dirt when all of a sudden his mouth opened wide and his fin flapped up and down.

"Oh my god! He's not dead," my daughter screamed. "Why are you burying him? He’s still alive."

I panicked. Thoughts of the deer struggling to survive went through my head. Should I do it right this time and just stamp on his body to finish him off? No, too many witnesses.

Quickly, I got on my knees and scooped the dirt onto the fish with my hands. The boys laughed. My daughter cried.

"I'm sorry,” I said to her. “He was just about dead. There’s nothing else we could do."

"He wasn't floating at the top like the others,” she sobbed. “He was still alive. You're a murderer! All you do is kill things!"

I looked at her helplessly. Still on my knees, with my shoulders shrugged and palms facing up, I said, "Sometimes death happens."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

However You Can Get It

The 75-year old man at the start of the race was slim and fit. This was his 12th 5K this summer and only my second in a year.  He was the third person that week unsolicited to tell me how important yoga was for the body. "As you get older, stretch more and run less," he said.

When I checked out his finishing time after the race, I was convinced that someone was trying to leave me a message and that I should try out yoga on a more regular basis. When I reach 75, I hope I can run 8 minute/miles like he did.

My gym (which is not fancy, basically a local Y) offers a regular schedule of yoga classes.  I never really had an interest in attending, though. It's not that I haven't taken a few classes before, it's just that I'm not into the whole "religious" experience side of it.

"Breathe in, breathe out. Feel as if all your worldly weight is lifting out of the top of your head as you stretch forward with your arms but leave your shoulders behind." Then at the end of class, they all look around at each other and wish everyone, "Namaste".

I don't know what "namaste" really means. But if it translates into: "your callused feet that you shoved near my face during that last stretch were so nasty, don't ever come near me again," then maybe I'll say it.

Also, the whole stretching and breathing thing is hard for me to coordinate. I know it's important to breathe and I seem to do it unconsciously everyday, I just can't focus on both things at once. Especially, when there are a bunch of limber women on their stomachs who can bring the soles of their feet to the tops of their heads. Who wants to put dry, cracked skin feet onto their heads?

I'm no gymnast or contortionist. I find these women intimidating. I know they are trying to show off and prove my stretchable inadequacy, so I don't like being around them. Fortunately, my gym now offers a class called Yoga for Men. It is described as a simple approach with a focus on muscle stretching and relaxation, period. No mention of getting in touch with your inner self and tickling your ears with your toes. And it's just for men.

The class is taught my a male instructor who I actually know, so I knew if I had some questions I wouldn't be afraid to ask. Like, is it safe to do the downward facing dog in an all-male class?

Remind me not to complain about being in a class attended predominantly by women ever again. It seems Yoga for Men is an invitation for a every geriatric and overweight guy in the gym to show up in their cargo shorts, short-sleeved buttoned shirts, and tennis sneakers. Absolutely uninspiring.

It's when they pulled out the layers of mats, foam blocks and pillows from the supply closet that I grew more passionless. I watched them surround themselves with these materials as if they were building a nest. We were either going to have an all-male Lamaze class or it was going to be nap time.

But not wanting to be the odd man out, I followed suit. I fashioned my cocoon like the other idiots and waited for Dan, the male instructor to show up.

It seems Dan forgot to tell us he wouldn't be teaching the class that weekend so for 20 minutes the 9 of us sat in the room quietly, each unsure of what to do.

Finally, I sat up and said out loud, "Doesn't look like there's class. I'm packing it in." The others nodded but continued to sit there, bewildered. Perhaps, they didn't know what to do next. Or maybe they just didn't to shuffle along the hallways until their wives collected them up at the top of the hour.

As I started putting my stuff back in the closet, a cheerful voice entered the room."Hello, guys. Sorry I'm late. I just found out I was supposed to be subbing for Dan. Oops."

It was Tami, the hottest instructor at the gym. She walked in with her fire engine red yoga mat rolled up under her arm, her form-fitting black leotard that enveloped her sleek yet shapely body, her golden brown kinky locks that rested just above her shoulders, and her Ugg boots which reached just below her knees. Who cared that it was still summer and she was wearing winter boots? She was smoking!

There was an unanimous response from the room: "That's okay, Tami."

I quickly pulled out my mat, pillow, and foam block and reclaimed my spot on the floor. I wasn't going to miss a second of this. I nodded knowingly to the gentleman next to me, who took off his fishing cap and swatted down his comb over.

"Okay, let's start with some deep breathing," she said.

Breathing? Really? She spoke quietly and slowly. Like a snake charmer she entranced me. "Take deep, long, throaty breaths. Push them in and out. Force it. I want to hear your male power roar through the air." Do you know what it's like to be in a room with older men breathing that hard and trying to push air out of their mouths? It's like they were all trying to take a massive crap.

"Pull the energy out from below and turn it into expelled air. Imagine reaching down to your sex organs and thrusting the air up from that area. Release." Yes, Tami actually said 'sex organs' in the all-male class. I never knew how important breathing could be.

If she had stopped with that exercise it would've been good enough for me, but she continued. She had us perform some of the basic poses. Not that I'm anywhere near an example of what the proper pose should look like, I was light years ahead of my classmates. While I can balance on one foot and even bend my legs in a certain direction, the other guys looked like toddlers just learning to walk. They wobbled uncontrollably off their mats catching themselves before any serious collisions could occur. I wouldn't say they bending to reach their toes, but they did sort of lean forward and point to where there toes were supposed to be.

Tami had the utmost patience throughout all of this. She walked the room, observing and guiding the men as to what they were supposed to do. She rubbed their backs with an "atta boy" encouragement pat and whispered something into their ears.

That's when I realized I had it all wrong. Instead of trying to do the pose correctly, I started acting like the other guys. During the downward dog, I made sure I couldn't arch my back and thrust my butt into the air. Instead of holding an almost 90 degree angle at the hip, I kept it flat.

Tami knew I could do better. I was a bad boy. She stood behind me and reached both hands around my hips and pulled up. My butt pressed into her stomach as she gripped me. "Keep it firm," she said. "Suck in the stomach muscles." Oh, it was going to get firm I thought. Then she leaned forward near my ear and whispered: "Is that comfortable?" I nodded vigorously and received a pat on the back. I had made her happy.

Unfortunately, the next time I took the class. Dan actually showed up. You could see the look of quiet disappointment amongst the other members. Interestingly, the class seemed to have grown in size from the previous week. I guess word-of-mouth works at any age.

And while most of these guys have 20 years on me, at least we all understood the value of yoga and were willing to keep it at it. Perhaps Dan would mysteriously fall ill and need a replacement some time in the near future. Until then, I now had an answer to my question: Yes, it is safe to perform the downward dog in an all-male class.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Divorce Envy?

My wife accused me of Divorce Envy. Just because most of my friends are now divorced, she thinks that I want to get divorced, too.

She says I hang out with them too much and I must be jealous of their new lifestyle. A lifestyle which includes the freedom to meet new people and get laid.

I can tell you that nothing can be further from the truth.

Honey, I hang out with these people because I have Marriage Envy. The more I'm with my divorced friends, the more I realize their lives are hell. Amen.

I socialize with divorced people for several reasons: 1) The statistics are against me. I can't help it that more than half the marriages end in divorce. There's just more divorced people out there to be with. 2) I hate doing the couple thing. Married people are boring. 3) My divorced friends need a friend to confide in. I know, I'm a martyr. I just want to give back and be there for them, hang with them, and hear their stories from the other side.

But once the divorce proceedings are finalized and the divorcees have opened their online dating accounts, a married person is pushing their luck with the whole cry-on-my-shoulder thing.

This is what must've happened to me. I must've overstayed my welcome. "Time to come home."

Perhaps, my wife didn't appreciate my friendly advice to my newly divorced friends: "Don't get married again. This is your chance to go out and have fun. Don't even think about settling down."

I'm not being naive. I hear that type of advice offered all the time to new divorcees from both sexes. I think it makes sense. Sew those wild oats. Have crazy monkey sex on kitchen counters. Enjoy!

"So, your life is so bad?" my wife asks.

"My life? No. I'm talking about my friend's life. They're obviously coming out of something painful. Why should they try and repeat that so soon? They should go out and live a little."

"And is that what you're doing with them? Living a little?"

I may have said this before, but honesty has no place in a relationship. But living vicariously through your divorced friends does. Sure they have great pick up stories, enhanced sex lives, and erotic texts from one night stands. But they also have lawyer's bills, psychiatrist sessions, missed carpools, angry children, and lots of heavy baggage.

No. I don't want to be out there hunting for my next meal, or bagging anything with saggy tits and flabby stomachs. But I sure don't mind hearing about it from other people.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Flight 1619

Air travel sucks. Everyone knows that. But it doesn't suck when you get bumped up to First Class!

That didn't happen on this flight. But I did manage to move myself and my son up to the front of Coach which is almost like First Class.

Continental Airlines' online pre-check-in service has taken some cues from the Amazon shopping cart. As you download your boarding pass, several other offers now pop up trying to gain some extra shares of your wallet.

Do I want a rental car? No. A hotel? No. Travel insurance? No. Pre-paid meals? No. More legroom? Huh?

Are you telling me that the seat I bought sucks? And now you're giving me the opportunity to pay a little extra and get better accommodations?

Why not? For another $49 each we can get front row seating. Our feet can actually slip under the partition and touch First Class. Most importantly, we can get off the plane faster.

Flying is either all about getting on the plane or getting off of it. If you have elite status you can line up with the other 95% of passengers, board first, and try and get an overhead compartment.

It's great when getting on the plane, but if you're anywhere near the back it still sucks to get off the plane. That's why I, who no longer has any elite status, was glad to pay a little extra for the ease of leaving the plane.

In fact, I happily boarded the plane last. Sure, I had to pass by the smug First Class customers but I didn't have squeeze through the fat-ass losers who block the aisle trying to stuff their cheap, bloated luggage in the cramped overhead cabins. Why the fuck is it so hard to get your bag in there?

Arriving jostle-free at our seats in row 7, I found the extra $49 even bought us the privilege of an empty middle seat. This was going to be an easy flight and no one was going to recline into my face.

Also from my seat, I could see the DirectTV programs running in First Class. We had it too, but ours ran for only 10-minutes before asking for payment and then cutting out. That was okay. Someone had a basketball game on and since my seat was strategically situated I could see it clearly.

"Dad, give me your credit card," my son demanded.

"For what?"

"I want to watch South Park."

"Don't you want to watch the game?" He shook his head.

"I don't want to pay $6 dollars just to watch TV."

"Then give me $10 dollars for peanuts and a slice of cheese."

I gave him my credit card for the TV instead.

I was feeling good about everything until I looked across the aisle.

What was she doing there? There's no way she paid for the upgrade.

The other thing the front row of Coach is reserved for is special needs customers - the old and the slow.  And this lady was both.

She was small, frail and wrapped on some billowy garment that floated over her frame. I couldn't tell how much there was to her. She had grey hair tied back in a pony tail, thick coke-bottle glasses and a steel cane - the kind with the four-pronged footing meaning she was really going to be slow.

There was no way I was going to let her get off the plane before me. Once First Class departed she would bottleneck the whole works.

Maybe she would die during the flight. Just put the blanket all the way over her and leave her there until the cleaning crew arrived. Harsh, I know, but I paid $49 to exit fast, not to be a nice guy.

I nudged my son and told him to look across the aisle.

"What?" he asked.

"We need to exit before her no matter what happens."

He shrugged his shoulders and put his earplugs back in. It was clear I was going to have to guide him through the whole exit process.

Throughout the flight I kept looking over at her, glaring. Occasionally, she would turn her head and cough. It was one of this sick, mucous-laden coughs. She didn't even cover her mouth. Death was surely knocking on her door, but would she let him on Flight 1619?

My plan was simple. It would be a block and run. And when the plane landed, I prepped my son to have his bag ready so he could walk from his window seat straight into the aisle. Keep going, I told him, no matter what happens. He shrugged his shoulders.

As soon as the all clear bell rang, I unbuckled and stood up. I backed out of my row into the aisle essentially sticking my ass into her cough hole. She couldn't stand even if she were able to.

Then the person in the row behind her offered to get her cane down. What the fuck was that about? No one needs chivalry at this point. I had to think quick. I grabbed my son's shoulder.

"Go, go, go," I hushed as loud as I could and pushed him into the First Class cabin aisle. The plane had not begun to exit yet but he was queued up perfectly. Maybe a bit too close to some of the passengers but no one was going to tell a kid to move. And I, as his father, was situated right behind him as I should.

"Excuse me," I heard a passenger say behind me. "Could you reach this woman's cane?" I pretended to ignore the request. Maybe they weren't speaking to me?

But when the old lady poked her bony pointer finger into my thigh, I instinctively looked in her direction. Our eyes met, or at least something that was behind her aquarium-thick glasses met. She then pointed her finger up. I looked and saw the steely shaft of slowness resting in the overhead. I had no choice but to give it to her.

And I did. I took it out and rested it flat on the ground in her row. Hah! That'll slow her down, I thought. Try and pick it up now.

And she did. A black shoe crept out from under her tent-like dress and flicked the cane up into a standing position. She rested her hand on its handle and popped up ever so quickly. She grabbed her small tote back and flung it effortlessly over her shoulder. She was sprite, and I was sure she used the whole cane thing as a prop to gain sympathy and easy flight access. Very clever, old lady. Very clever. But I'm still ahead of you.

"Dad, come on," my son called. He was already at the doorway. The front had cleared out and the only thing between me and the exit was stale airplane air. I moved forward and never looked back.

Striding along in the terminal ahead of all the other suckers I looked over at my son. "That's how it's done, kid," I said. He just looked at me not caring or understanding what the big deal was. He's just a rookie, I thought. One day he'll remember how it all came down.

Just then a golf cart passed by. Sitting on the back of the vehicle facing us was the old woman. She looked at me through her thick lenses as she raced by, and I was sure a smirk managed to creep across those dry, cracked lips.

My son looked over and asked, "Why couldn't you get us a ride like that?" Sure I felt a bit defeated but I was not going to let on to it.

"One day, son. One day," I said.

Friday, February 25, 2011

We suck, yay!

By "we" I mean those of us under 60 years old. And by "suck" I mean we suck.

From this you may assume that I think 60 year olds and above are better than the rest of us. And I do. I'm not sure how much better they are now since they are old, but at one time they were surely much better than we probably ever will be.

I've come to this conclusion by taking a 20 year-old person from 1970, adding in the relevant cultural experiences they were conscious to along with the music that was being created during their lifetime by peers of the similar age bracket and have determined that the intersection of the various critical points of time had conspired to make a cooler generation than any that has followed it.

A 20-something year old in the 1970s would have experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis - the time when the world was surely going to end. They would have had parents that had lived through a just war with a clear enemy. They would have witnessed the assassination of a President, a Senator and a civil rights leader. They would have been or known someone who was either drafted, dodging or waiting to be drafted to fight a war nobody understood. They would have been experiencing free love (whatever that means), more drugs, a women's lib movement, and the end of racial segregation. They would have been witness to the space race and how American will could lift man upwards. They would have known such uncertainty, horrors and potential for good in such a brief span of time that they would have forever changed whether they wanted to or not.

And so much of this change was expressed in the music of their time. To this day, I still listen regularly to songs from this era. Even my own children listen to music from that time. My son was singing along to Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" on his iPod just the other day. This music was already old when I listened to it, but for some reason it's a classic.

When I was 20 years old, I was not listening to music that preceded me by 40 years. And I certainly did not listen to my parent's music. There was something that made music developed in the 60s, experimented in the 70s and honed in the 80s so fresh. Much fresher than most of the music I hear today that comes across as manufactured and soulless (I realize that's a mass generalization, but really, there's not too much good out there).

It's the passion and purpose that this classic music conveyed that is so compelling. There were stories told by the musicians. Stories of causes, of love and conviction regarding ideals of the time. Each musician told it in their own personalized forms from the Beatles to Smokey Robinson to The Doors to the Stones to the Dead to Hendrix to Joplin to Credence to Lou Reed to The Ramones to The Clash to Bruce to U2 to REM to so many others that I will never be able to fill in all of them. The one point to make is that you still hear their music today. It's got legs. This music is heard in movies, TV ads, and my kid's iPods. It's music from a very special time. Along with cockroaches, this music could survive a nuclear holocaust.

The rest of us suck. Most of our music means very little. We had it easy growing up. We had very little to fight for, very little common pain. We weren't under threat of a military draft. Most of the dangers in in the world happened elsewhere. We just watched from afar.

The closest we've come to terror is 9/11, but perhaps an even bigger terror for us is the recent financial meltdown. This was one of the few things that affected us collectively.  It's going to be hard to make good music out of that.

I'm not sure how much longer I can listen to one-hit wonders like Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You" or should I say "Forget You"? But it is a fitting song of our generation - music about being soft and selfish.

Show me a good song, and I'll show you a good country. Until then, the nation's gone to hell. We suck.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Just the Facts

It's hard to take people's word on things.

As some of my friends put themselves out on the dating circuit, I get to hear the war stories they go through trying to find a new mate.

Meeting someone is like interviewing for a job. First, you have to find a job to apply to, then make contact, and if your background specs match up, you may get the face-to-face meeting. It's a process that takes time and energy.

A lot of the popular dating sites try to minimize the pain. But from what I hear, you can't always believe what you see and read. For example, most of the pictures posted are a few years older than reality. I've heard many times that the person on the date didn't even match the photo.

Also, who's going to write a bad profile? "My wife left me because I'm a fat wad who can't get off the sofa. I have reflux and I'm emotionally needy. Let's connect."

As I've said before, honesty has no place in a relationship. And you're certainly not going to get honesty from these online resumes.

That's why I've come up with a new idea. I don't want to replace these online dating sites (which seem like the only way to meet people these days). I just want to complement them with a way to save time and disappointment.

How about a CarFax report on your prospective date? Wouldn't you want to know the personal history data on something you're trying to buy in to?

And are people on the dating scene really that different from used cars? Isn't everyone just looking for an accurate representation of the goods?

Here's an example of how I would compare things. Below, we see the main CarFax checkpoints. My corresponding points follow:

A) Vehicle Mileage              
B) How Many Owners?       
C) Severe Accidents?          
D) Lemon?                          
E) Service Records?            
F) Frame Damage?             
G) Airbags Deployed?        
H) Fleet Car?                      

A) Age
B) How many marriages?
C) Is there anything salvageable here?
D) Is this person a loser? What does the community say?
E) Dental records, psychological reports, reconstructive surgeries
F) FICO scores (even a minor financial issue can hurt overall value)
G) How many dating disasters occurred prior to yours?
H) How much does this person put out?

I'm just trying to help here. I believe standardization will offer full disclosure, more efficient dates, and transparency. No longer will you run the risk of dating someone with costly hidden problems. Reports can be accessed in seconds. Just ask them to show you the DateFax, and wedding bells will be chiming before you know it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Full of Reservations

I hate planning for most things in advance. I don't know what I'm having for dinner. I don't know where I'm going to retire. And I really no thoughts about where I'm going to be buried. But after my night out last weekend, I realize a little upfront legwork can be useful.

My wife and I drove our 14 year-old daughter into Manhattan. She was invited to a party and sleepover with camp friends. Usually, a trip into New York is a pain in the ass when you live in the suburbs. But if you can go in at the right time and beat the traffic, NYC can be a stress-free adventure for the bridge and tunnel folk.

And we did just that, making it from home to party spot in 35 minutes on a Saturday evening. Very cool. Most Manhattanites can't even travel within the city that fast.

We dropped off my daughter at a seedy looking establishment in Chinatown located right under an elevated subway line. All 82-pounds of her were wearing high heels, a skirt that just covered her puberty and a tank top. It was 38 degrees outside. Good luck, honey. If you need any money, try hooking.

We took off and headed for Soho - an artsy part of town. We found parking immediately on Mulberry Street and thought this was an omen for a good night.

We walked around the neighborhood taking in the liveliness of the crowded streets. We couldn't help to remark how trendy the area had become since we used to show up there. The hole-in-the-wall apartment on Spring Street near the Bowery (and the old CBGB's) where my good friend lived after graduating college, had become an upscale area.

Back then, it was still a bit dicey to walk around there - day or night. Even my friend's landlord was a bit suspect. He would leave threatening notes to his tenants if they were a few days late in rent. "Rats Die" could be penned on a note in your mailbox sometimes as a reminder.

These days, few of us could barely afford the rent being charged to live in that same shitbox. I hate to think what would happen if someone is now late with the rent.

The evening was getting chillier and we thought we would duck into a local restaurant for warmth and sustenance. The beauty of New York is that there's some type of food establishment on almost every block you walk down. And we found a small, inviting place serving a Middle Eastern fare that was wedged on the street level between two old buildings. The place had a cozy feel. People were standing near the small bar making even smaller talk. And the kitchen was exposed to the street with a big glass window. More importantly, there were a few empty tables in sight. More luck.

We walked in, spoke to the maitre d', and were told the wait was about an hour. I looked around at the empty tables and then back to the man. "Perhaps, a bit sooner. Have a seat at the bar," he said.

We walked over to the bar. Or should I say the wine bar, because that's all they were serving! I was actually in the mood for a bourbon on this cold night. So after a few minutes, we walked out to try our luck elsewhere.

We headed back towards the main thoroughfare of Spring Street and came to the bustling Balthazar restaurant, or a bistro as they like to call it. The place is huge and is known for its wonderful bakery as well as its breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. It was hopping inside and a fully stocked bar took up one wall of the place. It was just past 9 pm now so getting a seat should be no problem ...

... if you still lived in the suburbs. It seems 9 pm is still early in Manhattan and a two-hour wait for two was going to be too long!

The ambiance of New York was beginning to wear off. The cold air was not so pleasant anymore, and our hunger was beginning to turn to agitation.

"Let's just head to Hoboken," my wife said. "There has to be a place there."

The thought of leaving the city and heading back across the Hudson was depressing. But Hoboken has really changed and has some fine eateries as well as a fantastic view of the Manhattan skyline. At least, we could feel the city's presence from there, have some good food and then get home quite easily.

It only took about 15 minutes to get across, although to my wife who fell asleep during the drive it felt like hours.

"You're a lot of fun," I said.

"I'm hungry alright," she snapped back after popping her eyes open.

We drove by a few familiar restaurants and then decided upon a familiar steak house. The charming thing about Hoboken is that it is filled block after block with old apartment buildings and brownstones. The other thing is that maybe like 22 people have garages in the entire place. Everyone else parks on the street. This means no one really moves their car.

We circled the block that the restaurant was on. We expanded the circle by two blocks, then three. Nothing. We did this for 45 minutes. I had thought about calling the restaurant to place a pick up order but that would've been another 30 minute wait. We would've killed each other by then.

"I can't keep my eyes open," my wife mouthed as if she were on her last breath. And yet, she mustered more energy to bellow, "you should've made reservations."

I was tits up in a ditch. I had failed to find one place to eat in one of the best gastronomic cities in the world. I had failed to find parking in one of the most densely populated one-square mile cities west of the Hudson. I had turned a Saturday night filled with hope and romance into a night filled with hunger pangs and snores from my wife's mouth followed by drool (yeah, I said it).

I thought about this as I sat in the comfort of our suburban diner - the only place open at that hour - located one and a half miles from our home and ate my chicken gyro sandwich with tzatziki sauce on the side. My wife nursed a coffee.

"You gotta go back tomorrow morning to get her," she said.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Treading Water

There I was in the deep end of the pool with my flotation belt on. I was simulating running. All I had to do was keep my head up and my knees pumping.

Thank god no one else was in the pool near me. I looked like a wounded fish flapping around in the water.

At the far end of the pool, in the shallow area, several older woman had entered the water. They stood next to each other talking and bouncing slightly. I guess going up and down on your toes is some type of new exercise. Come on down to the deep end, ladies. I'll show you some real exercise.

Ten minutes had passed. My goal was 45 minutes. The monotony would kill me before the workout. I started doing short laps from side to side. Then I jogged the alphabet. F was quite difficult. Time was still passing slowly.

I noticed that the water had become choppy. I looked toward the other end of the pool and was surprised to see about 30 elderly women now in the pool. An aerobics class was starting. I watched these ladies perform stretches and bobs. It was a geriatric water ballet - without an ounce of precision.

I continued on my path going back and forth from each side, and then started jogging the numbers. 8 was my favorite.

When I got to 13, I heard someone say: "Beep, beep. Coming through."

An armada of wrinkled seniors had invaded. They rode from their end of the pool on the tops of colorful foam noodles that stuck erotically out of the water in front of them. They had surrounded me.

"You should join us," one of them said.

"It's a lot of fun," another said.

I was now in the middle of their exercise class. I navigated left, then right trying to avoid these flabby buoys. "It looks too hard," I politely responded.

Some of them giggled at my retort. A couple of them winked and waved for me to come join in. I just smiled and started pumping faster.

They continued back to the shallow end and then back to the deep. It had turned into a game of Frogger as I tried to steer clear of the doddering fleshy floaters.

Even when they had me pinned in the corner of the pool, never did I stop my knee pumping and arm thrusting. This, I believe, kept them at bay.

Eventually, they lost stamina. Only about 3 or 4 of them were able to continue doing full lengths of the pool. The rest stayed on the shallow side, teetering up and down on their noodles, sliding them back and forth along their bodies. Do not use the noodles in public pools.

The pool emptied out and from my vantage point I watched the women walk along the deck to the changing room. I got a good look at them, their legs - a parade of Italian white marble.

I averted my eyes, kept my head facing forward, worked the knees, and kept thinking good thoughts. Only five minutes to go until I reached my goal.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Small Accomplishments

I'm so proud of myself. I recently fixed two things.

Things that people in my town don't do on their own. They hire other people to take care of it and pay them a lot of money to do it.

I have a five-year old Craftsman snowblower. I know, why do I even own one when people in my town hire snow plows to clear their driveways. I used to do that, too. I just got tired of waiting until midnight to get plowed out.

In five years of owning the blower, I never did much to take care of the machine besides occasionally pouring some extra oil in. This past fall, I finally took it in for a maintenance check up.

Two hundred dollars later I get a cleaned up snowblower delivered back to my house - there goes my amortization! I wasn't sure it was worth doing until I saw on the maintenance report that they cleared out a mouse nest. Imagine firing the machine up after the first snowfall?

Anyway, I fired up the blower after our recent blizzard. Everything worked fine until I reached the last 10 yards of my driveway filled with 22-inches of snow. The traction drive went kaput. I was tits up in a ditch.

I called the bastards at the snowblower repair shop and they told me Craftsman machines are crap anyway, and surely it was nothing they did during maintenance. Bastards!

They said they could come out the following week to get the machine.  I didn't want to wait until next week.

Fuck them! Instead, I downloaded the service manual from the internet. I wanted to see for myself how this traction drive worked. I cleared a space in my garage, put the machine on its end, and then contemplated what I was trying to do for two hours.

What the hell? If I mess it up, I won't feel so bad about paying the repair shop to fix everything. At least, I'll know it would be worthwhile at that point.

I grabbed my socket wrench and easily removed a few screws and the covering plate. As soon as I took the plate off I could see the axle and chain drives. Everything looked solid.

I shined a flashlight into the deeper reaches of the machine and saw a loose bolt sitting in the corner. I picked it up and recognized that it had been sheared off. The other half was sitting on the other side of the machine. The drive mechanism and axle were held together simply by this one bolt!

I grabbed another bolt and nut from some spares I had around my toolbox (yes, I have a toolbox!), dropped it in, tightened it and voila! - I got traction. Fuck you, repair shop!


The second accomplishment may even rival the first one.

My eldest son got his driver's license last year. He crashed the car this year.

Crash may seem too violent. He misjudged a turn and hit some boulders that were near a curb he was negotiating. The plastic bumper got a huge dimple, the kind you just want to pop out but never seem to be able to do.

Some may think the accomplishment I achieved was not killing my son. But, no, I was calm. What I am most proud of was what happened next.

I rented an industrial-strength heat gun (cost: $10). It resembles a heavy-duty hair dryer. I heated up the plastic just enough to make it malleable and pop out the dimple to its original shape (cost: priceless).

Besides a few deep scratches that the boulder left as a reminder, the bumper was restored to near-original perfection.

Voila! Fuck you, repair shop! Yay, me!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Three Pricks and a Finger

I always try to start my year off with a bang. And nothing says bang like fasting, getting no sleep, and seeing my doctor early in the morning all hungry and tense.

It's annual exam time, and I get worked up trying to be as healthy as possible before my visit. No alcohol or red meats for weeks in advance. I hit the gym to get the heart rate in an acceptable range. And I take an extra long shower so I smell minty fresh for the doctor.  Yeah, I'm the same guy who tidies up the house before the cleaning lady comes.

I'm off to a great start, as I walk in to my appointment late. They hand me the cup to pee in but I already went at home.  I would've busted a bowel if I had to wait until I got here. And my heart rate is pumping because I'm nervous I'm going to upset the doctor by being late and incapable of passing water. (Yeah, I know, I'm the customer and he's there to serve me).

"135 over 90," the nurse says. "That's a little high."

Shit. Now, she's holding my urine specimen. "Do you think you can give us a little more. We need to get to this line," she says as she points near the top of the cup. That line looks like a six-pack of beer away.

For some reason, I have always tried to impress my doctor by being an amazing physical specimen. I imagine him remarking about how fit I am for someone my age. He would be in such awe of my results that he would tell the whole office to come in a take a gander at me. "Aw, it's nothing," I'd say. "Just some good living."

But no, my crazy psychosis has me all worked up and the Baumanometer ain't lying.

"Let me look at your veins," the nurse says.

I'm usually pretty good with the blood draw, except when the nurse can't get the blood to come out. The slight pinch of the needle isn't so bad. It's when she starts sliding the thin metal rod up and down my vein fishing for a good spot that I get a little queasy.

"Open and close your fist. Hummph. Nothing seems to be coming out. Holding back on us today, are you?" She shakes her head then looks at my other arm. "How do those veins look?" 

Maybe it was the fear of her running that long needle up another vein that got my heart pumping evening more, or maybe she ruptured enough internal tissue to draw blood, but something started coming out.

"There we go. Nice and juicy. I knew I could squeeze something out of you," she says proudly.

She withdraws the needle which I was sure reached the bottom tip of my bicep and then hands me a piece of cotton to stop the flow of blood that seems to be on a fine stream now!

"Have you had your flu shots?" she asks. I slowly shake my head. "You should. The doctor recommends it."

She could see my look of hesitancy. "The shot is different this year. They've combined the Swine Flu with the regular flu shot so you only need one injection." She says this as if that was going to comfort me. She waves the small vial of vaccine in front of me. She had already come prepared. I would not be leaving without that shot.

"Okay," I shrug. She readies the needle and vaccine, grabs a piece of flesh at the back of my arm and thrusts the syringe in. With her thumb she presses down on the plunger. Her face tenses as if there is a problem getting the fluid to enter my body.  Don't tell me she's wedged into a bone.

"There we go. All in. It'll probably be a little sore for a while," she says nonchalantly. Thanks for the warning. "The doctor will be in soon. Take everything off except for your socks and underwear. And here's your robe." She leaves me on my own.

I look at the giant paper towel with arm-holes. They have a lot of nerve calling this a robe. It's an insult to all the terri-cloth garments found in proper hotel bathrooms around the world. I unfold the crinkly shield, slip it on, and try to sit as casually as possible on the examination table. And then I wait and wait and wait for the doctor to walk in.

Bored from waiting, I get off the table and walk around the sterile room. The magazine selection is of no interest to me, but the plastic model of the heart is intriguing. You can take it apart based upon the different chambers, veins and arteries. The aorta is tightly fitted and it causes some prying but I get it off. Little did I know that this item was the linchpin to the puzzle. Removing it causes all the other pieces to tumble out of my hand and onto the floor.

I squat down to pick up the heart parts trying to keep the paper shield on my body and in one place. I gather the pieces into my hands and stand up. My foot catches the edge of the "robe" and a huge rip ensues leaving the bottom quarter of the cover-up with a gaping hole. I put the heart puzzle on the side counter, disassembled, and quickly sit back on the exam table in case the doctor walks in. I smooth out the creases on my paper robe and try to look casual again.

Again, I wait and wait.

I get up to explore the cabinets above the counters. Unopened boxes of medium and large latex gloves are in there, along with one of those reflex hammers. I take the hammer and start banging the counter lightly to feel the recoil. Nice spring. Then I start banging different parts of my legs and arms. Nothing much was happening. I test it on my head. Suddenly the exam room door swings open.

"Hello, how are ..." the doctor starts. He doesn't need to say anymore. I put the hammer down on the counter and jump back on the table. He looks askance at my gown and then puts his file of papers on the counter. I could tell he notices the heart - the jumbled pieces of what was a perfect model of circuitry.

He looks over his notes. "Shall we try the blood pressure again?"

I nod approvingly. I take several deep breaths and let them out slowly in hopes of calming myself down.

"123 over 60. Much better," he says. A new feeling of confidence comes over me. Maybe I will impress him yet. He walks over and opens the door. Oh, man he's going to ask the staff to come in. "Nurse, can you bring me the other vaccine." What??? Where's the grand celebration?

He tells me there's one more shot I should get. It's the vaccine for whooping cough and tetanus, also one of those two for the price of one shots. He says there's been a new outbreak of this virus going around and that it's time for a booster on the tetanus. "You really should get it," he says as he waves the vial of medicine in front of me. I won't be leaving here without that one either.

He gracefully administers the shot in the other arm and tells me that I will probably feel some soreness in that spot as well. Whatever, I've already been reduced to a push-pin doll.

And now for the final invasion. He snaps on a latex glove, dabs a finger with some KY jelly and tells me to lie on my side, knees to my chest. Hello!

By the end of the exam, I finally feel relaxed. Heart rate is down. And I have three new holes in my body and another one that's a little greasy. Bang! Happy New Year!

Oh and those vaccine cocktails I had, well a few hours later I developed body chills and aches. I spent the rest of day and evening in bed shivering. Perhaps someone forgot to tell me about the additional flu-like side effects? Only 12 months to go to feel this again.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Happy and Healthy"

I promised my 90-year old uncle that I would look into upkeep issues at the family cemetery plot. He didn't like the looks of the family headstone. The marker was a bit weathered and he wanted it cleaned.

He said, "If I'm going to be laying near that thing I want it to shine." He says this as he stamps his foot on the grass where his grave will be dug. "I'm going to be right here. See how close I am to it?"

The plot has been used since the 1960s. My grandparents are there, my parents are there, a few cousins and eventually my aunt and uncle will be there. It's a sad looking place about a 2-hour drive from where I live. I try to go out once a year, usually to accompany my uncle.

Each time we plan to visit the cemetery together I tell him I'm only going in if he promises to also come out. I'm not sure he gets the gallows humor.

I'm quite sure I won't visit the cemetery too often after my uncle dies. I certainly will not be buried there. There's no room for one thing, but I think it's the giant landfill off in the distance that makes the place really unappealing. Perhaps, that's why my uncle insists on trying to beautify something in his control.

The great thing about cemeteries is that many of the supporting services are typically nearby. The flower shop, the guy who sells grave blankets (not sure what those are), a diner, and, of course, the monument maker.

I got the number of a storefront that had the nicest display of headstones. I'm not sure how else you pick these guys out.

I called a couple of days later and was greeted by a cheerful voice. "Hello! Morty's Mausoleums and Stone Cutting. How may I help you today?"

I suppose every time the phone rings at one of these places, it means they have a good chance of a sale. I'm sure most people call out of desperation and just want to check off this part of the grieving process, so they go with the first place they reach. I mean who really wants to spend a lot of time shopping around for this stuff.

I told the vivacious greeter I neede a family headstone cleaned. That's when the tone changed: "It's the middle of the winter. You gotta call back in the spring. Louie takes care of that stuff and he's out. He's the only one who can give a quote."

Wow, I found a specialist. This guy Louie must really know the ropes. I gave the person my name and plot location, and then asked: "You CAN clean headstones, right?"

"Yeah, yeah. Louie acid washes them. Cleans the dirt right off."

"And are the chemicals harmful to the ground?"

"No one's complained yet."

I figured I would not tell my uncle how they clean the stone, just that I took care of it. I thanked the person on the phone and before he hung up the sunny voice reappeared: "Have a happy and healthy!"

"You, too," I said in knee-jerk response. And then I thought how strange it was to be wished such a greeting from such a place.