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.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My Boy Is Just Like Me

It's a lot quieter around here this weekend. There was no school on Friday and the youngest is away at a farm owned by one of his friend's relatives and presumably chattering at the goats and chickens.

My dad needed a ride to the doctor yesterday. He lives a good distance from here so I asked the middle kid to come with me for company. He agreed, asking if I'd buy him a treat. I told him we'd see how things went.

We made the trip, picked up my dad, and arrived at the clinic. While we were waiting, my son, a middle-schooler, went over to the play area and started messing around in the sandbox and banging Matchbox cars together. My dad doesn't see the kids that often, but even he knew this was strange.

"Isn't he a little old for that?" he asked.

"By about six years," I replied. "He's not right in the head."

About then the boy wandered over with an Etch A Sketch. "Grandpa," he said, pointing to it excitedly, "I wrote something."

Sure enough, he'd written "Mi nam is B."

My dad looked at me skeptically. "He really liked 'Flowers for Algernon,'" I explained.

"Oh," said my dad, obviously not convinced this was normal. "What's that you brought to read today?" he asked his grandson.

The boy held up the book. "'In Cold Blood.'"

"The Truman Capote book?" my dad asked.

"Yeah, it's great."

My dad was clearly flummoxed. Fortunately, the nurse came out to get him about then. My dad gestured and said, "This is my grandson."

The boy stood up, removed his hat, and shook the nurse's hand. "Nice to meet you," he said.

An older woman who was waiting for her husband whispered to my son, "That was very polite of you, young man." He blushed.

My dad had to stop at the lab after his appointment. The clinic is a big place and the lab had its own play area, this one consisting of a couple of steering wheels and a mirror attached to a plastic cube. Suitable for a three-year-old. Once again my kid went for it, making motorcycle noises and pretending to drive until he got his arm tangled in the steering wheel and said, "Owie. Bad toy. Daddy, I don't like this toy. It hurt me."

The receptionist gave him a curious glance. My dad shrugged his shoulders and said, "My grandson."

Having exhausted his interest in driving, the kid grabbed a coloring book. "Look Grandpa," he said. "I'll color the bunny for you. I'm going to make him blue. Then he will know happiness."

My dad was starting to catch on and replied, "That would be very nice. I can put it on my refrigerator."

"Yay!" said the boy. "I love refrigerators. I'll make the picture extra pretty."

From the lab it was off to the pharmacy. There was a problem with the insurance company's classification of my dad's prescription, leading to a prolonged telephone call between the pharmacist and the insurance company representative. Meanwhile my son wandered off and returned with a rubber ducky bath toy.

"Can we get this?" he asked.

My dad laughed.

"No, son," I said. "Remember what happened last time you had something like that?"

"Yes," he answered sadly. "I almost choked on it and then I got my head stuck in the chair and the fire department had to come."

My dad laughed some more.

The kid left to return the duck to the shelf. A woman was blocking his way and he cleared his throat and said, "Excuse me ma'am, may I sneak by you?"

The woman smiled at him, said, "Of course," and moved out of his way. She walked over to where my dad and I were sitting and said, "He's a very courteous boy. You should be proud of him."

My dad grinned. "He's my grandson."

Our business finally completed, we took my dad back home. He thanked us, hugged his grandson, and went inside. I pulled out of the driveway, drove a block or so, and stopped the car.

"Hey," I said to my son.

"What?" he asked, puzzled and a little nervous.

"You had two strangers compliment your manners today."

"So?" he asked.

"You made your grandfather laugh."

"So?" he asked again.

"I'm proud of you. You're a good kid. I love you."

He smiled, this sheepish look he gets when he's a little embarrassed. "I love you too dad," he said in the robotic monotone he sometimes uses to irritate his brothers and amuse me.

"Thanks for coming today," I said, starting the car. "Let's go get you that treat."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tag

"Jennifer" has tagged me. Now I just have to figure out how the hell this thing works. Pour myself a drink, pour myself another, yell at the kids, okay, here we go.

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is…". Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

— You can leave them exactly as is.

— You can delete any one question.

— You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is…" to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is…", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is…", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is…".

— You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is…".

You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

My great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Pharyngula.
My great-
great-great-great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My great-great-great-grandparent is
Flying Trilobite.
My great-great-grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock.
My great-grandparent is Shakespeare's Sister.
My grandparent is Excuse This Mess...
My parent is Jennifer.

1. The best comedy in scientific dystopias is: A Boy and His Dog.

2. The best sexy song in rock is: Sex by Berlin.

3. The best cult novel in absurdist fiction is: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

4. The best use of ground meat in American cooking is: the chili dog.

And with that I turn over the keys to Billy, Kathleen, and the famous Mr. almostinfamous.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Marvelous!

Loyal Friends of Befouled already know I'm a noted gourmand, a well-respected music critic, and a much sought after book reviewer. They may not be aware, however, that I'm also a bit of a fashionista. Let's take a peek at what's cooking in Snag's closet.

1. Ready to be on the cutting edge? Try an ermine ball gag. Made from the finest ermines, this ready to wear accessory lets the world know you're a playah. Available in a range of striking colors.

2. It's time to throw out the old rule about white after Labor Day. With a stunning acidwashed snorkel, you'll be turning heads uptown and downtown. Cut and shaped by hand from the finest pork, these snorkels have long been the rage in Paris, Rome, and Finland. Now you can bring one home.

3. We've all seen pierced ears, pierced noses, pierced navels. There's even a Fox reality series, "Mutilation Island." Have you ever seen a pierced colon, though? That's where the trendsetters are now. Do it yourself kits, complete with needle and liquor, are available in most larger urban areas. If spotting persists, contact your physician.

4. Not since JFK singlehandedly destroyed America's haberdashery industry has there been such an interest in headgear. We're talking surgically installed decorative antlers, the hottest thing to come out of Maine since, well, forever. Hip Bangorians can be found strutting their stuff outside the cafés of their fair city, replete with neon and kitsch hanging from what they slyly call their "headposts." Watch out when it's rutting season!

5. Guys don't make passes at girls without galoshes. That's right, these boots of yore are now retro. This year's catwalks feature classic A-lines on top and rubber and snaps below. That trademark sound can be heard from South Beach to Ibiza. Grab a pair and get clomping!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Avoidance

Today was a blessing, like the one before and the one before that.

I got home last night at 12:45, after driving three hours back from my meeting, rain pouring down, listening to music as loud as it would go.

This morning I slept in. Woke up in time to send my youngest off to school. ("Daddy loves you. Make good choices. Say goodbye to the dog. She has rabies.")

Then a lunch meeting. Drove there. Meeting canceled. Back home.

Oh good, email about a project. Not the "yeah, whatever" kind. The "this will trash whatever remains of my reputation if I screw it up" kind. Due next week. Fortunately it's a busy time at work.

Middle kid comes home. Says hello, does his homework.

I join him in the kitchen. Prepare the marinade for tonight's dinner. I'm rushed because it's his conference night at school. I turn my back and marinade spills all over the floor.

"Shit, fuck, sonofabitch, someone's going to die!"

He looks at me and says, "I'll get the mop." He does and we clean.

I remake the marinade, throw him in the car. We meet the Lovely Bride at the school. Conferences are good, he's doing well, the teachers like him, he's got friends, hooray for my parenting skills.

The conference ends. My oldest calls. He went to a teammate's house for dinner and needs a ride home. He gives me teenager directions and I get hopelessly lost. The gas gauge empty light comes on. I finally find him, call home to have the broiler preheated, fill up the tank. My oldest is mad because I've been short with him, won't talk to me on the ride home.

Come home, make dinner. Now I understand why that meat was on sale. Use enough peanut sauce, it's fine.

Get back in the car to pick up the youngest at basketball practice. Middle son wants to come. Fine. Youngest is spending the weekend at the farm of a friend's relative and needs a Halloween costume for a party they're having. We waste forty-five minutes deciding among the eight available costumes at the store. Finally I break the gridlock by throwing a princess costume in the cart. My son panics and swaps it for a bleeding skeleton costume and a plastic sword. Good enough.

We get back in the car and the youngest asks how his brother's conference went. "It was great," I said, "your brother's doing a good job. Nice and short."

"I wonder if mine will be short," he asks.

"Probably not," I say. "With yours we have to meet with the police liaison and the school psychologist."

The middle one laughs and the younger one sighs. We get home, again. The oldest is talking to me now, as much as he ever does, and I get a grunt as I walk in the door. I help the youngest pack, feed the dog, start the dishes, do a load of laundry.

The kids and I go downstairs. I plug in a DVD with some episodes of last season's The Office. We watch a couple, the kids get tired, go up to bed. I think about doing some work. I think, I've done enough for other people today. I'm going to do what I want to do. And so I write this.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Fire In The Hole

After dinner last night I decided use our backyard fire pit. I built it a few years ago as a Father's Day present to myself. I don't use it much, in large part because even I lack the poor judgment required to build a fire when my kids are around. It was a beautiful fall night, though, I'd had wine with dinner, and my middle son was sleeping at a friend's house, so I overlooked my misgivings and went out back.

Wisely, my Lovely Bride wanted nothing to do with this. She went downstairs to study, leaving me alone with my oldest and youngest sons, as well as a friend of the youngest. Recognizing I was outnumbered, I called a friend of my own who lives nearby. He soon arrived, accompanied by his son, also a friend of my youngest.

We've had a lot of rain during the past few weeks and the wood was wet. Fortunately, there was a fresh pile of leaves to use as starter fuel and four kids to throw crap in the fire every time it threatened to catch. With their help it didn't take us more than forty-five minutes to get the fire going. We had glasses, ice, and Scotch with us, however, so I didn't really care and we finally distracted the kids with a bag of mini marshmallows and instructions to cram as many as possible into their pieholes.

Once the fire was going, we did what all good fathers do, namely tried to give our children nightmares. I dredged up a couple of scary stories from my own childhood, about escaped mental patients and the havoc that can be wrought with a hook for a hand. My friend told a story about a bear who ate a kid who wouldn't stop talking, a long story made longer because my youngest kept interrupting him.

Then, much to the delight of the boys and the rest of the neighborhood, we decided to sing. My friend's a good Irishman and has a full repertoire of shanties and ballads. While I don't have the same sort of musical genetic imprinting, I do know snippets from hundreds of songs and so, like a DJ on powerful hallucinogens, performed a medley that ranged from "Rocky Raccoon" to "Moon River" to "Ode to Joy."

Much to our surprise, the kids wearied of this gift of music and, as boys are wont to do when bored, started pushing each other.

"Stop it before someone falls in the fire," I said.

"You never let us do anything," replied my oldest.

My friend looked at him curiously. "What are you talking about?"

"My dad wouldn't let us walk on the edge of the Grand Canyon last year," he said with a sneer. "He was afraid someone would 'get hurt.'"

"Well, yes," I said. "I thought maybe it would be a good idea to stay on the path, given that we'd just finished looking through a book in the gift shop called 'Death on the Rim.'"

My son ignored me. "And then when we were in Utah he wouldn't let us climb all the way to the top of Capitol Reef."

"It was sunset, for God's sake. We had to get to dinner and our hotel."

"Whatever," he said, dismissing me. "You just don't want us to have fun."

The younger son's buddies watched the exchange with interest. Snag family arguments make are great stories for the school cafeteria.

"Right, that's why my entire existence is designed around placating you. You know what I should do? Chain all of you out front with a sign that says 'Free to good home.' Nobody would take you, but at least I'd have some peace and quiet until somebody called the cops."

My friend laughed and poured himself another drink. If nothing else, this made his own life seem better by comparison.

The bickering continued for a few more minutes until I threw in the towel and started singing again. That was enough to drive my oldest into the house for a bit. When he returned, he was wearing headphones and listening to his iPod. And there we sat, my friend and I singing, the three younger kids, now at a safe distance from the fire, punching each other, my teenager diligently ignoring the rest of us, and my Lovely Bride staying as far away from it all as she could.

All in all, an ordinary night.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

This Too Shall Pass

I spent today at a "seminar," confirming that torture has indeed become standard practice in America.

Actually, it wasn't bad as these things go. I learned a little, saw a bunch of people I like, had a couple of beers afterward with some friends. Following dinner I headed home, arriving shortly after my two younger kids returned from their respective soccer practices.

"Hi guys," I said upon entering. "Daddy loves you! Daddy wants big hugs."

They stopped their bickering long enough to sneer at me and then returned to the task at hand.

I hate bickering. I'm not a big fan of fistfights either, but it's the sniping and whining that make me truly crazy.

"Knock it off," I said. "Hey, did you guys ever find the remote for the DVD player?"

"We didn't lose it," they howled in unison. "You never blame yourself for anything. It's always somebody else's fault."

"Yes it is," I agreed. "You, middle boy, go find it. You, smelly younger one, get in the shower and then help your brother."

About this time my oldest son called. Some wild hair, or more likely some girl, had prompted him to go watch a high school volleyball game after his cross-country meet. Now he needed a ride.

"Fine, whatever, be there in a few minutes," I said. I wasn't out of my suit yet but who am I to stand in the way of young love? "Find the remote or neither of you ever get to watch TV again," I said as I walked out the door. The King of Empty Threats.

When I got home again twenty minutes later my Lovely Bride still hadn't returned from her class and the boys were at it again. This time it had something to do with the younger one's standardized math test scores, which arrived in today's mail. As best as I could tell, it boiled down to a complicated and insane argument over normalization procedures based on the middle one's premise that his younger brother's success was a reflection of the stupidity of his classmates. More important for my purposes, the remote hadn't been found and the youngest still smelled. I shooed them in opposite directions and went upstairs to change.

Hey, what is this? A hole in the bedroom door? How could this happen in the Eden in which I live?

"GET UP HERE!"

As soon as they saw what I was looking at the fingerpointing began.

"He threw something at me."

"He was being a jerk."

"They're both stupid."

"All of you be quiet," I said. "You see this door? This is the Wii you wanted. Instead of that, we get a new door." Strictly speaking this isn't true, for the door with the hole will remain in place until the day I die, but the larger point remains valid.

"I don't want a new door, I liked the old one fine, but here we are. I may as well take some money from my wallet and set it on fire. At least we'd get heat and light. But no, not our family, we just have a hole in the door. Other families, they have nice things, big screen TVs, nice cars, fun stuff. We have piles of broken junk because we're savages. We're animals." I started snorting and grunting and pawing the ground.

Sometimes my kids get a vision of the psychotic break that's coming.

The oldest said, "I have homework" and went back to his room.

The middle one said, "I have to find the remote" and went back downstairs.

The youngest said, "I have to take a shower," and went to find a towel.

The dog went back to her spot in the living room.

I stared at the broken door for another moment and went to finish getting changed.

Soon enough the homework and showers were done and the remote was found. We all drifted back to the kitchen, where we gave the dog her evening treat and they took turns telling me about their days and I decided a broken door is a small price to pay.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Day In The Life

My day as a thought experiment:

7:42 a.m. - Please God, let me die.

8:38 a.m. - Doesn't this kid ever stop talking?

9:23 a.m. - If you cut me off again, I will drive you into the fucking ditch, you stupid cow.

9:24 a.m. - Die assholes.

9:25 a.m. - I don't think all this rage is healthy for me.

9:26 a.m. - Fuckers!!

10:02 a.m. - I like my chair. Hey, why is an actuary calling me?

10:07 a.m. - Goddamnit! Someone's going to pay.

11:16 a.m. - Walking through the office. Pretend to be nice.

11:47 a.m. - Cold red beans and rice. Yum.

12:32 p.m. - Asshole printer. Will I get fired if I throw it out the window?

1:22 p.m. - How hard can it be to collate something? Fucking impossible, apparently.

2:17 p.m. - AAAARGH!! I forgot to call him back!

3:15 p.m. - This guy talks more than my kid.

3:35 p.m. - Shit, I'm late!!

3:42 p.m. - If you cut me off again, I will drive you into the fucking ditch, you stupid cow.

3:57 p.m. - Don't look at me like that, I'm three minutes early.

4:49 p.m. - If you cut me off again, I will drive you into the fucking ditch, you stupid cow.

5:22 p.m. - Reheated porksicles. Yum.

5:25 p.m. - Nothing would give me more pleasure than driving across town to pick you up, son.

5:28 p.m. - If you cut me off again, I will drive you into the fucking ditch, you stupid cow.

7:00 p.m. - My boss is stopping by for a drink?

7:01 p.m. - I wonder how much insurance I'd get if the house burned down.

7:02 p.m. - I wonder if there's enough liquor in the house.

9:45 p.m. - That went better than expected.

9:59 p.m. - Damn kids, where'd they leave the damn remote?

10:15 p.m. - Please God, let me die.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Eating Good In The Neighborhood

Jennifer's recent post about the Dog n' Suds chili dog and root beer emporium got me thinking, as most things to, about food. Specifically, about ways to combine my love for money and my love for food in a free market testament to übergluttony. So far I've found these potential franchise opportunities.

1. The Moose and Matzoh
Combining the ancient Jewish passover traditions of unleavened bread and ungulates, this dine-in favorite screams "fun" like an old lady with a shopping cart full of recyclables. The famous "Moss Malt" (a secret combination of kelp and Jägermeister) keeps Dad coming back for more. Mom's just happy to drop the kids in the attached PlayCenter, complete with ammunition reloaded on the premises. Souvenir yarmulkes, complete with realistic looking antlers, are available with an order of the Rat Bastard Meal off the kid's menu.

2. The Licorice Leech
When scientists finally learned how to raise these tasty bloodsuckers on a diet of ouzo and taffy, they created a marketing monster. With outlets already located throughout the Muscle Shoals area, this business opportunity is just waiting to be taken north. FDA approval pending.

3. The Chancre
All the rage with Midwestern teenagers desperate to prove they're popular. The drive-thru swabbing station is open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Got a Hankering for some Hep C? We've got you covered.

4. Taco Bell
Melty. Give me a freaking break.

5. Der Fooden Housen
An award winning German-themed truck stop. Its menu offers a wide range of delicacies, ranging from "Meat Covered With Gravy" to "Gravy With Meat in It." Cashiers wear jodhpurs. Youngsters get complimentary hammers with orders of $23 or more. Currently located in seventeen Caribbean cities.

Who's in?

It Beats A Poke In The Eye With A Sharp Stick

We made it to the cabin by Thursday afternoon. I had a meeting not too far from there earlier in the day. My friend R. dropped me off at the meeting, went to his place to unload the car, and then picked me up as soon as I finished my incredibly interesting and witty presentation.

R. and I have been friends since 7th grade. We've traveled a lot together too. He's got three boys about the same age as mine, our wives are friends, and he's as bad a parent as I am. Over the years we've collectively dragged our families to Maine, to California, and to most places in between. That makes these kinds of trips, without the kids, delightfully quiet experiences. That's true even on this weekend, where hunting and gathering included drinking whiskey and playing guitar.

Thursday night was uneventful. After a little unsuccessful fishing and a trip into town for a hamburger and a beer, it was just R., one of his relatives, and me sitting out back, looking at the lake and pouring gasoline in the fire pit. By 11:00 I was in bed, dreaming the dreams of the innocent.

Friday the other two guests arrived. They're both in advertising, which is to say they've committed their artistic talents to Mammon. That's not a criticism (I'm hardly in a position to throw stones), just acknowledgement they actually have artistic talents. In any event, their particular talents include, in the case of one, being a retired guitarist for a pretty decent band, and in the case of both, being funny as shit.

Their arrival was greeted with appropriate amounts of bottle opening and a hastening to the boats. On a drizzly fall weekday there aren't many other people around and we had some 1,000 acres of water to ourselves.

The fishing wasn't much to write home about, but it was nice being on the water. After a few hours we made our way back to the cabin. One of the neighbors had stopped by, a nice guy. One thing led to another, soon it was dinner, heaping mounds of pasta and homemade marinara, then the whiskey came out, then the guitars.

R.'s guitar had a dent in it. "What happened?" someone asked.

"My kids pissed me off and I smashed it on a railing," he said.

He really is as volatile as I am.

I said, "The Broken Guitar, a Very Special Episode of the R.'s."

Someone else said, "Next on the R.'s, Daddy Buys a Handgun."

R. said, "Fuck you guys."

In the meantime, I had found some toy instruments. Quickly realizing my limitations as a harmonica player, I instead spent the next several hours happily shaking a musical egg in approximate time to the music. Finally my liver shrieked in horror and I retired, cautiously, to the top bunk to which I had been assigned.

As so often happens, laughter turned to tears. Saturday morning arrived warm, sunny, and far too soon. A delicious sausage, egg, and aspirin omelet, washed down with a gallon of coffee and the restorative electrolytes of Gatorade helped staunch the bleeding, however, and it was soon back in the boats for another run at the demons lurking beneath the lake's placid surface. It was another slow day of fishing, but at least I was away from my children, and that's what counts.

Or so I thought. For some inexplicable engineering reason, the lake is one of the few places around there where there's cell phone reception and around noon I started getting text messages from my oldest son.

"My brothers should go die in a hole."

It never ends. "Why in a hole?" I responded.

"That way we don't have to pay to bury them," he answered.

Well, he's practical if nothing else. I put the phone back in my pocket. Those animals were my Lovely Bride's problem for the next couple of days.

Besides, the fishing was picking up a little. Soon I'd landed a nice bass and R. had pulled in an impressive northern and we just kept drifting up and down the shoreline, idly casting, talking about nothing much in particular, and in general having a fine old time.

Saturday night was a quiet one, all of us weary from a day on the lake and the punishment we'd self-inflicted the night before. Dinner at a local restaurant, a little more fun with fire and gasoline, and bedtime by 10:00. When Sunday morning arrived it was rainy, incentive enough to leave in time to make it home for dinner. My youngest met me at the door, demanding a souvenir.

"I was at R.'s cabin for God's sake. You've been there. What did you expect?"

"A fish."

"I didn't bring home a fish. I brought home fish pictures though."

And I did.

SNAG HUNTING




















R. GATHERING



















Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I Said I'm Hunting and Gathering, Damnit!

Tomorrow I leave again for a long weekend, out of communication with family and blog. God willing and the creek don't rise, I'll haul a behemoth from the deep. Otherwise, well, I'll still have a good time.

I'm driving up with my best friend, whose musical tastes run toward classic rock. Out of spite, I've chosen these to begin our journey.

1. The Killers - Robert Pollard

2. Cold Hands - The Black Lips

3. How it Ends - Devotchka

4. Do the Whirlwind - Architecture in Helsinki

5. The Past is a Grotesque Animal - Of Montreal (as surreal as anything 3Bulls! has to offer)

6. Light up Your Lighter - Michael Franti and Spearhead

7. Dickie Chalkie and Nobby - The Mekons (I'm not completely square, BP)

8. Sunday Morning - The Velvet Underground

9. California Stars - Billy Bragg and Wilco

10. Curly Locks - Junior Byles (Kathleen, it'll cure what ails you)

Back in a few.

No Good Deed

Last night, concerned I wasn't spending enough on my children's sporting activities, I did some research on hitting and pitching clinics offered in our area. Several of my youngest son's friends are also interested and we're trying to find a group rate.

Things never go as planned in the Snag household. Having tucked myself away in what I thought was the relative safety of my basement office, I was soon joined by my youngest.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Trying to sell you. No takers yet but I'm lowering the price."

He ignored me. "Hey, you're looking at hitting clinics. Is that for me?"

"Maybe," I answered. "It depends how irritated I am when it's time to write a check."

"How much does it cost?" he asked.

I told him. "Holy crap!" he said. "We could buy a Wii for that!"

"Yes," I said. "Or I could buy something I want."

He shook his head at my stupidity. "Are there any major leaguers who teach there?"

"Yes. One guy who used to play in the majors."

"Would I get him?"

"I don't know," I answered. "Maybe."

"If I don't get him I want the Wii instead." As usual, he thought the point was simply to spend as much of my money as possible.

"No," I said. "We already have an xBox and a bunch of xBox games and I'm not buying another stupid game system for you to fight over with your brothers. If you don't want to go to the hitting clinic I'll skip it."

He started backtracking. "No, no, I want to go."

At this point my middle son walked in. "Where's he going?" he demanded.

"Dad's sending me to a hitting clinic."

His brother shrieked. "WHAT?! That' s so unfair, I never get anything. I'm going to a basketball clinic then."

The younger one nodded. "Okay."

"Wait a second," I interjected. "This is my money. Besides, you," pointing at the middle one, "are already playing seventy-five hours of coached basketball in the next few months. Plus, your soccer team has a professional coach run clinics for you. That's plenty."

The middle one sneered and pointed at his brother. "He always gets everything. He's a spoiled, stupid baby."

"I'm not a baby!" howled the youngest, apparently conceding on spoiled and stupid.

I stood up and moved between them before it escalated. "Both of you get the hell out of here. Jesus, I even think about doing something nice and this is the kind of nonsense I have to deal with."

Snarling and snapping at each other, they retreated upstairs where they quickly moved on to the more pressing question of who the dog loves most. I clicked idly through some tropical resort websites, one for a Canadian fishing lodge, another that displayed Italian villas for rent. Not anytime soon, I thought, turning off the computer. Maybe they'll at least put me in a decent nursing home someday. I took a deep breath, braced myself, and headed upstairs to rejoin the family.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

An Edible Centerpiece















Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty puppies baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened their tails began to wag,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before old Snag?
Snag was in his kitchen yelling at his boys,
The dog was in the basement hiding from the noise
His Bride was in the garden weeping at her fate,
Wishing she could afford to move out of state.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Goaaal!

AG's got this goal thing going on over at her place, a revealing look at what she hopes to accomplish in the coming years. "What are your goals?" she asks, not having thought through the implications of directing a question like that to a general public that includes me.

Without further ado, what I hope to accomplish before I turn 59:

1. Turn 58.

2. Discover a new femur.

3. Have my record expunged.

4. Meet an ornithologist.

5. Become the second-best jai alai player in my zip code.

6. Teach a møøse to yodel.

7. Knit a blintz.

8. Adopt a nomenclature.

9. Develop a broader market for my home-based genetic splicing business.

10. Remain the envy of all who know me.

I better get cracking.