Sunday, December 30, 2007

You Wanna Have A Catch?

I watched Field of Dreams again with my kids tonight. It's one of my favorite movies. It's a favorite movie of a lot of fathers.

A few years ago, my sons and I visited the site where they made the film. It's in the middle of nowhere, really. We went with my best friend and his three sons, the same ages as mine, more or less.

Driving along the Mississippi in the Midwest in July you see eagles and river towns and most of all corn. We stopped a few times to get gas or something to eat, but mostly we drove. We saw hills of corn and valleys of corn and fields of corn and more corn than you can imagine. Finally we reached Dubuque and our motel and concrete.

For dinner we went to Galena, Illinois and in the morning to the Mississippi River Aquarium. Both of them are nice as far as such things go. Then we went to Dyersville, the home of Field of Dreams.

There's a lot more corn in and around in Dyersville and we drove through most of it. We had lunch in a small café in town, meat loaf, pork chops, milk, potatoes. Then we drove to the field.

It is what it looks like on film. The house and the lights, the bleachers and the baseball diamond. There's no charge to get in, but there's a gift booth of course and we spent our money easily, buying hats and magnets and a copy of the brilliant book that is the basis for the movie.

Then we had a catch, two fathers and six kids. Had a catch, ran the bases, walked the outfield. There were only a few other visitors on this perfect summer day under a hot sun with the corn more than knee high. The boys ranged in age from six to eleven and they were happy just to be outside. So were my friend and I, and we stopped sometimes to watch them running across the grass, and we laughed with them even though it was sometimes hard to breathe as we saw our sons growing up and away from us.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

All Day Long I'd Biddy Biddy Bum

A resolution for the New Year:

To sing this.

In public.

In front of my children.

More often than I already do.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's All About Family

Holiday season aside, this past weekend was quite nice. I'm off work until next year, the Lovely Bride's got a bit of a break, and best of all, I had excuses to get out of the house and away from the children.

Saturday in particular was a lovely day. Electronics shopping in the morning, off to the meat market at lunchtime, then aimlessly wandering around a couple of big box retailers in the afternoon, accompanied only by my friend E., the father of my youngest's best friend.

By midafternoon we were hungry from a long day of avoiding our families and stopped in at a restaurant for nourishment. So there E. and I sat enjoying our snack when to our horror we heard, "Hi dad, hi dad, what are you doing here, what are you doing here?"

It was our two youngest boys, chattering in unison. My immediate suspicion was that my Lovely Bride had gotten tired of dealing with them and had somehow tracked us down. Around the corner came another one of their friends with his parents, however. It turned out our wives had dumped the kids on them and they'd decided to bring all the boys out for ice cream.

"Hey A., sit down," I said to the dad. "Make the kids go away first, though."

A. handed them some money and told them to go hang out in the restaurant's playroom for a while. He grinned madly at us.

"What are you so happy about?" asked E. "You get lucky this afternoon?"

A.'s wife rolled her eyes.

"Even better," said A. "I bought a new TV today."

We shook his hand and congratulated him.

"You were right," he said, turning to me. "I already like it more than my family."

Having recently purchased my own new television, I knew what I meant and told him so. "TVs are beautiful and they never talk back."

He described his new television's specifications to us in erotic detail until our kids finally reappeared. Apparently they'd finished mugging the younger children in the playroom and had decided we missed them, notwithstanding years of experience to the contrary.

"What are you guys talking about?" demanded my kid.

"Our TVs. Tell your friends how much I love my new television."

"My dad loves his television more than his kids," he said.

"That's right," I said, beaming proudly at how quickly he'd learned. "Next summer I'm going to take the TV on vacation."

"Where are we going?" asked my son.

"You're not going anywhere. TV and I are going to Chicago to see a Cubs game."

"That's stupid," he said.

"TV doesn't think so and neither do I," I said.

"I'm telling mom," he said.

"What else is new," I replied.

A.'s son looked at his dad. "You don't love our TV more than me, do you?"

A. paused for a moment until he saw his wife's expression. "Of course not. Whatever." None too convincingly.

"I'm glad we don't have a new TV," said E.'s son.

E. said, "I'm not. What the hell, I love their TVs more than I love you."

The boys put their heads down and trudged back to the playroom.

E. smiled. "Wait until they find out I bought your TV a Christmas present."

Which he personally delivered yesterday morning.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Greatest Gift Of All

My Lovely Bride got up early today to go to work. She is a hardworking woman, a dedicated employee, a model for all who have worked with and for her over the years.

I, on the other hand, had the day off, and was disturbed only by her preparations for the day. And then, as I lay there in that perfect moment at the intersection of sleep, wakefulness, and the knowledge of more sleep to come, I felt a pillow cover my face. Oh, I thought, my wife is going to suffocate me. This must be what a dog feels like when it's being put to sleep.

I didn't struggle or resist. I gazed up at the pillow in acceptance. Finally I realized she'd simply been trying to block my eyes from the light.

Easy come, easy go, I thought and drifted back to sleep.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Home For The Holidays

Not being much for holiday celebrations, it's usually just the immediate family on Christmas. While my mother comes over for dinner and the boys open the presents the grandparents and aunts and uncles send, that's the extent of it.

This year my best friend invited us to his house. The holiday there is more traditional, with crowds and feasting and all the rest of it. He's been my best friend since seventh grade, more years than I like to count, so I know his relatives and his wife's relatives, and his kids who I think of as my own. Who could refuse?

My oldest son. He likes my friend, he likes my friend's kids, he likes going to my friend's house. Crowds, he doesn't like so much. I understand. They suck the life out of me too.

Even I can't leave my child home alone on a holiday, though. I told him that. He understood, but he still didn't want to go. So he decided to ask his grandmother if she'd like him to make dinner for her that evening.

My mother is not a sentimentalist. She's given me far more detail on the disposal of her organs and ashes than I ever needed or wanted. I'm not sure she's cried since the day Bobby Kennedy was shot. She's got a soft spot for our kids, though, and when she heard her grandson wanted to cook for her, just the two of them, she got a little misty.

And that's what they'll do, have dinner together. My kid's got the menu planned already, and he'll do a nice job, he always does, and they'll talk tennis and discuss my shortcomings and do the other things that grandparents and grandchildren should do. The rest of us will get home from my best friend's about the time they finish cleaning up, and God willing, my son and my mother will exchange a glance and share a last laugh. That will be the best present I could have.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

All Hail The Snaggerdoodle

Judges, prepare to swoon.



















"Can these possibly be as good as they look?" you ask yourself.

They're better. Better, stronger, faster. They are no longer mere cookies. They are über treats, designed to maximize tastiness while retaining full caloric power.

Top cookie scientists from the Snag Family Test Kitchen labored for months over these chocolate sirens. Was theirs a simple task? Of course not. Greatness never is. We lost six of our best men in a gruesome cocoa accident. Another two suffered crippling injuries when an improperly designed arc welder caused a fire in a half-empty bag of almonds. We persevered, however, because the Bake-Off is more than just the sum of its entrants. The Bake-Off is Life.

And that is what we have created. "I give you life!" is not merely the roar of a maddened doctor in a bloody lab coat, it is our cry of victory, the exhortation we used to send these cookies on their way, through snow, sleet, and rain, by rail, air, land, even space if need be.

Judges, Life will soon be in your hands.

Note to DEA: The "Magical Cookies" reference on the plate does not mean what Billy Pilgrim thinks it does.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Christmas Letter

Wow! It's hard to believe a whole 'nother year's flown by already. Time never passed this fast in the joint, that's for sure.

Say what you will about 2007, it's been an exciting year for the Snag family. You may have seen the wire service reports about the unfortunate misunderstanding with the elk, the feng shui instructor, and the tanker of food grade vegetable oil, but there was so much more than that.

Our oldest son continues to thrive at "school" and his blissful ignorance of child labor laws keeps us well supplied with bourbon. His favorite sport remains extreme mumblety peg and he's begun to excel at it now that the training wounds have scabbed over.

Our middle child is turning into quite the instrumentalist and recently soloed on the Zamboni at our neighborhood Bastille Day festivities. He's been recommended for an Advanced Placement therapy regimen and we have high hopes he'll find his happy place again sometime soon.

We began home schooling our youngest son as his restraints were making it difficult for him to maneuver in the classroom. He seems to enjoy the extra attention and the doctors are cautiously optimistic that we'll soon be able to reintroduce paste into his curriculum.

My Lovely Bride has returned to school with the dream of becoming an independent pistolero. She has taken to gun play like a
streptococcus to a Petri dish and is already wanted in six western states. We're still as crazy in love as the day UPS delivered her to my door and many are the nights I drift asleep to the gentle sound of her quiet whimpers.

As for me, well I hate to brag, but it's been a banner year for Ye Olde Patriarch. Our family grackle polishing business continues to flourish and my depleted uranium collection was featured on the local news after it caught the attention of a congressional oversight committee. In my spare time I've taken up fluoridation and I'm planning a run next year for a spot on our sanitary district board with the support of the pro-sewage lobby.

Best of all, we added a new member to the clan in June, Siegfried the Talking Moose. While Siggy is still pre-verbal, his breeder assures us he comes from a long line of loquacious cervidae. We've printed up our own flash cards and can't wait for the conversation to begin.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy Hunting!

Love,

The Snags

Monday, December 17, 2007

For Want Of A Chili Dog

My two youngest boys had a basketball tournament this weekend, different brackets at the same location. Between Saturday and Sunday I spent 20 1/2 hours creating this particular childhood memory for my beloved offspring. That's 1,230 minutes or 73,800 seconds, in case you're wondering.

As one might guess, I'm not a particularly fussy eater and I can usually cram just about anything down my gullet with a fair amount of satisfaction. The choices were pretty slim here, though. The best of the bad lot were the chili dogs and they weren't much to write home about. God knows I love a chili dog as much as anyone, but these weren't much more than a tube of snout covered with ground cow in ketchup sauce. Still, better than the alternative offered here, the "walking taco." Notwithstanding my youngest's enthusiasm for them, a bag of Doritos doused in the aforementioned dual purpose sauce tastes even worse than it sounds.

So chili dogs it was. At least until Sunday, when, about to place my order, my phone rang. "Oh," I said to the person behind the counter, "it's my oldest son. He's spending the day at a friend's house. Excuse me for a second." Reception being what it is in an old brick school building, I went outside to take the call.

Surprisingly, he had not called to express his affection for me. By the time he'd worked through my shortcomings and allowed me to return to the concession stand, there were at least thirty people ahead of me. The volunteers who run these stands are lovely people, bless their souls, but speed is not their hallmark. Twenty minutes later I was back to the front of the line.

"I'd like a chili dog," I said.

"Sorry, we just ran out," was the reply. "We have walking tacos though."

Thank you Lord for once again smiling upon me.

By midafternoon I was starving. There was some time between games so the boys and I went to a nearby IHOP with my youngest's teammates and his teammate's father, who happens to be a friend of mine. The waitress brought each of the boys a children's menu with crayons and then left to take another table's order.

My middle child was outraged. "I'm not a freaking baby. I want a real menu."

"Technically you're still young enough to order off the children's menu. And stop saying 'freaking' all the time or I'll freaking kill you."

"I'm ordering from the adult menu."

"Why, what do you want?"

"Chicken strips."

"Chicken strips are four dollars less on the children's menu. Get those."

"No. I want the adult ones."

"They're the same thing for God's sake. I'm not paying an extra four dollars for the same thing just so you can use a different menu."

"I'll pay for it myself," he said.

"No you won't," I said. "I'm not letting you waste your money for the benefit of IHOP shareholders."

"You waste money all the time," he said. "Like that wine you bought yesterday."

"That's not a waste," I replied. "You'll understand if you're ever unlucky enough to have kids. Besides, the kid's menu includes a soda."

The offer of a completely nutrition free food group quieted him a little. Meanwhile, my youngest and his friend were drawing violent battle scenes on their menus. "Watch out with those crayons," I said to my kid. "You almost put your eye out the last time you tried to color."

He pretended to ignore me. Suddenly he clutched my arm, burying his head in it.

"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow," he whimpered.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"My eye. Ow, ow, ow."

"Sit up and stop screwing around," I said.

"No, really, I poked myself."

"Knock it off. I'm not in the mood for this kind of idiocy," I said.

"Ow, ow, ow, ow," he said, his face still in my shoulder.

"What the hell are you doing?" I asked.

"I picked up the menu and it cut my eye."

Maybe he wasn't kidding after all.

"Are you okay?"

"No, it hurts, ow, ow, ow, ow."

I led him to the men's room where I gradually coaxed his hand away from his eye. After applying some wet towels to it, pretty much the extent of my medical expertise, I asked him how it felt.

"It's still blurry," he said, but I didn't see any dangling nerves and he could count the fingers I held up. I led him back to the table.

Sitting down, I noticed my friend snickering and my middle son glowering at the soda he'd been brought while I'd been gone. It had been served in a four ounce foam cup decorated with Petie the Plucky Pancake or some damn thing.

The boy shot daggers across the room at the waitress. "I think she's trying to piss me off," he said.

"Probably," said my friend. "Want me to see if I can get you a sippy cup instead?"

I could see my son weighing how much trouble he'd get into if he told my friend to shut up. Making a wise decision, he instead turned to me and said, "I hate this place."

"I'm none too fond of it myself," I said, stirring the cup of brackish chicken soup I'd been served. Four hours to go, I thought. Two hundred forty minutes. Fourteen thousand four hundred and forty seconds.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

ABC

The way he looks at her is the way I look at my Lovely Bride when she's not watching.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Game On

The baking has commenced. I'm making my special Creole bourbon-soaked black bean corn cookies. They have a creamy soy and gefilte fish filling and a mustard Cheez icing. Topped with mussel sprinkles, ibuprofen, and cardomom pods and served on a Milk-Bone, these babies always go fast.

Hope the judges are hungry!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Farther Down The Rabbit Hole

A phone call with my Lovely Bride:

Lovely Bride: "Guess what?"

Me, half working, half paying attention: "What?"

Lovely Bride: "I got to hold a human brain today."

Me, fully paying attention: "What?"

Lovely Bride: "A human brain."

Me: "Oh. Huh. Really?"

Lovely Bride: "Do you need anything at the store?"

Me: "No."

Lovely Bride: "Okay. I have to go. Bye."

Me: "Bye."

Jackpot

A conversation with my best friend.

R.: "Did you win the lottery last night?"

Me: "No. I didn't have a ticket."

R.: "You didn't have a ticket? I thought you were desperate. You profane the word."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Candy Man

Creepy? What's creepy about this?

Who can take menudo, sprinkle it with corn
Cover it with liver and make you sad that you were born
The Snaggy Man, oh the Snaggy Man can
The Snaggy Man can 'cause he mixes it with moose and makes the world taste good.

Who can take a sheep's lung, wrap it in a sigh
Soak it in oatmeal and make a groovy haggis pie
The
Snaggy Man, the Snaggy Man can
The
Snaggy Man can 'cause he mixes it with moose and makes the world taste good.

The
Snaggy Man makes everything he bakes, horrifying and appalling
Now you talk about your childhood dreaming, you can hear your dinner screaming.

Oh, who can take an emu, wash the feathers down the drain
Separate the offal and collect up all the brains
The
Snaggy Man, oh the Snaggy Man can
The
Snaggy Man can 'cause he mixes it with moose and makes the world taste good.

The Snaggy Man makes everything he bakes, horrifying and appalling
Now you talk about your childhood dreaming, you can hear your dinner screaming.


Yeah, yeah, yeah
Who can take an emu, wash the feathers down the drain
Separate the offal and collect up all the brains

The
Snaggy Man, the Snaggy Man can
The
Snaggy Man can 'cause he mixes it with moose and makes the world taste good
Yes, the
Snaggy Man can 'cause he mixes it with moose and makes the world taste good.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Scarlet Billows Start To Spread

A little music to get me in the mood. Bake-Off time is here - gotta get butchering.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sunday School

As my comrades in blog are the first to acknowledge, this time of year is fraught with religious symbolism and significance. Imagine my disappointment, then, that my own mother continues her personal War on God.

During this week's visit from Grandma, the topic turned to religion, prompted, I think, by my youngest's complaints that he's the only kid in school who doesn't get presents at this time of year. Neither part of that statement is true; our kids do get presents (just not from us) and there are kids at school who don't get any. My son's not one to let facts get in the way of blame, however, which will be helpful if he ever runs for office.

"Thanks, Dad," he sneered. "Way to ruin my life."

"Tell you what," I said. "Get up every week and go to church or temple and we'll talk about it. In the meantime, my gift to you is skepticism."

My mother attempted to change the subject by turning to my oldest son and asking, "What religion do you put down when you have to fill out forms at school?"

"He's a Scientologist," I interjected. "Or a Presbyterian. I can never remember. It's one of those new ones."

This earned a glare from my Lovely Bride, while my mother and child simply ignored me.

"I don't know," said my son. "I've never had to fill out that kind of form."

"I hope the school asks him that," I said. "I'll be able to retire."

"It's interesting," said my mother, still pretending I wasn't there. "Some religions are as much about culture as belief. I still refer to myself by my childhood religion even though I haven't practiced or believed in years."

"I wouldn't do that on the next trip you've got planned," I said. "Many people in that part of the world aren't particularly interested in the distinction you're making. You're going to end up as a hostage, aren't you?"

My mother turned to my wife. "What do you consider yourself?"

"I'm not sure," said my wife. "If I had to say which organized system holds the most attraction for me, I suppose it would be Unitarian Universalism."

"Commie," I muttered.

My youngest looked up excitedly. "I'm a Unitarian too!"

I patted him on the head. "Buddy, you're not a unicorn. We'll get that horn removed as soon as we can afford it."

My mother finally acknowledged me. "He said he's a Unitarian."

"I know. He stutters."

The youngest looked at my Lovely Bride. "Mom, can I be a Unitarian?"

"If you want to," she said.

He whooped and high-fived her before turning to me. "In your face, old man!" he yelled. "Now you have to buy me presents."

The motivation for his spiritual journey finally surfaces.

"You still don't get presents," I said.

"That's not fair!" he said.

"No it's not," I said.

Which is enough spiritual education for any day.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Deal Or No Deal

I took some time off yesterday, a rare vacation day without the kids. It was great. A friend of mine came over, we drank some coffee, shampooed the carpets. I even cleaned the downstairs refrigerator, which had suffered the explosion of a can of diet Coke long enough ago I'm ashamed to admit it.

After we finished cleaning, we set about to bothering other people. The high point of that part of the day was the email to another friend who happens to be a city official, warning him about the rat infestation taking place in local recycling bins. It generated several panicked emails in response, along with a promise to look into it. At some point we may tell him we made it up. Or we may not.

About 4 p.m., my youngest got home from school. My friend's kid had walked home with my son and they both immediately started yammering at us. Quiet time was over.

We shooed them upstairs to do their homework, which bought us ten or twenty minutes. Then my friend's kid came back downstairs.

"Want to see me do a back flip?" he asked.

"No. You'll kill yourself," I said.

"How much insurance do you have?" his father asked me.

"We've got a $2 million umbrella policy," I answered.

"That'll work. We'll split it seventy/thirty."

His son looked up, puzzled. "What are you talking about?" he asked.

"How we're going to divide the money when you die," his father said.

"What?!" the boy yowled.

"Fifty/fifty," I said. "I'm the one who'll have to shampoo the carpet again."

"Sixty/forty, and I'll shampoo it for you," said my friend.

"They're going to kill me!" yelled his kid.

"No, you're going to kill yourself when you do the back flip. Fifty-five/forty-five and I'll pay for the funeral," I said.

"NO!!" shrieked the boy.

"Deal," said his dad.

"Done," I said.

We shook hands as his son ran upstairs to hide.

It was a good day all around.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Hanukkah Sameach!

"Dad?

"Yes, son?"

"Do you know what a menorah is?"

"Of course. Why?"

"My teacher was talking about it at school today."

"What did she say?"

"She told us how it has candles for every day of Hanukkah."

"What? That's crazy."

"Really, that's what she said."

"Nonsense. That's not a menorah."

"What's a menorah then?"

"It's a sculpture. Made out of ham."

"Shut up."

"Menorah is Hebrew for Hanukkah ham."

"Shut up."

"You know how observant Jews keep kosher, right? The Hanukkah ham is a reminder of that ancient tradition."

"Shut up."

"Ask your teacher about it tomorrow."

"Shut up."

"Or I could come to school and talk to her. Maybe give a presentation to the class."

"Don't. Please."

"This is all because the Supreme Court kicked God out of our schools."

"Shut up."

"It's getting late. You better get to bed."

"Good night, dad."

"Good night, buddy."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Let It Snow

What a lovely weekend it was in this winter goddamned wonderland. It started when my alter ego, TechnoSnag, deleted all of the comments left by the loyal Friends of Befouled. Thanks to Jennifer and fish, that little SNAFU's been rectified.

From there, it was an easy transition to Saturday's Death Storm '07. Based on the weather forecasts I was expecting it to start snowing lava and poisonous snakes. It wasn't quite that bad, and in fact would have been quite nice to watch from the comfort of my home. Needless to say, I was not in the comfort of my home. I was at a basketball tournament with my two youngest boys, across town in a neighborhood that can be charitably described as struggling.

Which prompted two lectures before we left.

"First, do not start talking about how you're 'gangstas.' You're not. You're a couple kids from the suburbs."

"Hey pops, I am a gangsta," said my middle son.

"We gonna do some street ballin' today," said my youngest son.

"Don't be morons," I said. "Just go play basketball and be respectful."

They rolled their eyes but I wasn't too worried. They're pretty good at acting human in public.

I continued. "Second, the drive is going to suck. A lot. It's going to be slow and irritating and I'll be insane the whole time. If you nag or whine I'll just get madder."

Again they rolled their eyes. This one worried me.

With good reason, it turned out. Six minutes into the drive, the middle one started.

"How come you're going so slow?"

"So I don't end up in the ditch like that fool," I answered, pointing at the fool in question.

"But you're a fool," said my son. "You'd like it in a ditch."

"We should have four-wheel drive," the youngest interjected. "Why weren't you smart enough to buy a car like that?"

"Duh. Because he's a fool, stupid," said the middle one.

"Don't call me 'stupid,' you idiot," said the youngest.

They commenced to punching each other while I tried to drive, scream, and cry all at once.

The tournament was fine. The games were great and all, but more important, I got to sneak out between games to a taqueria down the block where I had, not surprisingly, tacos, which were, also not surprisingly, very good.

Sunday was even better than tacos. With my Lovely Bride at class, the middle and youngest sons went to a friend's house for the day, while the friend's dad, E., came over to watch football on the new TV. My oldest son was still around, but he's a teenager and doesn't make much noise beyond the occasional sneer. The three of us watched the game, had a few laughs, and generally marveled at the solitude.

"See dad," said my kid. "If you didn't have my brothers it would always be like this."

"Yes, but I love them," I said with as much sincerity as I could muster. "Parenthood fulfills me."

"Whatever," he answered, not believing me any more than I did.

"You know what we should do?" said E. "Get an apartment. You, me, a couple other dads. We wouldn't live in it but on weekends we could go there to watch football. Or just stare at the wall and think how quiet it is."

"Can I come?" asked my son.

"No," said E.

"I can't wait until I'm a grown-up," said the boy.

It's funny the lessons we learn.

Monday, December 3, 2007

I'd Like To Teach The World To Punch

A Snag family tradition is to spend some time in meditation during the holiday season. It is a chance to reflect upon who we are and what we have. A chance to contemplate how to make this a better world. With that, I give you my list of those who need a good punching.

1. Director of Comments, Blogger Division. I don't know why you hosed me, but you did. Bastard.

2. Not the Woman in the Cadillac Commercial, the one who says, "When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?" I don't want my sons to hear me encourage violence against women. That's why I wish the person in this commercial was a man, so I could express myself.

2a. Everyone Else Connected to Cadillac Commercials, Going Back At Least to the Weasel Who First Used Led Zeppelin to Sell These Rolling Crapboxes. Including
the guy who says, "And you can believe in the philosophy that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. Or you can be the hammer." Or you can be the dumbass. Give him two punches.

3. The Unnamed Clown in the Black Suburban. Why did you cut me off in an ice storm? If you prick me, do I not bleed? If you are punched, am I not happy?

4. Hank Steinbrenner. Bite me.

5. You know who you are.

'Tis The Season

Friday, November 30, 2007

Parent Of The Year, Part 6

My youngest son's homework assignment last night was to fill in the blanks on a sheet entitled Rules For Riding on the School Bus. He doesn't ride the bus, having been a walker since '03. (We learned a lot that year, especially about crisis counseling and restraining orders.) Nevertheless, the school gave him the assignment along with the rest of his class. Anything to help him feel normal, I guess.

In any event, being a doting father, I offered to help him with it. He yelped with enthusiasm and after I chased him down and wrestled him back into the house, we settled in with a couple of pencils and our nightly snack of popcorn and bourbon. Our answers are in bold.

1. Every morning your bus runs a/an extraterrestrial route, so you must be sure that you arrive at your local haberdashery early.

2. While waiting, do not yodel in the middle of the street. You might get run over by a/an angry emu.

3. When you see the bus, wave your prehensile tail.

4. Before boarding, make sure you have all of your stolen books and your lunch meats.

5. When you board the bus, do not push or jostle any of the smaller beetles. Go to the nearest empty seat and hibernate.

6. Do not talk to the voices in your head while the bus is in motion.

7. Do not throw feces at the other students.

8. Instead of wasting time by breathing, use the trip to study your friend's exoskeleton.

9. Follow these rules and you will have a/an newsworthy ride and arrive shackled at your well-guarded school.

I found the assignment on the kitchen counter this morning after he'd left for school. He must have forgotten it. I'll bring it to him at school this afternoon so he gets full credit.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Batter Up!

It's the time of year when the annual Bake-Off spreads its metaphoric wings, the smells of victory and cinnamon mingling in the crisp, cold air. While the baking is good, imperative even, it's equally important to remember the origins of this hallowed ritual. Not the Bake-Off itself, that needs no explanation - as the Super Bowl is to football, the Bake-Off is to baking. No, I have in mind the art of baking itself. Join me in exploring the history of this glorious past-time.

Most scientists now believe that an early and statistically improbably accidental combination of water, egg, and flour led to the "Big Bake." After billions of years and lots of sciency stuff, a relatively young Earth saw the formation of a primordial batter. This in turn became the foundation for today's bread and cookies.

The Big Bake theory has led to other important discoveries as well. For example, black donut holes are now viewed as the most likely explanation for food's inability to escape Chuckles. Similarly, relativity was an offshoot of Einstein's early attempts to weigh the comparative deliciousness of German chocolate and devil's food cakes.

Baking is not just a science, of course. It is also an art. Consider Raphael's "Madonna with Lard," the Beatles "Sgt. Pretzel's Lonely Hearts Club Band," or Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Pie." The influence of baking on Western culture cannot be overstated.

There is a darker side to baking too, however. The Great Yeast War of 1906 left divisions that still reverberate through the shanty towns of Luxembourg. Vicious Somalian warlords have devastated that country's population with their efforts to monopolize the world's supply of baking powder. Cities throughout North America have seen their middle class neighborhoods destroyed by rampant muffin use.

But still, with all that, baking remains an integral part of our society. It is the tie that binds, that brings us together, black and white, rich and poor, fat and fatter. So put on your baking shoes, grab a sifter, and join the party!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Method To The Madness

I'm off to a hockey game tonight with some friends. We'll have a nice slab of barely cooked cow beforehand, maybe a martini or two to feel like big shots, then head over to the arena.

The least surprising outcome of this plan is my children's rage. One would think I was using their college funds to pay for this. I am, I suppose, although it's not as though there's much set aside for that purpose. I'll frankly be satisfied if the three of them make it to their mid-twenties without doing hard time. Anyway, it's not the adverse effect on their intellectual growth that has them upset, it's the fact that I'm doing something fun and they're not included.

As I've been frequently reminded over the last week, I've never taken them to a professional hockey game. College, yes, but not the pros. I've replied that I've never taken myself to a professional hockey game. When I've gone it's always been because someone else had tickets. The boys aren't interested in logic, however, they're interested in vengeance.

And vengeance they shall have. If unslakeable's not a word, it would be if our Anglo-Saxon forebears had met these kids. I have been treated to everything from shunning to veiled threats that the new TV's remote will be hidden when I get home tonight. My responses have ranged from "Oh no, please, not that," to "I will kill you."

Eventually this will pass, if not forgotten at least tucked away with all the other slights and hurts I have allegedly inflicted over the years. Those are kept somewhere they like to visit often, a place of endless aggrievement and faulty justice. It's a place I know well, for I visit it too, when I deal with the phone company or the cable provider or people who cut me off in traffic and are not arrested or killed for their insolence.

There's something peculiarly comforting about old complaints. They're like agates, polished from being turned over and over. I give names to mine: "Idiot Clerk;" "Professor Jerkface;" "Ungrateful Client." I compare them to current offenses and slights, try to decide if life is still hosing me as much as it used to. So far the answer appears to be "yes."

With that, I'm off to the game. My children will stew about it and tomorrow I will surely hear more complaints. I will use that as a teachable moment, an opportunity to talk with them about the importance of nursing grudges and developing a soul-crushing bitterness. They will look at me in wonder for a few moments, and then walk away confused and unsure what to say, leaving me finally, blessedly, alone.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Greatest Story Ever Told

If you're only going to read one post this year, make it this one.

Youth Is Wasted On The Young

I used to work with someone who was in the movie "Rock 'n' Roll High School." It was a bit part, but it still made him one the coolest guy in whatever room he was in.

One of my kids and I watched the movie again the other day. Most parenting guides focus on teaching children to submit to authority. I hope mine learn to rebel a little too.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Snag In Love

The long Thanksgiving weekend passed as well as could be expected, with a great deal of food and relatively little bloodshed. We had almost fifty people through the house over the course of the weekend, first for Thanksgiving, then a Friday night dinner party, and finally Saturday's end of season celebration for our father/son fantasy baseball league. The winners (there was a tie) split the pot, although were required to accept their shares while wearing a tiara, pink boa, and waving a wand bearing a likeness of Daunte Culpepper. It was worth losing just to see that.

Continuing my tradition of bad parenting choices, I also took my middle school son to see "No Country for Old Men." Based on a Cormac McCarthy book, the film is set in the part of Texas I called home for two glorious years of military service and the cinematography well captures the desolation I remember. The movie is a classic of the Coens' form, dark, bloody, savage, and funny. My son is a fan of the their work, as am I, and we both thoroughly enjoyed the movie and discussing it on the way home.

Cormac McCarthy's an author with whom I still wrestle. His prose is often florid, but I like it fine and I recommend him to others. The only person I know who truly regretted trying him was my oldest child, and that was likely circumstantial. I gave him a copy of "All the Pretty Horses" for his seventh-grade literature class and it wasn't until afterward he told me that particular assignment involved rewriting the selected book as a children's story. Unless you're Maurice Sendak, it's hard to work with something like this:

His grandfather was the oldest of eight boys and the only one to live past the age of twenty-five. They were drowned, shot, kicked by horses. They perished in fires. They seemed to fear only dying in bed. The last two were killed in Puerto Rico in eighteen ninety-eight and in that year he married and brought his bride home to the ranch and he must have walked out and stood looking at his holdings and reflected long upon the ways of God and the laws of primogeniture. Twelve years later when his wife was carried off in the influenza epidemic they still had no children. A year later he married his dead wife's older sister and a year after this the boy's mother was born and that was all the borning that there was. The Grady name was buried with that old man the day the norther blew the lawnchairs over the dead cemetery grass. The boy's name was Cole. John Grady Cole.
My son did not appreciate the challenge and still uses it as an example of my failings.

Most important, though, I bought myself a big screen television on Saturday. It is the most beautiful creation I have ever seen and I already love it more than pretty much anything, as I pointed out to my children when warning them of the consequences of breaking it. At the baseball party, the other fathers made appropriate cooing noises and displayed the sort of TV envy I pretend I'm too good a person to enjoy.

Sunday was therefore dedicated to football. To tell the truth, I'm only a casual fan of the sport, but I thought it would be nice to spend the afternoon with my boys watching our spiffy new television. Which it would have been, had my youngest's logorrhea not been acting up. When he wasn't providing color commentary on the game we were in the room watching with him, he was singing a peculiar medley of Christmas carols, the Vengaboys' "We Like to Party," and obscure basketball cheers he picked up somewhere. All punctuated with regular descriptions of the neglect he's forced to endure in the form of being denied his own cell phone.

Finally I told him he had to shut up or he'd be banished from the family room permanently, which unfortunately simply prompted a long argument over why our dog isn't allowed downstairs. An excerpt from that conversation:

"Because I want one damned room in the house that's not covered in fur."

"You hate Katie. You're always mean to her."

"I am not. I pay for her food and she eats like a horse."

"See, you want her to starve."

"For God's sake, that's not what I said."

"That's what you meant. Just wait until you're old, we're not going to feed you."

"Good. I can't wait. Starving to death will be less painful than listening to you yap all the time."

I was comforted only by the fact it was better than last week's dinner at the local pizzeria, where my son's best friend was told by his father, more loudly than was intended, "Close your piehole or I swear to God I'm going to stab you in the lung with a fork." I've never seen a restaurant get so quiet so fast. Except for my son and his friend, neither of whom were fazed by yet another in a long list of empty threats and who merrily kept chattering away like the human magpies they are.

Perhaps there's no real way to get my boy to be quiet. At any rate, if there is, I haven't yet found it. What I do know, however, is that my new television can drown him out. For now, that's good enough.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Kid Is Funnier Than I Am (For What That's Worth)

These are the things for which my middle son and I are thankful:

1. Meat. Without meat, we wouldn't have ham cake.

2. Signatures. Signatures protect our precious bodily fluids.

3. Children. A reason to drink.

4. The Sword of Gondor. For smiting my enemies.

5. Katie, my black lab. A living food shelf.

6. Paper clips. For all your organizational and piercing needs.

7. Socks. For want of a sock, a battle was lost. Or something like that.

8. Plasma TVs. We're buying one. Booya!

9. The Trilateral Commission. Your neighborhood source for world domination.

10. Sweet Sugar Kane.



Happy Thanksgiving all!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Better Than A Pocketful Of Maize

Hoo-boy, it's almost Turkey Day and you can imagine what that means around the Snag household. Screaming, swearing, and vats of wine to fuel it all. Plus enough food to choke a moose.

We'll have a big crew this year, the biggest in recent memory. The Lovely Bride and our three hellspawn, of course. My long-suffering, gun-toting mother, who will spend the day wondering where she went wrong those many years ago. My sister, who offers her own unique take on the neuroses of the Snag family tree, along with her husband and daughter. Last but not least, two sets of neighbors so my family has doesn't have to talk to me.

We do have traditions besides nightmarish behavior. Not surprisingly for this holiday, many center on food. For example, every year the Lovely Bride asks me to make a simple dressing, like the ones with which she grew up. Every year I promise to try and then become entranced by some shiny new recipe. Over time I've tried oysters and andouille, raisins and chestnuts. She gamely pretends to enjoy it and then encourages me once again to try something simple next year. Perhaps this time I will, although I recently saw an interesting recipe that uses an artichoke base.

Much of the meal has become part of our tradition, however, and on this night at least, most of our traditions are traditional. I prepare cran-raspberry sauce and green beans, the Lovely Bride makes twice-baked potatoes and pumpkin and apple pies, my oldest son bakes corn bread. There are various additions depending on the guest list, like last year's Indian rice pudding, but the core food groups are pretty stable.

Most important is the turkey. We're cooking two this year to accommodate the crowd. I suggested poaching one and serving another sashimi-style but was overruled. Instead we'll be grilling one and deep frying the other. Live coals and gallons of hot grease, plus the aforementioned wine vats. Add eight children and a ninety-pound black lab and I expect our Thanksgiving to be the top story in Friday's newspaper. So be it. This is my favorite holiday and I want to do it right.

I like to start with an organic turkey our local grocer gets from an area farmer. It tastes better and I know where the money goes. For the first few years we were married I experimented with different turkey preparations. Southwest chili. Maple glazed. This and that, depending on my normal whim and caprice. Eventually I settled on grilling.

Now I have a ritual. A tradition. The night before the turkey soaks in brine and then in the morning I start the charcoal, make a rub, and spend the day checking the fire and poking at the bird. I'm usually tired from pretending to clean and fight the resulting headache with an early visit to the old bookcase in the basement that doubles as a wine cellar

Besides tasting better, grilling offers the advantage of being an outdoor cooking method. That's no small benefit in this climate, where November weather typically keeps the family inside. I love standing next to the grill with a glass of wine, focused intently on staring at the turkey, while the kids silently fight and howl behind the thick glass of the deck door.

Sometimes my father-in-law comes from out of town to join us for Thanksgiving. He's among the nicest people on the face of the earth and for some inexplicable reason loves our boys dearly. They love him back equally and they can talk sports and play cribbage and spend time together until the cows come home. When the kids listen to his stories about seeing Ted Williams play or going to the Ice Bowl he might as well be telling them he was touched by the hand of God.

He was here a couple of years ago. I was outside, grilling and drinking wine. Hiding. He excused himself from his grandchildren and came outside with a beer of his own. We talked for a while, about baseball and politics and farming and the kids. When we got to the last, I said something like, "They're lunatics."

He smiled and agreed. We talked a little more and then he went back inside to find his grandsons and talk some more sports and play some more cribbage. I poked the turkey again and joined him. I'd never admit it, but I'm a little thankful too.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sound Of Silence

I'm out of town again for a bit, enjoying all our great nation has to offer. Like pork and rye.

Before leaving, however, I needed a bit more quality time with the angels God has sent to Earth in the form of my children. I got home the other night with a short few minutes to spare before I had to go make the world safe for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. As always, one would think I'd know better.

My Lovely Bride's cell phone broke recently. Note the use of a passive sentence construction, reflecting how it was destroyed by supernatural forces. In any event, she needed a new one now, before the contract ran out. How else would she provide me with regular tips on being a better person?

My oldest son's phone was also getting old, as in being the wrong color, and if one must renegotiate a contract, one might as well renegotiate two. The problem is that middle son has also been promised a phone for the class trip next spring. With negotiations going on, this is the time to get one, but early delivery would make oldest son's head explode. At the same time, seeing his brother get a second phone would make middle son's head explode. My children, Rock and Hard Place. Solution? Make delivery of middle son's phone contingent on good behavior.

It was into this house of horrors I walked.

Middle son. "YOU LOVE HIM MORE THAN ME!"

Oldest son. "Can you blame them?"

Youngest son. Upstairs loudly singing holiday songs.

Katie the black lab. Headbutts me in the groin over the possibility of getting fed.

Lovely Bride, sarcastically. "Yay, Daddy's home."

For the love of God. I go to the refrigerator, scrounge around, don't find much. I grab a handful of shaved turkey, shove most of it in my piehole, throw the rest to the dog.

Middle son. "Why do you and Mom hate me?"

Oldest son. "Mom's cool. Dad hates all of us. He's mean."

Youngest son. "I PLAYED MY DRUM FOR HIM, PA RUM PUM PUM PUM!"

Katie the black lab. Headbutts me in the groin over the possibility of getting more turkey.

Lovely Bride, looking at me knowingly. "I am cool."

I stuff materials in my briefcase, grab a Diet Coke, and prepare to leave.

Middle son. "YOU'RE IGNORING ME!"

Oldest son. "Ignore him Dad. He's stupid."

Youngest son. "DREIDEL, DREIDEL, DREIDEL, I MADE YOU OUT OF CLAY!"

Katie the black lab. Headbutts me in the groin over the possibility of coming with me.

Lovely Bride, smirking. "Thanks for the help, sweetheart."

Pork and rye. Pork and rye.

Bon Appétit, Volume 7 - Poutine On The Ritz

Who doesn't love a good poutine? Besides the terrorists, of course. The rest of us know that any dish containing 33 grams of fat can't help but be good.

Even better than a routine poutine, however, are the variations I've come up with over the years. As you'd expect of a man of my refined tastes, I've scoured the world for the most exotic and delectable variations. Let's take a little tour.

1. Yarbled Poutine

Marinate one sack of lean yarbles in oleo for at least 17 minutes. Remove, reserving oleo. Cook two pounds frozen french fries. Top fries with yarbles and stir in oleo. Serves 2.

2. Poutine a L'orange

Purée the rinds of three dozen blood oranges (if oranges are unavailable, plain blood may be substituted). Stir in two teaspoons of macerated granite. Simmer over medium heat until granite liquefies. Cook two pounds frozen french fries. Top fries with sauce. Serves 8.

3. Roast Poutine

Trim fat from one large grain fed poutine. Boil poutine until well-roasted, approximately two hours. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Meanwhile, cook two pounds frozen french fries. When poutine has cooled to room temperature, thinly slice and spoon over fries. Serves 6.75.

4. Poutine Møusse

Using corn and eight pound test fishing line, trap two small møøse. De-antler and whip until creamy. Set aside. Prepare three gallons of hazelnut bouillabaisse and stir in two pounds french fries. Top with whipped møøse. Serves 1 Canadiadian.

5. Poutini

Chill one bottle Yukon Jack in freezer overnight. Pour fifteen ounces of chilled liqueur into a large beer mug. Add four ounces brown gravy and one medium-rare liver. Shake until thoroughly mixed and garnish with a french fry.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing

One of my many passions is music. Making it. Sharing it. Living it. I like to think of the Snag family as a modern day version of the von Trapps, with me in the role of Maria, leading our happy family in the gift of song. Here are some of my favorites.

1. Baby I Love Your Way - Peter Frampton
My love for this one is partly the result of my uncanny resemblance to Mr. Frampton. Beyond that, who wouldn't enjoy howling "But don't hesitate, cause your love won't wait?" And who wouldn't enjoy listening to that being howled? The neighbors certainly seem to, if one can judge by the way they point out our house to their relatives.

2. Never My Love - The Association
There's rockin', there's hard rockin', and then there's The Association. My Lovely Bride especially likes it when I put on my ratty old bathrobe, turn up my internal amp to 11, and follow her around the house singing this oldie but goodie. Tears of joy. Right, babe?

3. She's Gone - Daryl Hall & John Oates
"I'd pay the devil to replace her." Indeed. I'd pay the devil for the opportunity to stretch out "She's go-o-o-o-o-o-o-ne" for several minutes at a stretch. No sir, they do not write 'em like that anymore.

4. Love Shack - The B52's
As a song it may be nothing special, but when accompanied by my own version of a flamenco dance, it becomes a priceless memory. I'll often put on a batting helmet while performing it, an accessory that combines style and safety. My kids' friends eat it up.

5. Kung Fu Fighting - Carl Douglas
Speaking of performance art, this classic lets me show off my pipes and my moves. Regardless of what my children may tell you, Katie, our black lab, loves it when I karate chop her during the rousing chorus.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Eyes On Fire

When I was twenty, my friend B. and I hitchhiked across the country. We slept in forests and under bridges, ate Spam over campfires, and spent hours and hours on the side of the road, long-haired and bearded, hoping for a ride.

At one point we found ourselves in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Council Bluffs might well be a very nice town. You wouldn't know it by us, though. Twelve hours passed as people drove by, honking and flipping us off. It was hot, humid, and unpleasant.

Finally we gave up, pitched our tent on the outskirts of an industrial park, and tried to sleep. It soon started to rain, of course, and then the mosquitoes got inside the tent. We spent the night tossing, turning, and swatting at bugs, while I mentally added the trip to my long list of things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

In the morning, the sky had cleared. Unfortunately, I'd developed some hideous quasi-tropical disease during the night, and as I crawled around shoving things into a backpack I realized my muscles ached and the day had taken on the sort of tinge that I expected at a Grateful Dead concert. In the meantime, B. had been the focus of the mosquitoes during the night and awoke with a face that looked like, well, it looked like he'd been attacked by mosquitoes, lots of them. But, the road called and there sure wasn't much we could do about our woes sitting in a parking lot, so we hoisted our gear and stuck out our thumbs.

To our surprise and delight, a driver pulled over almost immediately. A midsized panel truck, refrigerated, bearing the name of some local company. We ran to the cab and climbed onto the bench seat, B. next to the driver, me next to the passenger door.

"Wow, this is great," said B. "How far are you going?"

The driver turned and looked at is. Except for his eyes, he was as nondescript as the truck, a middle-aged man in a work shirt and chinos. His eyes, though, behind his small oval-framed glasses, his eyes were whirling and frantic.

"Where I come from, it's polite to say 'thank you,'" he snapped.

"Sorry," B. stammered. "Thanks. We really appreciate the ride."

This seemed to mollify him and his eyes returned to normal. "My name's Fred," he offered, sticking out his hand. "I'm going a couple hours down the freeway. I can take you that far."

We introduced ourselves and while I tried to sleep, B. and Fred continued to talk. After all, a big part of the reason for the trip was to meet people and you can't do that by staring through a windshield.

When I awoke from a short nap I could tell something was wrong.

"So," Fred was telling B. "Someday soon I should have enough money to open it."

"Um, what exactly is it again?" B. asked nervously. B. was usually pretty calm, adept at settling me down when I flew into one of my periodic rages. For him to be nervous wasn't a good sign.

"I already told you," Fred snarled. "Weren't you listening?"

B. inched closer to me, almost sitting on my lap. I peeked at Fred. His eyes looked like pinwheels. I closed my own and leaned against the door as a shiver passed through me.

"No, no, I was listening," insisted B. "It's really interesting though. I'd like to hear it again."

"Alright then," said Fred. "It's going to be huge. Bigger than Disneyland. It'll have a roller rink, and rides, and a bookstore, and a restaurant. People can bring their campers and sleep there. There will be a bible store and exhibits from Revelations. You've read Revelations, haven't you?"

B. gave Fred his best smile and nodded that he had.

"Everyone should. The end times are upon us. The Beast is already here. It's time to get ready. Are you ready?"

"Yes," squeaked B.

"Good. Those who aren't ready will be flung into hell. The rest of us, we'll be saved. But first we have to prevail. Do you know how we'll do that?"

B. whimpered and leaned harder against me. I scrunched my eyes more tightly shut and started humming inaudibly to myself. I was sure the fever would break soon and my parents would be there, concerned, like Auntie Em and Uncle Henry at the end of "The Wizard of Oz."

"We'll do it with my iron rod," Fred continued. "I have it with me all the time. I've been training for this. I've been chosen to do this."

With that he shot off the highway onto an exit ramp, took a quick turn onto a county road, and plunged deep into farm country.

B. slumped down like the condemned man he was sure he'd become. Corn and wheat fields flew by as Fred gripped the steering wheel, rocking back and forth and muttering under his breath about iron and the Antichrist while his eyes rolled and sparked. I gazed out the window. I'm going to die here, I thought, buried in a windbreak. They'll find our bodies during spring planting.

Suddenly, Fred braked and the truck came to a stop. He turned and smiled at us, his eyes steady, every bit the small town gentleman.

"We're here," he said. "That was a little shortcut I know. You can get back on the freeway at the bottom of this ramp." He pointed. Sure enough, there was the interstate.

We climbed shakily from the truck and grabbed our belongings. Fred got out and walked over to shake our hands. "Good luck," he said.

"You too," we said.

His eyes started their dance again. "I don't need luck, I need strength. That's what Fred means, you know, 'strength.' I'll need all of it for the battle ahead." He got back in the truck and started the engine.

"We'll see you boys," he called as he drove away. "We'll see you very soon."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Someone's A Wee Bit Cranky

Modest Proposals

Today is Election Day in our Great Nation, with all its attendant opportunities to vote for the crazy person of my choice. Using this cherished right prompted me to think about my dream candidate, and the platform he/she/it would support.

1. Abortion

Women will be encouraged to carry to term any fetus whose ultrasound indicates a winning personality. Excess stem cells will be given social security numbers and trained for entry-level jobs in the hospitality industry.

2. Immigration

Illegal immigration will be outlawed. The Statute of Liberty will be moved to Wichita and used for natural gas storage.

3. Civil Rights

Civil disobedience will be mandatory.

4. Taxes

An annual lottery will be held in April. Winners will get a year's exemption from taxes. Losers will be stoned to death.

5. Capital Punishment

Stupid drivers will be killed.

6. Energy Conservation

See #5.

7. Gun Control

Community gun pools will be encouraged as a way to reduce the number of guns on the street.

8. Environment

Four legs good, two legs bad.

9. Arts

Bands of roving poets will be hired to accost strangers in malls and dark alleys. Professional sports will be renamed "performance art," making the United States the top art-loving nation in the world. Woo-hoo! We're #1!

10. Poverty and Hunger

A moose in every pot!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Flesh And Blood

Our high school cross-country team competed in the state tournament this Saturday. Although he wasn't running, my oldest is on the squad and asked me to bring him there to cheer on the team. Because it was conveniently located a short 90-minute drive away I cheerfully agreed. Certain the oldest would desert me in favor of his friends at the earliest opportunity, I convinced his youngest brother to come along to keep me company.

Sure enough, we'd barely parked the car before the oldest peeled off towards a group of female classmates like a pilot on a strafing run, the last we'd see of him for the next two hours. The youngest and I found a place to watch the races.

"Dad," he said, "I know what I want to do when I get older."

"Support me?"

"Don't be dumb. I'm going to play baseball at UNC."

"That sounds good. You better keep your grades up."

"Math is stupid. Mom says she never uses it."

"No, she said she doesn't use calculus at work. That's different."

"What do I need math for?" he asked.

"To count your money when you're a rich baseball player," I answered.

He nodded. "That's true. Hey, do you know what I'm going to do when I'm done playing baseball?"

"Support me?" I asked again, though less hopefully than before.

"You're still being dumb. I'm going to have rabies."

I'm dumb? "You can't have rabies. You'll die."

"I'm going to be a carrier," he said.

"Like what, a skunk?" I asked. "They carry rabies. You smell like one so you have a head start."

This seemed to please him. "That would be cool, if I could spray my enemies. You know what else I'm going to do? I'm always going to have a dog. Probably a black lab like Katie, because they're the best, Katie's a good dog, she's smart, she's not evil like you say, she doesn't like you anyway. . . ."

The first race hadn't gone off yet and my head already hurt.

Two hours of chattering later, the meet ended and my other son returned. "Hurry up, let's go," he said panicked his friends would see us together. Fine by me. At least in the car I can turn up the radio.

By Sunday morning, when my mother arrived for her weekly visit with her grandchildren, I'd forgotten much of my "conversation" with the youngest, not surprising given that I'd not paid much attention in the first place. The oldest took no time in reminding me, however.

"Grandma, my brother wants to be a rabid skunk when he grows up."

My mother isn't fazed by much of what she hears during her visits, but she raised her eyebrows at this. "You don't say," she replied noncommittally. She hates to criticize the boys.

"Someone will probably shoot him," added the oldest.

Grandma jumped at the chance to change subjects. "Did you know that happened to your father when he was a boy?" she asked, referring to the time a friend shot me while playing with a gun. "He's lucky to be alive."

My oldest looked at me. "I'm not sure he thinks so."

I nodded in agreement. "Let's just say I'm alive and leave it at that."

"Besides," said the boy, "Dad always tells us you shot him."

My mother glared at me. "My son thinks he's funny. He's not."

I whispered to my kid, "This is the way she was talking right before she drew down on me. Leave now, run. I'll distract her."

My mother is a 5'1" retired foundation executive who now spends her time with theater, international travel, and service on a local library board. She may be one of the few people in this country who has never seen a gun in real life. "I did not raise you to treat your elders this way," she said, shaking her head in disgust.

"I'm spiritually deficient," I said. "It's probably because you didn't church me enough when I was young."

"You're deficient, but not because of that," said my mother.

"Why do you hate God?" I asked her.

"How can I hate God if I don't believe in Him?" she replied.

"God believes in you and He's none too fond of your attitude," I said.

"Ignore your father," she said to the boy.

"I already do," he said.

"Good," she said, standing up to leave. "Try to teach him some manners."

"See you next week grandma," he said.

"Where are your brothers?" she asked him. "I want to say goodbye to them too."

"Outside. Eating bugs, I think."

She stared at him for a moment with the sudden recognition that he and I, we're not so different.

"Bye ma," I said with a gleeful smirk.

She walked to her car, muttering, stopping only to say goodbye to her other grandsons, who from my vantage point did indeed appear to be eating bugs.

"That was fun," said my oldest.

"Yes," I said. "Yes it was."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Them Bones, Them Bones

After making a 300 mile round-trip drive today to assure a client that his problem is my problem, I arrived home in time to make some dinner and get the littlest angel off to his school play.

"What are we having for dinner?" demanded the middle son.

"Hamburger Helper."

"Woo-hoo!" yelled the middle son, whose dietary preferences are limited to sugar, imported Parmesan cheese, and processed "food."

"Are we really eating that crap?" asked the oldest.

"It's all I've got," I said. "Besides, it's made with the good beef, the stuff we got from P.'s friend."

"What a waste," said the oldest. He had a point, but with thirty minutes to get them fed and get back to the school, I wasn't particularly interested in debating ethical eating choices.

Last year, the grade school play was about "Melton, the Warmhearted Snowman." My son, who played the lead, now calls him "Melton, the Dorkhearted Snowman." A big thanks to his brothers for ruining another nice memory.

Tonight, the play, a musical really, was about the human body. Not "O Calcutta." It had to do with bones and muscles and what not. My kid played a nerve.

"I suppose that's because you get on everybody's nerves," someone said to him last week.

"That's weird," the kid replied. "I've been hearing that a lot."

I ran into a friend of mine, a guy from India, before the play started. His son's playing a doctor. "That's stereotyping," I told him. "He should be playing an Italian grocer or something. You could sue the school district." My friend looked interested. He's getting acculturated.

The play itself was that odd combination of endearing and painful unique to elementary school productions. There was a lot of first-class wiggling by the nerves, a fine narration by a young lady destined to be the star of the 2014 high school play, and quite a stirring soliloquy from the neighbor girl I would have pegged as least likely to give a stirring soliloquy.

Most interesting, aside from my child's obvious and inherited talent, was the make-up of the cast. We live in what almost anyone, including me, would think of as a white city in a white part of a white metropolitan area in a white state in a white part of the country. It's a wonder we don't consider mayonnaise too spicy.

But there, up on stage, in addition to my Indian friend's son, were children with backgrounds ranging from Vietnam to Ethiopia to Nicaragua to a good part of the rest of the world. If they'd had a role for a penguin I think all seven continents would have been covered. Based on an admittedly rough count, my very white son might not have been in the minority, but it was close.

Afterward, I picked him up in his classroom, said hello to his teacher, talked with a few other parents. His classmates break down along similar lines, many of them with hard to pronounce names, some of them with accents I have trouble understanding.

Good.

My grandparents came to this country. They didn't speak much English when they got here, and by the time the immigration men at Ellis Island got done with it, their names were pretty hard to pronounce. My parents went to school in big cities with other kids from all over, then grew up and went to college and moved not far from here, to a white city in a white part of a white metropolitan area in a white state in a white part of the country.

When they bought a house, someone in the neighborhood circulated a petition to keep them out, because their name was hard to pronounce and their parents used to have accents that people had trouble understanding. My parents knew about it, but they moved in anyway, and after a while the rest of the neighbors didn't even notice anymore and my parents made friends that last to this day, and after I was born, so did I.

Now, my boys and their friends are on a stage, in a classroom, playing football, doing these things with kids who have hard to pronounce names and troublesome accents. None of them seem to think about it much, to consider skin color or nationality to be much different than eye color or a fondness for smoked fish. They're just things that make each of us who were are.

When I think the world is going to hell, and that's something I think a lot, I try to remember that.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

Still Life With Aneurysm

I had an epiphany on Saturday. I realized the bickering was going to kill me.

I'm not even sure what the three boys were at each other about, something to do with whether McDonald's is better than Subway. Whatever else it was, it was the last straw. I stood up and went to the park, where I sat for half an hour, trying to collect myself before I did something that would turn our home into a tourist attraction.

When I got home, I called the kids together. Still squabbling, they joined me at the table.

"Guys," I said, "with your mom back in school, I need more help from you."

"I raked the leaves," snarled the oldest.

"I folded laundry," howled the middle one.

"I fed the dog," shrieked the youngest.

"I appreciate all of that," I said. "I need a different kind of help, though. I need you to stop fighting so much."

Blank stares all around. I might as well have asked them to grow gills.

"Our family's no different than anybody else's," the oldest finally said.

"I assure you that's not true, but that's beside the point," I replied. "I can't stand listening to this anymore. You're killing me. I'm going to have a stroke and I'll die."

"Can I have your iPod when you die?" asked my youngest. His brothers snickered.

"No, I'm going to be buried with it," I said.

"That's stupid," said the middle one. "Why waste an iPod just because you're dead?"

"I have an idea," said the youngest. "If we don't fight for a year, you can take us to Canada!"

Even his brothers looked puzzled by this.

"Canada?" I said. "What are you talking about? Listen, I'm not expecting you to never fight, and I'm not going to bribe you, but you've got to do a better job of getting along. My heart's going to explode."

Whatever. It was time to leave for my youngest's soccer game, so I settled for grudging acknowledgments of room for improvement.

By the time the game ended, the Lovely Bride was home from the library and had been filled in on the earlier conversation by the oldest.

"Do you really think you should tell our children they're killing you?" she asked. "Your lifestyle's going to give you a heart attack some day and the kids will feel guilty for the rest of their lives. They're not bad children."

"They're horrible," I said. "If you look behind their ears I bet you'd find a '666' tattoo."

She rolled her eyes and went to change clothes.

Saturday night was the annual fundraising dinner for our education foundation, a group that raises money to provide scholarships and other assistance to area students. Our school district is relatively large even though it serves a relatively small area. This gives it an unusually prominent place in the community.

A group of us from the neighborhood usually attend together and we know many of the others who come every year, through youth sports or local politics or just shopping at the same grocery. There's a silent auction and an awards ceremony. The mayor makes a speech and comes back to sit with us and we tell him his fly was open and he panics and checks and swears at us. We drink some wine and act like grown-ups and have grown-up conversations, which is something we don't do often enough.

Every year, some of the students perform after dinner. This time the cast of the high school musical performed excerpts from the upcoming show and the choir sang "Hallelujah" and "Amazing Grace." I sat there watching them and thinking What talent there is in our little corner of the world. Afterward I ran into the parents of a boy I coached in soccer a couple of years ago and we got to talking about the choir and when I said, "Holy cow, did you hear that girl's solo," they beamed and told me it was their daughter.

In fact, all around were people who were proud of the kids. Some of them were parents. That's great. Every child deserves a proud parent. A lot of them, though, were retirees and businesspeople and others who weren't related to any of the performers that night, and maybe not even a child or grandchild in school at all. What they had was a belief that young people should get a shot at being good at something.

The evening gave me some perspective on my own boys. They do well in school. They play hard and fair at sports. They're polite to adults and kind to their peers. This weekend the oldest cleaned the house, the youngest handed out campaign literature for a family friend's campaign, and the middle one went out of his way to make a sad little kid laugh. They did these things without being asked, and without complaint, and without expecting anything in return. The bickering still drives me mad, and I still plan to be buried with my iPod, but perhaps my Lovely Bride is right, perhaps they're not bad kids and perhaps they deserve proud parents of their own.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bon Appétit, Volume 6 - The Candy Man

With Halloween quickly approaching, my children are consumed by only one thought: Arson. To distract them, I have decided to prepare our Halloween treats the old-fashioned way, at home, instead of buying a bag of factory foulness from the local Crapatorium. Here are some of the recipes we'll be using to stay the toast of the neighborhood!

1. Moosie Pops

Carefully trim fat from 1 ounce fresh moose. Sauté until medium rare. Heat three Hall's Mentholyptus Cough Drops until softened. Form cough drops around moose meat. Insert stick and allow to cool. Makes 1 serving.

2. Malted Milk Balls

Coat one 24-ounce package medium-sized balls in yeast. Truss and allow to rise. Microwave on high until balls explode, approximately 4 minutes. Scrape ball pieces into baking dish and dot with 50/50 mixture of margarine and malt. Cook in 300 degree oven until mixture has consistency of asphalt. Form into cubes and serve with crema espesa. Makes 4 servings.

3. Rolled Sugar

Sprinkle rolls with sugar. Eat. Serves 6 1/2.

4. Hard Crack Candy

Purchase one ounce food-grade crack. Cut into eight ball sized servings, reserving lidocaine for future use. Melt two pounds chocolate (60% cacao content) over doubleboiler. Stir in crack and remove from heat. Allow to harden. When arrested, trade name of dealer to police for $50 bill. Use money to buy caramel corn. Serves 3 to 5.

5. Polecat Nougat

Trap one large polecat. Massage gently to extract 3 tbsps. musk. Combine musk with four cups honey, one cup dry mustard, and a tsp. of flounder. Mix on low speed until thoroughly blended. Serve warm over rice or gravel.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I'll Be Damned

Blue Girl's post about funny stories has me thinking about things I've seen. Not funny things so much. More like, "I'll be damned." Stories I like to remember, or better yet to tell to people, or best of all to talk about with the people were there.

For example. Years ago, I lived with a couple other guys in a duplex near downtown. The cops showed up at our front door once with their guns drawn, and another time a tornado touched down on the next block over. Usually, though, it was pretty quiet. There were renters and homeowners and couples and singles and old and young and students and working people and blacks and whites and pretty much everyone else living next to each other and nobody thinking about it much at all.

My roommates and I liked to sit out on the front porch after work. We'd listen to baseball on the radio, have a couple beers and visit with the neighbors. Cars would come and go, especially when the dealer who lived across the street was home, but we were far enough away from the main thoroughfares that it never got too bad.

One night we were doing that, having a beer and a smoke after dinner and talking with the couple who lived in the bottom half of the duplex. It was a lovely evening, that quiet time not long before sunset when neighborhoods seem to settle in on themselves. The young couple who lived two doors down had left to run errands twenty or thirty minutes ago, and I suppose we were waiting on their return as a sign it was time to go inside.

Then, suddenly, the sirens. Fire trucks raced down our street, sliding to a halt in front of the young couple's house. Firefighters poured out, tightening their gear as they ran across the lawn. We stared as they pounded on the door. Getting no answer, one of them pulled back his ax and swung, crash against the door, and crash again and again until the door splintered and broke and they rushed into the house. More noise from inside, more ax swinging, and more shouting. Then nothing. Quiet, for a minute, maybe three.

The firefighters walked out of the house, stopped on the front step. They looked up at the house numbers, at each other, then up at the house numbers again. One of them reached in his pocket, took out a notebook, wrote something on a piece of paper and stuck it on the house, next to the hole where the door used to be. Then they climbed back in their truck and left.

Stunned, we finished our beers. I went in, got us each another, and came down to wait for the neighbors.

Soon enough they returned. Their car pulled up, in front of their house. They got out, walked halfway across their front yard, and stopped. Gaping, slack jawed. They turned and stared at us. We pointed, yelled, "there's a note." They looked, saw it, pulled it down and read it. Went inside. Then nothing. Quiet, for a minute, maybe three.

A light went on in their house. The guy who lived downstairs, a carpenter, stood up, saying, "I better see what they need." He said he'd get us if need be and left. We waited a moment, went upstairs, turned on some music, and every once in a while, I'd catch someone else's eye, and we'd shrug and raise our beer in a toast to things we don't expect.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This Man Walks Into A Trap

Blue Girl's looking for funny stories. Here's a hilarious one.

After a brief stop at home last night so I could cram food down my gullet and let my kids tell me I'm lazy, it was off to a meeting. It's budget time, which meant it went late and I got home after everyone was asleep. I brushed my teeth and went to give my two youngest their goodnight hugs.

Instead of a tender Snag family moment, however, it became one more bloody, hellish milestone. Literally. My Lovely Bride inexplicably decided to buy the youngest boy a lava lamp on Sunday because his first one broke and stained the carpet. With the remarkable good judgment my children display, they'd set it on their bedroom floor, where Katie the Wonder Dog promptly knocked it over with her tail, sending glass shards all over, which got picked up, except for the one stuck in my damn foot.

Going downstairs to find something to staunch the bleeding, I tripped over the laundry basket. The one that was full of clean laundry. More accurately, the one that had been full of clean laundry until someone threw a wet towel on top of it. Good, now I had clothes to wash, again, get me off my lazy ass.

I finally stopped hemorrhaging and dragged myself to bed at 12:30 in the morning. At 5:45 a.m. the clock radio went off, Matchbox Twenty or some crap, at a volume you could hear wherever you're reading this. Adrenaline pumping, I sat up and said to my wife, "Light of my life, whatever in the world is going on?"

"One of the kids must have been playing with the radio last night," she answered.

"Oh those rascals," I said, or words to that effect.

I called a friend of mine this morning and asked him to shoot me in the head. He laughed.

My whole life is a punchline.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mr. Snag, Your Straitjacket Is Ready

Last night, after finishing the dishes and the laundry and getting the Crockpot going for tonight's dinner, I came downstairs to watch a little television. Silly me. There was the remote lying in the middle of the floor, missing its back and its batteries.

Irritating, but not fatal. Except in our house, where the boys long ago broke the TV set's on/off switch.

This afternoon the kids got home from school and tried to turn on the xBox. No luck. It was unplugged, the power cord hidden.

"What's wrong with this piece of crap?" demanded the middle one. His older brother left, wanting no part of whatever lecture was coming.

"Nothing," I said. "It's turned off until someone finds the back of the remote." As an afterthought, "Watch your language."

Five minutes of looking didn't locate it. Demonstrating admirable resolve, the middle one gave up and left to sell cookie dough and frozen pizza to the neighbors. The class trip to D.C. is next spring.

"This is stupid," said the youngest.

"No it's not," I replied. "I'm tired of throwing money down the drain. You guys break lights, you break televisions, you put holes in the wall. Why should I let you use the xBox? You'll just break that."

"Exactly!" said the youngest, who equates certainty with logic.

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"We haven't broken the xBox."

"Right. That's why I unplugged it." I picked up the plastic scimitar he got with his Halloween costume and pretended to behead our dog.

"Stop it!" he shrieked, hurling himself on top of her. "Katie hates you."

"It's mutual," I said. "Why don't you go find the rest of the remote?"

"Why don't you give me the xBox cord"? he asked.

"I need it to keep me alive when I have a stroke," I said.

"I'll unplug you."

"Good. We'll all be happier."

"I'm going to get a scholarship," he said, abruptly changing the subject.

"Really? Where?"

"A baseball school. Arizona or Stanford."

"Super. I'll come live with you."

"You can't. Mom can though. Then I'll be a professional baseball player and I'll change my name."

"You don't need to change your name. I'm going to do that for you."

"To what?" he asked warily.

"I'm not sure yet. Probably Flounder Ploop Ploop."

He glared at me. "How much does a personalized license plate cost?"

"It depends. What do you want it to say?"

"I H8 DAD."

"You're so precious," I said.

The middle one walked in, his sales finished for the day. "I'm precious?" he asked.

"No, you're smelly. Go take a shower."

"I sold $200 worth of stuff today," he said.

"Perfect. You can buy a new remote."

"That's just crazy," he said.

"That's because he's crazy," said the youngest.

"You're right," said his brother. "Let's go find the crazy person's remote."

They went to look. I muttered, "If I'm not crazy I will be soon." Katie heard me and rolled on her back. I scratched her belly with the tip of the sword. At least one of us usually gets what we want.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

If You Try To Hug Me, I'll Kill You

I met H. a few years ago. Our youngest sons were on the same team and we'd chat during practices and games, casual talk about our families and jobs.

One night we found ourselves standing next to each other without our kids or wives around. We started telling stories, about being in high school, and college, and what have you. Finally H. stepped back with an admiring expression and said, "You might be the first person I've ever met who would be a bad influence on me."

We've since become fast friends. We like singing loudly, tormenting our children, and whiskey. We've gone ice fishing together. Dressed as pirates, we called bingo for last year's elementary school fundraiser. We're both treating our high cholesterol with an aggressive regimen of salami and cheese. Most important, his wife and mine have gone back to school. They're just happy if we amuse each other and leave them alone.

Our love for singing is accompanied by a love for musicals. We've developed a habit of getting together every other Sunday night or so. We have a couple drinks and watch a show. The first night was at my house, Walk the Line, all well and good until my Lovely Bride came down at 12:30 in the morning to ask why we were singing "Ring of Fire" on a school night and what the hell was wrong with us.

Now we get together at H.'s house. H.'s wife is an awfully good sport. A typical evening has us turning on a movie, pouring a glass from our impressive collection of half-finished bottles of bourbon, and settling in with a nice plate of liver sausage and onion sandwiches. She'll walk through, shudder slightly, and escape as quickly as possible.

This Saturday we got a jump on the week. My oldest son and I spent the afternoon in one of our city's more interesting neighborhoods. We had lunch at a new restaurant, did some shopping at a wine and cheese store and a Ukrainian deli. It would have been a shame not to share this food and H. happily invited us over.

My Lovely Bride was studying so it was just H., his wife, another couple, my oldest son and I, sitting at the kitchen table, eating and talking. Eventually the conversation turned to hunting. My hunting is pretty much confined to threatening my dog and chasing pheasants around once or twice a decade. H. is much more serious about it and is planning on going this year with a mutual friend of ours. He asked if I wanted a deer if they got lucky.

"Sure," I said. "I like venison. Where do you get yours processed?"

"I do it myself," he said. "Out in the garage. If I get one, we'll do it together."

My oldest shook his head. He's seen us together. H.'s wife has too, and this was her garage.

"Listen," she said, "if you two morons think you're going to splatter blood all over the garage, you're wrong. I remember the time my husband dragged a dead deer through the back yard. There were blood stains on the ground until the next snow fall. I told him if one of the neighbors went missing he was going to have a time explaining it to the police."

H. waved his hand. "We'll be fine. Hang it up, gut it, make some sausage. It'll be fun."

"Fun," said his wife. "It's fun all right explaining to the kids why there's something bloody dangling under the tarp in the garage."

I took a sip from my drink. "This is great. We'll make a sign that says 'Bates Motel' and nail it to the front of the garage. Hey, that gives me an idea for this year's bingo night." H. and I are chairing the bingo committee this year. How nice for the school.

"Vampires," H. said, pouring a drink for himself. "We'll be vampires." His youngest son looked up with alarm from the other room. He hadn't heard the whole conversation but he's already worried about bingo. A statement like "We'll be vampires" didn't do much to help.

H.'s wife had had enough. She stood and told their child it was time for bed. H. and I talked a bit more about bingo night, then the other couple stood to go, I gathered my kid, and we all said our goodbyes.

On the way home, my son asked me, "Are you really going to be vampires?"

"Probably," I said.

"Are you really going to butcher a deer with H.?"

"Probably. I hope so."

He sat in silence the rest of the way home. I'm not sure he understands my friendships. I'm not sure I do. It doesn't matter. I enjoy them, and that's what I hope my kids see and learn, that friendships don't need a reason, sometimes they just are.