Friday, August 31, 2007

Mr. Snag Goes To Washington

Soon I slip the surly bonds of the Snag family and head to Washington for a few days. I love the place; the towering skyscrapers, the compassionate conservatives, the shit-covered monuments. There's something for everyone.

My work takes me there every year and I try to make the most of it. Most of my days are spent at meetings and luncheons, which typically feature at least one high profile guest. For example, one year I had the opportunity to hear John Boehner, (R-Crazytown), another Steve Case ("Holy fuck, they fell for it!"). Last year I moderated a panel discussion on "Putting Audiences to Sleep: A Practical Perspective."

Unfortunately, not all is fun and games and in the evenings I often find myself at one of the city's more popular eating establishments, wishing I had the expense account of an investment banker. Nevertheless, I'm usually able to eke out a couple of nice meals, even if I have to pocket the bread rolls for the next morning's breakfast in order to save enough money for some drinks. This year, as I have nothing more strenuous on the agenda than pretending to listen, I hope to get a snootful and stand screaming in faux-Croatian outside the White House until escorted away.

I love the museums too. My favorites are the Hirshhorn, the American Art Museum, and the graffiti exhibit at the Metro's Navy Yard station, although I think it safe to say I will never see anything I love as much as Philadelphia's Mütter Museum and its collection of medical oddities (motto - "Disturbingly Informative").

The only downside to this is I hate flying. It's not that I refuse to get on a plane or have to get drunk or medicated first. It's more a question of spending takeoffs and landings praying to the Supreme Being in whom I don't really believe and who's been hosing me on the lottery for years. (My best friend is convinced he's going to die in a plane crash and the only thing they'll find of him is his charred wallet containing a winning lottery ticket. I do not live my neuroses in solitude.)

I've come up with a solution, though, a theory that reading during takeoff suspends my disbelief in the impossibility of flight. It's this suspension that prevents me from encountering the end suffered by Wile E. Coyote when he looks down after running off a cliff. As if to assert his contempt for atheists, however, God typically seats me next to a human Chatty Cathy who wants to risk all of our lives by talking to me about some nonsense in a way that would cause me physical pain if I was at a tea party, much less shoved inside a cylindrical tube of horror. So, up we go into the wild blue turbulence while I grin inanely at my seat companion and chew on the inside of my cheek for courage.

Meanwhile, my hellish brood will be starting school as I pace the linoleum floors of our local aerostation. As one can imagine, my Lovely Bride is less than thrilled at the prospect of spending the first week of school alone with our children, whose attitudes are nothing to write home about under the best of circumstances. That is, in fact, my one consolation, knowing as the plane turns and banks and I stare with wistful panic at the receding ground below, it is worse down there.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Counting Down

Today was pleasant. I slept in, called the office and pretended I know enough to second-guess an actuary, and headed off to elementary school open house day.

Contrary to AG's assertion, our school does not use a catwalk in its hiring process, but it was nice to meet my youngest's teacher. She's an ex-securities trader who changed careers a couple of years ago. She's got the enthusiasm of someone new to the job and the perspective of someone who's been around for a while. We chatted for a bit while my boy and his two buddies M. and V. roamed around the room looking at stuff and trying to act cool. I told her she needed to watch out for these hoodlums and she laughed and said she'd already been warned by their teachers from last year.

Next we went to M.'s classroom. Again, they wandered around the room while I introduced myself as M.'s other father. This seemed to confuse the nice young man who will be teaching him this year, although he struggled gamely to stay on task until I explained I was just a friend of the family.

Last, we visited V.'s teacher. V.'s a good boy, the son of immigrants, hardworking, polite, intelligent, almost a caricature of the immigrant experience. I sidled up to her.

"He seems like a nice kid, but he swears like a sailor," I said.

She snickered. V. blushed and rolled his eyes.

"He gets it from his mother," I continued. V.'s mother, a dentist, is perhaps the nicest human being I've ever met. Her son hid in the hallway for the rest of the visit.

My work here done, I took the boys out to play ball with their new Accubat, picking up my middle son and his friend on the way. I calculated recently that with what I've spent on sports registration fees and equipment over the last month, including a pair of deeply discounted Wades, I could have gone to France for a week. By myself, which only makes the loss more bitter. And it's not like I'm raising Einstein here. If' I'm lucky, I'll get a Borat out of the group.

Anyway, Coach P. has the week off and he and I took turns hurling balls at them down at the park in the hopes of making someone cry. All well and good until my oldest needed a ride to the bus to his cross-country meet. On the way I try to make small talk. A mistake with a teenager.

"Why do you have to be stupid?" he asked.

Trying to avoid provoking him right before a meet, I said, "Sorry."

"Just stop talking," he said. "Nobody wants to hear you."

I love you son.

After several hours more of abuse, tonight's soccer practice rolled around. I took my youngest and half the other kids and worked on defense with them, trying to get them to understand they can't clot around the ball.

"Look," I said, "I know it's like a delicious juicy apple, but you can't all chase it. There are lots of apples and you'll all get one during the season. If you don't stop, Coach Snag is going to cry."

One of the kids on the team is someone who I coached in baseball this year. I looked over in time to see his mother the family therapist whispering to one of the other parents. Way to go, I thought, you've already started creeping out the parents.

Oh well, so be it. I may be leaving a trail of heartbreak and social service files in my wake, but I had a good day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Summer Draws To A Close

Tomorrow (today actually, but I'm still awake so it feels like tomorrow) I'm taking my youngest and two of his buddies to meet their teachers. I'll be working at home in the morning and all the rest of the parents will be scattered around at their own jobs, so it's off to school for me at noon. We'll make sure the kids know where their lockers are, say hi to the teachers. The boys are nearing the end of their elementary school career so none of this should be a surprise.

I don't mind doing this; in fact, I enjoy it. It's fun walking around the school before classes start, looking at the rooms full of butterfly posters and cut-out numbers and bright signs put together by teachers hoping for a nice year.

There is no chance that my father would have done this. None. First of all, he worked, my mother didn't, outside the house anyway, and the idea of taking a day off to meet his son's teacher would have never occurred to him. It wouldn't have occurred to any of the other dads on the block either. They were good guys and all, but school was mom stuff, to the extent anything besides grades was the concern of parents at all.

Second, even if he'd somehow gotten roped into doing it, say my mother fell into a temporary coma, it would have been the two of us. If my friends needed to go, they'd go with their own parents. If their parents died or something, he'd have fed and housed them, but take them to meet their teachers? That's crazy talk.

I like that things have changed. I like that my neighbors ask me to do this for them, just as they've taken my kids to everything from tryouts to back-to-school shopping. I like that I'll show up at our little local school with my neighbors' kids and we'll walk around and see what there is to see and then we'll go home and have lunch with another dad who has the day off and his kid and then we'll go play some ball and it won't seem crazy, it will just be a good day.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My Friends In Advertising Would Be So Proud

On reflection, I see last night's post could be read as referring to a family budget discussion. Ha! That would require such a discussion take place. No, this was about an organizational budget, one that affects people outside of my precious bloodline, people who aren't as lucky as my hellish brood.

Case in point. Tonight it was time to argue about shoes.

My two youngest are both trying out for traveling basketball this year. The middle one played last year and presumably will again. The youngest, it's the first year he's eligible. Notwithstanding the best efforts of my Lovely Bride and I to get him to stick with in-house for another year or two, he won't be swayed.

For those of you who don't know the difference, and there's no reason you should unless you've somehow found yourself parenting a bunch of kids (in which case you have my sympathy), in-house is more casual, one game a week against other teams from our community. Traveling is more competitive, involving tournaments all over the metropolitan area. It's expensive and exhausting. I like watching the games, but at one time in my life I used to like going to concerts and being an adult. So it goes.

Anyway, traveling basketball it is, if they make the teams. Which, in the tiny little brain of my youngest, apparently demands the most expensive shoes.

"I need Wade 2.0s," he told me when I got home from a late meeting tonight. "For basketball. Traveling, you know."

"Those cost $80. Not going to happen."

He threw himself down on the stairs. "Don't you want me to play basketball?"

"Your mother just wrote out a check for registration fees that cost more than my first car."

"You'd just spend it on beer," he said. Smart kid. "Besides, eighty dollars isn't that much," he said. Which tells you something unpleasant about my kids.

"Fine, then you pay for them," I replied. "I just bought you new cleats for fall soccer." A season, I might add, that I once again got talked into coaching. Another two nights a week I won't be going to concerts.

"I don't have enough money," he said.

"No shit," I answered, prompting a glare from my Lovely Bride. "I don't have enough money either."

"What am I supposed to do?" he asked.

"Knit some goddamned shoes, I don't care," I answered.

"Mom," he shrieked. "Dad's being a jerk."

"Alright, alright," I said. "Let's go look and see what's for sale on the internet."

So we did. I saw a few things more in the price range I was thinking, and we'll go shopping in person this weekend. In the meantime I offered to get him some pink Crocs, just to piss him off. It worked. When we go to the stores this weekend, I'll offer him cheap plastic shoes with cartoon characters and he'll demand Wade 2.0s. We'll eventually compromise somewhere in the middle. He may not learn much about basketball or teamwork or sportsmanship, but he'll damned well understand negotiation by the time we're done.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Social Contract

Tonight we did what we've done too many nights. Scrambled for money to pay for things that are essential. Not essential in the sense of "Boy, too bad if we can't do this." Essential in the sense of "People will die if we don't do this."

We found the money, I think, I hope. To pay for the essential things, anyway. The nonessentials, well, that's a little harder.

We talked about that a lot this evening. What it means to cut back on the things that make people happy, that make it seem as though there's more to life than waking up and slogging off to work and then slogging back home to sit inside, alone, watching television. These amenities, art and parks and celebrations, they may be nonessential but they give meaning to what we do.

For a long time, it seemed as if that didn't matter. Our humanity measured with a balance sheet, our dreams only important if they could be patented. It's changing, I think, I hope. People are remembering what it's like have friends and neighbors, to count on them and let them count on us. Remembering why the nonessentials matter so much to us.

In the meantime, we'll do what we can.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Eating Good In The Woods

As you can see, I spent a long weekend with some of my buddies. We've been doing this for eight or nine years now, a small group of us at a cabin, fishing, watching movies, and discussing issues of national and international importance. Such as: "Which tastes better, bourbon or scotch?" and "Goddamnit, where's the fucking remote?" and "Holy Christ, what's that smell?"

While much about these trips remains shrouded in mystery, at least as far as our spouses are concerned, I can pull back the curtain just a little to give Friends of Befouled a quick glimpse of life at the cabin. There's no better way to do that than to describe a typical year's dinner menus. There are other meals of course, sodden breakfasts of coffee and meat, festive lunches of beer and meat, but those are an afterthought really. After all, as Plato liked to say, "Dinner makes the man."

Thursday Night

We typically don't get to the cabin until fairly late in the day so we try to stick with something simple. In other words, meat. As in years past, this evening's meal consisted of a side of beef and a gallon of lamb, all carefully passed briefly over a fire and washed down with several flagons of liquor. There may have been some asparagus and a potato somewhere in the kitchen during this time period. I don't really recall.

Friday Night

Friday night was devoted to a celebration of our skills as hunter-gatherers. A substantial amount of fish, culled from the lake on the basis of an algorithm incorporating deliciousness and catchability, was placed in a pile, coated with a batter made of malt-based beverages and milled grains, then fried until no longer repulsive. It was served with a cherry tomato and liquor.

Saturday Night

To celebrate our communion with nature, we started with an appetizer of seared lamprey over a salad of milfoil and buckthorn. Our main course was a freshly snared and roasted osprey, stuffed with zebra mussels and native morels and glazed with a reduction of bear juice. Dessert was candied squirrel face. Flights of whiskey accompanied each course.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My Fair Walleye

I'm going fishing in the mornin'!
Yee haw! The lures are gonna fly.
Put on a bobber!
I'll catch a lunker!
But get me to the lake on time!

I got to be there in the mornin',
Stock up the leeches and the beer.
Fish, let me catch ya,
Then I'll fillet ya.
But get me to the lake on time!

If I am workin',
Shove me out the door!
If I am passed out,
Pick me off the floor!

For I'm going fishing in the mornin'.
Yee haw! The lures are gonna fly.
Open the throttle,
And pass me the bottle!
Just get me to the lake on time!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Why Won't Anybody Play With Me?

This year's fantasy baseball league is composed of seven teams. Six consist of my 9-year-old's friends and their dads, another is my middle son and me, and the last consists of my oldest and youngest boys. I try to avoid considering the Oedipal nature of that, but I do watch my back.

When we had the draft at our house back in March, there was much good feeling, and an equal amount of good food and drink. We sat around the table reading the scouting reports, harassing each other, and generally confirming the wisdom of my Lovely Bride's decision to leave for the night. The dads all chipped in for a prize pool, certain it's never too early to teach kids how to gamble. It was a fine evening, for in baseball as in life, hope springs eternal and the dawning of a new season is always a time for great expectations.

I should know better. We began by drawing for draft pick order. Needless to say, I got last pick, prompting a withering glance from my middle child. It didn't help that by the time it got to us, all the hometown heroes were gone. Still, I thought we did alright when the whole draft was said and done, picking up Derek Jeter among others. Maybe not a great team, but a solid one, and there's an awful lot that can happen over the course of a season.

That's for damn sure. Our team's been firmly mired in last place for, oh, about the last 115 games or so. It doesn't matter what I do. Draft an outfielder? Two days later he's on the DL. Pick up a shortstop? A career-ending slump. Find myself a pitcher? He develops bovine encephalitis. I'm like a pinstriped Grim Reaper.

Meanwhile, my middle son, has given up completely. He checks the standings infrequently now, shaking his head sadly when he sees how poorly we're doing. Occasionally he'll make a half-hearted suggestion, but he generally seems to recognize the futility of partnering with me in anything requiring luck.

The one bright spot in this is that it's given my oldest a reason to talk to me. Granted, the conversations usually go, "Dad, your team stinks. You lost another point last night. How can you be so stupid?" Still, it's better than the grim silence that otherwise marks the teenage years.

Soon and mercifully, this season will be over. Planning has already begun for the end-of-year party, when the top two teams will collect their winnings and gloat while others console themselves with more food and drink. Abuse will be showered upon me, but I will be stoic. It's not as though I lack for practice at losing.

And besides, there's always next year.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Summer Reading

Like others of my blogospheric demographic, I enjoy a good book now and again. Contrary to all expectations, that's what I did with my weekend home alone. Here's what I've been reading.

1. "Broken Lullaby" by Laurel Pace

A searing depiction of life in 1973 Cambodia, as seen through the eyes of a reluctant Green Beret. A fictional love affair between an amateur genealogist and a handsome art dealer, recounted in a diary found with the soldier after his death, becomes an analogy for Southeast Asia's increasingly complicated relationship with the West. While its brutal descriptions of the horrors of war make it not for the squeamish, it is has taken its place among antiwar classics like "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "Johnny Got His Gun."

2. "Soul Harvest" by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

This frank novel about a young hermaphrodite's search for acceptance scandalized the nation when it first appeared. When Jesse first realizes how different s/he is from others at their small-town high school, s/he turns to heroin and anonymous sex in an effort to blot out the pain. Ultimately, s/he is befriended by a local imam who brings Jesse to an understanding of the importance of individuality even on Sinclair Lewis's Main Street. Harrowing but ultimately uplifting.

3. "The Wiggles: Yummy, Yummy: Fruit Salad" by Grosset & Dunlap, Inc.

Often compared to "Catcher in the Rye" and "The Outsiders," this fictionalized autobiography explores what it means to grow up on the mean streets of a Brazilian favela. Poverty and violence mark the life of the young people of Wiggletown. Just as there is no escape for them, readers of this landmark book will never forget the despair of its protagonist.

4. "The Breakthrough Reptile and Amphibian Taxidermy Manual" by Ken Edwards and various artists

A bawdy romance in the style of "Tom Jones," this story wonderfully captures the essence of 18th century Paris. Pierre and Marie fall in love, separate, and finally reunite, all against the backdrop of the coming French Revolution. The Oxford Press translation topped the bestseller lists, but the University of Chicago version is generally considered to be more true to the original.

5. "Moose on the Loose" by John Hassett

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, this novel examines the implications of a social structure broken down by the corrosive effects of unbridled materialism. As our anti-hero picks his way through the remains of the famed Las Vegas Strip, readers are confronted with difficult questions of redemption and betrayal. David Lynch recently optioned a screenplay based on this book with hopes of casting Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead role.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

It's Quiet Here. Too Quiet

My Lovely Bride's birthday was this week and while being married to me is gift enough, the boys thought their mother deserved something more.

"Let's get her an iPod shuffle," they suggested.

"You mean, 'Dad, buy her something and we'll take credit for it' don't you?" I said.

They stared at me without comprehension. I get more response from the dog. "Whatever," they said. "Just go get it."

So I did, a silver one as specified by my oldest. I toyed with the idea of getting her a bigger one, but she's always said the shuffle holds plenty. She's oddly unenthusiastic about classics like Jethro Tull's "Bungle in the Jungle" and Neil Diamond's "Cracklin' Rosie." Her loss.

In our household, wrapping presents means shoving them in a bag, so there wasn't a lot of ribbon cutting but she was nevertheless appropriately excited when she saw it. We set it up and loaded it with songs and after listening to it for a few minutes she gave in to the demands of our youngest and let him try it out.

When she finally pried it back off his head, he looked at me and said, "I want an iPod."

Oh Jesus, here we go.

"I want a million dollars. We're both out of luck," I told him.

"I never get anything."

"Huh? I bought you a new baseball bat last week. It cost a fortune." It did, too. Bats apparently come with technology nowadays.

"That doesn't count," he said.

"Why? What the hell are you talking about?"

"I need it for baseball."

"Look," I said. "First of all, you didn't need it. Second, baseball's not your job, it's something you do for fun. It's not like I got you school supplies for your birthday."

"You never got me anything for my birthday. So I should get an iPod."

"Yes we did," I answer. "We got you golf clubs."

"I needed those."

"You won't need them in the foster home you're going to."

Fortunately, my Lovely Bride took the kids away for the weekend. They left yesterday and about an hour later I started getting text messages from my oldest.

The first one read, "R family sucks."

There's certainly evidence to support that idea, I thought.

A few minutes later I got another one. "Mom says she's in hell."

"What's going on now?" I asked.

"The dork's still mad about the iPod. He keeps saying he never gets anything and nobody loves him. Mom says she's going to leave him on the side of the road."

"Fine by me."

But she didn't, and he'll be home tomorrow with the rest of the family. In the meantime, I'll be putting a bat and golf clubs up for sale on eBay. At least that's what I told him.

There's no place I'd less rather be tomorrow than that car on the ride home.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Happy Days

Today is my Lovely Bride's birthday. Happy birthday, light of my life!

Also, the young man is safe.

Good times. Good times, indeed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pride Of The Neighborhood

The Lovely Bride and my hellish brood will be away for the weekend, leaving me with nothing but despair. That said, I'll have to find a way to fill my empty hours. Although I'm not yet sure how I'll do that, these are some of the things I'm considering:

1. Books

There are many great books I haven't read: "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius; "New Poems" by D.H. Lawrence; "Praise of Idleness" by Bertrand Russell. I could while away the hours in their company, sipping tea and listening to the Brandenburg Concertos with Katie the Wonder Dog at my feet.

Odds of this happening: 1:250,000

2. Museums

I am within reasonable driving distance of any number of great art works, both modern and classical. Picasso, Rembrandt, Close, Asian sculpture, woven folk art, it's all there in front of me. I could float from gallery to gallery, stopping only for respite at one of the delightful cafés along the way.

Odds of this happening: 1:97,000

3. Theater

I love theater. This weekend I have choices ranging from Noël Coward to "a raw look at what sexual violence and pornography are, and how they function in people's lives in a male-centric society." All of it compelling and rich.

Odds of this happening: 1:5,000

4. Live Music

I don't see nearly enough live music anymore. This weekend we've got your classical, your alt-rock, your alt-country, your country-alt, your jazz, your prog, your classic rock, what the hell, you've probably got the Beatles playing somewhere.

Odds of this happening: 1:100

5. Sitting On Ass

I have a full liquor cabinet and a full refrigerator. I own fifteen movies I haven't watched. I pay for premium cable and there are dozens of baseball games scheduled. If I can teach the dog to fetch me towels and feed herself, I don't have to move at all.

Odds of this happening: 327:1

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


His family loves him.

UPDATE: Details removed out of respect for privacy.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ten Things To Do Before I Die

Inspired by the advertisements that urge me to rack up a large credit card bill in the service of fleeting pleasures, I've prepared a list of things I'd like to do before my time here is done. If I should lapse into a coma before completing any or all of them, please drag my carcass through the paces.

1. Have a disease named after me, preferably not an embarrassing one involving flatulence.

2. Go horseback riding in the menswear department of Macy's.

3. Perform a libretto of my own composition at the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I am currently working on one called "The Taming of the Leek," scored for mouth harp and bassoon.

4. Learn to play the bassoon.

5. Consume a whole emu at one sitting.

6. Visit the great jackal ranches of Japan's mountain regions.

7. Invent a new fossil.

8. Sail a hovercraft across the Atlantic.

9. Get Hamlet's soliloquy tattooed on my back.

10. Go hang gliding in the Mariana Trench.

What would you like to do?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Dharma Dads

Perhaps the best thing about traveling with teenage boys is their tremendous susceptibility to public embarrassment. Having recently returned from such a trip, I speak with authority.

The fun started on Wednesday morning when my friend E. and his son A. came to pick up my oldest child and me. I walked out to their car wearing a bicycle helmet.

"What are you doing?" asked A., a nervous look in his eyes.

"I'm supposed to wear this whenever I travel," I answered, banging my head on the top of the car. "Doctor's orders."

He shuddered and got in the back seat with my son, both of them rolling their eyes. E. laughed.

We had a baseball game to get to that night, hundreds of miles away, but E. likes to drive and we made good time. As promised, I'd brought my iPod and the car was soon filled with the sound of music. Thanks to the thoughtful suggestions of the many Friends of Befouled, I'd made several additions to my already impressive list of chart toppers, including the Jimmy Cliff version of "I Can See Clearly Now" and a Dionne Warwick medley of "Walk on By/Say a Little Prayer/Do You Know the Way to San Jose." The most beguiling segue, in the sense of watching the boys cover their ears and cringe, was from Donny Hathaway to Joy Division to Harry McClintock. E.'s and my yodeling along only made the time more special.

After a while I got tired of singing and suggested we needed a theme for the trip. "I think we should honk like geese. We don't do enough of that."

E. nodded. "Honk," he said.

The boys started yelling, "Stop it!"

"Honk," I responded.

"Honk," said E.

Around noon that first day we stopped for lunch in an exurban wasteland. A. insisted he wanted Chinese food but was overruled and we found ourselves at a local sports bar. The waitress brought our drinks and asked if we were ready to order.

E. looked at her and said, "The burger looks good, but I need to know what's in it. I'm extremely allergic to corn and I'll blow up like a puffer fish if I eat it."

A. and my son stared at him aghast while the waitress wrestled with this obviously foreign concept.

"It's a bad allergy," I chimed in. "Even corn dust can trigger it. Do you use much corn in the preparation of your menu items?"

The waitress shook her head slowly and said, "I don't think so, but I'll ask the cook." She walked away.

A. looked at us and said, "You two are idiots." We honked in agreement.

Lunch proved a corn-free experience and we soon resumed our journey. By mid-afternoon we were checking into our room and by 5:00 it was time for an early dinner. This was Kansas City, and that meant barbecue. At the urging of the hotel desk clerk, we headed for Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue, located in a beautifully restored freight house. Our waiter was an accommodating sort named Larson who assured E. that he understood the potentially devastating effects of a corn allergy.

"Thanks, I can't be too careful," said E. "Say, Larson, that's interesting. I don't think I've ever met someone else with that for a first name."

Larson replied he was named after his father, Lars.

"Right," I said. "That's a Belgian tradition. Do you speak Flemish?"

"Or you could be Japanese," said E. "The Japanese often use those family names too."

Larson, a 6'2" Anglo-Saxon, gave us a puzzled look and said, "I'm pretty sure I'm not Japanese."

"You never know," I said. "Hey, this pork we ordered, is it kosher?"

He grinned and said, "Yeah, we've got a rabbi in the kitchen blessing it." Then he turned and stomped off robotically, chanting "Godzilla smash" and earning a nice tip in the process.

The boys sunk down in their chairs and glared at us.

I lowered my voice and leaned in. "You've got to be careful here in Kansas City. There are a lot of Belgians. Don't make eye contact with them. They can be pretty hot-tempered."

E. lowered his voice too as the boys tried to focus on their appetizers. "The Belgians and the Dutch divided up the city years ago, but there are still a lot of gangland executions and drive-by shootings. The Belgians never really forgave the Dutch for the system of dikes they constructed."

After a delicious meal it was off to the game. For an older non-Fenway park, Kauffman Stadium is quite nice. It's not quaint but it is serviceable, although I strongly recommend skipping the $1 snout dogs. I tried to convince the boys to smile for the camera, without much success.

Midway through the 5th inning E. went to the concession stand. Fifteen minutes later, he finally came back with my beer.

"What the hell took so long?" I asked.

He sighed. "I'm up at the counter, along with fifty other people, and all the attendants are just roaming around aimlessly, not helping anybody. Finally I yelled, 'My friend's an alcoholic and if he doesn't get something to drink he's going to start screaming about snakes again.' So this lady poured your beer but she wouldn't let me have it until I showed her my ID. When I gave it to her she stared at it so long I finally asked her if she was slow. She threw it back at me and it landed in your beer. Sorry about the plastic aftertaste."

I shrugged and honked. Beer is beer.

The next day we arose early and left for St. Louis. I've always liked this city, hot and humid as it can be. It's got character and an Italian section, and in honor of both we stopped for lunch at Cunetto's House of Pasta. After confirming the corn-free status of their menu items and asking the waitress to take a picture of us, we told the kids it was important to understand the history of the places we were going.

A. smirked. "Yeah, whatever, you two dorks are probably going to tell us there are a lot of Belgians here." My son smirked with him.

"Don't be stupid," I said. "The Belgians are in Kansas City. St. Louis is a Gypsy enclave."

E. shook his head knowingly. "That's right. There are a lot of Slavs here too. It's almost worse than the Belgian-Dutch warfare in Kansas City."

That seemed to quiet the boys down and the rest of the afternoon passed without further note, except when E. asked a park ranger to arrest them for refusing to let me take their picture at the Arch. He must have been a father himself because he appeared to seriously consider it.

Busch Stadium is another lovely ballpark. It was stunningly hot by game time and even I had forsworn beer in favor of water, although a new stadium and a World Series Championship apparently equates to shockingly expensive concessions. No matter, I was still full from lunch and I made it to the 4th inning before I ate my first hot dog.

During the bottom of the 8th, the skies lit up over the arch. Fireworks of some sort. E. glanced up at them. "Hey guys, the Slavs must be bombing a Gypsy encampment down by the river. It's going to be a bloody one tonight."

The people in the seats nearby gave him startled looks. Our sons stared at the field and tried to pretend they weren't with us, which met with some success until the crowd started doing the wave, prompting honks of excitement from E. and me every time it reached our section.

The next morning was an early start back home, too early for breakfast even. By noon, we were starving. Fortunately we saw a sign advertising the delightful experience that only a Huddle House can deliver. The boys were appalled.

"We're not going to eat there! We already passed four Subways and a Popeyes Chicken!"

"Don't be ridiculous," I said. "The whole point of traveling is to experience new things. Look at the menu - they have country fried steak with white gravy. We're going."

E. and I were, at least. The boys refused to leave the car.

"Fine, the hell with it," said E. "Let them rot. I'm eating."

We went in. There was a sign over the counter announcing it was the cook's birthday, so we loudly wished her well and took a seat.

Our waitress came to to the table, eighteen or nineteen years old. "How many of you are there today?" she asked.

"Good question," said E. "There's the two of us and then there are a couple of kids in the car. They don't want to come in."

"Why not?"

"Don't know. Maybe if you invited them they would."

So she did, walking to the front door and waving and hollering across the parking lot, "Come on, you guys, what are you waiting for?"

The boys slumped lower in the car and refused to acknowledge her.

"Don't worry about it," I said. "They're pinheads. I'll have the chicken fried steak and my friend will have the meat loaf. There's not any corn in that, is there?"

She hustled off to place our order and E. and I looked across the parking lot at his car. Even with all four doors open it must have been 110 degrees in there, a dark car sitting in the full sun on a sea of concrete.

"Morons," said E. "Watch this." He hit the panic button on his key chain. The car lights started flashing and the horn started blowing. We saw two heads pop up momentarily in the back seat and then disappear again. E. let it go for about thirty seconds and then hit the off button. The rest of the customers stared at us curiously, but nobody said anything. No doubt stranger things have happened in a Huddle House parking lot.

After a leisurely lunch, E. and I returned to the car where A. and my son were both playing with their cell phones. We honked our greeting and headed back to the highway.

After much complaining, we eventually did stop at a Popeyes for the boys, a decision they came to regret when we were caught in a construction zone and they realized they'd neglected to get a drink to wash down their chicken and muffins.

"It's sure a hot one today," E. and I took turns saying at regular intervals, before loudly slurping from our water bottles. "Hot and dry. Just look at all that dust along the road. If I didn't have something to drink I don't think I could stand it."

We made it home that night before dark, younger brothers standing at the door eagerly awaiting their souvenirs. As my son doled them out, my Lovely Bride asked him if he'd had fun.

"Yeah," he said. "It was a good trip."

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

Tomorrow the oldest and I leave for a short road trip. We're going with a friend and his son to see a couple of ballgames in other cities, covering about 1500 miles in 36 hours. Thank God there are tax breaks for oil companies or I'd never be able to afford it.

One of the teams we're going to see is my boy's favorite, leaving aside our home team. Why? I don't have a clue. It's a team I sort of vaguely liked growing up, but I've never had strong feelings either way. The franchise has a great history and a nice stadium, but there's no particular reason he should be a fan. But he is and there we are and he's a good kid and he's earned it, so off we go.

Three days, two stadiums, and twenty hours in the car. That gives me plenty of time to plug in my iPod, turn up the volume, and sing along. I've been making playlists and here are my first ten. These are some lucky kids we're traveling with.

1. Waterloo - Abba (No cheesy cover versions here)

2. Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In - Fifth Dimension (Power to the people!)

3. Wichita Lineman - Glen Campbell ("I need you more than want you" - sing it, baby)

4. Minnie the Moocher - Cab Calloway (Hi Dee Ho, Ho, Ho!)

5. This Guy's in Love With You - Herb Alpert (Wait until we crank this up on the main drag)

6. Rave On - Buddy Holly (Square is hip)

7. Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head - B.J. Thomas and Burt Bacharach (See #5 above)

8. Radar Love - Golden Earring (Can we drive 110 mph when this is on? Yes we can)

9. My Maria - B.W. Stevenson (Now we're rockin')

10. Shannon - Henry Gross (I'm tearing up just thinking about it)

It should be a trip to remember, no matter how hard they try to repress it.

Monday, August 6, 2007

I've Had Worse

This was my weekend:

Friday afternoon

Leave work early. Pick up kids. Pick up neighbor kid. Meet neighbor and neighbor's kid at ballpark. Hit ground balls until kids whine. Hit fly balls until kids whine. Challenge kids to WIFFLE® Ball game. Play until kids whine.

Friday night

Make dinner for family and neighbors. Talk with adults at dinner table until kids whine. Watch baseball game on TV. Start watching "Hot Fuzz." Fall asleep to sound of kids whining.

Saturday morning

Wake up. Yell at kids to stop whining. Discover there's no coffee in house. Pitch fit. Watch Lovely Bride leave house. Go shopping. Put pork on barbecue.

Saturday afternoon

Write blog post about pickles. Throw handfuls of wood under pork on barbecue. Wish it was 5:00 p.m. Yell at kids to stop whining.

Saturday night

Welcome neighbors. Celebrate 5:00. Eat pork. Watch baseball game on TV. Start watching "Ghost Rider." Fall asleep to sound of kids whining.

Sunday morning

Wake up. Yell at kids to stop whining. Ask Lovely Bride to cook bacon. Eat bacon. Drink coffee. Read paper.

Sunday afternoon

Bring kids to watch neighbor's softball tournament. Listen to kids whine. Come home. Eat leftover pork. Watch baseball game on TV.

Sunday night

Watch "Donnie Brasco." Eat more leftover pork. Yell at kids to stop whining. Sleep.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Quite A Pickle

Those who know me, especially those whose restraining orders have lapsed, are well aware of my fondness for pickles. In fact, it would not be out of place to say I have an obsession with them; a rather strange and disturbing one, perhaps, but isn't that what obsessions are all about?

Everyone knows what a pickle is, of course. Or do they? Sure, they're a delectable and crunchy snack, a perfect accompaniment to a hamburger hot off the grill or a plate of smoked tongue, but they're so much more. Take some time with me to explore the world of the pickle. Next time you bite into one, you might just thank me.

1. The Origin of Pickles

For many thousands of years, pickles were thought to have been the gift of a beneficent visitor from the stars. Even today, books such as "Pickles of the Gods" and "The Pickle has Landed" recount the legends that gave rise to the naming of the constellation Cucumberis Vinegaris. Pickles were further shrouded in superstition by the early growth of the Catholic Church and its Sweet and Sour Liturgy, an offshoot of the Old Testament story of the pair of breeding pickles thought to have been stolen by Eve as she fled the Garden of Eden.

By the 1600's, however, scientists were gaining a better understanding of the pickle. The first breakthrough is generally considered to be Copernicus's "On the Acidity of the Beet" in which he explored the relatively recent development of the vinegar-soaked root vegetable. Viewed by a wary Church as an infringement on the Divine Rite of Canning, the beet's popularity proved so great that they were ultimately recognized by Pope Clement VI, albeit as a pale imitation of the venerated pickle. Copernicus used this opening as a way to explore the relationship between pH and deliciousness, the first step in what would prove to be a lengthy journey.

It was only a few short decades later that Galileo broke further with the Church. Although the general population was initially scandalized by experiments in which he dropped pickles from various heights, they soon came to recognize that the lack of any divine retribution suggested perhaps pickles were indeed of this earthly plane.

Scientific advancements came more quickly after this. Louis Pasteur realized the health benefits of brining milk. Marie Curie identified the first pickle isotope. Einstein's famous theory, T=VDC (Taste=Vinegar*Dill*Cucumber), paved the way for the development of quantum gardening and space travel. It had truly become the Age of the Pickle.

Today, although we know that pickles are not of extraterrestrial origin, many questions remain. How do pickles thrive in climates ranging from Alaska to Oman? Where did they get the unerring directional instincts so critical to the annual Great Migration that continues to thrill pickle watchers around the globe? When did pickles develop their skills at macramé and motocross? Why are pickles crunchy even though they're immersed in liquid?

Scientists continue to look for answers. In the meantime, the rest of us must be content with sharing the world with these wondrous creatures.

2. The Art of the Pickle

Pickles have been an inspiration to more than just scientists. Often called The Plantable Muse, pickles have also given birth to more than their share of artistic masterpieces.

a. Visual Arts

The earliest known representation of the pickle can be found in the caves at Lascaux, France. Thought to have been drawn some 20,000 years ago, these scenes depict early man stalking some of the enormous pickle herds that roamed the earth at that time.

In Asia, pickles soon found their way into the work of the early origami masters of the 6th century. This was followed in Europe with the paintings of the Renaissance Masters, the most famous of which, Rembrandt's "The Pickles at Emmaus," remains a staple of introductory art appreciation classes due to its intoxicating and original use of flavor. More recently, they have found their way into works such as Joan
Miró's "Carnival of Pickles" and Henry Moore's sculpture, "Reclining Pickle."

b. Literature

Pickles as a thematic element have long been a favorite of Western writers in particular. Thucydides "Pickles - Thank you Zeus" was the #1 Grecian bestseller in 435 B.C. Two centuries later in Rome, Plautus composed the Pickle Trilogy, a series of comedic pieces still performed on community theater stages around the country. Subsequent authors followed in their footsteps, as with Shakespeare's tragic "Is That A Pickle In Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?" and Edgar Allan Poe's opus, "Quoth the Pickle, Nevermore."

In modern times, the pickle has remained the focus of many of our best-known writers. Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Pickle's Nest" is a scathing indictment of lat 20th-century America and served as a launching pad for the career of Jack Nicholson. Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Pickle" explores the power of love in an unconventional setting. Thomas Pynchon's "The Dilling of Lot 49" still confounds readers more than forty years after its publication, while Ireland's Roddy Doyle perfectly captures the joy and pain of adolescence in "Paddy Pickle Ha, Ha, Ha."

c. Music

Pickles have a shorter history in the musical tradition, but no less of an important one. First referenced in Shostakovich's "The Limpid Pickle," they gradually became part of the mainstream as evidenced by their presence in such modern classics as "Luck Be a Pickle Tonight" and "Sgt. Pickles Lonely Hearts Club Band." With Brian Eno's 2004 development of the electric pickle, we can be sure to see these trends continue.

3. Pickles at War

Pickles have also had a significant impact in many of history's great conflicts. Many of the wars of the Ottoman Empire were triggered by perceived insults to the proud tradition of Turkish vinegar distillation. Our own War of Independence was triggered by King George's imposition of a pickle tax. The Boxer Rebellion in China arose from native anger over foreign control of China's caper industry, while World War I was, of course, largely the result of a series of misunderstandings related to European cucumber tariffs.

At the same time, pickles have been a constant comrade in arms of the American soldier. Whether attached as a rudimentary bayonet to the makeshift arms of the Civil War soldier or included in a box of C-rations as a quick pick-me-up, it's clear that pickles have become a force for democracy and one of the major factors in post-Cold War military planning.

4. The Future of Pickles

What does the future hold for our vinegary friends? Will there ever be a pickle on Mars? When will the first pickle be elected to Congress? Only time will tell. For now, we can only dream, for as the old saying reminds us, "God Pickles, Man is Fickle."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Elections Have Consequences

May 2005

Less than 24 hours after a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase was endorsed by the DFL-controlled Senate, Gov. Tim Pawlenty uncapped his pen and made good on his promise to veto the package. The governor's actions touched off a round of recriminations over transportation policy and the larger budget debate being waged in the final days of the 2005 legislative session.

May 2007

Gov. Tim Pawlenty didn't wait long to veto a nickel-a-gallon gas tax increase. Less than 24 hours after the Minnesota Legislature sent him a transportation bill, Pawlenty struck it down Tuesday.

The Republican governor said a higher gas tax would be "untimely and misguided."

"I am disappointed that the conference committee did not adopt my transportation proposal and once again overreached," Pawlenty said in a veto letter to legislators. "This type of overreaching has resulted in a transportation funding stalemate at the Capitol for too many years."

August 2007

Rescue workers are searching for the dozens of people still missing — estimates range from 20 up to as many as 65 — in the wreckage of a highway bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi River Wednesday evening in Minneapolis.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Call Me Ishmael

In this picture I am holding:

1. My youngest child

2. A moose

3. Katie

4. A can of linoleum

5. The novel I wrote in high school

6. A concept vehicle from the Detroit Auto Show

7. Moral clarity

8. A ganache

9. Flipper

10. _____?